All the Stuff I Made for Christmas

All the Stuff I Made for Christmas

My mom asked me to come home a few weeks early for Christmas to help her get the house ready for our entire family (10 adults and 4 kids under 2) to be there for the holidays. She gave me free reign on decorating and baking. The prospect of having all the resources of her house—and yard—at my disposal to decorate with was the best Christmas gift she could have given me.

My parents, who have lived in their house longer than I’ve been alive, have a yard with lots of beautiful, mature evergreens, which I never appreciated as a child; I had always wanted flowers like Grandma and Grandpa Komm’s, which they planted from seed each spring in their little greenhouse on the prairie. But Mom was—and still is—all about evergreens and conifers: the shapes, textures, and shades of green that thrive so abundantly in the temperate rainforests of coastal British Columbia.

evergreenAlthough my love for flowers has never waned, I’ve grown to appreciate what my mom sees in her evergreen gardens. Living in New York for 15 years, where everything is grey all winter long, has helped me see what I really had growing up.

As soon as I got home—and it stopped raining—Mom and I walked around the yard with our pruning shears and she pointed out all the best trees and shrubs. I was fascinated to learn all the names and defining characteristics of these plants I’d seen all my life but never really paid attention to. We collected giant buckets of blue spruce; three or four types each of juniper, cedar and pine; and cotoneaster with beautiful red winterberries. What few deciduous trees there are in the yard seem to have been chosen for how exceptional they look with no leaves; we collected twisted hazel and red twig dogwood on subsequent trips.

greens-in-the-garageUsing the garage as my workspace, I made so many piles of different branches that I had to park one of the cars in the driveway for a day or two to make room for all the organized chaos. A garage has never smelled better than this one, full of freshly cut evergreen boughs. You’d actually want to go sit in there because it smelled so good!

I spent hours and hours walking and foraging in the woods nearby. I can’t believe this was the first time in 33 years that I’d really paid any attention to the things that grow—even in the dead of winter—right where I grew up! Walking beneath the forest canopy, even though it was the end of December, you could have easily thought it was summertime; everything was green and lush.

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Along the way I collected some amazing specimens: salal, a native evergreen bush that makes excellent filler and which you’ve probably seen or bought in flower arrangements; European holly, an invasive species, whose utility in Christmas decorating goes without saying, and, most serendipitously, a rogue boxwood shrub, bushy as can be with long, long stems of shiny little scooped leaves—perfect, because the boxwood in my mom’s yard are all trimmed into meticulous little pom-pom topiaries and were off limits to my clippers.

hollyMy original plan had been just to make some table centers for Christmas dinner and a wreath for the front door. Especially a wreath.

But Spoiler alert: I never got around to making that wreath. When I get into my creative zone I let it take me wherever it wants to go and there were too many other exciting things for me to make…

christmas-tablescapeI started with the dining room table. I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do: a 21st century send-up of the classic 1980’s table centers my mom used to make at Christmas when I was little and which would be instantly recognizable to my brothers and sisters: 3 staggered candles sticking up from an oblong display of carnations, chrysanthemums, baby’s breath, and evergreen foliage from the yard with those little glittery miniature wrapped presents on a stick poked in here and there for accent. (Which was the inspiration for what I made for Thanksgiving dinner at my sister’s.) But that was before I rediscovered just what a treasure trove my mom’s house was. (It’s quite amazing what you can store in your home when it’s not a tiny Manhattan apartment!)

IMG_6456While my mom decorated her tree in the living room I walked around the house to take inventory of the kind of vases and containers I could use to arrange stuff in. I kept finding candlesticks—gold ones, brass ones, silver ones, crystal ones—hidden away in my old bedroom closet, the basement, and random cupboards; some of them I could even remember being in the living room from my earliest memories and each set brought back memories of what room they had originally been displayed in and what the house had looked like at the time.

gold-candlesticks

After setting them all on the dining room table to see them all in one place, I threw out my original idea for the table center and decided that 40 years worth of accumulated candlesticks should trigger sufficient nostalgia amongst my siblings. It was then obvious to use the gold china, flatware and rimmed goblets, which meant I didn’t have to polish the silverware. I carefully set the full table with all the place settings to see how much space was left for the greens: just enough to run a garland in between all the candlesticks.

gold-place-settingI worried—but only for a moment—that a table completely covered in gold might be a little much, but then decided if there was ever an excuse to go completely all-out and over-the-top it was this Christmas and I was going to do it! 2015 was the biggest year ever for our family; my parents got two new grand-babies and a son-in-law, so we had plenty of reasons to celebrate.

gingerbread-name-tagsFor the place cards I made each person (even the brand new babies) a gingerbread cookie “gift tag” attached to a Christmas cracker. I did this years ago but with a different lettering style. This time around I stayed up late the night before designing and practicing the capital letters in ink before piping each name in icing calligraphy.

christmas-tablescape-2I made about 8 or 9 feet of garland that ran the length of the table and snaked and curved around all the candles, and a matching 12 foot garland that I draped around the chandelier above the table. I love making garland, it’s like knitting with greenery. I get into my happy OCD repetitive zone for a while and all of a sudden there’s this big long ribbon of something beautiful to show for it.

chandelier-garlandOnce I’d completed the dining room, I went to work on that wreath I’d been dreaming about. But this is what I ended up making for the front door instead:

winter-foliage-1I discovered this bizarre pile of tree branches hidden outside, which used to be some of the Austrian pine topiaries in the front yard that died a few years ago and my dad cut down. He saved some of the horizontal branches in a pile—which he proudly called modern art—and left it exposed to the elements. I knew I had to use them in my decorating; they were covered in delicate, lacy lichen and their shape was a perfect arboreal approximation of antlers.

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The large scale of the Austrian pine branch necessitated another trip to the yard, this time with bypass loppers instead of pruning shears to get long enough branches to work with it. The final arrangement was huge—about 5 feet wide and over 5 feet tall—but it fit perfectly in the alcove next to the front door, making a wreath unnecessary. (I’ll save my wreath idea for a year that I go home and don’t have an extra week-and-a-half to deck the halls.)

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With the two biggest decorating objectives out of the way I turned my attention to the rest of the interior stuff. My mom saw how much fun I was having and remembered how much fun she used to have doing the same thing and wanted to get in on the action, so I let her decorate the mantle in the family room—for old time’s sake. (Who am I kidding, what really happened was that she said, “Colette! You’ll never finish all this by yourself and you still have all those cookies to bake and all this mess to clean up before everyone starts showing up!”) Regardless of whose side of the story is told, she wanted to decorate the mantle and had a lot of fun doing it; we both get our jollies out this kind of stuff.

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mantle

While mom did the family room I worked on the arrangements for the rest of the house.

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The arrangement I made in the hallway gave you a glorious whiff of cedar every time you walked past it. That is what Christmas is all about!

hallway

I enjoyed making the garland for the dining room so much I made more for the wall candelabra above the staircase. And given the number of candles on the dining table, opted to fill it with Christmas balls instead.

wall-candelabra

table-center

christmas-orchid

After we thought we were all done and I was taking photos of the orchid in the living room I discovered the best of all the vases hiding on the bottom shelf of the tea cart: a brass Persian teapot. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t it found on my initial reconnaissance trip around the house; it’s one of my favorite things of hers and it was the perfect vessel to hold my last sprays of holly and boxwood.

persian-teapotOh, and one more Spoiler Alert: We got all the Christmas baking done on time too.

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I even made time to class up the cranberry salsa by serving it on a china plate and piping the cream cheese!

cranberry-salsa-2And no matter how fancy the house was decorated it wouldn’t have been Christmas without me making my gingerbread snowflakes. I had to stay up all night to make them and polish the silver serving platter, but it was well worth it. It was our best family Christmas ever and certainly the most creatively fulfilling one for me!

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Gingerbread Cookie Collaboration 2013!

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If you know me you know that I love making cookies and I love Christmas, which naturally means that I really love making Christmas cookies! Over the last few years it’s become a tradition of mine to make snowflakes out of gingerbread, and pipe them rather ornately with royal icing.

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I like to call them Rococo snowflakes, but they could just as easily be Baroque snowflakes, and some of them could even pass for Art Deco snowflakes, but I digress. What’s more important is that it’s kind of like doing embroidery but with something sweet and edible and I have way too much fun doing it!

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I’ve been hearing for years from the ecstatic recipients of these cookies (I’ve only ever made them for my family and friends) that I need to make them available to the rest of the world, so this year I asked my friend Amy Noelle, who owns Sugar Flower Cake Shop and makes wedding cakes decorated with beautiful sugar flowers, if she would like to team up and help me bake, decorate, and sell my gingerbread snowflakes this holiday season. She thought it was a great idea!

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Now everyone will have a chance to find out for themselves if these cookies are indeed too pretty to eat (trust me, they are not–they taste just as good as they look)! You’ll be able to pre-order our first batch of cookies through Amy’s website by the end of the month, so stay tuned for details.

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And be sure and follow both of us on Instagram, as we’ll be posting lots of photos as we go… Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

A Holiday Tribute to Steve Jobs

A Holiday Tribute to Steve Jobs

When Steve Jobs passed away in October it made me more sad than I thought it would. As a creative and artistic person I cannot imagine my life without Apple products; they are, quite simply, part of my family and I love them, so this year I decided to include them in this kind-of-a-joke Christmas card I sent to my parents (who don’t have any grandkids). I hope you enjoy reading it (or looking at my gingerbread snowflakes, if that was what you were looking for).  (Click the pictures to enlarge each page and read it in context, or just scroll down to read the text, which I’m pasting into the post.)

Merry Christmas from the Komm Family: Colette (almost 30), iMac (2.5 years), iPhone (11 months), iPad (5 weeks)

Christmas 2011

iMac has made quite the transition this year, going from being an only child for the last few years to suddenly being the big brother of two younger ones who are constantly trying to sync his music and documents, bombarding him with new photos, and trying to get him to charge their batteries. In January he also lost his lifelong best friend, iPod—who, sadly, was kidnapped at the gym (I think). It’s been hard for iMac; I have much less time to spend with him as I’m always chasing around after iPhone and iPad (those little ones are always on the go and so demanding of my attention!) but he and I spent some quality time earlier in the spring and then again this fall putting together some beautiful portfolios of my wedding dresses. In October, noticing that iMac was starting to feel a bit neglected, I upgraded his operating system and got him two new pets: Magic Mouse and Trackpad, which he just loves and they have so much fun together! iMac is also learning to use Quickbooks so that in the new year he can help track the finances of our family business: making fancy dresses.

At the end of January we welcomed our long anticipated iPhone into the family. He’s been such a blessing in my life; helping me to keep in touch with business contacts while i’m out and about—he can even process credit card payments and make client invoices! He loves to go running with me in Central Park while listening to music and he’s gotten really good at playing Tetris. iPhone and I made it to level 25 of Tetris together—what a bonding experience! But what I appreciate most about iPhone is that he has helped me find a cure to my insomnia: before bed we log into Netflix and put on a documentary—usually about dinosaurs or deep space; something that’s interesting enough that my brain doesn’t get caught up in random thoughts, but not so interesting that I have to pay too much attention—then I stand him up on my night table (I’m so proud that he can stand up on his own!) and drift off peacefully to sleep. Most nights I’m asleep within a half hour—something that I never thought possible!At the end of January we welcomed our long anticipated iPhone into the family. He’s been such a blessing in my life; helping me to keep in touch with business contacts while i’m out and about—he can even process credit card payments and make client invoices! He loves to go running with me in Central Park while listening to music and he’s gotten really good at playing Tetris. iPhone and I made it to level 25 of Tetris together—what a bonding experience! But what I appreciate most about iPhone is that he has helped me find a cure to my insomnia: before bed we log into Netflix and put on a documentary—usually about dinosaurs or deep space; something that’s interesting enough that my brain doesn’t get caught up in random thoughts, but not so interesting that I have to pay too much attention—then I stand him up on my night table (I’m so proud that he can stand up on his own!) and drift off peacefully to sleep. Most nights I’m asleep within a half hour—something that I never thought possible!

The most recent addition to our family came the day before Thanksgiving. From the moment I brought iPad home from the Apple Store he has loved to read! All he wants to do is read (and play Fruit Ninja), so I thought it was only fitting that the first book we read together would be the biography of iPad’s biological father, Steve Jobs, who sadly passed away before iPad came into our lives. It was a wonderful experience to read that book with iPad, curled up in bed, sometimes for hours, and even in the dark! Now iPad knows that he is the offspring of a real genius, something of which he is very proud!

Like any family, we’ve also had our share of bumps and bruises this year. Just a few weeks ago I went to wake up iPhone from a nap and he was completely unresponsive to my touch (and iMac’s attempt to charge his battery). Fearing that he might be in a coma, I rushed him to the Apple Store where multiple resuscitation attempts failed and he was given an emergency full-body transplant. Luckily, between his personality being stored on iCloud and all of the syncing that he’s done with his big brother, iMac, by the time I got him home he was, quite literally, as good as new and back to his old self. Then, on iPad’s one month birthday it became evident that although he is exceptionally gifted at reading, he has some developmental deficiencies with writing, so for Christmas I got him a wireless keyboard, and now he is helping me write this letter from the comfort of my bed!

All three of the kids love to play around on the internet and waste time on Facebook and I’m hoping that iPhone and iPad will start wasting more time on Twitter and WordPress to help the family business grow in the new year. All three of them have also been helping me figure out my next big website redesign for 2012; each of them has ideas about what they’d like to see and how it should be formatted so that they can each enjoy it on their own. Right now iMac is the only one in the family that can see it but that will soon be changing!

Colette has had a very busy year—especially the last few months—so she has really enjoyed taking some time off this week to celebrate Christmas (and make this letter). She’s enjoying playing with the new toys Santa brought her: a red 7-quart KitchenAid mixer (she’s made snowflake gingerbread cookies so far), and a Canon 60D DSLR camera with assorted lenses (with which she eventually plans to capture detail shots of the gowns she makes but is practicing right now by taking pictures of the cookies she made and all the Christmas decorations she put up in her apartment).

Well, 2011 has been a memorable year for our family and we hope it has been for yours too. We are looking forward to 2012 and wish you the very best this holiday season, and a very Happy New Year!

Love,

Colette (almost 30), iMac (2.5 years), iPhone (11 months), iPad (5 weeks)