DIY Christmas

By Stina Sieg | Dec 17, 2012
Photo by: Stina Sieg Buttery, delicious shortbread loves to crumble on you — but that doesn't make it any less tasty. Learn how to make this simple treat, as well as many other gifts and delicacies in this special guide to having a homemade holiday season.

Christmas is so straight forward when you're little. You want that awesome video game/doll/touch-screen thingamajig, and nothing else will do. Simple, easy, done deal. After about the age of 12, however, we humans get exceedingly hard to shop for. There's little we need, and we don't even know what we want, and so much of it requires making a brutal trip to a faraway Target or Apple Store. So, just for fun, The Guide is giving you another option this year.

Below, local arty types and a few folks from The Mountaineer staff show you how to go handmade this Christmas. No batteries required.

Christmas-is-for-the-birds Pinecones

By Paul Viau

Guide columnist

Christmas falls at a cold time of year, and those poor birds out in your yard need all the help they can get. So decorate your outside trees with delicious, healthful treats. This make a great gift for bird-loving human friends or just your own wild, feathered ones.

First get:
• 6-8 pinecones (shop your "local" Michaels or walk Lake Junaluska) • 1 jar of peanut butter (birds prefer smooth over crunchy) • 1 small bag of birdseed or black-oil seeds (birds aren’t picky) • 1 small bundle of yarn, twine or string (no need to macramé)

1) Slather each pinecone with a liberal (not conservative)
amount of  peanut butter.
2) Roll the sticky-gooey mess of a pinecone in birdseed.
3) Tie a short length of yarn to the pinecone.
4) Hang the pinecone on a low branch of an outside tree.
5) Watch the birds and the squirrels fight
over the yummy treat.

Tissue Paper Birdies

By Donna Rhodes

Tuscola art teacher

Donna is kind of like an art McG0yver — able to make something fascinating out of ordinary objects lying around the house. Looking at the art and craft her students have made — brightly painted shovels, close-pin snowflakes, a duct tape ball gown, etc. — it's clear she's passing on her innate creativity. Below are her directions for simple, folk-art-inspired birds that can be used as gifts or ornaments on your own tree. Either way, they'll be the easiest pets you've ever run across.

First get:
Several sheets of tissue paper

• Masking tape • Joint compound (lightweight and pink) • Newspaper (The Mountaineer recommended, of course) • Gel medium (aka Mod Podge) • Acrylic paint (optional) • Needle • Thread

1) Wad tissue paper into balls. This will make up the bird’s shape, with the bigger pieces reserved for the body and tail, then the chest, with the smallest pieces reserved for the head.
2) Slowly building into a recognizable bird shape, tape securely with masking tape and add a beak (see the farthest right photo). Slide a needle with thread through the neck area to make a hanging loop.
3) Cover with a thin coat of joint compound (see second photo). When it turns completely white it is dry and ready for sanding. Sand.
4) Cover with tissue paper and/or newspaper (immortalize The Mountaineer) using Mod Podge or gel medium, under the tissue paper, then seal with a coat over all. Paint with acrylic paint if you desire.

Vine Wreaths

Carol Viau

Lifestyles Editor

Some years ago, I went through a phase of decorating vine wreaths and giving them as gifts. The beauty is that you can make them as traditional or contemporary as you want, and it is a gift people will keep with their holiday decorations for years.

Visit Mountain Home Collection or Michaels (happily, we have one in Waynesville now) or any other craft store and look for the basic vine wreath, then select Christmas picks (little clusters of holly, berries, things that sparkle and/or go for a dusted-with-snow-look). You select the color scheme and overall look. Find some wired holiday ribbon to make a big bow. There are lots of patterns to choose from. Either wire the items in or use a glue gun to affix them.

Pictured is a contemporary look on a wreath I decorated years ago. It packs up well with the holiday decorations, and all I have to do is fluff the wired bow to display it each holiday season. Happy crafting!

Mom's Fabulously Facile Fudge

By Stina Sieg (by way of Theo Sieg)

Sorry, candy shops and touristy stores — your fudge doesn't fascinate me, and never has. That's because I was raised around the world’s simplest (and best, I like to think) version. Smooth, dark and none-too-sweet, this makes one of those edible gifts that tends to make you popular in your neighborhood. My mom cooks up big batches every year to give out to friends, coworkers, family, and of course, the neighbors.

First get:
2 12-ounce bags of chocolate chips (Mom uses semi-sweet, but you can go milk or bittersweet if you're feeling crazy) • 1 can sweetened condensed milk • A few tablespoons warm water • Tin foil • Options ingredients: nuts, marshmallows, anything else that sounds tasty
1) In a double boiler (something moms, but not grown children, tend to have), melt the chips together with the sweetened condensed milk over low heat. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon, just enough to help along the melting process but not get the chocolate to seize up.

2) Once all melted, stir until smooth. Keep going, stirring until it gets almost too thick to stir anymore. Add a little water, just enough to make the fudge look glossy but not watery. Once you've got a really thick mixture that keeps from sticking on the pan’s sides, scoop it out onto waiting tin foil, laid on a counter or table.

3) Set until cool, then taste … and taste again, just to make sure. Cut into pieces. My mom likes to put them into little plates, covered in decorative plastic wrap and then finish them off with curling ribbon.

Holly Napkin Rings

By Margaret Roberts

A local artist and former elementary school teacher, Margaret knows all about creating something beautiful from few ingredients. She credits her father, who went through the Great Depression, in part for this creative ingenuity. He made sure that his children always had fun on Christmas, she stressed, even when money was scarce. Below is Margaret’s “recipe” for festive, homemade napkin rings, but her suggestions don’t stop there. She recommends using glass paint to decorate salt and pepper shakers, plates or wine glasses. Or, for more consumable (but still creative) fare, why not try painted cookies or building sugar-cube houses? Growing up, “The emphasis was on fun, certainly not spending a lot money,” she said. There’s no reason why that still can’t hold true. The felt squares Margaret calls for are only 29¢ each — and each should make eight rings.

First get:
Green and red felt • Pins • Scissors • White glue

1) Trace the pattern below onto computer paper and cut it out (or just cut it directly from the paper, if you’re not too sentimental about The Guide).
2) Pin the pattern in three places to a square of green felt (this makes it easier to cut).
3) Cut around the pattern and unpin.
4) Pull one holly leaf through the slit on the other end.
5) Cut out three red berries from the red felt (or use some mini red pom poms).
6) Glue the berries. Ta-da.

Simple Shortbread

By Vicki Hyatt


What do you get for the person who has everything? How about butter, sugar and flour, just whipped up a bit. Vicki happened to show me, Stina, how to make this rich, buttery goodness a few days ago, and I'm kind of wishing she hadn't. It's so easy and so good, that I fear I won't be able to keep myself from making this more frequently than I should. Be aware that, even when you're motivated, this is so decadent that it's hard to munch down more than one or two pieces in a sitting.


1 cup butter • 1 cup sugar • 4-5 cups flour • Waxed paper


1) Cream butter and sugar well. Preheat one to 275 degrees.

2) Add flour one cup at a time, making sure it's neither too wet or two powdery. It will look like pasty crumbs.

3) Dump onto waiting waxed paper and pat into a disk-like shape. Place another piece of waxed paper above and roll with a rolling pin (or wine bottle). Get to about 1/3-inch, then prick with a fork all over and use cookie cutters to get your favorite festive shapes. Do not attempt to pick up this fragile tough with your hands, but instead up the spatula to carefully remove your cookies. Don't get discouraged if you're cookie men lose their heads and hands, and branches fall off your Christmas tree shapes. With dough this rich, it's bound to happen (and you get to eat the mistakes). You can also forgo the cutter entirely and slice it into wedges like a pizza.

4) Bake for about half an hour on an ungreased cookie sheet — but be careful not to let it get too brown. Let cool and then dress it up any way you like before giving it as a gift.