Preparing For The Holidays — The Days Are Counting Down

Every year preparing for the holidays is a huge deal for me. The house alone goes through a complete transformation that consumes most of my time for more than a month — more like a month and a half. I can’t just decorate a room, I have to completely change it. From the curtains/window treatments to the wall decorations, to every nook and corner being touched by something for the season. Then there’s the baking, cooking, parties, shopping, get-togethers, movies, music, and everything else that makes the holidays special. It’s a labor of love, but some years its overwhelming and more like work than joy.

This year, with everything being set back because of our skunk incident, a huge backlog of canning projects from the garden, cleaning out the garden, and not harvesting the last of our garden until the beginning of November, starting the holiday preparation was set back several weeks.

Then, when Hubby decided to remodel 14 rooms at our motel, I spent two weeks helping strip the old rooms, clean walls and carpets, and then setting up all the new furniture, mirrors, televisions, and pictures. It didn’t seem like this year was going to be a year for decorating or the holidays at all. Plans for dinners, decorating fun, caroling, Christmas parties, shopping trips, and everything else that always was part of the “JOY” of Christmas for me, hung like a dark cloud above my head. The pit of my stomach ached with dread just thinking about everything that needed to be done.

Finally, in between trying to keep up with laundry, cleaning the house, the kids activities and needs, making meals, and trying to maintain my sanity, I did manage to begin the process of decorating. Honestly though, the process was not fun. All the while I kept stressing about being so far behind, wondering if I’d ever get it done in time to invite friends and family over, and practically giving up every time something went wrong — and lots went wrong.

The first tree I put up took me two days to fix the lights. I burned a hole in the new drapes I made for the great room door wall when I ironed them. I blew two plugs because I didn’t follow my own rules on lights allowed per plug. Every time I turn on my villages at least two houses go out so I change the bulbs, but then another goes out. And then the unspeakable happened…I hung one of my most prized decorations, a portrait of Santa, above the mantel and ten minutes later it came crashing to the ground, shattering the glass, splitting the frame at all four corners, scratching Santa’s face, and leaving several gouges on the print.

At this point I knelt among the shards of glass and began to cry. Hubby and Grace both came running, but there was nothing they could do. Although this portrait was not my oldest decoration, it was one of my favorite and one that I bought during a dark time in my family’s life that symbolized hope for a brighter future. The crumpled frame, shattered glass, and damaged picture all mirrored how I felt about the upcoming holiday season–broken. For several days I avoided doing any decorating, leaving boxes scattered everywhere, decorations strewed all over the floor, the basement completely in upheaval, the house a total mess. Yep, I had a holiday meltdown and it wasn’t even December.

For some reason this holiday season felt like a job, not the “Most Wonderful Time Of Year” that I thought it should. Everything I touched seemed to break or lose it’s luster. I felt no joy, no excitement, no childlike anticipation as I had for so many years. And the worst part was that for the first time since my grandmother died in 1999 I could not feel her presence as I decorated. My grandparents were my inspiration for going to such lengths to transform my home every year into a Christmas Wonderland and even after my grandmother died, I could feel her with me as I decorated my home. I’m not sure if it’s because my grandfather passed away this past July and now that they have been reunited, they are both decorating up in heaven finally leaving me for good or if the stress that has plagued our home for the past several months is just taking its toll, but this season started out very hard.

Hubby and Grace both went to great lengths to find a replacement for my portrait, to no avail. The artist no longer paints and the limited edition print was not to be found. Hubby did manage to clean out the broken glass, glue the frame back together and fix the picture as best as he could. I plan on trying to hang it again tomorrow and under the majestic glow of Christmas lights I hope the flaws in the print will not be noticeable.

Eventually I pulled myself together and began to push forward on the decorating front. The house is decorated, as decorated as I plan on making it. The only thing left to do is put the ornaments on the family Christmas tree in the great room. Hubby, Grace and Zeb all helped start that process this afternoon and even if not another ornament gets hung, it’s perfect.

Hubby sat down with me today to talk about the holidays and what plans we have. We agreed we need to step back and rethink the season. Although I definitely enjoy the hustle and bustle of the holidays, perhaps the hustle and bustle from the past several months just burned me out and now is the time to recoup a bit. Hubby suggested we get through the holidays as stress-free as possible and then have people over. He even said to leave the decorations up until we’re done celebrating, why feel tied down by dates on the calendar.

Sometimes having someone acknowledge your feelings is all it takes to pull you out of a rut. With his words, Hubby took the pressure off of me to make this holiday season “perfect.” He gave me back the perspective I’d lost on why I love this time of year and what is truly important.

Tonight I took the kids and Bell to an outdoor mall and we walked among thousands of Christmas lights, listening to holidays music, drinking Starbuck’s holiday drinks, and wishing all we saw a Happy Holiday. Then when we got home Grace and I did holiday facials and made plans to make homemade candy and cookies TOGETHER next week.

A lot of the time during the holidays it seems like all I’m doing is working to get everything done for the holidays…counting the days. December 1st begins the final countdown and flies by. Not this time. I am really going to try to enjoy the rest of December and make the most of every day in the coming year with my family and friends. Christmas is a state of mind, not a time of year, and I need to remember this always, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

O Christmas Tree

The very last decoration in our home to go up every year for the holidays is the Christmas tree.  We have a 10 footer that I bought 20 years ago and it is still as beautiful today as it was the day I bought it.  What I like about this tree and don’t like at the same time is that I can put as many lights as I want to on it.  It is not prelit, so this means a lot more effort in putting this up every year, but I doubt I’d be happy with a prelit one.  Typically I have between 2800 and 3400 lights on our tree.  Yep, I like to light it up.  The reason for this is that our family tree is the only decoration that is lit every day during December.  The rest of the decorations are not lit unless someone is over.  This being the case, I really like to make the most of this one decoration.

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Assembling the tree takes me about 8 hours, four tree cords, three power strips, two extension cords, and a partridge in a pear tree!

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I use a combination of white and colored lights and have the tree wired so that both the colored and white lights are wrapped around each and every branch.  The white lights are plugged into two of the tree cords and one of the power strips and the colored lights into the other two tree cords and the other power strip.  This way, I am able to light only the white, only the colored, or both — depending on my mood.  Also, being that it can be costly to run all 2800 lights every night, I like to have the option of only running half the lights and still having the entire tree lit.

I figured out that it costs $0.15 per hour to run the entire tree and only $0.075 to run half.  This is quite a difference for the whole month.  I realize that it would cost only $0.004 to run all 2800 lights if I used LED’s, but the conversion cost from the lights I currently have to LED’s would be more than it costs to run my tree for several seasons.  Not an investment we’re ready to make at this point.

Decorating the tree takes about three days.  The first day Hubby and the kids help.  They are good for about 30 minutes and then they lose interest and I continue working while they sit and watch.  Not hard to understand when you consider that we have over 400 different ornaments that are put on the tree.

Day two I work alone, while they are all out of the house.  My first task at this point is to move many of the ornaments that Hubby and the kids placed on the tree.  The reason for this is that there are some ornaments that are designated for the best spots.  These include ornaments from my great-grandmother, both my grandmothers, my parents, the kids, and Hubby.  Day three is for putting on all the moving and light-up ornaments, putting on the tinsel, and the popcorn strings.

The tree is the first thing people see when they come into our home and by far the most popular.  Every ornament has a story and I am more than willing to share it.  I actually have a written history or all our ornaments going back to 1981 when I received my very first ornament from my parents for my hope chest.

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Our family tree holds more memories than all the decorations in the entire house combined.  Every ornament holds a special place in my heart, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Christmas Village Room

For several years I have been collecting Department 56 village pieces.  I have stored them in the basement, stacked on pallets, waiting until the year I’d have the time and inclination to assemble these pieces into some sort of order and reason.

I have not had the time to even consider decorating our office since 2010, so this year I made it a point to begin early in October and see if I couldn’t somehow display all the houses, accessories, trees, and lights that I’d collected.  This was no easy task, as our office has limited floor space, two double book cases full of books, two computer desks, and two cabinets.  In order to decorate this room I had to first remove all the books from the bookcases, box them, and store them in the basement.  Next I had to move two 4′ wide x 6′ high cabinets into the basement and rearrange the computer desks.  That alone was overwhelming.

The next task was to somehow figure out how to display the houses, as I had houses from six different Department 56 series’.  Once that was decided, I had to consider the wiring and backdrops.  This meant recovering the backdrops for each of the 20 bookshelves on the bookcases.

Then the wiring had to be done beginning at the top of each bookcase and working my way down to the ground where the wires would finally get plugged into power strips.  Of course every time I thought I was done, I’d decide to make a change or addition and had to them pull everything down and start over.

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The left bookcase holds Department 56 New England Village pieces on the shelves and Alpine Village pieces on the top.

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The right bookcase holds Department 56 Dickens’ Village pieces, retelling the story of A Christmas Carol.

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After the bookcases I worked on a village for the top of the computer armoire.  This was a small village, only six houses, but fit in that area perfectly.

The Christmas In The City Village.

The Christmas In The City Village.

Finally, the centerpiece of the room, the tree had to be put up.  This tree was given to me by my grandmother several years before her death.  It is the only tree of its kind that I have ever seen.  I know there are probably more around like this, but this tinsel tree is the most unique tree in our home.

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My grandmother's silver tinsel tree brightens the whole room.

My grandmother’s silver tinsel tree brightens the whole room.

The theme of this tree is Santa!

The theme of this tree is Santa!

Under this tree, seeing as the tree is decorated in red, black, and silver for Santa’s colors, I put my favorite village — North Pole or Santa’s Village.  I thought that this particular village would be easier to assemble than the village shelves or tops, but boy was I wrong.  Although not very big, this village took more than 4 hours just to do the wiring with a total of more than 8 hours of work to finish it.

This side of the North Pole village features elves skating on a pond and a lookout tower in the way back.

This side of the North Pole village features elves skating on a pond and a lookout tower in the way back.

Front and center in this village is Santa himself, Mrs. Claus and the reindeer and sleigh.

Front and center in this village is Santa himself, Mrs. Claus and the reindeer and sleigh.

This side of the village features the workshops and town square.

This side of the village features the workshops and town square.

This room took so long to complete that I don’t know how I’m going to take it all down come January.  Already I’ve decided that the wiring on the bookshelves is going to have to stay, there is no way I’m doing that every year.

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The completed book shelves.  These took more than 30 hours to wire and assemble.

The completed book shelves. These took more than 30 hours to wire and assemble.

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The best part of this whole project was when Hubby told me how beautiful it was and how he turns on the tree and North Pole village every night when he is in the office working on the computer.  I never thought I’d see the day when he’d actually turn on a Christmas light, let alone a tree and village scene.  Enjoying this new addition to our Christmas decorations together is priceless, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

PS:  Oh, by the way, I still have one more village in the basement, Snow Village, from Department 56 that did not get put up this year.  So far I have 11 buildings from this collection, but not enough accessories to display it.  Plus, I need to figure out how to fit it into the room.  Unless I move the computers down to the basement, I just don’t think it’s going to make it in this room.

Christmas Great Room

The largest room in our home that I decorate would be the great room.  In order to do this room, being that the size is overwhelming to tackle at one shot, I break it down into sections.  Broken down by section with before and after, here it is:

Television Corner

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Before

After:

After

After

The nativity set on top of the television was made by my Great Grandmother.

The nativity set on top of the television was made by my Great Grandmother.

Mantle & Stereo Corner

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Before

After:

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French Doors

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Before

After:

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 Doll Cabinet & Wall

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Before

After:

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Staircase

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Before

After:

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Foyer

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Before

After:

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Office Entrance

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Before

After:

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The newest area that I was able to decorate this year were the ceiling fans.

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We have lived in our home for 22 years and I have never had a ladder tall enough to enable me to clean our ceiling fans in the great room, let alone decorate them.  Last fall while Hubby and I were driving around on garbage night, we happened across a perfectly good 10 foot ladder.  I made him stop and declared, “I want that.”  He loaded it in the back of his car and we now have a ladder for cleaning the ceiling fans.  Of course, the minute I saw the ladder, I already had visions of decorating possibilities.

The great room is where we spend most of our time as a family and it is wonderful to have the room so warm and welcoming during the holidays, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

 

Christmas Dining Room

Having a built-in china cabinet in our dining room makes a wonderful place to display a good portion of my Annalee collection.  The only trouble with this, is finding a place to store everything that is usually stored in it.  Crystal is wrapped, china is boxed, and box upon box is moved to the basement for storage.  A lot of work, but a labor of love in order to see my collection that only gets displayed this one time of year.

 

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Once the china cabinet is done, the rest of the room goes fairly quickly.

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Window treatments are changed and a cabinet that my father built for me to place in front of the window is put in place where five small trees are displayed with a village beneath it.

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On either side of the window are larger decorations that can easily fill the corner space.

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The only other wall in this room is home to two very special sets of ornaments that I place in tiny gift bags I made numbered from 1 to 24.  These ornaments were gifts from Hubby and Grace.  Hubby’s set of 12 ornaments that he gave me were Wedding Tradition ornaments and Grace’s set to me was 12 Christmas Tradition ornaments.

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I received these sets about seven or so years ago.  When I opened the set from Hubby my mother commented, “Those are for new brides.”  Without missing a beat, Hubby retorted, “She’s still my bride.”  A moment I hold dear to my heart.

The dining room table chairs are covered with chair backs that I made and are re-upholstered with gold material.

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I think one of the most unusual decorations in this room are the ornaments that I hang from the ceiling and chandelier.

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Our dining room does not get used as often as I would like, but at least during the holidays when it gets the most use, it is festive and warm, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

 

Christmas Kitchen – Winter Wonderland Part II

Although certainly not as impressive as the nook, the kitchen part of my winter wonderland carries on the white theme started in the nook.  Because the kitchen gets used for three meals a day plus snacks. it is hard to decorate anything more than the walls, windows, and out-of-the-way places that aren’t used for meal preparation.

As in the nook, the window treatments get changed, but rather than white sheers over the windows, I made window frames outlined with lights, covered with garland, and decorated with white material and silver ribbon and bows.

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The light fixtures are wrapped with garland, topped with a bow, and have a silver snowflake glued to the fronts. Even the lights over the island get a little decoration.

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The breakfast bar is the only whimsical area in the winter wonderland with snowball characters that I made many years ago nestled between ceramic houses that my great-grandmother made for my mother which were handed down to me.

The newest addition to the kitchen is the garland that outlines the entire ceiling.  Last year I added this, which helps to light up the room at night.  My goal is to use nothing but Christmas lights to illuminate every room in the house. The kitchen still needs a little more light, but there is always next year.

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Even the dishes get changed for the holidays.  From November through mid-January we eat on my winter wonderland dishes and use snowflake flatware.

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The oldest decoration in the kitchen is the Styrofoam clock that my grandmother made sometime in the 1960’s.

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The newest, old decoration was given to me last year after Christmas by my father.  It is a Santa cookie jar that he made while I lived at home during the 1980’s.  I remember vividly him sitting at the kitchen table with my great-grandmother painting it.

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Even the cabinets get a new look with ribbon and bows added for a bit of festivity.

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The newest decoration is a sign that I bought at Marshall’s a few days after Halloween.  I thought that the colors would fit in the kitchen perfectly and with just a little silver garland around it for a frame, it was perfect.

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Surrounding myself with decorations that spark wonderful memories is what makes decorating so rewarding.  Being that I spend so much time in the kitchen, I was sure to surround myself with decorations that held deep meaning and sentimental value.  With every meal I prepare, with every cookie I bake, with every dish I wash, I am reminded of the people I love, surrounded by memories of holidays past, and filled with holiday joy, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Christmas Kitchen – Winter Wonderland Transformation Part I

Decorating my kitchen for Christmas has always been a stressful situation for me.  Although this is not the biggest room in the house, I would have to say that there are nearly as many decorations in the nook area as in the great room, just on a smaller scale.  The amount of boxes full of decorations for the nook is 27 plus two 7′ trees, an 8′ cabinet, a 9′ cabinet, a 7′ tree box, and one bag that contains the 48″ wreath that hangs over the breakfast bar.  Both cabinets need to be assembled each November and then disassembled in January for storage and both 7′ trees need decorating with more than 20 different type of decorations.  It is definitely a process, but well worth the effort.

Transforming what starts off as a cozy, somewhat traditional room into a Winter Wonderland took years of tweaking. Finally, though, I think I got it — although every year there are more things that get tweaked and improved on.  The pictures I took of the nook were taken during the day, because although still very beautiful and bright at night with all the lights on, the pictures do not do it justice.  Plus, the lights only get lit when we have company so it is very important to me that all the decorations I spend weeks putting out, look as beautiful unlit as they do lit.

The transformation:

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This room has to be the most complete when it comes to transforming it for the holidays.  Everything from the window treatments to the chair upholstery are changed.  The entire perimeter is utilized and every wall features some sort of decoration.

This 9' cabinet was built by my father several years ago.  I painted it and added the 150 star lights to the front.

This 9′ cabinet was built by my father several years ago. I painted it and added the 150 star lights to the front.

This 8' cabinet was built by my father as well, allowing me to display the animated angels my mother and grandfather bought me several years before.

This 8′ cabinet was built by my father as well, allowing me to display the animated angels my mother and grandfather bought me several years before.

There are two of these angels on either side of the flower arrangement my mother-in-law bought me.  The angels wings move.

There are two of these angels on either side of the flower arrangement my mother-in-law bought me. The angels wings move.

The trees on either side of the 9' cabinet have more than 20 different types of decorations, more than 200 total.

The trees on either side of the 9′ cabinet have more than 20 different types of decorations, more than 200 total.

The doorwall must remain functional, so is limited to changing the valance, adding some snowflake film to the glass, and topping with a simple decoration.

The doorwall must remain functional, so is limited to changing the valance, adding some snowflake film to the glass, and topping with a simple decoration.

Last year when this was added to the doorwall, it just did not seem complete.  I added the bow between the sign and ornament this year.  I think it makes it pop.

Last year when this was added to the doorwall, it just did not seem complete. I added the bow between the sign and ornament this year. I think it makes it pop.

All the valences are changed and white sheers are added to the windows.  Waterfall lights are hidden behind the sheers and light up the room at night.

All the valances are changed and white sheers are added to the windows. Waterfall lights are hidden behind the sheers and light up the room at night.

The chairs are rehupulstered and I made a simple chair cover for the back.

The chairs are reupholstered and I made a simple chair cover for the back.

In the 22 years we've lived in our home, we have never sat at the breakfast bar.  This enables me to decorate under the bar with a tree box made by my father.

In the 22 years we’ve lived in our home, we have never sat at the breakfast bar. This enables me to decorate under the bar with a tree box made by my father.

The oldest decoration in the nook are the angles on either side of the wreath above the breakfast bar.  They were my grandmothers and are at least 60 years old.

The oldest decoration in the nook are the angels on either side of the wreath above the breakfast bar. They were my grandmothers and are at least 60 years old.

This room takes nearly a week to decorate because of the assembly of cabinets and decorating of two full trees.  Obviously the wiring is also rather tricky as there are only three outlets.  This year I put the entire room on remote switches so I don’t have to crawl under the trees to turn the lights on.

I love it when we have a white Christmas here in Michigan, but that isn’t always the case.  Fortunately for me, having my own private little Winter Wonderland right in my kitchen makes every Christmas a white Christmas, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Woodland Wonderland – Decorating Kick-Off

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Every year when I begin decorating for Christmas I like to start off with a room that can be completed quickly and easily.  I call this my “gearing up” phase.  The room that gets done first therefore is the half-bath. Through the years this room has evolved a lot.  From what was only a few decorations hung on the wall, this room has now become my Woodland Wonderland.

A few notes about my decorating:

  1. Every room has a theme and/or color scheme.
  2. Every room has at least one decoration that has been handed down to me.
  3. Every room has a tree, a Santa, an angel, and an Annalee (most of the time there are more than one of many of these).
  4. Every room has a main focal point.

These guidelines help me to maintain continuity in each room.

The first step to decorating any room is to remove everything from the walls and floors.  This gives me a blank canvas to work with.  Sometimes I end up putting some of the everyday decorations back on the walls, but most of the time these things are packed away until January when the undecorating process begins.

This is what the bathroom looked like before any decorations:

This room took me a little over six hours to complete, including cleaning the bathroom after I was done.

Welcome to my Woodland Wonderland:

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Note the pine-branch wing angel next to the trees.

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One of seven trees in this room.

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I wish I could photograph the room with the lights on better.

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See the Annalee moose in the center of this wreath.

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I consider this wreath the main focal point of this room. Full of red, brown, and copper bulbs, dark red roses, copper ribbon, and feathers, it sets the theme.

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This pine topper was given to me by my mother-in-law from her decorations. I added the bow and a feather to tie it into the room, but otherwise it is just as she displayed it in her home.

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The vanity is outlined with glitter acorns, pine garland, rustic accents, and a rustic lantern at either end.

I wrap the cabinet doors with ribbon and put a bow in the center of each.

I wish the photographs would turn out better.  Seeing as they might not be very detail oriented with the lights off, here are some shots with the flash.

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Having this room done is always a great way to kick-off my decorating.  The decorations give the room a warm, cozy feeling and it’s great to take a little break in here when I get overwhelmed when decorating the rooms that can take a week or more to complete.

When winter weather makes it impossible to get outside and close to nature, it’s nice to have my own little woodland to escape to, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Prelude To Christmas Decorating – Why I Do This

Tradition does not mean that the living are dead, it means that the dead are living. ~ Harold MacMillan

What is it about Christmas decorating that causes me to become consumed with joy from the moment I turn on the lights in my Christmas storage room until that fateful day sometime in late January when I finally turn that light off for another year?

Growing up with a grandmother who transformed her home with animated figures, rotating trees, flashing lights, and glitter on everything from ornaments to poinsettias into a Christmas wonderland, it was hard not to have some of the magic rub off on me.  Walking into her home Thanksgiving afternoon when all the lights were finally turned on for the first time, marking the beginning of the holiday season, made Thanksgiving my absolute favorite holiday.  I could hardly wait for her front door to open when we’d arrive for Thanksgiving dinner and be showered by the holiday spirit that began with the wreath on the front door and continued throughout every room.

From the tinsel curtains hung over every window to the rotating aluminum tree full of family ornaments to the light switch covers made by my grandmother, not a single detail was forgotten.  Banisters were covered with garland, windows were outlined with lights, and tables were transformed into scenes full of wonder and excitement.  Santa’s, angels, elves, stars, candy canes, carolers, and all the symbols of love and tradition that make Christmas special and irresistible could be found in every corner, in every room.  Everywhere you looked there was yet another reminder of why it was truly the most wonderful time of year.

In July 1999 we lost my grandmother, the matriarch of our family, the spirit that made Christmas more than presents, shopping, and hustle and bustle.  It was a devastating blow to our family, as is the loss of anyone, but the full extent of this loss was not to be felt until that November.  As I pulled the light cord in the Christmas storage area, a rush of memories flooded the room.  Standing there faced with boxes of decorations, frozen with grief, I cried.  Unable to bear the sorrow, I closed my eyes, pulled the cord, and shut the door.  How could there possibly be Christmas without my grandmother?  She was the reason I began decorating.  She was my inspiration.  She was Christmas.

The emptiness I felt from the loss of my grandmother was horrible but the loss of my Christmas spirit as well made it unbearable.  Days passed and I could find no joy…no reason to turn on that light in the storage room.  I pushed myself to get through each day, getting done what had to be done, but my heart ached and my will faltered.  Finding no solace in mourning, I began wondering what my grandmother was doing.  Was she watching me?  Was she anywhere other than in my broken heart?

It is my belief that no one truly dies as long as they are remembered in our hearts, yet the question remains, are they here with us, do they visit or is there reason for them to?  As I struggled to come to terms with the loss of my grandmother, I asked myself how my grandmother would feel if she knew the holiday traditions she had spent so many years establishing had died with her.

In the months after my grandmother’s death, I never felt her presence, only the emptiness. When I began remembering all the wonderful holidays I had with my grandmother, reminiscing about lighting plum pudding, decorating trees, singing carols, visiting her home and listening to the stories of every decoration–every ornament, suddenly I felt a warmth surround me.  I felt my grandmother’s presence as real as if she were standing right there.  Tears welling in my eyes, a lump hard in my throat, I realized I had to turn on that light.

Pulling out boxes of decorations and doing my best to carry on the tradition my grandmother has gifted me with, I know she is here with me, guiding my hands, holding the ladder, giving me inspiration.  I’ve even caught myself talking to her/asking for advise as I try to hide every wire or fix yet another set of lights.

My grandmother may not be here in the way that people readily accept, but there is no doubt in my mind that she is here. She is in every Christmas light, every mince pie, every strand of tinsel, every holiday greeting.  I know she will be forever in my heart and during the holidays her presence is strongest.

This year a new Christmas movie came out starring Harry Connick Jr. called When Angels Sing.  At the end of the movie, Michael, played by Harry Connick Jr., has a conversation with his son,

Michael:  Do you remember when you were in the hospital and you asked me ‘Do you think people can still see us after they die?’

His son:  Yes.

Michael:  I think they do, so let’s make it worth their while.

Every year I do my best to make my home look better than the year before and every year when I finally light the whole house on Thanksgiving day, I ask my grandmother, “So Gram, what do you think?”  As I stand there, looking at the memories filling every corner of the house I know my grandmother is with me loving every little detail.

I miss my grandmother every day, but know in order to keep her spirit alive I have to keep turning the light on, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Holiday Decorating…The Rules!

“I have never seen anything like this!”

“This must take you months to finish.”

“We’re going to refer to your home as ‘Bronner’s East’ from now on.”

“It looks like Christmas threw-up in here!”

These are just a few of the comments I’ve received over the years when people have come by our home during the holiday season and they take in the enormous amount of decorating I do.  For me, because it is something that I have been working on and building up to for so many years, it just seems normal.  But I understand that the typical person does not spend 6 weeks decorating their home for Christmas, sometimes spending 8 to 10 hours a day for weeks on end to get everything just right.  It never ceases to surprise me how taken aback people are when they step through our front door and find themselves surrounded by tradition, decorations, and even a little whimsical fantasy.

Getting to where our home is now was not an easy journey.  When Hubby and I got married I had some decorations, but the accumulation through the years is what now consumes so much of my time during October and November every year.  At first, Hubby was tolerant of my passion for Christmas, although he himself never understood it or even liked Christmas.  As the years passed and my collection of decorations grew, however, the holidays became a time for argument, resentment, and even hostility between us because we were at such opposite ends of the spectrum.  Finally, after several years of knocking heads, I sat down with Hubby and asked him how we could get past this.  There was no talking to him.  He was set in his ways of not understanding or wanting to understand me, and I was forced to either give up my passion for celebrating the holidays the way I really wanted to or continue to have three plus months of unhappiness overshadowing what I thought should be The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year.

The trouble with this situation was that I wasn’t really listening to Hubby.  Although he wouldn’t come right out and tell me what he didn’t like or what he was upset about, there were many subtle clues that I just refused to listen to or see.  Realizing that something had to change because fighting with him every year was getting old, and quick, I finally took a long hard look at what I was doing and how it was affecting him.  Thus evolved “The Rules.”

Whenever Hubby would bitch or scream about something that he didn’t like, or make some snide comment in passing (and believe me, there were many), I’d make a note.  I am a great note taker.  I write everything down.  This too has evolved over the years, but now-a-days I write so many notes, that I need notes to remind me to read other notes that remind me to read other notes, etc, etc, etc.  Anyway, as I listened to what he was saying, rather than just getting defensive and hurt, I realized that he was right in much of what he was saying.  In fact, I learned a lot because of his comments.  You could say that I am where I am today in my decorating because of him.

When Hubby took his arm and flung all the Christmas knickknacks that I’d put on the end table next to his chair high into the air and they came crashing to the ground, breaking several beyond repair, it was his subtle way of telling me that he didn’t want “his” space cluttered. Perhaps he could have found a nicer way of expressing this to me, but for years I wouldn’t listen anyway, so his resentment was completely understandable.

When Hubby came storming out of the bathroom and yanked all the cords from our family tree out of the wall, literally ruining many of the wires and making it so only half our tree actually lit the rest of the season, because the circuit breaker had jumped AGAIN while he was blow drying his hair, he was reminding me that there are other people in our home that have needs that require electricity and I shouldn’t overload the circuits. At the very least, I shouldn’t turn on the lights while he was getting ready.

And when Hubby stood in the center of our great room surveying my decorations and everything that I’d spent weeks trying to make “just perfect” and said, “It looks like you just dumped a bunch of Christmas decorations out of their boxes and threw them every which way.”  I was devastated, but after I calmed down I took a look and realized he was right.  There was no rhyme or reason, just decorations, lots of decorations, put everywhere and anywhere I could fit them.  I realized then, I needed a plan.

There were many other comments, all spat out with his usual patience and understanding (NOT!), that I began to take to heart and really look at, and finally settled on a list of “Rules” that I thought would help us somehow come to mutual understanding.  He wasn’t going to change, and so he shouldn’t have to.  My passion for decorating could still be fulfilled without being a thorn in his side.  I knew I could do it.  I had a new mission:  To make Christmas a time when the whole family could be at peace together, even among all the baubles and bells.

My mission sparked the need for a Decorating Bible.  Something that would spell out what to do, how to do it, where to plug it in, and how to accomplish it in a way that would be conducive for everyone.  It has taken many years and continues to grow and evolve every year, but today I have a three-inch binder and three or four additional notebooks with explicit instructions on how to decorate every room, where to run the wires, which circuit they are on, how much power they require, if there are any glitches (meaning if the lights need to stay off until Hubby finishes drying his hair), and what changes/additions to make in the future.

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My Decorating Bible

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The very first section in my binder (after the introduction explaining what this binder is), the one that is read prior to me starting any decorating every year, is called “THE RULES.”  In this section are all the rules that I have ascertained through the years from Hubby and just plain common sense (something that seemed to elude me during those first few terrible years of marriage and decorating).  After so many years of decorating now, some of these rules seem so obvious, yet I do not want to forget or digress, so I keep them there as a reminder.

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The Rules — Right up front where they wont be forgotten.

Hubby and I have now been married for 22 years and we have both matured, grown, and mellowed.  Now, although I do my best not to upset Hubby with my decorating, he is far less violent when it comes to reminding me if I cross the line.  Also, he has actually told me for several years running now that he really thinks the house looks beautiful.  In fact, for the past couple years he has suggested inviting various friends over to see the house, something he would never have done ten years ago.

I cannot tell you how much nicer it is now come October when I start dragging out the boxes and ladders, preparing for the great Christmas decorating transformation and Hubby actually tells me that it’s okay if I have a bit of a mess with the decorations when he gets home.  It used to be that if I were decorating, I had to be sure to have the mess all cleaned up before he got home or I’d get grief for it.  He now realizes that the mess is only temporary and a necessity during the transformation.

Marriage is so difficult.  I am glad though that I finally “listened” to what Hubby was saying and now we have come to a mutual understanding of Christmas and my passion for decorating.  He may not share my love for every aspect of the holidays, but he tolerates and even supports it now, and for this I am — Ever So Simply Grateful!