Monthly Archives: January 2012

Be road-trip prepared: Assemble a Car Kit

I got to thinking the other day that I needed to update our ‘car kit’. I started making a list of all the things I would need if stranded in/near my car with my family (in any season). After pondering the list I quickly realized I should consult Olivia.

As I read her list I had to laugh.

Why? Because being that I’ve spent a lot of time in the backcountry and on the road with Olivia I’ve personally seen nearly every one of these items in use. I can also recall several personal experiences where I wish I had this stuff (see stuck on beach photo below).

It may seem like a lot, but Olivia assures me she has all her emergency stuff shoved into one box that always rides in the back of her car.  In the winter she also tosses in the duffle bag full of extra clothes and warmish things (her duffle bag, by the way, has a shoulder strap, so if she had to walk , she could use it to carry stuff).

It’s all great info, so I thought I’d share the list with other travelers. (more…)

HELP! In search of the perfect granola bar

If you saw my new years resolutions you already know of my quest for the perfect granola bar. What makes the perfect granola bar you ask?

  • Easy to make: Yes, I want to make them, so I’m in search of a recipe. Preferably one that’s quick and easy.
  • Healthy: A lot of whole grains, not a lot of sugar.
  • Packability: I need to be able to individually wrap and store them (in the freezer). Also need them to hold up relatively well even if shoved at the bottom of a backpack.
  • Chewiness: I don’t want them to fall apart when you pick them up (so they can be eaten in the van or a while walking on the trail), nor do I want something that turns into a jaw breaker after 4 days.
  • Kid approved: My kids need to love them as much as they love Honey Graham Z-Bars and Quakers.

Over the weekend I tried this recipe for Kati’s Granola Bars (as suggested by Amelia from Tales of a Mt. Mama). The recipe involved: rolled oats, whole wheat flour, baking soda, vanilla, butter, honey and whatever else you want to mix in (I added craisins, sunflower seeds, almonds and coconut).

Overall I’d say these were great tasting chewy granola bars, but had a few kinks I’d need to work out:

1. They fell apart pretty easily when eaten by a small moving child.

2. My oldest thought were “too sweet”! But I have to admit, they were a bit sweet for me too.

3. I need to make them a little less dense. But how…?

HELP! As I try to create my own perfect adventure worthy granola bar, I want more suggestions. Do you have a favorite recipe I can try? Favorite ingredients? Tips? Thoughts? Ever added something like rice krispies?

In return I promise to share my recipe once I’ve created the perfect granola bar!

Teach kids to ski: 5 tips for keeping it enjoyable

I sent the following email to my friend Amber the other day:

I’m thinking of doing a blog post about teaching kids to ski. I was wondering if you could help me out since my kids don’t really ski (yet). Will you send me your 5 best tips/advice when it comes to getting kids off on the right track? Please. Pretty please?

This was her original reply…

#1. snacks
#2. snacks
#3. snacks
#4. sun
#5. patience

I can see why our kids are such good friends, they both speak the (probably universal) kid language of ‘snacks’.

Then she sent me a few more ideas. I was thoroughly impressed, and think that a lot of her ideas could actually apply to teaching your kids pretty much any new outdoor sport.

Also, FYI: She has 3 kids. Ages: 0, 4 and 7.


So you want to teach your kid how to ski? Nothing else can provide so much outdoor enjoyment during the cold, and hopefully snowy, winter months. But how to begin? I had to consult the practical, organized one in the family (my husband, Alex) to make sure all of the bases were covered and we came up with the following list… (Listed in order of importance. According to me).


For our children, everything is more enjoyable when there are snacks involved. Actually, everything’s more enjoyable for me when there are snacks involved!

The adults are in charge of stuffing the pockets of their coats with snacks of various kinds. The key to choosing an appropriate snack is taking into consideration the “sticky when damp” factor. Fruit snacks hold up surprisingly well, candy cane pieces, not so well. It’s also best not to take along candy that is individually wrapped (ex. Starburst), It’s no fun explaining to your little skier that you can’t go pick up the litter that is fluttering down to rest on the steep cliff beneath you on the lift.

We’ve found that it is necessary to be strategic with where snacks are administered: Ski lift…yes, ski run…no (it makes the run interminably long). Lodge…maybe (depending on how cold the day is). The lodge can be a black hole, once you venture in, the likelihood of getting back out onto the slope is poor. Our kids are usually good for only 2-4 hours of skiing. We feed them a good breakfast then tide them over with snacks until lunch time. We usually save the lodge for hot chocolate and lunch after the skiing is over. Or, if they let us get away with it, lunch in the car on the way back home.

Timing of snacks is key. Too many snacks and you have no leverage to encourage your tike to take one more run. Our system is to give 2 pieces of candy on the “baby lift”, 3-4 on the “big kid” lift.  It’s amazing what kids will do for 1 or 2 more pieces of candy!


As with any new activity you start with your child, patience is key to success (success in skiing = your child has fun and makes it home in 1 piece, you keep your sanity). (more…)

Enjoying January… Wait. Is that Lake Tahoe?

Last week was wonderful here in the greater Reno area. I know I’ll regret that statement come May and there’s no kayak season; and I feel bad for all the ski resorts around Tahoe, I really do… But we just couldn’t help but take advantage of that spring like sunshine. The kids and I spent a day by the lake. Feet in the sand, toes in the water, my arm sore from skipping rocks over and over and over trying unsuccessfully to prove I was a “better rock skipper than Dad”. We built sand piles (Tahoe sand doesn’t pack well), laid in the sun, ate lots of snacks, dug for treasures and threw a Christmas party for all the plastic sea animals we’d brought.

It was one of those days I just loved being a Mom. I think we all need a warm January day now-and-then.

But judging by this picture of my kids attire while playing trains today, I think it’s safe to say their ready for some snow… (more…)

Outdoor books for the advanced reader

Here it is!  The final installment of our list of books about nature and the outdoors for your kids!  So far we’ve covered books you can read to your little ones, intermediate readers, and now we progress to advanced books, for the avid and proficient reader.

This was the hardest list yet for two reasons 1) advanced reader and adult book are hard to distinguish between (and in many cases are the same thing) which means that 2) there were a heckuvalot of books to choose from!  I’ve narrowed it down to ten (and okay, so I cheated and included a few extras) that are mild enough for the younger mind, who may be able to read adult literature easily, but may not be able to process some of the more… shall we say… complex outdoor themes found in books for adults.  For that reason I left off several good books that had any blatant political overtones about the natural world (i.e. Edward Abbey, much as I love him), a few of my favorites that had adult language or themes (Touching the Void, Botany of Desire, etc.).   (Perhaps I’ll do an Adult reader list down the road?)

It is interesting to compare the three lists.  The book list for the younger reader shows an emphasis on nature, and changing seasons, and animal life.  The intermediate reader list emphasized adventure and survival.  This list has a little of both–but what is most distinctive about this list is that all but one of the books listed are true stories.  There are very few fictional nature stories for advanced readers (as far as I can tell).

I’d be interested to know of any that you’ve come across!

1.  My Family and Other Animals (and the rest of the series by Gerald Durrell)..    I’ve only read one of the series Durrell wrote, but I was so captivated that I fully intend to read the rest!  This story masterfully chronicles life after his mother moved the whole family to the Greek island of Corfu when he was a boy.  His stories of his family are perfectly meshed with stories of the natural history of the island.  Did I mention that it’s hilarious?  Durrell went on achieve distinction as a zookeeper and establisher of wildlife centers.

2.  All Creatures Great and Small by James Harriot.  I read this book when I was 13… it’s where I learned the word ‘flatulence’… a condition an English bulldog was suffering from, much to the dismay of his ladylike owner.  Harriot was a veterinarian who worked with creatures of all kinds.  He also has a knack for telling a story, and they (almost) always end happily and making you love the character of your own pet just a little bit more.  If you like this book, Harriot has three others along the same lines, I think. (more…)

Activity: If you give a kid a meat thermometer

Ari went through this phase where he insisted on turning everything into a bar graph. It was pretty random, but pretty awesome. We graphed his weight over time, the size of his toy cars, the ages of everyone he knows, etc.

While in the midst of this phase he came to me one afternoon and said “Mom, I want to do some science and make a graph, with this!” He held up a meat thermometer.

I started off by handing him 2 cups of water. One that had been microwaved, the other straight from the tap. I told him to measure the two and see what their temperatures were. He did. Then he wanted to graph them. He then proceeded to measure the fridge, cupboard, yard, plant soil, etc. Each time coming back to me for help plotting it on his graph. He had to wait 2 minutes in between each “experiment” and had to let the thermometer sit for 2 minutes to “run the experiment”. This kept him busy for a good hour while I cooked dinner… which as you can tell from experiment #5 involved chicken. (Sorry, had I know I would be sharing this I would have written a little more legibly).

He felt like a real scientist. He was so giddy.

It also allowed us to discuss things like “why is the backyard warmer than the front yard”, “why is your mouth so warm”, “what temperature keeps things frozen” and other important ‘scientist’ topics. And you know what the big ahaa moment was for him? The van was colder than the refrigerator!! Oh. My. Heck.

We plan to take the meat thermometer on our next bike ride… I’m sure he’ll think of all sorts of things to measure, and we’ll have fun comparing the results to our inside graph.

Next time your child is pining at you for something to do while you cook dinner, hand them a meat thermometer.

Helping Your Child Choose a Science Fair Project

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.  –A. Einstein

First of all, I must confess, I’m quite the science fair savant.  I had an 11 year career while in public school with projects like dissecting owl pellets, measuring the respiration rate of crickets, conducting experiments to see what color honey bees prefer, etc.  I even spent all three years of high school studying a weevil that at the time was undescribed; a project that took me to the International Science Fair, twice (insert back patting here)!

Why Participate in Science Fair?

Some kids had sports Dads; I had a science fair Dad.  My motivation wasn’t necessarily that I loved science. Initially my motivation was that I got to spend time with my Dad.  Every spring we would plot and plan my project, conduct my experiments, gather and analyze the data…

I’m sure there was some moaning and groaning in there somewhere, but looking back those are some of my fondest memories. I truly believe the science fair is one of the best ways to get involved in your child’s education (and by involved I mean taking on the role of guide and mentor; not active participant).

Believe it or not, children are naturals when it comes to the skills needed to excel at a science project.  They’re observant, curious, creative, unconstrained by what they think ‘should’ happen, passionate, and easily excited (Eureka! moments are not hard to create).  The ‘science’ of a science project isn’t in the subject matter; it’s in the process.  The textbooks call this process the scientific method, which is really nothing more than a simple but effective way of thinking.

The hardest part is helping your child come up with a project, something they would be interested in that hasn’t been done hundreds of times (my niece actually brought home a note last year discouraging “volcanoes”). This is really just as easy as asking a question.

Note: While we have included the major parts of the scientific method, the intent of this post is primarily to help you get started on a project. For more information on the actual process I would highly recommend this Project Guide, specifically the “detailed help for each step” section just below the visual.

Step One: Ask a Question

To do this, help them recognize when they’re making an observation that can be turned into a question. Make note of things that seem to always happen together, or things that appear to have a pattern to them (children do this daily—they just aren’t usually aware that this is where science begins).   For a science fair project help them center their brainstorming around things they are interested in and familiar with:

  • Have you noticed that most things you bake in the oven have eggs in them?
  • Did you see all those bugs fly out of the flower bed when we were there?  I didn’t see as many in the gravel…
  • Why are there always so many wasps at our barbeque?
  • Isn’t it interesting that scotch tape is never used by dad when he’s jimmy-rigging something?  It’s always duct-tape.
  • Have you noticed that the rose bush has yellow blossoms and white blossoms on it?  I swear mom waters them with the same stuff every day.
  • What do you think would happen if we didn’t put our food in the refrigerator?

Each of those observations can be followed by the simple musing:  I wonder why…. And any kid will follow that immediately with: What do you think would happen if… And now you have a science fair project.

Step Two: Construct a Hypothesis

This is really just an educated guess at the answer to your question. You must state your hypothesis in a way that you can easily measure, and of course, your hypothesis should be constructed in a way to help you answer your original question. “If _____[I do this] _____, then _____[this]_____ will happen.”

For example, say you settle on the question: What do you think would happen if we didn’t put our food in the refrigerator? (more…)

Outdoor Resolutions. Maybe I’ll make some.

To be totally honest, I wasn’t going to make resolutions this year. With ‘low mobility’ already here and ‘bed rest’ on the horizon (my body had problems holding in small life forms), a newborn to grow accustomed to, and a potential move in the near future, I thought survive seemed like all the resolution I needed.

Then I got to thinking… In order to survive this year, and more importantly, in order for my family to survive this year, I better set some goals. I need to set my sights on things that get us out of the house. In other words, things that help us maintain a sense of normalcy. The logistics may be tricky for us this year, but it’s doable.

While I’m still working out the specifics (numbers, ways to measure my goals, etc), here are the kinds of things I’m toying around with this year… And I’d love to hear what your outdoor goals are, if your willing to share.

Get outside every day
Even if it’s just a few minutes. The weather, no matter what it is, does us wonders.

More spontaneous ‘adventures’
The kind where one minute my kids think we’re going to sit down and have dinner, and the next minute we’re packing up that dinner and heading out for a picnic. The kind where I pick my child up from school in a van all packed and ready for a camp out.

Play more ultimate frisbee
Enough said.

Identify 5 new places to explore
I’m going to mull over my maps. If you don’t have a good map of your area/state make it a resolution to get one (I’d recommend the DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer they make one for just about every state, make sure you get the most current version). You’ll be surprised at all the new areas you’ll find flipping through topo maps. (more…)

Favorite posts of 2011

I know there’s that little widget on the sidebar that lists “popular posts” but the number over there is based on page views..not necessarily OUR views. That build your own hammock one really took off!

There are a handful of posts from we hope you didn’t miss in 2011. I guess you could say these are posts that defined the year for us, posts that define what we’re trying to accomplish with this blog, posts that we wish would have shown up on that side bar widget.

1. Outdoor teaching mistakes we make with our kids

2. I can do hard things

3. Become super mom, if just for an hour…

4. How do you ‘structure’ unstructured play?

5. The dreaded nap: How to have an outside life and a well rested child

6. How to encourage creativity: Embrace chaos

7. Teach anticipation and foresight: Plan a hike

8. Good things come to kids who wait

9. Ladybugs: College kid VS a 4-year-old

10. Supervision: Barrier to kids playing outside?

And here are our honorable mentions (a few of which did make the sidebar)… (more…)


    I'm Lindsey. I'm an environmental educator, my husband's a biologist. The outdoors is infused into everything we do; which explains why I'm better at mud pies than home decorating. More About Me

    I don't blog alone! Meet outsidemom contributer Olivia