A Red Letter Day

In looking to review the things I have not blogged about, particularly parties from this year, I came across the photos we took last year at Christmas. And in keeping with my theme of Oversharing About My Parties Week, and since it's December, I thought I'd actually share some holiday party stuff from last year. (Because I'm usually crazy-busy in December, I don't always take the time to write all the details of what I have done, and I know some of you may find it interesting.)

So, you know how I'm completely enamored of all kinds of banners and flags and hanging festive things?

Last year I had a brainstorm. Of course, I blame Pinterest. (Which, by the way, you can follow me there if my creative process interests you in any way.)

I found a banner. Made of words. Which brings together two of the things I love most in the world: banners and letters.

My Vision

I purposed to hang magical banners made of red letters spelling out the lyrics to Christmas carols, which would then hang magically overhead and so elevate the mood and make everyone happy.

Red garlands

But first, of course, I set about trying to uncover the mystery of how such a thing could be achieved. 

The Silhouette

Enter the Silhouette Portrait. It's a wonderful and beautiful personal die-cutting device. (Who knew there was such a thing?) 

Silhouette Portrait

Full disclosure:

No, Silhouette is not sponsoring this post in any way (oh, how I wish they were!)

  1. I bought the aforementioned Silhouette Portrait 2 weeks before Christmas (much to my family's chagrin) specifically with this project in mind.
  2. I knew nothing about how to make the miracle letters appear, but my research told me that this was the right tool for the job.
  3. So I read the instructions, tentatively connected it to my computer and attempted my first letter. 

Joyful and triumphant

I felt like I had discovered fire.

Trotting excitedly over to Hobby Lobby, I grabbed every sheet of red cardstock I could find. I wasn't really sure how many Red Letter Christmas Carol Lyric Banner Things (what should I call these?) I was going to produce, but I also knew that I was going to "go big or go home."

I was all in.

Making the Banners

And so it began. I recruited my family to help tape the letters to fishing line to create the word banners. I know. Just tape. That sounds so anti-climatic doesn't it? I wouldn't have minded using twine, but the fishing line was nearly invisible, making the Red Hanging Letter Things (too wordy?) that much more magical. Of course, we listened to Christmas music as we worked. That goes without saying.

We taped from the back of the letters to the front, over the fishing line.

Fishing wire and letters


If you looked really closely, you could see the tape, but it wasn't like anyone was likely to be scrutinizing the miracle we had just created.



Then we - and when I say, "we," I mean, Eric and the kids - started hanging Red Christmas Carol Lyric/Word Banners (too much?) all over the house, much to my everlasting delight.

All the garlands

We had strung white lights across our living room and hung the Red Letter Banner Things (too subtle?) from them. They were completely lightweight and so that worked well.

Feliz navidad

I kept trying to take a photo that would do justice to the seriously breathtakingness (is that a word?) of the Red Word/Lyric Thingies (I don't even know anymore). I couldn't ever quite capture it.

Angels sing

But I kept trying. Look how cool and inviting my home looked from outside.

From outside

And when I say all over the house, I mean all the way from the front room (as you enter) all throughout the dining room and all the way into the back of our faux room (canvas wrapped around our patio cover) in the back. 

Silent night

I kept wandering back and forth from room to room, repeating out loud like a mental patient, "Isn't it magical?" 


(By the way, this process takes no more than one minute, because as you know, our home is freakishly small cottage-like.)

Pa rum pa pum

To which I answered myself, "Yes, it truly is magical."

Red letter garlands


I was completely in love with how everything looked and I decided that having Red Christmas Lyric Banners (?) hanging over our heads made our Noche Buena (Cuban Christmas Eve) that much more beautiful, magical, and oh, so special. 

That, and the intoxicating smell of roasted pork wafting through the house put everyone in a kind of Cuban "let's party like rockstars" haze, but that's not important right now.

Finding Joy

There has been so much preparation leading up to this week. Of course, I'm sure it's been like that in every home that celebrates Christmas. And also, did it seem like December just vanished in a puff of smoke, or is that just me?

We're not the people who put up Christmas decorations the day after Thanksgiving. We take our time and savor December. We slowly add decorations and touches as the month progresses. It makes it all feel so much more magical to me. I never want Christmas to be a thing that needs to just "get done." *shudder*

I was very deliberate this year about slowing down and taking care of myself and my family. I was determined to find joy in everything we did this year. Can I just tell you - slowing down is hard! Especially when the rest of the world is in full go! mode.

In fact, for about the first two weeks of December, all I had was this Merry Christmas pillow, which makes me totally happy, but that's not important right now.

Merry Christmas pillow

This month I did manage to design, print and send out invitations to Nochebuena early in the month.

Be our guest

I've got 32 people coming on the 24th and there won't be any room for a Christmas tree, so I got a few smaller trees and put them in corners of our living room. So really, it's more like setting the stage than Christmas decorating.

Mini christmas tree

I was happy we took our family photos back in September for our Christmas card. I don't know that we would have managed to get all of us in one area code otherwise. (See the photo in my blog header at the top of this page.)

Merry christmas

Christmas around here happened slowly, deliberately. We took the time to watch Christmas movies and celebrated as we made Crema de Vie for our friends.

Crema de vie

We got up early before the rest of the world and had coffee and shared dreams.


We went to parties and shared our food.

Picadillo pies

And we shopped a little. Mostly online. We made lists and shared ideas. And slowly added design elements to our "set."

Christmas hutch

I even got inspired (Thank you, Pinterest!) and made word garlands using my new Silhouette Portrait. (Still not done. I have a bunch more to hang today and tomorrow.)

Christmas garlands

What I have found is this: That I find no joy in perfection and in hurry. Perfection and hurry are way too demanding for me. But, without the tyranny of having to have everything up in one day, (who tapped, anyway?) I find that I'm enjoying the holidays more. There seems to be much more time for the fun and the celebration and all this makes me a nicer person.

We took time to really celebrate Advent and the coming of our Savior on Christmas day. And that just added to my personal joy. Seriously. There's something to be said for anticipation and preparation. It's as God intended.

After all the slow decorating and the taking time to enjoy the season, it turns out that my house is looking pretty darn festive for Nochebuena and Christmas. Now it's time to start preparing food and wrapping gifts. And I'm not stressed about this at all, because I took the time to take care of myself this season.

I found joy right on my doorstep. Who knew?


Feliz Navidad, my friends!

Nochebuena in the O.C. (¡Oh, Sí!)

I'm just now recovering from the Food Coma that has ensued since our fabulous Nochebuena celebration.

Once again it fell to me to host My Big, Fat, Cuban Family for our big Cuban feast on December the 24th. Cubans celebrate Christmas Eve more so than Christmas Day. It's a fall-back, I think, to the days when we actually celebrated the 12 days of Christmas leading up to January 6th and the Feast of the Epiphany. January 6th was the day The 3 Kings brought our presents. We call it El Dia de Los Reyes but that's not important right now.

I think that just about every Cuban I talk to feels that December the 24th is especially ours. It's a Cuban thing. It's our Christmas. Our very Cuban menu. Our special night. I kind of love that.

My sisters all pitch in to cook the classic menu of roast pig (lechón asado), black beans, white rice, yuca with mojo, and plantains.

Cuban food plate
A perfectly perfect Cuban feast. Clockwise from the top: Cuban bread, fried plantains, green salad, yuca with garlic mojo, roast pork, black beans and white rice.

Cuban food for a crowd (or my immediate family) looks like this:

Cuban food

Since we celebrate at my house (my freakishly small house), it falls to us to prepare the tables and decorate.

Happily, this is what I do best.

My kids have all been in theater and because we entertain so much and have to always move furniture around to fit people. (Did I mention my house was freakishly small? I know I did.) Lucy, who is a Stage Manager for the productions at Saddleback College has wisely shared the attitude that we are just "set designing" for a production. I kind of love that.

We moved furniture and made a Feliz Navidad banner to go across the room. Lucy and Adam strung lights across the room overhead and set the table with candles and chargers and runners and greenery. It was quite magical.

Feliz navidad
Beyond this room and past the kitchen, we enclosed the patio and added two more tables. See what I mean? Freakishly small.

There was no room for my 7 foot tall Christmas tree. What to do? Put small trees in the corners of the living and dining rooms. That turned out to be lots of fun and a big hit.


We set up a photobooth in Jonathan's room. (More on that tomorrow.)

Luza & me
My 98 year old mom, Luza, and me. She was celebrating her 98th Nochebuena.

The desserts were very typically Cuban:

Pastelitos de guayaba y queso crema. (Guava and cream cheese pastries.)

And of course, my Mom's Famous Flan:


And the Creme de Vie flowed all night.

Crema de vie

The evening was a great success. Everyone was happy and in a wonderful celebratory mood. I so enjoy celebrating family and Christmas in this very Cuban way.

The cousins stayed to help tear down tables and to help us prepare for our Christmas Day the next morning.

Which led, of course, to a late night dance party. Of course.


And because we had no tree, we just stacked the presents in the middle of the room.


I kind of loved that. In fact, I kind of loved all of it.

Starting our Nochebuena right - Thank you, Avocados from Mexico.

Nochebuena preparations are in full swing around here.

The pig is happily marinating in the Mojo Criollo I told you about a few days ago. The Matervas are chilling in the fridge. Lucy is out in the world on a hunt for Turrones.

Every time the phone rings or there is a text, it is Christmas related.

My sister, Helen, calls: "We need an appetizer."

We have tons of food for Nochebuena. Need is a relative word here. But I know better than to argue with my big sister. She's Cuban. And she's helping with the food. Enough said.

My mom calls: "We need a green salad." What she means by that, is a salad with just lettuce, asparagus, and avocado. She doesn't usually eat salad. She just wants an excuse to have avocados.

Cubans love avocados. My sister wants appetizers. My mom wants her avocado. (This is a winning scenario for me.)

Enter: Avocados from Mexico. Thankyouverymuch.

I've got this.

I'm making Avocado Cocktails for my appetizers. And I'm already anticipating the ooh's and aah's from my big, fat, Cuban family. I'll share the super-simple-but-impressive-why-didn't-I-think-of-this-earlier recipe with you right now.

Avocado Cocktails Recipe

  • 4-5 ripe avocados
  • 1 bottle cocktail sauce
  • 1 fresh lemon
  • salt & pepper to taste

1) Slice avocados into 1 inch chunks.

2) Put the avocado chunks into a medium size bowl and give them a squeeze of lemon juice to keep them from turning brown.

3) Add salt & pepper to taste and gently mix the avocados with a wooden spoon. You're just coating them with lemon juice, salt, and pepper, so you want to mix as gently as possible.

4) Pour cocktail sauce over the avocado chunks and mix to coat.

5) Gently spoon coated avocado into serving cups.

6) Pour another small amount of cocktail sauce into your cups.

7) Then give them each another squeeze of lemon for flavor.

8) Garnish with lemon slices or wedges and chill for at least an hour.

9) Serve cold.

10) Take bows.

My mom will be happy because she's getting her avocado. My family will sooo love these appetizers. (Total win!)

{Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by Avocados from Mexico and they are generously compensating me for sharing this. The recipe is my own. I am thrilled that they gave me the impetus to make such a delicious dish with my family. I'm sooo winning here.}

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For more fabulous recipes from Celebrity Chef Pepín, please visit the Avocados from Mexico Posadas site.

El Wiwichu

There's so much that I love about the holidays. My earliest Christmas memories are all filled with abundance and magic.

I think one of my favorites happened as we were learning the language and the customs of our new adopted country. Our default greeting was always "Feliz Navidad." But here in the U.S. things were a little different.

Our Cuban tongues that could so easily roll R's into oblivion were a challenged by the Christmas greetings we heard around us.

Merry Christmas came out sounding more like, "Meri Cree-mah," all Cuban accented, broken and abrubt syllables. And then there were the new songs we were learning in school. (I started 1st grade here in the U.S. without speaking a word of English.)

Our favorite was something we called, "El Wiwichu."

That's right. It goes something like this:

"Wiwichu ah Meri Chree-mah, Wiwichu ah Meri Cree-mah, Wiwichu ah Meri Cree-mah. Ana hapi niu yiah."

As I send out my Christmas cards, I can't help but think of El Wiwichu.


And it makes me smile.

Merry Christmas, my friends.

It's beginning to look a lot like...

I often say that the best part of Christmas for me is being Cuban.

Our traditional Nochebuena celebration begins with the fabulousness that is Lechón Asado. A roasted pig. Or, if you don't have 50 of your closest relatives coming for dinner on Christmas Eve, then a 20 lb. pork shoulder will do. If you're a cheater, like me, you can also get your lechón happening in a slow-cooker. (Don't judge me.)

Slow-roasted in a low temperature oven (or Crockpot!) from around midnight the night before, the house smells of intoxicatingly awesome garlicky pork all day.

We have our extended family celebration on December the 24th. We call it Nochebuena (the Good Night) and have a late and leisurely Cuban feast.

The days leading up to the Cooking of the Pig means there are a lot of culinary preparations, mostly in the form of a garlic marinade which is injected into this same pig (or shoulder, or fat pork chop, or pork roast), which we call Mojo Criollo. (Pronounced MOH-HO, as in Ho-Ho-Ho.)  Click this LINK for the recipe.

So, with all these crazy-busy preparation for the Cuban Awesomeness heading our way, I leave you this sentiment:


Stay Cuban, my friends. ;-)

My Big, Fat, Cuban Family Cubiche Christmas Gift Guide

Christmas shopping.

I am so not the get-up-at-the-crack-of-dawn-to-snap-up-deals-on-Black-Friday type of person. I am much more the online-shopper-in-my-pjs type. (However, if you tell anyone about the PJ thing, I'll most certainly deny it, but that's not important right now.)

It's just a matter of covering more territory while sitting in the comfort of your PJs (or not...) and finding fabulously different gifts. Plus think of the savings on gas!

For example, I'm pretty sure Target doesn't carry a Tardis 4-port USB hub for my nerdy,  Dr.Who-loving son, Jonathan. But ThinkGeek does. (Don't worry. I've given nothing away. He doesn't read my blog unless I ask him to.)

Also, I may or may not have gotten one for myself. (Don't judge me.)

My mom, Luza, who is 98 now, says she loves the hustle and bustle of going shopping at Christmastime and that she loves fighting crowds and she loves carrying lots of bags and packages around. I remind her that she hasn't been Christmas shopping on her own since the 70's and that perhaps what she probably remembers is a scene from a Christmas movie and that maybe her memory is not what it used to be. (Note to self: Don't ever contradict an Old Cuban Woman on what she may or may not remember. That is all.)

So, back to online shopping.

I live in a wonderful all-American Peanut-Butter-and-Jelly neighborhood in Southern California. It's not just the place to be finding gifts with an especially Cuban sensibility. Sad, but true.

This is why God invented online shopping. To get the perfect gift for your Cuban Cubiches. (For my non-Cuban readers, a "cubiche" is loosely translated as "Cuban kin.")

Which is why I'm providing the... *drum roll, please*

My Big, Fat, Cuban Family Cubiche Christmas Gift Guide

Disclaimer: These are places that I myself have ordered from and who have delivered on quality and service. None of them are paying me for this free linky-love. (I wish! *sigh*)

1) From Cuban Food Market (if you're in Miami, the name of the store is Sentir Cubano on Calle 8):

Tacitas! Or Demitasse espresso coffee cup gift set. With a Cuban flag on them and they come in a "it's a Cuban Chrismas" straw gift bag. I think, yes! (Trust me, there is nothing like this in Mission Viejo.)

2) From the "Jewelers to the Cuban Communtiy," Santayana Jewelers:

Santayana charm bracelet

The Habana Bead Collection of Charms. They fit Pandora and Chamilia bracelets. And come in such genius designs as: A cafetera, Corazon de melon, Azucar, and Caja China. Go check them out. You must see to believe.

Santayana Jewelers is running a special promotion right now: $40 off on your purchase of $150 or more. Trust me, I have already taken advantage of this great deal (someone in my family is going to be deliriously happy on Christmas morning). The promotion expires January 6th, 2013 - El Dia de Los Reyes. Of course. That's sooo deliciously Cuban, isn't it?

VERY COOL PROMOTION ALERT! Just for MBFCF readers: If you suggest a design and they make it into a charm, they will send the winner that charm. Come on, people! I know you've got this. Leave suggestions in the comment section of this post.

3) And of course, my good friends at Habana Brand Clothing have got the most fabulous über-Cuban (<--is that a word?) designs on their high quality shirts.

I also want to take a moment to thank Habana Brand and all the MBFCF readers who suggested new designs for their shirts. They have assured me they are hard at work creating some of your concepts. Way to go, kids!

This one is hot off the press (thanks to YOU!) - Ladies V-neck Vintage Ride T. Click HERE to order and see the rest of their beautiful line. That's my Lucy being all cute in her Cubanity (<--is that a word?) and rocking the Habana Brand Vintage Ride tshirt.

_MG_0036 3

They're also having a Facebook promotion right now as the Cuban community finds them online and they are working their way to 1,000 "likes." Please go like Habana Brand Clothing on Facebook. And please share with your friends.

HBC promotion

Go! Shop! Be proud of your Cubanity! (<--That should totally be a word!)

Nochebuena is coming and everyone's invited!

We Cubans celebrate December the 24th. It's our BIG Christmas celebration with the extended family. And when I say celebrate, I mean we pull out all the stops.

It's a PARTY.

The meal is usually roast pork (lechón asado), white rice, black beans, plantains, yuca con mojo. And a great big flan (and assorted sweets) for dessert. It's a fabulous time to celebrate with family and friends. We always celebrate on December 24th. Always.

And everyone who is invited knows this, and yet...an invitation is always sent.

Noche Buena Invitations


For some of my past Nochebuena invitation designs: Click here.

This year, I decided to step it up a notch and make the invitation a cheerful one. I made labels and pasted them on bottles of Martinelli's. Frankly, I was quite pleased with myself.

Here's the label. It says:

Please join us for some Christmas Cheer and Cucufate at the Darby Home. 6:00 pm. Nochebuena, Monday, December 24th, 2012

Cucufate label invitation

I handed them out at Thanksgiving and mailed just the above postcard to those who were not present that day. I'm kind of pleased with myself.

If you got an invitation to a party attached to a bottle of sparkling cider, wouldn't you make it a point to get there?

Yeah, me too. ;-)

Happy Dia de los Reyes!

Happy Dia de los Reyes. Day of the Three Kings. Day of the Magi.

It's always so strange to try and explain some of our Cuban superstitions traditions. And yes, I know we've been exiled for 50 years now, but some traditions we still keep. Even if they are now mostly just as a nod to our heritage.

Enter the Three Kings. Or the Three Wise Men who showed up at the birth of Jesus to bring him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

In Cuba, back in the day, they were the ones to bring us our "big" presents. Which would be waiting for us when we woke up on January 6th.

Santa Claus or if you prefer Spanglish, "Santi Clo" was a minor player in the Christmas drama and he brought us some candy or a token to mark the beginning of the REAL 12 Days of Christmas from December 25th through January 5th. (Which is why it's crazy-making to me when people start talking about the 12 days on December 1st, but that's not important right now.)

I've told this story countless times. And while we don't hold fast to the tradition of the 3 Kings bringing the presents, we still keep our tree up at least through today. (We didn't put it up until the 24th - don't freak out! - so we're not even tired of it yet.) And so, we try to keep some of the tradition alive.

Christmas tree

My husband, Eric has learned that it's important to me to celebrate Christmas in this time frame and so he enjoys playing along. He has embraced the Cuban Christmas Timeline. And also the "big" gift delivered by the Los Tres Reyes Magos. 

Look at what I found from the Three Kings this morning:

3 kings gift

Apparently Gaspar, Melchor and Baltazar are waiting until my kitchen is painted to deliver my set of new kitchen appliances!(YESSSS!!)

I *heart* that man. ;-)

Happy Three Kings Day, everyone!

Everything I wished for...

Happy New Year, everyone!

I know some of you are wondering what happened with the Dark Christmas Tree

Here's the story:

My son, Adam flew in from the Bay Area at the crack of dawn, landing at around 7:30 AM on Christmas eve. Lucy and Jonathan went to pick him up at the airport while Eric and I finished up the last minute touches around here. Or maybe we just slept in, but that's not important right now. ;-)

And they were all exhausted so they napped for most of the day which was fine by me. We had an amazing NocheBuena celebration at my sister, Alina's house. Everything was so beautiful and festive and everyone was so happy. (We also did a photobooth thing again which I'll share with you later.)

In short, a good time was had by all.

Feliz navidad

We didn't get home until about 11pm. It was then that we busted out the Créme de Vie and cranked up the Christmas music and decorated our own tree and put out the presents and set the table for breakfast.

Christmas morning felt pretty magical and I think we all felt it. (I made them put the lights on the tree in a swirling light pattern. You can see it if you squint. I kind of loved it. A lot.)

My red and white Christmas tree

Breakfast table

We had an absolute feast on Christmas morning that included quiche, fresh fruit, monkey bread and my best friend, Pam's Pamagranate Jelly.


Seriously, the house went from plain to spectacular fabulous magical (=D) overnight.

And as we leisurely had breakfast and opened gifts... (lots and lots of gifts. Thanks, guys!)

Opening gifts

I felt absolutely content. We had a wonderful time together and all 6 of us were in the same area code. 

The fam

Which is all I really wanted for Christmas anyway.