Freakishly Warm Weather

Last night, Friday night, I finished work at about 8:45 pm and after a brief snuggle with my sleepy kids I really didn’t want to gear up and head out.  I really just wanted to watch Lost with my husband.  I only opened the door because of this mission of mine.  Once outside I started breathing more deeply, relaxing tension away from the week, and fully enjoying a lovely quiet walk on shiny wet streets.  It rained all day.  We’re having some freakishly warm weather that feels like spring.  We normally don’t have days like this until March.  In Maine, in March, when the weather gets really warm we try not to let ourselves get too excited for spring because more winter weather is surely on its way.  It’s January for crying out loud–we’re not meant to be bracing ourselves for more cold weather, we’re meant to be embracing (and cursing) winter: sledding, skiing, building snowmen, and shoveling the crap out of our backs.   Winter has a long way to go…

So here’s what I did this week.

Monday: a night time walk.

Tuesday: a walk in 50° weather in the woods.  Saw another woodpecker.  It was too far away to identify.

Wednesday: ice skating on outdoor refrigerated skating rink in Falmouth.

Thursday: commuting on bike.  Riding my bike in traffic while wearing work clothes is not joyful.  Felt like work.

Random photo I took last weekend.  I tried storing my camera inside my coat instead of in my pocket.  I fogged up the camera lens.  Oops.  My daughter and I made this snowman which no longer exists.

Twenty-eight days in a row of outside adventures for at least 30 minutes so far.

Skiing Adventures: A Tree, My Shin, and a Pileated Woodpecker

Saturday I walked to the woods and skied.  It is one of my favorite ways to exercise and I love that I can walk from my house to paths I can ski on.  The paths are cut by human skis, not a grooming machine, and there are spots that are down right treacherous.  The hills aren’t very big but there are a few spots that are downhill with twists and turns, and trees or rocks on either side of the narrow path.  When I ski at Pineland, or other groomed spots, the downhill sections are steeper than the woods near my house but it is easy to snow plow to slow down.  I’ve fallen when skiing in these woods before, but not when going downhill.  Saturday the trails felt fast.  I’m not even sure if that is an accurate description of the ski conditions, but that is how I would describe them and on the last of four turns on this downhill slope the trail went to the right and I couldn’t make the turn.  I slid into a tree, shin first, kind of the way a quarterback slides when he’s making a run and about to be hit.  It hurt.  It took me awhile to get back up.  I skied for a bit more and felt like my leg was just going to be bruised.

More than a year ago I was running in these same beloved woods during the fall and I fell.  I tripped on some roots and landed hard onto my knees.  It took me months to decide to run on that particular trail again.  It was just easy to choose another trail.

On Sunday I skied again.  My leg felt fine, sore, but fine, and it felt great to get out of the house, away from my responsibilities, and into the woods.  I worked my way up some of the hills but when the path split and I had to make a choice about which way to go down, I chose to avoid the down hill path I fell on.  When I arrived at the part of the hill where if I moved one bit further I would be moving down hill I paused.  I was scared.  I don’t normally get scared.  I stood there and took time to consider how to get down safely and I took time to look up at the branches and sky.  High in a tree, just to my left, was a pileated woodpecker.  If you’ve never seen one, imagine Woody Woodpecker.  It is about 16″ long with a big red-capped head.  This was the fourth time I’ve seen one and the second time in these woods.  I love these birds.  I stood and watched and listened as it hammered away slowly at a tree.  I watched as he flew to another tree and heard his call.

After a good long moment with the bird at the top of the hill, I took a deep breath and started down.  As soon as I started moving the woodpecker let out a loud and long call and I listened as I worked my way down to the bottom of the hill without falling.  You’ll probably think I’m some sort of cheese ball if I tell you I thought it was some sort of sign to see this bird and for it to call out as I was going down the hill.  I did think it was a sign and I’m pretty sure it was.  

Now that you’ve seen my crazy winter hat you’ll know for sure that I’m a cheese ball!

Snow Adventures With My Not-So-Little Kids

Yesterday I took an outdoor break after picking up my seven year-old son from school. As we drove home my seven year old son told me he wanted to play inside.  I intentionally parked at the end of the driveway closer to the snow banks he loves to climb, hoping he would decide (on his own) that he really did want to play outside.  I think kids have to fight indoor inertia too… once they’re out the door, they love being there.  My parking strategy worked.  Within minutes of getting out of the car we threw icy snow chunks at the road while we waited for his six year old friend Cal to come home.   Cal, C-man, and I worked on a fort that they built during the last storm.  The fort’s walls stand about 20″ high, created using some of those red plastic snow brick shapers.  For the first 12 minutes or so, I just hung out letting the boys play together.  That I-want-to-go-inside chilly state crept into my skin and knew I needed to move.

In a hushed urgent tone I said, “I sense danger in the air, I think we might be attacked soon.”  In response, both boys looked around and Cal smiled approvingly.  We gathered chunks of icy snow balls to protect the fort.  It warmed me up just in time to defend the fort.  We threw the ice chunks at the enemy (a tree) until we ran out.

I let myself enjoy this rare mid-afternoon break, even though I knew it would extend my work day deeper into the evening.

Today we had a snow day.  We should have had school, or a 2-hour delay, but the district called the day off and parents throughout the city had to deal.  I dealt by taking a personal day.  After a special breakfast of French toast we headed outside to play.  We started outdoor play at the fort and then decided to go sledding at the “Snow Bowl” in Evergreen Cemetery.  I made a bag of peanut butter sandwiches and marched the just under .5 miles with 5 kids and 8 sleds.  It felt a bit ambitious but I was really only worried about the walk home with bonky kids.

The sledding was amazing.  It is wild to watch your own kids overcome their fears of a too-steep sledding hill.  Last year we started our sled rides about halfway from the top–this year the top of the hill could have been higher.  

We sledded, laughed, climbed, and ate partially frozen PBandJs.  Eventually the joyful cheers turned whiny so we started the journey home.

I was worried about reluctant walkers, remembered this tip about hiking with kids, and started a story.  I shared one rule with the kids, I would only tell the story when they are walking.   I made up a ridiculous story and was amazed at how carefully these five children listened, laughed, smiled, and walked all the way home without complaining, bickering, or even dragging their feet.

It kind of felt like a Super Mom kind of day–I don’t have them very often, but it feels nice to have one every now and again.

Transportation Can Count

Yesterday I decided to take my youngest to school on a sled.  Hearing my daughter giggle behind me as I pulled her along totally confirmed that it was worth the extra time to travel this way.   We both had so much more fun than if we had driven.  Occasionally I would jog a little and she’d cheer me on, “Go Mommy!  Go Mommy!”  On my return home I found a peaceful place to stop, observe, and get quiet.  Just a minute, maybe two, of not moving, not thinking, not doing.  I know this is my form of meditation–doing it outside just works for me.

Today I walked to a coffee shop to work.  My son and daughter have strep throat so I spent the morning nurturing them and the afternoon/early evening working.  Carrying my computer and stuff gets heavy and is not my favorite way to travel, but I thought you’d like the vision of me walking down the street doing some weight lifting with my red computer bag: triceps extensions, bicep curls, and some other things I remember being taught to do with weights.  So I’m technically commuting while getting some cardio and strength training in.  I look ridiculous but it feels great and in the winter in Maine, who cares how ridiculous you look?!

The walk home from the coffee shop promises to be chilly.  The wind chill will be in the single digits–I’m already looking forward to stopping somewhere, away from the noisy traffic, and getting quiet.  My one or two minutes of mindfulness.

Snow Adventures

Yesterday I got to try out some new gear–it was super cold.  About 10° F with a slight breeze making it feel much colder.  EMS had a 50% off sale and I bought an expensive pair of gloves, a face mask, and some very warm thermal wear. The last time I bought warm outdoor gear was about 10 years ago.  This adventure is in need of the right gear so I indulged.  As I get older, I tend to get colder more easily.  The right gear helps a lot.

The timing worked out so that my dear friend Beth and I could walk together.  Here’s how much skin we had exposed:

There were a few moments of feeling really cold as a breeze would pass through, but we were moving the whole time and both enjoyed the fresh air.

Today my son (with a stomach bug) stayed home with his dad while my daughter and I went sledding.  I was blown away by how bold my five year-old was.  Every time she went down the hill, head first, arms splayed to her sides, pushing along the ground to help her go faster, she repeated, “Oh yeah, oh yeah, all right.”  It was awesome.

Sometimes she takes my breath away.  Sometimes it is because she is so beautiful.  Sometimes because she understands so much of how the world works.  Today it was because of how grownup she seemed.  

Right now we are investigating some snow we brought inside so I’ll leave you with one more picture.


Summary of a Rough Week

It’s been a rough week. My husband had surgery on Monday and returned home on Wednesday.  The stress and worry about him was intense but I also had major deadlines at work, two kids and all their needs, visits to the hospital, prioritizing my family, and all the other little details of life.  On Thursday a significant storm hit Maine.  I was truly excited for the snow but not excited about the time it would take to shovel.  I was in that fragile place of being so busy that if something else fell on my plate, I wasn’t going to get it all done… 6 inches of snow fell on my plate.

During the storm I had to get the car out of the driveway to deliver Fed Ex packages to work.  I started shoveling by hand and then saw the snowbank at the end of the driveway.  I didn’t want to get the damn snowblower out but my back was hurting and I had so much to do so I thought I might save some time if I could figure it out.  I need to say, I’m a pretty tough cookie.  I normally do most things that men typically do, but the snow blower is one machine I am intimidated by and avoid using.  I’d much rather shovel.  I was able to get it out of the garage and even managed to start the thing, and got it moving.  Luckily I didn’t break any windows as I accidentally shot snow and rocks at our house.  After less than one minute of snow blowing, I ran out of gas.  At this point I should have just walked to Fed Ex pulling the packages on a sled.

I think I broke it.  I managed to fill the tank and get it started again but then the auger (I think that is what it is called) wouldn’t turn.  F&$#ing snow blower!  I tried pushing the 300 pound dead machine blocking the car.  Snow blowers don’t roll well when they’re not running.  In fact trying to get it out of the driveway was sort of like moving a boulder of the same size.  It was then that I lost it.  I cried and swore a lot.  Somehow I was able to drag it back to the garage.  I grabbed the shovel and began trying to shovel the end of the driveway when a sweet, sweet friend who happened to be pulling her one year-old in a sled cheerfully said hello and asked how I was doing.  I couldn’t hide my frustration and tears.  After the best big hug I’ve ever received she insisted I take her car.

Have I told you lately how much I love my neighbors?  I really, really do.  I wouldn’t want to raise my kids with anyone else surrounding me.

Anyway, what’s the point of sharing this story you may ask?  I still got outside each day this week.  In fact, I haven’t missed one day.

Here’s the run down:

*  Tuesday I thought I really wasn’t going to make it out but had a lovely evening of drinking wine from a coffee mug with friends… two of the many wonderful friends who live within a stone’s throw from our house. 

*  Wednesday I walked to get drugs.  Pain meds that is.  I got to try out my new nifty hat with really bright lights in the brim.  I startled a few dog walkers.

*  Thursday, after crying and swearing at the snow blower (technically outdoor time) I treated myself to a cross-country ski (it was our first deep-enough snow this year) in the woods behind the cemetery near our home.  I met a local legend and followed him for awhile.  I’m sure I’ll ski with him again.  He suggested I try something but I’m not going to tell you what he suggested—not until I try it anyway.  Many of you will think I really am crazy when I try it.

*  Yesterday, Friday, in between ice falls and intense rainstorms there were about 60 minutes of glorious sunshine.  I was able to go out then.  It’s hard to believe that crazy weather surrounded these clear skies.  Locals, know I’m telling the truth.

I really think my outdoor time helped me deal with the stress of the week.  There are a lot of other benefits I’m feeling but most important is that my personal connection to the outdoors strengthens me and gives me peace.

My husband is doing really well.  Thanks for all the well wishes.



Late Night Outing

* I sent my last work email at 9:22 PM.
* Called a friend who was sitting with a second friend.
* Turned on the tea pot.
* Poured a glass of wine in a coffee mug.
* Poured a cup of tea in a second coffee mug.
* Made sure the kids were a sleep.
* Walked to neighbor’s house–made sure they were appropriately bundled and brought both friends outdoors back to my front porch to serve my time outdoors.

My camera was unable to capture the late night beauty. The sky was free of clouds and the stars were so bright, despite the almost full moon. The air was relatively warm and extraordinarily refreshing after a day with lots of driving, indoor time, hospital time, parenting responsibilities, teaching time… Oh wait, I actually taught outdoors today. I was actually outside for just under an hour teaching first and second graders science today… oops. My original rules state that teaching outdoors counts for outdoor time… How could I have forgotten this until now? I did not experience the same level of peace tonight as during the daytime teaching. For me, it really is about getting quiet in a natural setting and breathing deeply. I breath so much deeper when I’m outside. Teaching outside today didn’t count for outdoor time… I was processing, thinking, planning, analyzing, and doing all of the things curriculum specialists do when teaching. I wasn’t breathing deeply and enjoying nature.

Sitting outside on the steps of my house, with a mug of wine, a mug of tea, and friends to talk to is so much better than curling up in bed and winding down with Sudoku or a novel. Thank you to both of them for joining me.

Green Sacred Spaces

Today was a hard day.  A loved one had surgery.  I have lots of thoughts about how the day went but because it is late and because it was an overwhelming day I’m just going to share one point which relates to this blog.

Between the time when I said good-bye to the person having surgery and when surgery began, I went outside.  On this emotionally draining day I wondered if the outdoor space near the hospital would bring comfort to me.  Years ago we had to spend time with my son in the  NICU at Mass General and I remember the outdoor courtyard being really lovely and peaceful.  Today’s hospital is a relatively new hospital.  Here’s what I found surrounding the building:

I think of highly manicured spaces like this one as extremely uninviting.  I didn’t see one bench in a green space.  There were a lot of benches on concrete along the front of the building facing the parking lot.  Great for smokers but where are the non-smokers expected to sit?

The hospital is near a working waterfront in Portland.  There were some asphalt Portland Trails along the hospital that led to the water.  I walked toward the water–feeling worried for the patient and really not myself.  I walked here first:

Most of the time I would have been really comforted by these urban waterfront locations.  Today I felt pretty much the same as I did inside.  I walked some more–quite slowly.  I walked off the asphalt, on the crusty kind-of frozen grass along the water.   This natural experience was not moving me the way nature normally does.  Eventually I started to see duck like birds randomly surfacing like popcorn being cooked in a kettle.  They were graceful, yet sporadic in their movements, and I really enjoyed watching them.  Whether it was the extended time outdoors (ten minutes wouldn’t have been enough) or the birds themselves that brought me to a more peaceful and less worried place, I’m not sure… but I arrived there and I was grateful.

The point I want to make followed me indoors.  This fancy new hospital is lovely with lots of large windows facing the beautiful location where I had just found a little peace on this challenging day.  Because I had experienced the outdoor spaces personally, I felt like when I looked at them through the glass, that it was a part of me and could strengthen me.  I could tap into that connection and continue to feel a sense of calm throughout the day.  Just looking out the window would not have comforted me in the same way.

Today I’m feeling grateful and relieved.   The person who had surgery is doing very well.

Beautiful places, beautiful people

Yesterday we spent way to much of the day searching for outdoor gear for our kids.  We thought they could get another year out of their winter boots but they were both complaining and so we headed to LLBean.  My son was wearing a size 12 boot and he now has a size 3… big oops!  Poor kid.   My daughter went from wearing a size 10 to a size 12.  Not quite as big of an oops, but still–ouch.  Oh well–we haven’t had much snow this year which is probably why it took us so long to figure out that their boots didn’t fit.

After a way-to-long shopping experience we were returning to Portland with little day light left.  I considered having Hans drop me off at Back Cove and walking home, but instead I talked the family into going to the Presumpscot River Portland Trails path to go for a walk. As we traveled what felt like a long way to go for a simple little walk, I questioned if it was a good idea.  As soon as we got out of the car I knew it was the right idea.  In fact, it was magical.  We watched as a bald eagle traveled over up stream, we listened to the changing sound of the river as we walked further up stream toward the rapids, we struggled to get up the very steep and slightly muddy slope, we breathed in the beauty of the wooded river bank, and we watched the light change to dusk.   I think the kids are finally ready for some most significant hikes this spring and summer.

Today I went for a walk at Mackworth with my dear friend.  It felt so good to be in such a beautiful place with this beautiful person.  My outdoor experiences are definitely heightened by being with loved ones outdoors.  I need to do this more often.

Some photos from today:


See what I mean about beautiful places and beautiful friends–check out this beauty!

Slow snow walk

I woke to snow this morning!  I immediately opened my bedroom curtains  and then crawled back into my warm cozy bed to watch the snowflakes fall.  We’ve had very little here in Maine this winter.  I did this for approximately two minutes before admitting that I was being ridiculous.  I still had to convince myself that if I wanted to go for a walk in the woods I’d have to leave right away before my morning responsibilities kicked in and then also reminded myself that I had a busy day ahead of me with no space for daylight walks.  So I quietly geared up and walked out into the snow.

Just one picture for you today and it doesn’t convey how lovely the forest looked or how peaceful:

I do want to note that I could not quiet my mind today on the walk.  I was thinking about the day, what I’d write here in this blog, how I was going to get all my work done, etc. etc.  So, at the end of the walk I did what my colleague does with teachers in our three-hour workshops about teaching outdoors.  She asks participants to spread out and to sit silently (without distractions from electronic devices) for about 2 min.  I did this today.  I leaned against a pine tree and got quiet.  As I type now and reflect back on the whole day, I realize it was the only time that I let myself not think, not process, not move at a crazy fast speed.