Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How to Decorate Your Christmas Tree: Part 5

Here is my "finished" tree. I am not having a good light year apparently, though, because this morning, half a strand of lights decided to go out. It bothers me greatly, and I'm tempted to somehow fix it, but that would involve undecorating and redecorating, so I guess I will just live with it.

How to Decorate Your Christmas Tree: Part 1 (Getting started, choosing a theme, adding lights and floral accents)
How to Decorate Your Christmas Tree: Part 2 (Putting up large and specialty ornaments)
How to Decorate Your Christmas Tree: Part 3 (Putting up ball ornaments)
How to Decorate Your Christmas Tree: Part 4 (Putting on the ribbon and/or garland)

I was realizing today that I probably should have titled this little series "How to Decorate MY Christmas Tree." Because I know that there are millions of ways to do it, and I certainly don't think everyone should do it my way. It's just how I do it, and what works for me. Apparently, I like my Christmas trees the same way I like my life: Overstuffed. You might be way more minimalistic where your tree is concerned, and that's totally cool because it's your tree. At the very least, I hope that if you read this little series I was able to help you have some ideas and vision for your own tree.

Okay, so now that the ribbon is on, we just have a few little finishing touches to deal with. The first is adding the twirly twiggy thingies (if anybody out there knows a more precise name for these, I'd love to know it!).
Twirly Twigs and Feathers
These things are twirly twigs. You can get them just about anywhere that has a floral decorating department. I've purchased them at the Dollar Store, WalMart and various craft stores. They're never very expensive and I think they are a perfect finishing touch for a tree. You might also try some that have berry sprays or feathers. There are tons of fun things like this to choose from.

I just take groups of 2 or 3 of the twirly twigs and stick them down into the branches, leaving plenty to stick out from the tree.
Twirly TwigTwirly Twigs
After those are all in, it's time for the most important finishing touch--the topper. You can use something specially made to be a tree topper (I have an angel), or you could just do a big bow or something. Whatever you like.

This year it was Chloe's turn to help put the angel in her place of honor.
Once the angel is placed, I make sure to tuck all the ribbon under her and then put the golden feathers around her.
Feather things
And with that, the tree decorating is FINITO!

Here's a picture of the finished tree without lights, since it is easier to see how things are placed.
Lights off
Again, I like to see lots of stuff and very little tree. You might be the opposite--the important thing is that you really love it.

But hold on, because we're not finished yet! We need a tree skirt! And guess what? I don't even have one. I use a round tablecloth that is kind of goldish in color because all of the tree skirts I like are way too expensive.
Tree skirt/tablecloth
I keep thinking that maybe I'll get around to making one, but so far that hasn't happened. I really like this one, and if I get around to it this is what I'll make. Isn't it pretty?

But anyway, don't feel like you have to spend hundreds of dollars (and I wish that weren't an exaggeration) on a tree skirt. Just use something you like to cover up the tree stand. Fabric remnants and tablecloths work really well.

Now all you need to do is sit back and enjoy your masterpiece. Get some hot cocoa, turn on the Christmas tunes and turn off the lights and bask in the glow of the season. That's why we have these Christmas trees anyway.

Merry Christmas!


PS: Here is a website with some pretty cool Christmas tree inspiration. They tend toward the overdone, even by my standards, but I think there are a lot of good color and theme ideas.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How to Decorate Your Christmas Tree: Part 4

How to Decorate Your Christmas Tree: Part 1 (Getting started, choosing a theme, adding lights and floral accents)
How to Decorate Your Christmas Tree: Part 2 (Putting up large and specialty ornaments)
How to Decorate Your Christmas Tree: Part 3 (Putting up the ball ornaments)

How you deal with the ribbon/garland can seriously make or break the tree. And I know I'm a tree snob, but I'm totally serious.

The most common mistakes with the ribbon/garland are 1) putting it on before anything else, and 2) just wrapping it around the tree.

We've already discussed the order of things thus far, and obviously ribbon is almost last, so let's discuss how we get it on the tree.
This is my ribbon. The larger, gold roll is un-wired craft ribbon I bought at Costco several years ago. The whole thing easily does my entire tree (all rolled up it maybe has an 8" diameter?). The other five rolls of ribbon are wired craft ribbon that I bought 12 years ago! They're still in amazingly great shape, which is good, because I love the pattern.

I use both types of ribbon differently, so let's start with the gold ribbon.
See how it kind of curls if you let it unroll by itself? We want to capitalize on this curliness. Start at the top of your tree, secure one end of the ribbon somewhere in the branches (I like to do this in the back of the tree where it can't be seen) and let it naturally unroll as you wind it around the tree. Resist the urge to pull it tight and "wrap" the tree, just let it kind of cascade down, and tuck it into the branches every now and then so it is secure.

I am thinking I should have shot a video, because that wasn't so easy to explain. Here's another picture:

Overstuffed Tree
Just keep going around the tree, letting the ribbon fall where it may, and gently tucking it in here and there. I do admit to pulling it tight in the back if I feel like I am going to run out of ribbon before I get to the entire bottom of the tree.

If you use beads or another type of garland which won't curl by itself like the ribbon does, just kind of drape them generously. I used to use gold beads and I had a lot of fun dripping them all over the tree randomly. Random is always the key.

After I do the gold ribbon, I do my patterned ribbon. It's wired, so it's a little bit different to work with, but I still use its own curl from being rolled up in the box for a year.

Balsam Hill

For this ribbon, I secure a piece at the very tippy top of the tree (where the topper will eventually hide it) and cascade it straight down, tucking it in every so often. Like so:
I continue doing this with all five ribbons until my tree kind of starts to remind me of a wedding cake. It doesn't matter how messy the top gets with all the ribbon ends because the topper will hide it. But only you know what your topper is capable of hiding, so do your ribbon accordingly. Mine is an angel with a full skirt that can hide lots and lots of ribbon.

Here is what our tree is looking like now:
So close...
(I added the birds after all the ribbon was put on--they are the ornaments saved for very, very last.)

Only one more part to go...just a few finishing touches, and then you can sit back with some hot cocoa and enjoy your masterpiece.

Click here for Part 5: Finishing Touches

How to Decorate Your Christmas Tree: Part 3

My three little tree elves adorning the tree with golden icicles, of which we have approximately 3 million 672 thousand.

How to Decorate Your Christmas Tree: Part 1 (Getting started, choosing a theme, adding lights and floral accents)
How to Decorate Your Christmas Tree: Part 2 (Putting up large and specialty ornaments)

Technically, this post should have been included with Part 2. But I was having technical difficulties, so we will have a small Part 3.

This is all about the ball ornaments. (And I'm not sure which we have more of: Icicles or balls.)

Music Ornaments
These are some that I made last year to go on a Thanksgiving Centerpiece and then moved to the Christmas tree. I think they might be some of my favorite ornaments we own (okay, so most of them are my favorite) and they were so easy to make, if a bit time consuming. I just ripped up some old sheet music, got it wet and then mod-podged it onto an ornament and then strung some ribbon through once they were dry (a day later!). I love how they turned out. They're my favorite (did I mention that already?).

For a while we had clear glass balls filled with red and gold glitter and potpourri that we made. Unfortunately, most of them broke (glass + children = disaster) so they are no longer with us. But they were really pretty, too. Maybe we'll do it again when Sophia is 16.

There isn't a lot to say about putting ball ornaments onto the tree...just make sure it's random-looking and that you get them all over the tree.

The reason I save them for almost last is because there are so stinkin' many of them and it's easier to get everything else spaced nicely without the balls there first.

Next up: Ribbon/garland. But in the meantime, here's our tree with all of the ornaments on it (except the two or three that we save for very very very last) just before the ribbon. We're getting there!

Almost Finished!
Click here for Part 4: Putting on the ribbon and/or garland

Monday, November 28, 2011

How to Decorate Your Christmas Tree: Part 2

How to Decorate Your Christmas Tree: Part 1 (Getting started, choosing a theme, adding lights and floral accents.)

All right! So once you have your lights, flowers, floral picks and bows up it's time to hide bare spots with your largest ornaments.

There will always be bare spots on a tree: Either because that's the way the branches are, or because there aren't enough lights in an area and it causes a kind of black hole. I like to cover these spots up with gigantic ball ornaments first. I have 9 or 10 of these really big ones, and I tie them on with ribbon. (Ribbon that I saved from gifts, by the way! Totally free to me. And pretty, too!)
Big RedBig
After I get those up in the barest spots, we start putting up all most of the ornaments that aren't balls. I haven't got a ton of pictures of these for this post, but we have quite the collection of non-ball-shaped ornaments. We have a set of gold snowflakes, lots of horns, treble clefs and eighth notes (remember my musical theme?), stars, red jewels, gold icicles, and various others.
GoldBoxes of ornaments
Here is the tree about halfway through this process:
I usually start with the biggest ones first (like the gold stars with the red beads) to continue hiding any bare spots. After that we go with the ones that we have a lot of (like the snowflakes, icicles and jewels) because it's easier to make sure they are spread out somewhat evenly that way.

However, you don't want your tree to look like you have everything perfectly set. It does need to look random, even while not having two identical ornaments next to each other. Just eyeball it and you'll do fine.
The girls' favorite ornaments are the horns. They just can't wait until it's time for them to go up every year--somewhere between the snowflakes and the icicles. I would recommend not hanging them on the lights as you see here, though. I'm guessing Miss Sophia did that.

I'm sorry this post seems a little short...Photoshop sort of quit working on me and I don't have a ton of time tonight anyway. But I wanted to post because I'm notorious for starting something like this and not finishing, so this is my feeble attempt at keeping the ball rolling. Look for the next post tomorrow!

Happy Monday! (And even happier tree decorating!)

Click here for Part 3: Adding ball ornaments

Sunday, November 27, 2011

How to Decorate Your Christmas Tree: Part 1

We got the tree up yesterday. It's one of my favorite parts of Christmas. But then, everything is one of my favorite parts of Christmas...

Each year, when I post pictures of my tree, I get several emails with questions about how I did it. So, this year, I decided to take pictures during each step of getting the tree up and do a series of posts explaining how I do it. Decorating my tree is a PROCESS (and I never quite realized what a long process it is until I decided to document every step), so this little series is quite the labor of love and I really really really hope it helps somebody out there with decorating their own tree.

Before you start, you need to decide a few things, namely color scheme and style/theme. (And if you're going with real or fake, but that's neither here nor there because I suspect you already have quite the opinion on that.)(I like artificial trees myself.)

My color scheme is red and gold. It has been that way since the first Christmas that Joel and I spent together as married folk, way back in 1999. So far, I am not tired of it, which is good, because I've amassed quite the collection! Some other color schemes you might consider are blue/silver, purple/pink/blue, red/green, white/gold, white/silver, red/white, purple/silver, green/white, green/silver, pink/red/white, black/gold, black/silver etc. The possibilities are endless! I stick to two colors, but having a third or even a fourth color in there is totally acceptable. You might base your colors on the room where you put up your tree, a favorite ornament, or just the one you like best.

Style is important, too. You might choose a more rustic look with wooden ornaments, Raggedy Ann dolls and raffia. You might like something more whimsical and colorful. Or you might (like me) go for the totally decadent and overly baroque tree that is dripping with sparkly things and ribbons and flowers and more sparkly things. I also have kind of a music theme, too, so if I find any ornaments that are either red or gold and also musical, it's a given that they'll be going in my shopping cart if the price is right. This year I bought a new 6.5 foot tree for my children's homemade/schoolmade ornaments to go on and I went with a more colorful (bright pink, purple, blue, and green), child-like theme since that will match all of their handmade ornaments better.

Once you've decided on color and style/theme, you need to find stuff to put on your tree. Now, if you read this blog at all, you have probably realized that I'm kind of cheap and don't like to spend a ton of money on anything if I don't have to, and this applies to my Christmas tree as much as anything else. So here are a few rules I like to abide by when it comes to collecting ornaments:
  1. Don't pay full price.  In fact, don't even buy ornaments before Christmas if you can at all help it.  After Christmas clearance is the way to go.
  2. Look at places other than your standard Target/WalMart, although they can have lovely things, too.  Some of the best clearances to be had are at Macy's or other stores like it.  And don't forget the craft stores: Roberts, Michaels, Hobby Lobby, etc. Also, my mom is just as in love with tree decorating as I am (I learned it from her!) and often buys me new ornaments when she hits the clearances for herself. We have different color schemes, so when she sees one that would work with my tree she just can't help herself. I sure love her! (And not just because she buys me Christmas ornaments!)
  3. If you must buy ornaments before Christmas, go to the dollar store.  Especially for your ball ornaments.  You get way more bang for your buck (yes they are plastic, but I much prefer that over glass!) and they have a really good selection.  Also check there for things like ribbon, flowers and floral picks.
  4. Save everything that would look good on your tree and within your color scheme.  I have things on my tree that aren't necessarily "ornaments" but came tied to a gift we received.  Ribbon is especially wonderful to save...if someone uses great ribbon on a gift they give to you, and it matches your tree, keep it!  I use any gold ribbon I get to tie ornaments to the tree.  It may take longer but it is so much prettier than the hooky thingies, and they tend to stay on better with ribbon anyway.
  5. Don't worry about having too few ornaments your first few years.  Your tree will still be beautiful and you will continue to collect.  My tree has about 5 times the ornaments on it this year than it did when we were first married (I've also retired many of them over the years...).
Okay.  Let's start decorating....

Step 1
Step 1: Put up the tree! Or, recruit your children to do it. This is actually the first year that Bria and Chloe put the whole thing up all by themselves, with only a little help getting the top on. I was so impressed.
Step 2
It is EXTREMELY important that you listen to Christmas music while putting up the tree. And that you sing along as you go.
Step 3
The next step is the lights. This is The Maestro's area of expertise, though I have trained him well. He knows to wind those lights around every single branch and get that tree covered. I was kind of bugged this year because (as usual) a bunch of the lights decided to stop working while they sat in storage for a year and the ones we bought to replace are different enough that it is noticeable. So I suppose my next advice would be to try and make sure you always buy the same brand of lights. Apparently they are not all created equal. Grr.

My family knows that I am extremely uptight about the order of the tree decorating. The girls are finally learning not to get ahead of themselves, hard as it is! I do think it is important to get things on in the right order because it affects the final product. Now, remember how I mentioned flowers and floral picks? I like to treat my tree as if it were a gigantic flower arrangement (because, isn't that what it is?) so flowers and picks are pretty central.

Flowers are the first thing to go on. I have poinsettias that I use, mostly red, but I have a few gold ones, too. I've seen some gorgeous Victorian style trees that use roses, but you can use just about any flower that you like. Just stick them down into the branches far enough that you feel they are secure. And they will look something like this when you're finished:
Step 4
I also have a few really big red and gold poinsettias that I put on after we do the little ones:
Step 5
After the flowers, I do my grapes. These are just floral arrangement picks. When I first started my tree I had mauve in the color scheme, so some of them are still that color, but it's not enough to make a huge difference, so I keep them on the tree.
Step 6
(Why do you suppose Sophia is always dressed in some crazy outfit on tree decorating day? Oh, maybe because I don't supervise her dressing during Thanksgiving holidays and she is pretty creative when left to her own devices...)

Again, just stick the picks into the branches so they feel secure. With a fake tree (and I'm sure this would apply to a real one as well), you just stick it right in the place where two branches meet and that's perfect.
Step 7Step 8
By the way, taking photos of each of these steps wasn't so easy, so I hope you can tell how I did the grape things okay.

The next thing we do is put little bows on the branches. These are from the first year I had the tree and they are still in great shape. I recommend using wired ribbon for this because it will hold its shape better. I just bought several spools at a craft store, tied the bows and then used craft wire to secure them to the branches. The craft wire stays on while they are in storage and all I have to do each year is fluff them up so they don't look smooshed and they're good to go.
Step 9
Okay, that's where we're stopping for Part One. This is what our tree looks like so far, with only lights, flowers, grapes and a few bows. And it's already so pretty!
Step 10
(And darn it, you can totally tell the difference between the two types of lights we used. It totally bugs.)

Click here for Part 2: Putting up large and specialty ornaments

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Day After Thanksgiving
(Still Thankful)

This year we managed to fit 9 people at our Thanksgiving Table.

The Day After Thanksgiving, Black Friday, is a day we associate with frenetic shopping, long lines, spectacular deals and gigantic crowds. And yes, while I do indeed take part in the insanity (though here is where living in a small town has its distinct advantages), I like to think how the Christmas season is always kicked off by a day of gratitude. By giving thanks for the many blessings we have, which have been given to us by the very One whose birth we begin to celebrate the very next day, we begin the "most wonderful time of the year." Pretty poignant, if you ask me.

This year, before our own dinner, we went to a church where the Little Brothers were serving Thanksgiving dinner to the elderly to perform a little service before we gorged ourselves with turkey and mashed potatoes. Our friends the P family and Bria's violin teacher also came and we played music together for a good hour and a half.
Bria and Libby

I'm thankful for Bria, who is finally performing on the violin in front of people with little to no anxiety, even if there are also few smiles. I'm thankful for her teacher, who provides her many opportunities to do so. And I'm thankful for her wonderful attitude about practicing these last few months--it's really showing in her playing.

I'm thankful for Sophia, who has no anxiety about performing in front of people and will offer to play for any person who enters our home. I'm thankful that she practices her Twinkles tirelessly. I'm thankful that we can somehow find the means to pay for music lessons every month, even though it often requires the sacrifice of other things.
Twinkle Band

I'm thankful that Sophia was willing to try her Twinkles, even though there was a cello playing which meant she'd have to switch strings, something she'd never done before.

I'm thankful that Bria was willing to help her little sister with the string switch. And I'm thankful that Sophia looks up to her big sister in matters of the violin as well as in many other things. I'm thankful for my girls, and I have to say this picture brings tears to my eyes and melts my heart into a puddle of squishy motherly lovey goo.
Washer Woman

I'm thankful for Chloe's willingness to provide percussion accompaniment, since she plays piano and not violin like her sisters. I'm thankful for her sweetness and generosity in all things, not just percussion playing. I'm also thankful that she is perfectly willing to play for people, be it piano or the washboard, and that she practices happily and without reminder.
The Maestro

I'm thankful for the Maestro. He thought about not coming with us for this little service project so he could get the food ready. But he came, and I'm thankful he did. He helped sing and play percussion and we all had such fun together as a family. I'm thankful for music and for the talents of my husband and children and myself. I'm thankful that we can bring joy to others by sharing our God-given talents.

I'm thankful for our friends the P family. And I'm thankful for their ukeleles and their own willingness to share their musical gifts with others. I'm thankful that they came to our home afterward and that we were able to share a beautiful meal, lots of pie, and fun games with them. I'm thankful for their friendship, and for the friendship of ALL of my friends.
66 Years

I don't know this couple, but while I was taking these photos he came up to me and said, "Do you want to take a picture of me and my wife? We've been married for 66 years!" I think perhaps he thought I was with the newspaper or something (my camera is big), but I happily took his picture, and I'm thankful he asked. I hope to be able to spend 66+ years with the Maestro, and it's neat to see a couple that has made it and is so proud of it.
Thanksgiving Centerpiece

Once we got back home, the kids worked on making our Thankful Tree centerpiece while the adults worked on final preparations of the feast.
Thanksgiving Centerpiece

This is what our centerpiece looked like this morning (since I forgot to take a picture of it during dinner last night). The kids brought a refreshing view to gratitude and wrote down things like "cheese" and "my stomach." Which are both excellent things for which to be grateful.

They of course hit all of the most important things, too.

Like "Mom."
Thankful for Mom

Hope your Thanksgiving was as wonderful as ours!


Now that it's Black Friday, it's really time to think about Christmas shopping and gifts and decorating. I have a few links for you:

1. I am a featured blogger on Conde Nast's new Christmas website: Santa's Hideout. I am kind of in love with the website because there are lots of wonderful tips on organizing your holiday season. There are tools to help with gift giving as well as posts about everything you need to know at Christmas from baking to decorating. I was asked to share my Christmas Tree, which is one of my very favorite parts of Christmas.

2. For all my LDS readers: Mormon Market is a new website featuring wholesome LDS products. There are some cool things there, and I urge you to look at them as you shop for Christmas gifts this year. Plus, for every order, they donate $1.00 to the General Missionary Fund. Very cool. I have a coupon code for you for 40% off your order, good today (11/25) through Sunday, 11/27. Enter ENOS1 at checkout to redeem.

3. Finally, don't forget to enter the Scentsy giveaway! The winner will be drawn on December 5, so there is still plenty of time to enter. All you have to do is make a comment and you're entered. You can do the extra stuff if you want, but it's totally optional.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Stepping Back and Enjoying

Sophia and me walking up to the elementary school on our last day without any snow in the ground. We decided to walk because the car was getting snow-tired just in time for the real storms to fly. We now have a good 8 inches or so on the ground and won't see grass till May.

The whole reason I started this Project Walking into a Hug thing in the first place was so that I could really learn to enjoy my children. Not that I don't enjoy them, but I know that I let life and chores and responsibilities and exhaustion and dishes and vacuuming and the internet and church callings and everything else just get in the way of enjoying them to the fullest. When I said that I have a difficult time just sitting down and playing with them, it's because all of the above stuff is on my mind and it's hard for me to focus on Barbies or Monopoly or just listening to my child.

And when I write all of that out, it makes me feel terribly guilty, but I am smart enough to realize that I am not the only mother in the world that feels this way.

While real, bonafide playing can be difficult for me, I did make a concerted effort to be more present for my children this week than usual. Instead of just being the mom who barks orders, I tried really hard to be the mom who spent time. And I have to say, I enjoyed my girls so much more this week. We had some wonderful conversations and cuddles and just enjoyed being together.

On the afternoon that I realized I'd have to either cancel helping in Chloe's classroom or walk the 15 minutes to the school, I chose to walk. Mostly because I didn't want to disappoint Chloe, but I thought it would be a nice way to slow down and have some quality time with Sophia. She was all about walking (she is my active child, after all), and we had such fun together. We talked about all sorts of things from Kindergarten to nature to Santa Claus. We stopped and listened to some squirrels arguing with each other, watched two cats playing in the window of a house, and counted over 20 bird's nests amongst the bare branches.

I had similar experiences with Bria and Chloe and I hope to remember this week. My house may look like an episode of Hoarders some days, and I am so not cool with that, but a house can always be cleaned up eventually. Grabbing the opportunities to slow down and enjoy my children during our busy days is priceless.

And I want to grab those moments as often as I possibly can.