3 Secrets for Decorating Your Christmas Tree

I always feel like our Christmas tree is a miniature version of the one I grew up with…I’m sure as our ornament collection grows over the years, so will our tree. Many of our ornaments are ones that hung on my family’s tree when I was a kid and hold such special memories to me. Isn’t that one of the best, yet bittersweet parts of Christmas…all those memories? The exciting thing is that now we have the chance to make memories with our own children…some new and some borrowed from our own childhoods. I feel like our Christmas tree is just that!


Popcorn Garland

My parents’ Christmas tree still dons the garland my brothers, sisters and I made when we were kids some 20-30 years ago. If you make it right and store it well, it will obviously last a very long time.



One of the most important tips is using plain popcorn, popped in a hot air popcorn machine. Also, if you plan ahead and have the time, letting your popcorn sit overnight and become slightly stale helps in stringing it…it won’t break as easily. To string the popcorn just use a piece of thread (or dental floss) and a sewing needle. You don’t have to make one super long string at once, make 4 or 5 foot long ones and tie them together.



When storing the popcorn, first start by adding a bright ribbon to both ends of your garland. That will make finding the end easier next year. Find a medium-large container and coil it around inside the container, much like you do a garden hose. We use a plastic tupperware-like container, but a large popcorn tin works very well too.



Tree Skirt

If you’re like me and like a homey, vintage looking tree skirt you don’t have to look far. I bought this cheap Christmas blanket one year at a thrift store and we wrap and fold it around the bottom of our tree. I do wish it was actually a quilt and not a look-alike-quilt, but nobody would ever know the difference and it achieves the look I’m going for. You could do the same with a table cloth or any large piece of fabric.



Tree Topper

Don’t be afraid to use a non-traditional tree topper. I love decorating for Christmas, but even more I love adding magical little twists to our decorations…keeping things unpredictable and slightly quirky. I found this glittery butterfly clip at a local floral shop years ago and attached some florist wire to the back to help secure it to the tree. So much fun!





Happy decorating everyone!

No-Bake Acorn Treats

I’ve been making these ACORN TREATS for Thanksgiving for a few years now. I wish I remembered the source where I originally saw them to give the right person credit…somewhere on this big internet universe! I usually pack my ACORN TREATS into little jars and give them away to family and friends on Thanksgiving day. They are so simple to make and everyone always gobbles them up immediately…I think I’d be in trouble if I came to Thanksgiving dinner without them anymore!



  • Hershey Kisses (dark and original)
  • Nutter Butter Bites
  • mini-chocolate chips
  • chocolate frosting (in a pouch or in a can)



First, to make things go quicker, prepare your work station by taking the Kisses out of their wrappers, putting the mini-chocolate chips in a lil bowl and spreading out some Nutter Butter Bites nearby.

Put a little dab of chocolate frosting on one side of the Nutter Butter Bites and push a Hershey Kiss into place. (This is the perfect time for little hands to help!)


Put a teeny, tiny dab of chocolate frosting on the opposite side and push a mini-chocolate chip in place.


Presto! Too easy, right?

Place them in a little mason jar, tie a string or ribbon around the top and you have a sweet little gift to share! Enjoy!

DIY No-Sew Rag Garland

Out of all the garlands I’ve made over the years, the RAG GARLAND has always been my favorite! It’s bright, colorful, super-easy to make and it looks fantastic inside or outside, day and night!


The RAG GARLAND is fun for the holidays, but can be made and used for any time of the year. I put ours up for Christmas, but I didn’t make the color scheme ultra-Christmassy…I love color and can’t seem to limit myself to just red and green! The best place to find cheap and funky fabric is at antique stores, thrift stores or flea markets…any leftovers can be used to make lil rag tag skirts or tutus for your little ones.

Materials needed:

  • fabric
  • scissors
  • string of lights

First, cut your fabric into strips about 2 inches wide and about 12 inches long.


Next, tie each fabric strip around the string of lights with a single, basic knot. If the fabric is blank on the underside, just fold the fabric over before knotting it. Repeat until the string of lights is covered.





This is a garland we made for Steamys, a local coffee shop/book store/gift shop in town. We used vintage fabrics to make it extra funky!



Happy garland making!!!


Sensory Bottles for Baby

I’ve made sensory bottles for L before, filled with colored water, glue and glitter or colored water and oil, but I don’t know why we never made SENSORY BOTTLES FOR BABIES until now. Babies and toddlers both love them!


The water-filled bottles are fun to look at, but too heavy for WB to really handle safely. Making these SENSORY BOTTLES FOR BABIES was a terrific tactile activity for L, and WB seems to love shaking and playing with the bottles. Not only are they fun to play with around the house and in the car, but sensory bottles make great bath toys too!



Materials needed:

  • small, plastic bottles with lids
  • any of the following: pom-poms, feathers, sequins, straws, ribbon, cereal, dyed rice, etc.
  • glue

Making the bottles is pretty self-explanatory… Remove the label from the bottle. Fill with small, colorful items. Glue the lid shut.

As always, never leave infants unattended with toys, especially if it includes small items. You can never be too safe! Enjoy!!!



Have you seen our DIY Baby Play Area yet??? These bottles would be a great addition!

Low Fat Nutella-Banana Bread (Gluten Free)

Today I decided to incorporate Nutella into my favorite low fat banana bread recipe that I came up with years ago…and the results were amazing! Chocolatey, gooey Nutella mixed with sweet banana bread and the fat content works out to be only 2.5-3 grams per serving! This recipe made 12 muffins and one large loaf of bread.

Most people would probably mix the wet and dry ingredients separately and then combine, but I usually mix the wet ingredients then add the dry on top…mix the dry together a bit with a fork and then mix deeper, incorporating the wet ingredients.



  • 5 ripe bananas
  • 1/3 cup applesauce
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 3 cups flour (I use all purpose Gluten Free flour)
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1-2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4-1/2 cup water
  • 3/4 cup – 1 cup Nutella

**If you want to “half” the recipe, you can use 2 bananas, 1 egg and 1 eggwhite.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

First, mash the bananas in a large bowl (L’s favorite part!). Add the applesauce, eggs and vanilla and mix together.

On top of the wet ingredients, add the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon. With a fork, mix the dry ingredients a bit. Add water. Mix deeper with a fork, hand-held beater, or electric mixer…beat until all is combined.

Spoon Nutella into an oven-safe bowl and melt in the oven for a few minutes. Carefully remove the bowl from the oven and stir with a fork. Spoon in about 1/3 of the banana bread batter into the bowl with the Nutella and mix gently with the fork.

For muffins, I like to use silicone muffin cups…been using the same ones for years. No spraying or buttering necessary. Fill each muffin cup about halfway with the banana batter. Then add a spoonful of the Nutella mixture on each muffin. Top each one off with another spoonful of banana batter. Swirl each muffin gently with a toothpick.



Bake for 23-25 min. The “clean knife” testing method doesn’t work too well with this recipe because the Nutella will always be a little gooey. I knew ours were done when the tops of each muffin had turned golden brown.

To bake in a loaf pan, grease first with butter. Again fill about halfway with banana bread batter, then add Nutella mixture and finish off with more banana batter. Swirl with a knife. Bake for 40-50 min.



Yummmm!!! Enjoy!!!


Gnome Village Advent Calendar

I’m so super-excited about our GNOME VILLAGE ADVENT CALENDAR this year! Starting on the 1st of December the kids will lift up a gnome home each day…the house numbers will correspond with the day. Underneath each house will be a little surprise: a hershey kiss, a candy cane, a miniature ornament for the tree, or a special message. The “special messages” may include,

  • “Make cookies for a neighbor.”
  • “Make Christmas cards for friends and family.”
  • “Leave little notes written in chalk around the neighborhood.”
  • “Make a Gingerbread House today!”



Making the GNOME VILLAGE was a little time consuming, but very easy to make. You could always make your gnome houses very simply with a standard door, windows and house number and they’d look just as cute! Just mix up the colors for some variations!

Materials needed:

  • mulit-colored card stock (or you could use toilet paper rolls)
  • doilies
  • markers and/or paint
  • glitter
  • Elmer’s glue
  • hot glue gun
  • sequins, stickers, etc (optional)

First, cut the card stock in half horizontally, then take about 3 inches off the end. I like using card stock instead of regular construction paper because it doesn’t fade as easily and it’s sturdier. I’m hoping to use our GNOME VILLAGE year after year!

After your paper is cut, it’s time to decorate! We decorated some of our gnome houses with markers, some with paint and embellished them with sequins, jewels and glitter. Have fun and be creative! They certainly don’t all have to be Christmas-y, just colorful!




Once the houses have been colored and painted, shape the paper into little tubes and use a hot glue gun to secure them in place.





To make the gnome house roofs, make a cut to the center of a doily. (I actually used two doilies stacked for a sturdier roof.) Overlap the ends and glue into place…should make a little rooftop-cone.


To add snow to the roofs, very gently roll each roof in Elmer’s glue and then sprinkle with glitter. This was definitely L’s favorite part!



Using the hot glue gun again, attach each rooftop to a house. All done! Pretty easy, huh?


We plan to display our GNOME VILLAGE ADVENT CALENDAR on one of our mantels this year…with a little snow, mini-pine trees, and a few gnomes it will surely become one of our favorite Christmas decorations for years to come! So. Much. Fun! Enjoy!



Scavenger Hunt

SCAVENGER HUNTS are lots of fun for kids (and adults) of all ages! They only take a couple minutes to throw together and can be done just about anywhere…outside on a beautiful day, inside on a rainy day, in your backyard, on a walk around town, at an art museum or the grocery store. At times when kids may become impatient or get the wiggles, a scavenger hunt can be a great way to keep them entertained!

Basically all you need is a list of things to look for and a small bag to collect your finds. It’s that easy!

Our  “around town” scavenger hunt last weekend included the following: an orange leaf, a yellow leaf, a rock, a stick, a feather, a button, a flag, an acorn, a pumpkin, a scarecrow, books, a man wearing a hat, a dog, a flower, and berries. We put the small items that we found in our little bag, while the things that were too big (like a man wearing a hat) were just checked off the list.

You can make a scavenger hunt for long car rides too! Obviously you won’t be filling a bag with things, but your kids can check items they see off a list…or, even better, put it into a “BINGO” type format and you have a car game! See who fills their card first!

Another variation: Leave a trail of clues, leading your kids to a surprise in the end! We like to do this one around the house, sending L upstairs, then downstairs, into cabinets, and under pillows, all to find a hershey kiss tucked into one of her shoes at the end. It takes a little more prep time, but is oh so fun!!!

Where will your SCAVENGER HUNT take you?

Homemade Granola (Gluten Free)

Is there anything better this time of year than HOMEMADE GRANOLA, fresh out of the oven? It’s warm, a little chewy, and crunchy too. This granola is sweet and a bit salty, with a just a hint of cinnamon. Oh, how I love homemade granola!

I came up with this granola recipe years ago (a combination of Alton Brown’s, my mom’s, plus a few of my own additions) and I’ll warn you, it’s highly-addictive. The great thing about granola is that you can add or substitute some ingredients to make it your own. You could switch out some of the nuts with walnuts or peanuts, add a pinch of nutmeg or pumpkin pie spice. I like to use Pure Maple Syrup with this recipe, but if I have Apple Syrup from the farmer’s market on hand, it’s a delicious substitution! Granola is a wonderful gift for family and friends and this recipe makes plenty enough for two families. After it’s cooled completely just put half of the granola in a large mason jar with a ribbon tied around the lid and it’s ready to share! Enjoy!



  • 6 cups of oats (I use Bob’s Red Mill, Gluten-Free, Rolled Oats)
  • 1 cup almonds, sliced
  • 1 cup pecan pieces
  • 1 cup cashews, raw
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 1/2 cups coconut
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • cinnamon
  • honey
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup dried cranberries


Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.


In a large bowl, mix together the oats, almonds, pecans, cashews, sunflower seeds, coconut, and brown sugar.


In a smaller bowl (or in a measuring cup!) mix together the maple syrup, vegetable oil and salt. If you have kids in the kitchen, they’ll enjoy seeing how the syrup and oil separate in the glass measuring cup before you mix it all up!


Pour the syrup-oil-salt mixture overtop the oats and nuts. Mix until everything is evenly and thorough coated. Spread the granola out into a large baking pan, or what I prefer…a large, non-stick roasting pan used usually for cooking turkeys or hams. Place in the oven. The total cooking time will be about 2.5 hours for such a large amount of granola, mixing every 15-30 minutes with a large spoon or spatula. Here is the schedule I tend to follow:


Cook 30 min. Mix.

Cook 30 min. Mix again.

Cook 30 min. Mix. Add HONEY in a zigzag, all over pattern.

Cook 15 min. Mix. Add more HONEY and sprinkle CINNAMON on top too.

Cook 15 min. Mix.

Cook 15 min. Mix.

Cook 15 min. Mix. Enjoy some hot and fresh!

Allow to cool for 15 min. Mix in RAISINS and DRIED CRANBERRIES.



Enjoy!!! And share!!!



DIY Floppy Newspaper Hats

Oh, we had so much fun making these FLOPPY NEWSPAPER HATS today! I thought I’d write up this tutorial this weekend, but I just couldn’t wait…they’re just so much fun! If you have little boys in your messy house, please don’t think you can’t make these with them…a hat’s a hat! A floppy hat’s a floppy hat! I’m sure they’ll love them just as much as any girls will! Do it! There will be lots of giggling for sure.

Materials needed:

  • newspaper
  • acrylic paint
  • painters tape
  • tissue paper, poof balls, feathers, etc.
  • white glue

First, prepare your painting area. I taped some trash bags to the floor to protect it from paint…not usually necessary for painting, but the newspaper sheets are just so large.

Next, paint, paint, paint! Paint an entire sheet of newspaper, just one side though. Don’t worry if some  of the newspaper can be seen through the paint, nobody will notice when the hat is finished! Allow the paint to dry completely.




After the paint is dry, lay the paper overtop of another sheet of newspaper…two sheets will make the hat a little more durable. Fold the papers twice, once in each direction, and cut the paper so when you open them back up, you have a circle. The circle really doesn’t have to be perfect, it’ll look great when you’re done!



Next is the tricky part because kids tend to wiggle…lay the paper over your child’s head and scrunch fold it into shape. As you go around, use painters tape to hold the the folds in place. The great thing about painter’s tape is that you can fix any little mistakes and it won’t tear up the paint or paper.


In making WB’s orange hat, I just shaped it around my knee and it worked just fine. I also experimented and used a stapler instead of the painters tape. Stapling worked great and looks fantastic, but it is a little trickier to do. The paper tears a little easier with staples in it too.

Now to decorate your hat! You can cut flowers out of tissue paper or just cut squares and scrunch them up. If you layer the tissue paper a bit, the flowers are a little fluffier and prettier. You can also glue on poof balls, jewels, feathers, anything you can think of and find around your house!




Super cute, huh!? Forget Easter bonnets, we’ll be wearing these to Thanksgiving dinner!!! That is if they survive a month’s worth of tea parties…





Wouldn’t these be adorable for a birthday party? You could make the hats beforehand and let the kids decorate them at the party…so many fun possibilities! Enjoy!


The Best Pumpkin Seed Recipe Ever!

Store-bought pumpkin seeds don’t even compare to freshly roasted ones made right in your own home! This year I think I made ours too good…they barely lasted a weekend, most didn’t even make it out of the pan and into a serving bowl before they were devoured! I know Halloween is over, but you may have some un-carved pumpkins sitting on your front porch still full of seeds… Those seeds are calling your name…


  • 1 1/2 cups pumpkin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • salt

Plus any or all of the following:

  • garlic powder
  • chili powder
  • paprika
  • roasted cumin
  • cayenne

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

First, rinse the seeds under water washing away any pumpkin guts.

Pour the seeds out on a towel and gently pat them dry. (They don’t have to be perfectly dry.)

In a small bowl, toss the seeds with the olive oil and salt. Add your spices and toss some more to thoroughly coat the seeds. Make them to suit your preferences…if you like really spicy snacks, add more cayenne. Paprika is one of my favorite spices…kinda sweet, kinda smoky and a little spicy.

For little or no mess, line a baking pan with tinfoil. Spread the seeds out in a single layer.

Bake for about 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes, until golden brown.

Delish!!! (This handful of seeds was all that was left by the time I got my camera out to take a picture! They are just too good!) Enjoy!!!