By Leigha Burnham, Managing Editor
Many of you may know that once upon a time, I had a little antique-booth business. I had to give it up for awhile due to being in graduate school, but I still love to think about decorating...especially at the holidays.
When our boys were little, I was always sure to have a tree in every room. Each tree was decked out in ornaments and ribbon and lights. There was always a display of our nutcracker collection, our stockings were hung, and nativities (yes, plural, I own about four sets) were all scattered throughout our house. I even had themes every year! I will never forget the work I did and the money I spent the year I decided to go with The Nutcracker theme...it was over-the-top! Now that our guys are teens and my time is consumed with my career and a full family calendar, I am finding that I like things a little simpler.
As I contemplated decorating our home this season, I wanted to keep things clean and natural. Simple and beautiful. I'm wondering if many of you are wishing to do the same? I do not proclaim to be a professional decorator. On the contrary, I tend to take shortcuts to speed things along. But this may be the very reason why I feel so compelled to share our holiday home with you this year. In the hustle and bustle, you may find that you do not have a lot of time, money, or creativity to get your home decorated the way you would like...and there sure is a lot of pressure out there (Pinterest, anyone?) to have your home looking like those in the magazines.
So...today I wanted to share three things that I do to make my home feel a little more "merry and bright" to start the season. If I didn't do a single other thing, these three things would make my Christmas home just right.
I always start with my mantle. We have a gas fireplace in our living room, my husband would certainly prefer it were a wood-burning one, and this fireplace is simple and rather small. I placed a tall mirror above it to reflect the light and to make the fireplace seem taller. I usually keep a simple wreath hanger and faux boxwood wreath hanging here throughout the year, but at Christmas I switch out the hanger for a more elaborate one. This hanger was purchased second-hand and then I painted it in Miss Mustard Seed's Milk Paint. It has been very durable. I change the boxwood wreath out for a grapevine wreath and then I just add a few picks of greenery. In keeping things extra simple this year, I chose to add only pine stems and pine cone picks. Then, I added one simple, fabric bow in a cream colored burlap. I love ribbon that has wire edges because you can shape the bow and it will stay exactly as you put it the entire season.
After adding the wreath above the fireplace, I like to add one or two strands of greenery across the mantle. I found this interesting garland in my Christmas stash and it was perfect! This garland is basically pine, pinecones, and then strings of a velvet-like fabric that gives it a wispy look. I just put it across the mantle and then threaded one strand of white lights through it. You might be tempted to purchase long-lasting LED lights, but I don't like the cold "blue" light of those, so I still use the inexpensive incandescent bulbs.
Finally, the stockings. I have had these very heavy iron stocking hooks for several years and I just love them! I think I purchased them at a Hobby Lobby or maybe T.J. Maxx. I know that I didn't pay that much for them and the reason I love them so much is that the weight of them holds my garland on the mantle without any additional hooks, nails, or adhesive. Like I said, I love a good shortcut. The stockings I've used the last three years or so are very inexpensive burlap stockings I purchased at a local florist shop. I only hang three stockings, one for each of our boys. One thing I do to make the stockings look better, is that I stuff them with brown paper...which, of course, I forgot to do prior to taking these pictures. It will give the stockings a little more fullness and they should hang better.
I know that this sounds like the mantel took lots of planning and time, but actually, it took me longer to dig the items I used out of my storage bins than it did to put it up! I was able to pull this mantle together in about 30-40 minutes. You just can beat that! And the impact is huge. I got the simple, clean, and natural look I was going for...and the lights at night make our home feel so warm and cozy.
The mantel is the first thing I do to achieve our holiday home. The second is that I mix up a wonderful batch of Hubbard's Mulled Cider. I usually have this wonderful concotion simmering on the stove while decorating the mantel. The smells wafting through the house are to die for! And it doesn't take long for my spirits to lift and for my heart to swell with memories of Christmases past. Let us know if you'd like the recipe. This is the cup I enjoyed after decorating our mantle. What makes it a little more special is that I serve it in my Johnson Brothers Friendly Village Christmas china.
And last, but certainly not least, the third thing I do to create my holiday home is to put on some Christmas music! There is nothing quite like a soft carol playing while you decorate, or clean, or enjoy a cup of cider to get you into a cheery disposition. I have a lot of Christmas CDs from years gone by and even though there are countless playlists on my phone and available online, I still go back to the CDs every year.
My absolute favorite is a Currier & Ives Holiday Collection CD titled "Home for the Holidays" and performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. With classics like "Here We Come A Wassailing" and "O Little Town of Bethlehem," you can't help but feel more like a Bob Cratchit than a Scrooge. I'm not sure that you can still order this same CD, but I found a few similar ones online (click HERE to see what I found).
I hope you are inspired to make the simple things shine in your home this holiday season. And in case you were wondering how much money I spent creating this look, it was almost none. I already owned most of what you see. I bought new cream-colored ribbon for $5.00 a roll at Michael's and I bought 10 new pine cone floral picks to add to the wreath (and some other areas in our home) that were $7.99 each with a 50% off coupon at a local floral/decor store. So, it was less than $50.00.
Happy Holidays! I look forward to sharing more of our holiday home and family traditions with you in the coming weeks.
By Sam Burnham
So there is this map making the rounds on Twitter right now. I know it has been around for a few weeks but it has just now peppered my feed. The map is compiled by an online dating service called Hater, which pairs up couples based on the things they hate. People use this service trusting the theory that the enemy of my enemy might just be my soulmate. I figured it might make a decent diversion from the recent unpleasantness. So let's exp;lore it.
Let's start at home, where all good journeys begin. Tuna salad. It's neither tuna, nor salad. I mean, I guess it's tuna. But it's like the baloney of tuna. Let's not waste anything so we'll can the parts that don't make a steak and people can stir it up with mayo and never ever quite enough other stuff to make something that I've wanted to eat. No thank you.
Florida is chopped off the map but they said licorice so we aren't talking about them anyway. I think the heat is getting to them.
Let's go to Maine. They chose Asian fusion. It really makes you wonder about that food. When all the Mainers come out in the spring (sometime in mid-July) after sustaining themselves for the entire winter (which began in early September) on whoopie pies, Moxie, and pine bark with melted snow gravy and announce their hunger only to have someone off them fried dumplings, they mutter "no thanks" and go looking for something else - ANYTHING else to eat.
Some of these things are not food. New Jersey chose gas station wine. I'm guessing they mean Mad Dog 20/20. Washington DC chose turkey bacon, which is also not food. Iowa chose quinoa which is a lot like eating sand, just not as flavorful.West Virginia hates tofu and Oklahoma hates veggie burgers because those folks have to actually work for a living. I ate some tofu once on accident. I immediately went to St. Mary's for confession. I'm not even Catholic.
California. Bless their hearts. No one hate's Chic-fil-A for the food or the customer service. California chose because of politics. Must be all that tofu they eat.
Missouri hates the last bite of a hot dog. Do they realize if you turn it around that it will be the first bite all over again?
Louisiana. Cookies with raisins Sounds harmless enough. But have you ever took a big bite of what you thought was a chocolate chip cookie and feel that oatmeal raisin sensation on your tongue? Oatmeal raisin cookies are fine on their own merit but they ambush you and therefore can't be trusted.
Virginia hates dabbing pizza grease with a napkin. I'm not sire they understood the question. But I do bet that is better than quinoa or tofu.
By Sam Burnham
Hang on, hang on, hang on. This is almost too ridiculous to even be true. This atrocity was brought to my attention by an attentive Twitter follower who wanted to make sure that we knew about it.
Neiman Marcus is adding precooked and then frozen collard greens to their holiday offerings. For $66 plus $15.50 shipping, you can purchase and have delivered to your home servings of collard greens with seasoning and bacon. Yes, this is the same Neiman Marcus that you are thinking about.
I was torn by which story to address with this post after a Mississippi attorney filed suit after choking on fried chicken because "Popeye's didn't include a knife in his to-go packet." This is completely absurd as a three year old can demolish some chicken legs without getting choked out but someone who successfully completed law school and passed the bar exam is gagging himself and blaming it on someone else. I'm guessing that he's not originally from Mississippi as no one born and raised in Iuka, Itta Bena, or Quitman is sitting around watching fried chicken go to waste because they can't find a knife. After some consideration, I decided that this attorney is the sort of person who would order pre-seasoned, precooked, frozen collard greens from Neiman Marcus. The dependency on such prefabricated foolishness leaves people with a false sense of Southern-ness that could apparently get them killed. or worse. Therefore the Neiman Marcus incident poses a greater threat to the stability of civilization so we're going after that one.
First things first. Collards are essential to the holidays, especially New Years Day. That's just how it is. But if you are going to eat them, you have to do it right. There are no short cuts. I mean look at that picture above. Are those Bacos? I bet they think that liquid is called "pot liquor" (We've covered that too). All these things need are a tagline that informs shoppers that this product has been certified as authentically Southern by the New York Times. I'm not even going to chase that rabbit right now.
Now. Above this text, you'll find authentic Southern greens. Bacon is acceptable for seasoning meat but it would be preferable to use fatback, streak-o-lean, a ham hock or pork jowl. You don't have to see little bits of pork all through the greens. If you do it right, you'll know it's there.
The smell of greens cooking is a special thing. To the uninitiated it could be misconstrued as unpleasant. No one catches a whiff of that aroma and wonders if someone is cooking greens. One whiff and your first reaction is to smile and say "someone is cooking greens." It's a lot like barbecue in that respect except the evidence fills just the house as compared to the whole neighborhood showing up looking for ribs. So there's a better chance of keeping greens a secret.
Greens are a very healthy food. They are loaded with vitamins and minerals. They offer fiber, iron and the pork can boost the protein. I've had them with beans and I've had them with rib eye steak and they are just as appropriate with either.
But the catch is they need to be authentic. Too many grandmothers worked far too hard for too many generations to make sure that we all had the glorious experience of real Southern greens to cheapen the experience by ordering some impostor product from Neiman Marcus. Don't do it. Not even once.
This holiday season, don't order collards from Neiman Marcus. And don't pay anyone eighty bucks for them either. Get them fresh, as they are in season during holidays. You can buy them at the grocery store or from someone growing them in the yard.
That's all for now, but I'm sure there will be more misuse of Southern culture in the near future. The struggle continues...
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire