Refresh Your Life

Tag: outside

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.        


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?


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

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.

3 Things You Should Know About the Warm Weather in the Northeast

November 2, 2014

November 2, 2014

November 3, 2015

November 3, 2015









We live in southern New England and though white Christmases are a rare treat, even rarer is what we had this year. After the boys were done ripping open their gifts and the adults were done sipping coffee and mimosas, we headed outside. But we went out without the usual rigamarole of wrestling mittens, hats, and boots on. This year it was 68 degrees out.

55 degrees for our full moon walk on Christmas!

55 degrees for our full moon walk on Christmas!

This fall (and now winter) has been unbelievable. Back in October I kept telling myself, this must be the last beach day. I would pause on the wooden boardwalk as I headed back to the parking lot, taking a deep breath to savor the last sips of summer. I’d think to myself, soak it up, the last warm day to run around at the beach with the sand in our toes. The last breeze that doesn’t chill our spines and force us further into our jackets and scarves. In November, on a random 70-degree day, we met friends at the beach for lunch and lay on the sand, remarking how this was most definitely the last blast. “I don’t think we’ll even see 60 degrees again until April,” I sighed.

But here we are. We’ve had two days in a row of near-70 degree weather. It is so amazing, yet also somewhat disconcerting. What is going on? Is it global warming? Should we be feeling guilty about enjoying this strange pattern?

Here’s what you should know:

  1. El Niño years generally mean less snow and warmer temperatures in the northeast and this is being called a “Super” El Niño. El Niño occurs when temperatures in the central Pacific Ocean are higher than normal. This happens with variable frequency but usually once every 3-5 years. It lasts 9-12 months and peaks in January or February. This year’s El Niño is the strongest on record so it stands to reason that a great deal of this unseasonable warmth can be attributed to it.
  2. The strong arctic oscillation is trapping cold air to the north. When the cold stream of winds that run above Alaska and Canada are in a strong rotation, they remain stuck in the arctic region. Remember all the fuss last winter about that mysterious polar vortex blanketing New England? That’s what happens when the arctic oscillation is weak, allowing the cold winds to move further south. A strong oscillation means warm air for us here in New England.
  3. The role of climate change in this specific weather pattern is uncertain. Climate change is definitely happening and globally, average temperatures are predicted to climb 20 times faster over the next century than they ever have before. But climate change on its own cannot explain average December temperatures in New York City that are 14 degrees higher than normal. Instead, scientists are considering the greater role climate change may play in its effects on En Niño and the arctic oscillation, which are the primary players in this bizarre pattern.

Last winter, we were hit with the opposite of extreme weather and were blanketed with over 8 feet of snow in just one month. Already we are seeing snow in the extended forecast so, enjoy this relatively mild weather while you can. Although the winter is predicted to be a mild one overall, this particular warmth is a rare treat that won’t last long. Savor this.

December 3, 2015 - Beach day in our pajamas.

December 3, 2015 – Beach day in our pajamas.

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.


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.


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.


You Have 100 Days. How Will You Use Them?

For our family, 2015 will be the year we learned to play outside. It sounds simple, almost even silly, to have learned something that used to be a normal way of life in times past.  It was not long ago that everyone was outside every day barring the most extremes of weather.  Children walked to school or did not go to school at all.  Cows needed to be milked, water needed to be fetched, and socialization happened exclusively face to face when one person arrived at the other’s home, work, church, etc.  Slowly over time, inventions of convenience and comfort took over.  Electricity, plumbing, heating, telephones, televisions, cell phones, computers, internet.  And don’t get me wrong, I’m beyond grateful to live in a time when I can flush the toilet from the comfort of my own home, but there is still something to be said for simplicity.

Little Bear, after a sledding wipeout.

Little Bear, after a sledding wipeout.


The first snowfall of 2015, when it still seemed novel and exciting!

Starting the 365Outside Challenge on
January 1, 2015 was the change my family needed to become happier, healthier people.  But it did not come naturally.  There were days when I hoped the kids would forget to ask, and I could forget to offer.  There were days when I had to bribe the kids with the promise of hot chocolate upon our return.  There were countless eye rolls and furrowed brows.  There was one day, when it was 29 degrees below

freezing, that we only lasted for five minutes. It literally took us longer to put on all our gear than it did for us to call it quits that day.  We live in northeastern Massachusetts, where this winter’s snowfall broke just about every record in the books.  There was a stretch of 30 days during which we received just shy of 8 feet of snow.  The plow piles were so huge that they didn’t finally melt completely on our street until two weeks before Memorial Day, and in the city they lasted well into the summer.

Endless possibilities for Junior and an icicle.

Endless possibilities for Junior and an icicle.

But what we will remember of 2015 will have very little to do with how horrible the winter was.  We will remember morning walks down the unplowed street under a canopy of glistening trees.  We will remember icicles that became swords, light sabers, popsicles, and jewels.  There were afternoons filled with sledding, snow forts, and Tonka trucks barreling through the slush. Later there were glorious puddle stomps, dump truck mud adventures, worm hunts underneath the soggy woodpile.  2015 was the year of soggy boots and mittens hanging by the woodstove, jars of imprisoned bugs emptied back into the garden, a bucket for sandy feet by the door.  Junior learned to swim and ride a two-wheeler.  Little Bear begged to steer the boat and ride along on surf trips with The Captain.  We watched countless sunsets over the river as we hurried to pack up a day’s worth of beach gear and get the boat back before dark.  We hiked, we picnicked, we adventured.  For us, 2015 will not go down in history as the worst winter on record.  It will go down as the best.


Today, there are 100 days left in the year 2015.  100 days to change the way you remember this year.  100 days to make outdoor play your norm.  By pledging to get outside every day for the remainder of 2015, you can refresh your life, both physically and mentally.

To read more about the 365Outside Challenge, click here.

To learn more about the health benefits of daily outdoor activity, check out our Get Up and Go Factsheet available here.

Why wait until New Years to make a resolution?  You have 100 days to set a happier, healthier precedent before the new year starts.  Are you ready to refresh your life?

How Playing Outside Makes Me a Better Mom

Outside, we operate at kid-speed.

Outside, we operate at kid-speed.

My kids are too young to really explain to me why they are happiest outside, but I know that they are.  Outside, they aren’t bored.  They aren’t fussy or needy.  They aren’t tantrum-throwing tyrants who have led our parenting motto to the international policy of not negotiating with terrorists. Outside they are the leaders, and they thrive in their own time.

A Hurried Life

During our normal day-to-day, I feel like I’m always rushing.  And I feel like everyone around me is always rushing too.  It is a rushed world.  For me, one of the hardest parts of parenting is slowing down for my kids.

Little Bear, determined to do everything in his own time.

Little Bear, determined to do everything in his own time.

Sometimes I’m not patient with them when it happens.  I mean, I’m trying to get two toddlers into shoes and jackets, out the door, and into the car before we’re late for school which leads to being late for swimming which leads to being late for grocery shopping which leads to forgetting milk, bread, and toilet paper, and/or being late for school pick up.  And either way, that leads to a tired, hangry kid who wants to flail on the floor by the door instead of taking off his shoes.

Nope, that’s not a typo.  He’s hungry-angry.  It’s the worst kind of toddler that there is.

But I know that if I push more now, that if I get loud and put on my teacher-voice and demand that he take off his shoes IMMEDIATELY (which is exactly what I want to do more than anything), he will crumble.  See, beyond his hangry gnashing teeth and rigid arched back, I can still see those scared eyes, begging me to please slow down.  He just doesn’t know how to tell me yet.

An exhausted, unshowered, hurried Mama, doing what Mamas do.

An exhausted, unshowered, hurried Mama, doing what Mamas do.

Slowing Down

He needs me to pause.  To talk quietly with him.  To touch him gently.  He needs me to wait until he is ready to take off his shoes because it’s the only thing he can control right now.  AND IT IS NOT EASY.  Honestly, I want to pry them off his little feet.  But instead, we are sitting on the cold tiles in the entryway, him sniffling quietly and me just sitting there with a hand on his back.  This is motherhood.

Playing outside daily has helped me to reconnect.  Playing outside is slow time.  It is kid time.  The minutes may fly by, but in my role as facilitator and then spectator, I am slow.  Even when the boys are running past in a blur of raincoats and muddy boots, I am watching them carefully, slowly, trying to memorize these moments.

Sometimes outdoor play is just a blur of toddler energy steaming past.

Sometimes outdoor play is a blur of toddler energy steaming past.

“I Live You.”

The Captain was offshore last week and I sent him a picture of the boys.  He wrote back, “I love them,” and I wrote to him, “I love them too.”  Only, when I was typing it, in my rush, I wrote, “I live them too.”  I quickly corrected it and sent my response, but I thought about it for a long time after.  It was even more true than what I had meant to say.

I do love them.  I love them so deeply and so intensely that my core aches when I pause to feel it.  But even more so, I live them.  From the moment I wake up, they are my world.

I live to hear their little feet padding down the stairs in the morning.  I live to snuggle them while they cozy up with their morning cup of milk.  I live to press my nose into the spot on their heads where the hair spirals and I breathe them in.  I live to check on them before I go to sleep at night, gently tucking the corners of the sheets back in, putting away books left in their beds, kissing their sticky sweet foreheads.  And in other ways too, I live them. I live to feed them, to bathe them, to teach them, and to raise them.  I live every moment of them, even when they are writhing around on the floor with dog hair stuck to their teary faces.

Other times, outdoor play just means lounging on the back deck with your brother, checking out the clouds.

Other times, outdoor play just means lounging on the back deck with your brother, checking out the clouds.

So when we are outside, I live that time with them.  I try to notice what they are noticing.  I try to let them lead our adventures.  They become the trailblazers, the chiefs, the innovators.  Sometimes I offer activities or ideas, which they sometimes accept and sometimes choose otherwise.  Our time outdoors is just as much about letting my kids be kids at their own speed as it is about reconnecting with nature.

To the person thinking: “That’s great, but I could never do that.”

First off, don’t worry.  There are many of you, and you’re in good company.  So if you thought I was singling you out, breathe easy, friend.  The blog has only been up 24 hours and this is the comment I hear the most.

There’s a tricky balance in starting something like this. The 365Outside Challenge started as a challenge for me and my family.  When it began, I had no idea if we’d be able to see it through.  How am I going to carve out the time for this?  Will I be able to motivate myself to go out when it’s 16 degrees and windy?  What if the kids mutiny? We’re just so busy.  I’m just so tired.

I bet you’re nodding.  Who isn’t busy?  Who isn’t tired?  We had to start small.

Sometimes getting outside just means going for a bike ride around the neighborhood.

Sometimes getting outside just means going for a bike ride around the neighborhood.

We got outside on New Years Day for a nice long walk beside the frozen river.  The next day we dusted off the bikes and rode them up and down the hill on our street.  When we visited our cousins for the following two days, the boys pretended to hunt dragons on the back hill before it began to rain, sleet, and snow. Eventually we tried “sledding” and the kids ended up soaked but stoked before we went inside for hot chocolate.  Soon enough we had made it seven days, a full week.

365Outside is more concept than competition.  It is a choice to get outside more.  It is a pledge to lead healthier and happier lives through exposure to nature.  It is a promise that you can refresh your life.  It is a breath of fresh air.

Stuck at JFK airport for 12 hours. THE WORST.

Stuck at JFK airport for 12 hours. THE WORST.

For our family, in our circumstances, it has worked to play outside every day.  Today marks day 257 in our journey.

Truthfully, there was one day, back in February, when we did not get outside, but that was only because we were flying out of Boston and missed a connecting flight, dooming us to stand-by purgatory for 12 hours.  Don’t get me started on that day.  It was all around horrible.

But my point is, do what works for you.  Your challenge does not have to be 365 days.  It could be every day for a week.  It could be once a week for a year.  It could be ten days a month.   Create your own challenge.  Choose something that is outside of your comfort zone, but not unachievable.  Start with a week and grow it from there.

You never know, your seven day challenge could turn into 365 days.  Everyone has to start somewhere.  What’s keeping you inside today?

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