Wednesday

Nature-Inspired Valentines (free-printable)

I really love holidays. But I sometimes get tired of all the commercialism and focus on CANDY. We still have candy from Christmas and Halloween. I am always very appreciative when we get non-candy gifts. The only thing that makes a gift better for me when it encourages us to get outdoors. So, in an effort to take the focus off candy and put it onto spending time outdoors I created these Valentines. After all, spring is the perfect time for getting outdoors and gardening.
Nature-Inspired Valentines (free-printable)

The "glue" attaching the seeds to the paper is just flour and water. So the seeds do not need to be detached from the paper before they are planted. Plus my kids had a fun time gluing the seeds onto the Valentines. I liked that my kids were able to take an active role in creating these for their friends. Hope you all enjoy.

Materials

  • Forget-Me-Not Valentine PDF (available at bottom of post)
  • Forget-Me-Not seeds
  • 2 tbsp Flour
  • 2 tbsp Water
  • Paint Brush

Instructions

  • Print Forget-Me-Not Valentines and cut out. 
  • Mix flour and water until smooth to make the "glue".
  • Use the paint brush to dab a small dot of paste onto the inside of the hearts on the Valentines.
    Nature-Inspired Valentines (free-printable)
     
  • Place a couple seeds on each dot of past. Make sure to press seeds into glue. It will get a little messy but if you don't the seeds will just pop off when dried. Trust me. 
    Nature-Inspired Valentines (free-printable)
  • Allow to dry. 
  • Have your child sign their name on the bottom. 

Alternative Gift Options

  • Place card and whole packet of Forget-Me-Not seeds in decorative bag and tie with ribbon. You could even throw in a few Peat Soil Pellets for starting seeds. 
    Nature-Inspired Valentines (free-printable)
  • Instead of gluing seeds into the center of the heart, cut out a heart-shaped piece of seed paper and glue or tie it to the center of the heart. You can buy or make your own seed paper. I love this tutorial from aboutHome. How cute are they!
Hope you have a beautiful Valentine's Day!
Nature-Inspired Valentines (free-printable)
Click on image for a printable PDF. 
PIN IT FOR LATER!
Nature-Inspired Valentines (free-printable)


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Thursday

Adventure-Filled Day Trips from Oklahoma City

Shortly after our move to Oklahoma this past summer I wrote a post about making adventure happen no matter your location, a topic very near and dear to my heart. I believe every corner of this Earth holds beauty and it is our privilege to explore and enjoy them. I spent my childhood exploring the Rocky Mountains and I miss them terribly. I learned to love the pines and sandy beaches of Florida while studying forest management in college. But here I am, half way in between and loving a new kind of outdoors all over again.

When I found out we were moving to Oklahoma I figured there would some outdoor activities. Probably the usual state recreation areas with a few national parks sprinkled around. And that about describes it here. But, what I wasn't expecting was how much it would speak to me and my family. My son's favorite color is red and Oklahoma is chalked full of red dirt and rocks. He loves exploring, throwing and climbing all over his red dirt and rocks. For me, the hues of red are just beautiful.
Adventure-Filled Day Trips from Oklahoma City
Red Rock Canyon State Park

In addition to the red, Oklahoma is, in my opinion, part of big sky county. We regularly have colorful sunsets and plenty of interesting cloud formations to contrast the red rocks. No towering peaks here, but there is more topography than I expected. I appreciate the texture of the gently rolling hills and unexpected canyons. I know you can find these things in lot of places but I consider myself lucky to live in one of them.
Adventure-Filled Day Trips from Oklahoma City
Memorable sunset during our camping trip at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area.

I haven't wasted any time in getting outdoors and exploring. Mostly it has just been with my two kids, ages 2 and 5 and, overall, we have been impressed with the facilities and amenities available. Here are my favorite outdoor-filled day trips from Oklahoma City. The topography in these areas are very light. Making them very easy to visit with two kids while my husband is at work.

Lake Thunderbird State Park


Lake Thunderbird State Park is located about 30 minutes southwest of Oklahoma City. We participated in their First Day Hike on January 1, 2015 and were blown away by all they had planned. They held a information session on wildlife photography and provided healthy snacks before and after the hike. The park naturalist was especially fun. He has a real passion for connecting kids with nature and took a lot of time with our son. There is a lot more to explore here. But if you have kids just stop by the nature center and enjoy a talk with the naturalist and a walk down to the lake. There were no entrance fees.
Adventure-Filled Day Trips from Oklahoma City
The naturalist showing my son different types of bird feathers. 

Red Rock Canyon State Park


Red Rock Canyon State Park is a beautiful canyon about an hour west of Oklahoma City. I seriously felt like I was driving to the middle of a town and all of a sudden, there it was. I was so excited to see topography (this was my first experience seeing topography in Oklahoma) and the best thing about it was the color.
Adventure-Filled Day Trips from Oklahoma City

This park offers the traditional activities of hiking and camping but also has spots for repelling. It is one of the few places to repel in Oklahoma. We went during the week and we were kind of the only ones there. But, there are a ton of campsites and I imagine that the canyon gets pretty busy during peak camping season. There were no entrance fees.

Chickasaw Cultural Center and National Recreation Area


This Chickasaw National Recreation Area is about an hour and a half south of Oklahoma City. We love this area. The Cultural Center is part of the Chickasaw National and is mostly free. There is one museum that costs but the traditional village is all free. We visited during their fall festival and had a ton of fun. They had a bunch of activities and demonstrations all for free. The National Recreation Area has springs, lakes and hiking trails. We camped here last fall and are planning on going back because there was so much we didn't get to see. We explored the Lake of the Arbuckles on our last visit.
Adventure-Filled Day Trips from Oklahoma City

Martin Park Nature Center


Martin Park Nature Center is located on the north side of Oklahoma City and is perfect for a nature excursion when you can't leave town. My kids love this place because it has a playground, an observation tower, multiple bridges and an interactive nature center. I love this place because I can show my kids the animal indoors, then take them outdoors and help them understand where those animals live in the wild and how we can protect them.
Adventure-Filled Day Trips from Oklahoma City
My kids love the observation tower. 
One of the prettiest features of this park is the river. It flows over red rock and is a fun place to cool off on a hot day. We make a stop there every visit. This is honestly a good place for a nature fix without having to travel. There were no entrance fees.
Adventure-Filled Day Trips from Oklahoma City

Arcadia Lake


Archadia Lake is location about 15 miles northeast of Oklahoma City. We love the trails in this area because of the lake. I have found that it is helpful to have "destinations" when hiking with kids. This gives them something to look forward to and makes our breaks more interesting. We usually stop at the lake towards the end of our hike for some rock throwing and snacks. There are entrance fees at this park.
Adventure-Filled Day Trips from Oklahoma City

Roman Nose State Park


Roman Nose State Park is located about an hour and 15 minutes northwest of Oklahoma City. It is set in a beautiful canyon filled with trees and water bodies. The highlight of our trip was exploring the Tee-pees. We cannot wait to go back and camp in them. This park also has a golf course, paddle boats, natural springs, stables and hayrides. Once again, I would imagine this place gets pretty busy during peak camping, golf and fishing season. There were no entrance fees.
Adventure-Filled Day Trips from Oklahoma City

Goals for 2015 Adventures!


Wichita National Wildlife Refuge
This is a beautiful mountain range located in southwestern Oklahoma. I can't wait to spend a day hiking here.

Black Mesa State Park
This state parks holds the highest point in Oklahoma and is located in the panhandle of Oklahoma. This will be more than a day trip but I am looking forward to exploring this area.

Great Plains State Park

I am sure I will find more areas to explore. I will also revisit many of the areas from this year and continue to explore their trails.

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Monday

Announcing the Outdoor Families Magazine

I am excited to announce the launch of the Outdoor Families Magazine. A group of my fellow #outfam bloggers have come together to offer unparalleled outdoor and adventure related content meant to inspire a connection to, participation in, and stewardship of the natural world.

The magazine’s advisory board is comprised of more than 30 business and thought leaders in the outdoor family and adventure market. The magazine will also eventually produce a monthly podcast, as an additional means for adults and kids to connect with a diverse range of cultures, people, and places around the world.

Outdoor Families Magazine will be the go-to resource hub, cultivating a robust, engaged community that connects with people who are interested in obtaining information related to family outdoor sports, activities and play, environmental stewardship, volunteering, adventure travel, mind and body nourishment and green living resources, ideas and tips. “There is a lack of relatable content available to families who simply want motivation and inspiration to get outdoors with their kids,” said Jennifer Fontaine founder of Outdoor Families Magazine. “This magazine will fill a void in the rapidly-growing market of outdoor family adventure and we intend to thoughtfully lead the movement.” Fontaine will oversee the overall design, aesthetic and content direction of the magazine.


In conjunction with the launch, Outdoor Families Magazine is sponsoring a photo contest with some amazing prizes. Head on over and show us your best family adventure photos. Here are a few of the prizes. 




Friday

Tips for Buying Used Outdoor Gear

I love buying used gear. I have been amazed at some of the deals I have found on gear that looked practically new. But I have also had a few bad experiences and learned some lessons the hard way. Here are a few tips for helping you decided whether to buy the gear new or used and to help you find the best used gear.

When To Buy Used Gear

  • To lesson your environmental impact. I love this post from Alyssa over at The Kid Project. I totally agree that American's are addicted to buying stuff. I know we use most of it but people have been living without it for thousands of years. Take a minute and ask yourself if you really need it or if you can make due without. Then if you need or really want it, consider buying used. If you have old gear, consider recycling. You never know who it might benefit. Traci offers some great ideas the her article How to Recycle Old Gear
    Tips for Buying Used Outdoor Gear
  • When the gear will be used infrequently or for a short time but is still needed. Last year we lived in southern Indiana. We got snow but it didn't last for long and the most we ever got at one time was six inches. I still wanted snow gear for my kids but it wasn't worth spending a lot of money. We weren't going to be spending all day outdoors skiing or snowshoeing.  I found snow pants for my daughter and boots for my son at a local consignment shop. Later, a friend gave me a pair of snow boots for my daughter. None of the gear was my favorite, but they worked and we were able to get outdoors, A LOT. 
    Tips for Buying Used Outdoor Gear
    Used coat, snow pants and boots. Not the best quality, but they allowed us to GET OUTDOORS!
  • When trying a new outdoor activity. Buying used gear is a great way to try a new sport before investing a ton of money in brand-new gear. When I get into canoeing again, I will most likely buy a used canoe to start with. 
  • No money. Sometime the funds just aren't there to buy new. We have all been there at one point or another. 
  • If you find a great deal. I found a like-new Deuter KangaKid carrier for $25 at a local consignment store. I used it for my diaper bag for a year (that way I could hike whenever I wanted) and we still take it when we travel because it is so much smaller than a framed carrier. It wasn't something I was looking for but we have gotten a lot of use out of the carrier.
    Tips for Buying Used Outdoor Gear
    Hiking with our second-hand Dueter carrier at the Petrified Forest National Park December 2014. 
Once you have decided to buy something used, here are a few things to look at before you buy.
  • Look for "professionals". I know this sounds odd but I bought my camera from a man who sells things on Craig's List as a source of extra income in retirement. He found an awesome, like-new camera and other items that went with the camera and sold them as a package deal. I could tell this guy was different than most sellers on Craig's List because he had a very detailed and lengthy add. I was nervous at first because I was afraid it was a scam but it turned out great.
  • Look for package deals - As I said, I bought my camera used off Craig's List. It was great because the man selling it had found an extra battery and information book to include in the deal. The camera looked like it had never been used. I got it and the extra equipment for a fraction of the cost. 
  • Look for a parts list online and bring it with you when you purchase the item. I bought a bike trailer for my kids and didn't check the parts list ahead of time. It turned out that an essential piece was missing. Fortunately I found the piece on Amazon for a decent price but it was annoying and I had to spend more money. 
    Tips for Buying Used Outdoor Gear
  • Don't just look at the piece of gear. Pull on the seams, twist the straps, search every nook and cranny. Some pieces look really good but start to fall apart when you look closer and use the item. 
  • Be safe. Use your best judgment if meeting someone in person to purchase an item. Bring a friend or let someone know where you are meeting and make sure it is in a public place. 

Places to buy used gear.
  • Craig's List, eBay, etc. 
  • GearTrade - I haven't used them yet but they are an option. 
  • Local Consignment Shops
  • Garage Sales
  • Friends 
What about you guys, any other suggestions or tips for buying used gear? 

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Monday

Guest Post: Polka Dot Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies (Gluten Free)

Today I welcome Kayla from Happy Hikers Happy Campers to my blog. Kayla writes about her outdoor adventures with her partner, David, and their dog, Odessa. She is a native to Portland, Oregon, and her blog details the many hiking and camping adventures to be had in the beautiful Pacific Northwest! You can also find Kayla writing gear reviews, tips and tricks for happier adventures, recipes for the outdoor enthusiast, and all sorts of other outdoor-inspired posts. It is her goal to help others fall in love with nature and be inspired by the outdoor world that surrounds them through her blog.

Peanut butter cookies are a classic. I loved them when I was a kid. Since becoming an adult, I've
shifted to different eating habits, which means that the original peanut butter cookie is a no-no for my tummy. After some trial and error, I finally created a recipe that I love.

These cookies are gluten free, full of fiber and protein, low on sugar, free of icky preservatives and additives, and are great for taking with you on your adventures (be they outdoors or indoors!). And since this recipe is super simple, your little ones can join in on the baking fun! 
Polka Dot Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies (Gluten Free)

Ingredients

Polka Dot Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies (Gluten Free)

For the Cookies:

-1 cup of creamy peanut butter (unsweetened)
-1 egg
-⅔ cup rolled oats
-½ cup of brown sugar
-1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
-1 teaspoon baking soda
-½ teaspoon of cinnamon

For the Polka Dots:

-¼ cup semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips
-¼ cup creamy peanut butter (unsweetened)
-1 teaspoon coconut oil

This recipe yields about 20 small cookies.

STEP ONE:

Measure out and pour oatmeal, cinnamon, and baking soda into a bowl.
Polka Dot Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies (Gluten Free)

Polka Dot Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies (Gluten Free)

STEP TWO:

In a separate bowl, combine egg, peanut butter, and brown sugar using a rubber spatula.
Polka Dot Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies (Gluten Free)

Polka Dot Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies (Gluten Free)

Polka Dot Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies (Gluten Free)

STEP THREE:

Pour the peanut butter mixture into the oatmeal mixture and stir to combine.
Polka Dot Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies (Gluten Free)

Polka Dot Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies (Gluten Free)

STEP FOUR:

Chill the dough mixture in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. While you’re waiting, you can let the little ones gobble up some peanut butter (or you know, just eat it all yourself. I won’t judge you :) ).

I always let my pup, Odessa, do a little taste testing for me. ;)
Polka Dot Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies (Gluten Free)

STEP FIVE:

Plop 1 inch sized balls down on a parchment lined baking sheet. Press the back side of a small spoon onto the dough balls to flatten them down slightly.

Bake the cookies at 350° F for 8-10 minutes.

Let the cookies cool completely before you move on to the next step. 
Polka Dot Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies (Gluten Free)

STEP SIX:

In a microwave safe bowl combine the chocolate chips, peanut butter, and coconut oil. Microwave for 20-30 second intervals, stirring in between each interval. It took two, 30 second intervals in my 1000 watt microwave for the chips and coconut oil to melt. 
Polka Dot Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies (Gluten Free)

Polka Dot Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies (Gluten Free)

STEP SEVEN:

To make the dots on the cookies, you can do one of two things:

1.    Pour the chocolate/peanut butter mixture into a small Ziploc bag, cut just the tip off one of the bottom corners, and squeeze the mixture through that.
2.    Use a toothpick and scoop up a bit of the mixture onto the end of the toothpick, then dab it on the cookies.

You can also use any other crazy method you think of. I used a clean, plastic syringe to put the dots on my cookies, and it worked really well! 
Polka Dot Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies (Gluten Free)

You can eat the cookies right after putting the polka dots on, or put them in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes to let the chocolate harden up a little. Either way, they’re going to taste good!

You can also omit the polka dots and just eat these babies plain!
Polka Dot Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies (Gluten Free)

So that’s it! I really hope you enjoy not only making these, but eating them as well. They are a really great alternative to the mainstream peanut butter cookies out there.

Let me know if you have any questions about the recipe below in the comments section! 

Click here for printable version. 

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Friday

Dorcy Flashlight and LED Headlight Reviews

One of the most essential pieces of equipment for ANY person is a flashlight. Having a flashlight fail, run out of batteries or, worse yet, not having a flashlight in an emergency is a real tragedy, whether outdoors or in. As an avid camper, road tripper and all around outdoor enthusiast I thought we had invested in some good flashlights. But you don't really know how dark it is until someone turns up the lights. This was my experience when I tested products from Dorcy.

Dorcy Flashlight and LED Headlight Reviews

A month ago I received the L.E.D Headlight and the 230 Lumen Focusing Flashlight. My husband has been using the headlight when walking home from work. He has to walk through very busy parts of town and we have both appreciated some of the features of the Dorcy Headlight that we feel make him more visible to traffic. We also used both products on our holiday road trip. A portion of our trip was done in the early morning hours and, once again, the headlight proved invaluable.

Dorcy L.E.D Headlight

Dorcy LED Headlight Review
Beam shown on high. 
Price: $24.99
Run Time: 12 Hours
Beam Distance: 387 Feet
Batteries: 3 AAA (included)
Dimensions: 2.75" W x 1.5" Deep x 1.5" H
Weight: 2.9 ounces
Unique Features: 3 brightness modes - high, low and strobe
Pros:
  • Extremely bright beam.
  • Uses AAA batteries. Even though lithium batteries last longer, I prefer not having to worry about buying another type of battery.
  • Beam adjusts up and down. 
  • Strobe mode is very useful when safety is a concern. My husband walks home from work after dark sometimes. I love that he can switch to strobe mode when he encounters a lot of traffic. 
  • Great beam distance and width. We used the headlight when loading out car in the early morning hours and the illumination was perfect. 
Cons:
  • Bulky.
  • Strap comes off easily. The first time my husband took the headlight to work to wear on the walk home, he lost the strap. Luckily he found it the next day. 
  • High mode is extremely bright. Be careful when allowing children to use the light. I saw spots for a while after my son got me in the eyes. We probably won't use this in the tent when camping. 
Overall we really like this headlight. It is perfect for around the house uses and car camping. If I were backpacking I would probably want something more compact. I feel like it is a good value for the price. This headlight be perfect for night hikes, caving, or, my favorite, moonlight canoe trips.

Dorcy 230 Lumen Focusing Flashlight

Dorcy 230 Lumen Focusing Flashlight
Price: $44.99
Run Time: 3 Hours on High
                8.5 Hours on Low
Beam Distance: 689 Feet
Batteries: 3 AA (not included)
Dimensions: 6" L x 1.5" W
Weight: 10.5 ounces w/ batteries
Unique Features: zoom focus, SOS
Pros:
  • This flashlight is amazingly bright. It far exceeds anything we owned prior. The picture says it all. 
    Dorcy 230 Lumen Focusing Flashlight
    Largest to smallest from left to right. The Dorcy is medium sized but obviously the brightest. 
  • The focusing feature is nice. The motion is smooth and the ability change the width of the beam is very convenient. 
  • It is relatively light for the brightness of the beam. Don't get me wrong, it is a sturdy flashlight. But it is relatively short most likely because it uses AA batteries.
  • It is also small for the size of the beam. Once again, I attribute this to using AA batteries. The flashlight would have had to be longer if they used D batteries. 
Cons
  • Short run time on high. 
We LOVE this flashlight. We had a hard time finding things we didn't like about it. They only thing I can't report on is it's durability. I have only had the flashlight a month. We road ripped with it and keep it out constantly at home.

Disclosure: I received these products free of charge to facilitate this review. As always, all opinions are my own. 

A Year in Review: 2014

I hope you all have had a wonderful year. Ours have been FULL of new adventures. We moved to Oklahoma and have been enjoying the outdoor wonders of our new home.  2014 was also my first full year of blogging! I have learned a lot and am looking forward to continuing the journey in 2015. But for now here are some highlights from 2014.

Most Popular Post:

My most popular post by far this past year was 8 Space Saving Tips for Family Car Camping. Camping takes a lot of gear, period! Add kids to the mix and it can be down right overwhelming. Don't let that discourage your family from camping, there are ways to help limit the amount of gear needed.

My Favorite Post:

I wrote this one for my mom on Mother's Days. I am especially grateful for my mom, who wasn't particularly outdoorsy, but still made it a priority for my siblings and I to get outdoors. It is part of the reason I developed my love of the outdoors and choose a career in forest management. 

My Favorite Post to Write: 

I wrote this post after my first semester of teaching at the university level. I was a little frustrated and discouraged because I didn't feel like I helped my students gain a true appreciation of nature. So it got me to thinking about what more I could do to help my kids learn to love and appreciate nature. It felt good to get a little of my frustration out on the page. 

Most Important Post:

Of all the posts I have written this year, I believe my post How Outdoor Play Prepares Kids to be Successful Adults has the most important message. I hope it helped people see that getting our kids outdoors is more than a luxury, it is a necessity. There are tangible benefits to kids playing outdoors, even when things aren't perfect. 
My daughter's first reaction to snow. 

Our Favorite Camping Trip:

Our favorite camping location this year was to the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. Aside from having lots of activities in the area like lakes, springs, the Chickasaw Cultural Center, as much of mountains as we have in Oklahoma; the campground we stayed at was the nicest I have ever seen. We are looking forward to going back in 2015. 

Our Best Hike:

The Blue Mesa trail at the Petrified Forest National Park was our favorite hike. The pictures say it all. Such a unique and beautiful ecosystem. 
The blues and purples were stunning!

What was your favorite adventure from 2014?

Wishing you a Happy New Year!!!

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