Falling into the Holidays

Halloween has always seemed like the point at which someone signals that the race to the ‘Holiday Season’ is on… Thanksgiving, Christmas (in our home, Hanukkah in others), New Year’s Eve, New Years day… and then…. WHEW!

I was caught in this race year after year until I eased the pain a bit with pre planning. This year I am relying totally on a timeline list. It works for me in every other area of my life… when I remember! I have been delaying a huge project in my life due to many factors, most of which were unavoidable. Yesterday, Hubby insisted that I set a deadline (in 3 VERY short weeks) to get it finished and off of our minds. To make this happen in the midst of work, family and the coming festive season will require long days and short nights, but strangely enough I feel released. I also know that this pre planning will make life so much better.

I suggest to everyone that a reasonable timeline  is a great guide for anything that you need to tackle, be it work or play. Just remember to not cram too many chores into the Holiday schedule… it only creates more stress…. I know that from experience! I have been guilty of that very thing more times that I care to count! An example follows:

  • Do your deep cleaning first and soon. However, unless it’s absolutely necessary, don’t attack a huge project now.
  • Make a list or lists of events, guests, menus, chores, gifts… everything should be committed to a list and off of your mind.
  • With your lists in hand (or on the computer), plan your calendar so that you can allot some play time in between to ‘must dos’. Of course the more you do early, the more stress you remove from the Holidays… or so I’ve heard! :)
  • With early planning, bundling your entertaining ventures together into consecutive days is a favorite trick of many hosts and hostesses. The major prep is done once so that cleanup and set up for the next event is much easier! Just make sure that you build from small to large party so that the last event is the one that will require the most after the fact cleanup.
  • Research early to find what events are planned for your community that you are interested in attending or that your guests would find fun. Planning a party around a community carrolling stroll, a production of a holiday play, a concert, a parade or lighting show… whatever is happening in your area… gives you an instant theme and entertainment all in one!
  • Leave time for simple pleasures: driving to see the Christmas lights, a cold weather picnic while choosing a tree, gathered around the fireplace with hot chocolate and cookies looking at photos of Christmas’ past. The memories are the gifts we give ourselves!
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All Hallows Eve

Happy Halloween!

Quick ideas and reminders:

  • If you want trick or treaters to come to your door, leave a porch light on. Make sure that the walkway to your house is clear of any fallen twigs, excess leaves or anything that may impair little feet from safely walking on your front walk.
  • As tempting as it may be, if you are expecting children that you don’t know, and more importantly, who don’t know you don’t offer homemade treats such as cookies, cupcakes and popcorn balls. Parent have rightly become so wary of such items that your hard work and great effort will most certainly end up in the trash.
  • A treat bag with several small, wrapped candies inside and tied with a ribbon or raffia is a nice way of presenting the goodies. It also serves two purposes: it keeps everything fair without the squabbles of who got more and it allows you to put a mix of candies, packaged cookies etc together without anyone complaining that they ‘don’t like that kind’… they can swap those around once they get home.
  • Dress up for fun yourself! It’s great to be a kid again!
  • At a reasonable time, it’s ok to turn off the lights and no longer answer the door. That does not mean that your doorbell will not ring, but it will lessen the chance and of course, you need not answer the door after ‘lights out’.
  • Keep your outside animals inside on Halloween. With so much activity around the house, there are many opportunities for your pets to get excited, confused and/or injured. Speaking from experience, the vet’s office late on Halloween night is a sad place to end the fun.
  • Have fun and remember if a lot of children show up at your door from other areas of town by the carload: their own neighborhood may not be a safe place to trick or treat and their parents deem yours to be better. :)
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Quick Halloween Dinner Menu

Trick or Treat!

We don’t hear the chime of young voices at our door very often anymore. It seems that fewer people in our area are going door to door as more families opt for the community Halloween carnivals and Fall Festivals offered by local churches and other non-profits as well as private parties hosted by friends. It’s no wonder that parents shy away from sending their children door to door begging for treats… especially when every time we turn on the news we hear of  awful things happening to children.

That said, there is still plenty of fun things going on for children and adults on All Hallows Eve! The following menu is quick and easy with a hint of fall! Enjoy!

Meatball and Pasta Soup (aka – Veins and Brains Stew)

1 lb    Commercially made meatballs (usually found in the frozen foods section)

4         Slices thick bacon

3         Cloves of garlic, chopped

2         Onions, medium sized and chopped

1          Bell Pepper, chopped

2          Quarts commercial beef stock

16oz   Crushed canned tomatoes

1 c       Baby Carrots, halved

1 can  White beans

1/2 c  Parsley, fresh

1/8 t   Oregano, dried

8 oz     Ziti Pasta, cooked ‘al dente’

Thaw meatballs. Cook bacon in heavy soup pot or Dutch oven until almost done, but not totally crisp. Remove bacon and set aside. Remove all but 1 tbs of bacon fat. Saute onions, garlic and bell pepper in bacon fat over medium heat until soft, but not brown. Add meatballs to heat, about 5 minutes, stirring often.

Add the tomatoes, carrots and stock to the pot and  simmer over medium heat about 20 – 30 minutes or until the carrots are tender. Add the beans, spices and pasta and cook an additional 5 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Makes 8 servings.

Fall Fruit Salad

2      Firm apples, cored and diced large (pealing, optional)

2       Pears, cored and diced large

1c     Red seedless grapes

1c     White, sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

1/2c Mayonnaise

3-4 pkts   Splenda Sweetner

Mix Mayo and Splenda together and lightly toss with other ingredients. Chill. Serve in lettuce cups if desired. 8 servings.

Easy Parmesan Crackers

Too easy and soooo good!

1          Loaf thin, white, bread, frozen

1c        Freshly grated Parmesan Cheese (not the canned stuff)

1c        Corn flakes, crushed

1/8t    Garlic powder

1 1/2c Butter, melted (no substitutions)

Mix cheese, crumbs and garlic powder together. Work with a couple of bread slices at a time, keeping the remainder in the freezer… remove crusts from bread. Dip in butter, then cover in crumb-cheese mixture. Place on cookie sheet lined with waxed paper or sprayed with baking spray. Cut into ‘fingers’ of about 4-5 pieces each. Bake at 350 degrees for 7-8 minutes or until browned. Keep an eye on them so they don’t brown too quickly.

These will keep a week in the refrigerator or for 2 months in the freezer.

Apple Spice Cake

1 1/2 c       Corn Oil

2 c               Sugar

3                  Eggs

3 c               Apples, unpeeled and chopped

1 1/2 t       Soda

1 t                Salt

1 t                Vanilla

1/2 t           Cinnamon

1/2 t           Nutmeg

1/2 t           Cloves

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a Bundt cake and set aside. Mix together sugar and oil on low speed of mixer. Add eggs, one at a time. Add vanilla. In a separate bowl, with a whisk, mix together flour, soda and spices. Fold into sugar mixture. Add apples last, folding in carefully. Pour into Bundt pan. Bake 1 hour and 15 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before removing from pan onto cooling rack.

Have fun and be safe!   HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!

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Beef and Pumpkin Stew

When my husband and I were walking through the grocery store we spied a bin of small pie pumpkins. All of a sudden I thought that a beef stew with pumpkin sounded quite good. Today was the perfect day here to give it a try… cool rain and lots of it!

I think it turned out great!

Beef – Pumpkin Stew

2 lbs     Cubed Beef stew meat
1 tbs     Butter
1 tbs     Olive Oil
2            Onions, chopped
8-10     Garlic Cloves, peeled
2            bay leaves
1.5 tbs  Worchestershire  Sauce
3.5 c     water
1             6″ Pumpkin, peeled and cubed
1 cup    thick sliced mushrooms
Melt butter and olive oil in heavy stock pot. Add beef and stir fry until well browned. Add onions, garlic cloves (I leave mine whole), bay leaves, Worchestershire Sauce and water. Bring to a boil, turn to low and simmer for 2 hours. Add pumpkin, cover and simmer for another hour to an hour and a half or until the pumpkin is quite soft, but not falling apart. Add the mushrooms the last 10 minutes or so of cooking. Salt and pepper to taste. Serves 6 hearty servings.
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Oops! I missed pumpkin season again!

Every year, for the last twenty or so, I have vowed that in July I would plant a variety of pumpkins to use for holiday decorating in the fall. I haven’t done it yet… for many reasons that all seem reasonable at the time. However, as fall approaches, I am always disappointed in myself that I didn’t do it… again.

Certainly I can head to the farmers market or even the grocery store to procure my giant squash, but somehow I miss the charm of growing them myself. Not to mention the savings! (I only the count the cost of the seed packet and tend to ignore such things as soil enrichment, fertilizer and water!) Yet, once again, I’ll be searching for the most interesting pumpkins, squash and gourds I can find to set the mood for fall. Luckily for me, my husband is ready to began that task on Labor Day every year! Jumping the gun a bit, I think, but never look a gift horse (or squash) in the mouth! Oh, look, I made a little Jack-o-Lantern pun!

So, for those of you so inclined, mark your calendars to plant pumpkins in 2010. Remember that it takes about 100 – 125 days ‘start to harvest’ to grow pumpkins. Assuming that you will want to start harvesting them in October, not at Labor Day, aim at mid-June to early July for your plant date. Seek out all the fun varieties that you want to try, but remember unless you are going to sell them commercially, one or two mounds per type would be enough… depending on how many different types you select. So what to do with the other seeds? SHARE!! Spread the love and get other friends to join the fun by planting their own crop. Or even more fun, do it together and divide the chores out!

Happy planning! Enjoy the coming season!

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Hollywood’s Calling!

Theater Popcorn Candle

Theater Popcorn Candle

Clapboard Frame

Clapboard Frame

Clapboard Votives

Clapboard Votives

Grab a handful of DVDs of old school favs, new releases, horror flicks, classic Hollywood, even a ‘Ma and Pa Kettle’ marathon, add popcorn, friends and you have a party!This is a great multigenerational theme that works as well for a kids birthday, a teen graduation, adult celebration or a pre-Oscar night party! Also grand for a prom theme, dance club and bar or bat mitvah!

Want to go all out? Create a red carpet entry, use white twinkle lights mounted on a board around movie posters, spot lights greeting your ‘stars’, have everyone dress in 1930s-1940s glam attire and serve a variety of martinis! Cut out, life-size, stand-up photos of stars from the era you are highlighting make great photo-ops. Check out our Hollywood-themed decorations and favors to send everyone home with a fun remembrance.

Contact your local movie theaters about getting the old posters that hang in the lobby. Often they will be more than happy to help you out, especially given enough lead time to collect some for you. For a more causal event, theater style popcorn machines can be rented from our local party rental agency. We have popcorn bags, just like the theater variety! You can also send dozens of letters out to actors’ PR firms to get 8 x 10 glossy ‘fan photos’ to frame with inexpensive dime-store (ok, dollar store) frames. Use them on tables, hanging like they are displayed in the hip restaurants stars flock to, and even in the powder room!

If watching a film is not part of the night’s main entertainment, group several flat screen TVs together and run different films as ‘background’ on mute.

I hope that these few ideas get your creative juices flowing… this theme can be used over and over, just tweaked in different ways to completely change the look and feel! Have fun!!

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Children’s Party Guest Lists

th_100_2248As school starts and all of the associated activities that vie for our attention and time, it is a good idea to input your children’s friends, classmates, teammates and members of other activities names, addresses and phone numbers into a data base… or just a plain old computer list, which is what I always have done. Data base just sounds so professional! Not only does it make life simpler to have all of their names and information on one list, but when it comes time to host birthday parties, holiday parties, or whatever, it will help keep you from ‘forgetting’ a child’s name and risk hurting a child’s heart.

Most class rooms have rules about inviting everyone in the class to a party to keep things even and harmonious. Unfortunately, other groups and activities rarely have that rule. But how on Earth do you get control of a party list when there are so many group activities: soccer, Sunday School, baseball, dance class, Boy and Girl Scouts? Most of us don’t care to host a party with a ‘cast of thousands’, nor do we want to make a child feel left out.

Here are a few ideas that can help:

  1. Make your ‘roster list’ of all of the children your child comes in contact with through school and activities.
  2. Consider how many guests you can reasonably handle.
  3. Explore the ‘rules’ of each and, if possible, provide cookies, cupcakes, or a pizza to the class if you cannot include them all in a party, but still want to honor the birthday child. This is great because  not only are they included, but for children that your child doesn’t know well the pressure to provide a gift is removed.
  4. If you really want to include all of the children from each and every group, investigate different venues such as city parks then recruit every adult you can to help so that you have as much help as you need to keep everyone safe! Old fashioned games and activities will keep large groups amused!
  5. An idea for 5 – 7th graders is described in my EZine Article “Preteen Birthdays – The Joy of Giving“.

Two stories that I need to share here will explain why inclusion is very important and why it is important for your child to attend every party they are invited to, if possible.

When my daughter was in 6th grade, we hosted a birthday party for her. She included all of her friends, which turned out to be the entire gropu of 6th graders from her school! Just after the invitations arrived to the invitees, I received a phone call from a mother of a boy in her grade. Her son was not popular, not a part of any crowd, not invlolved in any activities. She was calling to see if he was really invited or if it was just a cruel joke. Imagine having your child in a situation that warranted such a phone call. That will break you heart.

Another year, our daughter had transferred from one soccer team to another. Soccer being what it is, she already knew most of the girls on her new team and was happy to get to know the others. However, the same week practice started, she received an invitation to a birthday party out of town, 30 miles away. It took us a couple of hours to realize that this girl was on the new soccer team. I called and declined the party since Jordan had a conflict. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later visiting with other moms that I learned, as the late, great Paul Harvey used to say, ‘the rest of the story’.  The birthday girl was new to the team as well. She was home schooled and her parents thought that having her play soccer would help her find some other friends. She and her mom excitedly decorated for the party. They attached balloons to the mailbox. They made a big banner that they hung over the garage. Only the girls from the soccer team were invited. Only one came the 30 miles to the party. She was heartbroken. Being team mom that year, allowed me to do something that was a band aide on the wound, but by no means erased the hurt. I visited with all of the moms and we threw an after game party at a pizza place one day, complete with presents and balloons. No one had meant to hurt her feelings, it just happened. However, it reminded me how important each party is to the honoree and if they invite my child, then my child should do his or her best to attend!

So, bring it on! The school friends, the soccer buddies, the dance class: stay organized and stay aware. A child’s heart may depend on it!

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Weekend Guests

This past weekend I entertained two of my friends from high school and college years… well, I would have liked to have entertain them, but none of my usual ‘weekend guests’ plans actually panned out.

While not an excuse, I must mention here that 1) we are living in limbo between houses as one is on the market and the other is a tear down… literally, 2) to the point of their arrival, I had only spent 5 days that month in town, two of which were working on the before and aft of a wedding and 3) due to issue #1, many of my belongings (including things I actually need) are in storage. Thereby the saga begins…

It is, admittedly, very poor form to invite friends to stay with you and then not actually be home upon their arrival. Poor form indeed. I arrived back in town a full two hours after my guests arrival. Luckily, they were able to squeeze in a visit with other relatives and friends while waiting on me. So late was I, that the dinner I had planned to prepare was postponed for another day while they ate out with the above mentioned friends and family. Oops. I must defend myself a bit here… car trouble delayed our leaving town that morning, which pushed our entire work schedule off, then it was blown entirely while we aided our daughter’s search for a sold out lab book she needed for a college class… and by aided, I mean we paid for it.

Finally I arrived and my husband retreated to the other house to allow us some ‘girl time’… I’m sure he thought that it was for his own safety and sanity. He would be correct. It was in the few minutes between my arrival and my friends’ that I realized that I had no clean sheets for the twin beds we had ‘staged’ in our daughter’s bedroom. She took her bed to college with her a couple of years before when she moved out of the dorm. I borrowed twin beds from my sister to use while selling the house. We only had one set of sheets for the beds and I had NO IDEA where they were. Too late to run to the department store now. That was also about the time that I realized that the lamp from the other guest room (formerly our son’s) had no lamp on the night stand as I had snatched it to put in an apartment he had years ago. What a way to welcome guests… one in the semi-dark, the other with a king-sized sheet set on a twin bed… looking like a dressed up Olson Twin, all swallowed in fabric!

The rest of the weekend, while fun, was hardly gracious! Meals were slapped together, I had to squeeze a few hours of work in here and there, and nothing was ‘on schedule’. Perhaps that is what made it fun. Flying by the seat of our pants much as we did in high school and college. We’ve known each other for so long, been through dating, weddings, the birth of children, the death of all but one of our parents, one of us has suffered the loss of her husband, but we three have been there for each other through it all. So I’m guessing that darkness and excess sheeting are easily overlooked. Not sure about the chihuahua ‘treasure’ left in one room as they departed…

Can’t wait until November when we will all have the opportunity to be together again!

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Favor Them With a Favor!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: We all LOVE a favor!

How it is presented really sets the tone of the gift and a clever, stunning or beautiful container can make the simplest of favors seem quite grand!

Gerbera Daisies Adorn Classically Crisp White Boxes

Gerbera Daisies Adorn Classically Crisp White Boxes

Stylish and pretty, these floral favors are perfect for showers and garden weddings. Each elegant white gloss favor box is topped with a gorgeous silk flower in your choice of pink gerber daisy or tangerine gerber daisy. The boxes are filled with white chocolate amorini hearts and accented with matching organza ribbon. Each box measures 2x2x2 inches.

The Perfect Pair Candles

The Perfect Pair Candles

The perfect pear for the perfect pair theme! The realistic pear shaped candles feature a distinctive pear scent. Each candle is individually shrink wrapped and the pair is elegantly tucked in an ivory organza bag gathered and tied at its top by a satin ribbon and attached “Perfect Pair” themed thank you tag.

Lavender Sachets with Gerber Daisy Theme

Lavender Sachets with Gerber Daisy Theme

Add a trendy, fragrant favor to your event with our Gerber Daisy Lavender Sachets! Each handmade sachet begins with a 3 x 4″ organza sachet, filled with fresh French lavender. The sachets are finished with an oversized silk gerber daisy, 3 inches in diameter. Your choice of pink gerber/orange sachet, tangerine gerber/pink sachet, pink gerber/pink sachet, or tangerine gerber/orange sachet. You are free to mix colors.

Watering Can with Sunflower Seeds

Watering Can with Sunflower Seeds

Perfect for Fall bridal showers and weddings, this cute “watering can” favor comes with a colorful seed packet of sunflowers, perfect for late summer and Fall planting. Complete directions are on the back side of the seed packets. They are placed in a cute galvanized metal can. The watering cans are accented by a warm silk sunflower accented in shades of warm yellow and pale orange. Each can measures 3.25” tall. Each seed packet contains about 10 large seeds.

See many more favor ideas on www.LovedTheParty.com !!

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Parties where you least expect them!

OK.. it wasn’t a party. It was a lot of hard work. It was a large crowd and not everyone had ‘company manners’. A few folks were gracious to say ‘thank you’, but most did not. And we didn’t care at all if they did not remember to bid us thanks and farewell, because we were not there for the thanks!

Two groups from our church join together about three times a year each to cook and serve meals to hungry people through a mission of another denomination. Some are homeless, most are simply hungry. The young, the old, the middle aged. Small children anxious for a warm meal. The little boy who couldn’t see over the counter, but returned over and over for more salad.

Salad. Imagine salad being a special treat for a very small boy.

No, it wasn’t a party, but it was joyous! We who cook, serve, clean up and make small talk with the people who flock to the old run down former Dairy Queen are overjoyed at our experience. I invite each of you to look for and find such an opportunity in your own communities. The need is everywhere. Just do it… we had a woman from a small town 15 miles away that just showed up to help. she wasn’t a member of our team, she wasn’t even a member of our church. In fact, she didn’t know anyone there, but she was drawn to ‘come to town’ that day and help. We put her right to work! Of course, this being a relatively small area, as we visited during our work, we found that some in our group had mutual friends with her! Amazing!

If you can’t or don’t cook, there are other ways to help! Those of you who have gardens or fruit trees, take the produce that you cannot use to your local food mission. Don’t know where one is? Call any church or social service agency and ask!

Don’t have a garden to share your harvest from? The next time your favorite grocery has a ‘loss leader’ (below wholesale markdown) on bananas or apples or milk, buy extra and deliver it right away to the mission. Those items are gold for families! There are many hungry children out there. In this economy, there will be more children. It’s not ever their fault, but if we don’t help, it will be ours!

So give your heart a party… and feed souls!

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