365Outside

Refresh Your Life

Category: Health and Fitness (Page 1 of 3)

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.

Will You Join the 2017 365Outside Challenge?

Registration for the 2017 365Outside Challenge will be open soon. Will you join us in committing to a happier, healthier 2017? Check back soon to sign up!

 

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.

In The Moment, He Could Have Drowned

Suddenly I looked down and Little Bear was underneath me, swirling in the murky depth of the hot tub. His eyes were open and wild. Panicked. I reached down with one arm and fished him out. He came up feisty and screaming. He was scared and latched on to my neck, clinging with bony arms around me as he wailed.

Both boys play at the beach in their Coast Guard approved Puddle Jumper lifejackets.

Both boys play at the beach in their Coast Guard approved Puddle Jumper lifejackets.

I often reflect here about the importance of letting my kids experience failure (sometimes even when it hurts) and about my general let-them-run-wild approach to parenting. But I actually do consider myself a very SAFE parent. I like to think that through my experiences in education and particularly as an experiential educator, I have above average awareness of our environment and its potential risks. We let our kids take all sorts of chances, but we do so knowingly and we take precautions to minimize risks. We also teach our kids about the risks around them. I recently read an interview with National Geographic Adventurer of the Year Tommy Caldwell in which he says about raising his son, “prepare him for the path; not prepare the path for him.” And that rings true for me. We create an environment in which our kids can fail without dire consequences, and then we let them learn from it so that they can move forward more confidently and more safely in the future. We’ve got this.

But while we were on vacation, Little Bear could have drowned. I won’t say he almost did because he wasn’t even coughing afterwards, but there was a moment where I saw so clearly how it could happen. It was so quick and it was so quiet. At the time I brushed it off as no big deal, just another childhood rite of passage. We laughed about it later that day, this crazy fearless little kid, always such a handful, giving us a run for our money. It was the kind of thing that happens all the time. But I am still thinking about it almost two months later so here I am, putting it in writing where I purge the toxins that my mind can’t process.

Little Bear in the hotel pool, wearing his Puddle Jumper.

Little Bear in the hotel pool, wearing his Puddle Jumper.

Our hotel had a small pool and a hot tub. Every afternoon after the boys woke from naps, we’d head for the water. The pool was on the colder side and both boys were their usual cautious selves at first when it came to getting in. They’d splash around the edge for a while, dipping toes in and giggling at the chill. Junior can swim on his own now, so he would eventually swim from one side to another and Little Bear would follow suit with his Puddle Jumper on. The hot tub, though, was a new commodity. Neither boy had ever been in one. And since it was really only lukewarm, it was easy to get right in.

Both boys standing on the seat of the hot tub earlier on our trip.

Both boys standing on the seat of the hot tub earlier on our trip.

One afternoon towards the end of our stay, when I thought we’d all figured out the whole water safety thing, I got into the hot tub and Little Bear hopped in right beside me, which was unusual since he is almost always very cautious around the water. I guess he had grown more confident during our stay. He was standing on the seat and I told him, “Remember, you don’t have your floatie on. You can stand here, but you can’t go in the middle. You will sink.” When I said it, I thought that maybe he actually would slip off the seat, and being that I was sitting right next to him I’d grab him just as his head went under. And there we’d both be, lesson learned. But instead of squirming around in his typical fashion and slipping off the seat, he just stood on the seat for a long time, elbows propped on the tiles around the edge of the tub. He was deep in thought or he was tired or he was just having a moment. He stood there so still for so long that I became too comfortable with him being there, without a floatie on. I had a false sense of security. I almost forgot he was there.

Little Bear splashes at the beach in his lifejacket last summer.

Little Bear splashes at the beach in his lifejacket last summer.

I reached for my camera. The bag was beside the hot tub so I didn’t even need to get out of the water. He was beside me, within arms reach. He could have put a hand out and grabbed me. I only needed to shift my body and turn my shoulders slightly to reach my camera. I pulled it out of the case. I took the lens cap off and looked through the viewfinder to check the autofocus which had been acting up. I took a picture of the view.

And when I turned back, he was gone. He was underwater, swirling around and around, his panicked, pleading eyes staring up at me. I fished him out. It could not have been more than a few seconds. I held him while he cried and I felt my chest collapse with the knowledge that it could happen just like that. Beside me. Silently. What if I had decided to change the lenses? What if Junior had yelled, “Look at me, Mama!” What if. What if.

I write this now because we learn from our own stories and from the stories of our friends. If we can’t learn from the mistakes of others, our own growth only comes from our own mistakes. Don’t let that happen. Let my mistake be the catalyst for your change.

Junior wading in a tidepool, wearing his lifejacket last summer.

Junior wading in a tidepool, wearing his lifejacket last summer.

Put your child’s life jacket on EVERY SINGLE TIME they are near the water. I thought I could trust Little Bear but I should have never put that kind of trust in a two-year-old. The only way to keep your child safe around the water is to fit him or her with an appropriate life preserver and use it every time. Little Bear was fine. He didn’t swallow any water and he was back to swimming in just a minute. But I’d be selling us short if I let that be the end of it.

Drowning is silent and quick and it can happen right beside you when you turn away for just a moment. There wasn’t even a splash.

I thought it couldn’t happen to us, but I don’t think that anymore.

 

For more about water safety, click here.

To learn more about what drowning really looks like (and it doesn’t look how it does on TV), read this.

Simplicity: How To Return To The Roots of Summer

Mama Bear, soaking up the summer of ’87.

When I was little, I was lucky enough to live on a dead end street that backed up to the old town cemetery. Since this was our daily norm, it never seemed creepy to me and we used it as an extended yard perfect for hide and go seek, flashlight tag, cutting across to neighbor’s houses and climbing in trees. I’m sure there are some who might consider this disrespectful, but I tend to think that if we could all choose, we’d actually prefer our final resting places be full of joy and playfulness rather than solemnity and grief. Besides, the cemetery hadn’t been used in centuries so at least it was getting some visitors this way.

In any case, we would head out in the morning, sometimes with a backpack full of supplies and other times with only the clothes on our back, and we’d return when we got hungry. We had an imaginary treehouse in the cemetery where we lived in our own magical world. We’d pretend we were living in colonial times or that we were runaways living off the land. We blazed a trail beyond one end of the stonewall that came out at a pond where we hung a rope swing and spent hours throwing rocks into the water. We walked to the gas station to buy candy, sold lemonade along the bike path, and read books on a towel in the backyard. I don’t remember anything extravagant and I don’t remember tons of activities. Sure there were a few sessions of swim lessons and a week of soccer camp scattered here and there, but most of the summer was completely wide open.

The taste of summer!

The taste of summer!

My kids are still too young to spend hours free ranging through our neighborhood but someday they will be old enough and that’s exactly how I see them spending their summers. They will swim off the bridge at the town landing. They’ll go fishing in the river. There will be penny candy and bikes and skinned knees and an impatient wait in line at the hotdog stand. It’s a long way off still but that doesn’t mean that it’s not time to lay the groundwork.

There’s a lot of chatter lately about simplifying our lives, simplifying childhood, purging excess and returning to our roots. But how do we do it? How do we make it happen when everything else continues to move so quickly? By instilling the values of simplicity and patience now, I am hoping to raise boys who return to simplicity as they get older.

Here’s what I’m doing this summer to simplify our lives.

Much better than anything on TV

Much better than anything on TV

First, we’re limiting screen time. This isn’t really specific to summer but it is easier to do when the weather is kind and the sun is up late. We are not a screen-free home (but power to you if you are; I am in awe of you!) but I limit screen-time strategically. Our kids usually get to watch 20 minutes after dinner while I’m putting away laundry and cleaning up. (Just for context here, remember that The Captain is more often than not away on the tugboat so it is just me and the kiddlywinks). Sometimes Little Bear will get to watch 20 minutes in the morning while Junior is at school and I exercise, but honestly he doesn’t have much patience for it and I try to actively encourage his disinterest when he wanders in halfway through his show and announces he’s all done. I find most of my success in limiting screen-time comes from setting concrete limits in advance, explaining them to the kids so that they know what to expect and then sticking to the limits come hell or high water.

Go for it, buddy. Let me know what you find.

Go for it, buddy. Let me know what you find.

Another way I’m simplifying is by becoming a more distant observer. Like I said, my kids are too young to totally free range, but I’m preparing them for it by keeping my distance. I try to let them explore our neighborhood on their own. When they play in our backyard, I supervise from the kitchen and only step in if someone is crying or hurt. When they are exploring further afield, I hang back and let them lead the way. I keep an eye out for safety risks but mostly I let them do their thing without feeling like I’m breathing down their necks. It’s simpler for them and it’s easier for me. It takes a lot of work to be a helicopter mom! Some might call it the Lazy Mom approach to parenting but we didn’t come across it by way of sheer laziness. There’s some forethought involved, I promise.

We will plant ourselves on this beach and move when the sun begins to set.

We will plant ourselves on this beach and move when the sun begins to set.

Summer is also the time to go outside for extended periods, sometimes all day long. I plan to take advantage of the long days and warm weather while we’ve got them. Remember my tips for getting out the door for a beach day in 20 minutes or less? I go the same route with our daypack. I keep it stocked with a quick-drying change of clothes for each kid, a few ready-to-eat snacks, sunscreen, bug spray, and a basic first aid kit. I also keep one of my larger sarongs in there to use as a picnic blanket or to string in trees for shade. We can be ready for a day out of the house as quickly as it takes me to fill our water bottles and throw some sandwiches together. It’s easy to become very rooted to the house and your neighborhood, but don’t be afraid to head out for the entire day. Go to the woods or the lake or the river or the beach. If your clan gets bored of one, head to another. Make it special with a stop at the ice cream store or the burger shack. Heck, my kids think it’s special just to run into a gas station to buy a ten-cent lollipop.

There will be ice cream and it will be messy!

There will be ice cream and it will be messy!

Which brings me to my next goal: simplify our eating. I am generally very engaged in healthy eating and I spend a lot of time in our kitchen cooking three meals a day. But come summer? I’m out. All it takes is some marinated chicken to have a quick, healthy dinner on the table in under half an hour. Grill it up, serve with some corn on the cob, add a salad and you’re done. My kids are usually great eaters, but they do love their carbs. The other night I was having an internal debate over what to serve alongside their chicken and corn. Noodles? Rice? Rice pilaf? Roasted potatoes? Ugh, all would require dishes and time and cooking. And then I had my epiphany moment, why all the stress about what carbs my kids are going to eat tonight? They love toast with butter, so why would I go through the motions of making a box of rice pilaf when that’s really not much different than toast with butter in the first place and there’s a loaf of bread sitting right there on the counter? Simple meals are the name of our game this summer. Yogurt and granola for breakfast? Check. Sandwiches or bagels with cream cheese on the go at lunchtime? Got it. Something quick on the grill with some fresh veggies alongside? All done. Less time cooking means more time for playing and getting outside.

A relaxed schedule means more memories like this one: last year's town bonfire after dark with friends.

A relaxed schedule means more memories like this one: last year’s town bonfire after dark with friends.

And finally, this summer we are reaching a milestone. I’m letting go of our schedule. Ok, not totally. Phew. But for the first time in four years, neither kid requires a nap. Sure, they may be more pleasant after a nice long rest, but this summer I’m relaxing our schedule and going with the flow more. We can skip naps. We can stay up late or go to bed early. We can make a schedule that works for us and when it stops working, we’ll make a new one. Last summer I clung to our schedule by necessity. Without afternoon naps, the boys would crumble. Up past his bedtime, Little Bear would dissolve into tears. But more recently, the boys have been more adaptable. We have more freedom and this summer, we’re going to take advantage of it.

Our stripped down summer.

Our stripped down summer.

By simplifying our summer, we strip it down to its roots. How do I want to remember our summer? How do I want the kids to remember it? To us, summer is about freedom, adventure and yes, the occasional indulgence. We’ll spend long days at the beach and on the boat. We’ll eat sweets and watch the stars come out. We’ll hunt lightning bugs. We’ll build an obstacle course in the backyard. We’ll let the saltwater dry in our hair.

How do you want to remember your summer?

 

Adventure’s Fine Line: Balancing Safety and Freedom Outdoors

The boys run wild with a friend. This may look chaotic to some but in reality it's a carefully considered balance.

The boys run wild with a friend. This may look chaotic to some but in reality it’s a carefully considered balance.

What does free play look like in a natural setting? Is it really and truly free? How do we keep kids safe while letting them push the limits and immerse themselves in their own world?

Junior scaling an apple tree while Little Bear practices his leaps below.

Junior scaling an apple tree while Little Bear practices his leaps below.

Junior is perched on a tree branch, leaning from side to side as he hums the sound of a buzzing propellor plane. He dodges imaginary projectiles, adding sound affects. On the ground not far away Little Bear, knees muddy and face smeared, is stacking logs and chattering away in a crackly deep voice, enacting both sides of a conversation between himself and “Worker Man.” With much fanfare, Junior tumbles to the soft dirt below, then rolls down a slope dramatically, his hair gathering hay as he goes. Little Bear glances up, then joins him in the dizzying descent. They are rolling, rolling, rolling down a gently sloping field of hay and dandelions. Soon they are laughing loudly in a heap of marsh grass and mud, hair matted and hands caked.

To the kids, this feels completely and utterly free. To the bystander, it looks like complete chaos. To me, it is the perfect balance and all within the bounds of carefully developed rules that we play by when we’re exploring outside.

Setting kids loose in nature can be intimidating, especially if it’s something that you’re not used to. But free play isn’t entirely free. By setting reasonable limits and creating logical rules, kids can explore freely and have a positive experience without feeling restricted or bound by arbitrary limits. Because our rules are based in logic that is easily explained to them, the kids rarely question them. They aren’t just rules governed by adults; they are rules governed by nature.

Here are eight rules we play by when we’re free playing outdoors.

  1. We are guests here. When we explore the forest or the beach or the park or a meadow, we are exploring a living habitat. All sorts of creatures big and small make their homes in these places and when we’re here, we’re guests. We don’t have to leave everything exactly as we found it, but if we don’t, we should leave it a little better than before. We might gather fallen leaves and sticks to build a fairy house for others to discover. We might simply pick up some trash and pack it out to the parking lot dumpster with us when we go. Sometimes we clear fallen brush off a walking path. Other times we delicately leave everything exactly as we found it. However we change the environment we’re in, it should somehow be for the benefit of others.

    Junior's sheer glee at watching a snake in the leaves.

    Junior’s sheer glee at watching a snake in the leaves.

  2. Know your neighbors. Because we are guests in these habitats, it’s our job to know who we’re visiting. Teach your children to identify any hazardous insects, snakes, or other animals likely to live here and make sure they know what to do if they encounter one. Similarly, teach them to avoid plants like poison ivy or stinging nettles. Kids who know the potential risks in their environment aren’t just more likely to avoid them; they’re also more confident in exploring their environment independently.
  3. The playful shrieks should be distinctly different from a scream indicating real trouble.

    The playful shrieks should be distinctly different from a scream indicating real trouble.

    Yelling and screaming means something is wrong or about to go wrong. This may sound overbearing when you want to let your kids go wild, but there is a difference between the sort of gleeful yipping that I often hear in the woods from my boys and the fierce shouting that signals a real problem. The only reason to really truly scream is if there is an emergency or we need to get someone’s attention urgently. Of course there are occasional exceptions to this rule, like when we take the boat under a bridge and shout to hear our voices echo or when we howl at a full moon. But generally, everyone in the group should be on the same page and understand that yelling signals something important. This way, if I hear screaming through the woods, I know to respond quickly. Likewise if the boys hear me shout, they know to pay attention as someone’s safety may depend on it.

    Junior sees some storm clouds approaching.

    Junior sees some storm clouds approaching.

  4. Keep an eye to the sky. Always know what kind of weather to expect for the day and plan accordingly. Even with the best laid plans, know that weather can change suddenly and teach your children to be aware of the subtle signs that storms could be brewing. Be aware of changes in wind strength and direction. In addition to feeling the wind, teach kids to watch for the wind in trees and across water. Identify different cloud types and know which signal approaching storms. General awareness of their surroundings will come more and more naturally for them the more they experience a changing environment.
  5. Three different approaches to scaling a rock.

    Three different approaches to scaling a rock.

    Climb it yourself, or don’t climb it at all. Want to climb? Great. I’m not helping. This one sounds a little harsh at first but it’s a good way to create self-enforcing boundaries. I’m not crazy about the idea of my kids scaling piles of logs or scurrying up slippery rock slopes and I know there will be times when they will fall. But rather than constantly scurrying around after them, trying to be there to catch them when they do, I make sure they aren’t too high to start with by only allowing them to climb things that they can climb on their own. Need a boost to get started up that tree? Nope, sorry. Want a hand shimmying up that boulder? You’re on your own. I’m happy to act as coach and I often do, but when it comes to offering a physical boost, they know I’m not there to help. If they can’t get up on their own, they’ll need to wait until they’re a little taller or a little stronger and try again.

  6. Stay close. Now that the boys are getting a little older, I’m not so worried about having my eyes on them every second while they explore, but I do need to know that they’re close. When we’re in the woods and they are wandering around on their own, we agree on physical boundaries before they set off. It could be the creek, the trail, or a ridge line. The same goes for when we are on the beach, though sometimes here it’s easiest to literally draw a line in the sand at the furthest acceptable point. If we are going to be in one place for several days as when we’re camping, I use fluorescent flagging tape on trees to mark limits. Just make sure to remove it before you go.

    The kids watched some older children building a lean-to and decided to build there own.

    The kids watched some older children building a lean-to and decided to build there own.

  7. Sticks are tools, not weapons, and as with all tools, they come with responsibilities. What is it with kids and sticks? My boys are drawn to them like pigs to mud. No even better, kids to mud. Long, short, fat, thin, green or rotting, they don’t discern. But we draw the line at using sticks as weapons. No sword fights. No light sabers. No jousting. Sticks are great tools for hiking and building. Sometimes the boys pretend they’re hammers and hit them mightily against tree stumps or rocks. Sometimes they use them for building shelters. But we never use them for fighting and we have to be smart with them. We don’t run with sticks, we don’t swing them near other people, and the only reason we lug around a stick bigger than our arm is to build with it.
  8. Know when to ask for help. Tell kids to trust their gut and if something feels wrong or scary, ask for help. Teach children to find their caregiver if they or someone else is hurt, sad or scared. Also teach them to tell a grownup if they see something that could hurt them, like broken glass or a hornets nest.
The core of childhood.

The core of childhood.

Free play outside has amazing benefits for kids of all ages. By creating logical boundaries to guide their play, we provide an added layer of security for them. Kids can play more independently and more confidently when they know how to watch out for themselves.

 

Considering an Adventure Abroad with Young Children? Don’t Think, Just Go!

The 365Outside Family on a hike in Todos Santos, Mexico

The 365Outside Family on a hike in Todos Santos, Mexico

You know those robo-calls that gleefully announce that you’ve won a free cruise? Or those drawings at the Trader Joe’s checkout to win a gift card if you bring your own bag? How about a virtual drawing to win a family vacation to Mexico? Sigh . . . . ever wonder if anyone actually wins those things?

Well, the most amazing thing happened to us. Through Outdoor Families Magazine, we entered a drawing for a weeklong family vacation to Baja offered by Thomson Family Adventures. And we won! Can you even believe it?

Of course we couldn’t and we kept waiting for the catch. We figured there would be some hidden costs or extremely limited dates or absurd amount of red tape to claim such an unbelievable prize. In fact this was perhaps the most perfect, serendipitous prize for our family to win. Though we love adventure and travel, we haven’t had the chance to travel abroad since the boys were born. And our most recent adventures tend to involve sleeping in tents or winter cabin camping. A luxurious but adventurous trip to a new country was basically our dream come true. And there was no catch.

Of course because the trip was potentially so awesome, I immediately began to sweat the logistics. The advertised itinerary recommended that participating kids be age 6 or older. Junior comes kind of close at 4.5 but Little Bear is still not even 3. And Baja is not only located in another country, but the opposite coast of another country, so it would require a full day of traveling to get there. And then of course there were the usual mom concerns about traveling to less developed regions with small kids who still run amuck, lick windows and stick their fingers in unidentified holes in the ground. The whole thing could have been a disaster.

A glimpse of the packing.

A glimpse of the packing.

But it turns out I had nothing to worry about. The awesome people at Thomson Family Adventures collaborated with us to create a slightly modified itinerary to accommodate the boys, we packed lots of entertainment for the long travel days and planned to arrive the night before the official start of the trip, and I packed an entire medicine cabinet along with a “just-in-case” prescription for children’s Z-pack to ease my fears. Before we knew it, we were off.

Though I’d love to write a day-by-day exhaustive description of each and every moment, I fear it would run over into novel length rather than blog post so here below, I list eight wonderful experiences that made this crazy trip so unforgettably worth it.

Junior practices snorkeling in the casita pool.

Junior practices snorkeling in the casita pool.

Junior spots a sea lion while snorkeling through a cave with the Captain

Junior spots a sea lion while snorkeling through a cave with the Captain

  1. Watching Junior go snorkeling for the first time. Junior loves the water and is infatuated by sea life. He can name more varieties of whales and sharks than I can. One morning he woke up and asked me, “Mom, what are those things in the Mariana Trench?” and when I stared at him blankly and said, “huh?” he just added, “You know, hydrothermal vents!” Seriously. So when we told him he’d have the opportunity to snorkel in the ocean with sea lions he was pretty excited. We bought him a tiny little mask and snorkel and sent them with him to swimming lessons before we left. He even insisted on “practicing” in the tub. When he got in the ocean and finally put his face in (after many dramatics about the cooooooooooold water which was actually a balmy 74 degrees,) he was totally wowed. I could hear him squealing through his snorkel. Later, back home, he was proud to report that he’d seen a parrotfish, an angel fish and a sergeant major, correctly pointing to each on our fish ID card. And he did see a sea lion too – click here for the full experience!

    Little Bear sneaks in a nap on the boat ride after snorkeling and lunch on the beach.

    Little Bear sneaks in a nap on the boat ride after snorkeling and lunch on the beach.

  2. The kids being troopers on the long and bumpy boat ride. It took about two hours to get out to the sea lions, partly due to lumpy seas and partly because we took the scenic route to get the full experience. We swung by crystal clear bays, a frigate bird colony and visited with some dolphins. We were sharing the boat with another dad and his ten-year-old daughter, and I was pretty proud when he remarked on how well-adjusted the boys are on a boat. We spend a lot of time on boats and had brought their own lifejackets (thank goodness for Puddle Jumpers!) to make sure they were comfortable. Since we plan to spend a year living on our boat, I was really relieved to see how easily the boys adapted to the long ride. They even both took naps on the way back!
  3. Junior and Little Bear pose with some of the kids at the Palapa Society in Todos Santos. They all looked much happier before we asked them to pose for a picture, I promise!

    Junior and Little Bear pose with some of the kids at the Palapa Society in Todos Santos. They all looked much happier before we asked them to pose for a picture, I promise!

    Visiting the Palapa Society. The Palapa Society in Todos Santos is a volunteer-run English language program that aims to open opportunities for the children of Todos Santos by teaching them to speak English. This was supposed to be a volunteer opportunity for us, but because we tend to have our hands full with the boys everywhere we go, I’m afraid we weren’t as much help as many travelers may be. Instead what it ended up being for us primarily was a cultural experience for the kids. The class we sat in on was with Mexican children mostly around age 7. The English skills they were learning were the same things that Junior is currently learning in preschool so it was a great experience for him to participate right alongside them. He sang the alphabet with them, named his colors and shapes, and did a coloring worksheet. Though he was pretty shy, it was still an eye opening experience I think. And donating books and a soccer ball to them at the end of the lesson was a great way to expose him to the importance of generosity and giving.

    My daily breakfast of huevos rancheros thanks to Chef Iker!

    My daily breakfast of huevos rancheros thanks to Chef Iker!

    Junior chows down on some raw octopus ceviche. He loved it!

    Junior chows down on some raw octopus ceviche. He loved it!

    Watching our tortillas being made at lunch.

    Watching our tortillas being made at lunch.

  4. Amazing meals that defied expectations. We knew we’d be eating a lot of Mexican food. I mean, it’s Mexico. We even made sure before we left that the boys each had a preferred staple of Mexican cuisine to fall back on when needed (Little Bear: cheese quesadillas, Junior: fish tacos). What we didn’t expect was the huge range of delicious options we actually found in Todos Santos. Okay fine, we didn’t find anything on our own; it was all thanks to our guide Mauricio, but the point is, the food was amazing. Our first night even included a tasting menu served in a private room by the chef himself at Santo Vino in the iconic Hotel California. There was sashimi, ribs, flank steak and salad. Stuffed peppers, dessert platters and wine pairings. The list goes on. Of course we also really enjoyed our fill of local cuisine and I think my favorite meals were really at the hole-in-the-wall places that Mauricio chose for lunch. One day it was a tiny outdoor courtyard serving all varieties of ceviches (and the only other person eating there was the chef from our dinner the first night, so you know it must be good!) Another day it was the most delicious taco place where we watched our tortillas being made before we ate them. Top everything off with some gourmet popsicles and all was right in the world.
    The boys on the last summit of our hike.

    The boys on the last summit of our hike.

    Junior in the midst of our hiking standoff.

    Junior in the midst of our hiking standoff.

    Our hero Mauricio gets Junior engaged with animal tracking and the hike begins again.

    Our hero Mauricio gets Junior engaged with animal tracking and the hike begins again.

  5. Conquering a big kid hike with Junior. We knew before we left that there would be a morning of hiking in the desert. And because I am such a control freak, I began mentally preparing Junior for this several weeks in advance. We talked a lot about hiking, and how sometimes we get tired and it’s okay to rest and then get going again. We talked about how sometimes, when our muscles are working hard, they might start to ache a little and that’s okay because it’s just how they grow stronger. We talked about how Little Bear would likely ride in the carrier (oh how I love our Ergo) but that big kids can do big hikes. Of course it was only about five minutes into the hike that Junior announced how tired he was and said he didn’t “feel like” hiking anymore. A standoff ensued and finally Mauricio stepped in (have I mentioned how wonderful our guide was?) and engaged Junior with looking at tracks in the sand. Off we all went again, happy as could be. We even had to chase Junior up the final rocky slope to the last scenic lookout.
    Little Bear rides with Mama!

    Little Bear rides with Mama!

    Junior rides his pony along the beach

    Junior rides his pony along the beach

    Junior feeds Chappo after a long ride on the beach

    Junior feeds Chappo after a long ride on the beach

  6. Horseback riding for both boys. When Sam from Thomson Family Adventures emailed me several days before our trip to confirm a few details about the itinerary, she asked if we wanted to try horseback riding or if we’d prefer something else since the boys are so young. I was really uncertain what to do. Obviously if horseback riding was a bust, we’d prefer something else, but the boys absolutely love horses and selfishly, I was really looking forward to horseback riding on the beach. I even considered telling her that I would go riding while the boys stayed behind with the Captain. But instead we left things kind of loose and said we’d give it a shot. Even when we arrived at the ranch, I wasn’t sure we’d do anything besides feed the horses a few carrots and lead the boys around the paddock a few times. Instead, Junior got comfortable on his pony Chappo right away, and one of the great riders at the ranch led his pony from her horse for the entire ride. Little Bear also fit right in, nestled on my western saddle, wedged with an extra saddle pad. We set off and I could hardly believe it when the boys lasted for an entire two-hour ride. The closest thing I even heard to a single complaint was, “Mama, I wish I was a horse so I could eat some of those leaves. I’m hungry.”
  7. The 365Outside Family enjoys a beautiful beach and time to reconnect.

    The 365Outside Family enjoys a beautiful beach and time to reconnect.

    Late afternoon quiet time in the hot tub with the kids.

    Late afternoon quiet time in the hot tub with the kids.

    The cheesy falling in love again part. Oh I know, it’s so cliche to say that you went on vacation and fell in love all over again. Of course you did – you had all your meals prepared for you, you had zero responsibilities as far as home and work, and you woke every morning to a beautiful view in a tropical setting. I mean, come on! But, even more so for me and the Captain, being someplace tropical, beautiful and warm, with long days spent moving from one adventure to the next really brought us back to the lives we were living when we first met. We met in the British Virgin Islands where we were both living and working full-time on sailboats. He was leading study abroad programs and I was a live aboard skipper and instructor for a charter company. On our days off together, we’d grab a boat and head out for a sail, anchoring to free dive before lunch or take the dinghy around to a favorite snorkel spot. The days were long and hot and busy but they were so, so beautiful. And the same could be said for Baja. Experiencing that lifestyle again, even briefly, with the boys made it so special and made me even more excited for our year afloat.

  8. The view from our balcony and bed at Casita Colibris

    The view from our balcony and bed at Casita Colibris

    The nightly sunsets at Casita Colibris. When we first checked in to our room at Casita Colibris, I was worried it would feel cramped with all four of us sleeping in such close quarters. I worried we’d be tiptoeing around the boys while they slept, or they’d be waking us with their tossing and turning. I didn’t realize we’d be so tired each night that we’d all go to bed at the same time and sleep soundly through until morning. And I didn’t realize that the nightly bedtime rituals would become my favorite part of each day, despite all the rest of the excitement. Each day, we’d take a late afternoon dip in the pool and hot tub, then shower off and dress for dinner. We’d arrive back to the room just in time for the sun to start its evening show and we had front row seats. After the boys got into their pjs, we’d all snuggle up together and watch the sun sink lower and lower as the sky turned from pink to orange to red. When the last glimmer of sun disappeared below the horizon, we’d steal a page from our friends over at Windtraveler and whisper, “Goodbye sun, thanks for a great day!” Then we’d read our final bedtime stories and sing our final lullabies by the fading lavender glow on the horizon. These special evenings together, with nothing to think about except family and the beauty around us, were my favorite moments on a favorite trip.

Little Bear and the Captain snuggle at sunset.

Little Bear and the Captain snuggle at sunset.

The choice to bring the boys abroad was an easy one for me, but there was plenty of worrying beforehand nonetheless. Of course traveling was easier before they came along. Of course adventures were simpler. I fall under the category of “control freak” when it comes to planning and preparing for adventures with the kids, and this was no different with the exception that on this trip, everything for the week had to fit into two duffel bags under 50 lbs. I packed and repacked, made list after list, and stressed myself out to the point of wondering if maybe we’d have been better off driving to Florida instead. But in the end I can honestly say that this adventure, for us, was even more than we could have hoped for. It refreshed our appetite for travel, affirmed our passion for adventure and introduced the boys to what we hope will be a lifetime of pushing beyond their comfort zone to experience all the wonder the world holds. The experience of travel is one of the greatest gifts we can share with our children and though it may not come easily and will hardly ever come without bumps along the way, doing something that makes you a little nervous in exchange for experiencing a new culture, a new environment and a new adventure is always worth it.

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Junior asked to take his picture with his favorite truck.

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Junior reaches the final summit on our hike!

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Thank you again, Thomson Family Adventures and Outdoor Families Magazine for making this trip possible for us.

 

**Though we won this experience in an online drawing, we were not compensated for this review and the opinions expressed here are solely our own.**

5 Reasons to Rethink Your Playground Playdate

Nature's playground!

Nature’s playground!

Playgrounds are a great thing. They encourage active, outdoor play in a comfortable setting and provide hours upon hours of entertainment to millions of kids. We have had countless fun playdates at tons of playgrounds and have actively sought out new ones through frantic Googling on long road trips. Playgrounds definitely have a place in our outdoor-loving hearts, so it might surprise you a little bit to hear that it’s a place of love-hate conflict.

You see, my kids love playgrounds. But me, I just don’t. I think we can do better.

In fact, when a friend in my mom group suggested that in lieu of our usual summer Sunday playground meet-ups, we explore some new green spaces together, my heart swelled about three sizes. (Solidarity, you-know-who!) I have facilitated a few of these green space meet ups in the past, and I have to say I find them so much more fun than the playground. Why not move your next playdate away from the playground too? 

Here are five reasons to give it a try.

1.  The awkward playground social dynamics. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not entirely antisocial. I’m happy to bring my kids to swimming lessons and the gym and to school and play dates. We have done tons of mommy-and-me type activities, but they usually have some kind of official facilitator or at least pre-agreed-upon rules. The playground tends to be a complete free-for-all of conflicting parenting approaches. There will be a mommy there who will follow my two-year-old with an outstretched hand, nervously spotting him from behind as he agilely scales the rope ladder. She will glance around pointedly, trying to determine who is responsible for this blatantly risky behavior and I will look at the clouds and pretend I don’t know. Don’t worry though, he’s been climbing that ladder since he was 17 months old. That mommy is just so used to helicoptering that her helicoptering cup runneth over and she feels responsible for helicoptering over other children too.

My favorite kind of playground: an empty one. No awkward social dynamics here!

My favorite kind of playground: an empty one. No awkward social dynamics here!

On the other end of the spectrum there will be a child who is a complete jerk and seems to be completely unattended. She will probably push someone’s little brother down the slide just as he’s getting settled at the top. She will shove past another kid on the stairs. She will elbow her way between my son and the monkey bars, his fingers two centimeters from wrapping around the first rung, and announce, “I was just about to use these.” And as my son helplessly looks at me with pleading eyes, I will be scanning for the one other mommy on the bench whose head is craned down towards her phone but who is peaking up from behind her long bangs, eyes squinted at us to see how we’re going to play this.

Then there’s the kid who sits planted at the bottom of the slide. It’s hard to tell whether he’s trying to piss people off or he’s just completely oblivious. There’s an older kid lurking around the bushes with a Spiderman mask on, popping up to startle toddlers and then disappearing again like a demonic jack-in-the-box. The list goes on and on. Sometimes I think that playgrounds are just where parents go to pretend that they don’t know their own kids.

There's no doubt they love the swings, but the playground bliss never lasts very long for these two.

There’s no doubt they love the swings, but the playground bliss never lasts very long for these two.

2. Playgrounds don’t encourage creativity. Yes you can maybe straddle the swing, or twist it up and then whirl in circles, but let’s be honest, there are far fewer ways to play with a swing on a playground than there are to play with a stick in the middle of the forest. Is it too much to ask that our kids use their imaginations today? Do we really have to go to the boat-shaped playground for them to act out their wild pirate games? When I was a kid I had to create the pirate playscape from scratch (you know, after I walked six miles through the snow to school, uphill both ways). I would far rather watch my kids turn a forest clearing into a “home” complete with kitchen, bed and bath, than see them serve up pretend ice cream over the pre-fab plastic counter of the molded playground ice cream stand. And lately, playgrounds seem to have become more and more involved. They used to consist of a climbing structure, a slide and some swings. How did we get from there to here?

We don't need a playground climbing apparatus to test our limits.

We don’t need a playground climbing apparatus to test our limits.

3. They are too safe. Let me go on record for a second here and say, I’m all for safety! I love safety. I’m a safety advocate. Safety, safety, safety! But as I’ve noted before, I want my kids to learn how to manage risks so that they will be safer outdoors long term, and if they play only in environments in which those risks are managed for them, they will never learn to gauge their own safety. Recently I sat on a bench next to a mother who drew sharp, pointed breaths every time our kids reached the top platform at our local playground.

“That open rail at the top of the ladder there just scares me,” she said to me, shaking her head.

I smiled. “Well look on the bright side. If he throws himself off that thing, he won’t make that mistake twice.”

“You’re right, I never thought of it that way!” she laughed.

I would rather they run wild here than inside the playground fence.

I would rather they run wild here than inside the playground fence.

4. The hyper contagion. Maybe it’s the sheer number of little people in a confined space. Maybe it’s their combined knowledge that they are here to have LOTS OF FUN. Maybe it’s a kiddy  conspiracy to make me lose my mind. Whatever the reason, kids go absolutely bonkers at the playground. Mine always seem to get caught right up in the chaos and run around in the middle of the sugar-rabid pack, screaming and bumping into one another. This on its own wouldn’t be so bad but the pack mentality usually results in what I would call VERY POOR CHOICES. The last time we were at the playground, the kiddy pack found a pile of sticks, only they were closer to logs than sticks. Each child grabbed (at least) one and proceeded to run as fast as he could while bashing the log into anything within log’s reach. They were taking full-strength baseball swings at playground equipment sending out an explosion of splinters with each hit. When we put an end to this game, they found one of those long metal gates that goes across a driveway  to keep vehicles out. You know the ones, the long metal boom that extends at exactly kid-height? They began to push it around and around until it gained its own momentum and they had to flee at low levels in real terror before they were knocked unconscious. See the problem here? Playgrounds on their own are too safe. My bored kids in a pack mentality at the playground are too reckless. Can’t a mom catch a break!

Our usual playground exit style.

Our usual playground exit style.

5. We always leave worse off than when we arrived. This follows from the above hyper contagion. No matter the amount of prep I do, talking in advance about how long we’ll stay, offering plenty of warnings before it’s time to go, bribes, threats, etc, I always leave with crying children. Always. Even if no one gets hurt, they always reach their breaking point one way or another. The hyper contagion boils over and they come crashing down.

 

A nature hike with friends this winter was an awesome way to connect while getting fresh air and exploring our environment.

A nature hike with friends this winter was an awesome way to connect while getting fresh air and exploring our environment.

Don’t get me wrong, we will continue to go to playgrounds. We will continue to participate full force in this insanity, but I do so halfheartedly. I sometimes want my kids to get the chance to choose our destinations, and that often means the playground. I sometimes want to meet friends on mutual territory, and that often means the playground. I sometimes want to be able to sit and talk with a friend while our kids run around in a confined space, and that often means the playground. But I also want my kids to explore freely, to experience wilderness, to stretch their imaginations and their physical limits, and I find that there are far better spaces for this than the playground.

Next time you’re planning to meet friends for some outdoor fun, consider a hike, a nature walk or a farm visit instead. You just may start a new tradition.        

 

Week Two of the 365Outside Challenge: 2016

January is more than halfway over, which is significant for 365Outsiders because if you live someplace seasonal in the northern hemisphere, it’s likely that January and February will be the hardest months of your challenge. And one of them is already halfway over. See how quickly this has happened?

The first barefoot beach day of 2015 was on April 15th. When will it be this year?

The first barefoot beach day of 2015 was on April 15th. When will it be this year?

In just a few short weeks we’ll be staring down February, the last of the hard work. Come March, we’ll see the ground thawing and the occasional return of balmy days when our gloves and hats are left behind again. By April there will likely be a few barefoot beach days and then perhaps a last blast of frost before the cold clears for spring and boxes of winter gear are taped up and shoved into the attic. The flowers will begin to push aside mounds of muddy soil as they sprout. The air will smell earthy and moist. The ground will once again bubble and give beneath our feet. It really will not be long. The hard work is here now, but not for long.

If you have not been following along on Facebook, here is what you missed this week:

Monday: Junior insisted that we go to the playground and I relented, only to pry two crying, tired children away from it when it was time to go home. This is pretty much how we always leave the playground and is one of several reasons why we do not often go there. I will write more about playgrounds another time. Suffice it to say, they are not my favorite. Also on Monday, I shared a photo from the Let’s Go Outside Revolution that summarized the scarcity of children playing outdoors by comparing them to an endangered species. Scary thought.

Image courtesy of the Let's Go Outside Revolution

Image courtesy of the Let’s Go Outside Revolution

Tuesday: I shared tips for layering up and dressing appropriately for the cold weather.

Picnics don't have to be reserved for sunny summer days.

Picnics don’t have to be reserved for sunny summer days.

Wednesday: We had a picnic! Since starting our first 365Outside Challenge in 2015, I’ve found my thinking around seasonal activities has dramatically shifted. Picnics used to be a fair weather activity for mild spring or summer days. More recently though, we’ve had them year round. We even sometimes have rainy day picnics in the backyard playhouse and eat to the sound of the rain drumming on our roof.

Thursday: I shared an important reminder that many campsites book up for the summer starting now. If you are interested in a summer camping trip (and you should be!) check Reserve America to find campsites near you. Some even offer sparse accommodations to choose from such as cabins and yurts.

Wild turkey tracks in the snow.

Wild turkey tracks in the snow.

Friday: We went for a nature walk. These also fall under the category of previously seasonal but now year round activity in our family. Though it’s certainly easier to find traces of wildlife in the warmer months, there is still plenty to see if you slow down and carefully observe. We look for prints in the snow, discarded shells or seeds from animals eating, and even holes in the ground in which critters might be sleeping. We recently learned that you can tell when a groundhog is hibernating in its hole by the frost around the opening, which forms when the rodent’s breath condenses.

Junior really loved these Strider Snow ski attachments for his balance  bike.

Junior really loved these Strider Snow ski attachments for his balance bike.

Saturday: It finally snowed here, a tiny bit. Junior got to try out the Strider Snow Ski attachments for his balance bike (verdict: two thumbs up) and I began to research cross country skiing adventures.

Sunday: For the second week in a row we were lucky enough to be joined by good friends for a hike. Junior did the whole two-mile circuit on his own, and Little Bear lasted most of the way before going in the carrier for a snuggle. This week we walked at the Coolidge Reservation, which is a great hike for little legs since it traverses a broad variety of terrain including a short bridge over a stream, and comes out on a beautiful rolling field down to the ocean, all in the span of a mile. After a scenic snack, it’s mostly downhill on the way back to the parking lot.

A great hike with friends today at the Coolidge Reservation in Manchester.

A great hike with friends today at the Coolidge Reservation in Manchester.

Now we look forward to a new week with snow in the forecast. Don’t hate me too much when I say I welcome it. Remember, adventure is all a frame of mind.

The 365Outside Challenge: 2016 will be open for new registrants through the end of the month. Many thanks to our friends over at Merrohawke Nature School who shared the challenge in their  newsletter this month.

Keep spreading the word, friends!

Week One of the 365Outside Challenge: 2016

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.

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