Holiday Greetings!

In celebration of Christmas, I’m off with family and friends for lots of laughter, warm conversation, and good food.  There’s no tutorial today, but I want to wish each and every one of you a happy holiday, whether you celebrate Christmas or not.  After all, this time of year is more about coming together to celebrate life, to put aside differences and help our fellow man, and to  cherish the relationships we hold so dear.  I hope you are with loved ones today, and that you form new and wonderful memories.

Posts have been slim this past week due to lots of traveling and an unexpected extended stay out of town, but I’ll be back this week this new crafty ideas, updates on my shop, and thoughtful inspiration for the new year.  I can’t wait!

Don’t forget our furry friends this season! They are family too 🙂

 

 

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Monday Munchies – Christmas Morning Cinnamon Buns

Mmm, nothing smells like Christmas morning than the sweet aroma of fresh cinnamon rolls hot from the oven.  A  traditional favorite that brings back great holiday memories, I still love cinnamon buns on Christmas if I’m able to make them (though now that I’m away from home I’m not always able to).  Do most of the work today and they’ll be ready to pop in the oven tomorrow morning.

Christmas Morning Cinnamon Buns

Dough Ingredients

½ c warm water
2 eggs
2 packages active dry yeast (or about 4 1/2 tsp)
2 Tbsp sugar
3 ½ oz instant vanilla pudding
2 cups cold milk
milk to mix pudding
1 tsp salt
½ c melted butter
6 c flour

Filling Ingredients

1 c butter, melted
2 c brown sugar
4 tsp cinnamon

Directions

Start by adding your yeast, sugar, and water to a mixer. If you haven’t worked with yeast before: To make sure you have the water at the right temperature stick the tip of your pinky finger in the water. If you can’t feel it, the water is a perfect 98 degrees. If it’s too hot or too cold, make adjustments.  This is worth taking the time to get right, trust me.

While the yeast is proofing, mix the pudding with 2 cups milk in a separate bowl and whisk until it starts to set up. Melt the butter in the microwave. Add the butter to the pudding along with the eggs and salt; mix. Turn your mixer on and pour the pudding mixture into the yeast mixture. Slowly add the flour one cup at a time and and knead until the mixture is smooth.

Allow the dough to rise for an hour. You can cover the mixer with a cloth and let it rise right in the mixer if you want. While the dough is rising,  get the filling ready by mixing the cinnamon and sugar in a bowl.

Prepare your counter for rolling the dough by dusting with flour. This dough is really sticky, so you need a lot of flour.

After the dough has risen for an hour, turn the mixer on for about 10 seconds and let the dough mix again. Then dump it out on the counter over the flour.

Sprinkle flour over the dough and then flip it over and reflour. Make sure there is enough flour on the dough so it won’t stick to the counter but do not knead too much extra flour into the dough (it will become too tough).

Roll the dough out to about a half an inch thick rectangle using your rolling pin.  Add more flour as needed. Pour the melted butter down the center and spread it out with a basting brush. Try to get it as close to the edges as possible without the butter running off.

Sprinkle the cinnamon and sugar mix evenly over the butter. Leave an inch on one side clear of filling so you can seal it shut. Tightly roll the dough into a long roll.  Cover two cookie sheets with foil and spray them with cooking spray. Cut your roll into 1-inch individual rolls and place them directly onto the cookie sheets. You can let them rise for another half hour and then bake them, or cover and refrigerate overnight. To cover, spray clear plastic wrap with cooking spray and then lay it lightly over the top of the rolls. (If you don’t spray it first the dough will stick to it. When you try to peal it off, they will just deflate.)

Untitled 1 Christmas Morning Cinnamon Rolls

Refrigerate overnight. The next morning pull the plastic wrap off very carefully and bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes.

Don’t Forget the Frosting

While they are baking, whip up some tasty cream cheese frosting (that’s really what makes a cinnamon bun so good).

Ingredients

8 oz cream cheese
½ c butter, softened
1 Tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla
2 c powdered sugar

Directions

Cream the butter and cream cheese until they are smooth and then add remaining ingredients and whip for a couple of minutes. You can also make this the night before if you want, just cover and refrigerate.  Bring it out of the fridge when you place the rolls in the oven so the frosting has time to soften before spreading (it’s a bit difficult to spread stiff frosting).  Serve warm!DSC 0381 Christmas Morning Cinnamon Rolls

 

Free Printable Christmas Cards

We are now only 10 days from Christmas!  In celebration, here is a collection of free printable Christmas cards (a great way to further avoid crowded busy stores this time of year).  Enjoy!

Find this handwritten card here.

free printable Christmas cards

This artistic reindeer (along with a slew of other cute little square cards) can be found here, along with a template for a printable envelope!

Small Businesses - ResourcesSmall Businesses - ResourcesSmall Businesses - Resources

Xerox has a whole bunch of cute cards as well, and you can even customize your inside message before you print them! (find them here)

For the owl lover, you can download 3 adorable owl-themed cards here.

And for more free printables (including cards, tags, gift card holders, wrapping paper and other holiday projects), check out Sweet Muffin Suite’s 24 Days of Freebies.  I think I’m going to use every single one 🙂

Monday Munchies – Holiday Pretzel Kisses

Need a quick snack for a holiday party or a cute gift idea for neighbors or coworkers?  Try these sweet and festive treats that are sure to be a hit this Christmas!

This cute idea is from Little Birde Secrets.  They have tons of tutorials and creative ideas, so I definitely recommend checking them out!

Holiday Pretzel Kiss Candy Recipe


Ingredients:

  • Small, waffle-shaped pretzels
  • Hershey’s Kisses (plain old chocolate are good, but my favorite are the Candy Cane Kisses–any variety of Kisses or Hugs will work)
  • Red & green M&M’s
  • Cookie sheet and parchment paper

1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or wax paper). Spread out pretzels.

2. Put a Hershey’s Kiss or Hug in the center of each pretzel.

3. Heat oven to 170°. Place baking sheet in oven for 6 minutes. Kisses will just begin to melt and look shiny, but will not lose their shape.

4. Gently top each Kiss with an M&M, with the “m” side down. It should immediately push the Kiss’ point down, but if you have to press it into the Kiss, you may need to heat them a little longer.

Place in the freezer until the Kiss is hard again. Package them in a cello bag, add a bow and a tag, and you’re good to go!

 

Tuesday Tutorials – Make Your Own Gift Bag

December is finally here, and with it comes lots of gift wrapping for the holidays.  Last week we learned how to make gift bows for our boxed gifts, and the week before we used old greeting cards as fun and creative gift tags.  Today we look at gift bags–possibly the easiest way to wrap anything (after all, you just stick the item in the bag and put some tissue paper in it).

If you don’t want to spend money on gift bags, or are just looking for a way to be more eco-friendly this holiday, trying making your bags from newspapers, magazines, leftover wallpaper, or even extra wrapping paper you have around.

This tutorial is from an awesome blog called How About Orange, and it focuses on using newspaper for this demonstration.

How to Make a Recycled Gift Bag

You can vary the dimensions, of course, but here’s what will create a bag that’s 5″ tall, 4.5″ wide, and 3″ deep.

Stack two sheets of newspaper on top of each other. This will be a two-ply bag for extra sturdiness.

Cut out a rectangle that’s 15.5″ wide and 8.25″ tall. If your paper already has a fold in it, align the existing fold with one of the fold lines in the diagram below, unless you don’t mind an extra fold appearing somewhere on your bag. I cut out this rectangle, then flipped the paper over so the blue area would be on the outside of the bag.

Fold a flap 1.25″ down from the top. Fold a flap 2″ up from the bottom. Then measure off and make vertical folds in the places shown in the diagram above. The front and back panels are 4.5″ wide, the side gussets are 3″ wide, and you’ll need a 0.5″ flap for gluing the bag together.

If you want to add more stability to the sides of your bag, cut two pieces of cardstock, thin cardboard, or chipboard to 4.25″ x 1″, then glue them on the widest two panels just under the top fold.  Glue the top flap down along the length of the bag, covering the cardstock. Since the bag is two-ply, you’ll need to glue both flap pieces down one at a time. (I believe this step to be optional, but very helpful in getting your bag to stand up nice and firmly on its own.)

Put glue on the outside of the 0.5″ tab and bring the left-most panel over to form the body of the bag, aligning the cut edge of the panel with the folded edge of the flap. Add a little more glue to make sure the outermost sheet of newsprint gets tacked down, too.

Upend the bag so the 2″ flap is now up. Fold the short sides inward as if you were wrapping a present. If it seems easier, you could also lay the bag on its side and crease those folds against the table.

Put glue on both flaps and fold them inward to form the bottom of the bag. Standing the bag upright and pressing down from the inside will help to secure them.

Cut a piece of chipboard or cardboard to 4″ x 2.5″ and glue it to the bottom of the bag to reinforce it and hide the flaps. This lends more stability to the bottom of the bag.

Punch holes in the rim of the bag, adding eyelets if you like, and string some cord through the holes to form handles. Knot each end of the cord so it won’t pull out through the holes.

This tutorial is a bit free form, but you can also create different size bags by using boxes as a mold.  For example, this tutorial uses a cereal box to create the shape of the bag, and this one uses a wooden box just big enough for a bottle of wine.  Larger shoe boxes work particularly well if you need a wider base for your bag.  You can get creative and use any size box you have around the house, or use the above method to create your own custom size.

Many of my gifts this year can fit nicely in wrapped boxes, but I may have to make a few of these bags just to try it out.

Saturday Snapshots – Thanksgiving

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

At the End of a Long and (Ful)filling Day

I love Thanksgiving.  I love all holidays really.  For me they are full of family and fun and good warm memories.  Today was no different, and on my long drive home I thought of all the things I am thankful for this year.  I figure here is as good a place as any to share 🙂

1. My Freedom.  My freedom as an American, my freedom to wake up in the morning and choose what to do with my life, my freedom to go anywhere and do anything. I can walk outside without being fearful of any imminent threat, or go to the grocery store and know that I can buy as much food as I’d like without it being rationed. Freedom is one of the most valuable things I can think of.

2. The unconditional love and unending support of my family.  Especially my mom and grandmother.  They have always been there for me, and I know no matter where life takes me, they will continue to help and support me in my endeavors.

3. The companionship of my dog, Lola.  Like my family, she is always there to cheer me up.  She’s a great listener and hugger.  She provides warmth and smiles and keeps loneliness at bay. I don’t know what I’d do without her.

4. Being home.  Although this may be temporary if my business doesn’t pick up and I have to go back to work, I am thankful for every day I can be home.  I see my wonderful boyfriend and Lola, I spend the day knitting and running my little business, and I can go outside and enjoy the fresh air whenever I want.  That’s something I really missed when I was in an office all day.

5. My little apartment.  It may be a bit crowded, but it’s a roof over my head and a warm bed at night.  It’s a place to call home, where I find comfort and relaxation.  After long days like today, it’s a place I love to be.

6. Books.  They take me places I can only dream of.  An escape from the everyday, I can travel the world and the stars without every leaving home.

7. My health.  I can hear and see the great big world around us, I can taste foods inspired by cultures around the globe, and I can go for long walks to clear the mind and refresh the soul.  I know I could do better (who couldn’t eat a little healthier or exercise a little more), but I am truly grateful for the health I have.  Not everyone is as lucky.

8. The internet.  It has connected me to great people, like my readers (thank you!  I never thought anyone would want to read my blog, really), and customers, and friends.  The internet has connected me to the world and opened up amazing possibilities.  I can find a wealth of information and new skills all with the click of a button.  It’s amazing!

9. Choices.  This goes along with freedom I suppose, but I am grateful for all the choices I have.  I can choose any food I want to eat, even if its out of season.  Or I can choose to eat in season only.  I can choose where to live, what kind of business to run, or what kind of dog to own.  If I want only eco-friendly products, I have choices.  There are endless choices of new clothing fashions, or I can choose to wear what I have till it falls apart.  I can choose to walk, or bike, or drive, or take a bus to wherever I want to go.  I can choose to have a doughnut for dinner or leftover pizza for breakfast.  Sometimes I’m still shocked at how many choices we face in a day, and the control we have over our lives and our future.

 

So what are you thankful for today?

 

10 Awesome Reasons to Buy Handmade

I believe a key part of growing any business in the handmade community is not only about gaining the support of fellow handmade artists, but convincing regular consumers that buying handmade is a smart, viable choice for their hard-earned dollars.

If you search for ‘reasons to buy handmade’ in your favorite search engine, you get a LOT of results.  On one hand, that’s a good thing.  It means people are talking and thinking and posting about why the world should buy more handmade goods.  Being a handmade artist myself, I fully support this.  But I found that many of the reasons were the same, and if I was just a regular consumer (not a member of the handmade community already), I’m not sure I’d be very convinced that handmade shopping is the easiest way to go.

Yes, I said the easiest way to go.  Certainly handmade is the better way, and I’m not sure many people can argue with that. Look at all the ways it’s better:

1. You support local artisans, and therefore their local economy and community.  Supporting local business has a huge list of benefits all to itself, far too many to list here, but it’s a good thing, trust me.

2. You get high-quality items that are built to last, not all the stuff that has the “How cheap can I produce this?” mentality.  It’ll probably fall apart in a year or two, but handmade items have longevity.  Artisans have pride in their work, and want it to last.  Even the materials are hand-picked by an individual, and what big manufacturing company can say that?

3. Your gifts are the best on the block.  Cool, trendy, unique, and usually one-of-a kind, you can find some really awesome handmade stuff that’ll make everyone ask “Where can I get one?”

4. Customization!  Since each and every item is made by hand, and you are usually talking directly to the person making it, you can tweak the color or size of something you are interested in, or even get a fully commissioned custom order done.  This avoids you having the excuse of “it was all the store had left.”  Want a cool case for your new gadget, but maybe you have some weird size the store doesn’t offer?  Get is custom made to your exact dimensions!  Doggie sweaters from the store never quite fit your beloved pooch?  Customization to the rescue!  The possibilities are endless really.

5. You’re helping the environment.  It’s always a nice feeling to ‘go green’ isn’t it?  Handmade items aren’t made in a waste-producing factory and shipped halfway around the world using fuel and energy.  Buying handmade (especially really locally) can greatly reduce your carbon footprint on the world.

6. You gain a unique connection with an artisan.  You can be in direct contact with the person who made the item with their own hands.  For some reason this is just really cool.  I mean, think about how awesome it’d be to meet your favorite clothing designer, artist, author, or chef.  It’s kinda like that feeling, but on a much smaller and more intimate scale.

7. Let’s not forget the warm fuzzy feeling of knowing you helped support someone very directly.  For example, when you purchase something from my shop, you just helped put food on the table for another meal (and I thank you deeply for that).  You don’t have to pay the shop’s cashier and the various levels of management and the supplier and the designer and the manufacturer, because just one person is all those things!

See, that’s at least 7 really strong reasons why buying handmade is better.   But let’s be honest, when the holiday rush hits, a lot of buyers may not be looking for better as much as they are looking for easy.  The holidays can really sneak up on us, and we all just want to have the gift shopping DONE and the gifts wrapped with plenty of time to bake those cookies and relax a little bit before running to 100 different holiday parties and dinner.   So today I offer you reasons why buying handmade can be the easiest holiday shopping choice you make:

1. Avoid crowded stores.  How annoying is it to maneuver yourself (and your cart, and possibly kids) through packed store aisles only to fight with someone for the last thing on the shelf then wait in a line for hours with a cart full of stuff and realize you still need to get something for your mother-in-law or coworker or neighbor?  Talk about stressful.  Buy handmade items at local craft fairs, markets, and boutiques, or shop online to avoid people altogether.

2. Get it gift wrapped.   This may not apply to all handmade goods, but a large number of sellers do offer a gift wrapping service (sometimes even free). Even if it’s not free, the few dollars it costs you may be well worth it, especially if you can’t find the gift wrap you bought last year so you have to go out to another crowded store to buy more, then find a free afternoon to clear space on the crowded dining room table for all the wrapping paper, tape, scissors, gift bags, tissue paper, and gifts.  Save time and energy!

3. Get it all done at once. Find a large craft show in your area and get all that holiday shopping done at once.  Craft shows usually offer a much wider range of goods than your typical store, so you don’t need to run to a bunch of different places to get everything you need.  This is even easier if you shop online.  Online marketplaces have goods from thousands of handmade artists all over the country, and from around the world, so you’ll have no excuse not to find that perfect gift for everyone on your list.

What can be easier? And if you start to protest that maybe you are more into the high-tech gadget-y stuff, no problem, but you’ll probably need a case to protect that new expensive item, so consider a handmade one before you run to the store.  And if you object that handmade is so expensive, then I refer you back to the reasons why handmade is better.  You have to pay for quality my friends, and be smart shoppers.

I encourage each and every one of you to buy more handmade this year and every year, not just for the holidays but for all special occasions, or maybe just because you want a new throw pillow for the couch or a beautiful new necklace for yourself.  The sky is the limit!

Need help finding handmade gifts?  Besides looking at my shop 🙂 you can check out the artisans featured here on Homegrown Joy every Friday for ideas, or visit online marketplaces like Etsy or Artfire. Happy shopping!

Tuesday Tutorials – Make Your Own Teacup Candles (or Just Regular Candles)

Last week we learned how to remove candle wax from the cool glass containers they come in.  This week, we do the opposite and learn how to make the candles, specially in teacups but you can really use any glass jar or container you have.

There are a few ways to start when you want to make a teacup candle:

  1. Remember when I mentioned you should save your wax?  This is one reason why!  You can melt those pieces down to make a brand new candle.  I do suggest you use a bunch of unscented ones together, or similarly scented ones, but I don’t think you’ll have great results with 10 different smells going on (not to mention what kind of color you’ll end up with!)
  2. Buy a new free-standing votive to melt down.  I did this when I was in a pinch last Christmas and wanted to make my grandmother a teacup candle as a gift.  The benefit here is you’ll already have a wick to use!
  3. Gather your old candles that are half-gone or melted in funny.  You know those candles that won’t stay lit, or that only melt straight down the center to you end up with high walls of wax that doesn’t melt?  Those are perfect here.

For today’s tutorial, we are going with #3.

How to Make a Teacup Candle

1. Melt old candles in nested pans

Find two pots that nest together where the bottom pot has water in it, which is brought to a boil. The top pot is empty but for the candle wax. The heat from the boiling water underneath the wax will cause it to melt. Don’t have a pan that will nest on top?  You can still make it work.  In the past I’ve used a heavy glass bowl to melt chocolate above a pot of boiling water and it worked fine.  Use what you have, but be careful not to burn yourself if the vessel you are melting wax in doesn’t have a handle.

2. Get a wick ready.

You can purchase some inexpensive wick kits at any craft store, they usually come with the metal circles you put at the bottom of the candle.  You can make your own wick by takeing a long (5ish feet) string and fold it in half over and over again until it is only 6-8 inches long then twisting it and dipping it in melted wax, then smoothing down it with your fingers and repeating this a few times.
To be honest, that seems like just a little too much work for me, but if you want to try it out, go for it!

3. Hold wick in place and pour in wax

If you made your own wick, you can tie one end of the wick to a washer to weigh down the bottom of the wick.  If you bought a kit, then follow the instructions to attach the wick to the metal circle (you’ll really just need some pliers to pinch it closed).

Wrap the other end of the wick to a pencil, chopstick, wooden skewer, or popsicle stick and continue to wrap it until the pencil/chopstick/skewer/popsicle stick can rest easily on top of the cup.

The wick should be standing up straight, held down by the weight of a washer or metal circle (which are a little lighter than washers but should still work).

Then, pour in the wax.

4. Wait! 

Ideally wait overnight for these to harden. In the morning, trim the wick and remove the pencil/chopstick/skewer or whatever you used to hold the wick! Enjoy!

These make great little gifts for the holidays, birthdays, or just because!

Tuesday Tutorials – Personalized Initial Felt Notebook

Today’s awesome tutorial comes from Everything Etsy, where we are making personalized initial felt notebooks.  They are too darling to pass up!  I have not made one of my own yet, but it’s on my list as Christmas gifts to my family.  I think ones covered in darker colors (black and gray, dark brown and tan, etc) would be fitting for the guys.  Pair it with a nice pen for the adults and colorful pencils or crayons for the kids and you have a perfect little gift for everyone!

 

felt notebooks tutorial 6

 

You’ll need:

  • Notebooks
  • Wool Felt
  • Embroidery Floss
  • Stick Pins
  • Sharp Scissors
  • Glue Stick
  • Needle
  • Printed Initial

 

1.  Trace around your notebook on a piece of paper, cut it out and use it for your template.

2.  For the initial I found a font that I liked online and printed out the letter.  Then I used the copier to enlarge it to the right size.  You could easily size it before printing if you prefer.

bookmark tutorial step1

3.  Pin the notebook template and the initial to the wool felt and cut them out carefully.

4.  Line up your initial in the bottom corner of your template and attach it with two strands of matching embroidery floss and the stitch of your choice.

notebook tutorial step 2

5.  Once you have completely attached the initial it’s time to glue your cover to your notebook. Most scrapbooking glue sticks should be strong enough to work just fine.

Start at the front edge of the notebook and line up your cover.  Be sure to lightly glue the whole edge and attach with pressure.  Slowly add more glue and work your way all the way to the back of the notebook.  It will stretch slightly as you go but don’t worry.

6.  Once you are finished with the glue just trim around the whole notebook.  Then trim again to straighten the few uneven spots you’ll have left.  Sharp scissors make it easier!

felt notebook tutorial 4

There you have it!  A simple project for a rainy afternoon that makes great gifts for friends, teachers, neighbors, family…the possibilities are endless with the right combination of felt colors and notebook sizes.  Happy note taking!