How to set the perfect table

Every single day, Rebecca puts together baby showers and weddings and family dinners that make Martha Stewart jealous. She crafts centerpieces and arranges tablescapes and plans menus, threading together details from the flowers to the favors to create an occasion for inspiration.

And the best part, you’re invited to every single shindig.

“I started my blog Tastefully Entertaining because I love entertaining,” said Rebecca. “Now I get to throw a virtual party every day, I get to throw parties I could never throw on my own because there are too many ideas and I’m not made of money, and I get to inspire other people to enjoy entertaining and think outside the box.”

Part of Rebecca’s quest to think outside the box comes from the fact that she has attention to details in her DNA. Her mom coached it out of her at an early age, showing her how to arrange food and pull together themes, and gave her an appreciation for the ambiance that artful entertaining can evoke.

“My birthday is just before Valentine’s Day, and every year my mom would figure out a way to make each party very unique,” said Rebecca. “She put an extraordinary amount of effort into planning games that went along with the theme and put a personal touch on every aspect.”

The concentration on details is something that can be overwhelming even for a pro like Rebecca. To help her get organized and hone in on her idea, she uses inspiration boards.

“The inspiration board is basically the beginning of an event for me,” she said. “Sometimes I start with colors, sometimes I start with a feeling like romance or whimsy, and sometimes I’ll start with a picture that strikes me. Then I turn it into an event.”

Inspiration boards help answer both the practical and the creative questions about an event. If an invitation inspires you, let that be the first piece on your inspiration board and then fill it in with these basics elements:

  • Invitation

It’s the first thing your guests see and should prime them for what to expect.

  • Table top

Think about the plates, the linens, the colors, the shapes. What could you use as a centerpiece that could bring in elements of your theme or your colors? How should you arrange each place setting? What should you offer as a favor? Are there any unexpected candles you could pull in instead of the typical tapers? The table top is basically the stage for your event, so concentrating on those details is key to creating a cohesive event.

  • Menu

What foods will evoke the ambiance of your event? Having a bon voyage party? Think about seafood. Plan a menu that echoes the design details you’ve decided on.

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

Practial Ideas and Inspiration
Visit Rebecca’s website for recommending recipes, cocktails and reasons to get together

Hostess with the mostess
More design driven entertaining ideas!

evite!
Evite guides party hosts through every step of the event planning process – from deciding on the party specifica and inviting guests to preparing the party to finalizing the menu and sending eCard thank-you notes after the event.

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Homegrown revolution, so easy a baby could do it

You don’t have to retreat to a cabin in the forest to grow your own tomatoes and raise chickens, you can do it anywhere. People are growing cucumbers on windowsills in a Los Angeles and harvesting honey on the rooftops of New York City. A new way of participating in the food/life cycle is blushing on the horizon. We are living in the dawn of the ecotarian. People want to get back (don’t make me say it) to their roots (gotcha!).

A relatively new movement, urban homesteading takes “simple living” to the next level (sorry Martha) through incorporating small-scale agriculture, sustainable and permaculture gardening, and home food production and storage into every day life. By growing their own food and harnessing natural energy, city dwellers are reconnecting with their land while planting seeds for the future for our cities.

Over the past 4 years Michelle has transformed her tiny “cement jungle” of a patio into an urban homestead complete with compost piles, laundry lines, and edible produce. Pretty impressive for a girl who couldn’t keep a spider plant alive a mere four years ago.

“My grandfather lived during the depression, and that was reflected in the way we were brought up,” said Michelle. “He taught me about our relationship with the land. Waste not, want not. You didn’t move until the food was gone.”

Lover of a good challenge, Michelle couldn’t resist the chance to translate her grandfather’s wisdom into a townhouse in the middle of Florida. It all started with a little dollar bamboo plant she bought in college. After a series of botanical tragedies that tiny ikea wonder broke the one-year survival threshold–the not-so-green thumb would hold her back no longer! Michelle and her daughters carefully composed a 22’x16′ ecosystem one (recycled) container at a time.

“In our world, we are so distant from what is around us. Trees and life and love have been replaced with things: Wii and iPhones and name brand products of every sort. Our food comes to us via truck with no farther thought about where it has been and what it has seen prior to our grocery store shelves,” said Michelle. Shifting our lifestyles to reflect the cyclical processes of nature–thereby appreciating the things that sustain us–is just one more step in the right direction.

Izzy and Sol, Michelle’s girls, are not growing up in an off grid house with living walls and raise chickens, bunnies, goats and open a nursery (at least, not yet). They are growing up in a townhouse in the middle of town, within walking distance to the library, across the street from their preschool and with a cement backyard no bigger than your living room.

But, thanks to motherly wisdom (and a healthy dose of imagination), that backyard has taught them lessons that most people will never know in their lives… and it all starts with a seed.

“Seeds bloom, the animals come, caterpillars munch and butterflies emerge from cocoons, we have tea parties made from herbs we pick from pots on the wall and they help me gather things for dinner,” said Michelle. “The relationship they are building, the understanding of their place in this world beyond what is fed to them from the TV and magazines: this is almost as important of a lesson as the ability to be self sufficient, but even that pails in consideration of the over all lesson they learn: treat everything with respect, hurt none, and watch out for the little guy. You are the keepers of the world.”

Ready to get your kids in the garden? Here’s a few ideas to get your imagination juices flowing:

1. Plant edible flowers and herbs for curious mouths. Try mint, sunflowers, or pansies or visit kiddie garden for a more complete list of toddler friendly plants.

2. Encourage birds to come visit your garden and make a bird feeder (or birdie snack shack). You may even want to head to the library to reserach the specific details on your local birds, their favorite foods, and favorite styles of dining table.

3. Gather caterpillars and build a butterfly garden. Check out these twenty butterfly gardening tips to get you started.

4. Reserve rainwater in large containers to demonstrate between rain and plant growth. You may even want to make an extra rain water bucket for playing in.

5. Grow cuttings and seedlings indoors and transplant them into the garden. Watch Michelle’s instructables video for a quick and easy cutting propagator.

For updates from Michelle’s urban homestead visit her blog at we’re all mad here.com.

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

Michelle’s Instructables
Step-by-step directions for creating an easy to maintain small space garden

Avante Yard
75 tricks to get your kids outdoors

Homegrown Evolution
Kelly and Erik are the authors of The Urban Homestead coming out in June of 2008 from Process Media. They have researched and experimented with small scale urban agriculture since moving to their tiny bungalow in Los Angeles ten years ago.

Pick up some homesteading skills
Like how to make a self watering container

Gardening for a Cure

Linda’s mother was 86 years old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The doctors wanted to perform experimental radiation therapy, rather than go in and biopsy and try to take out anything. Because of her age, they were afraid she wouldn’t make it through the experimental surgery. Linda and her sisters told their mother she didn’t have to go through with it.

“Are you kidding?” her mother responded. “Even if it doesn’t do anything for me, I will do this for you, I will do this for your daughters and their daughters.”

After her mother died, Linda wanted to do something to honor her, something concrete. “I wanted to do something to help her, something concrete. Then she had an epiphany that truly changed her life.

Rather than become paralyzed, Linda was able to keep the memory of her mother alive and share her process of healing with others. Visit Personal Sanctuaries blog to find out more about taking a garden tour.

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

Garden All Over the World
Love gardens? This all-inclusive tour will take you from Ecuador’s tropical flora to China, where the blossoms grow.

Preserving the Beauty
The Garden Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving America’s most beautiful historical gardens.

A Breast Cancer Lifeline
Understand symptoms, treatments, research and how to lower your risk. It could just save your life.

Think Pink!
The National Breast Cancer Awareness Month website lends a helping hand to women coping with chemotherapy-induced side effects and shows you how to get involved.

Why Me Wisdom
Blogger Whymommy describes the pleasures and perils of raising two young boys while battling inflammatory breast cancer.

Check Yourself!
The circle, the line, or the wedge? Health Central’s handy instructional video teaches you three ways to give your girls a thorough self-exam.

Save the Ta-tas
Make funding a cure fun and fashionable with sassy t-shirts, skirts and sweat suits designed by Julia Fiske. Save the Ta-tas has used its two greatest assets to donate almost $100,000 to the fight against cancer.

Save cash. Be greener.

Remember when your dad would always tell you to turn off the lights when you leave a room? And your inner sassy self would say, “Daaaad, it only costs 6 cents a year to keep a light on all day, every day. Don’t be so cheap.”

Well, it turns out that Dad may have had more on his mind than penny pinching. In these hazy days of going green, we’re learning more and more about how our greedy energy practices are affecting not only our children’s futures, but also the lives of our global neighbors.

The trouble is… we like soft clothes dried in the dryer. We hate doing dishes. We prefer not to feel helpless and the deeper we dig, the more impossible saving the earth seems. But, as Zan Dubin Scott has learned, going green doesn’t have to be black or white.

“The exciting thing about living a greener life is that we can all do something,” she said. “And most of the things we can do are simple and won’t cost anything. In fact, they typically end up saving us all money.”

Here are a few things you can try to lessen your family’s footprint and put some extra cash in your pocket.

  • Connect the dots.

“For every action we take, we must make a connection,” said Zan. “When I go to the gas station, and I buy that gas, I am funding the war in Iraq. I am responsible for the young men who are dying in Iraq. I am contributing to that problem. Do I want to do that? I can shut my mind and decide to be in denial and not make that connection, but that connection still exists.”

Zan said that the best way to make those connections is to stay informed. Read the paper, watch the news, listen to the radio. It’s all there for us, but we have to open our minds to the information.

  • Turn off the lights.

If you’re leaving a room for more than 10 seconds, flip the switch. Zan credits her husband with teaching her this habit when they first got married, and now, to remind her of its importance, she always visualizes a smoke stack when she leaves the room. Not wanting to be responsible for polluting the Earth, she makes this small gesture, which ends up making a big difference.

  • Dry your clothes on a line… most of the way.

No one wants stiff blue jeans, but Zan’s found that if you dry your clothes most of the way on a rack or clothesline outside and then throw them in a dryer for 5-10 minutes to finish the process, you get the same amount of softness as if you dry them entirely in the dryer.

“It’s a great compromise,” she said. “I get softer clothes but that luxury doesn’t cause as much damage to our environment.”

  • Use reusable bags.

Zan said a lot of cities are banning plastic bags, so whether we like it or not, we’re going to have to make the switch to reusable bags. Buy a few canvas bags or organic cotton bags or keep an eye out for sturdier bags from conferences or special events. In many cases you can build quite a collection of bags without spending one penny.

  • Water your plants less.

“I heard from a local utility that you don’t need to water three times a week, that the plants can do just fine on twice a week,” said Zan. “I cut back on my watering, and my plants are doing just fine.”

  • Drive consciously.

It was a bit of a political joke when Barack Obama suggested fighting global warming with inflated tires, but maybe it was only funny because it’s true. Appropriate tire pressure is key for good gas mileage; better gas mileage means using less gas.

Zan also suggests pacing yourself in driving. Don’t accelerate too quickly and don’t brake too hard. Try to coast as much as you can.

  • Buy in bulk.

If you start looking at packaging –cardboard, and then plastic wrapping, and then paper instructions that you’re just going to throw away – it becomes more obvious why there’s a panic over landfills. By buying in bulk, you’ll reduce the amount of packaging headed to the landfills. And if your favorite items don’t come in bulk, you’re not a green failure if you buy them.

“I love string cheese, and I love the individually wrapped string cheese,” she said. “And I’m an environmentalist. To make up for my individually wrapped string cheese, I try to buy in bulk in my other choices at the market.”

Really what is all comes down to, Zan said, is common sense. We all know to reduce, reuse and recycle, but knowing and practicing it as much as we can are two different things.

“It’s amazing how once you start getting into the habit of using less, of reducing your consumption, how easy it is. You start really thinking about what you need,” said Zan. “If I can just make one change in my life, that will make a vast difference. And if each of us just made one change today that we weren’t doing yesterday, you add up all the numbers across the country and we can vastly improve our planet because of the power of numbers. That’s all. Simple.”

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

Soul Crushing
See Zan and Paul in action in Who Killed the Electric Car?

Join the club!
Want to find some like minded electric car fans? Take a look at the Electric Auto Association and get info on how to rally for the cause.

A Trusted Advisor
Get the latest news and advisories on green automotives through Edmund’s Green Car Advisor.

Car advice every woman should know

Car expert Jody DeVere of AskPatty.com became a single mom over night. She always had been interested in cars, but never knew much about the mechanics until her husband passed away. Now that Jody didn’t have someone to call on anymore, it became her job to make sure my car was tuned up and trouble-free.

Because she likes to take her kids out camping alone, Jodi knew that having a breakdown could be really dangerous. “I wanted to still be independent and to take them on adventures, so I started gaining knowledge about how to take care of my car. I learned how to change a tire and more about how the engine works. Not I always have jumper cables, and I always keep spare oil in the car.”

he also learned that if you properly maintain your car, you can make it last for a really long time.

How to Maintain Your Car to Make it Last

A car manufacturer has a very large staff of engineers who design vehicles to run optimally for a very long time if they are serviced regularly. Those services must be performed in the interval that they recommend to keep you safe and to keep you from breakdowns.

1.  Tires

Tires are the only separating you from the pavement, so it’s important to make sure they are in good condition. Ensure that your tires have good tread and are inflated properly, and if you live in an area with harsh winters, make sure you have all-weather tires. You can find out the correct tire pressure for your car on the inside panel of the driver’s door.

2.  Fluids

Get regular oil changes, of course. But also regularly check your wiper fluid, transmission fluid and brake fluid and make sure they are still good and new. All the fluids are usually labeled under the hood and have visible fill lines on their containers, making it even easier to check them. Anytime you get your car serviced, go ahead and ask them to top off or check your fluids.

3.  Windshield Wipers

Wipers that are not operating properly cause visual problems in rainy, foggy or snowy weather. Check them at least every six months because most of them are made out of rubber, and they do crack and rot. Changing windshield wipers is easier than you may think and can be done in less than 10 minutes.

4.  Brakes

Brakes are a very important safety feature of the car, so check them regularly and have them maintained. If you hear any noises when you’re braking, schedule an appointment with your mechanic. It may just be a little bit of moisture on your breaks, but it could be something more serious, and in matters of brakes, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

5.  Owner’s Manual

Most people don’t read their owner’s manual when they buy a car, and then don’t know what to do if they get locked out or set off the alarm. Learn about your cars features and make a note of specific service intervals. You’ll save yourself a lot of angst if you do.

How to Avoid Being Ripped off by a Mechanic

You know where you’re getting your hair done. You know where you’re getting your nails done. You know where you’re taking your children to the doctor. So in my eyes, you also need to know where you’re going to be taking your car for a repair, or if you have an emergency. If you do that in advance of a car emergency, you can avoid putting yourself in a vulnerable position and avoid being ripped off.

1. Is the shop certified?

Is the shop that you’re taking it to ASE or AAA Certified? This means that they have certified master automotive technicians working there. Find out how many master technicians they have working there. If you choose to go to an independent shop instead, make sure that they have no marks against them with the Better Business Bureau.

2. Are they showing you the problems, instead of just telling you?

If you’re at a shop and they want to change your rotors or break pads, and you don’t think they need to be changed, they should be bringing those out and showing them to you. They should give you all the parts that they changed if you ask for them, so you can see that they are worn down.

3. Have you gone to the best place for your car?

If you bought your car from a dealership, that’s probably the best place to take it. You’ve already established a relationship with them, may have met the service team and they know the most about your new car. If you bought the car from a private owner and are taking it to an independent shop, then really make sure you understand the skill set at that shop. You want to make sure the persons that you’re working with are specialists in your vehicle make and with that problem.

How to Get a Great Deal in a Car Lot

A lot of women have a feeling that they’ll be taken advantage of by a car dealer. And that can be the case, if you don’t do your homework. There is so much information available to us, especially on the internet. You can actually find out the invoice cost that the dealer has and even what the incentives that are being offered on your vehicle.

1.  Pay attention to the contract you are signing

Don’t rush when reading the contract. It’s okay to take your time to make sure you understand it. For example, make sure you’re not paying for a 100,000 mile extended warranty because it’s a waste of money.

2.  Know your credit status.

You may be surprised to hear this, but dealers don’t make a lot of profit on new cars. They make their money on financing. This is where you have to do some research in advance. Go to your bank, run your own credit, understand what your credit score is and what you can qualify for in advance. That way, when the dealer gives you a financing offer, you’ll know whether you can talk them down or not.

3.  A car is the second biggest purchase that most people make, so make it a good one.

When considering a car, I think it’s very important to take a good test drive, and I’m not talking about driving around the block. Take it on the highway and see how it does. Rent the car for a week to get a feel for it. Really do a walk around, sit in the backseat, sit in the passenger’s seat, open up all the compartments, open the trunk, use all the latches, see how everything looks and get a good feel for it.

4.  You can avoid buyer’s remorse by simply taking some time to do your homework.

Go to a lot of dealers over a weekend or over a couple weeks and check out similar models. Go through the internet sales department before you even come into the dealership. You will save money working with the fleet manager, and you will save time because you will have done a number of steps before you get there. All of these factors will help you have an easy, comfortable and positive experience.

At the end of the day, it’s all about educating yourself, empowering yourself, and staying in touch with what’s important. It takes a little bit of effort, but the money you’ll save and the peace of mind you’ll have will make it all worth it.

Are you ready to educate yourself? Check out the following resources to get started.

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

It Never Hurts to Ask
Visit AskPatty, the one-stop source for women to learn the ins and outs of car buying, safety and repair.

Perfect Match
Find your “car soulmate” at CarTango, a handy site that helps you decide what you should and could be driving.
The Car Chicks
AskPatty’s panel of auto-savvy ladies will help you find an answer to any car issue you may have.

4 tips for organizing kiddos

When I was a kid, one of four in my house who were in a race to see how quickly our parents could go nuts, my mother had an interesting approach to organizing our clutter.

She’d pick it up, walk calmly to the front door, and toss it all out on the lawn.

Shoes, back packs, books, toys – she would stop at nothing. We’d think it was hilarious, run out after our stuff, bring it back inside and drop it right where it was before… by the front door daring our dad to enter without breaking his neck.

Our parents eventually gave in to living in a perpetual state of disarray, and now that I do my family’s dishes and my family’s laundry and get my family’s mail and coordinate my family’s schedules, I can sort of grasp why giving up is easier than keeping up.
If only my mom had met the Organizing Junkie.

Laura, author of the uber-popular blog I’m an Organizing Junkie, has a peace of mind and bits of organizational wisdom that can turn madhouses into places of calm and tranquility – as far as the stuff in them is concerned.

Unlike Martha Stewart, who is so organized it’s artful, Laura gets that life happens, that personalities come with their own ideas, and that, despite it all, the clutter must be contained.

“I try not to be too uptight about it,” she said. “When you have three kids, you have to have a little give and take. I try to set up my systems so that they’re all user friendly for everybody and so that they can all take part in it without it being too high maintenance.”

Laura has a few secrets up her sleeve when it comes to containing kiddie clutter.

Adopt the “Toy Room Rule.”

Designate rooms for toys, and make sure your kids don’t cart their entertainment from room to room. Living room toys stay in the living room, playroom toys stay in the play room. Laura says you’ll be amazed at how this little rule helps you get a handle on little mess-makers.

Create a “Closet Library.”

Kids clothes aren’t usually long enough to fill the bottom of the closet, so make use of this space by adding a bookcase and storing their books.

Corral with containers.
Create easy homes for things in bedrooms, bathrooms, anywhere with containers. Containers teach kids that there are limits and boundaries and teach them how to make difficult decisions and prioritize their wants.

Keep it easy and accessible.
Create storage for things that are accessible to your children and won’t set them up for failure. If they can’t get easily follow the system, they won’t, and then they won’t understand the value of being organized.

Living an organized life means accepting that organization, like life, is a never ending process.

Take Laura’s backpack station, for example. As the year shifts from summer to back to school, she is constantly updating her front door corral to meet her family’s needs. As summer fades to fall and into a Canadian winter, space dedicated to shoes goes through seasons as well.

“I no sooner get things set up, and I have to rework it,” Laura said. “But once you taste that sense of accomplishment and experience having that organized drawer, that’s really powerful and that feeling is what I’m addicted to. That sense of accomplishment from one project will inspire you to do other projects.”

For Laura, being organized at home makes her life much more manageable. She said her family is able to function better when it’s operating in a place of order, and that helps her feel calm during even the most chaotic storms.

Feeling like you need more of an organizing fix? Check out Laura’s I’m an Organizing Junkie blog!

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

Keep it Off the Floor!
At the Lillian Vernon online home store, you can buy cute yet functional organizing accessories for the kids’ room.

Crafty—But Clean
At Family Fun, you can find tons of family craft projects that double as storage and organizing pieces, like a pocket wall organizer made from plain curtains!

Regain Your Sanity With NAPO
Contact the National Association of Professional Organizers to find a specialist who’ll help you get your life back in order!

Neat or Not?
HGTV organizing guide will help you control your clutter, once and for all.

Crazy Adventures in Parenting
A blog about raising 6 children living in the military

A designer’s 5 tips for turning a yard into a living space

Felicia grew up in Southern California with easy access to the mountains and the beach. Mother Nature became a big part of who she is as a child and continues to have a dominant place in her adult life. Every day she hikes, swims or jogs outside in the beautiful weather.

“It’s part of who I am, and it makes me really happy,” she said.

Drawing inspiration from the great outdoors, Felicia decided to pursue a career in interior design and was recently a contender in Bravo TV’s Top Design.

In her design work, she tries to share the joy the outdoors brings her with her clients. Her purpose is not only to create a beautiful home for her clients, but also to help them improve their lifestyle.

And hopefully, that lifestyle can extend beyond the four walls of her home to include outdoor spaces.

“A lot of my clients moved to Southern California to take advantage of the great weather, and I have a few tricks up my sleeve for bringing together indoor and outdoor living spaces,” said Felicia.

  • Choose window treatments that let the outside in.

“When I work with a client, I look from the outside in,” said Felicia. “First of all, I talk to my clients about what type of window treatments or designs they’d like to use so that we can maximize the view from the window or balcony.”

  • Choose the right seating.

If you’re outside space is behind a railing or a fence, choose seating that lets you see over the barrier. Pick a patio set or a bar table that has higher chairs. If you have a big open space, there’s no reason you can’t bring a bed into it to use as seating. Think about what seating will let you make the most of the space and your view.

  • Practice climate control.

There are easy ways to protect yourself from cold breezes with drapes, longer overhangs and fire pits, which you can often find for under $200, and you should consider how you’re going to keep your outdoor environment as cozy as your indoor one so you’ll want to spend more time there. Blankets are easily brought outside on chilly nights, and the gas heaters that restaurants use on their patios are available in a table top size.

  • Understand the difference between an outdoor patio and an outdoor living space.

“If we create a comfortable space outdoors, it will make us want to be out there,” she said.

To turn your outdoor set up into a living space, incorporate things that you would normally have on the inside. It’s amazing what is available to us in terms of outdoor furniture nowadays. No more are you confined to wrought iron tables or plastic chairs.

Find a plush outdoor sofa, bring out a coffee table. You can do anything outdoors that you can do indoors, especially in mild climates or during specific seasons.

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

A Breath of Fresh Air
Check out some of Felicia’s outdoor-inspired designs at her web site.

Oh, So Cute
An eclectic collection of modern daily finds for your home or office, including kitchenware, home accents and the most interesting stationary around.

Just Do It Yourself
Earth-friendly and wallet-conscious, ReadyMade helps you claim your corner of the world and decorate it just the way you want it.

Crafty—But Clean
At Family Fun, you can find tons of family craft projects that double as storage and organizing pieces, like a pocket wall organizer made from plain curtains!