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 Anxiety, Deep Thoughts, Home, Reflections

A Visit to St. Louis

It’s hard to explain the emotional difficulty of traveling to visit “home” when you haven’t lived there for a number of years. Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love seeing my friends, my family, and all of the people that I love. It’s not them. I’m thrilled to see them, to reminisce about old times, to catch up, tell jokes, and allow hilarity to ensue.

What I don’t love is this unsaid feeling of not belonging anymore. It’s this feeling, always floating there on the surface. You strive to get rid of the feeling, it just muddies up everything else. I equate it to skimming the fat and grease off the top of a delicious dinner that’s just about finished. It’s there, it doesn’t really ruin it, but it does successfully make it imperfect. If you’ve never moved from home, and then later visited, you’ll never understand this feeling. Everything feels different, but exactly the same, simultaneously. It’s like I’m watching a 3D movie in the theater, and enjoying it through the glasses, but I’m also peeking over the top of them and seeing the distorted not-quite-right video play.

I’m proud of my ability to make everywhere that Jim and I have moved feel like “home”. When we moved to Los Angeles, I was terrified. Terrified to leave home, to leave everything that I knew, was familiar with, and to step out into the unknown. I didn’t like change. But I adapted. I grew a lot. I found so much more strength in myself than I ever knew I had.

Later, we moved back to St. Louis, and settled back into our former life. And then when Jim’s medical disaster happened. It was a huge ordeal. It took a lot of emotional resources, a lot of patience, and a lot of energy from me. It changed me, forever. But again, I found so much more strength within me than I realized I had.

When the time came to move to South Dakota, I was ready to embrace change again. It felt good to metaphorically press the “reset” button on our life, again. It felt right to live somewhere where the “old” Brad and Jim had never existed. It’s hard to feel depressed about what happened to us, when our present situation never existed in the pre-medical disaster world. Starting over was hard. And scary. But, also, once more I found another well of strength deep within me.

So that leads up to today. We’ve lived in Rapid City for 3 years now. It feels like home. It is home.

When we visit St. Louis, though, the inevitable question is posed. By everyone. “When are you guys moving back home?” It’s hard to hear over and over again. And, trust me, I know it comes from a place of love. I understand that our friends and family want us there all the time. And I too, wish for that. That’s what makes it so hard to hear. I want it, but I also don’t. I know that we’ve established a life in South Dakota. I have a job I love that really matters, I feel really rewarded by it. My coworkers are amazing. Jim absolutely loves working at CVS – they have been so good to him. We have a small, close-knit group of wonderful friends. We live near so much natural beauty. The Black hills are natural mood enhancers. They existed long before big pharma mass marketed everything under the sun to solve the world’s emotional problems.

What sucks about moving isn’t the actual moving. While that is a challenge, it’s a finite amount of time. What sucks is that you split yourself in half, and then in half again. You establish, and grow in a new area. You find part of yourself that you didn’t know was buried within. It feels like the more easily you adapt, the more you are punished if it’s time to make a change again. I don’t want to move back to St. Louis, and leave the half of my life in South Dakota that I love. I also don’t want to live in South Dakota, and miss the half of my life that is still in St. Louis. It’s incredibly overwhelming, and I can’t please everyone. I’m at an emotional impasse. Jim and I discuss this so much, and we don’t know what to do. I can’t speak for Jim, this is obviously a personal blog, but I think he feels a lot of the same things.

I’m not looking for an answer from anyone, because there is no “right” answer. I just want to explain how overwhelming it is to feel this way.

Posted in Anxiety, Creative Writing, Deep Thoughts, Reflections, Spirituality

Who are we, and where will we go?

who are we, and where will we go
is this reality, or our mind’s eye’s show

are we dust & bones, mere atomic energy
or are we something more that science can’t see

are we figments of another’s imagination
some sort of outlet – an emotional creation

are we pre-destined to do great things
even if we’re crippled by the pressure that brings

who am i, why am i, and what do i matter
some days when I think of that, i only feel sadder

can’t help but wonder – do I only exist to you
or is it to you, and you, and all of you, too

if i only exist in your mind, and you in mine
then i will live my days with love; for my friends & for me, that will be fine.

Posted in Anxiety, Creative Writing, Deep Thoughts, Reflections

He Allows Himself to Fall Apart Nightly…

The routine has become so mundane.
The process so common it’s now effortless… meaningless.

If it no longer has meaning – does he?

He allows himself to fall apart nightly, just to feel again.

// First, his fingers break off with such a familiar sound.
It reminds him of fresh popcorn cooking on the stovetop at grandma’s.
The fingers pop one by one like kernels as they break off of his hand.
Next, his arm firmly pops out of the socket with the familiar hollow popping thunk.
His knee unhinges with a squeak and then pries itself from his upper leg.
Finally, his ear un-velcros itself from the side of his head. //

Sudden movement pulls him out of his daydream.
Is that me in the mirror?

He watches himself brush the style from dark shaggy locks.
Is that my hair?

He watches himself remove his contact lenses from piercing dark eyes.
Are those my eyes?

He watches himself in the mirror as hands unbutton his shirt.
Are those my hands?

He removes everything, shyly revealing his vulnerable nakedness to himself.

There is nothing left.
He is nothing more.

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 Anxiety, Creative Writing, Deep Thoughts, Reflections, Sleep

he lies awake

he lies awake
reflecting on the day

he lies awake
wondering who he is

he lies awake
examining how he was. was he good? is he?

he lies awake
anticipating tomorrow’s stress as a sense of subtle, quiet doom builds inside

he lies awake
allowing the anxiety to wash over him, replacing all that he is

he lies awake
ceasing to exist

he lies awake
staring at the ceiling as the fan gently weaves a pattern of light and dark

he lies awake
enjoying, somehow, the dance of the shadows

he lies awake
allowing the darkness to call to him. to comfort him

he lies awake
realizing the circular dance of the fan mirrors the dance of the day

he lies awake
understanding the balance, momentarily

he lies awake
accepting that without fear there is no calm

he lies awake
trusting the quiet of the night

he sleeps.

Posted in Deep Thoughts, Fall, Reflections

Thoughts on Fall

Autumn colored maple leaf

I was talking over lunch today with my friend Kristen. We discussed the feeling you get when reading a moody novel or short story – that feeling the transcends explanation. The moodiness in the air, the sense of foreboding, the subtle chills down your spine. No matter the temperature, a great book makes it feel like a rainy, cool, fall day. I crave that feeling in my reading.

I thought about fall for the rest of the day. How much I actually enjoy it. I’ve never considered myself a “fall person” before, but this year, I really am. The dampness in the air, the chill lurking just beneath the surface, the winds of change blowing in the early evenings. Fall mornings tease the fast-approaching winter, while fall afternoons have that something special, that comforting call back to the lazy days of summer that just passed. The anticipation is special – nearly palpable. It exists, just out of our conscious reach. I love feeling the crispness, the excitement, and the anticipation of the upcoming season. The faint smells of cider, cinnamon, pumpkin, clove… they all seem to signify that change in the air. Something about fall smells “warm”, not in in terms of temperature, but rather in terms of comfort. Fall is a warm comfy sweater waiting to wrap its arms around you.

This year, I’m letting it envelope me in warmth and coziness.