Monday, December 23, 2013

Upcycled Hummingbird Feeder

My grade 6 teacher, Miss Crossley, was a wonderful woman who introduced me to, among other things, the fascinating hobby of bird watching.  It was a difficult year which ended with a move to a new province following my parents' divorce, and birding became not just an interesting distraction, but a way for me to acclimate to a new place and start setting down roots.  For each subsequent move, and there have been quite a few (Utah, California, Massachusetts, Florida, and now Washington), friends of the feathered variety have been some of the first to welcome me and help me feel at home.
When we moved to the Pacific Northwest this summer, we were enchanted to find our garden frequented by Anna's hummingbirds, a species that not only breeds in the area but also overwinters here.  Tiny but territorial, our one feeder was not enough for all the hummingbirds I could hear in the trees, so we found a way to make a few extra to hang up throughout the yard, out of view from each other so as not to spark too many turf wars.  On freezing mornings when we bring out the feeders after keeping them indoors overnight, they are so eager to get at the nectar that they will come and take sips while we are still holding them up to hang.
I got the idea for the feeder from a Youtube video tutorial but made a few modifications so as to use supplies I had on hand.  You'll need:
  • a glass bottle
  • a lidded plastic tub (no more than 8oz size, and the shallower the better
  • something to cut the plastic with (knife or scissors)
  • a hole punch
  • twine
  • red tape, spray paint, foam, etc. to attract the birds
Start by tracing the bottle opening on the plastic lid.  The goal is to make a hole large enough to fit the mouth of the bottle through, but small enough that it gets caught by the widest ridge on the bottle neck.  The plastic will stretch a bit, so it's safest to start small and trim off more if needed.
Cut a criss-cross in the center of the traced circle and then cut around it with scissors

With a hole punch, make a few holes around the lid, about midway between the edge and the cut circle.  These will be the feeder ports which the hummingbirds access the nectar through; you can enlarge them a little by punching several times close together.

Try it on the bottle for size.  It should be very snug, but barely possible to get over the widest ridge on the bottle.  This lid will be supporting the weight of the nectar in the container when it is hung, so a good tight fit is important.

For the hanger, I knotted some twine in a pseudo-macramé way to make a hanger that would hold the bottle securely.  Start with two 3-4 foot lengths, and near the center, make two overhand knots spaced far enough apart to fit the neck of the bottle but not so far as to let the body of the bottle slide through:

Take one strand from each side, and join them with another overhand knot so it forms a triangle about a third to half of the way down the bottle:

Here's a close-up of that overhand knot:

Repeat on the opposite side, so they are symmetrical:
Separate those two strands again, taking one from each side and knotting them together to make a diamond shape:
Repeat this on the other side.  Depending on the size of your bottle you may want to make yet another set of knots (another diamond-shaped layer); for this root beer bottle this was enough to hold it securely.  Then gather all your strands and knot them together securely in one last overhand knot.
Now back to the lid.  Since humming birds are attracted to red flowers, having some red around the feeder holes is probably a good idea.  If you have a plain lid, this is easily done with some red plastic tape around the holes (or, as in the green-bottled feeder above, cutting flower shapes from a sheet of red craft foam, punching holes in the center, and gluing it to the lid).  Since the only container I had was a cream cheese tub, I thought spray-painting the whole thing red would probably do the trick, and they had no trouble figuring it out at all.  They're smart little birds and likely don't even need the red to help them figure it out, especially if you are hanging it somewhere they are used to feeding.  But the red paint prettied it up and at least clued in my human visitors on why I'm hanging up cream cheese containers.
To fill the feeders, put the lid on the bottle, fill the bottle with a solution of 4 parts water to 1part sugar (see this Audubon post on some instructions and tips for feeding hummingbirds).  Then snap the bottom of the container onto the lid, and invert.  The nectar will fill the tub to the level of the mouth of the bottle, about a half inch from the lid (you can see this in the photos of feeders with clear plastic tubs).
Then hang it up on a nail, and wait for the birds to discover it.
Happy birding!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Overrun by Fairy Critters

The last couple of mornings in our house have started something like this:

Little Brother (of course he's in our bed by 6:30am):  Let's go see where he is!
Baby Girl (on my other side): Ok!
Me (urgent whisper to Man-of-the-house): Dmmt I frgt t mv it!
Man: Huh?
Me: I frgt t mv it!!
Man:  What?
Me:  Wo wang le! (translation:  I forgot! -in Chinese)
Man:  Wangle shenme? (translation:  Forgot what?)
Me: IT!  (because both kids know what E-L-F spells and I have no idea how it translates to Chinese and neither does he)
Man (finally catching on):  Oh.  OH.  Wait kids, you can't go downstairs until you give dad a big hug and a kiss goodbye.  No, that wasn't big enough, no, another one, BIGGER HUG...

...all while I careen down the stair case to move that damned elf from his last perch.

I'm not here to write about boycotting the evil genius of marketing and fable-making that brought this false tradition of lying to children and inspiring un-Christian faith in idols that undermines parental authority.  There are plenty of posts on that, and you can find your angst elsewhere.  We have an elf, and until the little ones stop wanting him around, he will probably keep showing up on December 1st.

We got our elf last year when the kids came home from kindergarten and preschool with stories of all their friends' elves, and the classroom elf, and asking why Santa wouldn't send an elf their way to see how good they were being, too.  Then they figured out that you have to adopt them, at, say, Target (for a mere $29.95 adoption fee, what a steal for your OWN ELF!)  And while I thought the elf was creepy, I remembered a similar elf from my own childhood, which sat on my tree looking creepy too, but clearly I turned out ok, so what was the harm in indulging this wish?  Maybe I could locate the old elf, and then we'd have our own vintage elf, which surely would make up for any crass commercialism behind this whole elf on the shelf thing.

Me and my elf, circa 1979

I checked with my dad to see if he could dig up the elf in his storage - I hadn't seen it since the divorce in the mid-80s - and he looked among his things, but either too many years or too much storage had contrived to misplace this elf.  (I haven't given up hope, since my dad never throws away anything of sentimental value, and it hailed from a factory in Hong Kong that he worked at in the early 60's, that made toys destined for US markets.  One day I will go and personally dig through his garage myself.  But I digress).  No vintage elf.  So we caved in to peer pressure, and bought adopted one.

But I'm really not an ideal adoptive parent to anything this high maintenance.  The kids' friends, their moms would scour Pinterest for ideas and set up little scenes of the elf drinking syrup in the fridge or taking mini marshmallow bubble baths or fishing for goldfish crackers.  I am the kind of mom that on more occasions than I care to admit has woken up to a tearful child sobbing "She never came!" and has had to walk him back with a dollar tucked in my hand, saying "Are you sure you checked everywhere?  Oh you checked inside the pillowcase too?  Well maybe it fell, let's check in the frame of the bed, here under the mattress, oh look! Here it is!" 

And Elf on the Shelf?  It's like being the tooth fairy... for Twenty. Four. Days. In. A. Row.

Give it up, then, you say.  A friend suggested having the dog eat it...and I bet he would. (Good dog).  And the Man-of-the-house came up with the idea of hanging the elf by a noose outside of Primrose's house, and letting the kids come to their own conclusions.  And possibly scarring them for life.

I don't quite have the heart to do it.  How many more years do I have before logic robs them of their passport to fairyland?  Besides, thoughts of the elf gets Little Brother out of his bed, happy, at 6:30am in this cold dark northern clime, a feat that so borders on the miraculous that I am willing to cut the elf some slack.

Which still doesn't solve the problem of my actually having to move it every night.  Until, in the midst of griping, I suddenly came up with a solution.  What if I gave myself an incentive to deal with the elf every evening?  I have no use for cute Pinterest scenes, and besides, that just sets the stage for raising expectations to the point where mom has a breakdown, collapses among the bottles with the elf, and elf-shaming begins (you can look that one up for yourself, too).

But setting up tableaux of his untimely demise, playing with my camera and tripod, thinking up Godfather references, this would be fun, and I would remember to put the elf back in a new place after my evening entertainment, and the kids would never know the difference.

And so I give you:

I keep my sanity, the kids keep their fantasies, and the elf lives to see another day.  Win-win-win.

*No elves were harmed in the making of this scene.  I don't have $29.95 to throw away every night.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Dealings with Fairies

Tending her fairy house
Almost every day, Little Sister asks me why we can't move back to Florida so she can be with her best friends again.  It has been 3 months since we moved to the Pacific Northwest, and while the rest of the family has adjusted wonderfully well (and I am almost giddy with the thrill of being surrounded by woods and water again), a preschool-classful of new friends here do not make up for the ache of missing her dear ones left behind.  And talk of dad's job satisfaction or the proximity of extended family is no match for a 5-year-old ego.
But when I ask her whether there isn't one thing, just one single thing that she likes more about living here than back in her old home, she does admit that here, we live in a house with a real live fairy (named Primrose) in the backyard.  And that would be hard to give up.  And while she hasn't yet seen Primrose, she does see her hummingbird friend, Calliope, at the feeder all the time, so you never know, she might yet catch a glimpse of the fairy that replies to Little Sister's notes and flowers with teeny tiny letters of her own, and gifts of ripe berries and sea glass.
So today I am grateful for the fairy folk that make this island their home, and want to share with you an easy way to make your own fairy house so you can invite some more magic into your yard.


From fence slat...

... to fairy hut.

Much of the cedar fence surrounding the back yard is old and rotten and in need of replacing if it is to have any hope of standing up to a 75 lb dog with a curious nose.  After attending to the worst sections we had a dozen old fence slats that were just soft enough for a 7-year-old with a coping saw and a penchant for building to cut through.  Our first house was held together with hot glue, hope, and a haphazard nail or two, and while beautifully irregular and charming, it didn't stand a chance against that same dog in chase of a squirrel.   
So we came up with a way to put together somewhat more regular houses, held together with a few more nails, that are hung up on trees and thus a little less likely to get trampled, with rope ladders for those rainy or windy days when a fairy might not want to fly.  And because rope ladders are just plain fun.
Start with a fence slat so old and rotten you really can't put it to any other use.  The fairies really wouldn't have it any other way (and if you need some, come on over, I have a pile of them).  It'll be so soft that you can score it with a pencil or a screw driver to give you some guidelines to cut by.  First, cut off two rectangles about 7 or 8 inches long for the roof.  If you are a obsessive enough that asymmetry will bother you, make one of them 1/2 an inch longer than the other:
Then, nail them together at right angles to each other, nailing through the longer piece into the end of the shorter piece, like so:
...and you've got your roof.  You can dog-ear the corners if you'd like; of course the ends of some fence slats are already dog-eared.
Using the roof as a template, make some score marks on the remaining fence slat so you can cut a back that matches:

and cut it straight across the bottom to whatever height you'd like your house to be.

Before you nail the roof to this back, though, it's best if you put the sides and bottom on it first, since it's easiest for little helper hands (not to speak of adult helper fingers) to hammer into something that can be set firmly on the ground.  So holding the roof in place as a size guide, score lengths of fence slat for each side of the house:

...and then hammer the sides onto the back piece (here this helper decided he wanted to make a shelf of one of the triangular scraps).

Do the same for the bottom, setting it in place to measure the length you'll need, and then scoring it for a line to cut by (ignore those angled score marks; that was where we'd initially scored the roof lines before we realized that this end of the fence slat which had rested on the ground was so rotten it couldn't even hold nails, so we started at the other end of the slat):

Nail that bottom into place with a few nails through the side walls...

Then finally, affix the roof by nailing through the back into it:

And you have yourself a fairy house:

For a rope ladder, gather some twigs, about 1/2" diameter or wide enough to drill holes 1/8" holes through, and cut them into 2-3" lengths with some pruners.  You'll also need a couple of lengths of twine, each piece at least twice as long as you want the finished ladder to be.

Drill a hole through the twig about 1/4" from each end, then thread the twine through (this is easier if you use a large-eyed yarn needle for the twine), making an overhand knot on each side of the twig to hold it in place. 

Make another overhand knot about an inch away, then thread on another twig, and secure it with a second overhand knot.   Repeat until you have a long enough ladder for your purposes.  Then repeat this threading and knotting twine through the holes on the other end of the twigs.

Hang your rope ladder from a nail in the floorboard, then drill a hole in the back of the house to hang it from a tree:

And then comes the best part... putting in some furniture and decorations and love notes, and waiting for the fairies to come.

Little Brother left some roses and Little Sister some pictures, which they later found Primrose had tacked to her walls with rose thorns.
Last week, when I showed Little Brother how to pick a thorn off a rosebush to pin up another picture for Primrose, he gasped and asked me, wide-eyed, "Mom, did you used to be a fairy?"  Because, he said, I knew how to pin things with rose thorns, just like Primrose did.  I just smiled and left that unanswered, so glad that she has sprinkled a little fairy dust on me, too. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

A Lone Ranger Birthday

Six turned Seven last week, and asked for a Lone-Ranger-themed party (inspired by -what else?- Lego).  You might think he's branched out from cops and robbers, but really, it's just the old obsession with a Texan twang.  In the last month-and-a-half, we've moved across the country, bought and sold a house, and started 4 kids in 4 different new schools... so I was just grateful to be able to pull together a party at all, and have new friends to invite to it.

I owe so much to a couple of other bloggers from whom I pilfered ideas that I thought I'd share what I came up with for future moms-of-small-boys to look up late at night.

The Costume

I tried - oh how I tried! - to find a brick-and-mortar or online retailer that had a black duster in his size... but the Disney Lone Ranger that the Lego minifigure is modeled after doesn't seem to have enough of a following to warrant mass production until closer to Halloween.  So with some guidance from one of my favorite DIY kid clothing bloggers, his police man costume for a pattern, and a couple of yards of pleather from Joann's, we had a pretty passable duster and leather vest.  And enough pleather left over to make a half dozen masks, a double holster (hidden under the duster), and some chaps in the future when I recover from this birthday.  I couldn't stomach spending $20 on ebay on a Texas Rangers badge, so $2 worth of silver sculpey made a good enough knock-off to put that smile on his face.

The Accessories

 Gun/silver bullets/spurs/sheriff's badge:  $1 Western toy kit at the Dollar Tree, cheap enough to outfit each guest with a set in their goodie bag.  Red bandannas, $1 at Party City, white Stetsons $5.99 at Party City, or $1 for pink foam ones at the Dollar Store, and a can of white Rustoleum will cover about 2 (the flocking on the foam just soaks it up... try to find smooth foam ones if you go the spray-paint route).

The Cake

Another mommy blogger saved me with her idea the night before the party.  The only difference here is that I just used straight granulated sugar melted in a pot over the stove, colored with some red and yellow sugar sprinkles, and then poured onto parchment paper to harden.  Sticking the seven candles among the sugar flames was a fun effect.

The Décor

I used all our patriotic décor for a red-white-and-blue theme.  Another blogger had found a saloon door curtain at a party store to use as a statement piece.  No such luck for me, but it was pretty easy to replicate with a roll of wood-grain contact paper and a sheet of plastic drop cloth that I happened to have on hand - a clear shower curtain would work as well or even better.  Cut identical door shapes for each side of the curtain, front and back, add some details with a sharpie, and cut it into strips.  Seven likes them so much we still have them hanging in our doorways.

Here is another accent piece and fun activity for the guests from  Take their pictures as wanted criminals, then print them up and send them as thank you notes after the party.

The Activities

Little Sister contributed her hobby horses for a lassoing game:  armed with rope-tied hula hoops, the kids practiced lassoing these wild mustangs.  It's harder than you'd think for a bunch of 7-year-olds... and they'll do it for longer than you'd expect, especially if a bag of candy rewards is involved.  The rope is crucial - it is so much easier to haul back failed attempts with it.

The Eldest came up with a pin-the-mask-on-the-Lone-Ranger game, and it was an easy thing for him to print up a photo from the old black-and-white TV show, and cut out a handful of black construction paper masks.

Dad had the idea that was, quite literally, the hit of the party - target practice on balloons with a BB gun.  We gave a our new Pacific Northwest neighbors a taste of Florida.  It was well-supervised, and no-one lost an eye... phew.

Then Twelve read them a story while Ten set up a treasure hunt to recover the stolen gold, with the clues he'd spent all morning plotting and writing out.  The kids ran all over the house and yard from one clue to the next, until they wound up at the "campfire"  -- the cake -- where the robbers had left the money bags: burlap loot bags (an idea recycled from last year's party) filled with 100 Grand bars and Hershey's Gold Nuggets, as well as their other Lone Ranger accessories.  We sugared them up with cake, and then sent them home to their parents completely overstimulated. 

And now I have a few weeks before Four turns Five.