Past, present and future are woven in stitches of green
"I sort of carried on my mother's love of greenery and fragrances, pine cones and bringing the outside in," said Karmann, who lives in a 1920s Laurelhurst Tudor with her husband, Rich, and their two high-school children, Matthew and Lauren.
Integrating the indoor and outdoor worlds is one important tradition among many that give meaning to the Kaplans' winter holidays. On every bough and in every corner rests a story of personal significance.
The Kaplan home is the canvas on which the past, present and future are artfully intertwined.
Each year after Thanksgiving, Karmann starts planning winter decorations. Greenery and lights take center stage. Some 300 feet of natural cedar garland grace the balconies and iron rails in front. About 3,500 white lights stud the Italian cypress trees, the house and walkways. Evergreen wreaths come from the annual Roosevelt High School fund-raiser.
Inside, garlands of all kinds drape festively throughout the house strands of mercury glass, pewter, wooden cranberries, gold bells, colorful fruit and, of course, evergreen branches. When displaying greens on tables, Karmann puts the stems in small florist vials or, to use an old trick of her mother's, pokes them in potatoes to keep them fresh longer.
She also borrows her mother's method of making pomander balls out of oranges, whole cloves, orris powder and spices. The fragrant balls make great gifts, or hang from garlands with beautiful ribbons in favorite colors.
On top of the tree sits another personal story: Twelve years ago, Rich's mother, a doll maker in California, made the cloth and porcelain angel.
The family's Christmas stockings hang by the chimney with care, thanks to a set of four pewter flower pots. Karmann fills each pot with a small evergreen such as cypress or holly that will be planted in the yard, come January. Inside and outside meet once again.
Another collection harkens back to the 1970s when Karmann's oldest daughter (Nichole) danced in the Pacific Northwest Ballet's "Nutcracker." Ever since, the family has snatched up German nutcracker figures. The set of eight nutcrackers ranges from the traditional soldier to the Ghost of Christmas Present from Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," a play the family enjoys annually at ACT Theater.
Halls decked thusly, the Kaplans open their home to friends and neighbors for an annual holiday party. Guests enjoy catered food and an open bar surrounded by the special decorations Karmann has chosen for the year. A crackling fire glows downstairs while a fire pit outside warms the more adventurous. In this season of generosity and hope, the Kaplans invite guests to bring nonperishable foods to benefit the hunger-relief agency Northwest Harvest.
On every other day, the children have their own party. A pot of spiced cider brews on the stove; the inviting smell of apples and cinnamon greets the kids when they and their friends return from school. A self-proclaimed Christmas-cookie fan, Karmann makes "melt-in-your-mouth" fudge and other sweet treats during the season. Carols are played either from CDs or in person: Matthew plays clarinet in the Roosevelt band and Lauren plays the violin. It's a wonder the whole neighborhood doesn't camp out here all winter long.
Catherine M. Allchin is a Seattle free-lance writer. Mike Siegel is a Seattle Times staff photographer.
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