Wrapping Up the Holidays and Bringing Joy Into the New Year

christmas wonder

Happy New Year! I’m a little sorry to see this holiday season near its end, since it has been such a special one for our family. My husband even told me this was the best Christmas ever, and hearing that made me feel so happy–knowing all the planning, decorating, cooking, baking, and everything else I did to bring Christmas cheer achieved the intended result of bringing joy to my family. As the Christmas season winds down, I review what I did and what I didn’t get around to, what worked and what didn’t, and generate new ideas for the next year. After feeling that I did so well with our celebrations this year, I even feel like I just can’t wait to do it all again next year!


I try to keep the Christmas spirit among us through the entire twelve days of Christmas, leading up to the Epiphany. It helps that we have family that usually arrive at our house  on the second day of Christmas, and stay for a few days. That’s the night I host a Christmas dinner at our house for my and my husband’s parents. I change up the sides and desserts from year to year, but we always have Cornish hens. This year, I served my standby appetizer of cream cheese and pepper jelly–it is the easiest and quickest thing, and you really should just always keep some cream cheese and a jar of pepper jelly in the house in case you need to throw together a quick appetizer–and some Prosciutto-wrapped cheese. Then, we had broccoli-cheddar soup. For sides, I made smashed potatoes using baby Dutch yellow potatoes, and roasted carrots. Last year I made a pretty elaborate cake from a recipe I had to translate from Italian, but with all the cookies and little cakes I already had, I decided just to serve those for dessert. Every dish was a hit, and the fellowship was even better. (I’ll share some of those recipes with you here soon.)

our tree


Our Christmas tree stays up at least until Epiphany, and usually through the following Sunday. This year, aware of the particular curiosities of my toddler and knowing that no amount of baby-proofing would make a full-size Christmas tree possible for us, we opted for a small tree on an end table. It was cute, easy to carry home from the Christmas tree lot, and I think it brought us as much cheer as a much larger tree always has. This was the first year I made a fresh garland for the indoor banister, so we had plenty of greenery to enjoy.

fresh homemade garland

I asked for branches at the lot where I bought our Christmas tree, and used them with the greenery I gathered with my husband and daughter on Thanksgiving morning. This was a good way to use some of the green and gold accents that wouldn’t fit on our small Christmas tree. The books you see between the posts are some of Bitsy’s Christmas books. I liked the idea of displaying the books to add to the decor, but I think I will scrap that idea next year. This put the books out of her reach, so we were more likely to read the books she brought me from her shelf.

I think the thing my husband enjoyed best about this Christmas was all the baking. Sweets are his love language (forget the other five!) and I kept them coming from about a week and a half before Christmas day and I’ll still be baking through this Sunday. Last year I found some Linzer cookie cutters at an after-Christmas sale, and I’d been eager to try my hand at making them this year. Maybe it was beginner’s luck, but they turned out great! They’re my mother-in-law’s favorite, so I was sure to have them on days that she came to the house. They are a little more involved than other cookies–mix the batter, refrigerate two hours, change the shapes in the cookie cutters, sprinkle the tops with powdered sugar before placing them on top of the bottom cookies, spread just the right amount of jam on the bottoms–but the task isn’t so onerous that I’d be deterred from making them again. These are going to be a new Christmas tradition in our house, and that little set of cookie cutters will be used for years to come.

linzer cookies


While I honestly do feel proud of the things I did to make Christmas special for my family and myself this year, I have to attribute my joy, strength, and peace to Christ in the manger. Having a very meaningful Advent, preparing for Jesus to come is what helped me and motivated me to plan and do all the things we did to celebrate. The Year in Our Church from Loyola Press is series of emails I subscribe to throughout the liturgical year. Including their daily Sacred Advent and Sacred Christmas email reflections in my routine this season helped me to find peace through the sometimes stressful aspects of preparing my heart and home and celebrating Christmas–the cleaning, the cooking, the planning, the shopping, coordinating schedules, hoping our items ship in time for gift-giving. Taking time for daily reflection and spending quiet time in conversation with Jesus helped me to celebrate the right way. The Year in Our Church emails also help me have a good Lent, which will be here again before we know it. (This blog is in no way affiliated with Loyola Press. I’m only sharing a personal recommendation.)

christmas joy

Advent is about new beginning, and seeing Christmas anew through Bitsy’s eyes made this year extra special for our family. This is her second Christmas, but of course last year as a tiny baby she didn’t get what was happening. This year, though she still doesn’t understand that Christmas is coming and her new toys and books are from Santa, she still got excited about a lot of activities. I showed her our nativity and talked to her about it, read her some Christmas stories, and she enjoyed watching Christmas movies. One of my favorite moments of this holiday season happened in church on the last Sunday of Advent. Bitsy saw the Nativity on display at church and though the baby Jesus was not yet in the manger, she pointed to it and said, “Baby!” Maybe this was her own innocent, childlike way of loving the baby Jesus and joyfully anticipating his arrival. I think next year will be even more special, as she will have a better understanding of what is happening and can really get excited for the coming of Christmas. Until then, I’ll be trying to keep the comfort, joy, and peace of Christmas alive in my heart and home as long possible.





Be the Most Valuable Guest: 9 Hostess Gifts That Aren’t Candles!

The holidays are here, and with all the upcoming preparations and activities, some details may be forgotten. Don’t let gifts for your hosts and hostesses be one of them! Planning ahead and buying or making those gifts in advance makes it much more likely that we won’t have to stop at whichever supermarket is in on the way to their house for a last-minute fruit basket, bottle of okay wine, or the ubiquitous candle.


It’s the gift of having a gift to give away!

So don’t get me wrong, your host or hostess will certainly appreciate the candle, or bouquet, or fresh bread, if that what you choose to give them. But why not bring something unexpected, that the other guests didn’t already think of, something that won’t get regifted at their work holiday party’s Yankee Swap, something they’ll remember long after the party?

Something So Special

Here’s a list of some hostess gifts that may feel a little more special. Try some of these, or let the list inspire you as you brainstorm gift ideas for the very special hosts and hostesses you’ll visit this holiday season.

1) Something for Breakfast

After a night of entertaining, wouldn’t it be nice to wake up the next morning to a ready-made breakfast? Bring cinnamon rolls from a local bakery,  bake homemade banana bread in a pretty dish they won’t have to return, or prepare a jar of overnight oats with a pretty ribbon around it.

2) Something to Make Cleaning Up More Enjoyable

caldrea kitchen set

We get to see, hear, smell, and taste all the great work our hosts and hostesses put into entertaining: the food, the decorations, the playlists. The work we usually miss is all the cleanup that has to happen after we leave. Whether you’ll be sticking around to wash dishes while your host or hostess dries, or if they’d rather leave the cleanup to be tackled in the morning after a long winter’s nap, a luxe cleanup kit is a great way to thank your host and hostess for all their hard work. Let the scents of  nicer-than-their-everyday cleaner and dish soap become tied to their happy holiday memories.

Start with a set of cleaning products, like this luxurious kitchen set by Caldrea. It includes a dish soap, hand soap, and countertop spray. Give these items in the Gilded Balsam Birch scent to help your hosts and hostesses stay in the holiday spirit while they clean. Throw in a nice cleaning brush like this one from Full Circle, or a kitchen towel set from the Pioneer Woman collection. Put it all together in a pretty basket.

3) Spices

I don’t know about you, but I go through quite a lot of spices this time of year. Preparing all the foods for their holiday party or meal may have put a dent in your host’s and hostess’s spice rack, too. Replenish it with an organic spice kit, to help them save another trip to the grocery store and avoid starting the new year with bland foods. Like the other gifts on this list, a basket and pretty ribbon make these items an extra special gift.

4) Something that will last for years: Amaryllis bulbs


The first Christmas gift I gave my now-father-in-law was a set of amaryllis bulbs to be forced indoors. They’ve come back beautifully every year since, and he always talks about what a great gift it was. I love the way amaryllis brighten up our homes for the holidays, and really believe in giving these as hostess gifts. You should be able to find them at local retailers this time of year, but if you want to be prepared there are some very reliable companies I trust for ordering bulbs online: White Flower FarmTulip WorldJackson and Perkins, and Colorblends. This is a gift for a real gardener or flower-lover, since the bulbs of course won’t look flashy when you give them.

5) Something Hot to Drink

Help your hostess end the night with comforting hot drinks. Start with a nice mug, and add hot chocolate and marshmallows, a variety of hot teas, or coffee beans from your local roaster. There are some great hot chocolate gift sets available. Harney and Sons teas in their attractive tin containers make a great choice.  Hot Cinnamon Sunset is one of my favorite blends, especially in the winter.They also offer some flavor variety selections. You could even go all out and give them a cast iron teapot or French press.


6) Something Grown-Up to Drink

Instead of another bottle of wine, how about a specialty cocktail book? To your well-read hostess, give Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails With a Literary Twist.  Make it retro with Vintage Cocktails or Shaking Up Prohibition in New Orleans. There’s even a book of cocktails based on different fandoms called The Geeky Chef Drinks: Unofficial Cocktail Recipes from Game of Thrones, Legend of Zelda, Star Trek, and More. These can add some fun to everyone’s night, and give your hosts and hostesses more cocktails to try for many parties to come.

tequila mockingbird


7) Aprons

An apron is an especially good hostess gift if you know your hostess will be baking Christmas goodies in the coming weeks. This is another gift to be used year after year. I love these by Neoviva, which can be purchased individually or in Mommy and Me sets. Think of all the happy memories of teaching little ones in the kitchen she can make as they wear these gifts from you!

mommy and me aprons


8) Something Fragrant

incense set

If you still want to avoid the candle, but home fragrance is your favorite way to thank your hostess, why not give incense? A set of incense sticks, like this beautiful one by Karma Scents that includes a burner in each box, should last longer than a candle and won’t be so expected.

9) Something Homemade

Taking the time to make something that will be useful to your host or hostess shows that you really gave your gift some thought and appreciate their hospitality. Something that is not too hard to make, can really come in use this time of year, and feels special is homemade crème fraiche. I started making my own last year, and it is so nice to have for recipes or even just to replace sour cream as a condiment. I prefer it to sour cream. It has a more mild, pleasant taste. All it takes is heavy cream and buttermilk. Here are some good directions at Food and Style. Just remember to make 12 to 24 hours ahead so that it has time to get nice and thick, and put a pretty bow with a small Christmas ornament on it before you hand it to your hostess!

I hope you’ll enjoy spending time with friends and family this season in their homes and yours. Give any of these gifts and I think they’ll be sure to invite you back next year!

(Many of the links in this post are to Amazon listings for the items I recommend. As an associate, I earn from qualified purchases.)

Something We Read: Family Storytime With Winnie the Pooh: Surprise Tails

Bitsy is fascinated with her books. She is now at a stage in which she finds a book and brings it to me, saying, “Read!” in that sweet baby voice. A book-loving mama could not be more pleased!

Yesterday, one of the books she brought me was Winnie the Pooh: Surprise Tails, which turned out to be a fun surprise for us.

Winnie the Pooh Surprise Tails.jpg

Bitsy’s daddy was home for a lunch break. He heard us reading this story in which Eeyore is the main character, and having recently found his old harmonica, played a blues lick for each of the old grey donkey’s lines! This was so fun for all of us. The music enhanced the story, but most off all it was fun for the three of us to be goofy, laugh, and share a story together. You don’t have to be musicians–we aren’t–to include a little music when reading to your baby.

The touch-and-feel features in this board book are so interesting to a baby. The first page has a tiny mirror, and Bitsy is soooo amused by her reflection now. My favorite is the wooly tail Kanga knits for Eeyore.


Sharing this little moment together was so special for us. I hope you’ve been finding little ways to make reading to your baby fun for the whole family. If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

This post contains a link to an Amazon listing for the book discussed. As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.


Something We Ate: Chicken Tetrazzini

I love bringing joy into my household, and take pride in being able to do that in my new(ish) job as a stay-at-home parent. We don’t have to wait for celebrations and special occasions to experience joy in our homes; we can create it in small, simple ways every day.

My husband has shared with me that his favorite everyday joy comes from having dinner as a family. It is something he can look forward to during his workday, then enjoy a peaceful night with a full, happy belly.

I like for dinner to be special, but being busy with a baby and school can sometimes make getting dinner ready challenging. Of course, we occasionally end up ordering in. We try to reduce waste and make the most of our resources, especially when it comes to food. Composting helps us make the best of whatever food must be thrown away, but food’s real purpose is to be eaten. This means making the best use of leftovers.

Leftovers don’t have to be boring. Make them into something different, and the dish is just as new and exciting as last night’s.

Earlier this week, I made Engagement Chicken–a meal good enough to get a marriage proposal from a prince. I used a pretty large roasting chicken, so with plates for the two of us and some shredded pieces for baby Bisty, there was a good amount of chicken left over. No problem there–leftover chicken just gives us an excuse to have this rich, creamy baked pasta.

chicken tet

It’s not pretty, but it’s delicious. I snapped this pic before it finished browning. Once it was done, my husband was so eager to cut right into it, I didn’t get a picture of the finished product.

If you Google and Pinterest Chicken Tetrazzini, you’ll find a lot of variations. I’ll share with you the version I came up with that works best for us. I switch it up from time to time based on what we have in the house. For instance, I had some mushrooms in the refrigerator this time and threw those into the mix. Below is the recipe I use:

Chicken Tetrazzini


  • 16 oz (one box) of spaghetti, cooked
  • 1/2 cup (one full stick) of butter, plus more to grease pan
  • Cooked chicken torn or cut into bite-size chunks–I don’t measure this out but just use whatever amount of cooked chicken I have leftover. 1/2 to 1 lb is probably a good approximation.
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup, plus an equal amount of chicken broth or vegetable broth
  • 2 cups of sour cream
  • 1/2 cup of sliced mushrooms, if desired
  • 1/2 cup of garlic-infused vinegar–I highly recommend Nakano Seasoned Rice Vinegar with Roasted Garlic. It is sooo good and makes adding just the right garlic flavor so easy. If you’re substituting with another vinegar or a 1/2 cup of dry white wine, just add a bit of garlic powder to the dish.
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 Tbsp Romano or Parmesan cheese
  • 2 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese


  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
  • In a large bowl, combine butter, chicken, soup, broth, sour cream, mushrooms, garlic-infused vinegar, salt and pepper.
  • Use butter wrapper to grease baking dish.
  • Add spaghetti to the chicken mix.
  • Pour into baking dish and top with all of the cheese.
  • Cover dish with aluminum foil.
  • Bake for 45 minutes.
  • Remove foil, bake uncovered for about 15 minutes, or until cheese is as brown as you like. You may want to raise the temperature to about 375 F for the last few minutes if you like the cheese very brown and a little crispy on the sides.

This dish is great comfort food. I hope you enjoy it as much as my family does. This was Bitsy’s first time eating it. I was so glad to see she like it. She was a little behind the curve on her growth at her 12-months pediatric visit, so her pediatrician suggested including a bit more fattening foods in her diet to try to catch up. The butter, sour cream, and cheese should help 🙂

Hold onto this recipe and substitute turkey for chicken as a great way to use your Thanksgiving leftovers. It’s a great stick-to-your ribs meal for a late fall night.

One of the links in this post is to an Amazon listing for a product I recommend. As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualified purchases.









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