Saturday, November 20, 2010

2 Hours, 3 Projects

My excitement for Christmas is growing by the day, so I made a trip to Michael's today, looking to find the components that would enhance my newly-minted Old-World/woodland theme. I'm happy with my existing collection of ornaments and decor, but I do like to add new projects every year or so. This year I added a new piece of furniture to my dining area, a china cabinet that was my Grandmother's, and it screamed for crowning glory. Literally. My vision was to create a sparkly "crown" for the top of the cabinet, made from glittery beaded branches and twinkle lights. In my head I had this winter-in-Narnia look, something that would've made the White Queen proud.

While at Michael's I decided to create a garland for the window in my bedroom (why should all the decorating fun occur in the living room?!), as well as make a wreath for my apartment door. 

I started with the wreath, which took only about 15 minutes and less than $10 in supplies. I bought a plain evergreen wreath, and wove a frosted cranberry garland (I bought several more for the tree) through the branches. To get the garland to stay exactly where you want it on the wreath, all you need to do is wind an occasional branch around it to secure! I love monograms, so a jingle-bell "A" ornament was the perfect finishing touch. 

The next project I tackled was the hutch's crowning glory. I found a pretty beaded garland with shimmering holly leaves, and I bought two so they could be bound together to make the arrangement look fuller. I also bought 3 packs of LED battery-operated lights, so that I didn't have to run extension cords to the nearest outlet. All said and done, I spent about $18 on this project.
I used floral wire to twist the garlands together, and later used more floral wire to bind the lights to the garland. To ensure even spacing on the lights and branches, I staggered both the 2nd garland and the strings of lights so that they didn't overlap. 
The finished product

 My last project was a garland for my bedroom, and took only about 20 minutes and less than $20 to put together. I bought two 9-ft evergreen garlands, and wound them together to make them more full. I then wound pretty floral picks that coordinated with my bedroom colors in the garland, along with two gorgeous gold branches that had dangling crystals.

 The best thing about all of these projects is that it took little effort and not a lot of money to make a big impact. By doing these yourself, you never have to settle for something "close but not quite perfect", or an expensive version from a store. You also come away with the self-satisfaction that you've created something custom-made that you'll be able to enjoy for many years to come.

Found: A Christmas Decor Theme

I love decorating for Christmas, but considering that I have a tiny apartment, I have to be careful about what I choose to display. A well-edited decor theme allows me to create a surprising and pretty scheme, without it looking like a Christmas shop exploded in my living room. 

Every year I try to do something just a little different, try to incorporate new/different colors and patterns. It's amazing how different a Christmas tree can look when one switches out some ribbons, adds a new color of ornaments, or tries a different size string of light bulbs. Every year I also try to add to my collection in some way, enhancing another room's decor. This year it took me a while to figure out how to tweak my existing decor, but a blanket I inherited from my Grandma earlier this year finally gave me the inspiration I wanted. 

I decided on a theme surrounding this comfy old wool blanket; in fact, it will serve as my tree skirt! My theme is a little Old World meets winter woodland. I want to incorporate natural elements into my tree (pheasant feathers, pinecones, wood ornaments), but still give it a pretty shimmer with the ball ornaments I already own. 

My intention is not to create something too "country" or too "rustic cabin". I merely want to reflect my heritage and the beauty of where I grew up. Simple, pretty, slightly mismatched, and completely unique. 

As I complete my decorating later this week, I'll be sure to post photos of the process and the end result, as well as how I did my decorating on a very tight budget. In the mean time, however, are some of my favorite Christmas trees from the last few years. 


Above left: the Christmas tree in the upstairs living room at Dad's house. It spotlights a special set of "12 Days of Christmas" ornaments my Mom bought years ago. 
Above right: the Christmas tree at my apartment 2 years ago.
Left: the Christmas tree in the downstairs living room at Dad's house. We call it the "rebel" tree, as we use strings and strings of colored twinkle lights, a rare thing at my Dad's. The tree is covered with decades' worth of handmade ornaments by us kids, antique ornaments that were once owned by my great-grandparents and passed down, and spools of silver ribbon.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Heart Attack in a Bowl

In honor of the first snowstorm of the season, here is a recipe for a tried-and-true hearty meal. Affectionately known as Heart Attack in a Bowl, it is filling, delicious, and has almost no redeeming nutritional qualities. Enjoy!

Baked Potato Soup (makes a large pot of soup, 8-10 generous servings)
1-5 lb. bag of russet potatoes, peeled and chopped into bite-size chunks
1/2 cup of butter (1 stick)
1 box of Betty Crocker sour cream and chive pouch potatoes (you will use both pouches in the box)
2+ cups of milk
 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1-12 oz. tub of Top the Tater sour cream (or any other variety)
1 lb of bacon
1/2 cup of chopped green onions (optional)
Salt and cracked ground pepper to taste

  • Boil the potatoes for about 15 minutes in salted water, or until fork-tender. Better to err on the side of a little too firm--when everything is mixed together a firmer potato will hold up better to the stirring.
  • While the potatoes are cooking, chop the bacon and fry in a pan. When crisp and brown, transfer to a plate covered in paper towels to drain. 
  • When the potatoes are cooked, drain in a colander, reserving about 2 cups of potato water in the pot. This will be used to help thicken the soup. 
  • Over low heat, add the stick of butter to the potatoes in large chunks. Add the two pouches of potato flakes and slowly stir in the milk. Stir carefully, so that the potatoes do not break up. 
  • As the soup starts to thicken, stir in the tub of sour cream and one cup of cheddar cheese. Add any salt and pepper to taste.
  • Heat the soup, stirring occasionally. If desired, add more milk in 1/4 cup increments to thin the soup.
  • Use the reserved cup of cheddar cheese, the bacon crumbles, and optional green onions as garnish. (I don't recommend mixing the bacon into the soup, as it will lose its crispiness quickly, especially if it is stored as a leftover.)