Winter Solstice

The longest night of the year! I didn’t always love this night as much as I do now, but now it is one of my favorite times of year. It is a turning point- where we embrace the deep dark rest of winter and welcome the light slowly back.

When I got divorced, I remember feeling like that was a longest, darkest night of my life. But as Tupac said, “If you can make it through the night, there’s a brighter day.” It’s a celebration that even in the darkest, longest night, there is hope. The light always returns. I have definitely learned that as I have faced hardships and adversity in my life.

This year, I do not have my kids for the solstice and I’m bummed. But last year we really rocked it out! Here are a few ideas for celebrating with the kids.

First, a few days or maybe a week before, we made modge podge lanterns out of Mason jars. I didn’t do a step by step how to on this, but you get the idea from this YouTube tutorial. I put water and a little oil on top and used floating wicks for this project and told the story of Hanukah when we made these. It was around the same time, so that was nice to incorporate that holiday as well.

Anyway, so the night of the solstice, we lit the lanterns and ate dinner by candlelight. We talked about what to solstice is and told a couple of stories from around the world about the solstice. Here is a good book to go off of for these stories, but there are some beautiful children’s stories about winter and the solstice as well. We also talked about losing light and gaining light, and each member of the family talked about how other members of the family bring light into their lives. This was so special.

We did a Waldorf-inspired winter spiral, which I have no pictures of which I regret. But it was a very special experience, and we are going to do it after Christmas when we have time with the kids anyway. Click here for a great blog post on it with some additional resources as well.

We did a fire in the backyard and drank hot chocolate and talked about how we have used the dark night and how we will use the longer days.

It was a really special time for all of us, and I look forward to continuing these traditions whether I have the kids on the solstice or I have to wait a little bit or do it early. I’d like to dry some oranges and make some garlands and bird feeders this year!

This year, we have the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter, a meteor shower, and the solstice all on one night! So there will be lots to look at in the sky.

Outdoor Days for 2021

I’m kind of dorky, and I love “celebrating” these national holidays! 🙂 I like to plan activities for my family to recognize and celebrate the outdoors and all it offers to us. It increases my mindfulness around these things and helps me be intentional about teaching my kids- plus it’s just fun! 🙂 I’m a paper planner kind of gal, so I pencil these in each year. Here are some for your convenience!

January 1- First Day Hikes. Missouri State Parks often put on First Day Hikes, as well as other conservation and wildlife areas. Check them out here.

January 5- National Bird Day. Lucy is a big bird lover, so we love this day! Here are some fun bird activities from A Day in Our Shoes.

March 3- World Wildlife Day. Even as an adult, it is so thrilling to see wildlife in their natural habitat! Here are some ideas for how to celebrate World Wildlife Day from See What Grows.

March 5-6- National Day of Unplugging. Unplugging can mean lots of different things to different people. There are many ways to observe this. I try to do this weekly with a No Social Sunday (no social media on Sunday) or Technology Free Tuesday/Thursday… Here is the official site with lots of resources and ideas.

March 12- National Girl Scout Day. We love scouts at our house, so I had to include this one! 🙂

March 22- World Water Day. This is a really cool day to discuss the importance of water, water access, climate change, all kinds of things! A cool day to visit a hydroelectricity plant, a reservoir, or a dam, or even do a water service project! Here is some info from the UN on the significance and history of this day.

April 17-25- National Parks Week. Guys, I LOVE National Parks! My boy is going to be in fourth grade next year, so I’m trying to plan some trips to some National Parks and Monuments! (Here is more info on their Fourth Grade Pass program.) The National Parks Service has some cool ways to observe, celebrate, explore, and help here.

April 22- Earth Day. There are TONS of resources and ways to observe Earth Day with your family and in your community. This is one of my favorite days- and it’s right around my birthday!

April 30- Arbor Day. Another personal fave. Here are some resources to celebrate from the Arbor Day Foundation.

May 21- Endangered Species Day. This is a great one! My son loves the bald eagle and his fascination came in part from this day. Often zoos have events for this day. The US Fish and Wildlife Service held an endangered species art contest this past year, and the deadline was in March, so keep your eyes open for this! Here is their site.

June 5- National Trails Day. This is a day for a good stewardship/service hike! This day is sponsored by the American Hiking Society and there are usually events set up all over to help you find your trail. Check out their site here.

June 8- World Oceans Day. This day is to take action around ocean conservation (official site here). We do not live near an ocean, but my kids LOVE the ocean, so they are very interested in all the creatures that live there and how we can help them.

June 12- National Get Outdoors Day. This day is meant motivate Americans to get outside for a “healthy, fun day of outdoor adventure”. While the original website has since been taken down, the day itself has taken off. Parks across the nation continue to celebrate each year. You can usually find events put on by your state parks or DNR.

August 4- Great American Outdoors Day. This is a brand new one! President Trump signed the Great American Outdoors Act in 2020, providing funding for National Parks and Public Lands, among other things. At this time, August 4 was designated Great American Outdoors Day. Read more about it here.

September 25- National Hunting and Fishing Day. This is another day that local entities often set up events for, including free kids fishing days! Check out your local state parks and DNR sites, or check the national site here. It’s a great discussion starter with kids about the purpose of hunting and fishing as it relates to conservation.

November 17- National Take a Hike Day. My favorite, of course! I usually arrange a hike for this day, but so do many of your local hiking clubs and parks. Use a website like All Trails or the Hiking Project to find a new trail to hike on this day!

November 26- #OptOutside. This is Black Friday. REI put this movement together, and it is actually the movement that really kicked off my hiking habit. It is also my personal go day for my yearly hiking goals. I love all the resources REI has put together on their site here.

December 11- International Mountain Day. The mountains are calling and I must go.” is basically the outdoors version of the cliche “live laugh love” but that’s because it’s so true! The mountains are so compelling! And they house a huge amount of Earth’s biodiversity and are a source of freshwater for us. It’s a great day to educate our kids and do beautiful mountain activities and projects. Here’s a quick mountain watercolor tutorial by Let’s Make Art.

Back on the Trail at Bangert Island

My kids got quarantined for a couple weeks right after Thanksgiving. There were a few things about this that were less than ideal. Among these was that we hiked that Saturday and then we had to put the kibosh on it for a couple weeks.

Luckily, we have a lovely backyard with woods and room to play, so they got lots of outside time anyway, but not any proper hiking.

People often ask me if my kids like hiking. They definitely do! But what I will say is that one of my kids usually protests the idea of hiking and then has a grand ole time once we’re out there and afterward, talks about how fun and awesome it was.

There are lots of games and activities you can entertain kids with while hiking but I never really do them when it’s just my family out there. I am very patient to go at their pace, looking at every rock and leaf and acorn cap. They ask lovely questions, they play and imagine, and I love it.

We have gone with other families a few times, ones that want to rush along. Sometimes you do have to usher the children along, but I really enjoy meandering through the woods with my kids and allowing them the time to really engage with nature. I think that’s why they don’t need additional activities or motivation.

Sometimes we pretend to be animals, we listen very carefully to the sounds to see what we can hear, we try to find certain objects (like a scavenger hunt), but I allow this to be driven by them. It is an absolute delight of my life.

They learn so much about not only nature and their world but also themselves on these excursions. They learn how much they’re capable of, they learn to take risks, they learn about safety, they learn about being courageous, they learn about kindness, they learn the value of life. And I learn a ton about them too.

After the quarantine, I traded the week with the kids’ dad, so I don’t have them the couple weeks leading up til Christmas. Normally, we do a Christmaggedon list of Christmas activities. We couldn’t due to the timing and the quarantine, and for a minute, I was a little sad and mad about this. We will do a post-Christmaggedon maybe, or maybe not. Maybe it’s just the year and time to chill out? I’m bad at that. 🙂

All this to say that we were happily back on the trail last weekend, and I was once again reminded how important hiking is to me and my wellness and to my kids as well.

We went to Bangert Island, which is lovely and is sometimes flooded out, so this was a perfect time to go. There is lots of road noise, but my kids love the woods and the river views, as well as being able to see the bridge and the casino. It’s also completely flat, so littles and beginners do very well here.

It’s located very near highways 94 and 70 in St. Charles and is maintained by St. Charles County Parks. It is a loop with some interconnected trails, so you can really make the hike as long or as short as you like. Close to home (for us) and is great for an after school walk in the woods before it gets dark, as it gets dark so early in the winter. We sure enjoyed it!

Hughes Mountain

Hughes Mountain is a small “mountain” in the St. Francois that rises about 380 feet above the Big River valley below. It features a short 0.75 mile one way trail up to the top of the mountain- but there’s plenty to explore!

Hughes Mountain Quick Facts:

  • Located in the Irondale area off Hwy M- it’s easy to miss!!
  • There are no amenities (including no bathrooms), just a small gravel parking lot.

Hughes Mountain is one of my favorites. It is a very peaceful place for me. I go about once a season. It looks dramatically different in each season. The spring brings lovely wildflowers, the summer brings gorgeous greens as far as the eyes can see. The fall boasts gorgeous foliage, and the winter gives you gray tree trunks with the greens of the cedars and you can see the rock all around… I love it.

It is rarely crowded, and it is fairly secluded. You can sometimes hear road noise, but not much. It’s also located near some other gems, so it is a fun one to add on. But it can also be a destination in and of itself!

The trail is pretty easy- I have brought my kids with me on several occasions. But I have also brought adults who find it challenging. I would say it’s moderate- there are some rugged parts and obviously some elevation. It starts out as dirt trail, then you come across some rocks, then it’s dirt once more. If there has been recent rain, there’s a little run off.

The top of the mountain is beautiful rhyolite. It is pinkish and, being part of the St. Francois mountains, is ancient rock. It forms these hexagonal columns called the Devil’s Honeycomb, and it is super unique and stunning. The colors are always pretty, any time of year.

You have a view of the surrounding mountains from the top. Don’t stop when you think you have gotten to the top- keep going to see the spectacular view from the top!

Hughes Mountain is a serene place that will delight your senses. Let me know if you go- I’ll totally come with you!