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18 Fun Outdoor Winter Activities for Kids & Adults Tags: 18 Fun Outdoor Winter Activities for Kids & Adults

Every year, around this time, I start dreaming of warmer climates. Images of sunshine, bare feet, and tropical thunderstorms haunt my daydreams. And I know I’m not the only one.

Whether you battle Seasonal Affective Disorder symptoms or just get a mild case of the winter “blahs,” chances are – unless you live in Maui or Miami – you’re not getting outdoors as much as you should.

I for one hate being shut inside with the windows closed, but I also don’t like being cold. So I’ll admit, it’s hard to drag myself out for fresh air and exercise. And here in Michigan (and other northern climates), winter lasts a very long time. So it’s important – for our health and sanity – to find some fun excuses to get outside.

There are so many benefits to doing so: being active outdoors is a good way to cut calories and lose weight, the fresh air makes us feel better, and it’s a lot more fun and inexpensive than watching TV or surfing the Internet all day.

Be Prepared for the Cold

If you want to enjoy yourself, then make sure you won’t freeze outside. Don’t just head out in sneakers, jeans and a sweater under your coat. Think layers. Wear thermal leggings and several layers under your sweater. Wear a hat and gloves. If you’re not cold and uncomfortable, you’re more likely to have fun and not run back inside after 5 minutes. It’ll also help prevent you from having to come up with natural cold and flu remedies and treatment.

18 Winter Fun Ideas

Here are 18 fun (and cheap) outdoor activities to get you motivated.

  1. Go ice skating.
  2. Build a winter bonfire and make s’mores.
  3. Rent some snowshoes and go snowshoeing.
  4. If you have the equipment, go winter camping. If that’s too ambitious, check out your state parks for cabin or yurt rentals. Once you’re there, go on beautiful winter hikes (afterwards, a cozy fire is definitely in order).
  5. Take your dog for a walk. It’s one of the main benefits of having and owning a dog.
  6. Go cross-country skiing.
  7. Attend a dog-sled race. You don’t have to live in Alaska to see one of these – check your state’s Department of Natural Resources page, they usually have a list of upcoming events.
  8. Go sledding.
  9. Build a fort and have a snowball fight with your kids (or your spouse/partner). Or buy a snow block maker and build an igloo.
  10. Take a blanket and a cup of hot cocoa and sit outside on your front porch swing with a good book.
  11. Shovel paths in the snow.
  12. Feed the birds or go birdwatching. Make your own birdfeeders out of pine cones, peanut butter, and birdseed.
  13. Go ice fishing.
  14. Go on a winter picnic. Take blankets, sandwiches and hot soup in a thermos. This might give you some fun, cheap date ideas for couples as well.
  15. Head out on a photo expedition to take pictures of the winter landscape. You can even take photography classes online through Coursera to improve your skills.
  16. If you live near a big city, set off on foot to explore it! You might want to check out some of the group buying daily deals sites like Groupon and LivingSocial to find new things to do in the area for cheap too.
  17. Have kids or dogs? Set up an obstacle course in the yard with jumps, tunnels and other challenges.
  18. Make snow paint. Simply add food coloring to water and put in a spray bottle, then go out and paint your yard!

Final Word

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s challenging to get outdoors in the winter. During the summer you can’t drag me inside. But the winter? My natural inclination is to turn into a hermit.

I get out of this mindset by making myself go outside. And, having an arsenal of fun ideas at the ready helps a lot.

Do you have any fun or unique ideas that motivate you and others to get outside when the temperature drops? Please share them here!

"Broom Lore and Old Wives Tales"
Category: Member Blogs

The lowly broom has been around our civilization for centuries. It is said that Benjamin Franklin introduced broomcorn to the United States in 1725. He is said to have picked a single broomcorn seed of a Philadelphia lady, planted it and grew the first broom corn in the United States.

Folklore and Old Wives tales include traditional beliefs, customs, songs, and sayings about the broom. Included are beliefs about marriage, childbearing, festivals, warfare, hunting, and farming. The old myths are passed along in cultures all over the world. Folklore comes from everywhere on the planet, current and extinct. The following are only a few of the more prominent beliefs concerning the broom:

Do not lean a broom against a bed. The evil spirits in the broom will cast a spell on the bed.

If you sweep trash out the door after dark, it will bring a stranger to visit.

If someone is sweeping the floor and sweeps over your feet, you’ll never get married.

Never take a broom along when you move. Throw it out and buy a new one.

To prevent an unwelcome guest from returning, sweep out the room they stayed in immediately after they leave.

While you are sweeping near your front door, if the broom drops, be expecting company before the day is through.

If you find a broom lying on the ground or floor, pick it up for good luck.

When you are sweeping up dirt by your back door, be sure to sweep it out the back door instead of inward or you will be sweeping away the friendship of your best friend.

Do not sweep at all using a broom on New Year’s Day or bad luck will follow you all year long.

Any trash that you decide to sweep up on New Years Day, be sure to burn it so you will have money all year long.

When you are carrying a broom, carry it under your arm for good luck, if you carry it over your shoulder, you are sure to have bad luck.

Do not get mad and hit someone with a broom; if you do, you will find yourself in jail before the week is up.

Never sweep dirt out of your home before the sun comes up or you will be calling for bad luck to enter.

If the broom you are using happens to fall, it will bring you bad luck.

If you wish for someone that just entered your home to go away, all you have to do is sweep in front of them. This is a sign that you do not want them in your home.

If you are visiting someone and you have to step over a broom in her home, or outside the home, this means that she is not a good housekeeper.

Never hand someone a broom through an open window, it can bring you bad luck.

It is bad luck to loan your broom to anyone, even a good friend.

Stand a broom upside down and you will marry soon.

If a wife sweeps a circle around her husband, it will keep him eternally true to her.

There is a ceremony dating back to the 1600s which derived from Africa. Dating back to slave days, jumping the broom together has been part of weddings for couples who want to honor that tradition. The “Jumping the Broom” is a ceremony in which the bride and groom, either at the ceremony or at the reception, signify their entrance into a new life and their creation of a new family by symbolically “sweeping away” their former single lives, former problems and concerns, and jumping over the broom to enter upon a new adventure as husband and wife.

Pocket Worthy · Stories to fuel your mind. I Slept Outside for a Week and It Changed My Life (Really) Tags: Pocket Worthy · Stories to fuel your mind. I Slept

Photo: Christopher D. Thompson

I live in explicit defiance of the rules of good sleep hygiene. Rule one: Don’t expose yourself to the blue light that’s emitted from phones and computers before bed. (When else am I going to catch up on the day’s hot takes?) Rule two: Sleep in a darkened bedroom. (I had’t considered this when buying my gauzy curtains, which are sufficient to keep my neighbors from peeping but definitely not to block out their overactive security floodlights.) Rule three: No afternoon coffee. (Ha!)

Since middle school over a decade ago, my terrible sleeping habits have manifested in various literal failures to launch: waking up for an early-morning run is a laughable concept. I hit the snooze button, on average, four times every morning. My record is eleven. Lately, my energy's been peaking later and later—I do my best thinking and running starting around 4:30 p.m. In my one attempt to have a consistent sleep schedule after college, I tried to be in bed by 10 p.m. But I often ended up just staring at my ceiling for hours, wondering who the hell is able to fall asleep in 10 to 20 minutes, which is evidently the average.

Maybe that’s why the headline stood out to me: “Want to fix your sleep schedule? Go camping this weekend,” which appeared in Popular Science in early February. A 2017 Current Biology study, which the article cites, focuses on that most mysterious indicator of sleep habits: the circadian rhythm. Put simply, your body should want to be asleep when it’s dark and awake when it’s light. Apparently, this well-tuned internal clock is as easy to achieve as it is lacking in most adults with a job and a smartphone. Just two days spent entirely outdoors can move a person’s internal clock 2.5 hours closer to being in sync with our natural sleep-wake cycle, the researchers found, following an earlier study showing that a week spent outdoors adjusted some subjects’ clocks by a whopping four hours. This is because constant exposure to natural light (and, crucially, darkness) seems to encourage the release of melatonin, the hormone that regulates circadian rhythm. “When your melatonin begins to rise, that tells us the start of the internal biological night is beginning,” says Kenneth Wright, professor at the University of Colorado’s Department of Integrative Physiology and a lead researcher on the study.

Maybe all this was a sign: I could hit reset on my deeply broken internal clock and indulge in some good old-fashioned stunt journalism. Surely, sleeping outside for seven days straight, even if I still had to go to work and couldn't spend all my waking hours in nature, would get my melatonin spiking at the right times. And if it didn’t, so what—winter had just ended and I really missed camping. My only rule was that I had to sleep in nature every single day. I could shower and answer e-mail and even have 2 p.m. coffee in civilization, but I couldn’t sleep in my own bed even if I was cold, miserable, or fearful of serial killers who hike.

My experiment started in early April, and a friend joined me for my inaugural night out at a car-camping site about 20 minutes from my Santa Fe home, staking out a spot for my just-big-enough-for-two tent. We sat at the campfire for a few hours, then it died, we got cold, and we made for our sleeping bags. Must be something like 11 p.m., I thought, but it was only 9:15. We laughed about it—then fell asleep about 15 minutes later. I awoke only when my alarm rang and hit the snooze button just twice.

Both of these victories were possibly a result of being lulled to sleep by, and waking up to, disorienting new surroundings. I kept my hopes low for the second night, when I’d be a little more used to the pattern and I’d be camping alone. I thought I might lie awake thinking about The Blair Witch Project. Nope. This time I was out in five minutes, barely surfaced from my deep sleep when I heard (I hope) deer circling my tent in the middle of the night, and hit my snooze button just once the next morning. After the third restful night, I abandoned my sleep anxieties and started evangelizing: “My sleep has been amazing,” I told anyone unfortunate enough to ask how the experiment was going. “I think my circadian rhythm is already changing. You can just feel it, you know?”

Having drank the melatonin-spiked Kool-Aid, I unzipped my sleeping bag on day four feeling like a whole new, clearheaded woman. I could probably go without my morning coffee, I told myself while drinking my morning coffee. But I did drop the urge to have a cup at 2 p.m.—in fact, I genuinely felt chipper all day. I was becoming the type of functional person who I always thought just lied about their caffeine habits. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, to start craving a nap, but that was the weirdest part: I never felt sleepy until the moment my head hit the pillow, and shortly after I was out cold. It was like my body knew to be awake until I lay down, and then it said, “Aha! I’m going to sleep now!”

I know that what I experienced isn’t really how circadian rhythms work, but according to Wright, the University of Colorado researcher, it could be related. Cutting exposure to blue light and increasing morning sunlight in any amount can help max out your melatonin closer to nightfall. “When that melatonin rises, it tells the body to get ready for bedtime in a couple hours,” Wright said. “So when it’s time for you to try to go to sleep, you’re probably sleeping more in sync with your clock.”

My experiment was less than scientific, but I do feel like I gleaned some very real benefits simply by letting sunrise and sunset determine my waking hours: the forced bedtime helped me fall asleep sooner, and the 360 degrees of sunlight and the cawing of the ravens every morning were hard to ignore. By the end of the week, I felt consistently tired whenever I chose to go to bed, and consistently more awake when it was time to start the day, and coffee no longer felt like a mandate. (I still drink it—this isn’t magic.)

Why It Works

I learned a lot about sleep hygiene during my week of camping, including that a lot of the specific before-bedtime habits you’ve heard about really do work. But, in addition to changes in natural-light exposure, it was actually those aspects of camping that you’d think would diminish my quality of sleep that probably enhanced it. For instance, temperatures dipped from 70 degrees to the mid-thirties after sundown every night, and the oncoming chill probably signaled to my body that sleep was imminent. Having no cell service meant that I didn't check my phone before going to bed, which meant no blue light messing with my melatonin levels. I also slept in a mummy-style sleeping bag beneath a giant quilt, the weight of which forced me to sleep on my back, so I could breathe, and kept me from moving around. (In fact, research has shown that a weighted blanket can improve sleep for insomniacs.)

How to Making Camping Work for You

For a circadian revamp, Wright sensibly recommends a weekend camping trip, rather than a harebrained workweek of semi-camping. Think of it as a cheat that’ll make it easier for you to develop healthier sleep habits when you return home. “We can use camping to jump-start an earlier sleep schedule, then use good sleep habits to keep us there,” he says. Sleeping in the backyard is OK, too, if you’re not blessed with a state forest up the road, as I am. (I love you, Black Canyon Campground.) Just make sure you’re not too exposed to streetlights or other ambient sources of illumination, and maybe leave your phone inside to cut that temptation entirely.

And even though it’s not scientifically supported, I’ve concluded that camping on a school night should be a casual option, even a sort of monthly treat—like a sports massage or a personal-health day. (I’ve tried neither, but they sound relaxing!)

How to Get the Same Benefits at Home

You can make small changes every day to replicate some of the sleep-cycle benefits of camping. “If you start your day by being more exposed to natural sunlight, that by itself is going to have an impact,” Wright says. He also suggests exercising soon after waking. “That, in addition to turning the lights down in your house and dimming all your electronic devices, could probably help keep your clock timed earlier.”

For indoor nights, I’ve also made some changes to help replicate my outdoor bedroom. I bought a blackout curtain for the window that directly faces my neighbors’ security light. (I moved the gauzy one to the window facing the street, where it will still allow the morning light to shine in.) Every night, I put my phone in airplane mode and read a book instead. I keep my room as cold as I can, although I’m not sleeping in my mummy bag—yet. I try not to worry so much about exactly when I go to sleep and instead eliminate bad sleep hygiene before it catches up to me: goodbye, 11 p.m. e-mail checks; goodbye, afternoon coffee; goodbye, snooze button number four. To paraphrase my favorite dumpster graffiti, which I believe also paraphrases a Beatles song: Everybody has something to hide (about their sleep-hygiene sins) except for me and my tent.

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If You See Crows Often, This Is What It Means
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  • The crow has always been associated with both positive and negative symbolism. This trickster of a bird shows up to let you know...Read More
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