It’s inevitable: After the glitz and festivities of the winter holidays, the rest of the winter can seem anticlimactic. But it doesn’t have to be.
As tempting as it might be to take up an expensive winter hobby — such as skiing or ice skating — to get through the slow winter months, you don’t need to spend a lot of money. Instead, cure your cabin fever and ramp up the excitement by taking part in free hobbies and fun activities.
1. Build Snow Sculptures
If you’re gifted with an abundance of snow in your yard, don’t just shovel it — sculpt it. Go beyond the usual snowman and igloo and build imaginative snow scenes that will captivate the attention of your kids and neighbors. Rick Horton of Greenfield, Indiana, built a 40-foot rattlesnake in his front yard — and he even painted it with realistic markings and colors.
Start small to get the hang of it. Besides rolling snowballs or heaping together snow in a mound, pack snow in cardboard boxes or milk cartons to form blocks. Slightly wet snow works the best, and you can keep a spray bottle handy to wet the powder so it clings together. Weather between 5 degrees and 30 degrees is ideal to keep your sculpture from melting.
Add details with ice cream spoons, spatulas, chisels or other tools you have handy. Add color by brushing with watercolors or spraying your sculpture with watered down food coloring.
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2. Get Cooking
Get the chill out of the house, and create an aromatic ambiance by honing your cooking skills. Best of all, you get to indulge in the fruits of your labor.
Use ingredients already in your pantry to save money on groceries. Websites like MyFridgeFood.com enable you check off all the ingredients you have on hand, then gives you recipes to use them. And soon there will be a mobile app for Supercook.com, another website that helps you find recipes that match your ingredients.
Concoct a winter soup to simmer throughout the day and fill your home with delicious aromas. Opt for low-cost, hearty classics like winter vegetable soup, chili and stew. Use websites like YouTube and Facebook to find new twists on old favorites, like chicken noodle or tomato soup with grilled cheese.
Serve up a hearty soup in a sourdough bowl. You can make your own sourdough starter using just a few tablespoons of flour and water. Keep it on the counter to whip up a daily batch of pancakes or biscuits or keep it in the fridge for once-a-week use.
If you never learned how to cook but want to, take lessons for free in the privacy of your own kitchen by watching YouTube. From Gordon Ramsay’s Ultimate Cookery Course to Cuisinart Culinary School with Chef Jonathan Collins, you can master basics that leave you feeling at home in the kitchen.
Cooking can also be a great winter activity for kids. Get them enthused about history by making doughnuts or fried chicken the 18th-century way. Get recipes and techniques at Jas. Townsend and Son Inc.’s YouTube channel. Dig even deeper by letting the kids help build an earthen oven to cook in true 18th-century style.
3. Go Bird Watching
Winter is an ideal time to go bird watching, especially if you live in the warmer states. Although you can attract local birds to your yard with seed, you can save yourself the money by going bird watching where they typically feed.
Look for free birding hikes at your local parks or nature preserves. Download the free Audubon Bird Guide app that will help you find which birds frequent the area you’re visiting. Some websites of popular birding areas also list species that are active in the area during winter.
Dress to blend in with your surroundings, wearing green or brown. Sit still and stay silent, and let the birds come to you. Birds typically make an alarm call when you enter their territory. Once they’re able to forget you’re there, they’ll likely burst out in song.
Inexperienced bird watchers should bring a notebook, according to biologist and bird expert Dick Cannings. “Having a notebook really forces you to look carefully at things,” he said. “Write down what you see and hear. Then, consult the field guide to find out more about the species you saw.”
4. Build Your Body
Stay warm in winter by moving your body with free, fitness-oriented winter activities. You don’t need to shell out money for monthly memberships or home fitness equipment to get that summer-ready body.
Body weight exercises like pull-ups, squats, push-ups, lunges and planks tone muscle without any special equipment. “You can’t expect to get anywhere if you do five push-ups and call it good,” said Obi Obadike, otherwise known as Bodybuilding.com’s “Ripped Dude.”
Obadike lays out three circuits for one workout. After completing the circuits, you’ll have a workout rivaling one you’d get in any gym, he said.
Check out your local parks and recreation for free fitness opportunities, too. New York offers free access to indoor fitness equipment and classes in each of its five boroughs. In Los Angeles, look for outdoor fitness zones with equipment designed to help with cardio, strength and flexibility training.
Get the kids involved in healthy fitness habits. Check out mommy and baby workout videos on YouTube to get toned while your little one gets one-on-one time. And get the older kids involved in dance and games by checking out kid-fitness videos.
5. Learn Outdoor Skills
If you’re looking to hone your winter outdoorsman skills or pick up a new outdoor hobby, check out free local classes in your area. Chattanooga, Tennessee, is just one city that offers free winter workshops to help residents to pick up new skills. Learn to rock climb or sharpen your bicycle skills. The city even provides all the equipment.
Check out the REI store website to find free, outdoor classes in your areas that offer everything from winter hiking to surviving a zombie apocalypse.
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6. Nature Crafts
Bring a touch of the outside indoors by creating crafts from bits of nature. Not only is nature crafting a fun activity for kids, you can create craft items and sell them online. Browse through a local farmers market or folk art store for inspiration. Use artists’ creations as a springboard for your own.
With the winter holidays behind you, help kids plan ahead for gifts they’ll want to give for upcoming holidays. Create gifts to celebrate loved ones on Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and birthdays.
Transform bendable twigs into simple wreaths or go for something more elaborate. Tie them around a pillar candle to create a woodsy flair indoors. Slice disks from small branches and drill holes in the center to make beautiful buttons. Birch bark or stones can also stand in for an artist’s canvas; use acrylic paint or permanent markers to make heart-shaped rocks look like Valentine’s candies, or make a mosaic inside a picture frame to create one-of-a-kind art.
7. Garden With Garbage
Enjoy fresh vegetables by growing them in your kitchen windows. Not only will you be growing the green, you’ll be saving money, too. By the time the last frost passes, you should have mature plants ready to set out in the soil.
When chopping up romaine lettuce, bok choy, cabbage and celery, save the bottom inch of their bases. Put each base in a bowl, and just cover the roots with water. In a few days to a week, you should see new leaves sprouting up from the center. Next, put the plants in pots with just the leaves poking out of the soil.
When ginger starts to shrivel in your refrigerator, plant it in a pot with the new buds facing up. As it acclimates to its pot, new growth should sprout above the soil. When you need ginger, just pull up the plant, take what you need and replant it.
If you can’t get enough of shiitake or other specialty mushrooms, grow them yourself. Use the head and plant the stalk in soil with the top poking through the soil. Keep it cool, moist and in low light — try under the kitchen sink — and mushroom heads will begin to regrow.
Plant slices from tasty, ripe tomatoes to get plants ready for the garden by spring. Just cut tomatoes into quarter-inch slices, and plant them in potting soil or compost. After two weeks, plant the strongest seedlings two to a pot.
8. Go Geocaching
Go on a high-tech treasure hunt by downloading a free app and heading outdoors to find geocaches in your area. Geocaches come in all shapes and sizes. Some are as small as a thimble and others are as big as a small coffee table.
Check the app for the geocache’s difficulty rating, so you know how much of a mental test to expect. The terrain rating tells you how much physical effort you’ll spend finding it. Once your phone says you’re within 20 feet of the cache, start looking and feeling around. Geocaches aren’t always just sitting on the ground, so make sure you look in trees and other places that aren’t so obvious.
After you find the geocache, sign the logbook and post online. Make sure you put it back in its original location before you head off to find the next one.
9. Find Your Winter Wonderland Park
Explore America’s natural wonders preserved in 413 national parks, monuments and recreation areas across the United States. Best of all, you can do it for free — including camping.
Only a fraction of the National Park Service areas — 124 to be exact — charge an admission fee. That means you have 289 places to enjoy for free. Take advantage of free ranger-led hikes and classes. At California’s Redwood National Park, there’s a free, daily walk with a ranger that can help you explore the park’s diverse ecosystem.
If you’ve always wanted to go to the Grand Canyon, Yosemite or parks that normally charge an admission fee, do it for free on National Park Service fee-free days. During the winter, free fee days include Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January and President’s Day in February.
10. Hone Your Photography Skills
Winter provides some of the best lighting for creating memorable photography fit for a frame. Create dramatic photos by taking advantage of winter weather and landscapes.
Even if you only have your smartphone, you can capture stunning winter photos. Keep your phone in an inside pocket until you decide on your photo to prevent it from getting too cold and shutting down. Look for locations around your home transformed by snow or ice. Drifting fog and long shadows caused by the sun being lower in the sky set winter photos apart. Head up to a local viewpoint to take pictures of storm clouds rolling in over your city or town.
Publish your pics online, and add images of your local area to sites like Google Maps and City Data. You might even want to try to sell your best photos on a stock photography site to earn a little cash.
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