Elegant Christmas Centerpieces You Can Make Yourself

Celebrate Life, Home Matters
elegant Christmas centerpieces
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So many holiday to-dos these days. When I opened my calendar for this week it tells me I should plan my Christmas table centerpiece!

While I could just use my simple homemade advent calendar for the center of my table or a DIY floral arrangement like I did for Easter, why not take this opportunity to make something new!

Enjoy 50% Off All Holiday Season! Sign up for a Bluprint subscription today, and we'll automatically take 50% off the full price of your Craftsy items every time you shop from now until December 31. Offer valid at myBluprint.com through 12/25/18.Whatever I choose, you better believe I’ll underscoring the whole kit and caboodle with a holiday version of this quilted table runner I made on the blog not too long ago. Winter wonderland, here I come!

I’ve been thinking for awhile about how I want to decorate my table and I’ve been scouring around for ideas. Lucky for you, I’m sharing the best ones I’ve found to save you time! continue reading

The Fierce Reader’s Gift Guide: Gift Ideas for the Book Lovers in Your Life (Even If it’s You)

Books
Gift idea for book lovers - bookmark, throw blanket, funny books, cookbooks
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Oh books, how we love thee.

Let me count the ways!

It goes without saying, but since I’m an author and all, books are one of my first loves.

Write them.

Read them.

Love them.

Share them.

On a related note, gifting a friend my best-selling Cobbled Court Series isn’t the worst idea in the world. Or even just starting them with the first book! 

It’s always a great idea to buy your loved ones books for Christmas. Remember that books are never returned for being the wrong size or color, plus they are proven by science to help calm heart rates, decrease muscle tension, preserve your mental sharpness, and make you nicer! (Not that any of you need to be nicer.)

But for this post, I wanted to take a look at some fun options for the book lovers in our lives beyond books.

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The Best Roasted Butternut Squash Salad Recipe

Food for Grownups
the best roasted butternut squash salad recipe
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Two weeks ago, I promised you that I’d share the recipe for the utterly fantastic salad I served alongside the various soups at my Watch Party. I said I’d share it the following week.

Obviously, I didn’t follow through on that promise. Sorry. If you could see my kitchen right now (and there is no way I’m letting you do that) you’d see that I’m up to my earlobes in boxes, wrapping paper, and ribbons, and…Well, you get the picture. Chances are, it’s the same at your house this week.

Anyway, back to that salad. I love salad. In summer.

For some reason, about the time the leaves turn colors and start to drop, so does my interest in eating salad.  When the weather turns cold, I want my vegetables warm and start making a lot of soup. continue reading

DIY Advent Wreath Ideas – Create Meaning This Season

Celebrate Life, Creativity and Crafts
advent wreath

I love everything about Christmas.

I love the parties, the presents, and the greeting cards. And I love the lights, and the decorations, and my oh my – do I ever love the food! I love reading Christmas themed novels and watching Christmas themed movies on the Hallmark Channel.

I even love digging out the DVD player and watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” for the twelve gazillionth time.

(My kids do not appreciate that part quite so much. But, tradition is tradition. And this is the price they must pay for my having done the favor of bringing them into the world.)

The bottom line is, I am crazy about Christmas and all that goes with it – the secular, the commercial, and the familial, the cherishing of old traditions and creation of new ones. continue reading

Fierce Grammy’s Guide: Best Christmas Gift Ideas For Grandkids

Cherish Relationships, Family
Christmas Gift Ideas for Grandkids
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Let’s face it: grandchildren are the most fun to buy presents for, but can sometimes be the hardest. It’s difficult to keep track of what kids these days are interested in, and after you learn, it can change faster than you can say “iPhone!”

But there’s nothing quite as special as the look of joy on a child’s face when Christmas morning comes and they open presents. (And the inevitable hug afterwards!).

When I shop for my grand-darlings, I try to think back to being a parent and remember the practical side of gifts, too. Here are a few ground rules:

  1. SAFETY: Even if you’re buying for an older child, be sensitive to lots of small parts that could be dangerous to younger kids.
  2. SANITY: Keep parents in mind. Ask about things like an art set that might create large messes or a drum set that might affect the acoustics of home life. Your grandson might be the next Picasso or Ringo Starr but sometimes those messy or loud  gifts are best kept at grandma’s house!
  3. SMART: It’s no secret that all of our grand-darlings are clearly advanced, which is why it’s important to look for educational toys that help develop their young (and obviously brilliant) minds.
  4. LOCAL: Shop local when you can. ‘Nuff said.
  5. BOOKS ARE SUPREME: The last rule for me is that each grandchild always gets a book, no matter what. (Not that I’m biased or anything because I’m an author, I just think kids and books go together like partridges and peartrees).

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Waiting For Your Stoning: Why You Need To Forgive Yourself

Healing and Hope
forgive yourself

I’ve received so many lovely notes of congratulations on the airing of Christmas Everlasting, the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie based on my novel, The Second Sister.  Thank you so much to everyone who wrote. Your notes have touched me.

Those that impacted me most came from people who wrote to say that the movie’s themes about self-forgiveness hit very close to home. Like my character, Lucy, these people feel terribly guilty about something they’ve done in the past and say they just can’t let it go.

I get it.

I think that most people feel like that at some level, as though they have made mistakes that can never be erased completely. Sometimes, it’s really hard to put the past in the past. continue reading

Easy Entertaining Tips and Tricks

Celebrate Life

This past Saturday marked the premiere of Christmas Everlasting, a Hallmark Hall of Fame production based on one of my novels, The Second Sister.

(If you haven’t read the book yet, I think you should. Really.  Here’s a link.)

It was a pretty big night for me, one I wanted to share. And I did, with about 5,000 cyber friends who joined me for my online Virtual Watch Party.  I also hosted a watch party in my home for about 25 non-virtual friends.

This was our first large get together in this house. Given that, I wondered if we might run into some glitches but everything went smoothly. My guests had a great time. And even though this was one of the busiest weeks of my life, so did I.

Entertain Like a Pro

I’m always surprised at how many people are intimidated by the idea of entertaining at home. That’s such a shame.

Opening your home to friends and family, and showing hospitality to people you care about can be incredibly satisfying.  It needn’t be difficult or stressful. In fact, it can even be fun!

I’ve always loved entertaining.

When I was in the eighth grade, one of my teachers offered extra credit for doing something you’d never done before.  For my extra credit project, I decided to give a formal dinner party for my entire class. (I was always a bit precocious. And nerdy.)

I still remember the menu – London broil and twice-baked potatoes with a green salad, and floating islands for dessert.  It was an ambitious undertaking for a thirteen year old, especially since I’d never made any of the recipes before.

Perhaps it was beginner’s luck –  heaven knows I’ve had plenty of recipe fails since then – but everything went off without a hitch.

My mother, who is a prodigious party-giver to this day but always has a lot of anxiety about the process, asked me how I managed to pull it off and stay so calm.  My answer, “I had a plan.”

Forty years later, I still enjoy entertaining. And I still have a plan.

By following these 3 tips for easy entertaining, I insure that entertaining is an enjoyable experience for me, and for my guests.

1. Have A Plan

Planning ahead is the most important part of pulling off a perfect and stress-free dinner party.

Sharpen your pencil, get out a notebook, and write out your plan. The first thing on it should be your proposed menu – including beverages. Next, write out your grocery list, liquor or beverage list, and decorating list.  Make a list of any equipment you’ll need to use, purchase, or borrow.  (I had to borrow extra folding chairs and slow cookers for our party on Saturday.)

Finally, pull out your calendar. Think about the things can cook, decorate, or do ahead. Assign a few items to each day for the week before your party. It will make everything so much easier!

For our party, I bought the beverages a full week before, my groceries the day after that, and made my three soups (chicken stew, vegetarian chili, and the best mushroom soup ever), salad dressing, and desserts ahead of time.  On the day of the party, all I had to do was bake the dinner rolls, dress the salad, and mix up a batch of punch.  Easy.

On the day of the event, it’s a good idea to set out all the bowls, platters, and serving pieces you will be using early in the day. This will give you a clear visual map of what still needs to be done. It will also ensure that none of the appetizers, side dishes, or dessert you labored so hard over accidentally gets left in the refrigerator when your guests arrive.

2. Don’t Do Dishes (Unless You Have To)

I do enjoy formal entertaining. There’s something so lovely about a table set with my best china, crystal, and freshly polished silver.  But formal entertaining is something I reserve for small parties of six to eight guests.

For a big crowd, leave the china in the cabinet and go with disposable dishes. I’m not talking about those flimsy white paper picnic plates we all grew up using, the kind that would end up seeping baked beans onto your jeans.

These days, disposable dishes can be sturdy and elegant.  For Saturday’s party, I ordered a complete set of gold- rimmed disposable dinnerware. It had everything I needed in one box, from sturdy plates and bowls to plush napkins and gold disposable cutlery.

Another option I like is this biodegradable dinnerware made from palm leaves. The pretty, wood-look plates have a rustic elegance and are environmentally friendly to boot!

3. Keep It Simple

If you love making complicated dishes and are a confident enough cook to do so, then fine. Go for it.  But if I’m cooking for a crowd, I prefer to choose a simple menu.

What I’ve learned is that if you want to get all fancy, just show off with one dish. Does the dessert involve setting it on fire or 24 steps and reading French? Then serve a simple roast chicken. Just make one thing that requires a lot of attention, let it be the star of the show, then use your tried and true – and simple – recipes for the rest.

My premiere party was delicious and hearty, but I planned for simple implantation and a quick cleanup. In fact, the Chairman and I were in bed by 11 that night. The reason for that was three make-ahead main dishes and a simple seasonal salad (more on that next week!).  That pretty disposable dinnerware helped a lot as well.

Remember, the most important thing is that you and your guests have meaningful time together. That can’t happen if you are in a frenzied, hot-flashed, stress tornado in the kitchen, worried about every little detail. Everyone will have wonderful memories of the evening – even if you overcook the steak or forget to salt the main course.

Don’t let the pursuit of perfection get in the way of enjoying your friends and the time you spend together. You’ve got this!

Good Until the Last Drop: The Best Mushroom Soup Recipe That Everyone Will Love

Food for Grownups
best mushroom soup recipe
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As you may have ascertained by now, I love soup. I love making it, and eating it, and serving it to family and friends.

Soup is basically love in a bowl.

That’s why I chose to create a soup and salad supper menu for the guests at my watch party last weekend, so they’d know how much I loved them.

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The Fierce Gift Guide for Girlfriends: Christmas Gift Ideas for Friends as Fierce as You

Cherish Relationships
Christmas Gift Ideas for Friends

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Girlfriends are sometimes the easiest to shop for. Many times, they love the same things you do. You share interests, hobbies, and passions. You do life together!

It’s hard to set foot in a store without seeing something and immediately thinking of one of your friends who would love it. That’s what makes shopping for friends so fun!

The challenge for me is that I always want to come up with the absolutely perfect, most thoughtful present for those friends who mean the most, but this time of year I always seem to run out of time to make them a quilt by hand, bake up artisanal cinnamon rolls, or craft up something spectacular and one of a kind. There’s also the issue that many of my friends aren’t local.

But that doesn’t mean that I can’t knock it out of the park for Christmas!

My gift numero uno for my friends this year – and I already ordered in bulk – was the Living Well Spending Less planner (aka my secret weapon on managing my schedule and getting to do the things that matter most to me).

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