Monday, November 24, 2014

Thoughtful Presence Giveaway: Make it a Joyous Christmas Gift Set

I usually try not to think too much about Christmas until the day after Thanksgiving. No Christmas music, no Christmas movies, no Christmas decorating or baking. Thanksgiving has always been the official kick-off of the holiday season and I have always been pretty strict about that policy. At least that was my policy before I started a gift basket business. It's a little hard to wait until the day after Thanksgiving to think Christmas when you're in the gifting business. It's more like we start thinking Christmas in June or July!

All of those traditions - decorating with lights, baking cookies of varied flavors, sending cards to those near and far - are just a few of the ways we make our own joyous Christmas. While I am excited to begin all of my own family traditions, I would love to hear about yours. Tell us about your own favorite Christmas tradition and enter our latest giveaway:

 Joyous Christmas Gift Set Giveaway

Friday, November 21, 2014

10 DIY Great Gifts for Guys

There’s something special about a handmade gift. Knowing it was made with love, specially designed for  you. No matter what else is on your list of wishes, receiving a handmade gift from someone you love always holds lifelong memories. And that’s what gifting should be about.

When you’re stuck on what to get the men in your life, you can’t go wrong with something handmade. They’ll love you even more and remember it forever.

We're featuring 10 of our favorite DIY handmade gifts for men, all intended to be customizable to your guy’s unique style and interests. Check them out!

I love the rough and rugged look of this Woven Paracord Watch from Instructables. Choose watch or bracelet, whichever best suits your guy, and create it in his best color. 

Every guy who BBQs needs his own designer towels. 1) so he won't use yours, and 2) so they can show off his favorite foods, drinks, colors....whatever you decide! Easy instructions from Silly Pearl.

For the classy corporate guy, the stays are an everyday need, and monogrammed adds that special touch. You can do some monogrammed and some with a short special message of your choice. These are from Shrimp Salad Circus.

The best thing about this pillow from curbly is that you can create any message, song lyrics, favorite places or just about anything you choose to stencil! Very personalized!

What guy doesn't have a favorite comic strip? These comic book coasters from Mod Podge Rocks make a fun surprise, and he won't believe you actually made them!

Whether it's Jack Daniels or another bottle, this manly soap dispenser from curlybirds will be a welcome addition to his side of the sink. 

I think I love these copper trimmed glasses from A little nutmeg just as they are, but you can certainly choose any design or color or glass shape to suit your guy. 

Great idea for the biker or gadget lover, this clock from Instructables is simply genius! 

This laptop sleeve from Sweet Verbena is a little more work, but if you're up to the task, it's super stylish and he won't let it out of his sight!

Fun and ultra modern, choose your own color and create your own shapes with these geo cuff links from Almost Makes Perfect!

If you have a favorite DIY gift for guys that you've made or found, please share in the comments!

Have a happy day!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Favorite Thanksgiving Recipe: Mashed Yams in Orange Cups

I remember making this side dish for a Thanksgiving dinner at my brother's house quite a few years ago. It has always been one of my favorite ways to make and serve holiday sweet potatoes. The recipe is from Bon Appetit, but I've added some of my own tips below (as I am known to do!)


Photo taken from

Makes 18 servings.

  • 6 pounds large yams (red-skinned sweet potatoes)
  • 3/4 cup marshmallow creme
  • 9 tablespoons butter, room temperature
  • 6 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 3 large eggs
  • 9 large oranges
  • Additional marshmallow creme
  • 36 pecan halves


  1. Pierce each yam all over with fork. 
  2. Working in 2 batches, cook yams in microwave 15 minutes. Turn yams over; cook until tender, about 12 minutes longer. Cut yams in half; scoop pulp into bowl. (I actually don't microwave to pre-cook the potatoes. I boil them until they are good and soft - about 45 minutes. I then peel them and slice them into a bowl.)
  3. Add 3/4 cup marshmallow creme, butter, and syrup; mash until smooth. 
  4. Season with salt and pepper. 
  5. Whisk in eggs. 
  6. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; chill.)
  7. Preheat oven to 350°F. 
  8. Cut thin slice from top and bottom of each orange to make flat surfaces. 
  9. Cut oranges in half. Scoop out pulp; reserve for another use.
  10. Place orange cups on 2 baking sheets. 
  11. Divide yam mixture equally among cups. Top each with dollop of marshmallow creme and 2 pecan halves. 
  12. Bake until beginning to brown, about 30 minutes. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

10 Random Acts of Kindness You Can Do on World Kindness Day

Today is World Kindness Day, and no matter your age, location, or occupation, there's something you can do today to spread a little kindness. You very well might be doing some of these every day, and if so, I commend you. World Kindness Day is intended to raise awareness of how small acts of kindness can make a huge difference and to encourage practicing small acts of kindness.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. As you go about your day, make it a point to share a smile and a greeting with strangers you encounter - at the office, grocery store, or gas station. Just a little smile will make a big difference to someone who might be having a bad day.
  2. Bring a little treat to share at your work place.
  3. Make a donation today to your favorite charity.
  4. Leave prime parking space for others today.
  5. Bring a neighbor a small treat or flowers and wish them a happy day.
  6. Stop inside a nearby church and say a special prayer for kindness and peace around the world.
  7. Sign up for a volunteer project today.
  8. If you're out shopping, ask the cashier how their day is going. Tell them today is World Kindness Day and pay it forward.
  9. Clean out a closet and donate some things you no longer need.
  10. Practice patience on the road. Yield and take it slowly. has many other great ideas and inspiring stories. Take a few minutes to read and be inspired.

Have a happy day!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Favorite Recipe: Apple-Filled Acorn Squash Rings with Curry Butter

This recipe has been around for years, and I've made it just about every year since I first discovered it. It's filled with the wonderful flavors of apples, squash, and curry, and is quite easy to make. The hardest task to this recipe is cutting the tough skinned acorn squash. But the presentation is beautiful and flavors are delicious, so well worth the effort of a single task!

Photo taken from

  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons curry powder
  • 2 apples, peeled, cored, diced (about 2-1/3 cups)
  • 2/3 cup apple juice
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 8 unpeeled acorn squash rings, seeded and sliced about 1 inch thick (should be about 2 medium sized acorn squash
  1. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and saute until tender.
  2. Add 1 tablespoon curry powder, stir 1 minute.
  3. Add apples, apple juice, and raisins. Saute until liquid evaporates, about 6 minutes.
  4. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  5. Above filling can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.
  6. Preheat oven to 350 F. 
  7. Melt 5 tablespoons butter in small skillet over medium heat. Add 1/2 tablespoon curry powder, stir about 1 minute. Transfer curry butter to bowl. 
  8. Brush 2 large rimmed baking sheets with some curry butter. 
  9. Arrange squash in single layer on sheets. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  10. Scoop filling into center of rings. Drizzle remaining curry butter over squash and filling.
  11. Cover with foil. Bake until squash is tender when pierced with fork, about 40 minutes.
  12. Use spatula to transfer squash rings with filling to plates.
  13. Enjoy!
Have a happy day!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Favorite Fall and Halloween Decorating Ideas

When you’re decorating for Halloween, do you choose scary or cute? Are you Halloween specific or do you go with a more general autumn theme? This year, we’re hosting a Halloween costume party, so we've gone all out Halloween through most of the house. But I do have one space reserved for more of a general autumn and Thanksgiving theme. When the Halloween decorations come down, that will take us through a month of giving thanks.

Whichever theme or style you choose, here are a few of our favorite finds for decorating ideas including our very own haunted garden. Enjoy!

Our Haunted Garden has grown a little more each year. This year's addition is the orange sign that we made to welcome our visitors. 

A couple of my favorite mantel designs come from Hometalk and the Seasonal Home.

Photo taken from

Photo taken from

This is one of the most original ideas I've seen for a table setting, from Weddingomania. Love the color choice, the hand and the rose. Great detail and this was from a Halloween wedding table!

Photo taken from

Two front door designs that I really like. The first is ours (I'm partial), and the other is a more elegant design from Create Craft Love

Photo taken from Create Craft Love

As for pumpkin carving, you can find just about anything. We did a traditional pumpkin this year, but my good friend, Gail and family, created a much more artistic display! 

Have a happy day!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

13 Creative and Spooky Halloween Food Ideas

Well I've finally finished my menu planning for this year's Halloween party. I've scoured Pinterest and Google for the best creative Halloween food ideas, and although I won't be making all of these, I thought I'd share with you my top 13 finds. (Of course 13 - it's Halloween!)

When it comes to party food for Halloween, there is a lot out there. Personally, I'm not a big fan of food looking like stuffed cockroaches, severed fingers, or gushing brains. I like my Halloween foods to look cute and clever, but still appetizing! These are my picks, and I'm not telling which I'm making for the party this Friday, but I'll be sure to post pics when the table is set!

Monster cookies
Photo taken from

Photo taken from Bakerella

Photo taken from Raining Hot Coupons

Photo taken from First for Women

Photo taken from Chickabug

Photo taken from

Photo taken from One Sweet Appetite

Photo taken from Sally's Baking Addiction

Photo taken from Real Simple

Halloween Veggie Platter

Photo taken from S Spicy Perspective

Photo taken from BHG

Photo taken from BHG

Have a happy day!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Favorite Autumn Recipe: Acorn Squash Soup

Ingredients for 4 servings
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, chopped
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 medium acorn squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
  • 32 ounces chicken broth (veggie broth works great if you prefer vegetarian)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • sour cream
  1. Heat oil in large pot.
  2. Saute onion, celery, carrot, potatoes and squash about 10 minutes.
  3. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil.
  4. Reduce heat to low and simmer 40 minutes.
  5. Let cool slightly then transfer to a blender and blend until smooth. 
  6. Return to pot and heat through. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Serve with a spoonful of sour cream and croutons or crusty bread.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Parallel 44 Vineyard & Winery

I've been to Sonoma and ridden a hot air balloon over Napa. It is a beautiful region with such a wide variety of styled wineries, making it an amazing vacation spot.

On a family reunion trip this summer, we discovered Parallel 44 Vineyard & Winery in Kewaunee, Wisconsin. It's in the area near Green Bay where my dad grew up, just up the road from his favorite meat shop. On our stop there, we purchased a freezer full of the best Wisconsin sausage and cheese and headed toward the Winery.

What struck me most about this place was the farm and silos in the background of the vineyard. It had its own unique feel that was very Midwestern and spoke to my heart. (And the wines aren't bad either!)


Have a happy day!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Sweetest Day Recipe: Peanut Butter and Jelly Shortbread

I found this recipe on Epicurious a few years ago and it quickly became a favorite. Ken loves peanut butter. I love shortbread. We're both kids at heart so this recipe, like us, is a match made in heaven!

Unless you've sworn to chocolate this Sweetest Day, give this one a try. It's not for the faint of heart. It takes a bit of work, but it's well worth it.

  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray (I use canola)
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup creamy natural peanut butter (I use Smuckers all natural)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • Large pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup blackberry jam

  1. Spray bottom of 9-inch-diameter springform pan with nonstick spray. 
  2. Beat butter and peanut butter in large bowl until smooth, about 2 minutes. 
  3. Add sugar and salt and beat until fluffy, about 2 minutes. 
  4. Beat in vanilla. 
  5. Add flour; beat on low speed just until blended.
  6. Transfer 1/3 cup dough to work surface. Shape into 1/2-inch-thick disk, place on plate, and freeze until hard, about 1 hour. 
  7. Press remaining dough evenly over bottom of prepared pan. 
  8. Spread jam over dough in pan, leaving 1/3-inch plain border. Refrigerate while dough disk freezes.
  9. Preheat oven to 350°F. Using large holes of box grater, grate frozen dough evenly over jam.
  10.  Bake shortbread until dough edge is deep golden and grated dough on top looks dry and baked through, about 50 minutes. 
  11. Cool shortbread completely in pan. Release pan sides. Cut into wedges.

Release pan sides. Cut shortbread into wedges.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Favorite Healthy Recipe: The Best Shrimp Stir-fry

After Labor Day and all those summer BBQs, I decided it was time to go on a diet. Just to lose enough weight so I don't feel too much holiday weight gain starting in November. I'm really not a yo-yo dieter, but I do enjoy good food and need to balance that with maintaining a healthy weight. This shrimp stir-fry is a great dinner to satisfy my happy taste buds and keep my diet in check. 

The Best Shrimp Stir-fry

Ingredients for 4 servings
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 cup green beans, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 cup carrots, cut julienne style
  • 2 green onions, sliced
  • 1/2 cup chopped peanuts or cashews (I actually used both)
  • 1/8 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 3 cups medium shrimp with tails removed
  1. Heat oil in large skillet or wok.
  2. Saute green beans and carrots in oil 5 minutes.
  3. Add soy sauce, orange juice and shrimp and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
  4. Add green onions and nuts, stir and heat through until shrimp is fully cooked, 3-4 minutes.
  5. Serve over rice.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Halloween Party Ideas - Scary or Cute?

Every year as we approach Halloween decorating in our house, there is much discussion around scary vs. cute. I, of course, like cute and festive. Ken, of course, likes scary. Somehow we always manage to find compromise, although I have to say our house tends to lean more toward the scary side.

This year we'll be hosting a costume party so I've been on the lookout for new decorating and party ideas and thought I'd share with you what I've found. A little bit scary and a little bit cute!

Make your favorite punch in a bowl with floating frozen hand, from Real Simple.

This is a pretty easy trick I found on BuzzFeed. Melt red candles to drip onto large white candles to create a blood effect.

A fun, festive, and only slightly scary cocktail table display from BHG:

This is a fun idea - Spider ice cubes. Mostly scary, not too cute! From

Now this is mostly cute, and I love it! A great cupcake idea from Bird's Party Blog:

These Gooey Monster Cookies from Lil' Luna are both scary and cute! Great idea and easy to make!

Well, this got me off to a great start for planning our Halloween party! Add your favorite Halloween party ideas in the comments.  Would love to hear from you!

Have a happy day!