December 18, 2014

Have a Calendar Party!

A couple of weeks ago, I got together with my girlfriend to indulge in some holiday cheer and catch up. That's when she told me about the calendar party she put together for her mother and three sisters.

Here's the premise... To schedule (as much as we hate the sound of it, it's almost necessary in today's world) time with the ones we love. She has three sisters that live in three different states, so time is precious. Because of the distance between each of them, they're especially careful to schedule in time for all of the cousinsnine so farto spend time with one another. She happened to plan hers right after Thanksgiving, but you could certainly plan a post-holiday fete in January.
  1. Get creative with the invitations. "Let's spend some time together..." Grab your calendar and head on over to our/my place. (Set date, time and particulars.)
  2. Let them know that you plan on picking dates for family visits, etc.. My friend's list included potential dates for Cousin's Campan adorable idea implemented years ago for all of the cousins to spend up to a week going on day trips and just having fun. One of her sisters takes lots of photos and puts together a keepsake photo book for everyone each year.
  3. Have pretty pens, stickers, and party favors (and a few extra calendars just in case).
  4. Prepare (or purchase) nibbles and snacks. Her menu included: Tea, cucumber sandwiches, scones and jam, banana bread, rainbow fruit kabobs, mozzarella/tomato/basic skewers, and sparkling cider to toast the new year.
Once everyone arrived, she handed out a festively written list to everyone that included the following questions.
  1. What are/were you grateful for in 2014?
  2. What are you looking forward to in 2015?
  3. What is one of your favorite traditions?
  4. What is your favorite simple pleasures?
  5. What is one of your biggest challenges?
  6. What is one small you can take to point you in the right direction?
She ended it with the quote, "A new year is like a blank book. the pen is in your hands. It's your chance to write a beautiful story for yourself. Happy New Year!"

If you're looking for a new tradition, this might be it!

December 17, 2014

Sugared Cranberries

Is your holiday menu planned? Make room for this one. I have a quick and super easy recipe for sugared cranberries that you can eat like a snack or use to give other desserts (or drinks!) a delicious sparkle. The best of both worldssweet and tart.

Sugared Cranberries

2 cups sugar, divided
1 (12 ounce) bag of fresh cranberries

Instructions

1. Combine 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar is dissolvedabout 2-3 minutes. Stir in cranberries until well coated. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to wire rack and let dry for at least 1 hour.

2. Working in batches, roll cranberries in remaining 1-1/2 cups sugar until well coated. Let dry for at least 1 hour.

Use them on skewers for a festive martini. Top off this cranberry layer cake recipe with a nice dollop. Or try these two (here and here) chocolate cake with chocolate ganache recipes.

Photo: Tim Pierce

December 16, 2014

What's Your Favorite Holiday Movie?

I'm a huge Christmas movie fan! I used to have a "no watching Christmas movies until after Thanksgiving" rule, but I broke it a couple of years ago when I realized I was never going to be able to watch them all if I waited. We have several traditions when it comes to movie viewing in this houseHarry Potter marathon New Year's Day, Scrooge is playing as I decorate the tree, and we watch Santa Claus 2 on Christmas day. As we were having dinner out the other night planning our movie line-up, we listed all of the movies we have to watch before Christmas and in what order. Yes, we're that family. So I thought I'd list our family favorites, in no particular order, just in case you need a bit of inspiration.
  1. It's a Wonderful Life (David's favorite)
  2. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (Did you know that this was adapted from a short story by John Hughes?)
  3. The Santa Clause and Santa Clause 2 (SC2 is watched on Christmas day after our favorite PJ Christmas became a tradition. Skip the 3rd one.)
  4. Christmas with the Kranks (Apparently, Tim Allen IS Santa Claus in this house. Based on the book, Skipping Christmas by John Grisham.)
  5. Love Actually (Another one of David's favorites. Not for the kiddies.)
  6. The Ref (Again, adults only please.)
  7. The Holiday (Sappy and romantic.)
  8. The Family Stone (I was really hooked on this for a few years.)
  9. Little Women (Not exactly a Christmas movie, but a family favorite none the less.)
  10. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (The movie version is one of Amanda's favorites. I prefer the animated 1966 classic.)
  11. Scrooge (Starring Albert Finney. I love a few adaptations of A Christmas Carol, but this one is the one I have to watch. I recite the lines which drives everyone else nuts.)
  12. Miracle on 34th Street (Either version. This is one of Kate's favorites.)
  13. White Christmas (The girls fell in love with this movie when they were in elementary school so we watch it every year.)
  14. Home Alone (We haven't watched this one in a couple of years. I saw it three times in the theatre when it came out.)
  15. The Polar Express (You must wear your PJs and drink hot, hot chocolate while you watch this.)
  16. The Family Man (A story of a man who may have chosen the wrong path.)
  17. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus (Starring Richard Thomas and based on the famed New York Sun editorial. Try to find it if you can.)
  18. All of the animated classicsA Charlie Brown Christmas, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Rudolph, Frosty...)
(Christmas movies I don't like! Elf and A Christmas Story. Sorry.)

Dressed in Holiday Style

Part of the fun of giving presents (to me anyway) is to wrap it all up in pretty packaging. I went through a gift basket phase, a natural phase, and a huge bow phase. I don't give away many gift baskets these days, but I do like to package small presents or a collection of presents in stockings, a velvet drawstring pouch, or in a Christmas box. For years, I have given away pounds of fudge in clear cellophane bags tied with ribbons and jingle bells (and a candy cane or two). I also gift my homemade dog bones in brown paper lunch bags covered in dog paw stamps. And I LOVE to give ornaments as gifts (my children receive a new one each year) and I often will use an ornament as part of the packaging itself. Snowflakes, miniature stockings, birds, gingerbread mittens, flowers.... anything and everything can be used. Tuck in a little greenery and you're good to go! And don't forget tags!

You may also like... Christmas Card Display Ideas, Last Minute Christmas, Ideas from Pinterest here here, here, here, and here. And you can find free printable tags at Three Little Monkeys Studios and Brooklyn Limestone.

P.S. I promise to take photos of my packages this year! (Fingers crossed.)

Photo: Ballard Designs

December 15, 2014

Christmas in the City

One of the traditions that we've added at Christmastime is to make sure we spend some time in the city. We usually plan a holiday shopping trip of some sort before or after vacation, but since Kate is moving into her new apartment this year, we combined the dorm room/apartment move into a weekend of fun. (Amanda stayed the entire time while David and I shuffled back and forth.) So on Friday night, after we loaded the car and made a few trips to the apartment, we headed down to Faneuil Hall to watch the light and music display. Each hour, on the hour, you can to listen to the Boston Pops perform a holiday song while the Christmas tree and all of the lit trees in the corridor dance to the music. We even played tourist and ate at Cheers so we could still see the lights (the restaurant played cool 70s and 80s tunes which seemed out of place at first but very nice once we started talking and eating).

We saved the day by paying ransom to the Grinch. Amanda loves the Grinch! After dinner, we took a drive through Beacon Hill to see more lights and then dropped the girls off so we could get home to our boys (the dogs!). On Sunday, we hit repeat and did it all over again.

We started our city tradition when the musical White Christmas came to town (it's back!) and although we switch it up a bit... skating on the Frog Pond, strolling down Newbury and Charles streets, shopping, seeing a show, we always have fun. I'd love to hear what you all do. 

December 12, 2014

Have a Wonderful Weekend!

As you read this, I'm in Boston with my two girls. Amanda is spending the weekend in the city with her sister, Kate, at her new apartment. David and I are shuffling furniture and re-packing the car. Then we're heading out to do a little last minute Christmas shopping and marvel at the Christmas lights. The weeks are just flying by! It seems like just yesterday I was at the holiday house tour and sipping this decaf vanilla latte in Concord. Talk about perfection.

I hope your weekend is filled with good things. Here are some links you may enjoy...

If you're not done with your holiday shopping, check out all these finds. And my best gift guides.

Give a gift to yourself and take my Decorate Your Home webinar for a nice price.

And to make you laugh...

You may or may not need this!

Are you thinking or throwing together a last-minute party? How about an Ugly Christmas Sweater party? Get some inspiration here and here, and keep watching.

Can you ever really go home for the holidays?

More annoying than Elf on a Shelf? Maybe... but you know you want to.

xo

Decorate Your Home

Just in case you're not familiar with my website or newsletter, I thought I'd share some information about my Decorate Your Home webinar that starts January 27th here on the blog. This two-part webinar gives you the choice between learning how to avoid design mistakes, how to come up with a plan (you can implement), and a host of tricks of the trade. If you want to dig a little deeper, then take the second session as well and get a more in-depth look into the world of design. It's perfect for those of you thinking about a career in decorating. There's lots more to read about, so just click on the link above for all the details.

However, you only have until December 31st to save on the cost of registration! (That's a $60 savings!) Seating is limited. Hope to see you there!

December 11, 2014

Perfection is Highly Overrated

I'm my own worst enemy. My intention was to start pulling out the Christmas decorations Thanksgiving night instead of the day after, as I usually do, but the unexpected snowstorm and power outage made me slow down...just a little. I also scheduled a family visit that weekend which took away one of my decorating days. I kept telling myself that the decorating would keep and seeing family was more important, and it is. Guess who was up at 4:00 a.m. decorating the tree before everyone was awake the next day?

The past couple of yearsbecause these were the girls last Christmases before collegeI've been especially preoccupied with making sure everything is just right. That's why I was up at 4:00 in the morning. Kate loves Christmas and she was headed back to a sterile, no-decorations-allowed dorm. I wanted to her have at least one day to enjoy the tree before she returned to school.

When the Christmas movies started to air right after Halloween, I gladly planted my butt on the couch each evening and promptly fell asleep beside Amanda, happy and relaxed. But that was short-lived. Despite my best intentions, and even though I have let a few things go... I've been feeling guilty about not making a gingerbread house, cooking more real dinners, and not styling everything I do to post on this blog. When are my girls and I going to have our Christmas tea? And I should really have the neighbors over for dinner.

This is the time of year when my perfectionistic tendencies start to creep their way back in. (That's why I call myself a recovering perfectionistit's never far from the surface.) I've always set high standards for myself, but those standards are now expected from my adoring family. The worst is, I've created two mini-me's. Oh boy. I hope that I can at least talk my girls down from the ceiling when they're experiencing their own bouts of perfectionitis.

I've been down this road before. I've driven circles around this road before, and yet I can't seem to remember from one year to the next to just stop. The season is over far too quickly as it is and I just have to give myself a break. My mother even suggested that I don't send out Christmas cards this year (gasp!). But this is from a woman who mails her cards before Thanksgiving so that you're sure to receive it the day after. I don't think she's in the right frame of mind to be handing out advice.

Instead, I'm going to take a lesson from my, now, permanently bent trees in my backyard. Just because they're no longer standing straight doesn't mean they're not still beautiful. To me, they are perfectly imperfect. And that's what I'm striving for this holiday season.

You may also enjoy Perfectly Imperfect, I'm a Traditionalist, and a very funny essay from my friend and fellow writer, Wendy: To read or not to read - My Christmas Tree Story.

December 10, 2014

Hot Chocolate Station

I have set up a small hot chocolate station in my own kitchen, but when I saw this elaborate set-up at one of the houses I toured during the Concord Museum Holiday House Tour, I just had to share. To pull this off, you'll need a good deal of counter space, however you can take a few bits and pieces of ideas to use in your own home. And, you can gift someone their very own hot chocolate bar.

Start with your very own sign or menu, or just use a cute decoration like the snowman you see under the cloche. Set out mugs, a few pitchersone for spoons, straws, cinnamon sticks, or candy canes. Of course you'll need some hot chocolate and plenty of marshmallows. Bottles of toppings like a shaker of cinnamon or cocoa powder are also a good idea. Stagger the heights of each item and use a variety of materials like glass, silver, and china to keep things interesting. Then go ahead and add some greens, berry branches, or even a few ornaments in and around the display.

Now the gift idea... Choose a large container that can serve as both packaging and as part of the gift itself like this large glass cookie jar from Target. Fill it up with packages of candy canes, hot chocolate mix (we like Silly Cow Farms), a bag of mini marshmallows, some old-fashioned straws, and fun containers of toppings like jimmies, candy dots...lots of things you might use to decorate a cake. OR, keep it simple and fill a pretty box with two mugs, some hot chocolate mix, a bag of mini marshmallows, and a DVD of their favorite holiday movie. (Kids would enjoy their own version with a copy of The Polar Express.)

Wrap them both up with a beautiful ribbon and some jingle bells.

Hot Chocolate Mix

2 cups instant non-fat dry milk powder
1 cup powered sugar
3/4 cup powdered non-dairy creamer
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
1/8 teaspoon salt

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, combine the creamer, milk powder, sugar, salt, and cocoa powder.
  2. Pour into air tight container or freezer bag for storage.
  3. Add 1/3 cup of cocoa mix to 1 cup boiling water or to a 1/2 hot milk, which I prefer. 
  4. Mix well.
  5. Add chocolate chips and stir until melted. You may add more if you wish.
Optional: Top with mini marshmallows or whipped cream.

More recipes...

Hot chocolate on a stick // Crockpot hot chocolate // Italian hot chocolate // Truffle hot chocolate