The most underutilized feature in my house is the mantel. Once a year, I will use it to lose something. It does not matter what it is–if I put it on the mantel, I am not going to find it until months later. (BTW it’s kind of awkward when you do this with a cat.) It’s because a lot of the time I forget I even have a mantel. There are lots of things I could be doing with my mantel that I’m not, such as:
-Propping one elbow on the mantel whilst contemplating
I never use my mantel to contemplate because I’d have to take up smoking a pipe and I don’t have time for new hobbies.
-Propping one elbow on the mantel while burning mysterious letters in the fireplace
I’d have to go to all the trouble of building a fire when it’s so much easier to turn on the Fireplace Channel. Also I don’t get mysterious letters since it’s not 1848.
-Propping one elbow on the mantel while I gaze at the portrait over the fireplace
There isn’t a portrait on that wall. Or anywhere. I live in a portrait-free zone.
Truth be told, I don’t think about the mantel at all unless it’s August, because August is when the holidays arrive in my mailbox. August is when the lifestyle book of all lifestyle books is delivered, personally, to me: Christmas with Southern Living. It’s a holiday-centered entertaining/decorating/cookbook that has been produced annually by Southern Living magazine since 1981. Lushly staged and lovingly photographed, this book solves all the holiday problems I didn’t know I had. The covers alone make me swoon–the signature Southern Living cake headshots (“Look at the camera, gorgeous! Now show me buttercream!”) with mathematically precise slices removed to showcase dreamy multi-colored layers. Because of this book, my Holiday Badass Level is Ninja. SANTA NINJA. I am fully prepared to host a post-tree-trimming hot chocolate party, a New Year’s midnight dessert buffet open house, and a day-after-Thanksgiving pre-shopping breakfast. I can cook for, decorate for, and thematically execute on any kind of holiday mood—Dickensian classic, North Pole merry, or Winter Wonderland frolicking forest. In August, when the new book is delivered, I retreat to spend an hour just flipping through the pages to see what is the latest in turkey basting technique and ornament crafts, but the very FIRST thing I look at is the mantels section.
You: have you ever HAD a hot chocolate party?
You: tell me about the last turkey you basted
Me: well, it was, um, turkey shaped
You: your halls are decked with boughs of bullshit
Busted. I am not, by any definition, a homey-crafty-decoratey person. My decorating efforts are an endless Pinterest fail. And I don’t even have a Pinterest account. People visiting my house for the first time ask “Did you just move in?” Yup. Eight years ago. Don’t rush me. I’m still basking in the glow of having managed to unpack all the boxes. I don’t want to harsh my buzz by going shopping for stuff like furniture or curtains or dishes. I did procure a new couch recently, having been forced into it because the one I had would shed nails (or bolts or whatever holds a couch together) every time someone sat down on it. It had disintegrated to the point that you could only sit on one half of one cushion right in the middle, and you could only sit upright. NO LEANING BACK. I have a vague sense that legit adults don’t live this way and it is my sincere wish that those legit adults invite me over to their houses so I can spend time with responsible people whose decorating ethic has evolved past Dorm Room 101. Also, if I am not in my own house, I don’t have to worry about decorating it. But when Christmas with Southern Living arrives, I’m flush with the potential to deck the crap out of my halls.
These books are endlessly gorgeous, picture after picture of beautifully styled, inviting rooms, expertly plated food, and homemade placecards. I have the same reaction to these pictures that I have when I see a masterpiece on a museum wall–it’s beautiful, but it’s unattainable beauty, not meant for mortals like me to create. I am perpetually in awe of people with decorating talent. How on earth does someone look at a branch, pine cones, and an ice bucket and come up with “charming centerpiece”? My brain is not wired that way. I have an ice bucket. It’s in a cabinet and the last time I touched it was to move it out of the way to get to a bag of Fritos that had fallen behind it. Christmas with Southern Living gives me hope that one day I’ll gain the ability to use a glue gun without ending up in the emergency room. Well, not “ability” so much as “interest in making an effort”.
Glue gun: wrong end
Me: what? not listening
Glue gun: I know that’s why—
Me: MY FINGERS
As great as everything looks in these books, my absolute favorite are the decorated mantels. There are garlands (fresh greenery, ornaments, homemade stockings) and candlesticks (add beads! Or more greenery! Or ribbon!) and mercury glass. There are shiny abstract tall objects artfully placed next to shorter shiny abstract objects, interspersed with lush branches. There are stocking hooks shaped like letters spelling out cheery holiday words. These mantels radiate a ‘seasonal hospitality’ vibe, which would be a nice change from my mantel’s usual ‘deserted prison parking lot’ vibe. I get excited and sometimes even go so far as to mark a page in the book that has a swagged-out mantel that I particularly like. Then, because it’s August and I am fucking hot, I put the book on the shelf with all the other Christmas with Southern Living books and go turn up the air conditioning. Do you know how much stuff I would have to get to make a magical holiday mantel? I’d have to cash in my 401k just to lay in a base inventory of floral foam.
Book: but adult goals!
Me: can’t, complaining about the heat
Book: look I’m so inspiring
Me: shhhh busy not maturing
Like I do with all my other problems, I am solving this dilemma with books. I am absolutely, positively going full holiday on my own ass. I am getting all my Christmas with Southern Living books off their designated shelf and lining them up on the mantel, right after I move that 4-month-old pile of mail and the Sharpie that I lost last spring. In December, when you come over, I’ll invite you to go through them and find your favorite mantel. Victorian splendor or atomic age retro? Be bold! We’ll prop the book open to your chosen picture, sit down on my functional sofa, and soak up all that silver bells atmosphere. I will even pour you a cup of freshly made wassail. HAHAHAHAHA I don’t have any wassail. Let’s just go out.
Take down the Christmas tree before Easter