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Elegant Christmas Centerpieces You Can Make Yourself

Celebrate Life, Home Matters
elegant Christmas centerpieces

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 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)

Gift idea for book lovers - bookmark, throw blanket, funny books, cookbooks

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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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

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!

Grandkid-friendly Thanksgiving Craft Ideas: A Gratitude Tree & Turkey Place Cards

Creativity and Crafts
thanksgiving crafts for kids

Our sixth grandchild was born earlier this month. Like all my other grandchildren (and, I am sure, yours) she is beautiful. And very advanced.

Seriously. You can tell just by looking at her.

Having six grand darlings doesn’t make me a total expert on the ins and outs of the grandparenting gig. Still, I’ve  picked up a few things along the way and can certainly pass on some tips regarding the Habits of Highly Popular Grandparents. continue reading

The Fierce Way to Curb Holiday Spending

Cherish Relationships, Creativity and Crafts, Finances
holiday spending

As I mentioned in my recent post about love, gift giving is my love language. I show my love by sending the most thoughtful gifts to those I love. I must say I’m quite good at it.

But there’s just one little problem. 

Things can get, well, a little out of hand. 

It’s so easy to get caught up with the gift-giving spirit of the season, and the catchy Christmas carols don’t exactly help…Santa honey one thing I really do need, the deed to a platinum mine…or I want a hippopotamus for Christmas…or all I want for Christmas is my two front teeth…or all I want for Christmas is you…

You get the idea. Whether it’s your Instagram feed or your friends or the displays at the store, everywhere you look, you are prompted to want something or buy something. Charge it and pay for it later.

I’m not saying gifts are bad. But really, do your loved ones and friends want you to blow out your budget on things you can’t afford? Probably not. 

This year, make a plan and stick to it. My friend and financial sherpa Peggy Doviak, whose book has been helping the Chairman and I get a handle on our finances, shares a few ideas on how to make this the best Christmas ever without breaking the bank. 

We had such a great response from Peggy’s last post on planning for retirement, I wanted to bringing her back to shower us all with her bright, shining financial wisdom. 

Here’s what she had to say. 

The Best Christmas Ever

Do the upcoming holidays fill you with joy or dread? Are you already wearing cozy holiday sweaters, drinking hot cocoa, and watching Hallmark movies? Or do you find yourself wondering whether Scrooge was right, and we really should be boiling people in their own plum pudding?

I think money is one of the leading causes of holiday stress for people. We want to create the perfect event, and we try not to think of the bill that will arrive in the mail around January 15th. Well, here’s the good news—it’s possible to have a great holiday season and stay out of debt. Planning ahead, being willing to spend hours rather than dollars, and knowing how to say “no” can help you have a wonderful, prosperous December. continue reading

What to Read Right Now – Fall 2018

what to read now

It’s National Author’s Day!

Since I love reading, writing, and all things books, this little known holiday is right up there with National Penguin Day or National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day for me.

It’s so fitting that National Author Day happens right as Fall is in full swing. It’s the moment when it’s socially acceptable to wear cozy clothes all day, with house slippers, and reading glasses, and a crackling fire, and sip on hot tea, cocoa and coffee all the day long.  Books and Fall go together like peas and carrots, if you ask me.

In honor of today, I thought I would put together a short list of the books I come back to again and again.

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My Son’s Wedding: The Dress! The Flowers! The Epic Mother Son Dance!

Celebrate Life, Family, Hospitality and Entertaining
mother son dance

It seems like yesterday when my youngest son thought every single animal, no matter what it was, was a cow. Moo! (it was a cat), Moo! (it was a dog). Moo! (It was an elephant for goodness sake).

Just to embarrass him, here’s a picture of him as a little ball of fluff. Adorable, right?

Oh, and here is one from those awkward middle school years with braces.

It’s my right as a mother to share these on the internet, yes? I think so. continue reading