Get outside, Family!

Get outside, Family!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Spending holiday break outdoors in Pittsburgh

Oh, ho, ho. Holiday break will soon be upon us. That means 11 straight days of no school or regular activities. I'm hoping for skiing, sledding and lots of time for the kids to play outside with their buds. But in case we find ourselves drawn too strongly to the screens and sofa, I've made a backup plan. Not counting Christmas, New Year's Day or their eves, here are outside ideas for every other day of the season.

Saturday, December 26

Annual Christmas Bird Count

If you’re like my family and usually spend this day lounging around in jammies nursing a cookie hangover, here’s a better idea: Join in the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania’s annual Pittsburgh Christmas Bird Count. Contact the ASWP ahead of time to connect with a local organizer.

Sunday, December 27

Ice Skating at PPG Place/Market Square

The tree will still be up, and you can enjoy Christmas in Downtown Pittsburgh without the hustle bustle part. Hours for Sunday Dec. 27 are noon to 8 p.m., skate rental is available. The rink will remain open for evenings through Jan. 3, click here for more information.

Monday, December 28

Christmas light walk

The moon will just be past full, and the Christmas decor will still be blazing. No school tomorrow, so we can wait for hubby to get home from work and walk through our neighborhood as a family.

Tuesday December 29

Visit the Pittsburgh Zoo

Winter is one of my family’s favorite times to visit the zoo. It’s not crowded and some of the animals are more active in cool weather. The zoo is open every day of the year except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.  Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Dec. 31, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. starting on Jan. 2 .

Wednesday Dec. 30

Playground day

The playground in winter is a treat. If you haven’t been there in a while, it’s like visiting an old friend. And it will look different, especially if it has snowed. Invite a friend along, because you might be the only ones there.

Saturday, Jan. 2

Pittsburgh Botanic Garden

We have never visited the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden in Oakdale, and this seems like a great time to go. Walking trails are open Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Click here for fees and weekday hours. 

Sunday Jan. 3

Try out a new trail

The last day of holiday break. Back to school tomorrow. We will definitely need a family walk. I’ve always wanted to check out Mt.Washington’s Emerald View Park. Or maybe we’ll just try a new path through our community.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

How to get older kids outside: Let them F.A.R.T.

The group of preteen boys calls itself the FARTs. The boys say it stands for Friends Are Really Terrific, but really they just found a convenient way to use their favorite word. What the FARTs truly are: My very best bet for getting my eldest son to do anything new outdoors.

Parents of my son’s classmates take turns organizing outdoor adventures for the kids. It started with a couple of fathers who wanted a more purely-outdoors, no-meetings alternative to scouting, and they kindly invited the rest of us. Outings include river tubing, a treetop ropes course, backyard picnics, a city bike tour and, most recently, a geocache hike. Siblings often join in.
No complaints on this hike.

Let me try to illustrate the magic of this group. Let’s say I plan a short hike for our family, but my child would rather stay home and watch Star Wars IV for the 12th time. First, we attempt negotiation.

Me: “Come on, you’ll feel great after a walk and you can watch TV then.”
Son: “How much TV?”
Me: “Don’t worry about that now, just come on.”
Son: “No, it’s too cold/too hot/too early/too late/I have too much to do.”
Me: “How about we get ice cream after the hike (which used to work)?”
Son: “Nope, I don’t need it. I’ll stay home.”

Then, I try Tough Talk.
Me: “We’re all going, and you have to come, too.” After I repeat that several times, he stomps angrily out the door.  At this point, a less experienced parent might think she’s won. I know better. He comes along and maybe even enjoys it, but he won’t let me know that. Instead, the background noise on this hike is a steady stream of complaining and/or pre-adolescent attitude. If only he had that kind of endurance for hiking.

Which he does, if his friends are around. And that’s the beauty of the FARTs.
Found the cache!

It was a frosty December morning when the group of 10 kids and 6 adults tackled a steep, muddy trail to find a tricky, two-waypoint multi-cache. I heard no complaints about the cold or the fallen trees we had to scramble over. There were a few slips in the mud, but no one threatened to go back to the car. Everyone willingly pushed through brush and dug through wet leaves to search for a cache. One child quietly asked when we were going to eat, but the group overwhelmingly wanted to go on. We ultimately found three caches over about three miles.

I love using my GPS and smart phone app to find a geocache, but I don’t think my son does. That’s okay. There are so many other things to do on a walk in the woods, and it’s so much fun to do it with buddies. Everyone found a way to participate, whether it was finding a cache, leading the group through the maze of the park’s compost piles, scrambling over an enormous root system of a fallen tree or tackling friends during the picnic afterward.

I’m so grateful to the FART families, and to all of our friends who join us on outings or take my kids on their family adventures. I hope we can keep this going.

Friday, December 11, 2015

What's it mean to be an "outside" family?

My son’s teacher was telling us about a mountain resort she’d just visited, saying we might like it because we are so “outdoorsy.” My son was adamant: “We are NOT outdoorsy." He went on to explain that the term better describes people like his friend, whose family does a lot of adventurous and exciting things – like river kayaking, 100 mile bike rides and scuba diving.

I agree with my son, sort of. I wouldn’t call us "outdoorsy," if you mean it in the rugged, sleep-with-the-bears, scale-a-mountain kind of way. Since I write a blog about getting outside, consider this my disclaimer.
Indoor husband plays outside.

My husband and I truly enjoy the things we do as a family outdoors, and we think the kids do, too. Sometimes, though, that is merely trying to bounce a large plastic ball on the driveway so high that it lands on the roof, or taking a walk in our neighborhood to look at holiday decorations. 

I don’t really like taking risks involving physical danger, and my husband hates poison ivy, so those limitations narrow our list of "outdoorsy" activities. White water rafting? Done it, I still have bad dreams about it. A trek on cross-country skis for a night of winter camping sounds amazing, but I wouldn’t even know where to begin that project. Pitching a tent in the backyard, loading it up with sleeping bags and then putting it all away seems like plenty of effort to me.

We do enjoy pushing ourselves, a little. The boys and I are learning to downhill ski, and that’s going well as long as there are plenty of hot chocolate breaks. What works for us? Bike rides on maintained trails, short walks in the woods and sled riding. One time, while the oil was being changed in the car, I played tag with my sons in the small grass yard outside the garage instead of sitting in the waiting room watching TV.

Whoa, right? Talk about adventurous.  

The thing is, in the middle of a week full of driving for errands and activities, evenings eaten up by homework and the lure of ubiquitous screens, taking even a few odd minutes to be outside can feel radical. Sometimes it is very hard to do.

I see how nurturing outdoor skills and adventurous hobbies helps other families build an affinity for nature and wild spaces, and I hope we’ll do more of that as my family grows. We’re all for learning new things. Someday, when the boys are older, I’d like to maybe do a multi-day bike journey, or a backpacking trip.

Today, if I can get them out to play in the yard for an hour or so, I will feel like I accomplished something. It may not be a mountain climbed, but it’s something