Home and Hearth

Decorating for the Holidays

Shadra Bruce

To be honest, I’m not much of an interior designer. My furniture would stay in the same place forever if we weren’t making room for extra people. But this time of year, it’s fun to bring a little holiday spirit into every room, and even I get into the spirit. Try these ideas –

Light Up Your Home with Candles

christmas candlesCandles are one of the easiest ways to make your home cozier for the holidays. While scented candles are ideal for use in bathrooms and guest rooms, unscented candles should be used in kitchen and dining areas so that they don’t compete with the delicious smells of food. Create the perfect look by grouping several candles together, or create an eye-catching centerpiece with a large, multi-wick candle on a mirrored plate or tray.

Chase Away Chills with Throw Blankets

cozy blanketsBlankets and throws in rich colors and soft, inviting fabrics are essential accessories for this time of year. From burgundy to forest green, from velvet to flannel, you can create a welcoming and warm space with these simple additions of color and texture. Flannel or fleece sheets on the guest room bed can be a welcome touch, too.

Go Top Shelf

 If you do not have a bar cart, this is certainly the time of year to add one to your entry way or living room. A bar cart welcomes everyone with an always-ready-to-entertain style. Use cut crystal decanters and offer a variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic options for guests to help themselves. Decorate with live fruit and sprigs of mint. Don’t forget to put out fresh ice when guests arrive. Chris Bowman and Benjamin Harrison of Let’s Drink About It provided HuffPost a fabulous guide to the well-stocked bar cart.

Dress Up the Guest Room

guest roomIf your guest room has become your craft space, workout space, or additional storage, now is a great time to create a welcoming space for holiday guests. While a comfortable mattress and luxury bedding should be standard for any guest room, it’s the details that make all the difference. To make your guests feel like they are in a home away from home, provide a sitting area with a comfortable chair and throw blanket. Leave a card on the nightstand with your Wi-Fi username and password. Consider a mini fridge stocked with bottled water and juice. Provide towels, washcloths, shampoo and soap in a basket with a candle.

Christmas Up the Fireplace Mantle

christmas fireplace mantleNo home’s holiday look is complete without the right décor for the holiday mantel. Fresh pine branches, red ribbons, cinnamon scented pine cones, and stockings hung with care create a Rockwell scene straight from the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. You can also use the mantel to carry your holiday color scheme through the home by placing extra ornaments in glass jars on the mantel and decorating with garlands or ribbons in complementary colors. Lights, candles, miniature trees, or an all-white winter wonderland can also create a cozy, holiday feeling.

Let's Talk Parenting

Teaching Kids about Different Holiday Traditions

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

This time of year, parents have an opportunity to help their kids understand other cultures by teaching them of the other celebrations that happen outside of their own believe system. There are three major December religious celebrations:


Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights and Feast of Dedication, is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the unlikely victory of a small group of Jewish soldiers, the Maccabees, over powerful Greeks, who were in control of Jerusalem more than 2,200 years ago. The holiday is sometimes referred to as Chanukkah.

  • Hanukkah Menorah or Hanukkiah: A candelabra that holds eight symbolic candles and a ninth for lighting the eight. It is lit each of the eight nights of Hanukkah to commemorate the lamp in the reclaimed Temple, which burned for eight nights despite having just enough oil for one.
  • Dreydl: A four-sided spinning top. When the Jews weren’t permitted to teach their religion to their children, they held lessons outside but pretended to be playing with a top. Today, playing dreidel is a traditional activity for Jewish children during Hanukkah.
  • Latkes: Potato pancakes fried in oil. Eating latkes topped with everything from applesauce to sour cream is a delicious tradition that represents the oil that lit the lamp in the Temple.


Kwanzaa is a week-long celebration held December 26 – January 1 in the United States, Canada and the Western African Diaspora to honor  African heritage. The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa are unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. The symbols of the Kwanzaa celebration relate to these principles.

  • Mishumaa Saba: Seven candles, each one representing one of the seven principles, are lit during the seven days of Kwanzaa.
  • Kinara: The candle holder symbolizes African roots
  • Mkeka: An African mat, which symbolizes tradition and history
  • Mazao: Crops represent productive and collective labor
  • Muhindi: The corn stands for children and the future
  • Kikombe cha Umoja: The unity cup, a symbol of the foundational principle and practice of unity
  • Zawadi: Gifts, which are given to children and must include a book and a heritage symbol


Christmas, which marks the birth of Jesus, is celebrated by Christians around the world. Traditions for celebrating Christmas vary:

  • In Spain, kids receive most of their presents on Epiphany, which falls on January 6. They write letters to the Kings and leave out shoes for the Kings to fill with gifts.
  • In Australia, Santa Claus sometimes arrives by surfboard, since Christmas time is in the middle of summer.
  • Instead of leaving milk and cookies for Santa, kids in Syria leave hay and water for one of the camels that delivered the three Wise Men to Bethlehem.
Making Memories

The (Dreaded) Christmas Newsletter

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

I admit it. When the trend of sending out the annual family newsletter accompanied the invention of the deskjet printer, I was pretty disheartened. The holidays, which had already become a bit impersonal, took a giant step toward becoming … gasp … corporate.

As a corporate refugee, anything that comes to me looking like it was created for mass delivery to many different people was suspect.

I wrote personal, handwritten, greetings to each of the 45 families on my Christmas card mailing list. I asked personal questions and tried to connect with each one in a meaningful way.

I did not have kids.

In other words, I had a LOT of time around the holidays to sit and write sweet handwritten greetings to the whole world. And, the letters were probably filled with self-serving diatribe about my latest accomplishments.


(It’s ok if you puke now at my holier-than-thou attitude about the world. I was in my 20s. It was a common ailment among us gen-xers at the time).

Fast forward (ouch) almost 20 years, with five kids, advances in technology, and the distance between me and the people I would love to spend the holidays with, and I’m now a huge fan of the annual newsletter – both sending and receiving.

I love the “year in review” moments to catch up with my loved ones, and appreciate that my computer allows me to say more than my carpal-tunnel suffering hands would allow were I to still write by hand.

To keep it interesting, we include a corny holiday poem each year. My friend Crystal does a top-notch holiday newsletter, though, with wine and book recommendations that make it a delightful read.

So, here’s to the annual newsletter and the true purpose behind it: to stay connected in a world in which doing so has both become easier to do on the surface and harder to keep personal.


Sweet Memories

MomPower Contributor Wanda Morrissey

I’m sitting here at my computer enjoying one of my favorite Christmas traditions, Chicken Bones. Not actual chicken bones but the candy. That pink cinnamon shell and semi-sweet chocolate centre is an irresistible combination that always brings back a flood of happy holiday memories.

Every year my family would gather at my grandparent’s home for Christmas supper and every year my grandmother would have a bowl of Chicken Bones sitting in the middle of the coffee table. I always made a bee-line straight for those candies and, while everyone else snacked on the chocolates, my grandmother and I had the Chicken Bones all to ourselves. I would happily enjoy one Chicken Bone after another until my tongue was raw and an unnatural pink color. And as I enjoyed my candy I also enjoyed all the Christmas sights and sounds around me: the smell of the wood stove and the meal cooking on it (even thought she had an electric stove, my grandmother always cooked on a large wood stove) and the house was so cozy and warm because of that wood stove: my parents chatting with my aunts and uncles, comparing notes with my cousins to see who got the best gifts while Christmas carols played in the background. Despite warnings that too much candy would ruin my appetite, it never happened. No matter how many candies I ate, there was always room for the feast my grandmother prepared.

Sadly, I lost my grandmother on New Year’s Eve 2002. We no longer have the large family gathering, we’ve all grown up and gone our own way, but each year I buy Chicken Bones and as I sit enjoying them I’m magically transported to a bygone Christmas family gathering.

Creating Balance

Holiday Blues

For some strange reason, this has been a very difficult holiday season for me so far. I have felt very homesick, missing my mom, missing my sisters, missing Idaho where I used to live, and missing my good friends back home. I suppose it is probably because we are not going anywhere and we are going to be on our own for the holidays. I have tried to be satisfied with that, and on many levels I am so thankful to have my wonderful husband and my children with me for both holidays this year, but it is not the kind of quiet holiday that I am used to spending. If only the weather were better and we could go to my awesome mom and dad-in-laws for Thanksgiving. But it is just not in the cards this year thanks to Blizzard 2010.

The holidays as I was growing up were always full of family. There were always lots of people around and so I guess that is part of what I am feeling. I feel the void of all the hustle and bustle of what the holidays used to be. My mom and I always went shopping on black Friday and then my dad would meet up with us and take us out to lunch. I miss having lots of family around for meals and visiting with everyone. My mom’s house was always full of people and lots of love.

So to help combat my holiday blues I have decided that it is time to reinvent the holidays that just include my immediate family. We have all kinds of great food to enjoy. We have decided to have a movie marathon with all the kids’ favorite snacks and snuggle up and stay warm! I think I might just join my sister and get the tree up quick this year for Christmas. There is nothing like some good Christmas decorations and Christmas movies to remind everyone of the reason for the season!


Blending Traditions

The holidays are coming, sooner than later at this point. We start thinking about Christmas shopping around the time the fireworks stop exploding. It’s the only way to budget with five kids. Holidays can be a wonderful time of year, but for blended families, they can also be a time of stress and confusion for step children. It’s difficult to hold on to everyone’s special traditions while still building new ones with the new family unit, but it is definitely important to try.

When I was growing up, my family always opened presents on Christmas Eve. It started with my great-grandmother when she was a child and continued down through the generations. Each year, the kids would anxiously wait until it was dark enough to go out looking for Santa with an older relative.  Each year they searched for Santa’s sleigh or in later generations, Rudolph’s red nose lighting up the sky.  By the time they came home from searching, Santa had made his stop at the house and the festivities would begin. We never did stockings or left cookies out for Santa before going to bed.

When I first began dating Dave, his kids had been raised with the more typical Christmas morning fun. They put out cookies and carrots for Santa and his reindeer, and they hung stockings on the mantle. Because it was important to us that the kids have as much of their childhood remain intact as possible, I learned about their traditions and joined in the fun.

At the same time, I did not want to give up everything from my childhood traditions, and we knew we would face challenges when our additional children were born. We kept the early Christmas morning fun and stockings, but added a nighttime drive the night before, looking at Christmas lights and keeping our eyes open in case we were able to catch Santa out and about.

Dave and his kids had always picked out a live tree every year that they decorated with a decade’s worth of Hallmark collected ornaments; I always put up a white tree filled with precious Victorian style ornaments. Rather than worry about whose tradition would be protected, we moved the furniture around and did both trees.

Over time, the holidays became ours. Some were shared with other family; sometimes we were all alone in a strange city and had just the seven of us. Once, Derek was home only until the day before Christmas – on a special transport from Iraq – so we adjusted everything to celebrate with him before he returned to the war.

These days, we start prepping for the holidays early. We now put up four trees, with everyone helping. In the last couple of years, we also have strayed away from the traditional holiday meal and have lasagna and garlic bread, and the whole family goes to a movie together. This year, we’ll be celebrating the holidays in a new house and a different town; it may also be the first year we celebrate without Derek, who is stationed in Japan.

As our kids get older, get married, and have children, I imagine that our traditions will again require incorporating another family’s ideas of the holiday. We’ve learned, though, that starting new traditions together only strengthens our bond, and we greet new ideas with enthusiasm and welcome.

Get Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle.

Crafts with Kids

Spring into Spring with a Easy to Make Wreaths

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

If you’re one of those people who have a hard time putting away all the Christmas decorations because it’s so much fun to have the color and delight of the season, let Spring give you a new reason to decorate!

Go ahead and pack up the green and red … this spring project is all pastels. It’s so simple even your toddlers can help you, and it won’t cost much at all. To start, cut a piece of cardboard (a leftover Christmas box will work) into large circles. Cut a center circle out to form a wreath. Don’t worry if it’s not perfectly round.

Spring Wreath

Paint the cardboard any pastel color and let it dry (moms can do this part ahead of time if little ones will be helping assemble the wreaths). Using foam cutouts of flowers or, my favorite, silk flowers from an old arrangement, begin gluing your decorations around the cardboard. Make one layer, then begin again and make additional layers until you achieve the effect you’d like. Allow to dry.

Use a ribbon to make a hanger for your wreath. You can either tie the ribbon around the top of the wreath or punch a hole in the top and thread the ribbon through. Tie the ribbon in a loop and knot to make a hanger.

These wreaths are simple and quick enough to make many in one sitting. Give them out to friends and family; give them to your children’s teachers. You can even let your kids hang one in their bedroom! This project can be adapted to the major holidays: Valentines Day (replace the flowers with hearts), St. Patrick’s Day (replace the flowers with Shamrocks), Easter (replace the flowers with bunnies) … you get the idea.

The point is to have fun, give your kids something creative to do, and give your front door a fresh and welcoming look for Spring.