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Amazon's Echo Plus to the Rescue...

Holiday Entertaining Just Got A Whole Lot Easier

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Although it may seem like all my life consists of currently is parties, entertaining and ease free decorating (beginning in October and going through January) behind every single party, get together or shoot is quite a bit of prep work, shopping, last minute trips to the store, and decorating. So, when Amazon reached out about working together this holiday season to show how their new Echo Plus can help with holiday entertaining, I said, “I’m listening… but how does my friend Alexa have anything to do with Holiday entertaining and party prep?”

You see, like many of you, we actually already have (and love) our lovely Echo (AKA Alexa), so while this is a partnership, I knew I could honestly promote and stand behind the product because I bought one myself (months ago) and we use it every day.

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The house had been decked for the holidays for a while as you know, but for a party, it needs to get amped up and other, different things needed to be addressed.

When throwing a party I typically think about a few different things:

1) Supplies and Decor

2) Food and Drink

3) Entertainment and Music

4) Mood (lighting and heat)

These are the elements that take it from your average gathering to memorable. And this is where the Echo Plus came in – Alexa helped with every single one of those items not only days before the party but also a few hours before the party began and all through the evening. If you aren’t already familiar with Echo Plus, it is a hands-free speaker you control with your voice that has a built-in smart home hub to easily connect to your other smart devices. Once connected to your Amazon account, it can help you with everything from ordering groceries and food, letting you know the temperature outside, telling you what is on your calendar today, giving you the scores to your favorite sports games, or even controlling the lighting in your home among thousands of other things. The options are really endless as far as what you can do with it, but today let’s talk about why I developed a whole new appreciation for all the many things it can help when it comes to holiday entertaining and party prep and take a look at how I used it to prep for this party.

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1) Supplies and Decor: While the decor was up in the living room from earlier this month, I wanted to add some elements and colors to it that made it feel more festive to the season and also add some decor in the dining room. I knew that I wanted to somehow bring some live greenery into the dining room for the party, so we added some garland above and around the windows and also got ourselves a real tree which I never want to take out of the dining room.

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To bring some depth and a bit of whimsy to the tree we added some fairy lights which I was able to add to my Amazon cart by asking Alexa with my Echo Plus. You see, as you make a list, whether that be for party prep, a shopping trip, stuff for house or anything in between, you can ask Alexa to add them all to your cart or purchase them directly for you. She can even put them into different lists so that you can stay organized. For example, you could say: “Alexa, add 3 strands of fairy lights to my holiday party shopping list” and she will confirm that she has added them.

It’s like a personal assistant for your home. If she has a question on which fairy lights you want she will respond with some options and you can either confirm there or do so later on your computer. Having the ability to add everything into specific lists for this party made it so much easier to stay on top of things. Then once I was ready to order, I could either confirm the full list through my Echo Plus, or I could go into my account online to see all the things I had added and then place the order for delivery.

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Although I have thrown more parties than I can remember there always seems to be something that I forget or remember that I need last minute and forget to jot down, so being able to count on my Echo Plus to gather all of my thoughts into an organized list is so helpful. Whether it is tealight candles, batteries, taper candles, light bulbs, paper plates, disposable forks – Alexa has you covered with anything that Amazon sells that you could need for your party.

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Once I had all the general supplies for the party it came time to dress the table with all that beautiful food which brings us to number two on the list, food and drink.

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2) Food and Drink: On the table we decided to keep it organic rather than have a traditional centerpiece or runner and used a few of these paper accordion trees, sprinkled with fresh greenery, some different sizes of Christmas ball ornaments, and some votive candle holders.

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But the true star of the table was those charcuterie boards. And before you think I pulled those off with my own two hands I have to give credit to my friend Meg Quinn from @ainttooproudtomeg who really took these boards to a whole different level. We gave her a tiny bit of direction on colors and the boards we wanted to use, and she killed it.

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I love looking at these beautiful boards so much.  

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We supplemented the boards on the table with a few other snacks and that beautiful pie, which I didn’t bake but if you are a baker or plan on making some food for the party, Echo Plus can assist you with all of that as well. You could ask Alexa baking questions like, “how many ounces are in a cup?” or “how long should I bake my apple pie for?” or “what is the difference between baking soda and baking powder?!” You can even ask Alexa to set multiple timers for you so that you can keep track of everything that you have cooking (we use this for warming up dinner ALL THE TIME).

And if you aren’t Julia Child or Ina Garten and would rather opt for something a bit easier, you can ask Alexa to order anything through Amazon Restaurants which connect to restaurants in your area to place an order for delivery or pickup.

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In the living room we cleared off the credenza and set it up as a self-serve bar, because if there is one thing I have learned through many years of prepping and planning parties and get-togethers, it is that setting up a little self-serve bar area or an area of punch makes for a much better evening than making individual drinks for everyone during the party. But, guess who did play bartender? Alexa. There is the Echo Plus up there, looking all simple and modern (but don’t let that sleek facade fool you, Alexa has got a really sweet heart).

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Because Alexa is equipped with a wealth of knowledge you can ask her how to make specific drinks, what mixes well together, or even entertain you and your friends with a joke or two while you make a drink for yourself (head to insta-story to watch that one). For instance, you can ask her how to make a Moscow Mule (or any other drink for that matter) and she walks you through the entire recipe step by step. Oh, and in case you run out of ice, vodka, or limes halfway through the night, guess who can get them for you? Alexa.

With Prime Now she can connect to your local grocer (Sprouts in our case) to order thousands of everyday household items and have them delivered to your door within 2 hours – talk about a stress reducer and game changer when you are in the middle of the party and no one (Brian) wants to go to the store to get more supplies. I added all of the bar supplies and food to my grocery list earlier in the day and then placed the order for it all a few hours before everyone arrived saving myself a trip to the store.

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3) Music and Entertainment: Once we had the supplies and decor taken care of as well as the food and drink it came time for the entertainment. As much as good decor, great food and drink and a beautiful atmosphere can add to a party the music can make or break the evening. So we made sure that we had that covered through Echo Plus as well. Before this post, when I knew the extent of how much Alexa could help in my life, we used her all day everyday for music.

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Before the party, I had Brian create a little holiday playlist on Spotify with songs we knew everyone would love. Echo Plus can connect to your existing Sonos or bluetooth system, or you can use multiple Echo’s in the house to play the same music throughout with the multi-room audio feature. You can also play a different song in each room – if you so choose. And in case anyone at the party had a special request they could simply ask Alexa to play a different song.

Mostly this is just Charlie saying, “Alexa please play Frosty the Snowman” with Birdie yelling ‘ No, Alexa, please play Moana!’ (yes, we make them say please – the idea of our kids shouting out demands to a device named Alexa doesn’t sit well with us).

If curating playlists is not your thing you can say things like, “Alexa, play holiday cocktail music” or “Alexa, play classic Christmas music” or even “Alexa, play The Love, Actually soundtrack”.  She can find music based on the name of a specific playlist on spotify or also by the artist, movie, title or track that it is associated with.

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4) Mood –  Mood kinda has to do with all of those things, but in this case we’ll talk about lighting and heat. For the party, I wanted to dress up the front of the house a little bit so that it felt a bit more festive and people knew where the party was at as soon as they walked up to the house. We used some more of the fresh garland to wrap around the door and then we wrapped some lights on a little tree outside the front door that we picked up at the flower market and on the garland and then connected all the lights to Echo Plus through our Sylvania Smart Indoor Plugs, so that we can easily turn them on or off at the end of the night just by asking Alexa. Which is a lot easier than dragging the extension cord through a window to access it easily or getting a step ladder to unplug it from the outlet up on the roofline.

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There are so many accessories that you can connect Echo Plus to, to make your home a bit more user friendly, and while Alexa can’t do the dishes or put the kids toys away at night, she can dim all the living room lights when it is time for the guests to arrive, or turn on and off the Christmas tree lights with ease.

You can also connect Echo Plus to your Nest to control your thermostat. Once you have it all setup you can say things like, “Alexa, dim the living room lights to 40%” or “Alexa, turn the thermostat down to 68 degrees.” You can even set different lighting schemes within the app and then program it into a routine like, “Alexa, set the mood for the party” – which could then dim the living room lights, turn the Christmas tree lights on, turn off the lights in the upstairs bedrooms, and turn the thermostat down a bit, so that you can light yourself and your guests a roaring fire to enjoy in the living room. Alexa is a GD genius. That my friends makes for a very happy host and a very happy home for the holidays. Now please excuse me while I ask Alexa to call ubers for everyone coming to the party – yes, she can do that too. Let us know if you have any questions on Echo Plus or the party prep below and if you are into the look, then we have pulled together some of the entertaining items below for you that we used.

  1. Emily, I have been a long time fan but the constant sponsored content is getting old (and seems to be a trend with many big blogs, not just yours). I’m not afraid to “un-follow” if content doesn’t suit my needs so I only offer this as constructive criticism. You and your team do original, beautiful work and I for one would love to see more of it!

    1. Sam, how much do you pay Emily and her team for the original, time consuming and informative content that she provides to you on a daily basis?

      1. We’re not supposed to pay Emily, but we are supposed to go buy things at Target, who pay Emily, I guess everyone knows this business model? 😁

      2. her sponsors pay her for her audience — that means us. we’re so valuable to them they’re willing to pay to get at us. we don’t need to pay emily anything.

        1. btw, i concur with the gentle suggestion that too commercial a product is not what i come here for.

      3. …and when was there “original, time consuming and informative content” recently? Its been mostly round ups (click bait) and sponsored posts lately.

        1. The sponsored posts *are* “original, time-consuming and informative content.”

          The holiday season, as someone else pointed out, is naturally more full of gift guides. Every year on probably every blog, some readers will be annoyed by this. Just remember that it’s a cycle…everyone will be happy again in 2018. 🙂

          I appreciate the time and effort and talent that this post required. I was inspired and learned things. Thanks, Emily and team for bringing this to us. Thanks, Henderson family for your patience and tolerance. Thanks, Amazon, for making it possible. Thanks, party guests, for giving the family some deserved fun and making it more than a photo shoot. Thanks, fellow readers, for keeping my favorite blog alive. <3

    2. Agreed on all counts. I’m a longtime fan as well and have learned so much from Emily and team over the years. But I feel like I would be doing you a disservice to not also kindly point out that the abundance of ingenuine-feeling sponsored content has grown stale. As always, thank you for the time and effort you put into the blog.

    3. The content is beautiful – with original and gorgeous photos like these, it’s worth the stuff she needs to say about the sponsor that makes this possible. Let’s not forget this is pretty much her full time job now – blog content. It’s not free!

      The simplicity of the dining room tree is ON POINT, love it.

      1. To be honest, I scrutinize Emily’s photos with great enthusiasm, but either skim the copy or skip it entirely–esp if it’s a sponsored post. Is that a criticism? It might be.
        I start reading and if I’m not interested in the copy I stop reading.

    4. I think December is just kind of a desolate time for most blogs in terms of non-sponsored content, all those gift guides and whatnot.

      1. Yeah, this stuff is pretty, but another tablescape post? Sigh.

    5. Sam, I was inspired this post. The layout of the food gave me some great ideas for the holidays. You know this is about you, right? Your comment comes across as negative and threatening. (You threaten to “un-follow”) You are commenting on your emotions. You may need a different type of content to lift you up.

      1. “You may need a different type of content to lift you up.” Sigh! YES, this is why I can’t watch too much news these days. This year has left us browbeaten…three more to go…ugh.

    6. Hey Folks (a few of you) who think it’s okay to defame/criticize someone on their own blog– Guess what? It’s not okay. Perhaps this may come as a surprise to some of you, but Emily owes you NOTHING. And furthermore, I trust that no one is holding a gun to your head to read? Don’t like it? Then stop reading. Problem solved.

      It is bloody expensive to run a blog and as a blogger, I can see clearly that Em works her arse off! The images are gorgeous and the text delightful. I think that Target or Tarzhay as I fondly call it is an awesome brand! And nobody is paying me to say that. But if they offered, I’d be honored to represent them. I shop there all the time! And I adore my Isaac Mizrahi bed linens that I got five years ago. They still look great!

      1. I agree with you, Laurel! I love Emily and personally think her sponsored posts are useful, and VERY WELL DONE. I learned something about Alexa that I didn’t know – it helped me even though I own a google home, HA! I also saw some good ideas for my Christmas decorating and holiday table. Emily, you are killing it and we love you! #hatersgonnahate #don’tkillourvibe
        Merry Christmas from Austin, Texas, y’all!!!!!!

  2. Could you please share where you purchased your black iron curtain rods?

  3. The presentation of the food is stunning! I love putting out a cheese board and that round wood platter display is my new goal. Lovely photos!

  4. You’ve made me realized that I really need to up my charcuterie game. I love how casual and beautiful that table looks.

  5. Emily – where are the accordion trees sourced? Beautiful color pallet – might be my “pink” inspiration for next Christmas! Love it!

    1. There is a link at the bottom of the post – they’re from West Elm. 🙂

  6. This is so beautiful sponsored or not it’s always amazing work that inspires me to make more beautiful spaces. I don’t mind the sponsorships at all cause they are always eye candy!

  7. I love, love, love your blog and the work that you do, and am completely on board with sponsored content – you deserve to get paid, and the vast majority of your sponsored posts seem like a natural outgrowth of your brand, which is a difficult and impressive feat – but I have to agree that this post just feels a little off. You’ve talked in the past about how your success has obviously changed your lifestyle but you don’t want to lose your relatability (and it’s this type of honest conversation that keeps readers like me coming back daily). You and this site typically do such a good job carefully toeing the line of aspiration vs. elitism, but I think this post tips the wrong way. More generally, while I understand that the holidays are replete with parties, decorating opportunities, and all kinds of fun bordering on excess, having that be featured so heavily on the blog does make it less relevant to me, and probably to most of your readers. Very few people throw parties on your level ever, let alone biweekly. In the same way you guys do fantastic roundups of affordable design and ‘get the look’ for less rooms, I would LOVE next year to see a ‘get the holiday look for less’ series with a realistic budget. Because, while my family is in a position of relative privilege, we don’t have sponsors and do have a mortgage, childcare costs, and college and retirement savings contending for our money. You and your team continue to raise the bar for yourselves and this site; I only hope it doesn’t get raised so high that the rest of us can’t reach for it! 🙂

    1. Preach it Sophia! Spot on.

  8. I love the charm of your front door!

  9. Thank you for all your great blog posts this year! You’ve saved me money and time by sighting options for applications and activities in my own home. I often buy Home magazines. I enjoy the materials presented there as well! The advertisements in them are not usually associated with the presented stories. I like your coordination of products with your projects. Plus… I read your lovely material free!!!

  10. I think this blog does an amazing job with content. Something creative and beautiful every single freaking day?!?! I just ignore the sponsorship and use the inspiration. Its tough running a small business. You go Emily and team!

  11. This table setup, the party ideas, and the decor are all so good! I disagree with the other comments as all of your content continues to be beautiful and original even if it is sponsored. Keep it up….

  12. Where is the blazer from. I love it when you post about fashion and outfits.

  13. wait wait wait, what’s Sylvania Smart Indoor Plug? I DON’T have to run an extension cord into a window in order to turn on the christmas lights??

  14. The constant whining about sponsored posts from other commenters is way more annoying than any of the posts themselves. I like reading the comments because sometimes there are great follow-up questions and responses, but I wish I could filter these out. Don’t you guys think Emily and her team know that we all like her design work and that we’d like to see more? But is she supposed to go redesign other peoples’ places for free just to create content? Plus, we know the fixer upper project will be coming up. I appreciate the consistent everyday posts, even if that means there are some “filler” posts. There have been a few I haven’t cared for, but I’ll just skip over them – no big deal. I happen to like this one because we have a Dot and Echo at home and while we use it for many of the things that were mentioned here, it inspires me to get even more out of it than I am already. It’s way more fun reading about the possibilities in Emily’s post than some tech tutorial site.

    1. AMEN to that, could not agree more. If people don’t like a post or a sponsor then they should move on, just as they would flip the page past an advertisement in a magazine to the next page. Emily does such a good job at creating original content and I know that the sponsors are needed to help run it all so I appreciate that she makes beautiful content for each of those sponsored posts.

    2. I agree to an extent. To complain about sponsored content in general seems pretty ridiculous considering that’s just how things are in the blogging world now (YHL aside), and brands are actually getting a good deal in terms of blogs creating content and providing a platform.

      I do think critiques about the amount of sponsored content are valid. EHD obviously doesn’t have to change its posting schedule based on those critiques, but that seems like valuable information. In the same vein, it seems especially pertinent to bloggers to hear when a sponsored post feels off-brand. A blogger’s brand/niche is one of the huge reasons why companies want their products featured. Like when CLJ did a sponsored post around that hella expensive water carafe and everyone flipped their lids over it, so they then decided to curate their sponsored posts so they fit the brand of CLJ rather than forcing something to fit. I still think this post has merit. I mean that charcuterie platter is a work of art. But that also wasn’t done in-house, so I can see if that’s the stand out of the post, people are feeling a little iffy about it.

      BUT, I have YHL-flounce trauma, so I totally get being in the “appreciate what you have and don’t make this job/comments section so unenjoyable that EHD packs up shop!” camp.

      1. I agree with you to an extent as well. I chalk the frequency up to the season, and wouldn’t expect this same cadence in spring. Personally, I think Emily has a great grasp on her brand. She was already using Alexa before Amazon reached out. This fits to me. Even the ones that get iffy, I feel like she acknowledges that she’s stepping out a bit in her write-up to try something new. But her brand is expanding, evolving, and it’s SO big, that she reaches many different audiences.

        I’m just annoyed with the self-righteous, self-important tone some people take, and the first comment on this post just really soured the conversation right away for me. Now I’ve been sucked into the same pit instead of focusing on the styling/lifestyle content. There are some great, relevant comments farther down that I would love to upvote/like/bump. What do you think of adding that feature to the site, Emily?

    3. Word Angela It’s exhausting.

  15. That charcuterie platter! What a stunner. And yes, live greenery makes such a difference. Even a wreath can give you a little bit of that real pine fragrance.

    As for the sponsored content….just look at the photos if you don’t want to read about an Amazon product. There’s still a wealth of good ideas and inspiration to enjoy.

  16. Emily, you are awesome! Please don’t let the haters get to you.

    I was unaware of all these cool things that Alexa, etc. can do to make life easier. As a busy mom, I am going to check them out. (I am also buying the beautiful linen tablecloth.)

    Happy holidays to you and your family!

  17. I love this tabletop setup so much! There is so much inspiration to take from all these photos. Forget about the people that don’t love the sponsored stuff, because there a LOT of people that can’t get enough of what you do (sponsored or not).

  18. Your decorations are gorgeous as always but serious kudos to your friend on the trays. So beautiful. Happy holidays!

  19. Hi Emily,

    We just received an early Christmas present of an Amazon Echo. I was delighted to read about all the ways we could benefit by implementing ideas, activities and help we didn’t even imagine. Very cool…..good job!

    I’m so inspired by how effortlessly you entertain, and am seriously taking notes!

  20. Is no one else bothered by a device listening to you (and your children) all day long? It creeps me out to think that thing is recording my every word. Yes, it seems benign now, but how soon until you start getting ads for laundry detergent after it hears you say you are running low? Down the road I imagine the government will want access – only for the best of reasons, I’m sure!

  21. Hi Emily! I recently hung fake garland on my curtain rods because I was afraid of the live garland messing up my curtains with dirt, sap, etc… (though I love the look of live garland SO much better). Did you find you had a problem with this or am I just being overly cautious?

  22. OH my goodness that table!! I don’t usually post, but I was so struck by those platters; I couldn’t stop staring. What a beautiful, bountiful way to share food!

    Also, I wonder if part of the pushback is simply the great disparity in how Amazon is integrated into different communities in the US. Where I live, Prime shipping is still 7-13 days out. For those of us who aren’t in urban centers, some of the conveniences you described are not available at all. It is hard not to be envious!! I didn’t even know about Amazon Restaurant! That’s what I get for living in Alaska though. 🙂

  23. Sam, I won’t be buying an Echo chamber after reading this article, but I will be out foraging for greenery to decorate the house with.

    In the old days, I would pay a fiver or more for paper mags half-full of adverts. Emily has to earn a crust somehow, and the photos are enough to get me to sign up to her blog.

  24. I love to see the beautiful table scape, the colors and the cheeseboard! All look amazing and so inspirational.

  25. Emily,
    I’m obsessed with the white glass cabinet you have in your dining room?
    Might you share where I might find ?
    I would be able to sleep if you told me😜
    Thank you and Happy Holidays

  26. Nice Blog. Thanks for sharing with us. amazing pictures

  27. Emily love your blog! Where are your dress and shoes from?

  28. Very good brief and this post helped me a lot. Say thank you I searching for your facts. Continuous it..
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  29. Miss Emily, in addition to being a hard-working lady mama who seems to honestly care about her place in the world and how to be of service (all of which I admire enormously), you just look super pretty in this post! Merry Christmas to you and yours!!

  30. Ok the tree in your dining room is gorgeous! Is it real? amazing! But if its not, can you please tell us where you bought it?!

    1. I would also love to know where the dining room tree is from!

  31. Thanks to all the articles that you serve. I must recommend your website to friends. Good Luck
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  32. The table setting is fantastic. I really like the freshness you brought in the home with that greenery above the curtains, it looks beautiful!

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