Category Archives: Family

Tips for finding and cutting the perfect Christmas Tree

Foraging for and cutting your own Christmas tree is a fun, rewarding experience for the whole family. If you have little ones, this can quickly become a new tradition. We have a few tips and tricks for finding the perfect tree this year.

Before you go

Boots: Dress warm and watch your feet. Once you hit the outdoors, whether it’s the woods or a Christmas tree farm, the ground can be unpredictable. Dry weather doesn’t mean it won’t be wet and muddy in the field and tractor lanes become muddy from heavy use.

Gloves: Always a good idea as both branches and trunk can be prickly.

Large piece of cardboard or plastic:  If you’re cutting the tree yourself, you’ll be down on the ground. This will help keep you dry.

Bungee or rope and an old blanket: If you’re going to tie the tree to your car, you’ll need an old blanket and rope. Call ahead to see if you need to bring a saw or if the tree farm has those on hand.

Do your research

All evergreen trees are beautiful however if you are envisioning a specific type of tree, note the following:

  • Short needles: Junipers, spruces, cedars and firs.
  • Stiff, medium length needles: Scotch pines
  • Long, soft needles: White pine
  • Long needles: Red pines

Take the time to find your perfect tree
Take your time and walk the field. Most trees are traditionally shaped as they’ve been pruned regularly, but if you’re looking for an irregular tree, look long enough and you’ll find one.  Remember, even the perfect tree will look smaller in the field than it will in the house.

Cutting your tree
Cut low to the ground and straight across.  Leave enough trunk to fit in the tree stand. You can always trim off the lower branches later. To keep the saw from binding, have someone pull the tree slightly way from the side you’re cutting. It will make the work much easier.

Carrying your tree out
If it’s muddy don’t drag it. Wait for a wagon or bring one with you. If the ground is frozen, dragging it a bit won’t hurt your tree.

Taking your tree home
Shake your tree to remove loose needles. If the tree farm has a baler, it will make it easier to fit your tree in the trunk or truck, as well as bringing it through the front door.

If you’re tying the tree to the top of your car, an old blanket will help cut down on scratches. You don’t want the branches to catch the wind so aim the butt end forward and tie it securely so it can’t move. If you have a luggage rack, tie it twice to each side. Another option is threading the rope through the car doors or windows.

Bringing your tree inside
If you can’t put your tree up right away, place it a bucket of water in a cool place. When you’re ready to place it in the tree stand, saw a thin slice off the base. If your tree was baled, leave it in the netting until it’s securely in the stand. Your tree will soak up a lot of water in the first few days, so keep watch. You want your tree to stay green and full through Christmas day.




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Vineyard Inspired Treasures for Mother’s Day

A basket, a bottle of rosé and a bit of imagination create the perfect gift for mom.

Warm weather has arrived and rosé is in the air. It wouldn’t be spring without the pretty pink libation and Mother’s Day is the perfect time to celebrate with a basketful of hand chosen gifts for mom.

Our choice this year is wine themed (are you even a little surprised?) and mom’s everywhere will love these vineyard inspired treasures.

Wine Glasses by Papyrusonline ~ These little beauties aren’t your average plain-jane glassware. They are inspired by gratitude and you can scroll through a wide variety of messages of love. Choose the one that fits the way you feel about mom.

Magnetic Wine Charms by SimplyCharmed ~ No matter what your mom’s personality or hobby, you are going to find the perfect match here on this site. There are many styles to choose from, in sets of 6 or 12 and they instantly add a touch of whimsy to every glass.

Rose of Garnacha by Ruby Magdalena Vineyards ~ An award-winning rosé with aromas of strawberry, raspberry and white peach. Subtle fruitiness and a pleasant balance of light sweetness to crisp acidity makes this an approachable wine. Your mom will love this pretty pink bottle of Rose of Garnacha.

Rose Love


Please Note: We did receive sample product for this post, and please keep in mind, this site will not ever represent or write about a product  we do not believe in.

The Bride to Be

A 13 month journey in wedding planning.

FloralNot long ago, I was honored to have someone who is very dear to my heart, ask me to assist in planning her wedding. She doesn’t live close by so we are planning via text, chats, emails, telephone and trading images over Pinterest.

The wedding is set for spring of 2018 so in theory, there is plenty of time to seamlessly pull all of this together. I say in theory, because well, time does fly. So we are arming ourselves with a firm outline, a stout plan and as many wedding magazines as we can each possibly carry. Most importantly, we are having fun with this and to my extreme delight, she has already chosen her venue for both the wedding and reception.

 Russell's WeddingThe Loft at Russell’s, is a magical event space where the wedding will be held. This is a very large piece of the puzzle that has been set in place and the bride will now begin to assemble all of the other pieces around this one to complete her perfect wedding picture. The beauty of the venue she has chosen is, the catering is on site and the cuisine is exquisite as Chef Russell Dean Lowell is well-known as one of the best in his field. (Photo: RussellLowell.com )

Task one complete. The venue has been chosen and we move forward with the steps below:

Thirteen to Nine Months Before

  • Work out the budget
  • Choose the wedding party
  • Start the guest list, keeping in mind it will change many times.
  • Research photographers, bands and florist
  • Plan the Engagement party

Eight Months Before

  • Hire photographer and videographer
  • Book entertainment
  • Meet caterers
  • THE Dress
  • Reserve blocks of hotel rooms for out-of-town guests
  • Register
  • Launch a wedding web site, a great way to keep everyone informed

Seven and Six Months Before

  • Select and purchase invitations
  • Begin planning the honeymoon
  • Shop for Bridesmaid dresses
  • Send Save the Date Cards
  • Reserve structural and electrical necessities
  • Book a florist
  • Arrange transportation
  • Begin jotting down the “Day of” timeline

Five and Four Months Before

  • hairBook rehearsal dinner and venue
  • Select and order the cake
  • Send your guest list to the host of the shower
  • Schedule hair and makeup
  • Choose your music

Three Months Before

  • Finalize menu and flowers
  • Order favors ( if desired )
  • Make a list of people giving toasts
  • Finalize the readings
  • Purchase your undergarments,  ooh la la! 
  • Finalize the order of ceremony and reception
  • Print menu cards and programs
  • Send event schedule to vendors

Two Months Before

  • Contact all vendors and go over details and questions either one of you may have.
  • Meet with the photographer
  • Review the playlist with band or Deejay
  • Send out the official invitations
  • Submit newspaper / wedding announcement

One Month Before

  • Enter RSVP’s onto your guest list
  • Marriage License
  • Mail rehearsal dinner invitations
  • One last fitting for THE Dress
  • Final confirmation for all vendors, hair and makeup
  • Email and print directions for all drivers of transport vehicles
  • Seating charts (based on your RSVP list)
  • Purchase bridesmaid gifts
  • Write vows
  • Final hair cut / color before wedding

The Week Of

  • Shoes and BouquetFinal Confirmation with vendors, yes again.
  • Delegate small wedding day tasks
  • Send a timeline to the wedding party
  • Pick up the dress
  • Check in with the photographer
  • Set aside payments  for the vendors, and tips in envelopes
  • Send final guest counts to caterer
  • Break in your new shoes. Make sure they fit, wear them around for a bit so they will be comfortable on your perfect day.

The top priority for any wedding planner or assistant is to take as much stress off the bride to be as possible. Planning a wedding can be a stressful event for the couple, when it should be one of the happiest. It’s up to family and friends to step in and pick up a few of the numerous tasks that are involved in an attempt to defuse tension before it arises. Be a good friend and always ask if there is a piece of the puzzle you can put in place.

**As the wedding date approaches, I look forward to bringing you updates on the progress of this spectacular couple’s big day!

 

 

After The New Year – Sharing from the year before by Paul Rest

paul-rest

A Cold January Evening / Paul Rest

When I was growing up, the New Year began with a culinary change. Sadly the remaining Christmas tins were slowly being depleted of their delicious, sugary contents. Outdoors, the weather was often below zero with overcast slate gray skies and the streets a mess with slushy snow, now sprinkled with a coating of coal dust. When the Christmas tree came down on Epiphany, the “season” was officially over.

But then interesting things revolving around food began to happen. My mother would discover a jar of canned cherries from two years before, now extra delicious and syrupy, perfect on top of an angel food cake.  Our next-door neighbor across the street would drop off a venison roast from his kill during the last November’s hunting season. A venison stew slow cooked over the course of the day would be our stick-to-ones ribs dinner that night.

Another neighbor would bring by a brace of freshly killed and cleaned rabbits. After being braised in a cast iron skillet, these would be put in my mother’s oval roasting pan with cut vegetables, her home-made beef stock, a sprig of rosemary and cooked until juicy and tender. This would be served on a dinner plate piping hot with potatoes, carrots and fresh dark bread from the German bakery in town.

Trips to our cellar under our house would then become an important part of our diets during these winter months. The truth be told, it was always a dark and mysterious place that scared the bejesus out of me more than once. There was only one low watt bulb that hung from the ceiling in the middle of the room, which meant the room was in a perpetual state of semi-darkness. The walls were brick and the floor was earthen. There were three windows, think small, very small, covered with so many cobwebs and dust it barely emitted any outside light. The far wall was lined with shelves which was where my mother put all the vegetables and fruits she canned during the summer and fall months. Apricots, peaches, pears, string beans, peas and other foods from our garden were canned in labeled Mason jars.

On the floor were stones jars containing pickles, beets and other root vegetables awaiting our winter table. At times, cases of a locally made soft drink would be stacked in a corner where boxes of apples and bushels of onions and potatoes would be stored. The air was filled with a heady mix of what was upon the earth (apples) and under the earth (potatoes and onions). A basket or two of walnuts would later appear, to be used for my mother’s future Christmas baking or set on the kitchen table as snacks to munch on during an afternoon visit from a neighbor.

Occasionally we would receive jars of olives from our neighbor down the hill who had a cousin in far off Southern California. Or, a whole hickory smoked ham would be brought by and then hung on one of the gigantic nails that had been hammered in the cellar’s crossbeam ages ago. And on occasion, bottles of homemade wine (usually terrible tasting stuff) would show up on the cellar’s shelves. A gift from the gruff man who had a garden in the lot down the hill. My mother usually used this ungodly potion for cooking, adding a little sugar (maybe, lots of sugar) to help it along. It especially helped when she pulled a sinewy cross rib roast from the deep freezer. The liquid somehow transformed the almost uneatable into something that with a knife and fork and a little work yielded some good pieces of hearty meat when dipped in the rich dark gravy.

With the fields now fallow and laying under a blanket of winter snow, the local farmers would then start appearing at our back door with gifts of bacon, pork roasts, chops, steaks, sausages and other farm products. These were “thank you” gifts to my parents. My dad, a minister, was “on call” twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. When someone became ill, after the doctor was called, the next call was for my dad. The phone was downstairs in the hallway and had this ungodly loud ring that would jar us all awake, no matter the time of the day or night. When those calls would happen, he would answer, quietly get dressed and leave, often for hours. Some times the crisis would pass and he would return early and other times there would be an announcement of a funeral at the following Sunday service. All of these visits he did were appreciated and not forgotten by the local farmers and tradesmen.

So the winter months, the beginning of the year, were months of hearty meat dishes for dinner, stews, casseroles and roasts served with potatoes, carrots and what the jars in our cellar would provide us and arrived from our neighbors and those in our small community. It was food that would keep our bellies full and our bodies warm until the days lengthened and we began to notice the crocuses and tulips popping their heads up through the last of the winter snow.


Paul Rest lives in Sonoma County, California. He has been enjoying California wines and foods since arriving in California. He can be contacted at paulfrederickrest@gmail.com.

Written by Paul Rest / Edited, Karie Engels Giffin

 

 

 

Christmas at Home: My Adventures in Cookie Land by Paul Rest

christmas-tins-paul-restChristmas officially began right before or after Thanksgiving. I can’t remember exactly when it began. The “it” being my mother’s cookie making marathon which when it started, went right up to a few days before we celebrated Christmas.

It started when she would bring all the cookie tins down from the top shelf in the pantry. These would be washed and dried and then stacked on a lower shelf, but still high enough that we kids couldn’t get on hands on them (or so she thought, but more on that later). Then, wonderful aromas would fill the house. Oh my, it was like living in the most wonderful pastry shop imaginable. Heavenly!

Fruitcake was first on the list. Candied fruits and ingredients were mixed, baked then covered with cheesecloth. The cheesecloth was soaked again and again with brandy, which was a heady smell in our normally “dry” household. These filled tins were placed in the pantry for later (and more soakings). Then the serious baking began and the kitchen table became an extension of my mother’s cookie making.

Sheet after sheet of cookies were put out to cool on the kitchen table. We kids were allowed one cookie each when we came home from school, which seemed like the cruelest thing that could be done to a kid. She guarded her cookies with vigilance worthy of an army drill sergeant. It was as if she knew the exact count of each tray of cookies, and if I tried to sneak an extra (I was the “bad” one) cookie or two, she knew and I’d get stuck with drying dishes for another night.

After the cookies cooled, they were carefully stacked in the tins. Later, the tins would be re-packed with a mix of cookies in each one. The tins ranged in sizes from a small 6 inches to the larger ones of 12 inches (for family and close friends). This went on day after day as Christmas approached intermixed with her usual chores: washing & drying on Mondays, ironing on Tuesdays, cleaning the house on Wednesdays and Thursdays, shopping on Fridays and preparing Sunday dinner on Saturdays. How she organized all this is still a mystery to me? But she did it for as long as I was home.

Okay, back to the cookies. After the tins were mixed and the cookies inside covered with waxed paper (minus the one or two I had snatched, more dish duty) we kids were drafted into her cookie army. We began by delivering all the smaller tins to neighbors. Every neighbor up and down the street was gifted a tin of cookies, even the gruff old man who’d always yell at me for missing his steps when delivering his afternoon newspaper. With great fear and trembling I would knock on his door and in a small voice offer him the tin of cookies. He would mumble a “thank you” and then slam the door.

When the next wave of cookie tins were stacked on the table for delivery. A couple of those wonderful smelling fruitcakes were included in the mix. The sealed tin was no match for the heady smell of brandy teasing my nostrils. These were for special friends. So, like one of the Magi without a star for a guide, I would wonder here and there through the hundreds milling in the church social hall after services. As members and friends chatted over coffee and pastries, I searched for the lucky recipient where I could finally deposit my gift tin, great or small.

“Here, this is from my mother,” I would say, making the exchange with as much grace as possible, a smile on my scrubbed face and wearing my best suit with newly shined shoes. I would receive a thank you and then race off to find my mother and be handed the next tin. Since Advent and Christmas involved quite a number of church services for our denomination, including one in German, I probably covered miles and miles in that social hall looking for the designated person. At times, the thank you included a hug or worse, a pat on the head. I often wondered how many tins made it home without begin opened. I knew I couldn’t do it.

The cookies she made included ginger bread, fruit bars with icing, and many kinds of German cookies (she was German-American) including Pfeffenmüsse, Spitzbuden, Lebkuchen, Spitz cookies (many shapes including stars) made with a cookie press; and there were more I can’t remember. My favorites were Springerle cookies, made with anise. I looked forward to that moment when the first whiffs of that unique smell began to fill the house. The dough was spread out on the kitchen table and then a special rolling-pin that would impress an image on each cookie. Fresh out of the over, the cookies would have a slight crunch on the outside but were soft and chewy inside. (A month later, they would become harder, very hard, think of a tile. But, they were perfect for dipping in one’s afternoon coffee, or my case, milk, to soften them.)

The recipe was so simple: (My mother always tried to do these recipes from memory but had a 3×5 card index with everything written down as a backup.)

Start with 4-5 cups of all-purpose flour/1 teaspoon baking powder/shift together/set aside. Then gently whip together 4 eggs & 1 pound of confectioner’s sugar until thick/stir in anise flavoring & lemon zest/mix with flour/cover and allow to set for at least an hour (my mother always did this in the refrigerator). When ready, roll the dough out in a rectangle with a thickness of about a half an inch (you don’t need to be perfect here). Roll out the cookies with a special Springerle rolling-pin and cut the edges with a fluted cookie cutter. Carefully place the cut cookies on a baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees (175 C). (She checked these frequently beginning about the 18th minute.) When checking, make sure the edges aren’t turning brown. Cool and hide from me.

Often as she was baking, I’d walk in the kitchen and see my mother’s face coated here and there with flour from when she had wiped the perspiration from her forehead. “Mom, you’ve got…” She never let me finish. “I know. Now, skedaddle and let me get back to work.” I would turn and start to exit the kitchen, but not before turning right and looking longingly in the pantry’s open door to see the stacks of cookie tins growing taller day by day. Writing this, the smells come back to me and will probably never leave. Something for which I will be forever grateful.


Paul Rest lives in Sonoma County, California. He has been enjoying California wines and foods since arriving in California. He can be contacted at paulfrederickrest@gmail.com.

Written by Paul Rest / Edited, Karie Engels Giffin

A Note of Thanks for the coming New Year

new-yearAs 2016 winds down to a close and 2017 nudges its way into the room, it causes many of us to reflect on the past year. We jot down our resolutions and loudly declare we are going to make changes for the better as January inches closer.

Each new year brings its own blessings. Like many parents,  my sweet three as I call them, Chad 20, Josie 16 and Ian 14, are the reason I work so hard. My eldest has moved out and on his own, my daughter is now old enough to drive and my youngest has shed the “little-man” label as he flies over the 6′ 2″ mark. Yes, things are changing, sometimes far too quickly.

During these last couple of months, I have been chewing on the fact that the dynamics at home will soon be forever changed. There is a bit of a melancholy tug as I watch with joy and admiration my children grow, evolve, discover new adventures and move along each of their journeys as capable teens and young adults.  I thought about what this may mean for me in the next couple of years, and I began to feel a bit of an odd, enthusiastic sparkle.

Parents place many items on the shelf for “some day”. Time goes by, and these goals and aspirations become forgotten. There are a few items on the shelf that have been gathering dust for 20 + years and I decided to take stock of my old dreams and ambitions. What I found there made me catch my breath and brought tears to my eyes. I am actually living the life I have always wanted. It just happened so gradually, I didn’t realize it’s here. My “some day” shelf is near to empty:

Writing Career: I wanted to write for a living. At the age of 12, I envisioned a high-powered newspaper journalist position. Obviously, that isn’t exactly what I am doing, yet what I have created online is perfect for me. Not only does it encompass everything on my list, I am in complete control of the daily activity and what runs on the site.

Featured Image -- 10724Cooking for Friends and Family: My grandmother owned a restaurant and cooked for friends, family, her community and strangers passing through. She struck up conversations with everyone, fed them well and had a grand time living life with fierce exuberance. I admired her greatly and it was always in the back of my mind to follow her footsteps in that industry. While I do not have a restaurant or cafe, what I do have is a publication based on the culinary world and I collect and distribute recipes and restaurant recommendations for my readers.

cropped-cropped-cropped-shutterstock_546675431.jpgGardening: While I have never aspired to be a master gardener, I have always wanted to grow my own food. Plant in the spring, tend during early summer and harvest late summer / early fall. I don’t have room for a large garden, so the past two years, I have kept it to container gardening. Tomatoes, lettuce, sage, rosemary, lavender, cilantro, parsley, thyme, oregano and basil. Each year it expands and I expect next year’s garden to be larger. I use these foods in the articles I write.

Travel: At a young age I envisioned myself jet setting around the globe visiting exotic places and writing about my experiences. As I sit here planning out my 2017 travel schedule, I find myself sifting through emails and invitations to locations all over the world.

booksReading: In my younger years my nose was rarely outside of a book. I was an avid reader and could polish off a novel a night. I was fairly sure it wasn’t possible to make a career out of reading books. While that isn’t my entire career, it is a portion of it. The amount of books my site receives is phenomenal. I have just created a new schedule that includes time for the reading and reviews in a more timely manner. The volume of books that come in initially took me by surprise. I love it.

As for the last two: Anthropology and Historian, I will keep that on the shelf, for now. Who knows where the next 50 years may take me?

As I look at the near to empty shelf, I am humbled by what I see and my soul is filled with thankfulness. You read what I write, thank you. Wineries, restaurants, resorts, hotels and travel destinations send invitations to host me, so I can bring those experiences through photographs and written words to you, my reader. I am thankful for them because it’s a privilege to be included on their guest lists.

This is where that “enthusiastic sparkle” I mentioned before, is beginning to shine. You may think this a strange analogy, yet I feel as if I am breaking out of a cocoon. It’s been warm and comfortable in here and it’s now time to emerge and once more explore the world.

Just as my children are embarking on journeys that take them away from the nest,  I am able to spread my wings and fly a bit further from home as well. In the past 20 years, I have become very comfortable in my skin and surroundings. I have fulfilled so many of my desires without realizing it. I am exactly where I envisioned I wanted be. How could I have not noticed this before now?

That sparkle I mentioned? It’s flaring into a dazzling light ~ It’s time to move beyond the comfort zone, cast a wider net and explore new possibilities as I sift through invitations and create the 2017 travel schedule. Thank you for reading what we do here and for being a part of my journey.

Happy Holidays to you and yours and cheers to a bright New Year!

new-year-s-eve-ceremony-champagne-sparkling-wine

Enjoying the holidays: 9 tips for families of children with special needs

Episcopal Center for Children, a Treatment and Special Education Center in DC, Offers Advice

child-with-parentsThe holidays can be fun, but they can add stress to the lives of children with special needs. The Episcopal Center for Children (ECC), a nonprofit organization serving children with special needs ages 5-14 in the greater Washington, DC area, offers the following tips to help.

“Children with special needs enjoy the holidays but they are especially sensitive to the changes in routines that the holidays bring,” said Dodd White, president and CEO of ECC. “Making a plan and adjusting your expectations can go a long way to creating a positive holiday experience for the entire family.”

Tip #1 – Make a plan for the holidays and share it with your family. Create a schedule for your family’s holiday activities and post it for your child to see. You may need to use pictures to help a young child. Talk about the schedule with your child, so he or she can anticipate what will happen. Review the schedule weekly. Also discuss the schedule with others in your home, so they understand what is going on and how they can best support your child with special needs, so everyone can have a fun holiday.

Tip #2 – For holiday gatherings, give your child a job and a schedule. Ask your child to help collect coats, give out treats, or greet arrivals. Rehearse the plan. Give your child a schedule for a festive occasion so he or she knows what to anticipate.

Tip #3 – Maintain routines as much as possible. There may be special activities for the holidays, but try to keep your child’s schedule as close to “normal” as possible.

Tip #4 – Eat healthy foods and know how new or special foods impact your child. During the holidays there are all sorts of fun foods and treats to enjoy. Some children are more affected than others by dietary changes. Pay attention to your child’s moods and how diet and situational changes may be impacting him or her. Bring along with you food that is familiar to your child if you think it may be needed.

Tip #5 – If your child is sensitive to unfamiliar smells, help manage them. You can add a little cinnamon to play compound to help a child experience this smell minimally. Ask guests visiting your home to not wear heavy perfumes if your child is sensitive to them.

giftsTip #6 – Get your child into the spirit of the season through gift giving. Gift giving provides an opportunity to practice social skills. Help your child make a gift for someone else, and practice how to give the gift to that person.

Tip #7 – Take breaks when needed. Sometimes children need a break from the hubbub of holiday activities and busyness. Fill a bag or backpack with a few favorite toys, games or activities. If you see your child is getting stressed, get out the bag and find a quiet spot to get them out.

Tip #8 – Do not allow presents to be a hindrance to enjoyment. Some children with special needs find it dis-orienting to unwrap things that are new and unfamiliar to them. If that is the case for your child, wrap a few favorite toys for your child to unwrap. Children who have trouble with fine motor skills may find unwrapping some gifts frustrating. You can adjust packages to their comfort level by loosening ribbons and paper. And ask others who give your child gifts to be aware of his or her needs.

Tip #9 – Give your child the gift of your attention. Holidays can be busy for grown-ups and children. Make sure you spend a few minutes of quality time with your child. Give him or her your full attention. Practice active listening, where you listen to what your child is saying and then repeat it back to them to demonstrate that you were listening.


Content Provided by  the Episcopal Center for Children
The Episcopal Center for Children (Center) is a nonprofit, nondenominational school and treatment program for children contending with emotional challenges from the greater Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. Accredited by the Joint Commission, the Center serves children who are 5-14 years old in grades K-8. The goal of the Center’s treatment, therapeutic milieu, and individualized special education program is to empower each child to function productively within his or her family and community. Building on strengths within children, the Center partners with families in treatment and focuses on enabling its students to access and become their best possible selves. More information is available at eccofdc.org and on Twitter @ECCofDC.

Every Day is a Beer Dinner Day by Ginger Johnson

 

LC & GJ beer dinner 2015 Photo George RubaloffAbout 14 years ago I met Larry.

It’d be unremarkable except Larry is now My Fine Husband. At the time I met him, I knew very little about beer. What makes the story is that we met at a brew masters dinner, where Larry co-hosted with his colleague, Chris, an assistant kitchen manager at the brewpub where they both worked.

Larry was the professional brewer co-hosting that dinner.

The date was actually one I was on with a different man. A nice enough guy, though not the fit I was looking to date. So I turned my attention from my date to the topic at hand: beer and food together.

As I share in my TED talk, it was as if someone turned on a switch in my brain. I had never thought about beer AND food together, though I grew up with a dinner party throwing family. So the idea of coming together for good times over food and beverage was familiar and attractive to me.

Fast forward from that beer dinner to present. Larry and I have been married for over a dozen years, happily coupled in the ongoing adventure of life with beverage and food. He started teaching me a bit about beer, I shared my enthusiasm with him for Bourbon, and our conversations lengthened and deepened. We eloped a year and a half later.

As a life long avid food shopper, cook and entertainer, Larry’s embraced the wonderfulness simply executed dinner parties offer everyone present: relaxed camaraderie, basic (to fancy) food and beverage, a chance to slow down the world and talk, laugh, exchange ideas and share.

GJTo celebrate that fateful beer dinner, we recently held our own in-home beer dinner, just the two of us. It was the first time we’ve done that and I’m not sure why, since it’s such a huge part of how we came to be together. It was a very fun night, with Larry first procuring the beer he wanted, me building a menu around those beers, and enjoying it all over a few hours of time. No rush, no huge fuss, and just us.

I’d suggest everyone put together their own beer dinners, or wine dinners, or cider brunches, or mead luncheons or whatever….what you serve isn’t the biggest element of import. What is important is that we do so to slow down, relax, take time to savor and really breathe it all in.

We’ll hold our own celebratory beer dinners, just us, again. Perhaps as an anniversary marker of our lives together. It’s worth celebrating our lives and appreciating all the world offers us regularly and giving thanks in this simple humble act. Choose a Tuesday night, Friday morning, or whenever it works for you. Simply make sure you do – slow down, sit around, and really take it all in.

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You can find Ginger at the links below and also follow her on Twitter. 

Entertainer, Flavor Maker, Speaker & Presenter, CEO Ginger Johnson & Women Enjoying Beer TEDxNapaValley  Talk

7 ways to participate in Giving Tuesday by Andrea Woroch

GivingTuesdayAfter a frenzied shopping weekend featuring tons of doorbusters and a few brawls, it’s easy to feel a little disenfranchised with the holidays. This season is supposed to be about giving, and yet slogans like “Thanks-getting” and advertisements featuring starry-eyed kids with endless gifts under the tree convey an entirely separate sentiment.

To get back to the true spirit of the season, today’s #GivingTuesday reminds consumers to look beyond themselves and give to someone in need. Consider these seven ways to give back today (and beyond), and consider making it a part of your holiday tradition.

  1. Have your children donate toys.
    To cultivate charitable giving within your kids this season, start a tradition where your children select one (or more) toys from their current collection to donate to a child in need. Research local organizations accepting gently-used toys and schedule a time to accompany your child to the donation site. Allowing your child to experience charitable giving first-hand will help him or her understand the good feeling it produces.
  2. Participate in a fundraising activity.
    Many community events including 5K runs often benefit a local charity and represent a fun way to spend time with family and friends. Head to your city’s website or Facebook page for details on upcoming activities and determine what makes the most sense for your family. A brisk run before Christmas dinner that benefits the local food bank, for example, offers a healthy activity for your kids as well as an opportunity to help others.
  3. Pick up extra groceries for the local food bank.
    As you shop for holiday meals this season, consider picking up a few extra items to donate to your local food bank. Some grocery stores even have bags of food for purchase, which they donate on your behalf. The annual Grab ‘n Give event from Sprouts Farmers Markets, for example, discounts bags of food by 10% and donates them to local food banks in their communities.
  4. Get vaccinated.
    Still need to get your flu shot? You can vaccinate yourself against this common holiday illness and give back at the same time. Through Dec. 1, vaccines administered at Walgreens will result in two vaccines for children in need through the UN Foundation’s ShotLife Campaign.
  5. Volunteer your time.
    There are several opportunities to donate your time, whether it’s an afternoon visiting with residents at a local nursing home or serving at your neighborhood soup kitchen. These activities are popular during the holiday season, so call ahead to determine availability. You can also check out VolunteerMatch.org to find local volunteer opportunities based on your interests.
  6. Shop with stores that give back.
    You can make a difference as you shop this holiday season by purchasing from stores that give back (and save a little money, too). TOMS Shoes is a popular brand that donates a pair of shoes, glasses or other items and services to someone in need for every purchase, and also has coupon codes for savings at CouponSherpa.com. At JCPenney, for every pair of fingerless striped gloves purchased through Dec. 24, $2 will go toward the JCPenney Cares non-profit organization which supports after-school enrichment opportunities for children. You can also use Amazon Smile to donate a portion of the cost of your purchase to a charity of your choice.
  7. Gift donations.
    If you’re struggling to find the perfect gift for people on your list, consider donating to a charity on their behalf. You likely know what causes are important to them, plus many non-profit organizations also provide a tax write-off. For a list of trustworthy charities by cause, check out GiveWell.org. Kiva offers a unique twist of gifting donations with its Kiva Card, which gives recipients an opportunity to provide a loan to someone who inspires them. The funds are then repaid as the recipient works off the loan, and the money can be loaned again to someone else.

Andrea WorochAndrea Woroch is a money-saving expert who transforms everyday consumers into savvy shoppers by sharing smart spending tips and personal finance advice. As a sought-after media source, she has been featured among such top news outlets as Good Morning America, Today, CNN, Dr. OZ, New York Times, MONEY Magazine, Consumer Reports, Forbes and many more. In addition, Andrea’s stories have been published among leading publications and sites such as Yahoo!, AOL Daily Finance, CNN Money, Huffington Post, LearnVest and New York Daily News. Check out Andrea’s demo reel or visit her website at AndreaWoroch.com for more information about booking an interview or requesting an original written article. You can also follow her on Twitter or Facebook for daily money tips.