Gifts from on high

Looking to get a little Jeffersonian in your gift choices this holiday season? Instead of marching your December houseguests through Monticello’s gardens and parlors, give them a taste of Charlottesville’s favorite founding father that they can take home with them. Monticello’s online gift shop offers a wide selection of period plant seeds, from the Lewis and Clark Seed Sampler, a collection of Monticello’s Favorite Flowers, or any from a laundry list of vegetables (beets, kale, pumpkins) that dotted Jefferson’s own garden. If seed packets aren’t your idea of excitement, though, Monticello’s shop has some other interesting finds. For example, if your Saturday yard work (or TV-side lounging) is just too classy for the ordinary t-shirt, you may require the added nobility of a $48 Jefferson work shirt—a TJ-approved muslin number with wooden buttons. Requisite presidential busts and the always-essential "historical chocolate" are also available to round out your gift list.—Lee Vanderwerff


When I came across etsy.com, touted as "your place to buy and sell all things handmade," I was on instant Kitsch Alert. I imagined lots of unfortunate sweaters and Elmer’s-crusted popsicle sticks. But, what I found was stuff that’s not kitschy at all, but unique, well designed, and interesting. For cheap, too! My favorite way to search this site is by color. Spin your mouse over ebbing dots of color and click to find a fuschia embroidered belt or a sunny set of paper notecards. Once you’ve found one item you like, Etsy will show you a web of who else liked it and what other items they have their eye on. With thousands of colorful thumbnail close-ups of beads and clasps and bookmarks, this site is like a candy store for adults who can’t resist cool-looking things.—L.V.


Blogger and DIY-er John from Arkansas doesn’t just have a chip on his shoulder. He has an entire aging Queen Anne Victorian on his back. Currently on year five or so of his long journey to renovate the house he’s dubbed "Devil Queen," John shares his personal trials and mistakes as well as DIY tips he’s learned through lots of trial and error. Even though he clearly gets frustrated (and goes so far as calling his project a "whore of a house"—ouch), after five years, he knows what he’s doing. He reports on fixing faulty water heaters in a house that was built before indoor plumbing and gives steps for carefully puttying and sanding antique hardwoods so that you won’t have to tackle the same job again any time soon. Faithful to the online social network of DIY-ers and to getting the job done right, the Devil Queen blogger is a voice that is both hilarious and helpful.—L.V.

Step factor

You probably are already pretty aware of how "walkable" your neighborhood is. Is it possible and convenient for you to walk to grocery stores, coffee shops, restaurants, bookstores, schools, parks, libraries and bars from your house, or does it take you 10 minutes via car to even get to the gate of your gated community? Walkscore.com factors the walkability to a whole slew of destinations in order to give any address a "walkscore." Its calculations and scores, based on Google Maps’ listings of local businesses and residences, are sometimes a little flawed (it doesn’t factor in bodies of water that might be in pedestrians’ paths, and some business listings are outdated), but overall, this tool could come in handy if you’re researching neighborhoods that you’re considering calling home.—L.V.



Weaving history

Here in Charlottesville, we love history. We have to, in order to justify our insistence-beyond-all-reason on the TJ connection. There are other historic sites here, though, as this site about the Woolen Mills area amply proves. With a detailed chronology stretching back to the 1700s and plenty of stories and old photos, this site is like flipping through your great-great-(great?)-grandparents’ scrapbook. The blog portion reads almost like a novel, telling the story of specific families who lived and worked in the neighborhood. To fast-forward a couple hundred years, click on the News page to read up on current zoning issues facing the residents of Woolen Mills.

Life’s a beach

Alison Davis and Paul B. Brown are a pair of writers who are building a second home in Florida. In their blog about the process, while they’re obsessing over their new kitchen and a potential $7,000 brand-name range, they also call each other, and themselves, crazy for doing so. The husband and wife team write alternating posts about the perils of building a new home and how they balance the huge project with their jobs and daily lives in New England. It’s an interesting read if you yourself have ever gulped at rising construction costs, waded through decking materials, or felt the impatience of delayed completion deadlines. Or, you know, if you just wish that you were building your second home with a pool and three levels of decks on an island in Florida and want to live vicariously through this surprisingly-not-obnoxious duo.


The source

Founded by the guys who started Expedia.com, Zillow is a user-friendly real estate site that takes a grassroots approach to advertising and searching houses for sale. Buyers can search for property in a broad area, or by specific sets of characteristics, from price to square footage to zip code. Once you’ve found homes you like, Zillow gives you a list of comparable homes as well as a Q&A option that lets buyers directly ask sellers specific questions. If you’re not a buyer or a seller, but are curious about how much people would be willing to pay for your current home, Zillow’s "Make Me Move" feature lets you post your house with the magic number that would convince you to bid your perfect 3-bedroom, 2.5-bath farewell. While the insistence on Z-words (Zestimate, Zindex) may get a little zannoying after a while, Zillow’s detailed home postings and helpful discussion boards make it a good first stop for anyone entering the real estate game.

To the dogs

What’s the difference between a foodie and a chowhound? Apparently, foodies eat where they’re told, and are more concerned with being hip than with really finding the best eats. Meanwhile, chow- hounds are always sniffing out good food, no matter what restaurants or neighborhoods are hot, and no matter what Zagat has to say. Guess who’s more welcome at this site, a spunky collection of searchable recipes, food and entertaining articles, and message boards with serious ‘tude. Traveling to a new city for the weekend?  Browse lists of restaurants that Chowhound gives a thumbs-up. Want to make your own pancetta, ginger beer, or veggie burger? Search through recipes organized by course. Dying to know the dish on founding fathers’ whiskey brewing? Check out Chowhound’s "story" section for a wide range of articles. Spending an hour on this site will leave even the snobbiest foodie ready to ditch the Zagat and chow down.



Odd advice

Friendly and spunky, the design blog and catch-all curbly.com shows us what’s cool in the design world without the Martha Stewart sweetness or the more-mod-than-thou tone of other design sites. Recently spotted on curbly: a roundup of the best furniture currently for sale on craigslist, real estate advice based on the errors of other homebuyers, new throw pillows with built-in LED lights, and reader-generated ideas for recycling cat litter containers in your home design scheme (seriously?!). You can also sign up with curbly to post your own questions and design advice and get connected in the Friendster-esque web of design contacts.—Lee Vanderwerff

Put a number on it

Low Impact Living’s environmental impact calculator gives you an estimate of your overall impact on the planet using a few stats about where and how you live. More impressive than its basic calculator, though, is this site’s long list of green projects that will help reduce the impact of your daily life—ways to green-up every room of your house, from adding extra insulation to installing efficient water heaters to solutions much too technical for this ABODE-er to understand at first glance. Ideas are color-coded according to whether they’ll save power, energy or other important natural resources. And you can sign up for an e-mail newsletter about eco-friendly places and services (say, which “green” hotel you should stay in on your next vacation).—L.V.

This old site

Somehow, I don’t think I was the only one who spent Saturday mornings as a kid glued to cartoons and, umm, “This Old House” with Bob Vila. Yeah? Only one? Anyway, Bob and his crew’s website comes in pretty handy on grown-up Saturdays when you’re faced with the task of fixing a damaged doorjamb, getting your house and yard ready for fall, or installing crown molding.  We especially loved the “Home Inspection Nightmares” section, with photos of the crazy stuff ill-informed people do to their houses. Psst: There’s also a video hiding among the archives of Brad Pitt doing construction work in New Orleans, in case you need a break between articles about roofing and mold.—L.V.

Hardware tour

If “find interesting doorknob” is high on your priority list, Michigan-based Look in the Attic can help, with a huge selection of doorbells, switch plates, assorted hardware and accessories on its website. Whether you’ve been searching for months for the perfect amethyst-colored period-style glass doorknob or would like to add a “huge solid pewter moosehead” in any of 16 finishes (we’re serious) to your living room wall, this is your site. There’s even a fairly extensive selection of antique nails, as well as a long list of every kind of coat hook you could imagine. Practically speaking, the site also offers a guide for removing and installing hardware and a glossary of technical and period-specific hardware terms. Plus, the prices on this site are reasonably affordable.—L.V.


Shelf smarts

We’ve never heard of "dumb" furniture, but we can still see why "smart" applies to the custom-designed residential and retail shelving featured at this site. SmartFurniture.com shows off its simple, contemporary designs while at the same time offering buyers some creative freedom. Using the online designer tool, you can click from a palette of shelves and beams in a range of wood types and colors, and drag them together until you have an original product. Even better, if you get stuck, you can chat live with a designer. This site really practices what it preaches: It gives you simplified designs and the right accompanying tools, making it easy to organize your home. The downside? It’s not "simple" for your wallet. You might end up paying $500 for a bookshelf that your friends will think is from IKEA anyway.

Go go gadget

The makers of thinkgeek could’ve referred to themselves as "technophiles," but they’re too honest for that. Instead, this website embraces their true identity: gadget-totin’, Monty Python-quotin’, binary brethren—geeks. Thinkgeek.com is eHeaven for tech-lovers, and its vast collection of gizmos, toys and nerdy tees is a real treat for these types. In the "gadgets" section, for example, the site sells a range of functional items, from ever-useful cord organizers to decidedly decorative LED candles. We enjoyed browsing through the "Home & Office" section, however, with its seven-day alarm clock that has settings for each day, and Rare Earth’s magnetic fridge pins, which can hold up to 10 sheets of paper (how you come up with that kind of bulk is up to you). Stuff ranges from the clever and imaginative to the excessively nerdy (Star Wars tees, really?).

Dinner for seven

What’s for dinner? If you’re throwing up your hands and saying, "I don’t know!" or, "I hope the kids won’t mind cereal again," you might want to take a look at TheScramble.com. This site offers a meal planning service that removes the pains of having to throw something together at the last minute, run to the grocery store after work for ingredients or waste incompatible leftovers. With a yearly subscription ($47.50), the site gives you email notifications each week with a package of five weeknight recipes and your weekly grocery list. While there are plenty of other sites out there that provide meal-planning services, TheScramble.com is our favorite because of its fresh, healthy, and often vegetarian-friendly approach. If this seems pricey, though, you might want to try www.menus4moms.com. Its program is free, though maybe a little less kind to veggies. In the end, the DIY route seems best—just browse through the sampler weekly menus of the many meal-planning sites out there until you get the hang of things.

Virginia’s finest

Plenty of you have probably popped into Transient Crafters on the Downtown Mall and eyed their local handcrafts, but we just discovered that their website is a great place to browse, too. If you don’t know already, Transient Crafters is an artists’ cooperative that features about 60 local artists who manage the store and sell their artwork—things like handmade soaps, woodwork or paintings. While the store is like a gallery of their art, the website is like a larger gateway into their lives. The site includes photos, bios and links to the artists’ personal websites, so if you really like a certain potter or carver, Transient Crafters has provided all the info you need to keep up with her work.