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Sunday, December 20, 2009

This Christmas...

This Christmas

mend a quarrel.

Seek out a forgotten friend.

Write a love letter.

Share some treasure. Give a

soft answer. Encourage youth.

Keep a promise. Find the time.

Forgive an enemy. Listen.

Apologize if you were wrong.

Think first of someone else.

Be kind and gentle.

Laugh a little. Laugh a little more.

Express your gratitude. Gladden

the heart of a child. Take pleasure

in the beauty and wonder of the earth.

Speak your love. Speak it again.

Speak it still once again.

- Anonymous

Save a the kitchen

I don't know about you, but all of the cooking I did the past couple of months for the holidays had me BUSY! One of the kitchen practices I learned during my restaurant management days is to consolidate trips: Trips to the walk in (refrigerator & freezer), trips to the dishwasher and of course, trips to the garbage can. Here is how we did it then and how I still manage now in my own home....

When starting your preparation, gather as many items from the fridge, pantry or cupboard as you can in one trip. Use your baking dish / mixing bowl to help carry the items you're going to use. Make sure you have all of the ingredients you need before starting the case you need to make a trip to the store!
While preparing a meal, keep a big bowl on the counter. Put all your chopping, cutting, and peeling discards into it, then make one trip to the garbage instead of 10.

Improvements Catalog has a food scrap catcher if you like handy gadgets:

And as you use a measuring cups, bowls, or utensils, discard them on a large piece of wax paper laid out on the countertop; it will be handy for you to pick back up if you find you weren't actually done with it AND the wax paper it rests on will keep your countertops from excess drips or mess. When you are done, you can combine all of the dirty dishes into the largest piece and walk them over to the sink and dishwasher at once. Now see how efficient you are????

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Party Planning!

While this is a great time of year for hosting parties, be sure to plan for your parties all year!

Start by talking to your friends and family who will become your party guests and ask them what their likes and dislikes are. Ask others who may never get an invitation but whom you respect their tastes and preferences. Then, keep a binder with ideas, photos, and lists that you gather - be sure to include a section for recipes as well! One thing I have learned from hosting AND attending parties is that unless it is a formal event, most guests like an environment where the hostess is not perfectly prepared with everything done and in it's proper place. Surprised? Don't work so hard! By letting your guests help in the final preparations, a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere is created which will in turn, lead to more fun and laughter for the rest of the party.

If it is a family gathering where kids will be present, be sure to stock up on kid-friendly games and movies. Games will encourage involvement and fun by young and old alike...or if preferred, simply keep the kids entertained and quiet. (There is not much that will frazzle my nerves more than other people's kids misbehaving in my home.)

Pick up various decor over the course of the year. Holiday decorations are always on sale right after the holiday - just make sure you have space to save them. Make a note in your party binder outlining what you bought so you don't forget about anything! Miscellaneous candles, ribbons, whimsical items and so forth can just be picked up when you see it on sale. Check out my Thanksgiving blog ("Gobble Gobble") for examples of simple table decor.

Finally, HAVE FUN! Happiness is contagious and the fun & laughter you share with your guests will more than make up for anything thatisn't quite right.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Kitchen Organization

ecently I was helping a newlywed organize her kitchen; after all the showers and gifts received, she had a LOT to fit into the space! We started by discussing how she and her new husband used the kitchen space they cook or generally eat out? And what meals? How often do they think they will be entertaining? We opened all of the cabinet doors to see what was already where...and she told me what seemed to be working and what wasn't.

In my opinion, it's a common misconception is that all of the "daily" dishes need to go together, or at least in the general area. Why would you put your coffee mugs in the same area as your dinner plates if your coffee maker is on the other side of the kitchen? This is especially so in larger, or galley style kitchens. In this case, I designed a "coffee station" for this couple and above the coffee / espresso maker we placed the coffee mugs & saucers, hot tea & hot cocoa preparations, coffee syrups, sweeteners, and even the "to go" mugs. What a convenience! She had this really cool milk frother from Williams Sonoma too (I love finding new gadgets!) so we included it in the area as well.

Here are a few more things we successfully managed when organizing her kitchen:
We put the drinking glasses in the cabinet closest to the refrigerator and the salad and dinner plates, bowls and pasta dishes on the other side closer to the stove & preparation area.
Pots & pans in all of the cabinets below and surrounding the stove & oven.
Spices, oils and cooking sprays went near the stove and preparation area.
Cooking utensils on the cabinet near the stove in a utensil holder, and the specialty utensils in a drawer also near the stove.
We created two baking cabinets - one for the bake ware, measuring cups and the other for the ingredients used (i.e. cupcake liners, sprinkles, marshmallow creme, chocolate chips, etc.).
Items such as bread makers, Crock Pots and the counter top mixers, if not utilized regularly, should go in lower cabinets.
Tupperware products...whew...those can take over a cabinet! Here is the trick:
Match all lids to "bottoms".
Stack all of the same shape bottoms with the smallest fitting into the largest.
Take one of the largest sized bottoms and put the all of the same shape lids into it.
Store the bottoms in front of the lids and you'll always have space.
Place the "to go" versions in the very back of the cabinet and do not use except to send leftovers home with guests.
In all instances where possible, I suggest installing a slide out shelf like this:

These points just make logistical can be complicated enough without having to lunge across the kitchen to serve whatever it is you're making. Save the lunges for the gym AFTER the delicious meals you'll prepare in your well organized kitchen!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Getting Ready For Guests

I LOVE staying in a luxurious hotel suite! I mean, doesn't everybody?????

With that said, I try to create the same feeling of a resort whenever we have house guests. And since it is the holidays, I thought I would share some of my favorite tips for making your space feel a little more like a retreat for your guests.

Let's start with the bathroom....depending on your home, you may have a dedicated guest bath that is off the main path, OR the guest bath may be used by others than just those staying with you. Therefore, during the holidays, it is very important to keep the bathroom tidy, organized and looking great. With basic necessities in plain sight, your guests will not have to rummage through your cabinets to find what they are looking for, or request you make multiple trips to fetch anything they may need. Here are a few tips on how to do this simply and easily:

* Start by cleaning all non-essentials from your bathroom counter tops. Photos, knick knacks, decorative soaps, and so forth just create clutter when guests are using the space, so store them away in a closet or drawer that won't be needed.
* Consolidate bath products in a nice basket that matches the decor of the bathroom; sample sizes & hotel collections are ideal. (I LOVE LOVE LOVE AVEDA'S "TRAVEL FAVORITES" LINE OF PRODUCTS.) If your bathroom is large, you can leave it on the counter top, otherwise place it on the ledge of the bathtub or tuck it in a corner that is obvious for your guests to find and utilize.
* If space is tight, use the top of the toilet tank as a resting spot for a narrow container filled with lotion, mouthwash, cotton swabs, lip balm, antibacterial hand gel, travel size toothpaste and a (new) toothbrush. Again, hotel samples or travel size products are ideal. When guests leave, slide the container under the sink and bring it back out when getting ready for the next guests! If you replenish the supply immediately, you will be ready for even unexpected guests!
* Set a folded hand towel by each sink and be sure your soap is full. I really like the aromatherapy handsoap line from Bath & Body Works.
* Paper products: a large hurricane or cylinder vase is a great way to store an extra roll or two in a decorative manner.
* You can also tie a label around the door knobs and drawer pulls where you put any additional items so your guests can easily find a hair dryer, extra towels, air freshener, first aid supplies, etc. Hand write what items they will find when they open that space so they are not having to hunt!

Decorate for Sale? Or for Christmas? BOTH!

If your house is on the market today, there's still plenty of things you can do to bring the holidays in without overdoing the Christmas theme and distracting your potential buyers from the selling points of the house. And in an economic upheaval, it's more important than ever to bring the Christmas cheer in! Just some simple touches will go a long, long way:
In all decor, think "department store" styling rather than "grandma's house" - the goal is to add well placed and neutral appeal to everybody.
If you put up a Christmas tree, use only white lights and minimize any handmade or personalized ornaments. Silver & gold decorations go a long way in place of the children's artwork this year.
Gifts should be arranged attractively under the tree. If you have too many and they spill out from the base of the tree, place the excess in a closet. Too many will make the room look smaller and will distract the potential buyer.
Use no more than 3 styles of coordinating wrapping paper to cut down on the distraction.
Consider moving a piece of furniture or two out of the room where the tree is this year in order to keep the room from feeling too cramped.
Add glass vases for sparkle. I love the popular antiqued / mercury glass - no matter what style your home!
Swap out your throw pillows for Christmas themed ones.
Refrain from putting out your winter "village" - use only one or two pieces if you must.
Shampoo carpets and polish the floors to really make the house sparkle.
Depending on what type of chandelier you can hang silver and gold ornaments from it to add festivity to your dining room.
If your dining area is staged with place settings, switch them out with holiday themed china.
Hang a new (or well preserved) wreath on the front door.
Avoid any decor in the front yard, especially inflatable type!
Spray paint pine cones with a light coating of silver and / or gold fleck and place a few in the exterior walkway.
If you hang Christmas lights outside - use white only. Potential buyers WILL be driving the neighborhood during different times of the day.
Hang Christmas themed towels in your bathrooms or tie your hand-towels with silver or gold ribbon.
Place mini poinsettia flowers in your guest rooms to add some holiday cheer without over-decorating.
Don't feel like you need to "skip" the holidays or not fully enjoy them just because your house is on the market. And you don't need to break the bank to get some or all new decorations! Garden Ridge, Target, Home Goods, Pier 1 Imports, and Wal-Mart are a few places I would suggest for some inexpensive but good looking neutral decor if you are in the DFW area. Click here for a reminder of what to look for when you're shopping for decorations this year (you'll need speakers!).