Daily Archives: December 18, 2012

Bird Cupcake Recipe

Treat the birds this winter with these high-energy suet treats.

In the winter, birds benefit from a high-energy suet treat. Stacy Tornio, editor of Birds & Blooms, developed this recipe with her kids using cupcake liners to stay mess-free. They’re happy to report that the birds love it.

To make a bird cupcake, melt 1 cup shortening and 2 cups chunky peanut butter over low heat, then mix in 5 cups cornmeal. Fill cupcake tins and top with your choice of nuts, birdseed or dried berries. Cool in the refrigerator. To give as a gift, arrange on a plate or stack and then wrap with cellophane. Print off the recipe card below and attach it to the cellophane so your recipient can make more. Add a bow, and you have an instant gift!

Fun Winter Outdoor Activities for Families – To Beat Cabin Fever

Cure your kids’ winter blues with these easy ideas for outdoor fun

If you live in “snow country,” the first flakes of the season bring everyone out to play. But as winter wears on and snow becomes just something to shake from your boots, it gets easier and easier to stay inside.

But as long as your kids bundle up, fresh air will do them a world of good. Here are some ways to keep outdoor winter play fresh and fun.

            Scenario #1: The snow has been around for weeks and the kids are tired of sledding.

Build a miniature luge track. Have the kids use metal spoons to carve parallel tracks in the snow. (Snow that has been piled up and frozen hard is best.) They can race the spoons, rubber balls, acorns, or anything else handy. Kids will have fun trying to create the fastest course!

Make mini-snowmen out of snowballs. Younger children find making these little people easier than building the standard life-sized snowman. And older kids can spend more time on the details instead of building huge snow creatures. Get the neighborhood involved and create a whole city of mini-snowpeople!

Think beyond snowmen. Expand snow-building to include such things as cars, animals, or favorite sports team logos. Use water with food coloring to “paint” creations. 

Go snowshoeing. Snowshoeing doesn’t require fancy gear when you make your own out of cardboard cutouts, shoe boxes, folded newspapers, or tree branches. Attach to boots with string, rubber bands, or bungee cords and try a trek around your favorite green space.

            Scenario #2: It snowed, but not enough for sledding or building.

Look for tracks. A light snowfall can reveal what animals are around looking for food. Search for tracks and try to follow them.

Go to the playground. You probably haven’t been there in a while, and kids may enjoy seeing their summer play place sprinkled with snow. Take pictures, so you can compare when spring arrives. Bring along a thermos of cider or hot chocolate to cheer everyone up when you return to the car or the house.

Zoom in on nature. Bring a magnifying glass outside to take a close-up look at the frozen foliage. Or, if you have a microscope, take some items inside (quickly, before they melt!) to investigate further.

            Scenario #3: It’s a chilly, gray day with not a snowflake in sight. 

Go for the gold: Invite friends and family to your own Wacky Winter Olympics, held in your yard or neighborhood park.

Dog Sled Race: Competitors pull snow sleds loaded with toys, sticks, or rocks across the grass.

Polar Bear Swim: Give each child a tote bag of swim goggles, towel, an old adult swimsuit or oversized flippers. See how fast they can pull on the swim gear over their outdoor clothes, throw the towel around their neck, take a pretend “swim,” then remove items and return to bag.

Award each participant with an “outdoorsy” Olympic medal—tie a pine cone to a string!

Make ice sculptures: Fill a clear plastic container with a few inches of water. Add food coloring and stones and sticks for decoration. Set outside for several hours or overnight to freeze. Add another layer of water and nature “stuff” dyed a different color and allow to freeze. Repeat to create multiple layers.

Take the earth’s temperature: You’ll need to make sure the ground isn’t frozen for this one. Buy a soil thermometer at a garden supply store and take it with you on a walk around the yard or park. Have your kids stick it in the ground in various locations to compare ground temperatures. Is the ground warmer or cooler than the air? Does the temperature change in different locations?

Feeling SAD? How Sunlight Affects Health

Find out why it’s important to light up your life during the winter months

by Carol Torgan, Ph.D.

When the days grow shorter and darker, do you find yourself feeling blue? You’re not alone – and there are scientific reasons for that negative frame of mind. Studies show exposure to natural daylight can positively affect yourmood, your alertness, and your overall health.

During the winter, some people feel depressed because they suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)brought on, in part, by less sunlight exposure. Sunlight is important to your health in another way:  The natural light-dark rhythm of the day, dictated by the rising and setting of the sun, helps you sleep by maintaining natural circadian rhythms. 

Find out more about sunlight – and how to get more of it (safely) this winter!


Seasonal Affective Disorder

Blue light special: Getting the “right” light

Sleep disorders

Five easy ways to light up your life

            Seasonal Affective Disorder

As the seasons change and the days grow shorter, some people find they sleep more, have less energy, crave more sweets and starchy foods, and feel depressed. These may be signs of seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.  The exact causes of SAD aren’t known, but are thought to stem from changes in our circadian rhythms due to the lack of sunlight. There also may be shifts in levels of the hormones melatonin and serotonin. Treatments for SAD include increased exposure to sunlight, light therapy, and medications. To learn more about SAD, visit the MedlinePlus SAD page.

Blue light special: Getting the “right” light

Sunlight is made up of all the colors of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. It encompasses the classic “ROY-G-BIV” color spectrum that you may have memorized in school.

Special cells in your eyes respond to light, especially light from the blue part of the spectrum. Blue light triggers parts of the brain that are important for alertness and cognition so adequate exposure is important for health. Incredibly, you don’t have to “see” this light in order for your body to sense it. Researchers have discovered that blind people somehow sense this light and thus have normal circadian rhythms. That means that their internal biological clocks are working normally. A wide range of creatures, including monarchs, fruit flies, and mice, in addition to humans, seem to respond to blue light.

Although exposure to blue light is important for your health, most indoor lighting provides very low levels of the blue part of the light spectrum.  In addition, we are exposed to much less blue light from natural sunlight during the shorter days of winter.

Sleep disorders

If you’ve ever had jet lag or done shift work, you’ve experienced the consequences of an altered circadian clock.Getting off schedule can affect your sleep and performance, and may play a role in the development of conditions such as depression, diabetes, dementia, heart disease, obesity, and some cancers. 

The importance of maintaining a natural light-dark rhythm is dramatically illustrated by astronauts on the International Space Station, which is about 220 miles above the surface of the Earth. On Earth, astronauts experience a 24-hour light-dark cycle, just as the rest of us do. However, on the space station, they experience a 90-minute day because that’s how long it takes them to circle the Earth. That means they can see up to 16 sunsets per 24-hour-period!This shortened light-dark cycle greatly disrupts astronauts’ circadian rhythms, making it difficult for them to sleep properly.

Five easy ways to light up your life

1. Get outside. Encourage your family to get lots of natural-light exposure by spending time outside. Exposure in the morning may be better at helping to regulate sleep schedules.

2. Bring the outside inside. When you or your kids are indoors (at home, at work, or in school), you can benefit from sunlight via a window or skylight. Open blinds, add skylights, and consider trimming tree branches that block sunlight in your home, office, or school.

3. Light up. If you live in an area with very short days (towards the Antarctic), or really get blue during the winter months, you can talk with your doctor about trying a light box.  The box provides an artificial source of light that is rich in the blue spectrum. This ‘light therapy’ may help with SAD, sleep disorders, jet lag, and other conditions.

4. Keep an eye out. Be aware that, just because a little blue light is good, it doesn’t mean a lot is better. Too much blue light can damage the eye.

5. Power down at night. Exposure to lights from computer and TV screens and even alarm clocks in the evening may adversely affect sleep schedules. Power down this artificial light and opt instead to look at the light from the stars. (Or just go to bed!)

Editor’s Note: This article was reviewed by Daphne Miller, MD, a family physician and an associate clinical professor at theUniversity of California–San FranciscoSee editor’s note.

 Please consult your physician if you think you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder or other disorders mentioned in this article. Sunlight  is important for health, but extended exposure to direct sunlight should be avoided by wearing protective clothing and sunscreen.Learn more about sun safety.