Gift Ideas: Vodka Soaked Chocolate Covered Strawberries and BONUS: Chocolate Covered Strawberry Martinis

As you may know, Christmas 2018 was a handcrafted Christmas. Some of the gifts I made were more family-friendly (like the homemade board game) and others were more geared toward the adults (like the Awkward Cat Calendar). As such, there were a few instances where I needed (well, wanted) a small gift for either the adults or kids in the family.

For my brother and his wife, they live across the world and are only home every 3 years. This can make gift giving tricky because I can’t do any of my obvious DIY gifts for the home since it’d be really hard for them to take back with them. So, I opted for a “disposal” gift – vodka soaked chocolate covered strawberries. First, who DOESN’T love chocolate covered strawberries, and more importantly, who doesn’t love a little booze in their dessert? I know I do.

This was a really simple recipe. Here’s what you need:

  • Chocolate flavored vodka – I used Van Gogh Dutch chocolate infused vodka; any kind will do, but this was oddly one of only 2 brands available in a chocolate vodka at my local grocery store (pic below)
  • Strawberries
  • Melting chocolate – lots of people will tell you to get the special wafers that are meant for melting; they aren’t wrong, but I prefer the taste of milk or dark chocolate, so I tend to get regular chocolate chips or chocolate squares, melt it and then cut it with a TINY bit of coconut oil to thin it up so it’s easier to dip
  • Coconut oil (optional, see note above)
  • Wax paper
  • A cute tin or tupperware for storing the strawberries

These are DEAD EASY to make:

  1. Soak the strawberries in the vodka overnight. I put them in a glass container laid out side by side (so the strawberries didn’t get any soft spots) and poured about 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch of vodka into the dish.
  2. Remove the strawberries from the vodka and dry thoroughly. Don’t SQUEEZE them (you don’t want to lose the infusion), but you do need them to be dry to the touch if you’re going to get the chocolate to stick.
  3. Melt your chocolate and cut with a tiny bit of coconut oil (if using) to thin to a nice, dippable consistency. I have a little chocolate melting pot, but you can use a double boiler or pot of boiling water with another pot with the chocolate in it sitting down in the water. Try to avoid just microwaving the chocolate if you can – it’s really easy to burn. Also, microwaved chocolate tends to cool more quickly, making the last strawberries that you dip a little ugly…
  4. Dip strawberries in the chocolate and place onto wax paper to dry. Put into the fridge to speed up the cooling process.
  5. Arrange in a decorative tin or “treet” yourself!

TIP: Save the strawberry infused chocolate vodka! A few days later I made really yummy dairy free chocolate covered strawberry martinis that I adapted from this recipe. Instead, I used the following:

  • Chocolate syrup – to line the glass; just get crazy and drizzle it all in there
  • Strawberry infused chocolate vodka (from above) – I used 1.5 oz. per drink
  • Pinnacle Whipped Vodka – I used 1.5 oz. per drink
  • Sweet Creme coconut creamer – I used 1.5 oz. per drink
  • Ice
  • Blended strawberries

Put the vodka, cream and ice into a shaker and mix well. Pour into a chocolate syrup lined martini glass and top with a glob of pureed strawberries. Stir them in just a little bit and serve!

Gift Ideas: Reversible Drawstring Toy Bag

As with many of my recent posts, this was another item from Handcrafted Christmas 2018. I made this for my SIL, as she has two boys (3 and 1.5 and one more baby on the way!) so figured easy toy clean up and transportation is definitely something important to her.

The original idea for this gift (and subsequently, this post), came from a number of my fellow pinners on Pinterest. I looked at pictures to get some inspiration, but ultimately sorted out how to made this step by step on my own, so here’s what I did.

Materials:

  • 2 yards of soft, flannel fabric in two patterns (1 yard of each) – you don’t have to use flannel, but this gave the bag a really nice feel, so I opted to; it also makes the bag feel a bit more durable
  • Liquid stitch – you could also hand sew or use a sewing machine to make this bag. Since I didn’t have a sewing machine at the time (though I’ve since gotten one, thanks, MIL!) and I didn’t particularly feel like hand sewing it, I opted to use liquid stitch and it worked great
  • Grommets & kit – by “kit,” I mean the tool to install the grommets (see below pics for what mine looked like); I used this set
  • Something sharp to punch your grommet holes – the hubs had this random tool (see below pic) that I used that did a nice job of punching the hole, but you honestly just need something sharp to get the hole started
  • Super glue – I used this to keep the holes from fraying and expanding and opted for the brush-on super glue, which was helpful to keep it clean without getting my fingers stuck to anything!
  • Hammer and a small piece of scrap wood– if needed, to install the grommets
  • Rope – I used a dark blue paracord; get the appropriate size to fit through your grommets; I got mine at Wal-mart
  • Drawstring piece – this is completely optional – the bag works completely well without this part, but I just used one from an old coat; you can also get them on Amazon
  • A marker and scissors – to trace onto the fabric and then cut out your desired shape

Instructions:

  • First, I cut my fabric into circles. To do this, I flipped the fabric over and found a large, circular object (the bottom of my custom cat stratcher) and traced the circle on both pieces of fabric. Then I cut it out. It doesn’t have to be perfectly cut / edged as you will not see the rough cut edges once the bag is finished. Be sure to trace the circle on the back of the fabric.
  • Then, I took both pieces of fabric and put them face to face (ie, the sides of each that I wanted to show on the outside were facing each other with the opposite sides facing out). I used my liquid stitch to glue around the edge of the circle to bind the two pieces together. Be careful to stay as close to the edge as possible and make sure to leave a little bit unglued so you can turn the fabric inside out (so the right sides of the fabric are facing outward and the rough edges are hidden in the seams).

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  • Once you flip the pieces inside out so the right sides are facing outward, carefully finish folding the seam and glue the two flaps together. Your final seam should look like this.

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  • Next, poke your holes for your grommets and fit the larger piece through the hole. Use your super glue around the hole / rim of the grommet to prevent the fabric from fraying.

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  • Finish the grommets by taking the other piece (the smaller part that looks like a washer) and fitting over the cylinder piece. Use your grommet tool and hammer to fit it into place and finish the grommet. I watched this video before doing my own grommets and it helped.
  • Finish the bag by threading the rope through the grommets. I choose a “middle” to the bag and threaded the rope from there around both sides rather than feeding it through all the grommets starting at one end and working back around the circle. Once the rope is threaded through all the holes (and long enough for the bag to be fully laid out as the circle), cinch the bag closed and put your drawstring piece on to hold the bag closed. If you decide not to use the drawstring piece, you can just tie a loose bow knot at the top of your bag.

I decided to finish my bag by putting some cute little toys inside for my nephews. This helps with the bag presentation (makes the bag shape a little better) and also demonstrates the purpose of the bag for the receiver. Tada!

Gift Ideas: Custom Board Game

A lot of people have asked me where I came up with this idea for handcrafted Christmas / why I decided to do this and I, unfortunately, don’t have a great answer. I can’t really remember! So, regardless of the catalyst, I decided to make a custom board game for one of my nephews. He is turning 7 this month, so he is reading and starting to become aware of his surroundings, including his neighborhood.

As a kid, I was always a fan of the Game of Life, but could rarely get anyone to play it all the way through with me. As I got older, I found the game Mall Madness and LOVED it, so when trying to come up with the premise for this game, I decided to marry the two to create: My Actual Neighborhood (the hubs picked the title).

Here’s how I did it:

  • Create the game premise. Before you start designing a board or anything else, it’s important to have a plan for how the game will be played. That way, you’ll know what the board should look like and what pieces, cards and other materials you’ll need. I decided that I wanted to include pictures of his neighborhood, so, for the gameplay, each player would draw a card that would give them a “mission” for the game. This “mission” would include 3 places on the board that they’d have to go to in order to win. I then created cute little scenarios to accompany each combination of locations. For example, one scenario was: You’re having a sleepover with your cousins at Grandma’s. Start at home and pack your bag. Then, go pick up your cousins from their house. Lose a turn at their house because they aren’t ready. Finally, head to Grandma’s for a night of fun. Other scenarios require the player to go buy something (like craft supplies for a gift for mom or dad), for which they must first earn money. In order to earn money, they can either complete chores at any of the locations (each location has a corresponding chore and payment amount) OR they can get lucky and land on a board space that pays them (for losing a tooth, having a birthday, etc.). I outlined all of this FIRST so I could think through how to design the board and what other pieces I’d need to create.
  • Design the board. My next step was to draw out what I wanted the board to look like. I did this on paper first and really started by thinking about the locations I wanted to include (I included 6: his house, his school, our house, another aunt & uncle’s house, houses of his grandparents on either side and his mom’s work, which is Wal-mart, so it worked out for a few of the missions) and where they exist in relation to one another. My original sketch was pretty tough to follow, so I added color and it looked like this:

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Note, I added the park as somewhat of an afterthought because I had a lot of dead space and I also wanted a neutral location for all players to start. The same is true with the Community pool (I had a few extra blocks I didn’t know what to do with).

  • Create the board. Next, I transferred my design concept onto the actual board. I wanted to get an understanding of the sizing of each space / the board overall so I could create the other pieces to scale. Since my original design was on a letter-sized sheet of paper, I wanted to try to scale it so I wouldn’t have to rework all the spacing. My final sizing was roughly 4:1 (just under) with the fold down the middle of the board. This required a little math to convert onto the board, but I just counted the number of spaces I needed vertically and horizontally and then divided the length and width dimensions of the game board accordingly to create evenly sized spaces. The materials I used to create the board included:
    • Tri-fold board from the Dollar Tree – I used one side flap and part of the main board piece to create a board that had a pre-built fold down the middle.
    • Exacto knife and cutting mat – I used this to cut the top and side to get the size I wanted. It’s really hard to cut straight, so a metal ruler would have been incredibly helpful for this part, but I didn’t have one so I free-handed it (after making line markings, of course).
    • Ruler and pencil – for measuring and marking everything; as mentioned, if you have a metal ruler, even better as this will help you with cutting too!
    • Calculator or brain – to do math
  • Add board details. Once I had the basic layout of spaces, I went back through and added pictures of each location and other board accents. For the pictures, I printed them out at home on plain computer paper and used double stick tape to attach them. I decided to include arrows on each space to indicate which way a player could move (like how roads work). I also added stoplight symbols on some spaces and location markers on others; more about what these mean below. To finish the game board, I applied a thin layer of mod podge to the bottom. I decided against applying a layer on the top because I was worried it would prevent it from folding nicely and/or would make the colors run.
  • Create your supplemental materials. Now that the board was done, I needed to create everything else to go along with it. The supplies I used (referenced below as well) included: paper cutter (super helpful for getting straight cuts!), stamp pads in red and blue, letter stamps and a location symbol stamp, number stickers (Dollar Tree), colored dot stickers, printer and a few colors of paper. Note, the preview / google docs version of some of the below templates don’t display correctly. For best results, download and open with Microsoft Word.
    • Money – I looked at pictures online of board game money to get an idea (and also based this off of the style of American money since that’d be familiar for my nephew). You can see my money template here.
    • Mission cards – I used Microsoft word to create 4 cards per page and wrote out each mission using a numbered list. I made sure to keep the formatting consistent so each card would be the same size. Then, on the back, I used stickers and stamps to label each as “Mission” with a number (so they can switch up what mission number they have each time they play). I made a total of 10 missions. You can see my template here. 
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    • Stoplight cards – as I mentioned, I drew little stoplight symbols on the board with marker, so I needed cards to go along with them to indicate what they mean. Each stoplight card had some sort of driving-related incident – a speeding ticket, out of windshield washer fluid, ran out of gas, etc. If the player lands on the space, they must draw a card and then either pay the fine (if they’ve earned money) or lose a turn. Again, I used Microsoft Word; you can see my template here. I printed these on colored paper to distinguish them from the mission cards. For the back, I used colored dots to make the little stoplight symbol.
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    • Location symbol cards – these are like bonuses throughout the game. If you land on a space with a location symbol, you’d draw a card and earn money for some reason (babysitting your cousins, helping an elderly person carry their groceries, picking up your neighbor’s dog’s poop, etc.). I used a different color of paper for these and used a location symbol stamp to mark the backs. My template (Microsoft Word) is here.
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    • Instruction sheet – definitely don’t forget this! You can see my template here. I laminated it after printing just because I love laminating.
    • Location Chore Payment Card – as mentioned, if the player needed to earn money to make a purchase, he or she could choose to visit an additional location and lose a turn to earn some cash. I created this little guide here to indicate how much money would be earned at each location.
  • Make the game pieces. Thankfully, my husband got a 3D printer for Christmas in 2017. I don’t have any great recommendations for you on how to create pieces without one (maybe find random knick-knacks around your house that you could include? Maybe make little cardboard people or stands?), but here’s the pieces we used from Thingiverse:

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  • Make the game box. I found a really helpful blog about how to make a board game box here. My husband was adamant that he didn’t want to just use a clothing gift box, so I followed the instructions using a couple of boxes I received some shipments (Amazon, Wal-mart, etc.) to create a custom-sized box. Then, I covered the entire thing with thing brown paper (from my massive roll I’ve used for all my gift wrapping). I used mod podge to adhere the brown paper to the cardboard. Then, I printed out pictures of all the locations on the game board and a few others (his dad’s work, restaurants and stores they go to in their area, the mall, a park, etc.) and used these to cover the top and sides of the top piece for the box. I used mod podge to adhere the pictures to the box and then applied a thin layer of mod podge on top as well to give it a shiny finish and protect it. I also made sure to include the name of the game right in the middle.

 

Once I had everything done, I used baggies and a little box we had laying around to keep the cards, money and game pieces organized. Here’s the final product:

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Gift Ideas: Awkward Cat Calendar

If you read the title and thought ‘I don’t like cats,’ you are not alone. But don’t stop reading! Even if you are not a cat lover like I am, you can use the information to create a custom calendar about something you DO love…like your family, dogs, flowers, nature, etc. It’s totally customizable.

As this year was handcrafted Christmas, I decided to finally give in to what one of my sister’s had been basically begging me to make for years – a calendar full of awkward cat pictures. She does not have cats, so she finds it absolutely hilarious when they sit in awkward ways to lick their butts or generally lay very strangely. So, what better gift than 12 months of weird pics of cats? Here’s what I did.

Materials:

  • Paper – I used a thicker cardstock
  • Laminating pouches & laminator – optional, but this will not only create a better looking final product but, if you laminate like I did, you can create a calendar that can actually be used for years to come
  • Printer
  • Scissors
  • Markers – also optional, but I drew some designs on each page. You could totally print these off when you print the basic calendar layout if you don’t like to draw
  • Hole punch – I used a cat paw shaped one for some added fun; feel free to get creative
  • Binder rings – you will use these to put all the pages together but still allow it to fully open and hang; you could also use ribbon or similar, but I wanted something a little more hearty. I used these ones.
  • Picture corners – totally optional, but I wanted to give my sister the option to replace the cat pics with others in the future, so I put all the pictures in using these picture corners.
    • If you don’t end up using these, you’ll need glue or double-sided tape or some other way to attach the pictures to your calendar

 

Instructions:

  1. Choose your pictures – you will want anywhere from 3-6 pictures per page, depending on the size of the photo. I had a number of 4×6 pictures that I cut down to a much smaller size because, well, cats are smaller than humans, so they take up less frame. Since my calendar was all cats, I selected all my pictures and then organized them into themes and matched the themes up with the months:
    1. January – snuggly kitties (since it’s cold outside)
    2. February – all pics of Dex, since he was born in February
    3. March – all pics of G; we lost him in March of 2018 😦
    4. April – window perch pics since it’s starting to get a little nice out
    5. May – all pics of Jameson, since he was born in May
    6. June – Gemini sign, so pics of my “twins” – they are actually from different litters, but the same mama, but they act like twins with how they’re always together
    7. July – cats and humans
    8. August – sun porch pics
    9. September – all pics of Molly since she was born in September
    10. October – I call this the ‘murder series’ – my cats are indoor/outdoor and they are pretty serious hunters and, as such, bring us lots of ‘presents’
    11. November – twosomes and threesomes
    12. December – cats in boxes (like Christmas…with presents…ya know…)
  2. Print your calendar – this part is easy. You can use my calendar template here. I did not include the numbers for the month because I laminated my calendar. When you laminate paper, you can easily use dry-erase markers on it like on a whiteboard. So, my sister can add the dates on the appropriate days of the week depending on the year and use this calendar for years to come.
  3. Draw pictures and laminate – after I printed each of the calendar pages out, I felt like they looked a little bland. I’m not a huge fan of clipart, so I decided to hand draw two small images on either side of the month name. I chose images that I could (mostly) successfully draw and that would make sense for that month / their family. After everything was drawn, I laminated each page.
    1. January – New Year’s party hat and confetti / noise maker and a snoman
    2. February – snowflake and hearts
    3. March – shamrock and an Easter egg (although, unfortunately, Easter is SUPER late in 2019 at April 21)
    4. April – flowers and balloons (they have a birthday in April and April flowers bring…May showers…)
    5. May – balloons and an umbrella with rain (they have two birthdays in May and April flowers bring…May showers…)
    6. June – sunglasses and a flip flop
    7. July – American flag and balloons (they have a birthday in July)
    8. August – a sun and a schoolhouse (my sister is a teacher, so it’s back to school for her!)
    9. September – an apple and a football
    10. October – leaves and a pumpkin
    11. November – turkey and shopping bags (we LOVE Black Friday shopping)
    12. December – Christmas tree and a present
  4. Organize your pictures on the page – for this part, I HIGHLY encourage you to punch your holes on each month FIRST and then layout your photos. I made the mistake of not hole punching first and laid out all my photos, stuck them on and then had to try to work around them to create the holes on each page in roughly the same spot without ruining any pics. It was annoying; do better than I did. As a tip, you need holes at both the top AND bottom of each page. The holes at the top of the picture page will be used for hanging and at the bottom will be used to attach it all together. Be sure to remember that when you flip the month page up, it will be upside down and backward, so you need to put your pictures on correctly so they don’t end up upside down.
  5. Stick your pics and add the rings – once I had all my pictures cut to size and arranged, I started placing them on the page. After all my pics were in, I put my rings through to put the calendar together and that was it!

 

To complement the calendar, I provided my sister with two command hooks to hang it up (I thought hanging from two spots would be better than a center hole since the calendar had some weight to it) and some ultra fine point dry erase markers to write on each month (these ones).

Here are some pics:

(Apparently I didn’t take a photo of December…oopsies!)

Gift Ideas: A Year of Dates

As part of Handcrafted Christmas 2018, for the hubs, I decided to do a Year of Dates. I saw this idea on Pinterest from a number of pinners done a number of different ways. Everyone has their own preference to creating, so ultimately you do too, but I’ll include a number of different ideas / options / opinions below to give you an idea of all the variables you get to make decisions on.

This is a great idea for couples who don’t typically go out a lot together. We are generally homebodies and would much prefer a night in working on projects or hanging out than getting organized to go out. However, that sometimes means we don’t always make it a point to spend quality time together, so for this upcoming year, I decided to give us an excuse to do that.

Materials:

  • White and navy cardstock (or whatever colors you want)
  • Paper cutter
  • Various stickers and markers
  • 12 envelopes
  • Any supplements for various dates (print-outs, actual tickets, treats, etc.)
  • Box to hold finished dates

Variables: As mentioned, there are lots of different ways you can execute this gift. Below are a few callouts to the variable decisions you can make about how to do it.

  • Book vs. box – I saw lots of pinners who used a binder with page sleeves and letter size paper (or A4) for each date; I used a box with cards in envelopes because I got a few actual gifts to supplement some of the months
  • Pre-purchase vs. Post-purchase – some pinners recommended purchasing all the materials and tickets for every date in advance so the gift would be fully pre-paid and there’d be no excuse NOT to go do it; I opted not to do this for a few reasons:
    • We may change our minds on what a certain date is or where, so I didn’t want to be locked in
    • I want to use Groupon for some of the months and most Groupons only offer the promotional price for 120 days, so this wouldn’t work for anything after April
    • That’s a lot of money to spend at once vs. spread out over a year; especially if you’re already budget conscious at Christmas (who isn’t??), you may also want to opt to buy a few things only and save the rest as deferred payments.
  • General date ideas vs. specific activities & dates – for a few of the months, I picked a specific activity and corresponding date that we’d go. I didn’t do this for every month because, depending on the time of year, we may have a packed calendar and may need to work around other commitments. I didn’t want to buy tickets or spend money on something only to have to reschedule or miss out on something with one of our families. Also, my husband is not the type to be dictated to. He WILL, but it’s not his favorite, so I wanted to create some control/choice in the gift for him.

Okay, let’s get into the how to and the date ideas.

Instructions:

  • Brainstorm a list of dates that match your budget and location. Pair each date idea with an appropriate month. Determine the idea for each month BEFORE you start creating the date cards.
  • Identify an image, drawing or sticker you can use for each date idea (pre-plan your cards). I ended up using a lot of stickers, but I also hand-drew a few cards. It doesn’t matter if you are a great drawer – this is for your other half, so hopefully they’ll be understanding of your drawing abilities.
  • Create date cards. I had a couple of sessions when I sat down to do this. For me, it definitely wasn’t something I could just do in one go, both for time and creativity reasons. I used a variety of markers, stickers and drawings to illustrate each card and date idea.

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  • Purchase and organize any supplements.
    • I purchased some boxed candy to go along with May and July, both of which are “movie months.” I also created a supplemental doc to go with June which you can see here. We are going on an all-family cruise in June and our date will be to pick and enjoy an excursion together.
  • Label box and stack cards inside.

Here are some date ideas I used along with a bunch I didn’t. Keep in mind that you will have other ideas that are specific local activities unique to your area. There are a few on my list that are unique to where we live, so while you may not be able to do them, I’ve left them here to get you thinking about what you could add from your neighborhood.

Happy dating!

  • January – we’ll be going to see our city’s basketball team play; I got us super good seats (we aren’t doing so hot this season, so they weren’t terribly priced)
  • February – Tea for Two at my favorite tea room
  • March – Ice skating
  • April – Mitchell’s Ice Cream Factory tour (and ice cream!)
  • May – Dinner and a movie – we really want to see Avengers 4 when it comes out, so I picked May because it comes out May 4
  • June – Excursion on our family cruise
  • July – Drive-in movie
  • August – Picnic
  • September – Mini golf and ice cream
  • October – Glassblowing
  • November – Paint night
  • December – Couples’ massage
  • Other ideas:
    • Horseback riding
    • Beach day
    • Laser tag
    • Ziplining
    • Paintball
    • Bike ride
    • Amusement park or water park
    • Other sports game (soccer, baseball, football, hockey, etc.)
    • Concert
    • Play / musical
    • Comedy show
    • Murder Mystery Dinner Theater
    • Bowling
    • Kayaking / canoeing / paddle boarding
    • Hike
    • Escape room
    • Go kart riding
    • Museums

 

Gift Ideas: Couple Christmas Kits

If you’ve read Gift Ideas: For the Host(ess), then you’ve seen my dot design mugs. That technique, explained in the aforementioned post, was used for one of the sets below. As you may have seen in Gift Ideas: Family Tree, this year was handcrafted Christmas, where everyone on my shopping list received a handcrafted gift (in many cases this was alongside their regular gift). However, handcrafted Christmas or not, the below idea is great for a cost-effective, yet thoughtful and cute, gift idea. You could make this for a couple, like I did, or you could make it for a family or single person – just customize with the number of items you include.

Materials:

  • Mugs (I used white ones from the Dollar Tree, but you could use clear or a light color)
  • Oil-based paint markers, like these
  • Glitter (try to get fine glitter – it will lay better)
  • Dishwasher safe Mod Podge + application sponge/brush
  • Letter stickers or paper letters
  • Mug cake packs or mix (there are lots of great recipes for homemade mug cake mixes on Pinterest) – I bought mine at Walmart, but I’ve seen them at Aldi and Giant Eagle too
  • Fireside Coffee Mix & Jar (read the recipe I used here)

First things first, you need to make the mugs. I used 4 different techniques:

  • Dot Design – place sticker letters onto the mug and, using the oil-based paint marker, put a bunch of dots around the letters. Remove the stickers and fill in with dots, as needed, to ensure the letter (or word!) is visible.
  • Letter Block – place sticker letters onto the mug and, using the oil-based paint marker, draw a shape (square, rectangle, circle, diamond, etc.) around the letter. You could use a stencil but I just free-handed and it worked out okay. Then, color in the shape surrounding the letter. Remove the sticker and touch up as needed.

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  • Word Transfer – print out whatever word or name you would to transfer onto the mug and trace the BACK of the word with pencil, coloring in the letters completely. Then place the stencil against the mug with the front facing you (the backside with the pencil you just colored should be against the mug). Then, trace the letters again, fully coloring them in. Remove the stencil and you should have a pencil marking of the word on your mug. Using the oil-based paint marker, trace the letters of your word/name.

Note: If you’re using any of the above techniques with oil-based paint markers, you MUST let them dry overnight and then bake at 250° for 2 hours on a baking sheet. Otherwise, the paint will come off in the dishwasher.

  • Glitter dipped mugs – these were kind of a pain in the butt, but I followed the directions from this pin. The hard part was really just getting the glitter evenly dispersed with no white spots and no clumps. I found that pouring some glitter out onto a sheet of paper and gently dipping the mug onto it gave me a more even layer than trying to hold the mug and sprinkle glitter onto it.

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Once you’ve made your mugs, now you can make your Fireside Coffee mix (and mug mixes, if applicable). Don’t forget to add a label with directions for use!

Finally, put it all together. Since I didn’t make my own mug mix, I put the little pouches in the cups for a cute presentation. And voila – you have a cute, easy, and cheap gift. Who doesn’t love coffee and dessert with adorable and personalized mugs?

Merry Christmas!

Gift Ideas: Family Tree

This year, my husband and I (okay, okay, I basically coerced him) decided to do handcrafted Christmas. What is handcrafted Christmas, you ask? Well, basically we made homemade or personalized gifts for everyone on our shopping list. This started, in part, because I love to craft and wanted to try a bunch of different projects (but I don’t need a million crafts laying around the house), but also, my side of the family was doing a gift exchange this year, so I wouldn’t have the opportunity to buy for everyone. This way, I could still shop for my gift exchange assignments, but I could make everyone in the fam a personalize, heart-felt gift too!

As much as I’ve been wanting to post about these ideas for weeks now, I decided to wait until just before and then after Christmas to avoid any risk of anyone seeing their gift ahead of time. But, since I know my mom doesn’t read my blog regularly (thanks a lot, Ma hehe), I figured I’d be safe posting her gift a few days early.

I have a huge family – 4 siblings and lots of nieces and nephews. Family is really important to my mom (and to all of us, really), so I thought it’d be neat to make her something to showcase her big family, which is how I landed on creating a family tree.

I did a lot of researching online to get ideas for a family tree, but nothing I saw was really striking my fancy. There are lots of options on Etsy where you can get a printed version of a tree with text and it looks cool, but I didn’t just want a sheet of paper for her. There are also lots where you have a physical tree and then can hang little pieces with names, but I didn’t love this either, so I decided to create something of my own design. Here’s how I did it.

Materials:

  • Baltic Birch plywood (HIGHLY encourage getting nice wood for this – you will see below my first draft which was AWFUL in part because I used crappy wood)
  • Paper and pencil for drafting / practicing
  • Scroll saw or other type of saw to cut out your design
  • Sandpaper
  • Stain – I used Varathane Stain + Poly in Kona Semi-Gloss
  • Dremel or other carving tool (I used a Dremel Model 290 Engraver)
  • Command strips for mounting (I used the large velcro strips – I put them on the back of the tree and just left the wall side protective strips on so it’s super simple for my mom to hang up)

Instructions:

  • Draft the design. I made several iterations of the design before I got to one I liked. I started by writing out all of my family members’ names and grouping them together by family. I thought about including birthdates as well, but ultimately landed on just first and middle names. Once I knew I wanted to make an actual tree, I took my draft and turned it into a general tree shape with branches off the trunk for my mom’s kids (me and my 4 siblings) and then smaller branches coming off of our branches for the kids. Not all of my siblings have kids (for example, I have no children), so I either left it as a singular branch or added some small nubby branches for texture. My oldest sister has a kid who is already married and may be having children soon, so I made sure to include room on the branch for her husband’s name and two little branches off of their main branch for their future kids. Once I had my general design on paper, I put it onto the wood. Most of this I did free-hand, but you could find an image online and print it out. (The size I wanted would have been too big to print at home, but you can always print at FedEx or OfficeMax too!)
  • Cut it out. For v1, I used a jigsaw. This worked okay, but combined with the crappy plywood, it left choppy edges with some splintering. For v2, I used a scroll saw (never used one before this!!) and it came out super well. The biggest difference for me between the two is that it’s much easier to control YOUR speed on the scroll saw. You can set the speed that the blade moves, but you also move the wood rather than the saw, so it’s much easier to navigate slowly and steadily. Be sure to wear protective eye gear and keep your fingers away from the blade!
  • Sand and stain. You definitely want to sand the edges where you cut, including the tips of the branches. Be sure to give the front face a nice, quick sand using a high numbered paper (the higher the number the finer the grit, which means you’ll take less off for a smoother finish. If you have super rough edges, use a lower number grit to get more off at once). When you go to stain, definitely put down a cover for your workspace (it will make clean up SUPER easy) and be sure to start with the edges and then fade into the face of the tree. On v1, I forgot to do the edges first and you can see where I did them after the fact, which created somewhat of an outline effect to the tree. Do the edges as you go part by part staining in the rest of the tree to create a seamless blending. Let dry for at least 2 days in a well-ventilated, temperature controlled area (I let mine dry in my craft room instead of my basement so it’d go quicker).

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  • Carve. DEFINITELY practice on a scrap piece of stained wood first. Do not just dive straight into carving your piece. You need to get the feel for the tool and how it reacts to the wood and the stain. Be careful about making your letters too small – you may end up popping out any small portions completely, which doesn’t look great. Again, this is another reason to use the quality wood – I didn’t have any parts pop out completely, even with some pretty small letters. I free-handed all of my letters. You could use a metal stencil if you want, but if you practice enough (I had an entire tree of practice), then you can probably get away with free-handing as well. Just remember to go slow, take breaks, and breathe. Oh, and do a first pass of all the names and THEN go back and re-do any letters that didn’t come out quite right.

That’s it! All in all, v2 probably took about 4 hours in total (minus the lag time between staining and carving). It really wasn’t that tough of a project, but definitely learned a lot between the first and second version. If you apply what I’ve shared above, your first version will likely be amazing! See the huge difference between versions below. You can barely even read the names in v1, whereas v2 is clear and clean. Using better wood and a darker stain likely made this difference.