Things to do

Jupiter and Saturn Will Align to Create the First "Christmas Star" in Nearly 800 Years

As 2020 comes to a close, the solar system has decided to grace us with a cosmic Christmas miracle that hasn't been witnessed in nearly 800 years. On Dec. 21 (aka the December or Winter solstice), Jupiter and Saturn will align so closely in the night sky that they'll almost appear to collide from our vantage point here on Earth, creating a radiant point of light often referred to as the "Star of Bethlehem" or the "Christmas Star."

by Chanel Vargas, Dec 2, 2020

"Alignments between these two planets are rather rare, occurring once every 20 years or so, but this conjunction is exceptionally rare because of how close the planets will appear to be to one another," said Patrick Hartigan, an astronomer at Rice University, according to Forbes. "You'd have to go all the way back to just before dawn on March 4, 1226, to see a closer alignment between these objects visible in the night sky."

The event, sometimes referred to as The Great Conjunction, occurs roughly every 19 to 20 years, but this is the closest the planets will line up in the night sky since the Middle Ages. Technically, Saturn will be 10 au (astronomical units) from Earth, and Jupiter will be 5 au away, but they will appear to be less than the diameter of a full moon apart. 

To catch a glimpse of the phenomenon for yourself, make sure you have a clear view to the southwest about 45 minutes after sunset. The planets will be at their closest on Dec. 21, but the "Christmas Star" will be visible from anywhere on Earth for about one hour after sunset in the northern hemisphere for the entire fourth week of December. If you're viewing with a telescope, you may also be able to see Jupiter and Saturn's largest moons orbiting them that week. The next Great Conjunction this close won't happen until March 15, 2080, so be sure to take a peek out your window later this month for a brilliant holiday treat.

Image Source: Getty / Vidmar Fernandes

6 Ways to Spark Joy This Holiday Season

This may not be the holiday season any of us had planned for. The pandemic has canceled our parties, our group baking extravaganzas and our annual trips to feast with our families. If you haven’t visited your loved ones in a year or have only hung out socially distanced, forgoing a large family gathering can feel like another entry on the list of “Things I missed out on in 2020.” 

But there is joy to be found in a scaled-down celebration, and you still can make your holiday season festive whether you’re spending it with your immediate household or flying solo. 

Compliments of Zillow, Life at Home

Here are six ways to make the most of the holidays this year — and ring in a very eager toast to 2021. 

Deck the heck out of the halls

Just because you’re not having a large holiday gathering doesn’t mean that you should skimp on the decorations. If anything, this is the year to go big. Ever fantasized about being that yard or balcony — you know, the Clark Griswold-level one that everyone stops and admires? Now is your chance to be the star of the neighborhood. 

And don’t let the cheery decorations stop on the outside. Adorn your space with twinkle lights, pompom garlands, illuminated elves or items that remind you of holidays at your parents’ house, or wherever you feel most at home. You’ll be feeling like you’re in the middle of a Hallmark movie before you know it. 

Create new traditions

You might be missing the usual fare — your mom’s homemade candy, your grandma’s elaborate roast, even that work holiday party that you used to loathe. But this year, instead of thinking about how much you wish things were different (and, oh, how we do), try to focus on creating your own traditions that can live on post-pandemic. 

Usually a couch potato on Christmas morning? Implement a brisk holiday walk before you open your presents. Has your family always celebrated holidays in a fairly traditional American way? Research how other countries spend the holiday season. For example, Icelanders gift each other books on Christmas Eve and spend the evening reading alone in bed (not a bad setup for a pandemic holiday). 

Embrace hygge

The Danish concept of hygge (pronounced hoo-gah) or a feeling of coziness and warmth — marries well with being stuck inside for the entirety of the holiday season. Although it’s easy to miss the “going out” opportunities of the season like holiday concerts, movies, cocktail parties, ice skating or neighborhood gatherings, try to embrace the feeling of comfort and security of your warm home. 

How exactly do you achieve hygge in your home? Although there’s no wrong way to accomplish feeling cozy, your best bet is candles (and lots of them), a fireplace, your favorite blanket and a freshly baked batch of cookies. 

Pamper yourself

Spending the holiday solo this year? Having an entire day of self-care planned for when you would normally get together with family or friends will make it something you look forward to (and maybe even make a new holiday tradition). 

Take a long, hot bath or shower, exfoliate, do a deep conditioning treatment, paint your toenails, try out a new aftershave or manscaping regimen, or whatever other form of pampering you like to engage in. Create a pampering schedule on your phone or write it down in a notebook so it feels like an official day at the spa. Or, if your idea of self-care looks more like a good book, a group Zoom with friends, a refreshing solo hike or a day of classic movies and popcorn, make a schedule that’s right for you.

Organize a cookie exchange

Sure, you can’t bake together, but that doesn’t mean you can’t organize a flow of sweet treats to your door (and everyone else’s in the neighborhood). Have a select few neighbors or local friends sign up to bake a batch of cookies and do a drop-off on the front porch. You can even take pictures of all the finished products and have an online vote to see which cookie had the best design or flavor. 

Donate to a cause

One thing 2020 has made clear: There’s more need than ever before. With millions of lost jobs and an economy in trouble, people are struggling to make ends meet — and nonprofits and trying to help fill in the gaps. If you are financially able, one of the best ways to cap off the year is to research a charity and donate what you can. 

5 Ways to Decorate for the Holidays on a Budget

Deck out your home for the holidays without breaking the bank with these creative ideas, crafts and upcycling projects.

By: Allie Holcomb King, HGTV 

Display Holiday Cards + Gifts

Instead of spending money on store-bought decor, work with two things you probably already have on hand — holiday cards and wrapped gifts. Not only will this help cheer up a dull spot in your home, but it will also keep your mail pile from overflowing and your Christmas tree base from overcrowding. Here, a tree-shaped cardholder is stacked on a gift-filled bar cart, adding holiday cheer to an otherwise basic foyer.

Get Creative With Gift Wrap Scraps

Don’t throw away those seemingly useless scraps of gift wrap! Put them to work to give everyday items, like basic serving plates, a holiday makeover. Cut the leftover paper to size, and use it to line serveware. For a display that will last all season long, fill the festive dishes with holiday knickknacks or long-lasting snacks, like whole nuts or individually wrapped candies.

Craft a Pinecone Garland

If you already have yarn or twine and white craft paint on hand, this DIY decoration only requires a quick trip to your backyard. Dip pinecones in white craft paint to create a dreamy, rustic garland perfect for your mantel, Christmas tree or dining table.

Bedazzle Backyard Finds

If glitter is more your style, try this pretty pinecone upgrade instead. Collect several pinecones, and clean them well under warm water. Roll each one in craft glue then glitter, and let them dry. Attach ribbon using hot glue or just tie them on and hang them from a chandelier or on your Christmas tree.

Make a Wood Slice Banner

If your decor leans more toward a rustic aesthetic, try this take instead. Cut your own wood slices to save some money. Customize them using permanent markers and transfer paper. Permanent markers and transfer paper make it easy to add a customized holiday greeting.

First, drill holes in wood slices by using a drill equipped with a 1/8” drill bit. Drill a hole at the top, center of each wood slice.

Next, transfer text and images to wood slices by printing them from a computer, sized to fit. Cut out each letter and image with scissors. Cut a piece of transfer paper to size as well. Note: One piece of transfer paper can be used for all wood slices. Place transfer paper directly on wood slice and top with printed letter or image (Images 1 and 2 below). Trace with a dull pencil or closed pen/pen cap. Repeat with other wood slices.

  

Color and Tie on Twine. Using fine-tipped permanent markers, color in traced lines. Tie each wood slice onto a piece of twine approximately 2-3” in length. Then, tie each wood slice onto a piece of twine 3-4’ in length to make a banner. 

Tip: These can be used as ornaments and gift tags as well.

 

Happy Holidays!  En-JOY!

 

 

7 Mistakes That Could Keep You From Selling Your Home This Winter

Selling a house during winter comes with its own unique challenges. Snow, for one, can bury your home's best features. Your normally lush landscaping may look drab and lifeless. And truth be told, all you want to do is cozy up at home rather than welcome buyers through your door.

Still, if you're game to sell during winter, it's essential that you put on your snow pants and put some effort into making your house shine. To help, here are some classic mistakes to avoid once the temperature drops, and why they can make such a difference. Just avoid making these all-too-common winter-selling fumbles in order to get top dollar.

  

By Jamie Wiebe, Realtor.com

Mistake No. 1: Setting down the shovel

You cleared off enough of the driveway for your car, but potential buyers won't be entering through the garage like you do.

"Blazing a path through 3 feet of virgin snow makes a lousy first impression," says John Engel, a Realtor® with Halstead Properties, in New Canaan, CT.

Don't put away your snow shovel until you've cleared a path to your front door. Or save your poor back by hiring a snow removal company to keep your paths walkable.

"Not only does it make it more inviting for buyers, but it avoids potential safety and liability concerns," says Massachusetts Realtor John Ternullo. 

Mistake No. 2: Giving in to the winter blahs

Gray skies and barren trees make winter a particularly depressing time to sell. But you don't have to let your home look as doleful as the weather.

"Pops of color by the entryway, like a seasonal wreath and topiaries, can add some interest to the front entrance as well as make it more inviting," Ternullo says.

And don't wait until buyers schedule showings to add some life: Colorful curb appeal transforms your listing photos from drab to dramatic.

Mistake No. 3: Not scrubbing your windows

Colder temps have robbed your trees of their leaves, leaving your home to look a bit sadder in winter's wake. But that's not the only problem. Those full trees previously shielded your home from direct sunlight. And now that it's pouring in your windows, potential buyers will be able to see everything. 

Scuffs, fingerprints, and streaks are "never more apparent" than in the wintertime, Engel says, so you should make sure you're vigilant about keeping windows clean. Alone, that grime might not be enough to turn off a potential buyer, but it might make them wonder what other details you've missed.

Mistake No. 4: Displaying outdated summer photos

Your Tudor looks particularly glorious in the summer, but if your only listing photos were taken in April, buyers will immediately suspect a problem.

"Nothing says 'old, tired listing' more than the photo you took nine months ago," Engel says. Talk to your Realtor about taking new photos that make your home look festive and seasonal. Feel free to keep older photos in the listing—your buyers might want to know what the home looks like when the gardens are in full bloom—but updated photos will make your listing seem fresh.

Mistake No. 5: Turning down the heat

"Frugality is great, but not when you're trying to sell real estate for top dollar," says Brian Davis, a real estate investor and co-founder of SparkRental.com.

Turn the heat up before you leave for showings, your utility bill be damned. Stick to 68 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit to keep everyone comfy.

"It will make the house feel homier and more welcoming," Davis says. "It also gives the impression that the house is energy-efficient and well-insulated."

Mistake No. 6: Denying access

It's New Year's Eve and a buyer wants to stop by. How dare they! Shouldn't they assume you have a fabulous party to prepare for?

Maybe. But if you want to sell your home in the off-season, the buyer has to come first. You'll need to work with your Realtor to devise a strategy for squeezing in showings, even in between all of winter's holiday events and family gatherings.

"While it may be inconvenient, it's crucial not to deny showings, as that could be a missed opportunity," Ternullo says. "There may be less buyers compared to spring, but winter buyers tend to be serious."

Mistake No. 7: Leaving out your draft stoppers

Your hand-knit draft stopper might look adorable snuggled against your door, but it "sends a clear message to buyers," Davis says. "This house is drafty and loses heat easily."

Not that you should lie. But every home has hidden problems, and it's best to let the buyers make their own assessments and discoveries during the inspection period. Don't leave out little things that could sway their decision.

 

 

Simple Pleasures: A Cozy Home in Cold Weather

Stock up on these treats and essentials to make even blustery days and snowed-in time feel special.

There is a certain squirrel-like pleasure in stocking up for cold weather — and potential power outages — from the regular essentials, like flashlights and warm socks, to the fun essentials, like bottles of wine and new board games. Knowing you have all you could possibly want tucked tidily away is a wonderful way to kick off a season of coziness.

By Laura Gaskill, Houzz Contributor

  

Firewood

If you have a woodstove or fireplace, stocking up on good, dry wood is essential before winter really kicks in. 

Although wood does look inviting all stacked up, it’s probably best to store the bulk of it outdoors to prevent little critters from entering your home. A covered porch can be a good transitional space for keeping a wood pile, and a neat stack of wood is a cozy thing to look at as you enter the home on blustery days.

Muck Boots and Barn Coats

Sure, we all have our nice boots and coats for going out, but it’s so handy to have a selection of sturdy muck boots and waxed coats to toss on when you need to take care of a quick outdoor chore. 

And there is something so charmingly British countryside about their being all lined up by the back door

Books

Piles of books provide an open invitation to toss out your plans and read all afternoon in the snug house instead. Here’s a tip for those of you, like me, who are attempting to pare down a book collection rather than accumulate more tomes: Visit your library or its website and check out a stack of fascinating books. I love being able to borrow big art and design books, literature, cookbooks and whatever else I am in the mood for. When you’re done, just return them and select another set.

Wine

If you enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, it feels good to know you have some of your favorite varieties in reserve when the snow is flying. 

Just looking at a nice collection of wine in the cupboard or on the wine rack is comforting — if unexpected guests drop in, or you’re stuck in a storm and can’t use the car, you can rest assured there will be a good bottle to share.

Cozy Things in the Kitchen

Tea. Hot cocoa. Casseroles and soups in the freezer. A pantry filled with delectable goodies. Whether you are coming in from shoveling snow or a day running errands, there is something about winter that increases the appetite, so be sure to keep your kitchen well stocked!

Warm Socks

We all deserve warm new socks at the beginning of winter, don’t we? Plush, thick socks can stand in for slippers and make boots more comfortable, and they look far nicer in your drawer than regular ones. Try some in cashmere or washable wool.

Board Games, Puzzles and Other Playthings

Snow days call for old-school amusements. That said, you don’t need to stick with Monopoly and cards — pick out a stack of new games and puzzles to add to the collection. If you play an instrument, treat yourself to some new music to practice on long winter evenings.

 

 

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

The iconic holiday parade will be virtual this year. While Thanksgiving will look a lot different this year because of coronavirus, you can still look forward to watching a modified version of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with the whole family.

 

Earlier this month, Macy's announced that its iconic parade will be produced as a television-only experience this Turkey Day. So, for the first time ever, it'll shift from a live parade to a pre-recorded event. Macy's teamed up with City of New York to modify the parade. All the details haven't been released yet, but here's everything we know about the 94th annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade so far:

When is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade?

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade airs on Thanksgiving Day in the United States. This year, the holiday falls on Thursday, November 26. The long-standing tradition started in 1924 when the infamous parade first debuted and it was later televised for the first time in 1946.

What time does the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade start?

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will begin at 9 a.m. and end at 12 p.m. in all time zones. Typically, during the three-hour event, bands from across the country, Broadway performers, and musical guests make their way through the 2.5-mile route on Macy’s signature floats—starting at 77th Street and Central Park West before heading south to Herald Square at 34th Street. This year, however, the event will be held and taped around the Herald Square area. Viewers can still expect to see giant character balloons, floats, street performers, and Santa Claus, but the overall number of participants will be reduced by 75 percent. 

How can I watch and live stream the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade?

The Macy's Thanksgiving parade will air nationwide on NBC-TV. Last year, the parade was also available to live stream. So if it follows tradition, you'll be able to stream it through the NBC app—available on iOS and Android.

Looking Back At Incredible Vintage Balloons From The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

Waking up on Thanksgiving and watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is such a lovely tradition for American families.

In 1924, the parade was moved from New Jersey to New York City by Macy’s. Every year after that initial march down to the Herald Square flagship store in midtown Manhattan, the parade has grown and grown into such a fun celebration that marks the beginning of each holiday season.

Folks dress up in colorful costumes, and marching bands play happy songs. But the part of the parade that is most anticipated is the balloons that float above the street. 

Throughout the years there have been so many iconic characters to take balloon form, but the 17 below are some of the earliest and most memorable balloons.

Do you remember seeing any of these balloons float through the parade when they first appeared? What is your favorite character to look out for on Thanksgiving Day?

1. Felix The Cat, 1927

Felix was the first balloon ever in the parade.

2. Happy Dragon, 1927

The second ballon to float through the parade was pretty adorable, don’t you think?

3. Mickey Mouse, 1934

Walt Disney himself helped design the first Mickey balloon ever.

4. Eddie Cantor, 1934

This was the first balloon ever to be modeled after a real person.

5. Happy Hippo, 1940s

This sweet guy must have been a hoot to see floating through the air.

6. Uncle Sam, 1940s

You have to show some patriotism when you hold a parade in the heart of New York City!

7. Santa, 1940

Santa helped get everyone in the Christmas spirit.

8. Pilgrim, 1946

It is the Thanksgiving Day Parade, after all.

9. Macy's Elf, 1947

This happy guy surely brought tons of smiles to paradegoers.

10. Harold The Fireman, 1948

Harold became a recurring character in the parade in many forms, but this was his first ever appearance.

11. Harold The Baseball Player, 1949

Here he is again the next year as a baseball player.

12. Bullwinkle, 1961

Everyone’s favorite cartoon moose made an appearance.

13. Donald Duck, 1962

Who doesn’t love Donald Duck?

14. Underdog, 1965

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Here comes the hero dog to save the day!

15. Superman, 1966

The Man of Steel himself even showed up!

16. Flying Ace Snoopy, 1968

This was the first of seven Snoopy balloons to grace the parade.

17. Kermit The Frog, 1977

The most lovable Muppet as a giant floating balloon? What’s not to like?

All images courtesy Macy’s, Inc.

9 Thanksgiving Traditions That Many People Have Forgotten About Today

Now that Halloween is behind us, it's time to look forward to the upcoming festive holidays. Thanksgiving is just around the corner, two weeks from today in fact. It may look a bit different this year due to the Coronavirus but it's still the same old Thanksgiving holiday or is it?

by Jess Catcher, Writer for Little Things

Every year, families gather together to enjoy a huge feast of savory dishes and sweet treats to celebrate Thanksgiving. However, over time, the traditional holiday has begun to look much different than it did back in the day. I don’t mean the original meal between the Pilgrims and Native Americans in 1621, but the classic customs from our parents and grandparents that somehow stopped being passed down somewhere along the way. Thinking back on my own childhood turkey days spent at my grandma’s house, I can’t help but feel like it’s a darn shame that so many of the simple things listed below just aren’t done as often anymore. After all, the shindig is about so much more than just what’s on your plate — it’s about acknowledging the blessings we’ve received over the months since we last gathered around the table together.

1. Retelling The Original Thanksgiving Story

We learn the basics in school, but families used to enjoy brushing up on all the fun facts about our ancestors’ first time sitting together at the table for their big fall harvest meal. Sharing Thanksgiving trivia with the rest of the brood was almost like a fun game!

For example, did you know they didn’t even have turkey on the menu that day? Instead, they dined on items like venison, duck, and even fresh oysters.

2. Adding A Festive Centerpiece To The Table

I can’t remember the last time I saw a beautiful centerpiece that wasn’t at a wedding reception, but you’d always see one on the Thanksgiving table way back when. You can have a blast crafting your own with your kids and grandkids chipping in!

3. Breaking Out The Good China

I’ll admit it: My family always uses paper plates for our feast in order to cut back on the dishes stacking up in the sink, but everyone used to reach for the fancy dinnerware, maybe even dressing up for the occasion with a nice tie or dress.

4. Using Quaint Place Cards

Even if it’s just a small gathering, this personal touch used to go a long way with helping guests feel extra special at the annual meal.

5. Playing Your Own Football Game

Instead of watching the same players face off on TV, families would spend the time waiting for their turkey by heading outside and working up an appetite with some friendly competition.

6. Splitting The Wishbone

Sure, it’s a silly superstition, but that’s what makes it so fun! As you can see in the retro snapshot above, it was especially delightful to the youngsters getting their first chance to make a wish.

7. Sharing What You're Thankful For

I know we’re all anxious to chow down on the delicious food, but don’t you remember when we all used to take a moment to look back on what we’re most grateful for since the previous Thanksgiving? I think this small gesture may have even made the food taste a little better.

8. Walking Off The Feast

Tons of us today are more tempted to slump down in a comfy chair and snooze for a bit. But not too long ago, families would spend more quality time together taking a walk and enjoying the fresh air while aiding their digestion.

9. Staying All Night (In Spite Of Sales)

In recent years, Black Friday has creeped into Turkey Day’s territory, not only forcing employees to leave their own meals early, but inspiring deal-seeking shoppers to ditch the dinner table before dessert is even served.

Enjoy Your Thanksgiving Everyone!

Enjoy Your Pumpkins Beyond Halloween

Pumpkins play an integral part of celebrating fall holidays. Artfully carved jack-o’-lanterns decorate our doorsteps, while whole pumpkins add a festive air to tabletops and other spots around our homes. Once Halloween has passed and Thanksgiving gives way to winter holidays, pumpkins often end up in the trash. But, instead of throwing them out, consider a number of ways you can reuse them. Here's how to give new life — even if only for a little while — to carved and whole pumpkins both indoors and outside.

By Noelle Johnson, Houzz Contributor, Horticulturist, freelance writer and Certified Arborist 

Carved jack-o’-lanterns as well as whole pumpkins can be used out in the garden and around the house once Halloween is over.

 

1. Decorate Outdoor Containers

Add distinctive seasonal flair to your containers by adding whole, uncarved pumpkins. Their vibrant skin will enliven outdoor spaces with color, whether used by themselves or nestled within flowering annuals and perennials.

 

2. Make a Bird Feeder

Cut your pumpkin in half, and fill with birdseed. Add some twigs for the birds to perch on and you’ll soon have feathered friends flocking for a snack. If there are still pumpkin seeds left, the birds will enjoy them too.

Smaller pumpkins also can be used as bird feeders. Clean out their insides, making a hole for the birds on the side. Fill the pumpkin with birdseed, and hang it from a nearby tree where you can observe.

 

3. Turn It Into a Planter

Create a natural container using your pumpkin. Be sure to remove any seeds and stringy bits, fill with potting soil and add a favorite succulent or flowering plant. Use your planter to decorate a tabletop or porch for a few days before planting the pumpkin in the ground — along with the plant inside — where the pumpkin will naturally disintegrate, enriching the soil.

 

4. Display in the Garden

Pumpkins’ distinct color and shape add a decorative autumn element to the landscape — especially when used in high-profile areas near a driveway or front entry. These should naturally disintegrate into the soil, if you want them to, but it’s best if they are best placed in an out-of-the-way spot for this. You could always dig a shallow hole to rest the pumpkin in.

 

5. Add To the Compost Pile

Not surprisingly, pumpkins are a great source of nutrients for compost. Cut up pumpkins into smaller sections to allow them to break down more quickly. Come spring, the pumpkin compost will add new life to your garden.

 

6. Feed the Deer

Those who grow pumpkins know that deer love to eat pumpkins. Provide them with a special fall treat by cutting your pumpkin into smaller pieces and scattering in an area, away from your garden, where they will enjoy eating them. Other furry visitors will also enjoy snacking on any leftovers.

 

 

7. Transform Into Candle Holders

All you need is a mini pumpkin and a tea light candle. Make a hole at the top of the pumpkin, slightly larger than the candle, and clean out the insides. The hole should be just deep enough for the candle to reach the top of the pumpkin. Insert the candle into the pumpkin, and light for festive decoration or a dinner for two.

  

8. Use as Serving Dishes

The shape of pumpkins make them a fun choice for a unique serving dish for the fall table. Smaller pumpkins make a good vessel for dips. 

9. Make Puree

Finally, no list of what to do with pumpkins is complete without talking about using them for delicious desserts like pumpkin pie and bread. Although pureed pumpkin is available in a can, it is easy to make your own, which you can use right away or freeze for later use.Don’t have a compost bin? Simply cut up your pumpkin and bury it where nearby plants will enjoy the phosphorus and other nutrients it will add to the soil.