Winter at Cottage Green – Evergreen Centerpiece and DIY Bird Treats

Twilight was closing in which was a signal to the Loons to begin their enchanting love calls over the lake.

Auld Lang Syne and best wishes for the brightest and merriest of new years! You know I haven’t written you since last year (; so I need to write about the last bit of our 2020 before I begin writing about the new year. Get comfy and pour yourself something warm to drink, and as a dear friend and I say to one another, “Let’s drink some tea and talk of happy things.”

It was a wonderful Christmas season filled with bustling and busy-ness, yuletide cheer, and enough merry making “to make the season bright.” Then on the night of Winter Solstice we all had the added excitement and wonder of the celestial 2,000 year phenomenon of Jupiter and Saturn coming so closely aligned in their orbits they appeared as “a double planet” and were nicknamed the Christmas Star. All-the-while, our days were intermingled with the holiness and awe of the season as we reflected on what Christmas truly means and marveled anew that Jesus chose to come down to earth as a little baby to be our Savior.

A thousand times in history a baby has become a king, but only once in history did a King become a baby.

As usual I ran out of time to do all I wanted to do. However, one fun project I did have time to do was to make a beautiful evergreen centerpiece. I wish I could share with you the wonderful, heady, fir fragrance that enveloped my greenhouse while I was making it! The beautiful winter day was fading into twilight, but it was still warm enough outside to leave my greenhouse door open to see the lake and hear the birds twittering as they enjoyed their evening meal together at the bird feeders, while I worked.

The fir boughs I was using I had saved and kept fresh in 2 big buckets of water in the greenhouse ever since Richard had trimmed them from our Christmas tree. I had plenty of branches to work with, but I still needed a little texture and color to mix in with my fir branches. Out into the backyard I went to forage with pruners in hand. I experienced a little thrill of resourcefulness when I found the perfect filler I needed…pointed, deep green, holly leaves with bright red berries from our very own holly bushes! I couldn’t help myself and began humming “The Holly and the Ivy” while I was clipping.

The holly and the ivy, 
When they are both full grown 
Of all the trees that are in the wood 
The holly bears the crown.

I was back in the Cottage Greenhouse, ready to make my arrangement, still humming, now on the refrain…

O, the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The playin of the merry organ
Sweet singing in the choir 

All done, just in time with the last light fading away.

The holly bears a blossom
As white as  lily flow'r
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To be our dear Saviour

My simple arrangement looked elegant on our woodland table and red tapers and red votive cups enhanced the red of the holly berries.

Then the Christmas season blended into New Year’s Eve and our son and daughter in law asked us to spend the festive evening with them and our 2 grand babies. ❤ Our DDIL had prepared a Mexican feast for us and we had corn and flour taquitos served with her homemade sausage queso and pico de gallo, Chicken Enchilada Dip (click here for recipe) served with chips and veggies, and a delicious Key Lime Pie. We spent the evening just enjoying each other’s company, watching the antics of our grand children, and toasting in the New Year with some sparkling White Grape Juice.

Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year…This new day is too dear, with its hopes and invitations, to waste a moment on the yesterdays.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Then, this weekend SNOW was forecasted for us! It was the perfect time for another fun winter project I always enjoy doing, especially on a cold winter afternoon during NFL Wild Card Weekend; I made treats to decorate a tree for the birds! Click on the highlighted link to see another one of my posts about DIY bird treats… “A Picnic for the Birds” Since reading all the Laura Ingalls Wilder books when I was in elementary school, I’ve always wanted to string popcorn. Finally, after all these years, I decided to do it. Unlike Laura, who had to pop her corn over the kitchen fireplace, I conveniently got a bag of popcorn out of our cabinet and placed it in the microwave. While the kernels were popping, I set out some fresh cranberries I wanted to add to my popcorn string, found some cute red, green, and white cording to use for stringing, and a tapestry needle.

Helpful hints to make popcorn stringing easier:

  • Stale popcorn is easier to string than fresh, crispy popcorn. Pop your popcorn the night before and spread it out on wax paper so your popcorn will be easier to thread the next day.
  • Use a smaller needle and thread. A tapestry needle is blunt and much larger then a regular needle. It is a great choice if you have young children that are helping you that you don’t want to get hurt when working with a needle, however, it is harder for the large tapestry needle to go through the popcorn without breaking the popped kernel. After a few trials, I switched to a finer needle and just “doubled” sewing thread instead of using the thicker cording I had been using. I was amazed how much quicker and easier the stringing became!

After I got through stringing my popcorn and cranberries, I cut a grapefruit, an orange, and a lemon into thin slices to dry in the oven and hang as ornaments and treats on my bird tree.

Directions:

  • Slice your choice of fruits (I used 1 grapefruit, 1 orange, and 1 lemon) into thin rounds.
  • Pat both sides of fruit with a paper towel to dry and place the slices on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper.
  • Preheat the oven to 200 degrees and bake fruit slices for 1 hour.
  • Turn slices over after the first hour and continue baking for another 1-2 hours, checking periodically to make sure the slices don’t burn
  • Total baking time, 2-3 hours, or until fruits are dried and transparent
  • Remove from oven
  • When cool, make a small slit in each fruit round near the rind to insert jute or yarn for hanging.

Next, I cut apple slices and used a mini cookie cutter to punch out heart in each apple slice. After the apple slices, I made sweet little orange cups and filled them with a mixture of peanut butter, corn meal, and bird seed.

Directions for Apple Slices w/heart cutout:

  • Cut apple in thin slices
  • Brush slices with lemon juice to keep apples from discoloring
  • Use a mini cookie cutter to punch out a heart in each apple slice
  • Insert yarn through heart and tie for hanging…or fill heart cut out with peanut butter seed mixture

Directions for Orange Seed Cups :

  • Cut orange in half and scoop out orange segments and pulp
  • Dry inside of both orange halves with a paper towel
  • Using a knife, make 3 holes near the cut edge of each orange half, making sure the holes are evenly spaced around the circumference of your orange
  • Insert jute or yarn into each hole and tie a knot to secure each strand to the orange, allowing extra length of yarn/jute for hanging (see picture below)
  • Knot the 3 strands of jute/yarn together at the top for hanging
  • Fill cups with birdseed or…I made a blend of peanut butter, cornmeal (adding cornmeal to peanut butter makes it easier for the birds to swallow) and birdseed to fill each orange cup

All the special treats for the bird feast were done and I hung them on what-had-been our Christmas tree. Strings of popcorn and cranberries, stained glass grapefruit, orange, and lemon slices, apple slices with little punched out hearts, and charming orange cups soon filled the tree. When I had finished, dear Richard, who always goes along with my whims, carried the whole tree up to the landing on our stairs where I could watch the birds from my chair. Just look how cute the tree looks perched up there!

“Bon Appetit!”

Sweet apple rounds underneath an appetizer of popcorn and cranberries.

Everything for the next day was done; the fruit ornaments and festoons of popcorn strands were hung. A winter feast awaited my feathered friends and the only thing needed was the predicted and unaccustomed snow for our area in East Texas.

After taking some pictures, I was sitting on the upper stairs hoping to see some late visitors, though I knew it was unlikely at that hour. [Side note: Did you know that by 4:30 (here in East Texas) most birds have quit feeding and are already tucked away, safe in their nests? The cardinals are usually the latest birds to arrive at the feeders. My guess is they use the evening shadows to help diminish the visibility of their bright red feathers which makes them more vulnerable and highly visible to predators.] Twilight was closing in which was a signal to the Loons to begin their enchanting love calls over the lake. While I was enthralled and still listening to the Loons, 2 bald headed eagles flew by right above me, only 25 feet from where I was sitting! My winter evening came with gifts. ❤

And the next day, even earlier than predicted, our snow came!

The birds lined up in pecking order [which is a very important social order and strictly observed at our feeders!] Woodpeckers, with their strong, swift beaks are given the highest respect, with the Blue Jays next in line since they are bigger than most of the birds we typically see at our feeders. Regal Cardinals seem indifferent to all, but their own mate and cautiously watched from the snow covered branches eyeing and picking out which treats they wanted before they approached. The Junco’s, or Snow Birds as they’re commonly called and the Carolina Wrens happily ate the treats that fell to the deck, thus avoiding the wait and the line. The rest of the crew, the sweet, smaller birds, the Carolina and Black-capped Chickadees, all the Finches (the American Goldfinch, House Finch, and Red Finch) Warblers, and Titmouse stayed close by, flitting in and out, and rested on the branches between courses.

Beautiful, beautiful snow! I couldn’t get over it’s loveliness and how it felt falling “on my nose and eyelashes.”

or… thinking how clever God is to imagine and be so creative that He made what usually comes down as rain in other seasons, into something soft, fluffy, and fun to play in, just to soften the landscape and mood of winter.

Look how enchanting my Potting Cottage looks in the snow!

Well, I think that catches us all up. Our snow was a delight for the day, and the next day the sun was shining brightly and only the bravest and most stalwart of snowmen remained. Bemusedly, when Richard brought in the mail yesterday there on top of the stack of mail was my Burpee Seed Catalog, filled with the promise of Spring, zesty-mix zinnia’s, and Gloriosa Daisy’s!

From my cottage to yours ~ Trenda

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