The Holiday Wall

Friends, I am afraid my promised gift wrap post will not make it in time to actually be useful. I do so appreciate all the likes, comments and visits from you this past week. I was feeling a little discouraged the end of last week and you people cheered me up.

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Have you hit the Holiday Wall yet?

We have only two days to go but some of us have been prepping since August and Christmas can be exhausting.

Christmas and the surrounding holidays can often be the very opposite of what they’re supposed to be. Instead of being merry and bright, it’s hectic and stressful. As much as I love Christmas, it isn’t usually hard for me to look past all that and see all the lovely things about it, but this season has about done me in. From unexpected bills (we have an insanely tall, mostly dead maple in our backyard pulling up at the roots and threatening to topple onto the house with the next windy day that has to go, and soon) to close family members in the ER (I kid you not, my brother and mother have collectively been in the ER three times in the last week and a half) this Christmas has been anything but jolly. Luke (my dear husband) hit the Holiday Wall almost as soon as Christmas music flooded the airwaves, but I held out. Then I had an emotional breakdown yesterday morning over a bad hair day and realized (along with being 7 1/2 months pregnant) that I was slamming into the Holiday Wall myself.

Thankfully (and I’m going to go on a bit of a spiritual rant now) we have a God who takes care of us when we aren’t doing a very good job of it ourselves.

Luke received unexpected Christmas bonuses from both of his jobs, I was able to pick up some extra work, and Luke’s parents have generously offered to help with the payment on the tree removal. My family is home and recuperating and Christmas is only two days away. I feel 50 lbs lighter.

I wonder sometimes though if we’d have this kind of attitude and continue to praise God if things didn’t work themselves out so nicely. It’s easy to look on the bright side and be thankful when God takes away our burdens. But if God has another plan, if He knows we need to carry a burden for a little longer, whatever the reason, isn’t He still that same loving God? He’s still doing what’s best for us, even if it doesn’t feel like it.

So today I wanted to take a turn at encouraging YOU. I know lots of people feel overwhelmed and stressed this time of year. Please know that even if your prayers are seeming to go unanswered that God’s timing is perfect and He works all things out for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28 ya’ll).

I haven’t done a post like this before and I hope it doesn’t scare you away. I know most people look at blogs like these for fun, pretty posts with lots of clickable things but this was weighing on me and I wanted to share it with you. And there are more fun, pretty, click-y things to come! Stay with me. And please let me know what you think and if there’s anything I can pray about for you.

I hope we all can remember that Christmas is more than buying absurd amounts of presents, waiting in line at Macy’s, and cooking an elaborate enough meal to possibly impress your mother-in-law. Take some time to pray today and tell God all the things that are burdening you. Even if they don’t untangle by the end of the prayer, you will feel better, I promise.

Stay tuned for more, reader, I have lots in store!

Love always,

-Tara

P.S. As a token of my appreciation, please follow this link to my Pin Boards, which have all sorts of fun, pretty, click-y things

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Last Minute Christmas Bucket List

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Christmas is in 10 days. How did this happen?!

We’ve been talking a lot about Advent and making the most of this season. Today I’m going to share my Advent activity list. Hopefully you (and I!) can squeeze a few of these in and make the season a little more wonderful.

Wrap presents

Decorate the house

DIY Christmas pallet sign

Watch a Christmas special

Make hot cocoa and popcorn

Learn Christmas songs on guitar

Eat caramel corn and do a puzzle

Drive around and look at lights

Make Christmas card holder

Take a walk In the snow

Indoor s’mores

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As you can see I haven’t made much leeway with it yet. I made a prettier copy that maybe you want to save and print:

Advent List

There are lots of other activities that I left off that’d be especially great for kids (i.e., sledding!)

Never heard of Indoor S’mores? You are missing out. I love to make “gourmet” s’mores and add all kinds of different chocolate-y toppings, like replacing the chocolate bar with a Reese’s Cup or dunking the thing in melted chocolate (seriously making myself hungry right now).

It’s really simple, especially if you have a toaster oven.

Line your toaster oven rack or a baking sheet in foil

Lay down a graham cracker square for each person

Top with a marshmallow (you can also add chocolate now if you like it really melt-y)

Broil carefully for just a minute or so (keep an eye on those suckers!)

OR

Toast on high for a couple of minutes keeping an eye on the marshmallows

Quickly add the chocolate/peanut butter cup/Carmello bar/what-have-you

Allow to melt and add top graham cracker

That’s it. You’re five minutes away from delicious s’mores, no camp fire required.

If you’re having a holiday party or family gathering, have a s’mores bar with lots of toppings. Here are my suggestions (graham crackers and marshmallows go without saying):

Sprinkles

Peanut butter

Chocolate Jimmies

Regular size Reese’s Cups

Andes Mints or mint chocolate chips

Thinly sliced strawberries, bananas or kiwis

Candy melts or baking chocolate (for drizzling/dipping)

Chocolate coins for a Christmas twist on the regular chocolate

Redi Wip

Mini Crunch Bars

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Here’s a fun menu I found to give you some ideas for mixing up your s’mores ingredients

You could have a competition for who can create the tastiest gourmet s’more!

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Have any more suggestions for me?

What other Advent activities do you and yours do every year?

Are you going to a Christmas Eve service?

Let me know in the comments.

Check back later this week for some last minute gift ideas!

Until then, Love always,

-Tara

Even More Advent

So how is your St. Lucia’s Day going? Did you get up early and make a breakfast feast? Are you having a big brunch?

Luke and I chose to sleep in a bit, then made breakfast burritos and THIS delicious cranberry orange bread, only I replaced all the orange ingredients with lemon and doubled the glaze 🙂

Cranberry Orange Pound Cake from chef-in-training.com ...This Pound Cake is so moist and is perfect for the winter and holiday season!

Maybe not a traditional St. Lucia’s Day breakfast but it was yummy.

I’m going to keep this short today as we have a busy day planned, but I wanted to check in and ask about your holiday and talk a bit more about Advent.

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Let’s start with the Advent wreath and candles. I mentioned in my previous post on Advent that there are five candles (4 surrounding the fifth in the middle) and that each one represents something. You light one each Sunday in the four weeks leading up to Christmas, and the fifth one on Christmas Eve. Here’s a list of what each Advent candle represents:

Candle 1: (Sun Nov 30) Hope

Candle 2: (Sun Dec 7) Love

Candle 3: (Sun Dec 14) Joy

Candle 4: (Sun Dec 21) Peace

Candle 5: (Christmas Eve) The Christ Candle

Each candle represents a virtue that Christ brings to our lives, and finally Christ coming as a light to our dark world. We look ahead as well to Christ’s Second Coming in the days ahead. If your church doesn’t do this, or if you’d like to reinforce the idea with your family at home, I encourage you to buy a simple, small greenery wreath, four tapered candles and one pillar candle and make your own Advent wreath. I suggest having a Sunday dinner with your family, reading the appropriate verses, and lighting the candles each week. You can then pray a prayer based around that week’s candle and finally enjoy a meal with your family.

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This is a great way to forget the busyness of the holidays and spend some quality time with your loved ones. HERE is a link describing the colors of candles  to use (scroll to the ‘What you need’ section) and the verses to read each week (this one had a verse for every day, which is a great idea, or you could just read the ones listed for Sundays).

This website has a lot of other tips and ideas for celebrating Advent with your family. And remember, it’s not too late! You can catch up this weekend and finish the last two candles on their appropriate days.

You could also use this cute coloring page or one similar to help your kids remember what each candle represents.

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I’d love to hear from you about how your Advent celebrations are going. Let me know in the comments and photos are always encouraged.

Check back Monday and later next week for a Last Minute Christmas Bucket List and Last Minute Gift Ideas. Until then, Happy Advent!

-Tara

paper pyramids :: DIY advent calendar by Julie Ree

P.S. I LOVE this Paper Pyramid Garland from Julie Ree via At Home with Kim Vallee. There is a lot of cutting and folding with this template but those pyramids look identical to these Tea Forte boxes. You could simply cover up the two sides that are printed, or turn one to the back and just cover one side! Much simpler if you’re a tea lover like me. Start stocking up now and by next Advent you’ll have plenty of boxes to make your own calendar.

P.P.S! Don’t forget to make a gift bag or basket and deliver some goodies to someone who would appreciate it in honor of St. Lucia’s Day.

Ok, that’s it, really.

St. Lucia’s Day- Gift Baskets and 10 Fun Ways to Celebrate

Yesterday we talked about who St. Lucia was and why we celebrate her. We also talked about some St. Lucia’s Day traditions and recipes.

Today I’ll be sharing even more fun ideas on how to make this Saturday more than just another Saturday.

First up, let’s talk about the most important part of this Saint’s day; giving. Similar to St. Nicholas’ Day, giving is a major part of St. Lucia’s Day. Remember how St. Lucia took baskets of food and supplies to the Christians hiding in the catacombs in ancient Rome? She wore a wreath of candles on her head to light the way so she could use both hands to carry goods. She risked her life to help those in need.

When I was a kid, each person in my family would pick one person or family they wanted to give to. We’d make our list, then get gift bags ready. We usually put in some baked goods, a small gift like a candle or a flashlight (to reinforce the theme of light) and some other treats like popcorn and fruit. Then we’d make each person/family a card and explain about the holiday. On December 13th we’d go around to each house and present them with the gift. We did this for several years and since I come from a big family we reached out to a lot of people this way. Everyone was always very surprised and seemed touched that we thought of them.

Even though this is probably the busiest time of the year for you and your family, taking time to do these things will help you to celebrate Christmas in a meaningful way and look past all the materialistic things we get so consumed with this season.

Here is a list of some things to include in your gift bag or basket:

  1. Baked goods (mini loafs made in disposable tins are perfect)
  2.  Fruit (oranges are great)
  3.  Popcorn (homemade or a few Orville Reddenbacher bags)
  4.  A candle
  5.  A flashlight and batteries
  6.  A grocery store gift card (if you know someone who would really use it)
  7.  Pretty soap bars
  8.  Candy canes
  9. A handmade card explaining the holiday and signed by your family

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So you’ve had your breakfast feast, your gift bags are prepped and ready to go later on, now what?

 Don’t let the fun stop after breakfast. There are so many activities to keep your bunch entertained until the last light on St. Lucia’s Day.

Let’s start with crafts:

1. Print and cut out these adorable Kirsten paper dolls

Go HERE then just hit ctrl+p to print. Cut out and enjoy.

2. Make St. Lucia peg dolls

Finishedlucias9

Go to Posie Gets Cozy and follow the instructions.

3. Make a paper Lucia crown or Star Boy hat

Stephanie Santa Lucia 03

You can find a tutorial from Kiddley or get creative and make your own design.

4. Decorate tealights

Buy a bag of unscented tea lights and a few rolls of pretty Washi tape at Walmart and go nuts. This is very fitting with the theme of St. Lucia’s Day and P.S. would be perfect for your gift baskets.

5.  Color a picture

You can find this one HERE or do a search to find even more.

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There’s more to do besides crafts:

6. Learn the St. Lucia song

This song is traditionally sung at the St. Lucia celebration in Sweden. Listen and see a performance HERE. Then look at the lyrics to understand the meaning of the song and maybe even sing along.

This website compares the Swedish and English lyrics side by side.

7. Learn to say Merry Christmas in Swedish and other languages

This website has more about St. Lucia and shows you how to say Merry Christmas in many languages. Have a contest to see who can remember the most.

8. Make Play Doh St. Lucia buns

Go to Making Learning Fun for a printable Play Doh mat with a St. Lucia bun template.

9. St. Lucia puzzle

Another cute idea from Making Learning Fun

10. Read a book

There are lots of books out there about St. Lucia. You can order this one from Amazon or maybe even find some at your local library. If nothing else, you could read a kid-friendly article or brief history online.

Then, if you want even more to do, make your own book with drawings and coloring pages and write the story in your own words.

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I hope this post has inspired you to celebrate St. Lucia’s Day in new and exciting ways. I can tell you from personal experience it made my childhood that much more magical. I’d love to hear from you about how you celebrate St. Lucia’s Day or how you plan to in the future. Take some photos this weekend of you and your family and let me know how your celebration goes, what your kids thought and if you tried any of these ideas.

Until then, keep checking back for more ways to add some wonder to your week.

Love always,

-Tara

P.S. Read yesterday’s post for even more ideas and how to make your breakfast feast.

Celebrate St. Lucia’s Day

How is your Tuesday? My Monday got away from me.

I owe you fine people a cookie recipe and while I’m at it I thought I’d get a jump on St. Lucia’s Day.

Monster Cookies Recipe

The Monster Cookie recipe can be found here from Raining Hot Coupons.

I added extra chocolate chips and Peanut Butter M&M’s to mine because duh.

If you love stay-soft, chewy, melt-y cookies I recommend plopping mounds of dough onto a parchment-covered baking sheet and not flattening them out much. Then bump down the temp to 325 and bake a little longer. They stay much softer the thicker they are (That being said, don’t get too carried away or make them gigantic- they’ll never get done in the middle).

I made mine about a tblsp-tblsp and a half, and just squished them down a tiny bit, and they took closer to ten minutes for the middle to set up. Take care not to burn the edges.

If you like crispy, crunchy cookies leave the heat and time the same and flatten them out more when you put them on the cookie sheet.

Or you could do a batch of each. Simple as that.

And now St. Lucia’s Day.

I first learned of St. Lucia’s Day from the Kirsten American Girl books. It sounded like so much fun and such a good cause that I talked my mom into starting up the tradition in our family, although we have no Swedish or Scandinavian background whatsoever.

Here’s a brief history of St. Lucia’s Day as told by WhyChristmas.com:

“Around Christmas time in Sweden, one of the biggest celebrations is St. Lucia’s Day (or St. Lucy’s Day) on December 13th. The celebration comes from stories that were told by Monks who first brought Christianity to Sweden.

St Lucia was a young Christian girl who was martyred, killed for her faith, in 304AD. The most common story told about St Lucia is that she would secretly bring food to the persecuted Christians in Rome, who lived in hiding in the catacombs under the city. She would wear candles on her head so she had both her hands free to carry things. Lucy means ‘light’ so this is a very appropriate name.

December 13th was also the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, in the old ‘Julian’ Calendar and a pagan festival of lights in Sweden was turned into St. Lucia’s Day.

St. Lucia’s Day is now celebrated by a girl dressing in a white dress with a red sash round her waist and a crown of candles on her head. Small children use electric candles but from about 12 years old, real candles are used!”

Isn’t that an amazing story? There are so many beautiful and fun activities to try on St. Lucia’s Day.

Ways to Celebrate St. Lucia’s Day:

1. Breakfast Traditionally, the family would choose one girl to represent St. Lucia. The girl chosen would then get up early on St. Lucia’s Day and make breakfast for everyone. She would then load up a tray of  the goodies and go from room to room serving breakfast, dressed as St. Lucia. Obviously there are many ways to alter this to suit your family.

If you don’t have any girls, boys are always encouraged to dress as ‘Stjärngossar’ (star boys), or you could just have a family breakfast without anyone dressing up.

If you have multiple girls all vying to be St. Lucia, you could always have multiple Lucias, or the other girls could be ‘tärnor’ (like Lucia but without the candles). Remember you can always take turns each year.

More than likely you’ll want to help your children with the cooking and serving. And remember you can implement the use of flameless candles to decrease further risk of burns on the Holy Day (nobody needs that).

2. Dressing Up This one goes hand-in-hand with breakfast but I’ll go a little more in depth on how to dress up.

St. Lucia- You’ll need:

* a white nightgown (or cleverly draped bed sheet)

* a red sash (any long piece of red fabric can be made into a sash)

* a small greenery wreath for crown

* candles or flameless candles for crown

Star Boy- You’ll need:

* a white gown or sheet

* a felt or paper pointed white hat

* paper or felt gold stars to decorate hat

* a dowel rod for wand

* a foil or card stock star for end of wand

You can also find pre-made wands or get creative and use other materials you have.

Tärnor- You’ll need:

* a white gown just like Lucia’s

* a red sash just like Lucia’s

* a small greenery wreath or silver tinsel for crown

The costumes don’t need to be perfect and you don’t need to be a seamstress (I’ve hardly sewn a button on in my life). Let your kids help and make preparing the costume part of the fun.

3. Baking There are lots of different kinds of food normally eaten on St. Lucia’s Day. Here are a few I’ve gathered that you and your family might enjoy:

St. Lucia’s Day Kringler

St. Lucia Buns

St. Lucia’s Crown

Chokladbollar (Chocolate Balls)

Occhi di Santa Lucia

We’re just getting started on St. Lucia’s Day. One of the most important parts is delivering gifts to others. Check back later for ideas on how and what to give and other fun activities for your family on St. Lucia’s Day.

Love always,

-Tara

St. Nicholas’ Day

Surprise your kids, spouse and loved ones with a gift that they’ll find in their shoes when they wake up- Tomorrow is St. Nicholas’ Day

No, I’m not talking about Christmas, though a lot of people seem to think the two are one in the same. Santa Claus, as you may know, is an adaption from the true story of a real man named Nicholas who was made a Saint because of his incredible story. I encourage you to learn more about the holiday and then take part in it but if you want to jump to the fun stuff, keep scrolling.

Who Was St. Nicholas?

The St. Nicholas Center website does a great job of summing this one up without leaving out too much detail. Here is their telling of St. Nicholas:

“The true story of Santa Claus begins with Nicholas, who was born during the third century in the village of Patara. At the time the area was Greek and is now on the southern coast of Turkey. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus’ words to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships.

St Nicholas giving gold to father

“One story tells of a poor man with three daughters. In those days a young woman’s father had to offer prospective husbands something of value—a dowry. The larger the dowry, the better the chance that a young woman would find a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. This poor man’s daughters, without dowries, were therefore destined to be sold into slavery. Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home-providing the needed dowries. The bags of gold, tossed through an open window, are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas. Sometimes the story is told with gold balls instead of bags of gold. That is why three gold balls, sometimes represented as oranges, are one of the symbols for St. Nicholas. And so St. Nicholas is a gift-giver.”

There are so many other tales that show the character of St. Nicholas, the Gift Giver and Protector of Children. I highly recommend visiting the St. Nicholas Center website. They also have tons of ideas on how to celebrate St. Nick’s Day, craft and gift ideas, printables, as well as more articles on who St. Nicholas was and how we came to our modern adaption known as Santa Clause.

                                              

Some coloring page examples

By the way, I’m not Catholic, if you were wondering. Half of my family is but it was actually my Protestant mother that started the tradition of celebrating St. Nick’s Day and the upcoming St. Lucia’s Day in our family. They are fond memories from my childhood and you don’t have to be Catholic or believe in praying to saints to celebrate.

And now for that fun stuff.

St Nicholas famine relief

St. Nicholas’ Day is December 6th which means the night of December 5th is when you leave the gifts for your loved ones. Classic St. Nick’s gifts include candy canes, chocolate coins, clementines, as well as other small gifts. You can see where the oranges and chocolate gold coins come in from the story above; the candy cane is used to represent St. Nicholas’ crozier.

That thing in St. Nick’s hand is a crozier.

Growing up, my mom didn’t really stick with the traditional gifts. We usually got a small gift like a stuffed animal or head phones and our favorite candies. It was like a mini-Christmas we got to look forward to. As much as I loved that tradition, I’m planning to make my own traditions once Muggy (weird nickname for in-womb baby, remember) is old enough. I want to get the meaning of the holiday across and make that the focus. I would probably stick with the traditional gifts and explain why, as well as include something more personal and special.

It’s just me and Luke this year but that hasn’t stopped me. I’m planning on sneaking a few hidden gifts into his work boots in the wee morning hours since I’ll be up anyway to, well, wee (hashtag pregnancy problems).

I found a pattern on the St. Nick Center site that shows you how to turn a chocolate Santa into St. Nicholas. The patterns can be found here and you can choose what size based on your chocolate Santa.

For my St. Nick, I used the Palmer brand Double Krisp Kringle. He’s not quite as stoic as you might like but he was somehow the only chocolate Santa my local Walmart had. I also had to settle for fuzzy yellow chenille sticks rather than the cool gold ones from the pattern. Get the gold ones if you can!

I used red card stock for his miter  (Bishop’s hat) and I also colored out the words “Krisp Kringle” that were originally printed on the gift he’s holding with a black Sharpie. I like the fact that he’s holding a gift as it fits well the theme.

I measured how long I wanted my pipe cleaner, made the swirl and glued it on.

Then it was only the miter left to make. I used red card stock since I didn’t have any cool foil paper. Then I painted a little cross on the miter with Mod Podge and sprinkled glitter over.

I think he turned out nicely.

Remember, a big part of St. Nicholas’ Day is doing an anonymous act of kindness for someone. Here are some suggestions:

* Leave a gift card to a grocery store in the mailbox of someone who needs it

* Make a basket of baked goods and food and leave it on their doorstep

* Pay for the person’s order in line behind you at the drive-thru

* Tape quarters to a vending machine

* Shovel snow from someone’s drive. If you’re caught, explain why.

* Donate goods to a food bank or Goodwill

* Donate to Toys For Tots

* If you can, leave a note or print off some info from the website explaining St. Nick’s Day. Hopefully next year, the person you helped will join the tradition.

Here are some more fun ways to celebrate St. Nick’s Day for kids:

Puzzle 2                                                                         

                             1. St. Nick puzzle       2. How to draw St. Nick       3. St. Nick cut out

Lots more HERE

P.S. See those cookies in the boots in the top picture? I have the recipe and they’re delicious. Check back tomorrow. Til then, enjoy your St. Nicholas’ Day!

Tara

Decorated Clothespin Tutorial

So now that you’ve gathered your supplies for your clothespin advent calendar, why not get started on those clothespins?

Here are the supplies you’ll need:

* 25 hinged clothespins

* Decorative paper

* Washi tape

* Trim or ribbon

* Mod Podge or Elmer’s glue

* Brush for spreading glue

* Paper cutter

* Scissors

Bear in mind that most of these supplies are optional/to your preference. This is everything I used but if you have other supplies you want to incorporate or experiment with, feel free.

Let’s start with the paper clothespins.

Hold your clothespin up against your paper to determine what size to cut the paper. Mark it with a pencil or make an indentation with your fingernail where you want to cut bot width-wise and length-wise. Place the marked paper on your paper cutter and slice, or carefully use scissors to cut to size.

Now just glue the paper in place on the front of the clothespin.

For the Washi tape clothespins:

Sometimes Washi tape can be hard to peel off. I like to tear it a little bit down the middle (vertically) and peel one side up to get it started. Do whatever works for you. Again, hold the tape up to the clothespin. Most likely it will be a little wider than the clothespin. Mark where you want to cut and do so. Then you can simply trim off how long you want the piece, peel and stick. With Washi tape, you can make it a little longer than the clothes pin and wrap it around the ends. Totally up to you.

^^^This is Washi tape by the way, and there are so many uses for it^^^

P.S. they have it everywhere, including the Walmart craft section.

For the trim or ribbon clothespins:

I used the lace trim seen in the picture. It was a little too wide so I cut around the rounded parts in the pattern and trimmed the flat side a little. Then cut it to length and glued it on.

If you’re using ribbon, you’ll want it to be very thin because trimming ribbon will result in frayed edges. Even if your ribbon is thinner than the clothespin, you can leave some wood exposed or paint the clothespin first, then add ribbon.

You could also simply use paint to design your clothespins, draw designs with Sharpies, or a combination of the two.

Sequins, beads, eyelash yarn, regular yarn, embroidery floss, puffy paint and felt all come to mind as other mediums to try. Have fun with it and don’t be afraid to experiment. You can get a hundred clothespins for about $1!

Since the supplies are so varied and inexpensive this is a great advent craft to try with your kids.

I would love to see how yours turns out. Leave me a photo in the comments and let me know if you have any questions.

Love always,

Tara