Hostess with the Mostest

Hosting is a tough task and most of you will, at some point, find yourself in the hosting seat. Housewarmings, engagement parties, baby showers, birthdays, holidays. Even a casual get together with friends requires you to play hostess. The role of the host is to make sure guests feel welcome, comfortable, and have an enjoyable time. You’re greeting, serving food and drinks, introducing people, starting conversations. In other words, at all times you’re working the party.

The number one concern of the hostess is to make people feel comfortable. As a guest we want to feel welcomed, cared for and involved in the party. If a host fails to introduce us to new people, fails to engage converstations and fails to provide proper refreshments and nourishments, as a guest you will feel unimportant, left out, intrusive and nervous. Fancy drinks and appetizers will not make up for lack of conversation and and unwelcoming environment. You can have the best decorations, best tasting food and the most unique drinks, but if your guests feel uncomfortable at the party, that is what they’ll remember. We always remember how we feel.

It is important to remember that you are not a guest at your own party. As a host there is always a job to be done.

Know your audience

Are you hosting a bridal shower with a mix of family and friends and muli-generational guests? Be prepared to host a bridal shower where both great-grandma and pre-teen cousin will feel comfortable. Prepare food and drinks accordinly and play games (if necessary) that are appropriate for the masses.

Also, be prepared to know the guests. You may not persoanlly know them but know names and relations so you can have an instant connection as you greet them. “Oh yes! Carrie! You’re Eva’s neice. Eva told me you came all the way from Sedona for this party. I appreciate you making the trip and hope you enjoy your afternoon with us. Can I offer you a beverage?” Then make sure to introduce people as necessary and apporopriatly.

At many parties there is a guest of honor to focus on, but it’s important to not forget about the guests. If the guests feel special, so will the guest of honor.

Prepare accordingly, and let your guests know the agenda

If your guests are expecting a casual backyard BBQ, they should arrive to find to a casual backyard BBQ and if your guests are expecting a formal dinner party they should arrive to find a formal dinner party. Makes sense, right?

If you asked guests to bring dessert, wine, an appetizer etc. make sure their contribution stands alone. Asking a guest to bring something, then three others arrive with the same thing, makes the guest feel unspecial. What if they brought a cake, and another guest brought a homemade, buttercream frosted, triple layer, berry filled cake that everyone gushes over? How do you think the other guest feels? Silly, embarrassed, unacknowledged. Make sure a guest’s contributions are well received.

Follow rules of ettiquette

Ettiquette is not pretentious, condecending or snooty. It’s not a way to act “better” than everyone else. It’s actually a way of making those around you feel at ease because they know what to expect. In other words, if you act appropriatly, it makes everyone around you feel comfortable.

You also need to “lead by example”. If you want your guests to start eating, you start eating, and welcome guests to join. If you want guests to use a coaster, you use a coaster, and conveniently provide coasters anywhere a guest would place a drink.

Manage the flow of the party

Drinks, food, converstaion, games, gifts. Make sure your agenda is flowing according to time, and your guests desires. Is conversation dwindeling? Maybe it’s time for gifts. Are the kids running wild? Maybe it’s time for games. If it’s a dinner party manage the conversations so everyone is comfortable with the topic. If it starts to get heated, wrap up the argument (don’t take sides) and politely offer a new topic to discuss.

Wrap it up

If an ending time was noted on the invite be prepared to wrap up the party at that time. If no time was specified it’s up to you as the host to determine if your guests are ready to leave (but don’t want to be rude) and provide them with a comfortable exit. Watch for body language (fidgiting, checking phones for time and missed messages), coversation between couples (couples many times start a conversation between eachother to begin their exit). If you see these cues, begin wrapping up their visit.

Gather their coats, favors, dishes they provided, or any other items they need to take home. Engage friednly conversation summarizing their contributions to the party

“Thank you so much for bringing the wine. We all enjoyed it and it went perfectly with dinner”

“Your stories from your new job were hillarious. Thanks for sharing. I know we all enjoyed a good laugh.”

Walk exiting guests to the door. A guest should be greeted when they arrive and escorted out when they are departing. Thank them for attending. This will be their last impression of the party.

How to Smudge Your Home

Smudging is the ancient ritual of burning herbs to cleanse and heal a space, person or object. It includes the use of a smudge stick (found at natural shops or online) or loose herbs. Sage is known to have healing qualities and is the preferred herb for smudging ceremonies but other herbs, such as cedar or sweetgrass, can be incorporated as well.037

The basic idea of why and how smudging works lies in the subatomic energy that surrounds us and how it makes us feel. Energy can become trapped in a space creating a barrier for new energy to enter. This can cause feelings of discomfort, agitation, depression, and anger, to name a few. Smudging, i.e. upward dispersing smoke, helps lift up the current energy, allowing you to replace it with your own positive and creative energy.

So when should you smudge?

It’s a good idea to smudge a new home before you move in. It cleanses the air and provides a fresh space for you and your family to bring your own energy.

Smudging can also be done when a current space has a “bad feeling”. We’ve all been in a room that gives us the “creeps” or makes our hair stand up. This is a reaction to the current energy in the space. Smudging can help eliminate that bad feeling.

How to Smudge Your Home

Items Needed

  • Smudge Stick
  • Bowl (or shell)
  • Matches

Using a shell incorporates all four elements – earth, air, fire and water (herbs, smoke, burning embers, and shell, respectively). It is not crucial to include all four elements but it can enhance the experience.020

Set your intention for the smudging. It’s very important to have a positive mindset when smudging. Light the smudge stick and let it smolder. You don’t want a flame, just smoke to billow out of the end (too much smoke will set off smoke detectors. Use caution). Once the stick is smoldering begin by moving clockwise through each room, wafting smoke into all corners of the room. Open doors, cabinets and drawers so the smoke can move freely through all areas. As you exit each room smudge the doorway. Move through the house in a clockwise direction.

You can internalize your thoughts or you can use words to express your intentions. Are you smudging because you just moved in to the home? Vocalizing your hopes for your new home can help personalize the ritual.

Focus on areas of the home that feel dark, closed off, stale or heavy. As you smudge, be sure to replace the bad energy with positive words and thoughts in these areas.

After you complete the smudging you should feel calm and light in your home. Continue to bring positive energy  into the space to maintain that feeling.

The effects of smudging are not visible to our eyes, making it hard for some to believe that it works. Smudging creates a feeling, a mood, an energy. If you don’t believe, you won’t feel the benefits. It’s truly a mind over matter phenomenon so your mindset when smudging will ultimately affect the outcome. Please only smudge if your intent is pure and positive. Only then will you receive the rejuvenating and healing benefits of smudging.

Alexander, J. (2005). The smudging and blessings book: Inspirational rituals
to cleanse and heal
. New York: Sterling Pub.

Lembo, M. A. (2011). All about smudging. Woodbury, Minn: Llewellyn
Publications.

Clear Out the Clutter

I spent the last few days in my hometown of White Bear Lake, MN enjoying time with friends, family and helping my mom re-design her home. My parents will be taking on a major kitchen renovation, which also includes updating the living room and office, and I was there to help get the process started. Below is one image of inspiration for the new kitchen, so cute!

Kitchen redo

Before we could add new items, we started by donating and selling existing pieces that were no longer needed. This is a tough process for most people because some items we have in our homes hold sentimental value and some just give us a feeling of comfort and familiarity. It’s tough to part with things that bring us comfort but this process of elimination is necessary for a fresh start.

It’s natural to hold on to items with reasoning such as:

“What if I need it in the future?”

“My kids might want it someday”

“It was a gift”

“The chair is just so comfortable”

These reasons are just excuses to avoid change (change is hard!) and unless something truly has deep sentimental value or is linked to family heritage, if it’s not working in your space, it’s time to get rid of it. Clutter causes stress and anxiety, so for your health, remove the clutter. To paraphrase a well-known designer, if it’s not useful or beautiful to you, don’t let it take up valuable space in your home.

So, ready for change and ready to create a welcoming home, my mom and I started the process of elimination. We focused on cleaning out the current living room/office. We brought smaller items to a consignment shop, we sold furniture on Craigslist (which my mom found to be very exciting) and we started a “Goodwill donation” pile.  As we cleaned out items we brought fresh life into the space and the room is now ready for new life to be breathed in to it. With the existing furniture in the room my mom could not visualize how the space could be designed differently and more efficiently to meet my parent’s needs. Now, with the help of a rough floor plan and empty floor space she can start to see her new living room come to life. Bonus, she also has a few extra dollars thanks to selling her old items!

Kitchen Floor Plan

If you have a room in your house that you never use, or just don’t like, it may be that it’s filled with items that just don’t work for you. Freshen your home by eliminating items you don’t need and it just might spark inspiration to re-do the room to suit your needs.

What items do you have that are just taking up space in your home?

The Well Stocked Bar

The holidays inspire hosting and hospitality and of course spirited celebration. Stocking the household bar is a way to be ready for a festive party or for a cozy night in. It’s best to start with the basics; the items needed to create a functional bar, and then add in seasonal favorites.

Start with the Liquors:

Vodka

Rum

Gin

Tequila

Whiskey or Scotch (or both!)

Choose your favorite labels to start with. Remember, quality is important.

Add the Tools of the Trade:

Glassware – highball, lowball, martini, wine, and dessert

Shaker

Jigger – for measuring (even top mixologists use a jigger. Mixing drinks is like baking. The right proportion of ingredients is vital.)

Bartender’s Black Book or other cocktail recipe book

extras: cocktail napkins, straws, cutting board and knife for garnishes

Basic Mixers:

Lime Juice

Soda Water

Bitters

Grenadine

Vermouth

Seasonal Favorites:

Bailey’s

Kahlua

Creme de Menthe/Creme de Cocoa

Orange Liqueur

Now that the bar is stocked it’s important to learn a few basic drinks. Knowing at least one drink to make with each liquor on hand is simple and impressive. Start with a few classic drinks, like a Martini, or Manhattan. Also, create a “house” cocktail. A simple gin and tonic or whiskey ginger ale both make a great “house” drink. Always stock the needed ingredients and garnishes for this drink of choice.  
It’s also important to create a functional work space for the bar. Most homes don’t have the luxury of a built-in wet bar and that’s fine. All that’s needed is a shelf, bookcase, tray or any other tabletop space strategically located near the “party space”. Most people gather in the kitchen because that’s where the action is. A secondary gathering space can be created with a well placed bar. It should be away from natural walk ways such as the front door or a hallway leading to the bathroom. The ideal location will feature enough space for a few people to gather, seating that encourages conversation, and room for the “bartender” to work.
Start a fire in the fireplace, serve comforting snacks, turn on holiday music and the stage is set! Just add family, friends, or that special someone. A well stocked bar is a great accompaniment to any gathering, large or small.

Legacy Binder

It’s “Benefits Enrollment” time and this year I decided to increase my life insurance for myself and my spouse. I don’t want to think about it but I know that death is a certainty of life, and a death leaves a huge void, especially financially. Uping the life insuarance ante inspired me to put together a Legacy Binder. Similar to Lily and Marshall’s “Death Folder” on How I Met Your Mother, a legacy binder holds important info my family would need to access upon my death.

I put together a simple 3-ring binder with dividers and sheet protectors. The main categories are:

Estate Plan (which we need to get)

Insurance

Important Documents

Accounts and Payments Due

Medical Records

Funeral Requests (work in progress)

I referenced Money, Love, and Legacy for a detailed list of items to include.

Since I manage the household bills and exprenses I also included our bank account info and bill pay system. If something were to happen to me it would allow my husband to access our accounts and easily make on time payments. I included account numbers, auto-payment schedule, and contact info for each biller.

The Legacy Binder is something that needs to be updated as my life changes but the ground work is set. Now it will be easy to add title papers, update account info, or add medical records as needed. It’s in a safe place and those who may need it know where to access it. Creating the Leagacy Binder helped me organize important documents for my life and I feel good knowing my survivors will have easy access to everything they need upon my death.

Disaster Purse

My purse seems to be my own personal junk drawer at times. It gets plagued with crumpled receipts, melted lip sticks, leaky pens and other odd finding that make finding what I actually need impossible. I don’t treat my purse with the most respect. I have even spilled coffee and water in it numerous times, due to faulty beverage containers (and my own lack of consideration).

When my purse gets messy I start to feel completely un-organized. I’ve had a few fits in my day that have resulted in me dumping the entire contents out just to find what I need. I look and feel like a crazy woman when I do that. So to keep my sanity I keep just the basics in my purse and I take a few moments each week to filter out the unnecessary items.

What’s In My Purse, the basics:

Wallet

Make-up bag

Notebook/Pen

Phone

Business Card Holder

In my make-up bag I stash one SPF lip balm, one lipstick, a travel size hair brush, oil blotting papers, and a hair binder. Simple. My make up bag is homemade and designed to fit my phone, keys and debit card when needed. It’s great as a “grab-and-go” mini bag for day trips on the road and quick errand runs.

I use the notebook and pen daily for making lists, jotting down important numbers and info, and for bigger tasks like planning a trip. Currently my notebook hosts my itinerary for our Grand Canyon trip coming up this weekend. My notebook keeps track of my daily life story, however boring it may be at times, all in one place.

A purse is very personal (Could “personal” be the root of the word “purse”?). Managing a simplistic purse makes me feel empowered, and when I fall off track, and let it become disastrous, I take a few minutes to clean house. A few minutes worth while, to bring back the feeling of sanity.

Fouta Towels

This past August I attended The Minnesota State Fair, also known as The Great MN Get Together, and The Best State Fair, Ever. I could write an entire post about the food, music, people-watching and every wonderful experience I had there, but I want to focus on my “Great Find at the Fair”.

The Grandstand houses merchandisers that sell everything from beautiful handcrafted jewelry to livestock supplies. I have never purchased anything from a Grandstand vendor, I actually rarely ever step foot in the Grandstand, but this year I had hopes to purchase something unique. It would be my take-home item back to Arizona. I roamed the busy aisles past wool mittens, pressure washers, beef jerky, organic dog food and recycled plastic lawn furniture. Seriously, they sell everything you can imagine at the MN State Fair. I turned the corner, and there it was.

I was awestruck by a stand filled with gorgeous and colorful loomed textiles. Were they towels, blankets, scarves? I didn’t know or care. I just knew I had to have one. I walked up to the product and rubbed my hand over the soft and supple fabric. Each one unique in color and design. The owner of the shop told me that they are Fouta towels (pronounced foo-tah), also called Turkish towels, and they are all hand-loomed and imported from Tunisia.

I learned that Fouta towels have many uses. They are traditionally used as mildew-resistant bath towel, but work great as a throw or a cozy scarf. She told me they patina with use and wash so they get better with age. She showed me one that she’s had for years and she was right. They get even better with time.

I found myself curious about the women who made it and the story already weaved into the towel. I had to have one and I encouraged my sister to buy one as well. The towel had already adventured halfway across the world. I was almost jealous of the beauty it has seen. I couldn’t wait to start my own adventure with it.

I first used my Fouta towel on my plane flight home to Arizona. I twisted the towel into a scarf and wrapped it around my neck and as I got chilled on the plane I used it as a blanket. Perfect. I now use it mostly as a light throw on my sofa and bed, but can’t wait to use it on other plane trips. The scarf traveled across the world to Minnesota and then continued its journey with my to Arizona. It will be a great travel companion as I indulge my wanderlust. I purchased my Fouta towel from One World Imports and unfortunately I could not find her on-line shop. Fouta Lifestyle has a great website that is easy to navigate. They also provide further history and other ways to use Foutas.

Spot-Free Wine Glasses

A clean and sparkly wine glass creates the perfect foundation for a tasty drink of wine. Whether you’re enjoying a special vintage pulled from your wine cellar, or just sipping a “weekday” wine from the fridge, you want to drink from a spot and lipstick free wine glass. Working in the restaurant industry for many years has taught me invaluable household and entertaining tips. One tip I learned along the way is how to shine wine glasses simply and quickly.

  1. The first step is to hand wash the wine glasses. Hand washing is best because it lessens the chance of the glass being scratched. Once glasses are scratched they will forever have a cloudy or hazy look. I let my glasses air dry but a wipe down with a dry, lint-free towel can help eliminate spots from forming.
  2. Boil water in a small sauce pan on the stove top. Once the water starts boiling the steam created is considered distilled water. This means that even hard water becomes completely pure and will offer the best cleaning capabilities.
  3. Hold the wine glass upside down over the steam and twist so the steam coats the whole glass. Wipe down with a lint-free towel. Cloth napkins work great for this step. If any spots remain, repeat this step.
  4. Voila! The wine glasses are now spot free.

This is the quickest, easiest, and most earth friendly way to shine wine glasses.

Finding Extra Space in a Tiny Kitchen

I love living in small spaces and I know it stems from how I grew up. We had a tiny bungalow in a lake town in Minnesota. The building started as a blacksmith shop in the 1900s and was later converted to a small family home. The addition was meager resulting in my family of four living in a one-bedroom home. I shared the bedroom with my sister and my parents took over the living room for their room. When my dad finished the basement it doubled our living space and allowed us to have a little more personal space. The funny thing is, we used the extra space very little and now that “the girls” have moved on, my parents use the basement almost exclusively for laundry. We all had grown accustom to the small home and to this day my sister and I both live in apartments quite comfortably.

I learned from growing up in a small home that spaces need to work double duty, especially in the kitchen. My husband and I live in a two bedroom apartment, which I sometimes argue features too much space for us, yet there never seems to be enough space in the kitchen. We both love to cook and bake and storing our resulting kitchen gadgets can be challenging. One addition to the kitchen that freed up much-needed cabinet space is the wall rack that holds dish rags, mugs and a place to dry used dish rags.

The rack was purchased at my favorite “small spaces store”, IKEA, and the rags are basic white bar towels. I prefer white because they’re easy to bleach. It was an easy addition to the
kitchen, it’s useful, and I think it’s cute to boot! I find my life in a small home to be cozy and comfortable. It just takes a little creativity to make it all fit.