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Entries in DIY (7)


How to WRAP GIFTS like an EXPERT

I am not the world's most efficient gift wrapper. Oh, I'll admit...my presents look nice when finished, but I almost always end up wasting more paper than I should. I used to carefully watch the ladies at the Marshall Field's wrapping counter, hoping their formidible skill with scissors, tape, and paper would rub off on me but - nothing. I'm always making trims here and there, winding up with a healthy pile of scraps. Not very economical, nor very green.



Someone who's much better at this is Sheryl Oberman, owner and founder of The Stationery Station in Highland Park, on Chicago's North Shore. They're celebrating their 35th anniversary this year (congrats!) and in addition to offering an exceptional invitation and stationery selection, Sheryl and co. are well known for their meticulously wrapped gifts in beautiful, embellished paper. I asked Sheryl if she'd film a quick tutorial on how to beautifully and efficiently wrap presents, and happily, she obliged. Take a look and learn!


Now that you know how to nicely wrap a present, if you're ever in Highland Park (Ravinia starts soon!), stop by The Stationery Station to pick up the perfect paper.


Looking for a hostess gift to put in that beautifully wrapped box? A few suggestions...


Gift box photo credit


WINDOW gardening - grow your own SALAD

You know you should eat leafy greens, which is why you routinely add a bag o' salad to your shopping cart. But really, nothing beats fresh salad greens. Fortunately, growing your own lettuce, spinach or radishes is easy to do, even if you live in a small space. It’s also a great project for children to teach them how plants grow and where food comes from.


Where to plant

To start, you’ll need a bright sunny window. Usually an east or south-facing window will give you the good six or more hours of sun needed for most greens. Think about where your heating vents are placed. Most plants prefer to be away from vents as they blow drying air on their pots, which can dry out tender roots and foliage.


What to plant

Pick out your seeds or transplants. I prefer to grow salad greens from seed as they germinate within about a week and I can get more bang for my buck. As you are choosing types of plants, remember what your family prefers to eat. I like to do a mix of peppery varieties, sweet lettuce and a few with red leaves to add color. Radishes go in a separate pot for easy snacking. Radish greens can add a wonderful zing to salads, too.


Pick a container

Crops do best when their roots have plenty of room, so a deeper container is usually best. Be creative! A square of burlap over a colander makes a great salad bowl that can be featured as a centerpiece. Use new potting soil to fill your containers. A soil with slow release fertilizer ensures your plants will have the nutrients they need.


Grow plants, grow!

It's time to plant! Read the directions on the package of seeds for planting depth and spacing. You can crowd your pot if you plan on using the plants as micro-greens. Space out a bit more if you plan to let them mature. Thin out seedlings to provide enough room for roots.

Keep the pot evenly moist, but not sopping wet. As your plants grow, you may choose to use the whole plant or harvest just a few leaves. Pick leaves from the base, leaving a few to keep the plant going. You may also pinch back the first or second set of leaves of leggy lettuce to keep it more compact.


Reaping the rewards

As you harvest your greens, you can keep adding seed to stretch out your crop. Lettuce and spinach are cool-weather crops, so they may bolt or become bitter when temperatures rise. The good news is you can start a fresh batch around Labor Day for fall salads.



Gardening by Heather Prince

Part of the Second City Soiree Contributor Series. Heather is on Twitter @FearlessGarden. Read her full bio here.


Your own patch of GREEN: How to make a TERRARIUM

Winter always gets me a bit stir crazy, so this year, I made my own little tropical paradise in a terrarium. These little gardens are only limited by your imagination, and are very easy to create and maintain!

To start, you'll need a container. Take a look around the house and see if you happen to have any glass vessels like an old vase, pitcher, brandy snifter or punch bowl. There are myriad options at your local craft store, but also check out thrift stores and resale shops.

I chose this vase for its fat bottom and bubbly glass.

You will need...
Drop cloth or newspaper for easy cleanup
A glass vessel that has no drainage
Pebbles or gravel – you’ll need enough to cover the bottom of your vessel to about an inch
Activated charcoal
Potting soil (preferably without added fertilizer)
Trowel or scoop
Snips or scissors
Small scale houseplants
Any other nifty bits like beach glass, pretty rocks, chipped china, or miniature accessories


First, give your glass container a quick rinse to clear out any dust or dirt. Also, rinse your pebbles and charcoal to minimize the dust. The charcoal dust can seep down into your pebbles and look black and nasty. You can use a strainer or a large bowl.


Layer your pebbles on the bottom of your vessel to the depth of about an inch. This creates the drainage needed so your plants don’t drown. I chose to do a mix of large pebbles and small gravel as I wanted to emphasize the natural look of the pebbles. I also picked through them and chose some of the prettiest to use as a final touch.


Sprinkle a thin layer of activated charcoal across your pebbles. The charcoal keeps your soil sweet and minimizes bacteria. You can find it and the pebbles at your local pet store in the aquarium supplies.


Add a layer of potting soil. Start with about an inch or two that you can add to later. You may want to create hills or valleys in your terrarium – go for it!


Plant choices: in general (unless you are doing a succulent terrarium) choose a variety of low light, high moisture houseplants. Ferns and mosses are ideal.

Pop your plants out of their pots. In my case, the variegated creeping fig came apart immediately, so I was able to split it and put it in several spots. Depending on the depth of your vessel, it may make sense to trim the roots or shake off a good deal of the existing soil. It can be a tight fit to get the plants planted, but the roots will be fine with a bit of cutting. Also, you may need to trim your plants down in size. With the rex begonia, I cut off a good third of the foliage to make it fit. Remember, this is a miniature landscape, so you will want to use small plants. We don’t want them to grow too much, which is why I suggest choosing a potting soil without added fertilizer.


After you get your plants snuggled in and topped off with a bit more potting soil, think about what other embellishments you may want to add. I sprinkled in my pretty pebbles, some hickory nuts, and an artfully broken black walnut. You can also add twigs, bark, shells – almost anything!


With all the plants and embellishments in place, water the terrarium thoroughly. If you are using an enclosed vessel, you will rarely need to water as the transpiration of the plants creates high humidity. You’ll have water dripping down your glass. Do lift the lid or the cloche now and again to get fresh air into your little environment as it can get too stale. With an open container, make sure that soil is evenly moist.


Wasn't that easy? In just an hour, I have a pretty new arrangement. Terrariums can be lovely additions to the home, but also consider creating one for the office. These little gardens can really brighten up a workspace.

Get more terrarium tips and ideas on my blog!


Gardening by Heather Prince

Part of the Second City Soiree Contributor Series. Heather is on Twitter @FearlessGarden. Read her full bio here.


DIY Winter Pine Cone Wreath

As a gardener, I enjoy inviting a bit of nature indoors for the holidays. A tousled mop of dried hydrangea or the wispy elegance of Japanese silver grass plumes add special warmth to the table.

One easy way to bring in the great outdoors is decorating with pine cones. They can be piled in a decorative bowl, scattered across a table, or tucked into arrangements. Here’s a fun and easy project for a winter day:

Do It Yourself Cone Wreath

This elegant wreath highlights the natural beauty of the cones. You can collect cones from the outdoors, or purchase at craft stores.

A few caveats on collecting:
1) Ask permission if it isn’t your property.
2) Do not collect from forest preserves, arboreta, or botanic gardens without express permission. These institutions may allow you to collect, but talk to them first. No one likes to get questioned by security.
3) Exhaust all resources. Check public parks, as well as asking family and friends.
4) Make it an outing with the kids! Collecting cones can turn into a great counting game.
5) Choose only the cones in the best shape, and include nuts if you like.

If you collect your own cones and nuts, make sure to pre-treat them before you start working. You want to make sure that they are dry and pest-free. This treatment allows the sap to melt a bit so the cones are much less sticky. Always make sure to treat nuts - especially acorns - as they often have larvae inside. Do not be surprised if the tops of the acorns pop off. That’s what the glue gun is for!

To pre-treat the cones:
1) Line a cookie sheet with foil and spread the cones and/or nuts evenly.
2) Bake at 200 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes with the oven door cracked open. This is flammable stuff, so make sure to keep an eye on it.
3) Allow cones to cool before using.

To assemble:
You will need...
Wire cutters
Floral wire
Zip ties
Glue gun
Newspaper or other dropcloth material
Acrylic spray
Needle nose pliers (optional)

I chose to use spruce cones, Austrian pine, dwarf white pine, Douglas fir, and hemlock. These can all be found in many neighborhoods. The spruce cones are the papery ones, and the pine cones have bigger, woodier scales.


To get started, I did a loose layout of the base layer.


Then, I wired up the cones. You want to tuck the floral wire way up under the scales of the cone, while leaving plenty of extra to maneuver with. You can always trim it later. You may want to use needle nose pliers to get a super tight twist on the wire.

For this wreath, I interspersed groupings of Austrian pine cones in with the spruce, with a dash of white pine for contrast...but after thinking about it, I decided I didn’t care for the white pine cones breaking up the rhythm. The nice part of wiring in the cones is that it’s very easy to change your mind and rearrange. I also found that after attaching a group or a row, that they could be anchored if you wrap all their wires together.

So now with a base layer complete, I added a bit of flourish on the top, with long white pine cones, a trio of Douglas fir, and topped it off with an open hemlock cone. Since the wire base was showing through in places, I went back and glued in several small spruce and hemlock cones. This gave it a subtle depth of texture without losing the monochromatic color scheme.


After determining the center of the wreath, I slipped a zip tie through the wire base and tugged it through just enough to close the loop.


As you can see from the back, I have several bundles of wire twisted together.


After hanging on the wall, I adjusted the zip tie to make sure it wouldn’t show and then trimmed the end to form a nice, tidy loop. To make it permanent, I took it outside and gave it a good spray of clear acrylic to seal. I prefer the natural colors of the cones, but you can also add glitter, ribbon, and other ornaments.

One final note on cleanup – expect to get a little dirty and sticky. Two tricks of the trade:
1) Use hand lotion and lots of it before you handle the materials. You can sometimes just rub the sap off your fingers.
2) Crabtree & Evelyn’s Gardeners Scrub Cleanser – by far the best microbead cleanser I’ve tried that not only works, but moisturizes and smells nice. Lava Soap works too, but it’s very very abrasive.


Gardening by Heather Prince

Part of the Second City Soiree Contributor Series. Heather is on Twitter @FearlessGarden. Read her full bio here.


How to Throw a Theme Party - Inspiration from an Owl Baby Shower

In March, my owl-loving sister brought a beautiful baby girl into this world. In February, we threw her a fun owl-themed baby shower to help get her ready for her new arrival. The event was a big hit and it was such fun planning her shower, so I thought I’d share some of my ideas with you on how to weave a theme into your party without going over-the-top.

Step 1 - Pick a Theme

For us, the theme was a no-brainer. My sister planned on decorating the nursery with owls, so that's what we went with for the party! She wanted to keep the party feminine but also add some other colors, such as green. We settled on a pink/green color palette with accents of teal and ivory.


Step 2 - The Invitation

Your guests' first hint of what's to come at the party happens when they open the invitation. So, be sure it ties to your theme! A great little owl drawing I found at Vectorstock.com was the basis for the invitations plus other printed pieces for the party.

Step 3 - The Decor

Since tying the invitations to the event itself is important, I worked the little owls in where I could, while keeping in mind that less truly is more.

For the décor, I wanted an effect that was simple and pretty, plus incorporated items my sister could reuse. I spent some time browsing Etsy.com, and I found some great items that she could use as decoration in the nursery that were in our color palette.

To balance the decorations out and avoid owl-overkill, I made paper poms in several sizes using ivory tissue. The flower-like look of the poms fit in well with the owl theme, but using only the one color kept the effect understated. I found some great inspiration for a pom garland that we hung from the ceiling to use as a backdrop to the food table, and also to separate the front door from the party.

Step 4 - The Menu and Extras

For the food, we decided on a dessert table as the main event, and we had a second table with fruit and cheese and some non-sweet items. We kept the candies and desserts within the color palette, and to incorporate the owl theme, we had customized M&M’s with the owl image from the invitations.


Instead of flowers, I made some smaller poms and wrapped them around the end of floral wire to fill vases for the food tables. Doing this kept the palette soft and simple.

You can’t have a baby shower without games! I have never been a fan of some of the more extreme shower games out there, so we settled on some fun, but non-intrusive games and activities, including Baby Shower Bingo. I used the artwork from the invitations to create my own cards. And because the guests weren’t seated at tables, I pasted the game cards to art board to make them sturdy and easier to write on. 

(These "creative" gift ideas for bingo are courtesy of my father, the only male at the shower!)

The prizes and favors were also tied to the theme. All the prizes were useful with an owl theme that I found on Etsy.com–magnets, pocket mirrors, small plush owls, a small makeup bag and owl shaped cookies. 

So when choosing a theme, remember to stick to your color palette, use your motif (in this case, owls) but don't be afraid to throw an accent motif in the mix (like we did with the poms).


Crafting and DIY by Pamela Carreira
Part of the Second City Soiree Monday Contributor Series. Pamela is the author of Mixed UP Design. Read her full bio here.

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