Category Archives: Health & Fitness

Getting off the Mountain

I know some Mom’s do this ALL the time. They drive off the mountain just for dinner. I am NOT that Mom. I anticipate and plan a trip off the mountain pretty rarely but always appreciate it when I do. This weeks blog focuses on two great places for families in Hickory.

*Catawba Science Center: I had saved up this plan for when I noticed several back to back rainy days this summer and it was a HUGE hit. And you get the added bonus of it being educational! Pack a lunch to eat there, tour the hands-on science center, and round it out with a film in the planetarium. We went with another family and between all of us adults and kids we got a GROUP Rate (10 people or more)! Everything is better with friends! Check out their website at : catawbascience.org   TIP: If the cost is too steep for your family, the 3rd Friday of each month is FREE!

*Kool Pool: Do you ever go to cool places and think to yourself “why isn’t this place PACKED?” This place has been on my summer bucket list for two years now and I FINALLY made it this past weekend. It is an awesome outdoor pool with a huge natural waterside (long but not steep….even BABIES were on it) and other cool features,  There is an abundance of picnic tables and you can bring in your own packed lunch! If you don’t have any plans this coming weekend (9/13 and 9/14) it will be the last weekend they are open this season. Added Bonus: admission is only $5/person since it is after Labor Day weekend when they typically close. I personally feel like general admission during peak season pricing is too high for my liking (at $15/adults and $8/kids), but they also offer ½ price after 3pm. Also…they only take CASH.  You can check out their website at : koolparkpool.com

NOTE: Directions can be tricky. Lots of turns on random small roads. Keep your directions close at hand. They have some listed on their website and we used google maps and found our way fine.

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Let’s be real though: you know you go to Hickory for Target. Lordy I wish we would get one in Boone. In the meantime though, strap the kids in the carseat and enjoy the hour drive off the mountain!

Family Camping

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We had my family camping reunion in Damascus, VA this past weekend. We got a double unit campsite at Beartree Campground which is up the road from the Virginia Creeper Trail. We have stayed at this campground many times and really love it. The campsites are super spacious, clean, and staff is friendly. The forecast was calling for several days of rain during the stay so we were thankful for our check-in day of sunshine so we could get as much tarp coverage underway before the rain set in. Clearly being over-prepared runs in the family!

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There is A LOT to do in Damascus. The priority this trip was having quality family time. If we were able to get good weather, we had hopes to get some climbing done here. Due to a lot of rain, we narrowed our activities down to the last leg of the Creeper Trail, and Smokey the Bear’s birthday party (he turned 70 this year)!

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The Creeper Trail is VERY popular and can sometimes be really crowded. It is 17 miles of downhill beauty and perfect for kids.  We’ve found that the best way to take advantage of the Creeper Trail, while traveling with young children, is to put on about 5 miles up from Downtown Damascus at the Straight Branch parking area off of Hwy. 58. We put on early in the morning while the commercial shuttles are taking their first groups up to Whitetop Station to begin their 17 mile decent back to Damascus. By the time we are finishing the trail, at the downtown park, we have out-paced the first group from the top and practically have the trail to ourselves. And it’s the perfect distance for our 3 year old to ride at just under 5 miles. The choo-choo train and playground at the end of the ride are great incentives for her to finish as well. Since it is only ~5 miles, my husband just bikes back UP the trail to get the truck back (so we don’t have to pay for a shuttle) to pick us up. We didn’t think of it this time, but my 5 year old will be biking back up the trail with him on the next trip to really burn off some that energy. If you are needing a shuttle though, I suggest JC’s Outdoors. It is right off the Creeper trail at the end just as you enter Damascus.

We have been camping as a family since Ellie was in a playpen. We have developed our own little “bag of tricks” when it comes to camping with kids:

  •  Baby Wipes, and lots of them. (Nothing ground breaking here, but a real tragedy if you forget them)
  • Peanuts in the shell. Kids love them and it keeps their little hands busy while you are setting up the tent.
  • Chem Lights. I grew up with them as my Dad was in the military and we always had them on hand. They are great for kids at night and they don’t use batteries. They also make great lanterns that have to be “wound up” to be operable. Any light without batteries is great for kids.
  • Earthworms: You can buy them here in Boone in several places including Walmart. They will last for a few days in the tub if they stay cold. Great for fishing, worm races, measuring, wiggling. So on and so on.
  • GORP: An essential piece to all our adventures. This became a staple for my husband and I going through Outdoor Programs at ASU. Granola, Oats, Raisins, Peanuts. Extra bonus: M&M’s.
  • Ropes, and Bungee Cords: This keeps our 5 year old busy for FOREVER. You can make a swing, a bear trap, a zipline for stuffed animals, practice knot tying, etc. The possibilities are endless.

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Our favorite time of year for camping is right around the corner… FALL. I will post some more entries on a camping packing list, meal ideas, etc. with our trips to come!

 Have any tips or tricks of your own for camping with little ones? I would LOVE to hear them! Post a comment below!

Kids and Bikes

As my children have developed a passion for bike riding at an early age, I’ve been asked a few times what the secrets been to success. While I would love to give my husband and I some credit, or maybe my children rather, I really am convinced it comes down to introducing the right bike at the right time and getting out and using it as often as possible. While certainly no two children are the same, I do think there are a few key tips that have helped us get started and maybe can help you too:

-Strider Balance Bikes (http://www.striderbikes.com): Great friends of ours introduced us and we fell in LOVE. We’ve often said that the balance bike has been one of the greatest tools we’ve utilized as parents. It really is brilliant and simple… learn balance before proceeding to pedals and brakes. Once balance is learned all that’s needed is a little confidence to make the transition to pedals without ever having to introduce training wheels. We’ve been advocates of the Strider brand since they make the lightest balance bikes in their category (less than 7 lbs.) and have the lowest seat height for the youngest starting age. Kids as young as 18 months are learning to ride!              (NOTE: If you have a child that just stands and walks on the balance bike, adjust the seat height.  I see a lot of people struggle with that.  There is a “magic” seat height that they will sit down on.)

 

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This is our little Ellie on her balance bike at the Rocky Knob pump track. Photo courtesy of Boone Area Cyclists

-Keep it light: When transitioning to a pedal bike, we’ve found that the lighter weight bikes make it easier for the child to manage by themselves. After the Strider we transitioned our kids to a 12” Specialized Hotrock, and then the 16” Hotrock. While these might be more expensive than others on the market, they will still have great resell value after holding up to the abuse of young children. (NOTE: The advice we have been given is to keep them on a pedal brake until a 20″.  Both gears and hand brakes will be introduced then.)

-Carry your own weight:  This next tip really offers no clear benefit to a child, but rather sanity for the parent. From the beginning, we’ve had a “no carry” parenting policy. If they decided to take their bike on a walk, it’s been their responsibility to get it home. It may seem harsh but since that was the rule from the beginning they never new any different.

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-SNACKS: Just like anything else with kids, a good ride can be summed up by the quality of snacks and water readily available. Both of our kids have the children’s version of the Camelbak hydration backpack. They carry their own water and snacks and they LOVE it.

So….looking to get your little one excited about biking?? There are a couple great events coming up for the family you should check out. Cyclovia is this next Sunday (July 27th) from 11am-4pm in downtown Boone. (http://boonecyclovia.com ) We will be stationed at the High Country Recreation booth having relay races and obstacle courses if you want to come play!  Cyclovia is this next Sunday (July 27th) from 11am-4pm

Also coming soon is Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day at Rocky Knob Park. It will be on Saturday, October 4th. More details will be coming as we get closer to the date!

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This was last years crew of kids from Take a Kid Mtn Biking Day. Photo courtesy of Boone Area Cyclists.

 

 

Riverfest: Valle Crucis Park

This past weekend was the 14th annual Riverfest at Valle Crucis Park. It was our first time attending this event but will now be adding it to our list of annual festivities!  Typically, when people inform me of family festivals or grand openings it translates to me as AVOID that location on that day. That being said, Valle Crucis is an incredible host sight for an event. There is so much room to spread out that you never feel claustrophobic or worry about losing sight of your kids.

            The festival was filled with hands-on activities and information for both youth and adults about the benefits of keeping our rivers clean and healthy as a community. Presented by Watauga River Partners, it was great to see the wide variety of non-profit organizations and local businesses come together to teach and advocate on behalf of the natural resources we are blessed with in the High Country. In the hopes of raising my children to be passionate about the outdoors, it is important for me to then extend that passion to preserving it.

            Some favorite take-away moments included the children’s watermelon eating contest for children 12 and under.

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One of my favorite parts of this picture is the “I Love Mountains” temporary tattoo on his arm they gave him at the festival.

 On the other side of the park, River and Earth Adventures (www.raftcavehike.com) provided free tubes for those who wanted to float down the section of the river within the park. I became friends with the owner of the company (Grant Seldomridge) back when I worked with Appalachian State Outdoor Programs in my college years. He and his wife run a stellar business if you are looking for a guided adventure!

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Not sure what YOUR preferences are in a park, but Valle Crucis is at the top of my list.

Well, Valle Crucis and Price Park…

And Wildcat Lake…

And Rocky Knob.

If you haven’t discovered these places yet, I will be happy to introduce you in my future blog posts. I don’t know about you, but I was a little overcome when Summer Solstice came and went the other day. It serves as a reminder to utilize and make the most of our incredible summers and be outside as much as we possibly can!!!

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A special shout out to my awesome friend and local photographer Alicia Greene who took the amazing shots included in this post.   She specializes in outdoor/action photography and is AWESOME with kids!

Her website is aliciaverde.tumblr.com and her email is alicia.verde.photography@gmail.com if you want to contact her for a family session in your favorite outdoor place!

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“Real life is the good stuff, photographically and realistically. When I am given the opportunity to photograph families, I really love being able to find the real moments and bring those to the light. Watching kids navigate the world is one of the great gifts of adulthood. It is also rich to them. It adds richness to our lives. Photography doesn’t have to be complicated to be powerful or professional. My hope is to use my camera to find the real stuff in life and let others know it’s out there. I would love to have the chance to tell your real life story. ”  Alicia Greene

Internet Safety

Child safety (little ones and teenagers) is important to me (and you). It is something I hold very near to my heart.  I will try to keep it light(-:  Please share some of these tips with your family and friends.  You might save a life and a fragile soul.  After you read, I encourage you to share your safety tips.

 More than 550 victims of child sexual abuse and exploitation have been identified by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents in the first eight months of fiscal year 2014.  These are a few tips they have shared with us:

TIPS FOR PARENTS:

  • Talk to children about Internet predators and whether they have ever been approached online. Visit Netsmartz.org for conversation starters on a variety of topics.
  • Keep the computer in a common area of the house, but don’t forget that online technology is also available on cell phones, laptops, tablets and gaming devices.
  • Set limits for what sites can be visited and have your children show you what sites they are frequently visiting.
  • Recognize signs of victimization and grooming. If your child has become withdrawn and isolated from friends and family, you find inappropriate material on the computer or mobile device, or if your child is communicating or receiving money or gifts from an unknown person.
  • Ask them to tell you if anything makes them feel scared, confused or uncomfortable. Let them know that online sexual exploitation of children is a crime and that it should be reported to law enforcement.
  • Encourage them to report cyber bulling, not just when it happens to them but when they see others being bullied as well.

TIPS FOR KIDS:

  1. Never share pictures of yourself online that you wouldn’t want seen by your family, teachers or a total stranger.
  2. Don’t respond to offensive content and don’t forward images or info that might hurt or embarrass someone.
  3. Don’t accept friend requests from strangers. Change your passwords regularly so strangers can’t find you.
  4. Set user profile to private so only real friends can get access. Know who you’re chatting with – a “friend” is not always a friend.
  5. Don’t share personal information online like your full name, school, address or phone number, or user passwords.
  6. Remember that anything posted online lives on forever and can be shared with anyone anywhere in the world.
  7. Stop the harassment. Treat people online as you would in person and don’t be mean or rude. Report cyber bullying to a trusted adult.
  8. Tell an adult if someone makes you feel uncomfortable by their actions or words. If you suspect online “stalking,” sexual exploitation, or other suspicious behavior, report it to law enforcement.
  9. Don’t meet up in person with anyone you met online.
  10. Check your privacy settings on social media sites frequently, as they can reset due to site updates.

Becoming Conference Highlights

I just returned from the Becoming Conference, where I learned so many tips about saving money, preparing food and party planning, not to mention hospitality and organization.  It was such a fun girls’ weekend with my mom and my sweet babe in tow.  The decorations were lovely (using the thrifty skills that we were taught), as well as the cake, cheesecake and cake.  Did I mention there was cake?

I thought I’d take a few minutes and share the highlights from the weekend, along with a few of my favorite tips that I learned.

  • I thought this year’s sponsors were particularly AWESOME!  Although I’m not a coffee drinker, International Delight provided gallons and gallons of free iced coffee, with plenty of their new creamers for tasting.  We received some awesome coupons and goodies from sponsors, as well as a handbag and set of greeting cards from DaySpringCents of Style provided a beautiful “Becoming” necklace and a ten percent off coupon.  This is a great company for purchasing inexpensive accessories and they host really great sales on Fridays.  De Wafelbakkers provided some fun water bottles and a coupon to try out their pancakes.
  • I decided to go to Jenny Martin’s (Southern Savers) session on cutting your grocery budget in half.  I have already been to her longer workshop but I thought I could use a refresher since I recently decided to get back into couponing since I had taken a break after giving birth.
  • Best tips:
    • It’s important to learn what a “good/rock bottom price” is for a product.
    • Grocery stores cycle most products on sale every six weeks.  Buy enough to last six weeks, until it is on sale again.
    • Wal-Mart will price match grocery store ads for stores within a fifty mile radius (you must take the ads with you to Wal-Mart).  This helps save on produce.
    • You’ll save more money by not having brand loyalties.
    • To save on meat, buy local and buy in bulk.
    • To save on produce, buy from the farmer’s market or local farms for the best price.  You can check out this website for some help with pricing questions.
  • Barbara Hemphill presented a very helpful session about organization and clutter.  One major statement that I took away was “You can keep everything you want if you’re willing to pay the price in time, energy, etc.”  That gave me a new way to think about the things I keep and the reasons why.  Perhaps another blog post for another day!
  • My favorite session was by Edie of Life in Grace and Ruth of Living Well Spending LessHospitality and Party Planning on a Budget.  These two gals were such a dynamic duo in a very subtle way.  It’s really hard to explain but they contributed equal amounts of “heart” and practical ideas.  I was reminded why it is important to make people feel welcome and to extend a heart of love toward others.  I learned some great tips about planning a lovely party on a small budget, such as using scrapbook paper for pennants and party hats (which can be reused).  I’m going to use all of this information to plan my little nugget’s first birthday party in a few months.

  • Miss Mustard Seed presented a session on DIY around the home, which is her specialty.  I admit I went to this session as a dreamer because I feel that I lack a lot of skills to “do it MYself”.  I was encouraged because she said it’s okay if you don’t take a fancy to every type of DIY.  I think I’m going to focus on crafts/decorations for parties and my sewing lessons; I’ll leave the upholstering to expert gals like Miss Mustard Seed!
  • Although I had attended Jen Schmidt’s (of Balancing Beauty and Bedlam) 80% Off Lifestyle and Loving It session the past two years, my mom wanted to attend so I tagged along with her.  I was reminded how much I have been wanting to learn to make my own cake stands and decorate with them for parties/events and I was reinspired to shop my favorite thrift stores for some fall clothing.
  • The last session included Jen’s Ten Minute Dinners and a special presentation by Jackie Brown of Mom on a Mission and the Freezer Fairy.  I loved this one because I am learning more and more about freezer cooking and she had so many great tips on how to freezer cook with more wholesome and less processed ingredients.  I have yet to really dig into her blogs but here are a few things I learned from her last weekend:
    • Fresh eggs can be frozen, without the shells.
    • Place a cooling rack (can be found in your local dollar store) in between freezer casseroles so that they don’t fold in on each other with the aluminum foil covers.  You can remove the cooling rack once the casserole is frozen.
    • I learned the proper way to freeze (cool food to room temperature, avoid air in the freezer baggies, use quality baggies, etc.)
    • She uses a plastic shoe box to freeze food in baggies, as well as another to defrost in the fridge (to avoid messes).
    • Keep a freezer inventory sheet.

I’m already looking forward to next year’s conference and I hope you’ll join me on August 8-9, 2014 at Ridgecrest so we can enjoy some girl time and learn lots of new things together!

DisclaimerThe above sponsors did not pay me to mention them in this post.  I have expressed solely my opinions regarding this conference and sponsors.

Favorite Freezer Recipes

Before our baby girl was born, I decided to embark on a freezer meal adventure.  Although we live amongst a generous community that provided three week’s worth of meals for us, I wanted to be prepared since she was due between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  A couple months before baby’s birth, I participated in a freezer food exchange with four other gals.  This was a great experiment for me to find recipes that we liked and see how this system worked for us.

Although I don’t consider myself a very picky eater, I do not like peppers and onions.  Guess what is a part of many recipes?  Peppers and onions.  I’ve hardly ever declined a meal in someone’s home because of these ingredients and I decided to be brave and give other gal’s freezer recipes a chance, too.  I’m glad I did because I found some great recipes and just altered them a bit the next time I made them for us.  I also did some of my own research and tried some other recipes, as well.  Yum!  My favorite ones are below:

  • Crock Pot Potato Soup – This is the absolute best potato soup I have ever eaten.  Warning:  it’s not the healthiest recipe I’ve ever made but a yummy one, in the least.  You can make it ahead and freeze it for later or make it and put it in the crock pot.  Did you know you can also freeze the cream cheese that goes in during the last hour of cooking (that it before adding, of course)?
  • Teriyaki Chicken – My favorite homemade recipe!  This one takes more work on the front end but I experimented and froze the recipe instead of baking it.  We ate it a couple months later and it was delicious!  Serve it with fried rice (and you can even freeze rice!).
  • Spinach Manicotti – My friend, Sarah Holden shared this recipe with me.  I make a double batch and freeze it.
    15oz ricotta                                                               1/4tsp garlic
    10oz frozen chopped spinach thawed                1 1/2 cup mozzarella
    1/2 cup onion                                                           1/2 cup parmesan
    1 egg                                                                          1 jar spaghetti sauce
    2tsp parsley                                                              1/2tsp pepper
    1/2 cup water                                                            1 pack shellsMix together spinach, ricotta, onion, egg, seasonings, 1 cup mozzarella, and 1/4 cup parmesan cheese.  Puree mix with hand held blender until smooth.  Pipe mix into uncooked shells using zip lock bag.  Place shells in dish.  Cover with sauce and water.  Sprinkle remaining cheese.  Bake for one hour at 350.  (You can also include two chicken breasts with this recipe.  Cook chicken and shred with mix and follow directions as listed.)

 

  • Quiche – My friend, Amy Todd-Paine brought this meal to us after we had our baby.  It was so delicious that I had to have the recipe!  I have never frozen this but I do believe you can freeze quiche, based on this recipe. Her recipe is loosely based off of the Quiche Lorraine recipe in the Joy of Cooking cookbook.
  • Preheat to 375.
  • Cook 4 slices of bacon
  • In a large bowl, mix three eggs, lightly beaten, with 1.5 cups heavy cream (or half and half)
  • Add a fistful of chopped spinach (about half a freezer box – thawed from freezer and squeezed dry),
  • Tear up and add bacon.
  • Throw in some feta cheese.
  • Mix it all together.
  • Sprinkle a little black pepper and a tiny dash of ground nutmeg.
  • Pour it all in the pie crust (or not – you can make it without crust)
  • Bake for around 30 minutes, until the egg is set and the top is beginning to get a nice golden glow.

 

  • Ranch Baked Quesadillas – This recipe comes courtesy of my friend, Meghann, which is what she made for our freezer meal swap.  You can make a double batch and pull them out one or two at a time for a tasty lunch.  Freeze once quesadillas are put together and thaw before baking.
  • Chicken Pot Pie – My pals Amber and Kristen passed this one onto me.  I’ve also used leftover turkey to make this delicious recipe.  (I usually buy 1-2 turkeys right before Thanksgiving when they are on sale and cook them later on for sandwiches or recipes such as this one.)  This is also an easy one to make more than one at a time.
    • 2 Frozen pie crusts
    • Cream of mushroom soup
    • Cream of chicken soup
    • Small can of mixed vegetables
    • 2 regular size chicken breasts
  • Let pie crusts sit out while chicken is boiling.  Boil chicken and shred with fork.  Mix together cream of chicken, cream of mushroom, chicken and mixed vegetables.  Pour into pie crust and place second pie crust on top.  Make hole in the top middle of pie crust with fork or several holds with knife.  Place in zip lock bag and freeze.  When ready to eat, thaw and bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes. Word of caution:  let it thaw for several days before you cook it or it will take several hours to cook.
  • Meatballs – This is such an easy recipe and you can freeze them, too.  Great to serve with spaghetti.  You can also make meatloaf with this same recipe, but I’m not a fan of that so I’ll stick with meatballs.

Do you have some favorite freezer recipes?  Please share – I would love to try them out (I’ll leave off the onions and peppers, of course!).