“Sure!” I said too soon. FoxTV had called late in the day to ask if I’d come to the studio the next morning to demonstrate ways to decorate for July 4 using stuff viewers had around the house.
I hung up. Then reality hit like a string of firecrackers. What had I done? I hadn’t even decorated my own place for the holiday, and now I’m supposed to be the expert with a demo!
Like so many holidays, this one had been on the calendar for, oh, a couple of centuries, but just sprang out of the (red, white and) blue.
I steadied myself on the back of a chair the way a ship passenger holds the rail on a roiling sea.
See, behind this veneer of got-it-together-home-design columnist, I’m a frazzled, on-my-own mom and journalist, ricocheting from deadline, to grocery store, to school activity to gym while trying to pay the bills on time. I am not sitting home stitching a quilt replica of Betsy Ross’s flag or spending my summer needle pointing this year’s Christmas stockings — quaint as that might be.
At home that evening I start rummaging. “Why get worked up, Mom?” my teenage daughter asks. “You always just fling a bunch of stuff you have lying around together. It’s what you do.”
“Well, maybe I do,” I said, “but not on live television.”
She was right. Pulling together looks on the fly and on the cheap is what I do, but I’m not saying that’s any way to go through life.
Still, I believe in my heart that holidays shouldn’t look or feel like every other day. However, when I look around to see who’s going to add the special to occasion I realize that’s me.
Next thing, I was turning to my stash of go-to, never-fail decorations. These décor mainstays can change like chameleons depending on the circumstance, and I easily cobbled together some patriotic props — which came in handy for my company that night.
Next day I called my design friend Lisa Quinn, host of Live Well Network’s TV show “Home With Lisa Quinn,” to ask what she kept on hand to pull off a quick festive look.
Like me, Quinn is a semi-crazed working mom with high standards and less-than-no time. She raises slacker chic to new heights and is as welcome as a martini for over-extended women.
After comparing notes, I soon realized we had almost the same emergency occasion décor stash. Here are our must-haves to make holiday magic minus the migraines. Pick your theme colors, then add the following:
Tea light candles. Buy plain white in bulk. Read on to see why.
Hurricane lamps. Fill these clear, glass containers with water dyed with food coloring in your theme shades. Think red and blue for the Olympics, the colors of your kid’s soccer team for the play-off party, or pink and blue for a baby shower. (Avoid yellow. It can look like something else.) Float tea lights. This décor works great outdoors, because lamps don’t blow over and candles don’t blow out.
Clear 4- to 6-inch votives, plain martini glasses and colored pebbles. Buy solid-colored pebbles by the sack. Put colored stones in tumbler-size votives. Place a tea light in the middle. For fancier affairs do the same in martini glasses.
White or brown lunch sacks, acrylic paints and stencils. Have your kids paint bags with stripes (outline with masking tape) or with symbolic shapes using stencils (pumpkins, stars, hearts). Pick paint color to match the occasion. Fill sacks with a few inches of dry rice or sand. Add a tea light to make luminaries to line the front walk or deck rail.
Festive fabrics. Get a yard or two of several festive fabrics. (Check remnant bins.) Think burgundy velvet or gold lamé for Christmas; black and fall-colored burlap for Halloween; pastel silks for Easter; red satin and lace for Valentine’s. No need to sew the edges, just tuck them under and scrunch fabric beneath centerpieces and platters. Go for solids rather than themed prints, which can look corny.
Tulle by the spool. It’s cheap and fancy. Bunch up thick widths, tie in big bows around kitchen chairs, and instantly take them from ordinary to dressy.
A mirrored ball. No home should be without one. They add a festive touch of bling and luster to baby showers, Super Bowls and graduations, no matter what you set around them.
Cardboard and spray paint. Cut a large cardboard stencil of your school’s letters on game day, or of “USA” during the Olympics. Then spray paint the image on the front lawn. It will go away after the first mowing.
Bandanas in assorted colors. These make great, cheap napkins. Use them to roll up silverware, and tie the bundle with raffia or hemp.
Colored metal buckets. Fill them with sand or rice to make bases for sticking in team pennants or skewered foods.
Spotify. This app lets you customize your playlist for any occasion. It’s like iTunes, only you don’t have to buy the songs, you pay monthly.
And there’s your party. Finally, said Quinn, “Don’t do the whole house.” Decorate the front entry, and the areas surrounding food and drink, and that’s it. Then you’ll have fun, too.
Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through marnijameson.com.