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article imageGreen Thumbs Up: Creating traditions by connecting with nature

By Karen Graham     Dec 20, 2015 in Environment
The first day of winter begins on December 21, at 11:48 p.m. EST, according to the Old Farmers Almanac. And with the holiday season right there at the beginning of the winter solstice, comes the opportunity to create some wonderful family traditions.
The Christmas season is a time for giving, and what better way to celebrate than giving back to the Earth? You will also be instilling values of sustainable living to your family, friends and the community while enjoying being outdoors for a few hours, working up an appetite for that big holiday meal. Here is a few ideas that are a fun way to enjoy the outdoors for the whole family:
Birders observing from the West Wildlife Overlook during the 2014 Christmas Bird Count at Lava Lakes...
Birders observing from the West Wildlife Overlook during the 2014 Christmas Bird Count at Lava Lakes National Monument in California.
US National Park Service
The annual Christmas bird count
Your family and friends can join the Christmas Bird Count (CBC), a century-long citizen science project of the national Audubon Society. Join with thousands of volunteers in the U.S., Canada, and many countries in the Western Hemisphere in counting birds during one 24-hour period on one calendar day.
If the Christmas bird count seems too much to add to your holiday schedule, perhaps you and your family would be interested in getting involved in the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), instead. Organized by Audubon along with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the count takes place on President's Day weekend each February. You count the birds in your backyard or community and enter the results online.
Planting a tree on January 13  2012.
Planting a tree on January 13, 2012.
Give back to the Earth by planting a tree
Many people may not realize this, but winter is an excellent time to plant some varieties of trees. The hour or so that it takes to enjoy this activity can be further enhanced with the thought of a nice hot cup of cocoa when the family is finished. Your new tree will use the winter dormant season to establish new roots, and when spring arrives, it will be well on its way to growing up to provide shelter for wildlife as well as shade.
Trees are important to the Earth and to our well-being. They can provide shade as well as block those cold winds in winter. They help us in cleaning the air, providing oxygen, and help to keep our cities cooler in reducing the "heat island" effect created by concrete and asphalt, storing and reflecting back heat. Before running out and picking up any old tree to plant, talk to someone at your local nursery who can recommend a tree that is native to your region or has been adapted to grow in the area. They will also give you advise on planting and winter care.
Homemade bird feeder - pine cone with peanut butter & birdseed.
Homemade bird feeder - pine cone with peanut butter & birdseed.
Debra Butterfield
Decorate a tree for our bird friends
Decorating a tree for your backyard birds this winter is a great activity the whole family will enjoy. Just make sure the tree you choose to decorate isn't easily accessible to the neighborhood felines. Place seed balls, suet, pine cones filled with peanut butter with seeds sprinkled over them, and seed trays in your chosen tree.
To attract a wider variety of birds to your "treat tree," use a variety of seeds, like black oil sunflower seed, wild bird mixed seed and nyjer seed bells. Nyjer seeds are a favorite of goldfinches as well as purple and house finches, pine siskins, and redpolls. And don't forget the squirrels in your backyard this winter. They too appreciate treats, such as sunflower seeds, corn kernels, apple slices and local tree nuts. You might like this recipe for Freddy the squirrel's favorite winter treat.
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