Refresh Your Life

Month: March 2017

Hospitals and Healing Vibes

When I talk about founding 365Outside, I often refer to our family’s “rough autumn” that led up to January 2015 when we started our first 365Outside Challenge. I rarely go into any more details. For one, the details have never been relevant; Little Bear was sick, and that was that.

But recently I have been thinking about this time in our lives a lot, reflecting on how it has shaped us, and how it shapes others who are suffering, too.

Little Bear

Let me start off by saying this: we are the lucky ones. We have healthy, happy children, and we have never experienced the pain of an uncertain tomorrow. Even in our lowest moments, we knew that it would mostly be okay. Maybe not normal, maybe not easy, but always okay. We never had to wonder about that. We are the lucky ones.

Little Bear’s birth was as peaceful as they get. He was beyond due, and I was beyond ready in mind, body, and spirit. I put Junior to bed that night, and then proceeded to catch my new baby in the bathtub less than three hours later. We felt completely overwhelmed with gratitude.

Little Bear

But when he was just a few weeks old, Little Bear got a fever. When I brought him to the doctor that day, I had no idea the wormhole we were about to go down. Later that afternoon, when I walked into the E.R. cradling my tiny son, it never occurred to me that we wouldn’t step outside again for weeks. Little Bear spent two weeks on IV antibiotics, first at our local hospital, and then at Boston Children’s Hospital where he was transferred by ambulance when his IV line failed for the umpteenth time.

At first we thought his infection was a one-off. But the next winter he couldn’t shake recurring ear infections, recurring pneumonia, and recurring impetigo, all of which would clear up on antibiotics and then return as soon as he finished the course. Before he was two, he’d spent 10 months of his life on antibiotics.

We were shuffled around from infectious disease doctors to immunologists, and back again. Ultimately, we learned it was something he would eventually grow out of, as his immune system caught up with everyone else’s. It was good news, but it was a tiring journey.

Starting 365Outside in the midst of this was both literally and figuratively the breath of fresh air that we all needed. Getting outside was the medicine our family needed to heal. Rediscovering our wild selves was the salve for our wounds. And by all counts, Little Bear has flourished.

A Long Term Hospital Stay

I thought I’d put this all behind us, until recently I visited a friend in the hospital. My best friend is pregnant with her first baby. It’s a boy, and I am so excited to be boy-moms together, to pass on hand-me-downs, and to play auntie to a new, perfect little human.

Visiting my bestie.

When her fluid began leaking at 26 weeks, my friend and her husband prepared for the worst. She was admitted to the hospital and told that she’d need to stay there until the baby arrived. That was nearly nine weeks ago. Next week she’ll be induced and hopefully welcome a healthy little trouble-maker.

Visiting my friend reminded me how isolating hospitals are. She has been inside those walls for nine weeks. Can you even imagine? She has been living in the hospital for more than two months so that her baby will arrive as healthy as she can make him. She’s missed birthday parties, holidays, everyday life, even her own baby shower. But of course she doesn’t think of it that way; she just puts her head down through the hard times and does what she knows she has to do. I am so proud of the mom that she is, and her baby isn’t even here yet.

Penny Thornley

Anyway, one of the fun, unexpected parts of 365Outside has been the families I’ve met along the way. It’s been so fun to touch base and trade tips with families from around the country and abroad who share our values and understand our lifestyle. Though we’ve never met most of these people, we consider them our friends.

Penny with her doting big bro.

So it was with a gut-wrenching heartache that I read about Penny Thornley, the daughter of fellow adventurer-photographer-wildhearted-mom Sachi. Penny loves to play outside. Her parents bring her on all sorts of crazy, beautiful adventures. They love to hike, camp, and rock climb. Her mom’s Instagram account is basically a stream of beautiful people doing inspiring things outdoors.

Until it wasn’t.

These days, the pictures of Penny aren’t of a fearless conqueror of the outdoor world. They’re of a scared little girl with a brain tumor. It’s heartbreaking and seems doubly cruel for a family who thrived in such an active lifestyle.

Penny has a long road ahead, and the family has been thrown into a whirlwind of hospitals, surgeries, and medical jargon. Their new normal is something that I can’t even imagine.

But there are a few ways we can help. First, there is an Instagram auction happening now. It closes on Sunday at 7pm MST. Some amazing artists have donated some gorgeous goods. Check it out and bid generously at Pennies for Penny.

There is also a GoFundMe set up to help with the astronomical expenses, which will soon include relocating the family to Seattle where Penny can receive the best care. Head over to Positive Vibes for Penny! to contribute.

If you aren’t able to contribute financially, I’m sure the family will appreciate your good thoughts, whether offered through prayers, vibes, or juju.

You can do it, Penny.

Penny Thornley with her mom, Sachi.

Quit While You’re Ahead On Outdoor Adventures, Or Risk Family Mutiny

Well, it happened. We went on an outdoor adventure and we called it quits, due to weather. Surprisingly, this has never actually happened to us before. Sure, there have been days where we cut a walk short or chose an alternate activity, but we’ve never committed to a big trip, undertaken it, and then bailed when the going got tough.

Of course, that’s not to say that it’s a bad thing, though. In fact, I would say we left at the exact right time. You know what they say about quitting while you’re ahead. Well, we quit at the pinnacle and everyone left happy and excited to do it all again. That’s what matters most.

Let me back up.

Winter Cabin Camping

For the last two winters I have been mildly obsessed with winter cabin camping. I’m definitely not ready to commit to sleeping in a tent on the frozen snowpack quite yet, and honestly the idea of winter camping in a tent with children who still, despite every warning, KEEP THEIR SHOES ON WHEN THEY GO IN THE TENT, is distressing.

So when I first discovered winter cabin camping through an article in Outdoor Families Magazine, I was immediately hooked. And lo and behold, it took just a quick search on Reserve America to find winter cabin rentals within a few hours’ drive.

We booked our first trip for last January. It was a bitterly cold weekend, and the cabin was more a dirt-floored shack-closet to which the captain vowed he would never return. Yet still, the forever-memories won us over.

Just look at the kids exploring the magic of a frozen lake and then roasting hot dogs and marshmallows over a fire while the sunsets across the ice. It was beautiful enough that we all wanted to give it another try.

A late afternoon ice hike with daddy.


Cooking hot dogs on the fire.


Late afternoon memories on the frozen pond.

This year, I booked us at some cabins just down the road from the closet we stayed in last year. From what little information I could find online, they looked significantly newer, cleaner, and more civilized. They even had electricity, which I argued actually made this less winter cabin “camping” and more winter cabin “retreating”. In any case . . .

Come November, I knew I wanted to escape and I chose inauguration weekend because I knew we’d all appreciate being unplugged then. We gathered some friends to book the cabin next door, dusted off our trusty camping packing list, prepped some meals, and then proceeded to shoehorn enough gear to reach the north pole for the weekend into every last crevice of the minivan. We were ready.

Mohawk Trail State Forest

Three hours and several potty stops later, we arrived at Mohawk Trail State Forest, picked up our key at the ranger station, and found our way to Cabin 7. We pushed the heavy door open and with the flick of a switch, we illuminated the entire spacious cabin, finished in fresh white pine, complete with built-in cabinets, granite countertops, and a 3/4 wall separating two spacious sleeping areas.

Sleeping area: Bunk bed and single twin separated from a double bed by 3/4 wall.


Kitchen area (no running water), kitchen table, and woodstove.

This was not winter cabin camping. This was . . . bordering on luxury. As we unpacked, the boys got to work with their trucks to build ski jumps, sledding hills, and parking garages in the snow piles by the front porch.

That night, we sat with friends, eating bowls of hearty chili and sipping on hot toddies around the outdoor fire while the kids stuffed themselves with s’mores. We fed the wood stove inside to keep things downright steamy, and everyone slipped into a long, comfortable sleep broken only by the occasional draft that reminded us to keep the fire going through the night.

Little Bear scouting for kindling.

In the morning, we cooked bacon and eggs on the wood stove and us adults fortified ourselves with dark coffee to make it through the day. We hiked to a small summit and followed deer and coyote tracks along the way. Then we descended to a shallow valley with a thawed river bubbling through it. The boys threw snowball after snowball into the current.

Family picture at the mini-summit.


Boys walking with daddy.


Little Bear surveys the river

After some quiet time in the afternoon, the boys were ready for some carefully plotted sledding through the trees behind our cabin, gathering firewood, and then foil packs of veggies and potatoes, and sausage cooked on the outdoor fire.

As the evening got quiet, we began to ponder the weather forecast. We had had no phone or internet since our arrival on Friday and when we left, there’d been rain forecast for both Saturday and Sunday. We had gotten lucky on Saturday with a mild, overcast day free from rain, but we weren’t sure about the outlook for Sunday. We had big plans so we crossed our fingers and headed to our bunks early enough to get a jumpstart on our Sunday morning.

Cooking sausages and foil packs of veggies and potatoes.

The boys roast marshmallows with help from the Captain.

Second night fire – you can see that the snow has melted quite a bit during the day.

Sunday dawned dreary and damp. The air felt cold and wet. We had a full day of skiing booked at the little, local mountain four miles down the road. The kids were taking all-day lessons and we were finally going to have a day to ski together as adults.

The rain started on the drive to the ski hill. It was pretty light at first but soon the drops were falling in giant dollops that landed with a smack on the windshield. We hurried into the ski school and got the run down of options and even a peak at the radar.

It might stop, it might not. The staff were very accommodating and offered refunds if we decided to skip the lessons. Instead, we opted to cut the full-day ski school down to just an hour in the morning, skip the adult skiing, and then call it by ear. Honestly, the ski day wasn’t going to be cheap and I wasn’t about to drop $400 on a day of family fun that simply wasn’t.

Checking out the rain before ski school.


Ready to conquer the rain for an hour!

It was the right choice. The kids skied an hour and were absolutely soaked. Afterwards, they trudged into the tavern looking (and acting) like freshly flea-dipped cats.

We stripped off soaking jackets, rung out mittens and neck warmers, and hung everything by the fireplace. Over a lunch of fried kids’ meals, we took the opportunity to go online and check the weather forecast. The afternoon called for more heavy and consistent rain that would turn to sleet and freezing rain overnight. The next day called for ice.

It didn’t take much conversation to decide that we should just call it quits. If there had been snow in the forecast, we’d have happily stayed to bunker down through the worst and wake to a white wonderland, ripe for exploring the next day.

But we couldn’t face an afternoon of being wet and cold, followed by the rigor of packing up in freezing rain and the stress of driving home through it the next day.

So we quit while we were ahead. The kids were sad to leave. We were sad to leave too. Even the ranger smiled in a sad way and remarked, “Going home early to beat the storm, huh? Sorry about that.”

We’ve found it’s always best to quit before it gets bad, but it’s often a fine line to walk, especially with kids. They can go from having the time of their lives to wailing like mateless coyotes in just a matter of seconds, so our goal is always to get out of there while they’re still having the time of their lives. This also makes it much easier to convince them to go back again another time.

This time, I think we nailed it. There’s no shame in heading home when all signs point to impending misery. The real shame is in sticking to a plan that’s only remaining strength is its title of The Plan.   

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