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Dee Schiavone celebrates the holidays each year with a different theme

by: BARBARA SHERMAN - MAKING MEMORIES -- Dee Schiavone was inspired by her dad during her childhood to go all out for Christmas decorations, and she has been doing it ever since.On the first day of Christmas, Dee Schiavone will be more than ready.

She has had a year to prepare for it. Guests who were invited to Dee and Al’s King City home during Christmastime 2011 should be put on notice that if they are lucky enough to be invited back this year, the house will feature a whole new theme.

"I started doing themes about 15 years ago," said Dee last December. "The Victorian décor is my favorite theme. One year before Christmas, we traveled to different states, and I decided at the beginning of the trip that I was going to have a 'natural' Christmas that included seed pods and dried foliage from the places we traveled."

Another year the theme was Teddy bears, and Dee as usual went all out, finding a gold mine at Costco, which sold packages of Teddy bears.

"I just can't keep everything, so I took the Teddy bears to the Ronald McDonald House afterwards," Dee said. "Several years ago I did a 'Polar Express' theme. A lot of the stuff I buy for each theme I donate to a charitable organization after the holidays are over.

"I'm in several organizations like the ceramics club and the knitting and crocheting group, so it's fun to have members of those groups over during the holidays to share. They seem to enjoy the fun."

In 2011 Dee started decorating on Nov. 1 "because I knew I was going to have these parties, and I didn't feel at all stressed about it."

Dee and Al celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary Oct. 14, 2011, "so I've been doing this for a lot of years," she said.

Actually, Dee started appreciating Christmas decorations as a child: "As a kid, my dad was the first one in the entire city to put lights around the house - it was 1949," she said. "He was very much into Christmas. Our family was not so much into gifts, but it went all out with the decorations."

by: BARBARA SHERMAN - CHRISTMAS IN THE CITY -- Dee Schiavone leaves her Department 56 Christmas in the City collection set up all year long on high shelves in the living room.Dee is willing to share one of her secrets for decorating every nook and cranny in the house: Several years ago, Al attached shelves high on the living room walls with electrical outlets for Dee's Department 56 Christmas in the City collection, which she leaves up all year long, thus cutting down on setting up all the pieces each year and storing them in between.

"I have 36 pieces and can't fit anymore onto the shelves," Dee said.

Last year, everywhere in the house, from the living and dining room to the master bedroom to the guest bathroom, there were signs of Christmas. In fact, there was no space or mirror untouched by the Christmas spirit.

For example, in the dining room the chandelier was adorned with crystals and circus animals; the dining room table was set with a Christmas tablecloth, decorations and china, and big red bows were hanging on the backs of the chairs. On top of the china cabinet were giant sugar pine cones from the Sierra Mountains in California.

Another of Dee's secret is that "since 1991, we have had an artificial tree," she said.

And that Christmas tree was laden with lights, ornaments and tinsel, and also included Dee's and Al's own ornaments from their first Christmas as children.

"Al was born in Niagara Falls, N.Y.," Dee said. "I was born in Indiana, Penn. Our families moved to California in the early 1940s, and we both spent our entire school years in Chino. In 1970 Al and I moved from Southern California to Carlton and really started establishing our own family traditions."

In the entry of the King City home they puchased in 2003, Dee hung a good-sized wreath, complete with a full-sized Christmas angel that normally would be placed atop a tree. "There are so many things you can do outside of the conventional uses," Dee said.

The entry hall also had a Christmas calendar, clock and plates decorated with Victorian art; and leading into the living room was a small bookshelf filled with Christmas books. On top of a cabinet was what Dee calls her "teeny village," which was made up of houses, trees and other items no more than 4 inches high.

Another table displayed Dee's Hallmark lighthouse collection, which was not lit up "because it was too much for the circuit," she said. "I had about 50 Hallmark motion ornaments but gave quite a few away to the kids. I bought pieces for the collections over the years, but when the kids started leaving home, I really started buying in earnest. I'm not an experienced collector - I just like things that are pretty."

One table featured carousels, and on top of another one was a tree with Santa and his reindeer "flying" around it.

And what would Christmas be without a snow globe? Yep, Dee has that too plus a music box collection as well.

A favorite piece that reappears each year is a manger scene with Santa praying over baby Jesus.

Dee likes to collect unusual items, such as a "nanny whistle" from the 1880s that upper-class Victorian families would give to their nannies as a Christmas gift, which fit right into last year's theme.

The master bedroom featured a Christmas comforter, a decorated tree and a wreath hanging over the bed.

Even the computer's screen saver was a series of 300 Victorian Christmas cards, grouped by theme.

In the guest bathroom were, of course, Christmas towels, musical soap box and storage tins, and even the tissue box was wrapped like a present in holiday wrapping paper.

"It's a good thing I don't have a bigger house," Dee said.

Before the holidays were even over last year, Dee already knew what her Christmas theme would be for this year: "It's going to be a children's Christmas theme with old-fashioned toys and candy canes," she said. "Part of Christmas is making people happy. Everybody has their own idea of what Christmas is, and for us, it's family, but decorating the house is a pretty little gift for everybody.

"My whole thing is building memories. I hate to see Christmas end."

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