The holiday season is usually filled with presents of all kinds. However, you may not like some of the gifts you receive. Here’s what you can do if you find yourself in this situation.
• Say thank you. Presents are usually given with good intentions. Therefore, whether you like what you receive or not, it’s important to be polite and thank the person for thinking of you.
• Keep it. If the person gifted you a personalized or handmade present, it’s probably best to keep it. Unless the item doesn’t fit, as may be the case with clothing, it’s hard to turn down this type of present. Instead, keep it in a safe place and bring it out on occasion.
• Exchange it. If you’re given a receipt for the item, you don’t need to say anything. Simply exchange the gift for something you like. If you weren’t given a receipt, you can ask the gift giver to provide you with one. You can do so by telling them the item is a duplicate or that it doesn’t fit, for example.
• Regift it. Depending on the present, you may be able to regift it to someone else or donate it to a charity in your area.
To prevent this from happening again next year, consider making and sharing a Christmas wish list with your friends and loved ones.
Commentary: Cozy Christmas Haunts
Christmas has arrived in a heaving rush and I’m plotting a means to get my Christmas on proper before it vanishes in a few weeks. This is not my first time getting surprised by the holiday season. That said, kindly allow me a couple minutes to share a trade secret to jump start your way back into the spirit of the season. First off, you must get off your fourth point of contact – as the paratroopers call it – and set about soaking up a bit of KrisKringleness.
The cool thing about living in Northwestern Virginia is it feels like Christmas here – not like further south – where flip flops and a sweatshirt comprises the local Christmas attire. A cozy fireplace with a hot toddy is a good way of getting started. Of course, you don’t need to leave home for that, but suffice it to say, you need to step out and feel Christmas and see the lights. Those are the times you’ll remember.
I’ll not belabor the options. Essentially there are 2 cool places that are within reach that will do the trick. As luck would have it, they are on the same highway: The Hunters Head Tavern in Upperville, and the Red Fox Tavern in Middleburg. Both are within an hour of Front Royal. Let’s start with my favorite – The Red Fox Tavern in Middleburg. For the historian in the family – you’ll be interested to know that this is the longest running Tavern in the United States. Meaning the tavern has always been a tavern and not a residence or other type venue dating back to 1728. It served as a frequent stop and halfway tavern between Washington D.C. and Winchester in the early 18th and 19th centuries. Since it worked for the old, I’ve used it as a suitable meeting location too. One of my British friends is a commander of the Royal Fusiliers from London. He visits the states often and wanted to see something other than the capital region. I prescribed the Red Fox Inn and after researching it a bit online – he went a step further and booked a room at the Inn. Envious.
The Inn is very much mid-Atlantic twang and Colonial (by way of Boston) cool. The Fox resides along Hwy 50 in the cradle of Mosby’s Confederacy – adrift in equestrian country. A couple of Confederate cavaliers, JEB Stuart, and the celebrated Gray Ghost Mosby – once planned strategy there. Prior to that, George Washington was said to have stopped by in the early 1700s, as did First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy during her husband’s tenure in the White House, circa early 1960s.
Middleburg is the perfect little town and rendezvous location for link ups with your Washington friends and it celebrates Christmas in a big way. The first weekend of December was the annual Christmas parade this year. But I digress.
At three in the afternoon, we met up at the Red Horse Tavern in Middleburg to have a shorty and reacquaint. We needed to kill a couple hours before our 5:30 reservation. Subsequently, we sought refuge in my vehicle and I regaled him with the play by play of the local Civil War battles. Being a military man, he was the proper captured audience. So, as we road around, I spouted forth all I knew about Colonel John Mosby’s exploits. As darkness set in, we retreated to the Christmas Shop to shop a little bit for our wives. I located a really cool ‘Rauchermann’ or ‘German smoker man.’ In this case it was a Smoking Santa.’ The Smoking Santa is a German Christmas ornament that few Americans know about. It is quite the cool little addition to your Christmas motif and guaranteed to garner more than passive attention from your guests. After a short venture past the many decorated shops, we moved across the street for our dinner reservations at the Red Fox.
I had previously alerted the hosts that we desired a table beside the fireplace. They did not disappoint. We both ordered the three-course meal option with roasted duck and wine by the fire. Three hours later and all talked out, we bid farewell and I departed back to the Shenandoah Valley. My friend enjoyed a couple more tonics with the barkeeps. I’m sure his rich English accent and storytelling prowess kept them entertained till he turned in that night. An evening in Middleburg during the Christmas season topped by dinner at the Red Fox is tough to beat. Next story entails a Christmas evening at the Hunters Head Tavern.
My wife likes the Hunters Head Tavern in Upperville – principally because she comes from Penarth, Wales – in the Vale of Glamorgan by the sea. As I soon discovered, this quaint little tavern reminds her of home. And why not, Hunter’s Head is a colorful English pub with a variety of authentic meals in a nice little historic hamlet.
Restaurant critics are supposed to be impartial, but I can’t help feeling some kindred spirit in this tavern. You may detect an extra cup or two of enthusiasm in my voice when she mentioned getting an uber for the trip out. Translation – another round please. This English pub is tucked in an old house in Northern Virginia, and focuses on humanely raised, locally sourced classic dishes. And don’t think I’m not going to mention the cool Civil War history that abounds here as well. Upperville has quite a bit of Civil War folklore. Unfortunately, I was not permitted to drag Sonja around anymore battlefield outings, no matter how well I spun the yarn. “What are we doing out here in this field” had been a constant theme over the years. She had been duped many times before but at this stage in our lives, she was too well seasoned to fall for it again. Besides this was supposed to be a romantic Christmas outing at one of our favorite haunts. Too bad – so much cool history, so little time. Next time perhaps.
Once again, the tavern hosts understood our wishes and sat us perfectly next to a raging fire. And that was a good thing as my wife was sure the temperature was a mark above zero (Celsius that is). In Southern parlance that would be roughly a bit above freezing. In short, it was rather frigid out and we were frozen. As luck would have it, we were the taverns’ first patrons that evening.
The bar tender hooked us up with a piping hot coffee liqueur drink with Baileys and we settled in for some ole fashion date night. Very nice. When the fire started waning, the attractive barmaid came out and threw a couple more logs on the fire. I offered my assistance, but my wife stifled my exuberance – leaving the young lady to her own skills in fireplace maintenance.
And when it was time for vittles, the kitchen was equally skilled in the principals of getting plates on the table while the food was still hot. After all, that is the trick isn’t it. That feat was even more impressive when we looked around and found ourselves surrounded by fellow patrons. The place was packed. And for a moment there, I felt as if we had stepped back in time. It’s as if we were part of a secret colonial meeting to unseat the crown. We had apparently been engrossed in serious conversation that impaired our situational awareness. Snap out it, man. Clearly, I was the only one that experienced this sensation. Could it be that I’d let myself be over-served? Surely not.
All that aside, it was quite the treat to enjoy fine English fare in a cozy Christmas setting where you can relax and enjoy the season. Hunter’s Head Tavern was built in the 1700s and remains quaint, decorated in period accessories and enticing. The fire and the atmosphere harken you back to a Dickens’ novel or more so – to the days of the American Revolution. The old home itself, is in a nice, wooded area which is even more scenic at Christmas time. In short, it’s very reminiscent of ole town Williamsburg. After a night cap – we summoned our ride and took the scenic route by the horse farms enjoying the Christmas lights along the way. My wife casually mentioned under her breath, “For a moment there, I could have sworn we were surrounded by colonial militia in there.” Ha! More wine I say. I highly recommend this ole haunt – especially during the Christmas season.
Five types of gifts for new homeowners
Did one of your friends or family members recently move into a new? If so, give them a Christmas gift that will help them settle in. Here are a few examples.
1. Kitchen items
Consider offering dishcloths, trivets, oven mitts, hand towels, aprons, or various kinds of utensils. Items for the kitchen are practical and will undoubtedly come in handy.
2. Cleaning products
Give your loved one some of your favorite flooring, window, appliance, and shower cleaners to keep their space tidy.
3. A toolbox
Give your friend or family member a few tools for odd jobs, like a hammer, screwdriver, pliers, nails, screws, and fasteners.
4. Decorative accessories
Ornate cushions, plush blankets, pretty vases, unique wall decorations, plants, and assorted picture frames can all make excellent gifts.
5. Storage solutions
Bins, baskets, and closet organizers will help your loved one sort and store their belongings.
Finally, if you’re unsure what your loved one needs for their space, consider a gift card to a home decor or hardware store. You could also get them something to help them relax after the big move, like bath products or pre-made meals.
10 gift ideas for your Christmas exchange
Organizing a gift exchange is a great way to kick off the holidays. However, it can be difficult to buy the perfect gift when you don’t know who will receive it. This is especially true if your group has folks of various ages. Here are a few things that will please most people.
1. An insulated water bottle or coffee mug
2. A locally made spirit, beer, or wine
3. A unisex beanie or scarf in a neutral color
4. Nut-free chocolates
5. A recently released board game
6. A warm, cozy blanket
7. A nice set of wine glasses
8. A set of reusable straws that includes a cleaning brush
9. A sturdy apron with several pockets
10. A wrist or cell phone strap
If necessary, ask the gift exchange participants what they like so you can buy an item related to their common interests.
How to throw a hassle-free holiday brunch
Are you planning to host Christmas brunch this year? If so, here are a few ways to ensure the event goes off without a hitch.
Start prepping the day before
Avoid making everything you need the morning of your brunch by doing some setup the night before. You could wash, cut, and plate fresh fruit and prepare whipped cream and custards ahead of time. If you want to serve an easy dish that can be portioned out the day before, consider putting together small bowls of yogurt and berries with granola.
Opt for fresh-baked goods
Visit your local bakery for bread, croissants, muffins, and bagels to accompany your meal. Purchase a batch made the morning of your event, or ask about frozen, ready-to-bake products. If the business has a tempting specialty, don’t hesitate to add it to your menu.
Offer a variety of beverages
Spice up your brunch by serving mimosas, Bellinis, sparkling cider, or white wine. You can also offer your guests coffee flavored with a variety of liqueurs. For kids, hot chocolate and fresh fruit juice are great choices.
Finally, be sure to decorate your table with festive accessories the day before your event.
Six ways to prioritize buying local during the holidays
The holiday season is an ideal time to support the businesses in your region. Here are six ways to make buying local a part of your Christmas celebrations.
1. Gift giving
If you plan to participate in a holiday gift exchange with your friends or family members, take this opportunity to introduce them to local merchants. For example, regionally made body care products, handcrafted jewelry, and artisanal foods make great gifts.
2. Alcoholic beverages
Alcoholic beverages and the holiday season go hand in hand. This year, serve beers brewed in your region, wines made at a local vineyard, and spirits distilled nearby. To add to the fun and sample an assortment of products, consider organizing a tasting event at your next holiday party.
3. Personal wellness products
Entice your guests to buy local products themselves by placing a handmade bar of soap in the bathroom, lighting locally crafted candles, or providing an all-natural hand cream to relieve dry hands.
If you’re whipping up a homemade meal for your holiday guests, plan your menu around seasonal and local products. If you’d rather take a break from cooking, hire a caterer who uses regional goods. Don’t forget to purchase dessert from a nearby pastry shop or bakery.
Create head-turning holiday ensembles by shopping at local clothing stores. Shirts, dresses, pants, and accessories come in many stylish and comfortable options.
Spruce up your holiday decor with unique, locally crafted items. Wreaths, vases, sculptures, and other handmade treasures are sure to infuse your home or office with the Christmas spirit.
This holiday season, be sure to boost your community’s economy by supporting your local businesses.
How to decorate the outside of your home for Christmas
If you want to decorate the outside of your home for the holiday season but aren’t sure where to begin, here are some ways to get started.
Decorate your trees
Whether you have lush evergreens or bare deciduous trees in your yard, you can dress them up for the Christmas season with ornaments or outdoor string lights.
Put up a Christmas wreath
Make a wreath or buy one from a local artisan. Hang it on your front door or lean it against a nearby wall to create a welcoming entranceway.
Embellish your stairway
If you have sufficient space, place one or more ornate flowerpots, lanterns, nutcrackers, or other decorative elements at the top or bottom of your stairway. Wrap your railing in a garland for a festive flair.
Fill vacant spaces
You can set up decorative structures if you have a large front yard. Inflatable figures and lighted characters will help bring holiday cheer to your home.
For more inspiration and to find great decorations, visit your local retailers.