Friday, November 30, 2012

November Ends: Looking Forward, Looking Back

Whimsy Collection Holiday Decor, at Z Gallerie

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

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


  • Look over your past month. Did you achieve goals you set for yourself? Your goals might have included NaNoWriMo, personal growth, healthy eating, housekeeping, budgeting, crafting, cooking, socializing, de-cluttering, family time, book-reading, journaling?
  • Need to pay any end-of-the-month bills?
  • Make a meal that cleverly helps you use up your last remaining leftover groceries from Thanksgiving. Not leftover turkey and mashed potatoes from your meal last week - those should already have been eating up or thrown out. I'm thinking of things you bought for Thanksgiving but never opened or served. We have a box of stuffing mix and an opened can of jellied cranberry sauce that I'd like to use up, for example.
  • 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? How is everybody doing on clean warm fuzzy socks for night time?
  • Put away any remaining autumn crafts or crafting supplies. It's time to switch to winter holiday season crafts.
  • Need to visit an ATM for cash, fill up with gas, stop by a Redbox for movies for the weekend?
  • Try, tonight, to remove two items from your bathroom counter and store them somewhere else (or get rid of them entirely!)
  • Finalize your weekend socializing plans with friends.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Pick-A-Spot Cleaning

Christmas Tree Throw Pillow, from Land of Nod

Tonight's a busy worknight in my house, despite it being Friday evening. (This time of year is pretty busy for eBay and Etsy sellers). I don't want to start a big house cleaning 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. I really wouldn't feel comfortable hosting guests in there right now, should the mood strike to throw an impromptu dinner party. I dusted last night while I was putting up some Christmas decorations, but that's not enough to save this room yet.

The carpet, filthy from muddy dog feet and hairy dogs laying on it all the time, needs to be vacuumed and spot cleaned. A little furry white dog has been sitting all over the couch and armchairs, so I need to vacuum the upholstery. I need to change a light bulb, water and tidy my houseplants, and take a couple drinking glasses to the kitchen. I have a huge stack of magazines I need to read (or give up on and recycle).

Finally, 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.

What's the worst room in your house, and what things could you do to help spiff it up?

LOVELY BEVERAGES: Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride

I've finally found a holiday-themed tea I can drink! This caffeine-free tea contains no cinnamon or ginger (which I'm allergic to). I am so stocking up on this for winter!

Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride, at Celestial Seasonings

LOVELY BLOGS: Yet Another Period Drama Blog

Amelia ("Miss Dashwood") loves period dramas and all things Jane Austen. This December, she's throwing a month-long Wives and Daughters Read-Along. Sounds like fun! Currently there's a nice guest post up that's a Tribute to British Television; several posts on the upcoming "Les Miserables" film, and posts on classic books.


Christmas Tablescape: A Cozy Woodland Setting (Between Naps on the Porch)

Cranberry Sorbet (Tide and Thyme)

Feta and Thyme Soda Bread (The Little Loaf)

How to Remove Melted Microfiber from a Smooth Top Stove (Home Ec 101)

Lemon Rose Loaf (Dough Puncher)

Lemon Chiffon Cupcakes with Raspberry Butter Cream (Mini Baker)

Lychee, Rose and Raspberry Ishapan Marshmallows (Raspberri Cupcakes)

Nutella Cherry Hazelnut Fudge (Annie's Eats)

Printable Paper Miniature Church and Village (Miniatures/

25 Days of Christmas Fun: Homemade Scented Snowman Playdoh (Sugar Aunts)

White Chocolate Peppermint M&M Cookies (Two Peas and Their Pod)

Whole Wheat Walnut Cocoa Brownies (The Perfect Pantry)

Winter Salads: Honey Roasted Root Vegetable and Arugula Salad (Romancing the Bee)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Decorating for the Holidays a Bit Early

Putting away the last holiday - My dining table full of the purple vases, candleholders and other decorative items I used for fall. Just about to go put them in their storage bins in the garage!

I normally never like to decorate for Christmas before December 1st. I like to enjoy each holiday in its own time, and not rush the next one (other than getting my Christmas shopping out of the way before December 1 if I possibly can).

But this year I'm more pressed for time. I'm trying to go on vacation from December 10-15. A kind cousin is moving into my house with her small son for the week to keep an eye on my teenager. So I want the house extra festive, warm and cozy, comforting and homey, and very Christmasy. That means I have to get started earlier than normal.


  • Have you done your book club reading, journal writing, crafting or anything else related to your current autumn hobbies?
  • Finished sending any thank-you notes from Thanksgiving weekend?
  • How is your Christmas shopping going?
  • Are you going into tomorrow with loads of dirty laundry that will follow you into the weekend? Can you sneak in a load tonight and get it done - folded and put away - before bedtime? I'm doing a load of dark clothing, myself. I seem to need to do more this time of year, with muddy puppies jumping on my pants.
  • Have you cleaned off watched shows from your DVR, returned Netflix and library books, to make room for this weekend's entertainments?

TODAY'S PROJECT: Getting Out My Decorations

My first attempt at a Linzer cookie. I obviously won't win any food photography blogging awards!

Before I suited up in warm socks, long-sleeved shirt and a coat to go spend time with my garage door open, hauling out boxes of Christmas decor, putting away my Thanksgiving and Halloween decor, I baked.

I made these festive Linzer cookies, using just star, diamond and circle shaped cutters. I'm proud of myself for actually using my specialty cutters finally (I was about to give them away or sell them on eBay if I didn't use them in the next month!) After munching a couple cookies and fortifying myself with hot blackcurrant tea, I headed into my garage to look over my Christmas decor.

The only holiday decor I'm tempted to buy, Snowmen from Cost Plus Imports. I want them for my mantel, I think!

Tonight I'm slowly dusting off hurricane lamps and vases, setting out candle holders, putting away any leftover orange or pumpkn-scented candles, and retrieving Christmas-scented and Christmas-colored candles from their storage place. I'm plugging in lit garlands and trying them in various places around my house. I'm trying to decide if the red bows I have tied onto railings, garlands and cupboard doors are too over-the-top or too old-fashioned country or not.

I'm trying to plan everything carefully, wanting an extra special Christmas for my foster kids this year. I also want the house to look lovely for my cousin's visit. But I won't allow myself to stress about it, or throw money at the problem by rushing out to buy decorations. (Except I might splurge on the cute snowmen shown above).

I haven't hauled out any boxes of ornaments yet - that will wait until next week when I get my tree (a week or two earlier than I'm used to!)

Tonight's project is fun, I encourage you to join me in decorating your own homes, even if it's a tad early!

LOVELY BLOGS: Attempt in Domesticity

"Trying to emulate Martha Stewart in a town of hipsters." This blogger writes from Oregon (I assume Portland?) Recent interesting posts include What To Do When you Meet Your Meat; Tales From the Garden: Fresh Tomato Sauce; and Tales From the Garden: Sunchoke Harvest.


Barley and Kale Salad with Golden Beets and Feta (Bon Appetit)

Braised Broccoli with Orange and Parmesan (101 Cookbooks)

Hooray for Hanukkah (Epicurious)

Thai Yellow Curry with Squash and Tofu (Vanilla and Spice)

Friday, November 23, 2012

Recovering From Thanksgiving Festivities

Hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving!

Are you back home from your Thanksgiving trip, or from your Black Friday shopping? Are your guests gone, or staying for the whole weekend?

I have to work today, but 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.


  • Shovel sidewalk if applicable. You're exercising and working off those Thanksgiving calories, too! (It's raining hard here, so my project is to scrape leaves out of my cul-de-sac's storm drain)
  • What did you use up yesterday, or notice you were out of? Milk? Whipping cream? Eggs? Add to your shopping list for the weekend.
  • 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 catch up 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. I definitely have a pile of pans in my sink, and I didn't even host yesterday!

TODAY'S PROJECT: Winter Car Emergency Preparedness

AAA Severe Winter Weather Travel Kit, on Amazon

If you live in an area where you have bad winter weather, are you well prepared for emergencies? You can get your car stuck, be stranded, or be stuck on the freeway for hours upon hours in bad weather situations. 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 pretty full tank of gas? Do you have your cell phone with you, charged, at all times? A charger in the car 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 gas station 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?

Tonight I'm emptying my trunk, checking over my winter weather travel supplies, then carefully organizing the many things I carry in my car in wintertime. (Yes, I do have a shovel with me at all times!) This is a nice short project to accomplish, then I can relax and enjoy my holiday evening.

LOVELY BLOGS: Going Home to Roost

"Simply handmade and home grown." This blog is full of useful posts on simple living, DIY crafts, and gardening. There are also recipes, and some crafting and blogging business advice posts that I found really well written. Currently featuring a lot of holiday gift guides. Check out her cute DIY Felt Snowballs!

LOVELY SHOPS: Fantastic Toys

You might just scream when you see the adorable paper printable toys you can make from this shop's patterns. Buy the pattern, print it out and assemble the toys. These are so colorful and so cute! I can hardly stand it.

There are Christmas themed printables (such as this set of Santa, Mrs. Claus and an elf), a paper Candy Cane gingerbread house, fairytale themed items such as this paper gnome mushroom cottage and paper dollhouses and cottages. I haven't tried printing one out yet so I'm not sure how hard they are to actually assemble, but I'm going to try one over the holidays!


Gingersnap Pumpkin Cheesecake (Dimples and Delights)

Mushroom Magic (NY Times)

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust (Milk and Mode)

Irish Potato Soup (Worth the Whisk)

We Love Leftovers (Epicurious)

What to Do With Thanksgiving Leftovers (Bon Appetit)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving Pep Talk

Gratitude Journal, from Paper Source

Here's your Thanksgiving pep talk for 2012, if you're nervous, stressing, or feeling overwhelmed.

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. We have good friends who may spend time with us us sometime later this weekend to celebrate and let us share cathartic stories about our relatives.

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.

Meri Meri Pilgrim Thanksgiving Place Cards, on Amazon

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, idly flip through magazines or 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.

I also like to watch Home for the Holidays by myself every year, a night or two before Thanksgiving. So funny!

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.

Kissing Pilgrims Salt & Pepper Shakers, from Gump's

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.

Best wishes for a happy Thanksgiving for you!


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

It's Almost Thanksgiving

Fall Cookies, from Dean & Deluca


  • 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.
  • Made pet sitting arrangements if you're traveling? If you're hosting, have you prepared a nice cozy room in your home to put your pet in your home so they aren't underfoot (or begging) during the Thanksgiving meal?


Dusk Hand Towel, from Crate and Barrel

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. (You never know which bathroom a guest is going to wander into or snoop around in!)

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

Clean mirrors, light fixtures, 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: Simply Scratch

"Delicious recipes made simply from scratch." Recent posts you may enjoy include Bacon leek stuffing with sage and pecans; garlicky green bean almondine; homemade cranberry sauce; and a delicious looking hearty vegetarian lentil soup.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving Countdown: Two Days Before

Harvest Pumpkin Serving Tureen, from Williams-Sonoma


  • Try to get your grocery shopping done very soon. The closer it gets to Thanksgiving, the busier and crazier the stores get. Try to plan ahead so you don't have to run to the store at the last minute on Thanksgiving.
  • If you're hosting a gathering at your house, be sure you have fresh tasting ice cubes, and plenty of them. 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 people who keep gluten-free?
  • Do you need to do any laundry, launder table linens or hand towels? Your tablecloth might need to be ironed?
  • Are your dishes clean and ready to be set on the table? Do you have plenty of goblets or drinking glasses sparkling and ready?
  • 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. Do you have warm things to serve for breakfasts? Oatmeal, Malt-O-Meal or Cream of Wheat? Coffee? (I struggle with remembering to stock coffee since I'm a tea drinker).
  • Clean off and sanitize your home telephone (and cellphones too, 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 the trick.
  • 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 Turkey Cupcake Decorating Kit, on Amazon

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


Indian Summer Thanksgiving Potholder, on Amazon

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 lately, and I have a bit extra work to do to get my kitchen ready for the holidays. Luckily I'm going to someone else's house for Thanksgiving dinner this year! My counters are cleared off and got spritzed with a nice smelling lemon citrus counter cleanser 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, thanks to my muddy-footed dogs). Finish what you have left to do in your kitchen, and let's move on to our dining rooms.


Harvest Pumpkin Tureen, at Pier 1 Imports

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 for the inevitable "What are you thankful for?" discussion. Often that makes someone cry at the table!

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


Solid Chenille Throw, in Gold, from Pier 1 Imports

Let's move on to our living rooms, 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 "The 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 BLOGS: Cannella Vita

"The story of a girl baking her way through high school." Erica chose this name for her blog because it means "Cinnamon life" in Italian. She's been interested in cooking ever since fifth grade. I think you'll enjoy her recent posts on her Thanksgiving menu; apple cornbread stuffing; chicken tortilla soup and panettone.


Boston Cream Pie Tutorial (Bobbie's Baking Blog)

Cornbread and Wild Rice Stuffing with Hazelnuts and Cranberries (Feed Me Phoebe)

Going all In on Thanksgiving: A Thanksgiving Table for 40 (NY Times)

Pinecone Turkeys Craft (All Good in Mommyhood)

Sage and Fontina Buttermilk Biscuits (A Cozy Kitchen)

Thanksgiving Felt Leaf Bunting Craft (Think Crafts)

Thanksgiving Countdown: Three Days Before

Felt Turkey, from Cost Plus World Market


  • 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. They're so very crowded, and this doesn't lead to you living a lovely life!
  • 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 on hand 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 accomodating - turn the heat up a degree or two for your guests who would prefer it. There's nothing worse than spending the night as a guest in a chilly home.
  • Doing ok on coffee and tea to serve guests and to keep yourself caffeinated while you cook this week?
  • 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

Mini Turkey Candles, at Sur la Table

Thanksgiving is three days away. Let's use this time to pack (if you're traveling), 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 or want to get done.

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 pet-sitter, and phone your hostess to confirm arrangements. Don't forget to pack your charged up camera and charger or batteries for it, and don't forget a cell phone charger too! Do you have your thank-you card addressed and stamped (so you can write and mail it immediately 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 wonderfully travel-free extra days off of work?

If you're hosting, you probably have a lot of cleaning and grocery shopping to do. Do your bathrooms need tidying? 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? Background music picked out and ready to go? Does your home smell clean and festive?

Don't forget to build yourself in a little "sit down and relax" time. Whether you spend some quiet time in a hot bath, a rocking chair, a cafe you snuck away to for 45 minutes, or on your couch idly flipping through magazines, give yourself permission to neglect a task or two in order to get yourself some peace.

LOVELY BLOGS: Eat, Drink, Love

Stephanie's blog of lovely things to eat. She tries, when possible, to include low fat recipes as well as recipes without a lot of sugar, but she also believes (as do I) that sometimes you just have to splurge a little! Recent recipes include Apple Cranberry Stuffing; low fat broccoli gratin; and a yummy looking Apple Pumpkintini.


Egg Custard Pie (The Bitten Word)

Gingerbread Granola (Dinner Series)

Mom's Macaroni and Cheese (The Faux Martha)

No-Bake Pumpkin Cheesecake Mini Trifle (Just Add Cheese)

Pumpkin Pie with Pecan Streusel Topping (Will Cook for Friends)

Thanksgiving Prep Tips (The Chic Life)

Why Does Steam Make Bread Light and Crusty? (Slate)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Spending a Leisurely Sunday Evening at Home

Gingerbread Man Garland Kit, from Paper-Source

Tonight I'm prioritizing downtime and some quiet alone time. (Hopefully I can do this!) I had a couple of opportunities to go out and do things tonight, but I said "no thank you." I know when I need to step back, even from very fun things, to give myself some time and peace.

I'll stay home, tonight, enjoying being in the house I work so hard to make welcoming and comfortable. I'll spend time with my dogs and my teenager, eat leftovers, make a few holiday paper crafts, read my current book ( The Light Between Oceans), and catch up on some shows on my Tivo.


  • 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 tomorrow, 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.

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

  • Create menu plans for the week; plan lunch boxes if any.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Oven and Stove

My dream Bluestar oven

With all the 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.) I'm staying home tonight to enjoy myself, but I'll do this one project first so I get it out of the way before the workweek starts tomorrow.

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?

Red Damask Potholder and Oven Mitt, on Amazon

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 cost just 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 conjure up a treat for yourself!

LOVELY BEVERAGES: Sweet Harvest Pumpkin

Though I can't drink it myself, due to my cinnamon allergy, I'm delighted that Celestial Seasonings has come out with this new non-Christmasy holiday tea. I was looking for just the right tea to serve around Thanksgiving, in the days leading up to and after it. This sets exactly the right flavor mood I was hoping for, and complements the foods I'll serve at my dinners.

Sweet Harvest Pumpkin Tea, from Celestial Seasonings


"All things inspired by books." A lovely blog written by two sisters who share a love of literature. Currently the blog is specializing in "Alcott Autumn," featuring the works of Louisa May Alcott. They're creating gratitude pumpkins, a Blessed banner, gift wrapping with tea towels, and creating a pecan wreath. Each crafty post contains a lovely quote from one of Alcott's books (usually Little Women). Such a charming and inspiring blog. I am eager to see what their theme is next month!

LOVELY BOOKS: Cozy Classics

I am so in love with this adorable series of books. These board books for infants feature painstakingly needle felted cloth dolls photographed beautifully in scenes or dioramas. Each page has just one word on it. I'm not too excited about Moby Dick and I think Les Miserables is too dark a subject matter for babies. Hopefully the authors (a set of twin brothers) will come out with lovely and charming titles like "Pride and Prejudice" in the future.

Cozy Classics "Pride and Prejudice," on Amazon


Caramel Turkey Treats (Hungry Happenings)

Eight Best Tips for Prepping Your Silver for the Holidays (The Daily Basics)

Homemade Vanilla Bean Butterscotch Sauce (The Domestic Rebel)

30 Easy Thanksgiving Treats (Sugarkissed)

Teepee Cake Bites (Miss Candiquik)

Thanksgiving 911: Thanksgiving Tips, Tricks and Resources (Love From the Oven)

Turkey Cake Pops (Miss Candiquik)

22 Gratitude Exercises That Will Chaneg Your Life (Daring to Live Fully)

White and Glittery Pumpkin Cake Pops (Beki Cook's Cakes Blog)

Whole Wheat Blackberry Ricotta Scones (101 Cookbooks)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Christmas Shopping on a Saturday Evening

Festive Body Butter Trio Gift Set, at The Body Shop

This afternoon I'm going Christmas shopping. I normally don't like to do this on any weekends near the holidays, since the malls get so busy. But I've been sick lately and wasn't able to go out on weeknight afternoons and evenings like I'd hoped. My goal is to be completely done shopping by December first. Then I hope to finish all my gift wrapping the first week in December. That way I can relax and enjoy the holiday season without stressing about shopping.


  • Do a quick clutter removal from your mail table, stairs (if applicable), and living room. You'll come home from your fun social activities tonight and be able to relax and unwind 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 and toy charities 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. It hasn't been cold enough to use ours much yet.

  • Empty the smaller wastebaskets in your house and the kitchen trash can as needed. (Or better yet, delegate this task). Collect trash bags, if full, from 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

Stila "All is Bright" Lip Glaze Set, from Sephora

This looks like it will be the first year I am not able to attain my goal of finishing my Christmas shopping on December first. My four foster kids and work have kept me extra busy, and a recent illness made shopping impossible. 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 really prefer to attempt to meet a December 1st shopping cutoff deadline.

It will help that this year I'm only buying gifts for children. I just don't have the budget to splurge on adult relatives or friends, though I wish I could. And it helps that throughout the year I bought a few small gifts here and there as I came across them and thought of a particular child.


The Sweet Shop Plush Playset I'm thinking of getting for a friend's baby this Christmas

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

Then in December when everyone else is 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'll be home. I'll be home in front of my fireplace, watching a movie, sipping cocoa (or something stronger - a hot toddy perhaps?) and watching the rain or snow out the window. Safe and snug, with my gifts wrapped and ready to go. Aah.


Another plush playset that's tempting me: Big Top Playset, from FAO Schwarz

Part of the reason my shopping is done so quickly each year, 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.

In the evenings this weekend and next week, I suggest we explore quite a bit 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 if that helps. Look at products people are pinning on Pinterest, too.

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 make better choices because of your research.

Also, you probably have relatives you need to mail gifts to because they live far away. You might as well order them online and let the stores do the shipping for you. I'm definitely counting a lot on Amazon this year to help me finish my shopping quickly.

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.


I'll give this Bright Stripes Gymboree outfit long before Christmas so a friend's baby can wear it during the holiday season, not afterwards when everyone might be "Christmased out."

Make a gift list and create your budget. Make a plan in advance. Also budget for your time, not just the money you'll spend. Try to have a plan so you don't wander aimlessly and frustrated around a crowded shopping mall.

This year I have the tightest shopping budget I've ever experienced. I'm budgeting extremely carefully and trying to spend money on practical gifts this year (clothes and books for the kids, food for adults if I break down and purchase gifts for grownups). I have a foster teenager in the house, and three boy cousins who need new clothes for Christmas. I won't overdo it on the gifts - the last thing any of us needs right now is more clutter in our homes.

Instead of buying the kids huge amounts of toys this year (like I did last Christmas right after their mother died) I am going to prioritize spending money on events. We want to go see Elf: The Musical, and I'd like to take the kids to see Garden D'Lights at the nearby botanical garden. This costs time and money - the money for our tickets and for the meal we'll undoubtedly eat together afterwards, and time for me to drive the kids there and back, eat dinner and visit the garden. Budgeting time in a busy season like this is half of the gift.

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


We enjoyed the movie together so much, I'm thinking of getting this Wreck it Ralph book for one of my little reluctant readers.

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. This will save you a lot of time, hassle and frustration. I so prefer shopping without my kids tagging along!


Wrap your gifts (and tag them) right away when you get home from shopping. 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

Busy About the Season Gift Wrap

Vintage Santa Express

Peppermint Christmas Gift Wrap

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Middle of November

Winter Cranberry Cleansing Hand Soap, from Bath & Body Works

This week I'm working on just maintaining my home in a lovely clean and organized condition. I want to enjoy it this way now, but also have it ready for the upcoming holidays. I'm not feeling well this week so wasn't up to any major projects, but I'll make up for it this weekend when I'm hopefully able to do more.


  • Clean out your fruit bowl - any spoiled fruit you need to throw out? Need to put fresh fruit on your grocery shopping list? I just picked up a large box of Satsuma oranges we're looking forward to eating.

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

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

  • Is it time to get your snow tires put on your car? Do you have an ice scraper in your car?

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

  • Have you baked an apple pie yet this autumn?

  • Try to clean out your email inbox (if needed) today. Answer and delete or archive emails. I'm down to about 50 currently.

  • If you've been doing early Christmas shopping, do you need to wrap and label any Christmas gifts tonight?

  • Thanksgiving is a week away. How are you doing with preparations for your meal, any houseguests, or your own travel?

  • Do you send out Thanksgiving cards? Might want to pop them in the mail tomorrow.

  • This weekend, clean one shelf, one drawer or two door pockets in your refrigerator. (I have to do this both in my kitchen fridge and the one in my garage).

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

  • If you're in a book club, are you keeping up with your book club reading?

THURSDAY'S PROJECT: General Cleaning

Method Lime/Sea-Salt All-Purpose Cleaner

Today I'm doing a quick once-over on almost every room of the house. I'm staying home tonight, but tomorrow I'm going out for a late dinner and a movie (Skyfall!) with my cousin. She'll spend the night, so I want the house to look nice and feel cozy for her. So any cleaning I do to get ready for her has to be done today.

Tonight after work, I will quickly vacuum my living room, family room, hallway and bedroom. I'll put a freshly laundered tablecloth on the dining table, empty my kitchen and bathroom trash cans, de-clutter and dust my mail table, do a quick mop on my kitchen floor, and put a few dishes into the dishwasher. Bathroom and kitchen counters need to be wiped down. I'll run around the house looking for lost mugs and drinking glasses, pairs of shoes that need to be put away, and other items that are out of place. I won't have time to deal with my messy home office, so I'll just shut the door to it before my cousin arrives!

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

FRIDAY'S PROJECT: Autumn Beauty Routine

Fresh's Brown Sugar Body Polish, at Sephora

Before I go out to dinner and a movie today, I'm performing some of my beauty rituals. I'm taking care of myself so I'll continue to look my best through the holidays. I won't obsess over being beautiful or trying to be glamorous. I'm just making sure I feel pretty when I go this weekend's round of parties, dinners, cocktails, lunches and cafes.

This evening I'll make time to take care of my skin and body. I'll be shaving, sugar scrubbing, moisturizing, and giving myself a manicure and pedicure. I'll save money by not getting a professional manicure and pedicure, and I'll use that saved money to get my hair professionally dyed next week. (I'm finding more and more gray hairs I prefer to cover!) When I get home, I hope to make time for a deep conditioning session for my hair, too.

SATURDAY'S PROJECT: Christmas Shopping

On Saturday I'm not doing any cleaning or homemaking tasks. I'm spending the day Christmas shopping. I optimistically (but probably not realistically) hope to get all of my shopping done that day, between Target, Trader Joe's, Cost Plus World Market, Toys R' Us, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.

SUNDAY'S PROJECT: Major Cleaning of One Room

Pledge Multi-Surface Wipes, on Amazon

Choose a large, major room in your home that needs cleaning really badly. (If you're an amazing housekeeper and you don't have any messy rooms, well, congratulations. Take the day off and put your feet up! But I have some work to do). Perhaps 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.

Mrs. Meyers' Orange Clove Holiday Cleaning Set


Walk into your chosen project room. 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, your mother-in-law, or whatever helps motivate you!) Put on music nearby (or a movie if you're working in a room with a television) and make yourself a nice beverage. Light incense or spray room spray if you like. Let's make this a pleasant task.

Start by removing clutter, throwing things away, recycling or putting into the charity bin anything you can possibly part with. Next, empty wastebaskets, take out recycling, and find some items to put in storage if you can't part with them. Remove any drinking glasses, dishes, shoes, newspapers/magazines, 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?


Start at the top. Thoroughly clean ceiling fan (if any) 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 door frame, too. Need to give the door handles and cupboard/closet knobs a quick polish? Do your curtains need dry cleaning or laundering, or your blinds need wiping down? Wash walls or dust them as needed. Check to see if you need lightbulbs. Clean baseboards and air vents before you vacuum. Wipe down light switches and the walls around them, which might have dirty handprints.


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.


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 any drawers on side 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, shake out, air 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!).


Water houseplants (if any) 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).

Warm Vanilla Sugar Room Spray, from Bath & Body Works

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). ((Skip this step if you were cleaning your garage, basement or attic!)

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? (Skip this step too if you were cleaning your garage, basement or attic!)

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

LOVELY FOOD: Krusteaz' Pumpkin Pie Bar Mix

I was pretty excited to pick up the new box mix from Krusteaz. With a full-time job, an eBay business, four foster kids and a houseful of pets, I probably won't actually get around to baking anything from scratch in the week leading up to Thanksgiving. This will save me time and let me serve a nice autumn treat for us before the holiday eating fest begins. I don't like my kids to eat a lot of sugar - "everything in moderation" - but once in a while I like them to come home to a little something sweet that's hot out of the oven. Sadly, my cinnamon allergy means I can't enjoy one of these bars with them!

Pumpkin Pie Bar Mix, at Krusteaz

LOVELY BLOG OF THE WEEK: All Things Heart and Home

"Living my legacy one day at a time." Robin blogs from the South about crafting, gluten-free cooking, decorating, entertaining, and DIY. She's a grandmom to four grandchildren, too. Recent posts I've enjoyed include this cute play felt Christmas tree; her recipe for gluten-free caramel pecan pie; the contagiousness of joy; and how to make Thanksgiving dinner gluten-free.

All Things Heart and Home on Pinterest

All Things Heart and Home on Twitter


Holidays Become a Cable TV Industry (Yahoo! News)

How to Create a Perfect Vegetarian Thanksgiving Menu (Blisstree)

Making Perfect Pies (Epicurious)

Pumpkin Cheesecake Brownies (Bake at 350)

Relief for the Pumpkin-Weary (Bon Appetit)

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes (Annie's Eats)

Vegetarian Main Dishes for Thanksgiving (CHOW)