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December 01, 2005   Email to Friend 

Homemade Treasurers Create Christmas Riches
By Fran Sharp

As the season for giving arrives, thoughts of gifts wrapped in colorful paper topped with bows come to mind. But for some, homemade treasures that decorate, accentuate and preserve nature's beauty are the best gifts of all.

Ask Cindy Kirsch Smith of Montgomery where she gets her talent, and she will tell you she took a dip in the family gene pool. The picture ornaments Cindy creates are from a craft idea originated by Cindy's mom, Sue Kirsch, way back in the '70s.

Updating Sue's idea through the modern advent of decorative miniatures and readily available color copying machines, Cindy creates individualized mementos customized to order and encased in acrylic fillable ornaments. Themes include pets, nativity scenes, births, weddings, birthday celebrations, graduations and school events. They are limited only by the customers' wishes and Cindy's imagination. Grandchildren are a popular theme, and Cindy has produced several for her first grandchild, Christopher Jonathan.

"They are very easy to do," Cindy says of her ornaments. "Just remember to keep a supply of miniatures, fabric clippings and ribbons around, and you'll be ready for anything. The acrylic ornaments are available at any craft store in balls and hearts, and it's all put together with a hot glue gun."

Cindy, a data processor at the Alabama State Troopers office in Montgomery, says she makes her ornaments to unwind. "Most of the time it's relaxing, but it can be tricky to get the picture into the ornament without folding it over on itself; you just have to work with it. I have thrown many across the room, but once you do the first one, the second time is easy."

Ginger Mullins, an administrative assistant for the Alabama Farmers Federation's Commodity Department, has been painting all her life. Ginger's late mother once proclaimed that her daughter was just about born with a paintbrush in her hand. Ginger said as a young lady, she thought about studying art, but never got around to it.

"I fell in love, and you know what happens when you're in love, you forget about everything else," she said.

But Ginger didn't abandon her love of art. This working mother with grown children -- one a new father and the other a special needs son who lives at home with Ginger and her husband Ronnie -- unwinds in the evening with cheerful Santas and angels. They grin up at her from a worktable spread with paints, glitter, wire and polymer clay.

Even though her pins are very popular, you can't buy them. Ginger, who wears a contagious smile, prefers to give them as gifts during the year and especially at Christmastime. Word-of-mouth brings her requests from women's groups and others, but mostly she makes them for friends.

"Polymer clay is easy to work," she says. "You soften it by kneading it, form it into the shape you want, and bake it in the oven," she said. "It's not complicated, and I know how to use an oven."

For beginners at any craft, Ginger recommends checking out the classes at hobby stores or just winging it. "I experimented with one thing and then another with my pins. With the polymer, you make a mistake, just roll it up, and start over again," she said.

Some of the pins are painted, but all are cheerful and come equipped with a fastener for pinning on a shoulder, belt or scarf. Little bears, Christmas trees, Santas, wreaths, elves, snowmen and candy canes are decorated with raffia and/or copper wire for hair, gold rings for halos, and squiggly ribbons for whiskers. Each is created with a smile and a flourish.

"Some of my fondest Christmas memories are working on my pins with my mother and my sister," Ginger said. "My mother would make suggestions about what she thought it should look like, but she never really got into making them herself. She mostly just watched me."

Holiday decorations from the heart don't have to be expensive. The only cost is a stroll in the backyard.

Kitty Ricks' decor is furnished by Mother Nature, and experience was her teacher.

"In 39 years of working outside the home, I learned time and money-saving tricks each year as I would decorate for the holidays," said the former legal secretary.

One of her favorite tricks is walking in the yard or in the woods near her Mount Olive home just northwest of Birmingham. While there, she gathers fresh greenery to brighten the rooms in her house.

"You can use greenery for any holiday, adding ornaments, turkeys, jack-o-lanterns or anything else for a specific theme," she said.

Kitty decorates with wreaths, swags and garlands in most every room of her house. She trails magnolia down the center of a dining room table, swags mirrors and mantels and places limbs or cuttings in windowsills.

"I might or might not add a bow or other decoration -- sometimes just the simple greenery is enough," she said.

A little imagination goes a long way in decorating. Everyday knickknacks take on new interest when dressed in a tiny boxwood wreath or holding a miniature bouquet of green.

Swag a chandelier with ivy, cover a frame with eucalyptus and hang in a conspicuous spot for a fresh look at the view. Display fruits and vegetables; attach holly sprigs to packages, and use berries, pine cones, sweetgum balls and small toys to brighten a boxwood wreath or cluster of pine.

"I'm lucky in that we have a lot of shrubs and trees, but here's a hint: A good place to look for greenery if you don't have shrubs or nearby woods are scraps from Christmas tree lots or retail stores," she said. "They will give the scraps to you free, or you can purchase a small tree and harvest what you need."

Kitty says no matter your expertise or lack of it, a little fresh greenery will brighten your holiday decorations if it's no more than laying pine boughs in the windowsills or tying some mistletoe to the kitchen doorway. "Homemade puts you in a holiday mood, too," she said. "And it's much less expensive, which can make you more cheerful."

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