The Game of Life

Camp Cook Chronicles – The G...

INTRO: One of our adventures, as Georgia's Official Outdoors Explorer Crew, is camping every month of the year! We'll experience every season in Georg...

[Video ] Hike Sweetwater Creek with me

[Video] Hike Georgia’s Sweetw...

Sometimes, I feel discouraged. It's a surprise, even to me. I'm a solid person with a strong foundation and a drive to learn things, experience thin...

Adventuring as Georgia's Official Outdoors Explorer

Adventuring as Georgia’s Offi...

I'm already a bit behind in 2015. Two weeks in and this is my first post of the year! I took some time to reflect on what I learned in 2014 and define...

2015 Guide to Spend more time Outside

Your 2015 guide to spending more ti...

Everyone is in agreement that we all need to spend time outside. Kids, and their adults, are spending more time indoors than ever before - playing vi...

Travel & Adventure

Adventuring as Georgia's Official Outdoors Explorer

Adventuring as Georgia’s Official Outdoors Explorer

I'm already a bit behind in 2015. Two weeks in and this is my first post of the year! I took some time to reflect on what I learned in 2014 and define some goals for our 2015 adventures. One surprising lesson I learned, on my 3000-mile road...

11 Ways to Stay Warm on Winter Adventures Outdoors

11 ways to stay warm on winter adventures outdoors

On the 11th day of Christmas, Mother Nature gave to me... the cold harsh air of the winter wonderland! Read more of the 12 Days of Christmas in Nature   Folks, in the spirit of keeping it real.. I live in Georgia. While we d...

Camp Cook Chronicles – The Game of Life

INTRO: One of our adventures, as Georgia’s Official Outdoors Explorer Crew, is camping every month of the year! We’ll experience every season in Georgia’s great outdoors, exploring our state’s campgrounds and backcountry campsites accessible only by hiking or paddling. Every camp we make will lead us to new discoveries about nature and ourselves.

The Game of Life and Twister. Unusual camping gear, but these are the two primary pieces of equipment I load into the car for our first 2015 campout. The forecast calls for freezing temps and near-constant drizzle. While that’s not entirely hopeless, it’s less than ideal for boosting morale on Episode One of a 12-part camping series.

I opt to ease into the resolution by staying in a yurt. It’s called, “glamping.” Instead of huddling in one of our tents, we’ll camp in style. The yurt offers warmth, comfortable beds and relieves us of pitching the tent in the rain. It also provides a place for us to spread out the Twister mat and play games into the night.

We venture out to explore Fort Yargo State Park, but the real magic happens when we come back to the yurt to shed our boots and coats for our favorite soft blankies – another luxury that’s usually replaced by sleeping bags on a camping trip. I use the camp stove to cook supper, on a deck overlooking the lake, as the boys warm up in the yurt. The water reflects brilliant pinks and the sun begins to set behind the trees. Then, as if Mother Nature had called them by name, my boys join me to glimpse the last rays of a sun that’s been hiding behind clouds all day.

The Game of LifeAfter supper, the boys set up The Game of Life. A game that usually seems to take forever flew by in the blink of an eye – much like life. I watch as my boys encounter obstacles, setbacks and triumphs moving their little plastic cars around a game board that represents a lifetime. I’m hoping that they’re building enough resilience and resourcefulness to last them a lifetime, in the time we have together. And, just as quickly as it began, the Game of Life is over and we move on to the next big thing.

Pulling out the twister mat, I know I’m about to get schooled in the ways of a master. My Crazy Horse is as double-jointed and limber as they come. Despite bending my body in unnatural ways, they both kick my butt at Twister with some wild contortionist poses. Spending this time, just goofing off with my boys and taking it easy, is the highlight of this “glamp out.”

 Playing Twister at the yurt

Sleep comes easy, in a pitch black yurt, on a rainy night in Georgia. But, morning comes early, at camp! We all enjoy a restful sleep on the futons and awake refreshed to the songs of early birds catching worms.

Read More about our camping experience at Fort Yargo State Park —–>

[Video] Hike Georgia’s Sweetwater Creek State Park

[Video ] Hike Sweetwater Creek with me
Sometimes, I feel discouraged. It’s a surprise, even to me. I’m a solid person with a strong foundation and a drive to learn things, experience things and share them with others. That doesn’t matter. Somehow, I’ve managed to remain human and I stumble over the same rocks as everyone else. I get up, I get down.

Over the past month, I’ve revisited the same place at least once every week. A place I’ve been coming home to for over twenty years. My intention was to create content – information on the park and the trails that other people could use in planning their own day at Sweetwater Creek State Park. I took my sons. I took photos and videos. I took notice of things that I could mention. I brought it home and began compiling it into a video and realized that I’m going to fail at my original concept.

My video isn’t the quick clip, chock-full of useful information, about some park in Georgia where people can spend a couple hours or a day. It doesn’t simply feature the terrain or highlights that people would be interested in seeing. Instead, set to music with no voiceover, the only information it presents to viewers is a fraction of how much I love this place. With that said, let me introduce to you the video that fails to convey any information, whatsoever, about this park.

Hiking Sweetwater Creek State Park

I’ve hiked these trails with friends and family, people and pets who’ve passed on, all alone and with my sons.  This place holds a secret, for me, that can be found nowhere else on Planet Earth. A deep natural and personal history that I can’t contain in any photo, video or blurb. No matter how far I travel or what I find when I get there… this is what I miss and where I return home. I have recorded scenes from Sweetwater Creek State Park in hopes that you might have 10 minutes to spare to go on a virtual hike with me. Instead of voicing over a description of the park, I have set my video to an Allman Brothers song about a similar Georgia destination, “High Falls.” All clips are from a single hike of the blazed red and white trails.


Adventuring as Georgia’s Official Outdoors Explorer

Adventuring as Georgia's Official Outdoors ExplorerI’m already a bit behind in 2015. Two weeks in and this is my first post of the year! I took some time to reflect on what I learned in 2014 and define some goals for our 2015 adventures. One surprising lesson I learned, on my 3000-mile road trip, is that there truly is no place like home. Georgia is my home.

Georgia’s Official Outdoors Explorer

It’s funny how things work out - just as I was making plans to discover more of my home state, Explore Georgia named me the Official Outdoors Explorer of Georgia. What an honor to be working with Explore Georgia as I set out on adventures across Georgia’s diverse landscapes. The Georgia Explorer program, launching later this month, includes several of Georgia’s favorite travel experts.. I count one of the experts, Lesli Peterson, among my best friends.

There are three major adventures I’ll be embarking on this year.

Camping Georgia

Camping in the Rain
We’ll be making camp, at least once a month, for the entire year. We came close in 2014, without even realizing it. The fact that Georgia has some amazing campgrounds really makes this easier. But, this isn’t just about car camping. We’ll explore the backcountry at campsites only accessible by hiking or paddling! Camping once a month will help us discover new places, learn more about our state and connect with nature as a family.


Muddy Spokes, Canyon Climbers and Park Paddlers

on the Mountain Bike Trail
We’re joining all three of the Georgia State Parks activity clubs. Each club will lead us to state parks where we complete activities. The activities include mountain biking, paddling kayaks or canoes, and climbing canyons all over the state. It’s easy to join, just visit a participating park. When we’ve met the requirements for each, we receive commemorative t-shirts to celebrate our accomplishment. Learn more about the activity clubs on the Georgia State Parks website.


Georgia Master Naturalist

Fishing at BOW
Georgia Master Naturalist is an environmental education program developed by the UGA Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. Participants explore local habitats and ecosystems to gain a better understanding of natural environments in Georgia.

I am completing the course to earn my certification. This will really help me learn more about Georgia’s outdoor spaces and enable me to share more of my passion with others through volunteer work.


As you can see, from our “Year in Photos,” below, we’re expanding on the things we learned on our travels in 2014. This year is about broadening horizons closer to home.

Your 2015 guide to spending more time outside

2015 Guide to Spend more time OutsideEveryone is in agreement that we all need to spend time outside. Kids, and their adults, are spending more time indoors than ever before - playing video games, surfing youtube, searching the internet, blogging and connecting via social media are certainly drawing us indoors. Even my own nature-loving family is guilty of having our noses glued to screens for long periods of time – especially when the weather isn’t enticing us to break free for a while.

That’s why I came up with this challenge. It begins short and sweet by encouraging us to spend just 15 minutes outdoors, everyday. It’s so easy even a couch potato can do it.

Today, we have a checklist of 25 ways to spend just 15 minutes outdoors. Add a few of your family’s ideas and spend  about 500 minutes outdoors during the month of January!

Don’t stop there! Add 5 more minutes for February, and make it 25 minutes in March! I’ll be back, in spring, with some great ideas on how to spend 30 minutes outdoors having fun with the family. We’ll keep the momentum going throughout the seasons with new ideas and more outdoor fun. Subscribe to Trail Mix Digest to be reminded when the new grid comes out.


Before you print the condensed checklist, read over the expanded version which offers more details about the ideas and some tips for making your 15 minute adventures a success. >>View and Print Checklist Grid Here<<

Tips for successful outdoor adventures

1. Print out the checklist and go over it with your kids. Use the blank spaces to personalize it with some of your family’s ideas.

2. Dress for the weather. Layer for warmth. Waterproof boots and rain coats are good for rainy days. Don’t forget mittens and hats on cold days.

3. Speaking of weather, having umbrellas handy will improve your chances of getting out on a rainy day. There are “cheat codes,” for getting outside in the wind, rain and snow.. consider playing in an open garage or carport to shield yourself from the elements while still getting a dose of fresh air and natural light.

4. Have a fun “warm up,” activity planned for ending your cold-weather outside time. Have a hot chocolate or tea time. Warm up with a bowl of soup. Cozy up on the couch for a little tv time. Kids look forward to these and will begin to associate these fun indoor activities with outdoor time.

5. You get outside, too! This 15 minutes isn’t just about kids or getting outside. It’s about quality time and natural bonding opportunities. Get out there and be a kid for 15 minutes.

25 ideas to get the family outside for 15 minutes

Play catch – The cool thing about this is it is versatile and you can do it several times with different equipment. Play catch with a football, baseball and glove, frisbee disc, or play catch with your feet using a soccer ball.

Balance Beam or Tight Rope – Setup a board as a balance beam and practice balancing as you walk across. As you improve, you can use cinder blocks (or other materials) to raise your balance beam higher off the ground. Or, get some heavy rope and set up a tight rope.. tie one rope low to the ground and another higher up so you have something to hang onto as you make your way across.

Bird watching - Hang bird feeders to count and identify how many birds visit your feeders. Keep an eye on the outskirts, we often see hawks hanging around within the area. If you set a chair near your feeders and hold still, birds will get accustomed to your presence and you can get an even closer look.

Parade - My mom used to give us a random assortment of musical “instruments,” including kazoos, pots and pans to bang on, oatmeal boxes, and other toy instruments and we had parades up and down the street with the neighborhood kids. But, you can have just as much fun making your own parade in the backyard.

Walk the Block  – Take a walk, bicycle or scooter around the block!

Build a Cairn - A cairn is a pile of stones built as a memorial or landmark. You may have seen photos of rocks balanced one top of the other until it’s a tower. This is a cairn! Try your hand at balancing stones to make a tower.

Sidewalk chalk art - Break out the sidewalk chalk and make art or fun messages on the driveway when you’re expecting visitors.

Hackysack – Use a bean bag or an official hacky sack to play the game. The idea is to gather in a group and try to keep the bean bag/hackysack in the air using just your feet.

Blow Bubbles -  Young kids still get a thrill out of bubbles. For older kids, try adding a twist. Hang some paper and add food coloring to the bubble solution – then try to make art on the paper by blowing bubbles. Other fun for older kids and bubbles is to bring them out on days when the temp is below freezing or trying to make a concoction of bubbles that don’t pop.

Sunrise/Sunset - I add this to everything. It’s a time-honored romantic scene, but it can become meaningful for kids. My youngest son has a “thing” for viewing the sunrise as much as he can and especially when we’re on overnight camps and trips to new places.

Photo shoot - Studio portraits or great.. But, there is NOTHING like natural light for a photo shoot. Do a special outdoor photoshoot each month! Also, give the kids the camera and send them on a mission to photograph a category of items such as 5 things of a certain color, or 5 different tree barks, 5 plants, 5 icicles, 5 whatever!

Measuring lengths - Take the measuring tape out and measure the lengths of enormous animals, buildings or other landmarks to give kids an idea of how big things really are. We searched the lengths of different types of whales and sharks to measure out in the driveway. But, you could measure out the tallest skyscrapers, or other landmarks.

Sketch or paint - Grab a sketchbook or art easel and take it outside to see how nature inspires your art.

Magnifying glass or binoculars - Take the magnifying glass on a walk around the yard looking at different trees, plants, ice, or whatever you can find. Use the binoculars to spy on wildlife like birds and squirrels in trees and to get a closer look at abandoned nests.

Build a shelter or fort  – You’re stranded in the wilderness!! You have 15 minutes before the snowstorm rolls in.. use available materials to build the best shelter you can!

Hula Hoops - Have a hula hoop challenge.. grab a stop watch and see how long you can keep it from falling! Use your hips, your neck, your arm or your leg!

Snowballs or “Sockballs” – Snowball target practice and snowball fights are fun for snow days. But, down south, we have to get creative.. ball up some old socks and use them to have snowball fights! Set up some targets and see if you can hit them.

Find constellations – Check out this website for some ideas about what’s currently in night sky and try to locate them when the sun goes down.

Tic Tac Toe – Draw tic tac toe boards in the sand or snow, or use sticks. Then, use rocks or twigs to place your marks.

Beach ball or balloons - We used to play a game with beach balls or balloons sort of like hacky sack, only trying to keep it up in the air by hitting it with your hands.

Sand or Snow Castles – Get out the beach toys and build snow castles with them. Or, just use sand in a sand box.

Follow the Leader - Classic outdoor game.

Cloud Shapes  – Not just for warm weather. Spend some time looking for shapes in the clouds.

Hopscotch – Use chalk to draw a hopscotch board and play a round. For older kids, try making it more difficult by making the boxes further away from each other or adding some obstacles.

Jump Rope – Classic outdoor fun! Everybody knows how to play jump rope.. but, it can take a surprising amount of practice to get really good at it. How many jumps can you make before the rope hits you??

Printable Winter Nature Journal eBook

Winter Nature Journal Preview

The Winter Nature Journal eBook [first in a series of four] is finally here! It’s a little later than I hoped, but it’s published just in time for Winter Solstice. I hope that my nature loving fans will find inspiration, ideas and information in the book to help propel your nature journaling into 2015. It is available for free to subscribers of Trail Mix Digest, the Happy Trails Wild Tales newsletter. Once you confirm your subscription [from a confirmation email], you will be redirected to download the Winter Nature Journal in PDF format.

If you have ANY technical difficulties, please don’t hesitate to leave comments with your email address and I will help as soon as possible.

Subscribe to the Trail Mix Digest and receive your free book!