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Christmas Tour 2011: Virtual Style

In 2010 we insanely agreed to be part of a charity tour of homes. If we never have to do that level of decorating again it will be to soon. Instead I kept my decorations simple and my tour more virtual in 2011. Hope you Enjoy!

Welcome to our humble abode bungalow. Right now we are a family of three, though Willis 2.0 will make us a family of four early in 2012. That should put any questions to rest about whether my belly is a baby bump or if I have been over sampling Patrick’s homebrew.

Head right past my handmade evergreen wreath (with dollar store bow) and lit lanterns which hopefully add a little cheer as you scurry past out of the cold. For some added spirit our gargoyles got some much needed winter-weather gear to keep them warm.

Come in! Pass by our unusual stocking display and warm up at our holiday mantel with accompanying local, farm-fresh mini tree. You can learn more about about the farm and see this tree (not shown) on Wednesday, December 14th.

Come closer to see the hand-made crystal accents, epsom salt candle holders, and soap flocked pine cones. Yep, I’m proud of this year’s low key craftiness.

I would offer you dinner, but I’m not a fan of cooking… Now baking I can get behind! Try some home-made gingerbread cake

and enjoy the dining room. We’ll fill these place settings with some sort of awesome take-out in a few minutes.

What?! You wanted real food? Well then, do what Patrick and I do: Mooch off my parents. They are great cooks and can really throw a party!

or hit up Santa Claus. I heard he sets a great table, but McClain wasn’t in the mood to find out this year.

Anyway, thanks for stopping by! Come by next week to talk about New Years, because frankly we are already sick of these Christmas decorations and ready to focus on 2012.

Oh and in case you didn’t figure it out, all those links lead to detailed posts about each of the stops on the tour.

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Crystal Ornaments From Borax: How To Make At Home

I created a naturalistic looking crystal from borax without a lot of cost or time to decorate my tree. Follow this simple recipe to make these beautiful crystal ornaments overnight.

Crystal ornaments made with borax in less than 24 hours.



(TBSP or 1/4 cup measure not shown)
  1. Borax (Found with the laundry detergent)
  2. Large glass jar, or steal borrow your husband’s pint glass
  3. Straw, dowel, piece of wire, bamboo skewer basically something to attach across the top of the glass
  4. Paper coated florist wire (or cotton string)
  5. Hot Water (not the kind you get in)
  6. Miscellaneous items to crystallize
You’re looking at a total of $7 for borax and some wire. Not bad since this would give you over 25 four to five inch ornaments. Even more if you wanted to make smaller ones.

Step 1: Assemble your ornament frame

Warning vague instructions ahead entitled: “How to make a frame for your crystals to grow on” or “I can’t tell you how to be creative.”
I tried a variety of materials and basically anything that will soak up a little water works as a fine frame for the crystals. Cotton string, paper, even synthetic fibers worked well. I ended up liking the coated floral wire because it allowed me to bend all kinds of shapes, was light weight, and made a nice hook for the tree. As a bonus I had some laying around. I also became pretty partial to these shiny pom-poms. They add a little sparkle through the crystal, make a nice round shape and I hadn’t figured out a craft to use them with before now.
Basically go wild. You can see here I shoved some wire through the pom-poms, bent a wonky snowflake, and made a spiral. This part is really up to your imagination. BTW, this is a very kid friendly project as well so let them have a go at making some shapes, just have an adult supervise or mix the borax solution.

Step 2: Suspend Your Shapes

You really don’t want to know how many pint glasses we have.
If you use wire then just bend it around the straw. Fibers and cotton thread can easily be tied into a small loop that will slide off the straw making a perfect place for an ornament hook.
Important note: make sure the ornament frames are suspended in the middle of the glass without touching the sides. Crystals will also grow on the inside of the glass and you don’t want the ornament to attach itself to the bottom. We are making ornaments not stalagmites.

Step 3: Mix The Solution

Okay this is a SUPER-Technical recipe. (insert sarcasm here)

Not complete till it is clear!

Mix one cup of water with 1/4 cup borax. Heat the water and stir till it is clear. (As a side note pint glasses take a little less than 2 cups of solution)

Equivalent is 8 ounces of water to 2 ounces of borax.

Couple of notes: Trust me, if you put a little more or a little less you are still going to end up with crystals. Just try to get around 3 tbsp of borax per cup minimum. I used fairly hard tap water so obviously it takes a lot to mess this recipe up. I heated the water on the stove-top and the microwave. The only difference I could see was making sure the solution was fully dissolved. The cloudier the solution then smaller crystals formed. Which, is not necessarily a bad thing, I just happened to want big chunky crystals for my project.

Step 4: The Hard Part; Waiting!

Pour the solution in the glass. DO NOT POUR BOILING LIQUID IN A COLD GLASS! I never got my solution that hot but if you do you are asking for a mess. Let the solution cool otherwise it could shatter the glass.

Go for a clearer solution. Do as I say not as I do.

Crystals will start to form in a couple of hours. For best results leave it overnight. I experimented and left my ornaments for different times. After about 24 hours there really wasn’t much more growth. The only way to get a lot more crystals to grow is to dip it in fresh solution, which, I never found necessary (and I am lazy). When done, just pull them out and dry on a towel. They are pretty sturdy so no need to fret about being super gentle when drying.

The End Result

Natural Crystal Ornaments

Clean Up

Don’t let your husband yourself freak out when you find a bunch of crystals stuck to his pint glasses the glass. Just pour a little warm water in and they come right out of the bottom. In fact, you can even take these crystals and once dry scatter them like glitter.

Other Options

As I stated at the beginning I tried a variety of solutions. I also made Alum crystals and Sugar Crystals. Okay… I tried to make sugar crystals (rock candy) and ended up making some crystals and mostly mold. The alum crystals were quite pretty but when I figured the cost it just didn’t make sense. Both the amount of alum and sugar needed made the cost quite high and for a result that was worse or equal to the borax crystals. Beyond that, the borax crystallized in less than 24 hours making it fast to make a bunch of ornaments. I wanted clear-white crystals so I didn’t try it, but I bet you could color them with food coloring mixed in the solution.

Want to see more holiday crafts? Click on the following:

Home-made and Removable Window Frosting

Snow/Flocking from Soap

Evergreen Wreath

Evergreen Garland

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Christmas Party: Green & Brown Tree Theme

If asked to think of the best party hosts I know I would, without hesitation name, my parents. They annually have one big party a year. Often the times change, Spring party… International Flavors Dinner… Birthday BBQ…So, when I was asked to co-host this years traditional Christmas party I was flattered.

Honestly, they did 90% of the work and I wanted to share how lovely it turned out. Per the usual, I started chatting with friends and forget to take pictures so let us take a look at some I remembered to get before the 40ish guests arrived.

As usual my mother won’t give herself credit, but I know that the little details are what makes her parties stand out. For example the above decorations incorporated brown, green, and gold. She utilized pine cones to hand-make the mantel garland and turned more pine cones upside down and topped with stars to make tiny trees. Vintage reindeer pranced among the greenery and gold angelica accents found on the tree and garland. Certainly guests had lots of decor to look around at as the party got underway.

And oh the food!

It isn’t enough for the food to taste good it has to look great as well. Cheeseballs shaped like presents, veggie trays in the form of Christmas trees, and fresh gingerbread cakes were just the tip of the iceberg. Warm soups, tangy chicken bites, and various other dishes rounded out the “winter comfort” buffet. Have I mentioned my father’s sausage rolls or champagne punch? All I can say is no one left hungry or thirsty!

Their hosting always shares three similar attributes: Great food/drinks, interesting decor, and most importantly hosts who attend to the guests needs while mingling and keeping the conversation going. Perhaps one day I’ll manage all three as easily as they do.


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Christmas Mantel: Snowy Woodlands

Despite the cloudy, rainy mess our December is turning out to be, I was more in the mood for snow. Perhaps I needed the peace of snow falling in the woods after my shiny dining room and busy Christmas schedule. To be sure, I kept the sparkle to touches of shimmer. Let us take a look at the snowy woodland inspired mantel.

I know you should never lead with an apology, but excuse these photos. It seems we will never have another sunny day in which I can photograph my decor.

To create the upholstered/snow draped mantel I placed batting under white seersucker fabric. Those lovely corners? Yeah… I cut and pinned those because I was too lazy to walk downstairs and sew. I figure temporary display merits temporary seams. To offer some contrast to all that white I added fake alpine trees and collected pine cones. I also found some decorative cinnamon sticks (i.e. decent scent but not good for flavoring) I had squirreled away with last years decorations. They worked great to cover the bases of the trees in lew of a tree skirt.

I did want some shimmer so I took these dollarstore candle holders from last year, brushed a little white glue on the tops and rolled them in Epsom salt mixed with a pinch of clear glitter. I had planned on disposing of the candle holders after this Christmas since the candles are stuck (and they were only a dollar) but I may have to find a way to hang on to them. I love the subtle shine!

Again I am a huge fan of using what I already have on hand to create a new display. My wardian case became a candle holder in the fireplace, plant pots and baskets got co-opted to create stands for the candles and display pine cones. The snowflakes hung from the dining room chandelier last Christmas. Only the snow ball trim was new and at $2 per 30 foot roll I spent a total of $4 bucks.

While not shown (I’ll be doing the great Christmas reveal next week) the Christmas tree will sit next to the mantel and bring in a little more sparkle to the scene. As a hint, it will involve home-grown crystals to make an icy complement to the snow.

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Red & Silver Christmas Table Setting

Today’s holiday table setting is based on red, silver, gold, and mirrored shine. This Christmas tablescape utilizes only a few items, but gives a sense of elegance and expense through the use of mirrored surfaces, warm lighting, and holiday shimmer. Enough with the chit-chat and catalog description let us take a look:

You might recognize some of these tablescape elements from earlier Christmas table decor. Since that table setting utilized a lot of live moss and twigs I wanted to create something that could make it through the whole holiday season without constant maintenance.

So instead I utilized a tiered serving piece as a table centerpiece. Filled (very carefully I might add) with glass ornaments in red, silver, and gold with added sparkle from mirrored accents set around the dish. Using the same glass ornaments, red glass birds, and lights I made a holiday tree out of branches to set in the corner, and mask the fact I still haven’t placed any artwork in the dining room. Let’s take a look at some accents:

I (and my bank account) personally like to reuse Christmas decorations from previous years. The table runner and napkins were from Target in 2010. I have amassed the collection of glass ornaments mainly for a few dollars here and there at Goodwill. I have a thing for glass, however I also have cats and a toddler… It is necessary to get my glass ornaments in the least expensive manner possible i.e. dirt cheap. On the note of cheap, I used a scarf layered under the table runner to add a little more red and pattern to the table.

The crystal candlesticks were a gift at my wedding. I have to admit at 23 I was kind of like WTH? is up with these fancy-schmancy candlesticks. However, 23 year old self was a douche! I have used these puppies over and over again. Nothing elevates a look like shimmer from crystal, silver, and gold.

My favorite thing about this table decor? Even when I remove the place settings and just leave the center runner and decorations it works great with our everyday meals, plus I’m not stuck misting moss everyday.