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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.

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?

 

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.**

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.

There’s Still Time to Join the 365Outside Challenge: 2016

 

Will you join us in our journey towards a happier, healthier lifestyle in 2016?

Will you join us in our journey towards a happier, healthier lifestyle in 2016?

365Outside has received over 60,000 days of outdoor play pledged for the year 2016 and we will continue to accept new pledges through the end of January. We are also featured in our local newspaper today! Have you joined us to lead a happier, healthier lifestyle in 2016?

If you haven’t already taken the pledge (it’s free!) head on over to the 365Outside Challenge: 2016 to get started. While you’re at it, tell a friend or two and spread the word.

If you are looking for some new ideas for outdoor activities to get you started, please sign up to follow our blog by entering your email in our subscription link located in the righthand sidebar. We promise not to send you any spam and you are free to unsubscribe at any time.

We will also be posting daily inspiration on our public Facebook page and compiling it weekly onto the blog from here on out. You can keep up with our daily activities too, by checking us out on Instagram.

If you’re on Facebook or Instagram please tag us @365Outside or document your own journey with #365outside. We love finding inspiration through our friends!

We wish you all a 2016 filled with sunshine, rain and snow, and the mindset to smile through it all. Happy New Year and welcome aboard!

~365Outside | Refresh Your Life~

PS – We promise not to clog your inbox with loads of junk because we hope you’re way too busy playing outside to read any of it. If you’d like to follow along, make sure to sign up for further information and inspiration by following our blog, Facebook, or Instagram accounts. Otherwise, you’re on your own from here and we wish you all our best.

Eco-Friendly Gift Guide

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The 365Outside Eco-Friendly Gift Guide is live over at Outdoor Families Magazine!

My favorite is #3 and I know someone who is going to be happy to find one under our tree this year.

Click here to have a look!

And don’t forget to join the 365Outside Challenge: 2016 by pledging your days outside and committing to a happier, healthier you in the new year!

Are You Ready For the 365Outside Challenge: 2016?

2016 challengeWe are in the final stretch of our 365Outside Challenge. We have played outside for 352 consecutive days and counting. But it doesn’t feel like a challenge anymore. It’s just our life now; it’s what we do.

One of the most important parts of this challenge for us has been the way that it’s rooted us as a family. It provides a sense of self. We are a family who appreciates nature and loves to be outside. We are a family who plays outside every day regardless of the weather. It’s easy to get lost in vague blanket statements when trying to define what makes a family unique. But this is a very concrete way that we’ve come together around a cause that’s important to us all, both physically and mentally.

The boys giving me a lesson in risk management!

The boys giving me a lesson in risk management!

It’s hard to say how much of who my kids are has been born from this project and how much would have developed regardless. The age old nature vs nurture debate. Kids grow quickly, and mine are at an age where they seem to develop by leaps and bounds every day. Regardless of why, I can say confidently that over the past year I have watched both my boys turn into complete little rippers. They tear around on balance bikes, barrel through the woods on foot, scale anything in their way and have an absolute blast doing it. They paddle around on surfboards, jump into water over their heads and beg to go faster as we head out on our boat. They swim, ski, sled and ride. They barrel out our door in sunshine, rain, sleet, snow, wind and even complete darkness. I am so proud of them. I am so impressed by them. And I am sure that as they get older, I will so have my hands full with them.

A quiet moment listening for coyotes.

A quiet moment listening for coyotes.

But despite their no-fear, high-speed approach, there are moments of quiet too. They continue to be deeply interested by habitats so we are constantly pausing to look at bird nests, beehives and tide pools, nooks in a tree that could possibly provide a spot for a mouse to nest or deep crevices into the rocks that may be big enough for a bear’s cave or a wolf’s den. The boys watch the sky for clouds. They make acute observations about animal tracks and weather patterns. They admonish me a sharp “Shhhh Mama!! I’m listening for birds!” as we make our way through the forest. For every moment of wildness there has been a moment of peace. Sometimes they are even one and the same.

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We’re ready to take on 2016. Are you?

As we bid farewell to 2015, we look ahead to the new year. There is a lot in store for 2016, and I can’t wait to share it all. We already have three camping trips booked and there’s a much grander adventure that we’re looking forward to working on in 2016. But we’ll save that story for another time. There is so much ahead.

For right now, I am excited to announce that the 365Outside Challenge: 2016 will be open for pledges starting today and lasting through the end of January. Of course, there are actually 366 days in 2016, so you have a great chance to be a complete overachiever and hold the record for  the next 7 years to come.

Not sure you can hack a whole year outside? Check out some of my tips for making it out the door here. Or, simply pledge a number of days that makes more sense for you.

To read more, or to pledge some time outside in the new year, check out the 365Outside Challenge: 2016.

Why I Fenced the Kids In

The beauty of the backyard fence

The beauty of the backyard fence!

Our yard backs up to some overgrown woods that fade into a very muddy brackish creek tucked in behind the salt marsh. It’s neither particularly beautiful nor particularly ugly, but rather just a normal little patch of trees and undergrowth. Before kids, we blazed a trail through it complete with a fallen tree bridge over the creek. The path came out on the street behind ours which leads to the marina and a few open hay fields great for dog walks. But, the path was never maintained enough to juggle a baby while dancing through it, so eventually the low growing thorns prevailed. All that’s left of it now is a rotting log bobbing in the dirty water.

Junior frequently does a little "babysitting" in the backyard while Mama makes dinner.

Junior frequently does a little “babysitting” in the backyard while Mama makes dinner.

Last year we finally fenced the backyard in. It feels wrong to me. I want my kids to explore and adventure and feel unrestricted in the great outdoors. So I’m sure there will come a time when I don’t want the tall stockade fence that runs the perimeter of our small backyard. But that time isn’t now.

Before the fence, I dreamed that someday my kids would be the ones blazing trails through the woods, resurrecting the remains of the old treehouse perched behind the neighbor’s house and living out their fantasy world in shadowy hollows and hideaways. Once my oldest was on the move though, all I wanted was a fence to stop him. I know how hypocritical it sounds, when I really do want to raise my kids to be free range explorers. And I do realize how lucky we are to have this funny triangle of overgrown woods nestled between the back of our home and those of our neighbors’. Someday my kids will be the princes of this tiny kingdom, but not yet.

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The fence also gives us a little privacy for summertime sprinkler play.

Right now, I need the security of knowing that I can turn my back to them for just two minutes while I drain the pasta into the sink. I need to know that one is not chasing the other further and further into the mud before someone loses a boot and then lands with a splat, covered in thick sludge ten minutes before we need to leave for school. I need the firmness of physical boundaries that can’t be broken as easily as the verbal ones I set with with a sharp, “Not past that tree! Stop right there!” I want them to explore and play outside of my watchful gaze, but I can’t yet trust them to stay close on their own.

Holiday party mayhem after dark!

Holiday party mayhem after dark!

Last weekend Santa arrived to town by clam boat at the boat ramp down our street. There were carolers and little train rides and lots of sugar and hot drinks to go around. We invited some friends to mosey two minutes up the road to our house before and after they greeted the big man. With lights strung around the back fence, and a crowd of parents to patrol the gates, the kids were let loose to run rampant in the relative security of the backyard. It was well after dark and though lit, the yard seemed vast and dark and the kids went bonkers.  They rode bikes on the grass, hid in the playhouse, pushed each other around on the tractors, weaved their way in and out of the lilac bushes, and played some kind of catch-dodgeball hybrid, all while the parents chatted around the fire pit in the driveway. The backyard fence meant our two year old could run loose with the big kids. It meant the adults did not have to take shifts combing the woods for runaways. It meant that we could let the kids be kids without the overbearing gaze of parents. This is the time for a backyard fence.

There will come a day sometime soon when I won’t want the fence. There will be a day when the boys are ready to stake their flag in the wooded empire, claiming their kingdom. There will be plenty of days for tree climbing and stick swords and rope swings hung haphazardly over thin green branches. But today, I’ll drink my coffee in peace knowing that they can’t escape quite yet.  Today, they still live in my kingdom.

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Why We Don’t Buy Into the “Season of Gratitude,” And Neither Should You!

Storefront Seasonal Gratitude

This whole “season of gratitude” business has been on my mind a lot lately.  The weather is cooling, and the seasonal displays in storefronts no longer feature beach chairs or bathing suits, but instead pumpkins, hay bales, and, the ever-strange display platform for decorative gourds, the cornucopia.  Yes, there are holidays streaking across the calendar towards us.  Home Depot even has Christmas Trees out.  Seriously.  If the stores had their way, it seems, there would be a season for everything and no one would ever be able to keep up with what was next.

But indeed, with the weather still decent, there seems to have been a steady theme to my stream of consciousness looping back to “Aren’t we lucky,” and “I feel so blessed.”

Gratitude washes over me.

Junior on his first day of school, 2015

Junior on his first day of school, 2015

This is a busy time of year for us, which I believe is no different than for most other families.  There is all the back-to-school excitement, we are trying to lap up the last drops of summer, fall activities have started up, and my oldest baby is having yet another birthday. (Didn’t he JUST have one last year??)

Through all this, there are of course all the big things to be grateful for . . . we are healthy, we are together, we are content.  And there are smaller things . . . my cup of tea while I’m writing after the kids are asleep, the way the sun dances in pink streaks across the river as we dart home near sunset, the funny way The Lady prances around the backyard on her toes when the boys throw a ball for her.

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Little Bear digging for clams during a low tide sunset.

It seems strange that there is a “season” for gratitude when, at least for me, the swells of gratitude seem to flow like the tide all year round, sometimes ebbing, sometimes flooding, but always in motion.  Storefronts would like you to think, ’tis the season to be thankful!  But isn’t it always?

The gratitude washes over me.

Everyday Gratitude

Really, though, this year the gratitude I’m feeling is deeper.  It is too easy to lose track of what makes us so lucky.  It is too easy to forget that our everyday experiences are a product of privilege not afforded to many.  Someone commented on my blog a while back about people who cannot play outside because they do not have access to clean, safe, green spaces.

And it is true.  We are so blessed to live where we do, to step outside every day and worry only about whether we’ve put on enough layers, or enough sunscreen, or enough bug spray.  It is a sad reality that for some people, playing outside is not so carefree.

The gratitude washes over me.

Before we married, The Captain and I lived on a sailboat and ran study abroad programs for college students.  Over the course of our travels, we often saw deep poverty.  In Morocco there were children begging for the raincoat off my back.  In Borneo, children splashed in a dirt-brown river, using an old rotten refrigerator as a boat.  In St Lucia, a disabled teen paddled out in a dugout log to sell his homemade jewelry, his livelihood.  It was so embarrassingly easy for us to offer material help, and sail off to our next destination feeling as though we had done something altruistic and “good,” when in fact our gifts wouldn’t last long at all.

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One thing that always stood out to me was the gratitude of the children who had so little.  It seemed like the happiest children were the ones who had the least.  They were content to play with sticks and dirt for hours, so the offer of a bottle of bubbles to blow, or a plastic shovel to dig with, was akin to the most grand of gifts and set their faces alight with awe and appreciation.  They had so little that they simply could not ignore what they did have.  They took nothing for granted.

The gratitude washes over me.

Small Stuff Gratitude

We can learn something from such a simple concept, that those who have the least are often the most aware of what they do have.  It’s a sad reality when privilege becomes our day-to-day norm and we forget that it’s a privilege at all.

In fact, it’s even easier to forget that this poverty doesn’t just exist abroad.  There are people living in the depths of poverty everywhere.  And there are lots of people right here in our own country who don’t have safe places to explore, who can’t go outside without fear.  This year, I am trying to be grateful for even the smallest things.

IMG_1394Today was again unseasonably warm, and I took Junior and Little Bear for a hike through a reservation to a scenic overlook where we could look across the ocean towards where The Captain’s tugboat must have been.  The hike started on a narrow trail through the woods, then widened, and finally came out to a gigantic lawn looking south across the water and towards the city.

IMG_1440The boys ran ahead, the way they do when in a large open space, as though the intrinsic nature of children (and dogs too, for that matter) is to fill such vast openness with their joy for it.  They climbed an apple tree and argued over which dot on the distant horizon might be daddy’s boat.  They ate a snack on the rocks by the water, and looked in the tide pools for minnows and crabs.  It was such a simple, perfect morning, and again I found my thinking on loop, “We are so blessed, we are so blessed, we are so blessed.”

And the gratitude washes over me.

Hard Work Gratitude

Of course, then it was time to leave.

Leaving such a place is always so much harder than arriving.  The hike back to the car was about a mile.  Little Bear wanted to be carried, so I strapped on the Ergo and snuggled him between my shoulder blades.  Junior did not want to carry his backpack, but he did not want me to carry it either.  In fact, the only thing he seemed to want at first was to writhe around on the grass and rub his tears in the dirt.  It was not pretty.  I eventually got him moving with the promise of applesauce, but he insisted on reading his map while we walked, so he kept tripping and scraping his knees.

It took us a while, and many many rounds of “I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad,” before we got back to the parking lot.  But we made it.  I was feeling exhausted and rushed, because it was lunch time and then naptime, and we were suddenly running late for both.  As we crossed the parking lot, a car pulled in next to ours.  A family got out with a boy who looked about the same age as Junior and Little Bear.

“Have a great walk,” I wished them, as we skulked past, Junior with scraped knees and tear streaked cheeks, Little Bear swinging his water bottle against my shoulder, gently showering me each time.  We must have looked a mess.

“It’s a beautiful day for it!” they smiled.  They were exuding joy at being where we were, at beginning their walk on such a beautiful day to such a beautiful place.  I had to smile, (though I suspected that their walk would probably end similarly to ours) because it’s important to think that though it’s sometimes hard work, we are blessed just to be here to put the work in, and to reap the benefits of its rewards.

The gratitude washes over me.

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The boys enjoying the vast, open space.

Glorious nap time!

Glorious nap time!

A Mother’s Prayer

The boys are napping now.  The sun is out, though it was not forecast to be, and there is a gentle warm breeze rustling the curtains.  It could be any day now that the weather turns, and we are back to bundling on layers of warmth before heading outside.  Every day now is a gift.

I shut my eyes and feel the gratitude wash over me like a mother’s prayer.  We are so blessed.  Thank you for this beautiful day.  Thank you for these beautiful children.  We feel so safe.  We feel so loved.  Thank you, thank you.

We don’t need a storefront season to remind us – we are so blessed.

And the gratitude washes over me.

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