It all started with some lovely ornaments at the quarterly consignment sale where I love to shop. We were at the presale, and I saw them--nine gorgeous, vintage, hand-blown glass ornaments, in their original boxes. Price $2. I resisted at the presale, thought about them all week, and when they were still there at the half price sale, they had to be mine! $1 for ornaments so similar to the ones I remember from my childhood--the ones my grandmother passed down to my mother, and my mother guarded as carefully as possible from little hands--that I couldn't stop thinking about them.

But we're doing a handmade tree this year, right? We put the tree up, I made and Victor hung the Recycled Magazine Paper Chain, we've done several ornaments and have plans for more. What was I thinking!?

I brought my ornaments home and put them on the shelf near the tree, seeing the faded red boxes every time I glanced in that direction. I considered packing them away with my others, giving them to my mother, donating them to goodwill. And every time I saw that box, I had another memory--my mother gently covering my hand with hers as I hung one of those treasured ornaments, my grandmother and I picking strawberries (and eating them with heavy cream and sugar), each of my sons' faces the first time our eyes met, the first time they nursed, the first time they said 'mama'. A glance at the faded lettering on those boxes brought up the sound of my grandfather's laughter, the feel of my dad's hugs, the sound of my entire extended family singing Christmas carols. Somehow, these ornaments weren't discarded glass to me. They weren't even a nostalgic piece of my childhood. To me, these ornaments simply represented history, old and recent, holiday and every day. Little pieces of me, reflected by Christmas lights on glass ornaments.

I lasted almost a week, then I hung them on the tree. Not just ON the tree, IN the tree--nestled behind the branches, near the center of the tree, where they'll be less tempting to little hands. Even when I pulled them from the box, I was telling myself I just wanted to look at them, inspect them, make sure they hadn't been broken when Nathan accidentally knocked them to the floor. It wasn't until I pulled them from the box and held them up to the lights of the tree that I made the decision to hang them. If I had had to think about it, search for hooks (the previous owner had left hooks on them), or even had someone else been in the room and asked me about it, I wouldn't have hung them. But in that second, it was the right thing to do.

To be honest, I hung them so completely inside the tree that I can only find them by careful searching, but it doesn't matter--I know they're there. And these ornaments, somehow, are different from the ornaments I bought nine years ago, for our first married Christmas. Even though they're the same style, *I* am not the same. This was not an impassioned search through ebay, thrift stores, and antique stores, looking for the perfect ornaments to create the perfect tree for the start of our perfect life. No, this was a chance meeting. Not what I planned, not what I was searching for, not even what I thought I wanted, and yet the perfect thing. A perfect reflection of my life this past year.

So, my handmade tree will have (at least) nine vintage ornaments, that item per item probably cost less than some of the other handmade ornaments that will end up on there. Nine small pieces of glass that with each glance reflects to me a tiny piece of who I am, why I am, where I am. I don't know why these ornaments mean so much to me, why they called to me, why I am nearly obsessed with them. But at five thirty this morning, when Nathan & I were sitting in the floor reading "Llama Llama Holday Drama" because he couldn't sleep again, his eyes roamed across the tree, and just for a second, I saw one of the ornaments reflected in his eyes. I don't know if he saw it, or if he was busy staring at the lights, or if he was simply lost in his own Nathan world, but for just a moment I saw the man he might become, roaming through a thrift store, and smiling as his eyes land on a box of vintage holiday ornaments.

Happy Holidays.

Handmade Decorations: Cinnamon & Applesauce Ornaments

If you do an internet search for 'cinnamon ornaments' or 'cinnamon applesauce ornaments', you'll find dozens of different recipes. In general, the recipes are one part 'wet ingredients' to just over one part 'dry ingredients'. The main wet ingredient is applesauce, the main dry ingredient is cinnamon, so you CAN make them from a dough made entirely from cinnamon and applesauce. I combined several recipes, and ended up using approximately 3 cups applesauce (that's how much was in the jar)and 1/4 cup of white glue to approximately 3 cups cinnamon + a half cup of cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and ginger. I mixed it all together and made a very sticky dough, and that's when it all went wrong :D

Mix all your ingredients together into a dough. If your dough is too sticky, you can add more cinnamon, put the dough in the refrigerator for a while, or both. *I* followed the directions on a recipe that said 'roll your dough between two sheets of either plastic wrap or waxed paper'. For the first batch, I rolled my dough between my waxed paper to 1/4" thick, as suggested. The thing about waxed paper is that it is, in fact, a very thin paper with some wax on it, so if we get it wet enough, as this dough did, the paper starts to disintegrate. Halfway through cutting them out, I gave up, salvaged the ornaments I could and put them in the oven, kneaded more cinnamon into my dough (while trying to be sure I picked out all the disintegrating waxed paper), then popped it into the fridge for two hours. I flipped the first batch of ornaments every 45 minutes for 2.5 hours, and there was minimal curling. For the second batch, I sprinkled more cinnamon onto my counter and rolled the dough to about 1/2" thick. This batch is currently still in the oven. They were already starting to curl a bit when I turned them after 45 minutes. Keep in mind when choosing your designs that these shrink quite a bit as they dry, so you'll want your cut outs to be at least 20% bigger than you want your finished product to be. You can also let them air dry, but they need to be turned every few hours, and it might take several days for them to dry, depending on how thick they are.

Cost for about 5 dozen ornaments:

Applesauce $1 for jar
Cinnamon 2 large jars $1 each (found these at the dollar tree)
Cookie cutters (or you could just make cardboard patterns and cut them with a knife)

I had all the other ingredients already, which is why I added them, so $3 plus less than $1 in materials I already had for 5 dozen ornaments, equals less than $1 a dozen, even if you spend $1 on a pack of cookie cutters from the dollar tree.

Things I would do differently if I were to do these again:

1. I think I'd leave out the glue. I'm not sure exactly what it's purpose was supposed to be, but this dough was SO sticky that I nearly tossed it into the trash after fifteen minutes.
2. I'd roll it out thicker than I did the first time--these shrink quite a bit as a they dry, so 1/2" to 3/4" is what I would try.
3. Plastic wrap, not waxed paper.
4. SIMPLE cookie cutters--my son tried to use some cookie cutters that had details (like a snowman with the features, scarf, etc drawn in) and the dough stuck to it.

These smell divine, and it is very easy to knead unused dough and re-roll it (especially important if your helper, like mine, sees no need to actually cut one ornament near another when he can space it just far enough that you can't fit another between them). Those are the only things I liked about this project. I was nervous about letting my six year old help, and wouldn't allow my 3 year olds to help--I was afraid that the spices would irritate their skin or get into their eyes. The stickiness was probably due to the glue, but it made this the most frustrating project I've done EVER! Worst of all, my husband took one look at them and said "They're not really very festive, are they?" Which, all things considered, was much nicer than what Nicky said--he pointed at the pile of dough on the counter and said "EWW!! Poopy!!!" :P Still, though, with some homespun fabric tied through them, these are very much in the primitive style that's in right now, and they're not very expensive.

UPDATE: After giving it a few weeks for the frustration to wear off, I actually like these ornaments :D Part of the problem with the dough, I think, was the glue, and part of it was simply inexperience on my part. I may actually do these again someday, but I won't add the glue, I'll add more dry ingredients, and I'll pop the dough in the refrigerator to chill before trying to work with it.

Handmade Decorations -- Recycled Magazines

I found THIS tutorial yesterday, and I went NUTS over it! I love package bows, have even been known to tuck them into the branches of my tree (or my hair :P), but they really just seem like an unnecessary expense. I'm also not crazy about the shiny-metallic colors, and once again, that plastic ribbon can not be healthy for a kid to chew on. These bows are made from magazines, and they tend to have a nice, slightly muted color scheme, and they're paper, so if your child or pet munches on one, it's no big deal. They're super easy, too, and almost addictive--once I got into the rhythm, I didn't want to stop making them!

A few notes:

1. There's no way these bows take 30 minutes, unless you count how long it took my brain to figure out exactly how to twist-and-loop the paper strip to make it just right. After the first one, they take just a few minutes each.

2. The length of the strips isn't as important as the proportions--I used one set of much longer strips to make a larger bow, and a set of shorter ones to make a smaller bow. The shorter ones were harder to manipulate, and harder to put together. The final loop covers a LOT of mistakes, but play with it a little to make sure you get the look you want. I made a few with final loops that were too big or too small, and they just didn't look right.

3. I used a stapler to put my entire bow together. This caused some crushing issues. In the future, I'll use a stapler to put everything but the final loop on, then glue or tape for the loop. You could also, of course, use glue or double sided tape for the entire project--I just like my stapler.

4. Pay attention to the color scheme of the page you choose. I was recycling a Wine Spectator magazine, and the colors of the ads tend to be much more sophisticated than the ads in say Woman's Day or Family Fun (which I won't be cutting up anyway, thank you very much. That mag ROCKS! :P), which are brighter and bolder. The pages I chose from Wine Spectator were shades of brown, grey, and white, and were very well-suited to adult or men's gifts.

I was thinking about the lack of garland or beads for our tree, and used another page with a similar color scheme to make a paper chain (just like in elementary school--cut multiple strips of paper of the same length, form the first strip into a loop, glue or staple, push a second strip through the loop to form an interlocking loop, staple, repeat until you get the length you need). Once again, I LOVED the look of the sophisticated colors from the magazine!! I was balking against the idea of brightly colored construction paper on my Christmas tree, and I think this will be a nice substitute--with the added bonus of recycling a magazine to make it :D

UPDATE: I still love the idea of the muted color scheme, but you can see in the picture of our tree overall that you should be careful about how you put it together--my chain has a few feet of alot of white, a few feet of a lot of orange, a few feet of a lot of brown . . . You get the idea :P Those darker colors seem to 'disappear' into the tree, and I'm not sure I like that (there is paper chain draped the entire length of the tree, a total of five rows, but in my opinion you can only really see the three rows in the middle)

But the chain itself is still nice, in my opinion, and I'm quite glad we chose to do this over using the beads or tinsel garland we've used in the past.


I ran across this idea while searching for more holiday crafts using recycled magazines. Not sure if we'll do it, but it's cute :D

Christmas Tree & Ornaments (scroll to the bottom for the links to directions)

Frugal Holidays Pt 2 Handmade Decorations

The first year my husband and I were married, I scoured antique shops, ebay, and thrift stores to put together a collection of vintage ornaments, just like the ones I remembered my mother having when I was a kid. For the first couple of years we were married, my husband joked (with a half-frightened look on his face) about how long it took me to decorate our tree every year. I spent hours--sometimes days--making sure that each of those beautiful ornaments was hung perfectly. Soon, though, we realized why my mom always had a 4 foot tree on a 2 foot high table until my brother and I were teens--those gorgeous ornaments are not only tempting to little hands, but also dangerous. So, the vintage ornaments are packed away, never to be seen until my own children are teens. The past few years our tree has been a combination of plastic and wooden ornaments with a few handcrafted or special ornaments thrown in, but this year, we've challenged ourselves to do something different.

1. At least 90% of our tree decorations will be handmade. We will have electric lights, and possibly a few special ornaments. I'm wishy-washy about the topper, but everything else will be made by hand.

2. Everyone in the house will contribute. Noone wants this to become another craft project mom obsesses about, and what's the point of a handmade tree if all of the kids aren't involved?

3. As much as possible, materials will be recycled rather than purchased.

4. There will be little to no glitter (it's messy, and I'm not convinced it's safe to eat--Nathan WILL eat it. His shiny-obsessed, texture-exploring mind won't allow him to resist.)

5. I will not freak out if something is not perfect, but rather enjoy the beauty of it's imperfection.

I'll try to blog about each different project, as well as some that I'm interested in but may not get to. I hope you enjoy it, and please don't hesitate to post/email your own ideas!

Frugal Holidays, Pt 1 Pumpkin Tartlets

I didn't REALLY abandon my blog. I just ignored it shamelessly while dealing with life's insanities :D But I'm going to try to get back into the swing of things. I've challenged myself to blog at least 3 projects a week through Christmas, focussing on bringing the insanity of the holidays under control. I may muse on my reasons for doing this later, but right now, I want to talk pumpkin.

Last week, the twins' preschool class had a Thanksgiving celebration, and I wanted to cook something. Problem was that I also had 3 writing assignments, 3 quizzes, and an exam due BEFORE the party! So I headed over to to try to find a quick, easy, and frugal recipe. My back up plan was a pecan pie from walmart's bakery, which cost $7 for 2 (2 to give 16 servings, and also because the cashier dropped the first one, then put it into the bag upside down!! There was NO WAY I was taking that to school :( ). I found this great little recipe with a 15 minute prep time! I had the ingredients on hand, but I've listed the prices beside the items most people wouldn't already have in their kitchen:

100-Calorie Pumpkin Pie Tartlets
16 (2 1/2-inch) foil baking cups (>$1 pack of 50)
Nonstick cooking spray
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch (~$1 for a box)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large egg whites
1 can (15 oz.) LIBBY'S® 100% Pure Pumpkin ($1.50 for Libby brand)
1 can (12 fl. oz.) NESTLÉ® CARNATION® Evaporated Fat Free Milk ($0.69 for generic)
1 cup fat free whipped topping ($1.50 for a bowl--I actually paid $2 for reddiwhip)
12 small gingersnap cookies, broken into 1/4-inch pieces (Bag of unbroken cookies $2)
PREHEAT oven to 350º F. Place baking cups on baking sheet with sides. Spray each cup with cooking spray.

COMBINE sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, ginger and salt in small bowl. Beat egg whites in large bowl. Stir in pumpkin and sugar mixture. Gradually stir in evaporated milk. Spoon 1/4 to 1/3 cup of mixture into each prepared cup.

BAKE for 25 to 28 minutes or until knife inserted near centers comes out clean. Cool on baking sheet for 20 minutes. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Top each with whipped topping and gingersnap crumbs.

A few notes:

1. I don't know if it was because I used my stand mixer to make the batter or what, but I used 1/2 cup of batter per prepared cup instead of the 1/4 to 1/3 in the recipe, and I still made 21 tarts instead of 16. Good news for calorie counters--same ingredients, so fewer calories :D

2. I'm not sure you really NEED the foil cups instead of the more cost effective paper cups. I had some foil ones left over from my son's Star Wars party and just used those, but I may try the paper ones next time just to see what happens.

3. I bought cute little gingerbread man-shaped gingersnaps, sprayed some reddi-whip on each tartlet, then stuck my little ginger-man into the whipped topping whole. It was an adorable presentation, but a mistake taste wise--the gingersnaps really add to the flavor of the tarts. If you choose to decorate as I did, be sure to either sprinkle crushed cookies as well OR use some melted butter to make crusts in the foil cups before baking. I think I'm going to try the second method for Thanksgiving.

I estimate that this recipe cost between $7-$8, counting fractional amounts for the spices, cooking spray, sugar, and cornstarch (ie, since I had them on hand, I didn't include in the estimate the cost of an entire container, but rather the approximate cost of the amount I used). This made 21 servings, so for the sake of easy math, less than $0.40 per serving for what turned out to be a very impressive-looking dessert.