How to deal with your crazy family (from an accidental expert).

How to deal with your crazy family (from an accidental expert) | Modern Mrs Darcy

From the archives, just in time for Thanksgiving. 

The holidays are almost here.  Can you believe it?

Some of you are counting down to long-awaited reunions with those you love.  Some of you are dreaming of turkey and stuffing and pumpkin pie.  And some of you are thinking, “How am I going to deal with my crazy family?

If you’re in the last camp, and you’d like to keep the family drama to a minimum this holiday season, here are 7 tips to keep the peace.

1. Do a reality check—and do it now, before the big event. The stakes are higher over the holidays, so now’s the time to remind yourself to be realistic and keep your expectations reasonable. Now’s the time to think about what’s likely to be problematic, and what you can do about it.

2.  Get yourself ready. If your family gatherings tend to be stressful, make sure you are well prepared. Get enough sleep, eat some real food before you arrive, and don’t drink too much (coffee, alcohol, whatever).

3.  Talk with everyone. Those of you with giant families know what I’m talking about. If there are 30 people at an event it can be hard to actually speak to everyone: make sure you do it. (And of course, if you’re speaking with everyone that also indicates that you’re actually on speaking terms with everyone–which is a very good thing.) Make the effort to talk to your shy nephew, or chat up the girlfriend who hardly knows anyone.

4.  No baiting. If we want fireworks at our family gatherings, we can toss out Occupy Wall Street as conversation fodder. Or the presidential election. Or recycling! Passionate family members will rise to the challenge. If you don’t want fireworks at your holiday gathering, keep the peace by knowing what’s off limits.

5.  No trash talking. Don’t gossip about other family members. Period. This is really tempting for me over the holidays, because I’m always tempted to do some female bonding with my sisters-in-law over some juicy family gossip. That’s not a bad reason to gossip—but there are better reasons not to. Don’t do it.

6.  Be a good sport. Do what you can to go with the flow. If your family loves Trivial Pursuit, get ready to play some Trivial Pursuit.

7.  Be grateful. Find something to be thankful for. After some family gatherings, I’m grateful that I am blessed with such a wonderful family. After some family gatherings, I’m grateful that I get to go home with my husband—and not all those crazy people we just had dinner with.

Do you deal with family drama? What are your best tips for dealing with difficult family members?

P.S. My favorite Thanksgiving movie that you’ve never heard of.

My favorite cold drinks for hot summer days

I’m re-running this spiffed-up post from the archives for the holiday weekend. Happy Fourth!

Cold drinks for hot summer days | Modern Mrs Darcy

I don’t know about you, but it has been hot where I live this month.  With the heat index firmly in 3-digit territory in much of the country and no relief in sight, I’m very grateful for air conditioning—and cold beverages.

These are my favorite drinks to beat the heat.  Or, at least, to make it more tolerable.


Perfect Iced Coffee

I love iced coffee.  My usual method is to brew a double espresso in my trusty AeroPress, dilute with just enough water to make a really strong Americano, and pour over ice.  This method makes excellent iced coffee, and I highly recommend it.

However, this summer I discovered the Pioneer Woman’s recipe for Perfect Iced Coffee.  She uses the cold-brew method, and I got very good results following her directions. But what really makes her recipe perfect is that you can brew up a big batch and have it at-the-ready in your fridge, just waiting to be poured over fresh ice.

Ree’s recipe makes 24 servings and keeps in the fridge for three weeks. I don’t need that much, and I like my iced coffee a bit stronger, so I combine 5 ounces ground coffee with 2 quarts water (in a big pyrex measuring cup) and let it sit overnight before straining and chilling.



This summer wine punch is excellent party fare.  My recipe is inspired by the wonderful sangria at my local Cuban restaurant.

  • 1 bottle red wine (I use Trader Joe’s two-buck chuck if I have any on hand)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • 1 orange, sliced
  • 1 lime, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon brandy
  • 1 tablespoon triple sec
  • Sparkling water, to taste

Make a simple syrup by combining the sugar, water and the end fruit slices in a small saucepan and simmer until the sugar dissolved.  Cool to room temperature.

Combine remaining sliced fruit, wine, brandy and triple sec in pitcher.  When cool, add simple syrup mixture, including fruit slices.

Refrigerate for several hours to chill and allow flavors to meld.

Serve over ice, adding sparkling water to taste.

This recipe is very adaptable:  feel free to go nuts with whatever fruits or juices you have on hand:  sliced peaches, berries, pineapple juice and orange juice are especially good additions.

It’s easy to make a non-alcoholic sangria: substitute a combination of grape, apple, orange and cranberry juice for the wine, and proceed as directed.  (My favorite combo is 3 cups grape juice, 1/2 cup orange juice, and 1/2 cup cranberry juice.)


Summer Spritzer

I’ve been drinking these simple spritzers on hot days ever since I first decided to kick the Diet Coke habit many years ago.  They couldn’t be easier to make:  pop open a can of sparkling water and flavor as desired.  I find a simple spritzer flavored with a big hit of lime juice is most refreshing on a hot day, but the options are really endless.

Here are some variations to get you started; suggested portions are to add to 12 ounces of sparkling water:

  • 1/4 cup cranberry juice and a squeeze of lime
  • 1/4 cup orange juice and a squeeze of lemon
  • Freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
  • A shot of one of the numerous flavors of Italian syrup—peach, strawberry, lime, lemon, raspberry, pomegranate, cherry, black currant—and that’s just the beginning.

15 Minute Iced Tea

I’ve been using Pam Anderson’s microwave iced tea recipe since I came across it in her CookSmart cookbook ten years ago, so I was thrilled to see her new flavored tea variations:  lime and mint, ginger, and (my personal favorite) orange and clove.

It takes 15 minutes to go from an empty pitcher to cold iced tea, and could not be any simpler. I use plain Lipton tea bags.

limonada de coco

Limonada de coco

This simple recipe from Smitten Kitchen contains just three ingredients: lime, coconut milk, and sugar, blended with ice to beat the summer heat. It takes as good as it looks.

These drinks may not be enough to beat this unrelenting heat wave, but they’ll sure make it more tolerable.  (And if you’re in Seattle, San Francisco, or some other pleasantly-climated locale, go ahead and enjoy a cold drink anyway.  Those of us melting away won’t hold it against you.)

What’s your favorite drink for a hot summer day?

How to make custom wall art from $4 gift wrap.

custom wall art from $4 wrapping paper

Our boys share a room. When Silas graduated from his crib recently, the boys got bunk beds, leaving us with a blank wall that wasn’t there before.

We let Jack decide how to decorate, and he knew exactly what he wanted: giant framed posters from Paper Source. These “posters” are actually wrapping paper–the fanciest wrapping paper you’ve ever seen, for sure–but wrapping paper all the same.

It costs $3.95 a sheet: expensive for gift wrap, but about as cheap as you can get for a 28 x 20 inch poster.

Our Paper Source opened last year, and every time we go we all gawk at the Cavallini gift wrap. They have an amazing selection of vintage-looking designs.

Jack chose this montage of vintage New York images and this NYC transit guide for his room. (We framed them with $10 IKEA frames, but if we wanted to spend even less, we could have used washi tape.)

Here’s a look at some of the other options available:


Shown above:

  1. Fruits and Vegetables
  2. Bon Appetite
  3. ABCs
  4. Vin Francois
  5. Le Jardin
  6. Paris
  7. Les Bicyclettes
  8. Vintage Eiffel Tower
  9. Vintage Typewriters

We just repainted our kitchen (it had been ten years; it needed it!) and I think the fruit and vegetables print would be perfect there, even though the bicycles are my favorite. Sarah wants the typewriters for her “office,” along with a giant Eiffel tower.

I’d love to hear your solutions for inexpensive and/or DIY wall art–for yourself or for the kids.

Adorable rice owls, Valentine’s pocket warmers, sweet baby gifts, and general crafty craftiness at my house this weekend.

Two old friends had babies recently, and I wanted to send the families handmade owl heating pads to welcome their new arrivals. (Making handmade baby gifts was one of my 2012 goals that stuck.) They’re adorable, unique, and great for warming up the crib and the car seat when it’s chilly out.

Rice-filled owl heating pads: an adorable, easy, and frugal DIY handmade craft!

When I was at the fabric store bolstering my stash of fun prints, the pinks and reds for Valentine’s crafting caught my eye. I thought briefly about making Valentine’s rice owls for my kids, but that would be too time-consuming. (These owls are definitely worth making, but they still take an hour each.)

But sweet and simple hearts would be easy, cute, and fun.

Valentine's Day heating pads and pocket warmers

When I pulled out my supplies to get to work, Sarah’s crafty radar immediately went up. She wanted to help, and volunteered the use of her sewing machine. (Our good sewing machine is actually Sarah’s: my mom gave it to her for her birthday, because my mom believes in quality equipment. I should tell you about my mom’s philosophy sometime.)

Rice-filled owl heating pads

My daughter loves these adorable little owl warmers, and she sleeps with hers every night, but we’ve never talked about how I made them. She asked me:

“Mom, did you come up with that idea yourself?”

“No, honey. I saw it on Pinterest a long time ago.”

She sighed. “I don’t look for my ideas on the internet, Mom. I come up with all my ideas myself. People should spend less time on the internet and come up with more of their own ideas.”

(Hmm. She might be on to something. And yes, this is the kid who wants her own Etsy shop.)

heart warmers large

“Did you come up with the idea for the hearts yourself?”

“Yes, babe, I did.”

“That’s good. I’m proud of you, Mom.”

(Sigh. Did I tell you she’s eight?)

“Mom, I have an idea for a new craft right now. Wanna see?”

pocket warmers

And then she asked if she could use all my felt and the grown-up scissors. I said yes–because if a kid is bursting to try an idea, you’ve gotta let them. (I also might have been heavily influenced by my current read.)

Sarah whipped up these little felt hand warmers in ten minutes flat. She calls them “pocket warmers,” which I love. She wants to make a pig and a cheeseburger, a lamb and a tomato, but we were limited by our felt supply. She’ll make more after we replenish our felt stores at JoAnn!

When we were done with our crafting, this is what we had:

Rice-filled owl heating pads. Cute, frugal, easy, and adorable DIY! Great for gifting or just staying cozy during this freezing winter.

Rice-filled owl heating pads

Get the pattern here. I also did a tutorial over on Life as Mom.

We bundled up the owl heating pads with diapers for baby and chocolate for mama before we sent them off to the new babies.

For a sweet baby gift combine something homemade with useful staples every family needs. (Because every postpartum mom needs chocolate, right?) This baby gift combines a handmade rice-filled owl-shaped heating pad with diapers and chocolate.

Heart-shaped hand-warmers for Valentine’s Day

These are so simple.

  • Draft a pattern (or freestyle it–these don’t have to be perfect) and cut two hearts. (Mine are 5 inches across)
  • Place right sides together and sew shut, leaving a 2-inch gap.
  • Turn inside out and fill about half-full with rice.
  • Hand-stitch opening shut.

Valentine's Day heating pads and hand warmers -- a quick and easy DIY.

Winter pocket warmers

  • Sarah says cut any shapes you want out of felt. Hers are 2-3 inches across. You need matching pairs.
  • Decorate the felt using scraps or ribbons, if desired.
  • Sew together with right sides facing out, leaving an opening to fill with rice.
  • Fill with rice and sew them up.
  • Sarah says you can sew these by hand, but it will take a little longer.

Valentine's Day pocket warmers (tiny heating pads) are a cute, fun, practical gift that even kids can make. (Or make some for yourself because it's COLD outside!) Just pop them in the microwave for twenty seconds and slip them in your pocket.

These little pocket warmers are now in a basket by the back door, ready to pop into the microwave (ours take about 20 seconds each) and then into pockets on our way out into the cold.

Are you into any craftiness lately? And I’m dying to hear what you think about Sarah’s thoughts on Pinterest!