Keeping the Holiday Spirit with Lights Around Denver

We arrived back home from our Christmas vacation in Winter Park and, although I am glad to be home, I am definitely feeling a little bit of the holiday let down.  As I mentioned on the Two Kids and a Map Facebook page, I may or may not be searching real estate websites for mountainside condos!

I am ready to move into the new year, but I am not quite ready to do away with the holiday spirit that has finally found its way into my heart.

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Denver Botanic Gardens – This is our second year visiting the Denver Botanic Gardens Blossoms of Lights and Trails of Lights at Chatfield.  I recommend getting to both of the spots to see the lights.  Purchase a pair of glasses to see the lights from a different perspective.

Denver Zoo – The Denver Zoo offers over 150 animated animal sculptures.  It is fun to walk around and spot them all.  There is also a schedule of events so be sure to check it before you go.

Hudson Gardens – We discovered this gem just a few miles from our home this fall.  It was fun to see the different plants and flowers that are hearty enough to make it through a fall in Colorado.  This weekend, we plan to visit the Hudson Christmas Holiday to see the lights.

Stonz Winter Bootz

*As part of my brand ambassadorship with Stonz, my children each received one pair of boots to review.  All opinions are ours and ours alone.  For the record, I will buy Stonz Wear gear from here on out as long as they fit my children.

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Much like a bad pair of gloves can make or break your ski trip, a bad pair of boots can ruin just about any winter outing.  Last year, we bought the kids’ boots at a big box store for about $20.  They worked well enough but they were heavy and cumbersome.  The kids never lasted more than about 45 minutes outside before coming inside to peel off their wet socks and sit by the fire.  When you live somewhere where it snows on a regular basis, the world does not shut down.  School goes on (we have only had one snow day), work goes on, and you are expected to be there.

Getting to school in the morning means your regular clothes and then gloves, hats, heavy coats, and winter boots.  Then you have to put a sweatshirt in the backpack because the classroom is cold and the coat is too heavy to wear.  You also need a change of shoes so you aren’t wearing your snowboots every day.  Getting out the door can be quite an ordeal!

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The Stonz Winter Bootz have been an awesome addition to my children’s winter wear.  They are sturdy and help them keep from slipping on the icy paths.  They are lightweight so my kids can run around outside on a snowy day for as long as they want.  Our walk to school is a little less than a mile.  In the fall and spring, we walk to and from school at least three or four days a week.  With our Stonz Winter Bootz, we can keep up our walking to school routine.

The boots come up high enough and have a drawstring to help keep snow out of the inside of the boot.  Sledding, snowball fights and more won’t stop my children.

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Stonz Winter Bootz come in sizes that go up to 14 years old.

A Good Pair of Gloves

*As part of my brand ambassadorship with Stonz, my children each received one pair of mittz to review.  All opinions are ours and ours alone.  For the record, I will buy Stonz Mittz from here on out as long as they fit my children.

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When you live in a place that only experiences winter for about nine days a year, you don’t really have the kind of cold weather gear you should have.  Moving from Florida to Colorado was an interesting experience for us.  We left Florida in shorts and arrived in Colorado only to frantically dig out what little cold weather gear we had.  After unpacking some of the boxes, the first order of business was to go shopping.  Sweaters, more long pants and jackets were easy to purchase.  Other outerwear pieces left us confused.

Are knit mittens enough?  What happens if it snows?  Are all gloves equal?

Last winter, we discovered that all gloves are not equal.  We went through at least five pairs for each kid during the winter.

It didn’t matter how much money we spent on a pair of gloves.  I would hear constant complaining about how cold their hands were.  Cold hands from playing outside in the middle of February.  Cold hands while skiing down the mountain.  Cold hands on our walks to the park.

It seemed like we couldn’t do anything during the winter time without complaints about cold hands.  It got to the point where I probably could have bought stock in those disposable hand warmers.  I would toss them a pair and block out the complaining.

I didn’t think there was anything I could do.

Until, our Stonz Mittz arrived.

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For the past couple of weekends, we have made the drive from Denver up to Copper Mountain and the Stonz Mittz have been with us each time.  A lot of the mountain isn’t open yet, but we are beginner skiers so that is okay.  We have been spending most of our time at one of the learning areas, the Pitchfork lift.

This small lift is perfect for practicing your lift skills (something this mama needs a lot of!).  Once you successfully get off of the lift, ski down Green Acres.  Green Acres area is great for beginner skiers.  It also gave my kids a chance to ski ahead of me and ride the lift alone without giving me the anxiety and worry.  I could see them from almost everywhere.  Being able to ride the lift together and then ski down the hill without me bothering them gave them quite a confidence boost.

It was very cold and dumped buckets of snow on us during our first trip.  I didn’t even realize until the end of our ski day that I did not hear one single complaint about cold hands.  Not one.

It was a winter miracle!

The Stonz Mittz are both water and wind resistant and they are extra long.  The Mittz go over the outside of the jacket and can be cinched both at the wrist and at the end of the Mittz.  This kept the snow out of the gloves and jacket when one of the kids took a tumble.  Unlike my own gloves, they are not so thick and uncomfortable that it makes it difficult to do anything in them.  Both kids were able to carry their own skis without them slipping out of their hands.  The only time they took the Mittz off was during a hot chocolate break.  We did discover that it is difficult to hold a cup of hot chocolate while wearing them.

Mama wants a pair of Mittz too but they don't come in her size.

Mama wants a pair of Mittz too but they don’t come in her size.

I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I was kind of nervous about ski season and some of the complaining that goes along with it…the skis are too heavy…it is too far to walk…my boot is too tight…

I am thrilled that cold hands will not be on the list of complaints this season.

 

Tour the United States Naval Academy – Annapolis, Maryland

You don’t have to wait until your children are filling out applications before touring colleges.  When you tour a college, you don’t have to take the official tour provided by the college ambassadors.  Take a walk around campus on your own.  Some of the most beautiful places I have seen have been in little corners of college campuses.

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A few weeks ago, I hopped on a plane to Baltimore where, with the help of my stepmom and my mom’s co-worker, I was able to surprise my dad, my sister and her family and my mom.  All in one weekend!  It was not an easy feat to pull off but we did it.  Once all of the surprises had been revealed, I was able to take some time to explore an area I haven’t spent a lot of time in.

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My brother-in-law is a graduate of the Naval Academy so he was the perfect tour guide.  We wandered the campus with him as he pointed out the different buildings and told us about his time during school.  We got to see the world’s largest single dormitory and the window that used to be his.

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Exploring Memorial Hall was a moving experience during Veteran’s Day weekend.  The grandeur of the interior is jaw dropping.  My words and pictures from my cell phone don’t do the campus justice.

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We loved the intricate details on the outside of the buildings as well.

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Have you fallen in love with a college campus during your travels?

Colorado Ski Resorts: Why We Love Them (and Why We Don’t)

Almost exactly a year ago, we moved from Florida to Colorado and were so excited that it was just in time for ski season.  We embraced this new lifestyle and spent the season exploring the Colorado ski resorts near us.  We went snow tubing, we learned how to ski, and we played in the snow.  Whenever someone asks me if I have a favorite ski resort, I just can’t answer with one resort.

We loved every resort that we visited for a number of reasons but we also weren’t impressed with some things as well.  These are the resorts that we have visited so far, why we love them and a few reasons why we didn’t (in alphabetical order).

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Breckenridge Ski Resort

Why We Love It:  Breckenridge is the first place where my husband and I decided not to take a lesson and to try to conquer the mountain on our own.  The kids were in ski school so we were able to have our very first snow date.  We spent the day skiing only the easiest of green runs and then we had a lovely lunch in a real restaurant with real napkins.  Breckenridge was also the first place that the kids took a ski lift.  They thought it was hilarious that I was so surprised they were skiing down the same lifts that their dad and I were skiing down.  Breckenridge will always hold a special place in my heart just for these reason.  In addition to the skiing, Breckenridge has so much more to offer.

My favorite part about Breckenridge is that it is more town than ski resort.  The main street is lovely.  It is filled with shops and restaurants and a crepe cart.  Yes, a crepe cart.  There is a rec center, a children’s museum, and an art district where you can take a break from the slopes and take an art class.  The Gold Runner Alpine coaster, snowmobiling, dogsledding and sleigh rides to dinner are just a few other activities that you can partake in while staying in Breckenridge.

What We Didn’t Like:  Because Breckenridge is more town than ski resort, it can be quite difficult to get around.  There is a trolley system that runs through the main town but it wasn’t practical to use from where we were staying.  We had to use our car to go just about anywhere.  Parking near the skiing was not difficult and was fairly reasonable in cost however finding parking in the town was very difficult.

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Copper Mountain

Why We Love It:  Copper Mountain was the first resort we visited.  My husband had visited Copper Mountain many years ago when I was pregnant with our first child.  I still have the shirt that he brought me home!  He loves Copper and we were thrilled to go back.  We stayed in one of the villages and loved being able to walk to everything.  The shuttle system is one of the best we have found.  It was timely and we were able to take it just about everywhere we wanted to go.  We parked the car when we arrived and didn’t move it until we left at the end of the weekend.

Copper Mountain offers a lot of great runs for beginners.  In addition to that, there is a practice area with a small lift that is perfect for getting your ski legs under you.  When you tire of skiing, there are some great restaurants to eat at, a small zip line, ice skating and more.  We loved the fact that everything was just a short walk away from our condo.

What We Didn’t Like:  Though we loved that we were just a short walk away from everything, that also meant that we had to rely on what was available at the resort.  We spent much of our meals in restaurants.  While they were great, this would get very pricey if we were there for more than a weekend.  If we go back for a weekend again, we will make sure to bring groceries with us to help save money.  While the transportation is easy and timely to use, there were times were we wished we had planned better.  We rode the shuttle to one spot and then we had to ride the shuttle to another.  Get a map and plan accordingly!

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Keystone Mountain

Why We Love It:  Keystone Mountain has one of the longest ski days.  They offer night skiing, which is great for my husband.  He can help me wrangle the kids during the day and then we can get them settled back in the room and he can spend the rest of the evening snowboarding on more advanced runs.  Keystone also offers an amazing beginner area with a lift and a hill big enough to please the little ones learning.  Keystone offers some great off-the-slope activities as well.  Take a gondola up the mountain to go snow tubing.  Let the kids explore the snowfort or join in the parade.  My kids loved the cookies and ice skating as well as the fireworks show.

What We Didn’t Like:  While Keystone Mountain has numerous options for lodging at all different price points, the most desireable lodging in the middle of all of the excitement is way out of our price range.  We stayed at Keystone Inn during one of our visits to Keystone and enjoyed it but we had to rely on the free (yes, some of the best parking is FREE!) parking to get us closer to the activities.

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Loveland

Why We Love It:  Loveland is a no-frills ski area that is perfect for families who are trying to make their money stretch.  It is a great option for a family who is visiting Denver and just wants a day of skiing.  It is a ski area that the locals love because the price is right, the top of the mountain is not super crowded and the views are amazing, and it is one of the closest resorts to Denver.    As soon as we pulled in, it made me think of the stories that my parents used to tell about skiing down the mountains in Lake Almanor, California with their scotch guarded jeans.  Lessons are reasonably priced and our kids grew a lot in their skiing skills during their lesson at Loveland.

What We Didn’t Like:  Because Loveland is no-frills, there isn’t much there.  You pull off of I-70, park your car and walk to the slopes.  There is a small cafeteria with ski resort prices.  The lodge area is incredibly small.  Because it is popular for ski lessons, many families enroll their kids and stake out their spot in the lodge.  It makes it difficult to find a chair at the long tables.  If you are going to ski here, be sure to pack a picnic lunch and be prepared to eat in your car if you can’t find a spot in the lodge.

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Winter Park

Why We Love It:  We don’t have much to say about Winter Park just yet but that is because we haven’t spent more than a morning there.  We will be spending a lot of time there this holiday season as we will be there for a week and I can’t wait to explore.  The morning that we did visit Winter Park was spent tubing on the Coca-Cola Tubing run.  Oh my goodness…this tubing run is full of excitement.  Banked curves and employees who made us giggle with glee as they spun us down the hill makes it worth the trip.

What We Didn’t Like:  The drive to Winter Park is not as easy as the drive to the other resorts.  It is enough to make you white knuckle the steering wheel in panic.  At least, it is that scary to me.  I don’t mind mountain driving at all.  In fact, we were surprised at how easy driving through the mountains on I-70 was.  I was expecting the twists and turns that we find in Tennessee or North Carolina.  Winter Park gives you those twists and turns with ice and snow thrown in.  I am very nervous about our trip up there but we are going anyway!

This year, we are looking forward to exploring Winter Park and Copper Mountain more as well as a few of the resorts that we haven’t been to yet.  I am hoping to visit Steamboat Springs and Arapahoe Basin this year as well.  We will be sure to report back!

Do you have a favorite ski resort?

Join Walking On Travels and Suitcases and Sippy Cups for Travel Tips Tuesday!

Now.

You look like you are on one big vacation.

You are so happy in every picture that I see you post.

How do you do it?

This can’t be real life.

Since moving to Colorado, we have heard every version of those comments over and over again from people we have known for years to people we have only known a little while.  It wasn’t always like this.

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During our tenth year of marriage, everything around us seem to break down.  The hot water heater, the air conditioner, the heater, the computer and my feet.  I broke one foot and when I was almost completely healed, I broke the other foot.  I was out of commission for months and had to rely on my husband, friends and family to help us get the kids to and from where they need to be, go to the grocery store and more.

I vividly remember during a particularly gloomy day that a friend posted on a Facebook comment about how depressing things were getting around my Facebook wall.  I don’t remember her exact comment, but I remember the sinking feeling I had when I read it.  I don’t even remember what I was complaining about.  That comment was a turning point for me even if I didn’t realize it at the time.

Things happen.  Appliances break.  Money gets tight.

Moving to Colorado has been the jump start that our family needed to get out of our funk.  Moving shook things up.

We have learned that sometimes you have to choose to be happy.  Being happy doesn’t always come naturally when faced with things that we don’t want to deal with.  Choosing to be happy and accepting that there are some things we just have no control over has changed our outlook.

So, yes, it does sometimes look like we are on vacation.  It does appear as if we are happy in every picture we post.

This is because we have decided to choose to be happy every day and embrace the now.  I don’t want to look back and wish that I had taken advantage of the beauty around us by getting out and exploring.  I don’t want to waste time worrying about things that I have no control over.

Of course, it just might be that Rocky Mountain High that John Denver sang about…the high altitude and elation and joy for the beauty surrounding us (not that other Rocky Mountain High!).

 

Three Days in Colorado Springs, Colorado

Colorado Springs, Colorado was one of the first places we ventured to after settling in to our home in Denver.  We probably make the hour to an hour and a half drive to Colorado Springs once a month to do some exploring.  Though we haven’t spent three days in a row in Colorado Springs, I have created this itinerary from our numerous trips.

Although we haven’t stayed in COSprings yet, I am beyond pumped to visit the Broadmoor sometime this year.  I have read a number of posts that share all of the wonderful things that the Broadmoor can offer.

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Day One – Wander through Garden of the Gods, visit the Air Force Academy and the Olympic Training Center 

This may seem like a lot to do in one day, but we have done it and it is doable without wearing yourself out.  All three can be visited in any order depending on where you are staying.  Be sure to check hours of each activity so that you don’t arrive to closed doors.  Hours and closures will change with the time of the year.

Head to Garden of the Gods on your first day.  These rock formations will make you think you stepped out on to another planet.  There are several ways to explore Garden of the Gods.  If you are short on time, stop by the Visitor Center first.  After the visitor’s center, head to the Perkins Central Trail.  This is a paved trail that takes you past many of the famous formations.  You can walk as little or as far as you would like.

The Air Force Academy has a great visitor’s center and is a neat way to learn more about the school and the Air Force.  There are not many other places that you can explore, as a civilian, on the campus so stop here first to find out where you can go.

At the Olympic Training Center, you can learn firsthand about how Olympic hopefuls spend their days.  Summer tours are conducted every half hour and they are conducted every hour in the winter.  When you arrive, you can wander around the Hall of Fame while you wait for your tour.  The free tour begins with a short video that is quite inspiring.  From there, you will walk through the Olympic Path and see some of the training facilities.

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Day Two – Pikes Peak

Pikes Peak is one of Colorado’s famous 14ers.  It is one on a very short list of 14ers that doesn’t need to be hiked to the top.  You can hike if you wish, but you can also drive or ride the cog train.  I highly recommend the cog railroad, which departs from Manitou Springs.  The railroad trip is a 90 minute trip up and a 90 minute trip back so it will take up much of your morning.  The trip is beautiful and the views from the top are supposed to be amazing.  I can not speak to that because, although we have made the trip up the railroad, there was so much fog that we couldn’t see our hands held out in front of us.  Despite this, we had fun trying the famous Pikes Peak donuts and exploring the shop.

Apparently, the view is absolutely beautiful but, unfortunately, this is what we saw.

Apparently, the view is absolutely beautiful but, unfortunately, this is what we saw.

After Pikes Peak, you can explore Manitou Springs.  This is also a good time to catch up and do one of the activities that you might have missed because you spent too much time at another spot.

Day Three – River Rafting and the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

Photo courtesy of Echo Canyon

Photo courtesy of Echo Canyon

There are a number of river rafting companies that you can go through but I was blown away by the service at Echo Canyon.  It is about half an hour away from Colorado Springs and is a great way to spend the morning.  I recommend going in the morning because the weather can change drastically in the afternoons.  If you have never been white water rafting, half a day is plenty.  The full day might be too long, especially with children.  After you are finished with rafting, eat lunch at the 8 Mile Bar and Grill.  We had a delicious lunch that prepared us for the rest of day.

The only place we haven’t visited on this list is the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.  Every time someone finds out we have spent a few days exploring Colorado Springs, they all ask us if we have been to this mountainside zoo.  It comes highly recommended and we hope to visit sometime this year.

*Bonus Day – Day Four – Great Sand Dunes National Park

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Colorado Springs is one of the closest airports to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and it is over two hours away.  If this otherwordly landscape is something that you would want to see, try to plan a day that you can spend exploring the sand dunes.

What is your favorite thing to do in Colorado Springs, Colorado?

Walking the Trail

*I know my regular visitors might think this is turning in to a hiking blog but I promise there are lots of different articles lined up!  Coming in the next few weeks:  Colorado Gold; 3 Days in Colorado Springs; a review of Boulder Ice Cream; a little waxing poetic about doing things on my own; and more.

“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir

The cooler temperatures brought on by the fall months have kept us outside, away from the house and the computer.  It has been worth every extra late evening I had to spend to get my house back in order and take care of school and work obligations. My obsession with taking pictures of the trail is only getting worse.  My love for trail pictures is beginning to overtake my Instagram feed!

The trail makes me think of what is to come around the corner.  Looking back makes me think of how far I have come.   The trail and what it means is different for everyone.

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Near the Highline Canal Trail

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 Walking through the aspens at Kenosha Pass

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 One of my suburban/city hikes

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 The trail up to Devil’s Head Fire Tower Lookout

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Downhill Skiing = Family Fun

“Come on, mom.  You can do this,” said my 9 year old son as he whooshed past me on his skis.

With the exception of my husband who already knew how, my entire family learned how to ski last season.  We took the requisite number of downhill skiing lessons and were let loose on the mountain.

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Some of us were doing better than others.  I was not one of those family members.

I struggled to stay standing and was scared to point my skis downhill.  Getting off of the lift was a challenge for me and it took four weekend outings before I finally got off of the ski lift without falling into a tangled mess of arms, legs, and skis.

When I did get off the ski lift for the first time without falling, my son was right there with me, fist pumping to the sky in celebration.  My 6 year old daughter was just as excited as she watched and waited for us so that we could ski down the hill together.

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Sometimes, I found myself left alone at the top of the ski lift.  My family had tired of waiting for me and skied ahead.  This always gave me a little twinge of sadness until I heard my kids screaming from a lift above my head.  I would look up and wave, never quite getting over the shock of seeing my two little ones on a ski lift all by themselves.

“Hi, mommy!  Wait for us at the bottom!  We can ride up together,” they said.  They were never far away and were always looking out for me.

The tables had turned.  It was their turn to make sure that mom was okay.  The children were watching out for mom as dad watched out for the kids.

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We have a lot of things that a few of us like to do.  For instance, my daughter and I love to go out to lunch together.  My son and I read books together.  My husband and the kids go for bike rides.  Skiing is one of the first outdoor activities that we have all loved and want to do together.

Last year, we used the ski season to learn how to ski and decide if this was something we wanted to do together as a family.  This year, we have gotten all geared up, bought season passes to the mountain, and are ready to go.  I am excited to watch our family continue to grow together.

Though I know that soon my kids will be leaving me in a wake of powder, I also know that they will want to meet up at lunch to tell me all about it.  Maybe they just might stick around and complete a green run with mom.

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We don’t know how long we will be in Colorado but as long as we are living just a drive from the mountain, we will be making the 6am Saturday morning drive to ski together as a family.  As my kids continue to grow more independent and want to do more of their own thing, I hope that skiing together is something that I can always count on (even if they want to hang out with their friends most weekends!).

Are you excited for the ski season?  Visit Mara Gorman’s Back to Ski website for giveaways and great information about skiing.

Life Lessons Children Can Learn While Hiking & Introducing Share Your Best Linkup

Do you have a post that you’re particularly proud of? Each month Mommy Travels and Two Kids and a Map will be hosting the Share Your Best link up. Whether you’ve created an amazing recipe, gone on a beautiful trip, or reviewed a product you love this is the link up for you. Link up on either site and show up on both.

Your challenge is to pick out your best post of the month and share it with us.  Mommy Travels and Two Kids and a Map are travel blogs, but we also write about many other things.  Link up a post that you are most proud of at the bottom of this post.  

Hiking is something that we have been doing a lot since moving to Colorado.  As I watched my children hike the trail with each outing, I realized that we are all learning some important life lessons on the trail.  These lessons are important to me and that is why I am sharing it as my favorite post for this month’s link up!

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Hiking has quickly become our favorite pastime.  After a month of downtime due to a sprained ankle (don’t ask), we were finally able to hit the trail together as a family.  And because we don’t do anything small around here, we went big for our first time back on the trail.  As I struggled up the trail and watched my children, I realized that they are learning a number of life lessons when we go hiking.

How to Navigate.  Navigating is something that even the most seasoned traveler has problems with.  In this day of all things GPS, reading a map is a skill that is slowly becoming extinct.  Well, the GPS doesn’t always work in the mountains.  Each child gets a trail map of their own to look at.  They can make notes on the map and see how far we have left to go.  My son recently got a compass for his birthday and he used it almost the entire hike, telling us which direction we were headed.

Taking care of our environment is important.  My kids love to snack on hikes.  Sometimes, I think that is the only reason they come along with us.  Learning that you have to pack out everything that you brought in with you is an important part of taking care of the environment.  Children learn that staying on a hiking trail is important for the grounds around the trail.  They learn that if we don’t take care of our environment, then hiking won’t be a Saturday morning activity choice.

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How to Work Together.  When mama can’t make it up the hill without stopping, the whole family rests.  When my 6 year old needs a snack to keep going, the whole family stops to grab a snack.  Working together is an important part of being a family.  Hiking on a trail where it feels like it is just you and your family is a good way to teach the importance of working together.

How to be Independent.  Though it is important to work together as a family, it is just as important to be independent.  Both of my kids have their own Camelbak backpacks.  The backpacks are the perfect size for them and contains a bladder full of water.  They are able to put whatever they would like into their backpacks with the knowledge that they will be the one’s carrying the backpacks.  They hold their own snacks, jacket, and more.  My 9 year old son carries his compass as well as a sketchbook.  My 6 year old daughter carries her wildflower identification book as well as a small first aid kit.

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Not everything is easy and sometimes it is hard work.  This has been the hardest lesson for me to learn.  I often joke that I am good at everything I do because I only choose the things that I am good at.  I have found that my children have started to take this path so we all need a lesson in learning that the struggle is not always a bad thing.  Though I wanted to quit about halfway into our hike, I pushed through and my children could see that it wasn’t easy for me.  When it got difficult for them, they pushed through and made sure that I knew they were struggling but still going.

Do you have a post that you’re particularly proud of? Each month Mommy Travels and Two Kids and a Map will be hosting the Share Your Best link up. Whether you’ve created an amazing recipe, gone on a beautiful trip, or reviewed a product you love this is the link up for you. Link up on either site and show up on both.