Monthly Archives: November 2009

Make a Merry Christmas Wreath (video)

Decorate the windows of your home with original wreaths you make yourself.  Each wreath takes less than 20 minutes to make, and it’s really fun.  To make your wreath, you will need

  • 1 roll of wide, wired ribbon (makes at least 2 wreaths)
  • 1 roll of medium, wired ribbon (makes at least 2 wreaths)
  • 1 package of bow wire
  • at least two decorative picks (I used three)
  • an artificial or real balsam wreath

You can make two beautiful wreaths for about $20 or so, if you buy on sale.  I bought my materials at Michael’s.  The real balsam wreath came from Safeway.


Cool Yule Shopping Review: Colonial Williamsburg

Christmas ornament at The Santa Mouse

Williamsburg is a three-and-1/2 hour drive from the Washington, DC area — and 95 South is never any fun until you pass Fredericksburg — but it may be worth a visit for you if you are in the mood to mix holiday shopping with historic sightseeing.   I just spent the Thanksgiving holiday with my mom in Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown and we discovered lots of treasures in the local shops, in addition to wonderful dining and sightseeing.  Best of all, everyone was amazingly friendly to us.

On Thanksgiving night, The Christmas Mouse was open and we explored two floors of decorated trees and walls of ornaments.  The prices were reasonable, and the staff was helpful. Some ladies were visiting from Canada (where the dollar is stronger) and were buying out the store.  I found a sparkly green sea horse ornament for my tree, and mom took home a bevy of ballerina ornaments for her ballet buddies.

Christmas Mouse

Decorated trees at The Christmas Mouse

Mom making her purchases at The Christmas Mouse

There is all kinds of great shopping in the Colonial Williamsburg area.  One of the best Christmas music compilation CDs I have seen is available at Everything Williamsburg for $14.95.  I also liked their seasonal soap set ($12 for a set, $2 for each small bar) in scents like orange and clove, fig pudding, and pomegranate.

Saturday Morning Farmer’s Market

Check out the outdoor farmer’s market on Saturday morning in Merchant’s Square (adjacent to the historic section of Colonial Williamsburg).  Vendors offered everything fro holiday greenery, fresh goat cheese, Greek pastries, honey products, and handmade gingerbread houses.

Gingerbread houses for sale at the Farmer’s Market in Williamsburg

Mom checks out the greenery for sale


Binns of Williamsburg, a local fashion boutique, presented a beautiful selection of gifts at their outdoor display at the open-air market, including Faberge-style Christmas ornaments (about $36 each), wooden German pyramids (the kind that are candle-powered), and Christmas candies.  The display reminded me of a Christkindl Market from Germany.

Binns of Williamsburg outdoor display

German pyramids at Binns of Williamsburg

Faberge-style egg ornaments

A Christmas Carol

If you go, try to catch one of the free, street performances of “A Christmas Carol” presented by two gentlemen from Virginia Theater Machine.   It’s only 17 minutes long and it’s hilarious!


Now We Don Our Gay Apparel: Cool Yule Holiday Fashion Tips

Attending a special party or performance this holiday season?  It’s time to show off a little bit!  You know, Washington, DC is a conservative town in many ways.  Even at the Kennedy Center, many women tend to dress down.  I go to plenty of after-five networking functions and I notice that some women look like they didn’t want to be perceived as trying too hard.   Well, ladies, it’s time to turn that around.  There is nothing unprofessional or show-offy about looking fantastic!  Here are some fashion tips to help you shine for the holidays.

Turn Heads with Sassy Leg Wear

Fancy hosiery is one inexpensive way to update and accessorize a simple holiday outfit.  The holidays are one time when you can really pull off patterned leg wear, which is great because  that is one of the hot looks this season, and anyone of any age or size can wear them.  Choose patterned leggings for a more casual (and warmer) look, or go for lace, sparkly or patterned stockings or tights to dress up your look for holiday parties.  I’m gravitating toward the lace styles this year.  One very hot look this season is bright color tights — hot pink and magenta, even.  (I saw this look in More Magazine, so it’s not just for young women.)  Try them with black or charcoal grey dresses or skirts.  Another head-turning look are printed tights in floral and animal patterns.  There is a wide range of prices on these, starting at $7 and up.

Rethink the Little Black Dress

It’s hard to beat the little black dress for easy sophistication.   Go to any holiday party and you’re sure to see ubiquitous black skirts or trousers topped with festive blouses and sweaters.  Even black blazers.  Black is a no-brainer.  But it’s so predictable!

Check out this picture featuring two women in Lane Bryant silk holiday dresses.  Which woman would you remember?  Which would you notice from across the room? Sure, black is classy and elegant, but you only go around once!  Might as well have fun.

Black can be flattering if worn strategically.  Otherwise, black can make you look tired, or less than festive.  If you choose to wear black close to your face, for example, a solid black blazer or top, consider adding contrasting jewelry or hair accessories, in pearl or bright jewel tones, to bring color and light to your face.  For example, I have a very simple black dress that has a v-neck line, but I like to wear a statement necklace with enormous peridot green stones with it.

Pay  a bit more attention to your makeup than usual when you wear black, particularly mascara, eye liner, and brows.  If you’re older than forty, bright red or dark lipstick with black can be a bit harsh, so consider a more subtle lip shade, with a little shine, and accent your eyes.  And of course, the best accessory is a smile 🙂

This adorable dress is available from Target for $31.99

If  you really want to stand out at the party, however, why not go for color this year?  I’ve seen some lovely dresses at Target and Dress Barn in deep purple, deep teal, and cranberry red.  Or try something unexpected and complexion-flattering, like chocolate brown, pewter, sage green, or champagne matte satin — all very chic and sophisticated looks that can look festive when accessorized with the right jewelry and perhaps warmed up with a soft cardigan sweater with three-quarter sleeves (to show off a pretty bracelet).

Check out this flattering, empire-style Target dress which is available in women’s sizes up to 16 for only $31.99!

Would you ever look back at basic black after rocking this fabulous dress from Dress Barn?

What to Do About Shoes?

Shoes are where a lot of people give up.  There is always the compromise between comfort and style, especially if you are traveling on Metro to a downtown event, or the weather is bad.  But people do look at your shoes.

Most work day shoes, such as a simple leather pump or plain flat, as comfortable as they are, cannot stand up to the glitz and luxe of holiday fabrics.  You really have to buy a dressy shoe to look your best, but there are comfortable and affordable holiday shoes to be had.

Consider another color for dressy shoes instead of black.  Shoes close to the color of your complexion (think satin pumps, metallic sandals) will make your legs look longer.   Check out these lovely champagne colored slippers (they’re on sale at JCPenney this week for $39.99).  Now imagine them with some champagne sheer hose, with an emerald or teal dress.  That could be an elegant look.   Or these little red numbers, which look as comfortable as they are pretty ($55, from JCPenney).  Couldn’t you dance the night away in those? 

But black is great, I agree.  If you choose black pumps, consider wearing black patterned or sheer hose to extend the leg.

Casual Looks for the Holidays

Hey, every day can’t be a party (I wish!)  But every day can be a little more fun in the cotton holiday t-shirts I have seen at Wal-Mart and Target for only $5 each.  Why not wear one to the gym the next time you work out, or layer one with a sweater the next time you go shopping or ice-skating?

The ANA and Worthington brands at JCPenney have some great, updated, and affordable looks for casual get-togethers that are wearable for women of any age.  Consider these looks, my darlings, instead of those holiday santa or applique sweaters.  Reindeer sweaters are cute, perhaps, but this holiday, let’s all go for HOT instead of cute.  Here’s a very good reason to donate those cute sweaters to Goodwill and embrace your fabulous hotness while still looking festive.  I love this gorgeous charcoal gray sweater from JCPenney, less than $40.  It’s hip and it has the most subtle touch of Lurex for little holiday sparkle.  Wouldn’t this be smashing with boots and jeans, or leggings?  Or you could wear it for dinner out.

Cool Yule Recipe: Now Bring Us A Figgy Pasta!

Figs and gorgonzola just taste like the holidays to me.  I love this pasta dish recipe from Valley Fig Growers and it is easy to make.  Once, I used bow tie pasta instead of orzo and it was just as good.  This sits well on a buffet and is a nice dish to bring to a potluck, because it is so different and delicious.  Careful not to overcook the prosciutto. All the recipe doesn’t call for it, you might be able to add chopped prosciutto as a final step. That would help preserve the color and flavor a little more. The hot red pepper flakes really make it.  I put in much more spinach than the recipe calls for, I think you can easily double it, but adjust for your taste.

Orzo With Figs, Gorgonzola, & Prosciutto

1 pound orzo (rice shaped pasta)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed hot red pepper flakes
1 cup (packed) coarsely chopped spinach leaves
1 cup (4 oz.) coarsely chopped Blue Ribbon Orchard Choice or Sun-Maid Calimyrna or Mission Figs
2 ounces (1/2 cup) thinly sliced prosciutto, chopped
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup (4 oz.) crumbled Gorgonzola or other blue cheese

Cook orzo according to package. Set aside. In large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, about 1 minute. Stir in spinach and cook until wilted, about 1 minute. Stir in figs and prosciutto and cook 1 minute longer. Add pasta, stirring to combine. Pour in chicken broth and cook until most of the liquid has absorbed, 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in cheese. Makes about 7 cups (8-10 servings).

See “The Real Santa Claus” and more at Merrifield Garden Center Open House, starting November 28

Merrifield Garden Center in Falls Church, Virginia  (8132 Lee Highway, on the corner of Lee Highway and Gallows Road, across from Office Depot and Arby’s) presents an eye-widening array of Christmas decorations each year in its Christmas Shop.  This is the place to go for live and artificial trees, holly, pine roping, and all kinds of festive greenery, and exquisite ornaments.  But it is also one of my favorite destinations just to walk around and take in the beauty of the holiday decorations.

Holiday Open House November 28-29

On the weekend after Thanksgiving, November 28 and 29, the store holds its annual holiday open house, with refreshments and the arrival of “The Real Santa Claus.”  St. Nick holds court in a real sleigh in a special Santa Claus house.  The lines are often long, especially on the weekends, but there are trains, lights, displays, and plenty of things to look at inside Santa’s house.  (To avoid the longest lines, come early in December, on a weekday, right at 5 p.m. if you can manage it.)

Santa’s Schedule

You can visit Santa starting November 28 through December 23 from 12 noon to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, and from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.  Tuesdays- Fridays.  Santa takes a day off on Monday, except for December 21st.

Santa’s “Press Conferences”

Kids and adults of all ages will enjoy Santa’s press conference, which takes place on 12 noon on Saturdays and Sundays, and at 5 p.m. on .  Before each session, Santa takes questions from the children and leads some sing-a-longs.  He also recites poems and tells some jokes.  It is really enchanting, and even if you don’t have children, you should see this at least once.

By the way, there is also a bin there for new unwrapped toys for the less fortunate.  Please consider bringing a toy.

Recipe: Christmas Bark Candy

This is one of the easiest and most-impressive looking confections you can make during the holidays.  Melt the contents of a bag of white chocolate chips in the microwave (careful, it burns easily) or in a sauce pan (or over a double boiler, if you have one).   Spread the melted confection on waxed paper.  Sprinkle with a cup of chopped, unsalted pistachios and a cup of dried cranberries.  It looks festive with the red and green ingredients.

For marble bark (with or without the add-in’s), melt semi-sweet chocolate chips and pour next to the white chocolate on the wax paper.  Swirl the two melted chocolates together.  Use a toothpick for some fine effects.
Refrigerate until hard, then break it into pieces.

(This is a nice-add on if you are making cookie packages.)

Here’s another variation (but my favorite is still the pistachio/cranberry version!):

5 Cool Yule Tips for Saving Money when Shopping

How to Save Money on Shopping

1. Shop early, before Thanksgiving if you can manage it. There are lots of reasons for this.  First of all, the selection is best and you can find plenty of sales.  For example, this year I found great Hallmark Christmas cards at $5 a box, which is the lowest I have ever seen.  Also there are fewer crowds, which means the shopping experience will be less fatiguing and you will make smarter decisions.  Nothing beat the feeling this year when I found a whole cache of beautiful Christmas candle sets and knocked out 14 people in one fell swoop!  Not having the pressure of deadlines will also help curb impulse purchases.  It also gives you time to put some thoughtfulness into your gifting.  I have worked plenty of Christmas Eves and always felt sorry for the poor people who would buy anything, at any price, just to get off the hook for Christmas.

2. After Thanksgiving, just don’t go to the mall (or Target, etc.). If you get your shopping done in advance, you can spend all that time you would have spent looking for parking spaces and standing in line at the cash register doing really fun stuff — like ice skating, baking, or going to tree lightings or Christmas concerts.  And you may be very glad you planned ahead this year.  One very good reason is to stay well.  Ever notice how the poor salespeople get sick in December?  I hate being sick around Christmas, so I avoid elevators and any crowded places when I can manage it.  But I also like to shop, just to look around.  So, my advice is when you get a shopping bug, go on a Tuesday night, or other low-volume night, and buy yourself one small present, such as a piece of costume jewelry from Claire’s or a nice scented candle.  Or check out the wonderful museum shops in our area.

3. Lose (or unplug) your television. Do you know, I have not had a television for nine years?  Not only do I save loads on cable bills, but I am not exposed to all those commercials.  If I watched TV, I am sure I would buy a lot more stuff, probably stuff I didn’t need in the first place.  A TV-free life is awesome.  We spend so much time doing fun things that we would have ordinarily wasted in front of the TV.  I get my news from the Internet, and I also download shows for free, and rent movies from iTunes, so when I need a TV fix, I can always do that.  But on balance, I spend a lot less time in front of the computer watching those shows than if I had a TV.  If you’re brave, just try unplugging your TV for the holidays.  The empty space is PERFECT for a Christmas tree 🙂

4. Buy the same thing for everyone on  your list. The reason why this saves money is because you can often find bargains this way and you don’t spend a lot of time trying to find presents and then spending more than you intended in frustration.  For example, I have to buy more presents for more than a dozen people who work with my son at his school.  It can get very expensive buying fourteen or more presents.  When you buy gift bags in bulk, or you find a nice deal on candles on ornaments, snap them up.  I also have three women in my life: my mom, my sister, and her girlfriend.  It is pretty easy to get them all the same thing (such as shower gel, but in different scents).

5. Buy small presents that you supplement with home-baked cookies. Most years, I am on a budget.  If the present is really small, I try to throw in a small cellophane bag of homemade cookies and candy.  Make up a cellophane bag (or a dozen) with some Tollhouse cookies, sugar cookies, little chocolate candies, and a candy cane.   If you like to bake, this is a nice solution to consider.  Very sweet gift for neighbors, the mailman, etc.  It really is the thought that counts.

Recipe: Pear and Pecan Salad with Mixed Greens

This is a lovely and delicious salad that goes well with holiday entrees.  It’s from my Kraft Simply Celebrating holiday recipe book. It is one of my favorites.  You will need

  • 1 package mixed salad greens (or 6 cups of torn leaf and romaine lettuce; use some red leaf lettuce for color)
  • 2 medium pears, sliced.
  • 1 cup seedless red grapes, halved.

Toss these ingredients.  Just before serving drizzle the salad with Ranch dressing (fat-free is fine) and sprinkle with

  • Blue cheese crumbles
  • Toasted pecans

I think this works best as a plated salad, or on a large platter, rather than served from a large salad bowl.

Recipe: A Different Sweet for Christmas

It seems like you see the same-old sweets every Christmas.  One Christmas, I wanted to make something a tad sophisticated and different tasting.  These fit the bill, and they were easy to make.  I found the recipe in my 1997 Reader’s Digest Christmas magazine, but it’s also online.


4 ounces(about 10) dried figs
1/3 cup slivered almonds
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 cup sugar
Nutritional Information
1 piece:
Calories 44
Saturated Fat 0g
Total Fat 1g
Protein 1g
Carbohydrate 9g
Fiber 1g
Sodium 1mg
Cholesterol 0mg
This traditional Christmas sweet is low in both calories and fat-and easy to make too.


Makes about 2 dozen candies
Preparation time: 30 minutes

Step 1:
Trim stems from figs. In a food processor, combine figs, almonds, cocoa, and cinnamon, and chop until minced. Add remaining ingredients except sugar, and pulse just until mixed.

Step 2:
Form into 1-inch balls and roll in sugar. To serve, arrange balls in shallow dish or place in paper or aluminum candy cups. (Can be made up to 1 week ahead. Store in an airtight container.)

3 Cheeseball Recipes

Cathy Knoll’s Yummy Cheese Ball* Mix 8 oz cream cheese, 1/2 cup Hellmann mayo, 1 cup shredded cheddar, 5 slices bacon cooked crisp and crumbled small. Optional: finely chopped green onion, finely chopped pecans. Form into ball or logs. Roll in finely chopped parsley OR in light layer of paprika OR in finely chopped pecans.

*Note Cathy makes the excellent point that logs work better and look nicer (after they have been cut into) than cheese balls.

Blue Cheese Ball (from Mix two 8 ounce packages of chream cheese, 1 cup of crumbled blue cheese, 1 cup of shredded Cheddar cheese, 1/4 cup of minced onion, and 1 Tbsp. of Worcestershire sauce in a medium bowl.  Transfer to a separate bowl that has been lined with plastic wrap. Cover and refrigerate overnight.  The next day, gather the mixture into a ball.  Spread 1 cup of chopped walnuts on a dinner plate.  Roll the ball in the nuts until coated.  Refrigerate or serve immedately. Serves 16.

Party Cheese Log (from The Complete Christmas Book).  Heat oven to 350.  Spread 1/2 cup chopped walnuts in a shallow pan and toast, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 8 – 10 minutes.  Blend 3-5 oz. of Bleu or Roquefort cheese, one 8 oz package of cream cheese, 1/4 tsp. garlic salt, 1 Tbsp. chopped green pepper and 1 Tbsp. chopped pimiento.  Chill until firm, then shape into a log.  Roll in toasted walnuts and chill again, until serving time.  Garnish with a sprig of holly.