Spring is storm season in Oklahoma, and what we deal with most is tornadoes. Since we are experiencing increasingly severe weather, it is now more important than ever to be prepared for disaster. The key, say the experts, is being pro-active; being informed about how your community handles emergencies, planning and practicing family evacuation drills, and accessing the information necessary to make educated decisions rather than frantic guesses about how to safeguard your family and home. According to meteorological experts at The Weather Channel, the best ally you can have in a severe weather situation is accurate, timely information. Says Rocky Lopes of the American Red Cross, "Preparing now will enable you and your family to cope more easily and help you begin your recovery more quickly." If, as you read this, the sky is blue and the sun is shining, the time to begin preparing is now.

American Red Cross Family Disaster Supplies Kit

Essentials:

Battery-operated radio
Flashlight
Extra batteries
Do not include candles, which cause more fires after a disaster than anything else
3 gallons of water per person in a food-grade, plastic container
Additional water for sanitation
Minimum 3-day supply of non-perishable food that requires no refrigeration or preparation and little or no water.
Dry cereal
Peanut butter
Canned fruits
Canned vegetables
Canned juice
Ready-to-eat canned meats
Ready-to-eat soups (not concentrated)
Quick energy snacks, graham crackers

First Aide Kit (one for the home and one in each car):

Scissors
Sun screen
Thermometer
Tweezers
Needle
Cleansing agent/soap
Latex gloves (2 pairs)
Tongue blades (2)
Moistened towelettes
Assorted sizes of safety pins
2" sterile gauze pads (4-6)
4" sterile gauze pads (4-6)
2" sterile roller bandages (3 rolls)
3" sterile roller bandages (3 rolls)
Triangular bandages (3)
Tube of petroleum jelly or other lubricant
Sterile adhesive bandages in assorted sizes
Laxative
Anti-diarrhea medication
Aspirin or non-aspirin pain reliever
Antacid (for stomach upset)
Activated Charcoal (use if advised by the Poison Control Center)
Syrup of Ipecac (use to induce vomiting if advised by the Poison Control Center)

Family Medical Needs:

Insulin
Glucose monitor and record book
Prescription drugs
Denture needs
Extra eye glasses
Contact lenses and supplies

Tools and Supplies:

Whistle
Weather radio
Cell phone
Aluminum foil
Crowbar
Compass
Paper, pencil
Plastic sheeting
Medicine dropper
Needles, thread
Signal flare
Matches in a waterproof container
Assorted nails, wood screws
Pliers, screwdriver, hammer
Plastic storage containers
Heavy cotton or hemp rope
Cash or traveler's checks, change
Map of the area (for locating shelters)
Non-electric can opener, utility knife
Mess kits, or paper cups, plates and plastic utensils
Tape, duct and plumber's tape or strap iron
Patch kit and can of seal-in-air for tires
Wrench, to turn off household gas and water

Sanitation:

Disinfectant
Household chlorine bleach
Soap, liquid detergent
Personal hygiene items
Feminine supplies
Plastic bucket with tight lid (a small can cooler size Igloo chest works well for this)
Toilet paper, towelettes, paper towels
Plastic garbage bags

Clothing and Bedding:

Sunglasses
Rain gear
Hat and gloves
Sturdy shoes or work boots
Blankets or sleeping bags
Thermal underwear
One to three complete changes of clothing, socks and underwear per person

For Baby:

Formula
Diapers
Bottles
Medication
Powdered milk
One to three jumpers

For Pet:

Food
Water
Leash, harness or carrier
Records of vaccinations
Non-tippable food and water containers
Toy

Important Family Documents:

Originals are best kept in a safety deposit box at a bank with photocopies stored on a CD
Important telephone numbers
Record of bank account numbers
Family records (birth, marriage, divorce, death certificates)
Inventory of valuable household goods with photos
Copy of will/living trust, advance medical directive, insurance policies, contracts, deeds, stocks and bonds
Record of credit card account numbers and companies
Copy of passports, social security cards, driver's license, immunization records

Entertainment:

Games and books

Develop a family weather or disaster emergency plan that includes the following:

Disaster Plan

Decide where to go if at home, school, work, outdoors, or in a car when a flood, severe thunderstorm, or tornado warning is issued. Update these plans every school year and as places of employment and residence change.

Disaster Supply Kit

Be sure everyone in the family knows where your Family Disaster Supply Kit is located. During extreme heat, be sure to include the following in your Kit: extra water or juice, sun screen, and wide brimmed hats.

Communication Plans

Designate a friend or relative outside your town or area as your family contact in the event you are separated from family members during a flood, tornado, or in case a storm knocks out your electricity. In the case of a tropical storm or hurricane, designate someone outside the area affected by the tropical storm or hurricane as your family contact. Agree upon a place where the family members can meet if separated.

Evacuation Plans

Get a good map and plan various evacuation routes, avoiding low-lying areas. This is especially valuable in the event of flooding from rivers, streams, tropical storms, or flash floods. Do several test runs of different routes. In the event of a flash flood, remember that you will not be able to evacuate. Instead, immediately seek higher ground. For times of extreme heat, identify locations where you can escape sweltering conditions for hours at a time: a mall, a movie theater, or the home of a friend or relative.

Your Family Pet Plan

In case your pet escapes, have the phone numbers and locations of several area pounds or animal shelters handy.

Don't forget to change the batteries in fire alarms every year and test them every three to six months. You should also install a carbon monoxide detector. There should also be a fire extinguisher in the kitchen. In times of severe drought, water the lawn even during the winter. Do not have red cedar trees on your property because they explode when they get hot or ignite. There is currently an argument in Oklahoma that people should be charged with contributory negligence for having red cedars on their property if a wild fire breaks out.

Toiletry Recipes

Aches & Itches Bath Salt Recipe

Ingredients

1/2 cup baking soda
1/2 cup dry milk
1 cup epsom salt
1 cup sea salt

Mix all ingredients together in a large ziploc bag.

Clear Thinking Bath Salts

Ingredients

2 cup Epsom salts
1 cup Sea salt
10 drops blue food coloring
6 - 8 drops of peppermint essential oil
6 - 8 drops of rosemary essential oil
6 - 8 drops of lavender essential oil

In a large bowl mix salts first, then add the other ingredients slowly. MIX VERY WELL!

Dream Time Bath Salts

Ingredients

2 cup Epsom salts
1 cup Sea salt
4 drops of blue, 6 drops of red; makes purple
20 drops of lavender essential oil

In a large bowl mix salts first, then add the other ingredients slowly. MIX VERY WELL!

Energizing Bath Salts

Ingredients

2 cup Epsom salts
1 cup Sea salt
10 drops green food coloring, 5 drops blue
6 drops eucalyptus oil
10 drops rosemary oil
15 drops peppermint oil

In a large bowl mix salts first, then a the other ingredients. MIX VERY WELL!

On the Go Fizzy Bath Salts

Ingredients

1 cup Epsom salts
1 cups Sea Salt
1 cup Baking Soda
˝ cup Citric Acid
food coloring: 4 drops blue, 6 drops green
8 drops of orange essential oil
6 drops of neroli essential oil
6 drops of lavender essential oil
4 drops of peppermint essential oil

In a large bowl mix salts first, then add baking soda, food coloring and oils. ADD THE CITRIC ACID LAST!! MIX VERY WELL!

Relaxing Fizzy Bath Salts

Ingredients

1 cup Epsom salts
1 cups Sea Salt
1 cup Baking Soda
˝ cup Citric Acid
food coloring: 4 drops blue, 6 drops green
8 drops Lavender Essential Oil
15 drops Bergamot Essential Oil
15 drops Sweet Orange Essential Oil

In a large bowl mix salts first, then add baking soda, food coloring and oils. ADD THE CITRIC ACID LAST!! MIX VERY WELL!

Romantic Bath Salts

Ingredients

2 cup Epsom salts
1 cup Sea salt
10 drops red
10 drops of sandalwood essential oil
5 drops of ylang ylang essential oil
10 drops of rose essential oil

In a large bowl mix salts first, then add the other ingredients slowly. MIX VERY WELL!

Sensual Fizzy Bath Salts

Ingredients

1 cup Epsom salts
1 cups Sea Salt
1 cup Baking Soda
˝ cup Citric Acid
food coloring: 4 drops blue, 6 drops red; makes purple
15 drops Lavender Essential Oil
8 drops Ylang Ylang Essential Oil
8 drops Neroli Essential Oil

In a large bowl mix salts first, then add baking soda, food coloring and oils. ADD THE CITRIC ACID LAST!! MIX VERY WELL!

Sleepy-time Fizzy Bath Salts

Ingredients

1 cup Epsom salts
1 cups Sea Salt
1 cup Baking Soda
˝ cup Citric Acid
food coloring: 10 drops blue
8 drops Lavender Essential Oil
8 drops Sandalwood Essential Oil
8 drops Sweet Orange Essential Oil

In a large bowl mix salts first, then add baking soda, food coloring and oils. ADD THE CITRIC ACID LAST!! MIX VERY WELL!

Uplifting Bath Salts

Ingredients

2 cup Epsom salts
1 cup Sea salt
food coloring: 4 drops red, 6 drops yellow
8 drops of orange essential oil
6 drops of neroli essential oil
6 drops of lavender essential oil
3 drops of lemon essential oil

In a large bowl mix salts first, then add the other ingredients slowly. MIX VERY WELL!

Bubble Bath

Ingredients

2 cups soap flakes or grated soap
1 gallon water
1/4 - 1/2 cup glycerin
2 cups shampoo or liquid dishwashing detergent
Scented oil of your choice

Mix the soap flakes, water and 2 tbsp glycerin in a pot and set over low heat, stirring occasionally until the soap has dissolved. (This liquid soap can be stored in a covered container and used as an all-purpose soap or hand soap in the kitchen.) In a bowl, add 2 cups of this mixture to the rest of the glycerin, shampoo and add a few drops of your scented oil. Put into a quart container and store covered at room temperature. When you're ready to bathe, add about one cup to your tub as its filling.

Simple Honey & Milk Bath

Ingredients

1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup powered or whole milk

Add ingrediants to hot bath water. Soak!

Sleepy-time Fizzy Bath Salts

Ingredients

1 cup Epsom salts
1 cups Sea Salt
1 cup Baking Soda
˝ cup Citric Acid
food coloring: 10 drops blue
8 drops Lavender Essential Oil
8 drops Sandalwood Essential Oil
8 drops Sweet Orange Essential Oil

In a large bowl mix salts first, then add baking soda, food coloring and oils. ADD THE CITRIC ACID LAST!! MIX VERY WELL!

Soap Crayons

1 c Soap flakes
Food colouring
2 tb Hot water

Have one large bowl and several small bowls, one for each color. You will also need an ice cube tray with different sections, or containers to act as small molds. Put soap flakes in a large bowl and drop the hot water into the soap flakes, stirring constantly. The mixture will be extremely thick and hard to stir. Spoon some of the soap into each of the small bowls and color each separately, adding the color by drops until the soap has the consistency of a very thick paste. Press spoonfuls of the soap into your molds and set the crayons in a dry place to harden. They should take a few days to a week to dry completely. When dry, remove from the molds and allow to dry for a few more days before using.

Dry Skin Lotion

Ingredients

1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon lemon juice

Mix ingredients and apply to very dry areas on skin. Rinse off after 10 minutes with warm water. Do Not Scrub Off!

Grapefruit Mask For oily skin

Ingredients

1 teaspoon grapefruit juice
1 teaspoon sour cream
1 egg white

Beat egg white until it is fluffy, add sour cream and grapefruit juice and blend well. Apply to face for 15 minutes, then rinse with warm water.

Vanilla Lip Gloss

Ingredients

1 Tablespoon Petroleum Jelly
1 Tablespoon Aloe Vera Gel
1 1/2 teaspoons Coconut Oil
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla

Heat ingredients together in a double-boiler and pour into jars. Cool and seal.

Camping Recipes

Bacon and Eggs in a Paper Bag

Ingredients
Two strips bacon (thick)
one paper lunch bag
one egg
one stick

Cut bacon strips in two, place at the bottom of the paper bag, covering the bottom. It is important that you have thick strips of bacon as thin ones will stick and adhere to the paper bag when cooked. Crack egg and put in paper bag on top of the bacon. Fold lunch bag down three times and poke a hole through it with the stick, so that the bag is hanging on the end of the stick. Hold over charcoal and watch the grease from the bacon protect the bag and cook the meal.

Banana Boats

Ingredients
1 Banana (not peeled)
Mini marshmallows
Chocolate chips

Peel banana down one side and cut a wedge into it. Place marshmallows and chocolate chips into the wedge, and cover with peel and alumumin foil. Put into coals for about 5 minutes.

Campers Pizza

Ingredients

Wheat bread
Butter
Mozzarella cheese
Spaghetti sauce
Pepperoni

Butter one side of two slices of bread. Using the pie iron, take two slices of bread, put 1 1/2 tablespoons pizza sauce on one slice of bread. Top with Mozzarella cheese and sliced pepperoni. Place other side of bread on top and butter outer sides of bread. Put sandwich into pie iron and place on coals of fire, keep a close watch and turn. Cook until bread is toasted.

Make Fudge in a Ziploc Bag

Ingredients

3 oz pkg of cream cheese
1 lb box of powdered sugar
2 packets of cocoa mix or 1/2 cup of cocoa
2 tablespoons of butter
2 1 gal zip lock storage bags

Place all ingredients in one of the zip lock bags, close and put it in the next zip lock bag. Give everyone a turn at squishing the bags to mix. Mix until smooth... Enjoy!

Ham and Sweet Potato Foil Pack

Ingredients

cubed ham
canned sweet potatoes
canned chuck pineapple
two tablespoons of butter
one tablespoon brown sugar
heavy duty aluminum foil
charcoal fire
optional: grate for fire

Place on a large piece of aluminum foil the ham cubes, sweet potatoes(in large cubes), and chunk pineapple. Put two tablespoons of butter on top and sprinkle with brown sugar. Gather two opposite sides and fold down like a lunch bag. Fold in the other two sides trying to leave some air in the pack. Cook on grate over coal fire, turning in 10 minutes, finished in 20 minutes. Makes one pack per person.

Hot Dog Without a Campfire

Ingredients

1 hot dog & roll
water
two paper towels
heavy duty aluminum foil
1 qt size cardboard milk or juice carton

Wet paper towels and wring them out, put hot dog in roll and wrap the whole thing in the paper towels, covering even the ends. Wrap that in aluminum foil, be carefull not to wrap too tightly, you want air in there. Place this in the Milk carton... put it in a fire ring and light milk carton with a match. It's done when the milk carton is gone. Enjoy!

Roasted Corn on the Cob

Ingredients

corn on the cob, not shucked
large bucket of water
charcoal fire

Cut the "hair" end of the corn off. Soak in bucket of water for twenty minutes. Place corn directly on coals, turning frequently. Done in 10 to 20 minutes.

Box Oven

You will need:

1 empty cardboard box with flaps
heavy duty aluminum foil
4 empty soda cans
(I like using the smaller ones, like the ones that pineapple juice or V-8 juice come in.)
charcoal

Prepare: Get the charcoal ready to cook by starting them and waiting until they are white.
1.) Cover box TOTALLY in aluminum foil, inside and out, flaps and all, better to much than too less.
2.) Fill the cans half way with water. Lay box flat on its side so the opening is facing you. Put soda cans in the box on the four corners so it can hold up what you are cooking.
3.) Place the dish with your food on the soda cans.
4.) Place one charcoal in the box under the dish for every 40 degrees you want your oven to be.

Stay-at-Home Recipes
...but you can take them camping

Trail Mix

Ingredients

4 c Chex cereal
1/2 c Dried fruit bits
1/2 c Raisins
1/2 c peanuts
1/2 c M & Ms

Put into a large ziploc bag and shake to mix.

Gorp Balls

Ingredients:

1/3 cup each raisins, apples, apricots, dates and coconut
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1/3 cup walnuts
2 cups peanuts

For the glue, use 1 cup chocolate chips, 1/3 cup honey and 1/2 cup peanut butter. Shape into balls; nice snack for hiking trips.

Pineapple Rings

Ingredients:

1 can Pineapple slices (in syrup or juice)
marshmallows
Sticks or skewers

Skewer the pineapple slices, working a marshmallow into the center hole. Toast over a low fire or on a grill until the pineapple gets hot and the marshmallow gets as brown as you like it.

Rock Candy

Ingredients

1 Glass jar
1 Piece of string (cotton)
1 Pencil or stick
1 Paper clip
2 c Sugar + Additional sugar
1 c Water
optional: Food coloring

Heat the water to boiling, and when the water stops boiling dissolve the 3 cups of sugar into it. Let cool some and reheat(Do Not Reboil) and add as much sugar that will dissolve in it. Add a few drops of food coloring to the solution if desired. Let cool for two minutes and pour the solution into glass or jar. Tie a short piece of cotton string to the middle of the pencil or stick. Attach a paper clip to the end of the string for a weight. Moisten the string very lightly, and roll in a bit of sugar Place the pencil or stick over the top of the glass or jar with the string hanging down inside. Leave undisturbed for a couple of days. Depending on how much sugar you were able to dissolve into the water, you should start to see crystals growing in a few hours to a few days.

Make Ice Cream in a Ziploc Bag

In a small Ziplic bag, pour 1/2 cup of milk, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla. Close the bag and place it in a gallon-size Ziploc bag. Add some crushed ice and 8 tablespoons of rock salt to the gallon-size bag. Close the top and shake being careful not to bust the bags. You could also add one tablespoon of peanut butter to the mix.

Homemade Ice Cream in a Coffee Can

Ingredients:

1- 1# coffee can with lid
1- 3# coffee can with lid
1 pint of half & half (milk can be used instead)
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla, 2 T. of choc. syrup, or 1/4 c of strawberries

Add all of the above ingredients to the (1#) coffee can. Put the lid on the coffee can and secure with duct tape. Place the 1# coffee can into the 3# coffee can. Surround with crushed ice and rock salt and place the lid onto the 3# coffee can. Have your kids sit on the ground and roll back and forth 3 to 4 feet apart. Roll for 8 to 10 minutes. (The kids can kick the can back and forth as well.) Check to see if the ice cream is hard; if it isn't replace the lid, add more ice and rock salt. Roll for another 8 minutes. Remove the lid to the 1# can and serve in bowls.

Playtime Recipes

Bubbles Recipe

Ingredients

1 c Joy or Dawn
2 c WARM water
3 T Glycerin
1/2 t Sugar

Mix together and store in an air tight container. Item to use to "blow" bubbles: plastic strawberry basket, colander, platic six pack holder, funnel, plastic straw cut on a slant, tape several straws together, paper cup with a hole punched in the bottom will make giant bubbles.

Finger Paints

Ingredients:

1 cup All-Purpose Flour
4 cup Water (as 1 cup then 3 cups)
Food Coloring

Combine flour and 1 cup water into a large saucepan. Stir in water until smooth. Add the remaining 3 cups water and place over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a sustained boil (cannot be stirred down) for 1 minute then remove from heat. Let cool. Pour into 3 or 4 separate cups (paper cups, plastic bowls, etc.) and add food coloring. STORE the paint in a air-tight plastic bowl, cup, or large baggie.

Glook

Ingredients:

1 cup Cornstarch
1/2 cup Water
Food Coloring

Mix all ingredients. Great for squeezing through your hands. You can change the consistency by adding more water, then more cornstarch.

Playdough

Ingredients

1 c Flour
1 c Water
1/2 c Salt
2 tb Cream of tartar
1 tb Oil

Cook until dough forms a mass in a pan. Turn it out on a plate, pick an old one, and cover it with a damp cloth, also an old one. Food coloring may be added. Store playdough in the refrigerator.

Salt Dough

Take about 1 cup salt and dissolve it in about 1 1/4 cup water (or a little more). Then stir in about 3 cups flour (one cup at a time), until it's a nice soft dough. You can shape it or cut it out with cookie cutters. Let it harden or bake it at 200 degree F until hard. Then paint with regular acrylics.

Homemade Baby Wipes

1/2 roll of paper towels (cut in half to make short rolls)
1/8-1/4 c. baby shampoo
1/8-1/4 c. baby oil
2 cups lukewarm water
1 plastic container that the rolls fit in

Cut roll in half and remove center cardboard. In Baby Wipe Container, mix liquid ingredients and place half of roll in container. Place on lid and tip upside down. To use, pull out from center.

Halloween Activities

Fake Blood

Ingredients

5 tablespoons corn starch
2/3 cup corn syrup
1/3 cup water
4 teaspoons red food coloring
a couple of drops green food coloring

Mix the corn starch with the water, make sure it is totally mixed, then add the corn syrup, again make sure it is mixed well. Add red food coloring into the mixture, then add a couple drops of green food coloring to take the "pink" edge off the red coloring.

Face Paint

Ingredients

1 tsp corn starch
1/2 tsp water
1/2 tsp cold cream
2 drops food coloring

Mix ingredients well.

Scary Skulls

Supplies:

Paper Plates
Crayons or Markers
Scissors

Cut half circles (about 3-4 inches long and about one and a half inches deep)on opposite sides of a paper plate. Draw a skull face.

Smoke or Fog

Ingredients

Dry Ice
Water
Large Bucket or Container

If your looking where to find dry ice, look under "Ice" in the Yellow Pages. DO NOT HANDLE DRY ICE WITHOUT GLOVES!! Place Dry Ice in the container, pour water over dry ice, use 2 to 3 times as much water as there is ice. There needs to be enough water to cover the dry ice.

The Right Christmas Tree
A guide to Christmas tree selection

Whether you opt for a living tree that can be planted in the garden and forever cherished, or a cut tree from a tree farm or roadside vendor, there are a few simple guidelines that can help make the job a bit easier. Regardless of your choice, the first step is to measure your ceiling height (taking into account the height of the stand, and your tree topping ornament); trees always look smaller outside.

Live (balled & bur lapped trees) such as hemlock and white pine have an indoor survival rate of only one week, and should be brought in for no more than 3 days at a time (apparently a point to be argued). Should you choose a live tree, pick a specimen that thrives in your zone, and consider it's size at maturity. Many garden centers will guarantee trees for one year if proper care is given. Ask your garden center professional for specifics on the tree of your choice. Place the entire root ball in a waterproof vessel where water run-off will not damage flooring. Select an area away from fireplaces and heating vents, and use only the smallest lights, if any, since heat can cause the plant to break dormancy. An antidessicant may minimize damage incurred from temperature extremes and should be available from a local garden center. Plant the tree as soon as possible.

When selecting a cut tree, choose one with deep green foliage. Test for freshness by folding several needles in half. If they spring back, the tree is fresh and will last longer inside; if they break, choose another tree. Tap the trunk on the ground to release dead (brown) needles; if they're still dropping after several taps, the tree may be too dry. Check the cut end for sap; if it's still somewhat sticky, the tree is fresh. Select a stand that holds plenty of water.

A 6 ft tree can absorb a quart of water per day.

If you have a saw, make a final, fresh cut to even the bottom of the trunk so the tree will stand straight when attached to the stand. This cut will also allow improved water absorbtion. Before bringing either a live or a cut tree inside, mix a solution (2 Tablespoons liquid dishwashing detergent to 1 gallon of water) for discouraging bugs. Spray the entire tree, including the trunk and undersides of the branches. Allow it to dry before bringing inside.

A few favorites (in order of usual expense) include:

Fir: soft, fragrant foliage and cones, indoor needle retention of 3 weeks or more. Firm layered branches. Fraser fir (Abies fraseri) keeps needles longer than similar balsam fir (Abies balsamea). White fir is good choice. Douglas fir (pseudotsuga menziesii - not really a fir) is popular. All of these are generally the most expensive choices.

Blue spruce: Colorado Blue Spruce (Picea pungens). Blue-green needles, layered branches, cost less than firs but more than pines, and are prickly to the touch.

Leyland Cypress: (Cupressocyparis leylandii) similar to red cedar, having softer needles. Expect to pay slightly more than for a red cedar.

Red Cedar: (Juniperus virginiana) traditional, bright green, fragrant, and prickly to the touch. Usually a two week indoor limit, thin branches (won't support heavy ornamentation), relatively inexpensive. Caution: Red Cedar explodes when it gets hot or ignites!

Pines: (Pinus strobus) White pine has softer needles than Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris) and Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana) . Afghan pine (Pinus eldarica) is a popular choice. Inexpensive, and last about 2 weeks.

Any local native tree should be less expensive, and fresher than an import. Trees shipped from long distances generally cost more, regardless of their keeping qualities.

If your tree has gaping holes in it that can't be turned toward a wall, consider adding branches of other trees from your garden. Magnolia branches, holly, even bunches of long-stemmed silk flowers or everlastings are lovely in combination with the foliage of conifers. Wide swaths of lace (available in rolls from a fabric store) make lovely garlands; many can be laundered, and last for years. Or make your own from the garden!

Indoor Blooming Holiday Plants

CHRISTMAS CACTUS AND CYCLAMEN may not bloom at all if kept too warm. Most appliances that generate heat such as refrigerators, TV sets or computer monitors (as well as more obvious sources such as heat vents and fireplaces) could make a difference in the amount and longevity of blossoms on flowering indoor plants.

Most winter bloomers deserve a space in cooler areas of the house, and some (such as cyclamen) don't like to be moved once buds have begun to form. Christmas Cacti (once called Zygocactus, now Schlumbergera bridgesii) most popular this time of year are hybrids whose lineage is from Southeastern Brazil, hence the common name 'Jungle Cactus'. Very different from desert cacti, Christmas cactus, Thanksgiving cactus and Easter cactus require high humidity and moisture, since their epiphyte ancestors actually live in the branches of trees. Flower buds appearing on weeping branches making this a favorite for hanging baskets; but these plants actually look much better when displayed in a taller-than-average, medium to dark-colored pot that will enhance the delicate form of the branches and not compete with the striking, exotic blossoms. Flowers are waxy, and colors include pale pink to magenta, red, purple, lavender, orange and white. Usually blooming in winter, they are very similar to Thanksgiving Cactus, Schlumbergera truncata , that bloom in fall. Care is very similar for both.

Use either a soilless medium, or recreate the jungle mixture with high humus and lots of sharp sand for excellent drainage. Indoors, give it bright light and medium to high humidity. From April to mid-September, the room can be warmish and the growing medium should be kept moist but not wet. Beginning in mid-September (if you want it to bloom for Christmas), provide cooler temperatures (60-65 degrees F.), discontinue fertilizer and allow the soil to become dryer between regular waterings --this slightly stresses the plant, making it reproduce via flowers. Provide 12 hours of darkness every night until mid-October. As soon as flower buds form, resume normal watering, light and fertilization (and a slightly warmer room may be tolerated). Keep an eye out for wilt diseases and spider mites. Provide warm temperatures while actively growing, cool while setting flower buds, and try not to move it after the flower buds have set. Propagate from stem cuttings in spring or early summer, or seeds (but remember these are mostly hybrids, so reproduction may not be true). Flower buds will drop if the growing medium is too wet or too dry, and perhaps even if the plant is moved after setting buds. This is a slightly temperamental plant but well worth any extra care it may need.

POINSETTIA (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is a Mexican native also known as Mexican flame tree or Christmas star. Growing from 6 inches to 12 feet, it is grown primarily for the large bracts that we sometimes mistake for flowers, though the actual flowers in the center of the bracts are small and yellow. Most popular is the red poinsettia, available in both single and double forms --though recently white, cream-colored, pink, and combinations are gaining interest. Lighter colored bracts tend to last longer than the reds, and may last well into spring.

Indoors, keep poinsettia in a sunny window and avoid sudden changes in temperature. It grows well in a soilless medium, and should be kept evenly moist but not soggy. Leaf drop is not uncommon when flowering begins, so don't fret if this happens. Characteristic milky Euphorbia sap may be slightly corrosive to sensitive skin areas, though some species (but not this one) can cause temporary blindness. Recent research indicates that Euphorbia pulcherrima is not poisonous, and has actually been used as an air purifier. Keep an eye out for insect pests. Select a healthy plant, treat it well, and you'll be both amazed and rewarded by this lovely plant. There's a trick to making it bloom in time for Christmas. Poinsettias need long nights to bloom well. Beginning in October, move them into complete darkness for 14 hours each night (a dark closet works well). Return it to bright light for a maximum of 10 hours before returning it to the closet. Repeat this procedure for 10 weeks for colorful bracts by Christmas. Outdoors in USDA zones 10-12 (Sunset Zones 13, and 16-27) poinsettia can be grown as a specimen or informal hedge. It thrives in fertile, well-drained soil and full sun. Gardeners in cooler climates can try planting in a protected area such as near a south-facing wall (I've seen it grown successfully with a southern exposure in zone 8--south Georgia). If large, showy bracts are your main attraction to poinsettia, cut selected branches back to the main stem in summer. If a full, bushy plant with smaller bracts sounds more interesting, prune every 2 months during active growth until bracts begin to show color (you can propagate more poinsettias with these stem cuttings in summer). For more intense color, apply a high-nitrogen fertilizer as color begins to show.

KALANCHOE blossfeldiana is native to Africa and Madagascar. A frost-tender succulent, select hybrids are dependably hardy only in USDA zones 10-12, and Sunset zones 17, 21-25, and 27. Outdoors, it performs well in full sun to partial shade, is available in dwarf or large forms (from 6 to 18 inches) with clusters of flowers in colors including yellow, orange, scarlet, salmon, and red. Kalanchoe requires only light watering, but flowers may drop prematurely and leaves may curl and turn dull or reddish if not provided adequate water. If your plant is in bloom, it probably has adequate fertilizer. When blooming has concluded, cut the flower stems at the point of origin. Fertilize again only when new growth begins, and apply a dilute amount twice a month. This plant can be difficult to bring into bloom again since rebloom is determined by the amount and length of total darkness every 24 hours for up to four months.

Propagate by stem or leaf cuttings after blooming has finished, or collect seeds from spent blooms in spring. Plants from cuttings mature in 10 to 15 weeks, but from seed can be as long as six to ten months. Indoors, lower light levels can increase the duration of bloom. Along with several other holiday bloomers, they require uninterrupted 14 hour nights to bloom dependably.

CYCLAMEN Flowers are held high above the foliage, and face downward, but the petals reverse, pointing upwards to give the blossoms a look resembling butterflies in flight. Blooms are white, pink, red, magenta, lavender or deep purple, and the heart-shaped leaves are marbled light green or gray. Growth emerges from a corm very similar to a bulb. Someone once said that the flowers of cyclamen look like butterflies stopped in motion above water lilies --an accurate description for such a striking plant.

Many think them difficult to grow, but understanding the growth cycle will help tremendously. If you've just purchased a cyclamen for the holidays, follow these simple guidelines to enjoy it year after year:

- Keep it cool. 55-60° F. is ideal, but it can tolerate temps down to 40° F.
- Give it bright indirect light while in bloom.
- Set the bare pot on a plate of wet pebbles to provide extra humidity.
- Keep the soil moist while in bloom; don't allow it to dry out.
- When watering, use tepid water and don't dampen the crown; water all around the inside of the pot instead of directly over it.
- Remove faded blooms at the point of their origin.
- When the flowers have faded, pinch them off and begin fertilizing with a dilute solution until new leaves appear.
- When leaves begin to fade, stop fertilizing, and gradually reduce water, allowing the corm to go dormant.
- When the soil has become completely dry and all of the leaves have died down, allow it to rest for 6-12 weeks in a cool, dark place. Ideally, plants should be allowed to stay dormant during the warmest weather, and flower in winter and spring.
- Remove the corm from the pot and replant in fresh potting soil, with 1/3 to 1/2 of the top portion of the corm protruding above the surface of the soil.
- When a new leaf forms, begin watering again, and fertilize once a month until flower buds form.

Paperwhites (Narcissus tazetta), Chinese Sacred lily (Narcissus tazetta orientalis) and Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) can be forced indoors without prechilling. Tulips, hyacinths and other spring bulbs require a period of chilling before they can be forced indoors successfully. For quick results and easy gratification, pick up several paperwhite bulbs and at least one very large Amaryllis from your local garden center. Select the largest, heaviest bulbs available or those marked especially for forcing. Not only are these interesting to watch as they grow quickly, they are beautiful for the holidays, they intrigue children, make lovely gifts and are relatively inexpensive to prepare at home.

Either of these can be planted in soil, soil-less growing mediums, or water.

If the container you've chosen is designed to keep the bottom of the bulb away from the water, you'll not need rocks or marbles unless you just want them for decoration or need them to weigh down the container to keep it from being too top-heavy (especially for amaryllis).

A note about containers: If you're on a budget and can't afford a bunch of fancy containers, or just feeling really creative, try wine carafes, bud vases, salad dressing containers, tiny Ball jars ...anything to make it unique and add a personal touch. If the container isn't fluted at the top, enough for the bulb to wedge comfortably, you'll need to anchor the bulb(s) with pebbles.

Begin pots of hyacinths for heavy indoor fragrance, color and a sure cure for late winter blues.

Winter Snack Ideas

Crispy Rice Snowman

Ingredients:

3 Tbs Butter or Margarine
4 cups Miniature Marshmallows
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
4 cups Crispy Rice Cereal
Frosting
Decorating Items (listed below)

Instructions:

Melt butter or margarine over low heat in a large saucepan or in the microwave in a large bowl. Add vanilla and marshmallows. Pop back in the microwave for 30 second intervals until marshmallow are melted, stir between each interval. Or, if making it on the stove, keep over low heat, stirring constantly until marshmallows are melted. Bend well.

Add the crispy rice cereal and stir until the cereal is coated. Line a large cookie sheet with wax paper. As soon as the marshmallow is cool enough to touch, rub a little margarine or butter on your hands and form the cereal mixture into balls. Work quickly so your rice cereal mixture stays warm.

You will need 2 balls for each snowman. Use about 1 cup of the mixture for the body and 3/4 cup for the head balls. Set your larger ball on the wax paper lined cookie sheet. Place the small ball on top of the larger ball. If necessary, use a dab of frosting to help the 2 balls stick together.

Now you are ready to decorate your snowman! Use frosting to help some items stick to the rioce cereal balls better. Here are some suggestions for items to use to give your snowman facial features and more.

Raisins (eyes, nose, mouth, buttons, etc.)
Red Hots (eyes, nose, mouth, buttons, etc.)
M and M's (eyes, nose, mouth, buttons, etc.)
Chocolate Chips (eyes, nose, mouth, buttons, etc.)
Tiny Jelly Beans (eyes, nose, mouth, buttons, etc.)
Large Gum Drops (hat)
Pretzel Sticks (Arms)

Let the snowmen set for a few hours and enjoy!

Edible Snowflakes

Ingredients:

Tortillas
Oil

Instructions:

Using the same technique as cutting out paper snowflakes, make snowflake shapes out of flour tortillas. Put a touch of oil in a pan and fry tortilla until it is crisp. Top with one or more of these ideas:

Sprinkle it with powdered sugar.
Spread butter on one side of the tortilla.
Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon and sugar.
Use bologna, turkey, ham, cheese, etc. and make a snowflake sandwich.

Snowflake Cookies

Ingredients Needed:

Vanilla Wafers
White Frosting
Misc. Items to decorate (See Below)

Instructions:

Use 3 vanilla wafers per snowman. Lay the wafers in a row with edges touching; one will be the head and the other two will be the body. Spread white frosting on the vanilla wafers.

Now you are ready to decorate your snowman! Here are some suggestions for items to use to give your snowman facial features and more.

Raisins (eyes, nose, mouth, buttons, etc.)
Red Hots (eyes, nose, mouth, buttons, etc.)
M and M's (eyes, nose, mouth, buttons, etc.)
Chocolate Chips (eyes, nose, mouth, buttons, etc.)
Shoe String Licorice (mouth)
Pretzel Sticks (arms)

Oreo Snowman

Ingredients:

Oreo® cookies
White chocolate bark
Milk chocolate bark
'Orange' chocolate bark (white bark colored Orange)
M&M's (Optional)

Materials Needed:

Electric skillet, microwave, hotcake griddle, or anywhere that you can control the heat either by dial or setting
Cookie sheet or 'Cake board' lined with wax paper
Fork or 'dipping' tool
Pastry bags (the ones used for cake decorating) or Ziploc bags and twist ties

1. You will need to put the chocolate bark into microwavable/heat safe containers. I usually melt mine in little pyrex cups. If you decide to microwave the chocolate, be very careful! Set the chocolate for 30 seconds and stir well. If it is still "lumpy", set another 30 seconds and stir. DO NOT LEAVE IN MORE THAN 30 SECONDS AT A TIME OR YOUR CHOCOLATE WILL BURN! As the chocolate is melting, you will want to set up your "assembly line". Take the Oreo® cookies out of the bag and place them on a cookie sheet or cake board. This way once the chocolate is ready, it will not have time to harden as you're preparing the Snowmen.

2. Once the chocolates have melted (remember to stir often as it is melting), have your tray of Oreo® cookies close by. Put the Oreo® into the melted WHITE chocolate and swirl around carefully so that it gets covered entirely. With your fork or dipping tool, retrieve the Oreo® and gently tap on the edge of the container so that the excess chocolate drips off. Then carefully place it on a cookie sheet or cake board lined with wax paper.

3. Once you have dipped all the Oreo® cookies and they are all lined up on your tray, you will begin the decorating. This is the fun and very EASY part. Grab a glass and place your Pastry bag or Ziploc® bag inside and stretch the edge of it around the lip of the glass. This wil enable you to pour the BROWN chocolate in the bag without spilling. Do not over-pour. The bag should only be 1/2 full. This makes it easier to manouver. Once the chocolate has been poured in the bag, secure it by first twisting the bag a few times and then attatching the twist ties. Snip off the top of the bag so that it does not get in the way when decorating. With a pair of sharp scissors, SNIP the very tip and squeeze to see if the hole you just made is big enough to pour out a THIN line of chocolate.

4. Now comes the easiest of all. At the top part of the Oreo®, squeeze two small circles, which will serve as Mr. Snowman's eyes. If they are too small, you can always go back and make them larger, but for now two small drops will do. Leave a space in the middle for the "Carrot nose" and go towards the bottom of the cookie for the mouth. This is the same as making the eyes, circles or 'drops' of chocolate, but you will want to make them semi circular to form the shape of a Snowman mouth. Do this with all of the Oreo® cookies before proceeding with the nose.

5. Grab another Ziploc® and follow the same steps as in #4 to pour the ORANGE color chocolate into the bag. Once you have snipped the tip, go to the middle part of the Oreo® and draw a carrot shape for the nose. This will just be a very 'tall' triangle on its side. Fill it in with more ORANGE color chocolate and proceed to finish the other cookies.

6. Once you have finished decorating the eyes, nose and mouth, you should have a whole bunch of Snowmen smiling at you. You can also add Ear muffs if you like. For this you will need some M&M's®. On either side of the Oreo® cookie, where the 'ears' would go (if a snowman HAD ears), squeeze a dab of chocolate and place an M&M® with the logo side towards the Oreo® so that it doesn't show. Do this with the other side of the 'ear muff'. To connect the two, so that it really looks complete, squeeze a line from the top of one M&M® to the other and WHALLA! Ear muffs!!

Marshmallow Snow Sculpture

Ingredients:

Marshmallows
Pretzel Sticks

Instructions: Create sculptures or snow people out of marshmallows using the pretzel sticks to hold the marshmallows in place. For variety, use large and mini marshmallows.

Edible Glacier

Make a 6 oz. package blueberry flavored gelatin following package directions. Pour into a pan. Put in refrigerator until solid (several hours). Crush about 1/2 package of chocolate wafers or chocolate sandwich cookies. Mix with one container of Cool Whip and spread over the set gelatin. This is the icy blue center of the glacier, with silty snow on top.

Snow Slushies

Collect some freshly fallen snow and scoop it into bowls. Put a few spoonfuls of frozen juice concentrate on top, and you have your own slush snow cones.

Snow Cream

Collect some freshly fallen clean snow and put in a bowl. Sprinkle some sugar in, add some vanilla extract (about 1/4 teaspoon), and milk. Slush it all together. Add just enough milk or cream to make a nice slushy texture and add as much sugar as your parents will let you get away with! Coffee flavoring syrup in various flavors like hazelnut, or raspberry can substitute for the vanilla extract.

Snow Ice Cream

Ingredients:

1 cup of milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cups sugar
CLEAN Snow

Instructions: Go outside and get 4 - 5 cups of fresh, clean snow. Don't pack the snow! Bring it in the house and set it in the freezer until you need it.

Mix together the milk, vanilla, and the sugar. Stir this mixture until the sugar is dissolved. Slowly add the snow to your mixture, stirring constantly, until it is as thick as ice cream! Eat up!

'Tis the Season - Remember the Birds!

As the holiday season approaches and the flurry of activities keeps us hopping, let us not forget our feathered friends outdoors. These birds are the ones who bring a smile to our weary faces and lighten the worries for us as they flutter onto a nearby branch.

As winter gets into full swing and temperatures drop, birdfeeders will be especially welcome to birds. Food is becoming a bit more scarce and harder to find. Snow may cover normal food sources found in nature. For some birds, survival during winter is only possible if the bird is constantly on the lookout for food during the daytime. Remember that the bird needs to have enough food to keep warm during the long cold nights.

Some birds will hoard food to build up an ample supply for the wintertime. Seeds are often buried when they are abundant and then eaten during the winter by Nuthatches. The Blue Jay will hide or bury their beloved acorns. Both of these birds have been observed actually digging through several inches of snow to their food caches buried months earlier. Acorn Woodpeckers will drill holes into bark and hide an acorn in each place.

Birds of the same type will usually hide their food in the same type of place. Therefore, what one bird hides, another may eat. Birds will hide quite a bit more food than they eat. Some food is stolen, other food forgotten or not needed. Unused seeds may very well sprout in the spring, with the bird playing a vital role in the circle of life.

Other birds, like some European kestrel species, may build up a daily cache of food. During daylight hours, they will catch prey and hide them near their roost to be eaten when they return with the setting sun in the evenings. By doing this, these kestrels optimize the daytime, catching as much food as necessary and not wasting time eating. Their body weight will also be lower so it will not take as much energy from food to fly. In the evenings when they feast on their day's catches, their bodies will have the food necessary to keep warm during the frigid night.

If you enjoy watching birds, the fall and winter are ideal times to put out feeders to help the birds through these cold times of the year. Even if you live in a place where winters are mild, the birds that have migrated there to enjoy the temperate climate will enjoy using birdfeeders. Even in the coldest of winter, birds need a water supply. Consider a bird bath, possibly heated if your days and nights dip below freezing.

As you decorate outside for the winter holidays, remember the birds and other animals that live outside. Be sure that any outdoor decorations are non-toxic since they may be sampled and nibbled on by creatures. Colored paper and foil may attract birds, rabbits, deer, and other animals but could be fatal if consumed. Remember these animals are a lot smaller, so even a bite could cause illness or death. Try stringing popcorn and berries for a animal-friendly feast. Suet cakes and pine cones with a peanut butter mixture and seeds make great gifts to the birds outdoors. You can purchase millet branches from pet supplies, hang dried apple circles on branches....you get the idea!

Help Birds Through Cold Weather
Ideas, Plans, and Recipes

Cold winter weather complete with snow and ice poses many life-threatening problems for birds. First, their normal natural food sources may be covered up under a layer of ice or snow. How will they eat?? Then cold temperatures outside and brisk winds will chill the birds, requiring them to eat even more food to keep warm. How will they survive?

Birds that you see in the winter are adapted to these harsh weather conditions. You'll see them fluffed up, trapping warm air in their down feathers, creating their own "down coats," so to speak. Some birds metabolism will also slow down, reducing the amount of food needed. But still, severe winter weather takes its toll on the bird population, killing many birds from the bitter cold and starvation.

There are many things that you can do to help the birds you see:

Put up bird houses as shelters from the cold, ice, freezing rain, and wind. A shallow layer of straw, short cloth strips, or leaves will help the birds keep warm. A single birdhouse may contain many birds huddled together during a long cold winter night.

Keep your bird feeders filled with food. The seed, suet, and even mealworms in your backyard may be the only food that some birds will be able to find during severe periods of cold wintry weather.

Consider putting up additional bird feeders. You'll be amazed at the sheer number of birds that visit your yard. Huge hungry flocks of birds, such as blackbirds and finches may visit, trying to keep from starving to death. Also birds that are solitary or usually only with a mate, such as grosbeaks and cardinals, may group together in the winter, for protection from predators as well as more chances of finding food.

Put out suet. Suet, made from fat, is a very high energy food that will feed the birds as well as keep them warm. Nuts of any kind from your freezer or pantry will be welcomed, as well as raw hamburger will be loved by many birds in the cold weather.

Get mealworms from your neighborhood bait shop, wild bird store, or even order them over the Internet. These wiggly insects will be eagerly gobbled up by mockingbirds, bluebirds, as well as many many other hungry birds.

Save any leftover bread, cereals, and crumbs and put them out. You can also mix these into some suet recipes.

Grab that extra jar of peanut butter from the pantry. You can mix up smears for tree trunks, suet mixtures, or stuff the peanut butter into pine cones to feed a vast number of birds. Woodpeckers, flickers, bluebirds, mockingbirds, finches, even cardinals and grosbeaks all love peanut butter! Always mix the peanut butter with some other food, such as cornmeal, suet, seed, etc. since the sticky consistency may get stuck in some birds' throats.

Don't forget the WATER! As in any other time of the year, water is needed for drinking. If your area has many days below freezing, consider getting a bird bath heater to keep it ice-free. If you only occasionally get a frozen day, take a bucket of hot tap water (not boiling) outside and pour it into the frozen bird bath. It'll thaw the water in the bath and stay unfrozen and drinkable for at least a few hours. If you do not have a bird bath, put out shallow bowls of warm water for the birds.

Wood to Build Bird Houses and Feeders
What You Need To Know

You've decided to make a new bird feeder or bird house for your backyard. What wood do you select for durability and safety for the birds?

You should NOT use any type of pressure-treated wood since the chemicals used are toxic to birds. Be wary of any painted wood that you want to recycle into a feeder or house. You need to make sure that the wood was not treated with creosote nor painted with a paint containing lead, again for the birds' safety.

There are many types of wood that you can choose. Pine, cedar, redwood, spruce and poplar are good choices. All are easy to work with and can be built into a fine feeder or house, lasting for many years.

Select an exterior grade of wood, about 3/4 inches thick. This type of wood will give a sturdy feeder or birdhouse and will stand up to rain, ice and other elements of nature.

Build a Winter Roosting Box
Help Them Survive Cold Weather

When very cold weather descends upon your area, how do the birds survive? What happens to the birds when an ice storm coats everything in sight in a layer of ice? Although birds do have ways of coping during frigid weather, sadly many birds who are unable to find a sheltered area do die. Help the wild birds by building and setting out winter roosting boxes where they can escape the freezing winds, blowing snow, and deadly ice.

This roosting box will protect many birds from extreme winter conditions. The entrance hole is near the bottom of the box, opposite of a nesting box, so more heat will stay within the box. Perching shelves are attached to the front and back of the box, allowing birds to huddle together at varying heights. There is a sloped roof to allow snow, ice and rain to drain off. At the bottom of the box are 4 drainage holes to allow any moisture to escape. When you mount the box, put the box so the entrance hole is facing away from the blowing winds.

Materials needed :
Wood cut to the dimensions shown in A above
Finishing nails
Wood screws

 

Instructions:
1. Cut the wood to the dimensions in diagram A. The front and the back pieces are beveled slightly to accept the slope of the roof. See diagram B.
2. Drill two holes, one near the top and one near the bottom on the mounting bracket.
3. Drill the entrance hole 2 1/2 inches in diameter centered on the bottom front.
4. Attach three shelves to the inside of the back using finishing nails. See diagram B.
5. Attach three shelves to the inside of the front using finishing nails. See diagram B. Note: The shelves are staggered from the back shelves - they will not be directly across from the shelves on the back.
6. Attach the sides and bottom to the back, using either finishing nails or small screws.
7. Attach the front to the box, using either finishing nails or small screws.
8. Attach the roof to the roosting box using finishing nails or small screws.
9. From the back of the mounting bracket, attach screws through the bracket securing it to the roosting box. Make sure the screw is not too long so that it protrudes into the roosting box.
10. Mount the roosting box to a tree, using the holes drilled in the mounting bracket.

Painting or Staining Birdhouses and Feeders
What You Need To Know

Now that you've built your new birdhouse or feeder, many people will want to either paint or stain the wood. You do not need to do so since the wood will gray and weather naturally and last several years.

If you decided to stain or paint the feeder or house, make sure the paint or stain does not contain creosote or lead. Creosote is used to preserve wood and is toxic to birds as is lead in many paints. And of course the wood used in building the feeder or house should not be pressure-treated wood either.

Do not put any stain or paint on the inside of the houses, nor on or around the entrance hole on the outside. All paints and stains do contain chemicals, even if they are not creosote or lead. By avoiding these areas, you ensure the house is safer for your feathered friends.

Also brightly colored feeders and birdhouses are pleasing to the human eye and may decorate your yard; you should not paint feeders and houses bright colors nor use high gloss paint or finishes. Mother Nature created female birds a duller color than their male mates to avoid drawing attention to nesting areas. Thus, you should also not draw undue attention to nesting areas. Some people also feel that brightly colored feeders are not used as much as duller or plainer feeders. Since your goal in putting out feeders or houses is to attract more birds, it makes sense to use colors that blend into your landscape.

Dark colors absorb and retain heat. Nesting boxes should never be painted a dark color. Roosting boxes, used during the winter for birds in inclement weather, can be painted dark. But make sure any dark-colored roosting boxes are taken down before spring.

Purple Martin houses are an exception to the "no-paint-inside" rule. The entire house, inside and out, is usually painted white to keep them cooler.

All the Specs for Building Birdhouses

Various species of birds prefer birdhouses of certain sizes. Of course, you will want to make the entrance hole large enough for the type of bird you wish to nest in it. The hole needs to be ONLY that size since larger holes invite predators (birds, squirrels, etc.) to invade the box, either killing the chicks or taking over the box and evicting the previous residents.

Here's a handy table to use when building birdhouses. Double check the bird house plans you are using.

Species

Floor

Depth

Hole from Floor

Hole
Diameter

Height from Ground

Bluebird 5x5" 8" 6" 1½" 5-10'
Chickadee 4x4" 8-10" 6-8" 1¼" 6-15'
Titmouse 4x4" 8-10" 6-8" 1¼" 6-15'
Nuthatch 4x4" 8-10" 6-8" 1¼" 12-20'
Bewick's Wren 4x4" 6-8" 4-6" 1-1¼" 6-10'
Carolina Wren 4x4" 6-8" 4-6" 1½" 6-10'
Purple Martin 6x6" 6" 2" 2½" 10-15'
Crested Flycatcher 6x6" 8-10" 6-8" 2" 8-20'
Flicker 7x7" 16-18" 14-16" 2½" 6-20'
R. H. Woodpecker 6x6" 12-15" 9-12" 2" 12-20'
D. Woodpecker 4x4" 9-12" 6-8" 1¼" 6-20'
Robin 6x8" 8" 1 open side 1 open side 6-15'
Barn Swallow 6x6" 6" 1 open side 1 open side 8-12'
Phoebe 6x6" 6" 1 open side 1 open side 8-12'
Screech Owl 8x8" 12-15" 9-12" 3" 10-30'
Wood Duck   10-24" 12-16" 4" 10-20'

Bird Food and Feeder Preferences

To attract a particular bird to your backyard, you need to know the type of feeder and food they prefer. Check these lists to determine what type of feeders you need in your yard.

Use black oil sunflower seed in a hopper feeder or a tube feeder with tray to attract:

Cardinals
Finches
Jays
Sparrows of various types

Use black oil sunflower seed in a tube feeder to attract:

Goldfinches
Chickadees
Pine Siskins
Sparrows of various types
Titmouses
Nuthatches
Woodpeckers
Redpolls

Use fruit feeder or platform feeder with fruit to attract:

Orioles
Tanagers
Mockingbirds
Woodpeckers
Cedar Waxwings
Jays
Chats
Bluebirds

Use a platform feeder with cracked corn to attract:

Pheasant
Quail
Doves
Sparrows of various types
Starlings
Blackbirds
Brown headed Cowbirds
Grackles
Jays

Use a platform feeder with millet seed to attract:

Doves
Sparrows of various types
Juncos
Blackbirds
Brown headed Cowbirds
Starlings

Use a nectar feeder with nectar to attract:

Hummingbirds
Orioles
Tanagers

Suet feeder or tree smeared with peanut butter suet to attract:

Mockingbirds
Flickers and woodpeckers
Goldfinches
Jays
Juncos
Chickadees
Wrens
Titmice
Bluebirds

Suet feeder with suet cakes will attract:

Chickadees
Flickers, woodpeckers
Brown Creepers
Nuthatches
Wrens
Thrashers
Kinglets
Starlings

Use a thistle sock or tube feeder with a tray or a platform feeder (fine mesh) with thistle (niger) seed to attract:

Finches
Pine Siskins
Chickadees
Sparrows

Use a tube feeder or platform feeder with peanuts to attract:

Cardinals
Sparrows of various types
Starlings
Chickadees
Juncos
Finches
Titmice
Grackles
Doves
Jays

How to Feed the Birds in Your Backyard

Want to attract birds to your backyard? Remember that birds need food, water, and shelter to become regular visitors to your home. This week let's discuss the food aspect of this equation.

Birds seen in your yard can basically broken down into two categories:

Insect-feeding birds/Seed-eaters

(Note: there are other birds that will eat other small birds, rodents, fish, etc. However, we are just talking about the birds that you can attract to your home today.)

Swallows, mockingbirds, flycatchers, and many others fall into the insect-feeding category. They may enjoy a treat of fruit or berries but normally will feast on the bugs, worms, mosquitoes, and other creepy crawlies around your home. However, offering suet is a wonderful way to attract these birds. There are special suet mixtures that are commercially made that contain nuts, fruit, seed, and even insects. Place these in special feeders that enclose the suet in wire mesh and watch them discover this new treat! If you live in a hot area (like I do!), you may want to look into using the warm weather suet doughs.

To attract the mockingbirds to my home, I make a mixture of peanut butter (cheap variety), cornmeal, raisins, and nuts. Use enough cornmeal to thicken the peanut butter and absorb the oil. I smear this onto a home made feeder. You can feed insects to the birds also. Some wild bird stores have dormant meal worms. As for me, I believe I'll stick with the peanut butter.

You can also put out fruit for these birds. Apples, tomatoes, and plums seem to be the favorites around my house.

For seed loving birds, you need to determine what type of seed will please your feathered friends' taste buds. Here are a few suggestions:

Oil Sunflower seed - Cardinals, Chickadees, Grackles, Jays, Junco, many types of Sparrows, Woodpeckers

Cracked corn - Eastern Bluebirds, Cardinals, Mourning Doves, Grackles, Jays, Brown Thrashers, House, Tree, and White-throated Sparrows, Starlings.

Safflower - Cardinals, Chickadees, Mourning Doves, Jays, some Sparrows, some Nuthatches, some Woodpeckers

White Millet - Cardinals, Cowbirds, Mourning Doves, Junco, many types of Sparrows, Starlings

Peanuts - some like the whole nuts, some just the shelled nuts - Chickadees, Jays, Junco, some Sparrows, Starlings, Woodpeckers.

The Wild Approach to Feeding Birds

I just had to pass along some ideas for feeding birds that work great in the cold Michigan winters. I get about 20 pounds of beef suet from the butcher, grind it up like hamburger. Add about 5 pounds of crunchy peanut butter, a pound of instant oats, raisins, and 6 pounds of the cheapest "Trail Mix" you can find (about $5.00 total at a warehouse club. The trail mix has peanuts, cashews, brazil nuts, almonds, and a variety of dried fruits.) I don't add any seed because I have plenty of seed available at other feeders.

Get ready to be sticky! Mix everything together on a table. Then put in balls or I make them in squares to fit my suet feeder. Freeze in ziplock bags.

All the birds love it and for about $1.00 a pound for high quality suet, it can't be beat. And you can imagine the free-for-all on the ground under the feeder!

This year I saved all my suet trimmings from my successful whitetail deer hunt and ground it with the beef suet. Let's face it, in the wild, birds can only get suet from animal carcasses and they don't come mixed with seed or nuts. The birds really like the wild approach.

I make all my own feeders and the best one is the easiest one to make. Take a white birch log about 5-6 inches across and 3 feet long. Screw a heavy duty hook in the end. Use an electric drill and a 1"+ wood auger bit and drill holes to the center of the log with 1 or 2 side by side touching each other to make a larger hole. I use 3 holes touching and about 8 large holes total in each log. DO NOT PUT PERCHES IN THE FEEDER. Remember, the wild approach. Fill the holes with suet, about 6 pounds, and hang from a tree where there is not too many branches in the way so the birds can land on it with no problem.

After winter, I use rendered suet till the weather get's TOO hot and it turns real mushy. Then I do not put ANYTHING in the holes. The birds clean out as much of the suet as they can. The small amount left attracts insects, so the woodpeckers and titmice and others flock to it each day. Again, the wild approach. It sure is nice to see the birds benefit from my hard work when really, I don't have to do anything all summer. Try it for yourself. After the first or second year, depending on how aged the log was at the beginning, the bark will split and I smear suet in the cracks. Remember, feeding wildlife is a lot like trout fishing. The most NATURAL approach, the wild approach, always works best.

Oh, one last thing I have discovered. I never hear anyone talk about this but I enjoy feeding deer, rabbits, turkeys, and anything that comes along. For these animals, I have a 50 pound salt block on a stump. I also have little 2 pound ones scattered around but one is easier to watch. The Rose Breasted Finches, almost exclusively, flock to the salt block in record numbers. There are sometimes as many as 2 dozen at a time. Mourning Doves and an occasional Chickadee will also visit the salt but it sure is peculiar that the Finches come in such numbers. I don't know if they need the minerals or if they maybe use it for grit but it sure is neat to see. When you tell people they can't believe it.

The salt block sits on an old stump which absorbs some of the salt. The deer, squirrels and rabbits will leave a hole a couple of feet deep digging the salt laden roots. The salt that is washed into the soil leaches back out with other minerals. You can actually see the deposit in the dry summer. It is kind of a natural mineral deposit. The salt keeps the soil from freezing in the winter, and I believe the birds use it as a grit source all year. I'm a little concerned about excessive salt concentration so I only leave a block on a stump for one year. That way there shouldn't be a problem.

Elegant Dining - For the Birds!

Bird feeding basics:

Some birds are primarily insect-eaters, while others eat seed. And different birds devour different types of seed. Other birds may be tempted by fruit or a ripe tomato. Hummers sip flower nectar and may also eat some small flying insects. Do a little research and find out the preferences of the birds you now feed and those you wish to attract. Please remember the migratory birds that may be traveling through your area of the country. Some birds will be winter visitors, others come only for the summer, and others are year-round residents.

For winter feeding, depending on where you live, try to have feeders in place by early September. As the food supply dwindles, birds such as the chickadees, cardinals, and woodpeckers, will appreciate a supplemental food source. You will also help those that are migrating through. The number of birds that come to your feeder may, at first, be low. Be sure to continue. As the temperatures drop, you should see your feeders get busy. When the weather turns nasty, remember the birds will probably depend on your feeder, especially if ice or snow covers their natural food sources. They will also depend on you more during late winter and onto early spring when less food is available.

Bird diets may also change with the seasons, depending on the foods available to them. Some birds may eat insects during most of the year but switch to winter berries when insects are scarce.

You may to occasionally provide grit, such as sand or fine pet bird grit. Why? It is helpful because it is retained in the gizzard where it helps in grinding seeds. If a bird feels it needs sand or dirt to help digest its food and snow covers the ground, the birds may resort to using sand from roof shingles, which may be unhealthy. You can also provide eggshells to serve as grit and may provide needed calcium during the egg-laying season. Grit can be mixed with seeds or placed in a tray or on the ground.

Once you learn the preferences of the birds you will be feeding, you can begin making some of these EASY and gourmet birdie treats.

Fruits such as cut apples, grapes, raisins (try soaking in water overnight), orange halves, tomatoes, plums, peaches, green peppers, broccoli, and nectarines appeal to birds. You can cut them in half or into pieces. Place small fruit and fruit pieces in wire cages, suet holders or peanut hoppers. Or place them with larger fruit and veggies on platform feeders. One caution: be sure to remove food before it spoils or molds. In the hot summer, this may not be more than just a few hours.

Cooking FOR the Birds - Recipe Collection

Whip up a batch of birdie cornbread. Mix up some peanut butter suet. Keep a fresh supply of hummingbird nectar in your feeders. Attract more varieties of birds with some homemade treats. Here are some great easy and low cost recipes to feed your backyard birds. Many require no cooking.

Seed

One seed combination that is attractive to a wide range of desirable backyard songbirds is:

50 percent sunflower seeds
35 percent white proso millet
15 percent finely cracked corn

You may find other combinations also work well to tempt the birds you wish to feed. Some people recommend that at least 75 percent of the seed offered should be black oil-type sunflower. Try experimenting with a few seed types or mixes offered in different feeders and see what happens in your backyard.

HEALTHY SEED BELLS

Materials:
small terracotta clay pots
microwave-safe plastic wrap or plastic oven bag
length of firm wire (coat-hanger type is fine)
birdseed of your choice (measure it dry in your chosen pots to gauge amount needed)
two egg whites per cup of birdseed (or thereabouts).

Instructions:
Beat egg whites until white and fluffy, but still liquid - you're not making a meringue.

Prepare pots by lining them with microwave-safe wrap or oven bag. Bend the end of the wire that goes into the seed bell into a closed loop (so that birds, or leg rings can't get caught on it when most of the bell has been eaten).

Mix the beaten egg whites and bird seed in a bowl until all seed is coated, then spoon the mix into the prepared pots, patting it down firmly. Push the uncoiled end of the wire through centre of mix in pot then out of the drainage hole until looped end rests flat on top of the mixture, then push loop slightly into mixture. Place on an oven shelf set high enough to allow wire to hang free. Cook for approximately 60 to 90 minutes in a very cool oven or longer if pots are larger size. The important thing is not to burn the mixture and slow cooking is needed to set it firmly.

Cooked bells will slip easily from pots, peel away the plastic wrap while they're still warm but don't handle the wire until it has cooled. Using a pair of pliers, twist exposed wire end to form a hook for hanging in the aviary.

Sometimes if you use large seeds in your mixture, the widest part of the bell which is exposed during cooking will become slightly crumbly. This only happens for a centimeter or two, but if they are to be given away, and you want a less "rustic" appearance, just spoon the mixture into the pot as usual but mix another beaten egg white with seeds of last few centimeters and cook as instructed above. This extra "adhesive" keeps the top layer very firm.

I hope this keeps your birds happy, and solves the problem for those who don't relish using PVA (although it's not toxic) as a binder. I for one would prefer to eat egg white to wood glue.

Homemade Sunflower Seed heads

Grow your own sunflowers or find some that are growing wild. Cut off the heads with about 12 inches of the stalk attached. Tie a piece of twine very securely around the stalk (you may need to loop it around the head also to make it secure.) Use the twine to tie it to the feeder pole. Or you can take the seeds off the heads and use in your feeders as normal.

Gaye's Concoction

The Oregon Juncos love it as do the magpies.

Just take a bunch of Peanut Butter, about seven cups of popcorn (no salt or butter), blanched peanuts, cranberries, raisins, blueberries, egg shells, cracked corn, Black Oil sunflower seed

Mix it all together, put in huge mesh bag and hang in the tree

Bread & Cereal

Grand Finale

On a cold winter day, this attracts more attention than all the feeders. Take a large, dense, round loaf of bread that's at least day old, slice a cap off the top (crumble up and throw out for the birds), hollow out the bread to within 1/2 inch of the crust. Poke 2 holes in the bottom about 4 inches apart, thread a piece of rope or twine through the holes. This lets you tie the whole thing down. Fill the cavity with a mixture of peanut butter, corn meal, raisins, peanuts and sunflower hearts (more peanut butter than anything else) and when it's positively overflowing with the mixture, stand some graham crackers upright in it--as many as will fit. The birds love the graham, and also use them to perch on while they nibble at the mixture.

Morning Madness

Ingredients:
3 1/2 cups oatmeal
1 quart water
1 lb suet
1 (12 oz) jar peanut butter, chunky
1 c. raisins or nuts
3 1/2 cups cornmeal
3 1/2 cups cream of wheat

Cook the oatmeal in water for 2 minutes. Remove and stir in suet and peanut butter until melted. Add cornmeal and cream of wheat. Cool until you can handle it. Shape into cakes that will fit in your feeder. Keep in your freezer until the birds need another bit of Morning Madness.

Seed Cornbread

Get a package of cornbread mix. Prepare it as directed on the package except add an extra egg (egg shells crumbled into the mixture also.) Add 1 c. bird seed.

If the mixture is too dry, add a little more water. Bake as directed on package. Cool.
Cut into serving size pieces. Freeze in small freezer bags until needed. Defrost and crumble into pieces onto a platform feeder and watch your birds devour it!

Fruit & Veggies

Connie's Suet Pizza

Use bacon drippings, meat drippings, (just store it in old tin cans and freeze until ready to use.) To this add peanut butter, egg shells (washed), figs or dates or raisins, seeds and apple or other fruit pieces all chopped finely. Add flour, bread crumbs or oatmeal to make it thick. Put this on a greased flat cookie sheet, freeze and cut with a pizza cutter.

Corn Cob Delight

Take a fresh ear of corn that still has its husk. Carefully peel the husks downward and remove the silk. Take some twine and tie the hunks together below the corn cob. Hang on feeder pole using the twine.

Fruit and Vegetable Delight

Fruits such as cut apples, grapes, raisins (soak in water overnight), orange halves, tomatoes, plums, peaches, green peppers, broccoli, and nectarines appeal to birds. You can cut them in half or into pieces. Place small fruit and fruit pieces in wire cages, suet holders or peanut hoppers. Or place them with larger fruit and veggies on platform feeders. One caution: be sure to remove food before it spoils or molds. In the hot summer, this may not be more than a few hours.

Fruit Kabob

In pet stores that sell pet bird supplies, there are "kabob skewers." These are thin metal rods that screw into a holder from which it hangs. There are no pointed ends and are very safe for birds. Cut large pieces of fruits and vegetables. Thread these onto the metal rod and securely screw the rod into the holder and hang it on a feeder pole.

Gail's Bird Fruit Salad

Take a hunk of beef suet and covered it with peanut butter. Sprinkle on some sliced almonds, chopped walnuts, chopped pecans, peanut pieces, cranberries, dried apples, strawberries, figs, and papaya. Then toss on a handful of mixed birdseed with whole corn kernels and some Black Oil Sunflower Seed.

Peanut Butter Fruit Suet

Mix about a cup of peanut butter , raisins, dehydrated blueberries and cranberries, suet dough, and a small amount of cornmeal. You may throw in some nuts also. I have also substituted mashed potatoes for the peanut butter and it was a hit. I mix everything together and put it in a log feeder.

String Treats

String dried cranberries, apricots, apple slices, orange slices, dates, plums, and raisins using a large needle onto unbleached natural cotton thread. Tie a Popsicle stick at the bottom of the fruit chain, or at intervals so the birds have a perch.

Nectar

Hummingbird Nectar

Do not use honey or red dye!

Use a ratio of 4 parts boiling water to 1 part sugar. Cool before filling your feeder. Store any unused syrup in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Always clean your feeder thoroughly before adding fresh nectar.

Peanut Butter Mixtures

Feeder Stick Recipe

Ingredients:
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup lard - any animal fat will do
1 cup flour
3 cups corn meal

Mix well. You can add sunflower hearts or seed to the mixure. Store unused mixture in a cool place.

Gourmet Bird Seed Goodies

Ingredients:
2 cups bread crumbs
1/4 cup Cornmeal
1/2 cup flour (use whole
wheat if possible)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup shredded cheese
1 cup unsalted nuts
4-5 chopped apples
1 cup raisins
1 8 oz. jar chunky peanut butter
1 cup bird seed
1 c. suet

Mix ingredients well. If necessary you can add additional suet or even bacon drippings if it is too crumbly. Shape into balls. Freeze. You can place these in a mesh bag (perhaps your oranges or onions came in one) and hang it out for the birds to enjoy.

Jenny's Suet

Ingredients:
1 lb lard (not Crisco or shortening)
1/2 - 1 Cup peanut butter
Approx 1/2 loaf of bread, or equivalent bread products such as donuts, plain cake, buns, rolls etc.
1/2 Cup flour
1/2 Cup cornmeal
1 Cup sugar
1 finely diced apple, or other fruit*
(raisins, blueberries, etc)
1/2 Cup pecans (optional)

*Gather wild cherries and elderberries in season, freeze and use in the recipe later.

Melt the lard and peanut butter over low heat. Mix flour, cornmeal and sugar and stir in. Add enough bread crumbs to absorb all liquid. Add fruit and nuts as desired.

Pour into a 9 x 5" bread pan and keep refrigerated.

Pinecone Treat

Ingredients:
4 1/2 cups rendered suet
1 cup dried and crumbled whole wheat bread
1/2 cup shelled sunflower seeds
1/4 cup millet
1/4 cup raisins or chopped
dried apples

1. Melt suet in a saucepan over low heat.
2. Mix the rest of the ingredients together in a large bowl.
3. Allow the suet to cool until slightly thickened, and then stir it into the mixture in the bowl. Mix thoroughly.
4. Stuff the mixture in between the "petals" of a pinecone. Hang onto an tree and watch your birds devour it!

THE Mix

Ingredients:
1 cup suet
1 cup peanut butter
3 cups corn meal
1/2 cup flour (whole-wheat, if possible)

1. Melt suet in a saucepan over low heat.
2. Add peanut butter, stirring until melted and well blended.
3. Mix the rest of the ingredients together in a large bowl.
4. Allow the suet-peanut-butter blend to cool until slightly thickened, then stir it into the mixture in the bowl. Mix thoroughly.
5. Pour into muffin tins (about half full) and freeze. You can place these in suet holders.
6. Or do not freeze and spread it on a tree trunk or onto wire mesh attached to a board.

Woodpecker Goo

Get a log or piece of untreated wood. Drill holes in it, about 1/2" to 1" in diameter. You can also attach a perch if you want. Render the suet as normal but do not strain. Leave the small bits of meat in also, cut them up if necessary. Let cool. Push the soft suet in the holes and hang on a feeder pole. (You can also use a recipe with peanut butter in it and serve it in this way.)

Suet

Easy Homemade Pure Suet

Suet is usually raw beef fat. If the temperature outside is below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, you can place the suet into a holder and watch the birds come. Woodpeckers, chickadees, creepers, cardinals, wrens, and nuthatches all enjoy this plain suet. If the temperature rises above 70 degrees, then the suet may become rancid and melt. Do not use it if this happens; use suet cakes made from rendered suet.

Rendered suet has been melted down and the meat pieces removed. The fat is cooled and can be frozen for later use. If you re-melt it and strain it again, it becomes harder and will not melt as easily. (You can try lard which is sold in grocery stores if you do not want to make your own.) Rendered suet can be placed in suet holders and set out as is but why not go just a few steps further and make some VERY easy recipes with it? Be sure to hang it in the shade during the middle of the day (or all day during the summer) and keep the suet out of the reach of dogs or they will eat it.

Hard Suet Tidbit Cakes

Ingredients:
1/2 lb. fresh ground suet
1/3 cup sunflower seed
2/3 cup wild bird seed (mix)
1/8 cup chopped peanuts
1/4 cup raisins

Melt the suet in a saucepan over low heat. Allow it to cool thoroughly, and then reheat it.

Mix the rest of the ingredients together in a large bowl. Allow the suet to cool until slightly thickened, and then stir it into the mixture in the bowl. Mix thoroughly. Pour into pie pan or form, or pack into suet feeders.

NO Melt Suet

Ingredients:
1 cup crunchy peanut butter
1 cup suet or lard
2 cups "quick cook" oats, (any will do)
2 cups cornmeal
1 ˝ cups bird seed
1 cup white flour
1/3 cup sugar

Instructions:
1. Melt lard & peanut butter.
2. Stir in other ingredients. If it seems runny, add more flour.
3. Fill small plastic margarine containers about 1/2 full, then freeze.
4. Remove from container; wrap, keep in freezer.(Or use any method you like.)

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