How to Make Hot Chocolate Outside!

Winter and hot chocolate go together.
This year, enjoy hot chocolate while you’re playing outside.
We cook outside during the summer so why not winter?
There is nothing better and your kids will remember it forever.

It’s easy and fun.


You will need: images
1. Portable Coleman Stove or similar with fuel
2. Pan for water
3. Cups
4. Lighter or matches
5. Cocoa mix
6. Water
7. Spoons
8. Towels/rags to clean up spills (optional)

You can buy small gas stoves at REI, Dicks, Target or any outdoor supply store for about $30. Portable stoves are easy to use and you’ll have hot water within minutes. Propane stoves like the one shown are great because you don’t have the mess of fuel.

DSC00093Put all your supplies into a plastic bin to transport to your event. If there isn’t a picnic table handy, search for a flat rock or create a place in the snow for your stove. The kids can make a spot for you. When you’re ready, fire up the stove and serve. I always recommend that you let the kids work up a sweat first before enjoying the drink. They’ll appreciate it more and they’ll be warm enough to stand around for a few minutes.

If you’re worried about your hands getting cold, just pop a hand warmer in your pocket. You can buy 6 pair for about $10 or individual packs for $1. Why suffer with cold hands when there’s an easy solution?

By creating wonderful outdoor experiences, kids are more likely to get off the couch and into the outdoors. Watch this video of two young people enjoying their first outdoor hot cocoa. You can tell that they’re having a blast and you can bet that more people will come on the next trip.

You can find Diane planning for her next trip at Christ the Solid Rock Baptist Church on Madison’s east side. 


Who says snow has to be white? Green and Purple Snow


Make an ordinary snowman into something extraordinary with a little color.

Who says snow has to be white? With a little food coloring, you can turn a field of white into all the colors of the rainbow.

To make colored snow, fill spray bottles with water and add a few drops of food coloring. The kids will have fun marking their territory and creating all sorts of games.

To make snow ice cream, put about a half cup of apple sauce in a small bowl and fill with snow. Mix together and eat. Add some milk to make the mixture creamier or try different flavors. For the complete recipe and lots of variations, click here.

What are you doing to turn winter upside down?


Adding snow to apple sauce makes a yummy snow treat. Add a bit of milk or cream to make the mixture creamy.


Use food coloring to make rainbow ice cream using snow. It’s yummy and fun to make.

Get Kids Outside: A fashion geek’s guide to enjoying winter


Make cold weather play a family tradition by learning to dress for the weather. You’ll be warm and dry if you follow these tips.

The best way to get kids outside is to get out there with them.

So enough with the excuses.

Here are my time-tested tricks to not only surviving, but enjoying even the coldest of winter weather. Kids do not care how you look so neither should you.

1) Parka with a fur-lined hood: There is a difference between a parka and a coat. A parka is a coat, but a coat is not necessarily a parka.

A parka usually has a hood, large pockets and ample length to cover your backside. If you sit down, you should be able to sit on your coat. Parkas also zip up high on the neck to keep out the wind.  I like this coat from Lands End because the hood has a faux fur-lined trim. The hood adds warmth and the fur shields the face from wind and blowing snow. At under $100, I would buy this parka again. The other coat shown is my “camping coat.” It’s a 30-year-old coat by Wilderness Experience that has stood the test of time. It’s a warm and washable coat that is fun to get smoky. Always keep a mud coat handy for these kinds of outings.


A triple threat: Balaclava, headband and blaze orange Stormy Kromer. It’s important to keep you face, head and ears covered on cold days. Sunglasses protect your eyes and sunscreen will moisturize and protect your skin

2) Balaclava
In extreme conditions, I wear a balaclava, a gladiator inspired piece of clothing that keeps your face and neck warm.

My balaclava is light weight and made of silk, which works best for me. I don’t like something bulky on my head. They range in price from $12-$30 and come in many colors, fabrics and weights. Pick the one you like. Neck warmers and scarves also work just fine as face protectors.

3) Wind proof pants with Base Layer
Warm and dry legs are critical to outdoor comfort. I just upgraded my legwear to a pair of REI WinterFlyte pants for men. At just $40 you can’t beat the price. Why men’s?  Three reasons: 1) They were on sale, 2) they have pockets, and 3) they fit. REI does make them in women’s sizes, but they don’t have pockets. Go figure. Before the upgrade, I wore nylon wind pants over a pair of synthetic long johns or running tights. This worked for me for years.  Flannel lined pants also work well and are very cozy to wear.

Underneath the WinterFlyte’s, I wear a pair of polyester and lycra blend long underwear. Polyester keeps you dry and wicks away sweat while the lycra stretches for comfort. Starting at about $25 a pair, they are an inexpensive must-have item. I got mine at REI, but you get them anywhere. Retailers brand their version of polyester into fancy names like Capilene (Patagonia), Climatesmart (Cuddleduds) and Hyactive (NorthFace). Go with what you can afford and what feels nice. Oh, and you’ll need a base layer on top too.

If you’re going sledding, you will need something to keep your butt dry. I wear a pair of rain paints over the above mentioned pants and long johns. The rain pants don’t breathe, but they’re fine for one hour of sledding, which is about how long it takes before someone gets hurt and you have to come in anyway.

4) Gloves vs Mittens

If my fingers get cold, I am miserable, so keeping my hands warm is a top priority. In the photo on the right, I am wearing an inexpensive insulated glove I picked up at Dick’s Sporting Goods for about $30. However, they did not keep my hands warm enough so I quickly replaced them with a pair of large men’s Burton Profile mittens at Dick’s for $39. In this case, I chose men’s because it was the only pair of mittens in the store and I needed them for a trip the next day. They have proven to be quite warm and I’d buy them again. Women, don’t be afraid to shop in the men’s department. The same is true for men. You may find the right fit in a different department.

5)  Boots
For my money, nothing beats the classic Caribou boot by Sorel. I have tried many boots and these are by far the warmest boots I have ever owned. I can wear thick wool socks in these boots and my feet have plenty of room to breathe and move. The liner is replaceable which means that I will get sick of these boots before they wear out. The only draw back is that they are clunky and therefore are not the best choice for snowshoeing and walking longer distances. If I decide to get into snowshoeing, I’ll wear a different boot.

4406) Socks

Smartwool, or one of the many knockoffs, are the only socks to buy. Smartwool is a wool and lycra blend that keeps your feet warm and washes well without losing its shape. I own the REI version of Smartwool and like them a lot. I’ve been told, however, that once you buy the Smartwool brand you will never go back. They come in great colors and they last longer, so they’re worth the extra cost…or so I’m told. You can pick up socks for about $15 a pair.

7) Sun and Skin protection 

The sun is still out in the winter so protect your eyes with sunglasses and your skin with sun screen. In extreme cold and winter, I put vasoline on my cheeks and lips just prior to heading out. This really helps the skin retain moisture on cold days.

toe-warmers8) Hand and Toe Warmers 
I used to think it was cheating to use air-activated hand and toe warmers, but not anymore. I use them for skating and for outdoor activities where I’ll be standing around. I’ve always had cold hands and feet, so it makes sense to have a few of these on hand, just in case. Pop a few packs in the car too. I bought mine at Farm and Fleet for 79 cents each and I have no regrets.

Let me know how you stay warm in winter. Share you favorite gear and tips.

You can find Diane leading cross-country ski outings at Blackhawk Ski Club with kids or skating at Tenny Park with friends. She’s getting ready for a trip to the Porcupine Mountains where she plans on skiing her heart out. 

Donate $40: Teach children to ski and they’ll learn how to deal with frustration.

Learning to cross country ski teaches kids perseverance and how love winter.

Learning to ski teaches valuable lessons in patience.

Teach children to fish and they’ll eat for a lifetime.
Teach children to cross-country ski and they’ll learn patience and how to deal with frustration.

Watching kids learn to ski can be painful because they fall down so much.
Watching kids learn how to get up and deal with their frustration makes up for it.

In addition to learning patience and persistence,  they also…

…get in shape while having fun,
…learn a sport that they can use for the rest of their lives and
…learn to love winter.

Kids who love winter have a much greater chance of  staying healthy and happy especially if they live in snow country.

For the past 4 years, I have had the privilege of taking K-5 students from the Goodman Community Center (GCC) to  Blackhawk Ski Club in Middleton to learn how to cross-country ski. In total, that’s about 50 kids.

This year, the program runs from January 17 to March 7, 2013. Unfortunately, GCC’s funding is tight and the program is in jeopardy. GCC can pay for the transportation – no small contribution – but not for a teacher to get the kids to the lessons.

Half the fun of skiing is drinking hot chocolate after skiing and hanging out with friends. The memories will last a lifetime.

That’s where you come in.

Will you donate to the Ski Club 2013 fund? Just $40 will fund a scholarship for one student to do the full 8 week class?  To run the class, we need a total of $520.

Of course, all donations are appreciated.

To donate, click button to the right (you don’t need a Paypal account). Or, contact me via Facebook if you’d like to send a check. Thank you.

Help make the winter of a few great kids. Thank you! Please let me know if you have any questions.

Diane Schwartz
Get Kids Outside

Downhill or Bust: Lessons from the Ski Slope

Some kids like speed.

Kids love to go downhill.

They like the speed.
They like the thrill.
I even think that some of them like wiping out.
Speed freaks ignore cries of “slow down.”

“Snow plowing is bogus,” said Gavin, and nothing I could say would change that.

Never mind that Gavin is a first time skier and that the hill at Blackhawk Ridge doesn’t have obstacles or turns.

So how do you teach a kid like Gavin to slow down?

You don’t.

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Mud Season… the Joys of March

Mud happens.
Snow happens.
So does rain, sleet and some gloriously warm days.
Today we had both.
The day started sunny and warm and ended with a biting wind and sleet.
It’s a crazy weather month punctuated by Madison spring rituals like The Garden Show, Canoecopia, Bike-o-Rama and high school basketball tournaments.
It’s a month where I break out the mud boots and think, if but for a moment, about putting away the Sorels.
It’s a month at the cusp, full of weather surprises and the end of winter clubs.

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If you want snow this weekend, just head to the Capitol Square for Winterfest for some free family fun. Organizers have cranked up the snow machines to ensure a successful event. One year ago, we had plenty of snow, but no Winterfest due to the massive protests, so I thought I’d repost this story written during this crazy time. This year, there’s no excuse. Get to Winterfest and enjoy!

Get Kids Outside

Last week I canceled Ski club. Organizers also canceled most of  Winterfest.

Not for extreme cold or lack of snow, but because of the protest at the Capitol.

It’s been a surreal week.

On Wednesday, Superintendent Nerad closed Madison schools because so many teachers called in sick.

On Thursday, many other principals closed schools due to teacher sick-outs. I canceled ski club because we had no kids to take.

On Friday, schools remained closed and people continued to swarm the Capitol in growing numbers. Organizers canceled Winterfest which was to take place around the Capitol on Saturday and Sunday. A few events moved to the Memorial Union.

Since I had planned to take kids to Winterfest, we went to the Union instead. To avoid traffic headaches, we rode the bus. This was quite the adventure for the kids. Little did we know that we’d be crammed on a bus…

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What goes down must come up: Life lessons learned while skiing

What goes down...

Learning to ski is a humbling experience.

Fall, get up. Fall, get up.
Poles and skis slip and slide and get tangled up in the weirdest of ways.

That’s  pretty much how it goes for first-timers,
especially as they learn to maneuver hills.

I can’t think of a better metaphor for life.
If kids can get past the initial frustrations, they learn so much. That’s why we ask kids to make an 8-week commitment to ski club. That way, they have to work through their frustration. The end result is always a joyful celebration on the last day.

In the mean time, there’s more agony of defeat than the thrill of victory, but the victory is so very sweet.

Check out these photos from this week’s lesson at Black Hawk Ski Club. They really do say it all.

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From warming hut to Prairie-style palace: Tenney Park Shelter

Story and photos by Diane Schwartz on Thursday 01/26/2012, Isthmus Newspaper 

  • The Tenney Park lagoon is frequently called Madison’s prettiest place to skate. Shaped like an uneven horseshoe, surrounded by trees and crossed by graceful arched bridges, it’s a setting reminiscent of a Currier and Ives painting. But until recently, the warming shelter was a dark and gloomy no-frills building built in 1958 and beginning to decay.
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All eyes on the eagles: Eagle Days 2012

Cashel Nelson, 8, looks through a scope at the eagle overlook in Prairie du Sac during Bald Eagle Watching Days 2010 while his friend from Madison's Goodman Community Center Qarly Haywood, 8, awaits her turn.By Jeremiah Tucker, Sauk Prairie Eagle.

Now one of the longest-running events of its kind in the state, Sauk Prairie’s Bald Eagle Watching Days began life as a token of thanks from the state to eagle-deprived volunteers.

Randy Jurewicz, a retired biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, helped organize the first official Eagle Watching Days in Sauk Prairie 25 years ago. The event, he said, grew out of a national census of eagles organized by the National Wildlife Federation.

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