Tuesday, November 30, 2010

November's End


Gingerbread Paper House Kit, at Paper Source

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.

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • 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, de-cluttering, travel, book-reading, journaling, etc?)

  • Make a meal that cleverly helps you use up your last leftovers from Thanksgiving.

  • If you're wearing slippers at night a lot, do you need to launder them? They can get sweaty and a bit smelly. How about your family members?

  • Try to remove two items from your bathroom counter and store them somewhere else.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Pick-A-Spot Cleaning


My current favorite seasonal candle, from Archipelago Botanicals

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 very worst spot of my house and work on improving it.

Right now the worst spot is my downstairs living room. I've let some of my eBay things creep into the room, and it's very dusty from having the dogs wander in and out of the door. I need to vacuum, dust the TV and the stand it sits on, dust the bookcase and lamps, mop the dog's bathroom floor, and launder the slipcovers on my two couches, then put them back on the couch and fluff the pillows. I also need to wipe off the red acrylic tray I use to keep remotes and beverages on.

That way when I get home tonight, I come back to a nice clean fresh room to watch TV and cuddle the puppies in!

LOVELY BLOGS: Teenie Cakes


Teenie Cakes started off as a blog about muffins and cupcakes, but has since grown to include desserts and dishes for entertaining. I think you'll enjoy the gorgeous food photography here, as well as recipes for pecan pie cakelets, cranberry orange coconut muffins and cauliflower gratin

http://www.teeniecakes.com/

LOVELY BOOKS: Home Economics


"Vintage Advice and Practical Science for the 21st-Century Household" is a charming book of reproductions from vintage homemaking books and magazines. It approaches homemaking as a domestic science, and provides charts, recipes, and advice on economy. I think this is a great gift book for people interested in homemaking and retro living. And the illustrations are so charming!

Home Economics, on Amazon

LOVELY FOOD: Vosges Marchesa Collection


The new Marchesa Truffle Collection might be a perfect gift for the fashionista in your life. The attractive packaging shows a chic woman, and the truffles are topped with edible real freshwater pearl dust.

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

Before You Volunteer Abroad, Think What Harm You Might Do (The Guardian)

Dazzling Holiday Cakes & Cupcakes (Better Homes & Gardens)

De-Stress After the Holidays With Luxury for Less (MSNBC Travel)

Eat to Beat Colds and the Flu (Canadian Living)

Little Frosty Christmas Cakes (BBC Good Food)

A Sophisticated Slushie: Granita for Grownups (NY Times)

Strawberry Spinach (18th Century Cuisine)

Small Latkes, Large Toppings (NY Times)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Make Do With What You Have


"Make do and mend" was the British government's slogan to encourage its citizens to ration carefully, re-use and not waste items during World War 2 and the difficult years following.

Now that we've experienced what's being called the Great Recession, I'm thinking a lot more about the items I already own and scratching things I want off my list. I'm still a shopaholic and probably can never stop myself from buying scented candles, intriguing books, lovely bath gels and tasty foods. But when it comes to bigger purchases, I'm now looking for ways to do without.

I don't need any new clothes other than the occasional gown for whatever specific wonderful event crops up. I haven't changed size (for better or for worse) in the past four years. I work at home, so my clothing doesn't need to be all that fancy anyways. I can wear the same nice Alfani blouse when I need to dress up a pair of my velvet pants, I can wear one of my several lovely black dresses to holiday parties, and I have more than enough T-shirts and "errand clothes."

I bought a new inexpensive Eddie Bauer fleecy jacket to wear when I'm walking the dogs and can't wear a too-hot coat. Because I'll take good care of it, that jacket will last me a few years. (I know I'll get tired of looking at myself in it and get a new jacket in a couple years though!)

And my friends are not the type of people who care (or even notice) if I wear the same lovely dress to a party in December when I already wore it to another evening event in November!


"Make Do and Mend" Poster, on eBay

Until something breaks (my refrigerator is many years old and has broken before; and my dishwasher is old too) I don't need to buy any major appliances. (And I'll try to get those repaired rather than buying new ones whenever possible). My Dyson vacuum is the best vacuum I could ever want for my needs, and I take good care of it to prevent it from breaking.


Make Do and Mend booklet, on eBay

I want to take good care of the items I already have, not only so I don't have to buy new ones, but so that I appreciate my good fortune in life.

I take good care of my car because I'm so glad to have one and not have to take the bus everywhere. Not only do I keep the car maintenanced and avoid spilling things in it, but I also wash it, clean the interior, and keep it free from dirt and litter and clutter. (That's hard work to maintain when you have two grown Labrador dogs with muddy paws climbing in and out of it!)

My couches are only eight years old, so it will be a few years before it's time to update my home decor with new ones. I can swap out fun accent pillows seasonally to make things look new and fresh in my living room. So for now I have to take very good care of my couches - dusting their wood feet, not spilling on them, cleaning up spills promptly, and laundering the slipcovers carefully several times a year.

I take good care of my old laptop, because I can't afford a new one. So I take care not to lose it, drop it, step on it, sit on it, or spill on it.

I'm not good at sewing at all, so the area I'm going to fail in is mending things. When I buy a $6 T-shirt at Target and it tears, I'm probably going to throw it out and just cough up the $6 to buy another one. I can afford it. But I'll be careful to only replace torn items that I really need - maybe I have enough T-shirts that I don't need a new one when something tears.

I covet new dishes and kitchen implements, but I need to do more to use my existing gorgeous dishes I already own. And I have more than enough kitchen projects to keep me busy and happy without buying new gadgets. I can always borrow my best friend's ravioli maker if I really am going to expend energy having fun learning how to make ravioli.

I'll probably never be able to fully mend my naughty shopaholic ways, but I'll make a conscious effort to use, enjoy, and appreciate the items I already have in my life and in my home.

What are some things you need to appreciate more and take better care of, and what are some things you think you want but can do without?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Autumn Beauty Routine


What will be on my nails this holiday season: OPI's Merry Me, from Sephora

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.

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • How are you doing on eating up and using up Thanksgiving leftovers? Don't be afraid to throw out 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


I was a good girl and threw out lots of old cosmetics this month, so I hope Santa brings me this Stila "Make an Impression in Moscow" travel palette!

Today I'm making time to take care of my skin and body. I'll be shaving, sea salt scrubbing, moisturizing, and giving myself a manicure and pedicure. I also probably need to redo my roots (my hair is currently fake reddish and gray - time to make it dark brown again!) I'll make a relaxing evening of it with good music, wine, my fireplace, and my phones turned off.

LOVELY BLOGS: Tomayto Tomaaahto


I am so glad I happened across this blog by Ruby, an American foodie living in London. She recently visited Kuwait and you just have to see the gorgeous and amazing photographs of her relatives preparing, serving and eating Kuwaiti foods. My mouth is watering so much right now. The blogger is a fantastic photographer too. Besides her fabulous Kuwait travel posts, you might enjoy her posts on a full English breakfast, ratatouille Provencale, and sugared plum pudding.

http://www.tomaytotomaaahto.com/

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

Boots and Lancome Give Holiday Party Makeup Tips (Lucire)

6 Ways to Speed Up Your Beauty Routine (Self)

Venice in Winter (NY Times)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Enjoying A Leisurely Post-Holiday Weekend


Gingerbread Manor Kit, at Sur la Table

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • 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 outside of all of our lives, 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 the news on in the background while we're doing laundry or catching up with magazines.

  • Make weekend socialization plans if you haven't already and if you feel like seeing friends.

  • Need to do any Christmas shopping this weekend? If you can't bear the crowds, 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. It got a bit messy and disorganized after all the cooking and baking I did this week. 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 to go spend time with friends.

LOVELY BLOGS: The Art of Non-Conformity


This author tries to "change the world by achieving significant, personal goals while helping others at the same time." He focuses on three areas: Life, work, and travel. He encourages readers to live their lives the way they want to, not the way others expect them to. His very insightful and helpful advice includes 28 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Traveling, time management, peak moments of your life and how to get paid for what you love. I think several parts of this blog will really resonate with a lot of my readers. I find I can only read a post or two at a time before I need to go away and do something else while I digest the insightful things he's written.

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

Bourbon Adds Complexity, Kick to Holiday Desserts (Oregon Live)

Hanukkah Recipes, Menus and Tips (CHOW)

100 Gift Ideas You Never Thought Of (Good Housekeeping)

Perfect Turkey Club Sandwich (Baking Bites)

Potato Knish Recipe and the Best of Jewish Cookbooks (Blog Appetit)

Wine With An Attached Flute: Convenient, But Is It Drinkable? (Slashfood)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Recovering From Thanksgiving Fun


Candied Cherry Candle, new at L'Occitane

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?

Tonight I will have a little bit of time for myself. Time to relax by the fire, catch up with my catalogs and magazines, and get just a few little projects out of the way. I'll eat leftovers, wrap some Christmas presents, do some extra exercise, and write some holiday letters.

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • Shovel sidewalk if applicable. 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.

  • 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 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, kitty litter or other traction aids? 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? If you have pets who ride with you, do you have water for your pets, and snacks for them?

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

LOVELY LIVING: Trying to Win the "I'm So Busy" Award?

I've been watching an always-stressed member of my extended family slowly lose her circle of friends (and family) over the last few years, due to her inability to make time to see people or accept invitations. She seems to take on more than she's asked to do, filling up her time and schedules with (seemingly) unimportant things. I guess they're important to her.

It makes me really sad, but also frustrated and discouraged. She seems to be trying to win an illusory "I'm busier than everybody else" award, and it's dragging her down and making her life unhappy. She can't possibly socialize with her friends because she "works so many hours" a week; she's "so busy with the kids" (two grown college students) that she can't really do anything on weekends. She rises at 5am, four hours before she actually needs to be at work, and therefore has an 8pm bedtime that makes it virtually impossible to invite her out to dinner. Every phone conversation one has with her, she seems to feel the need to remind you how much busier she is than you or everyone else is.

Don't get me wrong - it's great to be active, doing things you love, and keeping busy so you aren't bored or aren't a couch potato. I just think it's not good when you are taking on so many things you can't schedule a lunch date any sooner than two months out.

I wonder if it's a self esteem thing, or a lack of being able to honestly say "You know that doesn't sound like fun, so even though I'm not busy, I think I'll pass." Or just bad time management skills? Or unable to delegate tasks?

Regardless, I have learned that I don't want to live like that. I don't want to win any competitions involving being busy. I don't want to spend time complaining about how busy I am - I have the same 24 hours a day everyone else does. How we choose to fill that time is up to us. I'm going to make time for friends, actively reach out and take time to see family. I'm also going to make time for myself. So maybe I won't be going on a fancy European trip next year, because I won't be taking on overtime work to make extra money. I'll have time to stay home by the fireplace reading a book now and then, because I'm not "too busy."

The following links have helped me understand those people who try to be so busy:

Are You Suffering From I'm So Busy Syndrome? (Divine Caroline)

Curing the "I'm So Busy" Disease (Wise Heart)

Do You Suffer From I'm-So-Busy-Itis? (The Happiest Mom)

I've Just Been SO Busy Lately (The Art of Non-Conformity)

The "Too Busy" Syndrome (Connect Moms)

LOVELY BLOGS: Cutest Food


Who doesn't enjoy looking at pictures of cute food? Today I'm loving pics of glittered cupcakes, pineapple cupcakes, colorful panda-shaped gummy bears, and oh-so-adorable otter cupcakes. This link is going into Lovely Living's sidebar links collection!

http://cutestfood.com/

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Pep Talk


Think positive.

We can do this. We're lucky to have family and friends 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 rude 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. Nor will the food we cook ever be as tasty as his mom's cooking (to him). 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 de-stress 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 or fresh fruits and veggies, 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 more than one Thanksgiving in years past, 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 and a big glass of whiskey 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. Awesome! Inspiring!

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. 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 24, 2010

Almost Thanksgiving


Pumpkin Cake, at Dean & Deluca

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • 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. Charge up phones and cameras tonight.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Bathrooms


If you're going out of town for Thanksgiving, you can enjoy coming home in a few days to clean bathrooms. If you're hosting, you need all your bathrooms to be spotless for guests. I'm not hosting Thanksgiving, but I'm having a casual party the night before.

If you have a big crowd coming, more than one bathroom may be in use at the same time. So you might want to clean all of the bathrooms in your home, not just the guest bathroom.



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?

LOVELY BLOGS: Brown Eyed Baker


The author of Brown Eyed Baker grew up in an Italian kitchen. She shares her recipes and love of food. Recent posts include Mashed Sweet Potato Brulee, Fresh Green Bean Casserole, and tips on cooking the Thanksgiving turkey. Her cranberry walnut rolls look absolutely amazing.

http://www.browneyedbaker.com/

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

Chunky Pumpkin Soup (Chocolate & Zucchini)

DIY Christmas Snow Village for Kids to Make From Boxes (Ziggity Zoom Parents)

Ginger-Spice Cranberry-Apple Streusel Pie (Fine Cooking)

How the Thanksgiving Cooking is Passed Down From Mother to Daughter (Slate)

Holiday Bliss Project Patterns (Victoria Magazine)

How to Handle Kitchen Fires (The Early Show)

How to Make Chocolate-Filled Mini Turkey Tarts (The Kitchn)

Improving Storebought Dishes (Food and Wine)

Modern Flowers for Thanksgiving (Epicurious)

Savory Stuffings (Coastal Living)

Thanksgiving Pies (Saveur)

Turkey Day Etiquette (Lindaraxa's Garden)

Why Food Writers Secretly Hate the Thanksgiving Feast (Slate)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Two Days Until Thanksgiving


I wanted to watch the snow fall today. So instead of working downstairs in my dark and cramped office, I am doing my work upstairs in front of my windows. I lit a fire, piled my work onto the coffee table, and made sure I have plenty of hot Earl Grey tea in my mug. It's a cozy way to spend my workday!


Pumpkin Candles, on Sale at Pottery Barn

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • 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 overnight 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 also 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.

  • What movies will you show family members while they wait for (or recover from) the Thanksgiving meal. Can you find your DVDs and have them ready?

TODAY'S PROJECT: Thanksgiving Preparations


Meri Meri Thanksgiving Cupcake Kit, on Amazon

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.

CLEANING:

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. The dishwasher is empty. 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.


DINING ROOM:

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, then set it with your tablecloth, tablerunner, placemats or whatever you intend to use for Thanksgiving or even for your next upcoming meal. Eat your next family meals at a restaurant, or in front of the TV for a treat - we can't afford to mess up our set tables with the holiday coming up so close!

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?)


Windsor Forest Home Fragrance Oil, at Crabtree & Evelyn

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.


FAMILY/LIVING ROOM:

Let's move on to the living room, where it's likely our guests will retire with aching bellies, for hours of football, the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, 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 DVD movies are and have them accessible.

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

Refresh houseplants and toss any dead ones. 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.

LOVELY BLOGS: Big Red Kitchen


I think you will love Robin Sue's cooking blog. Here's a snippet of her entertaining philosophy: "Perfection is pride stepping on your creativity. Paper plates are essential. Write "welcome" in the dust rather than waiting for a clean house to open your home. Laugh when your guest's child vomits on your couch because next month your child will pee on your girlfriend's sofa."

She's recently blogged about Thanksgiving Wassail, yummy yams, and savory corn pudding for Thanksgiving.

http://www.bigredkitchen.com/

LOVELY BOOKS:


"Casual Gatherings and Elegant Parties at Home." I throw so many parties, but that doesn't make me an expert on doing it. I love reading party inspiration and party planning books for their ideas and advice. This one suggests party lists and timetables, offers tips on outdoor parties, gives ideas for wine and cheese parties, and helps you prepare in order to be ready to host a party at any time. And of course because this is an Emily post book, there's a list of to-dos and "no-no's" as well as party etiquette tips.

Emily Post's Get-Togethers, at Amazon

LOVELY TV: Skating With the Stars


I don't watch "Dancing With the Stars," because I'm not that interested in dancing. Figure skating, however, I'm hooked on. So I'm disappointed that I missed ABC's premiere last night. (I was too distracted dealing with snow and babysitting the neighbor's dog and watching "The Event.")

The show's judges include Dick Button and the fabulous Johnny Weir. The celebrities include Bethenny Frankel, Sean Young, and Vince Neil.

I'm hoping I can watch the episode online at ABC's website today when I get a bit of time.

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

How to Get Through a Power Outage (Seattle Times)

I'm Thankful for a Thanksgiving Checklist (The Bella Life)

Thanksgiving Checklist (Savory Seasonings)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Three Days Before Thanksgiving


I woke up to snow beginning to fall this morning.


Pumpkin Truffles, at Dean & Deluca

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • Are your kitchen sponges or dish scrubbers old and yucky looking? Need to replace them?

  • 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? You might especially want to get firewood 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, a cafe you snuck away to for 45 minutes, or on your couch idly flipping through magazines.

I'm throwing a very small, very cozy "pre-Thanksgiving" dinner party the night before Thanksgiving. It's for friends who aren't leaving Seattle for the holiday, but who are spending Thanksgiving hosting at their own homes. I won't see them on Thanksgiving, so I thought it would be fun to hang out casually the night before. Most of us are organized enough we'll have our holiday prep done so we can relax on Wednesday evening. I'll serve healthy food that has nothing to do with the types of foods we'll eat the next day. I'm thinking strawberries, veggies and dip, salad and fresh orange slices. Just keeping it simple.

So my tasks are vacuuming, cleaning some muddy dog paw prints off the floors, spritzing the house with fragrance spray, and tidying the guest bathroom.

LOVELY BLOGS: Historic Cooking School

What an intriguing idea for a blog. I can't believe I haven't seen this blog until today. It covers vintage kitchens, old cookbooks, and cooking lessons. Learn how to make an 1880s cranberry recipe, how maple syrup is made, and what to do with acorns.

LOVELY FOOD: Chocolate Turkeys


L.A. Burdick is selling these adorable chocolate turkeys for Thanksgiving. A box of four costs just $15.

http://historiccookingschool.com/

LOVELY MOVIES: Jane Eyre


I initially wasn't too excited about the thought of yet another Jane Eyre adaptation. But then I became intrigued because Mia Wasikowska (who played Alice in Tim Burton's film) stars. Also Jamie Bell, the cute little boy from "Billy Elliott," all grown up. Judi Dench should be so much fun to watch as Mrs. Fairfax, too. The film will hit the big screen in the spring.

Jane Eyre Trailer, at Yahoo!

LOVELY READS: An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving

This is Louisa May Alcott's classic short story. It'll make you hungry as you read it!

An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving, at About.com

Skating With the Stars, at ABC

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY

Best Places for Holiday Travel (MSNBC)

Breastfeeding Mothers Use Facebook for Milk Sharing (Time)

Butternut Squash (Old-Fashioned Living)

Laid Back Guide to Thanksgiving (CNN)

Mixed Mushroom Soup (101 Cookbooks)

The Perfect Wines to Serve at Thanksgiving (Epicurious)

Pumpkin Risotto with Crispy Sage (BBC Food)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Pre-Thanksgiving Sunday


Blacksmith Hurricane Candle Holders, at Pottery Barn

Today is our last chance on a non-workday to get ready for Thanksgiving. If you're traveling, you'll have different tasks than if you're hosting or bringing food to a friend's house. If you're hosting, you probably have a lot of cleaning to do today!

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • 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!

  • 5 weeks til Christmas! 2 weeks til Chanukah! How is your gift shopping and wrapping going?

  • Don't forget to enjoy looking at the full moon tonight!

  • Finish laundry so it's done for the week by tonight. Launder guest room bedding if needed, so it's fresh and doesn't smell dusty.

  • Launder and iron (if needed) the tablecloth you'll be using on Thanksgiving, if you're hosting. Don't put it on the table yet - it will get dirty!

  • 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.

  • Make menu plans and create grocery shopping list as needed.

  • Fridge and freezer maintenance - clean one drawer, one shelf or two door shelves in your fridge and freezer.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Thanksgiving Preparation and Provisioning


Autumn Bouquet Tablecloth, at Cost Plus World Market

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 buy (then wrap) 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? Guest bathroom clean? Background music picked out and ready to go? Home smell clean and cozy?

LOVELY BLOGS: The Bitten Word


I love this blog's tagline: "Resolving to put our food magazines to use." I can so relate to that, with my endless stacks of food magazines, recipe clippings I've pulled yet and yet never tried to cook.. Clay and Zach live in Washington DC and share their cooking adventures with us here on their blog. They've currently tried a pumpkin layer cake from Martha Stewart Living, attempted a cranberry port sorbet, and cooked Bon Appetit's Roasted red onions from the November 2010 issue. I love this blog so much, I'm adding it to Lovely Living's permalinks.

http://www.thebittenword.com/

LOVELY BOOKS: Amelia Bedelia Talks Turkey


If you are traveling with your children around age seven to ten, you might amuse them with Amelia Bedelia Talks Turkey. It's just a short read, but it's full of Amelia Bedelia's usual funny antics and mix-ups - this time with a Thanksgiving theme. This would also be a nice gift to bring to your host's young children.

LOVELY KITCHEN: Treat Boxes


I am so excited to bake up little muffins and cookies and gift them away in these gingerbread house favor boxes. They're so adorable! However, they are very, very tiny - just two and a half inches tall. I wish they'd made them big enough for big muffins or upended banana nut loaves or such.

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

Cranberry Parfait (Supreme Design by Dianne Ross)

Dear Prudence Answers Thanksgiving Etiquette Questions (Slate)

How Should We Use Data to Improve Our Lives? (Slate)

How to Wear Socks with Skirts for Fall (Stylehive)

Luxury Birdhouse for Humans (PSFK)

Rosemary Au Gratin Potatoes (The Bella Life Blog)

Summer's Harvest Revisited (The Domestic Goddess)

Sunday Morning Oatmeal (The Amateur Gourmet)

10 Hostess Gifts to Bring on Thanksgiving (Slashfood)

Thanksgiving Cranberry Sauce (Simple Comfort Food)

Thanksgiving Wassail (Big Red Kitchen)

What Should the Term 'Housewife' Mean? (Slate)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Gift Wrapping Time Rolls Around Again


Winter Berries Gift Bags, at Paper-Source

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • Need to de-clutter 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, such as 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 today?

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

TODAY'S PROJECT: Drawer Sorting and Gift Wrapping

Tonight after I get back from a birthday party, I'm sorting drawers in our three bathrooms. I'll remove everything from the drawers, and create a few Ziplock bags to keep things together (razors; nail polishes; nail clippers; cotton pads; hair clips; hair ties; barrettes, etc.) I'll wash and dry the drawers before I put things back in them. I intend to be merciless and throw lots of things out (old makeup, hair bows I never use, old barrettes, etc.)

I'm also wrapping gifts tonight, while I watch some shows I saved up on my Tivo. My gifts aren't too difficult to wrap, since I am gifting items such as books and calendars. 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 boxes that look intriguing.


Merriment Gift Wrap, at Container Store

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 some 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.

LOVELY BLOGS: High-Heeled Foot in the Door


This woman is starting her own interior decorating company. You can follow her progress and see some of the lovely photographs she's found on the net for inspiration.

http://high-heelfootinthedoor.blogspot.com/

LOVELY HOME: Laura Mercier Candles


I'm giving Laura Mercier candles to a few people on my gift list this year. I think they'll love the dessert-themed scents (pistachio and creme brulee) and the warm roasted chestnuts would fill their homes with holiday cheer. I'd like to keep one of the warm roasted chestnut candles for myself!

LOVELY KITCHEN: Pullman Loaf Pan


I'm so excited to try my new loaf pan. The sliding lid helps you create flat, square loaves to slice for perfect sandwiches. The slices will be a more even shape. If I'm baking a load of bread for myself, I don't care what the heck it looks like - I just care how it tastes. But if I'm baking for a party, or to serve other people, I want the slices to be nice, square and even.

Pullman Loaf Pan, at Williams-Sonoma

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

Burned Garlic and Other Kitchen Quandaries Solved (NPR)

Cranberries Star Throughout the Thanksgiving Feast (San Jose Mercury News)

Fixing Up Floors in Time for the Holidays (NY Times)

Glitter Glam Nail Polish for Holiday Manicures (Refinery 29)

How Ping-Pong Created the American Suburb (Slate)

Potatoes With Crunch, Without the Cabin (NY Times)

Six Ways to Survive Holiday Travel (Reader's Digest)

16 Secrets of Holiday Entertaining (Washington Post)

What Meryl Streep Served Steve Martin In "It's Complicated:" Croque Monsieur (Worth the Whisk)

Where to Get Oprah's Favorite Things Before Everybody Else Does (She Finds)

Why We Love Movies About Orphans (Newsweek)

Friday, November 19, 2010

More Holiday Simplicity Thoughts


Another festive holiday tea: Eggnog. I think I'll be making some gift baskets full of these Bigelow holiday teas.

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • Have you dropped off cans of food at your local food bank recently? Food banks get a lot of donations around Thanksgiving and Christmas time, but they need them year round, and in the next week or so before Thanksgiving donations arrive en masse.

  • 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. This should take less than seven minutes. I might even do it between commercials of my TV show tonight.

  • 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 didn't get as much done in my office yesterday as I'd hoped. I still have big messy piles of gift wrapping rolls and ribbons. There's still clutter on top of my bookshelves, and a disorganized bookcase of greeting cards that I must inventory and sort. I also need to dust off my printer and scanner, and I forgot to dust the three framed pictures I hang in this room.

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? Will you miss out on social events and opportunities to spend time with your friends and family because you've chosen to be "too busy" with holiday preparations?

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 frazzled 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, attending events you feel obligated but don't want to go to, 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 de-schedule 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.

Being "busy" is not a race or a competition, and even if it were, it's not one we should want to win. 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 the one I eat at Thanksgiving. Turkey for the meat eaters and Tofurkey for the 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 home-baked Christmas cookies around the house.

I do however refuse to take time-saving measures such as buying refrigerated pre-sliced cookies. One of my holiday traditions is to bake cookies with children. I intend to spend time doing that 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 outdoor Christmas lights, plus the ones we put in each of my windows, take more than a whole afternoon to put up. I do it with the help of some cousins, so that probably saves me another afternoon of work. 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 at the very least 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 my dreams is to have enough family home for Christmas so that we don't have to travel across dangerous snowy roads to visit relatives hours away. We don't mind doing that, but I would so love to stay in my own home some Christmas. Right now that sounds like the loveliest, most simplistic, stress-free Christmas of all: Home.

What are some of your dreams for this Christmas?

LOVELY BLOGS: Decorology


Here is a beautiful home decorating blog, with a recent post about her summer trip to Barcelona, interviews with designers, and home decor photos she's found inspiring. Take a peek if you're interested in the topic!

http://decorology.blogspot.com/