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Ideas for Making Your Home a Refuge from the Hard Times Outside

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By Barbara Mahany

gathering-webRISMEDIA, March 3, 2009-(MCT)-We are living, you might say, in the Age of the Slash. Everywhere we turn, it’s all about slashing. Slash jobs. Slash profits. Slash budgets. So much slashing we’re starting to shake.

No wonder we’re scramming. To the four walls and the roof we call our own. It’s one place on the planet where we can batten the windows, and block out the noise.

Conventional wisdom, of course, says in the Age of the Slash, scrimp at all costs. Cut coupons. Cut corners. Ah, but we’ve a bolder idea: We subscribe to a plan we call Oomphing the Ahhh.

It’s all about comforting, people. It’s all about understanding that in these tough fiscal times, we need a refuge more than ever before. We need a home where we can gather the ones whom we love. And even some strangers, every once in a while.

We can feed them and fuel them, and wrap them all in beauty and grace. We can soothe the ails that afflict us-or at least one or two of ‘em, maybe. Un-jangle our jittery nerves. Put cool cloths to our headaches.

Heck, we might not be able to fix the broken economy, but we can ride out the long dreary months making the most of what home offers to all of us.

Since the time of the cave people, it has been more than a hole in the side of the mountain, the address we schlep back to at the end of the hunt.

It’s the place of our roots but also our wings.

And if ever the space where we dwell demands the best we can give, jeez, the time surely is now.

Believing whole-heartedly in the collective creativity of the human spirit, we set out on a trek to gather up morsels that make for some really rich homes. Doesn’t matter if it’s a teeny-tiny studio apartment, or a house with more bathrooms than people.

We traipsed on ideas so lovely we couldn’t wait to run home and try them.

Our heads are filled now with visions of snowflakes painted on windows, garlicky chickens roasting in ovens, dining room tables spilling with riotous talk-and prayer _ on the Sabbath.

We stumbled upon and relish all over again the notion of saving our pennies the old-fashioned way: in a piggy bank. Bring back the age-old wisdom that if you hold off on buying till you’ve saved up the money, well, then the purchase is all the sweeter for having earned it the hard way.

The ideas go on and on.

So, curl up now. Make a fine cup of tea, perhaps. Get cozy under a blanket. And read along as we set out to Oomph the Ahhh.

We asked, simply and plainly, what are the tricks up your sleeve, the sparkling moments, what in the world makes your home the one place you can’t wait to come back to, day after long, hard day, night after night? How do you tuck comfort into every nook, cranny and corner?

And here’s what we gathered:

1. Haul in some river rocks (without getting your feet wet)
Those little bags of beautiful rocks, which maybe you want to dump in your boot tray, or set beneath a slippery bar of soap, or strew across your table, can be pricey at the crafts store, but if you drive to a local stone supplier, you can get river rock for relatively cheap. And the buying itself is an adventure. You drive in and they weigh your car. Then they tell you to load up, and once you’re ready, you drive your car back onto the big fat scale and they weigh you, the car, the whole shebang. You are charged for the difference in pounds.

2. Paint, paint, paint
It gives you the shot in the arm and is not as expensive as furniture, says Elizabeth Black. “Even paint your worn-out floor for some drama and bang for your buck.”

3. Snowflakes even when it’s endlessly gray
When it’s bleak outside, Carolyn Eby grabs a can of spray snow, and makes a sheet of stencils (she takes a few sheets of plastic and punches out snowflakes or whatever shape she fancies). Then she sprays all over the windows or her French doors. And she can’t see the dreary February outside for all the little flakes on her windows. Just wipe ‘em down when it’s time to clear the panes.

4. Never underestimate the almighty daffodil
Don’t know about you, but we’ve never met a pot of daffodils that didn’t delight us. We know we shouldn’t be spending a penny, but will the one-dollar bunch really ruin the budget? Sorry, but we cannot resist. Especially not in the depths of this winter that will not end.

5. Corral all those runaway papers
“It feels like time to collect all the little papers around the house,” says Sugar, who went out and bought a pack of 100 page protectors and three binders. Now she has tucked away all her scraps and recipes and pages torn from magazines. She has one for food, one for work ideas (she makes jewelry) and one for home.

“It makes life smoother, it makes our house work better, it makes my kids able to go grab the recipe binder, and it sort of documents a history. It documents our culture, the culture in our home. Whatever food or art or the way we do things, it puts a frame around it, it contains it.” Mostly, she says, it makes her house a more comfortable place.

6. Fat hen to the rescue
Get three nights of comfort food out of one clucker-the roasted bird, a what-you-have-in-the-house casserole, soup.

7. Oh, honey, that’s makin’ me hungry
Garlic, vanilla, cinnamon, soups on the stove, chicken in the oven, melt-in-your-mouth pot roast. Nothing spells comfort like delicious smells from the kitchen.

8. 1-2-3, sniff
Drop a few drops of eucalyptus oil onto the humidifier fan. It’s subtle. And oh-so soothing.

9. Rub-a-dub
After a bath, Carolyn Eby, a Wilmette, Ill., artist and mother of three, lets her children pick which aromatic oil they want to drop into the Neutrogena body oil. Then, she says, her little people slip into bed wrapped in a cloud that smells heavenly. A little bottle of essential oil might set you back $7, but it’ll last and last, Eby says. (You can even drop some yummy oil, such as lavender and lemongrass, in plain, old, squirt-bottle hand soap and oomph the olfactory power of your every scrub).

10. What’s on the table
Because fresh flowers are “at odds with the season,” one art curator and mother of three (who doesn’t want her name in the paper) says she’s set her winterscape on the dining table with a square vase of dried barley and wheat and 8- and 10-inch-diameter balls made of dried grapevine, set on straw place mats. It soothes her whenever she passes by.

11. Throw me some comfort
“I’m all about soft textiles-throws and pillows,” says Carolyn Eby, who doesn’t spend much for throws, though. She just goes to the fabric store, plucks some remnants, or a yard and a half of a fabric she loves, hems it and calls it a throw. An easy way to add color and change things around.

12. Who says it hurts to tighten your belt?
“Because of the economy,” says Jan Sugar, a Highland Park, Ill., writer and mother of two, “I’m trying to create more comfort in my home. Because prices are so slashed, I bought fabric and asked my upholsterer to redo at January prices.” Now a melange of deep eggplant and fuchsia, grassy lime green and violet blue, her resurrected 19-year-old furniture-”good furniture that was just worse for the wear”-makes for just what she needed: freshness, color and comfort, with a dash of the artsy.

13. Winter garden
Go clip a few of your favorite things from outside-bushy hydrangea blooms, cool sticks and spray paint warm glow-y tones, platinum or copper, not harsh bright gold. Poke them in vases around the house, it adds a glow till the gardens return.

14. Thrift, thrift, thrift
You knew this already, but never underestimate the oomph that comes from a knockout hand-me-down you snare for practically zilch. Thrift stores, consignment shops, dusty old antiques malls, count them among your very dear allies.

15. Bring out the piggy bank
Save the old-fashioned way, says Elizabeth Black, a Chicago interior designer. “There’s something you’re really wishing for? A new sofa, perhaps? Well, pull out the piggy bank and tuck away all your change till you’ve saved what you need.” The triumph of a hard-earned purchase will double the joy of that couch.

16. Presents for free. No, really.
You might call this recycling, but how’s this for spreading what’s left of the wealth? Have a party where each person brings a lovely something they no longer want/need/have room for. Someone else might fall in love with it and head for home with a new treasure.

17. Did we mention caramel sauce?
And in the kitchen, writes the art-curator mama, “we are making soups (tomato bisque with honey), chocolate-chip muffins for breakfast (with wheat germ and yogurt in the batter) and cooking lemon-yogurt loaf for after-school snacks. We also make caramel sauce and put it, warmed, into little ramekins and serve a long platter with cut-up pound cake squares, grapes, banana slices and clementine sections and serve it with fondue forks and call it dessert fondue. That is the hit for the children’s supper party crowd.”

Caramel Sauce
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
Yield: 1¾ cups
1 ½ cups sugar
¼ cup water
1 ½ teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup whipping cream
2 Tablespoons (¼ stick) unsalted butter

Stir sugar, water, and lemon juice in medium saucepan over low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat; boil without stirring until syrup is deep amber color, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat. Add cream (mixture will bubble vigorously). Return to low heat; stir until any bits of caramel dissolve. Add butter; whisk until smooth. (Can be made one day ahead. Cover and chill.)

Nutrition Information:
Per tablespoon: 75 calories, 46% of calories from fat, 4 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 14 mg cholesterol, 10 g carbohydrates, 0 g protein, 3 mg sodium, 0 g fiber
19. Edit, people, edit

Put a discriminating eye to all the stuff inside your home, and do away with all the excess. “The pieces you already have may look a lot better and you may feel more elegant and rich,” says Black. “In other words, highlight what you have and give it space, which creates importance for an object.”

© 2009, Chicago Tribune.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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