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- 12/16/10--12:48: _Home Economics: The...
- 12/16/10--12:48: _Cleaning Kitchens: ...
- 12/16/10--12:48: _Magic Tricks: Make ...
- 12/16/10--12:48: _Naked at Home For a...
- 12/16/10--12:48: _The Biggest Celebri...
- 12/17/10--19:37: _How Britney Spears ...
- 12/17/10--19:37: _Falling in Love Ove...
- 12/17/10--19:37: _A Small Kitchen Mak...
- 12/17/10--19:37: _Phosphate-Free Dete...
- 12/17/10--19:37: _Beyond Poinsettias:...
- 12/20/10--18:08: _Small Kitchen Makeo...
- 12/20/10--18:08: _Celebrity Homes for...
- 12/20/10--18:08: _Houndstooth Area Ru...
- 12/20/10--18:08: _Home for the Holida...
- 12/20/10--18:08: _Sylvester Stallone'...
- 12/22/10--19:43: _AOL Gingerbread Hou...
- 12/22/10--19:43: _In Defense of Tinsel
- 12/22/10--19:43: _A Grown-Up Bedroom ...
- 12/22/10--19:43: _A Grown-Up Bedroom ...
- 12/22/10--19:43: _How to Clean Faster...
- 12/16/10--12:48: Home Economics: The Modern Day Joys of Old School Homemaking
- 12/16/10--12:48: Cleaning Kitchens: Deep Clean Your Kitchen Sink
- 12/16/10--12:48: Magic Tricks: Make a Ceiling Seem Higher (or Lower!)
- 12/16/10--12:48: Naked at Home For a Week
- 12/16/10--12:48: The Biggest Celebrity Real Estate Losers of 2010
- 12/17/10--19:37: How Britney Spears Does Christmas Lights
- 12/17/10--19:37: Falling in Love Over Christmas Lights
- 12/17/10--19:37: A Small Kitchen Makeover
- 12/17/10--19:37: Phosphate-Free Detergents Mean More Dirty Dishes
- 12/17/10--19:37: Beyond Poinsettias: Holiday Gifts Inspired by Nature
- 12/20/10--18:08: Small Kitchen Makeover: Product List
- 12/20/10--18:08: Celebrity Homes for Rent
- 12/20/10--18:08: Houndstooth Area Rugs: Seeing Double
- 12/20/10--18:08: Home for the Holidays...Not This Year
- 12/20/10--18:08: Sylvester Stallone's House is for Sale: Would You Buy?
- 12/22/10--19:43: AOL Gingerbread House Brings Cheer to St. Jude
- 12/22/10--19:43: In Defense of Tinsel
- 12/22/10--19:43: A Grown-Up Bedroom Makeover
- 12/22/10--19:43: A Grown-Up Bedroom Makeover: Product List
- 12/22/10--19:43: How to Clean Faster (and Smarter)
I have a Firefox bookmark for how to set a table. A bookmark for homemade cleaning products. And, good at this time of year, a bookmark for how to carve a turkey.
While I know how to write and have mastered Photoshop, I'm a little behind on the home front, and I'm kind of ashamed by it. Why did I need to rely on the web to tell me how to get out rust stains or preserve vegetables? Shouldn't I just know these things? Huh, mom? Huh?
Photo: Petrified Collection, Getty Images
I did take Home Ec in high school like my mother did, but it must have been only one semester and I don't remember a thing except how to make fried wontons. If Home Ec hadn't gone out of style, I'd probably know how to cook more appealing foods, hem a pair of pants, plant a vegetable garden.
But I'm obsessed with old Home Economics textbooks. I've been hoarding them for awhile, finding them on eBay and dragging my family to antique flea markets whenever we were on a road trip. I now have stacks of these books in various places in the house, despite the fact that many of these books admonish against clutter and hoarding.
These textbooks, many from the first half of the twentieth century, are jammed with useful information. I've learned the changes in different cuts of meat, how to can fruits, how to sew and hem, how to patch. One book from the 1960s, Your Home and You, instructs how to choose a fish at the supermarket: "flesh firm and elastic, eyes bright not sunken, odor fishy but not disagreeable." If you've ever wondered what to do with stale bread, the same title instructs you to save it (Throw it out? Not a chance), and the many uses of bread crumbs: "scalloped dishes using moist food."
Photo: Leonard McCombe, Time & Life Pictures / Getty Images
I learned the causes of "cake failure," like "Hard, grainy crust = too much sugar." How to make all kinds of cream soups and the different ways to cut a sandwich. "A well-made sandwich is not dry and curling at the edges." So true, but I'd never thought of it that way. I did not, however, find corroboration for my belief that a diagonally-cut ham sandwich tastes better than a center-divided one. But it does!
Then there is the stuff that I didn't even know I didn't know: When looking for a new home, don't just seek good light, but also good air circulation, with windows at opposite ends of a space. When sweeping, Household Science and Arts says to use short strokes, keeping the broom close to the floor to prevent raising dust.
Some information was just too wacky to include, like advice about different ways to kill roaches, including trapping them and then plunging them in boiling water. I prefer my husband's size 12 shoe, wielded by my husband.
Still, some of the advice that I collected was timeless and seemed like things that everyone should know, so I decided to pull the best of it together into a book, Home Economics: Vintage Advice and Practical Science for the 21st-Century Household.
Photo: Courtesy of Jennifer Trontz / Quirk Books
Here are my favorite household tips I learned in my research:
1. Convertible furniture that serves more than one function is perfect for the apartment or small space. My coffee table serves as a coffee table, activity table for my 3-year-old and ottoman for my 13-year-old.
2. Homemade candy made with molasses, milk, butter, or nuts may not be as attractive as some of the bought candies, but the food value is much greater. I tried coated pecans with sugar and browning them in oven, and they were delicious.
3. In measuring dry ingredients, such as flour, baking powder, baking soda, powdered sugar or spices, sift or shake up lightly before measuring, and do not dip cup into material, which packs it, but fill with a spoon. I now scoop my flour into the measuring cup.
4. Do not talk about disagreeable things during a meal. No politics or religion, especially with relatives. I have to remind my parents of this frequently.
5. Watch the little items because they run up expenses in an astonishing way. Small wastes make big inroads into expenses -- I've been trying to limit visits to the bakery down the street.
6. Avoid accumulating unnecessary articles that require constant dusting. I've learned to resist the tchotchkes at my flea market.
8. If a room is gloomy and poorly lighted because it has few windows, a light color of yellow or cream will produce a very bright effect. I just painted all the walls in a my house variations of cream, and it worked.
- The Case Against Cleaning
-Fashion Designers Open Up Their Homes
-Julia Roberts Buys Second Manhattan Apartment
I recently heard that the average kitchen sink carries more germs than the average home toilet. Think about that the next time you go to rinse off your fruits and veggies or leave your favorite mug soaking in the sink.
A simple rinse or cleaner-spritz of the sink doesn't cut it when it comes to annihilating stubborn germs living in your kitchen. But there are some relatively easy solutions to get your sink ready for food prep or a baby's bath. There are different techniques depending on the type of your sink, so read on to get your cleaning routine moving.
Get your sink clean enough for a cat nap! Photo: Flickr, sunside
If you have a stainless steel sink, you should always be sure to rinse your sink thoroughly after each use. Acids and salts have the potential to damage the finish of stainless steel, so it's important to avoid leaving such foods in the sink.
Mild soap and a nylon sponge suffice for daily cleaning. An all-purpose cleaner or a glass cleaner can be used to clean the sink as well. To prevent soap scum, you should always rinse the sink clean after using a cleaner or soap and then dry with a soft cloth.
A common problem with stainless steel are spots. Wipe this problem away with a clean cloth soaked in vinegar. To trouble spot stubborn stains, try wetting the surface of the sink and sprinkling liberally with baking soda; use a nylon scrubbing sponge to work the baking soda in, then rinse thoroughly. And to keep the finish of the sink at its finest, avoid using any of the following when cleaning the surface: bleach, ammonia and abrasive cleaners (including abrasive sponges and wool steel pads, as they tend to damage the finish).
Never use a chlorine solution in stainless steel sinks, say experts at Kohler. If one does hit the surface, rinse immediately to avoid corrosion. For general cleaning, Kohler recommends these products: Fantastik Antibacterial Heavy Duty, Formula 409 Antibacterial All Purpose and Formula 409 Glass & Surface.
Cast Iron Sinks
Just like their stainless steel counterparts, cast iron sinks should be thoroughly rinsed after each use. But for an added touch, thoroughly dry the entire basin with a clean cloth. For a deeper cleaning, follow the same baking-soda technique as above: wet the entire surface, sprinkle baking soda liberally to cover, scrub the powder onto the sink with a clean nylon sponge and rinse well.
Steer clear of abrasive cleaners. And if you really want to avoid stains, avoid placing items in the sink that will cause them (duh!) such as tea bags, coffee grinds or cans.
For store-bought options, the experts at Kohler recommend the following for cast iron sink:
Fantastik Antibacterial Heavy Duty
Formula 409 Antibacterial All Purpose
For rust removal:
Super Iron Out Rust Stain Remover
Bar Keepers Friend
When it comes to cleaning a ceramic sink, opt for a cleanser in a gel or creamy-solution form; these help avoid scratches. Never use abrasive cleaners. If you have some tough stains to remove, instead opt for a solution of one part liquid chlorine bleach to sixteen parts water. (This is also useful for tough stains on cast iron sinks, but do not use it on stainless steel sinks!) You can also try a solution of undiluted white vinegar: apply with a clean cloth around the entire basin, then rinse.
Kohler advises you to add any of these to your shopping list for ceramic-sink cleanings:
Fantastik Antibacterial Heavy Duty
Formula 409 Antibacterial All Purpose
Soft Scrub Lemon Cleanser
For rust removal:
Super Iron Out Rust Stain Remover
Bar Keepers Friend
Faucets and Handles
Finger prints and smudges on our sink hardware is a fairly common -- and pesky -- problem. Solve it by wiping them down with a clean cloth soaked in white vinegar. The vinegar also helps to sanitize the area, further ridding you of those stubborn germs!
Want more cleaning inspiration?
Cleaning Windows: No Streaks, No Smudges, No Problem
The Dos and Don'ts of Healthy Cleaning
There are some homes with ceilings so low that you feel claustrophobic just standing still. And believe it or not, there are folks out there who have ceilings so high that it's a problem, too (yes, yes, like our friends who are "too thin," we don't feel that bad for them. But decorating either type of room can prove be pretty trippy, to say the least.
Although the crown molding and baseboards are in contrast with the wall color, the eye still can't tell where the lower-than-normal ceiling ends and begins in this Brian Patrick Flynn-designed hallway. The high-gloss sheen also bounces light around the windowless space. Photo: Sarah Dorio
Low Ceiling Idea #1: Use Paint (and Finish) to Lift Ceilings and Walls
You may have heard it before but we'll say it again: Paint is by far the easiest and least expensive way to revamp a room -- with astonishing results. Use it in a low-ceiling-ed space and the payoff is extra-sensational. Here, three paint techniques to employ:
- Paint the ceiling a luminous metallic hue, such as bronze, silver, gold or nickel. "Light just bounces right off of it, opens up the room and makes the ceiling look as if it goes on forever," says Chicago-based interior designer, Jessica Lagrange. (Need the paint? Ralph Lauren has an extensive line of shimmering metallics -- from Faded Peony to Turquoise Sea.) Better yet, "To make a ceiling look like one of Miles Redd's glass-like lacquered walls, coat any type of finish -- flat, eggshell, metallic -- with high-gloss poly-acrylic," says Brian Patrick Flynn, aka the Décor Demon and lifestyle blogger for HGTV's Design Happens. "It doesn't smell and dries in minutes."
- Coat crown molding and the ceiling with the exact same color used on walls. "Contrasting colors on all three pinpoint, rather than downplay, exactly where a lower-than-normal ceiling begins and ends," says Lagrange.
- Make the ceiling smaller by extending wall paint well past the architectural line where both meet. "Choose a point anywhere from five to eight inches from where ceiling meets wall. Measure, then tape off, a running border along the ceiling diameter. Paint the taped-in area with a lighter color; choose a darker hue for walls. Frank Lloyd Wright did this all the time. It tricks the eye into seeing a higher ceiling and taller walls," says Flynn.(Doing the opposite of this works in making a ceiling appear shorter, too. Just measure and tape off about one foot past where the natural line of a high ceiling ends. Paint everything above the line a dark color, and everything below a lighter one.)
Low Ceiling Idea #2: Be Attuned to Furniture Proportion
As a rule, low ceilings should beget lower profile, smaller-scale furniture, says Lagrange. Choose uncomplicated pieces with vertical, tailored lines. Also pay attention to your home's architecture, says Flynn, "Furniture should always be proportional with ceiling scale." Say your home is a traditional Tudor, characterized by small rooms and low ceilings. Choose shorter wingback side chairs instead of standard-size ones. "Be sure they're just tall enough to lean on; four-foot high furniture may be too tall in your home," says Flynn. Also, keep every piece the same basic height and you'll further call attention away from a short ceiling.
Low Ceiling Idea #3: Fool the Eye with Accessories and Artwork
Mirrors? Check. Window treatments up to the ceiling? We're up to our eyeballs in that advice.
- A lesser known stylist's trick is to set out a tall urn or vase filled with seasonal grasses or blossoming branches. It adds super-oomph and hides flaws (read: low ceilings) in small spaces by really slowing down the eye's movement and pacing it while it travels gradually from the floor, to mid-room and then up to the ceiling, says Flynn.
- Create an impactful salon-style art wall. "It keeps the eye moving around the room, never focused on the shape or height of your ceiling," says Lagrange. Whether you're creating a ceiling-lengthening vertical display or an off-kilter floor-to-ceiling grouping in one corner, space each piece evenly -- or else the arrangement ends up looking chaotic. Make a template before you get started, suggests Flynn.
HOW TO "SHORTEN" A MILE-HIGH CEILING
High Ceiling Idea #1: Drop Lighting Down to Meet You
Try tall torchieres arranged among furniture, a large pendant lamp hung over a dining table or a statement-making chandelier suspended at precisely the right height. They should be closer to the furniture than to the apex of the ceiling to create balance in high-ceiling-ed rooms, says Flynn. Even better? Up and down-lit fixtures. They keep the eye focused on the room's midsection, rather than its rafters. If a fixture isn't long enough, invest in an extension rod (or two!).
High Ceiling Idea #2: Use Bold Colors and Big Patterns
Utilize printed wallpaper and daring hues in areas where you'd like to evoke a sense of warmth and intimacy. "Large-scale patterned wallpaper and dark, dramatic paint colors on ceilings and walls draw the eye downward and make a cavernous space feel cozier," says Lagrange. Highlighting architectural accents such as crown molding, trim and wainscoting with a color that stands out against your wall color is yet another clever way to steal the spotlight away from a soaring ceiling.
High Ceiling Idea #3: Add Structural Elements
Put up some trim. Chair rails, a 2-foot baseboard, beadboard paneling, decorative ceiling medallions, ultra-thick crown molding -- you name it. And if you (and your wallet) are so inclined, you could add some gorgeous wood coffers or dark-wood ceiling beams, says Lagrange. Not only will they physically bring ceiling height down, but they'll add texture to break up the large expanse. Floating planes (basically extended squares of drywall added to the existing ceiling) are another way to add onto the ceiling structure and are especially useful when someone has a towering solid-concrete ceiling that's impossible to run electricity through.
Looking for more ideas on how to improve your space?
Getting Light Just Right
Magic Tricks to Make a Small Room Seem Larger
Most people wake up in the morning and get dressed. Last week, I agreed to hop out of bed and not get dressed. I called it Naked Week.
I believe that a lot of things are better without clothes: Bubble baths, swimming under the stars, frolicking between the sheets. When it's time to cook dinner, scrub the tub or watch "The Big Bang Theory," I prefer to be wearing clothes.
I agreed to take it all off for a week in the name of journalism. At first, I was going to pass on the assignment. I had all sorts of excuses: How will I walk the dogs? What if the UPS man knocks on the door? It's too cold to be naked!
Photo: Getty Images
There were things I refused to do naked: I avoided cooking all meals that might involve grease spatter (ouch!), and I skipped scrubbing the tub for a week because donning rubber gloves and getting down on all fours to scour grout while naked felt like the opening scene of an X-rated movie. I also postponed a project to pull out the carpet and install hardwood floors for obvious reasons. Of course, I got dressed to walk the dogs, run errands and meet friends for dinner.
I told a friend about the assignment while we talked on the phone. "Naked? All week? So, wait: You're naked now?"
"How does it feel?"
On the first morning of Naked Week, I was resistant. I was tempted to fake an internet malfunction so I could work in a coffee shop all week. I decided to start slow. The first morning, I wore an oversized t-shirt and socks. It took me a full 48 hours to take it all off. I wasn't naked for long when I decided that, for me, walking around the house au naturel felt unnatural.
The author in the kitchen where she prepared her meals naked -- No cooking though! She deemed that too hazardous. Photo: Jodi Helmer
"We don't grow up learning the value and uniqueness of our bodies," explains Rosie Molinary, author of "Beautiful You: A Daily Guide to Radical Self-Acceptance." "We're taught to be ashamed [of them]."
Even though being naked made me uncomfortable in my own skin, I was determined to focus on all of the good things about my body: Loving arms that cradled my niece just minutes after she was born, strong calves that helped me navigate trails on hikes with the dogs and hips that shimmied when I walked.
In between moments of appreciation, the focus shifted to all of the things I wanted to change. I wanted a flatter stomach, thinner thighs, stronger arms, perkier breasts.
I changed positions on the sofa to ones I deemed more attractive. I made excuses to curl up under a blanket. I took the dogs on longer walks and spent more time with friends because I was "allowed" to wear clothes.
"Fixating on this roll, that wrinkle or this line isn't productive," Molinary says. "For every hour we spend looking in the mirror and counting our freckles or obsessing over our weight, it takes time and energy away from what we were meant to do in the world."
I know that she's right. While I worried about dry skin, cracked toenails and jiggling flesh, I could have shared intimate moments with my partner, soaked in a bubble bath, watched the "naked episode" of Seinfeld or called an old friend and reminisced about the time we left our bathing suits on shore and swam in the lake. Instead, I covered up. I counted the minutes until the naked experiment was over because there was something awkward about resting a bucket of suds on a naked thigh before setting it down to mop the floor or folding pants while wearing none. I found it downright comical when I stood in front of the fridge and searched for ingredients for dinner while staring at a cantaloupe and cucumbers! (Yes, being naked gave me the mindset of a prepubescent tween).
In an attempt to understand the reasons some people are more comfortable naked, I researched nudists.
Although there are no comprehensive statistics about the number of nudists (also called naturists) in the U.S., I think it's safe to guess that it's not that common. Even in my uber-liberal home and native land of Canada, just 2.7 million Canadians have a "nudist mindset," according to the Federation of Canadian Naturists (FCN).
Both FCN and the U.S.-based Naturist Society define nudism/naturism as being naked in a communal setting. I'm not sure that I'll book a vacation at a nudist resort or invite friends over for a naked barbecue, but I do love their take on the benefits of living in the buff.
According to the FCN website, naturism "promotes wholesomeness and stability of the human body, mind and spirit, especially through contact of the body with the natural elements...Children in naturist families learn to appreciate the body as part of their natural environment. They grow up with healthful attitudes and accept the physical nature of both sexes and all ages without fear or shame."
It sounds like a state we should all aspire to. If Naked Week taught me one thing, it's that I need to work on being more comfortable in my own skin, even if it is in dire need of moisturizer. I might start sleeping naked or doing the weekend crossword puzzle in the buff. But for now, I'm off to put on some pants.
Jodi Helmer is the author of The Green Year: 365 Small Things You Can Do to Make a Big Difference and a frequent contributor to ShelterPop.
Do you have a personal story to tell? Share it on our Facebook page, and don't miss these great stories:
When Mom Steps Down as Holiday Host
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Many American homeowners lost their shirts, their shorts and even their homes when the U.S. economy fell off the wall like Humpty Dumpty. Two years later the government still struggles to put it all back together again while regular hardworking Americans and stars of all stripes continue to be pummeled by the steep devaluation of their real estate investments, many of which were purchased at the peak of the recent real estate bubble.
Photos: Robert Marquardt, Getty Images | Realtor.com
Even though they priced them far below what they paid, there were oodles of celebs who failed to sell their homes in 2010 and many who lost substantial amounts of money, even when they did manage to offload their properties. And still other famous folks, like Latoya Jackson, Timothy Busfield and hip-hop entrepreneur Damon Dash, found themselves forced into foreclosure on luxurious and expensive residences they could no longer afford.
One of the biggest losers in the 2010 celebrity real estate game was idiosyncratic and stunningly beautiful actress Scarlett Johansson who plunked down a very A-list $7 million to buy a huge house in May of 2007 in the star studded Outpost Estates section of Los Angeles. (This was before she wed Ryan Reynolds; she and Reynolds made headlines this week when they announced their marriage was over after just two years.) Her neighbors included Oscar nominated desperate housewife Felicity Huffman and Oscar winner Charlize Theron. Property records show Johansson caught a very serious and costly case of the real estate fickle and sold the 1930s Spanish hillside villa at a pocketbook punishing $3 million loss in June of 2010.
It was only in August of this year that Johansson and the equally beautiful Ryan Reynolds paid $2.9 million for a mid-century modern love nest in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles. Now that they're headed to divorce court, could it be that they're facing another extreme financial real estate loss in 2011?
Nic Cage with three of his losing properties. Clockwise from top: His homes in Newport Beach, Bel Air and Middleton, Rhode Island. Photos: Jemal Countess, Getty Images | As Seen on Realtor.com
Before that happened the eccentric actor watched ten or more million bucks evaporate when many of his dozen or more homes around the world were sold off for far less than he paid. He lost several more posh properties into the angry maw of foreclosure. He sold a Bavarian schloss at a steep discount in 2009, lost more than a million American bucks on a castle he owned in the English countryside, and he sold an historic estate in Middletown, Rhode Island at a multi-million dollar loss. A large Las Vegas mansion slipped in to foreclosure as did two historic and fabled mansions he owned in New Orleans. The nail in Cage's real estate coffin in 2010 was when his legendary primary residence in the swank Bel Air section of Los Angeles - formerly owned by Dean Martin and Tom Jones - was seized by the bank.
Photos: Mark Van Holden, Wireimage | As Seen on Realtor.com
Young actor Adam Brody (from "The O.C.") also acquired a high-priced residence at the height of the raging real estate bubble. In April of 2006 he shelled out $2.25 million for a 1916 traditional in the foothills above Hollywood that he bought from Limp Bizkit front man Fred Durst. Four years later and Brody now has the house on the market with a price tag of $1.99 million, $235,000 less than he paid.
Photos: Frank Micelotta, Wireimage | As Seen on Realtor.com
All Sheryl Crow wants to do is sell "Cross Creek Farm," her 160-acre spread outside Nashville in itty-bitty College Grove, TN. Crow coughed up a total of around $4.5 million to buy up the solar powered horse farm with its 10,000+ square foot mansion. In May of 2010 Crow hoisted the property on the market with an asking price of $7.5 million. The property did not sell and she arranged for a late November auction that carried a minimum bid of just $1 million. Unfortunately for Crow, the real estate gods where not smiling on her and the auction closed without the reserve price being met, which means Crow still owns her money pit in Tennessee.
Another celebrity sitting between a rock and a real estate hard place is comedian Chris Tucker who, like Nic Cage, found himself in a whole mess of tax problems in 2010. In June of 2007, Tucker shelled out a whopping $6 million for a 9,000-square-foot Monteverde, FL mansion. The heat from the IRS is probably one of the reasons Tucker opted to list the waterfront property in the summer of 2010 at a shocking short sale asking price of $2 million. As of mid-December the property appears to have been taken off the market, but, according to property records, is still owned by the cash strapped Tucker.
Back in Los Angeles, where the rich and famous famously buy and sell houses at an alarming rate, many were caught with their real estate pants down as a result of the continuing economic turmoil. Quirky multi-Grammy winning musician Beck took it on the real estate chin not once but twice in 2010. In January, he and his wife Marissa Ribisi sold a single story house in the Point Dume area of Malibu at a painful $400,000 loss. A few months later the unlucky in real estate couple sold a fully renovated Hancock Park area mansion for $5.6 million to "Grey's Anatomy" and "Private Practice" writer/producer Shonda Rimes. The sale price reflected a heart stopping $1.15 million loss on the $6.75 million they paid for the 6 bedroom and 9 bath mansion just three years earlier.
With the economy still limping, unemployment disastrously high and the real estate markets, for the most part, still hobbling around on crutches, it's highly likely that, just like not-famous folks all over the country, even more celebrities will find themselves faced with some difficult real estate choices in 2011.
For more on celebrity homes, don't miss:
- Ryan Phillipe Selling His Home
- Gwyneth Paltrow Loves This Furniture Designer
- Is Oprah Moving?
Celebrities really are just like us: They put tacky, life size figurines on their lawn. They wrap their trees in twinkling lights and line their driveway with so many lights it looks like an airport runway. And if you're Britney Spears, you do that and more.
Spears, who recently turned 29, showed her Christmas spirit by hanging thousands of lights on and around her Calabasas, California home. Not only is the house covered in fairy lights, but there are baubles and stars hanging from tree branches. A life sized, blow-up illuminated Santa sits on the lawn along with little drummer boys and angels. Forget a reindeer-driven sleigh: At Spears' house, Santa sits in a decorative helicopter on the roof.
Britney Spears' house on Christmas. Photos: Kevin Mazur, WireImage (inset) | Pacificcoastnews.com
Spears may be trying to make her home more festive for her two boys, since she recently announced that she wants full-time custody of them. Sean Preston, 5, and Jayden James, 4, have been living with Spears' famous ex, Kevin Federline, while the singer has been under the conservatorship of her father since her famous breakdown in 2008. According to published reports, she sees the boys once a week.
Spears moved into the French chateaux style Calabasas house in 2009. "I just took my babies to our new home, and they loved it!" the pop star wrote on her Twitter account at the time. "I can't wait to move in." She paid $8.9 million for the 7-bedroom, 9-bathroom home.
And now, some new neighbors: The Jackson family -- Michael's mother, Katherine, and his 3 children -- just moved a block behind Spears.
And in that way, we can all relate to Spears. Because in a down economy, don't we all feel like we've lost little bit of the wind in our sails? While we all know that a perfect house on the outside doesn't make for a perfect house on the inside, we also know that our home is a reflection of who we are and how we're feeling.
Britney Spear's flashy Christmas light display. Photo: Pacificcoastnews.com
It makes us think of George Bailey in the holiday classic "It's a Wonderful Life": "What do you want, Mary? Do you want the moon? If you want it, I'll throw a lasso around it and pull it down for you. Hey! That's a pretty good idea! I'll give you the moon, Mary."
So what if Spears is giving her kids the moon this holiday season. It's quite pretty.
Do you have a personal story to tell? Share it on our Facebook page, and don't miss these great stories:
When Mom Steps Down as Holiday Host
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Photo: Sara Brown
From his answer, I quickly knew if there was any potential for long-range likeability. If his answer was white, he was a goner -- much too boring to ever be co-captain of my "Go Big or Go Home" holiday team. But if he said he liked colored lights, he was getting warmer. And then the clincher: What were his thoughts on my all-time favorite, the old-school Charlie Brown-style lights? You know, the throwback glass bulbs that get so hot they can shatter at the blink of an eye? (Nothing says "Happy Holidays" like first-degree burns and stitches, wouldn't you say?) If he had no objection to willingly creating a safety violation in his place of residence in the name of Christmas, I was sold.
Sound like a complete crazy person? I was. And although I consider myself to be a pretty fly-under-the-radar kind of gal most of the time, when it came time to decorate, my enthusiasm easily rivaled Clark W. Griswold. From my childhood home to the porches of my college apartments, I would go absolutely overboard with lights and decorations, talking my family and friends into my over-the-top style along the way. Lights outlining every doorway and window? Of course. Movable snowmen and carolers decorating the yard? You bet. A life size Santa and reindeer perched on the roof? Yes, please.
Then I met my own Clark W. Griswold, or "Captain Christmas," as I like to call my now-husband.
When we first got together back in 2004, the holiday season was still a few months away, but I had a sneaking suspicion he'd be a great addition to my decorating team. So one November morning, I laid it all on the table: After years of working with less-than-ideal decorating conditions, I finally had the perfect platform to create the out-of-this world Christmas display I'd always dreamed of. Bottom line: I wanted, nay needed, the little Cape Cod-style house that I was renting with my friends to be dripping in lights for the holiday season.
And would you believe it? That very next weekend, with Starbucks in hand, my roommates and I perched ourselves on the porch and watched in awe as he wrapped the entire perimeter of our yard and lined our stairway with bright, beautiful lights. He even climbed into our ancient maple tree and wrapped each and every branch. By the end of that afternoon, I knew that I had met my match.
Swoon. Christmas was our holiday.
Photo: Sara Brown
You'd think all these years without our dose of seasonal holiday cheer would be leaving us grumbling "Bah! Humbug!" But, as it turns out, there's more to Christmas than having the best and brightest yard on the block. (Novel idea, I know). Sure, we can't wait until our time comes to bust out the lifesize gingerbread houses and snow globes, but with all this extra time on our hands, we get to spend our days enjoying the season. And, better yet, each other.
Now, instead of driving through the Home Depot parking lot and giving the stink eye to the happy families purchasing the latest and greatest lawn ornaments, we've decided to be adult about our situation. We're going to spend this Christmas season focusing on a few alternative activities that we really love doing. Together. As a family. Like wrapping presents while Bing Crosby croons in the background. Or watching my top 12 favorite holiday flicks during the "12 Days of Christmas Movies" event we invented a few years back. Or, my personal favorite, cruising the neighborhood to get our fix of decoration eye candy (not to mention next year's competition). Either way, this year is going to be more about slowing down and enjoying ourselves.
At the risk of sounding like a complete cheeseball, the sight of a house covered in blinking lights will always melt my heart. And whether we have our own Christmas lights up or not, me and Captain Christmas will always have each other (and our beautiful new baby boy). Sure, we can't wait for next year to introduce the holiday dream team to our new neighbors with our tacky, gaudy, over-the-top decorating ways, but for now I'm happy watching my son make a finger-paint Christmas wreath out of red ribbon and glitter.
What can I say? Some girls like jewelry, others like designer shoes. But me, I've always loved a little twinkle. I'm just finding it in different places these days.
Not sold? Check out these stories dedicated to decorating your home for the holidays:
5 New Holiday Decor Favorites
Solar Christmas Lights Even the Griswolds Would Envy
All is Calm, All is Bright: Crazy Christmas Lights
Allie and Andrew Dunbar
The Dunbar's kitchen creates a lose-lose situation for Allie and Andrew: Poor petite Allie can't reach things that have been stashed up high, while super-tall Andrew finds himself digging into the cabinets below the counter and getting things all over the floor. And because there's no middle ground in terms of storage, they end up with a cluttered countertop. Why should this charming young couple be punished for their height difference?
Enter Bob Richter, a professional interior designer with makeover-minute magic. He brought his bag of tricks which includes -- you guessed it -- plenty of wall-storage items to keep the countertops clear and the cabinets open. And because every substantial makeover also deserves some style, Richter brought in a few bursts of color to keep their kitchen cheery. The few red touches and fresh flowers make a world of difference.
Allie and Andrew have a kitchen that accommodates -- and delights -- both of them. No more reaching up high, fighting for counter space or scrambling for pots in under-sink cabinets.
To see what IKEA products were used, scroll over the pieces in the video!
Dishwashers are supposed to be about saving time and effort when you're desperate to get out of the kitchen. But lately, you may have found that your convenient time-saver is less than convenient. Legions of dishwasher owners are complaining that their dishes haven't been getting clean and some are reporting gray and dingy pots and pans, blackened aluminum and still-dirty glasses and plates. The culprit? Well, it's not your washer, it's your detergent.
Do your dishes look like this? Photo: Getty
Up until this year, phosphates were a main ingredient in many popular name brand detergents -- including Cascade and Palmolive. Phosphates are what create the bubbly stuff in your detergent, to help get your dishes clean. But this past June, seventeen states -- including llinois, Massachusetts and Michigan -- banned phosphates. That's because environmentalists believe that when phosphates enter the water supply they block oxygen production, which is dangerous for the fish populations that rely on it.
The phosphate ban is great news for the environmental and wildlife activists, but many are finding that these new phosphate-free detergents require two or three dishwashing runs in order to get pots and pans clean -- especially in areas with hard water.
Running the washer an extra two or three times doesn't seem like a very eco-friendly alternative, and it's certainly not time-saving or efficient. Around 58 percent of all homes in the U.S. have dishwashers, and more than 88 percent of new homes are dishwasher equipped. So this phosphate ban could potentially waste a lot of water.
Thanks to the ban, some are even crossing the border to buy "not green" detergents. We sympathize: Our own dishes have come out of the dishwasher still covered in grime on more than one occasion. It seems silly to have to run the washer over and over again, but then again, it's also horrifying to know you're willingly contributing to fish dying. As one of the freakish few that actually enjoys hand-washing dishes, this isn't that much of a dilemma for me. I will happily forgo the dishwasher for a therapeutic washing session. But for the time-crunched or lazy sloths among us, hand-washing isn't always an option.
So tell us: Are you willing to deal with dirty dishes, or are you considering searching for phosphate-free detergent alternatives?
In our instant, online age we forget to slow down and pay attention to our senses. This list of nature-inspired gifts that I love is a reminder that so much good comes from the earth.
It would be unkind to keep these goodies all to myself. This is the season of sharing!
Paperwhites. Photo: Marie Viljoen
Nature-inspired Gift Idea #1: Paperwhites.
Forget poinsettias. These tall, delicate narcissus are unforgettably graceful in bloom. They are the easiest bulb to force indoors and instantly turn a room from ordinary to elegant. The flowers are highly fragrant and remind me of spring in my native Cape Town. I often find my paperwhites in New York's Flower District. Back at home they give me a breath of the spring that is waiting at the end of many, many more cold weeks.
Rest the bulbs on some gravel or glass beads in a pretty bowl, add water till it reaches their hips (too high and they will rot), and wait. It takes about 6 weeks for them to open into bloom, in a very light or sunny room. They are beautiful to look at from the moment their green leaves start to sprout.
You could buy them already rooted, which makes them a little more pricey, but your local nursery or garden store will probably have these bulbs in stock, or try online.
White Flower Farm sells various paper white kits, starting at $20 for 12 bulbs.
Botanical Interests seed - spicy microgreens. Photo: Marie Viljoen
Nature-inspired Gift Idea #2: Botanical Interests Seeds
Seeds are a staple in my own gardening life and also a very low cost gift -- in the $1.50 to $3 range -- with a large reward in terms of enjoyment. As I have written before, I can't really think of a more meaningful gesture than a gift of seeds.
From heirloom vegetables to North American wildflowers, Botanical Interests is a company whose seed packages read like stories, complete with evocative, beautiful illustrations. Slipping a package in with a greeting card is an easy and low-cost way to add something extra and unusual to your message.
In addition to their standard line, they carry a large selection of heirloom and certified organic seeds. And because they carry so many different seeds, there is no need to feel humble about giving this gift to an experienced gardener who might still never have grown mâche. And a novice gardener will get a huge kick out of growing their own micro greens for salads, using the Spicy Micro green mix. My own rooftop-grown crop fed us fresh salad for months.
There are also gift-wrapped Seed Collections on self-explanatory themes: Bee Happy, Butterfly Banquet, Fragrant Flower, Children's Garden, Container Vegetable and many more, each more inspiring that the next. Warning: Shop on a full stomach or you will come away with the store. They range in price from $8 to $16. And at $33, the Wicked Pants Collection contains seeds of some of the plants described in Amy Stewart's best selling book, "Wicked Pants", which is also included in this Collection.
Meyer lemons. Photo: Thomas Generazio, "A Growing Tradition."
Nature-inspired Gift Idea #3: Meyer Lemon Tree
Slicing into a Meyer lemon is an experience that's hard to forget. The deep yellow, fragrant and tender skin, plump body and abundant juice of this lemon are special. So when I had envied, for months, a favorite blogger who grows his Meyer lemons indoors during the winter, and then visited White Flower Farm and saw them for sale, I knew my Meyer lemon-less days were numbered. They are $85 for a tree in a 10" pot. Your local nursery may stock them, too, so give them a call.
The golden fruit ripens during winter, even as the tree blooms. Imagine the scent of ripe fruit and lemon blossom at the same time. As long as you have a sunny indoor spot for your little tree, you will be able to enjoy this lovely plant when snow lies on the ground outside. Once your last frost has passed, you may move it outdoors again.
The Wild Table. Photo: Marie Viljoen
Published at a time when the age-old practice of foraging was garnering new attention, master forager Connie Green shares some of her foraging adventures and expertise with chef Sarah Scott, who turns the gathered ingredients -- from sea beans to juniper berries -- into sumptuous dishes in this gorgeous cookbook, photographed by Sara Remington. With a forward by his guru-ness Thomas Keller, this is a book for serious foodies, who will find in its pages what Connie Green describes as "the curious crossroads of the Stone Age and haute cuisine." Armchair and active foragers alike will find it hard to sit still without licking the pages and then looking at the neighbor's evergreen with gleaming intent.
Learning to forage - a wild persimmon. Photo: Marie Viljoen
Nature-inspired Gift Idea #5: "Stalking the Wild Asparagus"
While we are talking of foraging, Euell Gibbons' book on foraging is a classic, first published in the 1962. His stories are timeless. Written by a man who really was able to live off the land, every chapter is devoted to a particular wild food, including some animals (crawfish, anyone?) and is accompanied by his own recipes, using everything from winter cress to wild honey.
"Stalking the Wild Asparagus" is a book about America. It is about independence, about weeds growing in the open lot next door in the city, about the sweet sap flowing from birch trees in the woods, about plants so many of us know by sight and yet know nothing about: Acorns, wild asparagus, pokeweed, Jerusalem artichokes, dandelions, chicory, milkweed, sassafras. Did you know about persimmon leaf tea and day lily sprout salad?
Elderflower cordial and sparkling wine. Photo: Marie Viljoen
Nature-inspired Gift Idea #5: Bottle Green's Elderflower Cordial
What is better than drinking flowers? Bottle Green is an English company that makes several cordials, but it's their elderflower that I am addicted. Made in the Cotswold's, from white umbels of flowers picked at the beginning of summer, this sweetly astringent syrup turns a tall glass of water into a refreshing drink. Or a tonic for sweaty gardeners. You pick. Specialty food stores around the country stock it for about $9, but if you cannot find it locally, buy elderflower cordial online. It is perfect with bubbly or still water, sparkling wine or added to your favorite gin-based holiday cocktail.
Creme de Cassis and Kir Royale. Photo: Marie Viljoen
Nature-inspired Gift Idea #6: Gabriel Boudier's Crème de Cassis
This delectable liqueur is made from black currants (cassis) harvested in summer in the French commune of Dijon, then crushed and turned into a dark violet, alcoholic syrup that turns a glass of cold white wine into a holiday (known as Kir) and a glass sparkling wine or champagne into a party (Kir Royale). The house of Gabriel Boudier has been in business since 1874 and the retro-gorgeous label is faithful to its original incarnation. It is so pretty that it hardly warrants gift wrap.
While it retails at just under $30 in the liquor stores that stock it it can also be sourced online, where shipping will push it to about $40. My bottle, purchased at Heights Chateau in Brooklyn (from whom you can also mail order the liqueur) lasts about a season and I think it is worth every penny.
Vintage money clip. Photo: Bonbon Oiseau
Nature-inspired Gift Idea #6: Vintage Animal Money Clips
Remember the old billfold, or money clip? It keeps paper money nice and neat and squared away for a back pocket or purse. And if, like me, you have more notes-to-self than paper money, it's useful for organizing those, too.
In Brooklyn, New York, Deborah Stein and her artisanal jewelry studio Bonbon Oiseau polish up vintage nickel and brass billfolds ($48) and then set distinctive charms on top. Owls, rabbits, ducks, bears, lobsters, crabs, starfish and whales are just some of the creatures from land and sea that will guard your money from greedy bankers and holiday impulse buys. For an extra-special gift, 18K dipped brass billfolds ($148) and silver plated nickle ($128) can be ordered. Add initials to personalize your gift.
Peace cards. Photo: Susan Black, Etsy
Nature-inspired Gift Idea #7: Botanical Peace Cards
Every year I look for special cards to send out as greetings or thank you notes, or as a gift in their own right. At Etsy you will find the work of Nova Scotia-based graphic designer and artist Susan Black. Her new Peace Cards are a botanical riff on the peace symbol, which in her hands has become a tangled garland of bright flowers and leaves visited by tiny, turquoise butterflies. The cards are printed on heavy, smooth card stock and fit into envelopes which she describes as 'psychedelic'. $12 buys you a set of 6.
We need peace in our lives and in our world. It is a holiday message understood and appreciated by everybody.
So there you have it. Just because we are in the thick of winter does not mean that nature is not alive and well, and ready to be appreciated and enjoyed. Happy holidays!
And because every substantial makeover also deserves some style, Richter brought in a few bursts of color to keep their kitchen cheery. The Tradig bowl makes a statement with its unique shape and fire-engine color and looks great next to the Ovanlig vase filled with blooms. Add the Tajma clock and you've got three easy pops of color that make a big impact.
Many celebrities own two or more homes and a surprising number of these big-name stars will rent you their home -- as long as you can afford it. Yes, it may seem strange that a privacy seeking celebrity is willing to rent out his or her home, but it makes financial sense. The income from renting a house helps defray the high cost of a mortgage, property taxes and maintenance.
Photos: Nick Harvey, WireImage | As Seen on Realtor.com
Hollywood: Jessica Alba's Mansion
In early 2008 Jessica Alba and her husband Cash Warren bought a home overlooking a canyon in star-studded Beverly Hills, California. That left Alba's previous residence, also in Beverly Hills, vacant. She recently floated the 3,000-square-foot multi-level residence on the market as a furnished rental with a monthly price tag of $8,950.
Alba bought the hillside house in 2002 for $1.1 million, according to property records, and the current listing shows there are a total of 3 bedrooms and 3.5 baths including one bedroom that Alba converted into a cozy media room. The vaguely French-style exterior wraps around a Balinese-inspired interior that include a double height living/dining room with fireplace and city views, a fully equipped gourmet kitchen, a double height family room with pool table and a master suite with a custom-built walk-in closet, spa-style bath and private terrace with panoramic view.
Photos: Ethan Miller, Getty Images | Hawaii Life Real Estate Services
Hawaii: Charo's Cuchi-cuchi Crib
Spanish-born firecracker Charo -- best known as a fierce flamenco guitarist and campy B-list actress who cuchi-cuchi-ed across the small screen on "The Love Boat" and "Fantasy Island" -- has owned a home in Hawaii for at least 15 years. She owned a now shuttered restaurant on the celebrity friendly island of Kauai, and she still owns a large ocean front estate on the North Shore that overlooks Tunnels Beach. It's this house that Charo has up for lease at $10,500 per month. Other glitterati who reportedly own homes on quiet Kauai include Drew Barrymore, Pierce Brosnan and Ben Stiller.
Charo, who currently works her stuff in a glitzy Las Vegas show, calls her palm tree sprinkled 3-acre Hawaiian hideaway 'Bali Hai.' The sprawling 2-story house has 7 bedrooms, 8.5 bathrooms and, let's be honest, some down on its cha-cha heels décor. But then again, who's looking at the tatty rattan sofas and old-fashioned floral bedspreads when there are multi-million dollar views out every window? Plus, one of the best beaches in Hawaii is right outside the back door. The lease price includes linens, cookware and use of a barbecue grill as well as a washer/dryer, ping pong table, pool table, stereo system and cable TV. Oh yeah, and broadband internet access for those who need to remain connected to the real world.
Photos: John Shearer, Getty Images for amfAR | The Mustique Company, Ltd.
Mustique: Mick Jagger's Rock Star Residence
Scads of stars have Caribbean island getaways including A-listers like Christie Brinkley, Bruce Willis and Oprah Winfrey. Rock and roll legend Mick Jagger of "The Rolling Stones" doesn't have one but two villas on the private island of Mustique. Celebrities of all stripes -- from Amy Winehouse to Prince William and Kate Middleton -- flock to Mustique during the winter months and shack up in luxurious residences such as "Stargroves," Jaggers beachfront villa that he rents at a high season rate of $22,000 per week. Stargroves offers six bedrooms for 10 guests, a private swimming pool and a full time staff of six to cater to every celebrity whim and desire.
Raised walkways meander through lush landscaping and connect seven discreet pavilions that dot the property. The open-air dining pavilion overlooks a private pond and the nearby living room pavilion spills out onto a large sundeck that overlooks L'Anescoy Bay. The six bedrooms, all air-conditioned for summertime comfort, are divvied up among four pavilions: A very private 1 bedroom and 1 bath pavilion; another with 2 bedrooms that share a single bath; a separate children's cottage with living room, kitchen, two bedrooms, two baths and an ocean side veranda. And lets not forget the master suite, It's a beach side pavilion of its very own with sitting room separated from the bay-view bedroom by rice paper shoji screens (private bathroom and water side deck included).
In 2006 Jagger bought 'Pelican Beach,' a 3-bedroom and 3 bathroom villa conveniently located right next door to 'Stargroves' that he also leases but with a much lower but still expensive $7,000 per week during the high season.
Photos (Jagger): The Mustique Company, Ltd.
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Houndstooth is the perfect pattern to add to your home in the winter months. Yes, it's fashion classic, but above all it's cozy. So why leave all that charm to sport coats and scarves?
Jonathan Adler; Overstock
Jonathan Adler's version is hand-loomed in Peru by weavers associated with Aid to Artisans, an organization that helps bring jobs to struggling communities around the world. Plus, for a little extra, you can customize Adler's rug in almost any color you like such as pink or lime.
Overstock's rug is actually larger, at 5' x 8' (in comparison to Adler's 4' x 6').
What choice would you make? Share on our Facebook page!
To see more great finds at all different prices check out Copy Cat Chic!
About the same time Christmas tree lots start popping up in parking lots and radio DJs start playing "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" on an endless loop, I start getting more calls from home. On the other end of the phone, my mom and dad ask about work, the dogs and the weather before getting to the real reason for their call: To invite, encourage and cajole me into coming home for Christmas. They take turns making hard-to-refuse offers like, "Dad will make pancakes on Christmas morning!"
A photo of the author on Christmas in 1977 -- back when she was forced to spend the holiday with her family. Photo: Jodi Helmer
It's hard to decline their invitation -- but I do.
This December marks a decade since I last celebrated Christmas with my family. During holiday season's past, I've spent Christmas traveling to Hong Kong (see me and a Chinese Santa Claus below) and Peru, rented a cottage at the beach and celebrated solo.
There are many reasons I choose not to go home for Christmas. Home is the suburbs of Toronto, Canada, which feels a little like the North Pole in December. There isn't a suitcase large enough to hold the boots, mittens, scarves and long underwear required to make the trip. Frigid temperatures and towering snow banks are as certain as the arrival of Santa on Christmas Eve. Add outrageous airfares and lines at the airport that make me want to drink too much spiked eggnog and a trip home for Christmas makes me want to borrow the Red Ryder BB Gun from Ralphie so I can shoot my eye out!
The author with Santa Claus in Hong Kong. Photo: Jodi Helmer
We're a close-knit little clan and we love spending time together. When I do go home, we eat too much, talk too loud and laugh like banshees. We take candid snapshots of each other making weird faces, wrestle in the living room and tell crude jokes.
But during Christmas, the frenzied pace leaves little time to connect with each other. It seems that someone is always working, shoveling the walk, finishing their shopping, hiding in another room to wrap gifts or making a last minute trip to the supermarket instead of piling under blankets in the living room and watching "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" or gathering around the dining room table for a game of cards. We argue over time slots for the home's sole bathroom and fuss at each other about who makes too much noise in the mornings and who ate the last cookie.
The number of parties, breakfasts with Santa, white elephant gift exchanges and open houses that we've navigated over Christmas could rival the President's social calendar -- and that makes it hard to spend time hanging out in front of the Christmas tree.
The last time I went home -- in 2000 -- was so hectic I decided that I was going to plan trips in the summer when there were fewer obligations and a more relaxed pace at the house. So far, it's worked. Last summer, we sat outside on the deck from morning until night. My two-and-a-half-year-old niece, Charlotte, ran through the sprinkler while we ate hamburgers and corn on the cob. When my dad wasn't manning the grill, Charlotte grabbed his hand and convinced him to run through the sprinkler, too, even though he was wearing slacks and loafers. There were no parties or social obligations, no expectations of elaborate meals, no pressure to get dressed up, no fights or frustrations over gifts given or received. It was just our little clan spending time together in the summer sun.
One year, the author went home for a visit during December but not for Christmas. Photo: Jodi Helmer
Over the past decade, I've continued with some traditions from home, including making pancakes on Christmas morning and sitting in front of the tree, taking turns opening gifts. I've also created some new traditions.
On Christmas morning, my partner and I take the dogs for a long hike. We call our families, listen to Christmas carols and trade stories of childhood celebrations and favorite gifts. We skip the traditional meal in favor of making new recipes. Last Christmas, I made pot roast for the first time. This year, we've set our sights on making sweet and sour Indian stew and homemade bread. Instead of pumpkin pie, we split a pint of Ben & Jerry's for dessert. We leave all of the dishes in the sink, change into our pajamas and spend the evening drinking hot chocolate and playing board games in front of the fire.
Who knows? One of these years, I might take my parents up on the invitation to come home for the holidays. For now, I'm content to embrace Bing Crosby's mantra: "I'll be home for Christmas...if only in my dreams."
Jodi Helmer is the author of The Green Year: 365 Small Things You Can Do to Make a Big Difference.
The action star is selling his "knock-out" house in Lake Sherwood, CA for $4.9 million.
Sylvester Stallone is selling his house in Lake Sherwood -- a 1.79-acre plot with three bedrooms, three bathrooms and two stories. You know what that means: A flight of stairs for running up and down. What else would you do if you lived in the former home of Rocky Balboa?
If you don't have $4.9 million handy (don't worry, we don't either) you can also rent the home for $10,000 a month. Come on and take a look!
Photo: As Seen on Realtor.com| | Kevin Winter, Getty Images
A view of the front of the house. Though we'll admit, we're more interested in the view from the house...
Photo: As Seen on Realtor.com
Photo: As Seen on Realtor.com
What about you?
AOL built a life-size gingerbread house we knew it would bring joy to the kids at St. Jude. But we didn't know just how much cheer it would bring to the hospital's holiday party. Our reporter gives a first-hand account.
Photo: Courtesy of St. Jude.
"Mom, I'm going to the HOUSE!" declared four-year old Tyteanne Walker in her most demanding, but adorable voice.
"Okay, have fun," replied Tekela Walker, watching her baby, who has been fighting cancer for almost 2½ years, march into the house and peer out a window spying on a group of Santa's elves posing for pictures. Squeals of delight surrounded Tyteanne as kids from 2 to sixteen enjoyed the holiday festivities.
Sounds like the pre-Christmas scene at just about any mall in America, right? But it happened at the most unexpected of locales, somewhere you wouldn't think there'd be much joy or smiles or laughter.
The holiday party took place on a chilly Wednesday afternoon at St. Jude Children Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. St. Jude is the nation's No. 1 pediatric cancer hospital, where an average of 5,700 patients and their families visit per year seeking medical miracles in their darkest, most frightening hours.
The event was officially called "The St. Jude Women's Club Pictures with Santa's Elves," and there was face painting, a chance for patients to build their own mini-gingerbread houses and yes, pictures with elves. The star attraction was a 6-foot tall gingerbread house built and donated by AOL.
Photo: Courtesy of St. Jude.
"Our families here can't get out and go to the mall and do the whole Santa picture thing," said Kathryn Berry Carter, director of volunteer services for St. Jude. "So we bring it to the families, and over the years it has become very meaningful. The addition of the gingerbread house this year is a beautiful compliment to the event. We're very appreciative of AOL."
The house was built by a team of folks from DIY Life, KitchenDaily, Holidash, MyDaily, AOL Latino and others. The frame was built by DIY Life contributor Brian Kelsey. Then candy decorations were designed by AOL Shelterpop's Laura Fenton. Loads of sweet goodies were donated by Economy Candy and the logo cookies on the roof came from In Record Time.
How good did the gingerbread house look after being shipped here from New York City?
"That house is so cool, the detail is so incredible, it makes you want go over there and take a big bite out of it," said Richard C. Shadyac, Jr., the CEO of ALSAC, the hospital's fundraising organization. "That jellybean wreath looks awful good."
Photo: Courtesy of St. Jude.
The house perfectly fit the spirit of the event, one of many staged each year by St. Jude Women's Club, a volunteer organization that originated in the 1980s. The club is composed of women who either work at the hospital, at ALSAC or are related to someone who works at either place.
On this day, their mission was simple: Make a fun afternoon for the patients and their families.
Scan the party room and it's hard to tell who had more fun -- the steady stream of patients and families, or the women's club volunteers.
"I looked forward all week to dressing as an elf for this party," said Shelley Orwick, a research technician in St. Jude's pharmaceutical sciences department resplendently dressed as an elf complete with pointed ears. "In my job, I'm usually up in the lab and I don't see the kids that often. So it's great to interact with them. Seeing them smile reminds me why I work here."
As the party crowd grew larger and the noise level increased, the event was accomplishing its purpose.
"It helps you to forget all the stuff you're going through," said Jeff Hilliard of Denham Springs, La., whose 16-year old son Gabe is in his second round of chemotherapy fighting Hodgkin's lymphoma. "It allows you to enjoy being here with your child, to have a little fun, as opposed to thinking when the next round of chemo starts, when the next procedure is, when the next appointment is."
Gabe agreed with his father.
"A lot of hospitals you go in are gloomy and boring and sad," Gabe said. "Here, you walk in, everybody is always smiling, they say hello and ask you how you're doing. It's just a very welcoming, wonderful community. This is a good place."
Go from person to person at this party, and they'll tell you the event is typical of what St. Jude is all about.
"This place is like Disney World hospital," said Tanya Johnson of Baton Rouge, La., whose 14-year daughter T'Ara had a cancerous tumor removed from her arm on Sept. 2, a tumor declared 88 percent dead thanks to chemotherapy. "St. Jude will do anything for these kids."
Photo: Courtesy of St. Jude
Tyteanne Walker finished playing in AOL's gingerbread house and began strumming a guitar played by Memphis Jones, a local singer. He and Tyteanne privately enjoyed the final minutes of the two-hour party singing "Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer."
Tekela Walker watched her beaming daughter from her distance. Every Wednesday, she and Tyteanne make three-to-four hour roundtrip for Tyteanne's chemotherapy, a scary proposition in the beginning that has faded because of St. Jude's relentless physical and emotional care.
"When Tyteanne first started coming here, we were both scared," Tekela said. "But after I talked to Tyteanne's doctor and once she explained to me that everything was going to be okay, I calmed down. When I calmed down, Tyteanne calmed down. What this place does is give you hope."
Want to see how the gingerbread house was made? Watch the video below or check out the full story!
You can click here to donate to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
I'm a December baby, one of those ill-fated children that grew up sharing their birthday with Christmas. It wasn't that bad -- I wasn't born on Christmas Eve; my birthday is three weeks before, on the 10th. Just close enough that my family and I often went out to select a Christmas tree sometime during my birthday weekend. My sisters and I would nibble on pigs in blankets and fight over which ornament to hang first as Mom and Dad arranged the lights. And all of the excitement made it easy to forget that there was leftover Carvel ice cream birthday cake in the fridge.
I might have sulked about all of it if I didn't love Christmas so much. My birthday was the gateway to Christmas, the beginning of an endless loop of "Jingle Bell Rock," the woodsy smell of Fraser Fir, and, best of all, tinsel.
The writer's tree, covered in tinsel. Photo: John Vargas
Yes, tinsel. Tinsel, in case you don't know, looks like long strands of glittery silver linguine or sparkly pom-pom fluff. The packaging sometimes refers to tinsel as "icicles," since it clings to a tree the way ice would... if your Christmas tree was outside in snowy temperatures.
Some people love their tree topper. Others have a special relationship with a childhood ornament they made or a tree skirt that grandma knitted. But my favorite part of decorating a Christmas tree is covering it with tinsel. Every year until I went away to college we hung tinsel on our Christmas tree.
And it's beautiful. When a tree is covered with tinsel and then illuminated with light, the tinsel's reflective surfaces bounce the light around and make the tree look like it belongs in the Magic Kingdom. It literally sparkles. As a kid I felt like a Christmas tree wasn't complete until it was covered in thousands of strands of silver.
Tinsel was a fairly common Christmas decoration when I was growing up on the east end of Long Island. But somewhere along the way, it got really, really uncool. Between Martha Stewart's envied, oh-so-perfect Christmas trees to the surge in stylish trees lit with white lights and monochromatic ornaments, tinsel started to make a tree look cluttered and unkempt. Even worse, dated.
Hanging tinsel is an old tradition. Invented in Germany in the early part of the 19th century, tinsel was originally made of pressed strands of real silver. My great grandparents, who immigrated to New York from Munich in the early 1900s, used tinsel to decorate their tree, and the tradition was passed down to my grandfather, my mother and then me.
The writer's mother and siblings with their tinsel-covered tree (left), and her grandfather (right) with her mother (forefront) and siblings with another tinsel tree. Photo: Courtesy of Diane Strecker Foster
My grandfather, William Strecker (above right), took hanging tinsel very seriously. He was a painter, which made him a student of light, and I can imagine that tinsel took on a sculptural quality that he could appreciate. He passed away when I was 12, but he taught my mother and her seven siblings the technique that his parents taught him: Hang tinsel from branches one strand at a time -- not in clumps -- and start from the bottom of the tree. The idea was to build thin layers of tinsel, so ultimately it looked like a cascading waterfall of silver. "He'd line us up like his foot soldiers and hand us one strand at a time to put on the tree," my mother told me. "I tried to do that with you girls, but at some point it got to be too much. I'd hand you girls clumps to hang in single strands, and you'd want to just plop the whole thing on the tree."
Tinsel certainly has its drawbacks. Unlike garland, which is more of a decorative tinsel wreath strung on a cord, tinsel sticks together with static electricity as you try to hang it. It's not uncommon to brush by a tree draped in it and end up with a strand stuck to your back. When removing ornaments and packing them away for next year, it often sneakily wraps itself around hooks and into packing boxes. Since picking each strand off the tree could take hours, you typically carry the tree outside for pick-up with all of it still on, which creates a mess of its own. Plus, if ingested by small animals like cats, it can be deadly.
My family tired of cleaning up tinsel so much in the weeks after Christmas that one year I remember Mom declaring that she was done with the silvery strands altogether. The following year, we covered our tree in white lights and monochromatic ornaments. Very Martha.
For all of my love of tinsel, I forgot about it entirely for several years. I covered my tree with rainbow-colored lights, glittery red, green and gold balls, teardrop-shaped ornaments in fuchsia, purple and blue, strands of blue and aqua metallic beads. I love a colorful tree!
This year, when we finished decorating our petite tree, I stood back and stared. "Something is missing," I told my husband, John. He didn't see it, so I asked my 9-month-old baby Harper, who couldn't stop staring at the lights, what he thought: "Da-da-da-da," he said, his pointer finger stroking a branch of the tree. It seemed like he was reaching for something, something that wasn't there.
That's when it hit me. We forgot the tinsel. and we had forgotten the tinsel every year before this one.
The writer with her husband in front of their Christmas tree. Photo: John Vargas
I thought of how excited I used to get when Mom would open up the tinsel packaging and hand us clumps to hang on the tree. I thought of how the light danced around the room and how tinsel would hang from the lower branches and touch our Christmas presents on Christmas morning. I loved that tinsel brought our family together; it was like frosting on a cake -- sure, it was sweet without it, but not nearly as good.
And suddenly, all I wanted was tinsel. I wanted Harper to see the flickering lights in it, and I wanted him to look forward to it each year as much as I used to. I wanted it to stick to his feety pajamas on Christmas morning, I even wanted to find it in the house three months later and smile at the memory of Harper opening his presents.
Maybe it's because I was nuzzling my baby's neck that day. Maybe it's because we're all collectively wishing we could return to simpler times. But suddenly, the only thing I wanted to do was to recreate my childhood Christmas tree in my very grown-up living room. (I knew I'd have to be careful -- if harmful to small animals, I can imagine it could do some damage to Harper's sensitive little belly if he ever managed to get a piece in his mouth.)
After an exhaustive search, I finally spotted tinsel at the Kmart in the East Village of Manhattan and grabbed a few 99 cent boxes. That night, John and I stayed up late to hang the tinsel on the tree. John, who had never hung it before, seemed amused by it all, but wasn't sold on a tree smothered in silver strands. I was halfway through hanging the first box when he turned to me: "You really want to cover the tree in this stuff? Isn't it kind of ugly?"
I held a strand like mistletoe over his head and gave him a peck on the cheek. Ugly or not, messy or not, retro or not, I love tinsel. It's like the smell of a turkey roasting on Thanksgiving or the sound of glass clinking on New Year's Eve. It's just part of Christmas, just as it should be.
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Allie and Andrew Dunbar (you might remember their small kitchen!)
The Dunbar's bedroom was making Allie and Andrew look less like a young married couple and more like roommates in a dorm. Between the suitcase serving as a dresser, the coffee table playing a shoerack and one closet for two people, their bedroom is making them look much younger than they are -- and not in a good way!
Enter Bob Richter, a professional interior designer with makeover-minute magic. He stepped up to the challenge by embracing the good (like the headboard), and improving upon the rest -- like replacing their old blue bedding with a fresh new set (and a new mattress doesn't hurt). He also swapped their bedside tables for elegant his and hers nightstands and brought in some back-up storage so they could put that suitcase back in storage, where it belongs.
Allie and Andrew's bedroom is sophisticated, grown-up and totally lovely -- hey! That's just like the couple.
To see what products we used from our sponsor IKEA, scroll over the pieces in the video! Or check out this list for all the goods.
To solve their storage problem, Richter brought in the 8-drawer dresser in a very grown-up dark brown. Add matching nightstands that have extra storage and they no longer have to rely on that suitcase. This elegant lamp and shade top off the nightstand to provide extra reading light. And when they're done reading? They can draw the curtains and get a good night sleep.
According to the latest 2009 American Time Use Study from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women spend on average ninety minutes a day doing housework, defined as cleaning and laundry.
Ninety minutes a day! That's over six hours a week. Eek!
Do you spend too long cleaning the oven? Photo: Allison Leach, Getty Image
#1 The Fridge
Denise Bogan of Denton Cleaning in New York has clients who are embarrassed about the caked on old food and grime in their refrigerators. "People don't know what to use to clean the inside of the fridge, so they let it all build up," she says.
Timesaving Solution: Clean the fridge once a week for five minutes. Spray an earth-friendly Parsley Plus Spray to the interior once a week and wipe down for an ick-free icebox.
#2 Kitchen Cabinets
First, stop worrying about them. "No one looks inside your kitchen cabinets!" says Gisella Lowenstein, developer of The Glow System, a DVD video tutorial system for efficiency cleaning methods.
Timesaving Solution: Use a few minutes to wipe down the exterior of your cabinets. "Everyone notices if the outside of your cabinets are dirty -- that's what makes a first impression," says Lowenstein.
#3 The Oven
"Self cleaning ovens can take hours," says Ivette Melendez, a cleaning professional and trainer at WAGES. It heats up to over 900 degrees to burn off baking residue without any chemicals. It's easy, but it ties up your oven for hours and is often unnecessary.
Timesaving Solution: "Lightly dampen the entire area with soapy water spray, then lightly sprinkle the entire surface with baking soda," says Melendez. Leave for seven minutes, then scrape with a metal spatula from side to side. Finish off by scrubbing the inside with a soap and water mixture, then wipe the oven with a 1 to 3 parts vinegar solution.
#4 The Counters
"Unless you're preparing raw meats on the counter, it doesn't need to be scrubbed down completely each night," says Sue Holden with Seventh Generation's Consumer Insights Team (she answers questions from callers about cleaning problems).
Timesaving Solution: "A simple swipe of a disinfecting wipe will kill germs naturally and save you time," says Holden. Read: simple! Do this quickly, then sit down and relax.
Ever feel like you do too much laundry? You do. Seventh Generation's Holden says Americans overdose on laundry. "Whether it's too much laundry detergent, too much time in a dryer, or being washed too frequently, our clothes are literally being put through the ringer," she says. The proper dosage of laundry detergent, plus line drying, will leave clothes looking cleaner and feeling softer.
Timesaving Solution: Wear things multiple times before you wash them. Period. It's a waste of time and water. "Jeans or sweaters don't need to be washed after every wear, they will last longer," says Holden.
#6 Laundry Stains
It's still on your "to do" list if you have to wait for the stain remover to work.
Timesaving Solution: Holden has a tip that takes seconds to lift a stain. "Grab an old toothbrush and a bottle of dishwashing liquid," she says. Then lay the article of clothing on top of your washer, squeeze a drop or two of dishwashing liquid directly on the spot, use the toothbrush to work the soap into the fabric, then wash the item immediately.
#7 Slow Down
You wake up one morning with every intention of cleaning your refrigerator, organizing your linen closet, scrubbing the bathtub and vacuuming, but end up getting very little done. "People run out of gas," says Kristi Mailloux, president of the Molly Maid franchise.
Timesaving Solution: "Clean only two rooms a day," says Mailloux. And clean wisely. Molly Maids are trained to work top-to-bottom and to work their way around a room from left-to-right, rather than "popcorning" all over the room. "That way, you don't miss any areas of a room," she adds. Glow's Lowenstein, who has a hotel management background, recommends a cleaning schedule to keep you on track.
#8 Too Many Products
Problem: You have so many different cleaning products you're often going back and forth to the cabinet to match task to cleaner. Caroline West of the Bon Ami line of home cleaners says that you do not need a specialty cleaner for every task. Trying to remember which bottle cleans what surface is a distraction. "We waste time when we keep going to another room to get the right cleaning product," adds Mailloux.
Timesaving Solution: Mailloux suggests bringing all of your supplies and cleaners from room to room in a large bucket or in an apron -- a trick most housecleaning experts use for efficiency.
Change your sheets more often. Photo: Getty
What chores are you spending too little time on?
Don't forget to:
Change the sheets!
We tend to change our sheets once a month, on average, says Bogan of Denton Cleaning. "I know lots of families, regardless of their economic status, who only have one set of sheets," she says. "Our body sheds skin cells all the time -- we need to change sheets once a week."
Dust the bookshelves.
Once a week is preferred, says Lowenstein of The Glow System. "If you don't dust, you'll ruin your books," she says. She recommends removing books when dusting.
Start cleaning the bathroom floors more.
Most of us clean our bathroom floors once a week, if that. "You really need to wash the bathroom floor more frequently than the toilet, especially if you have a little boy in the house," says West of Bon Ami.
Pay attention to the walls and baseboards.
Clean them when you notice fingerprints or spots. "If you spend some time every week cleaning your walls and baseboards, your house will look impeccable...even when it isn't," says Lowenstein. Experts agree to wipe down walls and baseboards with a microfiber rag and mild cleaning solution
Use your sweat equity by investing time cleaning walls -- it pays off and your house will appear cleaner than it is. Photo: Corbis
"We do a great job disinfecting the kitchen and bath, but most people forget about the doorknobs that we touch all the time," says David Kargas of The Clorox Company's Pine-Sol division. Kargas says it takes a couple of minutes a week to go around the house to wipe down doorknobs with a rag and a cleaner that is also a disinfectant. This simple act will cut down the spreading of germs and keep everyone a lot healthier..
Replace bathroom drinking cups often.
Lowenstein says your house can be impeccable, but a dingy drinking cup in the bathroom is a telltale sign that your house is hiding some grunge. "There's horrible, goopy residue that grosses guests out.. Clean it every day if you can," she says.
For more housecleaning tips, visit Shelterpop's archive.