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2013 Everyday Outside Report

A friend of mine just celebrated his 50th with a surprise birthday cookout.  It was a fabulous outdoor party with a delicious assortment of potluck offerings, frisbees and soccer balls flying all over, good beer, and grand company. It didn’t rain, it sprinkled throughout the party, and our rugged Maine friends weathered the temporary increase in moisture. The birthday boy and I had a few minutes together and he asked me, “Are you still doing your outdoor thing?” I replied that I was. He then asked, “How many days in a row have you gone outside?” I didn’t know the answer to the question but replied that I’ve gone out all but one day in 2013.

It’s hard to believe it is July–the half-way point of our calendar year.  I blinked, and June disappeared.  My life feels like I’m in one of those Looney Toon cartoons where the calendar days flip by to show that time is passing.  I feel like my days and months are moving by that quickly. I can’t keep up with turning the pages of my calendar–the months just keep flipping off one by one.

June is in the past and we’re half way through 2013. Seems like a perfect time to check in and report on my status for the 365 Everyday Outside Challenge. I’ve gone outside for 181 days this year for at least 30 minutes.  Most of my outings were much longer–but all of them were for at least 30 minutes. Back in March there was one day that I was probably only outside for 20 minutes so that was my one missed day. For comparison’s sake, in 2012 I went outside for all but 8 days. I’m proud of the improvement and attribute it to the fact that regular outdoor time (and keeping track of it on busy days) is a habit for me now.

On a related note we’ve welcomed a few new people to the 365 Everyday Outside Challenge in the last few days and have many who’ve been doing it since the beginning of the year. I’d love to hear how you’re doing and how it is going.  Please drop a note in the comments section and share how it is going.

Wishing you all wonderful outings filled with mother nature’s surprises.  Below are some photos of a special walk at the Falmouth Audubon with my family and two cousins. We unexpectedly stumbled upon a field of peonies when walking in the woods. How delightful.

Happy summer!

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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?

 

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!

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Charlotte

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

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Stephanie

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

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And our fine vessel.

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The Pull of a Trail

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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.

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.

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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.

 

Pond Hockey!

Last weekend I played pond hockey on Stroadwater River until way past when my body said I should stop. I haven’t played like that for a long time and I had forgotten how much fun and all consuming the game can be. The puck, and the skaters, only rested during the short moments when the puck was off in a snowbank and had to be retrieved.

I completely lost myself in the action and getting lost in anything is something I treasure.  In addition to the joys of skating and hitting things with sticks through a pair of boots separated into goal posts, instant camaraderie buoyed our spirits.  It was like being a kid again. And, just like when I was a kid, I forgot many of the players’ names–but that didn’t matter. Our time together was all about playing and cheering on great moves for both teammates and opponents. Most of the players were kids and the adults were all fabulous at supporting them as they learned how to play. For me, this was a huge part of the joy of the day.

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The afternoon tournament began when my friend Laura, who lives up a steep bank from the river, posted an open invite on Facebook. When I read it, I dropped what I was doing, garnered support from my dear husband, tried to convince my children to join me (they declined), grabbed my skates and went. I was undeterred by the fact that my last pond hockey game was back in my twenties or that the majority of my current day skating involves gentle looping about with my young kids.

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The game kept changing as the teams kept shifting personnel, with the younger ones frequently ducking out to join other skaters on the ice outside the game or to drink hot chocolate, and the older ones taking breaks to socialize or tend to their families elsewhere. It was incredible how lopsided the teams often were, and the most dramatic match-up pitted a trio of grown women against seven boys. The fun just didn’t stop. We played hard.

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The ice was in great condition. There were a few big cracks which were easy to blame when I ended up on my rear end a few times. Cracks happen, despite the tremendous effort Laura and friends put in the night before to get the ice ready. They shoveled and even brought some hot water down to the ice to smooth out some rough spots.

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I am already looking forward to the next ad-hoc game, which will hopefully be soon. I hereby volunteer for prepping the ice the next time. It takes a community to keep our our frozen waterways ready for skating, and I need to be part of it and frankly, it is part of the fun. The efforts of Laura, her family and friends this weekend sure made for a great rink, a memorable afternoon, and deepened my longing to play again soon.skating 3

“Snow!:

“Snow!”

This is how my kids react every single time they see snow falling from the sky.  Most of the time it is the way I respond too.  I instantly start thinking about how I can find some time to cross country ski or when I can get my kids to a big sledding hill.  Of course I also think about shoveling and when that will happen–but most of the time, I get excited for snow.

Except there was that time in early November, or maybe it was late October when it snowed, and I wasn’t ready–this could be said almost every year because I’m almost never totally ready to transition from fall to winter.  I felt like I hadn’t even enjoyed the changing of the colors of our fall leaves, I certainly hadn’t raked them all into brown bags for the city to pick up, and where the heck were all the mittens, hats, snow pants, and of course winter boots!  I prayed they would fit for one more year.   So that morning, as my son and I walked downstairs together and then looked out the window at the bottom of the stairs, before I could think twice I said, “Uugh, snow.”  My son was shocked by my tone and asked, “Why do grownups always get disappointed when it snows?”

Instead of sharing with him all the reasons why I wasn’t excited for snow, I just heard him.  So why is it that we can’t get excited–there are so many reasons… snow days that mess up our work days; mittens, one of the pair can never be found–and then you find a pair and the child wants the other ones–the ones that you can’t find; shoveling; it takes forever to get the kids out the door–snow pants, gloves (matching gloves!), getting gloves on top of little fingers, zipping winter coats for children who have gloves on, boots—oh my!; digging out the car, dealing with poorly plowed streets, and of course, driving is more dangerous.

Undoubtedly, as adults, there are many reasons to be frustrated with snow.  But ask yourself, how do you want your kids to respond to seeing snow falling gently from the sky…  Do you want them to respond the way you would have when you were a child? Do you want them to scream out, “Snow!” with enthusiasm and eager energy to get outside to play in it?  I ask you to consider your adult response to snow when in front of your children.  You can think whatever you want, and you certainly can say whatever you want, but do so knowing that what you say out loud (or with your facial expression) in front of your kids will affect their thoughts.

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