TwitterFacebookEmailRSS

Even more reasons to go outside

Lauren F. Friedman and Kevin Loria recently published an article in Business Insider titled, 11 Scientifically Proven Reasons You Should Go Outside.  Specifically, they write about the impact of being in a forest and the mental and health benefits that can be experienced in short and long term jaunts to the woods.

I strongly advise you to read the article for yourself, but I’ll give you a quick glance at the list below. Even with my 365 Every Day Outside Challenge, I still don’t get to the woods as often as I should.  This article reminds me of just how important it is for me and for my children.

1) Improved short-term memory

2) Restored mental energy

3) Stress relief

4) Reduced inflammation

5) Better vision (especially in children)

6) Improved concentration

7) Sharper thinking and creativity

8) Possible anti-cancer effects

9) Immune system boost

10) Improved mental health

11) Reduced risk of early death

Do you experience any of these?  Which ones are the most noticeable for you?

I want to go outside with you

IMG_5691My 9 year old son says to me on Saturday, “Mom, I really want to go for a walk alone with you tomorrow–before anyone else wakes up.”

I try to hide my pride and delight and simply say, “Where should we go?  Baxter Woods?”

He replies, “No, we can just walk through the neighborhood streets. It is so peaceful when nobody is outside.”

We decide to walk to Black Cat Cafe first. We share a bagel and a chocolate croissant from Standard Baking Co. for breakfast, two things I rarely eat.  I watch as my son cuts through the croissant to share and he gives me the bigger half.  We then walk with his hot chocolate and my Americano over towards the cemetery and walk talking and sipping.  We stop to hear birds, we laugh, we hold hands. He describes the Greek stone columns we walk by and we investigate the monument for Baxter.  His desires lead the way.

The magic of the weekend morning lingers and warms me.  I know that I’m a decent mother in moments like this.  I also know that my son has formed a deep connection to the natural world, one that will comfort him his entire life.  And for this, I will be eternally grateful.

IMG_5695

What the Heck is PechaKucha?

This Fall I was invited to be a presenter at a PechaKucha Portland event at Space Gallery.  I was one of 10 sharing our passions, our talents, our crafts, or our art with the same format. We each shared 20 slides and had 20 seconds for each slide.  Six minutes and forty seconds to get people excited about our projects.

PechaKucha is a presentation format developed  by two Japanese architechs who were tired of long and boring presentations. There must have been a lot of people who were done with long-winded presentations because now these events happen in over 700 cities around the world. For more information about this global 20 x 20 movement visit their website. 

I was really excited to share the 365 Every Day Outside Challenge and the ideas behind this blog with my Portland neighbors.  You can see my video here: http://vimeo.com/85053135

If you never been to one of these events I recommend you give it a try.  It is super fun and affordable way to hear a completely random  grouping of concise descriptions of things that make people tick.

Enjoy!

 

Full Days, Dark Days, Getting Outside Anyway

It’s been a brutal winter and I don’t need a weatherperson to tell me that this is by far the worst winter we’ve had in years. We’ve had many snow storms, ice storms, and consistently frigid temperatures. School has even been canceled because of the dangerous temps. That never happens in Maine–but it’s happened twice this year.

The cold has kept my kids inside more than ever.  They aren’t going outside for recess at school and are also not going outside at aftercare. Some of their schoolmates don’t have adequate clothing for these low temps and because of this the school keeps them in for recess when it is below 18 degrees F.

What this means for this busy family is that when I pick my children up around 5:30 from aftercare the sun has set and the only outdoor time the kids have had was to and from the car on the way to school.  Then it’s a mad dash to make dinner, eat dinner, clean up from dinner, do homework, maybe have some down time, and then get ready for bed.  That means that my kids only go outside on the weekends. Not OK.  I’ve also had a hard time getting myself outside during my busy days. So we have been going on many evening winter walks. Once they’re outside they love being there… but the hardest part is always getting over that indoor-inertia, gearing up, and opening the door.

Here are some tips to make regular nighttime walks an adventure your kids will agree to:

1.  Bring headlamps or flashlights

We don’t really need them, there are so many streetlights in our neighborhood, but the kids love them.  Headlamps have come way down in price the last few years–I’ve seen LED headlamps for less than $10. Flashlights are fine, but if kids wear headlamps they can still hold your hand and throw snow balls at the same time.

2.  Let’s walk to the video store

We have a small video store near our house.  It’s about an eight minute kid-speed walk from our house–so we start by going the long way around the block and then pick out a video for pizza-movie night and walk the short way home.  Maybe you have a corner store to walk to for a loaf of bread and a piece of gum or some other simple treat.

3. Have snowball fights

Nighttime gentle snowball fights while walking.  Super fun–especially for nine year-old boys.

4.  Hide from cars

When cars come by, hide from their headlights behind telephone polls, behind snowbanks, or simply drop down and lie down on snow… the car will go by having not seen you.  Truth be told, I don’t hide–but the kids love this and is a nice way to add some adventure to a normal walk.

5.  Make up a scavenger hunt

Tell your kids you’ll give them a scavenger hunt once they’re dressed and outside. Last night I made up a list of things for them to find which included: a snowman; Christmas lights that were all white, rainbow colored, and all the same color; a snowbank higher than your waist, Valentine’s decorations, a big patch of ice that you could slide upon, a man, and a woman.  Interestingly the only things we didn’t find were Valentine’s decorations and a man. I invited my kids to add to the list.

6.  Practice funky walks

This one is brought to you by my daughter. She’s taking a hip-hop dance class in which they practice funky walks. Once she started doing it, my son had to make one up, more of a funny walk than a funky one, but nobody cares. They had races to see who could do their funky walk the fastest to the stop sign.  Sometimes it is nice to have the shelter of darkness to do things you might not do in the daylight.

7.  One-on-one dates

If you have more than one child, go for a walk with just one of them and call it a date.  Such precious alone time. The child can decide where you’ll walk, you can hold hands, you can gear the perfect let’s-do-this activity to exactly what the child wants. There’s no fighting, just a lovely mom and child outing.

I hope that my kids remember these special outings when they’re older. I parent better in these moments. I’m calmer, less stressed out, and more attentive. Getting away from our messy house, away from technology, away from all of the have-tos helps me relax into being more present with them. Outside on these walks I can give them the gift of my full attention.

______________________

PS. I won these at a holiday work party.  A friend of mine selected them for me and my bosses agreed that they were perfect. They certainly helped get the kids outside one rainy night. Lights and wipers–they don’t work well, but they sure are fun.

IMG_2410

IMG_2412IMG_2408

Baby It’s Cold Outside

The other day I looked out the window and saw one of our 20-something aged neighbors shoveling without a hat on. This happens all the time but not when the windchill is -31.  That’s crazy cold. That’s even-teenagers-will-wear hats cold.

When I was young I often refused to wear a hat and even went outside with wet hair on mornings when the temperature was below zero. Today the teenage babysitters I hire arrive wearing hardly any outdoor gear. I often warn them ahead of time that they’re going to go outside with my kids. Not sure what’s up with teenagers–maybe they’re truly not cold.

As we all  know, the whole country is in a deep freeze, many parts of the country truly aren’t used to these low temps. Before heading outside check out this NPR article called Frostbite Tips for Novices: Skip Whiskey and Shed Your Rings by Nancy Shute. Shute debunks some old wives tales about frostbite and shares a handy  NOAA chart about wind chill.  Essentially you want to cover all skin with thick layers of insulation. Face masks, scarves, or neck warmers drawn up over the nose will all do.  On a -20 degree day I went for a brief cross country ski and thought I’d have to turn around after about 15 minutes because my thumbs were burning. I stopped, pulled my thumbs out of their private compartment, gently warmed them around my hand until they weren’t stinging anymore, and was able to continue on.

Check out this New York “functional fashion” video by Bill Cunningham called Wonderland featuring gorgeous women wearing hoods and hats–his videos are charming. Today, I’ll wear a full face mask underneath my pink faux fur hat and wonder if Bill Cunningham would approve.

I’ll close with a photo of one rugged Portland friend of mine. Tracie Reed is commuting to work on foot or bike all year long.  Here’s a photo of her  when the wind chill was -29.  She’s rocking the faux fur and goggles.

Photo: This is what -4, feels like -29 looks like. Note the ice on my Dunlap Weavers Scarf. That's just from me breathing over the 1.5 mile trek. Oh, and the coffee shop is closed this morning. . .

As my grandmother Anne Morgan Beck always says, “There is no such thing as too cold, you just have to dress properly.”

______________________

What are you sporting as you get outside?

Riverside Golf Course Cross-Country Skiing and Sledding

My daughter commented that I’ve been hiring babysitters a lot lately. She’s right. I’ve hired teenagers to come to the house for a few hours each day so that I can get out and enjoy the perfect snow while it lasts. The kids have been out of school for a llllooonnnggg time… a lengthier than normal winter vacation followed by two snow (and bitterly cold) days last week. I’m very ready for them to go back to school tomorrow and to their routine. The skiing has absolutely helped me retain my sanity while I wait for that school bell to ring.

During one of our first winters in Portland a neighbor told us to check out sledding at the Riverside Golf Course (1158 Riverside Street, Portland, ME 04103). She alerted me to the fact that it was also a great place to go x-country skiing. It took me awhile to get there for a ski–my kids were little and my daughter refused to put on winter boots for the first few years of her life. Those were challenging days to get outside during the winter.

IMG_2373

I’ve gone to Riverside to ski today and yesterday. Both days, the parking lot was full of cars, so I know this isn’t an unheard of place, but I’m sure there are Portland area folks who still haven’t gotten there. For those who haven’t yet been, let me give you a little report.

I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to skiing and quite frankly I often find skiing on golf courses a tad boring. I like being in the woods with snowy branches overhead. I grew up in NH with Pawtuckaway Lake State Park in my backyard. Yesterday I was looking for a change of pace and thought I’d revisit Riverside because I had limited time and wanted to get some inexpensive outdoor exercise.

IMG_2387

I went alone and was pleased with the recently groomed trails. I appreciate having two inline tracks right next to each other, a place for skate skiing, and that there is room for the snow shoers to walk along side the ski tracks.  The double inline tracks is great for passing (or being passed) as well as when traffic is going in opposite directions.  I knew my husband would like to be able to ski right next to me, so we could have a conversation while skiing. When I went alone, I was able to get off the groomed trails and get onto human made trails closer to the river’s edge and under more trees.  It was lovely.  Off in the distance I could see the sledding hill. It was packed. I haven’t taken the kids there yet but there is still time on this gorgeous winter day.

This morning Hans (my husband) and I went on an early morning date. It’s a windless balmy 24 degrees. After a week of negative temperatures and crazy low wind chills ranging from -20 to -30 degrees today feels like a summer day.He’s the music director for an upcoming play called Words By that will play at Portland Stage and has been in rehearsals each day since Dec. 30th and had to be to the theater at 11:30. We haven’t had a date for months so this morning we left the kids with a babysitter, picked up coffee at Black Cat Coffee along with a heavenly maple Holy Donut, and drove the 13 minute route to the golf course. Hans did not grow up skiing and only goes once or twice a year–he doesn’t love it like I do and is still learning. We could have walked to and skied in the woods behind Evergreen Cemetery but I thought he’d rather ski on groomed trails than to struggle with the tight twists and turns on the ungroomed trails in the woods. I was right. He enjoyed himself so much that I think we may just go more regularly this year.

IMG_2382

The skating skiing looked amazing and there were many people doing it. The sledding hill looked long and super fun. And somewhere there is a skate rink, but I wasn’t looking for it and didn’t find it. Keep in mind that there are two parking lots.

To wrap this post up, I’d say that overall I’d prefer take the time to go to Pineland (which is certainly more expensive but also has ski rentals, longer groomed trails through the woods, and a lovely shop for post-ski hot cocoa and treats) but when time or money is tight, skiing locally is a great way to get outside. Also, keep in mind that Riverside doesn’t groom every day, but you can check out the ski conditions at the website (below) before going.  FYI, they had groomed on Sat. and  and the conditions seemed about the same on Sunday despite not grooming a second time this weekend.

IMG_2378

Riverside does ask for a tiny donation in a drop box to cover grooming. But, the box has been stolen. I personally will keep track of how many times we ski there and send a check at the end of the season. $2.00 per person per ski is a very inexpensive outdoor activity and I’m very grateful to have them keeping the trails open and available for all ski abilities.

IMG_2375

For conditions visit www.riversidegolfcourseme.com.  If you have anything to add to this post, please do so in the comments so others can benefit.  Time to get back outside!

 

Thrills on a Hill

I love going sledding. Just yesterday, in the middle of a 17-hour workday, I took a break to walk to the closest hill with my kids and a neighbor’s child. With 4-6 more inches of snow coming tonight I thought I’d bring this post back out–it’s one of my favorites and includes many cheerful photos.

_______________

Zipping down a hill on a plastic board will give you the cheapest thrill to share with your kids next to throwing snowballs. I love to speed down a hill with my arms wrapped around one of my children, the memory of which I will treasure for a lifetime. My babies are growing so fast that all too soon they’ll be heading to the hill without me.

sled_charlie smile green disk

sled_kathy_big smiles

There are a few things I know to be true about sledding.

Sleds, of course, are a wonderful on a hill but you can also use them on level ground. Children, new walkers, kids on ice, and babies love being pulled in sleds. Who wouldn’t? When my daughter was little, I pulled her to preschool while I cross-country skied. This form of transport was inspired by one of my fondest memories with my father. He pulled me on a sled to the corner store as he skied. The candy bar we shared there was not nearly as sweet as the love I felt being pulled behind my father in the snow-quieted neighborhood. I only remember it happening once, but I am determined to give the experience to my children again and again, with hopes that they will carry the fond memory into their adult lives.

Fun is proportional to group size.  You can have races, link arms and try to reach the bottom together, or make one long train. How many ways are there to ride a sled? A big hill packed with sledders is a brainstorming session in snow. The larger the crowd of kids, the wider variety of techniques and games you’ll see. Groups can work together to create slalom course or ramps for a higher starting point. The more the merrier.

sled_henry_action green disk

Bigger hills are better. Although little children prefer smaller hills. They can make do at the bottom of a big one, and even piles of snow by the driveway can work.

sled_anica huge smile new sled

You can’t outgrow a sled. Your kids will outgrow any number of skates, skis, and snow pants, but they will never grow out of their sleds, and neither will you. Sleds come in different sizes, but even the smallest sleds work for everyone. But having a sled that holds more than one rider opens up many possibilities.

sled_anica_action

Sharing sleds is part of the culture of many hills. Kids we’ve never met before think nothing of asking, “May we please borrow your sled?” People even offer up their sleds unprompted, as one woman did for me with her giant inner tube.  I’m still kicking myself for turning her down.

Bundle up!  Although you’ll certainly work up a sweat trudging back up the hill each time, catching a chill will cut short a great time.  Throw an extra neck warmer in your pocket for when your son face-plants after an absurd stunt and bursts into tears.

710956_10151448283172448_2133627158_n

(photo credit to Deirdre Confar)

If you’re hoping to go for a few hours pack a snack. Prevent bonking.

If you’re in the market for a sled, I recommend a new design we’ve been using that is made of a thick slab of flexible foam with handles on the sides. It slides effortlessly over all kinds of snow, can accommodate more than one rider, and its soft foam material absorbs a lot of shock from bumps and chunks of ice. (The material is 4-5 cm thick, compared to 1 cm of our other foam sled.) My son prefers it because in distance races it travels the farthest, my daughter selects it because it is the fastest, and my tush demands the shock absorption.

Some awesome sleds:

A Pull-your-little-one sled

amy priestly-roy

(photo credit Amy Priestley-Roy)

Our New Favorite


A Simple Classic

A great sled is wonderful, but you don’t need one to have a wonderful time. You can slide downhill over snow on just about anything.  The kids at the Boston public school where I taught years ago used cardboard boxes and they had a supremely good time.  A friend of mine uses an air mattress!  Whether you use a cafeteria tray or a 6-person toboggan, you’re bound to have a memorable time.

A Dark Time of the Year

Today I bought a box of dark chocolate sea salt caramels from Trader Joe’s. I also melted cheese on tortilla chips and didn’t share them with my kids. I’m seeking comfort food but ultimately I’m not comforted, for long anyway, from these foods. This is a dark time of the year for me. Turning the clocks back makes it almost impossible to get outside to catch some vitamin D, plus when I do go out, I’m bundled from head to toe leaving little opportunity to get that vitamin D zing I crave.  This year has been particularly hard.  Maybe it is because my mother moved to Florida and I miss her deeply, maybe it is due to my plantar fasciitis that has kept me from getting a hardcore-cardio workout for many months, and it might also be because I’ve been obsessively watching Breaking Bad (that is some crazy dark shit). But, every year at this time, I feel both tremendously lonely while also wanting to be alone. I’d be happiest in a cabin in the woods with books, a pot of soup, and the heat of a wood stove with a mailbox full of invitations to holiday parties.  Contradictory? Certainly, but this is me at the darkest time of the year.

Why am I sharing all of this? Because I know this time is hard for a lot of people.  I also know that even though I am in a dark place that I also feel so much better when I’m outside. I bundle up tightly, move briskly through my urban neighbor or on a trail through the woods, and naturally breathe more deeply. I manipulate my schedule to get outside during daylight hours and when I’m out there, I take a moment to stand still, to tilt my face to the sun with my eyes shut, and to simply breath.

Recently I’ve started going to Lila, an incredible yoga studio on the east end of Portland. The first month for new clients is only $60 for unlimited yoga. I’m loving trying out all of the instructors and finding the openings in my body that are so darn tight and dark. It is helping. It is a bit of drive from my house but once I’m there I’m only .5 miles from the ocean.  So, I try and connect my outdoor time to either end of my yoga classes. Getting outside at this time of year and doing yoga is my therapy.

Here are some photos from the East End Beach.  A spot I’ve visited three times in the last week.

IMG_5432IMG_5443

IMG_5454

IMG_5463

IMG_5450

IMG_5460

How about you–if you struggle with this time of the year, what are some ways you cope until the daylight hours are longer?

Everyday Power

As some of you have figured out already, I’ve got a thing for doing every day challenges. Recently, in Facebookland, I realized that two of  my friends are doing a pushup challenge. 100 pushups a day for 100 days. Greg Popp, a Maine triathlete and overall energized kinda guy, set up this Facebook page to rally his troops. They started on November 1–I started several days late on Nov. 19th. So far I’ve done 400 pushups (over the course of four days)–but I plan to do all 100 days, just 9,600 left to go!  Greg is totally open to many people joining the challenge if you’re interested. Although I’ve not yet met Greg, I like what he’s doing and think the “do it every day” message is really significant.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve rarely work out every day. I’ve always been more of a try-for-four-days-a-week kind of person. Even in the days before kids, when I was a twenty-something young one, I could never get in a workout each day of the week. In college I had a crazy fitness time. I was racing sailboats on the national level, trained on the water 4 days a week, raced every weekend, and either ran my six-mile loop or was in the gym weight lifting–those were extraordinarily fit days that I long for but certainly seem like a thing of the past. These days, if I get in three solid workouts it’s a really good week.

You probably could have guessed this, but I’ll be doing most of my pushups outside. I’ll spruce up my  simple walks, by stopping at flat spots along the way and doing a set. Typically my walks don’t get my heart rate up as much as I’d like. Adding pushups will be an excellent way to give me a more satisfactory “yes I worked out today” kind of feeling.  And interestingly, this week after I stood up from each set on the packed dirt paths, I felt like my sensory system was on fire. The colors around me were more intense, the earthy smells were stronger, and I was more tuned into the quiet. I know this sounds a little wild, but don’t call me crazy until you try it. If you experience this too, please let me know that I’m not imagining things.

So here’s the thing with Greg’s pushup challenge and my Everyday Outside Challenge–when I say I’m going to do something four or five days a week, it is so easy and tempting to say, “I can’t get to it today, I’ll do it tomorrow instead.” Every time I give that excuse it is a chance to fall off the exercise or outdoor wagon–because one day turns into two and, well, you get the point. But, if I say I’m going to do it every day, the question isn’t, “Will I work out today?” it is, “When will I do it?”

People say it takes 21 days to form a new habit. I think it takes longer than that. Doing something every single day for more than three months will certainly get you on the road to forming a life-long habit–whether it is going outside for thirty minutes, doing 100 push ups, or whatever healthy habit you want to attend to, try it for at least 100 days and watch how it impacts your life.

IMG_5399

 

And On She Goes

And on she goes.

My little angel turned seven today.  It simply takes my breath away to know that her days of being a little girl are really behind her.  I know, I know, I know. She’s still little, but the days of needing me for everything are a thing of the  past.

IMG_4324

If I was a better writer I’d probably  know how to share that I’m excited to celebrate this sweet lady while simultaneously grieving the overpowering passage of time–it just keeps happening, the earth keeps orbiting around the sun… again, and again, and now my baby is seven and I can’t get those days back. Those days when they were young were hard for me. I really struggled with being tired all the time, with being needed constantly, and with the endless amount of stuff that needed to be done. All of it was so darn hard. Every day was hard. But now, now that the days are a little easier I just long to go back and find the moments of joy  and to try and be more present, try to be more joyful, try to  not live for nap time or bedtime or even work time.

I remember being in those days and hearing other parents tell me that they love every minute of parenting young children, and I just would simply not believe them. How can you enjoy wiping projectile poop off the wall?  How can you enjoy crying babies?  And yet, now those days are gone forever and I just long for a little bit of them while  also feeling relieved that we’re past that phase.

All of this is to say that today I’m both happy and sad. My daughter is going to knock the socks off of this world someday soon.  She is one amazing little lady: thoughtful, wise, passionate, and full of life.  She loves to sing, to dance, to care for her many babies, and to do just about everything.  She’s stubborn, opinionated, and demanding–all characteristics that both drive me crazy and make me proud at the same time because they are the characteristics that will help her thrive professionally.

Early this morning I went for a walk in the woods. When surrounded by trees and alone I felt comforted. I cried a little and then felt better. I wondered what would have happened if I had done the 365 Every Day Outside Challenge when they were little. I was outside a lot, but was it enough? It wasn’t every day that’s for sure. Was that part of why I was so overwhelmed, because I was disconnected from the natural world? I will never know for sure–but maybe some overwhelmed mom is reading this and finds some comfort in it, maybe she’ll realize that she is like me and needs to get outside often…

IMG_5123

Tonight we celebrate this lovely human being. I couldn’t be more proud to be her mother and our days together just keep getting better and better.

IMG_1955