The Home That Yard Sales Built

How to conquer life's obstacles one bargain at a time!



Only Through Great Restraint

Restraint:  rɪˈstreɪnt


2 [uncountable]the act of controlling or limiting something because it is necessary or sensible to do so.

wage restraint

They said that they would fight without restraint (= completely freely) for what they wanted.


3 [uncountable]the quality of behaving calmly and with control


self-control  The police appealed to the crowd for restraint. He exercised considerable restraint in ignoring the insults.


In conclusion:

I saw this TV tray at a yard sale.  I didn’t buy it.  ‘Nuff said.


– Laura


p.s.  “A-Team” puffy stickers were available at the same sale.  I left those behind as well.  I deserve a flippin’ medal.


p.p.s.  My next few posts will be noticeably shorter due to the fact that I will be unable to type for a little while.  I’m sorry or you’re welcome, depending on how you feel about my blog.  😉

Time to quit my Jibba-Jabba!  Later, Fools!  

SNOW SHOE SPRUCE-UP or: How to Make a TARDIS Jacket in Five Easy Steps!


So you say your pre-loved item needs to be depersonalized or a less than ideal item needs to be customized?  Well keep on scrollin’, my friend…

Last winter, I needed boots for cold, yucky weather.  My wallet needed me not to need boots for cold, yucky weather.  Clearly, we were at an impasse.


I went to a moving sale.


Said moving sale had advertised “LOTS AND LOTS OF SIZE 6/6.5 SHOS AND BOOTS!”  (The author of the post left out the E, but I was pretty sure I knew what she meant.) Well, hot diggity dog!  Now you’re playin’ my song, yard sale ad posting lady!  I’m in!


I arrived just in time to see a woman walk away with what appeared to be every pair of shoes at the sale.  She had an oversized clothes basket filled with them.  MOUNDED!  OVERFLOWING!




Oh well.  Next time.


But then what did I spy with my little eye?  These very waterproof Sorel boots, which appeared to have been worn only once or twice.  They were barely even scuffed on the soles!  Oooooh!  I was giddy with excitement!!!  I raised them aloft in my right hand, pointed to them with my left and was just about to ask the proprietress the price when I saw it.  Scrawled in ink (SHARPIE ink, no less) on the outside of BOTH shoes, the name of the former owner (her daughter I assumed.)




Oh well.  Next time.


Hand came down, pointer finger assumed the at ease position.


“I know!” called the proprietress with a shrug.  “Nobody’s gonna buy those.”


I nod, sympathetically.


“If you’re buying that” (she points to the hardcover copy of Bill Bryson’s “At Home” that I have since picked up) “you can have the boots.”




Yep.  I’m in.


I had no idea how I’m going to get Sharpie off of waterproof nylon, but I was going to try…and try I did!


To no avail.


It wouldn’t even budge!  I couldn’t even achieve success at a slight fading of the marks.


So what now, you ask?


Well here’s what I told myself:  They can’t get worse.  Even if I attempt something drastic and it’s a complete flop, no big deal…they were free and I don’t really want to wear them as is.  A grown woman with her name written on her boots would be sad enough.  A grown woman with SOMEONE ELSE’S name written on her shoes?  Now that’s too far.




Step One:  I grabbed a silver paint pen and a gold paint pen, left over from a project my daughter had done a few months ago and without preamble began drawing daisies on the boots.  I completely obscured the Sharpie scrawlin’s and it really didn’t look half bad!  It’s not fabulous, but it’s passable and the boots worked as a stop-gap measure until I found something better/cuter/less paint-penned.  🙂


Step Two:  There is no step two!  You’re done!  Relax and enjoy the rest of your day!  🙂


Let it snow!


Imagine what you could do with some forethought and a rainbow of paint pens!


This project would, of course, work on a variety of items, not just snow boots.  Keep scrolling for just one of the projects this one inspired my daughter and I to tackle!





After the success last winter with the snow shoes, I found a vintage Members Only jacket at a yard sale this past Saturday.  That, in and of itself, was a pretty righteous score, but the fact that it was blue got me to thinking.  What if my daughter Hadley and I made a TARDIS jacket?



For those of you out there who aren’t Doctor Who fans, I’ll explain.  The TARDIS is The Doctor’s spacey wacey, timey wimey machine.  It looks like a police call box.  If you’re not into Doctor Who, feel free to make a jacket for yourself with Mork & Mindy, The Cat from Outer Space, Alf, or any other alien, however inferior they may be to The Doctor.  Nobody is judging you.  Ok, yeah, we’re judging you.  ALF?  Really?



Here are the easy steps and some pointers for customizing a jacket of your own (no sonic screwdriver necessary):


Step 1.  Gather your supplies:


Get a jacket:  I suggest something in a fabric such as waterproof nylon, Gortex or with manmade fibers.  (The paint is less likely to bleed.)


I am of the opinion that if one is attempting a project for the first time, it’s advisable to start with something in which you have very little invested.  I spent only one dollar on this jacket.  Maybe you have one laying around that you don’t wear anymore, that has a stain or you could pick one up at a yard sale or a thrift store.  (This way you’re less likely to bleed money.)


Get a pencil, an eraser and some paint pens:  We used DecoColor paint pens.  It is important to use permanent (oil based) pens for a project like this and NOT water based…otherwise the colors will run if they are exposed to any water.  It also makes clean up trickier (see below) but there’s no way around that if you ever want to launder your item, spot clean it, or if you live in Seattle.


We found ours at Michael’s Crafts and used the weekly 40% off coupon (available in their flier, online, or via the Michael’s smart phone app.)  These paint markers are available on their website:—Basics/gc1666,default,pd.html?cgid=products&start=25


Get snacks:  We made poor choices.  We went with Trolli PeachieO’s.  PeachieO’s are available at Michael’s Craft stores, your local Gas n’ Sip, or anywhere snack time dreams are dashed.



Now that you have your supplies it’s time to get with it!


Step 2.  Look online for a picture of the TARDIS to use as a blueprint of sorts.  This is the picture Hadley found:


We used this picture in an effort to keep things really simple.  We weren’t going for over the top fabulous, just easy and straightforward, because it was the first attempt.


Step 3.  Sketch out what you want to paint in pencil before you make it permanent.  Picasso’s first word as a baby was “piz” (short for lapiz…the Spanish word for pencil) so, yeah, don’t get too cocky here.  If it was good enough for Picasso, it’s good enough for you and me.  If you’re going for something with a lot of straight lines, winging it might not be your best option in this case.



Helpful hint:  Before you start drawing and especially before you start painting, put a piece of foam core (always my first choice if I have it on hand), cardboard, or at least some paper bags or plastic between the layers of the garment and also between the garment and the surface on which you’ll be working.  This obviously protects your furniture, but placing a layer between the front and back of the jacket gives you something of substance on which to press your pencils/pens.  It also protects the front of the jacket from paint that might soak through.


Step 4.  At this point start going over what you did in pencil with paint pens.  In our case, Hadley drew the white outline, I filled in the blue and then touched up the white.  This version is VERY simple, but you could get much more intricate if you have the time and are so inclined.  In our case we are starting the project mere hours before my blog is scheduled to “hit the presses”, so intricate was off the table.  We’ll be adding more to the jacket later, so check back for updated photos.  🙂


Helpful hint:  In our haste some of the paint was smeared.  We tried fingernail polish remover to take out the smears with no luck, but Oops! took it RIGHT off, leaving zero spot or residue behind.  Oops! is pretty great stuff to keep on hand.  It is available at Sherwin-Williams.  I sometimes have trouble finding it, and since one can lasts almost as long as two presidential administrations, by the time I need another can the store where I bought it last has normally stopped carrying it, has gone out of business, or has been replaced by a Starbucks.  Starbucks doesn’t carry Oops!


Corporate bastards.

You might want to take a break at this point.  Wait a few minutes while the paint dries before moving on.  You MIGHT consider Trolli PeachieO’s.  I advise against it.



Step 5:  Go back, fill in, touch up, wear and enjoy!  Allons-y y’all!


Again, check back for a more finished product.  I broke my finger and projects/typing have been a challenge…but there will be more to come soon!








So you say you don’t believe me when I say that an unusable purse has value? Well grab a paintbrush, and PTL for second chances.

Not too awfully long ago, I saw a purse.  Okay, okay…maybe some time has passed.  Alright, you know what?  FINE!  Last year.  It was last year.  I’m just now getting around to writing about it.  It was a sweet little winter white, satin Coach purse at a yard sale for five dollars.  Only problem?  It had stains.  At first glance they weren’t apparent, but upon closer inspection it could easily be described as dingy and certainly wouldn’t be an accessory one would be itching to dangle off of one’s arm (it made me itchy just to look at it.)  It was, for all intents and purposes, a lost cause.  I almost passed it up.  Left it behind and never looked back.  “I am far more deserving than a STAINED purse!”, I told myself.  “Clearly the previous carrier of this purse did not treat it carefully, in fact, it almost looks as if they didn’t even care about it at all!”  Logic and reason dictated that this particular little purse was not worth my time.  “Why do you always talk to yourself?” I asked.  “Because I fascinate myself!” I answered.  “And because nobody else is here.” I mumbled.


I began my return trip down the driveway from the garage to my car.  I could find far better purses another day!  That’s right!  Forget you, Coach purse!  Then it was almost as if that little purse called out to me:  “Hey!  Hey!  Don’t give up on me!  There’s more here than you might think!  I am worth your time!  I AM!


Giving in, back up the driveway I trudged, mumbling to myself once more, this time over being a sucker, questioning my sanity based on that fact that I was listening to an inanimate object and completely unrelated, wondering if there were any sour gummies left in the console of my car.


So, I bought the purse, took it home and in my office it sat for a day or two….or three, or a week or three, or yeah, as we’ve established, maybe a few months.  I eyed it on and off, wondering if I had made a mistake.  In the retelling I imagine myself giving it a stare down a’la Clint Eastwood, you know, because I’m a stone-cold bad@#%.  In reality it was more like a few sidelong glances that accompanied some cranial wiggling on how to clean it, alternating with second guessing myself regarding the purchase.  More than once I almost chucked it.


Let it be known that I am the stain eradicator!  If you have a question about laundry, I’m your gal.  One of my superpowers is stain removal.  I’m not sure exactly what the costume would be for a superhero with this power…but I haven’t ruled out the possibility of wearing one (one that I would, of course, hand wash and line dry.)  This purse, however, presented problems.  It was resistant to coming clean.  It was like it didn’t want to clean up nicely!  I couldn’t just attack the stains (and I had experience with this) or the fabric would bubble and buckle (satin fabric with backing…stain removal Kryptonite!)  I tried a few of my favorite remedies in inconspicuous places.  No dice.  The staredown recommenced.  I’m pretty sure the stains laughed evil laughs.  They had plans.  Dark plans.  Bad plans. Wicked plans!  Unfortunately for them, they picked the wrong stain-fighting superhero.


After a few days it hit me.  This purse wasn’t ever going to be exactly what it had been when it started its life unmarred, pristine, and fresh…but maybe if I changed MY preconceived notion about what it had to be, it could be even better.


There were a lot of ways one could amend an item such as this, and we’ll cover other options in future posts, but for now, let’s talk about the painting process.  It’s not as apparent in the photos, but there were quite a few stains and also just an overall dinginess to the purse.  It had lost its former beauty. It was grimy.  It was lifeless.  Here is how it started its life with me (it actually doesn’t look too bad in the photo…but in person it was a bit of a mess):

I set about the process of painting the purse (that’s right…PAINTING it!)


Follow me:


Step 1:  Obtain or retain imperfect item.  Contemplate possibilities.  Consider chucking said item.  Forget to put it out on trash day.  Shrug.  Continue contemplating. What to do?  What to do?

Step 2:  Settle on painting purse with transparent fabric paint.  The results are much like dye, but the application, for an item such as this are less problematic.  The paint I used was left over from a similar project I had done a while back.  I am typically not a hanger-oner of stuff in general, but I loved this product (which was not inexpensive, over ten dollars per bottle at the time) the bottles were still nearly full and I loved the results of the previous project, so I had kept it on hand ever since.  I might have used different colors, had I been buying the paint specifically for this idea, but unsure as to whether the purse would survive the painting process I was unwilling to invest in new colors.  Now that I know that it works, I would.  The reason this paint works, as opposed to traditional fabric dye is that it is QUITE thick and does not need additional water.  Water is what warps and bubbles fabric purses like this.  While there was, of course, some moisture in the product, I was able to keep it to a minimum by applying it sparingly.  I wrapped the handle and zipper pull in Saran Wrap to protect the leather just in case either happened to touch the paint before it was dry.


Here is a link to the fabric paint I used:


(That link looks vaguely racy.  Heh.  But it’s not.  Really.  Click with confidence in the fact that it is rated G.)

Step 3: Plow ahead.  I started painting, using pink in some places and purple in others.  Using two colors gives it a more easy going/slightly bohemian look, a little more depth and allows room for error, but one could do a solid color as well.  I began by painting the areas I deemed riskiest, such as along the edge of the zipper, where the handle met the sides of the bag and around the leather Coach logo tag on the front.  I used a small, thin, slanted brush.  If you don’t have one in your arsenal of paintbrushes, a flat, slanted eyebrow/eyeliner brush works really well.  The paint I used is water based and washed out of the brushes completely with some soap and water.

Step 4: Look at the mid-project hot mess and second guess yourself again, but then choose to soldier on.  I continued painting, moving to a much larger flat brush.  I painted each quadrant in eighths, switching up and alternating between the pink and purple.  It is important to overlap the colors a little, but not too much.  You can also paint the entire thing in pink and then go back with the purple, but this only works if your colors are similar, as the ones used here.  Another way to go would be to use colors such as yellow and blue, and where they overlap you’ll get green.  Just be sure to test the result beforehand.

Step 5: This next step is optional.  While the paint was still wet I sprinkled coarse sea salt on the purse.  The effect can be as subtle or dramatic as you’d like.  Add it quickly after painting and leave it on for a long time and you’ll get much more intensely mottled effect.  The effect is achieved as the salt absorbs the paint on and around the spot where each granule lands.  As each piece of salt is of a varying size, it gives an imperfect, hand done look.  I put mine on after only a few minutes of dry time and left it on for less than 30 minutes.

Step 6:  While the salt is doing its job, stop, rest, have a cup of tea and ruminate on the parallels between purses and life.

Sometimes this happens in our relationships.  Maybe you and your boss are often butting heads.  Maybe your once adoring child became an angst ridden teenager awash in hormones and seemingly hell bent on convincing you that you’re the antichrist…or at least the anti-cool.  Maybe a relationship with someone you love hit one too many speedbumps and you could never see that person as you once did.  Look again.  Maybe your boss will be a little easier to handle if you realize she might have struggles in her life about which you are unaware.  Maybe your teenager doesn’t enjoy his misery any more than you do.  (Let’s face it, being a teenager can suck.)  Maybe your friend or loved one is ready and willing to replace the speedbumps with wide open highway…but they need for you to climb in the passenger seat and be a willing navigator.  A little compassion goes a long way and a willingness to see beyond what’s broken and have faith in what’s worth saving might be all that’s needed.  No one purse and no one person is perfect.  Perhaps none of these relationships will be pristine white, shiny and new ever again…but if they have good bones and they’re meant to stand the test of time they will.  That is, if, rather than expecting to erase the stains you choose to put them behind you.  If you allow it.  If you get creative.  If you let go of what was and imagine what can be…and then follow it up with action.  Be an active participant in the rejuvenation project.  Expecting dramatic change from anyone with whom you interact without also putting some time in yourself is an expectation doomed for disappointment. Now, of course, you could keep going out and getting a new pristine “white purse” (spoiler alert…we’re not talking about purses anymore, people) every year…but no matter how careful you are, every white purse is going to become stained at some point.  It may have been mistreated by previous owners, it may have hidden its blemishes behind designer logos, or maybe you just tossed it carelessly in the back of your closet and forgot about it.  Remember that to someone we ALL were once a pristine white purse that became a little dingy.  Don’t you want a second chance at life?  Don’t you want a chance to be colorful; a chance to be seen as worthwhile as you really are?


So, rather than throwing out your current purse and buying a new one every six months, maybe colorful, beautiful and built to last is better anyway.  I can tell you that I think it is (scroll down for a photo.)


Grab a paintbrush friends!








Step 7:  Step back and admire your work. It might not be right for just anyone, but I think it’s perfect!  (FYI:  It is less vivid and a bit more subtle in person…I have yet to master iPhone photos.)


So you say your jewelry needs a home?  Read on my well accessorized friend, read on.

This week’s project is quick and easy, anyone can do it, and (hint!hint! fellas) it’s a great surprise project that will make your significant other giddy with joy!  Imagine the look on your loved one’s face when they come home to find what you’ve made for them!

Do you have too much bling for a small jewelry box, but want something a little more unique than those mass produced jewelry cabinets?  By using a piece of furniture you already own, or finding an inexpensive one second-hand, you can have something much better, for much less!


Over the years I have accumulated jewelry.  Most of it from yard sales. I thin the crop from time to time, but I find that with jewelry, you just never know when you’re going to need that one quirky necklace, that classic cuff bracelet or those Ren and Stimpy shrinky dink earrings (IT COULD HAPPEN!  I MIGHT WEAR THEM AGAIN!)   As I have an affinity for vintage jewelry (and have a more difficult time discarding the vintage pieces) my collection needs a home.


We’ve all had experience with attempting to make jewelry storage work in a small box or drawer.  It doesn’t.  But does this mean we’re doomed to a lifetime of untangling necklaces which have seemingly fused together in one giant mass, or searching in futility for the mate to your favorite earring?


Fear not!  All of your jewelry storage issues can be solved in an afternoon!


Here is a step by step on how to make it happen:

Step 1.  Measure the inside of the cabinet, drawer or drawers you plan to convert.  


Step 2.  Cut foam core  (it’s a bit like poster board, only thicker.  It has a layer of, you guessed it, foam, in between the layers of thick paper) to the size of the drawer.  The size should be pretty darn close to the size of the drawer.  You can go a SMIDGE smaller to allow room for the fabric and batting, but I kept mine within ¼ of an inch.


Step 3.  Lay foam core on top of batting.  Cut batting about 1 ½” wider on all four sides than the piece of foam core.


Sidenote:  In case you’re wondering no, step 2b. was not “have a glass of wine or three”…my pictures just didn’t turn out so well.  Apologies for the blurry ones above and below!  :/

Step 3.  Do the same with the stretch velvet, cutting the velvet just a little wider than the batting.


Side note:  The back of these pieces are not visible at all once they are installed, so I didn’t even try to do a neat job when I was cutting the batting.  My scissors were old and dull and it all looks like a hot mess…, but don’t fret, it doesn’t matter one whit once it’s all in place.

Step 4.  Begin taping first the batting and then the velvet to the back of the foam core.  I have tried this with other projects and duct tape works best, as long as one is not worried about the back of the project looking “clean.”  I have used glue, staples and other forms of tape.  None were as effective.  If it matters to you how the backside of the foam core looks, you can cover it with black felt after you finish.  Start with one good sized piece on the center of each side.  It doesn’t stay in place super easily at first.  It’s more manageable if you enlist the help of a willing friend, or an unwilling teenager who would rather be watching John Green videos on youtube.  Your helping hand can then hold the fabric in place while you tape, or vice-versa.


It is important to pull the batting and fabric taut, but not too taut, or it makes it even more difficult for the tape to hold both in place.  It’s not an exact science.  You’ll figure it out as you go along.  🙂

Step 5.  Continue taping the batting as if duct tape grows on trees, next, tape the fabric as well, until it is completely covered.  Then put several additional layers of tape over what you’ve already done, in order to secure it in place.  On the corners, pull it towards the center, forming a pleat and tape like crazy.  Watch as it slips out of place.  Swear.  Tape again.  Invent new swear words.  Tape yet again.  When you have effectively depleted the duct tape rainforest to such a degree that Pete Seeger is knocking around some ideas for a song about you, add one more layer, and then rest.

Once you’re ready to “hammer out” the remainder of the project, move on to the next step:

Step 6.  Place in drawer.  If you did it just right it should be just a little tight.  That way it won’t slide around inside the drawer.  My pictures aren’t too great…it looks as if the fabric is wrinkled, but I’m not sure why…I think the flash picking up the nap of the fabric.  The stretch velvet actually stayed wrinkle free.


Step 7.  For the left hand side of my cabinet, which was an open space rather than drawers, I added LED tap lighting.  It would have been fine without, but it was a little dark, and not only that, but the lights made things sparkle and look pretty.  These amounted to a decent portion of my budget for this project, around seven dollars at Target for two, but in the end, I think it was worth it.  They install easily with double sided foam tape (included.)

Next I added hooks to the inside of the cabinet doors and to the inside of the open cabinet compartment.  Because this was a reasonably decent piece of furniture, I used Contact brand adhesive hooks, which won’t damage surfaces.  I had an old pine armoire years ago that I used for a similar purpose and used chrome screw in cup hooks.  I actually prefer the look of the cup hooks AND they hold larger items more comfortably.  Whenever I attempt a project such as this one I always try to allow room to grow.  In this instance I added more hooks than I need right now.


For the interior of the cabinet, in addition to hooks and the tap light, I added another black velvet liner for the “floor”, a black velvet jewelry display for necklaces and bracelets, and I also used some decorative dishes for storing extra bracelets.  I found my velvet jewelry display stand at a yard sale for a dollar, but they’re not priced out of reach even at full retail.  They are available in a few different styles and sizes at JoAnn Fabric and Craft stores for between 2.99 and 29.99, are frequently on sale and JoAnn also offers a weekly 40% off coupon for one item.


Here is a link to the JoAnn website showing the display stands:


Here is a link to their coupon page.  There is almost ALWAYS a 40% off coupon.  I used mine for my fabric:


You can also get the JoAnn app for your smartphone.  This way you always have the coupon on hand and don’t need the weekly flier.

I tried to keep like items together, pins, earrings, rings, etc.

The wider, lower top drawer was perfect for extra long or heavy necklaces and I also used it to store jewelry cleaning supplies.

All in all, I was pleased with the outcome!


I ended up with two extra drawers, and lined those with velvet inserts as well, because I had enough left over materials.  The extra drawers could be used for sweaters, delicates, etc.  Either way, it’s bonus storage!  🙂


I spent just over 30 dollars for all of my supplies and it was worth every penny!


So, there you have it…your own custom jewelry case is just a trip to the Salvation Army and the fabric store away!

I’ll leave you with this:


“The only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize” – Clairee Belcher (“Steel Magnolias”)

– Laura


Just a few days after my snarky commentary on the price point strategy employed by Goodwill Industries, I received a text from my mother, alerting me to the fact that Brian Williams’ show “Rock Center” was airing an expose regarding the wages paid to Goodwill workers.

Due to a loophole in the minimum wage laws, Goodwill is able to pay handicapped workers as little as 22 CENTS per hour (this means that the sale of two pairs of DONATED jeans would pay for an entire WEEK of work for one of these workers!), while Goodwill executives make  salaries such as 440,000 per year, up to 1.1 million dollars per year.  To make matters worse, Goodwill’s CEO went on record in an interview defending the practice.  I am more than outraged, I am disturbed and disgusted.

Goodwill turned a PROFIT of OVER $5,000,000,000.00…that’s right…Five BILLION dollars!!!!

Yet they can’t see fit to pay their workers even minimum wage?  For shame.

Workers at Apple’s Chinese “sweatshop” factory make $1.73 per hour.  What does this say about an organization which purports to help the disadvantaged?


Your Goodwill donations:  Helping to exploit the handicapped since 1902.

Here’s a quote from Goodwill Industries:

“As a unique hybrid called a social enterprise, we defy traditional distinctions. Instead of a single bottom line of profit, we hold ourselves accountable to a triple bottom line of people, planet, and performance.”

I have one non-word for you Goodwill:  Pfffft!

Here’s the thing.  I’m a gal who believes in the capitalist system.  Supply and demand, work hard, make the best of what you have, etc.  But THIS?  No.  Just because it’s legal, doesn’t make it right.

“Goodwill” my a@#.

Viva la revolucion,


p.s.  Write a letter, send an email, make a phone call, stage a protest or at LEAST share this post or send the link to anyone you know who shops at Goodwill.

p.p.s.  Please excuse me while I now step down from my soapbox.  Jokes and general snarkiness to resume on my next post.  :p



The Provenance Makes it Personal

So you say it’s all just used junk?  Well, I happen to disagree, my friend!


I like pretty things.  In a lot of ways, it’s as simple as that.  Who doesn’t?  I think we can agree that pretty things are, by and large, universally liked.  You’ve become pretty jaded if you start saying:  “Ugh.  Pretty things?  Pfft.  No thanks.”  That said, that’s not the only reason the things in my home make me happy.  Obviously some things have a place here because they’re practical.  Quite a few things are in my home because they make me giggle.  There is one thing that almost all of the items in my home have in common and that is that they have a story.

This vintage crystal dish was a recent aquisition:

  It was a chilly Sunday afternoon and my daughter and I were out and about.  We went to an estate sale, which, having been held Friday and Saturday as well, was in it’s final death throes.  At most estate sales, by the end of the day on Sunday the carcass has pretty much been stripped clean, the bones left to dry in sun.  The first hour or so of an estate sale is a frenetic feeding frenzy.  Folks are hopped up on the adrenaline that can only come from the thrill of possible treasure, filling their arms with pre-loved riches and rushing from room to room snatching up lace doilies and mismatched kitchenware as if they’re on some real life, musty scented version of “Supermarket Sweep.”  By Sunday afternoon, a random shopper will wander through occasionally, mostly with looks of disappointment or scorn, surveying what meager offerings remain, eyeballing the poor soul having the sale almost as if it is a personal affront to them that nothing is left.

This particular sale, much as it’s proprietress, had retained some of it’s youthful beauty.  In my, never to be humble, opinion, there were a few reasons for the quantity and desirability of what remained:

1.  Location:  Not only was the property off the beaten path, but the GPS map was even a bit “off” in how it displayed the street, which was actually more like an alley.

(Side note:  Always keep a graphic street guide handy folks!  Don’t become so dependent upon GPS that you forget how to read a map.  In the event of a zombie apocalypse, do you think you’ll have GPS?  No!  Hope for the best (no zombie apocalypse) prepare for the worst (zombie apocalypse) and you’ll be better off for it.)

2.  There were very few signs.  What signs there were had been poorly placed and had no arrows.

3.  The prices were high.  Not “have you been smoking crack?” high, but pricier than the typical yard sale clientele are eager and willing to pay.

4.  The prices were high because her things were VERY nice…however, because they weren’t nice in a flashy or ostentatious way, but were nice in an elevated and refined way, a lot of patrons were overlooking their value.  She knew what she had and wanted a fair price for those things.  For instance, she had a leather bound Bottega Veneta organizer.  Now, had it been a Louis Vuitton organizer swimming in “LOOK AT ME!” LV logos, it would have been snapped up early on.  Because its mark was embossed, quietly, on the inside, shoppers had passed it by.

4.  On Saturday, when I had first visited the sale, the woman hosting it was, well, let’s say not bubbly.  Ok, why mince words?  She was flat out unfriendly.  It seemed as if the process of people mauling her treasures, approaching her with said treasures, which she had carefully accumulated over a lifetime, and offering her 25 cents each for them had in some way offended her and affected her mood.  Who woulda thunk it?

So, for all of these reasons, my daughter and I, the only people browsing at this point, found ourselves oohing and ahhing over some pretty fantastic stuff.

The crystal dish above was an item I had seen on Saturday.  At that time the woman hosting the sale, a beautiful woman in probably her late seventies, who my daughter described as having “great style and the perfect glasses”, had, when I chirpily asked the price, snarled at me that it was “Twenty dollars and not a penny less.”  On Sunday, her mood had softened.  She was lovely.  The stress and anxiety of Saturday had left  her and she chatted freely, sharing stories of every item on which we commented.  I touched the dish on Sunday and she told me that it sat on her mother’s coffee table for decades.  Looking at the dish she said:  “Do you like it?  You should have it.  It’s only five dollars.  Please take it.”

I have to say, I had no business spending even five dollars that particular day, I went because I thought we might find some things that my daughter wanted.  But in that moment, I grew attached to the dish.  I was enamored with it and with her.  The dish had grace and a casual elegance.  I was impressed with her grace, and her elegance.  Even her only thinly veiled superiority was charming on that day, rather than off-putting.  Also endearing was that she clearly wanted me to have that dish.  Not that she wanted to make the sale, please understand.  It was something different.  Perhaps in her mind it would go somewhere that it would be cherished, rather than hauled off to Goodwill.

I paid it.  I gave her five dollars.  I brought it home, washed it, dried it and set it out, and guess what?  I do cherish it.  The crystal has soft gentle curves and feels almost silky when I touch it.  The lid’s finish is imperfect and I love it’s aged patina.  When the light hits it, it explodes in a rainbow of colors.  It feels to me as if it belongs in my home.

As much as I cherish the dish, what I cherish even more is that every time I look at that dish, I’ll remember that day.  My daughter and I had a wonderful time, we laughed and talked, we had a lot to say on the way home after the sale…about the house, about what we had found (even about the items we left behind!) and about the woman who we met. She was special. For whatever reason, that day was special to me.

All of these things, all over my house, they have a connection.  To their previous owner, to events in my life during the time in which each item was purchased, to how they connect in ways small and large to everything else in my home.  I appreciate them.  Tremendously.

Have gratitude for all of the little things all around you.

 Every day you wake up and there’s NOT a zombie apocalypse, appreciate it.  😉

A Magical Mistake

 So, you say you can’t afford Christmas presents?


 Yesterday I shared how I think when I miss out on a bargain I’ve seen.  Today, I’m going to show you what my daughter did under similar circumstances.  

 My daughter Hadley’s favorite part of Christmas is watching other people open their gifts.  I know, but you can roll your eyes all you want…she really means it.  Even when she was a young child she wouldn’t ask for anything.  She was so wrapped up in the giving that she forgot to care about the receiving.  I don’t know what I did to be so lucky, but I have a really amazing kid.  Every year she spends a great deal of time on gifts for her friends and family.  

(My mother and me…check the rockin’ collar on Mayme’s shirt, y’all.  Pretty sweet.)


 This year, due to circumstances beyond our control, for the first time ever we won’t be with family and she and I won’t be opening gifts on Christmas morning, but we’ve found a lot of other ways to make the season special.  For one thing we’ve saved up several weeks of “The Soup” without watching and we’re thinking marathon!  Oh Joel McHale, you wise-crackin’ tall drink ‘a water, you’re gonna save Christmas!

 Hadley created uniquely tailored gifts for all of her friends, things like mix cds (with her own custom artwork) and other homemade gifts.  For one friend she wrote a story customized just for her.  For one friend, a fellow “Doctor Who” fan, she made two medallions from Shrinky Dinks paper, each in Gallifreyan (if you don’t know what this means, trust me, you don’t care), one which translated into ‘Buddies’ and the other into ‘Space and Time‘.

 There was one gift, though, that she really wanted to give to her good friend Lexi Rose and that was a Harry Potter wand.  A Harry Potter item which required retail goods.  Lexi loves Harry Potter and Hadley was set on giving her a wand.  Nothing else would do.  Not long after she told me this, I was in a Goodwill store and found, of all things, a Harry Potter book of posters and inside the book was a wand!!!  What are the odds?  Hadley wasn’t with me, she had walked next door to get something to drink, but I went to get her, asked if she wanted it and we rushed back.  I was gone maybe three minutes.  MAYBE!   Well, of course you know where this is going.  it was gone.  Vanished.  Snapped up by another shopper.  We scoured the store just in case, but to no avail.   

 Obviously we were disappointed, but nothing was going to keep Hadley from handing over a wand to her friend on the last day of school before Christmas break. This kid puts the T in tenacious.    

 Finally it was decided.  She would find a tree branch (see last Friday’s post…we have nothing if not an abundance of yard waste) and fashion a wand herself.

 Time passed.

 Days passed.

 Other projects were completed and the gifts wrapped, some even delivered.

 Now began the last minute crunch.  My daughter is wonderful.  She is kind, she is compassionate, she is creative…aaaaand she can occasionally fall into the trap of procrastination.  Procrastination makes me nervous.  It makes me so nervous, in fact, that seeing someone put things off is sort of like watching a horror movie.  You just KNOW that vapid, nearly topless cheerleader isn’t going to find the quarterback behind the locker room door.  But you have to watch her walking blithely toward her doom, unable to change the course of events.  So, as the days went by, I would open my fingers from where they covered my eyes and peek out…hoping to see progress.  

 It is my humble opinion that nagging children is by and large not only a worthless endeavor, but when it comes to something such as this, unwise as well.  Hadley is who she is and, She’s not me.  She needs to live her way.  Much like my incredibly talented cousin, she often proves to thrive and prosper in that squeaking in just under the buzzer, last minute slide into home way of operating when it comes to projects.  Both of them manage this in a way that I cannot.  Nerve-wracking?  Yes.  Impressive?  Also, yes.   

 Around 10pm on the last possible night, as Hadley was wrapping the second to the last gift, she went to find a stick and asked:  “What knife should I use for whittling?”  WHAT KNIFE SHOULD SHE USE FOR WHITTLING?  Um, unless we have a stash of Andy Griffith knives about which I am unaware, we don’t have knives predesignated for whittling, and as much as I like Lexi, she’s a really great gal and all, I wasn’t really on board with the bread knife meeting its early demise for the sake of the wand.  

Well, apparently, that was 50 points from Hufflepuff for me, but I redeemed myself by suggesting a pocket knife, which we happened to have, thanks to my grandmother (yes, REALLY, my grandmother) and Hadley set to work.

 Her plan was to whittle the branch into the shape she wanted, stain it and apply a coat of polyurethane.  The late hour left that plan an impossibility, due to dry time.  So what did Hadley do?  She put a coat or two of clear nail polish on it!!  It looked AMAZING!  Then she added red Swarovski crystals on the end (Lexi is team Gryffindor all the way.)  

 You might think that she would have stopped there.  YOU would be as mistaken about that as that poor cheerleader was about NOT running into a slow, scary dude in a hockey mask.  Hadley took the box from a roll of parchment paper, covered it in white paper, printed out an Ollivander’s label (if you’re not super nifty cool and knowledgeable like us, Ollivander’s is the wand shop in the Harry Potter books) and added that to the box.

 Did she stop there??  Nope.  She then wrote a bit about the provenance, history and significance of the wand, printed it on heavy vellum-like stock in a font that looked like handwritten script, rolled it up in a scroll and tied it with twine.

 THEN she was finished.   

 It was sweet.  It was special.  It was one-of-a-kind.  It meant something.  But here’s the part that’s most impressive:  It was nicer and better looking than the one we missed out on at Goodwill the week before.

 I wish I had better photos.  It was late and we were both tired, I snapped a few with my phone,  They look terrible, but believe me, it looked like a million bucks.

 So the next time you miss out on some material object and you’re kicking yourself…kickstart your creativity instead!

Missed it by THAT Much!

 So, you say someone nabbed your treasure?

As you pull up to the yard sale, you see it.  You love it.  Even from the air-conditioned comfort of your car, you know you’re going to buy it.For me (most memorably) it was about five years ago and it was a vintage 1960’s lamp.  The base was a white porcelain owl.  The shade was still in great condition.  Boy, was it ever gorgeous.  It wasn’t just that it was vintage, it wasn’t just that the owl had a look on his face as if he had a secret, it wasn’t just that it was in perfect condition, it wasn’t even that I had never before seen another one like it…it was all of those things, but what elevated it was that it was also “fine.”   Neat, kitchy, fun, and oh so finely made.  Ahhhh.I rocketed from my car and sped toward the sale.  I can still see it.  I’m pretty sure a heavenly glow was emanating from the lamp itself and I’m positive I heard a choir of angels singing the hallelujah chorus.  I walked briskly, but, not wanting to appear too eager (thus eliminating any leverage I had when it came to the negotiation process) I didn’t quite run.  I approached the proprietress of the sale, a stately woman who appeared to be, by my best estimation, in her seventies.  She was clearly beleaguered by the entire enterprise of having the yard sale, but seemed to be doing her best to remain civil to the motley crew of customers.  Casually (sure, let’s say casually) I inquired as to the price of the lamp:  “HOW MUCH IS THAT AWESOME OWL LAMP?”   “Thirty dollars.” she replied.

The mental conversation that ensued between my frugal self and the part of me that had fallen in love with the lamp took only a fraction of a second and went something like this:

Owl love me:  “YES!  We should buy it”
Frugal me:  “Whoa!  Hold on there cowgirl!  Thirty dollars is a lot of money!”
Owl love me:  “Yes, yes, I know, I know.  You’re right.  Thirty dollars is a lot of money.  WE SHOULD BUY IT!
Frugal me:  “But, see the thing is, I wa…”
Owl love me:  “BUY IT!  BUY IT!  BUY IT!
Frugal me:  “Okay, shhhhhhh.  It’s okay.  Take hold of yourself woman!  Let’s think through what we need right now and consider whether or not we can afford to spend thirty dollars on something we don’t need.”
Owl love me:  “I want that owl.”
Frugal me:  “Yes, I think I have come to see that.  Perhaps it would be wise to offer a lower price.  Certainly twenty dollars is a good place to sta…”
Owl love me:  Step off Frugal.
Frugal me fell silent.
Owl love me (outloud and enthusiastically, with a smile that stretched from ear to ear):  “I’ll TAKE it!”

Beleaguered proprietress:  “Oh, it’s already sold.  A woman bought it just before you asked about it.”

“Mr. Owl.  How many seconds does it take for that lousy so-and-so in the red sweater to snag the lamp I most assuredly was destined to own?”

“Let’s find out.  One, two, ttttthhhREE!  Three seconds.  Get over it.”

Thus ensued the five stages of grief:

Denial:  “Wha?  Huh?  Nooooooooo.  I must have heard you incorrectly.  What woman?  No.  There’s no other woman.  Who?  Her?  No, she would never buy this lamp.  My lamp.”
Bargaining:  “Maybe she’ll sell it to me!  Maybe if I offer her thirty-FIVE dollars she’ll walk away with that sweet five dollar profit a happy lady.”
Depression:  “Waaaaaaaah!  My, *snif* lamp *snif*.”
Acceptance:  “Crap.  Oh well, I’m gonna miss that lamp.  What else is up for grabs at this sale?”

Why did the woman running the sale tell me how much it was if it was sold?  Why had the universe taunted me with this treasure only to rip it from my grasp?  Why oh WHY did they cancel “Firefly”?  (Whenever I’m bemoaning and why’ing, I always ask that last question.)

I’ve thought about that lamp a few times since then.  It really was special, as material objects go.  But here’s my take on situations such as this:

A lot of people take the “I wasn’t meant to have it” approach.  For me, it’s different.  It’s not that *I* wasn’t meant to have it, it’s just that in that moment, someone else needed it more.  See the distinction?  It’s not about what I wasn’t supposed to have…it was about what someone else was supposed to have.  Maybe ‘Red Sweater’ had had a really lousy week and that lamp cheered her up.  Maybe her mother had a lamp just like that and it reminded her of her childhood.  Maybe she loves owls more than Kanye West loves interrupting.  Who knows.  The fact is, the why doesn’t matter.  I truly believe that she must have needed it more than I did, and that’s enough.

So, the next time you feel the sting of the bargain that got away, just picture it with it’s new family, happy in it’s new home.

I’m sure the owl lamp’s owner is happy and truly appreciates what she has.



The Christmas Tree Conundrum

 So, you say you can’t afford a Christmas tree?  Well, not to worry friend, do I have the solution for you!


 As Thanksgiving gave way to Black Friday and Black Friday paved the road to full on, bell-ringing, jingle-horsing Christmas, I realized something.  This year, for the first time ever, I couldn’t justify the expense of a Christmas tree for my daughter and myself.  Things are tight.  Not just sort of tight, tight tight.  As in, “Pardon me, but do you have to buy two packages of Top Ramen to get the sale price?” tight.

 Not to be discouraged, I set to mulling over possibilities.  What you see below is the end result:

 In October I cleared overgrown ivy, underbrush and all sorts of critter infested debris from the backyard of the building where I live.  Three days of sweat, scrapes and spider bites netted a pile of detritus taller than me (not a great feat in and of itself, as I am shockingly short, but impressive nonetheless) and about the width and breadth of one and a half largish SUVs.  This is all only vaguely interesting until we get to the part where I single handedly dug up, chopped down or tore out by the roots SIX dead trees.  Now you’re seeing where this is going, right?  The trees varied in height from just under 20 feet tall to just over 30 feet tall.  It bears no pertinence to this story, but for the mere sake of bragging rights, I’d like to point out that one of the two ripped out by the roots (by little ole me) was the over 30 footer, but I digress.  

 Luckily, the management company that runs my building isn’t exactly what one might call ‘on the ball’, let’s just say they’re about as interested in building maintenance as Kim Kardashian is in “those heavy things with the pages.” Although I had requested pick-up of this Toyota 4-Runner sized pile of yard waste, and had been assured on multiple occasions that it would be done, still it sat in the backyard mocking me.  I clambered over the pile, extracted the two most interesting specimens and hauled them to the garage.  After some trunk sawing, some limb breaking and some swearing I managed to get them into the house, one in the living room and one in my bedroom.  

 I will save the how-tos for later (see below), but let me say a few words, first, about the why you too might want to take on a project just like this one:

Reasons to create an ersatz Christmas tree from discarded dead timber:

1.  It is economical.  FREE!  Imagine the least you’ve ever paid for a Christmas tree…now let it sink in that even THAT far exceeds the cost of this tree.  Which is nothing.  Nada.  Zip.  Now, parlay that savings (about 80 dollars for a six to seven foot tree, here in LA, at the local mom and pop tree stand I have shopped in the past) into stocking stuffers for the kiddos, a donation to a local toy bank or groceries and you’re ahead of the game.

2.  It is environmentally friendly.  If you’ve used an artificial tree in lieu of the real deal in an effort to suck up to mother nature, reconsider.  Your motives are solid, but the end result is a tree mass produced (probably in China), from chemicals which can’t have done the planet any good in the production stage and, which at the end of its useful life, will spend the rest of eternity NOT breaking down in a landfill.  When you’re finished with the tree in this project your options are many…break it down and use it for firewood, add it slowly to your compost pile or borrow a wood chipper from Steve Buscemi and turn it into mulch.  Many communities have Christmas tree drop off stations, where the flotsam and jetsam of Christmas recently past can be left, free of charge to then be turned into compost and mulch for public areas.  Even if you just toss it in the trash, you’re one step ahead of a tree made from non-biodegradable materials.  

3.  It’s a change of pace and a conversation starter!  “Why, what a lovely and interesting tree you have there!  However did you come to fashion such a delightfully different holiday display?”, your neighbor might comment, to which you can then reply:  “Let me tell you the story, nearby resident! I read a blog on the internet written by a snarky down on her luck single mom and she seemed to think it was a good idea, so obviously I followed suit! DUH!”  

 My daughter loves our tree and so far everyone who has seen it has oohed and ahhed.  One friend even seemed a little disappointed that they had already purchased a tree and said they would love to try it themselves.

4.  You can have a much larger/taller tree than you normally might be able to afford or even find!

5.  It bears repeating…IT IS FREE, PEOPLE!


Now, onto the how.  Follow these steps and please refer to the helpful hints that follow before you decide to undertake this project:

Step 1.  Be poor.  If you’re not poor like me, alternatively you could try being thrifty, creative, or simply up for a challenge.

Step 2.  Abandon your sense of pride and convince yourself that a dead tree is a perfectly sound alternative to that passe Douglas fir everyone else’s front window is sporting.  

Step 3.  Find a dead tree.  Not everyone will be so lucky as to have a dead tree lying around in the backyard.  Get inventive.  Maybe a quick drive around the neighborhood will leave you dead tree rich.  Perhaps someone has put one out for yard waste pickup, or maybe they have one still in the yard.  Offer to cut it down for them…everyone wins!  Go to local nurseries, Home Depot, etc. and look for dead trees and ask if you can take one away for them.  They’ll be happy to have it out of the way.  You have to have the courage to ask.  This is something you’ll hear from me again in the future.  

Step 4.  Measure, measure, MEASURE!  Be sure it’s going to fit through the front door and into your space before you attempt to bring it inside.  The nice thing about this type of tree, as opposed to a typical Christmas evergreen tree is that you can chop bits off the top, bottom and sides and it won’t necessarily negatively affect the aesthetic.

5.  Bang the tree on the ground a few times before you take it into the house in order to loosen any dangling bits and dislodge any insects.  The reality is you are taking something that has been outdoors for a long time and putting it indoors.  I found one spider on my tree after I had it in the house, but otherwise, all was good.

Step 6.  Decorate and enjoy!  

(But wait…there’s more…read on!)


 Now, some helpful hints (FYI:  These hints apply to the classic vintage tree and the rustic nature themed tree.  Additional hints for the nature themed tree are listed separately):

1.  Depending on the tree you choose, you may have to MacGyver it up a little when it comes to the stand.  I discovered that my tree was too thin for the stand I had on hand, so I wrapped it with kitchen dish towels before putting it in place.  That did the trick.  You could always use Duck tape.  The fact is, unlike a standard fir tree, this tree only needs to a tree stand in order to, well, stand.  You have no need for the water reservoir (unless you have a pet…oh who am I kidding, child, whom you frequently forget to supply with water) so you could even go the very old fashioned route of the wooden slats nailed into the bottom of the tree.

2.  String the lights on the tree while it’s still on the ground.  I cannot emphasize this enough.  This tree isn’t going to be the tree you’re used to decorating.  In some ways it’s easier (no needles in the way) and in others it is more difficult (no needles to hide the wires!)  Although I did my own lights, one method which I strongly suggest to anyone with a willing significant other is to enlist said sucker, er- I mean, loved one to string the lights for you, and then stand nearby directing them and critiquing their work.  Believe me, you’re going to love this approach.  

 Wind stands up each branch (if the tree is small with few branches) or at least on several branches (three to five branches, minimum, based on the size of your lights for a larger tree.)  Don’t hurdle from branch to branch.  Wind up one branch, back down the same branch and then up another branch.  I used a separate strand of lights for each branch, and had a power strip at the base of the tree.  If you are doing only a few branches, make sure to do an odd number (three rather than two, five rather than four and so on.)

3. Make sure to say ‘branch’ as many times as possible during step two.  As an example, refer to the previous paragraph.

4.  Don’t be afraid to lose branches here and there if they don’t work.  Trim it as you go along…while you’re adding lights and decorations if need be.  This tree is not about symmetry and perfection.  Ultimately you will want a somewhat balanced look, but a natural feel.  Much as you would with a potential partner who chews with his or her mouth open, picks their nose or listens to dubstep, feel free to guide this tree to a better version of itself.  

5.  File this one under ‘Learn From My Mistakes’:  Check to make sure that any branches on which you are going to string lights and hang ornaments (some branches will be too small, so don’t worry about those) are STURDY and still well attached.  After spending the day decorating my classic vintage tree (the only part of decorating this year on which I spent any significant amount of time), a few minutes fiddling with all of the accouterment that goes along with Christmas decorating in general, and hours cleaning up, I sat down around 11:00 pm to survey my work and mere moments later heard a CRACK and a CRASH.  One of the limbs, which had been a little “bendier” than made me comfortable to begin with, fell right off the tree, landing on the granite floor.  There was some collateral damage (Oh vintage bulbs, I hardly knew ye!) but all was set right after a few minutes of finagling the AWOL branch into the tree stand.  Better, however, that this not happen to you at all!

6  Prepare yourself mentally, in advance, for the fact that this is not going to play out like every other year.  You have to adjust.  I have an extensive collection of Star Wars and Star Trek ornaments.  (You know what?  You can just stop rolling your eyes right now.  I am comfortable with my nerd quotient, thank you very much!)  For the tree I was attempting to create, they just didn’t work.  I’m not saying it’s out of the question for you, but this project does lend itself to themes (such as nature) or a classic, almost vintagey theme.  I shied away from my most modern looking ornaments and went for those that were antique/vintage (either genuine or in their style), shiny/blingy or natural/rustic.  

7.  Fill it in a little.  It would have looked just fine without the sheer, shimmery net ribbon I wound throughout the tree, but by adding another layer the tree has more depth and a little bit more sparkle.  Being a human magpie, inexorably drawn to shiny objects, I opted for shimmer.  However, there are SO many options.  See my helpful hints for the nature themed tree for more ideas.

8.  Every tree is different.  The one I had on hand was sort of wispy and had a lot of teeny tiny branches, which weren’t fit to hold tinsel, let alone ornaments.  I broke some off, left the rest and it looks fine, but keep in mind that your tree needs to have at least some branches sturdy enough to hold a lot of ornaments.  I prefer a tree that is absolutely dripping in ornaments, and you may not, but either way, it has to be strong enough for what you have in mind.  Use your best judgement (unless you’re Fred Willard, in which case, ask a friend, colleague or arresting officer to make the call for you, because clearly your judgement is impaired.)  Like me, you may not have the luxury of being picky when it comes to the tree itself, so be flexible when it comes to decorating.  Work with what you have and make the best of it!  Sometimes the happy accidents that come from not having a plethora of choices can bring you to your most creative place!

9.  This tip applies to any tree you’re decorating, whether the traditional evergreen or the one we’re discussing here:  Create a balance with your ornaments, but don’t make it too perfect.  Stand back after at least every third ornament placement and take a look.  Which area of the tree looks bare?  Add more ornaments there.  Is one side of the tree looking a little heavy on red and the other on gold?  Fix that.  Keep larger/heavier ornaments on the lower third and closer to the trunk (but make a few exceptions to keep it a smidge asymmetrical, I can’t emphasize enough that it needs a little bit of imperfection to feel authentic), medium sized on the midsection and the smallest/lightest toward the top.  Mix them all up to some degree, but if you follow that rule for 90% of the ornaments, it should feel “right” when it’s finished.  It’s pretty easy once you start assessing your tree with a critical eye.  You do not need to be a designer or decorator to start noticing things like this.  You just have to pay attention and take a little extra time.  Believe me, it will be well worth it as you stand back when it’s finished and think to yourself:  “Take THAT Martha Stewart!”  You’ll be kicking her behind in no time!  (Disclaimer:  I mean this figuratively and not literally.  I don’t really care who you are, don’t cross her.  I’m pretty sure she could take you, me and the rest of the Internet and come out with nary a snag in her hand-woven sweater.  She’s sort of the Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler of crafts.)

10.  Don’t take it too seriously.  Don’t be discouraged if you have to move a few ornaments or even start over a time or two, in order to get it right.  Do your best and relax…because in the end, it’s just a tree.  Not only that, but it will be gone in a few weeks time.  

11. Use a ladder.  Does this need explanation?  Be careful!

12.  Do not attempt a tree like this if you have:  Curious cats, a rambunctious golden retriever with a destructive tail, really young children who can’t be trusted (read: young children), a loose cannon of an uncle prone to cane waving or if you consider cranberry jello shots to be a legitimate side dish for Christmas dinner (in which case, skip the tree and invite me to dinner.)


Let’s talk about the nature themed tree.  

Everything with which I decorated this tree cost me five dollars, with plenty of bits and baubles left over.  I wasn’t striving for perfection with this tree.  Once it was in the stand, the entire decorating process took less than 30 minutes, so keep that in mind when you’re mentally critiquing my work.  😉  Once I knew what I wanted to do, I went to a few yard sales with this in mind.  To recreate what I have done, follow these steps:

1.  I used strands of mini lights with each light inside of a grapevine ball.  You could find some like this, or create your own by using pre-made grapevine balls (found at Michael’s and other craft stores.)  Just slide one over each bulb.  You don’t need to use lights such as these, but if you can find something that looks a little outdoorsy, garden inspired, etc. that’s super.  Lights with brown cords instead of green are a plus.  One thing about which I felt strongly was that the tree should have a subtle glow rather than a brilliant shine, so I didn’t use many and the lights I did use were diffused even further because of the grapevine.  As I mentioned in the instructions for the vintage tree, string the lights while you have the tree on the ground.  You’ll be glad you did.  

2.  After the tree was in the stand I added layers of very wide, sheer ribbon with a bit of stiffness, so that I could get some purchase against the branches.  Slick, slippery ribbon will make your job more difficult.  I used some with just a smidge of sparkle, because everything else I was using was natural, but I also had burlap ribbon on hand and that would have been pretty as well.  I wound the ribbon up through the tree loosely.  As I was winding it, I tried to visualize how things move in nature: fire, smoke, dust moved by the wind, etc.  This helped to create a look that felt organic.  It also got a Kansas song stuck in my head for about four hours, so visualize at your own risk.

3.  Next I gathered the flora.  Included in my five dollar purchase I nabbed a particularly sad and timeworn basket of flowers, which looked as if it might have been a Thanksgiving centerpiece when it was young and vital.  When you’re looking for things secondhand, do your best to look past it’s current state or how something looks as a whole.  In this instance I ignored the tattered fall leaves and the floral pick scarecrow and zeroed in on the berries, what appeared to be dried, yellow tinted rice flowers, wooden flowers, orbs and other shapes (in deep brown and white) and the Spanish moss that lined the basket.  I pulled the berries off of the stems about midway down, snapped the stems off of the wooden flowers, pulled out some of the faux ornamental grasses and put the Spanish moss into a plastic bag (to keep the mess to a minimum.)

4.  At this point I applied what I had dissected from the basket in stages.  First, I tore clumps of Spanish moss and placed it on the tips of some limbs, and in the crook of some of the branches.  I then added the ornamental grasses, keeping close to the trunk.  I added berries and then balanced the wooden flowers throughout.

5.  Now it was on to the final details.  I had three large daisy type blooms (silk flowers on tiny little clips) in warm, autumnal colors.  I placed those towards the very end of a few branches.  Last, I had three bags of tiny little ivory colored blooms, I have no clue of what these were made, but they felt almost spongy and were very light, thus allowing me to wedge them onto branches and balance them easily on the tips.  

6.  I wrapped a yard of burlap fabric over and around the Christmas tree stand and VOILA!  Done!


Helpful hints and tips for the nature themed tree:

1.  Take into account all of the helpful hints from the vintage tree and apply it to this project.  Step back frequently and survey your work, don’t be afraid to remove or start over and work from large to small…placing the smallest items on the furthest tips and the largest items toward the center, but always make a few exceptions, to keep it looking natural.

2.  You can find things for this all over.  Walk into your backyard.  If you have a bush that bears hard berries (and you don’t have pets or small children, or you don’t care for the ones you do) you could cut some of those and use them.  You can use trimmings from various other trees or bushes.  You can gather some moss and tuck it into a few places in the tree.  Put the word out to friends and family that if they have any old floral decorations that they’re ready to discard, you’re more than willing to take them off their hands.  Is your mother’s eyesight failing?  Perfect!  She’ll never miss that arrangement she crafted back in 1989 that’s been gathering dust in the garage, next to a stack of Jackie Collins books.  Yard sales and thrift stores are a great place to find weary dried or silk floral arrangements in need of a new life.  Pick one up for a few dollars and you could easily have half of a tree ready to go!  However, don’t feel as if breaking down and buying a thing or two retail is a failure when it comes to living the yard sale life.  It’s all about making things work, and sometimes that means supplementing a yard sale find with a retail quick fix or two.  If you make a stop at Michael’s and spend five dollars on ribbon or Spanish moss, you’re still doing far better than if you walked into a retail store and purchased everything brand new.  When you do go to a craft store for these types of items, check the clearance area and remember to look at things beyond their original purpose.  You can get great bargains this way.  

3.  When I put my tree together I simply tucked things here or there, wedged, balanced, etc.  A truly industrious sort might hot glue each item into place, but unless you’re making this for year-round use (which one friend pointed out could be done with the nature themed tree), or you just have a thing for hot glue guns (in which case you might consider a twelve step program) it’s probably not necessary.  If you think you might reuse the items after you dismantle the tree, you’re better off not coating the back of each flower with a thick frosting of adhesive.  

4.  Last but not least…one up me!!  I threw this nature themed tree together quickly (under 30 minutes, once it was in the stand), but if you have the time and the inspiration, how could it be done in a way that looks even more ‘fine’, kitschy or interesting?  You could do a small version, add artificial flowers and then spray the whole thing top to bottom shiny white or red (in this instance it might actually be a good thing to use glue).  How about using fresh flowers in tiny little floral water tube picks?  Can you imagine how stunning that would be?  Hmmm…gotta go.  I have another tree to decorate!


And one last disclaimer:  I am not a scientist, a home inspector or a ventriloquist (the last having nothing to do with this project, but I’m proud of it and want you to know), so use caution and common sense when choosing to try anything I suggest.  I don’t imagine that this tree is any more flammable or dangerous than any other Christmas tree, but what do I know?  I can’t even make a cranky puppet tell inappropriate jokes.  

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