Martha Stewart will be spending Christmas this year with family and friends and four new peacocks.
If you are lucky enough to be invited, you might find a small, decorated artificial tree in your guest room. And you’ll be tasting light, tender Kruschiki Polish cookies, made from a traditional recipe passed down by Big Martha, Stewart’s late mom. But please do not bring a scented candle as a hostess gift (Stewart calls them “injurious to your health”). She’d prefer a homegrown plant or a dozen eggs, preferably from your chicken coop.
Days before Christmas, Stewart joined my weekly Web chat to answer questions about the holidays and other topics. Laced through her answers were the sage advice and strong opinions we count on from the woman who practically invented the “lifestyle” category of books, magazines and branding.
I, like millions, have been learning about homekeeping from Stewart since 1982, when her first book, “Entertaining,” was published. I have spent afternoons madly squeezing boursin cheese into snow peas and trying to gild acorns for a holiday wreath, just because Stewart declared these pursuits “a good thing.” I met Stewart in 1991 when The Washington Post dispatched me to Westport, Conn., to interview the caterer turned national tastemaker at her then-home, Turkey Hill Farm.
Decades later, Stewart is still exuberantly decking her halls, and plenty of people still are dying to know with what. So, never vary your eggnog recipe, and never, ever let your sheets go more than three days without a wash. Don’t be embarrassed about the half-finished craft projects in your cupboard, but be brutal about tossing out faded poinsettias.
As for New Year’s resolutions, why bother? “I never make New Year’s resolutions. They are boring [and] you never, ever accomplish them,” she wrote in answer to one question. “Try something new.”
Here are some edited excerpts from Stewart’s Web chat Friday with Washington Post readers. Read the full transcript at live.washingtonpost.com.
Any suggestions for neat holiday traditions to start with young children?
First, learn all the important Christmas carols and sing them daily. Learn all of the names of Santa’s reindeer in alphabetical order. Learn how to decorate a Christmas tree with lights, learn how to make a buche de Noel and a croquembouche.
I love to decorate with poinsettias during the holidays, but they seem to be somewhat finicky about their placement. What are the best lighting and watering conditions for these plants?
Poinsettias are finicky and need filtered light, lots of it, and neither too much or too little water. Once they begin to fade, either chuck them or give them away.
With all your beautiful collections, what is new at your house in Bedford this year?
So many holiday parties, so many questions about what to give the hosts. Have any last-minute, no-fail suggestions? Please don’t say candles.
Personally, I would never give anyone candles, especially scented, which are injurious to your health, by the way. A dinner for two at a favorite new bistro, a birthday cake to order for one of the children, a beautiful homegrown plant or a dozen fantastic, farm-fresh eggs from your own chicken coop. That’s my idea of a hostess gift.
Given your creativity and your talent for tweaking things, is there one thing that you always do the same at Christmastime?
How to keep white cotton sheets looking fresh: Any hints?
I have sheets that are actually close to 100 years old that I use all the time. My washing method is as follows: Don’t let the sheets get dirtier than three days, wash cotton in very hot water with a high-quality unscented detergent like Persil or Tide, line-dry until damp, then iron.
With your busy life, do you have time to do crafts anymore? Perhaps with your grandchildren? If so, what do you enjoy most when you have the time?
I like anything that has to do with gardening and cooking, and I wish I had more time for needlecrafts. I have a room full of projects started and unfinished. I still have some of my Bargello projects from college unfinished.
I love the look of those full mantels with a variety of greenery. Is there any trick to keeping them fresh, or do you really need to just change it every few days?
It’s really best to adorn your mantel with artificial greenery that might be illuminated, or spray-painted branches, or glittered leaves, or something that will not drop needles after a few days. One thing that is very important is to secure branches and bows with display clay or tape so that, by accident, the entire mantel isn’t wiped away by some guest’s ungainly elbow.
I’m hosting a New Year’s Eve party, including dinner. Any thoughts on activities to keep the evening festive until midnight?
Great drinks: Make it a martini night. A good card game or dancing, and lots of kissing at midnight.
What do you hope to teach to your grandchildren so that they will always remember their wonderful grandmother?
If they don’t remember Martha, something’s really wrong.