365Outside

Refresh Your Life

Month: July 2016

How Do You Find Awe?

A moment of awe onboard Little Wing

A moment of awe onboard Little Wing

I read an article recently about the importance of awe in our lives. The term “awesome” has taken on a totally new meaning over just a few generations but when you whittle it back to its original essence, it’s a pretty important experience. Essential, even. And what I found most interesting about this article was the working definition of awe. Who thinks to define such a deep concept and how could they possibly capture its essence?

Turns out that awe is, simply put, equal parts vastness and new understanding. Pretty simple, but pretty dead accurate if you ask me.

I had never thought of it that way. In fact, despite experiencing awe on what I would describe as an above average frequency, I had never once stopped to consider why these experiences created such an overwhelming feeling of reverence in me. This weekend was the first time that I experienced true awe since reading the article, and it opened in me a new understanding of why we react the way we do to the beauty around us.

Perfect way to spend a heatwave.

Perfect way to spend a heatwave.

Since we bought Little Wing, we have been very lucky to experience a series of amazing weekends. We have slept on the boat every Saturday night for two months, (except for the weekend we went camping) leaving us all day Saturday and Sunday to be surrounded by nature and soaking up sunshine.

This weekend was no different. We took the powerboat to the beach on Saturday and spent the afternoon with good friends, swimming with the kids, digging in the sand and paddling boogie boards around. When the day began to slow down and people began to trickle home, we headed for the sailboat instead. There were storms forecast and the clouds were turning dark. We didn’t want to sail anywhere due to the forecast. But just to be there out in the middle of it, even if on our mooring, was plenty good enough for us.

Last romp on the tidal flats before the storm rolled in.

Last romp on the tidal flats before the storm.

As the sun sank lower and the clouds grew darker, we ate some dinner and brought the boys and their energetic pooch for one last romp on the sandbar. These fringe times, early morning and late evening, are my favorites at the beach. It is quiet and peaceful and we have the place to ourselves.

Back on the boat, I rinsed the kids off and got them cozy in their pajamas. The temperature was dropping steadily and the cloud cover was building. Down below on the boat, the boys played and read books until the thunder started. We closed the hatches tightly and cuddled the boys beneath a blanket. They were a little scared.

The storm brews on the horizon.

The storm brews on the horizon.

On deck, The Captain and I were keeping an eye on the mooring line and the other boats swinging around us when I spotted a dinghy across the channel. Someone in a small inflatable dinghy, with outboard tilted up, was trying to row against the ferocious winds but instead was being beaten back, making negative progress and blowing quickly towards the dry banks of the exposed marsh. The Captain jumped into the skiff and sped over to assist him as the wind whipped ferociously and the violent rain began to pelt down. Alone on the boat with the kids, I went into risk management mode and mentally ran through what-if scenarios and my response plans. Then I put the kids in their lifejackets, just in case. Even though they were safe down below and our boat was safe on the mooring and the storm was more than likely just a passing one, the last thing I wanted was to have to choose in the middle of an emergency between operating the boat and getting my kids in their lifejackets.

Our reward for waiting out the storm.

Our reward for waiting out the storm.

The storm was over even more quickly than it came upon us. By the time The Captain got back to the boat, the rain had stopped and the boys were peaking their heads out from the hatch, asking if it was over yet.

The boys watch the lightning on the opposite horizon.

The boys watch the lightning on the opposite horizon.

The clouds were parting and a spectacular sunset was our reward after the chaos. On one horizon, the sun lit up the sky, radiating streams of fiery orange and red. On the opposite horizon, lightning glimmered and a rainbow struggled out. The boys were amazed. They exclaimed gleefully each time they saw the lightning. It was the first time they’d been able to watch lightning outside from afar.

The sunset proved more and more spectacular as it progressed and the boys did not get bored of the amazement around us. We were all well and truly in awe.

The last drops of a delicious sunset.

The last drops of a delicious sunset.

It was a simple moment. It was just a half an hour of watching the sunset after a vicious summer thunderstorm. But we were together and we were grateful and we were amazed at the stark contrasts that nature can provide in just an hour.

It’s moments like those that affirm for me why we have made the plans that we’ve made. Moments like those will be our rewards for the hard work that we’ll put in to making our dreams reality. Moments like those are why we do it.

It is a beautiful thing to feel little in the face of nature.

Little Bear makes his way across the tidal flats and back to the boat before the storm.

Little Bear makes his way across the tidal flats and back to the boat before the storm.

Our Favorite Easy, Versatile and 100% Local Recipe (Or How Embracing the Summer Means Eating Locally)

Junior chows down on a local popsicle and local cucumber, both at once.

Junior chows down on a local popsicle and local cucumber, both at once.

Yesterday as I drove home, I caught a glimpse of Junior in the backseat. In one hand was a popsicle he’d gotten as a treat from a local farm after we’d gone berry picking. It was frozen local cider and raspberries and it was dripping, sticky and bright, down his arm. In his other hand was a half-eaten whole cucumber he’d pulled out of the bag we’d received this week from our farm share. He was alternating between the two. A few licks from his popsicle, a huge juicy bite of cucumber, and repeat.

To me, this snapshot in time perfectly summarizes two things that I love so much:

  1. Summer
  2. Where we live

(And of course, 3. Junior. But you already knew that.)

Summer is the season of freshness. Everything is ripe and juicy. The boys are most often shirtless with the season dripping from their chins as they lap it up. Summer is indulgence and simplicity at the same time. Summer is rich and ready, sizzling and sweet. Summer is here, and it’s ripe for the picking.

Digging for clams with the Captain

Digging for clams with the Captain

And what better place to enjoy summer than where we live. I grew up on Cape Cod, and though its natural beauty is something to behold, it didn’t have the depth of agriculture that we have here, north of Boston. Here, we have hayfields that run for miles lining roads. We have farm upon farm upon farm. Dairy farms, vegetable farms, fruit, meat, you name it. And on the other side, just across the bridge, is America’s oldest fishing port, the docks bustling with lobsters and cod, haddock and scallops. Out our own front door are the clam flats. The beaches stretch for miles, and then miles more at low tide. The water and sand become our playground.

Farm visits aren't just for summer

Farm visits aren’t just for summer

A few years ago, when Junior was ten months old and Little Bear was something between a possibility and a cluster of cells, I wrote a weeklong blog chronicling a different kind of family challenge. We had committed to eating only local foods for a week, even down to the seasoning and cooking oils. Of course we chose coffee as our cheat, but aside from that we challenged ourselves to eat only food produced entirely within 100 miles of our home for seven straight days. We took it to the extreme, drying our own herbs and making our own cheeses and yogurt. I even “made” my own sea salt by harvesting five gallon buckets of ocean water which I boiled down above high heat over the course of 12 hours, scraping the leftover salt crystals into tiny mason jars. Yeah, I was nuts.

Berries from our local farm, Russell Orchards.

Berries from our local farm, Russell Orchards.

But this week, as I gathered our weekly groceries around town, I appreciated how much of that original challenge has stuck with us. We went to one farm to pick berries and bring home a loaf of fresh bread. Then we stopped at another farm for our weekly bag of vegetables and herbs. I stopped at a roadside cooler for farm fresh eggs, and then made one final stop for local bacon, chicken, milk and cheese. It beats the supermarket any day, and I feel good knowing where my food comes from.

Part of the reason why we started the 365Outside Challenge was to reconnect with the world outside our own front door. I wanted my boys to grow up with a deeper understanding of our natural environment and an innate sense of seasonality and natural process. Eating locally is another way to connect and another way to grasp how the world works.

Strawberry picking at Connors Farm

Strawberry picking at Connors Farm

When we went to pick berries on Monday morning, Little Bear wanted strawberries, mostly because he remembered that the last time we’d gone berry picking, we’d gotten strawberries. But this time, we explained, the strawberries were gone. This time raspberries were in season and next will be blueberries. Similarly, the boys love peaches and always ask me to buy some when we’re at the grocery store. But, I explain to them, the peaches we see in the grocery store during the winter aren’t the same as the peaches we get from our local farm stand during the summer. We talk about how far the peaches have to travel during the winter to get to us, and I remind the boys that if we wait until summer, the peaches will taste so much fresher and juicier. (And then, like this year, there is a late season frost to wipe out the local peach crop, which is another discussion altogether.)

Local steamers dunked in butter just may be Little Bear's favorite food, though he still needs a little help getting them to his mouth!

Local steamers dunked in butter just may be Little Bear’s favorite food, though he still needs a little help getting them to his mouth!

Our weeklong local eating challenge was a way to explore just how simply we could live and a way to reflect on our impact on our local environment and economy. It was also the week we found out that I was pregnant with Little Bear, so I suppose you could call it life-changing for sure. At the end of it I wrote a slightly sappy reflection which I blame on pregnancy hormones, but I think it still rings true:

There are a lot of fad diets out there these days.  We hear all about “natural cleanses” and eating “caveman style.”  Everyone wants their body to be a temple, right?  And, to continue the analogy, I guess that there are all different styles of worship.  Some religions require a sort of cleansing of the soul, others value sacrifice, and most honor tradition.  I guess I worship through simplicity and by doing so, incorporate all three aspects to some extent.  We didn’t do this challenge to cleanse our bodies, or to feel as those we have sacrificed convenience and flavor for a greater cause.  We didn’t do this challenge to honor the traditions of settlers who came long before us.  In the end, we did do all of those things, but none of them were the point.  The point was to see how simply we could live and by doing so, maybe affect some longterm changes in our family values and eating habits.  I think the way your family eats says a lot about you.  Now that I’m raising a child, it’s even more important that I think critically about the values we are living on a daily basis.

Have you ever tried to eat local?

Here is a simple recipe that we’ve adapted many times, in many ways, to eat local on a relatively tight budget with simple ingredients:

Local Vegetable Frittata 

  • 1 onion
  • 1 bell pepper
  • 1 bunch swiss chard, with leaves and stems separated.
  • 1 cup feta, or other local cheese as available, grated or crumbled
  • 8 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Any local herbs, such as basil, oregano, thyme, etc. to taste
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 large tomato, sliced

Preheat oven to 350. Sauté finely diced onion and bell pepper in 1/2 tbsp butter over medium heat. Add chopped swiss chard stems and cook until onions are translucent. Add coarsely chopped swiss chard leaves and turn off heat, stirring until the leaves are wilted. Remove from pan and place on paper towel to drain any excess liquid. Whisk eggs, milk, salt and herbs together. 

Use remaining butter to grease a 10” cast iron pan. Spread vegetable mixture across the bottom. Distribute cheese evenly. Pour egg mixture gently over. Place tomato slices on top and add additional cheese on top if desired.

Cook in preheated oven for 20-30 minutes, checking frequently. Remove as soon as the center is set.

Serve with side salad or steamed vegetables.

This meal is a staple of our summer diet for a few reasons. First, we can make it from 100% local ingredients that are readily available. Next, it is protein-rich but vegetarian. We aren’t vegetarians, but we try to eat meat-free several times a week as it’s cheaper and more friendly for our environment. Finally, it is delicious, the kids like it, and the leftovers are just as good for breakfast as they are for dinner.

This recipe is also super easy to tweak as needed, or desired. We’ve added bacon, ham, and sausage to this. We’ve added summer squash and zucchini. And, my personal favorite, we’ve added grated potatoes which make this hearty enough to serve as a camping breakfast (which we did!) It’s super versatile, budget-friendly, delicious and local.

We hope you enjoy!  

Helping to grow his own veggies makes him even more excited to eat them!

Helping to grow his own veggies makes him even more excited to eat them!

How To Wander the Woods With Very Young Children

Junior wanders the woods with a set of walking sticks.

Junior wanders the woods with a set of walking sticks.

When I first sat down to write about hiking with the kids, I drew an absolute blank. I felt totally unqualified and unprepared to dole out any advice about the topic and, dare I say, I actually felt completely uninspired by it. I know, I know – I felt uninspired by the idea of hiking outside with my kids??! Who am I and why so glum, chum?

But then I flipped my thinking. I realized that whenever I ask my kids if they want to go for a hike (or inform them that in fact we WILL be going for a hike, whether they like it or not), there is immediate pushback. They never want to go. In their minds, hiking is an arduous task. It’s work to get from one place to another. It is strenuous activity for relatively little in return. Yet when I ask them if they’d like to go for a walk (or inform them that in fact we WILL be going for a walk, whether they like it or not), they are always game. They help me choose where we’re going. They want to pack snacks and water bottles. They want to know if the dog can come, or if we can bring friends. They are excited. They are clamoring at the door while I finish getting our things together. And that’s exactly the flip my thinking needed.

Hiking, with my very young children, is in fact not pleasurable. If we leave the house with the sole objective to start on foot in one place and end on foot in another place, I am most definitely starting off on the WRONG foot. I am setting myself up for failure.

Junior was so proud of himself when he reached this little summit on our hike in Baja.

Junior was so proud of himself when he reached this little summit on our hike in Baja.

But when we go for a walk, or even better yet, a wander in the woods, we are infinitely more happy. When the kids set the pace and the agenda, we all have more fun. That’s not to say we never make it anywhere. It’s just to say I can’t ever count on us making it somewhere specific and if we do, it’s never within a predetermined timeframe.

Later this year, the Captain is hoping to take Junior on a backpacking trip. Just to remind you, Junior is still four years old. And though he isn’t a super-enthusiastic hiker (YET), we think he will actually love being out there, making his own progress and carrying his own gear, if we frame the experience correctly. First, we are going to try to coordinate with some friends so that he has some positive peer pressure to help him along. Next, we are framing it as a privilege. Backpacking is something that can only be done when you prove you’re ready for it. You have to be able to walk a couple miles with a pack on your back. You have to put in some work to reap your rewards. You have to be physically and emotionally strong enough to keep up. In short, you have to be a big kid.

Obviously, having just turned three, Little Bear isn’t there yet. He’s still at the meandering-through-the-woods phase. Which is just fine. Sometimes we have to meet our kids right where they are. And so, for Little Bear and little people like him, here are my top 3 tips for hiking wandering the woods with very young children.

  1. Enjoying a wet snack in the soggy woods.

    Enjoying a wet snack in the soggy woods.

    Bring plentiful snacks. This is pretty much my top tip for anything with kids. Skiing? Bring snacks. Sailing? Bring snacks. Hitting the beach? Taking a road trip? Sticking your head out the window to check if it’s raining? Always bring snacks. There will come a time when you will be running out the door for a very quick errand or simple stroll to get the mail and you will fool yourself into thinking it’s okay to not bring snacks, but you will be wrong. Very, very wrong.

  2. You may set a target destination or a target timeframe, but never set both. If you’re trying to get somewhere specific, allow all the time your kids want to take. And believe me, that will be ages. Epochs even. Or, if you know you don’t have several days to wander the woods, set a timeframe and confine your explorations to areas that are easily accessible. That is to say, don’t wander off deeply into the woods only to find your time expired and your car two miles away. Murphy’s Law says that this will happen every time, and that your child will then either take four times as long to return to the car, or will need to poop immediately.

    When they want to stop, discover and observe, go ahead and stop, discover and observe right alongside them!

    When they want to stop, discover and observe, let them!

  3. Don’t push it. Go in with low expectations, and let your kids set the pace. Instead of walking ahead of them, follow along behind. When they stop to look at something, stop to look at it with them. If they are tired or uncomfortable or hungry, listen. If they are fussy, ask yourself if they could be tired or uncomfortable or hungry. It is usually one of the three, and all can be fixed. Stay one step ahead of them in preparations, but one step behind in pace. Your patience will be rewarded.

Have you wandered the woods with the very young people in your life lately?

Wandering the woods with friends on an incredible fall day.

Wandering the woods with friends on an incredible fall day.

 

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