I have set up a small hot chocolate station in my own kitchen, but when I saw this elaborate set-up at one of the houses I toured during the Concord Museum Holiday House Tour, I just had to share. To pull this off, you’ll need a good deal of counter space, however you can take a few bits and pieces of ideas to use in your own home. And, you can gift someone their very own hot chocolate bar.
Start with your very own sign or menu, or just use a cute decoration like the snowman you see under the cloche. Set out mugs, a few pitchers—one for spoons, straws, cinnamon sticks, or candy canes. Of course you’ll need some hot chocolate and plenty of marshmallows. Bottles of toppings like a shaker of cinnamon or cocoa powder are also a good idea. Stagger the heights of each item and use a variety of materials like glass, silver, and china to keep things interesting. Then go ahead and add some greens, berry branches, or even a few ornaments in and around the display.
Now the gift idea… Choose a large container that can serve as both packaging and as part of the gift itself like this large glass cookie jar from Target. Fill it up with packages of candy canes, hot chocolate mix (we like Silly Cow Farms), a bag of mini marshmallows, some old-fashioned straws, and fun containers of toppings like jimmies, candy dots…lots of things you might use to decorate a cake. OR, keep it simple and fill a pretty box with two mugs, some hot chocolate mix, a bag of mini marshmallows, and a DVD of their favorite holiday movie. (Kids would enjoy their own version with a copy of The Polar Express.)
Wrap them both up with a beautiful ribbon and some jingle bells.
Hot Chocolate Mix

2 cups instant non-fat dry milk powder

1 cup powered sugar

3/4 cup powdered non-dairy creamer

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

1/8 teaspoon salt


  1. In a large bowl, combine the creamer, milk powder, sugar, salt, and cocoa powder.
  2. Pour into air tight container or freezer bag for storage.
  3. Add 1/3 cup of cocoa mix to 1 cup boiling water or to a 1/2 hot milk, which I prefer.
  4. Mix well.
  5. Add chocolate chips and stir until melted. You may add more if you wish.

Optional: Top with mini marshmallows or whipped cream.
More recipes…
Hot chocolate on a stick // Crockpot hot chocolate // Italian hot chocolate // Truffle hot chocolate

I Want it Painted Black

Once upon a time, a teenager wanted her bedroom painted black. Her parents said no, and she asked why not. Because we said so, was their reply. Not black. Anything but black. Well, except for dark purple, navy or red. No, definitely not red either.

So, she sulked, and she pleaded, but they still said no. In their mind, a black room meant that there was something wrong with her; that she was going to be sitting engulfed in darkness, whittling away at evil contraptions, and thinking of dark tasks to fill up her complicated teenage life.

But all she wanted was a black bedroom.

Painting black on the walls has this effect on a lot of people; never mind that it is technically the absence of color, just the suggestion of it often provokes an instant, unhappy response in the world of decorating. But, I think a touch of black is magical, and adds so much depth to a room, that I could never imagine living without it.

So, in defense of the teenager (and my favorite non-color) here are some options for the (sometimes) worried parents…..

PicMonkey Collage black bedrooms



Wendy E. Wrzos https://wendyandthebluegiraffe.blogspot.com

Photographs borrowed from www.decorpad.com, www.sfgirlbybay.com, www.couldbemetoday.blogspot.com, www.ghoofie.com, and www.belmav.com.


Coloring your Winter


A friend is coming over to my house to gather some pine branches from the trees in the yard; an easy decoration to share when your garden thrives on random acts of pruning, and the occasional dose of neglect. We will probably have a cup of tea, I will bake something yummy, and, if it stays this cold, I will definitely warm the house up with the wood stove.

When I read this back, it sounds very idyllic, when really, neither of our lives are, but we are easily pleased, and we like spending time outside. She said, it’s more fun doing it together, and she is right; even if it is below freezing, and the pine trees are much less than perfect, it will be a happy few hours.

I never understood seasonal decorating until I came to New Jersey, and I realize now, that aside from it being a way to celebrate the holidays, it is a way of cheering us up when the days get really gray. Nothing grows, and by January, the color green feels like a distant memory that may, or may not have ever been true.

So, we decorate the outside, and we smile at the sparkly lights and the giant candy canes. We wait for the inflatable snowmen to pop up, and we find ourselves watching for the next burst of color down the street; perhaps judging just a little, but being secretly grateful for the distraction.
I am always amazed at how much work goes on to getting it just right; seemingly ordinary people spending weeks creating the most extravagant of displays, and coordinating lights in a way that would prevent me from ever flipping the on-switch. (I suspect there may be some math and technical skill involved, which could be why the whole process eludes me).

I love to see these homes, but my favorites are the more subdued displays; porches filled with red plaid, a wreath on the door, and oversized presents piled into an old sleigh. It feels like home to me (not that we ever had a sleigh on our front porch) but it looks comforting and warm, and when the day is so cold and gray, it makes you feel that you would always be welcome to stop in.

Decorating in the Winter isn’t about whether you choose to have a dancing Santa Claus on your roof, knit a scarf for your tree, or hang a wreath on your front door, it’s about adding a bit of color to the outside world, and putting smiles on the people driving by.

Wendy E. Wrzos http://wendyandthebluegiraffe.blogspot.com

The gorgeous Knitted Tree photograph is from: www.superforest.org

Some Decorating Do’s

word collage 3


Wendy E. Wrzos http://wendyandthebluegiraffe.blogspot.com/

Fancy Hanging Lights

Hanging chandelier

I don’t know if there is a fear of electricians out there right now, but there seems to be an increase in overhead lights that can be plugged in, instead of hard-wired to the ceiling. Of course, it is easier than wiring what you already have (and less expensive) and some homes don’t even have ceiling lights to begin with (which I am still not used to, and I don’t quite understand why they build them that way).

But, as much as I am all for quick and easy decorating, I wish these had been designed by real people, and not manufacturer’s grabbing onto a trend, throwing it into a factory, and spitting it out at the public.

Lighting a home isn’t just about being able to see; if it was, then we would all just have cheap lightbulbs hanging everywhere, or a constant supply of flashlights in our pocket. We want it to look good, and, from a design point it should somehow enhance the room, instead of looking like some temporary solution on our to-do list.

I love the idea of making decorating easy, but it is the execution and design of these lights that is wrong. They should come with instructions, and a lot more care, so that they really will look like the picture on the front of the box.
Let’s be honest, every single one I have seen lately is hanging from a wiggly cord, looped across the ceiling, and dangling awkwardly down the wall, like a really bad Andy Warhol exhibit.

So, in my effort to save you from the awful, fancy hanging lights, I have a few suggestions….

– Open the box before you buy it. If the cord is white, wrapped tight, and looks bent, don’t bother.
– If you know an electrician who can add a chain to it, and/or a thinner/clear cord, then go for it.
– Please don’t wrap the cord in fabric, but you can paint it if that makes you feel better.
– Consider where you are going to hang it, and how you will drape/hang/celebrate/disguise the cord.
– If the photograph shows just a chain, and no cord, they are fibbing. It still needs electricity.
– Most of them do look better draped (in a designery kind of way) instead of pulled taut (like a bad facelift).


Wendy E. Wrzos http://wendyandthebluegiraffe.blogspot.com

(Photograph was from Amazon, but now it has disappeared…)

A Decorating Poem

She wants to move the furniture,
on a Sunday afternoon.
It’s always fun to decorate,
but first she empties the room.

The room looks dull, so she gets some paint,
decides to tape off a square.
Big and gorgeous, chalkboard black,
perhaps she’ll paint a pair?

The paint is drying, furniture is out,
the rug she brings back in.
It’s old, it’s small, but has to do,
now for the fun to begin.

She pushes the sofa across the room,
moves the rug at an angle.
Amused, she decides to vacuum the floor,
after finding a fork and a bangle.

Thought she was careful, but not enough,
looks down at the scratched wooden floor.
No need to fix it, just cover it up,
by moving the rug some more.

The sofa sits on the rug,looking big,
she sits on a chair next to it.
The chair is old, the fabric worn,
and now, she’s gone straight through it!

She picks it up, and throws it out,
with a strength she never knew.
Another chair is quickly found,
lucky she has quite a few.

Another chair, another side,
the sofa is moved again.
She stops, and moves it back some more,
some more, then more again!

Decides to have a cup of tea,
to think of lots of things.
Looks at the mess, and dreams of poems,
of Cabbages and Kings.

Up she gets, and washes her cup,
determined to finish the room.
She checks the paint, and sees that it’s dry,
sweeps the floor with a broom.

Brings in a bookshelf, some lamps and a painting.
pillows, photographs, china and tables.
Arranges flowers and washes the floor,
straightens the curtains, and opens the door.

The afternoon over, she smiles at the end.
Her home is now different, but not a penny did she spend…..

Wendy E. Wrzos http://wendyandthebluegiraffe.blogspot.com/

Things in Jars


One of the oddest things that I love, and I don’t quite understand why, is a jar (preferably with a lid). Yes, I’m inspired by art, nature, and everything else, but a jar to me is like the wardrobe that leads to Narnia; it is so ordinary, but its possibilities are infinite (and unknown).

I will often buy something at the grocery store just because I covet where it lives (we don’t really need the imported peaches, but the upturned sides on the small, round jar is hard to resist when the days are short and I need to grow a daffodil).

Crazy as it sounds, jars trigger my imagination, and I don’t even know why anyone would want to throw them away. Maybe if I ate a lot of jarred things I would feel differently, but for now it is a very manageable obsession, and I am always happy when I scrape out the last bit of whatever is stuck to the bottom of the glass.

To me, they are the perfect starting point to giving someone a present; the packaging is there without any effort, and all I have to do is fill them up with lots of goodies. On a practical note, it is also nice because I can put in smaller things that may get lost in a larger, more decorative bag. Somehow, a jar makes everything seem more important, and it is fun to look through the glass and see if there is anything that we didn’t notice the first time.

Because I don’t eat pickles (which come in really big, useful jars) I often buy new ones (jars, not pickles) at the store. Although they are meant for storing flour and dog treats, it shows that you really do like someone if you are giving them a present that is new, and not an old one that smells like something you ate with yesterday’s lunch.

By the way, when I was looking for a photograph, I Googled ‘things in jars”, which I wouldn’t recommend; my jar-filling ideas are definitely less macabre….

  • Winter Spa Jar – Lip-balm, Shea butter lotion, a bar of chocolate, and a body scrub.
  • Get Well Jar – Vitamin C drink sachet’s, fuzzy socks,  tissues and a mug.
  • Happy Birthday Jar – Some of their favorite things, plus a balloon and some candles.
  • Housewarming Jar – Things from your pantry, layered like colored sand, to wish them good luck in their new home e.g. Flour – so they may never go hungry, Sugar – so life is always sweet etc. Write a label on the outside to explain what they mean.
  • Firefly Catching Jar – A great last minute gift for a child (or grown-up) on a Summer’s night.
  • Teenage Girl Jar – Fancy spa things, popcorn, diary, sleep socks and nail polish.
  • Teenage Boy Jar – Lots and lots of snacks.
  • New Baby Jar – Cute outfit, chocolate for the parents, and a rattle or soft toy.
  • Gardener’s Jar – Flower seeds, trowel, gloves, and plant markers.
  • Just Because Jar – Anything you think someone would like that will fit inside the jar.

Wendy E. Wrzos  http://wendyandthebluegiraffe.blogspot.com/

p.s. Photograph of Firefly catcher, and instructions on how to make it, are from Southern Living.



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