Lavender Honey-Scented Body Butter

Finished body butter ready to use

In the dry air of winter, I go through a lot of “body butter”.And what better way to put to use the beeswax and honey that I gathered from the hive last summer? I bought body butter from Burt’s Bees at $15 for a small tub and it was adding up. I like to apply it all over my body after I shower and the butter goes on smoothly and sinks right into your skin and really hydrates. Updating on one of my older posts at Luscious Honey-Scented Body Butter, I find that this has become one of my most popular posts of all time. For other uses of beeswax, go to Honeybee Gift-Beeswax or Orange Citrus Soap With Beeswax.

body butter

BODY BUTTER

After going through some recipes on-line and experimenting with several, I came up with one that works great and costs about half of what I was paying Burt’s Bees. Plus, I made a dent in all of my horded beeswax. The whole process is so easy, I don’t know why I was spending all that money before. The butter is a little thicker than others that I have tried because of the addition of beeswax but it still feels light and creamy.

First of all, gather your ingredients.

Healthy Ingredients

Beeswax: Forms a light coating on the skin helping to hold in moisture. If you don’t have your own hives, contact a local beekeeper to buy some. Available on-line also, and you can buy beeswax already grated which is easier to use.

Raw Unpasteurized Honey: Adds moisture to the skin and helps lock it in, while providing protective benefits. Find a local beekeeper.

Coconut Oil: Naturally rich in proteins which help keep the skin rejuvenated. Coconut oil is becoming ubiquitous in the stores and I am finding more and more uses for it.

Shea Butter: Vitamins, minerals and fatty acids moisturize and revitalize dry skin.

Sweet Almond Oil: Softens and hydrates skin.

Essential Oil: Adds aromatherapy benefits and supports healthy skin. I used lavender oil, but the possibilities are endless-bergamot, lemon, scented geranium, orange, peppermint. I especially like the flavor of lavender and honey and have used this combo in Lavender Honey Ice Cream.

Ingredients for body butter

I shopped for my oils at MOM’s Organic market.  You could try Whole Foods or online. I used 1 Cup of Shea Butter, 1/2 cup of Coconut Oil, 1/2 cup of Sweet Almond Oil, two teaspoons of honey and at least a dozen drops of lavender essential oil. If you can’t find Almond Oil, you could substitute olive, jojoba, or any other liquid oil. Beeswax is hard to measure, so I just broke off a hunk from my stash and chopped it up into smaller pieces.  The beeswax keeps the butter from becoming too soft and scents the body butter with honey. Here is the recipe:

Honey Scented Body Butter

1 C Shea Butter

1/2 C Coconut Oil, which is solid at room temperature

1/2 C Sweet Almond Oil

3-4 ounces Beeswax, broken up into small pieces

Dozen drops of Lavender essential oil

1 T of Honey

Melt the Shea Butter, Coconut Oil, and Beeswax in the top of a double boiler until all lumps melt.

Melting the oils
Melting the oils at a low temperature

The Beeswax has the highest melting temperature, so will be the last to melt. Beeswax has honey deposited in it so you get the fragrance of the honey from your added beeswax, as well as the added liquid honey added at the end.

Beeswax chunks are the last to melt

Remove from the heat and add the Sweet Almond Oil and the vitamin E drops and stir

Remove from heat, letting cool slightly, and add the Sweet Almond Oil. Place the whole thing into the refrigerator until the mixtures turns almost hard and opaque. This could be 15 minutes or less. If you let it harden too much, just return to the heat to melt the mixture again. You want it soft enough to whip, but not too hard that the mixture will form lumps. Creamy smooth is the key, not hard and solid.

Place the mixture into the refrigerator to solidify

While in the refrigerator, the mixture will turn opaque and become very thick.

The mixture after chilling looks like icing

Bring the mixture out, adding the honey and the lavender oil and whip it with a mixer or immersion blender until thoroughly mixed. The more air incorporated, the lighter the mixture.

Scrape into containers. I used an old Burt’s bees container and some small mason jars.

Adding honey and lavender oil
Adding honey and lavender oil
Scooping out the butter into containers It is the perfect consistency!

With this recipe, I made about 3 1/2 cups of body butter that cost about $25 for materials.  I was spending $15 for a 6.75 ounce container from Burt’s Bees. After some calculation, I figured that if I bought 3 1/2 cups of body butter from Burt’s Bees, it would have cost me twice as much. Plus, I knew exactly what went into it.

Enough body butter to slather on for months

 

Boxwood -The Ultimate Green for Christmas

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Ripping out 50 failing English boxwoods on a landscape job this year turned into a decorating opportunity. Rather than taking the old shrubs out and chipping and shredding them, I decided to use the still green parts for some boxwood Christmas trees.

Boxwood tree before decorating
Boxwood tree before decorating

A traditional decoration, boxwood trees are simple to make but time consuming. Boxwood sprigs  inserted into saturated oasis lasts for at least 2 months in a green fresh looking form. After the holidays, you can even keep your tree which will dry nicely, and spray it gold for next year. Boxwood trees are easy to make and inexpensive if you have boxwood on hand. If you have to buy it though, it is expensive. I own several shrubs that need some attention and wait until early December to give them a thinning so I can use all those fresh greens and not throw them away.

'Green Velvet' Boxwood, a gold award winner from the Pennsylvania Hort Society is my 'go to' boxwood
‘Green Velvet’ Boxwood, a gold award winner from the Pennsylvania Hort Society is my ‘go to’ boxwood

When I thin my boxwood, I just grab a bunch of boxwood and snap it off at the woody stem. I call it ‘snapping boxwood’ and savvy gardeners do this to keep all their boxwood healthy. Beautiful boxwood requires periodic thinning to let air circulate throughout. Most people will sheer their shrubs which just stimulates the boxwood to grow in even thicker, blocking air flow.

Boxwood clipping with two-handed shears
Boxwood clipping with two-handed shears (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Snapping off hunks of the foliage, creates spaces within the boxwood which aids in air circulation and leads to a healthier shrub. When I talk ‘boxwood’, I am referring to both English, American, and Korean. Though the English is superior for making wreaths and trees, I use any kind that I can get.

Fastigiate boxwood or upright boxwood produces long straight stems for trees
Fastigiate boxwood or upright boxwood produces long straight stems for trees

Boxwood Tree Directions

  • Soak your cut boxwood in a tub of warm water overnight to hydrate the greens and keep them fresh longer
  • Choose a small plastic container and add a chunk of oasis for the base. Tape in with florist tape and add some picks.
  • Insert your cone on top of the picks
Select a small container and chop off a chunk of oasis to fit in the bottom: tape in with florist tape and add some picks to attach the larger piece
Select a small container and chop off a chunk of oasis to fit in the bottom: tape in with florist tape and add some picks to attach the larger piece
  • At this point I add a few wood picks from the side of the cone into the base to make sure everything is secure
Insert an oasis cone on top of the picks; you can also add a large block of oasis and shave it into a cone shape
Insert an oasis cone on top of the picks;  alternatively you can use a large block of oasis and shave it into a cone shape
  • I pick out a nice looking boxwood piece to form the peak. Once I stick that piece in, it gives me a guide to green up the rest of the tree.
Establish the contours of your tree and add the top pieces first
Establish the contours of your tree and add the top pieces first
  • Starting at the bottom, I break off pieces of boxwood and insert them into the oasis around the edge of the container first and move up. I added another variety of green (thujopsis) to the tree to give more textural interest. But if you are a purist, stick with boxwood
I added some other greens to the mix to make it more interesting; or you can keep it all boxwood
I added some other greens to the mix to make it more interesting; or you can keep it all boxwood
  • Add floral touches, like white pom poms, red roses, and small Christmas balls directly into the oasis; be sure to leave gaps to insert these elements
  • Insert your pieces of boxwood and flowers with care; If you insert them too densely, you could break apart the oasis
Insert your completed boxwood tree into a pretty container; here I used a footed mercury vapor container
Insert your completed boxwood tree into a pretty container; here I used a footed mercury vapor container
  • Spray the tree with an anti-dessicant, like Wilt-Pruf to keep the tree fresh for weeks
  • For care, I will mist it with water maybe once a week, and make sure that the oasis is thoroughly soaked through to keep it green and fresh
Add roses and white pom poms
Add roses and white pom poms

Decorating “The Palace in the Woods”, Hampton Mansion

Hampton Mansion all lit up for a festive Yuletide night
Hampton Mansion all lit up for a festive Yuletide night

Every year, I help with the decorating of “The Palace in the Woods”, Hampton National Historic site in Towson, Maryland, for their Yuletide celebration.  Dating back to the eighteenth century, Hampton is a large estate built in the Georgian architectural style, situated on many acres including a farm, greenhouses, slave quarters, an orangery, large Italianate gardens, horse stables, cemetery, and an English style park-like setting. Built as a country seat just after the Revolutionary War by the prominent Ridgely family, the house and its immediate surroundings are just a remnant of the Hampton estate of the early 1800s.

Many large mature trees surround Hampton Mansion
Many large mature trees surround Hampton Mansion
English: Hampton mansion, Maryland, USA from t...
English: Hampton mansion, Maryland, USA from the southwest. Hampton National Historic Site. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Decorating the Mansion along with the Park service is a lot of fun, and gives me ideas on decorating my house with fresh greens, garland, natural materials, and fresh flowers and fruit – all materials that were used back “in the day”, Williamsburg  or Colonial style.

hampton
The Christmas tree in the music room is decorated with handmade Victorian ornaments

Located in the music room, the Christmas tree exudes Victorian elegance with the hand-made ornaments reflecting the ornate Victorian era. The screens in the background are hand painted with colorful scenes and the furnishings reflect the lavish decorating in vogue at that time for the very wealthy. The mansion  showcases Mid-Atlantic life from before the American Revolution to after World War II.

Peacock hand painted screen
Peacock hand painted screen
Drawing room wall paper
Drawing room wall paper
Another beautiful painted screen at Hampton
Another beautiful painted screen at Hampton
The candlelit table is set for a big celebration
The candlelit table is set for a big celebration

Place settings are in the cranberry colors befitting the Yuletide season, and sideboards and tables are set with the house silver and groaning with food ( good quality fakes), but set up for a typical Christmas spread of the period.

Portrait of Eliza Ridgely, the American heiress and mistress of Hampton for many years
Portrait of Eliza Ridgely, Lady With a Harp, by painter Thomas Sully, the American heiress and mistress of Hampton for many years
hampton
Red Roses were used in most of the arrangements

The Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland take charge of the festive greenery decorations, as well as the fresh floral arrangements, all with the time period in mind when choosing materials. Slated to be restored in the near future, the dilapidated greenhouses were used by the Ridgelys used for out of season food and forcing flowers. Many of the clubs of District III, Baltimore and Harford County, participate and get together to carefully decorate the towering Christmas tree and make lots of labor intensive boxwood wreaths and arrangements.

 

Using fresh cut greens, a volunteer puts together a large arrangement in a towering urn
Using fresh-cut greens, a volunteer puts together a large arrangement in a towering urn

 

Landing arrangement with peach roses
Landing arrangement with peach roses from 2013
We use a wide variety of fresh evergreens
We use a wide variety of fresh evergreens
The Orangery being used by Garden Clubs to arrange the flowers
The Orangery being used by Garden Clubs to arrange the flowers

 

We meet in the old Orangery to work our magic on beautifying the mansion.  Armed with fresh-cut greens, we bring cut flowers, greens, and cutters. The Park Service also will cut some special greens from the surrounding landscape, like ivy berries, holly, and boxwood, which are beautiful and were certainly used when the Ridgely family lived there.

Mature Ivy
Mature Ivy has great black berries
Decorated table at Hampton
Decorated table at Hampton

At night the mansion is full of musicians, carolers, and docents who will answer questions about daily life of the Ridgelys, as well as the many slaves who lived on the grounds. The Hampton estate was the home of the Ridgelys through seven generations, and also of the enslaved people, indentured servants, and paid laborers who supported them, from before the American Revolution to after World War II.

One of the bedrooms with toys that were used in the time period
A bedroom interpreting the life of the children living at Hampton
Paper dolls were typical toys of the time period
Paper dolls were typical toys of the time period
Doll with tea set in one of the bedrooms
Doll with tea set in one of the bedrooms
The servant call bells are still in place
The servant call bells are still in place

One of the many garden club arrangements
One of the many garden club arrangements

Decorating the White House, 2015-Part 2

Silk ribbon garland inscribed by a calligrapher with messages from military families on the Blue Room tree
Silk ribbon garland inscribed by a calligrapher with messages from military families Blue Room tree

Decorating the White House for over 68,000 guests is a mammoth task. An army of volunteers along with countless White House staff work feverishly to create a magical experience for all visitors. My volunteer assignment this time was the Blue Room which has the largest tree in the White House, topping off at 18 feet and one inch. Volunteers were scattered all over pitching in where needed, clambering up scaffolding and ladders to get every ornament and wreath hung in time. To read about my first time at the White House in 2011, go to Decorating the White House for Christmas . Check out Decorating the White House, 2015-Part 1, if you missed my first post for this year.

A pom pom Bo sitting on the entrance security desk at the White House in 2011
A pom-pom Bo sitting on the entrance security desk at the White House in 2011

Volunteers start working in a warehouse a couple of days in advance of working at the White House where I was assigned to the “bow team.” I can make bows in my sleep and I am always surprised by people when they have trouble with this task. It was a pleasure working with the sumptuous ribbon to create bows and garlands for all the sixty-two trees and assorted mantels in the White House. My team created multi-layered bows and garlands for two straight days before going to the White House to start decorating the rooms. Boxes of wired ornaments and other decorating items were delivered to the White House in hundreds of carefully marked boxes the morning that we started.

The Red Room tree wore a ribbon garland that I worked on at the White House
The Red Room tree wore a ribbon garland that I worked on at the warehouse

 

State floor room locations-Wikipedia
State floor room locations-Wikipedia

East Room

Continuing our tour of the White House, from the ground floor you ascend steps to the main State floor which includes the historic East Room, the largest room of the White House. Greeted by four imposing fir trees covered in frosty icicles, shimmery white and silver ornaments and dancing reindeer, the whole room sparkled. Displayed against one wall is the ornate historic crèche or nativity scene made of terra-cotta and carved wood. Fabricated in Naples in the eighteenth century, the crèche was donated to the White House in the 1960’s.

The beautiful shimmery white and silver ornaments of the East Room
The beautiful shimmery white and silver ornaments of the East Room
Flying reindeer on the East Room's mantel
Flying reindeer on the East Room’s mantel

White House DSCN6441

Green Room

The Green Room was probably my favorite decorated room (besides the Blue Room which was my team’s job!), because of the peacocks adorning the mantel and trees. Jewel tone ornaments were coordinated with the emerald silk covered walls. A historic meeting between first Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Amelia Earhart took place in this beautiful room. Teal, emerald-green, and purple colors dominated this room.

Mantel of the green room with peacocks
Mantel of the green room with peacocks
Close up of the mantel's peacocks
Close up of the mantel’s peacocks
Details of the ornaments in the Green Room
Details of the ornaments in the Green Room

Blue Room

I spent several days working in the Blue Room as my assignment and I was “star struck!” Stars were the overall theme in the room-wreaths, tree, and even the stanchions that surrounded the tree had stars. Holding the largest tree, at eighteen feet and one inch tall, the Blue Room tree comes from the famous Bustard’s Christmas Tree Farm in Lehighton, PA, only about a two hour drive from me in Maryland.

The red, white, and blue Christmas tree in the Blue Room
The red, white, and blue Christmas tree in the Blue Room

An oval room, the Blue Room is primarily used by the President to receive many of his guests. Ornamented with a beautiful 6 inch wide silk ribbon overlaid on top of large gold stars, the tree is a shimmering display of red, white, and blue, inspired by the U.S. flag. It took our team a full three days to completely decorate this monster tree, using ladders and scaffolding and lots of patience.

Families of the military were asked to write messages to their loved ones and the messages were beautifully inscribed on a wide silk ribbon that wound around the tree. After Christmas, when the decorations are dismantled, the families will receive the snippet of ribbon with their note.

Messages were inscribed by a calligrapher on the silk garland
Messages inscribed by a calligrapher on the silk garland

I helped design and construct the three star wreaths that hung in the Blue Room windows. Up high on a ladder, I wired the large stars in place and suspended stars from ribbons on the wreaths.

Star wreaths in the blue Room windows
Star wreaths in the Blue Room windows

Red Room

In 2011 when I was part of the team to decorate the Red Room, I really enjoyed the color scheme and rich decorations for this ruby colored room. In 2015, I was interested in how the decorations would change. Cranberries were still used in the wreaths and in topiary trees elsewhere in the room-no surprise there! This year though, different shades of red and gold were interwoven into the tree and mantel and the beautiful striped garland was striking. Magnolia leaves were also a nice addition to the mantel. The cardinals on top of the tree were perfect.

Red Room Mantel
Red Room Mantel
This is the Red Room color scheme in 2011 when I designed it-the mantel had more gold and copper added
This is the Red Room color scheme in 2011 when I designed it-the mantel had more gold and copper

 

Cranberry wreaths in the windows and cardinals on top of the trees in the Red Room
Cranberry wreaths in the windows and cardinals on top of the trees in the Red Room

white house

State Dining Room (Nutcracker Heaven!)

The first Christmas party in the State Dining Room was hosted by President John Adams and his wife in 1800, so like the rest of the White House, there is a lot of history here. Seasonal delights, such as the imposing gingerbread house with Bo and Sunny perched in front, is probably the star attraction. Close to 500 pounds, the gingerbread house has more than 250 pounds of gingerbread dough, 150 pounds of dark chocolate, 25 pounds of gum paste, 25 pounds sugar work, and 25 pounds of icing. I liked the small groupings of snow people on either side and there was a small White House garden to one side.

Nutcrackers flank the door of the dark chocolate gingerbread house
Nutcrackers flank the door of the dark chocolate gingerbread house
Close up of the nutcrackers on the gingerbread house
Close up of the nutcrackers on the gingerbread house
A gathering of snow men outside of the mammoth chocolate gingerbread house
A gathering of snow people made out of gum paste arrayed in front of the chocolate gingerbread house

Nearby, a large gumball machine full of treats is on display along with the many nutcrackers and toys, sure to delight the younger children who visit.

Gumball machine full of treats
Gumball machine full of treats

DSCN6388

Nutcracker tree
Nutcracker tree

white house

A giant nutcracker on the State Dining Room table
A giant nutcracker on the State Dining Room table

Grand Foyer

The Grand Foyer held my favorite designed trees, which flanked the Blue Room. Imposing fir trees arrayed with giant glass balls and stars arranged with a very heavy gold ball garland positively glowed with color. The use of ball garlands used in several areas of the White House created a rich layered look and each one was wired in by hand so that they stayed put.

Grand Foyer trees with giant ornaments in jewel tones
Grand Foyer trees with giant ornaments in jewel tones

DSCN6360

Volunteer Reception

To finish off my week at the White House, all volunteers with one guest received an invitation to a special evening reception with food and entertainment. Tables in the Dining Room and East Room were laden with all kinds of food and drink. The dessert table was especially appealing with iced cookies, sticky pudding with caramel sauce, yule logs, cakes, macaroons and other special treats. Smoked salmon, crab claws, carved roast beef and ham, and the famous mac with cauliflower and cheese were enjoyed by all.

Early in the evening the dessert table was empty but quickly became jam packed
Early in the evening the dessert table was easy to get to but quickly became jam-packed
The sublime egg nog was served by an employee of the White House who has been there since the Kennedy administration
The sublime egg nog was served by an employee of the White House who has been there since the Kennedy administration

white house

A choir serenaded the volunteers
A choir serenaded the volunteers

The First Lady welcomed all the volunteers and graciously thanked everyone for all their efforts in making the White House a magical place.

I met lots of new people, learned some great tips on decorating in a grand manner, and had some of the best food of my life. I will never forget this Christmas!

I loved how these translucent ornaments shone in the dark
I loved how these translucent ornaments shone in the dark

 

Next: How to decorate you own mantel like the White House!

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Old Christmas Tree Creates Bottle Tree

Bottle tree in snow
Bottle tree in snow

I see the remnants of Christmas trees on my walk every day, ready for trash pick up. Pieces of tinsel hang off the branches blowing in the wintry wind and I feel sorry for them! Destined to be carted off to the nearest landfill, with most of them ground up into chips that will be sold for mulch in the spring.

IMG_1076
Piled up Christmas trees at the landfill

 

But I like to keep my tree for a much-needed winter insulating mulch, using the cut up branches under large trees or layered into perennial borders on my property.

Chopping off branches of our Christmas Fraser Fir
Chopping off branches of our Christmas Fraser Fir
Putting cut branches in a large trash can to take outdoors
Putting cut branches in a large trash can to take outdoors

Once we pull off all the decorations, we take pruners and chop off half of the branches until we are left with the naked trunk of the tree with some stubs sticking out. Maybe this part would make a good walking stick or even better – a bottle tree!

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Pruning the branches off to make a bottle tree
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Bottle tree made out of an old Christmas tree

 The evergreen branches are carted outside in a large trash can and laid down as mulch under a large tree that has a lot of pokeweed seedlings come up in the spring. I hope that by laying the flat fans of fraser fir  fans on the ground that I won’t see as many pokeweeds in the spring, and that the thick covering will smother any volunteer seedlings.

Laying the branches as mulch under a large spruce
Laying the branches as mulch under a large spruce

Another environmental idea is sticking the tree trunk into the ground and hanging suet bags and pine cones filled with peanut butter for the birds.

Bottle tree in the snow
Bottle tree in the snow

If you go to http://www.housekeeping.org/blog/9-ways-to-recycle-your-christmas-tree/ you will see nine different ways to recycle your Christmas tree. With so many ways to take care of your tree, none should end up in a landfill!

Amaryllis Centerpiece

Amaryllis centerpiece
Amaryllis centerpiece at Terrain nursery

After seeing Christmas centerpieces at Terrain nursery recently, combining flowering plants and greens that were over $300, I thought I could create something similar for a fraction of the cost.

Creating a centerpiece with amaryllis
Creating a centerpiece with amaryllis

I assembled my materials greens, pine cones, glitter balls, reindeer moss, budding Amaryllis in a pot, and oasis. A footed lime green urn that I use often was the perfect piece to make the arrangement. You could use any wide-mouthed urn or planter. Place the Amaryllis into the urn and wedge oasis on all sides.

Place the bulb in pot inside the urn and wedge wet oasis on all sides
Place the bulb in pot inside the urn and wedge wet oasis on all sides
Gather a variety of fresh greens
Gather a variety of fresh greens

Gather your greens. I used variegated holly, magnolia, boxwood, white pine, and berried holly. Cut your greens into short lengths, about 1 foot or less for ease of working. Start inserting the greens into the oasis radiating out from the rim of the urn. I was sure to cut the oasis above the edge of the urn so you can insert the greens horizontally, rather than vertically. You want the greens to radiate outwards rather than upwards.

Moss, glitter balls, pods, cones
Moss, glitter balls, pods, cones

Fill in with the greens, covering any gaps with the colored reindeer moss. Lastly, add your large pods, pine cones, and glitter balls for accents.  You could also add some glittery branches for extra pizzazz. I finished it up by arranging some beaded wire at the base of the arrangement.

Beaded Wire
Beaded Wire

Cost? I already had the urn, greens from my garden, the glitter balls, oasis, and pine cones. Purchasing a large Amaryllis bulb for $16.95 and beaded wire for $4.95, were my only costs. If you had to buy the oasis, the glitter balls, moss, urn, and pine cones, you would spend another $40 to $50, still far under the cost of the one at Terrain for about 30 minutes of design work.

Beaded wire adds to the look
Beaded wire adds to the look

For directions on taking care and growing Amaryllis, go to my post http://thegardendiaries.wordpress.com/2013/11/15/brilliant-amaryllis-2/

Amaryllis flowers used at Longwood
Amaryllis flowers used at Longwood

Related articles

Decorating “The Palace in the Woods”, Hampton Mansion

Decorating Hampton mansion for Christmas
Decorating Hampton mansion for Christmas

Every year, I help with the decorating of “The Palace in the Woods”, Hampton Mansion National Historic site, for their Yuletide celebration.  Back in the eighteenth century, Hampton was a large estate built in the Georgian architectural style, situated on many acres including a farm, greenhouses, slave quarters, an orangery, large Italianate gardens, horse stables, cemetery, and an English style park-like setting. Built as a country seat just after the Revolutionary War by the prominent Ridgely family, the house and its immediate surroundings are just a remnant of the Hampton estate of the early 1800s.

English: Hampton mansion, Maryland, USA from t...
English: Hampton mansion, Maryland, USA from the southwest. Hampton National Historic Site. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Decorating the Mansion along with the Park service is a lot of fun, and gives me ideas on decorating my house with fresh greens, garland, natural materials, and fresh flowers and fruit – all materials that were used back “in the day”, Williamsburg  or Colonial style.

Christmas tree at Hampton
Christmas tree at Hampton

Located in the music room, the Christmas tree exudes Victorian elegance with the hand-made ornaments reflecting the ornate Victorian era. The screens in the background are hand painted with colorful scenes and the furnishings reflect the lavish decorating in vogue at that time for the wealthy.

Peacock hand painted screen
Peacock hand painted screen
Festive settings for a dinner party at Hampton
Festive settings for a dinner party at Hampton

Place settings are in the cranberry colors befitting the Yuletide season, and sideboards and tables are laid with the house silver and groaning with food ( good quality fakes), but set up for a typical Christmas dinner of the period.

Portrait of Eliza Ridgely
Portrait of Eliza Ridgely

The Federated Maryland Garden Clubs take charge of the festive greenery decorations, as well as the fresh floral arrangements, all with the time period in mind when choosing materials. There are dilapidated greenhouses on site, slated to be restored, which the Ridgelys used for out of season food and flowers.

Landing arrangement with peach roses
Landing arrangement with peach roses
Old greenhouses at Hampton
Old greenhouses at Hampton

We meet in the old Orangery to work our magic on beautifying the mansion.  Armed with fresh-cut greens, we bring cut flowers, pods, cones, fruit,  and pomanders. The Park Service also will cut some special greens from the landscape, like ivy berries, which are beautiful and cut boxwood.

Mature Ivy
Mature Ivy
Pomanders in arrangement
Pomanders in arrangement
Making Christmas arrangements for Hampton
Making Christmas arrangements for Hampton
Simple holly arrangement
Simple holly arrangement
Hampton arrangement
Hampton arrangement
Decorated table at Hampton
Decorated table at Hampton

At night the mansion is full of musicians, carolers, and docents who will answer questions about daily life of the Ridgelys, as well as the many slaves who lived on the grounds.

Doll's tea party set up in the nursery
Doll’s tea party set up in the nursery

If you are in the Towson area this weekend, be sure to stop in Friday, December 13, from 6 to 8:30 PM, and Saturday and Sunday, from 1 to 4PM.

Decorating the White House for Christmas-Part 1

East Landing with Bo

Now that the White House has been decorated for Christmas for 2012, I thought that I would repost my experiences decorating there in 2011. I looked at the pictures for this year and one caught my eye, the ‘Rainbow Tree’! I thought that this interpretation of a Christmas tree was outstanding.

tumblr_mehn0xjBPU1ry3a70o1_500Here is my experience from 2011:

Everyone loves to decorate for Christmas and after finishing decorating my house, I itch to do more! So I have always had a desire to decorate the White House but thought it was an impossible dream. But after watching the HGTV special last year and seeing the army of volunteers that are busily hanging garlands and balls, I was determined to try.

I wrote a letter to Michelle Obama right after Christmas and forgot about it. But in August I was thrilled to get an official letter from the White House Social Office informing me that I could fill out the volunteer application on line which I did right away. The application was pretty standard and asked things such as to list and explain in some detail your volunteer experience, and to send pictures of your work. I have decorated Hampton Mansion for Christmas with my Garden Club for many years and hoped that that experience would help.

In October I was thrilled to learn by email that I was accepted conditionally pending a security check. The Social Office also requested that volunteers not post to Facebook or blog about their experiences before the event but afterwards was fine.  The reason was to keep the theme secret before “the big reveal” on November 30th. The theme was to be kept secret until our opening reception on the 30th but we suspected that it was a military theme.

Everything Red!

Once I learned that I was accepted, I started to get emails from AgencyEA, an event planning company based in Chicago. AgencyEA is known for planning Ophra Winfrey’s events so I knew that they must be good.  AgencyEA reserved blocks of rooms in two hotels that were within walking distance of the White House with a really good rate as it can be quite expensive to stay in D.C. I made arrangements to stay at the Donovan House for 6 nights and planned on checking in on Thanksgiving night.

After eating dinner at my brother’s house, my husband and I drove into D.C. and checked in to the hotel and met some of my fellow decorators and people from AgencyEA. I got a red badge, red work apron,  and room assignment- the red room! The Agency told everyone that we would be working for 2 days at an off site warehouse and then 3 days at the White House.  I learned that I would be working with a team of 130 volunteers and AgencyEA employees from over 40 states.  There were mother/daughter , husband/wife, and sister teams, and the youngest volunteer was 12 and the oldest was 80!

After being told to report the next morning at 6:30 AM in the downstairs lobby to board the buses I turned in.

Warehouse

The next morning, the drive to the warehouse lasted about 40 minutes and we arrived at a huge brick warehouse that the National Park Service rents and stores all the Christmas paraphenalia from previous years and other props used by the Park Service.  It was fascinating to walk up and down the aisles and see what was there.  There were pallets of stuff, such as lumber, corn oil ???, sleds, silver bowls, large urns, plus tons of Christmas stuff.  It was a veritable treasure trove of Christmas decorations- the mother load!!!

But we were put right to work and there was a huge amount of work to do!!! I started out inventorying boxes of ornaments, taking the wrappers off of ornaments and removing the hang tags from balls and replacing them with wires.  People are known to steal the ornaments from the trees at the White House so the balls must all be wired to the trees. We worked with the decorations that belonged to a specific room and made sure that everything was accounted for and placed in the loading area when we were done.  It could take hours and hours to do a room depending on the size. I worked with a team of about 6 or 7 people. Each room had a “key” basket that contained an example of every kind of ball, ribbon, or branch used to decorate that particular room.  A designer from AgencyEA had selected the colors and ornaments and ribbon months before.

Wreaths and Things

Cedar Stars in White House East Landing

Someone from the Agency  asked if anyone knew how to make wreaths and I volunteered because I preferred to make something rather than count and wire ornaments. I was assigned then as the team leader for a group of 7 people to assemble 8 cedar stars about 3 feet in diameter that would be hung in the East room landing by the Gold Star tree. Since the cedar stars would be hung in the window, they needed to be double sided. After dragging 50 feet of extemely heavy garland over to our work station, we set to work dismantling the cedar garland and wiring the bunches onto the star wreath bases. The wreaths took all day and into the next as they were very labor intensive.

Other teams were involved in a variety of tasks- making endless pine cone garlands, sewing felt poinsettia petals and leaves, unloading and sorting tons of fresh greens, making knotted wreaths out of military medal ribbons, constructing felt trees, and wiring hundreds of thousands of ornaments.  Someone was even sewing on an ancient Singer sewing machine. The tasks were endless.

Lunch was a festive affair with wraps, hot soup, snacks, desserts, and drinks.  It felt good to be sitting down for a while!

Military Medal Ribbon Wreaths
Pine Cone Garlands

At the end of the day, we piled into the buses and went back to the hotel and collapsed. But we returned the next day and did it all over again, but at a more feverish pace because we had to get it done by the end of the day. By the end of that second day we all realized that the theme for the Holiday would be a military one as so many of the decorations were all about the armed forces.

Cut Out Poinsettias in East Landing
Framed Purple Hearts on Blue Room Tree

White House!!!!

Here was the whole reason we all volunteered! To actually go to the White House and decorate.  I met some of my new friends in the dark outside our hotel at 6:15 AM for our trek. We walked 10 minutes to the White House and ended at the North East entrance for security check points.  The Agency stressed to us beforehand that we needed our badges, name tags and a photo ID to get in.

Security Checkpoint at the White House

There were two security checkpoints to go through where they look at your driver’s license and check your name off of a list. You and your belongings have to go through a metal detector. It was pretty much like airport security except you could keep your shoes on. The security lines took about a half an hour and then we were in! We entered through the East Landing and were treated to coffee and donuts and figured out where the bathroom was. The entrance hallway is quite interesting with lots of candid photos from past and present administrations lining the walls.

East Landing of the White House

We were given a tour of the White House and met the Chief Usher, the Special Assistant to the President, the Curator, and the Executive Housekeeper. We were made to feel welcome and appreciated. The Curator stressed to us that the White House is a living museum and asked that we not touch or handle the furnishings.  All of us were just in awe to be inside and wouldn’t think of touching anything!

Our first task was to unload all the boxes that were delivered by truck to the White House and make sure that each labeled box was carried to the correct destination. Then we got to the best part –decorating!

Red Room

The Red Room is one of three state parlors on the first floor of the White House and is decorated in different shades of red.  The walls are actually hung with burgundy silk. Usually the Christmas decorations are all bright screaming red but I was relieved to see that the decorator had taken a different tack and we were going to use copper, gold, dark red, wine, cinnamon, and touches of cream.  I approved of the color palette!

My job the first day was to decorate the Red Room with 5 other people.  We looked through our “key basket” to see what materials we had to work with and started brain storming about the best way to get everything done.  We had two 5 foot trees mounted in large red wooden planters, and a gorgeous Italian marble mantel with caryatid supports to decorate.  For materials, we had beautiful glittery pine cone balls, yards and yards of 8″ wide coppery gold wired ribbon, gold leaf branches, fresh lemon leaves, 2 long balsam fir garlands, and assorted glass ornaments with some snowflakes.  The ornaments ranged from a dozen large copper balls, smaller gold and white ones, to glittery tear drops. We were told to start decorating and we jumped right into it and made some very large bows for the mantels and adorned the garland on the mantel with an assortment of the ornaments.

Then we started to decorate the trees with doubled ribbon garlands swagged around the trees.  We put the larger ornaments in the center of the tree and filled in every available spot with the smaller ornaments.

When lunch rolled around we strolled over to the formal dining room where a fantastic hot buffet awaited us. Salads, thick sliced ham, soups, breads, drinks and dessert were all available.  The White House staff ate first and then we got in line. The kitchen staff was phenomenal! They must have known that with all the physical work that we did we would be hungry.

Red Room Tree

A crew from HGTV with Genevieve was circulating around the rooms filming and interviewing people for the Holiday special that will be aired Dec 11. They talked to me for a few minutes while I was decorating the trees and had me sign a release form.

After working all day, we left at 4PM to go back to the hotel and collapse.

To see Part 2 of this blog, search my blog for White House Christmas!

 

Luscious Honey-Scented Body Butter

Finished body butter ready to use

BODY BUTTER

In the dry air of winter, I go through a lot of “body butter”!  I have been buying it from Burt’s Bees at $13 for a small tub and it was adding up. I like to apply it all over my body after I shower and butter goes on smoothly and sinks right into your skin and really hydrates. For an updated version of my body butter with lavender, go to my post Lavender Scented Honey Body Butter.

After going through some recipes on line and experimenting with several, I came up with one that works great and costs about half of what I was paying. Plus, I got to use some of my beeswax from my hives! The whole process is so easy, I don’t know why I was spending all that money before.

First of all, gather your ingredients.

Ingredients for body butter: Shea Butter, Sweet Almond OIl, Beeswax chunks, Coconut Oil, and Vitamin E

I shopped for my oils at MOM’s Organic market.  You could try WholeFoods or a good pharmacy, or online. I used 1 Cup of Shea Butter, 1/2 cup of Coconut Oil, 1/2 cup of Sweet Almond Oil, and 50 drops of Vitamin E. If you can’t find Almond Oil, you could substitute olive, jojoba, or any other liquid oil. I also use about 4 Tablespoons of Beeswax.  The Beeswax is hard to measure, so I just broke off a hunk from my stash and chopped it up into smaller pieces.  The beeswax keeps the butter from becoming too soft and scents the body butter with honey. Here is the recipe:

Honey Scented Body Butter

1 C Shea Butter

1/2 C Coconut Oil

1/2 C Sweet Almond Oil

4 T Beeswax, broken up into small pieces

50 drops of Vitamin E Oil

Melt the Shea Butter, Coconut Oil, and Beeswax in the top of a double boiler until all lumps are melted.

Melting the Coconut Oil, Beeswax, and Shea Butter in the top of a double boiler

The Beeswax has the highest melting temperature, so will be the last to melt. Beeswax has honey deposited in it so you get the fragrance of the honey from your added beeswax.

Beeswax chunks are the last to melt

Remove from heat, letting cool slightly, and add the Sweet Almond Oil and the Vitamin E drops.

Remove from the heat and add the Sweet Almond Oil and the vitamin E drops and stir

Stir until mixed and place into the refrigerator for about an hour.

Place the mixture into the refrigerator to solidify

While in the refrigerator, the mixture will turn opaque and become very thick.

The mixture after chilling looks like icing

Bring the mixture out and whip it with a mixer or immersion blender or mixer.

Whipping the body butter with an immersion blender

Place in containers. I used an old Burt’s bees container and just some other containers that I had sitting around.

Scooping out the butter into containers- It is the perfect consistency!

Don’t worry if you forget the mixture in the refrigerator and it gets too hard.  Just gently warm it until it softens enough to whip.

With this recipe, I made about 3 1/2 cups of body butter that cost about $25 for materials.  I was spending $13 for a 6.75 ounce container from Burt’s Bees. After some calculation, I figured that if I bought 3 1/2 cups of body butter from Burt’s Bees, it would have cost me twice as much. Plus, I knew exactly what went into it.

Enough body butter to slather on for months!

I am thinking about making another batch for Christmas gifts!