I Bet My Office Beats Your Office — in Christmas Trees, at Least

This is the time of year when my real & actual look-presentable-and-sit-in-your-office job (as opposed to my less stable scramble-around-for-assignments freelancing jobs) in a local art museum pays off, because every year we host a “Trees of Christmas” exhibit featuring absolutely fabulously decorated lived Christmas trees. Individuals and groups from the community each volunteer to decorate a tree, and it’s such a highly coveted honor that we usually have waiting lists two years ahead. The trees’ themes can be practically anything — hobbies, travel, history, arts — and many non-profit groups decorate trees to symbolize their message and good works. The trees by themselves are stunning — they’re live spruce and fir from North Carolina and are at least 12 feet tall. Smells like Christmas spirit! Then the trees stand unadorned for a few days to get acclimated to their new indoor environment. Next comes the decorating, which can vary from noisy and chaotic to quiet and meticulous, depending on the decorators.  For example, a retired local educator has taken up the hobby of cutting snowflakes, and he decorated a tree with almost 800 of his favorites. He folds and cuts them by hand without a pattern, and no two are alike. He even does themes — seasons, the 12 Days of Christmas, the alphabet. He spent two days on his tree, hanging each snowflake in just the proper place and spurning all offers of help from opening-deadline-angsty staffers. In contrast, the local Master Gardeners descended on the museum 25-women strong, hauling buckets and bags and baskets full of their hand-grown and hand-dried treasures. They pretty much took over the gallery floor — but had a blast, their laughter drowning out the Christmas CDs. And then there are trees by groups such as Scope 310 Authority, which serves developmentally and intellectually disadvantaged people in community-based settings. Both counselors and clients decorated their tree with works made in art class — the first time many of the adults had ever done any art. Amazing! The Scope 310 folks were so joyful and enthusiastic about the chance to show off their art and be a part of the museum’s Christmas. Makes me smile every time I look at their tree — which is pretty much every day since all of these fantastic trees (and more) are in my very own workplace. Sort of makes up for the wonky heat/air-conditioning system.

It’s Still Fall, Y’all

I’m rebelling. I’m staging a protest. I’m calling it “Occupy Autumn” and I’m refusing to budge until Dec. 1.  Or at least until Thanksgiving’s over. Who’s with me??? I mean, Christmas ads are all over TV, Wal-Mart’s been stocking eggnog for a couple of weeks and my town already has Christmas lights strung up and downtown windows decorated — and all before we barely got out of our Halloween costumes and had time to separate the good candy (anything chocolate, caramel or peanut butter) from the bad (anything that looks as if it came from a basket of restaurant mints). Forget Turkey Day — Christmas*** already has obliterated that quaint tradition and now has set its sights on blasting Oct. 31 out of the holiday rotation. Before you know it, Labor Day will simply be a precursor to the pre–pre-Christmas sales. So, let’s make a stand. Keep your pumpkins and your earth-tone tableware out for a few more weeks. Use those orange dishes and autumn-themed linens right up until December. Let your fall flag fly!

***And by “Christmas,” I mean that whole outspend/out-buy/out-holiday mentality that causes us to go broke and crazy every year about this time. The birth of a baby to a young couple staying in a barn in Bethlehem about 2,000 years ago? That’s a whole different story.

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.

Cupcakes and T-shirts and Fireworks, Oh My!

Is it wrong that some of the things I most look forward to when it comes to the Fourth of July are eating and wearing all things red, white and blue? I mean, fireworks are fun and cookouts are cool, but give me an artificially colored sugary treat and a patriotic T-shirt made halfway across the world and I’m happy. Seriously! I’m not being sarcastic here … well, maybe a little bit. But these incredibly yummy cupcakes were made with care and sold with joy at a small and local family bakery — the lemonade one especially is delicious with its tart and refreshing burst of lemony flavor. And the T-shirt, priced at $5.99, came from a discount store that has successfully brought style within reach of almost all budgets. So, in celebrating our national birthday, I’m also honoring our quintessential American values of capitalism, entrepreneurship and democratization. On the other hand, you could point out that I’m contributing to the growing problems of obesity and job loss. But here’s the thing: I’m free to do that. I’m free to shop for cupcakes anywhere I want to and eat as many as I feel I can. (Are all four too many? Please say “no.”)  I’m free to go anywhere I want on a T-shirt search and buy anything I can sneak into the house without my husband noticing that fits into my budget. Free to do pretty much what I want to do. Free. To. Do. What. I. Want. I don’t always make the best choices, but at least I’m free to make them. Thank you, Founding Fathers and Unheralded Founding Mothers. Happy Birthday!

And now I’m going to put on my T-shirt, eat a cupcake and drink more coffee because I’m not used to such deep thinking before lunch.

If There’s Chocolate, It Must Be Easter

Hoppy Easter! Hope your day is filled with chocolate and eggs and family and fun. I’m just happy that my two daughters are grownup and in their 20s now and I didn’t have to spend Easter Eve hemming little smocked dresses and desperately trying to concoct matching  hair bows. Not that I ever was so unorganized and frazzled that I waited until the last minute to finish Easter dresses. No! Not me!!! Oh, OK. Definitely me. The best thing about Easter, of course, is being with family and friends. (The availability of unlimited chocolate goes without saying.) My family gathered this past weekend to celebrate the joint birthdays of our oldest — my dad, turning 77 — and our youngest — my nephew, turning 1. Photo ops! But with young ‘uns, you never know what you’re going to get. Three-year-old grandson Capt. Adorable is good for about two shots of holding still and saying “cheese,” but then he’s done with you and on to more important things. So I just click away, sort through everything later and hope for the best. Such as this shot of the Captain and his cousin, the Birthday Boy. (We think they’re cousins, at least — the Captain’s mom is the Birthday Boy’s daddy’s niece. Is that right?) It took me a couple of times before I realized that both boys are intently studying the backs of their books. Must be a family trait. And I love the shot with most of my favorite girls in it — daughters and sisters-in-law — and my two absolute favorite little guys. Even though it wasn’t Easter, it was wonderful family time. There even was plenty of chocolate. But, thankfully, no hemming of dresses.

Welcome, 2011 — Come On In and Stay A While

Happy New Year’s Eve! Go forth and have fun tonight. With safety, please. And if you decide to stay home — whether you’re hosting a crowd or a romantic dinner for two — you’ll need something special and sparkly to drink. Several friends shared their favorite bubbly cocktail recipes in the food story I did this week for the TimesDaily. Check it out — it’s not too late to run to the store and stock up on beverage supplies. I did leave out one recipe from my friend Steve, who started off his list of ingredients with “Get some moonshine.” I love the South!

And then take a minute to read my weekly newspaper column for inspiration on making resolutions. Oh my goodness — I could fill pages and pages with promises to do things better. But then it would take me so long to sit down and write all my resolutions down that I wouldn’t have the time to actually, you know, do them. That’s my excuse, anyway. Like right now. I really should go out and walk before it starts raining. But it looks like it might rain any minute. And it’s windy. And cold, maybe. So I’ll just stay inside where it’s nice and warm and dry and THINK about going out to walk. I mean, that’s almost as good, right???

This past week I did get a headstart on one of my resolutions, which is to write more fiction. Of course, friends and family will argue that my newspaper columns already have touches of fiction but they’re all good sports and don’t mind that I might perhaps slightly edit things they say and/or do — for journalism’s sake, of course. Except for almost-3-year-old grandson Capt. Adorable, whose adorability is an absolute fact that needs no exaggeration whatsoever.

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.