Tea at Home

How to host afternoon tea at home, and reasons why you should! -- Often Charming

Afternoon tea is a lovely way to entertain at home. It can be as fancy (or not) as you like, but it really should be a bit fancy. That’s partly what makes it fun!  A little moment of luxury in our otherwise hectic days should always be welcome, I say.

Taking the time to stop and sit and enjoy the moment with a friend is more important than ever these days. We are all trying to do too much too quickly, and where is the quality in that? Smart phones and social media are great tools for keeping people connected, but too much technology can make us feel disconnected, too.  We are social animals and there is no substitute for real time spent face to face with another human. And if there can be cake, all the better!

Now, fancy does not have to mean fussy, and therefore, stressful. No. If you can make a pot of tea and a sandwich, you can host a tea.  To make it even easier, do as the French do.  In France, afternoon tea is often a simple event with just a few cookies or a slice of cake to accompany the tea.  The choice is yours.

Afternoon tea in the English style generally includes three categories/courses: finger sandwiches, scones, and sweets. These are arranged on a three-tiered server, sandwiches on the bottom, scones in the middle, and sweets on the top.

How to Serve Afternoon Tea -- Sandwiches on the bottom, scones in the middle, sweets on the top! -- Often Charming

I have seen variations on this placement and it is really up to you if you prefer another order, but this is the way I was taught to do it. The sandwiches are meant to take the edge off your hunger, followed by the scones and ending with desserts, as one might expect. If you follow this order, you can just tell any guests who are unsure how to begin to simply work their way up from the bottom.

There is no law that says you must make everything from scratch. Your guests will appreciate your efforts to care for them, regardless of whether your menu is home-made or shop-bought, or some combination of the two.

You don't have to tell your guests you didn't make everything from scratch.  Tips for hosting afternoon tea at home -- Often Charming

For this tea, I made a few things and bought a few things. Bear in mind that you can (and should) do a lot of your prep ahead of time, minimizing stress and clean up on the day of your tea. If you love to bake and want to make everything yourself, do it! It will take more time to prepare, but this is a labor of love for those who enjoy working in the kitchen.

If you are baking-challenged, never fear! The macarons and madeleines I served at my tea came from Trader Joe’s and Costco.  They were inexpensive, freeze beautifully and taste amazing, so why not save yourself the time and worry?

Look for these gorgeous macarons in the freezer section of Trader Joe's for your next afternoon tea! -- Often Charming

Aren’t those macarons gorgeous? You only need to put a few out for your tea, leaving several left over for enjoying later, too.  Dusting the madeleines with powdered sugar before plating them gives them a more home-made look, though people will be too busy eating them to care. The Sugar Bowl Bakery madeleines I served are huge, cakey and perfect. I’ve seen them at Costco and my regular super market, and they are well worth buying.  Freeze whatever you don’t eat immediately and you will have treats for weeks!

I made the raspberry puffs, but those are no-bake and ridiculously easy, not to mention delicious. Here’s the recipe if you want to see for yourself!  These can be made the day before without the phyllo getting soggy.

Raspberry Puffs
Yield: 30

Ingredients
1 8-oz container whipped topping, thawed
3 oz cream cheese, softened
¼ cup confectioner’s sugar
¼ cup raspberry jam
1 tsp raspberry extract
1 pkg fresh mint
2 pkgs phyllo cups

Method
Combine cream cheese and whipped topping in mixer at medium speed until smooth. Add confectioner’s sugar, raspberry jam, and raspberry extract, beat until smooth. Pipe into phyllo cups, top each with mint leaves and a raspberry.

Making Raspberry Puffs, Tea At Home - Often Charming

Raspberry Puffs with Mint, Afternoon Tea at Home - Often Charming

Tea sandwiches should be small and easy to eat. You can really make any kind of sandwich you like, as long as you keep them small (2-3 bites at most) and tidy. Experiment with different shapes and garnishes, and always cut the crusts off!

If you want to be traditional, serve cucumber sandwiches. I usually serve 2-3 types of sandwiches, and one of them is always cucumber. I’ve tried a lot of cucumber sandwiches over the years, and this recipe from Fortnum and Mason is definitely my favorite. It’s simple, and the addition of the vinegar to the cucumber gives it a little something special.

Cucumber Dill Tea Sandwiches (adapted from Tea at Fortnum and Mason)
Yield: 4 sandwiches, 16 tea sandwiches if cut into 4 squares each

Ingredients:
3 ½ oz cream cheese, room temperature
3 tbsp chopped fresh dill (I think I usually use almost the whole package of dill, reserving a few sprigs for garnish)
pinch white pepper
¼ English cucumber, peeled and sliced thin
1-2 tsp white wine vinegar
½ stick salted butter, room temperature
8 slices white bread, such as Pepperidge Farm Thin White

Method
Combine cucumbers and vinegar in an air-tight container, allow to marinate a few hours, or overnight if you have time. Combine cream cheese, dill, and white pepper using mixer with paddle attachment, mix until smooth. Set aside. Spread butter over half the bread slices, spread cream cheese mixture over the remaining half of the bread slices. Arrange marinated cucumbers evenly atop half the bread slices, top with remaining bread. Using a sharp, serrated knife, cut off the crusts, wiping the blade as needed to keep things neat. Slice each sandwich into 3 or 4 rectangles, wiping blade again as needed between cuts. Garnish sandwiches with reserved dill sprigs.

Cucumber Tea Sandwiches, Afternoon Tea at Home - Often Charming

Scones are an important part of afternoon tea. You don’t have to bake your own! You can find a variety of yummy scones in most store bakeries these days. You can serve them plain, or with lemon curd, jam, or (my favorite) Devonshire cream. For this tea, I baked plain scones using my favorite recipe and served them with strawberry jam and cream.

Traditional Scones, Afternoon Tea at Home  - Often Charming

I didn’t take any pictures while I was making the scones, but I’ll probably write a separate post just on those, with all the steps shown.  My daughter, who is very picky, absolutely loves them and eats them plain, so I like to bake them and keep them in the freezer as a special treat for her.

Afternoon tea is a great way to make your guests feel special and loved. Set a pretty table and offer a choice of a few different teas, to accommodate those who prefer herbal tea to English breakfast. I like to give each guest their own little teapot to use, so everyone can have something different. It’s also fun to get out pretty china and flatware, if you have it. It’s meant to be used and enjoyed, after all.

Setting the table for afternoon tea at home - Often Charming

Grosvenor pattern silverware from shopping trips to Canton Trade Days - Often Charming

The forks and spoons are from my growing collection of Grosvenor silverware from the 1920’s, which I get from a dealer at Canton Trade Days.  I get a few pieces every time I go, and it’s fun. Don’t stress over your tea. I should have placed my spoons to the right of the plate at each setting, in retrospect, but too late now. This is my home, not the The Ritz, so we can let that slide, I think.

Etiquette is part of the tradition of afternoon tea, but don’t let that scare you.  I’d much rather my guests enjoyed themselves and the meal, rather than worry about what to eat first or where to put their used tea bag. As a thoughtful host, you can resolve any questions your guests may have before they even have to wonder. And no, you don’t need to raise your pinky whilst holding your tea cup. In fact, please don’t.

If you want to learn the rules of etiquette for afternoon tea from the experts, I recommend the book Tea & Etiquette: Taking Tea for Business and Pleasure by Dorothea Johnson, founder of the Protocol School of Washington, and Bruce Richardson, tea expert and author of The Tea Maestro blog, as well as 14 books on tea. This slim little book covers everything you need to know!

Afternoon tea is a great way to spoil someone special for their birthday, or to celebrate the bride or mom-to-be. It’s also a wonderful luxury to have for no reason at all. Now that you know it doesn’t have to be hard, I hope you will give it a try. The leftovers alone are worth it, as my husband would tell you. Enjoy!

Heather's Signature -- Often Charming

Note: This is not a sponsored post. Links provided in this post are purely meant to be helpful.

End-of-Summer Getaway! Girls’ Trip to Horseshoe Bay

A quick girls trip before school starts -- Often Charming

We’re a few weeks away from the start of first grade. It’s 100 degrees outside every day.  We have a six-month-old golden retriever puppy who likes to bite us, and my in-laws are living with us until closing on their house later this month. Who needs a little vacation?

Now, in defense of my in-laws, they are lovely people and we are happy they are staying with us. But it does make the house a lot busier than usual, and the dog has been even more excited than normal as a result.  Excited dog = bitey dog. In defense of Sunny, the aforementioned bitey hound, she is a retriever and always wants to have something in her mouth. She’s still a puppy, and is still learning that she can’t just chomp us when she wants to play.  Or when she greets you. Or when you’re just sitting there trying to drink your coffee/put on shoes/wear pajamas.

Sunny, the Bitey Dog in Question -- Often Charming

She’s lucky she’s so cute.

Sunny particularly likes to play with our daughter. They are roughly the same height and weight now, and Lark makes lots of loud noises, so Sunny naturally (and correctly) thinks she is the most fun member of the family. She likes to grab Lark by the skirt or shoes, or mash the toy she’s carrying into Lark’s back/stomach/ribs when she wants to play, which is pretty much all the time.  Lark does not want to play all the time. It can be a bit overwhelming when an animal as big as you are is always coming after you, full of puppy energy. I get it. I thought she could use a little humans-only time.

Since getting Sunny, Lark has asked me a few times if Sunny is more important than she is. Ouch.

I’ve explained that Sunny is a baby and needs a lot of attention right now, but that things won’t always be this way. Although Lark was excited to get a puppy, this addition to the family has been a big adjustment for her. I thought Lark might like a few days of our undivided attention, so I did some research on a quick little trip we could take without too much effort. First, I checked into the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort, which is only about 45 minutes from us. We stayed a night there last year when my husband spoke at a conference, and we loved the lazy river and nightly s’mores. Unfortunately, their rooms were running about $400 per night for the dates I checked, which sucked the fun right out of that idea.  That was when I found a great deal on Groupon for the Horseshoe Bay Resort: $119 per night with a two night minimum. Go, Groupon!

I’d never been there before, but reviews of the resort indicated it was very family-friendly, with tropical birds, four swimming pools to choose from, and most importantly, s’mores. In addition, the resort is just an hour’s easy drive away from our house. I asked Lark if she’d like to go stay at a holiday house with Mommy and Grandma for a few days, to swim and eat s’mores and leave the boys and dog at home. “YES!!” she said. And off we went.

First Stop: swimming!  The kids' pool area features a zero-depth entry and fun fountains. --  Often Charming

That’s a happy girl.

The kids’ pool area is immediately next to a larger, family pool with great shade in the late afternoon. The very nice lady working the oh-so-conveniently located bar adjacent to the pool made me a fantastic grown-up lemonade to enjoy by the water, which is really what resorts are all about, aren’t they?

Fancy grown-up lemonade by the pool at Horseshoe Bay Resort. -- Often Charming

Yes. Yes, they are.

But this is a family place, so the little one got a pink lemonade of her own. It was not as much fun as mine, I’ll wager, but she loved it.

The pink lemonade gets a thumbs up at Horseshoe Bay Resort -- Often Charming

After all that swimming, we had a little down time in the room.  Thanks to Peppa Pig, Lark refers to all hotels as “holiday houses”, which I find adorable. That kid loves a good holiday house.  The beds were comfy, the pillows were fluffy; the snuggle time with my little bear was priceless.

A silly selfie from our girls' getaway to Horseshoe Bay Resort. These are the best travel souvenirs. -- Often Charming

Occasionally, because we’ve arrived late and tired, we have had meals in our hotel rooms when we’ve traveled with Lark. She loves this.  Here she is perusing the menu for Room Service.

The little one reviews her options on the menu for Room Service. I've created a monster.  -- Often Charming

I’ve raised a child who loves resorts and room service.  I may be in serious trouble here.

We did not have room service this time.  I was smart and packed lots of snacks for the room, including some little mini muffins for just this sort of emergency.  After muffins, we went to visit the birds.

You can meet the birds and learn more about them at Whitewater, Horseshoe Bay Resort's busy activity center. -- Often Charming

There are several kinds of tropical birds at the resort, and you can meet some of them at Whitewater, the activity center.  A staff member gives a talk on the birds each morning.  Some of the birds give their own talk, as well!  Here I’m holding Gracie, a friendly cockatoo.

The birds at Horseshoe Bay Resort are friendly. Very friendly! -- Often Charming

Very friendly! She was making her way up onto my head when the resort staff stopped her.

I look like a pirate, don’t I?

More friendly parrots at Horseshoe Bay Resort. -- Often Charming

Mingo, the resort’s flamingo, was not quite awake for the morning’s bird talk, but she still looked lovely. And check out the giant African tortoise that lumbered by! Pretty neat!

Mingo the Flamingo and a giant African tortoise at Horseshoe Bay Resort! -- Often Charming

Then we got back into the pool.  The Yacht Club pool, this time.  Can you blame us?

The Yacht Club Pool at Horseshoe Bay Resort -- Often Charming

A break for ice cream…

A break for ice cream after swimming. Ah, the resort life! -- Often Charming

But most importantly: the s’mores!  Lark finally listened to me about toasting her marshmallow and squishing it between the graham crackers and chocolate.  She only ever wanted the chocolate and marshmallow separately before.

The s'mores are a hit at Horseshoe Bay Resort -- Often Charming

Yay! She loves them! Maybe Mom knows a thing or two, after all!

If you’re looking for a nice little getaway within easy each of Austin, I highly recommend Horseshoe Bay Resort.  I didn’t intend to write about this trip when we went, so the photos that I took were really just meant to capture the fun we had there for our own memories.

Girls' Getaway at Horseshoe Bay Resort -- Often Charming

Thumbs Up for the Horseshoe Bay Resort -- Often Charming

I think we’ll be back.  Hope to see you there, too. Take some time to make a few last-minute summer memories of your own before the school year starts. It’s well worth the trip!

Heather's Signature -- Often Charming

Note: This is not a sponsored post. Links provided in this post are purely meant to be helpful.

 

Pure Barre: 50th Class!

Celebrating my 50th class at Pure Barre Cedar Park -- Often Charming

That’s me, Heather P., at 48 classes on my way to 50. The instructors at Pure Barre Cedar Park, my local studio, made this fun board to track student progress on the way to this first milestone, the 50th class. (Truthfully, it could be argued that the first milestone is really just surviving your first class, and I won’t argue with that. At 50 classes, we get to sign our names on a special board, though, which seems more “official” as far as milestones go, so let’s go with that.)

I consider myself fairly non-athletic, apart from dancing, so I was both surprised and proud of myself for making it this far at barre. Lessons learned?

1.  It’s hard. There will be times when you may think you aren’t doing a very good job.  The thing to remember when you’re just getting through it is that you’re still ahead of where you’d be if you hadn’t come at all. Everyone improves at their own pace, and you’ll get better as long as you keep trying– even on days when you can’t get through thigh work without a few breaks.

2.  No one is looking at you. I’ve been trying to convince a few friends to come try a class with me, and they’ve been reluctant because they felt a bit intimidated. Trust me, barre classes are full of ladies in all shapes and sizes, of all ages and stages of life. You don’t need to feel self conscious, even though leggings may not be your usual go-to wardrobe item. Everyone in there is so focused on getting through their own workout that no one is paying attention to anyone else, let alone judging you. Don’t be shy.

3.  You will find new friends at barre. There must be some bonding force associated with mutual suffering, because I have seen an amazing network of ladies who support and encourage one another develop at my studio.  You may just be looking for stronger muscles, but you can find a lot more than that if you are open to it. Maybe that’s why Pure Barre has so many loyal devotees.

Celebrating my 50th class at Pure Barre! -- Often Charming

So, there you have it. Be brave and go try it. If I can do it, you can, too.  I promise!

Pure Barre 50th Class! Signing the Board -- Often Charming

On to the next milestone. Cheers!

Heather's Signature -- Often Charming

Pure Barre Update: Earning My Stripes

Hey, y’all! I promised to tell you how my first five weeks of Pure Barre went, and what I’ve learned since I started.  I had to take a little time away from the barre to go on a Disney cruise with my sweet family (tough life, I know) and I’m now in my 8th week of classes.

So, is it working?

Yes. Slowly but surely, yes!

I have some definition in my arms and abs that was not there before (yay!) and I’ve lost a little weight.  Just before we left for the cruise I was at Petticoat Fair in Austin trying on swimsuits and bras, and the lady fitting me remarked that she’d need to go down a band size from my previous fitting, and asked if I had lost weight! By the end of my five weeks, I had indeed lost about four pounds. I was hitting the barre 3-4 days a week, but also really watching what I was eating, too. Four pounds might not seem like much, but for me it was significant, since I’ve been stuck at the same weight for the last five years or more, regardless of what I’ve done.

Confession Time: even though I was pretty good about eating healthy during the cruise and the holidays that followed, I allowed myself some indulgences. One or two of those four pounds may have found me again.  But I’m not sweating that. They’re just visiting.

What else is different?

I’m getting stronger. To my surprise, I’m discovering that little by little, I can get better.  I am getting better! I can stay in my plank for 90 seconds without coming down to my knees.  (So, so tough, but I can do it!) I’ve earned a permanent red, rough stripe of skin on each elbow to prove it. While some might see them and say, “Ew, what happened there?”, I actually feel a bit proud of my stripes. They’re little badges of honor. I’m not quite ‘hardcore’ yet, but I’m tougher than I was when I started!

I can (almost! so close!) get through all of the standing arm exercises without stopping. I can do good push ups. They’re on my knees for now, but they’re good. Little victories.

I know that my brain is sometimes lying when it tells me that my legs can’t get through any more thigh work, and that I have to keep breathing and stay in it. It was the same when I used to run. The brain says you have to stop, but if you can ignore that and keep going, eventually you get past it and you can go further than you believed was possible.

Hey, Brain: Shut It. You're not the boss of me. -- Often Charming

The biggest change? Probably my confidence. I’m not perfect by any means, and I still have areas to improve in, but I am out there in some skinny jeans now without caring if there is something about me to criticize.  I’m working on it. We’re almost always our own worst critics, aren’t we? And how sad is that? I’m not going to do that anymore.

So, I’d call my five-week Pure Barre experiment successful. The results of my time at the barre have really been more about what I can do, rather than how I look, but I’ll let you be the judge of which is more important.  I’m happy with both for now, and hopeful that each will continue to get better. I’ve committed to a year’s membership, so time will tell.

And no, my ball has not gone shooting across the room. Yet. Time will certainly tell that story, too.

Cheers!

Heather's Signature -- Often Charming

NOTE: Petticoat Fair is the best place EVER in the history of bras to buy them. I have always HATED BRA SHOPPING WITH THE BURNING PASSION OF A THOUSAND SUNS and let me tell you, at Petticoat Fair they make it quick and easy. They fit you correctly, they bring you what you want, and you will look good, ladies.  Bras that do what you need them to, without looking industrial-strength. Pretty, lacy ones (if you’re into that). Go see.

This is not a sponsored post. All links provided in this post are purely meant to be helpful.

Personal Challenge: Pure Barre

Have I mentioned I’m an Irish dancer? Look at these amazing ladies. I’m so fortunate to dance with them!

Adult dancers from the Irish Dance Company -- Often Charming

Members of the Irish Dance Company, Austin, TX – photo by Michael Sullivan Lockett

Last year I joined our performance company, which demands a level of fitness beyond just dancing for fun. I have been running to improve my endurance for dance, which worked pretty well until I got a stress fracture in my left foot running this September. Not only did that ruin my chance of dancing with our team at the Oireachtas this December by putting me in a cast for 6 weeks, it really put me off running, which I honestly never enjoyed in the first place.

One of our company dancers recommended barre classes to me as a low-impact workout for days we don’t dance, and a few days later, when my neighbor announced she was trying out the new Pure Barre studio opening in town, I decided to join her. (That was rather uncharacteristically spontaneous of me, I admit.) They had a nice introductory offer: 5 weeks of unlimited classes for a reasonable price, and it just so happens that I had almost exactly 5 weeks before our Disney cruise to the Bahamas and a week of wearing my swimsuit in public. The stars all aligned, pointing in the direction of Pure Barre, so I went.

I was nervous. My neighbor had said, “At least you’re a dancer, you’ll know sort of what to do.”  HA. Not so much, my friends. This was not like anything I had done before. And it’s HARD. But that’s good for me, right?

I’ve been an Irish dancer for 8 years, and I’m in pretty good shape. I weigh the same now as I did before my daughter was born five years ago. I didn’t expect barre class to be easy, but after so many years of dance I’ve got some strength in my legs, which I hoped would help. We don’t use our arms much in Irish dance, so I know mine need some toning. Truthfully, everything could use a little firming up, so I’ve decided to do a little experiment: what will happen if I go as much as I can in my 5 weeks?

I went for my first class. The studio is beautiful, and the owner is lovely and kind. Here she is in the photo below.

Challenge yourself with something new: Pure Barre! -- Often Charming

Rebecca Dunn, Owner of Pure Barre Cedar Park

I bought some of the famous grippy socks when I arrived and found a spot in the back corner where I could hide. The nice lady next to me advised me to go get a tube, a ball, and a small set of weights, clearly identifying me as a clueless newbie. What followed was a brisk 55-minute lesson in wow-holy-cow-oh-my-gosh. Who would’ve thought that such tiny motions could be so hard?

Thankfully, we moved quickly from one area of the body to the next. (When you’re in your first plank, 90 seconds seems like a very long time.) Rebecca talked us through each exercise, offering encouragement and correcting our positions discreetly when needed.

I hadn’t done any yoga or pilates before, but I was able to follow along with the rest of the group and it was fun to do something new.  Fun in a sweaty, semi-painful sort of way.

At first I was worried that everyone could tell I was just praying that the ball I was trying to squeeze between my thighs wouldn’t go shooting across the room. Then I realized they were all so focused on getting through their own ball-squeezing that noticing anyone else would’ve been unlikely. No need to be self-conscious here. Almost everyone was struggling along at some point during the class.

The mental focus required for Pure Barre is one of the best things about it, as it turns out. You have no chance to worry about anything but what you’re doing at that moment, and breathing. The rest of the world waits for you to come out of the studio when your workout is done.

Reward yourself with some cute (and functional!) workout gear at Pure Barre -- Often Charming

A little retail motivation to keep working at the barre! Cute and functional!

I felt so good for the rest of the day after that class, tired but relaxed. I loved that it was low-impact, giving my foot no trouble. And unlike running, I was not left red-faced and exhausted by my efforts. I went four days out of five the next week, and by then I felt encouraged to keep challenging myself.

It’s too early to tell if Pure Barre is changing my body, but I like it and it’s helped me commit to stepping up my game, which has to be a good thing. I hope I’m getting stronger, and that my efforts will pay off in some tangible way. I’ll let you know where I am at the end of my five weeks, and whether or not my ball has gone shooting across the room.

Fingers crossed.

Cheers!

Heather's Signature -- Often Charming

Note: This is not a sponsored post. Links provided in this post are purely meant to be helpful. Special thanks to Rebecca Dunn at Pure Barre Cedar Park for her permission to share photos.

Road Trip: Canton Trade Days

Postcard from Canton, TX Trade Days

London. Paris. Rome. Canton, TX.

What was that? One of these things is not like the others? True. But just because it isn’t a far-flung, exotic destination doesn’t mean it ain’t worth the trip, y’all.

Wow. Did I really just say that? Hang on, let me just tuck my Texas back in…there we go.

We who live in the real world can’t always take off for the glamorous cities of Europe. Time and budgets constrain us to stay closer to home most of the time. But hey: travel is travel and getting away for a fun weekend once in a while is definitely on my To Do list. So, off to Canton we go.

Why Canton? Because of First Monday Trade Days, that’s why! Imagine: acres of shopping, with everything from home decor to craft supplies, antiques, clothes, jewelry, holiday decorations, repurposed/upcycled vintage material, old architectural salvage, you name it! You never know quite what you’re going to find. And they do it every month!

Vintage chenille bedspreads make beautiful stuffed animals and pillows at Canton Trade Days. -- Often Charming

Vintage chenille bedspreads make beautiful stuffed animals and pillows in this vendor’s sweet shop.

This shop is full of vintage and reproduction fabrics and crafts made from them. It’s wonderful to see these beautiful things get a new lease on life.

Vintage Halloween display at Canton Trade Days -- Often Charming

These stuffed pumpkins are also made of vintage chenille fabrics, something this vendor specializes in.

Who likes china? Here’s my favorite:

Spode Woodland China display at Canton Trade Days.  Just gorgeous! -- Often Charming

Spode Woodland china features game birds, wildlife and hunting dogs surrounded by a floral border which has been in production since 1831.

Danna’s Home Decor, located in Arbor Boardwalk 1, has the most beautiful displays of china you will see at Trade Days. This is where I first saw the Spode Woodland pattern and every time we go to Canton, I pop in to pick up a piece or two. Lucky for me, she often has them on sale. This stuff is absolutely gorgeous, and it makes me laugh just a tiny bit. English china with golden retrievers on it? Yes! You should see my platter featuring the Atlantic Salmon. He’s one handsome devil.

Spode Woodland China at Canton Trade Days -- Often Charming

This is a big shop for a single Trade Days vendor, occupying not one but two spaces, and it is jam packed with fantastic china, as well as beautiful accessories and ornaments for your home. They have several lovely chandeliers at the far end of the shop. You will almost certainly find something there that you can’t leave without. Ms. Cindy and the rest of the ladies running the place are absolutely the sweetest and if you can’t fit all of your gorgeous china purchases in your wheelie bag, they’ll hold them for you until the end of the day. Go see them and tell ‘em I said hi.

My friend Traci and I go to Trade Days a few times a year. It’s really fun to see what the trends are: one trip it was great big monograms on everything, another time deco mesh wreaths and garlands were all over the place. It’s always fun to go before the holidays, too. Not only will you find super cute decorations and fun gift items, but you can just feast your eyes on the beautiful vendor booths and displays, and get some inspiration for things you can do yourself, if you’re the crafty type.

And I AM.

Now, the October Trade Days are not to be missed, because you get all of the awesome seasonal Fall stuff, as well as a good amount of Christmas stuff. The weather is generally pretty nice, too.

Vintage was the big trend for Halloween items. We saw a TON of retro/vintage-style Halloween decorations. Several vendors had baseball ringer t-shirts with vintage Halloween images screen printed on them, too. One of the best things about the vintage trend is that it brings back the excitement of Halloween you felt as a kid. Remember how much you looked forward to wearing your costume and going to parties or trick-or-treating? I LOVED Halloween as a kid, and these old-school decos are sweetly spooky.

Halloween decorations have gone vintage this year at Canton Trade Days. I love this trend! -- Often Charming

Vintage themes add charm and nostalgia to Halloween decorations this season.

Some vendor displays will just knock your socks off, like this one. No matter the season, their shop is just gorgeous.

Holiday and home decor finds abound at Canton Trade Days. Ready to go yet? -- Often Charming

This vendor’s shop, in Pavilion II, is one of the most beautiful at Canton Trade Days.

We found plenty of Halloween craft supplies and decorations outdoors, between the Arbors buildings and the antiques. If you are a fan of deco mesh wreaths and beautiful, sparkly stuff in general, this shop is a must.

Halloween decos at Canton Trade Days -- Often Charming

How adorable are these witch legs? We saw them sticking out of pumpkins and Halloween wreaths. So cute.

Tons of Halloween decos and craft supplies at Canton Trade Days -- Often Charming

Picks with sparkly witch hats, bats and ghosts just waiting to embellish a Halloween project. Everything you might want for a wreath is right here in one shop.

In Arbor Walk III, we found a new shop called Twinkles, which has the most fabulous hats you will find anywhere. Ms. Linda, the owner and creator of these fantastic creations, is just the nicest little lady. Traci and I had SO much fun in this shop, trying things on.

Twinkles Halloween Hats and Masks at Canton Trade Days -- Often Charming

Spectacular holiday hats and more await you at Twinkles, in Arbor Walk III.

If a full-sized witch hat is too much for you, go with a smaller version on a headband.

Halloween Headbands at Twinkles in Arbor Walk III, Canton Trade Days -- Often Charming

I bought the one on the left, with the silver sparkly spider and maribou feathers. I feel like the Princess of Halloween in it.

Fancy holiday fascinators abound at Twinkles shop in Arbor Walk III, Canton Trade Days -- Often Charming

Thanks, Twinkles!

Traci bought a headband topped with a sparkly haunted house, which actually lights up inside. It is beyond fabulous.

This haunted house fascinator from Twinkles was worth the trip to Canton all by itself! Canton Trade Days -- Often Charming

Speaking of fabulous, let’s just have a look at some of the spectacular Christmas displays we saw at Trade Days.

Winter white Christmas display at Canton Trade Days -- Often Charming

Look at all that wintry white fabulousness, so snowy and sparkly. This was in the shop with all the witch legs and cool wreath-making stuff. So was this:

Trimming your tree with gorgeous seasonal ribbon is definitely on trend this holiday. -- Often Charming

There’s a tree somewhere under all of that red and white cheer. I think.

One of the big trends I noticed at Trade Days and have seen in almost all of this year’s holiday catalogs is wide ribbon looped in among the ornaments on Christmas trees. It’s like a big ribbon garland. Two- and three-inch wide ribbon with holiday sentiments are especially popular. My favorite is the chalkboard-style ribbon done this way.  I was really tempted to bring some home from Trade Days, but I worried that the black would overwhelm our tree’s silver-and-gold palette. It was really cool, though.

We're loving this festive combination of plaid with ribbon in non-traditional grey and black stripes this Christmas -- Often Charming

We also loved this mix of traditional Christmas plaid ribbon with this grey and black, almost Addams family-style stripe! This is so much fun! Add this eclectic combination of old-fashioned and modern to the stag head silhouettes we’re seeing on everything lately, and there is definitely a playful, rustic trend happening in holiday decor this year.  There were a lot of stag heads at Trade Days this trip. A LOT.

There were also a lot of the time-honored, traditional symbols of the season, of course. We saw a ton of adorable snowmen in lots of different materials. Here’s a whole tree devoted to them.

Christmas display at Canton Trade Days -- Often Charming

Now, those people who said that ‘getting there is half the fun’ weren’t talking about Canton, let me tell you. It’s a long, boring stretch of nothing* on I35 from Austin to the turnoff for Trade Days. That’s why you’ve got to take a friend.

*The exception to this is the very lovely Collin Street Bakery, which is really a mandatory stop if you are anywhere near it.  Stop there for lunch and get a lemonade and a freshly made deli sandwich. The staff is incredibly nice and friendly. Then, before you go forth up I35, make your way on over to their great big pastry case full of BEAUTIFUL, DELICIOUS COOKIES, CAKES, BROWNIES AND PASTRIES. You can’t go wrong no matter what you choose. Trust me.

There’s so much more I could tell you about Trade Days, but this post has been long enough and you really need to see it for yourself. Not only are you sure to find some great things, you will meet some lovely people. Half the fun we have every time we go comes from the encounters we have with vendors and other shoppers. There are certain vendors we make a point of visiting each time we go, and you know what? They remember us!

So, ready to head for Canton yet? I’ll see you there in the Spring.

Cheers!

Heather's Signature -- Often Charming

 

How to Decorate a Wickedly Beautiful Halloween Mantel

Tips for decorating a wickedly beautiful mantel for Halloween -- Often Charming

Pumpkins, black cats, witches and ghosts…combine the fun of a little scare with all the crisp, colorful delights of Fall, and Halloween is the perfect time to start getting festive around the house.

Fall is my absolute favorite season, so when September rolls around we try to help usher the hot Texas summer out by hanging garlands of golden leaves and piling up fat pumpkins. I hang our Fall wreath on the door hoping that will somehow bring the cool weather here a little faster. I know it seems silly, but after weeks and weeks of hundred-degree days, we are ready for the changing of the leaves and all of the fun that signifies the start of the holiday season.

The fireplace mantel is the centerpiece of our living room, and decorating it really sets the tone for the holidays in our home. I like to use a few unexpected, non-traditional items when decorating the mantel for Halloween.  It keeps things affordable and gives you a unique and beautiful result.

Here is our mantel from last year.

Tips for creating a sparkling, spooky Halloween mantle -- Often Charming

I had a simple formula for this mantel: Color, Texture, Shine. Yes, I stuck to the well-known rule of arranging everything into a kind of triangle with the peak in the center, as well, but the most important thing to remember for beautiful spookiness is: Color, Texture, Shine.

Color, texture, and shine create a sparkling, spooky Halloween mantle -- Often Charming

Color: Pumpkins, leaves, books, strips of tulle, artwork/frame

Texture: Cheesecloth, tulle strips, leaves, raven feathers

Shine: Mirror, mercury glass, candelabra, vase, stars on tulle, foil on books

Pumpkins are mandatory. (This one is ceramic and I bought it at Hobby Lobby several years ago. It comes out every Halloween.) I like the Fall leaves for the color they add, running the length of the mantel and anchoring either end in silver vases (more shine!). The ratty, ripped cheesecloth is classic Halloween, adding fun texture and creepiness. The mirror, mercury glass owl, candelabra and black tulle really bring the magic; their sparkle attracts your eye and offsets all of the dark elements.

Confession: The tulle strips are actually fabric scraps I had leftover from a tutu I made for a friend’s daughter! They get bonus points here because they add color, texture AND shine. The metallic gold stars on the black background are just a bit witchy in combination with the rest of the mantel. The tarnished candelabra gives height to the arrangement and offers the perfect perch for a faux raven. Real and fake books do double duty by raising up smaller objects while encouraging you to come a just little closer, dearie, to have a better look.

The artwork in the center is one of my favorite pieces; it was a free printable! I put it in a black frame I had lying around, removed the glass and called it good.

Nothing I used is too perfect. In fact, some of these things are a bit battered and rough, and that is actually preferable! That poor raven has been in my box of Halloween stuff for YEARS. His feathers are scraggly and he only has one eye. Perfect. Ditto the candelabra. It’s all tarnished and nasty. Excellent! I like it with no candles, but black ones would be fun, too.

Cast your spell for a wickedly beautiful Halloween mantle with three magic ingredients: Color, Texture, and Shine -- Often CharmingThe mirror and the owl live on our mantel all year long, but they take on a decidedly dark quality thanks to the cheesecloth draped over them. That cheesecloth has seen a lot of Halloweens at our house, too. Buy a package at your local grocery store, cut holes in it with your scissors, rip and pull and wrinkle it up until it’s marvelously mummy-like. It’s easy and fun! The kids will have a ball helping you out.

The Magic and Poison “books” are actually storage boxes I picked up at Michael’s last year. The gilded one leaning against the artwork reads, “Paris” on the spine, but it went along with the rest perfectly and cost less than $1 so I put it in, too.

Paris can be spooky, right? It’s quite haunted, isn’t it? Sure!

The black leather volume of Edgar Allen Poe is real, and ridiculously right for this arrangement. I’ve had it forever. In it goes.

Draping the tulle and cheesecloth haphazardly and putting the books at odd angles adds more interest and ups the creepy factor.

Scrounge around in your craft supplies, garages, bookshelves, china cabinets and sewing boxes for would-be decorations. You might be surprised at what you can use, and the price is certainly right!

Then you have more money for candy.

Set a spooky and spectacular tone in your home by mixing it up on your mantlepiece -- Often CharmingHappy Haunting.

Cheers!

 

Heather's Signature -- Often Charming

 

DIY Monogrammed Onesies

DIY Monogrammed Onesies -- Often Charming

I have a very stylish friend whose darling little boy has just celebrated his first birthday. Because he’s such a fashionable little guy, I thought he needed something a bit fancier than your average, everyday baby wear. I found these very cute nautical onesies at Carter’s and I knew just what to do with them.

Is it pretentious for a one-year-old to wear his monogram? No. He’s a little gentleman and he can do what he wants. Well, whatever his mama wants. And she’s a monogram kind of girl. So there you are.

I made these monograms using my Cricut Explore out of iron-on vinyl. I like to get my vinyl from Expressions Vinyl, because they have a huge selection of colors in several different sizes. They have outdoor vinyl, iron-on vinyl, regular adhesive vinyl, glitter vinyl…so much crafty vinyl goodness.  I have gotten iron-on vinyl from my local craft stores, too, but they don’t have as many colors to choose from, and they make you buy a whole big roll of the stuff, which can get pricey. Yay, Expressions Vinyl!

I’m sure you could do this project with other kinds of craft cutters, but I have a Cricut and that’s what I know. Here’s my shameless plug for the Cricut: I have the Cricut Explore, which lets you use your own fonts and images you’ve designed (like monograms), and that gives you the ability to make whatever you want! I LOVE THIS THING. There. I think every mom should have one.

Now, there are lots of ways to design your own monogram. For this project, I followed this tutorial from With Glittering Eyes. It was SO easy. There are several styles to choose from, including the circle style and the anchor I chose. It’s really a lot of fun to play with. Try it!

Since onesies are pretty small, I decided to make the monograms no bigger than 4″. The anchor is about 4″ by 3.25″, the circle monogram is 3.75″ by 3.5″. You decide what looks good to you, based on the size of the shirt you’re personalizing. It can help to cut a paper sample out first and lay it on the shirt, to get an idea of what the finished monogram will look like. That can save you from wasting your vinyl if you aren’t happy with the size or color the first time around.

I went with navy blue and white vinyl, sticking with the nautical theme.  The tutorial walks you through the details, but the basic steps are:

Make your own iron-on monograms in just a few easy steps with the Cricut Explore -- Often Charming

  1. Designing the monogram (either directly in the Cricut Design Space, or by uploading a completed design from another program).
  2. Setting your machine to cut correctly. DO NOT forget to tick the box for Mirror Image for Iron-on! Then turn your little dial to Iron-on.
  3. Make sure you put the shiny backing of the vinyl down on the Cricut mat. The iron-on setting will cut through the top (vinyl) layer of the material, leaving the shiny backing intact for you to use when ironing on the design.
  4. Weed out the excess vinyl carefully. Be sure to get any little bits in the “windows” of your design. Refer back to the original design if you need a guide. It can be tough to see them all if your design is small, or if you’re using glitter iron-on.
  5. Position the design on your shirt and iron it on! Easy!

I made a few button-down shirts this way for the birthday boy, too. A guy likes to have options, right? I just sized the monograms down to fit the space for these.

Personalized shirts and rompers are easy  to make and fun to give. -- Often Charming

The plaid one is actually a romper. I was really tempted to put a little anchor on the tush, but I resisted. Your call on that.

You can use these steps to put designs on other things, too. Once you see how easy it is, you’ll be monogramming everything. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Cheers!

Heather's Signature -- Often Charming

 

Note: This is not a sponsored post. Links provided in this post are purely meant to be helpful. I promise, Cricut has no idea who I am or what I do in my craft room.

Victoria Sponge

Victoria Sponge is such a simple cake, it's easy and fun to make with your kids. -- Often Charming

My little baker’s very first Victoria Sponge.

This recipe is so simple, it’s great to make with little ones who want to help in the kitchen. You’ll see evidence of this in my photos for this post.

Named in honor of Queen Victoria, who reigned from 1837 until 1901, this cake has been popular for many, many years. As a result, there are many recipes for Victoria Sponge out there. Most call for 8 oz self-rising flour, 8 oz caster sugar and 8 oz butter, but there are several with subtle variations regarding the use of baking powder or milk. I use this one from the BBC, which is very straight-forward and has given me good results. I’ve served it to English and Irish friends, who have assured me it tasted authentic, so I can’t ask for more than that!

The main ingredients in a simple Victoria Sponge cake: self-raising flour, caster sugar, butter, eggs, and vanilla. The recipe for this traditional, English cake is simple enough to bake with the help of little ones in the kitchen. -- Often Charming

This is a very simple sponge cake most traditionally paired with whipped cream and either strawberry or raspberry jam. The top is left plain, or given a dusting of confectioner’s sugar.

If you grew up with a mum or gran who made this for you, you will no doubt prefer it her way. If you didn’t, experiment to find your own favorite flavor combo and then start a tradition of serving it to your own family, those lucky ducks.

Prepping the pans is really important for this particular cake. Be generous when buttering the pans, going all the way up the sides to the top.

Butter your pans well when baking Victoria Sponge, to prevent your cake from sticking. -- Often Charming

Trace around the bottom of your pan onto some parchment paper, then cut out the circle you’ve made. If you cut just inside your pencil line, you will have a circle of parchment paper the perfect size for lining the bottom of your pan, and no worries about pencil on your cake. Butter the pan and the paper when lining the bottom. Be sure to butter the sides of the pan well, all the way up to the top, because these cakes rise up like you won’t believe!

Even little bakers can help make this simple sponge cake. -- Often Charming

Making the batter is as simple as creaming the butter and sugar together, adding the eggs and vanilla, folding in the flour and adding a little milk. This is a great recipe for getting your little ones to love baking. The batter is quick to make and the cake is delicious all by itself.

But why stop there??

I love to make this with raspberry jam, as you can see.

Victoria Sponge with whipped cream and raspberry jam.  Sometimes the simplest things are the best. -- Often Charming

One more reason to love Victoria Sponge: this cake freezes really well. If the cake above looks too decadent, try a smaller version:  bake two layers, split one in half and fill it, and freeze the other layer for later.

And look! You can make miniature cakes for tea, or sharing with friends. Or just eating casually without guilt or restraint. I won’t tell. So cute and and so tasty.

Miniature Victoria Sponge cakes are perfect for tea time, or any time! -- Often Charming

The berries were so beautiful at the store here that I had to do a little berry-and-lemon-curd variation this time, foregoing my usual jam-and-cream treatment. It was still incredibly yummy, if less traditional.

A variation on traditional Victoria Sponge featuring fresh seasonal berries and lovely lemon curd -- Often Charming

Now, a note about butter: I have made this cake A LOT, and I have always used regular old store brand, unsalted butter with good results. I had recently served afternoon tea for an Irish friend and I thought it would be nice to have Kerrygold butter for her, so I had a bit left hanging out in my freezer. I thought it would be interesting to try out the Kerrygold in this cake, just to see.

Oh my. The difference was nothing short of amazing! The cake made with Kerrygold was so much moister, softer, and richer. I was astounded! It was so good, I plan to use Kerrygold from here on out. If you can get Kerrygold in your local store, it’s worth trying. If not, use your usual butter and your cake will still be delicious.

I love things that have a bit of history to them, and this cake certainly does. History stuffed with jam and cream. Delightful. Bake one and see.

Cheers!

Heather's Signature -- Often Charming

 

Note: This is not a sponsored post. Links provided in this post are purely meant to be helpful. I promise, Kerrygold has no idea who I am or what I do in my kitchen.

Please Excuse the Mess – Free Printable

Here’s me poking a bit of fun at myself.  I try to keep the house looking presentable, but it’s a constant battle with a little one around and I’m often on the losing end of it. I have yet to find a system or schedule that allows me to stay on top of everything in “just minutes a day”, no matter what Pinterest says.  I’ll keep looking. Until then, I’ll post this little bit of art and stop apologizing to everyone who comes over. You can, too.

Free Printable! Please Excuse the Mess -- Often Charming

CLICK TO GET THE PRINTABLE

It’s easy enough to make your own typography art, if you have something personal you’d like to express.  You can certainly do this in Photoshop or some other more sophisticated design program, if you prefer.  I kept it simple and did mine using PicMonkey. I love PicMonkey. Love, love, love them.

Enjoy the printable. Now go clean something.

Just kidding.

Cheers!

Heather's Signature -- Often Charming

 

Note: This is not a sponsored post. Links provided in this post are purely meant to be helpful.

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