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.


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!

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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!



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!


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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…

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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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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.

Home and Family 3066 Final Photo Assets

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

Home and Family 3066 Final Photo Assets

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

Home and Family [Episode #] Final Photo Assets

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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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.


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?

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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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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!

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!

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!

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!

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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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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