Sunday, December 21, 2014

DIY Holiday Card Display

It's been a busy week of holiday preparations! We got all the packages mailed out for far-away loved ones, we've been baking up a storm, our solstice ice lanterns are made, menus are planned. Today I'll be cooking up our Solstice Feast, but first, I wanted to post a quick "how-to" for our Holiday Card Display, as promised last week!

I just love getting Holiday cards! Especially nowadays, with most correspondence being digital, getting a real, honest-to-goodness card in the mail just seems extra special. Last year, Noodle and I saw a similar card display for sale in a store, and I thought, "Geez, I could MAKE that!" So I did. And so can you, if you're so inclined! This project takes about 15 minutes to make, and is pretty easy. Here's what you'll need:


  • An old picture frame (no glass needed, so this is a perfect way to use up a frame that had the glass broken
  • a piece of cardboard 
  • burlap or other fabric (maybe a holiday print?)
  • twine, hemp or string
  • a hot glue gun
  • a staple gun



First, I used hot glue to cover a piece of cardboard cut to the
size to fit in my picture frame with burlap fabric.

Next, I wrapped the string around the cardboard in a random pattern.

After you tie off the string on the back, slip the cardboard into
the back of your frame. 

Use a staple gun to staple the cardboard to the frame.

Finished! I put mine up on a pretty easel. 




If I were going to make this again, one thing I would do differently is I would use a bigger frame. This one is 11x14, and it ended up not being big enough to hold all of our cards. I might make a bigger one next year. 

Now, I must get back to the kitchen! There is a Solstice Feast to prepare. Wishing you all a Most Blessed Solstice!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Decking the Halls

Handmade wreath, on our front door.
I really enjoy decorating the house for all the guests who come through during the holiday season. I love making our home festive and welcoming, especially when it's cold, dark and dreary outside. My style of decorating tends to be "natural" and "rustic" which, in addition to looking nice is also a pretty cheap way to decorate. Most of what we use to fancy up our home for the holidays we either made or found outside. There are a few store-bought things we've  either inherited or otherwise collected over the years, and this year I did spend $3 on some craft-store berries (50% off!) and about $8 on some burlap ribbon (which I bought because the kids didn't feel like doing popcorn and cranberry strings this year.) And, of course, we bought our tree from a tree farm. Here's how it all turned out this year...
On the mirror, a rustic twig star. On the mantle, candles (formerly residing inside
the fireplace) pine cones,a jar of evergreens, twigs and berries, artificial garland with
berries tucked in, and star-shaped stocking holders. Inside the fireplace, our symbolic
Yule logs, lit up with twinkle lights. Next to the fireplace, a basket of seasonal books.
A closer look... 



On the coffee table... a pitcher of found greens and twigs, dressed up with some
craft-store berries,a few candles and a plant saucer full of pine cones.
We have an assortment of mostly handmade ornaments on our tree... such as salt-dough ornaments made by the kids, some pine cone ornaments, twig stars, dried citrus slices and paper snowflakes.



This one's not handmade... but how cute is he?!



 A wee bit of festiveness by the front door...

Holiday cards, some greens and a "peace" sign (purchased
from a dollar bin, years ago) and our Kindness Tree.


I made this card holder from stuff we had around the house.
"how-to" coming soon... 

On our piano... 
Greens, pine cones and pomander balls They smell wonderful!

The kids are currently in the process of decorating the playroom on their own with our small artificial tree, and whatever else they're digging out of the basement. Can't wait to see how that turns out! Our final bit of decorating will happen as it gets closer to Solstice... we'll add more greens and candles throughout the house in preparation for our Solstice Feast.

Meanwhile... we've got some holiday shopping and wrapping to do! My goal is to try to have all the done, and the packages going out of state mailed, before the 20th. Fingers crossed it actually happens that way! ;)




Monday, December 8, 2014

Real Life is Not a Hallmark Card

One of the biggest criticisms about home-and-family blogs is that they often give the idea that the writer's home is always perfect, and that their family is always joyful and adorable as they sit in their nicely decorated house making delicious treats from scratch and posing for pinterest-worthy photos. I'm here today to toss a little bit of reality into that ridiculous notion.

Over the past week, we've been starting to decorate our home, in preparation for our big Solstice Feast day on the 21st, and for Christmas Eve and Christmas after that. All this festive decorating was to be completed on "Tree Day" this past Sunday, which, of course, was to be a warm, fuzzy, delightful Hallmark holiday experience for us all. We were to laugh, to frolic amongst evergreens with rosy cheeks, then come home to decorate our tree with festive hand-made Yule decorations and have cookies and cocoa and hug each other warmly. A little bit of that actually ~did~ happen. But there was also screaming and yelling between two of the children, a broken tree stand which resulted in two quarts of water all over the livingroom floor, an emergency run out to get a new tree stand, and four out of five of us in tears at least once throughout the day. In the midst of all that, there was The Phone Call which took the wind out of my Holiday Spirit sails. As I've mentioned here before, Solstice is THE winter holiday, for me. I could give or take Christmas, for the most part, but the celebration of Solstice speaks to me. I love making ice lanterns, filling our home with candles, roasting chestnuts on the fire pit and having a big feast to welcome the returning light. It's something I look forward to and plan for months, every year. Well this year, it turns out that The Man of the House, the Love of my life, will NOT BE HOME FOR SOLSTICE. His brother got him tickets to a football game two states away, which would normally be a wonderful thing, except that the game is on Solstice! This makes me very sad. I'm trying to muddle through, but GAH... it's hard. Although I'll still have my sister and her fiance and my kiddos here to celebrate, there will be a large hole in the festivities, without him here. I'm one sad Mama.

We did manage to somewhat salvage the day. We cleaned up the huge water mess, we pulled it together, and we got the tree decorated. We even had cookies and cocoa. But by then, we were all just emotionally spent, and couldn't wait for the day to be over. Such is real life, sometimes, no?

But anyway... here are the pictures of that day. But just the good stuff, so that just for a few minutes we can ~pretend~ to be that perfect family ;)





Next post... I'll share some ideas for all-natural (and mostly FREE) holiday decorating.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Holiday-Time Craft: Pomander Balls

Now that Thanksgiving is behind us and the calendar page has flipped to December, we're starting to feel like getting ready for the Holiday season. We've slowly started replacing fall decorations (gourds and such) with winter decorations (evergreens and pinecones!) This weekend we also decided to make old-fashioned orange and clove pomander balls. I haven't made them in years, but they are something I really love. They make me think of England in the olden days, and they smell SO lovely. You can tie ribbons around them and hang them up, but I prefer to display mine in a bowl or tray with greens and pinecones. Mine are currently on the piano in our living room, near the front door, so that when we come home we are greeted by their warm, spicy fragrance.

Pomander balls are very easy to make, and they are a fun craft to do with kids. They don't require much for materials... chances are you already have everything you need in your kitchen.

Old-Fashioned Orange Pomander Balls

  • Oranges (or other citrus fruit... we used clementines)
  • whole cloves
  • Ground cinnamon, mixed with a bit of ground nutmeg and a few tablespoons of orris root powder

(NOTE* We skipped the orris root, because we didn't have any on hand. But it is nice to use if you have it, as keeps them smelling nice longer)

To make: Poke the cloves into the orange, in some kind of pattern, or just all over. If the skin of the fruit is tough to poke through, you can use a toothpick first to make it easier. Next, roll the fruit in the ground spice mixture, then either tie a ribbon around the fruit to hang it, or just place it in a bowl. The fruit should slowly dry out over a few weeks' time.






Monday, December 1, 2014

Our "Acts of Kindness" Tree

I was raised celebrating Christmas. In my family, we celebrated with all the usual trappings... Christmas trees, Santa, lights, decorations and presents. But Christmas also meant spending time with family, sharing special food and seeing relatives we didn't see as often during the year. Overall, those memories of Christmases past are mostly fond ones. As I got older, however... Christmas just didn't speak to me in the same way anymore. Many of the important people who made the holiday special for me passed on. I became disillusioned by the whole "Christmas Culture"... Being bombarded with all the tacky Christmas trappings in the stores from October to January, the pressure to spend money you don't have on garbage that no one needs, and worst of all, people yelling "Keep 'CHRIST' in CHRISTMAS" while they're trampling each other to get a good deal on a TV. Is this what Christmas has become?  Misplaced religious zealotry, commercialism and EXCESS? Instead of feeling cheerful at the holidays, I felt overwhelmed and saddened, to the point that the holiday season really meant nothing to me.

So I had to take a step back... I had to rediscover the things I loved in my childhood traditions, and the things I loved about this time of year in general, and figure out how I would pass on the GOOD of the season to my children, while eliminating the stuff  that didn't speak to me or make me feel Joyful. I love the traditions that come from ancient Solstice/Yule celebrations: Decorated trees, evergreen boughs, candles, etc. My spirituality is very Earth/Nature centered, so the traditions of celebrating Solstice and Yule really speak to me. My body and mind are very much connected to the cycles of the seasons, and I'm profoundly affected by the cycles of the Earth. Celebrating these cycles makes me feel connected to the people who have been celebrating this way since ancient times. These celebrations were so beautiful and important that early Christians wanted to get in on this Yule/Solstice stuff, so many of these traditions were absorbed into the Christian holiday of Christmas. (Particularly interesting, as according to religious historians, Jesus was born in late summer/early fall, no where near when we celebrate His "birth")  I also choose to embrace the traditional Christmas ideas of spreading Joy and Love and Light to our fellow human beings. Wasn't that what Jesus was all about? Helping those who couldn't help themselves? And then there are other little things from my childhood, things like baking special treats, building gingerbread houses and filling stockings.

These are the things that comprise our holiday season now...

  • Charity
  • Simplicity
  • Respect for the Earth and her changing seasons
  • Making our Home warm, comfortable and inviting for those we'll celebrate the season with
  • Making and choosing thoughtful gifts for those we love
  • Sharing traditional foods and activities

In line with the way we now choose to celebrate the season, a couple of years ago we started a new tradition in our family... the Acts of Kindness Tree. This is sort of a non-denomination twist on an Advent calendar. Each year I make little slips of paper with "acts of kindness" written on the them. These are tucked into little envelopes, and tied to a "tree" (actually just some branches from the yard, tucked into a vase) Each day, a child picks an envelope, and we do whatever is written on the paper.
The "Acts of Kindness" all ready to be tucked into envelopes



We really have fun with these. We treat many of them like Top Secret Missions of Kindness, where we try to remain anonymous, and do them without getting "caught." Some can't really be done anonymously, but those are still fun, too. Some require a little bit of money (like leaving change at the laundromat, buying a toy for a child in need, donating poinsettias to a nursing home) but many are totally free... helping a neighbor shovel, writing a letter to someone to thank them for something nice they did, let someone go ahead of you in line) Kindness doesn't have to be expensive.

Coming in the next week or two, I'll be sharing lots more of our Simple holiday traditions, crafts and recipes. May your holiday season, however you choose to celebrate it, be filled with much Love, Peace and Joy.

Friday, November 28, 2014

So Thankful

We had a very nice, quiet Thanksgiving yesterday... just The Man of the House, Ladybug, Monkey, Noodle and me. We watched the Parade (or rather, the kids watched it, while I was in-and-out cooking) We ate lots of delicious food, and just enjoyed hanging out together.

Appetizers


The table, all set





Our Vegan Thanksgiving Feast: Butternut squash, maple roasted carrots, corn,
green beans, Tofurky with roasted yams and onions, mashed potatoes,
cranberry-apple stuffing, cranberry sauce and freshly baked rolls. 




I have SO much to be Thankful for this year, as always. I am truly Blessed.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Our Thankful Garland

Every year for Thanksgiving, our family does a little "Thankful" craft... we always make a little banner of paper leaves, on which we write things we are thankful for. (You can see last year's banner here) Some of the leaves are very sincere... "Our Home" "Our Cats" etc... while others are a bit sillier (like "Peanut Butter") We've  been making these in one form or another since my oldest child was about four, so I think this is our tenth year! It is definitely one of my favorite family traditions.

It begins as cut out paper leaves and sharpies
This year we did it a little differently... rather than hang the leaves from string or twine across a wall or window as we usually do, I decided I wanted to put it up on our newly-revamped mantle this year. I found some nice grapevine garland at AC Moore, which seemed perfect to use as our base.  I'm very happy with how it came out.

After writing things we're Thankful for, we
tucked the leaves into the grapevine garland.

Finished!