the rikrak studio: playlists + a giveaway: with dawn correspondence

the rikrak studio: playlists + a giveaway: with dawn correspondence
Check out this neato giveway! Remember how I wrote about writing thank you notes with your children? This stationary set would add something super-special to the experience.

Make a Grocery Bag Kite

You need:
1 plastic bag; scotch tape; a pair of scissors; 2 fairly straight twigs; yarn, string, or thread; feathers, ribbons or other tail decoration; 1 surly child wearing her brother's clothes (okay, child is optional)

Lay the plastic bag flat and cut off the bottom.

Spread out the bag so that there's no doubling of plastic at the edges.

Fold the bag in half and cut an elongated diamond shape. Use your longest twig as a rough guide for the tip to tip length. Try to leave the side corners still "connected" - in other words don't cut through the fold.

It should look roughly like this.

Lay your longest twig on top of the two layers of bag and tape at the top and bottom - don't tape the middle.

Lay the shorter twig across the long twig from side corner to side corner. Tape at the corners. To add some staying power, wrap the plastic bag around the twigs at each corner and tape on tightly.

Use your "string" to wrap around the two twigs where they meet in the center. You'll need about a 6 inch tail to wrap enough. In this picture I didn't have enough and had to redo. Wrap under and over crossing over diagonally.

Remember the bottom you cut from the bag. Oops, forgot to tell you to save it. Find it. Okay, now that you've found it, cut it open at one end only and spread out.

Firmly tape the feathers or whatever along it. Extra points for using this as a counting and pattern recognition lesson. Leave a longer "blank" space at one end for tying. Tie it around the bottom of the kite and twig, just double knot the plastic.

Realise you need a spool and rummage through your toy box. This lego block worked well for us. Cut your yarn, string, whatever so that it's approximately 3-4 times the length of your child's height (eyeball it). This seems to be the easiest length for them to handle while still providing maximum flying potential.

Have your ecstatic child pose with the finished product. Warn her that low wind means it probably won't fly no matter how hard she wishes. Realise that she'll think it's "flying" if you can just run up and down the driveway with it trailing behind slightly elevated in the air.


Sneezes and Sniffles and Throat-Tickles

My Wellness Wednesday post was supposed to be about reading food labels. That was what I planned. Even did some research to make sure I was going to present the best possible information.

But it didn't happen.

It's been almost a year since I've taken the kids to the local playgroup. Fell out of the habit for numerous reasons and just never got back into it. But I resolved I would take them there as Teaghan really needs to meet some other kids.

Well, now I remember one of the reasons I stopped going: GERMS!

Darn it, we've all got a head cold now. And as the school-goer and work-goer are the only ones uninfected it's pretty obvious where it was picked up.

The morning after playgroup, the three of us woke up with super-sonic sneezes and hydro-electric capacity runny noses.

Coupled with the iron-deficiency anemia I can't seem to shake, this cold has made me exhausted. Exhausted mom with sick, clingy kids does not make for a pleasant week in the household!

But we've been working hard to keep ourselves entertained and thus less crabby. And I've been looking into ways we can beat this cold and prevent the next one.

Now that cold medicine is the most illegal thing you can give a child under the age of six, chicken soup is the best. Researchers have found that it actually does work. Use any old chicken soup, but make sure it includes things that provide heat (red pepper is good), salt (regular table salt, sea salt, or a salted broth) and some good nutrition (carrots, fresh chicken, celery). For more tips check out this discussion of one study complete with recipes and recommended store-brought brands.

We use buckwheat honey for coughs - a 1/2 tsp or so every 3-4 hours works better than anything else I've found. You'd think the kids would lap up honey like it was, well, honey, but think again. So sometimes we stir it into a little warm water with lemon and tell them it's tea. I don't think it works as well this way, as it can't coat the throat as well, but it helps.

Best way to prevent colds?

My mother-in-law swears by Echinicea, but I haven't found it to work - plus it gives me migraines. Hand-washing is definitely key and using hand sanitizers helps for sure.

Nutritionally the best thing you can do is have a lovely live-culture yogurt with fruit and all bran cereal on top for breakfast every morning. Really. The bacterial cultures in the yogurt are great at fighting off viruses such as colds and stomach flus. The fruit gives you some vitamin C. And the All-bran is a simple zinc rich food to eat. Zinc deficiency has been shown to adversly affect immunity and taking zinc during a cold is believed to help you get over it faster.

Off I go to make some chicken soup. I'll wash my hands first, of course.


Hidden Agenda Chicken Nuggets

Shared with We Are That Family's Works for Me Wednesday carnival.

I keep hearing about all these books like Deceptively Delicious and The Sneaky Chef

Friends tell me I have to read them as I'll find so much in there I can use. Problem is I'm not that into spending money lately, even on books, and I haven't had a chance to make it to the adult floor of the library in a looooooong time. (Why do libraries have children's fiction and non-fiction in one part and then adult fiction and non-fiction all-the-timbucktoo-way across the floor or even upstairs? I've asked my management librarian husband and even he doesn't know. As a parent I could tell them, put children's fiction and adult fiction together and then children's non-fiction and adult non-fiction together. That's if you MUST seperate them so much.)

My son - the one who had tabouleh, hummus, and spaghetti squash for his first birthday meal; the one whose favourite meal was once curried veggies with brown rice and ham; yes that one - decided at the age of three that vegetables were persona non-grata in his mouth - even if they were vegetables au-gratin they were still non-grata (forgive the pun).

For the past two years, I have been begging, pleading, and creatively sneaking the vegetables past his teeth.

I have a feeling that these books won't work for me, though. I've heard lots about a chicken nugget recipe that involves wrapping the chicken in spinach.

Un-hunh, if my son sees green he sees red and refuses to eat. So that just wouldn't work. And knowing how sneaky I am he does check his food.

One day I'll try some of the recipes from these books. But the chicken nugget idea sounded like something I should try as chicken nuggets are one of the few foods my son eats without argument.

So this is my version of chicken nuggets. If you read yesterday's post you know that I'm not that into recipes. Here's the general idea.

Hidden Agenda Chicken Nuggets


2 medium chicken breasts
3-4 large carrots
1 small potato
1/2 small yellow zuchinni
1/2 small eggplant
1 small onion
(the vegetables and their combination is negotiable - just don't put anything too colorful in there)

stale bread or crusts and/or cornflakes and/or rice krispies and/or pretzels and/or cheerios
a small handful of flax seeds or other seed or nut (adds extra crisp and nutrition)
parmesan cheese - approximately 2 Tbsp
seasonings (garlic, oregano, pepper, etc)

Dice all nugget ingredients and boil together in a scant pot of water

Meanwhile place breading ingredients in blender and pulse until fine crumbs.

Preheat oven to 350.

Drain nugget ingredients, retaining liquid. Place all ingredeints in blender with small amount of water. Add two eggs. Blend until chicken is well ground and you can no longer tell there are vegetables.

You may need to add more liquid or some ground oats or flour as a solid to make the nugget mix the appropriate rolling texture (you're looking for something slightly drier than meatballs - it should stick together easily but not be too moist). Add whatever is needed in very small amounts as it is easy to overdo it.

Scoop out a large teaspoonful of nugget mix and drop in breading; squish a little to give the nugget shape and roll thoroughly. Place on ungreased baking sheet. Bake for about 12 minutes, turn and bake another 8-10 minutes, until breading looks browned and crispy (this is why I precook the chicken so I don't really need to worry about the baking time).

Serve to your kids with a side of rice, noodles, wok fries, or oven fries and their favourite dipping sauce. Warn them it isn't exactly like McDonalds but that it's good!

Enjoy the sight of your child eating vegetables with relish. It's up to you whether or not you tell.

I always do in the hopes that it will inspire some unhidden veggie eating!
You should get about 30-40 nuggets from this recipe.


Food Waste = Wasted Money

There is absolutely nothing I hate more than slimy half vegetables.

Come on, you know them too. Dug out from the back of your veggie bin or found hiding behind leftovers on the fridge shelf. Their existence reminds you how useless you are at keeping your fridge organised or planning your meals properly or even storing things properly (why oh why didnt't I use a baggie?!?)

They are paragons of waste: wasted money, wasted resource and the time you'll now waste cleaning your fridge. Apparently Americans throw out about 14% off the food they buy - that doesn't include table scraps and includes just household wastage (not restuarants, businesses and farms).

But wait! Perhaps they don't need to be wasted!

Okay, if the vegetable you've uncovered is gone beyond soft sliminess and is a mold encrusted wrinkle of a former vegetable than yes, please, for the sake of all humanity - or at least your digestive tract - throw it out.

Otherwise you have something usable.

Here's what you do with gone soft vegetable remnants . . .

You cook them.

See once cooked they're supposed to be soft. So no one knows they were soft to begin with.

Then you puree them to erase all traces of your fridgely indiscretion.

Seriously, though, there's nothing like a good stock of vegetable purees on hand. Limp carrots, slimy eggplant (please rinse first), spotted cauliflower and soft potatoes are all great!

The best is to cook them almost as if you were poaching them. Use the minimum amount of water allowed and keep it covered. If you want to save energy, just bring your water to a boil, pop in the vegetables, cover the pot and let it sit on the burner. It'll take half the afternoon, but they'll cook.

Then you let them cool a little (or you can be impatient like me and plan for hot food explosions rather than a 10 minute wait) and pop them in the blender. Use as much of the cooking water as possible without making it too runny. The rest of the cooking water can be popped in an old ice-cream container in your freezer and elegantly called vegetable stock - into this same container you can throw the leftover pureed vegetables you don't use.

Now that you have your puree what do you do with it? Enrich your lives of course.

White vegetables with or without carrots make a lovely creamy base for a cheese sauce. My kids like their macaroni and pureed veggie and cheese dinner better than Kraft Dinner. Usually I use the tail ends of those bags of baby carrots, 1 soft potato, and some red pepper, cauliflower, or celery that's sitting around wilting. Cook, puree, return to the pot and grate in about 1 cup of cheese, a little milk and season.

Zucchinni, grated if fresh or pureed if soft, makes a great butter substitute in baking - as do most vegtables and fruits. The general rule of thumb is 3/4 vegetable puree to 1 fat or 1/2 fruit puree to 1 fat. You can also substantially reduce your sugar in the recipe, especially if using a fruit puree or a "sweet" vegetable like pumpkin or yam. I made chocolate chip cookie yesterday with 6 dates, about 1/4 cup pineapple and 3 Tbsp of margarine instead od the 1 cup of butter called for. Plus I cut the sugar from 1 cup of white and 1 cup of brown down to 1/4 cup raw.

You can use it as your standard soup base if you want to be boring about it. Or you can whip it into eggs for a great scrambled egg experience.

My kids' favourite, though is popsicles. Zuchinni fudgsicles are popular but their favourite is the butternut squash-sweet potato-orange-mangosicle I whipped up this summer. And in the winter, the same thing heated instead of frozen makes a lovely hot smoothie.

I'd post real recipes but it's best if you experiment. Seriously, the whole point is to use what you have and not waste it, so I don't really have recipes - just ideas put into action. A recipe would make you think there's something else you need when everything you need is already at hand.

Other Ideas to Eliminate Food Waste (especially with children around

My kids relish the thought of an apple all to themselves. A whole apple! Not cut up! And we don't have to share! They rarely get an apple all to themselves because when they do I find 1/4 and 1/2 eaten apples all over the house.

When I know I'm running low on applesauce - that's when they get their treat. Then I pick up the apples, rinse the dirt and germs from them and chop them up to make applesauce - or I just toss them in the freezer to make applesauce later.

I also allow my son the extravagence of crustless sandwiches. It really is better for me to just cut off the crusts (usually, I peel actually, less "bread" gets wasted that way) and save them than leave them on there and have him throw them out. Gourmet chefs will tell you croutons and breadcrumbs can't be made from breadcrusts, but they're just snooty know-it-alls. Keep a decent sized yogurt container on your counter and toss in the breadcrusts, uneaten pretzels and cereal (no, not the soggy stuff) and crackers - makes lovely breadcrumbs. Or bird food. Or breadcrumb beads.

Other than that, check expiry dates. Seriously if you can't use 10 lbs of cheese slices before Mar. 2012 admit that to yourself and realise it may not be such a bargain after all. Avoiding things like salad dressings when you can make your own on an as-needed basis is great too.


When Your Kids Want to Know About Haiti

Today, Harrison, my five-year-old, and I talked about the crisis in Haiti.

I started off by asking him if he had heard anything about it. He wasn't in school on Friday, but I know he has heard us listening to the radio news and discussing the stories we've read. We don't watch TV so he hasn't seen the pictures on the news, but he did come into my office last night as I was reading some news online, complete with pictures.

"Have you heard about the earthquake in Haiti?" I asked him.

"Oh sure," he replied, "we learned all about earthquakes and volcanoes in school. And we have our volcano books here."

"But do you know about the one that happened in Haiti?" I asked again.

"Where's Haiti?" he asked.

We looked on our map and then I got out some books we have here, plus we've come up with a list of books to look for at the library.

Then he asked "why did the earthquake happen?" So I pulled out a few of our books on earthquakes and volcanoes. "If there's a volcano," he said "a lot of people will die."

So I took a deep breath and explained that a lot of people had already died because of the earthquake and a lot more could die soon because they can't get to doctors or get food or water.

"Why did the earthquake really happen Mom?"

"What do you mean?"

"Why did God let the tekonic (sic) plates rub together?"

"I don't really know, honey. Sometimes God can't stop something from happening or sometimes He lets things happen so that we can show how much we trust him and love him by accepting it and taking the challenge to make it better."

Some of our books gave us ideas to help make it better:

Josephine's Imagination: A Tale of Haiti: In this story Josephine uses her imagination to come up with a toy she can sell at market to help her mother.
After reading the story we talked about using our imagination to come up with ideas of things we can make and sell to raise money - the kids would like to make a little broom doll like Josephine does. So mommy has to look into that.

Sasifi helps her mother sell oranges at the market and in return is given some money to buy herself a treat. Instead of candy or toys she buys herself and her mother a trip home in the "tap tap," a truck that operates as a bus.
This story allows the opportunity to talk about selling food for money (a bake sale to raise money, perhaps) as well as children helping their parents to make money and the idea that "treats" don't have to be candy.

Some books we are going to try to read and maybe get ideas from:

This story follows the lives of children made homeless by the political instability in Haiti who then end up on the streets of Port-au-Prince and build themselves a new home: one that is also destroyed. Written 6 years ago, it is evocative of what many children are going through now - with shelters and orphanages destroyed by the earthquake. In the story, the children band together to create their own family and survive the hardships, going on to become advocates for all street children. I hope that reading this book will help my children understand that there is always hope. After reading it, I expect we'll find out more about Haitian orphanages and see what we can do to help through donations or child sponsorship.

This book explores the persistence of one boy in planting a fruit tree to celebrate his sister's birth. His efforts grow as his neighbours and future generations also plant trees in "circles of hope" for more children. I'm hoping that reading this book will show my children how we can inspire others with our own actions.

Other Ways to Help

This week's Gift to The Earth challenge asked you to help with the relief efforts in Haiti in some way. Although most organisations are asking for money for the first-wave of relief efforts, you may not have much money available to give. I know for me, the amount of money I can afford to send right now doesn't feel like enough.
So I've begun looking into other ways to help using my talents instead of my finances.

I gave some basic ideas on the Week 3 challenge, here are some more:

Artists for Hope have been selling art and craft items for a couple of years to help a children's rescue centre in Haiti. Now the need is even greater. Donate items to them to sell through their Etsy or Ebay shops. Spread the word about their efforts by downloading this button for your own blog.

I went back and looked at SouleMama's old "Caps for Cap-Haitien" project. By the time I had heard of this at the beginning of this year the project had closed. But the partner in the project, Konbit Sante is still looking for all kinds of donations including things like gowns and cloth diapers that you can sew.

If crafts aren't your forte but you can run like the wind, check out their Compete for Konbit program.

In our city, a Haiti relief concert and silent auction is in the works for this coming Friday. Perhaps there's a similar event in your area? If not, perhaps you have the connections to make it work!

One word: Pray

Okay, I'll add to that. I know some of you don't pray or believe in the power you're supposed to pray to or the power of prayer. If that's the case then use whatever you use instead of prayer - meditate on Haiti, think about the people there, send good thoughts, light a candle, whatever it is you feel has power.


Story Saturday - The Princess and the Rock Star

Sometimes Harrison and Teaghan want to do very different things. This story we wrote together is based upon their differences.

The Princess and the Rock Star (and the Fish too!)
It was another beautiful Saturday. Rock Star Harrison was in his basement rocking on. He was wearing his rock star clothes: gray pants, a black shirt, and big, bright, red rock star shoes. And he had his electric guitar.

Princess Rahna (pronounced Rain - ah) was outside dancing a twirly princess dance. She was wearing three beautiful gowns, 2 pairs of special dancing shoes, sparkly earrings, a necklace, a bracelet and a big beautiful ring.

"Runh-runh-runh-runh-rah!" sang Rock Star Harrison as he played his electric guitar.

"La-la-la-la. Princesses wear beautiful gowns." sang Princess Rahna as she twirled about.

But it was very hard for her to dance with her rock star neighbour making all that noise.

Meanwhile, Harrison decided to go to the candy store. He put his rock star bicycle helmet on and got his bike. He left his guitar on to squeal while he was gone. The fish liked the noise. Out the back door he went.

At the front door, Princess Rahna was knocking hard.

"He can't hear me knocking over all that noise," she thought.

So through his door she tromped with her two pairs of shoes clacking on the floors.

"Rock Star Harrison?" she called in her sing-songy voice. "Rock Star Harrison?" she called in her impatient voice. "Rock Star Harrison!" she called in her screechy loud voice.

But he didn't answer.

So she stomped down to the basement and turned off the guitar herself.

She also fed his fish.

On her way out, one of her shoes fell off but she didn't notice because her other shoes were making so much noise and the big skirts from her three dresses hid her feet.

When Rock Star Harrison got home with his gumballs and lollipops he was deafened by the silence. He went through the house and turned on the TV, the radio, and his guitar. Then he woke up the fish so they'd flap their fins.

When he found the Princess's shoe he decided not to share his gumballs with her. He threw her shoe in his fish tank so they could swim through it.

Princess Rahna didn't notice all the noise going on at the Rock Star's house again. After losing her shoe she couldn't dance any longer. Instead she changed into her four bathing suits, two swim caps, ten floaties, nose and ear plugs and was in the pool being a mermaid.


Give a Gift to The Earth Challenge - Week 3

This week's challenge was going to be all about our use of hot water, but a more timely challenge has arisen in my heart as a result of the disaster in Haiti.

Keep in mind that this first wave of deaths resulting from the earthquake and its damage will be just the tip of the iceberg as citizens go without clean water, food, or access to medical care. We can hope and pray that our international efforts make a difference, but it's guaranteed that more deaths will result from this.

I don't say this to depress anyone, but just to let you know: if you can do nothing about this week's challenge THIS WEEK, do it another week. Or, if you find yourself able to help now, consider making Haiti a regular benificiary of your efforts.

Right now most aid organisations are asking for money to aid them in their efforts. Two that I trust to get the job done and not waste a lot on overhead are The International Red Cross (you can donate to a local office and designate Haiti or donate online) and the Mennonite Central Committee. I've worked with both of these organisations as a volunteer in the past and I can attest to their reliability.

Other organisations being recommended by those who have done some research are available online at Charity Vault and GuideStar. And, of course, there's always the Doctor's Without Borders program as well as other "without borders" programs (though you should verify any others before you donate).

My challenge for this week is to seek out a way to help Haiti. If you've got the cash to make a donation now, do so. Please don't text your donation as though it's convienant it can take up to 90 days for the organisation to receive your money. If you feel you can make a a regular monthly commitment, do that now too. Contact your preferred organisation and set it up.

If you're like me and feeling the cash crunch and just don't know where you'll get the extra money this week, commit to donating when you have it. Or use what you DO have to donate. Extra clothes, toys, furniture in the house? Sell it on Ebay, Kijiji, or Facebook and donate the money raised. Crafty? Sell something locally or on Etsy and donate the money raised. Live near an office of an aid organisation and have some free time? Drop by and ask if there's anything you can do - answer phones, fold mail - for the Haiti relief effort. Or volunteer time to local relief efforts in order to free up time for an experienced volunteer to spend on the Haiti effort.

If you absoutely have no money, no way to raise money, and no way to volunteer (please really think about this before deciding you can't) than commit yourself to getting others to donate. Blog about it, write a letter to your local paper, talk to your church and community groups.

We can all give somehow.


Happy Chinese New Year: A Serendipitous Craft.

The kids and I have been talking about Chinese New Year lately. All due to their interest in dragons.

So we had decided we'd have a few little celebrations and read up on the 15 days of the Chinese New Year.

Before we thought anything of Chinese New Year, we had already decided to make lanterns. Not paper ones as we wanted to put them outside; I'm working on a little plan for some luminaries made from recycled products (look for a post in a week or so). This year our city is having a contest for best decorated home during Winter Carnival. They're encouraging citizens to leave their Christmas lights up, but rather than waste that electricity and money, we're going to light our house with luminaries. You can read more about the controversy surrounding this decision on The Western Star website (yes, the "Dara" making comments is me!)

It's great how the two fit together, though. As soon as Chinese New Year festival starts to wind down, our carnival starts. So the lanterns we make for the CNY celebrations will have a dual use!

In the meanwhile, the kids really wanted to start making some things for CNY now. Then I saw this post on Frugal Family Fun Blog. Another moment of serendipity. Just the day before my husband gave me a box of Ferrero Rocher for my birthday. I had explained to my daughter that we'd save the little muffin cups and gold foil for a craft project but she wanted to use them NOW. And then Valerie posts this great CNY craft using muffin cups!

We changed our craft a little from hers. We decided to make greeting cards to send to some of our friends and cousins. Plus, of course, our materials were slightly different.

We also used these neato markers I found at the Buck or Two for $2.00! Of course the kids had to have loot bags for my birthday and these were part of Emerson's loot bag.

Poor guy, Teaghan and I keep borrowing his stuff and he wants in on the action too!

We used one piece of construction paper folded in half lengthwise then cut down the middle with our "crafty" scissors, as Teaghan calls them, to make two cards.

The special "magic stick" markers helped us make the stars and the luminous moon affect. Otherwise we basically followed Valerie's instructions.

This is a great craft for counting and spatial awareness too as we wanted to make sure we fit 9 lanterns on each card.

Frugal Family Fun Blog: 3-D Paper Lantern Picture

Frugal Family Fun Blog: 3-D Paper Lantern Picture


Giving a Gift to The Earth - Week 2

Please tell me you've read Phoebe Gilman's "Something from Nothing" with your children! If not, borrow it from your library or go and buy it now!

It's a great book and Gilman is an extraordinary children's author whom I've admired for ages. Family Literacy Day is coming up and I will finally get around to posting my book reccommends then - you can be sure a few of her titles will be on there.

Plus if you read it this week it might inspire you for this week's challenge. It is, of course, a something-from-nothing challenge.

Recycling is great, but it's even better to reuse or repurpose. The whole processing side of recycling uses up energy just the same as the production cycle. So my challenge to you this week is to use your own energy instead. You'll need a little ingenuity too, of course.

If you're stuck, try browsing the site Instructables for fun little projects like this one. Or just google something like "green crafts" or "reuse crafts".

Like the tailor in Something from Nothing, I've been doing most of my sewing projects by reusing fabrics from stained, outgrown, or torn-beyond-repair clothes. I had a favourite sweater that I accidentally got paint on. I repurposed it into a purse for a friend's daughter and pants and a shirt (ok, the sleeves are not done yet) for my daughter.

And there's still some fabric left over!

From another sweater I squeezed out two pairs of pants and two hats. One for each of my boys. They'll only let me dress them alike for so long and I plan to take full advantage. Unfortunately the oldest wouldn't pose with his - something about "playing" was more important!

I won't post pictures of all the other projects I've made from recycled fabrics. This is just to give you an idea. Sewing skills are not needed to participate in the challenge - any suitable and worthy repurposing or reusing will apply.

Make something pretty from garbage; turn found treasures (like sea glass) into real treasures (like earrings). The only stipulation is that the majority of the product used to make your "new" item must be reused from something that would have been junk or recycling.

Giving a Gift to The Earth Challenge - Week One Followup

Perhaps this week will see a few more participants. As a friend pointed out, even one more would be a 100% improvement!

Last week the challenge was to feed someone. Someone other than the starving child(ren) and/or spouse you feed each day! Last week I packed a bag for the food bank. My son shared a cookie with a classmate at school. My daughter helped me make crackers, than offered them to her friend.

We also fed the birds. It's something we did at Nanny's house over Christmas. I have photos from then!

It's a really simple activity for you and the kids. Simple cut egg cups from a carton (or as we did last week use those biodegradable cups for starting seedlings in). Cut a small hole in the bottom - soon to be the top - and thread in a ribbon or string. Coat the cup in peanut butter and roll in bird seeds to make a yummy christmas bell treat for our feathered friends.

Then concentrate really, really, hard while you hang them on a backyard tree.

Nanny tells us the birds really enjoyed these Christmas treats. The couple we made here are all gone too!

Nanny and Grandad's backyard is a wooded hill. So there's lots and lots of feathered friends. According to my son there's also bears, tigers, moose, and coyotes in "dem woods."

According to my daughter - and me! - there's fairies in the woods. So with the cold winter weather coming in we had to build them houses. We put berries in there to feed them too!


Frugal and Healthy - Homemade Yogurt

Yogurt - there are a million ways to make it (including a very easy looking crockpot method - just google it) but I tried to simplify as much as possible while also keeping my energy consumption down.

If you're like me you use yogurt for everything: baking, a sour cream subsitute, breakfast, snacks, smoothies, the list is endless. It can get expensive, lately the cheapest yogurt I've found is almost $4 for a tub at the grocery store. But with a 2L of milk (costing about $3.50) you can make at least two tubs of yogurt.

Also, I don't know about you, but when the kids were younger I found it really hard to find a low sugar, full fat yogurt as recommended. When you make your own YOU control what goes in it.

All you need is 6-8 cups of milk (most reccommend whole milk for newbies, but I used 2%) and 1/2 cup plain live culture yogurt (I used astro biobest - I've heard Danone doesn't work well). *UPDATE* In subsequent batches I really haven't bothered measuring. It's not a fine art, just warm your milk, add yogurt, let sit.

Put the milk in a pot and bring to gentle boil over medim heat, stirring to keep it from scalding (or you could do the whole double boiler method, also if you like your yogurt "sticky" don't actually boil it, just bring to high heat).

Cover and remove from heat.

Let cool about 1 hour or until you touch it with your finger without brning yourself (100F if you actually have a candy thermometer).

Remove about 1 cup and stir in about 1/2 cup yogurt (the more yogurt you use the tangier your final product is).

Pour back into pot, cover, wrap in thick towel or blanket and put inside your stove - not turned on - for about 6-8 hours. The longer you let it incubate, the thicker it gets. Check it at about 6 hours, if thick enough pour off the whey (you can use this for baking) and voila: yogurt!

You can add flavouring, blended fruit, and sugar if you want - just don't stir too vigoriously or it will become runny. I mashed in some banana and a teensy bit of brown sugar for the kids. Emerson especially loved it!

I think I like this . . . I fed myself while you were gone, Mom.