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:

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.



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.


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.



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.



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.












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.

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!







Peaks Island Field Trip–My 40th Birthday Present

On May 30th, I turned 40. We celebrated early, with dancing and a birthday party, with friends and family, and with food and drink the weekend prior.  It was a lovely way to shift decades. But the best possible birthday celebration happened on my actual birthday. I was able to go on a field trip to Peaks Island with my daughter’s class. I couldn’t think of a better way to usher in another decade–a day spent on ferries, messing about with tide pools, humming to periwinkles to bring them out of their shells, building sandcastles, comparing various types of seaweed, eating lunch on a beach while observing seagulls and a pair of soaring osprey, and bringing 18 incredibly cute kindergarteners to an island off the coast of Portland.

peaks island lighthouses

peaks island lobster boat

peaks sign

peaks tide pools

peaks rocks

peaks lobster sign

It is hard to believe that in a few weeks I’ll be done with kindergarten… I’m so grateful that I could shift my work responsibilities around to make it possible to go on this field trip. I’m even more grateful for wonderful teachers who bring the magic of the natural world into the hearts of children who may not otherwise find it.

peaks mrs sherry

peaks anica ferry

I’m so grateful that the first forty years of my life have brought me to where I am today. I know another ten will slip by in an instant.  My son will be graduating from high school and my daughter will be 16 when I turn 50.  I hope to go on as many field trips as they’ll allow in those ten years… these precious days go so quickly.

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.


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


A Place Where Everyone Knows Your Name

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

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

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

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

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

130203 josh pulling three kids

130202 wren with hockey stick

130202 henry hockey

130202 ann and mattie

130202 annie on bank with stick130202 charlie and henry sticks

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