Remember that TV show on TLC called “While You Were Out“? Folks would send their unsuspecting loved ones out of town for a couple of days and then have a designer and crew (and TV cameras, of course) come in to redo a room. It aired from 2002 to 2006, and my two then high-school- and college-age daughters and I watched every episode. (Side note No. 1: We three got to meet the ultimate WYWO cast of cutie-pie Evan Farmer, super-hunk Andrew Dan-Jumbo and empowered-funny-woman Leslie Segrete when they filmed an episode in Birmingham, Ala., and I covered it for my newspaper.) The combination of designing, redecorating, renovating, keeping a secret and sneaking around, all in front of millions of TV viewers, was irresistible. (Side note No. 2: My daughters, along with Older Daughter’s now-husband, even did a WYWO on husband JP and me. While we were honeymooning after our 2004 wedding, they redid my bedroom from “divorced single mom” to “sophisticated power couple.” Using a gorgeously colored wine theme, they repainted, repositioned furniture, brought in wine accents and even replaced my grungy nightstands with super-cute wine-rack tables that we still use.) And even though he wasn’t nearly as huge a fan as we were, my husband pulled a WYWO on me while I was enjoying some cat-free mornings spending a few days out-of-town. First, when I got home, I immediately noticed that the house was clean — probably much cleaner than when I’d left. And since we have four cats, a clean house takes some work. When I complimented my husband, he admitted he’d discovered the secret of housecleaning: Do some every day so it doesn’t pile up into one big mess. I was so proud! Second, I noticed he’d replenished my supply of my favorite gum — adorable! Then, he proudly showed me our mailbox, which now sported our house number. “I thought it was about time,” he said, “since we’ve lived here for almost two years and sometimes the mail folks still can’t find us.” A clean house, my favorite gum and a properly identified address would have been enough, but toward the end of the evening, he finally couldn’t take it anymore and said in exasperation, “Aren’t you going to go in the guest bathroom tonight?” Turns out he’d put up my birthday present from this past year — a funky and wonderful blue-painted mirror made from recycled wood that we’d left leaning against the wall for months while we wondered if it were too heavy to hang. So far, it’s not. Also: I have the best husband in the world.
I know I don’t look like it now — sitting here on the couch in my PJs at 7:30 p.m. with a glass of wine in my hand and basketball on TV — but back only a few years ago I was a hard-working & dedicated how-many-bottles-of-water-do-we-need-for-the-concession-stand type of Band Parent. I mean, I was fierce. I cleaned & cooked & chaperoned. I rode buses and made calls and sewed hems and tracked down lost gloves and errant plumes. Sound familiar? You, too? After our final band-geek-chick left the nest, it took forever to retrain myself — I didn’t have to hang around the school cafeteria scooping out ice anymore or keep handy at all times a bag of emergency bobby pins, safety pins, hairbobs, HotHands and Kleenex. So I was sort of surprised when I went to a recent reception for our retiring high-school director and realized that the band had carried on without me. And not only carried on but managed to pull off a great full-scale party without my help. Amazing. And gratifying. Because it’s somebody else’s turn now. We Old Band Parents have earned our retirement. After all, we’ve got wine to drink and basketball to watch. But I’m sharing the cute & clever ideas the New Band Parents came up with for this reception — we OBPs are proud of you, NBPs. Good job. Carry on.
Think a beautifully set table is beyond your creative reach this Christmas? Cringing at spending $4 for that festively decorated cupcake? Don’t worry — your holiday can be magazine-worthy AND frugal at the same time. First, some background. The Florence-Lauderdale Public Library, in Florence, Ala., excels at connecting with the community. The folks there have turned the FLPL into a local gathering spot. You don’t go there simply to check out a book or check on the Internet — you go there to meet, eat, drink, sip, learn, watch, view, play, shop, talk, research and more. Example: A series of free monthly programs focusing on do-it-yourself topics that might especially interest young adults. Created by two young women staffers, the series brings in local experts on such subjects as grilling, sewing pillows and pulling together your first Thanksgiving dinner. December’s program was “Christmas Cupcakes and Tablescapes” and it was so much fun. Decorating this season is bold & graphic and casual & eclectic — I was especially pleased to learn that since down-home imperfection is hot and glossily meticulousness is out, I now am apparently completely on trend — so creating decor using what’s within reach is both stylish and smart. Take the tablescapes. I’ve never considered using flat king sheets as table linens, but what a super idea that is. Add brown craft paper for a kid-friendly table runner, place cards for a thoughtful touch and a centerpiece featuring old glass jars with unpopped popcorn anchoring backyard-branches and you’ve got a simple yet eye-catching design. And, here’s breaking news from the cupcake front: The latest thing is to leave a border of unfrosted cake to enhance that imperfect undecorated feel. I think I’ll need to do more research on this and report back. In the meantime, make your own edible snowflakes by drawing patterns on parchment paper, melting candy-making wafers in a plastic squeeze bottle and then piping along your pattern. Adorable! Allmost tempts me to wander into the kitchen and pull out bowls and beaters and get to work. Almost …
When you look at this snowperson ornament — which, by the way, did not make the Christmas-tree cut this year — do you see a) a well-loved symbol of sweet childhood memories or b) a maniacal crazy-eyed snowcreature that makes you very very nervous? I guess it depends on whether you believe you’re looking at a) mittens and a broom or b) hooves and an ax. There’s no denying the crazy eyes, though. And, truthfully, I’m sure “Frosty the Zombie Snowman” will be the Next Big Thing. (Note to self: Ask always-zombie-alert husband if zombie snowpeople would actually carry axes. Or wear holly in their hats.) Before you scoff, know that I am extremely sensitive to the possibilities of Evil Toylike Objects because of the Tree Toys. Would you like to hear the story? Pour some eggnog, settle down by the fire and I’ll tell you. See, when we lived in Alabama and my two now-mid-20s daughters were young, an elderly woman who lived down the street from us would celebrate the holidays by hanging stuffed animals and dolls from a tree in her front yard. With fishing line. Around their necks. People from surrounding states would drive over just to see this because nothing, obviously, says Christmas like a tree in a front yard with dozens of eerily silent teddy bears and Cabbage Patch Kids swaying in the breeze. The woman scoured yard sales and flea markets all year for her Tree Toy collection because, it was said, she wanted to do something “for the children.” However, my children — and every other child around as well as most adults — were traumatized every year and refused to drive, walk, run, bike, skate or otherwise go anywhere near that house during the holidays. Younger Daughter later admitted she’d had nightmares about the Tree Toys coming to life and it was a long and dark time before she could pick up a teddy bear without shuddering. The Toy Tree appeared for several consecutive years … until one year, the tree was empty. Rumor had it that the woman had given in to public pressure and decided to give up her decorating scheme. But it seemed as if her spirit was broken, because no sign of the holidays ever showed up in her yard again. No wreaths. No inflatable snow globes. No Santa Claus standing at the manager along with the shepherds and the Three Wise Men. The crowds abandoned our neighborhood and started driving over to the five-acre light extravaganza in the next county. Our street was (relatively) safe again, and all we have left are memories of the Tree Toys … and maybe, with Crazy-Eyed Snowperson here, the start of a new tradition.
Isn’t this the prettiest and most relaxing bedroom ever? I stayed over at a friend’s recently after a particularly energetic book-club meeting (we kept toasting the fact that the hostess’s husband had not set himself on fire when the gas tank ruptured as he grilled our dinner). My friend graciously put me up for the night, and I promise it was like staying in the coziest bed-and-breakfast inn ever. I did not want to leave. I love her color scheme of white with blues, pinks and oranges — it was cool and summery and so clean and fresh. And can you get a close-up of the bedside tables? How cute is that? My friend — oh, let’s call her “Susan,” for no reason whatsoever — loves color and design and knows how to make it all come together. Plus, she’s an excellent shopper and always finds the bargains everybody else passes up. I’m definitely going to have to come up with another excuse to stay here again soon. When’s the next book-club gathering?
I read or heard recently a news report that shopping is good for you — it gets you out of the house, gives you exercise and company and a new perspective on things. Of course, in my case that new perspective is “What’s happened to all our money?”, but that’s a minor issue. The point is that you can Learn Things and Gain Experience by shopping. For example: I recently discovered that you can buy duct tape in patterns remarkably similar to some throw pillows I have. And more. Am I the only person around here who didn’t know that duct tape comes in bright neons and animal prints as well as the standard battleship gray? I’m guessing this idea was inspired by more women doing more do-it-yourself jobs around the house. But, honestly, does everything we touch have to be cute and colorful? I realize I’m wandering into dangerous grouchy-old-lady “you-damn-kids-get-outta-my-yard!” territory here, but seems to me that when you need duct tape, having the good ol’ dependable gray workhorse around is best. I’m not sure I’d feel quite confident that zebra stripes are going to do the job. With all due respect to zebras, of course. But we all know that manufacturers and retailers have all sorts of tricks to lure us into buying stuff. Such as this sign my husband and I spotted in a home warehouse-store. It uses all the correct decorating words to grab our attention: “Euro!” “Shaker!” “Espresso!” — a combination of adjectives that only exists in marketing land. I mean, is there such a thing as “Euro Shaker?” I’m doubting it. And Mr. Google agrees with me. Plus, throwing in “espresso” is just silly. Are they talking about Italian roast? French press? A Starbucks doppio? Define your terms, people! But I do like that mirror.