Challenges to Getting Outdoors Daily

Is getting out into nature daily a challenge?

Or do you need a challenge to get out daily into nature?

Getting out into Nature a challenge? {}Tomorrow is May 1.  Nothing like a new month to take on a new challenge.  And MAYbe this is your month.  May is spring in the northern hemisphere and autumn in the southern hemisphere — not too hot, not too cold, just right for getting outside and getting a daily dose of nature time!

But…maybe you’re feeling too busy.  Or maybe you’ve had a nature walk go wrong.  Or maybe you can’t seem to remember a single benefit to time outdoors when the kids beg for just 30 more minutes in Minecraft. Or is that only at my house?

Getting outside, every day, can be a challenge — so here are 3 challenges to get you there:

1. Starting May 1, the David Suzuki Foundation has a 30×30 challenge.  That’s 30 minutes outdoors for 30 days.  Do you have 30 minutes?  Just 30 out of 1440 a day — about 2% of your time.

100 Trees, 100 Chances to Get Outside! Free Worksheet Download

2. Want something less time-bound? Wilder Child offers a chart called 100 Trees, 100 Chances in the fantastic article 6 Ways to Get Your Kids Outside (When They Don’t Want to Go).  Color a tree every time you go outdoors and watch your forest grow!

3. Is a purposeful, structured  time more your style?  Back in 2008, the Handbook of Nature Study Outdoor Hour Challenge began — and is still going.  Years of challenges to get you started and keep you outside!

Do you know of another challenge that encourages getting outside regularly? Share it in the comments! Or tweet to @pocketmousepub and let us know!

And after you’ve been outside, check out the Nature Chills Challenge to share what you’ve discovered!

I just read a 2010 study that found kids ages 8-18 spent 7 hours and 38 minutes in front of a screen daily, about 27% of their day.  Has technology use gone up or down at your house in the last 5 years?

Mushroom Trees

For National Arbor Day, I decided to plant some “mushroom trees.” I have healthy, mature oaks. I have young northern pecans, Kentucky coffeetrees, and Ohio buckeyes. I also have, typical of Iowa’s woodlands, forest areas so overgrown that trees need to be removed, not planted. And, while I continue to work on improving the diversity of the woodlands, planting a typical tree for National Arbor Day seemed counter-productive this year.
Shiitake “plug spawn”. Dowels inoculated with mycelium

Dying trees are critical for the health of a forest. They provide habitat for cavity nesting birds, screech owls, bluebirds, and wood ducks. They serve as roosts for bats and feeding stations for insect-eating birds. A dead snag hosts a tremendous variety of decomposers, from fungi to ants, which gradually break down the hard wood into soft, rich organic matter in which new life can grow.

Mycelium rapidly expanding around the dowel
I thought deliberately turning a dead log into a mushroom tree would be a fun way to celebrate the spirit of National Arbor Day, without adding a tree where it shouldn’t belong. It will celebrate that the value of a tree extends far beyond the life span of the tree. As a benefit, I will
1) expand my knowledge of mushrooms, and give me a close up, regular look at the decomposition process
2) provide me with something healthy and tasty to eat
3) provide organic material, when the tree is completely broken down.
Drilling the holes in the oak limb, a casualty of a recent wind storm

In the past, I’ve grown portabella mushrooms in a box in the house, and thought this would not be too much more difficult. And then, when I got my shiitake, maitake, and reishi mushrooms from Fungi Perfecti…I realized that it may not be more difficult, but it is certainly a bit more specific and detailed.

Tapping the plug snugly into the tree.

I’ll be sharing pictures as the mushrooms grow!  Have you ever grown your own mushrooms?

Sealing the plug into the tree with a bit of melted beeswax. There are definitely more efficient means of melting beeswax than a torch (the directions recommend melting the wax in a pot, and painting it on the plug). Now, we wait!

Earth Day Adventures: Lyrid Meteor Shower April 2015

How are you celebrating Earth Day 2015? If enjoying all the abundance of the Earth – like the wildflowers and rainbows under the sun isn’t enough, you could get up before the sun rises to see a spectacular shooting star show! The Lyrid Meteor Shower 2015 will peak in the wee hours of April 23, 2015.

Are you ready to watch the next meteor shower?First some vocabulary:

A Shooting Star is bright streak of light caused by a meteor.

A Meteor Shower is the Earth passing through the wake of the comet and named for constellation nearest the point the meteors seem to radiate from.

A Comet is an icy-rock ball that orbits the sun and has tails of dust and gas streaming away from the sun

Meteoroid – relatively small particles in space

Meteor – a meteoroid that entered Earth’s atmosphere (shooting star)

Meteorite – a meteor that didn’t burn up before landing on earth

The Lyrid Meteor Shower seems to radiate from the constellation Lyra. Lyra is from the Greek word for lyre and is connected the myth of Orpheus, a musician who charmed all with his playing. The Classical myth ends sadly for Orpheus, but if you’d like to hear a folk version with a happy conclusion, I highly recommend the song “King Orfeo” written by Lisa Theriot and sung by Ken Theriot on the CD Human History.

But I digress!

Lyra Constellation Map (creative commons use)
Lyra Constellation Map (creative commons use)

The constellation Lyra contains the star commonly known as Vega — 5th brightest in the sky and part of the Summer Triangle. To learn more about Lyra check out Solar System Quick’s guide.

The comet wake or path that causes the Lyrid Meteor Shower is called Comet Thatcher and was seen in 1861 — and isn’t expected again until 2276, according to EarthSky. Add that to your smartphone’s calendar before you forget!

Astonomy Magazine has an excellent 5 minute introductory video on How to Observe Meteor Showers.

So, this Earth Day, celebrate by looking up after dark and before dawn, and view the Lyrid Meteor Shower of April 2015!

Think Nature is Boring?

Do you think nature is boring?  Do your kids?  Just another walk in the woods?  Same nameless green trees, same nameless green plants, same —

Another boring nature walk? I think not.

What would you do if you came across an orange tentacled blob in a cedar tree?  And not just one?  But another, and another, and one with even more tentacles?

a) Run screaming?

b) Call the police?

c) Email the county’s pest control department?

d) Pluck to one to dissect in the name of science?

e) Call…whoever would be interested in an alien sitings?

After coming home and finding some of these bizarre apparitions on the cedar trees in both my neighbor’s and my yard, I chose answer C.

And the calm, kind urban forester who replied to my email assured me that this was fairly common in my county and not of concern unless I had an orchard.  Which now I’m glad I don’t have an orchard because this is Cedar Apple Rust (not an alien invasion).

Doesn't it look alien?
Doesn’t it look alien?

These are Gymnosporangium juniperi-virginianae galls with spore horns (not orange tentacled blobs): a complex pathogen that requires both the apple tree and the cedar tree (with other species such as hawthorn and juniper standing in), adequate moisture, including a rain, and has a two year life cycle.  You can read all about these fascinating galls on Cornell University’s Integrated Pest Management Fact Sheet.

So, the next time you think just another boring nature walk, think again.  And carry a camera — might just find something incredible for your Earth Day Celebration rainbow walk!

Liebster Peer Award – Q&A, part 1

We were recently awarded the Liebster Peer Award by Seedling: A Place for Little Thoughts to Grow: Writing on Gentle Parenting, Nature, and Encountering Happiness.

Pocket Mouse Publishing was awarded the Liebster Award!Thank you! We’ll nominate our own favorite blogs soon, but in the meantime, a bit about us in answer to the questions posed by Seedling — Lee in blue, Jean in red, and Gabe (the elusive illustrator of Hunting Red) in green!.

  1. What is something that you appreciate today and why?

Lee: Eating outside on the front porch in the sunshine.

Jean: Everything. Life should be lived in appreciation. Specifically, there is a flower blooming in my yard that I don’t recognize.

Gabe: Today? I don’t have to go to work or class!

Do you recognize this flower?
Do you recognize this flower?
  1. What is something that you recently learned?

Lee: How to post to twitter — @pocketmousepub!

Jean: How to make charcoal. My knowledge heretofore has been theoretical.

  1. What is something that you love about yourself and why?

Lee: My cursive handwriting.  It’s legible, uniform, and well, lovely.  Sadly, none of my children have inherited it.

Gabe: I taught myself to be ambidextrous (after reading The Queen of Attolia).

  1. What is something that you had always wished to do and achieved?

Lee: I always wanted to homeschool.  I heard about it while I was in high school, and now I have two who have graduated and four I’m still homeschooling. 

Gabe: Complete the full 50,000 word NaNoWriMo this past November.

  1. What is something that you still wish to do before you pass on?

Lee: Travel the world with my husband on a sailboat or catamaran.

Jean: I try to avoid bucket lists. If there is something I want to do or experience, I try to prioritize it for its own sake and create a plan for making it happen. If it doesn’t happen, it should either be because 1) I never got beyond the wishful thinking stage to fully develop it, or 2) I decided, consciously or not, that other priorities were more important. 

  1. How many languages do you speak?

Lee: Just English.  I know a little Latin and a smattering of Ancient Greek from learning alongside my children.  Not that those will help me while I’m sailing!

Jean: I’m fairly adept at English and appreciate etymology.

Gabe: Not Spanish or Latin (sorry, Mom).  I’m creating my a language for world I made — check back in 5 years to see if I speak it yet.

Elf and Drake by Gabe
Sketch from a World created by Gabe
  1. If you made a New Year’s Resolution this year, are you still working towards it? If so, in what way?

Lee: Not a New Year’s Resolution but back in mid-February I made a commitment to get my children out into nature every day.  We haven’t missed a day yet!  Of course, not everyone goes every day.  Getting 8 people around the dinner table at one time is hard enough, let alone out for an hour in the woods!

Jean:  Not a New Year’s Resolution, but I am committed to achieving the Living Building Challenge for the Indian Creek Nature Center’s Amazing Space project.

Gabe: I resolved to keep working on my 50,000 word NaNo novel.  April is Camp NaNo, and I’m adding at least 30,000 words to scenes I skipped in November.

  1. What is one way in which you live authentically?

Lee: My priorities are my own.  Reading aloud to my children daily and only buying quality dark chocolate are high on my list.  Dressing stylishly and dusting the house are very low. 

Jean: I am developing a better understanding of the plants around me on a deeper level. Specifically, I’m focusing on their nutritional and medicinal value, and how valuing them can bring me into harmony.

  1. What is one of your own ‘natural highs’?

Lee: Being near rushing water: from the babble of the creek running over the rocks, to the thunderous noise of the rapids on a big river — I love the sound.

Jean: Riding in the fields with Frank, my horse. Hiking in the woods with Nitro, my dog.

Gabe: Riding my bike downhill very fast.  Hitting people with sticks — SCA heavy-combat style, of course. 

  1. What is your wish for the world and how do you work towards it?

Jean: Sharing the joy, learning, and wonder that come from being in nature. That passion was the basis for writing Hunting Red and why I’m the Land Stewardship Director at Indian Creek Nature Center.

Thanks for reading, and when we get those questions & nominations together, we’ll share!

Earth Day Adventures: rainbows and wildflowers

This is a magical season in the forest, as the spring ephemerals are just beginning to bloom. When we think of forest, our minds immediately go to the trees. Right now, with the trees in various stages of budding out, there is not a leaf to be seen. But there is a whole rainbow of color to be found.

Cottonwood tree inflorescence, brought down in a windstorm (Red).
OK, I havent seen any orange butterflies yet, but these fun chairs are sitting outside ICNCs Butterfly Hoop House, beckoning a visit. If you want to see flying orange, try setting out a half an orange on a tray feeder or deck railing to attract Baltimore Orioles.
OK, I haven’t seen any orange butterflies yet, but these fun chairs are sitting outside Indian Creek Nature Center’s Butterfly Hoop House, beckoning a visit. Or…
...set 1/2 an orange out on a tray feeder or deck railing to attract the Baltimore Oriole. This one, created by artist Brenna OHara, is a permanent resident along ICNCs woodland trail orange).
…set 1/2 an orange out on a tray feeder or deck railing to attract the Baltimore Oriole. This one, painted by artist Brenna O’Hara, is a permanent resident along ICNC’s woodland trail (Orange).

Lots of life is beginning to emerge from the ground.  Wildflowers of Iowa Woodlands by Sylvan Runkel and Alvin Bull is a great resource to put in your backpack before setting out. If that’s too big, try the laminated Woodland in Your Pocket pamphlet. Finding flowers is fun: knowing what you’re looking at is thrilling.

Bloodroots are one of the first spring ephemerals to explode in the spring (Yellow).

Delicate, small forbs take advantage of all of that sunlight streaming through the bare branches to send up their own leaves, flower, and reproduce.

Wild Ginger is just beginning to peek out, with soft folded leaves (Green). Open your copy of Hunting Red to preview the ginger in bloom.
A blue jay was here. As the feathers of most birds are protected, take pictures, not the feathers (Blue).

To help identify feathers you find, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s free online Feather Atlas.

These bluebells have not fully opened, but show some of the great diversity of color the species has Indigo)
These bluebell flowers have not fully opened, but show some of the great diversity of color within the species (Indigo).
The petals of the wild violet are edible, and are a beautiful edition to any salad Violet).
The petals of the wild violet are edible, and are a beautiful edition to any salad (Violet).

Spend Earth Day outside, exploring what is happening with the earth as spring surrounds us in a rainbow of color. What colors will you find?



Chirping on Twitter as @pocketmousepub!

Connect with Pocket Mouse Publishing on Twitter @pocketmousepubPocket Mouse Publishing is on Twitter!  Yes, you will hear Jean (itsabeeslifeforme) and Lee (brightskymom chirping tweeting as @pocketmousepub now!

Since we’re brand new, we will bumble around like the fledgling social media-ites that we are.  If you’re on Twitter, we’d appreciate well-known, obvious, how-could-you-not-know tips — I don’t think we’re ready for amazing insider secrets yet!

We hope to see & hear you in the fields and trees, tweeting interesting tidbits about #nature and #forage and #organic and all kinds of things!  After all (to quote Robert Louis Stevenson, April IS National Poetry Month!):

The world is so full of a number of things,
I ’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.

Earth Day Adventures: forage

Pick nettles that are approximately 8″ tall, taking the top 6″.

By mid summer, moist woodlands are thick with stinging nettles. Long pants and long sleeve cotton t-shirts are a must, to keep waist-high plants from assaulting skin with trichomes. But right now, the stinging nettles are just beginning to emerge. Celebrate Earth Day by enjoying hunting for, gathering, and eating this delicious plant.


The leaves are tender and full of iron, vitamin A and vitamin C. The tiny hairs are just beginning to produce trichomes, so they aren’t nearly as painful if you break them off into your skin. Grasp the plant gently at the base and break the stem cleanly off. It won’t hurt the plant. If you can’t seem to get the knack of it without getting stung, wear a pair of gardening gloves or use a pair of clippers. As the nettles are a ubiquitous invader throughout the woods, stick a paper sack in your pocket to collect them in.

Once home, rinse them off and boil them for about five minutes. The boiling breaks down the toxins, making them safe to eat. Treat the leaves like spinach, adding a little bit of butter, salt, or lemon juice before serving. IMG_20150409_154827535




Dry the rest. The trichomes also break down as the plant dries. Add a teaspoon of dried nettle leaf to the teapot whenever you make a cup of tea, to take advantage of the nutrients in the plant long after the plants leaves are large and tough, and the trichomes are vigorous about defending it.

This book is older than I am, but the information in it is still a great foundation for foraging  for food in nature.
This book is older than I am, but the information in it is still a great foundation for foraging for food in nature.

How Nature is like the Library and why it matters

How Nature is like the Library

Sitting in traffic on my way home from the library the other day, I got to thinking:

Nature – the great outdoors – is a lot like the public library.

Nature is space free for all to visit, all to peruse, all to enjoy – paid for by tax dollars, public & private benefactors, and citizen fundraising; maintained by forest rangers and naturalists (the librarians of their wild spaces) and the enthusiasm of volunteers.

We go to the library to learn: a vast collection of non-fiction books on every topic imaginable, waiting to be read and gleaned from. There is always something new to be found on a library shelf.  We can go to nature to learn as well.  Every walk in the woods will reveal something new.

Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher. ~William Wordsworth

Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books. ~John Lubbock

You will find something more in woods than in books. Trees and stones will teach you that which you can never learn from masters. ~St. Bernard

Let Nature be your teacher

We go to the library for enjoyment: genre upon genre of fiction, poetry, picture books, movies, comics, how-to books. We can go out in nature for enjoyment too.  A mud-puddle and a mountain are always ready to provide a new experience.

when the world is mud-luscious…[and] puddle-wonderful. ~e.e. cummings

Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair. ~Khalil Gibran

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed, but Nature’s sources never fail. ~John Muir

How Nature is like the Library and why it matters

Just as our minds long for ideas that we can find in a book at the library, so our hearts and eyes long for nature – photos of breath-takingly beautiful nature scenes abound on Pinterest, are shared on Instagram, and hang on the walls of homes & offices around the world.

With innovation and technology, seems we have forgotten to cherish the true beauty the world has to offer. ~A.C. Van Cherub

Yet, unlike the library – still a place of generally hushed reverence (except during toddler story time!), nature is often carelessly used as a dumping ground – tires, empty cans, golf balls, and a large collection of half-filled plastic water bottles litter the creek near my home. Would you ever find these in your local library? Who keeps the library clean? Who keeps the natural spaces around your home clean?

If we all treated nature more like the library, I think the world would be a better place. We borrow. We return. We pay our fines when owed. We preserve. We respect. We enjoy!

May you find yourself out in nature or in a library today — better yet, both!

April 2015 Full Moon Walk & Lunar Eclipse

Full Moon Walk April 2015 Lunar Eclipse/Blood MoonAre you planning a Full Moon walk with your family this week?  This month’s Full Moon is on April 4, 2015 — traditionally called the Pink Moon, is also going to include the first total lunar eclipse of 2015!

A lunar eclipse occurs when the moon is in the Earth’s shadow. In some locations, the shadowing can cast a red glow on the moon, and so the moon can also be called a Blood Moon.

Solar and lunar eclipses always arrive in pairs — the lunar eclipse coming 2 weeks after the solar eclipse.  This and other interesting eclipse tidbits can be found at — the website includes viewing information, video clips, and helpful explanations.

Full Moon Walk 2015 Printable from PocketMousePublishing.comDownload your free Full Moon Walk tracker  and enjoy this special time outside in nature!