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DECEMBER 25, 2014

Homemade & Heartfelt

That's been my motto forever, when it comes to Christmas gift-giving.

It started one year when I had no money to buy presents. And it's kept on being the general rule—at least one gift, anyhow—no matter how rich or poor I am in any given year.

Oh sure, when the wallet is bulging, I yield to storebought stuff just like everybody else. But...at least one present must be made by my own hands, or else I feel like I've wimped out and taken the easy route.

That doesn't mean I'm a superb knitter, or a magazine-worthy crafter, or a Master Chef baker, or anything else. It just means I get a lot of fun out of trying to make things, no matter how they turn out.

Sometimes I surprise myself, and those usually clunky, lumpy, too-much-glue, "um, thank you... I think" projects turn out beautifully, despite my lack of skill.

More often, I don't.

And sometimes, my most creative ideas never even get started.

This year, I was going to make snow globes. Homemade snow globes.

All year long, I'd saved interesting jars—a lovely pot-bellied urn-shaped one from expensive fig jam I found at a discount grocery outlet (I meant to give the whole jar of jam as a gift, but forgot; what else could I do but eat it myself? ;) ); a chubby mango chutney jar; plus a bunch of low, wide salsa jars. I'd even saved the lids, too.

This wasn't because I dreamt up the idea of snow globes a year ago. No, I just like to save jars. And lids.

But when I was brainstorming about fun things to make, the jars came to mind. Snow globes! Perfect!

Matt likes to say that he overcomplicates his projects, but I think we're neck-and-neck in that regard.

Not only was I going to make snow globes. I was going to make personalized snow globes, with little scenes inside that would tickle the recipients.

One would be Mount Rainier, with tiny mountain goats, and two people on a path. Or maybe the city of Tacoma at its base....




Another would be the Donner Party, with pioneer figures gathered around a skimpy fire in the midst of a blizzard, their decrepit covered wagon parked behind. Never mind what they'd be roasting on a stick over that fire.




Great! Brilliant! Now to figure out how to make those scenes.

Not with Fimo clay, as I'd planned. Reading online showed me it turns squooshy and white when submersed in water.

Fine. I'd just buy the figures to set the scene.

Five hours later, I'd learned that, yes, maybe I could buy a tiny covered wagon and pioneer figurines, but they were going to set me back $30 or more. And as for Mt. Rainier and white miniature mountain goats, sorry, no such figures existed.

More reading up on various plasticine clays. Nope. None of them would hold up in water.

Painted metal? Maybe two-dimensional cutouts would work if I painted them realistically? Bah. Only if I used enamel paint. Which I don't have. Starter set of enamels: $35.

Back to the drawing board.

Instead of obsessing over the figures inside, I'd read up on making snow globes. Surely I couldn't be the first person to want to try this.

Okay, this looked easy enough: Add glycerine to the water, so the snow wouldn't fall too fast. Um, but what is that snow, anyhow? Nothing a regular person can buy, apparently. Fine. I'd use glitter.

Clear caulk, to seal the lid. Great! We have plenty of caulk!

Epoxy, to glue the figures in place....

Oh. Right. The figures.

More searching online. More nothing-quite-right, unless I was prepared to shell out big bucks.

So much for snow globes for presents.

They got cinnamon candied almonds instead, those lumpy reddish ones you get in a cellophane cone at fairs and carnivals.

About half an hour, start to finish, is all it took to make them. Didn't have to google a thing.

But, hey, at least they're homemade! And heartfelt!

And there's always next year for cannibal pioneers for Christmas.



1 cup white sugar

1 cup water

1 tablespoon cinnamon

2 cups almonds


Combine sugar, cinnamon, and water in a saucepan, and bring to boil. Pour in almonds and stir. Keep boiling, stirring frequently, until all water evaporates and sugar starts to crystallize (about 20-30 minutes). Watch carefully and stir constantly in the last few minutes; easy to burn! Dump out onto a cookie sheet, breaking clumps apart with a fork (they're HOT!), and let cool.











December 1st as I write this, and you know what that means. ONLY 21 DAYS!

No, not 'til Christmas.

'Til the days start getting longer, oh boy!

Winter Solstice is December 21, and it’s my favorite day of the whole year (well, except every day is my favorite day :) ).

And it’s about the last day I can manage to keep a rein on spring fever. Wait, I take that back—out of respect to our Christmas tree (wouldn’t want to hurt its feelings!), I wait til after the holidays to go crazy with seed shopping, and seed starting, and covering every flat surface with trays of little pots full of treasures-to-come.

Not nearly time to start tomatoes yet, and besides, that’s not even a tempting thought, since I still have a potted cherry tomato plant in the sunny window, giving me a genuine fresh little tomato every two weeks or so.

I’m talking flowers, of course.

And, since the gardens are already pretty much crammed full, what to try next is going to take some thought.

That’ll take a while, of course. And require endless paging through seed catalogs (first one came last week, oh joy!).

Can’t think of a better thing to do on these long, dark nights, to keep me busy until we start turning toward the sun.










After we wrote the story of Snowflake, our oddball leucistic chickadee, for the Birds page... He came back!

He's been here every day, visiting frequently to snatch another peanut.

And Matt even managed to get his picture, which is not an easy thing to do with any chickadee. Those little guys move fast.

Meet our newest feeder friend, Snowflake :)

(And read all about him on the Birds page.)







November already! How'd that happen? Seems like it was just September.

Ever wonder why it seems like the weeks just fly by, and the months, too?

Brace yourself—it's because we're getting older.

Remember when you were a kid, and whatever special day you were waiting for—Christmas, or summer vacation, or your birthday—seemed like it would never get here?

The time just dragged on and on. Each day felt like a week, even if you X'd them off on a calendar.

And, boy, by the time you managed to X off a whole week, wow, that felt like a really big deal.

And now—well, it's Friday again before you know it. "Was that a week ago?" Matt and I often ask each other. "Or two weeks? A month?"


A beautiful hand-drawn calendar I found in an old school notebook that once belonged to Solon Schwoyer, a fellow from Berks County, PA...



It's not an illusion. Time really does go faster the older we get.

At age 6, a stretch of two months, say, is 1/16th of the entire time we've been alive.

At age 60, two months is 1/160th of the time we've been alive.

That "proportional time" effect is what makes the weeks fly by faster and faster, the older we get.

The length of time we've already lived is way, wayyyy longer than it was when we were kids waiting for Christmas. So any length of time seems, and is, much shorter—proportionately speaking.

Doesn't hold true when we're talking about just a single day, though. Or maybe it's just not so apparent, because, come to think of it, I well remember how the school day seemed to last forever. And nowadays I look at the clock and say, "Wow, it's 2 o'clock already! How'd that happen?"

How many days til Christmas? It'll be here before you know it.




That's it for now, but don't forget to check out the Flowers and the Birds pages for more news!

And if you enjoy Sally's columns in the newspaper, or her books, or her articles in Birds & Blooms, or our postings on Facebook, check out Nature Ramblings, our latest book project. Thanks!