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Thrills on a Hill

If you haven’t gone sledding lately, stop reading and head out. Right now!   Zipping down a hill on a plastic board will give you the cheapest thrill to share with your kids next to throwing snowballs. I love to speed down a hill with my arms wrapped around one of my children, the memory of which I will treasure for a lifetime. They are growing so fast that all too soon they’ll be heading to the hill without me.

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Sleds are a thrill on a hill but you can also use them on level ground. Children, new walkers, and babies love being pulled in sleds. Who wouldn’t? When my daughter was little, I pulled her to preschool while I cross-country skied. This form of transport was inspired by one of my fondest memories with my father. He pulled me on a sled to the corner store as he skied. The candy bar we shared there was not nearly as sweet as the love I felt being pulled behind my father in the snow-quieted neighborhood. I only remember it happening once, but I am determined to give the experience to my children again and again, with hopes that they will carry the fond memory into their adult lives.

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There are a few things I know to be true about sledding.

Fun is proportional to group size.  You can have races, link arms and try to reach the bottom together, or make one long train. How many ways are there to ride a sled? A big hill packed with sledders is a brainstorming session in snow. The larger the crowd of kids, the wider variety of techniques and games you’ll see. The more the merrier.

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Bigger hills are better. Although little children prefer smaller hills. They can make do at the bottom of a big one, and even piles of snow by the driveway can work.

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You can’t outgrow a sled. Your kids will outgrow any number of skates, skis, and snow pants, but they will never grow out of their sleds, and neither will you. Sleds come in different sizes, but even the smallest sleds work for everyone. But having a sled that holds more than one rider opens up many possibilities.

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Sharing sleds is part of the culture of many hills. Kids we’ve never met before think nothing of asking, “May we please borrow your sled?” People even offer up their sleds unprompted, as one woman did for me with her giant inner tube.  I’m still kicking myself for turning her down.

Bundle up!  Although you’ll certainly work up a sweat trudging back up the hill each time, catching a chill will cut short a great time.  Throw an extra neck warmer in your pocket for when your son face-plants after an absurd stunt and bursts into tears.

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(photo credit to Deirdre Confar)

Pack granola bars. Prevent bonking.

If you’re in the market for a sled, I recommend a new design we’ve been using that is made of a thick slab of flexible foam with handles on the sides. It slides effortlessly over all kinds of snow, can accommodate more than one rider, and its soft foam material absorbs a lot of shock from bumps and chunks of ice. (The material is 4-5 cm thick, compared to 1 cm of our other foam sled.) My son prefers it because in distance races it travels the farthest, my daughter selects it because it is the fastest, and my tush demands the shock absorption.

Some awesome sleds:

A Pull-your-little-one sled

amy priestly-roy

(photo credit Amy Priestley-Roy)

Our New Favorite


A Simple Classic

A great sled is wonderful, but you don’t need one to have a wonderful time.  You can slide downhill over snow on just about anything.  The kids at the Boston public school where I taught years ago used cardboard boxes for heaven’s sake.  And they had a supremely good time.  A friend of mine uses an air mattress!  Whether you use a cafeteria tray or a 6-person toboggan, you’re bound to have a memorable time.

A Precious Winter Beach Walk

Earlier this week I had to drop off a package at UPS. The trip brought me downtown and since I was in Portland I decided to drive a few more minutes to the East End Beach.  It is a small beach, but a lovely one, and one I don’t visit often enough.  It is only three and a half miles from my house–but the journey there is typically mobbed by traffic lights, asphalt, and way too much time in a car.

Let me take you on my winter beach walk.  These photos capture some of the things I love most about Maine.

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My precious Maine–I didn’t know my love for you could continue to grow.

How about you, do you find it possible to love the natural world more deeply as you spend more time somewhere?  Where is your precious spot?  I invite you to share (and love, love, love hearing from you) in the comments section found at the top of this post.

The Blizzard of ’13, Record Snow in Portland

The Blizzard of ’13 brought just shy of 32″ to Portland, ME.  Snow started falling on Friday morning even though the meteorologists said Nemo would hit in the evening. The snow didn’t let up until late the next day. The temperatures were down in the single digits, with a fierce wind driving the wind chill into dangerous territory.

I posted on Facebook that I might not go outside on Saturday until the blizzard blew out of town, which returned some cheerleading and mild grief from my community of on-line friends. Soon after this my daughter turned off the TV and announced, “I’m going out,” Of course, I decided to join her and my son dropped his X-box game to jump into gear.

We bundled up covering every inch of our bodies except for our eyes, and soon we were shoveling our way out of the house. Once we made it off the back porch, my children and the neighbors’ kids abandoned shoveling in favor of fort making. The snow-bank forts were tall and needed some simple carving to make places to sit and hide. We took time from our building to sit in the snow and admire the work of Mother Nature. How heavy it weighed on our old white pine, how thoroughly it blanketed our world in such a thick layer, and how it so quickly fell from the white sky. And when the gusts would kick up and sting passed, we’d duck our heads and turn away from the wind. Some of the neighborhood mommas and I would hug our kids’ faces into our chests as though they were babies again. The kids got their faces protected while unknowingly warming their mothers’ hearts.

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Later, my son came in exhausted from several hours of deep snow adventure and observed, “Taking two steps today is like taking 100 steps during the summer.” To me, it’s much harder, but he’s got the right idea. Each step through all this snow involves both lifting the foot as high as three household stairs and then pushing that very stair down into the floor.

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IMG_1391IMG_1388On both Friday and Saturday skiers outnumbered cars on my street.  When I lived in Boston, I was alone when I’d go skiing on the streets after a big storm.  Here in Portland, I’m just one of the gang, so by late afternoon, I was skiing towards the cemetery with a friend from around the block. We hopped on a wooded trail near the Brentwood Garden and found the snow packed down nicely by snowshoes. We tried to break our own trail at a couple points, but found it incredibly challenging. It’s a tough slog through that much fresh snow, so thanks snowshoe-ers! When we reached the bottom of the first hill behind the garden, we turned right into a strand of white pines. The breeze was still strong enough to clank these massive giants against each other, and we could easily imagine a branch – or even a whole tree – falling on us so we got out of the woods and skied through the cemetery.  Making trail on these unplowed roads was tougher than in the woods, but once a trail was cut, the conditions were fabulous.

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Our city is recovering rapidly from this massive storm. The kids are at school and it is time to get back to work. To all my New England readers, I hope that you were safe and warm during the storm and that you were able to get outside to enjoy the massive power of Mother Nature.  She left me in awe. Again.

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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our garage snow