Wednesday, February 3, 2010


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Do You Remember Your First Bike?

Our Director of the High Trails Outdoor Education Center wrote this...

I’m 36 and I just bought a used bmx bike.  It’s a little outrageous…orange frame that reads ‘General Lee’ with orange spokes.  But it brings back great memories.

My first bike was a Schwinn Scrambler 33/33 bmx bike.  My mom ran over the handle bars with her station wagon that had the rear seat facing backwards in the way back, now my wrists have a strong click in the bones when I strain them.  We built race tracks all around the neighborhood, mostly in abandoned and unbuilt lots.  We spent all day perfecting jumps and riding whoopdedoo’s.  There were several yards and some wooded areas including a creek with a lot of frogs I could cut through to get to the track most directly.

A white Peugot 10 speed replaced the bmx as the main form of transportation during my teen years.  I could now visit friends all across town.  My sense for the geography of my hometown grew alongside an incredible feeling that bike gave me…freedom.  And that freedom is fun!  Whether your mountain biking a scenic double track or pounding the sandstone in Moab, bunny hopping curbs in City Park or saving the Earth by commuting to work, there is no other feeling in the world like riding a bicycle.

I invested in the new/used orange bmx because my 5 year old just figured out how to ride his bike.  We are riding companions, he calls me his wing man.  Bicycling is a fantastic way to connect with family and friends in the outdoors.  Aim for a destination, pack a lunch,  explore somewhere new.  Ride the same path at different times of the year to experience the contrast in seasons.  Learn some engineering and how to use tools by maintaining the bikes.  Build a bike from scratch by looking for used parts across town.  The opportunities for learning and growth with bicycles are endless!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

What if Punxsutawney Phil was a Marmot? (He already is!)

Every February we all wait in breathless anticipation to see if our East-coast born mammalian weatherman sees his shadow and scoops the Weather Channel by 2 weeks. For those of us out in the West, I pose the question—what about us?

We should take heart, a marmot IS a groundhog—with both belonging to the esteemed Marmota genus. If Phil lived out west, he’d probably be a yellow-bellied marmot (Marmota flaviventris), not a lowly, lowlander groundhog (Marmota monax). Yet, he’d be a marmot, just the same.

So what about the big SHADOW question that looms large on February 2nd? Do we want more winter or less?

You see, six weeks from now will be the middle of March, and the middle of March in these high western states usually means lots of sun, hiking, skiing, running, a more stable snowpack, snowshoeing, possibly good and possibly dicey ice-fishing, mountaineering, biking, and a probably a lot more skiing. And, frankly, I think we would PREFER to be able to do those bring on the winter!

As a Kansas native, I understand that winter in the Midwest and on the East coast is a different creature. Cold, wet weather that chills you to the bone; high frigid winds with obscene wind chill factors; and gray, gloomy skies that seem to sit on you day in and day out. Phil's high-tech predictions are a hopeful break in an interminable progression of cold, gray, freezing, wet, and more cold.

But what would happen if we had our OWN regional brand of Phil...let’s call her Mountain make a weather projection for those of us in the high country?

In February, yellow-bellied marmots are holed up in long rock, grass and fur lined burrows on high-elevation slopes snoozing peacefully under LOTS of snow. By the time they come out of hibernation for good (and to find some love), it is April or early May. Thus, Marmot Day would actually have to be celebrated around the 15th of April (wouldn't THAT be a nice change--to remind us that the gift of playing in our high altitude playgrounds are as certain as taxes).

By now, as a high country Colorado native—our young Maisy is guaranteed to see her shadow, because with over 300 days of sunshine a year, she would have to come out during a blizzard to not see her overwintered, slim self. Female yellow-bellied marmots typically only breed every other year, so Maisy would be a hot commodity on the hillside...a bit like women in a ski town, I suppose. So like all mountain women, if she DID come out in a blizzard, she would simply return to her burrow, put on a few warm layers, grab her Gore-Tex jacket and head out again to check out the backcountry scene.

If she sees her shadow, that means spring has arrived and the snows will melt quickly--a reminder that water in the West is precious, so we should conserve all year round. If she doesn't see her shadow, it just means that--once again--we can all get our winter gear on clearance...because everyone else has started to buy swimsuits.

In this case, Maisy sees her shadow, and then sees the shadows of three intrepid ski mountaineers who are getting ready to hit the late spring snow fields off of Horseshoe Mountain…so she happily waddles after them, shrilly asking THEM about the weather for the day, and scrounging for a few M & Ms and bits of granola they might have left behind.

Happy (almost) Marmot Day!

Monday, February 1, 2010

A Fun Day Outside

I was reading the Outdoor Bloggers Summit a couple of weeks ago and saw an OBS challenge was starting February 1. The challenge sounded easy enough: The Challenge will be called “How to Get Everyone to Play Outdoors”. To participate in the challenge, all you have to do is write a post about how to get people to play outdoors. And it was very much inline with what we try to accomplish with the Sanborn blog.

Here we are now at the week of February 1. Where to start with this topic? We have posted 9 times about nature activities, 4 about camp activities, 5 children activities, 15 children and nature, 8 outdoor education, 3 outdoor play movement, and the list goes on. Reading our archives is a good place to start, but it is much more fun

We are devoting this week to the OBS challenge. Check back each day for personal stories about being outdoors, activities to do with your children outside, and the benefits of being outside.

Just a quick story to kick off the week:

I went riding with a friend this weekend on a mission – check for fence to repair and look for a couple of hiding horses. I wasn’t looking forward to fixing fence on a Saturday; however, it was a beautiful day and I always love to ride. It turned out to be one of my best weekend days in a few weeks.

I can’t even count the number of times I have taken that trail, but it was different this time. The snow was still new enough that we saw quite a few tracks – rabbit, jackrabbit, coyote, bird, mouse, and a porcupine. It is quite entertaining making up stories about where the tracks are coming from and going. I found animals in the few scattered clouds. The sun was bright and just made us happy. While we both typically have a lot to say, we were very happy riding in the peace of the outdoors, enjoying the beauty that is Colorado.

The work was easy, the company great, and most importantly it helped me appreciate the wonderful place we live.

What have you done outside recently?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Building Better People--One Laugh at a Time

How can we develop happy, healthy, and successful kids who, in turn, become happy, healthy, and successful adults? More and more resources, studies, television programs, blogs, journal articles, “expert advice”, and educational theories are disseminated on the subject every single day. Sometimes, it’s more than I can absorb or handle.

For me, learning to live with, work with, and respect others are essential skills I use everyday as a wife, mother, employee, daughter, and friend. I practice relationship building, relationship management, and relationship repair almost daily.

How can we as parents, educators, youth development professionals, and leaders teach relationship building to kids? We must nurture their growth, give them tools to deal with the obstacles, and celebrate their successes. We must provide them with varied communities where they can grow and learn and experience different people and different ideas. We must let them try, practice, and fail—then try again. We must be wise and thoughtful in our own relationship building, because our kids will practice what they see. Most of all, we must share a belief in our shared humanity—one in which we have more in common than not—no matter how our ideologies have shaped us.

Laughter and play are two of the most basic commonalities we all share, and in order to be able to successfully work with or live with others…it is also essential to be able to play with others.

Icebreakers are an essential part of building relationships, building communities, and learning to play together. A good icebreaker does four things:

• Facilitate the learning of names
• Help to draw shy individuals quickly into a larger group
• Make everyone feel more at ease with new acquaintances
• Is darn fun.

There are name-learning icebreakers (great for first days of school, conferences, team development, opening days of camp); shared interest icebreakers (finding out we had more in common than we thought); active icebreakers (we learn names faster if we use multiple learning modalities); sensory awareness icebreakers (which help us practice better listening, and hearing); and facilitated icebreakers (where the group shares hopes/fears about the upcoming shared experience).

One of my favorite name-game icebreakers is called The Blanket Drop, and this is how you play:

• Divide any size group (big is good) into two teams and separate the teams by having two people hold up a blanket between the teams. The blanket should be large enough to prevent players from seeing what is happening on the other side.
• Each team then selects one player to creep up to the blanket.
• The blanket holders (an important responsibility) drop the blanket on the count of 3, leaving the selected players from the opposing teams staring into each other’s faces.
• Each of these two players tries to be the first to shout out the name of the opposing player.
• The fastest name-shouter gets to bring the losing player over to his side of the blanket.
• Then the blanket is raised and two new players are sent forward by their teams.

In the case of a certified tie (determined by the blanket droppers) both players go back to their original teams and the blanket is raised for a new round.

To provide variety, the blanket droppers may also ask each team to send more than one contestant for some blanket drops.

The game continues until everyone is on one team, until everyone knows everyone else’s name or until everyone is laughing so hard it is impossible to continue.

What is YOUR favorite icebreaker?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Because of Camp...

The American Camp Association celebrates its 100th year in camping next month at our annual national conference in Denver. The theme of this monumental conference is “Because of Camp….”

I took a few moments to think about that phrase and what it means to me as a one time camper/assistant counselor/counselor/odd-job woman/ridge leader and now program director of the place which has so intimately shaped me over the last 24 years.

Because of camp, I journeyed over 600 miles away from home without my mom, dad, sister or pets…when I was 12.
Because of camp, I realized I WASN’T exactly like my mom…I LOVED horses.
Because of camp, I overcame the grade school taunts of “duckie” “pudgie” and climbed a 14,000 foot mountain…11 of them, actually.
Because of camp, I made friends who were more diverse, interesting, opinionated, and different than my friends at home.
Because of camp, I appreciated my strong legs, ability to carry a heavy pack, and the admiration I earned from my friends and counselors for being a little kooky.
Because of camp, I remembered odd facts about odd things at odd times…did you know that the dust on aspen bark has an SPF of 4?
Because of camp, I had role models who took time to know me, laugh with me, share themselves and their lives with me.
Because of camp, I found out I was truly an alto…or maybe a tenor.
Because of camp, I decided it was easier to ask for permission than to beg for forgiveness.
Because of camp, I felt grace and true harmony for the first time.
Because of camp, I watched women eat…and eat…and eat…because eating together was a celebration and a communion—celebrating all the hard, physical work we had done together.
Because of camp, I figured out that experiences are more valuable than things.
Because of camp, I learned how to be a leader by simply being myself.
Because of camp, I accepted responsibility for mistakes I made, and altered my path to avoid making the same mistakes again.
Because of camp, I watched hundreds of unique sunrises and sunsets…and remember every one.
Because of camp, I know what it feels like to genuinely believe in someone so strongly, that she feels like she can do anything.
Because of camp, I understand the power of women to both tear down and to build up…and, at camp, there is a lot more building up than tearing down.
Because of camp, I listen to triumphs and heartbreaks with thoughtful ears, and not a boastful mouth.
Because of camp, I see a uniquely, personal gift in each Colorado blue-bird summer day…and the other 300 campers, 120 staff, and 59 support staff feel the same way.
Because of camp, I am a better mother, wife, and daughter.
Because of camp, I have become the woman I always wanted to be.

Now, your turn.

Because of camp…..

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Raven Raindrops

This morning, I was feeling extra cabin-feverish, but didn't have the time to go on a full on hike before heading off to work.  Instead of shrugging my shoulders and pushing the urge out of my mind, I decided that rather than starting the car and heading back inside until it warmed up, I would take a short walk down the road in front of my cabin.

I headed toward Pike's Peak, crunching through the snow.  Enormous black ravens circled over my head ominously.  They squawked, "CAAW! CAAW!" an ugly sound, I thought, from an ugly bird.  So much for my peaceful three-minute hike.  I reached a patch of sunlight and stood facing it, absorbing the warmth.  "CAAW!  CAAW!"  I tried to block the sounds out of my mind.  But then, I heard another sound.  It was familiar, yet not quite something I'd heard before.  It came from above me, like a raindrop, the dripping sound of water into a small pool, but amplified.  I scanned the trees.  It was the raven.

Amazed, I listened.  There it was again.  "Ker-PLOP!"  It was incredible. 

I have since searched the National Geographic and Audubon Society websites and the only scientific proof I can find regarding the capability for a Raven to produce this sound is that ravens can vocalize "a sharp, metallic tock."  Ravens, I learned, are able to learn sounds--even the human voice.  I suspect that this particular vocalist must have had an affinity for the sound of raindrops.

My point is that a short, three minute hike truly fed me.  I was inspired by this species of bird I'd so erroneously dismissed before.  I was in a better mood on my drive to work.  And it only took three minutes.

It's something that any of us could do, really, with the kids before loading them into the car or on our own down the street in front of the house (there's plenty of nature to be found in a subdivision, too!).  Too often we get into the mentality of all-or-nothing: if we were to commit to hiking once a week, it'd have to be a substantial distance to a substantial vista in order to be worth the trouble.  Not true.  Creating a small habit that only last for three minutes, one morning per week is absolutely better than not doing it at all.  The secret is approaching it with an attitude of openness, of wonder.  This attitude is something we can practice every day, in any climate, even in the mundane moments of driving the kids to school or walking outside instead of sitting in the break room for lunch.

So I would pose a challenge to all of us: Take three minutes out of one weekday to engage with the outdoors in some small way.  Give it the opportunity to become a habit.  Who knows what wonders you'll find singing just outside your window!