Holiday 2018 Wrap Up!

The Lutz living room all dressed up for the holidays.  Majestic Blue Spruce  tree,  Classic Fraser Fir garland and wreath . Photography by Rachel Cuthbert Photography

The Lutz living room all dressed up for the holidays. Majestic Blue Spruce tree, Classic Fraser Fir garland and wreath. Photography by Rachel Cuthbert Photography

I’ve been decking all sorts of halls this year… Here are a few of my favorites!

This year I opted for a more narrow tree in my living room, the Majestic Blue Spruce decorated with mercury glass and gold ornaments and topped with gold and velvet green ribbon from Hobby Lobby. For the our fireplace and door, I used the Classic Fraser Fir garland and wreath from Tree Classics—both are battery operated—and honestly, I’ve had them up for over a month and haven’t had to change the batteries.

Next, is my friend and photographer, Rachel’ Cuthbert’s, Christmas tree. Her newly renovated family room has vaulted ceilings which is perfect for a 9 foot tree. We chose a Deluxe Noble Fir—this is one of my favorites with full green, down swept branches. I have used the 7.5’ version of this tree the last few Christmases and love it. I pulled in Tree Classics Woodland Collection, letter ornaments for each member of the Cuthbert family that I found in the Target Dollar bins (I often find some great buys there), berry picks from Tree Classics to add a bit of color and texture. I also like using berry picks for tree toppers as well. We finished it off with bulky yarn that we turned into garland. I found super thick arm knitting yarn at Hobby Lobby and twisted it into garland—it reminds me of a cozy sweater!

Finally, in our family room, I decorated a Flocked Alpine Spruce. Because of the wood paneling in this room, I like to brighten the space and the flocked tree both brightens and adds to a woodsy feel to the room. I also used the new Woodland Ornament collection and red berry picks for this tree. I pulled in gingham wired ribbon from Michaels and topped it with a bow. I love seeing Rachel’s tree and our family room tree next to each other. We both used the Woodland ornaments, but look completely different because the trees and the garland vs. the ribbon. Let me know your favorite!

A few tips from the tree decorating trade:

  1. If you are using an artificial tree, take time to fluff the branches. I know it’s time consuming, but it makes such a difference. Especially towards the back of the tree, branches should be fluffed like a peacock feather. This creates a fuller tree and conceals the trunk.

  2. If you decide to use ribbon, wire the ribbon in first. Here’s a link to a step by step video for adding ribbon to trees.

  3. Vary ornament sizes. I try to decorate with 3 sizes—small, medium, and large. Large ornaments add that wow factor to the tree so don’t be afraid to use them. In fact, put them on after you add ribbon to the tree. Step back from the tree and visually break it into six sections. Place the larger ornaments accordingly, then add medium ornaments and finally smaller ornaments.

  4. Layer detail onto the tree—tree picks—such as the berries I used in Rachel’s tree and my flocked tree, gold leaf picks that I used in my living room tree, etc…, a tree topper, garland, ribbon, and a finally a tree skirts.

  5. Finally, I am often asked, how do you create a cohesive, styled tree if you’re using a variety of mismatched ornaments? My suggestion: pick at least 3 things to tie everything together—a tree topper, garland or ribbon, and a tree skirt, then you can pull in all of your family favorites and heirloom ornaments. Finishing off with coordinating wrapping paper for gifts is another simple way to create a tree that looks and feels coordinated.

That’s it for holiday decor 2018! Would love to hear what’s your favorite of the three trees, and if you have any holiday decorating tips or questions. Wishing you the merriest of Christmases!

Stocking Stuffers, Friendly Fare, & Tokens for Teachers

Festive, affordable candles & holiday tea towels from H&M home make a great hostess or teacher gift.

Festive, affordable candles & holiday tea towels from H&M home make a great hostess or teacher gift.

It’s officially the last week of school before break and 8 more sleeps until Christmas day! With this in mind,  I thought I would share some of my favorite go to’s for teacher, hostess & friends holiday gifts.

Handmade gifts: 

Homemade sweet treats & chocolates for gifting. Cherry walnut biscotti, almond biscotti, truffles, and dark chocolate cookies, tied with a ribbon and topped with an ornament.

Homemade sweet treats & chocolates for gifting. Cherry walnut biscotti, almond biscotti, truffles, and dark chocolate cookies, tied with a ribbon and topped with an ornament.

 I’ve written a bit about our little college town in Michigan, filled with friends and tradition.  One of my favorites I learned when we moved here was gifting handmade treats among friends.  These are not expensive gifts, but instead thoughtfully hand-crafted gifts from each of our homes. 

I recognize that the holidays are busy.  Full to capacity and beyond.  I feel this acutely.  Heck, I work for a Christmas tree company-- this is my go season! But once again, I’ve re-learned the beauty of creating room in my December schedule to bake, create & gift.   These gifts are not hugely expensive, but instead require slowing down and giving the gift of time and thoughtfulness.  In many ways, today’s most precious commodity.  

My friend, Joanna, often roasts rosemary-herbed candied nuts and includes specialty chocolates.  Jaminda changes it up each year—we’ve had homemade cinnamon infused simple syrup, raw jarred honey from a local bee grower, chai tea packs, etc…, Joni often assembles soup mixes in a sweet mason jar.  For the Lutz family, my husband, Brock, roasts coffee and I love to bake old school Italian cookies (note some of main website photos).  

Coffee and handmade cards. This particular card & coffee was gifted to us, but Brock roasts coffee each year for friends and family.

Coffee and handmade cards. This particular card & coffee was gifted to us, but Brock roasts coffee each year for friends and family.

Teacher gifts:

This is a tricky one…  My aunt taught for 35 years.  And I remember each December going through the large box of Christmas gifts that students showered her with each Christmas.  I also remember that one can only fill cabinets with so many #1 Teacher mugs.  So needless to say, my initial go to is gift cards.  But interestingly, my kids like to gift actual gifts.  They were embarrassed by my Amazon gift cards last year.  “Mom, why can’t we give chocolates or a real gift?  Gift cards are boring!” Ha! They haven’t had to make space for the billionth mug. ; ) But they are on to something—it’s infinitely more special to open up a box with a surprise treasure inside than a generic gift card. 

This year, I decided to combine the best of both worlds, a small gift along with a gift card.  When it comes to gifts, I like to include things that I use up each year or need to be updated/replaced.  Some of my favorites include, a quality candle, holiday towels & hand soap. My favorites are: Mrs. MeyersMichel Design Works (found in specialty stores), Trader Joe’s White Pine hand soap (found in store), Williams Sonoma Hand soaps.  I like nice hand soaps as a gift, a small luxury that I balk at buying it for myself, but always appreciate as a gift.  

A few of my favorite candles for friend and hostess gifts… Gilt Pomonder Hinoki by Voluspa.  You can find them at Anthropologie.  They are definitely a little spendy, so I like to wait for 30% off sales and stock up.  Little splurges make great gifts! The Capri blue found at Anthro is another favorite. I’ve gifted a few of these this year, and was delighted when a friend brought me one during our homecoming festivities.  Love this candle! 

For something a little more affordable, I am enjoying the home shop from H&M.  Over black Friday I purchased hand towels and small holiday candles.  We will gift those along with $10 coffee gift cards to teachers this year.  

Last year, my husband bought thermal coffee mugs and gift cards for aides and teachers who stand outside helping load and unload cars in the Michigan cold each day.  Another fun practical combo. 

 Stocking stuffers & such:

A few useful stocking stuffers. I know this is sacrilege to some people, but I love gifts that I can use around the house, and these items are top on my stocking stuffer list!

A few useful stocking stuffers. I know this is sacrilege to some people, but I love gifts that I can use around the house, and these items are top on my stocking stuffer list!

 I like to fill stockings with some of my favorite things…a little Oprah inspired! : ) And weirdly, or not, I like gifting practical household items that I love - including my favorite kitchen cloths from Trader Joe’s, the window Enviro cloth from Norwex (ps…I have no affiliation with Norwex, I was introduced to these a few years ago and simply like them). The Window cloth is amazing.  Not sure how it works with just water, but it does. Finally, scouring pads from Amway.   My Aunt Deb gifts these to the women in our family each year, and after nearly 20 years, they have become household favorites and kitchen must haves!

So that’s my favorite gift round up for 2018. I would love to hear some of your favorite affordable gift ideas as well. Leave them in the comments below!

Channeling Your Inner Holiday Hostess

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This post is for my life long best friend and partner in crime, Monica.  She messaged me a few weeks ago needing some recipes for an upcoming holiday party she was hosting.  She remembered a thinly sliced beef tenderloin served for my 40th birthday celebration and requested that recipe along with a few others.

Entertaining doesn’t have to be stressful!  After you’ve created your guest list & type of event you plan to host, plan your menu. For this particularly party, they are hosting work friends for appetizers and drinks.  Here are a few holiday hosting tips and recipes:

 1.    Don’t make everything from scratch.

Pick a few recipes to make and then assemble the rest.  

Food to assemble: Cheese platter with fruit and nuts.  Find your favorite platter & fill with 3+ cheeses, an array of nuts, seasonal fruit (for Christmas I think honey crisp apples, pomegranates, clementines and small berries fit the bill.  A good cheddar, soft cheese (brie or goat cheese), or a blue cheese if you like something strong

For sweet treats, go to the bakery for desserts. When I lived in Cleveland I had a few favorites that I frequented.  Fragapane’s for cannoli and cassata cakeDick’s Bakery in Berea for Date and Nut cake, and A Cookie and a Cupcake for special events, to name a few.  

Also, bowls of your favorite chocolates, nuts, and such go a long way.  Trader Joe’s and Costco are great sources for delicious, affordable nuts and chocolates.  A few of my favorites from TJ’s: Turbinado sugar dark chocolate almonds, dark chocolate covered peanut butter cups, chocolate covered salted graham crackers. From Costco: Sanders dark chocolate covered salted caramels.

Finally, don’t be afraid to say yes to guests that offer to bring something—whether it’s a bottle of wine, an appetizer or plate of cookies, say yes to help!  

Amazing variety of holiday cookies brought by friends—molasses, peppermint chocolate chunk, and Italian lemon cookies.

Amazing variety of holiday cookies brought by friends—molasses, peppermint chocolate chunk, and Italian lemon cookies.

2.    Choose a main dish and appetizers that feel special.  

My very favorite is roasted beef tenderloin sliced thin, served with horseradish, gourmet mustards, and a variety of rolls, good cheese and crusty bread.  

Here’s how to prep the tenderloin, according to my friend Stephanie. I promise, she’s the master.

Roasted Beef Tenderloin

Trim and tie the tenderloin and the season with Montreal steak seasoning blend by McCormickand Flavor by Penzey’s. Sear in olive oil until nicely browned and then pat with butter and roast at 475 until med rare. (Side note from Jen: I recommend investing in a good thermometer.  This was never clearer to me than this Thanksgiving when neither my mom or I could find a working meat thermometer. Here’s the thermometer I have on my Christmas list—I’ve read a lot of good reviews about it, and hopefully Santa is taking note.) I then freeze until almost frozen—about 3 hours. Remove string. Cut crosswise into very thin slices. (Put between parchment to store if doing the day before.). To serve, cover large platter with arugula or watercress and the slices of beef. Drizzle with a little oil, lemon juice, Parmesan shavings and serve with rolls or baguette slices and the sauce detailed below.

Mustard Horseradish sauce

¾  Cup good mayo (I prefer Helman’s)

1 ½ Tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 Tablespoon Whole grain mustard

½ Tablespoon Prepared horseradish

2 Tablespoons Sour cream

Kosher salt to taste

Side note: challenge yourself by learning from people who are better cooks than you.  When I moved to Michigan 7 years ago, I felt pretty confident in my cooking ability.  In my twenties, I even had a side hustle catering. But when I moved, I connected with people who took cooking to the next level, and Stephanie is one of those people.  I had made roast tenderloin for years and it was delicious, but hers was next level.  She took the time to properly trim and tie her meat before searing and roasting which creates a more even heat distribution.  I learned how important it was to quickly sear the meat and lock in flavors. Thanks, Steph! : )

Glazed Ham  

This is one of my favorites for feeding a crowd.  Ham seems fancy, it’s plentiful and not only is it a festive addition to any table, it’s also very affordable. Skip the glaze packet that come with the ham—making your own glaze is quick and so much better. My go to glaze is from the cookbook, Hungry, Feeding Men and Boys by Lucinda Scala Quinn.

Side note: this particular cookbook is a favorite.  Lucinda Scala Quinn was the food director for Martha Stewart for years and hosted her own cooking show.  She has also raised 3 boys.  I resonate with her approach to cooking, entertaining and feeding her family.  She loves gathering her family & friends, and her recipes are down to earth and achievable. Her Insta feed—in particular her stories where she cooks—are great!  

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Roasted Shrimp Cocktail

My favorite way to prep shrimp—toss in whatever spices you prefer and roast it for 8-10 minutes in the oven (until shrimp are pink and firm to touch).  Also learned this from Ina Garten.  It’s quick, simple and fool proof.  Sometimes I do this the day before an event and keep it chilled in the fridge. 

A good dip - Artichoke and spinach is a crowd pleaser, for good reason.  It’s so delicious and feels warm and cozy on a winter night. Honestly, I’ve been known to buy the Terre Fina brand at Costco, sprinkle with parmesan, warm in the oven and serve with crackers or pretzel thins. Or some type of veggie dip (homemade hummus, Sundried tomato dip, or a favorite that pairs well with veggies.    

Drinks: You can keep it simple with sparkling water, wine & favorite beer.  If you’re feeling fancy, serve a signature drink. 

Here’s a favorite that my friend, Jaminda, makes during the holidays:

Eggnog Martinis

Two parts vodka, 1 part Eggnog, 1/2 part Buttershots (flavored liquor).  Shake that and then pour into glasses.  Add a splash of cream soda at the end.  This gives it some fizz.  So good! 

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3.   Employ music, candles and simple décor to set the tone. 

 I know using the word simple sounds a bit ridiculous coming from the woman who decorates Christmas trees for a living, but you really can keep it simple and beautiful at the same time.  

Candles and greens go a long way. Tea lights, pine roping or clipping from a pine tree in the back yard are perfect accents on the holiday table. Before guests come, turn on the holiday music, have drinks ready to go, and light the candles.  Easy peasy!

Do you have any go to recipes for holiday parties? I would love to hear from you. Happy hosting & happy holidays!

Home for the Holidays with Tree Classics

Family room mantle decked in  Christmas Morning Frost garland . Photography by Rachel Cuthbert Photography.

Family room mantle decked in Christmas Morning Frost garland. Photography by Rachel Cuthbert Photography.

Welcome!  I’m excited to be kicking off Tree Classics Home for the Holidays blog tour.  One of my favorite things about being the brand spokesperson for Tree Classics is decorating for Christmas early, previewing some of their new product, and “window shopping” other bloggers holiday decor! Today I’m sharing with you some our favorite holiday traditions along with our family room decked in holiday finest and a few tips for decorating like a pro.   

Perhaps it’s cliché, but Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year.  It’s as if the world takes pause, for even a half second to celebrate what is good and beautiful and true.  We do this by decorating, baking and cooking, gathering those we love and hold dear, sharing meals together, and gifting our time and resources.  And over time these activities create indelible traditions and memories.  

A few favorite Lutz family traditions include (in no particular order):

  • Wrapping and reading 25 picture books to celebrate advent: December 1-25th

  • Decorating the house & making it Christmas cozy (my daughter loves this!)

  • Christmas music!!! Again, a bit cheesy, but it makes me so happy!

  • Pulling out special holiday mugs—especially for hot chocolate (my 9 year old twins have already started using theirs)

  • Baking and gifting cookies & coffee (my husband roasts his own coffee and I bake)

  • A special day of lunch & shopping with the kids (they exchange names and we take them to the city, in our case, Ann Arbor, to shop)

  • Wrapping gifts while watching our favorite holiday movies (White Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life, Elf… to name a few)

  • Gathering with friends and family.  We live in a small community & my husband works at a college 7 minutes from our house. Our work, school and church life all intertwine (think Mayberry meets Stars Hollow), and no exaggerating, for two weeks in December, we have at least 4 events a week.  Of course, it’s a bit exhausting to fit in all this celebration along with Christmas prep.  But then I ask myself, what would it look like if we didn’t celebrate?  If we didn’t take pause each December and truly celebrate. “A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices…” O Holy Night, composed by Adolphe Adam, 1847, text by Placide Cappeau

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On to decorating!  I began “decking the halls” in our family room. Tree Classics has fun new product this year—Christmas Morning Frost Wreath and Garland set as well as new ornaments and tree skirts.  Our family room has a rustic feel with knotty pine unfinished planked walls, and I immediately knew that woodland ornaments along with my Flocked Alpine Spruce tree, and Christmas Morning Frost wreath and garland set would create a beautiful winter woodland landscape.  

A few quick designer tips… Really fluff your tree, garland and wreaths.  I’ve linked to a short video of me going through the steps of fluffing a tree. The beauty of pre-lit Tree Classics greens is that they look full and real, and you can adjust the branches to look fuller and fit ornaments (we call it fluffing). In the inside of your tree, fill the holes and blank space by moving your branches upward to mimic a peacock feather.  For exterior branches, look at the picture of the tree online and shape your branches up or down accordingly. I promise, you will be much happier with the end product if you take the time to fluff your branches.  

Fluff your tree branches for the best shape & fullness!

Fluff your tree branches for the best shape & fullness!

Other notes, I always keep twine, green floral wire, green pipe cleaners, wire cutters, and command strips on hand.  To get a really designer look, I will wire ornaments to branches—so that they hang perfect.  You have more control with a wired ornament—you can hang lower or higher. Command strip are amazing for hanging holiday pictures, wreaths, and garland, but you do have to have the right surfaces.  Command strips don’t work as well on uneven surfaces such as the wood in my family room. 

I added the lovely Woodlands Collection ornaments to the tree.  I really like the detail in these ornaments—the owl has real feathers & the cardinal is beautiful.  The red berry tree picks add color and texture—they even have a bit of crystal sanding to mimic snow & add sparkle. I often add ribbon and, for this tree, added gingham ribbon that I purchased at Michael’s earlier in the year.  

Two of my favorites from the collections—the strand of acorns and the owl with real feathers. Love the attention to detail!

Two of my favorites from the collections—the strand of acorns and the owl with real feathers. Love the attention to detail!

For the tree skirt, I chose Tree Classic’s Rustic Plaid Faux fur tree skirt. Seriously love this!  We live in Michigan, and I love anything that looks & feels cozy during the winter months.  Sort of related side note: I just ordered winter boots with shearling lining and am currently looking for the warmest winter coat I can find—faux fur trim would be a bonus! If anyone has favorite WARM winter coats, let me know.   

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To tie together the tree and give a cohesive look, I try to use wrapping paper and ribbon that coordinates with the tree.  Home Goods and Ikea are two of my favorite places to shop for these items.  In this picture, both wrapping papers are from Ikea. 

While I used some new product for the woodlands collection for the tree, for my fireplace and piano—I mixed and matched product this year.  Tree Classics has a rustic wreath and garland set, but I wanted to carry the flocked look over to my mantle.  Again, I just really like how the flocked brightens up my wood paneling. Often, I will swag my garland, but this year decided to place the garland on the mantle.  It’s so rich and full with red and silver ornaments, berries and pinecones that I didn’t need much extra décor.  I found a fun mirror at one of my favorite local specialty shops, MaryBeth’s.  There is very little room between the ceiling beams and the mantle, and this distressed, narrow mirror was a perfect addition.  Hanging it was a bit tricky, but gratefully, I had wired twine on hand, and it seems to be hung securely.  

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care… And can I say, I’m so happy I found that mirror! I love this particular shot. : )

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care… And can I say, I’m so happy I found that mirror! I love this particular shot. : )

For the piano, I placed the garland and added candlestick holders that I found last year at a resale shop, along with the lamp that usually sits at the piano. Finally, I hung the wreath above the piano—so far I haven’t added ribbon, but may still add one.   

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Christmas Morning Frost wreath  from Tree Classics

And that’s it—my tips for creating an inviting home for the holidays!  Check out my fellow bloggers who will also share their décor and favorite holiday traditions.  And please, share your traditions as well and let me know if I can answer any tree questions. 

Home For the Holidays participating bloggers

Nov 12: Jessica of Domicile 37
Nov 13: Linda of The Home I Create
Nov 14: Jen Lutz of Tree Classics/Jennifer Lutz at Home
Nov 15: Caroline of Caroline Bivens Designs

Nov 16: Haley of At Home with Haley

Nov 17: Kathy of Up to Date Interiors
Nov 18: Heidi of Home by Heidi
Nov 19: Jennifer of The Ranch Uncommon

Nov 20: Shirley of Housepitality Designs

Nov 21: Monica of Monica Wants It
Nov 22: Cindy of Edith & Evelyn Vintage

Nov 23: Ashlee of Ashlee and Her Tribe

Nov 24: Leah of Life as Leah