Christmas Countdown C -7

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Happy Holiday  Hosting

Shaunna Privratsky

Holiday parties are festive, fun and bring together friends and families. But hosting one can become a nightmare. From the decorations to the last goodbye, there are so many things that can go awry; it is enough to make you pull a Scrooge and order takeout the entire holiday season.

Put down that phone!  Here are some easy hints on getting organized, picking the right menu and easy entertaining.

  1. The first step is to make lists. Start a holiday notebook. Write down guest lists, a menu, shopping lists for food, decorations and other party necessities. Being organized is half the battle.
  2. Simple = stress-free. Keep it simple with a few well-planned dishes instead of tons of unusual or fussy foods.
  3. Keep your guests in mind when planning the menu. Ask about food allergies and preferences like vegetarian diets, low-cholesterol, or sugar-free diets.
  4. Bite-size is best for easy appetizers. If serving a dipping sauce, provide individual serving containers to avoid “double-dipping.” 
  5. Ready at room temperature. If you don’t want to be constantly running back to the kitchen to heat things up, serve at least half of the food at room temperature or rent food warmers.
  6. Preparation is key. Do as much as possible ahead of time. Decorate, set the tables, add extra seating, cook ahead as many dishes as you can and your night will go much smoother.
  7. Be generous. It is better to have too much food and beverages than not enough. You can always send leftovers with guests or freeze them for an impromptu gathering another time.
  8. Stick with the season. Fruits and vegetables in season are cheaper and fresher, so use them in your dishes and even decor for a festive look.
  9. The decor sets the theme of your party, but don’t be overwhelmed. Simple ideas are votive candles tucked in pine branches nipped from a wreath or tree, a bowl of pinecones, or even elegant candles on a simple white or clear plate. Add extra bling with a gold doily or a bowl of bright Christmas ornaments.   
  10. Invite them right. Be specific about appropriate dress, the extent of food and beverages and the duration of the party. Setting these guidelines makes it easier for people to plan to have a wonderful time at your get together.
  11. Buffet style is best. It gives guests the freedom to help themselves and there is little for you to do, other than to replenish the food. Bring full platters instead of just adding items to a half-empty plate.
  12. Make sure there is plenty to drink, whether it is alcoholic or not. Provide at least a few beverage choices for guests and plenty of glasses. Most liquor stores offer free ice with a purchase, so don’t forget to stock up.
  13.   Music puts people at ease and helps the conversation flow. Depending on the crowd, soft jazz or classical music competes less than other types of music. This will set the tone for the evening, so choose your music in advance.
  14. Fill your home with the scents of the season. Make a large pot of apple cider on the stove, complete with cinnamon sticks. Have mugs and a ladle ready.
  15. Add a drop of peppermint oil to a burning candle. The minty smell will permeate the place and add a touch of spice.
  16. Warm up a batch of gingerbread and add it to the buffet treats.
  17. Keep track of everything in your holiday notebook. Note what worked, what didn’t and ideas on doing things easier next time. Yes, I said next time.

Oh, no!  Company is on the way and you haven’t had a chance to decorate. You search frantically for some snowman napkins or some leftover garland, but you come up empty. Before you start flinging Christmas-themed tissues around the room, take a deep breath and read these tips. Don’t worry – it is never too late to decorate.

Here are ten simple ways to get your home in the holiday spirit in a hurry. I’ve also included a bonus tip for each idea if you have a little more time. Most, if not all, can be accomplished with the things you have around your house.

1. Cut a few pine branches from the tree and place in a large vase, an old tin bucket or a big pitcher. Take the lower or hidden branches to avoid bare spots. Place in the center of the table.

Bonus tip:  Wrap the container with a cheerful ribbon.

2. Gather five to seven candles, preferably all in the same color for more impact. Red, ivory, white, gold or silver are festive holiday colors. Arrange on a fancy platter or large plate.

Bonus tip: Sprinkle Christmas potpourri or pinecones around the edge of the plate. Another option is a layer of sugar, to simulate snow.

3. Fill a large glass vase or clear jar with tiny Christmas balls. Pick a single color or mix and match.

Bonus tip: Place one ball by each plate with a personalized tag. Let them take it home as a parting gift.

4. Take a tall, cylindrical vase and put candy canes all around it. Hook the short end over the edge and let the long side dangle.

Bonus tip:  Put about a half pound of sugar into two bowls. Add a few drops of red food coloring to one bowl and stir until the sugar turns red. Now layer the white and red sugar in the vase to form stripes.

5. Place three matching presents in the center of the table. You can use the presents from under the tree, or wrap some empty boxes if you have time.

Bonus tip: Use matching tags as place settings. 

6. Take one of your large pictures down and wrap it in fancy paper. Re-hang.

Bonus tip:  Put a fancy ribbon over mirrors and doorways.

7. Turn the lights off and eat by candlelight and Christmas lights. For some extra dazzle, take a clear string of lights and wrap it around the centerpiece on the table. Make sure you unplug it when you’re finished.

Bonus tip:  Replace a few light bulbs in your lamps with colored bulbs. Red lends a cheery glow, while blue or green is very mellow.

8. Scatter a few holiday rugs around. Doorways, the foot of the stairs, in front of the sink, in the guest bedroom and bathrooms are all great places for a cheerful rug.

Bonus tip:  Pick up deeply discounted rugs and welcome mats during the after Christmas sales so you’ll be ready for next season’s festivities.

9. Put out a bowl of pinecones. Spray with non-stick spray, and then sprinkle with sugar. It will look like snow.

Bonus tip:  Simmer a small pot of apple juice or two cups of water and a cut up apple on the stove. Add a generous sprinkle of cinnamon. Your home will smell like an apple pie baking.

10. Set up a manger scene in an unexpected place like the dining room table, on the television stand or the coffee table. It will remind you and your guests of the true reason for the season.

Bonus tip:  Have the youngest child tell the Christmas story.

The next time you are crunched for time, just try some of these quick ideas. Even when you’re in crisis mode, it is never too late to decorate. Hey, isn’t that your doorbell?

Now that your guests have arrived, where do you put them?  Most of us don’t have enough space to designate a whole room for guests. Yet, even if you have many uses for the “spare” room, you want an inviting space for your visitors. You don’t have to spend a fortune to have the best for your guests.

First of all, there should be a sleeping area. Look for furniture that does double duty. For example, futons combine seating and sleeping into one package. Forget the old lumpy mattresses of the past. Today’s futon has graduated into many sophisticated styles and comfort levels.

A similar type sofa is the Klick-klack bed. It is available in a range of colors and fabrics to fit any décor and budget. The lines are sleek, the concept is simple: you select the position you want and click it into place.

A sofa-sleeper has all the practicality of comfortable seating, as well as a pull out bed. These come in all sizes, including twin, to fit any size room. The mattresses are sturdy and ensure a good night’s sleep for your guests.

Air mattresses can transform any open area into an extra bedroom. Most have built in air pumps that automatically inflate and deflate the mattress to the desired firmness. Add sheets, blankets and pillows and it is off to dreamland. One drawback is that it might be more difficult for some people to get up from such a low bed. The solution: the stores have air mattresses with built in feet, to raise the bed to normal height.          

To make your guest feel at home, provide a space for their belongings, whether it is a spare dresser, some closet space with lots of empty hangers, or a table they can tuck their suitcases under.

A lamp near the bed is a plus, so that they don’t have to have the main light on at all times. Make sure there are shades or curtains for privacy and to block out light. If you provide a television, put the remote in plain sight, with a copy of the current TV guide.

Now that you have provided the basics, here are some simple ways to add some flair to your guest room. Even if the room is not primarily for guests, a cohesive décor will give it that welcoming feel. Find a theme for the room, whether it is a soothing color scheme, an extension of your home’s décor, or based on a collection.

This could be the space you could have some fun with color. Try creating a focal point by painting one wall a vibrant color. Place the largest piece of furniture, probably the bed, futon or sofa-sleeper, against this wall. Flank it with nightstands or small tables. A simple wooden chair will do as well.

Add some artwork. You could make a collage of several similarly framed photos, or create your own masterpiece with a piece of canvas and some paint. You can frame it quite inexpensively at craft stores like Michael’s.    

Perhaps your guest room doubles as a storage area. To make it more inviting, organize your storage into shelves, cabinets or built-ins. To hide the clutter and add instant glam, hang some curtains or a coordinating sheet from the ceiling. I screwed two bike hooks into the ceiling, put two drapery panels onto a closet rod, and hung it in front of our pantry shelves.

Maybe your “spare” room is your hobby area. Organize it all into a nice cabinet, desk or dresser. Your space will be nice and neat for the next time your guests arrive, or when you want to start a new project.

A few finishing touches will add that special touch. A vase of fresh flowers, a small basket of trial size toiletries, even a bowl of fresh fruit all say: I’m glad you came. Try these decorating tips on for size. Remember: only the best for your guests.

With these tips, holiday hosting can be a wonderful experience. All it takes is organization, a plan and the desire to spread cheer. Here’s to your next hassle-free holiday party!

Christmas Countdown C -10

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The Simple Joy of Holiday Entertaining

Entertaining in your home is an important part of the Holidays. Spending time with family and friends over great food is an incredible way to increase the joy of the season.

Unfortunately, most women I know groan when you mention Holiday entertaining. They are already tremendously stressed over the basic Holiday tasks that have been added to her enormous to-do list that she doesn’t know how she is ever going to get everything done. Who wants to add a party on top of that?

Well, if you do things the Simple Joy way, Holiday entertaining doesn’t have to be stressful. In fact, it can be very easy. The primary thing you must remember is:

Attend Your Own Party!

You should never invite friends over to show off.  Entertaining during the holidays is about relationships not about bragging rights.  Creating an atmosphere where guests are able to relax and enjoy themselves, you are able to move effortlessly through your guests with no stress, no fuss, no worry.

How is this possible? To begin the transformation, follow these three extremely easy steps…

Simplify, Sweetie!

To enjoy your holiday party, you must reduce the stress.  The easiest way to reduce your stress is to simplify your event.  Mommy was right, Sweetie, “Never bite off more than you can chew!”  To maintain a manageable level, follow these “simple” steps:

Simple Event

Plan a holiday event that fits well into the time you have to prepare.  There never seems to be enough time during the holidays and nothing brings on stress faster than a shortage of time.  Determine what you are able to handle and go with that.  Be honest with yourself.  Now is not the time to be Super Woman.

Simple Plans

Work smarter, not harder.  Once you decide the type of event you wish to hold, sit down with pen and paper to determine what needs to be done to prepare.  Spend your time creating your list, not running around aimlessly.  Save your energy for your party.

Simple Menu

Spending hours in the kitchen with a hot stove is simply wilting.  Plan a menu that offers dishes your guests will enjoy but will not wear you out.  You want to be with your guests at the center of the fun.  Choose dishes that can be prepared in advance or require little last minute work.  Or, follow the my Simple Joy example:  purchase pre-made dishes that only need baking or microwaving.  Remember, your guests came to see you, not your food.

Delegate, Darling!

You have chosen your event, developed a plan of action and selected your menu.  Now you need to decide who is going to do all the work.  What do you mean you thought you had to do the work?  No, no, no, darling, not when you take my advice:

Decide What Needs to Be Done

You have a plan of action.  Take the time NOW to expand on that plan.  Determine step by step exactly what needs to be done and when it needs to be done.  Break things down into very small parts if you need to.  Once you are satisfied with your list, copy it to a fresh piece of paper and keep it with you always… or at least until your party is over.

Determine What You Want to Do

With completed list in hand, study it very carefully.  What things do you want to do?  If you make great desserts, then you may want to save this activity for yourself.  If you REALLY like to clean your house, this may be the activity for you.  Pick and choose now before others get a crack at the list.

Delegate the Rest

Yes, you are actually going to ask other people to do things to help you get ready for your party.  Gee, what a novel idea!  Who are these people?  Friends, family and hired help.  You may hire a company to clean your house or cater the party.  Assign tasks to family members.  When friends and guests offer their help, accept!  Remember, your job is to attend the party.  Let others help.

Pamper, Pet!

The day of your party arrives.  Everything is going smoothly.  Now is the time for you to pamper yourself.  Take time for you so you have energy for your guests.  Here are just a few things you might do for yourself, Pet.

Take a Nap

Can’t have you nodding off in the middle of a conversation.  Don’t want any lines under your eyes.  Prevent this by taking a little nap before you get ready.  Even if you only have a short time, lie down for a few minutes.  Relax.    Smile and let all your care and tension drift away.  Prepare your mind to turn your energy from you to your guests.  Now, take a deep breath.  Let it out.  Open your eyes.  It’s time for your bath.

Take a Bath

The Queen never rushes through a shower when she prepares for a party.  Time to pull out all the Royal stops.  What better way than with a warm relaxing bubble bath.  Fill the tub with scented bath salts, light the candles, and turn on music to relax.  Then slide deep into the tub.  Lean back and let the last of your cares float away, Pet.  Not too long, though, you still need to get dressed.

Take a Breath

You’re ready.  The food is waiting.  The music is playing.  The house is perfect.  The doorbell rings.  Wait!  Not just yet.  Take a deep breath.  Now smile.  No, a big warm smile and go greet your guests.  The #1 guest (YOU) is in the house!

Christmas Countdown C -14

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Holiday Open Office

Twice, I have had jobs that were very intense during the holiday season.  The number of hours I needed to spend at work made it impossible for me to either attend or host any holiday parties  This was very painful for me since I love both Christmas and entertaining.  I finally realized the long hours spent at work did not mean I could not celebrate the holidays.   If I had to spend the holiday season at work, then I would hold the party at work.  Instead of hosting an open house, hold an open office! 

I designed a celebration that would not cause me any additional stress.  My goal was to enhance my holiday joy and the joy of my co-workers.  I began by decorating my office for the holidays, including a small tabletop tree complete with lights.  I set up a narrow four foot table and covered it with a paper tablecloth.  I bought more than one tablecloth in case so I had replacements when one was stained or torn.  I brought in my holiday platters, baskets and bowls for my serving dishes and added green and red paper napkins, cups and plates.

During the holidays, so much of the food brought in to share at work is very sweet and high calorie.  We tend not to eat well during the last few weeks of December.  I decided to offer more substantial food.  The buffet featured chips, salsa, dip, crackers, a variety of cheeses, cookies, and sparkling cider. As you see, I did include a few sweet items to round the selection out.

I bought most of the items for the small buffet, making only one or two things myself.  I bought enough food to last 3-4 days, holding back a few fresh items for each day so the food did not look picked over by the last day.  I was able to set everything up in 10-15 minutes and it took about the same amount of time to clean everything up before I went home. 

I turned on Christmas music, opened the door wide and invited anyone who wandered by to enjoy the buffet.  While the open office will never win first prize in a Holiday Party competition, it helps reduce stress and increase joy during a busy time of year at work.

Suggested Buffet Items:

Cheese Platter

• Brie

• Herbed Brie

• Cheddar

• Gouda

• Smoked Edam

• Cheese Ball

Crackers

• Wheat

• Rye

• Club

• Pepper

Assorted Nuts

Tortilla Chips

Dips

• Salsa

• Guacamole

• Dill Dip*

• Spinach Dip

• Shrimp Dip

• Crab Dip

Cake Platter

(I purchase specialty loaf cakes at an import store)

• Amaretto

• Rum

• Pumpkin/Cranberry Bread

• Banana Bread

Small Plate of Chocolate Seashells

Platter of Assorted Cookies

Sparkling Cider

Dill Dip

  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup mayo
  • 2 teaspoons dill
  • 1 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1 tablespoon parsley
  • 1 tablespoon dried onion

Mix. Chill. Serve in bread bowl with the pieces of bread taken out of the bowl.

Festive Holiday Drinks

Festive Holiday Drinks

Special occasions call for more that a few bottles of wine hastily chosen & a tub of ice filled with beer. Time to move up to the grown up side of the bar! I agree that cocktails can be time consuming to mix when you are hosting a party. You might consider hiring someone to tend bar for you. This frees you up to mingle with guests & gives you the satisfaction of knowing the drinks are well made. A paid bartender should also be able to tell you what to purchase & how much you need to stock your bar for the event.

If hiring a bartender is not in your budget or your event is intimate enough not to warrant the expense, then consider creating just one of these fabulous concoctions from Coastal Living. A punchbowl filled with a special beverage, with more pitchers of the same chilling in the fridge, gets your party a special touch without  causing you emotional or financial stress. Enjoy!

Holiday Cocktails