Chattanooga area design, photography and etiquette experts offer practical solutions to common vacation dilemmas


You have your tree. You have your events and your shopping list. You also have a few questions.

For example, is there a better way to hang these lights? Who exactly, outside of your home, should you buy for? Is this the year you finally get a family photo that no one blinks at?

While the details help make our vacation more memorable, they shouldn’t make us lose sight of what’s most important this time of year – and they don’t have to.

Here, local experts in design, photography and etiquette share practical tips for our common vacation dilemmas, helping us stay focused on the real reason for the season – each other.

Defeat the hallways

In September, Brandon Carruth is already in the middle of his vacation, dreaming, designing and purchasing the components he will integrate into the facilities that year. Owner of Carruth Concepts, he spends the entire fall season decorating hotels, homes and retail stores across the country. In 2017 and 2018, he even landed a position to help decorate rooms at the White House.

“I only have this career because I love Christmas so much,” he says. “Growing up, my mom and I would plant the tree; my dad and I would do the lighting. It was a great thing, and it sparked my passion.”

To help you spark your own, Carruth shares his guide to decorating vacation homes.

Photo provided by Brandon Carruth / When setting up your tree, says designer Brandon Carruth (pictured), be sure to open up and inflate each branch.

> Choose a theme. This will help give your tree some personality. In choosing his, Carruth considers the elements available to him: carpet design; wall color; an interesting luminaire, for example. Then it selects the colors and prints accordingly. Or, for a classic, no-frills look, white and transparent or red, green and gold are always on trend, he says.

What’s hot and what’s not

When it comes to tree accents, “a lot of people are ditching structured arches and poinsettia flowers for more greenery with a natural touch and feel,” he says. Floral picks, which can be found at most craft stores, are an easy, do-it-yourself option. Just choose 3-4 that match your color scheme, then layer and glue them into your tree or wreath tops. Natural cedar wreath can be found at most tree farms, Carruth says, while local stores such as The Great Backyard Place or Barn Nursery have man-made, natural-looking options.

> Make your tree swell. According to Carruth, the biggest mistake people make is not taking the time to properly configure their tree. “You want to touch every limb. Open these branches, inflate them so that there is no space. This also applies to wreaths and garlands. It is worth it,” he said.

> Be intentional. When decorating a tree, remember the depth, distance, texture and color, says Carruth. Ornaments and lights should cover the branches up to the trunk to show the depth of the tree. Older, more affordable ornaments should hang from the lower limbs, while the more beautiful and newer ones come closer to the edges and at eye level. In addition, ornaments and accents should be evenly spaced. A combination of toppings – glass balls, floral picks, and lights, for example – will help add texture to your tree.

> And remember: what goes up must come down.

“I don’t think it’s cheesy to decorate as soon as you want. Anytime after Halloween is okay,” Carruth says. “But it’s outdated to leave them in place for too long. Be prepared to remove your decorations after the first week of January.”

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Photo provided by Flint Chaney / Photographer Flint Chaney, pictured here with wife Jen Chaney, son Flint Roman Chaney and stepmother Lauretta Williams, shows how to capture high quality family photos using just your smartphone.

No place like home for vacation

With today’s technology, there is no excuse for bad family photos, says Flint Chaney, photographer from Chattanooga. “We have fantastic phones,” he says. And by following his advice, you will be able to make the most of what you have in hand.

1. First, says Chaney, wipe smudges from your phone’s camera lens.

2. Coordinate your colors. Or at least watch out for them. You don’t want everyone wearing gray T-shirts and only one being red, Chaney explains. The solution could be as simple as having one or two people put on their jackets before the photos.

3. Pay attention to the lighting. Move a lamp or aim a flashlight at darker areas of the room. Use the flash if necessary, and if it’s too harsh, says Chaney, try draping a handkerchief over the bulb to help soften the look. And remember, he said, “God’s light is always the best.” If window light is available, take advantage of it.

4. Obtain a tripod. Chaney prefers the Ubeesize cell phone tripod, with flexible legs that can be attached to almost anything, and a wireless remote. Selfie sticks work too, he says. “People don’t care about selfie sticks, but they get better photos, so don’t be embarrassed. It’s worth capturing this fantastic memory.”

5. Download a photo editing application like Lightroom or Photoshop to enhance your photos. But don’t filter too much, says Chaney. “You want to look real. You don’t want to look like a Barbie doll.”

6. Always count down: three, two, one – and one means “don’t blink,” says Chaney. However, someone inevitably will, which is why you should always take multiple photos. And be creative, he says. Take one with everyone smiling; one with silly faces; one with everyone looking left, then right. “And be ready to say something funny for that family member who doesn’t like to smile,” he says. “I always tell people to shout ‘chimichanga!’ And they light up, it works every time.

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Staff Photo / In 2020, Americans spent an average of almost $ 1,000 on gifts, vacation items and other expenses during the holiday season.

All i want for christmas

For Dawn Jumper, Chattanooga’s de facto expert on etiquette and good manners for children, “the holiday season is about showing appreciation and affection to others.” And it is the star who guides her gifts, whether personal or professional.

However, says Jumper, it’s important to differentiate between the two.

> Are you buying for your boss?

Short answer: No.

“You don’t want to look like you’re looking for an undue favor,” Jumper says. “Freebies in the business world are expected to drop, so it’s okay for bosses and managers to overlook the line.” Plus, says Jumper, workplace gifts should never be personal.

“Avoid things like perfume, lotion, or clothes,” she says. The best options are coffee, food, or a gift card.

And while she doesn’t recommend that employees give to their superiors, “never underestimate the power of a handwritten note. You can show your appreciation without giving a gift.”

> What about service professionals?

Tips in cash are suitable for certain professionals: garbage collectors, dog groomers or postmen, for example. (However, it should be noted that postal workers are only allowed to accept gifts valued at $ 20 or less.)

“If service is important to you, if it makes your life easier, the holiday season is a great time to show your appreciation,” Jumper says.

However, Jumper does not suggest cash tips to “salaried professionals,” such as teachers or doctors. Instead, she says, give them thoughtful gifts. For teachers, “I suggest involving your child in selecting the gift and wrapping it so that he can feel the joy of giving a gift,” she says.

> Navigate delicate exchanges

How do you teach your child to be kind, regardless of the gift?

Speak with your child ahead of time, says Jumper. Prepare them for the possibility of receiving something they don’t like and remind them that the correct answer is always “Thank you very much”.

And remember, Jumper says, “Our kids are always watching us.” You can help your child learn good manners by demonstrating it yourself.

What do you do when someone gives you a gift and you don’t have one in return?

“Don’t fuss too much,” Jumper says. “They’re trying to show their appreciation for you, so don’t make that person feel bad. Just say, ‘What a wonderful surprise. You are so kind.'”

And, of course, follow up with a thank you note.

“Email thanks are okay, but it’s not the best practice,” Jumper says. “Think about the number of emails you receive in your inbox versus the number of emails you receive in your mailbox. A handwritten note is so much more meaningful and its purpose is to return the time and effort that someone has spent giving you a gift. “

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Staff Photo by CB Schmelter / Santa’s winter tour of the Southeast will include various stops in the Tennessee Valley.

Where to see Santa Claus

Santa’s winter tour of the Southeast is officially underway. Here are some kid-friendly and pet-friendly places to take photos with the man himself.

Events for children

Hamilton Place Mall near the food court, 2100 Hamilton Place Blvd .; or Northgate Mall at Center Court, 271 Northgate Mall

When: Until Christmas Eve, Monday to Thursday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Cost: Photo packages range from $ 39.99 to $ 49.99

Remember: Reserve your spot online in advance to help Santa and his helpers stay safe this season. Visit or to learn more.

Breakfast with Santa at Read House, 107 West Martin Luther King Blvd.

When: December 11, first service from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., second service from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Cost: adults $ 30; children (5-12) $ 15; children (4 years and under) free

On the Menu: The chef-prepared feast will include Belgian waffles and pancakes, plus a stunning garnish bar, plus all your breakfast favorites.

Remember: Mr. and Mrs. Claus will be appearing at both seats. Bring your camera! Tickets can be purchased online at

Mistletoe Market at Collegedale Commons, 4950 Swinyar Drive, Collegedale, Tennessee

When: December 11-12, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

No cost

Know Before You Go: In addition to free photos with Santa, the annual Holiday Craft Show (also free!) Call 423-479-6116 for more information.

Pet Events

Bass Pro Shop; 1000 Bass Pro Drive

When: Until Christmas Eve, store opening hours

No cost

Remember: advance reservations are required. Reserve your place at


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