Blog Posts by Real Simple Magazine

  • Gift-wrapping strategies

    Wendell T. Webber Wendell T. WebberFaced with a pile of hard-to-wrap gifts and messy yards of mismatched paper? With these efficient wrapping strategies, you'll be caroling again in no time

    The Right Gift-Wrapping Materials
    Solid-color paper, solid ribbon in contrasting or complementary colors, double-sided tape, and scissors (used only for cutting wrapping paper and ribbon, so they'll stay sharp and clean) are all you need for a basic, year-round wrapping station:

    Grosgrain Ribbon

    With its ridged surface, this classic cotton ribbon dresses up any paper. Unlike paper or plastic ribbons, which crimp or fold when you tie them and which all too readily show mistakes, grosgrain can be retied and reused.
    Try: A rainbow of ribbons to suit any occasion -- yellow, aqua, pink, white, red, and Kelly green.

    Paper

    Stock your wrapping kit with solid-color paper. It may be more expensive than the poinsettia and sleigh-bells five-pack, but when paired with the right ribbons, it can be used for all occasions

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  • Organizing Charitable Events

    Peter LaMastroPeter LaMastroA grassroots guide to running an effective fund-raiser for your favorite worthy cause

    How to Organize a Silent Auction

    How It Works: Bids, written on a sheet of paper next to each item, are accepted for donated goods and services over a set length of time.

    What It's Best For: Raising money for causes that need ongoing support, like arts or literacy programs.

    Pros: A silent auction can be run on its own or in tandem with other events, and it can be designed to fit virtually any financial goal and any audience demographic, says Dick Friel, who works as an auctioneer with his wife, Sharon Friel, in Seattle.

    Cons: For most items, the top bid may be far below retail cost, so you'll need to gather items whose total value is much more than the amount you hope to raise.

    Making the Most of It

    • Compile a list of desired items and of local businesses to approach for donations. Besides the usual tickets and gift certificates, Sharon Friel recommends seeking out unique
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  • Home office essentials checklist

    Print this checklist and gather these items -- suggested by REAL SIMPLE. REAL LIFE. design expert Gia Russo -- to make your office space work for you.

    Furniture

    • Desk
    • Comfortable chair
    • Desk lamp
    • File cabinet
    • Bookcase and/or floating shelving
    • Storage cabinet for supplies
    • Table or small cabinet for printer and fax

    See Real Simple's Tips on Restarting Your Career.

    Tech Equipment

    • Wireless internet connector
    • Laptop computer for easy portability
    • Mouse and mouse pad
    • Wireless printer
    • Surge protector
    • Telephone
    • Scanner
    • Paper shredder
    • Fax, preferably with built-in photocopier
    • iPod
    • iPod dock
    • Backup hard drive
    • Charging station for portable devices

    See Real Simple's Checklist for Organizing an Office Party.

    Supplies

    • Hanging file folders
    • File folders
    • Stationery
    • Postage stamps
    • Business cards
    • Printer cartridges
    • Printer and fax paper
    • CDs
    • Desk clock
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  • Saving for College

    Don't panic -- you have options

    If they gave out scholarships just for being wonderful, no doubt your child would have all the money she needs for college. But, in reality, the competition for scholarships (merit-based and need-based money you don't have to pay back) and grants (need-based money you don't have to pay back) is fierce, so you're better off not relying on them as a source of income. "Not unless your kid is in the sixth grade and is seven feet already and can dunk the basketball -- or plays Carnegie Hall," says Joseph Hurley, founder of the financial-information website Savingforcollege.com.

    While you might consider using retirement funds for your children's education, think carefully about that before forgoing plans geared specifically for college. As Hurley explains in his book, Savingforcollege.com's Family Guide to College Savings (Savingforcollege.com, $8, www.amazon.com), you cannot easily borrow from your 401(k), and you might have to pay income tax on money

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  • Holiday decorating ideas from the home and garden center

    Lucas AllenLucas AllenAfter you've picked up your tree from the parking lot, browse the gardening department inside for decorating inspiration

    Cheep Thrills
    Trawl the knickknack bins for inexpensive, cheerful items to use as party accessories. A clip-on doodad, like this clear plastic bird, can serve as a place-card holder. Clip the card to a spoon or a fork, then rest it in a first-course bowl or on a napkin.

    Make an Entrance
    A pair of stone-look plastic urns flanking the front doorway can be dressed up to welcome holiday visitors in grand style. Place a tall foam cone in each urn, anchor it with sand, use florist sticks and wire to attach greenery and Christmas balls, and voilà -- instant Tuscan villa.

    See Real Simple's Pinecone Wreaths 8 Ways.

    Color Your World
    Paint-sample strips make great gift tags. Besides all those hues, they're printed with fantasy-inspiring names, like Flamingo Dream. Slide one under the ribbon, or punch a hole and thread ribbon through as a tie.

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  • Choosing a Christmas tree

    Francesco Lagnese Francesco LagneseTips for picking the perfect fir, spruce, or pine for your home this holiday season

    "Picking a tree really comes down to personal preference," says Joe Freeman, owner of Mistletoe Meadows, in Laurel Spring, North Carolina; champion of the 2007 National Christmas Tree Competition; and provider of this year's official White House tree. Popular species are shipped across the country, so you'll probably be able to find your favorite type no matter where you live. But if you're buying a tree that's not native to your region, pay extra attention to issues like needle freshness, since the tree has been in transit.

    See Real Simple's Holiday Entertaining Toolkit.

    Fraser Fir
    Often found on the East coast, it features dark green needles that are silvery underneath, strong branches, and a conical shape.

    Balsam Fir
    Grown in the northern United States and Canada, this fragrant species is very similar to the Fraser fir.

    Douglas Fir
    Native to the Pacific Northwest,

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  • Gifts under $50 for just about anyone

    Lucas AllenLucas AllenThe go-to pieces that will satisfy anyone -- no matter how fussy

    Slawinski & Co Noooodle Spaghetti Measure and Trivet, $32
    Not just a pretty base: The loops on this chrome trivet measure from one to four servings of dried pasta.
    sfmoma.org

    Shown clockwise from upper left:

    Alex Beard Impossible Puzzle, $15
    What you see isn't always what you get: The similarly shaped pieces fit together to recreate the image on the box -- or they can be rearranged to create an entirely different picture.
    barnesandnoble.com

    Koeze Cream-Nut Milk Chocolate and Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Clusters, $11 to $29
    Peanut butter. White chocolate. Pecans covered in a thick chocolate coating. Is your mouth watering yet? Skip the predictable candies and introduce someone to these irresistible local favorites from Michigan.
    koeze.com

    See Real Simple's Creative Wrapping Ideas.

    Out of the Box Backseat Drawing Game, $25
    Great for birthday or dinner parties: He

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  • A Roundup of Charitable Ideas

    Gemma Comas Gemma Comas Looking for unusual ways to give back? Why not . . .

    • Donate your shoes: Soles4Souls distributes gently worn footwear to the needy, including victims of natural disasters worldwide. So far, this young organization has donated more than 3 million pairs. Consult its website, soles4souls.org, for more information on how to donate shoes or organize your own shoe drive. Donations are tax deductible.
    • Support soldiers overseas: Make life a little more comfortable for our service men and women abroad. Visit anysoldier.com to connect with soldiers and see a list of their requests, then send items such as cookies, DVDs, or phone cards. A care package of cookies goes down especially well at 2400 hours.

    See Real Simple's How to Make a Difference.

    • Drink coffee to finance water wells in Africa: Talk about a good buzz. With the purchase of Ugandan Gold coffee ($8 a pound, ugandangold.com), you'll drink an excellent cup of java and finance water wells in Africa. In many
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  • Throw the perfect holiday potluck

    Maura McEvoyMaura McEvoyCome Together

    Don't try to organize a potluck on your own. Enlist at least two friends and divide the duties. Good planning now means less work -- and more fun -- later.

    The Décor

    Whether your potluck is in a barn, a church basement, or a dining room, frame the party space with evergreen garlands, which you can hang several days beforehand without sacrificing their freshness. Just follow the architecture of the room (the beams or the moldings, for instance) and hammer small nails in strategic spots, then drape the swags over them. Use extra greenery to decorate light fixtures and to create makeshift bouquets in galvanized buckets. Then hang clear twinkly lights over the boughs, place white votive candles on tables and windowsills, dim the regular lights, and you're walking in a winter wonderland.

    Learn How to Eat Healthy During the Holidays at Real Simple.

    1. The Tablecloth
    A bold table covering is a dynamic, efficient way to decorate a party space and to

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  • How to Host a Cheese Party

    Maura McEvoyMaura McEvoyAssemble a memorable spread that takes just one hour to set up, start to finish

    Start your party off on a welcoming note by sending written invitations. To make the one pictured, download the template and print it on standard card stock (shown: Spectrum 8 1/2-by-11-inch cover sheets in poppy, www.katespaperie.com), and cut along the dotted lines. Then grab a hole punch and have a little random fun.

    Buying Supplies for Your Cheese Party

    Party by Numbers

    How much is enough, and how much is too much? Here are the right amounts to have.

    For eight people: Three pounds of cheese, four bottles of wine
    For 16 people: Six pounds of cheese, eight bottles of wine
    For 24 people: Nine pounds of cheese, 12 bottles of wine

    See Real Simple's Guide to Hosting a Sit-Down Dinner.

    Assemble a variety of textures and flavors). For a well-rounded plate, choose at least one cheese from each of the four basic categories below:

    Category 1 -- Aged: Aged Cheddar, Comte, Goat

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