Author Archives: Cathryn

Sales on zzzzz’s

Warning: This post may make you crave a nap.

It’s January. And if you get a lot of catalogs like me…(Seriously, A LOT. Now you know why I am so adamant about Greener Living. I have to pull my own weight here at my end of the eco-system.)…you may have noticed that January is one of the best times of the year to buy bedding. January is on of the two times a year that most home & housewares retailers have a big one of these:

The other time of year that these sales appear in is August. However, in my experience with clients, August is not really a time of year that people visualize themselves using new bedding. They love the look of their new bedding in a newly decorated room, but their lives tend to be busier with outdoors activities. Summer is still cooking away in August and outdoor meals are very easy this time of year. Perhaps the lure of new bedding just sounds too warm when you still have the AC set so high?

Image courtesy of laheyblog.com

Five months later in January, most Januarys (including, finally, this January), the outside temperatures have dropped, bundling against the wind and cold has become part of our daily routine and a long winter’s nap sounds really good!

January makes people want to crawl inside their bedding a snuggle down. Is this a hibernation instinct we humans still cary with us? Or is it just the thought of a great book, cosy bedding, and a warm beverage that says comfort to us in the darkest days of the year? Mother Nature may howl outside, but if we have a thick comforter or a fluffy duvet in our favorite colors, luring us as a step toward a deep night’s sleep, we are just where we want to be.

“Le Lit” (The Bed), by Toulouse Lautrec, 1893 Image courtesy of Wikipedia

So, while I’m sure a case can be made for savvy salesmanship when people are still paying off their Christmas bills, you just can’t beat a good White Sale in January. There are deals to be had and people are in the mood to make their bedroom a priority. (But, don’t just take my word for it. The US Census reports that September and October have been the most popular birth months of the year for decades.)

Have you been browsing White Sales in catalogs at your home lately? I’ve pulled together a collection of scrumptious bedding (on sale!) on Pinterest that you can browse today. Just click on the picture below to wander over and check out  what I’ve seen and liked.

What makes up a good bed for you? Do you like a duvet and blankets? Do you swear by high thread counts? Are you a big fan of quilts? How many pillows do you like to sleep with at night? Share your preferences in a comment!

Creamy Greek chicken

It is just starting to feel like Winter here. Coats are now mandatory when we go outside and we no longer question, “Do we really need the heat on today?”. Cold weather, mostly grey skies and early sunsets make us crave some comfort food at the end of the workday.

This is a great recipe for young children to help out with, because once you get past the ingredient prep, it is mainly variations of pouring. Like many of my recipes, this one has its origins in a magazine clipping from years ago. I’ve fiddled with the ingredients to make it ours and you can, too.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup / 180 mL water
  • 5 cups / 1175 mL  chicken stock
  • 1 1/2 lbs. / 681 grams chicken breast or tenderloin, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 lb. /454 grams orzo (uncooked)
  • 1-2 palmfuls of dill weed, to taste
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 lb. / 227 grams of crumbled feta cheese
  • 2 cups / 470 mL of Parmesan cheese, grated or shredded
  • Black olives, sliced, to taste (optional topping/garnish)

Preparation

Pre-heat your oven to 400°F /200° C /Gas mark 6.

Combine your chicken stock and water…

…place them into a large pot and bring them to a slow boil. If the pot boils before you need this ingredient, later in the recipe, just lower the temperature and keep the liquid simmering on the heat.

Gather the rest of your ingredients together so we can use then in quick succession to layer our casserole.

Using a large baking dish (I’m using a 13 inch x 9 inch glass baking dish), pour all of the orzo (uncooked) into the dish.

Next layer in dill, sprinkling it somewhat evenly across the dish. It doesn’t need to be perfect, because the stock is going to move everything around when we add it in a few steps.

Side Note: You can use whatever quantity of dill you are comfortable with for this recipe. The original recipe calls for 2 palmfuls, but we found that was too much dill for us. So, I use 1 palmful, then let everyone add more dill as a garnish if they  prefer more. Here’s what 1 palmful looks like for my measurement:

Next, layer in the lemon zest and the lemon juice. Again, spread it around, but don’t worry if it is not completely even.

Then, layer in the crumbled feta cheese…

…and follow it with the layer of raw chicken pieces.

Now comes the stock that has been gently boiling, simmering on the stove. Carefully, slowly pour the entire pot of stock into the baking dish.

When you’re done, the  dish will look like this…

…and it’s ready for the oven. Bake it for 40 minutes, without any foil or cover on the dish.

When it’s done, you need to add one more layer…of cheese! Add the Parmesan cheese (I’m using 1 1/2 cups of shredded cheese and 1/2 cup of grated cheese, because it’s what I had on hand.)

After you layer the cheese, let the dish sit for 5 minutes to allow the cheese to melt into the hot orzo. After 5 minutes, it’s time to garnish and serve:

We love the creaminess of this recipe, the savory of the dill chicken and the unexpected taste of lemon. We serve this with a simple green salad, using what ever we have in the fridge, for a simple but satisfying supper.

Other Tips

One of the great ways to make this dish your own is to play around with the olives and dill. I have made versions of this with more olives baked inside, but we thought the olives stole  away the nice bite of the lemon. Similarly, we have played with the dill quantities over the years, but now leave it the extra dill as an optional garnish/topping for each individual to choose.

This recipe also makes a great batch of freezer feasts (you can read more about those right here). After Mr. CARO and I ate dinner, we had enough food left over to make up 8 Freezer Feast to enjoy for lunch or dinner later. I love a recipe that reheats for yummy leftovers later and this one does not disappoint.

Do you have a favorite casserole that you love to make in the dark days of Winter? Feel free to leave a comment or a link to share your recipe!

More resolute in 4 easy steps

A very happy New Year to you! How is your 2012 going so far? We’re now into the second week of the New Year. How are you doing with any resolutions you may have made? It’s been estimated that 45% of adult Americans make New Year’s resolutions every year, but only 8% are ever kept. These stats lead me to the question, “How do they calculate those numbers with accuracy?”.

Image courtesy of wikipedia

I’m one of those adults who aims to evolve with the passage of the new calendar year, but I have a different method of success. I though I’d share my 4 rules for resolutions with you today, in case it could add some resolve to your goals for 2012.

(Right about now, some of you may be asking, “What does this have to do with interior design?”. Stay with me…you may end up with some interesting art for your home!)

1. List Month By Month

First, let me say that the idea of trying to predict in January what I want to have accomplished on a personal growth level in 12 months seems ridiculous. It’s kinda like when you go in for your annual check-up with your doctor and at the end of your appointment they ask if you want to schedule your appointment for the following year. As if you know exactly where you’ll be in 12 months, on a Tuesday, at 2pm.

2013? I'm still trying to remember to write "2012".

I do better with resolutions if I can plan them a month in advance. It is a well-discussed theory that it takes an average person 6 weeks to change a regular behavior. If I can commit to doing something for four weeks, I’m well on my way to completing that goal and have met a much more attainable deadline.

So, I break my annual resolutions into monthly resolutions. If I slack off of my resolutions for a few days (or a few weeks), I know that the month is still running and that I have a chance to get right back up on that horse and try again. We’re only human, after all.

2. Take Smaller Bites

On a similar note, I like to break goals down to make them more approachable. For example, I’ve set a goal for myself to read 60 books in the next year. (My great aunt, who lived to be 99, said reading kept her mind young. Who can argue with motivation like that?) I’ve broken my 60-books-for-the-year goal into a 5-books-per-month goal. Much more approachable and if I get a little ahead, I’ll really feel empowered for the next month.

Image courtesy of sapdc.org

Bite-sized resolutions means I can also tweak as I go. “Tweak” does not mean “abandon in March”. Tweak means re-order or add to the list. For example, I am lousy about remembering dentist cleanings/check-ups. I’ve actually written “Dentist” on my February resolution list to make sure I get an appointment on my schedule.

I’ve also written “Update Resolutions” in April, so I can tweak/add more Dentist-y things (among other things) to the rest of my year’s goals after I’m into the year a few months. Maybe I’ll be raising my book goal to 6 books a month. We’ll see how I’m doing.

3. Make It Public

I’m doing that right here with this post and you’re going to see my whole list in just a few more paragraphs. I’ve found that if I can speak openly about my goals, it helps me to follow through with them.

Now, I’m not suggesting you open with you resolutions at a cocktail party, but I have found that if I can explain the value of my goals to others, that conversation (and the memory of it) can be a motivator for me later. Especially if those conversations can get you some high fives from your friends and loved ones as you meet each step of your goals. Announce your progress and be proud!

Image courtesy of capetown.travel

4. Make It Art

This is where you write down your goals. Not just write them down, but put them in a place where you can look at them. Every day. (Yes, every day.) So, if you are going to look at them why not make them something you love to look at?

Type your resolutions up nicely and make them pretty art to put out in your home. Surround them with motivating pictures if you are a picture person. Mount them on beautiful paper to make a lovely print. Frame them and put them near your favorite place in your home. Embrace your goals with happy anticipation. Attitude is everything and enjoying your list is a step in the right direction.

Keeping it real, friends. This is right next to my desk.

That’s my list, typed up on a little photo-shopped print I made, then framed. It sits right over the printer and scanner by my desk, where I work every day and write these posts. Just wanted to show you that I practice what I preach. And here is a close-up of the framed list, so you can read the resolutions more easily:

Some months have more goals than others, but it all seems approachable.

Does this 4-step system work? One of my big resolutions for last year was starting a blog…and I did it! Now you know my goals for 2012. I’ll keep you posted as the year rolls along. What are some of your resolutions? Do these steps help you see your goals more easily? Leave a comment and share your thoughts. Blogs are for conversation!

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!

%d bloggers like this: