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.
November 12th, 2011 § § permalink
At risk of exposing my vulnerability, I’d like to say I miss hanging out with you more. The fact is that these days I’ve been enveloped by a certain writing assignment I’m supposed to be wrapping up. Such a shame, since this is my favorite place besides HERE where I am treated queen-like and am provided the most delectable salami Swiss apple butter sandwiches on toasted rye and HERE where I actually haven’t been yet, but dream dream dream about.
But today I am home with a small sniffly girl, and tomorrow I suspect I will be home with her too. And her sister. And then, the next day most likely the sniffler will be me. Sniffly times require small quiet fluffy places where books and ice pops are consumed and slurped, and sneezes are snuzzed. Snuggly places where I tell them sweetly that someday in the oh-so-near future there will be just a teeny tiny memory of right now.
Today we made a quiet place.
Simple instructions for cute wood-framed pup tents requiring just a cordless drill, some wood and a sheet can be found here, here and here. Irked by tragic malfunctions with these designs (not due to any design flaw, but more likely due to the destructive nature of my spirited superheroines) we opted for a slightly more rugged frame.
Inspired by research on building mini hoophouses for our school garden, we opted to use PVC pipe for the ridge pole and legs, and a repurposed king-sized duvet for the cover—costing a mere $14.26 to build.
Bent on bonus features, my cantankerous and cranky team tacked on some time to the project. Well worth it. The winning hideaway can be easily popped up and down by them and tucked away. It is our new bestest best friend.
Someday I will post a detailed PDF of the materials and sewing pattern.
Until then, gather up the following:
- An old king- or queen-sized duvet cover with contrasting colors
- Contrasting cotton fabric scraps (1 yard)
- ¼ in elastic (1/2 yard)
- Clear vinyl fabric scrap
And prepare for fun times ahead. They are coming, you know.
August 23rd, 2011 § § permalink
I told them that when I was little I had a clubhouse tucked under the basement stairs. Not fancy, just a secret place with a miniature door and a mysterious wooden box that held classified codes and pencil nubs. I have been a great many things, but when I was a secret agent, I was exceptional at it.
Yet we grow. We move on. And we forget.
But there is this part of me that is still so secret, and the other part is nothing like that.
One long summer, when the girls were crawling and falling, my SuperheroMan jackhammered our basement floor and hauled the concrete away in rusty metal pails. With his dad. And that winter we built a clubhouse tucked under the basement stairs.
Shingled on the outside with a mail slot, outdoor light and window box, it now houses baskets of delicious wooden food, a tea set, guest books, date stamps, homemade wooden chalkboard postcards, pretend money, aprons and chefs’ hats, a desk call bell, and a few lonely spiders.
It is absolutely the best restaurant in our small town.
August 10th, 2011 § § permalink
A superhero is not simply someone who stumbles upon a crime or injustice and makes a spontaneous decision to intervene. A true superhero has a strong moral code and has vowed to actively battle, risking his or her own safety, for the betterment of humankind.
Superhero status should not be reserved for the mega rich, super-fit extra-terrestrial brilliant scientist type. Sometimes merely being at the right place at the right time may be all that is needed—due to some freak laboratory accident, the clumsy lab tech comes into contact with a secret fizzley purple formula within a flask; the mousy orphan unearths a pebble or a magical wizard who bestows upon her the godlike powers of Captain America or Supergirl, transforming her into a massive powerhouse with enhanced metabolic powers.
And, sometimes a superhero needs to look like a superhero. For, nothing motivates a pending protagonist more than a good outfit. A good outfit not only provides protection and technological advantages, it conceals the supersecret identity of the real-life superhero from revenge-seeking criminals. As well, a superhero’s secret identity protects friends and family from becoming targets of his or her archenemies.
A real-life superhero outfit must be of sufficient quality to show that some care went into its creation. Cape, mask, magical utility belt and speedy sneakers—all should incorporate the crusader’s well-considered name and theme.
This project requires the following scrap materials: 1 yard fabric (preferably two different patterns, ½ yard each) for cape; decorative fabric fringe for cape bottom (beaded or tasseled cotton, lace, tassel, cording—anything is fine as long as there is a “lip” to sew onto); Velcro bits for cape closure; small fabric scraps (we used felted wool sweaters and soft remnant velveteen) for mask and magical belt; elastic for back of mask; and ribbon or remnant seam binding ribbon for magical belt tying mechanism.
Note: for sweater felting tips, see previous Mossy tutorials on wool sweater felting (Swittens, Tiny Birdhouse or Sweater Mice).
Choose a great name. If you and your team are completely stuck, the Superhero Name Generator may be utilized to provide some direction. Use the patterns below as a guide to cut large pieces for the cape (with both fabric types). Cape pattern is similar to an enlarged baby bib pattern with offset neck closure—just worn backwards. Cape length (A) should measure from superhero shoulder to lower thigh. Use pattern as guide to cut smaller pieces for belt and mask. Belt is long (approximately 16”) and rectangular, made out of two contrasting fabrics (we used felted wool sweater as the backing, and a smaller rectangular piece of patterned cotton). We used felted wool sweaters for the outside of the mask and soft, velvety remnant velveteen for the inside of the mask. If desired, cut out fabric letters or symbols to add to cape and belt.
For cape, pin and stitch fabric letter/symbol to back center of cape. For this, a regular machine lockstitch set in 1/16 inch from the letter’s edge is perfect. The letter’s edge may then be frayed by hand, if desired. With right sides together, pin and sew cape fabrics together using ½” seam allowance, leaving an 8 “ opening on the bottom edge for turning right-side-out. Trim seam allowances and clip curves (clip valleys, notch mountains). Turn the cape right-side-out and press. Add fringe at cape bottom. Edgestitch around the entire cape. Have the potential superhero try the cape on to determine neckline Velcro placement.
For belt, pin two rectangular belt fabrics together—one slightly smaller than the other.
Sew around edge, inserting long thin ribbon at sides (remnant seam binding ribbon is ideal for this) to tie around crime fighter waist. Pin and stitch fabric letter/symbol to front center of belt.
For mask, pin right sides together and, using embroidery thread, blanket stitch all edges together (Futuregirl has a great tutorial for this). Add elastic band and, if desired, add decorative remnant fabric flowers (to cover messy elastic band stitching).
Note: Along with a good outfit, a dedicated superhero may require a cast of recurring characters (which most likely will include you), a headquarters or base of operations (usually kept hidden from the general public), and a background that explains the circumstances by which the character acquired his or her abilities.
With great power comes great responsibility!