So happy to announce that my first children’s book, Backyard Breakfast, is available for pre-sale wherever you buy books. The book is about a little boy who finds everything he needs for a delicious, healthy breakfast right in his backyard.
Even if you don’t have a big backyard with lots of space for a garden and chickens, you can still enjoy some parts of the story using herbs and small containers. We no longer have a yard with space, so we love to find creative ways to bring fresh foods into the kitchen. The boys plant a “salsa pot” each year. It has cilantro, jalapenos, and cherry tomatoes.
We like to have a little green space for several reasons.
It encourages time outside.
It gives the boys something to take care of. They have to water and weed.
It teaches patience because, boy, does it seem like it takes forever for little sprouts to grow.
They enjoy more time in the kitchen, eating healthy foods when they get to harvest the items with their hands.
You can read more about Backyard Breakfasthere, in the Chattanoogan.com and you can order the book here. I would love the support!
I’m always trying to discover the best books for the outdoorsy little boys in my life. We have a few in the rotation that are our current nighttime reads–and would love suggestions on some new ones. We’re fans of both the classics and new releases.
If you’re looking for a new picture book for a toddler and preschooler, these are great, mostly funny—and in no particular order.
We Love Fishing! By Ariel Bernstein, illustrated by Marc Rosenthal
This book was released in 2021, but it feels like an oldie. The little squirrel will have your little ones laughing–especially over the surprise ending.
2. Duck Tents by Lynne Berry, illustrated by Hiroe Nakata
3. When we go Camping by Margiet Ruurs, illustrated by Andrew Kiss
4. Camping Day by Patricia Lakin, illustrated by Scott Nash
This one is sure to have your little ones laughing at the crocodiles–they never realize they’re just scared of their shadow!
5. The Hike by Alison Farrell
6. A Camping Spree with Mr. Magee by Chris Van Dusen
I can’t say enough good things about this one. It’s a staple in our house–even though Mr. Magee doesn’t pack his food up at the campsite!
7. Just Me and My Dad by Mercer Mayer
This book is a classic, and of course, dads will love it!
8.Do Princesses and Super Heroes Hit the Trails? By Carmela LaVigna Coyle, illustrated by Mike Gordon
My most memorable encounter with a snake was as a camper at Camp Marymount. I was swimming smack dab in the middle of the lake. Suddenly, I hear everyone screaming to get out of the water, and I see two counselors are waving their canoe paddles like maniacs trying to catch something with an empty trashcan—it was a “water moccasin”—or so they said. (Looking back, it probably wasn’t a cottonmouth, but it did a good job instilling a lifelong fear of running across one of these slithering guys).
Snakes are especially front of mind in the summer months when the whole family is spending lots of time together—camping, hiking, and exploring the outdoors. At least, they are mine, and venomous or not a run in with a snake is spooky—especially with toddlers in tow.
The sign below was at the start of my most recent hike alone with the boys—not a good feeling for someone who knows nothing about snakes.
What is that, anyway?? Turns out it is a copperhead.
But what the heck would I do if I came across one of these guys with my kids—especially when my gut would say, scream and throw things at it. Well, that’s the absolute worst thing to do.
Sarah Grimes with the Rome-Floyd ECO Center says if you do come across a snake, venomous or not, it is best to slowly move around the snake, keeping your distance and a close eye on it. Do not throw rocks at it or use a stick to try and move it.
Interesting fact: “in the state of Tennessee, it is illegal to kill any species of snake native to the state,” Grimes says. “In Georgia it is illegal to kill non-venomous native species.” They are an important part of the ecosystem. For example, they control rodent populations.
Snakes are often found hiding under rocks and leafy debris. Snakes are cold blooded reptiles, as a result “snakes will often find sunny spots on rocks or logs to bask for their energy, so you may see them during the daytime,” Grimes says. “Some venomous snakes may be more active during the evening hours when they hunt for their prey.”
If you do spend a lot of time outside with the kids, Grimes says it’s important to familiarize yourself with the most common snakes in your area. Considering there are 44 species of snakes in Georgia (6 being venomous) and 32 species of snakes in Tennessee (4 being venomous)—that’s a tall order.
Grimes says that “one of the most common non-venomous snakes in northwest Georgia (and in the Chattanooga area) is the rat snake, which can be grey or black in color and grow to be up to six feet long. Other common snakes in these areas include common garter snakes, corn snakes, Eastern hognose, common kingsnake, milk snakes, northern water snakes, black racers, and rough green snakes.”
When it comes to being snake aware:
Wear ankle boots and pants when hiking.
Don’t put your hands (or feet) where you can’t see.
Use a flashlight at night.
Move away slowly.
These are some of our favorite picture books about snakes.
For the little one:
For the 4-year-old:
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I don’t know about you, but when we go out of town for a weekend, we usually end up spending way more than we would at home. We eat out every meal and hit up every child-friendly attraction even if it costs $20+ per person, and many times, it ends up being a bust with the kids.
These are my kiddos’ favorite things to do in Chattanooga, and they are entirely free. So, if you’re in town for a weekend and have paid for Rock City, the Tennessee Aquarium, and Creative Discovery Museum and need a break from hemorrhaging money, here are some excellent options that are all in walking proximity minus the Sculpture Fields and market. You could walk to Stringers Ridge–but it would be a hike to get there 🙂
Go sledding any time of year and slide down “Cardboard Hill” in Renaissance Park. This hill is littered with boxes most of the year. When I first saw it, I thought it was trash, but I quickly learned many hours pass sliding down the hill on these boxes.
Play in the fountains at Coolidge Park and then play music on the steel drum art exhibit. The vintage carousel is wonderful and only $1. I like to keep a few quarters in my stroller when we are heading downtown, just in case we end up on the carousel.
Take a walk across the Walnut Street Bridge—it connects North Chattanooga to downtown. Often there are musicians playing, plus there’s always great people watching.
Once downtown, have more water fun in the water and fountains in front of the Tennessee Aquarium. (I hope you see a pattern for the spring and summer months–bring clothes your kids can get wet in!)
Take a bike ride or stroll along the Chattanooga Riverfront. If you didn’t bring bikes, you could rent bikes at one of the more than 40 stations around Chattanooga. A day pass to ride with Bike Chattanooga is $8.
Visit the Sculpture Fields at Montague Park. There are more than 40 sculptures in this park from artists all around the world. Every time I’m here I feel like I’ve left Chattanooga–but I haven’t. This is such a unique and peaceful place to bring a picnic lunch or fly a kite. The 33-acre park was once a construction landfill, then abandoned until sculpture John Henry brought the Sculpture Fields to life. You can see his large-scale steel pieces all over Chattanooga. Learn more about him here.
When the temperatures stay consistently in the 70s, you’ll find us in a creek. My feet are in the water, and my children (and husband) up to their stomachs in ice-cold water.
There are some fantastic benefits to playing in the creek (aside from just the fresh air and Vitamin D). I’ve noticed that in the water, more so than on the hiking trail, my children’s natural curiosity comes out, and I need to brush up on my 1st-grade science.
The boys catch tadpoleswith their nets, in the stagnant parts of the creek and ponds prompting a conversation about metamorphosis. Caterpillars aren’t the only creature that undergoes profound changes in fact, there are many transforming insects to discover.
They find crawfish under rocks and small logs, sparking conversations about habitatand the food chain. What kind of animals eat crawfish—do people eat crawfish?? Yes!
Now, we get to plan a low country crawfish boil, complete with corn, red potatoes, smoked sausage, and some Tony’s Cajun seasoning. Will they like eating this freshwater crustacean? The jury is still out.
Everyone wants toskip rocks and MUST know why it bounces across the water when dad does it but not when mom does. If you want to learn more about the science behind skipping rocks, this is an excellent article by Science ABC.
I try to keep in my car the things we will need to make a spontaneous creek day a success. I swear, sometimes I feel like I lug around everything but the kitchen sink and still manage to forget things. These are the items I don’t like to be without on a warm day outside. Let me know if there’s something you like that I’m forgetting!
Microfiber towels if you’ll be hiking in. Standard towels if you’re close to a car.
Water shoes. I use these with my kids because I’m too cheap for the Native’s, and I’ve noticed they tend to come off in muddy areas.
Nets and pails. Having enough for everyone is crucial, even the extra kiddo that tags along. These pails are collapsible, so an easy hiking addition.
Trash bags. We use this collapsible trash can on our camping trips. It is also great for playing in the creek.
Change of clothes for everyone.
These are some fantastic picture books about frogs. Of course, one is by our favorite non-fiction children’s book author, Gail Gibbons.
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Sure, when I think of Memorial Day, I think of the opening day of the pool, grilling out, and picnics with friends at the lake, and I love all of it. But Memorial Day is so much more than that.
I want my children to know why we get the last Monday of May off every year. It’s not just the unofficial start to the summer season. We are honoring all of those in the U.S. military who died in service.
The boys helped me put a little red, white, and blue around our house and start the conversation about Memorial Day.
Upcycled Red, White, and Blue T-shirt Wreath:
This wreath is a simple 30-minute project. It took three old shirts—one of each color, and we tied them in knots around a wire wreath we already had. This was easy enough for the 4-year-old to do with no problems. The 2-year-old supervised.
We cut lots of red and black squares out of construction paper and glued them down. I will laminate them so we can use them during our Memorial Day picnic.
What To Read:
There are two excellent picture books about Memorial Day. A Poppy is to Remember—this is a Canadian book and is a beautiful story about the Canadian military doctor Major John McCrae and his poem “In Flanders Fields.” The Poppy Lady is a book about Moina Michael (who happens to be a Georgia native). She read McCrae’s poem and was inspired. She made silk poppies for people to wear in memory of the soldiers lost.
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We had big plans to go on a camping trip in the Smoky Mountains for a few nights with the boys, but as luck would have it, both came down with a fever the night before.
The new mission was to find a way to spend time together that was not in front of the television. Easier said than done when no one felt up for anything–not even going outside.
5 Things to do with Kids on a Sick Day:
Build an indoor tent. We used an old playpen, sheets and cut out some stars since we’d be missing out on the real ones. There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned fort to get the imagination going.
Play board games. We have three current favorites: Guess Who?, The Little Detective Game, and Let’s Feed! The Very Hungary Caterpillar!
The Little Detective Game is my go-to 3-year-old birthday present–hours pass playing this one (and it doesn’t make any noise). Parents, you will thank me. The 2-year-old mainly likes to play with the pieces, but he still participates.
Play doctor. Both of the boys love playing with their doctor kit, even when no one is under the weather. It makes sense to want to figure out everyone’s ailments on sick days, too. The stethoscope is an item often bickered over.
Bake something easy on the stomach. We made these buttermilk star-shaped pancakes. I put strawberry jam on top of mine (we made it from the strawberries we picked).
What is a mom to do when all her planet obsessed little boy wants is an outer space birthday party? Search Pinterest, of course.
While I was pinning away the different decoration and cake ideas, I came across the International Dark-Sky Association, which I’d never heard of before. Living in an urban environment, I realize there aren’t stars to gaze upon like when we are camping—but didn’t know gaining international dark-sky status was something to be coveted.
According to the IDA, adding artificial light to the darkness disrupts ecosystems and contributes to wastes energy.
There are two International Dark Sky Places in Tennessee:
After a Google Maps search to see how far to get to these locations I started planning our next weekend trips. All within a days drive, so we will be heading out on a dark-sky adventure to see the difference first hand.
Back to the birthday party: after telling me he wanted a moon birthday cake, he said a galaxy one would be cooler the moment we started frosting. Queue more Pinterest videos.
I cut out star-shaped watermelon and put them in a Moon Pie tin with Oasis floral foam. How could I not have Moon Pies when they’re made in Chattanooga? Read about the history of Moon Pie, here.
There was the obligatory balloon arch. Balloons are latex, so they are biodegradable. The foil ones (which unfortunately aren’t biodegradable) can be stored for another party, with tissue paper between each layer.
Here is the list of party supplies I used, plus the stomp rocket (which was by far the hit of the party).
Most days, I just want my boys away from the television screen and me away from the junk food in the pantry. That’s why we go hiking—the 2-year-old, 4-year-old, and me. Otherwise, my stomach would be full of Goldfish, and their little brains would be full of Paw Patrol before 10:00 a.m.
Being outside, exploring new trails and sites in our community is a way for us to connect—with nature and each other. There’s nothing better than the three of us discovering new places and letting our curiosity about the natural world grow together.
Nature inspires meaningful conversations; I can’t think of a better place to talk to my sons about their Creator than in his creation.
There aren’t any distractions, no toys to battle over, or snacks to whine about needing. I’m not frazzled, trying to find ways to entertain them. I’m not trying to break up a toddler brawl. Best of all, I’m not feeling guilty because I’m on my phone scrolling mindlessly through my social media feed trying to get a mental break; that only makes me feel more mentally exhausted.
I want my boys—and myself—to experience the beautiful things our backyard and community have to offer, not to take what we have for granted. I want to appreciate the time I have with these two little boys and not wish it away, thinking life would be more exciting somewhere else. In nature, life is exciting.
What could be more exciting than your 4-year-old climbing his first mountain pass or hiking two miles without hesitation? Imagine the confidence that is instilling in your little one. They can do anything! I don’t know about you, but my children are happiest when they are messy—covered in dirt and sand after digging with sticks or wet from splashing in muddles—that is where they thrive.
Best of all, there is nothing more rewarding than sitting around a dinner table, listening to my boys tell their dad about the exciting things they discovered and learned that day with their mom.
Anyone can hike, the avid outdoorswomen, newbies, first-time moms, pregnant women, absolutely anyone. It doesn’t take fancy gear or gadgets to get out on the trail, just some sturdy shoes, hats, and water bottles. Nature accepts us all.
And that is why I hike with my children.
These are our favorite picture books to read together about nature and love.