Holiday decorating: Step no. 1 — find your decorations

OK, let’s talk about decorating for the holidays. I have three questions for the folks who keep turning down those pesky “Garden and Gun” photography requests (you know who you are):

  1. How do y’all do it — make everything look so festive and pretty? More importantly, where do you put everything when you’re done?
  2. What will it take for you to come to my house and make it look like that for me?
  3. Yeah, I understand you’re busy. With the decorating and all. So would you at least help me find the box of tree ornaments? It’s been missing for three years now and I really would like to find it.

I love Christmas, despite Quinn’s assertion on the mid-season “Scandal” finale that “Everybody over the age of 10 hates Christmas.” (And thank goodness Liv finally — FINALLY — got a new couch. Also, did magic elves put up her tree? See, that’s exactly what I’m talking about here. Even Olivia Pope, the nation’s former quasi-First Lady/First Girlfriend whose father pretty much could run the world but then leaves the White House after a huge fight with her boyfriend, has a gorgeously perfect Christmas tree put up WITH NO EFFORT WHATSOEVER. That happened.) Anyway, I love Christmas. I love special times with family and friends. I

Chex mix 006
Husband JP introduced me to Chex Mix with Cheerios & now I wouldn’t have it any other way.

love shopping & wrapping & opening. I love hot chocolate & milk punch & Chex mix & frosted sugar cookies with chocolate chips for the snowpeople’s eyes. I love Christmas carols & “Silver Bells.” I love memories & stories & creating new ones. Those are the things I am good at it. Give me some Santa Claus mugs, “A Christmas Story” & my grandmother’s Chocolate Snowball cookie recipe and I’ll give you a Christmas Eve to remember. That, I can do.

Decorating? Pass.

Some people can create a statement-making mantlepiece, a work-of-art Christmas tree and a stunning tablescape for Christmas breakfast (or pay others to do it) and some people can’t. I’ve known for years I’m solidly in the “can’t” category. And that’s OK. I mean, it’s a victory if I can find the end of the invisible tape. My expectations are low. I know my limits. That’s why I’ve minimalized our holiday decorating to the basics: stockings, exterior bows and wreaths with gold trim (remnants of an overly ambitious Victorian-village phase back when husband John Pitts said things such as “Sure, sweetie, whatever you want. Doesn’t matter how much it costs.” A phase that, sadly, did not last long, at all.) and a

Yay! Christmas mugs still at the same place I left them 11 months ago — on floor of storage closet.

hodgepodge collection of holiday coffee mugs and espresso cups. If I’m feeling especially ambitious, I might scatter a few red candles around — hey, it is Christmas, after all.

I do understand that a huge part of successful decorating is organization. I know that behind the magazine-perfect rooms are rows & rows of carefully labeled plastic boxes full of meticulously wrapped items. I’ve done my part by identifying easy storage sites for my Big Three of Decorations: stockings in my top dresser drawer, where I look at them every day; outside wreaths and bows inside the attic door, where I fall over them every time I go in; and coffee mugs and espresso cups at the top of the dented cardboard box labeled “Xmas” that was filled with holiday stuff about two moves ago and I always think that one year I’ll dig down through it to see what’s there, but, no.

So, the question remains, where is the box of tree ornaments? I had it

Our cooking club’s tree decorated for a community display several years ago.

three years ago. I know I did. It’s a big box, too. You’d think it’d be difficult to lose. Last year, in desperation, I used ornaments from a culinary tree my cooking club had decorated years ago (THOSE I could find without any problem), but my grandsons weren’t fooled.

“Where’s the Christmas stuff?” the older one asked. “And why do you have measuring cups on your tree? I don’t think that’s right, Kacky.”

This year, decorating is not complete until I find those ornaments. Want to come help? I’ve got Chocolate Snowballs and milk punch.



High school class reunion, or why doesn’t anybody listen to John Denver anymore?

This is what 1975 looks like today. Pretty damn good, I think.

class pic         Thanks to the patience and perseverance of a few dedicated folks, the Coffee County Central High School (Manchester, Tennessee) class of ’75 gathers for an official reunion weekend every five years. Saturday night we gathered at the fanciest place in town to eat, to spill my glass of red wine all over my purse to drink, to catch up and to lose at to play charades. We had a blast — as long as we studiously ignored the fact that we all are way older now than our own parents were when we graduated. That’s a little scary. And it made me remember that the whole time we were going through school, people kept telling us that we were the future of our country and America’s success and welfare were up to us. I’ll just let that thought sit there for contemplation.

But here are some other, more cheerful thoughts:

  • BFF Debbie Stepp Ball was my date since husband John Lewis Pitt
    , sports editor at the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, had this little thing called THE FIRST COLLEGE FOOTBALL WEEKEND going on. usAs usual, Debbie Stepp and I both wore pretty much the same thing, both worried about our shoes and both could barely stay awake past 9 p.m. Because that’s how we roll. Also please ignore the senior picture on my name tag. I have no knowledge of who that person is. None at all. Nope, it’s not me. Debbie Stepp, also as usual, got tons of compliments and people said things to her such as “Oh, Debbie, you haven’t aged a bit!” People said things to me such as “Uh, hello? Were you in my Spanish class?” But it is true that she has not aged a bit and is a beautiful person inside and out and I’m just glad she still lets me hang out with her.
  • The much-anticipated charades team made up of the class Cathys/Kathys — we think there were eight of us at one time — lost because WE FOLLOWED THE RULES and didn’t talk. The Cathys/Kathys ALWAYS follow the rules. It’s what makes us who we are. Fingers pointing at you, team of Gordon Smith. Fingers pointing at you.
  • The generation that graduated in 1975 got kind of stuck, history-wise. We missed out on the Beatles, the Sixties and Elvis. In the months before
    we graduated, Watergate conspirators were convicted and the Vietnam War ended. Our male teachers were a mix of World War II veterans and young guys with bell-bottom pants and hair touching their collars. Our female teachers were a mix of ruler-slapping take-no-prisoners ladies who’d been teaching for about a hundred years and young women trying out this new idea that they could have careers AND have families at the same time. Is it any wonder we were confused?     10888636_10156002401545626_5285635509432103484_nIs it any wonder that when the photographer at the reunion told us we could do anything we wanted for a “silly” picture, we couldn’t handle it? We panicked. We froze. This picture is as silly and free as we could get. But it’s not our fault. We were raised to do what we’re told. We need rules and regulations! Parameters and limitations! It’s how we do our best work.
  • And one final thought — these folks are all fun and friendly and delightful to talk to. Why didn’t I know that 40 years ago? Why was I so insecure that I didn’t venture beyond my own circle of friends? Wish I’d embraced all the quirks and differences and strengths that made us our wonderful different selves. But maybe that’s what reunions are for … that, and getting to hear your mother tell you, as you head out the door, “You’ll knock all those boys off their feet!” (my mom) and “Don’t drink and drive!” (Debbie’s mom). So glad some things never change.

New post at South by South Style!

Click here to read the first post in the South by South Style series on buying clothes online. First up: StitchFix. Coming soon in post no. 2: Golden Tote.

Also, husband John Pitts, I don’t know why all of those packages keep coming to our house. With my name on them. Have no idea. And, oh, you’re asking about this dress? This one? You haven’t seen me wear it before? Hmmm … well …

Cold-y Toddy!

Get it — Cold-y Toddy? See, we live in Mississippi where most people — unless they wear Mississippi State‘s maroon and white — go around saying “Hotty Toddy” instead of “Hello! How are you today? Fine? Great! Me, too.” You also know we live in Mississippi because everything I write about begins with football and because I know — doesn’t everybody? — that it’s 58 days until the first SEC football game of fall 2015 , which non-coincidentally also is Nick Saban‘s first 2015 effort To Take Over the World. He won’t rest until it’s done.

However, Nick Saban did not enjoy a shot of freshly made Toddy this morning, as I did. I’m assuming he didn’t, anyway. At least I can safely suppose that he didn’t drink a shot of fresh Toddy this morning that was made by ME.

Coffee on Windowsill

Toddy is the name of a company, brewing process and also the coffee itself. In 1964, a chemical engineering graduate named Todd Simpson discovered the age-old technique of cold-brewing coffee to produce a liquid coffee concentrate. He developed and patented a convenient way to make the concentrate, and the family-owned and -run business is still in Fort Collins, Colorado, 51 years later. While potent and silky strong, liquid coffee concentrate is less acidic than coffee brewed with hot-water methods. You can reconstitute the concentrate with hot water at a ratio of 1:2-3 for a steaming cup of morning wake-up, but that’s only for wimps who are afraid of the real thing folks who don’t like their coffee bold and complex. No, don’t waste your Toddy trying to recreate … you know … actual coffee, because Toddy’s true genius reveals itself in cold coffee drinks. That’s when its smooth richness combines with creamy milky sweetness over ice cubes for one perfect summer-afternoon refresher.

Toddy is easy to make at home. For about $40, you get a clear glass carafe with white plastic lid, a white plastic brewing container with removable handle, a 412hSp3lRXLrubber stopper, two reusable filters and the instruction guide/recipe booklet. Put the stopper in the hole that’s in the bottom of the brewing container, dampen a filter and put it over the stopper, place the container over the decanter, layer coarsely ground coffee with fresh cold water in the container (measurements in instruction guide) and let sit for 12 hours. Pull the stopper out, and when the concentrate stops dripping in the decanter (usually only a minute or two), remove the container, top the decanter with the lid and store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. But it won’t stay there that long.

Here are a few Toddy hints I’ve learned over the years:

  • Make it at night to enjoy a fresh shot in the morning.
  • Buy inexpensive whole beans and grind them/have them ground at the store on the coarsest setting possible. You’ll wear out your nice at-home burr grinder by doing a pound of beans at one time.
  • Don’t use flavored beans. The added oils will gum up the filter.
  • Lay in a supply of filters and stoppers by ordering a bunch at once.
  • Either clean the decanter, lid and brewing container in the dishwasher or simply rinse and scrub with hot water to avoid soap residue.
  • The cold-brew concentrate makes an impressive gift. Pour some into a wide-mouthed glass canning jar with a two-part metal screw-on lid (trying to avoid using the patented “Mason jar”) and add a burlap bow. I’ve actually never done this because I only thought of it just now, but it sure sounds like a nice idea.

So the next time you’re in Mississippi and somebody yells “Are you ready?” at you, reply with “Coldy Toddy, gosh almighty!” and see what happens. No, really, don’t do that. Just say “Roll Tide.”

Spelling and other lessons

The Scripps National Spelling Bee, that annual competition where focused & determined youngsters prove yet again that they are way smarter than the rest of us, was held recently. For the second consecutive year, two spellers tied for first place. Gokul Venkatachalam, 14, spelled “scherenschnitte” and Vanya Shivashankar, 13, spelled “nunatak” for the win. They outlasted almost 300 opponents who got eliminated after heartbreaking misspellings.

I can’t even spell “misspellings.”

However, I do have a connection to this year’s contest — popular national contestant and Mississippi first-place champion Dev Jaiswal was one of the spellers in my disastrous first-and-only attempt at being a spelling-bee pronouncer. And before you say “Oh, I’m sure it wasn’t that bad” & “You’re being too hard on yourself,” please note that I have never ever ever been asked back. The truth is that, unlike the young spellers, I was unprepared & thought I could muddle through without much effort. To anyone else who’s asked to pronounce at a spelling bee: YOU CAN’T MUDDLE THROUGH. When the organizers gave me the words I’d have to pronounce and use in sentences a couple of weeks before the bee, I glanced through it and didn’t notice anything too intimidating. I should have looked harder. It was obvious, though, that unlike me, Dev and his co-contestants had approached the bee properly since we quickly zipped through the list — despite my increasingly stumbling pronunciations because WHERE THE HELL DID THESE WORDS COME FROM & WHY HAVEN’T I SEEN THEM BEFORE? — and had to call The Office Spelling Bee Folks for new words. After my failure was complete and avoiding the kind yet sorrowful eyes of the judges, I slipped out quietly and vowed to immediately counteract my poor performance with fried sugary doughnut goodness prepare better in the future.

Thankfully, Dev apparently wasn’t as scarred by that experience as I was. He’s overcome the disadvantage of having me pronounce his words and gone on to become a spelling-bee celebrity. CNN even called him “The inDEVatigable Jaswal” and reported that although he didn’t win, his smile and graciousness earned him a standing ovation. And autograph requests. Autograph requests!

So, to conclude, this young man now has taught me 1) to do your best and 2) to be OK with whatever your “best” is. T-H-A-N-K-S, Dev. (“Thanks:” — plural of Middle English thank, from Old English thanc thought, gratitude; meaning “kindly or grateful thoughts;” used in a sentence as “Thanks, all of you spellers, for showing us what’s really important.”

Running with the family, or “Why is there purple stuff in your ear?”

There is a way to make your family and friends think you are the coolest person ever AND reap other priceless benefits along the way.


1 oucWait! Don’t stop reading yet. Those inspiring stories about people whose idea of exercise is walking to the fridge but then they start running and they realize they love it and months later they’re competing in marathons?

Yeah, this isn’t one of those stories.

I strongly dislike running. I mean, it hurts. A lot. And makes your mascara run. I asked a running-fanatic co-worker once why she enjoyed the sport and she got a dreamy look in her eyes and smiled and said, “You know that feeling when you can’t breathe and your legs won’t work and you have to stop by the side of the road to throw up? Gosh, I love that feeling.”

Um, no, thank you.

Besides, have you been at the start line of a race? All those toned abs are intimidating.

This is a story, however, about a kind of running – the fun kind, where you get out with your family on a Saturday morning and spend some time together and get some exercise and end up feeling as if you’ve accomplished something important while still keeping your mascara intact.

2 picI’m talking about fun runs, those one-mile races with more emphasis on “fun” than “run.”

This spring, our daughters and our 7- and 3-year-old grandsons have hit the fun-run circuit. We’ve been pelted with confetti, dug colored cornstarch out of our ears and had a blast.

We none of us are runners (except the 3-year-old, who runs the whole mile without stopping or even breathing hard — I see Olympic medals in his future) and I was apprehensive about our non-athletic status before we signed up for our first race.

But I was being silly. Everybody is encouraging and enthusiastic, and the grins on the kids’ faces as they cross the finish line to cheers and ecstatic high fives are priceless. They may even have learned something about reaching goals and trying your best and helping each other.

And as a bonus, you get say this to your friends: “Sorry I can’t go shopping with you Saturday morning. That’s a race day, you know.”

It’s not a Southern party unless you’ve got …

Here in the South, we are in the middle of that lovely season when every day week DSCN3432there’s a tea or reception or shower or some other similar gathering where you show up and bless everybody’s hearts profusely and come away with 1) a new egg salad recipe, 2) details from Person A on where she bought those adorable shoes and 3) details from Person B on what Person A did after she bought those adorable shoes and who she did it with. And there are at least two food items that MUST be present to make it an official DSCN3435Southern party. Both of those items are in this photo. Southerners were raised on
these two items; non-Southerners have never heard of them and don’t really understand them. Can you spot them in this photo? Bonus points if you can name the Muscle Shoals, Alabama, party classic that is not present in this photo but no Muscle Shoals tea/shower/reception is complete without. The flower arrangement is essential Southerness, too. Sadly, my mother did not bestow upon me the love-of-gardening gene and all I know is that this arrangement has some green leaves and pretty flowers and looks really nice? On the other hand, I can tell you every single detail about every single food item on that table. Priorities! But also possibly the reason my jeans seem to have a little trouble zipping up lately. Sigh.