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.

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.

How to Speed Clean Your Living Room

The living room is often one of the main gathering spaces during holiday parties, but its typically larger size can be intimidating when it comes to cleanup. Fortunately, you don’t need to carve out an hour to clean this room. Instead, follow these step-by-step cleaning tips provided by Debra Johnson, training specialist for Merry Maids, to speed clean up your living room in a flash.

Step 1: Product Preparation

Before you start, gather all your cleaning products in a caddy or placed in one location. This will help prevent precious time from being wasted running back and forth. For this room, Johnson suggests the following products:

  • High dusting tool
  • Dry microfiber for dusting
  • Damp microfiber for removing smudges
  • Box to gather items not belonging in living room
  • Extra cloths for washing floors
  • Trash bag
  • Multipurpose cleaner, glass cleaner, floor cleaner
  • Multifunctional vacuum with upholstery attachment
  • Floor washing tool

Step 2: Straighten

Place any items that belong elsewhere in the box to be moved to other rooms. Fluff throw pillows, straighten picture frames and stack coffee table books.

Step 3: Go Top to Bottom

“Working from the top down will prevent repeating steps,” says Johnson. Remove any cobwebs from the room using a high dusting tool. If time allows, vacuum any window treatments, lamp shades and baseboards. For rooms with a fireplace, vacuum the hearth area.

Step 4: Dust

Use a dry terry microfiber cloth to dust items such as doors, window sills, door knobs, ceiling fan blades, light switch plates and outlet covers. “ The ends of the microfiber are open and attract and grab dust rather than spreading it around,” says Johnson. Dust furniture from top to bottom, and clean glass surfaces. “Avoid overusing glass cleaning product, which can result in residue and extra work to remove the product,” says Johnson. Dust and dirt will then just stick to the residue.

Step 5: Vacuum

Vacuum upholstery with an upholstery tool, then vacuum area rugs. Depending on your floor type, vacuum the hard surface or carpet. “Vacuum floors rather than sweep,” says Johnson. “The sweeping motion will stir dust in the air, and then the dust will need to settle.”

Step 6: Maintain

Color code your microfiber cloths for each cleaning task: one color for dusting; one for glass; one for floors. “A cleaning cloth for each function will assist in better cloth use and cloth maintenance,” says Johnson. Each evening, straighten up the room and return any items that don’t belong in the living room to its proper place.