Wrapping Up November With Thanks and Joy

Season’s greetings! Is it too early to say that? I’m in the Christmas spirit early this year, and genuinely want to share with everyone the joy this time of year brings to me.

An Easy and Special Thanksgiving

gathering greenery

We had a happy Thanksgiving. This year, we stayed in town and celebrated with my husband’s side of the family who live in town, too. Not traveling or hosting allowed us to make the day our own, and it was a day that really did remind me that there is so much in my life for which to be thankful.

Knowing that I needed greenery to make Christmas decorations, my husband surprised me with a special plan when Bitsy and I woke up Thanksgiving morning: we would be going to a friend’s horse farm to gather greenery. We dressed and got coffee on the way. It was a beautiful morning: sunny and mild, just cool enough for a sweater or light jacket. The farm looks beautiful in the fall, with all the colorful leaves and the evergreens getting their time to shine.

gathering greenery fun

Bitsy had a wonderful time. We watch her closely but give her plenty of room to play. At one time, we were in a fenced-in area where we could gather holly branches and let her explore. She walked alongside us and played her heart out. By the time we finished gathering, she was falling asleep in my arms. I got great exercise carrying her and the baskets full of branches, leaves, and pine cones!

farm finds

A Simple Sidedish: Kale Salad With Apples and Dried Cranberries

We came home in time for me to prepare the simple side dish I was bringing to Thanksgiving dinner: a kale salad with warm cranberry vinaigrette. All I had to do was wash and tear the kale, cut a couple Honeycrisp apples into thin slices, and prepare the vinaigrette (olive oil, garlic powder and 2 cups of dried cranberries, 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, a tablespoon of honey, juice & zest of half a lemon and half an orange, a pinch of brown sugar, and salt & pepper to taste) in a saut√© pan, massage the kale with olive oil for about 90 seconds, then toss in the cranberry vinaigrette mixture and top with the apple slices and pecans. Bitsy napped the whole time I was preparing it–something else for which to be thankful! Those who like kale loved the salad, and those who don’t ate some to be polite ūüôā What more could I ask for?

My Most Precious Blessing

This was Bitsy’s second Thanksgiving, but the first since she started eating table foods. She loved the food, and had a wonderful time playing with cousins and made new friends with my sister-in-law’s brother-in-law’s children who are close to her age. She ran played, squealed, and laughed with the purest joy until she was all tuckered out.

And the Prettiest Sight You’ll See is the Holly that Will Be On Your Own Front Door

Christmas wreath

I’m usually not one to put up my Christmas decorations the day after Thanksgiving. I like to wait until it’s officially Advent to even begin decorating for Christmas. Beautifying my home with Christmas decorations is part of my observance of Advent. “Make your homes fair as you are able,” says my favorite Advent hymn, “People Look East,” as we prepare for the coming of our greatest Christmas guest, Jesus Christ. This year is different because I’ve already collected all of this beautiful fresh holly, pine, and magnolia, and must go ahead and put it to use. I made my wreath and put it on the front door Saturday, and we are all enjoying it. For this one, and most Christmas wreaths I make, I used a metal wreath form, attaching the pieces with floral wire. Whenever I hang a wreath, Bitsy likes me to open and close the door so she can keep getting a look at it. I have plenty left over for more decorations, so I’ll be pretty busy decking the halls.

Loving the Fall and Looking Forward to Winter

It’s still fall for a while longer, but starting to feel like winter. Just a couple weeks ago we were enjoying the pleasant days of early fall, with lots of playing outside. I guess it wouldn’t be right to skip through the season without the obligatory toddler-playing-in-leaves blog post, so here we are having some family fun time outdoors a couple Sundays ago:

The day was still warm enough for bare feet, especially for my child who hates to wear socks and shoes.

leaves on porch

After helping Daddy with a little yard work…

approaching leaves

…it was time to play in the crisp dry leaves.

in the leaves xi

in the leaves 6

in the leaves xii

in the leaves xiv

Bundling Up

Now that the cooler weather is here, I’m happy we get to start wearing our coats and sweaters. I love this trench I got from¬†Stitch Fix¬†(this link will get each of us $25 off when you sign up and order your first box!) I got it two years ago, but it’s such a classic and high-quality piece that it should last me for years to come.

beforeMass Missal for Toddlers

Something to Read

In this pic we were just getting ready to leave for Mass. The book you see in the picture,¬†¬†A Missal for Toddlers, is a recent purchase I’m so glad I made. Bitsy loves the book (as you can see her clinging to it in the picture), so it’s a great way to a) start getting her interested in what’s happening at Mass, and b) give her something to entertain herself with if she gets restless during Mass. This board book is hardcover, but soft enough (almost like a padded feel) that it won’t be noisy if your toddler bangs it against the pew. The language is simple and relatable for little ones, and the illustrations are adorable. I highly recommend it for Catholic families with small children.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time…

It’s a busy but happy and invigorating time for me as the semester winds down and the holidays approach. I have one last big assignment to do for my collection development class, and so much decorating to do! We have to come up with a plan b for our Christmas tree this year, since we don’t have a good way to baby-proof it, and Bitsy’s too young to understand that it’s off limits. I know it’s just the type of thing she’ll want to explore, from the water in the tree stand, to the branches, lights, and ornaments. Right now, the plan is to have a very small tree on an end table. I’ll check in again soon with more decorations, recipes, and holiday cheer!

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Be the Most Valuable Guest: 9 Hostess Gifts That Aren’t Candles!

The holidays are here, and with all the upcoming preparations and activities, some details may be forgotten. Don’t let gifts for your hosts and hostesses be one of them! Planning ahead and buying or making those gifts in advance makes it much more likely that we won’t have to stop at whichever supermarket is in on the way to their house for a last-minute fruit basket, bottle of okay wine, or the ubiquitous candle.

 

It’s the gift of having a gift to give away!

So don’t get me wrong, your host or hostess will certainly appreciate the candle, or bouquet, or fresh bread, if that what you choose to give them. But why not bring something unexpected, that the other guests didn’t already think of, something that won’t get regifted at their work holiday party’s Yankee Swap, something they’ll remember long after the party?

Something So Special

Here’s a list of some hostess gifts that may feel a little more special. Try some of these, or let the list inspire you as you brainstorm gift ideas for the very special hosts and hostesses you’ll visit this holiday season.

1) Something for Breakfast

After a night of entertaining, wouldn’t it be nice to wake up the next morning to a ready-made breakfast? Bring cinnamon rolls from a local bakery,¬† bake homemade banana bread in a¬†pretty dish they won’t have to return,¬†or prepare a jar of overnight oats with a pretty ribbon around it.

2) Something to Make Cleaning Up More Enjoyable

caldrea kitchen set

We get to see, hear, smell, and taste all the great work our hosts and hostesses put into entertaining: the food, the decorations, the playlists. The work we usually miss is all the cleanup that has to happen after we leave. Whether you’ll be sticking around to wash dishes while your host or hostess dries, or if they’d rather leave the cleanup to be tackled in the morning after a long winter’s nap, a luxe cleanup kit is a great way to thank your host and hostess for all their hard work. Let the scents of¬† nicer-than-their-everyday cleaner and dish soap become tied to their happy holiday memories.

Start with a set of cleaning products, like this luxurious kitchen set by Caldrea. It includes a dish soap, hand soap, and countertop spray. Give these items in the Gilded Balsam Birch scent to help your hosts and hostesses stay in the holiday spirit while they clean. Throw in a nice cleaning brush like this one from Full Circle, or a kitchen towel set from the Pioneer Woman collection. Put it all together in a pretty basket.

3) Spices

I don’t know about you, but I go through quite a lot of spices this time of year. Preparing all the foods for their holiday party or meal may have put a dent in your host’s and hostess’s spice rack, too. Replenish it with an¬†organic spice kit, to help them save another trip to the grocery store and avoid starting the new year with bland foods. Like the other gifts on this list, a basket and pretty ribbon make these items an extra special gift.

4) Something that will last for years: Amaryllis bulbs

amaryllisgift

The first Christmas gift I gave my now-father-in-law was a set of amaryllis bulbs to be forced indoors. They’ve come back beautifully every year since, and he always talks about what a great gift it was. I love the way amaryllis brighten up our homes for the holidays, and really believe in giving these as hostess gifts. You should be able to find them at local retailers this time of year, but if you want to be prepared there are some very reliable companies I trust for ordering bulbs online:¬†White Flower Farm,¬†Tulip World,¬†Jackson and Perkins, and¬†Colorblends.¬†This is a gift for a real gardener or flower-lover, since the bulbs of course won’t look flashy when you give them.

5) Something Hot to Drink

Help your hostess end the night with comforting hot drinks. Start with a nice mug, and add hot chocolate and marshmallows, a variety of hot teas, or coffee beans from your local roaster. There are some great hot chocolate gift sets available. Harney and Sons teas in their attractive tin containers make a great choice.  Hot Cinnamon Sunset is one of my favorite blends, especially in the winter.They also offer some flavor variety selections. You could even go all out and give them a cast iron teapot or French press.

foxmug

6) Something Grown-Up to Drink

Instead of another bottle of wine, how about a specialty cocktail book? To your well-read hostess, give¬†Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails With a Literary Twist.¬† Make it retro with¬†Vintage Cocktails¬†or¬†Shaking Up Prohibition in New Orleans. There’s even a book of cocktails based on different fandoms called¬†The Geeky Chef Drinks: Unofficial Cocktail Recipes from Game of Thrones, Legend of Zelda, Star Trek, and More.¬†These can add some fun to everyone’s night, and give your hosts and hostesses more cocktails to try for many parties to come.

tequila mockingbird

 

7) Aprons

An apron is an especially good hostess gift if you know your hostess will be baking Christmas goodies in the coming weeks. This is another gift to be used year after year. I love these by Neoviva, which can be purchased individually or in Mommy and Me sets. Think of all the happy memories of teaching little ones in the kitchen she can make as they wear these gifts from you!

mommy and me aprons

 

8) Something Fragrant

incense set

If you still want to avoid the candle, but home fragrance is your favorite way to thank your hostess, why not give incense? A set of incense sticks, like this beautiful one by Karma Scents that includes a burner in each box, should last longer than a candle and won’t be so expected.

9) Something Homemade

Taking the time to make something that will be useful to your host or hostess shows that you really gave your gift some thought and appreciate their hospitality. Something that is not too hard to make, can really come in use this time of year, and feels special is homemade crème fraiche. I started making my own last year, and it is so nice to have for recipes or even just to replace sour cream as a condiment. I prefer it to sour cream. It has a more mild, pleasant taste. All it takes is heavy cream and buttermilk. Here are some good directions at Food and Style. Just remember to make 12 to 24 hours ahead so that it has time to get nice and thick, and put a pretty bow with a small Christmas ornament on it before you hand it to your hostess!

I hope you’ll enjoy spending time with friends and family this season in their homes and yours. Give any of these gifts and I think they’ll be sure to invite you back next year!

(Many of the links in this post are to Amazon listings for the items I recommend. As an associate, I earn from qualified purchases.)

DIY Halloween Wreath

DIY Spooky Halloween Wreath

This was one of the easiest wreaths I’ve ever made, and one of the most fun, too. I think it’s just the right combination of pretty and spooky for Halloween. All it took was some Halloween decorations you can easily find this time of year–I got these at Walmart–and basic craft materials I already had at home.

Here’s what I used:

  • a foam wreath form

  • greening pins

  • a few floral pins

  • Heavy duty floral cutter scissors (I use¬†Clauss No. 3412 Stainless Steel Floral Cutters)

  • Hot glue gun, glue stick

  • purple ribbon

  • about 20 artificial roses in Halloween colors

  • a bag of small plastic skulls (These were about $3.)

  • 2 sprigs of Halloween bouquet filler–one with a jack-o-lantern, the other with a spider

You could easily replace the Halloween decor I included with whatever is available at your store. I think it would be cute to use the spider rings you so often see at Halloween.

halloween flare

halloween wreath materials

I still had a Styrofoam wreath form from a fresh wreath I made a few weeks ago. I generally hate anything made of Styrofoam, but if I can reuse it many times, I don’t feel quite as bad about it.

halloween flowers

Once I got my materials together, the first step was cutting the roses. The strong wires in artificial flowers mean regular scissors won’t do the job. I was so glad to have my floral cutters, which had mysteriously made their way from my craft box to my husband’s tool box. Most artificial flowers have little grooves along which it is easy to make cuts. I cut the bloom at highest groove, separating it from the leaves but leaving enough stem to attach the flower to the wreath without needing any pins.

cutting off bloom

That leaves you with the stems and leaves to serve as your greenery. Pin those to the wreath first, sticking the end of the stem into the wreath, then pinning into place using U-shaped greening pins.

Halloween greenery

greening pins

pin to wreath

Next, pin the flowers to the wreath. You won’t need pins, just stab the wire at the end of the stem into the foam wreath.

After covering the wreath with black stems & leaves and the roses, I added the sprigs of Halloween bouquet decorations.

halloween floral

I could have left it at that–just a pretty, Halloween-themed floral wreath, but I really loved the skulls I’d found and wanted a more spooky/kitschy Halloween look.

The best way to attach the skulls was with hot glue. The mesh bag they came in had a few mini-skulls around the closure. I cut the closure off in one piece, with the miniature skulls, and pinned it to the wreath.

bag of skulls

skull bouttoniere

Next, I hot glued the rest of the skulls to the wreath.

I needed a few floral pins to attach a few leaves that came loose, to cover gaps, and finally to attach the ribbon–some I still had left over from my DIY wedding flowers and decorations. I don’t usually like big bows on my wreaths, just some simple ribbon for hanging it on the door.

DIY Pretty and Spooky Halloween Wreath

Ta-da! I’ve really enjoyed the wreath. It’s really helped me get even more excited about taking Bitsy trick-or-treating, then handing out candy. I made it during Bitsy’s nap. When she woke up and first noticed it on the door, she wanted me to keep opening and closing the door so she could look at it ūüôā

I think I’ll keep this wreath and use it again for years to come.

Happy Halloween!

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Some Updates

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October is off to a nice start.

buggy cover

We’ve been using the¬†Very Hungry Caterpillar shopping cart cover¬†I bought after¬†the shopping trip¬†a couple weeks ago that taught me why we needed one. As you can see, Bitsy seems to be really happy in it. The cart is more comfortable for her now, and there are loops to attach some of her favorite toys. It’s great to have some things for her to play with that she can’t throw out of the cart. Since she has her butterfly and fox, she won’t need to try to play with the groceries! And I feel more confident that she is secure in the cart.

buggy cover toys

The toys don’t come with the cart cover. These were some fun developmental toys gifted to me from my¬†baby registry. They’re soft and cuddly, and are good for sensory development. Different parts make crinkly sounds when touched, and they have different textures and colors. The butterfly has a mirror, and Bitsy is sooo into mirrors right now.

Baby Rosary

baby rosary

We go to a mothers and babies playgroup each week. The children play together while the mothers chat. The head of family outreach does a wonderful job with this ministry. She creates a handout each week with the upcoming Sunday’s gospel, her own reflection and discussion questions. We read these together and pray together while the children play. This week we did this wonderful baby rosary craft. It was very easy, and gave us moms something creative to do with our hands while we talked. We used string, a plastic crucifix, and beads. Tape on the end of the string made it easier to run the string through the beads. The babies will enjoy feeling the different textures of the beads, and as they grow can say very simple prayers, like “I love you, Jesus,” “I love you, Mary,” for each bead. Now Bitsy gets to have her own rosary like Mama.

Fall is Coming Slowly

BITSYWALKING

Even though October is here, it’s still pretty hot. The mornings and evenings are a little cooler now, so family walks with Bitsy are much more pleasant now. Having her walk in shoes is going to be a process. They still feel awkward to her, and she prefers to be barefoot. She loves being outside and exploring. She chases her shadow, and stops to look at every little thing. She’s been reading¬†The Poky Little Puppy¬†a lot lately, so I tell her she’s like the Poky Little Puppy, stopping to learn about whatever she sees, hears, and smells. I tell her this is a good way to be: curious, and taking time to experience the little things.

I’m getting excited about Halloween. I don’t like to put up decorations too early. I’ll wait another week or two before I put up a Halloween wreath. I’ll make it in the next few days. Last year, Bitsy was adorable in her¬†Wonder Woman costume.¬†I’m really looking forward to taking her trick-or-treating this year, now that’s she’s so social.

Wonder Woman baby costume

Things are pretty busy with school right now, but I’ll get a little break between big assignments in a couple weeks. I’m taking Collection Development this semester. I’m working on a weeding assignment in which I choose items from a particular section of the library to weed. Weeding is one of the things I miss the most about working in the library, so this is like a dream assignment for me.

I hope you’ll all have a happy October. Even though I’m so busy, I will be slowing down and taking time to enjoy this fun season, and I hope to have plenty to share with you here.

 

 

Reviving My Cut Hydrangeas

Hydrangeas are so beautiful in arrangements, so it’s a shame they don’t last long as cut flowers. In the early stages of planning my wedding, I considered using hydrangeas. I’m so glad I didn’t.

Still, I just couldn’t resist some gorgeous blue hydrangeas at the supermarket yesterday. They were so perfect with the beautiful, very healthy sunflowers they had there. Add in some salmon-colored carnations, and the little bit of purple statice I already had at home from another otherwise wilted arrangement, and I had such a joyful mix of colors and textures.

Seeing how wilted my hydrangeas were this morning was disappointing, but this floral arrangement was bringing me too much joy to give up on it just yet. I found some advice on extending the life of cut hydrangeas from a florist’s web site,¬†Kay’s Flower School. They were already very wilted, so it was too late for preventative measures. I followed her advice on reviving rapidly-wilting hydrangeas. Dunk the entire flower head in a bowl of room temperature water–they drink from the flower heads.

all heads in the water

Here they are mostly, but not completely, submerged. I decided to stand them up and lean the stems into the rest of the flower arrangement next to them, like so:

after propping up

Another site, Associated Cut Flower Company, recommends leaving them in the water for 20-30 minutes. I ended up leaving them in there for about 35 minutes.

The results were very minimal at first. They were still quite wilted. I wasn’t sure if I’d see much improvement, but I decided to wait and see. I’m glad I did! After about 10 or 15 minutes, they perked up dramatically.

before pictoo

Before

after photo

After

They weren’t as good as new, but much improved from the soak. I’ll spritz the heads with water and get another day or two out of them.

Be sure to place a towel underneath the vase once you’ve returned the flowers after soaking, because they will be dripping water.

arrangement on towel

 

I’m really enjoying the colors this adds to our home. These flowers are a great way to celebrate the beauties of summer as they give way to fall.

arrangement on twl2