Hillary's White House Tour

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Hillary Clinton remembers only too well the shock she got her first spring at the White House, when staffers told her she was a bit late in getting started on the plans for Christmas, an event so big it takes most of the year to plan.

But that's the way it is when you're the First Lady, a job Clinton got to know and to which she will soon bid farewell as she moves on to the Senate.

She'll leave behind a manual of sorts to life at the White House, her new book, An Invitation to the White House, At Home With History.

In an interview with CBS News Early Show Co-Anchor Jane Clayson, Clinton says she wanted to do the book to "give an inside look" for people who might never get the chance to visit the White House and for those who might take a tour but might never see anything as elaborate as one of the many state dinners held there.

Not that there's any shortage of visitors to the White House.

"The White House is very well-loved and well-taken care of, but it's also very heavily used," says Clinton. "I don't even know how to describe what it's like to have a million and a half people go through the White House every year - that's about the number of visitors and tourists we have."

That adds up to "a great deal of wear and tear," explains Clinton, recalling the private funds that were raised to renovate the Blue Room and the State Dining Room during her time at the White House.

Her favorite parts of the White House are "the art collection and the historic furniture," including two pieces added during the Clinton administration.

They are a painting by Georgia O'Keeffe, the first American female artist to have her work displayed at the White House, and a painting by Henry Tanner, the first African-American to be part of the White House collection.

The First Lady says the Tanner piece was added to the public display after a professor wrote President Clinton and asked about the absence of African-American artists at the White House.

Another Clinton imprint at the White House is on the china, which for the first time ever includes a drawing of the building, to mark the 200th anniversary of the White House.

"I worked for about two years with the people from Lenox (the china manufacturer), who were wonderful in helping try out different colors and fire different kinds of plates for us to look at," says Clinton, who adjusted each design according to the course each dish would serve.

"We have a base plate with this wonderful view of the North Portico, which is the front of the house, and that is repeated on the dinner plate," explains Clinton. "On the dessert plate, what I wanted to do was to kind of have some fun, so we've got the back of the house, the South Portico, one of the most familiar scenes that people see, on the top of the dessert plate. Because it's the end of the dinner, and the back of the house."

Some of the wonders of the Whie House will always be mixed with the personal memories of the First Family.

Clinton in particular is fond of the way the vast residence, with its many rooms and special features, made it possible for their daughter, Chelsea, to play with her friends out of the light of the media.

"This is a wonderful place for a teenager," explains Clinton. "There are lots of rooms for kids to come, for the girls to have slumber parties, and take the boys bowling. There's a lot that can be done within the house so that the privacy of the children is respected; it's worked out very well for us."

Another White House feature that won't soon be forgotten: the elaborate holiday decorations and ceremonies.

"Christmas is our favorite time of year," says Clinton. "One of my favorite pictures in the book…is of our nephew, Tyler, walking down the hallway, marveling at the decorations."

She also loves the tradition of greeting the Christmas tree as it arrives at the White House.

"We have it brought in on a horse-drawn cart and it's always so touching to meet the family that grew the tree," says Clinton, who'll do that one last time on Wednesday.


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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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