Fright Before Christmas (or at Least a Healthy Panic)

Christmas is almost upon us, and your Hostess, like everybody else, is facing some specific goal-oriented challenges.

Which is marketing-spin-speak for, "Freaking Out."

I am freaking out because the greeting cards that I considered so very fun and festive and Victorian and "Me" in the store, now peer out of their shopping bag wondering why I never stop by, I never write. And I just know I will be writing them in such a hurry, my family and friends will take one look at my already-unfortunate-looking scrawl and wonder whether I've finally gone off my nut. Because, well, they knew it was coming, didn't they, when I started hoarding lamps, and joking that decorative cherubs should unionize. But they really hadn't expected the dementia to advance so RAPIDLY.

I am also freaking out because the Christmas gift I've been working on for a dear friend since late this summer was almost done when it decided to explode. And I mean EXPLODE. In an actual "unexpected bit-o'stuff-breaking-off" sort of way. I am not certain how it even happened. But never let it be said that The Thrift Shop Romantic hasn't experienced a healthy share of Good Intentions Gone Wrong.

I would go into more detail, so you can enjoy a nice, big cup of holiday schadenfreude at my expense (it goes well with cookies). But I am still deluded enough to believe that while this particular gift project is a wash and has been safely replaced, that my original concept was doable. So I must keep mum about my nefarious plans, since that same dear friend actually reads this blog sometimes. (Hi there, how's it goin'?)

Lastly, I am freaking out because my More-is-More decorating style for the holidays has meant I've spent an inordinate amount of time trimming everything in sight... doorways... window ledges... passing neighbors' cats...

...But now there is this mound of Christmas gifts still to be wrapped. And to my stupid, irrational fingers, wrapping is not decorating. DECORATING is fun and rewarding and happy. WRAPPING is clumsy and hard-to-estimate and somehow involves tape in my hair.

It will all be all right in the end, of course. It always is. And Scotch-taped hair, redrum handwriting and some lengthy wrap-sessions are small potatoes compared to, oh, pretty much every other thing that's going on in the world.

So this week I leave you with some photos of The Decorating Which is Not Wrapping, that's been going on at Waterhouse this season. Many of the Christmas ornaments you see here, and even the bowls they sit in, were off-season thrift store finds.

Wishing you a safe, happy holiday season where none of your gifts explode (unless they're supposed to-- like someone gives you hot air popcorn or somethin'...)

And I'll see you again bright and early in January 2007! As always, thanks so much for spending some of your time here.


Hey, Baby New Year, Pass Me That Mantle Scarf!

When those post-Christmas sales hit, and I hit the stores, I don’t look across the ransacked aisles and see a rumpled, partied-out spirit of Christmas Past…

I see Victorian decorating on a budget.

After all, what we largely consider a “traditional” Christmas actually has its roots in Victorian England. So, many decorative items slated for the holidays work perfectly well in a Victorian home on any day of the year.

The Victorians were all about jewel tones—rich reds, greens, blues, and purples. And while these colors can be impossible to find during spring and summer, at Christmas they’re a staple (and after Christmas they’re a steal). So if you’re looking for slipcovers, goblets, lampshades, candles, or throws in red, deep blue, hunter or plum, this is the time to snap them up. They’ll be gone once that Annual Retail Time-Warp happens and Spring pastels bloom mysteriously in February.

And while we’re on the subject of bold colors... if you love Victoriana, all that glitters might very well be gold. Often considered too-gaudy for its own good most of the year, at Christmas, suddenly gold has this seasonal popular resurgence, with stores boasting displays to even satisfy Midas.

Then, come January, once again it’s, “Be gone! Away with you, gold! You are tacky and sicken me! Silver is the new gold now!” (Home fashion is so darned fickle.) But for folks who like Victoriana, the mercurial nature of retail is really just bonus; because from stately chargers and candlesticks, to elegant mirrors and bejeweled picture frames, if you’re going to go for the gold, the time to get it is now. And cheap.

It’s also the right time of year to secure heavy Victorian fabrics like jacquard and velvet. I got these velvet table runners at Dollar General right before the holidays at just a few bucks a piece. You’ll probably want to avoid items printed in holly or other seasonal patterns (and on jacquard, the pattern can be subtle, so it’s smart to look carefully). But it’s easy to find appropriate mantle scarves, tablecloths and tablerunners to use whenever. The Victorians loved their textiles, and Christmas offers some luxurious options.

And while you’re shopping, don’t forget to visit the craft store. Craft stores can be an unexpected resource when you’re a bit of a neo-Victorian. My favorite ornament to use all year round is the Victorian tassel. No, they don’t serve any particular function—unless you have a playful cat or a high-stress job. But the look is distinctly Victorian. And on a drawer pull, doorknob or curtain tie-back, they can be a fun little addition.

Victorian-styled ornaments like tassels, fans, old-fashioned shoes, and cherubs are also a nice way to top off a gift any time of the year. Many come in sage greens and rose colors, which work as appropriately on packages in June as they do in December.

So if you begin to suffer from the post-holiday blues, just remember: the comforting richness of the season can stay with you all year round. And for a fraction of the cost you’d expect.

Spruced up for the Holidays

It started with one. A nice fresh Christmas pine each year, decorated in whatever I had on hand. Then I bought my house. And while I still put a real tree in the livingroom-- like the red-and-gold fellow up above-- I soon stumbled on these four-foot-tall fake trees at Family Dollar for just $10. So I treated myself to a second tree, especially for the dining room, and decked it in mint-and-rose Victoriana that color-coordinated with the room.

Shortly, I determined the spare room needed a little “sprucing,” too-- and lo, the “Fun Fir” sprung up, all bedecked in a hat, scarves and vintage jewelry...

This was followed by the entry-way tree-- AKA the “Sweetie Tree”-- covered in enough candies and cookies to tempt Hansel and Gretel. (Sorry, kiddies, no cookie for you-- the food is faux.)...

In no time, I was decorating the potted palm in my Victorian/India-influenced bedroom with glittering bulbs in spicy shades...

And peer pressure drove my housemate to add a tres chic tree to her French blue abode...

It’s not quite a case of being unable to see the forest for the trees here at Waterhouse. But it’s close…

And I love every minute of it.

Now, you might think having all these trees must be completely unmanageable. You might say, “There’s enough to do around the holidays without causing extra trouble; you have obviously been hitting the eggnog too hard, missy.”

Ah, but no: I am no fan of ‘nog. And also, decorating these mini-trees has been very, very easy. I simply set up the tree and decorate it once. Then when the holidays are over, I cover it in two trash bags (one over the top, one over the bottom) and store it in my attic for the rest of the year. The tree remains dust-free. If any bulbs fall, they fall into the bags. And the tree is ready-to-go for next year with minimal effort.

The joy of these trees has been in decorating according to theme and room scheme. And because I pick up appropriate ornaments at Christmas sales and at thrift stores around the year, I’m able to keep the costs low, too.

So if you’re looking to branch out in your Christmas d├ęcor this season, I can safely say, a mini-tree can make some mighty pine--er, fine-- memories.