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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

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.

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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.

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What we Hide

I’m preparing to present at the Pecha Kucha Event in Portland at SPACE Gallery tomorrow night. Basically eight thoughtful, creative, energetic, and passionate Maine folks will share the cool stuff they’ve done or are doing with 20 slides and 20 seconds per slide. Exactly 6 minutes and 40 seconds to share a project, art, poetry, photography, or a passion. I’ll be sharing what I do here in this blog and the 365 Every Day Outside Challenge.

I had what I thought was  a pretty tight presentation and shared it with my husband. As you probably guessed almost all of my photos are outside, in fact nineteen of the twenty slides are outdoor ones.  All beautifully capturing Maine and happy moments for my family. After smiling through the whole thing, Hans’s advice was to share the hard stuff too… to show the messy desk, the kitchen with overflowing dishes and windows that needed to be cleaned a year ago (maybe two), to show the night time walk at 11pm because I couldn’t get out until then. It was great advice–I will speak about being busy but I also need to show this in at least one of my slides.

Is there such a thing as a parent who can keep up with everything?  Even stay at-home parents never get it all done when they want to.  Maybe people who can afford to hire a lot of help can keep up but there’s always more homework, papers to sort through, mail to respond to, art projects that were not cleaned up, Lego everywhere, and dirt and dust and grime. So Hans took this photo of what my desk looked like right then and I took a few photos of what my kitchen looked like at that very moment.

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I’m pretty embarrassed by these photos… I’d cringe if a friend or neighbor walked into my home looking like this. I desire a picture perfect home but raising kids is messy work. Here’s the thing, we do have moments of neat and tidy but I can’t keep up. I’m guessing I’m not alone in this. I could have photographed a few neater corners, but if we only share with the world the tidy moments then it just adds to the shame I (we?) feel when someone sees what we’re trying to hide. None of us live in the pages of a Pottery Barn catalog or Better Homes and Gardens and even if our homes are shared in those pages, the photos are taken after days of cleaning and the things we live with on the counters are hidden in storage.

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Yesterday, I could have cleaned the kitchen instead of taking a few minutes to play backgammon with my son on the front porch in the warm sunshine as he recovers from strep throat.  I could have stayed up late cleaning instead of going to bed early to try and stave off strep which I always get when I’m exposed to it.  I could have scrubbed for those few minutes before work instead of taking my daughter’s hand when she wanted me to watch her “new tricks” on the monkey bars before going to school. I could have and maybe I should have but the choices we make in those small decisive moments define our lives.

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My kids probably won’t remember the mess when they’re adults, but they will remember playing games on the porch on a sick day and they’ll remember how wonderful it feels to be outside on a chilly fall  morning before school. Nobody has asked how I get it all done, or even how I find time to get outside every day, but I think it is important to share that the choices I make make it possible. I also will argue that the outdoor time energizes me to get more done inside… but that’s another blog entry.

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Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow night. Please say hello if you’re there!

I Returned the Cart

I am a Type A person. I’m a control freak but capable of getting a lot of shit done in a short period of time.  To get that stuff done, I’m constantly thinking and planning and multitasking in order to be as efficient as possible. This morning, after a stress and tearful kid drop off at school, I headed over to Whole Foods in order to buy some alfalfa and wheat seeds for two upcoming workshops that I’m prepping for. As I drove I thought of the things I needed to do to get ready for the workshops next week as well as the one I’m teaching on Friday here in Portland, and I also thought of the things I needed for my family while at the store, and how to juggle the other stuff on my very full plate.

I parked at the far end of the lot, shopped fast, and got out of there in under $75 and 15 minutes.  Not bad.  I pushed the cart back to my car at the far end of the lot, unloaded my bags, and looked around for the classic Hannaford–midlot cart drop off. There wasn’t one. I heaved out one deep and frustrated sigh and considered leaving my cart right where I was.  I took a deep breath in and decided to be a good girl and return the cart to the front entrance. After approximately six steps I looked up at the gorgeous blue sky with sprinkled fair-weather clouds throughout, I felt the perfect Maine fall temperature and realized how ridiculous I was being. These few outdoor minutes across the parking lot were mine.  I could choose to enjoy them or to not. I could choose to breathe deeply or shallowly.  I could choose to keep my face in a scowl, continue to think of all the things I needed to do, continue to look down instead of up, and I could continue to feel frustrated.

I chose to relax my face. I chose to breathe deeply. I chose to not think. I chose to enjoy my two and a half minute walk across the parking lot while I looked up at the utterly beautiful Maine sky.  When I got back in my car, I rolled down my windows, continued to breathe deeply, and kept connecting with all the little things that make me more peaceful inside of this type A body and mind.

Those few short minutes outside affect my well being. When I’m fully present in any outdoor setting, even if it truly is only a few minutes here and a few there, I am happier and healthier and less grouchy and less controlling. I’m already looking forward to a walk outside later today–after all, two and a half minutes to and from the car wouldn’t be enough for the 365 Everyday Outside Challenge–but, they were enough to make a difference in that moment.

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Creating a Little Outdoor Haven Right at Home

I dream of renovating the entire outdoor space at our Portland, Maine home. I imagine a designer set of extremely comfortable patio furniture with black foundations, teal-colored cushions, and throw pillows with vibrantly colored red lobsters stenciled on. This fancy stuff will be housed under the new roof covering our private back deck and will look out upon a neatly landscaped patio and yard beyond. The lawn will always be perfectly mowed and the weeds will be regularly plucked by my landscape artist Bernard. He will work his green thumb all inside of my fertile yard, tanned and muscular back glistening in the hot summer sun. After an afternoon “helping” Bernard, my husband and I will cook in our outdoor kitchen while drinking jalapeno-infused margaritas with friends. On hotter days we’ll have catered parties with passed hors d’oeuvres and a party-specific cocktail.

… Ah, to dream. This dream will likely stay a dream for another decade or so. I married a composer after all and I’m an educator and the reality is we just don’t have the cash to make things like this happen. I will continue flipping through the pages of The Best of Fine Gardening: Outdoor Ideas & Solutions magazine or Pottery Barn catalogs and longing for fancy things.

But I can still make things nice with what I have. So, let me tell you a little backstory about how I was inspired to create a cozy outdoor space in my own yard on a tight budget.

Several years ago we bid on a one a week’s stay at a vacation home Down East. It was donated to a school auction and for a few hundred dollars we stole it. Located in Castine, Maine, the house was set back from the Bagaduce River by a quarter mile walk down a charming wooded path. The smell on that Down East trek through a forest to the water’s edge is uniquely intoxicating. The mix of salt, moss, decomposing downed trees, and new growth blend together into a distinct aroma that is heavenly. The treasured path led to weathered chunks of granite lining the rustic beach, including one flat boulder that was large enough to have a picnic on. The rugged beach wasn’t appropriate for swimming but did hold many delightful discoveries—special smooth rocks, tide pools to explore, and perfect shells.

Even though the walk to the water was short, and we relished our trips down to the beach, we still spent vast amounts of time sitting on the screened porch with no water view at all. Maybe it was because my kids were young but sitting on that porch was my favorite part of that vacation. We ate dinner at a plastic table, we drank our morning coffee in the rocking chairs, we set up worlds with the set of Playmobile toys on the weathered wood floor, and Hans and I challenged each other to games of Rummy night after night by candlelight. The screened-in porch was approximately six-feet wide and about 30-feet long and looked out over a lawn that sloped down to the woods which shielded the view of the water. People who know me well, know that I love being close to the water but this trip made it clear to me that I also love the simple pleasure of sitting outside on a porch, especially porches with rocking chairs.

When we returned home, fully rested and recharged, I looked at my own front porch and knew that I could make some changes to create a place I wanted to spend more time. I moved the recycling bin back to the garage, cleaned the junk that had accumulated through the winter and spring, and scrubbed the walls, railings, and floor.

I couldn’t afford to buy a fancy set of outdoor furniture or even to buy a simple rocking chair so I went “shopping” in my basement. I swept the cobwebs aside and went down to see what could be used. I was delighted to rediscover a rocking chair I sat in while nursing my son all those years ago and an orphaned foot stool.

Now mind you, the rocking chair and its cushion were indoor items.  I repurposed them as outdoor furniture and trusted that the roof on the porch would protect them from most weather conditions. I didn’t find a table so I purchased a simple folding teak table for $15 at The Christmas Tree Shop.

This porch renovation brought some vacation-like evenings to workdays. Hans and I could continue to drink wine while playing Rummy by candlelight. Delightful!

Recently the porch has slipped back into chaos. Someone put the recycling bin there again, the bucket of ice melt remained even though winter is long gone, and kids’ clutter has spewed outside after taking over the inside of our home. Last weekend I decided to clean it. My daughter who couldn’t find a friend to play with was easily convinced to help me scrub the furniture. Bubbles, warm water, and hoses equal great fun after all! We cleared the porch completely, scrubbed away the pollen, and rinsed away the dirt. We swept the leaves and dust and even scrubbed the walls that somehow get really dirty. We put away the stuff that didn’t belong and placed back the things that did. Here are some before, during, and after shots. Two neighborhood boys joined in the fun. The Tom Sawyer effect totally worked.  Although they weren’t scrubbing for a reward, I treated them to popsicles to celebrate their efforts.

I spend most of my time at home, and I can’t get away to beautiful outdoor spots as much as I would like. I work here. And on the weekends or during vacation it’s next to impossible to pull my composer husband out of his studio. So if I want to maximize my outdoor time (and I do), I need to make my home the most desirable outdoor spot around. Making my outdoor spaces as comfortable as possible on a limited budget is worth every cent of effort I put into it.

I’m still not going to stop dreaming about what I want to buy… but until then, this is quite satisfactory.

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After:

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Time to go out and enjoy another cup of coffee in my rocking chair that is as strong today as it was when I lovingly nursed my son in it.  And just maybe, get in another candle lit evening game of Rummy with my sweet husband before it gets too cold.

Everyday Outside Wins Down East Magazine’s “Best of Maine Readers’ Choice Award”

It is with great pride that I share with you that in the July issue of Down East Magazine, Everyday Outside was announced the winner of the Readers’ Choice Award for Best Blog. Readers of Down East (and maybe just a few of my friends 😉 ) voted for me and we won!  This is the fifth year that Down East has been giving these awards but this was the  first year that they threw a party for the award winners. And boy do they know how to throw a party! We celebrated at the Portland Club downtown on June 27 with food and beverages served by Black Tie Company. The food and service were exemplary. I wondered if the mini lobster roll that I was served was made by the winners of “The Best Maine Lobster Roll” because it was so good, but I was told that the event caterers made them.  Maybe next year Black Tie Company will win the best roll–it’s that good! The food was simply amazing and everything that you could possibly want when celebrating in our great state. A raw bar with unlimited oysters, lobster rolls, fried crab rolls, and a dessert table that included miniature whoopie pies that were dipped in chocolate. They were really quite tiny, as far as whoopie pies go, and my goodness were they yummy. I may never eat another chocolate dipped whoopie… so I ate another and another and another.

Upon arrival we were given a name tag, our award, and a goody bag. I posed for a photo with Paul Doiron, the editor-in-cheif of the magazine and I kind of missed my opportunity to talk about my blog.  If I hadn’t been so nervous I would have said, “We should talk. Coffee?”  Even now I don’t really  know what I should have said… How about, “Let’s work together to get more people outside on a more regular basis!” It was kind of cool to have a professional photo taken with the fancy backdrop like those seen at awards shows.  I felt like this was just one of the many details that demonstrate how the event planners thought of everything.  DE_BESTofMAINE-209

The awardees in the room were as diverse as our great state.  The Readers’ Choice for best boat builder was The Hinckley Company; for best print columnist the great Bill Nemitz, who writes for the Portland Press Herald and the Maine Sunday Telegram; and best bargain store was Renys–an institution almost as popular as L.L. Bean, the winner of best outdoor store and sporting goods store.  We all mingled about not really knowing who else was in the room.  I found out after the event that Liz Pride, the author of Your LL Bean Boyfriend was an awardee. The editor of Down East whispered to her that he was wearing an L.L. Bean suit…   You can read her account of the evening here.

As a parent and a hard-working momma, I rarely get to indulge in such a special evening with such great food and unlimited drinks.  Thanks Down East for this memorable evening and the recognition. I will certainly hang my award with great pride in my office.

If you were one of the readers who voted for me, I thank you.  I hope I can continue to entertain you with my narratives of simple outings and musings about the benefits of getting outside on a regular basis for years to come. My ultimate goal is to highlight that just stepping out the back door helps fuel a nature connection that can completely transform one’s outlook on life. Happy summer and many wonderful outings to all of you.

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Is 30 Minutes Enough?

I have been thinking about a simple question for awhile now. In fact, as I successfully completed my 2012 challenge to get outside for at least thirty minutes every day, I wondered if thirty minutes of outdoor time was enough.  The question came with me on my walks and lingered well after I returned home.

I contemplated upping the challenge to go out for at least 60 minutes a day during 2013. Was 30 minutes of my day a tough enough challenge? Would I have more to write about and would it be more interesting to my readers if I went out longer? Is 1/48th of a day a sufficient amount of outdoor time? Most days 30 minutes is pretty easy to accomplish—what would 60 minutes feel like when the wind chill is well below zero or when I had a fever of 102?  Would 1/24 of a day be twice as good? Does the ratio of outdoor time to indoor time even matter? And what does it mean to be enough? What is the core goal here?

The concept reentered my thinking in February after I presented at the Portland Trails 2013 Annual Meeting. I presented what I’m doing here in this Everyday Outside blog and what the 365 Everyday Outside Challenge is. The format only allowed me to share the essence of what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.

(You can watch the video here.  My introduction starts at 43:22 and my presentation starts with a little nervous laughter at 44:46.)

After the presentation my mother-in-law said, “It seems like such a simple thing to do… I must already go outside for at least 30 minutes. I walk to and from the car a lot.”  Then I could see her remember that the only thing I don’t count towards my outdoor time is walking to and from the car. Before I started the challenge, I too would have thought that I was outside for at least 30 minutes most days, but as I began to keep track of my minutes, I was shocked at how much more I was going outdoors than I had in the past. The goal of not missing more than one day a month pushed me to make a conscious effort, and that made all the difference.

There were many days when I would not have gone for a walk if it wasn’t for the challenge, nights when I was about to crawl into bed after 10:00, having just slipped on my cozy fleece pajamas only to remember that that I hadn’t gone outside. Without the challenge, I wouldn’t have bothered, but with it, I had just enough of a push to get me out of bed and out the back door with my pajamas on. In 2012 I went out that back door in the wee hours like that more times than I could count because I was counting.

After the presentation, my husband thought that my talk made the challenge sound easy, and he knows otherwise. In 2012, when I started this journey to get outside every day, I would absolutely agree, that it isn’t easy. But it is much easier now than it was for the first year. People say it takes 21 days to form a new habit. I gave myself a whole year, and it is now certainly a habit that will last a lifetime. So far in 2013 I’ve missed only one day.

This habit has made me noticeably happier. I’m pretty sure my happiness is directly proportional to how much outdoor time I get. Maybe it is in part because my indoor time is connected to work, responsibilities, cleaning, cooking, laundry, and stuff that I have to do and which I rarely feel on top of. Outdoor time almost always involves stuff I really want to do. Maybe I am happier because I am getting a sufficient amount of vitamin D or more exercise or fresh air. Or is it possible that my increased happiness level is a result of a deep, sustained, everyday connection with the natural world? I don’t think I’ll ever know exactly what is responsible for making me feel happier but I know that my outdoor time has contributed significantly. I also know that the key is at least 30 minutes.  Anything less than 30 minutes would not be enough because most days 30 minutes isn’t sufficient for my nature connection.

In part I’m keeping my challenge to 30 minutes because I really want others to join me, and for the challenge to be an attainable goal that others want to achieve. My dog walking family and friends go outside every day and between 20-40 people have said they’re taking the outdoor challenge this year. So lots of people are getting outside regularly, but I know that most aren’t. Most days I get outside for more than a half-hour, but there are days when it is all I can do to make those thirty precious minutes happen, and those are the days when I need that time the most.  On those days 30 minutes is enough.

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What do you think?  Is thirty minutes of daily outdoor time enough for you?