Smart Living, Home Decor and Entertainment Ideas

Ideas That Spark provides home decor and entertainment ideas for home owners. Articles and content cover serving health meals to guests, style and decoration ideas, and holiday entertaining

5 Festive Holiday Grogs

In this blustery weather, there’s nothing better than some warm holiday grogs to kick off the cheer of the season. With or without alcohol, the following holiday drink recipes can add some flair to your festivities. Enjoy the aroma of mulled cider, sip a rich cup of Mexican hot chocolate after a snowy walk, or serve a ginger-infused eggnog or espresso almond latte while wrapping presents. Whatever the occasion, you’ll love these delicious holiday drinks.

Ginger-infused Eggnog

Serves 4 to 6

1 quart good-quality eggnog

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/3 cup ginger syrup, or to taste

4 ounces light rum, optional

2 tablespoons chopped, candied ginger

Grated nutmeg

Combine the eggnog, cinnamon, ginger syrup and rum in a large pitcher. Stir well and chill for at last 2 hours. Pour into 4 to 6 mugs and top with a sprinkling of candied ginger and grated nutmeg.

Mexican Hot Chocolate

Serves 8

4 cups whole milk

Four 12-ounce cans evaporated milk

8 ounces chopped Mexican chocolate (or other good-quality bittersweet chocolate)

1/4 teaspoon ancho or chipotle chili powder, or to taste

2 cinnamon sticks

1 vanilla bean, split down the middle (or 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract)

4 ounces tequila, optional

Whipped cream

Cocoa powder

In a large heavy-duty saucepan, combine the whole and evaporated milk, chocolate, chili powder, cinnamon and vanilla bean over moderate heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until chocolate is completely melted and the drink has a creamy consistency. Remove from heat; allow cinnamon and vanilla to steep for 10 minutes. Remove the sticks and pod before serving. Stir in the liqueur, if using, and top each portion with a dollop of whipped cream and a dusting of cocoa powder.

Spiced Citrus Apple Cider

Serves 8 to 10

2 quarts apple cider

2 cinnamon sticks, plus additional as garnish

3 whole cloves

2 allspice berries

1 orange, cut into thin slices.

Juice of half fresh lemon

8 ounces apple brandy, optional

Combine ingredients in a large pot over moderate heat. Allow to simmer 10 minutes to develop flavors. Strain and serve each portion with an ounce of apple brandy and cinnamon stick.

Santa’s Kiss

Champagne or sparkling wine

Fresh pomegranate juice

Fill each champagne flute three-quarters full. Add a splash of pomegranate juice to taste.

Espresso Amaretto Latte

Serves 8

8 to 16 shots good-quality espresso coffee

2 cups half-and-half, warmed

1/2 cup almond-flavored liqueur, optional

Whipped cream and shaved semi-sweet chocolate, optional

Combine coffee with warmed half-and-half and liqueur (if using). Garnish with whipped cream and shaved chocolate.

Biggest Pet Peeves -- and How to Fix Them

Your pets are part of the family. And, like any child, your dog or cat can annoy you at times. Chances are at least a few of the following pet behavioral problems will sound familiar. To help curb your biggest pet peeves, consider a few expert solutions to their bad behavior.

Pet Peeve No. 1: Your cat scratches up the furniture
Your kitty isn’t trying to annoy you: Scratching is a natural behavior. It helps your cat mark its territory, remove the outer layer of its claws,and exercise. So instead of scolding or punishing your cat, try to modify its behavior by offering it a scratching post. Take note of what your cat tends to scratch -- fabric, wood, rope or cardboard -- and purchase one with a similar material and place it near the original object. You can also discourage your cat from scratching certain things by covering them in aluminum foil or double-sided tape.

Pet Peeve No. 2: Your pup barks all the time
When Fido gets going, avoid the temptation to yell at him -- he’ll think that you’re joining in. Instead, take him away from the barking trigger: For instance, if he’s barking at the squirrels outside, the Humane Society of the United States recommends closing the blinds or putting him in another room. Also, attempt to ignore the woofs: Paying him attention while he’s barking rewards the behavior. You can also teach him a “quiet” command in a peaceful setting, and then gradually practice in distracting situations. Eventually, he’ll respond even when the mailman walks by or the doorbell rings.

Pet Peeve No. 3: Your kitty wakes you up in the middle of the night
After a long day, the last thing you want to do is wake up throughout the night to your cat’s meowing or playing. But Fluffy is wired to hunt on a 24-hour cycle, with her most active periods at dawn and dusk. This means the best solution is to shut her out of your bedroom at night. Can’t imagine snoozing without her by your side? Cats generally want to get fed in the early morning, so you may want to invest in a timed feeder. Also do your best to ignore her nudges or meows in the morning; even calling out her name or pushing her off the bed counts as attention. Once she realizes that her behavior won’t garner a reaction, she’ll stop.

Pet Peeve No. 4: Your dog won’t stop begging
Feeding your pup at the table isn’t just annoying: It can also lead to obesity. Slipping your dog food just a few times can create a pattern of begging, so the best way to break the cycle is to ignore Rover completely. Avoid eye contact and don’t speak to him (even if it’s telling him to stop). Make sure everyone in your family is on the same page and stands firm, so that your dog is not confused by inconsistent behavior. You can also ease the whining by feeding Rover during your own mealtime, or distracting him with a few toys.

Pet Peeve No. 5: Your dog jumps up on people
It’s nice to receive a warm welcome, but Rover’s forceful hello (and muddy paw prints on your clothes) needs to stop. According to the American Humane Society, dogs greet each other nose-to-nose, so his leaps are an attempt to do the same. To prevent this from occurring -- and him from scaring visitors -- you’ll need to train him.

When you come home, enter calmly instead of clapping your hands and yelling his name. If he leaps on you, turn around and go outside. Repeat until he stops jumping -- this teaches him he’ll only receive attention when all of his feet are on the floor. For visitors, instruct your pup to sit as someone approaches. If he leaps, have that person walk away, and repeat until he’s able to stay seated. Then have the visitor reward him with a treat.

Stress-relieving Gifts for $10 or Less

This holiday season, consider giving the gift of stress reduction. Not only are the following items proven to be stress relieving, but they’re also affordable -- they’re all $10 or less. So go ahead: Pick up one for yourself, too!

Lavender Oil: This calming scent can help you unwind and sleep better. Try whiffing the cap of this Aura Cacia Pure Essential Oil ($9.99;, or add a few drops to a bedroom diffuser.

Tea: According to a British study, people who sipped tea had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol after a stressful event than those who didn’t. A unique tea blend makes for a special gift. Our pick is a rooibos red tea blend from South Africa: Good Hope Vanilla Red Tea Bags ($10;

Epsom Salts: Relax tight, aching muscles by adding these magnesium-rich salts to your bath. Dr. Teal’s Epsom Salt Soaking Solution has a calming lavender scent ($4.99;

Chocolate: This delicious treat triggers the brain to release endorphins, which are feel-good brain chemicals. Opt for dark chocolate, which is lower in sugar and higher in antioxidants, like See’s Candies Premium Extra Dark Chocolate Bar Gift Pack ($9;

Candle: Fill your home with a soothing scent, such as Febreze Meadows & Rain candle ($7.59;

Hand Cream: An ultra-luxe lotion can fend off chapped nails. Stash a portable tube, like the Body Shop’s Mini Almond Hand & Nail Cream ($6;, in your purse to have at all times. While you’re rubbing it in, give your hands a little massage as a stress-relieving break in your day.

Music: Put on some classical tunes for instant relaxation. Mozart for Meditation ($4.99; compiles some of the composer’s most serene songs.

Top 10 Great-Smelling Houseplants

Houseplants are a great addition to any home -- they look nice, they give your rooms a bit of green during the cold months, and if you choose the right ones, they can make your home smell great as well. Here are the 10 best indoor plants for an aromatically pleasing home.

1.    Scented Geraniums

Geraniums are hardy plants with a unique “fuzzy” texture. The plant will produce small flowers and it comes in a variety of different scents, says Kim McKelvey, a greenhouse expert at Hicks Nurseries in Westbury, NY. Plant varieties come in lemon, chocolate, orange, and even nutmeg.

2.    Mint  

Mint is one of nature’s miracles; it smells terrific, you can use the leaves in cooking or drinks -- or even chew them for fresh breath. Because of mint’s aggressive root system, you’ll need to replant on occasion to allow the roots to spread. “It really shoots up and goes crazy,” says McKelvey. Mint likes sunlight and loves water, so try to keep the soil moist at all times.

3.    Lavender

“Relaxing” is the best way to describe the scent of this common houseplant. Don’t worry if you forget to water it from time to time, because lavender is a resilient plant. But be sure to give it plenty of sun, and don’t forget that even its dead blossoms retain their scent for a long time. Just remember to clip off dead flowers to induce the growth of new ones.

4.    Arabian Jasmine

This elegant plant will flower year round, provided you give it enough sunlight and humidity. These snow-white flowers have a beautiful star-shaped appearance and produce a lovely scent that can be used for making jasmine tea.

Giving it a small trellis to climb will produce even more flowers.

5.    Gardenia

“It may not be very colorful, but it’s very fragrant,” says McKelvey of the white-flowered gardenia plant. It has been known as a challenging houseplant that requires lots of sunlight and humidity. Luckily, the powerful scent means you only have to baby one plant.

6.    Eucalyptus

This iconic plant best known as Koala Bear food is actually a very good beginner’s houseplant. It’s extremely low maintenance and produces lovely grayish-blue leaves (that are toxic if ingested, so be mindful). Keep eucalyptus in a brightly-lit, moist environment to enjoy its distinctive smell.

7.    Orange Jessamine

You really begin to notice the fantastic scent of this plant as its flowers bloom. The aroma they produce is long lasting, with a lovely blend of flowery and citrus scents. Tip: If you like the flowering version of this plant, keep it in a brightly lit area, rather than in low light.

8.    Plumeria

Ever wonder what flowers Hawaiian leis were made from? Plumeria comes in a range of cheerful colors and they emit a truly tropical smell that will fill the room. It’s not the easiest houseplant to grow -- it needs very warm and humid conditions -- but if you manage it, the big beautiful flowers are well worth it. 

9.    Basil

Basil is one of several kitchen herbs that “smell great and are great for cooking,” says McKelvey. “They are great to grow in small pots on a sunny windowsill, and in the summer you can move them outside.” Give basil a regular pruning and watch out for flower buds! While its delicate flowers look pretty, the plant will die once it flowers.

10. Citrus

The iconic aromas of orange, grapefruit, lime and lemon are popular in everything from candles to soaps -- just be careful not to overwhelm your senses with too many plants. “Citrus plants have a very strong aroma,” says McKelvey. Buying a dwarf variety that is 2 to 3 years old will give you flower blossoms and fruit right away. Be warned: Citrus likes 12 hours of sunlight each day, so you might want to supplement it with a grow light during short winter days.