Stress Takes a Holiday
By Julia Spalding
THEY SAY THE HOLIDAYS are “the most wonderful time of the year.” But when it comes to holiday preparations, two scenarios generally emerge: Either you run yourself ragged hanging twinkle lights, icing cookies and searching for the perfect little black dress to wear to your elaborately planned dinner party, or you boycott the festivities altogether— and miss out on all the fun.
Bah, humbug to that.
Rather than draining your holiday spirit in the push to get everything done, wouldn’t you like to have somebody else come in and do the heavy lifting? Better yet, a whole bunch of somebody elses?
“People don’t realize they can get help with almost anything they need to do,” says Leslie Sanders, owner of Domestic Divas. For $20 an hour, her errand service will shop for presents, clean up after your party and take care of any number of “those mundane little chores that take up so much of your time.” And she’s not the only local entrepreneur who stands ready to help you through this high-pressure month.
A HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYSA house all decked out for the holiday season symbolizes warmth and tradition. It also represents hours spent dragging boxes out of storage, untangling strings of lights, wrestling with artificial tree parts and a fair amount of cursing at inanimate objects. Home redesigner Mary Brown, who specializes in working with items her clients already have, offers a holiday decorating service as a seasonal branch of her company, One Day Design (888-567- 3701; onedaydesign.com). Brown, whose work has been featured on HGTV, assesses your existing decorations during an initial consultation and then comes back for the full-on assault.
“When I’m done, the room will look professionally decorated, but it will still feel like it’s your holiday because it’s all of your things,” says Brown, who’s picked up a few tricks over the years. For example, Christmas-tree lights should be wrapped around each branch, rather than strung around the tree, “so that you see the lights, and not the cord.” Small balls, which tend to get lost on the tree, can be clustered together with pipe cleaners for a more dramatic effect. And Brown finds that it's always fun to throw a few non-ornaments into her clients' tree-decorating mix, "like their children's stuffed animals."
At $75 per hour, Brown’s service is a bit of a luxury, but she encourages her clients to photograph her handiwork when she’s done so they can re-create the look on their own the following year.
With so much of the season wrapped in that warm quilt of nostalgia, sometimes times the point of holiday décor is to recreate a childhood memory. If your remembrance of Christmas past involves a toy train circling the presents under the tree (or if you’re simply a fan of model railroads), then Mike Pfulb can put a sparkle in your eye. Owner of Mike’s Backshop (619-992-2234), Pfulb has designed model train displays for corporate clients such as Coca Cola, Burger King and the Ronald McDonald House in Hollywood. He builds similar scaleddown worlds in private residences, either designing the tracks around the owner’s personal collection or working his model-railroad connections to get pieces on loan from manufacturers. “I can get almost anything,” he says. Pfulb generally charges $30 per hour; his rates are slightly higher for more complicated installations.
It’s not Southern California’s fault Currier and Ives never set up their easels on a sunny cul-de-sac minutes from the beach. Still, San Diegans who can’t get through winter without a little snow can turn to Carlos Shannon of A-Arctic Ice (619-562-4423; anytimeiceman.com) to set the appropriate mood. By converting 300-pound blocks of ice into man-made snow that he sprays through a hose, Shannon can cover your yard in the white stuff and even build toboggan-worthy hills (10 straw bales covered with 2 tons of snow). Shannon, who provides snow for the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Wild Animal Park, the X Games and Hollywood movie sets, charges $250 per ton, with a minimum order of 5 tons of residential flurry. While a basic ground cover sticks around for about 24 hours in typical San Diego temperatures, the snow hills usually last several days. You can even rent plastic sleds from A-Arctic to take full advantage of the man-made flakes. Just don’t call it “artificial” snow.
Another stress-sparing holiday service addresses man’s yearning to hang lights outside his house—and prove that technology has come a long way since Clark Griswold’s day. Family-owned Lily’s Window Cleaning (619-523-1937; lilyswindowcleaning.com) uses digital photos of your house to simulate what it will look like with lights. “We usually go back and forth with the client a little bit before we get something that they like,” says co-owner Cristin Kelly. While Kelly says they don’t get a lot of over-the-top requests, many of their customers are clearly trying to outdo their neighbors. “We have to set up temporary circuits for about 50 percent of our clients,” she says. JC Holiday Lighting (619-819- 8286), another company that does outdoor lighting, guarantees the service throughout the season (which means they’ll come back out and fix the problem if your hairdryer blows a fuse). Even better, both companies offer take-down service after the holidays.
THE ENTERTAINMENT FACTORPerhaps the biggest mistake people make when planning a holiday party is being unrealistic about what they can pull off, given their time, budget and physical limitations. In other words, you’re setting yourself up for failure if you try to pull off a Veuve Clicquot event when you’re feeling anything but bubbly. Other big no-nos, according to Jim Lennox, vice president of sales and marketing for Pacific Event Productions, include not having enough parking for your guests, underestimating the amount of floor space you’ll need and skimping on the outdoor lighting (“Usually, there isn’t enough to make the area feel inviting”). You should also make sure to serve a meal befitting the time of day. For instance, Lennox points out that guests at a 6 p.m. party expect a full dinner, not heavy hors d’oeuvres. “The last thing you want is for people to leave your party and say, ‘Let’s go get something to eat.’ ”
One surefire way to throw a stress-free party that’s festive and stylish is to have someone else throw it for you. Don’t assume every event planner in town is exclusive to big corporate blowouts. Many of them are happy to handle more intimate gatherings, taking care of everything from the menu to the flowers to lining up professional bartenders. In addition to Pacific Event Productions (858-458-9908; pacificevents.com), there are outfits such as Urban Kitchen (619- 239-2222; sdurbankitchen.com), The Abbey Catering & Event Design Company (619-218-1970; theabbeycatering. com), CC Event Design (619-370-9498; cceventdesign.com), Dinners by David (619-518-3935) and David Schooler’s Personal Chef Services (858-829-6920; DavidSchooler.com)—all set up to handle small private parties. Poker Time Entertainment (760-458-6932; pokertimeentertainment.com) even offers holiday poker parties featuring four tables and four professional dealers for $400.
If you don’t want to have the party in your own home, several San Diego–area venues set the kind of quaint backdrop bespeaking eggnog and mistletoe. Of particular note are two historic schoolhouses in San Marcos that have been converted into special-events locales. Built in 1889 of redwood boards and square nails, Old Richland Schoolhouse (760-744- 7078; oldrichlandschoolhouse.com) provides an event manager and offers specials for weekday parties with 50 or fewer guests. The centerpiece of Twin Oaks Victorian Gardens (760-510-1606; twinoaksvictoriangardens.info) is a lovingly restored one-room schoolhouse that saw students from 1891 to 1943. Local wineries such as Orfila Winery in Escondido (760-738-6500; orfila.com) and Thornton Winery in Temecula (951-699-0099; thorntonwine.com) also provide gorgeous backdrops for private parties. Balboa Park’s Arts & Crafts showcase Marston House (619-298- 3142) is another favorite for small gatherings.
DRESS CODEOne vein of panic that runs through the holiday entertaining season is that eternal quest for the perfect party dress. Before you descend upon the racks of black taffeta, consider this: The perfect party outfit might be waiting for you in your very own closet. Maybe all you need is someone like wardrobe renovator Barbra Horowitz to coax it out of there. As part of her Closet Therapy service (323- 933-2565; barbrahorowitz.com), the former modeling agent (who’s based in Los Angeles) analyzes your wardrobe and purges it of any atrocities before suggesting new ways to wear your clothes. “It’s a lot of tough love,” says Horowitz, who has noticed people have a particularly shaky grip on party wear. “A lot of things can go wrong with ‘dressy,’ ” she notes. Horowitz tells her clients to steer clear of fake tans, tight hair and all-black ensembles when they hit the holiday party circuit. If you’re going to wear a long black skirt, for example, slip intoa pair of pretty jeweled sandals to take it down a notch. “It’s the time to be elegant, not overdone,” says Horowitz.
GIVE, GIVE, GIVEIn a perfect world, holiday shopping would be as carefree and stylish as a commercial for shopping malls. Store clerks would be pleasant. Parking would be plentiful. Children would behave. And there would be no fisticuffs over the last Furby on the shelf. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world.
We do, however, live in a world where personal-errand services have carved out a business niche, mainly by doing the things you can’t bear doing—or can’t always find the time to do. For Belinda Osbourne of The Gift of Time (619-297-2512), that means arming herself with a digital camera as she tracks down perfect gifts for her clients. Once the hunt is over, she’ll also wrap the presents and even stand in line at the post office to mail them. “I have strong shopping skills,” explains Osbourne, who gleaned a lot of experience from her years as an executive assistant and office manager.
Most errand services charge by the hour, and these entrepreneurs will take on nearly any hunting/gathering task —so don’t hesitate to stray from their established menu of services. “I’m extremely tenacious. If I don’t know how to do something, I’ll figure it out,” says Domestic Divas’ Leslie Sanders (619-871-0857; domesticdivas.biz).
With everything else piled on your holiday plate, even the simple act of sending out cards can feel like a daunting task. You won’t be letting Miss Manners down, however, if you use the services of card designer Niki Bradley (760-420-2395; juiceedesigns. org). The freelance graphic designer personalizes your card with art and verbiage specific to your own take on “Season’s Greetings,” then prints them in batches of 50 for about $1.50 per card. She’ll also address and mail them for you.
Balk all you want about the depersonalization of traditions. Streamlining your holiday experience has benefits that go beyond mere stress reduction. Perhaps one of the most pleasant byproducts of getting all of the details under control is that it leaves you with the time and energy to enjoy some of the season’s truly finer points. The simple act of “giving back,” for example, often gets lost in the shuffle around the holidays. Even that needn’t be a major ordeal these days, with local charitable organizations coming up with new ways to make contributing easy. This year, Henry’s Market (henrysmarket.com) is participating in the Grab ’n’ Give/Bag Hunger Program, which benefits local food banks. The Grab ’n’ Give grocery bags are filled with nonperishable staples such as canned tuna, soup, beans, rice, canned fruits and vegetables and cereal. Customers can purchase bags in $10, $15, $20, $25 and $30 increments at the checkstand and either drop off the bag in the collection area at the front of the store or take it to their organization of choice.
It’s a no-brainer, but it still counts as an act of kindness. And who knows? Maybe it will lead to other kind acts this season. Like making sure your icicle lights get taken down before Easter.