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5 Holiday Decorations for Less than $50

This wreath was not expensive to make, and will last for years to come.

This wreath was not expensive to make and will last for years to come.

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One thing about professional magazines like Martha Stewart Living (don’t get me wrong, love The Martha) is that it can cost an arm and a leg to outfit a table, much less decorate a house. Not only do few of us have that kind of cash laying around, we have even less time to devote to the shopping, gluing, sewing, and accessorizing that magazine-perfect winter displays require. Here are some cheaper, and doable, options for home decorations for those of us who are short on cash but with some time to invest. And you can reuse these decorations year-after-year so this $50 is a one-time investment for most of these ideas!

THE SUPPLIES

Here is a list of what I bought for less than $50, and with these items I made: 1 wreath, a 10-foot string of garland, a centerpiece, a mantelpiece, and I wrapped all my presents. The wreath and garland I can pack away and use in subsequent years, so it’s a good investment. Here’s the list of items purchased:

  • One grapevine wreath base
  • Two stalks of fake flowers (which included some leaves)
  • Five small balls made from vine bits
  • Red raffia
  • 4 spools of ribbon (two red, one aqua with silver dots, and one white, all on sale)
  • Three stalks of fake red berries
Some people see a pile of brush, I see decorative possibilities.

Some people see a pile of brush, I see decorative possibilities.

And here is a list of what I either had on-hand, or got free:

  • 1 brush pile (work with me here!)
  • 1 spruce tree
  • 1 glue gun
  • Sheets of plain newsprint saved from a move
  • A few sequins
  • Needle and thread
  • Some screw eyes (sold in the picture-hanging area of a hardware store)
  • 1 loaf pan
  • Tinfoil
  • 1  half-gallon mason jar
  • 1 string Christmas tree lights

A note on glitter and baubles: I did not use any glitter  (except a bit on my Christmas cards) or glass ornaments this year — I have in the past and love their effect, but this season I wanted something more natural. The purpose of this article is not to tell you what to make, but to provide INSPIRATION for you to create your own. So if glitter and glass ornaments is what you fancy this year, have at it and enjoy your personal creativity!

A WREATH

This wreath (pictured above) took the majority of my budget, including buying the wreath, flowers and berries for its use. The other items (ribbon and raffia) were used elsewhere. But I will use this wreath over and over; one I made for my brother and his wife is still being used…15 years later!

It’s pretty simple to make…take the two purchased flowers and hot glue them to the bottom of the grapevine wreath base. Highlight them with some kind of “filler.” I could have used pine cones here, but the fake flowers came with leaves attached to the stems so I clipped them off the fake stem and used these for a touch of green.

I took the small balls made from vines that I purchased and clipped them off their stems. I then wove bits of red raffia into them to add a bit of color and hot glued two of these at the bottom of the wreath. I then added one at the top of the wreath as an anchor. I hot glued a length of ribbon at one end, and wove the ribbon around the wreath, drawing it under some of the vines, and attached it at the top (with a bit of flair). Lastly, the berries were snipped off their stems and glued in strategic locales. That was it…45 minutes later I had a wreath that would sell for twice that at a store, and probably not look as nice.

HUMBLE GARLAND

This garland is made simply with found pine cones, ribbon, thread, and a few sequins.

This garland is made simply with found pine cones, ribbon, thread, and a few sequins.

This is very simple to make if a bit time consuming; it took me an entire evening to make the whole 10-foot strand but I’ll use this year after year. I gathered the pine cones from my backyard; if you don’t have a spruce or pine tree handy, perhaps you can find a source for free cones during a walk to a local park or a neighbor’s yard. Picking items off the ground in parks and such generally doesn’t require a permit, but call your local city to see of they have any rules against it. And I bet your neighbor won’t mind if you harvest some cones if you take the time to ask.

To make the garland, take your pine cones and screw into the tops small screw eyes. From here, you can sew the screw eyes/pine cones to a length of ribbon 3″ to 4″ apart. I tried sticking a needle through pine cones to avoid the whole screw eye business, but I ended up bending and ruining a needle trying it; pine cones are woody (I know…duh, right)! You can control how long you want your pine cones to dangle by regulating your thread length. I then used hot glue to attach one large sequin to the attachment point on the ribbon. You can also add more flair here, like sewing on small bells or gluing on small red bows. The choice is yours depending upon the look you want to achieve!

A bread pan, tinfoil, pickin's from a brush pile, ribbon, and a candle make for a lovely centerpiece for only a few dollars.

A bread pan, tinfoil, pickin’s from a brush pile, ribbon, and a candle make a lovely centerpiece for a few dollars.

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CENTERPIECE

I literally jammed ribbon and Christmas lights into a jar. It looks lovely and was super cheap.

I literally jammed ribbon and Christmas lights into a jar. It looks lovely and was super cheap.

This table centerpiece was made in a bread pan covered in tin foil. Ha! I then stuck a large candle I already had in the pan and surrounded it with bits of blue spruce branches, spruce cones, dead lambs ear flowers from my brush pile, bits of red raffia stuck in for color, and I wrapped the base of the loaf pan loosely in red ribbon. It’s pretty, was nearly free, and looks super nice on the table surrounded by a nice place setting and good food. And you can add whatever decorative embellishments you want: dip the spruce cones in glue and glitter, add small ornaments, use a few taper candles instead of a large candle, whatever you’d like!

MANTELPIECE

This was easy and also cost a few pennies. It would cost you a few dollars if you didn’t already have a string of white Christmas lights. To make this I just loosely wrapped the string of lights in some white and red ribbon and jammed it all in the jar. You can also do things like add small Christmas ornaments if you’d like, or even tulle…try to use what you have on hand. Just remember that less complicated tends to look better if you’re not a professional, so keep it simple.

GIFT WRAP

There are years when I am into silver paper and gold bows for wrapping, along with adding embellishments to the mix like small glass balls, greenery, and more. Then there are years like this year when all I wanted was something very simple; there is just as much beauty in “simple” as there is in “glamorous”…it just depends upon what you’re in the mood for and your personal tastes. This year I took plain newsprint I had saved from my move to Colorado and used the ribbon I purchased (and bits from the brush pile) to wrap lovely presents for people. And the wrapping coordinates with my other decorations, which is an added bonus!

Used newsprint leftover from a move and the remains from the rest of my decoration frenzy made up my gift wrap.

Used newsprint from a home move and the picked-over remains from the rest of my decoration frenzy made up my gift wrap ensemble.

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Posted by on December 18, 2012 in Hobbies and Arts, Holidays, Saving Money

 

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5 Easy Homemade Holiday Liqueurs

Seckel pears are small and make for a wonderful presentation in a glass when used to flavor brandy. But you can use any pears that you like.

Making homemade liqueurs is a fast and easy way to bring a special touch to holiday gatherings. It only takes moments to prepare and no special gear is necessary; the hard part is waiting the two to four weeks necessary to allow your liqueur to steep and age.

For many liqueurs you’ll use a vodka base, which basically lacks taste and color and will take on whatever flavor you want. But you can also use spirits like bourbon, brandy, rum or even tequila, which all do their part to enhance the flavor of the fruits and spices you use. The resulting liqueur can be served on its own, or added to other cocktails such as martinis, or eggnog. Here are some recipes:

BASIC HOW-TO

Marinate fruits and spices with sugar in vodka, brandy, bourbon, or rum for simple liqueurs that whip up in 15 minutes.

For all of the recipes, the process is the same; you take your flavorings and sugar, and place them in an earthen crock or a glass jar with a lid. (Make sure the mouth of the container is large enough to remove the flavorings later.) Cover completely with your alcohol, put on the lid, and shake. Store your concoction in a dark place, shaking every day for the first week or so, then leaving it sit for two to four weeks until the flavors are fully incorporated into your alcohol. When the liqueur is done, strain out your flavorings and either place the liqueur back into its original alcohol bottle, or transfer them to pretty glass bottles for holiday display.

Your flavorings can include fruits, nuts, herbs and spices, and as much sugar as you’d like. The amount of sugar you use is a matter of preference depending upon how sweet you’d like your liqueur. I generally start out with about 1/3 cup of sugar for a basic 750 ml bottle of liquor, and add more after the first week if I find the liqueur I’m making isn’t sweet enough for me.

What do you do with those fruits? I reserve the marinated fruits and use them in holiday desserts. Depending upon the fruit, you can chop them up and add them to holiday baking, or make a tasty topping from them. To do this, take your fruit and place in a saucepan. Mash roughly, and add additional sugar and  some water if there doesn’t seem to be enough liquid with the fruit. Simmer until the additional sugar is dissolved and a syrup forms around the fruits. Serve over ice cream or holiday cakes.

Seckel pears are only about 2″ to 3″ long with a sweet flavor and snappy skin.

SECKEL PEAR BRANDY

Seckel pears are small pears about 2″ long. They are very sweet with a nice skin that has a bit of a “snap” to it. They are not common to see (though marinated seckel pears are wonderful heated through and served whole over ice cream or next to cakes), so you can substitute regular pears for this liqueur. For seckel pears, just slice the top and bottom off and place them in your jar or crock. If you’re using regular pears, slice them into sections or chop roughly and add to your container. Some recipes call for peeling the pears first, but I don’t see the need for this since I am lazy. Add your sugar (I start with 1/2 cup and increase later if needed), fill your container with whatever brandy you’d like, and shake. Shake daily for the first week, and at the end of the week taste to see if it is sweet enough for you. If it’s not, you can add more sugar, making sure you shake regularly to dissolve. Store in a dark place while the liqueur is marinating.

VANILLA AND CINNAMON LIQUEUR

Bourbon lends itself to the taste of vanilla and cinnamon. It produces a wonderful sweet liqueur that can be served on its own, and makes a wonderful addition to eggnog. Simply take a bottle of bourbon and pour it into a jar or crock (you can just use the bottle as your marinating vessel, but realize that it might be difficult to remove the expanded cinnamon sticks later). Add a vanilla bean that has been split open and two to three sticks of whole cinnamon. Add your sugar, shake, and wait. Don’t forget to shake daily during that first week to dissolve all of the sugar.

I like Italian-style plums for plum liqueur, but you can use any kind. Just slit with a knife and marinate with sugar and vodka.

PLUM LIQUEUR

This is a simple but sweet and tasty liqueur that makes a WONDERFUL plum martini for the holidays. For a martini, dilute the liqueur with plain vodka to your taste, and serve with lime zest. To make this liqueur, take plums, slice a sizeable slit or two in each one, place the plums in your container, add sugar, and top with your vodka. Shake and wait. I like to use Italian-style plums for this for their more intense flavor, but you can also use regular plums.

ALMOND AND COFFEE LIQUEUR

This also makes a wonderful addition to a martini, especially a chocolate martini if this is something you want to impress guests with over the holidays. I like this to have a lot of almond flavor, so I roughly grind about 1 cup of almonds in my blender and add about 1/2 cup of whole coffee beans. Top with sugar and a bottle of vodka and shake well. You’ll need to strain this after your month is up to remove all of the almond bits.

This berry liqueur was made with blueberries and blackberries, but you can use any combination you’d like.

BERRY LIQUEUR

This is great because you can use just about any kind of berry for this, or a mix of berries. I like to mix blueberries and blackberries, but you can use whatever kind you want (use about a quart total of berries)! Just slice each fruit in half and put them in your jar or crock. Cover with your sugar and 750 ml bottle of vodka, and shake. Remember to shake daily for the first week to make sure your sugar is dissolved, and intermittently the few weeks following. I like to use a cup of sugar with this recipe, and serve it in cordial glasses with desserts or on its own. Very tasty!

 
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Posted by on October 26, 2012 in Holidays, Recipes, Uncategorized

 

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Dyed Eggs, All Natural!

Dyeing eggs with natural ingredients offers the chance for a LOT more experimentation, imagination, and fun than buying a kit from the store. And you can save money dyeing eggs this way–onion skins, and veggies that are ready to go bad can be used to dye eggs. These food scraps can make dyeing eggs almost free, except the cost of the eggs.

You can dye eggs using foods that you already have in your kitchen, and the results are more beautiful than when you use synthetic dyes. It can either be a fast process, or one that unfolds overnight for marvelous effect; the choice is yours!

The basic recipe for dyeing natural eggs is:

  • Your dye object (fruit, vegetable, spice)
  • Salt: 1 tablespoon
  • White vinegar: 1 tablespoon
  • Water: about 3 cups
  • Optional items include leaves, wax crayons, muslin, thick and thin rubber bands, and whatever else you can think of to create different effects on your egg.

My favorite ingredients for dyeing eggs include blueberries, turmeric, grated beets, and red cabbage sliced into strips and chopped. I also use chlorophyll for green, which I know is hardly common in the average household but it makes for great green eggs (I use it in smoothies, so I have it on-hand). I’ve tried other ingredients for green and orange colors (spinach, carrots, chili powder, paprika) but the results were not that great and in the case of carrots and chili powder, didn’t work at all. I know other ingredients are touted as good egg dyes, but the above four give me everything I need and can be combined for different color effects. If you have egg dyes that you have used successfully, please feel free to share them in the comments at the end of this ‘spin!

These are my favorite eggs, dyed using beets, blueberries, red cabbage, and turmeric.

MAKE YOUR MIXES:

Making the dyes is pretty easy, though it does involve some grating and spooning. The basic concept for all mixes is to place your “dye” (food or dried spice) in water (enough to cover your eggs) and add 1 tablespoon of salt and 1 tablespoon of vinegar per 3ish cups of water. From there you can either hard boil your eggs directly in the dye, or you can hard boil your eggs first, then let them sit in the dye for a few minutes or up to overnight.

The temperature of the dye has a huge effect on the colors you get. Boiling the eggs in the dye will create much more intense effects, while leaving cooled eggs sit in cooled dye (even overnight) will create more pale colors. But this is influenced by whatever you’re using as your dye. Blueberries create very dark colors overnight, while beets are more subtle. You just need to experiment.

There are literally an infinite amount of variations, combinations, and tools you can use that will change how your eggs will look. The only limit is your imagination! Here’s the step-by-step description of what I did to create the eggs I’ll show you today! But be sure to come up with your own recipes…it’s soooooo much fun!

TURMERIC

Turmeric can create wonderful effects on eggs. At right, the egg on the left was hard boiled then placed in a turmeric/salt/vinegar boiling bath for 1 minute (leaving it in for about 15 seconds creates a light yellow color). The egg in the center was wrapped in rubber bands then left to soak in warm mix for about an hour. The egg on the far right was hard boiled in the solution for about 15 minutes then left to cool for an hour.

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At left are two tablespoons of turmeric bubbling away with vinegar and salt. The egg on the far right from above is boiling away somewhere in there.

Turmeric can create a range of yellows, from a light canary yellow to an intense burnt butter color.

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The egg at right is wrapped in rubber bands before being dipped into its dye. These rubber bands created the striped center egg from the photo above. You can also use things like stickers or crayons to create negative space.

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BEETS

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I grated two beets to serve my egg-dyeing needs this year. It can be a mess, but beets are one of the best dyes and grating them compared to slicing them allows the release of more dye. Not only that, the gratings themselves can create lovely mottles on your egg shells.

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Eggs can be left to sit in their dyes for anywhere from a few minutes to overnight. Here, an egg sits in grated beets, salt, and vinegar; I’ve mounded the grated beet pieces over the egg to create a mottled effect.

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In addition to creating your different dyes, you can also “treat” the eggs in different ways. Here, I’ve wrapped a raw egg in muslin and secured it with a twist tie…

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Then the egg was hard boiled in boiling grated beet/salt/vinegar bath for about 20 minutes, then left to sit for about 15 minutes after I turned off the heat. It created a lovely pink color.

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Beets were also used on the two eggs at right. The egg on the top had two thick rubber bands placed on it before being left to soak in a cooled beet mixture over night (notice how the egg is yellow under the rubber bands; I dipped the eggs in turmeric for a few minutes before placing the rubber bands on the egg). The bottom egg was also left to soak in cooled beet mixture over night; notice the difference in color since this one had not been dipped in turmeric first.
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This beautiful egg was made by taking a hard boiled egg and wrapping it in muslin and soaking it with beets and juice over night. I wrapped the muslin in bunches, making sure it was uneven in places and secured it tightly with rubber bands. I then placed it in the dye, making sure that grated beet pieces were mounded on the top and around the egg.  You can see the wonderful effect.

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BLUEBERRIES AND RED CABBAGE

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This is my favorite egg. It is a hard boiled egg that I wrapped in red cabbage leaves then wrapped in muslin to keep it held together using a rubber band. I then boiled the egg for 15 minutes in a blueberry solution and left it soak there overnight.

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Here are the raw red cabbage leaves, laid out to be wrapped around the egg and then wrapped in muslin. You could also place a leaf or flower next to the egg if you wanted to create an image on the egg.

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Here I used frozen blueberries to boil in water, vinegar, and salt. I used about a cup of blueberries in 3 cups water. This egg was hard boiled, then I took some of the blueberries from my boil and laid them underneath and on top of the egg. The egg spent the night in a bed of blueberries.

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Here is the egg, getting put to bed with blueberries.

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This egg was made by taking about a dozen blueberries from the dye mix, and wrapping them next to the egg using a piece of muslin to hold them in place (closed at the top with a twist-tie). It was left to soak in beet juice for about an hour.

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This egg was created by creating a solution of cabbage leaves and blueberries together, then boiling this hard boiled egg for about 30 minutes in the mix.

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This egg was dyed using liquid chlorophyll. I tried spinach for green and it just looked dingy, and I’ve read elsewhere that chlorophyll works. It obviously does, but there’s a trick to it. The best way to get the green from the chlorophyll onto the egg is to rub it on with your fingers (no salt or vinegar needed). You only need about two drops of liquid chlorophyll to do the job as it is very concentrated. But it really works great.

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If you have tried any other natural ingredients or techniques to dye eggs in your kitchen, please share with us! And if you try my methods illustrated here, let me know how it worked for you. Don’t forget to have fun!


 

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