If you’re already yearning for an ocean vacation, complete with snorkeling, I have just the vicarious voyage for you … The Google Oceans mapping tool is one more way in which Google packs up the imagination and sends it sailing around … Continue reading

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Belgium bluebell forest

Drop everything, and come with me …

Photo by bs70 via Wikimedia Commons

Today, we’re blazing a trail to Belgium, where an entire forest is abloom with bluebells.

Bluebells, photo by MichaelMaggs via Wikimedia Commons

Like a setting from a fairy tale, the Hallerbos (Halle’s Wood) was once part of the Sonian Forest, Europe’s largest beech forest, which spanned the southern part of Brussels. The forest was ravaged by occupying forces during World War I, but a few ancient oak and beech trees survived, and reforestation projects helped heal the scars of war. The wild bluebell hyacinths, an ancient facet of the woodland, reclaimed the forest floor and continue to muster their magic each year in mid-April.

Photo by David Edgar via Wikipedia

“Possibly one of Belgium’s best kept secrets, the flower fields offer one of the most amazing natural spectacles you will encounter,” says Eupedia. “The millions of purple-blue, bell-shaped liliaceae spreading in all directions, as far as the eye can see, make the scenery simply breathtaking. These sumptuous flowerbeds in the outskirt of Brussels are all natural (it’s not a man-made garden) and access is free of charge.”

What a perfect place to celebrate springtime …

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Hipcamp

If you’ve had daydreams of glamping already this year, raise your hand.

Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes via Wikimedia Commons

I knew it.

What was your cue?

Flowers blooming? Froggies singing?

Photo by Cary Bass via Wikimedia Commons

There’s just something in the springtime air that tells us to take out the tent or tidy up the trailer.

It’s time to get back OUT THERE.

Photo by Emilian Robert Vicol via Wikimedia Commons

Of course, locating the perfect place to pitch camp can be a challenge. While the Internet has endless info on where to go, it’s not always easy to pin down a campground that has exactly what you’re looking for in an outdoor getaway. Does it allow dogs? Are grills provided? How far is the nearest shower? Hopping from website to website in search of answers can take hours.

Not anymore.

All hail Hipcamp.

While it may sound like a resource reserved for intrepid young hipsters, Hipcamp is shaping up to be an excellent go-to guide for anyone seeking a campsite that’s just right.

“Hipcamp is the only place you can go that lists campgrounds across all government platforms (national parks, state parks, national forests, etc.),” says co-founder Eric Bach. “We make it easy for users to filter through campgrounds based on what matters most. So, you can easily answer questions like, ‘Where can I go camping by a lake with my dog next weekend?’ We’re bringing the world’s public campgrounds online, unlocking private lands for camping, and working overall to increase access to the outdoors.”

Hipcamp currently covers 367 parks, 2,170 campgrounds, and 56,375 campsites in California, Texas, Florida, and Oregon. The team’s goal is to add more states this summer and offer national coverage by the early fall. In the meantime, you can help beef up the site by adding your own information and impressions to the cache.

“Our users (or tribe) play a key role in helping us paint a more complete picture of a state’s camping experience,” Bach explains. “They can upload photos and tips directly to the site. We could use any and all content around past camping trips. It’s what helps us get more people outside!” Continue reading

garden tool book

Every tool has a tale to tell …

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

So begins A History of the Garden in Fifty Tools.

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Garden tool history … really?

Admittedly, the subject come off dry as dirt. But in the hands of seasoned English author and garden guru Bill Laws, horticultural history finds fertile soil and yields a colorful harvest basket of fact and fancy for the literary gardener.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

(Speaking of baskets—those oft-underappreciated gatherers of garden goodies—they’re celebrated on page 28.)

“The garden shed shelters some improbable stories,” Laws tells us, “From the Mayan and Mediterranean clay pot makers to the tale of the tailor, trimming the uniforms of English Redcoats, who invented the lawn mower; from the manic evolution of the seventeenth-century Dutch bulb planter to the plant container that created a movable orchard at Versailles; from the back story of Henry David Thoreau’s favorite hoe to Gertrude Jekyll’s homemade daisy digger.”

The rather subdued cover belies a cornucopia of lovely photos, sketches, and historical images scattered throughout. The book is as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the trivia buff’s brain, beckoning hours of page turning and fact nibbling.

Photo by George Vnoucek via Flickr

Just a little something to tide you over till your garden begins to give. Continue reading

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warbler inspiration

Need a little inspiration to get moving today, chase your dreams, touch the sun?

Photo by Sander van der Wel via Wikimedia Commons

Well, I’m always here to tell you that anything is possible. This backcountry maiden turned MaryJanesFarm maven knows what she’s talkin’ about, sister.

But, if you won’t take my word for it, take the tweet of a simple songbird instead …

Photo by William H. Majoros via Wikimedia Commons

Meet the blackpoll warbler.

This unassuming pipsqueak, small enough to perch on your hand, is an unsung marvel.

Photo by PJTurgeon via Wikimedia

On wings measuring no more than 9″ from tip to tip, the blackpoll warbler flies over 1,500 miles in about three days. Fifteen HUNDRED miles. Three DAYS. You do the math. And, did I mention that most of those miles are flown over OPEN OCEAN???

Photo by Yinan Chen via Wikimedia Commons

Yeah.

Makes getting out of bed on a tough day seem an itsy bit easier, dontcha know?

The widely wandering warbler’s mind-boggling migration was something of a myth among scientists until recently. They knew that these birds made a l-o-n-g trip from northeastern Canada, across the Atlantic, to wintering grounds in South America. But they couldn’t quite believe that the epic voyage occurred in fast forward, nonstop, until a study by researcher Dr. Bill DeLuca from the University of Massachusetts Amherst said it was so.

“For small songbirds, we are only just now beginning to understand the migratory routes that connect temperate breeding grounds to tropical wintering areas,” DeLuca explained. “We’re really excited to report that this is one of the longest nonstop overwater flights ever recorded for a songbird and finally confirms what has long been believed to be one of the most extraordinary migratory feats on the planet.”

The moral of this story?

If the blackpoll warbler can span the sea with a flutter of feathers, you can do anything you set your mind to.

ANYTHING.

Keep your chin up, spread those wings, and make it happen.

Nike Victory statue, Tony Smith via Flickr.com

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every kid in a park

If you have a child or grandkid who will be in fourth grade next year, you might want to plan your 2016 vacation around the “Every Kid in a Park” initiative.

Photo by OakleyOriginals via Wikimedia Commons

Here’s the skinny:

President Obama’s forthcoming Every Kid in a Park initiative will give fourth graders and their families free admission to all U.S. national parks and other federal lands for a whole year.

That’s a pretty sweet deal, but it begs the question … why fourth graders?

Photo of Junior Rangers Kid’s Kamp by Albert Herring via Wikimedia Commons

A White House official told ABC News, “The National Park Service and other land and water agencies already have fourth grade programming in place in many locations. Many states focus on state history during the fourth grade, which aligns well with what NPS and other land managers have to offer.”

Photo Erica Szlosek, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, via Wikimedia Commons

“Thanks to our public-private partnerships, we are able to open up a world of experiential learning in our nation’s largest classrooms—our national parks,” says Dan Wenk, president of the National Park Foundation. “Every Kid in a Park will enhance this important work and will give many youth and their families the opportunity to explore our national parks for the first time.”

Photo by Steve Hillebrand, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, via Wikimedia Commons

Through the initiative, which is just one component of a celebratory preparation for the 100th birthday of the National Park Service next year, the White House will help families plan trips to nearby parks and provide educational materials, field trip guides, science labs, and transportation support, in the form of grants, to schools with the most need.”

If you pledge your support the Every Kid in a Park initiative here, you’ll be able to download a free copy of the National Park Service, Parks for Play: 35 National Park Adventures for Kids of All Ages. Continue reading