365Outside

Refresh Your Life

Tag: growing up

Happy Birthday, 365Outside.org!

September 2015

September 2015

Although the original 365Outside Challenge started for our family nearly two years ago, this week marks a year since I started the 365Outside blog. It also marks my seventh wedding anniversary with The Captain, the beginning of our first extended sailing trip with the kids (heading out for 10 days on Friday, more on that coming soon), the first time I’ve ventured camping with the boys on my own, and the last week before the boys head back to school. It’s a week of many milestones and as such, I’ve been reflecting on the past year quite a bit.

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” – Zora Neale Hurston

October 2015

October 2015

We know all the cliches about how fast kids grow up. Looking back at some of our first posts on the blog, I can hardly believe that less than 365 short days have passed since my boys were that little. They are growing stronger, smarter and feistier by the minute.

And as our kids grow, so do we. 

A lot has changed for me this year. Our first year of the 365Outside Challenge cleansed my mental health. This second time, I’ve recommitted to a healthier physical lifestyle – eating more nutritiously, drinking less alcohol and exercising more regularly. In doing so, I’m regaining some of the energy and strength I lost after having 2 kids in a year and a half. I can do pull ups again and my endurance is finally back. There are little shadows of abs and biceps that were hidden for years. My body will never be the same as it was before babies, but I’m proud of it and confident in its abilities. The softness in my belly was my babies’ first home. These saggy boobs provided their first meals. The streaks of white rubbery stretch marks outline sacrifices to create new life.

November 2015

November 2015

I’ve recommitted to my writing career this year as well and achieved my goal of getting published offsite at least once a month. Since the launch of my writing website I’m finding work as a content writer too, producing pieces I’m proud of for companies I believe in and getting paid along the way.

I’m proud of my kids all the time. But it feels good to be proud of me for once, too. 

December 2015

December 2015

And of course, with all our growth and change comes more independence all around. The boys play for extended periods in the yard on their own. They climb trees. They build ramps and jumps for their bikes. They know how to dig clams and paddle a surfboard. This summer I’ve started taking them out on the boat by myself. Knowing I can trust them on the boat has allowed us to explore the river on quiet days when The Captain is working. And now we are camping without the Captain for the first time. We are with good friends, so there is plenty of support. But the packing and parenting are all on me.

January 2016

January 2016

The first time we were preparing to go for a boat ride without The Captain, Junior asked sweetly, “But who will drive the boat?” I froze. I thought I was raising feminists and here was my four-year-old thinking that I can’t even drive a boat on my own. After an uneventful trip to the beach and back he turned to me and said, “Good job, Mama. Good job driving that boat.” I smirked back, kind of grateful and kind of indignant, and told him “Good job to you too, honey. Good job riding in that boat.”

February 2016

February 2016

It was kind of sarcastic but kind of true. If it weren’t for each other and the ways we’ve grown this year, we wouldn’t be able to do it on our own. But here we are, just one short year later, and somehow one long year stronger, one year smarter, one year feistier.

Happy anniversary to us. 

There’s another big year ahead. Look out, world.         

March 2016

March 2016

April 2016

April 2016

May 2016

May 2016

June 2016

June 2016

July 2016

July 2016

August 2016

August 2016

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?

 

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.        

 

The Bucket List

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

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

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

The Background

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

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

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

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

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

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

Junior's first boated at 16 days old.

Junior’s first boat ride at 16 days old.

Junior nestled safely in the cockpit while Mama sails.

Junior nestled safely in the cockpit while Mama sails.

The Kids Arrive

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

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

The Future

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

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

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

Signed, sealed, delivered!

Signed, sealed, delivered!

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

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

Sailing is in his blood!

Sailing is in his blood!

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

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

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

The newest member of the 365Outside family!

The newest member of the 365Outside family!

 

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

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

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

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

A late afternoon ice hike with daddy.

A late afternoon ice hike with daddy.

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

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

1. Create family traditions that include nature

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

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

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

2. Encourage a sense of wonder and curiosity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Provide unstructured playtime outdoors, away from playgrounds

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

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

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

5. Surround yourself with like-minded friends

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

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

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

 

6. Create a nature-rich environment in your home

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

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

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

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

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

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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7 Slideshow Moments That Sent My Mom-Hormones Over The Edge

I think us mommy bloggers need a support group.  “Hi I’m Mama and it’s been four years since I wasn’t someone’s mom.”  It defines who we are and what we do every. single. day.  Some of you may be wondering, what happened to 365Outside?  Don’t worry, I’m still here, and we’re still outside every day.  I’ll get right back to blogging all about it as soon as I’m done with this.  But sometimes our outdoor time is drowned out by mommy moments.

Mommy moments.

Mommy moments.

That’s what happened last week when Junior turned four.  He was sick, and he’s also been really moody.  Which of course makes me moody too.  I sometimes tell my friends that pregnancy hormones don’t go away.  They just get worse.  From the moment you get pregnant, you are doomed to a lifetime of watching your heart grow and pull away from you. Before kids, I was emotionally balanced.  Now, I’m constantly walking around on the verge of tears and just about anything can send me over the edge:  a son rubbing noses with me, a sappy ad for diapers, a reality TV reunion.  Heck, even those Youtube videos of dogs welcoming their soldiers home.  I’m telling you, it’s BAD.

So there we were, on his birthday, and of course I was teetering on the edge ALL DAY just thinking about it.  He needed help tying his shoes, and as I knelt in front of him, he leaned into me and wrapped his arms around me, holding me tightly against him.  Oh god, here come the tears.  And in that moment, all the other moments came rushing back to me, like a slideshow of sloppy mom-tears.  I couldn’t help it.

Brand new.

Brand new.

1.  The room is too bright and he has just arrived, all warm and moist, whisked away by a nurse to the stainless NICU station where they check that he’s alright.  I am euphoric and don’t understand their distress, or his.  I am telling them that my husband was supposed to cut the cord.  After they’ve taken him, I am calling after them, telling them his name.  We’d kept it a secret until he was born, and I can’t wait any longer.  Soon he is back, rooting on my chest, eyes closed.  I think that he looks like the baby squirrel I found when I was little, fallen from its nest after a storm, blindly pawing for anything warm.  I am pressing my nose against his head, against the wet swirl of dark hair, breathing through him.  Trying to inhale this moment.  Trying to keep it. My eyes well with tears.

Big brother?!

Big brother?!

2.  Fast forward and we are all in the tiny downstairs bathroom, the three of us, our perfect little family.  I am holding the stick, and the lines come up immediately bright.  I toss it on the counter.  Maybe too hard.  My husband is smiling.  Maybe too hard.  I am scared, and excited, and shocked.  I am looking down at the baby on the floor, who is staring up at me with wide eyes, pulling on my pants, trying to stand.  He is still a baby, I am thinking.  And soon there will be another.  Two babies.  Then I think the words, “big brother.”  My eyes well with tears.

Best friends.

Best friends.

3.  Fast forward and we are back in the too bright room, but this time we are here after a blissful blur, a baby born in the bathtub, just a couple hours after I’d put big brother to bed.  There is a messy mop of blond hair hanging over the edge of the plastic bassinet, his little feet scaling its shelves below.  He is wearing a shirt that says “Best Bro Ever.”  He doesn’t understand what we’re all doing here, with this little baby.  He doesn’t know that this little baby will grow to be his best friend.  My eyes well with tears.

Two babies.

Two babies.

4.  Fast forward.  We are home, and I am covered in babies.  The little one is on my breast.  The bigger one is crawling up my legs and snuggling into the softness of my stomach.  He needs reminders to be gentle, to be slow.  He is sticky and smells like soap.  He pats the baby’s head, rubs his back.  He says, “I love you, brother.”  It is the first time.  My eyes well with tears.

First day of school.

First day of school.

5.  Fast forward and it’s the first day of preschool.  He is running ahead of me, his backpack dragging along the sidewalk behind him.  I have to run to catch his hand, so that I can hold it while we walk through the doors.  It is me who wants to hold his hand this time.  He barrels into his classroom, not a second glance.  There are two kids crying, grasping at their mommies’ legs, begging them to stay.  I have to call him back to give him a kiss goodbye.  As I’m leaving, I peek through the window and see him playing trucks.  Behind him, his teacher is prying another toddler away from her mom.  I’m not sure which is worse.  My eyes well with tears.

An epic meltdown.

An epic meltdown.

6.  Fast forward and we’re in the locker room at the gym.  His face is smeared with snot and tears, and he is almost purple as he shrieks that he wants to go swimming NOW.  But I tell him, it’s too late.  His lesson is over, and he refused to get in the water, stubbornly planting himself on the wall of the pool for 20 minutes.  We cannot go swimming now.  He throws his body on the floor and wails.  I open the door to our changing stall because I’m worried someone will think that something terrible is happening here.  I have to carry him to the car.  He is kicking and screaming, his head is flailing.  I am worried I may drop him.  There are other moms in the lobby on our way out, who sadly smile knowingly.  One of them pauses to tell me, “You’re doing a good job.”  And my eyes well with tears.

Still three, one last time.

Still three, one last time.

7.  Fast forward, too fast, and we’re here.  He is turning four tomorrow and I’ve found his beloved satin blue Lovey downstairs long after he’s gone to sleep.  Up until just recently he wouldn’t go to bed without it.  Tonight, he didn’t even notice it was missing.  I sneak into his room to check on him before I go to bed. He’s asleep, and I tuck his Lovey in behind his head, where he will find it right away when he rolls over and reaches for it in his sleep.  He might not need it anymore, but I need to know it’s there.  It’s the last time I will see him while he’s still three. My wild, thoughtful, funny, perceptive little boy who is no longer a toddler. I cannot believe we are here.  My eyes well with tears.

Junior Turns Four!

I cannot believe that this little boy is four years old today!

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