Snowshoeing With Dogs

Trekking through the snow isn’t just for humans. Dogs can enjoy a romp through a winter wonderland, too. If you are new to snowshoeing, check out this article to prepare. If you are planning to bring your pup on your next snowshoe adventure, follow these steps to ensure your best friend has as much fun as you do.

 Choose Simple Trails

Snowshoeing burns a lot more calories than regular hiking. Pair that with the body working hard to keep itself warm, and energy expenditure increases. Therefore, you should look at shorter trails that feature little elevation gain to start with. As you and your dog get more comfortable hitting the trail and you both build stamina, longer and more difficult trails can be added to your list. Starting on trails at a Nordic center or snow park is perfect for those first snowshoe romps because trails are groomed and are distance and difficulty rated.

Know The Rules

Rules and regulations for where you can bring your dog will vary, so be sure to brush up on those before you start. It is important to check that where you are heading is dog-friendly. Some trails will be snowshoe-only, and some trails you will need to share with Nordic skiers. Some areas may allow dogs to be off-leash, and some may require you to have your furry friend on a leash at all times. You may even have to get a pass for your pup to join you on the trails for the day. If you are leaving from a trail center, ask one of the associates about the specific rules for the area.

Be Prepared For The Conditions

Watch the weather before you head out to be sure you have what you need to stay warm and safe. Conditions can change quickly in snowshoe-friendly places, so you don’t want to be out in the cold and unprepared. Look online for a trail status or check in with the trail center before heading out. Some trails may be groomed, but on some you may have to break through the snow. If you are in the mountains, there is also a potential avalanche risk. Check resources, including and the Colorado Avalanche Information Center for the most accurate safety information.

It is also important to have your pup hydrate more leading up to your trail adventure. Make sure they get in some good calories, too, so they have plenty of energy from the get-go.

Protect Your Pup

Dog paws are sensitive and can easily be cut by ice. Snow and ice can also build up on the fur around the pads, making walking painful and uncomfortable. While dog snowshoes aren’t available (future product development?), you can protect their feet with winter booties for cold and icy conditions. If you are snowshoeing in powder or deeper snow, you may be fine with just Musher’s Secret, a wax-based ointment. This ointment protects paws from snow and ice buildup.

Hypothermia and frostbite can even happen to canines. Fur alone may not be enough to keep your dog warm, especially if out in the cold for long periods of exposure. Some pups will need more coverage, especially shorter-hair breeds. Dog coats offer an extra layer of protection and can keep them dry if the snow falls. We recommend brands including RuffwearMountainsmith and Wilderdog for great outdoor products for dogs.

A running leash may be helpful if you need to have your pup on a leash. This allows your dog to choose the best path for themselves with a bit of stretch. It also allows you to keep your hands gloved, and it will be easier to control your buddy if you are using poles.

Have a light and perhaps a leash or coat with reflective tape to make it easier to spot your dog along the trails. This will help in windy and cloudy conditions, too. It can also alert other trail users that a dog is coming up. A towel or warm blanket is important to bring along in your pack, along with water and snacks.

Take Breaks

Take it slow on the trails, especially if you are a newbie to snowshoeing with your pup. Stop periodically on the trail to grab some water and maybe some trail snacks. You may need to stop to brush off snow and ice from your pup’s fur or paws. Be observant of how your dog is feeling energy-wise.

Fatigue can set in quickly. It’s best to try to keep your pup on the trail where it is groomed or packed down. If they run ahead, they may do a lot of postholing, where they are breaking through and sinking in the snow. This will make your dog extra tired, as it takes a lot of energy to pop back up. It’s OK to turn around early if you or your pal are tired. Some signs related to hypothermia and frostbite are shivering, dilated pupils and slowed breathing. If you or your dog are experiencing any of these, it is time to get out of the cold and into warmer temps.

Just Have Fun

The popular saying “Life is about the journey, not the destination” rings true, especially when getting outdoors with your faithful companion. Trails that would take you an hour in dry, warm weather will take 30 minutes to an hour longer when dealing with winter conditions. You more than likely will have to stop more often to adjust equipment, check your dog’s paws and grab some water and a snack. Enjoy the scenery, the experience and a day outside with your fur baby.

Show Some Post-Snowshoe Love

After you finish your snowshoe trek, give your pup some love for joining you. Remove built-up snow or ice from their paws or other body parts. Dry them off with a towel. Have a favorite treat for the car ride home. Let them drink some water and relieve themselves before you leave the trailhead. Make them comfortable with their favorite blanket or snuggle toy for a good rest on the way home.

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8 Alternatives to New Years Resolutions

The tradition of creating New Year’s resolutions dates back more than 4,000 years to the Babylonians. But, according to a recent Forbes article, 80% of those resolutions are broken. ”Making resolutions can be overwhelming and defeating,” says Nell Osborne, a mental health counselor at the South Carolina Department of Mental Health. “Instead, it’s important to think of something that’s attainable to do each day. For example, to be kinder or more present with your family.” 

So, this year, instead of sticking with traditional resolutions (“I want to lose 20 pounds by March”), try one of these eight alternatives. These ideas will help you keep what’s important as individuals and as a family in focus.

Make a 2022 bucket list

Think about what experiences you’d like your family to tackle in the new year—think about specific goals for school, work, relationships and home life. If you’re a tech person, apps like iWish allow you to keep track of what you want to achieve. If you’d like a visual daily reminder you can put up around the house, try this simple bucket list—print out one for each member of the family to fill out as you count down to the start of 2022.

Create a monthly challenge

A monthly challenge can be anything from reading three books to skiing at least five days. It can be about educating oneself on certain topics or learning to only shop sales at the supermarket to save money. Make sure the challenge is achievable in the allotted time. 

Try gratitude exercises

One way to change your life in a positive way for the new year is to incorporate more gratitude into daily practices. Start with gratitude exercises—they help reduce anxiety and depression, make you feel more energized and aid in getting you a better night’s sleep. “I suggest gratitude journaling or having each person in the family share something they are grateful for that day over dinner,” says Dr. Jocelyn Petrella Gallagher, a child and family psychologist based in Denver, CO. 

Put goals in a jar

Write down family goals that aren’t time-sensitive (ie: you can complete them at any point in the year), fold them up and place them into a jar. Family goals could be anything from spending more time outside and volunteering to reading the Harry Potter series together. Once a goal is fulfilled, pick out a new one. 

Similar to the jar activity, Osborne recommends having everyone write down the strengths of other members of the family or things they appreciate about the other members. “For example, a child may say that their mom is a good listener,” she says. “Put the strengths or appreciative words in a jar and choose one each month. Then, everyone focuses on that word—whether it be listening better or helping more with cooking.”RELATED: What My Daughter Taught Me About Mindfulness

Practice mindfulness

2021 brought on stress—for adults and children alike. This year, incorporate mindfulness practices into daily life. “Often, our minds are focused on anything but the present moment and regular mindfulness helps with this,” says Gallagher. Some practices she recommends include meditation, going on a mindfulness walk and doing a body scan.

Make realistic lists

One way to kick off 2022 is to reflect on what you want to do more of, less of or stop doing as a whole in the new year. Make a list of them and add the steps you need to achieve those things. Maybe you want to stop staying up late binging Netflix so you get more sleep. Perhaps you want to spend more time volunteering and less time on Facebook.

Be sure to be realistic when it comes to the things you add to the list and be conscious of the process it will take to achieve them. “When working on activities like a list, make sure it’s diverse with different levels of intensity or ability,” says Osborne. “That way it won’t seem as intimidating and you are more likely to follow through. For example, try not to say for an entire month, I won’t watch television. Have smaller increments that are realistic and achievable such as, I’ll cut down to 30 min of television per day.”

Use a vision board

Also referred to as a dream board, vision boards keep us focused on where we want to go and what we want to achieve in life. The best approach for a board is to cover aspirations in all areas of life. Boards can be created from a variety of materials including cork (bulletin board) or canvas. Words, photos or drawings are the perfect way to express the direction you want life to go. Everyone can create their own boards to place in an office or bedroom or a family one to put in the living room. “Make vision boards appealing to the eye by using colors that you love, then add things that will remind you of the importance of what you envision,” suggests Osborne.

Have a word or mantra of the week/month/year

Encourage everyone to choose one word for the year that defines what their focus will be. Reflect on that word (or mantra!) during dinner or while in the car on the way to the grocery store, and make sure to place it in an important place in the house. Repeat the word or phrase to yourself every morning or when you need to refocus. Remind children of their intentions when a new day starts or if they have a moment of struggle. If one word or mantra for the year seems like too much of a challenge, break it down to a word or mantra for the week or month. 

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A Holiday Tea for Two

When we first walked into the Hotel Boulderado for Holiday Tea, I felt like I was a part of the Stahlbaum’s party scene from The Nutcracker. Victorian Carolers sang old and classic holiday songs from the elaborate winding staircase.

Lighted garland lined the railings and a large tree, 24 feet in height, tastefully decorated in a more vintage style rose from the ground level to the second floor where families and friends gathered for tea on the mezzanine level. We enjoyed a carol or two from the lobby area before we headed upstairs for our reservation.

Enjoying a few carols in the lobby

A reservation desk on the second (mezzanine) floor is where headed to check in. We were promptly lead to our table- a round four top decorated with a candle and a wrapped present decoration cozied in among tea cups, menus, jam, lemons for water and place settings. Other tables had similar decor with some featuring a nutcracker instead of the wrapped present. The table reminded much of my parents holiday table with simple decor and red napkins to add a splash of color.

Our table

We enjoyed a few more songs from the carolers while we perused the large menu of teas. When the carolers were off for a break, piped in Christmas music played at a comfortable level, so that you could still have conversation with your party or quietly sing along.

The tea came rather quickly- a decaf Strawberry Fields perfect for littler guests and for me peppermint. Whether you prefer an herbal tea like Chamomile or a black tea like Earl Grey, there were plenty of selections. If you enjoy cream in your tea, or a sugar cube, both were available at the table to add to your cup. If you enjoy a cocktail or wine, festive options were available including an apple cider mimosa.

Enjoying our tea

As we sipped our tea, while discussing our Christmas plans, our first course arrived. The white chocolate raspberry scones were fluffy and a perfect compliment to our tea. Clotted cream and preserves- raspberry and orange. The clotted cream was a rich butter that brought out the flavors of the scones.

A variety of tea sandwiches were available for a variety of pallets. Several vegetarian and one gluten free option were also available. I was surprised with such a vegan crowd in Boulder that at least one vegan option wasn’t available.

My daughter, who considers salmon to be one of her favorite foods, delighted to find a smoked salmon tea sandwich and a shrimp tea sandwich one too. For me, the simpleness of an English cucumber and cream cheese sandwich with tea is just perfect. I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed the cherry tea sandwich. I wish I could of took a whole box of the gluten free cucumber goat cheese cups home with me.

As we enjoyed our sandwiches, the carolers returned walking around the tables stopping to sing at various spots along the mezzanine area. The entertainment for each day of tea varied from the Victorian Carolers to pianists. Two special days were Nutcracker Teas featuring the music from the Nutcracker with dancers from the Boulder Ballet with a portion of profits going directly back to the studio. I imagine if we had enjoyed the Nutcracker Tea experience, the party scene at the Stahlbum’s would have come completely to life.

At one point, my daughter reached over and squeezed my hand when the carolers sang Christmas Time is Here from A Charlie Brown Christmas– one of my favorites. The beautiful music completely added to the experience making us feel like the holidays were truly here even if it hasn’t snowed yet.

Hoping our tummies weren’t too full from the sandwiches, a tray of desserts soon followed. A mix of macaroons, chocolate covered strawberries, almond croissants and cheesecake cupcakes were the perfect ending to our holiday tea experience.

For our family, the holidays are a bit more casual. But, it is always nice to dress up and enjoy a special event like a holiday tea or performance of the Nutcracker. If you are considering adding a holiday tea to your family traditions, be sure to check out the Hotel Boulderado website in November to book a seasonal tea typically held for two weeks beginning around mid December.

Johnson Holiday Bucket List

It’s hard to believe that the holidays are upon us again. Despite the 70 degree weather outside and lack of snow on the ground in Colorado, we are getting ready to spend our 9th Christmas together with Emma. Traditions are what my immediate family is known for (people mention we should write a book), so holiday bucket lists are top on our list. Here are some of our go to ways we like to celebrate the season!

Cutting down our tree in Buffalo Creek

Cut Down Our Tree in the Forest

Every year, we grab a tree permit (available online through and head to the national forest to cut down our own Christmas tree. Some years we have had snow on the ground, and some years it has been dry. Sometimes we make just a day of it. Sometimes we make a weekend of it. This year we are headed to Winter Park to find a tree and also get in some skiing with friends. We always decorate the tree at night while watching A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Holiday Tea at the Hotel Boulderado

Holiday Tea

We aren’t the fancy dress type of family, but we love to pick a holiday event every year where we can get dressed up. This year, we are attending tea at the Hotel Boulderado where sounds of the season will fill the air provided by Traditional Victorian Holiday Carolers. Each day of tea features different musicians and entertainment from the Nutcracker Ballet to pianists. They still have reservation openings if you would like to add this to your list this holiday season.

Olivia the Good Deeds Elf

Olivia arrives just before Thanksgiving to help our family spread good cheer throughout the season. We do all kinds of fun things from paying for the car behind us in line to donating toys to toys for tots. This is one of our favorite ways to enjoy this season.

One of the 24 books we read

24 Books of Christmas

Every night leading up to the big day, we read a holiday themed book. It’s a great chance for the family to connect and slow down over a cup of tea or hot cocoa. Sometime in November, I gather the books and we go through them to see if there are any we would like to replace. There are always the classic we read like Frosty and The Night Before Christmas on the 24th. We have added a few fun new ones in the past years including Home Alone (based on the movie Emma loves) and The Christmas Owl.

Hike to the Boulder Star

The Boulder Star (sometimes called the Flagstaff Star) is lit every year around Veteran’s Day. The star has been a favorite symbol of the holidays since 1947. In the past, you could hike up to the star. Erosion and COVID-19 have caused the area to be closed off for the past two years. But, we plan to go see the star from a parking lot below it this year and have a picnic like dinner.

Watch Christmas Movies

Who doesn’t love a quiet and snuggly evening at home in pajamas with the fire place roaring? We ALWAYS plan a Christmas movie marathon day where we just stay home and watch movies. We also have evenings where we sneak in a movie with dinner since there are so many good ones. This year, we even went to the drive-in at Red Rocks to watch Home Alone. I think the holiday drive-in will be a new bucket list item for us. Last year, we went to see Christmas Story in a parking lot by a movie theater.

Visit With Santa

While sometimes we just do a simple Santa visit, some years we do something a bit more exciting. A few years ago, Emma climbed to the top of the wall at Neptune Mountaineering to visit Santa. This year, she is going to climb the wall at G 1 Climbing and Fitness and meet Santa up on portaledge.

Headed out for a light scavenger hunt on bikes

Christmas Light Scavenger Hunt

There are many lists for Christmas light scavenger hunts you can find on Pinterest. We print off a new one every year. We typically do two hunts- one via bike and one via car.

Zoo Lights/ Blossom of Lights

Every year we like to go to at least one walk through light display. In the past, we have done Zoo Lights and Blossom of Light. This year, we will be headed to Zoo Lights again a few days before Christmas.

Additional Bucket List Ideas:

Holiday Parade

Ice Skating

Make Cookies

Charades and Holiday Theme Game Night

Fire pit and S’mores Night

Winter Picnic

Decorate a Gingerbread House

Simple 7: Ideas For an Active Thanksgiving

Yes, the 5- to 7-pound holiday weight gain may be a myth (it’s actually closer to 1 pound), but no one can deny the need to get outside for fresh air and to work off some of that good food. Here are seven simple ideas to be active in the great outdoors this Thanksgiving.

Trot Then Feast

Turkey Trots are a tradition for many families looking to keep up their fitness routine through the holiday season. It is arguably the largest and most continuous themed race in the United States to date, surpassing Fourth of July themed races for the top spot. The first trot was hosted by the YMCA back in 1896 in Buffalo, N.Y., where only four out of six racers finished the 8K race. The YMCA Buffalo Niagara Turkey Trot continues to take place today with a cap at 14,000 runners per year. Races around the country now vary in distance from 5K to 10K and often feature a kids’ race. Some races are held the morning of Thanksgiving, while others are held the weekend before or after. Find a race (in person or virtual) near you by searching “turkey trot” and your desired location on or

Play Ball

Football on Thanksgiving isn’t just for the NFL. In fact, the first nonprofessional Thanksgiving Day football game took place in Philadelphia, Pa., on Thanksgiving Day of 1869. Since then, family and friends have gathered on Thanksgiving for a little rivalry, smack talk and memorable moments passing the pigskin. In fact, my family has been participating in a Thanksgiving Turkey Bowl with the neighborhood for over 30 years now. It’s a great way to work up a sweat, work up an appetite and get some vitamin D. So, grab those Patrick Mahomes, Derrick Henry and Aaron Donald jerseys (or personal sweatshirts, like my family) and unite this Thanksgiving on the backyard gridiron for a good, old-fashioned game of football. Just remember, no fowl play (pun intended)!

Go {Fish}

If you live in a milder climate, find some water like a nearby pondstream or lake and go catch em’ up. Fish will bite year round if you have the right bait to lure them in. The weather is perfect for a few hours on the water casting a line, and it’s a great way to relax and work off some Thanksgiving pecan pie. The kids will love the time outdoors, too.

#OptOutside On Black Friday

Instead of hitting the mall, #OptOutside on Black Friday for a much-needed recharge, whether you steal some alone time for yourself or join in with a friend or family member. Outdoors retailer REI has made it its mission to get people to spend time in the fresh air by staying closed the Friday after Thanksgiving. Other companies and organizations have followed suit, including Outdoor Research and the National Park Service,  choosing to raise awareness and money in pursuit of being active. The campaign began in 2015 and has grown throughout the outdoors industry, with some state parks offering free admission for the day among other ways to encourage people to spend this day in the great outdoors. Look for an outdoor Black Friday Bootcamp or yoga session, as many gyms and yoga studios have joined in on the fun. Opt To Act (a side project of #OptOutside) encourages people to spend the Friday after Thanksgiving cleaning parks and other actions to help make the world a better place. No matter how you choose to spend your time outside, don’t forget to use the hashtag #OptOutside when posting photos on social media.

Play In A Winter Wonderland

If you happen to be spending the holidays in the mountains or have snow in the backyard, embrace the weather with some outdoor play. Build a snowman or a snow fort for protection while you have an epic snowball fight. Make your first snow angels of the season. Grab the snowshoes for a trek through the snow or the skis to hit the slopes for some pre- or post-feast calorie burning. If there is not enough snow for snow play, find a local outdoor rink and skate away to your favorite holiday tunes.

Cut Down Your Christmas Tree In The Forest

For many, the start of the Christmas season begins with putting up the Christmas tree. Add a little fun and outdoor time to this timeless tradition by heading to the forest to cut down your own tree. Make a day of it with time to enjoy the forest, whether you build a snowman, hunt for animal tracks or just listen to trickling water. Check out this article for seven simple tips for cutting down a live tree. To see whether your local national forest allows tree cutting, head to Next, select your region and the national forest closest to you. Once the specific page for the forest loads, look under Passes & Permits to find Christmas tree cutting info specific to that area.

Check Out The Lights

Light displays continue to get more elaborate year to year, and large displays pop up beginning around Thanksgiving across the country. In major cities, botanical gardens, zoos and other entities offer holiday light shows that you can meander through. Extravagant Clark Griswold-type personal displays can be found in towns across the country, with many raising money for charitable causes from Make-A-Wish and Toys for Tots to Wounded Vets and The Salvation Army. Grab your hats, scarves and gloves for a walk in a winter wonderland. Stroll down Candy Cane Lane or Reindeer Road and finish the night off with some leftover pie and hot cocoa around a fire.

One last idea:

Hike Off That Pie
Burn a few hundred calories by hitting the trails after a day of feasting. Catch the sunset (if you eat earlier) or enjoy clearer night skies this time of year if you choose to hike after a slice of pie. Head to the hills or just enjoy a stroll through a forest preserve. As a pre-hike activity, make some pinecone bird feeders and hang them on your walk, so the birds can enjoy a yummy Thanksgiving dinner, too. Your hike doesn’t have to be epic or even long. It’s a great time to chat about what everyone is thankful for. This reflection is especially important to focus on during these hectic times.

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How to Host Your Own Olympics at Home

After getting postponed last year due to the pandemic, the 2020 Summer Olympics kick off on July 23 in Tokyo, Japan. Inspired by the ancient Olympic Games held in Olympia, Greece from the 8th century BC to the 4th century AD, the modern Olympic Games brings together the world’s best athletes from more than 200 countries. This year, the youngest athlete (Hend Zaza) is a 12-year-old table tennis player from Syria. Even considering her, your own kids are probably still too young to even think of competing in the real Olympics. But that doesn’t mean they can’t join in on the festivities. There is no better way to get into the Olympic spirit than by holding your own at home Olympics. Here’s how to do it: 

Designate teams and decorate

Once you know how many participants you will have, divide them up into teams as evenly as possible in terms of skill level. There is no need to go out and spend money on matching outfits for this one-day event. Have each Olympic wear a different country’s colors. Have the kids make decorations—country flags or posters with Olympic rings on them—to hang around the “stadium” where the games will take place. You can also create a schedule of events for the day and hang it up.

Host an opening ceremony

Don’t forget to bring in an Olympic torch to symbolize the start of the games. Here is one great way to create your own torch at home. Begin by playing the “Olympic Fanfare and Theme” by John Williams. Get in a large circle and pass the torch around from country to country until it completes the circle. Designate an area to place the torch for all to see while the games begin.

Compete in your own games

Depending on how many teams there are, you can plan events that require multiple participants like a relay race or a baseball game or single participant events like a 100-meter dash. Want to try water events? Plan those for the end of the games as a perfect cool down. Some suggested events are 

• Meter dashes: Choose various lengths from 50 to 200 meters and let runners go all out in a sprint. 

• Relay races: This can be anything from passing a baton-like object in a running race to filling a bucket with a sponge and water

• Tosses: Toss water balloons while taking a step back for each successful toss until the last team is standing without a broken object.

• Javelin throw: Create your own Olympic rings for a javelin throw with a pool noodle.

• Disc throw. Measure how far each Olympian can throw a frisbee

• Bean bag toss: Set up buckets and see who can get the bean bags into the buckets. Or create Olympic rings with pool noodles for participants to toss the bags into.

• Water balloon shot put: Use water balloons for a shot put and see who can throw the farthest. Bonus points if you do competition shot put technique!

• Ball games. Play a game of kickball, baseball or see who can hit a golf ball the farthest.

• Hoop it up. Use pool noodles as hoops (aka hurdles) or see who can hula hoop the longest.

• Jumping. See who can jump rope the longest or use a jump rope to measure how far someone can jump. You can also use a yardstick or tape measurer to see who can jump the highest.RELATED: 10 Outdoor Family Adventures to Take This Summer

Set the Rules

Before the first event, lay the ground rules for the day. Emphasize the importance of fun and sportsmanship. Post some inspirational quotes and read a few before the first event. Some favorites are:

• “Each of us has a fire in our hearts for something. It’s our goal in life to find it and keep it lit.”—Mary Lou Retton, gymnastics

• “Failure I can live with. Not trying is what I can’t handle!”—Sanya Richards Ross, track and field

• “Don’t put a limit on anything. The more you dream, the further you get.”—Michael Phelps, swimming

Cool Down

With all the heated competition, your athletes will appreciate a cool down. Lead some exercises post-games—think calf stretches, lunge stretches, and chest and shoulder stretches. Treat every Olympian to cold orange slices, a popsicle and a cool drink. This would be a good time to have water balloon fights, too!

Make Olympic-themed snacks

Your kids will be hungry after all that competing so you’re going to want to make some tasty snacks. Use cake cones to represent the base of a torch and put cheddar popcorn or Cheetos into the cups to resemble flames. Bagels can represent the Olympic rings. Use colored spreads like strawberry, blueberry and green chives to add color. You can also create Olympic rings with colored fruits from kiwis/grapes and strawberries to blueberries, blackberries, and banana slices. Donuts or cookies with sprinkles can also be made to look like rings. Golden Oreos and fruit by the foot can create a gold medal treat.

Hold a closing ceremony

After the snacks have been eaten and the games played, it’s time to hold closing ceremonies. Line up three milk crates, wood boxes or whatever you can find to make a proper awards podium. Play the anthem for the designated country that placed first in each event. If you prefer, you can just have one overall medal in gold, silver and bronze based on the teams with the most points. Another idea: create special awards for sportsmanship, best comeback and other categories. Bring your fun-filled Olympic day to a close with a big congrats to everyone who participated with a certificate or other remembrance of the day. 

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10 Best Staycation Ideas for Families

You don’t have to travel far to feel like you explored new territory or made lasting memories this summer. Create your own vacation at home with these 10 staycation ideas for families. 

1. Have an alphabet-theme day

Try to do something for every letter of the alphabet! Use online resources to help you complete your goal (for example, visit a virtual zoo for “z”). If that seems too complicated, pick one letter (maybe your last name) and try that for the day. Make jam wearing jeans while jumping and playing Jenga anyone? Bonus points if you complete the challenge in alphabetical order.

2. Host a family game night

Spend the day in your comfiest PJs playing your favorite games. Introduce your littles to classic games you enjoyed as a child while they teach you a thing or two about Fortnite! You can find many games including even time-honored ones such as The Game of Life and Monopoly as apps, so you don’t need to splurge on buying physical game boards if you don’t want to.

3. Go on a tropical “vacation”

You can easily bring the tropics to your backyard by laying down beach towels, setting up a hammock, making fruit drinks and playing some Jimmy Buffet tunes. Get some Vitamin D while you read the latest pick from Reese Witherspoon’s book club, while your kids devour a new Dog Man title. Littles will love creating an island breeze fans and a spray bottle of water. After taking an afternoon siesta, dine alfresco under the patio lights on fish tacos, jerk chicken or other tropical dishes.

4. Plan a backyard camping adventure

Work together to set up camp including a tent, hammock, chairs and other camping gear, then play favorite yard games including Hide & Seek and Cornhole. For dinner (and dessert!), build a campfire to roast hot dogs and S’mores over. Sing campfire songs like “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” and “A Camping We Will Go (sang to the tune of the “The Farmer in the Dell”), or maybe your own favorite family tunes. End the night by telling campfire or ghost stories and using a night sky app like SkyView Lite to identify planets and constellations. If you prefer to be closer to creature comforts like the bathroom, consider setting up a tent or fort indoors!RELATED: 25 Fun Backyard Activities for Families

5. Create a DIY carnival

Begin this staycation by playing carnival games from ring toss to sack races (pillowcases work great for this). This is the perfect time to use up those leftover birthday balloons and create game boards with the endless Amazon delivery boxes. Search DIY backyard carnival games on Pinterest for a great place to start! Print out your own prize tickets and have the kids trade them in for things like movie nights, choose their own dinner and more. Download fair music (search county fair/carnival on Pandora, Spotify or other streaming services), and spend the day eating your favorite fair food from cotton candy and corn dogs.

6. Make a drive-in movie theater

Portable projectors are fairly reasonable these days—purchase your own, borrow one from a friend or find one at a rental location. Use large boxes to create and decorate cars for your little ones to sit it (that’ll give it a real drive-in feel!). Bean bag chairs, camp chairs or patio furniture also make for perfect seating. Grab blankets or sleeping bags to maximize the coziness. Choose movies with a classic summer theme—we’re fans of The Sandlot or Jaws—or go for a Disney marathon. Dine and snack on treats that fit the movie theme like gummy sharks for Jaws, hot dogs for The Sandlot and Dole Whip for your Disney favorites.

7. Hold your own Olympics

Get ready for the Tokyo Summer Olympics at home. Begin by creating an Olympic mascot (think your child’s prized stuffed animal), country uniforms and a list of events. Don’t skip the opening ceremonies where each country will be represented by marching with their designated homemade flag! Some easy events to hold are relay races, the 50-yard dash and the long jump. Pool noodles turned into Olympic rings can be used for a number of events like a javelin throw, bean bag toss and obstacle course. With a little creativity, you can make a friendly day of competition complete with handmade (or store-bought) medals and a closing ceremony.

8. Channel your inner Sherlock Holmes for a day of mystery

Grab the magnifying glasses and go on a backyard scavenger hunt (search backyard scavenger hunt on Pinterest for some great pre-made printable ones!). Another option: Download the Clue game app or get out the board game if you have it. Clue Jr. and Outfoxed are great for younger players. If you are feeling extra creative, consider holding a mystery party at home. A simple search of children’s mystery party games on Pinterest will give you lots of ideas. Turn off the lights and end the day watching Scooby-DooHoles or The Goonies.

9. Play tourist in your town

How much do you really know about the history of your own town? Begin with a Google search to learn more. What is the town’s motto? When people say your town’s name, what do they think of? Walk around town to look for significant monuments or statues. You can also spend time at your area’s history museum or go online to learn more. Snap photos at various locations to commemorate your trip. You can also take a family vote about who has the best pizza in town by ordering some from each restaurant! 

10. Go on a virtual vacation

Spin a globe or use a blindfold and place a pushpin randomly on a map to see where you should travel to. After you’ve selected a location, make a travel plan of where you’d like to go, what you’d like to see and what you’d need to pack. Then, take a virtual visit to your location with the power of technology! Watch a Broadway show (we vote Hamilton or Newsies on Disney+), and dine on some NY-style pizza for a “trip” to New York City. If Africa is where you land, head to The Great Courses to experience an African safari at home. Or throw on your hiking boots and take a virtual tour of the Grand Canyon. The sky’s the limit on where you can visit. 

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10 Fun Backyard Water Games to Play This Summer

10 Fun Backyard Water Games to Play This Summer

by Courtney Johnson

June 22, 2021

Let’s face it, friends: the dog days of summer are upon us, and if you are anything like us, sitting in the air conditioning sounds more appealing than heading outside in the hot, humid heat. But, if your kids are getting bored inside, we get it. That’s why we’ve pulled together 10 fun backyard water games to play this summer. These ideas will keep little ones active and get them that much needed daily dose of Vitamin D. A win-win, indeed. 

1. Use a bucket

Take a piece of wood (such as a 2×4) and put smaller pieces on the end for stability and height. Then, try to balance a full bucket of water on your head as you navigate from one end of the board to the other without spilling. Some additional ideas: make a course with large rocks or create a balance line with chalk or a rope.

2. Create your own slip ‘n slide

Don’t own a slip ‘n slide? No worries—you can design your own at home. All you need is some heavy-duty plastic sheeting, shampoo or dish soap, and a hose. Use landscape anchor pins to anchor the sheets down to make a super long slide.

3. Make a DIY sprinkler

Use pool noodles to create a fun sprinkler that can cool you off from all sides. Take four noodles and join them together with duct tape to create a good seal. Use a nail (or another object with a sharp end) to make holes on the inside of the pool noodles about four inches apart. Be sure to not poke through the other side! Cut a small opening that is smaller than the end of the hose at the top of your sprinkler. If the hole is bigger than the end of the hose, the hose won’t stay inside the noodle.

4. Try a take on Duck, Duck, Goose

This game adds an element of fun on the classic by using a wet sponge for tagging the players. The player that is “it” goes around the circle tapping the other players on the shoulder with a sponge saying “drip” until it comes to the player they want to “dunk.” When they choose that player, “it” squeezes the sponge over that player’s head and then takes off for a lap around the circle without being caught. If “it” is caught, they continue to be “it.” If they make it around the circle and sit down in the empty spot, the player they “dunked” is it.

5. Play limbo

Nothing says a fun time like a game of limbo. Grab a hose and turn it on as high as it will flow. The water stream replaces the use of the stick. Who can get the lowest without getting wet? You can also see who can jump the highest over the stream without getting wet. RELATED: 25 Ways to Kick Off Your Family’s Best Summer Ever

6. Freeze toys

Take small plastic objects (animals, jewels, toys) and freeze them in water overnight in a bowl, ice cube tray or molds. When it’s time to excavate, start by spraying the ice with a water bottle to loosen the ice and make the start of excavation easier. Use kid-safe digging tools and safety goggles, too! 

7. Do a sponge relay

For this activity, you will need four buckets, two sponges (we recommend large ones) and at least two players. Break everyone that is playing into two even teams. Fill two buckets with water. These buckets will be the start line. Choose how far the players will run and place the other two empty buckets at that point. One player from each team will fill their sponge with water, run down to their empty bucket, and squeeze the water out of the sponge and run back. If there is more than one player per team, players will then pass the sponge to their teammate. The relay will continue until one team’s bucket is full of water.

8. Make a water balloon piñata

Fill up five to 10 water balloons, then tie them to a pole or tree to suspend them. Take turns safely hitting the balloons to drench everyone.

9. Enjoy water tag

This classic game of tag takes on a new and “cool” twist by adding the element of water. Taggers can use water balloons or water-soaked sponges to tag the other players. If the tagger hits a player with water, they are now “it.”

10. Teach the kids “Cool Potato”

We all know the game “hot potato.” Shift the objective of the game from not being caught with the potato in your hands to not being caught with the water balloon in your hands when the music stops. If you’re caught with the balloon, you must break the balloon over your head!

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10 Must-Try Winter Science Experiments

When the gray skies are endless and the temperature makes you just want to stay inside, it is the perfect time to stimulate the mind with winter-themed science experiments. Our ideas use common household items but bring lots of fun. Here are ten must-try winter science experiments to help beat the winter blues.

Build a crystal snowman

With some pompoms, pipe cleaners and other craft items, you can build your own crystal snowman guaranteed to not melt. Borax is the key ingredient in this fun and frosty experiment. Your crystal snowman is the perfect winter decoration to keep you in a jolly mood. Alternatives to a snowman are crystal snowflakes made from pipe cleaners or salt crystal snowflakes as sometimes borax can be hard to find in stores.

Catch some rays

Save up those clear take-out container tops and make them into beautiful works of art by creating crystal ice sun catchers. Check the weather forecast and pick a sunny day to make your sun catchers for best results. Note: suncatchers are very fragile, so an adult may want to be in charge of the hanging.

Create your own avalanche

There are a few ways to simulate a mini avalanche from the safety of your own home. This hands-on experiment lets kids get a clear picture of science and nature combined. For a great visual of just what happens when an avalanche occurs, try this experiment using little figurines and rocks.

Don’t let that snowball bounce away

With just three ingredients, you can have a bouncing good time this winter. Snowball bouncy balls are fun to create and guaranteed to bring a smile to your face no matter your age. Plus, it’s easy to reshape the balls if they start to look more like pancakes than balls.

Exploding snowman

A fun alternative to baking soda volcanoes is an exploding snowman. Using most of the same ingredients plus a Ziploc bag, kids will love having Frosty explode over and over again. We recommend doing this one outside or even in the bathtub for quick clean-up. Don’t be shy with the baking soda!RELATED: 5 STEAM Activities to Do with Your Kids at Home

Frozen bubbles

Using a pre-made bubble mix, or a homemade mix of your own, this simple experiment is sure to delight every young scientist. Head outside in the morning or on a calm but frigid day when the temperature is well below freezing (think single digit). Blow bubbles and enjoy how they freeze as they touch the ground.

Hot chocolate surprise

Hot cocoa and winter go hand and hand. Why not have a little chocolate experiment fun by creating a hot chocolate surprise (think a hot cocoa volcano) using vinegar, baking soda and cocoa mix. If you have a meat thermometer, you can do experiments with water, milk, hot cocoa and marshmallows to see what liquid gets hottest and what marshmallows melt the fastest.

Make an ice lantern

Light the night with a beautiful ice lantern made from nature. With some containers, water, food coloring if desired, and natural materials like berries and twigs and tea lights, you can create a beautiful work of art that adds a soft glow

Snowstorm in a jar

While the weather outside might be frightful, kids will love creating their own snowstorm inside. Put aside the gloves and snow pants and gather common household items like a jar, oil, and alka seltzer to brew your own storm. The instructions from Little Bins for Little Hands will tell you all you need to know to concoct the perfect storm.

Storm the snowball fortress

Engineering challenges are always a great way to stimulate creativity and problem-solving. With marshmallows, toothpicks, skewers and Popsicle sticks, kids can engineer their own marshmallow fortress. There are many designs to choose from to protect from a snowball catapult attack

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A Cave Adventure

For years now, I have wanted to visit Rifle Mountain Park and the ice caves. I tried to convince AJ to drive the extra 45 min each way out of the way (plus the time to hike and explore) on the way to Utah to visit his family multiple times. I kept dropping hints here and there this winter, and AJ finally gave in. We decided to take a quick weekend adventure down to the caves the last weekend of January.

We paired the trip with a hotel stay in Glenwood Springs along with a hot springs visit while we were there. Other local towns near the park are Rifle and Carbondale.

Trail conditions changed from snow to mud and even dry in some places.

The caves are naturally formed by freeze and thaw cycles and can typically be seen in various stages between December and mid-March weather dependent. Cave and trail conditions will vary based on recent weather. We experienced areas of dry trail, areas of mud, spots of pure ice and packed snow. Invest in (or borrow) some ice cleats for the trail.

Trail conditions changed from snow to mud and even dry in some places.

You will see a parking lot a bit after the entrance to the park on the left hand side. Park there and head a bit down the road towards the entrance. On the right hand side, you will see a brown wooden sign that says Koper’s Trail Ice Cave. Follow the sign, and you will begin your hike to the ice caves.

The lower cave is known as the Ice Palace- cue “Into the Unknown,” from Frozen 2. The ice gives off a blueish hue and resembles a waterfall of ice. Icicles cascade down from the cave ceiling. The inside of the cave was slippery in spots, but we felt comfortable in our cleats navigating across it.

The ice formations are delicate, so it is best to look but not touch. Also be careful if you walk under any of the icicles. On the backside of this cave is a fun punchy hill you can climb to get another look of the cave from the other side.

The hike to the second cave was a mix of snow, ice and rocks with some incline. You could see more of the mountain park as you went deeper into the canyon. The second cave requires a bit of crawling to get into if you enter it from the front side. This cave is known as The Final Curtain.

An alternative if you aren’t a fan of tight spaces is to continue on the trail past the ice falls (where you may catch some climbers) where you can enter the cave from a wider opening.

This cave is much tighter and was pure ice. Even in spikes, we ended up doing some crawling and sliding. The ice was wet to the touch, so our gloves and snow pants got wet when we were crawling around.

With exploring time, we spent about 1.5 hours at the ice caves. We definitely recommend a stop at the Rifle Mountain Park Ice Caves. We ended up getting stuck in some traffic we didn’t expect on the way there, so we weren’t able to explore Rifle Falls State Park on this trip. It comes highly recommended, so be sure to add that to your itinerary if you can squeeze it in.

Adventure On,