Spring Entertaining

Easter weekend swiftly passed and spring is officially arrived in my book!  Time for open toe shoes, bare legs, sandals, white and cute hats to finish up the most casual or dressy of an outfit!

It’s also a great time to entertain guests; both family and friends.  Between Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Memorial Day, graduations, and in our family birthdays galore, there are so many reasons to open up the door!

Looking ahead to a season of hospitality, I thought it would be fun to share a few tips to help you organize your next event with little stress.

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It’s really quite easy to pull together a dinner to welcome spring or celebrate those you love, despite the desire to be just like Martha Stewart!

**First, the menu, which isn’t as difficult as it seems! While you don’t have to go this route, traditional spring meals often include ham, lamb or chicken.  These can be prepared several ways (I love variety) and carved right up for serving.  Spring vegetables include asparagus, fresh leafy greens, artichokes, radishes, avocado, Vidalia onion and broccoli, which should be at their freshest and of course most flavorful time.  Shopping for food that is in season immediately takes a load off of your mind because you aren’t searching for elusive veggies or disappointed in the taste!

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**Speaking from experience, prepare foods your familiar with so that you aren’t upset and fretting over how a new dish has turned out.  Save the experiments for family supper one night.

 **If you are hosting family (and plan to prepare it all), think of and prepare recipes that they know and love … in our house it’s three cheese mac and cheese and roasted green beans on the menu.  Between shopping seasonal and preparing family favorites, your menu should come together fairly fast.

**Knock out most of your prep work and make desserts the day before, leaving just the main course for the day of a gathering.

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**Any dinner you host doesn’t have to be formal; a wonderfully prepared buffet or potluck dinner can be just as elegant.  I always loved the spreads at my aunt and uncle’s house over the years as she ordered everything, from Costco, Sam’s or Honey Baked Ham; laid out a beautiful sfeast and enjoyed the entire day with the family!  Aunt Jean knows how to entertain stress free; let me tell you!

{Sometime’s it is just worth it to let someone else do all the work.}

**Don’t be afraid to delegate; typically guests are more than happy to bring drinks, and appetizer, a side dish, or dessert.  Take a load off of yourself.

**If entertaining families, have games and toys for children to play with, or ask parents to bring their children’s favorites.  This will help entertain little ones and maybe keep them from being bored.

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Grocery store Blue Willow dishes collected in the 1990s are probably my favorite dishes to use!

**Decorating your table is a wonderful and memorable way to make your guests feel welcome. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to set a pretty table.

**Mother’s Day, a birthday dinner, or the Easter holiday is the perfect time to showcase your best dinnerware, glassware, flatware and linens if your desire.  I love to pull out my Noritake china purchase at an auction years ago by my mother-in-law, but I also adore  a basic white plate topped with a fun salad plate. With either choice of plate adding the crystal glassware that belong to Audley’s grandparents is such a special touch.

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Simple white rimmed plates from Pottery Barn match absolutely everything!  Here they are paired with bunny plates from Williams Sonoma.

**For outdoor gatherings and those gathering for the guys, an old fashioned cookout is perfect! With all the variety in paper and plastic products now, setting up a table or theme is as simple as ever.

**Maintain a beautifully simple color scheme.  Spring inspired plates, patterns and a touch of greenery make for an unforgettable table setting.

**Keep the table uncluttered by using a buffet to display and serve drinks, side dishes or desserts.  Decorate it to match the theme of the dining table.

**Bring your home to life with flowers and glowing candles; both of which create a welcoming mood.  Seasonal flowers in April and May include tulips, daffodils, and lilies which bring the beauty of spring inside. Some of these you may be able to cut from your own yard, or you can usually find these popular flowers at your local grocery, very inexpensively!  Candles are plentiful at the Dollar Store or clearance at Target.  I love to buy them when on clearance to put up for later use.

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Table decorated with tea-lights and succulent pots.

 **For an easy springtime table, bring the outside in with greenery such as grass, ivy, fern, or even succulents.  Fresh yellowbell branches from the yard are stunning on a buffet or mantle!

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**Decorating can be done in advance: set the table, arrange the centerpiece and add special touches a day or even two days before.

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The glassware I’ve used here belonged to Audley’s grandparents; the etched flowers fit the season nicely!

It doesn’t take a lot of stress and money to treat your family and friends to a celebrations they will long remember.  Just take on what you know you can handle, use what you have, and make plans to celebrate the spring!

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Savoring Christmas

The house is so very quiet today.

There is no rushing around finding or wrapping the last gifts, planning menus, baking sweet treats or preparing for guests.

Audley has returned to work, Samantha has returned to Tennessee, Michael and MacKenzie have returned to South Carolina, Madeline is delivering pizzas and Bradley is engulfed in any number of college bowl games down in the den.

 

It’s really quiet.  And as I sit here on the sofa, twinkle lights on the tree, listening to a little Dave Koz I’m at peace thinking what a wonderful Christmas holiday it was.

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Almost all of our kiddos plus the grand-dogs

We’ve always traveled for Christmas, but the last couple of years has found us at home for a quiet celebration with just part of our family.  This year we were blessed to have all four of our children and one son-in-law (the other is a police officer who sacrificed his holiday to serve), as well as my parents in for Christmas Day!  It was all so exciting for me.

The dynamic of holidays change as the kiddos get older, head off to college and get married.  It’s not bad, but it is a huge change from being woken up at 6 AM to check out what Santa brought, to sleeping in and casually opening presents around noon.  Instead of toys littering the living room floor it’s tools, clothes and hammocks, and fitness gear.

While some would cry over the changes, it’s still all so beautiful to this mom who savored every moment.

“The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.”

~Burton Hills~

Watching my son open Peach Bowl tickets that he had no clue he was getting was pretty sweet, too.

Y’all he had tears in his eyes.

(The video flips correctly when you hit play; turn it up for his reaction!)

We’ve started a few of our own Christmas traditions in the last couple of years which include our fully set Christmas table in the dining room.

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Here we lovingly serve up homemade pizzas that everyone has assembled and cooked before.

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We also all take in a movie together.

Go see the Greatest Showman.

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Really.

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Go.

I loved watching my kids (hubby included) play games together.

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“Gifts of time and love are surely the basic ingredients of a truly merry Christmas.”

~Peg Bracken~

I loved cooking with my girls.

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And I loved watching my kiddos spend time together.

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Despite time swiftly passing and our babies becoming adults, some things never change, and I truly treasured every moment of our holiday.

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The kids still leave cookies for Santa out…. Apparently he has quite and appetite! 

And I’m also savoring the quiet!

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I hope your holiday was blessed and memorable as well!

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Keeping the Thanks in Thanksgiving & Our Tablescape

It’s one of our favorite weeks of the year, but also one of the most chaotic as we make plans to visit with both sides of our family as well as time with extended family!  Holidays in general invite a lot of unwanted stress into our lives as we work hard to please everyone, but it’s totally up to us to decide how to handle it.  We can lose our minds and our ability to deal with stresses or we can go with the flow and just enjoy the day.

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It’s easy to let stress consume us  and ruin our holiday, but y’all, it doesn’t have to be that way!

Have you ever noticed when you sweat and stress over the small things, that our thankfulness slips away and we find ourselves unhappy and dreading the special times coming up?

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Over the years, I’ve worked really hard to learn to go with the flow and find gratitude even when little stresses are piling up.  While I am a perfectionist when entertaining, I have discovered perfection is pretty difficult to achieve. In learning to “let it be,” I’ve also learned to find the joy in the little things and savor those fleeting moments of quality family time.

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I know I’m not the only person to struggle with the little things that can suck the joy and thankfulness right out of our holiday time, so I asked the question on Facebook; “what issues are you often faced with over the holidays?”  I was surprised by the common theme throughout the comments… pleasing everyone else.

People pleasing and comparison are two of the worst things we can allow into our lives at anytime, but especially during the holidays.

This morning I’m going to attempt to offer a few solutions and ways to not detest or stress about the holidays ahead, just go with the flow and keep the thanks in Thanksgiving!

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**First and foremost, stay true to yourself.  I know it sounds like a weird thing to say, but whether you host at your home or travel anywhere for the holiday, unapologetically be yourself.  I wasted so many years worrying about what people would think of my way of doing things, that the holidays were not fun at all.

If it makes you happy to set a table with china and all the trimmings do it without wondering if someone thinks you are putting on “airs”.  I set the table all year-long, and dress it up pretty for just my family, so why would the holidays be any different?

Go all out if it makes you happy!

On the other hand, if you are a super casual person, who cares if you put out paper plates?  Guess what?!  You can eat on them just as well and don’t have near the mess to deal with!

Never, ever try to be someone or something that you are not.

And remember, there is always that one person who just enjoys being critical, judgemental and jealous, so let them be miserable by themselves, while you are in your element enjoying yourself!

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**The great hosting debate.  Every family at one time or another is faced with the question of when and where to have Thanksgiving.

 I’m up for celebrating the holidays as many days as possible if it means spending time with my loved ones.  It’s OK to be thankful on multiple days, not just on the 4th Thursday of November.   If the family is up to it, extend the holiday and celebrate two or even three days in a row!  It’s all about family time, not the “day”.  It’s the same thing with Christmas; Audley and I have traveled with our children and been gone nearly every Christmas in our 23 years together.  Santa has visited our house on the 23rd, 24th, 25th, and 26th over the years, whichever works best to be flexible for the family.

Sometimes where to have the family celebration is a source of contention. It’s been easy for us over the years as we have always let the senior most members of the family who want to host (my parents) do it!  I can cook in Momma’s kitchen as easily as my own. There will come a day when we can’t get together at their house, so I treasure every moment.

In families with brothers and sisters all wanting to host, there are a couple of solutions.  First, let whoever has the less stressful household (older children, more space, less stress in cleaning, etc…) take on the task and offer to help out.  Secondly, try alternating each year if everyone wants to host.  Talk it out and be flexible.  It’s not about one person, it’s about the family and the quality of time you have together. Third, if everyone in both families insists on doing it all on Thanksgiving Day, put on your stretchy pants, embrace the situations and go with the flow if you are able to attend both.  And finally, don’t be afraid to say “NO.”  Sometimes your sanity and the peace in your own home is more important than pleasing everyone else.

We teach our children to compromise, get along, and balance life so be the example and show them how to continue it as an adult!

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**The joys of children…. We love our children, but there are days we wish could just duck tape them to the wall and leave them while we do everything on our “to-do” list.

{I can neither confirm nor deny this ever taking place!}

Believe me, I know and have totally been there!

With four underfoot getting ready to host for the holidays presented enough stress on its own that I wanted to say forget it a million times, but I always managed because I wanted the kids to have memories to carry with them into adulthood.

Y’all, it goes by so fast.

There are days you want to hide in a corner, twirling you hair and sucking your own thumb, but one day they will be grown and your youngest child will enlist in the Marine Corps. and you’ll realize 2017 will be the last Thanksgiving you may have him home for the holiday.

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Here are a few ways to work with small children and still make hosting the holidays work:

*Ask a preteen or even teenage neighbor to entertain them while you do what needs to be handled.  The $15 or $20 you spend on that time will be well worth it!

*Give your kiddos one area in which to play, watch TV, etc… and prepare other spaces for your company.  FYI, bedroom doors shut.  Pull the door closed to the playroom or the bedroom when your guests arrive and just leave the mess in it.

*Find age appropriate “chores” your kiddos can help with.  Mine learned to set the table as early as four.  Give them a diagram, let them help, and even laugh when they put their own spin on a table-setting   You can also allow a smaller child place rolls on a pan, bring you things from the refrigerator, or put up smaller dishes when you are washing.  It’s a great time to use as a teaching moment as well as a time to bond.

*And finally, don’t be afraid to delegate and not take it all on yourself.  Spouses are usually glad to step up to help, whether entertaining kids or peeling potatoes!  Ask your guests to bring a dish: dessert, casserole, vegetables.  Don’t be afraid to ask, most understand the challenges of balancing life with small children.

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**Finally, keep in mind life is not a Hallmark channel movie.  Yes, we have expectations for the holidays, but leave yourself open for anything to happen. Wipe the tears and let it go.

There will be a time when your roast turkey worthy of a magazine cover hits the floor because you used a foil roasting pan instead of the heavy-duty pan to cut down on scrubbing dishes.

There will be a time when the rolls are burned to a crisp and the pumpkin pies are filled too much and flow over into the bottom of the oven setting off the smoke alarm.

There will come a time when not everyone in the family is on the same page for the holiday gathering and you have to make other plans.

There will be a time when you finally unpack the box of serving pieces from your last move and you realize your favorite platter that has been used for 15 of your 23 Thanksgivings broke during transition.

There will be a time when lunch is served at 3:00 pm instead of noon because you overslept and didn’t get the ham in the oven.

There will be a time when there are no more vacation days so everything is crammed into one day.

There will be a time that those large family gatherings become small.  Don’t let that change your attitude and excitement over the holidays, but make it special and memorable for all who do join you.

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Life happens (not always the way we pictured it) and it’s up to us to make sure we don’t let it steal our joy and be thankful for the little things that keep us on our toes during the holidays.

Happy Thanksgiving week y’all!  I hope your celebrations are full of thankfulness and joy, and not so stressed.

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A Thanksgiving Timeline

The excitement of the holidays is upon us and I am relishing every moment!  This year not only will we travel to see my family, we will also be hosting my mother and father-in-law here for a Thanksgiving celebration!  There is so much to do, but I love the busyness of the season.  Sometimes it’s challenging not to let that busyness consume me and take me away from the things that really matter.

Whether you travel or host for Thanksgiving, the short weekend that comes along with it can often create for a little extra chaos in our already busy lives.  It’s a long weekend, but oftentimes not quite long enough accomplish all we want, plus enjoy the time with family or friends as well.

Why plan a holiday celebration if you can’t experience the joy that goes with it?

And, if there is no joy in what you are doing, your gratitude will often slip away as well!

“Enter into His gates with thanksgiving and a thank offering and into His courts with Praise! Be thankful and say so to Him, bless and affectionately praise His name!”~Psalm 100:4 

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Being the control freak planner and organizer that I am, my family knows when November begins I’m attached to my planner and lists so that I can do what needs to be dome as the wife and mom, but still have fun as well.

While we do not host a big meal every year, I have a lot of cooking on my agenda (I am totally the Queen of Turkey roasting in our family), and make some pretty good deserts as well!   I’ve learned over the years, that the key to stress-free entertaining (and traveling with food to prepare) is to plan ahead.

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Don’t let a lack of organization and unnecessary stress steal your joy and rob you of a memorable and fun day with family. As wives, mothers and even grandmothers our mood often sets the mood for the entire home whether we intend for it to or not.  The Enemy loves to attack us in the sneakiest of ways and I think a stressed out wife is the most horrible of attacks!

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice & be glad in it.”

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Besides living in the Word, preparing and planning ahead is a great way to help prevent that unwanted attack from happening! By doing much of the prep work in advance, you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy the company of your family and friends on the day of the feast!

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Here’s my simple timeline for Thanksgiving (& other major holidays) planning:

1 to 2 Weeks before Thanksgiving (This would be now y’all):

*Confirm the number of guests you are planning to cook for, whether at home or away.  Then plan your menu.

*Make arrangements for your turkey.  If you want a fresh one, order ahead.  I won’t go   into detail, but trust me, order early so that it is ready when you want to put it in the  oven.  Go ahead and pick up your frozen turkey early as well so that you aren’t searching feverishly for one large enough to feed 15 people two days before.

*Plan your table settings, serving dishes and decorations. If you want china, use your china.  If you prefer paper plates by all means use them and don’t apologize!

*Read through your recipes to determine the food and items you will need for cooking.  This is perfect to accomplish while watching Hallmark Channel movies in the evening.

*Make your shopping and to-do lists.

*Shop for nonperishable food items, plus anything else you need for cooking and setting the table.

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A Few Days Before Thanksgiving:

*If you are planning to brine your turkey (which I am this year), prepare the brine, cover and refrigerate.  Do not add the turkey yet.

*Prepare any food that can be done ahead of time, such as pie crusts and cranberry sauce.

*If your turkey is frozen, place it in the refrigerator to thaw.

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The Day Before Thanksgiving:

*Complete any shopping for food that you have left.

*Make plans to pick up your turkey if your ordered one fresh.

*If you are brining your turkey, place it in the brine and refrigerate.

*Prepare any dishes that can be made in advance, such as cornbread for dressing, soup and pies.

*Chop vegetables for the side dishes (if you have preteens and teenagers, this is a perfect opportunity for bonding in the kitchen), then refrigerate in covered bowls or Ziploc bags.

*Set the table.  This is also a great project for kids; give them a diagram of how to set a table properly and you have a learning experience as well!

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Thanksgiving Day:

*Prepare and stuff (I use fresh fruit & veggies in mine) the turkey for roasting and put in the oven at the determined time. Remember most turkeys take several hours to cook.

*Peel and cut potatoes (if you are using them for a side dish); place in cold water and refrigerate.

*Prepare the dressing and other side dishes.

*While the turkey roasts, you can make mashed potatoes; while the bird rests, make your gravy and finish (or reheat) any side dishes.

*Carve the turkey and call your guests to the table!

*And most of all, enjoy your Thanksgiving!

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Besides being easy to follow, the best part about this timeline is that there are several opportunities to delegate.  Use those to your advantage.  When you start to feel overwhelmed, step back, take a deep breath and regain your focus.  This is a holiday about family and remember THAT is the most important part of the day, even if you drop the turkey!

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“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…”

Galations 5:22-23

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