Refresh Your Life

Month: March 2016

The Bucket List

It doesn't take much to get hooked on watching sunsets at sea.

It doesn’t take much to get hooked on watching sunsets at sea.

It’s been awhile since I last wrote and I have been batting around a few writing topics for a long time. Sometimes I think that my greatest writer’s block comes not when there’s nothing to write about, but rather when there’s a lot on my mind and I have trouble sifting through it. To get past the block, I just have to sit down and write about what comes to mind first. And the biggest thing on my mind is our most exciting plan. I can’t write about anything else until I put it on virtual paper. Somehow writing makes it all so much more concrete. And sharing it with you makes it even more so. It’s real. It’s happening. We’re working on our bucket list.

The Background

When the Captain and I met, we were both living full-time on sailboats in the Caribbean. Eventually we landed on the same boat teaching study abroad programs to college students and exploring the world by sea. We still spent tons of time in the Caribbean but also spent a summer sailing the Mediterranean, then down the coast of Africa and across the Atlantic. Later we cruised the east coast of Australia before crossing north to explore Borneo, Bali, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. Sometimes I still look back at the photos and can’t believe we were actually there. It was an amazing time in our lives.

The captain and I on our old sailboat - a 32-foot cutter, back when the furry Lady was our only "child."

The captain and me on our old sailboat, a 32-foot cutter, back when the furry Lady was our only “child.”

So when we finally moved back to land, one of the first things that we did was buy a boat. Then we bought a few more. In fact some we didn’t even buy. They just came to us somehow, like a stinky, lovable mutt that shows up at the door of an animal shelter. Before we knew it, we had a fleet of vessels all in various states of disrepair. There was a little Boston Whaler that got us to the beach and back but seemed to be taking on water somewhere. (No big deal, they’re unsinkable!) Then there was the 19-foot Lightning sailboat that I spent months refinishing but never actually finished. And of course we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to adopt a friend’s 32-foot gaff-rigged cutter which, of course, needed a dinghy thereby adding two more leaky boats to our fleet.

Sailing upwind, the Captain at the helm and Mama on the rail, 35 weeks pregnant with Junior.

Sailing upwind, the Captain at the helm and Mama on the rail, 35 weeks pregnant with Junior.

Junior's first boated at 16 days old.

Junior’s first boat ride at 16 days old.

Junior nestled safely in the cockpit while Mama sails.

Junior nestled safely in the cockpit while Mama sails.

The Kids Arrive

During his first summer, Junior spent many afternoons on that leaky old sailboat with us. We’d nestle his carseat into the cockpit or rig a net across a bunk as a makeshift playpen. On our mooring, he’d splash in an overturned hatch cover. It was a simple, perfect time. We never minded that the boat wasn’t perfect. We were just happy to have it. But wooden boats take a lot of work just to maintain, never mind improve. When Little Bear arrived in May of the following year, coming home briefly only to promptly land himself back in the hospital until his one-month birthday, we started to fall behind. When the boat never touched water that summer, we sadly hung a FOR SALE sign on her bow shortly before passing her on to another young starry-eyed sailing couple. It was the end of an era, but not of our dream.

Since those early sailing days we have long dreamed that someday we’d do it all again, this time with our family and our own agenda. We did it for years on someone else’s terms. Someday we’d get a chance to do it our way. This dream was always a hypothetical distant vision, something we’d talk about often after a few drinks. We had a mental wish-list for the perfect boat and we collected charts and hoarded gear when it came our way. Junior has a fall birthday, so he will start kindergarten late. We always said we’d use that year, the bonus year, to go sailing. But suddenly that year is coming right up. Junior turns five in October. That year is here and we aren’t going.

The Future

Pre-child in the Caribbean, where the dream began.

Pre-child in the Caribbean, where the dream began.

But we refuse to let the dream pass us by. For over a year, we have been casually browsing boat listings. We sent out a few emails, kicking tires mostly. Then more recently, we buckled down and started seriously considering a few options. We spoke with the broker of what looked to be a perfect boat on Cape Cod, but then found out it didn’t have standing room in the galley and, though it hadn’t been on my original wish-list, I declared space to stand while cooking a sudden non-negotiable. Then we kept circling back to a boat in Nova Scotia, a 20-hour drive away. Should the Captain fly up on his own to look at it? Should we both go? We tossed a few ideas around but never settled on a plan. There were a few others too, but nothing seemed just exactly right. If you’re a boat person, you know how they will speak to you. We looked from the Chesapeake up to Cape Breton, and everywhere in between.

Signed, sealed, delivered!

Signed, sealed, delivered!

As fate would have it, we finally found our boat ten minutes down the road. I found the listing, which included a single grainy photo which I sent to The Captain. His reply was one word: YES. We received the survey in December, viewed the boat in January and signed the sales agreement in February, on the 21st anniversary of my Aunt Karin’s death. She would have loved that boat too. Sometimes life has a way of lining things up just so, when you didn’t even think it was possible.

But what about the bonus year? It will still happen, just not on the timeframe we’d originally planned. We’re currently planning (and this is very, very tentative still) to move aboard in fall 2017. This is the year that Junior would be starting kindergarten. He will still start kindergarten with his classmates. I’ll still get to take his cute little picture on the front steps with his new backpack before we walk to his first day at the elementary school. I can still spit-slick his blond cowlick down and thumb-rub the last remnants of breakfast off his chin before he disappears behind the door. I can still cry with the rest of the moms in the parking lot. We can still hit all the milestones that matter to sentimental moms like me.

Sailing is in his blood!

Sailing is in his blood!

But unlike the rest of his class, he won’t be there for long – just for hurricane season probably. Once the rest of the pieces are aligned (and there are many), we’ll clean out that new backpack and replace the folders and books with a snorkel and sunscreen. We’ll pack a bag and cast off.

Of course it’s actually much harder, but that’s the simple version.

In the end all the tedious prep work, stress and micromanagement will be left behind when we slip those docklines and point the bow south. We’re making it happen. The bucket list is turning into a to-do list, slowly but surely. We’re making it happen. We’re going sailing.

The newest member of the 365Outside family!

The newest member of the 365Outside family!


How to Raise Nature-Loving Kids in a Media-Loving World

“It smells good out!” Junior declared, standing in the open doorway after dinner. It had been an unseasonably mild week, the first hints of spring revealing themselves in a warm southerly breeze and jackets left hanging inside. A day of rain had washed everything and now tonight, the sky was clearing again and bulbs were just beginning to push through the rich soil. The air felt extra oxygenated, smelling of dirt and grass and fresh clean nothingness. Junior stood in the open doorway after dinner, taking in big gulps of it as though he were still hungry. Little Bear, perched next to him, noticed the sound first and cocked his head slightly.

“What’s that mama?” he asked. “What’s that noise? Birdies?” I stood with them and heard the first peepers of the season.

“Those are frogs, sweetie. Little, tiny frogs who live in the swamp back there.” Junior’s eyes went big and his mouth dropped open. Little Bear mimicked him. I wish I had a picture of them in that moment. Their pure delight and awe of the natural world written all over their faces.

A late afternoon ice hike with daddy.

A late afternoon ice hike with daddy.

I once wrote about six ways that I convince my kids to go outside on a daily basis. But since I wrote that, I’ve reflected a lot on why these methods are successful and I have to admit that there’s a lot more to it than getting them out the door each day. My kids go outside daily because they want to go outside daily. In fact, they love being outside. It is easily their happy place.

So how did I get so lucky? Is it genetic? The fact is, I have worked with purpose to instill these values in my kids and it is not a coincidence that they have grown into who they are today. But it’s also not that hard. Here are six ways that you can raise kids who love nature too.

1. Create family traditions that include nature

A full-moon walk in the midst of a snowstorm.

A full-moon walk in the midst of a snowstorm.

We have a few family traditions that involve time spent outdoors, but my favorite is our full moon walks. Each month, regardless of the weather, we gear up after dinner and venture outside to enjoy the full moon. Even on stormy nights when it’s not visible, we go out. The kids think that being outside after dark is a great adventure and they are slowly picking up on the moon’s phases. I don’t force them to participate, but so far I have always had the company of at least one of them on my walks and usually both choose to come along. Create a new family tradition that involves being outside. It could be collecting shells or stones or acorns at a favorite place. It could be Sunday morning walks. It could be lighting candles along the walkway or reading a bedtime story outside. To increase your chance of successful follow through, choose something that’s easy to accomplish but still feels special. For more ideas, check out our list of 20 Family Traditions That Will Teach Your Kids To Love Nature!

2. Encourage a sense of wonder and curiosity.

Sheer awe and excitement of playing in fresh snow on a frozen lake.

The sheer awe and excitement of playing in fresh snow on a frozen lake!

It is easy to forget how magical our world is. On my own I would have easily missed that first chorus of frogs chiming in from beyond our back fence this week. Try to be mindful of the smallest signs of natural beauty and point them out to your kids often and with reverence. In summer, draw their attention to worms and butterflies, flowers that bloom anew all season long and those that die after just a week, stars and fireflies, puffy cumulus clouds and thunderstorms on the horizon. In fall, watch how the color changes on a single leaf over time, note the later sunrise and brisk mornings, the first frost if you have one and the unusual warm days sometimes still lingering. Winter may bring snow or sleet or hail or rain, the shortest day of the year and patterns of ice crystals on the windows. Spring brings tiny buds and bulbs, grass that turns green again, days growing longer and fresh mud for months. Point out small changes that you take for granted. Encourage questions and if you don’t know the answer, look it up together. Kids who notice nature are more likely to appreciate its subtleties.

3.  Share your previous adventures with your kids and use them to inspire new ones together.

Hearing all about daddy's surfing adventures and then going with him to check the waves make the boys excited to start surfing themselves.

Hearing all about daddy’s surfing adventures and then going with him to check the waves make the boys excited to start surfing themselves.

We love to pore over old photos with the kids, pointing out favorite hikes or sailing grounds that we explored before they came onto the scene. The kids love to hear about the amazing adventures that we’ve experienced and they long to come along on some of their own. Sharing ours inspires their own imagination and passion. We set new goals together and talk about how we’ll work to make them happen. When the kids understand that backcountry camping requires long hikes with packed gear, they are more likely to come along on shorter hikes that build endurance towards their goal.

4. Provide unstructured playtime outdoors, away from playgrounds

Sticks and a bit of imagination are some of the toys nature provides.

Sticks and a bit of imagination are some of the toys nature provides.

Give your kids time to explore nature on their own in an unstructured way. Playgrounds may be a great place to meet friends or burn off some excess energy before bedtime, but to really appreciate nature kids need to have time to immerse themselves in it and most playgrounds are not natural environments. Away from manmade play, kids use their own imaginations and are more likely to pay attention to their environment. Logs become balance beams, trees become climbing structures and bushes become hiding spots. As difficult as it seems at first, bite your tongue and allow your children to explore and discover their world independently. You’ll be amazed at how much they learn through their own experiences.

5. Surround yourself with like-minded friends

A walk in the rain is infinitely better with friends to share the adventure.

A walk in the rain is infinitely better with friends to share the adventure.

Use peer pressure to your advantage. Reach out to other families who share your values and coordinate some adventures together. If you aren’t sure who to invite on your weekend hike, ask your kids. When their friends buy in, they are more likely to buy in too. Some of our best friends and favorite memories were made on rainy days in the woods.


6. Create a nature-rich environment in your home

Field guides are a popular browsing choice in our house. The boys are particularly fascinated by the "scat" pages.

Field guides are a popular browsing choice in our house. The boys are particularly fascinated by the “scat” pages.

You don’t always have to go outside to create lasting connections with nature. Bringing plants into your home, filling your bookcases with field guides and reading nature rich stories together are great ways to encourage curiosity and spark passion for the natural world. We collect stones, shells, pine cones and acorns to decorate our home. We engage the kids to research with us in books or online to answer their many questions about the environment, everything ranging from cloud types and plant identification to bird calls and weather forecasts.

Our kids are surrounded on a daily basis by media that pushes technology, processed foods, medication and the importance of being faster and better at everything we do. By providing them with the opportunity to slow down and appreciate the natural world around them, we ground our children in the bigger picture and allow them to experience childhood more simply. They will have a lifetime to experience the priorities of adulthood. What’s the rush to start now?


Giving them the confidence and the desire to experience nature on their own ensures that they’ll never be bored outside.

What a Trump Presidency Would Mean For My Middle-Class, White Boys

We interrupt our regular outdoor adventure-oriented programming to bring you this special message that I can’t get out of my head.


Please oh please, let this likeness be the only one he ever bears to Donald Trump.

This is the first time that I’ve been a mother when a new president is elected and I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what that means. I have thought about what life would be like for my children if Ted Cruz or Hillary Clinton became our next president. I’ve thought through Rubio and Bernie taking office. I’ve thought about the impact for my children on their finances, their health care, their future families. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I thought mostly about what it would mean for them if Donald Trump wins.

If anything will make you more political, it’s becoming a parent. Suddenly you aren’t just invested in decisions about your own life. You’re worried about a whole generation from now.

When I began to think about what a Trump presidency would look like for my children and the direct impact it would have on them personally, I had a lot of trouble pinpointing exactly why the idea made me feel so fearful.

Was it environmental issues? Trump maintains that the Keystone Pipeline would have “no impact on the environment,” and calls global warming “an expensive hoax,” but I know that the science says differently. Even so, how will Trump’s stance on climate change impact my boys personally? Will they live long enough to see the effects? I don’t know. So why I am so worried?

What about religious freedom? We aren’t Muslim and we live in an area where my children don’t have much exposure to diversity. Trump’s suggested requirement that all Muslims register with a national database won’t affect us directly and likely won’t even affect any of my children’s friends. But still, it feels so deeply uncomfortable. It isn’t right. But it it isn’t us. So why am I so worried?

How about immigration policy? My in-laws are both immigrants but they are from wealthy European countries. They aren’t the people who Trump is talking about when he refers to “people who shouldn’t be in our country.” And of course I don’t have to worry about the immigration policy when it comes to my kids. They are already Americans. So why am I so worried?

It must be women’s rights. It must be about a woman’s right to make decisions about her body, and contraception and family leave. I have boys, but maybe someday my boys will grow up and have families of their own. But still, I suspect that if they someday have wives, it will be not them but their wives who are impacted the most. Of course I hope my boys will stand up for their family and support them however possible, but these are women’s issues and I have boys. So why am I so worried?

It almost seems like my boys have nothing to worry about. I mean, I can’t expect my boys to ever fully empathize with the stance of the under privileged when they themselves live a life built on privilege, as white males in a white male country.

And just like that I know why I’m so worried, and it’s actually terrifying. My children are white. They are middle class. They are boys. They don’t have to worry about choices being made about their bodies. They don’t have to worry about finding a job that will pay them fairly. They don’t have to worry about getting pulled over for no reason or held at an airport, not allowed on a flight. They don’t have to worry about so many things and to think that they don’t have to worry about a Trump presidency just perpetuates a vicious cycle of white, male privilege.

We need a president who does worry about these things because if the president doesn’t, then who will? Why should my little boys care when even the president doesn’t? How can I teach them to be better than the president of our own country? That’s why I’m so worried.

My boys are in the midst of their formative years, and the possibility exists that they could spend almost their entire childhood growing up in a Trump presidency. By the time back-to-back terms were over, my boys would be 11 and 12. And what will they have learned? 

They will have learned that as men, they have the option to take away a woman’s right to choose. They will have learned that being white means they can live where they want without worrying about carrying a special ID or being stopped by the police for no reason at all. They will  have learned that as Americans they can expect to travel the world freely, though here in America we restrict the movements of others based on race and religion. They will have learned that boys like them are born to rule our country. That’s why I’m so worried.

Do we want our future leaders raised to expect privilege based not on merit but on race, religion and sex? That’s why I’m so worried.

And that doesn’t even touch on what they will learn from Trump as a role model. Can they get what they want by bullying their opponents? Can they offer insults in lieu of answers when a tough question is asked of them? Can they come out swinging instead of asking for help when they’re down? These seem to be the tools necessary to get to the top. That’s why I’m so worried.

Every parent wants to raise a child who recognizes the needs of others and responds to them in kind. We foster empathy and compassion. We encourage our kids to make good choices, share and help others. Why shouldn’t we expect a president who can do the same? 


Welcome Back, Me

I often write about the effects of the 365Outside Challenge on my family and my children. I less often write about the personal circumstances that spurred me to embrace this lifestyle for me and my family. To get that perspective, head on over to Mamalode and check out my latest article, Welcome Back, Me.

Adventure doesn’t require long journeys to faraway places. It can happen right outside our own doors, if we make it so.

Parenthood is an adventure, in and of itself.

Parenthood is an adventure, in and of itself.


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