December 06, 2005

Deck the halls and dim the lights

Every year right before the holidays, I look around the house and think – gee, I should do some cleaning before we start having lots of company over. Even though the color of our carpeting, bought purposely to match mud, chocolate, and cat barf, does hide most stains, it would probably be a good idea to rent one of those carpet cleaner things. And the light-coloured walls are covered with fingerprints and scuff marks and all kinds of dents: I really should get out the paint and do some touch ups. Spouse will look at the walls and say things like, "Maybe we shouldn’t let the kids rollerblade in the house," but in our climate, thoughts like that are patently ridiculous. It is true that the wild games of Monster do take their toll on the interior of a house. I suppose I could wash or paint the white windowsills, too, to make them look more respectable.

Since Spouse will be at work and the kids at school next week, getting help from them is not an option. No, it will be all up to me, the person home with a stack of portfolios to grade. For a brief moment, I contemplate doing the work, with a fantasy in which I become Super Woman, able to tackle household chores in a single bound. After all, compared to grading papers, chores like painting and carpet cleaning sound like fun.

But then I remember the time-honored solution, the fastest way to make our house look nice for a holiday party: dim lighting. It's so much easier than cleaning. The windows of our house have deep sills, perfect for candles. A fire in the fireplace will light up one corner of the room and the old-fashioned coloured bulbs on the tree will light up the other. We have a red light bulb that fits into the lamp on the piano. And I will sometimes drape little white Christmas lights above the cupboards in the kitchen area to make it light enough while I am preparing food.

This solution is not without its drawbacks. When my house is crowded with people -- many of them women with long, silky hair -- all those candles can be dangerous. Blonde Niece was happily talking one year, gesturing with her hands, her hair swishing about, in the animated way that is characteristic of the women in my family, when someone noticed that her silky hair was brushing right through the flames of the candles behind her. Luckily, the smell of burning hair is strong enough that we usually stop those fires before they spread far.

Despite the risks, I love the look of candles burning steadily in the big dark windows that mirror back tiny flames. The smell of beeswax candles mixes nicely with the scent of freshly cut spruce, the spicey smell of veggie chili, and the sweet smell of cider mulling on the stove. Since we live in the country, we never pull the curtains shut, and anyone driving up to my home or walking up the long driveway through the snowbanks can see the candles burning in every window. I love the intimate light of a night time party, with friends and family standing in little clusters to talk and laugh, eating bowls of chili and drinking glasses of punch, with candlelight and firelight flickering over the whole scene, the soft colours of the Christmas lights glinting from the pine tree in the bay window.

22 comments:

peripateticpolarbear said...

dim lighting is the bomb

jo(e) said...

Hey, happy birthday PPB!

Jenevieve said...

That's it. I'm coming over. Your house looks and sounds a lot cozier than mine right now. Especially since it's 9 flipping degrees here tonight!

jo(e) said...

Come on over. I'll put another log on the fire.

Ianqui said...

How about putting some candles in those big hurricane vase thingies? That should certainly cut down on the amount of burning hair.

Laura said...

Thanks for the tip. Cleaning this time of year, with the mud and the wet, seems so pointless.

ccw said...

That is a wonderful idea! We have tons of windows in our house, so now I will be lighting candles, not cleaning, and hoping that my cats stay out of the windows.

Girl said...

"smell of beeswax candles mixes nicely with the scent of freshly cut spruce, the spicey smell of veggie chili, and the sweet smell of cider mulling on the stove."

When can I move in?

sheepish said...

we usually stop those fires before they spread far

Emphasis mine. Nice. I love the sights and smells of the holidays. Sounds just wonderful.

Teri said...

Those scuff marks and mud tracks are what makes your house a home. You should be proud of them.

Bad Alice said...

Ok, now, the room in the photo on the last post looks pretty nice and tidy and pleasant to me. If you want to see a housekeeping disaster, come to my house. The kids haven't started walking up the walls yet (and I leave no marks), but the cats have ripped up one of the seams in the living room carpet, and I started silly tacking up the kids art after all the framed prints fell off and cracked their glass. I think housecleaning is overrated. Much nicer to just read to the kids among all the mess.

Mona Buonanotte said...

I don't know which is more beautiful, the description of your home, or my sudden realization that you spell certain words with a British flavour (with the additional 'u')!

I've found cheap cinnamon-scented pinecones from the craft store do wonders for those pesky pet odors too. If I can get the cat to carry one around with her, I'm all set.

Dr.K said...

I love the detail about all the long hair swishing through the candle flames--good word, swishing! Sounds lovely and festive to me, and I think you should expect a bunch of bloggers dropping in on some of your parties way up there in the snowy north. How's it goin'?

Rana said...

I'm with Bad Alice. If the living room you reveal in the previous post is too shameful to allow guests to see in the bright light of day, our house is one that should be condemned. There's paper on every flat surface, leaves by the door, piles of books, and towers of washed and unwashed clothes strewn about. Would that our only problems were a brown carpet and finger-smeared walls!

That said, I love the idea of a candle-filled room.

halloweenlover said...

I need to get over my candle paranoia, because your description of a dimly lit celebrations sounds too perfect.

Cut-Rate Parasite said...

I love your Spouse's idea of "patently absurd." I agree with it, but it's ridiculous.

Suggestion ... you could have a basket of Christmas hair tying things (whatever you call those things - I'm practically bald so have no need of such a vocabulary) for your long-haired guests. Unless the swishing through the candle flames is part of the fun. Then, never mind.

jo(e) said...

Mona: Yes, I do usually use the British spellings. I always have. I think it's all the British literature I've read.

Cut-rate parasite: Hey, that's a good idea. We could hand out Christmas scrunchies as party favours. Not sure if I can get Shaggy Hair Boy and Skater Boy to wear them, though ....

Dr. K: You come some weekend, and I will take you skiing. Of course, you would have to be willing to follow my lead, and I know how you would hate that ....

Running2Ks said...

Candlelight is very flattering :)

Kathryn said...

Thank you for a lovely picture, even though it does make me terribly homesick for our own house, which has a proper fireplace and lots of odd corners to place candles....
My wonderful honorary mother taught me very early that the cure to lack of dusting was candles in winter and lots of fresh flowers everywhere in spring...and a smell of fresh coffee or spices at all times. Clearly a kindred spirit.
Wish you were close enough to visit...but hugs anyway x

MoMedusa said...

sorry jo(e) but we don't really believe that your house is dirty after having just seen a corner your lovely well-lit living room...

Dr.K said...

Hey, I'm happy following somebody's (a woman's) lead, as long as she more or less knows what she's doing and as long as we're not dancing--then, I lead. Otherwise, lead on, sister, show me the slopes! But I won't be able to make it to Snowstorm City any time soon, I'm afraid. Looks like we've got snow coming tonight. 2-5 inches, and this half-southern river city I'm in is bracing for something like a nuclear attack--much snow-fear in the air today. Have fun grading papers today! Your last few posts, by the way, have been artful and evocative, really a pleasure to read.

Lauren said...

Jo(e),

I am so with you on the dim lighting. Years ago when I had roommates, we had a New Year's party with a fire in the fireplace. But a guest "helped out" by putting a painted board on the fire. End of party.

Oddly, I hardly know anyone with long hair.