I love post-holiday days. Don't get me wrong: I adore the holidays. I'm a sucker for lights and glittery ornaments. I enjoy making lists and checking them twice. I revel in the whirlwind of festivities leading up to the BIG DAY. I'm like a little kid, ready to eek out as much fun as possible, sneaking an extra piece of fudge, full of anticipation and trying desperately to make it the most memorable holiday ever.
It's exhausting, but mostly in a good way.
However, it's the days after the holidays that I really love. The time when the kids are home, on vacation, with no agenda, no homework, no fixed bed time. We watch movies, we read books, we laze around in our pajamas embarrassingly late. It's like my prize—my respite from all of the madness of the holidays. It's a little vacation before all of the work in the garden begins.
During this time, when we're couch sloths and often confined to the house because it's so gray, cold, and wet outside, one of our highlights is bird watching.
We have a weird little balcony off the living room. It's not as weird as it used to be. When we moved in years ago, it was just a tiny perch that led nowhere. We couldn't sit there. We couldn't access the backyard from it. We could walk outside, look around, and come back in.
Thankfully, the handy men in our family turned this odd outdoor space into a cozy, functional extension of the living room. Peter and his dad expanded the balcony, adding built in benches and stairs to access the backyard. Suddenly, we had a favorite outdoor spot to eat lunch, to read a book, or to search for comets. I gained more space for containers. And with some additional creativity, Peter added a pole to hang bird feeders.
When I say we spend a lot of time bird watching, much of it occurs while sitting on the couch in our PJs. The birds put on quite the show. The squirrels provide entertainment, too, which is often hilarious. We like our squirrels. After all, squirrels are hungry in the winter as well. Kristen places a bowl of food out for the squirrels, then becomes indignant when birds dare to steal a few bites.
While Kristen will always advocate for mammals, Michael is my birding buddy. Last year, we spent many post-Christmas days traipsing through the forest with our new binoculars, searching for birds. He began a notebook dedicated to our bird outings, writing down the different species we found.
He wants to be a biologist. I want him to stay my baby.
Still, grow he must, and I'm thankful that he's not too old to hang out with his mom or argue with me about who loves whom more.
(As if it's even a question.)
Of course, the post-holiday quiet is over now. We're back into the thick of school, riding practice, horse shows, swim team, with the greenhouses and seed catalogs beckoning me. Soon, gardening madness begins. And soon, we have another, albeit minor, holiday.
Still, the holiday is only a few weeks away. (How did that happen?) So, I thought we'd get a jump on a little decorating.
Outdoor decorating, of course!
Combining our love of bird watching with Valentine's Day, we created heart-shaped bird seed ornaments to hang in the Japanese maple outside my office.
Perhaps this wasn't the best location. I've now spent two hours this morning, grabbing my camera and trying to capture decent photos of the birds as they grab a snack.
I have many, many blurry photos as they fly out of the frame.
While I've lost productivity this morning, it's been a pleasure watching them.
We've made bird seed ornaments before. In fact, last year, the kids made them using Christmas cookie cutters, then gifted the Christmas-y bird feeders to their aunts and cousins.
However, in keeping with our holiday theme, the tree is hung with heart-shaped feeders, embellished with red and white ribbons.
Making the ornaments is simple and a perfect craft with the kids on a chilly, gray winter day.
½ cup water
3 tsp. unflavored gelatin
3 tbsp. corn syrup
¾ cup flour
4 cups bird seed
non-stick cooking spray
ribbon or string
Combine water, gelatin, and corn syrup in a medium sized pot. Warm the mixture over low heat, stirring well.
In a separate bowl, mix the flour and bird seed together.
Pour the liquid mixture into the bowl slowly, mixing well to ensure the seed is evenly coated.
Place wax or parchment paper on the work space. (I used a cookie sheet to help keep the sticky bird seed from rolling all over the floor.) Select several cookie cutters, and spray the inner edge with non-stick cooking spray. Fill the cookie cutters with the mixture, pressing it firmly into place.
Cut the straw into several pieces, approximately 2 inches long. Insert the straw to make a hole in the bird feeder ornament, at least an inch from the top. You can judge where you'd like the hole to be, but just make certain it's not too close to the edge of the ornament, or the string might break through the seeds. Allow the ornaments to dry overnight, with the straws in place.
After drying, remove the straws from the ornaments. You should have a clear hole to use to hang the feeder. Carefully remove the ornament from the cookie cutters. Add ribbon, twine, or string.
Hang the bird seed ornaments from trees, bushes, or shepherd's hooks. Note: you might also feed a few squirrels, too, but hey—they're also hungry in winter. I make certain to hang our feeders high, so that we're not feeding Oreo.
It's good to have help hanging the ornaments high.
The activity at the tree is distracting. It's just to my left, so after every sentence I type, I feel an overwhelming urge to peek, to see if anyone new arrived at the feeders.
I think Michael needs to find his notebook to keep track of which birds visit.
We'll report back in a few weeks and let you know who came to the Valentine's party.
If you or someone you know loves birds, consider joining Project FeederWatch.
“Project FeederWatch is a winter-long survey of birds that visit feeders at backyards, nature centers, community areas, and other locales in North America. FeederWatchers periodically count the birds they see at their feeders from November through early April and send their counts to Project FeederWatch. FeederWatch data help scientists track broadscale movements of winter bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance.”
It's an entertaining—but scientifically important—project you can participate in from home. Have you participated in Project FeederWatch? Let me know if you join in the count--we can compare notes!
After all, we need something to occupy our time until growing season begins, right?!