Friday, December 30, 2016

A Cozy Holiday Getaway to Chattanooga

"Of all the months of the year there is not a month one-half so welcome to the young, or so full of happy associations, as the last month of the year ... ." ~ All the Year Round: A Weekly Journal Conducted by Charles Dickens

Earlier this week, the girls and I escaped to beautiful Chattanooga, Tennessee, for a quick trip to celebrate my birthday. This thriving Southern city is about two hours from our home in Birmingham, so getting away for one night was easy. And I had the perfect destination in mind for our stay.

The Chanticleer Inn

I had the pleasure of writing about the Chanticleer Inn for our November/December issue of Victoria. Learning about the history and hospitality of this quaint bed-and-breakfast, I was completely charmed. Located atop scenic Lookout Mountain, it seemed the perfect location from which to explore the Chattanooga Valley.

As expected, a festive welcome awaited us. Innkeeper Audrey Hart and her daughter add seasonal adornments using natural materials foraged from their sprawling property.

The Main Inn features this cozy gathering space with a blazing hearth, freshly baked treats, and a selection of board games. Nestled before the fire, I texted Joe that I felt like I had stepped into a Hallmark Christmas movie.

While they played checkers, Mary Ashley and Emma enjoyed an array of homemade goodies: Oreo cheesecakes, chocolate chip cookies, and apple cider.

Seasonal touches added warmth to the setting.

The Chanticleer offers 17 guest rooms, including three in the Main Inn. Cottages surround the property. We stayed in Room 2 -- one of several options with at least two beds.

Audrey has decorated all of the guest rooms with a French Country style. I felt right at home with this boudoir's lush pink floral fabrics, botanical prints, and antique china plates. After venturing out for the evening, settling into this room was a pampering treat.

In the morning, a bountiful breakfast awaited us in the Main Inn, with seating available on the sun porch, above, and dining room, below.

The girls and I sat at this table. Along with a buffet of fruits, fresh-baked coffee cake, and cereal, we had our choice of farm-fresh eggs or cinnamon roll pancakes, both served with bacon. Unfortunately, we marred the gingham topper with a hot chocolate spill, but Audrey was as gracious as could be in helping an embarrassed Emma feel at ease after the mishap.

As you can see, I couldn't resist this fluffy birthday indulgence! It was absolutely delicious and worth every calorie. During breakfast, I met another guest who is a regular at the Chanticleer and a Victoria subscriber. She had overheard me talking to Audrey and wanted to express her appreciation for the magazine, as well as our Hotels We Love feature. That encounter was the icing on top of a lovely stay! 

From the birthday gift of chocolate-dipped Oreos that awaited us in our room to the hearty breakfast served in the morning, we enjoyed every moment at the Chanticleer Inn and look forward to our next visit. If you get the opportunity to get away to this inviting B&B, be sure to tell them that Melissa sent you. Like me, I am sure that you will be dreaming of your next trip to this romantic inn.

Teatime at The English Rose

I always love celebrating my birthday with afternoon tea, so the girls and I timed our arrival to visit The English Rose in downtown Chattanooga. We did not need reservations for our party of three, so this eased the time pressure of needing to follow a strict schedule.

We dined at this authentic British-style venue several years ago as a family, but the girls were so small that they did not remember the trip. Our initial visit was in summertime, so it was nice to return during Yuletide.

Along with Afternoon Tea and a Victorian Tea for 2, The English Rose offers a variety of pub food. Mary Ashley and I opted for teatime, while Emma chose a plate of cheese and crackers -- along with a few tasty morsels from our array of fruits, finger sandwiches and pastries.

Mary Ashley sipped English Breakfast tea, while I sampled a Caramel Pear blend.

The fare was straightforward, with a selection of tea sandwiches: egg salad; cucumber and cream cheese; cheese and tomato; and salmon mousse. Scones on offer included plain, raisin, and gingerbread, and several sweets rounded out the menu. Simple yet tasty!

After a leisurely teatime, the girls and I enjoyed browsing the gift shop. Along with an ornament to commemorate our trip, the girls chose souvenirs and I found a lovely tiered server and tea-themed stationery. If you find yourself in Chattanooga, I would recommend a visit to The English Rose.

Rock City Enchanted Garden of Lights

The Chanticleer Inn sits across the street from Rock City. Although we had explored this natural wonder years ago during the daytime, I was eager to return for the holiday lights display. I must admit, my girls were not too enthused about the idea, but once we stepped inside, they were swept away by the magic of this winter wonderland.

The Enchanted Garden of Lights has been a tradition for more than two decades, with four realms of themed lights and decorations to experience.

I was a bit concerned that possible thunderstorms predicted for the area would mar our plans for outdoor adventure, but the weather turned crisp, cool and clear for the evening. The chill in the air made our outing all the more merry.

Along with the display of lights, festivities include live music, gingerbread decorating, and a host of other holiday activities. 

Mary Ashley and Emma wanted to capture every moment of our journey through Rock City.

This location affords stunning views of seven states. As spectacular as the holiday decorations were inside the park, observing the lights of the Chattanooga Valley was just as breathtaking. The girls and I thoroughly enjoyed our quick trip to Tennessee -- less than 24 hours, in fact -- and look forward to exploring more of its many wonders during future excursions!

Have you explored the delights of Chattanooga? What are your favorite shops, restaurants, historic sites and attractions?

Monday, December 26, 2016

Plan a Holiday Lights Scavenger Hunt

"Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful." ~ Norman Vincent Peale

Last year during Christmastime, we invited Carson's girlfriend to join us for a casual dinner and holiday lights scavenger hunt. After a cozy meal of tomato soup and toasted cheese sandwiches, we divided into two groups and competed to see who could find the most seasonal decorations within an hour. Then we met at Starbucks, where we all enjoyed favorite coffee beverages -- and the winners celebrated in "Grande" style. This low-key evening turned out to be the highlight of our holidays, so this year we decided to share the fun with girlfriends and family members who live in the Birmingham area.

I kept our menu and decorations really simple, but a few special touches made the evening feel festive. Using cookie dough from a recent show-choir fundraiser, Mary Ashley baked cookie cups for me in muffin tins. Then I piped on swirls of store-bought frosting. Emma and I topped the candy cookies with strands of chocolate icing and pressed M&Ms into the frosting. Half of these cookies we covered in a neat spiral of holiday lights, and half we decorated with twisting coils. We tucked adorable Christmas Bulb Cupcake Topper Rings into chocolate cookie cups topped with chocolate icing. These were a last-minute find, and I ordered them from Amazon, knowing that they might not arrive before the party. But to my surprise, they were delivered lightning fast -- shipped from a few miles away!

A trio of gingerbread houses I decorated a few months ago for Victoria were dressed for the party with a blinking holiday lights necklace found on clearance at Hobby Lobby. Emma was quick to claim this fun accessory for herself!

Here you can catch a glimpse of our holiday centerpiece, along with some of our holiday fare. My aunt and uncle brought tamales, which were homemade by a friend. That added a thoughtful touch to our buffet of easy treats. We ate dinner, then had the scavenger hunt, and concluded our evening with cookies, hot chocolate, and prizes.

Holiday Lights Scavenger Hunt Menu

Chicken Nuggets with Polynesian Sauce
Fresh Fruit with Caramel Sauce
Fresh Snap Peas,Carrots, Broccoli and Cherry Tomatoes with Ranch
Cranberry Salsa (recipe here)
with Celery and Wheat Thins
Spinach-Artichoke Dip (recipe here)
with Tortilla Chips
Chocolate and Candy Cookie Cups
Hot Chocolate (recipe here -- peppermint extract omitted)
with Marshmallows, Candy Canes, M&Ms, and Chocolate Chips

To keep the game fair, I asked a friend to find a holiday lights list online and print five copies. (Find many options here.) Although it was tempting, I did not peek! For the hunt, we divided into groups of four and allotted 1 hour for the hunt. Each list item was worth 1 point -- to be recorded by a cell-phone photo -- and for the opportunity for a 5-point bonus, each group submitted one extra photo that captures the spirit of the season. When we returned home, it was fun to compare notes and share memories. The winners received sparkly travel mugs, and we continued the merriment with dessert and conversation.

For simple favors, we gave each guest a candy cane with a glistening bulb ornament from Hobby Lobby. Whether enjoyed as a relaxed night of family fun or planned as a larger party that includes extended family, co-workers, an athletic team, or the church youth group, I hope you will consider hosting a holiday lights scavenger hunt. This festive evening is certain to be a bright spot in your Christmas season!

"Christmas is most truly Christmas when we celebrate it by giving the light of love to those who need it most." ~Ruth Carter Stapleton

Sunday, December 25, 2016

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