We’re officially well into the month of December now, and that means the countdown to Christmas is at a mere 14 days away. Normally by this time, I’ve already trimmed my tree, finished my shopping and sent my packages on their merry way, but not this year. I don’t know what it is about 2017 (or maybe I do), but this time of year has been unusually busy and stressful.
My love of The Nutcracker has been well documented here. I attend the ballet every season—this year I’ll be seeing the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s version when my family comes to town—and last year I made these Karl Lagerfeld and Anna Wintour nutcrackers to add to my collection.
As soon as it’s appropriate to start decorating for Christmas, I sprinkle as many nutcracker-related objects around my apartment as I can get away with. I’ve got nutcracker ornaments on my tree, nutcracker place card holders for Christmas dinner, a countdown-to-Christmas nutcracker, several dozen decorative wooden nutcrackers (including a few standouts like the hand-carved masterpiece I purchased from a woodworking shop in Austria, a bespoke specimen made in the image of my dog and a mariachi nutcracker that pays homage to my San Antonio home) and…a dog who is technically a year-round ode to The Nutcracker: I named her after Clara.
All this is to say that every year around Christmas, I’m eager to add still more nutcracker to my life. Last week, I turned my attention to the oft-forgotten tree skirt. After snagging a simple red felt tree skirt with a pretty scalloped edge from Target last year for a measly five bucks, I wanted to do something to dress it up a bit. You see where I’m going with this, right? A few hand-sketched stencils and a couple dozen sheets of felt later, I found myself draping this newly festooned skirt around my tree and feeling very happy indeed.
For this project, you’ll need the following:
• a plain felt tree skirt—there are a couple good options here and here
• sheets of crafting felt in various colors
• fabric glue
• good scissors
• black and red markers
• nutcracker stencils 1, 2 and 3
1. Print out all three sets of stencils onto sturdy paper and cut them out. Using the stencils, trace the head, hair, mustache, body, pants and two boots in different colors of felt for each nutcracker you’ll be making. I made eight in total, but you can make however many you want. These would also be great for dressing up individual stockings.
2. We want each nutcracker to have his own custom look, so now’s the time to make a hat, beard and any uniform adornments you want to give him. I used this photo for inspiration, but you can really do whatever you want here.
3. Next, cut out eyes, a nose, a mouth, eyebrows and two little hands for each nutcracker. As you’ll see below, the noses, mouths and eyebrows are simple rectangles, the eyes are circles and the hands are semi-circles. I found these pieces were easiest to freehand. And don’t worry if they’re not super uniform—small imperfections add to the homespun charm of this project.
4. Once you have all your pieces cut, all that’s left to do is glue your nutcrackers together. Start by gluing the head to the hair, then glue the body and boots to the pants. Once those have a chance to dry a bit, you can glue the head to the body and then layer on all of the extra details. Let your fully assembled nutcrackers dry completely then use black and red markers to carefully draw on pupils and teeth.
5. Lay your completed nutcrackers out atop your tree skirt and check to make sure they’re spaced evenly. Add glue to the backs and press them firmly onto the tree skirt. If you’re worried about wear, you can use some tonal thread and a few stitches here and there to secure the nutcracker more firmly, otherwise all that’s left to do is drape your pretty new tree skirt around your pretty new tree and drink some eggnog while you appreciate your handiwork.
I always thought I hated eggnog, because until a couple of years ago, I had only ever had the store-bought stuff. I bear no ill will towards those who passionately love those cartons of pre-made nog, but might I humbly suggest you step away from that holiday display and instead mosey on over to the plain ol’ dairy isle where you can stock up on the fixings for this highly delicious homemade eggnog.
Never one to blindly follow a recipe (unless it’s from the Barefoot Contessa because, let’s be real, it’s hard to improve upon those classic gems), I started with a simple Martha Stewart recipe and ran with it. Although I’m not at all squeamish about using raw eggs in cocktails, I opted for a cooked, custard-based nog for two reasons: 1. it keeps better in the fridge, allowing for easy gifting to neighbors and coworkers and 2. custard is one of the most stunning culinary inventions ever, and I believe it should be incorporated into recipes whenever remotely possible.
And as for the added flavor: some freshly grated nutmeg for that familiar aroma, a dash of maple extract (my new favorite addition to buttercream and pancake batter) and a healthy dram of bourbon to warm you up. I defy you to restrain yourself to a healthy serving of this stuff.
Maple Bourbon Eggnog
adapted from Martha Stewart
• 3 cups milk
• 5 large egg yolks
• 3/4 cup sugar
• 2 cups heavy cream
• 1/2 cup bourbon
• 1/8 tsp maple extract
• grated nutmeg
1. Scald two cups milk. I like to do it in the microwave because it’s easier, but feel free to do it on the stove for the sake of tradition, if you prefer. Meanwhile, whisk 5 large egg yolks and 3/4 cup sugar on medium-high until very thick and pale yellow, 3 to 5 minutes.
2. Pour the scalded milk into a medium saucepan, then add half the scalded milk to the yolk mixture and whisk until blended. Stir into remaining milk and cook, stirring constantly over medium-low heat until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. You’ll know it’s ready when you can draw a line through the custard with your finger and the mixture doesn’t run.
3. Remove from heat and pour into a medium mixing bowl. Immediately stir in 1 cup heavy cream, then let cool for about 5 minutes. Stir in another 1 cup milk, 1/2 cup bourbon (or more!) and 1/8 tsp of maple extract—this stuff really goes a long way. Grate some whole nutmeg over the top, as much or as little as you prefer, and refrigerate overnight to really let the flavors meld.
Like beer, sausages and television, the advent calendar has German innovation to thank. Following the 19th century Protestant tradition of heralding each day in December with a chalk mark on the door or freshly lit candle at night, a German printer named Gerhard Lang created the first printed cardboard advent calendar in the early 1900s. He later outdid himself by inventing the first version that featured little doors that open, much like the current versions for sale at your friendly local Trader Joe’s. For the first half of the 20th century, advent calendars remained a primarily German tradition, and it’s rumored that advent calendars became popular in America only after a newspaper story featured a picture of President Eisenhower’s grandkids playing with one.
Although I have a special place in my heart for the traditional, this year I decided to strike out on my own and create a calendar from scratch. Yes, this may have something to do with the fact that I currently live 126 miles from the nearest TJ’s (but who’s counting). However: I really did enjoy the ritual of making each box, filling them with candy and hanging them from my pretty little tree branch while listening to The Nutcracker Suite on my record player. It’s the perfect way to usher in the season and it adds a bit of excitement to the everyday.
For this project, you’ll need the following:
• a branch (I found this one in the seasonal section of IKEA, but you could just as easily spray paint a branch from your backyard)
• pretty twine
• an assortment of decorative papers, enough to cut out 25 boxes
• mini bulb Christmas ornaments (I used two packs of these)
• gold tassels
• lots of stickers (I got mine at Hobby Lobby)
1. The first—and most time-consuming step—is tracing, cutting out and assembling all your little paper boxes. I found a great template here and printed it out on cardstock so it would be easy to trace. Then, I put on my current favorite show and went hard-core assembly line. I traced all the boxes, cut all the boxes and then folded all the boxes with some Christmas candy inside. I love that this template doesn’t require any adhesive, so if you’re careful, these boxes can be opened and refilled several times before they’re goners.
Remember to use plenty of string when tying the boxes together. This will allow you to vary the length they hang from the branch when you’re putting the whole calendar together.
2. After you’re done assembling all the boxes (go you!), it’s time to start building the calendar itself. Cut two long lengths of twine and use a slip knot to loop each length around one side of the branch. Tie the sides together with a pretty bow in the middle and hang the whole thing from the wall. It’s much easier to attach everything else if the calendar is already hanging in the place where you are planning to display it.
3. Start adding the boxes to the branch. Be sure to vary the heights and colors as you go, but don’t try to make it look too perfect—I like how charming and crowded the finished product looks. Every few boxes, add a gold tassel to the string before tying it on.
4. Add the mini gold Christmas ornaments, filling in any bare spots.
5. Finally, add the stickers! I started by adding some pretty silhouette stickers (because I’m currently obsessed with vintage cameos) to some of the boxes. Then, I numbered all the boxes in random order, since I think half the fun of an advent calendar is searching for the right box to open. I topped some of the numbers off with little golden antler stickers for a festive finishing touch that reminds me of magical reindeer. Maybe next year I’ll hide a baby carrot in the Christmas Eve box for Prancer.
6. Now all that’s left to do is find someone (kids are great, but boyfriends and friends work too!) to open a box each day and enjoy a delicious treat while we count down to Christmas.
Coat: Forever 21 // Vest: Target (sold out) // Sweater: Gap // Jeans: Old Navy // Bag: Kate Spade // Shoes: Target // Necklace: BaubleBar (old, similar here) // Ring: Stella & Dot // Sunglasses: Prada
More pretty pink coat options:
Another Christmas (and New Year!) has come and gone, and again I’m wishing for just a bit more of the holiday season before entering the cold, cold months of January and February. My family has always gone all out for Christmas: freshly cut trees, sugar cookie decorating, never-ending snacks, candlelit Christmas Eve service, and, of course, loads of presents. It’s a time of year I greatly cherish.
This year, I was so excited that I got to introduce Max to the joy of Christmas with my family. Sadly, we didn’t get to take part in our usual double celebration with family in California, but we did get to spend a whole week in Texas with all of my siblings (plus a new brother-in-law)! Since my sister Sarah has been living in Egypt for the past year and my brother is still in school in Virginia, getting everyone together was no small feat.
Spending quality time with my family is always my favorite part of Christmas, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t look forward to exchanging presents every year. Beyond the pure thrill of ripping open beautifully wrapped gifts, I like that each time I wear earrings from my sister or a coat from my mom, I think of them.
On the day after Christmas, I took several of my newest wardrobe items out for a spin at my favorite mall in San Antonio for some sale shopping. A preppy tassel adorns this structured Kate Spade tote that’s perfect for carrying my camera and all of my essentials (plus all-important extra layers). And I couldn’t be happier with this cheerful pink cocoon coat that will brighten even the drabbest of winter days when I’m back in Iowa.