Tips for the harried and overwhelmed from a would-be home advice columnist
BY GEORGIA GREEN STAMPER
My ambition to become a syndicated home advice columnist was shattered when I learned that half my Facebook friends flatten all their foods before freezing and vertically arrange them file-cabinet style, alphabetized and dated, in the freezer. Now I’ve long understood that I couldn’t compete with Martha Stewart. She’s cornered the market on exquisite everything: gourmet suppers whipped up in only a day and a half, gardening in a perfect climate, and preparing for every holiday with witty creativity and a month of nothing else to do. But I thought maybe I could give real-world gals like Heloise some competition with my hints. After all, I know how to clean a peanut butter jar and make good toast with frozen bread. But nah, turns out I’ve got nothing for the organized freezer folks.
But wait–what about the harried and overwhelmed? And in nostalgic December, these people do bizarre things–like volunteering to host their group’s Christmas party even though they haven’t dusted in six months, their job is driving them nuts, and their kids are required to show up at 15 extracurricular events before the clock strikes 12 at the end of the month.
Maybe I could offer them what I’ve learned in my long, slap-dash life about achieving holiday chic on the clock!
I know, I know. Guilt-ridden-but-it’s-tradition you still envision yourselves leaping from bed some dark and gloomy Saturday with uncommon energy and attacking December with Martha’s glue gun in one hand and a copy of Southern Living in the other. But it’s not going to happen, and people like you and me have legitimate reasons for not being “ready for the holidays.”
So don’t cry because you haven’t gotten your grandmother’s Pinterest-worthy cookies baked for every friend you said hello to this year. Don’t fret that the eaves of your house aren’t outlined in lights (Santa can find the chimney without your help). Instead, turn to Georgia’s Holiday Chic on the Clock. (If you’re listening Good Housekeeping, I’m available.)
With time running out, simplicity is the only way forward. Let’s begin outside where nothing is more elegant than a fresh pine wreath on your exterior front door. You can pick this up on the cheap at your local mega-mart as early as Thanksgiving, and it will last until New Year’s. Adorned with a pretty bow, it makes a beautiful statement second to none. Turn on the porch light, and you’re done (battery candles in the windows optional).
Inside, close any doors that can be closed and for goodness’ sake don’t let anyone peek into your freezer. Hire help to hose out the other rooms if you can afford it. Otherwise, withhold food and water from all adults and semi-adults in the household until they pitch in for a few hours and help pull said house up to reasonable standards. Let me emphasize the word reasonable. No need to get it ready for a health department inspection.
Then pare the seasonal decorating down to the essentials most important to you–what you love. I’ve learned to leave the lesser-loved junk in the attic or give it away. As I get older, it’s the sentimental holiday decorations I enjoy most, and they deliver joy with minimal effort on my part. The creche we’ve had forever comes out, the little pottery angels Ernie bought on a long-ago trip to Budapest, the give-away Coca-Cola Santa coasters that date to our daughters’ childhoods–
And December is why you keep your wedding china and your grandmother’s fancy candy dishes. Whatever your best is, December is the month to bring it out and nonchalantly–as though to the manor born–use it! But if you don’t have this stuff, let me urge you not to resort to plastic and paper. Today, all the big-box discount stores have attractive dish sets, serving platters, whatever you need, for about the price of a pizza. Treat yourself to a few pretty, inexpensive things.
For instant style, you can’t beat fresh flowers scattered around. Once a luxury, these now can be picked up at your supermarket floral department in the discounted “expired date” bin, so don’t settle for fake. Remember, we’re going for chic at this party, and it takes time you don’t have to make fake flowers look OK. Oh, and dim the lights and use candles wherever you can.
As for food, the rules are simple. 1.) Have plenty–abundance is visually exciting, so pile the bowl high and the platter full. 2.) Make one, maybe two, easy things that you do well and outsource the rest to your favorite bakery, deli, or family and friends. DO display all food on attractive serving dishes and not in the box it came in. (I really shouldn’t have to keep telling you this. Chic entertaining relies on the “illusion” of homemade whether it is or not).
Finally, remember that fellowship with friends and family (that’s why you’re hosting this party, right?) does not require an exhausting competition with yourself. Do the best you can in the smidge of time you have, and give yourself the gift of grace–the meaning of the season this December. Oh, and maybe consider putting a padlock on your freezer. No use taking chances in case the Heloise-types are on your guest list.