Friday, March 29, 2013

Happy Easter!

I remember a few of these Easters as a child. The tulips, sadly, are absent, green grass is pretty hard to come by, and the kids would be better served receiving snow shovels in their Easter baskets rather than sand castle shovels and buckets. Come Sunday morning, plastic Easter eggs might just be hidden in lingering piles of melting snow and the kids will probably be slipping on rubber boots to tiptoe through mud and standing water.

But even this wintery weather can't cast a shadow on the hope and promise Easter brings! I keep telling myself that flowers and butterflies are on their way, and that I just need to have a bit of patience.

Phone calls from my mother reveal she's all set to go with the no-holds-barred ham dinner for Sunday, complete with everyone's favorite side dishes and salads (a MN mom's way of expressing her love, you know). The kids are anticipating dying Easter eggs on Saturday and introducing their Uncle Matt's girlfriend, a sweet-natured young lady from India, to this tradition steeping in color experimentation and stained clothing. "She's really never dyed Easter eggs before, Mom?" Jack asks. "Can you believe that?" This should be fun and interesting. (I wonder if she knows that she'll be expected to eat egg salad sandwiches for the next week...)

For me, Easter always heralds the return of life and color to the outside world. As a child, it was almost palpable, sitting in my grandparents' church for sunrise service on Easter Sunday morning, the sunshine streaming through the brightly colored stained glass windows, bathing the light stonework in bold hues. The jubilant trumpets joining the choir's triumphant strains made it rather difficult to focus on chilly weather and muddy lawns. Even if we had to return home to don windbreakers and black buckle rubber boots, it was impossible not to feel uplifted and hopeful as we scampered to the barn to play with spring's arrival of new life - baby pigs, calves, kittens and chicks.

Whether you've planned a big day of family celebrations, or are spending some quiet time on a Sunday afternoon, warm wishes for a relaxing and blessed Easter!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Divine Hues for 2013

Tucked into the back of my closet in a garment bag are nine bridesmaid dresses I had the honor of wearing for friends' and relatives' weddings more than a few years ago. Five are various shades of dark green and four take their names from the wine cellar - merlot, burgundy, bordeaux and claret. Back in my bridesmaid heyday, rich dark tones were the hue du jour: dark greens, rich reds, and blues so dark they nearly looked black. To deepen the heavy effect, velvet was a popular fabric choice. You would have been hard-pressed to find pastels, and bright, vibrant colors were just not to be found on the bride's color wheel. My mother would wax poetic about her days of light blue, mint and peach bridesmaid dresses complete with veiled pillbox hats and gloves. She prophesied that someday lighter colors would make a strong comeback. I eyed her skeptically and tried to imagine such a world.

And here we are!

Pantone's fashion color report for 2013 heralds a return of lively colors. "Lemon Zest," "Nectarine," and "Poppy Red" are just a few of the Pantone shades that are hot topics this year. Brides looking for a punch of color can try "African Violet," a happy lilac tone, or "Tender Shoots," a nod to a bubbly spring green color. Those looking for something a bit more subdued might choose "Monaco Blue," a darker shade which calls to mind an officer's uniform, or the pretty and feminine "Linen," a close relative to a champagne tone. 

But what's the one color everyone is talking about this year? The honor goes to "Emerald." It seems to me that if teal and jade were to pool together, Emerald would be the subtly bold color they would create. It's a lively, jaunty hue that has endless possibilities for color pairings and accents. Summer's riot of colorful flowers will certainly complement Emerald well, and will offer up a festive décor ensemble.

For brides looking to run with these snappy colors, Carlson Craft has a full lineup of invitations and stationery that incorporate these very last vivacious hues. Notice these fun colors in the pictures? Heavy, rich an deep have made way for light, cheerful and vibrant! These colors create a playground of bright and buoyant design options, and infuse a winsome mirth back into wedding themes. Look for coordinating Carlson Craft ink colors in Peacock, Canary, Monarch, Watermelon, Lavender, Granny Apple and Admiral to capture this season's hot hues.

Styles and trends come and go, cycling back around to return to favor with a newer and younger generation. The brides of 2013 are enjoying a return to a colorful palette loaded with vitality and verve. Who would have thought? One more thing my mother was right about!  

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day!

Firstly, a great big congratulations to the 230,000 couples that are projected to get engaged today! Best wishes for many years of happiness, health, fun and laughter. Be sure to enjoy planning and preparing for your big day - believe me, it goes by so fast. Oh, and if you need any suggestions for a fabulous provider of all things wedding stationery, I know of a stellar company with a collection of the very best!

The Holiday
My mom called me on Monday. "So, are you two planning something fancy for Valentine's Day?" she asked. If by fancy she meant ordering a pizza instead of cookies, and then homework with the kiddos, followed up by dishes and laundry, why then, yes! We're planning the fanciest-schmanciest Valentine's Day ever! This is when she inserted one of her reminders that I need to stop and smell the roses and carve out time for special things even when we're in the midst of busy lives. Very true.

Now, in all fairness, Ryan and I have celebrated about 17 or so Valentine's Days so far. We've done the super fancy dinners in downtown Minneapolis, the quaint little Italian restaurant followed by a movie, an evening at the Guthrie, a weekend getaway to a resort up north, and even a nice dinner at home with wine and fancy desserts. I've received flowers, bouquets of red roses, jewelry, teddy bears, and a fountain pen. So I certainly have no reason to complain about a low-key year.

As I pondered Valentine's Day with a couple busy school-aged kids, I wondered, how does one shoehorn a celebration into an otherwise busy work week?

The Plan
The kids are jazzed. They scurried off to school this morning with Valentines and little bags of candy treats to exchange with their friends. "Can we make pizza tonight, mommy?" Maggie wanted to know. "What if we made heart-shaped pizza?" I offered. This was a hit. "Are you going to stop at the bakery, mommy?" Jack hopefully inquired, those little freckles looking all adorable as he smiled shyly. They each have their favorites that they get once in a blue moon. Raspberry and chocolate mascarpone tarts melt Maggie's heart, and Jack's weakness is German chocolate cupcakes. Yes, I'll stop and grab their favorites, including a "Death by Chocolate" for Ryan. I promised them pizza and a movie tonight (once homework is done, of course!). A viewing of the animated tale Brave is on the docket tonight!

Nope, not the wine and roses that life once was before kids. But that's okay. The important thing is making it special, even if it's with the little things.

Oh, and there's nothing wrong with postponing celebrating for a day or two. Saturday? Just mom and dad, Les Misérables, and a glass or two of wine at our favorite restaurant afterwards.

Whether your love is brand new or has stood the test of time, remember that even on Valentine's Day, love doesn't have to be an expensive or elaborate endeavor. Just make it thoughtful. 

Happy Valentine's Day! 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

It's January. And Cold.

After the festivities and frivolities of the December holidays pass, we're left with... well, still winter. And I like winter, truly I do. But the below zero temps and wind chills, cars that are grouchy about starting, and perpetually chapped hands have a way of turning my thoughts toward greener seasons.

Ah, well. It's the circle of the seasons, and I need to remind myself that days when exposed skin can freeze in less than ten minutes just make me appreciate summer all the more! But the kids have been a bit grumpy as of late. Ice skating at the pond was cancelled due to -17 degree wind chills.  Sledding isn't possible without winter gear that would tolerate an arctic trek. And so we bundle up, stay indoors and wait it out.

If you've been feeling the cabin fever lately, it's time to think outside the (ice)box. When television gets a bit boring and you've had all the video games and reading you can handle, muster some creativity and make the most of the indoors!

Cold weather days were made for family game night. Monopoly, checkers, Candyland, Battleship, or any other favorite board game is just waiting to be taken out and played with! Whip up some hot cocoa or Irish coffee and have at it! Surprise the kids and come home with a new family favorite. Most board games can be purchased for $15-20, and that's far cheaper than a night at the movie theater! Or, make it a theme night. Start out by figuring out whodunit as you make your way around the Clue board game, and follow it up with a big bowl of popcorn and a viewing of the spectacularly witty and comedic '80s movie based on the game and brought to life by Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Martin Mull and crew.

Looking for a bit more activity? Leave the kids a note after school challenging them to an evening of XBOX games. Who's better at dancing a bit of B-52's choreography, your husband or your kids?? I suggest having the video camera at the ready.

Cold weather is also a prime time to kick it old school. Puzzles, anyone? They're not just for the grandparents! Cards, Bingo and a host of other oldies but goodies can lead to 'round the table conversation and laughter.

However you beat the winter blues, rest assured that spring is on the way. Consider this a time to slow down a bit and savor time spent in closer quarters with loved ones!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Happy New Year!

Welcome to 2013, people!

Yes, it's soooo cliché, but the older I get, the faster time flies. Can we really be turning the calendar page, leaving behind 2012 and setting out to see what 2013 has in store? I still vividly remember sitting in my desk the morning we came back to school after Christmas break when I was in 4th grade and thinking how neat it was that it was 1988. Eights were my favorite number to write at that point in my life. That was a good year. It was also a quarter of a century ago now. Yikes!

I don't know about you, but for me, this past year was a doozie! Superstorm Sandy has us all aghast and worrying about our East Coast neighbors. The presidential election certainly had the country vocal about a handful of issues. The 2012 London Olympics has us cheering on favorites to gold, silver or bronze. And we all held our breath, wondering if we would teeter over the fiscal cliff or not. But that was yesteryear, and I'm excited to see what 2013 holds in store!

The dawning of the New Year is always a fresh start full of new opportunities and provides us with a chance to do things a little better this trip around the sun. And while I can't personally do much about natural disasters or the national debt, I can focus on the things I do have a bit of control over. Finances? We'll make some changes this year to save more. Eating habits? Yep, those will improve.  Carving out more time for friends? Absolutely. I'll write and mail more letters, remember everyone's birthday, and finally get the kids' photos organized. I'm telling myself this year will see less clutter, less pizza, less dipping into savings. I'll read every night with the kids (and hug them more and listen when they have little stories to tell). I'll finally tackle an overhaul of the den and make good on my promise to teach my 8-year-old how to embroider. Family game night won't get cancelled when there's too much to do - it'll be a priority. Here's hoping!

I realize it's easy to get caught up in the renewed mindset of resolutions when January comes calling and we find a bit more time on our hands after the mad dash of the holidays is behind us. And while that excitement might be strong the first few weeks of the year, for many, it begins to wane after a month or two. But consider this your encouragement for the day - keep it up! You're doing great! And pass it on, folks! Offer some support to a friend, coworker, spouse, or neighbor. Changing old habits is a hard thing to do, but far easier with some enthusiastic cheerleaders behind you!

Whatever your New Year's resolution may be, bear in mind that time does drift by faster than we realize. Remember that the most important things in life aren't things, and that time spent with loved ones and friends is precious. 2012 is behind us. Make this year a stellar one!

We'll revisit this post in April to see if I'm on track with my plans. In the meantime, I wish you all good health, peace, and a good fortune in 2013.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Send Some Holiday Love and Good Cheer!

Amid baths and homework last night I whipped up a few batches of Christmas cookies. No, the caramels aren't done yet and the rosettes might not happen this year, but I had bigger fish to fry. The yearly Christmas card and letter had to get finished, printed, stuffed, licked, stamped, and dropped in the mail today!

I'm a paper fan, and even more so, I'm a huge advocate for receiving items in the mailbox that don't require payments or any other sort of action other than opening and enjoying. So I love the holiday season and making the daily trek to the mailbox to see what tidings of joy and good cheer have been sent to us by friends, family, co-workers, old college roommates and the like. It's a time to catch up, reminisce, share news of your family, and reconnect with everyone - those you see on a daily basis and those you might not, but who still hold a special place in your heart.

Sending Christmas cards has been a tradition since the 1840s when a Londoner designed the first cards, which sold for a shilling each. These early cards wished recipients a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, but depicted warm weather images, such as fairies and flowers. Since then, Christmas cards have become a collection of everything from elaborate and lovely to simple and to the point. One thing hasn't changed, though: holiday cards still serve the purpose of wishing loved ones a festive holiday season and good cheer for the New Year.

Yes, modern technology has evolved. The handwritten letter is on the Endangered Species List and emails, text messages and e-cards have increase in popularity. But despite the cost savings and ease of sending merry wishes through cyberspace, in my humble opinion, it doesn't compare to the anticipation of visiting the mailbox, running one's finger along the envelope flap, and pulling free a cardstock missive conveying merry sentiments for a happy holiday. If it's only once a year, I believe we all should take the time to do things the old fashioned way. It will be appreciated.

Don't believe me? Just imagine if Grandma sent a virtual box of cyber cookies instead of lovingly baking and wrapping up a tin of your favorite Christmas cookies.

Yes, your days are numbered! But if you're worried you missed the boat on sending out Christmas cards, fear not! You still have plenty of time to send out wishes of peace and good fortune for the New Year. I know of a fabulous printing company that offers a jolly-quick turn-around this time of year! Give Carlson Craft a jingle and get your New Year's cards printed and in the mail before the ball drops on 2013.

Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Smell of Christmas

Growing up, my mother baked at Christmastime. Not that she didn't bake throughout the rest of the year, but Christmas was a frenzy of flour and powdered sugar and mad dashes on my father's part to the grocery store for more maraschino cherries, Hershey Kisses, or Baker's chocolate. In the end, there was enough cookies to keep us kids on a sugar high until President's Day.

It's a funny thing when you grow up and realize that some of the things you took for granted were all-out hard work and sacrifice for your parents. I can barely keep up with my full-time job, writing, running the kids to and fro, dashing off to piano lessons or choir practice, and keeping the family in clean socks and dry mittens. Then I resort to a little help from a refrigerated tube depicting a Pillsbury Doughboy. I try my best at Christmastime to whip up some memories with the kids, but it pales in comparison to my childhood memories of kitchen activities.

My mom, on the other hand, rallies during the holidays and produces a merry assortment of baked goods. Armed with mixing bowls, spatulas, cookie cutters and a shocking amount of butter (no judging - when you grow up on a dairy farm that's just how you roll!), she mixes, rolls, drops, spritzes, cuts, and bakes pan after pan. Peanut butter blossoms (with Hershey Kisses, not Brach's stars, mind you!), cut-outs, chocolate bon-bons, peppermint meringues, thumbprints, spritz, rosettes, fig pinwheels, almond crescents, fudge, divinity... there's seemingly no end.

Where some people may have made a single or double batch, my mom would make 4, 5, or 6 times batches. Sometimes more. Did we need these many cookies? Yes. We did. There were eleven of us. There were a dozen daycare kids. There were cookie platters to send to neighbors and shut-ins. There were holiday parties and potlucks. There were milkmen who would happily grab a cookie or two for the road and mailmen who were tickled to take a gingerbread man or slab of fudge.

When we were little, the smell of cut-outs or thumbprints baking to a gentle golden brown just around the edges had us running to the kitchen. We clambered to help with frosting and decorating. We sat in little groups, dutifully unwrapping Kisses and popping a few in our mouths as we worked through bag after bag. Those of us with stronger throwing arms got the job of chopping nuts in the old hand crank nut chopper.

I was in middle school the December my mom's Sunbeam mixer went kaputt halfway through a three times batch of peanut butter cookies. Horrors! This was a tragedy, to be sure! And so, my father, a hater of shopping and congested retail spaces, made his way to the mall, battling crowds and Minnesota parking lots in December to buy her a new KitchenAid mixer. She was back in business and we breathed a sigh of relief. Yes, there would be peppermint meringue cookies for Christmas Eve!

Tomorrow's plan? Mixing up some spritz and cut-outs with the kids. The colored sugars and cinnamon redhots are at the ready. Bottles of food coloring stand at attention. The butter and flour are good to go. Soon the house will be filled with the heavenly smell of Christmas cookies plumping to a light golden brown. Mmmm.

Whether you live for Christmas cut-outs, anticipate krumkake, look forward to fudge, or celebrate the yearly gingerbread man decorating, I hope you all are able to carve out time this busy holiday season to enjoy the smells and tastes of the season!