In our home, Yule preparations traditionally start the day after Thanksgiving (though this year, we started late since Daddy Man was out of town working) and continue until the week before Yule. Its partially a hold over from my childhood family Christmases, but also because we “make” about 90% of our decorations.
Except the tree…we rent that.
Okay, we really don’t rent it. But since we live in an apartment (and I can’t do live trees in the house because of the allergens it brings in), without much storage space, the past few years, we’ve gotten tree from the thrift store and then we’ve re-donated it afterwards. The money goes to a good cause (YAY, Children’s Hospital!) and we don’t have to figure out where to put the tree box…or the boxes upon boxes of decorations. We have one large shoe box (from a pair of The Hubby’s boots) that have a few keepsake ornaments, a three sets of mini-LED lights for the windows, and some sleigh bells. Other than that, (as I wrote about last year) we DIY.
Some of those DIY projects are perfect for witchlet magic lessons…
Chickadee’s Favorite: Blessing Chains
Chickadee had made an absolutely adorable video tutorial, that I had planned to post…but somehow, I deleted it instead. It is no longer in the computer OR on the SD card. Which is fine…because garland is wonderful all year long, and can be made to match the seasons. We’ll just do the video at a later date, and stick to the written instructions for now!
The first thing you need to make a “Blessing Chains” as the Chickadee calls them, are blessings! Next, you need some sturdy cotton thread and a needle. Last, you need stuff to string. We’ve used marshmallows, popcorn, cranberries, citrus slices, apple pieces, rosebuds, pretzels, animal crackers, macaroni, shells, glass beads, wooden beads, buttons, cereal, and more. The only “rule” is to 1) pick stuff you like, and 2) pick stuff that can go back into to nature.
The Technique (as related by Chickadee): Take a piece of stuff to string and then close your eyes and take a big breath in VAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARY slowly. Imagine being filled with a warm light all the way down to your toes. For blessings, my light is pink and smells like peppermint ice cream with sprinkles. When you think your lungs will explode, stop and let the blessing grow in your brain until you are filled with it. Then blow the blessing out of your body into the cranberry or popcorn or bead. Open your eyes and string it…if you don’t open your eyes, you will poke your finger with the needle and that hurts.
Mom tip: Instead of individually blessing every piece, try blessing a bowl of each type of item with something different. Or bless every fifth or whatever item, or take turns stringing items between a group.
When you have a foot or two or five, tie it off and hang it on the tree, or in the bushes, etc!
Sharkbait’s Favorite: Salt-Dough Tree Talismans
Talismans? Really? I actually had to check the dictionary on that one…lol!
Sharkbait is more of a hands-dirty type of kid, so these are a favorite of his! We start with salt-dough–about 1 part salt to 2 parts flour, add just enough water until its the consistency of a thick play-doh like dough, and then a couple of drops of food color. Pick your cookie cutters, then roll the dough flat and cut them out. Make sure you poke a hole in them before you bake them. Bake at ~200-250 degrees F, checking on them every 15-20 min. They should take around 30-50 minutes to harden nicely. String them and hang.
Now, there are tons of things you can do to incorporate magic here–color and shape correspondences (pigs for prosperity!), adding herbs, decorating with stones, etc. If you were making these as gifts, you could “add the magic” (say, a general blessing for health and wellness, or a home protection) while you were mixing the dough up. If you are making them at home, with different shapes and colors for different things and people, you might wait until you are mixing the individual color (if you are focusing on color correspondences) or cutting them out (if you are focusing on the shape correspondences), etc. We make most of these with a general sort of blessing, and then everyone makes one especially for them–some to represent ourselves and something we wish to emulate better in ourselves, and we tie it to the tree with a ribbon that has had a blessing written on it just for us. After Yule, these special ornaments are put on the family altar.
1. How to DIY Fruit Water (via Facebook, originally posted @ The Yummy Life)
This is probably my favorite discovery via social media. I love water, but sometimes…it gets boring. Add some fruit, maybe even some veggies or herbs, infuse in the fridge, and voila! Some of my favorite variations so far, strawberry with chamomile, orange with mint, and orange with hibiscus and ginger. For me, this is a great way to get the kids to eat oranges–for some reason they aren’t fans of the fruit itself, and since I’m not a fan of store-bought juices, this is a great way to sneak some of the fruits and veggies into their diet that I couldn’t otherwise get them to consume.
And I’ve found quite a few great recipe ideas this way–Overnight Oatmeal, Spicy Guinness Mustard, P.F. Chang-style Lettuce Wraps, and this delicious looking little 4 ingredient recipe for Meyer Lemon Sorbet that I found on my pinterest today. Anything you could possibly want to eat is probably posted online already. Maybe just a Facebook update or Pinterest pin away.
2. (Almost) Perpetual Green Onions…and other veggies from kitchen scraps (Facebook and assorted blogs)
Most of us probably know that you can grow a carrot top by placing it in a cup of water. But how many of us would have thought to regrow our green onions that way? Or to root and replant celery? How about a pineapple? Or an avocado (though it can take 7-15 years to fruit, assuming you are even in the right climate)? There’s also ginger, garlic, potatoes and sweet potatoes, that awesome hydroponic lettuce with the roots attached (this is my favorite lettuce of all time, when I can justify the expense…being able to grow it again in my window sill is *squee!!*), and beets and turnips and radishes, etc. Plus, if you shop at the farmers market, you have a better chance at getting non-hybrid varieties (just ask, they’ll be happy to tell you!) and can save the seeds to plant in your own garden.
3. The Secret Produce Code (Facebook)
The premise is that the little sticker on your produce can tell you how your fruits and veggies were grown. The PLU code (Price Look Up–its official name) is a defined list of codes for produce by the International Federation of Produce Standards, and numbering convention goes like this:
4 numbers=conventionally grown
5 numbers starting with an 8=GMO
5 numbers starting with a 9=organic
This one is actually a bit of a mixed bag. These codes are a matter of convenience for the store, not the consumer. In all technicality, its true. But in practice, its not…at least with regard to identifying GMOs.
4. Underwater Viewfinder=beach fun for kids (pinterest)
I originally came across the idea for this on pinterest, though I’m not entirely sure if I pinned the original or not. Either way, the kids and I made our own, and much fun ensued. And there are zillions of other ideas for cheap or low-tech crafts and toys for kids to be found in blogs, on pinterest, etc. Like this list of kid friendly experiments. One of my favorite finds (that I still haven’t tried yet) was one that I first ran across from the TED videos…Squishy Circuits–a way to teach circuits to preschoolers, and its made from homemade play dough recipes!
5. Rediscovering Lost Crafts (youtube, ravelry, pinterest, assorted blogs)
Ever hear of a Dorset Button? How about chicken-scratch? Victorian-era hair jewelry? Pine Burr quilt pattern? The web has become a treasure trove for reclaiming and rediscovering lost and obscure crafts. And even the not-so-lost-and-obscure crafts. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times my grandmother tried to teach me to crochet while I was growing up…but after watching a tutorial on Tunisian Crochet on youtube a couple years ago and checking out a couple of tutorials (including this one) and I’ve been crocheting up a storm ever since (interesting fact: during the Victorian era, what is now called Tunisian crochet was used in winter clothing).
6. Just Say No to Commercial Cleansers! (pinterest, facebook, assorted blogs)
This is a topic I’ve written about on occasion, though its been a while. But I continuously run across some great ideas for greener (environmentally and pocket-book wise) cleaning or some twists on an old favorite. From laundry soap, to dishwasher detergent, to orange vinegar cleaning spray, there is an environmentally and economically friendlier replacement just a Google search away!
Along with commercial cleansers around the home come tons of ways to replace commercial cleansers of your body. From going No ‘Poo to DIY facials, the web seems to breed DIY beauty tips like Tribbles on Star Trek (yes, I am that much of a nerd)…even on my own blog.
7. You can reuse, DIY, upcycle…just about anything (all over the web)
Crochet hooks from sticks? Play kitchen from an old TV cabinet? Innovative storage for board games AND wall art, simultaneously? Turning cans into an adorable organizer? Make a yarn political statement on reproductive rights for your congressman? I’ve run across all these and more in my social media feeds…from the adorably whimsical to the practical to the outright bizarre. Some of them I’d love to do, if I had the need and the stuff to do it with, and some of it, I just kind of stare in awed wonder of creative superiority. Every once in a while, I just stare.
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you might know that we try to avoid disposable plastics in our home. This, of course, means that we end up with lots and lots of glass bottles, jars, milk cartons (from Daddy-Man’s creamer) and cans… particularly coffee cans (Daddy-Man is addicted). Rather than see them go into the waste stream (or even the recycling stream), we often try to find ways to re-use them.
Here are some things you can do with coffee cans:
Make an underwater viewfinder!
Vintage cooking: Make bread in a coffee can
Coffee Can Ice Cream
A Toad House for the Garden (and pest control!)
Storage Containers (because you can never have too many!)
Coffee Can Bird Feeder
Coffee Can Bank (or a reward jar)
Bumblebee Birdhouse from a Coffee Can
Make your own (really) old-school Pinhole Camera
Decorate and combine with a few packs of bamboo skewers from the dollar store for a knife storage container
Storage Cubby–I totally want this for my yarn stash!
Coffee Can Drum
Coffee Can Stilts (anyone else remember doing this as a kid?!?!)
Growing up, the Christmas tree went up the day after Thanksgiving (no Black Friday shopping for us!) and usually came down the weekend after the New Years–both were all day affairs. Our tree was huge and fake (mom had allergies), and a complicated puzzle of color coded branches that all had to be unboxed, fluffed just-so and maneuvered into place. There are pros and cons to the type of tree one chooses, but due to allergies (mine and Sharkbait’s) and apartment-living (some apartments ban real trees), we too use the artificial tree (I did find that “six year lifespan” of an artificial tree mentioned in the above link to be a bit suspect–I’m pretty sure my mom still uses the tree from my childhood, which she got when my parents divorced, and is probably older than I am). Every set of branches had its own set of lights, and boxes of ornaments, each with their own story, came up from the basement until the tree was laden with ribbons and lights and bits of this and that, and underneath went the hand-painted nativity scene made by my grandfather. And in the background, music–from contemporary to classical played while (usually) a fire crackled in the fireplace.
Unlike my childhood, we celebrate the Solstice rather than the Nativity and we don’t have those boxes of carefully wrapped, passed down ornaments (though we have a few), mostly due to our semi-nomadic, apartment dwelling lifestyle. Having been in the military and making two cross country moves has been quite helpful for minimizing attachment to *stuff*, which has lead us to look for creative and cheaper DIY alternatives…which happen to be fun and unique as well.
DIY Ornament Ideas:
- Dried Fruit Ornaments–Citrus and apple slices (sprinkle with a bit of lemon juice to prevent browining) oven/air/dehydrator dried make great ornaments, and you can add in all spice or cinnamon sticks.
- Nature Stuff Ornaments–Pine cones, holly sprigs, sea shells, fall leaves, dried flowers (late summer/early fall rose petals, strung and dried on thread makes wonderful garland), etc.
- Garlands–This year we made paper chains (Chickadee made ours, from a grand total of 4 pieces of paper) and popcorn and cranberry garland (both kids helped make the mess, and ate the left overs). Though, for future reference, I’ve spotted some awesome crochet garlands (there are several popcorn and cranberry garland patterns out there that I’m planning to try for next year), felted garlands and fleece garland, which seem like a great use of our fabric scraps..
- Salt Dough Ornaments–Adding extra flour, ground spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, etc), we made bake-able play dough and cut it out with cookie cutters, air dried and baked them.
- Shopping-bag Snowballs–Accordion fold several shopping bags and wrap them around your hand in a loop. Tie off as tightly as possible on one end of the circle and then cut on the other end, ruffle out the folds and trim into a fluffy ball-shape. Recycle at the end of the holiday (a few of these put together with some duct tape make awesome dress-up pom poms for the kids).
- Origami Ornaments–A friend of ours that happens to be handy at origami has been kind enough to volunteer his serviced, using paper the kids have colored on cut square he’s been making us dinosaurs to hang on the tree. I stink at following anything but the most simple origami directions, but I know from printing them out for him to follow, they are readily Googled in just about any shape you can think of.
- Rag Bag Ornaments–Using cloth scraps, I made two different types of ornaments, mini-quilted “bags” stuffed with cloth scraps and herbs and birds out of layered and frayed cloth (the bird in the pic hasn’t been frayed yet)…but pretty much anything you can think of you can make!
- Yarn Ornaments–We have two types of yarn ornaments, pom poms and yarn doll fairies (a mini yarn doll with wings), though there are plenty of crochet and knit ornament patterns available online for free as well.