Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Beautiful Empire Beds

Beds are perhaps the most personal piece of furniture that we can purchase.  We spend approximately one-third of our lives sleeping, so it's important to have a bed that is both comfortable and pleasing to the eye.  For me, nothing embodies these two characteristics quite like an empire bed.  Upon first glance, empire beds convey a feeling of luxury, style, and comfort that you just don't find in newer styles.

The Empire style has its origins in France at the height of the Napoleonic empire, and often feature elements of Egyptian culture in the designs (since Napoleon was fascinated by that country).  Furniture of this style can appear bulky or heavy by today's standards; but if you like solid wood pieces, this is something you'll definitely want to check out.  

Empire beds originally were very low, with oversized headboards and footboards, but these days the styles vary greatly.  For example, a classic American-style Empire bed looks like a sleigh since the wood is rolled over -- just like the front of a sleigh.  Other Empire bed designs can leave the bed looking like a gondola or a boat.  And, yes, these beds are big enough to pull off the metaphor!

If you want to purchase an Empire bed for your home, you have several options.  This style remains very popular even today, so you'll be able to find brand-new Empire beds in a furniture showroom near you.  You might have to stick with the upscale stores for this kind of purchase, since these beds are usually quite expensive (especially if you want one that is of superior craftsmanship).

A second option you have is to hit the antique furniture trail.  You can search for Empire beds that are in excellent condition and use them as is.  Or, if you are into furniture restoration, you can make the bed your new project.  Choosing the antique route can save you some money, particularly if you do have to perform some touch-up work.  Just make sure that you can actually handle the amount of restoration that the bed requires.

A third option for Empire bed enthusiasts is to have the piece custom-made by an expert furniture maker in your area.  Then you can get a bed made specifically for you in the style and dimensions that you specify.  This is great if you have smaller rooms but still have your heart set on an Empire bed.  Although this sounds expensive, you shouldn't dismiss the idea of custom furniture without giving it some thought.  After all, you actually have a bit of control over the cost.  For example, instead of using a pricey wood such as mahogany, you can ask the furniture maker to use a cheaper wood.  Many furniture shops are more than willing to make adjustments to the details of the transaction in order to arrive at a price that is satisfactory to both parties.

If you are thinking about getting a new bed, why not check out the classical styling of a beautiful Empire bed?  You'll feel like a million bucks every time you slip into one of these luxurious pieces!


Sectional or Sofa?

When it comes to outfitting your living room or family room with furniture, you'll be faced with many choices.  Among them will be whether to go with a sofa or a sectional in your main seating area.  There are benefits and drawbacks to each choice, so let's take a look at some of the key areas that you need to evaluate before making your final decision.

First of all, you'll need to consider how much space you have in the room you want to decorate.  This might limit your choices right off the bat, so it's better to take your measurements before you go shopping and find a piece that you just must have.  A sectional will usually take up significantly more space than a sofa.  That means if you've got a rather confined space to work with, you should probably stick with a sofa.  On the other hand, if you've got a pretty large space, then you could go with either choice.  If you go with a sofa in a large space, you'll likely want to purchase arm chairs, a love seat, or other items to help fill out and balance the room.

Do you stick with one look for a long time or do you prefer frequent change?  If you prefer frequent change, you'll want to go with a sectional.  Sectionals consist of several separate pieces that can be rearranged into various combinations.  So if you get tired of a particular setup, you can quickly and easily move the pieces around for a fresh look and feel.  

It's also possible to get a different feel from a sofa, but this would have to come from accessories such as pillows, slipcovers, bolsters, etc.  Basically, you'll pretty much have the same look for as long as you elect to keep the piece.

Since most of us have limited amounts of cash to spend, price is almost always a major factor in decorating decisions.  Sofas are typically cheaper than sectionals right off the bat.  But that's only if you don't have to purchase any additional pieces for your room.  If you have chairs and/or a love seat, or if you are willing to have a room with just a sofa in it, then you'll be fine with this choice.  

Sectionals are more expensive at the outset, but you get more pieces.  So even if you're furnishing an empty room, you won't have to buy a love seat or any extra chairs.  In most cases, the sectional alone will suffice.

Personal Preference
All of the above considerations are important ones, but they don't really matter unless you actually like the piece you end up choosing.  Furniture is a huge part of our lives -- even if we tend not to notice it most of the time.  The furnishings we purchase have a great amount of influence on the way we feel about our homes; so above all else, you should make sure that you choose a sofa or sectional that will give you and your family years of enjoyment.

Displaying a Collection

By Christina VanGinkel

Decorating a room around a collection can provide you with a theme, or at the least, a focus to build on. However, if your collection is too overwhelming for the room to begin with, you may end up with just a mess instead of a decor for the room. To make sure this does not happen, ask yourself first why you want to incorporate the collection into the room in the first place. Do you feel that the collection has something to offer both the room and your home overall, or are just looking for somewhere to dump it because you do not want to part with it for some reason or another? If it were for the second reason, I would highly recommend that you find an alternative place to store the collection. If it is the first reason, that you honestly feel that the collection has something to offer, be it class, attitude, style, what have you, then take a serious look at the collection itself to evaluate what it contains and assess how you plan to incorporate it into the space.

Begin by going through the collection piece by piece. Make sure that each piece actually belongs in the collection. Too often, we get busy building a collection of one type or another, and if something even remotely seems to fit, we add it. This can lead to both clutter and pieces that we do not even like. This may be hard to do if some of the items in the collection were given to you as gifts and you feel obligated to keep them. Or maybe you bought some of the items yourself, when you first began the collection, and as you learned more about the subject at hand, your tastes changed, even improved a bit if you may say so yourself. Remind yourself that it is your choice on how to decorate your home, and that what another person perceives as an important part of your collection, or even pieces that you thought were nice when you first obtained them, may be nothing more than dust collectors now. Be firm, and if you do not like a piece, remove it from the collection.

Next, consider where you plan to place the collection. Is it of the type that will need to be placed in a central spot, such as a set of elaborate figurines, or is it more of a relaxed collection, say a casual assortment of handcrafted quilts? Let the pieces define the room, not the other way around, especially if you want the room to be a reflection of the collection itself.

However you end up displaying your collection in your home, have fun with it. Even a pristine collection should make you feel glad that you chose to collect and display it. If they make you feel out of place, or awkward in the room, I would hesitate strongly to use them as the basis for the room's decor, no matter how much you enjoy the collection otherwise.

Dealing with Unwanted Holiday Pounds before they Arrive

By Christina VanGinkel

With the holidays, an extra ten pounds or so always seems to arrive, so this year, I have vowed to myself that I will not let this happen. I am going to approach the whole scenario as smartly as I can though. It seems like no matter where I go, I am tempted. Trays of cookies, piles of fudge, rich and creamy eggnog, you name it, it is calling to me to have just a nibble, just a bit. Why, even the counter at the local library was sporting a huge tray of gaily-decorated cookies and it is not even December yet! So, do you know how I am going to answer these calls? I am going to reply with a bit of self-control and even more sensibility.

You can do it too; you just have to prepare yourself ahead of time, and not let the pounds start top build in the first place. Because once holiday pounds arrive, it is hard to get them to leave, sort of like uninvited guests that arrive on your doorstep with piles of luggage and an announcement that they just thought they would stop by for a few months to visit!
Seriously, if you approach the holiday buffets and mounds of goodies with a plan of action, it will be much easier to avoid stacking on the extra pounds then it would ever be to lose them after the fact. To start with, I have decided that I will not say no to every treat that comes my way, because for me personally, it seems that if I tell myself no, I am that much more tempted to eat everything that crosses my radar screen. If I am offered something that I would love to try, I will accept it and take a bite. I may even eat the whole thing, but think of how many times you did just this, and really did not even like what your tried. If this happens, I politely fold the item in my napkin and toss in the garbage at the first chance, all the while reminding myself that I can always have a different treat the next time.

Holidays and the weeks surrounding them are also not the time to be starting a diet. Maintaining your wait should be your goal, not dropping pounds, unless you are already in the middle of a well established, working diet. Even then, if you end up maintaining your wait, and not sliding backwards pound wise, I would consider that a success.

While I would not recommend starting a diet, I would recommend kicking up the exercise, even if it is just a minimum. Park at the back of the mall lot and walk, instead of driving around the lot five times trying to get as close a spot as possible. If you own a treadmill, or other piece of exercise equipment, but rarely use it, now is as good a time as any to dust it off. If you usually dump in more sugar than coffee in your morning cup, or have a large mocha, skip the sugar, or pass on the mocha altogether, especially if you know someone is bringing in a tray of goodies to the office that day.

Small steps such as these will go a lot farther than you would ever think in keeping those extra, unwanted pounds at bay. Now to figure out how to keep out the unwanted company, and this holiday season will be the best yet!

Giving Clothing as a Gift

As the holiday season approaches, it's time to make those gift lists. And many times we find ourselves drawn to the idea of making gifts of clothing to friends and family. This can result in some great picks, but all to often it leads to unfortunate gift mismatches: the wrong size, the wrong color, or just plain wrong. If you keep a few things in mind, though, you can enjoy gift-giving success with clothing.

Teenagers are picky
It's a given that teenagers are going to find something wrong with most clothing gifts that come from family members. It's the nature of adolescents attempting to forge their own identities and break away from their parents in ways big and small. So the sweater from mom will probably result in an upturned nose. Just like with people of all other ages, while one teen may love designer labels, another may prefer thrift shop finds, but their sense of identity can be much more tied up with these clothing choices.

Unless you're absolutely sure that you're in tune with a teen's interests and fashion, skip the clothing gifts. If you would still like to get a teen a practical gift of clothing, consider a gift card. Or for a more personalized gift, invite them on a special shopping trip with you with a pre-set budget.

Don't be afraid to ask
If you've decided that you'd like to give someone a clothing gift, take a few minutes to ask the recipient about their wants and such practical items as sizes. If you want to keep the gift a surprise, ask a spouse or parent to find out for you. But knowing these details can mean the difference between a great gift and something that will sit unused because it doesn't fit right.

Be observant
When deciding on a gift, look closely at the recipient and really think about their style. A jeans and t-shirt girl probably won't appreciate a long skirt, while a guy who always wears a button-up shirt, even in casual settings, probably won't appreciate a novelty t-shirt.

Don't buy what you like
Now that's not to say that you should buy things that you hate, but you should make sure you're buying clothing with the gift recipient in mind rather than just buying something you would like to wear. Several years in a row, I endured embroidered denim shirts from my grandmother because she enjoyed the style.

Keep the receipt
Whether you bought the wrong size or it's just something the gift recipient can't see himself wearing, tuck a gift receipt in the package. That way, they can return it without feeling like they're insulting your taste. It's perfectly reasonable to want to remove the price from a gift, but do it in a way that keeps the UPC intact for easier returns.

Overall, giving the gift of clothing is a tricky process, but if you keep the above pointers in mind, you can enjoy stress-free clothing giving. And just keep telling yourself that it's the thought that counts.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Importance of Scale

When it comes to designs of any kind, the concept of "scale" is a very important one.  For example, blueprints of buildings, houses, and just about everything else are drawn to scale in order to give people an idea of how big -- or how small -- the finished product will be.  

The concept of scale is no less important when it comes to interior design.  However, when we are talking about scale in terms of furniture, we mean it a bit differently than an architect or engineer does.  Instead of the ratios that architects and engineers work with, interior designers are more concerned with the actual fit of furniture in the room where it is intended to be used.  Let's take a look at some of the components of scale as it relates to furniture and home decor.

The first thing that you'll want to do when choosing new furniture is to bear in mind the dimensions of the room that each piece will be placed in.  This means you should measure the height, width, and length of the room, and select your furniture accordingly depending on the measurements that you take.  In order for a room to look its best, it is critical that the furniture be neither too big nor too small; that is, you want the furniture to be scaled to the size of the room.  This helps ensure that you use your space wisely, and also adds aesthetic value to your design scheme.  In fact, if you look through some interior design magazines or books, you'll see that the really beautiful homes contain furniture that appears to have been made specifically for those rooms.  The pieces fit perfectly, and enhance the living space.  That's the concept of scale in action.

When considering the scale of new furniture pieces, it's also very important to take into account the measurements of any existing pieces that will remain in the room with your new items.  Just as you want your furniture to be scaled appropriately according to the room, you also want it to be scaled correctly in relation to other furnishings.  This will bring a sense of unity to the room, which is a goal that most people have when they decorate their homes.  For example, if you have a large sofa, then you shouldn't have a tiny coffee table or a small wing chair.  That throws off the balance of the room and shows a lack of scale.  Instead, you should choose pieces that are complementary in both looks and size.  

As you can see, there is a great deal more to interior design than simply selecting any piece of furniture that is visually appealing to you.  If you really want a beautiful home, there are additional concepts, such as scale, that you need to pay attention to.  It may seem a bit complicated at first, but once you actually start measuring and decorating based on your measurements, you'll get the hang of it.  And if all else fails, there's certainly nothing wrong with calling in a professional to help you!

Decorating With Shaker Furniture

If it's time for a whole new look in your home, you might want to consider decorating with Shaker furniture.  Many people have heard of this style before, but few can explain what it actually is or describe some of the typical pieces you might find in a Shaker collection.  In this article, I will attempt to do both of these things for you.

The Shakers were a relatively small religious sect that peaked in popularity in the late 1700s and early 1800s in the eastern United States.  Their religion was very strict and ascetic, and these qualities really come through in their furniture.  Many sources of information on the Shaker lifestyle point out that original Shaker furniture was always meticulously handcrafted with careful attention to detail.  Furthermore, the furniture was characterized by its plain, unadorned look and its extreme functionality.  For example, one article that I read said that many Shaker furniture pieces, including chairs and small tables, were able to be hung on walls when not in use, thus creating more space in every room.

The Shaker style of furniture is still very popular today.  One reason for its lasting importance in the world of interior design is that the furniture has a timeless look that will work with nearly any kind of decorating scheme that you can think of.  This versatility obviously has great appeal for many people.

These days, you have countless retail outlets to choose from when deciding where to purchase your Shaker furniture.  First of all, there are smaller furniture houses where each piece is handmade -- just like original Shaker furniture was.  Because the pieces are handmade, the proprietors are often willing to work with you to accommodate your specific needs.  So if you want your Shaker furniture made from a particular kind of wood, or if you have a certain design in mind, you should go with a smaller shop because they are more likely to handle custom orders.  Of course this means you'll pay a premium price for the finished pieces, but it is well worth it if you have your heart set on custom furniture.

The second choice you have is to purchase mass-produced furniture from regional or national chains.  Mass-produced Shaker furniture can still be very attractive and is often of very high quality.  Although there isn't as much allure to mass-produced furniture as there is with handmade items, you'll often have more designs to choose from.  In addition, you won't have to wait weeks or months for your furniture.  You can take delivery on the very same day that you select and pay for your pieces.  And finally, you'll often pay significantly lower prices for mass-produced furniture.  So if you're working with a tight budget, this is definitely the way to go.

If you want to decorate your home with beautiful furniture that will look great for many years to come no matter what the current trends, then I encourage you to check out Shaker-style furniture.  I'm sure you'll love the functional, clean look of this style as much as I do!

Hickory Farms

By Christina VanGinkel

Hickory Farms is a name synonymous with good food, great gifts, and holiday fare. They have built a reputation through the years as a company that cares about its customers, and they back up that reputation through making sure that they ship only quality items, in a timely fashion, and at reasonable prices. Well known for their cheese and sausage gifts, they have expanded through the years and carry a wide variety of items made exclusively for gift giving, including fresh fruits, sweets, nuts, desserts, seafoods, premium steaks and other fine meats. They also have a gourmet pantry, where they offer select condiments, breads, appetizers, and more.

If you want to give from more than one category, they have made that easy to do, with a build your own basket or tower of gifts selection, and as always, they offer a choice of gift certificates in a variety of denominations. If you are looking for a gift that will truly show how much you care, month after month, try one of their Gift of the Month clubs, which includes an impressive selection to choose from, including;

Championship Cheese Club
6 month Coffee Club
Dessert Plan
Several Gourmet Food Plans
Fruit for all Seasons Club in a regular or Deluxe choice
Their Light Bite Fruit Club in regular or Deluxe
Variety Fruit Club
Their ever-popular Steak for Two Plans
Holiday Steak Plan
And their Favorite Food Plan

With so many choices, you will be able to find a gift worthy of even the most discriminating recipient on your list. I have also found that a gift of food is always welcome, especially when given to someone that already has everything. You know the type, normally a relative or good friend that you really want to get something special for, yet no matter what you think of, they probably already have it. A gift from Hickory Farms is just what you need for them, and you can always find something new from their wide assortment to give them, even if you have given them a gift from Hickory Farms in the past. You could choose something from a different category each year, and not run out of choices for years to come!

This year, they have also taken our troops overseas into consideration, along with the pocketbooks of its many customers who may be thinking of sending one of their many gift choices to anyone with an APO/FPO address, by waiving the additional fee normally required for those addresses. This fee is being covered by Hickory Farms themselves, allowing the cost of shipping to these addresses not to exceed the cost of shipping one of their fine gifts to any other address stateside. With the cost of shipping on the rise with everything else these days, this discount is a welcome addition to our holiday budget.

Shop Hickory Farms online, conveniently, from the link right here at, for fast, secure ordering, sure to be delivered to all of your favorite people on your holiday list this season.

Bake Ware Sets

By Christina VanGinkel

Bake ware sets are always a good gift during the holidays for anybody on your list that loves to be in the kitchen. My daughter for example, may not get much time to bake, as she travels with her husband, extensively, for work. Nevertheless, whenever they are able to grab a few days at home, one of her favorite pastimes is to cook and bake. So much to the point that a few weeks back, she charmed her husband into buying her a brand new stove, even though they are only home a few days a month!

One of her comments that caught my attention though, was that when she did have the time to bake, she often did not have the size pan that was called for in whatever recipe she had discovered. She had been picking up a pan here and there, but just the basics, such as a rectangle cake pan and a pie dish. I though that if I could find a set that came with a variety of sizes, she would be able to spend those moments she finds baking, and not worrying about whether she has the right size bake ware or not.

Did they even make sets such as that, I wondered. The quickest way to find out would be to look right here at I ran through the list under Merchandise, and found a listing for bake ware sets. Perfect!

Sure enough, I found exactly what I was looking for, plus a few additions that I never even thought of. The set that I knew immediately that would please her was a Chefmate Nonstick 5-pc. Bake ware Set. It had all the essential baking pans that anyone would want, including two round cake pans, for baking a layer cake, a 9" diameter biscuit pan, a good-sized cookie sheet, and a roasting pan that measured 13" long, by 9" wide. Besides this set though, I was immediately taken by the Pyrex 16-pc. Starter Set. It had measuring cups, dessert dishes, mixing bowls, covered casseroles dish, and a square sculptured cake dish and 3-qt. sculptured oblong baking dish, both with plastic covers for taking along or storing. The best part of this set is it was oven, microwave, and freezer safe. This would compliment any other baking essentials she already owned, and at a price of less than $35, it would be hard to assemble even a portion of the pieces for close to the same price.

I also found a Chicago Metallic Gourmetware Non-Stick Checkerboard Cake Pan that is used for making exactly as the name states, a checkerboard cake. I remember my mother having a similar set, and she always received tons of compliments whenever she used it to make a cake. Now comes the easy part, ordering these sets directly through, so that they arrive in time for the holidays! I may have to cheat and give her the checkerboard set before the big day though, as it would be fun to have one on the table for dessert this holiday season!

My Favorite Snack Crackers

I've made no secret about being an avid snacker.  And while I love my chips, candies, and cookies, there are certain times when I want nothing more than to sit down in front of the TV and unwind with a box of my favorite crackers.  The great thing about crackers is that they are a very versatile snack.  You can enjoy them straight out of the box or take some time to prepare them with various toppings (cheese, peanut butter, cold cuts, etc.).  I usually just like to get down to the snacking part, so I hardly ever add toppings to my favorites.  Then again, these are so tasty by themselves that I don't think I'm really missing anything.  At any rate, here is a short list of my all-time favorites.

Chicken in a Biskit
I've been eating these crackers since I was a little kid, and I really like them.  The trouble is, I can't say precisely why I like them.  They have an excellent flavor, that's for sure.  But I'm just not sure what that flavor is.  From the name of the cracker, you'd guess that they're chicken-flavored; however, that's not exactly it.  Let's just say that the taste is hard to describe, but that it's good -- and leave it at that.  Another reason that I like these crackers is that they are thick and crunchy, so you feel like you're getting a substantial snack out of them.  You can eat a couple of handfuls and be satisfied.

Triscuit wafers are also an old standby from my childhood.  These days they come in a bunch of different flavors, such as Garden Herb and Rosemary & Olive Oil.  From what I understand, these crackers are actually pretty healthy in that a single serving provides something like 13% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of dietary fiber.  Most people prefer to add toppings to their Triscuits, but not me.  I love all of the flavors, including Original, without any extra adornments.  So if you're looking for a healthy, yet still very hearty and flavorful cracker, it's time for you to rediscover Triscuits.    

Cheese-Flavored Ritz Bits
These are bite-sized sandwiches made from Ritz crackers and cheddar cheese.  They are absolutely delicious and I can never get enough of them!  Ritz crackers are very light and buttery, and they taste perfect with cheddar cheese.  In fact, I really have to watch myself when eating Ritz Bits because it's so hard to stop eating them that I'm liable to go through a large quantity in a very short time.  This is a great snack for people who want more than just crackers but who don't want to spend extra time in the kitchen preparing their own toppings.  Ritz Bits are available in three different flavors and also come in single-serving bags that are perfect for popping into your children's lunchboxes (or even your own).    

Well, these are just a few of my all-time favorite snack crackers.  The next time you are at the grocery store, be sure to pick up a box for yourself.  Who knows -- you may end up liking them as much as I do!

Monday, November 28, 2005

The Benefits of Wool Socks

Most of my female friends are very much into fashion.  They care a lot about their clothes, and go out of their way to update their wardrobes as frequently as possible in order to keep up with the latest trends.  However, they hardly give their socks any thought at all.  In fact, most of them look for the cheapest pairs they can find, and often buy their socks at discount stores such as Wal-Mart or Target, even though these same women would never dream of buying "regular" clothing from these stores.

Well, I'm here to tell you that sometimes it pays off to buy more expensive socks, particularly when you splurge for a material such as wool.  If you've never used wool socks, then you are definitely missing out on a great experience!  But first, you have to get past the price.  A quality pair of wool socks will set you back anywhere from $15-$25, depending on the store that you buy it from.  Obviously, name brands cost more than generic brands, but you'll probably be getting better material -- which, after all, is what you want.  You can see why a lot of people would be put off by a price that is several times higher than what you would pay for ordinary cotton socks.

So what, exactly, are you paying all that money for?  What makes wool socks so great?  First of all, wool socks are very thick.  That means they keep you much warmer than regular cotton socks.  This is important if you spend a lot of time outdoors in the winter.  For example, if you hunt, hike, like to go sledding, tobogganing, or participate in any of a number of other activities, you'll appreciate having your feet kept warm by a great pair of wool socks.  And it sure beats having to layer on two or three pairs of regular socks, which just isn't very comfortable at all!

There is a second benefit to wool socks.  Because of the thickness of the socks and the natural properties of wool, your feet will stay dry and enjoy extra protection against blisters and other ailments that arise from walking around a lot.  So again, this is precisely what you need for outdoor activities, or even for just trudging around the mall or back and forth across campus.

You can purchase high-quality wool socks from most sporting goods stores or outdoor specialty stores.  In addition, some clothing retailers such as Eddie Bauer and LL Bean usually have a large selection of wool products to choose from.  And as always, you can get online and in just a matter of seconds call up thousands of websites that sell good wool socks.

Isn't it time you started treating your feet right?  Check out wool socks at your favorite store or website today and you can begin enjoying all the benefits of this luxurious hosiery in no time at all.  Once you discover how warm and comfy your feet are in your new wool socks, you'll never want to wear cotton socks in winter again!


Give a Gift of Charm

By Christina VanGinkel

I have talked in the past about my charm bracelet from when I was a young girl, and in thinking about it today, I realized that this would be an excellent gift for any young girl this holiday season. Charm bracelets are the perfect personalized gift, which will show any young woman in your life that you listen to their ramblings, and know some of their likes and dislikes. The best part of the gift though, is that it will provide you with a focus for future gifts, and I cannot imagine any young girl not being pleased with such an eloquent gift.

Think of all the different charms you can give as gifts in the coming months and years, to celebrate and mark momentous moments, such as graduation, sweet sixteen birthdays, joining band, becoming a cheerleader, various sport interest, and many, many more. There are charms available in just about any theme you could imagine and then some.

The charm bracelet itself has much history behind it, yet no clear origin. We do know that they have been around since ancient times, and have always been perceived as a source of good luck to the wearer. If you believe this, you can consider the added gift of good fortune to those you bestow such a lovely item on too! Charms can be added to commemorate a special event, time, or just because, as in when a husband or lover would give one to his woman just to show his love. Today, they seem to be almost a wearable example of the ever-popular scrapbook! If an item is tiny enough and can be affixed to the bracelet, it can become a charm.

Begin by finding them the perfect bracelet. Do a simple search right here at for 'charm bracelet'. The selection from this trouble-free search will provide you with numerous choices, including several plain style bracelets awaiting your own selection of charms, a couple with individual charms to get the gift started, and even a few that are filled to overflowing with an assortment of charms already applied. For the sake of this gift, choose a plain version, or one with a single starter charm, such as the Heavy Sterling Silver Rolo Heart Charm Bracelet, that at 7 1/2 " will be perfectly sized for just about any teen girl or younger. If you are looking for gold, or even a copper one, you will also find several fine examples in these finishes. Do not feel as if the charms must all match the base metal of the bracelet though, as half the fun of the charms are their individuality and uniqueness from one to the next.

The only problem with giving a gift such as this is that you will suddenly realize what a great gift it would make for other girls you know, or even yourself. Charms are much like many other favorite things in life; they are hard to stop at just one, the more you see, the more you want. Buy one for someone you love today!

Holiday Aftermath: Fit Back into Your Clothing!

If you are dreaming of a new wardrobe or maybe just fitting into the one you already own when the holidays are over, there are some basic "rules" to memorize and internalize. When you decide to rid yourself of the extra poundage it will help if you keep these rules in mind when that very important "day one of my diet" arrives.

The first thing to remember is that fad diets rarely work. We have all heard that the only way that really works to get rid of extra weight and then to keep it off is to do it slowly with your food choices and exercise. Many fad diets are also missing key nutrients that we need for good health, so diets that were all the rage in the past are suddenly known to cause huge health problems.

No matter what type of healthy diet you choose to follow, there are some basic things that can help us with weight loss while also keeping us successful with reaching whatever goal we have set.

The first tip is most likely something we all learned in high school health class. Drink a lot of water when you are dieting. This is for a variety of reasons, two of which are that it keeps us healthy and it also helps us feel fuller when we have put less food into our tummies than we are used to eating. Try to have at least six 8-ounce glasses of water when you are dieting, but eight 8-ounce glasses is definitely better.

Be sure that you don't have too many diet soft drinks or fruit juices during this time. Granted they have no calories, but there are other additives that you will not want to put into your body in large amounts. It is fine for once in a while, but try to have water for most of your drinks.

Another helpful thing that we all learned in school classes is to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. It is always important to eat a proper number of servings of these foods, but it becomes even more important when trying to lose extra weight. Fresh fruit has few calories, but often vegetables have even fewer. Of course this doesn't mean we can soak the cooked vegetables in melted butter or cheese sauce. One thing many dieters consider a godsend is the spray butter available now. Give your vegetables a squirt or two and you will not have to add more calories onto your daily tally.

Probably the most important thing you will be doing is to remember your portion control. If you are used to having a huge bowl of cereal each morning, as one example, you will need to actually measure out the amount the box says is a serving size. It may surprise you to find out that you had been eating two or maybe even more servings at a time in the past.

Sit down and make a list of ways you can change the former eating habits. Anything, no matter how small, will help you in this journey. Sometimes even the smallest change will be something that you will see makes the biggest difference. Be sure to keep a food diary of everything that you eat so that you will have a true count.

Things You May Not Know about Harry & David

I wrote two blogs about holiday shopping at Harry and David last week. (Found online at That very afternoon I found a catalog from them in the snail mail and got hungrier as the pages passed by. There are a few facts I picked up from the catalog that I had not realized in the past and they are important to know, at least to me, when choosing to do gift shopping with Harry & David.

The first thing that impressed me was their guarantee that they call in the catalog "the strongest guarantee in the business." The guarantee states that the buyer as well as the gift recipients must be delighted with the gift and the purchase or Harry & David will "make it right" by either replacing it or issuing a refund. This kind of guarantee becomes extra important in my opinion, for places that sell food items such as this.

Another thing that impressed me was that most of the fruit that is sold either separately or via their "Fruit of the Month" club is grown in their own orchards. The company is based in Medford, Oregon, so much of the fruit you are receiving is Oregon grown. The few things they don't grow in Oregon are chosen very carefully from only the best world-wide orchards.

Secondly, if you buy baked goods from Harry & David, those goods are baked fresh before sending them off to you. The same goes for the confections you buy here, the chocolates . . . everything made right there.

Okay, so all that sounds rather impressive but then I continued reading and found out that they also design their own gift boxes, ribbons, and baskets at Harry & David! As the catalog says, it gives the gifts they sell a unique personal touch. It certainly does. When you place an order and it is time for it to be shipped, everything is packed up by hand for its journey to your home.

Although I had spent a considerable amount of time poking around Harry & David's online website, there are things I saw in the catalog that I had missed online. Many of the baskets would make fabulous gifts for the people I need to shop for.

Highlighted in my memory this time was the "Twelve Days of Christmas Tower." To begin with, the boxes are especially beautiful with their artwork, but the goodies inside look delicious, too. Imagine having twelve boxes each with their own treat hidden inside. What kind of things will your family be finding in these treasure boxes?

(1) Royal Riviera (r) Pears
(2) Mountain Apples and Royal Beurre (r) Pears
(3) Shortbread Cookies
(4) Chocolate Truffles
(5) Chocolate Moose Munch (r) Popcorn
(6) Cheddar Cheese
(7) Bing Cherry Chocolates
(8) Sugar Plums
(9) Baklava
(10) Deluxe Mixed Nuts
(11) Wild 'n Rare (r) Preserves (3 kinds)
(12) Assorted Chocolates

That is just one of the numerous towers they offer. Take some time to see what each tower includes and you will be setting up for a very memorable holiday season! Some towers offer items such as smoked salmon, crackers, mints, relishes, in addition to those items already listed.

Magazine Menu Planners

By Christina VanGinkel

I am sure you have seen them in magazines, those helpful menus for the upcoming month, with a few days left blank for days to eat out or get take in, and the rest of the days filled with menu ideas for the corresponding day's main meal. They look promising, and many of the recipes even sound delicious. The only problem being that your family would be reluctant to try even one of the meals listed, let alone all of them. Keep in mind though that they are what they are, menu ideas, so use them to build on for a fresh menu plan, to help you dig out of serving the same old meals day after day!

Revamp that monthly menu list into a menu builder. I just tear out the one from my favorite magazine and take a Sharpie to it, but if you like things neat and clean, print off a monthly calendar from your computer's graphics program or from a program such as Microsoft Works or Word. Be sure to print a version that will provide enough room for you to make a notation about the days menu in the box, and while you are at it, also print off four shopping list, one for each week of the month, or as many as you need to equal how you do your shopping. (I have a friend who actually shops only once a month for groceries, so she makes one list a month. I like to be organized, but I have yet to figure out how to shop only once a month!)

Start with the menu list provided in your favorite magazine, and read through the menu ideas. If any are workable as they are, either circle them or write them into your own calendar that you made. Go over the needed ingredients and mark down anything you will need to buy on your shopping list. As I said before, I do this weekly, but do it however often it works for you. If there are recipes that are an absolute no for your family, cross them off and fill those days with tried and true recipes from your own collection. This is where a new calendar printed off would come in handy, especially if you end up crossing off many of the recipes. If something looks promising, or interesting, yet you do not think your family will eat it as it is listed, consider how you could alter the recipe to make it into something new your family has not eaten before, yet using some familiar ingredients. For example, a recipe a few months back called for an egg filling that had olives listed as an ingredient. I do not eat olives, nor does my youngest son, so I crossed off the olives and added tomatoes, which in my thinking is a much better match for eggs anyhow.

We still end up eating many of the same dishes as we always have, but by taking advantage of these menu planners, it has prompted us to try a few new dishes, revamp a few old ones, and realize what my family's favorite meals are.

Turning a Garage into an Extra Room?

If you are running out of space and need an extra room for a family room or rec room, have you considered doing something with an attached garage? There are many factors to take into consideration and it may not work for you, but my sister has done this and every time I see it, I'm amazed how well it worked for her.

I will just describe how it was in her case and maybe it will be able to spark an idea or two for someone. To begin with, the garage needs to have a finished floor, of course. In the case of my sister's extra room, the garage had a finished floor and was big enough that part of it is still being used as a garage.

The garage was first built to sit beside her house. That posed a huge problem in turning it into an extra room, of course, so they built a breezeway (foyer, or whatever term you wish to use for that kind of area) between the garage and house and suddenly they were joined. The breezeway is now decorated in a country theme and offers a nice "quiet place" for reading or craft work.

The garage itself is not heated but they use a large kerosene heater and it does the job very well. The garage room is now used for parties, family gatherings, and anything else one of the family members wants to do with the room. There are area rugs in part of it with comfortable chairs arranged around a television set. That particular area of the garage room is heated with the furnace that is in that corner.

When it is time for a bigger gathering, they borrow long tables and chairs and there is plenty of room for many people. If it is a buffet dinner party or another party where the food is offered in buffet style, there is plenty of room where the buffet tables can sit.

For anyone deciding to do a project like this, you may want to do even more and hang some kind of room divider between the "social" area and the things that one would expect to find in a garage. How much you do or don't do in that area of decorating is up to you.

In what ways could you use your extra garage room? Do you have too many books and no place to go with them? Start looking for shelves at garage sales or in the "for sale" section of the newspaper and turn your extra room into a library. Add some comfortable chairs and a table and you have the start of a personal library. Often businesses for whatever reason will give such shelving away free.

If your room will be heated you may consider turning it into your computer room or a home office. There are numerous things for which having an extra room would be a great idea for a family. Do you have workout equipment such as an exercise bike, weight lifting equipment, or a treadmill?

Do you have children who enjoy playing board games or cards? If so, put up a card table in part of the room. Do the kids need a separated toy room? Whatever you decide to do with an extra room such as this, having the additional space will certainly benefit your family and value of your home.

Host a Holiday Party with No Fuss or Stress!

With all the chaos that always comes along with the month of December, there is a way to take some of the pressure off of your shoulders. If you enjoy hosting parties during the Christmas season, keep it stress-free by allowing others (pre-made food) to do a lot of the work for you this year.

One idea is to serve only finger foods with your drinks, punch, soft drink, or whatever your guests will be drinking. It really isn't difficult to come up with an entire buffet table full of foods that can be picked up with and eaten with one's fingers.

Check out the supermarket's gourmet cheese section and you may be amazed. Many cheeses from all around the world are now available in most of the major (and many smaller) supermarkets. Serve a variety of cheeses from different world locations and try to use a place card with each so that your guests can have the pleasure of knowing what it is that they are eating.

If you plan to serve cold sausages (salami roll, ring bologna, summer sausage, etc.) with the cheeses, it is a great idea to have a variety of mustards available, including a sweeter "dipping mustard."

While you will be buying most of those things ready to serve, pick up a loaf or two of the small cocktail bread slices (often found in the deli section of the store) and make up little sandwiches with the cocktail bread. Fillings can be salads such as egg salad, chicken salad, seafood salad, etc. or you can have cold cuts folded up so that everyone can prepare their sandwich of choice. Be sure to have condiments such as horseradish sauce and mustard nearby if guests are making the sandwiches. Keep the bread or already made sandwiches covered with plastic wrap for the duration of the party so that it won't dry out.

There is a very easy and stress-free recipe to make that will be a "homemade" offering on your party buffet table. If you have other recipes this easy, by all means, now is the time to serve them. This is a cheese ball that takes just a couple of minutes to prepare. It will be served with a variety of crackers. If you are having a larger party, you may want to have two of these cheese balls available.

Make this the morning of your party and allow it to chill throughout the day. Mix everything together and shape it into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill. The ingredients that will be mixed together are 3 or 4 ounces of dried chipped beef, 8 ounces cream cheese (be sure that this has been brought to room temperature and softened), 1 tablespoon mustard, 2 tablespoons mayonnaise, and 1 tablespoon minced dry onion.

Anything that you put on the buffet table should allow your guests to enjoy the food without having to use eating utensils. Be sure to have plenty of napkins on hand. Whether or not to put plates out is your choice. If the buffet table is easily accessible, you may want to just let guests nibble as they mingle. If the table is out of the way or in another room, consider putting paper plates out so guests can gather their food in one trip

Making Over a Room

By Christina VanGinkel

If you are having problems with the decorating of a particular room, it could be because the room does not have a theme or focus. Sometimes we overlook the obvious when planning a room's decor as to its main use, and in trying to make it into what we perceive it to be, we end up with a disjointed effect. To avoid this happening when planning your own room's redo, first take the time to identify what it is you plan the room's purpose to be.

For example, with a bedroom, we often try to fit another space within the space, such as an office area, reading corner, crafting cubby, or exercise space. Any or all of these may be happily able to co-exist within a bedroom, but maybe not. Did these areas come to be within the bedroom by accident or choice, and if by choice, was the space provided for these activities planned out, or were some items just pushed aside to make room for them. Once you determine if these secondary ventures will remain or not, you will need to truthfully assess the space. If space is at a minimum within the room being redone, can the secondary activity be moved elsewhere, and if so, where to. Just dumping the clutter into another room will not help the progression of the current room, because the clutter will be constantly on your mind.

What do you perceive the room's focus to be, sleeping, a quiet corner away from a busy household, or an oversize dressing room? A bedroom, or any room, can mean something very different to one person than it does to the next. You have to identify what the room means to you before you can successfully redo it.

As with any revamping of a space, clear the clutter, and do it systematically. Sort and resort is my motto. Once the clutter is cleared, and the room's main function has been identified, look at what items you have in the room, and what needs redoing. As we were using the bedroom as an example, I will continue with that theme. Is the bedding worn and old, or is it something you have because you actually like it. If it is the first, get rid of it and redo it in something that echoes what you want to feel when you walk in the room. If it is the second, consider the colors in it and try to remember why you bought it in the first place. Use this information in the rest of the room.

Wall color in any room is the most important factor in the rest of the room's style, so choose wisely. While some people feel that it is just paint, and it can always be easily redone, the majority of us are not so quick to repaint, so pick something that you can comfortably live with. Get samples, paint a big swatch on a wall, and look at it for a few days before making your final decision. Hold up fabrics to the painted swatch to give yourself a better feel for the effect of the paint on your chosen fabrics. If you are still picking fabrics, get samples of those too, and compare them with the paint.

Accessories are important, and you should put as much consideration into them as you have the room's focus, color, and use. Choose wisely, as lamps, rugs, window treatments, and other accessories are often the defining points in a room.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Replacing Bathroom Faucets

By Christina VanGinkel

My bathtub faucet has had an annoying drip for some time. Whenever I mentioned it to my husband, the one person in our household who handles any repairs having to do with plumbing, he would comment that he would get to it. When he never did, I finally put a tub beneath the drip to make a point about just how much water was actually dripping into our septic. Within an hour, the tub was overflowing. Point taken! Luckily, we have an access panel with a shut off valve right at this tub, so in a matter of minutes, we had the panel off, and my husband turned the water off to stop the dripping until we could get to town and purchase a new faucet. Being as it is our front bathroom, used only by guests, this is not really an inconvenience, yet we want to get it fixed as soon as possible.

We had to run to Home Depot that very evening, to pick up a Christmas gift for a friend, so we figured we would just swing by the plumbing department and pick up a new faucet, and as the water was already shut off at the source, we would have it installed in no time. We should know by now, that any repair, no matter how big or small, is never easy when it is in relation to our house. We did not see any faucet set-ups that looked similar to what we needed to replace, so we asked for help from the first salesperson that walked by.

He was friendly, and after explaining to him what we needed, he continued to be friendly, but told us that they carried no faucet set-ups like those that we had just described. They could be special ordered, but would cost considerably more than those on the shelf. What we needed was a unit that had the faucets and the waterspout for the tub all in one piece. He went on to explain that it would be simpler for us to replace the tub wall that the faucet was situated. I do not think so.

As with most things in my shopping experiences of late, I have found out that it would have saved me considerable time to just shop for the item online to begin with. After thanking the sales person for his help, as my husband was contemplating tearing out the tub wall, I steered my husband, handy person that he can be, as quickly as I could to the checkout to pay for the item we had originally come to pick up. I then told him that I would just do a search through, and I was sure that I would be able to find a faucet that would fit our needs, all without having to tear out any walls. Sure enough, within fifteen minutes of arriving back home, I found a faucet that should fit, and if we run into any problems once it arrives, I will be sure to let you all know. For know though, my bathtub walls are intact, and I plan to keep my well meaning husband away from Home Depot for at least the next few weeks, lest he get any more ideas about tearing out walls.

Sporto Waterproof Boots

When I was in high school, I harbored a healthy disdain for the winter months.  You see, high school kids are perhaps the most fashion-conscious consumer group out there, and it's very difficult to look "cool" while trying to protect yourself against the sub-zero temperatures, bitter wind, rain, snow, and sleet that are characteristic of a typical Chicago winter.  The cool kids didn't wear knit caps (beanies weren't popular back then), gloves, or scarves.  And there was also an unspoken rule against wearing snow boots.  Sure, it sounds silly now, and I see the obvious flaws in that line of thinking; but back then, I really bought into the whole thing.  So from November to March, the trek to and from school was sheer misery for me.  

Then something amazing happened.  Some of the popular kids started wearing Sporto boots when it was wet outside, and a whole new trend was born at my school.  Sporto has expanded its product line over the years, but back in the late '80s and early '90s, this company was famous for a particular style of boot known as "duck boots".  The boot came up a couple of inches above the ankles, and was essentially divided into two parts.  The bottom part, which was the height and shape of a regular shoe, was made of waterproof rubber.  The top portion was made of leather, and had laces to close and fasten the boot.  If I recall correctly, the only color combo available was a navy blue bottom with a light tan upper.  At least, that's the color that all the kids wore.

Since these Sporto waterproof boots retailed for about $40, most kids, including me, were able to afford them.  In fact, my mom was so happy to hear that I actually wanted a pair of boots that would protect my feet from the elements that she took me to the mall right away and let me choose whatever I wanted.  That had never happened before.

Of course, there was a "right" way to wear Sporto boots in order to look truly cool.  First of all, you couldn't lace them up.  Instead, you had to put a knot in each end of the laces so that they wouldn't come completely out of the eyelets, then you had to loosen them enough so that you could slip the boots on and off without too much effort.  Second, there was a leather tab at the back of the boots to help facilitate pulling them on.  You had to make sure that your pants cuffs rested on that tab so that your pants didn't fall all the way to the bottom of the boots.  It sounds a little strange now, but it made sense back then.  At any rate, I at least was able to wear some protective gear when it was pouring rain outside.

My Sporto boots worked great, and I ended up owning several pairs throughout my high school and college years.  I've been looking for them again recently, but haven't been able to find that very same duck-style boot.  Oh, well -- at least I still have fond memories of my old pairs!

The Sub Trend

When the local area sprouted chain sub sandwich shops, I was quite skeptical. For years, I had been conditioned by the media and life in general to frequent fast food restaurants. I'm a product of my generation: some of the first people to grow up with fast food restaurants readily available all my life. And fast food restaurants make hamburgers! They don't dabble in subs. They don't serve salads, and they don't sport baked potatoes or soups. Fast food is supposed to be fast, but I also take for granted that it is also bad for you. These were the places that deep fried virtually everything and shoveled greasy burgers across the counter. Nothing about fast food could intersect with healthy food.

And when the sub shops first made their appearance, I didn't like them very much. They served up things that I could easily (and quickly) make at home. Meat choices were limited to salami, bologna, and ham. The bread was white. The cheese was some bland yellow contrivance that tasted as much like a sheet of plastic instead of cheese. Why, I asked myself, should I spend my hard-earned cash to have someone else fix me a cold-cut sandwich that I didn't really like all that well in the name of eating out? I couldn't think of very many reasons, and I stayed out of the sub restaurants for many years.

Then my children came along, and they gave me no choice. They drug me, kicking and screaming, into one sub restaurant after another. I was dismayed. These children who turned their noses up at lunchmeat sandwiches at home would beg to buy them when we were out. The family started heading to the sub places more often than I wanted to admit.

However, I was glad in the end. The sub restaurants have broadened their menus considerably. Instead of offering just the lowly sliced meat sandwiches on white buns, suddenly the sub restaurant serves a variety of breads, plain or toasted. The meat selection has broadened considerably to reflect the tastes of the American population. The toppings and condiments available seem to be more plentiful and have increased variety. Instead of a plain ham and cheese sandwich on a white bun, I now can enjoy a spicy roasted chicken affair on a honeyed whole grain bun. It's dripping with fresh lettuce and tomatoes, and I don't have to have any dressing on it at all if I'm trying to lose weight.

Moreover, there is now variety in the available side dishes. Instead of the overused chips made soggy in spots with the juice of the unwanted dill pickle, I can now indulge in an array of soups, sandwiches, and baked potatoes. It's turned the sub sandwich back into a quick meal that's fun to eat. Moreover, new chains have come to town. Sub sandwiches at these specialty shops bear little resemblance to the ham and cheese or bologna and ketchup creations of my childhood. There are meatball sandwiches, subs with chicken and bacon, and turkey, chicken and egg salad available.

The subs are making their way quickly into the list of fast food favorites. And what's more, many of the sub restaurants offer healthier alternatives than their hamburger cousins. The subs can easily be made low fat, and many restaurants are now offering low carb options as well. People have been freed from the tyranny of the plain sub sandwich and can now choose exactly what they want on their sandwich. It's a winning concept.

The Importance Of The Remote

Written by James Fohl

So you are sitting in your favorite recliner, watching your favorite television shows, while relaxing and eating some junk food. As the show you are watching comes to a commercial break, you bring the recliner back a notch, and think to yourself "What could be better than this".

Watching television is one of America's great past times, and millions of Americans do it every weekday during the evenings. One thing that television viewers love to do, is whenever the commercials come on, they like to surf to other channels, and see what else is on.

But what would all these channel surfers do if they did not have a television remote to change the television channels with? I mean think about it, the television remote is just as important as the television. Without it, you would not be able to sit in your comfy recliner and relax; you would have to sit inches away from the television set and change the channels manually, which really is not that much fund considering how many television channels there are today.

Sure back in the black and white days of the fifties and sixties, television remotes existed for some high end television models, but they really weren't needed. I mean after all, there were only a handful of television stations, and even then it was probably a best bet just to leave the same channel on.

It is not like today, where people with cable have a hundred or so television channels, and people with satellite television have several hundred, if not thousands of channels. Without a television remote, these people would be changing the channels manually long after the show they are looking for is over.

Today the television remote is just not for changing channels and turning the television on and off, but also for changing the settings of the television, and even for ordering pay for view movies.

If you still think that the television remote is not very important, then chances are that you have never lost a television remote. I remember a few years ago when I accidently threw away my television's remote in the garbage. I bought a universal remote to change the channels and all that simple stuff, but whenever the power went out I found out that my television was pretty much useless without the original remote. Because I couldn't access the settings menu using the new remote, I couldn't have the television tuner go past station 19, as it was using an antennae mode instead of a cable television mode. After trying several other universal remote controls, I had to ultimately go out and purchase a new television set.

In the end, if you love watching television then you just have to realize that the television remote is just as important as the actual television set. If you do not believe this, then maybe some day when you lose your television remote, and are unable to change your televisions settings, you will open up to this idea.

The Impact Of Television On Our Culture

Written by James Fohl

If you take a minute or two, and sit down to think about it, pretty much every body living in the United States enjoys watching television. I mean, whether just for a few minutes a day, or for several hours a week, television is an important part of a lot of peoples' lives.

Going a bit deeper into the subject, everybody has their own favorite spot for watching their favorite television programs. Whether people like watching television in their living room, or their bedroom, they always have that specific area in which they sit.

Take for instance the living room, people enjoying television will be sitting on their favorite couch, relaxing in their own personal recliner, or just sprawled across the floor, glaring at the glow of the television.

In the bedroom, the obvious choice is laying on the bed, and drifting off to bed while watching the eleven o'clock news. In other rooms, such as dens, giant bean bag chairs often find themselves filling the niche of the perfect television watching companion.

Television had an impact on American culture back in the 1950's, and to this day still continues to influence our every day lives. Instead of reading a novel, people often go to their local video store and pick up the movie version of the same novel, and go home and watch it on their television set. Instead of eating dinner in the dining room, families huddle around the television set eating their food and watching their favorite television series.

If you think about it, television has really changed every aspect of our lives. From what we do in our spare time, to how we get the news and weather, television has ultimately become embedded into our every day life style. And if you think about it, ever since television became part of main stream American culture in the fifties, it has been under debate.

Sure, Americans may not get the same amount of exercise as they should be getting, and countless phrases such as couch potato have been invented, but you really have to look at the bright side of television.

Television enables viewers to see the whole world, and not just the viewer's local community. Because of this, people were able to learn about other cultures, and it really made the world a more united place. Not only this, but television is also an educational tool. Sure, you can learn a lot while in school, but with the wide degree of television programming, you can learn anything you want to know on pretty much any topic imaginable.

So from having a comfortable watching location, to learning about other cultures, television has really changed the American culture in the past fifty years. While there will always be people in this world trying to convince everyone that television is a bad idea, there will be a million others saying the exact opposite. It is true that television does have its bad impact on society, but so does every other great invention that changes humanity for the better.

Make Your Own Pasta

By Christina VanGinkel

In the busy and fast-paced world we live in today, making pasta seems like something we might catch a glimpse of in a retro movie about a bored homemaker back in the fifties, not something we would be doing in our own kitchens. Think again though, as healthy foods and those mixed with ingredients we can identify, in our own kitchens, is making a comeback. The plus side of this is that with all the tools available today, many that were not so easily accessible back in the day, makes the process of creating foods, such as our own pastas, much easier than anyone would expect.

Browsing the site, I found an assembly of pasta making machines and tools. The first one that caught my attention was the VillaWare V150 Imperia Noodle Machine. It is powered by an easy-to-use hand crank, and is made of heavyweight chromed steel construction for years and years of use. Made in Italy, it has a sturdy clamp that safely holds the machine against a tabletop or counter. It comes with a cutter for spaghetti and one for fettuccine, and comes with easy to follow directions to get you started quickly on your way making your own healthy pasta, plus recipes are included so it comes with everything you need except for the pasta ingredients. Available for less than $40, this is an affordable way to begin.

If you would rather go with a machine that does much of the work for you, consider the Ronco PAS17 Automatic Pasta & Sausage Maker. It not only mixes and extrudes pastas; it also works for sausage, bagels, cookies, and pastry dough. It comes complete with 10 pasta dies, an Asian noodle/potato pancake die, a rugula die, and instruction and recipe booklet, and a video. You can also order 12 other dies separately. This machine is available for less than $100, and is a great starter machine to try your hand at pasta making. Made of plastic, it is a lower ended machine, but perfect for those starting out.

If you would rather try your hand at something less machine intensive, pick up a VillaWare V5500 10-Square Ravioli Maker, along with a rolling pin. In a matter of minutes, literally, you can have raviolis made and in the pot boiling, for as fresh a meal as you will ever eat.

If you find yourself addicted to making pasta, which is a high probability, as once you eat fresh pasta, it will be extremely hard to go back to the boxed product; you will want to pick up the VillaWare V515 Pasta Drying Rack. It is a simple addition to your pasta making supplies, which will costs less than $12 and will be something you use repeatedly.

Making your own pasta is a great way to add fresh, known ingredients to your diet, and is fun to create. Try your hand at this time honored task, and be sure to get your supplies right here at, your one stop kitchen shopping entry point.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Elegance of a Roll Top Writing Desk

If you have a desk in your home, chances are it's a modern-style computer desk, or a "workstation," as they are commonly called.  That means the desk probably has lots of wood shelves and has metal bars supporting the shelves.  You know that kind of look, I'm sure.  It's very functional, and certainly a minimalist's dream.  But these desks just don't do much for your interior design scheme.  If you truly want an elegant desk that will bring a touch of class to your home office or den, then I suggest going with a roll top writing desk.

Roll top writing desks peaked in popularity a couple of decades ago, but I've noticed that they've been making something of a comeback in recent years.  You can tell by the number of furniture stores that are stocking roll top desks these days.  At any rate, if you are young enough not to know what a roll top desk looks like, I will attempt to describe it for you.  The actual size of the desk varies, of course.  You can buy very big ones if you have the space, or you can buy more compact ones if you don't.  The desk usually consists of two pieces:  the writing surface/base and the roll top/shelf area.  The writing surface and base area looks just like any other regular desk with drawers.  The roll top and shelf area consists of letter compartments, shelves for books and supplies, and a top that literally rolls out to cover the writing surface.  This top can often be locked for additional security and privacy.

Roll top writing desks are usually made from wood, which invariably affects the price of the product.  For example, you can get a beautiful desk made of solid cherry, mahogany, or oak; but such a piece would set you back several thousand dollars.  On the other hand, you can buy a very basic desk made of cheaper wood for just a couple hundred dollars.

I personally love the look of a roll top desk.  There is something very traditional and formal about this kind of desk, which is definitely not a bad thing.  Sure, there are people who prefer cozy, comfortable furniture, even when it comes to their home offices.  But don't count me among that crowd.  Don't get me wrong:  I definitely do have a modern, ergonomic computer workstation at my home.  However, there are many times when I need to sit down in a more serious setting in order to concentrate and get things done.  It's at times like those that I head straight to the roll top and leave the computer and Internet connection behind.

So if you are thinking about refurnishing your home office or den, consider getting a traditional roll top desk instead of a modern piece.  A roll top desk will give your office space an elegant, upscale look that metal-and-wood structures just can't pull off.  Treat yourself to the very best and get the writing desk that you've always wanted today!    

My First Omaha Steak

By Christina VanGinkel

I can recall that when I was about twelve years old, and at my parent's place of business one afternoon during the holidays, that in a steady stream of deliverymen and salespeople, that yet one more delivery person arrived with a delivery. I just assumed that he was delivering supplies, or that as a sales representative, he was trying to sell my father something else that he 'just had to have' for this, the busiest time of year. When I heard my mother and father exclaiming in surprise and obvious joy at what had just been delivered though, I will admit my curiosity was piqued. My father never exclaimed over any delivery to our bakery that I recalled, other than the day his new oven had been delivered by truck in several pieces and installed and assembled, and the box he had just been handed was big, but not that big!

What was delivered that day was a box from his parents, both as a holiday gift and as congratulations on the opening of their new bakery, their second, an outlet of their main store, in a neighboring town.

I still remember this as if it happened yesterday, and through the years, whenever I needed a gift that was a few steps above the typical gift, I have turned to this most impressive business for gifts that have always met with my highest of expectations. This year, with me doing much of my shopping online, I was pleasantly surprised to see that they had a convenient entry point to their online shopping venue right here at, making it easy to access and keep organized. I am of course talking about Omaha Steaks. Through the years, they have become known, and rightly so, as a business that offers quality meats. They also offer much, much more in today's busy market place, but as their name suggests, they were founded on their delicious steaks. What type of steaks my parent's received I could not tell you, but my father told everyone about them for weeks later. In those days, a decent steak was not so easily come by as one might be today, and in keeping up with what is available so easily today, Omaha Steaks has raised their quality, if that is possible, and you are always guaranteed 100% satisfaction.

With shopping categories that now include seafood, veal, pork, lamb, poultry, pastas, appetizers, sides, desserts, sauces and seasonings, besides their premium beef, you are sure to find at least one item for every person on your shopping list. In addition, do not overlook the selection of cookbooks, which includes The Steak Lovers Companion Cookbook, or the selection of pet treats, so no one in your extended family is left out this holiday season, including good old Fido.

Omaha Steaks also offers a unique incentive program for businesses to use for sales incentives, customer loyalty rewards, and sales force motivation. For individuals looking to make their gift giving as easy as possible, they also offer gift certificates in $25, $50, and $100 denominations that can be mailed or even e-mailed. Shop Omaha Steaks today, for gifts that will be remembered for years to come.

Christmas Season & Your Living Room

So it's the Christmas season again, the aroma of hot cocoa and home made fudge fill the air, you pick up the newspaper and it is smothered with ad's for toy's and other holiday presents given at discount prices.

Another year... time to pull out the same old Christmas tree with the same old ornaments. Tradition is always wonderful... especially around this time, but maybe it is time to try something new. That does not mean that you have to give up tradition, but to add on to the holiday vibe! Why not have two Christmas trees instead of one? Even just a little miniature tree to set on the Christmas table will work.

Now day's green trees are not the only thing that are in. You can go to your local Wal-Mart or K-Mart and find tree's as white as the snow outside. Who ever said that the ornaments on the tree had to be green, gold and red? You can find deep purples laced with silver glitter. This time clothes aren't the only thing in fashion, that's for sure. Dress your tree to wow the crowd. They are many arrays of colors to demonstrate for the family and the guests in celebration of Christmas. Silver, gold, blue, purple, silver... you will find that nothing is limited anymore. Attempt new things... not only can the tree use some decoration, but the dinner table, your entertainment center... even the door if you please.

There are many things that you can decorate, so don't feel the need for limitation. Go buy some wrapping paper and wrap the door up to make it look like a Christmas gift... find Christmas themed table cloth, they should have great bargains at a fabric store, or even your local store for that matter.

Use your imagination and see what you can do with Christmas lights. You can even take it outside if you really want to get it on! They have reindeer or snowmen that you can set up in the yard, this one has been around for years... but they have great new products out to add a sense of update. Perhaps even create a themed Christmas. Let's say you cherish Mickey Mouse, deck the tree out in Mickey Mouse ornaments (you can bet they have them). Treat the house to Mickey Mouse decorations all around. You can use snow globes, decoration sets with a winter theme... angel hair snow and just about anything else to fit your personal taste. Just open up your imagination and get carried away with it. It's a great way to spend quality time with the family, or just simply get in touch with your holiday taste.

Bake some holiday goodies and call a day's event! You don't have to spend an arm and a leg, usually when the holiday's come up you can find awesome discounts in a lot of stores. Christmas season is spendy as is, so just make a simple budget of twenty dollars and go out and get as many decorations as you can! Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

Jewelry Counters during the Holidays

By Christina VanGinkel

Jewelry counters are busy places during the holidays. If I learned one thing yesterday, that was it! I had decided to brave the stores in the afternoon on what is considered by many to be the busiest shopping day of the year, for the simple reason to go out with my daughter and young grandson so he could be introduced to the Santa Claus visiting at our local mall. While we were there, my daughter wanted to pop into one of the larger clothing and jewelry stores to browse, in her words, 'seeing as we were there'.

Well, the way the store is laid out, you enter with a check out counter right there at the front of the stores entry, and directly behind it, with an aisle leading each way around the checkout counter, and around it, is the jewelry counter. It was mayhem at the least. There was not a bare spot in front of the glass counter on either side. Making our way into the store, literally between racks of clothes, we popped out towards the back of the jewelry counter. The scene was the same there, with nary a bare spot for another human being to stand. Spotting an opening, curiosity got the better of me and I remarked to my daughter that I was going to see what the hubbub was. So crowded was the counter I imagined them giving away diamonds, or some other costly jewels, otherwise, why would everyone be crowding in. I knew they were having a sale, and who was not, but just how good a sale could it be to risk life and limb, yet there I was, inching my way towards the counter amid the sea of bodies.

Well, when I arrived, all I saw were the harried and stressed faces of two young salespeople. I caught the eye of one of them, and several minutes later, she popped over by me and asked if she could help me with something. I swear, I asked her if they were giving away something of value, or otherwise, what exactly was on sale that was drawing such a crowd. She looked at me as if I had lost my mind. Just the items in the ad, was her response. I had browsed said ad the night before, and I did not recall any free notices, or even anything all that discounted, not to draw such a frenzied crowd. Well, I inched my way out from the counter the same way I had entered, and noticed that my spot was quickly filled by one more harried shopper.

My daughter asked me if I had found anything breathtaking that I just had to buy, and I quickly responded that the only thing breathtaking was the crowd of shoppers squeezing me in as I had reached my destination. If I decide I have to have a new necklace or earrings, I would shop at from the comfort of my own home, where the only thing crowding me is my husband reminding me not to empty the checkbook and overdraw the credit card!

Gift Ideas for the Jewelry Artist on your List

By Christina VanGinkel

If you are not the jeweler, just the person looking to give the most fabulous gift you can find to the jewelry maker or bead artist on your holiday shopping list, stop right here. I have the perfect gift lists from which you can choose your gifts, with each item sure to be a hit this holiday season for any bead lover or jewelry creator.

Give them a gift that will keep coming all year long, a magazine gift subscription to one of the following magazines:

Bead & Button Magazine
Jewelry Crafts
Lapidary Journal Magazine
Step by Step Wire Jewelry
Step by Step Beads
Bead Unique Magazine

If a beautiful hard cover book wrapped up is more your idea of a gift, try one of these titles for a sure winner:

Lea Stein Jewelry (Schiffer Book for Collectors) by Judith Just
Signed Beauties of Costume Jewelry: Identification & Values (Signed Beauties of Costume Jewelry) by Marcia Sparkles Brown
Jewelry: Fundamentals of Metalsmithing (Jewelry Crafts) by Tim McCreight
Gems & Jewelry Appraising Techniques of Professional Practice by Anna M. Miller

One other book that is definitely worthy of gift giving, but is in paperback, and not hardcover, is Art of Antique Beading by Ondorisha. It is beautifully illustrated and filled to overflowing with projects and much more, making it a perfect stocking stuffer for the beginner or experienced art person.

One thing that many jewelry artists have in common is tons of supplies, with little storage. If this is the scenario with your favorite jewelry artist, consider gifting them with:

A Plano storage tote has often been thought of as the ultimate storage systems for anglers worldwide. Thankfully, Plano has now recognized how convenient their products could be for someone who creates art for a living or as a hobby, and their products have begun showing up for sale in stores and on websites that cater to the craft person looking for organization of lots of small items, such as beads and findings. Plano even offers wheeled totes, similar to styles you often see scrap bookers using, but with interiors much more geared to the storage of small items.

If tabletop or workspace storage is a higher priority that needs filling, consider getting several Craft Mates Pop 'N Lock storage organizer boxes, each offering 28-compartments perfect for storing small beads and beading components. The units lock shut, so they help keep spills of valuable inventory to a minimum.

Depending on whether you are buying a gift for a professional or a beginner, you could also add to their tools, as no matter their level, quality tools are always appreciated:

A workspace lamp, such as a Daylight brand lamp, that uses a system that emits light in natures truest sense, removing many of the reds and yellows cast by a typical light bulb. A quality magnifier, like Flexlens mini clips on, to help when working on tiny components.
A new tool that would take them in a different direction than their current work, such as a wire jig, to provide a bit of respite from whatever they are currently working on, and providing a bit of fun in the process.

Special Delivery: Legal Sea Foods

As a seafood lover, what could be better than going out to a great restaurant for a wonderful dinner featuring lobster, crab legs, or any of your other favorite ocean delicacies? Why, enjoying the very same items in the comfort and convenience of your own home, of course! And no, you don't have to wake up at 5am to make it to the fish market for all of the best products. Instead, check out a great website called Legal Sea Foods, which you can access right here from the online shop.

As you view the incredible selections available to you at Legal Sea Foods, you'll feel like you're examining the menu of the finest seafood restaurant in town -- because that is essentially what you really are doing. You see, Legal Sea Foods is one of the top restaurant chains in the east, with several locations throughout Massachusetts and Florida (two states renowned for their excellent seafood), as well as Washington, D.C. The company opened its first restaurant in 1968, and has been going strong ever since. Their mail order division, of which the website is a major part, was developed to meet the great demand for Legal Sea Foods products across the entire country.

One bite of any of their delectable dishes and you'll understand how this company has survived for so long in the fiercely competitive seafood industry. For starters, I recommend ordering the Appetizer Sampler. You'll get a whole quart of their famous clam chowder, a whole pound of delicious cooked shrimp, a quarter-pound of tasty smoked salmon, and four ounces of unbelievable bluefish pate. For the main course, I would go with one of the many Legal Sea Foods Surf-n-Turf packages. If you're planning a special dinner for two, the Filet & Lobster package would be ideal. You'll get two live lobsters (complete with cooking instructions and claw crackers) along with two 6-ounce cuts of Legal Signature filet mignon. Then, for dessert, check out the scrumptious Boston Cream Pie made of custard, chocolate, and yellow sponge cake. That would be a dream dinner for me, but Legal Sea Foods offers so many other combinations and packages that you can get something that perfectly suits your own taste -- no matter what that might be.

Legal also has several options for you if you need to give someone a great gift. For example, you can purchase Gourmet Gift Certificates that will allow you to choose specific food packages for the intended recipient. Conversely, you can purchase regular gift certificates that will give the recipient money off on any order. Legal Sea Foods also offers restaurant gift certificates in numerous denominations for use in their own eating establishments. So, if you know that your friend, family member, or business associate will be traveling to a city with a Legal Sea Foods restaurant in it, the restaurant gift certificates would make a fine present.

Now that you know a little bit more about Legal Sea Foods, why not give them a try for yourself? Click the link right here at the top of the website and start shopping for some truly great seafood!

Friday, November 25, 2005

Arrrgghh! Leftovers!

Across the country, refrigerator doors are slamming shut on the aftermath of yesterday's feast. Countless families are facing down mounds of leftover turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, and stuffing and many are wondering what to do with it all. The extended family and visitors are starting to dissipate, and the prospect of having turkey for the third or fourth meal in a row is a little bit shaky. But we're a frugal group, and we don't want to waste all of that food!

Time to freeze it! We put our turkey in small packages of one half cup of meat in each zipper freezer bag. Actually, we even freeze some of the leftovers right after the main meal and only leave one meal's worth in the refrigerator for later. It's part of the clean up ritual after each of these meals. The Man of the House cleans the meat from the turkey bones and we measure it right on the spot and tuck it into freezer bags. The small bags are gathered into a larger bag to keep them all together in the big freezer downstairs, and everything is labelled with the date and contents to make finding it later much easier.

The leftover turkey in the refrigerator is used within a day or two on a quick reproduction of the original meal plus a few turkey sandwiches for lunch. The turkey in the freezer keeps for several months, and we can use it at our leisure. Here are just a few ideas for your leftovers, if you are searching for a bit of variety from your bird.

Turkey tacos are a favorite in this house. Warm the leftover turkey and wrap it up in a taco shell with your favorite veggies and other fillings. The turkey is a healthier alternative to the traditional ground beef, and makes for an entirely different taste. You can also substitute turkey meat in nearly any of your favorite recipes that call for shredded chicken meat. Try putting turkey into chicken casseroles. A family favorite is lovingly called "turkey-rice glop" and is basically turkey, rice and a white sauce baked together for a half an hour or so with some extra poultry seasoning.

Your family may enjoy turkey stew or turkey soup on a cold winter's day here in a few weeks. The two are basically the same, except stew has a thickener added. You can easily do this in a crock pot if you need to be gone all day at work, and it will fill the house with the wonderful aroma of homemade dinner. It's also quick and easy to fix: just cut up a few potatoes, add some peas, carrots, and other veggies that you have on hand, and put the frozen turkey right in on top of everything. Cover it all with water or leftover broth, and set your crock pot to cook the mixture for four to six hours. If you'd like stew, thicken it up with a bit of flour dissolved in water, stir, and cook on high heat for fifteen or twenty minutes. This is wonderful served with fresh biscuits, too.

Turkey salad is another family favorite. Just mix it right up as you would chicken salad, and serve it on sandwiches or crackers for lunch or snacks. We like ours with lots of sweet pickles, but you'll find what works best for your family.

My Favorite Fast Food Burgers

I know that fast food hamburgers are not very healthy.  They're big, they're greasy, they're loaded with fat, calories, and cholesterol -- and they're also irresistible!  No matter what kind of diet I'm on and no matter how many times I swear off junk food, I always find myself drawn back to these burgers sooner or later.  There are plenty of fast food places to choose from, but some burgers definitely stand out above the rest in terms of taste.  These are my absolute favorites from some of the bigger national and regional fast food chains.

Double-Double from IN-N-OUT Burger
You don't have to live on the West Coast to know all about IN-N-OUT Burger.  This is a legendary chain that has become a pop culture icon in California, Arizona, and Nevada.  Whenever I travel to any of those states, I make sure that I stop at an IN-N-OUT for a Double-Double, which is a double cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, onions, and cheese.  The taste is absolutely incredible, and I have to say that it's quite refreshing to see IN-N-OUT Burger keeping their menu very simple at a time when other fast food places can't seem to wait to expand their selections even beyond burgers and chicken.

The Whopper from Burger King
When I was growing up, Whoppers were billed as being flame broiled.  These days, Burger King calls it "fire-grilled".  I don't know if it's even the same process or not, but I do know that the result is the same.  The Whopper is definitely one of the tastiest fast food burgers around, and of course you can always "have it your way" by getting only the toppings that you want on it.

Sourdough Bacon Cheeseburger from Carl's Jr.
Carl's Jr. used to have some affiliation with Hardee's, or used to be Hardee's -- or something like that.  I could never keep the relationship straight.  Anyway, this chain, which currently has outlets only in the West, has terrific-tasting burgers all around.  But my favorite from Carl's Jr. are the cheeseburgers served on sourdough buns.  The sourdough makes all the difference in the world to me, and turns an ordinary cheeseburger into something unique and special.  

Classic Single from Wendy's
The Wendy's fast food chain has a lot of items on their menu, but none are better than the Classic Single hamburger.  This masterpiece consists of a quarter-pound of beef and your choice of cheese, lettuce, tomato, and onions.  Much like Burger King, Wendy's burgers are made after you place your order, so they are always fresh, hot, and come with just the toppings you want.  I'm not sure what it is about Wendy's burgers that make them so tasty -- maybe it's the square patty!  Whatever their secret is, the Classic Single is one of my all-time favorites.

Well, that's my list of top fast food burgers in a nutshell.  The next time you are struck by a craving for a great hamburger, give one of these time-tested classics a try!  

More Holiday Gift Ideas from Harry & David

In another blog, I spoke about the fruit of the month club that Harry & David offers as well as the chocolate and bakery items. I mentioned that you will easily be able to find a gift for everyone on your "to buy for" list.

Another thing you can do by shopping at Harry & David (found at is to help yourself prepare a very special holiday dinner. The selections are incredible no matter what you plan to serve. Be sure to give everything in your order enough time to arrive, however. If you are not sure, speak with their customer service.

As one example, you can order a "Fresh Seafood Feast" that includes stone crab claws, jumbo shrimp, and Caribbean lobster tails. The crab is already cooked and ready to eat and the shrimp are ready to cook. The food arrives in an insulated container, already chilled. If you don't do much cooking or the thought of preparing a seafood feast frightens you, don't worry because these orders come with instructions for preparation!

Other holiday meal choices from Harry & David include Lobster Pot Pies, Seafood Cakes, Cheese Torta, Chesapeake Crab Cakes, Steak and Lobster Feast, Smoked Alaska Salmon, Wild Salmon Fillets, and the more traditional ham and turkey selections. For a totally different dessert treat, try the Australian Apricots that have been dipped in chocolate.

Some of the sections you can choose from for gifts or your special meal include:

Hor d'Oeuvres
Poultry Entrees
Beef Entrees
Ham and Pork Entrees
Specialty Meats & Sausages
Salmon and Seafood

There are also selections in this section that are sold in bulk for parties, other things that are kosher foods, and still others that are prepared with special diet needs in mind.

After you have dealt with your gift giving and holiday meal preparation, you still are not finished with Harry & David. Your holiday decorating can get a boost here, too. When you find the "floral gifts" section, there will be numerous choices. Get a Christmas tree, roses, flowering plants, centerpieces or a wreath, bonsais, or many other things in the floral "aisle" of the store.

Harry & David, in addition to the Fruit of the Month club, offer a variety of floral clubs also. With the Blooms for all Seasons club, your gift recipient will be receiving the following throughout the year:

(1) December: Tea-for-One Set with Roses and Chocolates
(2) January: Fragrant Mixed Hyacinths
(3) February: Red Mini Rose
(4) March: Pink Calla Lily
(5) April: Fragrant Gardenia
(6) May: Lavender Mini Rose
(7) June: Hot Pink Hibiscus
(8) July: Yellow Crossandra
(9) August: Purple Lisianthus
(10) September: Fragrant Freesia
(11) October: Fragrant Spanish Lavender
(12) November: Carnival Amaryllis

If after all these ideas, you still have someone on your list that needs a gift, Harry & David also offers items for home decor including tableware, home accents, candles and other lighting, cookie jars, and much more.

One last idea for a gift is Harry & David Royal Riviera (r) Pears. The first shipments of these delicious pears were sent out more than seventy years ago in 1934! Check out their website for fruit, fruit and cheese combinations, vegetables, and even organics fruits and vegetables.