Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Bird Seed Ornaments (Christmas in June?)

For me, summer is the perfect time to think about Christmas presents, both because I have lots of unscheduled time and also because yard sales are in full swing.   For my kids, having way-too-much-time on their hands makes this a perfect time for what I call "X-mass-production" -- an assembly line approach to producing gifts for my large extended family.

Kids' gifts, as far as I'm concerned, should conform to a few important rules.

  1. The gifts should be mostly kid-made.  None of this going out and buying a bottle of cologne and writing, "love, your son" on the tag.  If the kids don't earn the money and then purchase the gifts themselves, they at least have to be major participants in the creation of the gift.
  2. If possible, the gifts should be useful/desirable to the participants.  I try so hard to avoid clutter in my own house that I consider it foul play to export knick-knack-y items to other people's homes.  So plastic ornaments, "art work", and other so-called-treasures are right off the list.
  3. Consumable gifts rock.
  4. If the gifts aren't actually useful or edible, at least they should compost easily.   
Rule 1 is inviolate for me, and it increases in severity and intensity as the boys get older.  Rules 2, 3, and 4 interchange in intensity, varying on the year.  In the past, I had the boys design "stained glass" soap dispensers, home-canned pickled peppers, home-canned peach-ginger jam, and oobleck.  (Oobleck, by the way, totally failed on #2 and #3 but at least seems to be biodegradable).

This past week, we created bird-seed ornaments in anticipation of our Christmas 2014 celebrations.  The "X-mass production" worked incredibly smoothly, as you can see from these photos:
K-daughter and N-son scoop the mixture into the molds. . . 

. . .  and J-son makes holes with a chopstick.
We used a recipe from this link, although we quadrupled the amount from that page:
  • gently boil 2 cups water and 4 packets (10 teaspoons) unflavored gelatin with 1 cup corn syrup.
  • When all is dissolved, whisk in 3 cups flour.
  • Add 16 cups birdseed; mix well.
The original link suggested using cookie cutters as molds, but we don't have those at my home.  (Yes, I know, bad parents!)   Instead, we used our incredibly large stash of canning jar lids.

The original link also suggested spraying the molds with "Pam" (or its equivalent), but I've given up on spray oil because of the disposal problems, so we had a small bowl of oil (you can see it in the photo with J-son above), and we just dipped the canning jar lids in that.  The kids scooped and patted the mixture into the molds and then added holes that we would eventually use for the string loops.

We arranged these on a screen that no longer fits any of our windows; we let these dry for about a day or two, and then added string loops.  In some cases, the holes we'd added were too close to the edge of the ornaments, so the holes broke, and we had to tie the string around the ornament.  If we ever do this again, I think we'll try to embed the string directly into  the ornaments.
The finished product: bird-seed ornaments.
Our recipe made 3-dozen wide-mouth jar lids worth of ornaments (the original, non-quadrupled recipe, would make about 9 ornaments).

Come December, our lucky family members will get to unwrap ornaments that they can hang on outdoor trees.  They'll feed the birds (or squirrels), and then our presents will fade back in the ecosystem.  Perfect!

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