Downton Abbey: Team Batanna

Just in case you’re living under a costume drama rock, there’s some mighty fine television happening on Sunday nights on PBS.

Which team are you on? Are you for Branson and Sybil? Matthew and Mary? Bates and Anna?

Image credit: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/index.html

I’m Team Batanna, although tonight’s episode puts some possible changes in the wind…

There has been a wonderful series on the Jane Austen’s World blog about Highclere Castle where Downton Abbey is filmed. I encourage you to check it out!

Image credit: skewenhistoricalsociety.org.uk

25 Days of Christmas 2011: Christmas Gifts

A lovely Christmas morning service with darling husband’s brass ensemble playing in a beautiful setting — what a gift to start our day!

Wonderful food and drink prepared by willing hands. Many dishes, wine glasses, and pots and pans washed and put away, some of them for another year. Priceless memories to savor and conversations to replay and remember — the gift of community.

And then there were more tangible remembrances of Christmas. A hand-knit scarf from Mexico, home-made cookies and a spectacular Yule log cake, beautiful  jewelry and fun electronics, and special California-themed foods. I can’t wait to get the Roku box up and running, and my new Kindle holds so much promise. Thousands of movies and books, all obtained at the touch of my fingers. I am overwhelmed by the generosity and thoughtfulness of friends and family.

Today I have the gift of time. Every now and then we wander to the kitchen to do another round of dishes and make another pot of coffee in our new French press, but after three days of non-stop togetherness, it feels good to have a little breathing room. Soon we’ll morph into our Magnificent Mile selves and head downtown to enjoy another day with our children and revel in the beauty that is our home town during the holidays.

Image via forbes.com

Gifts are everywhere.

Christmas Day 2011: Cords of Love

The other day I got a new insurance card. Someone — it appears it was actually in my school’s administrative office, not Blue Cross — decided that since I clearly was using a nickname on all of my work documents, I should be using my “real” name for my insurance. This person changed my name to Jennifer on my medical insurance documents.

This is wrong on so many levels; how dare someone do this when absolutely nothing in my file says Jennifer? I was named Jennie at birth and have remained Jennie throughout my entire life, except on occasions such as this when someone decided to be helpful.

With this in mind, I’d like to introduce you to the original Jennie, the great-grandmother after whom I was named. I am almost six months old in this photo with Grandma Jennie.

This photo reminds me of what the holiday means. It’s not about the petty annoyances of life such as a bureaucrat renaming me. It’s about the ongoing cords that bind us together. When I look into the face of my great-grandmother, I see glimpses of the beloved mother I lost this year. I can see Christmas ornaments on this simple Christmas tree that were passed down to me and are now on my tree.  Even though my son never met the original Jennie, her hall tree holds pride of place in his home. I just had a rocker repaired that belonged to Grandma Jennie’s parents. I hope to rock my own grandchildren and great-grandchildren in that rocker some day, and I will tell them why my name is “just” Jennie.

Merry Christmas from my house to yours. May your family’s cords of love keep you together and safe in the coming year.

2 Days of Christmas 2011: Christmas Eve Memories

I don’t know when my father made me a manger.  At some point in my early adult life when I no longer lived at home, Dad made me one just like the manger he made for our little family. We always reverently placed the holy family into the rustic papier-mâché model of the stable where legend and tradition tells us that Jesus was born.

That manger scene has traveled with me through many moves — from Ohio to California to North Dakota and to Chicago, where it has been the focal point of my Christmas decorating for years of Christmas Eves. We always put the baby in the manger when we set up the scene; my brothers and I waited with bated breath to see who would unroll the tissue paper bundle containing the baby Jesus in his manger. Our current church has a tradition of having Mary and Joseph traveling on the road during Advent, and the family of three does not appear in the manger scene until Christmas Eve. I, on the other hand, like seeing the baby in the manger and it reminds me of my family Christmas Eve celebrations.

Last year when I put away the manger scene, I noted that it needed some repair. The papier-mâché was chipping away and the roof had become unstable. I set up the scene, but laid the roof aside and put some brown craft paint on my to-do list.

After I picked up my supplies, I dabbed some paint on the most obvious of the problems, and tried to glue the roof back together. Dad’s original work was pretty imprecise, and there isn’t any way to really fix up the cracks in the roof with taking the whole thing apart and recutting it. And why do I need to? Dad’s gift of love is perfect in its imperfections, just as the story of Christmas and the virgin birth is.

I know that the idea of Jesus being born in a barn-like structure is Western Christianity’s interpretation of the story from the Gospels. If Jesus was born outside of an inn at all, it was likely in a cave. I’m still okay with my dad’s stable to remind me of the importance of family and love without boundaries.

Even though I know that it is unlikely that there were actually shepherds present at the birth of Jesus, there are still shepherds in my manger scene. I’d like to think that gentle shepherds guide us through life.

Even though I know that the kings didn’t really come to visit Jesus until he was a toddler, there are still maji present in my manger scene.

Whether Jesus was born in a cave, an inn, or in a barn isn’t important. What’s important is the gift of this story that fills us with wonder and helps Christians to jumpstart our faith journey again every year.

And because it’s not Christmas until Art or Libby(or both of them together) sings “O Holy Night,” I leave you with Susan Boyle’s rendition. Sadly, neither Mom or Dad will be singing their favorite wailing Christmas hymn ever again on this earth, and I’m going to have to sing it myself today in honor of them.

http://www.godtube.com/watch/?v=FE9J2MNU

4 Days of Christmas 2011: The Holiday Bathroom

When you’re expecting guests over the holidays, it’s easy to spruce up your guest bath to make it more festive. Given that you’ve seen my mostly traditional decorating style, you will probably guess that this is not my bathroom. It’s from HGTV, who I just discovered today has many of their recent years’ holiday specials on demand.

Image via HGTV

Even if you don’t want to go quite this crazy, you can easily put together a simple holiday bathroom decor without a lot of work or money.

Step 1: Buy some red towels.

Step 2: Buy a holiday shower curtain. Mine has embroidered ornaments on it. Or just change your rings to red plastic; they even have Christmas shower curtain rings.

Step 3: Get out that secret collection of pitty-pat towels that your mom or grandma gave you. Now’s the time to use them. Or buy some at Kohl’s; they’re cheap.

Step 4: Unearth the ceramic Christmas tree that you’re embarrassed to tell anyone you either made or kept from your family’s heirlooms. Your family’s version might be the Mickey Mouse Christmas statue or the Christmas flamingo. To each his own; I’m certainly in no position to judge anyone else.

Step 5: Buy a holiday-themed rug. I didn’t take a photo of mine, but it’s a homey small-town scene.

Step 6: Dump your liquid hand soap into the Christmas dispenser that someone gave you and you couldn’t quite bear to give away.

Step 7: If you have a light bar above your sink, put a fake evergreen spray on it.

Step 8: Buy a plug-in scent warmer; I have a fancy Scentsy one because my niece hosted a party and I had to buy something. It makes the room smell nice.

Step 9: Buy a box of holiday-themed Kleenex.

Voila! You have a pretty bathroom ready for guests. Once you actually do the nine steps, then at the end of the season you put all this stuff away in a single plastic bin and label it. It should be the first thing you get out after Thanksgiving so that you can enjoy your decorating throughout the season.

Last year, we were excited about the births of a couple of new babies, and this year, we have enjoyed the first birthdays of those lovely little children.  Grand-nephew David will be beside himself as he learns to celebrate Christmas at his Poppy and Nana’s house. Little Claire is going to have a brother in 2012, and I wish both of these families the best as we once again honor the Christ child whose story never grows old.

5 Days of Christmas 2011: Holiday Candelabra

Yesterday, you visited my wine bottle candelabra, and I should have rightly called it a candelabrum. The term candelabra correctly applies to a pair or group of matching candelabrum. Today I’d like to celebrate the many beautiful candelabra that are available for purchase to upgrade your holiday experience.

Since it’s Hanukkah, I thought I’d start with one of the most interesting menorahs I have ever seen. This one is covered in Swarovski crystals.

If you celebrate Christmukkah, as some of my friends do, you can buy this nifty crossover ornament at Target.

If you’re more into traditional candelabra, here’s a nice one from Victorian Trading Company. For my more modern readers, you can buy beautiful glass candelabra at CB2.

Don’t forget that drippy candles will ruin your table and your table linens, so investing in a set of bobeches is a good thing. Here’s a handy little lifesaver from Victorian Trading Company.

And what was I doing last year five days before Christmas? Going to the doctor, the same thing I’m doing today. Last year I encouraged my readers to get a colonoscopy, and this year I’m seeing the allergist to find out why my throat’s been bothering me for ten years. I guess it’s about time…

6 Days of Christmas 2011: More Easy Decorating

If you’ve been reading my blog for any period of time, you know that darling husband and I are struggling with a plethora of “things” in our house, and that includes Christmas things. We also have lots of extra furniture that has been handed down over the years or furniture that we have replaced with something better or more appropriately sized for our small empty nester house. It was surprising, therefore, when we both agreed that we needed something exactly right for our vestibule where we set up our bar for parties.

At my local Korean resale shop, I found the perfect piece that we could both agree on. It’s not very old, but it has an antique slash Asian feel that both blends with our oak trim and contrasts with our French antiques. It’s the right size for our tiny foyer and holds a lot of bar stuff behind its doors.

When I look at this photo, it reminds me why it’s hard to get rid of “things” in my house. Starting from the bottom:

  • The Chinese silk runner was brought back from China by my niece, Vanderbilt Wife. How could I possibly get rid of that?
  • The silver tray is part of the silver tea service that I inherited from my grandmother. No question there.
  • The crystal ice bucket belonged to my beloved mother-in-law. Nope.
  • The Ralph Lauren champagne glasses were also given to us by my husband’s mother. We broke one the first time they were used, and I only pull them out for very special and small parties. They don’t take up very much room, so… no again.
  • The silver creamer came from the estate sale of my next door neighbor. No one wanted her silver, so I scooped it up. I’m not giving that up.

  • The wine charms were hand-made by my friend and me. We went to the bead store and picked up symbols for all of our friends and made personalized charms. You can see my saxophone and my husband’s bass guitar are among the mementos appearing on our wine charms. I’m not giving up those either.

  • The wine candelabra was a gift from my nephew’s girlfriend last year. I decided that it was scary to have open candles on the bar, so I went to Hobby Lobby and bought ruby shades for them. I’m not giving the candelabra up either.

  •  I saved the Rock Star Red bottle just because it was funny; the wine was a gift from my sister-in-law in Seattle and was fabulous.

My goal for 2012 is to learn how to style and photograph better for my blog. I tried to use some fancier settings with this post, but generally don’t see much difference than what I usually do. What I DO see, however, is that my rug is bunched up and my runner is still wrinkled even though I ironed it. And what’s with the bush on my mirror? It looked better in my head.

The point of today’s post is that it’s not difficult to create a beautiful Christmas tradition (and all-year round) with the stuff you already have. In my case, the memories that go with this stuff are more important than my need to simplify my life. Actually, once I got this all together, it was easy to set up the tableau and I’m pretty excited to start hosting some parties!

Where were we last year at this time? Remodeling. My living and dining room are packed with Christmas boxes right now, but come tomorrow, my rooms will be decorated and ready to use. Unlike last year, when we set off for Seattle with nothing decorated and everything a remodeling mess, we will have a lovely Christmas right here in our home.

8 Days of Christmas 2011: Easy Outdoor Decorating

When we moved from the town where our children attended high school into our empty nest home, we decided that we needed to simplify our outdoor decorating at Christmastime along with many other parts of our home keeping. If you’re one of those people who spends days getting ready for the holidays and don’t really enjoy it, you might want to consider our solution.

We bought a five-foot fake wreath and a big red bow. Every year we take down the wrought-iron gate that is usually against our front brick wall between the windows and put up the wreath. It takes about five minutes to get it out of the shed, about one minute to tie on the red ribbon, and about two minutes to hang it. This year, we decided to forego the fairy lights and just have it lit from our normal spotlights under the eaves.

We hang two matching fake wreaths on the lights on either side of our garage door. Pretty simple.

Santa appeared in the boxes of Christmas decorations that came from my mother-in-law’s estate. He’s been sitting on our front porch at Christmas ever since. We belt him to the chair now, because one Christmas he decided to go on a little stroll through the neighborhood in a strong wind.

We were feeling so good about our easy decor that we decided to light up the redbud tree. Its new growth looks especially beautiful with the light accenting the shapes. You can see that the neighbor down the street has traditional lights on bushes, and I love to see other people’s elaborate lighting schemes, but for us, our two-hours-at-the-max outside decorating is just right.

Just in case you were wondering, yes, that is snow. Big fluffy flakes were coming down this morning when I got up and darling husband even went out and shoveled a little so that it didn’t freeze as ice on our brick driveway. It was a nice start to winter vacation.

I hope you are enjoying the run to the manger. Now that I’m on winter break from school, it seems more real to me. The progress we are making in our decorating is also inspiring me to do more and more, but I’m trying to keep it all in perspective. I do love Christmas, though. Thanks for stopping by and reading my stories!

9 Days of Christmas 2011: The Gift of Perfume

I have a favorite perfume and you can’t get it just anywhere. We order it from the Vermont Country Story, which calls itself “The Purveyors of the Practical and Hard-to-Find.”  Every few years at Christmas, darling husband orders a new bottle of Ombre Rose. It has a light rose top note, but follows with a honey scent and then finally vanilla and sandalwood. It’s more complex than it appears at first, and of all the perfumes I’ve worn over the years, Ombre Rose can consistently be worn day and night without smelling-out the room.

I’ve always loved the bottle which reminds me of Lalique glass from France. Turns out, JC Brosseau copied the original design of another brand of perfume from the 1920s — some web sites say that Brosseau actually acquired the old molds.  In any event, JC Brosseau adapted the design for his own perfume Ombre Rose in 1981.  Apparently the 1981 perfume bottles are sometimes identified as 1920 Mury bottles on ebay.com, so a collector must beware.

Another favorite perfume of many friends is the classic Emeraude. Launched by Coty in 1921, it was the first “Oriental” fragrance and is still very popular today, although the perfume bloggers tend to discount the newer version over vintage Emeraude.  I’d definitely wear Emeraude if it came with this gorgeous vintage dress.

When talking about perfume, it’s impossible to leave out the most beautiful of all the perfume fantasy and imagery. How can one go wrong wearing a perfume entitled Evening in Paris? According to Vermont Country Store, where you can still buy it, “Evening in Paris or Soir de Paris, as it is known in France, came from the daring decade of the 1920s—think glittering nightlife, flapper fashion, the heady perfume of luxury. By the 1950s, Evening in Paris was touted as “the fragrance more women wear than any other in the world,” yet by 1969 it had disappeared.” I would like to be that girl in the Evening in Paris ad just once.

Wow! Last year I skipped five days. I won’t be doing that this year; I have a lot more to share this Christmas. Keep commenting  — I’m glad to see that people are enjoying my commentary on Christmas. 🙂

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