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December 01, 2008   Email to Friend 

Finding Fresh Ideas in Your Backyard
Debra Davis

Claudia Myers finds lots of holiday decorating material right in her own backyard.
Walk into Claudia Myer's home in Tuscumbia any time in December; and you'll think its Christmas Day. It looks and smells like Christmas, with live evergreens, candles, ornaments and other holiday fare at every corner. For Claudia, Christmas is about bringing the outdoors in, and that's evident by the many decorations she makes from fresh clippings collected from her own yard.

"This is so simple a child can do it," she said as she pinned another bouquet of greenery onto the wreath she was making. "It takes a little time, but most of the materials can be purchased at a local hobby shop and the rest is right outside." Claudia makes every holiday special, Easter, Fourth of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving and, most especially, Christmas, according to her daughters, Valerie Bass who lives in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and Laura Parker who lives in Tuscumbia.

"There are certain things that make the holidays memorable, and growing up, mom always involved Laura and me with holiday plans and decorations," Valerie recalled. "We learned to string popcorn garlands, make wreaths, flock mailboxes, mantels and entry ways with fresh pine boughs and bows, and dress up holiday gifts with holly sprigs and red berries.

"When the decorations were complete, it looked, smelled and was, officially Christmas at our house. Both Laura and I share this style of holiday decorating with our own families, and hopefully they will do the same with their families one day. It's an inexpensive and fun way to decorate for the holidays, but most of all it's a wonderful way to make holiday memories that last a lifetime."

Claudia says collecting material ahead of time makes the process of wreath-making run smoothly. She suggests cutting leaves and trimming bushes a day ahead of time and soaking the stems in water overnight. "That way, they are really fresh and full of water," she said. She said it's also a good idea to spray fresh-cut greenery that's soaking in water buckets with bug spray before using the greenery to avoid bringing unwanted pests indoors.

Some of Claudia's favorites that are plentiful around her house are magnolia, holly, boxwood, yew, pine limbs and pine cones. She uses fresh berries when available, but artificial berries do well, too, she said. Fresh fruit such as apples and oranges also add a special touch to Christmas arrangements, she said, adding that she likes to use fresh-cut flowers in water-picks for special occasions.

"I like taking three different textures of plants such as the yew, boxwood and pine, and bunch them in a bouquet," Claudia said. "I use a floral pin to hold them in place on the wreath and work my way around until the wreath is covered. Once the greenery is in place, you can add a simple bow; ornaments or fruit such as an apple for color or you can add more texture like holly or some pine cones. The possibilities are endless, really."

Other supplies Claudia suggests having on hand include wreaths, such as those made of straw or grapevine, garden nippers, small wire cutters, floral pins, floral wire, pipe cleaners and oasis floral foam.

"Wallpaper trays make great holders for the oasis if you're making a mantle arrangement," Claudia said. "They're inexpensive and are just the right size for most mantels. Once you fill it in, your greenery hides the trays anyway."

Another tip Claudia says is a "must have" for anyone making wreaths or other decorations using live greenery is a large sheet or tablecloth. "It really saves you when you're ready to clean up," she said. "You just pick it up and go outside and shake it!"

The wreaths Claudia makes can serve many functions, depending on what the creative former art teacher feels like. For example, a straw wreath covered with fresh greenery and apples was topped with a bow and placed above the mantel. The same wreath, with the bow removed, rested in the center of the table and was filled with a decorative candle and hurricane lamp.

"The same wreath also could be used on your front door," she said. "Most fresh-cut greenery used on a wreath will last a couple weeks if you spray it lightly with water every few days. If it's outside, you can take it down and actually hose it down and hang it back up."

Another simple fixture that finds a lot of use in Claudia's house is a (porcelain) Christmas sleigh. Often used for a candy dish, she said a sleigh could be so much more than a dish. Other dishes can serve double duty, too. Claudia said a bowl full of special holiday ornaments can add a nice touch, or try a simple household vase filled with fresh greenery topped with berries and a bow.

"I love filling sleighs with oasis and then popping in several types of greenery and maybe a Santa Claus figure," she said. "They make a great centerpiece or end table decoration and can really brighten up the fireplace hearth."

Claudia taught art for five years at Deshler High School in Tuscumbia before she began her own business called Claudia's Creations, which was original hand-painted apparel.

The business took off like wildfire, and before long Claudia had orders from boutiques and specialty shops throughout the United States. Even former First Lady Barbara Bush had one of Claudia's Creations.

But a back injury forced her to close Claudia's Creations and nowadays, she enjoys decorating for First Presbyterian Church where she and her husband M.B. are members. She also occasionally decorates for weddings of close family friends.

"This is just pure pleasure for me," Claudia said as she finished the second of two wreaths she made one afternoon. "Especially at Christmas, this was always something I did with my girls, and it makes Christmas even more special."


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