Simple white towels made this monochrome master bath seem even more fancy! I brought in favorite collections/accessories, that you might not normally find in a bathroom, and they worked. High end look, for a low end price: I filled assorted clear glass jars with Epson salt for an instant sophisticated collection.

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Guess what? This marble bath isn’t marble at all! It’s porcelain tile…a fraction of the cost. I went with the biggest tiles we could use 24″ by 24.” Big tiles are a big trend. Use ‘em even in a small space for a big impact. Love!




This is the cutest idea that I got from my friend Liz Bushong. Check out her blog at www.serveitupsassy.com. Brenna and I fell in love with Liz’s Valentine’s Day Love Letter made of pie crust and cherry pie filling. We set to work making it for my Mom. Our goal was to deliver it warm.

It was super easy. You need an envelope (think square), parchment paper, pie crust, cherry pie filling, butter and white sugar sprinkles.

Open your envelope all the way up. Trace the opened envelope onto the parchment paper and then cut it out. Place flattened pie crust on top of parchment paper. Cut your crust according to the parchment paper diameters.

Place pie envelope form on baking sheet. Spoon your cherry pie filling onto the center of the envelope, making sure to put some at the top of the envelope flap. Note: less is more! The cherry pie filling will expand.

Pinch the flaps of the envelopes back into place, leaving the top flap open. (And cherry filling on top of that part). I free handed a heart to cover the seems. We coated it with butter, and sprinkled on some white sugar.

We put it in at 350 for ten minutes, and kept watching it. I think we pulled it out at twelve minutes, but I’m not sure because we were was so excited about its cuteness! Be careful, the size of the envelope will expand and it will finish much bigger than when you started. This lead us to make a round of tiny envelopes, which I wish I could show you. But I can’t. They were so cute, they ate them before I could snap a pic.

P.S. We did deliver this hot! (It helps my Mom lives three minutes away). It was a total Valentine’s success! xo


No one wants to take a tree down less then me (First, I love them. Second, ugh, the price.) But when we had no other choice last week, you know what I was thinking. New design at our front door! Then, it snowed, making the whole display even prettier. Clearly a sign from the universe I did the right thing.


Because of the weight of the tree pieces, be prepared to make fast design decisions if you take on this project. Use different sizes, different shapes, and remember less can be more.


After the holidays, I like to strip down my decorations before I put them all away. I call this “transitional decor.” It’s when you just aren’t ready to let go. Packed away are the Santas, the snowmen, the sleighs.

I leave out the decorations that are more fancy and speak to New Year’s. Here I grouped vintage finials. Using sticky candle wax, I secured the finials in candlesticks and thin vases. This gives me the height want. I also snuck in the spoon trees I did for eHow a few years ago. (I remember when I got the assignment to make “spoon Christmas trees.” I was not thrilled. Then, I made them & have been in love ever since!)



Ribbon is like jewelry. If you wrap, but don’t add the ribbon, it’s like putting together an outfit with no accessories. Don’t do it! I know it’s exhausting. I know you are so over the holidays. Trust me. Push yourself. You will never regret the effort of putting a bow on it.

It doesn’t need to even be a bow. It can be a knot. It can be a twist. It can just be the flat ribbon. But add it. My Grandmom said to never wrap unless you use tissue paper. (tissue paper = love). My addition to that mantra: ribbon = love.

This year, I’m loving using two ribbons together. Not on every package, but here and there. Just enough to keep it fun. Tip: If you are only using one ribbon, make sure it’s wired. If you are using two ribbons, the second doesn’t need wire.


And pick your ribbon up as you go. This stuff can be $$$$. I grab it at yard sales, with coupons, and yup, I also pay full price. If your not in love with ribbon yet, trust me and try it. You will be.


You know I love a White House Christmas! This throw back pic is from 2014 when I was the luckiest girl in the world designing White House Christmas decor. This is a “pop up” book display that I designed with my friend, and artist, Jenn Lange. We made four for the East Room Fireplaces.

They were riddled with DIY challenges, but for now, I’m just remembering how beautiful they were!


Yay Fall!  In almost no time, I made these awesome pumpkin/succulent centerpieces & you can too.


Hallow out your pumpkins, and simply place your tiny succulents in them, like you would any planter. Have some extra potting soil on hand.  Go for unusual colors, like this white, for a new and different look.  For bigger pumpkins, group different succulents together.  Give them a good watering as you plant, and they’ll require almost no upkeep.  Stack pumpkins and gourds for height.  Happy Fall-ing!



This craftsman kitchen was so much fun to design! My favorite things are the black “leather” counter tops on the outlying cabinets vs. the white marble of the island. (Note: no island seam! I did it! I found a 12 foot slab of the exact marble we needed!) Be sure to check out my interpretation of a modern “butler’s pantry.” It’s the shelving that leads to the pantry. I added a swinging door to keep it super fun and interesting. And, I know you won’t believe it, but I trash picked the table and chairs! Check back later for the video showing how I saved the table, and of course, the chairs have a secret too.






I love working with teens because they know what they want and they aren’t afraid to break rules. How much fun would it be to hang out here? The best part of this room is we ditched the headboard in favor of a colorful map tapestry.


I call this “elevated college dorm.” It has all the freedom of a room you decorated all on your own, but is pulled together using color and collections. And yes, a collection can be as simple as the green Perrier bottles on the sofa table, which for our purposes has been converted into a desk.


Don’t be afraid to have fun with design!


And find a way to display what your client loves…it makes a house a home!



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Yard Sale Baby! The couch and pillows were store purchased, but everything else in this room was a yard sale buy. So much fun!

Be sure to check out the “sweater” pillows on the couch. Soft and textured like your favorite sweater, this hot trend is the inexpensive must have for fall. Get ‘em while you can.




Powder rooms are small spaces, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have a big design impact. Here, our super modern vanity steals the show with it’s clean, sleek look. I accessorized with a silver fruit collection, a fun take on the old fruit bowl.

Still deciding what to do with the walls. Until then, I’m happy!

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Back to School is a high holiday. It needs to be celebrated! I love the look of our retro “Happy Back to School Day” door. When they were young, the kids loved it. Now, it embarrasses them. Bonus!

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My friend Christine B. had the best and BRAVEST back to school party ever! She had an annual party on the first day back to school RIGHT AFTER DROP OFF! Can you imagine? Would your house ever be ready? Christine pulled it off every September. We all brought something and she had champagne. Best way to start the school year ever! Happy Back to School Day!

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It’s Christmas in July! Check out my latest appearance on Hallmark’s Home & Family. (video link above).


July is the perfect time to craft for Christmas! There’s no stress, you can actually give some thought to your Christmas decor and you can enjoy the crafting. (It’s also a great time to sort through your Christmas clutter….but that’s the subject of another post.)

Home and Family 4214 Final Photo Assets

Here I made gumball trees that Mrs. Obama displayed in the State Dining Room last December. I also showed Barbara Bush’s ballet slipper ornaments. But maybe the craft I’m most excited about are these chic, modern gold nutcrackers! They were featured in the Red Room in 2013.

Home and Family 4214 Final Photo Assets

Watch the clip for all the how too’s and DIY steps. Merry! Merry!


Following my party rule of “three special touches,” I came up with the idea of these adorable graduation caps. I made one for our dog door stop and one for our budda and baby statue. They were super easy. I put the dog by the front door, and called it a graduation party.


I used: a stiff piece of paper stock (I just had this glittered one in my stash), hot glue, paper clips, scissors and yarn. You don’t even need the paper clips, but they were a cheat in this instance. So, if your short on time, have some on hand.

The top of your cap is a simple square. The square needs to be bigger than the head you are putting the cap on. Hold the paper above the head, eyeball it, and cut yourself a square. Very scientific. Next, cut a strip of paper, about an inch wide, long enough to go around the entire head. Hot glue the ends of this strip to each other so you have a circle. (This is where you can also use the paper clip to hold the ends together). Now, glue the square to the top of your circular strip. Cap is done. Now, take your yarn. This makes the tassel. Eyeball what you want the drop of the yarn to be. Cut several pieces of yarn this same length, bundle, and hot glue onto the top of the cap. You could have made three in the time it took me to type that.


Maeve’s graduating. What? Who let her turn 18? Here’s a few ideas from her grad party that you are free to steal.

I love creating vignettes at a party. Here’s my rule: you need at least three vignettes scattered about your party. If you do it right, they tell the story of the party and let your guests know just why the occasion is special. If you do it wrong, your friends might accuse you of creating a shrine to the guest of honor. (As once happened to me) Try not to create a shrine. It’s a balancing act people.


When decorating for a party, especially graduations, throw back school photos are great. Make use of cake stands and plate stands, to give your display items different visual height. My Mom taught me that framing the party menu is always a nice touch. Candle wax is your best friend. Keep it on you at all times. In a flash, I attached the gold star garland and a third grade pic of the graduate to my menu frame.

Throw back photos are great, but you need to throw in some throw back memorabilia as well. This is why you are saving all that stuff! In this shot, you see the apple Maeve made in school. Yup, this is the finish line. First grade to Senior Year. It’s now or never. Bring some of that stuff out.

And, collect up some items on theme. The Graduation Doll is super sweet. And if you are lucky enough to have a friend who loves to bake cookies in the shape of a graduation cap, display those prominently. She even sprinkled them in the school colors. It takes a village to have a great party. xo


Red carpet! Shiny statues! Beautiful people! I’m in. There’s nothing I love more than Oscar Week (ok – maybe a good DIY) and this morning I’m going back to my Access Hollywood/Gossip Girl roots. Tune in to NJ 101.5 in the 9 o’clock hour (ok 9:08am exactly) to hear Bill Spadea and I talk everything Oscars. Leo! Rocky! Brie! Giftbags! (Maybe that should just say giftbags – they’re worth over $200,000 this year!)

NJ 1015. w/ Bill Spadea & me. 9:00 hour. Be Oscar ready.


Tune in Christmas morning to catch me talking about Christmas with the First Ladies! If you can’t because of Santa’s arrival make sure to set your DVR!


One thing I love about the holidays is using colors that you already have in your home and making them festive. Here I used my blue and white dinner ware and paired it with timings of silver and white. You can have a blue and white Christmas with just adding touches of ornaments or colored foliage to really pull your look into a cohesive decor.



Dr. Oz was nice enough to have me on his show as a guest blogger, and what did I do? I stole his fantastic idea. Well, actually it was his staffs’ fantastic idea, but he loved it.  It seems when they  didn’t know what to get the guy who has everything, someone came up with perfect gift.  They stocked the green room with a “nut bar.”   I stole this idea and now I to have nut jars, instead of a cookie jar, on the counter.


We have nuts out and ready to grab at moments notice. Do the kids like them more than cookies? No, but I do see them eating them. So, I count this one as a win.


Now back to the show. Dr. Oz told me he really liked my hair (knew I liked him) and I got to practice my selfie skills.


But, sadly while I was away, someone did this to my kitchen and no one broke in to clean it up.

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Yes, this is what happens at my house when I’m at work. How about yours?


Restaurants are a super easy and convenient way to celebrate special events. My favorite tip is to customize your table — especially if its a small celebration. Above is what I had going on at our house.


And this is how it looked at the restaurant. Brenna and her friend were graduating elementary school, and we took them to a fancy restaurant to celebrate. I hit the craft store looking for something that said “school” to me, and left with the chalk board easels and letters. A little hot glue later, I had what my southern friends would call an appropriate monogram. I added some flowers in the tiny watering cans and headed to the resturant a few minutes early.


The girls were surprised and felt really special. The best part about this, is you get a lot of impact for a little work. The restaurant does all the hard stuff– ironing the table cloth, cleaning the glasses, polishing the silver (ok, that might be over the top, but you get the idea). You do only the fun stuff. Try it next time, you’ll be happy you did.

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No more pencils, no more books…..in our living room at least!  The kids went back at it again last June and collected recycled school supplies to donate to students in need.  Year 2 was a big success as you can see by the mess in our house.

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This year the local media even got in on the story as one angry resident wrote an editorial and made the same observation that my kids already had: perfectly good school supplies end up in the trash come the last day of school. The newspaper covering the story shared what my kids were doing to donate barely used school supplies. This lead to even more donations. At this rate, we will probably be buried in binders next year.


Still, this good deed is pretty simple.  The kids collect the supplies in boxes the last week of school, then they sort and clean them, and we drop off to a donation center.   We got such a warm welcome at the Trenton Soup Kitchen that we will be back for sure next year.


I love people who get having parties. My sister-in-law Christie is one of those people. She’s goes all out for my niece’s birthday, and I love it! This year it was an ice cream party, complete with a centerpiece made of ice cream sprinkles and tissue paper.


For the sundae bar, cones and cups were dipped in chocolate and sprinkles.


With all the toppings you could want.


The ice cream cone bunting by was adorable. Christie made tissue flowers and glued them in paper cones, and strung them across the window.


In fact, every place she could put a tissue paper cone, she did! Can’t wait for next year.


Since we are one nation obsessed with Mason Jars, it only seemed right we pull out the acrylic and paint with red, white and blue. Except we didn’t have white.


So we made do. They turned out so cute, we didn’t even miss the white paint. But if we did, we could have easily filled the jars with white rice, or cotton balls. To get the star effect, we cut star shapes out of duct tape and stuck to the jar. We painted right over them, and when the paint was dry, we peeled them off. TIP: Expect your star edges to be messy. You can clean them up and create sharp lines with a toothpick.


And if you don’t have bunting, but want that patriotic feeling, here’s a fast and cheap way to get the look. We bought a red, a white and a blue plastic table cloth at a dollar store. We used rubber bands to bundle the ends, and string to tie in the middle and at each end.


Done! Took less than five minutes and we don’t have to worry about it getting wet. For fun, we added white paper stars.  Cheap & easy!


This one from pinterest always got me, and I always wanted to try to put my own spin on it. Finally, it came to me — the ric rac firecracker sunburst. You see it there in the middle?  It’s a supporting player, but adorable nonetheless. Sure, some people invent the internet or electricity. I’ve got the ric rac firecracker sunburst. And you know what? It makes me happy.

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But here’s the thing, I didn’t come up with the ric rac firecracker until we were well into this project, which was inspired by someone else’s idea. But, I think that’s ok. Even if the ric rac firecracker never crossed my mind, we had fun doing this project. Here’s what we did:


Quick ran around the house and found four empty toilet paper tubes. Not hard. No one in the place ever changes them out. The only thing we bought were the red, white and blue patterned fabric squares. We had the skewers, paper, small styrofoam balls, tissue paper, ric rac, glitter and rice. Because those things are staples, people.

The trick to the project is to glue the fabric to the tube, and then hot glue (on low) a styrofoam ball inside the toilet paper tube at the top. This gives your skewer something to attach too, as well as provide a foundation for the “hat,” or top of the firecracker. For the hat, trace a circle on colored paper, cutting one slit towards the center of the circle. Then make a cone with the paper circle and glue on top of firecracker.

To make the genius ric rac firecracker, repeatedly loop your ric rac. When you get about 15 loops on either side, tie in the middle with a knot. Cut all the loops. Hot glue to your skewer.

Now, we went over board and made a red, white and blue base of rice. If you lose your mind like us and want to do this, it’s one cup of dry rice, one teaspoon of vinegar and then add food coloring until you reach the color you like.  Let dry before you use.


Ok Trendy Tuesday still is not coming naturally. And yes, I missed it last week. But I’m back! This cute shirt was only $7.00 at H&M, proving again, I have no excuses.

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And shocker! I  saw my new shirt in an On Cor Frozen Food commercial! Not exactly what I was targeting, but I will take it. If it’s good enough for a commercial director and stylist on a national ad campaign, than it’s good enough for me.  Strange, the woman in the On Cor commercial looks oddly younger in her shirt than I do. Her house is also cleaner. Guess that’s the magic of TV.

PS along with my killer fashion instinct, I’m also fine tuning my modeling.


And, from behind, we could be twins!

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I’m a big fan of porches. Who isn’t? What I love about this one is it’s simple charm.


Nothing here is super expensive, and that’s part of the beauty. I’m sure you’d love to spend some time here.


The blue pot and yellow wreath are the perfect touch of color. And the pot just leaves you dreaming of shucking summer corn. Or better yet, the kids shucking corn.


You get the impression this family has everything it needs: a porch for dreaming, a pot for cooking, wood for warm fires.


And who doesn’t love a milk box. This porch is more than design. It’s a call to a lifestyle. Love!

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With sadness, I note the too soon passing of White House Chef Walter Scheib. Walter was the White House Chef for eleven years and served both President Clinton and President George W. Bush. He was funny and charming and helped me often when I was writing my book, Christmas with the First Ladies.

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These are some pics Walter shared with me a few year ago. He loved his job, did it brilliantly and always was humbled to be working in the White House. RIP Walter.

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I love when people design parties around what they love. A little girl spent years dancing, and her friends and family surpirsed her with a bridal shower at the ballet studio where she danced. Love that idea.


They decorated the studio…


with a heart poster sign in and chocolate bars. Get it? Ballet barre? I knew you got it.


Picking a place with meaning makes the party all the more special, and it can even be less expensive than pricy locations that only rent to parties. Think outside the box!


Want a little zen with your happy hour? Yoga Happy Hour mixes a little wine and a little meditation. Meant for beginners, everyone is welcome. Making new friends is encouraged.


Great way to start off the weekend.


Ok, I came up with that title a year ago. That’s how long I’ve been thinking about upping my fashion game. Guess I didn’t want to jump into anything!  (It did not take that long to find an orange dress — just fashion lazy!!!)


Found this cute dress at Francesca’s at the mall. Think it was in the $35.00 range. Took a risk with orange, because as a redhead I used to shy away from that color. Decided to live dangerously. Besides, it’s Trendy Tuesday and I don’t have a ton of time. Orange it is.


See how happy I am in my trendy dress?  The fit isn’t great, but its more good than bad. I find Francesca’s is great if your short like me. I don’t have to worry about alterations. Price is good and it is trendy. Here’s my warning: you have to try on and be age aware. In general, I think the store is geared at girls in their 20’s.


And here’s my tip: always splurge for the accessories. They’ve got stylists working for them. Steal the look. Don’t even bother getting dressed if you don’t have an accessory. On Trendy Tuesday at least. So which necklace is better? Gold and Orange or Wood?



One of my favorite things about summer is when these signs pop up, letting us know fresh produce is just steps away at the farm store. I mean, what about a giant strawberry doesn’t make you happy?


And who can resist fresh eggs when they’re marketed like this?!


I don’t even have a dog and I want to have one of these parties! My genius friend Pam had a tailgate birthday party for her dog Jack at the local dog park.  For Jack’s 5th birthday, they showed up at the park ready tailgate! Anyone who was there was welcome to join in. How fun is that? I especially love that Jack dressed up for his special day. Nothing’s better then being classically understated.

Next stop, I just saw a flyer advertising cocktails at our local dog park. Really? Canines and Cocktails? Might be time to get a dog.


Okay girls, just figure out a way to make this one early for your daughters. You will reuse it every year and just think how adorable the pictures will be as your little one grows up in her birthday sash. I also expect you to wear it on your own bday!

You can make this as easy or as complicated as you wish. If you don’t sew, find a friend who does. It’s practically no fabric, and no time. Think pre-cut letters from the craft store, some hot glue and some embellishments. It’s years of fun.  Special thank you to Aunt Deb who made this sash — my mom, myself and my daughter have all worn it!  Family heirloom!

Teacher Tip:  These are also a fun way to celebrate birthdays as school….especially since sweets are now outlawed!



I’ve taken the fashion challenge. Ok, in full disclosure this was my New Year’s Resolution that I am just getting too. (Resolutions don’t actually expire until 12/31. So I’m still ok). Why now? Honestly, I didn’t have much choice since at any moment the crew from What Not to Wear could come out of retirement just to save my sad fashion state. From here on out, it’s Trendy Tuesday. (Sorry people, I did not think a whole week was reasonable or possible). Here are the rules: must be trendy, must be Tuesday, must not cost a lot of money. To start the shirt I scored at the Lilly for Target free for all. Here’s the blog post if you missed the blow by blow bit.ly/1RCannt.



I brake for farm stands…who doesn’t!!!! This week amazing asparagus and everyone’s favorite, peonies.



Here’s my no fail tips for both: blanch asparagus for one minute in boiling water for perfection. Now for those peonies, if you ever cut them fresh and brought them into your home, you know you’re asking for an ant invasion. Prevent this by filling a bowl with warm water and a drop of dish washing soap. Dip the peony in the water, submerging the flower. Roll slightly, and the ants should come sliding off. Shake flower gently. Arrange. Peonies will dry in no time.


Okay, when I made the Birthday Chalk Board for the front door, I mistakenly thought it was reusable. Not so. Apparently, the girls got it in their minds they each would have their own birthday front door. (What have I created?)

What to do for a 17 year old? Wasn’t sure at first. Didn’t want frilly, or childish. Happy to report I got this one right! And, for virtually no money. I had a one dollar frame from a yard sale, bought the M and the 17 at a craft store, painted them with the leftover chalkboard paint from Brenna’s birthday, and through up some paper flowers. I had hoped to up my paper flower game, but ran out of time and went with the old pattern I always use. Happy to report the teenager almost smiled.

I’m loving the new square and rectangle looks on my front door. Let’s see what comes next….


Kids’ tables are practical, but they can be stylish too. (At which point, they’re really for the moms!) Here my friend Kimberley and I challenged ourselves to a kids’ green table. We used recycled brown bags as place mats, with crayons for coloring, and put flowers and herbs in containers kids can chalk on. Best of all, we found another reason to use small milk bottles. So much fun, we’d even sit there!


Red, white and blue always leaves me patriotic, even when it’s gumballs. This one is super simple — colored gumballs in mason jars. I took it a step further by making the pinwheels. You can find the instructions here: bit.ly/1FFSGxZ

Remember to thank a Veteran!


Kick off your summer with these super cute, patriotic ice cream cones. Just coat the top of your cones with white icing and dip in sprinkles. (jimmies, if your from Philadelphia like me). You can use them as soon as you finish. Enjoy!


Spring is high birthday season at our house. In full disclosure, I did own a birthday wreath that I made and would hang each year for the girls. But that went the way of the burst pipe, with the rest of our belongings. I never really loved it and I just couldn’t bring myself to make a replacement. Enter the Birthday Board. What bored me with the wreath was it’s shape. I wanted something to fill most of the door and be a little different.


I bought this long rectangular poster frame that I knew was the right size/shape for my door.
Short on time, I painted the card board backing with chalk board paint. When it was just dry enough, I wrote a birthday message and added the burlap bow. Even if I had more time, not certain what I would have done different.

Bonus, the guests all left the birthday girl a message!

#birthdaydiy #birthdaygirl #partydiy


Found a cute store called Vintage Funk that was featuring 70’s green and brown. Loved it! Even though I would traditionally do green and brown in the fall, this works for spring. The white off sets it and makes it feel lighter.

I love the 70’s! By pairing this leaf shaped 70’s plate with more traditional items a room immediately takes on funky, modern feel. Try it. You’ll love it. Promise. Thanks Vintage Funk for the inspiration!


I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with florals. After the Lilly Pulitzer free for all on Pink Sunday, I guess I’m more in the love phase. Those crazed preppy girls scared it into me. I thought this vintage floral lamp hit the sweet spot. Lilly would be proud. And no pushing or shoving. Lilly would be proud.

#lillypulitzer #pinksunday


I got my myself involved in a preppy feeding freenzy, and all I got was this dumb shirt. Actually, I really like the shirt. And, I was really lucky to get it. Unlike a lot Lilly fans, I had fun at the Target Lilly Pulitzer free for all and have something to show for it.


It’s all Cousin Courtney’s fault. She told me about it the night before. So, I didn’t have four months to plot and plan and get all worked up over the Lilly for Target Look Book and ad campaign the way many super fans did. I just heard we had to get up early (already there!) and that it would be competitive. It sounded like a retail yard sale. It was a special collection for Target and prices were super reasonable. Dresses $45., shirts $26.50. I have no idea what the normal stuff goes for (except high), and I have been playing around with the idea of being more fashionable. I was in.


It only looked mildly intimidating at first. Some preppy gals in floral prints with cute flip flops or Sperry’s. A few camped out in lawn chairs. It was chilly. We got there an hour early and were number 10 and 11 in line. But the number grew to about 60, and the girl at the head of the line announced she was going to grab everything. Ouch. New level of mean girl, wearing pink and lime green print.

Because of the Look Book everyone knew exactly what they wanted, myself included. People were even discussing what they might pick up for other people. Sizing was a big topic, along with how serious the girl at the front of the line was ( turns out very). War stories were swapped about the annual Lilly Warehouse Sale. The Preppy Crowd was trying to determine how fast they could hit Lilly Clothing, Lilly Housewares and Lilly Accessories. I was trying to figure out how fast I could hit the grocery department and get out of there when all was said and done.

The Target employee guarding the door could work for Black Ops. He gave us no info. Finally, the doors open. Suddenly, the women from the lawn chairs are draped in tote bags. Someone from the back of the line jets to the back of the store. Where was Cousin Courtney? Where was I?


Turns out I was at one of two small racks of clothing, right in front of the shirt I was looking for. I wanted to move and strike out at other locations, but I have been burned at an Easter Egg Hunt or two. I stayed where I was grabbed two sizes of the shirt I liked. It was a free for all. Where was all the stuff?


Turns out we all made a critical error by going to a smaller Target. We were right in thinking that there would be less people. We didn’t count on less merchandise. Lilly inventory was next to nothing. It was all gone in seconds. The people behind us definitely got nothing. Public service announcement: angry preppy’s are not fun.

I headed to the children’s department. (short girl secret, sometimes we can fit into the biggest sizes there). Scored a green and white jump suit in extra large. Headed to the dressing room that had a certain crazed edge to it. It all felt a little wild kingdom. The top worked out, the jump suit didn’t. Someone else nabbed it to sell on eBay.


Then everyone was gone, and I found myself alone in frozen foods. What was that all about? I circled back through the store. One or two dazed Lilly shoppers remained, clutching shift dresses. I went back to the Lilly Home section. It was like looking at a carcass on a wild kingdom show. And then, there they were. The Lilly indoor/outdoor lights that will look perfect in Brenna’s room. Sometimes it pays to be a Christmas decorator all year round.


Yes, Brenna asked where I stash the citric acid. My first thought was, why does she think we’d have this? My second thought was, should we?? We do encourage DIY in this house, but this felt like we might be getting into MacGyver territory. Short answer is that she needed it to make bath salts. First round, looked like above, and sadly, had no fizz.


But we don’t give up. Especially when the possibility for making a huge mess is at hand. Here’s the second round. Some fizz, but still not up to par. Update, while we still have no citric acid (its on the grocery list, which I have been begging them to make for ages), we are also now currently out of baking soda, food coloring and coconut oil. But I think she’s closing on success. #bathsalt #bathbomb #bath


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My pics from the Philadelphia Flower Show prove there’s an outside trend in the making: Organic Garden Walls. I loved this one made from fresh cut logs, and filled in with various garden plants. (By that, I mean, I have no idea what the varieties are called!) And anyone who knows me, knows I love to decorate with sticks (seriously). This just takes it to a different level.


Here’s a second option with thick vertical branches. Also, awesome.


Finally, copper is not only the color of the moment for interior decorating, it’s amazing outside as well. Love the shine the copper sheets bring to the garden.


So in the rental house, we have limited space and limited glassware, neither of which are ideal for a party. But, for Brenna’s Confirmation, we decided to go for it anyway. One of best things you can do for a party, be it big or small, lavish or on a budget, is to introduce something with meaning. Here, Brenna chose the Confirmation name Dorothy. We researched it and found Dorothy was the Saint of Produce and Cultivation. St. Dorothy is always shown with apples and roses. So, of course, I started envisioning all sorts of complicated arrangements with roses and apples, when my Mom stepped in and simply did this. It worked. It was perfect. And we shared they story of Dorothy and apples and roses with our guests.


And, of course, some of our guests were wonderful enough to bring Brenna flowers. You know our vase situation. Enter the blender. It all worked out just fine.


One of my favorite things about parties are the special little touches. You can’t go wrong with a cupcake cross. And this year we branched out (thank you pinterest) to Bible Fig Newtons. Did you ever think you’d read those words?


But, aren’t they cute? They required fig newtowns, white icing in a baggy to pipe, and red fruit rolls ups. Cut one side of the fig newtown to give the appearance of a book. Then cut a thin slice of fruit roll up to resemble a book mark. I pressed my book mark into the cookie with a tooth pick. This was the trickiest part. Pipe with white icing. My most important tip– have your plate or platter ready to go. These don’t transfer easy. Make sure you use a doily — the fruit roll ups do stick to a bare plate and will pull apart.


Finally, look who chipped in and did all the cupcake icing!

Even though my bracket is busted (Villa-no where!), I still love this post from last year. I got grief because I didn’t use actual college basketballs, but in a pinch, I still think this is fab! Enjoy the throwback:


I love decorating for sports themed parties with actual sports equipment. Here, I made an easy centerpiece with a basketball and a glass pedestal vase. It’s always stunning to mix materials that you don’t normally put together. I filled the vase with curled ribbon in our team colors, added a few green leaves, and placed my basketball on top. That fast I was done, and the basketball centerpieces looked great. (Of course!)


My wonderful friend found love love again, and I am thrilled for her, but I might be even happier that she found Fishtail on the Upper East Side! It’s my new favorite spot for anything. Plus, it’s Celebrity Chef David Burke’s place. No, I’m not related. (But in my mind, all things are possible. Perhaps, my in-laws just haven’t introduced me to him yet? It’s plausible, they’re a quiet bunch and I’ve only been in the family 18 years).


As I mentioned, Fishtail would be awesome for anything. In this case it was a bridal luncheon, and it was divine.


Then again, they had me at the light fixtures. Can you say work of art?


The pieces in me was very, very happy.


With all the talk of flowers on this blog, it’s only fitting that I went to The Philadelphia Flower Show, which is the biggest flower show in the country. I’d go to a little flower show, so how could I pass up the biggest? But with all the flowers, what I fell in love with was this outdoor bedroom.


Who wouldn’t want to sleep in a bed like this, even just once? I’d even sleep in it in the middle of the Convention Center. It’s romantic. It’s exotic. It’s fabulous.


Adored everything about this outdoor room! Getting to the flower show was not easy. I asked seven different people to go. It looked liked I’d have to go it alone. There was just one last person to ask, and she was a long shot.



My friend’s Bacholorette Party is coming up (really? I haven’t outgrown these??), and the invitation said “Lingere Only” for gifts. How I wish I could bring even one these!

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Just amazing…from the Philadelphia Flower Show. Love creative people.



You know all those birthday emails you get from different businesses? Well last year I got one from a yoga teacher from where I used to live, offering a free yoga class on my birthday. I wrote back telling him I moved, and asked if knew of any chants that were specific to birthdays.

Ok, did that last part come out of left field? I should tell you that I have been a fan of chanting for some time. It’s gotten me through some of the hardest parts of my life. I don’t think I could be a student of silent meditation, but chanting works for me. So it seemed appropriate to ask for a birthday chant. This is what he sent me:

I am the light of my soul.
I am beautiful.
I am bountiful.
I am bliss.

I was taken back by the chant, mostly because it is in English. I’m not sure what language I’ve been chanting in, but English it is not. In fact, the foreign sounds helped me in the beginning, because chanting in English would somehow make me feel ridiculous. Go figure.

But I looked at the words he sent and they were beautiful. And they were what I needed. So even though it was in English, I gave it a try. It was the first time anyone ever gave me a Birthday Mantra, even if I asked for it.

And this is what I found, after chanting it a few times, it stayed with me. I’d be making dinner, or doing laundry, and this mantra was the tape playing in my head: I am the light of my soul. I am beautiful, I am bountiful, I am bliss. In a year, where I was getting older, certainly broke, and often saddened, it was a great message. Much better than some of the negative thoughts it crowded out.

So now it’s my gift to you. Try it out. I swear, it works. (Swearing, not good yogi behavior!) If you are uncertain, try it for three minutes. Find a quiet place, and say the words over and over. You can also find the words set to music on You Tube.

Honestly, one of the best Birthday gifts I ever got.


Don’t you love the perfect gift? Sometimes someone just gets you, and the gift says a million things without being expensive. I love being on the giving and receiving end of perfect gifts. Enter the Birthday Compass.

So last summer I got my friend horribly lost while driving in an area I have lived in for years. One absent minded turn and we were in a scene from a horror movie — driving in dense fog near a deserted canal. Can you say chain saw?

Anyway, we got out alive and Karen just gave me a compass for my birthday. Brought me right back to sheer panic! Still can’t explain how I got us so lost, but finally I have some direction in my life.


So, the vase obsession, or lack of vases, continues. A year with no flowers, and now, we’re rotting with them. We’re getting tired of looking at our improvised glass milk jar vases. Enter burlap. I’m still not over the burlap/twine trend.


So while we have no vases, we do have burlap. This time, I wrapped it around a empty can. You can either hot glue or pin it, whichever is easier. Viola! Vase crisis averted.



Poor President’s Day – it’s the little holiday no one cares about. Well, I care about President’s Day. I care so much I’m going to celebrate all week! And, I love this funky, history inspired decor that the Hotel Monaco has going. I grew up in an historic area — and I thought I’d seen every version of George Washington out there. But I was wrong and this is my new favorite.


It’s so over the top, you forget it’s conservative. Decorating with George and Abe is hip? You bet. This wall paper is so amazing it’s revolutionary. Sorry, got carried away with the President’s Day motif. This look is great though. And it has edge.

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No sooner had we finised the Valentine Cherry Pie Envelope, then someone wanted to make a roll cake that she had seen on YouTube. Hint: it wasn’t me. I was too tired. We weren’t even done cleaning up from the envelope. And as it was explained to me, it seemed to defy the laws of gravity. Something I wasn’t up for.

However, I did notice that of my three kids, two could care less it was Valentine’s Day. Sensing all three kids slipping away, I got on board with the roll cake. Who knows, this could be the last Valentine’s opportunity. I’ve already aged out of any events at their schools. My days doing kid sutff (at least the non-chauffeur variety) are numbered. We pre-heated the oven to 350 degrees.


You know what? It was spectacular. It did defy gravity. It tasted delicous. Far more fun than the evnelope. All around success. And, I hear you can find out how to do it on You Tube!


Ok, I shared with you in horror that we have no vases in the hotel house. Mom saved the day last week with some mason jars for Brenna’s flowers. Here we are at Valentine’s Day though, with no vases again. A problem I’m happy to have — since we went 11 months without a need for a vase! Thank God, this whole family is getting back on track. Just one more reason I love milk that comes in glass jars. Happy Valentine’s!


We are still in the Hotel House (our name for the rental we’ve been living in since our house was destroyed). The rental house is bare bones, just what you need. We’ve been here almost a year — and we just realized we don’t have a vase! What? This can’t be my life. But it is. No need for fresh flowers in almost a year??? Talk about a crime, but we’ll have to get to that another time. The point is, when Brenna got flowers after the school play, we had no vase. I didn’t think twice, and put them in this water bottle. The Hotel House was brought out the pioneer in me, or as I like to think, the college girl. (She seems more fun than a pioneer, right?)

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Thank goodness my Mom knows better, and showed up the next day with some mason jars. We put Brenna to work, and the presentation was so much better! College girl be gone! We’re adults now, Hotel House or not.


And you know what? If I had a vase, I would have put them in water myself. Having no vase led to a great afternoon. I got to teach Brenna about cutting, preserving and arranging store bought flowers. And she had fun!!!!



When Kristen, you know her from idontgotothegym.com, married my cousin Steve, we couldn’t wait for a new baby in the family! So how did I get caught with no wrapping paper the day of the Baby Shower? Let’s be honest, it’s not the first time it’s happened (if we’re being really honest, I’m lucky I had the gift). But this is the first time I had a great solution to the problem. While I had no paper, I had plenty of ribbon. I took the biggest width I had, and tied a giant bow around that sucker! I thought it turned out adorable.


This is how my no-wrap present fared against the other presents. Not bad. Might even adopt this as my gift look. (And yes, I did use the product tag as a card. Not my proudest moment).  But, there was a bonues…


the Mom to Be got to sport the ribbon on her fantastic bow bonnet. Great job with the bow bonnet Ava!!!

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I love when decorations transition from one season to another. These snowflakes were actually the December decorations at my new favorite place, Hotel Monaco, in Washington, DC. But they work for January too. I secretly hope they don’t take them down!


And just because they were so fabulous, here’s a few more pics!



My friend Karen posted this. As you can see her daughter is pretty smart!

“So Gracie (and every other member of my family) seem to lack the dexterity gene of putting a new roll of toilet paper ON the holder. So after seeing this again today I said “Gracie, go put the toilet paper on right.” This is what I found. It’s going to be a long 7 more years isn’t it?”

kids…love ‘em!


Everyday, Brenna is working on her 31 Day Nail Challenge. My first reaction was that it’s easy for her to do because she loves it and she’s just a kid. But the truth is she makes time to do it. And it takes a lot of work and patience. So after a particularly bad year of self neglect, and with Brenna as my inspiration, I’ve added a second resolution. (That’s right — I’m adding resolutions, while others are dropping theirs! Also, notice, I have yet to reveal my first resolution – because I haven’t done a thing about it.) OK, back to the second resolution. I am going to use hand cream for 31 Days. That probably seems like a lot of sentences to write about a little resolution. Well, you haven’t seen my hands. How hard could it be? I can already tell you that some days it will feel impossible. I’ve had this amazing hand cream on my desk since September when a friend gave it to me. That’s right, I looked at this for five months, and never opened it. So it might not be as easy as you think. But, I agree. It’s doable. #littlethings


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If the nasty weather has you down, how about some cherry blossom nails? Brenna’s doing a 31 day nail design challenge and the whole house smells like nail polish remover. Still, we’re thinking spring…

cherry blossoms


So, because you asked (ok, you know you wanted too), here’s my take on two wreaths done right. Both of these are the right drop from the top of the door, and the right thickness. Send me your pics of wreaths done right @bycoleen. No wreaths gone wrong. No need for public shaming!



Okay, I’ve become attached to the Crazy Garage Wreath, which I rescued from the trash. I just had to see it up close. And when I saw it up close, I kind of fell in love with it. And when I dropped over it over our Buddha Baby, I felt like it had found the perfect home.

So for the time being (until I regain my sanity), the Crazy Garage Wreath makes me smile every time I open the door.


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Remember last year when I told you about January Cookies? Well, today January Presents showed up! We exchanged presents with my Cousin Courtney (Cousin is a proper noun in this family!) when she showed up unexpectedly on January 14. I loved it. Of course, it helped that Courtney wrapped the presents in gold and white chevron. It felt more stylish and current than Christmas paper would have felt. It was as if our presents already realized their New Year’s Resolution and had a makeover!

So two things: 1) January Presents are fine by me! It really helps to have flexible deadlines on some items during the holidays, 2) if you take your decorations into January, paring down your décor to golds and silvers is a great way to go.

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And finally, an update on January Cookies bit.ly/1ycJ3V3 . Daughter #2 informed me they were a complete failure, and she didn’t want to go that route again. She didn’t mention that last year when she was dipping them in milk…


A little known pet peeve of mine has to do with wreaths. I can’t stand when they are hung at the wrong height. And I can’t stand when they are the wrong size. And, it’s very common for both things to occur at once. Why? Why? WHY?

Now I know this is a first world problem. But I can’t help myself. I see these wreaths all over. I just want to fix them. Which is why, I became particularly obsessed with the garage wreath. That’s right, it was hanging just as you see it. And, I saw it at least twice a day, as I had to pass it on my way to the main road.

My first reaction was surprise: Look at that wreath! What is it doing way down there, thrown over the garage door handle??? Someone probably didn’t get to finish decorating, and just put it there so it would be out of the way.

But as the days wore on, it was clear the garage wreath was not moving. In fact, as I looked at it more closely, I wasn’t even sure it was a wreath. Just a wild looking circle type thing with gold garland flying off it.


Several scenarios crossed my mind. #1: The owner put it there, meant to move it, and just got used to it. Decided it didn’t look that bad. Thought maybe it was ok there afterall. This has happened to me. This theory had potential. I felt compassion for the decorator.

Theory #2: The owner thought it looked good there. This theory seems particularly absurd, but I guess it could happen. Not sure how this leaves me feeling toward the owner. Very hard to believe this could be it.

As the days went on, I noticed the garage wreath had a type of wild abandon about it. It’s garish gold garland haphazardly caught the wind. It did have a certain confidence about it. A certain joy. A certain individuality about it. Then it hit me, Theory #3: I bet there’s a reindeer car behind that garage door. And with that, I fell in love with the owner. ( If you missed the reindeer car bit.ly/15bAttV )


This happy snow heart was made by boot heels, and melted my heart. #snowisnotsobad

UPDATE: I knew this pic reminded me of something, and I finally got it. Check out July Resolutions — which I still think is the perfect time for change. (As I struggle, with my New Year’s Resolution!!!) bit.ly/15ABYTM

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I love Brenna’s sixth grade teacher! I thought this was the most amazing gift that she gave to every student in the class. According to Brenna, it started like this: Mrs. L. wrote each student’s name on a blank sheet of paper. Then the paper was passed around the classroom and the students wrote down positive thoughts they had about that particular person. Nobody was allowed to see what anyone wrote about them. Mrs. L. later took all the words and organized them around the students’ names in bright colors (and I ran out of time with my holiday to –do list!) Finally, Mrs. L. framed the final product and gave them to the students, who by this time were sufficiently excited to see what was written.
(Read: they were out of their minds).

Brenna loved this gift. It was the gift of confidence from an adult outside her family. She sat quietly looking at it, and later explained the project to us, often mentioning just who wrote what. Can you imagine if you got a gift like that? In addition to fostering a child’s self- worth, Mrs. L. created such a neat atmosphere in the classroom, where the air was filled with everything that was great about each of the students. Maybe this should be mandatory in every work place! (Just kidding, right wing readers).

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Imagine what happens now if each parent hangs this present in the student’s home?
Of course, we promptly placed on the mantle where it became part of the decorations

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I got this in the mail the beginning of December – addressed to me, not the kids! I cannot even tell you how much fun I had with it. At first, I was like, oh, this is sweet. And I put it in my desk drawer. Every time I accidentally saw it, it made me smile. What could it be?

Soon, I decided it was too interesting to be in the drawer. Of course, I stuck it prominently on the tree. The envelope made me feel like a little kid. I considered opening it, and apparently I do have willpower (discussion of failed attempts of quitting sugar later), because I didn’t even attempt to steam it open. In fact, I savored not opening it. It even made me feel strong that I could resist it. If I could just not open the envelope, imagine what I can achieve! (yes, readers, this is where I am).

Once, it was on the tree, even the kids begged that we open it. As we closed in on Christmas, I called the sender to fill her in on what was happening. She promptly replied, “Oh God, it’s nothing.” I told her, I didn’t expect it to be anything, that I was just happy having so much fun with it. Plus, I really knew she put a key to a brand new car in that envelope.

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So the day after Christmas (feel my power growing!), I sat down with a cup of coffee and opened it. It was the sweetest necklace. It had a snow flake charm which reminded me immediately of a project we worked on together. I love it for a million reasons, including all the fun that went up to opening it.

Of course, I’m doing this next year. I am so sending a “Don’t open til Christmas” to some unsuspecting friend! Because what fun is Christmas without a little torture!

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Great to be invited back to CNN to tape their Christmas Day Show! Michaela always cracks me up (she promised next year to bring her Grandma’s rum cookies!), and as usual, a typical selfie. Thank you to those who noticed that I broke down and bought a blue dress. I was getting way tired of that red one.


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Yes, this is a Christmas Pyramid, or the closest thing we could get to it in the Burke house. The need for this architectural feat was revealed to me after a week of insane work travel with only hours to the deadline. (In retrospect, I was lucky I got the few extra design hours).

The scope of the project was revealed slowly, and I was lured into a sense that all was ok on the home front. I’d been away. They’d survived. Somehow everything was handled, except getting stuff together for the pyramid. Really? The Christmas Pyramid? Somehow that was left for me.

It didn’t sound awful at first, just annoying. Everyone had to bring in something to decorate the pyramid. Brenna’s class was learning about Egypt and instead of decorating gingerbread houses, Mrs. L’s class was going to decorate pyramids. Hurray for Mrs. L! She makes learning fun. I was exhausted, but what did I need to run out and pick up?

Uh, the pyramid? Well, what are the other kids bringing in? Heshey Kisses, gum drops, icing. Hershey kisses, gum drops, icing, and WE GOT PYRAMID? I looked at her face, and I just knew. You signed up for pyramid? You didn’t!!! She did.

My heart should have been warmed that she thought I could do it. That I would want to do it. But, it wasn’t. (Then at least.) Instead, like a scene from ‘Nam, flashes went through my head: ten cups cooked macaroni revealed at 7am same day they were due (Maeve in second grade). Four dozen cinnamon brownies for Spanish class (Maeve, 10th grade). Empanada dish (J., 7th grade). Pineapple smoothies (made to order no less in class, Brenna 4th grade) Four dozen cinnamon brownies (J., 9th grade) —wait didn’t I make these Spanish brownies already? Or was I so good at it, I got assigned them again?


So here’s the deal, as you can see in the time span of the above examples, kids don’t really get the hang of giving you notice on when to bring things in. And, they don’t make these things themselves. It doesn’t get better: “The teacher just told me! I forgot! College hinges on it! Please, I’m trying to make friends. Everyone wants empanadas!” You get the idea.

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What I’ve learned to do is to accept. Lord, grant me serenity for the things I cannot change. Yup, this is a childhood disease. I don’t know one mom friend who’s kid doesn’t have it. Also, if the whole class is bringing something in, don’t pay attention to the quantities. Whatever the first batch yields, that’s it. No matter what the assignment says. (trust me, half those cinnamon brownies will be back, but your containers won’t). And ask if they are actually going to eat it. Something makes me think those Egyptian pyramids might have gone up with hot glue…


This really happened, but it was a couple of years ago. Let’s say it’s not easy to forget. I was given a pair of car reindeer antlers by an adoring daughter who was sure she got me the perfect gift. I, gulp, put them on my car. Because it was the perfect gift. I was not breaking any hearts that Christmas.

If you have seen them, I’m referring to the kit that comes with a red nose for the center of your car’s grill, and two antlers that clip to the roof of your car. In under three minutes, my car was transformed into a mobile reindeer. Not your vision of motherhood? Just wait.

The first time I took my reindeer car out, of course, I was driving the kids somewhere. They loved it! And almost immediately, a strange occurrence. There was no driving stress for me. Drivers of reindeer cars don’t cut people off, or get annoyed at other drivers. In fact, drivers of reindeer cars let people in, yield and wave to other drivers, drive slowly. They enjoy the ride. I’d love to say the kids stopped fighting, but this isn’t a fantasy. Just us running around town, sporting a red nose and antlers.

With the kids in your car, you can just shrug your shoulders, and give other drivers that “what are you gonna do” look. But, the first time you drive a reindeer car without your kids – that’s a bit of an unnerving experience. Still, it’s too much of a hassle to take them on or off. You convince yourself, “I’m a grown up. I can drive a reindeer car.” You remind yourself of this the first time you stop to put gas in your reindeer car.

A funny thing happens when you drive a reindeer car. You start to spot other reindeer car drivers. That’s right. There’s a community! Reindeer cars are happy when they see each other! They honk! They wave! Instead of the finger, reindeer cars give you the thumbs up!

Which is why a few weeks into December, I was on the side of the road desperately searching for where my husband said the reindeer antler flew off. (Christmas is a magical time, and I unfortunately, am prone to believing anything). It couldn’t be found. What would happen now? Would the kids be disappointed? How would my reindeer friends know I was one of them?

We never found the missing antler. We did drive around as a disabled reindeer until the end of the season, mostly because we never came across another kit to buy. And, I never did get another. But driving that reindeer car changed me. Every year, I love spotting them on the road. I know they are happy people, and that makes me happy. I’m not there yet, but I don’t judge the cars with the big headlight eyelashes. It could happen to anybody.

So here’s one of the reasons we got to come to LA — to stop by Hallmark’s Home & Family. Cristina Ferrare & Mark Steines are so much fun! We talked about White House Christmas decorating and how you can get the White House look in your own home.

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We made these adorable 3D book ornaments. As you can see, I was very happy!

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As Cristina says, “so stinkin’ cute.” My friend Jen Lange, an incredible artist, designed the template of the children holiding hands.

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And, I even got my own dressing room! Notice, no name. No star. But, it’s a start.



Got to show Maeve Rodeo Drive. For a teenager she was sufficiently impressed (although not as impressed as going to the American Apparel Factory. If she ever sends me the pic, I’ll share). Of course, there was no parking. She said we didn’t have to get out. Even though we had to park blocks away, and had to cross paths with a senior citizen party bus loading up, I insisted. It was worth it. She even let me take her pic…one of my most successful parenting moments. ( I get it, she was dazzled by the materialism. I’m still counting it as a win. Until she puts a Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Jimmy Choo anything on her Christmas list…)



Came across these great ways to use books in holiday decorating at the Junior League Show House in Princeton, NJ. Above, paper books are opened and tied with twine. Below, pages are torn from a book, and cascade down from the Christmas village. A library geek at heart, of course, I think this is genius. Merry! Merry!



At the National Archives, Tim Gunn told a really funny story about when he used fake, plastic apples on the White House Christmas Tree when he decorated for First Lady Rosalynn Carter. He bought them at Sears! He cringed, but said they looked great on the Blue Room tree. A few days later, looking through the holiday windows at Saks, what do I see? Red plastic apples. That Tim Gunn…always ahead of the trend. #lovehim

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Ok, that is a lie. There was no red carpet. But here’s my pics! Tim Gunn said it was perfectly fine I am wearing the same red dress over and over because it works, and it’s not cliche. That’s verbatim people!


You know I really like Genevieve or I would never agree to stand next to such a tall goddess for a pic.


After spending countless hours researching the Johnson’s for “Christmas with the First Ladies,” it was a thrill to meet Lynda Robb Johnson — I mean she got married in the White House!


And Susan! She killed it as a member of the 2014 White House Decorating Team!!!! Thank you Susan for all your hard work — I loved working with you!!


Finally, Cousin Courtney, who makes an appearance from time to time on this blog. Thanks for all the help!

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The library geek in me almost died when the National Archives asked me to be on their panel “Deck the Halls: Holidays at the White House.” I didn’t even know it was on my bucket list!

Here’s the link if you want to check it out:



Rounding out the panel: Tim Gunn (love him even more now that I met him in person), Lynda Johnson Robb (President Johnson’s daughter who I had so many questions for), Gary Waters (former White House Cheif Usher who knows all, and I mean all, the secrets) and HGTV’s Genevieve Groder (ok, love her even though she’s a even more of a statuesque goddess in real life).

And thank you to everyone who stayed for the book signing!



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Ok…Adventures in Decorating is an understatement. MSNBC got me involved in some serious speed decorating! I loved it! I felt like I was on a reality show– decorate this beautiful NYC apartment in a hot second, with no ladder, no water! (that water part is a lie). It was like Survivor meets MSNBC’s The Cycle. Thank goodness anchor Abby Huntsman is so laid back, and so much fun!


It didn’t turn out all bad. This a sneak peek at Abby’s coffee table. Complete with natural wood elements (think Mrs. Carter, Mrs. Obama) and adorable Santa pics we had reprinted from when Abby and her husband were little kids. (think Peg Christian, my Mom. Stole this idea from her). Abby had never seen her husband’s pic with Santa, and her reaction was super sweet. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.


The whole crew came together to try get this done. Below, is a pic of the saddest Christmas pole. Proof you definitely need the right tools to decorate. In this case, a ladder!


Looking back, speed decorating is a great way to start. You bang out all your ground work, but then you need time to go back an finese. Some things you can throw together fast, like this center piece using silver ornaments, glass bowls and battery operated lights. Some things you can’t throw together in less than an hour. Lesson learned. Note: we all laughed till we cried over that pole! It still makes me crack up.


Here’s the link:


The Smithsonian Institute!!! Geek girls unite! (ok, that was just an excuse to use the word “girl” to describe myself). But, I was really honored to be invited to speak at the Smithsonian. We talked about the First Ladies and even made First Lady ornaments.

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White feather boas have been a staple on my tree since Maeve was a baby…that’s about 15 years! I guess if I love something, I really love it. Feather boas are super luxe and super fun at the same time. They are my favorite way to create snow on a Christmas tree. Next year I’m going bold — white feather boas and orange bubble ornaments!

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Even if you love to bake, give yourself the treat of attending a bake sale this holiday season. Go for the home made cookies that are the most time consuming and add those into to your own holiday treats. Love those little church ladies who love to bake. They make us all look good.


The most amazing thing I spotted at the Princeton Junior League Show House was this beautiful succulent banister. Most times, succulents give me a bohemian 70’s vibe I just love. But this banister banished that vibe. It was pure, high scale elegance.


I loved everything about it — it’s originality, it’s creativity, and it’s Southern magnolia leaves. Holiday heaven!




I have the privilege of working with DK Interior Concepts in my hometown to decorate a fabulous restaurant called The Yardley Inn for Christmas. I was on mantle duty. The Yardley Inn has amazing charm and we wanted to pair that with a very sleek look. We started by hanging three mirrors and accessorizing with high impact silver vases.


Here’s my mantel tip: whatever is on your mantel year round, take it down for the holidays. (Mantels aren’t terribly large, so your not packing up a ton of stuff.) In this case, we removed the year round painting. By starting fresh, we created an entirely new, fun look. And sometimes change is easier when you think it’s only temporary! (I can see management falling in love with these mirrors, and trying to figure out on Jan. 2 if they really, really want that painting back!)


The reflection between the new mirrors and the vases is amazing. Big red ornaments and pine cones finish the look. Now I just have to go back and get pics when the fire is blazing! Tweet me if you have have dinner/drinks by the mantel, I’d love to see your pics. @bycoleen.


I’m not as Black Friday crazy as some of my friends, but these adorable doors just make me want to go inside and get something. I mean, if their taste in doors is this good, there has to be something in there for me! The store is Charming Charlie and it’s worth a trip just to go through the door!


Ziploc prep like to pros

Ziploc prep like the pros

I was delighted when Ziploc included me in their holiday round up of experts. Oh, dear Ziploc you do not know how I honor you daily as I pack those never ending lunches. Thank you for keeping their fritos safe and dry, their chips from spilling all over their backpacks, and jelly from a squished sandwich contained. You may have just found me, but I have loved you forever.

Check out the Ziploc post:

Thanksgiving Prep Like The Pros


Coleen Christian Burke is a holiday decorator for the White House. She recommends taking the family on an autumn hike to pick up seasonal treasures for your Thanksgiving display. “You can collect whatever catches your eye: twigs, berries, pinecones, etc.” she explains. “You can’t help but feel thankful when you bring nature into your home at Thanksgiving.”



Outdoor Thanksgiving displays are simply pared down Halloween displays. Get rid of the the scary and keep the orange. I love this rusty, metal flower pot holder that I trash picked. (If I was being fancy, that would be “rustic” instead of “rusty.” But trust me, it’s rusty.)


I found some Daisy Squash at my local farmers, for .50 a piece. So for $3.00,and a strand of fake leaves I’ve had forever, I was done. Bonus: my farmer tells me when I’m bored of the display, I can cook the Daisy Squash with butter and brown sugar at 350 degrees for an hour. He swears it’s delicious. I’ll get back to you on that.


P.S. this is what it looked like when I found it on the curb. Who could have thrown it away???!


I always smile when these turkeys come to town! Before the ice storm last year, I was rotting with turkeys. I didn’t have the space to display them all. So I’m extra thankful for these turkeys that survived. To make the display, I use tall glass vases and some white candle stick holders.


If you have a lot of turkeys, use different size vases to create different levels. Turkeys can be tricky– some stick with tape, others require sticky candle wax. (My go to magic adhesive for every occasion). Your kids will love seeing their artwork,


and you will love seeing what their little minds were thankful for!


Okay, we’re coming up on the one year anniversary of the ice storm that took our house out. It took ten months, but the unsound structure was finally knocked down. Even though its been incredibly sad and frustrating, this felt like progress…finally!



It’s that time of year again when I start talking about the design style of the First Ladies and won’t stop! I was psyched when The Acorn Club, located in Philadelphia, invited me to speak. The Acorn Club is the oldest women’s club in America. A group of women formed it when they got ticked they weren’t allowed in the old boys club. Good for them! I love that spirit and it’s still going strong today. It was originally a walking club, which I love!


On the table, are some of my recreations of the First Ladys’ holiday style. How cute are Jackie Kennedy’s miniature present ornaments?

What’s a girl to do when she spies a jar of popcorn kernels and she’s not quite sure how long they’ve been in the cabinet? Decorate with them of course.


Glassware is the quickest and fanciest way to decorate. I grabbed two wine glasses, poured the kernels in and dropped in a tea candle. Presto! I’m in the Thanksgiving state of mind.


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Square lamp shades continue to be my obsession. And a hot design trend. You can find them for table tops
and even wall scones.

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These are from the super high end luxury lighting source Currey & Company. Something to dream about. Until then,
I’m happy to hunt for the knock off versions in my favorite bargain stores!

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If your carved jack-o-lanterns are ready for the trash, head back out for November pumpkins. November pumpkins are sometimes on sale, and the easiest way to decorate for Thanksgiving.




What’s Halloween without some black spray paint? I sprayed my pumpkin with black gloss paint, mixed it in with some fun white gourds, threw in some pipe cleaner spiders, and called it a done display. The slightly dying plant even fit right in! Loving the black & white this year!



One of my favorite things to do (ok, everything’s my favorite), is to mix things up. So of course, I dropped a big pipe cleaner spider (you can never have too many) right on top of these elegant flowers. Unexpected, and loved by everyone who saw them! (except for the guys who were like, “oh, somebody put a spider on some flowers.”)


I also adore draping drug store webbing all over elegant furniture and homes. These pics are behind the scenes of a new web show I’m hosting called Holiday Insider.


Give you more info when I have it!



The best thing about the hotel house (for those of you new to the blog, this is what I loving call the rental home we are living in while we try to figure out if we can ever rebuild our home), is that it’s pared way down. Only the stuff you need. All my decorating traditions have to be re-invented (again), and these curtain ghosts just make me smile. It was crafting at first site. The moment I saw the windows last March, I knew this was going to happen if we were still here at Halloween.


So cute, and done in under seven minutes. I know because I looked at the clock in horror. I wanted to have these done to surprise Brenna when she woke up for school. Too much GMA, and I was under the gun. No worries. I only needed black felt, tape and scissors. I free hand cut the circles, taped them to the curtains, and waited for the giggles. Overall, a great morning. And by the way, this was how it all started.



The last time we saw our pumpkins, they were on top of a pile of pumpkins that had been carved for a candlelit walk called Canal-o-ween.


When it got dark, we headed out to Canal-o-ween to see how the whole thing turned out.




We weren’t disappointed. Going back next year, with or without teenagers!


Canaloween is an amazing idea! I heard about after it was over last year, and promised myself we’d go this year. Easier said than done, with two reluctant teenagers. At least my eleven year old wanted to go. You read it hear first, I am officially not dragging anyone to anything else. Those days where we could just go and do fun, campy things are over, and I begrudgingly accept it. That said, WE HAD A REALLY GREAT TIME! (that’s not denial, we did!)


So here’s the gist. We live in a place that has a beautiful canal that leads to the river. Some genius (I mean that in the nicest way, I wish it was my idea), decided it would be beautiful to come together as a community, carve jack-o-lanterns, line the canal path with them and take a candle lit stroll.


Local businesses sponsor the event, so its no cost to the families. They even provide all the tools. In the end, everyone had fun (one teenager even admitted it). And we can’t wait to come back tonight to see how it looks!



Halloween is a really fun time to help your community. The Moonlight Trail in Montclair, NJ is one great example. It’s run by Van Dyke Health Care. It’s a moonlit walk through over a thousand carved jack-o-lanterns. Some spooky, some sweet, all for a really good cause. And it’s a great place to take a shameless selfie.


The Moonligtht Trail raises money for the local food pantry. You can see by the set-up, how much fun it is…and how much work goes into getting it done.


All those pumpkins need to get carved, set-up and lit. Volunteers are always welcomed. Last year they raised almost $2,500. So get in on the fun. Find out what’s going on in your town. It’s a chance to be spooktacular. (sorry, couldn’t resist).


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So this year’s Halloween decor started off with a box of cast of stuff from my Mom. In the box were a handful of black ornaments. Now, one the commandments that I usually follow is that ornaments are only for Christmas. But beggars can’t be choosy. I threw these up on the brass chandelier that I have always hated in the hotel house, and suddenly, I liked it, I really liked it. I would never have done this at my old house (or any place I have lived really). And now I wonder why I was being such a snob. It’s really cute, and even sometimes feels chic.

Who knew? Have the courage to break your traditions!


Okay, this family gets lots of points for this guy. I loved his height, his burlap-like garb– basically everything about him. Just wouldn’t want to see him alone at night.


Here’s another fireplace with great bones! Sorry, you know I can’t help myself.


There’s nothing wrong with keeping Halloween decorating simple. This year it was part of the fun.


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Somethings in life are just worth paying for. An Olillo handbag is one of those things. If you haven’t heard of Olillo yet, you will. They just launched this week with seven amazing styles, designed by seven amazing women. Proceeds from each sale go to support the charitable causes of each woman. Can you say “handbag charity?” Heaven!


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Each of the women behind the bags has an incredible story and a noble cause. Simply put, Olillo is luxury with soul. How great is that?

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Any woman whose ever carried a bag, knows it’s more than just a bag. The genius design team at Olillo figured that out, and upped the soul factor. Each bag is more fantastic than the one before, and the stories behind them are even more amazing. Worth saving your pennies for! Curious? Check them out at www.Olillo.com.

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But they’re not cheap. If you are going to splurge on one luxury item this lifetime, it should be on Olillo. Buy an Olillo handbag and help change the world!


Along our October theme of having no time, we made this super easy ghost. (By we, I mean Brenna, age 11). Do I have to say it? Ok, I love him. Materials list: large styroam head, two packages of cheese cloth, and black paint. Bonus, I used a fifty percent off coupon on the styrofoam head. The cheese cloth is less than three bucks and we had the paint.


We draped the cheese cloth over the ball. Brenna finger painted the face. We could have ended it there, but Brenna used scissors to shred the cheese cloth at the bottom. We used a low heat glue gun (hot would have melted the styrofoam) to secure our nail on the top of his head. Hung on tree. Done.


We love this little guy! When my youngest wanted to make a spider I asked her what she needed. Materials list: black pipe cleaners, two styrofoam balls, googly eyes, black paint.


Now, I would have been tempted to make this more complicated. But why? He’s adorable, nice and big. We painted him black, used a skewer to hold the two styrofoam balls together (my contribution), glued on the eyes and pushed in the pipe cleaner legs. Then we put him outside to scare my oldest daughter, who happens to hate spiders. Could she really hate him?

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I love fall decorating! All of my fall decorating was down to science. I could get it done in record time, with time left to free-lance and be creative. Oh, how I loved my decorations and the system I had worked out. Then, we moved. Then, our new house flooded and was unlivable. (sorry dear readers who are sick of this old story). At this point all my decorating traditions are wiped out. So I’m starting over. Fall Decorating Phase One is all sweet and nice. Pumpkins, gourds, and happy scarecrows.

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It’s as simple as grouping a bunch of pumpkins together. Done. Now Phase Two Fall Decorating will be more of a challenge. Phase Two: Scary. Check back if you dare.


Life Rule #11 (ok, I just made that eleven number up. But, I feel like I should at least have eleven rules to live by at this point, right?). So back to #11: you must have art in your life. To do this, you must make friends with artists, if you are not lucky enough to be one yourself. The artist in this instance is my fabulous cousin Courtney. Maybe making friends with artists is too ambitious. Just go for one. Your life will be better. Check out Courtney’s art at #WatercolorWednesday.

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Brenna, age 11, is suddenly crazy for nail art. Sure our house smells like a nail salon, and we should have bought stock in nail polish remover, but I’m still loving it. These back to school converse nails just make me happy!

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Who knew, our back to school look wasn’t complete until we had these!

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You know I love art that comes home from school more than anything! So I was crazy about what my friend Karen did in her daughter Gracie’s room.

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Karen stole the idea from…herself! She used to be a teacher and this is how she decorated her classroom with her students’ work. She simply hung yarn securely, and used clothespins to hang whatever came home from school.

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The best part is the art changes all the time. Eventually Gracie will decide what goes up and down….and art will probably be replaced by One Direction!

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My favorite new thing this fall is my brother Dave’s wishing well fountain. Of course, he made it himself. (See Garden Gift Bags for more on him). I love that it is so rustic and fun, and nothing like the style of everyone else in our family.

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He made it from an old water pump my Grandfather had, and I’m guessing, some type of new electric water pump from Home Depot or Lowe’s. I didn’t ask because I knew I wasn’t taking these project on anytime soon. (Why would I, if I could just get Dave to make it?) Or, maybe he made the pump too. It’s possible.

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Wishing wells remind me of those days as a kid when you could toss a penny and a dream could come true…

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I guess we’ve both grown up…look what Dave is wishing for these days!

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My friend Liz Bushong of Serve it Up Sassy served up this fabulous woodsy wedding cake at a recent summer wedding. It would be perfect for fall too…just think flowers in oranges and yellows. Of course, my favorite part is the cake stand…nothing short of a tree trunk with moss. Divine. (I thought twice about that word, but it’s the right one to use!)

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The cake is just as amazing under wooden beams as it is under the great big open sky. Check out Liz’s book Serve it Up Sassy and her website www.lizbushong.com. Thanks Liz!


One of the hottest decorating trends Fall 2014 is metal. Don’t be afraid! You don’t have to be super modern to get in on the trend. If fact, I went a little old school eclectic when I decorated my bedroom dresser. I mixed a couple metal purses I’ve had forever, with some of those rocks that I drug home from vacation. (For new readers, I am not talking about my rings. I did bring white ocean rocks home from vacation). Remember, I told you I’d use them for something!


The mix of mediums is a great surprise. I love the look every time I come in my room! Later this week: How to Mix Metals in Your Decor.

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One of the best things about the first day of school is the memories you get to create. I absolutely love what my fabulous cousin Staci did chalking the word kindergarten in giant letters down her long driveway. And I think I just found my new favorite stylist in her daughter Carly Jane!! (Carly, I so love your dress and boots- please make me over!)

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It was a such hit, I’m afraid Staci’s going to have to do it every year!

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And it’s even better when the older kids will still pose! Here Carly Jane’s brother David gets ready for 5th grade. If you make it fun, you only have to force them a little bit — at least with my crew.

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What better way to run off to school on the very first day! Love it!

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The first day of any school can be nerve wracking for kids and moms. Even the bravest kids get butterflies. My little cousin Carly Jane got a letter from her teacher that she was not allowed to open until the night before the first day of school. She was super curious to say the least!


The big “night before” came and Carly Jane was finally able to open the letter. What we found, complete with confetti, is that Carly Jane had gotten herself the best teacher ever. I loved the letter so much, I posted the whole thing below. P.S. Carly Jane was delighted to sleep with it under her pillow.


Magic! Talk about a wonderful way to start the school year.


Before summer slips away there are four things you must do: look at the ocean (not on your phone, in real life), ride a bike, look at the stars and catch fireflies. You get extra credit for chalking the sidewalk and blowing bubbles.

Back to School Hacks because I’ve learned a thing or two….(or stolen them from my friends).

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1) Sharpie on a String. Oh, how I love my sharpie on a string. As somebody who can never find a pen, or one that writes, having a incredibly bold sharpie to put names on lunch bags, sign last minute forms, label clothes as the kids are going out the door, just makes my life easier. There’s something so permanent about a sharpie that it just makes me believe whatever is going out the door, just might come back.

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2) Create a downstairs Hair Station. I swear, there’s something about children that they just don’t like to go back upstairs by themselves once they come down. Save yourself time and aggravation by making a Hair Station. Everything is right where you need it. Even if you don’t have a downstairs bathroom, keep your hair products on the first floor. It’s a time saver.

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I thought I was so clever using ribbons for the barrettes. Let you know how that goes. Don’t forget your toothbrushes. They can move downstairs too.

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3) Set your house up like the Pros do. I stole this one from Brenna’s fourth grade teacher. Keep your supplies in see through jars (plastic is probably best) that kids can easily access. No wonder our school supply drawer was always a disaster. Kids need to be able to see what they need.

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4) Skip White Board Erasers. From that same wonderful teacher, I learned you don’t have to waste money on white board erasers. Old socks will do. Finally, I don’t feel so guilty about those socks who permanently lost their mates. Now my widowed socks have a whole new career.

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5). Save that Art/Use Archival Folders. I know we can save everything on our devices, but I’m Old School when it comes to my kids’ art work. I know it can be overwhelming, but I promise it goes away. I hardly get any new pieces these days & I treasure the ones I saved. In fact, one of my top mom moments, was when I heard my daughter’s little friend saying, “You’re so lucky, your mom always hangs your art up.” Oh, did I eat that up! So here’s what’s worked for me:

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I bought a few of these Archival Art Folders, which you get at art supply stores. They come in a bunch of sizes, and I went for the largest size. So I could drop anything in that came home without worrying about folding and crinkling stuff. Archival Folders are designed to protect and preserve paper. They also lay flat, so they can slide under beds or hang at the back of a closet. I labeled each one with a couple of holidays, and simply drop artwork in as it comes home. I love displaying their art through the year. Totally indulgent!!! But, I’ve grown tired of my ornate frame….I’m feeling a makeover coming on.

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Of course, my friend Tommy Starling served amazing savories to go with the sweets at his daughter’s Ladybug Birthday Party. These were made with Babybel cheese. He used an edible black marker to make ladybug spots on the wax, added a halved black olive for the head, and finished it off with bean sprouts for antennae. Super cute!!


Next up, he made Ladybug Caprese Bruschetta. Start with crusty bread, add a slice of mozzarella and a basil leaf to each. Then Tommy sliced cherry tomatoes in half, coated them with a balsamic glaze, olive oil and black sesame seeds, and placed a tomato on each piece of cheese. Adorable & yummy.

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Can’t wait to see what he does next year! Thanks Tommy!


Who doesn’t want to go to a Ladybug party! My friend Tommy Starling pulled out all the stops for his daughter’s birthday. Sometimes you just have to splurge, like he did on the cupcake tray above, to really make a statement ( and save yourself a ton of time). But don’t worry, Tommy’s got plenty of DIY Ladybug party ideas he’s willing to let us steal.


Before we get to that, I have to gush over Tommy a little more. He’s the author of the amazing children’s book Bob’s New Pants, which is about a curious Lady Bug, who teaches kids about diversity. It’s perfect for ages 3 to 7, and available on Amazon. Who better to give us tips for a Ladybug Party!


I thought this was genius. Tommy simply stuffed fresh raspberries with milk chocolate chips.

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If you don’t want to go for the chocolate chips, you could substitute raisins and still get a Ladybug look. ( I, however, would never mess with the perfection of raspberries and chocolate!)


For his Ladybug pretzels, Tommy dipped pretzels in red and black colored chocolate, applying edible eyes before the chocolate dried. We debated whether these were cute or creepy, and I went for super cute!

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The final sweet touch were the Ladybug giftbags. Tommy filled them with black and red jelly beans, and threw in a random white white jelly bean — just to remind us, like Bob the Ladybug, we are a little different, and special just the same.

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Last year when we were moving, Good-Bye Mugs were one of those projects that really made me feel like I got it right as a mom. Brenna wanted to give her friends a little gift at the end of her going away party. Good Bye mugs were perfect because they allowed Brenna to feel connected to her friends as we prepared to move away. Plus, we love crafting!

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You will need mugs, chalk board paint, a paint brush and painter’s tape.

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If you want, you can rough up the area you plan to paint with sandpaper. It’s not necessary, but the paint will adhere faster. Then tape off the area with painter’s tape, paint and allow to dry over night.

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Even a year later, I still love looking at the little messages she wrote to her friends!

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Who doesn’t love a good gift bag? It’s one of my favorite parts of party planning. I love giving them and getting them. I don’t even want to admit how much time I like to spend on them. Last weekend, my brother Dave came up with the most amazing gift bag, and I’m pretty sure he wasn’t even trying. At the end of my niece’s birthday party, he sent us all into his garden with brown paper bags. The pic. above is only part of our haul!

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All the kids happily went into the garden to see what they could find, including my picky, sometimes vegan, teen.

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What could be better than a plain, brown grocery bag that you get to fill with fresh vegetables?


How about a jar of homemade sauce? I swear, he’s not a show off. He just grew up to be some type of new age farmer. Lucky us.
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The Red Barn in Hammonton, NJ is one of my favorite places to stop on the way to the Jersey Shore. I love looking at these pies as much as eating them!

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The presentation is so amazing, you actually feel guilty if you don’t eat them. Which is why I ate two myself this summer. Wish I had the will power of my kids who had a couple of pieces and were done.

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What’s better on a sleepy summer Saturday than a Farmers’ Market? I was so lucky to get there when the little flower ladies were setting up (actually they got lost and I gave them directions!), because I’m sure their beautiful flowers sold out! $5.00 a bunch, they were the deal of the weekend.

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Life is funny! When we lived close to New York City, we had a huge farmers’ market practically in our back yard. Ironically, when we moved to the “country” we had none. So I was super excited when some awesome volunteers got together to open one right around the corner from us.

If you can believe it, the flowers were more amazing in person!

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July resolutions

One July day my youngest asked me, “Isn’t it time to make promises?” After some back and forth I figured out she was talking about New Year’s Resolutions. I told her we make those in January. To which she replied, “Well, I think we should make them in July.” I’ve decided she was right! It’s much easier to make a resolution in July. There’s less distraction. Less stress. July is a much better time to make changes. And if you don’t feel like taking on something brand new, it’s a great time to circle back to the resolution you did make in December.

Happy July Resolutions!


When our home was destroyed last winter by a burst pipe, we were left with next to nothing. When it came time to go back to school, we had no computers, no books, no paper or even a pencil. It made an impression on all three kids to say the least. Taking a page from the world according to Oprah, I knew we all would feel better about our situation if we somehow tried to help others. And that is the short story of how the living room in our temporary housing came to look like a Staples store had exploded.


The idea actually started with my son J.’s teacher. She mentioned that almost new school supplies go into the trash at the end of every year. In June, we set up boxes to collect gently used school supplies, and we got more than we bargained for. We lugged all the stuff home and started the triage. We divided our haul into three piles: trash, good as new, and hospital. The hospital pile required tender love and care. We got a God wink when we realized we were in dire need of a good eraser, and two suddenly appeared in the next box. Rubbing alcohol, hair spray and nail polisher remover helped us remove names, subjects, and occasionally, who was in love with who.


In the end, we collected an enormous amount of binders (who knew drab green was so popular!), marble notebooks, spiral notebooks, pencil cases, paper, and even a few calculators. Our first thought was that we could ship them to a school overseas, but the freight was prohibitive. We ended up donating them to a soup kitchen, whose patrons were in dire need. It made us feel like we had A LOT. And we do.

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Sometimes it just isn’t practical to have a party at your house. It’s just easier and more convenient for everyone to meet at a restaurant. That’s what happened when my friend Karen was moving. We met at a local restaurant, but my friend Susann made it so much nicer by bringing flowers in a bud vase for the table. We took away the generic flowers that were on every table, and replaced them with these. Bonus- when lunch was over the guest of honor took them home. It was a great, inexpensive gesture that made our party seem more special!

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It’s always fun to present something just a little bit differently. A plain plate of cookies was made more special with a few extra steps. I simply made a couple star cookies with a cookie cutter, put them on skewers and placed in a bud vase. The cookies were simple, the platter was simple (green plastic!), but the bud vase with stars made the whole thing just a little bit wonderful!

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It’s always great to make a new friend — especially when she tells you her favorite summer drink. Even better when the recipe is simple. Hence, the Mrs. Weissenberger.

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You only need three ingredients: fresh peaches, frozen lemonade and vodka. Grab your blender, throw in some ice, add the frozen lemonade, then fill the empty lemonade container with vodka (the ratio of lemonade to vodka is 1:1). Add peaches with skin.

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Blend. Drink. Repeat. Best served on a hot day, by the pool.

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Brenna upped the patriotic festivities when she painted her nails in honor of the Fourth of July. Stay tuned for more amazing nail creations from Brenna.

Happy 4th!

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Take an American favorite, the ice cream cone, and bring it to a whole new level. All you need are ice cream cones, vanilla icing, and red, white & blue sprinkles. Spread icing on the end of your cone, and roll in sprinkles. That easy you have a fun & fancy desert guaranteed to make everyone smile.

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Okay, even my summer appetizers look Christmas, without trying I promise! I found this parmesan and spinach focaccia in the bakery section of my local grocery store, and at $4.50 it was too amazing too pass up.

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Pretty on it’s own, I dressed it up with a few fresh basil leaves and cherry tomatoes. I served it with some olive oil for dipping. That easy I had a great way to start off the night.

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This paper pin wheel centerpiece is super fun and super easy to make. You will need square scrapbooking paper in patriotic colors (one sheet per pin wheel), pencils, thumb tacks, mason jars, and red, white and blue gumballs.

Make a diagonal cut at each corner of the paper, going towards the center. After all four cuts, your paper will appear to have four petals. Fold the tip of each petal to the center of the paper. Once all four tips are folded into the center, push your thumb tack through each tip and into the pencil’s eraser. Done!

Fill your mason jar with large gumballs, and place your pinwheel in the jar. Repeat. This is a centerpiece kids of all ages love! Check out my video if you want to see exactly how I did it.

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I still love this shell wreath I made a few years ago. I gave it to my mom and told her I was planning to buy her a shore house so she could hang it on the door. Oops! That didn’t work out. Maybe one day Mom…

Anyway, the wreath is still great! It’s a terrific summer wreath, or can even be used at Christmas if you are looking to do something unexpected. I simply gathered the shells, hot glued them on a wicker wreath and done. Merry Monday!

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There are a few things I can’t resist ( ok, there are a lot of things I can’t resist), and a sign like this is one of them!

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Lured in by the fresh produce sign, I found these gorgeous flower slings, filled with impatiens flowers. The vertical shape is fantastic for any backyard.

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My friend Liz is an amazing hostess. She always has the prefect touch to any occasion. Not so long ago, Brenna and I were lucky enough to sleep over, and found these little chocolates on our fresh towels! Of course, I also loved the wire ribbon tied around the towels — better than any Five Star hotel! Everybody should be so lucky to be invited to Liz’s.

Finger Puppets

As a Lifestyle Expert for ehow, I get assigned topics to teach on camera. “Finger Puppets for Pre-school” turned out to be one of my favorites. I brainstormed with Brenna (my ten year old), and we decided to make our puppets using the running stitch and felt. For non-sewers, the running stitch is simply an “in and out” stitch that brings two pieces of fabric together (in this case our felt). It outlines the shape of your project. Some shapes are obvious (like our Christmas tree). When a shape isn’t obvious (like our reindeer), I fall back on the “key hole” shape. It can be decorated any way. For step by step directions, check out my ehow clip below. Try it — these turned out to be one of my favorite Christmas projects in 2013!

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I make so many mistakes buying wines I don’t like (maybe I should stop choosing them based on the design of their label!), that when I hit on one I really like, it’s like I’ve really accomplished something. My current favorite find is Dog Point from New Zealand. The label’s not bad either. Be sure to serve it in an adorable polka dot glass for maximum pleasure!

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My sixteen year old lives for Urban Outfitters. I could use a little more fabric on their shorts, but have no problems with their design inspiration. I love the oversize funky fitting room door they created by combining two vintage doors. If that’s too over the top for your style, how about this towel bar they created using reclaimed wood? Fabulous!

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If I cursed, I might be cursing about now. How did my daughter get to be 16? I love and cherish her….but 16, are you kidding? And what happened? We somehow forgot to save for college, which is now just around the corner. And apologies about not being able to throw that big debutante ball! (which you know I am only half kidding about. I would really, really like to go to a debutante ball starring my feminist, sometimes goth, sixteen year old).

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Still, 16 calls for cake. As many layers as you can possibly get. Throw in some flowers — they’re all edible, right?

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One of my favorite bookstores, Watchung Booksellers in Montclair NJ, was the first to host my sister Maureen’s new book, The Cocktail Club. Unexpectedly, we both showed up in orange, and after a few cocktails, people started teasing that we were the style sisters. (A few nights later, I showed up at a second book signing to help her, and we were both wearing blue!) More on orange in future posts.

Check out the cherry tomatoes in the olive tray.  The try is lined with vodka!

Check out the cherry tomatoes in the olive tray. The tray is lined with vodka!

One of the easiest appetizers from the book, and a crowd pleaser, are cherry tomatoes resting in vodka. Using a toothpick, spear your tomato, roll it in coarse salt, and enjoy! You can pick up your copy of The Cocktail Club at any bookstore or on Amazon.


The Cocktail Club is here! My wonderful sister Maureen Petrosky wrote this fabulous book just to make our lives more fun!!!!

The launch party for the press was amazing. It was held at the Brooklyn Nite Hawk Theater (hipster heaven). The New York Times, The Food Network, Lucky Magazine and Family Circle all came to Brooklyn to wish her well.

Maureen (left) with The New York Times reporter!

Maureen (left) with The New York Times reporter!

The New York Times even tweeted that Maureen was the only author they ever knew to make her own appetizers for her book launch! The Cocktail Club can be pre-ordered on Amazon now, and comes out May 13. Check back for a chance to win your own copy! Cheers!

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Kids are great for inspiring creativity (that’s when they aren’t zapping it out of you!), and there’s nothing like a school art show to inspire, amaze, and plain make you smile. Here’s a couple of things that caught my eye this year, and left me amazed at imagination run wild.

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I mean, who wouldn’t want a giant, oversized box of crayons and paint? This one left me feeling deprived!

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And of course, inspiration from my very own artist.

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My son J. made his Confirmation this year, and we had a party to celebrate. (He’s 13). When it’s a special occasion, I try to think of ways the kids can participate in getting ready for the party. A favorite is having them help with the “take home” gift bag each guest is given. J. loves chocolate bark, so that was the winner. We put the bark in cellophane bags ( read: I made it), and J. personalized the tags by writing “Thank You” on each one. Did he love it? Let’s say he endured it!

But for me, it served many purposes:
1) It was a special party for J. I wanted him to see it required special effort.
2) I wanted to J. to realize his guests were going to a lot of trouble to come to his party.
3) J.’s job at the end of the party, was to give each guest a party favor when they were leaving. This forced him to look each guest/adult in the eye and personally say “Thank You.”
4) The final benefit was to me. The bark looked great displayed in a big bowl, and added to the party décor. I love decorating for a party.

I know what your thinking, is she done torturing her kid yet? The answer is…No! He still has to write “Thank Yous.” All this was not appropriate when he was younger, but it is appropriate at 13.

Tip – I learned the hard way, don’t cash the checks until the Thank Yous are done. We usually let our kids keep some part of the gift money they receive for special occasions. Getting to spend that money is an incentive to write those notes. Plus, having all those addresses right on the check is a real time saver.

It’s been three weeks…..we’re almost done.

If you want an easy recipe for chocolate bark, check out my ehow video. It’s not just for Christmas!

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If you learn nothing else reading this blog, remember you must have bubbly on your birthday. This year I was lucky enough to be served in a glass that had my “B” monogram — it had nothing to do with the fact the restaurant’s name started with a B.

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Random things I found on vacation, that I loved, and that convinced me I need to go on vacation even more!

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And yes, my friends were horrified, that I gathered up about thirty pounds of these beautiful white ocean rocks, and packed them in my suitcase. I tried to convince them I knew just what I was going to do with them. Check back to see how it works out.

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Life Lesson not to be messed with: try on bathing suit in February. Yes, February. That’s when you still have enough time to maybe get it together for the summer. Try to stick to this rule. That’s when the bathing suits first hit the store racks, so you have more options. It is also the only time you are allowed to buy a bathing suit that is tight.

I bought a new bathing suit in February this year, and actually wore it in February! For the first time in forever, I went on a vacation with friends. Requirements for a beach body in February, are far less stringent in my book. It’s like a dress rehearsal. Everyone should realize you are not quite ready for the main show. Hence, the picture in the cover-up. I know what I need to do. Check back in summer to see if I can actually do it. WARNING: high likelihood of another cover-up shot.

Bar carts are all the rage this year, but you can still set up for cocktails if you don’t have one. I found these vintage glasses at a yard sale, and they were just too cute to keep in the cabinet. I simply set them up as part of my Christmas décor. I found a spot on my counter, and added my old standby– glass beads. That easy, I was in the Christmas spirit and ready for drinks if friends stopped by. (okay, they didn’t –but I was ready!)

Check out my ehow appearance if you want more details!

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Although we just moved back last summer, I grew up in Pennsylvania near the banks of the Delaware River. Never, ever did I see a winter that turned the river into a jam of ice. I knew this was a spectacular event, that might not happen again. My three kids were less convinced. They fought me, and each other, all the way to see this natural wonder.

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An extreme version of my yearly winter walk, the frozen river provided the type of awe only nature can deliver. Even the kids got it. Miracles do happen. They were amazed and I was right. Totally worth the hassle.

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There are a few promises I’ve made to myself, and one of them is to take a walk after it snows (or while it’s snowing!), at least once each winter. The winter landscape puts everything into prospective– so you think I’d jump at the chance to pull on my boots, right? Not always so. Sometimes, I have to force myself out the door, but in the end I am always thankful I do. Snowfall is a gift — take a moment to enjoy!

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I love decorating for sports themed parties with actual sports equipment. In this case, I made an easy centerpiece with a basketball and a glass pedestal vase. It’s always stunning to mix materials that you don’t normally put together. I filled the vase with curled ribbon in our team colors, added a few green leaves, and placed my basketball on top. That fast I was done, and the basketball centerpieces looked fabulous. (Of course!)

If you’re like me, you might just run out of time to do everything you want to do before Christmas. That’s what inspired “January Cookies” in our house. I decided not to beat myself up when we did not get to make our annual sugar cookies before the big deadline. Instead, we just mixed it up by making our cookies in January. We even added some blue sprinkles to celebrate winter.

Guess what? We still had fun. January Cookies taste just as good with milk. And I like to think I gave my kids a gift, that might just last until they are adults. When they grow up, I hope they don’t drive themselves crazy trying to squeeze everything into 25 days. Maybe they’ll remember January Cookies and give themselves a break.

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Next year, I’m still aiming to make cookies in December. But I know it’s not the end of the world if they get pushed to January. It just makes the makes the season last a little longer.

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If you’re like me, you hate to see the Christmas tree go! So, I’ve come up with a little tradition to make the transition back to everyday life a little bit easier. Before our tree goes out the door, I always clip a few branches to use in a greens arrangement.

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This year, I used three 1950’s beer glasses to make my display. After the fussiness of the Christmas season, I love the simple lines of this look. Plus, we get to enjoy the fresh pine smell a little bit longer.

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Easing myself back into reality!

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I’ve had ties to Philadelphia my whole life, but never made it to a Mummer’s Parade. What a great way to kick off 2014 –doing something brand new. The parade was amazing…what was I waiting for?

New Year's 2014

When it comes to New Year’s Eve, I’m usually pretty low key. But this year, we joined all the fun and went fancy! Check out how amazing the ballroom looked:

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Jerry and I even stayed up past midnight! Way to welcome 2014! Happy New Year!

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I got a kick out of watching my teen age daughter get TV ready for her first on camera interview! Here’s the back story:
This year, I was thrilled when I got to be part of the decorating team for First Lady Michelle Obama. I was even more thrilled when I got to bring my teenage daughter Maeve to see the decorations in D.C. Then my friend Lynn Doyle, host of Comcast’s “It’s Your Call,” invited both Maeve and I to be guests on her show! I talked about the history of White House Christmas decorating and Maeve talked about what it was like to go to a White House Holiday Party. I know I had more fun then she did, but it was pretty awesome. Moms of teenagers don’t often get the chance to be cool!

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Here’s we are on set. Not bad, huh?

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Made me Smile

On my way home from the Home & Family set, I ran into this crazy balloon reindeer in LAX Airport. I’m all about stylish Christmas décor, but this tacky baby made me smile. Snapped a pic for the kids. Merry! Merry!

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I was so lucky to be invited to the set of Hallmark’s Home & Family. I have been a huge fan of Cristina Ferrare for years, and Mark Steines isn’t bad either.

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I was there to show them how to make Betty Ford’s Cranberry Tree. It’s a very traditional decoration — the White House had one on display in the Red Room each Christmas for thirty something years!

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Check out the video and learn how to make one for your home!

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The last two Christmas’ I have had the honor of helping to decorate the Pennsylvania’s Governor’s Mansion. This year I was on flower duty! 33 original arrangements for the gala that kicked off the Christmas season.

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The First Lady of Pennsylvania, Susan Corbett, chose some amazing peonies she wanted to be the star of the arrangements. After I gave each one a fresh cut, I took the end of my cutters and gently pushed down on the end of the stem, essentially breaking it. HOT TIP: Breaking the bottom of the stem gets water to the flower faster and helps it to live longer. Then, the flowers went back in their buckets until I was ready for them.

The best thing about the PA Governor’s Mansion are the beautiful gardens. Even in December, they have all sorts of greens to clip. A short trip to the garden and I had all the greens I needed. HOT TIP: For winter arrangements chose several different varieties of greens to make your arrangements more visually interesting.

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When making more than one arrangement to be used at the same event, let your creativity go when making the first one. Then when you have a look you like, re-create. Somtimes this is not so easy! If your arrangement is not looking right from the start, or goes astray, start over. Trust me, it’s easier and faster in the long run. HOT TIP: Don’t fight your flowers and greens. If it doesn’t feel right, it’s faster to pull it all out and start over. Trust me, you’ll end up doing it anyway. Cut your losses, and you’ll be surprised how fast it all comes together.

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What girl doesn’t love a trip to NYC at Christmas? I was so happy when CNN invited on to talk about my book Christmas with the First Ladies. As a bonus I got to meet Grammy Award Winning violinist and conductor Joshua Bell. (And he’s really handsome!)

CNN 2 Joshua Bell and Friends -Musical Gift

You can check out my appearance on CNN below!

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Ok, if a fruit board was more than you are willing to take on this holiday, you can scale way back and decorate with a Citrus Plate. Still traditional. Still smells great. And it’s even more stylish. Mine is on a silver plate, but you can update the look by using a more modern plate.

This one is fun and easy to do with the kids. Simply take cloves and push them into your citrus making a pattern. You can use lemons, limes or oranges. Shellac your fruit and it will last longer. Merry! Merry!

Nothing says Christmas like Colonial Fruit Boards! They are a favorite of the First Lady of Pennsylvania, Susan Corbett, and this year we made them to hang over the front door of the Governor’s Mansion. The first year you make one will require the most time.

You will need a plywood fan board, which is basically the shape of half of a circle. Your local hardware store should be able to help you out with this one. Install three heavy duty eye hooks into the top of the board. These hooks will attach to nails above your door. Once you have your board, you can use it year after year.

You will cover the board with greens and fruit. Start with stapling greens or magnolia leaves to cover your board.

There’s only one must in my book: a pineapple. The rest of the fruit is up to you. Think apples, lemons, oranges, etc. You can use fake or real fruit. If you use real fruit, you should shellac it first to ensure it lasts.

Center your pineapple in the center of your board. You can either hot glue your fruit on, or hammer nails into your board and place the fruit on top of the nails. If you hot glue your fruit, make sure you wire the pineapple onto the board as well.

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