Wednesday, November 30, 2011

November's End


Sicilian Orange Candle, from Williams-Sonoma

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

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

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • Need to send any thank-you notes? To your Thanksgiving hosts, perhaps?

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

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

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

  • Put away any remaining autumn crafts or crafting supplies. It's time to switch to winter crafts.

  • Need to catch up on any mid-week vacuuming or laundry?

  • Try to remove two items from your bathroom counter and store them somewhere else (or get rid of them entirely!)

TODAY'S PROJECT: Pick-A-Spot Cleaning

Tonight's a schoolnight/worknight in my house. I don't want to involve myself in an enormous project, so I'm going to pick the very worst spot of my house and work on improving it.

Right now the worst spot is my upstairs living room. The carpet needs to be vacuumed and spot cleaned. The furniture is very dusty from having the dogs wander in and out of the rain. A light bulb needs to be changed, houseplants watered and tidied, and a couple dishes removed. A huge stack of magazines needs to be sorted, read, and recycled.

Lastly, the placemats I have on the side tables and coffee tables need to be laundered and put away - I'll be getting out Christmasy ones tomorrow anyway.

LOVELY BLOGS: Home Ec 101


This site offers "skills for everyday living." Learn to wash it, cook it, clean it, and fix it. The blog also offers a very handy printable weekly chore schedule. Heather posted a series of very helpful posts on a Thanksgiving countdown, and I suspect she'll have a quite useful Christmas countdown series too.

http://www.home-ec101.com/

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

Beet and Goat Cheese Tartlets (The Desk and the Stove)

Caramelized Mushrooms and Dumplings (Joy the Baker)

Gingersnap Cherry Cheesecake (Worth the Whisk)

Mini Pumpkin Tartlets with Homemade Cinnamon Whipped Cream (For the Love of Cooking)

Mozzarella-Baked Gnocchi (Cassie Craves)

Paprika-Spiced Cauliflower Soup (Saveur)

Spiced Strawberry Creme Brulee (Raspberri Cupcakes)

Tiny Giants: The Beauty of Finger Limes (Saveur)

Zesty Carrot Casserole (What's KP Cooking?)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Getting Ready for the Baking Season


Meri Meri "Santa and Reindeer" Christmas Cupcake Box, on Amazon

Today I'm getting my baking tools, supplies, and decorations ready for the holiday baking I'm eagerly anticipating.

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • Need to sweep leaves off your front porch?

  • Does your entryway or front hall need sweeping or vacuuming?

  • Any Netflix or Redbox movies to return this week? Any library books to be dropped off?

  • Is there fresh fruit in a bowl in your kitchen or on your dining table, waiting to be sliced and eaten?

  • Do you have tissues in your purse, car and coat pockets?

  • The month is winding down. Anything you wanted to get done this month, any place you wanted to go, any remaining projects to finish up?

TODAY'S PROJECT: Baking Cupboard Reorganization


This is my current cookie-and-cupcake sprinkles cupboard. Things fall out when I open it, and it's a disorganized mess. With all the holiday cookie, cake, cupcake and pie baking I plan to do, I'd better get this sorted, organized, and relocated to a place where I can see my things easily.



I currently have a pile of frostings, decorating gels and other supplies on the counter. They've been there for over two weeks. This is not acceptable! Time to move things into their own cupboard and clear up counter space the way it should be.



I'm wasting a lot of space in this kitchen cabinet. This is where I keep my "tasting party" dishes, tiny accessories, bento and sushi molds and supplies, two mandolines (I only need one), egg cups I never use, and odd-shaped serving plates. I also keep my spices in here - the only good use of this space.

I've decided to move my baking supplies into this cupboard, and the "tasting party" plates will move into storage in the garage - carefully labeled with the date so I can reevaluate in six months if I've used them or not. If not, it will be long past time to get rid of them.

I don't have an "after" picture for you yet as I've just begun this project today, right after breakfast.

LOVELY BEVERAGES: Bellocq Teas


I just found out about this tea, and have not yet tasted it. It's hard to tell from the dark pictures on the website, but they sell their teas in absolutely gorgeous tea tins. (Check out this LA Times article about the tins). At $45 per tin, it's unlikely I'll taste this tea any time soon. I'll keep it in mind as a luxury gift for those hard-to-surprise wealthy relatives or older family members.

http://www.bellocq.com/

http://twitter.com/BELLOCQ

LOVELY BLOGS: Handmaiden


Sharon is an Aussie ex-patriate living in Singapore. At her nice, clearly and cheerfully written blog, you'll find posts on quilting, sewing, crafting, and cooking. Recent posts include making your own Christmas crackers, infusing oils with rosemary, and a project where she screen printed adorable reindeers on Christmas napkins.

http://handmaiden.typepad.com/handmaiden/

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

Christmas and Hanukkah Recipes (CHOW)

A Festival of Bites: Hip Hanukkah Cocktail Party (Epicurious)

Macadamia and Cranberry Christmas Log (The Crafty Baking Mama)

A Novel Christmas Chutney (My Pickles and Jams)

Super-Eggy Scrambled Eggs (101 Cookbooks)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Leisurely Post-Holiday Weekend

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

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

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

  • Need to do any Christmas shopping this weekend? If you can't bear the crowds, shop online. Or get other tasks out of the way so you can shop on a slower weeknight next week.

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

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

  • Make menu plans and grocery list for the week ahead.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Laundry and Leftovers

Today I'm doing laundry, eating leftovers and rearranging my refrigerator. It got a bit messy and disorganized after all the cooking and baking I did this week. I'll be removing everything from my fridge and doing a major cleanup today.

Meanwhile my washer and dryer will be busy washing all the bedding in the house (including throws and the fluffy blankets we curl up in to watch movies downstairs). I'll also do a load of dark clothes so I have nice things to wear all week long.

Tonight we're staying in for a much-needed quiet night, catching up on homework and finishing this week's library books.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Recovering From Thanksgiving Fun


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

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

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

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

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

  • Need to launder your kitchen towels? We went through a lot of mine during all our kitchen projects this week!

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

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

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

TODAY'S PROJECT: Winter Car Emergency Preparedness

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

Do you have a pair of gloves in the trunk, and boots? Do you have an ice scraper, kitty litter or other traction aids? First aid kit, flashlight, matches?

Do you leave home with a full tank of gas? Do you have your cell phone with you, charged, at all times? Do you have a $20 (or more) in the car, plus some change, for emergencies? (Picking up a snack at a gas station while you are waiting for a tow truck, making phone calls from a pay phone, etc?)

Do you have a bottle of water or two, and some granola bars or other easy-to-transport snacks? If you have pets who ride with you, do you have water for your pets, and snacks for them?

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

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Pep Talk


Thanksgiving Cornucopia Card, at Papyrus Online

Think positive.

We can do this. We're lucky to have family and friends to spend time with (even if they drive us crazy) and food to eat at our feasts. Hopefully we have friends who will join us to celebrate today and help smooth things when our relatives are getting a bit uppity. (Note that I said when, not if, grin!)

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

Nothing has to be perfect.

Thanksgiving is about being with family and friends. If you undercook or overcook the turkey, that's ok - people will happily eat the mashed potatoes instead. If old rude Uncle Joe starts in on you about politics, that's ok, you knew he would. Sigh and try to change the subject. Your tablecloth is stained or a bit ratty? Who cares - it was put on the table fresh and clean, right? Your furniture has cat-scratch marks on it, and your relatives will see it? Oh well, it means you have pets you love.

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

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

There are some things that won't change, and some things we can't control. No, our houses will never be as clean as our mother-in-laws' homes. Nor will the food we cook ever be as tasty as his mom's cooking. We will never have as nice of cars or furniture or as big a house as our brother-and-sister in law. We're good cooks, but there's always an Aunt Edna or a Gramma known for being the best cook ever. That's ok, let them enjoy that title. We still make darn delicious food.

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

Take care of yourself first.


Thanksgiving Squirrel Card, from Papyrus

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

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

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

And a special note to anybody reading this who might be spending their Thanksgiving alone. It's ok, it happens to all of us. Not everybody has family close by, or the ability to travel, and sometimes people have to work on Thanksgiving or the day after. On more than one Thanksgiving in years past, I absolutely couldn't face the whole thing and voluntarily stayed home alone and I truly did have a good time. Instead of sitting there feeling sorry for yourself for being alone, think of all of us who are having our crusty old relatives argue with us about religion or politics, ask us why we're still single (or not pregnant yet, or still fat, etcetera) and possibly fighting with our grown siblings. Make yourself a special delicious treat to eat, watch a movie or put on your favorite music and enjoy your relaxing alone time. If you are feeling a bit blue, skip the alcohol and have hot cocoa instead.

A special challenge:


Try to be there "in the moment" during the entirety of your Thanksgiving meal, plus during the preparation before it and recovery after it. What do I mean by this? Don't spend your time texting your friends; don't spend all day on your cell phone talking to people who aren't there in person. You can talk to your friends and text them all day long some other time. Thanksgiving is supposed to be about reconnecting with family who you don't see often. Give them respect by giving them your full attention. Unless you're an emergency room doctor, there really isn't a reason for your cell phone to be at the table or even in the room with you on Thanksgiving.

Granted, we do all have people we'll need to phone to wish a happy Thanksgiving. Try to keep those calls brief, and get it done in a solid chunk of time if you can so you aren't constantly sneaking off to another room.

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

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

In Praise of the Small Thanksgiving (Slate)

A Serving of Gratitude Brings Healthy Dividends (NY Times)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Almost Thanksgiving


Thanksgiving Cookies, from Dean & Deluca

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

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

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

  • Gather phone numbers of people you want to call on Thanksgiving to wish a happy holiday. (Please call, not just text!)

  • Sweep the entryway to your home, both indoors and outside.

  • Gather cameras, chargers and batteries you'll use tomorrow. Charge up phones and cameras tonight.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Bathrooms


Pinzon Luxury Bath Towel, on Amazon

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

If you have a big crowd coming, more than one bathroom may be in use at the same time. So you might want to clean all of the bathrooms in your home, not just the guest bathroom. You never know when a guest is going to wander into a room you'd hoped they wouldn't.

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

LOVELY BLOGS: The Enchanted Home


Here's a beautiful blog full of gorgeous home decor inspiration. Tina is building her dream home and lets us peek in from time to time at her efforts and dreams. There's currently a post on gorgeous walk-in closets that made me swoon. Tina is a very prolific blogger - 256 posts already this year so far - so you'll have lots of lovely things to look at here.

http://theenchantedhome.blogspot.com/

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

Thanksgiving Cookies: An Edible Craft (Simple Kids)

Thanksgiving Cookies with Kids (Heaps of Laundry)

Thanksgiving Turkey Cookies (Mama Grubb's Grub)

Yam Koftas: Holiday Party Appetizers (The Colors of Indian Cooking)

Two Days Til Thanksgiving


The hydrangea plant I bought to enjoy as a centerpiece on the dining table this autumn

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

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

  • Do you have warm things to serve for breakfasts? Oatmeal, Malt-O-Meal or Cream of Wheat?

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

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

  • Do you need to do any laundry, launder table linens or hand towels? Your tablecloth might need to be ironed?

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

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

  • What movies will you show family members while they wait for (or recover from) the Thanksgiving meal. Can you find your DVDs and have them ready? Or do you just watch the Macy's parade or a football game?

TODAY'S PROJECT: Thanksgiving Preparations


Meri Meri Thanksgiving Place Cards, on Amazon

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

KITCHEN:


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

DINING ROOM:



Spiced Chestnut Candle, from Williams-Sonoma

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

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

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

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

FAMILY/LIVING ROOM:


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

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

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

Refresh houseplants and toss any dead ones. Does your fireplace look neat and tidy? Do you have firewood, kindling and/or Duraflames ready to light in it? Set out a magazine or two or coffee table books, and finish by spraying your home spray in the room.

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

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

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

A Radical Rethinking of Thanksgiving Leftovers (NY Times)

Stunning Thanksgiving Table Settings (House Beautiful)

Thanksgiving is Coming: Refrain from Freaking Out (Eatocracy/CNN)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Three Days Before Thanksgiving


Fall Decorative Turkeys, at Williams-Sonoma

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

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

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

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

  • Do you have a fireplace? Have wood for festive fires for this week? You might especially want to lay in a supply of firewood if you have company coming over.

  • Speaking of keeping warm, your guests might not be used to the temperature you keep your home. If you keep it cold, be sure there are plenty of blankets, warm socks and clean slippers to offer. Or be generous and accomoating - turn the heat up a degree or two for your guests who would prefer it.

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

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

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

TODAY'S PROJECT: Thanksgiving Prep


Heirloom Pumpkin Dinner Plates and Tureen, at Williams-Sonoma

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

Don't forget to build yourself in a little "sit down and relax" time, whether you spend it in a hot bath, a rocking chair, a cafe you snuck away to for 45 minutes, or on your couch idly flipping through magazines.

I'm going to a friend's house for Thanksgiving, bringing a dish I can easily prepare that morning. So for today my tasks are vacuuming, cleaning muddy dog paw prints off the floors, spritzing the house with fragrance spray, and tidying the bathrooms.

LOVELY BLOGS: The Faux Martha


Melissa is a designer by day, and a baker by night. Currently her blog is chock full of comfort food recipes: chicken noodle soup, a beautifully photographed cranberry sauce, apple pie, and chicken pot pie that takes a lot of ingredients but looks well worth the trouble.

http://thefauxmartha.com/

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

Autumnal Centerpieces (Martha Stewart)

Cheddar Cheese Risotto (Nigella Lawson)

Chocolate Crunch Cake and Making Your Own Christmas Hamper (Not Quite Nigella)

Cranberry Pumpkin Pie (An American Cupcake in London)

Four-Ingredient Cranberry Pumpkin Muffins (Bake at 350)

How to Make a Pilgrim Hat (Art Platter)

Paper Cup Turkeys (Fun Family Crafts)

Pretend Pilgrims Tutorial (Made)

Pumpkin Cake with Cranberry Gelee (Cake O Cake)

Pumpkin Seed Cranberry Biscotti (DeLish)

Secrets of Women Who Don't Get Sick (CNN)

10 Gorgeous Gray Rooms (House Beautiful)

Thanksgiving Turkey Cupcakes (Brown-Eyed Baker)

20 Guests, 19 Pies: What Happens When a Thanksgiving Tradition Gets Completely out of Hand (Slate)

Vegan Banana Cake (Peaceful Table)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Simplifying Christmas


Holly Garland Kit, at Paper Source

Holiday Simplicity


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

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

You can simplify Christmas, and yet still enjoy shopping, just by cutting down on the amount of gifts you purchase. I love shopping but I don't feel the need to buy a gift for everyone I know. I love giving gifts, but this year I'm only buying presents for children. I will buy just one small gift, one piece of clothing and one book each for my nephews and nieces. My foster daughter needs a lot of clothing, and I am excited to be giving her a gift of something she can actually use and wear - not just something that would sit getting dusty on a shelf.

No Need to Buy More Decorations


I realized a few years ago that there is very little I need to buy for my own home for Christmas, other than a fresh live tree. I already have more ornaments than I have space to fit on the tree; plenty of holiday decor; I already have more than enough wrapping paper and beautiful ribbons to wrap the few gifts I'll purchase. I already have stockings for my household members, and I don't need fancy mantel stocking holders like they're always advertising in the Pottery Barn catalog.

I don't need Christmas-themed kitchen towels, placemats or tablecloths. Until something wears out, I have plenty of holiday linens. I already have Christmas dishes, which I have to store in the garage because I don't have room for them in the house. I have a wreath for my front door, and tons of Christmas lights for outside. It appears that I don't have room (or need) in my life for any more holiday decoration supplies. At least not until I give some away, throw some away or recycle them, or trade them with a friend.

So this year the only things I should be buying for the holidays are a few gifts, fresh food and some fun beverages.

TIME:



Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer DVD, on Amazon

I'll be frugal with my time and activities too. I want to prioritize enjoying time with family - even if it's just doing something simple like making popcorn and hot cocoa, then settling in to watch "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Or we might play board games all night. Rather than running around going to endless parties (though parties are extremely fun!) or driving myself (and family) crazy by throwing too many parties, I'll budget my time carefully. I'll keep it simple.

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • I like eating hard-boiled eggs on my salad, or for a quick shot of protein in the morning. But I don't often plan ahead enough to have hardboiled eggs on hand for convenience. Today I'm going to take just a few minutes to put four or five eggs on the stove, set a timer, and take them out once they're done. I'll label the eggs with a pen so I know what day I made them. Tonight my salad will be adorned by some tasty hard-boiled egg slices! Want to do the same thing too?

  • Recycle old newspapers, catalogs and magazines. Any newspaper that's more than a week old, throw out mercilessly. Don't be one of those people who accumulate a huge stack of newspapers thinking they'll get around to reading them someday. You can always visit your favorite newspaper on line and scan the headlines to catch up. Also, instead of keeping an entire catalog so you can remember something you want to check on later, pull out that page instead, then recycle the rest of the catalog.

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

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

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

  • Exercise for at least twenty minutes.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Home Office Organization, part 2

Today I am going to clean and organize my garage storage space. Because I run business out of my home, and especially because this is my busiest time of year, my office and storage space are a huge ongoing organization struggle. I pack my merchandise by reaching to bookshelves behind me, or quickly jumping up to grab something off a nearby shelf. So I need things nearby, and that limits how much stuff I can put away in drawers or out of sight.

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

Empty desk drawers and sort what's in them, throwing or giving away as much as possible. Organize your computer CDs and software collection. If you can get yourself to throw away the pretty-looking boxes that computer games come in, you'll open up a lot of space and get rid of so much clutter. Can you part with any old computer games you don't play any more?

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

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

LOVELY BLOGS: Deck the Holidays

This blog features "Folklore, facts and features about holidays around the world." Currently posting about pumpkin cream pie, the Detroit Thanksgiving parade, and the origins of Thanksgiving.

http://decktheholidays.blogspot.com/

LOVELY BOOKS: The Hoarder in You


I'm so looking forward to Dr. Robin Zasio's book, which comes out tomorrow. I use the TV show Hoarders as a tool to horrify me into getting rid of belongings. (I'm a packrat, not a hoarder, but the show is truly frightening!) I try not to have an emotional connection to my possessions, but struggle to release sentimental items (such as the porcelain dolls my mother made and painted so many years ago). The book will present practical ideas on managing the items in our lives, decluttering and staying organized.

The Hoarder in You, on Amazon

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

Brussels Sprout Slaw with Mustard Dressing (Brown Eyed Baker)

Chipotle Lime Cranberry Sauce (All Day I Dream About Food)

Chocolate Peppermint Roll (Bakers Royale)

Cranberry Sauce (The Pastry Affair)

Cranberry Sauce with Ginger and Cloves (Girlichef)

DIY Flavored Salts (CHOW)

From Scratch Green Bean Casserole (Annie's Eats)

Macarons, Macaroons and Macaroni: The Curious History (Slate)

Quince Honey: The Perfect Thanksgiving Host Gift (Bon Appetit)

10 Vegetarian Thanksgiving Dishes (CHOW)

Three Easy Day Trips from London (Conde Nast Traveler)

What Is a Fashion Icon? (Slate)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Pre-Thanksgiving Sunday


Set of 3 Gourd Candles, from Crate and Barrel

Today is our last chance to get ready for Thanksgiving on a non-workday.

If you're traveling, you'll have different tasks today than if you're hosting or bringing food to a friend's house. If you're hosting, you probably have a lot of cleaning to do today!

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

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

  • 5 weeks til Christmas! 4 weeks til Chanukah! How is your gift shopping and wrapping going?

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

  • Make meal plans for the week ahead

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

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

TODAY'S PROJECT: Thanksgiving Preparation and Provisioning


Mini Twig Turkey Decorations, at Cost Plus World Market

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

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

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

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

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

Cranberry White Chocolate Tarts (The Pastry Affair)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Gift-Wrapping Day


Roger la Borde Christmas Gift Bags, on eBay

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • Need to de-clutter and clean out your car? I do this every time I find myself sitting in it waiting for someone. Do you need to restock things you might keep in your car, such as Kleenex, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, a cell phone charger, mints, lipstick, and hand lotion?

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

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

TODAY'S PROJECT: Gift Wrapping


Christmas Stripe Wired Ribbon, at The Container Store

I'm wrapping gifts tonight. I've been buying gifts here and there over the past three or four months, tucking them away into my gift closet. I'll wrap them while I watch some shows I saved up on my Tivo.

I'll label the gifts carefully so I know who to mail them to or which gift pile to put them in in my home. After they're wrapped, I'll store the gifts in a Sterilite bin in my closet. This protects them from the cats, who like to chew on the corners of boxes that look or smell intriguing.

I'm looking forward to adding some special touches to my gift wrap. I want to make my inexpensive gifts more fun and exciting to open. I'll add some sequins and sparkles to some of the gifts, and glue some fake Swarovski crystals onto some of the ribbons I'm tying around the gifts. I tuck small inexpensive acrylic ornaments into the bows sometimes too.

How much gift wrapping can you get done tonight, assuming you've shopped for some gifts already?

Friday, November 18, 2011

More Holiday Simplicity Thoughts


Giant Paper Gnome Kit, at Paper-Source

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • Have you dropped off cans of food at your local food bank recently?

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

  • Do you take your children for Santa pics? If so, have you made time, plans, and room in your budget to do so?

  • How are your supplies of printer paper, ink, tape, stamps, and other office supplies? Need to add anything to your shopping list?

  • Kitchen maintenance - Wipe down front of all cupboards and appliances. If needed, remove items from counters, clean counters, then replace items. This should take less than seven minutes. I might even do it between commercials during my TV show tonight.

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

TODAY'S PROJECT: Home Office Organization

Today I'm working to organize and clean my home office. It's very dusty in here from my leaving the window open often. There's clutter on top of my desk and bookshelves, and two huge boxes standing in the doorway that need to be emptied and put away. I also need to dust off my printer, monitor and scanner.

When I'm done clearing off the desk, I want to sort my four desk drawers, reorganize and try to get rid of things I don't use every week.

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

LOVELY HOLIDAYS: More Christmas Simplicity


Chocolate Advent Calendar, on Amazon

Do you let your holiday preparations take over and become all-consuming? In the next few weeks, will your life become all about holiday planning, cleaning, freaking out, running to the mall to shop, stressing about cooking, etc? Will you miss out on social events and opportunities to spend time with your friends and family because you've chosen to be "too busy" with holiday preparations?

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


Olde World Christmas Ornaments, from Pier 1

Are you stressed out because you are doing too much - throwing too many parties, taking kids to too many after-school activities, taking on too many take-home extra work projects, attending events you feel obligated to attend but don't want to go to, etc.? Ask yourself why you are doing all these things? Where do your expectations come from? Who tells you to do so many activities? Spend some soul-searching time to see what the cause of your stress is. Then figure out a way to de-schedule your life.

You can cancel events, do without some homemade baked goods, throw one less party, skip a school PTA meeting, stop shopping for gifts, and insist on more family at-home nights if that helps you. Carve time out of your life for things that are important, and cancel things that aren't.

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

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

FOOD:


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

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

DECORATIONS:



LED Christmas Lights, on Amazon

My outdoor Christmas lights, plus the ones we put in each of my windows, take more than a whole afternoon to put up. I do it with the help of some cousins, so that probably saves me another afternoon of work. We make a special fun time of it, and enjoy a nice meal together afterwards. The tree will take an hour to buy at a nearby farm and set up. Decorating it will only take one pleasant evening - another opportunity to spend fun time with friends or family, as I always invite people to join me for the decorating.

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

GIFTS:


This year I'm not buying gifts for adults. Just for the children in my life and for my foster daughter. I'm already almost done Christmas shopping because I started so early in the year.

ACTIVITIES:


Activities are something very important to me since it's something you enjoy with other people. You create memories and have a fun time together. With time and budget constraints in mind, I'm going to carefully pick and choose which activities I get involved in. I love everything about the holidays, but to keep myself sane, I'll carefully book two "at home" evenings by myself each week. Activities I can pick and choose between include caroling, throwing cocktail parties, attending cocktail parties, going on a dinner cruise to see the Christmas Ships, movies, theater, shopping, dinners out, gingerbread house making, baking, Christmas card sending, newsletter writing, gift wrapping, game night, karaoke night, a long evening spent reading a book, driving around to look at Christmas lights, babysitting kids so their parents can go shopping, white elephant parties, and Christmas stocking opening.

A Dream Come True


For years my dream has been to stay home in my own home for Christmas. I don't look forward to traveling alone across dangerous snowy roads to visit relatives hours away and staying overnight in their homes year after year. It's fun, but I am so excited to finally stay in my own home this Christmas. I'll invite a couple family members over to spend an hour watching their kids open gifts and drinking cocoa with us, I'll spend time with my dogs and my fireplace, and savor staying cozy in my own home.

Right now this sounds like the loveliest, warmest, most simplistic, stress-free Christmas of all.

What are some of your dreams for this Christmas?

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

Sweet Potato Pie (Bake at 350)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Holiday Letter Writing


Gnome Holiday Card, from Paper-Source

Holiday Letter Writing


Tonight I'm writing holiday cards and a newsletter I'll tuck into them.

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • In case bad weather this winter keeps you from going to the store for a week or more, are you well stocked on toilet paper, Kleenex, plastic wrap, medicines, paper towels, laundry detergent, and dishwasher detergent?

  • Need to add rock salt, kitty litter or driveway de-icer to your shopping list?

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

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

  • Maintenance cleaning - Wipe down all mirrors, sinks and counters in the house.

  • 6 weeks til Christmas! 3 weeks til Hanukkah! How is your gift shopping and wrapping going?

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

  • Clean your dryer vent, if needed.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Holiday Cards and Newsletter


Meri Meri Character Christmas Cards, on Amazon

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

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


Erte "Starstruck" Christmas Cards, on eBay

I don't like to just sign my name on a card, or drop a printed-out Christmas newsletter into an envelope. I like to write several personal sentences or even paragraphs to each person. It's quite time consuming, but for many of these people it's the only letter they'll get from me this year. (I hope to change that in the future!)

If you take on this project tonight, make yourself hot cocoa or hot tea while you go about your writing. Perhaps later, a nip of ruby port or sherry as the night grows colder?

NEWSLETTER:


If you're writing a holiday newsletter, it might be a good idea to write it right now. Don't put it off until December. If you write it now, you can set it aside for a couple days, then read it over again before sending it.

Be sure everything you've said about someone else is positive - I'm thinking of a great-uncle who was known for writing horrible things like "Too bad my daughter in law didn't lose any weight this year", etc. Make sure you aren't spreading gossip.

Brag about your kids, sure, but be sure to mention something fun you yourself have done this year, or something you are proud of yourself for.

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

I suggest keeping your newsletter brief (one page of text) and including a handwritten paragraph or two on a separate piece of paper. Happy writing!

10 Tips for Developing a Family Holiday Letter (Grammar/About.com)

LOVELY WEBSITES: Dig, Drop, Done


This website is extremely helpful when you're planning your fall bulb planting. I don't know much about this, so I've done a pretty cruddy job of planting bulbs the last few autumns. This site is so nicely constructed, I was initially suspicious that it only served as an advertisement for a major bulb selling company or something like that. I can't see any obvious signs of that, so I guess it's just created to be genuinely helpful to amateur gardeners. Check out the Bulbs 101 and Bulb Browser sections especially.

http://www.digdropdone.com/

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Spending a Leisurely Evening at Home


Fall Leaf Wreath Kit, at Paper Source

Tonight I'm doing whatever it takes to have some quiet time and alone time. I had a couple opportunities to go out and do things tonight, but I said no thank you. There will be plenty of chances to go out on the weekend.

Tonight I'll stay home, spend time with my dogs and my teenager, eat leftovers, read my current book ( Sweetly, a Hansel & Gretel retelling), and catch up on some shows on my Tivo. I just wish I had my own bathtub to take a long hot bath in. (Currently, possession of the only bathtub in the house belongs to my male roommate so he can have a bathroom to himself).

I forgot to mention we are lighting a luxurious fire in the fireplace!

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • Check over your Thanksgiving grocery shopping list, if needed. I shop early for my canned goods, frozen items and baking supplies. This lets me avoid crowded, stressful stores in the week leading up to Thanksgiving. I still have to go to the store, of course, to get fresh produce and dairy.

  • When's the last time you defragmented or backed up your computer?

  • Is your anti-virus software up to date?

  • If you enjoy incense or candles, when's the last time you burned some?

  • Need to do any laundry? Pet bedding? Towels? Clothes for everybody to wear this week?

  • If you're taking a car trip for Thanksgiving, start setting aside things you'll need in the car. CDs or Ipod stocked with music for the grownups, toys and car games for the kids, snacks and Wet Wipes for everyone. Blankets, water and emergency gear if you'll be traveling through snowy or icy areas. Pet food if you're bringing your pets.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Oven and Stove


Pink Damask Potholders and Oven Mitts, on Amazon

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

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

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

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

Finish by checking over your oven mitts and potholders. Throw out any that are stained, smell bad or have holes in them. Replacing these will barely cost a few dollars, and it's not worth the risk of burning yourself to keep around cruddy old potholders.

Now you're ready to bake and cook for company, parties, your family, or even just a treat for yourself!

LOVELY BLOGS: Homemaker in Heels


Crystal blogs from the American South, sharing her tips on creating on a home on a tight budget, while wearing adorable shoes. She blogs about DIY, crafting, and cooking. I think you'll enjoy her spunky, cheerful, friendly attitude and benefit from her tips.

http://www.homemakerinheels.com/

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

Roasted Butternut Squash Lasagna (The English Kitchen)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Middle of November


Apple Wreath Cleansing Hand Soap, at Bath and Body Works

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • Clean out your fruit bowl - any spoiled fruit you need to throw out? Need to put fresh fruit on your grocery shopping list?

  • Is it time to get your snow tires put on your car?

  • Do you have an ice scraper in your car?

  • Return any phone calls you may have missed over the weekend.

  • Try to clean out your email inbox (if needed) today. Answer and delete or archive emails.

  • Need to wrap and label any Christmas gifts tonight?

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

  • Do you send out Thanksgiving cards? I have just a couple families I want to especially tell that I'm thinking about them on Thanksgiving. So I'll mail some cards off today.

  • Start thinking about making your New Year's Eve reservations. In some major cities, by now it's already too late to get a reservation at the swankiest hotels and trendiest restaurants. But you can always try!

TODAY'S PROJECT: Overall Cleaning

Today I'm doing a quick once-over on almost every room of the house. This way I can have fun going out later tonight and not worry about any housecleaning projects when I get home late.

I'll quickly vacuum both of my living rooms, put a freshly laundered tablecloth on the dining table, empty my kitchen and bathroom trash cans, declutter my mail table, do a quick mop on my kitchen floor, run around the house looking for mugs and drinking glasses, put a few dishes into the dishwasher, and make my bed. I won't have time to deal with my messy home office, so I'll just shut the door to it before I leave!

What overall housecleaning projects might you need to get done today?

LOVELY STATIONERY: Papaya Art


At more than $5 per card, I can't afford to send out these gorgeous sparkly glittery cards to every single person on my Christmas list. So I picked up just a couple of the peacock ones (my obsession over the past 3 years has been peacocks!) to send to extra special friends. I love this company's beautiful cards - and now they have matching gift bags too!

Papaya Art Christmas Cards

Monday, November 14, 2011

Autumn Beauty Routine


What I'm using today: Bliss's Hot Salt Body Scrub, from Sephora

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

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • Do you have a recent photo of your pet? I've seen so many Lost Pet posters lately, it reminds me to keep a missing pet poster ready to go on my computer at all times. Hopefully my dogs will never get lost (and they have clearly marked identification on their collars) but if they do, I'll be able to immediately print off a poster with their picture and my phone number.

  • Take a different route home from work today. It varies your routine, and helps make sure you're familiar with your neighborhood in case of road closures or weather emergencies, etc.

  • Make time for a phone call to a family member tonight. If you're worried about not being able to get off the phone before bedtime (I have some particularly chatty relatives I don't call often because they don't hear my "I need to go to bed now") enlist the help of your child or partner for an interruption after X amount of time.

  • Are you keeping up with your book club reading, if any?

TODAY'S PROJECT: Autumn Beauty


Origins Zero Oil Oil-Free Moisture Lotion, at Sephora

Today I'm making time to take care of my skin and body. I'll be shaving, sea salt scrubbing, moisturizing, and giving myself a manicure and pedicure. No room in the budget for a professional manicure and pedicure right now.

I also probably need to redo my roots (my hair is currently dyed brown but some gray is showing).

I'll make a relaxing evening of it with good music, wine, my fireplace, and maybe a half hour TV show to enjoy.

LOVELY BLOGS: Annie's Eats


"Making your days taste better." Annie seems to have boundless energy. She's a wife, mom, physician, baker and photographer. I'm enjoying her recent posts on pumpkin cream cheese muffins, mushroom and brown rice casserole (I might make that one for dinner tonight) and DIY pumpkin pie spice. I love that she includes a printer-friendly version of each recipe - that adds an extra step for her but is so handy for us readers!

http://annies-eats.net/

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

America's Best Airport Restaurants (Slate)

Buttermilk Macaroni and Cheese (Cassie Craves)

Kahlua Sweet Potato Pie with Kahlua Whipped Cream (Worth the Whisk)

Tips from the Pros on Holiday Cooking (Seattle Times)

When Did Thanksgiving Become Potluck? (CHOW)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sunday in Autumn


Meri Meri Owl and Daisy Baking Set, from Sur la Table

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • Maintenance clean one shelf, one drawer or two door pockets in your refrigerator.

  • Also maintenance clean one shelf in the freezer. And don't forget I have an inexpensive refrigerator and freezer outside in my garage too, so I'm actually doing TWO fridge shelves and TWO freezer shelves today.

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

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

  • Make a plan for a special breakfast this weekend. Buy a newspaper if you normally don't, or pull out a couple magazines you've been wanting to browse. Take time to make pancakes, omelettes, fresh (not frozen or boxed) hash browns, crepes, waffles, or other breakfast treats. Treat yourself to a latte or cappuccino if you normally don't.

  • Have you baked an apple pie yet this autumn?

TODAY'S PROJECT: Major Cleaning of One Room


Pledge Lemon Wipes, on Amazon

Pick a large, major room in your home that needs cleaning really badly. Your living room, master bedroom, kitchen, basement? Attic? Garage? Bathrooms?

Do a total overhaul cleaning on your chosen room today. Decluttering, sorting, dusting, scrubbing, washing, laundering, vacuuming, mopping, light bulb checking, deodorizing, and more.

BEGIN:

Walk into the room and pretend you're seeing it through someone else's eyes (a relative, your boss, your best friend, a home decor magazine stylist, a realtor, Oprah, or whatever helps motivate you!) Put on music and make yourself a nice beverage. Light incense if you like. Let's make this a pleasant task.

Start by removing clutter, throwing away or putting into the charity bin anything you can possibly part with. Next, empty wastebaskets, recycling, and find some items to put in storage if you can't part with them. Remove any drinking glasses, dishes or any other items that don't belong. Do you have too much furniture in this room? Too many things on the walls? Too many knickknacks?

WASH:

Thoroughly clean ceiling fan and light fixtures, then lamps.

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

VACUUM:

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

If you're deep cleaning a bedroom, don't forget to vacuum the mattress (and flip/rotate if needed).

Wash and replace any floor rugs. If it's a bedroom, wash the bed linens (Don't forget to wash the dust ruffle and mattress pad, too!).

DUST:

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

Water houseplants and dispose of any dead or dying ones. If the houseplants are looking dusty, spray them down in the kitchen sink. (This is a great time to get rid of any tacky fake plants). Polish doorknobs on both sides of the door, and on closets if needed.

FINISH:

Finish by spraying the room with room freshener or a home spray. Or by burning a scented candle (while you're still in the room to attend to it). My current favorite home fragrance oil is The Body Shop's Cranberry Joy. I'll burn some in my fragrance diffuser in this room (I'm cleaning a living room). Put fresh flowers on a small table, if this is a room used frequently.

The weather's getting colder; does this room have a nice soft throw waiting on a nearby chair? Is there a box of Kleenex accessible? A nearby trash can for convenience?

Pour yourself a glass of wine, sit down and relax for a while in your fresh, clean, clutter-free room.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Saturday Night Christmas Shopping


Philosophy's "The More the Merrier" Shower Gel Set, at Sephora

Tonight I'm looking forward to going out to dinner with friends. I'll also be working on my Christmas shopping. My goal is to be completely done shopping by December first; then finish wrapping the first week in December. Then I can relax and enjoy the holiday season without stressing about shopping.

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • Do a quick clutter removal from your mail table, stairs (if applicable), and living room. You'll come home from tonight's socializing and relax in a clean home.

  • Need to throw out any vases of flowers, and buy new ones for the weekend?

  • If you make charitable donations during the holiday season, spend some time with your significant other discussing your charitable giving plan for this year. Figure out how much you want to give, and to which charity. This year many food banks have drop boxes in locations including grocery stores, malls, tire shops, liquor stores, and other retail businesses.

  • If you've been using your fireplace lately, take 5 quick minutes to sweep it out. Check your supply of firewood and Duraflames; add to shopping list if needed.

  • Empty the smaller wastebaskets in your house (Your kitchen trashcan is probably the responsibility of the man of the house). Do all the bathrooms, bedrooms, living rooms and office spaces. While you're in the bathrooms emptying wastebaskets, take a moment to see if the toilet paper roll needs replacing. It's amazing how easy it is to freshen and tidy up your house by doing this quick little three minute chore.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Holiday Shopping and Research


Harajuku Lovers "Jingle G," from Sephora

My Christmas shopping is always done by December 1st, every year. (I'm bragging a little bit here!) Shopping is not a chore, and I don't feel obligated to give gifts to friends and family - it's something I love doing. It's a fun challenge to find something to surprise or delight someone with. But I also love staying home on freezing cold December nights, lighting a fire and avoiding crowds at the mall. So I give myself a December first shopping deadline.

I start early in October and work seriously to finish in November. Also, throughout the year I buy small gifts here and there as I come across them and think of someone. I shop quickly on all three weekends of November before Black Friday.


I'm thinking of getting this plush Rapunzel doll for my baby niece.

REAPING THE REWARDS OF SHOPPING EARLY:

I don't have to wake up early the morning after a busy Thanksgiving. I don't have to trudge out in the dark and cold to find bargains, because I'm already nearly done shopping. Instead, I can sleep in leisurely, get up and make a big pot of hot black tea, and start working on cleaning up the kitchen from last night's festivities. After that I can watch movies all afternoon in front of the gas fireplace! Much nicer than fighting crowds at the stores.

Then in December when my friends are running around frantically in the cold, rain and snow, fighting for parking, jostling through crowded stores, and listening to other people's kids scream, I'm home. I'm home in front of my fireplace, watching a movie, sipping cocoa (or something stronger!) and watching the rain or snow out the window. Safe and snug, with my gifts wrapped and ready to go. Aah.

RESEARCH:

Part of the reason my shopping is done so quickly, is that I research everything beforehand. I look around online as much as possible before going into a store. And whenever I happen to be in a store to buy something else, I peek around very quickly to get ideas, see what things cost, and plan gifts for the future.

Later tonight, I suggest we "Run" around like crazy on the Internet looking at shopping sites and doing research before we shop. See what's out there, what it costs, and look at a large variety of things to help you get gift ideas. Browse through magazines you might have lying around such as "Lucky" and "In Style" to see current trends.

Be sure to make a paper list or a Word document and write things down. You can either order things online or go into the stores in person in the upcoming weeks, but you'll be making better choices because of your research.

Also, you probably have relatives you need to mail gifts to because they live far away. Might as well order them online and let the stores do the shipping for you. (Except I think Amazon's wrapping paper is ugly, so I'll have them ship me the gifts unwrapped so I can wrap them myself, then ship them back out. It doubles the shipping cost to do it this way, but I want my carefully chosen gifts to arrive looking fabulous).

Go to websites for stores you already regularly shop at; don't waste your time just typing "christmas shopping" in Google. You'll just get back horrible, ad-filled pages by spam marketers and ugly products shoved in your face.

BUDGET:

Make a gift list and create your budget. Make a plan in advance. Set aside a weekday evening to do holiday shopping (or go tonight!). Shop during the weekend too - take advantage of the relatively uncrowded malls while you still can. The biggest shopping day of the year, November 25, is only 13 days away. After that, malls will become very uncomfortably crowded and chaotic.

This year, while we're experiencing the aftermath of a deep recession, I'm budgeting extremely carefully and trying to spend as little money as possible. I have a new foster teenager in the house, and three boy cousins who need new clothes for Christmas.

This year I won't buy any gifts for adults. I'd love to be more generous, but need to focus on children who need clothing, books and a couple toys.

I'm baking treats as part of my gifts, and if I were good at any crafts whatsoever, I'd be making crafts for people. (Sadly, I can't knit, sew, draw, or make cute felt toys.)

I'm consciously trying to give useful gifts this year, things people might actually need. Or I will try to give gifts the person can use up and enjoy and not have sitting around cluttering up their house. I'll gift things like gloves (boring, but useful), socks, cosmetics, bath products, food gifts, houseplants and liquor.

I'll spend time carefully wrapping gifts in a lovely, fabulous manner, to make up for the fact they're more boring gifts than I'd usually be giving.

TIME-SAVING SHOPPING LOCALES:

During weekday evenings and lunch hours, you can knock off a lot of your shopping list in places most people don't think to do early Christmas shopping. Great places to shop in the evening include bookstores, Target and Walmart, Trader Joe's, Sears/JcPenney, and grocery stores. They stay open late and generally have plenty of free parking. You can also shop late at drugstores like Long's, Rite-Aid, Walgreens, CVS and Bartell's, but I generally think of these as panicky last-minute shopping solutions, not somewhere you go when you have plenty of time to plan ahead.

If you have kids, leave them at home with their other parent, or trade babysitting nights with a relative or another mom.

KEEPING TRACK OF GIFTS:

Wrap your gifts (and tag them) right away when you get home. If you're too tired, at least be sure to label them with a Post it Note with your intended recipient's name on it. Mark the gift off your shopping list. You can always wrap gifts later during a TV show you were going to watch anyway.

Did you keep track last year, in a journal perhaps, of which person you gave each gift to? I keep records of this every year, so I catch mistakes like trying to give my grandmother a flower calendar every year for Christmas four years in a row. Oops.

LOVELY HOLIDAYS: Retro Style Wrapping Paper

I'm so delighted with this year's wrapping paper designs from The Container Store. They have several adorable vintage retro style designs that are just so cheerful I can hardly stand it. I don't usually go for "cutesy" wrapping paper, but this year I feel a bit of nostalgia. Here are a few of my favorites:


Sugary Santa Gift Bags


Holiday Village


Vintage Santa Express


Christmas in the City