Want an interesting holiday hostess gift? Something that rarely occurs to others? How about a decorative nutcracker. I am not referring to a functioning, put the nuts into his mouth, pull a lever and “voila” –nuts without the shell type of nutcracker. I am talking about those little characters that usually could not crack a nut unless you brought a hammer to the table.

Nutcrackers come in a variety of sizes, colors, styles, price ranges–buy one that appeals to you, add some glitter, jewels, fringe– in short, enhance your purchase with inexpensive additions. Choose decorations that appeal to you and you think would appeal to the recipient. When you are satisfied with the results, personalize your gift with the recipient’s name and maybe even your own

Wrap it up and add a little scroll that carries the nutcracker story.

“According to German folklore–nutcrackers were given as keepsakes to bring good luck and to protect the homes of the recipients. This nutcracker will guard your family and house from evil spirits and danger. He is fearless, showing his teeth to all the bad things in the world.”

Print out the story on some fancy paper. Roll it up and tie it with a ribbon whose color corresponds with your gift and present it to your holiday hostess. I am sure she will be charmed.

This project takes very little time, but demonstrates a little ingenuity and a willingness to “think outside the box.” Try it out this holiday season.

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Decorating Your Tree–From the Top Down and the Inside Out

Remember what I said about rules?  For decorating your tree, there are none.  I do, however, have some suggestions that I think you will find useful when you are decorating a Christmas tree.  (Wait a minute.  I just thought of one rule.  If you are decorating a real Christmas tree, re-cut the stump and put the tree in water as soon as possible.)  Okay, now for the suggestions:

1.  START FROM THE TOP.  Put the tree topper on first.  You miss the dramatic moment of balancing a young child at an awkward angle as he or she tries to place the angel or star on top of a beautifully decorated tree–but if you follow my suggestion, no gets hurt.    Decorating the top of the tree first allows you to get up close and personal with the tree because there are no other decorations to disturb.  Once it is securely attached, you can move on to the lights.

2.  PUT ON THE LIGHTS.  I mentally divide the tree into triangular sections and begin stringing the lights in one of them.  I start at the top of that section and take the lights into the interior of the tree and then wrap them out along a branch to the tip.  Once there, I go back into the interior of the tree and follow another branch out again.  I do not take the lights around and around the tree.    I work one section at a time, moving in a downward direction, until I get to the bottom and then I begin at the top again, working my way down that section.  As a rule of thumb, I suggest 100 lights for every foot of tree.  Got a lot of time–and lights?  I triple that number.

3.  PUT ORNAMENTATION IN THE TREE’S INTERIOR.  I particularly like to put larger, heavier ornaments and lighted pieces here.

4.  ADD GARLANDS.  I wrap branches with them, fold them onto themselves, drape them from one branch to another, and cluster them, hanging them from the interior of the tree.  Of course, I will also sometimes drape them horizontally from one branch to another.  I do not, however, obsess about trying to make sure the garlands drape evenly all around the tree.

5.  ADD DELICATE ORNAMENTS.  Remember, you can hang ornaments from a branch and clip others to the top of the same branch.  For example, you can hang a ball from the branch and clip a flower or a bird on the top of the same branch.

6.  ADD GLITTER, SNOW OR TINSEL.  I add these items last for obvious reasons.

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Decorating at Your Door–Welcoming Visitors to Your Home During the Holidays

I’ve discussed themes and the value of considering them before we actually begin to decorate–many times.   Themes help us make better decorating choices, allowing us to become more effective and efficient.  For example, if you have decided that you want to use copper and red as your color theme, you probably should not be looking at silver and maroon ribbon–no matter how pretty it is.

I’ve also talked about decorating outside of your home before, but I wanted to combine several aspects of outside decorating into one posting.  Most people who decorate outside put some lights on the house, maybe some more on the shrubs and a wreath on the front door.  If you think decorating the outside of your home involves stringing tens of thousands of lights all over the outside of your house, you probably won’t be particularly impressed with the suggestions I am about to make.  However, if your outside decorating has been limited to a wreath on your door, I hope that I can convince you to use a bit more imagination and spend a little bit more time to achieve something much more interesting.  Do some simple things and you can elevate your decorating style.

1.  Because most people decorate their front doors, let’s begin with them.  Use a wreath, swag, or create something truly unique.  If you collect something, put a representation of your collection on the door–with or without greens.  If you have a battery p0wered light string, you can even light your creation.

2.  Put a planter or pot beside the door.  If you have limited space there, create something narrow and vertical.  If space is not an issue, create something asymmetrical or something that flows all over the edges of the pot.  If you are putting something together and it is not cold enough to freeze, put a water source in the base of the planter.  If the planter or pot is lightweight, put something in the bottom to add some weight so that your creation does not tip over.  You can use sand, rocks, or even another, heavier pot.

3.  How about a garland over the front door?  It can be made from real greens or a combination of real and artificial elements.  It doesn’t have to flow all around the door.  It can be rather short, emphasizing just the top of the entrance.  If you consider the door, the “eye,”  the garland would be the “eye liner.”

These are three relatively easy things to do the entrance of your home.  Decide upon a plan before you begin.  Do as little, or as much, as time allows.

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Creating a Theme and Sticking to It! Maximize Your Decorating Impact

I approach decorating as if I were telling a story.  Each pursuit has elements in common.  One of the most important of these is composition.  Both decorating and storytelling create a “whole” by combining separate “parts.”  In decorating, we combine colors, textures, collections, etc. to create a unified whole.  Storytelling uses words.  Both endeavors combine separate parts using a common theme or themes to organize individual elements.  With organization, comes order, and with order, comes a harmonious whole.  Whether I am referring to a house or a story, I am composing.  Good decorating tells a good story.

A theme or more accurately themes, provides the structure for our “story.”  They form the foundation upon which all our decorating decisions should be made.  the essence of that foundation can be many things, but some type of support should be present.

What that support should be–is up to you.  When people talk about decorating, they often bring up the word “rules.”  I like to keep rules for loftier pursuits.  I think that decorating a home is important, especially for the inhabitants.  But let’s save rules for situations that involve a person’s health and safety.  Decorating should be fun and a reflection of our personalities.  Rather than rules, I like to use the word–considerations.  I want to offer you things that you might “consider” as you tell your story.

I want to encourage each of you to determine what pleases you and what doesn’t so that you can make basic decisions about your best decorating paths.  When you have that vision, you will make better decisions and become more efficient with your time and money.

So, first we should determine colors, textures, things, etc., that please us.  A well-decorated home has layers that are revealed as you walk into it.  Their effects unfold with the experience.  One way to corral all these elements is to organize them into certain categories or themes.  To begin, consider the colors, textures, things that you like.  Because decorating is a process, usually created over time, it probably is wise to go with comfortable themes that you know you like–and not jump wholeheartedly into trends.  If you give thoughtful consideration to them before you begin, you will find that what pleases you–will also find favor with those you invite into your  home, because it will reflect your personality.

Let’s begin with some examples:

  1.   Colors:  What colors do you prefer?  What colors are in the room all the other days of the year when you are not getting ready for Christmas?  Are your Christmas decorating colors compatible with those already in the room?  Let’s try something.  Mentally, strip every form out of your room.  What I mean by that is this.  In your mind, take out the sofa’s form, but leave the color.  Do the same for all the chairs, everything.  Now consider the colors that are in the room–and choose your Christmas decorating colors accordingly.
  2. Textures:  How about textures?  Do you like rough tweedy looks or do you prefer shiny and smooth?
  3. Things:  There are usually one or two items in a room that simply must be there.  When something is that important, it is not unusual for you to want to get another .  Every collection begins with that first chicken, antique, or painting.  The challenge is to confine these collections to a structure that prevents them from overwhelming a room or home.  Themes help us organize our collections.  Luckily for those with real collecting fever, Christmas is probably the best time of year to wander over the boundaries into the territory of “excess.”  In fact, many believe that when talking about Christmas decorating, enough is never truly enough.
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Decorating Your Tree

     When I do seminars I tell attendees that I decorate trees from the top down and the inside out.  Think about that for a second.

     Put the star, bow, angel, whatever you use to top the tree on first because you can get yourself into the tree to attach it securely.  If you wait until the rest of the tree is decorated, you run the risk of dislodging decorations that you have painstakingly attached to the tree.  

     Start at the top and put the topper on. 

     Test your light strings and put them on the tree next, beginning at the top and run the lights from the inside of  the tree out to the ends of the branches and back into the interior of the tree.  I apply the lights on the tree in sections, going vertically.  I find this easier to do than to wind them around and around the tree.  It also makes undecorating easier.  As to how many lights to use?  My rule of thumb is a minimum of 100 lights for every foot of tree height.  However, if you double or even triple that, you get much more light effect.  It is up to you.  I usually use a combination of strings that are always on with a few strings that flash or twinkle.  

     I put larger, light reflective ornaments in the interior of the tree.  It gives your tree depth.  Don’t just decorate the tips of the branches.

    I add garlands next.  Again, I resist the urge to wind them round and round the tree.  As with the lights, I take them into the interior of the tree and bring them out again. 

     I add the ornaments next.  First the inexpensive ones and finally the expensive glass ornaments.  I use inexpensive wire hangers to secure them to the branches, bending both ends so there is no danger of the ornament falling off.  One customer of mine uses ribbon and ties every ornament onto the branch.  I am sure this results in a beautiful effect. 

     Finally, I add the picks and if I am going to use it, tinsel or snow.  I add these items last because I rarely attach them to the tree.  They are normally just laid on the branches. 

     These are just my methods.   I hate to call them rules.  Each of us should decorate to please ourselves.  You will have more fun if you adopt that attitude.  

     If you have suggestions that you think work better, please comment.

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Taking Care of Your Tree

           Before you leave home, decide where the tree will go.  Keep it away from heat sources such as fireplaces, heat registers, radiators–even a hot window can shorten the life of your tree. 

     Measure your space.  A tree in the field or in a lot can look much smaller than it will in your home. 

    Even though you cut your tree down yourself or someone else cut an inch or two from the bottom of your tree, best practices dictate that you re-cut the stump just before you put it in the tree stand.  The sap begins to harden at the bottom of the tree within minutes of cutting.  So to encourage the tree to drink as much water as possible, re-cut the stump and immediately put it into the stand.  And as soon as you have the tree secured, add water–lots of water.  Your stand should hold at least a gallon.  You need not add anything else to the water.  Just keep the stand filled so that the bottom of the stump does not dry and again try to seal itself.

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Butterflies Are Free? No, But They Aren’t Expensive.

Chicken wire ribbon, approximately 6 inches long

Want to make some butterflies?  It’s easy and not very expensive.  I like to use something called chicken wire ribbon.  The kind I buy comes in 6 foot roles.  I cut the roll into approximately 10 equal pieces. 

     Crimp the middle of each piece, flaring the “wings” on either side. 

Crimp and flare


Take a length of narrow cord.  I used some gold elastic cord, approximately 12 inches long and looped it around the middle of the butterfly, pulling the ends through so that they dangle from one end like antennae. 

Easy, huh?


I added a small shiny plastic ball with a short wire to the middle of the butterfly and secured it with a small dab of glue.  The wire can be used to attach the new butterfly to the tree.

Doesn't it look nice on the evergreen branches?


Want to do a variation on this theme?  Use two pieces. Place them perpendicular to each other and crimp them both in the middle.  Flare and cup each “petal”  until it resembles flower petals.  I secure the pieces with another plastic ball with an attached wire.  Again, using the wire to attach this flower to the tree. 

A pretty addition to any tree.

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