The Real Meaning of Christmas: making sense of Sandy Hook

The Real Meaning of Christmas

I usually post about interior design but in light of yesterday’s tragedy just two towns over, I find my heart and mind with the families of Sandy Hook, CT. I just cannot find the right words to begin to express my grief. How do we begin to help those families heal?

As a parent, I am devastated. Where in the parenting handbook is the chapter on how to tell your child 20 kids your age were senselessly massacred yesterday? How do we begin to wrap our heads around this tragedy? How do we continue to live in a world that feels increasingly less safe with each event?

I started this year with the diagnosis of our daughter with Hemophilia C, then the murder of my best friend, got through an historic storm that devastated the lower level of our church, Trinity Episcopal in Southport, and now the most horrific thing that I could ever imagine has happened – innocent children have been shot, witnessed unspeakable acts, had their innocence ripped from them in the moments in which a terribly troubled young man went off the deep end.

And yet what I recognize as real life has swept through my back yard is there are places all across the world, where people suffer these sorts of horrors daily, whether war or famine, children are the innocent recipients of some dreadful messes.

So what is our response this Christmas? Do we just pull the covers up over our heads, bury our heads in the sand or crawl back under our rock?

Or do we work hand in hand with our friends and neighbors to begin to change the world one little corner at a time? You ask how? Where could we possibly start?

Start by looking inside. Do you judge your neighbor for his unkempt lawn? Maybe he has a cold or is taking care of a family member and can’t get to it right now. Are you unkind to the checkout gal who just might be having a bad day? Maybe she has to work a second job to pay the bills and really wants to be home with her kids. Do you walk by the homeless guy and wonder why he doesn’t just get a job? Maybe he was laid off and lost everything.

There are a thousand stories and we cannot begin to know which one any one person is living through right now.

This Christmas, smile a little more, bake your home bound neighbor cookies (that’s what our daughter chose to do), cut someone a little slack, let the harried mom go ahead of you in the checkout line, pick up the trash you see on the ground even if isn’t yours, put a coin in the Salvation Army kettle, feed someone at a shelter, listen really listen when your child tells you that long story again, call someone you haven’t spoken to in a long time, forgive…

Make one small change each day and one by one we can heal the world!

Wishing you peace, love and light,


Holidays at the Office

Hey, Melanie Solimine here! I am a marketing intern at Avery Design Interiors this fall and a student at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, CT. I am stepping in today, because Catherine is working on her launch for her new website.

Here are some inspirational photos for your holiday interior decoration at your office!

Catherine is passionate about bringing her client’s brand to bear through the design of their space. Not only do we improve employees’ productivity and the functionality of your space but we ensure that your clients experience your company’s brand through your office environment.

Thinking about redesigning your office in the new year? To set up your complimentary consultation call, please contact us at

Love to hear from you in the comments – how are you decorating your office for the holidays?


Today, I was speaking with a dear friend who is nearing his 25th wedding anniversary to his equally amazing wife.  He spoke of an inn in such glowing terms that I turned to him and said “Are you talking about the Bee and Thistle?”  His shocked answer was yes.

The Bee and Thistle Inn in Old Lyme, CT is so romantic, the grounds and rooms so lovely, the food delicious and the staff fantastic.  I have not been able to get the inn out of my mind all day, mostly because I remember all of the snow on the ground, much like it is now here in Fairfield County.

Bee and Thistle Inn

My husband and I are Inn people.  Several years ago, BC (before child), he and I snuck up to Old Lyme for a romantic getaway on my birthday.  For those of you who follow me on Twitter or elsewhere, you will know that my birthday is December 22nd, mere days before Christmas.  The Inn was decked out for Christmas and the ground was covered with snow.  Because we were staying right at the inn, we were able to enjoy our dinner and a bottle of wine at the Chestnut Grill before walking up the stairs to our room.  Bliss…

Guest Room at the Bee and Thistle

I love how the linens are layered on the beds and I have always been a big fan of crewelwork.

Chestnut Grill at the Bee and Thistle

Ok, if the decor doesn’t get you, don’t even tell me you would pass on that cake!  I know my friend would not…

Living Room at the Bee and Thistle

Imagine cozying up to the fire on a cold night (its 8 degrees here tonight so I’m not having trouble imagining) with a glass of port or a cup of coffee.

Old Lyme is an artist’s town, so we had more than enough to do the following morning.  A trip would not be complete without a visit to the Florence Griswold Museum for Impressionistic art or to the Lyme Art Association.  Here’s hoping that not only my friends get a chance to go back, but that I can spirit off my husband for another romantic weekend getaway.  Perhaps, this time in a warmer season.

(photos courtesy of the Bee and Thistle website)

Christmas at our House

I have been working diligently on a blog about New Year’s resolutions and I just have to say…boring…  Really, until I can make that post more lively, let’s just change the subject.  Meanwhile, I HAVE gone to the gym twice so I’m workin’ on it…let’s not discuss how getting a parking spot takes longer than the workout.

By now, many of you have already put away your holiday decorations, but here’s my theory.  It took me so darn long to put them up that I keep them up until the weekend after Jan. 6th.  So since we are nearing the last of the 12 days of Christmas, I am taking one last photographic hurrah through Christmas at our house.

Asking Santa...

Every year, the Junior Women’s Club of Fairfield hosts Santa’s house at the Burr Mansion – kid bliss…

The Nutcracker

Does it get any better than The Nutcracker? Our daughter let us know that she is going to be Clara when she grows up.

O Tannenbaum

Here’s a memory… Christmas morning, waking up to loud shouts of glee “Mommy… Daddy… He came!  He came! Santa came…”  while jumping up and down.  Did you think for a minute that he wouldn’t?  I  can not bear to take down my tree yet – see why?  It just fills me with joy every time I walk by – each ornament has a meaning and a memory.   And the tree skirt underneath, possibly the best Christmas present ever, was handmade (really every little shiny bead sewn by hand on the tree and in that field of snow) by one of my best friends from Smith College.  Thanks Mags!  I still love it as much as the day I opened it.

Dining Table with Centerpiece

Before Dinner, I set the table with the flowers in the center and then I always move them to the side so that everyone can see one another while we dine.  The back serving table has a stunning Waterford crystal bowl filled with red and silver ornaments – a newer way to use an old-fashioned punch bowl.

Serving Table

I love the little Chippendale chair Granny gave to our daughter.  She sits with the grown-ups for dinner and uses the Bernardaud china too (don’t keep it in the cabinet ladies – bring it out and use it!), but it’s a perfect little spot for this Christmas bear to read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’.

Candle Centerpiece

Just before we served dinner, I switched the centerpiece to a low arrangement of candles.  I love the sparkle of crystal and candlelight and Christmas!

My other 12 days of Christmas theory happens to be that our holiday cards can go out as late as the 3rd to arrive by the 6th.  But we took so much grief that we just made them New Year’s cards instead.  So take that…you folks who lose the the Christmas spirit the day after!  And look for your New Year’s card in your mailbox any day now.

A Message of Christmas

Christmas Pageant

We received the most wonderful Christmas card tonight that captures the Christmas spirit for me.

It reads as follows:



Have a cookie.  (Or three.)

Sing songs that make you happy.

Help others.


Put love in all you do…

What great words not only for Christmas but all year long.

From our family to yours, we wish you a blessed Christmas and a healthy and happy New Year!

From my Kitchen to Yours…

I’m in the mood to mix up the Holiday Extravaganza.  After all, the holidays are not just about shopping and most importantly all of the religious traditions, but also they are about cooking and then eating…yum…

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

I love my Kitchen and I love to cook.  I’m not usually much of a baker, but every Christmas I bake over 1,000 cookies and then put together beautiful gift boxes with ribbons and tags to give to all of my friends.  And yes, if you have read my earlier blogs, I also decorate two trees and most of the house.  I know, I know… I guess I am a bit OCD.  But I really love Christmas.

I made the first batch on Sunday – Oatmeal Chocolate Chip cookies for a Caroling event at our Trinity Church, Southport.  I displayed some of these on this wonderful handled plate I picked up in Tuscany while on our honeymoon several years ago.  It looks like Christmas without going over the top!

Since several people asked for the recipe, I am posting it below.  I guess they were that good.  I loved Alan’s (our Music Director) Gingerbread Cake myself, but… for you cookie lovers out there, here is my family’s friend, Philippa Weller’s semi-famous cookie recipe.



1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

1 cup white sugar

1 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 eggs

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

3 cups Quaker Oatmeal (not instant)

1 cup chocolate chips (I like semi-sweet, but your choice)


Preheat oven to 350F

Beat together butter and sugars until creamy

Add eggs and vanilla and beat well

Add flour, baking soda and cinnamon and mix well

Stir in oats and chocolate chips, mix well

Drop by rounded tablespoons onto an ungreased cookie sheet

Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown

Cool 1 minute on cookie sheet

Makes about 4 dozen

It’s Not Just Your Grandmother’s China

At last, the long-awaited post about the ‘Choose Your Destination’ event, where I presented ‘It’s Not Just Your Grandmother’s China’.  Lauren Nason of Axa Advisors, Alison Held of Health Direction and I were speakers at the Gallery of Kitchens in Westport, CT.

For the talk, I brought my inherited pieces of china and some new items bought in the stores.   I love to take something old, your great aunt’s favorite china perhaps, that has been languishing in your basement and update it with some fun current tabletop items.  And we don’t even have to break your budget.

Formal Dining Setting

The first setting is a more formal setting for Dinner. The “old” items are Benardaud’s Grenadiers – a  traditional pattern with just a touch of whimsy.  I added a gold sequin place mat from Pier One and a Red Ruffle charger and dessert plate from Crate and Barrel.  The stemware is our wedding Waterford and an old family Cranberry glass mixed in with a new gold crackle glass cup from Pier One.  The floral arrangement is silk (really I would never have believed silk flowers could be this gorgeous!) from Bea Schriver Florals.

Holiday Breakfast Setting

In the next vignette, I took the same china and changed some of the accessories for a more informal breakfast party. I used a Crate and Barrel ornament as a napkin holder for the blanket-stitched napkin (love these from Pier One!).  Now, your breakfast guest has a little gift to take home.   I changed the placemat and the candles as well.  The snowflake candles from Crate and Barrel are so pretty that I bought some for my fireplace mantel.  Finally, I used the Bernardaud coffee mug instead of tea cups.  Does any one really use tea cups any more?  If you are buying china, buy the pieces you are going to use!  And do use them, don’t let them gather dust in the cabinet.

Hanukkah Place Setting

Finally, I created a Hanukkah place setting.  I mixed silver and gold, mostly out of necessity as my grandma’s blue plates have gold.  If you mix metals, just make it obvious that you are doing it – I say why not!  I love these blue and silver martini glasses I picked up a few years ago in a little shop on Greenwich Avenue.  All of the accessories except the hostess gifts – dreidel and the menorah ornament  from Crate and Barrel – are from Pier One.  The blue and white ball “ornaments” are candies.  The best surprise of the evening was that one of the gentlemen guessed that the candle arrangement is placed on a mirrored perfume tray from a ladies bath.  Look around your home for accessories, you never know what you will find.  I added some glass beads, like you use in the bottom of a vase and nestled the eight candles in between – a modern day twist on a menorah.

So, now I just know you’re motivated to get into those boxes in the basement (or china cabinet), dust off the old china and do just a little shopping to create a wonderful holiday table.  Bon appetit!

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