How much red, white & blue is too much?

Every time a holiday rolls around, I struggle with the same question, fashion-wise: To embrace celebratory colors with fun & festive exuberance or make a grownup move toward subtlety & sophistication?

Yeah, subtlety & sophistication never win in my closet.

I blame the 1980s. And the ’90s. All of that economic growth & McMansion building & IMG_8114 (Edited)hey-have-you-heard-about-this-thing-called-the-internet led to a optimistic feel-good-ism. Which, for some reason, led to a proliferation of sweatshirts decorated with teddy bears & ribbons & puffy plastic paint. And since the competitive get-ahead 1980s and ’90s was my prime daughter-raising period, I was fully committed to whatever my-young-mom-friends were doing so that I could do it better to creating special memories for my children. This was the era of the Ugly Christmas Sweater, although we didn’t know they were ugly & we bought a new one every year because new ones were at Proffitt’s & Parisian & Castner-Knott every year. But our true love was seasonal sweatshirts. We were fully committed to marking each holiday with the appropriate colored sweatshirts IMG_8113decorated with the appropriate colored … well … decorations. I don’t know how else to describe this sweatshirt frenzy that overtook us. We bought books. We stocked up on hot-glue sticks & glitter. We debated 100 percent cotton over a nylon-cotton blend. Each approaching holiday was an opportunity to showcase our creativity, our access to a Michaels and our deep & abiding dedication to our children. After all, nothing says “I love you, sweetie pie. Now stop picking off those sequins I glued on at 2 this morning.” like strongly encouraging your child to wear a sweatshirt you made at the last minute for Heather M.’s (you always had to identify which Heather you were talking about because there were at least five in every class) birthday party because you’d heard that Heather R.’s mom wiped out the entire inventory of neon pink and DAMN IT, NOBODY IS GOING TO BEAT ME AT THE NEON-PINK SWEATSHIRT GAME.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that the other moms actually were just being creative & I was the only one vying for first place.

So the years passed & soon my daughters moved from My Little Ponies & Care Bears to “The Tribe” & “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” & the Age of the Sweatshirts was over. And it wasn’t just my family. All across the country, glue guns gathered dust. Little bottles of puffy paint dried up. Our beloved crafting books became yard-sale staples. Sigh. But a tiny voice in my head still says, as holidays such as the upcoming Fourth of July get closer, “Maybe you should wear that T-shirt with the stars and the stripes on the pocket? What about those flag earrings? Or perhaps the red-white-and-blue bracelet stack?”

And maybe Hobby Lobby is having a sale on sweatshirts …

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What Kind of Plates Do Reindeer Eat From?

One of the hottest after-Christmas-sale items is Pottery Barn’s Reindeer Dinnerware, which already is pretty much sold out on Pottery Barn’s website — and everywhere else.  And you can see why with this gorgeously festive table at our friends’ house in Murfreesboro, Tenn. It’s a family project, with everybody in the house snapping up pieces when they find sales. And, come to think of it, frugal shopping is a valuable family holiday activity. As is sharing laughs and stories with good friends over deliciously yummy food. And adorable reindeer-decorated tableware. Which you kind of hate to pack away at the beginning of January. Do reindeer and Valentine’s Day mix?

 

Jewelry Tree

My son-in-law is the most amazing artist ever. I’ve been fascinated for years how he can take ordinary household items and create … well … art. He transforms everyday supplies into imaginative and whimsical designs. And it’s second nature for him — he just sits down and thinks for a minute and then makes art. Such as the Christmas presents he made for this year for all the women in his life: This absolutely delightful jewelry tree. He twisted plain ol’ wire into delightfully meandering tree branches and then set them into bases sturdy enough for us to load up all our dangling and clanging jewelry. Older Daughter kept telling me, “You are so going to love what he’s made you for Christmas,” and she was right. And I loved the add-ons, too: Older Daughter had picked out a lovely necklace and earrings from Etsy to go with the jewelry tree. I love my family!!!

Art

Need something to do today? Go to the Jerry Brown Arts Festival in Hamilton, Alabama, to see some great folk art and handcrafted work. It’s open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the former Wal-Mart building that’s on Hwy. 43 on the south side of town — ironic, really, since Wal-mart is sort of the antithesis of slowly made and homegrown quality art pieces. But there you go.  Named for ninth-generation potter Jerry Brown, who’s known for his traditional techniques and his signature facejugs, the festival is an eclectic mix. You’ll find pottery, photographs, paintings, jewelry from simple to statement-making, handbags made out of recycled textiles, fabulous knitted garments and whimsicals such as wind chimes and “sculptures” made from cast-off household items. One of the most stunning booths was that of metalsmith Robert Taylor, of Birmingham, Alabama. Working in the Roycroft style, Taylor creates true works of art that look to me as if they should be in museums instead of somebody’s living room. Another artist who resonated with us was Clay Paradiso, of Columbus, Mississippi. Her architectural photographs of Mississippi churches and byways are so lovely, and we were especially taken with the miniature gift boxes she makes out of art paper, maps, sandpaper, corrugated cardboard or whatever other supplies she can find and then packages with themed embellishments that make the whole box a present in itself. But don’t take it from me. Go see for yourself. Admission is free and the drive is peaceful. Visit http://www.jbaf.org/ for details about the festival and http://www.jerrybrownpottery.com/ to learn more about Jerry Brown himself.

Jewelry Part 1

I don’t mean to brag here or anything, but I pretty much have the most creative and talented daughters ever. Ever.

Pair No.4 -- classic brown and black for fall

Pair No.4 -- classic brown and black for fall

Older Daughter is a wonderful dancer and can construct the most incredible costume  you ever saw out of the most mundane fabric and a random pile of assorted beads. Younger Daughter is equally skilled at making earrings. She is one of those people who has an eye for color and texture and she puts together the most gorgeous creations. Every time I wear her designs, people ask me where I’ve been shopping. She just made some new ones and I told her I’d be honored to put them up in the blogosphere for worldwide admiration. So here you go. Each pair is $15 including postage — I’ll just wrap them up and mail them to you in a first-class envelope if that’s OK. E-mail me at cathylwood@gmail.com and I’ll send you payment info. All earrings are sterling-silver findings and most of the beads are glass. She can do special orders, too. And because I can’t figure out how to do all these pics in one post, be sure to check out Jewelry Part 2. Click on any pic to enlarge it.

Pair No. 1 -- classic black and white

Pair No. 1 -- classic black and white

Pair No. 2 -- Beautiful blues and greens

Pair No. 2 -- Beautiful blues and greens

Pair No. 3 -- a fun mix of color, shape and size

Pair No. 3 -- a fun mix of color, shape and size

Cajun Week

Interior decoratingThe best part about Cajun Country? The incredible Home decorfriendliness and hospitality. A week or so ago, two other friends and I were lucky enough to get to go to Lake Charles, Louisiana, for a real Cajun wedding. Driving from our corner of northwest Alabama, we stopped in Jackson, Mississippi, to pick up another friend and we got our first taste of what Cajun generosity is all about. (And I know that Jackson isn’t really Cajun country but when you’re close enough to drive to New Orleans for lunch, that qualifies in my book!) Our Jackson friend, Jana, is always the one we turn to for decorating and entertaining advice since she excels at both of those — and she outdid herself this time. We’re ashamed to admit that even though she’s lived in Jackson now for almost three years, we’d never gone to visit her. So this was our first peek at her new house, and we all just fell in love with it as soon as we walked in the door. Everything was so warm, inviting and luxurious, with handmade Jana touches everywhere. She designed and made all the window treatments, as well as throw pillows and handpainted floor coverings. I wish just a little bit of her creativity would rub off on me.

Home decorHome decorAnd maybe it did, a little bit, because the next day Jana took us Do-it-yourselfto a wonderful consignment shop in Jackson — bargain hunting is another Jana speciality — and I found one of those wonderful 1980s’ embellished skirt like you’d make and wear to a friend’s Casino Night party. Instead of thinking, “Wow, I could probably wear that,” I had a Jana-thought: “Wow, that would make an adorable pillow.” Of course, you need a Jana to make those thoughts come true, and she did. You know you’d pay $60-plus for this pillow in a decorating shop, but I got it for the $8 cost of the skirt and Jana’s sewing time, which she luckily didn’t charge me for. Aren’t friends wonderful?

And the Cajun hospitality at Jana’s house didn’t end with Jana. On our way back from the wedding we of course had to Cajun foodstop in Jackson to drop Jana off. We had driven through nail-bitingly scary heavy rain for hours and were suffering the after-effects of too much fun, but Jana’s husband, Don, met us at the door with restorative glasses of wine and a wonderful Cajun lunch of real authentic New Orleans mufulletas (the secret’s in the Central Grocery olive salad) chips and salsa and a fresh fruit salad that Don showed us how to liven up with chili powder — something I’d never tasted before but I really enjoyed. I know I’m embarrassing Jana and Don here by gushing all over them, but, really, when you have friends who go to so much trouble to make you feel special, then you just have to brag about them. I mean, folks pay good money to be treated like this, and Jana and Don did it just because they love us. Awwww…

So this wraps up my Cajun Week, with reports from my few days exploring Cajun Country. I had a blast and I hope you did, too. Can’t wait to go back. And check out my weekly TimesDaily column on the Cajun wedding, at http://www.timesdaily.com/article/20090918/ARTICLES/909185004

The Amish in Tennessee

Amish in Ethrudge, TennesseeWhen you’re traveling on U.S. 43 in southern Middle Tennessee, Amish in Ethridge, Tennesseeyou’ll probably share the road with a horse-and-buggy or two. The town of Ethridge, about an hour south of Nashville, is an Amish community and a big tourist draw.  I met some Nashville friends there over the Fourth of July weekend for what we Amish craftsdo best: Eating, shopping and talking. Two of the three were successful, since we ate and talked with no problem whatsoever. But the shopping? Meh. Amish craftsSeveral buildings proclaiming “Amish crafts” and “Handmade Amish goods” hug the highway, but I’m suspicious. And yes, I know: I’m always suspicious. But this time I had good reason, I think. We were expecting to find gotta-have examples of folk-art, but we didn’t. We could have been in any craft shop anywhere — nothing said “I’m special! I’m different! Take me home!” I did spy some wonderfully whimsical furniture, but nothing else impressed. Maybe it’s our perception — when I think “Amish,” I think of high-quality American folk-art, but what we found instead was the same ol’-same ol’. Nothing wrong with that, but we were disappointed because we expected more. You know? We did browse through a nearby flea market, loaded up on Amish-made cookies, bread and candy (or maybe that was just me) and enjoyed an ice-cold Coke out of an ice-cold glass bottle just like we all grew up with. That — and hanging out with my friends — was worth the trip. Check it out yourself at http://www.tnvacation.com/vendors/amish_country_mall/