Friday, December 30, 2016

12 Days of Christmas Swap

I want to share with you the gifts I received from the 12 Days of Christmas Swap that I participated in this year.  The swap was organized by Chaotic Goddess Swaps and I was assigned to be a partner with Lauren from Shooting Stars Mag blog.  Lauren was a delightful and fun swap partner!

Use this graphic to follow along with my fun gifts!

1.  The cutest penguin cocoa mug and hot chocolate mix.  Adorable.
2.  A pine tree scented yankee candle.
3.  This adorable potholder mitten had a chocolate chip cookie mix in it!
4.  That sweet photo is a tree ornament!
5.  Homemade gift tags, all gone.  Used them all!
6.  A funny can cozy!
7.  A book called The Christmas Clock.  I read it on vacation!
8.  Yummy oversized Hershey's kisses with nuts.
9.  A Miracle on 34th Street DVD.  Watched it the night before Christmas!
10. Glittery gold reindeer ornaments.  I used them as gift tags.  So pretty.
11.  Cupcake toppers.  So. stinking. cute.
12.  My personal favorite:  The Michael Mead Holiday magazine.  I love him!

In the center is a sweet note that Lauren included with her adorable package.  The gifts are important, but this adorable message and sweet words were the bow to this delightful package!

So as you can see, Lauren spoiled me.  I so enjoyed doing this swap with her.  You can see her post on my gifts here!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Christmas Books to Read

Each year I stuff myself with books to read that use Christmas as a setting.  I love this.  It is my favorite thing to do over the holidays.  Me, book, fireplace, cookies...

This year I had the opportunity to read several, starting in October.  Here are my choices for Favorite Christmas Reads:

Christmas Under a Cranberry Sky by Holly Martin

Piper Chesterfield has a job as being a mystery guest at luxury hotels.  She goes around the world writing up reviews for a magazine.  She decides to do one last review before going on a sabbatical for a few months.  Little does she know that this might be her last hotel to review, ever.  Did I leave you with a sense of doom?  I shouldn't, the book is a lovely Christmas romance set in a remote winter land.  Beautiful book.  Buyer beware, this book has some steamy scenes in it, unusual for a Christmas romance.

Christmas at the Comfort Food Cafe by Debbie Johnson

This story is full of fun characters, friends and belly jiggling humor.  It has some moments that only sisters understand, how impossible it is to love and hate in the same moment.  Laura and Becca are two sisters, opposite in personalities but united in that they are there for each other when needed. When Becca's husband unexpectedly passes away, Laura makes a complete change in her life to support her sister when she decides to move away.  Beautiful story of how one's life can take a turn for the better in a twist of fate.

The Christmas Bride by Christian Michael

This book is full of short stories about mail order brides.  The stories are one to three chapters long, each with its own version of how a man writes for a mail order bride, the woman comes alone "out west" or "down south" and marries a complete stranger the day she arrives.  Even with that being said, there was something nice about finishing an entire story before going to bed.

All I Want For Christmas by Jenny Hale

Leah has only one wish, to move into her late grandmother's mansion and open a bed and breakfast in order to create a better life for her and her daughter, Sadie.  The problem is, Grandmother left the property to TWO people, Leah and David Forester, the previous owner of Evergreen Hill.  It seems that Grandmother purchased the property from David's grandmother when she ran out of money and sold the place.  It had always been David's desire to buy the property back from Grandmother in the future.  Now Leah has to figure out how to manage a dual ownership and if that is the best thing for her daughter.  A nice story with a predictable ending, but a lovely path to the ending!

These are a just a few of the Christmas books I read this year, but ones that I enjoyed and that were relatively inexpensive.  If you like reading Christmas romance, these will certainly fit the bill.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Cozy Christmas Home Tour 2016

Christmas home decor is such a personal and unique experience.  Because of this, I like to have a homes tour that gets everyone excited about their own home and the way YOU decorate for Christmas.  Yes, every year someone comes out with a darling "theme" that is the must way to decorate (little red truck with the Christmas tree in the back ring a bell?) but truly, at Christmas, it is all about what makes you and your family the happiest!

I have gotten together with other like minded bloggers to share our homes with you.  In each tour you will see at least three rooms.  When I was a young woman, my grandmother told me to put a bit of Christmas cheer in every room!  I have taken that advice to heart.

Come on in, and let's get started on our tour!

Here is our living room, with our tree lit up and the room darkened.  See the candles in the windows? I have to have candles.  I am so grateful for the dusk to dawn ones!  It is so beautiful to see them lit up at night!

The stockings are hung... with the cozy fireplace.  The bookshelves are filled with nutcrackers.  

Wilson loves sleeping by the fireplace!  You can see more nutcrackers by the side of the fireplace and an old Santa (58 years old, to be exact!)  He's been a part of my entire life!

Couldn't leave Truman out, he loves the Christmas tree.  Here's a better angle of the nutcracker collection,  plus Mr. and Mrs. Claus, made for me by a very dear friend!

Our kitchen and dining room are a favorite hang out of our guests.  It's where the food and drink is, but also the largest space on the main floor.  With a breakfast bar that seats four,  an island that seats two and a table that seats eight, it is where our parties flourish!

I love our new dining room chairs!  The tree in the center was hand-crafted by a neighbor (he does sell them in his shop!!) and the table is set for a Christmas lunch gathering!

This set of stairs heads up to the upper story which has an office, my daughter's guest room and a loft.

The last room I am sharing is my daughter's bedroom.  We call it the guest room, but she decorated it and helped us pick all the colors for the room when the house was being built.  So...

The candles in the windows are so beautiful in her room.  The tree has a beach feel to it with the starfish and silver ornaments.  

This Santa was hand painted by my mother-in-law.  It has special meaning to us as our daughter was an ice skater while growing up.

I hoped you enjoyed my "Cozy Christmas Home" and that you will take some time to go and visit all the other homes on the tour!  Leave a link to your home tour in the comments and we will come and visit!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Christmas Trees on Parade!

Join me on a lovely parade of Christmas trees from Blogland!  You will see an amazing amount of beautiful trees, all from blogs that I love.  Each blog will offer tips for decorating a tree as well, featured in italics so it is easily found!

My decorating tip:  If at all possible, have your tree visible through a window.  It make the most charming background on the inside and the prettiest decoration from the outside!

In my home there are currently three full sized trees decorated for Christmas.  This is down from five last year and down from thirteen in years past.  My living room tree is now housing all our family ornaments, including those handmade, from vacations and collectibles.  It has over 300 ornaments on a skinny tree.  In my eyes it is simply beautiful.

The tree I am sharing with you, though, is my daughter's tree.  This is in our guest room, which our daughter claims as her own.  That's fine by me, I want her to visit as often as she can!!  This tree has a seaside theme to it.  There are two family collections of ornaments, one are sleigh bells given to my husband while he was a principal and the other a Hallmark collectible on the 12 Days of Christmas. The silver bells and clear acrylic make perfect accompaniments to the starfish, greens and silvers of the tree.

Hallmark special collection

Silver sleigh bells collection

A few special ornaments give a tree focus and beauty.  We love the soft green of the stocking and the adorable tag.

Check out the other beautiful trees from wonderful bloggers! 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Homemade Christmas~ Homemade Vanilla Extract

Another great gift for a hostess gift or a gift for your coworkers is this easy to make, but oh-so-useful vanilla extract.  If you cook at all, you use vanilla extract.  This one is real vanilla, not an imitation vanilla that is often found in supermarkets.

Vanilla comes from an orchid that is grown mostly in Mexico.  That's why people always bring back vanilla from Mexico when they go.  I did, and it was delicious.

All you need are vanilla beans, plain vodka, and nice jars.

Clean and dry the jars.  I know it seems weird to dry the jars when you are going to pour liquid in them, but we want them as sanitary as we can get them.  

Take a vanilla bean and slice it down one side, without cutting through to the other.  Separate the opening a little bit.  Put the bean in the jar.  Pour vodka into the jar until it covers the bean.  Place the lid on the jar.  Store it in a dark place for at least two weeks.  Give the jars a little shake every now and then to distribute the vanilla.  You want the liquid to be dark.  I think mine needs some more time.

Use as you would regular vanilla extract.

Another use of the vanilla bean pod is to put one in a cup of sugar.  Let the vanilla bean infuse the sugar with the flavor of vanilla.  Use this special sugar sprinkled on top of cupcakes or donuts.  It is wonderful!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Essential Oil Blends for Christmas

I am a huge fan of essential oils.

I have had success in treating small ailments using them but what is even more important than that is, they smell so wonderful that I feel happy when their scents are in the air.  Who doesn't want to feel happy, I ask you?  My husband and I love to go to sleep with the night air scented with lavender and whatever oil we feel we might need.  Sometimes it is "Breathe" or "Thieves" or "Peace and Calming" but whatever it is, we sleep soundly and wake up purposefully the next day!

These blends are simply for setting the stage for Christmas, although Cozy Up by the Fire actually has a couple of oils that are good for fending off colds and headache.  That's an additional bonus!  I diffuse these oils by using an oil diffuser I purchased online.  You fill the container up with water, add the number of drops of oils that is suggested, turn the diffuser on and let it do the work!

I use these in place of potpourri, since I don't have to watch it or make sure it has enough liquid.  I turn the diffuser on and forget about it!

Gingerbread Men is a perfect scent if you are trying to sell your home but do not want to leave cookies baking in the oven or even left out on the countertop.  The diffuser will create the scent of fresh baked cookies for you!

Cozy Up by the Fire is a perfect scent for when you are hosting a holiday party, or if you are just sitting at home watching a holiday movie.  The scent is fresh and lively but warm and cozy, all at the same time.  The Thieves oils will help ward off colds and if you have a minor headache, the peppermint will smell extra good to you!

I love Christmas Tree Farm!  I am allergic to pine and this allows me to have a little of the true Christmas tree scent in the air.  Essential oils are made from real plants, so if you are allergic to evergreens like I am, try this in small doses at first, or consult with your physician if your allergies are really bad.

Do you use essential oils?   Which blends do you love?  Share them in the comments! 

Monday, November 28, 2016

2016 Christmas Cookie Exchange

The Fourth Annual Christmas Cookie Exchange was held at my house on Sunday afternoon with ten guests including me!  I love hosting this event and my small dining room and kitchen were filled to bursting with people who love baking and Christmas as much as I do!

My friends at Oriental Trading were gracious to send me my paper products for the event.  I chose my all time favorite Christmas characters, The Peanuts Gang, to help me with the decorations.  Cute napkins, plates, cookie containers and key chains for door prizes all set the tone for the fun afternoon.

Each guest brings one dozen cookies for each of the guests invited.  Each dozen is packaged for easy trading.  My cute little Snoopy boxes held one dozen Hugs and Kisses Christmas Cookies easily.

For drinks there was lemonade and water, and a vodka punch made with pineapple juice and citrus vodka.  The punch is served over ice and is a light drink.  These adorable glasses (check naughty or nice) hold a nice amount of drink.

I always serve a light lunch with our cookie exchange and this time I made a Pasta e Fagioli Soup and a Quick Italian Salad.  With good bread and our cookies, we were set for food.  There was a hot chocolate station for those who wanted it with peppermint spoons to stir with.  Yum.

Here are the cookies that our guests brought:

Chocolate Chip

Smores Cookies

Grandma's Monster Cookies

No Bake Fudge and Coconut Cookies 
Fudge Drops

Mini Chocolate Chip Snowballs

Chocolate Caramel Blossoms

Lace Cookies and Molasses Sugar Cookies

And the darling sack they came in!
Hugs and Kisses Christmas Cookies
Which do you think you want to try?  I can promise you that they are all delicious!

Here is the recipe for my Hugs and Kisses Christmas Cookies.

1 stick of butter, softened
1 c white granulated sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 t vanilla
2 c flour
1/4 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
2 T milk
24 Hershey's Hugs, unwrapped
24 Hershey's Kisses, unwrapped
1/2 c colored sugar

Preheat oven to 350.  Cover a cookie sheet with parchment.  Beat butter, sugar, egg and vanilla together until smooth and creamy.  Stir flour, baking soda and salt together.  Alternate scoops of flour and milk into the butter mixture until dough forms.  Make 1 inch balls and roll in colored sugar, powdered sugar or granulated sugar.  Bake for 8-10 minutes, until set with a light brown bottom. Remove from oven and let rest 2-3 minutes.  Gently push a Hug or a Kiss into the center of the cookie.  Remove from cookie sheet and completely cool.  Chocolate kiss or hug should be firm.

Our Cookie Exchange was fantastic and so much fun!  I can't wait to do it again next year!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Outdoor Decorating 2016

My husband and I were talking about outdoor decorating this morning when we were out searching for the pine garland we love for the outside of our house.  We both agreed that while it is ok to do the decorating for the outside of the house before Thanksgiving, it is not ok to turn your lights on.  So when we came home tonight after dinner and saw all the lights that were on in our neighborhood, we were aghast. (secretly though, I was thrilled!)

2015 Outside House Decorations

Where do you stand on this question:  Is it ok to have your Christmas outside lights on before Thanksgiving?

We plan for two scenes:  The nighttime scene, where there are lights and candles on the porch or in windows and the daytime scene, where you can enjoy a charming porch of beautiful decorations.

Theme or no theme?  We do not use a theme but we always enjoy those clever people who can make a Santa's workshop on their front lawn!  We have collected a number of decorations over time and the best I do is to mix up where they go and maybe add a new decoration or two each year, and "retire" those decorations who have lived out their Christmas life.

Working lights?  We check each set of lights before adding them on the columns, fence or doorway. NO ONE wants to have to take down the lights after they have been put up!  We also check for extension cords and timers, too.

Wreaths?  Check your wreaths to see if they are fluffy and ready to sparkle on your porch.  I usually remake the bows each year, but if the bows just need a little fluffing after being stored all year, that's a great time savings!

Outdoor miscellaneous?  Make sure your decorations are anchored if you live in a windy area like we do.  You will want to make sure that your decorations are heavy enough to withstand some winter winds!  We have chased down enough pillows to last a lifetime!  We love using the hooks that stay on strong but can be taken off easily.  We use the clear ones and leave them up all year.

Enough help?  We've learned that it is ok to ask for help with decorating.  Our son-in-law helps with the roping around the columns and we hire a high school kid to help us bring trees and crates up the stairs.  We'll do the same when it is time to take it all down, too.

Stay tuned to see pictures of our neighborhood in both the night time and day time scenes.  We have a lot of  homes who do both very well!