Our Christmas Tree – not really fancy, but festive…

I love a live Christmas tree.  It’s always a fun outing to find the perfect tree whether it is in the forest or an urban tree lot.  Our tree came from an urban tree lot this year.  We tend to search for a “Charlie Brown” kind of tree – a little imperfect and needing some love.  The smell of a live tree is my all time favorite.  A little freshness in the middle of winter is nice – especially for those of us that live in a cold climate – and don’t keep indoor plants. I could go on and on about the merits of a real tree – you get the picture – I like real trees.  Our Christmas tree of choice is usually the Colorado White Pine because it is a bit imperfect – not grown on a tree farm, has wide spacing between the branches – so there is a lot of room to line up ornaments, and the branches are strong – so they don’t droop when a bunch of ornaments are hung on one branch.  We brought home our prize tree on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  We immediately put in the stand, gave it some water, put the lights up, strung the garland, and placed the angel at the top.  Then, it sat for a week or so while I tried to get in the Christmas spirit.

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Finally, it snowed and Christmas Spirit arrived at our house!  I was ready to do a little tree trimming.

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Tree trimming is probably my favorite part of the Christmas season.  It is a very sentimental time for me.  I have hundreds of ornaments, collected over my lifetime.  It is a trip down memory lane every year.  I remember every ornament and where I got it.  For me, my ornaments are a better documentaion of my history than a photo album.  My grandmother started my ornament collection when I was a mere baby.  She collected an ornament a year for me until I was 18 years old. The ornaments were then handed over to me for my own tree.

This is my first ornament.  I was 5 month olds old.

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As a child I made ornaments – for entertainment during summer breaks.

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As an adult I make a few ornaments here and there – see the post about my gourd ornament making.  I don’t keep many for myself.  However, this red bird was one I just had to keep for myself because the gourd was such a funny shape with the odd elongated top.

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My mom is pretty crafty and I have inherited a number of her handmade ornaments over the years.  These clothespin guys are probably my favorite.

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We loved this little plastic mouse as kids.  We thought he was so funny – a mouse playing a drum.

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I also have ornaments from all over the world.  A kiwi bird from New Zealand.

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Moccasins from the Artic Circle.

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A strawberry (it’s a painted egg) from England.

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Most of my ornaments have been gifts.  This one was a gift from Tad.

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The purple elephant was a gift from my sister…

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Over the last few years I have been grouping similar ornaments together.   I think I enjoy my ornaments more that they are a bit “organized” on the tree.  I feel like the groupings make the ornaments more noticeable.

I have a lot of bird ornaments.  This year the birds are hanging towards the top. Here is a small sampling of the flock.

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Stars – a few from my constellation.

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Behind the stars are the penguins.  Penguins are popular at our house.

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The odd fish, sparkly seahorse and mermaid are a small sampling of my sea creatures.

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As you can imagine, angels occupy an entire branch of our tree.  The blurry one in the front is made from a cotton ball – unprocessed – right off the cotton plant – it is one of the cutest things I have ever seen!

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Our cat section features a gourd ornament that I made for Tad – a replica of our cat, Hanna.

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It’s Christmas – so, of course, Santas make an appearance on our tree.  This Santa was painted by my mom.

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It’s not a Christmas tree without some sort of bread dough ornament.  I spent a good portion of my childhood allowance on bread dough ornaments.

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Tad’s ornaments are mostly sports oriented.

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This pewter bear has quite the story at our house.  A few years ago, I found him laying in a flower bed of our backyard in the spring.  We aren’t sure how he got out there.  We think we forgot to take him off the tree that year – then maybe a squirrel rescued him off the tree in the alley – and carried him back into the yard.  The next year Tad noticed him still hanging on while he carried the tree out to the alley – crazy!  The third year we searched the tree in depth to make sure we removed everything, the pewter bear was found hiding out again – after all the other ornaments were packed away.  It is almost like he is looking for an after Christmas adventure…

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 Our tree isn’t fancy, but we think it is festive – and fun…

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Pumpkins…

My favorite Halloween and fall decor is pumpkins!

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In keeping with the pumpkin theme,  here is the most delicious pumpkin risotto recipe – in my opinion.  I am no chef (I once served macaroni and cheese from a box for Christmas dinner – only macaroni and cheese – nothing else), but I have created this risotto by combining ideas from multiple recipes.  It is easy, simple, has minimal ingredients, very tasty, and very cheesy – even Tad likes it.  It is seasonal – requires fresh pie pumpkin pieces –  you can’t get that year round – perfect for Halloween (or Thanksgiving – maybe even Christmas) dinner.

Pumpkin Risotto

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1-2 cups diced pumpkin

1 1/2 cups Arborio Rice

4 cups hot vegetable stock ( or more depending on preference)

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

4oz goat cheese crumbles

1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice

Pepper to taste

Salt to taste

Fresh basil (chopped)

Pumpkin seeds, hulled and roasted

Putting it together:  Heat up the stock in a pot.  Add butter and olive oil to a large saucepan on medium heat.  Once the butter melts, add pumpkin and a pinch of salt.  Cook for one minute.  Add the rice. Stir the rice around so it gets coated in the oil and butter.  Start adding the hot stock about one cup at a time – frequently stirring. Keep adding the stock and stirring until the stock is absorbed/almost evaporated and the rice is almost cooked through/slightly al dente.  Add the parmesan and goat cheese crumbles.  Add lemon juice. Pepper to taste.  Add salt to taste as needed. Add more stock as needed to obtain desired consistency. Garnish with basil and roasted pumpkin seeds.

Serve it with arugula greens – dressed with olive oil, fresh squeezed lemon juice, parmesan cheese, and roasted/hulled pumpkin seeds.

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Yum – Yum!

Gourds…

You likely haven’t noticed that the last several posts have something in common – the topics all start with the letter “G’ – garage doors, gabions & google, and garden organizing.  Well, I am going to continue the trend for one more post – gourds…

I love gourds as home decor!  In fact, I learned decorative painting specifically so I could paint gourds.  This Jack-O-Lantern was my first gourd painting project ever.

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My next Halloween gourd project was purple toads!

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I also have gourds hanging around the house that I didn’t paint myself.  My mom and I both got a witch gourd in Santa Fe many, many years ago (before I started painting gourds myself) – she started the gourd thing for me.

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My sister made this penguin for me.  Totally cute right?  She also grows gourds in her garden!  It seems that gourd obsession runs in the family…

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Finally, this frog gourd stays out all year.  He is perfectly painted (not by me).  He is inspiration.  I strive to paint like this some day!

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I also like to promote gourd appreciation in others.  I participate in a few holiday craft fairs each year – as a gourd ornament artist. I have all year to make ornaments, but for some reason I find myself procrastinating until October of each year.  This October is no different – I am spending every waking moment thinking about gourds, talking about gourds, painting gourds (and now writing about gourds).

Here are my current gourd ornaments in process.  The process is surprisingly simple.  I first fill in the imperfections with wood filler and sand it smooth.  Base coating starts it all off (basically I paint the background color).  White paint is next – eyes, penguin bellies, owl bellies, horse spots.

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The other blocks of colors are added – such as the black parts of the eyes, pink noses, chicken beaks, reptile heads, etc.

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Shading is next.  Shading is what creates dimension and depth – most noticeably around the eyes.

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The final painting step is details – a smile, eyelashes, simple highlights that outline a nose, layers of colored dots, and eye details that bring them alive!

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A little spray finish, maybe some wire ears (or antennas for the aliens), a string for hanging, and it’s ready for fellow gourd appreciators.

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Gourds are definitely a bit of an unusual media.  So, I get a lot of questions.  Here are some of the most frequently asked questions I get about gourds:

Why gourds?  I don’t know – maybe, because every gourd is unique – and the idea of a painted gourd as decor is unusual – I like unusual.

What is a gourd?  It is technically a hard shelled fruit.  Most gourds are not edible. Gourds have been used for ornamentation, musical instruments, and utensils (bowls, spoons, etc) for thousands of years.

Do you hollow out the gourd?  Nope.  The gourd farmer dries the gourd on the vine for several months (sometimes up to and over a year – depending on the size of the gourd).  There is no need to hollow out the gourd once dried.  In fact, if you shake most gourds you can hear the dried seeds still inside.

Where do you get your gourds?  I buy most of my gourds from a farmer in Arizona – I have to clean those myself.  The really small ones come from the Amish in Pennsylvania – those come cleaned already.

How fragile are gourds & how long will the painted gourd last?  The gourds aren’t fragile at all.  I don’t know how many times I have dropped a gourd – I don’t think I have ever broken one.  Dried gourds last a really, really long time – like decades if stored and treated properly – maybe, forever.

Go gourds!