Classic Christmas Podcast: The Simple Joy of the Week before Christmas Part 1

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Christmas is quickly approaching! This is not the time to panic. It’s time to check all your lists again, finish up any last minute tasks & prepare to enjoy the season with friends & family. the week before Christmas should be spent relaxing at home, enjoying the company of friends & sharing simple traditions with those you love.

In this final series for the Holiday season, Jean Ann offers advice, tips & activities for you & your family designed to help all of you put the JOY back into Christmas. Take time in the days before the 25th to celebrate without the stress. Celebrate with Simple Joy!

Merry Christmas!

Listen Now!

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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!

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Cookie Exchange

One of my favorite holiday traditions was baking cookies with my mother.  Each year, we made dozens of cookies for relatives, neighbors, friends and co-workers.  Once I had my own family, I worked to continue the tradition.  Unfortunately, my time was limited. I found the stress of doing too much was robbing me of holiday joy.

Many of us have this same problem.  The fantasy Christmas that plays in our head crashes into the reality of daily life and forces us to cut back on our activities.  While most of us have accepted the fact that we can’t do everything during the holidays, it seems a pity to eliminate baking homemade Christmas cookies from our to-do list.  Instead, invite 11 friends over for a cookie exchange. Each of you bake 12 dozen of your favorite Christmas cookies.

It is tempting to nibble your way through this event, sampling all the fabulous goodies everyone has brought to share. This is a very bad thing. Tasty but bad. Too often during the Holidays, we abandon good eating habits. We miss meals. We eat too much sugar. Well, you know what you (and I) are doing!

I think it is important to serve a simple, hearty and healthy meal during your cookie event. Soups, muffins, tea and hot cider are the perfect meal for a cold winter afternoon.

Menu

Soups

Butternut Squash

Chicken Noodle

Hearty Vegetable

Muffins

Corn Jalapeno

Pumpkin Cranberry

Apple Spice

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Holiday Buffet

During the holidays, most women have too much to do and too little time in which to do it.  Our hectic schedules make it next to impossible for us to get together with friends.  One way to solve this is to host an open house that features a buffet.  You might hold your open house on a Saturday, allowing your friends to stop in for a bite to eat between their errands.  Or you might choose to invite couples and families to your open house. 

Schedule the open house just before the fifteenth of December.  People get busier as it gets closer to Christmas. By scheduling your open house earlier in the month, your guests will not have to choose between invitations.

Decorate your home for your open house.  This helps set the tone for the party and gets everyone into the holiday mood.

Create a menu that saves you time and keeps your stress to a minimum.   A suggested menu with recipes follows.  The suggested dishes can be prepared ahead and cooked just before your guests arrive.  The menu also contains pre-made items that save you from spending all your time in the kitchen.  Remember, a successful party is not determined by the number of hours you spend in the kitchen.

To set up your buffet, you will need a long table for the food, a smaller side table for beverages and a third area for dessert.  If you do not have room for three separate tables, then place the desserts on the buffet table with the rest of the food.  It is more important to have a separate area for the beverages in order to ease congestion around the buffet table.

You may prepare your tables the morning of your open house.  This will save you time later in the day.   Cover your tables with tablecloths.  Choose a simple centerpiece for each table.  An arrangement of candles and small poinsettias works well.  The centerpiece should not be large since you need every inch of table space for food.

Put out your serving dishes and determine what you plan to serve on each dish.  Place a note on each serving piece to remind you, or to inform someone else, just what goes on that dish.  This will save you time and worry when you begin setting out food.   In addition, you should prepare folded mini-cards to labels each dish on the table.  This will let guest know what everything is on the table and save you from having to answer the same question over and over.

Lay out your table to the appetizers are on one end or one side of the table and the food for the main course is on the other.  Guests have a tendency to hover around the appetizers.  Set up a traffic pattern around your buffet table that makes it easy for people to serve themselves.

An open house allows you to invite more guests than you could for a formal dinner.  Unfortunately, most of us do not have enough dinnerware or flatware to serve everyone at once.  Rather than make guests wait while you run a load of dishes through the dishwasher, simply use disposable items for your buffet.  Yes, I am sure there are some people who will roll their eyes at your paper plates.  That is their problem.  Your goal is to hold a wonderful event and enjoy yourself at the same time.  Ease your stress.  Use disposable.

The suggested buffet menu has only 2 dishes that require cooking.  Each dish may be baked just before your guests arrive allowing you to serve them hot out of the oven.  Cheeses may be set out earlier, allowing them to soften slightly for easier cutting.  Prepare your beverage table, set out other food items, and lay out desserts.  As the pasta cooks, go take a bath and get ready for the party.

Just before people begin to arrive, turn on Christmas music, light the candles and set out the entrees.  Check your list and your table one last time.  Take a deep breath, pour yourself something to drink and prepare to attend your party.

Menu

Appetizers

Cheese platter

Assorted crackers

Assorted nuts

Tortilla Chips

Spinach dip

Dill dip

Vegetable platter

Entrée

Baked Spaghetti

Pasta Marinara

Tossed Salad

Hard rolls

Dessert

Cookie platter

Assorted breads

Tray of chocolates

16 Cookies That Can Literally Be Thrown Together At the Very Last Minute

16 Cookies That Can Literally Be Thrown Together At the Very Last Minute

Oh, we’ve ALL been there! You suddenly remember the potluck at work the next day. Your kids tell you they need to bring cookies to school. Your spouse want to take a little something to share at work. And of course, you have NO time to deal with this! Not a problem! Country Living has an incredible selection of cookies that… well, the title says it all! So relax & enjoy!

Last Minute Cookies

Classic Simple Joy Podcast: The Simple Joy of Holiday Entertaining Part 5

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The Holidays are the perfect time to entertain family & friends in your home. Now, before you begin hyperventilating at the thought of preparing for an elaborate event in your home, you need to stop & consider entertaining the Simple Joy way!

Hosting a party in your home doesn’t need to be elaborate, elegant or expensive. It can be as simple as having a few people in for soup & sandwiches while you decorate your Christmas tree! The problem with entertaining these days is the misconception that it must be some over-the-top production guaranteed to WOW your guests. WRONG-WRONG-WRONG!!! Entertaining in your home is all about your guests. It’s about enjoying a wonderful time with people you like & love. AND, it’s all about reducing your stress! Remember, the first rule of entertain the Simple Joy way is ATTEND YOUR OWN PARTY! No one is going to have fun  if you aren’t having fun so you need to be the #1 guest at all your events.

To help you put the JOY back into entertaining this Christmas, Jean Ann Duckworth offers 5 different types of parties that you can host during the Holidays. They are easy to plan, easy to prepare & fun to host!

Listen Now!

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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!

Classic Simple Joy Podcast: The Simple Joy of Holiday Entertaining Part 4

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The Holidays are the perfect time to entertain family & friends in your home. Now, before you begin hyperventilating at the thought of preparing for an elaborate event in your home, you need to stop & consider entertaining the Simple Joy way!

Hosting a party in your home doesn’t need to be elaborate, elegant or expensive. It can be as simple as having a few people in for soup & sandwiches while you decorate your Christmas tree! The problem with entertaining these days is the misconception that it must be some over-the-top production guaranteed to WOW your guests. WRONG-WRONG-WRONG!!! Entertaining in your home is all about your guests. It’s about enjoying a wonderful time with people you like & love. AND, it’s all about reducing your stress! Remember, the first rule of entertain the Simple Joy way is ATTEND YOUR OWN PARTY! No one is going to have fun  if you aren’t having fun so you need to be the #1 guest at all your events.

To help you put the JOY back into entertaining this Christmas, Jean Ann Duckworth offers 5 different types of parties that you can host during the Holidays. They are easy to plan, easy to prepare & fun to host!

Listen Now!

Christmas Countdown C -11

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Almond Eggnog Pound Cake

  • 2 tablespoons soft butter
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 package yellow cake mix
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups eggnog
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1/4 teaspoons rum extract

Generously grease a bundt pan or tube pan with soft butter. Press almonds against the buttered sides and bottom; set pan aside.

11 Unique (and Totally Fun!) Holiday Traditions

11 Unique (and Totally Fun!) Holiday Traditions

Christmas is a time for traditions. The things you do with your family through the years make an impression we may not see until our children are grown. Growing up, I made cookies with my mother each year. After she passed, I continued to share our favorite cookies with family & friends each year. When The Child came along, WE began making cookies together. Oh, we made some changes as life got busier. Some years, we only baked the cookies that come in rolls from the store but we baked! Then, one year, I came home late from work to find a huge stack of chocolate chip cookies on the counter. The note on the stack said “DO NOT EAT!” The next day, Katy wrapped dozens of stacks of cookies & handed them out to her friends! A tradition that continues.

Good Housekeeping offers you & your family some new traditions to add to your Christmas season. Whatever you do, the things you do together stay with you & your children all your lives. And THAT’S a Simple Joy money can’t buy! Enjoy!

Holiday Traditions