Monday, 17 December 2007

Camping in the Great Indoors

What better way to pass the time on a cold, wet and blustery day than snuggling inside a cozy tent, nestled comfortably in a sea of pillows and blankets. No doubt, most of us have fond childhood memories of spending stormy afternoons tucked inside our own private tent, smack in the middle of the living room. After a quick raid of the linen closet and the assembly of a few choice pieces of furniture, we were able to create our own personal getaway in mere minutes.

With a long, cold Canadian winter ahead of us, I imagine the boys and I will be housebound on more than one occasion. Creating play tents, tunnels and forts is a favorite activity at our house. Chi-Chi in particular enjoys hiding out in his personal “secret” retreats. Muffy, being the typical little brother, delights in disturbing the peace and invading Chi-Chi’s hideaways. There is never a dull moment, that’s for sure!

I decided to add a little twist to the conventional living room blanket tent by seeking out some fun and interesting “construction materials”. On a recent trip to the Annapolis Valley, I paid a visit to a little gem of a fabric shop, Esther’s Sewing Centre in New Minas. I was immediately drawn to a vivid, hand-dyed batik print. Conveniently, my selection was sheeting fabric so I was able to obtain a very large piece of material measuring a whopping 10 feet by 10 feet. A quick hemming job on my sewing machine was all that was needed to finish the project. I purchased a set of wooden play clips from a great Canadian, on-line natural toy store. These clips are made in Canada and are a wonderful tool for creating play spaces. (www.naturalpod.com)
Chi-Chi and Muffy’s play tent will be waiting for them on Christmas morning, a gift from dear old Santa. I must admit, late at night, when the wee ones are tucked in bed, I pull out the tent and set it up. I’ve forced my husband to crawl inside and just “hang out” with me over a cup of tea. It’s a soothing and dreamy place to pass the time. I suspect, from a child’s perspective, one might get the sense of traveling inside a rainbow. The tent is particularly magical on a sunny day with the bright light shining through the vibrant colors of the fabric.

I am certain both Chi-Chi and Muffy will discover many creative uses over the years for this open-ended toy. It will not share the fate of the poor synthetic, toxic smelling polyester play tent we owned for just a short stint. Unfortunately, it will soon be on its way to a landfill for it could not withstand the play activities of two young boys. Interesting, considering that's what it was supposedly designed for!

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

A Tree Fit for Charlie Brown

Nothing quite adds to a festive atmosphere than the scent of balsam wafting through the house. I’ve been enjoying this cheerful aroma for the last couple of days. On Sunday our family ventured on our annual "Charlie Brown Christmas Tree Hunt". Since the majority of our sixteen-acre property is forested, we forego the tree lots each year and head into the woods to select our special Christmas tree.

Chi-Chi was simply thrilled with the day’s adventure! Waddling around in his puffy snowsuit, he examined our options carefully and was tickled pink when we finally settled on an adorable 3 foot spruce tree. Neighbour friends joined in on the fun and went home with a 15 foot beauty, a perfect fit for their cathedral ceiling family room. This homegrown selection represented the deal of the week for this family. Our local tree lot was offering 12 foot varieties for a whopping $125 plus tax!
Due to the Muffy’s “active tendencies”, we were forced to find an out-of -reach spot for our little tree. It is nestled on top of our sideboard in the dining room and I must admit, it looks rather ridiculous. I’m currently watching Muffy as he eyes the tree. The wheels are churning inside that little head. No doubt he’ll devise a strategy to tear it down before the holidays are threw!

I’ve always been partial to homemade decorations, thanks to my mother. Growing up, our tree was adorned in adorable handmade ornaments. Over the last few years, I’ve been working on compiling a set of homemade tree garnishes. Since we live next to the Atlantic Ocean, I thought it would be fun to decorate our tree in a coastal theme. I stole a few items from my shell collection and in no time created a set of seashell ornaments. After drilling holes in a few muscle shells, periwinkles and sand dollars, I simply strung them with bits of yarn and ribbon. Chi-Chi proudly contributed a basket of pine cones he collected a few weeks ago to our set of ornaments. Appropriately, a large starfish sits atop our tree. Not only are these decorations cute, they were free and are 100% biodegradable. You can’t beat that!

Thanks to our sweet little tree, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Friday, 7 December 2007

Pillow Talk

What mother of young children doesn’t look forward to the much-anticipated daily ritual of naptime? With Muffy greeting the day at 6 a.m. most mornings, I’m definitely frazzled and fizzled by the time 2 p.m. rolls around. To my delight, Chi-Chi has been engaging in the game of “sleep” lately. This is a wonderful activity that involves lounging on the couch and pretending to have a nap. Unfortunately, this restful, peaceful moment usually lasts a mere 30 seconds. Regardless, I actually appreciate the luxury of putting my feet up for 30 seconds these days! I’ll take whatever I can get!

With Christmas just around the corner, I’ve been spending most evenings in “Santa’s Workshop”, putting the final touches on my gifts to the boys. While there will certainly be purchased gifts under the tree this year, I thought it would be fun and rewarding to hand make a few special items. Perhaps I was spurred by sheer selfishness, but I decided to create a gift that would promote and encourage Chi-Chi and Muffy’s participation in peaceful pastimes. I thought the little ones would find enjoyment in a couple of plush play pillows to call their own. Although pillows are very simple and plain objects, I figure their wild imaginations will find many uses for them. My hope is that Chi-Chi and Muffy will find them comforting and soothing in a quiet moment. Of course, I’m not na├»ve enough to believe they won’t provide the inspiration and tools for the odd pillow fight!

I’m not much of a seamstress, so simplicity and straight lines are pre-requisites to any sewing project I take on. Each pillow is 12’ by 18’, which is a manageable size for little hands. Wanting to steer clear of synthetic materials, the pillows and removable, washable cases were sewn with 100% cotton. I used wool batting for the stuffing that I purchased from the Lismore Sheep Farm in River John, Nova Scotia (www.lismoresheepfarmwoolshop.com). Deep inside, I tucked a tiny fragrant sachet of dried lavender, which apparently possesses calming and stress relieving qualities.

Chi-Chi is fast approaching the age of 3 so I suspect his days of afternoon siestas are limited. Paired with a wooly sheepskin rug, this set of snuggly pillows will hopefully provide the little ones with a cozy corner to cuddle up with a book, or simply slow down for a brief, but refreshing moment of rest.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Christmas Comes Early for our Feathered Friends

The temperature has certainly taken a nosedive in our neck of the woods. With a wind chill reading of minus 12 degrees Celsius, it’s just a tad too frosty for Chi-Chi and Muffy to spend too much time outdoors today. No doubt we are not the only ones feeling the effects of the falling mercury. Our feathered friends are braving the frigid winds in an effort to fill their tummies and fatten up for the long winter ahead. Nestled comfortably in our toasty house, I felt a wee bit guilty watching the little chickadees dutifully pecking away for their breakfast.

With the whole family suffering a mild case of cabin fever, I thought it would be a good opportunity to get the little ones involved in an activity to both pass some time, and celebrate the winter season that has descended upon us. My tiny backyard birds provided me with the inspiration I was looking for!

I’ve spent the last couple of evenings working on my Christmas list. In an effort to avoid the malls and big box stores this holiday season, I’ve decided to hand make a number of gifts. Why not enlist the services of my talented, eager and willing children to help out in the gift making process? Flipping through various craft and project books, I came across several recipes for bird treats. After a quick glance in the pantry, I was able to assemble enough ingredients to create a revised version of the various recipes I’d seen.

My bird treat recipe is simple, quick and easy. Despite the fact I had a 2 ½ year old in the kitchen, the mess was minimal.

2 cups quick cooking rolled oats
3 cups boiling water
1 cup shortening
½ cup chunky peanut butter (no salt)
3/4 cup black oil sunflower seeds
1/4 cup thistle seed
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup Red River cereal
1/2 cup dried cranberries

I cooked the oats for approximately 2 minutes. After letting it cool to a lukewarm temperature, I brought the pot over to Chi-Chi to work with. He gleefully dumped in the rest of the ingredients and stirred them well. Once the mixture was fully cooled, the real fun began! Chi-Chi delighted in working with this “bird seed play dough”. He skillfully formed patties and cookies and placed them on a baking sheet lined with wax paper. We popped them in the freezer and in no time they were frozen solid. It didn’t take long for our crew of chickadees to sniff out this tasty new treat. They have been enthusiastically gobbling it up all afternoon.

Not only was this a fun activity for Chi-Chi, but it also helped Mommy cross off a few items on her Christmas list. These yummy bird cakes will be a great gift for the nature lovers on my list. Not only are they easy on the gift-giving budget, they are eco-friendly and fully biodegradable! Of course, they were also made with love by the hands of my 2 year old, which makes them particularly special. He will be thrilled to pass these out to his loved ones - a gift that truly comes from his dear little heart!