Science and Nature for Kids {Nature-Inspired Christmas Tree Ornaments}

One of the things that I love most about Christmas since becoming a mom is watching my children not only decorate the tree, but make their own ornaments to use as well.  On our tree you will see a mix of sentimental hand-me-downs, glass ornaments and ornaments  lovingly made by the kids.  This year, however, I wanted to add a touch of nature to the tree.  One of the kid-friendly projects that we really enjoyed was making ornaments from some natural items we had on hand in the kitchen.  With a bag of oranges, some cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, acorns and twine, we came up with these beautiful ornaments!

Nature Christmas Craft

For the oranges, you can slice them thinly or you can use the peel to make a design.  Take all of your orange creations and place in a warm oven (lowest temperature possible) for several hours to dry.  To keep the oranges from sticking to your baking sheet, I recommend laying them down on a piece of cheesecloth.  You might also want to lay something on top of the peels to keep them from curling up while drying (I used the metal lid part of a mason jar for mine.) Keep a close eye on them and make sure to remove from the heat immediately if they begin to brown.

Stay tuned for some more nature-inspired Christmas crafts!

Get a Job, Take a Hike: how to make sure everyone in the family enjoys the trail

Yesterday we took a leisurely hike through a nearby state park. Although the park is quiet and full of kid-friendly trails, it’s hardly the landscape that epic adventures are made of.  But it ended up being one of the best hikes we’ve ever taken together. We had no agenda and no timeline.  We just wanted to share some peaceful time together in the woods.  To ensure that everyone would have a fun, fuss-free hike, we assigned each child a “job.” As our kids are growing older, I find myself continually brainstorming new ways to make sure our hikes stay fun and upbeat. Read on to see how we did it on our last hike!

Little Man took on the role of our fearless trail leader (his most favorite job of all) and Big Brother was the keeper of the leaves (again, a job he loves.)  Little Man led the way and Big Brother collected leaves and strung them on a shoestring.  One of his favorite ways to play is to put beads on strings, so he was estactic!

The boys had a blast and enjoyed every single moment on the trail.  We ended with a picnic and a rock-jumping competition in the creek.
Fallen trees make the best playground, don’t you agree?
Happy kiddos make for a happy mommy and daddy.
We’ll count this as a successful and fun fall hike!
Other posts you might enjoy:

Science and Nature for Kids {Make a Bird Feeder from a Pumpkin}

Halloween has passed and winter fast approaches.  If you are looking for a way to reuse any leftover pumpkins, here’s a great way to enjoy a nature activity with your kids.  Turn your old pumpkin into a bird feeder!  It’s easy and fun for little hands.

Start with a medium-sized pumpkin:


Cut it in half and scoop out the insides (great sensory fun for the little helpers):20121111-162533.jpg

Using a nail, punch out some holes on opposite sides of the pumpkin:

Use string or twine to make the holder:20121111-162607.jpg

Now punch out some larger holes on each side:20121111-162627.jpg


You can slide a twig into the larger holes to make some perches for the birds.  Then hang it in a tree and fill it with some wild bird seed:

And wait for the birdies to find the food!20121111-162711.jpgSimple, easy and fun…and the birds will thank you.

Cummins Falls State Park, Cookeville, TN

Today we visited a new park not too far from home called Cummins Falls State Park.  This gorgeous span of 211 acres has an interesting history:

“It is known that buffalo wallowed in the river in a shallow basin about a quarter-mile east of the falls. Indians used this area to kill buffalo as they needed as indicated by the numerous arrowheads found at the site.  In the 1790s, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, Sergeant Blackburn, for whom the Blackburn Fork State Scenic River is named, was awarded this land in lieu of a pension.  This land was acquired by John Cummins in about 1825 on which he built the first of two water driven mills.  Because of a growing clientele, a second and larger mill was built in 1845 about a half mile or so before the falls.  Local area residents came to the mill and the falls for commerce and recreation. The mill was washed away in a great flood of 1928, but by then cars and paved highways had made the trek to Cummins Falls more of a discretionary trip than a necessary one. The mill was not rebuilt but this land stayed in the Cummins family for more than 180 years until a recent  effort of private individuals and public institutions worked together to purchase the land for resale to the State. “

Since today the temperatures dipped down into the 50’s/60’s (hello Fall….finally!) we decided to take a family hike and explore this new park.  It’s lovely and we can’t wait to go back and spend even more time hiking the area.  We didn’t spend the whole day at the park as we had some other nearby outdoor areas on our agenda for the day as well.

Little Man leading the way.

Big Brother playing “I see you!” which is his version of peek-a-boo.

Big Brother was being awfully silly today, which I can’t complain about since this past week was a really rough one for him in every way.

I never get tired of this site!

Little Man mesmerized by the falls.

We had such a fun little hike.

After visiting the falls, we headed a few miles down the road to the Caney Fork River where I tried out some of my fly fishing skills. No fish tales to speak of, but at least I got out and tried!  Maybe I’ll have better luck next time.

Empty handed, but happy nonetheless!

How did you spend the weekend?  Does it feel like fall where you are?!

Yetis, Rock Climbing and Birthdays….oh my!

We celebrated Little Man’s 5th birthday this past weekend. The day was filled with rock climbing, a yeti/Mt. Everest cake (made by yours truly, no less!) and lots of presents. A fun time was had by all.  Fun enough, in fact, to make me forget for a slight moment that my baby is growing up right before my eyes.  It goes by so fast…but I’m excited for all the moments to come.  Happy Birthday, Little Man. Mommy, Daddy and Big Brother adore you more than you could ever know!



For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been struggling to keep my head above water.  The boys started Kindergarten.  I started back teaching at a local university. Then the sinus/cold/mystery virus crud made its way around the family, one member at a time.  Exhaustion has become the norm.  But in all fairness, things are going very well here in the Hiking household.

If you’ve been following Big Brother’s school journey, you know that we’ve had major issues in the past.  So you can imagine how happy I’ve been to hear that Big Brother has been having good days at school and that he will soon receive his very own aid [fist pumps spastically.] Everyone told us we were crazy to advocate for such a thing in our school system.  Good thing I consider myself to be pretty crazy, huh?  It seems to have worked to our favor in this case.  I guess that’s why I chuckled so much at the sight of this image on my fb feed tonight:

So all in all, I’d say we’re doing great despite the never-ending streams of mucus and lack of sleep.  Once we settle into our routine and recover from the crud, I have a feeling it will be smooth sailing as far as school is concerned.  In the meantime, we’ve been trying to get outdoors as much as possible in addition to weekly visits to the climbing gym.  I’ve only got a few cell phone photos to show for our week.  I’ll try to do better next time.  Right now?  I’m going to try to catch up on some much needed sleep….

Yep, life is good.


Thanks to all the new readers who found me through my SITS day!  I’m still responding to all the awesome comments and trying to go and visit each new blog from all the new visitors.  I absolutely enjoyed all of the blog love, thanks for making my day so special 🙂

The Friendly Wildlife of St. Elmo, Colorado

A few weeks ago I posted about our excursion to the ghost town of St. Elmo and beyond.  What I neglected to tell you was the age-old tradition we took part in while visiting. It seems that the ground hogs and chipmunks of St. Elmo have quite a reputation in this town.  They gather daily to be fed by eager tourists, and they are surely not shy!  Seems it’s been going on for years and years. The kids had a blast feeding these cute little critters.  It was an interesting experience to say the least!

Child Safety {Call Me Cuffs}

Two seconds.  

That’s how long I let go of his hand, and it was two seconds too long.  He was gone.  

Luckily, we were in a safe place, surrounded by those who knew us.  He was quickly located.

This was the first time Big Brother wandered off.  I never, ever, under any circumstances let go of Big Brother’s hand in public if he is not restrained in a stroller or cart.  Yes, he is almost 6 years old, but like many children with cognitive impairment and autism, wandering off is a daily reality*.  In the above scenario, I let go of his hand while I was trying to help another child, without even realizing it.  As soon as I became aware that I had let go of his hand, it was too late.  The worst part is that although he is somewhat verbal, he cannot communicate his name, point me out in a crowd or recite his address.

So when the creators of Call Me Cuffs contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in trying out their product, I excitedly said yes. I had been wanting to try some sort of safety wristband for a long time, but didn’t know what kind to buy.

The Call Me Cuffs are simple.  They are temporary ID wrist bands for children that you can customize with your phone number and allergy or medical needs. Let me emphasize that they are great for all children, especially those times when you will be in a large crowd.  I imagine they would also be a great item to have on hand for field trips, too.

All children, whether they have special needs or not, can be at risk of becoming separated from their parents in a crowd. The added layer of being unable to communicate, however, makes the Call Me Cuffs even more useful in my opinion.

So I tried the Call Me Cuffs on Big Brother. I let him choose the design in hopes that he too, would be excited about trying them out.

At first I was hesitant because I thought that Big Brother might not like wearing the bracelet as he has some major sensory issues.  I was also afraid that he may spend all day picking at it in an attempt to remove it.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that Big Brother loved wearing the wristband and didn’t once try to remove it all day.  In fact, Little Man wanted to wear one as well!  So they both have tried them out and love them.  Neither child tried to remove the wristband and they both thought they were pretty cool dudes while sporting their “jewelry.”

my number has been blacked out in the photo

What I loved about Call Me Cuffs:

I love that these wristbands come in a variety of colors and designs, that they are customizable and they can be purchased in a package of 12 or 28. I also was very impressed with the fact that they are not easily removed and also comfortable to wear.

I’m happy to report that I was pleased with all aspects of the Call Me Cuffs and have nothing negative to report!  I will be using these wristbands for Big Brother in the future as well, and I encourage you to check them out at their website:

There are many ways to help keep children safe in case of wandering off or accidental separation, and this is one easy, fun way to do it.

I received a complimentary 12 pack of Call Me Cuffs in order to review.  All opinions expressed in this blog post, however, are completely my own.


*Some staggering statistics about wandering off in individuals with Autism:

“In a 2007 online poll through the National Autism Association, 92% of parents reported that their children with autism have a tendency to wander, but no formal estimates are available.”

“In 2012, the National Autism Association found that from 2009 to 2011, accidental drowning accounted for 91% total U.S. deaths reported in children with autism subsequent to wandering, and that 23% of total wandering-related deaths occurred while the child was in the care of someone other than a parent.”

‘According to data released in April 2011 by the Interactive Autism Network (IAN) through the Kennedy Krieger Institute:

  • Roughly half, or 49%, of children with a autism attempt to elope from a safe environment, a rate nearly four times higher than their unaffected siblings
  • More than one third of children with autism who wander/elope are never or rarely able to communicate their name, address, or phone number’


Many reasons. Mainly, a person with autism will wander to either get to something or away from something. Like dementia, persons with autism gravitate towards items of interest. Other times, they may want to escape an environment if certain sounds or other sensory input becomes bothersome. Outdoor gatherings present an especially large problem because it is assumed that there are more eyes on the child or adult with autism. However, heavy distractions coupled with an over-stimulating setting can lead to a child or adult wandering off without notice. School settings are also an issue, especially those that have un-fenced or un-gated playgrounds. A new, unfamiliar, or unsecured environment, such as a relative’s home, may also trigger wandering, as well as episodes of distress, meltdowns, or times when a child or adult with autism has certain fears or anxiety.”

Down to the blue hole (Little Man’s 1st kayak adventure)

We took Little Man to the blue holes that lie along the North Chickamauga Creek (outside of Chattanooga) so that he could try out his new kayak. This beautiful river gorge offers some wonderful hiking, swimming, kayaking and rock climbing opportunities.  If you are ever in the area, you should definitely stop by and visit this spectacular place!  Visit here to learn more.

In case you missed it, you should probably read my guest post over at Tales of a Mountain Mama to see why these blue holes are so special to us…

Little Man standing beside his kayak at the blue hole

Big Brother hiking to the blue hole

Little Man was ready to go!

Big Brother having fun in the water

Little Man was a little unsure at first…

But then he got the hang of it!

Even Big Brother wanted a turn

Big Brother wasn’t sure what to do with the paddle!

Leaping Little Man

Little Man’s BIG jump

We had a fun time at the breathtaking blue holes of the North Chickamauga Creek.  Little Man enjoyed learning about his kayak and I would call it a great success. We can’t wait to play around with it some more!

Reviews and News Just for You! {The North Face Role Models Pledge, The Clymb and Duraflame Roasting Logs}

As we approach Independence Day, I wanted to leave you with some great stuff I think you should check out! The next week and a half is going to be a bit crazy for us as we spend time with extended family and embark upon some outdoor adventures. Blogging may have to take a backseat for a bit, but here are some awesome things to share before I go!

1.  The North Face Role Models Pledge

The North Face wants you–yes you! They are asking everyday adventurers to take the pledge to become  role models this summer. Go to their Facebook page to make a pledge that you will go on an outdoor adventure and take someone with you.  It’s easy to become a mentor, just a few clicks and you’ll be on your way.

Take this opportunity to ignite the spark that could lead to a lifetime of adventure. And remember, here at Hike. Blog. Love. we believe that adventure is for all, so no excuses! I pledged to get my kids hiking in a National  Park this summer (actually, let’s see how many National and State parks we can hit up!)
Go here to take the pledge today!


2. The Clymb

Do you hike, bike, travel, climb, camp or paddle? Do you like to save up to 70% off the price of your gear and apparel? Then this site is for you! The Clymb provides member pricing on the planet’s most sought-after outdoor brands. Just yesterday I joined and snagged some Lolë travel pants at a fantastic price. Want to join? It’s free!Click here to join now and check out the daily deals.

If you join through my invite above, I receive a small referral reward to use towards my next purchase. It is truly a site worth joining and I wanted to share it with you all as I am someone who has benefitted from being a member. Once you join, you can refer family and friends, too. There are many great deals that I hope you take advantage of!


3. Duraflame Campfire Roasting Logs

I was contacted by the kind folks at Duraflame a few weeks ago about trying out their new Campfire Roasting Logs. Here’s a bit of info about the logs:

duraflame® Campfire Roasting Logs
Great for backyard or the backwoods

“The first fire log specifically formulated for roasting and cooking, duraflame® Campfire Roasting Logs are ideal to use in the backyard and the backwoods. These logs stack and burn like wood for a robust fire that creates hot, glowing coals safe for roasting marshmallows, hot dogs or cooking other campfire foods.”

-Available in a 4-piece bundle (5 lb) for one campfire or a case of 6 bundles for 4-6 campfires
-Individually wrapped logs for clean handling and easy, no-hassle lighting
-Made from 100% renewable resources, including real wood charcoal
-Compact — easy to transport and store
-Ideal for backyard fire pits, campsite fires and beach fires
-Duraflame Campfire Roasting Logs are made with 100% renewable resources and burn 60% cleaner than firewood.

We decided to have a backyard s’mores party in order to give the logs a whirl.



What I liked: These logs are easy, safe, convenient and did the job! As you can see, the fire was easy to light and within the hour we had s’mores and banana boats in-hand.

What I didn’t like: I wouldn’t say that I necessarily disliked anything about these logs. I think they are a great option for backyard fire pits especially. I don’t think that I would purchase them for a backpacking or camping trip as collecting firewood and building the great big campfire is part of the fun for our family. I would, however, purchase these to use in the backyard or fireplace. They are super duper easy to use and give you more time to enjoy roasting!

To learn more about these convenient logs, visit the duraflame website.  You will also find some yummy recipes there as well.

I was provided a complimentary package of roasting logs to review. As always, all opinions expressed are my own.  And please be careful to always use safety precautions to keep your little ones safe around the fire, and make sure to fully extinguish the fire once finished.  Also be aware of fire bans and fire hazards that may be in effect in your area.