e-sentiment {merry christmas}

I don’t know about you, but I ditched the Christmas cards a few years ago in favor of a less stressful holiday season. I admire the folks who still devote the time and care (and money) to a decidedly old-fashioned endeavor, but I’ve streamlined my life in order to focus on what really matters.

This year, I tried my hand at an e-sentiment, distributed on Facebook and this blog, and emailed to a few colleagues.

It’s reaching 95% of my peeps with 1% of my former effort (and 0% of the investment).

My niece called me green.

Which is just about the right color for Christmas, don’t you think?


A holiday table for six.

I hosted a small dinner party Saturday night. Nothing big . . . just one couple and my daughter’s friend — an easy table for six.

The menu was tried and true: an antipasta to start (cheese, crackers, venison sausage, and olives), followed by a salad of field greens topped with apple and blue cheese, a piping hot lasagna, and a crusty loaf of bread. To finish, creme brulee.

It was lovely, and easy (okay, time consuming but easy) and served as a welcome reminder of why I love the holidays: good food, good friends, and time spent at home are life’s real gifts.

I had the most fun — as I always do — dressing the table. I thought this one turned out beautifully — a nod to the holidays without being overt. See what you think:

I paired vintage Noritake dinner plates with contemporary Pier One salad plates. I picked up the place mats and the table runner recently at Pottery Barn. The glassware is, of course, vintage, and the vase is blown glass by a local artisan.  With candles and flowers and greenery, the table came off prepared without being overdone.

There’s nothing like a little fresh greenery to dress up a table. I used to have a pine tree in the yard of my former home and I was never shy about clipping a few branches to dress my table. But I’m without a convenient source these days — despite our 15 acre homestead — so I had to buy these at the local florist.

The monogrammed napkins are ones I’ve owned for more than a decade. I highly recommend making the investment. I purchased my napkins on sale at a department store and took them to a local seamstress for monogramming. The versatility of the green and cream motif has served me well over the years.

I’m hosting a holiday open house next weekend for my office and I liked this table so much I may just repeat it for my food buffet. It will eliminate a little bit of thinking during a lot of cooking and preparation, and come to mention it — that’s a holiday gift too!

Oh, Christmas Tree!

I have a long history with Christmas trees.

Actually, my history is with a tree. Singular.

In my adult life, I’ve only owned one tree. I bought it on sale for $19.99 from Target, and it not only got me through my apartment years as a young single, it stuck with me through 20 years of family life. It was a petite 7-feet tall, and it was made back when artificial trees still looked artificial. Undeterred by its modest proportions and scant foliage, I loaded it down with lights and dozens of collected ornaments (many handmade by my children, friends and family). I placed it in front of French doors that faced one of the busiest streets in our hometown, and many, many friends and neighbors regularly commented how “pretty” my tree was. (The drive-by glance is always the most flattering!)

I’m more than a little sentimental, but when we moved last summer, I was ready to ditch our sad little tree, despite its many years of holiday service to our family. I dreamed of buying a luxury pre-lit tree — tall and lush and easy-to-assemble, and hopefully with no “fluffing” necessary.

But lordy did I develop a severe case of sticker shock once I started shopping. I’d been sheltered for two decades and I hadn’t noticed the price of faux trees had skyrocketed. I had no intention of spending north of $700 for a tree, no matter how many lights it had or how easy the assembly promised to be.

Trouble was, the $300 models weren’t that impressive.  Sure, they beat heck out of my $19.99 tree, but in most ways they were just as artificial only a little sadder because they were trying so hard not to be. At least my Charlie Brown-Target tree knew its place in the world and had lost all pretension about 30 minutes after it came out of the box in 1989.

After a day-long tree expedition last Saturday that ended in failure and tried the patience of my family, I vowed to take the path less traveled. “I’ll just make my own tree!” I snapped. I had a vague idea but no real plan.

All I knew was that we had left a grand and historic home in my hometown. It was built in 1921 and was loaded with vintage charm and craftsmanship. We moved to a modern white box 400 miles away that couldn’t be more different. I’ve embraced our new home’s contemporary sensibility . . . so much so that the thought of a “traditional” tree pained me as much as the price tag.

So my husband and I took a walk on our acreage and a few hours (and a couple of cans of spray paint) later, I ended up with what I’m calling my avant-garde tree.

It’s part sculpture, part art, all kitsch. I know it’s a little crazy (okay, a lot), but it fits this house. This season in my life. And it’s certainly not trying to be something it isn’t, which is a homespun reminder of the house and tree we loved back home.

Up close, I find a kind of quiet beauty in its simplicity.

And my friend, the owl stands watch over us.

It’s a new home and a new tree. And it promises to be an all-new Christmas.

Thanksgiving for four.

This year our Thanksgiving will feature an intimate gathering . . . a quiet table for four.

I’ve hosted holiday dinners through the years for as many as 30, but we’re in our new home in Missouri now and our extended family is no longer right down the road. So it will be my husband and me and our two teenagers and more food than four souls can possibly eat.  Hello leftovers!

My favorite part of Thanksgiving has never been the food. I call it nursing home food because my kids have always favored any soft casserole that is cheesy, gravy-laden, or butter-filled.  Our menu is classic: turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, broccoli cheese casserole, creamed corn, sweet Italian sausage stuffing, cranberry sauce, hot rolls, and pumpkin cheesecake with maple cream sauce. My favorite is the cranberry sauce because I make it from fresh cranberries and spike it with Rum and a medley of fragrant spices (ginger, allspice, nutmeg and cinnamon). For years, I used to make sweet potato casserole (topped with pecan streusel topping and marshmellows), but I was the only one who ate it so I’ve abandoned this Thanksgiving staple. Please forgive me.  And, yeah, I know there’s not a salad to be found. When I pointed out this oversight in the menu to my children and asked for a suggestion, my son replied “Nobody eats salad at Thanksgiving. Why make it?”  He’s right, I think, so I crossed it off my list.

My real pleasure on this holiday comes from dressing the table, and I always do it the day before. This year I kept it simple and a little rustic, but still filled with small touches such as flowers, candles and mix-and-match china that give a table interest.  See what you think:

I bought these flowers today at the grocery store for $10 — a bargain I thought for something that adds so much elegance to a holiday meal.

While pulling china and linens from my dish pantry, I discovered that napkins I had purchased a couple of years ago and never used were a lovely compliment to dinner plates I purchased just a few weeks ago. I love serendipitous table settings! By the way, in all matters decorating, I’ve always thought a high-low combination makes for the most interesting decor. I love how the damask tablecloth (high) contrasts with the rustic table runner and chargers (low).

Now I must confine myself to the kitchen if I ever expect for this meal to be served tomorrow.  Fortunately, all my duckies are home tonight and there’s nothing that makes my heart sing like puttering in the kitchen when everybody’s around.  Later, we plan to head to the den to watch our latest Redbox selection: Horrible Bosses. I’ve had a few in my day, so I’m sure I’ll get a vicarious thrill or two.

Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers! I hope this year is one for the memory books for you and yours.

Autumn made easy.

It’s rainy and cool in my part of the world today. I put on my sweats and long-sleeved shirt, and set about figuring out an easy but tummy-warming meal everyone in my family would enjoy for Sunday Supper.

My son suggested twice-baked potatoes and that sounded perfect for a cool day. For the entree, I reached way back into my past for a simple-but-scrumptious dish known as “Baloney Chicken.”

I know. It sounds weird. And gross. The name reflects my Okie heritage because it’s named after an Italian man named Mr. Bologna, which my friends and family pronounce as “baloney.” I learned the recipe from my college roommate, and it’s one of the easiest but tasty chicken cutlet dishes around.  Trust me. Make it once and you’ll be hooked.

My table was colorful but pared down. It was just one of those weekends, you know, when you’d rather curl up on the sofa with a good book than spend hours dressing the table and prepping dinner.  All in all, I had about an hour invested in this meal. I’d say that’s not bad for a supper as pleasing as this one.

An Autumn Sunday Supper Menu

“Baloney” Chicken

Twice-Baked Potatoes

Roast Broccoli

“Baloney” Chicken

2 lb chicken cutlets or tenders, lightly pounded so they’re not too thick

2 sticks butter, melted

1 cup flour

3 eggs, lightly beaten with a tablespoon of water

2 cups Panko bread crumbs, mixed with Italian seasoning

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded or grated

Salt and pepper

Dredge chicken pieces in flour, then salt and pepper both sides. Dredge in egg mixture, followed by bread crumb mixture, followed by melted butter. Arrange on a large baking sheet and sprinkle tops with Parmesan cheese.  Bake at 375 degrees for 30-40 minutes, or until lightly browned and cooked all the way through. Serves 4.

Twice Baked Potatoes

Scrub and bake four large baking potatoes.  Let cool, then slice in half lengthwise and scoop out the centers. Mix potatoes with your choice of ingredients. I prefer equal amounts of butter, cream cheese, sour cream, and shredded cheddar cheese.  I add a generous amount of salt and pepper, plus a splash of heavy cream.  I use a potato masher to make sure the mixture is nice and creamy.  Refill the skins with the potato mixture, top with more shredded cheddar, and bake at 400 degrees until well-browned, about 20 minutes. Alternately, the stuffed skins can be refrigerated for up to a day and then baked at 375 for 30-40 minutes. Serves 8.

Roast Broccoli

Toss several cups of broccoli florets with olive oil, salt and cracked pepper.  Spread on a baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees until florets look toasted, about 20-25 minutes.  Serve immediately. Serves 4.

A woven cornucopia and an assortment of silk foliage make a perfect centerpiece for an autumn supper.

Bye bye summer.

We woke up today to temps in the low 50’s.  The sun was bright blue and there was only a wisp of humidity in the air. By mid-afternoon, the thermometer read 72 degrees and my husband, who grew up in Pueblo, declared it “a perfect Colorado day.”

Best I can tell, summer has bid us farewell on Labor Day weekend.

So what’s a girl to do but cook up a storm and do a little fall cleaning?  By noon, I had gotten in a six mile run, made a batch of chicken and cheese enchiladas with homemade green chili sauce, swept all the floors, changed the sheets, and raided the basement for my fall decorating supplies.

I know, I know. It’s only September 5th. But with a nip in the air, I couldn’t help but scatter a little autumn around the house.  Just call me Macy’s.

My favorite spots for seasonal decor are the buffet and the fireplace mantle.  Here’s a shot of the buffet, fully decked out in fall colors and twinkly lights:

One of my most treasured items is a copper and pewter tray I picked up for $20 in a Colorado thrift store while on vacation two years ago. I subsequently spent $100 to have it polished and lacquered, but it’s a beauty and I’m so glad I spent the extra money. The copper provides a perfect backdrop for a menagerie of fall items, including a turkey feather that my husband found on our back acreage.

The tin owl is a new item I picked up last week in St. Louis.  I have an affinity for owls and I couldn’t resist this one. It holds a votive candle and I love its sweet, interior glow.

For the mantle, I simply scattered more candles, leaves, pumpkins, turkey feathers, a piece of driftwood, and a shedded deer antler.

I bought the black cat years ago, in homage to my favorite pet of all time, Rudy. I had adopted Rudy Cat five years before my second child was born, then had to find him another home when my son developed allergies as an infant. Fifteen years later, I still miss my Rudy Cat.

For the dining room table, I filled a woven cornucopia with a few leftover items, then added a fall place mat and two votive candles and called it good.

I don’t know about you, but all I need now is a piece of pumpkin pie and a jacket, and I’m ready for fall.

Happy autumn, dear readers!

A little bit of happy.

I talked to an old friend earlier this week who had just bought her first home after years of renting following a divorce. She was exhausted but happy, in the best kind of way, and it made me smile just hearing her voice.

Later, I read a blog post by my cousin (I told you about her here), in which she wrote a whole list of happy things from her day — everything from wearing pretty shoes to enjoying a great lunch.

Here’s something that made me happy this week:

I’ve collected Buddhas over the years and these are just a few, assembled on a table in my entry. One is a vase that holds flowers I plucked from our overgrown acreage.

And look what the wildflowers do . . .

They fling little bits of golden happiness all over the table.  I’ve always loved fresh flowers, I think because they continually shower themselves with confetti. Flowers throw themselves a party every day.

And I was reminded that happy comes into our lives in little bits . . . here and there, wherever we choose to absorb and acknowledge it.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

PS: I took a new job a few months ago and, as a result, I experienced a professional first this week.  The husband of a woman who works for me came to my office to say thank you for improving his wife’s quality of life. As moments in the office go, they don’t get much better than that. Lesson learned?  Find some happy. Spread some happy.