How to make pretty displays for the holidays out of dead stuff . . .


. . . Even if you’re not a decorator-type person. (Like me.)

The article that started it . . .

I happened upon one of those blogs that focus on organizational skills, the week before Thanksgiving-you know the type–There was an amusing article on how to get everything done for Christmas without going mad. It was marvelous, really, everything you normally do for Christmas was all laid out in a simple list. It was titled Four weeks to Get Ready for Christmas Without Losing Your Mind or somesuch thing.

Four weeks. Four simple tasks. That was it. The blogger suggested that you do the task the week it was appointed for, and you’d be All Ready For Christmas, well groomed, well rested and low-blood-pressured and not crazy and all. She didn’t mention that upside: that you wouldn’t risk the usual, panicked episode about a week before Christmas when you realized that Christmas, after all, is only a week away . . .  not to mention middle-of-the-night grim wonderings about, say, getting enough presents for Johnny or too many for Susie.

All. Hypothetical. Folks. 🙂

But, gosh. That blogger’s life must be so dull. Right? Everything done just-so. Everything tidy and peaceful and under control. *yawn* Also. Low blood pressure. What fun is that? Probably she has no chickens. Or dogs that throw up in the driveway, in the same spot and at the same time that the UPS man brings his big truck to a screeching stop. Probably she doesn’t have an outside cat who dashes to get in every time you open the door (with the subsequent dashing after her), and an inside cat who dashes to get out, you know, in similar fashion. All at the same time.

Say . . . by the way, who keeps inside and outside cats, anyway? And why?

I think they’re in cahoots, those two cats.

“Sammy got in! She headed underneath your bed again, Mom!” Ugh. Please. *Yawn* Can you catch her? “I’m trying—what is this underneath your bed, Mom? Hidden Christmas presents?” Yikes. And then!Oh Nooooo! Lolo got OUT!!” Ugh. Please. *Yawn* Can you catch her? “Oh noooo . . . the UPS man is stopping in the driveway and it looks like Bea is throwing up again—right in front of the UPS man!”

Ugh. Please. Somebody make it stop.

Let’s see, where was I . . . ?

The Simple 4-Step Plan

Oh yes. The Simple 4-Step Christmas Plan. It went something like this:

  1. Week 1: Decorate
  2. Week 2: Order your gifts
  3. Week 3: Wrap your gifts
  4. Week 4: Honestly, I don’t remember what Week 4 was: Rest Up for the Big Day, possibly?

I think that was it. It made SO MUCH SENSE. But I got stuck on the first one. “Decorate”?? I am not a decorator. I still have no curtains on most of my windows (most of them anyway, although we do live in the country, so what the heck) and you know how sometimes you take all the pictures and so forth off the walls, so you can paint, and then you put everything back on the wall? I do that, and then I leave the walls bare for years. Isn’t that pitiful?

Yes. (To answer my own question.) Yes, it is. Anyway.

How Staying-Sane Walks lead to Bringing Beauty Indoors

Back to the decorating issue. Or the non-decorating issue. I’ve been forcing myself out into the biting wind every day to walk, to make sure that I get through winter with a semblance of sanity and strong(ish) legs (and honestly, so I don’t have to buy a whole batch of new jeans, all in a size larger *wince*), and I watch carefully in the ditches and the fields for pretty things to pick up. I like to draw pretty things, and one day I stuck a few of the dead things into a jar on the school/dinner/homework table, to draw. It was pretty. It was awfully pretty.

Hmm, thought I. A few more jars of pretty dead things would look interesting scattered around the house, almost like . . .  I’m decorating! Almost like I have a 4-point plan. Almost . . .


The Book that Changed my Mind About Decorating

You see, I’ve been reading this book. I love it. I’ve never read a book like this before. I obviously don’t read books on decorating, but I love the gal who writes this blog. She doesn’t know it, but I just love her. She is just precious. And this book has given me courage that I didn’t even realize that I didn’t have. Follow?

You might just love this book, too. Especially if decorating your home is something that is a bit bewildering to you. (Click here to learn more: affiliate link).

I’ve had this idea of myself (see above) that I’m not a decorator type; ergo my home will be plain. Undecorated. Not beautiful. But I put up with it by making the excuse that it’s “just not me.”

But this book and The Nester has given me courage to do what I love, which is to bring in the stuff that I love–dead stuff being one thing, also pretty rocks–and stumps–and quirky things that I pick up at my favorite thrift shop–and display it as if I know what I’m doing. I can create beauty in my home, according to my own ideas and instinct and love for beauty. That makes sense, doesn’t it?


So I paid attention to my little zing of excitement when I stuck those dead things into that first jar. “Beautiful,” thought I. Not “Would you see this in Better Homes and Gardens Magazine?”also not “Is this lame? Would somebody tell me if it’s lame?” but just “I think that’s beautiful.”

I put down my broom and shovel (I mentioned that I was cleaning house, right? or should have been) and got to work on more arrangements of this beautiful dead stuff.

I don’t come from a people of natural decorators, Gentle Reader. Bakers, readers, Pfeffernusse-makers, musicians, theatre geeks, shoe mud scrapers, food-growers, chicken-raisers, yes. Not decorators.

Maybe you do come from folks who decorate as easily as they breathe. If so, you might not find anything new to inspire you in this post, or in The Nester’s book above. But if you’re a decorator-wannabe, like me–I think you may enjoy this quick project.

I’m going to show you how to take a few things that you already have in your house, pick and snip and clip some pretty things from outside, and make charming country dried dead stuff arrangements. Ready? Let’s go!

You can do it too: Here’s my Simple 4-Step Process

1. First, assemble some pretty jars. I picked up some glass gallon cider jugs that I thought I’d use someday. Also I love old canning jars, and even pretty pickle jars. It’s fun to have lots of different sizes and shapes. Glass vases are nice, too.


2. Find some smallish rocks that you love the looks of. I pick up rocks on the road every day, when I take my walk, so I’ve got jars and piles of little rocks everywhere. (Basically I’m still an 8-year-old boy who has to clean out his pockets before putting them into the laundry. Wait. My 8-year-old boy doesn’t put his pants in the laundry. Oh well. You know what I mean.) If you don’t have marbles or rocks from the road, those decorative little glass pebbles work well, too.

Also, shells are nice.


3. Now, go for your daily Staying-Sane-In-Winter walk, and carry along a good pair of nippers. I like this one (affiliate link) A LOT:

I mean, I REALLY like this one. I have a couple of pairs of these, and it just gives me goosebumps to look at them.

Put on your artist spectacles, and look at your landscape as you walk.  You’ll see wild plants, weeds, grasses, and so forth. But what you want to focus on is what is attractive to you. What would look pretty in a vase in your house. What attracts your eye.

You need the following, besides assorted glass jars and little rocks, to create these pretty jarred displays:

  • Dried branches with pinecones, or milkweed pods or something like that, for height and structure
  • some greenery, just because . . .
  • filler: lacy or ferny dried weeds or plants
  • something with a bit of color: I’ve used my leftover Coxcomb flowers, which (happy day) I hadn’t cleaned out of my hoop house yet. 🙂 Also dried rose hips are very pretty, and are usually abundant along country roads.


(When I discovered all this pretty dried coxcomb in the mess in my hoophouse, I actually felt a bit clever about NOT cleaning out the hoophouse in a timely manner. Yay, me.) 😉

4. Now arrange your winter dead stuff bouquets. Put on some Christmas music. Have fun!

  • Put the rocks in the bottom of your bottles and jars.
  • Trim, and then put into each one a piece of structure (the branch or whatever), add a bit of greenery, some filler, and something with color.
  • If you like, wrap some twine or a strip of muslin or burlap, around your jar. Tie a bow. Or not.

What do you think? Pretty? It took me about an hour to make about 8 of these, and then to put them around the house. Instant prettification, Gentle Readers! From a non-decorator! Boom!!


Merry Christmas decorating, Gentle Reader!

Are you still working on Christmas? It’s okay. I am, too. Here are two things I’ve got available on my blog right now, that make wonderful gifts:

My Coon Creek Herbs: I’ve got a 3-tin set of dried herbs mixes, ready to purchase for your own kitchen or the kitchen of your favorite aunt/piano teacher/sister-who-lives-in-another-state.

My Dad is still staying out of trouble by making these gorgeous French rolling pins for me. I’ve got luscious walnut ones, daily use maple pins, and many more. Check them out! I can get one in the mail on the way to you in about two shakes of a lamb’s tail!

Thanks, dears. You’re the greatest to read to the very stinkin’ end. Gold star to you! If this post was helpful or even just mildly amusing to you, would you share it with a friend? Thanks so much!

I love ya. I mean it!



35 thoughts on “How to make pretty displays for the holidays out of dead stuff . . .

  1. Terry

    Love the tall branch in the jar sitting in front of the quilt, and I love the quilt. I am a quilter, do you quilt? Also noticed the crocheted pad on the table, I bet you made that. I love nature and rocks etc. Very nice.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      YES Terry, I do make quilts, but not as many as I’d like! I’m working on a special Christmas quilt right now, and it’s the carrot on the proverbial stick for me: if I get my housework done, for example, I sit down and work on it for an hour or two. AND yes, that’s my knitted washcloth. Not the greatest work, but I like to have something in my hands to work on at all times!

      1. rita

        I quilt too! I’d love to see the one you’re working on, or when you’re done, whatever. I do machine quilting on my mid-arm, if you need any done. he he Just saying.

        1. dramamamafive Post author

          I’ll send you a picture when I’m finished, Rita! Can’t post it–it’s for somebody who might read my blog . . . 😉

          1. dramamamafive Post author

            Errr, Rita, I’m not as accomplished as you . . . actually I tie most of my quilts which (I know) technically makes them not quilts, but I call them that, anyway. There is a group of senior citizen ladies here in Milford who do hand-quilting, and when I want to splurge (like with a wedding quilt) I’ll pay them to hand quilt it. What about you? Do you do machine quilting, exclusively?

          2. rita

            When the quilts are for me, I sometimes hand quilt them but the machine quilting is nice too and so much quicker. For customers it’s always machine quilting. It’s a slow business to grow because people don’t make that many quilts and if they have their quilts machine-quilted, they may try me if they happen to hear about me exactly when they’re unhappy with what their person did. I get quite a bit of repeat business because I’m meticulous (read: OCD) and I also barely charge for the binding step because I like to hand back something that’s usable immediately. Let me know if I can do one for you. I charge $.02/sq” plus about $15 for the binding and I can charge $11/m for the batting because I buy whole rolls at a time. If you want to see some of the designs: Feel free to edit this post down. I’m not meaning to advertise. Nevermind the setup fee. I’ve never charged that. And the batting is now Warm and Natural 80/20. The portfolio pages are old too. sigh, must update.

          3. dramamamafive Post author

            I don’t mind an advertisement from you, dear Rita! Hear this, Gentle Readers-who-quilt–your quilts look fabulous, Rita! And I can attest (from the aprons that you sent me) that your sewing is very neat and meticulous! Thanks for your message!

  2. Sophie Bowns

    When you said ‘dead stuff’ I was hoping that it wasn’t going to be dead flies. 😛
    (Just kidding)
    -I love your selection of dried plants. They make lovely decorations! I particularly like the last one.

  3. Susan

    Every one of your decorations is beautiful!
    We have indoor cats, and an outdoor cat (I’m assuming he’s ours, because we feed him and provide him a heated bed) and 2 indoor/outdoor cats….and 6 chickens, 3 of which are roosters.
    It takes a lot more talent to decorate with dead stuff than it does to buy a bunch of things at the store.
    Some people even pay for dead stuff from the store! LOL

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Haha Susan, so we’re not the only crazy ones (no offense!) who keep inside AND outside cats. Sometimes it gets a little hairy around here (no pun intended!).

  4. Chef William Chaney

    After all those years of making props for the plays I am surprised that you are surprised at your hidden talent for decorating using whatever you find. I love the pictures. In my house we do it slightly different. We forget to water a plant or two, wait for it to die and then tell our visitors that it is stylish because we learned it from a mid-west housewife from Nebraska. (Don’t worry, we give no names) Most of what should be empty jars are full of buttons and ribbons and stuff. Those that are not filled with such items are in the refrigerator filled with other “dead” stuff which has no name. When we find dead branches and leaves outside our house here in Wisconsin and pick them up, we call it cleaning the yard, boy have we had it wrong for years. As for buying pebbles from a thrift shop, here’s an idea. I have a rock polisher (I call it a gem polisher so that my wife didn’t mind the investment) then when I walk along the lake front or the river, I bring home some rocks that I like and polish them. I have a small box full. Perhaps I will give them to Goodwill so that they can sell them. It does sound like a fun project. Alas, when I take my morning walk I take my dog along with me as well as a few plastic bags so I don’t have a free hand for the pretty stuff, and most of the pretty stuff my dog gets to before I do anyway. Nice article Amy thanks for sharing.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Chef, you are so funny. You are my Commenter of The Day, and as such will win the prize: I’ll box up a whole bunch of Dead Stuff From Nebraska, and get it in the mail to you today! Boy, you did have it all wrong! Stuff all those yard cleanings into a jar, put it in a prominent place in your home–boom! You just decorated for the holidays!! Thanks for the excellent comment, William. You always make me laugh. 🙂

        1. rita

          We bought a rock polisher and had it running for a while. Here’s what I learned. It takes a LONG time. Don’t run it in your basement. It’s like there’s road construction happening 24/7. We gave it to someone.

  5. Barbara

    Uh oh! I’m 3 weeks behind. I’m working on catching up on holiday readiness today. I love the coxcomb; it’s so pretty. I definitely want to bundle up and get out for walks this winter. Last winter I stayed inside and got so depressed and did have to buy those next size jeans. Ugh!

    Nice post!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      It has been VERY cold here, and windy, but I’ve been bundling up and forcing myself to go out for a 20-minute mental health walk. It feels really good (afterwards) and it gives me lots of energy. And so far I’m still wearing my jeans from the fall. 😉

  6. Alana(@RamblinGarden)

    Wow, you have the most interesting ditches there in Nebraska. Just imagine, you can find shells, sad irons, and the most wonderful blog titles there! I loved the picture with the quilt, the mosaic stand and the dead bouquet. Just think, I can now take the pepper plant my husband left out on a frosty night after going through the trouble of potting it up, and use it as a decoration, and tell my readers that’s how they do it in Nebraska. After all, it has pretty half dried peppers on it. I think I’ll run upstairs and take a picture of it right now….

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Alana, you do that! See, now you have a fun new blog post half-written already! (I think those little decorative peppers are quite pretty!)

  7. Elsa

    I love your decorations, so much better than what you buy in stores. We just had a big snowstorm so everything is covered but I can still collect branches and berries. I quilt as well, that s one way to keep my sanity during the long winter nights

  8. Janet Dugan

    It is so comforting to hear about other folks who have kids and critters blessing our lives and anointing the house with lovely untidiness!
    Quick story ; my Mother-in -law was coming to visit our house for the first time. My husband begged my to put away my collection of goodies (not what he called them!) that lived on the windowsill over the kitchen sink. I had bits of curly vines, driftwood, feathers, pretty rocks, crystals and a tiny perfect mouse skull. I compromised by cleaning them till they sparkled in the sunshine, and closing the sheer drapes. When Betty arrived, immaculately turned out and lovely as always, the first thing she saw was that windowsill. She rushed over and flung the drapes open, exclaiming over each piece and refusing to believe I had found them on walks. It was the beginning of a shared hobby, and her own windowsills became little Art Galleries too. My husband has never forgiven me. ; )

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Janet, we are so kindred spirits. I keep the same sorts of precious items around my house, too, often to the detriment of its tidiness. A beautiful opossum skull sits on the little shelf by the back door, and greets everybody who comes to our house. I keep jars of shells from our trips to New Zealand around, but also rocks that I’ve picked up on my daily walks, from our gravel road. There is so much beauty in the world and it does my heart good that there are others who SEE the beauty (like you!) and revel in it. And ha–your mother-in-law! That’s a wonderful story!!

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