Archives for October 2012

Book Review: 15 Minutes Outside

Here in the Midwest, we’re headed into hibernation season.  The leaves are on the ground, we wake up to frost, and we’re getting glimpses of the dark and sometimes dreary winter days ahead.  We’ve also had a string of glorious fall days, where the sun is shining and the temperature is perfect.

On those days, as in the sunny days of spring and summer, I find it easy to get myself and the kids outside.  I’m not above pushing kids out the door and insisting they play outside, especially when I know we only have a handful of really gorgeous days left in this season.  Winter is another story, though.  I struggle with getting the kids outside, mostly because I don’t particularly enjoy being outside when the temperature dips below 40.

I know how important it is for all of us, not just the kids, to get fresh air all year long.  It’s probably even more important in the winter, when breathing in the same stagnant air is just an invitation for illness.  I was thrilled to find a book that could help me come up with creative ideas to get us outside all year long.

Fifteen Minutes Outside, by Rebecca P. Cohen, is a gem of a book with the goal of getting you and your kids outside, every day, for just fifteen minutes.  Her ideas are creative, require little to no planning ahead, and cheap.  All you need is some enthusiasm, and if you live where I do, a coat and gloves.

Here are a few of my favorite risky ideas for fall and winter:

Stick Tunnel

Build a stick tunnel:  For many kids, playing with sticks is a big no-no. Parents and teachers are always worried someone’s going to poke an eye out.  Channel their energy away from using them as swords and into building with them.  My son is actually allowed to do this at his school and the kids make an entire “city” out of fallen limbs.

Play Ghost in the Graveyard: It’s easy to forget you’re cold when you’re running around.  I’m also finding that kids are increasingly unfamiliar with traditional outdoor games. Have a game revival in your yard and see who joins you.  Encourage the kids to learn other games or to make up their own.

Backyard ice rink

Go ice skating outdoors: If you’re lucky enough to have frozen ponds nearby, take advantage!  If not, search the web for outdoor rinks in your area.  Or take advantage of a killer ice storm and skate in your very own backyard!


Visit the playground after a snowfall: Even the most boring playground can be transformed into something magical with a dusting of snow.  Try building snow up at the end of the slide for some cool ramps.

Go off-road:  Without vines, tall grass and brush blocking your way, you can find some great spots to walk or bike in the winter. Bonus points for biking in the snow or experimenting with snow shoes.

How do you keep your family outside and active during the fall and winter?


50 Dangerous Things: Throw a Spear

Task: We are wired for throwing things. Make your brain happy and throw a spear.



  • Clear area
  • Straight stick

Possible hazards:

  • Impalement
  • Danger to others
  • Cuts and scrapes


Find any straight length of material. We used a stick, but a broom or pipe would work. Figure out your grip. Make a target. Clear the area and toss away.

How It All Went Down:

Lisa: Hey Thomas, it’s time to throw spears in the front yard.
Thomas: Can we throw them at the house?
Lisa: No!
Thomas: The car?
Lisa: No!
Thomas: Why can’t we just superglue our fingers together?
Lisa: Sigh….

I rounded up Benjamin and one of his friends. They drew an animal of unknown species on a box and we called it the target.

Spear-throwing Target

The kids decided that throwing rocks would be better.

Throwing Rocks at a Target

Go with the flow.

I convinced Nathan to try the spear.

50 Dangerous Things: Throw a Spear

The target was pretty beat up. No one was injured and I think that both boys got out a lot of aggression. We could market this…

Want more?  Read about the rest of our experiences with 50 Dangerous Things. Inspired by Gever Tulley’s book 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do).

Risky Places We Love: Go Ape

The most awesome face I've ever made, courtesy of the @GoApe zip line.

You know the signs of a perfect risky adventure?  When you’re cheeks hurt from laughing, your muscles ache from working, and you’re still picking mulch out of your pants days later.

Go Ape, Indianapolis

Welcome to Go Ape Treetop Adventures, my favorite risky place in Indianapolis.  Go Ape is a playground for big kids and adults.  Set in a lush forest near Eagle Creek Reservoir, Go Ape is a series of treetop obstacle courses connected by ziplines.  Five awesome ziplines, to be exact.

The original plan was for Elena and I to have a mom-daughter risky date.  I thought I had read the fine print well, but not well enough.  I knew Elena needed to be 10, I didn’t realize there was a height requirement as well (4′ 7″).  Unfortunately Elena isn’t quite there yet, so once again her zipline dreams were dashed (I’m looking at you, Super Bowl 46).  Instead, Mike and I decided to make it a date.

Go Ape, Indianapolis

We paid a visit on a gorgeous summer morning, but Go Ape is open virtually year round.  Fall in Indianapolis would be an amazing time to go!  It was my first experience ziplining, and I was nervous.  No need to worry, though.  The instructors are kind, thorough and very encouraging.  One trip down the bunny zipline and I was hooked, literally and figuratively.

Mike and I spent nearly 2 hours together – climbing, balancing, crawling, zipping, and more importantly, having an absolute blast.  I seriously can’t remember the last time the two of us had that much fun together.

Go Ape, Indianapolis

Go Ape would be an awesome family activity for those of you with older kids who are struggling to find ways to connect with kids that have outgrown playgrounds and children’s museums.  Or do like Mike and I did – leave the kids at home and have your own risky fun for a change!

Still not convinced? Let’s see if my masterful video changes your mind. Note: a few of the clips are sideways (sorry) and I may or may not refer to my cooter (again, sorry). Don’t say you weren’t warned. 

Many thanks to Go Ape for providing Mike and I with the coolest date we’ve had in years.  Go Ape is located within Eagle Creek Park on the northwest side of Indianapolis.  They also have locations in Rockville, MD and Williamsburg, VA.


Bikeyaking (Or How to Get Michelle Obama Arms)

I love kayaking. It’s fun to take the kids but the problem is that you really need two vehicles for most kayaking trips. I don’t mind being risky but I draw the line at letting my 9-year-old drive the car. The solution?  Bikeyaking. We live close to the Stones River which just happens to be near the Stones River Greenway. Biking and kayaking? They go together like PB & J.

I got the idea from my friend, Riley McLincha. He is the world’s first and possibly only RunYaker. He kayaks and then runs back to his car. He does over 300 miles a year. He’s what I like to call hardcore. I hung up my running shoes several years ago but I can still bike.

Thomas and I locked up our bikes at take out (the place where you leave the river and go back to land), hopped back in the truck and drove to put in (the place where you put your kayak in the water).  We put in at the Mercer Trailhead and took out at Thompson Lane, which is about an hour paddle. The best part was the waterfalls. Ok, there really aren’t any waterfalls but there are several 6 inch drops. This isn’t whitewater by any stretch but it’s still fun for a 9-year-old.


At the end of our paddle, we hopped on our bikes and rode the two miles back to our truck. The greenway was well marked and mostly flat, making it an easy ride.

biking on the greenway

The downside is loading all the equipment into the truck. If I can make it fit, so can you.



Biking and kayaking changes things up for the kids, so they don’t get bored. It also allows me to take Thomas kayaking without another adult.  As an added bonus, schlepping bikes and kayaks just might give you Michelle Obama arms…


The Idle Parent: Down With Forced Family Fun!

This is the seventh part in a series of discussions regarding The Idle Parent Manifesto, which can be found in Tom Hodgkinson’s book The Idle Parent: Why Laid-Back Parents Raise Happier and Healthier Kids . Need to get caught up? You can do so here.

We don’t waste money on family days out and holidays.

Eli got his first taste of Goldfish at 8 months old. And by taste, I mean he ate half a bag. And by Goldfish, I don’t mean the whole-wheat kind or the organic bunny knock-offs you can get at Whole Foods. I mean half a bag of no-good-for-you-dye-laden-rainbow-Goldfish. What kind of mother does this to an infant? The kind that thinks a family trip to Chicago with a 5-year-old and an 8-month-old is a splendid idea. The kind who doesn’t account for being stuck in a traffic jam on the Dan Ryan Expressway for 3 hours with children.


Room service, can you remove these children please? I’m done vacationing with them.

There are two kinds of family outings and vacations (or holidays, if you’re feeling British like the author): the idyllic ones you take in your head and the actual ones you live out … and sometimes have nightmares over. You imagine a nice holiday at the beach with your children happily playing at your feet in the sand while you sip adult beverages and read the latest People magazine. Instead you spend your beach time making sure the children aren’t swept out by the current and happy hour washing sand out of tiny crevices. You imagine a cultural awakening in the city for your children – museums by day and interesting dinners in quaint pubs. Instead you end up at the Lego store and McDonalds.

Am I ruining it for you? I hope not. As my kids get older, I’m finding them to be amazing travelers. We have a trip planned to Disney next month and I’m looking forward to it. But I also know to keep my expectations at a minimum. I’ve learned that small children don’t crave adventure and new experiences like we do. They crave free time and familiar routines. Trying to recreate the vacations you loved before children with the children you actually have is not only a recipe for disaster, it’s a huge waste of money.

Crocodile Snacks

At least one of us is having fun.

Can I suggest something? Next break, stay home instead. Spend an entire day in your pajamas. Make that spaceship out of Legos you always said you’d do when we have time. If you need to leave your city limits to feel like you’ve had a worthy vacation, visit a state park or a children’s museum in a neighboring town. Take a day trip. You’ll spend less and still make great memories. Memories that don’t include mommy losing it on an expressway in Chicago.

Even better? Try splitting up. Last summer Mike took the kids to Cleveland for the weekend and left me at home. It was glorious. The kids got to experience one-on-one time with dad and do things dad-style. Me? I got to bask in the peace and quiet. Splitting up means no more bickering about whose turn it is to deal with the dreaded vacation bedtime – there’s only one parent so guess who’s in charge?! Or split up and go in different directions. If two of you like museums and the rest of you like camping, why try to force everyone into enjoying the same thing? Rebel and do what you really and truly love, and make your own family memories in the process.


Dad’s idea of fun: cheap pizza in a parking lot. Everyone’s happy, including mom, who is eating

sushi at home in her pajamas.

Still don’t believe me? Maybe Lisa can help convince you to buck the Forced Family Fun Tradition …

We’ve taken two family vacations to Disney. My Disney tank is on full. The kids were playing Legos at the Lego store for the fourth straight hour at Downtown Disney. Roger and I spotted a man wearing a shirt with F³ on the front. We were beyond bored, so we had to ask. The man laughed and explained that he was at a family reunion. There were at least fifty of his closest family members all running around Disney. He made it clear that this was not his idea of a vacation. The F³ on his shirt stood for “Forced Family Fun.”

It’s become our motto: NO FORCED FAMILY FUN!

Roger understood this early in our marriage but, as usual, it took me a long time to figure it out. You see, we’re a family and we have a lot in common but we’re still very different. Let’s consider these differences:

  • We do not all fall asleep, stay asleep and wake up at the same time.
  • We do not like to eat the same foods at the exact same time.
  • We do not like to watch the same TV shows at the same time.
  • We do not like to do the same thing at the same time all day long for a week at a time.

Name one person you know who is more fun when he hasn’t slept well, eaten well, is dog-tired and is forced to do things he doesn’t want to do? I will vacation with him.

Family vacations force us to do all of these things – with the added bonus of knowing that you’ve just shelled out a boatload of money to do so. It’s usually really fun for one person, sheer hell for the rest and soon-to-be hell for the one person having fun when he realizes that no one else is having a good time.

People ask me all the time. “So, where are you going on your next family vacation?” When we find something that we all want to do, we’ll go. Until then, we split up. I go on Girl’s trips. Roger has taken Ben to Hershey Park. I took Thomas to Chicago on Spring Break. It seems strange, and even my extended family doesn’t quite get it,  but it works for us. It doesn’t mean that we don’t love each other. We spend a lot of time together. A lot. I think, sometimes, we get too focused on quality time and forget quantity time. If you spend a lot of time together, then it’s OK to split up for vacations.

My girls

Now this is our idea of a vacation!

So you won’t be seeing either of our families at Club Med any time soon, but what about your family? Do you rock the family vacation and have a few things to teach us?  Or do you wave the white flag of vacation surrender, too?



Risky Reads: Fall tricks, DIY hovercraft and the art of roughhousing.

The votes are in (well, at least one of them!) and you told me that you’d prefer to see some links thrown in with our Risky Pins round up.  So let’s say goodbye to “Risky Pins” and say hello to “Risky Reads.”  About once a month I’ll share a few pins and links that I think risky folks like you will like.  Here are a few things we’ve found this month.  Hope you like them, too!

Source: Acorn Pies

Learn how to whistle with an acorn cap – what a cool way to impress your kids with a nifty fall trick!  The Risky Kids Pinterest board via Acorn Pies

Speaking of fall, do you own a leaf blower?  How awesome would it be to turn it into a hovercraft? Via Apartment Therapy and the Makeshop Show

Check out these 10 backyard roller coasters. It’s like Phineas and Ferb visited these backyards. Via Built by Kids

Even me, the riskiest of moms, cringes a bit at this.  And yet, I see the value in giving kids this kind of creative freedom. What do you think? Via Mama’s Minutia

As the weather cools and we spend more time inside, read up on the importance of roughhousing with your kids.  Just don’t buy expensive lamps. Via The Art of Manliness


5 Ways to Encourage Cautious Children To Take Risks

Cincinnati Nature Center

Today’s post was inspired by one of our readers, Brandon, who asked the question, “How can I increase the adventurousness/riskiness of a cautious child?”

This is a great question and one of the main reasons that we write this blog.

I think that first we need to find the source of your child’s cautious nature. There is nothing at all wrong with “looking before you leap.” If we were all Evil Knievel, what would the world be like? Wait a minute…

Here are a few ideas that I have about why kids proceed with caution.

The relentless pursuit of safety

Kids today might as well come packed in bubble wrap. Wanna ride a bike? Put on a helmet, knee and elbow pads. Wanna jump on a trampoline? Let me zip up the safety net. Wanna go outside and play? Put on your shoes, sunscreen and bug spray. I don’t want to kill anyone but scheesh, to make an omelet, you are gonna need to crack a few eggs. Kids hear “That’s not safe” all the time. It’s true sometimes but it seems that many parents use that phrase when they really should just be saying a simple “No.”


Every family has different rules and sometimes moms and dad have different rules. I remember the time Thomas told me that Dad let him climb on top of the slide. I told him that he couldn’t climb on top of the slide. I also told him why. I just wasn’t in the mood to deal with the dirty looks from the other mothers in the park because he was on top of the slide. Fathers don’t routinely get those dirty looks. Nobody knows what the rules are and they change all the time.

Some kids are just un-coordinated

I divide kids into two categories: Monkeys and Non-Monkeys. There are certain kids who have phenomenal balance and coordination. When I see these kids standing on top of the swing-set, I look and then go back to whatever I was doing. When I see non-monkeys standing on top of the swing-set, I’ll yell for them to get down. Sometimes I’ll tell the kids with high deductible insurance plans to get down, but that’s another story.

Here are some ideas about how to move cautious kids ever so slightly out of their comfort zone.

1. Start small

Risky fun doesn’t have to be over-the-top risky. Maybe it’s just holding your hand out the window of a moving car? Or exploding a two liter of pop with a roll of Mentos? It’s about baby steps. Each time you move a little further out of their comfort zone.

2. Earn their trust

I get right down on their level, force them to look me in the eye and give them a pep talk. It goes a little like this: You can do this. Do you trust me? Because I believe that you can do this and if I believe in you, you can do this. It’s corny but it works. When is the last time that you told a kid that you completely believed in their ability to do something? It’s a powerful message.

3. Lead by example

Get off the couch and go outside. Do something cool. Ride your bike with your hands in the air. Swing too high on the swings. Whatever it takes to show your kids that it’s OK to have fun.

4. Mock relentlessly

This may only work in my family but the kids know that when we go on an adventure, if they don’t at least try it, they may be mocked. So far, I’ve never actually had to do it which is good because it will probably cost me a small fortune in therapy bills.

5. Just do it

We took one of Thomas’ friends zip-lining. I was a worried because this kid tends to be a little cautious and a tad bit afraid of heights. He assured me that he would be OK and he was … until he was all geared up and hanging from the first zipline. He declared that he wasn’t going. I did what every good parent should do and paused to see how this would play out. Our zip guide looked at him and said, “See ya!” And then he shoved him down the line. He survived and had the most fun of all the kids. I’ve never been so proud of him.

My kids surprise me every day. They are bigger and stronger and braver than I could ever have imagined. It’s OK to push the limits just a little bit. Your kids know that you are there to pick them up if they don’t quite make it and that you will be proud of them for trying.

What do you do to encourage a cautious child to spread their wings?


50 Dangerous Things: Superglue Your Fingers Together

Task:  Superglue your thumb and forefinger together and experience life without a thumb.



  • Superglue
  • Wax paper
  • Nail polish remover (optional)

Possible Hazards:

  • Frustration
  • Property Damage
  • Cuts and Scrapes
To avoid the hazard of cutting or ripping the skin off your fingers, do not attempt to force your fingers apart.  As your skin produces oil and moisture and the outer cells naturally slough off, the glue will come unstuck.  If this is taking too long for your liking, you can soak your fingers in nail polish remover to speed up the process.


Be sure to cover your work area with wax paper.  Errant drops of glue can damage some surfaces and fabrics.


How It All Went Down:


Elena and I were the willing participants of this task.  Eli wasn’t too sure about it, and after doing it I wouldn’t recommend it for the 6 and under set.  The glue is, well, super sticky.  I can imagine younger kids getting a bit freaked out by it and maybe not having the self control to resist forcing their fingers apart.  If you’re wary of using superglue or you have younger kids who want the experience, try taping the thumb to the palm.


For the true risky types, here’s what you do: decide which hand you’ll use. I picked my dominant hand, while Elena chose her non-dominant hand.  Apply a drop of superglue on your forefinger.  Press your thumb to your forefinger and hold for 30 seconds. Now you’re stuck!


After gluing our hands, we set out for dinner.  It was immediately evident that losing the thumb on your dominant hand is much trickier than losing it on your non-dominant hand.  Eating a burger?  Not that difficult for Elena.


Superglue your fingers together

Me, on the other hand, I was having major frustrations.  Cutting Eli’s chicken was downright painful.  And why did I think a chili-cheese dog was a good idea?



For all the ease of eating a burger, Elena found other tasks more difficult … like the ever important texting and playing Minecraft.


Superglue your fingers together

Try doing a variety of things while your fingers are glued, like opening a jar, tying shoes, giving a handshake, or sealing a bag.  Not so easy is it?


Elena’s glue came off within an hour.  I don’t know if I used more on myself or what, but I ended up using nail polish remover to get mine off … not super fun either.  However I’m happy to report that we survived with no skin damage and a greater appreciation of our thumbs.


Want more?  Read about the rest of our experiences with 50 Dangerous Things. Inspired by Gever Tulley’s book 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do).