Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Christimastime in Vegas

Well, blog buddies, I'm back on home turf again, after a week in Las Vegas with Rick. We go there for his trade show. Not my favorite place. I think everyone should see it once but unless you gamble, it gets old.

And big. Huge. Very tiring. Especially after being sick. Home never felt so good.

Still, there is much to find lovely, especially at the holiday time, so I thought I'd share a few pix of some of the most festive spots.

One of my first stops is always the conservatory at the Bellagio. They often reuse some of the elements (I have seen the penguins and bears before) but always move them around and do them in a wonderful, whimsical way.

Everything is done with flowers and organics. It takes 140 people to make this happen.

I particularly love their big tree. The "snow globe" was new this year and rather magical.

We quite love just looking at it, noticing the small details and the amazing use of plants and foliage. It is a bit overwhelming.


(And best of all, it's free! One of the best bargains in Las Vegas!)

Another hotel that does Christmas well is the Venetian.

Set like an Italian fortress of shops and canals, the Venetian always has a lovely tree outside.

They also offer free entertainment, which is a perfect time to sit down and give your feet a break!

Of course the shop windows are always something to gaze at -- I particularly loved the festive nature of this one!

And couldn't resist this shot!

Outside, you will find everything from people dressed in Star Wars, Michael Jackson or Elvis costumes to some more seasonally attired. I love the contrast in views here -- in the first, the girls look like they are having a very bad day. But when the gentlemen pass with their "donations," there are smiles all around!

Ah, Vegas. I can't say that I like having my senses continually assaulted or working the trade show floor with Rick.

But I have to admire the panache to make the fantasy seem real. For a minute, you are in Venice, in a garden, in a crazy world. And when you're not too pooped to participate, I admit -- it's kind of fun!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Checking that List....for books!

Several blog and writer friends have had new offerings just in time for the holiday season. I wanted to take a minute to recommend several.

First, Dr. Kathy McCoy's "Purr Therapy" is guaranteed to win your heart. If you read Kathy's wonderful blog, you know that she had a long-standing therapy practice and like many therapists, her clients covered a wide range of issues. Some were especially challenging -- until a serendipitous accident brought her cats Timmy and Marina into her practice.


You can't get much more heartwarming than rescued cats who help rescue the hearts of others, nor can you weep many more tears than when you learn of their stories -- the stories of the clients and of the cats themselves.

Kathy is a delightful writer, never preachy but with grace sharing many of the lessons that Timmy and Marina brought her way. They're lessons from which we can all benefit.

Many of my earliest blog connections were made through Becca Rowan, whose Write on Wednesday series brought like-minded writers from around the country together to share their thoughts on the art, craft and work of writing.

Her new book, Reflections on Life in General, is a compilation drawn from more than 4,000 blog posts over the past seven years. The essays tell the story of the life of a 21st century woman, thoughts of family, home, reading and writing. They are shared stories, eloquently told, that one can relate to with the grace in which Becca delivers them.

The final offering is a series by Richard Lassin-Simkin. While he is not a biographer, he is a longtime friend-and-practically-family member who decided several years ago he wanted to write and has since penned several novels.

The Matchstick Trilogy consists of three books, "Forgiven," "Matchstick" and "Lost." Characters continue from book to book -- the historical "Forgiven" (set post-Civil War) and the contemporary sequels, although you might find they take a different form as the books evolve. If you enjoy fiction, these might be your cup of tea!

Now, you know I can't be totally objective. All three of these writers are very dear to me. But trust me, if I hadn't read and enjoyed these myself, I couldn't encourage you to do the same. All are available at and you can link to their pages from this post's links. (I believe Richard's are available only on Kindle at this time.)

Happy Shopping!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Struggling to Get It Right

I suspect by now -- if my less-frequent-than-usual blog visits are any indication -- that many of you are getting ready for the holidays. You're bringing boxes up from the basement or down from the attic, rediscovering hidden treasures like old friends, each with their stories to tell.

There's the Santa you bought on vacation, the angel a friend gave you, the ornament that reminds you of your grandmother, the creche you were given as a child.

There are those of us who will decorate with understated, simple elegance. Some of us will pull out all the stops because really, you only do this once a year. And some of us will employ both minimal elegance and opulent overabundance in our holiday celebrations.

I'm usually right there with you, ahead of the game, even, with the decorations coming out the day after Thanksgiving and done before we take off for Rick's annual trade show. The only good thing about doing my least favorite thing in the world is that I get to spend time with Rick in an almost-vacation-like atmosphere (except, of course, for the stress of the work and the importance of the event to his business).

This year, I'll be running to catch up in  week or so. The out of town gifts have yet to be wrapped, much less mailed. I think most of the locals are purchased -- but until I excavate that rather large mound on the guest room bed, I won't know for sure. I'm not sure even a jolly old elf could find them.

And as you might expect, I'm not OK with that.

A nasty bug my doctor called a virus (rather than the flu) and one that he treated like pneumonia because of my own compromised situation, flattened me the week after Thanksgiving. And when I say flattened, I don't mean limping around with less productivity. I mean laying around with no productivity, a fever, wracking cough and every bone hurting. The box of Christmas cards was across the room, but I couldn't hold the pen, much less decorate, bake cookies or wrap gifts.

I was a mess and it scared the heck out of me, bringing back reminders from not all-that-distant a past of being sick beyond words.

It puts things in perspective, this vulnerability that creeps up and attacks us when and where we are most unsuspecting and leaves a mark far more damaging emotionally than one might expect.

The things that were finished, like my outdoor wreath and baskets, were made over Thanksgiving weekend. Apart from that I have done little but sleep and watch Hallmark movies. I think I have the formula down well enough that I can write one by now. The good thing about Hallmark movies is that if you miss them one day (meaning you fall asleep in the middle), you'll probably be able to hear the end of the story later. The bad thing is -- well, how many times can you watch the same movie if it's not "Singin' in the Rain"?

When you can't even handle sitting at the computer and catching up on blogs, you know something is amiss. And I've missed you.

As I write this I am on the mend. Friday I was cleared to go out in public and went to hear the wonderful Classical Bells Christmas Concert featuring blog world's own Becca Rowan. It was a fabulous show that put me in a seasonal mood. Then I went home and crashed!

Saturday  I helped our board for Friends of Theatre decorate a tree for a historic home holiday showcase. It was a beautiful environment and delightfully festive.

Two hours later, I was back home -- crashed!


I'm going to be unable to visit you for a bit but I will have a post I hope you'll check in for later this week. It features some wonderful reads you might want to put on your Christmas purchase list -- and you may even recognize some of the authors!

Meanwhile, I say enjoy this glorious season. I have a lot of catching up to do in more ways than one. But really -- what is better than to celebrate?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Holiday Decorating on a Dime (or two!)

I recently returned to one of my favorite spots -- Southern Exposure Herb Farm in Battle Creek, MI -- for a whirlwind workshop on Decorating on a Shoestring. There were so many remarkable ideas (107 over three hours -- and that included time for a fabulous dinner!) that I am sharing even  more over at Habitation on All Things Girl!

Like our other Southern Exposure visits, our time began with a fabulous meal, including a stuffed chicken dish, colorful roasted root veggies, kale salad, scrumptious potatoes and a remarkable peppermint cake, all served with wine.

The table was beautifully decorated with rosemary for a centerpiece, and of course we had our party favors. We also enjoyed frosted cranberries as an accompaniment on our plate (and regular ones in the water). I figured out how to make them while working on my Thanksgiving cranberry sauce. Just cook the cranberries a bit in sugar and water and as they start to pop pull out unpopped ones. Roll them in sugar and let them cool. Then pop them in the freezer. They are sweet-tart, wonderful jewels!

After dinner we were given a ton of ideas featured in the dining room. Among them: Using a discarded wide frame to make a beautiful square wreath; wrapping boxes for decor and displaying them on a child's chair (this was atop an armoire).

Just about anything that hangs can become a showpiece. Add some glitz and glamour to your chandelier. Or, if you happen to have antlers hanging around, a bauble or two is always fun!

 We broke up into four groups and our first stop brought even more thoughts! I loved this PVC snowflake centerpiece.

And while this photo is pretty fuzzy, I rather liked the faux wreath snow guy, which would be great on an exterior.

Two of my favorites (the ladder tree and the lighted saran-wrap-under-glass new year's setting are at Habitation. This photo gives you an idea of the new year's table.

Of course, lamps can be an accompaniment (with bows) or a centerpiece. This wreath-surrounded lamp made for a dynamic setting. The napkin rings are swirly glittered wires from Michael's.

Then it was back outdoors again to go to our next venue, the kitchen.

Chef Elsie shared her recipes and then a few hints. I loved this one -- take an old doorknob and repurpose it to anchor a large wedge of cheese. It gives one something solid to hold onto while slicing it.

Then it was off outside again! And every bit of outside was as decorated as in!

I was very excited to go into the "Big House" which isn't usually open to guests as it is inhabited by the farm owners. We were welcomed at the front door with this vision -- a dried hydrangea garland with stockings (purchased at the dollar store or resale). On each step was a battery-operated tea light. (The lighting was dim so I have two photos here to show it off.)

Another idea I loved was taking the lid of a storage container and putting lights, pine boughs and cones atop it. Use this as a resting spot for boots to drain. It smelled wonderful!

To be perfectly honest, I didn't want to leave this space. Ever. In my entire life. How could you leave a table so inviting?

Or a fireplace so warm and toasty! (Note how the vintage cheese graters were used for lighting and the use of doll clothing on the mantle. These were hanging from an old iron -- the kind you heat over the fire!

Wreaths (real and faux) were used everywhere. I liked how they used it here to encircle the clock.

Lighting adds so much and now that the LED battery operated lights are so accessible, they can go to spots where outlets aren't easy.

Colored water, a small wreath, hanging greens all go to make a window ledge inviting.

A small bunch of live roses (in floral water picks) or lovely silk blooms can turn a small tree into a lovely arrangement.

Finally, it was to the garage for some outdoor techniques, which included lighting, covering oversized letters with moss for a holiday message or monogram, and ways to use greens. Of course, this little fellow cared only that his bed was color coordinated.

I should add again that every idea from the workshop was based on this principle: With the exception of lighting and any DIY supplies, most all of the decorative elements were either found in nature, purchased at yard sales, Goodwill/Salvation Army or other resale shops and dollar stores, hand made, repurposed or already owned (surprisingly, they didn't haul out all the "good stuff" from years before; in fact Scott said after the holidays, most of it all goes back to Goodwill).

In other words, really decorating on a shoestring.

Then it was off to the gift shop... unfortunately not in this vintage beauty!

And yes, damage was done!

Do be an angel and check out more ideas at Habitation! And remember, your decor needn't be expensive. Just love it and make it fun and all will be well!

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