10 Things: New Orleans

“We wander through old streets, and pause before the age stricken houses; and, strange to say, the magic past lights them up.”

~ Grace King, French Quarter Guidebook ~

I absolutely love New Orleans; not the loud, drunken partying New Orleans, but the cultural, culinary, historical and gracious New Orleans.

My husband knows this, so when he had to schedule a business trip to this grand old Southern City last week, he made arrangements for me to accompany him.

{He’s thoughtful that way.}

While Bourbon Street is clearly the most happening place in New Orleans, I tend to prefer the more subdued side of town.  You may ask what else is there to experience in this town known for its lively side, so let me share some of my favorite things to enjoy while traveling New Orleans.  I’ve included a few tips and links to help you plan your own vacation.

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1. Step back in time and tour the plantations on Louisiana’s old River Road.  From the stunning Houmas House and Gardens to the lesser known St. Josephs plantation (owned by the same family since 1877), these are still estates with working gardens or sugar cane crops!

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The Houmas House, also known as the Burnside Plantation or “The Sugar Palace”… The original portion of the house was built in the 1700s with  additions made by later owners completed in the 1840s.  The original portion of the home was built in the Federal style of architecture that was so common in the late 1700s, but the newer portion is obviously Greek Revival style which was used in many old southern homes.

We toured Houmas House first thing in the morning before the tour buses arrived.  It was still cool and quiet which made for a lovely and relaxing morning.

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The Houmas House guided tour is quite informative and well worth taking.  You will hear stories of several generations who lived there as well as a few details on furniture (Audley loved the 150 year old humidor) and accessories throughout the house.

 

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St. Joseph’s Plantation in Vacherie was built in the 1820s.  I love the French Creole architecture of the area and time.  The house was originally opened on the bottom as many Creole homes were, but was enclosed prior to the Civil War so that the home is 12,000 square feet!  My guide, Rae was full of information and facts including that the home was built from cypress wood since it was inexpensive to use, then faux finished to look like oak which was much more expensive!  Very interesting when so many seem to think faux finishes are a newer design concept. 

I visited St. Josephs later in the afternoon where I enjoyed a personal tour.  There were only a few other people around this time of day so I had plenty of opportunity to ask questions and really soak in the history.

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Sugar Cane (certified organic) is still grown and harvested here at St. Josephs.  

If you love history and architecture, this is definitely a stop on your list of “to-do’s”.

2. Treat your sweet side with a trip to Sucre’ on Magazine Street for authentic French macarons, chocolates, and pastry.  Make sure you have left room in your carry-on for carrying a few delights home with you!

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Window shopping is quite sweet while strolling the streets of NOLA

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3. Enjoy the beautiful, historic Jackson Square in the French Quarter and take a tour of the stunning St. Louis Cathedral with her Renaissance & Spanish (which surprises me since Louisiana was such a large French colony) architecture, first completed in 1793 and added onto in 1850!

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The Andrew Jackson statue … Hence the naming of Jackson Square.

4. Enjoy a carriage ride through the French Quarter with a knowledgable and entertaining guide.  If you are limited on time, this is one of the best ways to take in a little of local New Orleans history and flavor.

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We took our tour at twilight and left from in front of the cathedral, where tours leave from all day.  We participated in a group tour so our ride was $20/each, Carriages for two run about $45/each.

5. Indulge your taste buds with delicious New Orleans flavor by dining at one of the many local restaurants found in the downtown area.  We thoroughly enjoyed dining at the Red Fish Grill located on Bourbon Street (near Canal).

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Start your meal with fresh, Gulf oysters shucked right in front of you, then venture into the dining room for a delicious meal showcasing traditional, local flavor.

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I highly recommend the shrimp and grits topped with friend pickled okra and pancetta, although Audley was totally suggest the wood plank grilled red fish with lump crab meat.

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No matter which you prefer, make reservations before heading out for the evening.  This is true for almost every restaurant in the area!

6. And while you are making reservations be sure make time for a cooking class at the New Orleans School of Cooking.  

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Our demo and tasting class included Gumbo, jambalaya, and Pralines and was only $28 each.  We were so full when we left, so it is well worth participating in.

Here you can choose a demo and tasting class, or a full hands-on instructional class.  Either way, you are going to learn a lot about traditional French cooking from Colonial, Louisiana and how it evolved with Italian, African, and Haitian influences into the amazing flavors we enjoy today!

7. While I’m definitely not a fan of Bourbon Street, I LOVE strolling down it long enough to reach Fritzel’s European Jazz Pub.  A stop in Fritzels is like stepping back in time to mid-century France or Germany with their jazz clubs, long wooden tables and benches included.  It doesn’t take long for you to find yourself lost in the music, leaving the present day behind.

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There is not a cover charge for Fritzels, but there is a minimum one drink per set purchase required; bottled water counts as a drink!

8.  Tour an old historic cemetery as there are plenty to choose from.  The old St Louis Cemetery #1 is the most popular and requires a $20 admission and comes with a guide.  Audley and I enjoy exploring on our own and there are several which allow you to do just that.  One of our favorites in the Hook and Ladder cemetery (established in 1858) in Gretna.  It’s not too big, still lovely in a unique way, and definitely worth checking out.  If you want to make your tour a little more interesting, read up on how these family mausoleums work… extremely interesting!

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The Hook and Ladder is located next to fabulous restaurant, The Red Maple,  which I also highly recommend you visit for supper one night!

9. Take some time out to shop the market in the French Quarter. From local boutiques artisans to stereotypical gift shops, there is something to be found for everyone on your shopping list.

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10. Did you really visit New Orleans if you skip over Cafe du Monde?  Located next to Jackson Square in the Quarter, stopping in for beignets and a cafe au lait in this famous open-air cafe is a must-do on your trip.  Choosing from a very limited menu of hot chocolates, coffee, cafe au lait and beignets takes little time.  There is really no excuse to miss this cafe as they are open 24-hours!

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Have you visited New Orleans before?  What are your favorite things to do in this grand old city?

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48 Hours in Arizona

It is outage season in the world of boiler businesses which means Audley is on the road nearly every day each week.  Now that the kiddos are so much older and require less of my time, he really encourages me to take off at least once a year for a girlfriend’s getaway and a little down time to help maintain my sanity.  Last weekend I was able to take off and enjoy a little Momma vacay  in Arizona with my friend, Yvonne.  She is quite familiar with the area as she owns a condo in Flagstaff, so I knew it would an exciting, jam packed weekend. We were quite limited on time with just over 48 hours to enjoy ourselves so Yvonne wanted to make sure  wanted to make sure I enjoyed a real taste of Arizona.

So, what can you do with such a short amount of time in an amazing area?

Let me share some of our fun with you!

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1. Dine at Black Bart’s Steakhouse, Saloon and Musical Review in Flagstaff.  Dinner out at Black Barts was so much fun!  This eclectic restaurant is staffed with a lot of talent who might drop what they are doing without notice and jump on stage to sing for you.  With performances of show tunes from old Broadway to recent Disney favorites you might even find yourself singing along!

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The food was good (my Prime Rib was cooked perfectly), but the atmosphere is what makes Black Barts worth the stop!

A couple of other great restaurant suggestions would include the fabulous Horseman Lodge Steakhouse in Flagstaff (features local fare, including some amazing Elk Chops) and El Rincon Restaurante Mexicano in Sedona.

2. Wake up before dawn and watch the sunrise as you travel through the desert to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

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Skip the initial first view of the canyon (you’re charged to see it) and travel to Navajo Point for a truly gorgeous sight!

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Check out the shops (especially the Kolb Studio… the home and photography studio of historic Canyon photographers and film makers, Emery and Ellsworth Kolb ) and then hike the Angel Light Trail.

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Just remember while it’s a fairly easy hike down, plan to double your time on the hike back up, and be sure to pack light!

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Whew!

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Utilize the free shuttle around the southern rim and visit different viewing points around the canyon. Also chat up the NP rangers for a bit of history and to answer your questions about the park.

3. Take a ride down Route 66 for a few unique shops and sights.

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4. Soak up the many views of Arizona’s ever-changing landscape.  From Prairies to mountain tops the scenery  around Flagstaff is amazing!

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We drove up to the Arizona Snow Bowl skiing area to see these gorgeous views!arizona-weekend-2-oh-fiddledeedee-com

And I do believe Arizona has enjoyed a much prettier autumn than we have in the Carolinas.

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5. Visit the unique Indian cliff dwellings built into rock at Montezuma’s Castle.

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Why build in the rocks?

 Protection from flooding, predators and MOSQUITOS!  Those pesky little insects like to stay low, so living high in the cliffs protected the native Americans from their annoying bites!

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6. Head off to the Sedona desert for a hike at Bell Rock and marvel at the breathtaking formations surrounding you!

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And on your way out, stop for some fun shopping with local artisans in Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village.  Sylvie & Bruno is a wonderful stop for locally designed jewelry (I picked up a couple of gorgeous turquoise pieces) and if you love photography you must visit the Eclectic Image Gallery.  Owned by the husband and wife team of Elaine and Duane Morgan, you will be enthralled (and a wee bit jealous) by their photographic eye for local beauty.

7. Take an evening horseback ride at the historic Hitchin’ Post Stables in Flagstaff.

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Dale was an awesome trail guide, and Sally was a fun horse to ride!

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8.  Leave a little early (and even drive off of your designated path) as you head to Phoenix to catch your flight out, and marvel at the swirly cactus on the way.

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Superstition Mountain in black and white …

While a long trips out west would be so much more fun, it is so easy to take in this fabulous destination and feel like you really got a taste of Arizona, even in 48 hours.

 FYI… If you plan to visit Arizona and especially its parks, purchase a National Park pass.  It’s good for a year and will save you a lot of money in the long run.

Also, If you fly into Phoenix and decide to take the Arizona Shuttle to Flagstaff… Don’t.

Just pay to rent a car.  It’ll save you so much trouble and your sanity as well.

Happy Weekend Y’all!

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Back-To-School Success

August is coming to a close, and the three remaining kids at home have all returned to school for the year.  One has gone back to USC for her sophomore year, then I have a junior & senior to keep me running like a mad woman for the next nine months!

You would think after twenty years of “First Days” (my oldest is 24 now) I would have the ability to pull off a flawless First Day, but the truth is, I don’t have a clue.  There is always something that doesn’t go as planned, which is why this year we found ourselves doing back-to-school shopping at 10:30 pm the night before classes were to resume!

While I may not have mastered the art of a perfect First Day of School, I have learned several things over the last twenty years that do make those First Days and every day thereafter so much easier to manage.

So, here are eight simple things you can try to make the beginning of the school year a wee bit easier in your home!

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1. Plan your breakfast/mornings ahead of time to minimize chaos.  Plan out your menu and even go as far to set the table the evening before.

Don’t teach your kids to eat on the run, it’s a horrible habit that is very difficult to break and can lead to other unhealthy habits as they get older!

Breakfast doesn’t have to be elaborate.  If you want to serve cereal and milk, by all means serve it, just go an extra step by setting out bowls, spoons, juice glasses, etc.,  early so you aren’t slinging everything around the next morning trying to rush out the door!

If you prefer to cook, plan ahead and make sure you are up early enough to do it!  Breakfast doesn’t have to be elaborate, just planned and easy to execute.  Pancakes (yes, from a mix) are always an easy option as are scrambled eggs and bacon.  One of my favorite things to make for morning breakfast is homemade muffins.  These are so easy and so flavorful.  Give them a try!

Mixed Berry Muffins

2. Sign all paperwork and homework the day before.  There is no worse feeling than to have a wad of paperwork shoved into your face five minutes before you walk out the door for school.  Seriously, it DOES NOT get any better when your kids become teenagers, so make the conscious effort to ask your kids if they have anything that you need to sign or review when they are pulling things out of their backpacks for homework.

3. Set aside a jar or special bank to hold only lunch/fee money.  As each pay day arrives, go ahead and count out what you know your kids need for lunch each day (should they buy) and then stick an extra $5, $10, or $15 in the jar for emergency fees.  If your kids carry their lunch, still have an emergency fee jar available.  That speedo for swim team that was $50 last year may have gone up to $65 this year, tee-shirts for homecoming are $15 x’s two or three, and for some reason there is never enough notice when field trips are planned.  This emergency fee money is one of the best things I ever implemented in our home!

4. If you plan for your kids to carry their lunches, have them assist you in packing them the night before.  While you make sandwiches or pasta salad, they can be getting ziplock bags, fruit, chips or crackers, and granola bars to add.  Not a fan of store bought packaged food?  Try this easy, peasy granola bar recipe.  You’ll all love this one and the kids can mix them up as well!

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We have a tradition of having homemade chicken salad each year for the first day (and many other days through the year).  While I love to take the time to bake my own chicken, for the salad, sometimes, grabbing a rotisserie chicken from the deli is a delicious, time-saving option when lacrosse practice has run over the night before.

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Also, pack lunches in age appropriate bags or containers.  My 16 year old son has absolutely no desire to carry a lunch box.  He is also a growing body builder, so he doesn’t carry sandwiches, but grilled chicken.  We found a great lunch kit that allows him to pack his protein powder and aminos as well as help him measure out the chicken or salmon he might carry.

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Now my seventeen year old daughter?  Give that girl a monogrammed bag please!

5. Keep a dry erase calendar in your kitchen.  The first of every month take 20-30 minutes and update it with everything you know that is on your schedule from dentist appointments to sports practice.

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And to think, August isn’t a busy month for us!

I also add holidays, youth group events, my personal schedule and my husbands travel schedule.  You can also color-code this, giving each family member their own color.  When the kids are older have them add things that come up after your calendar is up to help keep everything current. Doing this becomes a visual reminder for everyone in the house, especially teenagers who need that reminder of some things every now and then.

6.  Purchase a day planner and package of colored pens for each preteen and teenager to help teach them how to organize their life and time.

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There are some awesome planners that begin in July (generally when early practices for high school sports begin) and are tailored to fit the school year by month.  I also use the same style calendar so that we are on the same page.  Our planners are organized so that homework is one color, sports practices another color, appointments yet another color, and youth group/church activities another.  It works well for keeping track of little details most teenagers seem to forget.  This has worked wonderful for my girls, and now I have my son doing this as well.  You can find adorable planners at Barnes and Noble, Swoozies, and Target.  Boys of course want a more manly look, so check out Staples for a professional planner for him.

7.  Set a specific time for turning off social media and going to bed.  My kids have never been allowed to watch TV on school days, but now we face the battle of Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and Netflix on their iGadgets and Kindles.  While I would like to think that they are old enough for me not to have to monitor them, they are still kids.  At 10:00 PM I want the electronic devices off.  If they don’t comply, the item becomes mine.  Rest is so important to these growing bodies.  Even though they don’t want to admit they are tired, their bodies are whipped, and they need at least seven hours of sleep. How else does a 16 year old boy recover from growing 12 1/2 inches in two years?!

8. Start each day with a devotion or prayer.  This is a great way to begin the school day on a positive note.  You can find devotional books with little 2-minute devos at Walmart, Barnes and Noble and (don’t laugh) truck stops like TA or Loves.  Let the kids read so that it makes a little more of an impact on them.  We kicked our year off with Audley offering a prayer for our kids.  It was such a special time, especially since he is usually on the road traveling for work.  It was also a reminder that while you often hear “it takes a village to raise a child,” the reality is 95% of what a child learns and habits they develop come from the home, so why not give them positive vibes to carry with them through life.

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I picked this up at Family Christian Stores as a deal for $5.00.  Lifeway and FCS are great for having these little bargains at the registers!

I hope your First Days and all the ones following while not perfect, are a wee bit easier to manage this year!

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Fall Cleaning

It never ceases to amaze me at how time passes by so quickly!  I was sure it was just yesterday that I put out a few pumpkins, setting up vignettes for the autumn holidays (that I didn’t have time to post about) and today I was throwing them out; already rotten.

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I took this as a sign that it is time to clean out the fall decor and prep my house for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.  This year we will be here in South Carolina for Thanksgiving and doing a little a lot of entertaining as well, so I want my normally fairly clean house to really sparkle and shine!  With a traveling husband, teenagers and a puppy sharing this space I spend a lot of time doing daily cleaning tasks (and delegating some as well) such as vacuuming, washing dishes, keeping the laundry going, and just making sure when I come in from work at night that I’m not bogged down in chores.

While that is all good and well, my house still manages to collect the clutter as well as the dirt I seem to be the only one to notice.  As I break down the decor from one season preparing for the next it’s a wonderful time to do a little deep cleaning so that I feel my house is truly company ready.  I do this deep clean seasonally (and sometimes when I have a little extra time in-between).  I cannot stand a dirty/messy house.  By cleaning daily and deep cleaning multiple times a year I can be company ready in a very short notice.  Besides, life is so much calmer (and the house smells better) when you can contain the clutter and mess in all aspects!

Before I get started I like to set the mood.  I do this by putting on some great music (‘Tis the season  and Fa-La-La, Y’all!), lighting a few fragrant pumpkin spice ( or other favorite scent of the moment) candles.  Nothing like creating a happy and homey atmosphere to get you in the zone for doing household chores.

Now let’s dive in and get something accomplished!

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1. Clear the clutter.  It’s time to go through that stack of mail that occupies space on your desk, coffee table, kitchen counter, or even your dinner table.   It’s also time to clean out those magazines that you have not had time to read or have been hanging onto because you are sure there was something that you wanted to save.  I can assure you that if you have not read the magazines in the three four nine months since you received them it’s safe to say you won’t ever.  Take them to a library, senior citizens center, or if appropriate, donate to a middle or high school.  I feel like such a hoarder when I start this task as I have such a mess to work through.  It’s so easy to come in from work and toss the mail on the table to “Look at later”.   Keep what you need and throw away the rest.  Seriously, don’t hang on to stuff that will just collect dust.

2.  Speaking of dust, it’s time to hit those corners, baseboards, heat/air return vents, and ceiling fan blades that we often miss when doing our everyday run through of the house.  I take advantage of the wand & brush attachment on my vacuum clean and hit those hidden spot sucking the dust right up.  That brush attachment is also great for running along baseboards.  If you still feel they need cleaning, grab a Mr. Clean sponge and give them a quick wipe-down.  When the seasons change is also a perfect time for cleaning fan blades.  We keep ours spinning year around so I don’t always recognize that they are dusty.

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When you go to reverse them for winter (or turning them back in the spring) works perfectly for cleaning because you might find yourself showered with dust confetti when you turn it back on.

Not that has happened to me or anything.

3.  Wash your windows, inside and out.  Yes, it’s a job we all hate, especially if the temperatures have already dropped, but I love the glow of twinkling lights through clean glass.  And I can assure you that when you sit down to supper for a family meal and look at your French doors, you will be glad you have washed off little (or big) hand prints, puppy nose impressions and kitty cat paws.

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I like to use Fish Foam when my windows are in need of deep cleaning and I use Honest Window Cleaner (no harsh chemicals) for everyday maintenance.

4.  Deep clean your carpets.  Vacuuming a couple of times a week to clean up after the hubby, kids or pets is grand and all, but believe me, your carpets are not clean!  Transitioning into the holiday season is the perfect time to really clean your carpets as you want your home to look (and smell) perfect once guests arrive for whatever you are hosting.  There are several ways to do this:  hire someone to come in and shampoo (an expensive but easy solution), rent a carpet cleaner from Lowes, Home Depot or your local grocery store (easy but sometimes difficult to find available when it’s convenient of you), spot clean with Resolve (not really effective & extremely tiresome), or invest in your own carpet cleaner.  Having raised four kids, owning cats and dogs and formerly living on a farm, owning our own carpet cleaner is the absolute best investment I have ever made!  The cost of renting three times in a year paid for it, and I have the machine at my convenience for large or small area cleaning.  I usually choose two or three nights (in a row) and hit a couple of spaces before I go to bed and they are nearly dry when we get up int he morning for school and work.  So very easy and convenient.

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This is an older model of a Hoover Steamvac Agility. We’ve used it for about eight years now and you just can’t beat it!

5.  Take care of the little things.  Change those central heat/air filters, vacuum and flip your mattresses,  check your smile detectors, changing batteries if necessary, and clean out the pantry and refrigerator of expired or open items you have forgotten about.  It’s also the perfect time to wash out the inside of your refrigerator so that it’s clean and ready for all of the food you will fill it with during the holidays.  You don’t want your strawberries to smell of last weeks chicken and taste like lettuce that is slowly rotting in the crisper drawer.  Add fresh boxes of baking soda to your freezer and refrigerator (Arm & Hammer makes a couple of options just for the refrigerator) to help soak up any unwanted orders as well.  Now is also a good time to check your lightbulbs around the house.  Make sure your outside lights work for family and friends coming at night as well as the little chandelier lights in the dining room.  These blow easily if you haven’t switched to LED lights (I LOVE Cree bulbs; you can purchase them at Home Depot), so keep a few extra on hand for last-minute swaps.

Keeping up with the little things seasonally helps prevent a “to-do” list you are struggling to finish the week before company arrives.  Letting the small tedious chores pile up honestly adds so much stress to your life,  Taking care of the little things now leaves nothing but maintenance and general clean-up for you to delegate to the family throughout the season. Take advantage of a weekend now to wipe out the list now and start the holiday season off with a load off of your shoulders.

I tried to include links to many of the products I use throughout the post to make finding some of these great products a bit easier.  Let me know if you have any questions!

Have a fabulous week!

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