Between the delectable menu and the endless laughter, hosting a holiday get-together is always a good idea, until the guests leave. Once they go home, it’s just you—and the aftermath.
Here are a few tips to help you stay ahead of the mess, and limit the amount of work for you the next day.
Take the trash out
We get it. You’re full, tired, and it’s dark out. Meaning the last thing that you want to do is take the trash out. However, waking up to a full (and stinky) trash can is not how you’ll want to start your morning. Take the trash out as soon as your guests leave. We promise you’ll thank us in the morning!
Utilize the dishwasher
The dishwasher can be your saving grace. It’s best to ensure that it’s empty before your guests arrive. Continue to fill it after each course, and run it during the main course. This way, once your company leaves, all you’ll have to do is empty it, refill it, and wake up to clean dishes!
Box up leftovers
We all know how delicious holiday leftovers can be, but storing them can be less than appealing if you’re not properly prepared. While you’re planning the meal, make sure that an abundance of plastic containers and baggies are on the top of your list. Both will make it easy to clear plates, store the leftovers, and give your guests a doggie bag on their way out.
Spot check the furniture
While a deep clean isn’t urgent the night of, taking note of any and all spills can help avoid pesky stains from setting in. Once your company departs, take a walk around each room, especially the dining and living room, and evaluate the damage. Just remember: tackling a spill is a lot easier than having to replace a piece of furniture.
Set these simple tricks into motion, and become the hostess with the mostest (clean house) this holiday season.
Whether or not the weather outside is turning frightful, add some warmth and spirit to your home this winter with these four fresh, simple themes. No matter which you choose, it will add a cohesive, seasonal style to your home’s interior!
Silver palace with a pop
Use mirrors to play up silver’s reflective sheen, and add a variety of bright, sparkling accents like crystals and glittery vases. For added contrast, mix shades of grey with a punchy pop of color like coral or rich fuchsia.
Details and color palette: Mirrors, glass, silver votives and trays, crystals,silver, white, grey, and a pop of coral/red
Outdoorsy and natural
Focus on the colors you see outdoors. This palette could change drastically depending on your location. From lush greenery, branches, and pine cones to starfish, seashells, and driftwood—bring the outside in, and pair with matte white accents.
Details and color palette: Anything from outside, wooden frames, white votives, lush greens, chocolate, and matte white accents
Warm, comforting, and nostalgic
Get cozy with a variety of candles that vary in height and intensity. Add a touch of nostalgia by using vintage ice skates and sleds for an outdoor display. Take advantage of texture with cozy sweater material, burlap, and branch accents.
Details and color palette: Sweater material, burlap, gold votives and trays, winter whites, soft creams, and warm golds
Playful, bright, and frozen
Perfect for kids of all ages. Have fun with characters like penguins, polar bears, and snowmen. Use your imagination by using jars filled with marshmallows and sugar cubes as decorations. Frame fun-filled photos of winter.
Details and color palette: Fake snowballs, bright bulbs, fun winter characters, bright aquas and blues, and clear-to-bright whites
Store-bought gift decorations are nice, but impersonal. If you really want to show how much you care, top off your holiday gifts with a modern, yet crafty alternative to traditional gift bows.
You can choose the perfect material to fit the personalities and interests of everyone on your list. Recycle old newspapers or magazines for an eco-friendly option, or create a bow using sheet music for the music lover on your list.
Attach both ends of the centerpiece strip to create a circle loop, and set aside.
Take one of your long paper strips, and place a small amount of adhesive on one end of the strip. Bring the other end around, and set on top to create a ribbon shape. Repeat this for the remaining paper strips.
Connect two long ribbon shapes together at intersecting points to make an infinity shape. Repeat with the remaining ribbon shapes.
Attach two of the long infinity shapes together in the center to form an X. Repeat for the rest of the infinity shapes.
Use the long X shape as a base, and attach the other long X shape on top. Then add the short X and the centerpiece to complete your recycled bow!
For many the sights, smells, and tastes of the holidays instantly remind them of happy memories and make the season even grander. Gingerbread certainly falls into this category—and one place that celebrates it like no other is the National Gingerbread House Competition, which has been delighting competitors and visitors alike in Asheville, North Carolina, since 1992.
When this event started, though, it wasn’t a competition: the gingerbread houses were created for display. However, someone ended up asking who won, so a winner was declared.
Twenty-seven years later, a lot has changed—including a very specific set of rules now in place. For example, each display must be made of edible materials and constructed of at least 75 percent gingerbread. Entries sitting on their base can be no larger than twenty-four inches tall or wide. And, despite the moniker, you don’t have to create a house.
Competitors can enter their creations into one of four age-based categories: adult (18 and older), teen (13–17), youth (9–12), and child (5–8). The entries are then judged on overall appearance, originality and creativity, difficulty, precision, and consistency of theme. Thirteen prizes, worth over $25,000 in total (including over $10,000 in monetary prizes) are awarded: first, second, and third place in each category, plus one for whoever traveled the farthest. The adult category’s grand-prize package includes $5,000 and a complimentary stay at The Omni Grove Park Inn, where the competition is held.
In 2018, that was the reward for North Carolinians Julie and Michael Andreacola, who took top prize with their entry “Gearing up for Christmas”—which featured working gears made of gingerbread. Catherine Beddall of Ottawa, Ontario, earned second place with her intricate “Hickory, Dickory, Dock” clock, and third place went to Grier Rubeling, also from North Carolina, who created the whimsical “Reindeer Playing Poker.” The first-place teen winners, Courtland High School German Club from Virginia, won for the fifth time with its “Old Towne Trolley Tour.”
Beyond the Battle
Overall, the twenty-sixth annual National Gingerbread House Competition was another smashing success, with 190 gingerbread creations entered and the event being covered by media outlets like NBC, Food Network, and NPR. Every year, though, the competitors and The Omni staff both put a lot of effort into it, and it shows—in many ways.
“Five thousand dollars is amazing, but you don’t give that much of your life, your holiday time, and your passion if you don’t love gingerbread—and these people love it, live it, and breathe it,” says Tracey Johnston-Crum, director of public relations and community outreach for The Omni Grove Park Inn. “Some people dedicate four hundred or five hundred working hours to them. It’s similar to dog shows or horse shows or Comic-Con, where there’s almost a subculture; in fact, they created their own private Facebook group called Gingerfriends. They have to be part of this culture, and that passion shows in the work.”
Johnston-Crum concedes that, for this reason, it’s easy to experience the highs and lows with the competitors. “The hardest part of the entire competition is getting the gingerbread creation here,” she reveals. “Unfortunately, we’ve had a few that didn’t make it through the door. It is devastating, not only to the competitor but to all of us because we know the competitors. We have a vested interest in them—we’ve watched many of them grow up.” For such emergencies, The Omni has a triage area set up with things like royal icing and candies so competitors can try to fix their displays before walking them into the ballroom.
Specific rules also apply to the staff involved with the competition. “We are not allowed to pick up the houses at any time, and we are not allowed to move them for the competitors,” says Johnston-Crum. “But I do escort the competitors in because there are certain things in the hotel they have to walk around. And I like to talk to them and learn more about them.” The folks at The Omni also help the competitors by keeping the ballroom cold (which is better for the displays) and keeping the entrants anonymous for the judges.
Credibility and Validity
Judges have included renowned cake artist and chef Nicholas Lodge, who has made cakes for Britain’s royal family and is the call (or lead) judge, and Cheryl Forberg, who’s the nutritionist for The Biggest Loser and a James Beard Award winner. But others outside of the culinary field also judge. “We’ve got educators and authors. We even have Nadine Orenstein, who’s a curator for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and who’s one of my favorite judges. She looks for different things than the chefs may look for,” Johnston-Crum shares.
To help with the scoring, the judges carry flashlights so they don’t miss any of the intricate details the competitors painstakingly add to their creations. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Johnston-Crum reveals that “our experts know what people try to get away with, so Chef Nick always brings his tool kit so we can drill into houses that we have concerns about.” (And for good reason: one time they even discovered that a PVC pipe ran through the center of a piece.) The judges will also occasionally break things off to eat them, just to make sure they meet the edibility requirement of the competition.
But it was a new judge, celebrity chef Carla Hall, who may have made the most impact in 2018 by expressing just how impressed she was by the quality of the event. “Chef Carla told me, ‘I’ve never been to a food competition that took care of their judges, integrated them, and made them feel like they were part of the competition the way that you do.’ Our whole goal is to make this an enjoyable experience for everyone involved—that is truly what makes this competition different,” Johnston-Crum says. “So it was validating to hear her, coming in with a fresh perspective, say that we do it for everybody, not just the competitors.”
The Secret Ingredient: Joy
The National Gingerbread House Competition has become a tradition for many families, who come year after year to view the winning displays during the holiday season. “Most hotels empty out during the holidays, but we’re the exact opposite,” Johnston-Crum states. “We sell out every Christmas Eve and every Christmas Day. For many, Grove Park becomes Christmas personified.” The event also helps Asheville economically by drawing business from near and far, and The Omni’s holiday parking program gives a portion of the holiday season’s parking proceeds to the community. Over the past six years, over $430,000 has been given to local not-for-profits.
Johnston-Crum was there again this year, welcoming every competitor to The Omni for the 2019 National Gingerbread House Competition, held on November 18—with the winning creations to be on display through January 4, 2020. “The inventiveness and the passion impress me every year, but it’s also a hard competition. People take it very seriously, and we take it very seriously,” she concludes. “But we also truly believe that it should be fun and that everyone involved is touched positively by it. We want you to find that little piece of nostalgia that takes you back to a simpler time and rekindles something in your childhood that made you joyful—because, when you get down to it, that’s what gingerbread houses do.”
We all want to gift our loved ones something special for the holidays. But even if your heart says give, your wallet could be saying otherwise. It’s a challenge to know how to divvy up your spending, but if you want to come out of the season stress-free, let this strategy be your guide.
Step 1: Take stock of your financials. Before making any purchases, it’s important to figure out how much you can realistically spend without breaking the bank. Take a look at your bank account, and settle on a total that won’t leave you in debt well into the New Year. Once you’ve figured out a comfortable amount, you can take your budget one step further.
Step 2: Decide who, and how much. As much as you might want to give your best friend’s mom’s puppy a gift, it might not be in the budget. Make a list of the most important people to give gifts to this year (e.g. mom, dad, siblings) and decide on how much to spend on each of these individuals. When choosing how much to spend, think about how much these people are likely to spend on you, and plan accordingly.
Step 3: Search for the best deals. Don’t hit the store until you’ve scoured the internet, newspapers, and mall kiosks for coupons. Most malls will have special coupons for customers this time of year, on top of a store’s additional holiday sale. Also, don’t forget to check your inbox. First time shoppers can often receive discounts, or a coupon code, which could get you a certain percentage off for shopping in-store.
Step 4: Keep track of what you buy. Especially if you’re using credit cards to make the majority of your purchases. Be sure to keep all of your receipts, as well as asking for gift receipts so that people can take back what they don’t need or want. If using cash, don’t take out an excessive amount over your budget. It’s OK to have some extra for a little leeway, but too much more and you’ll likely find yourself giving in on all of the latest deals.
Don’t start your holiday shopping without this budget-saving guide—your loved ones and your wallet with thank you.
The holidays are a hectic time for travelling, and any homeowner might be understandably uneasy about leaving his or her home unattended during the busiest time of the year. Prepare your home the right way with these tips for when you’re far away.
Clean out your refrigerator
This is one of those tasks that is easily forgotten, but it can leave your home smelling seriously unpleasant when you return from your time away. Check expiration dates on items that go bad quickly—such as milk and eggs—and use this as an excuse to throw away any other perishable items that could have you regretting leaving in the first place.
Let your neighbors know of your plans
We usually remember to let our friends and family know we’re leaving for the holidays, but make sure you don’t forget about your neighbors. Have them check your mail, and leave your cell phone number or any other emergency numbers with them in case anything happens while you’re away.
Double-check the locks
While you lock the front door before going to bed or out for errands, windows and other entrances are easily forgotten. Before leaving on your trip, take the time to go through your home, double-checking that every possible entrance is secure before you leave.
Be mindful of the lights
The biggest giveaway that you’ve left your home for an extended period of time is the lack of light coming from inside. Make sure to buy and use timers on a few lights throughout your home. Set them to turn on and off at different intervals to give the appearance that someone is home.
Another often overlooked chore is unplugging any appliances that you normally keep plugged in throughout the day. Phone chargers, hairstyling tools, the toaster, the microwave, and any other small appliances should be unplugged to avoid any safety mishaps in your absence.
Do the laundry
You washed your vacation clothes, but did you remember to take care of used towels or other dirty laundry lying around? Just like coming home to a smelly refrigerator isn’t ideal, neither is walking into a room and immediately noticing the full hamper. Take a couple of hours to make sure everything is washed before you leave.
The tackier, the better seems to be the motto of holiday decorating for most people. But getting the home ready for the season doesn’t have to consist of an array of the loudest decor you can find. Keep it minimal with these decorating tips.
While the blues, reds, and greens lining the store aisles are enticing in the moment, choosing to deck your house out in too much color can be headache-inducing. Instead, opt for a neutral theme, using monochromatic colors like black and white with a colorful accent here and there (like this festive garland).
Take inspiration from outside.
Bring the beauty of the outdoors inside for decor this season. Whether by taking pinecones or acorns and using them as garland, or taking sprigs of pine for your centerpiece, make use of the natural beauty right outside your front door. After all, the winter wonderland look never goes out of style. Take it up a notch with this snowman wreath, which utilizes twigs lying around outside.
Wrap presents using brown paper.
Go the old-fashioned route and use brown paper and twine to wrap gifts for your loved ones. This look is simple, yet classy, and will make your tree stand out this season. This minimalist choice is easy to personalize too, and the receiver will be instantly charmed by the extra effort you went to making their gift all the more personable.
Skip the multicolored lights.
If you’re going for the minimalist feel, multicolored string lights might not be the best option. Deck your interior and exterior with white fairy lights instead, with the occasional multicolored strand here and there. Light it up even further by adding fake candles in the windows—making for one luminary household.
Keep the focus on one or two items.
For the ultimate minimalist, choose only a couple of holiday pieces for your decor and let those be the focal point of your home, instead of scattering a bunch of smaller items around. Switching out your everyday couch pillows for holiday-themed ones, or placing winter plants in the corners of your home might just be the best way to keep it simple for you.