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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?

Celebrating the Night

It’s Halloween!  Officially one of my favorite nights of the year. Tonight, millions of children will walk out their doors dressed in all sorts of creative costumes including Star Wars characters, Drew’s minions, and adorable cuddly animals. Some will walk alone, some with their parents, and some will walk in gangs of teenagers. In my neighborhood parents have almost as much fun as the kids—we socialize in the streets as our kids run up to the front doors of each lit-up porch, we celebrate the few adults who put on costumes to join in the fun, and we occasionally steal candy from our children’s stashes as we offer to hold their heavy loads. I love seeing the final decorative outfit unveilings of our neighbors adorned with proud smiles that represent the hard work of the kids (and moms or dads who helped.)  My husband, who hasn’t touched a sewing machine since high school, has spent about forty hours creating three 2013 costumes on a borrowed machine. He wears the Halloween hat in our family—thank goodness, and this year he’s truly hit it out of the park. I’m a miserable failure when it comes to costumes. Tonight, many of the passing turtles, Spider-Men, and cowgirls, many of whom I’ve known since the day they were born, will take a pause to say hello and show of their outfits. Even the big kids will flaunt their wear. I get a kick out of these gaggles of teenagers. I’ve caught them celebrating when I give out miniature containers of Play-Doh instead of candy, “Yes! Play-Doh!” and I’ve seen them watch out for little kids on steep staircases or even on cracked sidewalks.  It’s a joy I tell you—the whole darn thing.

Throughout the last two years of doing my 365 Every Day Outside Challenge many of my 30ish minute outings happened just the way many of us will head out tonight—after dark under street lights.  Sometimes my kids join me, waving flashlights around, and occasionally turning them off to test the darkness.  More often than not I’d go alone, after the kids were tucked into bed.  These solo nighttime walks are often magical.  My senses are heightened and the quiet is precious.  These outings often follow days filled with indoor responsibilities and too much sitting in front of my computer. The first deep breath of fresh air doesn’t always happen right away, sometimes I’m halfway through my walk before the tension fades enough to allow my diaphragm to expand thoroughly. Finally relaxing, breathing deeply, and rapidly moving my body contribute to the heightened sense of joy I carry back inside with me.

Maybe, my decades of enjoying Halloween—chilly nighttime walks with friends have been trying to tell me something.  Connecting to the natural world is not just a daytime thing. Taking time to enjoy the stars, the moon, and the way cumulous clouds are backlit by the light reflecting off the moon throughout all seasons is something to treasure. I hope you all enjoy your Halloween evening and if you don’t get outside tonight, I hope you’ll consider adding regular nighttime walks to heighten your connection to each season.

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.