Mastering Party Favors

My friend Kathy is one of those wonderful people who can elevate any celebration beyond the norm, make everyone feel special and magically make it seem effortless.

Kathy’s sister, Debbi, was preparing to celebrate her 25th wedding anniversary with her husband, Steve. They had recently lost both of Steve’s parents, so the pending celebration became more than just their anniversary, but rather a celebration of family. All of Debbi’s and Steve’s six siblings and spouses (plus a few extras) joined them for a long weekend in Bermuda.

Kathy & Debbi’s parents could not attend due to their own health issues, so be sure to check out my Flat Family & Friends post to see how Kathy included Bill & Betty in the party.

Kathy wanted to surprise her sister with a special way to mark the occasion. The expected would be a highlight video. But remember, this is Kathy we’re talking about. So….

At dinner, at each place setting was this:

When the moment was right, Kathy instructed the party to open their party favors in unison and – VOILA! – customized viewmasters with pictures of the happy couple’s life together!

What a fun way to tell an abbreviated story of Debbi & Steve! No technology required, AND everyone gets a souvenir to take it home.

Kathy raves about Image3d, a family-owned company in Oregon.  She was thrilled that it took just 7 pictures to build a reel.

See Debbi and Steve have three teenage sons. We can all imagine the dubious results of asking teen boys to find some old snapshots, scan and e-mail them to their aunt, and, oh, do all this without Mom or Dad’s help or knowledge.

Kathy added all the text she wanted while also choosing the font and color. She chose the color of the viewmasters and had the face imprinted to mark the occasion. They arrived a few short days later all beautifully packaged in individual white gift boxes. All Kathy had to do then was add a bright festive ribbon around each box.



Stocking Rods

I keep getting: “So what are your stockings hanging from?” “Are those hooks custom made?” “How do you hang so many stockings but have such an uncluttered mantle?”

So here’s my very simple secret: Two, yes, just two stocking holders suspending a standard curtain rod. It doesn’t get much easier (or cheaper) than that!

So Keep a look out for two heavy stocking holders/hooks that have a hook or loop large enough to slip a thin curtain rod through. Two should do it and you can just keep adding stockings as your family grows without having to purchase more hangers.

If you have a rustic mantle, such as a distressed timber, a thin rod (even a thin wood dowel) suspended from two cup hooks screwed into the bottom of the mantle would do the trick.

When my stockings easily fit within the space, I just use a twist tie to attached each stocking loop to the rod.

But when my grouping outgrows the allocated width, then I like to tie the stockings to the rod with ribbon staggering the length of ribbon to vary the heights.

Tips for Styling your Christmas Stockings Like a Pro

It really doesn’t take much to take your stockings from this:




To this…..


And after!


Whether I am styling my stockings for my home or for my photographs, I use several tricks that I have developed over the years.

Start by stuffing your stockings to give them shape. My stuffer of choice is that plethora of plastic bags from the grocery store in my pantry (despite my best efforts to remember to use my green grocery tote bags).

Stuff the toe and foot as full as you like; then before you start up the leg, drop a small weighted sandwich bag in the heel. I seal a handful of florist glass marbles in a simple sandwich bag with a twist tie. If you’re hanging a stocking on a door, think about filling the bag with sand. The soft weight will keep the stocking from swinging too hard and protect the finish of your door.

Once you have the heel weighted to counterbalance the toe and keep your stocking more upright, continue to stuff up the leg. When you get within a few inches of the top, wedge a chunk of florist foam in place to support your greens and accents.

Now it’s time to add the “wow” factor. The simplest is to insert a long stem of greens behind the foam and then insert glass globes, pine cones or whatever accents are best for you right into the foam. The foam will hold them upright and secure.

Of course, this all gets dumped on Christmas Eve to make room for St. Nick and his elves to deposit their bounty of surprises.

Throw your own Wine Tasting party!

Host your own wine tasting party

There are those who take wine tasting very seriously and believe it’s all about the wine. They know a Nebbiolo from a Bordeaux. The difference between piquant and acescence.

Frankly, I wouldn’t know an Nebbiolo if it walked up and hit me on the head. But don’t get me wrong. I appreciate a nice glass of wine myself. But sometimes wine isn’t just about the bouquet or the year. It’s also a terrific way to get a party going. Meet new people. Enjoy old friends, conversation and lots of laughs; which of course is often directly proportionate to the amount of wine served. Just saying….

So if you are one of those diehard wine-oisseurs, stop reading. This post is NOT for you.

OK, for everyone else…here are the steps to hosting your own wine tasting. Provided you follow a few guidelines, it can be one of the easiest parties you throw all year.

Pick a Theme: Such as a Varietal  (merlot, sauvignon, pinot, etc.) or a region (such as Australia, Napa, Missouri, etc.). Be as broad or as narrow in your theme as you want.

Choose from 4 to 6 different wines that fit your theme. For example, pick 6 different Chardonnays from all around the world or just different points in the United States; or 6 different varietals of wine from the same Australian winery; or perhaps 6 different chards from Napa from 2006. Mix it up, make your own rules, have fun!

Start with the essentials, like wine!

The Essentials

Guests & Wine – Provide 4 to 6 different bottles for 6 to 8 guests. If you are inviting a larger crowd, consider 2 bottles of each wine (just be sure to label the like bottles the same).

Bottle Bags and Labels – Bottles need to be disguised, so they won’t influence the grading. And a little mystery is just plain fun. A brown paper bag will certainly do the job. But I’m partial to my jute bags with their Chalk Cloth labels.

Jute bags - a great way to disguise the bottles

HINT: label the bottles using letters since the grading is numerical. After tasting numerous bottles of wine, too many numbers often leads to too much confusion.

Glasses – Use clear wine glasses with full bowls for swirling without spillage (we hope).

Water and bowls – Have a pitcher of water and a bucket or bowl handy to rinse glasses between tastings

Don't forget water and a bowl for rinsing

Scorecards – These can be as simple as a blank note card where each guest rates the overall appeal of each wine with a single number score of 1 to 10; or a standard “wine-y” scorecard with the five main attributes evaluated, assessed and assigned a score; or my personal favorite – the four different scorecards I developed to guarantee lively conversation and lots of laughs!

These nifty scorecards make judging easy

The standard five attributes are assessed against pop culture measuring sticks. I certainly find it much more entertaining to judge the overall taste against the likes of Howard Stern versus Michelle Obama or Snooki versus Grace Kelly. And its clarity: closer to the plot of Lost or Gilligan’s Island? You get the idea.

Food – Simple is best! Bland crackers are great to cleanse the palate during the tasting, but surely something a bit more substantial would be welcomed once the grading is done. Traditionally, fruit and cheese are served.

Picking the best: Once all the wines have been tasted and scored, each guest totals his or her own scores and figures their personal rankings. The host adds all the individual totals for a grand total and announces the party-wide rankings. How did your individual rankings compare to that of the group?

ALTERNATIVE: You can set it up as a competition. The host picks a theme with each guest bringing a bottle that fits that theme. Each bottle is bagged and tagged. Yes, in some cases it is possible to distinguish your bottle from the rest by the bit of neck exposed at the bag’s opening. So here’s a hint if you feel compelled to thwart the hyper-competitive guest: pour his or her wine into an alternate clean and dry bottle, then bag and tag this alternate bottle. Hah! Continue with the tasting as before, and when the scores are all tallied uncloak the bottles and award a prize to the person bringing the top-ranking wine. Prize you say? Perhaps this amazing bottle stopper turned by incredible Etsy artist, Steve of Check out all his beautiful wine bottle stoppers at:

The best thing about wine tasting among friends (and even new acquaintances) is its light-hearted atmosphere. It’s about fun, laughter and enjoying each other’s company … and a good glass of wine.

Grape Harvest

It’s a truly beautiful time of year! And it’s hard to imagine a more perfect setting to enjoy it than at Keith and Sarah Arnold’s, northwest of Maryville, MO.

This is one of the most splendid settings with vistas of rolling hills, a stunning “pond”, lake is more like it,  and huge sloping lawn leading down to beautifully tended vineyards. But it takes on a whole new life when it comes time to harvest the grapes.

Friends gather early in the morning, picking and laughing together, then share a meal. It just doesn’t get much better than this.

This crew harvested 2,640 pounds of Edelweiss grapes. Yikes! They earned that meal! Now comes the wait until they gather to enjoy the nectar that derives from the fruits of their labor.

Hoping you too have an opportunity to enjoy this beautiful harvest season among friends, whether picking grapes or gathering to turn the last of the season’s basil into a winter’s worth of pesto; or perhaps it’s salsa blended from multiple neighborly tomato beds.