Who could blame "The Interview" actor/co-writer Seth Rogen for wanting to get away from it all? Rogen just bought a 10-acre ranch in Hollywood Hills West in an off-market deal for nearly $8 million.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the wilderness spread has its own waterfall, two streams, mature trees and trails -- just the natural calm that a comic actor in the middle of a global firestorm could use. The property also features a one-story main house, guest house, swimming pool and sports court.
"The Interview," starring Rogen and bud James Franco, is an R-rated comedy about an assassination plot to kill North Korea leader Kim Jong Un. And unless you've been living under a rock for the last week, you know the picture is at the center of a cyberattack on Sony Pictures and terrorist threats to attack movie theaters that showed it. Sony canceled the Christmas release of the comedy, provoking criticism from celebrities and President Barack Obama for buckling to terrorist threats.
Can't win for losing.
But back to important business like Mr. Rogen's ranch purchase. The main house, built in 1955, features three bedrooms, three baths, flagstone floors and fireplace.
Celebrities, real estate developers and privacy-seekers who want to feel like they are on a private peninsula have the rare opportunity to own 40 acres in the upper Florida Keys just aching to become one mega-estate or 10 smaller parcels.
AOL has learned exclusively that the Parmelee estate in Islamorada, Fla., is about to hit the market for $19 million. The property, which juts into Florida Bay, is located on Lower Matecumbe Key, about 25 miles south of Key Largo and 80 miles north of Key West.
The estate has been in the Parmelee family since the 1950s and except for a modest, two-bedroom, two-bath house is totally undeveloped, with some 4,000 coconut palms on the property. The dolphins that cavort offshore figure to be sad to see the paradise go.
The property is unique because, "we don't have a lot of land on the keys, and the land we have is either developed or protected," said Leah Maki of Ocean Sotheby's International, which is listing the estate. "This parcel is one of the very few properties that you can actually develop."
Maki says some clever developer will grab the opportunity to divide the parcel into 10 four-acre estates that can accommodate a mansion and guest house with magnificent water views. Or some mega-millionaire will buy the estate and erect his own compound.
"You could have a very private piece of land," Maki said. "A celebrity could build a big estate and have a lot of room to park their boats and toys."
Just as Bruce Willis leaves the Eldorado co-op on Manhattan's Upper West Side, newshound/talk show host Meredith Vieira is moving in. The New York Post says that Vieira has bought a three-bedroom, fourth-bath penthouse in the Art Deco building bordering the northern reaches of Central Park. Asking price: $8.55 million.
Seems like a good move, investment-wise. Willis had his three-bedroom home on the building's fourth floor on the market at $13 million for only one week before a buyer scooped it up.
Vieira's new digs, recently renovated, feature two planted terraces overlooking the Central Park reservoir. It also boasts:
Private elevator landing.
South-facing windows with onyx sills.
Herringbone oak floors.
Master suite with four custom closets and terrace access.
The Eldorado, between West 90th and 91st streets, was designed by Emery Roth and completed in 1931. It's considered one of the finest Art Deco structures in Manhattan, attracting such biggies as Alec Baldwin, Faye Dunaway, Moby, Garrison Keillor and Michael J. Fox as either current or former cooperative owners.
In the series finale of HBO's "Boardwalk Empire," gangster Nucky Thompson has one last dance with his wife in a Manhattan building called the Eldorado, which would have been newly opened when the show takes place during the Great Depression.
One of Malibu's landmark properties, Clark's former retreat features unparalleled 360-degree views that take in the Pacific Ocean, area mountains and the sparkling lights of Los Angeles. According to real estate agent Diane Carter of Coldwell Banker, who represented both the buyer and the seller, the Clarks used the home as a weekend getaway for many years. The TV and music industry personality died in 2012.
This unusually imaginative architectural creation is nestled atop a mountain on an eye-popping 22.89 acres and features one bedroom and two bathrooms, as well as breathtaking ocean and mountain views.
Truly unique inside and outside, the architecture of this home seamlessly marries form and function. The interior features an expanse of glass to capture the views from every room. Vaulted ceilings enhance the living room and dining room, which has a wood-burning fireplace and intimate seating areas. The master suite is at once spacious and intimate.
According to the listing agent, the striking home designed by Phillip Jon Brown "is art as architecture at its finest." For the new buyers, Clark's former Malibu retreat offers seclusion, privacy and serenity, but is still just minutes from the beach.
The holidays are a time for celebration. But when you have a small home, gathering your friends and loved ones together can pose some unique challenges.
You don't need to "keep up with the Joneses" by throwing an elaborate affair in a huge mansion; you can throw a fantastic party by getting creative about how you use that space. Here are 20 ways to make the most of the rooms you have and throw a knockout party in your tiny home.
1. Keep the menu simple. An elaborate spread is hard to serve when space is limited, so keep your offerings simple. Guests don't need a million options to choose from, just a handful of really good ones.
2. Serve finger foods. You may not have enough room for a proper sit-down dinner, but your guests can eat and mingle. This means you should serve foods like appetizers that can be carried around easily. (Appetizers don't have to be expensive, either: Try the pasta pretzel sticks recipe you can find here.)
3. Go buffet-style instead of sit-down. Place food stations around the room (or in a couple rooms) to keep lines moving along and avoid a traffic jam in any one area.
4. Use decently-sized plates. You may think cocktail plates will help with your space issues, but all they really do is force guests to make several trips back to the food stations. Use regular, dinner-sized plates to avoid so much back-and-forth.
5. Make a signature drink (or two). Rather than finding space for an array of drink fixings (and space in which to mix them), prepare a large batch of signature cocktails in advance. Instead of playing bartender all night, all you'll have to do is keep the pitcher filled and guests can serve themselves.
6. Designate drinks. With limited places to set down drinks, it can be easy for guests' glasses to get mixed up. Make sure they have some way of identifying which drink is theirs by using different-colored glasses, wine glass charms or tying colored ribbons on martini glass stems.
7. Prep in advance. Cooking -- and cleaning up from cooking -- takes up precious counter space you'll likely need for serving, so do as much prep work in advance as you can. (This also allows you to actually spend time enjoying your party!)
8. Create makeshift serving stations. If you don't have enough space in your kitchen to set up the buffet, enlist other pieces of furniture like bookcases and desks to serve as temporary sideboards.
9. Provide plenty of seating. Make sure there are lots of options for guests who want to take a load off. Folding chairs, ottomans, even lawn chairs will work in a pinch. If you don't have many chairs on hand, consider borrowing some from friends and family.
10. Remove excess furniture. If a piece of furniture isn't useful for seating or serving, consider getting rid of it for the party. You want to create as much floor space as possible so guests can mingle without feeling cramped or tripping over things.
11. Rearrange with abandon. Turn the bed into seating by pushing it against the wall and adding some decorative throw pillows. Make a dining room table by lining up several card tables and unifying them under a long tablecloth. You can put everything back where it belongs once the party's over. For now, you need to make your space work for your party.
12. Make your rooms work double-duty. If you still want to host a sit-down dinner, consider setting up a table and chairs in your biggest room for the meal portion of the evening and then taking it down afterward to create more space to chat. (Just make sure you have a place to store the table and chairs when they're down!)
13. Make a place for coat storage. If the weather will call for coats and other outer gear, make sure your guests have a place to set theirs. If nothing else, make sure you've provided storage options for shoes and handbags. A fold-up coat rack can help create storage where none normally exists.
14. Decorate high. Placing your decorations on the ceiling will draw guests' eyes upwards and make your space feel festive without being crowded. Strings of lights, paper lanterns and draped fabric all make for great ceiling decor.
15. Create conversation areas. Your guests might be scattered by necessity, so make sure each small group feels comfortable wherever it is and not left out from the party proper. Arrange chairs in small groups to encourage conversation.
16. Turn down the heat. Large crowds in small spaces can make a home overly warm, so crank the thermostat down a few notches to keep things comfortable.
17. Offer bathroom freshener. If lots of people will be using the same small bathroom, help each occupant to leave it in a ... er ... pleasant condition for the next person. Light a scented candle, set out potpourri or place a decorative can of air freshener in a noticeable place to be used as needed.
18.Create an open house. Give guests room to roam and mingle by tidying up those rooms you normally don't open to guests -- your bedroom, your office, etc. By designating different areas for different activities, you can help everyone find a comfortable place. Serve appetizers in the entryway, main dishes in the living room and dessert and coffee in the bedroom to keep the party moving along.
19.Consider taking it outside. If you're in a warmer climate, open up the doors to your patio, balcony or terrace to increase your hosting space. In a colder climate? Consider setting up heat lamps or a small fire pit.
20. Keep the guest list realistic. These tips will help you pack a lot of party into a small space, but you still need to keep your guest count reasonable. No one will have a very good time if you're all stepping over each other.
Paula Pant quit her office job in 2008, traveled to 32 countries and became a successful real estate investor. Her blog Afford Anything is the groundswell of a rebellion against standard advice that says you should chain yourself to a desk for 40 years. Afford Anything is dedicated to crushing limits and maximizing life.
Hoping to bust open the mortgage credit box, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac recently brought back a 3 percent down conventional loan. The aim is to broaden access to homeownership and pull more first-time buyers into the marketplace. Years of tight lending have left scores of would-be buyers on the sidelines.
Both of the government-sponsored enterprises purchased these lower-down payment loans in the past. Fannie and Freddie back about two-thirds of all new mortgages.
Housing economists and mortgage industry insiders have both panned and praised the return of a 3 percent down home loan. Some see it as a slide back toward the lax lending that spurred the subprime mortgage meltdown. Others believe the policy will help give qualified buyers a better foothold in a time of stagnant wages and slowly thawing credit.
"[This] is simply one way we are working to remove barriers for creditworthy borrowers to get a mortgage," Andrew Bon Salle, Fannie Mae executive vice president for Single Family Underwriting, Pricing and Capital Markets, said in a statement. "We are confident that these loans can be good business for lenders, safe and sound for Fannie Mae and an affordable, responsible option for qualified borrowers."
These buyers will still need to meet credit, income and other underwriting requirements. As with most other conventional loans, buyers who can't muster a 20 percent down payment will also need private mortgage insurance.
It's too early to tell whether lenders will get on board. It's also unclear just how many buyers these 3 percent options could help.
Requirements for the 3 percent down mortgages vary slightly.
Fannie's new program is open to qualified borrowers who haven't owned a home in the last three years. For buyers, these loans can only be used to purchase a single-unit primary residence with a fixed-rate term. Fannie is also offering a 97 percent loan-to-value refinance option for homeowners with a current mortgage owned by one of the government-sponsored enterprises. Borrowers would be able to extract up to $2,000 from their home's equity to cover closing costs.
Freddie Mac's 3 percent down loan won't hit the market until late March. First-time buyers will need to complete a homebuying education program. Freddie will offer a similar refinance option, but homeowners won't be able to tap into their equity.
Borrowers will need a minimum 620 FICO score to be eligible for the Fannie program. Freddie Mac uses a 660 FICO benchmark. But Fannie and Freddie don't make loans: Lenders may want to see higher credit scores -- sometimes significantly higher.
These lower-down mortgages will give consumers an alternative to FHA loans. Those government-backed mortgage require 3.5 percent down, but they carry particularly expensive mortgage insurance costs, which borrowers now pay for the life of their loan.
Safety & Access
Critics remain wary about how much these loans will help and how well they'll perform. The first concern may loom larger than the latter.
Felton paid $1.275 million for the 1,732 square-foot contemporary retreat in lower Nichols Canyon. The two-bedroom home is on a single level with an open floor plan and oodles of outdoor living space, including an outdoor living room and poolside deck. The private backyard is completely gated with views of the hills, a sparkling pool and a guest house/studio space with kitchen and full bathroom. (The home is a definite upgrade from the Slytherin Dungeon.)
Inside the main home on Felton's new property, there are hardwood floors throughout. In the main living room, a wood and gas fireplace creates a warm and inviting atmosphere. Just beyond the living room is a gourmet kitchen with stainless steel appliances, ample storage and prep space, a large pantry and dining alcove. (The home is rumored to be Basilisk-free.)
Convenient to the sights and nightlife of Los Angeles, the home hardly could be more different from the Scottish estate where J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, once lived and worked.
Felton's new home, perfect for a bachelor, has a master suite that was dubbed "romantic" in the listing materials, and has a fireplace, dressing area and walls of glass that open to the yard. The master bath boasts double sinks, granite countertops and tile. A bright den has built-in shelves and could be used as a third bedroom.
Burt Reynolds has slashed the asking price for the Florida love nest he shared with second wife Loni Anderson. Current price for the waterfront estate in Tequesta: $4.9 million.
We love the listing photos that show piles of books in almost all rooms. Who knew Reynolds -- former Florida State football halfback, "Boogie Nights" actor, mustachioed-man-about-town -- was such a prolific reader?
Reynolds most recently made headlines by auctioning off part of his Hollywood memorabilia collection. (See the results here.) But the 78-year-old star has denied reports he sold the collection because he was bankrupt, saying before the sale, "I want everyone to know that contrary to what all the news outlets are saying, I am not broke."
At last weekend's auction in Las Vegas, Reynolds' black-and-gold, 1977 Pontiac Trans Am, similar to the one in "Smokey and the Bandit," sold for $450,000. The football helmet he wore in "The Longest Yard" fetched $20,480, and his 1998 Golden Globe award for best supporting actor in "Boogie Nights" went for $21,760.
As for Reynolds' Palm Beach County home, it originally was listed for $10.5 million in 2008, Variety says, meaning Reynolds has cut the price in half. He reportedly bought the property in 1980 for $700,000.
The 12,538 square-foot manse with a Mediterranean air has its own helipad and includes:
five bedrooms and seven full baths.
3.39 acres on the Intracoastal Waterway overlooking Jupiter Island.
octagonal screened cabana next to the pool.
Reynolds is best known for his films "Smokey and the Bandit," "Deliverance" and "The Longest Yard" -- and for reported romances with actresses Sally Field, Adrienne Barbeau and Dinah Shore. He was married to Anderson, a TV sitcom star, from 1988 to 1993.
Searching for the perfect gift for the apartment-dweller in your life? It's easy to give a large or bulky gift to the owner of a big home; they have the space to accommodate it. But what can you give to a renter -- particular one with limited space?
You're sure to find some inspiration on this list of 25 ideas specially selected for renters.
1.Air mattress. Turn any room into a guest room for those overnight houseguests.
2. Plants. Brighten up your space and purify your air with some pretty houseplants. For bonus points, give your gift in a self-watering planter, which keeps those plants alive and well, even if you're a bit forgetful.
3. Cozy throw blanket. A warm throw in an eye-catching design is perfect for winter evenings.
4. Fold-up tray table. Create extra space for eating, working on the computer and more, wherever it's needed.
5. Framed artwork. Add some flair to those plain white walls.
6. Decorative screen. Great for sectioning a room into separate areas or creating privacy in a studio.
7. Closet organizers. Hanging shelves, belt and scarf hangers, and shoe racks help maximize the storage capacity of small closets.
8. Double-duty furniture. Renters in a small space could benefit from a love seat with a pullout mattress, an ottoman with storage capacity, or other furniture that serves double-duty.
9. Nesting tables. Create extra surface space when it's needed; tuck them away when it's not.
10. Portable island. Many come with cool features like butcher-block tops, pullout cutting boards and built-in trash can storage.
12. Clever shelving. Display books and knickknacks on a space-saving corner shelf or an invisible bookshelf that takes up less visual space.
13. Container Store gift card. Not sure exactly what a renter's space needs? Give them a gift card to this organizational mecca and let them choose for themselves.
Tech & Gadgets
14.Keyless entry device. Great for roommates, cleaning services, dog walkers and more, digital devices like the August Smart Lock and Lockitron do away with the need for keys and constant lock changing.
15. Bluetooth speaker. Take your tunes from room to room and power them from your smart phone or MP3 player.
16. Digital frame. Cut down on photo clutter -- and change up your photos as often as you like -- with a digital frame that displays pictures on a loop.
17. Tool kit. Since the landlord takes care of most repairs, many renters lack a basic tool kit, which can come in handy for things like furniture assembly.
18. Tabletop ornament tree. No room for a full-sized tree? A decorative wire "tree" that fits on your table can be a fun way to show off your favorite holiday ornaments.
19. Decorative coasters. When space is at a premium, extra places for guests to set their drinks can come in handy. Coasters also help guard furniture from watermarks and spills.
20. Bike-sharing membership. Give metropolitan renters another way to get around, without the cost of a car or the hassle of finding a place to store a bike in their home. Give them the gift of hassle-free transportation with a membership to a program like Citi Bike or Bike Share.
21. Car-sharing membership. For longer trips, or for those who simply prefer driving, a membership to a car-sharing program such as ZipCar or RelayRides can be a great gift.
22. Cleaning service gift card. This is one of the things most people would love to have but aren't always able to pay for themselves.
23. Food prep or meal subscription. Whether you want ready-made meals delivered to your door or you'd prefer to get fresh ingredients you can assemble yourself, there are plenty of great programs like Plated, Relish and Blue Apron.
24. E-reader. Perfect for book lovers who don't have the shelf space for a ton of physical books.
25. Fold-up luggage. Luggage takes up a lot of closet space, which is often at a premium in a rental unit. Foldable pieces that can be stacked on a shelf or stowed under a bed are big space-savers.
Paula Pant quit her office job in 2008, traveled to 32 countries and became a successful real estate investor. Her blog Afford Anything is the groundswell of a rebellion against standard advice that says you should chain yourself to a desk for 40 years. Afford Anything is dedicated to crushing limits and maximizing life.
Additionally, the 15-year fixed mortgage rate Tuesday morning was 2.90 percent. For 5/1 ARMs, the rate was 2.76 percent.
Purchase Mortgage Application Activity
Zillow predicts Wednesday's seasonally adjusted Mortgage Bankers Association Weekly Application Index will show purchase loan activity increased by one percent from the previous week. To learn more about this Zillow analysis, click here.
What are the interest rates right now? Check Zillow Mortgages for trends and up-to-the-minute mortgage rates for your state.
Check out the luxurious digs that celebrities call home during winter months.
Celebs have the privilege (and the bank accounts) to own some of the most beautiful properties on the planet -- but they also own vacation getaways that are just as jaw-dropping. When they need to get away from it all in the winter months, they don't want to downgrade. When it comes to cool escapes, celebs demand luxurious digs.
Let's take a look at some celebrity vacation homes that could be categorized as Winter Wonderlands.
Tom Cruise's Estate in Telluride, Colorado
Since the early 1990s, Tom Cruise has retreated from his life as an A-list actor and super Scientologist at this nearly 300-acre spread in picturesque Telluride, Colorado. Nestled among rolling meadows and a mature forest just 12 minutes from the historic resort town, Cruise's rustic-chic property is the perfect one-two punch of private yet accessible, making it an ultimate retreat for those seeking privacy, scenic beauty, and serenity.
Sound like the perfect mountain haven? It's currently for sale and could be yours for a cool $59 million.
Rihanna's Luxe Aspen Rental
Rihanna celebrated her birthday last year with a glam seven-day stay in the mountains of Colorado, cozying up inside a swanky Aspen mega-mansion. In true Bad Gal RiRi fashion, the Grammy winner went all out for her celebration and must have dropped a pretty penny to play inside this 18,750 square-foot rental, which happens to be on the market for $45 million.
The exquisite property, not so cleverly dubbed the "The Ski Home," sits among a handful of homes owned by A-list celebrity neighbors, including Mariah Carey, Charlie Sheen, Kevin Costner and Kate Hudson.
Bruce Willis' Palatial Ranch in Hailey, Idaho
The owner of estates in California, Idaho, Montana, and the Caribbean, 1990s action superstar (and real estate mogul) Bruce Willis put up the for-sale sign on his resort-style ranch in Idaho with 8,403 square feet of living space. He bought the home in 2003 and has since made upgrades -- from rebuilding the main house with six bedrooms and 6.5 bathrooms to adding a detached guest home and gym.
What's even more impressive is the extensive landscaping work Willis added to the property's already-lovely view of Flying Heart Lake. The home's 20-acre lot now includes several man-made ponds and streams, two wells, a heated pool with water slides and waterfalls, and even a rope swing. From the main road to the front door, the area surrounding the property is lined with paver stone and protected by a gated entry and security system. This beautiful home is just minutes away from local skiing, hiking, biking, and live music and theater venues in Sun Valley, Idaho.
Jimmy Buffett's Modern Spread in Beverly Hills
The snow doesn't fall in Beverly Hills. But -- believe it or not -- for Jimmy Buffett, who splits his time between his massive Florida estate in perpetually sunny Palm Beach and the Caribbean, a trip to his newly purchased California compound is a way to cool down. A temperature drop from 91 and sunny to 72 and partly cloudy could give this Parrothead crooner reason to cuddle up by the fire.
Celine Dion's Water Park Estate in South Florida
When Celine Dion needs to retreat, the singer flies south to Florida for the winter. She and her family nestle into their custom-built Jupiter home, complete with its own water park. Inspired by the Bahamas, the home has a main house and five individual pavilions, including a four-bedroom guest house.
Maximizing its spot right on the Atlantic, the house boasts spectacular ocean views. Does the thought of vacationing here make your heart sing? Break out your checkbook and write Celine a check for $62.5 million, and it's all yours.
The holidays are a time when we spend a good deal of money on gifts that are ignored within weeks or even hours, cards and wrapping paper that are quickly tossed out, and centerpieces that end up in the garbage after dinner.
By trimming your spending, you can reduce waste -- and save money that can be spent on more lasting improvements to your home's decor.
There are many ways to conserve on resources and create gifts, cards and table settings that are kinder to the environment and add a very personal and caring touch to the holidays. Here are just a few environmentally friendly ideas. You can use your own talents and creativity to come up with many more.
1. Save lots of money and paper by wrapping gifts with materials you have at home. Millions of pounds of newspapers end up in landfills each year. But newspapers make wonderful wrapping paper. The black-and-white sections -- as well as the more colorful parts of the paper -- make fun wrapping for gifts. Collect ribbons from other gifts during the year and use those ribbons to create attractive packages.
2. Make gifts instead of buying them. Homemade gifts are so much more special and individualized. Baked cookies, cakes, crackers and candy are welcomed gifts, along with relish, hummus or whatever your special recipe might be.
Years ago, I had remarkable pretzels in a restaurant in New York. For years I looked for a way to duplicate the recipe. Several months ago, a friend gave me a cookbook,"Pasta Modern"by Francine Segan, that had the exact recipe I was looking for. These pretzels make a perfect centerpiece and hostess gift for the holidays. Buy an attractive mug or small vase, and put the sticks in it. They can be served plain, with just a sprinkle of salt, or try them with spices like ground garlic, cayenne or smoked paprika.
Pasta Pretzel Sticks Courtesy of "Pasta Modern" by Francine Segan (Stewart, Tabori & Chang)
Serves 4 to 6
Olive oil or butter
1/4 pound perciatelli, bucatelli or other long pasta, preferably Garofalo brand
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet.
Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water until tender, a minute longer than al dente. Drain and toss with 2 tablespoons of oil or butter. Lay the pasta strands onto the prepared sheet in straight lines, with a bit of space between each. Sprinkle with salt. Bake until golden and crisp, about 8 minutes.
Handcrafted gifts are always very special. Knitters and crocheters can make a variety of wonderful gifts. Warm blankets, socks, hats and leggings can be made out of leftover yarns from other projects. Another wonderful gift is a phone pouch. I developed this idea several months ago when I got tired of carrying my phone around in my hand or pocket (where I often didn't hear it ring). I've given them to many friends as a gift with very happy responses. This is a hands-free way to carry a cell phone and can be made out of leftover yarn.
The number of stitches will depend on the yarn and size of the phone. Measure the phone's height and width. With knitting worsted yarn and size 8 needles, cast on approximately 28 stitches. (These can be made with any yarn or combination of yarns -- just make sure the gauge works for the size of the phone.) Knit 4 rows in stockinette stitch (St st). Then knit 3 rows in knit to create a turning row. Continue to work in stockinette stitch for the length of the phone. Cast off. Fold over the turning row and sew the seam at the top to form a finished end. Then sew the sides together to form a round pouch and then sew the bottom seams together, keeping the vertical seam in the back of the pouch. Make an I-cord the length you would like the phone to hang and then attach the ends to the inner sides of the pouch. (An I-cord is a knitted tube. Cast on 3 stitches on #4 double pointed needles. Easy instructions for making an I-cord can be found on this YouTube video.
3. Make holiday cards or invitations. Homemade cards are very personal and economical. They can also use up some of the leftover papers and other items (lace, buttons, stickers) you have around the house. There are a multitude of stamps, punches and other items available to help make creating cards very simple. Greetings can even be printed with a computer printer to make the greetings personalized. The magazine The Stampers' Sampler is filled with a multitude of seasonal ideas.
4. Decorate the table with bright fruits and vegetables. Flowers and purchased centerpieces are often thrown away. But fruits and vegetables look beautiful in a bowl or platter and can be eaten or used for cooking after the holiday dinner is done. One centerpiece I've found to be particularly attractive at this time of year is a glass bowl filled with cranberries and water. Add a few floating candles and it makes a colorful and festive addition to the table. The holiday season can be a time for family to participate in projects to make the table beautiful and the gifts personal -- and without creating more waste than necessary. After all, creating from reused materials is also a gift to the earth.
Remember El Nino? That sometime-in-the-'90s storm sensation that produced crazy weather? The recent California rains have people talking about an El Nino winter, when an area of warmer-than-average water in the eastern Pacific Ocean near the equator brings heavy rains or snow to parts of the U.S. While an El Nino condition has not developed yet, Weather Channel forecasters say a weak to moderate El Nino is likely to emerge over the winter months and potentially persist into the spring.
It's important to prepare your home before El Nino hits, because once the rain or snow falls, you'll be in trouble if you haven't prepared. Protect your family, your property and your wallet by taking action with moves that can be wise in many parts of the country, El Nino winter or not:
1. Look Up at the Roof
Before wet or snowy weather hits this winter, head outside and inspect your roof from the ground for warning signs of damage, sagging and aging. If you see anything, call a roofing professional immediately so problems don't arise once precipitation -- in liquid or frozen form -- arrives.
Once winter weather hits: Do a second inspection. This time, look for signs of leaks inside the house, and if you have snowfall, look for any spots on the roof that have snow buildup or high snowdrifts. Also, look for any sagging areas, the most obvious indicator that there is too much weight on your roof.
2. Stock Up on Salt for Your Walkways
If you live in a cold climate, one of the most important things you can buy this winter is salt for your walkway -- an icy sidewalk is a disaster waiting to happen. You can purchase ice-melting rock salt at any home improvement store for around $15 a bag. Pet-friendly options are also available for about $20 a bag. Tip: If you have a long walkway, you can make your salt supply last longer by mixing it at a 1-1 ratio with playground sand.
Once winter weather hits: If possible, spread salt before the snow hits, because it will prevent ice from forming. If the snow sneaks up on you, shovel your walkway as soon as possible and then spread ample amounts of salt.
3. Give Your Gutters Some Love
The clearer your gutters are now, the better you'll fare come heavy rains or snowmageddon. That means removing leaves, goop, dirt and debris from your gutters by hand.
Once winter weather hits: Regularly inspect your gutters to ensure that there is not a blockage of debris or ice stopping the flow of your gutter. Ice dams can cause damage to your roof, walls, ceiling and insulation. If you do spot an ice dam, you can remove it manually or try the following trick: For a short-term fix, fill a pantyhose leg with ice melt (available at hardware stores) and knot it. Lay the panty hose on your roof so that it crosses the ice dam and then let the salt do its thing. Eventually, it will melt through the ice and create a channel for water to escape (this may take several days). Remember: This is only a short-term solution! To permanently repair any roof damage, contact a professional.
4. Prevent Burst Pipes
Before frigid weather hits, take the time to find your water shut-off valve and familiarize yourself with it so you can quickly turn your water off if a pipe breaks. As soon as the temperature is expected to dip below 20 degrees, let any high-risk faucets drip. What counts as high risk? Any faucets that are fed by a pipe that has frozen in the past, or by a pipe that runs near an outside wall. If your sink has separate hot and cold faucets, let both of them drip. If there's just one faucet, set it to medium so the hot and cold lines are both activated.
Once winter weather hits: If your pipes are in cabinets (e.g. under a sink), it's a good idea to keep interior cupboard doors open during cold spells to let the warm air circulate around the pipes. This is especially important if the water pipes touch an exterior wall.
Have a frozen pipe? If you turn on a faucet and no water comes out, your pipe is likely frozen. Keep the faucet open, because the pipe will still need pressure relief. If you can see the frozen area (which will generally have frost on it), you can use an electric hair dryer to thaw the pipe. Important: Don't use an open flame! This will damage the pipe and may even start a fire.
5. Stock Up on Food
When storms hit, it can be difficult to get to the store. We're not suggesting stocking up on perishables, but it will help if there's something edible in your pantry when you're stuck because of weather.
Take a trip to Costco or Sam's Club and stock up on non-perishable items such as canned soup, vegetables, powdered food, oatmeal, rice, pasta and quinoa. Also, don't forget bottled water. How much? A good rule of thumb is to have enough food on hand to feed your family for a week. If you're stressed out just thinking about storing this much food, check out these tips before your trip to the store.
Once winter weather hits: If you can, walk to the store to buy perishables goods such as milk and eggs. If you're stuck at home, that's okay. You'll have plenty of food to feed your family until you're able to get out of the house.
6. Inspect Your Furnace
What's worse than being trapped at home during a snowstorm? Being trapped at home during a snowstorm with no heat. Even worse? Being trapped at home with dangerous (and odorless) carbon monoxide. Yikes!
To prevent any problems, call an HVAC technician now to schedule an appointment. They'll go over this checklist and make sure your furnace is ready for freezing temperatures and is safely going to keep your family warm.
Once winter weather hits: Take a look at your furnace to ensure that nothing flammable like acetone, alcohol, paint thinner, spray paint, spray adhesives, gasoline additives, engine cleaners, WD-40, cleaning fluids or spot removers is stored anywhere near your furnace. Also, depending on the type of furnace you have, it's probably a good idea to change your furnace filter.
7. Winterize Your Garden
Depending on your climate, some plants in your garden may not survive the winter. But you can make moves now to prepare the garden to be at its best when warm weather comes back around. Take a sweep through your garden and remove weeds and diseased leaves. Plant your bulbs according to their directions and you'll have a beautiful garden when spring arrives.
If you have perennials, it's important to add a four-to-six inch layer of mulch to your garden to protect your perennial plants during the winter months. The best time to do this is right after the first hard frost because your perennials will be dormant by then. This new layer of mulch will help your garden maintain a consistent temperature during the cold season.
8. Prepare for a Long Power Outage
Winter storms often mean extended power outages. To prepare, take the time to find and inspect your electrical panel now, so it's easy to find when the power goes out. Here's a step-by-step guide for the hunt and inspection. Also, make sure you have fresh batteries in your flashlights and be sure the flashlights are easily accessible. We recommend placing a few candles in heavily trafficked rooms with matches or a lighter right next to the candles. Finally, have an empty cooler handy.
Once winter weather hits: If the power doesn't go out, you'll still enjoy the candles. If it does, the first thing you'll need to do is remove food that may spoil from the refrigerator and freezer. Fortunately, in cold climates, you'll have a natural freezer right outside of your door! Take advantage of this by filling the empty cooler with food and simply placing it outside. Then, keep your fridge door closed to keep it as cold as possible. Relax, light candles and play cards. Enjoy the respite from electronics.
9. Prepare Your Contractor List
If a winter storm damages your home, the last thing you want to worry about is scrambling to find a decent contractor. Instead, take the time now to put together an A-team list, so you're ready in case something does go wrong. Follow these steps to build an awesome contractor list and anticipate any potential problems. Once it's prepared, put it somewhere easily accessible. Use a note on your phone, an Evernote or an old-school note on the fridge.
Get ready for cold weather by winterizing your home. Once the weather hits, cross your fingers that you won't need the contractor list. But, if you do, it will be ready for you.
10. Anticipate Your Pets' Needs
While you're preparing for your family's safety and comfort during a winter storm, don't forget about Fido! Take a week and track everything that you need for your pet. How much food does he or she go through in a week? What about medications? Make sure that you have plenty of everything to keep your pet healthy.
Next, make sure your pets' tags are up-to-date. Storms can be disorienting for pets when they're outside, so make sure that there is a way for someone to help return your pet to you if it is lost.
Once needs are taken care of, think about what your pet will need to stay sane if you're locked up for a week. Does your cat or dog love toys? Cat nip? Bones? Make sure you have plenty of pet-friendly things around to endure a week inside.
Once winter weather hits: Follow this rule of thumb: If it's too cold for you, it's too cold for your pet. Never leave a pet alone outside during a snowstorm. If they must go outside to potty, stay with them the entire time. When you can't endure the cold anymore, neither can your pet.
For a brief moment this year, Florida was not the state with the highest foreclosure rate. Maryland relieved Florida of that dubious honor in October after foreclosure activity in the state surged, but a 31.1 percent decline in Maryland foreclosures from October to November was enough to push Florida back to the top, despite declines in that state as well.
Foreclosures have declined from their peak, but Florida has had the top foreclosure rate among the 50 states for 13 of the past 14 months. One in every 462 housing units in Florida was in some state of foreclosure in November, down 3.9 percent from October and down 14.75 percent from November 2013, according to the monthly U.S. foreclosure report from RealtyTrac.
Here are the states that had the highest rate of foreclosure filings in November:
10. South Carolina
1 in 933 housing units
Foreclosure activity declined 28.66 percent since November 2013 and 12.74 percent from October 2014, allowing South Carolina to drop from its No. 8 spot in the October foreclosure rankings. Foreclosure starts in South Carolina dropped 28 percent from last year.
1 in 932 housing units
Foreclosure starts increased 23.36 percent from October and 54.6 percent from November 2013, but overall foreclosure activity declined 18.25 percent month over month and increased just 2.01 percent from last year in Indiana. As a result, Indiana fell from its October place at No. 7 to the ninth-highest foreclosure rate.
1 in 865 housing units
In October, Ohio had the fourth-highest foreclosure rate in the country, but a 22.06 percent decline in foreclosure filings from October to November allowed the state to drop to eighth place. Year over year, Ohio's foreclosure rate declined 12.35 percent.
1 in 848 housing units
Illinois also saw a slide in foreclosure filings, dropping 16.09 percent and two spots from October. The November foreclosure rate is down 17.33 percent from the same time last year, and foreclosure starts dropped 28.11 percent in the same period, which was the eighth-largest year-over-year drop.
1 in 783 housing units
Nevada's foreclosure rate increased 10.73 percent since November 2013, despite a 23.91 percent drop in foreclosures from October of this year. Foreclosure starts skyrocketed 138.41 percent from November 2013, but the monthly changes bumped Nevada from No. 4 in October to No. 6 on this most recent list.
1 in 750 housing units
Utah wasn't on the top 10 list in October, but monthly and annual increases in foreclosure activity pushed the state up in the rankings. Foreclosure filings increased 27.54 percent from October to November, and the year-over-year increase was 19.82 percent, driven mostly by new notices of default.
1 in 693 housing units
Foreclosure filings in Delaware declined significantly (down 30.15 percent) from November 2013, but a slight increase from October (up 8.52 percent) moved the state from the sixth-highest to the fourth-highest foreclosure rate in the country last month.
1 in 581 housing units
Maryland was No. 1 in October after its foreclosure activity spiked 68 percent in a month and 30 percent in a year, but a 31.1 percent decline in filings from October to November let Maryland settle into the rankings two spots lower.
2. New Jersey
1 in 478 housing units
New Jersey foreclosure activity surged in November, up 196.06 percent from the same time last year. The month-to-month change in foreclosure filings (up 83.58 percent) moved New Jersey from No. 9 in October to No. 2 in November's rankings. Foreclosure starts spiked 256.18 percent from last year.
1 in 462 housing units
Foreclosure activity is actually down in Florida, but the 3.9 percent decline from October wasn't enough to keep it off the top of the list, especially after Maryland's significant drop in activity. Foreclosure filings decreased 14.75 percent and foreclosure starts dropped 24.35 percent from November 2013.
'Tis the season to deck the halls and light the lights!
AOL.com is looking for the most festively decorated homes across the country and we want you to join in the holiday cheer. Send us a picture of the exterior of your seasonally spirited house -- whether it's strung in bright lights, adorned in tinsel or dressed up as a winter wonderland. (Just your home, please. Don't include people in the photos.)
Editors will be continually compiling a gallery of the submissions to feature them on AOL.com. (Please be patient. Once a photo of your home has been entered in the contest, it may take up to two days for your photo to appear in the slideshow.)
Our AOL.com audience will be voting on which homes they think best show the spirit of the season.
Out of hundreds of submissions, the 20 homes with the most votes will move on to the next judging round, where a panel of AOL.com judges will select one winner whose house best captures the spirit of the winter holidays.
The submission period began Dec. 8 and will close on Dec. 22 at 11:00 p.m. EST.
Readers will be able to vote on their favorite homes beginning Dec. 15 at 12:00 a.m. EST. Limit one vote per person every 12 hours. The voting will close on Dec. 25 at 11:00 p.m. EST. A winner will be chosen on Jan. 1, 2015.
I have a soft spot in my heart for The Pierre, the midtown Manhattan hotel where my parents were married in 1950 on the heels of World War II. So, I'm pleased that someone loves the hotel as much as I do, and is able/willing to pay $500,000 per month for a 39th-floor, six-bedroom suite there, the most expensive rental ever in New York City -- for the moment.
The renter, who remains nameless to us peasants, also is renting a one-bedroom suite on the hotel's 10th floor for $150,000 a month, according to Therese Bateman and Andres Perea-Garzon, the TOWN Fifth Avenue listing agents who are marketing The Pierre Hotel Residences portfolio of 10 Grand Suites ranging in price from $75,000 to $500,000 per month. The mystery renter is leasing the suites for only about one month, from late November through December.
What's the renter getting for a half mil?
The entire 4,786 square-foot 39th floor, including six bedrooms and 6.5 baths; gasp-worthy views of Central Park and the city's east and west skylines; access to a private elevator, butler and maid service; a 24/7 concierge and use of a chauffeur-driven Jaguar.
The Pierre hotel is located on 61st Street and Fifth Avenue, just a hop-skip-jump away from Central Park, Tiffany, Cartier, FAO Schwartz and a gazillion Madison Avenue boutiques.
"It is the epicenter of luxury," Bateman told AOL Real Estate. The renters also get to hobnob with The Pierre's exclusive co-op owners.
The Pierre hotel opened in 1930 and has appeared in many television programs and films. The famous tango scene in "Scent of a Woman" was shot in The Pierre's Cotillion Ballroom.