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Tag Archives: holidays

  • Christmas Decorations for the Whole Family

    Posted on December 22, 2010 by NinaCarmen Monroe

    Some people like to get all their Christmas decorations up and finished the day after Thanksgiving. Me, on the other hand, I like to let my turkey digest, get together with friends and family, and make the Christmas decorating a long-term event. The decorations aren’t complete until the celebration begins, and each year we add new decorations, new traditions, and a unique look to the house for the holidays.

    My favorite thing to do, instead of buying all the Christmas decorations, is to make time to create them myself. This might sound like a daunting task, but you’d be surprised at how many beautiful trinkets you can create with a minimum of simple craft supplies.

    It’s easy to make a country-cozy Christmas tree with the family. I strongly recommend a faux tree – these are beautiful year after year, are easily stored, don’t leave a million pine needles all over your carpet for the rest of time, don’t have to be disposed of, don’t present a fire hazard, and – best of all – don’t result in the deaths of trees. So pull out your faux tree, and get to work. A string of white lights starts off the decoration and makes a twinkling foundation for the rest of your imaginative decorations.

    Dinner Table and Wine

    Less than 30 cents will buy you tiny grapevine wreathes from any crafting supply store – pick up a slew of these guys, tons of tiny red bows, a glue gun, and some twine, and you’re ready to make beautiful Christmas wreathes with a country touch to add to your tree. Look around the craft store for anything you think would be perfect to add to your tree. It’s easy to tie a piece of twine to almost anything and hang it off that puppy to make unique, hand-made decorations.

    Make sure to pick up Styrofoam balls, ribbons, bells, glitter, snowflakes, and anything else that catches your eye. Why spend money on breakable glass balls when you can sit down with the family and make exquisite decorations limited only by your imagination? Wrap your balls in ribbons and bows, sprinkle them with glitter, and place them amongst the rest of your decorations. And don’t forget to top it all off with a great, bit glittery barn star or angel to set everything off.

    Pick up Styrofoam cubes or find small cardboard boxes around the house. Wrap them in Christmas paper, cover them in curly ribbons and bows, and set them around the house and under the tree for a festive, generous look, even if you can’t buy a million presents. Don’t forget adorable stockings that can be personalized with glitter and fabric paints to hang on the mantle or the banister.

    Carry the country cosy theme over to garland with grapevine garland decorated with berries, pine cones, poinsettia blossoms and anything else that catches your eye. Fill glass bowls and vases with winter branches dipped in glitter, pine cones dotted with bows, and stems with berries – put a layer of snowflake glitter pieces inside the vases for extra effect.

    Use your imagination, and get your family involved. The holidays are a big event, and doing crafts, decorating, and celebrating together will help you create happy memories to last a lifetime.

    Do you have any tips for Christmas decorations or themes? Leave a comment below and share them with the world. If you have any questions or subjects you’d like to see covered, just let me know and you might find your question answered in a blog. Coming soon: What Makes Christmas Special?


    This post was posted in Holidays and was tagged with tips, decor, home decor, decorations, home decorating, christmas, holidays

  • Thanksgiving Madness: Tips, Ideas, Recipes, & Memories (Part 2)

    Posted on November 22, 2010 by NinaCarmen Monroe

    Menus, preparation, cooking, invitations, pre-dinner clean-up, post-dinner clean-up, decorations, entertainment – if you’re the one in charge of making sure your family’s Thanksgiving goes off without a hitch, you’ve signed up for one of the most grueling, but most fulfilling, jobs of the year. You, super-host, will be expected to coordinate a dinner full of everyone’s favorite dishes, enough room for everyone to spread out and dig in, a kiddie-table, clean-up – and you’ll probably be the one in charge of making sure everyone is happy, positive, and having fun. It’s no mean feat. But while you’re getting swept away in all the maddening preparation, don’t forget to keep in mind everything you have to be grateful for. After all, if you’re throwing a big gathering you’ve got food to serve, a place to serve it, and people you love coming to share.

    Besides everything you have to be thankful for, you might also want to keep in mind these helpful suggestions and ideas. All of the following suggestions came from my fabulous friends through Facebook.com and Hubpages.com - another big thanks to everyone who responded!

    • Hors d'oeuvres Buy You Time And Make A Statement: I have to extend a very special thanks to K9keystrokes, another active and talented writer (whose works include even more Thanksgiving goodness among many other things); she took the time to write to me personally and offer these yummy – and deceptively simple – appetizer offerings for your Thanksgiving table:
      • Banana Bonbons: “Roll whole bananas in strawberry preserves, then chopped nuts, and freeze. Just before guest arrive, slice into wheels and serve on a chilled platter with tooth picks.” This is a great idea – take it and run with it. Experiment with different flavors of preserves and crunchy bits – chocolate sauce and granola bits; caramel and mini-chocolate chips; orange marmalade, toasted coconut, and candied pineapple bits. Leave a comment with your combinations below!
      • Fire It Up: Looking for something impressive to really light up the table with sweet aromas and visual flair? “Try soaking sugar cubes in lemon or orange extract (the real stuff), and ignite them to bring you some flaming excitement. The alcohol content is just enough to do the job.”
      • Celery Centerpiece: Clean your celery, and keep it whole – including the leafy stuff on top – find a pretty glass container – or even more than one - and fill it (them) with water mixed with food coloring. Add your celery; it will soak up the colors adding a decorative touch to the table as well as a delicious, healthy nibbler perfect for dipping into cream cheese, peanut butter, and just about anything creamy. K9keystrokes adds, “Also, try finger-sandwiches; they look beautiful when seasoned cream cheese filling is shaded pastel with food coloring.”
      • Chocolate Fondue is IN: I recently attended a wedding that included a chocolate fountain. Delicious warm chocolate flowed through three tiers of a lovely fountain ready to bathe fresh berries, pieces of bananas, and shortbread cookies. It was a chocolate-lover’s dream. K9keystrokes mentioned, “Some of the best chocolate fondue dipping foods are, ladyfingers, maraschino cherries with the stem on, pear spears, banana chunks, and my favorite—cubes of angel food cake.” You might not have a chocolate fountain, but a Crock-pot on low with your favorite chocolate (and perhaps some cream stirred in to keep it smooth) will also do the trick. Use your imagination – whatever you use for dippers, make sure to keep them bite-sized, and include forks or skewers long enough for easy dipping.
      • Chilly Trick: K9keystrokes offers this ingenious tip for keeping your cold drinks chilled longer, even when you’re presenting them at the table. “Place your ice [and bottles of drinks to stay cold] into a large bowl that is placed inside another larger bowl filled with dry ice. The ice will keep your guest's chillin' for the entire party.” What a cool idea!
    • The Internet is Your Friend: My friend Stevennix2001, one of HubPages’ best movie reviewers, reminded me to turn to our trusty friend the search engine to find a plethora of ideas. From recipes for home-made apple pie to advice from the culinary queen Julia Childs, you can find a way to add something extra or new to your celebration this year with a with a quick spin around the World Wide Web. DoorMattnomore, a passionate, expressive author from Hubpages, echoed this sentiment when she suggested looking up Taste of Home on the web and finding their Sally Lunn Batter Bread Recipe. “Can’t give me credit, it’s not my recipe. But I make this every year, and its super easy...bread that you don’t have to knead, just mix it up, stir it and bake it. And the honey butter...yum!!! Everyone loves it and thinks I am way awesome.

    Okay, all this writing about food is making me hungry! I’m definitely going to have to give some of these tempting ideas a try – maybe even before Thanksgiving, just to give them a test-run of course! I’d also love to hear your ideas. If you have tips, tricks, suggestions, or easy recipes you’d like to share, just leave me a comment below. Or if you have a question you’d like answered, let me know. You just might find your suggestion in a future blog. Coming soon? You guessed it – MORE Thanksgiving Madness. I got so many great ideas – I just couldn’t fit them all into one blog. Thanks to everyone who has helped to make this series of articles possible!


    This post was posted in Holidays and was tagged with tips, fall, autumn, cooking, holidays, thanksgiving

  • Thanksgiving Madness: Tips, Ideas, Recipes, & Memories (Part 1)

    Posted on November 17, 2010 by NinaCarmen Monroe

    Thanksgiving always sneaks up on me, and busts me over the head with fall-colored surprise. I can’t help but stop and take stock of things when it rolls around. Between daily chores and trying to figure out my holiday menu and plans for the day, I always end up pondering gratitude. Part of it’s the word itself – Thanksgiving, the giving of thanks. It’s important to pause and count the things that make life good and beautiful. Another part of it is warm memories of Thanksgivings during my childhood – a houseful of Monroes gathered around a true family feast of all our favorites. Part of it is the fact that I am often surprised by all that I have to be grateful for: I have family who love me, friends who care about me, and work I love with people who make me proud to know them – I can’t imagine wanting to ask for more.

    Dinner Table and Wine

    But instead of boring you – or risking teary eyes on my end – with a detailed litany of every little thing that makes me happy, I’ll just show you one of the things I’m grateful for. And I’ll give you some great tips and treats to make your Thanksgiving celebrations run smoothly and deliciously – care of my friends. You see, for this week’s blog, I asked my friends for help with their ideas about the upcoming holiday. I didn’t give much thought to the response, but it was overwhelming – so much so, that I will have to divide their ideas into at least two articles! Special thanks go to my friends who connected with me through Facebook.com and HubPages.com (an awesome writing community) to give me their best ideas.

    In no particular order, here are their thoughts:

    • Remember the Whole Family: RedElf, and great writer and supporter of fledging writers, reminds us to keep in mind that there will be a wide range of ages attending a large family gathering – so make sure to be prepared: “Our Mom always kept a selection of our old, and some new, toys on hands for the kids...and there was always some cool younger auntie or uncle who would take the kids in hand, and keep the games rolling until it was time to eat.

      That would be my tip - games, kids' activities, and someone to ‘help out’ with them. Even in this day of cell phones, texting, and portable personal games, kids still enjoy board games, or a Wii tournament, and interacting with other kids and grown-ups.”

    Dinner Table and Wine

    • Know Your Guests, Be Prepared: Chrystal P. and Carrie C. both piped in with some of the most valuable practical knowledge immediately – get started ahead of time, and make anything you can before the holiday; you’re going to be busy! Carrie says, “Begin cooking @ midnight!!” Chrystal offers, “If you’re doing desserts, do them the day before. Pies and stuff will keep just fine.” She also throws in the ever-popular cranberry sauce question: canned or home-made? Her vote is home-made, but be prepared for your guests’ preferences. I suggest doing both, since they each have their own unique flavor and texture.
    • Remember What It’s All About: Preparation, planning, running errands, and taking care of life in general during the holidays can become stressful. Remember to take the time to remember why you’re doing all this work and to enjoy the fruits of your labors of love. Ben Evans, a practiced creative and professional writer – who is also an entrepreneur, kindly took the time to remind us all to relax and enjoy ourselves: “I think thanksgiving more than any other holiday brings people and a good spirit out…It is just a tradition that everyone can participate in. I think more than any one thing people can relax during Thanksgiving. It is not as stressful as Christmas and everyone can help prepare a nice feast. It is a holiday without any needs or wants. You bring yourself or invite others to share, and you enjoy the time spent and relax.”
    • Something Delicious: Ben also left me a delicious-sounding (and super-easy) recipe – I haven’t tried it yet, but you can bet it’s going to be on my holiday table this year:

      “I like cucumbers sliced and put into vinegar. Put in a little olive oil; about a teaspoon of oil to half a cup of vinegar.

      Slice onions and save a few so you can garnish the top.

      Cut some ripe tomatoes, about one tomato per each cucumber (save a few slices to garnish the top).

      Other veggies that go well in the dish:
      1) Cabbage
      2) Hot peppers
      3) Thinly sliced carrots
      4) Cilantro
      5) Apple slices
      Choose what you want to add.

      In the vinegar add the sliced vegetables; add 2 tablespoons of sugar (brown sugar is my fav). I also like to add something spicy to give it a kick. Spices like basil go well in this. I mix everything together the night before and let it sit in the refrigerator. I put thinly sliced tomatoes and onions on top, and then put a little black pepper and some paprika to give it color.”

    • There you have it! Just a few examples of why I’m grateful for my friends. I hope these tips, recipes, and reminders add something to your holiday, and there are more to come, since my friends bowled me over with their ideas. Get in on the blogging action – do you have more Thanksgiving experiences or tips to share? Or do you have questions you’d like to have answered? Leave a comment below, and you just might find your ideas and suggestions in an upcoming blog. Coming soon: More Thanksgiving Madness.


    This post was posted in Holidays and was tagged with fall, decor, cooking, home decor, holidays, thanksgiving, children, organization, harvest

  • Prepare Yourself for Holiday Madness in the Dining Room

    Posted on November 1, 2010 by NinaCarmen Monroe

    We all know what time of year it is. The stores are festooned not only with gobbling turkeys, seasonal gourds, and harvest time decorations, but I’ve also already seen hints of red Santas, sparkly snowflakes, and stockings waiting to be filled with gifts! The winter holidays are approaching fast, and on top of our daily duties like work, taking care of the family, keeping the house in shape, and many, many more, all the additional preparation can seem like a chore. Here are a few simple tips to help you prepare your dining room and keep the holidays on track with your spirit intact.

    Start Planning Now: I know you have a million things to do. But believe me – a little planning now will save you a lot of hair-pulling later. Start with lists and ideas. How many people are coming to visit during the holidays? Are you going to have a sit-down dinner, or a buffet-style set-up? If you want to send invitations, go for it (Facebook and other online services do this for you fast, free, and without paper); no matter the method, just make sure to touch base with your guests, and even include them in your planning stage. What foods will be served? Are others going to bring their favorite holiday foods? If so, what are they bringing? Will any of your guests need accommodations or help finding them? Will you have any kind of entertainment in the dining room – music, after-dinner board games or cards, or a family circle full of talk and catching up?

    Thinking about these things and writing them down will be the keys to knowing the ingredients you’ll need in the kitchen, how much space you will need in the dining room, and how many chairs you’re going to need. This is also a good time to think about decorations: What do you already have? How much space will the décor use up as compared with how much space you and your guests will need to dine and visit comfortably? Do you need (or want) anything new?

    Cleaning the kitchen and dining roomClean Early: I think we’ve all done it – flipped out a little bit because family and friends were coming over for a big gathering. We’ve been on the cleaning frenzy, and it isn’t fun. Start setting aside a limited number of hours each week to do a major project and make sure to keep up with it throughout the holidays. Make sure to work for the pre-determined number of hours and no more; get things finished and give yourself time to relish the results. This will be easier on your stress and energy levels, and make you feel more comfortable as you accomplish goals in your dining room over time. You deserve to be able to enjoy the holidays even as you’re preparing for them, so don’t exempt yourself from the real festivities by wearing yourself out just before the main event begins.

    Get the Family Involved: This is definitely the time to rally the troops. Ask about the schedules of the people in your household for the next couple of months. This is especially important if your dining room doubles as a home office or study station; you’ll have to plan your objectives around the normal activities going on in your dining room, and doing so will save you the frustration of getting geared up to clean the dining room ceiling only to find someone in there who needs to write up a report.

    Find out everyone’s opinions on the matters of the decorations, the food, and the entertainment and get them on board with the preparation schedule. Schedule time to help each other clean and decorate, and make these times memorable and fun. Go to a favorite restaurant as work is getting accomplished or make a favorite meal. Play festive music together as you meet your goals, and be present – in the right now - with one another as you work together. Play! These moments are just as important as the holiday gathering, so don’t let them pass you by.

    Make a Budget: Here’s another one I think we’ve all done – splurged around the holidays. Maxed out the old plastic cards or dipped a little too far into the savings account for extra goodies, just-the-right presents, new dining room furniture, or all-new decorations. The expansive spirit of the holiday and our desire to create a truly special event make it natural for us to want to go all out, but if you end up hurting yourself financially over the holidays, not only will you pay for it over the course of next year, you’ll also begin to resent the holiday “fuss.” So do what you can to make the holiday special, but don’t go overboard. Since you’ll be planning early, you can also begin to work on getting the things you’ll need a little bit at a time, so you’ll have everything ready without having to spend a massive chunk of your hard-earned cash all at once.

    Grocery shopping on a budget

    Relax: The whole point of gathering for a big family feast or a huge party with friends around the holidays is to have fun! If you’re the host, then of course this puts a big responsibility on your plate in terms of preparations, but your duties as host shouldn’t keep you from having a good time. Take the time to enjoy the preparation stages. Don’t take on too much at once, and give yourself the time you need to relax and rest. Enjoy hot baths or walks around town; take in a movie – whatever you need to do from now until the holiday events are finished to enjoy a little me-time. You won’t have fun if you’re a frazzled mess when the doorbell rings and the first guests arrive. Make sure you’re relaxed, well-rested, and in a good mood so you can actually enjoy their company and all your hard work.

    A good friend of mine tells me that you don’t sit down to an eight-course dinner and try to figure out how to consume it all once; you sit down and eat it bite by bite, dish by dish – and if you’re smart you enjoy the food at the feast! Preparing your home and dining room for the holidays is like that eight-course meal; if you try to eat it all at the same time, you’ll make yourself sick. Follow these simple tips, and add your own, so you can enjoy every delicious moment of your life from now until the holidays are over – and beyond.

    Do you have other Holiday Decorating Tips or experiences you’d like share? Or do you have a request for something you’d like to read about? Leave a comment below, and you might find your comment or suggestion presented in an upcoming blog. Keep reading for more about gardening, home décor and design, and outdoor living. Coming soon: Dream Bedrooms for Kids.


    This post was posted in Holidays and was tagged with decor, decorations, budget, christmas, holidays, thanksgiving, shopping

  • Halloween Fun for the Whole Family

    Posted on October 19, 2010 by NinaCarmen Monroe

    A cobweb caught in my hair. It made me shiver as I approached the open box on tiptoe. The plain black crate was older than I could imagine – covered with dust and even a spider skittering down the side. It was at once magnetic and repulsive. I peered over the lip of the box. Suddenly the darkness exploded with flashing lights and maniacal laughter as the dead body popped into a sitting position in its ancient coffin. I jumped back in a flash. My mother and all the other kids jumped as well – then laughed as they realized the “body” was just a dummy connected to a motor. The kind old man who kept up this Halloween tradition in my neighborhood gave out Charleston Chews and Tootsie Roll Midgies to all the ghosts, goblins, angels, and superheroes crowded around his haunted display. It’s Halloween again, and I am transported to a time when there was some ticklish delight in being terrified, when the shadows came out to play, and when everyone’s favorite sweets flowed like water from a fountain.

    It’s that time when everyone has a chance to be someone – or some THING – else for one night out of the year. As a child, Halloween was just as exciting – if not more so – as Christmas, and I awaited its spooky decorations, tooth-rotting confections, and all-around fun for the entire year. The memories I made with my family and friends in the neighborhood are still a joy to this day, so here are my tips for getting the whole family involved in the frightening fun of Halloween.

    Halloween trick or treat bags

    Make Costumes Together: Remember when you could wrap yourself up in tin foil and be the Tin Man, or when a few dashes of make-up and a feather boa made you a movie star? You don’t have to spend a ton of money to have a lot of fun. Drag out old clothes from the attic, get into the cosmetics, and plan a small trip to your local craft store to find inexpensive accessories for your home-made project. You’ll be guaranteed to have a unique costume, and the memories you and your family create will last a lifetime. Don’t forget to take plenty of pictures!

    Halloween Trick or Treat
    Make Your Own Decorations: As with the costumes, it doesn’t take much money to be creative and make your own spooky decorations. Use cotton balls to make spider webs and drape them around the house. Paint some of the gourds that are plentiful this time of year and add googly eyes and cardboard wings, hands, and other parts to make monsters that can hide in all sorts of unexpected places. Paint scary eyes and faces on left over milk gallon jugs to create ghosts that can easily be hung from trees with string. Don’t just stick with the same old jack-o-lantern you make every year! Carve teeth out of the entire side of your pumpkin and make a Halloween shark! Challenge yourself to carve a witch’s cat into the side of one. If you kick your imagination into high gear, there’s no telling what kind of creepy concoctions you can conceive!

    Plan a Themed Party: Get friends and neighbors involved, too. Invite everyone to join you in a party with themed costumes (all costumes are classic movie monsters, all celebrities, all TV or book characters – brainstorm and come up with a fun list of your own). Ask everyone to bring their own scary party foods. Don’t forget to make time for spooky story-telling with those old favorites from our childhoods: cold noodles to feel and look like brains, gummy worms in soft jell-o to feel like guts, and peeled grapes to feel like eyeballs. Grab some horror movie sound tracks or Halloween sound effects to give your party a terrifying atmosphere. See who can tell the scariest story, have a best-costume contest, and invite everyone to make caramel-dipped apples (make sure to have sprinkles, nuts, and other tasty treats to dip the apples into). Give everyone spooky or funny Halloween-themed nicknames (or let them come up with their own) and tell everyone to use those names for the evening – make a game with a prize for the person who collects the most name tags when they hear someone NOT using the nicknames. Exchange candy or give out Halloween party favors there at the party, and go out as a large group to take all the kids trick-or-treating around the neighborhood safely.

    Have a Family Movie Night: Put together a marathon of the family’s favorite scary films. Stay up late watching movies together in the dark – and seeing who gets creeped out the most! Make sure there are plenty of sweet treats and noxious nibbles to keep everyone munching when the movies get exciting. This one’s best done on a non-school night.

    Don’t Miss Out on Local Events: Scan your local paper for Halloween hayrides, haunted houses, parties at community centers, and other fun – and usually inexpensive – events. Get the family together in a safe atmosphere with other members in the community and have a great time.

    Other Fun Stuff: This time of year plenty of farmers and orchards are opening their doors to customers who want to pick their own fresh foods. These are some of the best places to take the family to pick gourds, pumpkins, apples, and corn for decorating and eating, and they’re usually very affordable since you and your family do the picking. Don’t miss the fresh apple cider that many farms produce in October – as much as I love candy, it’s really the crisp, sweet, fresh flavor of just-made apple cider that screams Halloween to me.

    Halloween Themed Party

    Mix and match these suggestions as time and energy allow - and create some of your own - to make a memorable Halloween for you and your family. Even if you’re on a budget, these fun activities are easy and affordable – and you might even make a new Halloween tradition to pass through the generations.

    Do you have other Halloween Fun tips or experiences you’d like share? Or do you have a request for something you’d like to read about? Leave a comment below, and you might find your comment or suggestion presented in an upcoming blog. Keep reading for more about gardening, home décor and design, and outdoor living. Coming soon: Preparing Your Dining Room for the Holidays.


    This post was posted in Holidays and was tagged with fall, autumn, decorations, holidays, halloween, party

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