A Wild and Woodsy Birthday Weekend

This weekend was my son’s fourth birthday! Time flies – I never knew how fast until I became a mom.  One minute he’s my little peanut baby boy and the next he is a big time four year old!

We love to be outside, especially in the winter, so this weekend we kicked off celebrations with a special outing just for the three of us to the Howell Nature Center. The Howell Nature Center is a rehab facility for wild animals that get sick or injured, with most of the animals being returned to the wild. However, not all of their animals are able to return due to the severity of their injuries, and reside at the Nature Center.

It was a cold and snowy morning, so we had the place to ourselves, which was nice honestly. Quiet, peaceful…until the Sandhill Cranes figured out it was their feeding time. Wow they are so loud! It was pretty cool to hear them though, and we watched them get fed. When we approached the enclosure the pair were excited, asking their caretakers for their frozen mice. And on the ground was an egg! The female had laid an egg, unfertilized, but an egg. It was really huge and pretty, and brand new. The woman working said it would be used for educational purposes. It was neat to see!

After watching the cranes, we wandered around, visiting the other enclosures. Some animals were being housed indoors for the winter, but many were still in their homes and feeling like visiting us, such as the bobcat, who strolled on by like a giant indifferent cat; the beautiful foxes – my favorite – Vixen and Copper, who were rescued from a breeder in Ohio that was going to use them for fur; the mink, who was flipping and flopping and playing all over his enclosure; and many mammals, like the deer, the coyote, and the porcupine. And we saw almost all of the birds – including two beautiful snowy owls! Yeti is a snowy that is their most recent intake. He was found in a back yard, starving, having been hit by a car as well, with a broken wing, no longer able to fly. We saw so many owls and hawks and eagles – I also fell in love with a handsome guy named Leo, who is a long eared owl. He was so cool!

On Sunday, we celebrated with a party for the boyo! We go to our local metropark all the time, and Wyatt loves it there. So it made sense to have it at the nature center! We did an owl theme, since my kiddo loves owls (and does a pretty good imitation of an Eastern Screech!) and there was so much for the kids to play and do. The interpreters read the book Owl Babies to the kids, then had them all make the cutest little owl babies out of pinecones and cotton! It was such a simple little craft, and the kids really enjoyed it! Although getting them all to stay in one place was a little like herding cats. They would wander around, come back, make another – typical preschooler behavior. They all did such a nice job though, and the interpreters did a great job with the kids. It was the perfect activity.

We kept the food simple, just pizza and some trail mix, pretzels and Teddy Grahams – and of course cake and ice cream. I went a little crazy ordering the cake, but it was beautiful and delicious. Then we just opened gifts, and let the kids explore and play for a while. It was a really nice day – and it even snowed for us, causing the woods to look gorgeous and all the birds to flock to the feeders. We saw so many different birds, but the most brilliant were the cardinals, with their red feathers so bright against the snow. At the end of the afternoon, we said goodbye, and handed out the goodie bags that my stepdad made that looked like cute little owls! Inside we had a small decorative birdhouse for all the kids.

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We were all exhausted of course afterwards, but it was more than worth it. My boy had a wonderful, fun day with all his friends, just the way it should be on your birthday.

 

Snow Day!

This is our season.

There is something so refreshing, so vitalizing about being out in the snow, in the cold. Feeling the sun on your face, the crunch underfoot the only sound you can hear. The crisp air, that seems so much fresher and cleaner in the winter.

We are bigtime fans of winter and snow, can you tell?

We used to winter hike all the time, even more than we did in the summer, honestly. But when Wyatt was born, we didn’t venture out as much. He was so small, born early and weighing a whopping 2 lbs 13 oz, he is still a little guy. But tough like crazy. He also has cerebral palsy, and while we are working on walking, he is not there yet. We are determined not to let this stand in his way, and want him to enjoy the winter as much as we do.

So today we bundled him up to the gills, popped him into a sled, and set off. And boy, did he have a blast! Big smiles on his face, mine, and his fathers. This time, laughter ringing through the mostly silent woods. We didn’t take a long walk, but long enough. Next time I will bring a scarf for his face, and we can go a little further.

The Norwegians have a word – friluftsliv, which means “free air living”. As different from hygge as you can get, which is about being cozy inside, friluftsliv is about living in the great outdoors, embracing the elements and nature year round.

This year, I want to embrace both concepts. Incorporate both into our lives. We don’t need to be exclusive. Some days call for cozy afternoons, snuggled up reading in the warm house, thick socks warming your toes, listening to a crackling fire, sipping a drink that warms your insides and soul. Other days, you need to move, explore the outdoors, to connect with nature and life and fresh air.

I just checked out a book from the library, There is No Such Thing as Bad Weather, which is part of the Norwegian expression, there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. We did well on the walk for today, and now, we are enjoying some cozy time inside.

Friluftsliv meets hygge, the perfect blend.

A Maple Sugar Saturday

Growing up, I was a huge Little House on the Prairie fangirl. Not the show, but the books. (Little secret, I still reread them every year.) One of my favorite parts in Little House in the Big Woods is the Sugar Snow, when the whole family, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, all get together and tap the trees for the sap to make maple syrup. There is snow and dancing and frivolity, and of course, fresh maple syrup served on top of fresh fallen snow. I have actually never tried that but I am sure back then it was a delicious treat. 
Our local Metropark system has maple sugaring events every year, and every year we miss them. I was bound and determined to get to one this year, and so Saturday morning, amidst snow flurries, we were over the river and through the woods to Oakwoods Metropark by the start of the program. One of our favorite interpreters was leading the event, which was cool, and when we got there, we learned we were the only people signed up for the early program. So our little family had our very own  private lesson.

Just our little badger boy enjoying the day out. 
We learned so much! A few quick facts that I thought were interesting:
  • It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup. 
  • Maple trees have opposite branches, not alternating branches.
  • You can make maple syrup from Black Walnut trees, although it will be a little more bitter.
  • It actually isn’t a very complicated process; in fact, it is something you can do in your own backyard if you have a maple tree.
  • A grove of maple trees is called a sugarbush. 

Unfortunately, maple syrup production is at risk right now due to the springlike weather we have been having. It needs to be cold at night but warm during the day for the sap to flow. The cold temps cause the sugar content to rise, and with these warmer days, the syrup may turn bitter in flavor. I don’t know about you, but I much prefer real maple syrup to the manufactured versions. I can put up with a few more weeks of winter in order to have that delicious caramel taste of real maple syrup.
We also heard two very different Native American origin stories regarding maple syrup, as maple syrup was a staple of the Native American diet in this area. If you are interested, here is a link to the Ojibway legend of maple syrup. 
The program was about an hour long, and although we were the only ones there, Kevin did not hurry or skip any part of the program. Billy and I both found it very informative, and inspiring actually. We dream of homesteading one day, and maple syrup collection would be a fun addition to that dream. Overall, we had a great time, and ended up staying and sitting by the fire for a bit chatting. It was a nice way to start a day.
We learned so much more than I have related here, but I encourage you to check out a program if you have one near you. 
If you are in southeast Michigan, the Huron-Clinton metroparks seem to be doing a few more events. For more information on Michigan’s maple syrup industry, you can check out this page.