TRÈS ASHLEY GIFT GUIDE 2014

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It’s time to make your list and check it twice! ‘Tis the season to shop! Gift-giving is all about knowing the person you’re buying for…the kid or kid at heart.

December is the time to be inspired. Here’s hoping you find your perfect gifts…there’s something here for everyone. Wishing you the happiest holiday season, lots of inspiration…and happy shopping!!

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Gifts for the Kids

NUTCRACKER SUITE $74. Any little girl who loves the Nutcracker will adore these little dolls. My daughter carries her dolls around everywhere…especially now that her Nutcracker production has just ended.

PRINCESS AND THE PEA $130. Maileg has the most charming toys. This Princess and the Pea play set comes with a Royal Castle. Your little girl will spend hours of imaginative play…and the little pea is so sweet.

JULIA, CHILD $13.36 Julia and Simca are two young friends who agree that you can never use too much butter — and that it is best to be a child forever. Sharing a love of cooking and having no wish to turn into big, busy people who worry too much and dawdle too little, they decide to create a feast for growing and staying young. A playful, scrumptious celebration of the joy of eating.

KATE MOSS PAPER DOLL BOOK $13. This book includes two Kate Moss cutouts and a wardrobe to covet, this paper doll book will delight any girl who’s ever dreamed of being a real fashionista.

LIGHT UP BUILDING CONSTRUCTION SET $59.99 Creepy, crawly lighted bugs? My son loves to create with his light up bugs and makes the coolest creations.

PERSONALIZED PHOTO MOMORY $19.99 I gave this to my toddler niece last year who lives far away from us. She can learn her cousin’s faces that she doesn’t get to see that often.

SHADOW-SHOW THEATRE KIT $48. It’s so French! Toymaker, Moulin Roty, pays homage to an age-old Chinese tradition with this Shadow-Show Theatre Kit…it’s marvelous!

MODEL AIRPLANE $49.26 Every little boy needs to build and fly one of these with his Dad.

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Gifts for Everyone

FORTUNE TELLERS $16. These would be fun to have around when company comes over…a good time for everyone.

HAPPY HOUR COASTER SET $35. Get the party started with these glittery coasters from Kate Spade.

L.E.D LIGHT UP FLYING DISC $19.02 Most everyone loves to play games during the holidays. Why not take the games outside and fly the best frisbee ever!

DASH SLED $179. This is THE gift to give! All the cool kids and kids at heart will be flying down the hills on their snow day off from school.

TRAVEL THE WORLD CALENDAR $26. Everyone needs a calendar and this one is the cutest one I’ve ever seen!

TATTOOS $15. If I decided to get a tattoo, these are the kind that I’d want. These are the prettiest tattoos around and the best part is that they’re temporary.

PEPPERMINT PIG $19.95 This Victorian tradition started in Saratoga Springs, New York, back in the early 1880’s. A pig, symbolizes good health, happiness, and prosperity…it’s so much better made from hard peppermint candy. After a holiday supper, it was broken in a cloth bag and the pieces were shared by all in the hopes of good fortune for the coming year.

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Gifts for Mom, Sister, Best Friend…

HOW TO BE PARISIAN WHEREVER YOU ARE $25. Four French women give honest – and hilarious – insight into what it really means to be Parisian, from how to dress to how to host a dinner party. Full of witty advice on vintage shopping, love, dieting and family, this book is sure to pique the interest of any female Francophile.

HERMES TAROT CARDS $85. Hermes trick-taking card game for four players, dating back to the 10th century.  My sister would be all over this! How much fun would this be with a little wine and your girlfriends?

TO AUDREY WITH LOVE $130.03  This book has 150 fabulous fashion sketches by Hubert de Givenchy. It was created as a gift to his muse and marvellous friend, Audrey Hepburn.

FEED APRON $29. Give this apron to your girlfriends and provide fourteen meals in America. My love for FEED continues to grow!

SIGNATURE NECKLACE $195.  This would be such a sweet personal gift for that artsy friend who has a beautiful signature.

ROSES EVERY MONTH $149.99 Make her feel like it’s her birthday every month. Every girl will appreciate fresh flowers…they will think of you and thank you dearly.

YOGA Treat her to a new yoga outfit and some class cards to her favorite yoga studio. I think my Mom would enjoy yoga in the Salt Cave. You can check yogafinder to find a studio near you.

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Gifts for Dad, Brother, Best Friend…

SAW BOTTLE OPENER $12.50 A fun gift for the men in your life. This brass saw will add whimsy to his home bar.

AIRPLANE COCKTAIL SHAKER $100. Just the thing for your airplane fanatic.

GOPRO HERO $129.99 For the kid and kid at heart. This will appeal to all ages.

BAR CART $799. For your in home bartender…a 1930’s industrial trolley for a top notch cocktail bar.

HICKORY SMOKED COUNTRY BACON $30. What guy doesn’t LOVE bacon? Christmas morning with country bacon sounds amazing!!  Each order contains four thick-sliced one pound packs.

IPHONE HOLDER $34.95 This is sure to be his favorite cable. I know my husband will use this while he’s cooking.

WINE CLUB $29.99 He will love discovering new wines each month. It’s a score for you too!

May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be white.

Need more gift-giving inspiration? Check out gift guides from 2013, 2012, 2011 and 2010 if you need more inspiration. Wishing you a very Happy Christmas and HAPPY SHOPPING!! xx

Bougainvilleas Bloom Best in Texas during Indian Summer

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Bougainvillea from the Ritz-Carlton in Laguna Niguel

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Surrounded by bougainvillea in Ravello, Italy

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Bougainvillea along the Amalfi coast

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The walkway in Positano, Italy leading to the coast.

My parents have green thumbs. Right now, their bougainvillea runneth over in a sea of magenta and salmon.

It’s Indian summer in Texas and bougainvilleas are getting their second wind. These beautiful plants love warm weather and if they’re heavily watered in summer and fed (bougainvillea food) then they can bloom several times year-round. It seems that they bloom the best in fall.

When my husband and I honeymooned in Positano, Italy we were told that bougainvillea originated there. They certainly do incredibly well in Italian soil…they cascade across archways, balconies and cover the walkways down to the waterfront.

Bougainvillea actually originated in South America. The plant is named for French explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville who discovered the plant in 1768 in Brazil. It took a few decades before the bougainvillea made it to Europe. The first plant was brought to France in 1800. Numerous hybrids have come from these species.

Different kinds of beauty can be inspiring in a variety of ways. The brightness and effervescent sparkle of trailing bougainvillea that blooms under a cloudless sky can translate color into your imagination and fill you with satisfaction.

Tips from my favorite gardeners (my parents):

  • Always prune in Spring.
  • Bougainvilleas have sensitive roots and don’t respond well to transplanting.
  • They thrive in full sun and in containers.
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My parents gorgeous magenta and salmon bougainvillea in their backyard.

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Beautiful bougainvilleas blooming all over my parent’s yard.

Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes

rb0rb2 What is it that makes Rosemary Beach so unforgettable? It is a combination of many things…the sound of flip flops on the wooded boardwalks that lead to pathways connecting to pools, playgrounds, greens, tennis courts and fitness activites, the feel of the salty breeze when your toes touch the turquoise water, a bicycle ride to the Sugar Shak at any time of day, glow in the dark bocce ball on the Western Green…it’s truly endless!

Rosemary Beach looks like a quaint European village with its Dutch influence and West Indies flair. It’s as if Vail meets the summer beach in Florida.

Every year, we stay someplace different. This year was spent in a cottage over looking the Western Green and the glimmering emerald coast.  Any view at Rosemary is stunning, but this year was hard to beat.

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rb16rb1 The Pearl is a charming new hotel in Rosemary Beach and is now open. The Havana Bar (inside the Pearl) is a happening place to be. The vibe is relaxed with a spicy Cuban feel…perfect for Rosemary.

Every year I find more things to write about Rosemary Beach. It just keeps getting better. My definite “must do again” at Rosemary would be La Crema for tapas, Patchoulis for soaps, Havana for cocktails, George’s (which is actually next door at Alys Beach) for the best summer dinner, Thursday Farmer’s Market for making dinner at home then walking to the Western Green for watching a “beach-in-movie”…this year’s “beach-in-movie” was The Wizard of Oz.

It was a first for our family to spend The Fourth of July at Rosemary. You can see from my Steller that the family field day, concert on the green and fireworks on the beach were the kind of memories you know that children will cherish forever. rb3 rb4 rb5 rb6 rb7 rb8 rb9 rb10 rb11 rb12 rb13

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Love grows where my Rosemary grows and nobody knows like me!

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FAMILY VACATION: ROSEMARY BEACH

 

 

A hand-written thank you note is a little treasure that won’t be forgotten

 

A letter in the mail is a gift! Thank you notes can be an art form. Consider the stationary, the penmanship (you can see personality in someone’s handwriting), the formulation of thoughtful words, even the choice of stamp is a special detail. A hand-written card is a little treasure and it is not forgotten.

Writing a thank you note lets the recipients know that you took the time to sit down and think of them; it’s sincere and thoughtful. It’s about thanking people for thinking about you and your family even if the gift is not your cup of tea!

In this time of texting, facebooking, twittering, and e-mailing, it seems so simple to just take the easy way out and say thanks electronically. Anything not in your own hand has an emotional distance and can seem impersonal. This makes hand-written notes rare and much appreciated. A thank you note shows the giver how much you value him or her. Older generations definitely expect them. I always write one to my grandmother first! It’s respectful and considerate to put forth the effort. Can you imagine the disappointment when the person who hand knitted your child a sweater is thanked by an e-mail with smiley faces?

Photo: Vermeer’s Mistress and Maid from my favorite museum in the world, the incredible Frick Collection in New York . Notice the writing set and quill, this truly was an art form.

After Christmas, you don’t feel like doing much of anything. You’ve had the in-laws, survived the Christmas mess, made and cleaned up many meals, and slowly want to go into hibernation after too many egg nogs and entertaining. But, I find if I don’t do it right away my balance is off and I can’t sleep. I like to have my all my ducks in a row. My mantra for most things is very “Nike”! “Just do it!”

A late note is better than no note at all, but it’s probably best to write them as soon as possible. I can whip a thank you note out best if I don’t contemplate too much about what I’m going to say. I have a little formula that’s similar to what I teach my second graders: Greeting, express gratitude, share how you will use the gift, add something personal, thank again, and regards. Giving thanks doesn’t have to be a chore if you make the effort to keep it interesting.

It seems we are raising a generation of technical wizards! Those wizards need to know how to use a pen and attempt nice handwriting in this information age. After the holiday break, my second grade class will begin learning cursive. This is a good time to get them to write thank you notes because they’re just dying to try out their new cursive handwriting. Think back to the times of quills! I have a copy of the Declaration of Independence in my classroom. The children are always in awe of the tiny and very beautiful handwriting.

Everyone likes to be appreciated. When friends and family see you took the time to thank them with a nice note, they’re more likely to give an encore performance. A tip I would give to my second grade classroom (but I think it works for everyone) is to write honestly. The truth is always more interesting, even if it’s obvious it was a regift! We can all find our inner “Pollyanna” and discover something about a gift to be glad about!

A thank you note is one of the loveliest ways to share our love and appreciation for someone. A warm and heartfelt thanks is like a hug in the mail. It is gracious and the right thing to do, but also makes the writer feel good.

Here are some ideas to make your thank you cards more interesting, some of which I have learned from others. Take what you like! I’m all ears for your ideas too, especially since I haven’t written to my grandmother yet!

1. Personalized M&M’s are sweet in addition to a hand-written card!
2. If you have left over Christmas cards, insert a photo of your children playing with what that person got them.
3. Have your child draw a picture to go with the note, it’s personal and your child will feel good about participating in on the thanks.
4. Design your own thank you card on Kodak gallery and fill it with pictures of Christmas morning.

 

 

Knitting cookies, baking sweaters

 

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The happiest people are those who do things for others. Just put a bit of yourself in a homemade gift. Making something, anything, is one of the very best ways to show your love for family and friends. Children love to do for others if given the opportunity.

I don’t knit, but I appreciate the love that goes into the creation just like baking. I think knitting and baking are similar in the way that both take concentration in putting it all together, but there’s also something very therapeutic and meditative about each process.

I’ve always heard people who practice yoga are some of the happiest people on earth. I think it’s that quiet meditation found in yoga, but it can be found in other activities like baking and knitting, too. It’s that pure creative process that gives off an inner peace. I find that same peace when my hand touches the ballet bar for plies, practicing Pilates and hearing just the sound of my breath, and again when I’m baking and making the house smell good. What makes knitting and baking different from other activities is that it’s a gift. You are creating for someone else, something made from love.

Baking is a great way to get the kids involved in the kitchen and they get to help with a gift for someone they care about. Children can be taught to knit, too. I remember my grandmother teaching me something simple; I made headbands in all different colors for my family. I see knitting and baking as a great activity for children because it can help with fine motor skills.

My grandmother knitted sweaters, Christmas stockings, and blankets for all the grandchildren. They are all little treasures to our family. What better time to think of knitting than with new babies and holiday gifts. I was very lucky to have my friend from ballet knit a baby blanket for my daughter and my friend’s mother from Austria knit a baby sweater for my son. The feel of the blanket and sweater is plush and soft. You can see and sense the work that goes into knitting.

It seems like knitting was becoming a lost art for a while. A knitted gift has such a long lifespan that continued appreciation for them far exceeds feelings for anything “store-bought.” I think of my little red and green stop and go mittens my grandmother made for me that my children now wear. It’s like they are wearing hugs on each hand.

Don’t have a granny or friend who can knit you something? There are websites that let you pick out your own granny to knit a hat or scarf. When you look at the grannies’ faces you can tell the result will make you smile. How could you not love something someone made for you? You may not just see grannies knitting anymore now that Kate Hudson has made knitting hip and young people have taken it up again. There are many books and magazines that have made knitting chic and not just for babies. There was a gorgeous hat Carrie Bradshaw wore in Sex and the City when she was in Paris. I would love to make something like that someday.

Where I am in my life, working with small children, I can’t bring myself to add a “new” activity like knitting right now. If there were only eight days a week, ah the things I would do. I have to pick what to do with my windows and what makes me a happy person is doing ballet and baking. That’s what I have time for now. One day I’ll make room for learning how to knit, until then I will appreciate what others can do.

Click on these links for more knitting information:
http://www.goldenhook.fr/
http://www.stitches-of-faith.com/

Please enjoy a family favorite that my mother, daughter, and I love to bake during the holidays.

Spiced Cardamom Cookies
5 ¾ C flour
1t baking soda
1T salt
1T ground cardamom
1t ground allspice
¼ t ground pepper
¼ ground cloves
8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 C dark brown sugar
½ C sugar
½ C dark corn syrup
¼ C water
¼ C heavy cream
1 large egg
2 t vanilla

Whisk flour, baking soda, salt, cardamom, allspice, pepper, and cloves in a large bowl. Place butter in a mixer bowl. Bring sugars, corn syrup, and water to a boil in a large saucepan, stirring until sugar dissolves. Pour hot sugar mixture over butter, and then beat on low speed until combined. Beat cream egg, and vanilla in a bowl, then add to butter mixture, Beat on medium speed until well combined. Reduce speed to low, and add flour mixture, beating until just incorporated. Divide dough into thirds, and flatten each into a disk. Wrap each disk in plastic, and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight. Preheat oven to 350. Roll out 1 disk between lightly floured parchment to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut out shapes with holiday cookie cutters. Spacing them1 inch apart on cookie sheet. Bake cookies until edges are golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. If small start checking after 8 minutes.