The J24 Team Prepares for the 2013 Sailboat Racing Season

I race sailboats.  It is one of the ways that I take care of myself and is something that I do so that I can be a better mother.  About once a week during the season, I go away for a few hours to work on the boat or to race her and come home feeling like I went on a vacation. This racing season I hope to take you along on my journey.  We mostly race in local regattas and every Wednesday night.  But a world championship is coming up that we’d actually go to if we qualified so there should be some exciting adventures as we strive to improve our skills.

Meet some of my teammates as we take the winter coat off of and spiff up Mr. Hankey!





Dr. Andrew Carey (the owner, skipper, and allergist–if you’re wondering where the boat got its name)



(Toby and Jon weren’t there this day, but you’ll meet them soon!)


And our fine vessel.



Bad Dog!

I don’t exactly hate dogs but lately my relationship with them has been strained. I’m allergic to most of them, they drool, and their barks tend to pierce my ears. But what bothers me the most is when they jump up on me unexpectedly, or worse, when they jump on my kids who are scared of them.

When I’m on a trail, most of the other humans I see are ones with their dogs. I don’t know where all the non-dog owners are… maybe inside with their cats and hamsters. Or maybe they got tired of being jumped on by other people’s dogs? Dogs have jumped on me twice recently. Both were leashed. Both times I was scared.  Both dog owners apologized but the apologies didn’t make me feel better. I still felt violated.

Here’s the thing dog owners may not know: when your dog jumps up on me it is unexpected and startling. I am a bit fearful he will bite me. His friendly hello feels like an attack. You know he’s being friendly, but I don’t. You may think I like it, but I really, really don’t. My neighbor and friend has been bitten twice by dogs on leashes while running on trails in Portland and has said he won’t even go to Baxter Woods anymore because he’s had dozens of dogs jump up on him on the trails.

I mentioned this to some of my dog-lover friends and even they agreed that they don’t want other dogs jumping up on them. Perhaps dog owners don’t know how this feels. Maybe they don’t get jumped up on because when they encounter dogs on the trail their own dogs get the attention and spare them the slobber. Maybe their fondness for their canines clouds their empathy. “What’s not to love about Fifi?” they may think. Why wouldn’t they think this? I assume people are going to love my kids because my kids are amazing. These folks undoubtedly feel the same way about their dog. I get it, but I wouldn’t ever let my child jump up on you. Your apology afterwards is essential, but it doesn’t make it OK. It still makes the trail a less desirable place, even for me.

This past winter I was walking on a trail and saw a runner coming toward me with an off-leash dog. I felt my fear begin to rise, but as soon as she saw me, she called her dog to her who promptly came, fastened the leash, and cinched up on it so the dog was just inches from her hand. What a relief. She held the dog in place as I approached, and my fear dissipated. Happily, it turned out to be my friend Moriah and her dog Pearl. As we talked, she asked if I minded if she took the leash off. By then, Pearl was acclimated to my smell, I totally trusted the dog was going to respond to my friend when called, and I didn’t mind one bit. This was superb dog owner etiquette elegantly at work: Moriah proactively kept her dog under control from a good distance and I felt perfectly safe.

I love being in the woods on the trails. My time out there will not be compromised by the potential that your leashed dog may jump on me. But I wonder, when I joked earlier that some people were at home with their hamsters, was there some truth to it… are there other non-dog owners like my neighbor who are too scared of dogs and avoid the trails because of them? My husband reminded me that years ago I coached him through his intense fear of dogs. He had been bit by a dog whose owner said, “He’s friendly.” He’s been chased by unleashed dogs numerous times while riding his bike. I advised him to stay calm, to avoid looking them in the eye, to talk to them like you know them, and to let them smell the back side of your hand. He said he’s now rarely scared of dogs in the woods. This is all well and good, but when I’m exercising, I don’t really want to stop running to apply these proper time-consuming behaviors. In preparation for this blog post I read some advice at a government web page called Dealing with Dogs. I learned that when I approach a dog from the front or the back, dogs might read this as a threat and work to protect their owner. This is probably heightened when I’m running toward them. This certainly seems like something non-dog owners and dog owners alike should be aware of. I guess the solution is two part: owners firmly chomp down on the leash when strangers approach and the non-dog owning trail users can leave a wide berth to dogs on leash.

What do you think?  How can dog owners and non-dog owning folks best share the trails?  To my dog-owning readers, what else can we do to keep from getting jumped up on?  Please leave a comment so all others can learn!

Strolling with Friends

I’m a lucky woman. I have wonderful friends in my personal life and I work with delightful people who I call friends. This past week I traveled to Rhode Island for a brief work trip. My colleague from Delta Education, Knans Griffing, met me there. After a really wonderful day at URI with educators at Gems-Net, we spent the night in Newport, RI. Knans and I went for a long walk along the Cliff Walk and imagined the lives of the people who owned the mansions. Most of these mammoth homes looked vacant and were possibly just summer homes.

newport  cliff walk rocks

The view was spectacular, the mansions were ridiculously large and nothing I’d ever want to live in but fun to look at non-the-less, but the company warmed my heart and made the walk so much more memorable than the cliff walk would ever be alone. We walked for well over an hour, searched the beach for large shells to bring home to my children, and enjoyed the crisp fresh air with the heavenly hint of salt from the Atlantic ocean.

Newport sign

The next morning we woke early to go for a walk through town before I had to leave to work with some educators in CT.  It was chilly and windy but sunny.  Walking with a good friend in a beautiful seaside town was a lovely way to start the day.

Knans gorgeous

Newport ocean wave

Erica on tree with hat


Although I love my solo outdoor experiences, time outdoors is almost always more special with the company of friends or family.

Bringing the Outdoors In

I’ve been busy. Very, very busy. So busy, that I worry you may feel like I’ve been neglecting my efforts with this here blog. Although I haven’t been writing much, I have been getting outside almost every day. In fact, for the 2013 Everyday Outside Challenge, I’ve only missed one day of getting outside for at least 30 minutes.   

Here’s the irony, the day I couldn’t get outside I was celebrating environmental education with a bunch of outdoor enthusiasts at Chewonki during the Maine Environmental Education Association annual conference. I was one of the organizers of the event, the first conference I’ve ever helped organize, and every minute of the day was devoted to buttoning down a myriad of details needed to make the day a success. I spent all day thinking about connecting people, young and old, to nature and getting others outside more frequently, but when I finished my work and home responsibilities for the day, at 11pm, there was no juice in the tank for actually walking out the door. Anyway, the good news is I’ve gotten outside for 88 of 89 days this year. Family adventures in sledding, skating and snowman building balanced out my alone time skiing and walking in nature, and all that variety and fun took some of the bite out of the harsh weather we’ve seen this year.  Having gone out in blizzards, nor’easters, extreme cold, and a crap load of snow, spending time outside in the upcoming warm sunshine will be a breeze.

I am ready to say good-bye to winter: I want to go outside without boots and am ready to leave my hats and mittens in the basket in the mud room, ready to hang up my thick winter coat in the closet.  I’m watching as the leaves of the breast cancer awareness tulips poke up through the thawing earth next to our driveway. The purple, white, and yellow crocuses fill me with joy and tender feelings of hope every time I walk past them.  As the first signs of spring, they remind me that the end of winter is in sight.  Even though we may face another big storm, soon we’ll see green on trees and bushes, and our yard will shine with fresh grass.

After the conference, I took my husband up the coast to celebrate his birthday.  A Groupon deal made the Hawthorn Inn up in Camden affordable to stay for two nights in the carriage house. What luxury! The room was even nicer in reality than it looked on the web. Though I generally avoid inns because I prefer to be anonymous and don’t always like having to be nice and friendly with innkeepers, this worked out great. The owner Maryann Shanahan struck the right balance of giving us space and sharing her treasured home with us.

What made our room perfect for me was how one whole wall was filled with sliding glass windows.  Beyond the windows was a deck looking out through bare trees that revealed the winter harbor. Lying in bed gazing out the windows at trees and water took me back to my childhood in rural Nottingham, NH.  Back then I spent countless mornings daydreaming through the windows at the treetops swaying in the breeze outside my bedroom window. I concentrated on them deeply on weekend mornings, hoping their swaying boughs would predict great wind for sailboat races later in the day. It was a dream to wake up next to nature’s allure like that, and I miss it terribly. These days, I have neither the bedroom view nor the leisurely mind state for morning window gazing.

camden harbor

I was so wiped out from planning the conference on top of my full-time job and parenting responsibilities that I didn’t mind the fact that breakfast wasn’t served until 9:00am.  I appreciated the extra sleep and time to just lie in bed and look at the view!  Once in the dining room, we savored a delicious breakfast of fruit salad topped with yogurt and nuts with a second course of a lightly seasoned spinach frittata and roasted potatoes.

Then we were off for a hike up Mount Megunticook, where we found a treacherous mix of slush, ice and mud.  We only slipped and fell a couple times on the way up, but we practically had to crawl back down again.  Well, Hans DID crawl through the steep stretches where the slush was packed solid and grey. Meanwhile, I found myself sliding down the path, pretending I was on skis and that all of this was by design. Skiing down a slushy hill in hiking boots is almost as good as cross country skiing. Despite how much extra energy we had to devote to make our way through the muck, it was still an invigorating hike.  Exhausting, but invigorating.  I can’t wait to take the kids on long hikes like this one, and I think this might be the summer for it: they are getting more and more capable all the time, and they will love working hard to drink in a beautiful vista while snacking on chocolate nut crunch trail mix.

boat house

Throughout the weekend, I couldn’t stop thinking about how critical it is to connect with the beautiful things we see. When I say “connect” here, what I really mean is to be IN the natural world. I was struck by how my connection to the view from the hotel window was dramatically heightened when I stepped out the door onto the balcony. Suddenly, the view became much more three dimensional.  The sound of birds, boats, and water all came into bloom.  Details lost through the window glass were now clear. I could almost touch the trees.  The dark shadows cast on the smooth white snow seemed to jump out at me, and the stream tumbling noisily from the mountain drowned out the traffic that I tried hard to ignore. I was a part of this scene and brought it into my soul. Then, walking down by the harbor which we could plainly see from the porch, I noticed so much more than I could imagine from above. Yes, it is obvious that you will see more when you are closer to something, but what I am talking about is an almost intangible feeling of entering into something. It is the feeling of leaving the indoor world where we control everything and entering a vast, interconnected place that can only truly be experienced from within it.

When I returned inside, I continued to admire the scene out the window, and I could still feel it inside of me. Although there was glass separating us, I brought the outdoors in. If I had only looked out the window at this beautiful scene, I would have missed the depth of the connection. I wouldn’t have felt so warmed by nature’s beauty.  Looking out the window, we gaze at art made by someone we don’t know and will never meet. Going past the window into the scene itself, we join hands with the painter and experience her art directly.

yard at Hawthorn

schooners for winter

I felt this most acutely up on the mountain trail while crossing a stream.  The rushing water is perfectly lovely from a short distance.  Then, getting closer, I felt surrounded by the sound, aware of water’s raw power. Even closer, standing on a stone in the middle of the stream, all the sounds were louder and bolder and the scents tangibly more powerful. I could feel through my feet its power to smooth stones and change the shape of land. I could feel that power in my bones. Was I part of the stream?  I don’t know, but I was certainly more grateful and present to be surrounded by it.

best winter spring


These moments of connecting with nature strengthen me in tangible ways that are difficult to put into words. My regular connection to nature makes me a more fullfilled person. My heart is open and ready to welcome spring and to continue connecting with the trees outside my window.

from top of mountain


tree marking

The Pull of a Trail


Do you feel it?  Do you feel the pull?  There is something about a well made trail that pulls me along, makes me want to continue to run, walk, or ski over it. Helping me forget about the zillion details and responsibilities that make up my life. That pull calls me back again and again to discover the same beautiful and yet ever changing combination of rocks, wood, soil, leaves, animals, and light. Maybe it is the width of the trail and how it appears to narrow as you look far ahead, maybe it is how it twists and turns, maybe it is the knowledge that some unexpected beauty may exist somewhere ahead of where I am, maybe it is the lure of the unknown, the unseen.  Whatever it is, I feel it.  I feel it in the core of my being.

Treacherous Trails, Swollen Jewell Falls, Unexpected Treasure

I woke up at 3:30 am last night. I tossed and turned for 1.5 hours before dragging my tired tush out of bed. I worked for 1.5 hours and then decided to go outside. I grabbed my camera and drove to one of the Portland Trail entrances to Jewell Falls and hoped to walk all the way to Stroudwater. Upon arrival I learned this was going to be a slow crawl of a walk. The ice was often 4-6 inches thick and along the edges where the ice had melted was 4-6 inches of mud.  There were a few spots of snow along which I could find some secure footing, but for the most part I had to be very, very careful.

The falls were swollen with the recent rain and the snow melt.  jewell falls_horizontal_130313jewell falls_vertical_130313

After taking several minutes to absorb the sounds, smell, and sight of the waterfall I carried on along the trail. I managed to get pretty far down the trail and enjoyed my walk. Just as I turned to head home I heard two incredibly angry crows who indicated to  me that a predator was about.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw the flash of big wings and I was pretty sure the crows were pissed that an owl or hawk was near by.  I was leaning towards an owl so I followed the racket until I could see it.  I actually said, “Yes!” in an out-loud whisper in response to making eye contact with this guy.  (Look in the center of the photo below…)owl_jewell falls_130313

I was hoping he’d fly toward me so I could capture an even closer photo, but it was enough to stand and have a starring contest. Certainly made up for a terrible night sleep.

jewell falls_tree_130313jewell falls_melting snow_130313


Playgrounds in Winter

IMG_1546What a weekend! One of my Godson’s turned seven and my family traveled to Connecticut to celebrate.  We arrived very late on Friday, enjoyed casual festivities all day Saturday, stayed up very late playing cards Saturday night, and after packing the car and helping to reorganize the house we headed out for a nice walk to a playground before heading home to Maine.

On both Saturday and Sunday we took walks with kids to the closest playground, a little less than a mile from the house. Our Saturday walk with five kids, four boys and my daughter, led to a snow covered playground. They had the run of the entire play structure. During spring, summer, and fall the place would have been teeming with kids. On this birthday outing, the kids created a whole nautical world and this play structure became a battleship, or maybe it was a submarine, but whatever the type of ship these five sailed they did so without fights, falls, or losing steam. Holly, my lovely sister-in-law and I sat on the warm asphalt and watched without needing to intervene. This 55 degree day felt down right balmy compared to the frigid winter we have had.

On Sunday the adults wanted to walk to spend time together and get some fresh air before the long drive home. We had to drag two of the three reluctant children along on the walk. I was surprised that the two boys, who simply wanted to stay home, carried their grouchy attitudes all the way to the playground. I think they were exhausted. Finally, they relaxed into their play and by the time we were heading home, they were back to their energetic selves.

I adore spending time with my amazing family outdoors.



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.

EEB_vista top of hill

EEB_Portland Trails sign

EEB_snow on rocks

EEB_the sunny water's edgeEEB_rocks, sand, and shellsEEB_take my breath away beachEEB_mostly shellsEEB_rocks and seaweed

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.


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.


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.


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!

Viles_bird house in red bushes

viles_stone sailboat

viles_pasture tree

viles_amazing circle

viles_large circle in field two

viles_stone aok

viles_thick circle stone

viles_stone owl

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.