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Friday, 18 July 2014 15:05

Summer Brain Boost

By Lynn O'Rourke Hayes

Movie Night:  Summer Brain-Power Boost

After a day in the summer sun, take a break with the family. Curl up on the couch and learn something new. You'll find these titles on Netflix. For your big kids:

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1. Lewis & Clark: The Journey Out West
2. Walking with Dinosaurs
3. Secret Yellowstone
4. The Blue Planet
5. When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions

Find out what's bubbling in Yellowstone. Then discover more brain-boosting titles. The folks at Common Sense Media shared 12 age-appropriate documentaries that encourage kids to explore worlds they may not normally encounter, all currently streaming on Netflix – check out the list here.

Monday, 14 July 2014 10:51

Once A Year An Only Child

By Lisa Tucker McElroy

The McElroy Family

Once a year, around the second week of June, my younger daughter revels in being an only child.

Her older sister, an astronaut wannabe, heads to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, where thousands of her peers engage in simulated missions and try out what it feels like to bounce around in zero gravity. She's sure she's the luckiest kid on earth.

But my 13-year-old? She knows she's got it made.

My two daughters were born only 18 months apart, and neither of them ever forgets it. My older daughter loves to taunt her younger sister about the fact that, for an entire year and a half, she had the benefit of my full attention. My little one celebrates every chance to remind us of the fact that, pretty much the minute she was born, she got hauled around in her big sister's wake.

That's why, several years ago, when my now-15year-old started flying off into space once a year, the 13-year-old announced that she was going to be queen for a week. It would be her week, she said. It would be the very best week of the year.

It would be Only Child Week.

We made it happen.

It's not that we're indulging her, really. My husband and I embrace Only Child Week, perhaps because we, too, feel we missed out on letting our little one be the only one. We're making up for lost time. We're giving her the chance to shine without the shadow of her older sister blocking our view.

And so, every year, as soon as we put our older daughter on the plane to Alabama, we start a journey of our own. A few years ago, we hit Charlottesville, Virginia, and took cooking lessons at the classic colonial Clifton Inn. The summer before that, we zip-lined our way through upstate New York and pretended to be genies in our pink sparkly suite at the funka-licious Roxbury Motel. Last June, we rode WaveRunners and kicked back on the beach at Florida's Sandpearl Resort.

This summer's Only Child Week? Couldn't have been better. Sure, while we relaxed to the max at Lost Valley Ranch, high in Colorado's Rocky Mountains, we yahooed our way on horseback through the trails. We do-si-doed at the weekly square dance. We drank milkshakes at the ranch's old fashioned soda fountain and ate pancakes by the creek after a morning hay ride.

But the greatest part of the week was hanging with our "only child."

We took a family ride, just the three of us and a wrangler, high up a hill where my husband almost hyperventilated and my daughter soothed his frazzled nerves. We made ice cream sundaes at a ranch social, letting our teenager dump as many M & M's on top of hers as she could fit. We cannonballed and splashed each other in the pool and made midnight treks to the main lodge to swipe homemade chocolate chip cookies from a giant jar the kitchen kept filled for hungry cowgirls.

We giggled with our daughter over her stuffed animals' antics (yes, even at 13, she goes nowhere without her oversized pals). We sat on either side of her on our cabin's porch swing and at the ranch's hayloft theater.

We made it all about her.

And in the process, we got the chance to really connect with who she was this year, how she'd changed from the last time she took on only child status. She'd gotten braver, we noticed, more willing to try scary stuff like galloping through a field on a horse she'd met only days before. She'd definitely let her more independent side emerge -- last year, she never would have agreed to go off with the teen supervisor for a pre-breakfast ride or an evening bonfire. She'd become shyer, in a way, resisting me when I tried to take her photo, but more outgoing and self-assured somehow, too, bonding with some kids from across the country and choosing her very own cowboy hat at the ranch store.

It wasn't that we didn't know our daughter. It was that Only Child Week gave us a chance to bring her into sharp focus, without the distractions of work and school and French horn practice and babysitting commitments.

Some of my friends comment, from time to time, that it's not fair that we take our little one on a week's vacation every year while we send the older one off to camp. But they're missing the point. Our big girl? She's convinced she's got the best end of the deal. She's at Space Camp, with zillions of kids just like her. Her baby sister's stuck with Mom and Dad.

And our little one? She's getting the chance to be what she's always wished she'd gotten the chance to be, even for just the eighteen months her sister had. For one week, every June, she's an only child.

Friday, 11 July 2014 13:55

Postcard: 320 Guest Ranch

By Lynn O'Rourke Hayes

320 Guest Ranch Post Card

Wish you were here to join us for a horseback ride under these great Montana skies.

There is so much to do here at the historic 320 Guest Ranch. Families are hiking, fly-fishing, checking out the zip line over at Big Sky and heading into Yellowstone Park for the day. Our favorite National Park is just a few miles down the road!

We enjoyed a pig roast the other night, are planning on a hay ride and fuel it all with a hearty ranch-style breakfast each morning. 

We love our riverside cabin. It’s great to fall off to sleep to the sound of water tumbling over rocks.

Next time, you’ll have to join us!

Saturday, 05 July 2014 15:22

Five Family Friendly Hikes

By Lynn O'Rourke Hayes

Hiking in Montana FamilyTravel.com

Do you love to hike?

Taking to the trails is a great way to introduce youngsters to the benefits of fresh air and the natural world.

Here are five hikes to enjoy together: 

1 Sioux Charley Lake, Nye, Mont.

This 6-mile round-trip hike is scenic from start to finish. The initial views include tumbling waterfalls through a canyon-walled section of the Stillwater River known locally as the washtubs. The river braids and the canyon widens as hikers move toward the Beartooth Mountain peaks, ambling through forest and meadows dotted with wildflowers. The lake area or the nearby rock outcroppings provide the perfect setting for a picnic.  

Contact: visitmt.com; MTHikes.com 

2 Lory State Park, Fort Collins, Colo.

A popular northern Front Range destination, Lory State Park offers 26 miles of hiking (and biking) trails, which are rich in wildflowers during the summer. Wind your way through rocky hills and green valleys. Savor the aroma of the ponderosa pine forest. Opt for ranger-led hikes under the full or almost full moon during the year’s warmest stretch, for a memorable family outing. 

Contact: cpw.state.co.us  

3 Washington, D.C., and Virginia, the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal.

Take a break from hiking between museums and galleries and stretch your legs on a scenic path just 20 minutes from the Capitol. The trail begins at the Angler’s Inn and follows the canal towpath for 2.3 miles to the Great Falls Tavern, passing old locks along the way. The outing provides an opportunity to discuss the way locks once lifted boats 600 feet during the years — from the 1830s until 1924 — it was in use. On weekends, the park service offers rides on canal boats pulled by mules. 

Contact: nps.gov/choh/index.htm 

4 Grotto Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tenn.

Does your family love waterfalls? If so, Trillium Gap Trail will be a hit. The trail provides access behind the 25 feet of falling water where salamanders scamper about, to the delight of trekkers. The 3-mile round trip takes families through an old-growth hemlock forest. Caution is advised on slippery rocks near the cooling waterfall. 

Contact: nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/grotto-falls.htm  

5 Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

The kids will feel like real mountaineers when they venture along the Sourdough Ridge Trail, located in the subalpine zone of this northwestern park. The 21/2-mile loop trail offers stunning vistas of deep green valleys and snow-capped peaks. With only a 400-foot elevation gain, the hard-packed route provides high-altitude ambience with relatively little effort. Be on the lookout for mountain goats and the occasional elk herd in the distance.  

Contact: nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/day-hiking-at-mount-rainier.htm

USA TODAY Top Bloggers list!

It's our lucky day!

We are among a small group nominated for USA Today's Ten Best Family Travel Bloggers list.

Our adventure and outdoor focus, combined with a commitment to provide healthy, smart and off-the-beaten path family travel options, is a passion we hold dear.

Thank you, dear readers, for your ongoing support!

Feel like casting a vote? You can do so here. Thanks so much. 

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