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Our Hometown Stories: My Pursuit Of The Perfect Christmas Card

khts_hometownstories4- By Rachel Singer

Several years ago, my friend Margaret Hansen gave me a wonderful book entitled, "From Our House to Your House," by Martin Parr. The small red book is a collection of vintage black and white Christmas cards from the 50' and 60's. The book documents an era where silver tinsel was painstakingly hung from each tree branch and a single strand of multi-colored lights was strung across your garage.

Christmas cards and Christmas decorating were much simpler "back then."

As the holiday season would approach, Margaret and I would agonize and pine over our family Christmas cards. Where should we take the picture? What clever saying could we come up with? What color paper should we mount the photos on? The possibilities were endless. Our heads would spin.

Yes, the art of the perfect card was important to us.

With young children, the stress begins with the photograph. One child will invariably begin sobbing, or in my case one of my twins fell off the table at the Sears Portrait Studio...quite an auspicious start to the 1995 holiday season.

I know June Cleaver did not suffer the sweat stains that I did. Her biggest worry was whether Wally and the Beaver cleaned properly behind their ears before donning holiday sweaters and striking the perfect pose next to their freshly cut and elegantly trimmed Douglas fir.

It was only one click of the shutter and one turn of the flashcube before the Cleavers were sitting down to a roast beef dinner.

Most of us in the real world are not so fortunate.

My Hometown Story for this month of December can simply be called "Chasing Classic Christmas Cards."

After catching an episode of A&E's reality series, "Hoarders," I began a major de-cluttering around the house. I came upon a box of our family Christmas cards dating back to 1997.

There is no accounting for taste.

Or so I have been led to believe....

hs_card1When my husband and I combined our families in 1998. We took a picture of the five children on a couch in front of our Christmas tree. Pre-printed Christmas card holders were purchased at Hallmark, postage stamps were applied and I was done.

Looking back now, I am almost embarrassed. The kids were cute; the card was boring.

Y2K was the national obsession in 1999. Would the universe grind to a screeching halt? Would all worldwide computer systems shut down plunging us, god forbid, back into the days of the Wild Wild West?

hs_card4I certainly hoped not, because Ron and I were getting married on December 31st, and our house was on the Holiday Home Tour.

Ignoring the doomsday predictions, we had a family portrait taken on Halloween morning to hang over our fireplace. Who can forget when all the rage was denim jeans, white t-shirts and hand colored black and white photography?

Merry Christmas, there was my 1999 holiday card.

hs_card2Around this time, Margaret and I became "scrap bookers." We ooohed and ahhed over die-cuts, printed-paper and adhesives. We went so far as to attend 3-day Scrapbook-a-thons at the Salvation Army camp in Malibu. (I dare not mention the contraband wine)

When it came to Christmas cards, we were no longer content to keep up with the Jones'. We were going to become the Jones'.

Some years were definitely more successful than others.

With the dawning of a new century, things began to change. Weeks in advance, I planned out my 2000 Holiday card. The kids were dressed in tartan plaid flannel pajamas. They wore Santa hats and posed next to our paper-mache snowmen and sparkly trees. The inside greeting said, "And to all a goodnight...."

I though I was so clever. But looking back, I realize I was not quite there just yet.

hs_card3Terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11th, 2001. Our country was blindsided, yet came together like never before. Flags waved from every car window and front porch.

When the trauma faded, the healing began.

The patriotic card I did for 2001 is still one of my favorites. We wore 4th of July Old Navy shirts and stood next to our American Flag. The inscription on the back read, "United this Holiday Season~God Bless America."

When President George W. Bush left office in 2008, I sent to the White House our Christmas card of 2001, with a note thanking him for his eight years of service to our country. I was star struck when we received a reply.

Michelle, my hairdresser for many years, always sends out the preeminent cards. Each year I open her card and think, "Why didn't I think of that?" I then quickly calculate how many "mutual friends" we might have....and wonder, "do I dare duplicate her card the following year without getting caught? "

I never have, but each year, Michelle's card is always highly anticipated.

hs_card52002 was a very good year for Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, but not so good for my Christmas card.

I envisioned a winter wonderland in our backyard. I decorated our crookedy tree house with snowmen and lights. The kids were festooned in their winter sweaters and scarves. I was going to handwrite on each card, "Warm Holiday Wishes." Fabulous right?

I forgot that I had a two-year old.

Without going into much detail....the older kids look great by the tree house; Layne's face is in a little cut-out glued off to the side...

I love the unexpected. I thrive on the ghoulish.

hs_card6Many moons ago, I began incorporating my year-round Halloween decorations with my Christmas decorating. A glittering black skull, vintage Santa and a gargoyle candle really look quite lovely together.

Our beautiful haunted house, Molar Manor, was the backdrop for our 2003 family card. Our six children posed within the walls of an evil living room façade. No stockings hung by the chimney with care here, only an Ouija Board and bloody playmate.

The card of course read, "Scary Christmas".

Back in the day, when my boys still allowed me to choose their "hairstyle," I would line the four of them up in front of Dominic the barber and say "A 5 on top, 4 on the sides and long enough in the front to spike straight up."

hs_card7A bit of hair wax, Aqua Net, and blast of the blow dryer was all it took to transform them into handsome young lads.

Looking back at the family Christmas card of 2004, apparently I was paying great homage to that hairdo.

It must have been that Margaret and I were deeply entrenched in our scrap booking, because I put much more time and consideration into choosing the perfect background paper, gold glitter pen accents and snowman die-cut (which was strategically placed to hide a Pokémon sweatshirt).

The photograph looks like an afterthought.

hs_card8I pulled out of the photo box Christmas card 2005. I have no excuse for its mediocrity. Our family all lined up, Layne perched on a pillar. The kids are in the throes of a scream. What was I thinking? I have no idea. Thank goodness for selective amnesia.

I do recall shopping for 2 hours at Kohl's to find the boys the perfect fall colored shirts that would coordinate with what Ron and I were wearing. Boy the vividness sure comes across in that black and white photograph...

hs_card9My only excuse for the 2005 debacle was that I was putting much more effort that year into my Toby Keith Christmas card that twenty selected friends were to receive.

In 2006, the 1980's were calling and wanted their backyard back. Our old school diving board, blue slide and prehistoric pool equipment were sent packing to the rubbish heap.

Stacked stones and boulders replaced the hideous blue flowered pool tiles and brick coping. I felt like George and Louise Jefferson. We were moving on up and I wanted a poolside California Christmas card.

hs_card10It was a cold day in November 2006, when the kids posed on top of the "just finished the day before" waterfall. I told them the water was not hooked up. I lied. They were smiling so nicely as I hit the button and activated the waterfall.

Once they got used to the numbness in their limbs, they had fun in the water and I got a great picture for our card.

2007
Dear Santa:
Please get rid of our termites.
Love, Ron and Rachel

Yep, we discovered our house was infested with termites. The living room wall and roof were internally collapsing from the years that our home had been the termite equivalent of Hometown Buffet.

Since the front of the house had to come off (literally), we decided to change the façade from English Tudor to Medieval Manor. It was a never-ending process. The entire house was wrapped in 3 stories of scaffolding for almost a year.

It was the week after Thanksgiving 2007, and I was at a loss. My house was a shambles and I had no yard. It would be my personal Christmas card black hole.

hs_card11As I stood next to the Andy Gump, a light bulb went off (maybe it was the smell, I'm not sure). But, within an hour, ornaments dangled from the scaffolding, a wreath was hung on the Andy Gump and a ferris wheel of Elf's was spinning merrily.

There was my card. "Happy Holidays From Our Home to Yours."

The same year that I sent out my scaffolding Christmas card, we received our neighbors; which was taken along the Great Wall of China, their family resplendent in authentic Chinese costumes.
Oh yea, I'm a loser.

 

hs_card12Cool breezes ushered in the fall of 2008. The termites were gone along with our crooked contractor.... The yard was 90% complete. The familiar sight of our personal outdoor toilet once again called to me. We adorned the Andy Gump with lights and tin soldiers. The kids posed proudly. My caption read, "It's been a Hell of a year and yes, the Andy Gump is still here." The card spoke volumes.

In January 2009, we adopted two beautiful dogs from New Leash on Life, Lobo and Dakota. They are the love of my children's lives and there was no doubt that these two old pups would be front and center in this year's holiday card.

hs_card13I called upon my friend Melinda Hersh of Lumel Photography (lumelphoto.com) who specializes in pets and people. She is the master and I knew that she could reign in four children and two large dogs. Add to the mix 4 ugly holiday sweaters and two reindeer headbands. Voila' "Christmas Card 2009" was a wrap.

Finally, the pressure is off. I can look forward to checking my mailbox each day to see what creative and clever cards come my way. Margaret's and Michelle's should be arriving soon.

While you are contemplating New Year's Resolutions, I my friends will be contemplating Christmas Card 2010.

I wish to you a Merry Christmas, very Happy Holidays, and peace and prosperity in the New Year.