Tag Archives: Stuff You Should Know

Fun & Free Activities for the Holiday Season

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The winter holidays are upon us (even though it’s not officially winter yet). Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice/Yule, Las Posadas, Kwanzaa, or nothing at all, there are many fun and free activities you can participate in this holiday season. Communities big and small schedule lots of no-cost events during this time of year. For little more than the price of the fuel it takes to drive from one place to another, you can see pretty lights, hear choirs sing, and maybe munch down on some yummy treats. If you’re boondocking in the desert or forest, you can take advantage of the good times nature has to offer. Whether you’re single or part of a family, whether you live nomadically or stay in one spot all year long, you should be able to find a multitude of free and fun activities to keep you busy this season.

man sitting on log in the snow
Photo by Alain Wong on Unsplash

Go walking in a winter wonderland. Take a hike through the snow in the national forest where you’re boondocking or walk through the park in town. However you do it, bundle up and enjoy the beauty of winter. Don’t forget to stop and make snow angels or build a snowperson.

If your outdoors excursion includes other people have a friendly snowball fight.

If you’re in an area with hills, find some cardboard and go sledding.

Some areas have ponds that freeze thick enough for ice skating. If you already have skates, you may be able to hit the ice for free.

Of course, if you’re wintering in the desert, you don’t even have to bundle up to go for a walk or a hike. You will need sunblock and plenty of water though. (If this is your first winter in the desert, check out my post “10 Tips for Surviving and Thriving in the Desert.”)

Get into the spirit of the season by helping others. Volunteer at a homeless shelter, food bank, or animal refuge. Get involved with a group that cooks and serves hot meals to hungry people. Do chores for a friend or neighbor with physical limitations. Babysit for a single parent so they can go shopping or attend their holiday office party. The gift of your service may be more precious than anything you can put a bow on.

Attend the town’s tree-lighting ceremony and other free holiday events open to the public. Some towns offer free concerts featuring the town band and/or choir.

Attend a public menorah lighting. Not sure if there’s one where you are? There are thousands of events listed here. Not sure what’s going to happen at a public menorah lighting or how you should behave? Check out Menachem Posner‘s article “What to Expect at a Public Menorah Lighting.”

Attend the town’s holiday parade. Maybe you’ll see Santa there.

If you have kids who celebrate Christmas and believe in Santa Claus take them to the town’s Santa arrival event. If there’s no such event where you are, take the kids to the mall or wherever Santa is holding court so they can tell the jolly old guy their Christmas wishes. You don’t have to buy the photos.

If your kids can’t see Santa in person, have them write letters to him. If you intercept the letters before they are mailed, you won’t have to pay for stamps. You can even write a response to the letters on Santa’s behalf.

Talk to your kids about winter holiday traditions around the world. Not sure where to begin? Read this article about how children outside of the U.S.A. celebrate Christmas. Get your kids talking about how other people’s holiday traditions are different from and the same as their own. You can also talk about Las Posadas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Yule/Solstice.

Shopping centers usually have holiday activities scheduled for the entire month of December. Go to the mall to hear school or church choirs perform. While you’re there, enjoy the warmth and the decorations. No one will notice if you don’t buy anything.

Attend a live Nativity scene and/or a Christmas pageant starring the kids at a local church.

Gather your friends, kids, and other family members and go caroling together. Walk through your neighborhood, RV park, or campground singing your hearts out. If you do a little planning, you can call ahead to hospitals, senior centers, assisted care facilities, or veterans homes and ask if your group can sing for the clients. You can sing traditional Christmas carols, holiday songs from countries other than the U.S.A., Pagan songs for Yule, and winter songs that don’t mention Christmas.

Gather friends and family to make holiday decorations together. Pool supplies folks have on hand so no one has to buy anything new. Use materials from nature. String plain popcorn. Browse these easy decoration ideas from Woman’s Day.

If you decorate a holiday tree, make it a party. Put on some holiday music and serve some light snacks if you’ve got ’em. Invite friends and neighbors or limit the guest list to the people who live with you.

Don’t limit your tree decorating to what’s indoors. Decorate the trees in your yard with strands of plain popcorn and/or old decorations you won’t be heartbroken to lose if they get wet.

Turn wrapping presents into part of the holiday fun. The Spruce Crafts shows you how to use plain paper and a potato stamp to make your own wrapping paper. The Budget Diet offers “16 Ideas for Wrapping Presents Without Wrapping Paper.” If you have room, invite friends over for a wrapping party. If you have kids, get them in on the gift-wrapping action. When I was a kid, I enjoyed helping Mom wrap Christmas gifts and getting a sneak peak at the presents my sibling would be receiving.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Read your favorite Christmas stories aloud. Let everyone have a turn. Find books that even the littlest readers can read from. Classics include the novella A Christmas Carol, the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (also known as “The Night Before Christmas”), and the picture book How the Grinch Stole Christmas! My favorites include the short story “A Gift of the Magi,” the young adult novel The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, and the Louisiana holiday tradition Cajun Night Before Christmas®.

Listen to a holiday podcast. I totally enjoy the Christmas themed episodes of Stuff You Should Know and Stuff You Missed in History Class from years past. If you need suggestions about Christmas podcasts to listen too, read “Top 15 Christmas Podcasts You Must Follow in 2019.” If you’re celebrating Hanukkah (or just want to learn more about the holiday), see “8 Podcast Episodes for Hanukkah” by Eric Silver. You can also listen to the Kwanzaa Central Podcast.

Photo by John Cutting on Unsplash

Host a winter movie marathon. Watch holiday classics (ones you already own or those you can find on YouTube or a subscription service you’re already paying for) from TV like Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Benji’s Very Own Christmas Story, and A Charlie Brown Christmas. There are dozens of holiday movies available, some marketed to adults like A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas and some for kids like The Muppet Christmas Carol. My two favorite Christmas movies are naughty (Bad Santa) and nice (Elf). The Man’s favorite Christmas story is A Christmas Story.

Put on some holiday music and have a holiday dance party. Check out FlourishAnyway’s “126 Non-Religious Christmas Songs for Your Holiday Playlist.” Melissa Locker and Adam Schubak list “34 of the Best, Wackiest, and Weirdest Christmas Songs” for Elle magazine. Taylor Weatherby and Emina Lukarcanin compiled “23 Of the Most Unconventional Christmas Songs” for Billboard. Christmas wasn’t Christmas at my childhood home until we listened to the Elvis Blue Christmas cassette tape.

Need other ideas for holiday theme parties? Check out the Reader’s Digest article “12 Fun Christmas Party Themes You Never Thought of Until Now” by Ashley Lewis. While this list was written with Christmas in mind, you can change what you need to in order to make your party accessible to all your guests.

Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

Perhaps you want to play a gift exchange game as part of a holiday party. Tell participants not to buy anything new. Part of the fun is giving away something you already have at home (whether “home” is a conventional structure, apartment, van, motorhome, camper, or car). If you need some suggestions about what games to play, check out this list of “18 Fun Gift Exchange Games & Ideas.”

If you’re having a holiday party, you might want to serve refreshments. Maybe you want to give yummies as presents. Keep it simple and stay within your budget by serving pretzels or popcorn and hot cocoa at your party. Whip up a batch of “Easy Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix” (which is less expensive than store bought) courtesy of the Eating on a Dime blog. If you want to make more extravagant treats, check out these “55 Budget-Friendly Dessert Recipes” from Taste of Home. Author Caroline Stanko says, “[e]ach recipe is made with 6 ingredients or less, and you probably already have them in your pantry!”

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

If you do observe a Christian religion or if you want get in touch with the religion of your childhood, attend a midnight church service. There’s something really special about celebrating the true meaning of Christmas, hearing the choir sing, then spilling out into the still, cold night.

What free and cheap ways do you celebrate winter and the winter holidays? What are some of your favorite holiday traditions? If you live nomadically, how do the winter holidays differ from when you celebrated them in a conventional home? Please share your experiences in the comments section below.

Please use caution when participating in winter activities. Ice and snow can be slippery and dangerous. Crafting can cut you. Blaize Sun is not responsible for your safety and well-being. Only you are responsible for your safety and well-being.

Podcasts

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The first time I ever heard a podcast was when I moved from the Midwest to the Pacific Northwest. My traveling companion had loaded her MP3 player with music and words for our journey. At some point we listed to an episode of Stuff You Should Know about fluoride.

Me Talk Pretty One Day
SIDENOTE: On that road trip, we also listened to David Sedaris read essays from his book Me Talk Pretty One Day. My favorite story in that book is “Jesus Shaves.” We had to stop playing it before it was over because my traveling companion was laughing so hard she was crying, making driving dangerous. (The image to the left is connected to my Amazon affiliate link. If you click on it to shop, I will receive a commission from your purchases.)

If you don’t know, a podcast is

a digital audio or video file or recording, usually part of a themed series, that can be downloaded from a website to a media player or computer.

The first podcast I really, really liked was RISK! Here’s what the RISK! webpage has to say:

 RISK! is a live show and podcast “where people tell true stories they never thought they’d dare to share in public” hosted by Kevin Allison, of the legendary TV sketch comedy troupe The State. The award-winning live show happens monthly in New York and Los Angeles…The weekly podcast gets around a million downloads each month. Slate.com called it “jaw-dropping, hysterically funny, and just plain touching.”

If you want to hear people tell true stories about sex, drugs, feces, humiliation, and sketchy parenting (among other things) while using lots of curse words, RISK! is the podcast for you. It is not a lie, cliché, or hyperbole when I say I’ve laughed ’til I cried while listening to the stories of RISK!, and sometimes I’ve just cried.

If these are the kinds of stories you like, you can listen to RISK! for yourself.

I like to have a podcast on while I’m doing work with my hands, typically work that doesn’t take too much brain power. Washing dishes? Podcast. Making hemp bracelets and necklaces? Podcast. Creating hats from yarn? Podcast. Cooking a meal? Podcast. Folding clothes? Podcast. Gluing little bits of paper into a collage? Podcast.

I revisited Stuff You Should Know a few years ago while house sitting in a secluded location. The house had no television, and it was just me and the dogs out there. I missed human voices. Hearing the banter of the hosts of the podcast, Charles (Chuck) Bryant and Josh Clark, made me feel less alone.

Stuff You Should Know led me to Stuff You Missed in History Class since both programs are produced by the same parent company, How Stuff Works.

Stuff You Missed in History Class has gone through a series of hosts since its beginning. My favorite hosts of the program are the two current smart and sassy women, Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey. I enjoy their comfortable presentation style while feeling confident they did their homework before hitting the record button. The amount of reading and research these women do for each episode is amazing. Holly and Tracy give us more than just the history of rich white dudes. I appreciate their inclusion of episodes about feisty women and LGBTQ folks fighting for civil rights.

While downloading podcasts from iTunes, I discovered Death, Sex & Money. The show’s website calls Death, Sex & Money

[a] podcast hosted by Anna Sale about the big questions and hard choices that are often left out of polite conversation.

I appreciate the way Anna Sale asks really personal questions while managing to express deep kindness and intense curiosity. She really knows how to get root of the matter without seeming pushy or mean. Of course, many of the episodes are heart-rending, covering topics from dead mothers and fathers (sad) to dead infants (super sad). The episodes focusing on sex and money tend to be a little more fun, although no less thought-provoking.

One of my favorite episodes of this show is an interview with Lucinda Williams. Lucinda starts off honest and raw and stays that way for nearly half an hour. Also fantastic is the five part series about New Orleans ten years after Hurricane Katrina.

My newest favorite is Myths and Legends, featuring my podcast boyfriend, Jason Weiser. (Shhh! Jason doesn’t know he’s my podcast boyfriend. Neither does his wife.) Not only do I enjoy Jason’s calm, soothing voice and his snarky-funny comments (he holds nothing back when he talks about The Little Mermaid), but the stories from around the world are fun to listen to. Sometimes when I’m stressed out, I put the volume of my phone down low, start this program playing, and let Jason’s tranquil voice comfort me all night.

Here’s what Myths and Legends has to say for itself:

This is a weekly podcast telling legendary stories as closely to the originals as possible. Some are incredibly popular stories you think you know, but with surprising origins. Others are stories that might be new to you, but are definitely worth a listen.

That’s what I’m listening to these days, when I’m not listening to music. I hope these suggestion inspire my readers to listen to some new, educational podcasts. Feel free to leave a comment about your favorite podcast.

A Summer of Infinity Scarves

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I know summer is no time for infinity scarves. Most people living in the Northern Hemisphere are not going to bundle up anytime

These are four scarves I made for some of my lady friends back at the Bridge.

These are four scarves I made for some of my lady friends back at the Bridge.

between June and September. However, summer is when I had to time to make scarves, so after initial hesitation when I wasn’t sure I’d remember how to do the last steps of the infinity scarf process (I remembered!) I went on what I can only call a yarn bender. I didn’t want to go to work. I didn’t want to read. I didn’t want to clean the van. I didn’t want to cook, although I did want to eat. Mostly I just wanted to listen to podcasts and make infinity scarves.

(Read about the first two infinity scarves I made this summer here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/08/26/two-new-infinity-scarves/.)

The yarn bender started when the Chile Lady sent me two skeins of yarn. The yarn was thick, the sort of yarn intended to be used with my round looms. (When using the thin yarn that’s  more readily available at thrift stores, I use two strands at a time. The thick yarn requires only one strand at a time.) One skein of yarn was a charcoal grey. The other was a deep red, nearly a burgundy.

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Esmerelda is modeling the infinity scarf I made for Elsa.

I had missed Elsa’s birthday, so I decided to make her a scarf using the yarn the Chile Lady had sent. I decided instead of using alternating rows of colors, I would keep it simple and use the colors in two blocks. The thick yarn and the large blocks of color made the scarf-making go fast; I had the scarf ready in no time.

I don’t remember which scarf I made next. I just know I made scarves for Mariquita, Dawn, and Rose in quick succession. I remembered how Dawn had most liked the brightly colorful hats I’d had at the Bridge the last time I was there, so I made her a brightly colorful scarf. Mariquita is quiet and somewhat

Esmerelda is modeling the scarf I made for Rose, with a color scheme of rosy pinks and browns.

Esmerelda is modeling the scarf I made for Rose, with a color scheme of rosy pinks and browns.

reserved, so I made her a scarf with a more restrained color scheme of blues and seafoam greens. The color scheme for Rose’s scarf included rosy pinks and browns.

While I made infinity scarves, I listened to podcasts on my phone. One advantage to moving into the current decade where cell phones are concerned is that I can now put music and podcast episodes on my phone. While I made scarves, I listened to Risk, Stuff You Missed in History Class, Stuff You Should Know, and a new favorite Death, Sex, & Money.

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Esmerelda is modeling the scarf I made for Mariquita.

I also did Pimsleur Spanish lessons while I made scarves. I’ve been doing Pimsleur Spanish lessons off and on (mostly off) for about two years, since Tea loaned me the Pimsleur CDs her friend burned for her. I put the lessons on my laptop before my disc drive jammed. Before I realized I could transfer the lessons from my laptop onto my phone, it was a big deal to take out my laptop everyday, do my thirty minute Spanish lesson, then quickly turn off the computer to save as much battery power as possible. The charge on the battery in my phone lasts a lot longer than the charge on my laptop battery, and the phone is a lot easier to charge using an inverter and the van’s battery, so having the lessons on my phone has made my Spanish studying much easier.

These four scarves are not the last I made. Oh no! I made five more scarves after these. But I’ll save those for another day.