Thursday, January 23, 2014

The First Trimester, Fatigue and Housework


I have a friend named Kim. She is in the first trimester of her pregnancy. In addition to being pregnant, she has other little ones underfoot.

Before our visit today, she warned me that her house was not up to her normal standards. As you may have guessed, Kim is somewhat of a perfectionist.  Some people believe that the cleanliness of a home is a reflection of the woman who lives there. If it does not pass the white glove test according to them, whoever them is, we feel shamed, as though we don't measure up.

So as I entered her home, imagining the floors would be strewn with socks and dirty clothes, I found it to be virtually spotless as usual.  But of course, it matters not what I think. It wasn't up to her near perfect standard.

As we talked in her kitchen, we were surrounded by her two adorable and extremely active toddlers. They were running back and forth one minute. Then they were riding by us in a little scooter waving as they went. Then they had some sort of swords they were using to fence one another, and then using the blades to slide through the Christmas tree branches. I surmised by it being late January that she didn't have the energy to put the tree up yet.  Eventually, she cut up some cheese and crackers and we were joined by the little ones as they colored and snacked away.  When I asked her how she felt, Kim told me how exhausted she was.  Of course, the exhaustion was compounded by having to run behind two toddlers all day.  She asked me for some words of wisdom, knowing I had been down this path before.

A flood of memories surged through my mind....and took me back....way, way back.

It was August of 1992 and I was pregnant with my third child. I had two other rambunctious tykes running helter skelter all around me. They were five and three years old.  We were in the backyard and I was laying on my back with my feet up on a lawn chaise. As they played and screamed in high pitch tones I remember the feeling of utter exhaustion consuming me as I laid my back. My eyelids felt like potato sacks and I closed them. I came as close to sleep as I could because I had to keep an eye on them.  I was depleted of all energy.  "How am I going to make it through this?" I wondered.

And got through it I did. And I learned some lessons along the way. Here's some of my survival advice that I gave to Kim.

SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY

LOWER YOUR STANDARD

It's not often I give this advice to anyone. But when it comes to an immaculate home and the first trimester of pregnancy, lowering your white glove standard is crucial.  A few dust bunnies never killed anybody. Carpets don't need to be vacuumed everyday.  Instead of worrying about the dirt and clutter growing around you, concern yourself with the miraculous new life growing and forming within your womb! This first trimester takes it out of you.

If you are a perfectionist, this will be especially difficult because it means you will have to ignore and look past the dirt. I know how hard it is but this is a life lesson. What's most important is not a clean house, but a rested body and a quiet heart. Not you running around like a chicken trying to impress other people or live up to your mother in law's standards or even your own.  There'll be plenty of time to clean


REDUCE THE LAUNDRY




One of the best ways of reducing laundry is to wear clothes more than once. I know some people may be aghast at such a thought. Granted, if your little toddler was outdoors making mudpies all afternoon, then his clothes undoubtedly need to be thrown in the laundry pile. But if on a typical day, he's coloring, playing with blocks, watching Sesame Street, his clothes are not dirty. He can certainly wear them again, and again. Your goal is not to be washing clothes for washing clothes sake. Only if they are genuinely soiled or smelly.  Remember, your energy at this time is precious, conserve it!


SIMPLIFY DINNER - BREAK OUT THAT CROCK POT! 

If you fancy yourself to be Betty Crocker or Julia Childs, that's fabulous. But save that ideal for another time. Think in terms of simple dinners. Chopping veggies up can be tedious work. Buy pre-cut vegetables when you can.  Dust off that Crock pot and put it to good use.  There are so many delicious recipes you can find online like on http://allrecipes.com/recipes/everyday-cooking/slow-cooker/ or purchase a slow cooker recipe cookbook. Just make sure the recipes are not complicated and read reviews to hear other's feedback.

Here's one of my favorites which I learned from a friend.  In the morning, put a few chicken breasts in the slow cooker along with drained black beans, salsa, corn and some sour cream. Let it cook on low for the day and by dinner time you'll have a tasty meal. Serve over rice.  Sorry I don't have exact measurements. I just kind of eyeball it.


So these are just a few ideas to make life easier for the exhausted first trimester mom. What other ideas do you have? Please leave your ideas in the comment section.

Meanwhile, get some rest!



Thursday, January 2, 2014

Undecking Those Halls Part II - Putting Away Your Christmas Stuff So You Can Find It Next Year

In Undecking Those Halls Part I, I talked about the chore it can be once the holidays are over to undecorate the home.

But over the years, I've gotten a little smarter and more efficient with the process of undecking the halls. It's not perfect and I'm sure I'll tweak things in years to come, but I'm convinced that with a little forethought, undecking as well as decking for next year will be much smoother.  My hope is that in reading this post you'll laugh a little, say "me too" a little, and find some inspiration that will help lighten your load as you undeck your own halls. Below is the system that's making my life easier as I forge forward into the New Year.

Number One:

HAVE A PLAN

Before you grab one ornament off that Christmas tree, have a mental plan of where all your decorations are going to go. This is important because in your zeal to get the house back into its pre-holiday state, you can be tempted like I was to just grab things and stuff them in boxes. So from the start, think about categorizing your decorations so that when you store them, like things will be with like things. Also think about the best location in your home to store the items. I used to store our Christmas stuff in a remote closet upstairs. This became a drag because then we had to haul these big boxes down the stairs. And once the boxes were emptied, we had to haul them back up again. So for ease of retrieval, we store them on the first level where there is a closet under the staircase. The Christmas decorations are kept in the back since we only need them once a year. Planning may take some extra mental effort, but it will be well worth it and save you valuable time next year. This leads to Number Two.

Number Two:

THINK OF NEXT YEAR

This overlaps with Number One. As you develop your plan and begin the undecking process, don't just think of the relief you'll feel after putting everything away for this year. Think about next year and the ease with which you want to be able to find all your Christmas and holiday decorations.  If everything is just stuffed in anonymous boxes helter skelter, then next year the decorating process will be a potential nightmare. There's not much joy in rummaging through boxes trying to find a needle in a haystack.  So imagine that it's next November (or earlier for some people). The songs of Christmas are wafting through the air, and you're beginning to feel that holiday zeal flowing through your veins. Instead of foraging through boxes looking for your favorite Nutcracker CD and the decorations for the tree, you'll have a system in place that allows you to retrieve them immediately. Won't that be amazing? In order for this to happen, you must plan for next year this year.  So do it now, and in a year from now, you'll be so glad you did.

Number Three:

HAVE A STORAGE SYSTEM THAT WORKS FOR YOU

This is crucial, and the emphasis is on the words for you. There are a multitude of storage containers at the stores to select from. But it's important to assess your storage needs as well as storage space to determine what works in your individual situation. If you go buying a bunch of containers without doing an assessment first, you can end up wasting money.

The above container is one of several I use to house sundry Christmas items. It is a 35 gallon tub I purchased from Walmart. I've also collected some over the years from the thrift store.  I use this container to store bags which hold different items. I purchase the bags from Ross for $1 (see below). They're big and have cute designs. I also use old gift bags.  These bags are great for containerizing and separating items. That way everything's not just dumped inside and it makes for easy retrieval.

Bags separate items within the 35 gallon container to keep it organized

      These containers were purchased from the Dollar Store. I used
       them to hold all the Christmas music CD's. They were available
 in green and red which worked out great theme-wise.

This bag holds decorations for centerpieces and table decor


Each bag contains a different category. I use one bag for ornaments. Another bag for centerpieces.  Another bag for the tree skirt and my Nativity sets, etc.














I store my wrapping paper in this great bag from Calico Corners. It is roomy and lengthy. Before using this, I purchased an expensive wrapping paper container years ago from Joanne's Craft Store. It was nice, but it was not roomy or tall enough. So this bag has served me well. The prior planning paid off really well this year as we wrapped gifts. All the boxes, tissue paper, gift bags and gift tags were in the same place. I can't tell you how thrilling that was as opposed to years past. "Mom, where's the gift tags?" "Do we have any tissue paper?"



Number Four:

LABEL, LABEL, LABEL!

Containers are wonderful but an unlabeled container is like a black hole. You open your closet and all you see is mystery containers. So take the guesswork out and make it easy on yourself. Label everything. Label the outside of the container. And inside the container you can label sub-containers. If you want to buy a fancy label machine, fine. But if you're on a budget like me, print out your categories at home, then use mailing tape to adhere the label to the container. It works perfectly and it's uber cheap!


Number Five:

RECRUIT HELP

Don't go it alone. If you have children who are older, have them help you. Even little ones can help take down ornaments.  I will be recruiting my whole family in the process. Don't wait for them to volunteer. If I waited for my crew to volunteer, the decorations would be up all year. At the same time, don't order them to help. You can catch more flies with honey. So for my family, prior notice is always the best plan of action. Since my kids are high school and college age and have busy schedules, I have to consider what their availability is and let them know I'll be needing their help. I also have to think who will be best at what job. My one daughter is great at organizing, while the other is better at just taking things down without making it too complicated. And my tall men-folk are good for reaching the higher places.


Hope you enjoyed this article and found it helpful. What about you?  How do you keep your Christmas stuff organized? Please share with us, and by all means, post some pictures!


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

UnDecking Those Halls Part I - Putting All That Christmas Stuff Away So You Can Find It Next Year

Okay. Christmas is over.  It's the beginning of January and a new year has been thrust upon us. The number 'two thousand fourteen' sounds alien to our lips, like something from some bizarre Orwelian novel.

At  my house, the halls are still decked out and the tree looms large in the living room.  Only a few weeks ago, what was fresh and pine-scented is fast becoming an ancient relic.

After Halloween, it was as if someone grabbed the remote of my life and fast forwarded. Everything whizzed by at warp speed and the holidays were over. Now all the glitz will have to come down, like Cinderella at midnight. The golden carriage becomes a pumpkin, and the glass slippers turn to ordinary house shoes. It's time to forge forward into a brand new year.

In the past, when putting away all the Christmas decorations, I used to just dump everything into boxes. The  magic had worn off and I just  wanted to get it over with. It was a chore I dreaded.

January stands in stark contrast to November.  The onset of the holidays has always been a magical time for me. Bing Crosby is crooning everywhere I go.  Before I know it, I'm pulling out all the stops, excited to add sparkle to every corner of the house. As we trimmed the tree this year, serenaded by Nat King Cole, it seemed there was fairy dust everywhere. The aroma of cloves and cinnamon wafted through the air.  When we were done, the luminescence of the season descended on our home like gently falling snow.

But after the last relatives were gone, and we're eating yet another turkey sandwich, the thrill seems to  dissipate, especially as I ponder all the undecorating that needs to be done.

We've all seen people who still have Christmas lights on their houses in April (and sometimes even July.) Or the tired wreath still hanging on the front door in May. I guess their getting a head start on next year.  I sympathize with them. Behind those doors is someone whose saying, "ah, forget about it. I'm worn out."

Foyer decked out with Christmas bling and cards
There's no getting around it, it's a lot of work undecking those halls, and undecking seems like twice the work of decking because we don't have the holiday inspiration that fueled our fire.  Where's Nat King Cole when I need him?

Inspiration or no, I have a job to do. Part II will cover some of the strategies that I use to make the process smoother.





Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Christmas With Mom

This year, 2013, was the year my family came to my house for Christmas. Everyone else arrived the day before Christmas, but my mother arrived five days before making her visit seven days total. Seven days with me and my mom under one roof is like dog years.

A mother/daughter relationship can be as combustible as a dry Christmas tree with faulty lights. And over the years, we've had our share of blazes.  My mom has that certain way of getting under my skin the way no one else can. Perhaps this is a universal truth among daughters. Maybe one day, I'll have the same unique ability with my own girls.

It starts off well enough. My husband meets her at the Amtrak station.  They pull up in the driveway and the salutations begin.  Yea!  Mom, Grandmaw, hugs and kisses as we carry her luggage in. The jubilee is shortlived and I know what's coming. When she crosses the threshold, she immediately dons her white gloves. She saunters casually from room to room as I hold my breath. She has now become...dun dun duuuuuun...'The Inspector.'

To give you some perspective let's go back...back in time.  Years ago, I had cleaned my house from top to bottom in preparation for her arrival, but it was all in vain. She found it! Way down in the bowels of my refrigerator, in the lower regions of the veggie crisper drawer was a long forgotten carcass. It was nearly fossilized. Honestly, I was as stymied as she was and was certain that Beelzebub himself had planted it there.

She slowly pulled it out and held it by a wing as though it had leprosy. With a fiendish gleam in her eye she exclaimed, "what's this??"  Underneath her feigned horror was secret delight, as though she had discovered the Dead Sea scrolls. There's some deep psychology going on here. My amateur analysis is that since I made the decision to be a full-time homemaker/homeschooler, my mother feels it is an indictment against her parenting. Growing up, I was a latchkey kid as both my parents had full-time jobs. So sometimes it feels like she's looking for a chink in the armor of my motherhood.

In any case, the image of her holding up that carcass still haunts me today and I am determined it shall never be repeated.

So this year, I started cleaning early. I rallied the troops and recruited my kids in the process.  Thank God for garages, because that's where all the excess stuff  went. Decluttering requires lots of decision making, but there was no time for such luxury. She's coming!   "Where does this go?" "The garage." "Where does that go?" "The garage." Eventually, all roads led to the garage which now looks like an overstuffed landfill.

In order to get to the garage, you must go through the laundry room. And since we were too busy cleaning and decluttering to do laundry, it was piled high with all manner of clothes. The pile resembled a skyscraper, and I got a touch of vertigo just looking at it, but not to worry, the entrance to the laundry has a curtain.  This blessed swath of fabric hides a multitude of sins.

But wouldn't you know it, within 24 hours of her arrival, my mother ventured toward the laundry room where the garage door was left ajar. Before I knew it she had gone beyond the veil and into the lion's den!  I almost broke my leg leaping across the room in one fell swoop in an attempt to stop her.

Up until this time, she had been in a state of disbelief, walking from room to room exclaiming how clean everything was. The orderliness she discovered put her in a state of shock. She was dumbfounded. But much to my surprise, she began talking of moving in.  After all, if everything was so organized, clean and spacious, there was room for her. Good grief! In an effort to earn validation for my housekeeping skills, it may have backfired!  We overdid it! Hopefully, she is only kidding and she soon moves on.

I've learned over the years to be thick-skinned in preparing for visits from Mom.  And this time I was fairly ready.  When she called me her two ton daughter, I took it like George Foreman, right to the gut, slammed against the ropes, but eventually I rebounded and got back in the ring.  And when we were on our way to my son's graduation, and she asked me if I was going to wear my hair like that, I simply responded "yes." By golly, I must be growing up.



But isn't this the nature of family. It's like limes dipped in sugar, the bitter with the sweet. And there were many sweet moments.

She and my daughter share a special bond. They are both artsy craftsy. My mother knits perpetually, stopping only for a life threatening emergency.  And just like her grandmaw, my daughter is constantly creating and coming up with some special project, from ceramics to painting toilet paper tubes.

There most common bond is over mixed nuts! To watch those two eat nuts together is a sight to behold. Unfortunately, mom's nuts tend to sprew out the side of her mouth as she talks. She was talking to my son who told her, "Grandma, chew, swallow then talk." Mom thought that was hilarious and wrote it down and referred to the paper throughout the week.

Mom likes all the nuts, while granddaughter forages for the almonds. All the kids get a kick out of grandma and her witty morsels. But my middle daughter is her constant companion and she follows grandma everywhere, laughing and giggling at her antics. Watching them together makes all of mom's snide comments worth it all.








Friday, December 20, 2013

Lady Sings The Holiday Blues
Ghosts of Christmas Past

It's the most wonderful time of the year!  At least that's what the song says.  But the reality is that for many people, it can be the most depressing time of the year.

The holidays, which can seem like a season of 'forced cheer', can serve to highlight what is lacking in our lives. These lacks can trigger memories of the 'good ole' days and make us painfully aware of  how much things have changed. Instead of experiencing Christmas cheer, we find ourselves singing the holiday blues.

Over the years, amidst all the tinsel, lights and Christmas jubilee, I've found myself thinking about the days of yore. If I think long enough,  I hear Streisand's haunting melody, "Memories, like the corners of my mind. Misty water-colored memories, of the way we were."  I remember all my loved ones through  the years that have died, and the wonderful times I spent with them. For me, dwelling too long on Christmas memories of yesteryear can lead to melancholy.

When I was a teenager, my father died suddenly right before Halloween.  Suddenly, and without warning, my life was changed forever.  I was devastated by his sudden loss, and because it was so close to what was supposed to be a joyous time of year, it only served to magnify my pain.

I was the walking dead - in a total stupor. I interacted with others, talked and even laughed. But psychologically, I was in an alternate universe. And in this universe, the world had stopped. My life had been shattered. And to my shock, my schoolmates and friends were going on with their lives. The season of lights was upon us, but I was in a dark, dark place.  Everyone was hustling, bustling and putting up lights - all while songs of cheer were filling the air. But inside, the only music I heard was a death dirge.
Christmas would never be the same. I felt like an orphan, lost and desolate.

That was decades ago, and life has gone on.  But as anyone who has lost a parent in their youth will tell you, the effects can last for a lifetime.

But the gift of resiliency is one of God's greatest gifts. It is the ability to bounce back. Wounded? Yes. Hurting? Yes. Scarred? Yes, but moving on in the arena of life with new people to love and experiences to embrace.  Through the years, I've met and loved so many fascinating and delightful people. When I love, I don't half-step. I love hard!  Many of those I've loved hard are gone now, but the memories, the joys of just being with them, the lessons they taught me, live on today.  I miss them, sometimes terribly.

There was Mother Pearl! She was my husband's grandmother from a town I never heard of called Saint Mary's, Georgia - gateway to Cumberland Island.  Have you ever opened a can of soda, only to have the contents explode all over you? Then you've had a taste of what it was like to be with Mother Pearl. Her effervescence bubbled all over everyone around her. She was eternally  upbeat, clapping her hands together and thanking God for all things.  When she talked, and boy could she ever talk, she would punctuate the end of her sentences with her signature expression, "saaaame thing, saaaaame thing," while meshing her fingers together .
It was a double whammy. We lost her only a few months after we buried her daughter who was my mother-in-law. If Mother Pearl was the queen mother (of England), than my mother-in-law was Queen Elizabeth! Like so many daughter-in-laws, I was intimidated by her. She had a stern way about her, and over the years our relationship mellowed. She was known far and wide for her culinary skills. If you ever wanted a taste of heaven, the secret was in her grits and gravy! Her bread pudding made grown men weep. If there be any kitchens in heaven, she's at the stove whipping up her mouth-watering Southern delights like 'sock it to me' cake, shrimp perlou, and her decadent party pancakes!

I miss my mother-in-law all year.  But the holidays are a poignant reminder that, at least in this life, she will never again be here to dote on my children, showering them with gifts and attention. A huge void was created after she passed. The family dynamics changed.  Before there was no question about our plans for the holidays. We were going to Mom's. It didn't matter that it was my father-in-law's house too. We always called it 'mom's'.

And not just us. That was the case for many of my husband's family.  Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother's house we descended like a flock of vultures...ahem...I mean birds. About 40 of us would make the pilgrimage from the north, south, east and west to get some of 'Dot's' (as they lovingly called her)  cooking and to be under one roof together.  The turkey wasn't the only thing stuffed. That house was stuffed to the brim with aunts, uncles, cousins and grandkids, not to mention our poor stomachs! You could hardly hear yourself talk much less think amid the din of all the laughter and animated conversations. Mom's place was the spot!
At some point, I'd prod everyone one by one to come to the basement so we could sing. Eventually we'd all gather around the piano where my mother-in-law would play and Uncle Roy, self-appointed choir leader, would direct us in Christmas songs as well as a collection of oldy but goody gospel songs.



It seems like ages ago, yet just yesterday. Things are very different now.  With the loss of my mother-in-law, the family throng has been scattered.  She was the sun, and we, like so many planets are somewhat scattered now, rotating in our own individual orbits.  She was the one who galvanized us all.

But such is life, fraught with paradoxes. There is life and there is death. Greetings and partings, a delicate mixture of both joys and sorrows. Robin Roberts (of Good Morning America) recently talked about her battles with cancer. She said if she dwells in the past too much she gets depressed. And if she focuses on the future too much she gets anxious. She went on to say how living in the present helps maintain her sanity.

This is sound advice for the Holidays and every season.  Yes, things are not the same. In this life, change and loss are inevitable.  I can't afford myself the luxury of camping out on 'memory-lane', whether memories of Dad,  Mother Pearl or Mom. If I pitch my tent there for too long, the campground turns to quicksand and I'm swallowed up, singing blues that would put BB King himself to shame.

So to help keep the holiday blues at bay, I resolve to think in such a way that will not jettison me into the abyss.  I know I will have my weak moments, but it's good to have a plan.

Anti-Holiday Blues Plan


I will have a merry Christmas this year! Not just because it's the season of cheer, but because God has been good to me. Though I have experienced loss, His bountiful gifts have far outweighed my losses.

I will cherish the memories of my lost loves ones, but I won't cling to them.  Those memories were gifts from God that were meant for a season.  I will hold them with an open palm instead of a clenched fist.

I will smile, not cry when I reminisce.  Having said that, there is a time for all things. Crying is part of the grieving process. Particularly, fresh grief.  And with old grief, (yes, I still cry about Dad) I won't wallow in endless tears.

I will be thankful for the time I had with them, instead of angry they are gone.  Gratitude lifts. Anger depresses, and is a toxic formula for misery. There are people who live their whole lives, having never  known some of the glorious, colorful characters like the ones I have.

I will not feel sorry for myself that I've lost them.  Many people in the world have lost far more and much more than I.

I will live in the present and relish the moments with  friends and family. I will dive into the pool of the now with gusto. I'm talkin' Olympic style, triple somersault and a twist.  After all, tomorrow isn't promised to them, or me.

Am I alone in my struggle with the holiday blues?  What are some ways you handle memories of Christmases past?  How do you keep your feet out of the den of despair?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Decorating The Foyer For The Holidays On A Budget


I love Christmas and the whole holiday season.  But gussying up the house, decking those halls and all that jazz can be hard on the pocketbook.  And as for me and mine, we live on a b-b-b-budget.  Not one of my favorite words, but it's reality. Being a stay-at-home mom, we primarily live on the blessed one income of my husband.

I'm recovering from a back injury so I'm trying to take it easy and keeping it simple. Although I realize 'simple' is a subjective word. To stretch our dollars, I'm always on the lookout for a good bargain, whether thrift stores, yard sales (some of my best deals for the holidays were bought during the summer! Always thinking ahead.), or consignment shops and  I make no apologies for it.  And as anyone who knows me well will tell you, I have no compunction about grabbing items from the curb if they suit my decorating fancy. On more than one occasion,  I've slammed on those car brakes, done sudden U-turns, and nearly caused an accident, much to the embarrassment of my family just to pick up someone's throw away that I could refurbish or re-purpose.  (Just kidding about the accident part). Stay tuned for more posts about the my second-hand escapades.

Yesterday I decorated the foyer.  I didn't want anything too over the top, just a little festive bling, color and sparkle.

In my foyer there is a shelf  that acts as a place for the family shoes.  This shelf is one of my curbside treasures. It was green and hideous but with a fresh coat of black paint, it has been the perfect storage unit for shoes.  The rest of the year, it also brightens our entry way as I use it to display photos of friends and family.  For this project I cleared the top off and gave it good dusting and cleaning. Here's what it looked like before. Sorry for the blurry image.


To get the ball rolling, I picked up a few items from my local Dollar Store. Can I just say I love the Dollar Store!  You would be surprised at the variety of items they carry. Obviously they're not designer or made of high quality materials, but they serve their purpose.

As I shop, I begin forming a mental image of what kind of arrangement I will come up with.  I may or may not know ahead of time. And depending on what I find, I make creative adjustments along the way. Having a mental image is crucial to my budget. It helps guide my purchases and not overdo it by picking up every cute little thing that strikes my fancy.  Even though it's the Dollar Store, trust me, those dollars can add up quickly! (Just in case I always keep the receipt if I need to return something).

In perusing their selection, I found miniature gift boxes in golds, silvers and reds. With great delight, I scooped up six of them. I imagined stacks of three on both ends acting as the anchor of the arrangement.

Then I found these beautiful little red and silver ornaments.  There were five in a package which I thought was great for only $1.  I put two of those in my cart.



Also I found these large gorgeous red ornaments with gold scroll work which I later also used to hang on the tree.  I'm a sucker for scroll work. Because they were so ornamental, I knew I would only use a couple of them.

Also, they had these beautiful stars in gold, silver and red. I used one gold one to top our tree and the other one in the middle of the 'shelfscape.' And of course, no Christmas decor would be complete without little white lights.  Afterwards, I stopped at Walgreens where I bought a string of 100 lights on sale for just $4.49.

While still at Walgreens, I also found a great deal on sprigs, gold and red. They were 2 for $3.  I used the gold ones to peek out on  the ends of the arrangement. I thought they were a nice detail. (The red sprigs I'll probably use later as part of a tablescape).
Opening all the packages, I felt like a kid in a candy store. I love the creative process. It never, ever gets old. It's so thrilling to take disparate elements and see how it will all come together. I must confess, I'm always a little nervous that my bright ideas won't turn out right. Sometimes the end result doesn't live up to what I imagined, but that's all part of the creative journey.

I started by spreading the lights over the top of the surface to serve as the twinkling backdrop to my little shelfscape. Then I proceeded to arrange the boxes and ornaments in a fashion that was pleasing. I'm no design student, but I've learned some basic principles I try to keep in mind balance, scale, form, etc. I heard somewhere to work in threes.

A little arranging here, a little experimenting there and this is how turned out.





I must say, I am pleased with it.   Particularly because I did the whole thing for about $19.  Our foyer now feels bright and festive.

I hope this inspired you.  I would love to hear your holiday decorating ideas for dressing the foyer, particularly budget-friendly ones.



Tuesday, December 10, 2013

THE SAGA OF THE TREE 

Lights, Camera, Timber!

How is it that some of the simplest things can turn out to be so complicated??

Is it me, or is there anything more maddening than stringing lights on a Christmas tree?

Today I rallied my spirits, took a deep breath and got out my strings of little white lights.  With Joy to the World serenading me from the kitchen, it started out well enough.

I plugged the lights in the socket to make sure they worked, and began stringing them along the bottom of the tree.

I learned a little bit of technique over the years, but for me, a reformed perfectionist, it is still a scary prospect.  Back in the day I used to just take the string of lights completely around the tree in one big circle from top to bottom.  When I was done, it looked like someone played a drunken game of 'here we go 'round the maypole'  'round my poor tree!

Years later, probably from that marvelous maven, Martha Stewart, I learned the technique of weaving the lights in and out from the trunk of the tree, stringing them along to the end of the branches.

So that was my plan this afternoon.  I started stringing with gusto and I must say, it was looking rather good, not magazine perfect, but to my satisfaction.  

(As an aside, can someone please explain to me how a string of lights that looks long enough to light the Amazon rainforest only covers the bottom rung of my tree?)

TIMBER!


After lighting the bottom, I left the thingy (the other end of the light plug) on the branch and went to get more lights. Five minutes later when I returned, there was my tree face down in the carpet!  I manage to stand the tree back up and now my hands are all sticky with sap.  In a panic, I call my son who comes running down along with my two other kids.  We hold up the behemoth of a tree and began maneuvering this way and that way  in an effort to get it to stand on it's own.

My son and daughter climb beneath its sprawling branches.  Of course the water had spilled out in a huge puddle on the floor when it had fallen. Thus begins a ridiculous rally back and forth between my son and I. "It's wet down here!  All over my shirt!" my son yells. "It saturated the carpet" I reply. "More than that" he responds, as though saturated can't begin to explain what he just experienced. "It doesn't get any worse than that. That's the highest level!" I tell him.

There the two of them lay underneath the tree like so many corpses. "To the left." "Twist." "No, to the right." "If I move the base the whole tree twists." "Is that the side you want or is that the side with the gap in the branches?"
In the end, all the maneuvering back and forth was a failure. The tree still leaned was on the verge of falling. So in the end, we ended up lassoing a rope around it and hitching it to a nail in the wall behind the tree. Hey, necessity is the mother of invention.  Shh, don't tell.  No one will ever know.

CAN SOMEONE PLEASE TELL ME WHERE THE END IS???

So with the tree now vertical and steady, I can move on.  I begin where I left off and oh no! Wouldn't you know it?  I can't find the thingy at the end of the light to plug the next string of lights into. It was there before!  I keep going along the string because I am determined I will not undo all my work. I know it was just the bottom rung, but even that was work, going in and out of those sharp needles. It was useless. The end of the string had disappeared in the sea of branches.  So I ended up pulling nearly all the lights off. There it was!

At some point during all this,  I can't help thinking, whose great idea was this anyway?  Hundreds of years ago some people were sitting around, and someone, the overachiever of the brood,  had a eureka moment. Jumping up like a Mexican jumping bean, he yelled, "I've got it! Let's get a gynormous sticky pine tree, bring it indoors, hang lights all over it and then deck it from head to toe with fancy, shmancy, homemade ornaments!" The rest of the group burst out in one chorus, "By George, I think he's got it!" And so this glorious tradition was started.

Don't get me wrong, I love it!  I grew up with a fresh tree every year. Of course then, the glorious task of transforming our home into a winter wonderland was my parents; work.  They hung those dastardly lights on the tree.  Us kids just took our favorite ornaments out, hung them wherever we pleased, without any artistic sensibility. We paid no attention to such things as balance, harmony and cohesion.  We just wanted to get them up, drink our cocoa, and watch gifts magically appear beneath the branches.

But as for today, a serene and wonderful afternoon it was.   Snow blanketed our home and neighborhood as we had our first real snowfall this very morning.
And it was with this backdrop, that I finally strung lights on the Christmas tree, after such an inauspicious beginning.  Implementing the trunk to the end of the branches technique, it took me about 15 minutes of working my way through the pointy needles. There are not many things I find more beautiful than simple white lights.  Their quiet, understated and elegant glow is a wonderful backdrop for future ornaments.

So, the perfect tree lighting?  Not. But I wouldn't change a thing. A falling tree, children sprawled beneath, sappy fingers, sharp needles and snow-covered yard.  That's the raw material of my life, unpredictable and very sticky. That's the good stuff.