Category Archives: Christmas

Gangly and Awkward – Our Perfect Christmas Tree

It was sunny but cold Saturday when we went to the farm to cut our Christmas tree. Although having snow in the air and/or on the ground might have made the event more festive I was thankful for the ease of not having to trudge into the field though several inches of the white stuff. It was also nice that we did not have to clean up puddles of melted snow after setting up the tree in the living room.

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This is our third year of cutting a tree from our farm for a Christmas tree. When we bought the property in 2011 it had absolutely no evergreens growing on it. So in the spring of 2012 we bought 50 12-18 inch spruce seedlings (twigs) from our local Conservation District spring tree sale. When our trees arrived we had no idea where we were going to plant them all so we made a nursery area in our main garden. At least the trees were in soil and could grow there until we decided where their permanent home(s) would be. This also made it simple to care for them especially since it was a very dry summer and we spent much time watering.

By fall the twigs that we had planted had begun to take shape and turned into small trees. We then planted them along the north and east sides of the back field where we hoped they would eventually grow large enough to act as wind blocks and provide privacy. We have continued to nurture these trees, fencing them in the winter to protect against deer, mowing around them so they have not been choked out by weeds and watering them during extreme dry spells. Despite our best efforts we have lost some. Each year we order more seedlings to replace ones that we have lost and to increase the spruce evergreen population on the farm.

2016 was the first year we cut our own Christmas tree. Life had changed. The girls were no longer living at home. They had grown up and moved out. Some were married, some were in college, some were working and I had to accept that our days of the girls and I all getting together to put up a tree were over. It made me sad. Life had changed in another way. My husband who had always worked a job that took him away from home for weeks or months at a time and often missed the holidays with the family, was no longer working that job. He was home for the holidays. This made me happy. To help cheer me up he suggested we start something new – make Christmas ours – by cutting a Christmas tree that we had grown on our farm. I loved it.

I think it was in September this year when my husband pointed out the tree he thought we should cut and I agreed it was a good choice. It was a the right size since we set it up on the coffee table and it had a nice straight trunk. It’s not exactly picture perfect and probably not a tree I would have picked out had we gone to a place to purchase a tree. It has an awkward shape and the braches are gangly and reaching out in all directions, but I am delighted that this tree is a product of our farm.

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When we had the tree set up my husband helped me put the lights on the tree and the Angel on top, then I brought out my collection of Snow Angel ornaments to adorn the tree.

My Snow Angel ornaments are small angels each having a different pose and a tag attached that assigns them as a  different blessing. There are Blessing of Love, Blessing of Hope, Blessing of Generosity, Blessing of Playfulness… I have 36 of them in all.

When the girls lived at home and we decorated the tree together I would take out each Snow Angel, read the tag and assign it to a specific daughter to hang on the tree. They would read the tag out loud and everyone would talk and sometimes laugh about why I gave that particular ornament to that daughter. Sometimes it was a characteristic that I admired about that daughter and sometimes I thought that daughter may have needed more of that particular blessing. At times it was difficult to decide and the blessings were given out randomly. This activity was one we enjoyed year after year.

For the past two years, with the girls not being there to help decorate the tree, I had left the Snow Angels packed away but this year, I am not sure why, but I decided to bring them out.

As I hung the ornaments on those gangly braches that reached in all directions I noticed how easy it was for the ornament to hang freely, something I struggle with when decorating a “perfectly shaped” tree with nicely tapered branches. Thus increased my appreciation for this awkward looking tree.

The more I look at it the more beautiful it becomes. I see this tree as representative of our life. Much like this tree our family has grown and our lives have changed in the past 6 years. We have branched out in all different directions and each branch bears blessings. Yet like this tree each branch stems from and is supported by the same trunk. It binds us together. Our trunk is love – our trunk is Christ.

 

 

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Merry Christmas!

 

7 Years of Homemade Christmas Gifts

For several years now I have been making Christmas gifts and that is what I am spending a lot of time doing right now. I can’t tell you what I am making this year because it would ruin the surprise (my daughters do occasionally read my blog) but I thought I would tell you about some of the gifts I made in years past.

Making something for the girls (our daughters) has always been my first priority, but now that we have grandchildren and sons-in-law they are also recipients. The growing family is really challenging my creativity. 🙂 Since we have four girls I usually (but not always) make four gifts, the same – but different, for them.

My very talented sister K.C. inspires my sewing projects and is always on stand-by ready to counsel and console me when I call about sewing projects. Some of the things I have learned from her are:

  • Fleece and flannel are forgiving fabrics (I am thankful for this because if there is a “sewing sin” I will undoubtedly commit it.)
  • Use LOTS of pins.
  • Press seams.
  • When you get frustrated take a break and come back later.

My Mom is my inspiration when I crochet. She taught me the basics of crochet, but she was the one that always had crochet projects going for the whole family. She passed away in 2011 and now when I crochet I feel connected with her.

Some of the gifts were made before I started blogging and taking photos so there are no pictures to show but I will do my best to describe each.

 

Fleece Bath Robes – I think this was the first year I decided to make Christmas gifts for the girls. I had an old sewing machine that I decided to learn how to use. My husband saw me struggling and decided I needed a new sewing machine. At least this one came with directions – LOL.

This was a fun project because there are so many colors and patterns of fleece to choose from. The bath robe pattern that I selected was a simple wrap around with a tie closure, so I would not have to deal with buttons or zippers. I then selected a  different fleece for each of the girls.

Most of the girls were still living at home at this point which meant I had to schedule my sewing time when they were at school; it also meant that I got to see them wear their gifts often. 🙂

Flannel Pillow Cases – Notice I again choose a “forgiving” fabric to work with. The pillow cases were made with a solid color for the main part and a complimentary pattern for the trim.

Each girl or couple got a set of two pillow cases and I purchased new bed pillows for them as well.

Sister Shirts – This was one of my favorite projects and it involved neither sewing or crochet.

Here is a little background on sister shirts – I have 3 sisters, and like my parents, I have 4 daughters. When my sisters and I were growing up my parents, especially my dad, often got our names mixed up. One year when we were teenagers my sister J.B. and I (jokingly) decided to give dad a hand with that problem. We had t-shirts made for each of us. We each had a different color shirt. On the front it had our name, on the back it had the year we were born and our DD# (darling daughter #).

Several (more than 10) years ago I decided to have our shirts remade as sweat shirts this time (yes, Dad still gets us confused). I wear my “sister” shirt often, not necessarily for dad’s benefit, mostly because it is comfortable.

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One day one of my daughters, I can’t remember which one, said “we need sister shirts” and that got the wheels spinning. I had to come up with a “sister shirt” design for them. Even though I do have the “parent with too many kids to keep straight syndrome” I decided my girls needed something different. The girls are very close and I wanted to make something to express how they feel about their sisters.

At this point I was well into the DIY Christmas gifts so I had to figure out how to make them instead of having them made. I found printable iron on transfer paper at the craft store and purchased plain hooded sweatshirts for each of the girls. I found a picture of all four girls together and printed it as an iron on (4x). I also printed the words “SISTERS ROCK!” and ironed that message under the photo on the shirt.

I have seen each of the girls wear their shirt many times over the years and it always made me smile. 🙂

 

Slippers – This is a pattern very similar to the ones my mom used to make. Her pattern called for two strand of worsted weight yarn held together and she would usually use two different colors to give the slippers a variegated effect. I began using heavy weight yarns (only one strand required) to make these.

The year my mom passed away I made these for everyone – all of my daughters, sons-in laws, sisters, mother-in-law and even my husband now has a pair. I wear mine in the house throughout the cold seasons and like to keep a couple of pair made up incase I (or someone else get a hole) in one. 🙂 I will be making more as soon as I finish this years Christmas projects.

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Fingerless Gloves and Ear Warmers – This was the year I realized that all of the girls had smart phones and were spending lots of time swiping their phones for one reason or another. Fingerless gloves seemed a practical gift since they were probably swiping even when they were out in the cold.  I found this beautiful, free crochet pattern online.  http://www.beatriceryandesigns.com/2015/02/09/amazing-grace-fingerless-gloves-free-crochet-pattern/

I also made the matching ear warmers using the same stitch pattern.

Incidentally, when the girls were over for Thanksgiving, Kara mentioned that she lost her ear warmer. She said she wore it all the time and asked if I could make her a new one in the same color. I happened to have one (a different pattern but same color) already made up and she was wearing it when she left. It is a wonderful feeling when you know your gifts are used and appreciated. 🙂

Memory Quilts – This was a challenging but super fun project. The idea came to me after my youngest daughter, Lindell, moved out and I discovered that she had left behind all of her t-shirts from high school. When the girls were in school they had t-shirts from every activity that they participated in; homecoming shirts every year, sports shirts, band or choir shirts, drama club shirts, there was a whole stack of t-shirts that she hadn’t worn in a while an apparently didn’t plan on wearing again. They didn’t seem like the kind of thing you would want to donate to a charity since they wouldn’t hold any meaning for the person wearing them, yet they held too much meaning to my daughter to just throw them away.

While looking through the pile of shirts I discovered that there were two separate piles, one belonging to Kara and one belonging to Lindell. I decided to make them into keepsakes for the girls.

Below are the girls with their “High School” memory quilts. There are many online tutorials for these. Lindell’s (on the left) was made as a rag quilt with flannel  backing and Kara’s (on the right)was made with a fleece backing. Perhaps their smiles in the photo give you an idea how much the girls liked these blankets.

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T-shirt Bags – Last year I was in a quandary about what to make for the girls. I thought I would like to make them market bags or tote bags. It seemed like a practical gift that could be used for so many purposes. I looked at several crochet patterns but realistically I knew I did not have time to crochet 4 of them. I  started searching for other ideas and found this https://www.mommypotamus.com/no-sew-t-shirt-tote-bag-tutorial/. It was super simple.

I had used all of the girls t-shirts for their quilts the year before and I did not want to buy new shirts for this project, so I went to the Salvation Army resale shop. I was able to find shirts that matched each girls personality for only a couple dollars each. There is one for the Disney lover, one for the MSU fan, one for the musician and one for the girl who loves to visit the Aquarium. 🙂

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This was a quick easy project and I filled the bags with homemade treats – banana bread, honey or jam, and soaps and balms.

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I am not certain if the girls use these bags but I am sure that they enjoyed the contents of them. 🙂

I am certainly not a master crafter and I admit that some of my projects have flaws but there is much to love about homemade gifts

  • There may be a cost savings, though this is not necessarily the case.
  • I find joy in creating things and especially for those I love. (I rarely find joy in shopping.)
  • The gifts can be one of a kind and tailored specifically for the individual.
  • They are always made with Love or TLP as I like to call it – Tender Love and Prayer.

Thank you for reading. If you have ever thought about making Christmas gifts I hope you have found some inspiration here. If you are a crafter who makes Christmas gifts please tell me about your favorite project that you have made, I am always looking for new ideas.

God Bless.

A Homemade Christmas

As I mentioned in my Pre-Christmas post I had many projects in the works, so today I’m going to tell you about the Christmas gifts I made for my family this year.

My first thoughts were about what to give to my grandbabies Jackson who is 18 months and Adeline who is about 6 weeks. A few weeks ago I had asked my daughter what they needed for the baby. The one thing she mentioned that they didn’t have was a car seat canopy or tent. I’m not sure how much of a need this is because they were making do with a blanket thrown over the handle of the car seat to cover the baby when she was out in the cold. The design of the car seat canopy that attached to the handle would certainly be more convenient. So I decided to make one.

Crochet is usually my medium of choice but since my crochet time was being taken up by another major project that I was working on (I will write about it soon) there just wasn’t time to crochet anything more. While sewing is not something I am really skilled at, every once in a while I get out my sewing machine and pretend that I know what I am doing. This project would be my “once in a while” for the year.

I searched the internet for car seat canopy ideas and tutorials and found many. Then I combined some of the ideas I found and came up with my own design. One thing I have learned from my sister, who is very talented at sewing, is that flannel and fleece are “very forgiving” fabrics to work with. I am thankful for this because if there is a “sewing sin” I will undoubtedly commit it. I selected flannel for this project.

I decided to make it a patchwork blanket, but since I knew that finishing the edges would be a nightmare for me, I decided to use the rag blanket technique. Rather than having finished seams, I could sew the edges together then clip the edges so they would become frayed and fluff up after washing.

I selected four flannel fabrics, placing priority on finding one with a lady bug design. I wanted lady bugs because “Lady Bug” is the nickname that her parents have given Adeline. I think this nickname came by default, as they call her older brother “Bug”, none-the-less Lady Bug is a cute nickname.

The following photos are the end result, although another trip though the washer and dryer will make the edges fluff up and hide any stitching that is still visible.

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Designing the straps and the placement of them was mostly done with a prayerful guess since I didn’t have a car seat do to a fitting.

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This is the back side since the straps are attached to the other side.

IMG_3561On Christmas Day I found out that my Prayers were answered. It FIT!!! 🙂

Jackson’s gift was next and just what do you make for an 18 month old who appears to have everything? Well I spotted a bag of poly-fil in my craft room and decided to make him a fleece pillow. For this project I decide to forego the sewing and make a tie pillow.

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At this point Jackson could use it as a full body pillow, but I am sure it won’t be long before he grows into it

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and do boys ever outgrow puppies?

Lastly I needed to come up with an idea of something to make for my daughters. I already had plans to bake banana bread for each of them, give them each a jar of homemade strawberry jam, and a soap and balm gift set,  but I wanted to add a little something more. I was thinking about tote bags or market bags but knew I would not have time to crochet them.  I was searching the internet for ideas and I came across this tutorial for t-shirt bags. https://www.mommypotamus.com/no-sew-t-shirt-tote-bag-tutorial/ Quick, easy, practical, this was perfect. I first took one of my old t-shirts that I had used for painting several times in the past and made a sample. I loved the outcome so I stopped by the Salvation Army Thrift Store to see if I could find t-shirts designs that my daughters would like.

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Success! Clockwise from top left – I picked the Disney shirt for Hanna, who even as an adult loves all things Disney; the Spartans shirt is for Lindell who is a Michigan State fan; I bought the fish shirt for Tina, who always enjoys visiting Aquariums; and the House of Blues shirt is perfect for Kara, who is my musician.

In the photo below Kara and Lindell are displaying their bags after opening their gifts on Christmas Day.

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Incidentally after seeing me make these for the girls my husband asked if I would make him one, since we often pack up a bag of stuff to take along to the farm. “I’ll give you an old t-shirt,” he offered. One of the things we like about the t-shirt bags over the canvass bags that we use is that the t-shirt bags will wash nicely in the washing machine and dryer, whereas the canvass bags seem to shrink a little more with every washing.  I suspect I will be making more of these in the future.

So this is the results of my crafting marathon which took place December 20- 23rd 2017 and left me with  December 24th to do some holiday baking 🙂

Be sure to watch for my next post – My Biggest Accomplishment of 2017.

 

 

 

Our Christmas Tree

For the second year in a row we decided to cut our own Christmas tree. Last year, and again this year, we cut spruce trees from the farm. When we purchased the farm in 2011 there were many deciduous trees growing on the property but there were absolutely no evergreens. The following spring we placed an order with our local conservation district spring tree sale and amongst the things we ordered were 50 spruce trees, 25 Blue Spruce and 25 Norway Spruce. When the 12-15 inch seedlings arrived we had no idea where we were going to plant them, so we made a nursery area for them within our fenced garden area where they were well tended through the summer. It was a hot and dry summer, and the garden required much watering. It was the summer before we had the pond or the windmill so we carted many barrels of water in the back of the truck, from our house to the farm, in order to keep our garden alive. Having these seedlings in the garden area, where it was convenient to water them, proved to be a blessing and allowed them to flourish. By the fall of that year we were ready to plant them in their permanent places. We decided to line the North and East sides of the back field with some of them, as they would eventually provide privacy and wind breaks.

Over the last five years these trees have received much TLC, they have been fenced during the winters to protect them from the deer, they have been weeded and mulched, and during the droughts of summer we have driven the truck around the outskirts of the field delivering water to each of these trees in attempts to keep them alive. Not all of the trees have survived, but most have with some doing better than others.

We have continued to order Norway Spruce and Blue Spruce seedlings each spring and place them in a temporary nursery area until we decided where we want to plant them. Some of them have replaced spruce trees that we lost, we use some to replace dead Ash and Elm trees that we cut down, and we will also replace the trees that we cut for Christmas trees.

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Spruce Trees Line The East Side Of Our Field

It was about 10 days before Christmas, and we had gotten our first decent snow fall, when we went out to cut our tree. My husband and I walked the path along the East and North of the property and examined each tree before we decided which one to cut.

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Scout and Trooper were happy to be with us.

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We selected this Norway Spruce. We didn’t measure it but I’m sure it was close to 5 feet tall. It took my husband less than a minute to saw through the trunk.

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As we walked back from the field we spotted this hen who had made her way through the snow out to the field. We were really surprised to see her there because chickens do not like to walk in snow. My husband picked her up and we gave her a lift back to the coop.

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We opted not to trim the longer, upper branches to achieve the “prefect” Christmas Tree shape, but left the tree in it’s natural God-given shape. The short needles and less than crowded branches made adding lights and hanging ornaments easy. And we have been enjoying the simplicity and beauty of our homegrown Christmas tree.

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On Christmas Day we added one final ornament after opening the gift from Tina and Ken. We hung the new “Ciani Family” ornament next to the “God Bless the Farmer” ornament they gifted to us last year. I think I am seeing a theme here to complement our new tradition. 🙂

The Tree Is Up

Just one week before Christmas and our Christmas Tree is finally up. It’s not because I’ve been too busy, lazy or procrastinating that it’s taken so long. It’s because I love the tradition that we have for putting up the tree. I’m not sure when it started, but it was sometime over the last fifteen years. My four daughters and I put up the Christmas Tree together.

With the girls all living on their own now, and having to schedule around their work and college commitments, it has become more difficult to find a time when they can all get together. We have been trying to coordinate a time for this since Thanksgiving and I had even entertained the thought that I might have to put the tree up by myself or maybe just not put the tree up at all. Finally the time was set for noon yesterday that they would all arrive for the task. As it turned out only three of them made it because Hanna was not feeling well (some things you just can’t plan for).

While there were all ready a lot of specifics to our tradition of putting up the tree, I decided to add to our fun. My sister had sent me a crochet pattern for a Santa hat. It was a cute hat but I really didn’t think I had any reason to make it so I had just filed it away, but for some reason on Tuesday I decided I would make elf hats for the girls. Since I didn’t have yarn in traditional Christmas red and green, I decided to use what I had. I started crocheting and completed the first one Tuesday night and finished up three more before bedtime on Wednesday. Then I realized that the girls would probably say “Mom, where is your hat?” So yesterday morning I dug out some more yarn and stitched up one more elf hat. I was still finishing it up when Tina (elf # 1) arrived but had it finished before (Kara elf # 3) and Lindell (elf # 4) arrived shortly after noon.

 

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Elf Hats for the girls
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One last elf hat

When I made the hats I had an idea of which hat would go to which daughter (elf) but I decided to let them pick their own. I decided to let them choose in the order that they arrived, so Tina picked first as she arrived before noon and waited quite awhile with me before the others got there.

Tina, who is a fashion designer, and loves colorful patterns, chose the purple hat. I was happy because I had her in mind when I made this hat. Lindell arrived next. I was disappointed to see that she was alone because she was supposed to pick up Hanna (# 3 elf) and bring her along. Lindell got next pick and she took the red and black one. This is actually the hat I had in mind for Hanna, when I was making them but it looked really nice on Lindell.  There was no doubt in anyone’s mind which hat Kara would pick. I made it specifically in Wayne State colors with Kara in mind, and even though she didn’t get first pick, her sisters knew it was her hat and would not claim it for themselves. I then asked one of the girls which of the remaining two I should have and she said the blue one, probably because I was dressed in all blue.

My elves assembling the tree
My elves assembling the tree

 

Tina #1 elf
Tina #1 elf
Kara # 2 elf
Kara # 2 elf
Lindell, Elf # 3 has an angle looking over her shoulder
Lindell, Elf # 3 has an angle looking over her shoulder

By the time Kara arrived 20 or 30 minutes after noon, we had already begun the tree assembly but there were still plenty of branches that needed to be unfolded and “fluffed” as they called it, and then installed on the trunk. The girls have become very particular about the way the branches are fluffed and placed on the tree. After the tree was put together it was time to put the lights on. This is where we really missed Hanna. It is her job to help me with this. After we plug in each strand to make sure that it works, she stands on one side of the tree, and I stand on the opposite side. We start at the bottom of the tree and I hand the strand to her, then she hands it back to me as we wrap it around the tree moving upward as we go. Kara and Lindell both took turns filling in this position, although they are not nearly as proficient as Hanna, the lights were successfully put one the tree.

After the lights go on the tree comes a very special part of our tradition. Many years ago I purchased a collection of Snow Angels Christmas ornaments. I don’t have a complete collection and I’m not sure how many there are total in this series or even if the still make them. I do have about 30 of them and each one has a tag that says Blessing of ___. Some examples are Blessing of Hope, Blessing of Love, Blessing of Jubilee, Blessing of Patience and Blessing of Coyness. These are the ornaments that get placed on the tree before any others. While I unpack these “blessings” I will read the tag and select one of the girls to place it on the tree. Sometimes I give it to the girl I think has that blessing or a quality and sometimes I think it is a blessing that the girls needs. The blessing of Slumber for example has mostly gone to Tina or Lindell who both love to sleep the day away, but this year it went Kara who has pulled two all-nighters in the past week due to exams and projects that are due before the semester ends.

Once the Snow Angels adorn the tree, the girls hang the rest of the ornaments that we have collected over the years, many of then have their names on them or were acquired in groups of three or four like the three Christmas Dinosaurs or four Christmas Dogs. Lastly the angel is placed on top of the tree. I usually do this but had some help from Lindell this year.

As I told the girls to put all of the packaging back in the bins, I noticed the tree skirt and said someone needs to put that around the tree. Kara said she would “dress” the tree in it’s skirt but decided to model the tree skirt first.

Kara modeling the tree skirt
Kara modeling the tree skirt

Once the we were finished and the packaging was put away we all posed for a picture taken by Elf # 4, with her long arms and being trained in digital media. Then we enjoyed some homemade chicken soup that was prepared, with love, by my husband for our tree decorating elves.

Kara, Lindelle, Tina, Mom (back)
Kara, Lindelle, Tina, Mom (back)

As each of the girls left I made sure they were wearing their elf hat. I told them that I hope that they would wear them and embrace their eccentricity or maybe just indulge mine. I don’t know whether the girls will wear them again this year, but maybe they will become part of our Christmas tradition in future years.

As always I think the tree looks beautiful, and this year despite the lack of snow and the unseasonably warm temperatures we have had lately, it is beginning to feel a little like Christmas.