Thursday, December 18, 2008

When Real Simple gets it right

There is a magazine out there called Real Simple. It used to be one of my favorites, but over the years it has lost it's luster. It seems aimed at people with a LOT more free money on their hands than I'd expect. How to organize closets -- well, gee, if I could afford to buy $500 in supplies (baskets, extra space-saving shelving, and so on) I don't think organizing my closets would be such a mystery! Or the issue where people wrote in on their money saving measures, with one woman being proud to having cut her personal "mad-money" to, like, $70 a WEEK!!! (Ok, I may be off on that, but I'm damn close!) Somehow it just doesn't seem to accurately live up to it's title.
But sometimes they DO get it right. Here are some of their "Five Minute Holiday Decorating Ideas" that I thought were good & on the mark (just for the record though, the one for the $92 painted magnolia wreath only got a good "Yea Right!!" snort from me -- so they won't be in correct numeralogical order, I'm leaving the "yea rights" out!):

1. Posts of Christmas Past: For a mantel with extra flair, collect family holiday cards from previous years and clothespin them to a long, slim stick suspended between two vases. Put them in chronological order and, if you want, date the pins. -- Last year I did something similar. I hung up a simple red ribbon as a garland across our living room curtains. When Christmas cards arrived in the mail, I punched a tiny hole in them & tied them to the garland - ended up being very beautiful. This year, I've begun saving photo cards to work on putting together a similar garland in the future, showing how all of the kids (and us!) have grown! :)

2. Candy Stand: Take advantage of a household cane surplus by securing five or so with colored string or jute, then stick your favorite decorative touch on top. Instant holiday spirit. -- We always seem to have candy canes leftover from the previous year, so this is a neat way to re-use! Also, don't forget what wonderful stir-sticks candy canes make in coffee and hot cocoa!

4. Lend a Hand: Pin mittens—either stray ones or pairs your kids have outgrown—to lengths of yarn and display them along a mantel or a bookshelf. You can also hang kids’ striped wool socks or knit caps. -- Personally we have out-grown winter items I can't bear to part with, so this seems like a nice way to keep them around!

10. Star Power: Even a homemade ornament can pack a decorative punch. Gather a few small sticks from the backyard and trim the ends with sharp scissors. Arrange them into a star shape and tie together with jute or twine. -- This could be a fun thing to do with the kids. You can also tie on some holly or a cinnamon stick for more decoration.

11. Sweet Sensations: Fill pretty glassware with sugar and mini marshmallows, then stuff old-fashioned stick candies inside. A holiday display that looks good enough to eat -- Honestly, I wasn't going to add this one. Anyone with kids knows how long this would last and cringes at the thought of the sugar-high. HOWEVER, for a holiday party this could be quite a cute way to set out some sweets (.... even if I do still think it is still likely a big waste of sugar & marshmallows).

14. Step It Up: Show off some of your most eye-catching ornaments (that might otherwise get lost in your tree). Thread them with different lengths of thin ribbon or string, then tie them to a long, wide grosgrain ribbon wound along the banister. -- We do this with various ornaments and hang them off the chandelier in the dining room, a tip I think I found on Real Simple a year or so ago.

15 & 16. Feast for the Eyes: Gather a bunch of doilies in white and silver and tape them together (or secure with a dab of glue) to form a one-of-a-kind table runner. For an inexpensive wintry centerpiece, fill glass vases and large compotes of different heights with pinecones. Spray-paint them gold and silver for extra sparkle, or leave them as nature intended. -- For a more eco touch, instead of paper doilies use vintage ones you already have, or even just a simple cloth runner you already have. And, if you chose not to paint the pinecones you can compost them when you're done!

27 & 28. Setting Pretty: Turn old holiday cards into place cards. Cut them into star shapes and add tissue-paper cutouts to match; punch a hole, tie with a ribbon, and label accordingly. -- They had something else about lace-like plastic placemats ... a BIG eco-no-no!!! If you MUST buy new placemats, go hit up a local antique mall, and find real lace-doilie style stuff there. You're re-using, recycling, keeping stuff out of landfills, and helping support your local economy. If it is a little stained, it is ok to dye it to match your holiday decor.

31. Skirting the Issue: If each member of your family has, oh, four or five scarves, put some of them to work as a tree skirt. Arrange in a pinwheel fashion around the base of the tree and secure with safety pins -- Ok, if all of you have so many scarves you may need to rethink some priorities here! :P Still, this is a good way to re-use something that can then be re-used again. A caveat though: probably not a good idea if you have curious little pets ... fringe is such a tempting little mistress! :)

32. Stick ’Em Up: Finally, a use for those colorful store-bought bows you’ve saved every year—and a project the kids can do. Take a plain paper plate, cut out the center, and stick bows all over it to create a sweet wreath. -- A wonderful idea and holiday project to share with the kids!

33, 34 & 35. Window Dressing: There’s more to holiday decorating than just the tree and the mantel—consider window ledges and empty bookshelves, too. Place pine boughs in a large vase and hang a handful of ornaments on them. Fill old jars with pistachio nuts, winterberries, or red peppercorns and nestle a tealight on top. Or go for a seashore motif, assembling an array of starfish draped with a length of plain red string. -- With the aside that I think you're ridiculous if you BUY shells for this as they suggest, this is a wonderful idea! We've used the cuttings from the bottom of the tree as decorations before, and our house has small bits of decades-old garland (passed down from grandparents) tucked here and there.

Here is the full link for anyone who might want to see all their suggestions:,21863,1860980,00.html - Obvioulsy I left out several. Some were ridiculously over-priced "solutions", some I thought were dumb, and some while seeming good were impractical for those of us who have kids and pets (stringing together clemetines -- those wouldn't last a night with my dogs and kids!). But you make up your own mind. Like I said, sometimes they hit the nail on the head ... though too many times they miss the nail & just knock an expensive hole in the wall ... or wallet as the case more accurately is.
They did have one other decorating tip regarding candles: 6. A Pine Idea: Perfectly at home in a modern apartment or an Adirondack-style log cabin, these unscented beeswax pinecone candles lend a touch of the forest to any decor. To Buy: Candles (three inches high), $8 each, -- Personally, I need more candles, because I do LOVE burning them, but I wanted to buy something a little more eco-friendly. Here is my new favorite site and where I would recommend buying pinecone candles from. They're a small, family-run company in North Carolina, and their prices are better (for the 3" pinecone candles anyway) than -- Check it out, they have holiday ones along with fall-themed ones, and of course the standard taper, votive, & tealight ones which I am currently longing for!!

No matter how you decorate (LED lights this year?? We're working our way to switching completely over!) and what you celebrate, think beyond spending and current "must-have's". Think about sustainability, what you can use again (and in different ways!) over the years, what can be safely composted, what supports your local economy or small, family-run businesses. We all talk about when the holidays "meant more" than just shopping and bills. Make it mean more by truly putting more thought into it. Even if this post is a little late for this year, it isn't too early to start thinking about next year! A little fore-thought is one of the keystones of sustainability.

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