Face the Waves



After dinner tonight, I couldn’t bear to be in a hotel room. I’d already been swimming in the afternoon, but I was drawn back out for sunset. Don’t worry, no Kate Chopin – The Awakening-esque stuff going on here, I just love to sit by myself on the beach, especially in the evening.

I remember reading somewhere that you should never turn your back on ocean waves, that even a small wave could overtake an unsuspecting wader. As always, there’s a parenting and relationship metaphor in there, right?

There are the waves (your kids or anybody you’re in relationship with in the world). The waves are going to ebb and flow, and ultimately you have no control over them.  So what do you do with the waves? That’s the decision you get to make, again and again.

If you try to wade or swim without paying attention to them, you could quickly find yourself in a dangerous situation.

You could just sit on the shore, reading a book and ignoring the waves. But if you do that forever, I think you’ll miss out on some amazing experiences.

You could fight against the waves, trying to push them in a different direction, but that sounds incredibly frustrating, not to mention exhausting.

I’m trying to remember to choose my favorite option – jumping in and playing, as often as I can. Enjoying the waves for exactly what they are. Respecting their power and strength. Facing and accepting each unique wave.

But even that choice doesn’t mean constant play and interaction. It’s okay to step back to the shore, to sit, rest, and simply observe. The waves will continue to dance and crash, welcoming you back to play, whenever you’re ready.

Wish You Were Here

On my own get-outside mission, I went for a long run on the beach this afternoon, and then swam in the Gulf of Mexico.

It’s kind of strange to be in a Spring Break resort on my own. But at the same time it’s very, very peaceful. The conference sessions have all been interesting, and I’m re-inspired, ready to go back home and do good work for kids and families. The only thing missing from the conference is a session devoted to reducing kids’ challenging behaviors by being outside! Hmmm… Anyone want to plan and present a session with me next year?



Bird Spotting

As we rushed through the Denver concourse early this morning, two fat sparrows soared over a walk way, and hid in the rafters. I realized that I’ve seen birds in almost every airport I’ve ever been in. Each time I’ve seen these airport birds, I’ve had a knee-jerk reaction, believing that the birds were trapped, that they couldn’t possibly be happy, or living up to their full-bird-potential.

A quick google search for “birds inside airports” revealed that it’s very common for birds to purposefully make their homes inside airports, because of the warmth, the protection from predators, and the ample sources of food and water. So the airport birds may be the happiest birds in the world – who knew?

So this isn’t really about being outside, it’s more about making assumptions. I don’t understand bird languages (but someday I will, I’m working on it!), so of course I project my own beliefs and ideals on the situation. How often do we do this, especially with children; and even more often with children who can’t speak?

Long day, short post! You have my permission to run with this analogy and make it as specific or as broad as you’d like – I’d love to hear your thoughts!

26 Books – My Edition

Once upon a time, I was an avid reader. As a child I read constantly, indoors, outdoors, on road trips between Washington and California, through meals, and probably while watching TV.

During college I worked in a library and then a book store, thinking that shelving and selling would bring me closer to my love (I was physically closer, but I had to talk to so many people between reading sessions – I couldn’t stay).

It may seem strange, during a month of outside-inspired posts, to dedicate time to books – doesn’t getting lost in a book result in less time outside? I guess that takes me to the reason I read in the first place. Sometimes there’s a degree of escapism, but ultimately my true reason for reading, is to try to make sense of the world around me. Here we are, seven billion humans, fumbling our way through life. Writers, through what seems like magical alchemy, are able to weave together the most fantastic descriptions of who we are, where we are, and perhaps why we’re here.

My outdoor-inspired book list is heavier on the fiction side. They’re not overtly “books about being outside”, but each contains elements that have inspired me to get outside, explore the world, or they’ve made me think more deeply about my own relationship to the world around me. The categorizing was fun, as categorizing always is!

Let’s start with the comics

I spent hours reading about the world travels of five ducks, a reporter, and a dog names Snowy.  I’m not sure if it was Barks’ “Lost in the Andes” or TinTin’s “Prisoners of the Sun” that helped me decide to go to Ecuador during college. At any rate, they’ve stuck with me, and now I’m excited to be reading them to my kids.

  1. Donald Duck – Carl Barks (we had the hardcover compilation, that I read in our living room, whenever I could)
  2. The Adventures of TinTin – Herge

Grade School 

These are all so predictable, but I loved them, so here they are, no commentary necessary:

  1. Heidi – Johanna Spyri
  2. The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
  3. Little House on the Prairie – Laura Ingalls Wilder
  4. Anne of Green Gables – Lucy Maud Montgomery
  5. Beyond the Pawpaw Trees – Palmer Brown

High School 

Again, somewhat predictable, but at least I started to branch out of the kiddie chick lit section!

  1. The Baron in the Trees – Italo Calvino
  2. A Room with a View – E.M. Forster
  3. 100 Years of Solitude – Garcia Marquez
  4. On The Road – Jack Kerouac


  1. Ceremony – Leslie Marmon Silko
  2. Jitterbug Perfume – Tom Robbins
  3. Walden – Henry David Thoreau
  4. Essential Writings – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Post-college, The Book Store Years
  1. The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho
  2. The Sparrow – Mary Doria Russell
  3. The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
  4. Watermelon Nights – Greg Sarris
Then, briefly, I taught Middle School Reading
  1. Hoot – Carl Hiassen
  2. The House of the Scorpion – Nancy Farmer
  3. Hatchet – Gary Paulsen
  4. Seedfolks – Paul Fleishmann

Present -day, on the night stand

Maybe the most random to date, but they’re ones that are at the top of my mind.

  1. The Reconstructionist – Nick Arvin 
  2. The Atlas of Birds: Diversity, Behavior, and Conservation – Mike Unwin
  3. The Enchantress of Florence – Salman Rushdie

I feel like I should explain my reasoning on some of these choices, but on the other hand, maybe you’ll be inspired to pick up a few titles and figure out the natural world connections for yourself. I know there are hundreds of other choices that would make sense – what books are on your outdoor-inspired list?

26 Books – Sam’s Edition

We were quarantined in the house, but at least we were surrounded by books. We started to sort through all of the books that touched on the outdoors in any way. It became an interesting categorizing game; S. chose most of the categories and books below, I added the read-aloud category. I was going to include more adult titles, but we came up with so many books, that I’ll save those for tomorrow. I’m not commenting on the individual books – there are some that I love and some that are a little flat, but this was his list.
“Real books that are completely about being outside”
  1. Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature – Joyce Sidman and Beth Krommes
  2. Zoo-ology – Joelle Jolivet
  3. Bugs – Penelope York
  4. Birds- Samantha Gray and Sarah Walker
  5. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers (Western) – the version we have is out of print
  6. The North Carolina Alphabet – Pamela George and Walter M. Brown

“Books about science that might have something about being outside”
Books about being outside that have drawings instead of photos, and might not be real”
  1. Bone (series) – Jeff Smith
  2. Blueberries for Sal – Robert McCloskey
  3. All in A Day  – Cynthia Rylant and Nikki McClure
  4. All the World – Liz Garton Scanlon
  5. Flotsam – David Wiesner
  6. The Lion and the Mouse – Jerry Pinkney
  7. This is the Tree: A Story of the Baobab – Miriam Moss and Adrienne Kennaway
  8. The Umbrella – Jan Brett
  9. The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses – Paul Goble
  10. The Tale of Rabbit and Coyote – Tony Johnston and Tome dePaola
  11. There Was an Old Man Who Painted the Sky – Teri Sloat and Stefano Vitale
  12. When the Moon is Full – Penny Pollock and Mary Azarian

There are undoubtedly thousands of excellent books we haven’t thought of.

What would you add? And what categories does your outdoor book collection include?

If I can’t be found…

it’s just because I’ve moved to a tree top. Maybe a koa tree, somewhere in Hawaii. It’s not that anything is terrible here, but think of how much better everything would be, from the branches of a giant koa.

I’m putting together a list of outdoor-inspired books to post tomorrow, and at the top is The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino. Here’s a short excerpt, taken from goodreads:

I ask you to come down to earth,” said the Baron in a calm, rather faint voice, “and to take up the duties of your station!” 

“I have no intention of obeying you, my Lord Father,” said Cosimo. “I am very sorry.” 

They were ill at ease, both of them, bored. Each knew what the other would say. “And what about your studies? Your devotions as a Christian?” said the father. “Do you intend to grow up like an American Savage?” 

Cosimo was silent. These were thoughts he had not yet put to himself and had no wish to. Then he exclaimed: “Just because I’m a few yards higher up, does it mean that good teaching can’t reach me?” 

This was an able reply too, though it diminished, in a way, the range of his gesture; a sign of weakness. 

His father realized this and became more pressing. “Rebellion cannot be measured by yards,” said he. “Even when a journey seems no distance at all, it can have no return.” 

Now was the moment for my brother to produce some other noble reply, perhaps a Latin maxim, but at that instant none came into his head, though he knew so many by heart. Instead he suddenly got bored with all this solemnity, and shouted: “But from the trees I can piss farther,” a phrase without much meaning, but which cut the discussion short. 

As though they had heard the phrase, a shout went up from the ragamuffins around Porta Capperi. The Baron of Rondo’s horse shied, the Baron pulled the reins and wrapped himself more tightly in his cloak, ready to leave. Then he turned, drew an arm out of his cloak, pointed to the sky, which had suddenly become overcast with black clouds, and exclaimed: “Be careful, son, there’s Someone who can piss on us all!”

If that doesn’t make you want to move to the trees, I don’t know what will.

In addition to the Calvino inspiration, Pete Nelson, a professional treehouse creator (!), will be lecturing at the Denver Botanic Garden, on May 24. I may descend from the branches, just for the occasion…

Surf in the City

Look Mom, I’m surfing on the slide!

It was a nice reminder – even standard playground equipment can be used in unexpected ways. I get it that there are times when playground ‘rules’ should be followed more closely (like when there are many children trying to use the slide), but encouraging some outside-the-box thinking when the area isn’t busy can be empowering and fun!

What are your favorite playground variations?


Guest Post – Outdoor Play Materials

I’m so happy to welcome FLIP’s first guest writer, Lisa Coughlin!

Lisa and I met via Yo-Yo Reggio, nearly three years ago. She’s always felt like a kindred spirit, as we’ve corresponded via letters, cards, blog comments, e-mail, and text messages – truly a 21st century friendship. One day I hope to make the trek to Illinois, so that I can make some chalk dust with Lisa and her lovely family in person.

Arranging materials to expand, or inspire, outdoor play has been a learning process for me and my family.  We don’t have a backyard space we can dedicate to leaving items outside, so our garage is home to most of our outdoor-related items.

Last summer, in an effort to make the most of our garage space, we painted some chalkboards on the unfinished dry wall.  We invested in some shelving and Rubbermaid containers for mobile sensory play.  The clear, shallow, long containers, usually used for storage under beds, have been used for water, mud, sand, and even dried corn.  I have elevated a Rubbermaid container on two kitchen chairs, for stand-up use, or placed the container directly on the grass or driveway, for sit-down accessibility.

The items used most frequently by our neighborhood:  chalk, water, pots and pans.

I can’t recall how it started, but the popular thing to do with chalk in our driveway is for the children to turn it into chalk dust by scraping it on the side of a metal pot.  They collect the dust and use it for outdoor mixing and “cooking.”  Chalk is also used on the chalkboard, and on the driveway for creating outdoor “houses.”


The ball is making a comeback in the game of “Spud” and “Steal the Bacon” (using the ball as bacon).  The median age range of children in our neighborhood is 5 to 9, so organized games are happening more often.

If my daughter could live outdoors, she would.  We don’t have a backyard to build a tree house, but we try to make the most of the space we do have, providing the materials she and her friends would like if she had her own outdoor home!
What materials are popular for outdoor play in your neighborhood?  How do you organize these materials, to make them easily accessible and organized?

When the wind blows

The wind was incredible today. B. loved it and begged to stay outside. She chased leaves, picked flowers, and made a ruckus. She’s happier outside.

There was a lot of crying and carrying on every time we were inside – I know she’s on the verge of big developmental milestones, but her tempestuous nature was a little exhausting today. It feels like being in the middle of an erratic wind storm. I’m usually pretty good at getting to the root cause of both kids’ ups and downs, but her storms seem to come out of no where. And just as quickly they disappear.