On the First Day of Advent…

Today is the beginning of advent, the season to prepare for Christmas. I love advent. The word means coming and advent traditions heladventp me focus on Jesus rather than the busyness of gifts and parties. I like to use an advent wreath.


There’s something about a glowing candle that flickers and shines. It always amazed me to see my children settle down around the table when we lit that first candle each year.

There’s a lot of symbolism associated with the advent wreath-the evergreen of God’s love, Jesus the light of the world, and names or attributes for each candle. The first candle is the Prophecy candle associated with Hope. The possibility that anyone could fulfill just 8 of the most known prophecies is 10 to the 17th. It’s a great time to look up some of the prophecies the birth of Christ fulfilled:

  • Jesus would be born of a virgin, fulfilled in Mary—Isaiah 7:14 and Luke 2:1
  • Jesus was promised as far back as Adam and Eve- Genesis3:15 and Galatians 4:4Matthew 3:38
  • A king in the family of David Isaiah 9:7 and Luke 1:32

Light the candle this week and sing, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” as a reminder that Christmas is coming.


Have a Merry and Blessed Christmas Season,

Get Your Kids Hiking: An Interview with Jeff Alt

Today, Black Friday, all 143 REI brick-and-mortar stores are closed, and REI is encouraging employees and customers to #optoutside.

JeffAltBioPhotoSpeaker and author Jeff Alt fully agrees with that idea.

Jeff knows a whole lot about hiking and camping—and doing both with children. He’s solo-walked the 2,160-mile Appalachian Trail, the 218-mile John Muir Trail with his wife, and carried his 21-month old daughter along the coast of Ireland on a family hike. He had his son on the Appalachian Trail at 6 weeks of age.

Jeff’s book Get Your Kids Hiking: How to Start Them Young and Keep It Fun (2013, Beaufort Books) is packed with encouragement and tips for getting outdoors and hiking safely with your kids. I’m so pleased to welcome Jeff here today!

KidsHikingJeff, you’re passionate about hiking! How did your love for hiking begin?

My parents introduced me to hiking and camping when I was a child. Our family took a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains when I was teenager and my parents allowed my brothers and I to hike overnight along the Appalachian Trail. That hike was the hardest thing I had ever done, but the seed was planted.

What benefits of hiking have you experienced?

Hiking is a great way to de-stress and get my most positive thoughts flowing. Hiking keeps me fit. Not only does walking and hiking strengthen your muscles and joints, I also lose a noticeable amount of weight when I hike, even though I eat enormous amounts of food.  My 147-day Appalachian Trail journey over 2,000 miles taught me many positive lessons about myself and the world we live in.

Why do you encourage families to get their kids hiking—what outcomes can they look forward to?

With all the great benefits that hiking offers, children have the most to gain.  By introducing your kids to hiking, you are helping them take steps, literally and figuratively, in the right direction. Childhood obesity is at an all-time high. Many children prefer video and computer games to playing outside.

I’ve come to realize that it’s our role as parents to help our children appreciate the simple things that only nature can provide. Parents and caregivers play a critical role in introducing children to outdoor play time at a very young age. What we do with our children in the first few years of life has a tremendous impact on their later habits and development. Young children are physically and mentally taking in everything they are exposed to. If we start our youngsters out in the outdoors, they will embrace it as the norm later in their life.

How is hiking with children different from hiking solo or with other adults?

When you involve kids on a hike, your “Let’s get to the top of the mountain” mantra must change to “Let’s make this so fun the kids will want to do this again and again.” Forget about the destination—kids will help you enjoy the journey. The best way to accomplish this is to let the kids lead! Hike at your child’s pace and distance. Whatever your child takes interest in, stop and explore that bug, leaf, or rock together. Talk about the animals, rocks, trees, and flowers. Think of this as “child-directed hiking” similar to the child-directed play technique. The destination is less important than making sure your kids have so much fun, they will want to go hiking again and again.

What are the best ways to get started hiking with children?

Start by establishing a routine daily walk around the neighborhood and local parks. Ergonomically designed baby carriers make it easy and fun to carry an infant or toddler with you wherever you hike. Walk to your favorite park or beach. Bring a friend. Stop often and let your little one explore. Make your hike a routine your kids will look forward to. Kids like routines, and this one helps them become conditioned for that special trip to a national park or distant destination. This will also help you get in shape and make sure all the gear fits and works before you take a vacation away from home.

Get the kids excited about what they will see. Show them videos of the place you’re going to visit. Show them the park website. Read books to them that have animals they might see.

Jeff, his wife, and their children along the Appalachian Trail

Jeff, his wife, and their children along the Appalachian Trail

Do children need special hiking gear?

Until your kids are walking consistently on their own, fit them with a comfortable pair of water-resistant shoes. Kids older than 3 need lightweight trail shoes or boots with a sturdy sole. Wear non-cotton, moisture wicking, synthetic or wool socks.

Dress for the weather. Wear non-cotton synthetic, wool, and fleece and dress in layers. Wear multipurpose clothes, like pants that zip off into shorts or shirts with role-up sleeves. Pack a waterproof, breathable rain parka.

For packs, poles, water, and other must-haves, I’ve provided a complete checklist in the book. I suggest letting young children fill their adventure packs with a bug catcher, magnifying glass, binoculars, a camera, a map and compass, whistle, or flashlight. Let your little adventurers take ownership and pack a few small items of their own too, even if not hiking related.

Can children handle overnight hiking trips too?

Kids love camping, and establishing a base camp is easiest for the younger kids until they are old enough to carry some gear themselves.

Children should carry only 10 percent and no more than 20 percent of their body weight. If you want to backpack overnight and don’t use a base camp, you may have to carry all the equipment until the kids are older. This may be difficult unless you have several adults who can shoulder the gear or you’re conditioned to carry heavy packs.

What about children with special needs—is there room on the trail for them too?

Whether children use a wheelchair, can’t speak, have cognitive disabilities, or suffer from autism, severe allergies, or blindness, or whatever the issue is, taking them on a hike can still be a grand adventure. The key to a successful hiking adventure with a special needs child is being flexible.

Each child and situation is unique and will require some additional extra steps when planning your hike. The more severe the special need, the more preparation will be required. If you already travel with your child, you most likely already have a process in place to accommodate your child’s specific condition.  You may just have to tweak your process to include a hiking contingency. You will refine this with each trip you take.

BubbaJonesYour newest book is The Adventures of Bubba Jones: Time Traveling Through the Great Smoky Mountains.  Tell us more about that.

The Adventures of Bubba Jones is a new series that crisscrosses the country, taking kids 8-12 on an educational, time-traveling adventure through America’s beloved national parks.

Time travel engages and amazes kids. It helps them visualize and discover the natural wonders of the world and appreciate, respect, and preserve all that they experience. I’ve designed The Adventures of Bubba Jones stories to engage kids with wild animal encounters, interesting history, science, and the environment and so that your entire family will become excited to take their own hiking adventures.

I’m giving away one copy each of Get Your Kids Hiking and The Adventures of Bubba Jones, signed by Jeff, to one lucky reader of this post. Giveaway closes at 11:59 pm EST on Monday, November 30. To enter, simply comment “I’d love to win” below! Winner will be notified by e-mail.

Jeff Alt has been featured on ESPN, Discoverychannel.com, CNN-Radio, and the Hallmark Channel, as well as in the LA Times, USA Today, the Chicago Sun-Times, and more. His book A Walk for Sunshine won the gold in the 2009 Book of the Year awards sponsored by Fore Word Reviews, took first place in the 2009 National Best Books Awards sponsored by USA Book News, and won a bronze in the 2010 Living Now Book Awards sponsored by Jenkins Group. Alt is a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA).

Visit Jeff and learn more at www.jeffalt.com.

A Smaller Thanksgiving

Today is Thanksgiving and it feels different to me than others have. Our family is smaller, more scattered across the country than ever before. Two nieces have moved to Philadelphia. My daughter, her husband, and seven children now live in Oregon. My father-in-law moved back to Minnesota, his home state. Still, there are the remaining members of my family who live closeby and enrich my life immeasurably.

Fall, Oct. 2015 (1)

Around my table this year, will be my 83-year-old mother. She recently sold her house and will be moving next weekend to an apartment just around the corner from me. I’m thankful for her faith, her friendship, her acceptance of this new phase of life, and her example of how to live with grace at every turn.


My son and his wife live nearby and will join our Thanksgiving feast. They just bought their first house and are so excited to have a home of their own. It will be a special year of thanks for them as they put down roots and enjoy blessings from God’s gracious hand.

My almost twenty-year-old daughter will grace us with her presence. She lives with us and I’ve seen her grow by leaps and bounds this year. Once a moody, cranky teen, she has blossomed into a funny, graceful young woman who fills us with pride. I’m thankful for coffee runs with her, thrift store shopping excursions, and texting from the next room. Super fun times that I’ll miss one day.

My sister, aka my lifelong best friend, fills my life with laughter. She’s always there, through thick or thin, my constant backup when my own plans or abilities fail. I’ve never known life without her and hope I never do.

Bird's eye view

My ever faithful sidekick and helper, my husband Rollin, will help me host these loved ones on Thanksgiving Day. He makes my life a joy, rich with meaning and purpose. His very presence is comfort, sitting on our respective ends of the couch watching TV or checking Facebook. He’s a hard worker who brings home far more than finances to our family. He also provides stability, protection, big laughs, repairs, and spiritual leadership. Yeah. I’m beyond thankful.

I hope you’ll take some time to review your blessings today. They are many, even in sparse times. Then turn your head upward and thank the One who lavished you with them.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17 NIV).

Happy Thanksgiving!

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