A How-To Holiday

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Are those same old holiday traditions growing tiresome? Looking for some fresh ideas and helpful hints to make it a merrier Christmas? You’ve come to the right place. We gathered a diverse group of experts who weighed in with tips on everything from eggnog safety to ornament storage.

How To Choose A Live Christmas Tree

“I always tell people who want a really tall tree, 10-foot-tall or taller, they should come early,” says Wayne Harmon, owner of Starr Pines in Boonville.

Before heading out, size up the space at home where the tree will go. If it’s in a corner, Harmon suggests picking a tree that’s fuller on one side so it doesn’t stick out into the room as much.

The best way to guarantee you get a fresh tree is to be the one who cuts it, Harmon says. But if you want the ease of a pre-cut tree, check for freshness by feeling the needles.

“Do they feel dry, or do they have flexibility?” Harmon says to ask. “They should feel supple.”

Daryll Rait, owner of Timber View Tree Farm in Hartsburg, offers another tip for checking freshness.

“The best way is to lift the tree,” he says. “If the tree feels light, that means it doesn’t have a lot of water in it; it’s dry.”

Both Rait and Harmon report that Scotch pine trees are a favorite local choice, with short needles and stiff branches perfect for ornaments. Firs and spruces tend to be shipped in, making them less fresh and more expensive.

When going with a pre-cut tree, be sure to make a new cut about an inch off the trunk so the tree will draw water. With all live trees, keep water in the stand at all times, and expect to add a gallon a day for the first couple of days.

How To Make Safe Eggnog

According to the American Egg Board, the risk of an egg being contaminated with salmonella is about 1 in 20,000 eggs.

That might not sound like much of a risk, but Vera Massey, a nutrition and health education specialist with University of Missouri Extension, says better safe than sorry.

“Even if you’re willing to take that risk for yourself, if you are serving others, you don’t know if it’s a risk they should take,” she says.

One way to eliminate the problem is to use a pasteurized egg product. Another way is to use a recipe with cooked eggs, such as this one from the American Egg Board.

Eggnog

  • 6 eggs
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 4 cups milk, divided
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Beat eggs, sugar and salt in a large, heavy saucepan until blended. Stir in 2 cups milk.

Cook over low heat, stirring constantly but gently, until mixture is thick enough to just coat a metal spoon with a thin film. The temperature of the mixture should reach 160 degrees in about 15 minutes; check often the last 3 to 5 minutes. Do not allow to boil! Remove from heat immediately.

Stir in remaining 2 cups milk and vanilla (for richer eggnog, substitute half-and-half for some of the milk). Refrigerate, covered, until thoroughly chilled (several hours or overnight).

Just before serving, stir in brandy, liqueur, rum or bourbon, if desired. Garnish with a sprinkle of ground nutmeg, cinnamon sticks or candy canes, and whipped cream.

How To Decorate With Candles

Candles are a must for creating that cozy, Christmas ambience. Laura Rachatellelle, an independent candle consultant with PartyLite, offers these tips for using candles to create a warm Christmas décor:

  1. Balance size and placement. For example, use large candles on a large table.
  2. Arrange in odd numbers. This is a simple decorating trick for achieving a balanced look.
  3. Mix in some nontraditional colors. “Don’t be afraid of colors like blues and purples,” Rachatellelle says. “Using nontraditional colors will make your decorations go from normal to sensational.”
  4. Use mirrors. Placing the candles on or in front of a mirror intensifies the impact.
  5. Dress them up. Decorative holders, hurricanes, trays and other candle accessories create instant drama and make it easier to create a cohesive arrangement.
  6. Take a whiff. A scented candle that’s not too strong will leave you wanting another sniff.

Rachatellelle knows a thing or two about keeping home fires burning. An Army veteran, she is also the wife of Staff Sgt. Antonio Rachatellelle, who is now serving in Afghanistan with the Missouri National Guard’s Agribusiness Development Team.

How To Be A Holiday Trendsetter

“Holiday decorating and celebrations are targeted this year at the nostalgia of home and of the traditional decorations we remember as children,” says Lora Schnurbusch, a floral designer at Kent’s Floral Gallery. Fashionable halls this year are decked with holly, mistletoe, candy canes, snowflakes and snowmen. The traditional Christmas green is making a comeback, too, replacing the lime green that has been so popular.

While nostalgia seems to be the hottest trend, Schnurbusch expects to see other themes this Christmas as well.

  • Whimsy, with large and small Santas, elves and fairies in the tree and on the mantel
  • Toyland, with vibrant, circus colors and fun patterns and prints
  • Nature, with rich earth tones of copper and chocolate and accent colors that pop, such as teal and lime green, along with acorns, berries, glittered leaves, fruit and seed balls
  • Safari, with lots of animal-print ribbons. “Of course in Columbia, tiger prints and black and gold are always popular!” Schnurbusch says.

Achieving these looks does not have to break the bank.

“You can certainly take what you have, sort out the neutral pieces to use, and then add in new pieces and have a completely different look,” Schnurbusch says. “Even sometimes just changing the ribbon — it can be that simple. Changing the ribbon can give you a completely different feel.”

How To Organize And Store Decorations

Rosie Gard, owner of Rosie’s Professional Organizers, offers these storage strategies to simplify decorating next year.

  1. Save the original packaging. “Store items with small pieces, such as Nativity sets or holiday villages, in their original packaging,” Gard says.
  2. Use labels. “Marking items is a great way to help distinguish similar accessories,” Gard says. “Put garlands that go in a certain location together and label them. Hang a labeled tag from each section for easy identification, or store them separately in clearly marked bags.” Also be sure to label the ends and tops of boxes, tubs, etc., with their contents for easy identification.
  3. Keep displays together. “For example, a display with candles, garland and ornaments should be boxed together, making it easier to arrange the following year,” Gard says.
  4. Organize lights before storing them. “Wind them around a sheet of sturdy cardboard or tubing, gather the string into your hand in sections and secure with a twist tie,” Gard says. Label each string with a tag, and place all the lights together in a storage bin, excepting those that go with particular displays.
  5. Create a tool kit. “Putting together a holiday tool kit is a great timesaver from year to year,” Gard says. “Stock any toolbox or shoe box with ornament hooks, wire cutters, nylon line, ribbon or cording, scissors, florist’s wire, twist ties, wire ties and spare holiday light bulbs.”

How To Write An Entertaining Christmas Letter

Adding a newsletter to Christmas cards is an easy way to share the past year’s happenings with family and friends. Here are seven tips for writing a newsletter that recipients will enjoy reading.

  1. List the big events. Think back through the last year, you can even flip through the family calendar, and jot down important happenings and milestones: vacations, awards, baby’s first steps, new house, graduations, job news, etc.
  2. Think about day-to-day living. What routines did your family pick up this year? How have you been spending your evenings? What have the kids been interested in this year? This kind of “everyday” news will give readers a peek into your family’s life.
  3. Edit those thoughts. Do not try to fit everything into the newsletter. One to two pages is a good length.
  4. Choose an organizing framework. Will you take readers on a chronological trip through the past 12 months? Will you give each family member his or her own section?
  5. Be proud — but don’t be a braggart. It’s fine to share achievements, but don’t let the letter turn into some kind of family résumé. Mixing in those “everyday” bits of news will help you strike the right tone.
  6. Express appreciation. End on an uplifting note with a conclusion that expresses thankfulness — to readers for their love and support, to your family for the memories or to God for his mercies.
  7. Personalize the greeting and signature. Rather than a generic “Dear Loved Ones,” handwrite the salutation and signature to express interest in each recipient.

How To Make Your Home Smell Like Christmas

“Scent has a huge impact on the overall holiday feeling; it adds an atmosphere that is just as real as decorations,” says Christina Kelley, owner of Makes Scents. “Everyone has a warm memory association with a certain holiday scent, but that scent varies from person to person. That is why we have a variety of options from the fragrance of a real tree to the scent of mulled cider.”

Makes Scents fragrance consultant Alli Kuykendall suggests these holiday scents:

Frasier Fir by the Thymes in a number of products can give you the real tree smell that people crave, especially if they’re not able to have one in their homes.

Noel from Crabtree & Evelyn has all the spices, balsam and cranberry that really bring out the holiday spirit, and we recommend the beautiful poured candle.

The Orange, Nutmeg & Cinnamon soap and lotion from Crabtree & Evelyn is something that we can’t seem to stop smelling!

When scenting a home, feel free to use different fragrances in different rooms.

“[Each room] should have a different mood: the living room should be inviting, the kitchen should smell like a kitchen and the bedroom tranquil,” Kelley says. “If you are working with a smaller home, or one that has open living spaces, different fragrances may be used as long as they are complementary. Smell everything together before you commit to make sure you’re not going to overwhelm an area.”

When expecting company, scent your rooms in advance but sparingly.

“Leave for a bit, and come back to test the impact of the fragrance,” Kelley says. “If you feel more is necessary, then go ahead!”

How To Make A Snowman

Not all snow will work for making a snowman. It takes snow that will pack well into a snowball. When that wet kind of snow falls, it’s snowman time!

  1. Start with packing a snowball on the ground. When it’s about the size of a kickball, start rolling it. As it picks up snow, use your hands to pack snow to the ball. Change direction frequently to maintain the ball shape.
  2. Once the ball reaches the desired size, flatten one side a little and roll the ball onto the flattened side. Pack snow around the base to secure it.
  3. Repeat Step 1 for the snowman’s midsection, which should be smaller than the base.
  4. Lift the midsection onto the base (if it’s a big snowman, get a friend’s help).
  5. Repeat Step 1 for the snowman’s head. This should be the smallest of the three balls.
  6. Lift the head onto the midsection.
  7. Pack some extra snow between the layers to stick them together.
  8. Decorate the snowman. Use coal, buttons or dark round rocks for the eyes, a carrot for the nose, a trail of raisins for the mouth (or a Twizzler, if one is available). Use sticks for the arms, buttons on the front, a scarf around the “neck,” and top it all off with a stocking hat.

To help your snowman live a long life, build him in a shaded area of your yard!

How To Wrap A Beautiful Package

Taking the time to wrap packages well sends a message to loved ones that we care about them and want them to be pleased with their gifts, says Veronica Kramer, owner of Pen Point Paperie. Beautiful packages offer the added bonus of allowing gifts to serve as decoration prior to their opening.

“Even without a tree, a variety of wrapping in coordinating colors and attractive patterns can make a holiday statement when placed together in a home,” Kramer says.

She offers these tips for pretty personalized packages:

  1. Strike a balance. If the paper is simple, jazz up the package with a fabulous bow or fancy tag with ribbon; if the paper has an elaborate design, go with a simple ribbon or bow.
  2. Get creative. Wrap the package in matte brown or white paper (butcher block paper works great) and then use crayons, rubber stamps, stickers, stencils, etc. to give the gift a personal touch. This is a great craft for kids!
  3. Be practical. If the gift will be traveling, use durable paper and avoid bows and other embellishments that might get crushed.

How To Improve Your Stocking Hanger

“The fireplace provides a great area for families to gather around during the holidays,” says Charles Clark, owner of Majestic Homes and Remodeling. “It’s a wonderful spot for decorating, and it also makes a great background for taking pictures.”

A ho-hum fireplace can be transformed into a ho-ho-ho wonder with a little work. Even simple changes, like replacing the doors and painting the mantel trim, can have a big impact on the overall look.

“Those simple updates renew a fireplace,” Clark says.

More involved projects include building a new custom mantel and using a new material, such as brick or stone veneer, over the entire fireplace front.

“A stone front with a custom mantel is the look people are really going for,” Clark says. He adds that elaborate mantels are more popular now than simple designs. “Crown molding, deco molding, a lot of trim — it’s not outrageously expensive to do that, and it really dresses up the fireplace.”

Another improvement people can make is to get a new insert. Whether wood, gas or electric depends on how the fireplace will be used. Clark recommends wood or gas for fireplaces that will be used a lot, as these are more energy-efficient than electric; the advantage of electric is it is cheaper to install, so it might be a better choice when the fireplace is more for aesthetics than heat. Updating to a wood insert with a blower will also make the fireplace more efficient.

What if homeowners want to install a new fireplace where there’s just a wall now?

That, of course, can be done, too, and perhaps even in time for Christmas. From project start to finish, Clark says, a new fireplace can be installed in as little as a week and a half.

“It is something a lot of people look for in a house,” Clark says. “On a cold snowy night, getting around the fireplace provides a great atmosphere.”

How To Get Her Ring Size Without Her Knowing

David Rubenstein, store manager for L.C. Betz Associates Jewelers, recommends a man who wants to surprise his lady love with a ring enlist the help of one of her friends.

“Have the friend take her to a jewelry store while they are out shopping sometime and tell her she wants to look at rings,” Rubenstein says. “While they are looking, it’s easy for the friend to encourage the intended to find out her ring size, ‘just in case.’ In the context of two girls out having a good time, it will probably go completely unnoticed! After the girl’s day out, the best friend calls the gentleman with the ring size, and he is ready to go!”

Just make sure she hasn’t read this article, or she might get suspicious!

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