Tuesday

6 Mouth-Watering Campfire Dogs

Hot dogs are one of my favorite camping meals. I just love the taste of crispy dogs dripping with ketchup and mustard. One of the reasons I love them so much is that they are easy and don't require any prep. When camping with kids, simplest is best sometimes. But every once in a while it is fun to mix things up; so I gathered a few recipes that will any campfire dog to the next level without adding much work. Hope you enjoy!
6 Mouth-Watering Campfire Dogs

Bacon Wrapped Cheese Hot Dogs - Barbara Bakes make these SUPER simple with one secret. Head over and see what it is.
6 Mouth-Watering Campfire Dogs

Hot Diggity Dog - These only require what you will most likely already have in your kitchen. Who would have guessed hot dogs would be so good marinated?
6 Mouth-Watering Campfire Dogs

Spider Hot Dogs - So creative and all you need is a knife. My kids thought these were so fun.
6 Mouth-Watering Campfire Dogs

Chili Dog - This chili recipe from Lemons For Lulu is wonderful but you can just go for canned if you don't want the extra work. Don't forget the cheese. The best part in my opinion.
6 Mouth-Watering Campfire Dogs

Special Sauce Dog - Another amazing sauce that will make you fall in love with hot dogs.
6 Mouth-Watering Campfire Dogs

Pigs In A Blanket - I used a homemade biscuit dough for these but you can just as easily use canned croissant rolls. I roasted the dog just a little before wrapping it. I love hot dogs nice and crispy.
6 Mouth-Watering Campfire Dogs

Your turn. Do you have any favorite hot dog recipes?

Tips for a Stress-Free Picnic

You know, we all have to eat. Why not eat outdoors?

Picnics can be a fun and creative way to spend time outdoors as a family. Add a few games and you have a full blown family outdoor adventure. But as with most things, planning is key to having fewer problems and more FUN. Here are a few things I have learned about ensuring stress-free picnics with kids.
Tips for a Stress-Free Picnic
  • Time Of Day - The coolest part of the day for us right now is in the morning. Even after the sun goes down it is still in the high 80s and sometimes low 90s. So the best meal for us to eat outdoors is breakfast. Sometimes we even just stay in our pajamas and eat in the back yard. 
  • Plan For Bugs - Don't forget the bug repellent and plan to keep food covered at all times so it attracts as few bugs as possible. 
  • Ants - Along the same lines as bugs but super important so I gave it a bullet point all its own. Remind your kids what ant hills look like so they can do their best to avoid them. Or check the area for ant hills and mark them by placing a stick in the ground next to them. A kid falling into an ant bed will end the fun real quick. 
  • Bring Extra Water - I love to have extra on hand for cleaning up messes or for rinsing hands. Whether they are covered in dirt or food, it is nice to be able to clean them off with a little water. Or knees if they happen to fall down.
  • Cloth Is Best - I love cloth table cloths. Sure plastic is water proof but cloth is much more versatile. If you run out of napkins, you have a way to clean up messes or your hands. If there are no picnic tables, cloth is much more comfortable to sit on. If you wash your table cloths in the washer, cloth lasts longer. 
Bonus: Make it an adventure by trying a new location. We decided to have a picnic earlier this year by a lake. It required us to hike a little but it was worth it.
Tips for a Stress-Free Picnic

What are you picnic-ing tips?

DIY Outdoor (or Indoor) Toys

With summer in full swing we are all looking for inexpensive ways to keep the kids "entertained" and to encourage outdoor play. I am not extremely crafty but I do like to work with my hands and I love reusing old junk. So I pulled together a few DIY toys that are super simple to make and that used things I could find around the house.
  • Stilts - Good old fashioned fun using 15 oz. cans and rope. I used a screwdriver and hammer to punch holes in the side. Just make sure the ropes are the same length when attached to the cans.
  • Cardboard Box Boat - I used a wrapping paper tube and pillowcase for the sail and cardboard cut into a circle and wire for the wheel. Tons of variations and fun to be had here. 
  • Mild Jug Watering Can - I took an old milk jug and drilled holes in the lid. The smaller the holes the longer the water will last. The kids water the plants and each other. Perfect for cooling off during these hot summer months. 
  • Twig Tic Tac Toe - Reusable tic tac toe made from sticks and rocks from Fireflies and Mudpies. 
  • Soda Bottle Bowling - Fill up old soda bottles with water, line them up and use what ever ball you have available to knock them over. The more water in the bottles the harder it will be to knock them over. Any size soda bottle will work. 
  • DIY Wooden Blocks - Another creative way to use sticks and branches fallen in your yard from How Wee Learn.
  • DIY Obstacle Course Play - Doesn't use anything other that what you already have in your yard or at the park. Fun times from And Next Comes L. 
I am always surprised how much the kids love these types toys. Just goes to show that kids can have fun with even the simplest toys. We don't need to spend a lot of money. Just use a little creativity.

Your turn. What are your favorite DIY toys?

5 Ways to Simplify Your Next Camping Trip

It's no secret that camping in one of my all time favorite activities. But I won't lie, it is a lot of work gathering equipment, planning meals, packing and loading the vehicle. Add kids and it can be downright overwhelming; but it doesn't have to be.

We got back from our camping trip to Palo Duro Canyon State Park last month and I was reminded that practice makes perfect. My husband and I have been camping together for eight years and at this point have a routine for when we get to the camp ground, pack up at the end of the trip and unpack when we get home. It has taken a lot of practice and it wasn't a spoken agreement; we just kind of do what what we are good at and stay out of each other's way. Camping has gotten exponentially easier since we have gotten into our rhythm.

But it took us a while to get to this point and, if you are single, you don't always go with the same people. So in the mean time here are few ways you can simplify your camping trips.

Keep it short and close to home. Don't feel like you have to make every trip a mega adventure. Microadventures can be just as fun and a lot less stressful. I love what 100 Peaks has to say about microadventures. The important thing is to get out there!
Our favorite campground close to home. The Chickasaw National Recreation Area.
Bring no-cook meals or go out for dinner. Stoves and dutch ovens are clunky and take up a lot of space. I love cooking with them but when I want to simplify I cook over the fire, bring cold cuts or just find a fun restaurant close by.
Keep camping gear organized. We clean and organize our gear at the campsite or before we put it away when we get home. I replenish any supplies that are low before putting the gear away. Then when it is time for our next trip we just have to load everything into the car.
Bring less equipment. Seems impossible but there are plenty of space saving options. Check out my post Space Saving Tips for Family Car Camping for my favorite ideas and some of my favorite gear at the bottom of this post.
Enjoy activities that don't require equipment. Hiking, scavenger hunts, nature centers and ranger programs to name a few. The possibilities are endless. We rarely bring toys for the kids when we camp. We have so much fun around the campfire and exploring.

Your turn. How do you help your camping trips remain manageable?

Some of our favorite space saving equipment. (aff link, Thank you for clicking through to purchase these products, a very, very small portion of the sales help support this blog)

Wednesday

Are National Parks really America's best idea?

I am sure most of you are familiar with Ken Burn's series on PBS The National Parks: America's Best Idea. If you haven't, it is a wonderful series documenting the history of the US National Park system and you need to see it. While I know our National Park system preserves some of the most beautiful places on this continent, that isn't it's greatest accomplishment.
Our favorite camping trip of the year so far, Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Texas. 
Earlier this year we participated in our second First Day Hike. (First Day Hikes take place on January 1st at local state parks.) I enjoyed the hike last year but the program this year far exceeded my expectations. The park staff put together a short program on tips for photographing wildlife before the hike and provided healthy snacks and bottled water. And that wasn't even my favorite part of the day.

The park naturalist lead the hike and gave the usual speech about the ecology and history of the State Park, pretty standard. But what set him apart for me was his enthusiasm for connecting children with the outdoors, obviously a passion of mine as well. He helped my son learn to look a little closer. They found feathers, shells, wildlife tracks and plenty of ice. My son had so much fun we went back a few months later.

This experience got me thinking and for a while I was a little annoyed. Why do National Parks get all the attention? If we are going to raise the next generation to be outdoor enthusiasts they need to be regularly connecting with nature and having memorable experiences. And it takes a lot more than 58 parks scattered around the country to do that.

My son's experience on the First Day Hike was somewhat unique in that it was a lot more personal than most but it was very memorable for him. On this same hike the park manager was telling me about a new program that will connect fourth graders with the outdoors starting later this year. Without the work of our state and county conservation professionals many of our youth would not have access to natural areas. Are they getting enough credit for all they do? Not everyone lives close to a National Park. Here in Oklahoma we have National Historic Sites and Recreation Areas, but no National Parks.
Roman Nose State Park, Oklahoma
So while I love the exotic parks like Yosemite and the Grand Canyon, I think National Parks are America's best idea because they helped solidify the idea of environmental conservation in American culture. The creation of National Parks put a "face" to the environmental movement. They captured our imaginations and continue to inspire us. And their legacy continues today.

Tuesday

Nature Crowns Inspired By Frozen

My kids, like most others, are obsessed with Frozen; even after all this time. We were watching it AGAIN this past weekend and I noticed the nature-inspired crowns Anna and Kristoff were wearing when the trolls were trying to marry them. I thought, why not channel their love of Frozen into spending some time outdoors and putting to use some the natural materials they are bound to collect in the process.
source
I love the way these crowns turned out. They just take a little time and patients to glue everything into place. Anna's crown looks like it was made using palm leaves and being in Oklahoma, we don't have any. So I found some wide bladed bunch grass that I cut in an attempt to make them look like palm leaves. If I was still living in Florida, I would have just gathered some saw palmetto leaves.

Materials


Felt
Hot Glue and Gun
Sticks - lots of them
Small palm leaves or wide bladed grass - lots of them
Red leaves, scrap felt, ribbons or buttons

Instructions


  • Get outdoors and let your kids collect as many leaves, blades of grass and sticks as possible. I was surprised how many we ended up needing. We made a couple gathering trips. 
  • Cut felt into 1-2 inch wide strips and glue then into circles big enough to fit your child's head. Remember that felt stretches, I made mine just a little too small. This is especially important for the stick crown as it is heavy and stretches out the felt. 
  • Break sticks into equal sizes. I recommend as short as possible. This crown get fairly heavy, so shorter sticks make for a lighter crown. 
  • Cut blades for blades of grass to look like palm leaves. Once again, short is better. Longer leaves are harder to handled when glued into place. 
    Nature Walk: Nature Crowns Inspired By Frozen
  • Glues leaves onto one circle of felt lining up one edge of the leaves along the bottom edge of the felt. Repeat this with the sticks. Use a fair amount of glue on the sticks. They can be heavy and need to be secured. 
  • Cut leaves, scrap felt or ribbon into small pieces. Glue onto the bottom of the palm crown for decoration. They use some sort of jewel in Frozen and this was the best "natural" replacement I could come up with. 
    Nature Walk: Nature Crowns Inspired By Frozen
  • Enjoy. See what stories your kids come up with playing with these crowns. The leaves dry out fairly fast but the crown is still usable and tons of fun.
    Nature Walk: Nature Crowns Inspired By Frozen
What have you been creating using natural materials lately? Feel free to leave posts and pictures in the comments. 

PS. My kids thought it was fun to go an a "FROZEN" hike. I am always looking for ways to keep hiking fun for the kids.

Follow along or subscribe (top of left column) for more inspiration and ideas for enjoying the outdoors as a family. 

How SAFE is Outdoor Adventuring?

"You shouldn't be out in the forest by yourself, it's dangerous."
or
"Don't you get scared being outdoors by yourself, you might get abducted."

I have heard comments similar to these a lot over the course of my life. At the age of 19 I got a job working as a park ranger. A dream come true to say the least; I got paid to be outdoors. I did amazing things like prescribe burning, canoeing and driving 4-wheelers (all in the line of duty). I also did not-so-amazing things like cleaning up garbage, clearing trails and organizing sheds. Part of the job was working by myself in the forest and there were times when I would get nervous but mostly I enjoyed the solitude.

When I moved on to the University of Florida I got a job as research assistant and was once again in the forest a lot by myself, many days in the early morning before the sun was up. During this time there were a couple murders in the Ocala National Forest (which is just south of where I was in Gainesville). Once again, many of my friends started telling me I shouldn't be in the forest, especially by myself.

I am not saying their concerns where unfounded but I have always felt like some of the fears we have about being in the forest comes from sensationalized media. Should we not live in cities because X number of murders happen there on a yearly basis? I decided to do a little research to see if I could get an idea of how often and what types of injuries people are suffering from when pursuing outdoor adventures. So the question of the day...
How SAFE is OUTDOOR ADVENTURING?
Photo Source: Blog Chicka Blog

Here is what I came up with.

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