Thursday, March 31, 2011

End of the Month and Spring Cleaning's Done!

It's the end of the month. Look back over your March, reflecting on how you did on your personal goals. Did you accomplish things you set out to do? Did you meet a happy balance between work, family, friends, kids, pets, and yourself? Ate healthily, treated yourself on occasion, exercised, stuck to your budget? Tried new things?

Don't beat yourself up over areas you haven't met your goals, just tell yourself you'll do better in April!


  • Use up, eat and enjoy any fruit in your fruit bowl. Around here nobody else other than me will eat fruit unless it's peeled and sliced for them. (Eyeroll).

  • Water houseplants as needed, and turn them around so the other half gets light this week.

  • If you're a member of a book club, are you caught up with the book for this month?

TODAY'S PROJECT: Spring Cleaning My Closet

This is actually not a weeknight task. I probably will be working on my closet tonight, tomorrow afternoon, and all Saturday before I leave for my birthday party.

I'm going to be forceful with myself and make myself try on some of the dresses I'm questionable about. Time to donate them to charity if I can't fit into them anymore. I've been the same dress size for 5 years now, so if I haven't worn something because it doesn't fit, it's time to give up and accept that.

I'm sorting dresses, shirts, pants and skirts, leaving shoes, purses and nightgowns for the weekend. I'm excited to see all the forgotten dresses I'm sure I will discover at the back of the closet. Just in time to wear some for Spring!

LOVELY BLOGS: Almost Bourdain

Ellie blogs from Sydney, Australia. I've enjoyed checking out her recent recipes for Tofu Salad with Red Shiso (though I would have to skip the bonito fish flakes as I'm a vegetarian), homemade Szechuan Chili Oil, and Dark Chocolate Souffle Tart. I know I'll keep checking in with this blog every few days to see more of her beautiful food photography!

LOVELY FASHION: Art Deco Evening Gowns

I adore Art Deco styling, and these lovely evening gowns are making me swoon. I've been fortunate enough to own a few Art Deco styled evening gowns in recent years, and I find myself turning to them again and again for fancy dinners out, the theater, and even dressy cocktail parties. It's difficult to find unusual dresses like these in the stores. I'm a bit concerned, looking through here, as their photography makes all the gowns look extremely seethrough. I'm hoping I wouldn't have to worry about finding a slip to wear under one of these, should I save up and purchase one. Hope they are lined like all the other evening gowns I've ever bought in stores. Anyway, enjoy browsing these gorgeous beaded gowns!

LOVELY FOOD: High Heel Chocolates

I've seen (and admired) chocolates shaped like high heeled shoes before, but these really got my attention with their gorgeous colorful and unique designs. There's a pink and black zebra design, a modern beige and brown artsy pattern, and and black-and-white polka dots with red bows and heels. Too decadent to splurge on for myself, but I'll file this away in my mental "Fantastic gifts" file.

Chocolate Pumps and Purses, at Sweet Bliss

LOVELY PETS: Martini Cat Condo

I've given up on buying cat condos, scratching posts and even pet beds for my cat, Tyler. He just doesn't use them, preferring instead to sleep in my nursery crib, in my bed, on top of a bookcase, and scratch couches. If I still bought cat furniture, I'd be sorely tempted by this whimsical martini-glass shaped condo! I love it when companies think up something so unusual and different from all the other products out there. Their other cat furniture is extremely cool too, offering castles, an alien spaceship, and the sinking Titanic.

Martini Condo, at Hollywood Kitty Co


A Concierge Tells All - On Twitter, of Course (Jaunted Travel Guide)

Egg Salad Pinwheels (Mennonite Girls Can Cook)

The Kate Middleton Look Book (NY Mag)

The Ravenous and Resourceful Sandra Lee (NY Mag)

Kites and Jumpropes: Signs of Spring (Old Fashioned Living)

UK Palace Staff Lifts Lid on Wedding Preparations (Reuters)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Spring Cleaning Kids Rooms

Kyotofu Easter Shortbread Cookies, at Dean & Deluca

Today I'm Spring Cleaning the nursery in my house. It won't take too long since I don't have an actual baby to mess it up, but I sure have a lot of toys to sort out!


  • Still the rainy and snowy season - check to be sure you have Kleenex packets in your car, purse, and coat pockets. Same goes for your family members.

  • Need to schedule a gutter cleaning appointment? Need to have moss scraped off your roof?

  • Need to do any mid-week mopping of floors, laundry, or vacuuming?

  • Have you pampered yourself in a bubbly hot bathtub lately? Taken the time to light candles, fix yourself lemon icewater, and set out a magazine with pretty pics to enjoy while you bathe?

TODAY'S PROJECT: Cleaning Kids' Rooms

Noah's Ark, by Lilliputiens, on Amazon

Today I'm thoroughly cleaning the nursery. I set it up when I began the long adoption process, and now it's used when my friends' kids or young family members visit. There's a crib, a chair (non-rocking unfortunately), and a changing table, as well as several toy baskets. I try to keep this room ready to go at all times but I sure struggle against the temptation to clutter it up or use it as a storage room and repository for other stuff!

Your kids should be cleaning their own rooms if they're old enough, but Spring Cleaning is a more advanced task that Mom needs to do a lot of. Have your kids pick up their rooms and leave their beds made on the day you are doing your Spring Cleaning. It should take just two hours per room if you and your kids keep their rooms maintained. This is easily something you can get done after dinner and before bedtime.

Here's my checklist:

  • Move furniture and vacuum room thoroughly. Sprinkle carpet freshener if needed.

  • Wash down walls

  • Wipe baseboards

  • Dust furniture and return it to its place.

  • Clean out closet

  • Dust light fixtures, check for damaged cords, replace any burned out light bulbs

  • Wipe wall switches and electric switch plates

  • Dust ceiling fan, if any

  • Strip beds and launder everything including mattress pads.

  • Test fire alarm and replace batteries

  • Flip mattresses.

  • Dust and declutter nightstands and bookshelves

  • Sort dresser drawers and dust the top.

  • Empty trash can - put trash can on list if there isn't one in the room

  • Wash windows

  • Launder any floor rugs as needed

  • Launder curtains

  • Put everything away and neaten the room back up.

If your child has helped you eagerly with their room cleaning, reward them with an extra story or longer book at bedtime tonight.

LOVELY BLOGS: Sweetapolita

Rosie's lovely baking blog features a lot of lovely cakes and other desserts. She runs a custom dessert catering company in Toronto, Ontario. Besides baking, she also is an enthusiast of photography - and it really shows up in her gorgeous food photographs. Her posts don't just offer a recipe and a photo - they really let you get to know her and the history of the particular recipe she's sharing. Check out her recent posts on Vanilla Bean Bundt Cake, sugar cookie pops, and the Whiteout Cake.


I am getting this for myself as one of my birthday presents! It will come in handy when I'm doing outdoor entertaining this summer. I might also use it to keep sushi fresh and nice on my table when I'm serving inside, too.

Condiments on Ice, at Sur la Table

LOVELY MOVIES: The Princess of Montpensier

I'm looking forward to seeing this costume drama, set in 16th century France. A beautiful young aristocrat finds herself married to a prince she doesn't love. As you can imagine, she is tempted by a handsome suitor. It's a very familiar theme, but I don't care as long as I can see castles and costumes!

The Princess of Montpensier, at Apple

LOVELY TV: Royally Mad

BBC America has jumped into the reality TV fray with their new show on five royal-family crazed Americans. They'll get to take a trip to London, visiting various royal tourist destinations, all the while competing to be crowned the biggest royal fan. I think it might be some good harmless amusing fun to watch. The two-part special premieres Tuesday, April 12th.

Royally Mad, on BBC America


Chocolate Covered Cheetos (Bon Appetit)

Grilled Beetse, Sweet Potato and Haloumi Kebabs (Citron et Vanille)

Hallway Design Ideas (UKTV Home)

Lost and Found: Afghan Treasures Reunite at the British Museum (Time)

Make Ahead Brunch Recipes (CHOW)

"Mildred Pierce" Review by Stephen King (Newsweek)

Pomegranate Citrus Spritzers (The Fresh Fridge)

Ruth Reichl to Head Up Gilt Groupe Spinoff, Gilt Taste (Bon Appetit)

Sowing the Seeds of Friendship (Victoria Magazine)

Spring Decor Ideas for the Bedroom (UKTV Home)

Think You Hate Beets? Think Again! (Fine Cooking)

12 Week Decluttering Plan (Woman's Day)

Why French Kids are Such Enthusiastic Eaters (Food Network Canada)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Last Week of March


  • Make menu plans for the week and create your grocery shopping list

  • Choose an evening or two to stay at home, an evening to invite friends or family over, and an evening or two to go out if possible. A balanced social life is a happy social life.

  • Go for a walk around your neighborhood looking for evidence of spring. Don't forget to take your camera with you!

  • Speaking of cameras, have you had professional Easter portraits taken of your children? Whether you take them to see the Easter Bunny at the mall, drop into a Wal-Mart photo booth or take them to a professional photographer, please consider making this a priority. It's a gift to your children's grandparents, yourself, and your children's future adult selves.

  • Speaking of Easter photos, do you have your children's Easter outfits purchased yet?

TODAY'S PROJECT: Spring Cleaning the Master Bedroom

Today I'm focusing on cleaning my bedroom, returning it to a haven of relaxation, rest, and coziness. I'm not just cleaning, I'm creating my nest, my safe space, my reading nook, my costume drama watching room, my space to give myself manicures and sugar scrubs and beauty treatments.

Want to peek at my to-do list?

  • Move all furniture (some with help from roommate), then vacuum under it.

  • Replace furniture, dusting each piece as I go.

  • Take down curtains and drop them off at dry cleaner. Remind self not to walk around naked in front of the bedroom windows tonight and tomorrow.

  • Wash windows, paying special attention to the window jams

  • Clean light fixtures, inspect for damaged cords.

  • Wipe down baseboards, light switches and electric outlets.

  • Dust television, sanitize phone.

  • Clean floor heat register with Brasso.

  • Wash walls.

  • Sort out nightstands, keeping only what's necessary and used often.

  • Sort bookshelf and the pile of books and stationery next to the bed.

  • Flip and rotate mattress.

  • Launder dust ruffle, mattress pad, duvet and cover, as well as sheets.

  • Inspect pillows for soil and comfort level. With new pillows as low as $15 at Costco, I'm throwing out old pillows every 3 years, and replacing the ones in my bedroom every 1 year. I'll convert my current pillows to guest room pillows and throw out my 3 year old guest room pillows.

  • Make a list of anything that needs to be repaired - mouldings, baseboards, walls, door, drawer handles, book shelves, etc. Put this on to-do list for the handyman.

  • Finish by spritzing the room with my favorite Candied Fruit home spray.

LOVELY BLOGS: The Pictorial Arts

Next time you have a half hour early in the morning to linger over your tea, or a bit of time after dinner, or a lazy Sunday afternoon, wander over to this lovely vintage illustrations blog. Thomas finds fascinating and beautiful old illustrations from children's books, comic books, and vintage prints. He also posts the occasional painting he finds interesting. There's so much to look at here, I know I'll be back often, reading his blog with a smile on my face.

LOVELY MOVIES: Born to Be Wild 3D

My nephews are eagerly anticipating this nature documentary. It follows orphaned elephants and orangutans, as well as the humans who care for them. I'm glad to see the boys so excited about a movie that's not animated and not about violence! We'll definitely go to the Pacific Science Center IMAX to see this!

Born to be Wild Trailer, at Apple

LOVELY OUTDOORS: New Outdoor Furniture by MacKenzie-Childs

I love looking at MacKenzie-Childs' whimsical furniture and home decor. It doesn't fit into my decorating scheme, so I've never bought any. I am still delighted, however, to see their new line of outdoor furniture at Neiman Marcus. Very refreshing to see something besides the usual canvas, hideous florals, stripes and Sunbrella on outdoor furniture. The collection is called "Flower Market." It would terrify me to actually put any of these pieces in my backyard where birds could fly over to poop on them, dogs could bite the legs and my cat could get his hair all over them. I'll have to just dream as I look at these beautiful pictures.

MacKenzie-Childs Outdoor Furniture, at Neiman Marcus

LOVELY SHOPS: Favor-Makers

It was the adorable striped carnival circus tent that first caught my eye. Then the cute teapot favor boxes made me stop what I was doing to spend a bit of time oohing and aahing over the lovely favor boxes here. I don't think favor boxes should be used only at weddings. I like to give them away full of chocolates at the end of a dinner party, and I use them at baby showers too. The favor boxes are sold via the Favormakers Etsy store.

You can also browse their Flickr stream to see their clever modern oven, retro oven gift boxes, and the penguin favor box. I haven't been this excited about an Etsy store in I don't how long!


I just discovered this fabulous magazine-style food website. They cover recipes, wine, beer, and travel. I am so impressed by the professionalism and interesting articles here, that I'm adding it to Lovely Living's sidebar right now! Current articles that may interest you include black olive focaccia, banana cinnamon pancakes, and a travel article on Restaurant Week in the Netherlands.


Cake Batter Pancakes with Cinnamon Apples (Authentic Suburban Gourmet)

Crispy Ravioli with Tomato Salsa (Donna Hay)

Homemade Limoncello (Sugarlaws)

New Wife, New Kitchen (ShelterPop)

Whole Wheat Zucchini Carrot Cake (Joy in My Kitchen)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Spring Cleaning: Garage, Basement or Attic

Today my Spring Cleaning project is to clean and organize my garage. It's half full of family keepsakes and kitchen/home decor storage, and half full of merchandise for my eBay business. My goal today is to touch every box, peeking in to see exactly what's in there, then sort, organize, sweep and clean.


  • If you didn't clean out your fridge yesterday during the kitchen project, do you need to clean out one drawer or one shelf today to keep on top of things?

  • Are there any relatives you need to call tonight? Sunday nights are usually good times for that sort of thing.

  • Pamper your hands after you're done with cleaning projects today. Use a sugar scrub, give yourself a manicure, freshen polish, and apply lotion as needed.

  • Know what meals you're sending with your kids in their lunchboxes this week?

  • Set out the clothing you'll wear to work tomorrow so you won't have to rush so much in the morning.

  • Laundry done for the weekend? Folded and put away?

  • Can you book some down time for yourself tonight, to relax, close your eyes, read a magazine, or watch a half hour comedy?


Watertight Totes, at The Container Store

I'm a packrat but not a hoarder - I can throw things away, but I cling to things with sentimental value. Dolls my mom made, bulky photo albums, two boxes of my old record collection, and the collectible dolls my mom and I gathered together are all things I am not able to get rid of.

I also store seasonal decorations, kitchen appliances, extra food, and some belongings of my teenagers in the garage. Today I will try to throw away, give away or recycle as much as possible, then organize the rest. I'll pay special attention to my merchandise - I need to take inventory and reorganize it so it takes up less space.

It's going to be a long day!

I challenge you to spend today cleaning your basement, attic, garage, or wherever you store your "stuff."

LOVELY BLOGS: Obsessively Stitching

This is a fun crafting and sewing blog with wonderful ideas for neat things to make for or with kids. Check out the cool tutorial on making plush Angry Birds. You also get to take a peek into her sewing room.

LOVELY ENTERTAINING: Gerber Daisy Napkin Rings

Gerber Daisy Napkin Rings, at Crate and Barrel

I'm not normally a fan of fake flowers. I wouldn't decorate with them, and I rarely use them to embellish gift wrapping. I also don't normally fuss around with napkin rings. But these are so colorful and pretty, I can't resist picking up a dozen in different colors. I'll use them this summer when I'm entertaining outside, with my colorful plates and crisp white napkins.

LOVELY THEATER: Disney's Aladdin

I'm so excited to take my two young nephews to see this in July! The world premiere of this new Disney musical will take place right here in my own hometown of Seattle. I have been eager to introduce the boys to musical theater, but they weren't too excited to see Mary Poppins, suspicious it was "for girls." Now that the boys are old enough to stay up past 8pm, we can make a full magical evening of it - going out to dinner first and dessert after the show!

Disney's Aladdin, at the Fifth Avenue


American Rustic (NY Times)

The Best Harbinger of Spring: Green Garlic (Epicurious)

Eat, Pray, Smear: Hindus Celebrating Phagwah in Queens (NY Times)

5 Ways to Survive a Long Car Ride With Your Guy (Glamour)

HBO's "Mildred Pierce" Is Too Classy for Its Own Good (Slate)

Homemade Tomatillo Salsa (Chef Tess Bakeresse)

Quesadillas (101 Cookbooks)

Sunday is Macaroon Day in France (Chic Provence)

31 Cute Spring Dresses Under $100 (Glamour)

Ultimate Passover Meal Planner (Epicurious)

Vivienne Westwood: Triumph of the Squiggle (Financial Times)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Spring Cleaning: Kitchen

Seasonal Striped Dishcloths, at Williams-Sonoma

Today I'm tackling the Spring Cleaning of my kitchen. I'll be thorough, but I won't stress about it or agonize. I can make today fun by watching a movie on my kitchen TV, playing fun music, drinking delicious iced tea, and switching to my favorite white wine later in the evening as I work.

Keep in mind that in our spring cleaning, we're not housekeeping. We're homemaking. And as the kitchen is the heart of the home, today's is the most important spring cleaning project of all!


  • While in the kitchen doing your spring cleaning project, take inventory of your cleaning supplies, dish soap, hand soap, and dish towels. What do you need to add to your shopping list?

  • Look around your kitchen. Do you see anything broken that needs to be repaired, broken that needs to be thrown out? Soiled, limp, ugly dishtowels that should be replaced with inexpensive colorful ones from Target or the like?

  • Are your family members sleeping on clean sheets tonight? Start a load of laundry and take a break later from the kitchen to throw things into the dryer.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Spring Cleaning the Kitchen

Colorful Cuisinart Appliances, at Sur la Table

You may remember that in the fall we worked on fall kitchen preparations and it took four days. That's because I did those days mostly on weeknights. This time I'll get it all done in one long Spring Cleaning day.

Want to peek at my to-do list?

  • Wash windows, inside and out

  • Take down curtains, launder them, and re-hang

  • Wipe down walls; dust baseboards

  • Mop floors thoroughly

  • Have roommate help me move the oven and refrigerator to sweep and mop behind and underneath them

  • Thoroughly clean appliances inside and out - refrigerator, oven, microwave, toaster oven, dishwasher, and rice cooker. If you keep up with weekly fridge and freezer maintenance, the fridge shouldn't be overwhelming.

  • Wipe and dust outsides of all cabinets

  • Remove dishes from all cabinets. Check for wear and tear, throw out any cracked or broken dishes you don't enjoy using, and try to de-clutter. Wipe down cupboards and replace dishes in an organized fashion.

  • Shine floor heat vents with Brasso; do the same with the four door handles on the kitchen's two doors

  • Dust the two wood doors in the kitchen

  • Vacuum cat hair off the four cushions in the breakfast nook

  • Dust wicker loveseat, chair and ottoman

  • Dust and clean the two barstools

  • Reorganize drawers, utensils and kitchen tools.

  • Wipe down counters and try to rehome as many items as possible so you have more counter space clear.

  • Declutter front of refrigerator, prioritizing just a few favorite photos and drawings, preferably recent ones.

  • Organize kitchen calendar, desk, whiteboard, telephone, phonebooks, emergency phone number list, and any other organizational and office tools you might keep here.

  • Clean and sort anything else you have located in the kitchen.

  • Finish by making yourself and any helpers a tasty snack, pouring a delicious beverage, and sitting down to relax with your favorite cooking magazine.

LOVELY BLOGS: A Cake Bakes in Brooklyn

This delightful blog's tagline is: "Join me on my delicious journey revisiting American home cooking in the era before convenience foods became popular (1919 to 1955), as I bake and cook from old cookbooks and recipe cards of home cooks purchased at estate sales in Akron, Ohio, and other exotic locations."

I so love this concept! The blog loads painfully slowly for me as the pictures are too big and the posts are picture-heavy, but overall it's well worth the wait. Pictures make a blog so much more interesting and appealing, anyway! I love the scanned-in recipe cards in the original owners' handwriting.

LOVELY FASHION: White House Black Market's Spring Dresses

At an average of $158 per dress, I probably won't be buying more than one of these this season. I have a nice $200 birthday check from my father and stepmother, so I think I might spend it on a new high quality spring dress. I prefer to wear dresses, and I go to a lot of dressy occasions (when I'm not working at home in my ratty pajamas). I want a dress that will last me a good couple springtimes, and I love the prints on these dresses. I won't just buy something to buy it though - the dress I choose will have to look fantastic on my body type, or I'll move on to try something else.

Spring Dresses, at White House Black Market

LOVELY FOOD: Easter Cookies

I love baking, but I have to admit that my sugar cookies don't turn out this gorgeous. I'm tempted to buy some of these to send to my far away niece and nephews for Easter. For the local nephews, we'll spend time together baking up our own cookies instead. They won't look nearly this nice, but we'll have fun trying!

Iced Easter Sugar Cookies, at Williams-Sonoma

LOVELY KITCHEN: Chantal Teakettles

About a year ago, I had to throw out an old, ugly teakettle that had sprung a leak. Since I paid maybe $25 for it many years ago, it wasn't worth repairing. I never got around to replacing it - since then, I've been boiling water for tea in the microwave, or using a pan on the stove. Simple, but inelegant when I'm having a dinner party. My kitchen spring cleaning today reminded me it's time to invest in a new, solid, beautiful teakettle. I'm thinking about one of these from Chantal. I just can't decide between the girly pink one, the cheerful spring yellow that doesn't really go with my kitchen, the traditional classic red kettle, or the shiny French-style copper kettle. Decisions, decisions!

LOVELY MOVIES: The Three Musketeers

I can't resist a costume flick, whether it's a drama, a comedy or a mixture of both. I wouldn't be surprised if many of you Lovely Living readers really, really like Orlando Bloom and possibly also drool over Matthew Macfadyen. I'm also glad to hear that Milla Jovovich is in this - I enjoy watching her. The film won't be released until October, unfortunately!

The 3 Musketeers Trailer, at Apple


Cute Dolls for Easter (Doll Shopaholic)

Easter Baskets for Food Lovers (Epicurious)

Easter Egg Hunt Ideas (Martha Stewart)

Food to Eat Over the Kitchen Sink (CHOW)

Masters of Disguise Among Meatless Burgers (NY Times)

Secrets of the Bean Pot (NY Times)

10 Clever Cleaning Tricks (Martha Stewart)

Why Spouses Make Dieting Difficult (Boston Globe)

Wild Rice Recipes (CHOW)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday in Springtime

Spring flowers grace my living room side table

Tonight I'm going to Family Night, eating pizza with cousins, watching a kids' movie, baking a cake with the kids, then watching a grownup movie if the kids fall asleep (Let's hope!) So my Spring Cleaning tonight will be nonexistent. There's always the weekend - Family Night comes first!


  • Gas up your car if needed, drop off mail and DVDs, stop at an ATM for cash

  • Take 60 seconds to grab a broom and sweep your kitchen, entryway, front porch and any other floors that need it.

  • Spruce up for the weekend - empty or fill dishwasher as needed, wipe down kitchen sink, empty trash cans, take out recycling, change pet litter, locate remotes and game controllers that have wandered away and replace them on your coffee table, etc.

  • Do your hands and nails look clean and pretty for the weekend? Remove polish, add polish, file and shine, or give yourself a manicure as needed.


I won't be doing any major housecleaning projects today. Instead, I'll tidy up a bit so when I come home from Family Night I won't stress out about the condition of the house. I know I have two big Spring Cleaning projects coming up this weekend!


Here's a really inspiring blog that shows you neat tricks to improve on or repurpose your IKEA furnishings and decor items. There are tutorials for making an IKEA fruit bowl lamp, creating a felt bed playhouse, creating a chalk table, and creating an ingenious highchair for twins. The posts are helpfully tagged not only with topic (dining, children, art, etc) but with the name of the IKEA product. I bet you'll look at any IKEA items around your house in a totally new way after viewing this cool blog!

LOVELY FASHION: Cloth Magpie Handbags

I just discovered this British handbag line. Not only do I love the vintage-styled shapes (canteen, day case and what they call Bobble Kiss) but the vintage retro fabrics are amazing. I can't decide which is my favorite fabric - Pink Flower Girl, Trumpington Blue, or Trumpington Yellow. I'll keep my eye out for when they have a US online retailer available to purchase one from!


"Always serve too much hot fudge sauce on hot fudge sundaes. It makes people overjoyed, and puts them in your debt." --Judith Olney


Chic Spring Fashion for Every Age (Elle)

How to Use Nutmeg in Dishes Like Mango Nut Bread (Seattle Times)

15 Places Kids Should See by Age 15 (CNN)

39 Fresh Asparagus Recipes (Martha Stewart)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How to Throw a Stress-Free Weeknight Small Dinner Party

This week I threw an easy, casual, stress-free weeknight dinner party on Wednesday night. I'm so glad I did it - it gave me a chance to see friends who are just as busy as I am doing other things on weekends.

I do have a bit of an advantage in that I work for myself, so I didn't have to rush home from a job ending at 5pm and commute for an hour THEN try to cook. But I still did have to work that day. I stopped work at 3pm to get ready for the 6pm party, and worked until 1am that night after guests left at 9 and after I cleaned the kitchen.

Want to peek at my checklist?

    Night before:

  • Grocery shop. I can't stress the importance of this. Don't shop on the day of the party unless you can QUICKLY run somewhere for fresh bread. Things like strawberries, flowers for the table, fruits and veggies can be bought a day or two in advance.

  • Vacuum entire house

  • Iron tablecloth, placemats and napkins as needed.

  • Set table. Stage it as much as possible (for example put an unopened jar of nuts inside the bowl you'll serve them in once open, etc).

  • Write dinner menus to set on plates, if needed

  • Set out spring candles and tend wicks so they're ready to light just before the party.

  • Ready firewood and a Duraflame in the fireplace so it's ready to light 15 minutes before guests walk in.

  • Burn a music CD with my party playlist (but don't agonize over what will go on it) and put it in the upstairs living room DVD player so it's ready to go.

  • Freshen guest bathroom - change out hand towels, quickly mop floor, wipe down mirror, sink and counter, check toilet paper supply


  • Finish filling dishwasher and run it after breakfast.

  • Sweep porch and entryway

  • Empty kitchen trash can

  • Set out what I'm wearing to the dinner party


  • Bake cake and set it out to cool

  • Tidy coffee table if roommate left it messy

  • Rinse salad lettuce and set out to dry

  • Empty dishwasher

    Japanese Cherry Blossom Home Spray, on Amazon


  • Peel potatoes and start them boiling

  • Spritz house with room spray

  • Prepare items for main courses and side dishes


  • Frost cake and decorate as needed

  • Check over dining table and place settings

  • Continue prep on main and side dishes


  • Wash and slice any fruits or veggies for salads.

  • Assemble salads; store in fridge until just beforehand

  • Heat oil and begin any deep frying as needed

  • Continue stirring, cooking or baking as needed

  • Set salad dressing on table

    5:45 pm:

  • Change into clean clothing for the party

  • Set out any juice or water pitchers on sideboard, side table or on table

  • Light candles and fireplace

  • Perform last minute cooking tasks (slicing avocados for salad, slicing apples, taking things out of fridge)


  • Greet guests cheerfully, offering drinks and appetizers

  • Finish last-minute tasks with stove and oven

    6:20 pm:

  • Serve dinner

  • Start coffee

    Later in the evening:

  • Serve dessert

  • Serve coffee and tea

Want to peek at my menu? I'm a vegetarian, as are my friends who attended this particular party.

Mashed potatoes; corn; peas; dinner rolls; 2 kinds of vegetarian protein; grape juice or milk for beverages; fruit salad; green salad; chocolate cake for dessert.

Tips on Keeping it Easy and Stress-Free:

  • Throw a party if you can have a fun attitude about it and look forward to it. If it seems like an obligation or a chore, don't do it. It will be more fun for your guests if it's fun for you, their hostess.

  • Invite only as many people as your dining table can seat comfortably. Don't add on a card table, or invite extra people you think won't show up. If your table can seat 10-12 people, take out a leaf. A weeknight dinner party should be six to eight adults and no more than five kids at the children's table in the next room (counting your own).

  • Plan your meal a week in advance. Bring the menu plans with you as well as your grocery list when you visit the store. Check out recipes ahead of time, and don't make any recipes you aren't familiar with. Casual weeknight dinners are best for good old standbys.

  • Keep it simple. Nobody will care if you are serving meatloaf and mashed potatoes, or lasagna, or soup and salad, or mac and cheese. They're coming to your dinner party to see you and spend time with you, not sample the latest trendiest gourmet molecular sous-vide cooking trends.

  • Plan your menu so you have leftovers to enjoy the next day, and so you can eat up unused groceries over the next few days. It's not a good idea to cram your refrigerator full of groceries you meant to serve at the party and then don't have time to cook the next couple workdays in a row.

  • Set the table the night before. Your family can breakfast on the living room couch in the morning just this once.

  • Keep your house in a ready-to-entertain state every day, so you don't have to kill yourself cleaning at the last minute. You don't need any special party decorations - just a clean tablecloth, fresh unscented flowers on the table, a cheerful houseplant in the kitchen, some fragrant room spray applied two hours before the party, nice music in the air, and a smile on the hostess's face.

Things your Spouse/Mate/Partner/Roommate Can Help With:

It helps sooo much to have a co-host. They don't have to help with the menu planning, major cooking or cleanup, but they might volunteer to be useful in the last 15 minutes right before the party. And if they are a gracious host, they can be invaluable in welcoming (and distracting) your guests so you can finish those last-five-minute tasks on the stove before dinner.

    15 minutes before:

  • Empty kitchen trash can and put in a new bag

  • Clear out any recyclables and take them outside or to their receptacles

  • Light a fire in the fireplace, turn on gas fireplace, and light candles as applicable

  • Shoo pets or put them in another room for the evening

  • Ensure there's room in the coat closet for coats, and by the front door for shoes

  • Turn on the background music you'll play during the party, and stroll into other rooms checking for volume

  • Peer into the guest bathroom, checking for cleanliness, toilet paper supplies, and clean hand towels

    5 minutes before:

  • Pop casually into kitchen to see if you can slice fruits or vegetables, put out the cheese plate, or put appetizers onto the table

  • Put ice bucket onto buffet or side table; fill each guest's water glass with a few ice cubes

    Beginning of party:

  • Greet guests warmly and enthusiastically, taking their coats and showing them where to leave their shoes

  • Allow guests to go into the kitchen to "help" or greet the hostess, but attempt to steer them back out of the kitchen into the living area

  • Make cocktails, offer wine or beer, or pour drinks for guests in the living room

  • Encourage guests to nibble on appetizers away from the kitchen

  • Offer tours of the home for guests who have not yet been to the house

  • After dinner, encourage guests to get up from the table and retire to the living room.

  • Quickly help hostess and any guest volunteers clear the table

  • Keep guests company so the hostess can serve dessert, or help her as needed

  • Enjoy yourself!


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spring Cleaning: Carpets

I'm not a big fan of "buying containers in order to get organized." It's probably better to sort, organize, recycle, throw out, and prioritize, rather than buy more items to hold your existing items. However, I'm not sure how much longer I can hold out before I buy these colorful Semikolon paper document storage boxes. I do have some keepsake letters I want to hold onto..


  • Do something today to bring spring into your home. Switch out your tablecloth or towels, get out your spring bedding or curtains, spritz a spring-scented room spray, or put out a vase of colorful fresh flowers.

  • Take two quick minutes to peek at your vitamins. Check the expiration dates, see if there are any vitamins you should add to your shopping list, throw out any expired vitamins, and make sure your vitamins are accessible so you'll remember to take them every day.

  • Check your family's supplies of deodorant, shaving cream, toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner. Do you need to add anything to your shopping list? Or do you need to throw out and recycle several containers that only have half an inch left and obviously nobody is going to use the last bit?

TODAY'S PROJECT: Carpet Cleaning

Today the carpet cleaners are coming to do my living room, family room, bedroom, office and hallway. With three large, muddy-footed dogs running around the house all winter, I've had to budget for more frequent carpet cleaning. We're now having it done every 3 months instead of every 6. That makes saving up for hardwood floors take a bit longer!

Though the carpet people will move light furniture for you, I prefer to just move everything myself, so an hour this morning was spent getting everything possible off the floor. Lamps are now standing in bathrooms, nightstands are piled on beds, stacks of stuff from my office have been relocated to other areas, and the coffee table is perched precariously on the kitchen counter. It's funny how one's household turns into utter chaos in the process of getting everything to look better.

My project tonight is getting everything back in place after the carpet dries. By my dinner party tomorrow night, the carpets will be clean and lovely again, furniture back where it goes, and my house will be restful and pleasant again.

Do you need to schedule a carpet cleaning appointment, or rent a carpet cleaner at your grocery store and do it yourself? Any spots on your carpet you need to work on with a carpet stain remover?

LOVELY BLOGS: Cook Without a Kitchen

I so love the concept behind this blog. Erica and her husband live in a tiny apartment in New York City - and it doesn't have a kitchen. She shares recipes and techniques for cooking and baking, utilizing her toaster oven frequently. Her writing is intriguing and excellent. There's an interesting story behind everything she cooks, and you'll love reading her entries. I also enjoyed her recommendations for places to eat and drink cocktails or coffee in New York - I'm taking notes for my next trip!

LOVELY FASHION: Kate Spade Rings

Look what my cousin got me as an early birthday present! Right now I'm loving the Kate Spade Year of Color rings so much. They're simple, colorful, and relatively inexpensive. My cousin very kindly gave me the red January ring also!

I don't care for yellow, so the March ring didn't tempt me. I can't wait to see what the color is for April!

LOVELY FOOD: Godiva Cupcakes

Godiva has jumped onto the cupcake craze wagon with this limited edition offering of cupcakes. I'm not sure if they're available in stores - I'd like to try one before I commit to ordering a half dozen online. They're topped with Godiva's signature chocolate logo. Might be fun for an Easter party or a spring birthday party!

Pink Vanilla Buttercream Cupcakes, at Godiva


How to Cook on a Boat: Tips From a Seafaring Pro (Epicurious)

Rainy Day Survival Guide (Good Housekeeping)

Seder Plates for Passover (Epicurious)

Spring Sweater Refashion Tutorial (Tater Tots and Jello)

Traveling Abroad for Business? Know the Greeting Customs (MSNBC Travel)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Happy First Day of Spring

Spring Umbrella, from Kate Spade

Last night was the vernal equinox, and today is the first day of Spring. I'm hoping it's another sunny day here in Seattle - it will encourage me to do my work faster in hopes of taking my dogs to their sunny dog park for a run!

Do something to celebrate Spring today. Go for a walk, wear a pink flowery dress, buy tulips or daffodils for your home, or nibble on an Easter treat.


  • Is it time to change your home heating system's filters? Mine is getting dirty, so I'm off to Home Depot after work today.

  • Time to connect your garden hoses back up?

  • Sweep front porch and entryway if needed. I worked so hard on my spring cleaning projects yesterday, I neglected normal household maintenance. I don't like stepping on grit or dirt when I'm walking barefoot on my wood floors!

  • See if you can work $3 or $4 into your budget this week for some bright daffodils to perk up your living room.

  • Go outside your house, standing as far out as the street curb. Look at your house carefully. Do you see any problems? Is your paint holding up well? No cracked windows, no burned out light bulbs? Any gardening issues you need to put on your to-do list? Weeds growing in cracks in the driveway? Moss that needs to be removed? Make a list of things to take care of so your home is beautiful from the front as well as inside.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Laundry Room Spring Cleaning

Caldrea Sandalwood Riceflower Laundry Detergent, on Amazon

Here's a room of my house that gets used every day. Boy does it ever! It's a combination laundry room, bathroom, dog food and toy storage, and cleaning supplies storage area. Our dogs' water bowls are stored in this room, and their constant running in and out to drink (and slop water) means the linoleum floor gets wet and dirty often. The washer and dryer are seemingly running all day long, and I'm not always good about putting my cleaning supplies back in an organized fashion after using them.

My project tonight is to thoroughly overhaul, clean and sort the laundry room and its cupboards after I get back from my book club. I expect the project to take just an hour.

I'll need to scrub the toilet and sink, mop the floor, dust the baseboards, tidy the candle storage cupboard, sort the dogs toys, empty a trash can, have my roommate move the washer and dryer to sweep behind them, and wipe down the walls. Next I'll sort and organize my laundry detergents and the toilet paper and paper towels I have stored in this room.

Last, I need badly to sort the cleaning supplies cupboard. There's nothing I can throw out, but I can note if I have too much of a product (does owning 3 cans of dusting spray mean I'm not dusting often enough, or buying too many products?) or need to add anything to my shopping list.

How are you doing on laundry detergent, stain remover, linen spray for your sheets and towels to smell nice, fabric softener if you use that, dryer sheets, etc?

Tomorrow when I do laundry (a load of darks, a load of whites and probably some towels) I'll be doing them in a sparkling clean, organized laundry room - although by then it will probably have some more dog drool on the floor! That's life.


I never can resist a lovely baking blog, and this one features particularly beautiful treats.

Today's post is showcasing her extraordinary hydrangea cake. You might also enjoy peeking at her St. Patrick's cake, inventive beer mug cupcakes, and rainbow sprinkles cake. Her photography is fabulous, also! I can't wait to see what she creates next.

LOVELY FOOD: Easter Chocolates

La Maison du Chocolat Easter Gift Box, at Williams-Sonoma

Sometimes I want to give a nice Easter gift to an adult (a relative, business associate or friend) and struggle to find something that's not childish or too cheap looking. I'm so glad to see this lovely Easter gift box with mature, elegant packaging and pretty foil-wrapped chocolates.


Healthy Dips (CHOW)

Healthy Recipes for Spring (Epicurious)

Fajita Frittata (Cake, Batter and Bowl)

Lemon Macadamia Nut Cakes (Baking Bites)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Spring Cleaning the Living Room

What I currently display in my guest bathroom: Cucumber & Casaba Soap from Mor

Yesterday we worked on spring cleaning the family room. Today we'll work upstairs, on the lovely light-filled living room we like to spend time in during early mornings and Sunday afternoons.


  • Fridge and freezer maintenance - We can't neglect our weekly fridge maintenance just because we're doing a big spring cleaning project today!

  • Take half an hour or so tonight to phone a relative you need to catch up with.

  • Plan menus and make grocery list for the upcoming week

  • Need to run to Home Depot, Costco, Target or the like today after you're done with your cleaning projects?

  • Set aside some time to relax after your hard work.

  • Give your hands a nice moisturizing scrub and lotion treatment tonight - they might need it after all your hands-on work this weekend.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Living Room Spring Cleaning

I so love the colors in this indoor-outdoor Jardin pillow but I fear my masculine roommate wouldn't enjoy seeing it in the living room!

We might not have too time-consuming a project today, as this upstairs living room is kept in pretty good condition. We use it to entertain, sitting guests down in front of a cozy fire, and serving appetizers and cocktails on the coffee table. I keep it ready to go at all times - you never know when you're going to throw an impromptu party!

Today we're moving two couches, the coffee table, two side tables, the mail table and a TV stand in order to vacuum under them. I'm taking down the curtains to send them to the dry cleaner (something I do once a year). We'll wash the big bay window and two side windows, and get up on ladders to dust the wood trim around them. Next up: baseboard dusting, dusting of all the furniture, fluffing of cushions and pillows, laundering throw blankets, and sorting the magazines sitting on the coffee table.

I'll hand launder the decorative placemats I keep on the coffee table and side tables, then set them out to dry while I dust the light fixtures. Some of the walls in this room do need to be washed down, and while we're at that we can wipe the baseboards, light switches and electric outlets.

Tonight when we relax, we'll do it upstairs in our clean living room, fire burning merrily away, snacks and a fun beverage on the coffee table. I'm already thinking ahead to the next lovely party I'll throw!


This blog keeps current on home decorating trends, interior design and architecture. Currently posting about kids' beds, spring storage, a captivating apartment in Stockholm, artificial islands, and creating a warm decor using colors. Lots of fun to look through here!


Spinach, Feta and Baked Pine Nut Risotto (Donna Hay)

Spring's Bounty (Donna Hay)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Spring Cleaning the Family Room

Pink Milk Chocolate Tulip, at Godiva

Today we're moving furniture to do a thorough cleaning on the family room. Since this is the room that features our biggest TV and our surround sound system, you can imagine how often this room gets used. Therefore it's more worn out, dirty, and tired looking than our other rooms. It will take more time than some of our other projects, so it's perfect for a Saturday.


  • Energize yourself with a brisk walk today before getting started cleaning.

  • Make a special breakfast for you and your helpers - but one that doesn't make too much of a mess, as you have other things to be cleaning up today!

  • Plan a special reward for yourself and any helpers who work hard today. A movie later tonight, root beer floats, a family game played around the dining table?

  • Start a load of laundry (pet bedding? blanket throws? towels?) that can get going while you're working doing other things


Green Tea and Lemon Home Fragrance Oil, at The Body Shop

We have several pieces of furniture to move today in order to vacuum under them: Two couches, a chaise, two bookshelves, and the coffee table our TV stands on top of.

This room also holds our three massive dog crates (for a Doberman and two Flatcoat retrievers), which need to be moved outside to be hosed out. The carpet sitting under them I'm sure will need some extra attention and extra carpet freshener.

My family room furniture is slipcovered with wonderful washable suede slipcovers. With 3 dogs who aren't allowed on furniture but somehow manage to get their fur everywhere, I'll be laundering all the slipcovers today. We'll vacuum the bare furniture and fluff the couch pillows. I wish it were a dry sunny day so we could air the pillows in the sun outside, but alas.

After we've replaced the furniture and cushions, we'll be washing windows, taking down curtains to send to the dry cleaners, dusting baseboards, wiping light switches and utility switches, dusting lamp fixtures and the overhead lighting, then dusting the TV and electronic components.

Our bookshelves (full of DVDs and Blu-Rays) need to be dusted, sorted and organized. I'm sure we can find 2-3 unwanted or duplicate DVDs to give away, freeing up a bit of space on the shelves. I'll dust the red acrylic tray we use as a coffee table to hold our remotes and drinks, and I'll wipe down all the remotes with antibacterial wipes.

My last step will be to light my home fragrance oil diffuser to make the room smell lovely.

Tonight we'll be watching a movie in a fresh, sparkling, clean and cozy little den!

LOVELY BLOGS: Amber's Home and Office Organizing Blog

Amber is a professional, certified home organizer in Chicago. Her blog is packed full of really helpful tips and suggestions on organizing. I can't believe how much info she gives away for free and how much time she must spend writing these helpful posts! I've learned a lot from her already. Recent posts include The Most Difficult Area of the Kitchen, Space for the Pets, an article on packing jewelry for a trip, and hiding your command center.

LOVELY CRAFTS: Easter Crafts at Paper Source

Paper Source is a really dangerous store for me to walk into. Despite my best shopaholic-avoidance intentions, and despite my full knowledge of exactly how very, very much stationery I already own, I rarely leave empty handed. Their adorable Easter crafts offerings include various colorful paper bouquets, an Easter paper wreath, Easter-themed rubber stamps, fabulous gerbera daisy stickers, and butterfly stationery.

Easter, at Paper Source


Spring Crafts and Activities (Family Crafts/

Spring Crafts for Kids (Martha Stewart)

Sweet Potato Apple Souffle Cups (Lunch Box Bunch)

What's With Restaurants That Won't Take Reservations? (Bon Appetit)