Family Things to Do in Atlanta Area in October — Why We Went to the Annual Stone Mountain Highland Games… And Why You Should, Too!

If you’re looking for fun family things to do in the Atlanta Area during the month of October, the Annual Stone Mountain Highland Games should be at the top of your list! The weather is often comfortable in the 70s and humidity low for the southeast region of the United States. We had always considered going, but never took the leap until this year. Here’s how we finally decided it was time…and why you should put it on your calendar for next year!

My son, Jason, asked me about four years ago if he could play the bagpipes. I dismissed it thinking it was a passing idea. He asked again. And the following year again. And the following year yet again. Until finally, last year I asked myself why I kept saying “no” to an instrument he was obviously still interested in over the course of three years. We homeschool. This should be a no-brainer for me. Homeschoolers are free-thinkers. I’ve tried to teach my children over the years that they can pursue any dream and can learn through researching any given subject — even bagpipes.

I realized I was saying no because I didn’t want to suffer through a child learning a loud instrument. Besides, there was a noise ordinance that we had to abide by in our county. When it came down to it, my reasons were not justified. And I finally said, “yes” to his request. We surprised him with a set of albeit inexpensive bagpipes and a practice chanter and instructional booklet.

It was tough going at home to listen to his squacks and squeaks. The funniest part was when our Scottish Terrier barked and howled at him in protest! (Our Scottie eventually got use to the goose-honking type noises.) But we hit a road block. I searched for a local bagpipe instructor and kept hitting dead-ends. I found online options where they would teach via a Skype Session, but I knew he needed someone standing there beside him to direct and fix form in person. (He definitely got better and better until I could no longer tell if it was the YouTube video playing or if it was Jason — definitely a good thing!) As he continued to practice at home watching YouTube videos and following his instructional book, I began to research other options and one of those options included putting the Stone Mountain Highland Games on my calendar.

It seemed like the better he got on the chanter, the closer we got to the games. Before we knew it, October 20th had arrived! We made a plan to attend on Saturday because it seemed to be the day of competition for all the pipers and bands. We got there early and I’m so glad we did because a gentleman kindly steered us towards where the bands were located and advised Jason on a couple of bands to check out close (about an hour) from where we lived.

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Pipers helping pipers
Ben and Bob were kind enough to help our son with resources to look into to improve his bag pipe skills

Jason introduced himself to various band members and they were generous to us in answering all our questions. Here are a few things we learned about getting started on the Bag Pipes or Drums:

  1. You can join a Bag Pipe Band as a drummer or a piper as a beginner. They often have a weekly practice session and you continue to practice with the band until the Drum Major says you’re ready to join the band.
  2. You are not limited by age or gender — anyone can join that wants to join.
  3. The band provides members with the uniform required for performances.
  4. Band members are expected in return to attend all performances and competitions as these help pay for the uniform and instrument expenses.
  5. Found that a lot of the pipers used the Ezeedrone Reeds because they are so universal. There were a couple of people we met that use Carbon Fiber. (The tone of the tenor is where you can tell the difference.)
  6. Wait to buy your bagpipes. Start out with a chanter and find a good instructor through your local band. When you’re ready to join the band, they will advise you on what kind of bagpipes to purchase. A used good set will start out at $800 and a new good set will run around $1,500 on up depending on quality and embellishments.
  7. Saturday afternoon features the band competition —it’s a great time to see the bands play up close. If you want to talk with band members, the best time is in the morning around 9-10 a.m. for those not doing solo competition, but are waiting for the band to practice prior to performance.
  8. Playing the bag pipes takes a lot of practice and a lot more effort and energy than most people think. If you don’t play your bag pipes ever day, people who know how to play the bag pipes can hear the difference because the reed and pipes dry out and change the sound of the bag pipes.

If you go to the Stone Mountain Highland Games in Atlanta, Georgia, make sure that you are there at noon for the opening ceremonies. All the bag pipe bands take the field and they sound amazing in person! We found that if you get there about an hour ahead of time, you can get a good seat. We happened to be right in front of the grand stand and was amazing!

We also enjoyed watching the dancing competitions, the Tartan Forest, and checking out the vendors and the falconry. And don’t forget the tasty food and sporting competitions!

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Shopping at the Stone Mountain Highland Games

Cost to attend:

  • Tickets:
    – Gate Price: $20 (adult) / $5 (child 4-12)
    – Advance: $18 (adult) / $5 (child 4-12)
  • Parking: $20 for the day or $40 for an annual parking pass into Stone Mountain Park.
  • Food: Our lunch cost about $10 each + each drink ran about $3 ($1.50 for a refill) for a soda or sweet tea. You can bring in a small wagon that totes your own lawn chairs (recommended) and a small cooler with drinks and food. (Make sure you check each year prior to the event as policies may change from the time this post has been published.) There is limited bleacher seating available.
  • Merchandise: There are vendors that offer a full-range of goods from imported food to jewelry and clothing attire.
  • We were local, but if you’re RVing, the closest place to stay is right within the park. Plan ahead to get a good spot. You can find info here

Address of Stone Mountain Park: 
Stone Mountain Park
1000 Robert E. Lee Blvd
Stone Mountain, GA. 30083

46th Annual Stone Mountain Highland Games

Next year we plan to bring the entire family and we hope that Jason will be closer to competing in some form — either solo and/or in a band — Lord willing!

For more info or to see when the next Stone Mountain Highland Games http://www.smhg.org

For other related celebrations, see https://atlantastpats.com for the next Atlanta St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

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Paulding County in Dallas, Georgia :: White Oak Park

If you find yourself West of Atlanta in Georgia (Paulding County), White Oak Park offers a few small lakes for fishing, a Disc Golf Course, exercise path, covered areas, and playgrounds.

We recommend you use this park in the colder months from mid-November through March. The downside of this park is it does have issues with vipers near the water areas, so you’ll need to keep your eyes open and watch for water moccasins in particular. We have sighted one before, so heed the warnings as they are justified.

Local photographers like to frequent this park for outdoor photo sessions for its picturesque scenery making it an excellent backdrop for portraits.

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Jason got skunked on his fly rod, but Joshua had some success with a Grass Carp and a couple of small large-mouth bass!

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So, if you ask my guys, they love this park, but as for me, I don’t find it friendly to families with smaller children. (Case in point, there is no bathroom near the large playground. You have to hike up the hill to use the restroom. When you have little ones, this can be a huge inconvience and remember — never send a child alone to a bathroom or anywhere out of eye sight!) Hate to be a Debbie Downer on this one, but until Paulding County can eradicate the vipers and put in a bathroom near the playground, this park won’t be one we return to often.

Fun in the Sun 4th of July

We headed to lake on the 4th of July! The boys wanted to play on a rope swing they knew of nearby and the day was spent playing in the water and eating. Good times!

 

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Around 3 pm the first thunderstorm rolled through and we knew we wouldn’t be able to get the boat out of the water in time, so we grabbed a sunshade we had on hand and got out of the water just in time. We played in the water some more after the storm rolled through only to discover another band of storms was right behind it, so we went back to our little shelter again for round two! After the coast was clear, we packed up our gear and headed back to the boat launch to end our fun-filled day!

Remember, if you can hear thunder, you can be struck by lightening! ALWAYS seek shelter out of the water if you find yourself in a thunderstorm. And if you have a cell phone, be sure to sign-up for FEMA automatic alerts — this helped us with the right amount of warning to get to safety before the storm rolled through and helped to keep our family out of danger.

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Hope you and your family enjoyed the day together as well no matter what adventures came your way!

Don’t miss this “Field Trip” to the Great American Eclipse

The last time I saw a solar eclipse I was barely in grade school. I remember my mom (who was a teacher) taking me out to the open field along with her 30 students where they all held up various box filters they had created in order to look at the eclipse for she was quite adamant that to look straight at the eclipse, I could burn my retinas. (Even a 99.9% solar eclipse of the sun can damage the naked eye. Looking directly at the sun without protection for more than a few seconds can cause blindness.) I remember feeling a little bit of trepidation and I was too afraid to look except for a brief moment (as I valued my eye sight.)

Well, approximately 40 years later, I have the opportunity to experience this event again and am determined to see the solar eclipse, safely, and in totality. (They didn’t have these CE and ISO Certified Solar Eclipse Glasses when I was a little girl, but while I’m thinking about it, you can be prepared and grab some shades here.)

On Monday August 21, 2017, millions of people in the United States will experience a unique event: a total eclipse of the sun. This is to be the first coast-to-coast “total” solar eclipse in 99 years across the United States and will last 2.5 minutes across a 60-mile wide mind-blowing total eclipse blackout from Oregon’s West Coast to South Carolina’s East Coast. (See map illustration below.)

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According to “About 12 million people are lucky enough to live in the path of totality, and about 200 million are within a day’s drive of the path.”

Fred Espanak of MrEclipse.com has calculated that the longest solar eclipse across North America will be in Kentucky and the lower tip of Illinois (see image).

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Courtesy Fred Espanak, MrEclipse.com
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This NASA chart lists eclipse times for cities in the path of totality for the 2017 total solar eclipse on Aug. 21. Credit: NASA

Because the shadow of the moon will move from west to east, totality will occur later in the day the farther east you travel. Use the NASA interactive eclipse map to find out exactly when totality will occur and how long it will last in the location where you plan to observe the eclipse. You can also download this map courtesy of NASA.

REMEMBER! Looking directly at the sun, even when it is partially covered by the moon, can cause serious eye damage or blindness. NEVER look at a partial solar eclipse without proper eye protection. You can learn safety tips about viewing the eclipse here and ideas on how to make your own viewer here (see page 2).

If you plan on traveling to see the total solar eclipse, be sure to make travel plans in advance. And note that NASA predicts it will be one of the worst traffic days in history. To learn more about the North American 2017 solar eclipse, visit NASA’s page here or visit ExperienceAstronomy.com.

PS: The next solar eclipse will be in 2024 — a total solar eclipse will darken the skies above Mexico and Texas, up through the Midwest and northeastern U.S.

PSS: Don’t forget to grab some glasses early! I’m getting enough for our family (and our dog). As the demand goes up, I’m sure they’ll raise prices!

 

Are you getting the itch to travel? Yeah, me too.

It’s about this time of year that we begin to seriously think about warmer days ahead and what new adventures might lie ahead for our tribe to explore.

It’s been awhile since we’ve been to the beach — at this point, I’m thinking a trip to Tybee Island, GA as it’s been about five years since we’ve been there with the kiddos. On my list of “things I’d love to experience” is a live hatch of baby sea turtles and this region of Georgia offers opportunities to experience those up close. My little girl LOVES sea turtles and the boys would enjoy experiencing this, too!

Sea Turtle Swimming in Ocean

I also love this area because of the rich history of Savannah, GA and my Pinterest page is busting with ideas that are itching to be explored.  From there we could head north towards Charleston, SC or south towards Florida.

martin-luther-king-572586_1280It’s also been on my mind to explore Birmingham, AL and surrounding areas a bit more. There is rich history here in Atlanta and in Alabama relating to the Civil Rights Movement and this might be the year that we deep-dive into that with a trip to connect the kids to those events through visiting the sites where they took place.  There’s also a couple of car-making factory tours that I would love for my older teens to go on with the right planning. (I’m thinking that we’ll avoid this region during the months when tornados are more common tho’ — i.e. spring.)

It also might be good to do something more humanitarian and take the kids up to Tennessee to see if we can partner with the ongoing efforts to restore the region where fire took it’s toll this past year in the Dollywood area.  :*(web-forest-fire-blaze

Hmmm… Decisions, decisions.

The reality is where we end-up going will partly be dependent on hubby’s work travel schedule.  But in the meantime, part of my process is to plan ahead by day dreaming on Pinterest. Pinning things that might sound of interest (should we get to that region), makes it a lot easier for planning to gel and come together when the time comes to put ideas into motion.

I encourage you to do the same today. Get a jumpstart on your own travel dreams with one of the boards I’ve started. And if you know of a great resource that I haven’t pinned yet, by all means send the travel idea my way. I love new places to visit and often locals know the best places to enjoy.

Let’s dream a little… So, where would you like to go and explore this year?

University of Washington | Remembering our Roots

As we gear up for the big football game (the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl College Football Playoff Semifinal) between our alma mater UW (The University of Washington) and BAMA (Alabama), my husband reminded me of how we stopped in for a short visit to the U.W. campus last summer (2015) to show the kids what used to be our old stomping grounds for several years as we got our college degrees.

We arrived on a three-day holiday week-end and made a quick stop at the columns and borrowed the bus lane for a few quick moments— the campus police were nice to us that day as no Joe Metro (city bus) was running through there at that time.  We wanted to dash across the street to show the kids the beautiful columns that once stood at the original University of Washington campus.  Visiting on the holiday was a good thing in that it made it less congested to drive through the campus with our travel trailer. It also made it easy to park on campus as we took up several spaces. (We really don’t recommend coming thru campus with a big RV set up unless it’s on a holiday or day where classes are not in session.) I remember us drawing a lot of attention from the students who were on campus that day and thinking to myself, who would have thought all those years ago that we’d be driving thru campus with an RV loaded with kayaks and five kids on our way from Georgia!?! Crazy!

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University of Washington Columns

I had the original U.W. four pillars (shown above) on my graduation announcement. Funny how now, these four sons of ours represent what’s really important to me… they are the true pillars for the future…our best work.

The University of Washington has a gorgeous campus and it was fun to explore the places we once roamed. It was a bit surreal to take our children to places that existed in our lives before they were born, but I’m glad we did it. (Will have to take them again as the amazing Suzzallo Library’s Graduate Reading Room  — one of the top 10 most beautiful libraries architecturally in the US — was closed the day we visited.)

It reminded me that it’s good to have roots. I know a lot of readers following us on this blog are drawn to the idea of freedom traveling and the open road — don’t get me wrong, there is a a lot of good that comes from traveling, but I’ve also found that roots are just as important. When we came home after being gone for 101 days, it felt WONDERFUL to have a home to come back to and rest. It felt WONDERFUL to have people say, “We missed you” and for that feeling to echo resonating in our own hearts. Yes, it’s great to explore and travel, but I have found that the people and friendships we have at home are the ones that carry us along as we go. Share your roots with your children and also be sure to give them roots for their future as well.  I am thankful for those loved ones in both Seattle and Atlanta… we are doubly-blessed to have two places we can feel at home. Where do you call home?

University of Washington

Travel Journal Hack & National Parks 100-Year Commemorative Stamps

Picked up a National Parks 100-Year Commemorative stamp sheet at the US Post Office yesterday. These would be great to use as you travel! If you’re not one to keep a travel journal, here’s a quick travel-journal hack that’s easy and inexpensive… Write on an oversized post card your experiences and mail back home to yourself! When you return home, you’ll have memories ready to put in a scrapbook!

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exploring our world as a family

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