We finally got our tree decorated this weekend…
We’ve shared a bunch of different trees with you guys over the years, and each year it has been fun to switch a few things up with a new “theme” like classic silver and white, citrus inspired lemons and real dried oranges, pastel pink and soft green with silver bows, crafty paint strip ornaments and ribbons, and a fun white to pink to to red gradient tree from last year.
But this year there was a new theme in town: family. We just wanted to fill our tree with meaningful ornaments. Things that were one of a kind, homemade, personalized, given to us by someone special, and otherwise memorable to us. It was actually the first year that we had enough to fill a big tree (we usually relegate them to a smaller tabletop tree), which was good timing since we have a big girl around who’s really into helping these days.
And since handmade ornaments were a big part of the mix, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to try my hand at making three dozen new ones, all with a woodsy yet colorful spin.
The first step was trudging around outside looking for a fallen branch that was about 3″ in diameter. After finding it and yelling “eureka” (true story) I brought it into the garage and fired up the miter saw (picture me grinning like a fool while whispering “don’t cut your fingers off”). It was actually pretty simple to keep the blade straight and make a bunch of vertical cuts, so I was able to slice the whole branch up to make nearly three dozen little round slices.
One half of the branch was a little more gnarled on the inside than the other, so it was funny that around half of them had cool weathered holes in the middle while the others were smoother and less holey. The next step was letting them sit/dry out for a while (I actually made these slices about two weeks ago) because I didn’t want to paint or seal damp wood for fear that it would become a crumbly rotten mess. So if you don’t have time to do that, maybe try hunting down pre-cut wood slices, or see if there’s some method for speed-drying them (maybe sitting them in a box of rice or something?).
Late last week I couldn’t stand waiting anymore, so I sanded them all just to make them extra smooth, and finally broke out three paint pens. I tried my hand at three different designs. We’ll call the one on the left “arrow” (I started by drawing the one in the middle and then just added two others flanking it). The one in the middle can be called “fraction” (I just made a wide-ish pizza slice on each one and colored it in). And the one on the right can go by “dipped” (I experimented with thinner or thicker “dippings” on different angles, just to change things up).
I really liked the idea of letting a lot of the wood grain show through (as opposed to painting or coloring the entire front) but the little pop of color is really fun – and super simple. As for the exact paint pens I used, I had luck with a red and green Sharpie paint pen, and a turquoise Elmer’s Painters pen (they’re a few bucks each at places like Michael’s or JoAnn).
About twenty minutes later, I had this collection of lovelies.
Then I took them outside and said “remember when you guys lived out here?” and gave them a good spray coat of Aileen’s Gloss Finish Sealer (on the front and the sides, and later on the back when they were dry). Sealing wood slices can help to keep them from flaking and it also gives them a nice little polished look, which is a cool juxtaposition to their rugged edges and gnarled centers.
After they had fully dried for 24 hours out in the garage, I brought them back in and drilled tiny pilot holes into the top of each one (I strategically chose what part should be the top so all the arrows would be straight, but some of the fractions and dipped ones would be slightly off-kilter since I liked the interest that those angles would bring to the tree). Then it was as simple as sticking eye-hooks into each of those pre-drilled pilot holes at the top and screwing them by hand.
I already had some old metal ornament hooks to slip through those eye-hooks, so that was all they needed to finally find their way onto the tree.
I think the red ones are my favorite. They really pop with the green background. And the total cost for three dozen wood slice ornaments = $11, which breaks down to around 30 cents each (that total includes all three paint pens, the spray sealer, and the eye hooks). Psst- You can check out a bunch of other wood slice ornaments here.
These new guys are in good company with a bunch of other ornaments that we’ve made over the years (like the green zebra you can see in the top right of that shot above) so that gives us the warm fuzzies. In fact, it’s probably a good time to toss out some links to those other homemade ornaments:
- Here are some faux antler ornaments along with a bunch of colorful “ceramic” animals (and some swirl-painted glass bulbs) from 2011
- Here are a few “snow” covered and feather filled glass ornaments from 2008
- Here are some real dried orange slice ornamets from 2009
- Here are a few baby’s first Christmas ornaments from 2010 (with Clara’s silhouette and hand prints on them)
Oh and a bunch of people saw a peek at the tree on Instagram and Facebook before it was decorated, noticed that it was new, and asked if it was real and where we got it (we got it up about a week before we added ornaments and just gazed at it naked for a while. The tree was naked. We were fully clothed. Except for Burger).
Anyway, back to where we got the tree. It was a hand-me-down from my mom (the box is long gone and we didn’t see any brand markings on it though – so if anyone has something similar and knows the brand we’d love that info to pass along) and we’re completely enamored with it. In fact, we’ve already donated our old tree, which we faithfully enjoyed since 2008. It’s hard to tell in photos, but this one is pretty real looking and sort of droopy-in-a-good-way (it’s feathery on the ends, which makes for a nice effect). Especially all lit up in that bay window of ours. Just ignore the blue trim – I’m waiting for Santa to come paint that for me.
But back to the decorating process. It was the first year that Clara had a real active interest in helping us the entire time, and she was even able to hang the breakable ornaments since she’s a careful steady-handed gal (zero ornaments were harmed in the making of this tree, although I did have about five mini-heart attacks, but I was so glad I let the bean do her thing in the end).
It pretty much worked out to be broken down into three rough zones. Clara took the bottom, I took the middle, and John got the top thanks to his long legs and added wingspan.
As for what went where, it was really just a free-for-all. I placed all of the ornaments out on a little white pedestal table off to the side of the tree, and we all just took turns grabbing whichever one caught our eye. We taught Clara just to do one per branch, but that was really the only direction we gave her – along with “don’t forget the sides and the back.” As we hung them, Clara would ask us where each one came from, so we had fun telling her about one that came from our honeymoon, one that we got in Hawaii with her, a few that were made by readers and given to us last year during our book tour, some that we had made in past years, some that were given to us by family members, etc.
I worried I’d forget a bunch of their origins, but when the entire table had been cleared and the whole tree was full, I don’t think there was a single ornament origin that we couldn’t recall. It’s funny how that stuff sticks with you.
And someone was VERY PROUD of herself.
Here she is posing in front of “her tree.”
And here’s the tree at night in all of its reflecting-in-the-bay-windows glory. The funny thing is that the old owners of the house must have put their tree right in this spot when they lived here. I never would have known that except when we moved in and I redid the floors, I remember finding a bunch of faux pine needles in that corner when I swept things up.
Oh and here’s the 411 on those festive reindeer – they were such an easy project back in 2011. And the tree skirt is just two faux sheepskin rugs from Ikea that we steal from other places in the house and shove under there each December.
So there you have it. A tree without a theme, except for a sweet memorable/handmade hodge-podge. Complete with a tiny tin hamburger.
What are your trees looking like this year? Any fun themes or color schemes? Do you go real or faux with them? Did anyone else make any ornaments? I’d love to get Clara in on the fun next year, so I’m already thinking about some baked ones (either clay or even gingerbread ones) that we could seal/paint/hang together. Could be fun…
Psst- You can peruse a ton of other holiday projects right here.
Psst- Today’s a big day for us. Assuming the bun cooperates, we get to find out what the baby is, and hope to share that news with you guys by Friday. We’re also doing some showhouse kitchen selections and working on the Children’s Hospital, so we’ll be running around, but will try to drop in on comments as often as we can!
But back to the Home Alone house. That was Clara’s quote about decorating the outside of ours for Christmas. She loves “Kevin and Bros” as she calls them (yes, Buzz = Bros to her), and has even picked up that they have a similar type of house to ours – albeit a ton bigger and fancier. So we did some family brainstorming (listened to Clara tell us what we should do) and came up with the following plan:
- wreaths hung in every window with gold ribbon (no other colors were even close to being right according to Miss Clara)
- some lighted garland around the front portico
- plug-in candles in every windowsill like we had in our last house (Clara has always loved those, and we had exactly the right amount, so we just reused ‘em)
- our three little red lanterns full o’ twinkle lights from Ikea a few years ago
real seals with red Santa hats on the roof(this one was Clara’s most imaginative suggestion, but I’m afraid we had to nix it for animal rights reasons)
Here’s where we ended up.
I think my favorite things are the wreaths in every window (they look just as fun from the inside looking out). Or the lighted garland around the portico railing.
Or the red lanterns full of lights with our blue door nearby.
Or catching a glimpse of our still-to-be-decorated Christmas tree through the bay window on the side. Sidenote: I’ve wanted to repaint those white trim pieces that hang down like a sabre tooth tiger for months. Just making those dangly bits the same color as the siding and leaving the trim around the window white will look so much better I think.
The wreaths ended up being an awesome deal, thanks to stacking a few sales, so this, my friends, is how you get eleven 24″ outdoor wreaths that would have been $88, for $53 instead. First of all, they had been marked down to $5.99 (from $7.99) at Michael’s, which meant I couldn’t use any Michael’s coupons that I had (their coupons are usually for full-price merchandise only).
But knowing they match competitor coupons, I quickly googled “JoAnn coupon” while standing in line on my iPhone and they were running a “20% off your entire purchase of holiday decor (including on-sale merchandise)” sale with a coupon that I could get right on my phone. So the sweet lady at the register honored the coupon, and that’s how we got eleven 24″ outdoor wreaths for $4.81 a pop instead of $8.
She also said it was cool to use the coupon towards holiday ribbon, so for another $12 I grabbed three big spools of gold and returned home with everything we’d need to hang these suckers in every window. Or so I thought…
The upstairs windows were pretty simple, it just took a little finagling with the storm window and the screen to get them out of the way so we could crack the window open enough (from the top) to slide the wreath out with the ribbon wrapped around it to hold it up. One tip is to clutch that ribbon like it’s a hundred dolla bill, because it’s annoying to keep dropping wreaths out the window and having to run downstairs to get them.
Once I had said wreath out the window and was holding the end of the ribbon, John just closed the window right on the ribbon (we could pulling it up if we wanted to raise it or let more ribbon hang out the window if we wanted to lower it). Locking the window held it pretty securely, but just in case we also used a thumb tack stuck into the ribbon and the very top of our wooden windowsill for good measure, since we’d seen that mentioned here (it only makes a tiny pinhole at the top of the window where our blinds cover it anyway).
The downstairs windows were a different story (both literally and figuratively). Somehow their extra long storm window panes on top (these windows are taller than the ones upstairs ) didn’t allow for us to stick the wreaths out the top of the window unless we completely removed all of the storm windows, which defeats the purpose of them since it’s cold out these days. So we opted to hang the wreaths from the outside of the house on a ladder for the lower level, instead of using the window to hold them in place.
We didn’t want the ribbon getting pinched or gathered around a plant hook screwed into the top of the window, because the ribbon for the upstairs wreaths looks nice and flat, so we devised these handy little “trapeze things” as we called them, to keep the downstairs ribbon flat like the upstairs stuff.
They were just wooden dowels with two very small holes drilled in each side and some wire strung through them to create a flat little plane for the ribbon to be wrapped around.
Then John could hang that trapeze hook over a plant hook that we had screwed into the side of the window, but the ribbon would still stay flat. To keep everything secure, he stapled the ribbon together to make a loop around the hanging trapeze thing while up on his ladder (that way I could stand back and make sure they were all the same height before he stapled).
See the two subtle staples in the picture above that are holding the ribbon? So far they’ve been up about 4 days without any breakage or ripping, so we think they should hopefully hold up for the season and we have high hopes of reusing them future years too. You know we’ll keep you posted if they all jump off the house or something though (and now I’ll go knock on some wood).
Next up was the garland around the portico. We just swagged it a few ways to see what we liked, and eventually used a few cable ties to keep it all in place once we pinned down our favorite look. We tried going up the peak in the portico, going around each of the pillars, and finally ended up liking it this way the best. Something about the light already coming from the top of the portico (our little porch light) made the garland lights going up that high look like too much upper-action, so keeping them low felt more balanced. And we thought it was nice for them to drape down the steps like this.
Oh and I bought these three strands of lighted garland from Joss & Main for $18 each I think. Not a bad deal, and they all can be plugged into each other to make one long strand, which is nice and convenient.
Then we broke out the candle lights for each window from our old house (we used to have three of them in the side windows since you saw the side of the house a lot from the street) and were so glad to have the right number for this house. Well, not enough for the garage, but the idea of going in and out of the garage to turn them on and off each night sounded annoying, so we opted not to add any more to our count, and just stuck with 9 of them inside.
Finally, out came the old red lanterns from Ikea a few years back, which we filled with lights (one strand per lantern) and just connected them all to each other. Placing them on every other step ended up being our favorite spot for them (we tried them down on the walkway and on either side of the door, but this was the winning placement) and thankfully we had an outlet right on the porch for the garland and the strand of connected lantern string lights, so no blackouts were caused in the making of this holiday scene.
We certainly have seen fancier holiday lighting displays (there are some gorgeous ones in our neighborhood) and we have some pretty elaborate dreams of adding to ours over the years (like decorating that Chirstmas-tree-esque holly on the right corner of the house, and getting a big lighted wreath for the front door), but for now, we’re pretty proud of our first attempt at a holiday display here in this house. One of our neighbors even stopped by to asked me all about the garland and where we got the red lanterns, so that was nice. I might have been a little too into the conversation, but what can I say, I loves me some holiday glow.
I worried it would be kind of ugly during the day without the magic of the lights, but I’m happy to report that it’s not too bad that way either. Sidenote numero dos: Oh how I wish I had pulled that weird doormat at the bottom of the stairs out of the way – I’ve been meaning to put it in the garage after we finally found a wider one for the front door, but somehow it ended up down there.
Are you guys decorating the outside of your house? Who goes all out and follows the roof-line with lights? What about those awesome draped trees that look like weeping willows but they’re just a mass-o-lights. Love that so much.