What Is Outside?

In 2017 I set a goal to spend 7 hour a week outside with at least one other member of my family. As I’ve tracked this throughout the year, most things have been pretty straightforward, but on many occasions I’ve run into a situations of ambiguity.

Am I Inside or Outside Right Now?

For example:

Reading in our living room? Easy. Inside.

Throwing rocks into the water at the beach? Again, easy. Outside.

Sleeping in a tent in a National Park? We’re sort of ‘in the great outdoors’ but we are inside of the tent. Does that thin sheet of nylon make us inside?

Sitting on the porch eating? What if the porch is covered? What if it is also screened in?

At what point do we cross over from inside to outside?

Is being deep in the woods more outside than sitting on top of a 100 square foot patch of grass in front of our house? Is a rooftop in the city as outside as a dock on the lake?

Is being in a natural cave inside or outside? Surely it was the first sort of inside that humans lived in, but being in a cave seems pretty outside-like these days.

What we’re presented with is the idea that outside is less of a binary and more of a spectrum. I’ve come up with a rough litmus test to help me define the outside-ness of an environment.

Outside-Ness Litmus Test:

  1. Can a bug, flying in the wild, come land on me?
  2. If it rains, will I get wet?
  3. If a breeze picks up, will I feel it?
  4. During the day, is natural light the primary source?
  5. Is it difficult or impossible to control the temperature?
  6. Is the area around me a biome that supports non-human but larger-than-microscopic life?
  7. Is my view of things that are primarily untampered by humans?

As the number of those statements that are true increases, so does the outside-ness of a place.

Example Tests

Thinking back to my examples from earlier in the post.

Reading in the living room – F, F, F, F, F, F, F = 0/7 = Absolutely inside

Throwing rocks into the water at the beach – T, T, T, T, T, T, T = 7/7 = Absolutely Outside

Sleeping in a tent in a National Park – F, F, F, T, T, T, T = 4/7 = Somewhat Outside

Sitting on the porch eating – T, T, T, T, T, F, F = 5/7 = Outside

What if the porch is covered – T, F, T, T, T, F, F = 4/7 = Somewhat Outside

What if it is also screened in – F, F, T, T, T, F, F = 3/7 = Somewhat Inside

Is being deep in the woods more outside than sitting on top of a 100 square foot patch of grass in front of our house? 7/7 vs 5/7. So, yes, it is more outside.

Is a rooftop in the city as outsides as a dock on the lake? 5/7 vs 7/7. So, no, it isn’t.

Is being in a natural cave inside or outside – 4-6/7 (depends how deep the cave is). So, it is outside.

How Can We Use This Litmus Test?

Aside from measuring the outside-ness of the place we are, this litmus test can also be used to help us design our inside spaces feel more outside.

I personally feel more at ease when I am outside and so increasing the outside-ness of the spaces I most often occupy would likely contribute positively to my mental well being. This makes a lot of sense, our species has spent most of its existence outside and is better adapted for that. We can’t expect to be fully comfortable in a space that our bodies are not optimized for.

Probably because of that, the idea of space that blends inside and outside has fascinated me when I’ve encountered it.

Visiting the famous Frank Lloyd Wright designed Falling Water, I was fascinated with how there was a stairway from the living room leading down to a river. At the top of those stairs, with the glass closed, the outside-ness starts at 2/7 and as you open the glass, and walk down the stairs, your outside-ness increases to 6/7.

I will periodically stumble across other images of houses that blend inside and outside, like this one, a house with a tree growing in the middle of it. It would seem that just a step, not even through a doorway or barrier, could put you from 2/7 to 6/7.

I’ve seen other houses with interior courtyards, retractable roofs, sliding walls or no walls at all. In places where the weather creates a habitable temperature, rainfall is light and bugs are rare, it might be possible to design a living space that doesn’t have very much inside at all.

Would we be happier if more of our living spaces were a bit higher on the outside-ness scale? What would the downsides and challenges be? How could we minimize them? Would they be worth the benefits produced?

2017 Focus: Three Quarters Update

With the start of a new year, I take the time to set my focus for the coming year. I believe that by focusing on fewer goals, I can achieve results that are exponentially greater than the sum of the results from doing many things.

I detailed my 2017 focus here (read that first if you want more context) & did a quarter year update & half year update as well. Here is how I’m progressing since then.

2017 Theme: Sabbath Year

2017 Challenge: Define & Launch A Sabbath Year

We launched the year on July 13th and are now three months in.

I’ve written some about the progression of my thought process, and I’m sure things will continue to change. There is more detail in the posts I’ll link below, but for now I want to sum up two thoughts I’ve had a lot lately:

  1. It is really hard to have ‘sitting-in-a-hammock-reading’ type rest when you have three kids. My expectations were that I would have a lot more of that and in practice I have very little.
  2. Though I don’t feel very relaxed in a traditional sense of the word, I do already feel reenergized to get back to my career. I’m a pretty good dad, but I really feel in the zone when I’m doing my day job. I don’t quite have what it takes to be a full time parent – I think I do better when I have other things to do as well. This is one place in my life where I think splitting attention is a very good thing.

More detailed posts I wrote throughout this quarter here:

2017 Habit: Time Outside With Family

The combination of nice weather and not having a job made being outside often very achievable.

In fact, my peak week hit 24.5 hours. Meaning I spent greater than one full day of that week outside. The average over the quarter was 16.5 hours, which is more than double the goal time of 7 hours. I only missed on one week and that was due to me being away from family for four days as I drove our van across the country. I might even have been able to hit the time in just 3 days if I hadn’t been so busy packing for said move.

While a 16.5 hour per week average seems great, and felt like a lot of outside time, that is still slightly less than 10% of the time in a week. That means I spent 90% of my time indoors. This is during nice weather, where I didn’t have a job and was trying to be outside a lot. It makes me think that most people probably spend 98-100% of their time indoors. That seems suboptimal for our species.

Here are some data about Q3.

For activities, the leaders from the first half of the year remain popular – parks, walks, & hanging out in our yard. A lot more activities were on the list though this quarter. It included over 50 different activities. I could probably group some of them a bit more, but for now here is the top portion of the list. You know its a good list when it includes things like ‘woods’, ‘raft’ & ‘pick blackberries’.

Looking at who within the family I spend outdoor time with – there were a few notable shifts.

First, all five of us outside together went from being a close second grouping to the clear leader. Not having work meant we could spend a lot more time as a family. Second, I spent a lot more time taking care of all 3 kids solo. I hadn’t done much of that prior to this quarter, so it is cool to see how I grew into it. That was made much easier by my youngest’s learning to love being in the carrier backpack, which meant she could go along for walks in the woods & park. Third, I spend a lot more time 1×1 with my wife outside. Prior to this quarter we had spent a grand total of one hour outside alone together – sad. This quarter we spent 15 hours. That included a lot of sitting on the front porch or around the fire pit after the kids went to bed.

For the last part of the update, here is a collage that includes pictures of a few of my favorite outdoor activities from Q3:

2017 Exemplar: Eric Liddell

After finishing a Liddell biography, I picked up a copy of the one book he wrote, a devotional about spiritual disciplines. Third quarter was fairly light on anything else in this area.

2017 Focus: Half Year Update

With the start of a new year, I take the time to set my focus for the coming year. I believe that by focusing on fewer goals, I can achieve results that are exponentially greater than the sum of the results from doing many things.

I detailed my 2017 focus here (read that first if you want more context) & did a quarter year update as well. Here is how I’m progressing.

2017 Theme: Sabbath Year

2017 Challenge: Define & Launch A Sabbath Year

My sabbath year will be launching on July 13th, 2017. After about five years of considering, exploring and planning, we are finally here.

I recently wrote about our general sabbath year principles along with specific plans we have for this year’s iteration. With those completed and the launch forthcoming, it looks as if this challenge will be completed shortly.

2017 Habit: Time Outside With Family

When I picked seven hours as the goal, it seemed achievable yet difficult. I did it based on a bit of data I had from previous years that I collected during an unrelated tracking experiment. During the first quarter I achieved about a 50% success rate, which suggested to me that the target was pretty good – possible but hard enough I had to work for it.

The second quarter has been a different story. I’ve been successful 100% of weeks and my average is actually over 10 hours – with the progression showing a steady climb up to 15 hours during the last week of the quarter.

What changed? It turns out, it is in fact a lot easier to be outside when it is warm, light and dry than when it is cold, dark and wet.

In the second quarter, the daytime temperature hasn’t dropped below 50*. The days have stayed in the 50s and 60s – more recently climbing into the 70s and even the 80s a few times. So far, as it has gotten warmer, the amount of time I’ve spent outside has increased. It only got so warm that it was hard to be outside once, when it hit the 90s and even then we just stayed in the shade. I defend that 70* is the perfect temperature and 50-90* is the ideal range to be in 95% of the time.

Along with the weather changing, the days have gotten longer. To give you an idea about how dramatic the difference in light is – look at this chart showing the type of light. In the summer in Seattle there are only about 1-2 hours of real night level darkness where as in the winter it is above 10. That makes a huge difference in the number of activities it is possible to easily do outside after work.

In fact, due to all of those changes, it is so easy to go outside that it is getting harder to tack our outdoor time. It used to be easy because there were such clear barriers between inside & outside time. We spent 10+ minutes getting ready to go outside between chasing down jackets, hats, gloves, etc. for 2-5 of us. Now we just wander in and out – not having to change layers at all – which makes accounting for time trickier.

Here are some data about Q2.

For activities, the leaders from Q1 remain popular – walks, the park & running. The new addition is hanging out in the yard which is our second most popular activity by frequency – thanks to a slide, trampoline and it being warm enough to get out the water play table.

Looking at who I spend outdoor time with – the general trends are the same. I end up doing a lot with my two boys – the two older children. The second most popular is having my wife and daughter join us as well for a full family outing. I did manage to clock time in almost every permutation of family during this quarter, which is cool.

Hunter, my eldest, edged out Theo this quarter for a few reasons – his bedtime is later and it is still light during that time so we often run an errand on the bike or do something in the yard, like splitting wood. He has also only taking afternoon naps 50% of the time, which means there is often a mid day opportunity to do something. I do want to keep an eye on the balance though – an unintended learning from this data set.

Finally, here is a collage that includes pictures of a few of my favorite outdoor activities from Q2: hanging out in the yard, various beaches around Seattle, Tulip Town, local parks and bike rides

2017 Exemplar: Eric Liddell

I am about to finish the biography about Liddell that came out recently – For the Glory. I want picking an exemplar to involve more than just reading a biography every year though so I have a few more things planned for the second half of the year.

First I plan to read the one book he wrote – a devotional study. It’s creation is mentioned in the biography and one of his close friends and co-workers notes that his character is well reflected by the writing. That should be a good way to get to know more about what made him click.

Finally, I happen to be going to Paris later this year, the place Liddell won his Gold Medal in the 400 meters during the 1924 Olympics. I’m going to see if I can get on the actual track and log a lap to compare splits. That seems like an apt way to walk a quarter mile in his shoes.

I really wish going to China was an option to see the area around Xiaozhang (the rural area he worked in for a number of year) & Weihsien (the internment camp he eventually died in), but that likely isn’t possible in the near term.