Monday, December 24, 2012

Home for the Holidays

The first year we were married, Noah and I didn't have many ornaments for our tree, so I went out and bought a bunch of glass bulbs in red, ivory, and gold. We added some red and white lights, a gold ribbon, and called it a day. It was pretty, but it never felt very personal. I found myself missing the Christmas trees of my childhood. Our tree was always covered with an assortment of mismatched ornaments...the hand-painted toy soldiers that my grandma made from wooden clothespins, the clay nativity figures that my mom painted for their very first tree back when my parents were newlyweds, the felt storybook characters that Gramma made for me and my older siblings, and the huge assortment of handmade ornaments we all brought home from school each year. Even as kids, we loved unwrapping the ornaments because it felt like running into old friends. "Oh, I remember this one...!" Our tree was never the prettiest on the block, and I'm sure any design magazine of the day would have scoffed at the thought that we actually "decorated" for Christmas, but we loved our tree, and I remember many nights spent giggling and sleeping under the glow of its twinkly lights.

After Abe was born, my mom started sending me "my ornaments" as she'd find them while packing up or unpacking her tree decorations. We've also collected a bunch of Noah's old ornaments and some special ones for Abe. After adding those to all our handmade ornaments from the last couple years, our tree is finally starting to look like the trees I remember from my childhood...and once again, I am in love!

Since most of our ornaments are bought, made, or given to us one at a time, they each have a special story to tell. Like this guy... I bought a few of these unfinished wooden ornaments at Michael's when Noah and I first got married. I painted them with watered down acrylic paint (so the wood grain shows through), and sanded the edges with a nail file for a slightly rustic look. Obviously, I learned a lesson from my mom's clay ornaments which we all adored - wood is much less fragile!

My grandma made two sets of these Raggedy Ann & Andy ornaments for me and my twin sister when we were little. She used a kit from Bucilla, and also made my older brothers a whole set of Wizard of Oz characters and Goldilocks and the Three Bears. We all loved playing with them as kids!

I added a bit of "snow" to the cardboard igloo I made last year. Still think it needs more...and Abe thinks it needs something inside.

When we got married I started putting a family photo ornament on our tree each year. Last year I made a photo bulb; this year I just picked up a cute frame at Crate & Barrel and used a leftover shot from Abe's photo cube. The picture is from a visit to the arboretum last spring. I can't believe how small Abe looked back then! (The silhouette in the foreground is another ornament I made last year.)

This gorgeous bell was a gift from my sister that she bought for me back when she lived in Napa Valley. No idea who made it or where it came from, but I love it. Abe likes to call it a "jingle bell." I do let him ring it from time to time, but only under close supervision!

This is one of my favorites...from our first year as a family of three. The photo was taken by my friend, Liz Banfield, when Abe was about three weeks old.

Noah seems to get at least one Gopher-themed ornament every year. I suppose you can't be a Gopher fan without at least one football on your tree! 

If you follow me on Instagram you may have seen the little owl ornament I picked up at Crate & Barrel the other day. I have a thing for owls. Can't resist them... I think this guy was also from Crate & Barrel a year or two ago.

My little brother, Andrew, made me this painted sand dollar when he was about 6 years old. It's hung on every tree I've had ever since. (I made the sequin bulb last year. Honestly didn't expect the sequins to stick all year in storage!)

We picked up this one while on our honeymoon in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. I meant to pick up an ornament every time we went on vacation or somewhere new, but I've been severely lacking in that department. Where's New Orleans? Phoenix? North Carolina? Iowa? Heck, I didn't even pick up an ornament when my sister and I went to Paris!

So everybody has a "baby's first" ornament, right? Well, these guys are mine. Or well, one is mine and one belongs to my twin sister, but she's a nun now, so my mom sent them both to me. We have a number of other deer, moose, bears, squirrels, and other woodland creatures on our tree, so I guess it's ok that I'm obsessed with owls...

This ornament is from Noah's first Christmas. His grandma has given him one of these metal ornaments (engraved with his name and the date) every year since he was born. 

The bottom half of our tree is covered with soft and otherwise unbreakable ornaments (like the Eric Carle animals and felt monograms I made last year). All of the fragile and more precious ornaments get hung at the top, out of the reach of curious little hands. Surprisingly, our little guy is pretty good about leaving decorations on the tree...and presents underneath it! I don't buy wrapping paper very often, generally just use brown kraft paper and colorful ribbons. If I use any wrapping paper besides the brown kraft paper, I usually stick to a red, white, and green color palette. Makes it easier to pick out ribbon when I always know what kind paper I have waiting for me at home. Oh, and I stopped buying gift tags a few years ago. There are so many adorable designs online that are available as free downloads (find some of my favorites here), so I usually just pick a few and print them on cardstock or full-page mailing labels to stick on my packages. 

We brought out Abe's little nativity sets which he loves to play with. I have a nice ceramic set that my parents gave me one year for Christmas, but don't have a place to set it up this year!

I stuck Abe's Christmas books in a basket under the coffee table. They tend to travel to various parts of the house, but it's fun reading Christmas stories before bed by the light of the tree. 

We have some unfinished Christmas stockings that I made, but this year I hung up the adorable stockings that Noah's grandma made for each of us. She made the stockings for Abe and I after Abe was born, but Noah has had this one since he was a kid.

The one thing this house doesn't have that I really wanted is a fireplace. No fireplace means there's no mantel for hanging our stockings, so I had to get creative. This year I hung them from a long ribbon that I attached to the molding between the living room and dining room.

Abe likes looking at all the little pictures on his stocking. Apparently there is a tree, a box (actually a present, covered up by his arm in this shot), a camel (rocking horse), a cookie (gingerbread man), a train, an ark, and Santa Claus!

A friend of ours is building a console table for the big empty wall in our living room and that's where I plan to set up my trees in the future. For now though they're just hanging out on the dining room table with a bowl full of Christmas cards. And if you didn't notice, I tried to beautify our ugly chandelier with a few glass bulbs from Ikea that were too big for the tree. I don't think it helped much.

Abe wanted a tiny tree, so I tied together a few small branches we cut off the bottom of our tree and stuck them in a bucket on his play table. We decorated it with jingle bells, his shrink plastic and a few other tiny ornaments, and sparkly pom poms.

I barely have time to clean my kitchen, let alone decorate it, but I did manage to make a tissue paper poinsettia to stick in the window.

We actually had a lot of fun decorating with Abe this year! We went to the tree farm last Sunday, and when we got home, we brought the tree inside so the snow on the branches could melt before we started decorating it the next morning. Of course Abe wanted to decorate it as soon as we brought it inside! We gave him a handful of homemade ornaments that I had sitting on the table, and halfway through hanging his ornaments on the bottom branches, he declared "I need a Santa hat!" Luckily we had one in the basement, so I brought it up and our little elf got back to work. I love that he gets so excited about decorating the tree...and for a two-year-old, he did a very nice job!

And here it is a few days later all lit up. I'm not the biggest fan of LED lights, but my husband loves them so that's what we've got. At least he doesn't complain about my energy guzzling sparkle balls out front...

Don't forget to check out our holiday index for links to all of our Christmas DIYs!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

12 Days of Christmas Ornaments - Day 12: Felt Football, Baseball, and Basketball Ornaments

Abe was pretty little the last couple Christmases, so if I even got something for Noah "from Abe" it was probably a gift that I picked out. This year I decided to ask Abe what he wanted to get his dad for Christmas and was a little surprised when he immediately responded with "a ball." 

Easy enough. Noah likes to play ball with our nieces and nephews, and Abe's getting big enough to play, so I figured we could pick up an adult-sized ball of some sort to add to Abe's kid-sized collection. Off to Target we went and headed straight for the athletic aisle. Abe quickly picked out a teeny tiny football (much like the 3 or 4 teeny tiny footballs we already have at home) and then headed for the Lego section. After playing with the toys for awhile, we picked out a few gifts for his cousins and headed home...without the teeny tiny football. That evening he told Noah "we got you a present!" I suppose I should have explained to Abe about surprises beforehand (or warned Noah not to be too inquisitive), but I didn't, so of course Noah asked "You did?! What is it?" Abe flat out gave it away, "A ball!" 

Since we hadn't actually bought Noah's present yet, we headed back to Target a few days later and Abe picked out a ball for Daddy that we brought home and played with for two days while Daddy was at work and hid in the closet. Although he's told Noah a number of times that we got him a ball, he hasn't given away any specific details. The funny thing is, he's also told Noah that he wants to get me a ball for Christmas, and when I asked him what he wanted Santa to bring, he told me "a round ball." 

So yeah, long story short, balls are really popular around our house these days, so in my attempt to keep the bottom half of our tree kid-friendly, I decided to make a few ball ornaments he could play with.

Since I haven't sewn any ornaments this year I decided to break my glitter addiction and make these little balls out of felt - although wouldn't they be adorable made from glitter felt?! 

I'm working on the pattern - I'll post it later this week, but if you're really itching to make these you can follow my directions for Indoor Snowballs to make the football and basketball. Although the snowballs are much larger, these are about the size of a tennis ball. (Update: It's done. Find the free pattern here!)

The baseball is a bit more complicated to explain, but still really simple to make! Check back on Thursday or Friday for the free pattern. (Update: It's done. Find the free pattern here!)

So that wraps up my 12 Days of Christmas Ornaments series. I hope you've enjoyed them...and attempted to make a few on your own or with your kids! Have you done any fun projects this winter? Now's the time to share! Link up below to show us your prettiest holiday crafts. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

12 Days of Christmas Ornaments - Day 11: Sharpie drawings on Porcelain Bulbs

Last year I spotted some porcelain balls at the craft store and always regretted that I didn't pick up a few. (They were sold out the next time I went.) This year when I saw them I bought a couple right away! I intended to decorate them with the porcelain markers I bought for this Father's Day project, but decided to try out this sharpie technique instead.

The hardest part was figuring out what to draw. I decided to make one for Abe (inspired by one of his favorite Curious George books), and the other one I decorated with Christmas lights and some of the lyrics to White Christmas. It's so much fun to draw with Sharpies on smooth surfaces - once I got started it was hard to stop!

You'll need:

porcelain ornaments
regular Sharpie markers, any color (not paint or other specialty Sharpies!)
rubbing alcohol

1. Draw on a porcelain ball  or other ornament (they had lots of flat shapes at the craft store) with plain old Sharpies in any color. Be careful when handling your ornament as the ink may smudge before it's dry.

You can use rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball or Q-tip to erase marks as needed. Just be careful if you're not erasing your entire design. If there's too much alcohol on the cotton ball it can drip or run and ruin your design!

2. Put ornaments in a cold oven, then bake at 350 F for 30 minutes.

3. Once the time is up, turn the oven off and leave them inside until cool. Once baked, the drawings should be permanent. I tried rubbing and scratching my drawings and it didn't hurt them at all.

I've seen this done with dishes a million times in black and white, so it was fun experimenting with colors. My only disappointment was that the colors weren't as vibrant after baking as they were before I put them in the oven. Anyone else have a similar experience with colored Sharpies? Tried the Sharpie on porcelain technique on dishes or other objects? Did it work for you?

Don't forget, you can find lots of other holiday ornament ideas and inspiration right here.

Friday, December 14, 2012

12 Days of Christmas Ornaments - Day 10: Sparkly Silhouettes

Last year I made silhouette ornaments using Abe's profile, and I loved the way this glittery one turned out. I wanted to make more, but since I wasn't about to get him to sit still for another profile shot, I decided to try some animal shapes instead. You could do this with wood cutouts like the ones I used for these chalkboard gift tags, but I decided to make my own cutouts from cardboard.

You'll need:

printed shapes or silhouettes to use as templates
lightweight cardboard

1. Search Google images for shapes or silhouettes. (I printed a Minnesota shape and some animals that live in the north.)

2. Size images up or down (doesn't matter if they turn out blurry) to make them about 4 inches tall or wide. (Mine were all 4 inches tall except the polar bear. I made him 4½ inches wide since he was much shorter than the rest.) Print on plain paper.

3. Use your printed images as templates to cut the shapes from lightweight cardboard. (Cereal boxes work great for this!)

4. To make magnets, paint one side with a thick coat of Mod Podge and cover with glitter. Let it dry, then shake off excess glitter and give it another coat of glue and glitter (if needed). If it starts to curl, give the backside a coat of Mod Podge as well - but skip the glitter!

5. Attach a magnet to the back and hang on the fridge!

6. To make ornaments, put two coats of glue + glitter on both sides, then punch a hole in the cardboard, attach a ribbon, and hang it on the tree!

7. To prevent glitter from rubbing off, add a coat of Mod Podge on top of the last layer of glitter and let it dry. It will dry clear and prevent glitter from getting everywhere!

Anyone else in love with that moose? I think he's so cute! If you can't tell, we haven't gotten a tree yet. Hopefully we'll get one this weekend so I can start hanging all these handmade ornaments! How's your holiday decorating coming along?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

12 Days of Christmas Ornaments - Day 9: Photo Cubes

Every year I add a family photo to our tree, and I've been adding a special photo ornament of our little guy ever since he was born. Someday I'd like to have a tree covered in photos, but I don't want to fill it up right away, so I've been adding them one at a time. Unless I find a cute frame that I love, I'll probably just do another photo bulb for our family picture again. For Abe's picture I picked up a square plastic bulb so I could show off a few favorites.

You'll need: 

square plastic bulb
4 photos
chopsticks (or similar tool for unrolling and pushing photos into place)
tweezers (just in case)
glitter and glue (optional)

1. Start by tracing the shape of your ornament on a piece of paper. Cut out square to use as a template, and measure the size of the square to figure out how big you'll need to print your photos.

2. My cube was 2 inches wide so I knew I wanted to print my photos about that size. I picked some favorites (one from each season) and added a white border using Pixlr-o-matic. Then I sized them down by using the cropping tool in Photoshop. To get photos to print a specific size, I cropped them to 2 x 2 inches at 300 dpi. Then I created a new document that was 4 x 6 inches (also 300 dpi) and dropped them into it to create a 4x6 photo from 6 different pictures (see first photo). In the end I had to tweak them a bit more, shrinking them down and adding extra white space on the edges. The actual photos are just over 1½ inches wide, the rest was just white - and a lot of that white border got trimmed off as I found that the photos fit best when I trimmed them to 1 inches instead of 2.

3. Once your photos are cut, carefully wrap them around a pencil and push them (one at a time) into the cube. 

4. Use a chopstick to unroll the pictures and gently push them to the sides. I liked the look of the photos when they slightly bowed inwards, so I didn't push them too hard against the glass, just gently nudged them in place. Once all four photos are in they should hold each other up. (Oh and if your photos don't fit, or you change your mind about one, now is the time to get out the tweezers to pull them out. It's not easy, so do your best to measure and cut your photos the right size from the start!)

These next steps are optional...

5. To hide the clear bottom of the bulb and the edges of the photos, I poured a small amount of glitter inside (you could also do this before inserting the photos), and kept tilting my bulb upside down until each photo had a small "snowdrift" in front of it. If the glitter sticks to the sides of the glass, try tapping on the bulb to remove it.

6. Then I added a layer of "snow" on top with a thick coat of Mod Podge, and finished it off by writing the year on the bottom with a permanent marker.

I love how it turned out! Might have to make more for Abe's grandparents. If I find some extra time, I might jot down some of his milestones and funny quotes from this year and tuck them inside. Maybe I'll also add some memories (our trip to Iowa, my sister's wedding, expecting baby #2...) to add to our family photo bulb.

Don't have kids? This would also be a fun way to display Instagram pics on your tree! Looking for other tree decorations that won't break the bank? Check out our other DIY decorations right here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

12 Days of Christmas Ornaments - Day 8: Star Burst Ornaments

Have you ever watched kids play with play dough? I always find it funny that a favorite play dough activity involves poking things into the dough until it resembles a small porcupine. After watching Abe do this one day, I realized that I could transform his adorable creation into a really cool Christmas ornament...

I love the retro feel of all the glittery star burst ornaments in stores these days. (CB2 has this cool flocked version and Crate & Barrel has these silvery ones, even Target has some!) They're all nice, but I really like how our more colorful creations turned out. I'd love to make one in every color of the rainbow!

You'll need:

play dough (or hot glue)
craft sticks (1 package is enough for about 2½ ornaments)
paint (spray paint or acrylic craft paint)
Mod Podge

It's a little hard for toddlers to work all the way around the ball (although the top half always looks great!), although older kids should be able to do this...or just break out their play dough and have a little fun of your own!

1. Make a small ball of play dough and poke a skewer halfway through it. (Works better if you use the flat end instead of the pointy end.)

2. Insert craft sticks all the way around. 

3. Continue inserting craft sticks until your ball is adequately covered. 

4. Insert a small paper clip or loop of wire into the dough if you want to be able to hang it later.

5. Put your ball in a cool, dry place and allow it to sit until the dough hardens. This could take up to a week. (For immediate results, skip the dough and build the ball with hot glue instead!) The sticks shouldn't wiggle at all if the dough is completely hardened. 

6. Once the ball is dry, paint it. Spray paint is fastest, but you can also apply craft paint with a brush if you don't have or want to use spray paint.

7. Once the paint is dry, use a brush to apply Mod Podge. (If any of the sticks feel loose, you can glue them in place now, but if more than a couple feel loose your dough probably isn't dry yet!) Starting with the center and only working on a small section at a time, apply glue... 

8. ...then immediately sprinkle with a lot of glitter. Once the center is coated with glitter you can start on the sticks. I was able to paint 10-12 sticks before the glue started to dry. I'd coat those in glitter and then paint glue on the next batch of sticks. I used the entire jar of glitter coating the whole ball, but once I funneled the leftover glitter back into the jar... was almost completely full! Just don't be afraid to really sprinkle it on heavy to get good coverage.

9. Once the glue is dry, clip off the skewer so it's the length of the other sticks (I used pruning shears but a serrated knife works too), attach a string to the paperclip, and hang!

These would also look really pretty in a bowl or on a shelf, or leave the skewers on and group them in a vase like flowers! So many possibilities... Anyone else covering their house in glitter? Hogging all their kids craft supplies? I love so many of the ornaments we've made for our tree, but these are definitely some of my favorites!