Thursday, December 27, 2012

This tip for shiny silver is golden

August Post, who lives in the Charlotte area, is the host with the most personality, taste and creativity. He’s one of my entertaining heroes. To be invited to one of his parties is to enter a world of absolute beauty and fun. And don’t even get me started on what a great cook he is, or how handsome and stylish. Or his interior decorating talents. His home is off-the-charts gorgeous.

I have to share this tip he recently posted on his Facebook page.

He says that to clean your silver in seconds, line a sink with heavy duty aluminum foil, and then bring a few big pots of water to almost boiling. Place the silver on the foil and pour water over it, then pour in some baking soda - use at least a box if you have more than a few items. It causes a chemical reaction that will leave your silver shiny in seconds.

For the reaction to work, the silver has to be touching the foil, so you will have to turn it. August adds that if you’re doing a large amount of silver you will need to change the foil, water and baking soda every so often for best results.

Afterward, wash your pieces with soapy water, rinse, dry and enjoy the sparkle.

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Hot dog! A new Christmas tradition is born

Sometimes mistakes can be a beautiful - and delicious - thing.

I found that out during one of the family Christmas feasts I attended where it's a tradition to serve Sister Schubert's Parker House Rolls.

As I tore into my roll, I saw something in the center. I quickly realized that it was a tiny smoked sausage. At first, everyone at the table thought there had been a mistake at the Sister Schubert plant.  Then they realized they all had smoked sausages, too. The hostess had accidentally bought the Sausage Wrap Rolls instead of the Parker House Rolls.

I had just done something similar for a small Christmas get-together I had a few days earlier at my home. I meant to buy the plain Carr's Table Water Crackers and accidentally bought some seasoned ones instead. Luckily, they ended up going well with the Port Wine cheese I served them with - in fact one guest told me it tasted better than just using the plain Carr's crackers. Then we laughed about how confusing it is to shop now because each brand has so many different versions - original, fat free, gluten free, seasoned, seasoned with garlic, seasoned with herbs, seasoned without garlic and herbs - it just goes on and on. If you're in a hurry mistakes can be made.

But when I bit into those Sister Schubert Sausage Wrap Rolls, which I didn't even know the company made, a new Christmas tradition was hopefully born. Although many people think I'm a vegetarian because I'm such a picky meat eater, the German in me has always loved sausages. The Sausage Wrap Rolls are a great, and in my opinion a better tasting, alternative to the retro Pigs in a Blanket that have become popular to serve now.

So, thank you Sister Schubert for making such great products. And thank you to the hostess for making such a tasty mistake. Please, please serve them next year!

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Friday, December 21, 2012

The best Secret Santa gift ever

When I arrived at my desk this morning, there was a beautiful gold package with a bright red ribbon addressed to me from Stealth Santa.

Inside was the best Secret Santa gift ever - a desktop Scotch tape dispenser in the shape of a fabulous black high heel platform shoe.  Love it!

I did a quick online search and it comes in all sorts of different styles and colors. Office Max, Walmart and Staples were a few of the stores where you can find them. The price is in the $10 range.

The verdict is still out on whether I've been Naughty or Nice this year (a little bit of both is the most fun, so I'll be disappointed if it's one or the other).

Regardless, my Scotch tape shoe is going into my Hall of Fame of great inexpensive gifts.

Stealth Santa, you have made me so happy!

Merry Christmas!

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Step up to the plate

I wanted to share a trend I'm hearing from more and more hostesses: For big family gatherings such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, they're switching to paper plates to make clean up less stressful.

I'm not talking about paper plates from the grocery store - they're buying beautiful, sturdy ones that are anything but white and flimsy.

But still, for many of them, it's something they thought they would never do. But they've embraced it because it minimizes the time they have to stand over the sink hand washing china. For some it's due to their super busy lives and the fact that there are some really elegant paper plate options out there. For others, they're being practical and facing facts that they're getting older and are no longer able to stand and wash dishes for extended periods of time.

Many of them would normally hire servers to help with clean-up when they're overwhelmed, but for gatherings at the holidays, they want to keep it intimate with family and friends only. But it's not their hostessing style to ever ask guests, even family members, to wash dishes.

I don't believe in problems, only solutions, so if elegant paper plates make your entertaining life easier, don't let old fashioned notions of that being tacky hold you back from giving yourself a bit of a break.

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Snazzy holiday gift ideas

Neiman Marcus at SouthPark mall recently hosted its second annual Snazzy Holiday Luncheon. A mix of its top customers and members of the media sat down to a delicious lunch from Delectable's by Holly as the store's manager, Kristine Matthews, and its public relations manager, Kristin Jackson, shared some of their favorite gift ideas from the store. 

As part of the festive atmosphere, model Star Kiser was dressed as a retro cigarette girl. During the presentation, she helped pass around the gifts so guests could get a closer look. And at the end of the event, her cigarette box was filled with those famous Neiman Marcus chocolate chip cookies individually wrapped so guests could take them home. Doesn't she look adorable?

For inspiration, here's a photo of the simple, elegant arrangements at each table. 

With their sparkling and witty personalities, Kristine and Kristin's presentation was informative and fun.They divided their gift selections into items for men, women and children, plus hostess gifts. Many of the gift ideas were $100 or less, so I highly recommend putting the store on your list of places to get some of your final shopping done. Not only will you know you're buying a quality item, it will be beautifully packaged. Who needs wrapping paper when your gift comes in an elegant Neiman Marcus bag or box?  

Here's video of Kristine talking about some of the tech savvy gifts:

If there are any little girls on your list, these designer dresses that are part of the Neiman Marcus collaboration with Target, were a big hit. They're designed by Marchesa and Jason Wu. Here's Kristin (in red) and Kristine (in green) showing them to guests:

Of course the luncheon had to have a fashion element. In this video, Kristin talks about the must-have pant for right now in an off-white color that can be worn throughout the year:

Read more here:

This holiday look would be the hit of any party:

In this video, a model shows off a dress from Lela Rose:

One of the interesting trends I learned about at the luncheon is that dog owners are buying small Christmas trees for their precious pets and decorating them with dog-themed ornaments (an example they showed was a beautiful and amusing dog bone decoration). As a card carrying member of the cult of dog people, that idea gets two paws up from me.

Charlotte style experts Susu Bear, Sonya Barnes and Catherine Horgan loved this coloring book that's technically a children's gift but would thrill fashion addicts of any age.

I'll end with this photo of super chic guest Karen Spratt, who was wearing a medical boot on her foot. But a plain one just didn't fit her style so she went to Michael's craft store and bought some gems to bedazzle the boot. In another display of fashion brilliance, she figured out a way to wear the boot safely while not having to give up wearing at least one high heel shoe. With her doctor's approval, she took  a golf towel, rolled it up and placed it at the heel of the foot in the boot so that way she could at least wear one high heel shoe. (If you want to try her clever trick, please consult your doctor first.)

Karen, you are a style hero. 

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Read more here:

Read more here:

Read more here:

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Good times with Good Friends

The motto of the nonprofit Good Friends Charlotte is "An Hour of Charity...A Year of Giving" and that efficiency is one of the reasons this group that does so much good is so popular. I'm proud to say I'm a Good Friends member - and for a $55 annual donation you can be one, too (go to for details. (The photo above was taken by Observer photographer Todd Sumlin)

I just came back from its 26th annual luncheon at the Grady Cole Center where close to 1,000 women gathered for fellowship and fundraising. The event was completely sold out to the point where some kind members volunteered to give up their seats at tables to sit in the balcony with their box lunches from Reid's on their laps.

That unselfish spirit is one of the many reasons I love this event. Plus, it's so exciting to walk into a room filled with energetic women of all ages who are dedicated to helping their neighbors in need in Charlotte. Although the numbers aren't in yet, it's estimated that during the hour-long luncheon more than $120,000 was raised.

The money will help out the working poor in little ways that have a big impact. We all need to be reminded that even in shiny, happy Charlotte where so many do so much to help others, there are still people living on the edge. For most of us, if we needed $75 to buy new locks to keep out an abusive person who had tormented us and our children, our families would swing into action immediately. But not everyone has that support system. And even if they did, their families may not be able to afford an amount of money we take for granted. That's where Good Friends steps in and lives up to its name.

After everyone listened to testimonials from those who had been helped by the group, a magical moment took place. What's better than Santa? How about a dozen Santas. I turn into a six-year-old when members of Good Fellows, the male version of Good Friends, come out in Santa suits and collect money from everyone in the most jolly way.

Do you recognize this Santa?
It's Mayor Foxx! (The photo was taken by Observer photographer Todd Sumlin)

Here are two snippets of video of the Santas in action:

The event ends with everyone singing "Let There Be Peace on Earth" Those are such pure words that are so appropriate for the spirit of the event. Here's a video, and the lyrics are below:

Let there be peace on earth
and let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth
the peace that was meant to be.
With God as our father
brothers all are we.
Let me walk with my brother
in perfect harmony.

Let peace begin with me
let this be the moment now.
With every step I take
let this be my solemn vow.
To take each moment 
and live each moment 
with peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth,
and let it begin with me. and let it begin with me.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A gift that gives twice

The Mint Museum has partnered with the Charlotte nonprofit Thompson Child & Family Focus for a “Gift of Membership” campaign that will provide gift memberships to families who may not otherwise have had the opportunity to participate in the Mint’s educational programming.

For every gift membership purchased by a member of the public before December 31, the Mint will give another membership to a family identified by Thompson Child & Family Focus. Memberships cost $60 for individuals; $100 for families; $45 for students and teachers; and $80 for two adults. Memberships include unlimited free admission to both museum locations year-round; invitations to special members-only events; free or discounted admission to educational programs and classes; and reciprocal privileges at designated Southeastern museums.

The museum packages gift membership cards in wrapped gift boxes and mails them to the intended recipients. To ensure delivery in time for the holidays, givers are urged to purchase them by Dec. 14 online at

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Jingle Bell Bash was a ball

On Dec. 1, I attended the Jingle Bell Bash at Wells Fargo Atrium. It's been several years since I've been able to be there, so it was exciting to see some of the changes that are going on with the event and the nonprofit it raises money for.

(Here's a few seconds of atmosphere video from the event, including a fun glimpse of photographer Daniel Coston in action):

One change is that it's now a fundraiser for Safe Alliance, formerly known as United Family Services. The name of the event has changed, too. It used to be called the Jingle Bell Ball, but is now known as the Jingle Bell Bash. To me, substituting the word bash for ball was a great idea because bash reflects the energetic and fun event. Plus it signals that the benefit, which was started back in 1994 by the Single Adult Ministry at Myers Park United Methodist Church, has now been turned over to a new crop of young professionals who are committed to the cause. (Below are photos of event co-chairs Kristi Salvatore and Kara Tanenbaum and a photo of guests having fun in a photo booth area.)

But here's the most impressive change of all about the gala, which is now in its 18th year: Over the years, it has helped raise money for Safe Alliance's Victim Services programs and its Shelter for Battered Women. Soon, the shelter will reopen as the new Clyde and Ethel Dickson Domestic Violence Shelter. It will have 80 beds (the other shelter had 29 beds). I haven't toured it yet, but I've heard that it's incredible how much thought was put into making it a place where families can heal and begin to have hope about their future.

One of the special people at the event was committee member Rosalind Richmond (her photo is above), a Charlotte banker who is a domestic violence survivor. It takes so much courage to not only get yourself out of a bad situation, but to turn your pain around to help others, so I applaud her. I also admire all the other event organizers and supporters who may not have gone through the same things Rosalind did, but whose hearts simply cannot bear to sit by without doing what they can to help others escape lives of fear and pain.

I was very taken by the crowd the Jingle Bell Bash attracted. There were lots of fixtures on Charlotte's philanthropy scene who were there - Jill Dinwiddie, Bernie Hargadon and Rick Bainbridge to name a few. Then I met a whole new group of smart, young and big-hearted committee members and guests who are carrying the torch for the future of philanthropy in our city. Among them was Kathleen Murphy Leveseque, creator of the Kathleen Murphy Jewelry line. I interviewed her several months ago when she was one of the winners of Belk's Southern Designer Showcase (look for her jewelry in select Belk stores this spring). I've heard the jewelry will also be featured soon in Vogue and Lucky magazines. She donated a beautiful piece for the gala's silent auction. (A photo is below)

I Tweeted live from the event, which is always fun. One of the first people I took a photo of was the evening's emcee, Anthony Michaels from 107.9 The Link. He has a deep yet pleasant voice that was meant for radio - and he looked stylish, too.

In fact, there were so many stylish people there I put together a page of holiday fashion photos from the event for the Dec. 6 Style section of the Observer that I hope will inspire you if you're unsure about what to wear to your next holiday party. (It's online now at and also has great tips from style expert Jania Massey).

Safe Alliance stellar staff members Bill Coy and Carol Roth were very indulgent of me when I came swooping in to take video, Tweet and pull people aside who stylishly stood out in the crowd. When I attend a party for a wonderful cause that's also full of interesting, amazing and fashionable people I'm overcome with a desire to share it with others.

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson