Frugal Holidays: Handmade Decorations. The Best Things in life . . .

I've heard dozens of endings to 'the best things in life . . . '. Small packages, are free, whatever. But today, I found myself thinking that the best Christmas presents come home in my children's backpacks. My preschoolers' packs were such a treasure trove today that I honestly feel like I should send their teacher a thank you note! And of course, since they're projects for small children, they could be easily and frugally replicated, even made more sophisticated, by an adult. or not--they're seriously precious as they are :D

These snowmen are cut out of a thin, quilted fabric (not sure if you can find this fabric for a good price, but placemats from the dollar tree should work). They then have black glittery fabric hats, tiny black craft dots for the buttons and eyes, a scrap of fabric for the scarf, and tiny scraps of fabric for the mouth and nose. Cut it all out, glue it together, and you're done.

This one is from my kindergartener, and they may have bought kits (or even premade ornaments) but you could easily replicate this one with craft foam or even wood. Find a coloring book picture of a train engine (Like these or this one )to use as a template. Cut out the base train from craft foam and a piece of cardstock. Cut out the smaller pieces from a different color of craft foam. Cut a rectangle slightly smaller than your picture in the craft foam, where the 'engineer' would sit. Put it all together :D

These were made from craft foam, but you could also make them from cardboard, cardstock, construction paper, or even disposable plates! Again, just cut out the shape and glue on whatever you have lying around for the features. And of course, you could do them in actual gingerbread, and use chocolate chips, candy, and/or icing for the features.

I definitely saved the best for last--these next two are my favorites. They would also make lovely gifts for grandparents or other relatives.

*no idea why this is on it's side. I'm going to have to do some research on blogger's photo uploads :( *

This is not an ornament I've seen done before, but it is beautiful (at least to the mommy of the handprint owners :P). Put white paint on the child's hand, and gently induce them to grab the ornament (one of my twins' smeared his a little). After the paint dries, use permanent markers or paint markers to draw the hats and other features necessary to turn each 'finger' into a snowman! Turn the ornament around, write the child's name and the year, attach a card with the poem, and you're done. In case you can't read it, the poem on the attached card is:

These aren't just five snowmen
As anyone can see
I made them with my hand
Which is a part of me.
Now each year when you trim the tree
You'll look back and recall
Christmas of 2010
When my hand was just this small.

*sorry it's on it's side. No idea why :( *

This one isn't technically an ornament, but I love it so much I wanted to include it. My mother has two of these, framed--one I did, and one my brother did. The handprints are (of course) the child's handprints, and the poem in the center reads:

Sometimes you may get discouraged
Because I am so small
And always leave my fingerprints
On furniture and walls.
But everyday I'm growing
I'll be grown up someday
And all those tiny handprints
will surely fade away.
So here's a final hand print
Just so you can recall
Exactly how my fingers looked
When I was very small.

And now I understand why my mother always gets teary eyed when she looks at those framed prints my brother and I made.

Frugal Holidays: Snowcream & variations

You can thank Tabitha over at Happy Cake...and Other Fabulous Things for inspiring this post. She made buttercream flavoured snow cream, and her recipe uses skim milk.

I'm not sure if it's an Appalachian thing or if snow cream is universal, but Tabitha and I were both amused to find out we had both made snow cream the morning of our second big snow of the season. As I mentioned, she used a more modern recipe, while I used my grandma's traditional recipe :D

1 giant bowl of snow (I used a large popcorn bowl)
1 can of sweetened condensed milk (the small cans)
about 1/3 cup of sugar (to taste)
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

Stir it all together and enjoy! For those who have never had it, snow cream has a different texture than ice cream. It almost feels sandy or gritty--don't worry, it's not dirt, it's the ice crystals. The mixture will also look odd in the bowl (a little dough-like) but it's supposed to look that way.

As Tabitha and I chatted about our snowcream, I mentioned that I wished I had had some peppermint extract to add in, or even cinnamon. Which led us to talk of schnapp's, and how yummy snowcream would be with some Buttershots or other flavoured liqueur. Experiment to your hearts content--if your roads are as bad as ours, you shouldn't be driving anyway! :D

This morning, my six year old asked for his own version of snow cream. He really doesn't like 'sweets' that much (yeah, definitely not MY genes there), and he was very specific about what he wanted. We should give him a bowl with just snow. Then we should put more snow into a glass, cut an orange in half, and squeeze the juice over the snow. He's eating that right now, and seems to be as enthralled with it as his parents are with snow cream.

Handmade ornaments: A few I missed

Our tree is probably 80% complete, and I find that I'm ok with it being a work in progress. I'm surprised by this, since usually I spend a few days getting the tree 'perfect', then the next couple of weeks freaking out everytime someone brushes against it, wants to add something, or god forbid MOVES an ornament :P

There are several orphan ornaments on our tree that haven't yet made it into blog posts (like the chenille stem 'snowflakes' my six year old made that I forgot to take a picture of), but here's a few of the one hit wonders.

Tried to do some snowflakes with Victor. Problem was, I forgot how to fold them, so he got frustrated when he cut his first one, unfolded it, and it was just a mess :P So, we have two large ones on our tree--one John did to remind me how to fold the paper, then one I did--and a tiny one that I did from the middle I cut out of my large one. This is a pic of the tiny one--my favorite, of course :P

**You can view the bow and instructions HERE.**

This 'onion ornament' is just strips of scrap construction paper. The center strip is the shortest, the next two out on either side slightly longer, then longer on the next two until the last two are the longest. I lined the tops up until they were even, put a staple in, then bent each of the other strips until they were even with the bottom of the center (shortest) strip, then stapled again. After finishing it, I decided I didn't really like it, and that there was no real value in trying to make them with the boys. The next day, I saw it was on the tree. Honestly, this was in the middle of my fever, so I just assumed I had done it without thinking and went on with my day. A few days later, I had this conversation with Victor.

V: Mommy, did you see the onion ornament on the tree?
Me: yes, I did see it. Why?
V: Because I put it on there.
Me: You did? Why?
V: Because onions have layers, and ogres and people have layers, too, and it's important that we all remember how pretty those layers can be. That onion ornament shows the pretty layers.

Who could argue with that?

This is exactly what it looks like, and so much more :D My son brought this picture of a gingerbread man home from school. Victor is incredibly intelligent--as in, his IQ is in the 130s--but he has been having serious adjustment issues at school. His fine motor skills aren't that great, and he hates anything involving drawing, coloring, or writing (things he thinks he isn't good at). This is the first picture he's brought home of something he drew that he was proud of. Yes, an 8.5 X 11 inch sheet of paper looks a little awkward on my Christmas tree. But that's exactly where this masterpiece belongs, as a testament to how hard Victor has been working the past few months.


I'm adding some pictures to the posts from the past few weeks (you're welcome, Tabitha :D). They're not great--I took them with my cell. Sorry about that. I wanted to get some pictures up, and the big camera was just too much hassle :P I don't feel quite as much like a walking germ factory any more, but there's still some sinus and breathing issues, and I'm SO tired :( I have no energy for the millions of things I have to do in the next eleven days!

Anyway, Enjoy! And here's our tree so far:

Fun with your kids

I'm sick. Like, so-miserable-I-woke-myself-up-two-dozen-times-with-whining sick. And my husband had the audacity to refer to this plague as 'just a head cold'!!

In any case, I'm not really blogging tonight. I just thought I'd send my three readers over to Tabitha Black's Happy Cake . . . blog for her latest post, 'Crafting With Kids." There are some great (and frugal) ideas to help keep the munchkins busy on the upcoming snowdays. You might even find a few that will keep them from destroying the house while you're sick in bed :D

Handmade Ornaments --Birds of a feather . . .

Fever or just wry sense of humor is to blame, but so far I've come up with "Birds of Foam Never Leave Home" and "Birds of Paper Flutter and Caper". Yes, I know they're both groan-worthy. Give me a break :D

This may be my favorite ornament so far. I stole the template from This project over on Martha Stewart's site. I actually printed out two copies of Martha's template, cut them out, then glued them all onto one sheet (you can fit 6 onto one sheet). I didn't do this so much to save paper but rather to make it easier for my little ones to color them. I printed them out onto construction paper, let the little ones choose which color paper they wanted, then turned them loose with some crayons. After they were done, I cut them out and assembled them. They're really cute on the tree-the construction paper is just thick enough to hold it's form, but fragile enough that they flutter and move just a little.

This is one of the ones the boys did.

This is my favorite. Amazing what you can do with construction paper and crayons.

A few more.

We also did a few in craft foam. The craft foam ones are more 'polished', but my little ones can't really help decorate those, and they don't look as fragile on the tree. With older kids, though, the craft ones could be really nice, because of all the embellishments you could add.

I'm sure there are other designs out there that would look just as awesome, and possibly even more materials. I'm currently brainstorming a way to do them in fabric that doesn't involve a pound of starch or lots of layering and sewing :P. One note--I hated what my oldest calls the 'tails' on the template I used, and actually just nixed it on several birds. I played with placement, cutting a slit, using glue, and I just never got a 'look' that I loved. Maybe it's just personal taste, but if we do these next year, our birds will be tail-feather-less :D

Handmade Ornaments--Words to live by

This is an uber-simple one that I found in Ready Made magazine this month. In the magazine, they used the idea to make placecards for dinner, but we used it for the kid's names as well as holiday words (Love, Joy, Peace, Hope). Simply bend chenille stems (pipe cleaners) into the shape of the name or words of your choice. I printed the boys' names out in a regular word processor file in a script font (I can't remember the font size, but it was about three inches high). This is to use as a guide, and honestly I found it unnecessary after I had done a few, and did the words freehand. It did take two, sometimes three pipecleaners to make the boys' names, which are 5 and 6 letters long. I used metallic chenille stems in green, red, gold, and silver that I had picked up for $0.50 for a pack of 50 at a thrift store, but I just saw similar ones at the dollar tree this weekend.

One minute to express your gratitude

No matter what your position on the wars we are involved in, the state of the country, or the military overall, we have hundreds of thousands of service men and women away from their homes and families right now so that we don't have to be. While I may disagree with the politicians, I have infinite respect and support for our military service members.

This site allows you to send a postcard to a service member. It literally takes a minute--choose a card designed by a child, then either choose a pre-written message or write your own, and tell them where you're from and your name (I put 'A Grateful Mom'). That's it. One minute of your life to brighten the day of a service member.

A frugal ornament we won't be trying.

UPDATE: After much discussion, we ARE going to use this technique. YEAH!! We needed something spectacular for the topper, and our six year old insists a tree topper MUST be a star, so we're going to attempt this technique for the star for the top of our tree!! I'll try to post a pic!

I ran across this idea this morning, and it's great!! Beautiful ornaments for your tree, very inexpensive, and a science lesson for the kids! My only fear is that my sensory-issues three year old would try to eat them, and part of the reason we skipped 'real' ornaments this year was because I'm tired of calling the pedi about something he's put in his mouth--I can only imagine the reaction if I told him he ate Borax!! :P Anyway, ingredients and materials for this one:

Pipe Cleaners/Chenille stems
boiling water
Borax (The same Borax used for my frugal laundry detergent is perfect)
Jars or containers deep enough to hold your ornament suspended in the solution
string and sticks, pencils, or other objects to suspend your ornaments from.

1. Fashion your ornaments out of your pipe cleaners. I think snowflakes would be pretty. You could also do spirals, abstract shapes, spell out someone's name or Merry Christmas (another idea I saw in Ready Made this month, and one I might be trying later), whatever shapes suit your fancy. If you feel artistically-challenged, then how about bending your pipe cleaner around a cookie cutter to get the shape?

2. Suspend your ornament from your stick or pencil. Be sure it fits inside the jar, bowl, or other container you've chosen, and that the stick is long enough to balance across the rim.

3. Mix together your solution with a ratio of 3 TB (Tablespoons) Borax to each cup of boiling water. One teacher said she did this with her class, and they used 2 Cups of Borax to 10 Cups of water. Stir until Borax is mostly dissolved.

4. Submerge your ornament in the solution. Leave in the solution for 12-24 hours. Then pull out your beautiful, crystal covered ornament and enjoy! Out of reach of children :P

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We don't really 'do' advent, for a multitude of reasons--not the least of which is that it usually ends up with a bunch of little toys or extra candy calories that I don't personally feel really add to the holiday spirit. But I did want to prolong the holiday a bit, and have some special family time. So, in addition to our homemade decorations, We set our guidelines for what we wanted our advent to be:

1. It had to involve time as a family.
2. No candy or trinkets.
3. It had to somehow extend the joy of the holiday.

So, each night, we're sitting in front of our Christmas tree, as a family. We read one book and sing a Christmas carol. It's our goal to do this every night from now until Christmas Eve. We even started one night early :P