The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone in different ways; caregivers, patients and families alike are all experiencing new types of stress, grief and loss. This complicated grief has inspired many members of the community to develop new programs that are designed to meet this need. Here is a sampling of some of the free virtual support groups available in your area.
As the chilly weather and shorter days roll in, spending time outside with the kiddos becomes a bit more challenging, but as important as ever. We’ve all heard someone say something along the lines of, “Come inside…you’ll catch a cold!!” But this common misconception that cold weather brings about illness should be abandoned at the door…leading outside, of course! As long as children bundle up and stay safe, the benefits of outdoor adventures far out way the risks. Getting the blood flowing and soaking up essential vitamins, both supports our immune systems, so we may better fight off such viruses, and excites the senses. However, finding outdoor activities can sometimes be tricky and it is easy to want to curl up in a cozy blanket and hibernate until spring. Here are a few ideas and projects my children and I have done to stay connected to the natural world this winter.
Nature Confetti and Ice Suncatchers
Frozen Ice-suncatchers are a beautiful way to capture the sun and add some splendor to your yard! And they are super easy to make…winter temperatures do most of the work for you!
You will need:
Some sort of container: paper plates, aluminum pie crust pan, etc.
Natural materials: leaves, twigs, rose hips, feathers, berries, etc.
Something to hang the suncatchers: kitchen twin, yarn, ribbon, jute, etc.
Freezer or just set outside in freezing temperatures
Hole punch to make confetti from dried leaves (optional)
We used compostable paper bowls but you could use any sort of container. Search the yard or go for a walk in the woods or neighborhood to find natural materials and arrange them in your container. Next fill with water. You can even add a couple drops of food coloring to add some vibrant colors. Finally leave outside to freeze!
When they are frozen, you can pop out the ice and drill a hole for your string to hang. Or as an alternative hanging measure, you can wrap the string around the perimeter, with a good length at the top, then fill with some cold water and refreeze. You will then have string that wraps the suncatcher! Hang on a tree where it can catch the light and enjoy the beauty of your creation!
Winter Scavenger Hunt
Committing to learning with your children outside, ignites many opportunities to use your senses and connect with your little ones. Who doesn’t love a good scavenger hunt? Winter scavenger hunts are a great way for the kiddos to have fun, while using their senses to understand winter habitat ecology! You can use the list here as an example, but there are certainly more items that could be added, depending on your region or where you intend to do the hunt!
Before the adventure, try talking with your children about how to use their senses for each item. For example, do you “see” the pine trees? Can you “smell” them? What do the bark, pinecones, and pine needles “feel” like?
After the search is a great time to talk over the items in your search, as the excitement and chaos of the hunt is often too great whilst in the moment! What items did you find, and which did you not? What was the most exciting winter spotting? Any new discoveries?
Electronic Wildlife Watchers
This next activity is not one to be done outside, but is great fun to watch wildlife in real time from the cozy comfort of your home. There are numerous wildlife cams, such as Cornell FeederWatch Cam, where we often catch a mongoose snatching fruit at the Panama feeders during the nighttime hours. My children also love to check on Iris the osprey at the University of Montana’s nest camera! https://www.allaboutbirds.org/cams/hellgate-ospreys/
Time to get out the Sibley’s and see how many backyard birds you can identify! This is a great introduction to fascinating bird behaviors and I am always amazed to hear about the children’s “eagle-eyed” observations.
Another fun activity to check out some “bugs” and the health of your local watershed, is to identify macroinvertebrates using a dichotomous key. You can find the one we use here.
Bring a container so that you can collect specimens, being sure to keep an adequate amount of water for the creatures. Carefully turn over rocks and you should find some critters. Use a net if you have one.
Once you’ve collected some species, start at the top of the key, asking questions based on the characteristics you observe. For example, “shell or no shell, legs or no legs,” following your way down to the correct identification!
Check out some valuable online resources for more information on your local watershed, what makes a healthy stream, and how macroinvertebrates are bioindicators. A great resource for Butte, Montana is The Clark Fork Watershed Education Program!
“If it doesn’t excite you and scare you at the same time it’s not adventure.” Zero to Farm.
At the South Bay of the beautiful Flathead Lake on a Reservation in North West Montana rests a gorgeous town. Polson. My life has been located here for 25 years. Close enough to main street to walk to parades and far enough from the lake we can still afford the property taxes. Most often you can find us backpacking in the summer, paddling around the lake or floating the river. It’s been a great place to raise kids. But something was missing.
Obviously what’s missing is a farm. I decided a few months back I am going to write a book about sustainable farm living on a Rez whilst living in town with little to no property and a deep dislike of animals. I know nothing about sustainable farm life but I will learn as I write. My husband can grow loofah seeds so all my family can have sponges and dish scrubbers from our vines. I feel like a homesteader already. We can grow lentils and garbanzos. I will walk out onto my porch and wrap a blanket like a shawl around my shoulders as I look to the heavens for a sign of rain. Incredible. I think my hilarious lack of knowledge of anything pertaining to farm or sustainable living will hopefully fill my book with much humor and relatable failure. I recently bought a pair of overalls from a local thrift store so Im totally a farmer now.
Noteworthy sidebar, I am prone to be more absurd than absolute. More daring than dull. I often find myself on the outside of level-headed, practical conversations with little input to contribute. Watching all the sensible people talk, wondering when they last dreamed, who stole their excitement for life, and what causes them to process information like plain toast. Listen. I married a first born male who is incredible in his level-headed ways. It is truly a gift to us dreamers as we may find instead of eating or paying bills we forget altogether and float away in a hot air ballon. I need, WE need all the sensible, practical people in this world. And we need all the free-spirits. And this is where the next chapter in our farm life begins.
This farm thing has been a thought for years. Not sure how it would materialize we researched city ordinance for chickens. My level headed husband learned how to make sourdough bread and got obsessive about owning quail. My mom and I joked about buying goat girl dresses and learning how to can. I bought overalls and a seed catalogue and listened to James Taylor and Kenny Loggins for inspiration on peaceful living. Then bam!
This week we bought a farm on accident. More accurately, by chance. It presented itself in a place we weren’t expecting. 2 hours South of home. Victor, Montana, on the Bitterroot River. Fly fishing anyone? We fell in love with a piece of property that most describe as “It has potential.” We couldn’t live without it. We are selling our houses on the Rez and moving into a commune style life with my family on this farm. Away from the familiar to foreign.
We are cramming 2 families (possibly 3 if we can talk my brother into joining us in our absurd farm dreams)into one house much smaller than our current houses. Shedding off some of our spacial comfort in exchange for acreage, river front, and doing this farm life together. In community with our people. Our family. Ridiculous and incredible. Stay tuned for the continued adventures of zero to farm.
PS. I bought our first goat. She is majestic. She will have friends. Not sure how many yet. Thanks to my dear goaty friend for hand picking our herd. Our pack? What are a group of goats called? Gawd… I have so much to learn.
Trip. They are called a Trip of goats. Thanks Google.
Do you realize how close minded you are? Here’s how I figured out how close minded I was. I started saying YES to everything.
About 2 years ago, I made the choice to study abroad. Being born and raised in Montana, I loved it. I loved the outdoors, and the opportunity of adventure at any point. What I didn’t realize was this was the ONLY thing I knew. I always deemed Montana, Missoula specifically, as a place where most people are well rounded people, and I think relatively, they may be. However, staying in one place your whole life can be very toxic.
I moved to Australia around two years ago, but not just to Australia, but to one of the biggest foreign exchange schools in the world. When I met people of new and different cultures, I noticed immediately the assumptions I made, and how quickly I again banded myself with people similar to myself. I hated myself for it. I understand this is a natural human function, but as I noticed it happening to me, I brainstormed how to break myself away from it. What I did was, I started saying yes to everything. When someone asked me to do something, or an opportunity presented itself, or some random person on the street asked me to talk, I would always say yes, and I held myself to it. I started saying yes to opportunities I, in the past, would have turned down immediately for reasons to do with pride, fear, etc.
I very quickly saw the change it made, and yes, I did have the occasional situations I definitely should have said no to. But in the long run, I saw myself becoming a much more experienced, well rounded, and cultured person. I started going places, eating things, and hanging out with people I would have never before. It was absolutely liberating and I’m so glad I did it. I saw it as “going with the flow”, and instead of doing that with my own interest in mind, I truly did whatever opportunity came to me. I put myself in danger, in so many awkward situations, but overall, experienced life as it came to me. I made way more friends than I ever would have, and experienced life lessons at a much faster rate than I previously would have. Free yourself, open your mind, SAY YES!!