A decades-long holiday love story, told in lights

For at least 26 winters and quite feasibly more than 40 of them, a small one-story house in a modest PNW neighborhood has transformed itself and its adjoining lot into something rather extraordinary: an homage to every archetypal creature and candy ever deemed part of an American Christmas.

It’s a story of obsession overlapped with devotion, one of tradition entangled with change.

From nestling each item into its perfect spot in the ground to creating just the right rooftop tableaux, it takes months to execute the intricate winter wonderland.

It’s a job the sons who grew up in the home now carry on in memory of their late father. It’s a job marveled at by scores of children and adults who have chosen to make it part of their holiday tradition (and perhaps met with less enthusiasm by those on the same street who must endure the traffic).

And what of the results?

Depending on the viewer’s preferences and emotional state, they may be deemed wondrous, excessive, overwhelming, or delightful—or a mix of all of the above. Coincidentally, this mirrors how many in the U.S. feel about holidays (both observed and experienced).

Should you or yours be experiencing any calendar-related angst, here’s hoping that one family’s sprawling take on seasonal greetings lightens it…and/or magnifies your feelings of good will toward others.

And if you’re the type who revels in the holidays, know that in at least one tiny corner of the universe you’ve got plenty of reindeer, snowfolk, candy canes, nutcrackers, penguins, santas, and lots, lots more to keep you company.

In a neighborhood of modest homes, a house with a double lot means plenty of room for plastic reindeers to leap through the night

Illuminated glass-block snowfolks light the way to the home's front windows, where holiday displays entice....

...while the latticed bower--topped with a peppermint garland--leads visitors to the adjoining lot's displays (if approximately 100 feet of lighted promenade didn't do the job already)

The home's wreath-encircled front windows turn into displays, such as this village scene complete with moving train

The breadth and depth of the adjoining lot permits penguins to play with deer, santas to mix with bears, and every bush and tree to serve as scaffolding for lights

Even if the house and yard could be mapped in 12x12 foot increments, it seems certain something would be overlooked

A giant candy cane serves as sentry for the 1-story house and its nutcrackers, artificial snowfolk, giant candy canes, garlands, lighted bushes and trees (and lots, lots more)

Stand in one spot and look up, and your eyes will be filled...then move a foot and look down, and you've found additional vignettes

A last glimpse from across the street, athough the scene extends a bit more than my camera's eye captured

This post dedicated to Paula of Paula’s Diary, who shares her love of holidays—and her life in and around Vienna, Austria—with her lucky readers.

The Gilded Lily goes for coffee

When one rolls with The Gilded Lily, it’s best to have lots of stamina for change. Routines? Kept to a minimum. Favorites? Revolving. Styles, events, and surroundings? The fresher the better.

At 70+, friends are about the only thing she tolerates for longer than a season—but if she smells stagnation, watch out.

Since I’m already on notice for preferring to talk versus text, I’ve been trying to step up my game. Luckily, the last time we were planning an outing I had a new extra-funky coffee place to dangle in front of her.

I arrived to find Lily in a little hot-off-the-rack H&M skirt doing what she does best: gilding.

The Gilded Lily doing what she does best: gilding

She’d tossed an outrageously feminine “sweatshirt alternative” over everything, and though I’d encouraged her to buy the topper while she was enabling ME to buy a rouched black satin tamale skirt, I’d forgotten just how much pale beach-glass blue makes Lily’s skin and eyes glow.

Given how gorgeous she looks in soft beachy shades, Lily knows it kills me to see her in brights...

Probably because she is generally trying to express her inner Paris Hilton while I am generally beseeching her to embrace her inner Michelle Pfeiffer.

Just in terms of colors, I swear!

so when she humors me you'd better believe she adds on-trend wedge shooties lest anyone think she's a powderpuff

With lots of soft shades + statement jewelry + trendy wedge “shooties,” her coffeehouse outfit made us both happy. Which no doubt means the topper’s days are numbered.

Forget Little Red: The Gilded Lily proves grandmas can rock a hood like nobody's business

I know I shouldn’t be sad when my favorite Lily pieces end up in the bottom of some bag headed for donation. But then I’m the woman who retreaded 5-year old boots—OF COURSE I’m going to have something in my eye when the topper vanishes during one of Lily’s frequent been there done that clothing purges.

[And if she gives that opal-y ring away without offering me right of first refusal….]

But that’s why I need someone like Lily in my life: to show me how to live with my head pointed forward, not cricked-neck from looking back. To demonstrate an alternative to evoking memories via the security blanket of objects. To remind me that when you travel through life focused on collecting moments instead of things, there’s always room for one more.

The Case of the Emerald Green Pencil Skirt

It was a grey November day ending in “y” and I was just a downtrodden dame on the qui vive for a chunky slab of upholstery-friendly goodness. After ducking into a cavernous fabric-filled warehouse I was wandering around with the other bedraggled nobodies when a bit of lightweight herringbone sashayed in front of me and demanded my help.

It was the last of a bolt, see, and feared for its life.

“Whatever you do, whatever you buy, make sure to get me out of here,” it pleaded. I gave it my thousand-yard stare. “Don’t leave me here to be turned into teddy bear pinafores!” it hissed, pressing its silky smooth weave against my hand.

I turned my back on its lustrous threads and looked over toward the polyester blends, thinking hard about reality, about bills and bank balances. Could I afford to turn it into a something that would do its magnificent drape justice? Not right now, not a chance.

But it was a deep dark cobalt-flecked green, a green that seemed like it would let me say sayonara to summer and hello to spring.

And me, well, I’m a sucker for a green that isn’t afraid to flaunt a moody blue undertone. It’s just how I’m wired, that’s all, and if anyone’s got a problem with that then I’ve got a bunch of fives I’d like them to meet.

So Emerald ended up in my fabric stash.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not copping to being one of those quilting or seamstress types—drop by my place and you’ll find closets full of towels, not textiles. But maybe I have a few things tucked away in a box, yeah. I keep it lithe and light, grab-n-go. Emerald was #2 in my stash, and I figured it could warm up a certain icy blue tropical wool til I knew what to do with one or the both of ’em.

Spring rolled around and I had other problems, other environments—other fabrics—on my mind. I knew I couldn’t two-time them with Emerald without putting us both at risk. But this fall things had changed again. They always do. After I craned my head pretty good around my closet and scrawled a few notes, I thought, “Why don’t I try to make a go of it with the devil and the deep green sea?”

A pencil skirt seemed just the ticket.

I got together some scratch and went to this doll I know, one who’s gotten me out of a few fabric jams in the past. I asked her what she thought about knocking off an old Theory skirt I had, one with curving seams and double vents in the back that made it easy to strut my stuff. She was into it.

I heard Emerald resisted my plans at first—I guess it’d dreamed big ballgown dreams inside that little closed-up box—but eventually it came to see the choice was easy: a pencil or nothing.

Lightweight, 100% wool herringbone skirt in (blue-flecked) green meets its lining

For all the drama, Emerald turns out to be game as hell: it’s raring to be part of less sedate pairings, but settles down to brown without much fuss.

While I have less sedate pairings in mind, who can resist the Gnome-y pairing of green + brown? (and the trippyness of this ancient print?)

A funny thing happened when I put it on, though—a bit of déjà vu:

I guess reading all the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories when I was 6 left a more lasting impression than I realized

Am I wearing a big ole dollar bill from waist to knee? Yes, but thanks to 2 vents vs 1 center vent, I can move super-freely in it

I have to cite Theory's "Golda" skirt as ye olde precedent for how the skirt's curved seams lead to a double-vented back

I admit I’m getting a kick out of dressing like one of my style icons. So much so I’m wondering if I should buy a purse that lets me channel her amateur-sleuth-fabulousness even more.

Am I kitschy enough to traipse around with a purse made from one of my childhood favorites? Hell ya. And Etsy.com seller Retrograndma tempts me....

I’ll ponder it a while longer, but anyone who’s seen my love of kitsch-smothered accessories knows there’s no need to hire a detective to figure out which way the wind is blowing.

…eight, nine, TEN

Ten years ago this weekend, I was attending the birthday party of Ms Madeline’s oldest and going on a blind date. [The events were NOT simultaneous.]

The Date in question turned out to be a man with whom I shared a lot of values, but not many personality traits. Apparently this state of affairs can be very intriguing early on in a relationship, but has been known to lead to some heavy-duty roadblocks down the line.

OR SO I’VE (NOW) HEARD

Despite our optimism-challenged personalities, my blind date and I decided to wing it and hope for the best. A decade on, we’ve had periods where we haven’t quite managed to achieve “good,” let alone “best.” However, and I like to think importantly, we seem to still admire each other’s VERY unfamiliar qualities—at least when they aren’t driving us mad*—in great enough quantities to make re-upping for another 5200 weeks sound appealing.

Based on years of I’m-sure-amazingly-astute observations plus my precocious, non-age-appropriate reading of Updike, Vonnegut, and Ms Judith Krantz, I’m confident there are all sorts of subterranean reasons Mr Vix and I initially fell in love, and all kinds of subterranean reasons we’ve managed to stay together.**

But on days like today I like to think it all comes down to what Paula Abdul and “MC Skat Kat” sing/rap:

When things go wrong we make corrections

To keep things moving in the right direction

Try to fight it but I’m telling you Jack

It’s useless: opposites attract”

Naturally as a romantic cynic I can’t help but think I’ve now jinxed things and we’ll be lucky to hit 10 more minutes, but hey: given that I am horoscopically inclined to be fickle, it’s shocking that I’ve made it to THIS milestone. Anything else is just gravy.

* and ** Conveniently for those interested in why we may have strong positive or negative reactions to people we know and possibly love, La Belette Rouge has primers on positive and shadow projections.


She snags seashells far from the seashore

Yes, I have shimmering walls, lamps, and bags. And yes, my black lip oyster jewelry has helped reduce the pain of lacking a vintage abalone, electric kool-aid acid test of a bracelet.

But since when have I let abundance stand in the way of my greed?

Besides: the universe apparently WANTS to enable my shell fixation, because thanks to dumb luck and a talented, kind-hearted invisipal I now have these in my grabby little paws:

New-to-me vintage abalone pendant meets all-mine kyanite/shell creation

My good fortune began as I was gearing up to go see family in Northern California. A knock on the door and holy cow, my friend Heidi’s for-no-real-reason gift was handed over. Inside I found the present she created her very ownself, a present calibrated to cater to both my shell obsession AND my aqua love…as well as work with a large swath of my closet.

As Heidi’s style epitomizes rustic elegance, I shouldn’t have been surprised to see that even her gift wrapping oozed a low-key, organically inclined sensuality. No wonder one of the earrings she tossed into the package at the last minute wanted to be a part of things!

Inspired by her presentation, I felt the least I could do was pair the necklace with another one of my “How to Wrap a Rectangle” tops…a blouse that does such a great job of making me think I have an hourglass shape that I don’t resent dragging it to the cleaners:

I can only assume that tucking Heidi’s gift in my suitcase brought me good luck in California, because while I was wandering aimlessly in a huge antique mall I found the sweetest little $24 abalone pendant amongst all the many many geegaws and goods of yesteryear.

I suppose if one wanted to be TECHNICAL about classifications, the purchase probably qualifies as another member of my “Cheap Accessories That Look Like Flowers” collection. And I admit there’s a strong resemblance to my strangely-guaranteed-to-get-a-compliment Ode to Ethel pendant, the earrings I think of as Blue Curaçao Blossoms, and my Dimestore Norma Desmond ring.

Between the iridescence, the slightly convex center, and the shape of the encircling elements, though, I can’t help but think of my newest acquisition as being a ShrinkyDink version of those tenacious green sea turtles:

One of Hawaii's federally protected green sea turtles, c Lorenzo Menendez/National Geographic's "My Shot"

And I admit I take some comfort in believing I’m wearing a turtle-esque talisman, because the species represents all kinds of qualities I could use right now.

The turtle is an important symbol in the mythologies of many indigenous cultures, usually representing creation, longevity, and wisdom in these belief systems.”

Given that, I’ll certainly be tempted to reach for my abalone wonder when I’m not adorned in Ms Heidi’s lightweight stunner. Because while my new-to-me beauty loves socializing with its own blues and greens, it’s also the perfect counterpoint to those “serious” combinations best worn when taking things slow and steady could win one the proverbial race.