White House Tree 2009

   Douglas-fir Selected=

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One part of the mystery is solved, the tree has been chosen.  A Douglas-fir from Shepardstown, West Virginia will be the official White House Christmas tree for 2009

The official Blue Room tree will be presented to First Lady Michelle Obama by Christmas tree growers Eric and Gloria Sundback.  They earned the honor by winning the National Christmas Tree Association’s (NCTA) national Christmas tree contest in August in Chattanooga, Tennessee , and taking the title of Grand Champion. 

White House Chief Usher Admiral Stephen Rochon and Superintendent of Grounds Dale Haney handpicked the tree on October 20, 2009.  The tree was planted by the Sundbacks 13 years ago in 1996 and will be cut in late November for the trip to Washington D.C. where it will be formally presented to First Lady Michelle Obama in late November.   This will be the fourth time the couple has won the contest and presented to the First Lady. 

The couple began growing Christmas trees in 1956 in western Pennsylvania.  Eric’s work took them to Washington D.C. area in 1959 where they searched for land to continue their Christmas tree farming.  They settled near Shepardstown, W.V. in 1967 and started retail lots in Bethesda, Maryland and Washington, D.C., which they operated for 40 years until passing the retail operations to two veteran employees.  Now in their 80’s, Eric and Gloria Sundback continue the seed orchard part of their farm. 

Upon presentation to the First Lady, which is tentatively scheduled to take place on November 27, 2009, the tree will be set up in the Blue Room where the White House Floral Department staff and volunteers will begin the process of bringing the 2009 theme to life.  Only one hint so far, nj.com reported on November 6, 2009 that seventh and eighth grade students are creating 10 holiday ornaments for the tree depicting various “noteworthy and inspirational buildings or sites with historical significance or cultural importance,” according to the instructions they received from the White House.  Girls Inc. locations in Columbus, Ohio and Santa Fe, New Mexico have also been chosen to create ornaments depicting local landmarks.  Hmm….I can’t wait to see the spectacular talent of our true national treasures…our children.

National Christmas Tree Association members have presented the official White House Blue Room Christmas tree since 1996. 

Thanks NCTA!

Track the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree 2009

Track the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree 2009 from the White Mountains of Arizona to Washington, D.C.   On November 30, 2009 the 85-foot Blue spruce will be presented to the United States Congress.  It is the first time Arizona has given an annual Christmas tree to the U.S. Capitol.  Not only is the tree taller than a 7-story building, but it will arrive with nearly 10,000 handmade ornaments and 80 companion trees that will be placed in offices throughout the Capital Complex.  http://capitolchristmastree2009.org/

The 86th Anniversary of the Lighting of the National Christmas Tree

On December 3, 2009, the National Christmas Tree Lighting will take place in Washington D.C.   No matter where you are in the U.S. this event can be witnessed by webcast or broadcast.  If  you were one of the lucky lottery winners you’ll get to see it live with an all-star line up of stars performing.  

Visit thenationaltree.org to keep track of the countdown clock, decorate your own tree online and send it to family and friends and for useful holiday tips on tree safety and energy efficiency.  A really cool website.  I’ll be decorating a few trees…seriously fun!


Christmas Music 2009

Here is some of the best new music available this Christmas season.  All of these great musicians will bring  joy to many with distinctly different styles.  Choose your genre, you won’t be disappointed. 

 My Christmas              If On A Winter's Night...                 Christmas Jazz Jam           This Christmas   

Happy Holidays!



Novelty Christmas Stuff

Novelty Christmas items always seem to catch my attention.  About two weeks ago while standing at a stop light, a young man walked up with a Santa hat on.  I never got up the nerve to ask why he was wearing a fur trimmed red and white Santa hat in October but it got me thinking about novelty hats I’d come across in the past.  The absolute cutest I’ve ever seen are by Department 56 in the form of stacked Christmas presents, elf ears, a Christmas tree, a reindeer and a snowman.  Check out the novelty headbands…way too cute!

See some of the other fab novelty Christmas items below from the coiled Santa hat to the Joe Boxer men’s velour boxers with hat.  Delightfully cool!


Product Image Deluxe Springy Christmas Tree Hat         Reindeer Antlers Christmas Baby HatRed Coil Santa Hat

Cool Christmas Gifts 2009

The Christmas holiday season can be a great time to indulge yourself and others in big, small and unusual treats. I’m always on the prowl for the new and different.  We all like our old standbys; comfy slippers, ornaments, gift cards and the like, but why go standard when gift options like these exist?  Whether buying for someone with eclectic taste or the person who seems to have everything, take a look at these options for ideas and inspiration. 

Jackie Brazil Recycled Resin Jewelry = Sobral : sobral fashion jewelry trendy glass jewelry 

1.  Carlos Sobral jewelry has been imitated but never duplicated.  Sobral resin jewelry is made from recycled industrial waste and crafted in his workshop in Brazil.  Known worldwide for colorful, pop, playful and brilliant designs, this wearable art is available at museums, in select boutiques and at Sobral retail stores.  Sobral recently made his official U.S. debut with the opening of a boutique in New York’s Soho neighborhood offering fashion and home designs.  Prices start around $30 for these eco-friendly products.  You might have guessed I’m a big fan.      

    petite fleur ring  petite fleur charm necklace

2.  Everybody loves a little bling on occasion and not always of the authentic variety.  So many great designs that work for any time of day are available from Liz Palacios, Sorrelli,  Nadri and Badgley Mischka just to name a few.  Kate Spade produces some of the most eye-catching  designs available like the Lady Marmalade ball charm bracelet and Petite Fleur ring and charm necklace.  Simply stunning.  Prices are generous but these fakes are the real deal.        

  3.  I became familiar with celebrity manicurist Deborah Lippman’s nail lacquer at a cosmetics trend show earlier this year.  Who doesn’t love a good nail color?  It’s a nice affordable splurge when the expensive designer bag is not really an option.  With colors like Wicked Game, Happy Birthday (great for the holidays) and Ruby Red Slippers, these lacquers make great stocking stuffers and gifts for the diva on your list.   

 CaramelCrisp<sup>®</sup>, CheeseCorn™ & ButteryCheeseCorn™ Garrett Mix - CaramelCrisp<sup>®</sup> & CheeseCorn™

4.  Garrett’s Popcorn just might be the best popcorn you can buy.  Based in Chicago, Garrett’s sinfully delicious popcorn has delighted locals and visitors from around the country and world for over half a century.  In Chicago it’s not uncommon for customers to stand in long lines for CaramelCrisp or the wildly popular CheeseCorn and caramel mix, the perfect combination of sweet and salty.  Fortunately you too can have the Garrett’s experience when you order online at garrettpopcorn.com.  The perfect year-round treat.


5.  The Aurea Dish Rack is a work of art by Spanish design shop Delica.  This striking dish rack is made of cutout interlocking shapes and folds for easy storage.  It comes in several colors and designs and has been featured in a number of home decor and design magazines in 2009.  Available at conranusa.com and unicahome.com.  Rack em up!  

  Click here for larger version

6.  Piero Fornasetti was an Italian painter and interior designer who took a whimsical approach to his work.  These 10.25 inch plates are a perfect representation of his artistic point of view.  The plates are still handcrafted by Fornasetti’s son, Barnaba and can be found in stock at select retailers or special ordered with a 10-12 week lead time.   A lovely and unique piece of art history. 


7.  Photos do these feathery dolls no justice.  Perfect for so many occasions, Angle Trees by the folks at angelwreaths.com stand about 27 inches and collapse for easy storage.  I own several Angel Wreaths and have added a tree to my collection.  They make great gifts, come in 15 colors, are perfect for the holiday season and many other occasions throughout the year.     

  The Silver Spoon     I Know How to Cook

8.   Phaidon Press has translated two of the most successful cookbooks in Europe into English.  The first is The Silver Spoon, which is the most successful Italian cookbook of the last 50 years.  The U.S. edition was released in 2005 and contains over 2000 recipes compiled from different Italian regions.  Next up is I Know How to Cook, a best-seller in France since the original publication in 1932.  The English translation was just released in September, 2009.   This book contains over 1400 simple and easy to follow recipes updated for modern cooks by experts in classic French cooking.  Both books are easy to read and extremely well laid out.  A fantastic gift for the ambitious and experienced cook.   

9.  This is one of the funkiest candleholders I have ever seen.  It’s the curve candleholder exclusive to CB2.  It’s literally an interactive magnetic sculpture with seven moveable hand-welded steel rods.  Create your own art worthy design and festival of lights any time of the year. 


10.  Mariage Frères Tea  has been called the best tea in the world!  Founded in 1854, the company sells over 500 varieties of high-quality tea over the counter and by mail-order.  With over 30 tea counters, restaurants, museums and salons in France, Japan and Germany and a loyal following that raves about their products, this company seems to have gotten the formula right.  Available at various U.S. specialty food retailers.  Impressive!     

11.  Patience Brewster’s Dash Away All mini reindeer ornaments and Santa is a lovely gift for Krinkles collectors of all ages.  An obsession among collectors, Brewster’s whimsically delightful and fun creations have fascinated and brought joy to the hearts and imaginations of the playful all over.  A good friend and I simply can’t get enough of these awesome little creatures, no matter the size.

Raynaud Cristobal Collection, Coral

12.  Place settings of china or other dining pieces are great starter and annual gifts for families and individuals this year.  In fact, a single place setting for a good friend or yourself isn’t a bad idea either.  Patterns and styles range from ornate and  formal to everyday casual and prices range from low to major splurge.  This is the Raynaud Cristobal Collection from William-Sonoma Home, one of the best looking and most timeless sets available.  My advice; start with the dinner plates.  Happy dining!

Christmas Gifts Under $25

For $25 and under there are endless gift giving possibilities available online and at retailers.  At this price point and below you can put together amazing goody bags and find really great options for everyone on your list.  Below are a few ideas to get you started.  

Click here for larger version

1.  The sky planter is unique, practical and award-winning.  This spectacular design offers a new way to grow plants; upside down.  It’s self-watering, space-saving and only needs to be refilled once or twice a month making this the ultimate water conserving planter.  Use it to grow herbs or other household or outdoor plants.   The design compliments contemporary or classic homes and kitchens and will give anyone on your list a green thumb.  Get this delightful planter for just $25 at unicahome.com.  The sky is the limit!        

    Click here for larger version

2.  These double-walled oil and vinegar pourers are striking in appearance and hand-blown to the finest standards of  glassmaking in Italy.  With two sizes priced at $25 or less at unicahome.com, they are simply divine.   

3.  The Kill-A-Watt lets you plug-in your appliances and determine how efficient they are.  With the cost of power rising almost daily, it’s useful to know just how much it’s costing you to keep all of those nifty electrical devices around the house plugged in.  With Kill-A-Watt you can monitor the quality of your power by displaying Voltage, Line frequency and Power Factor, much like utility companies on the large LCD display screen.  With this you can project your electrical expenses by the day, week, month and even an entire year.  How is this a bad thing?  Get this money-saving device at thinkgeek.com and amazon.com for under $25.  


4.  The Sound Machine has been awarded the U.K. Gift of the Year for 2009.  What the heck is it?  Well, it’s a box with high-fidelity audio effects that allows you to add applause, laughter, whistles and many other sounds to your conversations.  Why not push a button and give yourself a round of applause!  Available for $16.50 online or at The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, mcachicago.org.       

     philosophy 'gingerbread man' foaming bubble bath & shower gel Men's Cade Discovery Set  After Shave BalmJack Black All-Over Wash for Face, Hair & Body

5.  I admit I’m a bit of a cosmetic products fiend but I’ve limited myself to just a few favorites over the last couple of years.  Sometimes it’s hard to resist a new scent or nicely priced gift set around the holidays.  This year products and gift sets at or below $25 are more plentiful than ever.  Here is a small sample of what’s on my radar from Philosophy, L’Occitane, Bliss and others.  For the guys try Cade from L’Occitane, Anthony, available at Sephora and the popular Jack Black line available at Nordstrom.  


 DKNY 'Color Bar' Patent Leather Buckle Bracelet

6.  These DKNY Color Bar Patent Leather Buckle Bracelets look like regular watch bands at first glance.  Upon closer inspection you realize these colorful and stylish bands can be linked together or worn separately as a wrist accessory.  Everybody loves a good bracelet and they’re a mere bargain at $12.50 each.  Available at Nordstrom.   

 All-Clad Stainless Steel Locking Tongs, 12" 

7.  All-Clad cooking utensils are made of heavy-guage stainless steel and polished to a high shine.  These incredible and durable tools are available at Macys for $19- $21.99 each.  The measuring spoons are essentially miniature versions of  the saucepans and are exclusively available at Williams Sonoma for just $16.  You’ll fall in love with All-Clad.  


8. Portable MP3 player speakers priced at under $25 each are right on time from iHome.  The iHM77UC capsule  speaker comes in four colors and is perfect for your iPhone, iPod, laptop or any MP3 player.  These little speakers offer surprisingly big sound that must be heard to be believed.  They feature a built-in rechargeable battery, vacuum bass expansion, USB charging and come with a protective carrying case.  The iHM10R stereo speaker system comes in 6 colors and boasts EXB for expanded bass, an audio patch cord to connect to other devices and comes with a protective carrying case.  Ahh..gotta love a little colorful technology. 

           Pecan Turtle                         Maple Walnut                 

9.  Whether you’re a fudge fan or not, I guarantee you’ll like  Fudgie Wudgie Fudge.  While strolling along the bustling shopping area know as The Strip District in Pittsburgh, PA,  I came across this little shop.  I wasn’t immediately drawn to the fudge but after sampling the Pecan Turtle, I was stone hooked.  Only a sample of what’s available at Fudgie Wudgie is online.  The dark or milk chocolate covered toffee with a dab of sea salt on top is worth an hour at the gym!  If you have a sweets eater on your list or need a good corporate gift, this is a great choice.  A sure sweet winner at $15 for a 1 lb box…don’t forget to get one for yourself too.  Delish! 

                                   Bodum® Bistro Mug Press                Click to enlargePortmeirion Laura Stoddard Up the Garden Path Tea for One 12 oz.

10.  Teapots, mugs and coffee presses are common and all to easy gifts to give during the holidays.   If you’re going to give one of these items, make it stylish, whimsical, functional or fun.  Here are a few options that might pique your interest and are priced at or below $25.  The Minami teapot with infuser from Crate and Barrel, Bodum bistro mug press, Slant and Portmeirion  tea for one sets are great options.  You’ll be good to go with these.                

   11.  The little sister to Curious Toys’ Company, Zola-a-Go-Go, Pop-Zolo lets kids make the most creative  friends and buddies they can imagine with this 28 piece, vibrant and colorful set.  The super cool abstract set lets children be creative, continue to develop motor skills and even decorate their room, backpack or desk.  An awsome gift for children over 5 years for just $14.95 at amazon.com.  Hurry, Zolo toys sell out fast! 

  Quercetti Georello Kaleido Gears, 55 pieces

12.  Georello Kaleido Gears are made in Italy by Quercetti, a company with 60 years of experience making toys that engage children in beneficial play.  This gear set is a perfect beginning set that encourages creativity and stimulates intuitive reasoning.  The set comes with 55 pieces and gears in 3 sizes.  The goal is to see how many ways a child can make them spin.  The set costs just $24.99 at amazon.com, a steal for hours of creative play.  


13.  No one has ever accused me of being a huge Madonna fan, but she totally won  me over with her first 5 children’s books.  These books are so well illustrated and written that they make perfect library additions for children and adults alike.  They are becoming rare and hard to find but are available individually at borders.com at $19.95 for each book in the collection.  One of the best is Mr. Peabody’s Apples.  Mr. Peabody is the beloved elementary school teacher and baseball coach in town, who one day finds himself ostracized when rumors spread.  Mr Peabody finds out and silences the gossip with an unforgettable lesson about how we must choose our words carefully to avoid causing harm to others.  Get this one while you can. 

  Oral-B Vitality Precision Clean Rechargeable Electric Toothbrush 

14.  You might not expect to find a toothbrush on a list of gifts to give, but this is no ordinary toothbrush.  The Oral B Vitality Precision Clean rechargeable electric toothbrush is about the best in its class.  Users give it a 4.5 out of 5 star rating and it’s priced below $20.  It easily outperforms much more expensive counterparts.  The small round brush gets into hard to reach areas and the high-speed oscillating motion cleans plaque efficiently.  A single replacement head will cost approximately $4.50.  Pair it with a tube of  Tom’s of Maine Natural Care toothpaste for a  clean and healthy smile.  A nice and unexpected gift.   

15Ritzenhoff Mini Piggy Banks are a stylish way to stash away emergency cash.  Careful though, the only opening might be on the top.  Just $19.95 at ritzenhoffcollection.com.   

French Ornate Wrap Journal - Vert, by PaperBlanks    Stravagante Journal Lined Ultra [7x9] by PaperBlanks

16. A photo does not do the beauty and craftmanship justice when it comes to Paper Blanks journals.  These journals are designed to inspire the writer with absolutely beautiful covers representing reproductions of original letters by the likes of William Shakespeare and 15th century book covers.  I have not discovered a better looking line of journals at this price point.  These designs available at paperposey.com for $20 and under.

Cuisipro Herb Keeper

17.  The Cuisipro Herb Keeper is 9-1/2 inches tall,  4-3/4 inches in diameter and BPA free.   It’s designed to fit in most refrigerator door shelves and extends the life or herbs.  It can also be used to store vegetables like asparagus and celery.  The herb keeper works by immersing herbs in a small amount of water which keeps them fresh.  Use the green knob to lift them out for use.  A fantastic multi-use kitchen tool for $20 at amazon.com.

Product Image New Bright 1: 18-Scale Solar Car - Yellow with White

18.  New Bright’s solar powered remote controlled car never needs batteries.  Find a sunny spot to charge and you’re set to enjoy a fully functional left/right and forward/reverse driving experience from the hand-held remote.  This is the first if not the only affordable solar powered car for children over 8 years of age, but I’m willing to bet this gorgeous little car will be a favorite of eco-toy lovers of all ages.  Such a perfect gift and available for $24.99 at target.com .