If You Haven’t Got A Penny, A Ha’Penny Will Do, If You Haven’t Got A Ha’Penny Then God Bless You


I love this time of year – Advent, all it represents, and the lead-up to Christmas.  All the fun of it – decking my halls, selecting the perfect gifts for everyone on my list, wrapping them in pretty paper, writing out and mailing Christmas greetings to far-flung family and friends, baking cookies and treats to share with local family and friends… all of it.  It’s all so twinkly and sparkly and joyous.  It’s all so expensive.  Dolla dolla bills, y’all.  So expensive.

This isn’t a post about how to save money on your Christmas shopping (goodness knows I have trouble sticking to my budget when I come across that perfect item that someone would just LOVE) or on your cards (man alive, those picture cards cost bank!) – but I do have some ideas to share about decking your halls.  Now, of course, you can save money by re-using your decorations every year.  I do – my tree skirt, pillows and holiday tableware all make repeat appearances year in and year out.  And I like that – it’s like seeing old friends every December when I pull out the decorations.

Still, it’s also fun to change it up a bit.  And there are ways to do that without breaking the bank or tapping into money otherwise earmarked for gifts.  I’ve got four ideas to share with you, and all of them were accomplished with items found either at the grocery store or lying around my house.  And none of them cost more than $15.00.


Homemade Advent Wreath

Starting with my favorite – a homemade Advent wreath!  So, let me tell you a little story: I’ve always wanted an Advent wreath, and I’ve been holding out for the perfect one.  I saw one I loved, years ago, at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria.  It was a simple ceramic vessel – a moat of sorts, which could be filled with greenery, with four wells for taper candles.  I wanted it, but for some reason I didn’t buy it.  And then, of course, I regretted it, and I looked for it every time we visited the Torpedo Factory since, and I never saw anything similar.  So I’ve been holding out for literally years.

This fall I started listening to podcasts during my commute, and one of my favorites is “Sorta Awesome.”  Most of the podcasts I like, I don’t feel comfortable listening to in front of my kids – they’re not bad, and I’m not embarrassed by any of the content (probably 90% of my podcast listening is about books or running) but they occasionally use words like “sucks,” or “crap” – words I don’t want Peanut repeating at school.  (I’m less bothered by Nugget hearing those words right now, because he can’t talk.)  But it’s very rare indeed that a word I’m concerned about pops up on “Sorta Awesome,” and I love the variety of subjects, the tips for living and mothering, and the “Awesome of the Week.”  So we’ve been working our way through the backlist as the kids and I drive home from work and preschool at the end of the day.  Recently, Megan hosted Jerusalem Greer, who talked about Advent.  Jerusalem’s top tip – her place to start, so to speak – was an Advent wreath.  And – this is going to sound ridiculous – it wasn’t until I heard Jerusalem talking about Advent wreaths that I realized, Eureka!, I could make my own and it would actually be really easy.

So, according to Jerusalem, an Advent wreath requires just a few components: something circular, like a plate, to represent eternity; something “living” (can be water, river rocks, greenery, anything natural); and four candles, one for each Sunday of Advent.  They don’t even necessarily have to be the three purple and one pink that I grew up with.  (If you want extra credit, you can have a fifth candle, the Christ candle, to light on Christmas.)


I grabbed the following materials from around my house:

  • Luna Garcia oblong platter (oblong can represent eternity, too, right?)
  • Four unscented dinner candles
  • Pink and purple yarn
  • Rosemary clipped from my garden (oh, yeah, I should probably bring that inside)

Putting the “wreath” together was simple.  I just lined the four candles up on the platter, clipped four equal-length strands of yarn (three purple and one pink), wrapped one strand around each candle and tied them in little bows.  Then Peanut and I tucked sprigs of rosemary around the candles and voila, our very first Advent wreath!  Couldn’t have been easier, and…

Total Cost: $0.00, because I used all materials I already had on hand.


Rosemary Tree

This Thanksgiving, I mentioned to my sister-in-law that I’ve always wanted a rosemary tree for my kitchen, and she said that she loves those too.  I don’t know why I’ve never bought one before, but with that thought in the back of my mind I kept my eyes open when I did my weekly shopping at Wegmans.  No surprise, they had them – so I grabbed one for $6.99.  It came in a pretty red burlap sack.  I decked it with my snowman chef ornaments from Williams-Sonoma (although it would be really pretty with a string of fresh cranberries, too – maybe next year) and it’s making my kitchen smell divine.

Total Cost: $6.99.


Pomander Balls

I’m craft-challenged, but this year I got it into my head that even I couldn’t mess up pomander balls.  I’m not even sure what put me on to the idea of doing some this year, but I grabbed a bag of oranges and a bottle of whole cloves from the supermarket and went to town while watching Supergirl.  Six pomanders, in six different patterns, and they smell incredible.

  • Bag of oranges
  • Bottle of whole cloves
  • Knitting needle, stylus, or other sharp object (I used an inexpensive double-sided bamboo knitting needle)


Using the needle, poke holes in an orange in whatever pattern you like.  Stick one clove into each hole.  Dry in a 200 degree oven for a looooooong time – I did six hours.  Keep in a dry location and enjoy all season, then pitch after Christmas (or whenever they get weird).

Total Cost: $15.00, but only because I didn’t have any whole cloves at home.


Fun Seasonal Soap

This one feels almost like cheating, but it’s something that never occurred to me before last year.  Steve and I really like the Wegmans foaming hand soaps and we keep them around in the kitchen and the downstairs bathroom, in different scents.  Last year they had a harvest scent for fall, and that was the first time I ever picked one up – and the first time it occurred to me to use something other than very basic Softsoap in the kitchen.  We’ve been enjoying the different scents all year and I grabbed a “sugar cookie” flavor to make our December hand-washing more festive.  It’s such a silly thing, but it’s fun.  (If you don’t have a Wegmans nearby, I’ll bet you can find something similar at your grocery store, or there’s always Bath and Body Works.)

Total Cost: $2.69 – a steal!

How do you add festive flair to your house without breaking the budget?

Bringing Magic Inside with a Fairy Garden


Hello hello.  Sorry for no post on Wednesday.  It’s been a bit of a hectic week – Peanut came down with a 24-hour bug on Saturday and, although she was mostly better by Monday, she had to take a sick day from school in order to comply with the fever-free for 24 hours policy.  And on top of that, Nugget has his second cold, poor guy.  Even one day home with two moderately sick kids had me wrecked – I don’t know how SAHMs do it.  Nugget had a wild ride on Monday because Peanut is way too loud and interesting to allow for naps, and we’ve spent the rest of the week trying to claw our way back to our normal routine.  Hence no writing time for a Wednesday post, and a late post today – but better late than never, right?

Last week I teased about an indoor gardening project that Peanut and I were working on in addition to our patio garden.  The indoor project is… a fairy garden!  Apparently fairy gardens are all the rage.  I’d never heard of this trend – I’m behind as usual – until my BFF, Rebecca, mentioned that another friend of hers had planted one with her daughter.  They’d potted a few succulents and put out a miniature slide and tire swing to attract fairies.  I had two thoughts: (1) that’s adorable; and (2) Peanut would LOVE this.  She’s been into fairies since discovering the Tinker Bell movie franchise (I believe there are six movies now, and we know them all by heart, Heaven help us) and I knew that planting a fairy garden would be right up her alley.  A little googling and Etsy searching revealed that you can really go nuts buying accessories for the fairies.  And I did.  Oh, I did.


An Etsy search quickly pointed me to The Little Hedgerow, which has a wealth of fairy garden accessories.  I ordered a bunch of things, planning to rotate them around as the “fairies visit the garden” – sort of like the Elf on a Shelf idea, but without the espionage and hidden agenda.  I hid the fairies’ garden tools and chair in the laundry room until we were ready to plant.


First things first, though.  I picked up a smallish earthenware pot at Lowe’s, and had Peanut choose a flat of small flowers at the garden center.  (I know succulents would have been easier, but I thought flowers would be more fairyish.  It’s almost a certainty that I’ll live to regret this decision.)


Peanut chose a flat of small purple-pink blooms and I talked up the fairy garden nonstop, telling her how much the fairies were going to love the flowers and how fun it would be for them to play in the garden.


The day after Peanut and I planted our patio garden, I brought her outside again to plant the fairy garden.  I had ready the pot, which I pre-filled with potting soil, a little wire fence, and the plants – the purple flowers and some rosemary that we didn’t have room for in the herb pot.  Rosemary = fairy pine tree.



Peanut had fun “helping” me aerate the soil, and then together we potted the flowers and rosemary.  And guess what?  While we were sleeping that night…


The fairies moved in!  Looks like they brought themselves a garden bench and a bunch of potting tools.  I wonder what they’re growing…? 😉

Peanut is really enjoying the fairy garden.  The biggest challenge, so far, has been convincing her not to touch the little toadstools.  I thought she’d be after the fairies’ garden rake, but nope, it’s the toadstools she wants.  I think I’ve finally convinced her that if we fiddle with the fairies’ garden, they may not come back.  Every so often I move the garden tools around and then make a big deal out of it (since Peanut is too little to really notice unless I point it out to her).  I loved doing this project with Peanut – it was relatively quick and easy, and now we enjoy the garden on our kitchen table and every day we talk about what the fairies might be up to when we’re not watching.  And just like that, there’s a little bit more magic in our house.

Have you planted a fairy garden?


The Pinterest Challenge II: Gratitude Garland

I had such fun making my button monogram for the first-ever Pinterest Challenge, that when Sherry from Young House Love and Katie from Bower Power announced another challenge, I knew immediately that I was in.  I cruised on over to Pinterest and spent an hour or so checking out fall decorations – since up until now I’ve been woefully deficient in the seasonal decorating area.  Clearly, the second Pinterest Challenge was a sign that it was time to step up my game.

Fun fact: pre-blog (in 2007), I threw hubby a surprise 30th birthday party.  It’s common knowledge among anyone who has planned a surprise party that you need something for the guests to do while they wait for the guest of honor to arrive.  I chose to make a garland to serve as party decor and conversation piece.  I begged my hubby’s parents for copies of pictures of him – at least one for each year of his life.  Then I made a garland featuring hubby’s pictures from babyhood through age 29.  It made for a fun decoration, a great conversation starter, and a wonderful keepsake – because of course we hung onto it. 

For this challenge I decided I wanted to revisit my garland-making ways with a Thanksgiving edition.  I pinned this guy and this guy and started thinking about how I wanted to approach my seasonal garland.  Introducing…

The Gratitude Garland

The concept is simple.  The front of the garland spells out the word THANKFUL.  (But you could go with GRATEFUL, GRATITUDE, THANKSGIVING or any other seasonal word that speaks to you.)  On the back of the garland, hubby and I took turns writing out things we are thankful for.  (Our lists are at the end of this post if you want to skip past the instructions and just go straight to finding out what warms hubby’s and my hearts.)

Want to make your own Gratitude Garland?  It’s incredibly easy – quite literally the work of minutes.  Here’s what you need:

  • 4 sheets scrapbooking paper in coordinating colors/patterns
  • Round item to use as stencil (i.e. a cereal bowl or large glass)
  • Scissors
  • Hole punch (1/16 inch size)
  • Kitchen twine
  • Darning needle
  • Stick-on letters
  • Pen
  • Tape (Scotch and painter’s)

Step 1: Cut out eight identical circles from your scrapbooking paper.  (Or nine, or however many circles you need to spell out the word you’ve chosen – one circle per letter.)

Step 2: Punch holes in the “top” of each circle.  If possible, hold all of your circles together when you punch the holes.  That’ll guarantee that every hole is identically placed.  Me = anal retentive.

Step 3: Arrange the circles in your chosen order and thread the kitchen twine through each circle using the darning needle.

Step 4: Apply the stick-on letters to spell out your word of choice.

Step 5: Write what you are thankful for on the back of each circle.  I did mine first and then hubby did his without looking at mine.  Then we read our “thanks” to each other.

Step 6: Space out the circles along the length of twine.  Using Scotch tape, secure the circles to the twine so that they face forward.  Hang garland in your chosen location (i.e. the mantle) and secure with painter’s tape.  Hide painter’s tape with other decorative items if necessary.

(By the way, drop by on Friday to see my mantle decorations all broken down.)  So there it is – your very own Gratitude Garland!  A perfect Thanksgiving season decoration, especially if you can’t look at a Cornucopia after reading The Hunger Games.  And now, if you’ve made it this far, you’re probably curious as to what hubby and I are thankful for.  Here are our lists…


  • Our beautiful home
  • Being married to my best friend
  • The chance to travel the world
  • BOOKS and TEA


  • Jaclyn (Nota Baker: Awwwww! Ain’t he sweet?)
  • The Buffalo Sabres
  • Weekends
  • Beer

Updated: Want to see the four challengers’ projects?  Here ya go:

Sherry @ Young House Love: 38 Ornaments
Katie @ Bower Power: Antiqued Window
Ana @ Ana White Homemaker: Princess Pocket Bookshelf
Erin @ House of Earnest: Metallic Gold-Lined Lamp

What are you thankful for this season?

The Pinterest Challenge

Last week one of my favorite blogs, Young House Love, issued a challenge: pin something that inspires you on Pinterest, and then DIY it.  Being a crafty sort of Pinterest-obsessed girl and also a girl who can’t turn down a good challenge, I was game.  I knew exactly what I wanted to pin and DIY.  I’d seen an Etsy store with pillows and canvases on which the creator had sewn monograms made of buttons.  I loved the crafty-chic vibe and thought it would be fun to create some unique wall art for my house.  Here’s the finished product…

Pretty cool, yeah?  This only took a few hours to do and was not difficult at all.  So, anyone up for creating their own button-monogram art?  Here’s what you need…

-1 sheet embroidery canvas (16″ x 16″ ought to do it)
-1 embroidery hoop
-1 package medium mixed-size buttons in color of your choice
-1 package mini buttons in color of your choice
-embroidery floss to match button color
-8″ x 8″ artist’s canvas (available at Michael’s)
-flat-topped tacks

Here’s what you do…

First, draw the letter you are monogramming in freehand onto the embroidery fabric in pencil.  Be neat.  This will be your general guideline.  Fit the embroidery fabric into the hoop and thread your needle.  Working your way around the letter, sew on the buttons in a straight, staggered, or double row (as appropriate for your letter – I was doing a lowercase “h” so I did a staggered row and a double row in different spots on the letter, because I wanted it to be thick in some areas and thin in others).

Continue working your way around the letter button by button.  There is no need to tie off the embroidery floss after each button; just work continuously.  Using buttons of varying sizes, fill in and layer until you have achieved the effect you want.  (Sorry for being vague, but apparently button monograms are very personal and individual.  Who knew?)

Once you have finished sewing the monogram, stretch the embroidery fabric over the artist’s canvas and secure at the four corners with tacks (you may need to hammer them in).  Working your way around the canvas, stretch the embroidery fabric as tight as humanly possible and place tacks about a half inch apart, hammering them in, on all four sides.  Trim excess fabric.  Turn over and admire your work.  Voila!

This challenge was so much fun – and such a great excuse to spend time on Pinterest, which I am completely obsessed with.  I haven’t done a craft in a long time and I never really had the confidence to actually DIY something for my house.  Now that I’ve successfully made one project, I’m looking for the next opportunity to create some more unique and personal art for my house.  Hurray for DIY challenges!

Update: Want to see the four challengers and their projects?  Here they are – so inspiring!

Sherry @ Young House Love: Clothespin light fixture
Katie @ Bower Power: Crosshatch mirror
Emily @ Style by Emily Henderson: Embellished closet door
Lana @ Making a House a Home: Chalkboard fridge