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Happy Birthday Little Sister!!

 Happy Birthday Paige!
Little sister, musician and merrymaker!

My little sister Paige is my favorite person to laugh with. Earlier this year I called her laughing so hysterically that I couldn't even speak. She patiently waited (while laughing with me) until stopped giggling hard enough to share with her what was so funny. If I know something funny, she's the first person I want to share it with.

When my husband and I watch a funny movie together with Paige, she always makes the movie more hysterical with her goofy character voices. My mom always begs us to do our pretend Saturday Night Live skit of "Chinese Cheerleading" that we've done since elementary school...it gets funnier with wine!

When Paige comes in town, we stock the pantry with kettle corn and my husband is sure to make her favorite dinner, sticky chicken wings.  

Paige is one of those extroverted people who knows everyone everywhere. When my sister lived in New York City my mom and I visited her. I remember the three of us walking down fifth avenue and someone across the street shouted, "PAAAIGE!" It happened again with a different person when we were shopping for hammers and nails in Gracious Home. That same day Katharine Hepburn had hugged her after she had waited on her in the restaurant she worked at. There's always someone somewhere who knows my sister and if they don't know her, they want too!
My sister Paige on an Easter egg hunt, dressed as Betty Boop for Halloween and silly sibling pics from the 80's.
After I had my first child, my sister helped out so much. I don't mean she did the dishes and laundry, but she just knew how to make life happy and easy going! I was so tired and was trying to finish the book "The Baby Whisper" when she told me to close my eyes and she read it out loud to me. 

Growing up, Paige and I used to share a room then later, the upstairs of my parents house. She's a very heavy sleeper and when her alarm would go off for school, she would KEEP SLEEPING! She was smart to move her alarm away from her bed so she'd have to get out and walk to it and try to wake herself up. 

Something I admire about my sister is that she doesn't seem to need anything material. I think of her a little like a nomad, moving from Texas to Montana to New York to California and she just goes...not holding on to material things. I also admire her confidence and spirit. She's a talented singer/songwriter. Her band is called The Peach Kings and she just keeps getting better. My favorite song she sings is Fisherman. It's like a Lay's potato chip...you can't listen to it just once! 
Aunt Paige making my children laugh!
My little sister is a beloved Aunt! She creates scavenger hunt games for the kids, plays endless games of hide and seek and is not afraid to be loud playing "marching band" while my little ones follow her around the house banging on drums. 

Three sisters saying serefe! (our sister-in-law Jeyhan, me and Paige)
Children of the same family, the same blood, with the same first associations and habits, have some means of enjoyment in their power, which no subsequent connections can supply...~Jane Austen

Many happy returns ma petite soeur
I love you!
xx, Ashley

New Year's Eve Lobster fête...avec les enfants

  
My friend Jen and I have spent many New Year's Eve nights together...starting in the early 90's. It's changed a bit since we've had children, but we have double the fun with NYE energy times four!

Jen lived several years after college in Boston where she met her husband. My husband grew up in Rhode Island so that makes lobster a perfect New Year's Eve dinner...our children love it too!
New Year's Eve celebrations are often thought of as being adult-only parties but the kids get just as excited about saying, "Happy New Year" as the adults. 

The kid's table is where it's happening! Like any party avec les enfants, the kid's table is the one with all the noise makers, party hats, English party crackers, and M&M's sprinkled like confetti! 

Families with young children might as well entertain at home with friends. I promise, it's loads of fun and you're making happy memories for your children. Who knows? Maybe our children will continue the "Jen and Ashley New Year's tradition" of ringing in the New Year together! For now, we're perfectly happy celebrating the New Year a little bit early with good food and the best of friends.     


Glamorous glasses are the only way to go for New Year's Eve. The coupe is my favorite glass to drink champagne from but I also love these dainty and ever so feminine champagne flutes from Olive and Cocoa. My daughter would call these "Fancy Nancy" glasses. The kids will be tickled pink to have their white grape juice in this glass.

As for the adults...we'll be drinking Kir Royal champagne cocktails. A little splash of blackcurrant liqueur makes for a delicious start to the New Year. It's called a "Kir" after a priest in Northern France, Canon Félix Kir. The priest was tired of drinking poor quality wine during WWII and found that a little crème de cassis, made the wine drinkable. When mixed with a proper bottle of champagne or white wine, it's amazing good and goes well with lobster!

Something else you might need for your New Year's Eve fête is the Corkcicle...the newest and "coolest" wine gadget and New Year's Eve is the perfect time to use it. Imagine eliminating the ice bucket and keeping your wine/champagne chilled for an hour right on the table...fabulous!
The kid version of the corkcicle is a glitter wand. This makes the perfect party favor! Don't you remember being memorized by glitter wands when you were a child.  

However you celebrate, Cheers to tradition on New Year's Eve and singing Auld Lang Syne with the best of friends because that's what singing Auld Lang Syne is for...a tribute to friendships that have endured. 

Should old acquaintance be forgot,

and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,and old lang syne?


Wishing you a very Happy New Year! 
xx, Ashley


TRÈS ASHLEY GIFT GUIDE 2012

We are only weeks away from Christmas day! Here are some ideas to help you check off everyone on your list. Think personalized and thoughtful gifts that make your loved ones feel extra special. Chop! Chop! Time is running out. Need more ideas? Check gift guides from 2011. Happy Shopping!!


Gifts for the Kids
Geomag Young builders will have fun with magnetic construction. This is one of my little boy's favorite things to play with. It doesn't break, teaches problem solving and creativity. starting at 19.95

Paris in a box Play with wooden landmarks of Paris. $17.95

HABA Wonderful World Wooden Animal Blocks Children can create scenes with wooden animals, figures and trees. $31.04


Tegu I love the click-clack sound of the Tegu magnetic blocks and the feel of the hardwood. These are one of my favorite toys my little boy has and plays with more than his Legos. starting at $12.00

Doll Party Pillow My little girl loves to play with dolls and dress up. I thought this would be the perfect gift for her. $59.95

Lego Big Ben For kids of all ages! You're never too old for Legos! $39.95



Gifts for Everyone
Stickygram magnets with photos from instagram that can decorate your fridge or a Christmas present. These will bring lots of smiles...and so will the price. $14.99

Wax Seals  Seal your card with a xo and make your letters oh so special! $16.00

Silicon Ice Ball Maker Imagine the smile you'll get from your husband when you serve him his favorite cocktail with a giant ice ball!

Talavera Platters  Give the gift of color in the kitchen with a beautiful Mexican platter. $76.46

Kaleido Trays stackable and versatile, these trays make organization colorful. starting at $16.00

Feed Projects I have such love for Feed Projects. Give a gift that gives in return. starting at $5.00



Gifts for Mom, Sister, Best Friend...
Priceless Prints A kit that lets you take your child's fingerprint and turn it into jewelry. $75.99

Wire wrapped personalized bracelet delicate cursive that's personal and unique. $99.95

Gold Initial Earrings  These earrings will become your best friend's signature piece. $132.00

Ten Thousand Things You will find beautiful and colorful jewelry here that looks like it could have been heirloom. starting at $65.00



Gifts for Dad, Brother, Best Friend...
Glow in the Dark Bocce Ball Everyone loves a game and anything outside in the dark is fun! $68.95

New York Times Subscription Make his weekend happier with his favorite newspaper.starting at $3.90

Brooks Brothers Boxers I always give my husband boxers for Christmas. Brooks Brothers are his favorite. 
3 for $59.00

Shirt Pocket Magnifier This might be of some assistance at his desk and he will thank you! $6.99

When I asked my husband for ideas on what a man wants, his first response was for everyone to be happy. I did get out of him that he appreciates a custom made shirt. Good luck with that one! 

I always think this Bo Derek quote at Christmas time...Whoever said money can't buy happiness simply didn't know where to go shopping. It's all about the smiles :)




The Sweetest Dreams Come to Life through the Nutcracker




GROWING up, I remember my mom dressing me up in a navy velvet Christmas dress to see the Nutcracker ballet. She even let me wear my tiara. I had no idea the effect the ballet would have on me. Sitting in the audience, I was overwhelmed by a dreamy feeling of Tchaikovsky’s music, the winter wonderland set, George Balanchine’s choreography, but most of all how I felt the urge to dance.

Watching the Nutcracker today with my own children at the Winspear Opera House seeing the Texas Ballet Theater, I am still taken back to my childhood and those same dreamy feelings. There is magic in the Nutcracker with the Kingdom of Sweets, Sugar Plum Fairy, snowflakes, tutus…it leaves you spellbound and inspired.

The Nutcracker is a fairly old ballet. The first performance was in 1892 in St. Petersburg, Russia (it was not a success). George Balanchine choreographed The Nutcracker premiering in New York City in 1954. Balanchine's Nutcracker was nostalgic of his Russian Christmases and has remained successful and a Christmas tradition.

The Nutcracker ballet will forever attract the young and the young at heart. Drosselmeyer (the man of mystery) is the only thing “old” in The Nutcracker.  The many children onstage help to keep the ballet so young and innocent. It is a story from a child’s dreams and watching it, you become part of the fantasy.

Fritz and Marie (or Clara) are like all children...impatient and restless. When Drosselmeyer gives Marie a Nutcracker doll and her brother Fritz breaks it, the children in the audience can relate to them.

When children watch The Nutcracker, they feel inspired as if they are seeing their sweetest dreams come to life. I love the expression that children have when watching ballet…it is true wonderment and MAGIC!

The Nutcracker is ballet bliss. When the ballet ends, the audience feels like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz and wonders…was it really all a dream? My daughter asked me, “Mommy was that…real snow? angel really flying? Christmas tree really growing? The best response I could think of was, “It’s real in your heart.” 

I was lucky to view that expression children have when seeing ballet up close when I danced for the second grade (where I teach school). Our reading book story was about ballet so it was absolutely necessary that I taught second grade in my tutu and pointe shoes! 


Ballet is magical!

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree, How lovely are your branches!

SUNDAY is family day…the day before going back to work/school…the day we do everything together. This Sunday, it included picking out our Christmas tree. This annual holiday tradition conjures up many happy memories of picking out a real Christmas tree in years past.
My children (six and four) are in the back seat singing the Vince Guaraldi Trio version of O Tannanbalm…O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree, How lovely are your branches! My husband in the front seat is not thrilled that I broke out Charlie Brown this early in the holiday season (I have a slight obsession with Vince Guaraldi’s music and listen to it more than what is probably normal).
There are certain things that I really, really want every holiday season and a real Christmas tree is first on the list...next in line among my mom's crown roast for Christmas Eve dinner, baking Christmas cookies, and attending Christmas mass.
My family, picking out our own Christmas tree in Colorado. My sister is hanging the angel and I am "snowing" the tree.
Growing up, my family adopted my Dad’s Christmas tradition of snowing our own real tree with Ivory Snow. This tradition started out nice until my mom was always the last one standing decorating solo. My Dad and my brother and sister and I would suddenly reappear after my mom had completed about 90% of the tree by herself.
Out of the seven popular Christmas trees to choose from (Scotch Pine, Douglas Fir, Noble Fir, White Pine, Balsam Fir, Fraser Fir and White Spruce), we almost always choose the Fraser Fir because they have thick branches to handle lots of ornaments and that lovely fresh pine smell.
The story of how the Christmas tree came about starts with the German, Martin Luther, who was on his way home one night when he was struck by the sight of stars shining through the branches of a fir tree. He cut one down and dragged it home to decorate it with candles trying to emulate the sight for his family.
The tradition was later brought to England in 1846 by Prince Consort Albert, the German husband of Queen Victoria who was very fashionable…so the Christmas tree became a stylish tradition not only in England but America too.
The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is a world-wide symbol of the beginning of the holidays. It will be lit Wednesday, November 28 and decorated with more than 30,000 multi-colored lights and crowned by a Swarovski star. We’ll be watching it at home on NBC from 7-9. 
My sister Paige and I in front of the Rockefeller Christmas tree in NYC.



Top Ten Musically Inspired Ways to find your Zen during the holidays

You know that scene from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation when the doorbell rings as the in-laws arrive…the ding dong gets louder and the tone becomes more dramatic by the minute? That’s the feeling the holidays bring…you hold your breath and hope for the best.  
Most people have high stress during the holidays due to family get-togethers. Here are some muscially inspired ideas to help improve the stress that the holidays can bring.
1.       Frankie Says Relax: Mark Twain said, “When you strive to make an impression, that is the impression you make.” So maybe have the attitude that you aren’t trying to impress anyone and just be yourself. 
2.       ‘Til Tuesday- Voices CarryStay neutral like Switzerland and let your company do the talking. This way you won’t feel bad about saying something you shouldn't or giving out too much information.
3.       Bobby McFerrin- Don’t Worry, Be HappyTake a walk outside in the fresh air, do the dishes, keep your yoga date with your sister…You’ll come back feeling happier and much more relaxed.
4.       Salt-N-Pepa- Let’s Talk About Sex BabyHaving the in-laws in the house might not make you feel in the mood, but the closer you are with your husband the more of a team you are together.
5.       Natalie Wood- I Feel Pretty, Oh so PrettyGo to the spa for a massage or facial. Get your hair and nails done before, during or after your in-laws arrive. It will not only make you feel pretty but also better about everything and you’ll look and feel like you’re on top of your game.
6.       Dionne Warwick- That’s What Friends Are For: Invite your friends over and bring fresh blood into the mix to ensure good times and instant comradery.
7.       Queen- We Will We Will Rock You:  Watch sports, sports and more sports! Football is a great way to pass the time and keeps everyone entertained.
8.       Loretta Lynn- Wine, Women and Song: Wine is your friend! Enough said!
9.       Billy Joel- We Didn't Start the FireTry to steer clear of discussing politics and religion.
10.     Madonna- Just Like a Prayer: pray for patience.
This holiday, keep things simple and stress-free and try to have as much fun as you can. I love this Chinese Proverb: "Govern a family as you would cook a small fish- very gently." Here's to a gentle holiday season! 


'Tis the Season for Stuffing Mailboxes


One of my favorite parts of the holiday season is checking the mailbox to see if we've received greeting cards! It's better than opening a present! The hard part is deciding which card to choose. I find myself agonizing over the card selection because there are simply too many beautiful options. With so many to pick from, deciding can be more overwhelming than picking a family moment worthy of mailing. These are some of my favorite cards. I hope these ideas will inspire you to send your love and holiday cheer this season. 
The Newsletter...Updated
A holiday "year in review" is a more updated way to share the highlights of the year with your friends than the standard newsletter. Newsletters have never been my favorite...they're usually too long and too cheesy! These "report" cards keep it short, sweet and clean.  Snapfish AYear in ReviewMinted Annual Report and
Minted Year in Review are classy and colorful.

A Bit of Whimsy
There are several holiday cards have an extra oomph and pizazz that can make your card stand out from the rest. Some of them you can even add to your tree. Peartree Greetings Cheer  , Peartree Greetings mittens, Peartree Gigham photos on a string and  Rifle snow and sled ornament have a special whimsy that delights and dazzles.
Thick Paper
I am such a fan of ultra thick paper. The paper from Pinhole Press has a red candy center that makes it as good as a sweet candycane. Pinhole Press 2013 is a classic and classy way to say "Happy New Year!" Minted Joyeux Noel made with thick paper is a treasure. You can even choose to design it with rounded or scalloped edges.
Extras and how to make them last
My other favorite part is dressing up the envelope with bonus pictures on the label and stamp. Create your own stamp on Zazzle and add a label that shares a preview of what's inside. It's like the whipping cream on top! Here are a few ideas on what to do with your holiday cards to make them last and enjoy them longer...make a photo book and turn your cards into contact images on your phone.
The Moma store has the ever whimsical Robert Sabuda pop up cards. For the past several years, I have favored the accordion-style Christmas card. Below are some of my past creations.

Christmas cards are the best present of the season. 'Tis the season for stuffing mailboxes!


Places to browse: Pinhole Press, Tinyprints, Snapfish, Peartree greetings, Minted, Rifle Paper, Moma Store, and Shutterfly.

Let It Out...Dance All Day!


Dancers are a different breed. They dance ALL the time in regular everyday settings. A dancer doesn't just bend over to pick something up, they ponche, plié, cambre...I think most everyone has an urge to break out and dance. We are ALL dancers!

There is great joy found in movement and if we celebrate that happiness and dance when the mood strikes us, we'd be happier! Dance is magical; it makes us feel alive! How many of us look forward to getting into our car so we can blast the speakers and let go of the day with a song that makes us happy and feel like dancing? That feeling escalates when we can fully move to it. If that mood strikes and the feeling to dance takes over in the middle of the work day instead of at a concert, club, when you're cleaning your home...dance anyway and you'll bring smiles to those around you.

Jordan Matter is a photography genius for capturing this feeling in an exquisite book, Dancers Among Us. Matter photographes professional dancers in unconventional places like offices, crossing a busy street, climbing a tree...Dancers can tell stories with their body's and an everyday person can relate to the feeling they create. This book is a reminder that there is beauty and joy in all of us and we should jeté whenever and wherever the mood strikes. 








This is just a taste of photographer, Jordan Matter's Dancers Among Us. It's one of those books you can keep flipping through and continue to find inspiration and imagination over and over again.


Similar to Jordan Matter's photography is a dance music video that follows three dancers (Anne Marsen, Daisuke Omiya, and John Doyle) across New York City. It's fascinating to see how people interact to dance in a public space. Jacob Krupnick's "Girl Walk//All Day," spreads the joy of movement and inspires you to find that joy in your own everyday scenario.

The soundtrack to Girl Walk//All Day is a dancer's best friend. D.J. Girl Talk is a master mashup musician. Play a Girl Talk remix and you will have the urge to boogie around the town too! I can't get enough of Let It Out! You can't help but move and shake in a joyful way. Think: Rihanna, ELO, Devo, General Public, Jay Z...See Girl Walk//All Day for yourself here. Watch it on your lunch break and you'll have an extra zip to your step.

Be inspired by artists Jordan Matter, Jacob Krupnick and Girl Talk then DANCE like no one's watching!


Family photo of me and my children dancing at the beach.




Holiday Fête …Disco Style!


I have holiday “disco” fever. I’m ready to don my sequins and eat, drink and boogie during holiday season. Bring on the glitter...it’s time to celebrate and have some fun!
Shine: 
The holiday season is filled with fête after fête which require us to fill our closet with glittery frocks. My motto is that you can never be too overdressed or too sparkly during the holidays. It’s so much fun to get all dressed up and pile on the sequins, fur and jewelry. A little black dress is quickly pushed aside for eye-catching clothing that shines, moves and sparkles! Bring on the shine with these Sparkle Uggs, Kate Spade glitter phone case and Deborah Lippmann Across the Universe nail polish.



Wear:
My favorite collection of the moment is Haute Hippie. The designs are chic with bohemian glamour and disco pizzazz. The fringe tank would be so much fun to dance in and the sequined dress is a show stopper. Kate Spade always does holiday style with lady like sparkle. Wearing these Kate Spade Charm shoes would be like a disco ball for your feet. These 7 skinny electric blue jeans  will turn heads and inspire all night disco dancing. 



Sip:
A Prosecco Gold Rush is the disco fête drink for the holiday season. 

12 ozs sparkling wine (chilled, prosecco)
2 ozs gold flaked vodka (chilled)
1 12 ozs schnapps (cinnamon, goldschlager)

Pour Prosecco into a clear glass without ice. Add vodka and cinnamon schnapps, and stir to mix gold flakes evenly through the drink. holidays with a bubbly-based

Decorate: I love the cheerful glamour that disco adds to the home. Walking up these stairs and cooking in this kitchen would make me smile...and dance! 


Listen:
My favorite dance soundtrack has to be The Last Days of Disco. If you like to dance, you'll love it too. Other songs for a disco fête would have to include:

Bee Gees, Stayin' Alive
Deee-Lite, Groove is in the Heart
Chic, Le Freak
Jamiroquai, Virtual Insanity
Michael Jackson, You Rock My World  

Pinkalicious the Musical is Pinkeriffic!


Pretty in pink, tickled pink, pinktastic, pinkeriffic are just a few words that come to mind when describing Pinkalicious. Pink is the color of happiness and Pinkalicious is just that...a colorful explosion of pink sparkly fun.

How many times as parents have we heard, "Just one more?" It's a phrase Pinkalicious Pinkerton says when she wants another pink cupcake. Pinkalicious turns pink from eating too many cupcakes and is diagnosed by Dr. Wink as having "Pinkititis." The only way to cure it is with a healthy dose of green foods.



The Dallas Children's Theatre had an audience full of giggly girly girls in their pink tutus and tiaras but also little brothers who tagged along. My daughter's little brother was one of the boys in the audience who was tickled pink to be there. Boys like the color pink too!

Most of the boys in my second grade classroom like pink. I was listening to a conversation between some boys after one of them chose a pink Expo marker to work a math problem on the whiteboard. Another boy said to him, "Dude, pink is NOT a manly color!" In his defense, several other boys commented on how they like pink and for the whole math lesson, boys kept picking the pink Expo marker. I decided it would be a perfect time to read the Pinkalicious book to my class. Then there was more discussion...about how pink is awesome dude!

The DCT Pinkalicious musical followed Victoria and Elizabeth Kann's book beautifully. Walking into the theatre you see a plethora of pink. The lobby is decked out in pink hearts, dots, fabric, twinkle lights, tulle and they have Sprinkles red velvet pink cupcakes in the concession stand...It's a mecca for lovers of pink, a pinkapalooza!

Pinkalcious Pinkerton has the average American family (mom, dad, brother, sister) who do everything together...baking, going to the park and the doctor office. One of my favorite scenes was when Pinkalicious turns pink and the family hops on their four person bike to ride to the doctor's office. 



The music has lively numbers reminiscent of old classics. "Buzz Off" is a number when butterflies, bees and birds mistake Pinkalicious for a flower made me think of Guys and Dolls, "Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat." The scene when Dr. Wink diagnoses Pinkalicious as having "pinkititis" brings a Bob Fosse style that reminded me of the musical Chicago. All the songs are enjoyable for the adults as well as the children. My little boy loved the "Cupcake Dream" where the cupcakes sing during the night.

Pinkalicious and her brother Peter are pinktastic! The family literally finds their true colors along with lots of laughter love. The show is high energy and a lot of fun. Go see it, you'll be tickled pink!

Pinkalicious is playing now through October 28th. Get your tickets
here.