I like wrapping Christmas gifts almost as much as I like giving the gifts themselves. It's my time to experiment, to indulge my many different decorating personalities. I can go whimsical, masculine, feminine, elegant, modern...for that moment I get to try on a different hat. It's fun, and I like to think that it adds a little something extra to the gift.
My Christmas decor was all about neutrals and metallics this year, but I do have a few containers of variegated holly in my kitchen which was the inspiration for this gift topper. I've always thought that the leaves of variegated holly were reminiscent of watercolors, so I set out to create a playful paper and watercolor version, using pressed holly leaves to create the templates. I'm using the topper to adorn my son's teachers' gifts, though I think someone other than a second grade teacher could certainly appreciate it, like your crafty friends.
Step 1: Download the holly template and print out onto cardstock (you can either use the painted holly leaves as is or cut them out to use as a template). Trace around the leaves onto textured ivory cardstock or watercolor paper and cut out. (I used the top row of leaves on the template for this topper.)
Step 4: Make a few strokes over the Dark Green with the Emerald watercolor pencil. You won't really see the effect of this when you're making the strokes, but it will lend some variation once activated by water.
Step 6: Fold the holly leaves in half and set aside. Cut a square of red crepe or tissue paper and set aside. Cut off one end of a baby Q-tip, then cut off the narrow tip on the cotton swab to form a ball shape.
If you'd like a third leaf, adhere it below the second leaf. Here I've placed the leaf on top of the stem (rather than behind it) before securing it with the floral tape. This gave it a more dimensional feel.
Download Watercolor Holly Leaves Template
It feels good to finally have the tree decorated. I went all white, with touches of silver, which just works in my living room with the wall color and the quality of light. Admittedly, I was having a moment with gold, but I decided I could get my fill of it when wrapping gifts for other people. Sometimes you just have to go with what works in your home instead of what's trendy.
I made almost every single ornament on my tree, which feels like an accomplishment. Not that I have anything against store bought, but I feel like I've made tons of ornaments for clients over the years and then all I have to show on my tree are dozens of ornaments I've purchased. It was time to remedy that. And in fact, it was so much fun that I'll have to make it a holiday tradition. Maybe not dozens, but a few to add to my collection each year.
Here are some of the ornaments I used, all of them inexpensive and easy to make.
1) The tutorial for the glittered paper stars can be found here. 2) I had lots of clear glass ornaments sitting around from last year, so I filled them with fake snow and and tiny Alder cones from Earth Beauties on Etsy (they look good with sprigs of greenery as well, though you'll want to remove it at the end of the season). 3) I reinterpreted the mistletoe sprigs from my wreath design in white velvet with beads from a necklace I found in my local thrift store. To make an ornament, follow the directions to make individual sprigs and fasten two of them together with white floral tape instead of the green I used for the wreath. Fold the taped wire to the back of the sprigs to form a loop, then trim excess wire and glue it in place with Fabri-Tac. When it's dry, thread a piece of silver string through the loop and knot the ends. 4.) The small star and reindeer silhouette were made from DAS air-dry clay, rolled to about 1/4-inch thickness and cut out with cookie cutters. 5.) I was asked to rework my felt pinecone designs for Mollie Makes 34. While I was at it, I finally made a few wintry versions for myself. 6.) The antler ornament started off as an inexpensive ornament from Walmart. I gave it my own twist. See below for easy instructions. 7) Pom-poms couldn't be easier to make and they remind me of snowballs. I chose a white iridescent yarn which is subtle but picks up the light nicely. 8) The glittered acorns came from a winter nature display that I did a couple of years ago. I painted the acorn bodies white, coated them with a thin coat of Mod Podge, and sprinkled with a fine textured white glitter. When they were dry, I glued them to acorn caps. To turn them into ornaments I simply tied silver string around their stems.
Revamped Antler Ornament:
I love to scout the aisles of discount stores during the holidays. I always pick up all kinds of inexpensive ornaments whose forms I may like, but whose execution doesn't quite fit my taste. That was the case with these antler ornaments from Walmart. They felt too dark and muddy to me, but I bought a bunch, deconstructed them, and gave them a quick whitewash with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint.
1. I cut the twine, which I later replaced with silver string, and used pliers to pull the wired jingle bells from each antler.
2. I dipped a damp paintbrush (1/4-inch flat bristle brush) into white paint and offloaded the excess onto a folded paper towel. With the paint that remained on my brush, I quickly applied a light coat to the entire ornament, leaving some of the underlying color exposed.
3. When they were dry, I strung them individually with silver thread instead of hanging them as a pair.
I'm finally getting around to trimming the tree, two weeks before Christmas. After last year's performance, things are looking up! But this year has been a first. It's the first time in my entire life that I haven't even stopped at a tree lot. This year, I went artificial (and pre-lit to preserve my husband's sanity). It wasn't planned, but I'm so happy with my experience that I thought I'd share.
A couple of years ago my son picked out a kitten to join our family. We love Miss Lucy, but she's an absolute nightmare around the Christmas tree. She shares the same level of persistence that my son has and after endless weeks of her trying to climb the trunk of the tree, I'm usually at my wit's end. I try locking her out of the living room, but since that's her domain, she's not at all happy about that solution. Then of course there's trying to eat the pine needles, also a big problem. I hadn't quite figured out what to do this year, but I admit that the thought of her was dampening my enthusiasm.
At any rate, I had the good fortune to try out a tree from Tree Classics. In my head, I sort of thought it would be a second tree, to dress up my dining room, not to replace the primary tree. I was also a little nervous about whether it would look fake, but hey, I had nothing to lose.
I was pleasantly surprised to find out how much artificial trees have changed, the better ones anyway. Specially molded branch tips look just like the real thing (and the branches that don't look real, but add fullness, are concentrated in the interior where they aren't obvious). My tree came in three parts, the branches released from hinges, and I was able to put the entire thing together without one bit of help from my husband. After the basic construction, I spent about an hour fluffing and shaping the wired branches to get the form and spacing I wanted (a perfectionist's dream!).
Miss Lucy immediately set out to investigate and spent a couple of days thinking about whether she could climb it, but she quickly became bored and has stayed safely below the branches in the weeks since. Yes, I notice there are a few loose pieces of yarn on pom-pom ornaments she's clearly been playing with, but that I can live with. Anyway, my husband and I agreed that it was perfect for our living room (I chose a narrow style so that I wouldn't have to move furniture around, which is also problematic for us each year) and we opted to forego the real tree.
So what about the smell of fresh pine that you inevitably miss with an articifial tree? I invested in fresh greenery for other parts of my house, along mantels, in vases, hanging on walls, and in bowls. I also purchased some essential oils in fir and holiday blends to put in my diffuser.
One other thing to mention, whether you go artificial or not, is a nifty little tool called the Light Keeper Pro. lt fixes most broken light sets, finding the damaged bulb for you and repairing it. I tried it on a string of broken lights I had from last year and it worked like a charm. It's the perfect tool to have around for a pre-lit tree that would be difficult to replace the light strands on.
Next up - handmade ornaments to make for any tree.
The slim silhouette of this tree is perfect for city apartments and smaller rooms, like I have. I wish I'd had this for my New York apartment!
See how realistic the branches look up close? I also decided to give my tree a dusting of snow. I love this artificial snow. You mist the tree with water, sprinkle on a little bit, and then it dries. What does eventually fall off is natural and non-toxic.
This week has just flown by. Seriously, where are the elves when you need them?!
I spent most of my week prepping for the holiday workshop at Anthropologie last night, which was a lot of fun. I had all kinds of wonderful greenery flown in from the Pacific Northwest, decidedly better than what I can get here in New Orleans, and everyone made a wreath to take home.
It's a simple idea, but I think one of my favorite parts about doing these workshops, aside from meeting new people, is seeing what creative interpretations emerge from the same basic supplies. I always end up learning something or walking away with a fresh perspective, or just feeling creatively recharged. Holiday spirit + creative energy = 4 cups of coffee.
But today, it's back to the real world where dozens of eggs await transformation for Easter, it being spring in the magazine world. I need to finish decorating my Christmas tree and utilize the bounty of greenery I have left over, start working out my Christmas baking, make liqueurs...hey, none of that sounds bad! It's going to be a good weekend after all. Who needs elves anyway?
But before I get started, here are a few things from around the web that have inspired me this week.
I think we can all agree that Nelson Mandela's passing leaves a hole in this world, but his words and deeds stay with us.
It's been a blue Christmas so far with 100 Christmas Blues.
Why didn't I think of this?! A DIY for an etched snow globe.
Bacon jam. This just needs to be made, right?
I love the presentation on these little orange cakes.
Have a wonderful weekend. I'll see you here next week.
As a kid I was never much for Rudolph, enchanted more by snowmen and snowflakes, a complete fantasy in New Orleans. But as an adult, I can't seem to get enough of Rudolph's less colorful companions, especially during the holiday season. And while I thought I'd be sick of antlers by now, I can't get enough of those either. It's just enough rustic to warm my city heart.
I ordered this antler print from Natural Curiosity on Society 6 and decided to forego the traditional framing (for now). I trimmed it, mounted it on pearl cardstock, then again on a textured paper. I hung it from a vintage hanger that I found on Etsy, wired some evergreen sprigs to the hanger, then hung an air-dry clay star ornament from the branches and added a short (5-foot) batttery operated string of starry lights (you can hide the battery compartment by taping it to your wall with painters tape behind the photo or use the 3M Command Picture Hanging Strips, which I use all the time and never damage my walls).
A simple, seasonal vignette from Paige Knudsen Photography
I'm not always given to whimsy, but I love this clever interpretation of taxidermy from Jennifer Rizzo.
Washi tape taxidermy from First Sense
Free Rustic holiday tags (along with a nice woodgrain printable) from Volume Twenty Five
In my world, the turkeys are handled by the men. When I was young, my grandfather would spend several days smoking and tending the birds, the delicious smokiness following him indoors. It was the only Thanksiving turkey I can remember, year after year, and it still pains me that no one ever learned his techniques before he died. My father and my brother are all about deep frying the turkey, usually a gathering of men, the women left to tend the sides and desserts. It's delicious, too, and I don't mind not being a part of it. It feels like tradition.
But I still order a turkey every year to have in my home, regardless of where I spend the day. It's always smoked because I equate certain foods with the people I've lost. When I partake of those dishes, it is a more powerful remembrance, a more secure connection, than any trip to any cemetery could ever offer me.
The day after Thanksgiving, my husband takes up the mantle and uses the leftover turkey to make a turkey and sausage gumbo, a labor of love that signifies his own progression from New Yorker to Southerner. As it so happens, Friday is the anniversary of my grandfather's death fourteen years ago. We'll make and serve this gumbo, without doubt remembering the things we loved about him, laughing at silly things he did, speaking of him to my son, who would have brought him so much pleasure, and it will all be good.
Turkey Bone Gumbo -
You can make this with either a smoked or roasted turkey
Makes 6-8 servings
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup flour
2 cups chopped onions
1/2 cup chopped bell peppers
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 pounds smoked sausage, such as andouille or kielbasa, chopped
2 quarts turkey broth (see below)
Reserved turkey meat (we always save 2 or 3 cups of dark meat from the turkey before we even make the stock)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped green onion
1. Combine the oil and flour in a large cast-iron pot or enameled cast-iron Dutch oven, over medium heat. Stirring slowly and constantly, make a dark brown roux, the color of chocolate.
2. Season the onions, bell peppers, and celery with the salt and cayenne. Add this to the roux and stir until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the sausage and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Add the reserved turkey meat and cook for 15 minutes. Add the parsley and green onions.
3. Serve in soup bowls with rice. (Can add filé powder to taste, at the table)
makes approximately 2 quarts
1 turkey carcass
3 ribs celery, cut into large pieces
2 medium onions, quartered
4 quarts water (or enough to cover the carcass)
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
4 bay leaves
1. Put the carcass in a large stockpot and add all of the ingredients.
2. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer, uncovered for 2 hours. Remove from the heat and skim any fat that has risen to the surface.
3. Strain the broth through a large fine-mesh strainer. Reserve any meat that has fallen off of the bones (if it doesn't feel too dry) and any meat that may still remain on the carcass.
Use right away or store the broth in quart containers in the freezer.
*This recipe is a repost from November 2010. There have been no changes made from that original recipe.
We're at the point now where you either have your Thanksgiving decor and menu mapped out in detail or you're running around a little bit stressed (or you haven't thought about it even one bit, in which case you're probably not reading this post). But there's still plenty of time to pull it all together. Just keep it simple.
I'm not one of those people who pull out the very special china for holidays. Once in awhile, but I pull it out once in awhile for a regular dinner party, too. Instead I have lots of mismatched dishes and serving ware that I've picked up at antique stores and thrift stores, mixed with newer pieces. I find that if my color palette is complementary I can get away with it. But all those whites and neutrals also create a sort of blank canvas. From there, how my table looks depends on the details I incorporate to add texture and color.
This is a short and sweet sampling, materials you can pick up at the grocery store during that inevitable last-minute run -
The bittersweet branches are the star here. They add movement and beauty to what's really a simple table design. You can usually find them at better grocery stores during the holiday season, along with flowers, gourds, and fruit. (from Sunday Suppers)
A more studied composition, but still simple to achieve. The fallen branches create a framework of sorts for gourds that are spaced out, but you can pull them together if you don't have branches or vines. (via Swanky Chic Fete)
Tip: If you don't have a runner, just use a length of fabric folded in half. Burlap works well (and comes in several colors), also quilting fabric.
If you're making any type of cake for Thanksiving, this simple floral treatment makes it an instant showstopper/centerpiece of your dessert table. Again, see what you have at your grocery. (The Sweetest Occasion)
This pretty centerpiece revolves around foraged finds. Visit Henry Happened for the how-to.
Grab a length of cheesecloth (or a flour sack towel) and wrap it around bottles, accenting with twine and natural elements. It's simple and adds an unexpected dash of pretty. (Dreamy Whites)
I've all but given up on Thanksgiving around here. This year my family is scattered here and there, relieving me of any and all formal commitments, pleasurable or otherwise. I'm beginning to relish the spontaneity of this Thanksgiving, it being a rare event, but my one nod to tradition will be a turkey sandwich and pumpkin pie shared with my grandmother sometime in the evening (one of my most cherished childhood traditions).
But since I'm pretty relaxed this week, it's the perfect time to indulge in some armchair fantasy Thanksgiving over the next few days (while I make things for Christmas).
Let's start with the place cards. That might sound counterintuitive, but I'm a detail person. I almost always come up with a detail first, then build everything else around it. It gives me a manageable focal point so I don't become overwhelmed with the whole. After that I find the rest of it falls into place.
Here are some of my favorites:
Rustic simplicity via Kara Rosenlund
DIY clay conifers from Design Sponge
Plastered rosemary sprigs via Fabric Paper Glue
I never tire of acorns and oak leaves, like these from EAB Designs.
I've always been more of a silver person, but I find myself swept up in the gold craze this fall. Just a touch, like these gilded pears from Freutcake.
I love the sense of movement that these clever leaf cards convey, from Martha Stewart.
These leaf print tags from Skip To My Lou were created to accompany baked goods, but could just as easily translate to a table setting.
One of my favorite ways to decorate a table is to use what's readily available to me, like these acorn and oak sprigs from Delighting in Today.
This appeals to the romantic Southerner in me, completely unable to resist the charms of gardenias. I think the layered, textured neutrals (with just a hit of gold) are equally as wonderful, from Style Me Pretty.
Simple, but lovely, rosemary wreaths from Spoon Fork Bacon. Easy to whip up for even the most time challenged.
Now, off to plan the rest of my (imaginary) Thanksgiving...
Are you in the NOLA area? Anthropologie has invited me back to cohost a holiday workshop on December 5. If you haven't had a chance to participate in one of Anthropologie's workshops, then you're missing out! They're a lot of fun and doable for even the most creatively challenged. So stop in and enjoy an evening of holiday merriment, but spaces are limited, so be sure to RSVP quickly. Hope to see you there!
You can RSVP here.
I'm a bit obsessed with mistletoe as a holiday design element, ironic since I've never even seen the real thing (how sad is that?!). But for the last year I've had a bag of velvet and felted balls sitting in a drawer, patiently awaiting transformation into a mistletoe garland. At the last minute I decided to make a small wreath instead, something that could work in multiple places and something timeless enough that I could bring it out year after year.
This is one of those projects that take more than a couple of hours, but it's not difficult, just repetitive, and in the end, so satisfying. Make a single bunch, you have an ornament or a gift topper. Add a few more to that and you have a swag. Stretch that same swag out and you could have a ring for a pillar candle or an embellishment for candlesticks. Keep going and you have a wreath or maybe an embellishment for a cake stand. Double that and you have a garland (which would be so pretty - I already tested it out on my mantel). What you make is limited only by your tolerance for repetition (for which, I personally, have little patience).
Also, don't feel limited by my interpretation of this project. You could just as easily make it with paper leaves, printed fabric, or felt. I'd love to see it with white leaves and silver berries or white and red, or gray and white, or alternate the shades of green...you get the picture. Once you know how to make the bunches, the rest is up for grabs.
As for the embossed velvet, I was inspired by this rubber stamp from Yellow Owl Workshop which I purchased to make gift tags (and love, love, love!). The wreath idea came from this lovely photo, which just makes me happy when I look at it.
Need something to stand under this holiday season? Here's how to make your own:
(Instructions for a 9-inch wreath)
Materials: (See Sources for buying info)
Step 1: Cut a piece of the lighter colored velvet slightly larger than your rubber stamp; do the same with the fusible web. Position the fusible web, paper side up, onto the back side of the velvet; iron to fuse (don't remove the paper backing).
Preheat your iron on a high setting, mist the paper covered side of the velvet with water and using firm pressure, iron the fabric for 10-15 seconds. Continue misting and ironing until the paper is dry and you're just starting to see the impression of the stamp through it (essentially, you're burning the design into the fabric). Remove the velvet from the stamp and let the stamp cool for a few minutes before you use it again.
Step 3: Remove the paper backing from the lighter colored velvet and using medium heat, press the darker velvet onto the web, just enough to adhere it. Trim the edges of the velvet flush with the edges of the embossed design.
Place your mistletoe petal template onto the back side of the velvet, and holding it in place with your finger, cut around it to make a velvet petal. Repeat (you can get 8-10 petals from each piece of velvet if you use the same size stamp I did).
Tip: Slightly round the edges of your petals if you've made them too pointy.
Step 4: Cut a length of metallic floss (you can use something else, I just like the color of this particular floss) and separate into 3 sets of 2 strands each. Thread the first two strands onto a needle and knot the end and trim any excess. Run the threaded needle through a felt ball (not shown), so that the knot sits at the end. Snip the thread and repeat for as many balls as you need.
Tip: I don't like the look of loose strings, so I put a little dab of Fabri-Tac on my finger and run it up the length of the floss after cutting it from the needle. This holds the threads together, giving it a more polished look.
Step 5: To assemble a sprig, gather the number of balls you want and twist the 32-gauge wire around it so that it holds them together, but still allows for some movement (when you hang the wreath, it's nice for some of the berries to fall naturally, so it's not too stiff looking).
Step 6: Apply a little Fabri-Tac to the end of one of the petals and fold it around the floral wire with the berries, holding it in place for a few seconds. Repeat with the second petal and glue it just below the first.
Trim the excess metallic floss.
Make as many sprigs as you need, some with 3 berries, some with 2, and some with 1. (I used the larger petal template for the 2 and 3-berry sprigs and the smaller petal template for the single berries. In total, I made a combination of 17 large petaled sprigs and 10 smaller petaled sprigs.)
As you work, begin shaping the wire into a circle. This will assist you in determining proper placement and balance of mistletoe sprigs, as well as deciding when your wreath is the size you want.
When you're finished, trim the excess wire and overlap the ends, wrapping them with the 32-gauge floral wire to secure. If there are any exposed areas not hidden by mistletoe sprigs, you can cover the area with more floral tape.
You're done! At which point, you can move on to making ornaments (I'll be back with those after I make a few).
I've been making my grandmother's (reworked) fig cake recipe for several years now. It's quick and easy to make and it's a crowd pleaser. Usually I make it and leave it on the counter and the pieces disappear one by one, a casual Bundt cake that beckons to anyone passing through the kitchen. But this summer, I took it to a dinner party in the country, where a good fig cake is always appreciated, and the host served it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. I thought it elevated that simple cake and I immediately started thinking of a fall version.
My original recipe calls for chopped pecans in the cake, but I took them out of the cake and candied them with cane syrup instead, as a topping for the ice cream. I could have stuck with the vanilla ice cream, which was very good, but I'm a huge fan of nutmeg and I thought the mellow spiciness would be a great seasonal accompaniment.
The nice thing about this dessert is that all of the components work on their own, so you can mix-and-match, make one or all of them. It can serve as a substitute or an accompaniment to the traditional Thanksgiving pie, and it will take you all the way through the winter months.
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 dash salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup fig jam or preserves (see note)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Liberally grease and flour a 10-cup Bundt or tube pan. (I use solid shortening.)
2. Mix sugar, oil, and eggs until well blended (if using a standing mixer, mix on medium speed).
3. In another bowl, combine dry ingredients, then add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk. Mix well.
4. Fold in fig jam or preserves (if there are any large fig pieces in your preserves, mash them into smaller pieces with a fork).
5. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out with just a few crumbs. Let the cake rest in the pan for 15 or 20 minutes. Using the tip of a knife, gently loosen the cake from the sides of the pan and invert on a wire rack to finish cooling.
NUTMEG ICE CREAM
Yield: 1 Quart
2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups half-and-half
1 whole nutmeg, cracked
3/4 cup sugar
6 egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream
1. Toast grated nutmeg (a Microplane grater is perfect for this) in a skillet over medium heat, 1-2 minutes. Remove pan from heat; set aside.
2. Heat half-and-half and cracked nutmeg in a 4-quart saucepan until it just begins to simmer. Remove from the heat; let steep for 10 minutes.
3. In a bowl, whisk together sugar and yolks. While whisking, slowly pour in the half-and-half mixture. Return the mixture to the pan; cook, stirring, until the mixture thickens, about 8-10 minutes.
4. Pour through a fine strainer into a large bowl. Whisk in toasted nutmeg and cream; cover custard and chill, at least 2 hours or preferably, overnight.
5. Freeze custard in an ice cream maker; transfer to an airtight container. Freeze until set (about 4 hours) before serving.
CANE SYRUP CANDIED PECANS
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
3 tablespoons Steens cane syrup
1 1/2 tablespoons cane sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups pecan pieces
1. Preheat oven to 325 degreesF. Spray baking sheet with nonstick spray. Combine cane syrup, cane sugar, and salt in a medium bowl; stir to blend. Add pecans; stir gently to coat. Transfer to baking sheet.
2. Place a large piece of foil on work surface. Bake pecans 5 minutes. Using fork, stir pecans to evenly coat with the melted sugar mixture. Continue baking until the pecans are golden and the coating bubbles, 10 to 15 minutes.
3. Transfer the nuts to the foil and separate them with a fork. Cool. Store in an airtight container at room temperature, up to 3 days.
Is it really Friday already?! This week flew for me - my in-laws were visiting, my son's football team played (and won) their championship game, and I've been restoring my computer ever so slowly back to its previous state. But it's the end of the week and all I want to do this weekend is make stuff! I can't wait.
Hopefully I'll have some new things to share with you next week. But in the meantime, here's a little round-up of my wanderings over the last week.
These beautiful red Bartlett pears sat on my counter all week. I keep planning to eat them, but I've been enjoying the color instead. This weekend, they may finally make their way into a pear salad.
I've started testing recipes for holiday gifts and I made my second batch of caramels this week (the first batch tasted great, but there must have been a typo in the recipe because my cooking temp was way too high and I ended up with a hard brick of candy that had to be tossed). But I found this recipe and it's a keeper! There are a lot of notes on technique and cooking temperatures, which I found very helpful. There are also some seasonal variations included, such as gingerbread flavored caramels.
I received a pre-lit tree this week from Tree Classics. I never thought I'd say this about any artificial tree, but I love it! I'll post about it more later, but if you've decided to go the artificial route, this is the week to do it. Tree Classics is having a huge sale through November 18, with up to 50% off and free shipping. I have the 7 1/2 foot Kennedy Fir with 600 clear lights. It's slim, incredibly realistic, and proportioned for showing off ornaments. I'm a convert!
Do you have two decorating personalities? I certainly do, especially at Christmas time. My computer woes haven't kept me from being a pinning fiend this week. You can see lots of holiday ideas at my two Pinterest boards, Winter Holiday and Colorful Christmas.
But before I get too far ahead of myself, I love these wishbones from Lucky Break. Perfect for the Thanksgiving table (or anytime you want to indulge in wish making).
I'm sort of the unofficial birthday baker for our friends and I've nailed down most of their favorites. But I've always been a bit thrown when someone requests German Chocolate cupcakes and they want them to taste like the original cake. The Kraft kitchen finally has a recipe on their site and it's really easy and tastes just like the cake (minus the several layers). I used 1 batch of Coconut Pecan filling for 24 cupcakes which I found to be just the right amount. They were perfect - I'll be making these over and over again. (The only note: All of my cupcakes were baked between 18-23 minutes, so start checking earlier than the recipe calls for.)
Have a wonderful weekend!
I know, it's already nonstop Christmas around here and we haven't even hit Thanksgiving. I'd love to just live in the moment, but I also know I run the risk of missing the holiday season here altogether as work and the holiday rush collide, so bear with me. You can always return to these ideas when you're ready.
These photos are from my Christmas feature for Family Circle, a more colorful approach than what I did for Christmas Ideas. They're all easy projects to execute, even the stockings (which only look more labor intensive and which I will discuss in a later post). But the real reason I wanted to post these photos is to direct you to Family Circle's website where they have put together a holiday workbook that includes templates for the stockings as well as 14 vintage botanical designs that are cleaned up and ready for printing and/or resizing. (Just click on the directions to download the plate designs and you'll get the entire booklet.)
You can use the botanicals to make gift tags or holiday cards, use them to decoupage, whatever you can imagine...what I'm trying to say is that I spent a lot of time cleaning them up and you should use them! There are other, more colorful designs there as well (poinsettias and holly).
Which reminds me - don't forget to thank all of the amazing individuals who spend time posting copyright free images for our creative pursuits. They are the best! (Karen at The Graphics Fairy, Vintage Printable, and Biodiversity Heritage Library are the first that come to mind, but there are many others out there, and I thank them from the bottom of my heart!) They make my job so much easier.
I love buying Christmas ornaments, but they get expensive and I don't want to spend my entire holiday budget on them, so I always make some to fill in the gaps. It's more economical that way and I'm still able to keep them and use them from year to year.
When I was preparing for the shoot I showed you yesterday, I decided I needed a tree full of white ornaments, which strangely, I seemed to have very few of. The store shelves were emptied of Christmas stock and I needed inexpensive ornaments I could make in bulk. I settled on a few paper options.
To make these stars, I used a leftover roll of white glittered giftwrap (I believe I purchased it at Michaels). I found that its lighter weight was perfect for folding stars, enabling crisp folds that kept their shape, much like origami paper. To support them, I simply glued them to shimmery cardstock.
The resulting ornaments were light as air (my big beef with heavy ornaments is how much they pull the tree branches down), simple, but pretty and sparkly as can be. Best of all, they cost pennies to make.
I'm completely out of glittered wrap at the moment (having made these a year ago), so this tutorial is shown with Quartz Stardream text paper, which is a good weight, in case you want to use something other than glittered paper.
1. Download the star templates and print onto paper; cut out. Turn the template face down onto the back of a piece of glittered wrapping paper and trace around it with a dull pencil. Cut out the traced design.
2. Layer the printed template on top of the glittered cutout and use it as a guide to make all of the valley folds (folding inward) as marked by the heavier dashed lines. Once you've made the folds, you can use a bone folder to make sharper creases, if desired.
5. Turn the star over and glue the edges together as shown. This will give your star dimension.
Tip: You can adjust how shallow or deep you want your star to be simply by adjusting how you glue the back edges together. If one edge comes all the way over to the opposite edge, you'll have a sharp peak in the front of the star, which is better if you're not gluing anything to the center. If you're gluing an embellishment, you might be better off with the edges meeting somewhere near the middle. This is purely a personal preference.
6. Glue the glittered star to a piece of cardstock, leaving one of the tips unadhered (for ornament string placement) and trim the excess cardstock. Glue a loop of ornament string or metallic floss behind the unadhered tip, between the glittered paper and the cardstock. Glue the tip to the cardstock.
7. To embellish, make a small circle of metallic pipe cleaner or tinsel garland and glue it to the front of the star, then glue a bead in the middle.
Click here to get the star tag template and see how I used it as a gift topper (just fold the valley folds as mountain folds and the mountain folds as valley folds and don't glue the back edges together).
Star Template from BHG (resize as desired, if you want larger stars)
All other supplies found at stores such as Michaels
This is what my house looked like last year, the day before Thanksgiving, after several days of Halloween photo shoots (which, ironically, you won't see until next year.) What you don't see are the living room walls painted several different shades of gray, from the palest to the deepest charcoal, used as backdrops for one of the shoots. Not something you can just tidy up in a hurry, and a move I was willing to make because I'd decided I needed to repaint my living room anyway.
In case you're wondering why I took this photo, it's because I saw my son's feet peeking out of all the mess as he carved out a little niche for himself to watch television. I had a vision of a future session on a therapist's couch, lamenting how his mother had ruined holidays for him, how his house was just a whole lot of crazy growing up. I snapped the shot so he'd have proof. No revisionist history here. I'll just own up to it and we can move on. It was bad enough that the one developmental marker that he didn't achieve on his Kindergarten report card was being able to "identify the customs attached to each holiday." Yes, my fault! I know that not everybody makes Christmas ornaments when it's 4th of July or dyes Easter eggs on New Years Day. But I digress.
Through some crazy delusion that could only have been brought on by lack of sleep, I truly thought that I'd quickly put everything away, paint my living room the perfect shade of gray, and decorate for Christmas, my favorite holiday of the year. Maybe I'd be a few days off schedule, but no sweat. Yeah, anyway.
No one told me that the "perfect shade of gray" is hard to come by, that it changes from morning to night (drastically) and that it really takes about a week for it to cure, before you can see what the final color will be. Cut to the week after Thanksgiving, possibly a dozen different paint swatches covering the walls in patchwork fashion, and the holidays felt waaay out of reach. I was a little panicked. I have a child. We couldn't just cancel Christmas!
By December 21, we finally had a freshly painted living room and no trace of Halloween or Thanksgiving were to be found (but no trace of Christmas, either). We bought a tree, strung some lights on it, and then kind of gave up. My son asked if anyone was going to help him decorate the tree, but when he realized he could decorate without even a smidgen of input from his very particular mother, well, he was ecstatic. So our tree had its little row of ornaments, all just about eye level of a 6-year-old. I didn't move a thing. In fact, we never quite got around to pushing the tree against the wall. It sort of hung out between the pocket doors in the living room. I just couldn't get there.
Santa came, my son was happy, oblivous to his parents' exhaustion, and we breathed a sigh of relief that we'd made it through. Then a few days after Christmas, Ann, the editor-in-chief at Christmas Ideas asked if she could photograph my house for the 2013 Christmas issue...and I said yes, because that's what (crazy) professionals do. She scheduled the shoot for the end of January.
My husband picked up a towering 9-foot tree at the airport, along with 45 lbs. of greenery and 75 feet of garland, fresh off of a farm in Oregon. In a normal city, someone might have questioned why my husband was carrying a fresh tree on the car in the middle of January. But this is New Orleans. We see weird stuff all the time.
I played the carols, made dozens of white ornaments, wrapped the (mostly) fake gifts, and somewhere in that month, I found the Christmas spirit that I hadn't been able to find the entire holiday season. Though I admit, it was awkward when I caught one of my neighbors eyeing me through the window as I decorated the tree the last week of January. I knew instantly I had become the crazy cat lady of the neighborhood. It wasn't like I'd kept my tree up too long, no, I was just getting started with Christmas - a true freak. I started closing the shutters after that. Christmas in private, please.
And this is what my house looked like for the Christmas that almost got away in 2012. You can't tell how crazy it was getting there, and while you may be inclined to believe it was all make believe, it wasn't. It was as real as real can be. Because if there's on thing I've learned in my business - it's Christmas whenever you want it to be.
Photographs by Brie Williams
You can see more of this story, along with lots of other homes and projects in Christmas Ideas, on newsstands now, or available as a digital edition here.
I've been getting lots of emails regarding various items shown in this story. So here they are. (For all of the natural elements, I'll be doing a post on sources for winter items shortly.)
Papier-Mache Stags Head from West Elm
Tiered Display Stand from Matthew Mead Vintage
Reindeer Cookies from PfConfections on Etsy
Milk glass tumblers can usually be found on Etsy or Ebay
Preserved natural moss is available in mat and roll form. You can find it here at Save-On-Crafts
Realistic artificial snow also available at Save-On-Crafts
Wall color in living room is Nimbus #1465 from Benjamin Moore
As a blogger I get a lot of requests to feature products or companies. If it doesn't feel organic to this space, I decline. But when Uncommon Goods contacted me and asked if I wanted to review a product from their gift line, I jumped at the chance. I'm a longtime customer and it's always one of my holiday go-tos, especially when shopping for a challenging recipient.
GIFTS FOR THE BOOZEHOUND:
The Barrel-Aged Cocktail Kit is an easy way for home mixologists to explore a cocktail trend that's been enthusiastically embraced by the professionals. Instead of having to purchase a large barrel (and all the liquor it takes to fill it), you get a few wooden staves to age smaller batches in a shorter amount of time (2 weeks instead of months). I have one of these and I love it! Try an aged Negroni or a Manhattan. If cocktails aren't your thing, you can always make beer at home. I selected the Southern Bourbon Stout Brewing Kit, but Uncommon Goods carries several varieties.
GIFTS FOR THE FOODIE:
Possession of salt used to signify an owner's wealth. Today salt might not mean much in terms of wealth, but the Flavors of America Salt Collection signifies a palate that's anything but boring. Then for the cheese lover (is there really anyone out there who doesn't like cheese?) or the wannabe cheesemonger, the Artisanal Cheesemaking Kit gives you a chance to make 15 fresh or aged hard cheeses at home. There's an Italian version as well.
GIFTS FOR THE TECHNOFILE:
The Readycase is one of those gifts I'll have to stuff in my own stocking. There's a metal multi-tool equipped with a bottle opener, screwdriver, and a serrated blade. Then there's a headphone clip, USB storage stick (which doubles as a kickstand for your phone), and 3 add-on lenses for your phone's camera, a Macro, wide lense, and Fish Eye. All of it taking your phone to new heights. For the person who wavers between embracing technology and getting back to nature, this Driftwood iPhone Charging Dock brings the conflict to a harmonious resolution. Crafted from driftwood washed up on the shores of Maine.
GIFTS FOR THE IN-LAWS:
Okay, maybe not for your in-laws, but I find mine a bit challenging to shop for (I love them, I just don't always know what to get for them). This Blank Page Pillow, in which all the lines are stitched, would be great with a personal note embroidered on it, especially from a grandchild. I can't imagine any grandmother who wouldn't like that. As for the Eye Glasses Holder, I actually did buy that for my father-in-law who's hopeless when it comes to hanging on to his reading glasses. I bought one for my husband as well, and I appreciate his quirky presence on our coffee table.
GIFTS FOR THE CRAFTERS:
If you loved having glow-in-the-dark stars on your ceiling as a child, you can have a grown-up version with this Stitch the Stars Calendar. It's printed with glow-in-the-dark ink and matching glow-in-the-dark thread for you to stitch your way through the constellations. If your crafty pursuits are more down to earth, the Birdie Yarn Bowl keeps yarn balls in place while you knit, crochet, or weave with a sweet nest like design.
GIFTS FOR ALL THE HOMEBODIES:
Bring the outdoors in with this whimsical Mockingbird Birdhouse made from discarded library books. There's currently a Julia Child cookbook version as well. Kids flown the coop? This Personalized Family Pillow is a reminder of those you love. Customize a pillow that reflects all the members of your family or your current household, including beloved pets.
I'm a lover of vintage, industrial, and books, so I couldn't pass up the Vintage Shoe Form Bookends. They would be very happy in my home. For my taste, though, industrial accents are best when balanced by elements from nature. This Terra Table Lamp is living happily in my home, surrounded by vintage and industrial. The mosses and air plants require zero maintenance from me, but I love that the removable bell jar allows me to change the scenery according to my whims or the season.
This post was sponsored by Uncommon Goods, but all product picks and opinions are my own.
One last note - Ready for Christmas? I'm in full-blown holiday mode here, so I'm going with it. Starting on Monday, I will begin posting holiday content. Have a wonderful weekend!
My thoughts on Halloween this year? Bring on Christmas!! I had an entire list of projects I wanted to make for myself, but professionally, I've been buried under Halloween for weeks now. So in my down time, I've been making Christmas ornaments. That's how it goes sometimes.
All is not lost. I've tacked up a couple of decorations and we'll carve the pumpkins tonight. But today I'm focused on details, a few Halloween surprises just for my son - his lunchbox will be anything but boring tomorrow! I have 24 hours, but that's enough time to pull together some last-minute fun.
Perhaps you're in the same boat, so here are some of my favorite easy, last-minute ideas pulled from my Pinterest board.
These make me laugh, and my son might just find one perching on his bowl of oatmeal tomorrow morning. From Family Chic.
Take this downloadable template and basic craft supplies and you have instant fun! Check out Mr. Printables for these typography glasses, as well as other easy projects, like the printable candle wraps.
Being mom to a boy, there's a lot of talk about bugs around here. I love any bug that's not real, so these DIY hand-painted insect plates from HGTV fit the bill.
If you'd rather make cupcakes, these vampire bite cupcakes can be pulled off by even the most time and craft-challenged among us.
Who needs carving with the whimsical simplicity of these bat pumpkins?
Easy, cute bat napkin rings made from nothing more than black construction paper.
Last, but certainly not least, I love these printables from Creature Comforts. Kids will get a kick out of them, but they're sophisticated enough to entice the grown-ups.
As I was thinking about creative collaboration earlier this week, I thought of another collaborative project I wanted to share with you - Lena Corwin's new book, Made by Hand, hit bookstores last week.
From 2009 - 2011, Lena held workshops in her home studio in Brooklyn. The first classes she offered were based on techniques from her earlier book, Printing by Hand (one of my all-time favorites), but then she began inviting friends and designers to contribute their expertise as well.
Made by Hand is a reflection of those workshops, with 26 "classes" presented in book form. As expected from Lena Corwin, there are plenty of textile arts in the book, taught by various artists. These include an easy rotary printing technique, using a rolling pin as the rotary tool. There's also screen-printing, sewing, knitting, tea-dyed applique, batik dyeing, crochet, embroidery, weaving, marbling, and tie-dyeing fabric. Then there are a few other techniques such as soap making, jewelry, weaving, coiled bowls, even making your own beeswax birthday candles. All are presented in a user-friendly format, along with observations and advice for what you can (and can't) control.
With winter nipping at our heels, it's the perfect time to start gathering with friends to acquire new skills. Even if none of you know where to begin, you can easily use the projects in this book as a guidebook to hosting your own classes, however informal they may be. Some projects take more time and space, so perhaps you'll just have a couple of friends over. Others, that are more stationary (such as knitting and needlework), are easily adapted to larger groups.
Another nice thing about craft groups - you never know what you'll learn. Last year I had a friend who brought a different cheese and beer pairing with her for every group. I faithfully wrote them all down (because they were brilliant) to remember for the future. It had nothing to do with crafting, but it sparked all kinds of possibilities for me. Not to mention, craft groups are a great excuse to get away from your computer, to walk away from the tedium of everyday routines, and to just find the space to settle in a bit, to relax. I highly recommend them!
Of course you don't need a craft group to benefit from the pojects and techniques offered in the book. Any self-motivated crafter will enjoy it as well. But why not take a friend along for the ride?
See the book trailer here.