Visiting Amelia Island, Florida

This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on May 23, 2012.  To see a slideshow of photos I took while visiting Amelia Island, click here to go to my photography blog.

In May I had the pleasure of going on vacation to Amelia Island, Florida with my favorite three boys and in-laws. Amelia Island is located in northeast Florida just below Cumberland Island and the Georgia border. It has 13 miles of beaches, lots of attractions, and all the amenities that we’re used to at home, but I’m afraid I can’t speak about many of those because we spent almost all our time on the beach!

We were lucky enough to be able to walk from our accommodation to the beach.  I have always been a mountain person, but after visiting the ocean with my boys, I have found a second love at the ocean.  What I especially loved about Amelia Island was how quiet it was on the beach.  There were very few other people, though I have a feeling part of the reason for that was going in early May.  I also noticed that on Saturday there were quite a few more people.

Mid-day was hot and the tide was in, so there was less beach, but in the evening around six o’clock, the tide was low.  The beach was wide and full of tidal pools.  This is what my boys loved the most – they are still a little wary of going into the ocean waves.

My five-year-old explored the tidal pools and searched for all the treasures to be had there. We saw three large horseshoe crabs – only one was still alive.  My son was delighted to find a beautiful purple and orange starfish, and we also found little fish and several kinds of crabs, including hermit crabs. We took pictures of everything we couldn’t keep.

My two-year-old loved sitting in the sand, digging with a small shovel and tossing the sand as far as it could go – something he’s not allowed to do with the dirt in our yard. He also liked for me to pick him up and swing him over the ocean waves.  I don’t think I’ll ever forget his laughter and expression of pure joy.

The highlights of our beach combing were daddy’s mission to find shark teeth, and together we found over 10 teeth. And on our last day, my five-year-old and I took a long trek down the beach in search of a leatherback sea turtle’s nest, and though I feared my son might crash on such a long walk, we accomplished our mission, saw the protected nest, and made it back.

We explored the quaint downtown area of Fernandina Beach.  According to the Nassau County’s visitor’s guide, it’s the birthplace of the modern shrimping industry, and the 50-block downtown district is on the National Registry of Historic Places.

Fernandina Beach is also the only place in the United States to have been under eight flags starting with the French occupation in 1564, Spanish occupation from 1565-1763, and the British occupation from 1763-1784.

Next came the Patriots flag in 1812.  The Patriots consisted of 70 Georgians and 9 Floridians who tried to establish the “Territory of East Florida,” but President James Madison refused to acknowledge their claim.  After this, the Green Cross Flag rose briefly in 1817 when American citizens desired the independence of Florida, but after only four months, they were forced to leave.   The Mexican Revolutionary Flag was raised right after that, but U.S. troops occupied the island in December 1817 and held it “in trust for Spain.”

In 1821, Spain ceded Florida to the United States of America.  From 1861-1862, the National Flag of the Confederacy was raised, but Federal troops regained the island on March 3, 1862 and stayed there for the rest of war.

If you want a place to get away and relax that offers plenty of sights, historical locations, and pristine beaches, I highly recommend Amelia Island.  We had a vacation we’ll never forget, and I hope we can return someday.

To see a slideshow of photos I took while visiting Amelia Island, click here to go to my photography blog.

Hiking at Harris Shoals Park

Harris Shoals Park, Watkinsville, Georgia

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on February 8, 2012.

Now that the boys are getting a little older, we’re ready to hit the trails.  My husband initiated a hiking ritual for our family, and at Christmas, he and I got some new boots to make it official. This has been a great winter to start hiking as a family because of the mild weather we’re having.

We love going to Ft. Yargo, but one of our goals is to explore as many parks and other wildlife areas that’s not too far away.  Since the boys are still young, we have to ease them into hiking.  Maybe by next year, they’ll be ready for some mountain trails!

Last week we went to Harris Shoals Park in Watkinsville.  The entrance of the park is at Harris Shoals Drive, which is located on Highway 53 between Interstate 441 and VFW Drive.  The small park provides a valuable green space between the interstate and the town of Watkinsville.

There’s a large playground for kids with one of the biggest and best slides around, and the park offers some shelters and BBQ pits for parties.  There’s also a baseball field.  We headed over to the shoals, however, because my boys love the water.

The water that flows over the shoals is Calls Creek and eventually it meets up with the Middle Oconee River.  The shoals are flat rocks that have been there for thousands of years and have been eroded slowly over time.  It’s a picturesque and peaceful place despite the fact that you can hear some of the traffic on the surrounding roads.

It’s easy to walk out onto the rocks and splash in the water or in the case of my boys, throw rocks into the water.  My two-year-old is like a robot when he sees water. He throws rocks and little twigs in the river without even looking up to see their splash!  We literally have to drag him away when it’s time to go.

The flow of the water over the shoals was slowed somewhat when a dam was built upstream for the old Watkinsville Water Treatment Plant.  Take a short walk up the Harris Shoals Nature Trail, and you’ll be able to see the dam.

According to a leaflet that was provided by Christopher Adams for an Eagle Scouts Project this past fall, “The marsh area behind the dam used to be a more prominent creek until dammed up and was used to hold and treat water which was then pumped up to the city….After the water plant was abandoned, the dam area overgrew to the current marsh like condition of today.”

The area is a haven for wildlife.  Up the trail a bit, we found a beaver dam, and I’m not sure if the beavers still live there, but we also found evidence of their presence at a big tree stump which looked as if it had been chewed considerably by the large teeth of a beaver.

As we were walking, we also saw many birds, including a beautiful heron, which took flight at the sound of my children’s chattering and footsteps.  A marsh area like this would also be home for many fish, reptiles and amphibians.  We did see some little fish in the water at a place we stopped to rest while the boys threw more rocks and twigs into the water.

My favorite part of the park is the long bridge that crosses through the marsh.  I don’t think I’d want to cross that bridge in the middle of August, but right now it gives an interesting view to marshland.  I bet if you sat on that bridge alone in the early morning, you could watch some wild animals too.

Next time you feel like getting out into nature, drive over to Harris Shoals Park.  Bring a picnic and sit down next to the shoals, and don’t forget to pick up a few rocks to throw in the water too.

Where are your favorite places to go hiking?

My Childhood Memories in Nature

my eldest boy as a tot - tree hugger in training

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on January 25, 2012.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot about the importance for children and adults to get out into nature.  If there’s one thing I appreciate about my own childhood, it’s that my parents both enjoyed the outdoors and most of our family vacations were spent on the scenic highways of this country.

Though we only lived there four years, I also fondly remember the two-story house we owned in Littleton, Colorado.  It had a large yard with several small fruit trees and a garden that lined the back fence. The cherry and apple trees bloomed beautifully in the spring.

In the winter, my mom would warm up my coat and snow pants by an electric heater, and then she’d bundle me up and send me outside to play in the snow.  I kept myself occupied making snow angels and boot prints, and I lived in an active make-believe world, though sadly I don’t remember much about it now.

I do remember one time playing in the snow and sensing that something just flew past my head.  I turned to look behind me, but I saw nothing. Back to playing, it happened again. Finally, a snowball hit me on my back. I turned to find my big brother laughing and darting behind the side of the house.

When I was in the eighth grade, my best friend’s godmother took my friend and me snow skiing.  It was during the week, and we were the only two skiers on the bunny slope.  In my attempt to ski straight to the beginning of the line at the chair lift, I slid by the ropes and straight into a pole.  Perhaps that’s when I became less enamored with snow.

My dad loved boating, so when we lived in Las Vegas, Nevada, he took me to Lake Mead.  We would park the boat in one of the many sandy coves, and I’d go exploring. Once while I was exploring, my quiet reverie was interrupted by the loudest, blood-curdling sound I had ever heard.  It sounded like a ship’s horn.  I stood up and there across the cove on the opposite beach was a wild donkey staring me down.  Obviously I was too close to his territory, and he let me know about it.

I remember another time boating on Lake Mohave, which is on the opposite side of the Hoover Dam.  We found a lone big horn sheep on the bank near the water, and he stared at us in the boat, and we took several photos of him.

I also remember the nights we slept on the lake and the view I had of the Milky Way.  The universe was an arm’s length away.  I remember campfires, hot springs, and high cliffs streaked with nature’s palette of reds, browns and golds.

While having these adventures, I’m sure I didn’t appreciate them enough or realize how rare they were for most kids my age.  Now I know they made an indelible impression on me, and I’m an outdoorswoman at heart.

Most of our ventures outside were uneventful unless you consider the countless times my dad’s vehicles stalled and needed repair.  We were stranded many times, but to a young child, this isn’t so bad.  It just meant more time in nature, and more time to count the stars.

I hope my boys will remember playtime in their wooded yard, hunting for snakes and jumping in piles of leaves.  I hope they will fondly look back on the hiking trails, picnics and parks we visited.  I hope it will teach them to always seek out nature because we all need it to rejuvenate our bodies and minds.

What childhood memories of nature do you have?

Hiking 101: Getting the Family Into Nature

One of my best Christmas presents was a request from my husband that we buy ourselves some new hiking boots and begin to make hiking a priority and a ritual in this family.  Yahoo!  A mutual love of hiking was part of why I fell for my fella, and we used to go on day hikes in the mountains often before we had children.  Though I know people who are serious hikers and strap their babies to their backs and hit the trails, that’s not us.  I had a hard enough time managing breast feeding, diaper changing and all the other demands of babies and toddlers here in a comfortable house let alone out in the wild.  But I’m thrilled my boys are getting older, and we can be more intentional about getting out into nature.

So we got our boots earlier this month, and we took advantage of the warm weather December decided to bring this year in Georgia. We wanted to break in our boots and start off easy by visiting some local parks and gardens.  It’s a good thing we did that too because we learned that with a five and two-year-old, our “hikes” are going to be more like strolls punctuated with a lot of stops, snacking and complaining.  But that’s okay.  We’ll make hikers out of these boys yet.

And hiking with my boys gives the photographer in me great pleasure.  They gave me plenty of time to find the light while they played by the water.  You can see those photos by clicking here.

The photos here are from Ft. Yargo State Park and The State Botanical Garden of Georgia.

Getting children into nature is very important, and I consider it a goal in our homeschooling lifestyle too.  For more information about getting kids and your family into nature, you might like to look at these links (which I posted in my Worthy Reads a while back):

What’s your preferred way of getting out into nature?

Worthy Reads & Blog Update


  1. My first blog update is that I’m changing the title of “Good Reads” to “Worthy Reads.”  This is because I realized that sometimes I find articles or videos on homeschooling or other subjects that I don’t necessarily think are good, but perhaps they are worthy to share and discuss.
  2. My second update is that I’ve added a Table of Contents to my blog!  In my attempt to make my blog more user-friendly, I’ve listed my more popular posts by subject.  You can click on the tab at the top of the page to see it.  And if you have any thoughts on what I can add to my blog to make it better, please tell me!  I would love suggestions.



  • Dr. Drew on Unschooling – a video from CNN.  Someone shared this on a homeschool list I’m on, and I have mixed feelings about it, but basically I think these short news clips do nothing more than stir up controversy.  They don’t give the interviewees enough time to discuss the issue, and it’s a shame.
  • A Case Against Homeschooling, Really by Homeschooling Atheist Momma offers an honest look at what anyone who is thinking about homeschooling needs to realize and be ready for, if they choose this lifestyle.

Teaching Aid

Getting Kids Into Nature

We love nature, and it doesn’t take much for us to get out into it, but I still enjoyed perusing these links, and there are some very interesting books on that book list I’d love to get!


Recently I began to read a little bit about “Positive Parenting,” and I think there’s a lot of wisdom in it.  Here’s a couple of worthy articles I found:

Have you found any interesting or worthy links this lately?  Please share them with me in the comments section.


Knee-High Naturalist Class at the Sandy Creek Nature Center in Athens, Georgia

This autumn, my five-year-old and I have been enjoying the knee-high naturalist class at the Sandy Creek Nature Center.  It takes place every other Wednesday from 3:30-4:30p.m.  Children ages 3-5 are eligible and must be accompanied by an adult. Click here for more information.

In the class the children have met and touched several live animals, and many times we go outside too.  My son was in his element during the “creep walk” when we waded through a stream in search of critters!  We’ve learned about the cardinal directions and how to use a compass and also about recycling, just to name a few of the activities.


“Miss Sarah” is a wonderful teacher/facilitator.  Her patience and ability with kids is amazing, and once she talked an extra twenty minutes with just my son after class because he had questions about snakes!  (Thanks, Sarah!)


I took a lot of good photos during one of the classes, but I don’t want any parent to be mad at me, so I’m only sharing photos of the backs of heads of the other children.


Below my son is awaiting to get his jar filled with compost in hopes of creating a mini bug habitat in a jar.


We have also been attending the Homeschool Science classes at the Nature Center, and we love those classes too.  If I take any photos during one of those classes, I’ll be sure to share.

What classes/activities do your children enjoy around town?

Free places to take kids in Athens, Georgia

Above is a photo of the Kugel at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, which I wrote about in my column.  My son loves to spin it and point to Georgia.

Recently I realized that some local friends who live here in Barrow County had never been to my son’s hot spots over in Athens, which is a short, 30-minute drive away.  So I wrote a column about our favorite places to go, and they also have FREE ADMISSION.  You can click here to read the column, or you can just go straight to the websites of these places, which I’ve listed below for you.  If you live around here, you don’t want to miss these places.

The State Botanical Garden of Georgia:

For Memorial Park, Bear Hollow Zoo, which is next to each other, and then also the Sandy Creek Nature Center, you need to go to and type in the name in their search box.  It will take you to the page that tells you where and what these places are about.

Please tell me what your children’s hot spots are!

Note: If you are looking for other places to take your kids in Georgia (whether free or not), take a look at my Resources for Georgia Homeschoolers page.  I am writing a column about each outdoor area and state park that we visit.  It also includes information on indoor activities or field trips specifically for Georgia homeschoolers.