Welcome to Homegirls. You'll find a sassy sampling of décor and design tips, frank conversation about everything from holidays and homekeeping to home improvement and our picks and pans of new products, stores and events.

Contributors: Kim Palmer, Lynn Underwood, Connie Nelson, Kim Ode and Nicole Hvidsten.

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Posts about Holidays

Five-minute holiday decorating

Posted by: Lynn Underwood Updated: November 30, 2012 - 1:12 PM

Got 5 minutes? 
I consider myself a holiday speed decorator.  When I transform my home into a festive sparkling wonderland, I have one rule: Spend 5 minutes or less on what designers call “vignettes.”


Holiday decorating ideas in magazines and online always make it look so fast and of course, easy.
Make a candy cane wreath?  Right. Watching the how-to video alone would break my 5-minute rule.

Or else the materials required are expensive and impossible to find. One “simple” tabletop centerpiece was composed of white tulips clustered in glassware surrounded by pinecones and ornaments. I’m pretty sure Bylerys isn’t offering bunches of tulips in December.

I recently was inside a house gorgeously decorated by pros for a fundraising home tour. The garland draped across an antique sideboard was so lush and rich — not your typical fake wintergreens.
The designer explained that she held three different artificial garlands (pine,  cedar and one with silver foliage) in her hand and twisted them together. Then she tucked in pinecones, jingle bells, and shimmery picks. She assured me it was easy.  I was far from convinced.  Plus, it would definitely push the 5 minute limit.

It’s true that setting a red poinsettia on a table is fast and easy -- but hardly creative. So here are some of my 5- minute speed decorating ideas, using items you probably already have:

Tie ribbon around tiny ornament balls and hang from your dining room light fixture.  I stole this from a  Pottery Barn showroom.

Sprinkle fake snow on a glass or ceramic cake stand and arrange stylish  ornaments.

Frame some favorite Christmas cards and hang in groupings on a wall.

Place ball ornaments on different height candle holders and arrange on the mantel.

Tie silver ribbon around silver icicle ornaments and suspend one on each latch of a bank of windows.  I copied this from the Bachmans Ideas house a few years ago.

Place ball ornaments or jingle bells,  all one color, inside glassware displayed in your china cabinet. 1 minute tops.

What are some of your fast & festive holiday trimming tips?  Please share.


Memories make odd ornaments precious

Posted by: Kim Palmer Updated: November 27, 2012 - 11:12 AM


Soon it will be time to unpack the chewed-up cat and hang her on our Christmas tree. She's ugly, but she always makes me smile. That's because she brings back so many memories -- of my life as a newlywed and of two long-deceased pets.


The little cat started out 27 years ago as a generic wood cut-out ornament, with a gilt string threaded through a hole in her head. She was intended to be painted, and I did just that, buying gray and peach-colored paint to carefully replicate the markings of the tortoise-shell kitten that a bridesmaid had recently given us as a wedding gift.

The gift was not entirely welcome. We already had a dog, and we considered ourselves "dog people" not "cat people." Face was a strange and not very lovable cat, with a feral streak. Our mutt, Shiloh, who had been with my husband for eight years, took an immediate dislike to the interloper.

But Face was ours, part of our newly formed family, and I presented the homemade ornament in her likeness to my husband on our first Christmas Eve together as a married couple.

Shiloh wasted no time in expressing her disdain, pulling the ornament off the tree and gnawing on it, leaving toothmarks all over Face's striped face.

Face and Shiloh are both long gone, but Face, the ornament, still graces our tree every year. When I look at her, I always get a flashback to 1985. I can still that crazy cat, our disgusted dog and the shabby duplex we all shared that Christmas.

We have prettier ornaments, but the most precious ones to me are the oddball ones, like Face, that bring back a flood of memories.

Most of us have a holiday decoration (or a few) like that. What quirky treasures do you cherish? We'd like to hear about them. Whatever you celebrate -- Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or something else  -- we're interested in the trinkets or trimmings that are part of your holiday ritual.    

Your decoration doesn't have to be fancy or expensive or beautiful. We're looking for holiday heirlooms with a story behind them.http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/homegarden/135529238.html

So share the story of your favorite ornament, mantel display or other seasonal decoration and what makes it special to you. Send a few sentences and a digital photo to: kim.palmer@startribune.com. Or mail a snapshot and a brief description to: Kim Palmer, Star Tribune Newsroom, 425 Portland Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. We'll feature some of the most interesting tales in an upcoming story. But don't wait too long: We'll choose our favorites on Dec. 7.


Deck the halls, eventually

Posted by: Kim Ode Updated: November 26, 2012 - 10:15 AM


With an earliest-possible Thanksgiving this year, there are more days than ever before Christmas. That leads to this question: Do you want the longest possible duration with which to enjoy your holiday decorations -- or is the three weeks-plus-change enough?


Likely, you've already made your decision, whether you realize it or not, depending upon whether you crashed for the weekend or spent your non-shopping hours unearthing the ornaments, untangling lights and wrapping the mantel in pine boughs. For many families, this is like muscle memory: Thanksgiving leftovers in the fridge mean Must Put Up Tree -- whether it's an early or late turkey day.

In our household -- which, when indoor holiday decor is concerned, becomes my household -- the decision was a bit of a roller coaster. Thanksgiving night, when everyone had gone home, I declared that I felt not the least bit Christmasy and was weighing the consequences of taking a year off decorating. I got no argument.

But then the morning dawned, and I'd slept, and there was snow and turning the holiday corner seemed possible. And yet, I realized this didn't HAVE to be done now. That I could, more or less, chill out for the weekend. One outcome of an early Thankgiving is a five-weekend December, and isn't Dec. 1 plenty soon enough for decking the halls?

A Star Tribune poll online suggested that I wasn't alone, with the greatest proportion of respondents, about 4 in 10, replying that they kicked back. The rest divvied up their weekend between shopping, traveling and, yes, decorating.

The irony, of course, is that most years, I look around my  bedecked and bedazzled house and think: All this work and beauty for so little time. This year, when I could have milked my clever "stacked-books trees" for all they're worth, I chose to flip through some magazines in front of the fire.

There's time. There's this weekend. And the frippery will remain up until the weekend of Jan. 5 and 6, which works out to five whole weeks. I am at peace with my decision.

Or have I totally squandered a week of  the joy of Christmas?

Are your halls decked out? Are you using the extra week to try something new or more elaborate? Was I a Grinch when I could have gone all Nate Berkus? What's the state of your digs today?


Holiday entertaining: The clean before the storm

Posted by: Nicole Hvidsten Updated: November 21, 2012 - 7:02 AM

If you walked into my house right now, you'd never leave. You couldn't; you'd be stuck to the kitchen floor. That's how three insanely busy weeks, three kids and a dog have left things.

Obviously my house is not holiday clean, but I know from experience that if I had to, it could be in short order. In our house we have various levels of cleaning, each with its own agenda:

All hands on deck:
This is reserved for cleaning emergencies only. It's the "we have people coming over in two hours and can't walk through the living room" panic. I bark orders and assignments and amazingly everyone falls into place. It's one of the few times we're all in sync with household chores. It's tempting to use this more often, but I've managed to stay true to its original intent.

Garbage-bag cleaning: If I have to issue too many warnings about messy rooms (or really, when they become a safety hazard) I give the final warning: If it's not clean, then I'll clean it. And I clean with a garbage bag. Ideally garbage bag cleaning would be done in tandem with said child, but either way it's productive and fulfilling. The complaining eventually stops, especially when more closet space is usually an end result.

Vacation cleaning: At least once I year I use my vacation time to clean. Alone. Everything gets turned upside down and inside out and scrubbed from one end of the house to the other. Appliances sparkle, floors shine, counters are bare and everything has a place. It usually takes the better part of a week, but it's time well-spent. Toward the end of the week I bask in the glow of a clean house. And then everyone comes home.

The purge cycle: Ever get to the point where you're surrounded by too much stuff? Anything could trigger it; unearthing three year's worth of art projects or the sight of clothes that haven't seen the light of day in a decade. My most recent purge cycle yielded a half a garage full of stuff we didn't use or need, and several garbage bags full of random things that at one time were deemed important, although for the life of me I couldn't remember why. This is my favorite type of cleaning, as it almost always is accompanied by a trip down memory lane (and several texts to my sister). I'm hoping enough purge cycles will make it easier to downsize someday, or at least give me a fighting chance the next time someone needs that one certain picture from the third grade or something equally obscure.

And finally, holiday clean:
Before the Christmas tree and all the insanity that surrounds it can be brought up, the house needs to be beyond company-ready. That means bathrooms have no toothpaste smeared in the sink, crumbs are wrappers are excised from the couch cushions, Legos aren't underfoot, and everything is dust-free and vacuumed. Holiday clean means we put things away, not just stash them where company won't see them. (Apologies to the office and bedroom closet.) After the house is holiday clean, I can finally enjoy the fruits of our labor, sit by the Christmas tree and feel ready for company, all while trying ignore the Lego I missed underneath the buffet.

Is your house holiday clean yet? Have you found any success in keeping it that way? Please share your tips!



Let there be light

Posted by: Kim Ode Updated: November 19, 2012 - 10:05 AM


With another balmy weekend handed to us like a cold beer, my husband went out to string some colored lights on the trellis tower in the front yard. He went into the back yard to swaddle a small white pine with blue lights. Might as well get this done before it snows, right?


Eventually darkness fell and, to my surprise, the lights came on. "I thought you were just going to get them strung," I said. "Isn't it a little early to turn them on?"

"No," he said, confidently. "These are winter lights."

He explained that he wouldn't hang the strings of lights along the garage and porch eaves until after Thanksgiving. THOSE are Christmas lights. And they really are -- vintage strings of big old bulbs that call to mind Santa riding a Norelco razor. To illuminate the house with those would be wrong, he explained, pushing the Christmas season and clearly defying the natural order of holidays. As in the photo, above.

What he strung this weekend are the more secular LED lights, with their peculiarly pagan intensity. They brighten the darkness without any agenda other than illumination. They are, he said, winter lights.

Then, of course, we began second-guessing the concept. Is it too early for lights? Should we wait until after Thanksgiving? The neighbor across the way also got her trees "done" on Sunday -- but then she turned them off!  But it's already SO dark, and they look SO nice.

Long ago, I made my peace with those who let their outdoor lights shine long after Christmas - into January and February, and even March. Granted, my tolerance coincides with the movement away from traditional red and green. Homes now twinkle with jewel tones of sapphire, emerald, and amethyst. In those months when we go to work in darkness and come home in darkness, driving down a sparkling street helps just a little.

So I am persuaded, and rather entranced, by my husband's nuanced division of illumination into Winter Lights and Christmas Lights. While it's technically not yet winter, we have seen snowflakes, and skiddy streets, and the always amusing flat-footed sidewalk waddle, which is winter enough for me.

So we are now lit up. We call them winter lights, more about the season than any holiday.  The Christmas lights will follow after Thanksgiving and remain lit until after New Year's, maybe even until mid January, depending on whether we remember they're still on, heh. 

But the rest will continue as winter lights until we sense the meteorological light at the end of the tunnel.

So what's your time frame for lights? What's too soon? Just right? Long enough?




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