Yule Ornament Idea: Birdseed Ornaments

The woodland creatures need Yuletide decor, too!

The woodland creatures need Yuletide decor, too!

While we’re in the habit of creating holiday bits and baubles to decorate our homes, it’s also a good time to think of things we can do for the other creatures in our community.  Winter is a harsh time for all the animals in our ecosystem.  Cruelly, they need more food to fuel their metabolisms and stay warm when there’s not as much food available.  It’s a simple thing to set out salt licks for deer and maintain birdfeeders for our feathered friends, but–if you’re feeling crafty–you can find ways to make attractive, edible ‘ornaments’ for the creatures, too.

This is one such craft.  You essentially bind birdseed together with flour, gelatin, and sugar and press it into attractive molds, then suspend the ‘ornaments’ from tree branches outside.

If you’ve got a collection of seasonal cookie cutters, feel free to use those.  Snowflakes, stars, and gingerbread men look adorable and catch a lot of attention.  Of course, a muffin tin will work, too.  My favorite is just to make thin circles using my canning jar rings, or thicker ones using old tuna fish cans (which I’ve repurposed for English Muffin molds).  See what you have lying about and how creative you can become.

You Will Need:

3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup water
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
3 tablespoons corn syrup
4 cups birdseed
A variety of molds (muffin tin, cookie cutters, etc. I use a lot of canning jar rings.)
nonstick spray
drinking straw or thick nails
waxed paper
biodegradable twine or raffia

  1. Combine the flour, water, gelatin and corn syrup in a large mixing bowl. Stir until well-combined.
  2. Add the birdseed to the mixture, stir until well coated.
  3. Spray your molds with cooking spray, and spoon birdseed mixture into each mold. Use the bottom of a measuring cup to pack it down, and make the top smooth.
  4. Poke a hole through top of each birdseed mold using a drinking straw or nail, making sure it goes all the way through.  Leave the straw/nail in the
  5. Leave the birdseed mixture in the molds for two to three hours. Then, remove the straws/nails and lay out a sheet of waxed paper. Gently remove the hardened ornaments from the mold, and place them on the wax paper upside down. Allow them to dry for at least two to three more hours, or overnight
  6. Cut your twine and carefully put it through the hole, knotting the ends to form a loop.
  7. Hang your ornaments on an outdoor tree.

Yule Ornament Idea: Baby Sock Countdown Calendar

As I’ve done for the previous two years, I am posting Yule ornament and decoration ideas on each of the four Mondays before Yule (December 21st, 2013!). Enjoy the crafting!

A kid-friendly way to avoid the "When is Yule?!" interrogations.

A kid-friendly way to avoid the “When is Yule?!” interrogations.

Advent Calendars are pretty popular holiday traditions amongst our Christian friends.  I’ve never really seen the appeal of them before–despite growing up Catholic, my parents did not see the point in maintaining a countdown when my brothers and I were perfectly capable of looking at reading the family calendar.

However, this past year I visited some Christian friends and their very small, very excitable children.  These children have no patience at all.  I swear, whenever I’ve gone with this friend to any place, her toddlers spend the entire trip backseat asking “are we there yet?”  I positively dreaded staying with them for more than 20 minutes during the Christmas season, but the kiddos were perfect angels.  Their mom attributed their new patience to her adorable advent calendar.

Following Martha Stewart’s lead, my friend strung up a whole bunch of baby socks and tagged them with numbers.  She stuffed each sock with a couple treats–Hershey Kisses, novelty crayons, Dollar Store matchbox cars, stickers, Silly Putty, etc.–and every morning after breakfast, the kids got to ‘open’ a stocking.  It was just enough of a novelty for the kids to be satisfied, and it gave them a really strong visual (Mom took each sock away after it was unclipped) to show them how long it was until Christmas arrived.

Us Pagans could totally adopt this trend.  In my house, I can definitely see stringing up a bunch of little socks and treats the day after Thanksgiving with a countdown until the Solstice.  It would be so cute!

You Will Need:
Enough socks to go from your start date to the Solstice.  If beginning from December 1st, at least 22 (11 pairs).  If beginning from Thanksgiving, at least 30 (15 pairs).
Ribbon
Number stickers
Round stickers
Pushpins
Mini clothespins
Gifts and Candy

1. Gather up to 15 pairs of socks in colors that go well together (vary the sizes, if you like). Lay them out in the order you want to hang them, leaving spaces in between.

2. Cut the ribbon to the desired length; to find how long it should be, measure across the row of socks and add 12 inches.

3. Use number stickers to label each sock. If one has a busy pattern, place the number on top of a solid round sticker so that it’s easier to read.

4. Tack the ends of the ribbon to a railing or mantle with the pushpins; if you like, you can fasten the ribbon in several places to make a few swags.

5. Use mini clothespins to clip the socks to the ribbon; overlap them if you need to save space.

6. Tuck a gift inside each. If the item is heavy, use a larger clothespin to secure the sock.

Note: Gifts must be small enough to fit in tiny socks but safe for your child’s age.

Happy Samhain 2013!

The goblins'll getcha if you don't watch out!

The goblins’ll getcha if you don’t watch out!

It’s hard to believe another turn of the wheel has gone by.  It looks like 2013 will go down for me as being a really momentous magical year.  I’ve been initiated, I’ll definitely wrap up the Roderick project this year, and I think I’ve really come into a solid, well-informed practice.  After so many years of emotional turmoil, it’s been exceptionally nice to have a year to rebuild and reform myself, and to dream about how I envision my future to be.

I wish you and all of yours a wonderful magical New Year!

Samhain Decoration Idea: A Harvest Still Life

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This picture is unfortunately kind of pixelated, but I couldn’t resist the jack-o’-lantern chowing down on the grapes.

Among many other things, Samhain is the last of the harvest festivals, so I have always liked to decorate my home and altar with some of the crops and foods available in late autumn.  Of course, this includes the usual suspects of gourds and squash–what would Samhain in America be without the jack-o’-lantern?–but other foods are harvested throughout October.  In the Pacific Northwest, October sees the last major apple harvest, as well as the bulk of our wine grape harvest, and the decorative Indian corn has fully dried by this point.  We’re also usually able to find all manner of acorns and nuts in the woods, and there’s usually late-blooming mums about, as well as all manner of interesting dried leaves, poppy pods, and other items that could be decoratively used in creating your “still life” tableau.  I think the last of the sunflowers would make an excellent addition, as would the final blooms of black-eyed susans.  Pine cones could also be an interesting element.

Finally, since the new grapes of the year ripen at this time, I have a small tradition of placing a bottle of local wine from the previous year’s vintage on the altar.  I feel that this helps me keep a connection between the year gone by and the one to come.  (I also feel that when I leave the Pacific Northwest, I won’t worry so much about the ‘local’ part of this.)

Samhain Decoration Idea: An Ancestor ‘Family Tree’

A Samhain ancestor tree created by Paige.

A Samhain ancestor tree created by Paige.

Flittering about the Interwebs of an evening, I came across this image of a “Samhain Tree” that a Flickr user named Paige (ladybird.ladybird) created for the centerpiece to her dumb supper table.  When I first saw it, the curmudgeonly part of me grumbled “Holy mackerel!  We string crap on trees for just about every holiday lately, don’t we?”  See, I have a thing against all the “Easter Egg trees” and “Valentine’s Day trees” and “Thanksgiving trees” I see in women’s magazines at every turn of the wheel.  In my book, the only tree-decorating holiday should be Yule.

A close-up of some of the ancestor ornaments.

A close-up of some of the ancestor ornaments.

However, the more I looked at Paige’s decorated branches, the more I realized she was essentially making a literal “family tree” from photographs of ancestors.  The concept was really simple:  Take two scalloped circles of orange-and-black scrapbooking paper, sandwich a loop of orange or black ribbon between them, and glue them together.  Then, cut out a circle around the face of a printed photograph of your ancestor and (optionally) a slightly larger circle of another decorative paper to frame the photo.  Glue the two the the front face of the scalloped circle.  Additionally, you can cut out a second circle of the second decorative paper and write the name of your ancestor on it before gluing it to the ornament’s back.  That’s really all there is to making the ornaments, which–being flat pieces–will easily store in an envelope between Samhains.

I really enjoyed the “bring the metaphor to life” aspect of this family tree, but I thought it had great practical benefits, too.  It allows you to attractively elevate your ancestor photographs on an altar so that you can place other seasonal items, various ancestor items, and plates for the dumb supper below.  If you’re anything like me, the Samhain altar gets awfully crowded, so something like this can really save your hide come circle time.

Making the tree itself is also dead simple:  you just cut generous lengths of thinner, nubbly branches from a local tree and group them in a vase.  Inserting them into marbles or glass chips will help hold them in place, and a tall, cylindrical vase (like the one shown) will help keep the branches from spreading outwards overmuch.  For extra seasonal tie-ins, the vase can be decorated with orange and black ribbon, as Paige has done here.

Samhain Decoration Idea: A Skull Bead Garland

A bit of my new Samhain Garland

A bit of my new Samhain Garland

This garland was the bane of my existence for a solid twelve months.  It started back when I first visited my coven sister V. in March 2012.  During that visit, she took me to Shipwreck Beads, in Lacey.  There, I came across these dyed magnesite skull beads, which had been mismarked at $2.49 for a strand of 22 beads (others of that size were $4.20).  I bought four strands and decided that I would make a garland with them, but I wanted the skulls to be interspersed with Samhain-colored orange and black beads.  Unfortunately, Shipwreck didn’t have any bright orange beads that weren’t plastic or seed beads, so the skull beads languished in a drawer until November 2012, when I visited a Gem Faire in Tacoma.  I miraculously found some orange-dyed stone beads and black wooden round beads from a vendor there, and picked up some stringing supplies at Shipwreck later that week.  Thus began my real frustrations.

It became very apparent after stringing my first foot that I would need to knot between each bead.  Due to the fact that most of the garland is made of stone, it is quite heavy, and the force of a train of beads slamming into each other on a loose string meant that the beads might get nicked up or split, and a lot of friction would be put on the string.  Eventually, that string would break and I’d have a huge mess to clean up.  But knotting was hard. I was using the method shown in the video below, but after about 20 beads, I realized it was very laborious to string one bead down 17 feet of cord (I wasn’t sure how long the finished garland was going to be, so I made sure to get a lot of cord). In order to keep the cord from tangling, I tried to wind it around a pair of spools, but that got very tiresome very quickly. So I took a break and loosely strung all the beads I was going to use onto the length of cord.

This worked out quite well for a couple of feet, since I could use the “short” end of knotted beads to slide through the loop and form a knot. But the short end didn’t stay short for long and once I got to about 5-6 feet of knotted beads, I realized it was taking up to 10 minutes to slide down one bead and tie one knot. Very often, I’d create a tangle, or–worse–get everything in line but end up tying a knot too far away from the bead and then waste a lot of time trying to pick the knot open again.  I soldiered on for another couple of weeks until I managed about 7 or 8 feet until, frustrated, I boxed up the entire project and set it aside until the middle of March 2013.

At this point, I brought out the project and set it up on my bed. With some fiddling, I realized if I kept a couple feet of ’empty’ cord between the stream of loose beads and the stream of knotted beads, I could essentially leave both these streams in two compact heaps. All I need to do was twist the empty middle into a loop, pinch the crossed of the strands with one hand, while using the other to simultaneously hold the loop open while gliding the bottom of the loop under the heap of knotted beads. Thanks to sitting on a soft surface, the loop would slide under cleanly and not tangle up in the beads. This would essentially give me a huge, loose knot. It was a simple matter of sticking a pair of tweezers into that loop right in front of the bead and then tightening the loop to create a knot. In the time it took to watch three episodes of West Wing, I finished knotting the garland.

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The finished garland is a whopping twelve feet long, and it weighs 1 pound and 3.125 ounces.  I think it looks nice just wound around objects on my altar, but it could also be draped above the altar or around it.  I could also heap it into a glass bowl or drape it onto different items like framed photographs of my ancestors.  It’s the cord of life and death that links us all together.

The “10 Native American Commandments”

The Ten Native American Commandments

“The Ten Indian Commandments”, a more attractive image that the one I originally saw and with the same content, even if it is in a different order.

Today as I was scrolling through my Facebook front page, I noticed that one of my friends had posted an image that looked like it was cobbled together with MS Paint.  The majority of the image was a plain, mustard-yellow background with a painting of a Native American Chief in the upper left corner, a black and white meme font in the upper right reading “The 10 Native American Commandments” and then a list of ten sentences in a sort of maroon font below that.  These ten commandments were as follows:

  1. Treat the Earth and all that dwell thereon with respect.
  2. Remain close to the Great Spirit.
  3. Show great respect for your fellow beings.
  4. Work together for the benefit of humankind.
  5. Give assistance and kindness wherever needed.
  6. Do what you know to be right.
  7. Look after the well-being of mind and body.
  8. Dedicate a share of your efforts to the greater good.
  9. Be truthful and honest at all times.
  10. Take full responsibility for your actions.

When I first read through these commandments, I thought “Well aren’t those lovely ethical guidelines.  Certainly you could do worse than that!”  My next thought, though, was that they didn’t sound particularly Native American.

A little bit of searching led me to the origin of this document.  Unfortunately, it is not flattering.  The fact of the matter is that these commandments were created in 1989 (and again when it was reprinted in 1993), by the company Viesti Associates (still in business, though now focusing on selling stock images) who then sold a poster displaying the image of a Native American man, the captions “The Ten Indian Commandments”, and the above sentences.   It was sold under the pretense that the tribal communities lived by a 10 commandment code that my have predated those carried by Moses.  Effectively, it does no more than perpetuate the stereotype that our Native cultures are mystic peoples who do nothing more than live in harmony with nature.

Yeich.  Talk about a rock and a hard place.  On the one hand, I do not want to contribute to the continuation of this stereotype (or using the now politically incorrect term ‘Indian’), on the other, I really do like these commandments.  If someone held a gun to my head and said I had to imitate the “Hobby Lobby” style of Display Christianity and decorate my home with weirdly crafted aspects of my religious beliefs, I’d be darn proud to embroider these commandments onto a sampler.  Even if these precepts do have a troubling origin, I kind of think the best thing to do here is roll your eyes and say “Whatever.  They’re just commonsense rules,” and embrace them.  It’s not like the pagan community hasn’t done this with other parts of our religions.

Maybe the Pagan community should issue their own “10 Pagan Commandments” poster (maybe swapping out “Great Spirit” for “your Gods”).  That would probably be way more culturally appropriate…and the plagiarism would definitely be keeping with our community’s sense of “open source spirituality”.