Monthly Archives: December 2011

5 Great Christmas Cookies

We are in “baking mode” here at our house. We have learned that if we bake all the Christmas goodies too early in December, they are all gone before we get to Christmas Day.

If we try to do them all in one evening, we can get rather cranky with each other, which may have something to do with the sugar crashes we give ourselves while we “quality control” sample the fresh-out-of-the-oven batches. (Admitting you have a problem is the first step toward recovery, right?)

I wish all of our Christmas cookies would look this beautiful. We don't use shading techniques with the icing. Image courtesy of delish.com

So, our new plan is to make one kind of something (pie, cake, cookie, etc.) per evening for the week leading up to Christmas. One batch per night works pretty well so far. It doesn’t seem insurmountable at the end of a busy work day. We can still get other things done each evening, without feeling like we are trapped in frosting sweat shop.

In the spirit of a great cookie exchange, I wanted to share with you my favorite created-by-others cookie recipes that I’ve pulled from other websites. These are our favorites that we mix and match in our house and as gifts each year. They are not all “Christmas cookies” but they all mix well together with a classic iced sugar cookie for good variety on a plate. Santa has never complained yet!

Image courtesy of manolofood.com

I’d love to be able to take the credit for these cookies, but I’m too busy trying to get my batches of them to fit in the little holiday cookie containers to have dreamed them up. I hope you enjoy them as much as we do!

Chocolate-Hazelnut Sandwiches

Image courtesy of Real Simple

Put simply, these cookies are our excuse to eat Nutella without guilt. You can use any store-bought or homemade sugar cookie dough with this recipe. You can also use any shape of cookie cutter. These cookies travel to parties well, too.

Cranberry Gingerbread Cookies

Image courtesy of oceanspray.com

I always have Craisins leftover from Thanksgiving and this is a great was to use them up. Once again, use any gingerbread recipe you prefer or any box mix. (I like the Trader Joe’s gingerbread mix.)

Chippy Dippy Squares

Image courtesy of simpleskillet.com

You may already know these cookies as “7 Layer Cookies”. I am convinced that every family in America makes this recipe. However, you can dress the cookies up nicely for the holidays, into “9 Layer Cookies” by sprinkling the top of the cookies with red and green sugar crystals immediately after taking the baking pan out of the oven

Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Cookies

Image courtesy of tastykitchen.com

Cheesecake flavor in a chocolate chip cookie, need I explain the genius of these cookies further? They are wonderfully chewy! You do need to keep them in the fridge after they are baked, however, or the cream cheese can make the cookies a little sour. Use this recipe all year ’round. I won’t tell!

Chocolate Peppermint Cookies

Image courtesy of marthastewart.com

These cookies are little more work, which is not surprising, considering these come from the ever-perfect kitchen of Martha Stewart. However, they are really worth the effort. Clean peppermint and a rich chocolate flavor are topped of with crunchy candy cane pieces. They really do look fabulous as a gift or on a table at a party!

When do you do the holiday baking at your house? Do you have favorite recipes you make every year or do you mix it up? What is your favorite cookie recipe you’ve found online? Feel free to put a link in a comment!  We can all use a great cookie recipe!

New Etsy Shop!

I’m very proud to have extended my interior design business to a new Etsy shop. If you are not familiar with Etsy, allow me to introduce it to you…

What is Etsy?

Etsy is an e-commerce website featuring vintage (over 20 years old) or handmade items exclusively. By offering artists and designers an easy-to-use, online storefront, more beautiful items can been viewed by more customers, saving both the customers and the artists money.

Since its creation in 2005, Etsy has become the internet leader in handcrafted and vintage item sales. October 2011, alone, showed over $48 million in sales. If you haven’t explored their offerings, you should take some time to browse the site.

Why I love it!

Being a part of larger artist community is in itself both rewarding and inspirational. Being able to share great vintage finds and handmade home decor with my friends and clients just makes those finds all the more sweet.

I really hate to leave something beautiful in the back corner of an antique store when I know it can find a lovely new home with just a little tender loving care. And now, thanks to Etsy, I don’t have to! My shop will offer of vintage items I’ve found while out shopping for clients.

It will also include handmade art and storage items I’ve created to using both popular design trends and classic decorative arts motifs as inspiration. Since I am always up to date on color trends, textures, and pattern must-haves, I use that knowledge to create something original.

Do you love beautiful fabrics the way I do? I’m including pillows and pillow covers in my shop to make updating your furnishing easy and affordable. By buying a pillow cover, you can change-up your existing pillows with a new look whenever the mood strikes you. Plus you won’t have to find storage space for more pillows.

The inventory in my Etsy shop will only ever available in very small quantities, mainly because I have a larger business to run and also because I’m creating or finding items one at a time in, sometimes from out-of-the-way places or limited source sales.

Christmas Decor

Right now, I have several Christmas items left in the shop! I’ve created items with classic motifs and some more modern patterns to mix into with more contemporary styles.

All of these seasonal items offer a very affordable way to add a little something new to your home decor.

The Christmas art I’m offering makes for a very original hostess/host gift or a great gift for those hard-to-buy-for gift recipients.

I can also guarantee delivery by Christmas Eve, making your Christmas shopping list a little shorter, with less stress.

How to find the CARO Interiors Etsy shop:

I’ve linked my shop to all of the places you already find CARO Interiors on the web. We all lead busy lives. Who who wants to spend more time digging around on the internet for a web address?

You’ll always be able to click on a direct link on my website’s side bar, which looks just like this:

And you’ll notice there is a new header tab for it at the top of the website. You can also search for CARO Interiors from the Etsy home page.

Once you are at my Etsy shop, you’ll recognize the familiar logo at the top of my shop’s page. Take a look around a let me know what you think. There will be new items added to the shop on a regular basis. I can’t wait to share all my little findings with you!

7 Grown up stocking stuffers

Stocking stuffers are always the last gifts we buy before the holidays. While buying for kids is rather easy (there are whole shelves devoted to this near most store cash registers), finding something interesting and fun for adults can be a little more of a challenge.

Image courtesy of horchow.com

During my childhood, every adult in my family would get a big pack of several rolls of film in their stockings. (Camera film, remember that?) This was a really practical, useful gift that everyone appreciated and it was used to create more memories. These characteristics are now what I strive for in stocking stuffers for adults…even though the film-for-everyone idea is long off the table. Listed below are some of my favorite stocking stuffers for “grown ups”. I hope they help you in your Christmas gift hunting!

Restaurant.com Gift Certificates

If you are not familiar with this company, here’s how it works:

  • You go to restaurant.com and enter your zip code.
  • Pick a restaurant that you would like to visit from those listed on their index for your area.
  • Buy one of their $25, $50, or $100 gift certificates for that restaurant at an amazing price.
  • Print the gift certificate on your printer, instantly.
  • Save a lot of money dining out.
  • How much money can you save? Right now, there is a promotion code (“Stocking”) that allows you to buy a $25 gift certificate for $2. Yes, $2! So you spend $2 and will get $25 off of your restaurant bill.

    You can also buy open gift certificates that let the recipient choose the restaurant where they want to use their discount. Be sure to read the unique fine print for each restuarant, especially any special date restrictions (Mother’s Day, Saturday nights, etc.), but most of these deals are good for a whole year. Yum! Want more details? Just click on the linked picture above to go directly to their promotion!

    Card Games

    There is a new twist that has trickled into the marketplace over the past few years. Card games, of course, have been played for centuries. (I’ve always meant to learn to play “Whist”. Seriously, Miss Austen, you couldn’t have tacked a simple how-to into the back of one of your delicious novels?)

    Now, there are many versions of classic board games available in card game form. You can find them online at Amazon. Even easier, most of these games are at your local Target store for under $6.

    I used to love to play Monopoly, but you had to set up the board and everyone was fussy over “their” pieces (Who wants a car when you can have a dog?!) and the money counting made the game last F.O.R.E.V.E.R. Meet my new friend:

    We can play a game of this in under 15 minutes! The rules are slightly different, but the concept with deeds, rent and banking are the same ones you loved as a kid. And here are Amazons links to other great formerly-know-as-board-games gifts:

    Magazine Subscriptions

    This is a one of my favorites. Go to amazon and type “$5 magazine subscriptions” into the search box. It will bring up all of their magazine subscriptions that are currently on sale. In late November, there are many 1-year subscriptions on sale for $5, but even this late in December there are great deals to be had. Plus, it’s a gift that keeps on giving for 12 months.

    Subscriptions take 4-6 weeks to get started, so to give this gift for Christmas, just pick up a current issue of the magazine. Roll up the magazine, tie it with a ribbon or a strip of wrapping paper, and attach a note explaining the subscription details. This stocking stuffer is great for filling up the leg apart of any stocking!

    Camera Gorilla

    Okay, so film is not a stocking stuffer option any more, but here’s one that does really help your digital camera.

    This may look like a simple tripod, but it has this amazing gripping ability that allows you to take great pictures anywhere. You can now be in your own pictures without having to ask a stranger to hold your camera or balance it on whatever horizontal surface you can find around you.

    One of the famous Camera Gorilla residents of a protected habitat in Rwanda. Just kidding.

    Click on either picture above to find the Amazon link, although I have bought this gift twice in major big box stores (Target, Best Buy) too. The Camera Gorilla is sturdy, lightweight, easy to carry, and, best of all, under $15. Great family photo around the tree on Christmas morning? Done.

    Mini Liquor Bottles

    I have to give credit to my dad for this idea. He came up with it a few years ago and it has been arguably the most popular stocking stuffer in our family ever since then. I hardly need to tell you what to do with these, do I? Find everyone’s personal favorite and truly “top off” those stocking.

    They can also save you some money if you are traveling for Christmas or any other family occasion. They certainly meet airline safety requirements. They could also come in handy when you are seriously resenting that battery-loaded toy with all the bells and whistles that your Great Aunt Edna sent this year. Santa knows just what you need:

    Image courtesy of thecorknbottle.com

    Lottery Tickets

    Free money at Christmas.

    Whether giving the scratch-off or the computer-generated-number type, giving someone a winning lottery ticket would certainly make it a Christmas to remember. And who doesn’t harbor a little bit of lottery hope when those winning totals climb high?

    Image courtesy of mentalfloss.com

    Movie Candy

    Like a big box of candy to take into the movie theater? You can find the big, movie-theater-expensive boxes of popular candies at Walmart for $1 a box. Target also frequently has sales that offers these size candies at $5 for 5 boxes of any variety.  Those big, chunky boxes fill out a stocking very nicely. Bonus: they make going to the movies more affordable!

    Want another great idea? Christmas music! Cds are almost designed to be stocking-sized! Here’s my list of 15 can’t-go-wrong Old School Christmas albums. Maybe you need a little something extra for your own stocking?

    What do you like to put in stocking for the adults in your family? Is there a popular item everyone loves that you’d like to share? Everyone needs a little help with their holiday shopping. Leave your ideas in a comment!

Free giveaway: December decor winner!

Did you enter to win this free giveaway? If so, I might be sending some holiday decorations to your house tomorrow! This giveaway winner will receive a festive red felt Christmas tree…

…and four twinkly votive candle holders, perfect for ringing in the New Year!

And the winner is…Julie B.!

Julie’s favorite Christmas tree ornaments are the ones given to her by her late husband. They bring back great memories of past years’ fun. I love a great family ornament, too. It doesn’t matter how well-loved or worn the ornament has become over the years, I love to remember the great experiences we’ve shared.

Congratulations, Julie! I’ll be contacting you soon via email about your gift mailing!

Cookie cutter decor

I’ve been decorating our home for Christmas and, as usual, I was looking for something a little bit different to add to this year’s decor, without spending a lot of money. We live small in our home, so I was also looking for something that would not take up a lot of room during the other 11 months of the year.

Does this happen to you? You want something a little different and/or new, but you don’t want to buy anything that could eat into your budget for other seasonal planning. Well, this year I found something already in my home that I could play with in several ways. You probably have some of these in your home, too.

We all know that cookies cutters are great for making cookies for the holidays. However, when you’re done baking with them, they normally go right back into storage. Right?

Yet, Christmas cookies are almost as synonymous with Christmas as ice cream is with Summer. So, I decided to see how I could use my cookie cutters as a Christmas motif for free decor around the house. I already own the cookie cutters, so why not find an extra purpose for them?

Vase Filler

Do you have a spare vase you aren’t using? Fill it with something shiny! You can add a little ribbon wrapped around the outside of the vase and you can put this vase anywhere that needs a little extra holiday spirit in your home.

Fill several vases and run them down the middle of your dining table. Place a mixed of votive candles around them and you have a simple, chic centerpiece.

Ornaments

These may be the easiest way to reuse your cookie cutters. There is no end to the places you can hang cutters as ornaments in your home. All you need is  ribbon and some imagination.

This is a cookie cutter as a garland ornament on part of our banister. You could also:

  • Mix them in on your Christmas tree
  • Hang them with your coffee mugs/utensils/pot & pans
  • Suspend them from the center of a pendant lamp or chandelier
  • Tie them with assorted lengths of ribbon from curtain rods
  • Loop them, using the ribbon, over a doorknob
  • Hang them over the light switch on your lamps
  • Tie them onto a wreath

Napkin Rings

Having a lot of guests for dinner? This is a very affordable way to add all of the place settings you need without having to spend money on extra napkin rings. Just like the ideas above, all you need is a little ribbon in the color of your choice.

Simply loop the ribbon around two sides of a cookie cutter…

…wrap the long ends of the ribbon around a folded napkin and tie it in the back with a bow…

This is a great idea for kids because they can help set the table on for the family meal on Christmas. It’s also a great way to use those older cookie cutters that may be a little more difficult to use these days. Like these:

I have kept this antique type of cookie cutter because they came from my family years ago, yet the blunt, crimped edges make it really hard to get the dough out nowadays. I just tied the ribbon in the front this time and this napkin is ready to dress up the table.

If you prefer a slightly more modern table setting, consider using a cookie cutter to anchor your napkin as it stands up on a plate. Fold each napkin into a large triangle and then wrap the ends in to fit inside the cookie cutter’s form.

Those are three fun ways I’ve added cookie cutter decor to our home this holiday season. Can you think of a fourth or fifth way of using them around the house? Do you have a tip for using other everyday household items for holiday decor? Share your ideas and solutions in a comment! Everybody loves free decor upgrades!

(Psssssssst! Want more free holiday decor? You can enter to win some in the free giveaway I’m running right now. Just click right here to enter!)

Free giveaway: December decor

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

If you aren’t familiar with this holiday, you can read more about it right here.

In the spirit of giving gifts on December 6th, I’ve decided it is time for another free giveaway for my readers. Just my way of saying thank you, so much, for following the blog and reading all of my musings. Since there are two major holidays within a week of each other every December, I though that this giveaway should offer something fun for each of them.

We’ll start with this pretty little tree…

This red felt tree comes from Ikea, which has already sold out of them in all three of my local stores. Luckily, I spotted it when it first came out months ago and scooped one up for a reader to win.

Standing at a total height of 14 inches, with a 10 inch diameter, this tree is easy to place in any corner of your home that needs a little more Christmas. It comes packed flat and assembles easily by sliding one half of the tree into the notched base of the other half.

This also means that this tree stores very easily for the other eleven months of the year. I think this tree would also make a great holiday office decoration. It doesn’t take up much desk space, yet it brings lots of color and fun pattern to any room. Because it stores flat, it can be carried to work fight in you regular bag.

The second part of this giveaway was chosen to help you bring a little sparkle to your holidays. I’ve included 4 of the Crate and Barrel “Raj” votive candle holders to light up your Christmas.

With a silver exterior and a gold interior, these votive candle holders will mix well in any home’s decor. They can be used with a votive candle or a tea light. The detailed cut pattern adds textural interest to the warm candle light and has enough twinkle to last you right into the New Year and beyond.

Both of these prizes are boxed up and ready to go out to the giveaway winner. That could be you and they could be in your home next week! All you have to do to enter to win…

To Enter:  Leave a comment that begins with “Decorate me!” and tell me about your favorite Christmas ornament. Where does it comes from? Why do you love it? Or, tell me about the best New Year’s Eve celebration you have ever been to over the years? When was it? How did you celebrate?

Enter By:  Monday, December 13, 2011 at 10pm EST

Number of winners: Only 1!  And only one entry per email address will be allowed, so that everyone gets a fair chance of winning. I’ll ship this giveaway to anywhere in the world, so international entries are welcome!

The Winner:  Will be selected at random from the total number of comments by using random.org and will be announced in a post next Tuesday.

Can you help me spread the word about this giveaway? Please share this blog post with your friends and family using any of the links below. The more entries I get for these free giveaways, the bigger I can make the prizes!

Thanks for reading today and helping me spread the word!

15 Old School Christmas Albums

What makes a great Christmas album?

I think the answer can be as varied as the ways to celebrate Christmas. However, so many of us share holiday rituals (filling stockings, presents from Santa, wishing for the peace of the season to last all year) that there are many classics we can all agree on every year.

Image courtesy of archives.gov.on.ca

I’ve compiled a list of albums…that’s right, “albums”…of great Christmas music to get almost everyone in the mood for the holidays. In hard economic times like these, going home to the Christmas classics of singers who knew how to entertain with their voices, and very little else, can be really comforting. While many of these collections were originally released on albums (waaaaayyyy back then!), there is no denying the way they will still make you feel today.

Image courtesy of onmilwaukee.com

All of the album images you see in this post are from Amazon and are linked directly to their pages to make more detailed browsing and shopping easy. Just click on the picture of any album you like the looks of and you will jump there.

Allow me to add a suggestion: These albums make great stocking-stuffers, hostess/host gifts, secret santa gifts and gifts for people who are hard to buy for or “don’t need anything”. Everyone loves a great Christmas album and few people treat themselves when there are presents and travel tickets and extra groceries to be bought. All of these albums are under $20, many are under $10 and one of them is under $5.

Let’s get to the list…

“Christmas Songs” by Mel Tormé

Album concept: Classic Mel Tormé arrangements that dance, swing and even occasionally scat. This album has timeless style and a little something for kids from 1 to 92. Did you know he composed “The Christmas Song”? His lyrical “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…” means Christmas to generations of Americans who have never eaten a chestnut in their life. The man was “cool” before the rest of us even thought of using the word. No wonder he looks so knowing by that fireplace.

Album highlights: “The Christmas Song” (of course), The Christmas arrangement of “Glow Worm”, “Christmastime Is Here”, “The Christmas Feeling”

“When My Heart Finds Christmas” by Harry Connick, Jr.

Album concept: This album comes from way back in 1993. Remember the ’90’s? Check out Harry’s hair if you need a reminder. While Harry has released three Christmas albums in his career so far, this one, for my money, remains his very best. It is elegantly arranged without being over-arranged and really shows of the depth of his rich, warm voice. You can feel him breathing the songs like no one had done for generations. (Sorry, Mr. Bublé, that seat is already taken.)

Album highlights: “When My Heart Finds Christmas”, “Ave Maria”, “Christmas Dreaming”, “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”

“A Christmas Together” by John Denver & The Muppets

Album concept: This album is fun for EVERYONE. The late, great John Denver plays straight-man-with-a-golden voice to the very recognizable cast of Muppets. If your kids are just discovering or you are rediscovering the elbowing wit of Kermit and his friends, this Christmas album may be just what you need.  On a personal note, if the Muppets softly singing “Silent Night” in German doesn’t make you a little misty, you may want to re-examine your soul. I do not have children, yet I proudly count this album in our Christmas collection.

Album highlights: The most entertaining “Twelve Day of Christmas” you’ll ever sit through, “Silent Night”, “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” (“Piggy pudding?!”  “No, no. Figgy pudding. Made with figs.”  “Oh.”)

“White Christmas” by Bing Crosby

Album concept: Have you heard anyone sing “White Christmas” better than Bing Crosby? The rest of this album is just as much of a no brainer. Not enough for ya? Okay, he’s thrown in the Andrews Sisters as back up  singers on a few tunes. As a bonus, you will soon be able to teach small children to sing “Merry Christmas” in Hawaiian. Did I mention this album has been continually in-print longer than any other album in the history of the United States? Bah-bah-bah BOOOOO… bring it home, Bing.

Album highlights: “White Christmas”, “Adeste Fidelis”, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”, “Mele Kalikimaka”

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” by CBS & The Vince Guaraldi Trio

Album concept: It’s Christmas, Charlie Brown. This album delivers all of your favorite Peanuts themes and some beautiful instrumental Christmas classics. The sound of a brush of a snare drum may always remind you of little kids walking down a sidewalk , but I still believe this album is the very best way to introduce young children to Jazz. Now, If only I could find a way to wave my hands over a Christmas tree and have it magically decorate itself.

Album highlights: “Hark, The Herald Angels Sing”, “Christmastime Is Here” (instrumental version), “Skating”

“Croon and Swoon – A Classic Christmas” by various artists

Album concept: This album offers great selection of Christmas tunes from different sources. You’ll find a good collection of silver screen stars and tv icons crooning some singular hits from years gone by. The swooning is at your own discretion. I love this album because it mixes so well with our other albums, while still bringing something new to the …turntable. (Sorry.)

Album highlights: Judy Garland’s “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” (from “Meet Me In St. Louis”), Lena Horne’s “Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”, Johnny Mathis’s “Winter Wonderland”, Angela Landsbury’s “We Need A Little Christmas” (from the original musical production of “Mame”)

“Christmas Album” by The Four Seasons

Album concept: The original Jersey Boys have put their own spin on the seasonal standards. I was quite skeptical of this album when I heard about it. However, when I read the Christmas nostalgia this album caused in the Amazon reviews for it, I decided to give it a try. It is good! I would have never thought about arranging some of these songs for their voices, but there are some savvy choices here that create an honest, passionate sound. Don’t judge until you give it a try. You’ll be as surprised as I was.

Album highlights: “Carol Of The Bells”, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”, “What Child Is This?” (Yes, I know. Really!), “Joy To The World Medley”

“Christmas Jump & Jive – Songs That Won The War” by various artists

Album concept: This album is harder to find, but so worth the effort! It features original radio transcript recordings from The Armed Forces Radio Network Archives and period radio broadcasts from World War II. There are all kinds of great songs on this album, by famous artists, that you have never heard before. Even more fun, there are little snippets of the radio hosts’ intros to some of the performances. Put this album on and see if your older relatives can still cut a rug.

Album highlights: Nat King Cole’s “Mrs. Santa Claus”, Tommy Dorsey’s “March of the Toys”, Benny Goodman’s “Jingle Bell Jive”, “Hark, The Herald Angels Swing” by Corky Hale (Swing played on a harp…worth a listen!)

“Hot Jazz For A Cool Yule” by The Jim Cullum Jazz Band & various guest artists

Album concept: This album is a live recording from the fabulous San Antonio Riverwalk Live concert series. The energy of the performer’s rapport with the live audience is very infectious. Savion Glover’s flying tap shoes and a great jazz band duet…to “Little Drummer Boy”. Genius. Can’t say enough about this out-of-the-way Christmas love letter of an album. Spread the word!

Album highlights: ‘The Nutcracker Rag” is worth the cost of this cd all by itself. It is my all-time favorite recording to get me in the Christmas mood. Also great are “My Christmas List”, “Jingle Bells Fiesta” and “We Three Kings”

“A Swingin’ Christmas” by Tony Bennett, featuring the Count Basie Big Band

Album concept: This 2008 album came out in a little too under the radar for these pros. I didn’t find it until two years later, in a consignment bin. I actually clutched my chest when I saw it. Tony Bennett is a master playing with an all varsity team of musicians. Toe-tapping songs and silky ballads fill this album. Mr. Bennett even painted the back cover of the album. Old School style in a pure form.

Album highlights: “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”, “All I Want For Christmas Is You” (not the Mariah Carey song), “The Christmas Waltz”, “O Christmas Tree”

“A Merry Christmas from Sesame Street” by Sesame Street/ CTW

Album concept: Old School pre-school, circa 1975. No Elmo in sight, lots of Grover, Cookie, Big Bird, Bert, Ernie and even Mr. Hooper. Full confession, this was my very favorite Christmas album as a little girl. The album still works for adults. It has fun stories and great songs, two of which are sung in Spanish by Luis and Maria. I will warn you, The Christmas Pageant may make you spit out your drink laughing. Couldn’t you use some of that kind of laughter right about now?

Album highlights:  Seriously. I can’t choose. I’m too close. It is ALL good. But I do know grown ups who would like Oscar’s “I Hate Christmas” as they stand in long lines at stores. David’s “Night Before Christmas on Sesame Street” is a ’70’s celebration of jive/funk poetry. “Keep Christmas with You (All Through The Year)” is not to be missed.

“Christmas with The Rat Pack” by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin & Sammy Davis, Jr.

Album concept: Perfect for a little boozy grown up time, when you need a cocktail…or three. The Sammy tracks are lively and fun. The Frank tracks are so clean and clear and smooth you feel like he is in the room with you. The Deano tracks sound like the bar should have cut him off before they all started singing, but there are only a few of those songs to get in the way of the two non-slurrrrrring guys. It’s a great collection worth having.

Album highlights: “Jingle Bells” by Sammy, “The First Noël” by Frank, “Mistletoe and Holly” by Frank,  “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” by Frank…I think you can see the pattern here.

The Original: Gene Autry sings Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer

Album concept: Have any Baby Boomers on your gift list? This beautifully re-mastered 1957 album will make them smile like that long ago Christmas morning when they got their Davy Crockett coon-skin cap. Simple and timeless, with a gentle cowboy feel, this album was out of print for over 20 years. It just came out on cd in 2006. If you have never heard it, or you haven’t heard it in decades, it is worth a listen.

Album highlights: “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” (Afterall, Autry wrote the song.), “Up On The House Top”, “Here Comes Santa Claus”, “Nine Little Reindeer”

“Holiday Celebration” by Peter, Paul & Mary

Album concept: This album may save your sanity if you are ever stuck in traffic on your way over the river and through the wood to grandmother’s house. Peter, Paul and Mary are backed by the New York Choral Society on this 1988 live album, which celebrates both Christian and Jewish holidays. American folk music at it’s best, this album will lift your spirit and help you take a breath in any holiday scenario. It is one of my personal favorites because there is nothing else like it.

Album highlights: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”, “The Friendly Beasts” “I Wonder As I Wander”, “Hayo, Haya”, which has so much lyrical P,P&M style you’ll find yourself hitting repeat as soon as the song finishes.

“What A Wonderful Christmas” by Louis Armstrong & Friends

Album concept: Louis Armstrong sings and plays with his friends. His friends appearing on this album (oh, to count such talent as your friends!) are Lionel Hampton, Eartha Kitt, Mel Tormé, Louis Jordan, Peggy Lee, Duke Ellington and the divine Dinah Washington. Do I even need to write further endorsements for this music? Buy this album and never look back.

Album highlights: Satchmo’s “Christmastime in New Orleans”, Peggy Lee’s “It’s Christmas Time Again”, The Duke’s “Jingle Bells”,  Dinah Washington’s gorgeous “Silent Night”, which might be the last version of this song you’ll ever need.

Can I tell you how much fun it was to write this post? I loved getting out all of our Christmas albums and loading them up to play. Do you have a favorite Christmas album you love to play every year? Is there a particular album that makes you think of your childhood Christmases? Share your favorite Christmas music memories in a comment!

One more thing. There is holiday decor giveaway starting tomorrow, right here on the blog. It looks a little something like this:

Can you help me spread the word? The more entries I get for these giveaways, the bigger I can make the prizes! See you tomorrow!

St. Nicholas Day

This coming Tuesday is St. Nicholas Day, December 6th.

Do you celebrate this holiday in your home? In many parts of the world, people do. Especially children. We have our own, grown-up version of this holiday tradition for this day in our home, which I’ll share with you below.

Image courtesy of penpallingandletters.blogspot.com

History

The religious figure of St. Nicholas comes to us from 4th century Greece. He was  the Bishop of Myra, which is now part of modern-day Turkey. (How that happened is a much longer story for another day.) It will probably nor surprise you that St. Nicholas is the patron saint of children. He is also the patron saint of sailors, fishermen, merchants, broadcasters, the falsely accused, repentant thieves, pharmacists, archers, pawnbrokers…and prostitutes. (Everyone needs someone looking out for them, but we’re gonna just ignore that last one and move right on with today’s story.)

The gift-giving part of St. Nicholas’s biography stems from lots of stories and legends of his kindness to his neighbors. In most cases, he leaves behind a small bag of gold coins (much like the chocolate ones you see in the shoes shown above) to help a neighbor in a financial difficulty. Sometimes these gift bags are tossed through and open window or down a chimney overnight, including one instance where the chimney toss landed the bag into a pair of freshly washed stocking drying by the fire… Sound familiar?

Most importantly, the gifts were anonymous, because so no one ever saw them actually delivered. They just appeared, as if by magic, to make someone’s life better. The selflessness of the giver is part of the greater message to give help and happiness to others where you are able. This is still a rather relevant humanitarian message for today’s world, regardless of any more specific religious beliefs.

European traditions

Most countries of Europe celebrate St. Nicholas Day, which is always on his feast day on the religious calendar, December 6th. In many places, St. Nicholas looks like an early step in the evolution of America’s Santa Claus image, half way between the religious bishop portraits and the jolly old elf with reindeer of C. Clement Moore fame.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

One of the most common ways to celebrate St. Nicholas Day is for children to leave out their shoes, outside their bedroom or outside their house, as they go to bed on the evening of December 5th. St. Nicholas, Sinterklaas, Père Noël, or whatever his name in each country, will stop by and leave little gifts and sweets in the shoes to be discovered in the morning.

It is treated as an opportunity for children to remember how nice it is to get a thoughtful gift and to treat others with kindness and well-mannered behavior. I can imagine that in centuries past, as cold, hard winters beat at the doors in rural communities, kindness and concern for others was an important value to instill in children. Still not a bad lesson for today.

Image courtesy of stnicholascenter.org

Our tradition

I spent several years in Germany as a child and because my parents believed in embracing the other cultures we were lucky to live in, December 6th became a part of our yearly celebrations. As luck would have it, my husband is descended from German American immigrants, so we have kept the tradition going.

We don’t have any children yet, but we have evolved the tradition for now to be a small gift to each other with a Christmas theme. This under-$20 gift can be anything to put us in the holiday spirit. Over the past years, they have included books, music, movies, seasonal treats, Christmas ornaments, holiday decor and charitable donations. It is amazing how a little thoughtfulness can help you be mindful of opportunities to help others when they present themselves. Regardless of where in the world we may celebrate Christmas, giving to others is the best gift.

Image courtesy of wilmette.blogspot.com

Do you like the concept of a St. Nicholas Day celebration? How do you mark the beginning of the Christmas season in your home? Do you have a favorite way of giving to your community during the holidays? Share your celebration traditions in a comment!

Mmmmmocha

This recipe comes to you courtesy of Mr. CARO. He is a big coffee fan and used to frequent a certain popular coffee chain quite a bit. While we love all the fun flavors that come in with the winter season, lots of coffee mochas can seriously deplete your stocking stuffer budget. Let’s just say that this recipe has helped us save a lot of “Ourbucks”, if you know what I mean.

This single recipe makes two cups  – the measurement meaning of “cup”, not the beverage dish meaning of “cup” –  or one tall travel cup of coffee mocha. However, you can easily double or triple this recipe to serve more or fill larger coffee mugs or thermoses.

(The pictures you’ll see below are from us making the doubled recipe, which is two mugs/4 measurement cups of mocha. The ingredient quantities may look larger if you are making just the single recipe and I don’t want the images to confuse.)

Ingredients

  • 1 Tablespoon of ground coffee beans
  • 2 Tablespoons of cocoa powder (We use the Trader Joe’s brand.)
  • 1 cup of milk (We use 1% milk.)
  • 2 Tablespoons of sugar
  • Splash of cream or half-and-half (optional)
  • Whipped cream (We use Reddi-wip original because I can read all the ingredients and there are no preservatives.)

Preparation

Start by making a pot of your favorite coffee, regular or decaf, using this formula. For every Tablespoon of ground coffee beans you are using, put 1 cup of water in the coffee pot to make the coffee.

1 Tablespoon of ground coffee beans + 1 cup of water = 1 mocha

2  Tablespoons of ground coffee beans + 2 cups of water = 2 mochas

While the coffee is brewing, combine the sugar and cocoa powder in a glass Pyrex pitcher, preferably a wide one.

Pour in just a splash of milk and whisk the dry ingredients into a paste. (If we have it in the house, Mr. CARO will use cream or half-and-half for this splash part of the recipe. However, he warns that using cream for the milk outright makes it way too rich. Just a splash is enough.)

Add more milk, up to just the 1 cup mark on your glass measuring pitcher.

Whisk thoroughly. Then, very slowly, whisk in the hot coffee.

When all the ingredients are blended well, microwave your mix for 1 minute on high. The milk was added cold, so it has brought down the temperature of the hot coffee.

When the microwave dings, you can pour your mochas into their mugs. And what is a mocha without a little bit of real whipped cream?

Now comes the fun part….bottoms up! Watch out for whipped cream on your nose!  Mmmmmmmmmmmmmocha…….

Do like to start your day with a warm cup of joe? Are you as tempted by coffee stores as we are when you are out shopping? What is your favorite flavor to go with your coffee? I’m a sucker for peppermint and Mr. CARO likes caramel. Share your favorite in a comment!

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