HOLIDAY, VALENTINES DAY

Romantic Gestures for the Day of Hearts

February is the month to celebrate love. When was the last time you swept your loved one off of their feet with a simple romantic gesture? I recently rewatched the cute romantic comedy “Hitch” where Will Smith’s character as “The Love Doctor” inspires his clients with uniquely designed romantic gestures, suited specifically to capture the attention of a woman they want so much to win the heart of.

In that same spirit, here are some ideas to inspire you where the currency starts with nothing but time and thought if that’s all you have. Have someone help you beautifully wrap a box of chocolates with a luxurious silk or velvet ribbon. If available select a special vintage brooch from your mother or grandmother’s jewelry box (or find one in a local antique shop) and pin it to the ribbon’s center for a bit of Victorian romance.

Place a delicate bracelet, pearl or heart shaped earrings into a satin or velvet draw string bag and then tuck the bag into a Victorian Hinged Heart Shape Christmas ornament. Another Victorian style romantic presentation- more unique and thoughtful than the typical jewelry box. To wrap, lay the ornament inside a red velvet or specially wrapped box on a fluffy cloud of delicate tissue wrapping paper and it looks just as elegant as a faberge egg. (Pretty boxes often with bows can be found at Homegoods stores, charm bracelets and the individual charms can be found at affordable prices at craft stores like Hobby Lobby and Michael’s.)

You still have time to order a Victorian ornament – here’s a source online that I found https://www.putti.ca/products/hinged-heart-treasure-box-ornament-pink

A bracelet filled with charms representing memories you share.

How do I love thee…. let me count the ways….. A priceless gesture of love is something that comes straight from the heart. Rather than stopping at the drug store on Valentine’s Day to sift through the last of the cards remaining, filled with someone else’s words, why not sit alone and write your own thoughts into a poem for the one you love; words you don’t say often enough or not at all, long over due. Whether hand written or printed out from a computer, sign your name at the end and find a beautiful frame to present it in. 

Okay, if you think you can’t possibly write a poem – stop at a library and search online for love poems. Find one that says what you feel and want to express to your loved one and again personalize it by signing and framing it. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/collections/145134/love-poems-5a2f223201f49?gclid=Cj0KCQiA4NTxBRDxARIsAHyp6gCINhlH1fc7PG9I2q8TmwoKIrIVfvzUKSfJsiKOXIWBXTjr7mmhx-saAmYNEALw_wcB

Some of the greatest love stories are based on hand written love letters discovered in the attic long after their authors are gone. Letter writing has become a dying art form and is totally unexpected. Never underestimate the power of what one can do for your relationship. Regardless of what your handwriting looks like, a hand written letter is personal, intimate and romantic. Whether mailed to the recipient or tucked inside a special place for the recipient to find, your words of love are recorded directly from your heart and hand to remember for years to come. A proclamation of love in one’s own handwriting to be read over and over again, is a truly romantic gesture.

Those of you who are fans of “Sex in the City” may recall the episode when Carrie discovers the numerous emails that her assistant moved to a folder containing the historic love letters of great men that her beloved “Big” had sent her everyday for weeks (captured from a book she had been reading long before their planned wedding) and then finally his own love letter that begged her forgiveness for his mistake. The truth is that there was no book of love letters in publication in reality and following the episode a small book was published when one could not be found. So there is at least one out there. What if you left a different love letter from the book each day for a week for your beloved and then ended on Valentine’s Day with one of your own?

How about a romantic concert at home while you sip on your favorite beverage with only candlelight and cozy blankets to cuddle up with on the couch? One very romantic concert that occurred years ago and was captured on DVD is Andrea Bocelli – Under the Desert Sky. He sings romantic love songs beneath the stars in Las Vegas. Diana Krall’s sultry cadence is another great candidate- Live from Paris. Either may inspire a little slow dancing around the living room. A variety of concerts can be found for streaming on Amazon.

Valentine’s Day is on a Friday night this year. The restaurants will be packed with couples, stressed out waiters, and long waits. Why not plan a romantic evening at home? Begin with a trip to the grocery store to pick up a couple of steaks, chicken or other protein that you can cook on the grill, a salad package with dressing and everything you need; and most grocery stores have chocolate dipped strawberries that can be served for dessert. Choose one of the favorite wines you both enjoy or that holds a memory of another romantic time you shared. An inexpensive bottle of bubble bath and votive candles. A bouquet of roses also would be nice, but if there are roses in your garden, snipping a bundle would work just as well.

So here’s the plan- try to get home before your partner. Surround a clean bathtub with lit candles, a small vase of roses and a poured glass of wine. Minutes before your partner’s arrival, fill the tub with warm water and lots of bubbles (if you hold your finger on the end of the faucet as the water flows it will froth the bubbles and they will rise and multiply). Once the tub is filled, drop a few rose petals on top of the bubbles. Lay a towel and your favorite nightie that she wears on a chair or bench. Hang a robe from the top of the door. Close the bathroom door and create a path of rose petals from where your partner enters the house to the bathroom door where the candlelit bubble bath awaits her. (By the way no one says you can’t join her – but since this is a surprise for her, wait to be invited.)

Invite your partner to take a hot bath to relax and unwind from the week, while you grill the steaks, prepare the salad and set the table. Either prepare a playlist of love songs you both enjoy or Pandora has a love songs station from Pop, to Country, or Jazz that can take care of the background music while you dine. (You may even play music from the artist that you will then watch in concert from the couch afterward in the previous section.)

The language of flowers can be considered floral poetry: “Floriography is the ‘language of flowers‘. Dating back to the Victorian times floriography was used as a means of coded communication through various flowers and floral arrangements, allowing people to express feelings which otherwise could not be spoken. For centuries, this cryptic language has inspired the giving of flowers to convey emotion. Floriography originated in the courts of Constantinople in early 18th-century Turkey, spreading throughout Europe and Asia, eventually making its way to America in the mid-19th century.” (source: Traditional Home Magazine & All Florists in the UK)

The rose is a classic symbol of grace and elegance, and while most associated with Valentine’s day because the red rose stands for love and passion and the pink rose is often given as a token of admiration and appreciation, the rose may not be your partner’s favorite flower. My mother, my daughter and I are all partial to hydrangeas of all kinds regardless of what meaning Floriography has assigned the luscious ball of beauty – but if you want to make an appropriate choice according to the philosophy -Pink hydrangeas symbolize heartfelt emotion. Blue hydrangeas symbolize frigidity and apology. White hydrangeas symbolize boasting or bragging. Purple hydrangeas symbolize a desire to deeply understand someone.

The tulip is also readily available this time of year. A Turkish legend may be responsible for the red tulip’s symbolism. The story goes that a prince named Farhad was love struck by a maiden named Shirin. When Farhad learned that Shirin had been killed, he was so overcome with grief that he killed himself – riding his horse over the edge of a cliff. It’s said that a scarlet tulip sprang up from each droplet of his blood, giving the red tulip the meaning “perfect love.” Different colors of tulips also often carry their own significance. Red tulips are most strongly associated with true love, purple symbolizes royalty, white tulips are used to claim worthiness or to send a message of forgiveness. Yellow tulips symbolizing cheerful thoughts, pink tulips – a symbol of caring, attachment (not as strong as love, like the red) and good wishes. They would be appropriate for a friend or family member or someone you’ve just met and have grown to care about, but it may be too soon to express love for.  The colors typically have similar meaning with each variety, red – love; yellow-friendship; pink-admiration; white purity, forgiveness.

If you choose to consider the language of flowers in a mixed bouquet you present, make a little note about your selections on the card to explain the choices you made so that your partner realizes that your bouquet was personally designed with thought from the heart.

Maybe your partner has always wanted to go to Paris or Bora Bora or Africa , but it’s simply not in your budget. Create a night at home bringing that dream place to her. Let’s go with Paris for this example. Search images of Paris where she most wants to go, i.e. Paris cafe’s, Giverny Gardens. Engage the help of a friend or family member to help you transform a small corner in your home into an evening in Paris. A small round table, and two chairs with a white tablecloth – cafe’ style. Candlelight, white twinkle lights strung from above. Pandora has a French Cafe’ station to help you with the music. If you’re a cook, make a French bistro favorite or order from a French restaurant and bring it home. Buy a decadent chocolate dessert (Le Madeline’s Sacher torte is perfect or some other decadent chocolate favorite from a local bakery). You don’t have to do all of the work, let the resources out there help you with your plan.

If your partner loves chocolate – don’t forget the chocolates! Just know that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get good chocolate. When I was a little girl, my Dad bought a Whitman’s Sampler box of chocolates every year for my Mom. I’d patiently wait for her to pull the plastic wrap away and lift the lid. She the chocolates with nuts were her favorite, so she always let me have the solid milk chocolate messenger man in the middle of both layers of chocolate. All these years later – the box still has two layers and costs about $15 – I’ve seen it for $7.99 on sale this time of year – you can wrap it beautifully as indicated at the beginning.

While Valentine’s Day has become filled with expectations of flowers and heart shaped boxes of candy – an unexpected well thought out romantic gesture goes much further than a last minute stop at the store to grab the last of what’s left on Valentine’s Day. I hope these ideas will inspire you to form your own expression of love with a thoughtful, heartfelt gesture that you know will please your Valentine. As for those of you who receive these special gestures, you are very fortunate and very loved – make sure to express your appreciation for the effort that has been made in your honor. Your encouragement made lead to more romantic gestures.

  • A candlelight picnic by the fireplace on a cold winter’s night.
  • A drive to an open area for star gazing with a thermos of hot chocolate, bring warm cuddly blankets and spend some time in the quiet to just talk and be together.
  • A chocolate and wine pairing to do together or with friends (google search for ideas).https://explore.lindtusa.com/perfect_pairings/
  • An Alpine fondue for two – see my Alpine Alsace Friendsgiving post – a cheese fondue can be made from scratch or there are boxed versions in the cheese departments that simple require heating. (Whole Foods and other wine stores that also sell cheese)
  • If there is a favorite restaurant that you frequent, ask to speak to the chef or manager. Ask if the menu for Valentine’s day has been decided. Negotiate to have the special prepared for you and your partner the weekend before the holiday – with your chosen table. This avoids the crowds and while you may not be a celebrity that can pay to close down a restaurant for the night for just the two of you, making this special private arrangement will make someone feel very loved and appreciated.

However you plan to spend your Day of Hearts – here’s wishing everyone love!

HOLIDAY, New Year's Eve

An Accidental New Year's Eve Party Plan

How to Literally Throw Together A Last Minute Party.

A couple of weeks before Christmas a friend and neighbor sent out a group text to a few friends in the neighborhood suggesting a New Year’s Eve get together. Not returning from their Christmas holiday until a few days before New Year’s Eve – she also noted “Nothing fancy!” She and her husband would be making hot roast beef sandwiches and each of their guests were asked to bring an hors d’oeuvre or small bite and their own liquor.

Kringle with sparkler candles.

While visiting Trader Joe’s (which isn’t often since there isn’t one in my area) I noticed a display at the entrance that had a grouping of French sparkling wine and a Cava, each for less than $7. I placed one of each in my basket thinking of the purchase as my contribution toward toasting in the New Year at my friends’ party. As I navigated my way through the store I spotted the coveted barrel filled with the Danish almond pastry near the frozen foods section, that I’ve witnessed disappear quickly each year, but I’ve never tried. I thought this would make an easy dessert that no one had to work hard at creating. A great, pre-made, delicious, inexpensive dessert that we only had to toss in the oven for a short while and then serve fresh and warm. The packaging indicated that the pastry could be frozen until ready to use. Ah! This is good – so I tossed two into my basket – another contribution. As I wandered through the store I remembered I had some sparkler candles in my party stock at home, that we could add to each piece when served for a fun New Year’s presentation. When I returned home, I dropped off the bottles of sparkling wine to my friends to chill and stored the pastry in my freezer since they didn’t have room in theirs. This confection is already baked. Just leave out to bring it to room temperature!

Well…. you didn’t expect this party planner to stop there did you? While browsing through the remaining 60% off Christmas items at Hobby Lobby, I spotted this little champagne bottle ornament that I decided I wanted for my tree and reminded me of the centerpiece I made a couple of years ago with an empty Prosecco bottle that I filled with clear bubble like ornaments from the dollar store tied to floral wire to form stems. I made a mental note to pull it out of the closet when I returned home. As I continued to wander around the store, I found a rack with New Year’s Eve party horns, confetti, feathered headbands and 2020 eye glass frames marked down 40%. I texted my friend to ask how many ladies would be attending and I bought a package of headbands for the gals and 2020 eyeglass frames for the guys in black and gold (the colors of our New Orleans Saints). Again, I dropped them off to my friend when I returned home. (As I said, they’re on holiday and I don’t have the hats and glasses to share a picture.)

Another idea would be to put a Santa hat or other solid colored chocolate kiss inside one of the favors. Whoever gets the special kiss gets – a bottle of sparkling wine.

The ideas continued… (once I’m on a roll I’m on a roll). While refilling a basket with bathroom tissue I noticed there were several empty center rolls at the bottom. For Halloween I often save these and fill them with different types of candy and trinkets, then wrap them in orange and black tissue paper tying the ends with ribbon and plastic ring spiders to hand out to the kids. Maybe I could make an inexpensive party favor for the New Year’s Eve party. Hmmmm….

I searched my New Year’s Eve board on Pinterest for something I may have saved that I could print on the outside. I dug through my leftover Christmas tissue paper and found a couple of sheets each of silver and gold. I cut rectangular shaped pieces of the tissue paper to wrap around the paper tube, and with sides that extended to gather with ribbon and taped the cylinder sides dow each. I printed a few sheets of the “Midnight Kisses” printout and used a glue stick to adhere the label over the taped seam to hide it. I then tied one end with a thin gold ribbon (purchased 60% off) and filled each tube with 10 chocolate kisses – 5 wrapped in silver and 5 wrapped in gold (found on sale at the local drug store)- and then secured the other end with another ribbon tied into a bow. https://www.createcraftlove.com/new-years-eve-printable/ Voila!!! Party crackers for the party!

For my small bite contribution, I recently saw Katie Lee on The Food Network’s, The Kitchen introduce the audience to these individual small bite bries that I immediately recognized the packaging was from Trader Joe’s. While there in mid-December (when I found the sparkling wines and Danish pastry) I bought two bags not knowing when I would use them – but prepared. Katie’s small brie’s were topped with a bacon, maple, walnut topping. I’m actually considering adding some caramelized shallots to her ingredients for another layer of flavor. https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/maple-walnut-and-bacon-brie-bites-7945376

Because I can’t leave well enough along, I added a few things to the recipe. First I cut the small wheels of brie in half and place the creamy cut side up. I topped with dry mixture of bacon, pecans, drained caramelized thinly sliced shallots chopped in small 1/2 pieces that I had added the maple syrup and apple cider vinegar. I placed the topped brie in the oven 325 degrees for 5 minutes. I then placed a few tiny chopped pieces dried cranberry and chopped dates. I then drizzled with the maple syrup -cider from the pot. Finally added one drop each of balsamic crema and chili oil with a sprinkle of finely chopped green onion.

Finally, when I made a quick run to the grocery for a few final ingredients for Christmas dinner, I couldn’t resist stopping into the large fireworks tent outside. A box of medium sparklers (18 sets of 4) was only $6. I brought them home and wrapped some of my gold clearance ribbon used on the midnight kisses crackers around each bundle and placed them into a dollar store vase I had as another midnight favor when sparks fly!

I hope my friend doesn’t mind my little contributions ( I can always tell her it was an accident). She should know me by now after all of the parties she’s attended at my house, that I just can’t help myself from adding a little fun and sparkle to a gathering. With very little time and effort, and very little money – you can throw your own party. Guests sharing in bringing the food and their own drinks – this is going to be a stress free New Year’s Eve!

Oh oh… I think I accidentally put together a party…. Happy New Year Everyone! May this be your best year ever!!! Stay tuned …. more party plans are on the horizon. Cheers!

HAPPY NEW YEAR’S EVE EVERYONE!
A New Year’s Day table to share our traditional Southern black eyed peas smother cabbage (at my home) and pork loin. After a late night, paper plates are on the table!
New Year's Eve, SMALL TALK

As the New Year approaches -Resolve to be open to whatever comes into your life….tell the universe "Surprise me!"

What a ride this year has been!!! Here I am, (dressed for hiking -not a photo shoot) unexpectedly in the Swiss Alps – with the iPhone in hand that photographed the images of my more than 60 posts this year!

If you were to read the pages of my personal journal for 2019, you might think the entries you found there are a collection of fictional stories filled with faith, hope, love and optimism. My year was not fictional. My year was filled with surprising and remarkable moments shared with family and friends; new experiences and new beginnings I could never have imagined -served like colorful sprinkles throughout the year.

While my blog for the most part is about entertaining, my passions include decorating, cooking, reading, writing and traveling. What my followers may not know, is that my full-time day job is working as a mortgage loan underwriter. My role is stressful, requires a lot focus and concentration, knowledge of ever-changing guidelines, independent decision making and patience. While it is a rewarding field that enables many to realize the pride of home ownership, the majority of responsibility of what constitutes an approval, falls on the underwriter. Someone once said, an underwriter wears the combined hats of an accountant, an attorney and a psychologist all at once. So forty hours or more per week I’m required to work quickly, intensively focus and accurately.

The industry has had it’s ups and downs, and for most of my career I have been fortunate to simply coast through the rough spots without being part of cutbacks; but in November of 2018 I was part of a workforce reduction and found myself unemployed for the second time in a four year period. Yes, it hurt and yes I was a little worried about how long it would take to find another position, but financially prepared and with the help of current and previous work colleagues, my resume’ was being circulated and until the time was right I could only pray and trust that the Lord would take over the situation and use my resources to lead me to where He wanted me to be . During the wait rather than sulk, I tried to use the free time I was given to be productive in ways I usually lacked time for.

A passion is something you can do everyday for hours, forgetting to eat or noticing how much time has gone by. Writing and creating has always had that affect on me. As a young teenager I wanted to be a writer, spending hours alone in my bedroom writing poetry and short stories. As with most of us, life’s responsibilities forced me to abandon my passion for a “real job”. For years I’ve wanted to create, write and share what I’ve learned with others, and recently I realized that a blog would provide the perfect platform to do so. Both limited time and fear of how to create a blog were holding me back from this dream for a long time.

I have been hosting parties for several years, some in the distance past, while more recent efforts have helped me to gradually excel in my efforts with some surprising results. Creating a blog would provide an outlet to share my ideas and write my stories. In preparation, I had written articles to accompany my party pictures (that over time I’ve put more effort into) and saved them to eventually insert into posts of my “one day” blog.

My knowledge of technology is limited and I feared the unknown. I didn’t have a clue of how to begin such a venture. I reached out for help, but the time was never convenient. One morning I woke up and decided I had to face my fears and prove to myself I could accomplish this and doing it on my own would make it all the more rewarding.

With nothing but time to figure the process out and the internet as my teacher, I watched multiple YouTube videos of how to start a blog. The information was more about content than how to actually step by step design a blog site, but I finally found the courage to create a domain and my first blog webpage. A year later with over 60 published posts, it seems like an old routine that I’ve been practicing for decades and challenges me to continue to create content for my followers and joyful memories for those who share in the parties and events I plan.

While not perfect the first post was created.

I remember the feeling of pride and confidence when it finally materialized before my eyes. It took a couple of days – days I would not have had if I had not lost my job. I decided that the job loss was actually meant to give me time. Time to dedicate directly toward personal things in my life that I would usually not be able to, because of my limited time off from my job.

Grandchildren grow up too fast –
those younger years are so special.

Over the next five months my daughter, who lives in another State with her husband and my three grandchildren needed my help on two occasions while her husband had to go out of town for long periods of time for his job. I was free to visit just before Christmas for a week and be with both my daughter and youngest grandson for their birthdays. I then spent another the three weeks with them while her husband was away over the months I was unemployed. Having spent four weeks with them over a five month period in addition to they’re coming into town for a family wedding in March, I’ve enjoyed more time this year than I have in the past four years with my daughter’s family.

Over those months, other family members had brief health issues that I was able to step in and help them through, again time I would have fretted over due to limited paid time off while working. I also read several great books and I planned a lovely Seamstress themed Mother’s Tea and a fun Derby themed wine party for my friends.

While I was truly enjoying life (and a mini-retirement), the months were ticking away and finally in April I received a call to work as a contract employee for my previous employer. It wasn’t a full-time position, but a stepping stone that generated an income and a sign that business was improving. Two months later I was offered two full-time positions on the same day and started with my new employer in early July.

When I started my new job, I was so grateful to a past co-worker (the Lord using my resources from over 20 years ago) who recommended me for the position that’s benefits exceeded my expectations. It’s been a very hard acclimation, but only four months into the position, I’ve grown to feel like part of the current team.

As my contract resignation period came to an end, the week between positions contained a holiday – so I took that week off. I spent the week reorganizing and cleaning the house. During that process I found a blank poster board and had a stack of magazines to dispose of. As covered in my previous post “Creating a Vision Board”, I’ve kept a vision board for years and have done my best to imagine my life evolving into the pictures I had chosen. So much of those images have materialized at some point or another. I was drawn to look over the images on my current vision board – and focused in on the areas that have not yet manifested into my life.

My board is so filled with images, that I decided there were two areas that I very much wanted to manifest sooner rather than later, and that maybe I should create a new board focused solely on those two areas. One was to meet someone to share my life with and the other was to travel after having a decade long sabbatical from both.

It has always been my dream to go to Paris and search through culinary stores, flea markets and eat my way through all of the delicious cuisine while also soaking in the art, museums and culture. For various reasons, my last real vacation took place many years ago, but it was a beautiful tour of Rome, Florence and Venice. France and England were higher on my wish list, but I hoped to travel to many parts of Europe over time.

My updated -re-focused vision board 2019.

I briefly considered flying to Boston, the week I had off between jobs to see the Downton Abbey Exhibit, but it was the 4th of July week and I knew it would be pricey and crowded. But I did find an image of the Exhibit in one of my magazines that I glued to the board. As I flipped the pages of a travel magazine, I found individual black and white images of several European countries that I cut out and randomly glued to the board under the word “Travel”.

While making my benefits elections for my new job, I was advised to enter the date of Dec. 31, 2019 into the vacation calculator to determine what my accumulated time would be by the year’s end. I was then advised I needed to schedule the time off before the year ended. I discovered I had a little more than a week of time to use and a spontaneous idea was sparked!

A friend of mine was currently house sitting in England. She at some point was moving on to another sitting position at a house in Germany. I knew nothing about where or when, but I asked her if I could fly over and spend a week with her. Within days, I discovered another of our friends (from the wine club) was going to meet her and I scheduled a flight to arrive a day later than her arrival (based on the time I could get approved for time off.) The house was located in Southern Germany very near the borders of Switzerland and France. If you take a look at the images of countries I randomly glued to my new board, can you see any resemblance to what I just wrote -to the vision board above??? Seriously??? Front and center – Germany, Switzerland and France!

The lovely 300 hundred year old part time home we occupied during my visit in Germany.

I’m usually someone who plans months and weeks in advance, having a neatly prepared itinerary, and hours of research to create an informative understanding of where I’m going and what I’m going to do or see. With only an airline ticket and packed luggage in hand – spontaneity I’m not known for, a brave face and churning stomach, I boarded the plane for a 9 hour flight to Frankfurt, Germany.

Traveling to a foreign country with a language I didn’t understand, alone was terrifying, but the unexpected kindnesses I experienced along the way got me through. A couple was seated across from me at the airport in Atlanta (our connection flight to Frankfurt). A polite smile was exchanged, but it didn’t take long to realize they were German. When the boarding process began, we both stood in the same area to wait our turn and I noticed they had a shopping bag from California. To open a little dialog I asked them where in California they were coming from. We chatted for a while with their limited English and then boarded the plane. I had told them I was very nervous and this was my first time flying to Germany. They told me most of the people spoke English and I shouldn’t be concerned. Later on the plane I noticed they were seated in the middle section of the plane just a couple of rows back from me.

At the end of the flight, I made my way through immigration and found my bags. From there I asked for help to get to the train the would bring me to my final destination. I had boarded the shuttle bus that I was directed to that would bring me to the train station and within seconds the German couple jumped on to the bus just before it was about to leave. My hand rose to my heart when I saw them. I was so happy to see them because I needed help with the whole train situation.

They stayed with me to assist with buying my round trip ticket. Afterwards there was an hour before the train would arrive, so we visited over coffee and tea at a Starbucks in the station and then they helped me to the gate where I needed to board the train which was further up than their gate. My gratitude for this lovely couple is beyond anything I can express, but they were not the only kind people I fell into the care of. At every point of concern of how I would manage to get further, someone would materialize from out of nowhere and help me carry my bags up steps, or direct me to the right area to find what I was looking for or had to go to. We even had other travelers from other countries give us Swiss Francs to put into a parking meter when we only had Euros. Each experience restored my belief that people of the world can be amazingly kind.

Even now it still feels like this last minute- spontaneous trip was all a dream. In fact the entire year has been a bit of a dream, all started with the loss of a job and followed by so many joyful gifts. When something shocking or unexpected happens in your life, it will be scary, it will be stressful, and you may not know how you’re going to work things out. Give your fears to God; lean in and be open; try to see it as an opportunity to discover something new in your life; rely on your resources; reach out to people who know the hard worker you are, reignite a talent you’ve been suppressing for years, and trust that your new beginning was meant to lift you higher and give you more.

In this New Year -resolve to be open to whatever is coming with love and gratitude. Tell the universe “I trust you! Surprise me!” It’s incredible what amazing blessings can enter into your life when you invite them in. Usually the year feels like it passes more quickly year after year, but this year my life was so full, I accomplished so much that makes my heart happy, that it felt like more time has passed than what actually did. It felt like it’s been two years rather than one. Maybe when you fill your life with everything you love and open up to new unexpected experiences – life is simply fuller.

My intention when I started my blog was to share ideas that would bring people together. Resolve in this new year to be kinder, to practice random acts of kindness and thoughtfulness; resolve to regularly gather with family and friends, resolve to try new things and share what you learn with others, to open yourself to what’s coming instead of fearing it! Cheers to new beginnings! Wishing all of my followers a very Happy and Fulfilling New Year!!!

Jesus Calling: December 21

My plan for your life is unfolding before you. Sometimes the road you are traveling seems blocked or it opens up so painfully slowly that you must hold yourself back. Then, when time is right, the way before you suddenly clears — through no effort of your own. What you have longed for and worked for I present to you freely, as pure gift. You feel awed by the ease with which I operate in the world, and you glimpse My Power and My Glory.
     Do not fear your weakness, for it is the stage on which My Power and Glory perform most brilliantly. As you persevere along the path I have prepared for you, depending on My strength to sustain you, expect to see miracles — and you will. Miracles are not always visible to the naked eye, but those who live by faith can see them clearly. Living by faith, rather than sight, enables you to see My Glory. 

Psalm 63:2
English Standard Version
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
    beholding your power and glory.


2 Corinthians 5:7
English Standard Version
for we walk by faith, not by sight.

John 11:40
English Standard Version
Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?

CHRISTMAS

That's a Wrap … Last Minute Christmas Gift Ideas

Who says a gift card is boring? When I found this large 3 foot tall popcorn box filled with three kinds of popcorn I knew it would be the perfect prop for a movie gift card. Individual serving paper bags are attached and the gift card slipped inside, tied with a large bow and an old fashioned pop corn machine Christmas ornament. (As the stores continue to reduce the prices of Christmas ornaments and decorations consider picking up some that can be used to adorn your gifts this year and the next.)

An odd shaped gift still deserves to be pretty. Wrap your paper around its shape and extend the top about an inch higher above the packaging before folding over. Punch two side by side holes with a hole punch and thread the ribbon from the back and then fasten a looped bow in front. Add a pretty little dollar store ornament for a little fun and sparkle.

A cheerful little red feathered cardinal (2 per card at the dollar store) – “A Little Birdie told me you wanted this!”

Christmas can be a little melancholy for some. Here’s a way to cheer them up. An elegant gold box of chocolates tied with a cheerful red bow and pinned with a beautiful brooch. (Antique shops often have several designs in a glass case to choose from – or a new one may be available at a department store.) I wear my brooch on my sweater or coat and all day someone stops to tell me how pretty it is. What better way to lift someone’s spirits than to give them something that others will notice and compliment throughout their day?

Vanilla bean paste is quickly becoming a favorite of bakers. A gel like vanilla liquid filled with vanilla bean seeds amps up the flavor of baked goods without the high cost of vanilla beans.
Cardamon, Chinese Five Spice and Everything Bagel seasoning are some of my favorite spices.

For the person who loves to cook and or bake …. Spices are bought in large quantities and only a small amount (i.e. a teaspoon at a time) is used in each recipe. Years later the bottle can look like it has been hardly used. Replacing spices every year can be costly. Even someone who bakes and cooks as often as I do can discover a bottle that’s been in the pantry for far too long. As spices age they lose their freshness, fragrance and flavor. Baking ingredients like pure vanilla or almond extract or the ever growing popular jar of vanilla bean paste are pricey to restock. But there are spices in every price range for your budget. A fresh supply would be a great gift to cheffie. Cinnamon, paprika, white or black peppercorns, Sea or French gray salt are a few examples.

Another less costly idea is to purchase spices in packets. The spice in the jar can be emptied, retaining the bottle, washed and refilled with the fresh spice packet. Throw in a couple of unusual spices to experiment with like Zatar, Sumac, Cardamon, Chinese Five Spice or Ras El Hanout.

Not every cook has one of these – a garlic canister with little holes on the sides for air to flow through. I purchased this one a World Market Cost Plus. Some culinary stores have ceramic versions as well.

On to the love of travel. Is someone you know dreaming of a special bucket list vacation? Wrap a current guidebook and embellish the bow with a symbolic ornament might manifest that dream this year.

Place an order for a travel magazine subscription – wrap a current edition with the note inside and an interesting luggage tag as a gift card.

Dress up a plant for a friend or as a hostess gift. This orchid planter was purchased at Trader Joe’s. I also purchased a packet of green pine and evergreens and stuck them into and around the plants. I added a couple of pine cone shaped ornaments. While this version was fine, I wanted to do a little more. So I made a bow and tucked the small ornaments in its center.

Below: Giving a little piece of jewelry this year? While a velvet box is wonderful, consider presenting the item in a new unexpected way. This little bee pin is hiding along the branches. It may seem that only an orchid plant is the gift – until you zoom in. Earrings, bracelets or a delicate necklace could easily be hung from within an arrangement.

The reason for the season … a gift for yourself or someone you know who is going through a difficult time or simply wants to grow in faith… I’ve given so many copies of these books away that I’ve lost count. When someone is so broken that they can’t even find the strength to pray, Illuminata is filled with beautiful prayers for every kind of petition and Jesus Calling (that was a gift given to me several years ago) offers daily messages based on scripture that somehow seem to be exactly what you need to know to get through every day. The spine of mine is greatly worn from so many years of reading its pages.

When I’m at a loss for something to give that friend or family member, I will sometimes find something to give that involves spending time together. Below I purchased two of these knitting kits (one for me and one for my friend) with a card that explains my gift comes with time spent together. One year a friend and I decided to each buy a ticket to see the Beauty and the Beast musical as our gift. We went to dinner and the theater one evening together as our gifts to each other.

I bought one for you and one for me. I thought we could spend a few afternoons together knitting.

While these are only a short list of gift ideas, I hope they will inspire you to think about who you have to give a gift to and do what you can to make your gift meaningful. In our busyness, it’s easy to fall short no matter how hard we try. I struggle to find something for those I want to present with a gift, but have done so for so many years that my idea well is dry. In an ideal situation, we would start our list in January and each month look for something special for one person at a time. Unfortunately, we do well for some and not so well for others. I believe in attaching a gift receipt. We all work so hard for the money we earn, and I would rather someone return something that wasn’t the fabulous idea I thought it was and exchange it for something they would prefer. These ideas were meant to generate ideas for the last minute shopper or busy bee whose schedule is so packed with work, school and family or other roles, that they can’t spend hours in a mall.

May all your gifts come from the heart and your holiday be filled with blessed moments and memories. Blessings and happy wishes to all!

CHRISTMAS, HOLIDAY

Twelve Days of Christmas Cocktail Party

The house was ready for a party…tree branches from the neighbor’s trimmings on the chandelier.

Weekends during the month of December fly by so quickly packed with shopping and a variety holiday themed activities of every kind. While I love the festive beauty and nostalgic glow that Christmas decorations and music offer for entertaining, by the time December arrives I’m a little worn down from a year of hosting parties all year. I love holiday baking and cooking which both consume a lot of weekend time also. While the idea of hosting a Christmas party simmers in my mind each year, my energy level has fizzled to glowing embers and I just can’t get the fire started to put together another party.

My daughter, her husband and my grandchildren usually come home for Christmas week and my point of focus is on preparing for their arrival and reserving energy to dedicate to my grandchildren. As a full-time mortgage loan underwriter, my days are busy at work like most of you and weekends are precious time that must be wisely scheduled to accomplish everything that the holidays demand. One year however, my little family decided they would being staying home, so I decided to host a small cocktail party, but I needed it to be as stress free as possible.

Christmas parties can draw from many different themes, but short on time, I had to use what I had. As I dug through my boxes of Christmas treasures I found my Twelve Days of Christmas linen napkins I bought on clearance one year at Williams Sonoma. I pressed each on the ironing board and lined them across the table. They provided both a pop of Christmas colors and fun.

My neighbor had just purchased a fresh tree and trimmed some of the branches from it’s trunk. They were piled beside their trash can, so before they were picked up by the trash collectors I grabbed them and once again glanced around the house for a place to use them. The chandelier in the center of my living room caught my eye. I didn’t put up a Christmas tree this particular year since the kids weren’t coming home, so I needed to add a little spruce drama to the room. Using floral wire, I draped and tied the branches to the chandelier and then made a large bow that I attached to the bottom center.

Next for the refreshments. A cocktail party needs cocktails and a place to prepare and serve them. I surveyed my living area considering the best way to arrange the room for a cocktail party. I decided to have three stations around the room with drink options. A Moscow mule station with labeled bottles, ice, sparkling wine, garnishes and the recipe was created on top of my entertainment cabinet (above); a large punch bowl filled with eggnog set on top of a copper bowl filled with ice (a mixture of bottled eggnog from the liquor department combined with a jug of dairy department eggnog and a pint of rich vanilla ice cream swirled in) punch cups, a ladle and a couple of nutmeg pods with a small grater on the side to top off each cup were set up on my cocktail cart; and finally my mulled wine (a combination of red wine, brandy, grand mariner, ginger beer and mulling spices) simmered in a crock pot on the kitchen counter with a bowl of blood orange slices for garnish (below) for easy self serve access. Cocktail napkins were also provided at each location for a guest to hold around their glass.

Eggnog Station
Mulled Wine Station
Left to right: Mulled wine, Moscow Mule & Eggnog

I envisioned my guests walking around the room helping themselves to a drink and the food also placed in different areas around the room, allowing me to also enjoy the party and visit with my guests.

On the sofa table bacon wrapped pineapple and Chinese sweet chili sauce and
Fig balsamic goat cheese with cranberry pepper jelly in filo cups.

I cleared off every surface in the room and placed platters out to plan what I would serve and where I would place each item around the room. I chose items that could be made ahead and served at room temperature or in a warming vessel such as an electric fondue pot or crock pot.

On the breakfast table: White Velvet Soup and Bourbon Meatballs.
https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/white-velvet-soup-3157615?soc=itksocialsharedefault%7Cios%7Cp

On the breakfast table (above) a White Velvet Soup stayed warm with the help of a crock pot. A stack of small bowls and a tray arranged with the toppings and spoons were provided on the side; Bourbon meatballs to the right with small cocktail forks.

On the dining room table a spinach dip twisted bread tree , cheese plater and red velvet coconut buche noel.
https://www.tastynova.com/2018/10/christmas-tree-spinach-dip-breadsticks.html

On the dining room table, (above) a spinach dip twisted bread stick Christmas tree; (below) two trays with various cheeses, crackers, olives, pickled mushrooms, etc. and finally dessert – a red velvet roll cake with whipped cream cheese and coconut shavings to resemble a buche noel that I sliced later in the evening and served.

Red Velvet coconut buche noel.

With Christmas music in the background, this party required no formalities and allowed everyone to mingle and converse the night away while sipping and nibbling around the room. I hope these make ahead and self serve station ideas will inspire you if you’re considering hosting your own Christmas gathering this year and feel like you just don’t have the time. Store bought small bites and pastries would work just as easily with no cooking or baking required at all. Use what you have and just add a little sparkle to make a toast to the holidays!

CHRISTMAS, TRADITIONS & TEA

Our Christmas Cookie (Tradition)

Homemade cookies delivered to my neighbors last year.

As a young girl in a military family, we moved almost every year until I was in the 4th grade. We then lived for a few years each, in both northern and southern California before Dad finally retired from the service. Military families often live far away from family and miss out on the annual traditions or routines that usually form from being near them. We didn’t have Christmas Eve’s at Uncle so in so’s or alternated Christmas Day dinners at each of our grandparent’s houses. Christmas was usually just dinner for the four of us, Mom, Dad, my brother and I.

Having missed out on holiday traditions with other family members as a kid, it was important to me that my daughter have family traditions when she was growing up. I was inspired by my ex-husband’s large family, who routinely celebrated different holidays throughout the year their own unique way with a large family picnic for Easter and a Christmas Eve gathering every year that I made sure she attended.

In preparation for Christmas, three families that resided in homes all on the same street gathered in the late afternoon on Thanksgiving Day to pick a family member’s name from a bowl. On Christmas Eve there was a party at one of the three homes along with traditional food and a gift exchange. My food memory from those parties so many years later were Grammy’s shrimp balls, at the time made by a beloved Aunt nestled in a chrome insulated container that I couldn’t wait to see arrive and placed on the table.

Another tradition that took place for several years involved a group of family members that got together in early November and drove across Lake Pontchartrain to a Christmas tree farm. Each family would select their tree, pay for it and tag it. The Friday after Thanksgiving, everyone would make the journey back to the farm to cut the tree down, wrap it up and bring it home. The following Saturday night I would host a tree trimming party for friends and family. When I think back to the small townhouse living room I had back then and the number of people that would cram inside, I’m not sure how we did it, but everyone eagerly attended year after year.

These were the days long before computers, so with a few library books and a typewriter, I typed all of the lyrics to 36 Christmas carols. I cut out and taped some images and drew others to some of the pages. I then organized the pages so that after I made photocopies and folded them in half, they would form a little song book. The children would sit in front of their decorated tree and sing a few Christmas carols.

While I didn’t ask my guests to bring an ornament, I received some beautiful versions that have become treasured classics -handled with special care as they are hung on my tree all of these years later. Year after year, as I unpack them from their layers of bubble wrap or tissue, the memories of those parties come rushing back.

Both my daughter and granddaughter received a nutcracker ornament the first time I took them to see the Nutcracker Ballet. The boys, not as interested in the ballet, received their nutcrackers in their early years of tree decorating.

Whenever a party includes children it’s imperative to have an activity to keep them entertained, especially in a small home. Upstairs I had an open loft that didn’t have any specific purpose, but offered enough space to place two folding tables with chairs. For the first party I baked cookies formed into various Christmas themed shapes such as candy canes, bells, and trees. I then purchased a variety of sprinkles and colored sugars and cans of white frosting that I used food color to make green, red and yellow. The kids sat at the tables with their plastic knives and dipped into the cans of frosting to slather on their cookies and then sprinkle with various candy decorations having a ball! I would convince them to allow the cookies to dry, and then ask them to come downstairs to decorate the tree and sing Christmas carols. We then wrapped their cookies in cellophane bags for their journey home.

In the years that followed, I found a large Teddy Bear cookie cutter. I thought that something with a larger surface, maybe rolled out a little thicker, would be easier for the kids to handle. I could not have imagined not only how much they would love it at the time (as they left with bears loaded down with chocolate or vanilla icing and about a pound of various candies), but years later one of the mothers told me her daughter still remembers decorating those cookies and she’s now in her late 30’s.

While I haven’t hosted a tree trimming party for years, I do bake a variety of cookies to box and deliver to my neighbors.

Now I have grandchildren, but they live one State over and with jobs and school schedules I don’t see them as much as I would like. While they often come home for Christmas, it’s usually after the tree has been decorated, so starting with my first grandchild, I have baked those same Teddy Bear cookies and mailed them with tubes of icing and various sprinkles so she could decorate her cookies when she decorated the tree with my daughter and her husband. Now with three grandchildren, every year I’ve sent the cookies and the kids have followed the tradition of a night of cookie decorating. Last year I asked my granddaughter who was at the time just days from her 11th birthday, if I should keep making the Teddy Bear cookies and she immediately said “Yes! Nana, it’s a tradition!”

For the past two years, their little family has stopped by on the Saturday after Thanksgiving on their way home from visiting their grandparents in Alabama to decorate my tree. This year while Mom and Dad enjoyed a college football game, we played Christmas music and shared an evening of decorating my Christmas tree and then gathered around the table to decorate two new cookie shapes – a large Christmas Tree and the popular red truck with a Christmas Tree (that the boys decided to make blue.) Of course by the time we had finished the Christmas tree cookie, my littlest demanded it was time to eat his snowflake cookie. (I mean a little boy can only hold out for so long!)

Packed in those same cellophane bags, ready for the journey home, somehow all of these years later, I’ve managed to re-create a similar tradition with my grandchildren. Whether in their own home or here with me, I hope that like those other small children who once attended my tree trimming parties years ago, they will remember these moments as our “Christmas cookie tradition.”

HOLIDAY, THANKSGIVING

So Grateful for Your Support!

Happy Thanksgiving!

In the kitchen once again whipping up our Thanksgiving dinner!

This dining room table has been the gathering place where family and friends have gathered so often over the past five years for the holidays, book club meetings, wine club dinner parties, a mothers tea , a simple evening dinner and more! Here’s to another year of shared memories filled with conversation, laughter, food and wine. Today my family will gather around it once again, grateful for the many blessings in our lives while enjoying a traditional Thanksgiving dinner and then watching our favorite New Orleans Saints win yet another game this evening!

It’s been nearly a year since I started my blog and I can’t thank all of my followers enough for your support and kind words. While my parties are filled with a lot of themes and dressed up table settings, the true intention behind my blog is to encourage everyone to gather regularly with people who have wonderful loving hearts, faith in God and a positive thoughtfulness about life. Surrounding yourself with great people will add value to your life in the way God intended our lives to be. Here on my blog I’ve tried to share ideas that I welcome you to borrow and create your own version of to draw those that you love in your life closer.

While social media has made something like sharing ideas so much easier, it also has made us as a society reluctant to pick up the phone and actually call someone, have a true conversation, and share with one another. The sound of someone’s voice (and we are lucky enough with smart phones to also see their face) is so much more satisfying than a bland sometimes misunderstood text. (S I P) Social interactions are so important to our well being and parties are the way to get everyone to pause and join in a shared interest.

Each and every time I mention to someone I have a Wine Club and a Book Club their face lights up and they say “Oh Wow! I’ve always wanted to belong to a book club” or “That is such a fun idea, I wish I had something like that to go to!” My response is, why not form gatherings of your own with your friends? If you’re not into books, how about knitting, or game night? Not into wine, how about a potluck supper club, beer tasting party, or coffee tasting over Sunday brunch? I’ve been very fortunate to have a group of people in my life with shared interests, but chances are you and your friends also have “something” in shared interest that you could enjoy as a group. Remember, even if not everyone “likes” the same things, a good person will be open to learning or teaching something new.

Today’s gathering included a side of mashed potatoes with gravy, maple roasted sweet potatoes, green beans with dried cranberries and toasted almonds, corn casserole, Italian sausage and cornbread stuffing, and of course turkey.

Iced tea with rosemary simple syrup.

As I drove along a small road yesterday, I noticed an area covered with fallen leaves. Fall reached the deep south just before Thanksgiving this year producing these beautiful variegated beauties. I decided to stop and search through the piles along the side of the road finding several that I brought home to add to my table decor. While many have draped their homes with Christmas decorations weeks before Thanksgiving had even arrived, I choose to hold on to the beauty of Fall for one more day – my favorite season of the year.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone – God Bless you and yours always and thank you for following along!