Get Your Trek On!

Each year, Happy Dancing Turtle offers camping trips for girls and boys in 2nd-8th grade through our Turtle Treks program. These camping trips provide youth with a chance to visit parks across the state. In the past, campers have canoed the lake at Bemidji State Park, explored the falls at Gooseberry Falls State Park, hiked the trails at Itasca State Park and learned how to set up camp and build a fire at Forbes Park right here in Pine River.

 

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Soil Health for Earth Day

By Allison Rian

My 6 year-old daughter wanted to help make soil mix for planting vegetable seeds this weekend. As we got our hands dirty mixing compost, peat, and nutrients, and then adding water, I was treated to a passionate oration on the importance of plants for food and trees for clean and fresh air. (I was one proud mama.) “It all starts with the seed,” she told me. “What about the soil?” I asked her. “The seed grows in the soil,” she answered.

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My 6 year-old helping prep for garlic planting last fall.

Yes, the trees and plants grow in the soil, but it is more than just a medium. It is a living ecosystem, capable of providing the essentials of life to plants and animals. Leonardo Da Vinci said, “We know more about the movement of celestial bodies than about the soil underfoot.” True in the Renaissance Period and still true now.  

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Outdoor Adventures on Snowshoes & Skis

As a Minnesotan, I find you get the most out living in this state if you come to embrace all four of our very distinct and wonderful seasons. Most people have the hardest time embracing winter – the cold temps, the snow, the often difficult travels, and the extended periods inside with your children on polar vortex and snow days take a toll on a person! Personally, I love winter. I probably spend more time outside in winter than I do in any other season. The secret is to find outdoor activities that let you marvel in nature, while also keeping you warm!

Both cross-country skiing and snowshoeing have a wealth of health benefits, plus these types of “workouts” will keep you warm in even the most frigid of temps! These outdoor recreation options are good cardio exercise, allowing you to build strength, endurance, and balance while providing a full-body workout! Not to mention, the time outdoors in nature helps reduce stress and anxiety, and who doesn’t need that!? Whether your flying solo or with friends and family, this time in nature can be rejuvenating. Plus, did I mention they’re fun? Both snowshoes and cross-country skis come in a variety of sizes, meaning this can be fun for the whole family!

 

 

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Back to Basics Presenter Spotlight – Chris Glassmann

*For complete event details including workshop descriptions, vendor list, and to register and pay online, visit www.happydancingturtle.org. If you’d like to register now, you can go to our online registration site.*

 

There are 45 workshops at this year’s Back to Basics and over 50 vendors in the giant vendor fair. A lot of these focus on food, nutrition, and making meal time a better expereience for participants. I pulled one of the presenters aside to talk on what he’s excited to talk about.

Chris Glassmann (who also works as the campus chef here at HDT), will be doing a workshop titled How to Use Those Weird Fruits and Veggies. He wants to focus on making his workshop attendees more comfortable in the kitchen using the produce that is less popular than more other produce.

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Chris G. in his habitat

I got a chance to pick his brain.

CM: The Midwest has gotten along pretty well with dinners made primarily from “meat and potatoes”; it’s pretty brash, wouldn’t you say, to start introducing other more unique veggies?

Chris Glassmann: Local grocery stores, markets, are bringing in different fruits and veggies into their produce section because they hear that people are interested in trying them. But, what’s happening, is that people that go into the market look at that odd looking fruit and walk on by because even if they wanted to buy it and take it home, they still don’t know how to make a meal with it. My hope is to make a difference for not only the people eating the new type of produce, but for the markets that have taken the leap away from “meat and potatoes” basics. There’s room for both!

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Back to Basics Registration Now Open

*For complete event details including workshop descriptions, vendor list, and to register and pay online, visit www.happydancingturtle.org. If you’d like to register now, you can go to our online registration site.*

Registration for the 13th annual sustainable living event, Back to Basics, is open! With 45 workshops to choose from, nearly 50 vendors to shop at, an informative keynote speaker, door prizes, a delicious lunch, and school aged (K-6) children’s programming available, there’s fun for the whole family!

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45 sustainable workshops are planned, with some filling out already. Hurry to sign up!

The day will kick of with a keynote presentation by Kent Solberg, Livestock and Grazing Specialist with the Sustainable Farming Association. Kent will be answering many “buzz” questions regarding soil health and what it could mean for our future, our food, and our natural resources.

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Conscious Consumerism – Giving Differently

It’s that time of year where we all turn our minds to the holidays. It is a time we’re supposed to spend cherishing loved ones, family, and friends. A time we are supposed to sit back and relax, to take a break from the stress of everyday life. Unfortunately, most people don’t feel that way about the holidays anymore – it has become a time where we feel obligated to meet all sorts of expectations, like finding the perfect gift for everyone, traveling far to see relatives, and spending time with extended family.  A 2016 study indicates that 84% of consumers feel stressed out gift giving during the holidays.1

And what’s the point? Americans are accumulating more and more stuff, while facing the mental health issues that living in clutter can cause. Only 3.1% of the world’s children live in the United States, yet we buy 40% of toys produced globally.2 But we’re not just buying for our kids!  Only 12% of the world’s population lives in North America and Western Europe, yet these regions account for 60% of private consumption spending.3 The $100 billion Americans spend on shoes, jewelry, and watches is more than we spend on higher education. Where does all this get us? Homes that have tripled in size in the last 50 years (which cause stress due to maintenance and upkeep), 62% of people with two-car garages can’t use one or more of the stalls, and 1 out of every 10 Americans rent offsite storage.4 Unfortunately, the amount of stress we experience at home is directly proportional to the amount of stuff we have accumulated. Clutter overloads our senses, robs us of mental energy, and leads us to feeling anxious, tired, and overwhelmed.5

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Being a Conscious Consumer – Greener Gifting This Holiday Season

Are you asking, just what is a conscious consumer? Well, it’s someone looking to have their purchases reflect their standards and principles. In some cases this is easier than in others, depending on access, information, interest, and time. Some of the elements to consider when thinking about whether you’re purchasing is in alignment with your values are as follows. Do you know how and where the item was manufactured? Are the materials renewable, environmentally friendly, recyclable, reusable, or simply waste at the end of the life of the product? Do the company’s values match yours? Is handmade and do you know the creator? And so on. You may create your list of “must haves” when shopping for items. This certainly may be an unfolding process too, where you refine that list as you become more intentional about the gifts you give.

As we move into the Holiday Season, our minds become focused on gift giving as our lives become inundated with holiday ads and promotions. As a culture, we’ve come to believe that we should show our affection for friends and family by gifting them items. We are all quite familiar with this process. Perhaps you are also familiar with having too much “stuff”, a situation many of us are in. It’s easy to accumulate items that don’t contribute to happiness and well-being. Perhaps this year, we go about gift-giving in a slightly more intention manner.

Thrift & Secondhand Shopping – Your dollar will go further purchasing gently used. Other benefits – you’ll find one-of-a-kind items, you aren’t directly supporting the creation of those goods, you are keeping items out of the waste stream, and depending on your favorite store and it’s affiliation, you may be funding the mission work of a non-profit (i.e. – Goodwill, Salvation Army, Common Goods, etc.). A great suggestion from HDT Staffer Nora, is to search out board games and/or movies that you enjoyed as a child, they make great sentimental, special gifts for new generations. Plus playing those games with the recipients is interactive and memorable.

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Credit Patrick Q via Flickr Creative Commons

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Preparing Equipment for Winter

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On the cusp of winter, it’s time to put away the lawn care tools and equipment and bring out the snow removal tools and equipment. Depending on the size of your lawn or driveway, this may be a simple and easy job or one that is difficult and a hassle. We’re Minnesotan, it’s part of the deal! In our household, Mr. Man is the primary caretaker of equipment, regardless of season. For your information (and mine!) I asked him what he suggests regarding preparing equipment for the winter ahead.

The equipment we’ll address includes lawn mower, weed whip, backpack blower, and roto-tiller, though the suggestions below apply to essentially all small gasoline engine power tools.  While not all these pieces are standard for each home, they definitely are in ours, not exclusively because Mr. Man used to have a lawn care business. And certainly partially because he is a mechanically-savvy-motor-head that loves to have the aid of machines in accomplishing outdoor projects. “Every job goes better with the appropriate power tool” he says.

He began by relaying that all small engines – likely your lawn mower, weed-whip, backpack blower, and roto-tiller will all require a few treatments to keep them in prime running order for years to come. While not all of these steps are critical they are an investment in time and materials for the safe, long-term, use of equipment with fewer costly repairs and replacements. If you aren’t comfortable performing these tasks personally, local small engine folks can winterize your equipment on your behalf, for a fee.

  • Fuel stabilizer is a must to keep engines happy. Before our discussion, I thought the best tactic for gas machines was to drain the gas before winter. Turns out, as I learned, that’s not a good idea. Instead, add the appropriate amount of fuel stabilizer for the size of the gas can. And if possible, fuel your equipment with stabilized gas while still using during the last month before winter. He additionally recommends storing equipment with full [stabilized] fuel tanks. *Note, small engines should be fueled with non-oxygenated/normally 91 octane fuel. This is important because the ethanol in typical 87 octane can make fuel system components brittle and the alcohol can contribute to moisture and corrosion in the fuel system. Additional fuel note – modern gasoline has a short shelf life where it begins to degrade within ~1 month (if not treated with stabilizer) regardless of time of year. Final fuel note, if you have an engine that requires mixed gas but your use of that piece of equipment is limited consider purchasing shelf stable mixed fuel from an auto parts or small engine store.
  • Drain and refill oil tanks. This is important to do as oil that is exposed to internal combustion has acid and contaminants in it that can be potentially harmful if they sit in the engine. Many folks think to change the oil in the Spring before seasonal use but the strong suggestion here was to do it in the Fall because oil has three jobs: to lubricate, help cool the engine, and keep the engine clean. Summer use has made that oil dirty, don’t let it sit in there. *Note, if you are working on a 2-cycle engine you will not have a separate oil tank as they operate with mixed gas (a mixture of oil and gasoline).
  • If there is an external spin-on oil filter, change that at the time you change the oil. Equipment that has a pressurized oil system will likely have this external oil filter, like many riding lawn mowers.
  • Clean or replace air filters. If you have a foam filter wash with warm water and mild detergent and let air dry. Before putting it back onto the equipment, reapply the air filter tack oil. If your air filter has paper elements it will need to be replaced. Filters (and filter supplies) can be found at auto parts stores.
  • Fogging, perhaps like me, you’ve never heard of this! Let me tell you more. To fog, the engine must be running with stabilized fuel long enough to be warm. Fogging oil is sold in spray cans, again available at hardware or auto parts stores. Once the engine is warm and before you’ve finished the above step of reinstalling the air filter, spray fogging oil into the carburetor in small bursts. After a couple of those applications, attempt to kill the engine by spraying fogging oil until the engine dies as it can’t burn off the amount of oil you’ve applied. *Exhaust will smoke significantly in the fogging process. If you aren’t able to kill the engine with fogging oil, release the safety handle or turn off the engine then spray while the engine stops rotating. The function of fogging oil is to prevent rust on internal engine components that don’t get engine oil. An additional location to consider spraying fogging oil is into the upper cylinder head of the engine. To find this, remove the spark plug and spray into space inside. Pull start-cord a couple of times to distribute that fogging oil. These are quick “cht-cht” sprays of the fogging oil. Replace the spark plug. *Note, the internal protection that the fogging oil provides may prove to be damaging to the spark plug so in the Spring they may need to be replaced.

A bonus note about lawn mowers, while you (or your trusted equipment maintenance team) are putting the mower to bed for the Winter – also consider sharpening the mower blades. Sharp blades cut the grass and dull ones tear the grass. Torn grass looks browner and more unhealthy on your lawn.

This is by no means a comprehensive maintenance list for all the equipment in your life, but this hopefully can help you go into the Winter season with greater confidence in the Spring performance of your equipment. We wish you luck with end-of-Fall wrap-ups!

 

Yard Clean Up

Fall is my favorite time of year to be out and about, though the daylight and sunshine available for playing outside is in shorter supply. I’m all about maximizing fun before winter comes. The last thing on my mind is yard clean up. It always snows before I get to it, therefore all the leaves and vegetative litter, the seed heads, dead stems and brush are left until spring.

It turns out, though, that being a lazy gardener creates great habitat for overwintering wildlife. So I wear my “lazy gardener” title with pride, or rather call myself a “habitat gardener.” If you’d like to wear one of these titles, here are some tips and reasons to work less and play more in the fall.

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Preparing your Home for Winter

*This post was initially published way back in 2012.*

How Will You Prepare for Winter?

I drive to work everyday. It’s a drive from Brainerd to Pine River, about 35 miles. It takes me about 45 minutes to get from driveway to parking lot. There are stoplights, stop signs, merging traffic, and other nuisances on the way. But, mostly I get to zing up (and down) Hwy. 371 at about 60 mph. Now, along this drive, I see not one, but four different businesses that are advertising their boat winterization services. Some will offer free storage while others will offer free shrink wrapping. It’s a good time of year to need boat winterization, apparently. Now, other than serving as a reminder that central Minnesota is still (and forever shall be!) the boating and fishing capital of the world, these winterization billboards are serving another important feature.

They’re telling us that Winter is Coming!

Let us take solace in the famous utterance of Eddard Stark that, yes, winter is truly

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You tell ’em “Ned”

coming. But, instead of huddling in our homes and turning the furnace temperature to the heat setting we should use this warning as an opportunity to ready, prepare, and indeed, brace ourselves for the oncoming cold. I’ve done a little research and found some things that are easy to do around the house that will make this coming winter that much easier to endure.

First, I contacted Roger G, an engineer and an all-around nice guy. He works for RREAL, a great non-profit organization that outfits low income families with solar panels to help combat heating prices. But, before they just attach the panels, they have to make sure that the house itself is best suited to the benefits of solar energy. In other words, they require that the home be weatherized before the begin installation. This weatherization includes proper weather stripping, sufficient insulation (throughout the home), and storm windows. These are just a small number of things you can do to save money and energy. Roger recommended I look to the local utility companies to see how best to winterize my home.

I looked to several utility co-ops and found some good tips. But, where should you begin? Here are a couple ideas.

Step #1 Schedule an energy audit.

Check out this video put together by the Dept. of Energy. These audits are often subsidized by your utility company. Contact your provider to see if they have programs in place to help you get your audit at least partially paid for.

Step #2 Fill those cracks.

Using the knowledge from your energy audit, you’ll see where you need to apply insulation. However, these are the most likely culprits for allowing heat to escape. Some of the best ways to stifle heat loss in your home are by caulking joints, covering your windows in plastic, and using foam gaskets on your outlets

Step #3: Install a Programmable Thermostat.

Doing this very simple (and inexpensive) option will help you save up to 20% on your utility bill. So, with the one time purchase of $40, you’ll get a return on investment in no time. Check out this video on how to install one. Not too difficult. Again, look to your utility company to see if they offer benefits for installing a programmable thermostat. Some even offer rebates to lower the cost even further.

 

If you want more information on preparing for the cold of winter, I suggest looking at what the Clean Energy Resource Team has put together. Also, Excel Energy has a more detailed pamphlet on making your home tip top for the oncoming winter.