Posts Tagged With: outdoors

Please Stop Teaching Your Kids to Kill Bugs

This post is gonna be one of the more preachy ones out there, and I promise you, I come from the exact same squeamish place you do when it comes to insects. Ladybugs are adorable, cock roaches come straight from hell. Ticks cause disease, fleas are annoying… you get the picture.

So I’m no entomologist and I’m not about to go letting a bunch of icky looking bugs crawl around on my hand for fun, but there’s a major lesson here: STOP IT WITH THE BUG MURDER!

Yes, it’s all fun and games when people share Facebook memes screaming “kill it with fire” whenever you see a spider, but the reality is, those bugs (yes, even the ugly ones) are a vital part of our ecosystem. Spiders catch and kill nasty bugs. Don’t like mosquitoes? Stop killing bugs (and birds, by depleting their food supply and spraying insecticides). It’s that simple.

Again, I’m not letting roaches take up residence in my kitchen cabinets, but when we’re outside, we just invaded their space. And there’s nothing sadder than watching a person–especially a child who’s been taught to be aggressive towards these food web contributors instead of curious about them–use his exponentially more powerful physical might to destroy a tiny creature who has no idea what it did wrong.

So what should you teach your kids about bugs? Something along the lines of, “Hey! Look at those little hairs on his legs! Wow, I’ve never seen one up close before, you can actually see all his eyes! Here, use this app on my phone to figure out what kind it is!” Then explain why we shouldn’t grab it if we don’t know what it is, but that we certainly can’t kill it because it’s an important part of the food chain.

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When Disaster Strikes

I’ve posted before about being prepared for emergencies. Sometimes, those emergencies involve having to get out of town. Whether it’s an emergency like “oh my gosh my friend just called and can’t use her concert tickets in the next state, let’s go!” or “oh god, my mom just called and my dad had a heart attack,” you need to be prepared to get a move on and be able to live comfortably, for no matter how long you’ll be gone.

I’m not gonna lie: I woke up to the news that something very scary had happened in politics. I’m literally afraid of what the next few weeks and months are going to bring. I’m not an idiot, I’m not afraid of the actual office of the President because there are checks and balances and a Constitution to abide by (no matter how much many politicians want to pretend that’s not true). But I am very afraid of what’s going to happen among the more rabid followers who see the election as license to act on the hatred that fueled them throughout these past months–on both sides of the aisle, mind you.

So I’m writing this from the safety of the woods! My kids and I took a mental health day and we’re enjoying nature, while there’s still any left (sorry, couldn’t resist taking a stab at one party’s views on the environment!). We’re avoiding social media, we’re staying away from the people who are boasting, we’re avoiding the people who are only going to get louder in their outcries and arguments. We’re resting peacefully in wilderness while the rest of the world burns, all because we keep our gear ready to go at all times.

Before you start to wonder just how unstable I might be–and I’ve had to swear before that I’m not a deranged prepper!–the real lesson here is being ready for any possible scenario. It doesn’t have to be the end of the world, it just means being able to get your act together and do something that you need to do. Again, it could be that once-in-a-lifetime trip to see something amazing, or it could be a family crisis that requires you to drop everything and go far from home. Preparedness is the thing that makes those situations possible.


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There’s Danger in the Woods


DISCLAIMER: I review great (and not so great gear) on this blog with the purpose of helping people who don’t already have a lot of experience in nature realize that they can have a lot of fun out there with a minimal investment. This product I’m posting today is one that I actually sell myself, and therefore make a profit off of.


The whole purpose for this blog is because I was tired of hearing the same thing every time I set off on a mini-adventure with my kids: “Aren’t you afraid to be out there?” I couldn’t stomach the thought that people were ignoring the beauty of nature and denying their kids a great childhood in the outdoors because they were afraid of something.

So let’s talk about shark attacks:

*93% of shark attacks from 1580 to 2010 worldwide were on males.
*Most shark attacks occur less than 100 feet from the shore.
*On average, only 5 people die from shark attacks yearly.
*In 1996, toilets injured 43,000 Americans a year. Sharks injured 13.
*You have a 1 in 63 chance of dying from the flu and a 1 in 3,700,000 chance of being killed by a shark.

So why all the shark info? To illustrate a point. We tend to fear the wrong thing. What’s so scary about the beach? NOT. SHARKS.

Picking a random beach town (because it has BEACH in its name!), here’s some info:

*Long Beach, CA, saw a nearly 20 percent rise in violent crime and a 15.4 percent spike in property crime last year.
*Long Beach PD reported an 18.8% increase in violent crime
*The city had a 15.9% increase in murder, non-negligent homicide, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft, larceny-theft and arson.

Since the headlines and the crime dramas seem to focus on rape (ignoring all of the other violent crimes, for some reason), here’s some info from RAINN:

*There are about 293,000 REPORTED sexual assaults per year.
*68% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police (meaning the number above is actually about half the actual occurrence).
*Four out of five assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, NOT a stranger.

But we still fear sharks? We fear strangers in alleyways? We fear the outdoors because we all watched those bad horror movies in the ’80s with half-naked blondes running through the woods, being chased by axe murderers?

There are definitely things to be cautious of when you’re heading outdoors, just as there are things to be cautious of every single day. If people spent more time watching the road and less time watching their cell phone screens while they drive, for example, we’d all be a lot safer. Trust me, it isn’t a bear that’s gonna get ya, it’s a 16-year-old reading a breakup text from her boyfriend. But I digress.

Now for what you can do to protect yourself: besides arming yourself with lots and lots of knowledge and understanding what the ACTUAL, genuine dangers to you and your kids may be, you can carry protective gear. NO, I did not say you should arm yourself like a militia member, although if you’re comfortable AND TRAINED with a licensed gun, fine. I signed up as a sales rep for a company that sells self-defense gear (stun guns, pepper spray, auto kits, and more). The reason I went with stun guns instead of an actual gun? A) My kids, and b) a lot of the places we camp are state parks and national parks, and many of them have a ban on firearms. In order to protect myself, I’d have to break the law. But with some pepper spray within reach and a stun gun nearby, we’re safe from many common threats, both human and animal. If you’re interested in learning more about the stun guns, click HERE.

But again, the most important weapon any person can carry is information. Know what the actual threats are and stop wasting your time and energy on the things that are not statistically dangerous. Stop avoiding the ocean because of sharks while making yourself a target to the criminals standing on the beach behind you.

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13007359_1306570972691899_386487812551665199_nIt’s almost here, the first trip of the season (not counting popping down to my parents’ placeĀ  back in March and going on a minicampout while we there). The kayaking, the hiking, the camping… I can’t wait!

While you’re passing the time until your first outdoor adventure of the year, check out a website that I’ve become ADDICTED to: It lets you plan your entire trip, including filters for camping, outdoors activities, and more, all along the route. It’s better than online shopping when the boss thinks you’re working!

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I Wouldn’t Exactly Say We’re “Preppers”…

But if the homemade silent-trek stalk boots fit… just kidding.

Being outdoorsy is great. We have a lot of fun, we can vacation for pretty cheap, and we’ve got enough gear to see us through just about any kind of crisis. But when people throw out the word “prepper” as though you have to stockpile ammunition and adjust your tinfoil hat to be part of that crowd, I admit I cringe a little.

There’s nothing wrong with “prepping,” since it really just means being prepared. Yes, if your prepping hobby starts to interfere with your grasp on reality, you probably need help. But if your interest in preparedness doesn’t extend beyond making sure you keep a few rechargeable lanterns, a well-stocked first aid kit, and knowing how to purify water in the event of a disaster, you’re probably still sitting on this side of normal.

Having said that, there’s nothing wrong with studying up on a few survival techniques. If it makes you feel safer to carry a hook, some fishing line, and a homemade bobber when you go out on the water, then go for it. If you can’t leave shore without a system to harvest liquid water from the air, you might need to read some statistics and understand just how safe you are.

I will admit this much: learning some of the same methods that “preppers” and “homesteaders” use is actually really interesting. Reading a few homesteading survival guides will give you not only a keen sense of what it took to survive in the olden days, but also arm you with a little bit of back-of-your-mind knowledge for those unexpected situations. Do YOU know how to make a natural deodorant out of oil, corn starch, and flower petals? See, I didn’t think so. But homesteaders do!

The most important thing any outdoors family can do is to understand what the viable threats are, and know how to prepare for them. Knowing how to build your own life raft is cool…if you’re actually in danger of being stranded on an island. Those of us in landlocked states are still trying to figure out the deodorant, thanks.

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When Adventure Becomes Emergency

My original goal with this blog and the upcoming book was very simple: get more people out there. I meet so many people who are astounded–yes, actually in amazement–that my kids and I do so many things in the great outdoors, and that yes, we typically do them without my husband leading the way. That’s not a judgment call against him or a rallying cry of “we don’t need no men!” It’s simply a fact. My husband doesn’t enjoy many of the things the kids and I like to do, so we don’t let his absence stop us.

But I had another purpose for sharing our stories. When I see people who are blown away by our recent hike or kayaking trip or camping excursion, I feel sad that they’re not getting to take advantage of a great experience, but I’m also afraid for them. If you’ll let your fears stop you from going on a camp out at a secure, well-lit, well-populated state run campground, what are you going to do when disaster strikes and you really have to take care of yourself?

If you’re prepared for outdoors fun, you’re more likely to be prepared for outdoors emergencies. But what about those emergencies that bring the outdoors to you?

Around Christmas time, our state experienced some bizarre sever weather threats. Our particular region went through fairly intense flooding, or at least it was intense for us since flooding isn’t usually at the top of our threats. We all sat huddled in front of televisions or social media, watching the news updates and hearing what towns had closed all of their roads. At one point, we were watching a video someone had uploaded to Facebook of the severe flooding near where my husband works and where I do our heavy-duty grocery shopping. We were literally trying to piece together the location of the roaring waters by squinting at the business signs in the background.

At our house, the water from the drainage gully that runs between our yard and the road had risen to the point that our fence was getting wet. My husband and I kept a close watch on it, taking turns heading out on the porch and seeing how close it was coming.

When it was time for bed, our oldest was more than a little frightened. “What do we do if the water comes up to the house?” she asked almost tearfully.

I looked at her and smiled. I pointed to the window. “See the trailer with the kayaks on it? If the water comes in the house, we’ll go out the window and get on the kayaks.”

I took a few minutes to remind her of some of the very real dangers associated with flooding: rapid currents, unexpected surges in the water, sharp and dangerous debris that has been carried along with the water, and sewage backup that carries waste in the water. So we formed the plan. She was to put on her boots to protect her feet, hold onto the rope we attached to a pool noodle from the garage, and make her way to the kayak while keeping the water out of her nose and mouth. We packed several of our dry bags (the waterproof bags we take kayaking) with hand gel, food and bottled water, emergency mylar blankets, and a first aid kit, and placed those next to the window with the rope. Then she went to sleep and (knowing her) never thought of the danger again.

Did the water come up to the house? Of course not. Our land is built in such a way as to feed the runoff away from the property. Did I try to erase her fear by telling her that? Of course not. She’s fifteen. She doesn’t know what a flood plain is or that landscape architects and city planners factor in water flow when they design a town. And trying to convince her that she wasn’t in danger from a flood was a bad idea because a) the water was right in front of her face and b) there were better ways to help her get over her fear, namely by reminding her what she was prepared for.

My daughter is a really capable kayaker, and the kayaks were right outside the window in the back yard. By reminding her that she had the skills to save herself and then assembling the tools she’d need, she went to bed happy and confident.

And that’s what I want parents to get out of this blog. I want them to get out there with their kids and equip their children for unexpected obstacles by teaching them to be calm, capable, and confident. There’s no time for hand-wringing when a crisis occurs, but there’s also no need to scare people into becoming rabid preppers who live in fear of the next catastrophe. Just use some common sense and develop the skills to protect yourself, while also having a great time developing those skills.

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A Camping Epiphany

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know that my family probably spends more time outdoors than indoors, but I have to admit something in the interest of full disclosure. We have a teenaged daughter who has betrayed us by turning into…well…a teenager. That means she begrudgingly goes along with our outdoors fun–even if she’s awoken and given the option to stay in her sleeping bag or come explore the cave with us, then groggily chooses the cave–and tries her hardest to pretend she’s “glamping.”

But we’ve been camping just south of Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the past week, and an epiphany occurred. She picked up her phone and got a text message about a play she’s really wanted to see. She gave me the details and I had to cringe a little. I explained that with the cost of gas to get to the city where it was being performed, plus the cost of tickets, plus the fact that it would get out so late that we’d need to get a hotel room, it wasn’t very likely we could pull it off.

“What if we camped instead?” she asked hopefully.

And I laughed, and I laughed, and I laughed… until finally she was laughing because she knew that camping wasn’t so bad when it’s something SHE wants to do (like seeing a play or exploring a cave!), but it was just something to complain about when it was just a fun family activity.

And hence the epiphany: HER epiphany is that this kind of activity really does serve a purpose. It’s basically cheap vacation fun, if you already own the gear I suppose. HER other epiphany hasn’t happened yet, but when she’s older she’s going to remember the family hikes and camp outs and other fun activities that put us together in a remote place, but that didn’t have to break that bank. She’ll remember that someday when she’s a mom and the money’s tight (I remember a week-long trip to Disney World with my parents when I was twelve; if we hadn’t tent camped at Disney’s Fort Wilderness, there was absolutely no way my parents could have afforded to take us), and camping is the only way she can take her kids to something they really wanted to do.

But my epiphany at that moment was this: so what if camping isn’t her thing? It’s my thing, and in many ways it is our family’s thing. It’s not killing her to go and she’s not allowed to complain, and every once in a while she has a really great time doing it. I’m not only giving my kids a vacation or a fond memory, I’m equipping them for the future. No, it doesn’t have to be the zombie apocalypse or a dystopian survival situation. I’m teaching them to think of others and make the best of a situation, and I’m teaching them to problem-solve (when there’s a play you want to see and the tickets are expensive, sleep in the woods after it’s over!).

This lifestyle might not be her cup of tea right now, but it’s good for her on so many levels. Plus, I get to look her dead in the eye and confidently say those fateful words every parent wants to say: “Someday you’ll thank me for this!”

The cave more than made up for the camping, she told me so!

The cave more than made up for the camping, she told me so!

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Don’t Be Afraid of Outside

There’s no shortage of outdoorsy blogs on the internet, and they’re probably much more exciting than this one. I’ve never climbed Mount Everest, I’ve never gone scuba diving in the big blue hole off Belize. There are a lot of really great adventure blogs and online magazines that can give you all the details of those places. That’s not what this one is about.

The whole idea for this blog happened because every single time I mention a camping trip or a day of kayaking or going snorkeling off the coast, the reaction is the same: “Aren’t you afraid to take those little girls camping/kayaking/hiking/cycling/snorkeling/rock climbing/etc.?”

Now, first of all, those “little girls” are now fifteen and twelve years old. True, they’ve been doing these things since before they could walk–my oldest used to stand on my water skis in front of me and ride up and down the river before she was big enough to get up on her own–but to somehow imply that I or them or both shouldn’t be doing these outdoorsy things because of fear is ridiculous.

Like I said, it’s not Mt. Everest.

The very thought of not taking kids on neutral-level adventures–camping in a state park, hiking on a well-groomed and maintained hiking trail, snorkeling in a part of the ocean with hundreds of other tourists within earshot–all because there is some flawed perception of danger was unacceptable.

What happened to all those people posting things on Facebook about how there were no video games or 500-channels on television when they were kids, posting about how they would leave the house after breakfast and they wouldn’t come back home until they were called for dinner? If that was such a great time in our history, what happened? Those people should be parents and grandparents right now, but they’re the very same people who can’t believe my girls and I take off on our very safe adventures.


The sad truth is, all those people who ask me that same question aren’t actually afraid of the outdoors. They’re afraid of embarking on a trip and not having it be the most magical vacation ever. What’s really happened is we’re losing our ability to see how we can make these experiences feasible when we live in a world with jacuzzi tubs and microwave popcorn and Netflix streaming. We’re not truly afraid of bears or sharks or serial killers in the woods, we’re afraid that we don’t know how to get there, have a good time, and get back, all in one piece. And I’m here to remind you that it doesn’t have to be perfect and it doesn’t have to be the best vacation ever. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be tons of “fun”… for now. Because I can promise you this: when your kids are grown and they’ve finished school and they’re working and starting families of their own, they’re going to remember with new eyes how much fun it was, and they’re going to be grateful for every minute you spent with them outside.

There's always at least one frown in any given outdoors pic, but it's never the same person!

There’s always at least one frown in any given outdoors pic, but it’s never the same person!

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RECIPE: Save Your Life Stew

Okay, I admit the headline of this post is a little misleading. This was originally a recipe for something we call Fireside Brunswick Stew, but after one fateful trip, the name suddenly and permanently got changed!

There’s a trick to packing your food for a camping trip. You see all these great cookbooks and websites with camping recipes, mostly awesome-looking gourmet concoctions that you’re supposed to prepare over a campfire. Like I’ve brought a lemon to the woods with me, just so I can place lemon slices on fresh trout and sprinkle it with fresh cilantro and kosher sea salt? Give me a break!

Those recipes have some major flaws. First of all, how are you going to keep all those ingredients cold for several days in the woods and not give your family salmonella or e. coli while you’re camping? How are you going to cook them when you have to start the fire, get it going, place those foil packets down in the coals, and let them sit for a couple of hours? Oh, your family was going to go hiking alone while you babysat the campfire?

So here’s one of my little cheats about camping trips: I almost never bring anything raw. The only raw food I cook over a fire is fish that we’ve just caught, if we caught anything. If you really must bring raw meats, plan those meals for your first night or two in order to prevent death. Even more important is the timing-to-interest-level ratio: the first night or two it might be pretty exciting to set up camp and cook over a fire. By the third day, you’re gonna be so weary of getting that fire going and cooking dinner that you’re gonna pass your kids the bag of marshmallows and a can of Pringles and tell them dinner is served, and there’s not a parenting expert on the planet who would fault you for it.

By bringing essential foods already cooked, you really just have to warm them up. I also almost never cook directly over the campfire, unless we’re doing the nostalgic hot dogs on sticks meal. I use a Coleman propane stove or a mini backpacking stove, depending on whether I’m actually cooking something or just heating water to dunk our pre-cooked meal pouches that I made at home.

So back to this recipe: it’s really just Brunswick stew, but I’d made it ahead of time. We arrived at our campsite and met up with the different friends who would be joining us, and this stew was my contribution of one night’s dinner for everyone (that’s another hint: if you’re meeting up with friends on this trip, have everyone each take responsibility for one full meal). That weekend turned out to be the coldest weekend on record for that month in the entire history of the state. Yes, since the day they first began writing down the temperatures, that weekend in October was colder than any other year, before or since.

One faction of the friends called it quits and went home, which left me, my two girls, and one other couple, meaning there was plenty of Brunswick stew. And we ate it for every meal. I could pop out of the tent for a minute, heat it in a skillet on the propane stove, then duck back inside the tent with our tin plates . And it was absolutely perfect. It saved the trip, even if claiming that it saved our lives is a bit of a stretch.

So here’s the recipe for it, and you’ll notice it includes pre-cooked foods that won’t kill you. There are no measurements on purpose, just combine enough of the ingredients for your family’s needs. You’re also free to leave out anything they don’t like!

Fireside Brunswick Stew

Beef roast, cooked in the crock pot ahead of time.

Large cans of chunk chicken

Cooked ham, cubed

One bag frozen corn

One bag frozen peas

Bottled barbeque sauce

Tomato sauce (yes, spaghetti sauce is fine since the BBQ sauce will overpower it)

A-1 sauce

Combine the meats and frozen vegetables, then stir in barbeque sauce and tomato sauce to the desired consistency. Add A-1 according to your family’s taste for spiciness. Add water to bring it to the right consistency for how much “soupiness” your family likes. Place in large ziplock bags and freeze. Carrying it frozen in your cooler will help serve as a refrigeration source while you travel.

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The Lovie-Camping Dilemma

There’s a really long story here about the time we took my then six-year-old’s favorite stuffed animal (Lambie) with us to visit relatives. Yes, we made it home after the five-hour drive, pulled into the driveway, and heard, “Mommy, where’s Lambie?”

Lambie was at my parents’ house, and no, they didn’t see the need to drive two and a half hours to meet me for an exchange. They also didn’t see the need to overnight Lambie to our house, or to ship him with insurance. I was ready to make the full drive back to their place just to retrieve him safely. (Luckily, a kindly aunt who lived all alone understood our daughter’s plight and took Lambie to the post office immediately and had him overnight shipped… then wouldn’t even let me reimburse her!)

We learned our lesson: Lambie is too valuable to take on future trips, especially ones where he could get left in the mud, eaten by a curious animal, washed away in a sudden rain storm, or any other possible scenario. In short, Lambie (and any other special toys) will not be included in camping trips or other adventures. It’s for his own safety.

So what happened recently when we went on a week-long camping trip? This. You may weep now.


Yes, that’s my child sleeping next to a picture of Lambie on my phone. It’s heartbreaking. So what are we supposed to do when there’s a treasured lovie that just can’t come with us for safety reasons?

Make a fake!

Using that exact picture, I printed an iron on transfer, ironed it onto an old soft t-shirt, sewed it around the edges and stuffed it full of fiberfill. The faux Lambie lives in our camping gear and he’s ready for the road! It’s a cheap imitation, of course, but our kiddo’s old enough to know that bad things can happen to good lambs in the woods. Lambie stays home where he’s nice and safe, and the fake Lambie is ready for the woods!

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