Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Sprouts

I love to decorate for Christmas.

But I prefer to do it very slowly. 

The halls of most American yuletide-loving homes are fully decked by the close of Thanksgiving weekend, but that's when I'm just beginning my process. Armed with bits of paper, tree branches, fishing line, assorted garlands, and twinkle lights, I expect to spread the job out over the next few weeks.

Here, in day-to-day installments, is the story of how my house is getting ready for Christmas.

* * * * *


The most depressing day of the year is the last day of Christmas vacation.

All the excitement and exuberance of the holidays have played themselves out, and life is about to lapse back into mundane drudgery. 

No matter how long the break I've had from school or work, what once seemed an infinitely long vacation has come to a screeching halt. 

My emotions inevitably shift from gaiety and light to the bittersweet sense of time passing too quickly, of life galloping by, of opportunities lost, of the future morphing into the past at a bewildering, breakneck pace. 

I always feel inexpressibly sad.

The good news is that I've learned to expect that melancholy mood, and even implement my strategy to fight off the blues as I decorate my home for Christmas. 

My secret weapon?


Baby plants.

Forced bulbs - paperwhites, crocus, tulips - are my very favorite therapy for the January doldrums.

But any young green budding thing will do.


This year, a little collection of succulent starts will be filling the bill.

I've given them a place of honor, here in my kitchen window, though I must admit that at the moment, these tender buds are drowned out by the more festive trimmings that fill the room with their sparkle and glitz.


Come January, though, when the tinsel and trimmings have been packed away till next Christmas, these delicate shoots will take center stage, where they will remind me that for every wistful ending, life offers an exciting new beginning.

And if I will let go of my post-Christmas sorrow and embrace the fresh start of the new year, good things will most certainly sprout.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Advent Inspirations

I love to decorate for Christmas.

But I prefer to do it very slowly. 

The halls of most American yuletide-loving homes are fully decked by the close of Thanksgiving weekend, but that's when I'm just beginning my process. Armed with bits of paper, tree branches, fishing line, assorted garlands, and twinkle lights, I expect to spread the job out over the next few weeks.

Here, in day-to-day installments, is the story of how my house is getting ready for Christmas.

* * * * *

Advent is the month-long season of preparing for Christmas.

During the changing seasons of life, that preparation may mean many different things. 

When my girls were young, we filled our Advent cupboard with ideas for making and doing things the things that children love to do at this time of year. You know, stuff like

baking Christmas cookies,
going out to see Christmas lights,
writing out our Christmas cards,
acting out the Christmas story,

and reading lots and lots of Christmas picture books.



Nowadays, my girls are young adults, and I'm not gonna lie. They are a wee bit tired of finding those same old ideas cropping up in the Advent cubbies, year after year after year.

So I decided it was high time to let go of those tired old Advent activities and consider some new ideas for preparing our hearts for the coming of the King. 


After plenty of brainstorming, I came up with this plan.

We divided up the 25 days of December among the family. 

For each assigned day, we were individually responsible for coming up with a short action that we could each complete independently, to inspire thoughts of the upcoming holiday. Those ideas were written out on individual slips of paper, and tucked into the appropriate door.

Then, on the corresponding day, each one of us, on our own schedule, may open the cubby and read the paper inside, which then prompts us to do something seasonally appropriate.


Here's a day-by-day breakdown of our Advent inspirations:

1. Read Isaiah 9:7-8.
2, Hope: "A baby is God's opinion that the world should go on." - Carl Sandberg
3. Make yourself some hot cocoa today.
4. Read the lyrics to Silent Night.
5, 

6. Read Luke 1:27-35.
7. Peace: "What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family." -Mother Teresa
8. In the spirit of the season, do something nice and unexpected for someone else.
9. Read the lyrics to Away In A Manger
10. (Busy college student still owes an idea here.)

11.Listen to Christmas music during dinner. 
12. Joy: Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God. -Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
13. Google Image Search "aurora borealis."
14. "Remember, if Christmas isn't found in your heart, you won't find it under the tree." -Jennifer Carpenter
15. (Busy college student still owes an idea here.)




So far, the plan is working. 

I've noticed that we all tend to visit the Advent cupboard before dinner. While I'm putting the finishing touches on the meal, the workday warriors arrive home and each file through the kitchen, pausing at the Advent cupboard to open the little door, unfurl the heavy brown paper slip, and consider the words on the page.

While we eat, someone might comment on the quote or reading of the day. In the evening, we might share via text message our favorite photo of the Northern Lights. We might even make up a big batch of hot cocoa and drink it all together.

We may be on to a new tradition here.


But never fear. We'll still be whipping up batches of sugar cookies and strolling around the neighborhood after dark to check out the light displays. Because deep down inside, our hearts still yearn for the magic of a child's Christmas and we will never grow too old for those simple joys. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Yellow Hexagon Shelves

I love to decorate for Christmas.

But I prefer to do it very slowly. 

The halls of most American yuletide-loving homes are fully decked by the close of Thanksgiving weekend, but that's when I'm just beginning my process. Armed with bits of paper, tree branches, fishing line, assorted garlands, and twinkle lights, I expect to spread the job out over the next few weeks.


Here, in day-to-day installments, is the story of how my house is getting ready for Christmas.

* * * * *

When I'm getting my home ready for Christmas, it's a much a process of stripping down as it is layering on. 

We all know that the holidays can easily turn into a time of gluttony and excess, and I definitely struggle with that sense of overload in my surroundings. All of the trimmings and trappings around the house, lovely as they are, can send me into a tailspin by the first of January, so I make a special effort to clear away some of the ordinary household clutter and create a blank slate of order before I begin to add any seasonal touches.

Take this wall in my living room, for example. There's been a painting hanging here for the past few years, and lately it's been bugging me. Too much detail and fuss. I may sound like a princess for saying so, but the whole room feels cluttered and uncomfortable to me because of this. 

So I'm walking through Hobby Lobby yesterday on a totally unrelated errand. As I came around a corner, and suddenly took in the display table right in front of me, my eyes fell upon these beauties like an oasis in the desert.


Yellow hexagonal boxes. Trimmed in pale wood and ready for hanging. Large and small versions. 

Now, I'll be honest. I had no idea that two yellow hexagonal boxes were going to change my life.

Before the instant that I laid eyes on them, I had no clue that I even wanted such things. 


I couldn't have predicted how neat and clean they would look against my blank tan wall. 

I never guessed that their strong geometry and powerful color would make them read as objects of art in their own right.


I didn't foresee that adding just a few seasonal treasures would transform them into festive Christmas decor.


I did not expect that all of my feelings about this room would change when I hung them here, simple and sleek.

But the minute I laid eyes on their six-sided yellow glory, I knew that these shelves would bring their peaceful minimalist vibe and colorful spunk into my home not for just the holiday season, but for every new day to come.  

Silent night
Holy night
All is calm
All is bright.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Greenery Greetings

I love to decorate for Christmas.

But I prefer to do it very slowly. 

The halls of most American yuletide-loving homes are fully decked by the close of Thanksgiving weekend, but that's when I'm just beginning my process. Armed with bits of paper, tree branches, fishing line, assorted garlands, and twinkle lights, I expect to spread the job out over the next few weeks.


Here, in day-to-day installments, is the story of how my house is getting ready for Christmas.

* * * * *

Of course, I adore the look of fresh greens at Christmas time.

What could be more traditionally festive than boughs of holly, cedar, ivy and spruce, 

draped across mantels, 
swooped over windows, 
trailing up the banister and 
wrapped over the doorways? 

Evergreen trimmings are a gorgeous, classic, natural holiday convention and my heart beats fast at the thought of them.

However, a few years back, during a post-holiday clean-up, I vacuumed up perhaps the sixteen billionth dried evergreen needle of my life, and I reached my breaking point.

I'll gladly clean up after a live tree. But no more evergreen trimmings in the house. 

Instead, I hang the little darlings outside.


^ Welcome to my home. Don't mind that the swag is a bit wonky, hanging considerably longer on the right side of the door frame than the left. That just shows that we embrace imperfection. 


^ Living plants are such a festive sight at Christmastime. I planted these winterberries in my made-in-Malaysia pots to flank the front step and provide a tiny splash of good cheer. 


^ A red candle lantern, a scented pine cone, and a big fat cactus mix in among the greens to add some variety to the sights, smells, and textures.


^ Not gonna lie, I love the way the sassy cedar tips are a dead match to the color of my front door. I didn't plan it that way, but I sure enjoy the play of feathery organic branches against the strict geometry of the door panels, in almost identical shades of green.


^ Mostly, I enjoy the total effect of all these living things - the evergreen boughs, the winterberries, my ordinary pot of ivy, and even the rebellious little cactus. They create a tapestry of holiday warmth and joy that fills my heart to last all season long. And best of all, nary a single dried needle will drop onto my floors. 

Tangerines

I love to decorate for Christmas.

But I prefer to do it very slowly. 

The halls of most American yuletide-loving homes are fully decked by the close of Thanksgiving weekend, but that's when I'm just beginning my process. Armed with bits of paper, tree branches, fishing line, assorted garlands, and twinkle lights, I expect to spread the job out over the next few weeks.

Here, in day-to-day installments, is the story of how my house is getting ready for Christmas.

* * * * *


When I was a little girl, my mother used to tell me that one of her greatest Christmas delights was to find a fresh orange in the toe of her little Depression-era stocking. 

An orange?? 

Psh. What's so special about an orange, for heaven's sake. Such a boring, blue-collar fruit. I used to find one in the bottom of my lunch box pretty much every day of my grade school life and I grew to despise them.

So she would explain about the days before the global fruit economy and the limitations of pre-jet-travel transportation until the whole topic became unbearably tedious. 

But still, I puzzled over the idea that citrus fruit could be exciting. 


When my own daughters were growing up, we loved to read the classic tale, Beauty and the Beast, as retold and illustrated by Jan Brett. My favorite part is when Beauty's father first stumbles into the Beast's neck of the woods, and an amazing thing happens:
He pushed through a deep forest until the snow covered the track and he was hopelessly lost. Just when he felt he could no longer go on, he saw an avenue of orange trees, untouched by the snow, and beyond them a grand palace.
BAM.

Suddenly, I got it. The mystery and majesty of oranges and their little cousins, the clementines, satsumas and tangerines, was revealed to me in a single sentence and I've been in love with them ever since.


For the past few Christmases, in celebration of their exotic winter abundance, I've been placing a handful of tangerines on the dresser in my front hall. Their scent, shape, color and organic energy feed my soul throughout the holiday season and on into the quiet hibernation of January.

And let's be honest. This is about the simplest holiday DIY ever, totally easy on the pocketbook, and you can eat and replace them endlessly.


Plus, if the Beast shows up at your front door, he will feel right at home.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Hunting The Perfect Christmas Tree

I love to decorate for Christmas.

But I prefer to do it very slowly. 

The halls of most American yuletide-loving homes are fully decked by the close of Thanksgiving weekend, but that's when I'm just beginning my process. Armed with bits of paper, tree branches, fishing line, assorted garlands, and twinkle lights, I expect to spread the job out over the next few weeks.

Here, in day-to-day installments, is the story of how my house is getting ready for Christmas.

* * * * *

Sunday was a red-letter day in the story of my preparations for Christmas. Off we went a-hunting for that noblest item of holiday decor, the beloved Christmas tree. 

Around these parts, there is only one way to tackle this task. One must load up the car with an assortment of supplies:

mud boots,
warm jackets,
mittens and hats,
plastic bags for stashing said items on the trip home, when they are likely to be wet and muddy,
bungee cords,
ropes, and
assorted leashes and towels for one adventuresome and likely wet and muddy Irish setter.

Thus properly outfitted, the goal is to head off to the countryside, in search of a Christmas tree farm. 

For the past few years, we've been buying our trees from Bowen Christmas Tree Farm in Arlington. Beautiful scenery, nice people, gorgeous trees. I highly recommend. 


Once the car has been parked along the fields full of lush green trees, ripe for the taking, you may think that the hard part of the tree hunt is over.

Ha.

The fun has just begun.

Now, each member of the family fans out across the fields, searching for their personal embodiment of the perfect Christmas tree. Strenuous debate ensues, and much marching back and forth takes place as the merits of each specimen is evaluated. Tempers occasionally flare. But the annual argument is eventually settled, and my husband ends up crouched under a skirt of lush green branches, jagged-tooth saw in hand, laying claim to the tree of our dreams.

No need to bring your own saw; these aqua cuties are available for your tree-procuring use. 

This decision-making pageant has been playing out in our family life every since my first-born was old enough to point and squeal. However, for many years, I have been absent from the process because my primary task has been to herd along the babies and tiniest toddlers of the group.  

As key tree-selection decisions were made, I was often to be found swaying a sleeping baby in a front pack, following a wobbly one-year-old who was intent upon exploring, or even back at the car, changing a diaper in the brisk winter air. 

And as I patiently attended to these diversionary but important matters, my thoughts often drifted to the future. Someday, I thought, my helpless little babies will be all grown up, and I will be able to help choose the tree too.


Did I mention that dogs are welcome at the farm? 

Sure enough, the years did flash by, and soon, no one needed me to wipe their nose or slip their boot back on. But now, I found myself managing a tempest of hot teenage emotions. Soothing hurt feelings, calming upset tempers, and reminding whoever was most upset that every tree was beautiful in its own way, and once we get all the decorations on, the uneven branches/crooked trunk/ugly needles/spindly top will not look so bad after all - these were my duties as others deliberated over the tree. 

And in the back of my mind, I reminded myself, someday my angsty teenage daughters will be all grown up, and I will be able to help choose the tree too.

Red door, red dog. 

More years passed, and sure enough, my little girls have grown into reasonable, negotiation-savvy young adults. Through the art of compromise, all four daughters as well as my husband, have learned to work through their aesthetic differences to find contentment and satisfaction with the group decision.

So surely, I am finally free to participate in the selection process, right?

What distraction could possibly keep me from focusing all my energy and attention on choosing a prime specimen for our holiday display?

"I'm in heaven."

Mhmm. 

This guy.

Because, trust me, the most delicious and exciting temptations to a hunting dog are the scents and scenes of a wild forest clearing. 

So instead of mulling over the pros and cons of several dozen trees, and playing a part in our family tree selection festivities, my job nowadays is to meander along the perimeter of the farm, where the brush just begins to grow deep against the forest, following behind my delighted, exuberant Ranger, who is having the time of his life. 

Someday. Someday, I may actually help pick out a Christmas tree. But for now, I will count my golden blessings for all the precious distractions. 

I'll take this one. 

Polka Dot Garlands

I love to decorate for Christmas.

But I prefer to do it very slowly. 

The halls of most American yuletide-loving homes are fully decked by the close of Thanksgiving weekend, but that's when I'm just beginning my process. Armed with bits of paper, tree branches, fishing line, assorted garlands, and twinkle lights, I expect to spread the job out over the next few weeks.

Here, in day-to-day installments, is the story of how my house is getting ready for Christmas.

* * * * *

Let's be honest. I like to live in a simple world.

When it comes to my holiday decor, I stick to a few tried-and-true basics:
Keep it light, clean and bright.
Go for simple geometric shapes.
Make lots of garlands.
So within those parameters, this was bound to happen.


^ Printer paper polka dots created with an oversize circle punch and glued together in pairs around a length of white dental floss.

Teamed with the white dishes and gold accessories that have been perched in this cupboard for the past few months, these polka dot garlands bring some holiday cheer to this bright corner of my kitchen. I then added just one more element to this scene.


^ Sweet treats.


^ Well. Also, an elephant tea pot and a microscopic origami crane.


^ And my mother-in-law's delicate bone china espresso cups, and a tiny doll's cup and saucer (on top the stack of white plates, almost hidden by the top doughnut) that belonged to my mother's dolls when she was a little girl. 

I mean, you know, every leading lady needs a full supporting cast. 


^ So even though it's undeniable that those polka dots steal the show...


^ I would like to point out that chocolate cupcakes and glazed doughnuts are simply circles in pastry form. In addition to the spunky garlands, they are two more holiday polka dot pleasures that are very hard to beat.