Friday, December 11, 2009

Household Cleaning Tips for Christmas

Since Christmas is just around the corner....who doesn't need a tip on tidying the house throughout the holidays? Here's a few suggestions from English media personality Anthea Turner, best known for her role in Perfect Housewife, where she taught disorganized housewomen and men how to clean and run their houses.

Anthea's Christmas Cleaning Tips for a Pristine Home


If it is not beautiful, useful or seriously sentimental – get rid of it! Invited a friend who can be ruthless and rid you of things you do not need.

Recycle old magazines, use a lever-arch file to store recipes and magazine articles you want to keep. Tear them out and recycle the rest.

Get rid of the piles of papers and junk sitting on your dining table to let you actually use it for meals with the family.


Do not let the little jobs build up such as cleaning under the bed, tackling the shower curtain, and cleaning the grouting - old toothbrushes are perfect for scrubbing at those stubborn marks between tiles.

Have cleaning wipes to hand for last-minute clean ups. From the telephone to the bathroom sink, a quick swipe will do the trick.

Wipe dirty marks off the painted walls and skirting boards by gently wiping with a damp cloth and a little all-purpose cleaner.

Ensure your oven is prepared to deal with the Christmas turkey and all the trimmings. Tackle stubborn marks on the grill.

Stainless steel can often look dull with watermarks and sticky fingerprints. Create a Christmas sparkle on your appliances by using a special stainless steel cleaner, which will clean away the sticky finger marks whilst still being gentle on the surface.

Try to do a little cleaning every day up towards Christmas to ensure it does not turn into a mammoth task that you have to tackle the night before.


Organize yourself by putting systems in place that will help things run more efficiently so you can keep your home looking sparkling clean.

Have filing trays for post coming in and shred all confidential statements that are not needed but taking up space.

Invest in clear storage boxes so items can be filed away but easily located. Anthea’s Christmas Cleaning Crack-down tips

Anyone else have a holiday cleaning tip?

A Cowboy Christmas *in stores now!*

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Christmas Australian Style

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow!
(or Christmas: Australian style)

As I write this from my home in Colorado listening to Dean Martin croon a collection of Christmas songs, snow is falling in big, fat flakes outside my window. All is warm, safe and cozy inside. The piney scent of our Fraser fir Christmas tree, purchased from the local boy scouts fills the air. A pumpkin and apple spice candle is burning, the fire is blazing and occasionally the bells on a passing horse-drawn sleigh can be heard in the otherwise silent landscape outside.

This picture-perfect Rocky Mountain township defines the idyllic notion of Christmas. Front yards sport pines or spruce decorated generously with lights. Icicle lights hang above front doors and are strung along eaves and balconies, accentuating the already wintry landscape.

The shops on Main Street are absolutely enchanting. Many are remnants of the Victorian era. Strewn with festive illuminations, their window displays tempt you to enter, look around and enjoy the magic of the season while sipping hot apple cider.

I’m reminded of the contrast in the seasons between the two wonderful countries I live in, as I departed for the airport from my home in Australia, just a couple of weeks ago. For although this is the Christmas season throughout the Christian world and beyond, in the southern hemisphere, it’s also high summer.

At nine am, the temperature was already climbing towards the century mark, promising another impossibly humid day. Although summer is my favorite season of the year, I was looking forward to stepping off the plane 30 hours later, into the winter chill of Colorado.

As we drove down our street, the familiar smells of early summer filled the air. Frangipanis and late blooming Chinese jasmine competed with the cloying heat. Brilliantly colored hibiscus and bougainvilleas vied with the purple jacaranda trees, dropping the last of their blooms just as the orangey-red tracts of Poinciana’s pushed their way towards the baking hot sun.

These cheerful trees with climbing-friendly branches, would be our companions throughout the Christmas holidays of my childhood. In Australia, summer is synonymous with Christmas and so the two-month hiatus from school was always called, the “Christmas holidays”, although they lasted until the end of January!

Since Australia is an island continent and most of us live near the coast, at least part of those holidays we spent at the beach. Families would exodus the city en masse to a nearby coastal community, staying in anything from tents and caravans to family owned beach houses.

During those glorious two months—whether spent at the seaside or at home—we’d live in our togs (swimsuits), swim every day, never wear hats (or sunscreen), burn and peel several times, consume massive amounts of watermelon, wear our togs to the mall for pictures with Santa, never wear shoes, have competitions to see who could peel off the largest piece of skin from crispened shoulders and backs, eat the warm centers from freshly baked white bread from the local bakery as we sauntered home with the morning’s paper, play endless games of scrabble, Monopoly or backyard cricket, and constantly pick at our burnt noses and lips, dreading the all-too-swift passing of January and our return to a new school year.

The actual Christmas period is a huge holiday in Australia—although rarely a particularly religious one. Businesses close down on Christmas eve—or, if that falls on a weekend, then the Friday afternoon beforehand—and don’t open again until after the New Year.

Although stores try hard to duplicate an idealized northern hemisphere Christmas complete with fake snow, Santa, reindeer, snowmen, Christmas trees, sleighs, more snow etc.—the resultant manufactured notion of Christmas in wintry latitudes fails to convince or satisfy when outside the mall, the sun is hot enough to fry eggs in the car park.

And as for Santa coming down the chimney on Christmas eve? Forget it! Most Australian homes don’t have chimneys. But curiosity and logic would fly out the door when we’d awaken on Christmas morning to find our gifts beneath the fake Christmas tree—or as happened one year, on a trampoline in the backyard!

Christmas dinner is celebrated at lunchtime on Christmas day. Our mums would spend the morning sweltering in the kitchen, preparing the traditional heavy winter fare of their northern hemisphere ancestors.

Occasionally, the festive fare would feature turkey, but more commonly, an enormous leg of baked ham, accompanied by salad, mashed potatoes, hot plum pudding, custard, hard sauce, ice-cream and Christmas cake would be served. While adults drank champagne, the children pretended to, with glasses of sparkling apple juice.

I have fond memories of my father-in-law on the days following Christmas, dressed only in his pajama bottoms, carving the leftover ham for breakfast. One hand would be fisted around the shank, the other grasping a knife as he shaved off generous slices to go with fried or poached eggs and lashings of thick white toast. Those hams were so big (and tasty) they’d provide breakfasts and lunches through New Years.

Lately, Aussie families have begun to forgo European traditions for their Christmas repast. Many opt instead for freshly cooked king or tiger prawns (shrimp) from the local Fish and Chip shop, a backyard barbie (barbeque) at which the men folk can show off their cooking skills, or a picnic of sandwiches on the beach (with the emphasis on “sand”!)

Boxing Day (the day after Christmas and also an official holiday) brought with it both the start of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht race and a five day Cricket test. This soporific period of too much arm-chair sport and over-indulgence in Christmas leftovers would segue lazily into the New Year. Families would pack up and return to the city. January would seem to fly by and before long, our Christmas holidays were over.

Australia Day, celebrated on January 26th, signaled the end of our summer freedom and the return to a new school year. School uniforms (compulsory throughout Australia) were bought or altered. Feet, flattened, tanned and spread wide by a summer without constraint were squeezed into freshly polished shoes. Hair that hadn’t seen a comb all summer would be put through the torture of removing all the knots—or cut short!

With new textbooks and stationery purchased and school bags packed, we’d walk or ride to school over a carpet of Poinciana blossoms. It was as if these magnificent trees that had shaded us all summer were mourning along with us the end of our Christmas holidays for another year. Although the summer was far from over—the heat often lasting into April and May.

The return to school brought with it new expectations, new challenges to be learned and achieved, growing to be done, friendships made and lost.

We’d walk through the school gate, stomachs fluttering in anticipation at who our new teacher would be for the upcoming year and hoping the bully whose taunts we’d endured the previous year had been permanently expelled—or was in another class.

That first week of school heralded the beginning of summer sports fixtures every Friday afternoon. The school swimming carnival was the first official meet of the school year. I well remember standing on the starting blocks, tanned and toned, my sun-bleached hair falling in my eyes as I prepared to dive in. I loved these events, for although I couldn’t run to save myself, I excelled at swimming!
Swim meets at local, District and State level over, it was nearing the end of February already. Only nine more months until the Christmas holidays!

What’s your favorite season or time of year and how does your family celebrate Christmas?
CC Coburn
Colorado Christmas (Nov 09)

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Happy Holidays!

I really didn’t forget to blog this month. I’m just having trouble posting thanks to the blizzard messing with my internet satellite connection. We’re definitely going to have a white Christmas here in Michigan – at least we will if it keeps snowing like this. Last Thursday night we got 16 inches. This week we’re getting hit again – with that lovely wintry mix of rain, sleet, freezing rain and snow. We even had lightning and thunder this morning –- when I was out with a broom trying to sweep the snow and ice out of the satellite dish. Hopefully this time I’ll be able to post although my blog has changed a bit. Like Linda, I intended to post about the holiday season – which I love, but as usual I’m not ready for it. I have cookies to bake, gifts to buy and wrap – and have yet to put up my tree. Of course the tree doesn’t stay up thanks to my cat who loves to climb it. I don’t remember how many times we had to put it back up last year. Tomorrow, since we’re certain to be snowed in, we will put up the tree and bake those cookies and wrap the gifts I managed to buy before the blizzard hit. The snow is very pretty, but it does make getting ready for the holiday – and blogging – much more of a challenge.
I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


Are you in the Christmas Spirit yet? On the first day of December I was thinking about everything I had to do for the holidays and getting a major headache. But then we had the Advent coffee at our church and sang beautiful Christmas carols. That always gets me into the spirit of Christmas.

I said “we sang”, but even though I love to sing I didn’t embarrass myself. When I was a kid, my brothers and I went to a Catholic school. All the kids at various times sang in the choir. There were a couple of us who couldn’t sing. A nun christened me and another girl the hummers. And we were the best hummers, she said. So I’m still a hummer. I only sing when no one is listening.

My dh is an exception. When we put up our Christmas tree, it was cold. My hubby’s nose was slightly red from going in and out of the house so much. I started singing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, inserting his name for Rudolph. He didn’t think that was funny, but you have to sing when you’re putting up a tree, even if you can’t. Right? He said if I didn’t stop the dogs in the neighborhood were going to start howling. They didn’t. We got the tree decorated without incident, except he wouldn't stand by it when I took the photo. Now we’re ready for Christmas, except for shopping, cooking and all the other stuff.

To add to the spirit it snowed. Yes, it did. Right here in Texas. Beautiful snow flakes looked like confetti falling from the sky. It wasn’t cold enough to stick to anything but it was pretty while it lasted. A winter wonderland. Sleigh bells ring, are you listening… Tis the season, and yes I’m singing.

Silent Night is my favorite Christmas song. I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas is another, and O Come All Ye Faithful, Joy to the World, Little Drummer Boy and so on. Rocking Around the Christmas Tree is a fun-get-you-in-the-mood one, as is Jingle Bell Rock. What is your favorite Christmas Song? One that gets you into the spirit of Christmas.

This is my last post for 2009. Happy Holidays everyone!! Let the Christmas spirit ring. Rockin’ around the Christmas tree…. (It’s really good you can’t hear me)

And a Happy New Year!!!!

Skylar’s Outlaw – Jan 2010

Monday, December 07, 2009

Warm Family Time by Megan

This week, my husband's family convened for an important event. It was the first time all the siblings had been together with their mom in several years. Spread across the country, they find it hard to get "home" at the same time.

Family time filled with warmth, laughter, reminiscences, and of course, food. Old tales were retold and enjoyed as though it were the first time anyone heard them. The "kids" completed one another's stories and sentences. New stories of children and grandchildren were passed around with photographs to keep everyone up to date.

I soaked it all in, reminded how wonderful a big family can be, and how dear to me these people are who welcomed me into their family and made me one of theirs.

This family feelings is the essence of Harlequin American Romance and perhaps why I love to write for this line. The warmth, love, laughter, and support of family members are things we can understand and enjoy.

These are the things I wish for you as the December holdiays approach: love, laughter, and support for hard times. A family, whether born into, married into, or made of friends.

Megan Kelly