(many times?) nature beings are smarter than humans. Seasons change but the
natural world just flows along with the changes. Trees don’t look back and wish
they still had their bright colored fall leaves. Porcupines don’t look forward
and wish it were already warm summer. Squirrels don’t look around and worry if
they do or don’t have enough nuts stashed in their surroundings to get them
through the winter. Too often, we humans find ourselves stuck, wishing for something
that isn’t current reality. I know I struggle with this…what about you?
year ago, I was finishing my training and practicum to become a certified
forest therapy guide. I spent an entire day on the land, from Sunrise to
Sunset, noticing what was happening in my surroundings, looking back at how I
had reached that point, pondering what the future might look like as I worked
to more deeply connect humans with the healing benefits of nature. (In the
next few weeks, I will share some of the photos and lessons I found on that beautiful
of that pondering and visioning did not prepare me for where I now find myself:
in a difficult, winter season of dealing with a diagnosis of chronic cancer. I’m
resting, grieving, and trying to accept this new reality. I find myself looking
back, wishing forward, worrying about today, none of which is particularly
helpful. I am aware that I need to find a larger framework in which to place
this current difficult time. Changing seasons and swiftly flowing years tell me
again and again to relax into the now, remembering that none of these
challenges are forever…
training as a forest therapy guide is personally beneficial. It reminds me to
take time to sit with the land, to consider the lessons I can learn from nature
beings. (For myself personally, I am grateful for a loving Creator who
speaks to me through the nature I love!) As I look around me in one of my
favorite places, I am encouraged to remember that seasons change. Unlike the lush
green landscape of last summer, I now see dead grasses and thorny underbrush. I
notice a few brown leaves still attached to branches and dancing in the wind. I
sit beside the stream and listen to the flowing water. I see where banks have
been more deeply carved by floodwaters. I notice water flowing through new paths
in the jumbled rocks. These changes aren’t good, they aren’t bad. They just ARE.
I realize I can choose to follow the natural world and flow along with the
changes in my own life. I can look for the lessons and support for THIS day, in
the middle of THIS season.
the past few days, I have been singing the chorus to “Sunrise, Sunset” from a favorite
musical, Fiddler on the Roof.
“Sunrise, sunset, Sunrise, sunset, Swiftly flow the years. One season following another, laden with happiness and tears.”
from “Fiddler on the Roof”
it is helpful to look back toward “sunrise” – not wishing I were back in those
days, but simply noting how swiftly the years have flown by. (My oh my we
were babies when this song was sung at our wedding 38 years ago!) I think
back on different seasons of life—preparing for a different career overseas;
staying here in the same-old, same-old instead; homeschooling a large chaotic
family; living on a tiny farm; travel and adventure on my own and with family; mentoring
and encouraging folks on the margins; a son’s death and other children happily
married. Heartbreak and celebration. Happiness and tears.
like the experience of nature beings, my life moves forward, day after day,
year after year. Seasons change, bringing new challenges, new surprises, and
new beauty. And I realize: I’m going to be okay. Sunset is coming…but not yet.
autumn in Ohio and we all know what that means. The changing season brings
leaves in bright red and yellow, cold blustery winds, humans wearing warm hoodies
or jean-jackets and savoring mugs of hot cocoa and pots of spicy chili. It’s a
time that writers talk about “letting go” or getting ready for winter or
letting one’s true colors shine brightly. This year I’ve been thinking about
different aspects of how seasons come and go. As I share my ponderings, I
wonder where YOU might find yourself right now in life?
live in a small town surrounded by hills and woods and rolling farm fields. Multiple
times per week, I’m driving down country roads, taking daughter to lessons and
youth groups in the city, creative classes and volunteer barn chores in the surrounding
countryside. This year, in particular, I found myself taking photos of the
fields, noticing the seasonal changes of planting through harvest for the
soybean crop. As the noisy combines currently drive the rows up and down the
hills, I realize there were changes all year long in the march toward harvest
season. Let’s look back and consider the journey!
year starts with EMPTY FIELDS:
The dry land shows no signs of life, yet it is filled with possibilities. Winter is a time for farmers to stay inside, to dream of future harvests. Decisions are eventually made: this field will hold corn, that one timothy for hay, the other one soybeans. Soil is analyzed; equipment is serviced. Seeds are ordered; plans are made.
farmer was in the fields with his equipment a few times, getting the land ready
for future use. She cleared the field: using discs to get rid of remnants of
past crops and to smooth the dirt, breaking up clumps. He might spread manure over
the fields during the winter to allow it time to build up the nutrient levels
in the soil. As the weather begins to warm, the farmer starts walking the
fields, eager for the land to thaw and dry out enough to get equipment in the
fields to plow one more time before spring planting.
brings NEW GROWTH (and challenges):
the waiting and planning and preparing is ended. This changing season is a
hectic time of starting and stopping, waiting and watching for weather to
cooperate, the freeze date to pass, the fields to dry out. After days and weeks
of work, the various crops are planted. A faint haze of pale green appears
across the empty fields.
challenges to new growth can be overcome by the farmer: adding appropriate
fertilizer, taking care of pest control. Winter was the time to consider these
potential problems and make plans based on research and experience. Now the
farmer simply carries out the plans already made. However, there are challenges
the farmer knows may occur, but that are out of her control. When the weather
is capricious, even the best preparations may not help. Drought or flooding
destroy crops and stunt growth. Sometimes the farmer must start over and
replant entire fields.
for LUSH GROWTH:
the weather cooperates, the plants are strong, the pests are controlled, and
lush growth occurs. The fields on my country drives are dark, brilliant green, crops
thicker and taller each week when I drive past. The farmer no longer has a
single focus on getting fields planted. Summer is a time for multi-tasking: paying
attention to fertilizing, controlling weeds, prepping equipment for the next seasons.
There is extra time for occasional fun with family and friends.
this changing season, there is still waiting, but it is an expectant time. Growth
is visible and plants are ripening with the promise of future bounty. It is a
time to maintain what has been set in motion, to monitor how things are
AGAIN at colorful and bright fields:
summer brings another changing season to farmers. The soybean fields are
beautiful—with colorful contrast of bright yellows and greens. It is exhilarating
for me to drive past this beauty, savoring the colors, looking forward to hot
summer days soon changing to cool fall nights.
this is not yet time to celebrate. Look closer at those fields. This is a
transition time: from lush growth to letting go of what is no longer sustainable
or needed. The golden leaves that look so beautiful from a distance are filled
with holes and tears. If the farmer focused only on those leaves, she would be
disappointed at the apparent decline. But when he looks instead at the seed
pods, he realizes a good harvest is coming.
it’s time for a PAUSE:
slowly, the bright colors fade, the plants dry out, the leaves wither and fall
off. The countryside gradually turns from green to yellow to rusty brown. As
eager as he is for harvest, the farmer must pause.
farmer needs to wait for the seeds to be optimum for a good harvest—fully dry
but still firm and plump in their pods. If she walks into the field on a windy
day and listens, the seeds should rattle in the pods. After nine months of
waiting and dreaming and planning and working, it is almost time…
& NOISE are not always bad!
time! It’s time! The farmer gives a final push—coordinating support and
helpers, working round the clock, doing whatever it takes to finally gather the
crops. No time to celebrate now! This is loud, messy, chaotic work. The
neighbors might not be happy, but the farmer knows this apparent disorder is
actually the culmination of the changing seasons of farming: it’s harvest time!
year ends with EMPTY FIELDS:
the harvest is over, the once lush, colorful, thriving fields are left with
bits and pieces of stubble. There is a sadness that the growing season is over.
The fields look desolate with no crops or movement. But in the farming
community, this apparent barrenness is a time for celebration! The harvest is gathered.
The hard work has been rewarded. Later it will be time to look back and analyze
what went well with this year’s changing seasons of farming and how things can
be improved for next year’s projects.
What about YOU? What changing season are you in? Where are you in the process of moving out of the old ways, stepping into new things, fostering a new stage of life?
I ponder these seasons in a farmer’s year, I realize there are similarities to
my own life. These micro-cycles of changing seasons apply to child-raising,
finishing college, starting a new business, embarking on adventures… I wonder
how they might apply in your life?
Over and over, I have empty times which eventually lead to considering future possibilities, dreaming and planning. There are the early stages of any new endeavor, plans which were so exciting but always seem to move so slowly in real life, challenges that cause me to reevaluate. Once I get through those roadblocks, life often flourishes, with growth and promise of success. I love the colorful season, so fun and quirky! (But it’s hard for me to remember this, too, is transient.) Then pausing, waiting, watching to see final results. (I HATE this stage!!) Finally, the goal is fully met, the “harvest” occurs! (the kid is “launched,” the degree is completed, the business is gaining recognition, the epic adventure is completed…) YAY! Success! But then…a down time, wondering if it was worth all the hassles, pondering what might possibly come next.
helps to remember the story of the farmer’s fields on my countryside drives.
Whatever season I’m in, it’s gonna be okay…
We all love the excitement of mountaintop experiences, don’t we?! We shout to the world about the beautiful views and bask in the bright sunshine of praise and congratulations given for our accomplishments. Far less often do we talk about endless winter, about getting stuck in swamps down in the valleys or about the hard slog of climbing those endless dark mountains. It has been a long, long winter for me, filled with struggles and challenges. I’ve been emotionally climbing up and down endless hills. But it feels like I’m finally emerging into summer. I’m so ready to celebrate the bright sunshine of SUMMER (both physically and emotionally)!
back over the past six months, it has been a season of inward work. I’ve
started many blog posts but got lost in the forest of words and never finished
any of them. At some point (perhaps) I will go back and share more details but
for now, here is a summary of my long, dark winter and times I found hints of
sunshine along the way.
Finishing the second half of the mentored practicum to earn my certification as a Forest Therapy Guide offered many lessons—material to be learned, skills to be practiced, and experiences to be processed. All of this, of course, led to deeper personal growth. During regular sit-spot time (which you can read more about HERE), I mapped the interconnections of the creatures and plants around me. To show those relationships, I made a colorful clock. And I gathered photos and poetry into a little book.
I spent a long winter day at a nearby park on a “pilgrimage” from sunrise to sunset. It was a time to take my questions with me onto the land, asking God for a clear vision of my calling. Of course, the day I had scheduled for this ended up being one of the coldest days of the winter, with hard winds blowing and fresh snow falling. I alternated walking under the trees with wrapping up in a zero-degree sleeping bag to warm up. I found beauty in the frozen land and I soaked up moments of bright sunshine breaking through dark storm clouds.
During these months, I was swimming in a sea of grief, trying to keep from sinking under the waves. There was new grief at watching a beloved “son of my heart”/friend destroy himself with addiction. There were more waves of grief at missing our son who died 11 years ago. There was recognition of struggles and challenges some of my kids are walking through…and resulting grief that I can’t “fix” things for them and make it all better. (Where in the world is that magic wand when you need it?! I must have put it in a “safe place” which means it will never be found! HA!)
the spring, I figured out a way to incorporate Forest Therapy into my Tree of
Life experiences. And I completed the training to become a certified Forest
Therapy Guide. YAY! That was a bright sunny moment! Now I am working to make
some long-term connections for ongoing Forest Therapy walks. And I have guided
my first few paid walks. (If you live in central Ohio, contact me for more
information about how YOU can schedule a walk with me!)
This spring, I was sad to face realities after two surgeries last fall. (If you haven’t heard about my medical adventures, read about them HERE.) Daughter and I had hoped to make another trip to the Appalachian Trail this spring. We tried a few days of camping and day hiking in southern Ohio…and realized I’m not yet recovered enough for the rigors of a full backpacking adventure. Maybe in the fall… (At least we still had fun together in the woods and Daughter is still the “Mistress of the Flame!”)
As the season changed, the good moments started outweighing the heavy ones. I still wasn’t ready to write about life, but I found many more moments of bright sunshine to celebrate. Our oldest son is engaged. (Can’t wait to welcome his beautiful gal into our family next spring…) Our youngest daughter discovered a college that is a perfect fit for her interests and her challenges. She is also gaining life skills with a summer job at the library. We got to “babysit” our grand-dog and our grand-dragon. (Isn’t that a delightful word? Pablo is a bearded dragon-lizard.) And our newest grandbaby was born, giving me 5 days to visit and spoil his big sisters. Welcome to the world, little Wilder!
finally back to spending more time outdoors again. I’m sleeping each night on
my screened porch—waking up to bird song. For my birthday, I bought a sit-on-top
kayak. I still enjoy wandering in the woods, but have discovered the joys of contemplative
time, slowly paddling around a lake or down a river. And the wild colors of my
kayak still make me smile every time I look at it!
searching for over a year, we finally found the perfect-for-us piece of land to
purchase. We plan to park our RV there and use it as a getaway. Soon we will own
33 acres of steep hills, ravines, and woods. It has a pond and a running
stream. Hubby discovered it also has a slick clay mud-pit…but that’s a story
for another day! HA!
I finally found the bright sunshine of summer (physically and emotionally) on a current trip to California. Soon I will write about the adventures of multi-day train travel across the USA. Our lego Tiny-Me figures have discovered new places to explore. I found more imaginary places that don’t really exist (a quest started with Daughter in NYC last summer). I have enjoyed spending time with oldest daughter and her husband. When my knees rebelled against the exertion, I thought I might be stuck forever atop the steep hills of San Francisco but I finally tottered my way back down to the ferry. And I am excited to be currently attending a professional conference about Forest Therapy. I’m even leading a workshop here tomorrow!
been a long, cold winter. But I’m finally emerging into summer…and it sure
Life is uncertain. Life is sometimes chaotic. And we make it worse by over-filling our calendar and our to-do lists which makes life hectic and draining. I’m now two months into the mentored practicum to become a certified Forest Therapy Guide. It is exciting to discover new skills and activities that can counteract all of this craziness of modern Western life! “Sit-Spot” is one of these practices I am now using regularly.
“What will you do with your one wild and precious life? –Mary Oliver–
Each week during training, we are expected to spend 2-3 sessions with the practice of “Sit-Spot.” This simply means finding a place outdoors where we can sit quietly for 20+ minutes. It could be a beautiful hidden place deep in the woods. But to be most effective in building a regular habit, a Sit-Spot should be somewhere close to work or home, where you can sneak outside for 10-20 minutes each day. My most used sit-spot is on a corner of an unused porch that faces into the neighborhood backyards. I can’t manage to focus my mind enough to be successful with meditation. But I enjoy this form of being quiet and present in Nature. (I compare Meditation, Forest Meditation and Forest Therapy HERE.)
Now that I regularly spend time in a tiny corner of my outdoor world, I am noticing that Sit-Spot gives me 6 specific gifts:
It is an opportunity to PRACTICE STILLNESS of both body and mind. I rarely take time to let my body relax at the same time as allowing my mind to also rest (until I fall exhausted into bed each night.) This is an opportunity to let go of my busy-ness and notice what is around me. No making lists, updating my calendar, or scrolling through fb and emails. Simply allowing myself to “be.” (Yes, I admit, this is hugely challenging for me at times. Please assure me I’m not the only one!)
It is a gift to EXPERIENCE SILENCE—no talking to others, no demands from others, no droning background noise to life. (Even extroverted chatty me benefits from silence occasionally!) At Christmas, we often sing about a “Silent Night” – but how often do we actually experience one?! Studies have shown that human-made noise pollution adds significant amounts of unrecognized stress to our daily lives. It’s hard to completely avoid human-sounds, but we can try!
Sit-Spot is another way to form DEEP CONNECTIONS WITH THE NATURAL WORLD. People have lived closely intertwined with nature since the beginning of time. Today’s loss of connection is at the root of many of the maladies affecting us in our current chaotic culture. (You can explore some of the scientific studies and other resources about the importance of Nature Connection HERE.) The practice of Sit-Spot helps us return to our roots—literally!
One of the most significant benefits of forming deep nature connections is it LOWERS STRESS & ANXIETY. There is something freeing about just allowing life to flow around me. It takes a few minutes of sitting still, but eventually my breathing slows, my blood pressure lowers, and I relax into the calm of simply being outside. This type of calming effect is certainly a gift! (I wrote HERE about how outdoor time is a game changer for my daughter who has huge challenges in these areas.)
By returning to the same place on a regular basis, I NOTICE SMALL CHANGES. I enjoy watching the tall grasses “dance” in a breeze. I see plants changing through the seasons. I feel subtle differences as weather systems approach. I hear insects and birds and begin to notice their patterns. When I sit regularly, Nature is no longer merely a backdrop for daily life, but becomes something to enjoy in and of itself.
Sit-Spot GIVES ME A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE. The troubles and trials (and even celebrations) of my life are not the center of history or of the universe (much as I might want to believe otherwise! HA!) I laugh at the cheeky squirrels—stealing nuts from each other, stuffing themselves for winter hibernation, and wobbling their chubby way along the fence top. I mourn the deaths of birds and beasts. I enjoy the brilliant colors of fall leaves. As I connect with the natural world, I am reminded that everyone and everything is doing the best they can with their one wild and precious life…and that’s enough.
I invite you to join me in discovering the gifts found through a simple Sit-Spot outside. I would love to hear YOUR favorite things from connecting with the natural world. Please drop me a comment below!
You aren’t imagining things. I indeed disappeared from the world for a month or so… I’ve had an unexpected health crisis and am slowly recovering. I’m finally clear minded and more even-keeled emotionally. So, while I spend much of each day physically recovering on the couch, I have plenty of time to ponder. Since I write about epic adventures, I’ve been wondering about the similarities and differences between a health crisis and an adventure…
Rather than leave you wondering, here are the basics before we move on to consider adventures. I had some slightly out-of-the-ordinary female symptoms for a number of months. My doc and I were quite comfortable just monitoring the situation with no action needed unless things changed. Then in early October, I started having a bit of spotting and aching. Things progressed rapidly—within just two weeks, I had 4 visits to the Hospital ER, multiple tests including a biopsy, was admitted to the hospital on day 13 and had emergency surgery on day 15. Whew! This health crisis wasn’t just a roller coaster…it felt more like a powerful, fast moving hurricane. (And I have the bruises to prove I was in a battle…HA!)
I wrote a blog post in March considering whether my daughter’s robotics team was an adventure. (You can read that discussion HERE.) When I look again at the criteria I laid out, I think this health crisis was close to being an (unwanted) adventure:
Personally Stretching and having an Uncertain Outcome: Definitely true! It’s fine when I CHOOSE to step outside my comfort zone. And I’m okay with trying something new even when it’s not clear how I will do. This time, however, I was given no choice. I dislike being sick and I hate feeling like life is out of my control. If I didn’t choose the risks, it doesn’t feel fair that I’m stuck in the situation. Maybe someday I will get better about accepting these unexpected challenges as part of life…
Requires Perseverance, Hard Work and Finding Appropriate Mentors/Information: In this case, I kept pushing hard to get medical providers to take the spiraling pain and increased bleeding seriously. I finally found a specialist who is amazing at listening, researching, and acting. Good thing I did—having a tumor turning gangrenous would have had a very bad outcome if treatment had been delayed! Even when I was curled up and crying with pain, I’ve learned to keep fighting. (Thanks, Appalachian Trail backpacking trips for helping me deeply internalize these lessons! Read a post about the challenges of a long-distance hiking trip HERE.)
Makes a Good Story Later: Oh, yeah. There’s an amazing surprise ending to this story! Even the doctor was surprised… (Scroll to bottom of this post for more details…) For now, I’ll just comment that even my daughter’s dog knew something was terribly wrong. For the past three weeks, she has been glued to me, cuddling beside or on top of me while I have spent most of my time on the couch. Now, however, I must be mostly cured—the dog is back to spending all of her time with daughter.
BUT…was it an Adventure? My criteria for something being an adventure also includes it being an “enjoyable activity.” Nope, nope, nope! Even with my comfy blanket dragged with me to every hospital visit, this health crisis was in no way “enjoyable.” Thus, I vote that although it had some things in common, this emergency was NOT an “ADVENTURE.”
However, when I take a further look at the introductory pages on my blog, I think this past month might well fit the definition of a “Big Epic” (which is a larger category than just adventures). This crisis was certainly a change from normal routines. And it was a life transition. (You can read more about these definitions HERE.) I am learning (again) the significance of making time to rest. I am learning (again) to set aside my independence and allow others to help. And I am learning how much I LONG to get back outside and continue building my new practice as a Forest Therapy Guide.
I would love to hear about YOUR unexpected adventures and life transitions! Post a comment here on the blog or on my fb page…
(FURTHER DETAILS: (Saga started in early October) Pain was caused by a large tumor. Miracle 1—it was determined to be benign. Tumor became gangrenous so an emergency hysterectomy was scheduled (just two weeks after initial ER visit). Miracle 2—after I was in the OR, the surgeon discovered that my body had already “delivered” the tumor on its own so no surgery was needed after all. With a more accurate biopsy of the tumor, the surgeon referred me to an oncologist because a very few of the cells were determined to be abnormal. I argued against a hysterectomy (after all, a miracle made the previously scheduled surgery unnecessary), but the oncologist insisted we schedule the surgery after all. I had outpatient “robotic” surgery (in early December, just two months after all of this began). Miracle 3—during the surgery, a very small tumor was discovered, hidden in the far corner of the uterus. This was sent off for biopsy. When the results came back, it was a very rare, very aggressive form of cancer that is never found before it has spread throughout the abdomen and become a Stage 4 cancer. Miracle 4—the oncologist said this cancer was never found so early. She called it a stage 1 cancer, although there is nothing in the literature about early stages.Miracle 5—the treatment? A complete hysterectomy…which had already been completed! No further cancer treatments needed! (Monitoring for the next few years…) Neither surgeon can explain how this series of events happened. Both agree that I am more than lucky….and both are comfortable saying that my outcome is indeed miraculous!)
Every one of us will have empty moments in our lives, times of struggle, pain, or disappointment. But those empty moments do not have to define who we are. My son shared this poem with me a few years ago—discovered for a presentation he made in college speech class. It continues to resonate for me, in various seasons of life.
Right now, our family is celebrating joys, walking beside each other through challenges, and dealing with unexpected medical concerns. (Reasons why I have been quieter than usual on both social media and here on the blog. I’m giving myself grace to rest when needed…) I pulled this poem back out a few days ago to remind myself of the important things in life. Perhaps it will be an encouragement to you as well!
The Invitation (By Oriah Mountain Dreamer)
It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.
It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.
It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon… I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain.
I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it.
I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human.
It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.
I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence.
I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes.”
It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children.
It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.
It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.
I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.
I always treasure hearing the stories of others. I would love to (virtually) sit with you as you share about your empty moments. And I would love to (virtually) dance with you to celebrate the moments you feel truly alive! Please leave a comment below!
You can read a story from my grief journey HERE. Or read a story about fun times HERE.
Don’t miss out! If you enjoy reading my stories and ponderings, please sign up to receive email notification each time I publish a new blog post. (Side bar on a computer, scroll to bottom of page if reading on a mobile device)
When your kids are bored by the local park and you don’t have energy to take them to wilderness areas, look for a Children’s Garden. We discovered a delightful garden play-area hidden in a corner of our small town. (Don’t know where to find such a place? Check HERE for a list of botanical gardens around the world. Many of them have an area especially designed for children.)
Spending time at a Children’s Garden is not just all about fun. (…although that’s obviously an excellent motive to get out the door with a bunch of kids!) Spending regular time outdoors is also important for our children’s development. There is growing clamor from “experts” who remind us that children need connections with nature to thrive. According to Andy McGeeney, allowing our children to explore outdoor areas in a free, unstructured way “enhances children’s social relationships, confidence in risk taking and exploration, as well as connections to nature.”
“Reports concluded that being in nature was important to childhood, as much as a healthy diet and exercise.” (Gill—London Sustainable Development Commission)
Here are 8 things to look for on your next outing to a local Children’s Garden:
Welcome: Hopefully, the Children’s Garden is a welcoming place that offers a safe space to wander and many beckoning corners and hidden patios to keep the attention of young ones (and caregivers, too!)
Walkways: Following a path is intriguing, especially if an interesting destination is visible. Even better are trails that twist and turn, letting children imagine what might be around the next corner.
Wacky: The best gardens have wacky “rooms” that make fun of the real world. Tiny fairy houses or GIANT oversized tools are both fun to explore.
Wander: An excellent Children’s Garden will have space for children to safely wander on their own. Opportunities for free-exploration are important for building self-esteem and a sense of competence in the world.
Window to Another World: Window-views add an extra layer of enjoyment. Those openings frame Nature’s “art” and offer glimpses of new worlds to explore.
Water: I know, I know, water gets messy. But that is part of what makes an outing memorable! Opportunities to play in water are a wonderful addition to any play area. Just bring some towels and keep a close eye on your kids, of course.
Whimsy: Why have boring, “normal” play equipment in a Children’s Garden? Choosing unique climbers, play houses, and benches adds a whimsical touch rather than just feeling like a typical playground with a few extra plants and flowers.
Wonder: Any time we step outside our doorways, there is an opportunity to allow our children to experience the wonder of the world around us. All of us are happier when we “take time to smell the flowers!”
See a list of a few of my favorite books, articles, and websites about the importance of connecting with nature HERE
Find activities and printables for getting kids outside HERE Participate in monthly outdoor family challenges HERE
We all need to get outside regularly. But let’s not forget the children. Let’s teach the next generation to love Nature as well! (Drop a line in the comments–what is one thing you do for fun outside?)
I admit it. I have a zillion interests to pursue and not enough time to chase them all. (Please tell me this happens to you also?!) As I’ve begun to talk about becoming a Forest Therapy Guide, I’ve gotten push-back from some family and friends. Over the years they have often asked if I’ve gotten “it” out of my system yet. They question how long I will stick with THIS interest. They mock me for never finishing things. This has been a challenge all the way back to my growing up years. (To be clear—I have other supportive family and friends who always cheer me on and love to hear about my latest adventures…)
For some reason, this latest round of criticism made me sit back and ponder. Is there truth in what they throw at me? Am I failing at the task of “growing up”? Do I NEED to pick one interest and pursue it single-mindedly? I know that is a common path for many people…but is it the right path for me?
“If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living.” – Gail Sheehy –
I had an “aha” moment while reading a book by Amos Clifford, the founder of the organization that certifies Forest Therapy Guides. He writes about different stages in his life being part of the whole of who he is. This helped me realize that the various interests I have explored over the years are all related. They are parts of my unique tree of life. Let me explain:
I look back and see that foundational to everything I have pursued is a deep curiosity about the world. This began in young childhood when I wanted to know more about the people I met, the places we went, and the things I saw. (I probably drove my parents crazy by asking so many questions!) I have had a lifelong passion for exploring and learning.
When I was growing up, I became a Story Seeker. (I have written more about this HERE) I want to hear people’s stories. At first this story gathering was a way of feeding my own curiosity about the world. Gradually, I used what I was hearing to support my personal growth. Today, I know that sharing bits of those stories can be of great encouragement to others I meet. This has been a strong “trunk”—supporting everything else I do in life.
From the roots of curiosity and the trunk of gathering stories, I became a teacher. Sometimes this is a formal role (such as teaching cello to young students, becoming an instructor for National Ski Patrol or being a paid tutor in a Native American school). Other times this has been an informal role. Over the years, I continue to have a deep need to share what I learn with others.
As an adult, I have put out many branches. Some were tiny shoots that withered or broke off. Others have become solid parts of who I am. I am creative and express that originality through photography and art and painting and writing. I am a mentor, reaching behind me from whatever season of life I am in, and taking the hands of others to encourage them as they walk a similar path. And I am a peer counselor, listening and asking questions to help folks untie knots, climb over obstacles, and pursue their own wellness and passion.
Counter to the accusations of the nay-sayers, I am not constantly changing directions. I am not a small boat being thrown this way and that as I am buffeted by winds of “new” and “different” interests. I am a unique tree. All of the seemingly unrelated passions I have pursued are actually solid branches growing from strong roots and a sturdy trunk. I am growing up and maturing. And I have discovered that becoming a Forest Therapy Guide is a way to use all these parts of me to help others.
“I am not afraid of my truth anymore. I will not omit pieces of me to make you comfortable.”
This weekend I start the six month training to become a certified Forest Therapy Guide. I will write more about that process in the next few weeks and months. If you aren’t sure what I am talking about, I have written a FAQ you can read HERE.
I would love to hear 1-2 “branches” on your Tree of Life. Please share your passion(s) in the comments below!
It is not yet officially fall according to the calendar. But the season is changing. Pumpkin Spice everything is showing up in all the stores. School supplies are purchased and the obligatory back-to-school photos have been posted on social media. I’ve made my lists and done the paperwork. We are starting year 26 of homeschooling for our family. In those decades, we have heard so many homeschooling myths from concerned family and friends:
1—(Public/Private/Home)schooling is the BEST choice: Every family tends to believe that they are making the best decision regarding schooling their kids. Reality is that different children will thrive in different settings. First, don’t make any form of schooling into an “idol.” Second, what’s right for one family really would be wrong for another family. Moms, our job of parenting is hard enough, let’s quit arguing and build each other up!
2—Whatever you decide, you are stuck forever with that type of schooling: There is certainly something to be said for consistency and perseverance. However, it is important to choose what is best for each child (and for your family as a whole) each year. Every one of our kids spent some time in both private and public schools, even though we homeschooled for most grades. (True confessions, sometimeswe even switched directions in mid-year!)
3—“But what about Socialization?” This is one of the most commonly heard homeschooling myths. Many people assume the Public/Private school pattern of segregating children by age is important. However, experience shows that this age stratification often leads to damaging peer pressure and bullying. Research shows that multi-age relationships are healthier for children and better model adult life. In reality, there are actually too many opportunities for homeschoolers to spend time with other children—in classes, co-ops, clubs, and community activities. If we pursued all of these options, we would have no time for academic work! Instead our family chooses to join one or two groups each year. We also love to meet regularly with another homeschooling family for fun and learning.
4—Homeschooling will fix everything: This is one of the homeschooling myths which masquerades as strong motivation for avid homeschoolers. The corollary from proponents of public/private school is that homeschooling is to blame for every dysfunctional adult who was kept out of school. Yes, an individualized setting can help children thrive, especially when they have life challenges (learning disabilities, mental health issues, social anxiety, etc)…BUT, these issues MUST be directly addressed during school years for students to be able to function in the world as an adult. NO form of schooling alone can “fix” our kids! (Read about how I advocate for my daughter HERE)
5—“I would go crazy if I was stuck at home all day”: Some families do spend most days at home. Others experience life in their local community. And the entire world could have the perfect destination for amazing field-trips to solidify what is being learned! (True confessions:Most of us also enjoy the benefits of off-season travel and vacations…) (Read about our travels to National Parks to collect Junior Ranger Badges HERE. Read about our Little School in the Woods HERE)
6—Worksheets and homework are necessary for effective learning: If a student understands what is being taught, more time spent doing homework will not improve learning. If a student is lost in that subject, homework can leave them more confused. It is a public/private-schooling myth that worksheets, books reports and tests are the best ways to measure learning—they are fine methods for some students. But more commonly, these paper-assignments are a method of crowd control in the classroom and make grading easier for teachers. With homeschooling there is greater scope for individualized education, active learning and creative final projects.
7—“I could NEVER teach high school…” That’s okay. I can’t teach every subject either! But my six older kids successfully completed high school at home. By teen years, students have (hopefully) developed skills to be self-learners. In addition, families join co-ops for shared teaching, find mentors to pursue student passions, and use community and college classes for more difficult subjects. It is always possible to find others who have the training and experience to provide what our kids need.
8—Homeschoolers can’t get into college: WRONG! This is another one of the common homeschooling myths. Many top universities actively recruit students with alternative educations who bring diversity to the campus. Homeschooled students often have strong independent study skills and a determination to pursue passions. And yes, many homeschooled students receive academic scholarships. Having solid standardized test scores and providing a (self-written) high school transcript helps with the college application process. (Read about our family’s recent graduates HERE)
9—Values are taught: This is another of the homeschooling myths that cause some families to bring their students home to “make sure” their kids follow family values. No matter how much we explicitly teach values and share interests with our children, deeper values are actually “caught” by seeing what the parents do. (This applies to all families, regardless of which type of schooling they choose.) Most homeschooling parents are “out of the box thinkers” to persist in going against mainstream culture to school their children. These same parents are often shocked when their children grow up to be independent thinkers themselves. In our family, we wandered to follow new opportunities…and now our grown kids are scattered across the country—pursuing their dreams. These particular values were caught not taught!
10—Homeschooling Guarantees Harmony at Home: Oh, if only this were true! Homeschooling builds many shared memories. But siblings will still fight and children will still argue with both their mother and their teacher (made worse when that is the same person.) (True confessions: sometimes our kids fought terribly. But occasionally they could be seen enjoying each other’s company in public…) Like all parents, we hope our family remains close when the nest is someday empty!
The new school year has started. Let’s applaud the students … and let’s encourage fellow parents, no matter which method of schooling they choose for their families!
I would love to encourage YOU. Please share your family’s chosen schooling path in the comments below.
Recently I saw a fascinating video on Facebook. In this ad for Nature Valley, 3 generations in families were asked what they did for Childhood Fun. Consistent with current research, the grandparents talked about unstructured outdoor play, the parents enjoyed playing outdoors with neighborhood friends, and current kids apparently spend most of their time indoors on electronics. The ad finishes by challenging us to provide opportunities and nurture our children’s connections with Nature.
VIDEO: When you were a kid, what did you do for fun? 3 Generations answer. (Nature Valley Ad)
I have read many articles and books which bemoan this progression. (See list of some of my favorite resources about the importance of Nature Connection HERE.) I know my friends and I often talk about how to get our kids (and ourselves) outside more often. I was curious to try my own (very informal) survey. I asked friends to share lists of childhood fun from their own families. I received 23 responses out of 31 people I asked about. Here is a summary of the results:
Active Play (mostly outside):
54% of all responses, #1 category for all adults
It was interesting to notice that the mentioned activities were not organized or run by adults: swimming, playground, playing in barn, making scarecrows with family, wrestling with siblings, riding bike/scooter (often all over town), roller skating, ice skating, informal backyard sports with neighbor kids, sledding, hiking, tag and team games with friends. I also included active indoor hobbies/classes in this category: gymnastics, dance, ballet, Tae-Kwon-do, and rock climbing.
Imagination Play (mostly inside):
25% of all responses, #1 category for children & teens
This category includes both solo and group activities: dress-ups, Legos, small toys (hot wheels, figurines, Littlest Pet-Shop animals), collections of objects, puzzles, board games, and raising butterflies. A number of respondents wondered what happened to these objects after they grew up. (I have written before about our youngest daughter’s love of imagination play and costumes. You can read about it HERE.)
Other Childhood Fun Activities:
Reading:8%, not mentioned by children or teens
Arts & Crafts: 7%, scattered across all ages
Screen Time:6%, up through young 30s
Obviously this was a very informal survey of a handful of family members and friends. It was interesting to me to notice that the results do NOT match experts’ concerns about rampant growth of uncontrolled screen time as the primary form of Childhood Fun in the past 20 years. (Read a typical article HERE.) This discrepancy could be explained by a number of variables: My personal friends and family tend to be biased toward outdoor, active pursuits. Participants may have self-censored, not reporting screen-time which is considered “bad” today. Wording of the survey question was too broad to elicit accurate responses regarding entertainment. For example, I did not ask how much time was spent on various activities but merely asked what the participants remembered as fun when they were young. In addition, by asking for a list of what the participants did for “fun,” the question filtered for activities that were perceived as enjoyable or special, not just routine everyday activities.
“When you were a kid, what did you do for fun?”
I’m very curious how YOU would respond to this question…and what your own friends and family members would list. Many of us had an enjoyable time sharing stories as we reminisced about childhood days. Join us in discussing this question with others and let me know YOUR answers—either in the comments on this blog or on facebook.