December 10, 2015

A DIY Christmas Overseas

It's our 3rd Christmas in Tanzania... and our third Christmas of DIY-ing the decor associated.  Please know that we don't have a Hobby Lobby, Dollar Store or Jo-Ann Fabric's store around here.  This is legit-DIY - developing country style! :)
We keep adding to our collection every year and this year might be my favorite one yet.
Let's get started on a little tour of our Christmassy Home:
One of our first items of Christmas decor from three years ago -

I found a few pieces of felt laying around and made this for Owen when he was *sniff* only a tot.  He's 4 and a half now and still gets SO excited when we pull it out each year for him to decorate.
That's his "moooommmmm-just-let-me-decorate-my-tree" smile.  :)  goober.
This is a super simple thing to make - literally just cut out felt, tape the tree to the wall and let the kid(s) go at it.  The felt sticks to itself so no velcro or anything needed!
Above the tree we hang our stockings - also hand-sewn our first year here from off-white and red felt with off-white thread to show the stitching detail.  Holy. Moly was that a project.
Also seen in that shot is a Christmas tree on the door.  O made it last year in preschool - it's a bunch of fabric pieces the kids had to line up in order from longest to shortest, then the glued little beads on it for ornaments.
And making an appearance for the 2nd year in a row...
My homemade Advent Calendar.  This thing was kind of a beast to make, if I'm honest. But I'm so glad I did - and it's held up nicely!
The back is made from two pieces of 9x9 scrapbook paper (using the white backs). Then a piece of A3 sized green paper over top for more stability.  The red pockets are made from red printer paper, then the numbers are written in sharpie on squares of an old book I cut up. Inside each pocket are scriptures that tell the Christmas story one-by-one.  The "Christmas Countdown" letters are stickers one of my American friends left behind one year. There's a piece of string hanging it up that's been taped to the back.  Not pictured - darn it! - is a cute little mini clothespin with a Christmas tree cut from a paint sample card fixed to the front of it. It marks the day we're on as we go.
Next up:

Another 1st year item: the JOY sign.  Made from cardboard scraps and a red marker. And because I didn't have any string at the time.... masking tape rolled into itself to 'string' it together. It's held up by those tiny 3M light clips, and I tape the bows I made from some random ribbon over top of the clips so you can't see them.
I love this sign because, being completely honest, our first Christmas here was rough. We had no Christmas decor at all, because we had only just moved here and our focus was on bringing things like, you know, pots, pans, clothes, and other essentials.  There just wasn't room for Christmas.  So I made this sign, hoping it would actually give us (okay, mainly me) some joy when I was feeling so depressed around the holidays that year. And even though it's completely simple, I love it.
The white lights around the entryway, we brought from America after our first year here, and I'm so thankful we did.  It's amazing what one little set of lights will do for your mood! They are also being held up by those little 3M light hooks, but I sewed some red/white pom-poms from leftover felt and hot-glued them to some clothespins, then taped the clothespins up to make it look like they're holding the lights. I like little details like that :)
The angel hanging from the center is a handcrafted ornament right from Tanzania! It was a gift from a shop owner I know.

And the whole scene:

Next up:
An old friend I used to use for my classroom in my public-school days.  Our first furlough home we made it a priority to bring at least a few Christmas things, and this was one of them.  So glad we did!
Next to that tree sits an original Rodney the Reindeer (from Hallmark).  I remember him (and all his friends!) being around our Christmas decor every year when I was little - my mom shipped him with some things one year and I absolutely love him and the nostalgia he brings.
Next to him is another locally made item - a card with the Nativity scene created with banana leaf and kitenge cloth.  On the wall is a little balsa wood sign a friend left that I colored with sharpies.
On the wall perpendicular to this tree, to the right, is a piece of artwork that O & I worked on together.  I've showcased it with a cute balsa wood frame, also left behind by a friend.
And to the left on that same table is a sign we brought back from America two years ago. It was a gift from one of my former students.  The bowl you see next to it is a local item that stays out all year round.
And the dining room scene:
Oh! And I nearly forgot the dining room window - these little snowflake gel decals were shipped by our friends in a care package last year also, Owen loves putting them on the window!
The wall opposite this window holds my newly-created seasonal sign, complete with "Be Merry" cards and a handprint snowmen scene.

The frame was a discard from a local artist - they often take the canvas off and roll it up so tourists can take them home in their suitcases.  I found some string, some tiny clothespins and some red cardstock  in my crafting bin to make the sign.  Whenever I do hand-lettering like this I'm kind of OCD, so I type it up in a bunch of fonts 'till I find one I like, then I sketch them out while looking at my computer screen, then go over it in paint, in this case.  For the snowmen scene I painted Owen's four fingers with white paint and pressed it on the card. Then I used a toothpick to paint on the tiny details including the hats, scarves and snowflakes, etc. Love that I can change this with the seasons (for thanksgiving it said, "Give Thanks" and had a fist-print pumpkin). 
The tree hanging from the top of the frame is a locally made ornament created with twigs, hot glue, a button and a ribbon bow. 

And here's another locally made item we love:
 We got this Nativity from a local artist and I kind of love it.  It's made from an ebony tree- like it actually looks like a log when it's all folded up, then it opens to a beautiful scene. That's not black paint - that's what an ebony tree looks like - brown on the outside, beautiful ebony on the inside!
In the background you can see a framed piece of art that Owen & I (but mostly Owen, I did the garland and the tree trunk) created from watercolor paints. Held onto the cardboard backing of the frame by washi tape I snagged at the Target dollar spot one year. 

Next to that, we have our 2nd Christmas tree - gifted to us by a good friend. Her parents shipped it to her as a surprise while she was living here, and when she left to go live back in the states again, she shared the love.  It even comes with little battery operated lights!
 Between those two is an absolutely adorable Christmas Village I found here and printed on some off-white cardstock.  If you haven't noticed, I like sticking with the classic colors - mainly white/off-white and red, with some green thrown in for good measure. :)  I adore how these turned out, and how they go with our simple, DIY, old-fashioned Christmas theme.
 Above this shelf is our photo-collage wall, where I've hung some ornaments our friends sent us in a care package last year.  They're too big for our little trees, but they spruce up the picture frames nicely :) I also put a seasonal print in one of the frames to change things up a bit.

 And here's the whole scene:

And last, but not least - a great 'garage sale' find here from another ex-pat -
We thought it was just a massive wad of lights, but turns out it was garland lights (how had I never heard of these?!)  They are from America, so it takes a bit of electrical maneuvering to hook them up, but it's worth it!  Most nights we don't even turn on our overhead lights. We just use the glow from these and the white lights to light the room and I absolutely love it.

So that's our Christmassy home! It's not much, nothing grand, but it's {mostly} homemade and filled with memories, so I'll take it.  We are planning on at least attempting to find a Christmas tree to bring back with us next time we take a trip to the states.  It occurred to me this year that Owen has never had the experience of setting up and decorating a real (life size) tree, and I really want him to have that.  Plus, I love Christmas and a real tree would make my heart happy. :)

Do you DIY your Christmas too?  I'd love to see your DIY - it's always great to get ideas from other readers!  Link up in the comments!

I'll leave you with one final frame set... because there aren't enough pictures in this post already!

Found him like this as we neared the finish line of decorating... it can wear a kid out apparently!