Giving Back…Wherever You Are

   Have you ever thought about volunteering during your holiday (or other) travel? It can be easier than you might think, and is a great way to take the focus off of busy schedules and squeezing in more shopping.

   These ideas work if you are staying home for the holidays as well of course, but giving back in a place you are visiting can give you a special feeling of connection with the community.

   Here are some ideas to start you off:

Ronald McDonald House

   RMH supports children and families undergoing medical treatment, typically long-term treatment, and who have often traveled to a RMH from their homes. They have locations around U.S. and the world and volunteers are needed to prepare meals, greet visitors, interact with guests, and much more.

A group of friends and I put up and decorated the Houston RMH Christmas tree at the beginning of the holidays. It was especially fun when some of the young residents wanted to help!

   A couple of weeks before that, another group of friends and I got together to make lunch for 50 residents at the Galveston house. Besides doing something that we knew was truly helping out, it was a fun excuse to get together in the kitchen with friends and enjoy each other’s company. It wasn’t a fancy or expensive meal, so with each of us bringing a few ingredients it came together quickly. I even approached a local restaurant about supplying a couple of side dishes, which they graciously did! And a lovely local nursery gave us a few potted flowers to decorate the buffet.

  Organizations like this are always looking for people, families and groups to help out with activities, like crafts, playing bingo with residents, and other simple activities.

  To find a RMH near your destination, visit:

Ronald McDonald House

 

Meals on Wheels

   Meals on Wheels programs provide meals to homebound seniors. Different communities have different rules about how the public can volunteer. Some need people to deliver the meals, and possibly help setting up, checking in delivery drivers and assisting with clean-up.

   If you have little ones, you can call ahead to a local chapter to ask how many meals they deliver daily. Then while your kids are trapped in the car in route, they can make small cards to decorate the recipient trays with crayons, colored pencils, stickers and construction paper. Once you can arrive at your destination you can simply drop off the tray decorations knowing you’re your family has brightened peoples’ day! I sued to do this with my Girl Scouts when they were little and they loved being artsy and helping out.

Meals on Wheels

 

   Each December on National Wreaths Across America Day, our mission to Remember, Honor and Teach is carried out by coordinating wreath-laying ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, as well as at more than 1,400 additional locations in all 50 U.S. states, at sea and abroad.

Wreaths Across America

 

   A trip to the dollar star before your trip, and an evening of prep in from of the TV or at the table after dinner can make a big difference to local homeless shelters. Just stuff new, warm socks with water bottles and granola bars to be taken to a shelter in any city. Another big need is gently used books

   Food Banks are always in search of help sorting canned items. This can be a one hour volunteer effort, or all day…but every little bit helps!

   Local children’s hospitals will usually gladly accept gently used books and DVDs, coloring books and crayons. Another neat idea is to sort the materials for a small craft project (beaded bracelet, Christmas ornament, etc.) into individual baggies that the kids can get from the nurses station to keep their minds off of being stuck in a hospital.

   But you get the idea, and it doesn’t have to be during the holidays. Whether you decide to pull together something to donate when you reach your destination or to dedicate a couple of hours once you arrive, there are so many ways to spread the love!

Cookie Exchange at the Historic 1870 Lasker Inn

     Oh my gosh, the holidays can get so hectic. Everyone’s schedules are tight, there are different events to bake for, the challenge of finding time to do something special with good friends…oh wait! You can do some of it at the same time!

     This season might be the right time to schedule a Holiday Cookie Exchange!

Photo by Stacy Anderson

    If you haven’t participated in a cookie exchange, here’s a brief overview of how it works.

  1. Make a list of friends, and send the invitations with instructions. We simplified ours by creating a Facebook event for our group. That way we could all keep up with the number of attendees and invitees could ask questions.

    Photo by Stacy Anderson
  2. Decide on a location and time to hold your get together. Renting a
    beautiful location to hold your exchange takes the pressure off of any individual to get their house “holiday perfect” so early in the season. And since I was in charge of finding a location, you KNOW I wanted to have it at a beautiful, historic property! We had ours in the dining room of the elegant Lasker Inn in Galveston during the middle of the week, when the inn would most likely not be filled with other guests. Look for a similar location in your community and ask if they will charge a lower fee for a weekday morning. Our event was from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m.

  3. Each person is asked to make (or buy – no guilt trips here!) one kind of cookie to share with others attending the exchange. We asked that everyone bring sampling cookies and enough to send at least four cookies home with each guest, that way the baking process wasn’t overwhelming. (Some exchanges I’ve been invited to ask for a dozen of each type of cookie for each guest!)

  4. Everyone can be asked to bring their own containers to fill, or the hostess can provide containers (the dollar store and craft stores have cute options).

  5. With some exchanges, everyone will bring printed copies of the recipe they used to send home with the others. That way, not only does everyone leave with goodies – but also a stack of new recipes to try for themselves.

Yes, THIS is where we got to have our exchange! (Can you believe how lucky are are?!) The 1870 Lasker Inn B&B and Event Venue in Galveston, Texas. It’s a stunning home inside and out, and the owner is a delight.

   I decided to share Laura Bush’s Cowboy Cookies because….hello…Texas! They are a delectable combination of so many favorite cookie ingredients. My family finds them irresistible. Anything that starts with three sticks of butter just HAS to be pure goodness. And the large treats definitely make a Texas-sized statement when stacked on a platter!

    Here’s a link to Mrs. Bush’s recipe on the Southern Living website.

Southern Living: Laura Bush Cowboy Cookie Recipe

     After we spent some time visiting and enjoying our exquisite surroundings (and of COURSE taking some photos), we gathered samples of each kind of cookie to take home. I filled up my pick-up truck (well, at least my truck shaped platter) with all kinds of goodies.

     What a great way to spend a morning together and start off the Christmas season!

     We all went home with plenty of cookies in a variety of flavors to share with our families or to take to our next event. Phew!

Pictured: @jennybusheyphotography & daughter, @kathleen_maca, @thehurriedhostess and @tamaragoesto

To find out more about the Lasker Inn, visit their website, here: The Lasker Inn

 

Stay at a Texas Christmas Tree Farm

     Ah, the smell of fresh Christmas trees can sure get us in the mood for the holiday season. This year why not take the experience of choosing a tree to the next level by staying overnight at a Texas Christmas tree farm?

Photo by @tamaragoesto

     Yes, you actually can!

     Holiday Acres Christmas Tree Farm in Manvel offers not one but two “tiny houses” you can book for overnight (or longer) stays through Airbnb.

     I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of tiny houses, so I was excited about checking one out for myself. Both options at Holiday Acres look equally charming nestled beside the pond and fire pit, but I chose the Bluebonnet for its simple, more traditional design.

     Walking into the Bluebonnet I was immediately surprised at how well the limited room was used to create a cozy space.

     Though it was admittedly much smaller than most people who stay at hotels might be accustomed to, it included all of the necessities: a bathroom with shower, kitchen with sink and microwave, kitchen utensils, coffee maker, mini fridge, small fold-down table top with two chairs, television, WiFi, heating/air conditioning, and towels.

Photo by @tamaragoesto

     A futon style sofa folds down to provide extra sleeping space, though it would work better for two small children than adults. A roomier, fluffy mattress with pillows is tucked into a snug loft area, reached by ladder leading from the living area.

     The diminutive porch with chairs and table invites guests to enjoy their coffee outdoors while enjoying nature.

     While you’re there you’ll definitely want to wander through the tree farm acreage filled with Virginia pines, Leyland cypress, Murray Cypress and Arizona cypress, and take one of the best scents of the season.

 

    A visit to Holiday Farms can be a great getaway for some personal, couple or family time. Take a hayride to look for a tree, enjoy a complimentary cup of hot chocolate or mulled cider by a cozy campfire and a watch the kids wear off some of that holiday energy on the natural playground. 

     Then stroll back to your tiny house digs and grab some marshmallows to roast over the campfire to make my favorite treat…s’mores!

Photo by @tamaragoesto



     Where else can you stay and take home your very own hand-chosen Christmas tree? And a stay here is definitely less expensive than a hotel room, and offers a lot more atmosphere for the season.

Photo by @tamaragoesto

Click here for a sneak peek inside the Bluebonnet Tiny House!

     Holiday Acres opens for Christmas tree cutting on November 23 this year, but the tiny houses are available for stays year-round. You can find the booking listing here: http://www.airbnb.com/rooms/14282082 and more details about the farm, here: www.theholidayacres.com.

Baby trees!

 

Destination: Friendsgiving!

Looking for a reason to travel this fall, and get together with friends spread far and wide?

Plan a Destination Friendsgiving celebration!

 

     The Thanksgiving holiday season is an ideal time to show our friends what an important role they play in our lives. A “Friendsgiving” is a gathering of those people for a feast and time spent enjoying each others company.

Photo by Tamara Underdahl

     If your friends are coming from different parts of the state – or further, it will simplify things to find a bed and breakfast or rental hall as centrally located to everyone as possible. You might even put a fun twist on things by finding a town with a name perfectly paired to a Friendsgiving feast:

Turkey Texas

Blessing, Texas

Holliday, Texas

Salty, Texas

Moore, Texas (for the group that’s sure to want seconds)

Friendship, Texas

My Texan Pumpkin Pie

     If most of the members of your group live in cities, consider a country setting where there are fall colors and outdoor trails to enjoy together.

     Small town girls might consider staying in the city to enjoy the city lights and shopping.

     For accommodations, check Airbnb, VRBO and the local Chamber of Commerce. Finding an inn with room enough for everyone to stay in one place will extend the fun.

     For our meal space, we found a local small event venue in a historic building (and you know that makes me happy!) that wasn’t booked on the weekday we were getting together, and was having some work done on the property, so gave us a terrific deal.

     The location doesn’t matter as much as the friends.

     Next, choose a date that works for everyone. This usually means it won’t actually be the official week of Thanksgiving – which is great. It takes off some of the packed-schedule pressure. The added advantage is getting everyone away from the holiday stresses that at home.

     Social media can make the planning easy, but keep things as simple as possible.  It’s about the time spent together, after all!

     Set up a Facebook event to invite friends, and have everyone add to a master list of dishes they’re bringing. Pie and cookies are the most important, of course (I’m entitled to my opinion), but you’ll want a few sides and at least one main dish too. Since everyone likely will have a traditional Thanksgiving celebration with their families soon, you may even decide to have a more non-traditional potluck meal, with Italian or Mexican food. No rules!

     Well . . . maybe ONE rule. There must be pie. (It may be MY rule, but I think everyone will benefit from taking this one to heart!)

     If you’re traveling to a destination Friendsgiving, consider picking up smaller essentials at a local grocery store to save on packing lists and ice chest space.

     To really put the focus entirely on fun and togetherness, everyone can pitch in on ordering a dinner prepared by a local restaurant and to be picked up the afternoon or evening of the event.

     Once the time and place have been decided, do a little online investigating to search for nearby holiday events that your group might enjoy attending together.

     So what’s stopping you? Get busy contacting your favorite gang, choose a merry destination and celebrate your own Friends-giving.

     I’d love to hear where you go!

     And when you’re sitting back in a Friendsgiving food coma, take the time to check out the instagram accounts of some of my talented friends who gathered for our special occasion: Kathleen (mine, of course!), Stacy, Tamara, Amanda, Hailey, Christine, Vashti, Lauren, Tia, CourtneyLaShanta, Rachel Marie, Sarah and Sammy.

Butler’s Courthyard

 

 

 

 

Test Your Dia de los Muertos Trivia IQ

 

Stacy Anderson Photography


If you think that Dia de los Muertos is a creepy holiday, or the same as Halloween . . . think again! This Latin American holiday is rooted in the love of family and traditions.

     My friend Stacy, from the Hurried Hostess blog, and I got to visit with Houston Life TV and share a bit about this special tradition.

     Here are the trivia questions that I posed to the hosts. Give them a try to see how you do!

How many days does the celebration of Dia de los Muertos span?

  1. one

  2. two

  3. three

  4. four

Dia de los Muertos coincides with which two Catholic holidays?

  1. Halloween and All Souls’ Day

  2. Assumption and Good Friday

  3. All Saints Day and All Souls Day

  4. Halloween and Our Lady of Autumn

What is the traditional flower to leave on graves during the Day of the Dead celebrations?

  1. roses

  2. marigolds

  3. tulips

  4. mums

Dia de los Muertos was originally celebrated in what month?

  1. December

  2. August

  3. March

  4. January

The iconic woman skeleton character in a dress and hat is known as:

  1. la Madre

  2. la Madrina

  3. la Muertida

  4. la Catrina

In the United States, pumpkins are associated with Halloween. What traditional food does Mexico associate with Dia de los Muertos?

  1. corn

  2. beans

  3. potatoes

  4. butternut squash

Which people were the first to practice the beginnings of this tradition?

  1. Spanish

  2. Hondurans

  3. Aztecs

  4. Mayans

Answers:

.

.

.

Did you peek?

.

.

.

How many days does the celebration of Dia de los Muertos span?

Three. October 31 is All Hallow’s Eve, a day of preparation for the return of the spirits. November 1 is El Dia de los Innocentes (day of the children). On this day celebrants welcome the spirits of lost children. The last day is November 2, or Day of the Dead, when the rest of the family members and friends who have passed on are reunited with their loved ones for one day.

 

Dia de los Muertos coincides with which two Catholic holidays?

All Saints Day (November 1) and All Souls Day (November 2)

 

What is the traditional flower to leave on graves during the Day of the Dead celebrations?

Marigolds! The brilliant color and strong fragrance of this flower is thought to attract the spirits and lead them in the direction of the celebrations.

 

Dia de los Muertos was originally celebrated in what month?

The celebration originally fell in the ninth month of the Aztec calendar, which was around early August.

 

The iconic woman skeleton character in a dress and hat is known as:

La Calavera Catrina (the skeleton Catrina), also known as the elegant skull, comes from an etching created by Mexican cartoonist and illustrator Jose’ Guadalupe Posada around 1910. Wearing her fancy hat, she serves as a reminder that death does not discriminate between classes and comes even to the wealthy.

 

In the United States, pumpkins are associated with Halloween. What traditional food does Mexico associate with Dia de los Muertos?

Butternut squash is traditionally candied and enjoyed as a dessert, but squash recipes of all types can be found during the holiday.

 

Which people were the first to practice the beginnings of this tradition?

Aztecs. The origins of the rituals practiced during Dia de los Muertos can be traced back 3,000 years!

 

     So, how did you do? Share the quiz with your friends to see how their Day of the Dead knowledge matches up!

 

Watch Courtney Zavala And Derrick Shore of Houston Life TV

try their hand at the same questions, here!


 

     To find ideas for how to celebrate with a party of your own, see my previous post, here.