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Thrills on a Hill

If you haven’t gone sledding lately, stop reading and head out. Right now!   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. They are growing so fast that all too soon they’ll be heading to the hill without me.

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Sleds are a thrill on a hill but you can also use them on level ground. Children, new walkers, 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.

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

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. The more the merrier.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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(photo credit to Deirdre Confar)

Pack granola bars. 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

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(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 for heaven’s sake.  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 Precious Winter Beach Walk

Earlier this week I had to drop off a package at UPS. The trip brought me downtown and since I was in Portland I decided to drive a few more minutes to the East End Beach.  It is a small beach, but a lovely one, and one I don’t visit often enough.  It is only three and a half miles from my house–but the journey there is typically mobbed by traffic lights, asphalt, and way too much time in a car.

Let me take you on my winter beach walk.  These photos capture some of the things I love most about Maine.

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My precious Maine–I didn’t know my love for you could continue to grow.

How about you, do you find it possible to love the natural world more deeply as you spend more time somewhere?  Where is your precious spot?  I invite you to share (and love, love, love hearing from you) in the comments section found at the top of this post.

The Blizzard of ’13, Record Snow in Portland

The Blizzard of ’13 brought just shy of 32″ to Portland, ME.  Snow started falling on Friday morning even though the meteorologists said Nemo would hit in the evening. The snow didn’t let up until late the next day. The temperatures were down in the single digits, with a fierce wind driving the wind chill into dangerous territory.

I posted on Facebook that I might not go outside on Saturday until the blizzard blew out of town, which returned some cheerleading and mild grief from my community of on-line friends. Soon after this my daughter turned off the TV and announced, “I’m going out,” Of course, I decided to join her and my son dropped his X-box game to jump into gear.

We bundled up covering every inch of our bodies except for our eyes, and soon we were shoveling our way out of the house. Once we made it off the back porch, my children and the neighbors’ kids abandoned shoveling in favor of fort making. The snow-bank forts were tall and needed some simple carving to make places to sit and hide. We took time from our building to sit in the snow and admire the work of Mother Nature. How heavy it weighed on our old white pine, how thoroughly it blanketed our world in such a thick layer, and how it so quickly fell from the white sky. And when the gusts would kick up and sting passed, we’d duck our heads and turn away from the wind. Some of the neighborhood mommas and I would hug our kids’ faces into our chests as though they were babies again. The kids got their faces protected while unknowingly warming their mothers’ hearts.

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Later, my son came in exhausted from several hours of deep snow adventure and observed, “Taking two steps today is like taking 100 steps during the summer.” To me, it’s much harder, but he’s got the right idea. Each step through all this snow involves both lifting the foot as high as three household stairs and then pushing that very stair down into the floor.

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IMG_1391IMG_1388On both Friday and Saturday skiers outnumbered cars on my street.  When I lived in Boston, I was alone when I’d go skiing on the streets after a big storm.  Here in Portland, I’m just one of the gang, so by late afternoon, I was skiing towards the cemetery with a friend from around the block. We hopped on a wooded trail near the Brentwood Garden and found the snow packed down nicely by snowshoes. We tried to break our own trail at a couple points, but found it incredibly challenging. It’s a tough slog through that much fresh snow, so thanks snowshoe-ers! When we reached the bottom of the first hill behind the garden, we turned right into a strand of white pines. The breeze was still strong enough to clank these massive giants against each other, and we could easily imagine a branch – or even a whole tree – falling on us so we got out of the woods and skied through the cemetery.  Making trail on these unplowed roads was tougher than in the woods, but once a trail was cut, the conditions were fabulous.

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Our city is recovering rapidly from this massive storm. The kids are at school and it is time to get back to work. To all my New England readers, I hope that you were safe and warm during the storm and that you were able to get outside to enjoy the massive power of Mother Nature.  She left me in awe. Again.

Another Owl! Viles Arboretum

As I was driving up to Augusta for a meeting I hoped I’d get there a few minutes early for a walk.  I’m on the board of directors for the Maine Environmental Education Association and every other month we meet at the Viles Arboretum. Before I got out of the car I had a feeling I was going to see an owl.  I’ve seen four owls in my life and blogged about two of them.

I arrived 15 minutes early, grabbed my camera, and started walking on the trails. Right away I knew this was a special place, even in the dead of winter. Let me take you on a photo journey with me. Enjoy. I hope my photos inspire you to visit!

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I was late to the meeting–but I saw my owl!  And for my friends who care if I actually spent 30 minutes outside… (Am I the only one who cares?!) A conversation with a colleague kept me outside for another ten minutes.

A Place Where Everyone Knows Your Name

I hang with parents. With the exception of a few sailors and a few colleagues, all of my friends are parents. And most of the time, when I hang with parents, we’re with our kids. Whenever I go to the pond, active families are skating their hearts out, and not just the kids.  Neighborhood parents are playing too, not just watching from the banks (or from the car) but in the thick of it, often playing as hard as the kids.  I love this city.

Yesterday we bought new hockey sticks at Play It Again Sports–we received great help from two of the men in the hockey department. They took the time to show me how to tape the kids’ sticks and truly seemed to be interested in getting as many kids skating as possible. I have observed that when kids (and adults) hold hockey sticks it improves their skating. Both of my young skaters have improved greatly this year, and I notice a difference when they’re holding sticks and when they’re not.  Maybe it is that they’re leaning forward more and maybe it is because they’re playing and thinking less about what they’re doing and more about how to get the puck.  Whatever the reason, it works, and I strongly recommend buying some. I learned that the stick length, when wearing shoes, should be from the floor to the tip of your nose–then, when you’re on skates, it will be the right height.  I bought my kids’ sticks a little longer with hopes that they’ll last more than one season.

After making our purchases my kids, a neighbor’s kid, and I walked to the pond to skate. The sticks instantly became guns–of course! As the afternoon wore on the guns became axes for cutting down the cattails surrounding the rink and they were used for playing hockey too.  My daughter even said they helped her balance.  We skated until the only light on the pond was from the streetlight.  The kids really didn’t want to leave the ice and in fact, I had to get stern with them to get them off of the ice—it was after dinner time and well, dinner still had to be made after the walk home.

As I mentioned before, we saw some friends at the pond.  Words cannot describe how lovely it is to show up and be known—even when it is simply at the pond.  An impromptu play date for grown ups!  How awesome!

Some other great uses for hockey sticks and ways to enjoy the ice for all ages.  Check it out!

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Do you have places in your community where you can show up and find friends?  Do share!

A California Respite From Frigid Temperatures

I’ve had the pleasure of flying away from the frigid Maine winter to spend five days in Southern California.  I came for three reasons.  To visit schools, to teach teachers how to teach FOSS (the Full Option Science System, the K-8 hands-on science program that I work for), and to attend a Courage and Renewal Retreat.  What a beautiful week.  The temperatures were in the sixties, the skies were clear, and the sunsets were fantastic.

I visited several schools and went into classrooms where FOSS was being taught.  One phenomenal educator I had the honor of meeting blew me away.  She had 33 children in her class–that makes for one crowded and tiny classroom and yet she had each and everyone of those students mesmerized, engaged, up and out of their seats, using science notebooks (even making their own data charts), and speaking English with courage.  These Hispanic children lived in poverty but you couldn’t tell by their body language.  These kids were psyched to be in school and were participating fully.  The principal told me that this rock-star educator sat him down before school started and asked for the hardest and lowest scoring kids–in fact she wanted all of them.  In a day of test scores and accountability that is not something anyone hears these days.  She’ll loop with these kids and they’ll be with her for three years.  She’ll change their lives.  She kept telling me how much she loves FOSS and that she wasn’t going to retire until her district adopted the program. There were moments when I couldn’t speak because I was doing my best to hold back tears.  Teachers like this make me want to get back into the classroom.

There were so many lovely moments throughout the week.  My workshops on Wednesday both went really well; I went for a hike with Kim, my dear friend and colleague; on Thursday there was down time built into the retreat and I went on a hike up the hills of Santa Barbara and then went down the hill toward the ocean where I swam in the same waters that pelicans were diving into.  It was simply divine.

The retreat was also incredible, and worthy of some deeper reflection (but not tonight).  Below is a quote that was shared that really spoke to me and I thought I’d share it with you.

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do it.  Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

—Howard Thurman 

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Although I really, really loved the warm temperatures this week, I cannot wait to get home to this…

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They’ll warm me up and get me excited to keep getting outside.