Thursday, December 30, 2010

Reflecting Back on 2010


Was 2010 a good year for you? Or a difficult one you're glad to put behind you? What are some things you did wrong last year, some things you're proud of, and some things you wish you could change?

What will you do right in 2011? What will you do more of, and what will you do less of?

Today I'm spending some soul searching time looking back on 2010, which like 2009 was an incredibly difficult year for my family. I can't even count how many funerals I went to this year. I don't want to dwell on the negativity and bad things that happened in 2010. But I also don't want to blithely pretend bad things didn't happen.

I need to learn from mistakes I made, and from experiences that happened to me. Next I can move on and continue to strive for happiness.

Many changes happened in my life and household in 2010. Right now I feel like I am rebuilding my life, but I don't like to say it that way. That makes it sound like my life was destroyed. It wasn't. Things just changed. I also don't want to say "I'm re-inventing myself" because that makes it sound like I'm pretending, or making something up.

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • Fridge and freezer maintenance. Clean one shelf, one drawer, or two door shelves of your fridge or freezer.

  • Laundry all done? Beds changed and made up fresh?

  • Check your pet's tags today. Is your contact info up-to-date and readable? Or is your pet's tag wearing down? Is it time to buy a new collar, inscribe a new tag? Does your pet still have their license and rabies tags attached to their collar?

  • Need to scoop any cat litter or clean catboxes? With the snow and cold weather, my cat is using his indoor box much more often than normal.

  • How are your nails looking? Need to touch up your manicure for the upcoming New Year's festivities?

TODAY'S PROJECT: Look Back on 2010


Grab your calendar, diary, Livejournal, Facebook notes, or just your brain and reflect back on your last year. What are the happiest things that happened? What are your best memories from 2010?

Family:

Did you make time for your friends and family? Did you enjoy some quiet evenings at home, and make eating at the family dinner table a priority in your home? Were you able to take a family trip this year? Any relatives you haven't talked to or written to in over 6 months? Have you had professional photos taken of your kids in the last 12 months to send to relatives? (Or if you can't afford it, pics taken with your own digital camera and printed out on your printer or sent via the web?)

Friends:

Have you been able to enjoy time with friends? Be there for them when they needed you? Anybody you've lost touch with over the years that you'd like to work to reconnect with? Anybody you should invite to come visit, or make plans to meet up with? How many birthdays did you miss this year because you forgot to check your calendar? (I'm guilty of at least six!)

Home:

Did you keep up with your home repairs, general housekeeping maintenance, de-cluttering and improvements? Do you feel happy to come home after a long day, because your home is a cheerful refuge? Are there some things you want to change in 2011, just to keep things fresh and mix it up a little? Perhaps some new decor or furniture re-arrangement?

Yourself:

What are you proud of yourself for this year? Have you been able to give yourself time to do the things you enjoy? Have you blogged, journaled, cooked, crafted, gardened, vacationed, gone to a movie, taken an online or in person class, gone to your favorite restaurant, snuck yourself a naughty fast food treat, gone to coffee or tea with your best friend, given generously to charity, enjoyed a Girls Night Out? Is there a stack of books you mean to do a better job of enjoying next year? Do you feel beautiful? Do you like the way your hair currently looks, or are you going to try something different in 2011?

I'm not asking for comments on this post, because your answers are private, meant for yourself to think about, not for us to snoop at!

Happy New Year!!!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Thanksgiving Eve - My New Tradition?



A welcoming fire burning in my fireplace; candles lit for a cozy glow

I never, ever travel for Thanksgiving. I prefer to stay home and celebrate with close friends, not fight traffic all the way to my aunt's house in Portland or get stuck in the snow on the way to see family in Eastern Washington.

This year, I spent Thanksgiving with my sister and our niece, who live just one freeway exit away from me. We keep our meal simple, and all I had to bring was mashed potatoes.

That meant I didn't have much to do the day before Thanksgiving, so I'd planned to have a very small dinner party with some friends. But one of life's little weather surprises changed my plans.

It snowed, unusually for Seattle. My friends were scared to drive in the ice with their newborn, so they canceled our dinner plans. The snow caused my elderly neighbors to hesitate venturing out to shop and go to the dentist. My Subaru does great in the snow, so I offered to drive them, pretending I needed to go to the grocery store. I did need a couple things, but it was mostly to make them not feel like they were inconveniencing me. We all bundled up and piled into my car to head out, checking with other neighbors to see if anybody else wanted to go or needed us to bring anything back.



My grandmother's china figurines and a house-shaped LED candle on my mantel

While Mr. B was getting his dental work done, Mrs. B. and I loaded up on groceries for the holiday at Trader Joe's, then Christmas shopped at Fred Meyer.

Back at home, we unloaded and decided to have a little block party. None of our friends or relatives could make it over to visit us. I'd already purchased food for my party, cleaned and decorated my house. So we dropped notes and made calls to invite the other neighbors in our cul-de-sac over to an impromptu party.

It took me less than an hour to set out veggies, open boxes of cookies to put out, and bake my Trader Joe's appetizers. I turned on the Christmas music cable channel, lit a fire, lit candles, and quickly sprayed some cinnamon-scented home spray around the house.



My dining table, set buffet style, with appetizers on one end, wine and glasses on the other

Some neighbors came with wine (a nice pinot noir) which we opened up and served around. We watched a rerun of the Oprah "Sound of Music" reunion show, then talked for a couple hours about our childhoods and our families.


Veggies, crackers and dip on offer

I had a delightful time and I think it brought all of us neighbors a lot closer together.



Cranberry jelly, chocolates and cookies laid out on my autumn tablecloth

We enjoyed ourselves so much, I think we'll have a Thanksgiving Eve party again next year, just for our little block.


Dinner rolls, nuts, olives, and some Trader Joe's appetizers

It will be someone else's turn to host, so I'll be sure to plan on a dish or two to bring along with my hostess gift.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Cleaning Up Between Holidays


QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • Fill up with gas if needed

  • Are you going out tonight? Make reservations and socialization plans. Staying in by the warm fire like we are? Light your fire and get out something bubbly. I always end up with way too much leftover unopened champagne bottles after New Year's. This year I'm starting to enjoy champagne in the days leading up to New Year's too!

  • Be sure to put any gift cards you received into the purse or wallet you're carrying with you. You never know when you'll end up at a mall and see something intriguing to use your gift card on.

  • Think about the thank-you cards you need to write very soon for any gifts you were given for Christmas. I'll work on mine tomorrow, but I need to jot down some quick notes on who gave me which gift.

  • Anybody you tried to call but weren't able to get in touch with on Christmas? Anybody you forgot to call? Have any relatives with a birthday a couple days after Christmas, like I do? Make some quick calls today and tomorrow to catch up.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Holiday Cleanup

Is your Christmas tree still green and pretty? Can you get away with leaving it up for the New Year? If not, take it down and get rid of it. Store ornaments and decorations away properly. Take the time to do it right so you won't damage your possessions. My baby tree is really dry, so I'm taking it down tonight.

Even if you plan to leave Christmas decorations up for another week, I bet you can find some projects to do tonight really quickly. If you entertained at home, you likely have vacuuming, clutter clearing, and kitchen cleaning to do. How are your bathrooms - did your houseguests use them often? Refill toilet paper, launder towels and hand towels. Need to do laundry tonight to change sheets?

If you were away, do you need to unpack your bags, do laundry from your trip, put away gifts, put away children's toys and books you took on your trip, start thank you notes?

LOVELY BLOGS: Deliciously Organized


Carlee's design blog is full of lovely photos and decor inspiration. She's currently blogging about cozy nooks, DIY sparkle ornaments, and her trip to chop a Christmas tree.

http://deliciouslyorganized.blogspot.com/

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

Cesar Millan and the History of Dog Training Philosophies (Slate)

How to Bake a New Year's Champagne Cake (CHOW)

Individual Pineapple Upside-Down Cakes for a Prosperous New Year (Beautiful, Memorable Food)

Pretty Cake Stands (Real Simple)

Zapping the Holiday Candy (New York Times)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!


Hope you all have wonderful, stress-free holidays!


In January I'll be writing about winter projects (Photo album sorting, etc) and some personal growth challenges we might think of taking on.

Christmas Activity Suggestions:

It can be hard to be cooped up in the house with houseguests and relatives for several days, even if you love them dearly and get along great. However, try to find a balance so people don't feel stressed or pressured with all the outdoor activities too. Sometimes it IS good to be a bit cooped up indoors for a peaceful evening.


Try to find things to do that will get people out of the house often. It's a bit tricky with cold weather, rain and snow, but you can always bundle people up into an SUV.

  • Play board games, do puzzles and make crafts with family members while cooped indoors.

  • Look at old photo albums together and watch funny family videos.

  • Drive around at night looking at Christmas lights.

  • Visit a tourist attraction in your city (Check their webpages first to see when they're open). Try the zoo, an aquarium, museums.

  • Go to a movie, a time-honored tradition.

  • Go to after-Christmas sales.

  • Visit the animals at a shelter (But agree before you go that nobody's bringing one home as a Christmas present for someone else! Pets should be adopted long before or long after holidays, not as a surprise present)

  • Go sledding, ice skating or skiing.

  • Make a family project to go shovel snow at an elderly neighbor's house

  • Light a fire in the fireplace and tell spooky stories.

  • Make a treasure hunt in your yard, bundle the kids up and have them go hunt for goodies.

  • If you still have company when the libraries re-open, take the kids to the library for Story Hour. Your local big chain bookstore may have some events, too.

  • Send a few people to the grocery store, and have a big group cooking activity when they get back with their purchases.

  • Try group-activity games such as karaoke and Wii games.

  • Get out someone's camcorder and make a funny family movie to send to other relatives later.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Almost Christmas


Reindeer Sleigh Centerpiece, at Pier 1

Are you ready for Christmas (assuming you celebrate it?)

If you're traveling, are you packed? Family members packed? Do you have emergency snacks with you? Games and books for the kids?

If you're hosting, is your house clean and ready to go? Baking done? Groceries shopped for? Done wrapping presents?

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • If you're staying home for the holidays, check with area friends and family to be sure they have somewhere to go on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Invite them over if they don't. Do this in a happy, cheerful fun manner, not in a "I'm sorry for you" way.

  • Mail out any remaining holiday cards you might have left.

  • Need to bring in extra firewood from outdoors?

  • Sort out and organize your hot beverage supplies so you're ready to make hot coffee in the mornings, hot chocolate in the evenings, and hot tea in the afternoons.

  • Go to the bank or post office if needed, before they close for the holiday

  • Need to hit the grocery store so you aren't running down there frantically for something on Christmas Eve?

  • Any laundry that needs doing?

  • Check out the weather forecast before traveling or just so you know what to expect.

  • Set a holiday book or two on your coffee table as conversation pieces.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Christmas Preparations


Gingerbread Man Soaps, at Pier 1

Without getting stressed about it, do whatever things you need to get done before the holiday. Pack luggage if needed, wrap remaining presents, bake foods for family members, water Christmas tree if needed. Fill stockings for the children if you haven't already.

Whisk through your house tidying it for the holiday. With extra family coming and going, my house definitely is getting dirty much faster than normal. I have extra trash to empty, bathrooms that need twice daily cleaning, and every carpeted room needs vacuuming. I need to sweep my entryway (Christmas tree needles, leaves and dirt) and mop it (muddy boots and puppy paws).

Remove clutter and things like newspapers, magazines, drinking glasses, plates and utensils from rooms of the house where they've wandered. Remove items from stairs and put them in their proper homes. Hang up coats, launder and put away mittens and gloves if needed. Straighten pillows and fold throw blankets, wipe off TV remotes and replace them where they belong. I don't know about you, but we have a huge pile of DVDs that need to be replaced in their cases and put back alphabetized in their bookshelf.

Assign someone in your family to shovel your walks and driveway if needed. This is good exercise, too! Rounds of hot chocolate for all when they are done!

LOVELY BLOGS: Tea & Cookies


A Seattle blog I've enjoyed reading this week. Check out her recipe for Swedish Pepparkakor cookies, live vicariously through her as she enjoys Seattle's Christmas ships, read about her thoughts on cultivating wonder, and learn about the reverb project

http://teaandcookies.blogspot.com/

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

Real Evidence for Diets That Are Just Imaginary (NY Times)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Holiday Homemaking Checklist


Are you ready for the holidays? Is your home cozy, inviting, safe, festive, clean and organized?

OUTSIDE AND FRONT PORCH:


Amaryllis and Pine Wreath, at Pier 1

  • Is your porch free from clutter?

  • Are there festive decorations outside?

  • Do you have a wreath on your front door, and a holiday doormat?

  • Has your walk been shoveled if you live in an area with snow?

  • Has your porch been swept?

ENTRYWAY:


Holly Kissing Ball, at Williams-Sonoma

  • Did you sweep inside the entryway of your home?

  • Is mail stored away, rather than dumped on an entry table?

  • Coats hung up, boots or shoes lined up by the door or put away?

  • Room in the coat closet for guests' things?

  • What do you smell when you've been outside and return into your home? Is the smell pleasant, and does it evoke the holiday spirit? If not, what can you light (candles, incense, home fragrance oil) or spray or put on the stove to give your home a wonderful scent?

KITCHEN:


Le Creuset Teakettle, at Williams-Sonoma

  • Refrigerator and freezer clean and organized? Room to store leftovers? If you put pictures on your fridge, do you have any up of your guests' children? Perhaps you might want to quickly put up any holiday photo cards you recently received?

  • Counters clear and shining? Room for you and for guests to work?

  • Sink shiny clean too?

  • Clean towels hanging neatly at hand (preferably holiday themed towels)? Potholders ready?

  • Dishwasher empty?

  • Holiday bakeware and serveware accessible and ready for use?

  • Floor mopped?

  • Pet food dishes cleaned and the area around the bowls tidy?

  • Waste basket emptied?

  • Cookie jar (if any) full of fresh holiday cookies for guests to help themselves to?

DINING ROOM/BREAKFAST NOOK:

  • Table set with a clean tablecloth, candles, a holiday centerpiece, festive dishes and napkins?

  • Floor swept or mopped as needed?

  • Clutter removed from room?

  • Pictures or paintings dusted?

  • Curtains clean?

  • Curio cabinet, hutch or buffet dusted?

LIVING AND FAMILY ROOMS:

  • Room vacuumed?

  • Couches straight, vacuumed or brushed, pillows straight?

  • Throws folded?

  • Coffee table dusted, set with something festive?

  • Kleenex nearby?

  • Remote controls at hand and cleaned off?

  • TV, media cabinet and electronics dusted?

  • Spare DVDs or video games put away?

GUEST ROOM:

  • Clean linens on bed? Bed made? Does it look inviting?

  • Basket of treats by the bed, and fresh drinking water (and cup) nearby?

  • Room sprayed with something nice smelling so it isn't musty?

  • Clutter moved or put away?

  • Empty wastebasket nearby? Kleenex at the ready?

  • Intriguing book or two by nightstand?

  • Extra blanket at the foot of the bed?

KIDS' ROOMS:

  • Clean and picked up?

  • Rooms vacuumed?

  • Beds made?

  • Closets closed?

DEN/OFFICE/STUDY:

  • Floor mopped, swept or vacuumed as needed?

  • Clutter put away?

  • Computer locked down if you want to keep people off it, or ready to go if you want to allow people to use it?

  • Financial documents, notes and Post-Its put away out of sight of snoopy people? Password notes hidden away?

MASTER BEDROOM:

  • Ready to act as a haven for you to escape to and relax in?

  • Bed made with clean sheets?

  • Wastebasket emptied?

  • Closet sorted so you can find what you're wearing on Christmas Eve and Christmas?

OVERALL:

How does your house smell? Does it look and smell inviting? Does it feel cozy? Notice any drafts you should do something about? How is the temperature in your home - will it be too warm once a bunch of people arrive?

Is your hostess (you!) relaxed and eager to receive company cheerfully?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Counting Down to Christmas


Spode Christmas Tree Dishes, at Macy's

Seven days until Christmas!

Don't forget to make a little time every day for yourself. Insist on giving yourself some "down time." Even if it's just ten minutes, you can put your feet up, relax, and do something just for you for a few moments. Read a magazine, sip hot chocolate, write in your journal, meditate, or call a friend. Prioritize this, even if it means not getting something else done. Remember the old saying, "A happy wife means a happy life."

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • Need to shovel any walks? Or better yet, force a husband, boyfriend or teenager to do it?

  • Fluff up your bedroom. Take just a few minutes to make the bed, whisk away magazines and books, dust the nightstand and lamp, replace fresh water into your bedside glass, carry out unneeded dishes to the kitchen, throw away old flowers, put away pens and notepads. Pick up clothing, hang it up or put it in your laundry basket.

  • Read a holiday-themed book with your children tonight, in addition to their normal bedtime reading.

  • If you celebrate Christmas, treat yourself to some Christmas-themed web surfing. Read up on the Christmas customs of other countries, revisit old Christmas stories, enjoy looking through Christmas recipes and crafts, and maybe peek at some Christmas webcams.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Getting Ready for New Clutter


My dream Christmas Havilland china, which I can't afford and don't have room for anyway.

Got kids? Clean out your kids' closets and toy boxes (preferably with their help) to make room for Christmas presents. Donate clothes and toys that are still in good condition; throw away the rest of the outgrown toys and clothes that aren't nice enough to give away.

I don't have kids at home anymore, but I will be cleaning out my guest bedroom closet. I did this back in autumn when getting ready for visitors, but I cluttered it back up again with some photography equipment and a couple boxes of books.

I'll also be sorting out my Christmas gift wrapping table, which is a disaster zone right now. There are many scraps of paper too small to use to wrap gifts, snips from ribbons, too many rolls of tape, and various fake flowers and beaded berries to put away where they belong.

LOVELY BLOGS: Green Apples


I can't sew, so I don't often peek at seamstress blogs. But I really enjoy seeing what this ambitious seamstress is wearing lately and what projects she's working on. I remember my mom carefully buying just one or two Vogue patterns a season, laying them out on the dining room table in order, carefully pinning them and cutting the fabric judiciously. Here's another person who can turn fabric and pattern into a beautiful creation to adorn herself with - fantastic! I also enjoy seeing how she alters or dresses up interesting clothing she's found at thrift stores.

Green Apples

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mid-December


Tree Candle, at Crate and Barrel

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • Phone a relative you haven't talked to in a while.

  • Take stock of your perishables - lettuce, bread, eggs, milk, butter, orange juice, etc. During wintertime we can often be taken by surprise by storms. Do you have enough of these items you won't have to worry if you can't get to a grocery store for a week?

  • Take ten minutes to yourself, regardless of children, pets, or significant others wanting your time. Demand the time you deserve. Hide in your bathroom, bedroom, or even a closet if need be. Do something you enjoy. Paint your nails, read half a magazine, glance through a catalog, listen to music, or just sit resting with your eyes closed. This will help with the pre-holiday sanity maintenance.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Potential Projects

Do any of these project ideas sound like a good fit for you and your family tonight?

  • Bake cookies, pies and other baked goods. Sort out your cupboard and inventory your cookie sprinkles, frostings, cutters, tips, and other decorating supplies. Don't buy anything for this project, because you probably already have enough.

  • Sort out your game closet or box of household games. Discard old games you can honestly admit you'll never play; schedule an after-Christmas shopping trip to replace that dogeared old set of Old Maid cards. You'll need games for upcoming holiday visits and long winter evenings, so get your games in good shape. For each game you're keeping, organize it, examine pieces for damage, throw out old used scorecards or papers, count and make sure you have all the needed pieces to play it. You can find extra games for cheap on Ebay to salvage for parts. Discard the unused parts so you don't end up with clutter.

  • Majorly clean a room, top to bottom.

  • Majorly clean your kitchen, if it needs it.

  • Thoroughly clean refrigerator in preparation for holiday events.

  • Drive (or bundle up and walk) around your city looking at holiday lights. My family likes to pack big thermoses of coffee and hot cocoa, pile blankets into someone's minivan and all pile in. We go to some of the ritzier neighborhoods, thinking they have more money to buy nicer lights, and maybe they hire professionals to decorate for them. I've found this is a great time to spend talking to teenagers, as long as they don't sit out the whole ride with Ipod buds in their ears.

LOVELY BLOGS: Diary of a Mad Hausfrau


"From Big Time Glamorous TV Career to Small Time Village Life in Germany." This blogger, Lora, shares her life in a small German town. I particularly enjoy reading it this time of year as she's showing her Christmas poinsettia cupcakes, Star of David latkes, and her Electric snowflake cookies. I'm so busy going through her back archive of posts, I hardly have time to wonder what fabulous post she's going to make next!

http://www.diaryofamadhausfrau.com/

LOVELY KITCHEN:


This is really childish, but I want to tell you how much fun I've been having with my inexpensive new cotton candy maker. (I picked it up for $39 at Bed, Bath & Beyond).

We played with it at my last dinner party. You just throw in a couple Lifesavers or other hard candies, then spin your plastic spindle around the bowl to catch the sugar threads. It was fun experimenting with different flavor combinations (I can't recommend Wild Cherry mixed with Butterscotch!) I just regret that it is a large machine and takes up so much room in my kitchen storage cupboard.

Cotton Candy Maker, at Nostalgia Electrics

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

Christmas Berry Trifle (Honey and Soy Food Adventures)

Christmas Markets, Faux Fur and Berries (Berlin Hair Baby)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Holiday Beauty


Fresh "Prime & Glow," at Sephora

Today I'm doing some beauty related chores so I will look my best for the holidays. I have a couple parties to look forward to on the weekend, and I want to look fabulous. And I'm going out for cocktails and movies two nights this week, so I might as well look cute for that too!

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • Do a quick pick-up of whichever room in your home needs it the most. Remove clutter, do a quick sweep, mop or vacuum, dust quickly, and generally turn the room back the way you prefer it to look.

  • Any mid-week laundry to do?

  • Have you taken your vitamins this week? Keeping hydrated so your skin looks its best?

  • Were you able to carve out (and enforce) a quiet evening at home this week? It works wonders for preserving sanity during the holidays.

  • Do you have an "emergency contacts" phone number list posted on paper in your house? For babysitters or your kids to use in case they need to get ahold of relatives? Time to update the list and make sure the info is current. Do you have your contacts' cell, work and home phones all listed?

TODAY'S PROJECT: Holiday Beauty


MAC "Sassy 5 Pink Lassies" Lipglass, at Dillard's

What would make you feel you look extra special for the holidays? I need to retouch my roots with my current hair dye, give myself a manicure and pedicure (to save $50 and 2 hours, though the pampering would be nice), clean up my eyebrow area (but not too much plucking), and give myself a thorough sugar scrub in the shower tonight. I should wear moisturizing lotion socks to bed tonight, too.

Do you need to shave, moisturize, scrub your skin, make an appointment for a haircut, dye your hair or make a professional appointment, give your hair a hot oil treatment, apply lotion or moisturizer, wear a face mask, go to bed with lotion in your socks, or work on any problem areas like heels and elbows?


Escada "Taj Sunset," at Sephora

Any favorite perfumes you like to wear this time of year? Have you gotten them out and made them available for daily use? Need to throw out any messy, cruddy lipsticks, mascaras or lipglosses? Have any glittery eyeshadow or lotion that will make you feel extra festive?

LOVELY BLOGS:


These two lovely, stylish ladies like to mix up a fabulous cocktail, then get dressed up and photograph themselves imbibing it. They're a bit silly and goofy - I like that about them! Plus, the drinks look delicious.

http://www.fashionablybombed.com/

LOVELY ENTERTAINING: Fantasia Flatware


I so covet these colorful flatware utensils! They make me think of summer, and fantasize about the outdoor parties I'll throw next year.

Fantasia Flatware, at Gracious Home

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

Chocolate Kahlua Truffles (Worth the Whisk)

Poinsettia Cupcakes (Mom's Mish Mash)

Monday, December 13, 2010

I Admit I Freaked Out About Christmas a Bit


My living room, halfway through my gift wrapping marathon, destroyed and totally disorganized.

Last night I broke down and cried over Christmas stress. I'd vowed to not let myself get stressed about the holidays. I usually am really good about that.

But this year, my kids happened to be coming home on short notice, two weeks early. They're in college and live far away, and will be spending Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with some other of our family members.

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you probably know that "my kids" are a set of cousins I've informally adopted. They came from a really bad home situation, and lived here for years before leaving for college. Since their past family Christmases weren't all that joyful or happy, I end up putting pressure on myself to make our Christmases really special. But the kids don't ask me to do this.

I panicked last night since I'd bought their gifts but not wrapped anything. I'd cleaned and decorated the house, but needed to put the finishing touches on the little Christmas tree I have set up on our dining table. (It's up where my puppies can't reach it. Maybe next year the puppies will be mature dogs and won't be tempted to chew ornaments, so we can have a real big tree again).

My living room was covered in wrapping paper, tape, bows, supplies, tags, pens, and gifts. There wasn't really any better way to do it - I needed all those items nearby at hand.

At midnight I started crying because I knew I had carpet cleaners coming at 11am, and still a lot of wrapping ahead of me. Not only would I have to clean up my gift wrap mess, but I'd also need to move most of the furniture out of the room. I was sick and not feeling well, too.

Finally I just had to yell at myself to stop crying and get back to work. I was only prolonging my stress. After snapping the above picture, I got back to wrapping. I put on a fun Christmas movie, wrapped quickly, cleaned up my mess as I went, and prioritized tasks. Gifts I didn't need to mail out for a couple more days went into storage in another room to get them out of my way. The prioritization and letting some things go is what finally made me stop stressing out.


Finally I could go to sleep in my restful bed. The little tree was up, and the table full of gaily wrapped presents for the kids.



This morning after getting up a bit early to move furniture, I took the dogs to the dog park while we waited for our carpets to dry.

The park has flooded badly from the heavy rains we had all weekend. They loved splashing about in the "swamp." It was easy enough to dry them off when we got back to the car, launder the blanket they rode home on, and wash my sneakers and the clothes I'd worn to the park. Worth it to see their happy doggie faces as they played, and their peaceful hours-long nap after we got home.

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

Holiday Stress: 12 Ways to Beat It (Huffington Post)

How to Overcome the Overwhelm of the Holiday Season (All Things Frugal)

Sanity Saving Tips for a Lovely Christmas (This Lovely Place)

25 Secret Weapons to Lower Holiday Stress (Shine)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sunday in December


Christmas Tree Smores, at Dean & Deluca

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • Pay any mid-month bills, if needed

  • Plan menus for the week and create grocery shopping list

  • Make a special breakfast for your family today

  • Need to replace any burned out light bulbs?

  • Christmas Eve is 12 days away.

TODAY'S PROJECT: All Over Tidying

Though I've tried really hard to maintain the house in a clean condition and do projects every day to keep it that way, it needs some extra tidying help right now.
I've been working extra hard at my business due to the holidays, and wrapping gifts to mail out really took away from my homemaking time.

There are muddy puppy paw prints in my front entryway that I should mop. The hallway leading to the bedroom needs to be vacuumed due to cat hair, and there are Christmas presents and wrapping supplies in the downstairs living room. The gifts should be put away under the tree and the paper should be put into the gift wrap storage box.

In the kitchen, I need to wipe down the stove top, clean the microwave, empty the dishwasher, scrub the sink, take out the recycling, and mop the floors.

I'm caught up with my laundry, but the laundry room itself needs to have the floor mopped, trash emptied, window washed, and dust rags folded and put away.

What little projects do you need to complete today to whip your house into shape for the holidays?

LOVELY BLOGS: Cake Duchess


A beautifully photographed cooking blog. Recent posts include chocolate mint thumbprints, an Italian Christmas cocktail, and Belgian speculoos cookies. I love the foreign baked goods in these posts - so different from the other food blogs I read regularly.

http://www.cakeduchess.com/

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

The Candy Cane Lane Martini (Glam.com)

Dolcelatte-Stuffed Fig Canapes (Daily Mail)

Eggnog Bread (The Family Kitchen)

The Eggnog Resisters' League (NY Times)

Familiar Eggnog Made New (NY Times)

Forget the Eggnog: Load Up on Healthy Green Tea (Dartmouth Community Herald)

Tamales for the Holidays (CHOW)

12 Days of Christmas Cocktails: The Snow Day (Suburban Bliss)

Ultimate Christmas Pudding (Daily Mail)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Relaxing Evening


It fills me with joy to come home to a house all lit up with Christmas lights!

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • If you've been using your fireplace, need to clean it out so you can lay a fresh nice fire tonight?

  • Have you been burning candles? Need to trim any wicks, clean out any gunky wax, or set out fresh candles tonight?

  • Fridge and freezer maintenance - Clean out one shelf, one drawer, or two door shelves from both your fridge and freezer. Doing this faithfully every weekend means your fridge is completely sorted out every month. Or you can industriously clean it all out at once and get it over with!

  • Get out "the good dishes." Even if you aren't making a fancy meal tonight, use your fanciest dishes for your dinner. It might take a bit of extra work (you might have to hand wash them) but it will make tonight's meal magical.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Holiday Celebration


Peppermint Marshmallow Pops, at Crate & Barrel

No matter what holiday you celebrate, spend time with family, friends, pets, and yourself tonight. Relax and enjoy and let the housekeeping sort of take care of itself. You might do a quick vacuum, pick up wrapping paper, or wipe down the kitchen counters, but don't kill yourself cleaning. You'll miss out on spending holiday time with the family. Play games, read books, watch a movie together, or bake up a big fun mess in the kitchen.

Our lives can't be 100% housekeeping 100% of the time. Our homes shouldn't look like magazine pictures, because then they won't look warm, cozy, lived in and enjoyed.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Sparkling Holidays


Puccini Glassware, at Z Gallerie

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • Do you have a pileup of plastic bags in the kitchen that need to go be recycled?

  • If you have a Christmas tree up, check to see if it needs water, and vacuum around it really quickly if needed. We've been tracking needles onto my entryway, so I need to sweep that too.

  • Plan your weekend. Make appointments, plan to get together with family, get dinner reservations, purchase movie tickets, plan menus, etc.

  • Tidy up really quickly. Wipe down kitchen sink and counters, declutter dining table, vacuum living room, remove clutter, refold throws, fluff pillows, bring escaped dishes back into the kitchen and put in dishwasher.

  • Quickly check over your emergency power outage supplies. Do you have a working flashlight with working batteries in every major room of your home? (Firefighters recommend you don't light your houses with candles during power outages but.. Do you have candles and matches nearby too just in case?) If you have a fireplace, do you have an easy starter log, dry firewood, kindling and matches accessible?

  • Does your home smell nice today? Mine doesn't - thanks, puppies! Fix any sources of bad smells (kitchen trash needs to go out?) and treat yourself to seasonal aromatherapy. Burn incense, put fragrant oils in your tealight infuser, light a candle in the room you're in, boil cinnamon and oranges on your stove, or spray a home fragrance spray. Winter scents include pine, oranges, cloves, cinnamon, eggnog, peppermint, cranberry, berry, rosemary and frankincense. Set your bread machine, if you have one, to bake bread overnight so you are woken to the smell of fresh bread.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Glassware


Puccini "Cinnamon" Glassware, at Z Gallerie

Choose two shelves of glassware (Goblets, crystal, wine glasses, anything you might use to entertain with) that look dusty. This might mean a curio cabinet or your kitchen cupboards. Or maybe you are already super clean and prepared and you don't have any dishes that need sparkling up a bit!

I particularly have to embark upon this project because I have an entire shelf of dusty Pier 1 holiday goblets I'm going to need in upcoming weeks. My basic everyday wine glasses get used and washed frequently and so aren't dusty, but our fancier "company" glasses are not in ready-to-go shape. The shelves they sit on are horribly dusty, too.

Remove the glassware and hand wash it; dry the glassware; wipe and dry the shelves. Replace the goblets in an orderly or attractive fashion, putting the glasses you expect to use the least often towards the back of the shelf. Take a quick visual inventory - do you have any sets that need another goblet or two added? Did you break any glasses in the last year that need to be replaced? Is there anything with chips in it that needs to be thrown away and replaced? Add any Must-haves and I-Wants to your shopping list to look over next time you're in your favorite home or kitchen store.


Welch's Sparkling White Grape in "Snowman" Bottle

Treat yourself when you're done by putting a special drink (whether it be soda, wine, a cocktail or a sparkling cider) into one of your most gorgeous glasses, and sip it slowly while relaxing in your comfiest chair.

LOVELY SHOPS: Tokyo Textiles


This UK-based shop imports adorable fabrics from Japan to resell to stylish seamstresses and craftsters. They do ship to the US - I was sort of hoping they didn't, so I wouldn't blow my pocket money all here on this site. My favorite prints are the Alice in Wonderland and Mermaids.

http://tokyotextiles.com/

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Keeping Warm and Cozy


On rainy winter nights, I prefer not to go anywhere. Instead I light a cozy fire in my fireplace, read books or magazines and watch TV snug in my warm slippers.

Though it's unusually warm (in the 50's) during the daytime here, I'm treating myself to my gas fireplace for an hour or two every evening when I get home. It costs around 50 cents an hour, so I'm spending $30 or more a month on this luxury. I'll find something else to cut out (Starbucks, desserts, new magazines) to save that $30 so I can be cozy while watching movies, folding laundry, and reading magazines.

Tonight is my planned weekly "stay at home and stay calm and relax" night. I very firmly enforce this and I said no to a dinner invitation that would have been fun to accept. Tonight, there's no rushing around to holiday parties, no rushing from store to store, no housework, no stressful things allowed. I plan to make a simple bread, pasta and salad dinner, and light a wood fire.

Are you enjoying your wood-burning fireplace if you have one? Is it clean and ready to be used should the mood (or cold) strike? Have plenty of firewood and fire starting supplies on hand? If you use "Bed Buddies" or some other heatable, microwavable warmers, are they nearby where you can find them? Covers clean?

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • Clean fireplace if needed

  • Need to sweep, mop or vacuum your front entryway, or back mudroom?

  • Need to launder any throw blankets you cuddle up with on the couch? Mine gets lots of cat fur on it, so tonight it's being tossed in with a load of white towels I'm washing already.

  • Wrap up any last gifts.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Sock Drawer and Glove Basket


Merona Scarf and Gloves set, at Target

I'm sorting my sock drawer this afternoon. I do this once a year in winter, about the only time I wear socks. I am mercilessly getting rid of socks with bad elastic or holes, socks that are itchy or too tight or too ugly, and of course socks that I absolutely cannot find a match for.

I will only keep socks that I know I will actually wear. I'll see if I need to pick up a new pair or two. I know I would like more pairs of a particular style of uber soft house socks (the kind with tiny rubber pads on the bottom so you don't slide around on your wood floors). I have a pair in black and one in red, but I'd like to be able to wear them every day and launder in between. I think I'll pick up two or three more pairs. Maybe hot pink!

I'll throw away unwanted socks away instead of donating them to charity - if they're not good enough for me to wear, they certainly aren't a nice donation for an unfortunate person.

I mustn't forget to go through my leggings and warm tights too.

When I'm done, I will have a lot less in my sock drawer, and everything will be arranged nicely so I can get dressed and out of the house even faster in the mornings.

Next I'll tackle our glove basket we keep by the front door. It also contains warm hats and scarves we can wear outdoors. I will throw out anything that doesn't have a matching set, and I can restock easily with Target's under-$5 soft gloves.

LOVELY BLOGS: The English Kitchen


"Debunking the myths of English cookery one recipe at a time."

I thoroughly enjoy peeping in here to see what Marie has been cooking up lately. Check out her cranberry pecan loaves, the difference between North American and British cooking measurements, her delightful post on sugarplums (I finally know what they are now!) and her tutorial on Almond Florentine.

http://theenglishkitchen.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Making the Holidays Magical


I wish I were a better photographer - here's my house lit up on a very rainy night. I love driving along the long straight dark road, then turning the corner into my cul-de-sac and seeing so many jewel-like lights lighting up my waiting cozy house.

What can you do to make the holidays more magical for your family, your friends, and yourself? Whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, Yule, Winter Solstice; or if you're an atheist who just likes the snow, festive atmosphere and pretty lights - what can you personally do to foster a warm holiday spirit? What things make the holidays really exciting for your children, your spouse/significant other, your parents, your sister, or your best friend?

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • Eat some fruit. It's easy to forget to slice and enjoy fruit, especially in this busy time of year.

  • Eat up some leftovers, if you have any. I need my fridge to be more empty by the weekend, so that I have room for party food. Plus I want to save money by using up perfectly good leftovers instead of running to the grocery store one more time this week.

  • On the topic of leftovers, take a quick peek in your freezer. Is there something in there that you've had for a while and haven't used, probably because it takes more time to prepare than you think you can spend? Make a plan to use and enjoy that food this weekend - or give up on it and get rid of it. I have a nice bag of Trader Joe's succotash that would be great in a stir fry. I have fresh tofu in the house, so I should make a nice quick meal of that tonight. Healthy, and it will gain me a bit of space in my freezer.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Holiday Magic


A bowl of ornaments and a lit candle greet visitors to my home, here on my entry table.

Think of something you can do today, and this weekend to make the next two weeks magical and beautiful for yourself and for your family and friends.

You don't need to spend money to accomplish this, but you do need to spend time thinking, preparing, and doing.

Today, you might read one extra bedtime story (something with a holiday theme?); let little ones stay up just a wee bit longer if they are doing something with you (rather than camped in front of the TV or videogames by themselves).

Play a board game after dinner instead of rushing to do the dishes; listen to holiday songs on the stereo during dinner or cleanup time; light a fire in the fireplace; open a bottle of something festive (champagne? sparkling grape juice?) to make dinner more special. Serve dinner (however simple the meal is) on your festive china. Burn incense, holiday candles, or pine scented oil in your fragrance diffuser.

The upcoming weekend opens up all sorts of possibilities for surprising your family with small treats, extra attention and affection, time spent doing something fun with you, putting up an extra set of lights or two, burning a couple extra candles, serving a special (but not over the top) meal, playing karaoke or Wii Fit with your kids, bringing home a festive houseplant for the dining table, making a holiday breakfast with Santa-shaped pancakes, inviting just a couple friends over for a holiday movie night; babysitting your best friend's kids for 3 hours for free so she can get some Christmas shopping done; and baking festive holiday cookies.

You can add some magic to the holidays without stressing yourself out. Just be relaxed about it. Give of yourself and your time. Let things go if they aren't important.

What are the important things about the holidays? Spending time with family, children, friends; a warm inviting home; special meals; delicious beverages both hot and cold; candlelight and Christmas lights; cookies and desserts; a few days off from work perhaps; cards and phone calls from far away friends and relatives; photographs sent to you of cute young kids; festive drawings kids make you for your fridge; beautifully decorated homes; board games played til midnight; holiday music; festive parties; perhaps a snowy leisurely morning to sit back with a cup of steaming tea and a book you've been dying to read.

GIFTS:

Notice I didn't mention gifts in the above list? I love buying gifts, giving gifts, and wrapping gifts, especially for children. Gifts definitely can make a holiday magical. But they can also be the most stressful part of the holidays for so many people. The malls are crowded, you're not sure what to get someone, the other shoppers are grumpy, you're exhausted, you don't have as much money to spend as you like or you spent too much money and feel guilty; you worry someone won't like what you got; you worry your sister will give your child a more expensive toy than you can; your mom gave your adult sibling a better gift than you got; etc. etc.

I'm going to make my own personal holiday much more magical by not stressing about the gifts. I'll try to spend money carefully, give joyfully, wrap festively, and not worry about it too much.

I'd like to continue to strive to give gifts year-round when I see something that reminds me of someone, rather than just giving things I thought I should buy at Christmas. I'll try year-round to give gifts of myself and my time. Babysit for people; cook for them; offer a ride to the airport; offer petsitting when someone is out of town; write someone an unexpected cheery letter; take someone out and treat them to a movie just-because. That's what I'm going to TRY to do in 2011 and for the rest of my life.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Christmas Tree Decorating


Jewel Tone Ornaments, at Crate and Barrel

I didn't want to put up my tree quite this early, scared it would die or turn brown before Christmas. But my teenagers are coming home this weekend to celebrate Christmas two weeks early. We'll open gifts on Sunday night, so I have to be ready!


A few nights ago, I went to Molbak's, a famous nursery near me in Woodinville, Washington. I'd never been there at night before during the holidays. It was so gorgeous, it was quite overwhelming and I almost cried. I wandered happily for close to an hour. The poinsettia room alone stretches on for hundreds of yards. Rows and rows of hydrangeas in unusual colors (burgundy and hot pink) tempted me. More decorated Christmas trees than I could count filled the inside of the shop with colorful, sparkling eye candy.


Somehow I managed to control myself, only buying two tiny potted trees, a sprig of mistletoe to hang in my kitchen doorway, and a boxed set of engraved holiday cards from Crane. I've already sent one of them out, though it was almost a shame to despoil its beauty with my horrid handwriting.

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • Need to clean and sanitize pet bowls and pet bedding? Freshen water?

  • Wrap a couple presents tonight if you need to, and write out as many holiday cards as you can.

  • Are you taking care of yourself? Can you carve out 20 minutes for a hot bath, reading a magazine, going for a chilly walk by yourself, or playing a stupid childish Facebook game by yourself for 15 minutes?

TODAY'S PROJECT: Christmas Tree Decorating


Glitter Stripe Ball Ornaments, at Crate and Barrel

Last year was a sad year for our family, so I put up two Christmas trees to make our house extra festive - one upstairs by the window, and one downstairs in the family room. This year we haven't had any relatives die lately and we're in a much better mood, so it's back to just one tree for my household. I do have two tiny evergreen trees in pots on my dining table though!

Tonight I'll play one of my favorite holiday movies, "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town" in the room I'm working in. I'll have a fire going, plus popcorn and hot chocolate to sustain me. Well, maybe popcorn isn't a good idea - I'd get butter all over the ornaments!

There are five boxes of ornaments to paw through, selecting only my very favorites for this year's smaller tree. The ornaments I don't hang will go back into storage in my garage. I've been doing a pretty good job of not buying any more new ornaments the last couple years - we have more than enough! I bet my new puppies will break a couple this year though.

After my Christmas tree gets put up, I'll spend some time sweeping needles off my wood floor, mopping it, and then vacuuming the carpet near the tree. I'll also have to sweep needles off my front porch.

I don't have any homebaked cookies to nibble on after I'm done, but I can enjoy the last couple caramels in my box of Trader Joe's Sea Salt Caramels.

LOVELY BLOGS: Octoberfarm


This blogger doesn't seem to have an "About Me" page, so I'm assuming she's female, and I wish I knew a bit more about her. I had a delightful time looking through her blog tonight, enjoying her stunning Christmas tree, drooling over her cranberry Kringles recipe, and coveting her Advent house. Come see what other treasures you can find here to savor.

http://octoberfarm.blogspot.com/

LOVELY TRAVEL: The Enchanted Christmas House


I love this concept! While over here in America many businesses spring up to create haunted house attractions during October, over in London someone has created a fabulous Christmas-themed attraction for children. After paying the entrance fee, you bring your children in to wander and explore The Gingerbread Kitchen (where they can decorate gingerbread), visit Santa's Grotto, peek into the Elves Workshop, talk to Santa, get their faces painted, and eat some treats. It sounds so fun!! Have you seen anything like this lately in the US? I'd love to hear about it in the comments section.

http://www.enchantedhouse.net/

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

Christmas Decorating at the Lake (My Sweet Savannah)

Left Your Pet at Home? More Hotels Offer Them (Time)