Friday, November 28, 2008

Sense of the Season: Go Green This Christmas

by April Garza

‘Tis the season when we usually go overboard on everything—food, drink, presents, spending and utility bills. I’m not saying we shouldn’t make merry with the food and drink (although, our waistlines will thank us come January if we don’t), but I am planting the seed that this year is a good year to cut back on the Christmas lights.

While it’s lovely to shine a light of welcome in the dark days of winter, your lawn decorations don’t have to be massive enough for the folks up in the International Space Station to enjoy. I know that some of you have already put up the outside trim, but for those of you who haven’t why not tone it down this season? It’s better for both the environment and your wallet.

Of course, you know my motto by now: simple is best. Part of that has always been living within my always merger budget, but the other part is that simple is easier. (Also, unless you really know what you’re doing like those with art or interior design degrees or natural decor geniuses, well, the more that gets thrown together the more a lawn starts looking like you’re wishing everyone a very merry “Chaos” instead of Christmas.)

What did I do for the outside decorations this year? Simple as always. I put a wreath on the front door, draped a lighted garland on the railing of my front porch, and a winter “Welcome” sign on my back door. I used to go in for all white lights in my decorations, but because I do so little lighting outside, I switched to multicolor lights a few years ago. (I may have been inspired by the small stained glass window in my front door, too. I’m a big believer in letting the decorations reflect the style of the house.) Granted, you don’t have to go all minimalist like me, but no matter what you decide to do, here are some tips to make the outside holiday decorations easier:

1. Use pre-lit greens.

Pre-lit garlands, wreaths, trees, what-have-yous are the best invention since sliced bread in my opinion. Buy them if you can, but you don’t have to pitch your old, non-lit decorations if they’re still in good shape.

My “pre-lit” garland wasn’t that way out of the original box, but it is now when it comes out of my storage boxes. I made the garland from four artificial garland pieces (purchased après Christmas at the sales, of course!) that are now wired together into one long garland that’s the right size for my porch railing. The first year I put it up, I added the strings of lights, made sure they were placed well, and attached them securely. Fake greens are great for holding on the lights because all you have to do is bend the little branches around the light string like a twist tie and voila! The lights aren’t going anywhere. The lights are connected and I have just the one plug, ready and waiting, to go into the extension cord. At the end of the season, I just unplug it, wind up the garland, and store it away for the next year.

Eventually, as the old light strands start dying, I will invest in LED sets to be kinder to the environment and my electric bill, but for now what I have will have to do.

2. Timers

Stop at the hardware store and pick up a timer for your Christmas lights. (Of course, if you put up Halloween/fall lights like me, the timer and extension cord are already set and good to go. All you have to do it unplug the old season lights and plug in the new.)

Timers are the best invention since...I guess I have to say “since pre-lit decorations” so I don’t have to rewrite number one above. Your lights will then be on to brighten up the end of your day when you get home and you won’t have that moment of “Did I remember to turn off the Christmas lights?” angst when you’re all tucked into bed. You can also get one for the tree inside the house. (I usually want to turn that on and off at such different times it doesn’t work well for me.)

3. Plastic storage bags and boxes.

If you don’t have any, pick them up this year at the after holiday sales. (Actually, due to the financial crunch this year, the stores may have some extra good sales before Christmas so keep your eye out.) If you’re like me, you have to store the big stuff out in the garage. Plastic tubs are the way to go, because they provide good—though not fool-proof—protection from water. They’re also sturdier for stacking and last longer than the corrugated storage boxes.

I store my indoor evergreens in one box and outdoor greens in another so I can grab them easily and don’t have to sort things out every year. Special boxes for wreaths are great because you can find them easily due to their shape and size. I also have a nice big tree bag with handles on it. It’s so easy to pack and carry, I don’t know how I managed before I got it! I stack the tubs for the evergreens on the side of the garage and put the tree bag on top; it’s higher and drier—and much easier to lift.

4. Big red bows.

If you want a splash of color, go for the bows. You can get big, red ones that will stand up well to the weather almost anywhere so check around for the best bargains. If you don’t have any and want them now instead of waiting for the sales, I suggest stopping by a dollar store: red bows are such a general stock item that they’re sure to have some and it won’t break your budget.

Bows can be added to your wreaths; they look great attached to each post on a porch railing; and your can even decorate whole outdoor trees—evergreen or otherwise—and get a big impact with this simple, tasteful effect.

5. Edit your decorative scheme.

Okay, not everyone’s going to agree with me on this one: If you love all the lighted and inflatable lawn figures, I encourage you to make a bold statement by sticking to one theme. Religious with angels, choir boys, manager scenes and stars is fine; Santa with his reindeer, sleigh and presents is it great; whimsical with penguins, deer, and other animals is cute, too (you could even add Santa to that one). But if you throw them all together, you get that “Merry Chaos” feeling I spoke of earlier. And, did I mention, that big electric bill? Not such a merry after Christmas gift to yourself!

If you’ve already got all these decorations, what do you do with them? Remember, you can always rotate themes like the department stores do for their windows. Also, heads up: no one needs more than one lawn Santa.

6. On the other hand...

This holiday more than any other is about Nostalgia (yes, with a capital N) so if it just wouldn’t feel like Christmas to you without everything you own on display, go for it. That warm, heart-felt, fulfilled feeling is what helps us all be kinder to our fellow humans and that is definitely not something to cut back on no matter what happens on Wall Street!

I know a lot of this column has been about the practical side of Christmas decor, but my theory is that we should all spend more time enjoying the look of the season than stressing out over putting up and taking down all the festive glitter.

Next time, I’ll give you some insight into what goes on indoors at my holiday-decked house.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Message...

All of us at the Lotti wish you and yours...
...a very
Happy Thanksgiving!

Thank you so much for your patronage so far this year! We look forward to a great holiday season. Today, however the restaurant is closed to the general public, as are all the Lotti restaurants, so we can have a special feast of thanksgiving with our friends and extended family. We will be opened tomorrow, Black Friday, so drop in and fortify yourself between rounds of shopping or treat yourself to dinner after you're done.

While you're here don't forget to enter our Favorite Holiday Treat Contest! And, if you haven't already, cast a vote for your favorite beverage in our poll.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Contest: What’s your favorite holiday treat?

You may have noticed our poll asking about your favorite fall beverage. (My current favorite is the Lotti’s latest seasonal hit: Dark Truffle Espresso. Not a surprise to anyone who knows me and my chocolate addiction!) There’s nothing better than a cup o’ your favorite, except an awesome meal or snack to go with it. Therefore, we’ve decided to have a small contest to find out what your favorite treat is for the winter holidays. Is it a scrumptious cake or cookie, a great side dish or stuffing, perhaps a unique traditional family main course?

Drop us an email and tell us about your favorite holiday treat (along with the recipe, if you’d care to share it). If you do, you’ll be entered in a contest to win a winter holiday goodie basket complete with a deliciously scented jar candle to add to your holiday (or year round) decor. There will be two lucky winners. The contest ends on December 7th at midnight.

Prizes have been donated by McKenna’s new resident, author Kat Duarte in celebration of the release of her new novel ANGEL GETS HER WINGS at Eternal Press. One entry per person, please. Remember to put “Cafe Lotti Contest” in the subject line of your email and send your entry to:

Happy Holiday Mania...don’t panic (yet)

by April Garza

Okay, you may have noticed that right after Halloween a strange, but annual phenomenon began: time seems to be speeding up. Oh, it has nothing to do with daylight savings time messing up our senses or any theory of relativity, simple or otherwise, bless little Albert E. and his overactive brain. It’s a simple fact we are in the holiday time-crunch. We’re all counting down the days till Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, New Year’s Eve or a combination thereof, and coming up short on time to get everything done.

Never fear. We’ll get through this together. And (as long as the coffee, tea and hot chocolate lasts) we’ll find the energy once again to make merry during these darkening late fall and winter evenings.

First, take a deep breath and remember that if you took my tips for Fall and Halloween decorating, you’re already ahead of the game. (Not that I am. My army of cat, ghost and pumpkin people figurines is still scattered through the house. I can dish out the advice, but I don’t necessarily abide by it myself. At least I converted the outside so it’s just fall decor!)

If you have boxed up the Halloween specific items, you can leave things as they are or add a few small touches here and there to take you through Thanksgiving dinner. Dust off the Pilgrim and turkey figurines or candles if you’ve got them; add a wicker cornucopia to the table; put a “Happy Thanksgiving” or “Happy Harvest” sign on the door. Don’t go overboard because most of it’s getting packed away in a few days anyhow.

What’s next? Well, it’s too early to start baking the turkey and pumpkin pies, but it’s not too soon to start thinking ahead for the holiday after Thanksgiving. For me, it’s preparing for that “most wonderful time of the year” (and busiest, too!) — Christmas.

My apologies to those of you who celebrate another of the winter festivals, but I’ve got to stick to what I know for most of my decorating advice. If you celebrate one of the others, please add some comments to give your decorating tips. It would be great to learn about them!

Shall we get into the decorations? Not yet. I’ll have several new posts soon to cover decking out your halls, but for now, we need to concentrate on...


Step 1: Time to make the gift list.
It’s simple, but very important. Take a minute at lunch or break or during TV commercials at home and write out a list of all the people you need to have a gift for this season. Keep the list in your purse or wallet from this moment on, along with a pen, and keep it updated. Whenever you’re in a store and have the urge to buy something, look at it to be sure that you need to buy gift for that person or if you’ve already finished with them. If you find a good bargain, the same gift might work for two or three people; your list can help figure that out, too. It saves time and helps you take advantage of sales.
I suggest dividing your list into categories: family, close friends, business associates and others (kids’ teachers, the mailman and such). List the name and leave a space for notes. Write down any gifts you’re thinking of for that person and any you’ve already bought. If you’re like me, you’ve been picking them up throughout the year as you found them, so...

Step 2: Go through the gifts you’ve already picked up through the year.
Yep. You need to do this so you don’t over buy. I have no doubt you saw something in a store this year and bought it thinking, “I know this is perfect for....” Then you put it in a closet or drawer somewhere. Find these things now and add them to your list. You may already be half done with your shopping and not realize it!
By the way, if you don’t have a box designated for storing gifts, pick one up as you shop this year (or at the after holiday sales). I’ve got a cardboard storage that has a holly print on the outside. I keep it front and forward in one of my closets and whenever I buy a gift, I pop it inside. (Unfortunately I’m not organized enough to update a gift list year round; therefore I always have to remember to do step 2 sometime in November.)

Step 3: Don’t forget the holiday birthdays.
I have quite a few loved ones who have birthdays around this time of year. One, whose birthday is on the 25th, finds she gets short changed a lot by people who think one gift for Christmas is enough. That’s just not fair at all in my book or hers! Remember to add this category to your list. Again, it helps you to take advantage of sales.

Step 4: Get your Christmas cards out now.
For me, that means hunting up the cards I bought last year at the after Christmas sales. If you didn’t do that, move this to step 1: go out and buy your cards now!
No, I’m not one of those people whose cards are done and delivered by the weekend after Thanksgiving. Kudos to those who do that, but where do you find the time? No, really, it’s not a rhetorical question; I’m asking. I can never seem to get that ultra-organized so please, give us your tips so I can use them next year!
If you do your cards, envelopes, “what we did this year” letters, etc. on the computer, I suppose you’ll have to set aside an afternoon or evening to get them done. I do mine the old fashioned way though.
If you’re like me, handwritten messages not only get me into the spirit of the season but also seem more personal—at least, I always fell special when I get a handwritten note in a card. Lunch breaks and TV commercial breaks come in handy again. I sit down with my address book and label all the envelopes first, then sort them out into piles according to how much I’m going to write in each one. Some get just a signature, some a short note, and then there’s the five or six people who get a long letter inside. Those take time, so I usually leave them for last.

Step 5: Get a list of the deadlines for mailing out packages
Yes, you can wait till the week before and pay the extra to rush delivery, but why? Just get the dates and mark them on your calendar. Set your reminders for a few days before the deadline, so you’ll be sure to get the gifts wrapped, boxed, and labeled for dropping them off at the post office—or have them picked up—and save some money for other holiday spending.

That’s it for now. It’s certainly enough to think about while planning your turkey day! And speaking of that, have you seen the contest we’re running about favorite holiday treats? It’d be great if you’d enter and give us some recipe ideas to use in upcoming weeks!

Current Virtual Menu Specials

Try our new...


Dark Truffle Espresso, Carmel Apple Pie Latte, Pumpkin Spice medium roast morning blend, and Hot Spiced Cider

Lunch Specials:

Turkey and Provolone sandwich with cranberry chutney; Pot roast sandwich with grilled onions and horseradish spread; Sautéed shrimp with orange peel serve in a squash boat; Cheddar, cauliflower and mashed potato soup

Dinner Specials:

Chicken breast with cranberry stuffing, spiced mashed acorn squash; Steak with garlic and mustard sauce, potato and sweet pepper gratin; Braised pork chops with apricot sauce, garlic mashed potatoes

Bakery Goods:

Spiced cranberry Bundt cake; Chocolate Hazelnut Napoleon; Pear gingerbread loaf

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Café Klatch Reviews: French Kiss by Sloane Taylor

Café Klatch meets the second Monday of each month...
Where: McKenna Café Lotti
When: 7pm to 9ish or closing

Recap: Last month five of us gathered for dinner, dessert, coffee and a discussion on the second book in Nora Robert’s “Sign of the Seven” trilogy, The Pagan Stone. All of us are hot to get our hands on the third book that’s in stores on November 25th. So far, the first two books have not disappointed: great characters, exciting (and very spooky!) story, seamless plotting.

One problem we’ve noticed is that our group tends to go off target so much – talking about the Lotti’s food, hot guys, etc. – that we really don’t do justice to a full length novel. Therefore, we decided that maybe we could get through a sorter book and so we voted on doing a novella this month.

This month’s Café Klatch review is for:
French Kiss by Sloane Taylor
Available from Eternal Press

Hot, hot, hot is the first thing we’d all like to say about this book. We suspect we’d say that about most of Ms. Taylor’s work as on to specifics. The suspense is just as intense as the sex scenes in this story about Rachel Conklin, a children’s author who is shanghaied by sex traffickers in the Mediterranean. She escapes, washes up on an island near Nice
during a storm, and is rescued by a gorgeous French pediatrician named Henri Bernier. The evil sex-traffickers’ leader, Captain Gagnon, is still looking for her though. Meanwhile, so as not to become part of a media circus, she’s trying to keep her identity secret even from Henri, with whom she is falling in love. (And they both fall into the sack a lot, too. We really had to keep our voices low when discussing those parts even tucked into the back corner of the restaurant!)

All of us who attended the discussion agreed we need at hot pediatrician like Henri in our town. If we did, all the children would be super healthy form the extra appointments their moms would schedule to swoon over his sexy accent, among other things.

French Kiss gets a rating of 3 chocolate truffles and a definite “oo la la” from us!

For excerpts and other reviews go to Eternal Press or to
Next month’s book: Angel Gets Her Wings by Kat Duarte