New Wintery Bloggy Design

So as you’ve probably noticed, I’ve been playing around with the blog design. Everything should be the same layout-wise, but I’ve changed the colors to a icy wintery theme, with a few festive holiday touches thrown into the mix.

Had a lot of fun making this recursive screenshot.

I may keep tweaking things here and there, but most likely it’ll stay this way until spring, at which point I’ll either switch it back to the old design or whip up something more spring related.

What do you think? Any suggestions for improvement?

Update: Well, I guess I just can’t help continually tweaking things. By the end of winter, the blog had gotten a more mainstream minimalist look:

Wintery bloggy design as seen toward the end of winter.

DIY Baby Handprint Ornament

Last night, I made a quick post about the various kinds of baby handprint ornament ideas I’ve found while browsing around on Pinterest and the internet at large. The last one, a glittery handprint on a clear glass ornament, struck me as really elegant and pretty, and I wanted to try making something like it.

From the start, though, I decided to make a few changes from that original project: instead of a glass ornament, I’d use a shatter-proof plastic one, and instead of messing with ink and glitter and embossing heat guns, I would just use some glittery paint. With that in mind, I gathered together some craft supplies:

Glittery paint and clear plastic ornament.

The clear ornament really resembles a glass one, so it’s nice to get that unbreakable cat-proof durability without compromising on the look of it. As far as costs go, this was a pretty inexpensive little project. Below is a list of stuff gotten at Michael’s along with the prices:

  • Clear Shatterproof Ornament (4″ Diameter) – $1.49
  • Multi-surface Glitter Acrylic Craft Paint (Green) – $2.99
  • Multi-surface Glitter Acrylic Craft Paint (Red) – $2.99

Total craft supply cost: $7.47

I didn’t have a coupon or take advantage of a half-off sale or anything, so I imagine that this could be done even more cheaply with some minimal bargain-hunting effort. That being said, I did end up using a few other non-craft-store items when all was said and done, but it’s all the sort of stuff you’d probably already have lying around in your kitchen / home office / diaper bag. The list:

  • Paper Towels
  • Baby Wipes
  • Plastic Cups
  • Narrow-tipped Paint Brush
  • Ink Pad (Optional)
  • Red & Green Curling Ribbon (Optional)

The paint is water-based and non-toxic according to the label, and I arranged to do this little project right before I was planning on giving Lily a bath. The plan was simple: dip her little hand in paint, press it against the ornament, and voila, done in five minutes. I figured I would spend more time cleaning up than it took to make the thing.

But… yeah, I kind of underestimated it a bit. Just getting Lily to straighten out her fingers was a challenge (she likes making fists) and it turns out paint smears really, really easily on that smooth surface of the ornament. The slightest movement would distort the handprint beyond recognition.

Luckily, baby wipes worked really well for cleaning the wet paint off of the ornament, so every time it got messed up, I would just wipe it off and try again. And again. And after about six tries and a very glittery baby, I decided that it simply wasn’t possible. So, I tried to devise some other way of getting her handprint on the ornament.

Here’s what I came up with:

Glittery handprint on a paper towel.

Basically I had the idea to create the handprint on another less slippery surface, in this case a paper towel, and then transfer it to the ornament. In order to make the handprint on the paper towel, I used an ink pad (the kind you’d use for rubber stamps or making baby footprints in the hospital) to get a good outline, then glopped a thick layer of paint over it with a paint brush. This step might be unnecessary if you can get a good handprint directly with the paint, but I found that to be pretty difficult too.

Anyway, from there I was able to (very slowly) press the paper towel against the ornament to get a clear, non-smeared-up handprint. Maybe this indirect method could be considered cheating a little, but it was the only thing I could figure out to make it work, and I think the end result looked reasonably passable:

Lillian's finished baby handprint ornament.

The finished ornament is so shiny and reflective that I actually had kind of a hard time photographing it. After the handprint was made in the green glitter paint, I took a brush and wrote Lillian’s name along with the year in sparkly red. I also tied a loop of red ribbon to the top for hanging purposes, and added some curly bits of red and green ribbon just for show.

Name and year painted on the ornament.

A few other notes: this particular paint dries pretty much clear except for the glitter, so it takes several coats to get any good solid color. (And I did have to touch up the handprint with a brush quite a bit to get it that dark.) It also seems to wash off of surfaces like skin, brushes, and plastic very easily with just some warm water, so I wouldn’t try to run an ornament like this through the dishwasher or anything.

Anyway, there you have it — baby’s first Christmas ornament, featuring her handprint, her name, and the year in shiny glittery paint. It was really fun making it, even though it wasn’t as easy as I originally expected, and I’m almost tempted to try making a bonus ornament using one of the other techniques from that last post full of baby handprint ornament ideas. I’m pretty sure we already have all of the ingredients for the dough in our kitchen…

Baby Handprint Ornament Ideas

In my post about personalized Christmas ornaments from a few days ago, I mentioned wanting to make a baby handprint ornament for Lillian’s first Christmas. There were some great suggestions in the comments, and I’ve managed to find a handful (pun intended) of really cute projects via Google Images and that beautiful time-sink Pinterest. So, I figured I’d write up a blog post with some examples of the various baby handprint ornament ideas I’ve come across.

First up is this plaster one that comes in a kit, available at various websites for a pretty reasonable price — around $12 – $15 from what I’ve found. It makes a sweet, simple imprint of baby’s hand, and even though I haven’t actually tried doing one, it seems like one of the easier options, considering that it comes with instructions and includes everything you’ll need.

Plaster kit for making a baby handprint ornament.
Available here.

This next ornament is similar to the plaster option, except it uses dough. Its interesting how the look of the molded handprint changes subtly with the different materials — the dough has a smoother, almost translucent look to it, as seen in this cute example involving twins:

Twin baby handprints in a dough ornament. Image from here.

I imagine it would be quite a bit less expensive than the plaster kit as well, since you just need flour, salt, and a few other kitchen ingredients.

At the ritzy high-end of molded baby handprint ornaments, there’s the option of actually having a glazed ceramic one made. Definitely not a DIY project unless you own a pottery shop and/or kiln, and it’s the priciest option I’ve found at around $45 including shipping. But they do look pretty awesome:

Ceramic baby handprint ornament. Available here.

From what I understand of the Etsy listing, they send you a kit for making an imprint of the baby’s hand, you ship that back to them, and then they magically turn it into the kind of molded 3D ornament pictured above. So in addition to being the priciest, it also sounds like the most hassle as far as ordering it is concerned.

Update: The Etsy artist has provided a more detailed explanation of how the ordering process works for these ornaments, and it may not be much of a hassle after all. See her reply in the comments section of this post for more details.

And finally, there’s good old-fashioned paint, which can be used to transform any old round ornament into a family keepsake. The most striking example I’ve found is this one, which features a glittery baby handprint on a clear glass ornament:

Baby handprint in glitter on a glass ornament.
Image from here.

Although technically, the above ornament didn’t use paint, but rather a combination of clear embossing ink and glitter — you can check out the full-sized image and details on how they did the project here.

Anyway, those seem to be the main categories of baby handprint ornaments that I’ve found while searching around for examples and inspiration. I’ll be back tomorrow with a post about my misadventures in trying to actually make one, so stay tuned for that!

In the meantime, do you have a favorite among the examples above? And did I miss any notable techniques or clever ideas for this type of project?

Update: I’ve taken a stab at creating a baby handprint ornament of my own! Check out my post about the results to see how it went.

Personalized Christmas Ornaments

As I mentioned briefly in my post about this year’s budget Christmas tree, we don’t have much of an ornament collection right now, so we decorated our tree with some inexpensive shatter-resistant ones from Home Depot. They don’t have any kind of story behind them (except that we got them cheap), but they do a good job of adding some red, green, and gold shinyness to an otherwise plain Christmas tree.

We’d been talking about starting a tradition of adding an ornament each year, something personalized and with the year printed on it, so that as time went by we’d slowly build up a collection of unique and meaningful Christmas tree ornaments. We were speculating on where to obtain such a thing this year when a mysterious package arrived in the mail — and it turned out to be a surprise gift from Joe’s stepmom Julie:

Personalized ornament featuring the Hart family as penguins!

Isn’t it cute? I love how happy and lighthearted it is, and I can imagine Lillian being amused at the sight of her family as cartoon penguins wearing hats and scarves in a few years. And just like that we have the first annual family ornament to add to our collection. Huzzah! (And a big thanks to Julie for the gift!)

Speaking of personalized ornaments, I’d really like to make one specially for Lillian this year — something involving her baby handprint, so she can look back on how tiny she was on her first Christmas as she grows. Does anyone know of any good ideas or tutorials for baby handprint craft projects? I have an idea or two in mind, but I’m worried it’ll turn into some kind of super-messy train wreck, haha…

A Christmas Tree on a Budget

For the past two years, our Christmas tree has been this miniature artificial one. Just a small, simple thing in a plastic pot that we’d decorate with lights and tinsel, and leave to sit all glowy on a bookshelf:

Miniature Christmas tree at our old apartment last year.

I’d gotten it years ago for my bedroom back when I still lived with my parents, and since there wasn’t much space for a larger one at our old apartment, we just kept using it. (That, and laziness.) But this year, for our first Christmas in a new house with more space, we agreed that it would be really nice to put up an actual, full-size tree.

At the same time, though, we’ve been trying to minimize our expenses lately… since we’ve got medical bills to pay, and formula to buy, and various other incidentals that go along with having a new baby. So we definitely didn’t want to spend too much money on it.

Since my family has always had artificial trees, that was the first option that came to mind. Unfortunately, full-sized artificial trees can be pretty pricey — in the ballpark of $150 for the cheapest ones. (And looking at them up-close in the store, the ones at that price point seemed to have fake-looking almost paper-like needles, and the more realistic-looking ones were even pricier.) Sure, you can just buy it once and then use it every year, but that up-front price tag was quite a bit more than we wanted to spend.

So what about a real, live Christmas tree? As it turns out, these are much cheaper. For $60, you can chop down any fresh tree at this tree farm just outside Chicago, and we were surprised to learn that Home Depot even has trees starting at under $20. A real tree would be slightly more work — you’ve gotta water it, clean up any fallen needles, and dispose of it eventually — but it seemed like the savings would be worth it. At those prices, it would take ten years to recoup the cost of an artificial tree.

On top of that, a real tree seemed very appealing, not just because I’d never had one before, but also because I liked the idea of getting a fresh new one each year. Going to pick out the perfect tree, which would have a subtly different shape, size, and color instead of putting up the exact same unchanging thing year after year — it seemed like it could be the start of a great family tradition.

So on the weekend after Thanksgiving, we headed over to the nearest Home Depot to pick up the cheapest Christmas tree we could find.

Christmas trees for sale at Home Depot.

I had no idea how many different varieties there were — apparently there are like twenty different species of pines and firs that are commonly used for Christmas trees, and they can vary pretty dramatically in price. Even at Home Depot, the bigger fancier trees were priced at almost $100. But we wanted one of the cheap ones for $17.98, which meant either a Scotch pine or a white pine.

For anyone unfamiliar with those two types of trees, they’re very different-looking: one has short bristly needles, while the other has long soft needles. I found this great web page showing closeups of the needles of many different Christmas trees, including the two we had to choose between:

Closeups of a Scotch pine (left) and a white pine (right). Images from here.

We ended up picking the white pine. It just seemed softer and fuller, plus a lot of the scotch pines they had looked kind of dried out. Home Depot had a table set up where they’d use a chainsaw to cut an inch or so off the bottom of the trunk, which apparently helps the trees “drink” up water and stay fresh longer, and after that we loaded it up and took it home.

We actually had some anxieties about tying it to our car like that, since it has no luggage rack and the roof of the Honda Insight is pretty curved. But it worked out perfectly fine — we got it home in one piece without causing any road hazards or multi-car pileups, which was good.

As a side note, does anyone want to guess what Lillian was doing during all this?

Bundled up and fast asleep in her car seat.

Yep… she slept through the whole Christmas-tree-getting expedition, and barely stirred even when I took her out of the car seat and carried her around the tree lot in my arms. I guess that’s proof that as long as she has a full tummy and a clean diaper, she doesn’t care in the slightest what else might be going on.

Anyway, the tree was gotten for $17.98 as planned, but we still needed a stand to put it in, and ideally some lights and ornaments to decorate it with.

As far as stands were concerned, the choice at Home Depot seemed to be either a flimsy plastic one for around $15 or $20, or a high-quality welded steel one for $29.97. We picked the latter, which was called “Santa’s Last Stand” and turns out to even have its own website.

The "Santa's Last Stand" Christmas tree stand. Image from here.

It was pretty easy to get the tree up and balanced in it, and the stand seems great so far — very solid and sturdy. (It’s pretty refreshing when a product is made of actual metal instead of plastic that’s seemingly designed to disintegrate after the first use.)

For the ornaments: it’ll be nice to slowly build up a collection of meaningful keepsake ornaments as the years go by, but for now, we just wanted some plain round ones for decoration purposes. Luckily, we were able to find these big tubes of 18 red, green, and gold ornaments for only $2.50 each at Home Depot. And they were even shatter-resistant, which seems pretty important if they’re going to live in a house with a cat and a baby.

The two tubes of shatter-resistant Christmas ornaments.

And the finishing touches were some white lights and a tree skirt to ground the whole thing and protect our shiny hardwood floors. Once it was finally lit up and decorated, here’s what the end result looked like:

The decorated Christmas tree.

It could probably still use some tinsel, and maybe a star on top. Still, it’s a big improvement from what we had last year — a real, full-size Christmas tree that’s taller than Joe and very thick and full-looking. Here’s a closer view of the branches, showing the long white pine needles decorated with lights and ornaments:

A closeup of lights and ornaments on the Christmas tree.

Update: I couldn’t resist adding this photo of the tree all lit up at night. Between the sparkly white lights on the tree, and the glow from our surprise working fireplace, it really adds a warm holiday atmosphere to the room:

The Christmas tree lit up at night.

And it came in at a pretty reasonable price, all things considered. The following is an itemized list of the various costs that went into putting together this cheap-tastic penny-pinching Christmas tree:

  • Tree from Home Depot: $17.98
  • Ornaments: $5.00 (2 tubes of 18 at $2.50 each)
  • Ornament Hooks: $1.98 (gotta actually hang those ornaments)
  • White Lights: $19.96 (2 strings of 300 lights for $9.98 each)
  • Tree Stand: $29.97
  • Tree Skirt: $0.00 because we had a gift card (but would have been $17)

Total spent on this year’s tree: $74.89.

Not too bad considering that that includes the lights and decorations, and we probably would have spent at least double that for just the tree if we’d gone with an artificial one. Plus everything but the tree itself can be re-used next year, assuming it doesn’t get destroyed by the cat or something.

So that’s the story of our first (real) family Christmas tree, put up in time to enjoy for almost the whole month leading up to Christmas. Hopefully it won’t be dead and dried out by then!