Three tips for holiday success

Yes, that panic you feel actually IS panic this time — pure unadulterated panic, not the kind you’ve been manufacturing because your year-end reports are due & has anybody seen your green sparkly sweater with the reindeer plus global warming, y’all. Nope, this is officially Panic Time because Dec. 25 is a week from today. One week,  people. One. Week.

But there are some things you can do to lessen your panic. Not completely get rid of it, you understand. That’s impossible because you ALWAYS will suddenly wake up at 3:31 a.m. on Dec. 23 with the certainty that although you did mail your sister’s family’s Christmas gifts in time, you definitely forgot to include your brother-in-law’s traditional bottle of Scotch, which your sister will take as subtle criticism & not call you for two weeks. That’s going to happen and you can’t do anything about it.

However, you can be prepared for/aware of other minor crises. Here are some suggestions, based on just a small sampling of my many holiday screw-ups years of expert research:

  • Family gatherings equal Game Nights, correct? Be the cool one with aIMG_2677 game that nobody’s played before. Family-friendly Qwirkle and its grown-up sibling Qwirkle Cubes are sort of dominoes, Scrabble and Hearts all rolled (sorry/not sorry for pun) into one. It truly is a game that’s easy to learn but then the more you play it, the more you realize how complex it can be. And, of course, because you are The Smart One, you downloaded the app on your phone and practiced beforehand so you can wipe up the competition with your brilliant moves share helpful advice & encouragement with those lesser players.
  • Pinterest is your friend during the holidays. Your best friend, IMG_2673actually, and she doesn’t even call you ONCE AGAIN at midnight to go over ONCE AGAIN the reasons she left her job/boyfriend/overflowing grocery cart in the middle of the frozen-food aisle ONCE AGAIN. (But you love her. You know you do.) Just browse through and you’ll find answers to any kind of holiday idea for decorating, gifting, baking, dressing for the office party — anything, really. Such as this wonderful gift idea my co-worker discovered: Add a cut-out handprint to a pair of gloves, embellish with ribbon and tuck a gift card inside one of the gloves. She did this for the student workers in our office and we added gift cards for a local restaurant because students always are 1) hungry and 2) cash-deficient. They loved it.
  • IMG_2671And, finally, as my Christmas gift to you, I’m sharing a tip to use when you’re getting dressed for those elegant and sophisticated cocktail gatherings and dinner parties and formal affairs at the embassy  the preschool Christmas program. And that tip is to pay attention to your earrings. For instance, from the back & from a distance & before you’ve put your contacts in/glasses on, these two earrings look pretty much the same, correct? I mean, they both have little sticky things poking out of the sides. Careful examination, however, reveals that one is a cute festival silver bow and the other is a manically grinning skull & crossbones. Do not wear manically grinning skull-and-crossbones earrings to the preschool Christmas program. You’re welcome.

Holiday decorating: Step no. 1 — find your decorations

OK, let’s talk about decorating for the holidays. I have three questions for the folks who keep turning down those pesky “Garden and Gun” photography requests (you know who you are):

  1. How do y’all do it — make everything look so festive and pretty? More importantly, where do you put everything when you’re done?
  2. What will it take for you to come to my house and make it look like that for me?
  3. Yeah, I understand you’re busy. With the decorating and all. So would you at least help me find the box of tree ornaments? It’s been missing for three years now and I really would like to find it.

I love Christmas, despite Quinn’s assertion on the mid-season “Scandal” finale that “Everybody over the age of 10 hates Christmas.” (And thank goodness Liv finally — FINALLY — got a new couch. Also, did magic elves put up her tree? See, that’s exactly what I’m talking about here. Even Olivia Pope, the nation’s former quasi-First Lady/First Girlfriend whose father pretty much could run the world but then leaves the White House after a huge fight with her boyfriend, has a gorgeously perfect Christmas tree put up WITH NO EFFORT WHATSOEVER. That happened.) Anyway, I love Christmas. I love special times with family and friends. I

Chex mix 006

Husband JP introduced me to Chex Mix with Cheerios & now I wouldn’t have it any other way.

love shopping & wrapping & opening. I love hot chocolate & milk punch & Chex mix & frosted sugar cookies with chocolate chips for the snowpeople’s eyes. I love Christmas carols & “Silver Bells.” I love memories & stories & creating new ones. Those are the things I am good at it. Give me some Santa Claus mugs, “A Christmas Story” & my grandmother’s Chocolate Snowball cookie recipe and I’ll give you a Christmas Eve to remember. That, I can do.

Decorating? Pass.

Some people can create a statement-making mantlepiece, a work-of-art Christmas tree and a stunning tablescape for Christmas breakfast (or pay others to do it) and some people can’t. I’ve known for years I’m solidly in the “can’t” category. And that’s OK. I mean, it’s a victory if I can find the end of the invisible tape. My expectations are low. I know my limits. That’s why I’ve minimalized our holiday decorating to the basics: stockings, exterior bows and wreaths with gold trim (remnants of an overly ambitious Victorian-village phase back when husband John Pitts said things such as “Sure, sweetie, whatever you want. Doesn’t matter how much it costs.” A phase that, sadly, did not last long, at all.) and a


Yay! Christmas mugs still at the same place I left them 11 months ago — on floor of storage closet.

hodgepodge collection of holiday coffee mugs and espresso cups. If I’m feeling especially ambitious, I might scatter a few red candles around — hey, it is Christmas, after all.

I do understand that a huge part of successful decorating is organization. I know that behind the magazine-perfect rooms are rows & rows of carefully labeled plastic boxes full of meticulously wrapped items. I’ve done my part by identifying easy storage sites for my Big Three of Decorations: stockings in my top dresser drawer, where I look at them every day; outside wreaths and bows inside the attic door, where I fall over them every time I go in; and coffee mugs and espresso cups at the top of the dented cardboard box labeled “Xmas” that was filled with holiday stuff about two moves ago and I always think that one year I’ll dig down through it to see what’s there, but, no.

So, the question remains, where is the box of tree ornaments? I had it


Our cooking club’s tree decorated for a community display several years ago.

three years ago. I know I did. It’s a big box, too. You’d think it’d be difficult to lose. Last year, in desperation, I used ornaments from a culinary tree my cooking club had decorated years ago (THOSE I could find without any problem), but my grandsons weren’t fooled.

“Where’s the Christmas stuff?” the older one asked. “And why do you have measuring cups on your tree? I don’t think that’s right, Kacky.”

This year, decorating is not complete until I find those ornaments. Want to come help? I’ve got Chocolate Snowballs and milk punch.



Further Evidence Why Nobody Believes I Work at an Art Museum

One of these wreaths is not like the other — because I made it. These are only some of the wreaths at my art-museum workplace we staffers create to fill in the blank spaces around our annual Christmas trees exhibit.  At the beginning of November, we pull out a few fake trees and a bunch of ornaments and ribbons and bags of color-coordinated — well, I’m not sure what the technical term is but it’s basically wreath stuff — and we all stake out our favorite spots and for two days all you hear is “Has anybody seen more of the shiny red ribbon?” or “Hey, who took my sparkly hydrangeas?”  But eventually it all comes together. And when you remember that the other staff members are trained and talented artists and I’m … not, then it’s easy to identify my wreathly effort.DSCN2128DSCN2126DSCN2122

Christmas Decor

I am a lazy Christmas person. Don’t get me wrong — I love silver bells and starry nights and sugar cookies — but I’m not very good at the decking-the-halls part. Luckily, I know people who are — people who excel at Christmas. Like my friend Evelyn. I love the dinner table she set and the way she’s festived-up her living room with rich red and gold accents and a touch of green. This is how you do Christmas. I just light a lot of candles and hope the twinkle lights cover up the cat hair.

Christmas Decor

Has this holiday ribbon made it to your town yet? Everywhere I go in my usual family-and-friends route through Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee, I see it. This super-wide bendable mesh is the latest thing to hit Christmas decorating since the invention of inflatable yard snow-globes — at least around here. Folks are decking their halls,  mailboxes, wreaths, garlands, trees, lamp posts and even presents with it. I love it — it seems so bright and festive and cheerful — and I would join in except I spent major $$$ a few years ago on going all gold and white for our outdoor Christmas decor and I imagine that my dear and darling husband would not take kindly to a major redo. But it’s tempting. I tend to overhaul all our outdoor Christmas decor every several years or so. The current white and gold replaced a symphony of gorgeous metallic purples, reds, golds and greens that I was in love with but my children cringed every year and heaved ponderous sighs about living with circus decorations. And in its full glory, the white and gold isn’t much better — when I put everything out in its originally intended spot, the house takes on a sort of puffy Victorian fairy-tale look that really has nothing in common with anybody who lives inside it. Consequently, I pare it down to the bare essentials of a couple wreaths, some mailbox decor and a few bows here and there — leaving many $$$ worth of wreaths, garlands and ribbons packed up and unused. But do not tell the husband, please. Our secret???

Family and Christmas Trees

If you’re the oldest in the family and a girl and you’ve got one or more younger brothers, you know what a responsibility it is to keep those boys in line. I’ve been at it for almost 50 years and apparently my job isn’t done yet. Take, for instance, decorating the family Christmas tree. When we were young, Christmas began when our dad brought the big packing-barrel of tree ornaments out of storage and begin untangling the lights. As soon as the tree was draped with twinkling red and green and yellow-gold, we kids took over. (And it’s only now that I recognize my mother’s genius in making us children feel it was an honor and privilege to decorate the tree, thereby marking at least one chore off her holiday to-do list — a lesson I, sadly, never learned to apply to my own family. Sigh.) Anyway, I am four years older than my brother — our other brother is 16 years younger than me and didn’t figure into my growing-up adventures — and I always feel felt anointed with special powers of superiority, no matter what the subject. During the holidays, that subject was the Christmas tree. As my now-middle brother and I unpacked the ornaments and placed them on the tree, we inevitably began arguing. Why? Because my brother couldn’t follow basic principles of Christmas-tree design! I mean, c’mon! Who doesn’t know you’re supposed to put big ornaments in the back and lighter ones in front? Who doesn’t understand you’re supposed to balance colors and texture?? Who doesn’t get it that you put shiny ornaments next to lights to enhance their shininess??? It’s not rocket science here, people!!!! Whoops … sorry … deep breath … deep breath … As you can see, I maybe still have an obsessive-compulsive problem with tree-decorating. And with my brother. Because when I went to my parents’ house this past weekend to help them put up their tree (It is a privilege and an honor, right?), I found a note from my brother staking out placement for his favorite ornament: “Do not rehang. Sister, this means you! It’s perfect.” My mom said that he said he would have done all the tree decorating when he was there the day before but he knew I’d stage a redo. Just because he’s now a photographer and a college professor who teaches photography and art, I guess maybe he thinks he knows something about design. And big sisters.

Christmas Decor

This past weekend it seemed as if folks finally were catching the Christmas spirit. I mean, how can you not when you look out the window on Saturday morning and see snow? In my northwest corner of Alabama, sadly, it was only freezing  bitter cold — although beating Florida and moving up to  No. 1, football-wise, certainly put everybody in a festive mood — but as you headed east and north, it definitely was snowflake time. In Lynchburg, Tennessee, it was the weekend of the annual Christmas festival and holiday tour of homes, where snow crunching underfoot was just an added bonus. This Lynchburg homeowner decided to help Mother Nature along with these gorgeous bigger-than-life snowflakes in the front-yard tree. Just seeing this made me smile … and want to immediately head to a roaring fire with a mug of hot chocolate and plenty of refills.