Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Holiday Bling, Without the Frostbite

As I sit here nursing my painfully swollen sinuses and babysitting the cat, having just picked him up from a grueling (for him) vet visit and scrubbed all his dining items and floor following his unpleasant bout with a tummy infection, the merry sights of tinseltoe and festive sounds of holiday music are the furthest thing from my mind. In my semi-miserable condition, while I attempt to comfort my nose and throat with soothing pots of tea, I can't even fathom slipping into a luscious velvet concoction and getting glittered up for the holidays. And yet they're creeping in. Signs of the holidays. First, sneaking in with little white lights innocuously strung across storefront windows. "It gets dark so early now, we have to add a little more light." Sure, I can buy that. Then, coming like the fog on little cat feet here and there, boxes of holiday cards here, bags of red-wrapped gourmet chocolates there. For those who are so disgustingly ahead of the curve that they insist on writing their cards in mid-November (and require some chocolate assistance while they work?). Fine, let the anally inclined rejoice. Slowly but surely, the trimmings of the holidays arrive, and presto -- one day, you're out getting dish soap at Target and find that the whole darn store has come alive with holiday spirit. That's when it hits you. They're heeeeeeere.

And that means one thing: holiday parties. The average social lady and gentleman-about-town have a minimum of 5 holiday parties to attend. Add 5 if you have a multitude of (equally social) friends, 2 if you and your spouse are gainfully employed, and another few if you have a large extended family, particularly with step-parents and such. That's a lot of partying. And everyone expects you to shine like the North star while you dazzle your spouse's coworkers, impress the heck out of your in-laws with your rendition of egg nog, and charm the pants of your friends with witty tales. All the while remembering to send them all cards in a timely manner and buying enough toys and treats to open your own ebay boutique.

Another thing I've noticed is that holiday parties start earlier and earlier each year. It used to be (or so it seemed) that holiday parties were held, well, closer to the actual holidays. Of course, there are so many holidays now to choose from -- Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Eid -- who knows which holiday a given holiday party is celebrating? But still, I've considered it an outrage that our annual Scottish Christmas Walk in Old Town Alexandria occurs without fail on my birthday weekend, December 2nd. That alone brings in tourists and heavy foot traffic -- and what's up with it happening 3 full weeks before Christmas? But at least that's been taking place for more years than I've been around. What excuse does my office have for throwing the holiday party on December 6? Even more incomprehensible, who at my husband's place of work decided to have their holiday dinner on Friday, December 1st? I mean, I'm still recovering from the marathon feast that is Thanksgiving weekend during that week. At least they're feeding us steaks from Morton's, which isn't altogether a crime... A further conundrum is when to invite people to our house for dinner or just cocktails. I'm trying to find a spot on my calendar, but my better planning friends have already beat me to the punch. There are just no Fridays or Saturdays left in December, and the Sundays are quickly disappearing. At this rate, we won't have our post-October honeymoon wine and cheese party until January, and forget about the ladies' Sunday brunch, book club dinner, or girl's movie night. They will have to wait until January if not February with the way my schedule is booking up.

But I digress. The real fear I have with holiday parties is figuring out what to wear to each without running up my budget. I'm not such a Hollywood diva that I can only wear one fabulous dress one time before retiring it. But on the other hand, I can't exactly show up to each party in the same knock-em-dead dress or the same show-stopping accessories without repeating myself on film. And you'd better be sure that everyone takes pictures at holiday parties. Those are the photos that get printed out, make it into frames, and get passed around to the whole world. Maybe because everyone makes an effort to look cheery and decorate themselves to the hilt. And why not? There are so many vivid, shiny objects to compete with. Besides, the weather outside can be a bit frightful by then. A little bit of pizzaz never hurt a girl, especially during the holidays.

Which brings me to the point of this discourse. I was fumbling through my nightly assignment of catalogues last night while blowing my nose on cue every 90 seconds with the other hand when I finally opened a Ross-Simons catalogue that had fallen by the wayside (under my bed). Tired of the endless Lord & Taylor non-sales and already having taken my fill of Macy's one-day-sales, I thumbed through it, happy to look at glittery objects for a change. Obviously, I wasn't in any financial shape to buy an estate piece, and Lord knows my other half had bought his share of bling in the past year -- more than enough that gave him the right to curtly nip any idea in the bud that hinted that I should expect something sparkly in this year's stocking. So I wasn't really looking to spend on jewelry, mind you.... But I had a small card I could still play. My birthday, after all, was 2 weeks away, and I believed myself to be entitled to some small token of radiance. And so I thumbed. Hesitantly at first, but more bravely after I began to notice some exotic little pieces.

Sure, I had heard of amethyst, but what was it doing in a gorgeous carnation-pink cushion-cut ring? What in heaven's name were"aventurine," "diopside," and "kunzite?" How about "lemon quartz" -- was there a "lime" and "orange sherbert" quartz too? Despite the wacky names, there were some alluring pieces in there, and I had to have a closer look. Of course, plenty of diamonds caught my eye, and I would obediently slap my hand and quickly turn the page each time. But what really stood out were the unusual semi-precious stones, not unusual by name as I had heard of many of them, but unusual in the way they were set or their color. Suddenly, a bright orange citrine blazed like the sun surrounded by a corona of white topaz and encrusted on a 14-carat yellow gold ring. Large dollops of yellow-green peridot glowed, suspended on gold earring wire. A giant pink tourmaline towered like a beacon over a circle of tiny diamonds, while a cluster of clear icy aquamarine dangled like lasers. All in all, this was a captivating collection, and not just for one such as myself who is easily distracted by shiny objects.

Now, I can't stand wearing fake, or "lab created" stones. I prefer my jewelry au naturel -- it's either real diamonds or it's nothing. I'll take ravishing row of garnets over "synthesized" rubies any day. So if you're of similar ilk, you'll be pleased to know that all of the jewels I endorse here are the real thing. Even better, they are considered semi-precious stones, so they are actually worth something. Personally, I've always considered fine jewelry to be a fine investment, which sometimes justified otherwise completely unnecessary purchases. Before you laugh at me, let me tell you a story.

When I was in college, I worked for Christian Bernard Jewelers, an upscale jewelry store at the already upscale Georgetown Park Mall. Having managed to convince the manager to hire me -- even though my prior retail experience consisted of selling underwear -- I spent many evenings and weekends dressing displays and peddling tres cher trinkets. Shortly after I started, the manager, who was at that time in her mid-fifties, took a liking to me. She told me about her family and her travel adventures, and she lived vicariously through my tales of college parties and romantic affairs. Anyway, she convinced me to start collecting nice jewels. The reason? When she had first graduated from college, she needed to buy a car. At the time, she didn't have credit, and her assets were rather low. But having come from a family of jewelers, she had accumulated a fine collection of estate jewels. Good thing, because the bank accepted her estate jewels as collateral and gave her a car loan. Allegedly, she used the same "assets" to be approved for her first mortgage. Fine jewelry, after all, doesn't really decrease in value, and sometimes, it increases multifold. So you see, collection real gemstones and gold can actually pay off.

So how does this story relate to holiday glam? It doesn't really. But if you're like me and you can't resist a brilliant bauble every now and then, you might as well buy real gemstones. And, you may be surpsised to learn that some of the most exotic-looking stones have very down-to-earth prices. Check out Ross-Simons and see if you can pick up a few holiday lights that won't burn out. These hot stunners are so dazzling they could make any ordinary diva look like an old-school Hollywood starlet. That should make you look forward to some holiday parties. The scintillating conversation is up to you.


No comments: