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.

Dec 152012

I’ve been catching up on custom crochet orders lately, as well as finishing up handmade Christmas gifts for family members, in an effort to meet ground shipping deadlines. What that really means is that the house has been a jumble of yarn, boxes, bags, wrapping paper and tags. I’m thankful now that I started decorating the house for the holidays right after Thanksgiving; I don’t have time at present. The last couple of years, in contrast, were so hectic in December that the tree wasn’t decorated until a few days before Christmas. Although decorations are certainly not what is most important during the holidays, it’s a shame not to enjoy them for a longer period of time. Decorations often represent family traditions and evoke treasured memories.

Early in our marriage, John and I lived in southern California, where it was our annual tradition to visit Solvang (“Little Denmark”) and enjoy the Christmas decorations. Solvang was built in 1911 by Danish immigrants who wanted to remember their old world traditions. As a result, many buildings in Solvang look more European than American, and the town is filled with traditional Scandinavian curiosities. On one of our visits to Solvang, we discovered a popular store called the Jule Hus (Danish for Christmas House), where we purchased Christmas candle pyramids for some family members, including my parents. A Christmas candle pyramid is a wooden three-tiered structure that is traditionally decorated with angels and manger scenes, but it can also be decorated with folk scenes celebrating the countryside, or just about anything else you can imagine. Its use, in fact, is not restricted to the Christmas holiday season. The pyramid is crowned with wind paddles at the top, and surrounded by candles at the bottom. When the candles are lit, they create heat currents that rise and cause the wind paddles to rotate and move the tiers around carousel-fashion. For this reason some people call the Christmas candle pyramid a Christmas candle carousel.


In any event, for some reason John and I didn’t get a Christmas candle pyramid for ourselves, and later we relocated to Iowa, so the opportunity to have our own candle pyramid was gone. When my father passed away 18 months ago, my parents’ Christmas candle pyramid passed on to me, however, so this holiday season we are enjoying both it and the memories of past family gatherings.

The Christmas candle pyramid has additional personal meaning for me because its origins are in Germany, where my parents were born. I am, in fact, a first-generation American whose German heritage is still pretty close to the surface. In August of last year, my husband and I visited my relatives in central and northern Germany, spending four weeks listening to family anecdotes, learning about German history and getting acquainted with modern Germany. In the photo below, you’ll see a candle carousel we purchased in Bremen that uses the same movement principle as the candle pyramid. A candle creates heat that rises and pushes air into lightweight tin paddles, rotating the figures hanging from the paddles. The figures represent the characters in the folk tale called “The Musicians of Bremen,” a town in northern Germany very close to the village where my mother was born.


In Germany the Christmas candle pyramid is known as the Weihnachtspyramide. While the candle pyramid is popular throughout Europe now, as well as in the U.S., it was originally found in the Erzgebirge, the Ore Mountains between Germany and the Czech Republic. The same area is also known for its wooden toymaking tradition. Once upon a time, people danced around a St. John’s tree, a pyramid of flowers and garlands, around the time of the summer solstice. Eventually this custom, some say, evolved into our modern Christmas tree. During the Middle Ages, the Christian-themed scenes on each tier were used to teach children Biblical stories.

Today’s Christmas candle pyramids range in size from three-tiered tabletop decorations to the five-tiered, 45-foot-plus tall lighted pyramid found in Dresden, Germany at the Striezelmarkt, the oldest outdoor Christmas market, open for 12 days during December until Christmas Eve. Most of the candle pyramids found in the U.S. are imported from Germany, just like mine, and you can find them at specialty Christmas stores or Christkindl markets. You can see the very impressive Dresden candle pyramid in the YouTube video below.

If you are interested in learning more about the history of the German Christmas candle pyramid, visit these online Web sites:

© 2012 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

Dec 122011

If you’re like me, you’re counting the days till Christmas, hoping you can wrap your gifts without having to run to the store for extra gift tags, ribbon and paper—or heaven forbid! a last-minute gift for someone on your shopping list. There are a few shortcuts you can take that will help you simplify the packaging process, yet still have attractively wrapped gifts.

Bag it. Use simple brown or white lunch bags for small items, round up some solid color bags, or re-use paper shopping bags. Cover store logos with cutouts from last year’s Christmas cards, paste a design on a bag that you have cut out from wrapping paper, or use double-sided tape to adhere a family photo (two gifts in one!).

Use yarn instead of ribbon to embellish your gifts. It’s inexpensive, doesn’t crush during shipping as ribbons do, and is available in an endless array of colors. If you knit or crochet (or know someone who does), there are always leftover balls of yarn, just waiting to be used in some way.

Make a small box in 3 minutes or less. Need a quick jewelry box for a pair of earrings or something tiny? Make a triangle box that needs only a piece of card stock measuring 3 inches x 9 inches and a length of ribbon, yarn or lace to tie it together. Watch the video below, and you’ll be surprised how quickly you can make this box that’s a real standout. Your gift tag is the only embellishment you’ll need.

Clean out your cupboards of onesies. We all have plates, cups and saucers in our cupboards that don’t match anything else. Give them away, filled with items that will please the recipient. Fill a plate with home-baked cookies for your brother, bury a necklace or earrings inside a cup filled with sweet treats for your sister, stuff a mug with brushes and markers for your artistic friend, or tuck a bookmark and gift card to a local bookstore inside the mug  for your favorite bookworm.

Invest in a hole punch and card stock for tags. You can run up a daunting total at the check register with tags you purchase in retail stores. The alternative is the Internet, where there are many free sources for gift tags that are unique and appealing. Print them on plain card stock, cut them out with scissors, and either tie them or tape them to your package. All the tags in this post were free Internet printables, with the exception of the tag used for the triangle box. Here is a list of 10 sources for free gift tags to get you started:

  1. We Love to Illustrate for Children, FREE Holiday tag PRINTABLES
  2. Digital Antiques: Big Brown Dog Primitives, Free Christmas Tags
  3. Karla Dornacher, Free Christmas Tags Download
  4. LollyChops, Holiday Tags: With Birds-n-Stuff
  5. Gooseberry Patch Blog: New (Free) Christmas Tags!
  6. Debbie Mumm, To & From
  7. Mary Engelbreit, Holiday Gift Tags
  8. Design Sponge, Merry Christmas: Downloadable Holiday Tags
  9. B. Nute Productions Party Place, Free Printable Father Christmas Tags and Simple DIY Christmas Crackers
  10. Arian Armstrong, Free Gift Tags . . . And Stay Tuned

What simple solutions have you discovered to make your wrapping process easier?

© 2011 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.