Saturday, December 6, 2008

By Martha Stewart
Syndicated Columnist
Fun and easy ways to make your holidays more festive.


Decorate inexpensive pillar candles to create homemade presents or a display for the holiday table. Working in sections, warm the surface of a candle with a hair dryer for 30 seconds. Arrange waxed twine, available at crafts stores, in a looped pattern (cut twine from the roll when the design is complete). Press the twine in place with a bone folder. Repeat to cover. When burning the candles, peel off twine when wax melts to half an inch above it.

Give bits of ribbon left over from gift wrapping a new life as merry tree ornaments. The ribbons' colors and patterns don't need to match exactly, since their similar shape will tie the look together. Begin by knotting scraps into basic bows around a few inches of floral wire. Next, twist the wire to secure the bows to tree branches, indoors or out. To remove the ornaments, untwist the wire and store flat.


With simple centerpieces made from candles, bowls and amaryllis blooms, the whole holiday table will shine. For each one, use candle wax to attach a small floral frog to the center of a shallow bowl. Push a taper into the floral frog to secure. Pour water into the bowl. Clip amaryllis blooms (or other large flowers) from stems, and arrange three or four of them in the bowl around the candle. Place several centerpieces along the middle of a long table, spaced evenly, or one in the center of a round table.


Paperwhite narcissus are a favorite for the season — until they grow too tall and flop to one side. To rein them in, root the bulbs in gravel with a solution of one part rubbing alcohol and 10 parts water. They'll stop growing at about two-thirds their usual height.


The long, flexible neck of an automotive funnel, available at auto-supply stores, can give you access to a hard-to-reach tree stand. Rest the funnel's tip in the stand, and use a measuring cup to pour water from funnel to stand. Place a kitchen towel below the funnel to protect your tree skirt from drips.


The best material for stringing cranberry or popcorn garlands is inside your medicine cabinet. Waxed floss is strong and slick, so cranberries and popcorn will slide on easily. Knot one end of a piece of floss, and thread a needle onto the other; just pierce through items and slip them on.


For a cook, happiness is a freezer full of homemade stock. Freeze it in 1-cup portions, and it will be easy to know how much to thaw for a recipe. The next time you make a batch of stock or want to freeze the contents of a store-bought package, ladle it into 1-cup muffin tins and place them in the freezer. After the stock is frozen, pop the portions out of the tin; store them in resealable freezer bags and label them with the date.


When you polish a fork, dip a length of cotton twine into silver polish and rub it between the tines. This will help remove every trace of tarnish from those hard-to-reach crevices.


Drum-shaped ornaments are among the most iconic Christmas decorations. But you don't need to scour antiques stores and flea markets to drum up your own set. All it takes to make the ornaments are round chip-wood boxes, festive ribbon and glue. Buy the drum-shaped boxes, available in various sizes, at crafts stores. Decorate them by attaching patterned ribbon around the bases and lids with craft glue. To create a strap for hanging the ornament, cut a length of thin ribbon and glue each end to the inside lip of the box lid.

If using the ornaments as party favors, line their interiors with decorative paper cupcake liners and put cookies, truffles or other small treats inside.


Replace the blooms that fill your hanging basket in warmer months with potted holly, juniper or other evergreen plants that can be displayed outdoors. As an added touch, string together bundles of cedar with floral wire to make a garland. Attach the garland to the basket edge with wire and use more wire to fasten a bow. Hang outdoors.

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