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
I want to talk about Thanksgiving. I mean the holiday and the expression. In recent years Thanksgiving has gone from a an actual holiday, to the official beginning of the Christmas season, to a mere speed bump between Candy Day and Materialism Month, featuring Consumer Claus. We don't talk about it, don't think about it, don't even stop to consider it. Throw out the pumpkin, put up the tree, let's go shopping.
Oh, everyone is still going to eat. There will still be turkey and dressing (did y'all know there are folks who strain the giblets out of their gravy? Just learned this yesterday myself.) There will still be sides and deserts aplenty. There will still be football and talking politics with your uncle and all that. But will there really be any thanksgiving at Thanksgiving?
As consumerism continues to consume this land and consumers become the consumed, there is yet greater and greater demand. There is the eternal striving for increasing abundance. Everything will never be enough, there will have to be more. We must have more, bigger, better, shinier, and more elaborate on our mission to convince ourselves that we are filling the hole within us with the right stuff. Maybe if we get enough of the stuff we'll finally be happy.
But no matter how much there is, it is never enough. The things we have to have never make up for the lacking of significance. There is never any contentment. Without contentment there is never gratitude. Without gratitude there is never thanksgiving. Without thanksgiving, that famous Thursday meal in November is just a celebration of gluttony and abundance.
We think of contentment as a type of surrender. We aren't striving for more because we are lazy or scared or incapable of doing "better." But we never ask ourselves the reason we want more. Is there a reason for it? What is the actual need we are trying to fill? Is it an actual need or just a passing desire?
With a week to go before the Thanksgiving holiday arrives, let us take inventory. Stop with the hustle and look around. Think about health, wealth, security, happiness. Do you have these things? Look at family, friends, faith, hope for the future. Do you have these things? Rather than looking up to the more fortunate to drive your desires, look back on the less fortunate to allow yourself some gratitude. Don't make it about seeing yourself as better than them. Make it as "but for the Grace of God go I." Because that is reality.
We are so blessed in this country. Yet we are living in turmoil. We fight over political power, cultural slights, we fight over fighting. Our problem isn't our differences. Our problem is we lack thanksgiving because we lack gratitude because we lack contentment.
Take a week. Think it over. celebrate thanksgiving, not just Thanksgiving.
By Sam Burnham
I awoke following a long weekend of football, home projects and more football (especially a long night sitting up to see if Tennessee was going to give ABG CFB a losing record on opening week) to a few tweets from a reader. This sort of thing often leads to me sitting at the keyboard spitting out whatever rebuttal needs to be communicated. So here I sit.
The point this time is an article in the New York Times (continuing their fascination with Southern stuff) about Southern publications and their approach to dealing with this region we call home. There were particular publications and links mentioned both in the article and in the aforementioned tweets that had me clicking on a few articles and reading what I could of them.
This was followed by a lot of thought. I see what is going on in many publications, both print and on line, and how they both experience and portray the South. We see in this article that one is setting out to try to fix it. Another is boasting it is "Reckoning With the South." And then we see a few others that may be taking a little too much of a Pollyanna experience of it. What this leaves us with is an incomplete picture. The South is not a neat and pretty artisan doily that comes in a package via UPS. But it is also not broken and it is not in need on some progressive vengeance. All of this points to the same idea - that there is something inherently wrong with the South and being a Southerner. The two sides of response to this problem, polishing it up nice and "fixing" it, equally mistreat the South.
I chose the title of this article from the opening essay of I'll Take my Stand. John Crowe Ransom opens that volume with the essay and it's warning that if the South capitulates to the rest of the nation, if it merely takes its lumps and hops on the train of progress, it will cease to be what it is. It will cease to be Southern. Looking at this some 87 years later, I see much of his warning already blossomed and withered. His talk of the factory system moving in and exploiting Southern villages can be documented in a thousand mill villages across the South. Perhaps you've seen a few.
But more than a warning to mill villages, Ransom was warning us against a mass assimilation. He foretold the possibility of a future in which the South became so enamored with "progress" that the Southern Tradition itself would be threatened. And as Atlanta has spread across the landscape, we see that tradition being overwhelmed by an onslaught of chain restaurants and shopping malls - many now vacant or in disrepair. What factories remain have downsized their work forces with robotics and any new industries are using automation as well. The small country store is a thing of the past. The television broadcasts new stories by people with strange accents who can't correctly pronounce the name of the town they're reporting from. And now we are starting to see statues that have stood in town squares for over 100 years must be removed. No one must ever speak anything respectable about any man who served in the Confederate military. Anything that happened before 1865 falls under the "slavery" tab and anything that happened in the next 100 years was nothing but Jim Crow. And under no circumstances must anyone ever whistle Dixie.
By industrializing the South took the road more traveled. And it has made all the difference.
The progress isn't all bad. Good riddance to slavery and Jim Crow. In my years I've learned that the color of a man's skin does not determine his worth as a human. And as Dr. Sean Busick recently said, "The Southern Tradition is big enough to include both Louis Armstrong and Johnny Cash." If we're honest, the Southern Tradition is incomplete without both of them. And no one is complaining electricity, paved roads, or indoor plumbing. Again, some of the progress has been good but not all of it.
The trick is trying to find the balance between totally shunning modern innovations and becoming Yankees that eat grits and enjoy Bluegrass. The real South will be found high in the Appalachians, down on the coastal islands and marshes, or along the red dirt roads. In these places the New York Times has never seen, Atlanta has forgotten, and we cannot help but love, we find truth. It's not always pretty or profitable but that's the South for you.
ABG is not here to fix the South. We're not here to reckon with it. We're not here to modernize it. We don't care much for craft cocktail lounges or the (mostly non-Southern) idiots who brought violence to Charlottesville. Neither of those things sound very Southern to us in 2017. We're here to talk about the real South, not one we wish to re engineer.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire