A Look at My 21 Days of Nature Therapy

by Stacy Tornio

When I set out to write about the 21-day recharge for Mother Nature Network, I was both excited and nervous. I wanted it to be this amazing, spiritual, fabulous experience, but I didn’t want to oversell it. It ended up being a great nature therapy experience. Here’s a look how each day went, one day at a time through pictures.



DISCLAIMER: I’m not as funny as I think I am.

I feel like we should get that out there right away. Since you’re potentially going to be following my 21-day journey, I thought I should let you know. (Actually, I am pretty darn funny. I just happen to be a bit sarcastic and dry, and not everyone appreciates this.)

Now that you’re really excited to follow along with a potentially unfunny person, I should probably clue you into what I’m actually doing. I’m currently on a “21-day recharge with nature” for the national website, Mother Nature Network. You can read the full details of it right here on MNN.com, but here it is in a nutshell. “Go outside…soak up nature…live happier.”

This whole thing started while I was doing some research on what makes people happy. Turns out, nearly every study and report I found cited the outdoors as a major factor of happiness. The benefits of being in nature is huge…and it’s not just about getting kids off couches and away their electronics. Adults need this, too. In fact, some doctors are even prescribing sunshine for their patients!

For the next 21 days, I’ll be going outside in deliberate and meaningful ways. While I’m at it, I’m also be checking off things from the list of 50 ways to live your life happy. (Trust me, this is a list you WILL want to do.)

I hope you’ll consider joining in on some of the days…or all of the days! Just go outside, pick something from the happy list, and even hashtag the experience using #21dayrecharge. I’ll be using Instagram and Twitter, but I’d love to see your photos and experiences, too.

Today, I kicked the challenge off by getting up early, driving to the lakefront, and watching the sunrise over Lake Michigan near my home in Milwaukee. (The sunrise is #6 on the happy list.) Then I stopped on my way home to accomplish #37 by letting someone else make me coffee. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.




It was cold, rainy, and dreary on Day 2. I wasn’t really looking forward to going outside, so I packed up my laptop and headed to a coffee shop to work for the morning. (I have a a work-from-home job, which I love.) It was the perfect way to watch the rain and let the storm pass through.

When the rain stopped, I decided to knock off #13 on the happy list by taking my dog to the nearby trails to splash in the puddles. She definitely had the wet dog smell when we were done and was pretty filthy overall, but it was worth it.

Two things I noticed on this dreary day. Since it was so icky out, I was looking extra hard for beauty. I found it in two places. the first was just a store along the sidewalk, giving away free dog treats to people passing by. And the second was a bird’s nest, leftover from last year, just sitting in a tree along the hiking trails.  (Both are on my Instagram.)



It was still pretty sloppy and rainy today, so I decided to embrace my rain boots. I actually searched a good long time before I found THE PERFECT pair of boots. Yet, I often forget about them. So today, I wore my boots all day, even when I met my friend for brunch. If you don’t have a pair you love, I encourage you to start Internet shopping right now.



Today was a crazy weather day with windy conditions, lots of blowing snow, and cold temps. My outside time was shorter than usual, but my two kids braved the cold with me. We went to a little pond not too far from our house. Even though it was chilly, we had good conversation while we walked around the water. We pointed out dead trees where woodpeckers had made homes. We counted the different bird species we saw in just a 5-minute timespan (5 different species). And my daughter even found a “mini waterfall” from all the recent rain…something I wouldn’t have noticed at all. I love that even on days where it seems like there’s nothing going on, there’s always something to see or notice.

By the way, I’m still working to accomplish all the items from the article: 50 ways to live your life happy. I’ll give an update on that soon!



I love going to new places in nature that I’ve never been. You just can’t beat that feeling of exploring a trail for the first time, excited to see what’s around every turn. However, there’s also a great comfort in going to the places you know. I live in Milwaukee County, which has a pretty great parks system in place. And one of my favorite places to hike is this little trail called 7 Bridges. Yes, there are 7 bridges, and they take you out on this point to Lake Michigan. It’s not a fancy or long hike, but there’s something completely wonderful about its familiarity. So today was a place near and dear to me. But I’ll be venturing out soon. I love this 21-day challenge so very, very much.



I did NOT feel like going outside today. It’s been in the 20s with snow flurries on and off all day. And I’ve kind of been in a funk today. To try to fake my brain into thinking warmer days ahead, I sliced up some heirloom tomatoes I recently bought. It’s far from tomato season here in Wisconsin, but they were pretty darn good. Plus, it made me dream of gardening, farmers’ markets, and my favorite heirloom tomato…the green zebra.

After dinner, we decided to play “park roulette.” Here’s how it works…we do a map search for “park,” and then pick one that we’ve never been to before. It might not be a big or fancy park, but it’s fun to see what’s around. We quickly found a new park 3-4 miles away, so we all piled into the car. (We as in myself, my two kids, and our dog, Daisy.) It was definitely cold, but it was an awesome trip because we discovered two new things. First was a little boardwalk that led into a marshy area of the park. Second was a lovely chorus of frogs, which were extremely active right before dusk. (You can see the frog video on Instagram.)

We definitely returned home with more energy and cheerfulness. It was just what we needed.



I’m really being challenged on this 21-day recharge because the weather isn’t great. Then again, it’s spring in Wisconsin, so that’s to be expected. Even though I’ve felt like hunkering down most days, it’s been really therapeutic to go outside, even for short spurts. Today, I took my kids to the Bong State Recreation Area. This is a place I’ve always intended to go (it’s only 30 minutes out), but I’ve just never made it. So we headed out after school, eager to check it out.

One of the best things about going outside when the weather is so-so is that you get the whole place to yourself. We only came across one other car the whole time we were there. It was pretty uneventful most of the visit until the end when we came upon this little pond and marsh area. I saw a wood duck hanging out on the water, so we went across the boardwalk there to get a closer look. On the way, my daughter discovered a muskrat, chomping away on some cattails. I wish I could properly explain to you the joy on her face because SHE was the one who found it. It was so awesome…we stayed and watched it for a long time through the binoculars, and she couldn’t wait to tell her friends at school.

I don’t want to get all preachy in this challenge, but if you have kids…make sure they have those discoverable moments. Ask them what they see. Have them tell you what they notice. Because those little questions and encouragement does wonders for raising the next generation of kids who care about our environment. Happy exploring!



Going outside doesn’t have to just be hiking and visiting natural areas. Today, at the request of my son, we played basketball. We were active, we got some fresh air, and we even did a little bunny watching between shots. (There was this rabbit that was hanging around in the nearby grass.) My kids like all kinds of outside time, and both are very sporty. But it was a good reminder for me to let them pick what we do sometimes, too. I see kite flying and a picnic in my future.


The weather has been pretty awful lately, so I’ll take glimpses of green anywhere I can get. These were tulips, popping through the ground, giving me hope that spring will eventually show up.




Sometimes the best places are right in your own backyard. There’s a place about 30 minutes away called Lapham Peak at a state park, and I’ve been meaning to go for years. It’s the highest place in the county, and it’s supposed to be awesome views. We were not disappointed! It was a good reminder that we just need to make the time for these things.



Here’s another legendary state park that I’ve always wanted to go to, but I’ve just never been. I was up around Wisconsin Dells for an author event, and this state park was just 20 minutes away. National parks, state parks…they’re pretty fantastic. I highly encourage you to make it a point to visit one that you’ve never been to.



After many, many days of cold, rain, and snow, we finally had sunshine and puffy clouds all day today. I went outside multiple times, getting in little snippets wherever I could. You don’t realize how important sunshine is until you’ve been without and then it’s back. I’m happy.



Today, I walked around a nearby community, known for their great gardens. The daffodils were gorgeous. Now I can’t wait for the tulips and lilacs to start blooming.




My daughter and I walked around the  neighborhood today to explore areas we’ve never noticed before. We had another encounter with a muskrat and found little things (like these pine cones) to enjoy. Sometimes you don’t really notice what’s around you until you make yourself start looking.




I’m a semi-regular contributor to my local public radio, and today I was in studio with my favorite host, Mitch, to talk about Earth Month, nature, and the 21 Day Challenge. I also got outside, but I thought it would be fun to share that the 21 Day Challenge is reaching a wider audience.




Today we hit the park. The kids played on the playground, and I sat on the picnic table to soak up the sun. It’s amazing how a little sunshine can brighten your whole day.




I took my dog to a nearby trail, and we found another path that we’d never been on before. It’s fun when you notice new things around you that have been there the whole time.



Every year, I let my kids select a section of the garden to plant ANYTHING they want. While it’s sometimes hard to let go of control, it really gives them a vested interest in gardening. This year, my son wanted more raspberry plants, so we transplanted some from a different area of the yard to a raised bed. Ahhh, gardening. It’s so good for the soul!



It’s funny how nature can be right around you without even really noticing it. But then once you start looking for it, you see it everywhere. During these 21 days, I’ve definitely noticed more things in nature, including this forsythia shrub. It sure does brighten the day.



This is the PRIME TIME for birds right now as nesting season is around the corner, and lots of migrants are flying up from their southern winter homes. The birds seems to sing all day, and today, I really took notice. Behind this birdhouse was probably a dozen red-winged blackbirds, calling in the marshy areas they’ll soon be in to nest. This is one of my favorite times of the year.



It only seemed fitting that my 21 day challenge should end with a sunset. Today, it was mostly cloudy and icky, but it cleared up at the end of the day a bit….just enough to see the sun peeking through the clouds across our nearby lake. These 21 days have been wonderful. I plan to continue to get outside every possible day that I can. It’s definitely good for the soul.


Learn what nature means to my son in his article about what we need to do to save the planet. Check it out here. 

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Recharging 21 days with nature March 31, 2016 - 12:34 pm

[…] write short updates on my daily refill on my website . You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag # 21dayrecharge. Feel free to […]

Michelle Finley April 2, 2016 - 2:49 am

I love the outdoors, nature at it’s best! Fall is my favorite season, winter is second. I like all weather, especially sitting outside and watching the rain–I’ve been known to splash around in the puddles with my dogs! Mornings are best when sitting outside on the front step watching the sunrise while having that first cup of coffee. Just reading your article at MNN and now your daily account of your 21-day recharge with nature makes me smile and think about the wonderful experiences of enjoyed in nature!

Linda K April 2, 2016 - 3:21 am

After a doctor appointment today I found my way to a nearby Michigan state park on Lake Erie. It was breezy and cool in spite of some midday sunshine. Recent heavy rain collected in the lower spots which changed my walking route several times but I circumnavigated the campground scouting the best sites. Some were directly next to the beach whose sand had been freshly restored by the winter ice and wind. Those will be my first choices when the temp just warms enough to set up camp.

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