It’s the De-boo of Our Etsy Shop!

Etsy Shop holiday planners Hallowen


If you’re looking for a way to stay organized and focused on what’s most important for your holidays this year, have I got great news for you!

All of the Smart Solutions planners for holidays and home will be available on our new Etsy shop!

It’s been years since I’ve updated our signature planners that use my POPS system to Plan, Organize, Prioritize and Schedule everything for your holidays. Now you’ll find the Halloween Planner updated and expanded to 16 pages of fangtastic Halloween organizing glory.

Smart Solutions Studio Etsy Shop Halloween Planner


Also up in the shop right now are the Holiday Home Essentials with checklists and shopping lists to get you ready for all of your holiday entertaining including the essential pantry, essential utensils, holiday table essentials (including the best diagram on how to set your table) and the essential guest room and more!

Smart Solutions Studio Etsy Shop Entertaining Essentials



I’ve also posted the Room Arranger room layout toolkit with everything you need to re-arrange the furniture and accessories in every room of your home. Over 40 furniture icons and step-by-step directions make it easy to move things around without breaking your back!

Smart Solutions Studio Room Arranger room planner Etsy shop


Each of the planners is listed for $5 or less! Click on the links or the planner photo to go directly to the shop!

Over the next two weeks I’ll be adding the Thanksgiving and Christmas planners, as well as in-depth holiday handbooks with daily to-do’s, recipes, decor ideas and much more. Stay tuned!

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Entertaining Essentials: The Pantry

Snack bar

Keep hungry holiday guests happy by giving them something to nibble on while you finish dinner or set out heartier snacks. Create a “snack bar” on the kitchen counter or coffee table. Arrange a variety of covered candy jars and vintage nut and candy dishes on a tray.

With the holiday season drawing near, I’m continuing my series of posts on entertaining essentials: those indispensable items that every home entertainer needs to make any gathering look and feel effortless. Previous entries in this series include setting up the essential bar and essential utensils for the home chef.

Today it’s time for the goodies! Whether you plan to bake up a storm or you have unplanned visitors arrive for a quick holiday chat, keeping these items on hand will allow you to spend more time with your family and friends, and less time running to the market or searching the cupboards at the last minute.

For baking:

Tips: Keep nuts in a zipper bag in the freezer; they’ll keep longer. Keep baking supplies together on a shelf or in a basket or bin, so everything is in one place when you’re ready to bake.

  • All-purpose flour
  • Granulated sugar
  • Confectioners’ sugar
  • Brown sugar (light)
  • Light corn syrup
  • Evaporated milk
  • Sweetened condensed milk
  • Baking soda
  • Baking powder
  • Cocoa powder
  • Baking (bittersweet) chocolate bars
  • Semisweet chocolate morsels
  • White chocolate morsels
  • Vanilla extract
  • Honey
  • Pecans (unsalted)
  • Walnuts (unsalted)
  • Pumpkin
  • Fruit pie filling
  • Refrigerated pie crusts
  • Butter or margarine
  • Eggs

For impromptu entertaining:

  • Salted or seasoned nuts (pecans, almonds, cashews, pistachios)
  • Snack mix
  • Water crackers
  • Flavored crackers
  • Cheese straws
  • Assorted olives
  • Tapenade or other spreads
  • Smoked salmon
  • Imported butter cookies
  • One box of assorted frozen puff pastry appetizers
  • Cheeses
  • One or two bottles of wine


With a selection of these items in your pantry, freezer and fridge, you will be on your way to less stressed holidays. Check what you already have on hand, and add any remaining items to your shop-ping list. Make sure to replenish items as you use them over the season.

For more entertaining essential ideas and tips, follow my board on Pinterest here.

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Entertaining Essential: Utensils

Contractors and handymen are famous for saying, “use the right tool for the job.” And so it is in the kitchen as well: having the right utensils to prepare and serve your favorite recipes helps reduce stress and oftentimes makes the difference between a recipe turning out well or not so well.

I have to say, I got extremely lucky and had a mom who was in the housewares business for a while. She put away a set of commercial quality stainless steel kitchen tools and bowls for me even though I was in the fifth grade at the time. I still have—and use!—these utensils, plus some that I inherited from her, some three decades later. The point is, buy the highest quality you can find. Stainless steel is the most durable, but wood and silicon also have their place in the modern kitchen.

Here’s a handy of list of essential kitchen items that every home entertainer should have. Check off what you already own and add what you don’t have to your wish list. Acquire these items over time as you need them and as your budget allows, remembering to buy the highest quality.

  • Wooden spoons
  • Stainless steel spoons
  • Measuring spoons
  • Silicon spatula
  • Slotted spoon
  • Whisk
  • Colander
  • Strainer (with a long handle)
  • Cutting boards (assign one board for vegetables
  • and another for meats)
  • Vegetable peeler
  • Stainless steel ladle
  • Cookie/pancake spatula
  • Offset spatula
  • Can opener
  • Citrus reamer
  • Microplane® grater(s)
  • Box grater
  • Potato masher
  • Locking tongs (long and short)
  • Kitchen shears
  • Dry measuring cups (stainless)
  • Liquid measuring cups (glass; at least one 2 cup measure to start)
  • Rimmed baking sheets, non-stick or stainless
  • Parchment paper
  • Small, medium and large mixing bowls, tempered glass and/or stainless steel (Tip: Cream whips best in a chilled glass bowl; neither cream nor egg whites will stiffen when beaten in a plastic bowl.)

Keep cooking utensils in a stoneware crock within easy reach of the stovetop, so you’ll have exactly the right tool when you need it.

Above all, make sure that the utensil is appropriate for the cookware you are using. Stainless steel cookware can handle nearly any utensil, but surfaces such as non-stick coatings, anodized aluminum and enamel-coated cast iron generally require wooden or silicon utensils for optimal wear.

 Basic knives:

  •  3 inch paring knife
  • 8 inch chef’s knife
  • 8 inch serrated bread knife
  • Sharpening hone

Thanks to my mom I also received quite an education in cutlery at a young age. Here again, go for quality knives. As you can see, the list of essentials is quite short, and nearly every chopping, slicing and dicing task can be done with just three knives. Yes, there are many specialty knives, like one just to filet fish. If you do a lot of that sort of thing, by all means purchase the specialty knife. But for starting out or replacing an aging knife collection, begin with the basics.

A stainless steel blade is a must. The handle material can vary; I prefer wooden handles personally, but some of the newer comfort handles are also very popular. Look for knives with a full tang—meaning, the metal part of the blade should run the length of the handle—and three rivets attaching the blade to the handle. The knife should feel balanced in your hand. When cutting with the chef’s knife, hold the knife with your thumb and index finger grasping the blade just above the handle. (Watch how the chefs on TV hold their knives.) This provides more stability and is easier on the wrist.

Learn how to use the hone to sharpen the blades (straight edges only; serrated blades need professional sharpening). A sharp knife is actually a safer knife as it requires less effort and force to cut the food. If you feel afraid around sharp knives, take a knife skills class at a local cooking school or university enrichment program. It will change the way you dice an onion or seed a tomato, and give you more confidence in the kitchen.

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Entertaining Essential: The Bar

Of all the dictionary definitions of “essential,” the one I like the best is “indispensable.” For home entertainers, there are a number essential items — those indispensable items that every hostess should have in her collection to make entertaining effortless. The great thing is, essentials can be collected over time; these aren’t things you have to dash out and get before your next party!

In this series of posts, I’ll break down the world of entertaining into its components: the bar, the pantry, utensils, tableware and glassware, serveware, the powder room and the guest room.

First up: the bar.

All parties need liquid refreshments. Whether your party includes spirituous liquor is up to you, but the essentials of setting up a good beverage station equally apply to all kinds of parties, from a baby shower punch to pre-theatre martinis.

First decide what type of beverages you will serve. Will it be a full bar? Will you feature one or two cocktails or punch? How about a wine tasting featuring one or two whites and reds? The trend in home entertaining is to plan one or two beverages—such as themed cocktails to set the mood for the party or a nice wine—plus water and a couple of soft drink choices. Limiting the beverage choices reduces the variety of glassware and bar equipment required. Punch is a perennial favorite for easily and continuously serving large groups of people for similar reasons. As a bonus, the grown-ups may add a shot of rum or brandy to a non-alcoholic punch if desired. Simply place a bottle of the liquor along with a shot glass on a pretty tray next to the punch bowl.

Next, decide how much fluid refreshments you’ll need. For pre-dinner cocktails, plan on one to two drinks per person. For a full-on party, figure three to four drinks per person.

Basic bar equipment

  • Ice bucket and tongs
  • Small cutting board and paring knife
  • Cocktail shaker
  • Bottle opener
  • Corkscrew
  • Shot glass (jigger)
  • Long handled mixing spoon
  • Absorbent towel (I swear by Williams-Sonoma’s bar mops)
  • Cocktail napkins
  • Glassware appropriate for planned beverages

Basic liquor supplies

For a full bar offering, start with these basics:

  • 1 bottle dark rum
  • 1 bottle whiskey
  • 1 bottle gin
  • 1 bottle vodka
  • Club soda
  • Tonic water
  • Soft drink mixers
  • Cranberry juice
  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Olives

Setting up a beverage station

One great piece of advice from my mom is to make sure the bar is set up before guests arrive; even if you’re running behind on dinner, guests will enjoy a drink and a nibble while you get caught up. Set up the beverage station as far away from the food preparation and service area as possible to avoid traffic jams and guests getting underfoot in the kitchen.

Set up the bar like you would a buffet: in logical order. Place the glasses on one end, followed by the beverages or liquor bottles and mixing equipment, then garnishes such as a small bowl of lemons and limes, and finally napkins and a couple bowls of nuts and party mix or a relish tray. I like to place the glasses on a serving tray to keep them corralled on the bar top. I place individual bottles of water  in a cooler or party tub filled with ice, either on the floor under the bar area or on the bar itself if space allows.

Serving drinks

Typically, the host or hostess mixes and serves drinks, or you may appoint a friend to tend to the beverages. After greeting a guest, the host or hostess should offer the guest a drink. In small or informal gatherings, the guests should serve themselves to subsequent beverages. For large parties, it is helpful to have someone making the drinks; your liquor will go further!

So, whether your celebration, dinner or party is for four or 40, assess the essentials you have on hand and plan your beverage choices in advance to get a jump start on your planning.

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