V – Vitamin D

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We’ve all been told we need to get plenty of Vitamin D, so our bodies can absorb calcium and phosphorous. Jack Charles wrote an excellent article for Eureka Tents in 2014 that clarified some other lesser known benefits of this hormone (yes, I just read that Vitamin D is actually a hormone—who knew?). Zach at All Things Appalachian Trail added a few more benefits to my list:

Vitamin D may…

  • Decrease your risk for heart disease and some cancers
  • Decrease the severity of asthma
  • Decrease your likelihood of depression
  • Decrease high blood pressure
  • Decrease your likelihood for multiple sclerosis (women)
  • Decrease your likelihood of Alzheimer’s
  • Decrease your likelihood of diabetes
  • Boost your immune system

As we’ve all been told, the easiest way to get Vitamin D is to expose ourselves to sunlight—and no, sunlight through a window isn’t the same as direct exposure. Our bodies are designed to function best when we get outside. Yes, it’s true that you can also get Vitamin D from other sources like some fish and even mushrooms, but these sources aren’t as efficient as sunlight.

One of the biggest challenges to the idea of stimulating our Vitamin D production from sunlight is skin cancer. Sunscreen blocks UV rays, which are needed for Vitamin D production. If we don’t wear sunscreen, we risk skin cancer; if we do wear sunscreen, we aren’t able to get our Vitamin D boost from the sun.

Clearly, this is a valid concern—and one we don’t discuss often enough. There are risks to being outside—but there are also risks to staying inside and inactive. Stephen Honig, MD, director of the Osteoporosis Center at the Hospital for Joint Diseases, in New York City, says just 20 to 25 minutes in the sunshine [without sunscreen] is helpful each day. Likewise, Australian epidemiologist Robyn Lucas argued that compared to the severity of problems associated with vitamin D deficiency, some sun exposure is the better option. I’ve read in places that 5-10 minutes of unprotected sun exposure is helpful. HOWEVER, the Skin Cancer Foundation says any unprotected sun exposure is too risky.

I am obviously not an expert in this topic. I like the idea of getting that Vitamin D boost from a natural source like the sun rather than from supplements, but I understand the risks involved. Sunscreen is an important part of any outdoor adventure. Fortunately, even if you avoid any unprotected sun exposure, getting outside will surely result in some Vitamin N(ature), as Richard Louv calls it.

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Q – Quality Time

poking campfire

Photo adapted from Unsplash @ pixabay.com

The kids had homework to do.

I needed to vacuum and wash windows.

My husband planned to clean out our cars after work.

We had all sorts of things we should have been doing yesterday evening, but when my boys got off the bus after school, I knew we needed some quality time as a family.

Do you ever have those weeks where you get focused on what needs to get done? On to-do lists and schedules? On obligations and necessities? Sometimes those things become the priorities instead of facilitating the priorities. These are the moments when I need to remind myself of a popular saying:

Work to live not live to work.

So, yesterday evening, we lived.

We set aside the work for a couple of hours and spent some quality time together. We tromped through the woods, found six geocaches, visited two lakes, discovered an abandoned boyscout camp and an old road, and walked something like three miles. Best of all, we spent time together as a family talking about our day and about the week to come. This wasn’t the kind of talking we do at home when we’re all busy doing our own things. This was quality conversation where we were listening to one another. I’d like to think that was much more important than vacuuming or homework (which did get done eventually, for the record).

I hope you’ll get to spend some quality time with your family this week—outside, inside, or wherever!

N – Natural Beauty

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Photo adapted from Sara Juggernaut @ pixaby.com

When I sat down to write my “N” post for the Blogging From A-Z Challenge, I figured writing about nature would be easy. Gaining an appreciation of “natural beauty” seemed like something I could write about without thought. After all, barring a natural disaster, it’s not very often we hear people talk about how ugly nature is. Nature’s beauty is sort of a given. Everyone knows that already. So why would I need to convince people to experience this beauty for themselves. A no-brainer, right?

Then why do so few people get outside and experience nature firsthand?

After some thought, it occurred to me that nature’s beauty has some major competition these days. Check out these examples of what I mean:


What breathtaking scenery! In the 21st century, computers can create the details of the natural world with amazing accuracy. Computers generate rain, animate insects, illustrate the wind, and place viewers right in the midst of it all. Why would anyone bother to go outside when nature can be experienced on a television screen from the comfort of the couch?

Here’s why:

As good as those computers are, they can’t compete with the real thing.

True natural beauty can’t be computer generated. I’ll take hopping from one sun-warmed boulder to the next along Lake Superior over watching it on TV any day. I’d rather lie in the freshly cut grass and stare up through the leaves of an ancient oak tree than pick pixelated flowers in a video game. Take me to the ballpark where I can eat popcorn and come home with a slightly sunburned nose. I’ll take the real thing over the artificial substitute every time.

Now, the million dollar question: How do we get kids to pick the beauty of nature over the electronic version? I’m still working on that…

G – GOOD Food

hot dog campfire A-Z challenge

Adapted from sausage-662049_1920_Pezibear @ Pixabay.com

By now, everyone knows food cooked outside tastes better, right? Honestly, I think the food is the main reason I go camping sometimes. Yes, it takes a bit more effort to cook over the campfire, but there’s something about the relaxed pace of campfire cooking coupled with being hungry from exertion and fresh air that makes food cooked over a fire taste amazing.

Interestingly, the *taste* of the food isn’t the only good thing about cooking outside. According to an H.E. Remus on Medium, “When you cook for yourself, you consume 50% less calories.” That makes sense since when you’re camping, you’re probably meal planning more carefully and are conscious of portion control since storage of food is an issue. Further, you’re less likely to just randomly grab a snack from the pantry, and if you do stock your camping pantry with junk food (s’mores, anyone?), you’re more likely to have exercised setting up camp to burn more calories than you would sitting in front of the TV. As an added bonus, if you’re participating in activities like fishing or foraging (yes, people do that!), you’re probably eating the freshest protein around sans preservatives of any kind.

Finally, if you’re camping, you just have to try one of the incredibly creative recipes you can find in the array of camping recipe books or on Pinterest. In case you need some incentive, here’s my Pinterest camping recipe list:

How is it that the lowly hot dog can taste so GOOD when cooked outside over an open fire? What are your favorite recipes for cooking outdoors? I’m always looking for new things to try on this summer’s adventures!

Read more of my Blogging From A-Z Challenge posts: 26 Reasons to Take Your Family Outside

D – Digital Detox

beach father and son

Out of curiosity, I searched for the word “detox” in Pinterest this morning. I can’t tell you how many results I found—too many to count. I even found a board dedicated to detoxes that includes an astounding 1,137 pins!


What’s the lesson to be learned here? No, the lesson I’m going for has nothing to do with lemon juice or kale. What I drew from this quick search was a clear sense that people see the world we live in as TOXIC.

A toxin is usually defined as something poisonous, something we’d want to stay far away from. Somehow, though, we humans acknowledge that many things around us are toxic, yet we don’t stay away from those things. In many cases, we embrace those toxins. At some point, though, we go searching for a recipe to detox our bodies, to rid us of the effects of those poisons.

I’d like to offer up my own recipe for detoxing today:

  1. Turn off TV, cell phones, video games, and any other digital devices.
  2. Go outside.

Obviously, I’m focused on our overreliance on digital devices as the “poison” in our lives today. Like many other toxins, even while we bemoan the impact of these devices on our relationships and family lives, we can’t help responding to one more text and watching one more movie. I’m guilty of it, too. I took my phone out to take a quick picture and then just had to respond to a bunch of email messages, too, taking my attention away from my kids.

What effect does digital media have on kids?

In 2010, the Kaiser Family Foundation released an often-cited report claiming children between 8 and 18 spent 7 hours and 38 minutes a day focused on digital media. Much research has focused on what the impact of that large amount of digital interaction has been. While there are some positives (access to information, entertainment and communication), findings have included many negatives:

  • obesity
  • depression
  • ADHD
  • violence
  • self-esteem issues

While I’m not suggesting you remove all digital devices from your children’s lives, an afternoon outside or a weekend camping trip could be a great opportunity for a digital detox. It’s a good time to talk, reconnect, and remember what life was like before we become addicted to technology.

If you’re not quite ready to entirely unplug, the National Wildlife Federation has put together this presentation with ideas for incorporating digital media in your outdoor adventures—sort of a best of all worlds situation:

What’s your favorite way of digital detoxing? 

Read more of my Blogging From A-Z Challenge posts: 26 Reasons to Take Your Family Outside

A – Adaptability

rain 26 reasons to take your family outside adaptability

Adapted from rain-455120_1920_ChristopherPluta @ Pixabay.com

Do any of these scenarios sound familiar to you:

  • You realize at hour four of a six hour drive to your campsite that you’ve left all of the drinks in the refrigerator at home.
  • The sunny afternoon walk with your kids is ruined when biting flies descend in swarms.
  • The trip to the playground comes to a screeching halt when one of your kids falls off the monkey bars and ends up with a bloody nose.
  • Your geocaching adventure turns hostile when you can’t find a single cache.

Unless you’ve had unbelievably good luck, these scenarios are ones you can relate to—and you’ve probably got some outdoor disaster stories that rival the ones on the list (which all happened to my family, by the way). As much as I love the outdoors, it’s unpredictable. However, it’s that unpredictability that can teach an important lesson about ADAPTABILITY.

According to the video produced by Character Trades, “ADAPTABILITY is eagerly embracing a change in plans without complaint. The opposite of ADAPTABILITY is INFLEXIBILITY, holding tightly to something that prevents me from embracing an alternative.”


Okay, but how important is it that our kids learn to be adaptable? After all, we spend most of their young lives teaching them routine, with rules, curfews, and boundaries firmly in place. Why should they need to be adaptable? Here are just two answers to that question:

  • In an article titled “How to Demonstrate Adaptability on the Job,” Neil Kokemuller highlights four traits of adaptable people that make them suitable for the 21st century workplace:
    • Adaptable people are able to come up with alternative solutions to problems.
    • Adaptable people accept surprises more easily, making the working environment more productive.
    • Adaptable people easily accept new roles, important in rapidly changing workplaces.
    • Adaptable people show calm and confidence, which helps them make quick decisions.
  • In a Journal of Educational Psychology study of 969 Australian high school students, researchers found that “Young people who are more adaptable were more likely to participate in class, enjoy school, be more satisfied with life, have higher self-esteem, and have a more concrete sense of meaning and purpose in life.”

I acknowledge that some kids are just less flexible than others. Some children will balk at the idea of change in any form (and many adults feel the same way, hopefully without the screaming tantrums). It’s true that a child’s personality definitely plays a role, but outside adventures are a great way to teach the benefits of adaptability.

Here are five tips to encourage ADAPTABILITY in kids in an outdoor setting:

  1. Discuss adaptability in nature: The natural world is filled with examples of adaptability. Just as chameleons change color when threatened and trees grow deeper roots when water tables are low, the natural world shows us many ways to change, adapt, learn, and grow. The process is rarely a fast one, but nature has much to teach us.
  2. Model adaptability: I wrote a post about unrealistic expectations recently. In the process, it occurred to me that by reacting badly when my plans for our family’s outdoor adventures went awry, I was teaching my sons to follow suit. Rather than modeling adaptability, I was showing resistance and inflexibility. As parents, caregivers, and role models, it is our place to teach kids to accept change—not to fight against it.
  3. Acknowledge emotions associated with change: For many, change is frightening. We’re more likely to put up with the miserable we know than try something new. Outdoors settings represent an added component to these emotions, heightening fears of failure or worry about “doing it wrong.” However, these outdoor experiences also allow for more flexibility without dire consequences (yes, there are exceptions; I’ll save those for another post on another day): Can’t go on a picnic because it’s raining? Plan a puddle-jumping contest instead. Blow a bike tire in the middle of the family ride? Have a contest while walking back to see who can identify the most birds flying overhead.
  4. Think about opportunities afforded by unexpected changes: The idea of a “Plan B” is really a cliche since we discuss it so often, but having a Plan B, an alternative activity, in mind can keep problems in perspective. If something goes wrong, what could you do instead? Often the alternative ends up being as good—if not better—than the original plan.
  5. Praise flexibility. If we want to emphasize good behavior—in ourselves or in our children—a quick word of praise goes a long way. “Nice job rolling with the changes!” I’ve said to my sons—or “I’m so glad you decided to try out this trail instead of the one we’d intended.”

A confession: I’m not great at this idea of adaptability. In scenario A at the beginning of this post, the one with all the drinks left at home (for a week-long trip no less!), I fumed in the truck after the discovery. Admittedly, this was a minor issue that was easily remedied with a stop at a convenience store. My sons actually loved the fact they got to choose their own drinks, making that part of the trip better for them than what I’d planned. It was their flexibility that I leveraged later in the trip when it was too cold to do a planned activity and they were upset. “Remember how getting to pick your own drinks was better than what we’d planned?” I asked them. “Let’s think of something else we could do that would make today better.”

The natural world is a great model of adaptability and an excellent teacher, too—if we let it.

What outdoor activity disasters have happened to you and your family? Were you able to be adaptable and save the day?

Read more of my Blogging From A-Z Challenge posts: 26 Reasons to Take Your Family Outside

A-Z Theme Reveal: 26 Reasons to Take Your Family Outside

leaves jumping 26 reasons to take your family outside

Scottish-American Naturalist John Muir once said, “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” Not surprisingly, Muir is one of the people most responsible for the National Park System we have in the US today. He gave up a career in industry to wander his way from Indiana to Florida in 1867, sketching the flora and fauna along the way. Eventually, he made his way to California and surrendered himself to the lure of the natural world. PBS writes that Muir “felt a spiritual connection to nature; he believed that mankind is just one part of an interconnected natural world, not its master, and that God is revealed through nature.”

Muir understood the power of nature in a way that many 21st century people do not. Perhaps that was because he didn’t have the distractions of today, the phones, TVs, video games, and a thousand other things. In 2005, Robert Louv published a book called Last Child in the Woods, in which he coined the term “nature deficit disorder” and argued many behavior problems children were experiencing were related to the fact they no longer went outside.

The good news is that things are changing. The Outdoor Foundation released a report in 2013 that said 49.2% of Americans participated in some sort of outdoor recreation, and the National Park System reported record-breaking attendance in 2015.

Why do we need to get outside?

With so many things packed into our daily schedules, it’s not easy to find time to take a walk or play ball in the backyard. I’m guilty of going into hibernation mode as soon as the temperatures fall below 50. Can it really matter that much if we don’t get outside?

The simple answer is YES, it matters a great deal. The benefits for spending time outdoors—even just five minutes—have been well researched. Rather than get into them today, though, I’ve decided to make it my 2016 A-Z Challenge theme to give you 26 Reasons To Take Your Family Outside. Some of the reasons are lighthearted, but many are quite serious. My hope is that at least one of the reasons will you stick in your mind, and when you feel like you just want to relax on the couch and watch a movie, you’ll get up and head outside instead.

To get you started on your own outdoor adventure (and because it fits so well with the A-Z blogging challenge), I encourage you to take up the National Wildlife Federation’s “26 Ideas From A-Z” outdoor activity challenge with your family.

I hope you’ll check back for the 26 Reasons to Take Your Family Outside, beginning April 1, 2016! 

atoz-theme-reveal-2016 v2

 

Why #OutdoorFamilies Matter

I haven’t been able to get this tweet out of my head since I read it this morning:

THIS.

This is why I get off the couch when it’s cold and snowy.

This is why I’m outside in the yard even though the house is a mess.

This is why I pack up the camper over and over all summer long–even though I have a perfectly nice home (that probably needs cleaning).

It’s all about the memories. 

In an article titled “Sharing Memories as Gifts: Treasures to Last a Lifetime” published by Outdoor Families Magazine, Suzanne Solsona gets at this issue of memories when she asks,

Without thinking too much about it: What is your most vivid, cherished memory of childhood? Your teenage years? As an adult?

She argues that those memories are related to what we did–not what we had. I’d go one step further and say that many of my own most vivid memories were about what I did outside. Like the tweet above suggests, when I think of my favorite memories, they aren’t of television or movies (even though I’m a major fan of both). They aren’t about things I did inside at all. Instead, I remember…

  • Reading a book by the campfire with my parents on Foote Pond.
  • Sleeping on the Lake Huron beach as a teenager (admittedly not all that comfortable).
  • Hiking with my son to the top of his namesake mountain–only to realize he’d fallen asleep on the way.
  • Seeing amazement on my sons’ faces when they first saw Mt. Rushmore.
  • Getting swept up in my kids’ glee as they flew down snow-covered hill on their sleds.

These are the things I remember–and the things I hope my sons remember, too. These memories are the reason my family is an #OutdoorFamily.

#outdoorfamily

What are your reasons for getting outdoors? Are you an #outdoorfamily–or aspiring to be?