Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Home For The Holidays

"Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful." — Norman Vincent Peale

Well, they say there's no place like home for the holidays. And with Omicron on the loose, I'm quite content to stay put again for another year. Thankfully, my little tribe has gathered with me, and we have happily decked the halls for Christmas. 

There's nothing particularly fancy about our holiday home. Simple, peaceful, calming...and easy on the wallet too. These are the features of my Christmas decor and while they may not be for everyone, they suit me just fine. 

Come, let me show you around.

Family room first. This room sees the most action and therefore usually gets decorated first. Lounging red dog on the big couch is a year-round feature.

Even though some of my tried and true pieces have seen decades of Christmases, I rarely arrange them in exactly the same way. This year, I hauled the red quilted art out of long-time hibernation and used it to dress up this corner full of mostly neutral. The Christmas village came straight from the 2019 Target dollar bins, the wooden trees behind the houses collected from various Etsy sources. That pom-pom garland is one of five that shows up again and again in my holiday home, and the paper globes on the left another Target special.

I'm obsessed with tiny trees. They easily upgrade most any room's holiday look but my frustration is that they just as readily get lost in the clutter. My favorite trick is to pop them on display at eye level - like these on the mantel - so they are not buried in the typical avalanche of remotes, soda cans, and snack bowls.

This is a trick as old as time but boy, it sure works. Build the basics of a room in neutrals and layer in colors to suit your mood. Found these red and pink striped pillows at IKEA this summer and knew in a snap that, paired with a solid red IKEA bolster I've had for fifteen years, in my black and white room they would hit just the right notes for Christmas.

True confessions. I've been, for many years, a Christmas tree snob. Live trees, I thought - note the emphasis on past tense - were absolutely the one and only way to go. Then on a ridiculous whim, I actually bought a small artificial tree - twenty bucks at IKEA so how could I not - and guess what? I love it!

Tiny baby lives in the corner near our kitchen table and lends a golden glow over winter dinners as well as evenings spent holed up in front of the tv. He is a delightfully unpretentious friend.

^ Another age-old dilemma - where to put the nativity scene so it's not an afterthought or yet another decoration in a cluttered corner the room? Where will it command my attention and focus every single day? 

Yeah. In front of the tv. Maybe it's sacrilegious to prop the holy family up in the foreground of Netflix, but hey, it works. I admire the cast of characters and move them about every single day.

^ Back behind the kitchen table, in the far corner of the room, sits this little table, handmade by my grandfather. On the cleverly angled bookshelf sits an oddball collection of cookbooks and novels; up top are gathered a trio of trees, a plant battling back from a near-death experience, and a lamp made from an antique bit of crockery that's been with me longer than any of my daughters. I love it when Christmas decorations and everyday belongings play nicely together.

Last Christmas, a row of trees blocked most of the light from this window, rendering my family room as a dim cave. Alas. But since the magic of this summer's Great Tree Removal, this space is once again flooded with light. Oh, the joy.

Last Christmas, my second-born led the charge for making these dried orange garlands, and they are a festive touch at the top of the kitchen windows. 

And the red amaryllis in full bloom below also fills me with good cheer.

My father-in-law loved amaryllis and kept a few blooming around his Ohio home whenever the holidays rolled around. He introduced me to this showy fellow, and I feel very sentimental about including one or two in my Christmas decorations in his honor.

My kitchen shelves may seem a bit of a hodge podge, as there are bits of everyday design mixed in willy nilly with the Christmas pieces. I have decided that, at least for this year, I don't care. All are welcome to celebrate with me.

Lacy curtains of hand cut snowflakes make my heart skip a beat. Huge shout out to my fourth-born who is an absolute Jedi master of the art form, and keeps me supplied in veritable blizzards of her intricate creations.

The elegance of the snowflakes pairs well with the simplicity of a grade school-esque paper chain, and though I've installed the two together for many years, every Christmas the look is slightly different but always charming

Look, it's another artificial tree. This one is flamboyantly silver, and I decorate her with nothing but a string of white lights. And a cable knit scarf for a skirt. Less is more, baby.

Besides being easy to make, recyclable, classically appealing, and made literally of inexpensive everyday printer paper and staples, my white paper chains also blend seamlessly with any existing decor, and lend a Christmas vibe without overwhelming my eyeballs. I appreciate their ability to coexist with the rest of the room.'

For the past couple years, these hexagonal shelves boasted bright yellow interiors and I filled them with these trees painted in dark greens and blacks. But this summer, I reworked the boxes with grey paint and the trees got lost in their shadows. No worries. The trees are now white!

Ho ho ho! Santa has once again filled our stockings without me catching so much as a glimpse. 
He's a right jolly old elf, and a sneaky one too.

Summer before last, my fourth-born spent hours sorting through her grandfather's old family slides, and she discovered one entire box devoted to his snaps of Christmas trees from the 1950s and 1960s. Thus inspired, she suggested that we do a tinsel tree, and over months of discussion, we came up with this throwback design.

To complement the tinsel and carry out the mid-century theme, we went with multicolor twinkle lights - back in the day, my family called these "Japanese lights" - and a single style of bauble. Handmade by my youngest, the white origami balls are folded from a single sheet of tracing paper and took her 45 minutes each to make. I tried my hand at one and it took me two hours.

This year, just for fun, I picked up an advent calendar version of a nativity scene. Though it was perhaps a bit childish for our house full of adults, I noticed that my daughters reminded me every day after dinner to pull out the newest piece.

My second-born and I are both proud card-carrying Stendig wall calendar fanatics, and agree that the spent pages make ideal wrapping paper. Partnered with gold on white wrap and humble brown paper, our present pile made me smile.

Snowflakes are falling in my living room too. And here's a lovely action shot of the origami tree topper, also made by my incredibly talented fourth born.

Along with my white pom pom garlands, I have a handful of these garlands of mercury balls on white velvet ribbon. Casually draped here and there, they give me just the right amount of merry.

Huzzah for Christmas!

Quick diversion into the laundry room. No, I do not have festive piles of Christmas laundry to show off, but I did splash a few holiday items across my new long shelf.

The small piece of art propped up against the mirror is a scratch art drawing of Jesus in the manger made by my youngest when she was perhaps seven. I will treasure it forever. This year, it gained new purchase from the trio of wooden horses I bought this summer, and two new tiny trees from Swanson's Nursery.

Now many years, my decorations have stopped at this point. Oh, I might toss a few Santas in the powder room, or perhaps add a small tree to my bedside table, but I have not ventured into decorating our office space.

But then again, this year is different. Since WFH is a very real thing around here, I decided a bit of sprucing was in order.

To hang my paper chains, I use thumbtacks or pushpins which hold the chains securely but make only the tiniest of holes. I aim to keep the holes as close to the top of the wall as possible - just under the trim piece in this room - so that I won't notice those beastly holes during the rest of the year.

My second born whipped up the chains for this room while we watched two episodes of The Great - I lack the cleverness required to staple and follow the plot - so they are quite a speedy project. Though we are often tempted to save the chains from one year to the next, it's really better just to recycle the old and start again fresh next Christmas.

^ And here we are, back again at the front door, where yet another strand of garland and a few tiny ornaments on a branch of Douglas Fir provide a light touch of Christmas welcome.

May your home and mine be softer and more beautiful at this lovely time of year, and hopefully next year I'll invite you to visit my home for the holidays in person. 

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Country Farms
Country Farms has multiple locations, so while it was the Everett market that drew me in, we shopped for our tree at the original site in Edmonds, which is apparently also a worm hole to the 1960s.

On the way to and from Providence Hospital in Everett, where my husband recently logged a ten-day stay, I passed a Christmas tree lot. Oftentimes, I drove by after dark, when the strings of globe lights shining over the lush green trees delighted my eyes and captured my imagination.

So when we decided last week to forgo the annual trip to a conventional Christmas tree farm out in the country and buy a city tree instead, those visions flashed before me and I knew the perfect place to go.

* * * * *

It's no wonder that I feel right at home here. 

Country Farms has been around since 1960 which makes it pretty much the same age as me.

For eight months of the year, this fresh-air fruit and vegetable emporium operates as a produce market. Buying direct from local and regional farmers, the market trucks in crops at the peak of freshness and sells them to city folks for fair prices. 

Every December, their down-home open air market converts to a tree lot that reminds me of the one Charlie Brown visits in his epic Christmas story. But unlike the over-commercialized collection of metal trees that sap his spirit, every tree at Country Farms is made of pure wood and fresh green needles, with all the best qualities of Charlie Brown's iconic spruce.

Tackling this tree-fetching adventure together, my fourth-born daughter and I quickly fell under the magic spell of this place. Forgetting that we were deep in the heart of the suburbs - along the heavily commercialized and often downright seedy Highway 99, for heaven's sake - we chatted with the friendly lumberjack-esque staff and strolled among the charmingly lit trees, evaluating their good looks and easily settling on our favorite. While my daughter paid the bill and oversaw the trunk-trimming and net-wrapping processes, I wandered back around the lot, listening to other families debating their choices, smiling at the kids running this way and that around the maze of paths. 

Those kids - minus the face masks - could have easily been my brothers and me. I felt like I'd traveled back in time. It's not often that I feel waves of genuine nostalgia at a place I've never been before, but Country Farms nailed it for me.

* * * * * 

As my daughter and I stood at our car, watching yet another bearded and plaid-wearing employee carefully tie our tree to the top of our car - with good old-fashioned twine, no less - we both agreed that Country Farms had wildly exceeded our expectations. 

And while we hope that our future Christmases will involve fewer hospital visits and more traipsing about in fields full of live trees, if need be, we now know we can still get that happy Christmas tree-shopping glow at Country Farms. 

Friday, December 3, 2021


^ Clockwise from the top: mac and cheese, green bean casserole, butternut squash, flank steak, cranberry sauce, and in the middle, mashed potatoes and gravy.

^ Because there were just four of us, we ate at the little table and that felt sweet. 

Thanksgiving was a little strange at my house this year.

The weekend before the holiday, while doing some Sunday afternoon chores, I tweaked my back and spent the next week hopped up on aspirin and sitting on the couch.

And I do mean hopped up. After several days of noticing a persistent ringing in my ears, I gathered up enough wits to Google, and realized I was most likely overdosing on Bayer. Oops. 

In the meantime, after five weeks of dealing with some mysterious and persistent symptoms, my husband finally let me take him to the doctor. Long story short, we discovered that his heart was beating too fast, and he was promptly delivered to the hospital for a ten-day stay.

Now let me say right away, we're both fine now. My back's recovering, my ears no longer ring, and my husband got a jump on fixing his heart while the problems were just starting to develop. Life is definitely back on track.

But last Thursday, as families gathered across the land to celebrate the sheer miracle of being together, we were in a humbled place. We had more questions than answers at that point; age seemed to be crashing down on us, and I sensed the winds of time rushing past me far faster than I'd realized. 

Now I know this sounds completely counter-intuitive but somehow my new awareness of

the fragility of life, 
the reality that life changes with breathless speed, 
and the truth that absolutely nothing lasts forever,

made me feel poignantly grateful. 

All those Thanksgivings I'd spent when my life was Cloud Nine? Of course, I'd been truly grateful for the goodness that surrounded me, but now those days feel insubstantial and sugary sweet, like a mouthful of cotton candy. 

Life's challenges and crises, of which I was given merely a taste this year, seem to whet my appetite for gratitude, to make me more deeply and profoundly grateful. 

As I dug into my plate of hearty Thanksgiving bounty, prepared by my daughters while I sat wincing on the couch, and carefully photographed for my husband's visual enjoyment, I felt 

a little sad,
a little lonely,
a little melancholy.

But more than that, I felt thankful, right down to my toes, for every minute of my wild ride through this crazy thing called life.