Posted in Bows, Christmas, Christmas Decor, Christmas Tree, Collection, Department 56, Disney, DIY, Holidays, Home, Home Decor, Homo-made, Jim, Make Your Own Bow, Ornaments, Reflections, Ribbon, Tips

How to PERFECTLY Decorate Your Christmas Tree!

Finished Christmas TreeEvery fall, as the holiday season approaches, I become more and more excited to decorate my home for Christmas! No, Scrooge, it’s not because of the commercialization of Christmas; rather, it’s because of the joy I get from opening, inspecting, and placing each of my decorations around the home. It adds a special warmth, a glow, and a happiness to my home each Christmas season, something that you just can’t describe. It’s a feeling that escapes words… a feeling of happiness and joy, remembrances of fond memories, promise of new memories & excitement, plus a dash of holiday magic.

I hear so many people complain as Christmas approaches “Oh God… I have to set up my tree”, or “It takes forevvveeerrr”, “I have to make time to decorate…”, etc. I decided to show a step by step guide to decorating my tree, my way. If you don’t like it my way, obviously, go seek out the thousands of other Christmas tree tutorials, but if you’re interested, read on to see how I do Christmas the Brad way.

Step 1:

Plain tree with white lights
I use an artificial tree for many reasons. We’ve had a real tree in the past, but it’s just kind of messy. I’ve found using an artificial tree is just a lot simpler. There are so, so, so many different kinds of artificial trees on the market, some very expensive and elaborate, and some simple. I live in a small apartment with limited space, so I chose an inexpensive ($50!) 6 foot tree.  It’s not pre-lit, but that’s ok with me because I’d rather light it myself and control all aspects. Think like bakers and cooks: It’s the equivalent of using unsalted butter. It just helps you control the final outcome better.

Once you open the tree, take the time to shape each branch. Pro tip: Put on some thin winter gloves to protect your hands if your skin gets dry in the winter. Once the tree is shaped how you’d like, add lights. I only used white this year, but use whichever color you love. Stand back from the tree and look for unlit spots. Make sure you light the tree as evenly as possible.

Step 2:
Add your Angel, Star, or Bow FIRST.

This is probably a controversial opinion. But, like I said, this is my way. Once my tree is shaped and the lights are added, I add my topper. If you choose a star, or an angel, put it on now. It helps you keep the tree organized, full, and helps you know exactly where to place each ornament. I like to place ornaments close to the topper, so when I’m adding them near the end, I won’t have to do any guess work. For my topper this year, I decided to make a bow out of some burlap ribbon. You don’t know how to make a bow? It’s easier than you think.

  1. First, use wire edged ribbon. It doesn’t have to be an expensive ribbon, but the cheaper stuff is a little harder to form into nice shape. I say go middle ground.
  2. Allow 3 or 4 inches of the ribbon to be the tail, and pinch the ribbon to gather it into a bunch like in pic 2.
  3. Create a loop at your desired length above the pinch and then add the end of the loop to the pinch spot held by your thumb and finger like in pic 3.
  4. Repeat step 3 again, as many times as you’d like, always gathering the pinch at the same place. Work slowly and if you mess up, it’s ok! It’s just ribbon. Pics 4 & 5.
  5. Then, use a zip tie. Lie it flat on your workspace (my couch, haha!) and place the bow over it. Pull tight with your other hand.
  6. Once the bow is held together tightly, adjust and shape each loop.

My bow this year was made out of the burlap ribbon, and I added a little classic red in to give it an extra pop.

Burlap Bow

Step 3:
Add your Garland or Ribbon.


Probably the second of my controversial opinions – I add the garland or ribbon before ornaments. I think adding it first gives the ribbon or garland some room to breathe, and you can adjust it when adding ornaments if needed.

I used the same ribbon from the bow, and cut three tree lengths. Since my tree is small and in a corner, I ran one ribbon streamer down the front center, and one on each side. You can easily fasten the tops of the streamers to the tree with bent wire ornament hangers.

The secret is to gently tuck the ribbon into the tree branches naturally, and let it fall. I fastened when necessary with a bent ornament hanger. Don’t let it look too forced, and don’t keep it taught across the top of the tree. Weave it in and out. It’s part of the tree!

Step 4:
Add your Filler Ornaments.

Once the ribbon or garland is how you’d like it, then you add your filler ornaments. These are inexpensive ornaments that really “fill” up the tree, hide the blank spots, and make it look like a million bucks.

I use 8 larger ornaments and hang them from the inside of the tree or on the far edges, to make it look a lot fuller than it does. And then I add 40-50 smaller globe ornaments. I use a large selection of shiny, dull, and glittery to add a lot of dimension.


As you add the filler ornaments, the tree begins to really get full and have an attractive shape. *I added a LOT more than this, but I’m missing the second photo. Sorry!*

Step 5:
Add your Theme Ornaments.

These are the ornaments that take your tree from looking like a department store tree to looking like your family’s tree. Use your favorite characters, your Hallmark ornaments, sentimental pieces passed down from family members that are gone, and any and every thing you find fun, interesting, or exciting for your tree.

I use TONS of Disney ornaments, plus Jim has a large selection of Simpsons and Christmas Vacation ornaments. We have ornaments for the 13 years we’ve been together with the year from each year, homemade ornaments from family members, and mementos from trips we’ve taken. Check out a selection below:

After filling the tree, next to it, I added filler ornaments to a glass bowl, and placed a few decorative items on a shelf. I displayed my classic Lenox Mickey ornaments Jim’s grandmother started (and his mom continued after Tutu passed). I also placed the wooden reindeer and snowman my parents made when I was a child, and Jim’s collection of snow globes he started with his grandmother.

And here is the final product. After a lot of work and planning, I’m incredibly proud of my Christmas tree for 2018. I think it makes our home incredibly warm and happy, and I think Jim really likes it, too.


I hope you learned something in reading this blog post. Please let me know in the comments below what you do each year, and what you think!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone reading!

Posted in Christmas, Christmas Decor, Department 56, Disney, DIY, Holidays, Home, Home Decor, Homo-made, Tips

My 2018 Christmas Village

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

Black Friday, as many people rush out early for door-busters, I continue my time honored tradition of setting up my North Pole & Disney Christmas Village.

It takes an entire day. This year I started at 9AM, and worked on it until 10PM, with a few brief interruptions. It takes a lot of time, but setting up the display is something I absolutely love doing.

It’s really challenging to photograph a village display in a way that allows the glow to show without the colors being too dark. In my opinion, the flash ruins the beauty. So, here in gallery form, is the entire village above my kitchen cabinets, at night, with no flash, from left to right. Plus, it starts with one panoramic view. Enjoy!

I put a tremedous amount of thought into my houses. If you’re interested in my process, read on:

My village consists primarily of the Department 56 North Pole Collection. I’ve mentioned my parents started me on the village. If you want to read about this, click here, here, and here. I have Disney houses from Mickey’s Christmas Village, also produced by Department 56, mixed in.

This year, I allowed my village to go double-decker and take over the entire top of my kitchen cabinets. I purchased 3 shelves from Menards to add height, and also to allow me to display all 57(!) of my lit houses. This new design allowed me to feature all of the Disney houses, together, on one side of the U shape.


On another shelf, the “main” shelf that you can primarily see from the living room, I feature the classics. I started with the North Pole Palace, featuring Mr. and Mrs. Claus, The Elf Bunkhouse, Sleigh and 8 Tiny Reindeer, the Reindeer Barn, Rudolph’s Reindeer Stable featuring Rudolph and Clarice from the classic Rankin/Bass stop-motion cartoon, and Santa’s lookout tower. Those 5 lit houses and accessories seemed appropriate to feature on the main shelf. *Those of you with a keen eye may notice the two visitors next to the tower. They don’t match the wardrobe of the rest of the North Pole. When my grandmother passed away I took that little accessory from her hodge-podge village collection, and now it brings me comfort to think that my grandparents are watching over me, especially at Christmas. Is it silly, yes, but I just don’t care. I’m a sentimental man.*

Beneath the main shelf are other North pole “must haves” Santa’s Rooming House, The Hall of Records, The Glass Ornament Factory, The Weather Observatory, The Elfin Forge & Assembly Shop, and of course, the classic North Pole gate.


I’m incredibly proud of my collection. Others may think it’s silly or childish, but to me, it feels incredibly rewarding. It does take an immense amount of money (I’ve collected for YEARS), time, effort, and planning, but the reward is immeasurable. The warm glow of my village can be seen from my living room, and from outside my main window for the random passerby.

I’ve included some other photos because I just couldn’t help myself:

At top left, Mr. and Mrs. Claus greet visitors. Top right, Santa checks his list in front of the Hall of Records. Middle right are two of my very favorite Mickey pieces. The first came from my parents and was my very first Department 56 house.

Bottom left shows the awesome glow the bubble light factory leaves on the ceiling. Bottom left center are two pieces from the Mickey’s Christmas Carol. Next is a beautiful winter scene with some classics, and the last, at bottom right, is the classic North Pole Gate with Mickey and Minnie in their Christmas best welcoming you to this magical land.

I could show hundreds of photos, but you get the idea. I’ve featured the best I could.

As I said, the display takes an entire day. Yes, it can be overwhelming. But, the important thing is to go in steps. You have to go slowly, and plan your way.

The first thing I do is clear the space where the houses are going. Then, I open each house and ready them.

Awaiting Placement

Then, I started with some of my risers for the scenes.


After I am ready to get started, I place each house in it’s future home. I also add in random Christmas boxes and cookie tins for risers.

As you can see, it doesn’t start out looking beautiful. But, you start placing houses and setting the “story.”  I move them around, create collections, clusters, and then I move one again, and again, and again. If someone watched me, they’d think I was insane, but I want the “story” to be just right. It’s fun to pretend.

Then, you start plugging in each house. Yes, cords will be everywhere. Yes, it can be daunting, but just go with it. Luckily, a friend gave me a 20-bulb strand, and I had a couple of 6 bulb strands. But, I had to use many, many single lightbulbs. That’s a lot of plugs! But, once they are all in place and the lights are working, you just cover everything with batting to make it look like snow. Batting fixes everything! My hubbie set it up with a TP-Link Kasa Wi-Fi enabled outlet, so I can control the entire power strip from my phone, or through voice command on Google Home or Amazon Alexa. Isn’t technology great?! No need to get up and down from the cabinets to turn on a power strip.

Work in Progress

Once the batting is in place and all cords are hidden, I place my people and my trees. Most of my people/accessories have logical places, but some are more generic and I place them wherever works in my mind, and on my canvas. I use the trees to add height, dimension, and color. I have a variety of types, from inexpensive bottle brush style, to cold cast ceramic and hand painted. I even use some non-Department 56 trees, like some glass ones Jim picked up for me at Costco years ago. And I have 3 flat silhouette style cutouts of winter trees with glittery snow on them that I put at the back of each shelf. The variety adds a level of realness to the village.

It’s hard to believe it sounds so simple that it only takes a couple of paragraphs to explain. But, yes, I started at 9AM and put the finishing touches on at 10PM. Here’s the final product one more time:

The Finished Product

Do you collect a village? I’d love to hear about it. Comment below!

Posted in Christmas, Deep Thoughts, Department 56, Reflections

Collecting Villages – What is my why?

It might be the cool rainy weather – it just seems like Christmas is coming. Ready or not! I know it’s only the first week of October – but my brain runs wild with imagination and planning, this unusual combination of whimsy and attention to detail. That fun stuff occupies such a large percentage of my brain. It’s probably the same stuff that makes many of you roll your eyes, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But, for my personality type, it’s a super exciting, creative, and electrically charged time. I’m on the cusp of something I LOVE to do.

[Side rant: I know it’s not time to decorate yet. I know there are holidays in between now and Christmas. Stop whining to me about it, or about the commercialization or Christmas, or that the stores already have Christmas decorations for sale. That’s not my fault, and I don’t care. This is my blog. End of mini rant 🙂 ]

Like I’ve written about before, I love planning out each year’s display. I’m a hyper-organized person when it comes to my collection, so I have a spreadsheet of which houses I have and which accessories coordinate. Am I a little crazy? Yes. But I didn’t earn the nickname “Professor Obsessor” for nothing. My Christmas village is just something I love to collect and plan down to the tiniest detail.

Besides being a collector, I’m also a “why” person. As in “Why do I love it?” I spent the weekend by myself and did some deep thinking while Jim is out of town. There was no distraction – just me, the cat, and a whole lot of quiet.

First off, I think I love collecting Christmas villages because collecting checks so many items on my list. You know what I’m talking about, right? That inner list of things you love for no apparent reason? We’ve all got one. For me, collecting satisfies and “checks off” the collector mentality (the “I’ve gotta get them all” thought process), the Christmas fan in me (obviously), the detail guy (how/where do I plug them in?, how will I hide the cords?, what scenes work well together?, etc…), the home decorator in me (I want to be the host with the warm cozy home), and lastly, collecting satisfies the unique aspect of who I am. I want to have something a little different, and a little extra special about me. It just feels good to achieve that.

When I set up my display each year, I let my inner child run wild. I’m fascinated by a made up world where the only rules are the rules I set. I imagine it’s a similar feeling to the people that collect train sets. They build train stations, have neighborhoods, bridges, tunnels, and a variety of other scenes. They became the mayor, the master developer, the rule setter, and decider of detail. In my world, I get to be all of those things. I ponder “How does this little town work?”, “Where do the elves work?” and “Is there a social hierarchy?” (haha!) I like to believe in my fictional world that all of my residents work together in harmony… composing a symphony of happiness. And happiness is something we could all use more of.

When it all boils down, I think we should all emulate these fictional characters and work on being happier people. I think, ultimately, that is the final reason I love collecting the houses. My final “why” check mark. Plainly and simply, it just provides me, and the others that view it, with unbridled child-like happiness.

Posted in Christmas, Department 56, Disney

Mickey at the North Pole: What happens When 2 Passions Collide?

I remember Dad purchasing Mom a new North Pole lit piece for her village every year. It became a regular occurrence, and it was so exciting to figure out what Mom liked, and which piece was going to join the growing collection each year. The early years were completing the basics, like I discussed in this post: Department 56 North Pole Collection, and then after that it became about which house or scene caught mom and the family’s interest, or seemed to go with the existing pieces she had.

At this time, Department 56 was immensely popular, and was featured in lots of stores. You could find Department 56 in Hallmark, many department stores, and in lots of stand-alone collector shops. So we would browse all the time, even when Christmas was far away we were on the lookout for what we should add to the set next.

In 2004 I participated in the Walt Disney World College Program. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. In September, 2004 my program ended and I returned to my parent’s home with a more intense interest in Disney than ever. That Fall, during a North Pole scouting trip, we discovered one of my favorite lit houses of all time. “Mickey’s North Pole Holiday House”. It had been released in 2003, and there were still some on the shelves of stores, along with it’s accessory piece “Mickey Builds a Snowman.”


Fresh out of the Disney College Program, hopped up on 9 months of Disney indoctrination, I just couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw this gorgeous piece. We were just checking out the new pieces as usual and there it was. I couldn’t believe it – Department 56 had actually licensed Mickey for the North Pole Village! I was speechless. Of course, my parents knew this was the one I wanted. It wasn’t always my choice, of course, but we all gave input, and they knew how much I loved the mouse.

I remember the scene like yesterday. The lit house itself was really expensive. (Of course, they had to pay for that licensing fee.) Mom and Dad didn’t think they could get the house at that time, and we all knew that it was not a “new” piece any longer, so unfortunately, if it sold out it might be gone for good. But they did get the adorable accessory, “Mickey Builds a Snowman” that coordinates with it, for placement in the Christmas village. I was so happy to be able to bring Mickey home to the North Pole set, even if it wasn’t with his lit house.


The Mickey Mouse accessory pictured above became part of the village every year.

Fast forward to 2006. I met Jim and moved in with him to our own home. That year for Christmas, my parents gave me the Mickey accessory from their own village. I didn’t even have any lit houses of my own yet, but I was so excited to open that beloved accessory. Then, the next box I opened was the real deal, the Mack Daddy of them all, the crème de la crème… Mickey’s North Pole Holiday House. It had been retired by then, but they found it, and gave it to me for Christmas. I was so happy.

The village pieces aren’t just ceramic, plastic, and paint to me. They mean so much more. I knew this was going to be the start of something awesome. (Poor Jim.)

My first piece was the beginning of a beautiful collection. Since then, the North Pole Village has had many Mickey official pieces, including “Mickey’s Watch Factory” along with “Mickey Approved”, and even a spin-off village of his own “Mickey’s Christmas Village” also by Department 56. I mix my favorite pieces from both sets together every year. Mickey’s North Pole Holiday house is one of my very favorites, along with the three pieces I mentioned in my first North Pole blog.

“Mickey’s Ski & Skate” is one of my favorite lit houses from “Mickey’s Christmas Village” and features “Goofy Takes a Tumble” (think Goofy’s “Yaaaaaaa-hoo-hoo-hoo-hooey!” from the old school cartoons) and “Mickey & Minnie Go Skating.”

Which piece is your favorite? Do you collect any Christmas villages? I’d love to hear from you.

Posted in Christmas, Department 56

Department 56 North Pole Collection

It’s not a secret that I’m a huge fan of Christmas.  I think about it all year long.

Now, naysayers will say it’s because I’m obsessed with the commercialization of Christmas, but they couldn’t be more wrong. Those same haters are the people that find the negative in every “feel good” YouTube video of a kid offering a plate to a homeless person, or a young man being caught on video helping an elderly woman up the stairs. So haters, it isn’t the presents, the over-scheduling, and immense expense of Christmas that I love; rather, it’s the excitement, the music, the whimsy, the joy in the smallest things, and (perhaps most importantly) the societal acceptance of over-the-top (“extra” if you will) Christmas decorations. That’s right. For me, it’s about the decorations.

Christmas decorations are something I think about, obsess over, plan, re-plan, organize, strategize, think, re-think, and re-think again all year long. My loving husband Jim can attest to that. And, if I see one more “Stop premature Christmas decorating” meme, I swear to God my eyes will permanently roll back in my head.

My favorite Christmas decoration of all is my Department 56 North Pole Christmas Village. My mom and dad started collecting when I was a little boy, and I was instantly enamored and mesmerized by the tiny lit ceramic village. As an adult, I have continued collecting for years, and have over 50 lit houses today. My parents still collect, and my mom’s village is still one of my very favorites, as well.

I wanted to start my blog with a post about my Department 56 Christmas Village favorite pieces: the ones that started it all. *Full disclosure: These pieces are assembled in my personal order (the order of village hierarchy) for my North Pole Village, and not in their original order of release. I believe there is no “wrong” in master planning your personal village. This is just my way. I believe you should start with the three primary lit pieces I feature here. They create the foundation of your magical world, and allows you to pick and choose which pieces, and brands, you use to flesh out the rest of the magical Christmas world.


My first, favorite, and centerpiece of my North Pole village is “Santa’s North Pole Palace.” At nearly 1 foot tall, this primary piece is the best start to every fan’s collection. It has design details that are reminiscent of earlier retired Claus homes “Santa’s Workshop” and “Route 1, Home of Santa and Mrs. Claus” including the gorgeous red roof, sharp peaks, plentiful windows, NP flag, and gorgeous glitter effect. The North Pole Palace is my choice for my village. It’s also nearly 4 inches taller than the earlier counterparts, helping it stand out among the rest of the village pieces, giving this centerpiece a true place of honor in your North Pole village.


Coordinating with the “Merry Christmas” accessory of Mr. and Mrs. Claus welcoming visitors to their home while enjoying their morning coffee, and the earlier ceramic “North Pole Gate”, this piece deserves a place of prominence in your village.

After “Santa’s North Pole Palace”, the 2nd and 3rd most important pieces are “The Elf Bunkhouse” and “Reindeer Barn.” Coincidentally, these are the 2nd and 3rd lit pieces Department 56 commissioned for the North Pole Village.

These homes for the North Pole’s other two famous residents: elves and reindeer, are beautiful. With muted greens and reds, earthy rock bases, and traditional snowy/glittery finishes, these 7 inch tall classic pieces complete the holy trifecta of primary pieces forming the foundation of every collector’s Department 56 North Pole village.

Early accessories “Toy Maker Elves” and “Sleigh and 8 Tiny Reindeer” round out your collection with pizzazz.

After these pillars of your North Pole village, I branched out into many MANY other “neighborhoods”.  Future blog posts will showcase more of my village, including the Disney area, Peppermint area, and endless, endless shops and Elf accessories.