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

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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

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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

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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.

 

 

Christmas Parties & the Coffee with Cathy ‘How To Do Everything’ Guide

 Or, how to be happy in your new house

Susan's coffee table is gorgeously decorated for the holidays. And see those papers? We actually read our assigned books and go over discussion questions and have some lively conversations. Over wine, of course. But still.

Susan’s coffee table is gorgeously decorated for the holidays. And see those papers? We actually read our assigned books and go over discussion questions and have some lively conversations. Over wine, of course. But still.

You know that friend you have who has been through so much yet still is a rock(ette) and everybody relies on her and she is cheerful and giving and loving despite every reason not to be and you want only good things for her always? My friend like that — let’s randomly call her ‘Susan’ for no reason whatsoever — is the DEAREST AND BEST person ever and I am so lucky she lets me be her friend. She recently bought and moved into her own house and because I am a bad friend who doesn’t deserve her, I hadn’t seen the new place until this week when she hosted a Christmas party for our four-woman book club. (We are small but extremely opinionated — or maybe that’s just me. The opinionated part, I mean.) She was beaming as she welcomed us in to her warm and cozy and festive oh-so-her home. Even if I didn’t know she lived there, I would have said she should — it fits her so well. She didn’t have to do a thing to it, paint-wise, and her furniture works perfectly, with plenty of space and traffic flow for family and friends as well as her own woman-cave for relaxing. She has such good taste in decorating — simple yet elegant with a big dash of creativity is the best way to describe her style. For instance, look at her china cabinet (below).

The clear glass centerpiece reflects the candlelight and the silver and white colors add to the festive wintry atmosphere.

The clear glass centerpiece reflects the candlelight and the silver and white colors add to the festive wintry atmosphere.

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Susan adds personal touches to her china cabinet with a unique display of her Gail Pittman collection.

Love, love, love the way she propped up her square Gail Pittman plates in the back to look like inlaid tiles. Clever! (And remind me to tell you about some of our Gail Pittman adventures. You wouldn’t believe what folks will do for a matching dessert plate and espresso cup. And by “folks,” I mean me.) Anyway, for Christmas Susan used silver and pale blue and glittery white to create a magical wintry evening. She fed us yummy food and fun cranberry margaritas and we opened presents and talked about the book and laughed a whole big bunch. Doesn’t get much better than that, especially when you’ve got a hostess who is so happy to share her own home with her friends. Seems like that’s the way to do Christmas parties.

Moms Know How to do Christmas Right

Christmas decorIt’s not that I’m a Scrooge, exactly. I like Christmas as much as anybody does — the lights, the parties, the food, the chance to wear sparkly Christmas decorclothes with impunity. Presents? Santa Claus? Milk (punch) & cookies? More is more. Bring it on. But when it comes to decorating, I lean toward extreme laziness minimalism. The thought of wrestling with putting up the tree and finding unpacking the ornaments makes me want to take a nap. Color-coordinating hand towels with guest soaps, replacing everyday pillows and artwork with holiday-themed decor and creatively displaying Christmas cards in a Pinterest-worthy style are simply beyond me. Our struggles with ourHoliday decorations %^&*$@ front-door garland this year are well documented — does anybody have an industrial nail gun we can borrow? — and I’ve desperately clung to stuck with our gold mailbox bows now for eight years for fear of having to buy new ones out of loyalty to the young florist who made them. Look, I’ve done the basics. The stockings are hung by the chimney with care, the presents are wrapped and the Chex mix ingredients are ready. What else do you need? Naturally, you can guess that this is NOT the way I was brought up. My mother, with help from my dad, is a top-level Christmas advocate who turns their house into a holiday fairyland. There are surprises and delights everywhere you look and she’s always coming up with something new. As I do with folks who excel at the mysterious skills of gardening & painting & knitting, I admire and appreciate my mom’s Christmas creations without any troubling thought that I really should attempt to duplicate them myself. Thanks, Mom!

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?

 

Christmas Entertaining … and Entertaining Christmas Stories

Oh, I love the holidays — the visiting, the parties, the chance to get a closeup view of other people’s decorations. Luckily, folks don’t seem to mind when I whip out my camera, even though my husband warns the hosts, “You’d better be careful because this will turn up on her blog.” But the homeowners here had a couple of nights previously opened their doors to an annual fund-raising holiday home tour, so I figured they’d be okay with a little publicity. The thing is, this family has spent years — YEARS — renovating and restoring this wonderful cottage in Tupelo, Mississippi. Soon I want to show you some of their non-holiday work, but since Christmas is … wait, wait, don’t tell me … four days away, we’ll stick with the festive touches now. I love the  fresh greenery and whimsical details mixed in with vintage pieces, such as these post-office boxes the husband bought from a going-out-of-business post office. He cleaned and shined them and built the wooden case for them with access to the backs as well as the fronts for one incredible storage unit. Amazing! And made festive with a Santa collection resting on the top. Everything in this house was bright and cheerful, the food was good, the company was fun, the wine never stopped and I even heard firsthand the story about a dad who delivered his baby in the car at the hospital because his wife unknowingly has a condition called precipitous labor, which means she gives birth within three hours of the first contraction. In this case, it was 20 minutes.  I repeat, this brave woman who is my new hero gave birth in the front seat of her car in the hospital’s driveway a mere TWENTY MINUTES after she felt a contraction. That calls for another Christmas cookie — and sort of makes me glad I’m out of the birthing-babies business.

In Which I Cover Patriotism, Fashion, Newspapers and Fresh Spearmint

I am staging a protest here. Care to join me? In the spirit of the recent Fourth of July celebration, let’s refuse to be bullied into thinking it’s fall. (And if you still have a few fireworks, please move them away from the gas grill — do not ask why I’m confident this is good advice.) Let’s stand up for our rights to enjoy the remaining two months of summer without feeling pressured. Know what I mean??? I’m talking to you, Fashion Industry! It’s early July and I haven’t even worn all my leftover faded sundresses and stained  ratty tank tops stylish new summer clothes you convinced me to buy this past January when there was 6 inches of snow on the ground. It’s 99 degrees today, yet here you come with your seductive ads, glossy catalogues and insistent pop-ups: “New Fall Styles Are In!” “Get Ready for Football Weekends” and the always alarming “It’s Time for Back-to-School Shopping!” Excuse me, but no. It is not. Besides, when I actually am looking for corduroy jeans and black wool turtlenecks, you’ve gone on to shorts, sandals and beach cover-ups. So enough already. Let’s throw off the shackles of fashion tyranny and demand the right to shop for clothes when they’re actually in season! Who’s with me? We’ll organize a march at the mall. Hey, if foodies can fight for season choices, then so can we.  But … you know … now that I’m thinking about it … while we’re at the mall, would you mind if we waited a couple of minutes before marching because I saw this really cute transitional sweater there the other day and the sales clerk said she was getting in the first batch of knitted scarves and …

And to prove that it’s still summer, here’s a photo of the table my mom set for our Fourth of July family get-together. She’s the queen of holidays and has an incredible storehouse of linens, plates, glasses and serving pieces in almost any color you need. Sadly, she did not pass this creative design-ability on to me, although I do honor Christmas by bringing out coffee mugs with snowpeople on them. So there. What I really like about this photo, however, are all the little clues it has about my family. For instance, the spearmint sprigs on the applesauce came from Older Daughter’s garden that she optimistically replanted after the April 27 tornadoes carried her carefully nurtured seedlings away. My mom loves mint-flavored applesauce because her mom made it when my mom was little. Then there’s the potted centerpiece that my brother brought — the blossoms can be added to the flower bed and the plastic container recycled. And, finally, notice the newspaper in the back corner? I grew up thinking that it’s the most natural thing in the world to eat breakfast and read the newspaper and know what’s going on in the world before you headed out in it. And I still do.

Oh, Christmas Tree!

This is why I love my job as marketing director at an art museum — during December, my workplace looks like this. Every year we host an annual exhibit of huge live trees that people in our community volunteer to decorate, and I have to say that this year is one of the best ever. A woman whose husband is a firefighter decorated the tree on the right to honor local fire departments. The tree on the left was decorated by a medical auxiliary to raise awareness of childhood cancer. We’ve got a tree celebrating books, one featuring “visions of sugarplums” and one called “Fleece Navidad” that’s full of every kind of stuffed and carved and sewn and decorated lamb you can imagine. I love hearing people walk through the exhibit and “ooh” and “ahh” in delight. Makes me think that I really should put our tree up … sometime soon.