Jan 182016

This weekend we finally took down our Christmas tree and decorations. No, we weren’t still lighting the tree—at least not after New Year’s Day—but I have to admit we weren’t in any big hurry to put things away, either. After all, we didn’t decorate until the week of Christmas, when our son drove out from Indiana to join us for the holidays. I figured it wouldn’t hurt anyone to enjoy the decorations a little longer after the effort it took to put them up. Please excuse the bluish tint to the photo below; the room was not well lit when I took the photo with my iPhone.


Every Christmas, my mother filled the wheelbarrow in the lower part of the photo with hazelnuts and walnuts. When she passed away, I continued the tradition.

As I wrapped tree ornaments and put them away, it was a last chance to remember when we had acquired them, and whether there was a special occasion or person associated with them. There is an ornament one of my elementary German students gave me one year, the ornaments marked with our son’s birth year, the ones he made in preschool, the brass ornaments engraved with my parents’ names that became mine once they passed away, the ornament a California friend’s mother gave me when we relocated to Iowa . . . and the list goes on. We have both a tree that stands in front of the living room window, and a table tree on which are hung the wooden ornaments from Germany that my mother hung similarly. Besides being a religious holiday, Christmas is a time to relive memories, and there’s no reason to pack away in haste either the ornaments or the memories.


The photos leading up to this traditional group photo were considerably less sedate than this one. Just use your imagination!


Of course, there is more food here than any three people can consume in one evening. We generally spread out the nibbling over several days of board game-playing.

Most years we acquire at least one new ornament, and this year there were four. When we attended a local craft fair in November, we were fascinated by the process of Minnesota artist Albert Tanko of Creative Nutworks, who fashions ornaments out of nuts. “Each life begins with a single seed,” reads his business card. “God’s light and rain are all it needs. It starts out small and with love it grows. However tall—God only knows. From seed to nut in the artist’s hand, it’s polished and cut to be something grand.” Albert, who is originally from Transylvania, crossed the Iron Curtain at age 22 and made Minnesota his new home. He is fascinated with nature, and uses black walnuts, butternuts, apricots and peach pits to create sun catchers.


Then there were the leather ornaments that were designed and hand tooled by our son, David, who specializes in leather crafts. I appreciate Celtic art, music and literature, so I really enjoyed the Celtic Christmas tree ornament he made for me.


For my husband, with whom David shares an interest in space simulation games, especially the currently in development online game, Star Citizen, David drew one of the game’s spaceships and transferred it to leather with his tools.


This is the Hornet used in Chris Roberts’ online space simulation game, Star Citizen. David drew it from scratch and hand-tooled it.

Finally, we hid a German-made glass pickle ornament among the branches of our Christmas tree. There is a tradition associated with this that some people say is a German one, but in general Germans neither recognize nor acknowledge the practice. The tradition—probably an American one—involves a pickle as the last ornament to be hung on the Christmas tree. The first child in the family to discover it is supposed to get an extra present. According to a Web site called WhyChristmas.com, back in the 1880s Woolworth’s stores began importing glass ornaments from Germany in various fruit and vegetable shapes. One of them was likely a pickle, and a story was born that probably helped to sell the ornament, which is admittedly a pretty strange thing to hang on a tree. There are other stories as well, even more fanciful, so if you’re interested, visit The Christmas Pickle to learn more.


I suppose every family has its own traditions that make Christmas memorable. When my father grew up in central Germany, live candles lighted the family tree. Gifts were opened on Christmas Eve, but not until the children stood in front of the tree and recited long, memorized poems. My German cousins from that same side of the family also had live candles on their tree. Instead of reciting a poem, they had to play a melody on a wooden flute called a Blockflöte, which you can see in the photo below.

From left to right: my Tante Hanna, followed by my cousins Hildegard, Ursula and Joseph.

From left to right: my Tante Hedwig, followed by my cousins Hildegard, Ursula and Joseph

After gifts were opened, the family walked to midnight Mass. There was one Christmas during junior high school that I spent in Germany with my cousins, when we traipsed through snow-covered streets and icy sidewalks to get to church. Because both of my parents were born in Germany, we always celebrated Christmas as my relatives did, on Christmas Eve. My parents didn’t require a special performance, however, before we opened our gifts! We’ve carried that Christmas Eve tradition forward within our own immediate family. But our own tradition involves opening gifts while we graze on open-faced pumpernickel sandwiches, fruits and raw vegetables, cheese and crackers, and cookies, candies and nuts—all laid out on a food-laden table. We play music and board games, and on Christmas Day—usually during late afternoon—we see a movie together. This year it just happened to be Star Wars’ “The Force Awakens,” which we really enjoyed.

David designed some leather drink coasters for us to commemorate the Star Wars movie, "The Force Awakens." The symbol on the top represents the Empire, while the symbol on the bottom represents the Alliance.

David designed some leather drink coasters for us to commemorate the Star Wars movie, “The Force Awakens.” The symbol on the top represents the Emblem of the Galactic Empire, while the symbol on the bottom represents the Alliance Starbird.

As you can see, our son is generally the board game champion.

We played a Viking game called Blood Rage, with lots of moving parts. David finished in 1st place, I was in 2nd place, and John brought up the rear in 3rd place.

We also played Firefly (named after the movie series of the same name), with even more moving parts and rules.

We also played Firefly (named after the movie series of the same name), with even more moving parts and rules.

Predictably, David won the game of Firefly, too. Good thing we don't hold a grudge!

Predictably, David won the game of Firefly, too. Good thing we don’t hold a grudge!

I started this post off by saying that we took down our Christmas tree and decorations just this past weekend, but in reality this is not a late date to do so, depending on which version of Christmas you celebrate. In Germany and many other European countries, Catholics consider the end of the Christmas season to be Epiphany, the first Sunday in January after New Year’s Day. If you’re an Orthodox Christian, you might celebrate Christmas on January 7th. Just recently I heard about Little Christmas, or Nollaig na mBan, which for the Irish is their version of the Feast of the Epiphany, or January 6th. Many Americans take down their decorations right after Christmas, but I suspect this practice has more to do with coordinating with city services that remove dried-out, discarded trees and wreaths, in addition to lots of crumpled wrapping paper, than it does with the official end of the Christmas season.

If you celebrate Christmas, when do you take down your decorations, and why?

©2016 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

Jan 062014

“Yeah, sure,” you tell me. “Haven’t you looked at the calendar lately? Christmas is 12 months away!”

Yes, I know that. But today is January 6th, Epiphany, officially the last day of the Christmas season, the day when all of my holiday decorations will be taken down. We’re experiencing a polar vortex according to national news services (or -11 degrees, with a wind chill factor of -36 degrees), and somehow it seems appropriate to close this season with some holiday gift tags that can be used next Christmas. Besides, a few weeks before Christmas 2014, I will be doing jumping jacks because I had the foresight to get all of my tags made early!

In that spirit, I combed the Web for 12 appealing gift tags that you can download and print. Some of the designs were released in 2013 and others are older ones, but all of them are great accents for your holiday packages. The small round ones, of course, can also be used as cupcake toppers. You can even decorate a tree, window or mirror with them, make a fluttery mobile, or hang a paper garland made of gift tags on your tree or over a mantle. Click on the photos to download the digital file(s). Please note that photos do not show every tag design included in the digital file.

1. Free Printable Set of Christmas Tags you will LOVE, by The Cottage Market


2. Christmas Cupcake Toppers Free Printable and Cupcake Recipes, by The Cottage Market


3. Free Shabby Cottage Style Retro Tags and a Junkin Joe update, by The Cottage Market


4. Free Printable Download – Christmas Kraft II Gift Tags, by Vintage Glam Studio


5. Christmas Chalkboard Labels {free printable}, by How to Nest for Less


6. Printable Christmas Labels for Your Edible Gifts, by Lia Griffith

DSCN81317. Woodland Christmas Gift Tags & Labels, by Lia Griffith, with matching paper HERE


8. Chalkboard Christmas Gift Tags & Labels, by Lia Griffith, with matching paper HERE and HEREDSCN8127

9. Hand Illustrated Holiday Labels by Emily McDowell

DSCN812610. {Freebie} Christmas Gift Tags! by Claire of Fellow Fellow, with matching paper HERE


11. Primitive Christmas Tags, by Off the Beaten Path DesignsDSCN8120

12. Free Printable: Holiday Tags in Three Color Choices, by Creature ComfortsDSCN8121

Need more gift-wrapping ideas? Visit one of my past posts:

For even more gift-wrapping inspiration, you can find more than 100 free gift box templates and tutorials, along with overlays and digital papers, free tags, DIY flowers, 3-D houses, and much more, at Mel McCarthy’s blog, Mel Stampz. When I don’t know where else to look for a box shape, her blog is my number one resource.

Happy Ephiphany, and Happy New Year!

© 2014 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

Oct 312013

In my previous post, I discussed how creative prompts, which can take the form of challenges or exercises, light the creative fuse. It seems appropriate to follow up that post with the results of this month’s Blogging Business Artisans challenge, Prelude to the Holidays. LeAnn of Pasqueflower Ponderings challenged fellow team members to come up with a holiday-themed project:

October! It is time to start thinking ahead to the holidays—Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year. They will be here before we know it! This month, I challenge you to create a holiday-themed item. It could be a new listing for your Etsy shop, a holiday decoration for your home, a costume or special accessory for a holiday gathering, or a gift you intend to give to a friend or loved one. Since ‘prelude’ is a musical term, you could also make something music-themed if you wish.

The timing was excellent for LeAnn’s challenge. After the holidays last year, I thought about developing a “12 Days of Christmas Recipe Exchange Book,” but hadn’t fully fleshed out my ideas. Well, there’s nothing like a challenge to help an idea come to life!

My initial thought was that I would design 4-inch by 6-inch recipe cards for the book, using minimal embellishments so that there would be ample space for the recipe itself. I pictured cards with a narrow stripe of holiday-themed paper along the top of the cards. I planned to insert the cards in Teresa Collins Pre-Punched Page Protectors like the ones shown below. However, to my dismay I discovered that when you remove the pages from the package, you have to peel them apart and that is when the risk is greatest of tearing the pre-punched holes. Never mind that the package warns you, “Pull apart gently.” I did, but I still ripped a page.


I began re-thinking where the stripe on my cards should be, and then it occurred to me that I could include a top-and-bottom stripe if I reinforced the pre-punched holes. I folded a one-inch-wide strip of paper lengthwise, adhered Scor-Tape to it, and covered the pre-punched edge of each page protector. Then I added a second strip to the bottom of each page, purely for decorative purposes. This was the result.


The covers of the book came next. I embellish most of the books I make with a flower, but because this book will likely get a lot of handling, I decided to adhere a fairly flat flower. I used a Poppy Stamps Blooming Poinsettia steel craft die set to cut out the petals, leaves and stamens. Because the die pieces are very small and have a tendency to move as they go through the Big Shot, I used the new Sizzix Magnetic Platform to keep them in place. I love this gadget!


Before I adhered the flower to the book, I outlined the edges of the petals and leaves in gold with an Elmer’s Metallic Painters marker, and emphasized the veining in the petals with  an At You Spica pen, and the veining in the leaves with a VersaMarker watermark pen.

Recipe Book Collage

This book is ready to be listed in MisterPenQuin. I suspect others will follow!

© 2013 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.