Living With Kids: Ania Krasniewska

Ania is a diplomat’s wife, among many other things, but that’s the part of her that brought them to this home in Denmark. It’s also the part that seems to be breaking her heart a little these days, as you’ll read near the end of her interview. She’s got some truly lovely, stick-to-your-soul thoughts about raising kids in a somewhat transient lifestyle, knowing full well your home won’t be your home in a few short years.

I really enjoyed this peek into her diplo-lifestyle, and I hope you feel the same way! Welcome, Ania!

Dessert For Two: Peppermint White Chocolate Pudding

Oh hooray! A Dessert for Two recipe featuring wintery perfection. Peppermint White Chocolate Pudding topped with whipped cream, hot fudge sauce, and crushed candy canes. Yes, please.

All you need for this easy pudding is some milk, cornstarch, white chocolate, a little whipped cream, crushed peppermint candies or candy canes, and hot fudge sauce. You do need to use the stove for this, but it’s so easy and only takes a few minutes. (Does it need hot fudge sauce? No, not really. But you should do it.)

The mint seems to help tame the sweetness of white chocolate while being mellowed by its creaminess. This white chocolate pudding uses peppermint oil or extract. Use as much or as little as you like according to your personal preference. Let’s get to the recipe.

Start A Holiday Journal — The Easiest Most Satisfying Tradition You’ll Ever Find

I have no memory where the idea came from, but my husband and I started a Holiday Journal during our first Christmas together, and we use it each year to write a couple of pages of summary about Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. If I have any ideas for next year, like a new Christmas book I’d like to add to our collection, I’ll include those as well. Sometimes the kids add drawings or their own notes.

As with all my grand ideas, I’m not always consistent — last year the Christmas journal never even made it out of the box. But usually it does. And now that some of the kids are old enough to write, they’re helping the tradition stay alive.

Anyway. Writing my notes this year made me think about how I measure and evaluate Christmas:

-Stress level
-Success of the annual Christmas recital
-How Christmasy the house smelled
-How the Christmas tree looked (meaning: was I happy with the decorations)
-Quantity of peppermint bark & wassail consumed
-Kids faces on Christmas morning

This year will go down as happy on all measures. I especially loved our tree — knowing I had lots of vintage wrapping at my disposal, my friend brought me boxes and boxes of vintage glass balls that she found when she bought a very old house. The pure vintageness was totally awesome.

How do you measure the Holidays?

2024 Update: It’s been 17 years since I first wrote about this topic, but our holiday journal is still going strong. With so many writers in the house, the reports get longer and longer each year. (Which is wonderful!) A delightful part of our holidays has become looking back at earlier reports and remembering together.

I highly recommend this tradition. It’s easy, stress-free, low-cost (or free if you have a spare journal), doesn’t take much time, and provides huge satisfaction. Start this year!

P.S. — Beautiful leather journal.

Ask Design Mom: Hanging Stockings

I was wondering if you or any of your readers have suggestions for what to do with Christmas stockings when you don’t have a fireplace or mantel to hang them on? We live in a 900 sq ft, one story home. We don’t have kids *yet* but we want to start a family soon. As I am decorating for the season, I have found no good spot to hang stockings. (Is it strange that we are two adults in the house and yet I still want to hang stockings?) Any ideas would be appreciated! — Thanks! Meaghan

Such a good question! We’ve definitely faced this dilemma. In our 2 New York homes, we didn’t have a fire place. In Colorado and France we did. And here at The Treehouse, we do have a fireplace, but there is no mantle. Here are a few ideas:

In our first house in New York, we had a stair case with a white wood railing. We hung each stocking with a piece of ribbon (there were 5 at that time), along the stair rail, oldest at the top going down to the youngest. Then we wrapped the rail with green garland. It was very cute.

In our second New York home we made a display of the stockings above our piano in the living room — we hung them from tiny nails, filled them with the pine boughs trimmed from the bottom of the tree, and accented them with a few simple ornaments. Very festive! And this sort of display would work anywhere — above a sofa, or on any stretch of blank wall.

Here at The Treehouse, we put a row of brass teacup hooks in the ceiling just in front of the fireplace, and hung the stockings from a piece of twine. I think they look great! And this solution could also work against any stretch of wall, above a hall table or couch — it doesn’t have to be a brick fireplace.

For all of these displays, when it’s time to fill the stockings, Santa simply takes them down, fills them, and sets the now heavy stockings on the floor below the display, or near the other presents.

And one last idea, you could skip the stockings and fill wellies instead!

What about you, Dear Readers? Have you ever celebrated Christmas in a space without a fireplace and mantel? Where did you hang the stockings?

P.S. — It’s been awhile since I’ve fielded an Ask Design Mom question here on the blog, but you can find the archive here.

Papier Maché Holiday Ornaments

For these holiday ornaments, we settled on Santa, Mrs. Claus and a pair of elves, but you can decide for yourself who you want to create. The base of these ornaments are store bought papier maché ornament balls. With a little air-dry clay for facial features and some paint to give it color, these ornaments are much simpler than they appear.

Just think how darling these would be peeking out from the boughs of the Christmas tree! Or you could made a set as a fun gift. I break it down step-by-step below. Let’s get to making!

DIY: Oversize Woven Paper Baskets – Two Cool Designs, and a Free Printable Template!

Remember being in first grade and weaving tiny paper baskets with your classmates? Four-inch baskets, made from marbled construction paper, to fill with conversation hearts?

Well, it turns out the simple concept can be amped up in several ways. Think oversize woven paper baskets with festive designs. Criss-crossed lines is only the beginning! We started experimenting with patterns and sizes and discovered that these make perfect baskets for delivering holiday baked goods to the neighbors. We even tried some extra-big versions that can carry full-size gifts!

We settled on a tree design and a star design — and I can’t decide which I like more! Come see.

How Do You Handle Extended Family Gifts?

We’ve talked about sibling gifts and Santa gifts and how many gifts is too many. Today, let’s shift the conversation a bit. Let’s talk about gift-giving with our extended family now that we’re all grown up. Do you rotate siblings? Draw names for cousins? Donate to charity in someone’s name? Do the grandparents organize it?
Do they participate? What works well for your family?

This is how my family handles it. I’m one of 8 siblings, and we have a rotation that we’ve been doing for over a decade. In fact, I think we might be pretty close to 2 decades now!

76 Awesome Gift Ideas for Teens

Top Gift Ideas for Teens featured by top life and style blog, Design Mom: image of wrapped holiday gifts

Your #1 most requested gift guide category? Teens! This gift guide includes 76 options — and 39 of those are $20 or under. Lots of great stocking stuffers too.

My own teens were a huge help figuring out what to put on this list. There’s something here for every type of teen you can think of. I’ve got all the Breakfast Club stereotypes covered, and a whole bunch more as well. Shopping for Tweens? There are quite a few items on this list that I know tweens would love as well.

Let’s get started. 

9 Secrets To Garnishing a Turkey Platter

We’ve already tackled the 6 Secrets to the Perfect Pie Crust and 7 Secrets to the Juiciest Thanksgiving Turkey. Now it’s time to talk about making that turkey pretty on the platter! You put in a lot of effort when preparing a Thanksgiving turkey — roasting it for hours and hours, lifting the heavy pan to rotate the turkey, making sure it doesn’t burn, checking the temperature, etc, etc. All that work and everyone devours it in a matter of minutes? I know. It’s just how things are. Everyone is hungry.

But before guests dig-in, you might want everyone to stop and take a good long gander (pardon the bird pun) and admire that beautiful turkey with its crisp, brown skin and tantalizing juiciness. A well-roasted, heavily browned turkey is a piece of art, no? Norman Rockwell seemed to think so, and I do too.

My advice: think like Martha. Dress up that platter! Gild that lily! Make that turkey pretty! Make those hungry mouths wait just a darn second and admire that 4-5 hour beauty you just (literally) threw your back into.

Here are some ideas to make the turkey platter look extra pretty, whether you’re a food blogger like me, an Insta-maniac, you simply like your food to be attractive, or as I said, you just want everyone to stand back and admire your work.

Thanksgiving Side Dish: Bacon-Wrapped Sweet Potatoes with Herbed Goat Cheese

Thanksgiving Side Dish: Bacon-Wrapped Sweet Potatoes with Herbed Goat Cheese | Design Mom

This side-dish (or appetizer!) includes roasted sweet potatoes wrapped in bacon. An herbed goat cheese of rosemary and sage gets tucked under the bacon before baking, giving it time to get melty in the oven. The flavors and textures here are just so happy together: sweet, soft potatoes; salty, crispy bacon; and herby, tangy, creamy goat cheese.

4 Secrets To A Well Stocked Holiday Pantry

Can you believe Thanksgiving is only a week away? Hannukah and Christmas are right around the corner too!  I’m getting excited. Maybe even a little too excited for hosting guests and holiday baking. Grocery stores run all sorts of specials on pantry items at this time of year, so this is when I love to stock up on essentials — and a few special items to make the Holidays extra festive and memorable.

Thanksgiving Side Dish: Stuffing with Fennel and Dried Cherries

Thanksgiving is almost here. It’s officially time to nail down the menu and track down any specific recipes you want to use. If you’re looking for ideas, here’s a excellent recipe for one of those traditional Thanksgiving essentials: Stuffing.This particular recipe is sprinkled with extras like dried cherries and fennel. Which reminds me that stuffing, which on the surface seems like a not-stressful, pretty basic dish, can actually instigate some pretty big opinions.

From what I can tell, there are 3 separate debates that happen around stuffing. First is the Cornbread vs. Not-Cornbread argument — for some people only a specific kind of stuffing does the trick (you’ll read below that some families make both!). Second is the Simple Stuffing vs. Add-Ins argument. Meaning, do you prefer a simple boxed recipe? Or do you favor adding in extra ingredients and new flavors? And third, do you actually stuff your turkey with the stuffing? Or do you cook the stuffing separately?

I wonder if the strong opinions come because Thanksgiving is like a giant meal of comfort foods. But it’s not comforting, unless it’s the recipe and the flavors and textures that you grew up with. So you end up with a dozen people at the table, who hear the word stuffing, and all think of something a bit different.

Make It: Autumn Arrangement

How are your Thanksgiving plans coming along? Menu lined up? Linens decided? How about a centerpiece? If you’re looking for some inspiration, you’re in luck. The amazing Kiana Underwood, a talented Bay Area florist created a step-by-step tutorial for the gorgeous autumnal fruit-filled arrangement pictured above. And she is generously sharing it with us today.

Thanksgiving Side Dish: Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Pecans and Parmesan

Thanksgiving is such an easy holiday to love. Why? Well, first, it’s so self-contained — there are little to no accompanying activities or assignments or tasks, just the big feast! And second, the focus on gratitude and family is pretty darn terrific. We’ve discussed perfecting a roasted turkey and pie crust, but the sides are where a lot of the fun starts. This year, you can’t go wrong adding Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Pecans and Parmesan to your table.

Do These 3 Things Early in November

I’m hosting Thanksgiving this year. Any tips to make it less stressful? — Rebecca

Great question! There are a few simply things you can do in early November to make Thanksgiving prep easy.

1) Get your kitchen knives sharpened. Your guests will likely be helping you in the kitchen. You won’t want them using crummy tools.

2) Take inventory of your dinnerware/china and utensils. Do you have enough place settings for all your guests? Have you lost a few random spoons over the last year? (Spoons are notorious for getting thrown out with yogurt cups or lost in the sandbox.) If you have any gaps to fill in, this is the time to place your orders. We’ll be adding more silverware this year — our preferred pattern is Old Denmark by Yamazaki.

3) Ask guests if there are any particular foods or recipes that will make or break Thanksgiving for them and add those recipes to your menu. At our house, there’s a particular veggie dip that we are totally homesick for if we don’t get a bite at Thanksgiving. While asking your guests this question, it’s also a great time to check in on any allergies or other dietary requirements they might be navigating.

What about you? What are your best tips for preparing for Thanksgiving?

Ideas For Dealing With All That Candy

Between school and church activities, parties and trick-or-treating, we always get way too much candy in October. I’m sure it’s no different at your house. The question is: what on earth do you do with all that candy?!

Don’t you worry, I’ve searched out the cleverest ideas to help you deal with the sugar overload.

10 Great Halloween Books

Great Halloween Books

Not-so-scary scary books are the best way to ease into Halloween, which can sometimes be a little overwhelming for even the bravest kids on the block. From charming to lightly creepy, this list should lighten up the darkest October nights. Enjoy! (Hmm. Perhaps Beware! is more in the spirit of this list!)

Easy 30-Minute Fajita Bowls

These easy 30-minute fajita bowls are one of the easiest and most flavorful meals to make. They come together in about thirty minutes, which is perfect at the end of a long day of work, or for when kids are melting down. This meal is popular with groups and families because it’s so easy for people to customize — someone can skip the cheese, another can skip the limes, cilantro-tastes-like-soap-people can skip the cilantro.

If you can, mix up the marinade in the morning; it takes about five minutes. The chicken gets so much flavor from the marinade, and remains really juicy after cooking. If the weather is good, we love to grill this chicken for that smoky flavor, but this chicken bakes well too. While the chicken and rice cook, you can chop up all the veggies and garnishes. Everything is ready at the same time, and dinner is served.

Living With Kids: Juliana Rotmeyer

I am utterly fascinated by high-rise family living. I think of all the little things, like getting groceries up 30 floors – which is an entirely different dilemma if the elevators aren’t running! Or, do dwellers in the sky ever miss having a backyard just outside the door? They probably have far less mud in their foyers. And how do you create that sense of indoor-outdoor childhood freedom when getting outside from the super-elevated inside involves a bit of planning? Today’s high up home shows us that it can be done.

Juliana‘s place in Hong Kong, with its endless views and unique space considerations, reminds me of a nest. I love the thought she put into creating a warm and workable family home in what was once a plain white box of an apartment. Friends, I know you’re going to enjoy this very different, very citified Living With Kids tour. Welcome, Juliana!

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