Deck the Walls with Lighted Menorahs, or What I’ve Been Doing While You’ve Been Decorating for Christmas!




This past month I’ve watched with awe as blogger after blogger after blogger posted the most gorgeous pictures of their homes all dressed up in their Christmas finery!  It’s amazing and inspiring to watch the effort, care and love that is put into holiday decorating.  The hard work really pays off – the pictures posted on the design blogosphere have been beautiful!!    A few Cote de Texas readers have emailed me wondering will I be decorating for Christmas.   The quick and easy answer is no.    As many of you know, we are Jewish and we celebrate Hanukkah at home, not Christmas.  But, do Jewish people even decorate for Hanukkah?    No, not really,  although people like Martha Stewart  have tried to create that image.  Families with young children might put up festive blue and white lights, but usually Hanukkah is a very low key affair.   In fact, I know of only one family that decorates their house for Hanukkah.  While glorious Christmas decorations can make a design-obsessed Jewish girl a little envious - make no mistake, it is a badge of honor and extreme ethnic pride to not decorate.    



A beautiful antique menorah – the centerpiece of Hanukkah.


This month I started wondering, why do people decorate their houses for Christmas but not Hanukkah?  One reason may be that Christmas is the holiest day of the year for Christians.  Yet, Santa Claus is a very important part of the holiday.  Many decorations are either Nativity Scenes or Santa-related.  Hanukkah, by comparison, is really a very minor holiday marked without much fanfare.  You don’t go the temple for Hanukkah, in fact, it is not even mentioned in the bible!   It was only in this century that Hanukkah become commercialized and is now referred to as the Jewish Christmas.   For the children, gift giving, one present a night for eight nights, is the highlight of the holiday.   In this way, the two holidays are alike.  But gift giving is not the only way that Hanukkah and Christmas are similar.   Hanukkah is a time to get together with your family, say the prayers and light the Menorah, eat some delicious food like the traditional latkes, or potato pancakes, and just have a good time.  Both holidays are the same in the most important way – celebrating with family.    But decorating the home for the holidays remains a major difference between the two December celebrations.  Drive at night through a neighborhood and the streets are ablaze with colored, twinkling lights, red and white candy canes, and faux reindeer made of wood.    The one dark house on the street will probably be lived in by the Jewish family!   I think I have finally solved the riddle of why there are Christmas decorations!   This way Santa knows which house to go to and which house to leave for Hanukkah Harry!

Note:  to read my blog from last year on the history of Hanukkah and antique Judaica, go here.


   image    Southern Accents got into the Hanukkah decorating act this year.   As you can see – it is a very low-key event, design-wise.  A few blue glasses and viola – Hanukkah decorations!


So, for moi, while others are getting their houses ready for Christmas, I am also busy tidying up my house for my big entertaining event of the year - Hanukkah.   My sister Cathy loves to entertain and does so beautifully and with great ease, but I dread such events.  I worry about every detail, and fret over each dirty window and unorganized closet – as if my guests will be dining in one!    Cathy takes care of most of the entertaining responsibilities in our family, thank God, and her daughter-in-law, my niece Allison, is swiftly proving herself quite capable in following her lead.   That leaves me with just two major family holiday entertaining events:  the Hanukkah dinner party and Father’s Day Brunch.   Quit laughing!    To me the menu is always secondary to the flowers and place settings and Ben likes to say that each event costs him a fortune because he knows I’ll be doing more “dreckorating” than cooking!   And sure enough, I’ve been finding myself making changes around the house getting ready for the main event this Sunday – the first night of Hanukkah.    So, while I can’t show you the most fabulous Christmas tree in the world, I can show you the latest furniture changes I’ve made.


At a temple with a gorgeous marble floor, a rabbi lights the Hanukkah candles.


We underwent a small kitchen remodeling this past month, and that has really spurned me on to take a critical look at the adjoining rooms.   Being a major nester, I’m always picking up accessories for this or that room.  After a while, it gets a little crowded and needs some culling, just like the deer population.  My family room has lately been bulging at the seams and was in great need of  a sharpshooter to come rid it of the overgrowth.  Rather than call on Sarah Palin to do the dirty deed, I did it myself.  It’s always hard for me to banish loved objects to that great wasteland that is my garage, but this year, with the kitchen all fresh and clean, it’s been somewhat easier.

My family room has seen many different designs during the past 15 years.  I’ll spare you the earlier the versions such as the English inspired room with bamboo and wicker and red paisley and toile everywhere ala Lynn Von Kersting.    A few years ago, after a home tour in West University of a most beautiful house, I banished all the reds and khakis and went white with black and gold accents.  Last year I added trendy zebra pillows and the suzani to update the look.  The blue and white porcelains have been, and will remain, a constant.


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This was how it’s been looking this year – filled to the gills.   It’s just too much and trust me – I had already done a lot of culling at this point!  More deleting still needs to be done.



This is how the right side of the family room looked before today.  The suzani covers an antique wine tasting table that was once my breakfast room table.  Again, this is just too piled up with books and globes.  For years Ben and I have been collecting the antique maps and engravings of Israel and the Middle East that are hanging 0n the wall,  but they are going to go on vacation for a while.  The suzani is going to where all trends die – EBay!   Enough with suzanis for the next decade! Even Michael Smith who started the suzani craze has moved away from them – just as Target has discovered them.




Today – this is how it looks.  I took away the extra side chairs next to the big white chairs and rearranged the shelves somewhat.   I pushed the sofa back towards the windows to make more room – I don’t know why it was so far away from the windows to being with.   Without the two side chairs and with the sofa pushed back, it immediately looks so much bigger and cleaner. 



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The right side today– much cleaner and less cluttered, though it definitely is not minimalist.  I can’t really live without some degree of clutter.  The wine tasting table looks so much better with the bulky suzani gone.  The lamp was changed out for the lighted lantern that once hung on the wall behind the sofa.  The big bowl of pictures moved here from the coffee table.  The prints were replaced with an antique mirror that was in my old kitchen.  The globes are on the shelves now, but Ben’s been hinting that he bought me another one for Hanukkah, oy!




And looking down from the stairs.   Now, the big issue is the coffee table.  We bought this table for our anniversary when we moved here – it’s an old Irish dining room table cut down by the crazy Irishman with a shop in Montrose.   My sister bought one too, as did a number of my clients.  I love the table and all, but I would like something more refined now – maybe a black chinoiserie tea table?    I tried an extra wine tasting table of mine there that is pretty low and I thought it looked great, but Ben insisted it was too high for him to see the TV over it.   Trust me, it wasn’t.   One rather nasty fight happened over this coffee table – for some reason he’s particularly attached to it while I’m so over it.  He uses it as an ottoman, so I think I might get a large rectangular slipcovered ottoman as a compromise.  Maybe something like Suzanne Rheinstein’s famous race tract ottoman like this: 



I love her ottoman – so it’s a possibility.  If fact, I love this room!  The chairs are to die for, the fabrics are subtle and beautiful – it’s one of my favorites of Rheinstein’s interiors.




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I really like this ottoman too with its long skirt that Jane Moore designed for her daughter, the owner of Wisteria. I suppose I’ll let Ben pick which one he likes best.  Maybe. 


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The other change downstairs, beside the kitchen, is the foyer.  I went years and years with no center table, but I always knew I would put one there.  As soon as I had an extra table, I moved it to the entry hall.     I finally had a stage for my vintage birdcage.   Here it was with the two Mary McDonald inspired blue and white pots and my lilac transferware and way too many chairs, books and just too, too much.  The transferware moved up to the guest bedroom.


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The guest room with the moved transferware.   The lilac color looks so much better here with the seafoam green. 


Look what interior designer Jackye Lanham did with her lilac transferware!  I love, love, love this!  Lanham likes to decorate with plates – something that I can completely relate to!


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Before:  This tablescape is one of my favorite of the bunch.  I think the hydrangea is gorgeous here with all the blue and white and I added one piece of blue opaline from my collection for color pop.  But there isn’t always a hydrangea like this available – and it died, plus Ben brought home a white orchid to replace it.  And there was this urn that needed a landing spot…..



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Today’s changes:   the birdcage moved on to greener pastures.  The white urn now takes center stage and the large white orchid that Ben bought takes the place of the blue hydrangea.  I like the hydrangea better than the orchid, so I’ll switch that back when possible.  But what do you think – should I put the birdcage back (ugh, no!)  and move the white urn somewhere else?  What do you think – I’m conflicted.   I wish I had a large blue hydrangea to take the picture with the urn to show you the true look.  


So, these are my decorating changes before the big Hanukkah party Sunday night.   The living room and dining room passed muster, for now.   Next blog– the kitchen!    I'll show you the befores and afters.  We didn’t do a big remodeling, just some updating here and there, so don’t expect a lot!!  And then, after the Hanukkah party – I’ll show you my table settings.   And don’t worry, I won’t bore you with any recipes!


One last note on holiday decorating.    When I casually mentioned on another blog feeling a little left out design-wise during December, my dear friend Valorie Hart aka Visual Vamp wrote the most gorgeous piece on decorating a Jewish house for the holidays.  Please be sure to stop by and read Visual Vamp’s article here for some great ideas which I would love to incorporate in my Hanukkah celebrations.   And here is what has to be the cutest Christmas tree of this year :  Visual Vamp’s -  A Breakfast at Tiffany’s Christmas in New Orleans!



Visual Vamp’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s Christmas in New Orleans.  And yes, those are real Tiffany boxes she bought on EBay. 



And now, for something completely different:  Would you like to be the next Eddie Ross?




Who wouldn’t?  Cote de Texas recently received an email from HGTV – and no, they weren’t looking for any of my brilliant design advice! – they are looking for the next Eddie Ross.  If you think you might be interested in submitting a video application for next season’s Design Star – please go here.   If you do win – you get to star in your own TV series on HGTV!   Good luck to those who do apply!

Pretty in Pink



Does the image of this Jeep (not again!) conjure up good memories?  If so, you’ve probably stayed at the Acapulco resort hotel Las Brisas!  I did!  These cute pink and white striped Jeeps drive you up the hills to your casita and back down again to the beach.   The view of Acapulco Bay from the hotel is phenomenal and strategic, as well.   Las Brisas was actually built on what was once a Mexican fort – and the ancient walls and cannons can be still be seen today.



Built on a curving beach, in front of tall cliffs, Acapulco is today a resort town filled with modern hotels and condominiums.  Famous for it’s trendy night spots and cliff divers, this town was once THE place to vacation in Mexico.   But, stiff competition from newer resort towns and Mexico’s crime rate has taken it’s toll on Acapulco.   Things appear to be changing though.   During the 90’s Mexico tackled the problems of Acapulco’s  infrastructure and replaced all the sewers and undertook a massive cleanup of the beach, spending over $1 billion on the project.  Spring breakers started to come back in droves – after a decades long infatuation with Cancun Mexico on the Gulf of Mexico coast.   While Acapulco will never be the hot spot that it once was, it is still a place of remarkable natural beauty with a wonderful climate, year-round.




One of the best known hotels in Acapulco is the Las Brisas.   Over 50 years old, Las Brisas has maintained its reputation for romance and charm.   Built into the cliffs, the hotel is famous for it’s pink casitas (rooms) that all have private (or semi private) pools.   These private pools have made Las Brisas world famous with honeymooners.   The property is  surrounded by lush landscaping and flowers are everywhere, especially hibiscus which are placed floating in the private pools each day by the attentive staff.    The Acapulco Las Brisas is the star of the Brisas hotel chain, which has recently completed a massive remodeling of the pink palace.  Over $2o billion was spent on the renovations, bringing the resort up to date.  The reviews have been very positive.



With the major renovation completed, the emphasis is now on the pink!  If you don’t like pink – don’t come!   The hotel is utterly romantic – so  much so that it’s motto is “A place where children are rarely seen, but often created!”    The resort is often cited as the most romantic hotel in the world.   While that is probably stretching it, it IS a wonderful place.  The property is over 40 acres and there are just 251 casitas, allowing for much privacy and quiet relaxation.



The line of pink and white striped Jeeps waits to take you up and down the hills.  Aren’t they the cutest?   The view of the Bay of Acapulco is the main attraction at Las Brisas.



This picture was taken from a casita.  Since the Pacific faces west, the sunsets are spectacular.



Even the gift shop is themed pink, although I do spy a blue and white striped t-shirt in there!  Everywhere are pink hibiscus – the Las Brisas logo. 



The casitas are flat roofed and are reminiscent of  mid century modern design.  The flat roofs allow each casita a clear view of the Pacific.



In this picture you can really see the ancient fort walls and the lookout posts on the top left.



The amazing night view from a casita – taken by a guest.



Each casita has it’s own swimming pool.  I love that banquette in the corner!



 All the casitas were renovated to great reviews and each one is just a little different from the other.   This casita has a pink wall with a limestone floor.



 This casita has a stone wall and onyx floor.  Look at that sunset!  On the table – Bienvenidos, or Welcome in Spanish is spelled out in flower petals, a Mexican tradition.



This casita has a living room and dining room.  All rooms have a bar and a refrigerator filled with goodies.



 The bathrooms are made of travertine and rock with rain showers and skylights.  The basket on the right stores pink and white striped towels.



 This room is surprisingly free of pink!  Notice the lamps – the bases are made of wood, probably faux wood – but still very attractive.



This suite  has an indoor pool that opens to the outdoor pool!  Perfect for honeymooners.



Every morning you are greeted with two things:   first, your pool is filled with fresh hibiscus!



And second, through a small door, your coffee and Continental breakfast is waiting.  This way, the staff doesn’t have to wake you up!




This picture is from – a guest took it of their room, praising the 1000 thread count sheets!  This shot looks remarkably as good as the hotel’s press photographs, which is always a good thing.



 The pools all overlook the Bay of Acapulco.  Well, I should say, ALMOST all pools overlook the bay – but I’ll save that story for last!



There are lots of destination weddings at Las Brisas. 



There are a few restaurants at the hotel – this one overlooks the bay, of course.



Or, you can order a romantic dinner at your casita – gorgeous!!!



Everyone hangs out at the bar at night, overlooking, the bay, of course!



 During the day, the most fun is at the La Concha Private Beach Club which is  where the hotel’s swimming pools are.  There are three swimming pools, one freshwater and two saltwater tide pools that lead directly to the bay.  Everything is, of course, pink even at the beach club.    The club is just minutes from the grounds and the Jeeps take you there, down from the cliffs. 



The saltwater tide pool at La Concha. 



The tide pools are actually built around the bay.  Even the rocks are painted pink!



The freshwater pool at the La Concha Beach Club is preferable if you don’t like fish in your swimming pool.



One of the saltwater tide pools.



The restaurant at the La Concha serves great grilled seafood. 



And after you are tired of swimming and shopping and discotequeing – no trip to Acapulco is complete without seeing the famous cliff divers.  This is extreme diving – the water is shallow and  they dive into a small cove.    I saw these divers years and years ago when I was a little girl.  The first airplane trip I ever took was to Mexico City and Acapulco – where  we saw this famous stunt.  Hopefully, these are not the same men!


Alright, so how do I know that some casitas do NOT face the Bay of Acapulco?  Well, a looong time ago, before I was married, my best friend was a travel agent.  As an agent, she traveled the world for free on what was known then as Fam Trips - trips that travel agents took to familiarize them with the product.  She treated me a few times to some wonderful places, one of which was Acapulco.   The cute pink and white striped Jeep drove us up to our casita and we were thrilled!   We had our own swimming pool – the whole nine yards.  Except, our casita was facing the cliffs behind the hotel, NOT the bay – not even a hint of the bay!     We were  young and really didn’t care that much, in fact, I don’t think we cared at all!    I didn’t even realize what we were missing until right before we left for home, we went to the hotel’s restaurant and experienced the breathtakingly beautiful view of the bay.  Only then did we realize that the hotel had given us  probably the worst casita on the property, the one casita that faced the cliffs.   But of course, it was all free!   Well, almost free.   You see, unbeknownst to us, my older, single cousin was also in Acapulco.   I don’t remember how we met up with him, but somehow he ended up barging in on our free vacation.   Every night he would raid our room’s refrigerator and eat the expensive Toblerone chocolate candy and lots of other goodies from the bar.  We ended up having to pay for all that PLUS his La Concha Beach Club private membership that he joined on our expense tab!  Actually we had a great time and many laughs over the Toblerone candy, which whenever I see it today, I think of that vacation.    Seeing this romantic hotel, all fresh and remodeled, really makes me want to go back, not with my friend and cousin, but with my husband!


If you are interested in learning more about Las Brisas, their web site is here.    Also, reading is great advice before taking any vacation these days.  The reviews of Las Brisas are mostly outstanding.  The renovation is said to be wonderful, though of course the resort is over 50 years old, which is part of  its charm and history.  If you desire brand spanking new, this resort probably isn’t for you.   Also, a few reviewers do point out that driving around Acapulco in a rented car is not advisable and state that it’s best while vacationing anywhere in Mexico, to stay close to the resort.