X – X Marks the Spot

26 Reasons to Take Your Family Outside - X Marks the Spot

What is it about the idea of treasure hunting that interests us? Countless books have been written about pirates searching for an elusive treasure. Thanks to their maps, the phrase“X marks the spot” has become synonymous with an advantageous find. Modern-day treasure hunters often use high-tech equipment like metal detectors and sonar to aid them in their quest, but the aim is the same as the pirates of yore. Gold, right? Money, jewels, and long-lost coins top the list of things people are hunting for. Have you ever noticed, though, that even when these treasure hunters find what they’re looking for, they aren’t satisfied? No matter how big or impressive the treasure, the hunters are right back out there trying to find the next big haul.

I think it’s safe to say that while the treasure is great, it’s the HUNT itself that is the best part. Just a couple of weeks ago I read a Huffington Post article about a man in Oregon who found a rare gold coin with his metal detector. When asked about his find, the man responded, “Finding it is better than keeping it.”

If you’re a modern-day treasure hunter and haven’t yet tried out geocaching, it’s time you get your family outside to try out a new hobby. Simply put, geocaching is an international treasure hunt using GPS coordinates to locate geocaches, hidden containers or points of interest. Once you find a geocache, you log your success on a written log within the container and/or on the website geocaching.com (you can create an account on the site for free and even download a free app so you can find your first cache today).

No, you won’t find gold, jewels, or money in these geocaches, but you’ll have the fun of the find.

How to Begin Your Geocaching “X Marks the Spot” Adventure

Now get outside and get hunting! 

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Escaping Expectations

creek escaping expectations

Adapted from Unsplash @pixabay.com

The sun was shining over the weekend, and the unseasonably warm winter temperature reduced the piles of snow in our yard to puddles. As anyone with spring fever might do, I rounded up the family and headed outside to do some geocaching. At first, everything went expected.

We found the first cache with ease, and it felt great to get outside and stretch our winter-weary legs.

It was when we got to the second cache that everything went downhill.

I can’t tell you exactly what the trigger was. Maybe it was the fact tht we couldn’t get the GPS coordinates for the next cache to work. It could have been that my oldest was running through the woods swinging sticks at everything. It’s possible it was my youngest who was bent on destroying as much of the surrounding trees as he could. It may have been my husband who wasn’t helping me with the GPS problem or the kid problem fast enough.

Whatever the reason, I got angry. I yelled at my family and then stomped back to the car. I sulked for the rest of the afternoon. Not a pretty picture.

After calming down, I did some thinking about what went wrong. It wasn’t that I hadn’t planned the day well enough. I’m definitely an overplanner, feeling the need to know just how things are going to go.

That’s when it hit me: My unrealistic expectations got in the way of a great day outside.

If you think about it, an expectation is just a strong belief something will happen the way we anticipate it will. On our outdoor adventures, we expect good weather, for our kids to behave, for the perfect campsite, for a bug-free hike, for a fun-filled vacation… But more often than not, something happens that upends those expectations in a second.

How do you react when things don’t go as you expect?

Are you like I was over the weekend and have a ruined day?

Do you feel disappointed or let down?

Or do you roll with it when the rain drops fall, delighting in the chance to go stomping through mud puddles on your hike?

Managing Expectations

As you can see, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about escaping from expectations this week (at least, the unrealistic ones), and I thought I’d share my take-aways with you so that your family time outside isn’t ruined:

  • Plan–yet be flexible. I don’t think planning itself is the problem. Most good outings require some degree of planning. What I sometimes forget, though, is to plan for flexibility. If everything is planned in detail, the littlest thing going wrong can wreck the day. However, if the plan includes some flexibility—like including multiple options or some time to explore and relax—it’s easier to roll with the unexpected.
  • Remember you can’t change reality, but you can change how you respond. I’m slowly realizing that happiness isn’t about expectations; it’s about reality, enjoying the moment. I can’t anticipate when the tire will go flat or how much damage a freak hailstorm will do to the camper roof, but I am entirely in charge of how I deal with those situations. Instead of letting them get me upset, I can choose to find the silver lining, making the best of the situation.
  • Evaluate how significant the expectation is. I honestly don’t think it’s possible to eliminate all expectations—and maybe it wouldn’t be a good thing if we did. However, some expectations are more reasonable and significant than others. Yael Kaufman wrote in an article titled “How Eliminating Unrealistic Expectations Can Make You a Happier Person” that some expectations are just unnecessary. It’s not easy to do, but we need to be asking ourselves if the day will be *ruined* if the expectation isn’t met. Was my day really ruined after the geocaching debacle? Of course not!
  • Acknowledge that unrealistic expectations cause stress. Who needs added stress in his/her life? No one I know, for sure! When we have these expectations for how everything will go, we’re living in the land of worry, anxiety, and stress. We’re focused on events in the future we have little control over. Letting go of those expectations means letting go of some stress—sounds like a good thing to me!
  • Become aware of your expectations—so that you can loosen your grip on them. Each of these five “take-aways” overlap, but I think this is the one that overlays all the rest.  The Dalai Lama is quoted as saying, “I am open to the guidance of synchronicity and do not let expectations hinder my path.” It sounds so simple when he says it. The first step to escaping from those unrealistic expectations is to recognize them. It’s hard to stay “in the moment,” though; instead, I’m usually a step ahead, planning—and yes, making expectations. I need to work on awareness of my expectations so they don’t get in the way of living.

Okay, I’ve confessed my embarrassing weekend tantrum and what I’ve learned as a result. Have you ever had these moments where your expectations got in the way of enjoying reality? Any tips?

10 Reasons to Love Fall Geocaching in Michigan

The weather is cooling down fast now here in Michigan. We lit our first fire of the year in our fireplace last night. Our favorite Great Lakes beaches are emptying of tourists—and some have even gotten snow already. The trees are starting to look bare as last week’s red and yellow and orange leaves are twirling to the ground.

This is the time of year I love best because the cold gives me a good excuse to curl up on the couch with a cup of tea and a book. However, with two young boys in the house, those quiet moments don’t last long.  When they need to get outside and run around, we grab our GPS device and head out treasure hunting–geocaching, that is.

A Geocache

A Geocache

If you’re not familiar with geocaching, it really is a bit like modern-day treasure hunting. Anyone with a GPS device or a smartphone with the geocaching app can login and get the coordinates to all sorts of caches across the world. Many of these caches contain just a log where you can record the fact that you found it; others contains trinkets that kids like to exchange for small items they bring along. There are even virtual caches, where there is no physical container to find—just the triumph of recording that you were there. To give you an idea of how popular this hobby has become, here’s a photo of the caches in the state of Michigan.

Geocaches in Michigan

Geocaches in Michigan

Yes, each of those little colored dots is a cache. We have a premium membership, which is well worth the $29.99/year price for the entertainment, but even without paying, there are plenty of caches to find.

Anyway, whether you’re an experienced geocacher or if this is the first time you’ve ever heard of it, here’s my top ten list of reasons why geocaching is a great fall activity for families:

  1. The whole family can participate. This is an activity that my kids love, and my husband and I enjoy it, too. The kids love the experience of finding “treasure,” while we get to take a nice walk and catch up on the events of the week. We actually manage to have *real* uninterrupted conversations while the kids are running ahead toward the cache—mostly unheard of otherwise!
  2. Geocaching teaches valuable navigation skills. I grew up learning how to find my way using maps, but the tools of navigation are much more sophisticated these days. My young sons can operate our GPS device far better than I can already. I’m sure that will come in handy someday—maybe!
  3. Geocaching is great exercise. In the pursuit of caches, we’ve clocked many, many miles—and no one complains about how far we’re walking because everyone is focused on following the coordinates and seeing what’s in the cache. The kids are active and loving it! (Oh yeah, and the adults are active, too, which is probably the bigger achievement, if I’m being honest.)
  4. Geocaching gets us outside. As I mentioned above, fall makes me want to curl up under a blanket. I could hibernate until spring, if my family would let me. However, once I’m outside smelling those leaves and feeling that cool breeze on my face, I can’t help but smile and appreciate the beauty of the season.
  5. We see places and things we’d never see otherwise. This is a big one for me. Since we started geocaching, we’ve been to so many places we otherwise never would have seen. One of our favorite unexpected finds was the Devil’s Washtub in the Keweenaw Peninsula, but we even found a couple of small parks in our own town we never knew existed.
  6. Geocaching teaches us to appreciate the journey as much as the destination. Whenever we head out geocaching, we know there’s a good chance we may not find the cache. It happens sometimes, and it can be disappointing. The best part of the adventure, though, is trying—even when we fail miserably. There’s always next time!
  7. Geocaching is a great problem-solving activity. Some caches require some ingenuity beyond just navigation. The GPS devices get us only so close to the cache; after that, we have to decode and follow clues or sometimes complete puzzles. This leads well to #3…

    Geocache Trackable

    Geocache Trackable

  8. Geocaching reinforces the value of teamwork. Our team, my family, does pretty well together. I can’t tell you how many times my husband and I have been ready to give up on a cache when one of my sons stumbles (sometimes literally) on it. The boys sometimes get annoyed at each other when one finds a cache before the other, but they’ve learned that it takes all of us to be successful. Beyond our little team, we also participate in a larger network of teams, by finding “trackables” and helping them along their journey. The kids love seeing where those have been and where they go once they leave us, reinforcing that it takes many people to get something accomplished sometimes.
  9. Geocaching is an inexpensive hobby. With so many hobbies costing a fortune, it’s nice to have something we can do together that really costs very little. Sure, there’s the initial cost of a GPS device, but a smart phone works almost as well. We splurged for the $29.99/year premium membership, which gives us access to even more caches and some useful extras, but that’s not a necessity. There’s also the gas cost, but that can be managed with some planning.
  10. Fall geocaching with the family beats raking leaves any day! It’s going to snow soon enough anyway, so no one will see all those leaves we didn’t get to!

A word of warning, though: Geocaching can become addicting! Once you find that first cache, you’ll want to find the next and the next.

So much for raking!