DIY Gift Box Ornament

gift-box-ornamentIf this is the tree that says Home for the Holidays, then it absolutely had to include some presents. It feels a little bit like a cheat, these present ornaments are so easy. But like so many of my favorite ornaments through the years, they manage to do a lot of heavy lifting. Since most ornaments are round balls, it mixes things up by changing the shape, taking up a bunch of space, and providing a big chunk of color. And since you can put any kind of paper on it, you can use this ornament to create fantastically ornate color palettes. If you like to have a tree that matches your living room, you could use this ornament to make that happen whether your living room is puce or chartreuse.


step-1 You can wrap up anything you want, you just need to make it lightweight enough to not drag down the tree. I had these box lids left over from the Santa Buckets I made last year, so I glued them together to make my box. Styrofoam cubes work great, or upholstery foam, or whatever cardboard boxes you can get your hands on.


step-2 Cut a piece of paper big enough to wrap your box in. Wrap the paper around the box and pinch each fold to crease it. I then take the paper off the box and give those folds another good press with my fingers to really crisp up all those corners. To make it extra neat, I folded one end under just about 1/4″.


step-3 Wrap the paper back around the box and glue in place. I used hot glue for this project because it was a whole lot faster than liquid glue, and because tape doesn’t really hold up well over the years.


step-4Press the sides in and let the other sides fold into points. Since this is an ornament and not a present that only has to look nice enough to be torn open, I took my time to get those points neat, and to fold any rogue pieces so they were hidden by the pretty points.


step-5The ribbon here is two parts. One piece of ribbon that wraps the package and ties in a bow, and the other piece of ribbon serves as the ornament hanger. Run the hanger ribbon underneath both layers of package ribbon before tying it in a knot.


gift-boxI don’t decorate with presents very often. I know some people who wrap empty shoe boxes and put them under the tree all month long. It looks beautiful, but the reason I got into decorating so big was because I didn’t want to encourage the piles of presents everywhere. With 11 trees the whole house is a party without any extravagant overspending. But if I’m thinking about Home for the Holidays and family traditions, I have to include the exchanging of presents. I’m just going to have to pretend these little packages are filled with practical gifts like winter clothes and books.



Ribbon Chain Garland

ribbon-chain-garlandYesterday we launched into my Vintage Home for the Holidays tree, and even though this tree already has a garland, I’m going to go *wild* and add another one. (I’m such a daredevil! :eyeroll:) The tinsel on a garland was practical, this garland is because if I’m going traditional, a paper chain is as traditional as it gets. The only thing more traditional is a popcorn and cranberry garland, but I already did one of those. In all that googling I was doing trying to find pictures of vintage trees, the only thing I saw as often as tinsel was paper chain garlands. Unfortunately, paper chains don’t exactly pack well. They were never supposed to last from season to season, but if I’m going to use one, with 11 trees in this place now, it better. So, like the tinsel, I’m going to modernize this old-fashioned craft and use wired ribbon and a sewing machine to make these last for ages.

The secret to making these look fantastic is how you sew the seam. Since every side is visible, you can’t just have seams hanging out on the wrong side. There really isn’t a wrong side. Which calls for a special sewing technique to wrap all those raw edges up in a neat little package. You need a French Seam.

A french seam is the same as the seam you have on your jeans. Since that seam is enforced in two spots it’s extra strong, which is why it’s good for jeans. For us it’s more about how neat and tidy it makes things, but if you’re going for longevity, that strength won’t hurt.


step-1I cut my ribbon 10″ long. The size really doesn’t need to be terribly exact, just big enough to have two inches for the seam with enough left over to make a nice big link.


step-2Fold the ribbon wrong sides together, and sew leaving a 1 inch seam allowance.


step-3Fold the ends over to meet the seam line…


step-4 Then fold one more time so all the raw edges are encased in a nice neat little roll.


step-5 Sew another seam as close to the edge of that little roll as you can steer. Make sure that you don’t sew your ribbon link closed. You just want to sew through one layer of the ribbon. Tug the back layer out of the way as you sew.

step-6When you’ve got two links sewn, thread them onto another ribbon piece so that the seamlines will be on the inside when you fold it closed.


step-7Fold the ribbon in half and make another French seam just as before, remembering to not let any of the other ribbons get caught in your seams.


step-8Add another ribbon piece to one of the end links and repeat this process until your garland is as long as you want it to be.


ribbon-chain As soon as I saw this ribbon I knew I had to use it on this tree somehow. It makes me think of a wool car blanket. Something you’d keep in the car for picnics, or long road trips. It was this ribbon that made me know this was going to be a Home for the Holidays tree. I can’t help but see that ribbon and imagine parents tucking their children in to the station wagon’s backseat, hoping they’ll stay asleep until they wake up at Grandma’s House just in time for Christmas.


Make a Tinsel Tassel Garland

tinsel-tassel-garlandLast year my Christmas goals went bust. (Abdominal surgery will do that to even the best of us.) But it may have been a blessing in disguise. Last year I had all these ideas for ornaments, but they weren’t really fitting together in one perfect themed tree. Now that I’ve had some time to ponder everything I’m taking what I started last year, I’m switching everything around, repurposing a few things, adding a whole lot more, and I’m launching into this Christmas raring to go with projects for two trees! That’s right. Two new Christmas trees with all the fixings. I’ve got garlands and ornaments spilling out of me in every direction. Instead of the mish mash tree I was headed for last year, I’ve got two gorgeous vintage 60’s inspired trees. One will be as traditional as can be, and the other will embrace all the mod kitch I can get my hands on. One will be something my parents may have grown up with, the other will be something at home in the offices of Sterling Draper Cooper Price. First up: Vintage Home for the Holidays. And as always, the first thing that goes on any tree I make is the garland.

Since I had a whole year to dwell on the mistakes I made with the start of this tree, I did a lot of research. I wore out my google fingers searching for images on how a home Christmas tree would have been decorated in the early sixties and I found some vintage crafts, lots of big lights, and tinsel. SO MUCH TINSEL. Postwar everything was about aluminum and if you didn’t have an actual aluminum tree, then you took a fresh tree and you smothered it in tinsel. I mean just wallpapered it with the stuff.

These days you can still find tinsel online easily enough, but it’s not exactly in vogue. It makes a huge mess, you’d never get it off to put it away, and if you have pets? The nightmare would never end. But it does look so beautiful on the tree! When it catches the light and just shimmers and drips? It’s magical. So I was determined to take tinsel out of the dustbin of design past and find a way to use it that solved the problems it brings.


step-1I’ll tell you right up front that the tinsel can be difficult to manage. Lots of little strands that slip and slide against each other when they’re not tangling up together. So you’re going to have to take a couple deep breaths until you get the hang of this. But you will get the hang of this and the results will be worth it!

You need a base that you’ll be tying the tinsel onto for your garland. Something thick enough to be strong and avoid snapping or tangling, but not so thick that its bulk gets in the way of admiring the tinsel. I go to my old standby of cotton crochet thread. I tied a knot in the end just to be extra sure my tassels wouldn’t slide off the end, but it’s probably unnecessary.

Now it’s time to break out the tinsel. I bought mine online and it came in 18″ lengths (or about that. I don’t remember exactly. You know how I am with measurements.) I cut the length in half, and sectioned out enough strands that when I folded it in half again, the tassel was as full as I wanted it to be. You can make the tassels as full or as thin as you want, it’s all just personal taste, you just want to make the size consistent, whatever you choose.


step-2The knot will be tying is called a whole bunch of different things. A cow hitch or a larks head knot seem to be the most common but it’s extremely simple. The only hard thing about this project is getting the tinsel to be still. So to that end I’m going to get specific about how to hold it. Comb your tinsel as neat as you can and wrap it around your first and second fingers. Use your thumb and pinky to pinch the tassel together. Do your best to match the ends up so both sides are the same length, but don’t make yourself crazy over it. You can always just give it a trim up later.


step-3Take the thread or rope you’re using as the base of your garland and lay it across your hand below the loop you’ve made. Use your middle and ring fingers to pinch it and hold it in place.


step-4Lift the tail up over the garland base and grab it with your first and middle fingers. Slide the loop over the tail and off your fingers. You’re just pulling that tail through the loop you’ve made, wrapping it around the garland base in the process.


step-5Pull the tail until the loop becomes tight around the garland base.


step-6Depending on how you happen to pull, the top of the knot can get messy because the tinsel is unruly. Some of these tassels I went through every strand and pulled until I found the one that was out of place, some I got tired of doing that with and left messy, and others, after I practiced for a while, I got right on the first try.


step-7Since the tinsel is so slick, there’s no way you’ll be able to make your knot tight enough that it won’t slide back and forth on your base. So I added a dollop of hot glue to the top, making sure the glue touched both the base and the tinsel, to keep everything where I put it.


tinsel-garlandOnce you see this on the tree, any frustration you may have felt from the unruly tinsel will be forgotten. It is so beautiful shimmering during the day, and straight up magical during the night, that I can understand why all those trees I googled were so covered with the stuff. It almost doesn’t need ornaments! Almost. But even tinsel can’t stop me! I have a lot more up my sleeve for this tree.



Green Bean Shepherds Pie

Green Bean Shepherds Pie

Shepherd’s Pie is as traditional as it gets if you are a whitey like me. A one pot hot dish, vegetable and meat stew topped with mashed potatoes, it is what I crave when the weather turns chilly and I’m looking for something hot and hearty. And like a lot of traditional dishes, it can be twisted up and turned on its head and become a vehicle for all your own favorite additions. It’s kind of like a pizza. Some people will never want anything but pepperoni and cheese, but for the creative, there’s a whole world of barbecue sauce and cilantro out there. Traditional Shepherd’s Pie doesn’t include tomatoes or green beans, but that’s not going to stop me from trying it.

2 1/2 lbs ground beef
1 1/2 C carrots, diced
1 1/2 C onions, diced
1 1/2 lbs green beans
2 pints canned whole tomatoes
1 large can tomato paste
Salt and Pepper
Spices to taste

Mashed Potatoes:
About 6 C chopped potatoes
About 2 T mayonnaise
Evaporated milk

Brown your ground beef. Use a slotted spoon to remove the beef from the pan, saving all that good grease to cook the vegetables. Add the carrots and onions and cook until soft. If your green beans are fresh, boil them until al dente. If frozen, thaw them in the microwave.

In the meantime, make your mashed potatoes. Boil the potatoes in water that’s been heavily salted. You can make your mashed potatoes anyway you prefer, but my method is to toss them in a mixer with some mayonnaise for taste and as much evaporated milk as necessary to make it really creamy without turning into a smoothy. Be careful not to overmix or you’ll end up making paste.

When the carrots and onions are cooked, add the green beans and toss them in the fat. Add the meat back into the pot. Add the tomatoes including all the liquid. Give the whole tomatoes a squish as you add them to tear them into bite sized pieces. Add the tomato paste and stir well. If your tomatoes are super juicy, don’t add any more liquid. We’re aiming for a stew, not a soup. But if you need a little more liquid you could add a little water or beef broth, or even some red wine to really bring out the tomato flavors. Add lots of salt and pepper and then raid your spice cabinet for some other additions. Oregano is an obvious and classic choice, thyme is good in everything, cumin would add a lovely little punch. Season to taste and let it simmer for about 30 minutes or until the liquid reduces down and all the flavors have a chance to meld together.

Pour your stew into a 9 x 13 casserole dish. Then slap the potatoes on top like you’re frosting a cake. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until the potatoes get a pretty crust to them. Then eat.

Shepherds Pie

This recipe makes enough for a crowd. Which makes it excellent pot luck or freezer meal fare, or you could just cut the recipe in half if you’re only feeding a few people. I can just never seem to help myself from going big.


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