With the holidays in full swing, many of us are spending our time connecting with loved ones, creating lasting memories, and even looking ahead to what’s next. This issue of American Lifestyle is here to help you have a great end to the year with a list of must-have products for holiday hosting, the ultimate guide to throwing a cookie swap, tips for becoming a great gift giver, and a look at the top destinations to visit in 2024.
Hosting overnight guests for the holidays can be immensely enjoyable, but it can also quickly get overwhelming. The article inside offers a list of gadgets, from handy kitchen tools to smart home devices, that can alleviate stress and ensure you have more fun with your guests.
Throwing a holiday cookie exchange is the ultimate way to connect with loved ones and enjoy all that makes this time of year so special. The enclosed guide has everything you need to make yours unforgettable, including tips for setting up your home and three irresistible cookie recipes.
Want to become a gift-giving legend? It’s easier than you think! Whether it’s for the holidays or a special occasion, nailing the perfect gift is all about utilizing a few simple tricks. Inside, discover the must-have strategies for giving gifts your recipients are sure to love.
The new year is full of exciting opportunities to explore unfamiliar locales. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, a history buff, or a foodie, the US destinations listed in this issue will inspire your wanderlust and help you create incredible memories in 2024.
Here’s to a joyous month spent with those who mean the most to you! As always, it’s a pleasure to send you this magazine.
Having friends and family stay over during the holidays can be a joyous and memorable occasion. Managing all the preparations and ensuring a delightful experience for all your overnight guests? Not as much. Fortunately, there are a variety of products available that can simplify the hosting process and help you create a warm and welcoming atmosphere.
You may have to prepare multiple meals for your guests throughout their stay, a task that can be done a little easier with a pressure cooker or slow cooker. These appliances streamline the meal-prep process since you usually just need to add in the ingredients and walk away. Whether you’re cooking large batches of soup or a mouthwatering pot roast, an Instant Pot or Crockpot can handle it effortlessly. By reducing your time spent cooking, you can prepare delicious meals more efficiently and enjoy more time with your guests.
As coffee is a necessity for many people to help them start their mornings on the right foot, you’ll want to have a coffee maker that can brew multiple cups at once. If you only have a single-serve machine, consider getting a traditional drip coffee maker like this one from Hamilton Beach. With its programmable feature, you can prep your grounds and water in the evening and set it to brew in the morning, allowing your guests to wake up to a steaming cup of coffee. You may also want to consider getting a variety of syrups and creamers so they can customize their beverages to their liking.
AI-driven smart home devices, such as the Amazon Echo or Google Nest Hub, can be your ultimate holiday helpers. With voice control and the ability to automate tasks, manage your calendar, and control other smart devices around your home, they can help make hosting that much simpler. Order last-minute gifts, create a schedule for turning on and off your interior and exterior lights, play festive tunes while you hang out with your guests, and arm your home’s security system to ensure everyone’s safety. You can also use these devices to search for recipes, find answers to inquiries from curious youngsters, and play interactive games and trivia, adding a fun and tech-savvy element to your guests’ holiday experience.
Maintaining a tidy home during the holidays can be a challenge, especially with the increased foot traffic. A robotic vacuum cleaner is a game changer, taking care of the floor-cleaning process while you focus on entertaining your guests. This handy device can navigate through your home efficiently, picking up dust, crumbs, and pet hair to leave your floors spotless. Some models, like this one from Shark, even have built-in mopping capabilities so your floors remain sparkling clean.
No one wants to deal with a sink full of dishes during the holidays, which can make it tempting to reach for disposable options. Fortunately for you and Mother Nature, there are biodegradable choices available. This tableware from EcoSoul, for instance, are compostable yet sturdy enough to handle even the bulkiest of holiday meals. By selecting eco-friendly options, you can cut down on your time spent in front of the sink while also still caring for the planet and reducing your carbon footprint.
When you have guests staying with you for multiple days, you’ll want to have activities planned to help fill the time and stave off boredom. One of the best ways to do this is by collecting games to play with your company throughout their visit. You could invest in a deck or two of cards for some basic fun, but for more elaborate and engaging entertainment, consider board games like Clue, Codenames, and Villainous. After all, there’s nothing like a little friendly competition to liven up an evening.
Hosting visitors during the holidays should be a time of joy and celebration rather than a source of stress. By incorporating these essential items into your routine, you can simplify tasks, save time, and focus on making cherished memories with your loved ones.
The holiday season is a great time to gather with loved ones and celebrate. This year, take your festivities to the next level by hosting a holiday cookie exchange. It’s the perfect excuse to get cozy in your own home and indulge in an assortment of delicious sweet treats with the people who matter most to you.
Whether you’re a novice or pro at cookie exchanges, this guide can help you make yours a wonderful, festive experience your loved ones will never forget.
Deliciously decadent and visually striking, these cookies are a delightful treat that will warm your heart and fill your home with a sugary aroma.
The contrast of sweet and salty notes in these cookies accentuates the richness of dark chocolate and the nostalgic essence of chocolate malt, creating a symphony of flavors.
Bursting with sweetness and citrus, these treats are not only a breeze to make but also guaranteed to be a crowd-pleaser at any gathering.
The holiday season is a time for joy, warmth, and, of course, delicious treats. One way to combine all three is to host a holiday cookie exchange, where you gather with friends and family to swap homemade (or even store-bought) cookies and create lasting memories. Here are some tips for planning and putting together an unforgettable event.
Before your gathering, you’ll want to establish clear guidelines for the exchange. Do all the cookies have to be made from scratch? How many should each participant bring? Are there any dietary restrictions they need to consider? You could also have everyone bring copies of their recipes to the exchange and, if you’d prefer to avoid potential overlap, ask them to share what they’re making ahead of time. Once you’ve settled on the rules, clearly communicate them when you send out your invites to your guests. These details can help get everyone on the same page and ensure the exchange goes smoothly.
While cookies are undoubtedly delicious, they probably won’t be enough to satisfy your guests, so you’ll need to decide on a separate menu. You don’t have to prepare a five-course meal; instead, just serve up snacks and appetizers, such as finger sandwiches and a fruit tray, as well as drinks like tea, coffee, hot cocoa, and a holiday punch. This will give your guests something lighter to enjoy while they indulge in the different cookie offerings.
As each of your guests arrives, be sure to hand them a label they can write their cookie name (and any allergen warnings) on and set in front of their tray. Making this information readily available will help everyone better know what the options are and decide which they want to try. There will also surely be leftovers to share, so you may want to provide holiday bags or boxes for guests to use—rather than the trays or containers they brought their offerings in—to package up cookies to take home. Besides being more festive, they’re a simple way for everyone to divvy up the remains or even collect some for other loved ones.
If your home is already decorated for the holidays, you likely won’t have to do a lot to get it prepped for the cookie exchange. The biggest task will be ensuring there is enough space. This may require moving around your existing decor or furniture and setting up additional tables or stations where participants can arrange their cookies for swapping. The goal is to make it easy for your guests to move from table to table, sampling cookies and selecting ones they wish to add to their takeaway bags.
When that’s done, you can focus on setting the mood for the event with your lighting and music. Place some holiday-scented candles in the room where the exchange will take place to create a cozy feel, and make a playlist of festive tunes guaranteed to keep spirits lively.
The cookie exchange is obviously the main event of the evening, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have other activities planned. Consider setting up a cookie-decorating station where each guest can decorate a sugar cookie for everyone to vote on, with a winner being declared at the end of the evening. You could also have guests vote on the samplings they brought in different categories, including most creative, prettiest, and best tasting. These additional touches can create a little friendly competition and help make the event even more memorable.
When the festivities are over, don’t forget to express your appreciation to all your guests for attending and contributing to your cookie exchange. You can prep a small gift bag for each person, perhaps with some additional holiday treats (though these could be store-bought) and a printout of your favorite holiday recipe. Or instead, you could send a handwritten thank-you note or personalized message afterward, which can go a long way in showing how much the evening meant to you.
Hosting a cookie exchange is a delightful way to celebrate the holiday season while creating a memorable event filled with warmth, laughter, and homemade treats. So gather your loved ones, roll up your sleeves, and let the swap begin!
recipe by chelsea kirk
photos by shana smith
These red velvet cookies make for a delicious, rich treat that’s perfect to share with your loved ones.
Makes 36 cookies
recipe by patterson watkins
photos by patterson watkins
Satisfy both your sweet and salty sides with these cookies, which feature two kinds of chocolate and a touch of sea salt.
Makes 24 cookies
recipe by jordan hunsberger
photos by shana smith
Easy to make and delightfully sweet and citrusy, these chocolate-and-orange cookies are sure to be a hit at your next gathering.
Makes 24 cookies
Whether it’s during the holidays, for a birthday, or to honor a special occasion, gift giving can be a meaningful way to show your loved ones just how much you care about them. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to find something your recipient will love. You can make the process more enjoyable, however, by following a few simple gifting guidelines.
You know the drill—you postpone shopping until the last minute and end up grabbing an only so-so gift, like an impersonal gift card or a budget-friendly scented candle. Instead, try to plan ahead so you can give yourself enough time to find more meaningful items. One way to do this is by noting important dates on your calendar; you can even set reminders on your smartphone. This will give you plenty of time to brainstorm and shop for the best gift.
If you do lose track of time, though, and find that an important occasion is swiftly approaching, you can still increase your efficiency by composing a list of gift ideas before you hit the stores. Do the same when shopping online; just check that your gifts will arrive in time. If they won’t, consider printing a photo of what you ordered and just wrapping that for now. That way, your recipient will know you didn’t forget them and will have something to look forward to.
Think about your recipient’s hobbies and what they enjoy to identify something they’d find useful, such as a loose-leaf tea infuser for a friend who drinks specialty teas or quality paintbrushes for a relative who likes paint-by-number kits. You could also look for items that can fill a need: a winter scarf for a friend who lost theirs or a lighted magnifying glass for a crossword puzzle devotee. It’s all about keeping your mind and your eyes open for gifts that have the potential to create a big impact.
You don’t have to confine your shopping to the weeks before the occasion. Rather, try to always be on the lookout for suitable gifts. To help with this, keep a list on your phone of the people you generally give gifts to so you can take advantage of unplanned gift-buying opportunities. Then if you happen to wander into a shop filled with handcrafted items or come across handy kitchen gadgets in your grocery store, you can quickly figure out who you could gift some dazzling wine glasses or a beautiful wooden cutting board to.
Everyday items like socks or a kitchen appliance might not seem like exciting gifts, but they can be greatly appreciated if they match the personality and needs of the individual in mind. For example, a runner who clocks mileage in every type of weather might jump for joy over a set of moisture-wicking socks, while a health-conscious foodie may salivate over an air fryer. And they might love it even more knowing how much thought you put into selecting a gift perfect for them.
If your recipient appreciates sentimental items, think of ideas that recall a shared interest or experience, such as a scrapbook documenting a fun trip you took together or memorabilia from your shared alma mater. These types of gifts can be special because they express how much you care for and value someone. Another option is to personalize something they could use—for instance, you could give a friend who loves to cook a glass casserole dish etched with their name, some inscribed tees to a neighbor who golfs every weekend, or a custom welcome sign to a couple who just purchased a new home.
Don’t limit yourself to brand-new items. Perhaps you could get an avid reader in your life a stack of used classics or a fashionista a retro jacket. For eco-minded folks on your list, try shopping at a thrift store for giftable finds like vintage vases, gently used decor, or a pair of brass candleholders. You could also consider making all or some of your gifts, such as by crafting a few beaded bracelets or baking a loaf of bread. Peruse sites like Pinterest, TikTok, and Instagram for creative do-it-yourself giving ideas.
Sometimes following a great gift with a similar one—or even the same one—can be the most impactful. For example, if your dad really enjoyed the gift box of premium coffees you gave him last year, he might actually be hoping to get it again this year. Or if your sister was tickled pink over a birthday bouquet of roses, she might be equally happy to receive a vase of fresh peonies for another occasion.
If you can’t find anything that feels right, go for something more abstract instead. You could get your loved one tickets to see their favorite performer or lessons on a topic or activity that intrigues them, such as wine tasting or kayaking. Doing something fun may leave a more lasting impression than getting an item that they end up putting on a shelf or using only briefly.
Gift giving doesn’t have to be complicated. Just a little extra time and creativity might be all you need to perfect your skills and select gifts your recipients will love.
“It seems that the more places I see and experience, the bigger I realize the world to be. The more I become aware of, the more I realize how relatively little I know of it, how many places I have still to go, how much more there is to learn.”
– Anthony Bourdain
The approach of the new year is a time for musing on what you’d like to explore in the coming months, both about yourself and about the world—and traveling is the perfect vehicle for such discovery. This list of places is just a taste of the adventures that await in 2024.
This coastal town in New England is bursting with charm and views. With its pristine beaches, vibrant arts scene, and cozy eateries, it’s an ideal escape for those who like to relax and be entertained.
Don’t miss: Marginal Way, a 1.25-mile easy walking path dotted with benches to rest and take in the view of the rugged coastline. It winds past photo-worthy hotels and inns to Perkins Cove, a picturesque fishing village with a small harbor and enchanting shops to duck into.
Feast on: A lobster roll at Footbridge Lobster
When to go: Late spring through early fall
New Hope, Pennsylvania
Less than an hour from Philadelphia, you’ll find this historic town along the banks of the Delaware River, where it invites visitors to slip into a bygone era of cobblestone streets and antique shops. A longtime sanctuary for artists, New Hope is filled with galleries boasting both local talent and renowned artists from all over.
Don’t miss: A show or live music at Bucks County Playhouse, once dubbed “America’s Most Famous Summer Theater.” Some of the best of the best have graced the stage, including Audra McDonald, Dick Van Dyke, and Bernadette Peters.
Feast on: The Amazing burger at the Burgerly
When to go: Year-round
New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans is a soulful confluence of jazz and blues music, Creole and Cajun food, and historic architecture. Stroll down Frenchman Street to discover musicians playing venues like the Spotted Cat, d.b.a., and the Blue Nile, or catch local artists showcasing paintings, mixed media, and accessories at the Frenchmen Art Bazaar until late into the night. And make sure to stop by the French Quarter, which, as the oldest neighborhood in NOLA, mesmerizes visitors with its iconic architecture mixed with modern boutiques.
Don’t miss: Indulging in as much local food as you can. From jambalaya at the Gumbo Shop to sugar-dusted beignets at Café Du Monde, cuisine is at the heart of the New Orleans experience.
Feast on: A fried shrimp po’boy at Parkway Bakery and Tavern
When to go: February to May for comfortable weather and festivities
Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
This lesser-known national park is a dream for nature lovers: it encompasses 206 square miles of pristine wilderness and offers chances to glimpse wildlife such as wolves and moose in their untouched habitat. Access to this remote wilderness is restricted to a seaplane, ferry, or private watercraft. (Spots fill up fast, so make sure to book early.) Once you make it to the archipelago, activities abound, including camping, hiking, fishing on Lake Superior, scuba diving, canoeing, and kayaking.
Don’t miss: Seeing the stars. Isle Royale National Park is one of the darkest areas in Michigan, making it perfect for optimal stargazing.
Feast on: The Island Catch Sandwich at the Greenstone Grill
When to go: April 16 to October 31
Located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, this laid-back destination is a paradise for outdoor adventurers of every sort. Whether your passion is hiking, biking, river rafting, skiing, or snowboarding, Salida has you covered. The town also plays host to events that speak to the spirit of its residents, such as the Salida Bike Fest and the Colorado Brewers Rendezvous.
Don’t miss: Taking a relaxing dip. Drive out to nearby Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort in Nathrop, Colorado, to warm up in the soaking pool at the hotel. Or make your way to the more primitive hot spring pools in Chalk Creek, which runs past the hotel.
Feast on: The Hot Mess (hash browns, carnitas, and poached eggs) at The Biker & the Baker
When to go: Year-round
Monument Valley, Utah
Officially called Navajo Nation’s Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, this land on the border of Utah and Arizona looks almost otherworldly with its miles of mesas and red sand deserts. It is one of the most photographed points on earth, especially since the road Forrest Gump runs along in the movie (affectionately called Forrest Gump Point) cuts through it.
Don’t miss: The opportunity to go on a Jeep tour into the valley with Navajo tour operators. Some guides even offer a visit to a traditional Navajo hogan (home) to watch rug weaving.
Feast on: Navajo fry bread at Goulding’s Lodge Stagecoach Restaurant
When to go: Early spring or late autumn
Eighties babies might remember it fondly as the filming location for The Goonies, but this maritime town goes back much further. Astoria is the oldest American settlement west of the Rocky Mountains, and it boasts Victorian architecture to back up that claim. It also offers plenty to do for outdoorsy folks, like fishing and kayaking or hiking the Cathedral Tree Trail, which takes you to an impressively tall Sitka spruce known as the Cathedral Tree.
Don’t miss: The restored 1920s Liberty Theatre for a comedy night, Friday film, or live concert.
Feast on: Clam chowder at South Bay Wild Fish House
When to go: May through August
Whether you are flying across an ocean or simply driving down the road, travel is about approaching each place with curiosity and an open mind to whatever it has to offer. So try out one of these destinations, and make sure to talk to locals, taste the food, and learn the history—you may be amazed by what you discover.