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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Two Years Later...

I just passed my 2 year blog anniversary last week. It doesn't seem possible. And, yet in the design blog world, I am still in the infant stages of blogging. There are bloggers who have been at this for 6 years. Now that's impressive! I don't know if that milestone is in the cards for me, but right now I plan to continue as long as I think I have something to contribute and my dear readers are well, still interested in reading!  
My friend, Linda, made a dozen of these for our family over the holidays. They didn't last 24 hours,
 except for the one I hid in the freezer!  This was definitely a case where the taste matched the appearance.
 They were moist with a molten-like center. Rich, decadent, and so pretty!

I want to thank all the readers who make A&A a little stop in their day, so many of whom are unknown to me, as well as those who send me an email from time-to-time. And, of course my fellow bloggers and anyone who has ever taken the time to leave a comment on a post and contribute to the dialogue. I sincerely thank you. And, I'd be remiss not to mention those of you who I've had the pleasure getting to know beyond the blog. That's just been an unexpected bonus!

Best wishes to all of you for a very Happy New Year!!!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Merry Christmas From My House To Yours!

Deck the halls.... 
with nutcrackers on the fireplace mantle.

with cherished ornaments from Christmas' past.

with stockings hung with a little jingle bell.

 with presents under the tree.

and reindeer dressed up for  Santa's big day.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas!!!

All photos by A&A

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tuesday Tip

Make pomanders for a last minute holiday centerpiece. Pomanders comes from the French pomme d'ambre meaning ball of perfumes and used since medieval times.
I used to live in Williamsburg, Virginia and never do I miss it more, than in December. Strolling through the cobblestone streets of Colonial Williamsburg when the city is dressed in all it's holiday finery was always a highlight of the season. From the simple swags of pine garland draped across painted fences and windows glowing with candles to old doors adorned with wreaths made with fruits. So utterly simple and breathtakingly beautiful. The aroma of pine, citrus and clove can transport me in an instant!

This past weekend, I enticed my son into helping me make a few pomanders since I needed something to dress up the kitchen table. All it took was the lure of holiday cookies baking in the oven. He's in college, and declares that all the cookies are bad, so he was an easy target a willing helper!

You need only 3 items: a bag of oranges (I used firm tangerines since I already had them), a jar of whole cloves and several toothpicks.

Use a toothpick to puncture the skin of the fruit in the pattern you want, then insert the clove spikes. We did 3 patterns. If you've never made pomanders before, trust me when I say, it's requires no talent whatsoever! Let your kids help, because once they are placed in a bowl no one will notice a pattern gone awry. They are festive on their own in a decorative bowl or tureen, or add pinecones, fresh greens and a candle and you have a very easy and inexpensive centerpiece to enjoy!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Working With Models...

Models are high maintenance.
Not happy with the outfit,  photographer or freezing temps.

List of demands from model for 15 minute photo shoot:
A handful of baby carrots- organic.
A spoonful of peanut butter- Skippy All Natural.
A couple of biscuits- variety box from Trader Joe's.

Head shot


Out take


Strike a pose. Very nice, but give me more.

Looking good, work it!

YES, that's it!!!

I showed too much excitement. The model is demanding a bone--us for this shot.

The photo shoot is over. The model is bored.

Really bored.

I don't know what's worse, models or their owners shameless exploitation of them, all in the name of the Christmas card photo!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Winner Of Book Giveaway Announced!

Sorry for the delay folks, it's been a mad dash around here to get ready for Ol' St. Nick!
One of my favorite linen holiday hand towels.

The winner of the signed copy of Blue Christmas by Mary Kay Andrews is...

I asked my daughter for the first number that came to mind between 1-25 when she was grabbing two cookies that just came out of the oven. Her pick?

It rhymes with blue, it's number two, the readers name is Kathysue!!! Please send me an email with your address and I'll pop the book in the mail to you this week.

Thank you to everyone who participated!!!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Sharing Holiday Entertaining Tips!

Please join me today at the beautiful Party Resources blog where Kate has been running her series on Holiday Party Tips and I sent her mine along with a few of my favorite holiday images from Martha Stewart who is always so inspirational this time of year!

When Kate asked me last month if I'd like to guest post for this series, not only did I think it would be fun, but it would also keep me focused on my own holiday planning. Thank you Kate!

In addition to sharing tips on topics from Best Hostess Gift Under The Tree to Favorite Holiday Cocktail,  I thought I'd kick things off by passing along the recipe for one of my favorite quick appetizers. This recipe for cheese filled apricots came via Traditional Home-November 2002 in a segment called Cooking School that featured appetizers that took only 10-20 minutes to assemble. This was included in the 12 minute category!

Blend equal parts blue cheese and butter until smooth. Pipe or spoon into small dried apricots, top with nuts.

Every holiday season I buy 2 rosemary trees to flank my kitchen window. They are festive, fragrant and
 oh, so handy when I need a quick snip to garnish a platter as well as seasoning for the Christmas roast!

Tips I've learned from making these for nearly a decade:

Use a pastry tip and bag. Or fill a zip-lock plastic bag, cut a small hole in one corner and fill the apricots. I could never figure out how to "spoon into" without making a mess!

Both walnut and pecan halves work great or combine the two to appeal to the nut lovers.

Use quality blue cheese and unsalted (my preference) butter at room temperature when blending. Taste and make any adjustments before you fill the pastry bag! 

These can be assembled on any size platter depending on how many you make. My favorite way to garnish them is with a rosemary wreath. Put them on a cake stand or pedestal and they look especially festive, like little jewels!!!

Please visit Party Resources for more tips and to say hello!  

PS: Since this guest post was already scheduled for today, I will announce the signed book givaway winner this weekend!

All photos courtesy of A&A

Thursday, December 15, 2011

When HomeGoods is Jolly Good!

Yesterday, I stopped into HomeGoods. I was in desperate need of a new non-stick skillet.

Initially, I was distracted by some beautiful copper cookware. For those of you who cook with or collect copper, they had many pieces under $100.  I found a great skillet (not copper) for $39.99, but I also found a few other things...
William came home with me.


So did Jane.

Is that Mr. Darcy?
These big books would look great on the coffee table, in your library, not to mention under under the tree! Both the jackets and the cloth covers are beautiful, especially for $19.99 each!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tuesday Tip

Trim the stockings! I'm actually rather annoyed with myself. I had planned on having new stockings made. I have several pairs of stockings, but never owned a matching set of four. I already had the fabrics picked out and they are so pretty. Never made time to get it done. Next year? I said that last year.
Pottery Barn stocking with green satin ribbon added.

I've used stockings that I designed in years past.
 Acanthus leaves...imagine that!? My "new" stocking fabric has an acanthus leaf design too,
but instead of cotton gingham, I was going to use velvet on the cuff and heel to dress it up!
And, perhaps do two in the reverse...sigh. 

As well as some from retail stores. Now because of my procrastination, it's on to Plan B. I need to explore some quick and easy options to give them an update...
Reindeer pin. A gift from my kiddos years ago!

Off my key chain. An antique key would be great too. I have tons of those!

Any stocking can be changed quite simply just by adding some ribbon, a piece of trim, buttons, a charm, or even grandma's brooch to the cuff! Use what you have in your house. I found some bells in the bottom of a box of decorations, so I'm going to give them a try. Tomorrow...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Mary Kay Andrews: Blue Christmas Book Giveaway!

Not all email is created equally. Email via my blog, in general, is always good. Some days it's really good. Last week, I received an email from Meg at Tandem Literary who works closely with Mary Kay Andrews and she happened to know we read each others blogs! So this email I knew was going to fall into the really good category. Really good for my readers!

No secret I love books, from the classics to the lighthearted. Have I mentioned we've had some plans drawn up to expand our library? More on that another day. Today is all about passing on a favorite holiday read to one of you to keep or maybe give as a gift!

I received a hard copy of Blue Christmas yesterday, signed by Mary Kay Andrews, to give away to one of my readers. She's one of my favorite southern authors. I wrote about MKA here and gave you a little tour of her beach house. Her books are just so much fun. Page turners, hard to put down. This one definitely involves decorating!

To enter simply become a follower, if you're not one already, and leave me a comment by midnight Thursday. Please make sure you leave an email address if you don't have a google account! I'll pick a random winner Friday.

PS: Just in case you want to read it now, this book is available from any e-book retailer for $1.99 through December 23rd only!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

History of the German Glass Christmas Ball

I purchased my first Christmas balls in 1987 just after I got married. My husband and I bought 4 boxes of glass balls for our first Christmas tree. Two boxes were called Pearl White and the other two were called December Red. There has not been a single Christmas since that I have not used them in some combination! Over the years, I've broke 2 red balls and 1 white and have been lucky enough to find an exact match for the red but never one even close to the white.
Close-up of gold Krebs crown

 They have an iridescent quality to them that is just magic under the tree lights. The balls also had the most beautiful crowns. Little did I know way back then how unique and elegant this detail was, and it has become the measure of quality I  search for in every ornament I've bought since. Most crowns on glass balls these days are sadly void of detail and look rather cheap. Thankfully, I saved each crown from the broken balls and have reused them on others. Every once in awhile, I'll find one at an antiques shop or vintage store and buy it on the spot just for the crown!
The peal white Krebs ball is in the upper left corner, just above the felt swan.
Do you see how regal it's gold crown appears compared to the other caps?

The balls were made by a company call Krebs and this was the story contained in the box:

During the Dark Ages, German natives in remote northern Bohemia originated an art form in glassblowing which not only holds a unique place in the 4000 year history of this ancient art, but has become a cherished part of Christian tradition. The Germans had learned this skill (a heritage of Egypt) from wandering Venetian tradesman. They used it to create glass ornaments for adornment of the Tannenbaum (fir tree) in their Yule celebration of the birth of Christ, and thus the Christmas tree was born. Down through the centuries the German glass blowers became famous throughout the world for their blown glass Christmas tree ornaments.

Towards the end of the 17th century many of the German glass blowers migrated from Bohemia to Thuringia, Germany, which became the center of blown glass Christmas ornaments for over 250 years. However, the root of early glass blowers remained in Bohemia where beautiful ornaments were produced. After World War II all Bohemians of German extraction were expatriated. The Krebs family settled in Rosenheim, Bavaria, West Germany, at the foot of the Alps, one of the last to continue the tradition.

Through difficult post war years, the family managed to build a production of traditional ornaments, which is now recognized as the largest of it's kind in Europe. The Krebes family developed exclusive colors and designs, for which they have become famous throughout the free world. The new American plant continues to enlarge and enhance this tradition. Signifying their pride for quality, they decorate each of their ornaments with the crown cap, which evolved as their trademark.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tuesday Tip

What if your favorite ornaments don't work with this years color scheme or look a little shabby?

Pinecone elf trio from my childhood. I've had to reattach their gold hanging loops many times!
Give them an update by simply changing the ribbon or tie-on loop! One of the great things about collecting so many ornaments that I love is that over the years they adapt to whatever direction my decorating goes just by making one little change.
I won't be using red this year. 

In my previous post, I shared a little sampling of the decorations I'm using for our tree this year. I probably spent about an hour changing out ribbons and loops on various ornaments before I even started decorating the tree. I save any extra loops, tie-on's or ribbon that I can use from year to year just for this purpose.
But this gold tie-on is perfect!
Also, you don't have to settle for those ugly metal hooks. 
I also have the jumbo version of these too for my really heavy ornaments!

There are many decorative choices. When I'm not using ribbon, or fishing line (possibly the best option of all since it's practically invisible!) or a loop hanger, I usually opt for the green vinyl coated hooks. They blend in with the tree and when you step on one, they hurt less!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Get Crackin' On Your Holiday Decorating!

Get Crackin'
What does that mean exactly? Well, according to the Urban Dictionary it's a Southerism that means "get your ass in gear." It's December 1st so that's exactly what it means to this southerner!
One of my favorite glass ornaments!

As for my American born, of German descent, husband it means pull out the abundant assortment of colorful Nutcrackers. But before the first box of decorations even made it up from the basement last night, we had a conversation.
I have a weakness for snowman and reindeer ornaments and decorations!

Me: Can you bring up the bins that I put by the storage room doors?
Mr A&A: Where do you want to put the Nutcrackers this year?
Me: Nowhere.
Mr A&A: Nowhere?
Me: Not this year.
Mr. A&A: Again?
Me: It's not again. I put some in the (basement) media room last year, don't you remember?
Mr. A&A: No.
Me: Sorry, honey they're too colorful for the look I'm after this year.
Mr: A&A: Why do they have to be excluded to get the look?
Me: Because they do.
Mr. A&A: Silence.
Mr. A&A: Maybe the look needs some color?
Me: It's going to have color.
Mr. A&A: What colors?
Me: The gold, silver and copper colors* we all agreed to for this year.
Mr. A&A: Silence, followed seemed like a lot of white.
Me: I bought you a special present today, I want to give it to you now.
Mr. A&A: Right now? This far before Christmas?
Me: Yes.
Mr. A&A: Wow thanks, I've never seen any Nutcracker's like this! Do they go with the look?
Me: I'm not sure if they do, but don't worry honey I'm going to make them work just for you!

Wooden Nutcracker trio from Williams-Sonoma.
 I rarely buy ornaments or holiday decorations that are not on sale, but I'll make an exception when it's a gift!

I love all my decorations, so I often have a hard time deciding which ones to use from year to year.
 It's too early to bring in the fresh greens I need, but I'm hoping to at least have the trees done by the weekend! 

* I find it helps to lay out little groups of different ornaments/color combinations on a table. I'll narrow it down to 2 possible contenders and see what appeals to my family. I never go with a combo that is vetoed by the majority. Thankfully, my loyal dog always votes with me!

Devious or brilliant? What tactics do you employ to get your way holiday look?