Category Archives: Lifestyle

Hold It Right There!

Have you ever been in a museum and seen a beautiful, delicate piece of sculpture, or a statue, that you could walk right up to and examine closely? I always think museum curators and guards must hold their breath when people get rather close to priceless art, like this…

Image courtesy of the New York Times

Have you ever had a delicate item of art or a family heirloom in your home that you want to display, but that you worry may get knocked over, broken and/or destroyed? You want to enjoy the piece (otherwise, what is the point of keeping it around?), but you worry that the “enjoying” might put the piece in danger. Maybe you have pets, kids, slightly less responsible roommates, or you live in an earthquake zone?

Image courtesy of csmonitor.com

You and the museum curators have the same kind of problem. How do you secure your item of loveliness enough to leave it out to be enjoyed, without bolting it down to the point where it can’t be enjoyed?

Museum managers have a secret weapon. My clients use it, too. Now I’m going to share the secret with you. It looks like this:

Linked image courtesy of amazon.com

This is called “Museum Putty”. It is a neutral, cream-colored putty that comes in a simple envelope. It only costs $5. You can use it, re-use it, stick it to anything and it will hold that thing DOWN.

Here’s what it looks like coming out of the package:

It’s like the texture of Silly Putty, except, shinier. It also won’t pick up the texture of whatever item you stick it to the way Silly Putty does.

I’m going to apply the putty to a little ceramic box I keep out on a table at home. I’ll just tack a little Museum Putty to the underside of the box…

…then press the putty side down gently where I want the box to live.

If I ever need to move the frame, to dust or re-arrange things, the putty leaves no marks or residue on the hard surface or the art object. Here’s the clean surface:

You can even take the putty off of one item, re-form it, then use it on a completely different item and get the same strength. If you aren’t so sure about the putty color, there is another version of this putty in a clear gel form. This version is ideal for sticking down glass or crystal items without being noticeable. It looks like this…

Linked image courtesy of amazon.com

…and is only $10. $10 is a great bargain when you think about how irreplaceable sentimental items can be. Is this something you could use in your home?

As always, I am not paid or perked for mentioning a great item on this blog. I only recommend what I like, because I like the freedom to be honest about any product I choose to mention. I use this stuff in my home and several of my clients swear by it, too.  Who doesn’t like a real-life tip for avoiding household accidents? None of us want to have this kind of nightmare…

Image courtesy of tvtropes.org

Coming Tomorrow: Decor Items Fit For A Queen!

Springing back into action…

Did I say “action”?

What I really meant was “blogging”.

I have been away from this blog for much longer than I intended. While I was away, the whole country blossomed into Spring.

What was I doing, you ask?

I’d love to be able to tell you that I was doing something noble, like volunteering with Doctors Without Borders, or something equally heroic. But the truth is much more boring. Lofty life coaches and workplace style-minders might say I’ve been “trying to find a better work/life balance”, but I think it is better to use clear, Anglo-Saxon words. I was cleaning up my work vs. home schedule.

January is typically a quiet time for interior designers. Many potential clients are taking it easy while they pay off their holiday bills. Most people savor being at home with their families, sharing indoor activities and enjoying cosy winters viewed through frosted windows. No one is really in the mood to paint or re-organize all the family room furniture. And who can blame them?

Mr. CARO (my husband, who also owns a small business) and I also like this time to be at home. We catch up on all of our business paperwork and enjoy lots of movies with homemade popcorn and hot chocolate. However, there was NO winter here this year. Not a flake of snow or a bite of frost. And so Spring arrived very, very early…

And while we were able to get our business paperwork done, we spent a lot of time working on other little projects that popped up as unexpectedly as Spring. Just the daily life stuff everyone has, like head colds, car repairs, social events and housework. And all the stuff that goes along with owning small businesses, like tax preparation, networking, creating new marketing materials and okay-I’ve-officially-outgrown-this-file-cabinet-and-now-need-another-one. It may not seem like much, just the stuff that everyone else deals with, but it got ahead of us. So, we took a purposeful pause and re-grouped.

We needed to overhaul our work schedules to make our home work better and we think we have conquered a new layout now. While I had spent many loving hours helping other people make their homes more lovable, my own was becoming a bit of a wreck. I’m a proud Type A personality (see my organizing posts as evidence) so the clutter and cleaning I tried to ignore was getting to me. Spring cleaning was never so welcome in our home!

So now I am back!

Refreshed, reorganized and with lots of things to share on the blog. Even while I was away, I was dreaming up things to talk about and writing little notes to myself about things to share. My goal is now to get them all typed up and back into the new-post-every-weekday format I enjoyed writing before my break. I hope all of you who are reading this will come along for the ride.

And speaking of readers, I wanted to thank all of you who left messages and emailed me about missing the blog. I was missing all of your comments and sharing my favorite design things, too. Thank you for taking the time out of your day to send your “Where the heck did the blog go?” notes!

I could also see that many of you were sharing the blog site with friends, based on all the archived posts that were viewed every day. Thank you, thank you, thank you for keeping all of my previous writings active over the past few months. I have a lot more to share with you and I can’t wait to get started with all the details.

The new posts officially begin with what you are reading right now. If I could do a big cartwheel for you right now, I would. That’s how much I have missed writing every day. I love my job and I love sharing it with others who are interested in great design and wonderful home life. So let’s get started…

All of the pictures in this post were taken by me as Spring showed up in Baltimore over the past few months. I love it when the cherry and apple blossoms make their annual appearance in our area. I hope they bring a happy bit of color to your day, too.

Is there anyone else out there that finds flower blossoms energizing? What motivates you to really get moving with stuff around your house? Blogs are for conversation, so share your thoughts in a comment! And, okay, I’ve been away for quite a while, so I’ll just say it: Is anyone out there? Chime in and say “Hi!” if you are reading this!

More resolute in 4 easy steps

A very happy New Year to you! How is your 2012 going so far? We’re now into the second week of the New Year. How are you doing with any resolutions you may have made? It’s been estimated that 45% of adult Americans make New Year’s resolutions every year, but only 8% are ever kept. These stats lead me to the question, “How do they calculate those numbers with accuracy?”.

Image courtesy of wikipedia

I’m one of those adults who aims to evolve with the passage of the new calendar year, but I have a different method of success. I though I’d share my 4 rules for resolutions with you today, in case it could add some resolve to your goals for 2012.

(Right about now, some of you may be asking, “What does this have to do with interior design?”. Stay with me…you may end up with some interesting art for your home!)

1. List Month By Month

First, let me say that the idea of trying to predict in January what I want to have accomplished on a personal growth level in 12 months seems ridiculous. It’s kinda like when you go in for your annual check-up with your doctor and at the end of your appointment they ask if you want to schedule your appointment for the following year. As if you know exactly where you’ll be in 12 months, on a Tuesday, at 2pm.

2013? I'm still trying to remember to write "2012".

I do better with resolutions if I can plan them a month in advance. It is a well-discussed theory that it takes an average person 6 weeks to change a regular behavior. If I can commit to doing something for four weeks, I’m well on my way to completing that goal and have met a much more attainable deadline.

So, I break my annual resolutions into monthly resolutions. If I slack off of my resolutions for a few days (or a few weeks), I know that the month is still running and that I have a chance to get right back up on that horse and try again. We’re only human, after all.

2. Take Smaller Bites

On a similar note, I like to break goals down to make them more approachable. For example, I’ve set a goal for myself to read 60 books in the next year. (My great aunt, who lived to be 99, said reading kept her mind young. Who can argue with motivation like that?) I’ve broken my 60-books-for-the-year goal into a 5-books-per-month goal. Much more approachable and if I get a little ahead, I’ll really feel empowered for the next month.

Image courtesy of sapdc.org

Bite-sized resolutions means I can also tweak as I go. “Tweak” does not mean “abandon in March”. Tweak means re-order or add to the list. For example, I am lousy about remembering dentist cleanings/check-ups. I’ve actually written “Dentist” on my February resolution list to make sure I get an appointment on my schedule.

I’ve also written “Update Resolutions” in April, so I can tweak/add more Dentist-y things (among other things) to the rest of my year’s goals after I’m into the year a few months. Maybe I’ll be raising my book goal to 6 books a month. We’ll see how I’m doing.

3. Make It Public

I’m doing that right here with this post and you’re going to see my whole list in just a few more paragraphs. I’ve found that if I can speak openly about my goals, it helps me to follow through with them.

Now, I’m not suggesting you open with you resolutions at a cocktail party, but I have found that if I can explain the value of my goals to others, that conversation (and the memory of it) can be a motivator for me later. Especially if those conversations can get you some high fives from your friends and loved ones as you meet each step of your goals. Announce your progress and be proud!

Image courtesy of capetown.travel

4. Make It Art

This is where you write down your goals. Not just write them down, but put them in a place where you can look at them. Every day. (Yes, every day.) So, if you are going to look at them why not make them something you love to look at?

Type your resolutions up nicely and make them pretty art to put out in your home. Surround them with motivating pictures if you are a picture person. Mount them on beautiful paper to make a lovely print. Frame them and put them near your favorite place in your home. Embrace your goals with happy anticipation. Attitude is everything and enjoying your list is a step in the right direction.

Keeping it real, friends. This is right next to my desk.

That’s my list, typed up on a little photo-shopped print I made, then framed. It sits right over the printer and scanner by my desk, where I work every day and write these posts. Just wanted to show you that I practice what I preach. And here is a close-up of the framed list, so you can read the resolutions more easily:

Some months have more goals than others, but it all seems approachable.

Does this 4-step system work? One of my big resolutions for last year was starting a blog…and I did it! Now you know my goals for 2012. I’ll keep you posted as the year rolls along. What are some of your resolutions? Do these steps help you see your goals more easily? Leave a comment and share your thoughts. Blogs are for conversation!

15 Old School Christmas Albums

What makes a great Christmas album?

I think the answer can be as varied as the ways to celebrate Christmas. However, so many of us share holiday rituals (filling stockings, presents from Santa, wishing for the peace of the season to last all year) that there are many classics we can all agree on every year.

Image courtesy of archives.gov.on.ca

I’ve compiled a list of albums…that’s right, “albums”…of great Christmas music to get almost everyone in the mood for the holidays. In hard economic times like these, going home to the Christmas classics of singers who knew how to entertain with their voices, and very little else, can be really comforting. While many of these collections were originally released on albums (waaaaayyyy back then!), there is no denying the way they will still make you feel today.

Image courtesy of onmilwaukee.com

All of the album images you see in this post are from Amazon and are linked directly to their pages to make more detailed browsing and shopping easy. Just click on the picture of any album you like the looks of and you will jump there.

Allow me to add a suggestion: These albums make great stocking-stuffers, hostess/host gifts, secret santa gifts and gifts for people who are hard to buy for or “don’t need anything”. Everyone loves a great Christmas album and few people treat themselves when there are presents and travel tickets and extra groceries to be bought. All of these albums are under $20, many are under $10 and one of them is under $5.

Let’s get to the list…

“Christmas Songs” by Mel Tormé

Album concept: Classic Mel Tormé arrangements that dance, swing and even occasionally scat. This album has timeless style and a little something for kids from 1 to 92. Did you know he composed “The Christmas Song”? His lyrical “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…” means Christmas to generations of Americans who have never eaten a chestnut in their life. The man was “cool” before the rest of us even thought of using the word. No wonder he looks so knowing by that fireplace.

Album highlights: “The Christmas Song” (of course), The Christmas arrangement of “Glow Worm”, “Christmastime Is Here”, “The Christmas Feeling”

“When My Heart Finds Christmas” by Harry Connick, Jr.

Album concept: This album comes from way back in 1993. Remember the ’90’s? Check out Harry’s hair if you need a reminder. While Harry has released three Christmas albums in his career so far, this one, for my money, remains his very best. It is elegantly arranged without being over-arranged and really shows of the depth of his rich, warm voice. You can feel him breathing the songs like no one had done for generations. (Sorry, Mr. Bublé, that seat is already taken.)

Album highlights: “When My Heart Finds Christmas”, “Ave Maria”, “Christmas Dreaming”, “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”

“A Christmas Together” by John Denver & The Muppets

Album concept: This album is fun for EVERYONE. The late, great John Denver plays straight-man-with-a-golden voice to the very recognizable cast of Muppets. If your kids are just discovering or you are rediscovering the elbowing wit of Kermit and his friends, this Christmas album may be just what you need.  On a personal note, if the Muppets softly singing “Silent Night” in German doesn’t make you a little misty, you may want to re-examine your soul. I do not have children, yet I proudly count this album in our Christmas collection.

Album highlights: The most entertaining “Twelve Day of Christmas” you’ll ever sit through, “Silent Night”, “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” (“Piggy pudding?!”  “No, no. Figgy pudding. Made with figs.”  “Oh.”)

“White Christmas” by Bing Crosby

Album concept: Have you heard anyone sing “White Christmas” better than Bing Crosby? The rest of this album is just as much of a no brainer. Not enough for ya? Okay, he’s thrown in the Andrews Sisters as back up  singers on a few tunes. As a bonus, you will soon be able to teach small children to sing “Merry Christmas” in Hawaiian. Did I mention this album has been continually in-print longer than any other album in the history of the United States? Bah-bah-bah BOOOOO… bring it home, Bing.

Album highlights: “White Christmas”, “Adeste Fidelis”, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”, “Mele Kalikimaka”

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” by CBS & The Vince Guaraldi Trio

Album concept: It’s Christmas, Charlie Brown. This album delivers all of your favorite Peanuts themes and some beautiful instrumental Christmas classics. The sound of a brush of a snare drum may always remind you of little kids walking down a sidewalk , but I still believe this album is the very best way to introduce young children to Jazz. Now, If only I could find a way to wave my hands over a Christmas tree and have it magically decorate itself.

Album highlights: “Hark, The Herald Angels Sing”, “Christmastime Is Here” (instrumental version), “Skating”

“Croon and Swoon – A Classic Christmas” by various artists

Album concept: This album offers great selection of Christmas tunes from different sources. You’ll find a good collection of silver screen stars and tv icons crooning some singular hits from years gone by. The swooning is at your own discretion. I love this album because it mixes so well with our other albums, while still bringing something new to the …turntable. (Sorry.)

Album highlights: Judy Garland’s “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” (from “Meet Me In St. Louis”), Lena Horne’s “Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”, Johnny Mathis’s “Winter Wonderland”, Angela Landsbury’s “We Need A Little Christmas” (from the original musical production of “Mame”)

“Christmas Album” by The Four Seasons

Album concept: The original Jersey Boys have put their own spin on the seasonal standards. I was quite skeptical of this album when I heard about it. However, when I read the Christmas nostalgia this album caused in the Amazon reviews for it, I decided to give it a try. It is good! I would have never thought about arranging some of these songs for their voices, but there are some savvy choices here that create an honest, passionate sound. Don’t judge until you give it a try. You’ll be as surprised as I was.

Album highlights: “Carol Of The Bells”, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”, “What Child Is This?” (Yes, I know. Really!), “Joy To The World Medley”

“Christmas Jump & Jive – Songs That Won The War” by various artists

Album concept: This album is harder to find, but so worth the effort! It features original radio transcript recordings from The Armed Forces Radio Network Archives and period radio broadcasts from World War II. There are all kinds of great songs on this album, by famous artists, that you have never heard before. Even more fun, there are little snippets of the radio hosts’ intros to some of the performances. Put this album on and see if your older relatives can still cut a rug.

Album highlights: Nat King Cole’s “Mrs. Santa Claus”, Tommy Dorsey’s “March of the Toys”, Benny Goodman’s “Jingle Bell Jive”, “Hark, The Herald Angels Swing” by Corky Hale (Swing played on a harp…worth a listen!)

“Hot Jazz For A Cool Yule” by The Jim Cullum Jazz Band & various guest artists

Album concept: This album is a live recording from the fabulous San Antonio Riverwalk Live concert series. The energy of the performer’s rapport with the live audience is very infectious. Savion Glover’s flying tap shoes and a great jazz band duet…to “Little Drummer Boy”. Genius. Can’t say enough about this out-of-the-way Christmas love letter of an album. Spread the word!

Album highlights: ‘The Nutcracker Rag” is worth the cost of this cd all by itself. It is my all-time favorite recording to get me in the Christmas mood. Also great are “My Christmas List”, “Jingle Bells Fiesta” and “We Three Kings”

“A Swingin’ Christmas” by Tony Bennett, featuring the Count Basie Big Band

Album concept: This 2008 album came out in a little too under the radar for these pros. I didn’t find it until two years later, in a consignment bin. I actually clutched my chest when I saw it. Tony Bennett is a master playing with an all varsity team of musicians. Toe-tapping songs and silky ballads fill this album. Mr. Bennett even painted the back cover of the album. Old School style in a pure form.

Album highlights: “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”, “All I Want For Christmas Is You” (not the Mariah Carey song), “The Christmas Waltz”, “O Christmas Tree”

“A Merry Christmas from Sesame Street” by Sesame Street/ CTW

Album concept: Old School pre-school, circa 1975. No Elmo in sight, lots of Grover, Cookie, Big Bird, Bert, Ernie and even Mr. Hooper. Full confession, this was my very favorite Christmas album as a little girl. The album still works for adults. It has fun stories and great songs, two of which are sung in Spanish by Luis and Maria. I will warn you, The Christmas Pageant may make you spit out your drink laughing. Couldn’t you use some of that kind of laughter right about now?

Album highlights:  Seriously. I can’t choose. I’m too close. It is ALL good. But I do know grown ups who would like Oscar’s “I Hate Christmas” as they stand in long lines at stores. David’s “Night Before Christmas on Sesame Street” is a ’70’s celebration of jive/funk poetry. “Keep Christmas with You (All Through The Year)” is not to be missed.

“Christmas with The Rat Pack” by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin & Sammy Davis, Jr.

Album concept: Perfect for a little boozy grown up time, when you need a cocktail…or three. The Sammy tracks are lively and fun. The Frank tracks are so clean and clear and smooth you feel like he is in the room with you. The Deano tracks sound like the bar should have cut him off before they all started singing, but there are only a few of those songs to get in the way of the two non-slurrrrrring guys. It’s a great collection worth having.

Album highlights: “Jingle Bells” by Sammy, “The First Noël” by Frank, “Mistletoe and Holly” by Frank,  “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” by Frank…I think you can see the pattern here.

The Original: Gene Autry sings Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer

Album concept: Have any Baby Boomers on your gift list? This beautifully re-mastered 1957 album will make them smile like that long ago Christmas morning when they got their Davy Crockett coon-skin cap. Simple and timeless, with a gentle cowboy feel, this album was out of print for over 20 years. It just came out on cd in 2006. If you have never heard it, or you haven’t heard it in decades, it is worth a listen.

Album highlights: “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” (Afterall, Autry wrote the song.), “Up On The House Top”, “Here Comes Santa Claus”, “Nine Little Reindeer”

“Holiday Celebration” by Peter, Paul & Mary

Album concept: This album may save your sanity if you are ever stuck in traffic on your way over the river and through the wood to grandmother’s house. Peter, Paul and Mary are backed by the New York Choral Society on this 1988 live album, which celebrates both Christian and Jewish holidays. American folk music at it’s best, this album will lift your spirit and help you take a breath in any holiday scenario. It is one of my personal favorites because there is nothing else like it.

Album highlights: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”, “The Friendly Beasts” “I Wonder As I Wander”, “Hayo, Haya”, which has so much lyrical P,P&M style you’ll find yourself hitting repeat as soon as the song finishes.

“What A Wonderful Christmas” by Louis Armstrong & Friends

Album concept: Louis Armstrong sings and plays with his friends. His friends appearing on this album (oh, to count such talent as your friends!) are Lionel Hampton, Eartha Kitt, Mel Tormé, Louis Jordan, Peggy Lee, Duke Ellington and the divine Dinah Washington. Do I even need to write further endorsements for this music? Buy this album and never look back.

Album highlights: Satchmo’s “Christmastime in New Orleans”, Peggy Lee’s “It’s Christmas Time Again”, The Duke’s “Jingle Bells”,  Dinah Washington’s gorgeous “Silent Night”, which might be the last version of this song you’ll ever need.

Can I tell you how much fun it was to write this post? I loved getting out all of our Christmas albums and loading them up to play. Do you have a favorite Christmas album you love to play every year? Is there a particular album that makes you think of your childhood Christmases? Share your favorite Christmas music memories in a comment!

One more thing. There is holiday decor giveaway starting tomorrow, right here on the blog. It looks a little something like this:

Can you help me spread the word? The more entries I get for these giveaways, the bigger I can make the prizes! See you tomorrow!

St. Nicholas Day

This coming Tuesday is St. Nicholas Day, December 6th.

Do you celebrate this holiday in your home? In many parts of the world, people do. Especially children. We have our own, grown-up version of this holiday tradition for this day in our home, which I’ll share with you below.

Image courtesy of penpallingandletters.blogspot.com

History

The religious figure of St. Nicholas comes to us from 4th century Greece. He was  the Bishop of Myra, which is now part of modern-day Turkey. (How that happened is a much longer story for another day.) It will probably nor surprise you that St. Nicholas is the patron saint of children. He is also the patron saint of sailors, fishermen, merchants, broadcasters, the falsely accused, repentant thieves, pharmacists, archers, pawnbrokers…and prostitutes. (Everyone needs someone looking out for them, but we’re gonna just ignore that last one and move right on with today’s story.)

The gift-giving part of St. Nicholas’s biography stems from lots of stories and legends of his kindness to his neighbors. In most cases, he leaves behind a small bag of gold coins (much like the chocolate ones you see in the shoes shown above) to help a neighbor in a financial difficulty. Sometimes these gift bags are tossed through and open window or down a chimney overnight, including one instance where the chimney toss landed the bag into a pair of freshly washed stocking drying by the fire… Sound familiar?

Most importantly, the gifts were anonymous, because so no one ever saw them actually delivered. They just appeared, as if by magic, to make someone’s life better. The selflessness of the giver is part of the greater message to give help and happiness to others where you are able. This is still a rather relevant humanitarian message for today’s world, regardless of any more specific religious beliefs.

European traditions

Most countries of Europe celebrate St. Nicholas Day, which is always on his feast day on the religious calendar, December 6th. In many places, St. Nicholas looks like an early step in the evolution of America’s Santa Claus image, half way between the religious bishop portraits and the jolly old elf with reindeer of C. Clement Moore fame.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

One of the most common ways to celebrate St. Nicholas Day is for children to leave out their shoes, outside their bedroom or outside their house, as they go to bed on the evening of December 5th. St. Nicholas, Sinterklaas, Père Noël, or whatever his name in each country, will stop by and leave little gifts and sweets in the shoes to be discovered in the morning.

It is treated as an opportunity for children to remember how nice it is to get a thoughtful gift and to treat others with kindness and well-mannered behavior. I can imagine that in centuries past, as cold, hard winters beat at the doors in rural communities, kindness and concern for others was an important value to instill in children. Still not a bad lesson for today.

Image courtesy of stnicholascenter.org

Our tradition

I spent several years in Germany as a child and because my parents believed in embracing the other cultures we were lucky to live in, December 6th became a part of our yearly celebrations. As luck would have it, my husband is descended from German American immigrants, so we have kept the tradition going.

We don’t have any children yet, but we have evolved the tradition for now to be a small gift to each other with a Christmas theme. This under-$20 gift can be anything to put us in the holiday spirit. Over the past years, they have included books, music, movies, seasonal treats, Christmas ornaments, holiday decor and charitable donations. It is amazing how a little thoughtfulness can help you be mindful of opportunities to help others when they present themselves. Regardless of where in the world we may celebrate Christmas, giving to others is the best gift.

Image courtesy of wilmette.blogspot.com

Do you like the concept of a St. Nicholas Day celebration? How do you mark the beginning of the Christmas season in your home? Do you have a favorite way of giving to your community during the holidays? Share your celebration traditions in a comment!

Advent-tageous

Well, hello again!

It’s so nice to see you here! I’ve been away working extra long hours to help my clients get their homes ready for holiday entertaining. I’m happy to report that all of our goals and deadlines were met in time for some serious Thanksgiving feasts. My one worry was that when I returned to blogging that all of my readers had given up on me. (New Year’s Resolution #1: Find better work/rest life balance.)

Image courtesy of servicelearning.org

What have you been up to lately? Did you eat your fill of turkey and dressing? Did you get to enjoy some time off to relax? Are you ready for the calendar to roll over into December? December! Can you believe it has crept up this fast this year?!

Speaking of calendars, I thought I’d share sources for something to help us ease into the next big holiday. In my travels through the internet and stores at this time of year I see all kinds of holiday decor. (More eye candy coming on Wednesday!) Several of my friends have asked me to watch for these items, so I’m guessing some of you might be looking for them, too.

I’ve gathered a list of sources for Advent calendars. I grew up with these in Europe and they seem to be more popular every year over here. I have found both the candy ones and the ones you can fill yourselves, in case your kids don’t need more excitement through extra sugar.

I’ve also tried to find them in a variety of price ranges so we can all stay within our budgets. All of the images above and below are linked directly to their retailers to make shopping for them grabbing them before they disappear easier. You can just click on the pictures!

Candy-filled Advent Calendars

In my experience, all holiday planning goes more smoothly if you have a mouthful of chocolate. Exhibit A: Santa’s waistline. It seems to me that the only dilemma with candy-filled Advent calendars is making sure the candy tastes good. Here’s what I found:

Trader Joe’s

I found these chocolate-filled Advent calendars on Amazon. I’d never noticed any Trader Joe’s products on Amazon before, but maybe I just haven’t been looking since I live near two store locations.

Trader Joe's 24 Chocolate Days Till Christmas Santa's Workshop Advent Calendar Filled with 24 Milk Chocolates

I’ve had other chocolate products from Trader Joe’s before, so I can safely guess that this chocolate will taste good. These calendars are moving fast on Amazon, so if you want one before they run out of stock, I’d grab it now.

Trader Joe's 24 Days of Milk Chocolate Christmas Tree Advent Calendar

Moonstruck Chocolate Co.

The Advent calendar I showed at the top of this post seems more for adults, especially with it’s gourmet price tag. While I’m not familiar with this chocolate company, this calendar is certainly filled with  some mouth watering treats. Take a look:

Mmmmm. Chooooocooooolaaaaaate…. What? Sorry!

I was rather surprised at some of the places I didn’t find candy-filled Advent calendars. Really, Williams Sonoma and Godiva? This product seems to fit your brands so perfectly.

Whole Foods

Not only is this chocolate really good, it’s vegetarian, kosher and is guaranteed fair trade. You can eat this chocolate in the name of making the planet a better place to live.

Divine Chocolate Divine Milk Chocolate Advent Calendar

I haven’t seen this calendar in my store yet, but I’m going to look for it. Maybe they have already been bought out…yikes!

Fill-them-yourself Advent Calendars

I kind like the concept of these types of Advent calendars because they are open to more creative gift ideas. A cool eraser, a new matchbox car, a pretty hair clip…lots of potential for easy, affordable solutions. Plus, you only have to buy the calendar once and you can re-use it for years. Here’s what I found:

Ikea

New this year from the people who got you hooked on lingonberries, this very affordable ($10!) Advent calendar was flying off the shelves when I was at Ikea last weekend.

YRSNÖ Advent calendar (No idea how to pronounce that.)

I like that it has a non-boxy shape and weights only 1 lb. Easy storage for next year! It would even make a creative host/hostess gift.

Target

To be fair, I browsed Target for Advent calendars before Black Friday and Cyber Monday, so I can’t promise that their inventory has not been decimated  by that crazy Target commercial lady and her friends. I like the style option of this model…

Home Mirrored Advent Calendar

…but I would recommend buying these in the stores, so you can see that the quality of construction is good. Some of the individuals ones I found in the store had drawers that don’t close properly and/or wonky mirror application. Sorry, Target. Gotta keep it honest for my readers!

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Looking for something a little more artistically sophisticated  in your Advent calendar? You’d think this source would offer lots of pricey options, but all of their advent calendars come in under $20. I love the creative forms they offer, like this one:

Wiener Werkstätte Advent Calendar

As each day passes you open up the calendar page and add another little ornament to the paper tree. This would be great in a younger child’s room. How fun to have your own little tree!

This next calendar is actually pre-filled, but it replaces the traditional chocolates with Christmas stickers:

My Art Museum Sticker Advent Calendar

I like this idea. However, I have a friend who pointed out that the candy  sugar rush burns off rather quickly, but she could still be staring down a Christmas sticker next July. Any other parents out there want to weigh in on this?

I also like this calendar, because I love the colors and its design. You open each drawer to remove a Nativity scene character, which helps you build a Nativity scene by Christmas Day.  You also turn the drawer around to slowly create a tree full of graceful angels:

Christmas Tree Advent Calendar

It has nice sized drawers, which could be used for other little treats in future years. Aren’t those fun? You can see all of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s advent calendars in their online shop, linked right here.

Ballard Designs

This last source is a company I use a lot with my design clients because they have great quality of construction. If you are a fan of them, too, you might have already spotted some of their furnishing in some of my past client mood boards, which you can browse right here.

I love this advent calendar:

Holiday Countdown Advent Calendar

I like the almost-doll-house feel of it. This is another version of the drawer calendar openings. I like that you could decorate the house more with ribbons and garland to your own tastes. I like the size and that it can sit almost anywhere in a home.

Do you use an Advent calendar in your home during the holidays? Have you been looking for one recently? What is the best thing you ever got from an Advent calendar? Who else is still craving chocolate? Leave a comment and share some holiday cheer!

How to keep your holiday cooking sane

This time of year is a very busy time in my work with clients. Because the holidays are approaching, many of my clients need their projects completed in time to entertain family and friends. My work load at this time of year makes keeping myself organized at home for our holidays more than the usual challenge it is.

With the holidays approaching, the last thing I want is extra last minute trips to the grocery store for forgotten items. This post is about a solution I came up with to fight my own holiday food planning scatter-brained-ness. (Is that a word? It is now.) It looks like this:

Truth be told, a few years ago I had to really search for a favorite old family Christmas recipe. I thought I had lost it and couldn’t remember where I had put it away, very safely, the year before. I eventually found it, but I decided I never wanted to go through that again. For the next year, I needed a new plan.

So, I bought myself a small three-ring binder with a plastic cover, so I could wipe it clean easily. I bought some cheery scrapbook paper to slide into the cover and spine, to help me distinguish this cookbook binder easily when I need it. I labeled the spine and the cover clearly and then started my holiday recipe gleaning.

To protect each recipe, I filled the binder with plastic sheet protectors. I am normally relatively tidy when I cook, but at the holidays, when there are so many dishes and so much conversation going on at once, spills happen.

(Okay, those clear sheet protectors don’t photograph well, but you know what I’m talking about.) Next, I pulled out all of our favorite holiday recipes for the closest approaching holiday of the year, which was Thanksgiving. Then, I typed them up, little by little, over a couple of nights in front of the tv. (Martha Stewart really doesn’t live here.)

After they were all typed, they became the first pages in the new recipe binder. When I got to the next holiday, I just worked on the next batch of recipes. One month after another, I put them in the binder in the order of the year. Here’s a look at a page from December:

By the time Thanksgiving rolled around next year, my holiday recipe book was done. Not only do I now know where these recipes are stored, but my husband does, too, and can we can tag team organizing the grocery lists much more easily. It is also nice to have clean, printable versions of favorite family recipes to share with other family members and friends.

While I was making these pages, I also added in a couple of helpful cheat sheets, like this one from Real Simple:

No more digging around for random tips and slips of paper when we plan or while we cook. I glued my favorite holiday cheat sheets onto a pieces of cardstock and they all get stored together for their holiday between the relevant pages.

That’s my little system for sanity through any holiday cooking extravaganza. I can’t tell you how nice it is to never have to dig around for those recipes every year. Do you have a special way to store your favorite recipes? Have ever lost a favorite recipe? How many recipes do you cook up at your biggest holidays? Share your stories in a comment!

Looking for more home organizational ideas? You can see my running list of them right here, including one of my other favorite cookbooks. Looking for more recipes? Here’s the link to everyone I’ve posted so far.

Fighting ghoulish sugar crashes

We all love Halloween, but after your 18th Butterfinger you may want a little break. But what else can you do with all of that candy? What if there was a way to use that candy create other dessert over the next few months? It could cut down on your cooking time but still produce some yummy treats for your home.

Sounds good, right? Lucky for us, Real Simple magazine has had this idea, too, and has come up with some great ideas. Listed (and linked) below are 10 of their great desserts that use popular Halloween candies. You could even look at them as tools to make the most of those post-Halloween candy sales.

Frozen Reese’s Banana Pops

York Miniatures Peppermint Patties Brownies

Candy Corn and Pretzel Bark

Skittle Meringues

SweeTarts milk shake

Dulce De Leche and Snickers Terrine

Twizzlers-Popcorn Snack Mix

Twix Cheesecake Pie

Peanut M&M’s and Jelly Cookies

Kit Kat-Filled Angel Food Cake

All of the very tempting images in today’s post are courtesy of Real Simple magazine. Want more recipes that use Halloween candy? You can find a lot more of them in Real Simple’s recipe archive, which I’ve linked for you right here.

What kind of treats do you like to give out for Halloween? Do you have a favorite Halloween candy? Do you sneak candy from your kids or slyly take a few extra pieces at work? How long does Halloween candy last in your home? Leave a comment!

And, hey! Did you see the latest giveaway? You can still enter to win it until 1o pm tonight, Eastern time. It could make you feel better about scarfing down all that candy! It also makes a great gift. Enter to win right here, right now!

Less, a lot less, can be more

I love designing small spaces. LOVE it. I think it is the combination of designing über-organization, space planning and essential style/personality that make it fun for me.

As I have shared with you before, I also love to browse house plans. Space planning is one of my favorite things to do and having a blank space like an empty floor plan is my recipe for lots of lovely daydreaming. You can readmore about some of my favorite sources for house plans right hereright here and also here.

So, it is with great delight that I show you the very tiniest house plans that I adore. All of these plans (and all of the house images in this post) are from the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company.

Come on! How cute is that tiny house?!

Tumbleweed Tiny House Company has a great variety of truly tiny and stylish homes. Some of you may recognize the model pictured below. It is called the “Beavan” and was featured in one of the final episodes of this past season of HGTV’s Design Star.

Tumbleweed offers three types of tiny homes. The first type is the “Box Bungalow”, like the “Beavan” model shown above. These very tiny homes are designed to be built on your own location. They make great getaway cabins and could also make a little hobby space or home office behind your regular home.

Did you know that George Bernard Shaw did a lot of his writing in a tiny little house behind his larger home? Here it is:

Image courtesy of wikipedia.com

He just needed a quiet little space away from the main house to focus and do his writing. Shaw was on of the founders of the London School of Economics and here is more proof that he recognized a great economical solution when he found one.

Image courtesy of newstalk.ie

This is also proof that the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company is really on to something timeless and useful.

(Did that last sentence sound like this post is a giant advertisement? Well, it isn’t. I only ever talk about products and companies I actually really like and/or use myself. I like to keep it real so I never get paid for mentioning anything. You can read all about it right here.)

The next type of Tumbleweed Tiny House is the “House To Go”, which have slightly larger floor plans and are portable houses. Like this one:

This is the “Fencl” model and, as you can see, it is designed to be moved to wherever you need it. You can see all of the detailed floor plans (yay!) and more photos for each of their tiny houses on Tumbleweed’s website, such as the “Fencl” floor plan right here:

I think this is a very flexible, creative living space. You can buy the plans and build it yourself or order it ready-made. Think of how wonderful this house could be for victims of terrible disasters like Hurricane Katrina or the huge earthquake in Japan earlier this year. Have house, will travel to safety as needed.

Okay, the last category of houses form Tumbleweed is my very favorite. They are actually “Cottages”, designed to be build on site (non-portable) as guest houses or small homes. They have some great character detailing.

My personal favorite of these cottages is the “B53” model, which is pictured below. This two bedroom home has 777 square feet on two floors.

Could you live in a house that small? Isn’t it amazing how when you hear of people downsizing to small homes that they never miss the extra “stuff” they had filling up their previous home. There is something to be said for living small and having only the things you really love filling your home. (Insider info: We live this way in a historic city neighborhood, which always surprises my clients with larger homes. It might not be for everyone, but we love it.)

Here’s the “B53”:

How great is that curb appeal?!  Don’t you love the porch?

In addition to regular floor plans, you can also see the floor plans for some of these small homes in 3D floor plans. Here is the first floor of the “B53”:

I particularly love the second floor on this plan because of the walk-closet off of the second bedroom. It has a nice window, so you could also use this room as a nursery or a well-lit home office.

What would you do with that bright walk-in closet?

The “B53” comes with a second option for its floor plans, which includes and extra bedroom at the back of the house and takes the square footage up to 874 square feet. You can see it here:

Three bedrooms is very nice for a small house. Did I mention how affordable these homes are? The “B53″model I’ve shown you is one of the largest houses that Tumbleweed Tiny Houses Company offers and its extra-bedroom floor plan has estimated building costs of only $58,000. There are a lot more to choose from in their catalog and you can see all of them on their website.

Could you see yourself in one of these tiny homes? Where would you put one as a vacation home? What is the smallest home you’ve ever lived in so far? How do you feel about the idea of “living small”? Leave a comment and share your thoughts!

Waterworld

Adam’s ale, voda, amanzi, nero, agua, wai, l’eau, shouei, das wasser, el-ma, ama.

We all need these words in our lives, no matter where we live in the world. They represent one of the most important elements in our lives.

Image courtesy of coolcalifornia.org

H20.

It may be our most universal connection to other cultures. Sadly, we may all also be ruining our shared planet with it. That looks a little something like this:

Image courtesy of cleanwaterflorida.com

Problem

This problem may not seem like big news to you, but when you look at the numbers…it certainly bears repeating. Bottled water is a $50-100 billion per year industry. It is handy to have water right when you need it. Plus it makes you feel healthier when you drink it. Nobody gets this better than the bottled water companies.

So you’ve drunk your water and you are feeling good about yourself. What do you do with that empty bottle. Do you recycle it? Odds are, you don’t. Studies tell us that only around 30% of people recycle their plastic water bottles.

The other 70% of people just toss their water bottles in the garbage, which creates 1.4 million tons of trash every year. (And we’re not talking about the estimated 47 million gallons of oil needed to make those bottles to begin with.) Feeling a little less healthy now, isn’t it?

Image courtesy of planetgreen.discovery.com

And this isn’t just hurting the planet, either. It is killing household budgets. If the average single-serving water bottle costs between $1.50 – $2.00, roughly three of those bottles equal a gallon of water. You are spending $6 a gallon on water…that you already pay a separate water bill for at your home. Think about that the next time you complain about gasoline prices…

Solutions

If you feel you have no other choice but to use store-bought water, please try to buy bottles that can be recycled (and not all of them can be). It is estimated that  the energy conserved from recycling a single plastic bottle can light a 60-watt light bulb for six hours.

A more affordable solution is a re-useable water bottle. There are so many options out there today that you can choose between many style and price options to fit your budget. One of the most popular styles today are these types of aluminum water bottles:

5 pack of aluminum water bottles, with fridge stand, for only $22 on Amazon. Just click the picture for the link!

Although, you can find many healthy plastic re-usable water bottles on the market, too. Some people prefer these to be able to see into their water level easier. Just be sure to avoid any re-usable plastic bottle that does’t read “BPA-free”. If we are trying to be healthy, why add more health risks with our water bottles?

Many people choose store-bottled water because they don’t like the taste of their tap water. An easy and cheap solution to this is a water pitcher with a carbon filter, like this one from Brita:

"Brita Slim Pitcher" for only $15 on Amazon. Click the picture to link to the item!

I like to recommend these to all my clients for a reason beyond taste and handiness. It has been suggested that people who don’t ever drink their tap water (a whopping 28% of Americans, by some estimates) tend to be less concerned with funding the infrastructures that provide good water to our homes. The thinking for this goes: “If you ignore a drinking water problem in your own home, you’ll hardly choose to upgrade it for everyone with your vote and tax dollars.” Something to think about, isn’t it?

Do you use a re-useable water bottle or water filter pitcher? They make great Christmas gifts and keep on giving back to the planet all year round. What do you use as a good drinking water solution in your home? Leave a comment and share your solutions. Also, stay tuned for a related free giveaway coming next week!

Want to see more Greener Living ideas? You can see more right here!

Geek check:  The words at the top of the post are the base words for water in English slang, Croatian, Zulu, Greek, Spanish, Hawaiian, French, Chinese, German, Arabic and Cherokee.
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