Tick Tock!

Santa Baby brought me a new Filofax this Christmas—orange!  So, I’m doing a little paperwork tonight, jotting down some dates and deadlines for 2010.  Out of the clear blue sky, I received, or rather God provided, a new (and unsolicited) freelance assignment.  The topic is American art; I’ll learn more details Tuesday.

finsbury-pkt-orange We leave for Peru in a few weeks, and this time, Big is joining us.  Florida and Alaska are on the 2010 calendar, too.  And a graduation!

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So, I am sitting by the fireplace with the Mister, counting blessings.  No place else I’d rather be than here, sipping stars with the man who hung the moon.

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Wishing you all a New Year full of God’s light and grace.

Please don’t miss this one!

If you haven’t yet seen the movie The Blind Side, then by all means, go.  This weekend.  I was predisposed to like it because I am a Christian as well as a southerner who enjoys college football, but this movie is about much more than that.  Mr. T&C and I went last night.  As soon as the credits ended, I told the Mister that I could sit right back down and watch it again.  He had already seen it with the boys.  The theater was full. Young and old, black and white moviegoers, we all laughed and sniffled together, and we left the theater feeling hopeful. 

the blind side Go.  And let me know what you thought.

more favorite (shiny) things

China. Crystal. Silver.  Like many young brides-to-be, I registered for all those staples of a well-furnished table and home.  I collected sterling napkin rings, and I was given a beautiful white damask table cloth and dinner napkins, so I felt our table was pretty well set.  And then I received a gift that upped the ante and created a slight obsession.  Eight sterling silver nut or mint dishes, monogrammed.  Heavy.  Square.  Gorgeous. I thanked the giver, wrapped them in brown flannel, and forgot about them.  Until.  Mr. T&C and I were invited to an elegant birthday supper, and our Charleston hostess had topped each place setting with a different nut dish.  Each was filled with peanut M&Ms, the honoree’s favorite candy.  I loved this idea, and so on my next antique fair/flea market adventure, I set out to find some more nut dishes of my own. I am now like a crow (and not just around my eyes!) looking for these shiny gewgaws. Eight was not enough!  The hunt is, as you know, ever so fun!  For one, marked Christofle nonetheless, I paid five dollars.  For the Tiffany shell, I paid, well, more.  Most of them are monogrammed, and a couple of them have a few dings.  Nevertheless, I now have 24 total, although the two in the lower right of the photo are actually ash trays, so they don’t really count.  I planned to give each child eight, but as I said earlier, eight isn’t enough.  Really, they’ll need at least twelve. I mostly pull them out at birthdays and holidays and sometimes when friends come for dinner.  M&Ms are my candy of choice, but I have used Red Hots, Conversation Hearts, Jordan almonds, and buttermints.  They seem to add a note of festivity every time.  We always use them for Christmas breakfast.

IMG_0651Speaking of Christmas breakfast, that’s the big meal of the day around here.  We usually don’t eat until around eleven, having some version of an egg casserole, country ham and biscuits, fresh fruit, and hot curried fruit, and cinnamon bread.  And we always have the Christmas crackers.  We put on the paper crowns and then go around the table reading the silly British riddles and jokes.  This year, Middle proclaimed the jokes the “lamest ever,” and Big replied, “well, what do you expect from people who think Mr. Bean is funny.”  Here’s a look at the table setting.  I did use a red velvet place mat this year, and although it looked fine in person, it didn’t photograph well.  The china is Haviland and was an Easter gift years ago from my mother.  The silver is Reed & Barton Hepplewhite, except for the spoon which is coin silver.

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Coin silver.  Hmmm.  Could be the next obsession for this old crow.

and another (favorite) thing

Christmas Eve, 1999.  Big is a shepherd.  Middle is a sheep.  Little is Baby Jesus.  Have them all at church by five for costumes; be sure to feed Little first, so she doesn’t cry.  Make sure all the company have correct directions for the church.  Typical excitement and chaos filled our house, which was already full of guests, presents yet to be wrapped, blouses to be pressed, and so on.   Days earlier I had made my list and checked it twice; still I fretted over Christmas Eve dinner.  Mr. T&C and I were hosting seven that night—all from out of town, and frankly, all would be starving and expecting something sumptuous when we returned from church.  At an early run-through of the nativity pageant, our Rector’s wife, told me, that, although not fancy, she had always thought shepherd’s pie was the perfect Christmas Eve supper—especially when one had young children.  I had been thinking along the lines of roast or shrimp and grits or maybe even lasagna, and then it hit me.  Shepherd’s pie.  Of course.  Make it ahead; set the oven on time-bake.  Serve a simple salad and a nice red wine. 

Karry Hosford Cooking Light Karry Hosford, Cooking Light

Dessert?  Well, that’s obvious.  Angel food cake.   And fresh strawberries—notice I’m not italicizing the straw.  I have some restraint.   This menu has been our staple for Christmas Eve dinners ever since.  A few weeks ago, I asked the children if they’d like to change it up a bit—we could grill some steaks, I suggested. No, no, no was their chorus. 

strawberries Fresh, from Florida.

Christmas Eve,2009.  Little, Middle, and Big are each reading a portion of the Gospel of Luke in the five o’clock service.  Little came to me about noon, asking if I was making shepherd’s pie.  Fear not was all I could say.

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And she didn’t.

A few of my favorite things: brown paper packages tied up with strings

As the year draws to a close, I thought it might be helpful (for me, at least) to remember some of the best ideas of this Christmas season.  My go-to gift this year for neighbors, teachers, and coaches was coffee.  Liquid Highway , a nearby coffee roaster devoted to handcrafted and microroasted coffee as well as to “saving lives one cup at a time” offered their blends as a fundraiser for our church’s mission trip.  On a whim, I gave Liquid Highway a photo of our house, which was turned into a label for the coffee I bought for gifts.  I am afraid it might be a little bit cheesy to give people coffee with your house on the label, but the coffee is really, really good, and it’s a gift, right?

IMG_0573 Piled in a chair near the front door.

Do you have a favorite gift to keep on hand?

All is calm, all is bright

 IMG_0510      And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."  Luke 2:8-12

 

Merry Christmas!

got milk?

Baking and decorating cookies for Santa Claus is a big deal in the T&C household, particularly for the kiddos.  I have tried several different sugar, or cut-out, cookie recipes, and, I’ve decided my favorite is Paula Deen’s Animal-shaped Sugar Cookies from Paula Deen and Friends.  As far as celebrity chef cookbooks go, I favor Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa books and the Lee Brothers, but these sugar cookies turn out perfectly every time.  Or, more accurately, year after year.

To see some truly gorgeous cut-outs by a cookie master, visit Pink Martinis and Pearls.

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We keep the old cookie cutters in an old tartan lunch box.  IMG_0580 My great grandmother’s rolling pin, one solid piece of poplar,

the chilled dough, and the marble slab.

IMG_0583The apprentice.

IMG_0592   I like the airplane and the bell the best.

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“He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.”

That’s hardly surprising, is it?

Please don’t stuff silk flowers in the Christmas tree

Last fall some friends and I attended a “lunch and learn” hosted by one of the most chic florists in the city.  The lunch was fine, and all the lovely ladies were admiring the various centerpieces and tablescapes and what have you, when the shop’s owner and premier designer began her demonstration.  First, she began stuffing (her word) giant silk poinsettia blooms into the nine-foot tree to give it “dimension.”  The poor tree was already three-dimensional, so I didn’t really see the need to cram in some fake flowers.  Next came shiny Mylar sprays.  Then some lime green and copper ribbon was worked in, and finally she hung some gigantic copper-colored silk balls and perched some tropical looking silk birds artfully on the tree.  The end result was stunning, or rather, I was stunned.  Nothing about that tree looked like Christmas to me.  In my mind, it is emotion and memory that give a Christmas tree “dimension” and “depth.”  LPC at Privilege has a similar point of view.

When it comes to Christmas tree ornaments, the Mister and I have accumulated more than our fair share.  Each year, I try to sneak a few out of the Keep box and move them into the Junior League donation box, but he will have none of it.  For a few years, we were a three tree household, but, thankfully we’re now back to only one.  The downside is that not all of the ornaments make it onto the tree each year.  The old glass ornaments from Austria and the children’s handmade ones from school and church are always given pride of place. 

Some of my favorite ornaments are the popsicle stick nativity, made by the Mister; the glass grandfather clock; and the fingerprint snowman on the blue ball, which was made by Little in first grade.

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We have one of these little boots for each of the children, with their name and  birthdate on the bottom.  The little elf is a childhood ornament of the Mister’s.  Very kitsch and very cute, I think.

My undisputed favorite, though, is this paper angel of Mr. T&C.  He made it when he was in first grade, 1968.  He remembers telling his mother that he needed a picture of himself for school, so she gave him a snapshot made at the beach.  When he got to school that morning, he realized that all his classmates had head shots.  He was really embarrassed, at the time, but I think he takes some comfort in that the angel he made continues to be carefully hung on the tree each year, 42 years later. IMG_0473

Faithful friends who are dear to us

One of my children’s favorite books when they were young was That’s Good! That’s Bad! by Margery Cuyler.  Throughout the book, the young protagonist faces a number of terrifying circumstances with fierce animals, and time after time when it appears that disaster is imminent, the danger becomes the escape.  The refrain alternates between “Oh, that’s good. No, that’s bad." and “Oh, that’s bad.  No, that’s good.”  It’s a fun way for children to begin to learn that things aren’t always what they seem.30160004   So, in an effort to recap the events of the weekend, I will borrow Ms. Cuyler’s clever delivery style:

Friday was the last day of school for the year.  Oh, that’s good.  No, that’s bad.  (I still had some shopping left to do.)

Snow and sleet were predicted, so school in this Southern town was dismissed two hours early.  Oh, that’s bad. No, that’s good.  (I would be finished with my homeroom parent duties two hours earlier, which would mean I could finish up some of the aforementioned shopping.)

Little and Middle wanted to go shopping with me.  Oh that’s good.  No, that’s bad.  Little and Middle have an inexplicable ability to make me spend more money than I intend.

And I did.  Oh, that’s bad. No, that’s good.  We were buying angel tree gifts, and we were learning generosity.

When we turned onto our street, we saw a police car in front of our house with its lights flashing.  Oh, that’s good (thought Middle and Little).  No, that’s bad.

Turns out a big tree from our yard had fallen in the high winds.  Oh, that’s bad.  No, that’s good. (It didn’t touch our home or anyone else’s or any electrical lines!)

Saturday unfolded in a similar fashion, culminating with a stomach ailment for Middle, and, honestly, that was just plain bad, but by then I was so ready for our annual “Singing Santa” House Party that--despite the ups and downs--my spirit was merry and bright.   The Singing Santa House Party is something our family looks forward to each year. IMG_0559

For the past four Decembers, we have gathered at the Claus home for a great visit.  It started with a two-hour drive north for an overnight get-away to celebrate my birthday with friends we have loved for a long time.  After dinner, Mr. T&C suggested we take a drive and look at the neighborhood Christmas lights.   Keeping in mind that this is the South, we bundled up and piled in the back of Mr. Claus’s fancy pick-up truck.  And what a time we had!  Of course, we sang Christmas carols, and all six adults and nine children knew that we had hit upon a new tradition.  Well, the Clauses had moved back to the Carolinas from Texas only a year or so earlier, and when they were in Texas they knew someone who dressed as Santa and spread Christmas cheer in a custom sleigh.  So, the next year found us again in the back of the truck, but Mr. Claus was “in uniform,” so to speak, and Mrs. Claus had whipped up some treats for us to share with the neighborhood children.  The following year, the Clauses transformed a yard cart into a sleigh with a sound system, and Mr. Claus was sporting a fancier suit.

 

IMG_0518  Santa checks his iPod.

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The sleigh.

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  These two cherubs have come out of their warm houses to see Santa!

 

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Some of the good boys and girls along for the ride!

The local newspaper featured the Clauses in a sweet story, and if I’m not mistaken, the Clauses and the Elves were invited to visit other neighborhoods, which, of course, they did.  So, this year, another wonderful family of longtime friends joined us, driving more than two hours to take part in one of our favorite traditions. 

We arrived around four on Sunday afternoon.  Altogether we were 21 this year; we were delighted to bring Lovely Girlfriend with us, and some Fine Young Men were invited as well.  The 14 children ranged from fifth grade to graduate school students, so to get the ice broken, they worked together on making Christmas tree ornaments depicting the nativity with felt, toothpicks, and lima beans and black-eyed peas!IMG_0511Mr. and Mrs. Claus and Mrs. Elf had prepared an early supper of barbecue sliders, baked beans, coleslaw, sweet tea, coffee, and pound cake.  Of course, there were appetizers galore as well.  About six, we set off with a full sleigh under clear, cold skies.    After caroling throughout the vast neighborhoods, we went to the Elves’ beautiful home for a bonfire and s’mores.  The real treat, though, was unhurried conversation with dear, dear friends.

After a long winter’s nap, Mr. T&C and I awoke to ham biscuits and fresh orange and grapefruit slices and lot of good coffee, too.

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And so the weekend came to a close.  Oh, that’s bad. No, that’s good!  I have a whole year to be thankful and to look forward to our next time together.  Thank you Santa and Mrs. Claus and Mr.and Mrs. Elf for your gracious hospitality!

Middle’s Finger

I’m afraid this post will be rather short, but there will be no obscene gestures, I promise.

For several years, Middle has suffered extreme jealousy whenever one of his friends received a “cool” injury.  Skateboard injuries—usually broken wrists—were most desirable during the elementary school years.  Once Middle had a spectacular longboarding accident, and as I was patching him up, he began sniffling.  Thinking the medicine I was using was stinging, I tried to comfort him.  His response to me was, “Oh, Mom, nothing’s even broken!”  On another occasion, he complained of his horrible, boring life.  Frustrated and somewhat infuriated, I asked him what was so terrible about his life, and his answer was that he had never even been to an emergency room!

Rock climbing, caving, surfing, whitewater rafting, football, Middle has sampled a few adventure sports, but he always comes out unscathed.  He is known for devising schemes that put him in harm’s way.  Consider the zipline he tried to make from his second-story window to the street in front of the house.  Most frightening, he jumped from a beach house balcony into the pool when all the adults were out for a walk!  Even wrestling with Big leaves him unharmed, but last night, with an aggressive basketball rebound Middle finally scored his desired result.  “Mom, I heard my finger pop,” he beamed.  After an examination by the Mister and Big, we concluded it was a sprain, and that ibuprofen and ice were all that was needed.  Sulkily, Middle hit the shower and the hay.bball

This morning, however, Middle’s finger was swollen immensely, and thus began the day—to the pediatrician who sent us to the radiologist who confirmed there was a break and sent us back to the pediatrician to set it.  Upon seeing his x-rays and learning it was a rather serious break that required a careful set so as not to stunt the finger’s growth, Middle was elated—he was eager to return to school, for heaven’s sake!  After all, if it wasn’t such a cool status symbol, it would probably hurt a little.

After dinner tonight, I asked Middle if he would be able to carry out the garbage for me, or if he was in pain.  He gave me a slight look of disgust, saying, “Gee, Mom, it’s just a broken finger.”  Oh.  Right. 

Well, this is embarrassing . . .

Relatively new to blogging, I only wish I could use my neophyte status as an excuse.  It came to my attention today that I had inadvertently made it almost impossible to comment on this blog.  All the while, I had been whining to Mr. T&C and Fabulous Co-worker that I never had any comments. Oh, yes, my face is red—almost as red as these stunning poinsettias.

Red Poinsettias

So, please forgive me, and by all means, comment!

Tis the Season

Debutante season, that is.  Here in the South, this weekend in particular is a popular one for debutante balls.  Usually, the debs are college sophomores, although I think that varies from place to place.  Ordinarily, as I am well past “coming out,” I would not take much notice of this tradition other than to look at the girls’ pictures in the Sunday paper and marvel over how pretty they are, especially if I know them. debs Sean GallupGetty Images This year is different because Big is escorting Lovely Girlfriend to a cotillion in the lower part of the state.  Lovely Girlfriend is somewhere between excitement and amusement at the whole debutante idea.  I think she is one of about 20 young ladies at this ball, and one of them is her cousin, so that makes it more fun.  Big is mostly just amused at the whole idea of making a debut to “society.”  Still, he wants to do it right, so:

fresh haircut right after school,

white tie and tails to be picked up today,white_tie_tails

small bouquet of white flowers sent to Lovely’s home.freesias

Mr. T&C and I need to find a little gift for Lovely.  Well, let’s not be silly—I need to find a sweet little gift for Lovely.  I am thinking of giving her a sterling silver napkin ring, possibly with the date of the cotillion engraved on it.  I have collected old silver napkin rings for years, and one of my favorites is engraved December 25, 1921—what an elegant Christmas dinner that must have been!  So, I am hopeful that Lovely might be inspired to start her own collection, or if not, at least a napkin ring doesn’t take up a lot of room in your desk drawer.  I considered a monogrammed handkerchief, too, which Big thought hilarious.  He likes the napkin ring idea, though.  Go figure. 

As for the Mister and me, we’re shaking our heads at how quickly the time goes by. Yesterday, I took Big shopping for a sportcoat to wear to the brunch for the debs.  I was not looking forward to spending a lot because Big is still getting bigger—sometimes it’s like having a six-foot-three inch baby.  By that I mean, he’s outgrowing clothes that fit only a month or two ago; the difference is that the clothes he now outgrows are adult clothes not Baby Gap onesies!  Happily, we found a great jacket at the Junior League thrift store for $30!  He’s planning on wearing a bowtie for a jaunty Christmas-y look.  

It seems like only last year, we were putting him in a red corduroy romper with bells appliqued on the bib. Now, that was a jaunty Christmas look!

 

Debutante photo: Sean Gallup, Getty Images

Out to Lunch

 IMG_0483 My birthday was this past Friday.  As it sometimes goes with December birthdays, it’s been hard to find time to celebrate my day specifically.  Everyone’s schedule is full--shopping, parties, rehearsals, exams.   So, Friday I took myself shopping, only I didn’t buy anything for myself.  I did get a lot of Christmas shopping finished, and I sampled my way around Costco.  Later in the weekend, I told Mr. T&C that I was making chicken andouille sausage and rice for lunch, and that he would love it.  Having a little fun at his expense, I added, “they served it at my birthday party.”  He gave me a quizzical look.  “You know, they had the crab dip and the pannetone and the baked brie.”  He was squinting hard by this time, trying to remember, wondering if he had somehow missed my birthday party—or worse yet, forgotten to attend it.  I relented, “my birthday party—at Costco—there were a lot of people there I didn’t know.”   Wink.  We had a good chuckle over that!

After church on Sunday, all five of us were able to go to lunch together, and we chose one of my favorite places downtown.  Set in an old cottage, the restaurant is surrounded by beautiful gardens.  I love to go there and sit outside, but Sunday was cold and rainy, so we ate inside where it was delightfully warm and cozy.  Everyone ordered brunch but me, and I had a delicious salad and fresh asparagus and parmesan ravioli.  For dessert, a chocolate lava cake for the table.  It was a lovely birthday lunch.

The Mister and me.IMG_0481

Aren’t these so pretty!  Simple and fresh, but so festive.

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I spent the rest of the afternoon by the fire, writing Christmas cards.  In the evening we returned to church for the annual Lessons and Carols, one of my favorite services.  Big had a reading, and Middle did the closing prayer.  The music, all sung by the young people’s choir, was wonderful.  I love seeing those young men and women in choir robes, Levis and duck shoes peeking out, yes, but for a time, they join with the generations before them  and sing of the hope, the promise, the joy of a Savior, of love come down at Christmastime.

resonate 2008

Holiday Tour of Homes

thumb_215937[1] Hmmm.  I have to say that taking part in a virtual house tour has brought back some funny memories for the Mister and me.  You see, several years ago, when we were living in Florida, the Mister and I were invited to be a part of a real house tour--as in people pay money to see your house and, in our case, five others.  The tour was an annual fund-raiser for the Women's Fine Arts Committee of our little town, and because I knew someone whose daughter had received a music scholarship from the committee, I felt like we should do it.  More accurately, that was the excuse I used as to why we were doing it.  In all honesty, I was thrilled to be asked and just as thrilled to be able to show off our house.  A few years earlier, the Mister and I had worked with a terrific architect and a top-notch architect/custom home builder to create the home where we fully expected to live out the rest of our lives.  Funny about that.  Nevertheless, the building process was an intensely creative collaboration, and I loved it.  And when the building was finished, the decorating and gardening began, and I loved that, too.

 

thumb_570710[1] It takes a little planning to get your house ready for a home tour. You have to decorate early.  You have to decide what, if any areas, are off limits.  And, most important, you have to agree that even though this tour business is fun and flattering, it really isn't important.   As best I can remember, our plan looked something like this:  I cleaned the house from top to bottom.  The Mister pruned and added some annuals to the yard.  We got all the Christmas decorations out and set up a "staging area" in our garage.  I bought a lot of poinsettias and a yard of mulch.  We agreed that we would not get divorced, and we actually shook on it.  So, we worked like crazy for two days, and, yes, we were shoveling mulch in the dark the night before! We prayed that it would not rain, and then, the "day of" we took the children, then ages four, seven, and eleven, to lunch and to the movies and for ice cream.  When we arrived back home, just as the stragglers were leaving, and the lovely hostesses were packing up, we were told about 2000 folks had come through our house that day!

 

Now, a funny thing about the Mister is that he generally does not care too much about what other people think, but he suddenly became obsessed with hearing what people thought about our house.  We got up the next morning and went to church, knowing that the final day of the tour would begin at 11 am.  Our little ones were spending the afternoon with friends, so that the Mister and I could visit the other homes on the tour, but the Mister wanted to go back to our house and hide so that we could hear any comments people made!  Now, that might have been fun--assuming the comments were compliments--but I have been known to go on home tours and make remarks that are along the lines of what were they thinking?  And, I could easily picture Mr. T&C popping out of his hiding place and saying, "Now, look lady, we went with the no. 3 grade pine floors because we like the knotholes!" So, no hiding.  Instead, we visited the other houses, where the Mister would go up to other tour takers and say, "We're afraid we're not going to have time to see all the houses, which ones should we try to get to?"  Thankfully, our house was usually recommended, but he did ask one patron, who said, "oh, definitely visit this one; this one (ours) not so much."  Ouch.  Still, we did visit the recommended one, which was two doors down from us.  The home of a "confirmed bachelor," this house featured amazing art and objets d'art, including a needlepoint-topped card table on which the bachelor's grandmother had played bridge with Wallis Simpson!  Crazy!

 

From there, we made it back to our own abode, where we lurked around long enough to hear one of the hostesses say to another that of all the houses she'd seen on the tours over the years, ours was the one that felt the most like home, like she could just move in and not change a thing.  To which her hostess/friend icily replied, "Really.  You know my home was on this tour two years ago!" and then she stomped off!

 

I've regretted not hiding ever since.

All Wrapped Up

Today I had the opportunity to attend a terrifically fun and productive party!  Hosted by a friend from my Tuesday morning Bible study, the party was a "wrapping party."  Guests were invited to bring their unwrapped presents, and enjoy one another's company while we wrapped away.  Our gracious and organized hostess had turned her lovely living room and dining area into the perfect wrapping stations, complete with scissors, tape, pens, and bowls of Hershey kisses! 




The greens and the reds

Around the room were bins of wrapping paper organized by color: reds; greens; blues; gold; silver; and such "fun" colors as pinks, purples, and oranges. 



Two of the six bins of ribbons!

In addition there were bins of wired ribbon, printed ribbon, raffia, and tulle--all organized by color.  It. Was. Fabulous.  So, with a cup of hot cider and a lot of great conversation, I wrapped all the presents I have so far.  Our hostess told us that this is her third year holding the Wrapping Party.  Incredibly generous, she opens her home from 9 in the morning until 9 in the evening on both Friday and Saturday and from 1 until 6 on Sunday.  The first year the party was only on Friday, and about 50 people came.  The next year, she doubled the time and the guest list, and this year she invited 150 "girls!"  Her husband said that this was her way to connect with all her friends before Christmas.  What a great idea!

  Here are the presents I wrapped after I got them home before we put them under the tree.  My favorites are the blue Noel paper and the vintage Santa paper. 



Mr. T&C likes red papers and foils, so I tried to do several with him in mind.  I love the penguin paper, too.

I am still waiting on a couple of deliveries, which I will wrap at home.   I'm a fairly organized person, but now I am completely motivated to get my wrapping supplies under control.  
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