When I saw these Christmas glasses, I began reminiscing about years past when I spent many a winter day gazing through the window looking out for cardinals. There is just something so breathtaking about a bright red cardinal in a snow-covered landscape. The little bird on each glass is perched on a snow-dusted branch. This lovely set of glasses is one you’ll want to keep using long after the snow has disappeared.
When planning my holiday party each year, I have some standard party dishes that are my go-to recipes, such as a variety of quinoa salads, edamame dip or hummus, stuffed mushrooms, crostini topped with veggies or fruit, and of course some type of dessert. Since folks are nibbling on food for several hours at my parties, I like to balance these lighter, mostly veggie-centric dishes with a lovely and hearty cheese board.
Not only is the cheese board always popular with my friends, but I just adore cheese! I enjoy trying new fromage, and a cheese board is a fun way for you and your guests to sample new cheeses without having to purchase a whole big piece or wheel for only yourself. Plus—and maybe I’m just a cheese nerd—it’s fun to experience and discuss new cheeses with loved ones.
To select the cheeses for my board, I usually stick to 3 or 4 farmstead or artisan cheeses, and I try to have a variety of flavours and textures. If you’re serving a few options, it’s a general rule of thumb to have one soft, one semi-hard, and one aged cheese. If your crowd enjoys the veined stuff, you can also include a blue cheese. When picking your fromage, you can also have diversity by selecting cheeses made from different milks [cow, goat, sheep]. And if making the cheese selection yourself seems overwhelming, talk to your local cheesemonger! They are very knowledgeable and would be more than happy to help you choose some delicious and interesting cheeses.
Here are a few cheeses I’ve been savouring recently to give you some ideas to get started:
Fresh Mozzarella [And it would be too messy for a cheese board, but I also highly recommend mozzarella's creamy sibling burrata—it's amazing!]
Photo: Whole Foods
If you aren’t used to purchasing farmstead or artisan cheeses, you might have a little bit of sticker shock at first since nicer cheeses are pricier than your regular ol’ supermarket brand cheese. But trust me, they’re worth the higher price! If you’re wanting to venture into the world of artisan cheese, head to Whole Foods between now and 24 December, as they are currently celebrating 12 Days of Cheese. [That's my kind of holiday!] During this event, a different artisan cheese will be half-off each day. Today’s fromage is Pheasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Cheese Company, about which Whole Foods says: “The only three-time winner of the American Cheese Society Best of Show, this cheese has a sweet, broth-like flavor with notes of butterscotch and fruit.” Yum! Tomorrow’s cheese is Le Gruyère, and Monday’s is Cypress Grove Chevre’s Truffle Tremor, so Whole Foods is highlighting quite a range of delicious cheeses. To see the full list, read descriptions of the different cheeses, and find beer/wine pairing notes, see here.
There are loads of different options for the actual board itself, from a marble slab to a wooden ampersand to even a slice of acacia. However, my favourite platter for serving cheese is my slate board from Brooklyn Slate. A unique serving dish, the slab of slate is as striking as it is beautiful. Plus, you can write the cheese names or festive messages on the board with the included soapstone pencil.
Honeycomb [Try a small piece with spicy cheese and a slice of green apple—divine!]
Mixed olives, such as Kalamata, Castelvetrano, and Cerignola
Assorted crackers, crostini, or sliced baguette
You’ll want to base your accompaniments on what cheeses you’re featuring, so perhaps membrillo and Marcona almonds with manchego or cornichons and slices of baguette with Gruyère. And don’t get upset if a guest uses the “wrong” accompaniment with a cheese—they’re just experimenting and could come up with a delicious new flavour combination!
This wonderful cheese knife guide from Castello is an easy reference for which type of knife you should use with which cheese. For even more information, see here.
It’s rare, but if you have any cheese left over after your party, I recommended wrapping each cheese separately in cheese storage paper or placing each cheese in a cheese storage bag from Formaticum. The paper used for these items is specifically designed for storing fromage, and they allow cheese to breathe while at the same time retaining humidity to keep the cheese from drying out.
What is your favourite cheese? If you have a recommendation, please let me know in the comments, as I’m always looking for new cheeses to try!
Turn any outfit fabulously festive with this beautiful red flower. Layered felt petals give the flower dimension, and a sparkly rhinestone makes it fit for a princess! In the image below, the flower is shown on an elastic headband, but you can opt to have it on an alligator clip instead. The headband is available in various sizes, so whether you purchase this flower for a newborn, toddler, teenager, or yourself, you can get the perfect fit for each gal.
The fun at Six Flags doesn’t stop when the weather gets colder! At various parks from New Jersey to Georgia to California, Six Flags transforms into a holiday wonderland. Christmas lights are strung as far as the eye can see, festive music fills the air, and there are dozens of attractions to suit the whole family. You can hop on a ride, visit with Santa, sip hot cocoa, warm up near a fire pit, and so much more. The fun festivities vary from park to park, so be sure to check out what your local Six Flags has to offer this holiday season!
The holidays at Six Flags Magic Mountain are, well, magical! While there’s fun to be had all over the park, the Holiday Square sounds like the place I’d like to linger. Thousands of colorful Christmas lights illuminate the square, carolers stroll the streets, and snowflakes intermittently fall each evening.
Click here to purchase tickets and here to check Six Flags Magic Mountain’s holiday hours.
If you live near Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, you’re in for a real treat! This park has special holiday attractions that you won’t find elsewhere, such as the 4D Arctic Adventure, life-size toys in Toy Land, and a holiday show featuring dolphins. While you’re there, you can also watch a synchronized light show, slide down a snowy slope, and meander through a Christmas tree forest.
Click here to purchase tickets and here for Six Flags Discovery Kingdom’s holiday hours.
Atlantans have quite the smorgasbord of holiday activities at Six Flags Over Georgia. Hop aboard the North Pole Express, step inside a giant snow globe, roast marshmallows over a fire pit, or simply stroll the streets to soak up the beauty of this winter wonderland. Plan to arrive early so that you don’t miss the ceremonial Christmas tree lighting that occurs every night at 6 p.m. And, that’s not all—in honor of National Ugly Sweater Day (today!) you can get into the park with half-price admission when you wear your tacky holiday sweater.
Click here to purchase tickets and here to check Six Flags Over Georgia’s holiday hours.
At Six Flags St. Louis, you can enjoy dozens of holiday attractions: sparkling Christmas lights, roaming carolers, thrilling rides, and so much more! Kids will be giddy to walk through the Candy Cane Forest as they make their way to Santa’s House. Everyone will enjoy the vast display of lights and decorations, light and music shows, and plethora of sweet treats.
Click here to purchase tickets and here for Six Flags St. Louis’ holiday hours.
Not too far from both Philadelphia and NYC, Six Flags Great Adventure has something for everyone. In addition to the thrilling rides and activities for kids, there are also several ways to slow down and enjoy a magical moment with your sweetie. Stroll through the path of glowing trees, snap a picture at various photo op spots around the park, or pause for a moment under the mistletoe.
Click here to purchase tickets and here to check Six Flags Great Adventure’s holiday hours.
They say that everything is bigger in Texas, and the holiday celebration at Six Flags Over Texas is no exception! Holiday crafts, train rides, various performances by local talent, spectacular Christmas lights, and sledding are just a few of the jolly activities you’ll find at this park. With so much Christmas in one spot, you’ll surely head home filled with holiday cheer.
Click here to purchase tickets and here to check this Six Flags Over Texas’ holiday hours.
This winter season, many rides continue to operate at Six Flags Fiesta Texas, and I’m sure it would be especially delightful to ride the Ferris wheel at night to see all the glowing Christmas lights. Other things to enjoy here include the Holiday Express train ride, Santa’s Castle, and lots of holiday shows.
Click here to purchase tickets and here to check this Six Flags Fiesta Texas’ holiday hours.
At Six Flags America, you experience a heartwarming good time. In addition to the lovely lights, delicious victuals, and classic Christmas attractions, you can celebrate the season with a New Orleans twist as you watch a parade in the Merry Masquerade area. Then walk down Candy Cane Lane to watch the elf stunt show, Defenders of the North.
Click here to purchase tickets and here to check Six Flags America’s holiday hours.
After learning about all the fun Raymond had in Guangzhou with our friend Aaron, I was thinking about China while perusing Etsy this afternoon. I adore this Chinese Merry Christmas greeting card with its sweet floral wreath and lovely handlettering. Send one of these cards to a loved one near or far to wish them a 聖誕快樂!
Note from Becky: This past summer Raymond had a wonderful opportunity. Aaron, a friend of the elves, invited Raymond to travel with him to China! Raymond was ecstatic and talked excitedly about the trip relatively non-stop for weeks beforehand. Below is Aaron’s recount of their fun adventure.
Our trip got off to an interesting start with Guangzhou customs officers questioning Raymond’s lack of a passport/visa.
Unperturbed, Raymond asked the officials if they knew for whom he worked. “Perhaps you have heard of him. His name is Santa Claus, though you might know him as Father Christmas.” “Welcome to China, Mr. Raymond,” said the lead officer, after validating his credentials on northpole.com. “Stay as long as you wish, and please call us if you need anything.” They handed Raymond their card and let him through.
Raymond photobombing a picture in White Cloud Airport
Raymond quickly realized he would have to adjust to a new climate. His Nordic undercoat was not designed for the heat and humidity of Southeast Asia. However, when he saw all the happy, smiling children, he knew he came to the right place. He wondered how the reindeer delivery team managed to get packages to so many people each year. He then remembered that Santa, through centuries of experience, had become ultra-efficient.
Raymond then began his Guangzhou tour. He liked how the large, modern city contrasted with the traditional homes and villages.
Cooling off with some iced coffee
On the first day, Raymond visited a huge underground mall with many toy stores and play centers for children. A European bakery had big Belgian waffles that reminded him of the delicious waffle he had in Brussels, Belgium. When Raymond got tired, he stopped for coffee at Starbucks (and was pleasantly surprised to find that his Starbucks card worked there). Finally, he took a boat ride on the Pearl River, which cuts through the city. The boat had an open deck, upon which he drank tea while winding along the route. This was very relaxing.
About to go on a relaxing boat ride on the Pearl River
The next day, Raymond climbed a mountain with a waterfall. The quiet, natural setting was a nice break from the previous day’s urban hustle. At the top of the waterfall was a Buddhist temple. Raymond explained to the kind monks that his job was to help the elves at the North Pole prepare so Santa can deliver gifts to children. The monks praised Raymond for such a noble vocation. They promised that many good things would come to him in return. On the way down, Raymond washed his hooves in the stream that collected toward the bottom. He chatted with some college students, who practiced their English with him and told him how popular he would be around Christmastime in Guangzhou.
Peering at the Haiyin Bridge
Raymond returned to the city for the third day. Most of the day was spent at a toy factory in an industrial park; he found it interesting to see another place where toys are made and compare it to Santa’s Workshop. Raymond and the factory managers also discussed what toys they all thought might be hits next Christmas. When the meeting was over, the factory work unit took Raymond to the Guangzhou central library. Raymond stood in awe of the multi-storey mega-library. Fortunately for Raymond, an entire floor was dedicated to books in English. Raymond quickly found the section about Western holidays, and he was happy to find several items about “Father Christmas” (Santa).
Raymond in the Guangzhou library next to a statue that represents learning & scholarship
On the last day of his trip, Raymond decided to walk around the whole city, with no particular plan about it. He saw an old, bearded man on the side of the road. The man had some papers with strange symbols on them, the most prominent of which was the distinctive “yin/yang” divided circle. Raymond realized this man was a fortune teller.
Curious, Raymond paid the fortune teller 50 RMB (Chinese dollars) and asked what lie in store for himself. The man asked Raymond to extend his right, front leg. He then used his fingers to trace the markings on the bottom of Raymond’s hoof.
“You have a generous heart and are loved by many. The people here like you very much, but you must leave soon. It will be ‘beneficial for you to forward the great water’ tomorrow.”
Raymond understood what this meant. He had had a wonderful trip to China, but it was time to go back to his home at the North Pole. He thanked the man, and then finished his solo tour.
The next day, Raymond took a taxi back to White Cloud Airport, said “goodbye” to his new friends, hopped aboard his flight, and began his return trip. (Since Raymond is a young reindeer, he flies commercial airlines to get farther north, then he uses his special magic to fly the rest of the way home.) He was sure Santa would be impressed with the plush toy samples and distribution ideas the factory bosses gave to him.
While he would miss his new friends, Raymond was happy to return home.
Another note from Becky: That sounded like a fantastic trip, didn’t it? I may have to get Raymond to show me around China sometime! Where else do you think Raymond went this year? Stay tuned to find out!
With the scent of tart red currants, brandied pear, and sweet marzipan, this Happy Y’allidays Soy Wax Candle will transform any room into a holiday haven. This Etsy shop’s candles are made of natural soy wax and are hand-poured in small batches, plus they have unique Austin, Texas-related scents. Check out their other festive fragrances, such as Burnt Orange Spice, Trail of Lights, and Pecan Street.
Unless you are connected with someone in the armed forces, you may not realize the impact a spouse or parent being deployed has on a family. Operation Homefront understands the challenges service members, wounded veterans, and their families face and is dedicated to providing assistance. Over the years, this organization has been helping American military families through an array of programs; two of my favorites are their Holiday Toy Drive and Holiday Meals for Military programs. Read on for more details on how Operation Homefront assists military families during the holidays and how you can get involved.
Holiday Toy Drive
The Holiday Toy Drive runs through November and December of each year. With the support of several sponsors and generous donations from folks like you, Operation Homefront has been able give the gift of Christmas to countless children. There are several ways to get involved with this toy drive, such as donating toys, setting up a collection bin at your workplace or church, helping distribute toys, or becoming a volunteer. To learn more, click here.
Holiday Meals for Military
In 2015, Operation Homefront provided 8,500 meals to military families nationwide and is on track to provide more than 12,000 meals this year! For folks who are struggling to make ends meet, this generosity makes a world of difference. The season seems brighter when they experience glimmers of hope thanks to kind-hearted souls. Click here to locate a food drive near you and see a list of upcoming events.
Give to a Specific Need
Operation Homefront maintains a list of people’s needs that require urgent assistance, and each need has a monetary goal to which you can donate (similar to a GoFundMe campaign). For example, if someone needs help paying their mortgage, you can donate any amount towards that campaign. Maybe you yourself know what it’s like to have your utilities cut off or to have the threat of foreclosure looming over your head. However you decide to give, your tax-deductible donation will make a world of difference in another’s life. Click here to see the needs list and find one (or more!) that speaks to you.
Other Ways to Give
There are various other ways you can get involved with this admirable charity, now and throughout the year. If you are specialized in a service-based line of work (e.g., handyman, mechanic, accountant), you can donate your time and abilities. Federal employees can donate by withholding a portion of their paychecks. For a full list of ways to donate to Operation Homefront, click here.
With today being St. Lucia’s Day, I just had to share this adorable felt doll pattern. I’m in awe of all the details: the dress’ embroidery, the candle crown, and the teensy bows in her hair. When you make your doll, you can customize all the features with your favorite colors or simply follow the instructions to replicate it as you see in the image below. If you also love this designer’s style, check out all the other patterns in their Etsy shop. I’m starry-eyed over this baby fawn, these Christmas mice, and the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future.
Despite their fur, doggies can get cold in the winter just like humans do. But don’t get low temps keep you from walking your best friend or playing with him out in the snow—you just need to take a few extra precautions. For tips on how to keep your pup warm and safe during a wintery promenade, check out the infographic below!
Click on the image for a closer look! Infographic via Vetstreet