Snow in Eagle Bridge, NY

My aunt and uncle are hosting us for a few days at their gorgeous farm in upstate New York.  Having arrived just before the Wednesday night storm, we awoke the next morning to find more than four inches of snow inviting us outside to play.  We bundled up and headed out with our sleds.

The three distinctly different sleds and two snow boarding type toys were all perfect for joyful and diverse downhill rides.  The variety was great for adults, kids, and even our little three-year old second cousin.  My son learned to balance standing up on a scooter-sled, we each had a turn on an oversized inner-tube, and at one point I raced with my daughter on a slick blue toboggan, the fastest of the sleds.

We lay at the bottom of the hill, resting and gazing through the branches at the birds and the falling snow.   I watched her as she savored the snow and talked about how yummy it was.  Back at the top of the hill, my son greeted us, hollering  to his sister that he needed her for “a business meeting.”  His agenda: the construction of a snow fort to protect the spectators at this snow speedway.

After the sledding and fort building adventures came to their natural conclusion we walked further down the hill toward the lower fields and a river beyond.  My son and I traipsed straight down through the brush, while my husband and daughter struct out on the switchback road.  Before any of us got very far at all, I heard a call that thrilled me: “OWL!”

We raced back toward my husband who was standing at the edge of the road pointing to a barred owl that had just flown in and perched at the top of the trees.  Miraculously, my husband’s yelling didn’t frighten it away and we were able to observe in detail this massive bird for quite a while.

My kids had never seen an owl in the wild, and I’m sure they will always remember this day.   It’s a rare occasion and sharing the experience with one’s whole family is rarer still.

For all the outdoor moments I’ve experienced in 2012, without a doubt, this was one of the loveliest.

Merry Christmas–2012

Celebrating Christmas with my brother and his family down in Connecticut.  It is really lovely to be here.  We arrived a bit before 8:30 pm on Christmas Eve and after unloading, hanging out for awhile, and then putting the kids to sleep my brother Peter, his wife Holly, Hans, and I went for a walk in the snow while my mom stayed back with the sleeping babes.

My nephew woke up this morning and immediately cried, “It snowed!”  After opening many presents and eating breakfast we went outside to play in the icy white stuff.  My daughter and I scrapped together enough snow to make one tiny snowman.

A few photos for you on this Christmas afternoon.  My husband gave me a new camera which I’m really excited about.  I hope you enjoy the higher quality.

If you celebrate Christmas, Merry Christmas to you.  For all others I wish you peace and light.


Getting Kids (and Ourselves) Outside During Winter

I think the hardest part about getting kids outside during the winter is the number of daylight hours available.  When they get home from school there is approximately one hour before it starts getting dark. The second hardest part is that there isn’t any snow–yet!  It is just so much more fun when there is snow.  Hopefully we’ll get some tonight.  My kids do indeed complain about the cold but we’ve gotten pretty good about dressing appropriately to stay warm and once they’re outside, they rarely complain.

One kid-friendly solution to these problems: flashlights!  My kids will totally join me outside at night with a flashlight in hand.  I recently found inexpensive head lamps at Hamilton Marine for around $8 each that they will get for Christmas.  I also really love fleece neck warmers–but I’m guessing most parents already know about these–I wear them myself.

I’m pretty excited about the National Wildlife Federation these days.  They have a goal to get 10 million kids connected to the natural world.  That’s awesome!  They recently shared 5 Tips to Stay Warm Outside in Winter which is  helpful and I thought some of you might appreciate them.  I cannot underestimate how important coming back inside to hot chocolate is.  Last year, I brought the hot chocolate outside once or twice.

I am going to continue this journey into 2013 and beyond.  I’m actually hoping for more challenging weather conditions than we had in 2012.  Simply put, I’m a happier and healthier person when I get outside regularly–some days my life responsibilities make it extremely challenging to find time to get outside, but I can handle the stresses of everything so much more gracefully when I get outside regularly.  So I end today with two questions.

~  Do you have any other tips for staying warm in winter for yourself or for kids?  If so, share them in the comments.

And one more question, which is not really related to this entry…

~  Do you want to take the 365 Everyday Outside Challenge?  Do you think you already get outside for at least 30 minutes every day or want to try to get outside regularly?  If you do, go to Contact Me and send me a message. I will send you a gift to track your outings and will select a few people from around the country who may occasionally report to me on how it’s going.  Remember–you get 12 days when you can miss an outing for whatever reason.  And, you don’t need to start the year with a plunge into the cold ocean…  Who’s in?


Photos from the Weekend

Just photos and a few thoughts below the photos.  Hope you all had a wonderful weekend.

My children and three neighborhood friends helped decorate some gingerbread cookies on Sunday.  Admittedly, I wanted this to happen outside because it would be easier to clean up.   The kids were warm enough even though it is almost the middle of December.

After cookie decorating we went for a walk through the woods to the ponds at the edge of the cemetery.  My son’s friend joined us and I brought healthy snacks knowing one of my children would probably bonk.  Our meals were thrown off because we had brunch with some incredibly wonderful friends.  We ate a snack instead of lunch and then decorated cookies… Hmm… wise parenting?  Probably not.

The kids wanted to visit this tree fort.  How long until my 8 year old decides he can climb this tree?

We didn’t feed the ducks, but they sure wanted to be fed and the kids wanted to feed them.  It’s hard to understand that feeding the ducks is not wise for the health of the birds or the pond when you’re 6, 7, or 8 years old–especially when you see other adults doing it.

My angels.

And a walk home at dusk with three incredible children.  I need to take them to the woods more often.

Unforgettable Moment in My Woods

I’m starting to think of the woods behind Evergreen Cemetery as my woods.  I frequent them several times a week and am starting to know the network of paths very well.  I’m so grateful that Portland Trails and the city owned cemetery make it possible for me to feel immersed in nature after a short walk from my back door.  Recently, on a run on my favorite route through the dense forest something unforgettable happened.  As I neared the end of my jog and approached the largest of the four ponds in the back of the cemetery, I heard a noise I had never heard before.  It kind of sounded like a child letting out a short scream but it was not a child.  I stopped running and listened.  As I crept slowly toward the sound, my heart rate rose while my breathing slowed.  I knew I was going to see something special.  Finally I saw it.  Perched in a white pine that rises out over the water (near my favorite downed tree that extends out over the surface of the pond) was a very large owl, about 50 cm (20 inches) tall.

It was a Great Horned Owl, probably a juvenile.  If you click on the blue link to Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website and scroll down to the fourth recorded sound labeled, “Adult song, Juvenile call,” and listen, about 2/3 of the way through you’ll hear the scream I heard over and over.  The owl screamed like this about 15-20 times within about 10 minutes.  Are any birders reading this?  Do you think I saw a juvenile in distress?  I chased this giant predator as it flew to three different perches.  When this massive predator flew out of site, I tried imitating his call a few times and then he and I took turns letting out short screams.

When I started this Everyday Outside journey, my friend Carol wondered what I’d learn.  One thing I’ve confirmed again and again is that it is always worth stopping to observe when you see something unusual.  Even if I’m on a short run that I really don’t even have time for, it is worth stopping and noticing.    Seeing this massive bird in the wild was extraordinary and I will never forget it.

I wish each of you the opportunity to see extraordinary things in the wild in the near future.  It is amazing how such simple things can become extraordinary when you give yourself time to really notice and breathe deeply.

(This photo was taken on a different day but where I stood when I took the photo is directly below where I saw the owl, and when he flew away, he went to the tree in the center of the photo.)

Their Outdoor Time or Mine?

A few days ago I had to leave work early to pick the kids up from school because our beloved babysitter was home sick with a fever.  After greeting my children and receiving wonderful hugs we stayed to play on the playground for about an hour.  I played with my daughter while my son played with his friend.  It was fun and I knew it would likely be my only outdoor time so I intentionally tried to do some of the things I do when I’m alone in the woods, like breathing deeply and looking up at the branches of the surrounding trees.  It was a chilly afternoon.  Despite the fact that I wasn’t dressed properly and was a tad uncomfortable, I still enjoyed myself.

And yet, that evening, as I reflected on the outdoor experience, I realized that I felt slightly cheated.  The time on the playground was for my kids–they got to run, to play, to feel connected to the natural world and to their friends.   I watched, kept them safe, enjoyed their company, and felt glad that they were outside.  But I didn’t get to run in the woods or around an island or even through the dark streets of my neighborhood.  I didn’t walk alone in a forest, stopping periodically to listen or observe the natural beauty surrounding me.  Instead, that evening, as I reflected on the experience my legs ached and longed to be moving outdoors.  A core part of me, the part that swells and is full when I’m outside, and shrinks a little when I’ve been stuck inside too long, felt smaller and tighter and certainly less satisfied than when I get some alone time outside.

Many days I’m lucky.  I get to spend at least 30 minutes outdoors on my own AND I get to be with my kids playing in the wild.  On that early pick up day, my outdoor time was for them.  Not for me.  It amazes me that I’m noticing these subtle differences in the quality of my outdoor experiences.  I have had a significant amount of time alone in nature this year and I’ve come to treasure this Erica time.

When you get outside is the time for you or is it for someone or something else?  Is it for the dog, for the kids, for work, or for the yard?  Undoubtedly, some outdoor time, even if it is for someone else, is better than no time, but there is a range in the quality.   For me, when the outdoor time is mine, it doesn’t matter what the temperature is and it doesn’t even matter what time it is; if I’m alone and in the woods, or in my yard, or just taking a walk on the street the time fuels me and makes me feel more alive.

(Photos–from other outings in my 365 Everyday Outside Journey)

(Standing on my favorite downed tree on a pond in Evergreen Cemetery)

(At Ferry Beach after a meeting at Ferry Beach Ecology School.)

(A walk in Evergreen Cemetery)