31 Ways to Spend August Outside

31 Ways to Spend August Outside #Au...

I've already touched on the importance of maintaining an outdoor presence during the hectic back-to-school period. Prioritizing outside play helps cem...

Spend August Outside

Don’t let back-to-school push...

The business of ending summer and heading back to school can knock outdoor play down the priority list a couple notches as other issues climb. After a...

Greetings from Cloudland Canyon

Camp Cook Chronicles: Greetings Fro...

We spent the past week gradually stepping down rungs in the ladder from our life at a modern subdivision in Metro Atlanta to a sleepy cabin in the woo...

24 Hours at Stone Mountain Park

24 hours, with kids, at GeorgiaR...

I look back at my childhood, growing up near Atlanta, and one place towers over everything else: Stone Mountain. I had the pleasure of rediscover...

Southern Summer Bucket List

Greetings from Cloudland Canyon

Camp Cook Chronicles: Greetings From Cloudland Canyon

We spent the past week gradually stepping down rungs in the ladder from our life at a modern subdivision in Metro Atlanta to a sleepy cabin ...

Travel & Adventure

24 Hours at Stone Mountain Park

24 hours, with kids, at Georgia’s Stone Mountain Park

I look back at my childhood, growing up near Atlanta, and one place towers over everything else...


Greetings from Cloudland Canyon

Camp Cook Chronicles: Greetings From Cloudland Canyon

We spent the past week gradually stepping down rungs in the ladder from our life at a modern subdivision in Metro Atlanta to a sleepy cabin ...


Exploring St Augustine with Tweens

Exploring St. Augustine with Tweens – Florida Fun Giveaway

As you can imagine, my two tween sons keep me in search of buzzing action to satisfy their indomitable spirits while balancing quality famil...


24 Hours at Stone Mountain Park

24 hours, with kids, at Georgia’s Stone Mountain Park

I look back at my childhood, growing up near Atlanta, and one place towers over everything else: Stone Mountain. I had the pleasure of ...

31 Ways to Spend August Outside #AugustOutside

31 Ways to Spend August OutsideI’ve already touched on the importance of maintaining an outdoor presence during the hectic back-to-school period. Prioritizing outside play helps cement family outdoor adventure as part of the new school year and throughout the cooler seasons. Reserving time for family outside play is just as important, if not more, during the school year and the winter months as it is during summer break!

Here are 31 ways to spend August Outside! This list will give you an idea, every day, in case you run out of your own.

1. #AugustOutside Photo Scavenger Hunt – I devised this photo-a-day challenge to help motivate and inspire families to get outside during August. This photo-a-day challenge is different from most allowing participants to snap and share photos in whatever order they find them! It’s easy to join in the fun! Visit this page and follow me on twitter, instagram and facebook to participate!

2. Hiking - Whether you pack a bag and go on a day-long adventure or just squeeze in a short trail in the afternoon, hiking is a great way to experience the outdoors as a family. Search for local area trails at AllTrails.

3. Bike your neighborhood – This super simple activity is easy to pencil in among all the errands.

4. Swimming – In many areas, it’s still warm enough to go for a dip in the local swimming hole. If it’s too chilled for you, just wade or take a walk along the lakeshore.

5. Nature Walk – On a nature walk, you can observe that you’re not the only ones going through big changes this time of year. Nature is preparing for a big change of seasons! Pay close attention to the sounds, sights and smells of nature on a late summer nature walk.

6. Run around the block – Another quick and easy idea that can be the last minute lifesaver on the busy day when you almost forget to spend any time outdoors.

7. Picnic – Pack a picnic and enjoy a meal in the great outdoors. Picnics aren’t only for lunch. You can pack an easy supper to enjoy outside.

8. Visit a State Park – It’s time to revisit your favorite state park or discover a new one. Many parks offer fun and educational programming. Environmental education is just as important as learning to read and write.

9. Play hide n seek or freeze tag – Did you have a busy day? Take a timeout for some stress-free fun by playing these old-fashioned games that require no special equipment.

10. Watch the sunrise or sunset together – If you’re gearing up for school, you may be one of the millions of moms trying to alter family sleep schedules. Our bodies respond to natural changes in daylight. Taking the time to view the sunrise and sunset can help reset your family’s internal clocks.

11. Play a game of catch – A favorite past time because it’s so simple, playing a game of catch can be a great bonding experience. You don’t have to go the traditional route of using baseballs or footballs. Try playing catch with a frisbee or hackysack.

12. Go for a round of disc golf at a local course – While you’ve got the frisbee out, you should really try a round of disc golf. This fun family-friendly game takes players on a walk through patches of woods and open fields as they try to land their discs in baskets. Learn more about Disc Golf and find a course near you.

13. Stargaze in the evening –  The 2014 Perseid Meteor Shower peaks between August 10 and August 13. This would be a great time to sit back and relax with the family. Learn more about the Perseid Meteor Shower.

14. Cloud watch during the day – An excellent way to unwind and encourage imagination is to pick out the shapes of clouds scrolling by in the sky.

15. Go geocaching – Geocaching is a modern “treasure hunting,” game. You can download the Geocaching app for your phone and find treasures hidden by other geocachers in unsuspecting places! Check it out.

16. Take a magnifying glass & turn over rocks to view insects close up – Almost everyone has a rock they can turn over and it’s even more fun to explore with a magnifying glass.

17. Skip rocks on a lake or pond – Head to the nearest body of water and enjoy a conversation while seeing how far you can skip rocks. Hint: Choose smooth, flat rocks!

18. Choose a citizen science project to join – Citizen Science involves people in helping scientists collect and manage data related to their studies. Many of these interesting projects are simple and don’t require much of your spare time. Find one here.

19. Visit a local nature center or preserve – Find a nature center or preserve to visit and learn more about the environment around you. Many are free to visit. 20 Free Nature Centers & Preserves in Georgia.

20. Go kayaking or canoeing – Renting a kayak or canoe doesn’t have to be an all-day experience. You can rent for an hour or two and have just as much fun.

21. Splash puddles in the rain – Yes, you can play in the rain!

22. Build a fort – Join the kids in creating a secret fort for your backyard! It can be an elaborate tree house or simple leanto.

23. Find a good tree to climb

24. Hike a mountain for a rewarding view

25. Start a Rock Collection and Make a Rock Garden – Many yards become barren in the winter as all the trees drop their leaves and many plants die back. Liven things up with a rock garden.

26. Use binoculars to observe wildlife such as squirrels & birds  - Grab your binoculars and find a quiet spot to sit and get a closer look at the wildlife around you.

27. Collect Trash along a favorite trail – The wildlife and other trail hikers will thank you for packing a bag to collect some of the trash you find.

28. Try a mountain bike trail – Not all mountain biking is extreme. There are many beginner trails that make it easier for kids and newbies to give it a try. Find one near you.

29. Go fishing – My mom used to take us out for short fishing trips along the banks of the lake. We rarely caught anything, but we had a fun time!

30. Visit a National Park or Recreation Area – You’ll find many outdoor adventures at your National Parks, Recreation Areas and Historic Sites and you’ll probably learn something, too!

31. Read a book under a tree – Finally, when those reading assignments start piling up, take them outdoors and read under a tree.

Don’t let back-to-school push you back indoors. Spend August Outside. #AugustOutside

Spend August OutsideThe business of ending summer and heading back to school can knock outdoor play down the priority list a couple notches as other issues climb. After all, even for homeschoolers, there’s a lot to do — shopping for school clothes and supplies, registering for school, completing health requirements, obtaining all the important documents, and attending open houses.. This is an especially stressful time of year for parents and children who are buckling down to re-enter their school-year schedule after the more lenient routine of summer.

The message I have for you is simple: Don’t let this hectic time push you and your family indoors. Consider this brief period is setting the tone for the move into fall and winter. Consider the many benefits of living an active outdoor life. Keep outside play among your top family priorities. Here’s just a few reasons why, from an article by National Wildlife Federation backed by scientific studies:

  1. Outdoor play protects children’s emotional development whereas loss of free time and a hurried lifestyle can contribute to anxiety and depression. Children’s stress levels fall within minutes of seeing green spaces.
  2. Spending time outside raises levels of Vitamin D, helping protect children from future bone problems, heart disease, diabetes and other health issues.
  3. Exposure to environment-based education significantly increases student performance on tests of their critical thinking skills.

This is a busy time for families, but it’s no time to shy away from the great outdoors. If anything, penciling in time for nature and outdoor play is even more important during this stressful time that will set into motion your family’s routine for the rest of the school year.

Join the fun by completing the #AugustOutside Photo Scavenger Hunt on Social Media. Using twitter, facebook or instagram – share photos of your scavenger hunt finds using the #AugustOutside hashtag. Unlike many “photo a day” challenges, you can snap and share your scavenger hunt finds in no particular order!! Follow me on twitter and instagram as I retweet and repost the participants!



Camp Cook Chronicles: Greetings From Cloudland Canyon

Greetings from Cloudland CanyonWe spent the past week gradually stepping down rungs in the ladder from our life at a modern subdivision in Metro Atlanta to a sleepy cabin in the woods, a comfy yurt and finally home sweet tent. We’ve hiked miles, observed countless little creatures, listened to the birds & bees, walked in the rain, viewed the sunrise over a lake and watched it set from a canyon overlook.

I needed this time with my sons to assess their interests and skills. Growing up happens so fast that it’s sometimes easy for mom to lose track of the person they are creating deep within themselves and equally hard  to grasp their ever-growing arsenal of abilities.

I’ve always recognized that while we share a bond that often feels like the connective tissues of a single being, they are their own persons with their own strengths and interests. I have done my best to introduce new experiences that will allow us all to share our individuality, expand our skill sets and develop new passions. But, hiking and working together show me how complimentary we’ve all become to each other.

We work so well as a team that it makes the knowledge of impending separation a challenge for the imagination.
Year after year, I find myself giving away responsibilities and growing more dependent upon the skills these boys have developed. In a way, it’s nice that they are capable of taking on some of the load. In another way, I revel in the responsibilities that they still bestow upon me, knowing that one day they will take those as well.

24 hours, with kids, at Georgia’s Stone Mountain Park

24 Hours at Stone Mountain ParkI look back at my childhood, growing up near Atlanta, and one place towers over everything else: Stone Mountain. I had the pleasure of rediscovering Stone Mountain Park, this past weekend, exploring with my own children.

There are two sides to Stone Mountain Park that give it a unique place in the hearts of all who visit. I have come to appreciate the effort that’s been put forth to balance modern fun, historic charm and the natural world.

We struck a perfect balance, for our family, with a Stone Mountain Camping Package that included one night of camping and four adventure passes. Ready, Set, Camp!


Not-to-be-missed highlights of our 24 hours at Stone Mountain Park

The Carillon Bell Tower – Free with Parking
We packed a dinner picnic to enjoy during the evening concert of the Carillon Americana. The Carillon Americana is an interesting instrument played by the same musician for over 30 years. The bell tower, originally exhibited at the 1964 World’s Fair,  plays 732 notes that dance upon the waters of the lake. While enjoying the gentle bell tones, we watched the waters as many turtles–including the cutest baby turtles– came up for air and dipped back below the surface. There’s also a nearby geocache.

Confederate Hall, Geology & Ecology Museum – Free with Parking
Located at the trail head of the hike to the mountaintop, Confederate Hall has become a wonderful museum to help visitors connect with the geology, ecology and history of Stone Mountain. Our visit was greatly enhanced by checking out the exhibits on how the mountain formed and what types of plants and animals are found living on Stone Mountain. Visiting the museum before hiking to the top gives visitors a useful knowledge of interesting sights to look for while walking on this unique geologic formation.

Stone Mountain Park Hike to the topHike to the Top – Free with Parking
Both of my boys exclaimed that this was their favorite part of Stone Mountain. At two miles, round trip, the hike is moderately strenuous in places. But, experiencing the mountain this way is always very rewarding. If you don’t want to hike to the top, you can take the SkyRide–for a fee. There is a covered picnic area, a little more than halfway up because hiking a mountain can make visitors mighty hungry! Don’t forget your water & a camera. The top of the mountain, and all along the trail, you’ll find gorgeous vistas and interesting rock formations that make great backdrops for family photos.

Stone Mountain Park TrainTrain Ride – Fee, Adventure Pass
Riding the rails all the way around the base of the mountain is an Atlanta tradition. While younger kids may always be ready for a train ride, my two boys were much more interested in the relaxation it offered after our mountaintop hike. For the best views of the mountain, sit to the right when you board the train!

4D Movie – Fee, Adventure Pass
I sat out the 4D movie for a little mom-time. But, both of my boys really enjoy the 4D movie experiences and always come out with big happy grins!

Stone Mountain Park SkyHikeSkyHike – Fee, Adventure Pass
This newer addition to Stone Mountain Park contains 3 levels of aerial obstacle courses. Harnessed in a safe and secure system,Families complete obstacles ranging from easy to advanced. Alternate routes help younger, smaller or more cautious SkyHikers avoid obstacles that seem too difficult or scary. For the youngest adventurers, check out the Highland Outpost! It’s a lot like SkyHike without the heights.

Great Barn – Fee, Adventure Pass
For a wild and crazy time beating the heat or waiting out storms, enter The Great Barn. It’s difficult to describe The Great Barn, but I think old-fashioned gaming does the trick. The entire playplace centers around foam balls that are collected, in tote bags, for game play. Toting bags filled with the foam balls, children make their way through four stories of active play games and air-powered shooters.

Stone Mountain Park Cherokee & King's TrailsCherokee Trail, Grist Mill – Free with Parking
The 5-mile Cherokee Trail is designated as a National Recreation Trail. While we didn’t have the opportunity to hike the entire trail, the part we did hike left us wanting more. We began by exploring one of the most picturesque locations in the park, a Grist Mill with working water wheel. This quiet spot is a great place to hunt down a couple geocaches located nearby. Continuing on, we walked the natural trail through the woods and upon a stone path along the water’s edge until we reached the Covered Bridge.

King’s Trail at Indian Island – Free with Parking
This was probably the most peaceful area we visited in the park. After crossing the Covered Bridge, we hiked King’s Trail around Indian Island. I wanted to mention this location because it struck me as the perfect place to bring the family for a picnic. The trail is an easy hike with picnic tables positioned throughout. The Covered Bridge is passable by cars and there is a parking lot available for picnickers and hiking families.

Lasershow Spectacular – Free with Parking
Stone Mountain’s Lasershow Spectacular is the longest running laser show on planet earth. The community of visitors gather on the lawn, laying out blankets and folding chairs, to enjoy the light show displayed on the mountainside. The lasershow is designed around many popular songs including, “Georgia on my Mind,” “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” and the national anthem.

Camping Stone Mountain ParkCamping – Fee
There’s just no better way to end a day of exploring Stone Mountain than to camp right in the park. The campground offers convenient restrooms, showers and a camp store. There are several options for camping Stone Mountain ranging from primitive campsites to full RV hookups. Read my Stone Mountain Park Campground Guide.

Disclosure: I was fortunate enough to receive complimentary camping & adventure passes for my family thanks to Stone Mountain Park. But, let me assure you that does not influence my opinion of this fantastic experience.

Exploring St. Augustine with Tweens – Florida Fun Giveaway

Exploring St Augustine with TweensAs you can imagine, my two tween sons keep me in search of buzzing action to satisfy their indomitable spirits while balancing quality family-bonding experiences and some downtime. This mom’s on a mission to weave their youthful exuberance with moments of simplicity. Normally, this is no easy task. But, in the heart of, “The Old City,” I discovered St. Augustine really is a Fountain of Youth that had me lazing on the beach, zip lining over crocodiles, strolling through history and climbing the heights of an iconic–and romantic–lighthouse. Experience the best this seaside stronghold has to offer by adding these 8 great family-friendly explorations to your itinerary.

Ripley’s Odditorium, Red Train Tours & Ghost Train Adventures
The Odditorium in St Augustine will delight the imaginations of young and old. A dizzying vortex room, interactive optical illusions and fun mirrors entertain the family while bizarre exhibits like shrunken heads and a motorcycle constructed of bone turn up the creepiness factor.

Not only were my children completely mesmerized by the strange and unusual exhibits at Ripley’s Odditorium, we painlessly explored St. Augustine from this hub of activity by parking our car and taking the Red Train. Over 20 stops along the Red Train Tour offer convenient navigation to many attractions, historic sites and shops while the lively guide offers tips and information.
TIP: Download the Ripley’s Odditorium App, when you arrive, for more interactive features throughout your visit.

st-augustine-lighthouseSt Augustine Lighthouse
The iconic black-swirled lighthouse of St. Augustine is one of those few places you can snag a moment of precious romance while simultaneously challenging children’s sense of adventure. Inside the lighthouse, starkly contrasting black spiral stairs and white walls create a stunning visual for the climb. Though the climb seems less daunting than some other lighthouses at only 165 steps, the grand view is rewarding for the whole family. While the children revel in the new heights they’ve achieved, an opportunity for parents to steal a romantic moment reveals itself.

The lighthouse, although clearly the focal point, isn’t the only draw to the classic shoreline attraction. Enjoy a well-deserved rest stop under the cover of shade trees while the children expend their energy clambering on a sea-inspired playground. Discover history by visiting the museum and take a leisurely stroll along the nature trail before choosing your souvenirs at the gift shop.
TIP: This souvenir shop has reasonably priced tabletop replicas of the famous lighthouse to remember your visit.

floridasp-anastasia-beach02Anastasia State ParkRead My Campground Guide
This quiet park was the scene of our overnight accommodations and beach activities. I was pleasantly surprised by the overall cleanliness of the park. As a regular camper and hiker, I am no stranger to carrying along a trash bag to scoop up disposables left by others. So, I have to hand it to the staff and visitors of this Florida State Park for their attention to detail. View more photographs and read my full guide to camping Anastasia State Park to better plan your trip.

The beach is just a short drive, walk or bike ride from the camping area. A scenic boardwalk leads to four long miles of gorgeous Florida beach. We were fortunate enough to have this amazing location nearly all to ourselves during our stay in early June. My 10-year-old son has a thing for bodysurfing and has never been disappointed by St. Augustine’s waves.
The park is also home to the archaeological site where the coquina rock was quarried for nearby Castillo de San Marcos National Monument. A visit to the quarry, located just inside the park, will add another dimension to your experience at Castillo de San Marcos.
TIP: There are lessons and rentals available for a variety of watersports you can enjoy such as kayaking, paddle boating and more.

st-augustine-castilloCastillo de San Marcos National Monument
Breathe deep as you walk the gundeck of this fortress to take in nearly 450 years of history and an expansive view. An inexpensive addition to your itinerary, Castillo de San Marcos enriches your visit through self-guided tours, ranger programs, historical demonstrations and an informative video.
TIP: The coquina walls also provide a unique backdrop for enjoying a family picnic and some much-needed relaxation.

ripple-effect-kayakRipple Effect Eco TourRead my full review + video! 
I have lovingly dubbed the Ripple Effect Eco Tour as, “one of the best experiences in the Southeast US.” I mean it. A knowledgeable and friendly Ripple Effect guide leads an expedition in the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve–an extraordinary pristine environment teeming with wildlife and adventure.

My sons were able to explore a place like no other in the world and I rediscovered a child-like sense of wonder in myself. This truly instills a spirit of conservation and respect for nature. View photos, video and more from our experience kayaking with Ripple Effect Eco Tours.
TIP: Make sure you have sun protection and bring water to hydrate.

pirate-treasure-museum_001The Pirate & Treasure MuseumFull Review + GIVEAWAY
Traveling back in time to dark and mysterious surroundings we peek into the lives and lore of the most infamous pirates to sail the seven seas. Excitedly, my tween sons busted myths and uncovered the truth about pirates and their treasure troves while engaged in an interactive treasure hunt throughout the museum.

An historic tale is woven of intrigue and drama with the added fun of practicing necessary pirate skills: treasure hunting, knot-tying and blasting cannons. The self-guided tour begins and ends in a small gift shop perfect for choosing a treasured trinket for the pirate in your life.
Tip: DO enter the room labeled, “Enter if you Dare,” for a dark surprise that any adventurer will appreciate. This was one of the boys’ favorite parts of the museum.


Marineland Dolphin Adventure – Scroll down for GIVEAWAY 
An unforgettable encounter awaited my boys, at Marineland, where we came face-to-face with friendly dolphin, Lily. Lily gave us a hands-on learning experience that should never be replicated with a wild dolphin. We fed her, tickled her belly and even gave her dolphin kisses!

Make a splash with your kids and one of the most beloved creatures of the sea, dolphins. The specially trained dolphins, at Marineland, show a range of interaction from gentle kisses to high-flying jumps. These powerful creatures will amaze you as you learn about their lives, their struggles in the wild and their playfulness. Read my full review on Homeschool Travel.
TIP: Remember, these are trained dolphins, not wild animals. As long as you follow the guidelines, for properly interacting with the dolphins, you can relax and have fun.

st-augustine-alligator-farmAlligator Farm Zoological Park & Crocodile Crossing Zip Line
Don’t let the name fool you. There is much more to this Zoological Park than gators, as my reptile-obsessed son discovered. It isn’t your average zoo, either. Nestled among komodo dragons, a variety of snakes and many bird species live hundreds of charming alligators and crocodiles. A variety of daily wildlife shows promote knowledge and awareness of often misunderstood animals and some of Florida’s native species. We even saw park staff feeding alligators from within the enclosures before we headed over to the boardwalk and tossed snacks to the gators below.

Feeding hungry alligators too tame for your adventurous crew? Take them on a zipline adventure through the trees–directly above the alligator habitats! Crocodile Crossing is a thrilling addition to the Alligator Farm that zips visitors through seven acres of aerial obstacles.
TIP: Parents, find a bench near the fossil hunting tent and chat while the kids try their hand at paleontology.

Effortlessly, I was able to bring together my family’s cravings for adventure and quench the desire to peacefully unwind. The unique mesh of St. Augustine’s historical richness and modern family fun combine to form lasting memories, uncover intriguing treasures of our past and instill a passion for pristine nature.

Disclosure: I was fortunate enough to receive complimentary admission for my family thanks to St. Augustine and the wonderful attractions listed above. But, let me assure you that does not influence my opinion of this experience.

Win 4 General Admission Passes to Marineland Dolphin Adventure
General admission guests are able to view the dolphins through 6 x 10 ft acrylic windows as they swim, play and interact with guests in programs alongside the pristine Atlantic coastline.

For your chance to win, just leave a comment, on this post, telling what you LOVE about Florida!