November 2013

Pull Up a Chair

November 29, 2013

Thanksgiving Walk

Our first American Thanksgiving as a family was terrific. It was just the four of us, and B and I decided to introduce the girls to a traditional Thanksgiving meal. They really got into it, and wanted to help with everything. We made pumpkin pie together and they watched intently as I brined and prepped the turkey.

On our menu this year: An Amish raised turkey with the basic trimmings: dressing, mashed potatoes, and gravy; homemade cranberry sauce; roasted brussels sprouts with pomegranate seeds and pecans; and a green salad with pears, dried cranberries, and pumpkin seed oil. B made a delicious sweet potato soup and we served the girls sparkling cider in small wine glasses, while we enjoyed some riesling. Dessert was the aforementioned pumpkin pie with whipped cream and vanilla ice cream. Apart from the dressing not being up to my standards, everything turned out great and the girls declared their first turkey dinner a big success. They also couldn’t stop offering toasts so they’d have an excuse to clink their crystal goblets. Too cute.

Earlier in the day I read S and H a story about the Mayflower and the pilgrims and Plymouth Rock and Squanto, and we went for a walk where they found a hill with lots of leaves and they rolled down that hill about 50 times.

We have so many left overs, it’s crazy; I wish I could hand you a plate! I think this pear-rosemary cocktail from Martha Stewart would be the perfect accompaniment.  Please grab one and tell me about your week. Here’s my high and low:

High: All of the above. Our first Thanksgiving was really special and I enjoyed preparing for it. I love that our girls are always up for new experiences and celebrations. We’re looking forward to Christmas!

Low: As we celebrated, my heart was a heavy for a dear friend whose mother is seriously ill in the hospital.

Bonus question: Do you love or hate leftovers? I love them, and they’re so convenient. Some things also taste better the next day. But I know people who can’t stand them.

Before signing off, I want to wish my Jewish readers a very happy Hanukkah! Yesterday was the first day, and I’m dying to know what was on the menu for those of you who were combining Hanukkah and Thanksgiving together!

Have a lovely and slow weekend and I’ll see you back here on Monday.

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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Thanksgiving

November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving Table on Rip+Tan

A client of mine in Australia once told me that she wished she had a Thanksgiving holiday in her country because it’s so lovely to have a national day focused on gratitude. I couldn’t agree more — and I’m grateful for so much.

To all my American readers, Happy Thanksgiving!

Friends, no matter where this greeting finds you, I hope you’re enjoying your day.

Image by Jenni Kayne at rip+tan.

 

 

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Internet Menagerie

November 27, 2013

Autumn Wall

While I’m busy today preparing for our first American Thanksgiving as a family, I wanted to share some of the interesting, informative, and inspiring things I’ve spotted around the web over the past few weeks. Please add your own finds in the comments!

  • One husband’s response to “So, you’re a stay-at-home mom. What the heck do you do all day?” (The Matt Walsh Blog)
  • Everything I’d like to say about my Vitamix — but said better. (Slate)
  • A well-known chef copes with Alzheimer’s disease…by cooking. (The Washington Post)
  • This is almost enough for me to want green bean casserole tomorrow. (Smitten Kitchen)

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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Linocut Rejoice Card on Etsy

I love beautiful cards, and I think they’re particularly special in an age when so much of our communication is digital. There’s something about holding an artfully designed card in your hands, especially when it’s been handmade or selected just for you — or by you, for someone you care about.

As I mentioned recently, this year we’re planning to send photo cards for Christmas. We’ve never done it before, but so many people want to lay eyes on our little girls (and I don’t blame them one bit). Although I also love to receive photo cards during the holidays, there’s always a little thrill when a loved one sends a card that’s handmade or artfully created. The thought made me curious about what different Etsy shops might be offering this year… Here’s a small sampling of what caught my eye:

Owl in the Snow Card from Etsy

Owl in the Snow (watercolor and ink). This card makes me feel the peace and loveliness of a soft snow on a wintry evening. I love it.

Recycled Paper Card from Etsy

Recycled Card (black ink). This one comes in a set of 20, and I like how simple it is. (Gives me ideas for homemade cards of my own sometime, too.)

Brownstone Christmas Card on Etsy

A Brownstone Christmas (recycled paper and black pen). I love pen and ink renderings, and there’s something cool about sending a card with your house or another memorable building on it. If you live in a city with lots of brownstones, this might be right up your alley.

Yeti Card on Etsy

Yeti. This illustrated card makes me smile; it’s so darn cute!

Letterpress Cards from Etsy

Letterpress Cards: Holy Family Ornament and Let It Snow. I am a fan of letterpress anything, and Etsy carries so many lovely holiday letterpress cards.

Pudding Card from Etsy

Pudding card. There’s something I love about this one… It’s also letterpress, which might be it — or maybe I just love anything that makes me think of a delectable Christmas pudding. And then there’s that adorable little sprig of holly on top… I don’t know, but I dig it!

Linocut Sheep Card on Etsy

Linocut Sheep (oil based ink). This card is one in a set of four (another of which is the Rejoice card at the top of this post). The whole “deck of cards” style is great — different and fun.

Jodi Queenan Holy Family Card

Jodi Queenan Cards: Holy Family and To the World. I have one of Queenan’s limited prints of a mother and her twin daughters in my girls’ bedroom. I just love her work.

Jodi Queenan World Peace Card

And last but not least:

il_570xN.524456123_1t08

Peace to the World. This a 5×7 card, so it would be a lovely one to frame and use in a child’s room. I love its whimsical style; the entire illustration is just precious.

There are so many beautiful cards out there! Hope you get at least one in your mailbox this year. I’d love to know if any of the ones I selected above stand out to you, or if you’ve got any favorites you’ve seen online.

All images via from their respective Etsy shops

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H and S Looking Out

Back in May, I wrote a post about “comfort” nursing my (then newly) adopted, preschool-aged daughters. It took some nerve to write, as you might imagine. To my great surprise, it continues to be the most widely linked post on SlowMama: Well over a hundred thousand people from all around the world have read it to date!

Breastfeeding is undoubtedly one of those topics everyone has a strong opinion about, and our story definitely pushed the boundaries of what most consider normal or acceptable. I myself could never have imagined writing (or doing) such a thing prior to becoming an adoptive mom, and I’m not sure how I would have reacted back then if I’d read this story on someone else’s blog. The experience affirmed for me that the old adage is true: Never judge a person until you walk a mile in her shoes.

It’s more than six months later, and I’ve still got comments coming in on that post, so I thought I’d write a brief update on where things stand now, since lots of inquiring minds seem to want to know…

Comfort nursing (or “dry” nursing, as it’s sometimes called) was always just a tiny part of how my daughters attached to me as their new mother (a process not well understood by people outside of the adoption community). I’m talking maybe a few times a week for less than a minute or two. In the weeks following my post, the request for it became even less frequent, and after a few more months it was barely happening at all.

Despite the criticisms I received (including the charge of sexual abuse), I’m so glad I set my own discomfort aside and followed my daughters’ lead. I’m fortunate to have incredibly supportive family and friends, and I’m grateful that the overwhelming majority of comments and emails I received on the post were — and continue to be — kind and supportive.

The main reason I shared my experience was to help other adoptive moms who might find themselves in a similar situation. As I said in my original post, I don’t think the choice I made was the only way to go; it was just a gut decision I made in the moment, from my mothering instinct — and I saw the fruits, so I went with it. Today, just over a year after becoming a family, I have two very attached and secure daughters.

If you’re a mom — or planning to become one — whether by birth or adoption, I hope you’ll never hesitate to trust your intuition, tune out the voices that have not walked a mile in your shoes, and reach out for any support you need.

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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Tomorrow is National Adoption Day, and to mark the occasion, I was invited to interview Rachel Crow — The X Factor standout, Nickelodeon star, and Columbia Records recording artist. Since I don’t have a television and don’t listen to a lot of country music, I didn’t know much about Rachel, but wow, the girl impressed me. Sweet as anything, articulate, mature, and passionate about making a difference — I had such a fun time speaking with her!

Rachel, 15, was adopted from foster care as an infant. Raised on a farm surrounded by country music, she began singing as a toddler and entered talent contests at local fairs. By the age of five, she had decided to be a performer, and at 13, she packed her bags and headed off to Los Angeles with her family. She wowed Hollywood — and the rest of America — at an audition for the first season of The X Factor and was a top finalist in the competition. She soon signed a record deal with Columbia Records/Syco and has gone on to act in numerous Nickelodeon shows, one of which she’s now starring in. This girl is no joke, friends.

Before I share a bit more about my interview with Rachel, I want to share four facts about National Adoption Day — which of course means so much more to me now…

  • It’s celebrated annually on the Saturday before Thanksgiving and held during National Adoption Month (November).
  • Its purpose is to raise awareness of the more than 100,000 children in foster care waiting to find families.
  • It also draws attention to the more than 26,000 children each year who turn 18 and age out of the foster care system without families of their own to support them in the future.
  • Since the day’s inception in 2000, and thanks to the efforts of many people, more than 44,500 children have been adopted from foster care on National Adoption Day. That number amazes me!

As for my interview above with Rachel: I had 10 minutes with her, and the the funny thing was, I totally forgot it was being recorded to video while we were talking (since I was on the phone). I was sitting on my daughters’ messy bed, hoping the two of them wouldn’t bang on the door in the middle of my conversation.

Anyway, excuse the pauses in the interview — there was a lag in the sound at times — and my um’s and the ah’s… My live interviewing skills could use a little work. Also, my voice sounds so nasally! But I think everyone says that when they listen to themselves, right?

Enjoy the interview, and join me in wishing that National Adoption Day tomorrow will help to unite many children in need with loving families!

Thanks to Valerie Cardaci at Connect360 Multimedia for inviting me to participate in National Adoption Day’s collaborative effort with bloggers.

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Pull Up a Chair

November 22, 2013

Fall Trees Baltimore

The trees outside our door are at their fall peak right now. Aren’t they gorgeous? One tree has at least six colors spread throughout its leaves; I had to run out with my camera yesterday and take a couple of shots because they were so beautiful. Are the trees in full color where you are, or is fall mostly just about cooler nights in your neck of the woods (or is spring actually underway)?

Fall Trees Baltimore (2)

For our end-of-week happy-hour chat today, grab one of these easy pomegranate cranberry lime cocktails. I totally love drinks like this. Here’s my high and low of the week:

Low: My body seriously needs some work. I’m so stiff and sore! It’s a combination of not having made the time for exercise for way too long, the colder temps, and the physical toll parenting has taken on my small frame over the past year — which includes sleeping in positions that are really uncomfortable and give me sore hips. I need a spa vacation!

High: Dinner out with a new friend. The break was nice, of course, but it’s a special thing to build a new friendship with a woman whom you not only really like and share a lot in common with, but who also happens to be the mom of five-year-old twins who were born in Ethiopia. How cool is that?

Bonus Question: Are you an animal prints person? In the clothing department, it’s a big “no” for me — unless it were a smaller accessory, like a spotted leopard silk scarf (and I do have a fabulous fake fur scarf I love). When it comes to home furnishings, though, I do like animal prints and textures in moderation. (B, on the other hand, isn’t a fan, so you won’t find much of it in our house.)

Alright, friends, how was your week? Tell me about it! And come on back this afternoon — I’ve got a fun interview to share with you. Have a splendid and slow weekend, and I’ll see you back here on Monday!

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul

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by Margaret Cabaniss

SlowMama Holiday Gift Guide 2013

I’m trying to implement some of Zoe’s tips for having a more meaningful Christmas this year, and that means trying to finish up as much of my shopping before December 1 as I can. If you’re in the same boat, here are some gift ideas with the SlowMama reader in mind — many are handcrafted, locally sourced, or support great charities abroad — that we think anyone on your list would enjoy.

For Her

SlowMama Gift Guide 2013

Noonday CollectionZoe has mentioned Noonday Collection before and the great work they do with artisans around the globe to support mothers, orphans, and adoptive families. I love pretty much everything in this picture.

No. 41 bags. These bags are handmade by young women in Rwanda — orphans who have been taught to sew as a way to gain independence and valuable life skills. On top of that, each bag purchased provides 240 meals to a student in a nearby secondary school: “for one child, for one meal, for one year” (hence the name, No. 41). Not a bad trade-off for a cute bag.

SlowMama Holiday Gift Guide 2013

Hand-dipped taper candlesElegant tapers like these are the kind of thing I love and never buy for myself. Everything in Jenny Steffens Hobick’s “Everyday Occasions” store — including the monogrammed hemstitched napkins — would make a lovely hostess gift, or a thoughtful Christmas gift for a couple just starting out…

Kantha throwVia Lydali, another great organization that Zoe profiled a while back, which handpicks these amazing finds from artisans whose work would never otherwise see the light of the internet. This throw (from Bangladesh) is just lovely.

For Him

blanket_shoes

Lumberlander camp blanket. I originally planned to recommend that gorgeous camp blanket and leather carrier, but the axe would make a pretty sweet gift, too. These are tools designed to be passed down to your kids, and your kids’ kids…

Oliberté shoesOliberté says it’s the “world’s first fair trade certified footwear.” Made in Africa from renewable materials, in factories committed to fair wages and reducing their environmental impact — plus they’re darn stylish to…er, boot.

SlowMama Gift Guide 2013

Worker’s soap. Yes, it’s artisinal soap — but with its “hardy and strapping scent of cedar, patchouli, and tobacco,” it’s manly artisinal soap. Made in the good ol’ U.S. of A.

Pocket journalI can never have too many journals for jotting random notes, and I am digging these sleek, minimalist Shinola notebooks (made in Michigan).

For the Kids

SlowMama Holiday Gift Guide 2013

Felt animal costumeIf you don’t feel up to making your own felt masks before the holidays, these felt animal and superhero costume sets (via Etsy) are a fantastic alternative.

Custom handmade dollThis little bit is so charming. I love the idea of having a custom doll made to match your child — particularly if your child doesn’t match the commercially favored shades of pink… (But heads up: Custom orders will take longer this time of year, so be sure to plan ahead.)

SlowMama Holiday Gift Guide 2013

Natural wood building blocksThis one is a no-brainer. Good for hours of imaginative play.

MancalaI remember playing this game obsessively when I was younger; it’s a great introduction to strategy for little kids but is still engaging for older ones (and their parents).

Kitchen

SlowMama Holiday Gift Guide 2013

Bees wrapNatural kitchen wrap made with beeswax and cloth that you can wash and reuse again and again. I would love nothing more than to banish Saran Wrap from my life forever.

Bread bagPlastic bags are death to freshly baked loaves of bread; this linen bread bag lets it breathe just enough. Somehow it just makes your bread look more delicious.

SlowMama Holiday Gift Guide 2013

“Cook” tea towel. Because you can never have too many tea towels.

Acacia wood paddlesI have a wooden paddle in my utensil drawer, and it’s amazing how versatile it is. I grab it over a spoon every single time — and these are just plain gorgeous.

SlowMama Holiday Gift Guide 2013

Stoneware growlerFor the beer enthusiast in your family. I like the old-fashioned style of this guy — it looks like you could play it in a jug band. Be sure to take it by your favorite microbrewery first to fill ‘er up…

Six-pack carrier and opener. This is somehow both over the top and completely awesome. Perfect for picnics all summer long — or simply showing up every other guest at your next BYOB party. Another good one to fill up before giving, with fancy beers or fancy sodas.

Food

SlowMama Holiday Gift Guide 2013

Rancho Gordo gift box. Beans are beans — unless they’re heirloom beans cooked at home, and then they’re truly a thing of wonder. Put together a gift box for your favorite chef.

Counter Culture coffee. Even that impossible-to-shop-for, I-have-everything-I-need person on your list can always use good coffee. Great small-batch roasters of fair-trade beans abound, but I always have a soft spot for my home-state favorite, Counter Culture. I wouldn’t mind finding a bag of their holiday blend in my stocking this year…

SlowMama Holiday Gift Guide 2013

Bacon of the Month club. I say again: Bacon of the Month club. Zingerman’s Deli is an Ann Arbor institution, and their (in)famous bacon club has gotten raves from chefs the country over. Yes, it’s a lot of money for bacon, but I think the price-to-joy ratio will probably balance out.

NatureBox subscription. If you’re feeling guilty about the bacon thing. Put together a box of natural snacks, then set up a recurring delivery. This one would be great for busy moms — or consider making your own.

Books

SlowMama Holiday Gift Guide 2013

The Telling Room, by Michael Paterniti. This one is hard to describe, but I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed it. For anyone interested in old Spain, heritage foods, travel writing, family feuds, revenge, and the lost art of storytelling.

Cooked, by Michael Pollan. I haven’t read this one yet, but it’s on my list; Pollan is always worth reading, and his latest — on the history of cooking from its earliest forms — looks like a winner.

SlowMama Holiday Guide 2013

The Kinfolk Table, by Nathan Williams. I love drooling over Kinfolk magazine’s gorgeous photo spreads and lovely gatherings, and now there’s a whole cookbook I can sigh over. Hooray!

Homeward Bound, by Emily Matchar. I wrote about this book a few months ago, and since then I’ve had some great conversations about it. I could see this one working for a book club, or for anyone who loves a good book discussion almost as much as the book-reading itself.

SlowMama Holiday Guide 2013

Seriously Bittersweet, by Alice Medrich, and The Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book, by Emily and Melissa Elsen. I know nothing about these two cookbooks other than that they are gorgeous, and I am totally on board with all things chocolate- and pie-related. Give these to your baker friend and consider the hint dropped.

Intangibles

SlowMama Holiday Gift Guide 2013

Event tickets. Give the ever-elusive gift of time: Buy tickets to a play, a football game, a train ride to the city…anything that lets you enjoy some time together doing something a little out of the ordinary. (image)

Museum membership. If your grandkids really don’t need another toy, consider a family membership to a local museum or zoo in their area. The kids will enjoy it all year long, and their parents will thank you for the neat opportunity to get out of the house. (image)

SlowMama Holiday Gift Guide 2013

Donation for typhoon reliefThe devastation in the Philippines from Typhoon Haiyan has been truly staggering. Consider making a donation to relief efforts in someone else’s name; the money will do far more good there than as yet another “World’s Greatest Dad” mug. (image)

Heifer InternationalOf course, there are worthy causes all over. I’ve always appreciated Heifer International’s concrete approach to giving: You can see exactly what your money is buying — in this case, life-sustaining animals like cows, sheep, goats, and chickens to help lift people in the developing world out of poverty.

*   *   *

Any other great products, shops, or causes you’ll be supporting this holiday season? Let us know in the comments! Meanwhile, be sure to check out past year’s lists:

Lead image via Sunday Suppers; all others from their respective companies, unless otherwise linked.

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Thanksgiving Table

I have to admit, I’ve never quite gotten used to having Thanksgiving in late November. (In Canada, it’s in mid-October.) But I still love it just the same — especially the food. For Christmas dinner, I’m often eager to try something a little different, but not on Thanksgiving; a traditional turkey-centric meal is the only thing that makes me happy, even if I do experiment with a new side dish or two.

In honor of next week’s holiday, I thought my American readers would enjoy a tour of the Thanksgiving-related posts we’ve featured here at SlowMama over the past couple of years. And if you live elsewhere, you might just find that one of these posts will come in handy for your next holiday or special occasion…

  • Updated Thanksgiving Classics: If you love traditional Southern holiday recipes — or just want to branch out — the ambrosia salad and cornbread dressing here will not disappoint.
  • Ask SlowMama: Thanksgiving Edition: The holidays seem to bring out the best and the worst in families. Here’s my advice about how to reconcile with a family member before you see him or her around the holiday table.
  • Just in Case: A funny Thanksgiving flow chart to bring a smile to your face when you’re feeling a bit frazzled.
  • Sweet Potato Madness: Lip-smacking good recipes using the seasonal sweet potato. The soup recipe at the end would be a perfect starter to a Thanksgiving meal!

Have you seen any great Thanksgiving-related posts around the web? Recipes you’re dying to try this year? I’d love to hear about them!

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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The Basics: How to Set a Table

November 19, 2013

by Ann Waterman

The Basics: How to Set a Table

I never registered for formal china for my wedding, opting only for a plain, white, everyday set. That’s because I was promised my grandmother’s set — a beautiful emerald art deco pattern — which I had coveted since I was a child. The only problem was figuring out how to transport it from my hometown in Winnipeg to my current digs in the burbs of Washington, D.C., without breaking it (or busting the bank for shipping). After several years of going back and forth with my dad about the best way to transport it, he came up with a brilliant idea: Deliver it in person via cross-country road trip! I was thrilled to receive him and my china — all in one piece — at my doorstep.

The Basics: How to Set a Table

Having formal china for entertaining purposes has been a delight, and I love pulling it out for special occasions. There are so many interesting pieces in my grandmother’s set, but knowing what goes where can be a little overwhelming. With the holidays approaching, I thought a little table-setting refresher might be helpful — for myself, and for all you hostesses out there (or those of you who might be enlisted by your hostess to help set the table).

Informal Place Setting

The Basics: How to Set a Table

Let’s start with a more casual place setting first — for everyday dinners or more low-key events.

Dinner plates should be placed 1 inch above the edge of the table and, ideally, there should be 30 inches between the center of one dinner plate and the next. Of course, that’s not always possible with large gatherings, and thankfully, Carson won’t be around with his ruler to check; just aim to get as close to that ideal as possible.

Napkins can be placed to the left of the plate or on the plate itself. Feeling creative? Here are some unique napkin folding ideas.

Forks go to the left of the plate (on the napkin, if that’s where you choose to place it). If you’re serving a salad, the salad fork goes to the left of dinner fork, since it will be picked up first. (A good tip for remembering which utensil is for what course: You always work from the outside in.) Knives are placed to the right of the plate, with the blade of the knife facing the plate. (It’s considered rude to have the blade facing your dining partner — and, back in the day, a sign of hostility. Not exactly the tone you want to set for a dinner party!) Dinner forks and knives should be 1 inch away from the plate, and the handles of your utensils should all align with the bottom of the plate.

Water glasses go directly above your dinner knife. If you’re serving an additional beverage like wine, it goes to the right of the water glass.

Formal Place Setting

The Basics: How to Set a Table

The formal place setting builds on the basic informal setting to accommodate additional courses. Bread plates go above your fork, with the bread knife placed diagonally across the edge. Dessert spoons and forks go above the dinner plate, one above the other, with the fork closest to the plate, tines pointing to the right, and the spoon directly above, with the bowl pointing left.

Wine glasses are placed to the right of the water glass in the order they will be served: If you’re serving a red and white, the red wine glass will be to the right of the water glass, and the white wine glass will be to the right of the red wine. Each glass is removed along with the course it accompanies.

Worried about taking your neighbor’s water glass or roll by mistake? Just remember “BMW” (like the car) for bread, meal, water — the order from left to right that these are placed on the table. Or, make the OK sign with your right and left hands: Your left hand makes a “b” for bread and your right hand makes a “d” for drinks.

If soup is the first course, add a soup spoon to the left of the dinner knife. The soup bowl is placed on top of the dinner plate and removed along with the spoon once the course is complete. If salad is the second course, be sure to include a salad fork (placed to the right of the dinner fork), and place the salad plate on top of the dinner plate. Remove it along with the salad fork when the course is complete, along with any wine that accompanied the course.

The Basics: How to Set a Table

Once the main course is complete, clear the the dinner plate, fork, knife, butter plate and knife, and wine glass. When dessert is served, pull the dessert spoon down to the right and the dessert fork down to the left. You can use one or both. (And in case you’re wondering why you might need two dessert utensils, the fork can be used tines-down as an anchor for more unwieldy desserts with the spoon to break and scoop. The fork can also be used to “push” food onto the spoon.) Cup and saucer for tea or coffee can be placed to the right of the dessert spoon.

Need a cheat sheet for all of this? Check out this handy diagram of different place settings. Most importantly, have fun! While your guests will appreciate a beautifully set table, they’ll appreciate your warmth and charm even more.

P.S. — Does your silverware need a little polishing? Check out Mags’ easy way to clean silver.

Images: Ann Waterman

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