Category Archives: Gift Ideas

The Cookbook Sagas, part 3

I’m at the next step in my process to clean out my recipe collection, so that no one turns me in as a guest on “Hoarders”. You can catch up and read about the first two steps of this process in these posts:

  • Part 1: Where I look at the whole problem and admit I must change
  • Part 2: How I clean out and re-format the bulk of my loose recipes

Today, I’m showing you how I’m going to store my re-prioritized recipes. I chose an upgraded 3-ring binder format because my husband and I like:

  • Keeping the recipe pages clean and splatter protected
  • Keeping the recipes printed large enough to be legible
  • Keeping the recipes tidy on one shelf in our kitchen
  • Keeping the recipes easy to find within their storage
Hmmm. Are you noticing a theme here?
Well, I also want my recipes to look happy. “Happy” might not be the first word you think of when you think of cookbooks, but I like to look forward to cooking. I figure if the recipes themselves are clean, organized and aesthetically pleasing, it makes it more inspirational to drag out those heavy pots on evenings you feel less inclined to fire up the stove. (You’ve been there. You know what I mean.)

So, I’m making some pretty, custom and oh-so-affordable binders to store my recipes nicely. This is an easy project and I took pictures as I worked on it this past weekend to show the steps. Just keeping it real for you, friends. This project can be done in very little time and is quite satisfying when you are done.

To start the process, I bought a set of clean, 3-ring binders. I chose binders with those clear pockets on the exterior so I can decorate the covers inexpensively, while still keeping them highly wipeable. I also chose binders that were all variations on the color blue, because I like blue and it looks nice in my kitchen. I already know these binders are all going to sit next to each other on a shelf, so why not make a personal choice of a happy color?

In full disclosure, I did grab these binders from several different stores. I noticed that most stores only carried one or two versions of any color. I wanted more variety, especially knowing each binder would have a different topic. So, as I ran my regular errands around town, I used Target, Staples and Wal-mart to find my colors and stay within my budget.

Next, I popped into several art supply stores to pick up some pretty scrapbook papers to use in the binder cover pocket. Again, I just built this into my errands and grabbed what I like. I am not a scrapbook creator, but I am happy to reap the rewards of the many cheerful and bright papers that are now available for scrapbooking fans. I chose kitchen-themed papers, to keep the binders looking united and fun. Of course, you can choose whatever you like for your home and personalize it for just a couple of bucks. I caught a sale and the papers I chose were under $5 total. Very budget friendly!

I’m matching my fancy-schmancy papers to each binder to make a collection of related-looking finished books. I may switch these papers around with the binders as I make each one. I’m not sure about that aqua binder on the far right in the picture below. A little too bright next to the others, I think.

As for subject titles, each binder will have its own general topic. For example, I’ll make a binder called “Appetizers and Beverages”. This binder will hold the few remaining cut-and-pasted recipes, so I know the look I’m going for with each finished dish. (I was discussing this dilemma in this post.) I’ll probably sort the recipes further, somewhat, inside the binder, but not too much. I really want the freedom to just put the recipes in and know that they are there without creating a time-consuming index or page number system.

Back to the work: To cut the papers to fit each binder cover, I measured the cover pockets individually. You may question why I would go to the effort to do this when I regular 8.5×11 sheet of paper fits easily. However, I want my binder covers to use as much of the pretty scrapbook paper that I can fit into each pocket, while also keeping it reasonable to get the paper down in those pockets with a snug fit.

You can see above that I didn’t measure the entire pocket width, I cheated in about 1/8th of an inch on each side to give myself some paper sliding room. Again, these are all different binders made by different companies, so each measurement was a little different. I also measured the binder spines for paper inserts, so I can have a nicely finished edge facing out of my kitchen cookbook shelf. But, first things first, cutting the paper to fit:

I used my trusty little Fiskars paper trimmer to make even cuts. I bought this paper trimmer years ago, for a wedding stationery project. It has been so handy over the years since, for such a myriad of projects, I can’t remember how I lived without it before. It’s not big or flashy, and every now and then I need to replace the little cutting blade slide (which is very affordable to do), but it gets the job done and it stores very easily. I’m not plugging this product for profit or perks, by the way, just sharing what I actually find useful in real life.

Now that my papers are all cut, I’m typing up little cover labels for each binder. I’m just using plain old Microsoft word to choose an interesting font and then adjust the ink color to go with the related scrapbook paper. Because I have my binder spine measurements, I’m also making a little spine label for each cookbook binder. These may seem small to fit down into the binder, but it is worth it when it’s all done. Cut and glue the labels to the cut scrapbook paper…

….then slide the paper covers into place.

I also like to put a little roll of tape behind the cover binder, just to keep the paper from shifting around as it get used.

To get those narrow binder spines down into the covers, I have two tips for you:

1. Lay your binder open flat, cover side up, before you try to put the spine paper. This allows the plastic spine pocket to have as much “give” as possible as you slide the paper further down.

2. Use a chopstick to act as a guide when you slide the spine paper in place. You’ll never get your finger down where you need it to be in that little pocket, so don’t kill yourself trying. Take a deep breath and just work slowly, little by little, to ease that paper down where you need it to be. It may get a little wrinkled as you go, mine did, but you can work it all out with patience.

Oh, and for those binders that do need some internal sorting, I’m just going to use an extra sheet of colored card stock in a sheet protector to provide a guide. Nothing fancy or expensive and still very practical to keep clean. Here’s an example:

Here’s how great the end result of a bunch of new binders can look:

Nice, huh? I said I was gonna seriously downsize those recipes and I meant it. There are now only four small binders, instead of eight very over-stuffed ones, and all of these new, clean binders are just reasonably full. This means I have plenty of recipes (no need to go looking for more), but that I have a small amount of room if we do find a few new favorites to add to our lives. Progress! These final topics for my binders and why I chose them:

  • Favorite Recipes: All of our favorites entrees and any not-so-common special side dishes we love, just tossed together in one place (at last!)
  • Vegetables: We love to try new ways to mix up our vegetable varieties at meals, we also strive to have a decent amount of vegetarian entree recipes to mix into our diet for better health
  • Sweets: Desserts in every form, including smoothies, cakes, pies, cookies, breads, candy and some interesting fruit recipes
  • Appetizers & Beverages: This is mainly party fare/special occasion food with great pictures and suggestions for serving

All in all, I like the way these binders turned out and it made the cleaning out, sorting and typing parts of this saga seem more attainable. I can see where the truly loved recipes will go and as I get there, the paper organization is in place for immediate use. I can’t say that all the typing will get done as fast as these binders were put together, but I’ll get there eventually. The typing is happening and I think I am now ready to address another aspect of this project….

…all of the loose recipes I still have stashed for “later”. But that is a part of this saga for another day.

Gift Idea

Can you see how this custom binder cover would make a great gift idea? You could use it to build a cookbook of favorite recipes for almost any occasion. You could also use it to build a custom recipe book as a group-sourced gift for an individual, such as a bride or new graduate. Each contributor simply completes a typed up recipe page and all of the pages are combined into the binder as a group gift. The customized cover would just make the cookbook all the more special. It’s an affordable gift, but very personal. Just a thought!

Now tell me what you think of this project. I really want to hear your opinions. Am I a little too obsessive in my organization? Do you like the way the binders turned out? What would you do differently? Any tips for the next part of this recipe saga (all those loose recipes)? Blogs are for conversation, so leave a comment!

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy the posts I have written about creating my All-Year Holiday Cookbook and my Magic Cookbook. Feel free to check them out!

Cooking With Fire

How was your weekend? Did you get outside to enjoy some nice weather? Have you fired up your grill this season? We are loving the fabulous warm weather and our taste buds are ready for some sizzling deliciousness. Time to get our grill on!

I pulled today’s mood board together when I was out and around looking at summer grilling supplies for our home. Whether you are a traditional griller or an adventurous chef, there are some great, affordable…as in “all-of-these-are-under-$20″…tools out there for some serious summer cooking! Here’s what I found…

Where can I buy these things? Just click on the links below to jump right to their retail pages online…

1. Make sure you eat your vegetables with this Fire Wire Flexible Grilling Skewer, $9.99 for a set of 2, at Bed Bath & Beyond

2. New to grilling or want to up your game? Take a lesson from a real pro, Steve Raichlen, with his great grill cookbooks, like this one, $13.14, at Amazon

3. This 12-inch skillet will keep all of those delicious little things, like shrimp or stir fry, from falling through your grill grate, $6.99, at Bed Bath & Beyond

4. Try your hand at smoking some meat with this Mini Smoker Box, only $7.96, at Williams Sonoma

5. Grilled Cheese…made on your grill. Do I really need to say any more? $12, at uncommongoods.com

6. You know what tastes great on the grill with garlic? Everything! Roast up a bulb in this Cast Iron Garlic Roaster, $16.95, from Crate & Barrel

7. Slather on the sauce with this 4-piece set of silicon basting brushes, $9.99, at Amazon

8. Time your steak, or any other food, perfectly with the Oxo Good Grips Instant Read Thermometer, $11.99, at Amazon

9. Clean that grill like you mean business with this 3-in-1 Grill Brush, $7.95, at Crate & Barrel

Are you thinking about lunch yet? Or dreaming of that great smokey grill smell? What is your favorite food to eat hot off of the grill? Are you a BBQ fan, a burger connoisseur or a kebabs aficionado? Share your favorites in a comment!

Pssst!  Did you remember that Father’s Day is also creeping up on us? Have you found a gift for your dad yet? If you want to use this mood board for some grilled-themed gift inspiration, I won’t tell!

Collapsible Kitchen Tools

This is my salad spinner, at home, in my kitchen.

It is the inspiration for this post. I have been meaning to write about my salad spinner for a while because it is rather popular in my house. Mr. CARO looooves using it. As in “Honey, it’s not a lawn mower. You only need to pull the string once.” (I sometimes think he is trying to get it to take off like a helicopter.) Friends and family members have asked more about this salad spinner when they have seen it in action.

I have to admit, I have given several of these salad spinners away as gifts. Christmas, house-warming, weddings. It has fit as an appropriate gift for many occasions. I, myself, never wanted to own a salad spinner until I saw this one. But when I did see it. I WANTED it.

I never liked salad spinners before because they were all giant, lined bowls that took up a big footprint wherever I could have put them. And it’s not like you can store a lot in them when they are put away because the lid makes it cumbersome.

My salad spinner does this:

I love kitchen tools that work hard and store small. I have between a small and medium-sized kitchen, so I don’t have a ton of extra cabinet/pantry space in my kitchen. (Does anyone out there have “extra” kitchen cabinets?) When something can get the job done really well AND store nicely with other things, I am interested immediately.

Besides my friends and family, I’ve found many clients who also appreciate a great space saver in the kitchen. Sometimes because they don’t cook much and need more cabinet space for pantry items, sometimes because they like to cook a lot and need a way to fit more tools/gadgets together in an already packed area, and sometimes because they don’t have a huge amount space to begin with, so they have to make every inch of storage count. Do you fit in any of those categories?

One of my very own pots and pans drawers. Just keepin’ it real, friends.

Since I love my salad spinner, I’ve payed close attention to other items I’ve seen pop up recently that offer similar storing options. Who can’t use more storage space in their kitchens? So, today’s post is a fun list of fabulous kitchen tools that collapse down into smaller, more storage-friendly shapes. Whether you rent or own, these are practical items for real life.

Oh, and I’ve linked all the pictures below directly to their shopping sources to make purchasing easy. Just in case you need one for your kitchen, or a wedding present, or a hostess gift…you get the idea. Just click on the picture to link to the item. Here we go!

SALAD SPINNER

Image courtesy of amazon.com

You knew I was going to start with this one. You can use the outer bowl as a nice separate serving bowl, which makes it a double-duty tool. For $23, I love the reasonable price on this spinner, too. I don’t understand why some spinner models are close to $50 for what is really a couple of plastic bowls.

COLANDER

Image courtesy of amazon.com

Okay, technically, you can use the interior salad spinner bowl above as a colander for fruit and veg. However, if you are going to be draining something hot, like pasta or boiled potatoes, I always chose metal surfaces over plastic. The silicone in this bowl, (like most silicone tools) can withstand temps up to 500 degrees. This little baby also comes in a variety of fun colors to choose from, several different sizes and features a handy metal loop for those of you who like to hang your pots and pans.

BAKING / COOLING RACK

Image courtesy of amazon.com

This is the thing you stack lots of sheets of cookies on when you are prepping them to bake or taking them out of the oven to cool. This thing is perfect for kitchens with next to zero counter space. (Any NYC peeps reading this post? I got your back.) The rack folds so flat you can slid it into storage like a tray. 20 bucks. Genius.

BAKED GOODS STORAGE/CARRIERS

Image courtesy of amazon.com

Where are you going to put all those delicious baked goods after you have used your awesome, foldable cooling rack? Well, if you are taking them to an event, you have several handy choices based on the type of goodies you’ve made. There is a carrier for layer cakes and cupcakes, pictured above. There is another version of this carrier which can carry two 9-inch pies (or up to 24 deviled eggs)…

Image courtesy of amazon.com

…and even a third version of this product for sheet cakes. (That reminds me, I have to share my favorite sheet cake recipe with you this summer. Yummmmm.)

Image courtesy of amazon.com

FYI: If these storage carriers cause you to bake more sweets in your kitchen, I am NOT responsible. I have a similar disclaimer on my Brownie Pie recipe for a good reason. Don’t send me emails about needing to buy larger jeans. I’m probably already at the store trying on new pairs, myself.

DISH DRAINER

Image courtesy on amazon.com

Every kitchen has some items that won’t go in the dishwasher. If your kitchen doesn’t have a dishwasher, or at least a non-human one, you may love this item even more. At only $20, this dish drainer can even adjust to fit over different-sized sinks. I like that it includes a silverware divider and can be collapsed small enough to run it through your dishwasher when you need to…uh, again, the non-human kind of dishwasher.

CUTTING BOARD

Image courtesy of amazon.com

Like the over-the-sink drainer above, this cutting board adjusts to the perfect size you need. The bonus feature is that it includes a fancy-schmancy collapsible colander bowl, so you don’t lose any of those delicious strawberries into the sink or drain while you are hulling them. (Oh, the humanity.)

MIXING BOWL

Image courtesy of amazon.com

This 3 quart mixing bowl is by the same company that makes the salad spinner and the dish drainer above. Clearly, they have built upon a great product line. They also carry a large collapsible tub and a nice set of 3 prep bowls that include lids. Amazon has a deal where you can buy all three for items as a set for $40.

BOX GRATER

Image courtesy of amazon.com

I’ll admit it. I’m not a huge fan of box graters. I love eating cheese, but I am not fond of working so hard to shave a big block of it down. Mr. CARO is the cheese-grating czar at our house and he has the manly biceps to prove it. However, this foldable option looks much less intimidating to me. And I know it exactly where it would fit better in our cabinets, rather than the one we have now that always seems to be right in my way every time I’m looking for something else.

MEASURING CUPS & SPOONS

Image courtesy of Sur la table

No more trying to nest all those little spoons and cups in the right order in the drawer! Just toss them all in there and let the lay flat. Wish I had thought of this idea and gotten the patent. At this rate, if you go get all of the items on this list, you may actually end up with an “extra” kitchen cabinet.

BEATER/WHISK

Image courtesy of gretelhome.com

Finally, someone came up with a smaller version of a stirring tool that always gets tangled in every drawer. The colored ring on the handle of this beater slides down to close up the loose tongs so they don’t splay out or snag while being stored. Like so:

Image courtesy of gretelhome.com

As you can see, this tool is also available is in several fun colors. I like that is made of silicon, so it can work in both stainless and non-stick cookware. I can always use extra drawer space. Now if only someone would make a collapsible potato masher…

ROLLING PIN

Image courtesy of amazon.com

Okay, this item doesn’t collapse, per se, but it is worth mentioning for its savvy design. It would make a great wedding or bridal shower gift. It allows you to store an included set of cookie cutters within the pin itself. For more experienced bakers, you can fill the pin with ice cubes to keep your dough from getting to warm while you’re rolling it out. So smart.

DESSERT TIER

Image courtesy of gretelhome.com

I saw this little beauty advertised in Real Simple magazine last month and had to include it. It stands at 20 inches tall when assembled. All seven of these separate tiers stack down into the base for storage. How great is this for easy entertaining in your home? I may have to put this on my list for Santa this year, then I can serve him cookies on it next Christmas Eve.

So, that is my long-ish list of what I’ve found out there. Pardon me for being a tiny bit ramble-y in this post, but when I find a great organizational solution (or 15), I like to share it. Now I want to hear from you.

What kitchen tool still needs to be re-created in a collapsible form? Can you think of something? Is there an item that I missed out there on the market when I made up the list for this post? What is the most awkward kitchen tool you wrangle onto a shelf or into a drawer?

At least leave a comment so I know I’m not the only one out here with overflowing kitchen shelves. Dish with me!

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!

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!

Been framed

Through my design work with clients, I have framed many, many pictures and photos. Hundreds. And I really love doing it.  I am a firm believer that art in the home is a big part of what can make every home feel very personal. Seeing the happy face of a client when their favorite things are displayed proudly is a truly rewarding perk of my job.

That said, I’m a woman who likes to find a good deal and framing can get expensive. If you need a custom mat or a non-standard sized frame, it can add up to a big price tag quickly. The source I’m sharing with you today is one of my all-time go-to favorites for making all of my art framing projects more affordable.

If you’re wondering if this is a big old advertisement, it’s not. I never get paid to recommend products, which you can read more about right here. I discovered this company when we were framing our wedding pictures years ago and I have been a huge fan and customer ever since.

Frames By Mail offers hundreds of frames to choose from, including over 700 styles of wood frames alone. They keep the costs down on their custom frames by shipping them in easy-to-assemble pieces with great assembly instructions. All you need to put them together is a screwdriver. (Don’t let a tiny DIY element intimidate you, you can save A LOT of money with Frames By Mail!)

Custom Framing

To start your custom framing order, you just choose a frame type…

…then choose the frame details, like your custom size:

 The next step is choosing your frame backing (I always go for acid free to protect the art) and the frame front:

Frames By Mail does not use glass finishes, which helps keep their costs down. I use Plexi all the time and you can’t tell the difference on a wall. If you really want glass, you can always order the frame and matting here and just have a piece of glass custom cut locally.

The next step is picking your matting, if you want one:

As you can see, there are plenty of custom mat options. I love that as you are designing your frame online, the website keeps a running tally of your costs visible, which can really help you stay on budget.

Individual Services

Beyond the custom framing, you can also just order what you need. If you just need a custom mat, I highly recommend their great “Mat Designer”, which really gives you control and instant images of what your mat will look like.

If you just need frame hardware, they have this covered, too. You can find all kinds of hanging hardware in their “Supplies”. (This is where I get my craft paper in bulk for gallery wall installations, like the one I showed you right here.)

Other Products

I also want to show you some of the other things Frames By Mail offers. All of these services and products are easy to link to in their website menu bar. The easiest way to frame your pictures is their “Print and Frame” shop. You just upload your photo from your computer, Facebook or Flickr, then choose your frame.

They also have a great selection of ready-made frames in standard sizes. I like to check out their Clearance section for great deals on these, too.

I am a big fan of their printing on canvas. You can upload your own image, choose the canvas size and then choose how you want to finish the canvas: colored edge, gallery wrap, framed, etc. They walk you though it, step-by-step, and explain each option.

If you are a fan of architecture, you might like their “Frame Your Name” service. You just type in the name you want to use…

…and they match it to their architectural letters library to spell it out. You can alter each letter individually, too, to make it more your style.

Choose your frame and mat and you are done. These make great gifts for people in the hard-to-buy-for category of our lives.

Speaking of gifts, you might want to consider their “Make It Motivational” framing ideas. You upload your picture add your text (or choose from their library of ideas) and the image is saved in that recognizable motivational poster format.

Be inspiring or be really silly. If you’ve ever flipped through a Skymall catalog and thought “I could write something better than that…”, now is your chance! And of course, Frames By Mail offer gift cards, in any denomination. The hardest choice may be deciding which way to spend it!

So, those are the things I love about Frames By Mail. Lots of beautiful framing options, original art ideas and great savings. I hope this helps you with your framing projects as much as it has helped me with mine!

Want more ideas for adding art to your home? You can explore all of my ideas and solutions for art right here. There are more posts planned for this topic, too, so be sure to stop by again.

Now it’s you turn to share: What have you always wanted to frame? What is the most awkward thing you have ever framed? Have you ever received a great framed gift? Share your stories and leave a comment!

For the ones with the Most-ess

With July 4th just around the corner, many people are gearing up for some fun holiday parties and other big events, like family reunions, class reunions and trips to visit farther-away friends. What should you give to thank your hostess for her invitation?

While everyone agrees that wine and flowers are always a great hostess gift, sometimes you want to find something a little different. I’ve pulled together a little mood board full of charming and affordable hostess gifts available now at the most well-shopped stores across the US.

It can be hard to worry about hostess gifts when you are trying to remember the ketchup, hamburger buns AND ice cream for your next trip to the grocery store. You can pick up these hostess gifts easily because you are probably going to be near one of these stores anyway.

  1. Mandarin orange scented candle ($15, available at Target) Nothing says summer like the fresh smell of citrus.
  2. Elephant teapot ($16, available at Pier 1) This cute little guy is dishwasher/microwave safe and would even look great on a bookcase.
  3. Small buttons decorative bowl ($9, available at Pier 1) This would be a lovely place for fruit or potpourri on any table.
  4. Colorful ceramic vase ($10, available at Target) This darling little vase is perfect as a cheery pop of color in any room.
  5. Aquarius Scrapbook 23-oz. stemless glasses ($10 each, available at Bed Bath & Beyond) So many people brings wine as a gift. Why not bring a beautiful set of glasses to enjoy with the wine?
  6. Set of 4 monogrammed coasters ($10, available at Bed Bath & Beyond) These personalized coasters would go with any host’s home decor.
  7. Champagne lace jeweled frame ($20, available at Pier 1) Give your hosts a place for great pictures of their get-togethers with this timeless frame.
  8. Hammered silver scent diffuser (available at Wal-Mart) This elegant scent diffuser is a pretty way to show your hosts you appreciate their style.
  9. Origins of Expressions game ($25, available at Barnes & Noble) What’s better than giving a great board game as a gift? Being invited back to play it!

While you at it, you could pick up a few of things for hostess gifts you  may need later in the year, too. Why not plan ahead and save some rushing around later? You could even wrap and store hostess gifts for easy giving later, like I do with our Christmas presents.

And now that I’ve written this whole post, I realize I haven’t given credit to all the guys who act as “host”, rather than “hostess”. Very 1952-of-me, and not in a good way. A shout out to all the men who step up and open their homes to entertain their friends and loved ones. Hooray for the “Host with the Most”!

Do you have a favorite hostess/host gift to give? What is the nicest hostess/host gift you have ever received? Leave a comment and share your ideas to inspire others!

A picture perfect deal

Just a short post today so those of you reading this while goofing off…er…”taking a break”… at work have some browsing time.

Two of my favorite things are at the core of this post:

  1. Enjoying your own photographs in your home
  2. A giant whopper of a sale

Allow me to introduce you to one of my very favorite stores:

Exposures offers amazing photo albums, frames, and photo related gifts. I have bought beautiful items from them for years (as I mentioned in this post) and I am a HUGE fan of their catalog. I mean, I actually squeal when this catalog arrives in the mail. Mr. CARO would verify this for you, but he often prefers to avert his eyes when I am this excited over a catalog. What can I say? He’s a gentleman.

Anyway, as I mentioned, I’m bringing this to your attention today because there is a BIG annual sale going on today. Okay, okay. “How big of a sale?”, you ask. Check this out:

I know!

FYI: I’m not getting any kickbacks or moolah for promoting their site or products. I just like sharing a great deal on items I do use and love. You’re welcome to send me sales you like to explore, too.

All of the pictures in today’s post are courtesy of, and linked directly to, the exposuresonline.com website to make further browsing easy. Here, in random order, are a few of their great deals:

Archive-Friendly Box Storage

They have sturdy, acid boxes for every size of document or photo you could ever want to preserve. And they have them in dozens of colors. I recommend a nice neutral color, because you can move them around the house and they won’t clash with things in another room. (I speak from unfortunate personal experience here.)

I like these colors, but you should browse around to find what you like. They have nice patterned boxes, too.

Elegant Christmas Photo Cards

They have gorgeous, custom-looking Christmas cards with foil lined envelopes that are just waiting for you to pop in picture and address. I know it seems early for Christmas cards, but a bargain is a bargain. The cards all come in packs of 18 and with the sale, some of the cards average out at 44¢ a card.

I like this set because I’m a big fan of snow. I love a White Christmas.

Creative Photo Gifts

Sometimes you want to think outside of the box for a gift and a new way to show off a great photo can be a lovely solution. They have lots of cool options to choose from in several categories.

I can imagine this would be a real hit with grandparents!

Beautiful Photo Albums

Of course, photo albums! Wouldn’t it be nice to get all of your photos in one place and have that place not be the computer? I own lots of albums from this company. You will not be disappointed with their quality or their customer service. (And isn’t that a refreshing find these days?!)

This is great 12×12 inch album for all of those oversized images, like class pictures and big family reunion portraits. For $20, it even comes with a free line of personalization on the front.

Find something you like? Let me know what you like on their site. How do you store photos in your home? Leave a comment!

How to get a thank you note

We all know the best way to give gifts is to give something personal. (Personal meaning “thoughtful”, not “icky and inappropriate”.) This is one of my favorite gifts to give:

This is the “Felicity” album, by one of my all-time favorite photo and frame catalogs: Exposures. (You can link to their catalog here or directly to these albums here or by clicking on the picture above.)

Have you ever known anyone to say, “Oh, no. Not another photo album!”? Me, neither. The Felicity  album is only $30, on sale right now, and includes 1 line of FREE personalization. And, as you can see, it comes in 3 sizes and 17 (!) different colors.

I mention these Felicity albums now because we are almost to June, which is still the #1 month for weddings. This is a perfect gift for those couples who only register for a few household things, or for a couple to whom you want to give a more personal gift.

Just to prove how great they are, and that I practice what I preach (keeping it real, friends), here is one of our own Felicity albums:

This is their classic 3-ring album. We bought this album right after we got married. It’s just our own simple way to lovingly remember how we celebrate each anniversary.

We are already sheepishly saying things like, “Um…what did we do for our 3rd  anniversary again?” So, this album should be a real help when we get closer to 40 years of marriage. (Some of you might have noticed, I also use this album to use up scrapbook paper left over from this project.)

I like the quality details of this album, like the silver lettering and that the inside of the albums are lined with a beautiful cream fabric…

…and that you can customize all the pages of the 3-ring binder to hold exactly what you need them to hold. Each album holds 40 pages and they have all kinds of photo pages and pockets available. You can buy the pages, at a very decent price, here. My favorite, basic pages for any album are these:

I like that the cream paper matches the fabric album lining and that the plastic cover on each page really wraps around the card stock and pictures.

What other occasions, besides weddings, could you give this album for? Here a few ideas:

  • New Baby – Allow families to make their own baby book or grandparent books to share.
  • Mother’s Day  or Father’s Day – This would make a great gift for a new parent to help them remember all of their future special days.
  • Graduations – Send a new college student off with a great album in their school colors or college grad off with an album for their new life.
  • Great Vacations – Make a new one each year and really enjoy all those fun photos and quirky mementos.
  • Retirement Party – A beautiful way for a new retiree to show off pictures, cards, certificates, etc. from their special party.
  • Christmas – Use an album to gather all of your Christmas card pictures and gifts-under-the-tree photos in one, elegant place.

Putting a little extra thought and planning into a gift for a special occasion is always rewarding when you see the smile of the face of the gift recipient. Writing you a thank you note will easy for them because you have given such a personal, memorable gift.

I hope this helps you with any future gift-giving occasions in your life! When we find a great idea or a real bargain, it is always fun to share with friends. Now it’s your turn. Do you have a fabulous go-to gift you like to give? How could you use this album in your home? Do you remember writing a thank you note for a particularly lovely gift? Leave a comment!

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