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how to stuff a duvet cover without crying

Anthropologie duvet cover

I wasn’t going to post today because I still have a dozen movies to watch before our San Diego Film Critics Society end of the year vote on Monday.

But I came across this video which I have to share with you because it looks like the solution to the chore I hate most: stuffing a duvet cover. [Read more…]

ikea travels into the future

Alex IKEA bed

It would be so much easier to prepare for the future if we just knew what was going to happen!

So when IKEA offered to sponsor a post about its new time travel project, I was intrigued – especially since it involves world-renowned hypnotist Justin Tranz who has been called “the greatest hypnotist of all time.” [Read more…]

picture this: my africa photos and an amazing offer from wemontage

Montage of Lois Alter Mark's Africa pictures from WeMontage

My favorite decorations for my house are photos and books. Both tell stories, and there is nothing I love more than looking at my old pictures and reminiscing about the moments they capture. [Read more…]

lori portka on spreading happiness through art

My friend, Julie Lemerond, introduced me to the work of artist Lori Portka and I felt a connection to it immediately. She is all about gratitude, and that feeling is obvious in every painting of hers. It’s probably the emotion you will feel, too, after getting to know more about her and her work!

Lori PortkaThe tagline on your Etsy shop is one of the most accurate I’ve ever seen: “Spreading happiness through art.” It is impossible to look at your paintings without smiling! What are some of the themes you concentrate on and why are those important to you? 

I love to make paintings about everything that is sweet and good in life. [Read more…]

Talking About Disaster Preparedness with Steve and Aaron of Afterac, Part 1: Why We Need to Be Prepared for the Worst

Emergency Preparedness ProductsWhile I don’t believe that the world will end in 2012, I do recognize the value of being prepared for the worst. After all, I was a Girl Scout leader. More importantly, since moving to California more than a decade ago,  I have experienced firsthand the kind of disasters that can wreak havoc on everyday life. So after being introduced to Afterac, a one-stop online shop for disaster preparedness, I took the opportunity to pick the brains of owners Steve Miller and Aaron Garner. They had so much great information to share that we’re going to make this Q&A a two-parter. Today, we’ll talk about why it’s important to have a disaster preparedness plan and tomorrow Steve and Aaron will tell you exactly how to make that plan.

Because they’re serious about making sure you’re prepared for anything, Steve and Aaron are offering StyleSubstanceSoul readers a 10% discount on the entire Afterac site. Simply put in coupon code  HGEXNXQBB20 when you check out. Be sure to pass this along to your friends, too. [Read more…]

Closet Cleaning with Lois!

You know how people who don’t cook love to watch The Food Network? That’s how I am about organizing. I’m a Peter Walsh groupie, I’ve watched every episode of Clean Sweep and am now hooked on the OWN Network’s Enough Already. Yet my clothes closets look like something out of Hoarders. Okay, that is thankfully an exaggeration – they’re not dirty, just very, very full.

Because I am such a good packer (as my moving men told me when we made the cross-country trek 13 years ago), I have packed so much stuff into those closets that there is not one wasted inch of space. But try to find something or pull something out, and the house of cards comes crashing down – along with sweaters, t-shirts, jeans, handbags …

So when I got a press release about a book called Throw Out Fifty Things: Clear the Clutter, Find Your Life, I immediately requested a copy. I love lists and I love results that can be measured, so this seemed like the perfect way to finally get myself on track. I could easily throw out 50 pieces of clothing, and was so motivated that I actually did before I even received the book.

I started with my sock drawer which I had to practically pry open. What’s so ridiculous about this is that I live in Southern California — and live in flip flops. Why would I possibly need so many socks? I immediately threw out every sock that didn’t have a mate, anything with a hole in it or a stain on it. I threw out 27 socks without a thought – and I didn’t even count the pairs as 2 pieces because I was enjoying the process so much! Then I went through the ones that were in good condition and put those I knew I’d never wear again (bright colors, novelty patterns) in a bag to donate. There were 12 pairs of those.

The sock drawer was so easy – and it now closed smoothly, which was a great reward for my efforts – I decided to tackle my t-shirts next. I have a ton of white t-shirts and tank tops because I play tennis in them and wear them under sweaters and cardigans. When the good ones get too raggedy to be seen, I just keep them as “under” shirts. It was time to get rid of those – remember what your mother used to tell you about wearing clean underwear?

So I threw out 18 white t-shirts and tank tops. I knew I had done the right thing because the pile was indistinguishable from the pile of rags in my laundry room. In fact, that’s what I decided to turn them into.

Because I was on such a roll, I emptied all the rest of my clothes out of the closet and tossed them on the bed. That was too much. The sight was so nauseating and so overwhelming, I called a friend and went out to lunch with her to get myself psyched up for this sickening project.

When I got back and stared down the pile for a while, I learned a couple of things about myself. I apparently like to see lots of color in my closet — because I had bought a lot of colorful items that still had tags on them. I decided to put some colorful decorative items on the top shelf of my closet instead, and get rid of all the red, green, blue and purple clothes I knew I would never wear. There went a whopping 32 items. And here’s a tip that really helped me: if you’re not returning them, take the tags off your clothes. This will 1) prevent arguments with your husband, who will not know you’ve never worn them, and 2) remove your own guilt about never wearing them, making it easy for you to get rid of them.

While cleaning out, I realized – a little shockingly – that there were clothes I was really too old to wear any more. Out went the denim jackets and workshirts, the cutesy Nick & Nora pajamas with the rubber ducks on them (okay, full disclosure – I kept the bottoms to wear with a solid t-shirt) and the little, patterned shorts that had not been sexy in a long time. It was actually sort of liberating.

I know you’re not supposed to hold on to clothes that you haven’t worn in a year but I still have jeans in just about every size. I’m keeping the ones that I’m two sizes away from as motivation; they give me hope that I’ll fit into them again as soon as I lose the baby weight. (My baby is now 18 – ha ha ha ha!!) Seriously, wearing them again is a big goal of mine, and seeing them on my shelf reminds me of that.

With ten bags of clothes – 112 items – to give away, I already feel lighter. I can stop re-buying clothes that I couldn’t find before, and I don’t have to hold my breath when I try to open a drawer.

I still haven’t received the book but am already grateful to author Gail Blanke for a title that inspired me to un-clutter my closets – and, as a result, my mind. Just wait till the book comes and I get through my office …

Find more videos like this on Throw Out Fifty Things

This post originally appeared on my former blog, StyleSubstanceSoul.

10 things i’m thankful for #4: anything handmade

With Thanksgiving only days away, I thought I’d share a few of the things I’m thankful for. I’ll be posting one each day — in no particular order — and would love to hear what you’re thankful for, too.

#4: Anything Handmade

Ever since my children started making gifts out of milk cartons and popsicle sticks, I’ve developed a deep appreciation for anything handmade. I’ve tried my own hand at knitting, scrapbooking and jewelry-making — with some efforts more successful than others.

With the holidays coming up, we’ve rounded up an eclectic selection of books to give to the crafters on your list or to help you make some of your own gifts.

To get you in the mood, spend a couple of hours with Vickie Howell’s Craft Corps, a celebration of the creative community and a gorgeous record of the crafting revolution. A professional crafter herself, Vickie interviews dozens of top artists, designers and business people including TV host Mark Montano, Handmade Nation filmmaker Faythe Levine and Crafty Chica Kathy Cano-Murillo who will completely inspire you with their amazing work and stories.


Once your enthusiasm has kicked in, where do you start? Kick-Ass Creativity by Mary Beth Maziarz is just the motivation you need. It’s filled with fun, easy and practical tips to stop over-thinking and just do it!


A great first project may be an art journal, and L.K. Ludwig’s Creative Wildfire will spark that flame to write, draw, collage, paint, sew, whatever! The best part about it is you really can’t do it incorrectly. Whatever you make is original, creative and yours.


I do love making books and photo albums, and Eco Books by Terry Taylor and Re-Bound by Jeannine Stein are right up my alley, showing how to create handmade books from recycled and repurposed materials. I am ready to attempt the photo album made from paint-sample strips and the adorable little recipe book made out of cardboard coasters (which I’ve been hoarding from Chili’s!), both of which are featured in Re-Bound. And the books made out of egg cartons, cereal boxes and cassette tapes in Eco Books are some of the cutest I’ve ever seen. I hope to graduate to Gwen Diehn’s Real Life Journals, which use more sophisticated book-binding techniques with stunning results.


If you’re more of a jewelry person, Stephanie A. Wells, founder of Double Happiness Jewelry, teaches you how to create 40 signature designs from her own collection in The Earring Style Book. Like a great friend, she provides easy-to-follow step-by-step instructions with illlustrations, definitions and descriptions. She also shares personal stories, like the fact that Oprah wore her Lourdes earrings on her show right after she got her ears pierced. Thanks to Stephanie, I just may try to make my own Lourdes earrings to wear on our Ultimate Australian Adventure and see if Oprah recognizes them!


It’s amazing what a difference a button here or a pom-pom there can make. Lisa M. Pace’s delightful Delight in the Details offers “40+ techniques for charming embellishments and accents.” I’m already figuring out ways – fabric scraps? found objects? — to turn those store-bought picture frames into personal, one-of-a-kind gifts.

Leave a comment below and you’ll automatically be entered to win one of the books mentioned here.

The Writing on the Wall

Vision boards have become so popular because they put your dreams right in front of you, making them feel more real and attainable.

Wallwords work in sort of the same way. Available in a huge variety of sizes, fonts and colors, these vinyl letters and graphics easily transfer to your walls and send out good karma like “And they lived happily ever after” or remind you to “Dream big.”

What I like about Wallwords is that they give your home a story. The words you choose – there are more than 3000 phrases, plus you can custom order your own – provide a context to your life, whether it’s a big “Everybody’s got a laughing place” in your family room or a subtle “Relax” in your office. You can put up a poem you love, the lyrics to your favorite song or even the meaning of your child’s name.

What I also like about Wallwords is that they’re temporary and can be changed as easily as your moods. Whether you choose “Always kiss me good night” or “Closed until further notice,” they definitely make a statement.

This post originally appeared on my former blog, StyleSubstanceSoul.

Words as an Art Form

I can relate to just about every print from Curly Girl Design, especially the popular, “I just don’t like to see you waste your time,” he said. “Well then,” she said, “close your eyes.” Whimsical, girly and dead-on, we’ve got our own eyes on the “Do good often” t-shirts.

I’ve been a fan of Story People for years, and “Quiet Pride,” which says, “There has never been a day when I have not been proud of you, I said to my daughter, though some days I’m louder about other stuff so it’s easy to miss that” still makes me teary.

John Clark draws portraits on old book pages for a unique and modern look. The way he incorporates the chapter title or a few words of content says it all. He even does custom work, which would make an amazing gift.

This post originally appeared on my former blog, StyleSubstanceSoul.

Home is Where the Heart-Shaped Pillow Is

It’s an old cliche that home is where the heart is, but we really think these gorgeous heart pillows can turn even the sparsest temporary rental into a can’t-wait-to-get-back-there home.

Handcrafted by soft sculpture artist Andrea Soltis-Coonick, these Candi Andi pillows are made of rich velvets, raw silks and rayon-silk brocades and finished off with embellishments like fringe, cording and custom hand-bead embroidery.  Each pillow is hand-stuffed, and Andrea exclusively hires stay at home moms and single moms as her seamstresses.

The 12″ hearts filled with all natural organic buckwheat hulls and lavender blossoms would look – and smell – great adorning a bed, and we’re thinking of strewing the 4″ crushed velvet hearts around the house instead of rose petals for Valentine’s Day.
(We’re fantastizing about that but may end up also ordering the practical – and pretty —Wrist Relax Keyboard Wrist Pads.  Now, those would be a gift from the heart.)

This post originally appeared on my former blog, StyleSubstanceSoul.