Monday, November 30, 2009

End of November

Pacifica "Zanzibar Cinnamon Almond" - What I'm burning in my kitchen today

November ends. December begins, with its month full of dark nights, wintry cold, seasonal holidays, festive parties, and family gatherings.

Let's be sure to have some fun tonight or this week before the crowds completely make restaurants and malls unbearable. And before we get wrapped up (so to speak) in holiday preparations and all the busy times ahead.

After I finish cleaning today, I'm taking a friend out to dinner. It's a work night for both of us, so we won't stay out too late, but we'll have fun and make the most of our time. This is our chance to see each other before the holidays start consuming a lot of our evenings.


- Need to send any thank-you notes?

- Look over your past month. Did you achieve goals you set for yourself? (Whether they involve personal growth, housekeeping, crafting, cooking, socializing, decluttering, travel, book-reading, journaling, etc?)

- Make a meal that cleverly helps you use up your last leftovers from Thanksgiving?

- Spend a bit more time with your pets tonight. They may need extra affection after being stressed by visitors or by your absence this weekend.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Pick-A-Spot Cleaning

I don't want to involve myself in an enormous project, since I'm working today and trying to make time to go out in the evening. So I'm going to pick the worst spot of my house and work on it.

Right now the worst spot is my Breakfast nook. On Thanksgiving we piled it full of extra dishes, boxes of muffin mixes, cookie sheets and baking pans we removed from the oven to fit the turkey in, and my gingerbread house making supplies. I want to clear off the table, put everything back in its proper home, set the table with a new tablecloth, give up on a sad houseplant I accidentally killed, and mop the floor underneath. I also want to wipe the windowsills where I'd been displaying miniature pumpkins the past two months.

After dinner I'll come home to a table that's clean, fresh and ready to eat breakfast on in the morning!


Why We Shouldn't Buy Christmas Gifts (Time)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Autumn Beauty Routine

Today I'm taking care of myself so I'll continue to look my best through the holidays. I'm not obsessing over trying to be beautiful or glamorous or anything like that, just making sure I feel pretty when I go to this week's round of parties, dinners, lunches and cafes.


- How are you doing on eating up and using up Thanksgiving leftovers? Don't be afraid to pitch something you know you won't actually eat.

- Need to do any post-Thanksgiving laundry? The clothes your family traveled in? bedding your guests slept in? Towels from the kitchen? Bath towels?

- Need to catch up with some friends? Things may have been so busy with family over the holiday that you haven't gotten to see or talk to your favorite people lately.

- If you took a Thanksgiving road trip, do you need to clean out your car?

TODAY'S PROJECT: Autumn Beauty

Today I'm making time to take care of my skin and body. I'll be shaving, sugar scrubbing, moisturizing, and giving myself a manicure and pedicure. I also probably need to redo my roots (my hair is currently burgundy). I'll make a relaxing evening of it with good music, wine, my fireplace, and the phones turned off.

LOVELY BLOGS: The Missive Maven

This warms my heart - it's a blog dedicated to the lost art of snail mail letter writing. This blogger boldly puts her mailing address right on the blog and encourages you to write her a letter. (I can't seem to find her actual name though, so I have to address my correspondence to Missive Maven!) I'm going to write to her right now, though I am ashamed of my handwriting. Like me, she's a fan of Any Soldier. She shares mail art she's received, showcases interesting vintage stationery finds, and points out neat places you can find stationery online. I will definitely be back to this blog often to check it out - I think I'll become addicted!


I was so delighted and surprised by this movie, which I went to on Friday as part of Girls Night Out. We laughed and chuckled more than we had expected, and left the theater smiling. The film is centered around Jenny, a 16 year old Oxford-bound student who meets an older man. He takes her to jazz concerts, art auctions, and Paris (where she picks up the most heartachingly beautiful Sobranie Cocktails pastel cigarettes.) Suddenly Jenny wonders if she isn't getting a better education by traveling around with this man, than doing all the hard work of studying boring Latin. She definitely receives an education after what develops next...

Since the movie is set in 1960s London, the costumes, cars and set decoration are highly interesting to watch. I especially enjoyed seeing Rosamund Pike playing a ditz. (You might remember her as Jane Bennett from the 2005 Pride & Prejudice.)

An Education Trailer, at Apple

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Leisurely Holiday Weekend

I never can resist these snowflake-shaped crackers, I have to buy a box or two every winter. They just make my soup so festive!


- Have you sat down and watched the news (or spent some time with your preferred news website) in the last few days? A lot is going on, and it's too easy to focus so intensely on our Thanksgiving and family celebrations that we lose touch with what's going on in the world around us. It's easy enough to have it on in the background while we're doing laundry or catching up with magazines.

- Make weekend socialization plans if you haven't already. Today I'm going to a movie with friends who have said goodbye to their out-of-town houseguests. We might not go to dinner as both of our households have lots of leftovers to eat up still.

- Need to do any Christmas shopping this weekend? If you can't bear the crowds (I waited til 9pm to slink into Target last night to pick up a few things) shop online, or get other tasks out of the way so you can shop on a slower weeknight next week.

- Spend some extra time with your pets if needed. They may be upset after the flurry and activity of Thanksgiving, or might need extra attention if you've been traveling.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Laundry and Leftovers

Today I'm doing laundry, eating leftovers and rearranging my refrigerator. We had to move a bunch of our food around to make room for the turkey we were storing to take to another household. Now I can't find anything in the fridge. I'll be removing everything from my fridge and doing a major cleanup today.

Meanwhile my washer and dryer will be busy cleaning all the bedding in the house (including throws and the fluffy blankets we curl up in to watch movies downstairs). I'll also do a load of dark clothes before I leave for my movie.

LOVELY BLOGS: Found in Mom's Basement

This blogger unearths interesting vintage advertisements from magazines she finds in her mom's basement. Apparently her mom didn't throw much away! I really enjoy browsing through the old ads, seeing the fashions and hairstyles on the models, and looking at the products that were being advertised to 1950s housewives. The one that says "For Digestion's Sake, Smoke Camels" really blows me away!


This website features a gallery of extremely cool sandwiches to make for your kids. There are no instructions on how to make them (they're writing a book for that) so you can just enjoy the ideas in the pictures.

There's a sandwich shaped like a piano, a colorful butterfly, and several sandwiches made to look like popular cartoon characters. Very fun to look through! I can't recommend browsing this website on an empty stomach.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Recovering From Thanksgiving Fun

Pacifica "Russian Fir" Candle - What I'm burning in my living room today.

If you're reading this, you probably aren't traveling today. Are you back home? Are your guests gone, or staying for the whole weekend?

I'm very, very glad I spent so much time earlier this month getting my guest room and home ready for company.

After my guests leave tonight, and after my work is done, I will have a little bit of time for myself. Time to relax by the fire, wrapping gifts perhaps, catching up with my catalogs and magazines, and getting little projects out of the way. Leftovers to be eaten, extra exercise to make room for in my schedule, holiday letters to be written.


- Shovel sidewalk if applicable/needed. You're exercising and working off those Thanksgiving calories, too!

- What did you use up yesterday, or notice you were out of? Add to your shopping list.

- Need to launder your kitchen towels? We went through a lot yesterday!

- Did you call all your relatives yesterday to say Happy Thanksgiving? If not, be sure to make some catchup calls today.

- Maintenance cleaning: One refrigerator shelf or drawer, or two door shelves.

- Write a thank-you note to your Thanksgiving hosts, if applicable.

- Clean up kitchen if you cooked yesterday and didn't clean up thoroughly last night.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Winter Car Emergency Preparedness

If you live in an area where you can have bad winter weather, do you have a blanket in your car? An extra coat, at all times, in case you run out of your house without one on? (I sometimes do that when I have a warm sweater and it's "only" 45 degrees. I feel warm without a coat, until I leave the car to go into a store and realize how cold it really is!)

Do you have a pair of gloves in the trunk, and boots? Do you have an ice scraper, first aid kit, flashlight, matches? Do you leave home with a full tank of gas? Do you have your cell phone with you, charged, at all times? Do you have a $20 (or more) in the car, and some change, for emergencies? (Picking up a snack at a gas station while you are waiting for a tow truck, making phone calls from a pay phone, etc?)

Do you have a bottle of water or two, and some granola bars or other easy-to-transport snacks?

Also, do you keep a pen and notepad in your car at all times? Fingernail clippers, hand lotion, breath mints?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Pep Talk

Think positive. We can do this. We're lucky to have family to spend time with (even if they drive us crazy) and food to eat at our feasts. Hopefully we have friends who will join us to celebrate today and help smooth things when our relatives are getting a bit uppity.

Don't stress yourself worrying about how your Thanksgiving will go (whether you are worried about your travel, hosting, or spending the holiday at someone's house).

Nothing has to be perfect. Thanksgiving is about being with family and friends. If you undercook or overcook the turkey, that's ok - people will happily eat the mashed potatoes instead. If old Uncle Joe starts in on you about politics, that's ok, you knew he would. Sigh and try to change the subject. Your tablecloth is stained or a bit ratty? Who cares - it was put on the table fresh and clean, right? Your furniture has cat-scratch marks on it, and your relatives will see it? Oh well, it means you have pets you love.

If something spills, wipe it up with a smile. Stains on your apron or clothing from cooking? Good, that means you worked hard to make something nice for your family. June Cleaver isn't here in her pearls and heels and immaculate freshly starched dress to make us look bad.

If someone cries, hand them a tissue, and give them a hug. If that person is you, have your cry for a few minutes but don't let it ruin your day, and don't let yourself contribute to family drama.

There are some things that won't change, and some things we can't control. No, our houses will never be as clean as our mother-in-laws' homes. We will never have as nice of cars or furniture or as big a house as our brother-and-sister in law. We're good cooks, but there's always an Aunt Edna or a Gramma known for being the best cook ever. That's ok, let them enjoy that title. We still make darn delicious food.

It's all going to be ok. We can do this.

Take care of yourself first. One thing that helps is for sure having some quiet alone time today as well as some tomorrow morning. If you have guests over, you might not be able to take half an hour tonight to hog the bathroom and enjoy a long hot bath. So maybe do something relaxing in the morning (read a book? magazine? go for a quick walk?) to destress before the stress even starts. Give yourself permission to take time for yourself, so you can give more of yourself as the holiday begins.

Delegate! Thanksgiving is not all about you and you can't be the Queen of Thanksgiving. If someone offers to help, let them. If someone offers to bring a dish, let them. (Worried Aunt Ida will bring her nasty sugary marshmallow yams? That's ok, let her and be grateful she's not bringing her mushy overcooked cold mashed potatoes).

One of the things I'm doing to emotionally survive the holiday is having a special after-Thanksgiving casual movie night on Saturday night for any friends who are still in town. We'll wear comfy sweats or pajamas, eat leftovers, and watch fun movies while relaxing. Friends are the family you choose, and I choose to be around happy, fun, easygoing people on my four-day weekend.

And a special note to anybody reading this who might be spending their Thanksgiving alone. It's ok, it happens to all of us. Not everybody has family close by, or the ability to travel, and sometimes people have to work on Thanksgiving or the day after. On some years, I absolutely couldn't face the whole thing and voluntarily stayed home alone and I truly did have a good time. Instead of sitting there feeling sorry for yourself for being alone, think of all of us who are having our crusty old relatives argue with us about religion or politics, ask us why we're still single (or not pregnant yet, or still fat, etc etc) and possibly fighting with our grown siblings.

I'll never forget when my friend Chris moved to New York and spent his first Thanksgiving alone in a big scary city where he knew nobody. Instead of crying at home over a TV dinner like I might have, he went out and volunteered at a homeless shelter, cooking and serving their Thanksgiving meal, and eating it with the homeless people and the other volunteers.

Make yourself a special delicious treat to eat, watch a movie or put on your favorite music and enjoy your relaxing alone time. If you are feeling a bit blue, skip the alcohol and have hot cocoa instead.

A special challenge: Try to be there "in the moment" during all your Thanksgiving meal, plus during the preparation before it and recovery after it. What do I mean by this? Don't spend all your time texting your friends; don't spend all day on your cell phone talking to people who aren't there in person. You can talk to your friends and text them all day long some other time. Thanksgiving is supposed to be about reconnecting with family who you don't see often. Give them respect by giving them your full attention. Granted, we do all have people we'll need to phone to wish a happy Thanksgiving. Try to keep those calls brief, and get it done in a chunk of time if you can so you aren't constantly sneaking off to another room.

This is obviously quite a pet peeve of mine, but I implore you with all my heart to think about this issue seriously and try, if you can, to spend quality time (not texting time) with the people who took time out of their busy lives to spend tomorrow in person with you, celebrating with you face to face. Your text buddies will be there tomorrow and always.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Almost Thanksgiving

Wilton Christmas Tree Silicone Pan. I'll be using this the first week of December to bake holiday treats to drop off at friends' and neighbor's houses.


- Need to give yourself a quick manicure so your hands look nice for the holiday? I need to, I don't want to show up at Thanksgiving with chipped nail polish.

- Add 15 minutes to your normal exercise routine today - Thanksgiving preparedness!

- Gather phone numbers of people you want to call on Thanksgiving to wish a happy holiday.

- Sweep the entryway to your home, both outdoors and inside.

- Gather cameras, chargers and batteries you'll use tomorrow.


If you're going out of town for Thanksgiving, you can enjoy coming home to clean bathrooms. If you're hosting, you need all your bathrooms to be spotless for guests.

If you have a big crowd coming, more than one bathroom may be in use at the same time. So I'm cleaning all three of mine today. If someone had snuck in to use my master bathroom the way it looked this morning, I would have been embarrassed!

Clean mirrors, light fixtures, sinks and counters. Scrub the toilet, see if the bathtub and shower need any work. Finish by mopping floors, replacing hand towels and rugs/mats with clean ones, stocking toilet paper and Kleenex. Do you have a vase of fresh flowers in the guest bathroom? A candle you can light later on in the evening?


Beautify Your Balcony (SF Gate)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Two Days Until Thanksgiving


- Try to get your grocery shopping done very soon. The closer it gets to Thanksgiving, the crazier the stores get. Try to plan ahead so you don't have to run to the store at the last minute on Thanksgiving.

- Pick out an ice cube from your freezer, smell and taste it. Does it taste fresh and delicious, or has it picked up food smells? Make fresh ice if needed (unless you plan to pick up Party Ice bags for Thanksgiving). Empty, scrub and refill your ice cube trays, or empty out your icemaker box and let it start over. With 2 days to go til Thanksgiving, your icebox should be refilled in plenty of time.

- If you're hosting the meal, check over your menu plans. Do you have the traditional Thanksgiving foods coming? Turkey (or veggie alternative), sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, green beans, pumpkin pie? Corn, if that's your tradition? Plenty of food for any vegetarians who might show up?

- Do you need to do any laundry, launder table linens or hand towels? Tablecloth needs to be ironed perhaps?

- If you have guests coming, do you have breakfast foods in the house? I don't often eat cereal, so I need to remember to at the very least stock milk and Cheerios.
I want to be sure to have orange juice to offer the next morning.

- Clean off and sanitize your home telephone (and cellphones if you have time). I don't know about you, but my cell phone gets covered in makeup and my kitchen phone gets grimy fingerprints on it. Because of the holidays, your phone is likely to get a lot of extra use this week - calls coming in, relatives borrowing the phone to call out. A quick wipedown and some Windex will do wonders.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Thanksgiving Preparations

If you're traveling out of town, rather than hosting at home, you still might want to join the rest of us in tidying our homes today. That way you'll come back after a long, tiring journey, to a shining clean, relaxing house.

We sorted and organized our kitchens last month to prepare for the holidays. Now I don't know about you, but I let my normal maintenance cleaning slip a bit, and I have a bit extra work to do to get my kitchen ready for the holidays. Oops. Otherwise, I'm doing pretty well. My counters are cleared off and got spritzed with citrus cleaner last night, and my cupboards are still pretty well organized. My kitchen floor needs to be scrubbed and mopped. Finish what you have left to do in your kitchen, and let's move on to our dining rooms.

Start by clearing off your dining table, if needed. Don't just move mail to another table, making a mess for another day. Now is a good time to stop and organize it, pay bills, file things and burn or shred those pesky credit card applications. Dust off and polish your dining table, and set it with your tablecloth, tablerunner, placemats or whatever you intend to use for Thanksgiving or even for your next upcoming meal.

Look around your dining room and see what else needs to be done. Do you have furniture to dust? Have your windows been washed, inside and out, in the last month? Dust and clean off your dining chairs. While doing so, remove them from the area and vacuum or mop the floor under your table. If you have time and someone to help you to move your table, it makes it a lot easier to clean the floor. Do a last check to see if there is anything in the dining room that doesn't belong (shoes, toys, clutter, dead houseplants?).

Do you need to have a box of Kleenex handy? Every year it seems at least half the table breaks down crying when we start the "What are you thankful for?" discussion.
(Do you know what you're going to say when this inevitable discussion starts at your table?)

Finish by spritzing the room with home fragrance, and setting the table with some pretty fall-colored candles. Put out any last fall decorations you might nave wanted to put up. It's a day too early to get fresh flowers for the table if you are hosting a meal, so hold off.

Let's move on to the living room, where it's likely our guests will retire with aching bellies, for hours of football or chatting and visiting. Dust, remove clutter, vacuum, wash windows, clean off coffee table, fold throws. Be sure to dust off the TV screen.

Does your family have a particular movie they watch on Thanksgiving? "Home for the Holidays," "Planes Trains and Automobiles," "The Sound of Music," or "Wizard of Oz" perhaps? Do you have kids' movies ready to go? Make sure you know where your VHS or DVD movies are and have them accessible.

Do you have children coming to visit? Get out toys, books, and games - maybe storing them in an attractive basket in a corner of the room.

Refresh houseplants and toss any dead ones. If you have a fireplace, you'll likely not be able to burn a fire in it with so many people in the room. Too warm! Does your fireplace look neat and tidy? Set out a magazine or two or coffee table books, and finish by spraying your home spray in the room.

Tomorrow I'll be working on my guest bathrooms so they are ready for company.

Keep your spirits up and don't get overwhelmed. We still have a couple days until the holiday. Don't forget to make time for yourself for some down time every day. A happy mom makes for a happy home. Build in some magazine reading time, bath time, or even mindless TV watching for a few minutes a day. The more private time you give yourself, the better a hostess you'll be during the holiday week. And remember.. Thanksgiving doesn't have to be perfect to be wonderful.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Three Days Until Thanksgiving

Retro Repro of Betty Crocker's Cooking Calendar, at Amazon


- Need to go grocery shopping for the week? I highly recommend doing it before Wednesday afternoon, and avoiding stores on Wednesday and Thursday if you can help it. Crowded, crowded!

- Fill up with gas if needed, so if you have to go out doing errands this week you won't have to stop for gas.

- Do you have a fireplace? Have wood for festive fires for this week? Especially if you have company coming over.

- Speaking of keeping warm, your guests might not be used to the temperature you keep your home. If you keep it cold, be sure there are plenty of blankets, warm socks and clean slippers to offer.

- Doing ok on coffee and tea to serve guests? Or to keep yourself caffeinated while you cook?

- Need to write any Thanksgiving cards to mail out soon?

- Visit the bank or post office tomorrow or Wednesday, before the holiday, if needed.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Thanksgiving Prep

Use this time to pack, cook, bake, learn a new recipe, clean the house, write holiday cards, spend time talking about gratitude with your children, read books together, have a game night with your family, sort the pantry, go shopping, or do other pre-holiday things you might need to get done.

Don't forget to build yourself in a little "sit down and relax" time, whether you spend it in a hot bath, a rocking chair, or on your couch idly flipping through magazines.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pre-Thanksgiving Sunday


- Do you need to go grocery shopping before Thanksgiving? Grocery stores are going to be very crowded today though. Still, better than waiting until Wednesday afternoon or evening!

- 6 weeks til Christmas! 3 weeks til Chanukah! How is your gift shopping and wrapping going?

- Finish laundry so it's done for the week by tonight

- What are you wearing on Thanksgiving? Do you need to take an outfit to the dry cleaners? What shoes will you wear - are they clean? Do you have the right stockings or pantyhose? I like to dress up on Thanksgiving, especially if I am a guest at someone else's home.

- Clean your dryer vent, if needed.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Thanksgiving Preparation and Provisioning

Depending on what you're doing for Thanksgiving (traveling a long distance to someone's house; hosting dinner yourself; going to a nearby friend or family member's house; or enjoying a quiet evening home by yourself or with just a couple friends) you have some projects to do before Thursday is here.

If you're traveling a long distance, you might want to pack your suitcases now, plan snacks and activities for your children, get your hostess gift ready, call your petsitter, locate your travel documents, and phone your hostess to confirm. Don't forget to pack your camera and charger or batteries for it, and don't forget a cell phone charger too! Thank-you card addressed and stamped (so you can mail it when you get home after your trip?)

If you're going to someone's house nearby, you need to figure out what you're wearing, buy and prepare the dish you're bringing, and figure out your hostess gift. Have you RSVPed to your host's invitation? Prepared a thank-you note? Planned what you are going to do with your blessedly travel-free extra days off of work?

If you're hosting, you probably have a lot of cleaning and grocery shopping to do. Guest room ready for overnight guests (or people who had a bit too much Thanksgiving wine?) Do you have plastic containers to send leftovers home in? Dining table ready to go? Fridge cleaned out to make room for the groceries you'll shop for this week?


Old Dogs Trailer, at Apple

Old Dogs (Official)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Ready for the Weekend

Ghiradelli Chocolate "Jingle Bell" gift box, great gift for dads, grandparents, stepparents or office mates


- Fill up with gas for the weekend if needed

- Tidy up for the weekend - Vacuum all rooms, clear off dining table, empty/refill dishwasher, wipe down kitchen sink and counters, freshen bathrooms

- Make dinner plans for this evening, whether or not you are staying in or going out. Is there a friend or relative living nearby who you haven't seen in a while? Think about giving them a short notice phone call to invite them to join you in your plans this evening.

- Spritz your home with your favorite holiday-scented home spray (but don't overdo it!)


My office is clean, my bedroom is tidy, my kitchen is clean, and my laundry is done. So I think I deserve some fun tonight! Dinner and a movie out! Hope you are able to have fun too.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Gift Wrapping Time Comes Around Again

Alphonse Mucha wrapping paper, on eBay


- Need to declutter and clean out your car next time you sit in it waiting for someone? Do you need to restock things you might keep in your car like Kleenex, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, a cell phone charger, mints, lipstick, and hand lotion?

- Are you mailing out Thanksgiving cards? Do you have time to write a few Christmas or holiday cards?

- Have you eaten fresh fruit in the last two days? An apple, banana, strawberries, melon?

- Hanukkah is a month and a day away; Christmas Eve is in a month and four days. How are your preparations for your holiday coming along?

TODAY'S PROJECT: Drawer Sorting and Gift Wrapping

Tonight I'm sorting drawers in our three bathrooms. I did my own drawers a month ago, but one of them needs it again already. I got lax in maintaining the order I'd organized in there!

I'll remove everything from the drawers, dust them, and create a few Ziplock bags to keep things together (razors; nail polishes; nail clippers; cotton pads; hair clips; hair ties; barrettes, etc.)

I'm also wrapping gifts tonight, while I watch some shows I saved up on my Tivo. I'll label the gifts carefully so I know who to mail them to or which gift pile to put them in in my home. I'm currently storing the wrapped gifts in a Sterilite bin in my guest room - this protects them from the cats, who like to chew on the corners of important or expensive looking items.

I also have a couple "Thinking of you" gifts to mail out to people I know who are going through hard times right now. They need these right now, before Christmas, I think.

I'm looking forward to adding those special touches to my gift wrap to make my inexpensive gifts more fun to open. I'm adding some sequins and sparkles to some of the gifts, and gluing some fake Swarovski crystals onto some of the ribbons I'm tying around the gifts.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

More Holiday Simplicity Thoughts


- Have you gotten your flu shot for this year yet? How about your family members?

- Do you take your children for Santa pics? If so, have you made time/plans/budget to do so?

- Since we're spending time in the home office this week, how are your supplies of printer paper, ink, tape, stamps, and other office supplies? Need to add anything to your shopping list?

- Kitchen maintenance - Wipe down front of all cupboards and appliances. If needed, remove items from counters, clean counters, then replace items.

- Is your diary or journal up to date? It's the middle of the month. Did anything happen this month so far you want to document to read back on in the future? Before things get busy with Thanksgiving?

TODAY'S PROJECT: Home Office Organization part 2

I'm continuing to sort and clean my home office. Since I work at home, this room is a big (and messy) part of my daily life. I have two bookcases to sort, and an enormous Sterilite tub of miscellaneous greeting cards I need to sort and list on eBay. I also have a filing cabinet I need to check over - is anything out of date or unneeded enough to send to my shredder (the fireplace)?

Is your workspace where you pay bills and do paperwork clean and tidy? Can you find things when you need them? Do you have scissors, tape, pens, and notepaper easily ready for you? Do you have a phone nearby? If so, does it need to be cleaned off, wiped down of makeup and fingerprints? Have you cleaned germs off your computer keyboard recently?

LOVELY HOLIDAYS: More Christmas Simplicity

Do your holiday preparations take over and become all-consuming? In the next few weeks, will your life become all about holiday planning, cleaning, freaking out, running to the mall to shop, stressing about cooking, etc?

Holidays are wonderful, and it's ok to be excited and anticipate them. But only if we don't make ourselves (and our families) crazy with the preparations. We shouldn't ignore the other important parts of our life: friends and family, because we're so busy getting ready for the holidays. What are we getting ready for the holidays for, after all? To spend time with friends and family.

If you are stressed out because you are doing too much - throwing too many parties, taking kids to too-many over scheduled after school activities, taking on too many take-home extra work projects, etc. ask yourself why you are doing all this? Where do your expectations come from? Who tells you to do all these things? Spend some soul-searching time to see what the cause of your stress is, and figure out a way to deschedule your life. Cancel events, do without some homemade baked goods, throw one less party, insist on more family at-home nights if that helps you.

Carve time out of your life for things that are important, and cancel things that aren't. Tonight I am spending time with friends at dinner (giving up TV time) and proud of myself for making the time to do so.

Being "busy" is not a race or a competition. I am striving for a good balance between being the least busy person I know (I'd feel lazy or unsociable) and the most busy. Busy enough to be involved, giving back, being productive and having an interesting life surrounded by good people. But not so busy I am stressed or can't find time to share with loved ones.

I've strengthened my resolve to consciously try to have a simpler Christmas. What traditions do I want to keep, and which ones can I let slide, or do in simpler, less grandiose ways?

Food: For me, the big Christmas meal is not really all that different than Thanksgiving. Turkey/Tofurkey for the meat eaters and vegetarians (none of our friends or family eat ham or pork), mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, and a couple veggie side dishes. One simple dessert (a cake or even pumpkin pie I can bake the night before) should do it. You don't have to have ten kinds of homebaked Christmas cookies around the house.

I do however refuse to take timesaving measures such as buying refrigerated presliced cookies. One of my holiday traditions is to bake cookies with children, and I intend to spend time doing so this year again, as soon as I figure out which children I can borrow to do this fun event with! (Meanwhile their moms can enjoy going Christmas shopping without them for a couple hours).

Decorations: My Christmas lights take more than a whole afternoon to put up, but I do it with the help of some cousins. We make a special fun time of it, and have a nice meal afterwards. The tree will take an hour to buy at a nearby farm and set up. Decorating it will only take one pleasant evening - another opportunity to spend fun time with friends or family, as I always invite people to join me for the decorating.

I won't spend more than a couple hours decorating the rest of the house - a few candles here, garlands there, but not so much I get stressed about the time it takes.

Gifts: One inexpensive gift per person, and I'm already almost done Christmas shopping because I started so early in the year.

Activities: I'm going to carefully pick and choose which activities I get involved in. Sure, I love everything about the holidays. But to keep myself sane, I'll carefully book in a minimum of two "at home" evenings by myself each week. Activities I will pick and choose between include caroling, throwing cocktail parties, attending cocktail parties, movies, theater, shopping, dinners out, gingerbread house making, baking, Christmas card sending, newsletter writing, gift wrapping, game night, karaoke night, a long evening spent reading a book, driving around to look at Christmas lights, babysitting kids so their parents can go shopping, white elephant parties, and Christmas stocking opening.

One of the recent joys in my life is I finally have enough family in my own town so that I am able to stay home for Christmas and not travel. (Maybe every couple years or so I'll visit relatives in a snowy city a few hours drive away, but not right now). Right now that sounds like the loveliest, most simplistic, stress-free Christmas of all: Home.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Holiday Simplicity

Because this blog often features shopping related info, images of material goods I'm enjoying in my own home, and excitement about new products, I hesitate to spend too much time talking about frugality. There are enough blogs on the net talking about money saving tips and budgeting; Lovely Living has a different focus.

But I appreciate the idea of a simpler, less hectic Christmas. (And frugality is important right now with our troubled economy). That's part of why I begin my Christmas shopping early in the year, and finish by December 1st whenever possible.
I shop for fewer items, make more careful decisions about the ones I am going to buy, and spend less time shopping and more time with family.

You can simplify Christmas, and yet still enjoy shopping, just by cutting down on the amount of gifts you purchase. I love shopping but I don't feel the need to buy a gift for everyone I know. I love giving gifts, but almost everyone on my list is only getting one item. I will buy just one small gift and book each for my niece and nephews who live two hours away, and one book for a friend's child in New York.

I definitely will find two or three nice things for young cousins who live closer. I just know them better and it's hard to pass up cute things I see that I know they will like.

No Need to Buy More Decorations

I've come to realize that there is very little I need to buy for my own home for Christmas. Probably nothing other than a fresh live tree. I already have more ornaments than I have space to fit on the tree. I already have more than enough wrapping paper and beautiful ribbons to wrap the few gifts I'll purchase. I already have stockings for my household members, and I don't need fancy mantel stocking holders. I don't need Christmas-themed kitchen towels, placemats or tablecloths, which I have plenty of. I already have Christmas dishes, which I have to store in the garage because I don't have room for them in the house. I have a wreath for my front door, and tons of Christmas lights for outside.

Sounds like I don't have room (or need) in my life for any more holiday decoration supplies. At least not until I give some away, throw some away or recycle them, or trade them with a friend.

So this year the only things I should be buying for the holidays are gifts, food and beverages.

I'll be frugal with my time and activities too. I want to emphasize time with family - even if it's just something dorky like making popcorn and hot cocoa and settling in to watch "Rudolph." Or playing board games all night. Rather than running around going to endless parties (though parties are extremely fun!) or driving myself (and family) crazy by throwing too many parties, I'll budget my time carefully.


- Recycle old newspapers, catalogs and magazines. Any newspaper that's more than a week old, throw out mercilessly. Don't be one of those people who accumulate a huge stack of newspapers thinking they'll get around to reading them. Buh-bye. And instead of keeping an entire catalog so you remember a gift you saw for someone, pull out that page instead, then recycle the rest of the catalog.

- If you're going to any plays, operas, ballets, or concerts this season, do you have tickets yet?

- Check over your Christmas gift list you keep in your purse or in your cellphone. (If you don't keep a list with you when you're out and about, I highly recommend this technique). Cross out anything you've bought, add any new ideas you've had.

- Need to stock up on gift wrap tape or packaging tape?

- Exercise for at least twenty minutes.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Home Office Organization, part 1

Today I am going to clean and organize my home office (You might have a similar computer room, breakfast nook table or desk. Depending on your situation this will be a huge or small project, should you choose to take it on).

Because I run a home business, and especially because this is my busiest time of year, my office is a huge ongoing organization struggle.

Clean off your desk, and dust thoroughly. Clean your keyboard, mouse and monitor (I don't use anything fancy, just Windex sprayed onto the cloth, never directly onto the monitor, and Windex on Qtips for the keyboard).

Empty desk drawers and sort what's in them, throwing or giving away as much as possible. Organize your computer CDs and software collection. If you can get yourself to throw away the pretty-looking boxes that computer games come in, you'll open up a lot of space and get rid of lots of clutter.

Organize your pens, paper, notepads, staples, and other office supplies. Pay attention to how many pens you already own - I bet most of us truly never need to buy another pen for the next five years. Test each pen and throw out any that don't write. Make sure you can find tape, scissors, a calculator, a postage scale, stamps, and a stapler when you need one.

Clean your office chair and Febreze it or use leather wipes if applicable. Vacuum, mop or sweep the room depending on what type of flooring you have. Sort and clean any bookcases you have in your office. Replace items on top of your desk, but try to keep the clutter down.

We'll continue the home office organizing project tomorrow for those of us (Raising my hand now) who have a VERY messy office.

Monday, November 16, 2009

LOVELY SHOPPING TIPS: Safe and Easy Gifts for People You Don't Know Well

Replica edition of Betty Crocker's Easy Entertaining, at Amazon

Safe and Easy Gifts

When in doubt about what to buy for someone you don't know well, buy a safe, easy gift.

Things like calendars, blank journals, books, and pretty but unscented candles are more likely to please someone than a particular item of clothing, perfume, or jewelry. Those types of items are really hard to gauge, especially when purchasing for someone you aren't very close to.

You could keep two brand new generic pairs of soft warm inexpensive gloves from Target - one set masculine and the other feminine. But I imagine going to someone else's family Christmas and receiving gloves (however colorful and soft and warm) would be sort of boring.

Even food can be risky, since you don't know the person's likes and dislikes or allergies.

A lot of people give an empty frame as a gift, but I find it too hard to choose which frame might be aesthetically pleasing to someone. Wood? Metal? Embroidered? Silk?

If you select carefully, "safe gifts" won't offend, cost much, or be inappropriate. A carefully selected book is probably a safer bet than a carefully selected music CD. When buying for someone you don't know well, a candle should be unscented. The person might be sensitive to fragrances, or you might pick a fragrance they really don't enjoy.

Buying a calendar? Try to buy a generically pleasing one. If you're not sure what style of art a person enjoys, don't buy them that Salvador Dali or Picasso calendar. Get a beautiful one of wildflowers or scenic landscape instead. Maybe that's too boring though. Try to avoid specialty-interest calendars like dolphins, dogs, cats, trains, or calendars based on specific movies or TV shows unless you're positive the person likes the show, movie, or animal in question. A calendar with views of a famous city might work - Paris, London or Venice. I give wall calendars instead of desk or tear-off calendars. They look nicer wrapped - they're larger and look like a better present, although the two kinds of calendars cost the same. To people who I suspect might enjoy writing, I like to give the kinds of desk calendars you can write in.

If the person lives nearby and doesn't have to travel on an airplane or road trip to get back home, buy a nice houseplant. Be careful to avoid poisonous plants and flowers with a scent (again, what if the person has allergies?) Wreaths for the door can be nice too.

One of my favorite safe gifts to give is a nice Christmas tree ornament. (Obviously check first to see if your recipient is Jewish or Muslim and won't be putting up a tree). I wouldn't really give any ornaments from Target, Sears or other inexpensive places. I'd put those on my own tree (they're pretty and stylish) but you run the risk of the person recognizing the ornament from Target and knowing you only spent $2.50 on the gift. Instead, I give ornaments from Pier 1 Imports or Crate and Barrel - you can find gorgeous ones for around $6 or $8. Of course, pay attention to detail and don't give anything that might offend. (That topless mermaid ornament is dazzling but might not be appropriate). For a business associate or client, a more expensive ornament from Macy's or Nordstrom might be a better idea.

Avoid sexual humor, or anything political or religious.

I like giving tea or coffee - almost everybody drinks one, the other or both, and your recipient can easily give your gift away if they don't like that particular flavor of tea or coffee.

Holiday Letter-Writing on Monday

Ghiradelli Milk Chocolate Fall Leaves, a lovely hostess gift for Thanksgiving, available at Amazon


- Make menu plans for the week; write grocery list. Did anything get used up over the weekend? Toilet paper, Kleenex, plastic wrap, medicines, paper towels, laundry detergent, dishwasher detergent?

- Need to add rock salt or driveway de-icer to your shopping list? We had our first sprinkling of snow here, so I'm stocking up on those supplies. I don't want to be stuck unable to get out of my iced-over driveway this year!

- Do you need to get snow tires put on your car?

- Check your humidifier filter - does it need to be replaced? Need water in your humidifier?

- Has your heater/furnace been inspected this year for filter replacement, efficiency and safety issues?

- Maintenance cleaning - Wipe down all mirrors in the house.

- 6 weeks til Christmas! 3 weeks til Chanukah! How is your gift shopping and wrapping going?

- Finish laundry so it's done for the week by tonight, if needed

- What are you wearing on Thanksgiving? Do you need to take an outfit to the dry cleaners? What shoes will you wear; are they clean? Do you have the right stockings or pantyhose? I like to dress up on Thanksgiving, especially if I am a guest at someone else's home.

- Clean your dryer vent, if needed.

My holiday cards this year, a William Arthur design

TODAY'S PROJECT: Holiday Cards and Newsletter

It's time to start writing our holiday cards! If you can write even three a night, you'll probably be done by December first (depending on how many you send out). With the post office as bogged down as it gets in December, it's always a good idea to mail holiday cards early.

I find that if I address and stamp my cards all at the same time, I have an easier time forcing myself to sit down and write a few. It really helps to put something silly or fun on the Tivo to listen to while I write: old Frasier or Will & Grace re-runs, for example, or repeats from the first seasons of Sex and the City or Desperate Housewives. Or of course you can put on a classic holiday movie to get yourself into the holiday spirit while writing your cards.

I don't like to just sign my name or drop in a printout Christmas newsletter; I like to write several personal sentences or even paragraphs to each person. It's quite time consuming, but for many of these people it's the only letter they'll get from me this year.

Don't forget to make yourself hot cocoa or hot tea while you go about your writing! Perhaps later a nip of ruby port or sherry as the night grows colder?

Besides relatives and friends, do you have time to send cards to soldiers stationed far from home? I find an address at and send several letters to each contact. They share them out with other soldiers in their troop who haven't gotten much mail from home. In case the troop has some Jewish people, atheists or other non-Christian people, I try to include a few "Season's Greetings" cards that aren't Christmasy, too.


If you're writing a holiday newsletter, it might be a good idea to write it now. Then set it aside for a couple days, and read it over again before sending it. Be sure everything you've said about someone else is positive - I'm thinking of a great-uncle who was known for writing horrible things like "Too bad my daughter in law didn't lose any weight this year", etc. Brag about your kids, sure, but be sure to mention something fun you yourself have done this year, or something you are proud of yourself for.

Add a few color pictures to the newsletter if you can - people will love to see a nice cheerful picture of you. And if you have kids, definitely include lots of current pictures of them.


This is a home decor/design blog with interesting finds of French and 18th century inspired items. Recent posts include a swan bed sculpture, Bella Notte linens, decor finds at a salvage company, French dishes and linens, and more. The pictures here are very large, but also very lovely.


The Perfect Thanksgiving, at Williams-Sonoma

Setting the Scene at Thanksgiving (Williams-Sonoma)

Thanksgiving HQ (Epicurious)

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Pottery Barn Kids Wooden Advent Calendar House, on eBay

Don't forget about one of the best online places you can do your Christmas shopping: eBay!

If you haven't shopped on eBay recently, you might not realize that eBay is now much more than a venue for antiques and used items. Many hundreds of thousands of sellers now sell brand new items too.

While you don't always find rock-bottom bargain deals like you used to, you can shop on eBay for convenience and selection. Especially if you live in a small town that doesn't have a good selection at the stores, you may find eBay a lifesaving holiday shopping resource.

Choosing a Seller

There are a few things to keep in mind when shopping on eBay. Many sellers out there are amateurs, people just selling a few things here and there from their homes. This probably means you are dealing with a kind person who is excited to be doing business with you and will send you a carefully packaged item. You may get more personal service from a smaller seller who has time to send you cheery emails letting you know when they are shipping, and who may tuck in a cute handwritten thank you note for you.

But it also could mean you are buying from someone inexperienced who can't handle the overwhelming amount of holiday purchases they have to ship out.

On the other hand, if you are buying from a Powerseller with thousands of positive feedbacks, you may be buying from a seasoned professional with a shipping assistant and a well organized warehouse. But you may also be buying from someone who has overextended their workload this holiday season and can't keep up with their shipping.

Do your Research

Your best bet is to research your purchase (and the seller) carefully, then buy early, as soon as possible. (IE, long before December 19). That way even if you are purchasing something from a seller on the opposite end of the country, you'll get it in time. Purchase Priority Mail shipping whenever a seller offers it; you'll generally get your item in 2-3 days after they mail it.

Remember to check the total price of the item including bid price AND shipping, before buying. Some items may look cheaper than identical items from a different seller, until you figure in the shipping. You can have a seller offering a calendar for $13.99 with $8.99 shipping (a total of $22.98) that at first glance looks a lot cheaper than a $18.50 calendar with free shipping that shows up lower in the search results because the buy-it-now price is higher.

Shop Soon

Try to purchase things before December 15 if possible. It's not polite to buy something on December 21 and send the seller many frantic emails asking when they will ship. It's not someone else's problem that you waited so long to do your holiday online shopping. Remember that if you (and everyone else who bought from them) repeatedly email the seller to ask where your package is, the seller is now spending all their time answering your email, instead of shipping your item.

Read It Again

Read the auction description carefully before bidding or using Buy it Now. A bid (and a Buy It Now) is a binding contract to purchase the item under the terms set forth in the description. You can't click Buy it Now and then email the seller asking them to give you a break on shipping or ship the item for free - you've already agreed to pay the shipping listed in the item.

View the seller's Feedback to see what kinds of experiences other buyers have had with them. It's ok to bid on an item if a seller has a few negatives - there are always crackpots out there who leave negatives for no reason for perfectly good sellers. But don't bid on anything if the seller has more than one or two recent (in the last month) negatives from different people. Look at the seller's "Detailed Star Ratings" to give you an idea of how fast they ship. I tend to ignore the "Shipping cost" star rating, since the shipping costs should be stated up front in the listing, so we already know what we're going to pay for shipping before we buy the item.

Bidding on an auction? Before you place your bid, click the "View Seller's Other Items" link on the right hand side of the page. Make sure the seller isn't offering more than one of the same item. Why get in a bidding war over an item if you don't have to? Also, if the seller has an Ebay store, visit that before bidding just in case they offer more items with a Buy it Now option.

What to do if There's a Problem

Have a problem with an eBay purchase after it arrives? Re-read the description on the item you purchased, just to make sure you knew what you were bidding on (unless the item arrives broken, which is a different problem). Contact the seller before leaving feedback, but of course be polite and nice when describing the problem. Don't mention feedback or threaten to leave a bad one - that can make the seller not want to fix your problem. Let's not immediately assume the seller was out to rip you off - mistakes happen. Approach it with an attitude of understanding and graciousness, just like we would at restaurants or in our day to day dealings. Life's too short to get stressed over a $25 ebay purchase.

Daily Deals

The eBay Daily Deals page showcases different great deals every day, with a Buy-it-Now price.

November Midpoint

What I picked up for an "emergency gift," Frosted Cranberry candle from Bath & Body Works, only $5


- Thanksgiving is in less than two weeks. How are you doing with preparations for your meal, guests, or your own travel?

- Do you send out Thanksgiving cards? I normally don't, but have just a couple people I want to especially tell that I'm thinking about them on Thanksgiving. So, I'll mail some cards off today. (Target and Papyrus both had some really cute Thanksgiving cards this year!)

- Fridge and freezer maintenance cleaning - Clean out one shelf, one drawer, or two door shelves in both your refrigerator and your freezer.

- Checked to see if there are any birthdays coming up in the next two weeks you need to send cards or gifts for?

- Need to make any haircut, doctor, eye or dentist appointments for yourself or any family members before the holiday craziness starts?

- Start thinking about making your New Year's Eve reservations. In some major cities, it's already too late at the swanky the hotels and trendy restaurants.

- If you're taking a car trip for Thanksgiving, start setting aside things you'll need in the car. CDs for the grownups, toys and car games for the kids, snacks and Wet Wipes for everyone. Blankets, water and emergency gear if you'll be traveling through snowy or icy areas.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Oven and Stove

With holiday dinners and festive parties coming up, you need your oven and stove in peak condition. If you're going to someone else's house for Thanksgiving, you can still enjoy having a clean stove to use for yourself in the next couple weeks.

Clean your burners, replace aluminum foil if necessary, clean the stovetop, and especially work on the inside of your oven. Degrease splatters from the top of the stove and the wall above it.

Is there a cupboard over your stove that has spatters or oil on it too? Clean your broiler if needed, and anything else oven-related that's not looking shiny clean.

Are you storing bakeware and cookie sheets in your oven instead of in a cupboard? (I am, and I have to pull them out of my way every time). Any of these need to be washed, or are they ready to be used? Anything oven-related you're not using and can get rid of? Anything you need for the oven that you should put on your shopping list or wish list?

LOVELY BOOKS: Re-Reading "Spindle's End"

Every few autumns, I enjoy re-reading this Sleeping Beauty retelling. In this story, Sleeping Beauty's name is Rosie, and she's been whisked away by young fairy Katriona to protect her. Rosie doesn't know her true name or background, nor that she has a few talents of her own. Written beautifully, with lavish descriptions, you feel completely immersed in the fairytale world built here.

The book seems to be out of print on Amazon, but is being republished in paperback in January. (Hate the new cover though!)


Spindle's End, at Wikipedia

Spindle's End in Paperback, available on Amazon in January

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Saturday in Autumn

What I'm burning in my home today: Mexican Cocoa home fragrance oil, from The Body Shop


- Maintenance clean one shelf, one drawer or two door pockets on your refrigerator

- Also maintenance clean one shelf in the freezer. I'm adding this to my routine every weekend because my freezer is busier right now, due to pre-holiday celebrations.

- Launder your bedding (and your kids' bedding, if applicable) so you all have fresh sheets to go to sleep in tonight.

- Need to do any Christmas shopping this weekend before the malls get really crazy in the next couple weeks?

- Make a plan for a special breakfast this weekend. Buy a newspaper if you normally don't, and take time to make pancakes, omelettes, fresh (not frozen or boxed) hash browns, crepes, waffles, or other breakfast treats. Treat yourself to a latte or cappuccino if you normally don't.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Major Cleaning of One Room

Pick a large, major room (Living room, bedroom, kitchen, basement? attic? garage?) and do a total overhaul cleaning on it. Decluttering, sorting, dusting, scrubbing, washing, laundering, vacuuming, mopping, light bulb checking, and more.

Start by removing clutter, throwing away anything you can possibly part with, emptying wastebaskets, recycling, and finding some items to put in storage if you can't part with them. Remove any drinking glasses, dishes or any other items that don't belong. Thoroughly clean ceiling fan and light fixtures.

Wash and dust windows, windowsills, trim, closet doors and the room's door. Don't forget to clean the wood at the top of the doorframe, too. Do your curtains need dry cleaning, or your blinds need wiping down? Wash walls, lamps and light fixtures; check to see if you need lightbulbs. Clean baseboards and air vents before you vacuum.

Move furniture to vacuum, sweep or mop under it. If you really are inspired, remove most furniture from the room, vacuum and/or mop. Open drawers on tables and nightstands and sort them before replacing furniture in the room.

If you're deep cleaning a bedroom, don't forget to vacuum the mattress (and flip/rotate if needed). Wash and replace any floor rugs. If it's a bedroom, wash the bed linens (Don't forget to wash the dust ruffle and mattress pad, too!).

Dust furniture and knick-knacks. Replace any decorative candles that are looking discolored or crooked; remove half-burned votives and replace with fresh candles. See if any upholstery needs to be spot cleaned or professionally cleaned. Clean any items that need to be put back on tables, dressers, shelves, etc, and replace them in an orderly manner.

Water houseplants and dispose of any dead or dying ones. If the houseplants are looking dusty, spray them down in the kitchen sink. Polish doorknobs on both sides of the door, and on closets if needed.

Finish by spraying the room with room freshener or a home spray, or by burning a scented candle (while you're still in the room to attend to it). Put fresh flowers on a small table, if this is a room used frequently. The weather's getting colder; does this room have a nice soft throw waiting on a nearby chair? Is there a box of Kleenex accessible?

Pour yourself a glass of wine, sit down and relax for a while in your fresh, clean, clutter-free room. (I picked a room with a TV in it so I can enjoy some mind-numbing television today, laugh).


I adore Sandra Bullock, and I'm so excited to see her next movie. "The Blind Side" comes out November 20th. I'm thinking it's a great movie for a Girl's Night Out or to see with my aunt and a couple of her friends. It's so nice to see something available in the theater that isn't a horror movie or something dark and depressing like most of the movies out lately.

LOVELY MUSIC: Tori Amos - Midwinter Graces

I was so delighted this morning to discover that Tori Amos has come out with a new album, just in time for winter. "Midwinter Graces" consists of twelve songs. Some of them are reinterpretations of holiday songs, and others are new songs written by Tori. The songs include "Star of Wonder," "Silent Night With You," "Coventry Carol," and "Emmanuel." You can preview the songs on her website.

I'm not sure I like all the different things she's thrown into some of the reimagined songs, and the way she's changed them. But I have a feeling they might grow on me since I love her voice so much. I'm definitely picking this up to play in the background at my holiday dinner parties.


Enjoy a Children's Winter Picnic (Times Online)

Fall Decor Crafts (Martha Stewart)

45 Thanksgiving Pie and Tart Recipes (Martha Stewart)

From Farm to Table Thanksgiving Menu (Bon Appetit)

How to Stay Healthy During the Holidays (CHOW)

New Italian Museum Has Eye Towards Art's Future (MSNBC)

Seattle Times Holiday Cooking Tips

Secrets of Good Bread (Washington Times)

Squanto Never Ate Popcorn: An Examination of Thanksgiving Dinner (CHOW)

Thanksgiving for Under $7 a Person (Yahoo! Food)

Souffles That Won't Let You Down (Times Online)


When shopping for someone's holiday gift, it's understandably tempting to get them something related to their favorite hobby (or the current movie or book series they are obsessed with. Think Teenagers and Twilight, for example, and avoid giving the Twilight-crazed teenager in your life any more Twilight stuff).

This especially happens when you are doing last-minute shopping and haven't planned ahead. You're then more likely to panic and stick with something you think is safe.

Try to be especially thoughtful when you're determined you want to plan a hobby-related gift for someone. Put a lot of time into researching it if you can.

For example, you might have a teenage boy you need to get a gift for. Probably that boy likes video games, but there's a slim chance you can actually find a game he likes and doesn't already own. Instead of wildly guessing, you'd have to call his parents and ask about a specific title (Be sure they will allow him to own that game, too).

I have an elderly relative who sends me cat everything - cat napkins, cat placemats, kitchen towels with cats all over them, kitten calendars, cat patterned gloves, cat Kleenex holders, etc. - just because I happen to own two cats. Now I wonder if my grandmother who has chicken-themed items all over her house really likes chickens, or if we've all just gotten into the habit of getting her chicken things and she's stuck with them.

My father likes tennis, so in the past I've panicked and gotten him tennis-related items. But I can't afford the kind of specialized tennis rackets he uses, and wouldn't know exactly which kind to get him anyways. Plus, this wouldn't be a great gift because he already has lots of tennis rackets. A can of tennis balls doesn't make a very nice or interesting gift, and does he really need a calendar of famous tennis stars? Not really, unless it's an Anna Kournikova calendar - my stepmother might have something to say about that! Chocolate companies make tennis-themed chocolates, but my father would probably be happier with a more flavorful box of See's or Godiva chocolates instead.

I really am going to try this year to put a lot of thought into his present and not get him anything tennis (or car) related.

My aunt collects cookbooks, so my natural impulse is to run out and buy her a cookbook. But since her collection is nearing 2,500 books (I'm not exaggerating!) there's very little chance I would be able to find her a cookbook that she doesn't have already and that she would find interesting. Cookbook collectors don't collect just any old cookbook, either - they might collect only vintage ones, only ethnic ones, only dessert cookbooks, only Spanish dessert cookbooks, only vegetarian cookbooks, or other subcategories. Also, just because she collects cookbooks doesn't mean she actually likes to cook, so I can't necessarily run out and get her kitchen stuff or gourmet baking goods just because they're related to the cookbook theme.

When in doubt, talk to the person's spouse, partner, or a very close friend about something they might need or want.

You can always ask the person yourself too for a gift hint - but I feel like that sort of takes the fun out of their gift. We should be enjoying the gift buying process, or not participate in it at all.

What can you think of that might complement a person's hobby or bring enjoyment to their life - and can you avoid just handing them a gift certificate?

Related Links:

Writer Orson Scott Card wrote recently on gift certificates and hobby gifts. Scroll down to read.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Exactly Why Maintaining Your Home Nicely Can Save Your Bacon

Yesterday I got a real good reminder of why I work to keep my house "ready to go" at all times. I do a little bit of maintenance cleaning and ongoing housekeeping every day (rather than letting things go til the weekend) so that I don't have a big freakout if I have a surprise visitor or if I decide to throw a dinner or cocktail party on just a few hours' notice.

My father came to town on business yesterday. Of course we wanted to meet for lunch while he's in town. But his meetings ran late, so we weren't able to go to lunch together as planned.

I then invited him over for dinner instead. We decided this at 2:30 pm, and he wanted to eat dinner at 5:30 pm. I still had work to do before he got here, and the manicotti I planned to serve him would take forty minutes in the oven. So I was so glad my house was in reasonable shape and wouldn't take much time to get ready to host a father who only rarely gets to visit.

I vacuumed my living and family rooms (they would have needed it even if a visitor wasn't coming over), dusted coffee tables and side tables, put a clean tablecloth on the dining table and set it, emptied trash in the bathroom and hung a fresh guest handtowel, straightened some pillows on the couches, removed hand lotion and a pen from the tray I keep on my downstairs couch, lit a fire in the upstairs fireplace, and spritzed the home with pumpkin-cinnamon home spray. That was it!

I surveyed my home, felt proud of it and good about the way it looked. I then could relax while finishing my work and beginning to cook our dinner.

My coffee table, with just a few magazines, a candy bowl, and some Halloween coasters I need to swap out for Thanksgiving ones

A side table, freshly dusted, with a pincushion house plant, vase of flowers, box of Kleenex, and glass tealight holder

Downstairs couch and two cranberry pillows awaiting a weary traveler

A side table awaits the mug of a hot beverage I'll serve, with more of those Halloween coasters I should have put away last week, a family photo, a decorative squash, and a vase of flowers


- Fill up with gas for your weekend's activities

- Make weekend socialization plans

- Tidy your house before you leave today, so you come home tonight to a relaxing home. Empty/fill dishwasher, wipe down kitchen and bathroom counters, empty trash cans, swap out bathroom hand towels and bath towels if needed, declutter front hallway or stairs as needed, declutter coffee table and dining table if applicable.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Friday Night Fun

Do something fun tonight! There's all weekend left to clean and organize.

LOVELY BLOGS: Gourmet Mom on the Go

I was initially drawn to this blog because of the lovely retro logo, but then I got sucked in by the intriguing recipes and photographs here. This mom cooks with her kids often, blogging about her recipes and how the final products went over with her kids. She also cooks special things for her kids - whimsical, fun, and sometimes gourmet. Recent posts include Halloween bento boxes, mummy and snake suckers for Halloween, strawberry cream cake, and pumpkin mousse. I love that she often includes several photographs of the recipe at various stages - not just the final product like most bloggers do.

LOVELY BOOKS: Little House on the Prairie Thanksgiving

I was curious how Laura Ingalls Wilder described the Ingalls' Thanksgivings. I couldn't remember, and didn't feel like digging through my books. So here's a brief Suite 101 article on the topic - including info on recreating the Ingalls' Thanksgiving meal in modern times.

Thanksgiving Little House Style

LOVELY TELEVISION: Grace Kelly on Turner Classic Movies

This month would have been Grace Kelly's 80th birthday. To commemorate her, Turner Classic Movies is running Grace Kelly movies every Thursday night. Tonight they'll show "Rear Window" and "Dial M for Murder."

Grace Kelly Month

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Rainy Autumn Days

The body butter I'm moisturizing with tonight:
Merry Cranberry, by The Body Shop


- Have you had a glass of orange juice lately? If you don't have any in the house, add to your shopping list for the week. Remember that blood oranges are in some of the stores right now too. Yum!

- Make some time tonight for yourself; treat yourself to a beauty regimen you don't normally take time for. Apply a mud mask, a hair mask or hot oil treatment, exfoliate your skin, use a sugar scrub on your hands and legs, or give yourself a pedicure. (I'm going to be moisturizing my dry legs tonight!)

- Write two holiday cards, stamp them and put on your mailing table ready to go out. The more Christmas cards you write right now (even though I don't want to rush the Christmas holiday before Thanksgiving is here) the easier your life will be come late December.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Sorting Casseroles and Storage Containers

With holiday dinners coming up, you'll need all your casseroles, cake pans, pie pans, and Tupperware/Gladware in order. You'll want to be sure you have empty containers you can send leftovers home in for people.

Sort out your kitchen cupboard, take inventory of your casseroles, and wash any that need it. Wash down the shelf before replacing. See if all your food storage containers (Tupperware, Glad, Rubbermaid or other kinds) have matching lids. Throw away or recycle any that are stained, melted or gross-looking. Match up containers with their lids and store in an organized manner.

If you have more than one or two makeshift money-saving storage containers (ie old butter tubs you've saved) really think about how many you need to keep, and recycle anything you can part with. Declutter!

If you actually need, and will use, food storage containers or casseroles, add to your shopping list.

I've been enjoying Glad holiday colored red and green reusable microwave storage containers. They're inexpensive enough you don't care what happens to them, unlike my Tupperware. I use them primarily to send leftovers or food gifts home with people. I'm putting them on my shopping list this week. After Thanksgiving I can send guests home carrying pieces of pumpkin pie and extra mashed potatoes.

LOVELY BLOGS: Econobusters

In the past I've not been very interested in "money saving" and "frugality" type blogs. I try to save money and not waste it, but didn't really want to spend a lot of time reading about it. And often you run into blogs that smack of cheapskateism or horrible suggestions on reusing stuff that's icky, etc.

Econobusters, however, is an interesting and useful read. She passes along helpful tips, and shares info about freebies that don't make me feel like she's being paid to endorse them. Recent posts include tips on simple ways to decorate your front door for Thanksgiving; a recipe for an inexpensive bacon cheese dip snack; budgeting tips for your Thanksgiving grocery shopping; and links to other frugality blogs.

If this is a topic you are interested in, I definitely recommend this blog!


Sesame Street is celebrating its 40th anniversary this week. I'm 40 years old, so I probably started watching it several months after it debuted. I'm pretty sure my mom depended on the show to entertain me so she could get some laundry done in peace. I definitely think the show contributed to my early reading and love of words (my mom spending tons of one-on-one time reading books to me was definitely a huge factor, too!)

Just for old time's sake, I'm going to watch an episode of Sesame Street this week next time I am doing laundry, paying bills, sorting, or doing something else that will let me sit down and relax for half an hour. I'm looking forward to seeing a current episode - what are they doing lately?

History of Sesame Street

Sesame Street, at IMDB

Sesame Street, at Wikipedia

Zap2It: The ABC's of Sesame Street

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veteran's Day


- Are you flying a flag outside your home or apartment today?

- Call any friends or families who are Veterans. It doesn't matter if they served in wartime or not, just that they served in the military. It doesn't have to be a long call, just a nice gesture that you are thinking of them and remember their service.

- If you have any AnySoldier/AnySailor penpals, today is a good day to make time to write them a nice card. They obviously will get it in the mail long after Veteran's Day, but if you mention in your letter you made a special point of writing to them on Veteran's Day, they'll appreciate your kindness even more.

- Check your coat closet, which is going to get a lot of use in the next couple months. Does it need to be tidied up? Any coats that have migrated elsewhere in the house and need to be rehung in their proper place in the coat closet?

TODAY'S PROJECT: Bookshelf Sorting

Now that it's darker and colder at night, I'm finding myself making more time to just sit quietly and enjoy reading a book.

My bookshelves are a terrible mess all the time, though I'm doing better at not buying more books right now to contribute to the problem. If you have overflowing bookshelves, like I do, take some time today to organize. While I'm at it, I will dust the bookshelves too. In one case where I'm removing all the books from a bedroom bookshelf, I will take the time to move the bookcase so I can vacuum under it.

Do all the bookcases in your house if you have time, or just one bookcase, or at least two shelves. Every little bit of organizing you can sneak in helps.

See if you can bear to part with any of your books, especially paperbacks you've already read but don't need to keep forever. Be firm with yourself and honest about your book reading habits. Ask yourself on each book, Have I read this yet? How long have I owned this unread book? Am I really going to read this book in the next six months? Is this a beautiful coffee table book, or a reference book I need to keep around? Is this a sentimental book? Did someone special give this to me? Is the flyleaf inscribed?

Donate books to the library, charities which send books to the troops, mail them (if they are in good or very very good condition, only) to penpals, or sell them on eBay's or to a used bookstore. Maybe some of your friends might be interested in a book or two of yours - but don't make your book clutter problem someone else's problem too.

Organize the books that are left, dust the bookshelves and replace. If your bookshelves still look like they are sagging when you are done, and you can't bear to part with any more books, put "New bookcase" on your shopping list and make a plan to head for Home Depot, IKEA, Office Depot or somewhere else to get bookshelves.

Make some time tonight, even if you can only find 10 minutes, to enjoy a book you've been looking forward to reading.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Stirrings "Cocktail Connoisseur" Gift Set, perfect "emergency gift" for surprise holiday guests

If you have a teensy bit of room in your budget, I highly recommend purchasing a few small "emergency" gifts. Keep them on hand in case an extra person shows up at Christmas, or to fill in holes in your gift list on Christmas Eve when you are panicking.

Every year it seems like we have someone unexpected at Christmas - someone's boyfriend, girlfriend, or an elderly friend of the family. Rather than have them sit empty handed to watch us open gifts, we always try to make sure we have some things already wrapped to give away. We quickly sneak into the other room to write the person's name on the To part of the label, and "Santa" on the From part.

I also use my Emergency Gift supplies as hostess gifts when I travel or go to dinner parties.

If you end up not needing the gifts, you can store them in your gift closet for future emergencies. Or buy things you know you'll enjoy yourself - candles, soaps, cookies, etcetera.

I don't usually give books as emergency gifts because it's too hard to tailor a book to a person I don't know well. It's hard to come up with a reason to give a complete stranger a coffee table book on Alaskan sunsets, or the newest murder mystery - Maybe they've already bought it, or don't like mysteries. Maybe the subject of the book might offend them and I wouldn't know it.

Great emergency gifts include attractively wrapped chocolates (just hope the person isn't a diabetic); gift certificates to local restaurants, spas and movie theaters (for people who live nearby); blank writing journals; attractive soft gloves (perhaps from Target); candles; nicely scented soaps; gourmet jams; a scenic calendar. A nicely packaged bag of coffee or box of tea might be nice.

I always have a couple of moderately priced $6-$9 Christmas ornaments from Crate and Barrel or Pier 1 Imports wrapped and ready to go, too. If they don't get given away, I'll unwrap them and store them to enjoy on my own tree next year.

It could be a good idea to have a $15-$20 bottle of wine on hand too just in case.