Archives for November 2011

Manger Diorama Ornament

Manger Diorama
Stars will play a major role in this tree. I found it the perfect shape to go back to again and again as it not only represented the star in the east the Wise Men followed, but brings some elegance in as well. I love to use paper mache boxes as a way to add some dimension, so this little star shaped box was a perfect inspiration.

I looked and looked for something I could use as a diorama, scouring every craft and hobby store in the area looking for miniatures, but found nothing. So I had to make it myself.

Manger Diorama Tutorial Step 1
Hot glue two popsicle sticks together to make the floor of the manger.

Manger Diorama Tutorial Step 2
Cut the glued popsicle sticks to about 1 1/2 inches, and cut two more popsicle sticks, just a single width this time, to the same size. Glue the single popsicle sticks to the edge of the floor of the manger, to create the sides.

Manger Diorama Tutorial Step 3
Glue two more popsicle sticks to the ends to create the head and foot boards. Trim to get the right size.

Manger Diorama Tutorial Step 4
To make the legs of the manger, cut the rounded ends of the popsicle stick off at an angle. Cross two legs and glue them to each other, then glue them to the bottom of the manger. Repeat for the other side.

Manger Diorama Tutorial Step 5
To make the manger look less recognizable as popsicle sticks, I painted it with a thin brown paint, then hot glued excelsior inside to make the hay.

Manger Diorama Tutorial Step 6
I made baby Jesus by wrapping a wood bead in a scrap of fabric, then glued him inside the manger.

Manger Diorama Tutorial Step 7
Paint the paper mache box. Then, to hang this star charm over the manger, poke a hole in the top point of the box. Thread the charm on the ribbon you’ll use to hang the ornament, then thread both ends of the ribbon through the hole. The hole just needs to be smaller than the charm so it won’t pull through.

Manger Diorama Tutorial Step 8
When pulled through the other side, tie a knot to use as a hanger.

Manger Diorama Tutorial Step 9
Use more hot glue to keep the manger in place.

This worked out to be a really cheap craft – probably about $3 once you amortize some of the costs – that it would be perfect for churches or youth groups, or really anyone old enough to work a hot glue gun. The popsicle stick manger is a little fragile, but that’s another thing that’s great about making this a diorama – a fragile ornament gets a little more protection and a whole lot more pizazz.


I shared this with: Tatertots and Jello


Burlap Floral Cones

Burlap Floral Cone Blue
Didn’t I promise you that not everything would be about nativities? I really wracked my brain for a way to bring in some different colors and materials and a shape that wasn’t just another Mary doll, and I love how this turned out. Everything about this tree is a balance between high/low, luxury/simplicity, rich/poor, and I think that tension is reflected in this little nosegay. The burlap fabric of the cone couldn’t look more rough and tumble, while the satin ribbon and flowers looks sumptuous.

Burlap Floral Cone Tutorial Step 1
Start by tracing a large circle onto a thick paper. I used a manilla envelope and traced a plate. Then cut that circle into thirds.

Burlap Floral Cone Tutorial Step 2
Roll the paper up, and secure it with a couple of staples.

Burlap Floral Cone Tutorial Step 3
Cover the cone in burlap fabric by rolling it up and stapling it in place. I loved how it looked when the burlap was a little loose, so I didn’t worry too much about pulling really tight. You just want the bottom edge to be neat, and leave enough at the top to tuck under.

Burlap Floral Cone Tutorial Step 4
Tuck all the remaining burlap into the center of the cone and arrange. Glue the burlap in place.

Burlap Floral Cone Tutorial Step 5
Cut a small styrofoam ball in half …

Burlap Floral Cone Tutorial Step 6 … and arrange your flowers inside it.

Burlap Floral Cone Tutorial Step 7
Before you place your flowers inside the cone, you need to arrange your ribbon. Punch two holes near the back, and a large hole right in front. Thread the ribbon through from the back to the front, leaving enough ribbon to hang the ornament.

Burlap Floral Cone Tutorial Step 9
Tie a big gorgeous bow with the ribbon threaded through the front of the cone, and notch the ends.

Burlap Floral Cone Tutorial Step 8
Tuck the flowers inside the cone with a healthy dose of glue to keep it all in place.

The nice thing about aiming for a rustic look is that you don’t have to worry too much about being neat. But if you took your time with this, this project could be used all year round for all kinds of things. Party favors, spring decor, covered with the right kind of fabric and ribbon, this floral cone could work for every season.


Hay Ornament and Tree Decorating Tips

Hay Ornament
OK, sometimes I make an ornament that is so easy I almost wonder if I should bother blogging about it. But I decided to do it for a couple of reasons. 1.) Nothing is simple to everybody, and 2.) It gives me another chance to talk about my tree decorating philosophy.

Doing as many trees as I’ve done over the years, I’ve come to believe that a tree where every ornament is a stand alone beauty is like a woman who wears too much jewelry. It can look cluttered and over done. Plus, if everything is special, nothing looks special, because there’s no place for your eyes to rest. So sometimes you need a relatively plain ornament to really highlight the showstoppers.

Then there’s the added trick of giving your tree depth. With six trees and counting I use cheap artificial trees, which means that there are a lot of wires to cover, spots where you can see through to the metal pole in the middle, things that give away how flimsy these trees are. If I take an ornament and shove it all the way to the back, it hides the unpleasantness of a cheap tree, and it also gives more opportunity to vary the depths of the ornaments and make it look like a beautiful arrangement, and not a coat hanger for your ornaments.

This is exactly the kind of ornament I like best for these purposes. It’s slightly larger than average, it’s got an interesting texture, but there’s not a ton of detail that will be missed if your only glimpse of it is peaking through the branches.

Hay Ornament Tutorial Step 1
I call this a hay ornament, because that’s what it’s supposed to symbolize, but the stuff covering the ball is actually excelsior, the stuff you use to fill baskets. It’s cheap and way way easier to work with. Drizzle glue all over one side of a styrofoam ball and stick the excelsior on top. I used a hot glue gun because I have callouses on my hands that burns can’t touch, but be incredibly careful if you do it that way. It works really quick, but the glue pops up through the layers and can get you.

Hay Ornament Tutorial Step 2
Keep going until the whole ball is covered. If you use a craft glue and need a little help keeping the excelsior in place while it dries, just use some small pins. Sequin pins are perfect for this because they’re so tiny they’ll hide easily.

Hay Ornament Tutorial Step 3
Attach a hanger with more pins.

I’m probably underselling this ornament with all my talk of “plainness.” This texture and color up against a tree is hardly plain. But it is ridiculously easy to make, and will provide such a nice contrast to all the figures and ornaments to come.


Raffia Garland

Raffia Garland
In my opinionated opinion, just about every tree is better off with a garland. I love how it breaks up the usual shapes of hanging ornaments, creates a visual through-line, and makes the tree look like it’s wrapped up in a bow. So many of my ideas for ornaments reflected the fancier parts of the nativity story, I thought the garland would be a great place to bring in the natural materials evocative of the stable.

Raffia Garland Tutorial Step 1
It’s super crazy simple. The hardest part is just dealing with the fact that raffia loves to tangle. Start by taking a hunk of raffia the size you want the finished garland width to be, and wrapping a rubber band around one end. Cover the rubber band with another piece of raffia.

Raffia Garland Tutorial Step 2
Then just start braiding. When you reach the end of the length of raffia, grab some more in the same width, layer it on top, and keep right on braiding.

Raffia Garland Tutorial Step 3
The edges of the new raffia will poke out a bit, and I loved the look of it. It looks like rope that’s started to fray. You could try gluing them down if you want something cleaner, but that defeats the purpose of working with natural materials in my book.

Raffia Garland Tutorial Step 4
Once the garland is as long as you want it, wrap another rubber band around the end, cover with another piece of raffia, and trim off any leftover raffia.

This simple idea is part of what makes me love decorating trees so much. Such a cheap and easy idea, and it makes such a big impact to the whole look of the tree. Garlands should go on right after the lights so you can nestle all the ornaments around them. The highly contrasting color of this one brings a lot of interest, while the natural raffia still blends in as it needs to.


Believe Frames

Believe Frame
Christmas is a time when we all think about what we value the most. Whether you believe in Christ, or God, or family, or Santa, this is the time of year when we shed some of our cynicism and remember the hope found in belief.

Believe Frame Step 1
I picked up these little frames at Michael’s earlier this year. I loved the ornate carving in such a small size, it reminded me of some of the baroque religious artwork I studied in my college history classes. But I wanted to fill it with something a little more simple.

Believe Frame Step 2
I picked a font on my computer and made a Word document with the word “Believe” all spaced out as I needed them to fit my little frame. I set them up to be 1 1/2″ high x 2 1/4″ wide. To make the linen fabric go through my printer, I cut a piece of freezer paper to the standard 8 1/2 x 11 size, and ironed it onto a piece of fabric cut to the same size. The freezer paper has wax on one side that will bond to the fabric just long enough to make it firm enough to get through the printer.

Believe Frame Step 3
I used a ruler and rotary cutter to cut the linen to the size I had measured, then I cut a piece of gold lame to fit the size of the frame.

Believe Frame Step 4
Using a matching colored thread, sew the linen onto the lame, leaving about 1/2″ of border.

Believe Frame Step 5
Pull out the loose threads up to the line you sewed to make a fringed border.

Believe Frame Step 6
Give the finished piece a good ironing (carefully if you’re using lame like me) and fit it inside your frame. I just tuck this inside the branches of the tree as is, but you can attach a hanger to it if you’d like.

To me this ornament bears testimony of my religious beliefs, but we all believe in something. And I think that this time of year especially is a great time to think about those beliefs we hold most dear and give thanks for the strength to hope.


Paisley Ornaments

Paisley Ornament
Part of the attraction of this tree for me was the chance to do a mix of glam and earthy, high and low, that is represented in the nativity story. The king of heaven born in a stable; the wise men and the animals; gold, frankinscence, and myrrh and hay and burlap. I love that contrast.

The first ornament I made for this tree was inspired by the luxe, ornate fabrics I envision when I think of the wise men. I didn’t just want to fill this tree with different versions of people, I wanted some ornaments that were a little more abstract and gave the suggestion of the story. When I found this gorgeous glittered ribbon, I knew just how to use it.

Paisley Ornament Tutorial Step 1
I found these cool paper mache ornaments at Papersource, but all your usual craft stores will have something similar. Cut your ribbon long enough to cover with a bit of extra, and get some glue that is thin enough to spread easily.

Paisley Ornament Tutorial Step 2
My ribbon was wide enough that I could cut it in half, and then you just glue it onto one of the sides of the paper mache ornament.

Paisley Ornament Tutorial Step 3
Let the glue dry, then cut off the extra ribbon to be flush with the sides.

Paisley Ornament Tutorial Step 4
Repeat all the way around for each side, letting each side dry before trimming.
To disguise all my seams, I ran a thin line of glue down each side and sprinkled glitter over it. Glitter will cover up any little spaces you cut too close, and make the ornament look polished.

This is one of those ornaments I was talking about yesterday that would work for you even if you’re not into nativities. This could be used with any ribbon, or really any fabric at all, to fit into whatever your decor is. Ribbons are so gorgeous and ornately decorated, this is a super simple way of getting a whole lot of gorgeous on your tree in a really easy way.


2011 Theme Tree – Night in Bethlehem

Nativity Tree 5
Introducing the new theme tree for this year! Every year brings me a new theme, with a whole new inspiration for tons of handmade ornaments, which I’ve got all ready to share with you.

Nativity Tree 4
This tree is inspired by the nativity festival we put on at my church each year. We all gather the nativities we’ve collected and display them in a large room, then put on all kinds of musical events for the community to enjoy. Last year as I was looking around at all the different nativities I felt so inspired I knew I had to do something about that.

Nativity Tree 3
I’m calling it Night in Bethlehem because I wanted to include every aspect of the nativity story. I’ve got the holy family, wise men, shepherds, animals, angels, tons of stars, the whole shebang. And of course a tree skirt to complete the look.

Nativity Tree 2
If nativities aren’t your thing, don’t fret. There are still going to be a TON of ideas for you. Most of these projects can be tweaked a little here and there and work for however you celebrate, and there will be loads of inspiration and interesting techniques.

Nativity Tree 1
This is my favorite time of year by far, and I’ve been working on projects since August. I’ll have recipes, gift ideas, and so many things to share that I’ll be racing to fit it all in. I’ll be posting every day from now until Christmas, maybe even a couple times a day sometimes.

I can’t wait to start the festivities and share this season with you.


Happy Thanksgiving

Family 3

Family 2

Family 1

Hope you all are enjoying some quality time with those you love. I am grateful for my loyal tribe of readers who give me more support than you’ll ever know. Happy Thanksgiving.


Chocolate Pot du Creme

Chocolate Pot du Creme
Whenever Bear and I have to travel for business, we take full advantage of the experience and eat at restaurants we couldn’t quite rationalize eating at on our own budget. At one of those restaurants we splurged for dessert and ordered what the waitress recommended – Chocolate Pot du Creme. We ended up fighting each other over it until I finally abandoned any pretense of dignity and stuck my fingers straight in the bowl to lick up any extras.

Pot du Creme was new to me, but it’s another variation of the French custard desserts. You might have had Creme Brulee on a fancy night, Pot du Creme is Creme Brulee without the sugar crust, and this chocolate version is like the most decadent, smoothest, luxurious pudding you’ve ever tasted.

4 egg yolks
3 whole eggs
5 oz sugar
1 qt half and half
4 oz dark chocolate
2 oz unsweetened chocolate

Whisk the eggs and the sugar together until combined. Heat the half and half until scalding, then add the chocolate after you’ve chopped it into teeny tiny pieces. Lower the heat and watch it carefully so you don’t burn the milk or the chocolate, and stir until the chocolate is completely melted. Slowly add a bit at a time to the egg mixture. Adding too much at once will cook the eggs too quickly and you’ll have chocolate flavored scrambled eggs.

To make sure you get rid of any egg bits, strain the mixture. Pour into ramekins, or special pot du creme cups if you’re fancy, and skim off any foam. Place the pots in a water bath by filling a baking dish with a couple of inches of hot water and arranging the ramekins inside it. Of course, make sure the water can’t reach the top of the ramekins. Cover the pan with aluminum foil.

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until custard is set. Allow to cool, then chill in the refrigerator for at least a few hours.

The hardest part of this whole dessert is just melting the chocolate. But between the fancy French name and the fancy French taste, you will knock the socks off your Thanksgiving dinner guests. And even better, it can be made even a couple days ahead so you don’t have to fight with the pies for oven time.

When Bear made this he made more than we could ever eat between the two of us, and it was too good to go to waste, so I came up with a way to just drink the stuff. With about half the chocolate cream mixture, and half milk, this made the greatest hot chocolate ever.


2011 Year of Pleasures #44

Family Sandwich

This is another one of our goofy family games, and I am terrified of the day that Atti discovers he’s too cool for it. One of us will shout “Family Sandwich!” and Bear and I will give each other a big hug with Atti squished in the middle. Do you think he knows we like him?