By Heather Allmendinger
Every fall I receive a reminder. Not from my phone nor on my paper calendar but from a woodland creature. As the sun glistens across the grass on my daily route to school drop off, I see the same squirrel vigorously scamper through his territory, bouncing over piles of leaves and plowing through pine needles to find what lies underneath. Observation of his gritty focus and hefty assignment conjures up a “Praise Jesus!” that my family is not counting on me to gather and stash away hundreds of nuts from sun-up until sundown for months before going into winter’s secluded, social hibernation.
It does, however, remind me that the Arkansas weather is now less than agreeable for extended outings or outside activities, and that consecutive days inside of our home are inevitable. A good dose of cold, dreary weather and lengthy, involuntary isolation could compromise the lucidity of the strongest minds, the patience of the most resilient mothers and the compliance of offspring as obedient and gleeful as the Von Trapp children, resulting in what many refer to as cabin fever.
After experiencing a few too many of these foul-weather-fueled house arrests and an abundance of dramatic “I’m bored!” remarks, I vowed that our future winter weekends and inclement weather breaks would unfold much differently. I’ll share the prescription that has helped my family dodge rampant outbreaks of cabin fever.
Although I can get on board for a spring cleaning, I prefer a winter cleaning. After the Christmas décor finds its way back to the attic, what remains is a glittery, dusty mess — or in my book, “holiday vomit” — that should be thoroughly cleansed. I then work my way through corners of our house that have attracted stacks of random papers and mounds of toys, as well as drawers that have seen more organized days. With the holiday hangover behind me and a freshly organized house, the new year starts off happier. Any forthcoming time in our family cave can be spent towards more enjoyable activities with the kids, and come springtime, the seasonal deep cleaning is reduced to a tidying up.
Creative Kitchen Prep
Cooking is one of my favorite hobbies on almost any given day, but preparing meals particularly in the cold months seems a bit more satisfying. Maybe it’s because my consumers are captive for a longer period of time, and hearty, seasonal food provides as much comfort as it does nutrition. Nevertheless, cooking still takes time and creates a mess. I’ve found that stocking ingredients for our favorite meals prior to a spell of nasty weather decreases the need for grocery trips on days I’d rather not face the cold. To reduce the mess in my recently cleaned house, I like making larger meals that stretch or choose quick, easy recipes. This approach fits in the same category as starting clean. It lessens mess, stress and muddled in-the-moment planning, and creates more flexibility and time to relax with family.
Captain Your Ship
Over the years I’ve learned that, like every mother, wife or significant other, I play various roles within my household. Whether I’m the peacemaker, temperament controller, referee, moral guidance counselor, teacher, nurse, project facilitator, chef, household manager or business partner, I’m a major contributor to the pace and to the overall outlook on life within our walls. Although my duty is perpetual, my position as team captain seems more essential during times when my family is tucked away together for days at a time. To avoid an uprising and ensure smooth transitions from one activity to the next throughout the day, I map out a rough agenda that I share with the kids before we start the morning.
Rigidity is not necessary for a fruitful plan. It’s simply an outline, and I claim victory when the agenda’s results are happy, productive, meaningful or memorable. Children like to feel in-the-know, and they enjoy the predictability that a schedule provides. I recommend making every effort to include your kids in any preparation or clean-up to keep them busy and moving toward the next itinerary. I try to give my older kids options within the day’s line-up. Not all activities need to be structured or facilitated. Include free play, LEGO play, reading, etc. as options. The amount of time and level of creativity that our kids can devote toward LEGO construction amazes me.
If at all possible, I refrain from allowing lengthy video game time or movies as options. If it were up to my kids, every minute of each day would be spent on an electronic device. I’m not at all opposed to electronics here and there, but I prefer to incentivize with video games or movies. If we’ve had a positive day, we may close it out with popcorn and a family movie or a family video game tournament.
Regrettably, I’ve found that if we start a day off with a large dose of technology of any type, my typically sweet children morph into extra-terrestrial monster-like beings from the moment they’re asked to put down a game system controller or TV remote. These creatures emit volumes of gloom over their daylong quest in which no traditional toy can satisfy. Maybe our squirrel’s arduous nut gathering mission doesn’t sound so bad. I digress.
With this basic remedy, along with your personalized agenda, you and your family will likely unfurl from hibernation without a trace of cabin fever. Below are some ideas to incorporate into your activity plans.
Family Photo Dig
Pull out your box of old family photos. As you reminisce, look for dates, names and descriptions written on the back of each photo. If the photo detail is missing, add the information. Your future self will thank you. The photos will surely bring back many memories and stories of loved ones. Take a few minutes to share an oral history with your children, or jot down your recollections.
Thumb through recipes handed down from your late relatives. Find a few recipes that you distinctly recall enjoying as a child, yet haven’t introduced to your family. Share the dish’s importance as you create it and taste it together.
Talk It Up
Pick up the phone and catch up with friends or relatives that you might not otherwise communicate with other than an occasional, quick text. Conversations keep lifelong family ties intact and can leave you feeling happier, more connected, supported and loved.
Make a Puzzle
If your family enjoys turning on music and working a puzzle together, try making your own puzzle from a special photo. Easy puzzle templates can be found online!
Bring the outdoors inside by setting up a tent. Grab sleeping bags, pillows and string mini twinkle lights along the room to replicate a starry sky. Listen to soothing nature sounds, using a sound machine app, while you tell stories and share trail mix and oven baked s’mores!
Family Quiz Bowl
Go head-to-head with your spouse as your kids test your knowledge of their school subjects. They’ll discover that reading from their textbooks can be fun. Let the kids create the points and prize system.
Indoor Inventor’s Convention
Gather inexpensive items from your junk drawer, craft closet, recycling can and tool boxes into a bin or tray for each family member. Invent the unimaginable and present your inventions! Check out www.littlebinsforlittlehands.com for material ideas, STEM challenges and seasonal tinker kits.
Winter Wildlife Catalog
Scope out nature’s activity from the comfort of your home. Make a list of animals that you’ve identified. Research and note species details. Kids will relish in creating a wildlife journal by cutting and pasting matching images from nature magazines or computer printouts. Crack open an old encyclopedia and let them pull out interesting characteristics and habits of each animal for their journal. Yes, our squirrel has been cataloged and given a name!
Best in Show
If your pet is willing, schedule a check-up with your future veterinarian by requesting a full health report and grooming appointment. Task your kids with creating a canine obstacle course, leading your dog through it using positive commands and praising his or her efforts. Conclude with a festive dog show and awards ceremony. Any regularly active dog will appreciate the extra attention while being cooped up. Dogs can get bored, too!