Lighting our wish lanterns was a special way to welcome 2016.

Sending wish lanterns up into the sky was a special way to welcome 2016 with old friends.

Some weeks always seem longer than others and for me, the week back to reality after the holidays is always a long week. I can’t believe that it was just a week ago that we were celebrating the New Year, sending wish lanterns into the sky with good friends and waving goodbye to 2015 as their light faded smaller and smaller into the night.

There’s also something daunting about starting a new challenge that makes the first week seem even harder. I didn’t expect it to feel quite as big the second time around. By now, our daily adventures outside have become habit. We already have one challenge under our belts. But somehow it felt so much easier when I was thinking to myself, 335 days down, 30 to go. Today’s 10 days down, 356 to go sounds a lot harder! Especially on a day like today where the wind is howling and the rain is pounding down.

On days like today I am reminded how lucky we are to have wonderful, like-minded friends in our lives. Friends who don’t even blink when we invite them on a hike in weather that drives most people to the mall or the movies.

Enjoying a wet snack in the soggy woods.

Enjoying a wet snack in the soggy woods.

And so it was that we found ourselves stomping through the soggy woods all morning with a crew of muddy children, who relished the opportunity to run off some energy and search for signs of bears (which we don’t have around here, but a kid can dream, right?) It was a good reminder for me after a long week that it’s not so hard. We are surrounded by beautiful people and beautiful places. The hardest part is motivating to get out the door, and so we just take it one day at a time. It felt so, so good to come back to the warm house, hang our sopping gear by the woodstove, and heat up some hearty bean soup for lunch. And now, as I type this, I’m drinking my raspberry tea and listening to the steady downpour on our skylight while both boys nap upstairs. It’s the perfect Sunday afternoon, after the perfect Sunday morning.

In case you weren’t able to follow our last week on Facebook (you don’t need an account just to read the page) here’s a summary:

Monday meant work, school and all the other commitments of our busy lives were back in full force. Getting outside when you’re busy can seem hard and intimidating until it becomes an everyday habit.

Bedtime stories outside after a busy day.

Bedtime stories outside after a busy day.

Our favorite trick for getting outside on busy days is to get it done as early as possible, or wait for after dark and make a special night of it. If you weren’t able to get out this morning, try taking fifteen minutes tonight after the sun goes down.

When we aren’t in the mood for a walk or the kids are already in pajamas, we make hot drinks and set up some chairs on our back deck with plenty of warm blankets. We snuggle under the blankets and star gaze while enjoying some warm tea or hot chocolate. Sometimes we use our headlamps and read a favorite story outside. The kids love this routine because it feels special and exciting. We love the burst of fresh air to end our day on a positive note.

Tuesday brought a windchill of-2 degrees here. Brrrrrrr! Is that “too cold” to take my kids outside? I’m sure lots would say yes but Tuesday’s tip: LOW EXPECTATIONS.

Junior keeping cozy on a frigid day.

Junior keeping cozy on a frigid day.

While we aim to stay outside for at least 20 minutes every day, there is no rule about how long we should stay out. The only “rule” so to speak is that we get outside simply for the sake of getting outside. We’re not pursuing outdoor play at the expense of frostbite over here.

Tuesday we went through the hassle of putting on all that winter gear with very low expectations. We may only last five minutes and that’s ok. I’d rather spend only a sliver of time outside and have my kids ready and excited to go out again tomorrow than force them to stay outside longer than they’re comfortable and pay the price on another chilly day when they remember their discomfort and refuse to go out at all. In fact, Junior begged to go out again after dark on Tuesday!

If something is holding you back, go out with the knowledge that it’s totally ok to head right back inside once you’ve given it a solid try. And don’t forget to dress appropriately (more about that on the blog coming soon.) Good luck and stay warm!

Wednesday we fed the birds. Even if you don’t live someplace snowy and frozen, they’re sure to appreciate it. No birdseed in the house? No problem. The humane society recommends using raw nuts and seeds, or egg shells which provide healthy calcium for backyard birds.

Little Bear was so proud of himself when his patient, quiet waiting paid off and this chickadee landed on his hand to eat some sunflower seeds.

Little Bear was so proud of himself when his patient, quiet waiting paid off and this chickadee landed on his hand to eat some sunflower seeds.

Little Bear and I took our first class together on Wednesday at the Ipswich River Wildlife Mass Audubon where we learned that local chickadees there are so acclimated to budding ornithologists that they will land on your hand to feed. Little Bear was so proud of himself.

Even if a bird doesn’t land on your hand, it’s still fun to watch them. Get out a bird book or download an app like Sibley or Audubon to help with identifying your new feathered friends.

Little Bear takes a minute to lounge on the ground while we wait to pick up Junior from school

Little Bear takes a minute to lounge on the ground while we wait to pick up Junior from school

Thursday we were looking for an easy way to make it through the last of our busy days this week. We find it’s easiest to make time for outside play when you’re already coming or going. When I pick my oldest up from school, he’s already wearing most of his outdoor gear. I just slip his snow pants on (if needed) and give him some free time to run wild. We both need it after a long day. Other times the kids are so spent that they just want to lie down and cloud-gaze, and that’s fine too.

If you’re on a busy, time-pressed schedule by the time you are heading home, take a deep breath and ask yourself if it will really matter if dinner and bedtime are ten minutes later. Sometimes I get so caught up in our “schedule” that I lose sight of the bigger picture. Try going for a walk around the block before you even get in the car. Or park a block away and try not to rush your little one as you stroll back. Think of it as your moment of peace in an otherwise hectic week.

Waiting for our neighbors to come over so we can start our glow stick hunt (which ended in tears because everyone wanted everyone else's glow sticks, but hey - we tried!)

Waiting for our neighbors to come over so we can start our glow stick hunt (which ended in tears because everyone wanted everyone else’s glow sticks, but hey – we tried!)

Friday we celebrated the end of the school week in a fun way with the little people in our life.  Stop off at the store on the way to or from work today and pick up a pack of glow sticks. I found packs of 15 glow bracelets for a dollar at Target! Hide them around the yard after it gets dark and set the kids loose on a glow stick hunt. Just because the sun has set, it doesn’t mean your chance to play outside has been missed. Your kids will thank you.

Saturday’s tip was to visit your favorite summer spot in the depths of winter. Try it! We are lucky to live near the coast so we visit the beach year round. It’s a different experience in every season but the kids love it regardless of the temperature.

Little Bear ready to go tide pooling in 25 degree weather.

Little Bear ready to go tide pooling in 25 degree weather.

This week also saw our news story (which originally ran in the Gloucester Daily Times) republished in the Newburyport News. Yay for spreading the word! We’ve now had almost 90,000 days of outdoor time pledged for 2016 and the challenge will be open for new registrants until the end of the month. Do you know someone who might be interested? Send them over to sign up before it’s too late.