The Big Epic

Connect with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Tag: Challenges (page 1 of 6)

Finding the Bright Sunshine of Summer

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)!

Celebrating Bright Sunshine at the Beach

Looking 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.

Rustic Clock of Connections between Beings

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.

Sunset between the trees over frozen lake

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!)

In 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!)

certification, Forest Therapy, Forest Bathing GUIDE

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!”)

campfire, roasting hotdogs, camping

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!

New Baby, Big sisters

I’m 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!

kayaking at Ariel Park, water and clouds

After 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!

tractor pulling stuck car

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!

Workshop Leader, professional conference, Forest Therapy Guide

It’s been a long, cold winter. But I’m finally emerging into summer…and it sure feels good!

Can a Health Crisis Be an Adventure?

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!)

vampires, phlebotomists

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… (Teaser: I’ll tell the story of miracles in my next post…) 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.

guardian dog, healing cuddles

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.”

comfort blanket

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

Dare to LIVE in Empty Moments

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.

Computer Geeks

 

 

 

 

 

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.

OhioPyle State Park, PA

 

 

 

 

 

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.

pallbearers for my dad's funeral

 

 

 

 

 

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.

sunset at Nokomis Beach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Finding beauty in empty moments

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.”

Banff National Park, Alberta

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Grandparents rule!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Firefighters are heroes

 

 

 

 

 

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.

college graduation, ODU

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

pondering, nature connection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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)

Please Don’t Screech!

Please tell me I’m not the only one! Please reassure me that you, too, let out a yelp or a screech when you are startled by something out in the woods. I’ve done this forever, even when a moment later I KNOW there is actually nothing to be afraid of. But, when I’m leading other folks on walks to more deeply connect with Nature, I’m going to have to change this pattern of screech-first-think-later. Let me explain…

As a guide, I am learning to use language very carefully. It is important to let our guests know about possible challenges without causing fear. As part of our standard practice, in our introduction to the guided Forest Therapy Walk, we talk about “awarenesses” rather than “hazards.” A great majority of the time, simply being aware of our surroundings and of how to avoid problems is all we need to stay safe.

photo by Anabell O'Neill

However, they didn’t talk to us about controlling the involuntary screech when startled. I wonder why this didn’t come up in our training classes? After all, I suspect this reaction might scare the walk participants far more than using the wrong words in my introduction! (Please tell me I’m not the only one who does this?!)

Here are a few examples. I’m not sure I will believe you if you tell me you have never let out a screech (or at least a little whimper) when you unexpectedly face critters like these:

We used to live on a farm. Most evenings I walked out to the barn before bed, making sure the sheep and chickens were safely settled until morning. Some dark, moonless nights I would open the door and almost drop my flashlight when a glowing-eyed, pointy-nosed “demon” was sitting on top of the feed bin, hissing at me like a crazy thing. I always let out a loud, high-pitched “SCREECH!” followed by a muttered “Stupid possum!” And that furry creature sauntered away, snickering at winning round number 372 in the scare-the-critter game… (Photo taken by a friend when a possum was on their roof. I wonder what game it was playing?!)

photo by Susan Heino

Daughter Andowen and I take weeks long backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail. All hikers need to be very aware of black bears. (Read a story HERE about the trials of hanging food bags to keep our supplies away from bears at night.) We tend to talk or sing while we walk, so we rarely see bears during the day. (They prefer to avoid humans, if possible.) Last fall, however, daughter was standing silently under a large tree, waiting for me to catch up. She heard the noise of a hiker coming up the trail, then was started by twigs, leaves and a young bear falling out of the tree, landing right at her feet! She let out a “SCREECH!” and the bear took off running into the woods. She wasn’t sure who was more startled, her or the bear!

please don't screech and scare the bear!

When we are backpacking, the first one hiking down the trail has the pleasure of seeing scenery with no other humans in view. However, they also have the “joy” of clearing the spider webs that were built across the trail during the night. On beautiful crisp, cool, fall days, that front person sometimes finds a snake, warming itself in the sun. It really isn’t a problem when the reptile is just sitting there. It is easy to see what type of snake it is and what type of response is needed. (Often, if it is sunning itself on the trail, just banging trekking poles together will cause the snake to mosey on its way.) But sometimes, as the first hiker is walking along quietly, mind wandering, there is a rustling in the leaves beside the trail, and a long black slithery-snake darts across, almost under one’s feet. After a loud “SCREECH!” the hiker laughs, knowing the snake was harmless. (We actually like the non-poisonous snakes which keep the mouse population under control at shelters.) It still takes awhile for the heart to start pounding though!

actually black rat snakes are harmless

Most of the time when we sleep in the open fronted shelters along the Appalachian Trail, we are happy to see spiders sitting in webs high in the rafters. This usually means there are fewer pesky bugs to bother us. But one rainy night, there were tiny glowing eyes every direction we looked. Our headlamps highlighted what felt like a million spiders who had us surrounded. We could ignore the critters keeping to their own private corners, but when one walked toward us and couldn’t be scared away, the other hikers and I convinced my terrified-of-spiders daughter to kill the intruder. She shuddered, flinched, and let out a few yelps of fear. (Okay, so it wasn’t full-fledged SCREECHES! But I’m still counting it as a similar reaction.) She unsuccessfully tried to swing at the spider several times. Finally, she gathered courage, yelled “For GONDOR!” and flipped the spider with her shoe. Lord of the Rings to the rescue yet again!

sorry, I have to screech!

Fortunately, the most common hazard (ahem, “awareness”) along the woodland trails in Ohio is poison ivy. I am confident I can help participants become more aware of this plant—both how it is high energy food for deer and other animals and how to avoid touching it as humans. Whew! No worries about inadvertent screams when I unexpectedly see this plant!

biggest hiking hazard

So what’s the point of these stories (beyond entertaining you)? I’m reminding myself that I need to curb my instinctive tendencies to SCREECH! I’m working to finish my certification as a Forest Therapy Guide and it is apparently not professional to scare your walk participants. Wish me luck!

(Wondering about our encounters with wild animals while backpacking? You can read a summary of the real hazards of hiking HERE. You can see photos and descriptions of critters we see HERE and HERE.)

PLEASE assure me that I’m not the only one to yelp or screech when startled! Share your story in the comments below.

Rainy Days & Trees

“Rainy Days and Mondays always get me down.” This song by the Carpenters has been resonating the past few gray, rainy days. Fog, mist, drizzle, shower, downpour, thunderstorm—we have seen all of the forms of rain recently!

Rainy Days & Me:

When it is dark and gloomy and oh-so-damp, I just wanna stay inside. (Please tell me that I’m not the only one?!) If I have to go somewhere, obviously, I dash to and from the car, hoping I won’t melt in the rain.

Driving in the Rain

But really, I would rather just stay inside by a cozy fire, with a good book and a mug of tea. A relaxed, snoring dog is always a plus!

Let sleeping dogs lay

Or better yet, I would like to crawl back under the covers and doze the day away!

Camping in the Rain

Rainy Days & Trees:

While we are hiding inside, what are the trees doing? Apparently they have different reactions to the rain… (This spring, I wrote about many fascinating new ideas about trees discovered in “The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben. You can read some of these mind-blowing facts HERE.)

Mr. Wohlleben explains that “Deciduous trees are shaped in ways that send rainfall toward their roots deep under the forest floor. This extra moisture at ground level helps the [surrounding] smaller trees and plants remain healthy as well.” I braved the rains to take photos of deciduous trees. I found most had soaking wet trunks, and leaves that funneled sheets of water from every branch of the tree (just like the author says).

deciduous trees on rainy days

Deciduous trees on rainy days

Mr. Wohlleben continues the discussion of rainy days and trees by talking about coniferous trees. He points out that both their shape and having needles rather than leaves help these trees deflect the rain. The ground under their branches stays generally dry and is a good place to shelter during a rain storm…but watch out for lightning!

Pines on Rainy Days

Conifers shed rain

Rainy Days, You & Me:

“O, to feel the beat of the rain, and the homely smell of the earth, Is a tune for the blood to jig to, a joy past power of words.” –John Masefield

We don’t often remember the other lyrics from that Carpenter’s song: “Rainy days and Mondays always get me down; Funny, but it seems I always wind up here with you; Nice to know somebody loves me; Funny, but it seems that it’s the only thing to do; Run and find the one who loves me”

So on the next gray, rainy days, I’m going to try to find the joy and the dancing tune. I plan to join the trees! I’m gonna grab someone who loves me and head outside. We will laugh at the rain and play under the pines. Will you join me?!

its raining, its pouring

conifers shed rain

Read about other songs of rainy days HERE and HERE.

In the comments below, SHARE your favorite way to survive a rainy day!

A Contradictory Week — Forest Therapy Training Intensive

I just finished the initial 8 day training intensive to start the 6 month long process of becoming a certified Forest Therapy Guide. There were 20 students and 5 mentors at the training. It was a wonderful, exhausting, energizing, stretching, amazing, contradictory week. I’m still processing all we learned…and will share more details in the next few months.

One of the mentors put together this video to give an overview of the people, place, and activities of the week. (Keep an eye out for me–I’m in a number of the shots!) This training was held at Oak Openings Metro Park in the Toledo area. If you ever get a chance to visit, it is an amazingly diverse location!

I decided the fastest way to summarize this contradictory week jam-packed-full of learning and stretching was to make a chart:

Contradictory Week

Thanks SO much to family and friends who continue to encourage me and support me. That was hugely important to keep me at the training when I was exhausted and emotionally wrung out. (Shhh! I was even ready to quit a few times when I was overwhelmed!)

The most important thing I learned during this training is that I AM RIGHT WHERE I’M SUPPOSED TO BE! Now I KNOW this is the right path for me to pursue…a knowing that is not just head knowledge but deep certainty in my heart.

If you missed it, you can see our training schedule and some of my own photos HERE

To learn more about the practice of Forest Therapy and what a Guide does, click HERE

Growing into a Forest Therapy Guide

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 am growing up from strong roots and a sturdy trunk into a forest therapy guide

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!

 

Childhood Fun!

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

Active outside play used to be a fun part of childhood

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

Playing with little toys and collectibles hones the imagination

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

Reading and relaxing used to be significant parts of childhood play

For decades, Childhood fun has included Crayola!

Childhood Fun today raises fears of too many video games, movies and electronics

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.

How NATURE GIRL Survives the Big City

Too many people, too much noise, no quiet to be found… Visiting the Big City can be completely overwhelming, sending anxiety higher than the looming skyscrapers. And when you are “Nature Girl,” how in the world do you survive a week of chaos?

Andowen has been begging to visit New York City for a few years now. Some of her favorite books and movies have connections to that place. She was thrilled to find the (imaginary) sites she wanted to see. And both of us agree that we are in no hurry to return to the hustle and bustle of that metropolis. As I have explained HERE and HERE, our daughter needs extended time in nature to find balance in life. Even I was overwhelmed as we braved the chaos. We were in desperate need of some Forest Therapy!

Fortunately for both of us, we discovered that there are bits of Nature to be found, even in a Big City. We reminded each other to use our senses to connect to the non-human world:

  • We noticed Nature’s colors and changing light. Big City sunset, skyline, NYC
  • We listened for flowing water, found in tiny parks. Rocky Fountain, Pocket Park, Big City, NYC
  • We enjoyed the wind and waves on our ferry rides in and out of the Big City. NYC ferries, Hudson River
  • Rather than getting frustrated at a long wait for the ferry to load and unload (we were continuing on to the next stop), we focused on the dance of the seagulls playing in the wind. Statue of Liberty, NYC, play on the wind

Once our stress levels were lower, we began to notice that New York City is filled with quiet corners and tiny places to savor Nature. Here are a few of our favorite discoveries:

  • At the World Trade Center memorial, the story of the Survivor Tree reminded us of the healing power of Nature—both for itself, and for grieving people. the Survivor Tree, WTC memorial, NYCthe Survivor Tree, WTC memorial, NYC
  • We found tiny courtyards with gardens and benches, a peaceful haven for weary walkers (often hidden beside churches). Big City pocket parks, church peace
  • If you go to NYC, don’t miss walking “The Highline”—an unused elevated train track converted to a few miles of walking trail complete with gardens, set high above the busy streets. Big City pocket parks, NYC
  • We also found little playgrounds every few blocks, covered by shady trees. I enjoyed sitting on a quiet bench with children’s laughter and chatter covering the noise of traffic. Andowen was excited to find her favorite “spinners” to play on. Big City playground, NYC

These were some of the ways we found connections with Nature to help us survive a visit to the Big City. I’m curious how YOU thrive in a busy place—whether vacationing or living there? Drop your suggestion(s) in the comments below!

Junior Ranger Challenge

Hop in the car and head to the nearest National Park. Sounds like a good vacation outing to me. But far too often, this simple activity is met by complaining from the back seats: “Do we HAVE to…?” “This will be BOring…” Turn down the whines and help your kids look forward to what they can “Explore, Learn and Protect!” by getting involved in the Junior Ranger program at more than 400 National Park sites.

Our family discovered this fabulous hands-on challenge when we wandered the western USA in an RV nine years ago. Daughter completed the information scavenger hunt, earned her first badge and was sworn in as a Junior Ranger at Arches National Park when she was just seven years old. (As a paparazzi extraordinaire, I must confess that somehow I have no photos of this momentous occasion. In my defense, I had no idea that this would be more than a one-time entertainment.)

nps, hiking, southwest USA

The quest for ever more badges has continued. Wherever we go, we look for National Park sites along the way for daughter to add to her collection. She started adding the replica badges to a lanyard. Then we bought her a vest to show off her collection. Eventually, she had so many badges that she made a wall hanging to display all of them. This past weekend, she earned badge #100 at the Statue of Liberty! Woohoo! Way to Go, Andowen!

earn badges, nps

nps, statue of liberty, collection

Originally this program was targeted to children ages 7-13 years old. There has been enough interest that anyone of any age is now allowed to become a Junior Ranger at each location. Let’s walk through the process together:

  • Pick Your Park to Visit—Whenever we drive somewhere, I check the list of parks at nps.gov to see where we could stop along the way.
    nps, travel itinerary
  • Go to the Desk at the Visitor Center and ask for a Junior Ranger Book—Complete the required number of activities. It is perfectly acceptable for family members to help. (In the process, we often learn more than our daughter does!) Because we consider these activities to be part of our homeschooling curriculum, we insist that the entire book must be finished, in the car if not at the park itself. (You can read more HERE about how we include travel activities as part of school.)
    family, homeschoolingearn badges, nps
  • Many Different Activities Help Complete the Booklet—Watch the park movie. Take a tour. Explore the plants and animals outdoors. Write poetry or draw pictures. Go on an information scavenger hunt in the museum. Interview a Ranger.
    National Park Service, Visitor Centernps, explore naturenps, displays, scavenger hunt
  • Take the Booklet Back to a Ranger—At minimum, he will check to see you have fulfilled the requirements. Sometimes, she will discuss what you have written or explore what you have learned. A few of the rangers have taken time to encourage our daughter to imagine how she might get involved with the National Park Service as a career. Junior Ranger, Ft Davis, npsJunior Ranger, nps, valley forge
  • Raise Your Right Hand and Be Sworn in as a Junior Ranger—promising to continue to explore National Parks, do one’s best to protect the parks, and share what is learned with family and friends. Then shake hands with the ranger and accept your new badge. nps, raise your right hand, biscayne bay
  • Add the Badge to Your Collection—In our family, that means adding a few pages to yet another scrapbook as well as pinning the latest badge or patch to the custom wall hanging. nps, junior ranger, collection

BONUS: Here are links to my daughter’s favorite National Park Sites that we have visited (so far).

Read more about Chaco Culture National Historic Site (in New Mexico) HERE. Andowen has many happy memories of this park since we lived near it for three years and visited often. nps, junior ranger

Read more about Craters of the Moon National Monument (in Idaho) HERE. This was one of the most desolate yet fascinating sites we have seen. nps, junior ranger

Read more about Kenai Fjords National Park (in Alaska) HERE. Andowen enjoyed tasting a bit of ice from Exit Glacier. And she was completely WOWED by seeing orcas and a whale fluke on the boat tour! nps, junior ranger, awe, excitement, whale watch

We would love to hear from you—what is YOUR favorite National Park to visit?

(Read about Homeschooling in the Woods HERE!)

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