Tag Archives: Outdoors

Simple Vacations Are Rewarding, Too (no matter what your Instagram feed tries to tell you)

We’ve just returned from a vacation in New England. Over the past week we wound our way from Kennebunkport to Portland, Maine and then on to Boston, Massachusetts. Our vacation was simple and included fresh sea food, trips to the ocean, and long family walks.

While we were away, I saw many of my friends posting photos of their adventures, too – from Mexico, to Florida, to Italy – families are taking this time to get away, explore, and unwind. Travel is a wonderful way to bond as a family, gain an appreciation for the world around us, and learn about different cultures. In an increasingly global society, travel prepares us to work with colleagues, customers, and collaborators from other lands. And as Saint Augustine said, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.”

However, to reap the rewards of family travel, you don’t have to take an elaborate or expensive vacation. Jet setting families look pretty on Instagram, but many of us don’t have the funds or the time to set off on an around-the-world tour. In fact, a “staycation” or short trip can give us the same benefits. So friends, don’t fret about keeping up with the Joneses. Create a special experience that works for your family. This is something I know a thing or two about.

When I was a kid, my family couldn’t afford many long distance vacations, but we did have one fabulous getaway each summer. One of my favorite family traditions! My parents would cram sleeping bags, pillows, food, games, drawing pads and a box full or markers into our 1980s station wagon and we’d drive three hours to a placid lake in northern Wisconsin. There we would pitch a tent and cook our meals over an open flame. At night we’d lay near the empty country road that ran along our property and watch stars shoot across the pitch black sky. And before bed, we’d tell ghost stories with flashlights under our chins while munching on Jiffy Pop.

At the lake, my brother and I lived in our swim suits and always smelled like a mixture of Coppertone, Off!, and algae. There were no cell phones, no flush toilets, no showers, and we were in heaven. Those rustic, “roughing it moments” – as my dad referred to them – are some of the best memories of my childhood.

Tent camping taught us to appreciate nature. My dad would take us on hikes through pine forests in search of deer tracks. We would catch grasshoppers and learn how to tell time by watching the sun. On the shores of the lake, we would find snails and my mom would tell us about the escargot served in France. My brother and I would wrinkle our noses.

Those long summer days were filled with teaching moments. It was where I learned about the glaciers that once covered Wisconsin and the importance of freshwater lakes. We learned about the logging industry in our state and toured paper mills. If we ever complained about being bored, my parents would hand us the drawing pads and markers and tell us to make art.

Next time you’re planning a trip, think about something simple and close to home. Head to a museum, a State Park, or go camping in the woods. Encourage your children to put down the electronic devises and spend time with their imaginations. Help them expand their understanding of the world through fun, hands-on learning. Make it an annual trip, and start a new family tradition.

Happy traveling! -Mara

A Hike In The Snow

In the Midwest, we’ve just celebrated the first snow fall of the season!

There is something dreamy and ethereal about the first dusting of snow. It makes the world look and sound different…colorless and hushed.

For kids, the first snow represents an opportunity for magical play and exploration. Snow: a cold substance that can be packed into balls, sculpted into figures, or moved into angels. Oh, what fun!

One of our longstanding family traditions has been to take a winter hike after the first snowfall.

Well, when my daughter found out that flurries were moving into our area overnight, she made me promise to fulfill this tradition. That evening, as she was getting ready for bed, she asked me to write the promise on her hand so we wouldn’t forget.

A promise is a promise

She woke up before the sun, squealing with joy that the world had been painted white. “Mom, mom, let’s go on our hike!” she cried. “Honey, it’s not even 6:00 a.m.,” I replied, folding my head deeper into my pillow. But she wouldn’t take no for an answer. As a compromise, I helped her get dressed in all of her winter gear and let her run around outside while I sipped coffee in the comfort of our warm home.

Eventually, the sun was up, I was caffeinated, and we were all ready to go. My husband, daughter, and I set out on a winter wonderland adventure!

Girls hiking

Over the river and through the woods

First sled ride of the season

Love birds

Urban waves


Hiking with a sled

Boots in the snow


The river in white

Hiking in the snow

Wintery staircase





Family “Field Trips”

I’ve noticed that sometimes busy families get stuck in ruts….parents working all hours, kids plopped in front of screens, fast food served on dinner plates…everyone is together but not really together at all.

To keep our family playing, talking, and bonding, each weekend we take family “field trips.” Just like the exciting, fun-filled trips we took in grade school, these outings are designed to get us exploring and playing together…really together. They get us out of our daily routines, help us facilitate rich interactions, and allow us to build lasting memories.

We usually head outdoors and visit our community’s natural resources, living museums, and free play areas. During these “field trips” there are only five rules: 1.) no electronic devices, 2.) have fun, 3.) get messy, 4.) try to learn something new, and 5.) run wild! And yes, princess dresses are perfectly acceptable attire.

Our daughter loves the uninterrupted time with mom and dad…and we love sharing our passion for nature with our little one. We’re creating healthy traditions that, we hope, our daughter will continue when she has her own family.

Here are some photos from a trip we took this past weekend…a forest hike followed by playtime along the shores of Lake Michigan. Free, fun, and fabulous.

Entertaining Family wants to know, what does your family do to stay connected?

Waves along the shore

Chair in the woods


Father daughter bonding

Paths in the sand

Rocks on the shore

Standing on the tip of the world

Creating a Meditative Outdoor Space That Fit Our Lifestyle

Our climbing vines


When my husband and I moved into our 1896 Victorian home, almost a decade ago, the yard was overgrown with invasive weeds and trees, and the ground was uneven at best…filled with dangerous, gaping holes is more like it. There was no place to entertain, and no where to sit and relax. In fact, being in our yard was anything but relaxing…overwhelming and anxiety producing was more like it.

We knew we needed to change things up, but we couldn’t do it ourselves. We hired an innovate design company, Greener Roofs and Gardens in Milwaukee, WI, to help us develop a plan that would fit our busy lives.

In creating our “new” outdoor space, we drew inspiration from the gorgeous neighborhood in which we live. Not far from Lake Michigan, our east side community is nestled between Milwaukee’s Lake Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in the late 19th Century (the landscape architect who also designed Central Park in New York City), and Riverside Park, an urban green space along the Milwaukee River which leads to miles of hiking trails and an arboretum. The two parks are connected by Newberry Boulevard, a stately road lined with a canopy of towering maple trees.

Greener Roofs and Gardens completely re-landscaped our home to create a serene, meditative outdoor space that fit our family, reflected our love of wild, natural spaces and mirrored the outdoor environments found throughout our neighborhood.

We developed a low-fuss plan (a.k.a., there is absolutely no mowing required, ANYWHERE). We added a circular seating area for entertaining, a play space for our young daughter which includes a sandbox and a “tree house” with a garden roof, and raised beds to grow and harvest vegetables during the summer and fall. We used greenery (vines, cranberry bushes, and sculptural trees) to screen out the city buildings around us and create a yard that envelopes us in nature.

The entertaining space

Our Buddha

Cherry Tree

In the front yard, our landscapers created a rain garden filled with native plants and flowers and decorative elements like flagstone walking paths and a free-form stone wall. In Milwaukee, during rain storms, we have issues with runoff taxing our deep tunnel system and this results in raw sewage being dumped into Lake Michigan – our city’s most important natural resource. Our small rain garden is one way to help reduce that runoff. Rather than having rain water flow from our yard into the sewage system, it pools in our garden where our big, hearty plants drink it up. This space is also a haven for honey bees, monarchs and different types of birds.

Rain Garden

More Climbing Vines

Wall and Rain Garden



Tree House with Green Roof

Container Garden

Today I couldn’t be happier, more relaxed or more content sitting in our outdoor space. First of all, it is absolutely lush and picturesque. Second, it supports he way we live! I’m simply too busy to spend all of my time caring for a lawn – and it’s not good for the environment – so this low-maintenance space is perfect for me and my family. Moreover, there are ample spaces for us to garden together, play together, and entertain friends and family. This type of yard wouldn’t work for everyone…and it doesn’t have to – it was made just for us and we love it!