Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Out of the Envelope and Into the (spit)Fire.

Happy Almost-New Year, all!

While the bulk of the Holiday entertaining is coming to an end, I don't think it's ever too early to start thinking about next year or your next Shin-Dig. You know me, I'm always looking for alternatives to the alternative, and new ideas that break the vanilla mold. Here's a fun, unique alternative to your next invitation, Evite, or Save the Date.
Spitfire Girl (www.spitfiregirl.com) does a great line of gift box invitations for pretty much any occasion. The invitations arrive as a jewelry box size gift filled with a little scene and small trinkets to reflect the appropriate holiday or occasion you're celebrating. These could be really fun for a New Year's Eve party, holiday gathering, birthday party, or if you're a very non-traditional bride and groom, even for a wedding. The boxes have a very, vintage, 1950's feel. The decorations remind me a lot of vintage cupcake/cake toppers, ballerinas from old music boxes, and Christmas ornaments. You simply fill in the important details for your shin dig, and mail them off to your guests. How fun is that? It's like getting a little gift that keeps on giving in the mail. Your guests are sure to never forget your party, even before they get there. You can even send them as an alternative to cards, instead of as an invitation. So, if you have the room in the budget next time, skip the fill-in invites from Hallmark, and think outside the box. Or in this case, inside the box,

Image Credits: www.spitfiregirl.com

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays From Simply Cville.

Peace, Love, Joy, Laughter, Hope.

May All Things that mean "Happy Holidays" be Yours.

Wishing you all the Happiest of Holidays and all the best in a Simple 2010.


Ed (and Bodie)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Family Tradition: The Angel From Hell.

HO, HO, HO, Mistletoe, and Happy Holidays, friends.

My parents just finished hosting a holiday gathering here on old Parkview Avenue, the presents are almost wrapped, and I'm exhausted, in a wonderful way.

Listening to all of the guests tell stories of days gone by, happy holidays, and family traditions made me want to share one of my favorite "new" family "traditions" with you all. That, and I feel like this gives you an even larger window into my life and why I'm the way I am.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you "The Angel From Hell."

So, hear me out. Several years ago, my Mom decided it was time for a new angel to adorn the top of our living room Christmas tree (the living room Christmas tree is always a live Frasier fir, hosts all of the nice family ornaments, while the "kids tree" is in the family room with bubble lights, colored lights, peppermint lights, and all of the "less than Southern Living-esque" ornaments aka all of the ornaments we made as children. I'm just kidding, the two trees are the result of having way too many ornaments for even one large tree. At least that's what the Queen Mum tells us.) So, Mom's on this hell-bent mission to replace the angel. The angel we had always had was very nice, short blonde hair, angelic, sweet face, white dress, nice wings, and her whole life ahead of her. However, she was out. Mom shopped, searched, and even considered alternatives like a star, a bow, or even one those retro tree toppers with the glass spike on top of the ball. However, she finally came home with this beauty. She's a good 16.5 inches tall, jet black hair, and a very stern face. She's nicely dressed, has gold wings, and can def. hold her own. However, she just looked so stern and not, well, angelic.

My Dad, who leaves the bulk of the indoor, Holiday decor to my Mom took an immediate stance against this angel, really disliking her. He nicknamed her Harriet Beecher Stowe based on the stern old portraits and black hair. So, where is this story going? Here it is. She sat atop the living room Christmas tree that first year. However, after that she was banished and replaced by a different angel. However, my Mom kept her around and she found a new home atop the piano. In response to Harriet remaining a part of our Holiday decor, my Dad decided to have a little fun with both her and my Mom.

My Dad started by fashioning a pair of small sunglasses for Harriet, the angel out of Christmas tree hook wire and construction paper. He placed them ever so gently on her head, and waited to see if anyone ever noticed. Family, guests, and my Mom, of course, noticed. Everyone got such a kick out of it, a new tradition for my father was born. He said he made the glasses to cover up her stern, serious eyes, and "soften her." However, since the birth of her sunglasses, My Dad now dreams up something new to add to Harriet, the Angel from Hell, every year. It's our job as members of this household to see if we can figure out what's new. The next year, in addition to her sunglasses, Harriet was holding a small bottle of champagne and a cigarette in her hands (I don't even know where you find a mini, plastic bottle of champagne--maybe Barbie gets snockered these days?). The next year, like everyone else in our household, Harriet showed her love for the University of Virginia by sporting the traditional orange, block V on the chest of her dress. This year, I came home, ran to the piano, and realized my Dad had not let me down. Harriet now sports 2, mismatched Christmas light earrings. He also decided to give her cigarette a filter (he said he was worried the original looked too much like a joint--please keep in mind, my parents don't drink or smoke. Go figure.)

So, needless to say, I, my brother, sister, Mother, brother-in-law, and all of our other holiday guests always look forward to the next Christmas and to see where my father's off-beat sense of humor has taken him and Harriet. I have a feeling one year she will have cleavage...her dress is just begging for it. I also feel like she may get a shoulder bag, a chest tattoo, and some kind of feet to stick out from underneath her dress. I just have a feeling. Maybe I have the same sense of humor as my Dad? Needless to say, welcome to my world. If nothing else, Harriet reminds us all to enjoy the Holidays and not take things so seriously. It's way too easy to get all wrapped up (no pun intended) in all of the hustle and bustle of the season. Just know, in my parents very traditional, Southern, colonial, cape cod sits an angel, on the piano, drinking champagne, smoking her Virginia slim, loving the 'HOOS, and being pretty damn fabulous.

Happy Holidays, Harriet. Happy Holidays, all.


Monday, December 21, 2009

The Mix & Mingle: Jingle Bell Rock.

So, I write to you curled up with my dog on my lap, sitting in the family room of my childhood home. Yes folks, I made it home. One tank of gas, 2 Christmas CDs, and 10 dollars paid to 2 neighborhood boys to help dig my car out of the snowy abyss, I am home for the holidays, and there's no place I'd rather be.

All of the Holiday tunes that kept me company on the ride home have inspired me to share some of my favorite holiday albums with you all. If you remember several posts ago, I gave you my list of favorite albums for year-round cocktail parties, barbecues, and just slubbing around on a Sunday. Same story, just yule-tide-afied. I know that's not a real word, but indulge me, it's Christmas. The best part? These are the kind of albums you can pop in the CD player or upload on your Ipod and just let them play. No skipping a song, just let it ride. The right music is the perfect compliment to your holiday decor and favorite dishes. I mean, who wants Robert Goulet belting "Oh Holy Night" during your office Christmas Cocktail? I didn't think so. It came upon a Midnight Awkward.

In no particular order:

1. "A Charlie Brown Christmas" -Vince Guaraldi Trio
If you ask me, there's no real match for this iconic holiday album. Vince Guaraldi captures the humor, joy, and child-like wonder of one of my favorite holiday specials. The smooth piano and jazzy qualities make this the perfect album for a holiday cocktail party, great background music for opening presents Christmas morning, or when you're making your list and checking it twice. The innocence in the children's voices circa 1965 on "Christmas Time is Here" get me every single time. Image Credit: www.amazon.com

2. "Jazz For Joy: A Verve Christmas Album"-Various Artists
A Christmas CD for true jazz lovers. Features legends like Abbey Lincoln, Christian McBride, and Roy Hargrove. The perfect CD for your next Christmas party or holiday gathering. Even the numbers with vocals make great background music. There's just something haunting about Lincoln's Christmas Cheer. Give it a listen, you'll be glad you did. Image Credit: www.amazon.com

3. "Christmas With the Rat Pack"- The Rat Pack (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr.)
Transport yourself back to the days of Vegas luxury, martinis, and the real swingers ala sleigh bells, mistletoe, and snow. Digitally-remastered, recognizable classics from the infamous Rat Pack. I love Sammy Davis Jr.'s "Christmas Time All Over the World." Sinatra's "Christmas Waltz" is the perfect song for a quick spin around the kitchen island with the one you love. Fun, upbeat songs that will last you all season. Image Credit: www.amazon.com

4. "James Taylor at Christmas"-James Taylor and Friends
Great, mellow remakes of holiday classics from ol' JT himself. He's joined by other great stars on the tracks like Natalie Cole (Baby, It's Cold Outside) and trumpeter Chris Botti (Winter Wonderland). Gorgeous, simple, smooth version of "Some Children See Him." Image Credit: www.amazon.com

5. Christmas Remixed: Holiday Classics Regrooved-Various Artists
Great holiday party tracks. This album is very Christmas meets the club. This is the kind of CD you want if you're holiday party has a very cocktail/young/urban vibe. You'll actually recognize a lot of these DJ'd mixes from GAP and other holiday commercials. Kay Starr's "I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm" mix is awesome, and you'll get a great laugh out of the remix to Louis Armstrong's "Baby, It's Cold Outside." Totally Fun. This is one of those albums that will cause your guests to ask "where do you get your music/where did you get this song?" This also makes a great addition to your Ipod if you occasionally like to rock the Christmas music at the gym. I wouldn't know what that's like or anything. I don't look like the kind of guy who would listen to Christmas music on a rowing machine, do I? Because I'm not. I've just heard it's good for the gym. Available on Itunes.
Image Credit: Itunes

6. Holiday Pops-The Boston Pops (Keith Lockhart or Arthur Fielding conducting)
My sister and I made a trip to Boston to visit a good friend the week before Christmas a few years ago. We were treated to an actual Holiday Pops concert with the Boston Pops, in Boston. Let me tell you, it doesn't get much more Merry Christmas than that. It's the classic sound of an orchestra playing "Sleigh Ride" you've come to know and love. There are a ton of Holiday Pops albums available with both Lockhart (current conductor) and the original, great Arthur Fielding. You can't go wrong with any of them. However, I'm really partial to "Sleigh Ride"--the album that came out when we went to the show. Image Credit: www.amazon.com

7. December-Chris Botti
Smooth, melodic tunes from the infamous trumpeter. Perfect for a rare, quiet night at home by the fire during the holidays. Also great for a nice sit-down Christmas Eve or Christmas dinner. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" will break your holiday heart. Image Credit: www.amazon.com

8. Christmas With the Beach Boys
Don't laugh. It's just a really fun, innocent, beachy, up-beat album. You just have to smile and laugh when these songs come on. I would be lying though, if I didn't tell you that I may or may not have been President of my high school concert choir, and we may or may not have done an all-male version of the Beach Boys' "Little Saint Nick." We also may or may not have worn sunglasses, tuxedos, and Santa hats. It may or may not have seemed really cool at the time. Good times. Image Credit: www.amazon.com

I could seriously make this a day-long entry. (If you only knew how much I love Christmas--fool. for. the. yule.) Here are a few other favorite holiday numbers, perfect for your playlist that I don't associate with an entire album:

1. All I Want For Christmas Is You-Mariah Carey
2. Celebrate Me Home- Kenny Logins
3. What Are You Doing New Years Eve?- Lena Horne
4. The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting)-Darius Rucker/Hootie and the Blowfish
5. This Christmas-Donny Hathaway (Christina Aguilera is a fun alternative, as well.)
6. Christmas: Baby Please Come Home-Darlene Love
7. Santa Claus is Coming to Town-Bruce Springstein
8. It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year-Andy Williams
9. When My Heart Finds Christmas-Harry Connick Junior
10. My Grown-Up Christmas List-Michael Buble
11. The Bell That Couldn't Jingle-Herb Albert & The Tijuana Brass
12. Step Into Christmas-Elton John
13. Christmas Star-John Williams (Home Alone 2)
14. Christmas Don't Be Late-Alvin & The Chipmunks
15. White Christmas-Bing Crosby (also my favorite Christmas movie)
16. Christmas in New Orleans-Louis Armstrong
17. Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow-Frank Sinatra
18. What Christmas Means to Me-Stevie Wonder
19. Everybody's Waitin' For the Man With the Bag-Kay Starr
20. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas-Coldplay
21. Santa Baby-Earth Kitt & Henri Renni

Once again, the list could go on and on. You're talking to a guy with over 200 songs on his holiday playlist (don't judge.) However, I thought this would give you a great start/some fun new additions to your collection for holidays to come.

All is Calm, All is Bright. All is Simple.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Write Stuff: Christmas? It's in the Bag.

So, I honestly forgot how busy the Holidays can be. I know, who does that or says that? That's like watching "The Aviator" and saying "I was surprised there was so much, aviation."

When Thanksgiving arrived and quickly passed like it always does, I had this wonderful vision of a December chock-full-a Holiday blogging. I would photograph every cookie, every cocktail, every Christmas card, make Martha Stewart and Colin Cowie jealous, and then tell you all where, when, why, and how-to. Needless to say, it's December 21st, and I've realized we're lucky if we find time to even get these things done this time of year, not to mention write about them. Martha Stewart and Colin Cowie would spit in my eye and kick me in my jingle bells.

However, for me, I'm proud to say the last gifts have been purchased, the last Christmas card has been mailed, I've hosted by last party of the season, and the halls are beyond decked, yadde yadda yadda, and a Partridge in a pear tree. I'm ready to head home to my family for the holidays, my 26th Christmas at home. However, I still come to you from the bungalow downtown where I'm snowed in with 24 inches of snow outside.

At first it was pretty, as I walked on to the newly dusted UVA lawn following our division Holiday party Friday evening, very "moon on the breast of the new fallen snow, gave a lustre of midday to objects below." All was calm, all was bright. I had even been grocery shopping on my lunch hour after seeing the forecast, and after battling Charlottesville residents in Harris Teeter with a look of sheer panic and terror in their eyes as they bought enough milk and bread to survive the next Apocalypse, I felt well-stocked and well-prepared. I had already coped with the fact that with a 100% chance of heavy snow forecast in my future, I was probably not getting up early Saturday morning and hitting the road. However, 24 inches later, I'm now really over it. I'm tired of looking at the snow, I'm tired of putting my Hunter boots on and digging my car out with a shovel that handles that like a dessert spoon, only to have the snow plow come by and push 3 feet of snow up against my car, blocking me back in. I'm ready to go home. I'm at that place where I'm about to play Darlene Love's "Christmas: Baby, Please Come Home" and run through an airport terminal like Catherine Ohara in a scene from Home Alone.

Needless to say, I will hopefully hit the road tomorrow and begin the nervous, holiday trek home. While I feel we're at that point in the season that it's getting too late to really offer a lot of new, extra decorating and entertaining tips, I did want to share a little something with you all. I love Christmas cards. This is probably not very surprising, considering I told you all long ago, I have a bit of a stationery fetish. Christmas cards: I love getting them, I love sending them, and I love coming up with a new, fun card each year. There's something so classic about sending a Christmas card. I think I really enjoy it and appreciate it so much, because it tips it's newsie cap to the days when folks used to actually write each other. I mean, who doesn't like getting an actual letter in the mail? It's a lost art. Let's face it, you start receiving fewer Christmas cards and start getting more "Merry Christmas" text messages on the blackberry Christmas morning. Not that I don't appreciate a Christmas morning text message, but you don't email your Christmas list to Santa, and the Wisemen didn't send a text message saying "Yo, the baby's here in the stable. Bring frankincense and myrrh." Show some love. Pick up a pen, people. Put on "White Christmas," pour yourself a Maker's and Ginger, and crank the cards out. I think if you do the Christmas card right and put some thought into it, it becomes a gift in and of itself. A pretty cheap way to spread a lot of love over the Holidays.

So, as I remind you all every chance I get, I'm a single guy. (I don't remind you because I'm bitter, I remind you, in case you know someone with a good head on his shoulders: a neighbor, brother, friend, co-worker, complete stranger, etc. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?...Bueller?). I don't think my marital status should mean that I can't send Christmas cards or that I should have to send out a generic Thomas Kincaid (don't get me started on that man) boxed set of cards. I sent out a card with a photo of Bodie and I during his first Christmas as a puppy, and no, I'm not going to send out cards with headshots of myself. Although, I do think it would be funny to get a glamour shot taken, have it made into a Christmas card, and see if you can keep a straight face when folks open up a photo of you in a rhinestone denim jacket in front of a city lights backdrop.

I'm really not a fan of the Christmas family newsletter. You know what I'm talking about. The letter that Moms write that say things to the effect of "Connor is a Senior at Washington and Lee majoring in Political Science. Leonard and I only wish he'd drop the minor in "partying!" (pause for laughter). Kacky just got her braces off and shined as "Townsperson Number 5" in St. Anne's production of "Hello, Dolly!" and our cat Mittens just continues to be a barrel of laughs, hugs, and pure joy. We've included a hand-stamped and decorated brown paper bag for you to throw up in while you read this!" Ok, I know that's a little harsh, but you know you've read something similar. Maybe I'm just bitter, being that I don't think I could even start to write a Christmas newsletter. I mean, what would it say? "My job is going well. I think they really like me there. I recently got a haircut, some new slacks, and am currently collecting ex-boyfriends. Send help." Love, Ed.

So, yes, Christmas cards. Here's a fun, personal alternative to the boxed set or the typical insert a family photo card. We've all seen those fun cards in stores, you know, the ones with an old black and white photo, accompanied by a funny caption that adds a spin to what "could be" happening in the photo. For example, a picture of an old "church lady" dancing at a party with a caption saying "Not only did Helen bring the Green Beans Almondine to the neighborhood potluck, she always brought the funk." (pause for laughter.) Needless to say, I thought it would be really fun to recreate this idea using a holiday photo from my own childhood. Thanks to my good friend and graphic designer Todd of Soder Tass in Nashville, TN, we were able to create the card below. Todd took it to the next level, making the card look like a page out of an old photo album and like the card had been typed on an old typewriter. I've had so much fun sending them out, and my family has really enjoyed opening the cards and seeing an old, familiar face. They're personal, funny, and funky. You could easily recreate this idea with any photo, whether it be a childhood photo, a family photo, wedding photo, or well, any photo. It gives folks a chance to delve a little into your life and have a good laugh over the holidays. You can easily make a card like this using your own computer. If you didn't want it to be a seamless greeting card, you could easily do an "insert" card, make a lot of copies of the photo, and include it with the caption/message in each card.


Inside. (Click on the photo to make it larger/read the text)

Here's a quick example using a photo of my sister Lauren, circa early 1980's.

"Lauren really struggled to find a polite way to tell the family that tinsel was Out and that they really should have gone monochromatic on the holiday decor this year. Red and Silver?
Oooohhh, Ouch."
So, just a fun idea for your next holiday/New Years card. I also thought this would be a fun way for me to share my Christmas card with you all and say Thank You for reading my little blog/thanks for being so forgiving when I get behind and don't blog as much as I should. Keep it Simple this Holiday season.

May your days be merry and bright.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Tie One On: Homo For the Holidays.

So, it's already that time of year. The downtown windows are decorated to the nines, lights are untangled, you can hear the jingle jangle of the Salvation Army bell ringers on every block, and it's that time that you sit across from a 6 year old at the Thanksgiving dinner table and she tells you she wants an iPhone and a plasma flat screen for Christmas. Oh to be young and still think the world owes you something just because you're cute. Yes, my friends. It's the Holiday Season.
Also, on a fun note. We just hosted a great 85th Birthday cocktail party for my PopPop (maternal grandfather), and while I was helping my aunts set up for the party, we found a pack of cocktail napkins in the buffet my Grandmother purchased years ago at Christmas. They said "Charles Dickens may be Dead, but I'm married to Scrooge." I like it. I think I may use that some day against whatever poor son of a Santa marries me.

As I start to deck the halls of the bungalow downtown, I thought I would start to share a few of my holiday design projects and favorites for entertaining this holiday season. With a break in the weather yesterday, I was able to go get my Christmas tree, garland, and start working on the yard. It was perfect timing as I was stringing Frasier fir garland around the lamppost, the UPS man arrived with Santa and his Rudolph all the way from Valencia, CA. If a young soldier had snuck in and made coffee waking up my family, it could have been a Maxwell House or Folgers Commercial.

So back to the projects. I'm happy to say the Neck-tie wreath I mentioned many, many posts ago has finally come to full fruition. I really don't consider myself to be a "crafty" person when it comes down to it. However, I'm pretty pleased with the result. The best part? It was so easy. I literally made it in 15 minutes, from wire frame to hanging on the door. I wish I had taken pictures step-by-step through the process, but it happened so quickly, it just didn't happen. You also know I'm bad about that. However, if you like it, here's all you need:

1. A wire wreath form (literally like 2 bucks at a craft store. You can get a larger one or a smaller one, I bought the smaller one.)

2. 11 neckties if you're covering a smaller wreath form (a smaller wreath form is about the size of a full-size dinner plate or charger). You could use your own neckties, but I got mine from thrift stores, yard sales, etc. I didn't pay more than a dollar for each tie (and as you can see, they are nice, good looking ties.)

3. 1 package of safety pins.

That's all you need. For real.

How to do it? (I've tried to make you a sad diagram to show you since I didn't take pictures, Please excuse my horrible computer drawing skills. Don't Judge.). Click on the photos to view them larger.

Step 1: Lay your your ties in a circle so you can see how you like the patterns together. I tried to keep mine in holiday-ish tones and similar patterns (mostly stripes and patterns reminiscent of polka dots.)

Step 2: Lay out your wreath form in front of you. Take your first tie and fold it over tip to tip (basically you want to the skinny part that hides behind to touch the bottom of the point on your tie. Lay the tie upside down, with the top of the tie under the wreath form. Then fold the top of the tie over the wreath form toward you. Holding the starting point in place, wrap the tie around the wreath form away from you (in the opposite direction, pulling it tight as you go around.) several times until the bottom tip of the front of the tie is now on top and pointing away from you (it looks like what one finished section would look like.)
Step 3: Once you have the front the way you want it with the point up, holding it in place, turn it upside down and fasten the tie to itself (you'll pin the back fabric flaps of the tie to the part that's wrapped around the form. This will hold the tie in place. Believe it or not, you don't have to do anything to keep the points up. They stay once the tie is pinned. I thought maybe I'd have to run wire up the backs to keep them like a star. However, not necessary. This may be necessary if you use flimsy, silk ties. I would recommend going for ties with more structure and more of a traditional thickness/weave.
Step 4: Repeat Steps 2 and 3 until the form is completely covered.

Step 5: Garnish the wreath with a bow made from another necktie. Literally tie a necktie around the finished form into a bow and let the long thin part dangle down.

Step 6: Hang her up on the door of your choice.

Step 7: Make a martini or cocktail of choice and admire your handy work.

I know this would be easier with real photos, but you're all intelligent, bright people. Just by process of elimination, with those tools in front of you and the finished result picture, you can start to imagine how it comes together if you get confused. Also, you don't have to harm any of the neckties in the process. They don't have to be cut, just wrapped around. You may have a few pin holes if you ever take them off, but I don't recommend using your favorite ties anyway. Part of the fun is finding old ties at thrift stores, sales, etc. It's also a great way to put your damaged ties to use (just make sure the part where you spilled your lunch on it isn't showing.) Eleven dollars worth of neckties (1 dollar each at the goodwill--and a lot of them turned out to be Jos. A. Bank and other nice brands--nice Goodwill), 2 dollar wreath frame, $1.50 worth of safety pins, and we're done. For under $15.00 we have a fun, funky, and unique wreath. Done and Done. Talk about tying one on this holiday season.

Ok, one more super quick idea: a five minute holiday kitchen window treatment. Another chance to tie one on.

Step 1: Take your simplest of simple tab top window valence. As plain Jane as can be.

Step 2: Using your favorite ribbon, tie vintage cookie cutters (or new cookie cutters, I like the look of the old ones) to each tab like ornaments.

Step 3: Your done. If you want to use the cookie cutter, just untie it and put it back up later.

Just a fun way to dress up a simple window treatment over the holidays. You could even take down the valence and just hang the cookie cutters from the curtain rod across the window for a different look. Or, you could substitute the cookie cutters for glass holiday balls/ornaments, or candy canes, or any of the endless possibilities. Just use your imagination.

For now, it's a start. Many more holiday tips and tricks to come. Tie one on, keep it fun, and keep it simple.

Scrooge, if you're out there, give me a call. Dickens may be dead, but we're not.