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Homemade Elder-Blossom Nectar

Inspiration for our HOMEMADE ELDER-BLOSSOM NECTAR came from one of my favorite children books, “Linnea’s Almanac” by Christina Bjork and Lena Anderson. L rediscovered the Linnea books a couple weeks ago and has been poring over each page. In the July section of the book is a recipe for Elder-Blossom Nectar. Since I had never made it, but always wanted to, we got to work! The very day we came across the recipe, we spotted an Elder Tree on one of our outings! How lucky were we!?! A few days later, we went on an early morning adventure and harvested the Elder blossoms.

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Ingredients:

  • 25-30 Elder blossom clusters
  • 1-2 lemons
  • 2 lbs sugar
  • 1 quart water

Before you harvest Elder blossoms, you want to make certain that you have the right type of tree. There are other blossoms that are similar, poisonous Elder and poison Hemlock, but are not the same. True Elder blossoms will be on a tree. The white flowers are in big, flat, round clusters that have a strong, sweet smell. (see pictures below) Poisonous Elder grows in pointed clusters that are yellowish-green and they do not have a strong scent. Poison Hemlock has a very different, fern-like leaf shape, and it grows more like a weed…not a tree.

 

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Once you find your Elder tree, you’ll want to cut off 25-30 flower clusters. Have your kids help you count the flowers, inspect them with a magnifying glass for fun, and put them in a large jar.

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Next, back at home, slice your lemon and add it to a pot with the water and sugar. Heat the mixture to a boil, then carefully pour it into the jar with your Elder blossoms. Cover the jar and let it sit for three days.

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While the nectar is setting, time to find and clean some bottles! You want to make sure your bottles are well washed in preparation for the nectar.

After three days, it’s time to bottle your nectar! Opening the lid, you won’t believe the sweet aroma that’s been bottled up inside! (I have to admit, I cheated. We opened the jar everyday to smell our nectar…it was just so tempting!)

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First remove whatever blossoms and lemon pieces you can with a fork or spoon.

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Next, tie a cheese cloth around the top of your jar. Strain the nectar thru the cheese cloth, pouring it into a large pitcher.

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From here, you pour the nectar into the clean bottles or jars you’ve prepared. Make sure you fill the bottles to the top and secure the lids tightly. If done properly, your nectar will last for six months in the refrigerator. After you open a bottle, you’ll have to devour the contents within a month…no problem there! It’s just so good!

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Uses and Recipes:

We use our nectar similar to other syrups or honey.

  • First we made a cold, summer drink by adding 4 tablespoons of the nectar to a quart of water. Yum!
  • You can make a warm, milky, tea-like drink as well. Stir together 1 teaspoon of nectar, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla, and 1 cup of milk for each person. Warm the mixture in a saucepan and pour it into a teapot. (This tea is perfect for summer night tea parties, while watching the stars, lightning bugs, and bats come out!)
  • You can also drizzle your nectar on pancakes or over hot oatmeal or grits for breakfast. Delish!

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Bjork, Christina and Lena Anderson. “Linnea’s Almanac.” Stockholm: Raben & Sjogren, 1982. Print.

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Tin Can Telephone

Now I know this craft, toy, activity is as old as they come, but how many of you have actually made a TIN CAN TELEPHONE for your kids yet!?! L has been begging for weeks for us to make one and today was the day! It was so quick and easy to put together and the kids played with it all afternoon. L already has plans for tomorrow and how we’ll make a longer TIN CAN TELEPHONE that will stretch to the neighbor’s porch. And yes…if you’re wondering…yes, it does work!!! As you probably remember, the key is making sure the string is pulled taut when you’re talking to each other, and try not to rest the can against your face as well. Enjoy!

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Materials needed:

  • 2 tin cans, clean and lids removed
  • Sharpie markers (optional)
  • awl or nail
  • scissors
  • string
  • tape (fabric, duct, or gaffer)

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First, color the cans with Sharpie markers. Of course you could always paint the cans, glue paper to the cans, or leave them plain as well.

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Next, put tape on the cans to protect your kids from any sharp edges. To do this, measure the tape, to get the length right.

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Carefully roll the can over the tape, wrapping the tape around the can, and leaving about half an inch of the tape hanging off the edge.

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Next, use scissors to cut the tape as pictured. Then, fold all the flaps down over the can’s edge. No fear of little hands getting cut now!

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Using an awl or a nail, poke a hole in the bottom of each can.

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Cut a piece of string and thread it through the hole in the bottom of a can. Double or triple knot the string. Repeat on the other side of the string with the second can.

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If the holes seems to be a bit sharp on the inside, and you have especially little hands that you’re afraid may explore the inside of the cans, you can put a piece of tape over the knots and holes of the cans.

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Now, time to play! Your little ones can experiment talking across a room, through fort walls, up and down stairs, from one bedroom to another…the possibilities are endless.

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Such simple, wonderful, old school fun!!!

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Pajama Walks & Dandelion Walks

A couple years ago, our family started going on “Pajama Walks” during the warmer months of the year. They’re not something we do on a daily basis, but maybe once every couple of weeks. Pajama walks are perfect for nights when the kids have been really good, dinner was on the early side, and you want to do something special to end your perfect day. They’re also great on days which have been a complete disaster, as your last hope to turn the day around! Or maybe on rainy days when the clouds part and the sun decides to come out just before it sets…

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Basically, you eat dinner, give the kids a bath, and instead of reading a bedtime story, you take a stroll around the block. You sing songs, talk about your day, watch the moon come out, and unwind as a family.

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Over the past few weeks our pajama walks have morphed into something beautiful: “Dandelion Walks.” While on our walks, L started picking dandelions and other pretty weeds like all kids do. She then started leaving them on people’s doorsteps, in their mailboxes, and even gave a dandelion to a neighbor’s cat napping on their patio.

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So now on our pajama walks, the kids pick flowers for one block and share them for three. The neighbors might not even notice and the girls know this, but it makes them happy leaving these little surprise gifts of sunshine all the same.

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I’ve always told our girls, “Dandelions are where the sun kisses the earth when it rises in the morning.” And it’s true.

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To inspire your kids further, I highly recommend the book “Sidewalk Flowers” by poet JonArno Lawson and illustrator Sydney Smith. It’s one of our favorites!

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DIY Ragtag Fairy Skirts (No Sew!!!)

These Ragtag Fairy Skirts are so easy to make, I almost feel silly writing a post on them. They are so cute though!!! I figured if you didn’t know how to make them already, you need to learn! Like all my projects that involve fabric, my suggestion to you is to check out the secondhand stores in your area first. We have an old antique/junk store in town that has a huge selection of funky fabrics from the 80s and 90s…they’re just perfect for crafts like this. And they only cost $1-$3 for pieces 3-6 yards long! If you already have a nice pile of fabric scraps, you’re all set…it doesn’t take much!

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Materials needed:

  • fabric
  • elastic
  • scissors

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First cut the fabric into strips, about 1-2 inches wide and 12-20 inches long. Varying lengths make the skirt fun…it definitely doesn’t have to be perfect!

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Next, cut a piece of elastic long enough to go around your child’s waist, with enough left over for a bow or knot. Tie on each piece of fabric as pictured. First, fold the fabric in half. Then, put the folded loop under the elastic. Flip the ends of the fabric up and over the elastic and through the loop of folded fabric. Pull gently to tighten and secure.

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Repeat this process until the skirt is full. Although the lengths of the fabric can vary (makes the skirt more fun and free), I would try to make each “knot” face the same direction.

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Once all the fabric strips are secure, simply tie the skirt in a bow around your child’s waist. So easy and too cute!!!

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Rain Boot Wreath

I’ve seen old rain boots up-cycled into flower planters before, so I thought, “Why not use them for a Spring wreath!?” This RAIN BOOT WREATH was so quick and easy to put together and the outcome is adorable…perfect for Spring!

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I could’ve gone out and bought some new boots that weren’t dirty, worn, and broken in spots, but that required me to take the kids shopping and more money spent…not my idea of fun! I ended up making these with things we already had: L’s old rain boots and flowers we had leftover from other projects. Every time we walk in through the front door, the rain boots make me think of the many rainy, muddy adventures L went on during the first three years of her life. So much love!

Materials needed:

  • rain boots (kids’, adults’, old or new)
  • artificial flowers
  • rope and/or ribbon
  • scissors

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First, if your boots are dirty, clean and dry them.

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Next, lay out your flowers and decide how you’re going to split them up. When you arrange your flowers, start with the taller and/or leafy flowers first. Put the single, shorter, and more prominent flowers in last. Originally I thought I’d use wire cutters to trim my flowers, but I ended up just bending the wired stems in half, depending on the height I was looking for. This helped them take up room and stay put in each boot!

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Once your boots are filled and arranged the way you like them, tie a rope or ribbon securely to each boot.

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Now, take the boots to your door and see how they will hang. I ended up tying a knot in the rope down low, tying both halves together so the boots didn’t lean out too far from the door. I also shortened the rope a bit by wrapping and tying it around the wreath hanger.

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To finish your fun and funky Spring wreath, tie a pretty ribbon in a simple bow around the top and you’re done! So easy, cute and fun!

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Happy Spring!!!

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Naturally Dyed Easter Eggs (with Onion Skins & Cabbage)

How beautiful are these Easter eggs!?! Ever since I was a kid and read about dying eggs in onion skins in a nature-craft book, I’ve wanted to try it. I couldn’t believe how easy they were to make and how bright and colorful they turned out! The orange-brownish eggs were dyed in the onion skins, while the bluish ones were dyed using red cabbage. And no, you don’t need to buy a whole bunch of onions to get the skins. Just ask the nearest grocer at the store, and they’ll be happy to let you and the kids dig through the onion bin! You’ll find plenty there! It did not take long at all to dye the eggs in onion skins, while the ones dyed with red cabbage soaked over-night. Just takes a little patience!

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Materials needed:

  • white eggs
  • onion skins
  • red cabbage
  • medium-sized pot
  • water
  • small flowers, leaves, herbs
  • old pantyhose or knee highs
  • twist ties

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First, fill your pot up completely with onion skins. Then, fill with water, leaving a couple inches of space for the eggs.

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Do the same with the red cabbage, chopping the cabbage first.

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Next, put both pots on the stove and turn on high to boil. Let the water simmer for about 5 minutes, then turn the pots off. Let them sit and cool for 5 hours or overnight.

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To prepare the eggs to dye, to get the beautiful nature prints on them, gather small leaves and flowers from your garden. We even used some weeds with interesting leaf shapes!

Cut your pantyhose or knee-highs in small sections. We used knee highs. I cut them in half and then with the top portion, I cut a slit up the side. With the bottom half, it was easy to just place the egg inside.

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Press a flower or leaf onto the egg and carefully wrap the pantyhose around it. Dipping the leaves in water first makes them stick to the eggs a bit easier.

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Twist the pantyhose in the back and secure with a twist tie.

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Now to dye the eggs! Place your eggs into the pots, making sure they are completely submerged in the water.

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Put the pots back onto the stove and bring them to a boil again. Turn down to low heat, and let the pots for 20-30 min.

After the water cools a bit, carefully remove the eggs soaking in the onion skins and dry them off a bit on a towel.

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Cut the pantyhose and the eggs will come out carefully. So cool!!!

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Place the pot with the red cabbage and eggs in your refrigerator and let them sit up to 24 hrs. Then do the same…removing them from the water and cutting the pantyhose off.

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To make your eggs shine, you can wet a paper towel with vegetable oil and gently rub it onto each egg. Such a naturally beautiful way to celebrate Spring, Easter, or Naw Ruz!!!

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2-Ingredient Slime

This SLIME recipe has to be the quickest and easiest sensory-dough-goop we’ve ever made in Our Beautifully Messy House! It was perfect for a cold, rainy afternoon…a perfect excuse to keep the t.v. off as well! Both girls loved squishing and stretching our slime and I’m sure they’ll be asking for it first thing tomorrow morning!

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Ingredients:

  • one bottle, glitter glue
  • 1/4 cup, liquid starch

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I’ve seen various recipes for this slime and it looks like all types of liquid, non-toxic glue will work: white (Elmer’s) glue + food coloring; clear glue + food coloring + glitter. I thought just using the glitter glue would take out the extra steps of adding coloring and glitter, and it worked great! No dyed fingers and no glitter mess to boot!

First, empty an entire bottle of glitter glue into a plastic container or bowl.

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Next, add the liquid starch a little at a time. Stir for a minute or two, until the slime congeals together and is semi-solid.

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Dump the slime out on a hard surface and squish with your hands. (After this step, my hands and the plastic mat were a little wet. I simply dried them off, and after that, the slime was virtually mess-free!)

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Time to play!!! L and WB enjoyed squishing plastic figurines into their slime this afternoon. They made a bed for some jawas to nap on, a dinosaur taco, and a sparkly potion for the fairies. Let their imaginations soar!!!

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An extra-fun quality of this slime is the inappropriate “FlAaArP!!!” sound it makes when you squash it into a plastic cup with your fingers. Haha! There was so much laughter to be had with that one!!!

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Store your slime in a sealed container and it should last for at least a couple months! Enjoy!!!

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Shoebox-Marble Game

Not only is the SHOEBOX-MARBLE GAME super-easy and simple to make, it’s also a challenging game for anyone to play! For younger children, they can try to catch the marbles on any holes; for adults and older kids, they may try to catch the marbles on specific colors or to make patterns with the marbles. Sounds pretty easy, but it’s not! L and I had lots of fun this afternoon taking turns, playing the Shoebox-Marble Game. Our shoebox was big enough, we were even able to play together with all hands on the box, tipping and tilting it until all the marbles were caught!

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Materials needed:

  • shoebox
  • awl (or sharp tool)
  • markers
  • marbles

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First, color a fun picture or design inside your shoebox.

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Using your awl, poke holes through the bottom. I like to do this by placing the box on a doormat, then poking the holes from the inside of the box – out. If the game is too hard, you may want to go back and make some larger.

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Now it’s time to play! Put some marbles in your box and see who can catch the most on the holes! The more you practice, the better you’ll get. For younger children, it helps to have them balance the box on a flat surface.

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Enjoy!!!

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DIY Nature Frame

Is your child a nature collector or, as Pippi Longstocking would say, a “thing finder”? If so, the DIY Nature Frame is the perfect project for them! Just about every day of the year, L fills our stroller, our wagon, or our pockets with things she finds on walks. We could be going for a walk around the block in the city and she still comes home with feathers, sticks, rocks, butterfly wings and seed pods! This past weekend we went for a walk and L brought home pinecones and pine needles that she wanted to “do a craft” with, ie. glue to paper. I knew that wouldn’t quite work, so in less than 10 minutes we put together this Nature Frame!

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The best part about having a Nature Frame, is that it’s a project that is constantly changing, evolving throughout the year. While ours has pine cones and pine needles in it now, the end of February, I’m sure within a month or two it will be filled with Spring flowers, robins eggs, and fallen bird’s nests. In the Fall, our Nature Frame will most likely be glowing orange with fallen leaves from the backyard…finally, a place for all our nature findings!!!

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Materials needed:

  • an old frame
  • string
  • scissors

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First, dismantle your frame. I bought this old and ugly print, among a collection of 5 other framed pictures, for $1.75 at an antique auction. I liked two of the pictures and that was worth the $1.75 and getting stuck with 3 I didn’t care for so much! So I stashed the ugly pictures away in a closet and I’m glad I did…the frame on this one was perfect for a Nature Frame! You can find similar frames for pennies at secondhand stores, yard sales, and antique shops.

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Next, tie your string to the edge of your frame and, with the help of your child, wrap it criss-cross around the frame. We used three different strings that were three different colors…anything works!

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Now, after you’ve been for a nature walk and your little one’s pockets are full, you can fill your frame. And then, hang it in a place for everyone to enjoy! We hung ours in our kitchen by the back door…L’s findings usually end up on the floor by the door, so now they can go up on the wall instead! I just love it!

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Enjoy!!!

 

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DIY Bird Nesting Kit

The “DIY Bird Nesting Kit” is the perfect project for little hands and little helpers! L and I made three kits this week: two gifts and one to hang in our own backyard, next to our DIY Tin Can Bird Feeder. It took less than a day for our feathered-friends to find it and start picking away, flying bits of string home to cozy-up their nests! The DIY Bird Nesting Kit costs only $2.50 to make (I’m not kidding!) and it’s a wonderful project to help teach kids about giving, sharing, and caring for the world around us….aaand about birds and the various types of nests they make of course!

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Before making our Bird Nesting Kits, the girls and I read “Mama Built a Little Nest” by Jennifer Ward and Steven Jenkins. It is fascinating book with beautiful, collage-like illustrations, depicting all kinds of birds, their families, and the homes they build. (It’s best to read in a pile of beach towels, swirled around on the floor into your own nest.) I highly recommend it!

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Materials needed:

  • Wired bird suet holder
  • yarn scraps
  • scissors
  • ruler (optional)

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First, have your little one cut the yarn scraps up into pieces about 3-5 inches long. You don’t have to measure them, but your little one might want to with the ruler!

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After you have a nice pile of yarn pieces, it’s time to stuff them into the suet holder. Then, close the suet holder up and it’s all done. It’s that easy!

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Now, time to find the perfect place outside to hang your Bird Nesting Kit…someplace where the birds will find it and you can spy them doing so is best!

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If you’re giving your Bird Nesting Kit away as a gift, you may want to include a little card inside explaining what it is. Your friends will be sure to love such a colorful, quirky, and fun gift! Enjoy!!!

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