September 5th, 2016 § § permalink
February 10th, 2015 § § permalink
Backyard bird feeding is most helpful at times when birds need peace of mind, such as during temperature extremes, and in late winter when natural seed sources are depleted. So, February is the perfect month to supply these backyard buddies with a healthy high-calorie winter treat—a Birdseed Valentine.
The recipe below can be used to make 3 or 4 birdseed valentine treats, although it could easily be doubled or tripled to make a dozen. Wrapped up with a ribbon and card, these make great Valentine’s Day gifts for friends, neighbors, and teachers—or any folks who will thoughtfully hang them in backyards for feathered friends.
2 cups cup birdseed mix
4 Tbs unflavored fruit pectin (find near Jell-O)
½ cup water
Natural twine, raffia or ribbon
Large cookie cutter or mold (heart-shaped is nice)
Choose a birdseed mix with a large amount of black oil sunflower seed, safflower seed, white proso millet, thistle, and peanut hearts. Pour water into a saucepan and add pectin. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add birdseed to the pectin solution and stir it until it’s combined. The seeds should be completely coated.
Place waxed paper on a cookie sheet. Place the cookie cutter on the waxed paper. With a spoon, press the birdseed mixture into the cookie cutter. Fill half way. Cut a 6-inch length of twine and lay it onto the birdseed, forming a loop at the top, Then, completely fill the cookie cutter with birdseed, pressing again with a spoon to ensure that the birdseed mixture fills the cookie cutter and is the desired shape. Place the birdseed-filled cookie cutter in a safe indoor spot to dry for several days. Turn over several times during the drying process. Carefully pop the birdseed treat out of the cookie cutter.
Now you’re ready to give your birdseed valentine treat to feathered friends. Hang your valentine in a sunny spot that is safe from predators, including neighborhood cats—a high branch set away from a window and near an evergreen tree is best. That way your friends can run for cover if chased.
It may take quite a while to entice your backyard buddies to eat. Be patient. Show your love for them in other ways, too. Go organic and avoid chemicals in your yard—use compost instead. Reduce the size of your lawn—alternatively, plant bushes and trees with edible fruit. Don’t snip dead garden flowers—the seeds within them provide essential food for so many backyard critters. Provide nooks with nesting material—dry grass, pet fur, bark strips, pine needles—they are useful throughout the year.
For more valentine-y crafts, click HERE.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
October 26th, 2012 § § permalink
If you are a livestock farmer, much of your day is spent fixing barns and pens and flat tires, unloading feed trucks, and moving livestock from one pasture to another. If you are a high-rise maintenance worker, your workday starts as you rappel down 20 stories to wash away window goop in bone-numbing cold and unpredictable wind. If you are a high altitude alpine guide, a typical day includes repairing a broken climbing harness, carrying 40 pounds of gear up a ravine, cooking Mexican refried beans over a small pellet stove, and restringing your ukulele. If you are a kid, your job is to play.
Childhood is a short season. There is just this small pocket of time when a person alone in a room can be easily lured into designing an escape tunnel for some kind of top secret mission to protect innocent from evil—to criss-cross the globe and actively battle, risking it all, for the betterment of humankind (or doll-kind, or stuffed animal-kind). Given a collection of plastic crates, large empty cardboard boxes, an old telephone, a map, buttons, phone books, fabric scraps, fake train tickets and postcards, my small girls can easily overcome impossible odds to obtain godlike Supergirl powers and defeat massive magical beasts. In just an hour.
But, adventures can get messy. And oftentimes during this frantic hour or so the entire fabric bin is overturned, fuzzy scraps are transported into the bathroom sink, the bottle of buttons rolls under the dining table and its contents mingle with last night’s fossilized cornbread bits and a discarded grime-encrusted strawberry, giant cardboard boxes are dismantled and transformed into slides with detachable cat-sized dirigibles, awkward costumes wind up on innocent furry passersby, and permanent cap-less Sharpies magically appear and threaten to deface the sofa.
I cannot pretend that this does not sometimes bother me.
Sometimes, just sometimes, when I am without much time or patience (which lately seems to be fairly often), things are better when they are completely flat—not things like baby bellies, tires, or lakes without wind—but things that are held in small busy hands.
My two girls make small flat things they call Paper Pets. They never got fully into the doll thing, but these paper critters are really just like paper dolls and, in fact, they have very similar accessories, but without the bling. These flat friends have beds, brushes, bows, collars and treats—and they are perfect for that quiet rainy afternoon when we have just an hour to pop them out and then tuck them away nicely. For a long time, we kept them secured in an old manila folder, but just the other day we upgraded their home and then moved them in.
To complete this simple project, you will need the following:
An old hardcover book (8 x 10 in or larger, 300+ pp)
Mod Podge or watery glue (1 part glue to 2 parts water)
This requires an old hardcover book. Choose it wisely. Do not choose a book that your great aunt gave you for high school graduation. Do not choose a handwritten copy of J.K. Rowling’s “The Tales of Beedle the Bard” or an 1827 copy of Audubon’s “Birds of America.” Do not choose a book that looks even slightly interesting, or one that you plan to someday reread. You will not ever get to read this book again.
Open the book to the first page (or flyleaf). Draw a line one inch from each edge of the first page (including the spine)—this will determine the interior dimensions of the box. With the ruler as a guide, carefully cut along each line with a utility knife. Apply enough pressure to cut several pages at a time. After you cut through a large section of pages, you may need to turn these back to get farther along in the book. Leave at least a few of the book’s last pages as a box “bottom.” Again, open the book to the first page and inspect the cut edges. Clean up all bits and pieces and rough edges with the utility knife.
With Mod Podge and brush, generously paint all book pages that follow the box “bottom” so they will stick together. Make a cup of tea. Close the book and sit on it for a few minutes to flatten. Drink your tea. Clip out a photo or magazine print to use as a decorative box bottom—use Mod Podge to seal. Paint the book’s inside edges with Mod Podge, leaving the book’s exterior unpainted. Allow it to soak in and then apply a second coat. Paint all surfaces inside the box.
Place a generous layer of plastic wrap inside the box. Fill the box with a small book. Place a layer of plastic wrap over the small book. Close the book. Allow it to dry overnight underneath something heavy.
Remove the plastic wrap. Check to be sure the book is dry. Fill it with flat friends or small special somethings like a collection of heart-shaped rocks or worm-like twigs, or secret plans for potential scientific inventions. Lucky us, we found our Vol 1 and Vol 2 within a slipcase. We transformed both volumes into paper pet book boxes and then painted the entire slipcase—first with a layer of gesso to provide some texture, then with a few fancy layers of acrylic paint. Alternatively, decorate the actual book cover. Or leave it unadorned and mysterious.
A magical box can be your new best friend—it allows time for smallish people to become quietly immersed in little things. It promotes stillness. And it is this stillness that helps provide focus during times of clutter and chaos. Which, at our house, is most of the time.
August 17th, 2012 § § permalink
The thing you can count on in life is that although summer seems endless when you’re little, it just zooms past you like a Bugatti Veyron EB 16.4 Super Sport when you’re big. I’ve missed you these past several weeks—a crazy month that entailed (Geez! Here we go again!) way too much to do within just a scrap of time.
Summer entails behind-the-scenes work—harvesting carrots, radishes, garlic and peas; juicing lemons for the stand; keeping squash tendrils at bay and tying up tomats; getting poison ivy; catching bullfrogs; making pesto; and then making more and more pesto. It’s just now that I glanced up and realized summer is just about through, and while I should be enjoying every last morsel of it and then licking its plate, I can’t help but dwell on the fact that fall is fast approaching.
Suddenly the days will be cooler and shorter, and we’ll pick the last sweet fall tomato. I feel it. Now it is here. The time of change. The greens of summer will yield to yellows, reds, and rich browns. Carefree days of p.j. pancake breakfasts, grass-stained knees, salty un-brushed hair, dirty hands, late night treats, backyard campouts, and lazy late-sleeping kids will soon silently surrender to organized chaos, breakneck breakfasts, sanitized hands, and scheduled playtimes and appointments.
Fall’s structured pick-ups and drop-offs trigger a new urgency for imaginative exploration and messiness. This is the ultimate challenge—finding time for your smallish people to examine life’s perplexing puzzles while enveloped by the grind of everyday. If you live nearby me, groups like Pottery on Hudson, Art Academy of Westchester, and Jacob Burns Center are certain to get creative juices flowing. And few things make me happier than discovering a new program like that of Robin Dellabough’s Rock, Paper, Scissors. Artistic ventures and active outdoor exploration merge in this hands-on Irvington cairn-building, finger-knitting, labyrinth-designing, wool-felting young-ish kids program.
Consider putting a handful of these events on your calendar:
I know this much is true: This small sliver of time when our kids are our kids—when we hold sticky popsicle hands while crossing Main Street or Beekman or Broadway, when we valiantly help save caterpillars from small puddles, make secret codes and cram pockets with special sparkly rocks—it is fleeting. So, drink up the last delicious drops of summer, and unwrap the small, secret gift of everyday.
March 25th, 2012 § § permalink
It’s been way too long. Truth is, the school garden is in full swing and I’ve been busy getting small hands dirty—turning over the winter cover crop, preparing the beds, planting sugar snap peas, packaging and selling spring seeds—it is that time of year. Time to get dirty…. and then time to get cleaned up!
And nothing does the trick better than a handmade sugar scrub. Upon completion of this practical project, you will have a novel and crafty cleanser-softener-smoother-moisturizer combo guaranteed to tempt even the most stubborn grimy kid into the tub. In fact, you and your crafty team will be inclined to make oodles of these scrubs for deserving friends, dedicated teachers or for yourself—yes, even you are entitled to a complete body exfoliation with invigorating natural citrus scent. Not only will your skin be healthy, it will feel smooth and smell delicious.
Natural sugar scrubs are fun, simple, and inexpensive concoctions. No cooking is necessary, and most ingredients can be found right in your kitchen cupboard. Make a big batch, keep some, and give some away.
You’ll need the following:
- A small, clean plastic or glass container with a lid. A short, squat, wide container is best. This could be found in your recycling bin or at a thrift store.
- Sugar. Coarse natural brown or white granulated (raw sugar works great), or a mix of both will work to exfoliate the skin. Do not use soft brown baking sugar.
- Oil. Any oil that originates from a nut or fruit will work as a moisturizer, and will leave your skin soft and hydrated. Light apricot, olive, avocado, jojoba, coconut are good choices. Do not use cooking oil like corn oil—this will make a funky smell and a too-slick feel.
- Natural additives. You may add a small amount of any of the following: citrus juice (orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit), honey, aloe vera, vitamin E oil, essential citrus oil (sweet orange, lemon, grapefruit)
What to do:
Before starting, remind everyone that some ingredients used can sting eyes and that the resulting concoction smells really yummy but tastes really horrible. Yuck!
In general, you’ll want to measure 2 parts sugar to 1 part oil. Add enough oil to turn your sugar into the perfect slushy snow mixture. Pour all ingredients into a small bowl. Stir until ingredients combine. Pour into clean container. Label your container. Cover the label with transparent packing tape.
Now for the fun part:
At the sink, or in the tub or shower, scoop a small amount of the scrub into your hand and massage gently onto your damp skin for a minute to exfoliate and moisturize. Wash it off with water. Pat your skin dry with a clean towel.
You can keep the remaining scrub in the sealed jar. Use the sugar scrub no more than once a week.
For a pick-me-up: An easy way to make your scrub even more luxurious is to add a few drops of your favorite essential oil. Try citrus oil like grapefruit, sweet orange or tangerine.
For extra-dry skin: Add a small amount of Aloe vera gel or vitamin E oil as a moisturizer.
Nice mixes to try: Grapefruit and peppermint; orange, clove and lemon; almond and orange.
Add herbs or flowers to the mix: Shredded ginger, orange peel, lavender flowers, linden flower—all of these are great options.
Things to keep in mind:
- Because you can never be too careful when it comes to your skin, before you use the scrub, do a patch test on the inside of your arm to see how your skin reacts.
- Do not use citrus oil (such as sweet orange, lemon or grapefruit) on your skin before you plan to spend the day in the sun. Your skin is more likely to get sunburned.
- Do not use on your face or neck. And never use it on irritated skin. If you have a sunburn, rash or cut, skip the scrub.
- Also, as with anything that contains oil, a body scrub will make the tub or shower slippery. Do not apply the scrub to the bottoms of your feet while in the shower. You may slip. Also, be sure to give the tub its own “scrub” when you’re done.
BODY SCRUB RECIPES:
O.J. Coconut Scrub
In this scrub, sugar granules gently exfoliate the skin. The combined power of coconut, mango and orange provide nourishment.
1 ½ cup sugar
½ cup coconut oil
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
¼ cup mango puree
To do: Chop mango into small pieces without peel. Place in blender to puree. Mix sugar into coconut oil in a small bowl and stir well to combine. Stir in orange juice and mango puree.
Grapefruit, Aloe Vera Scrub
This scrub makes your skin feel moisturized and fruity fresh.
1 ½ cup sugar
4 Tbs jojoba oil
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbs fresh grapefruit juice
2 Tbs aloe vera gel
2 drops grapefruit essential oil
To do: In small bowl, combine sugar, grapefruit oil and juice. Stir well to combine. Add remaining ingredients. Stir well.
Sweet Orange and Lime Scrub
This tropical scrub exfoliates and leaves skin silky smooth.
1 cup sugar
4 Tbs coconut oil
2 Tbs fresh lime juice
6 drops vitamin E oil
2 drops sweet orange essential oil
To do: Mix sugar and oil in a small bowl. Stir to combine. Add remaining ingredients and stir well to make a paste.
Honey and Orange Scrub
Honey is a natural humectant, which means it attracts moisture and keeps it where it should be—under your skin. This scrub hydrates, moisturizes and protects your skin.
1 cup sugar
4 Tbs dark organic honey
2 Tbs fresh orange juice
To do: Mix ingredients until you have a smooth paste.
Salty Sugary Scrub
This scrub leaves your skin soft and moist. Just perfect for dry skin.
½ cup coarse brown sugar
½ cup sea salt or kosher salt
2 Tbs coconut oil
2 Tbs fresh lemon juice
2 Tbs dark organic honey
To do: Mix all ingredients until you have a smooth paste.
I originally published this article in Whip Up’s Action Pack Magazine for kids (Issue 6: Zap and Zest). This downloadable high-quality ad-free e-magazine by Kathreen Ricketson is chock full of quality projects for creative curious kids who love to do stuff. Diagrams and photos illustrate each boredom-busting step-by-step kid-friendly project—make a lemon battery, a citric acid fizz popper, cinnamon sticks, wooden jewelry and handmade chalk! For more hands-on projects like this one, click HERE.
February 14th, 2012 § § permalink
Forget the fancy flowers. We are the dreamers of dreams. Give me a thought.
We made a valentine banner. Constructed out of felted wool sweater and cotton fabric scraps and remnant bias tape, it’s printed with thoughtful notes to each other. Simple to make.
Printing on fabric requires an ink jet printer, thin cotton fabric (I just use remnant drapery liner) and freezer paper.
Here are the steps:
- Trim the fabric slightly larger than 8 ½ x 11 inches.
- Place the fabric onto an ironing board (or thick towel).
- Place the shiny side of the freezer paper onto the fabric.
- Iron. Two will become one.
- Trim the fabricky paper to 8 ½ x 11.
- Treat it like a normal piece of paper and place it into your printer with the proper sides up and down. Print your image.
To make a banner like ours, cut the printed material into the desired shape, peel off the freezer paper and sew to a sturdy material (like wool or felt). Cut two small openings in the back of the material and carefully slip bias tape through using a safety pin as a guide.
A simple haiku can get you through the winter and then some.
December 15th, 2011 § § permalink
It’s become clear that sometime during the next few weeks or so, you may have something to give me. Quite possibly it will be something that doesn’t cost much. Maybe it will be free—a shoulder massage, a ukulele tutorial, a list of trustworthy sitters, your timeshare in Antrim, Ireland—in any case, since you know I am a surprise-junkie, it will likely require some sort of superawesome wrapping to ambush and wow me.
This will be easily done, I think, since it is still fall here and I’ve recently discovered some mind-blowing tutorials HERE and HERE on transforming fall leaves into crafty decorative flowers—perfect for topping off your thoughtful gift. I understand you may be concerned that fall is coming to a close, and leaves are becoming scarce and crinkly and delicate, and it might just take longer than expected for you to figure out just how to get those leaves folded. Just. Perfectly. I am here to prepare you for alternatives.
This project requires a Felted Wool Ball, needle and thread, remnant wool felt, and a small collection of felted sweaters. First, prepare the “petals” for the project. With sharp sewing scissors, cut the felted sweaters into long zigzaggy strips, leaving a connection on the bottom edge—pointy or rounded tops. Cut thin sweaters into narrow strips (for inner petals) and thick sweaters into wider strips (for outer petals).
I keep a stash of these strips handy for noteworthy projects like button bracelets and collars for small lively monster friends.
Next (and this is optional) use a felting needle, felting pad and skinny wool roving to embellish the wool ball, adding spirals or dots or anything else superfancy (see Dry Felting).
With needle and thread in hand, stitch the bottom edge of one narrow zigzaggy strip around the sides of the felted ball until you meet up with the starting point. Cut off the extra end of the strip. Stitch a wider zigzaggy strip around the sides of the ball, matching bottom edges and overlapping the first strip until you meet up with the starting point. Cut off the end. Stitch a third (the widest) zigzaggy strip over the first two. Cut off the end.
Next, cut a large leaf-shaped piece of wool felt. Place this piece on the bottom of your flower and sew around the edges, attaching it to your flower top and covering the rough zigzaggy strip edges. Good job.
Gift ribbons can be easily made with light cotton fabric scrap. Cut in about an inch from the edge. Grab fabric edges and pull away, leaving raw-edged ribbon.
Wrap your gift with a larger fabric scrap, tying with raw-edged ribbon.
With needle and thread, secure flower onto ribbon. Ta da!
Note: don’t attempt perfection with these felted flowers. As with other projects, quirky outcomes are preferred over conventional. That said, remind yourself that, in nature, some flowers are smaller, some are fatter, some grow to the left, some to the right, and some even lose petals.
Celebrate the uniqueness.
November 20th, 2011 § § permalink
If you’d like to find me anytime soon—or anytime within the next year, really—you needn’t look too far. Kathreen Ricketson from Whipup has put together a 2012 calendar jam-packed full of beautiful creative goodness, and guess who is July? Yay! Kathreen always puts together a great collection of stuff, and I’m so honored that she included me this year. Joining me in contributing to the calendar is a selection of talented folks from all over the U.S. and elsewhere—Thailand, Spain, Italy, The U.K., The Netherlands—Teri from Giddy Giddy, Jodi from Daybook, Berber from Kiss Kus, Kate from Minieco, Francesca from Fuori Borgo—it is just beautiful.
Prepare for a brand new year. Print any or all of the three printable ebook formats or purchase the already beautifully printed hard copy HERE. On it, you will easily be able to circle dates when you will come visit me. Fun times ahead!
September 12th, 2011 § § permalink
If you’d like to find me anytime soon, you needn’t look far. Recently, my little team and I made a few zesty concoctions for Whipup’s latest issue of Action Pack. Themed around the concept of Zap and Zest, this issue is jam-packed with enough recipes, crafts and science projects to keep an active family busy throughout the fall (and longer). Joining me in contributing to this issue are Whipup’s very own Kathreen Ricketson, Lisa Tilsa (The Red Thread) and Pascale Mestdagh (Between the Lines)—a double 60-page issue (without advertising!) full of electricity and battery experiments, poppy and fizzy reactions, zesty recipes and concoctions, and hands-on games and activities.
Diagrams and photos illustrate each boredom-busting step-by-step kid-friendly project—generating and understanding static electricity, assembling a lemon battery and a citric acid fizz popper, cooking up lemon syrup cake and lemon cordials, concocting zesty bath fizz, and making top secret lemon-y messages and spooky orange candles.
Be sure to check out this download-able, 60-page, paperless e-magazine for an affordable $6, featuring Mossy’s recipes and detailed instructions for candied citrus peel and citrus body scrubs.
Have fun mixing it up!
Click HERE to find out more info.
April 20th, 2011 § § permalink
My friend Minty Pea recently sent me some disturbing information concerning synthetic food dye. Following a mandatory food-dye labeling requirement that came into effect in the EU last year, the FDA advisory panel convened in early April to review the safety of eight current food dyes. After many years of denial, the FDA is reviewing the evidence linking synthetic food dyes (synthesized from petroleum derivatives—even coal tar) to behavioral problems in children. Evidence that these petrochemicals affect some children’s behavior is quite convincing. Most of these dyes have no nutritional or preservative value whatsoever—they are merely cosmetic. Surprisingly, even foods that aren’t particularly colorful—instant mashed potatoes, bread, pickles, hot chocolate, white frosting, and cheese—are, for mostly cosmetic reasons, dyed.
Thankfully, a growing number of natural food dyes—like red (betanin from beets), orange (annato from achiote seed), and green (chlorophyll from chlorella algae)—are now being commercially produced. Of course, it makes sense to be aware of what goes into your own body, or into the little bodies you’re responsible for. My design team—naturally drawn towards charming concoctions with infinite potential for furniture discoloration—has been experimenting with natural dyes. Some of these can be used for projects involving tie-dye, homemade Play doh or fiber (like wool) dyeing. Mostly, we use them to dye eggs.
To get started, prick a hole in each clean white (or brown) egg with a needle. Hard-boil the eggs. Collect the dyestuff—leaves, flowers, vegetable peelings, spices, roots—from your kitchen, garden or local market. See below for a list of items that have worked especially well for us. Fresh flowers and greens, vegetable peelings or berries require 2 cups material per quart of water. Dried leaves or flowers require 2 Tbs per cup of water, ground spices require 2 tsp per cup of water. Something to consider: the eggs will turn out to be a lighter shade than what appears in the pot. So, don’t be skimpy!
Place ingredients in several stainless pots and simmer for 30 minutes. For uniform color, strain each eye mixture through a cheesecloth or fine strainer. For a whimsical mottled, tie-dyed or spotty effect, leave all solid material in the pots. Let the liquid cool to room temperature.
- Onion skins: Red and orange
- Shredded red cabbage: Teal
- Beet roots and cranberry juice: Purple
- Blueberries: Deep blue
- Raspberries: Light fuschia
- Liquid chlorophyll: Deep green
- Tumeric: Gold
- Paprika: Bright orange
- Annatto seed (Achiote): Yellow
With a slotted spoon, place eggs in pots and add enough water to cover the eggs and dye material. Add a little vinegar.
Why use vinegar? The egg-dying process is a lesson in polarity as well as acids and bases. The shell of an egg is made up of mostly calcium carbonate and is protected by a very thin layer of protein called the cuticle. The cuticle is neutral—not much is attracted to it. The dyestuff has a negative charge. To get the dye to “stick” to the cuticle, the cuticle has to be made positively charged. Vinegar is a weak acid. It causes a reaction that releases carbon dioxide bubbles—seen on the surface of the egg. It lowers the pH of the cuticle and causes it to become positively charged. Thus the love affair between dye and egg. So sweet!
Slowly bring all to a gentle boil, reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes. At this point, either remove the edible eggs and run under cold tap water or place the eggs and dyestuff in sealed glass containers in the fridge for a few hours (or overnight) to deepen the shade.
Steeping the eggs overnight may cause the dye to seep through the shells, and, though these dyes are natural, the flavors and natural occurring byproducts may be somewhat inedible and downright yucky. These refrigerated eggs will most likely be overcooked and quirky on the inside, but will be beautifully elegant and refined on the outside. Something to think about.
My design team and I are slightly fancy and we opt to produce natural silhouettes of feathery fern tips and small, light flowers with crisp outlines before or during the dyeing process—fern, dill, cilantro, thyme, mint are all good. Dip the greenery in water-thinned egg white and place on the egg. Wrap the greenery-wrapped egg in a square of cheesecloth or nylon stocking and tie. Dip. Dry.
Just a note: Although your kitchen may take on the appearance of a chaotic chemistry lab, egg dyeing is not an exact science. Like everything in nature, it is quirky and has its idiosyncrasies—the most obvious being the illusion of color. A plant does not necessarily resemble the color of its dye—a yellow onion skin yields rusty red hues, a red cabbage yields vivid teal hues. As well, the color of the dye bath may not necessarily reflect the final product. With natural dyes, the character of each eggshell emerges. Some eggs appear mottled or etched like a wild bird’s egg, others absorb the dye in streaked bands. Science attributes these variations to an uneven distribution of calcium within the shell. Explore and prepare for puzzlement!