A Christmas story

Ah, the holidays … when everybody gathers at Grandma’s house to fight over who sleeps on the good mattress to share good times & festive traditions.

In our home, that means watching “Die Hard” (Alan Rickman, we always will miss your brilliance), downing tequila shots & YET ONCE AGAIN analyzing the emotional trauma scan_20161222inflicted on my now-30-something-year-old daughters random anonymous children forced to sit on Santa Claus’ lap. And smile.

It also means telling incredibly embarrassing stories about each other. Because, I mean, we’re all there, sitting around in relatively relaxed moods, so why not? Therefore, in the spirit of holiday generosity, I’m sharing with you all a little story we like to call “The Day of George Foreman,” or, as John Lewis Pitts some family members refer to it, “The Day Cathy Descended into Criminal Madness.”

Actually, this story does have an interactive element. Each time it’s told, listeners invariably ponder their own actions in the same situation. This leads to insightful discussion on such topics as 1) are sidewalks REALLY public property?; 2) what is the proper cooking time for a grilled cheese sandwich?; and 3) who, in fact, is George Foreman?

So, here’s the story. Decide for yourself.

A few Christmas afternoons ago, Younger Daughter — whom I for no reason whatsoever
will henceforth call, say, “Carolyn,” — and I decided to take a walk. As is usual for a Southern December, it was a mild day, perfect for strolling & chatting. As we neared the end of our route, with our house in sight, we noticed a young woman going in & out of what we assumed was her apartment. Carrying boxes & armloads of household items, she set them down on the sidewalk, near the curb & what we assumed was her car, and went back inside for more. Based on years of watching detective shows on TV on our sharply honed investigative skills, we figured she probably was moving out. We’re smart like that.

Now, here’s where it gets tricky. One of us — we can’t remember wh0 but it was NOT me — suggested casually meandering over since obviously the woman was putting things out on the curb(-ish) in the time-honored manner of offering unwanted items to anyone willing to cart them off. So, let’s review: woman brings boxes & other stuff out of an apartment & leaves(-ish) them unattended(-ish) on the curb(-ish). Clearly it’s a take-my-things-please situation, right?

Because, when we crossed the street & got closer, we saw two — count ’em, TWO — George Foreman grills. Waiting. Longing for a proper home. Wanting to be loved & appreciated instead of heartlessly discarded. (-ish).15124782-new1

Admittedly I never before that moment had ever thought about owning a George Foreman grill. Older Daughter loves hers for cooking the kids’ chicken nuggets, but since our kitchen counter space is taken up with the toaster, coffee grinder and five coffee makers other kitchen essentials, I’d never considered adding one.

That’s why I was as surprised as anyone to discover, a few seconds later, that somehow I had grabbed BOTH of the George Foreman grills from the curb(-ish) & was high-tailing it  back home as Younger Daughter urged us on to a quick exit of the crime scene home.

So, what would you have done? I don’t think I actually stole the George Foreman grills, since they were just sitting there. And clearly the woman was moving out. At least, I didn’t see her car there anymore despite hours spent nervously staking out her apartment whenever I’d casually glance in that direction. So there’s that. But why did I act fast & leave even faster? Obviously I had some doubt about the woman’s intentions. Or was I concerned about my reputation as a fine upstanding citizen? I’d curb-shopped before when we lived in Muscle Shoals, Alabama (see metal filing cabinet & Pier 1 Papasan Chair, although I did ditch the cushion), but maybe the rules were different here in our little Mississippi town? Don’t know.

After I cleaned the grills (“You mean, there are still pieces of food inside?” Older Daughter said in silent condemnation.), I searched online for how to use them since, you know, the previous owner had not thought to include the instructions. One grill is a single & one is a double & I love them & use them frequently, especially when making toasted cheese sandwiches for holiday company. And I feel only a little bit guilty.

So please enjoy your family gatherings this season as you share stories of possible criminal activity. And Alan Rickman.

cwcslant

(Obviously not my actual handwriting since you can, you know, read it.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome, 2016! Come on in and make yourself at home

Less than 12 hours into the new year and I’ve amazingly already accomplished several things on my resolutions list. This bodes well for the next 12 months, although of course there’s always room for derailment. I’ll keep you posted.

So, not that I’m bragging, but here’s what I already did in 2016:

  • Got healthy — yay for a good night’s sleep (yay, pharmaceuticals!)
  • Got organized — finally ran descaler through my Bialetti Mukka pot (twice), which then led to chipping off a year’s worth of dried gunk wiping off the stove top but I managed to ignore the urge that would’ve led to full-scale oven cleaning. No need to go that far.
  • Got good-wife points — although when I uncharacteristically asked husband John Pitts if he wanted scrambled eggs & cheese for breakfast (and by “asked husband John Pitts if he wanted scrambled eggs & cheese for breakfast,” I actually mean “asked husband John Pitts if he’d like me to make some sort of eatable meal by taking things out of the fridge and doing something to them on the stove.”), he checked my forehead in case my cold/sinus stoppage/winter crud had caused a fever.

So that’s good. But before we jump in to 2016 (I can never say “jump” during the holidays without picturing Hugh Grant in “Love Actually”), let’s reminisce about 2015. And since I’ve forgotten most of what  happened in 2015, let’s just stick to December. And since that’s also increasingly a blur, how about concentrating on Christmas? That I can do.

For example, Christmas reminds me how talented my family is. When you’ve got an artist in the family — son-law-Jason Behel, art teacher & artist extraordinaire — you get presents wrapped like this:IMG_2697
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Older Daughter matches her husband’s creativity with homemade skin-care products that, I promise you, surpass what’s available in the most luxurious spa. (Although Jennifer Timbes’ Cottage Garden in Corinth, Mississipppi, is a close second. Also: don’t tell husband JP that I even know what a luxurious spa is, please.). The best part? Older Daughter promises free refills.IMG_2704 IMG_2705

Christmas also reminds me that nobody, NOBODY, understands you like family and friends do. And, really, who cares about everybody else. Younger IMG_2703Daughter felt my pain, literally, when I’d burn my hand every freakin’ morning that I’d pour boiling water from the microwaved measuring cup into my pour-over coffee filter. I’d long wanted a Bonavita gooseneck teakettle but nobody UNDERSTOOD how vital it was until Younger Daughter stepped in and I now enjoy excruciating-steam-and-boiling-water-splatters-free mornings. But then again I can’t even drink the coffee I manage to make without spilling it. We were also delighted at the beautiful simplicity with which this miracle of technology works, as reflected in the parts diagram — Lid! Handle! Body! — and the instructions, which essentially said “Fill with water, put on stove top and pour water out when ready.” Brilliant!

Speaking of Younger Daughter, I had a been-there-done-that-moment when she shared an idea for her Ugly-Sweater-Party outfit. It was an idea I remembered from an early 1990s craft book I still have in a prominent position on a bookshelf had to dig around to find in the attic because who keeps things like that? The only reason I didn’t have this to pass on to Younger Daughter is because … well … someone who can’t handle hot water or a cup of hot coffee really shouldn’t have a hot-glue gun. Just sayin’.

And then, of course, we had our family Christmas Eve tradition of tequila shots and watching “Die Hard.” I don’t even know why that’s our tradition, but it is. So hope your holidays were merry and you have a wonderful New Year ahead of you. With abundant tequila shots, naturally.

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Happy New Year!

 

 

 

Three tips for holiday success

Yes, that panic you feel actually IS panic this time — pure unadulterated panic, not the kind you’ve been manufacturing because your year-end reports are due & has anybody seen your green sparkly sweater with the reindeer plus global warming, y’all. Nope, this is officially Panic Time because Dec. 25 is a week from today. One week,  people. One. Week.

But there are some things you can do to lessen your panic. Not completely get rid of it, you understand. That’s impossible because you ALWAYS will suddenly wake up at 3:31 a.m. on Dec. 23 with the certainty that although you did mail your sister’s family’s Christmas gifts in time, you definitely forgot to include your brother-in-law’s traditional bottle of Scotch, which your sister will take as subtle criticism & not call you for two weeks. That’s going to happen and you can’t do anything about it.

However, you can be prepared for/aware of other minor crises. Here are some suggestions, based on just a small sampling of my many holiday screw-ups years of expert research:

  • Family gatherings equal Game Nights, correct? Be the cool one with aIMG_2677 game that nobody’s played before. Family-friendly Qwirkle and its grown-up sibling Qwirkle Cubes are sort of dominoes, Scrabble and Hearts all rolled (sorry/not sorry for pun) into one. It truly is a game that’s easy to learn but then the more you play it, the more you realize how complex it can be. And, of course, because you are The Smart One, you downloaded the app on your phone and practiced beforehand so you can wipe up the competition with your brilliant moves share helpful advice & encouragement with those lesser players.
  • Pinterest is your friend during the holidays. Your best friend, IMG_2673actually, and she doesn’t even call you ONCE AGAIN at midnight to go over ONCE AGAIN the reasons she left her job/boyfriend/overflowing grocery cart in the middle of the frozen-food aisle ONCE AGAIN. (But you love her. You know you do.) Just browse through and you’ll find answers to any kind of holiday idea for decorating, gifting, baking, dressing for the office party — anything, really. Such as this wonderful gift idea my co-worker discovered: Add a cut-out handprint to a pair of gloves, embellish with ribbon and tuck a gift card inside one of the gloves. She did this for the student workers in our office and we added gift cards for a local restaurant because students always are 1) hungry and 2) cash-deficient. They loved it.
  • IMG_2671And, finally, as my Christmas gift to you, I’m sharing a tip to use when you’re getting dressed for those elegant and sophisticated cocktail gatherings and dinner parties and formal affairs at the embassy  the preschool Christmas program. And that tip is to pay attention to your earrings. For instance, from the back & from a distance & before you’ve put your contacts in/glasses on, these two earrings look pretty much the same, correct? I mean, they both have little sticky things poking out of the sides. Careful examination, however, reveals that one is a cute festival silver bow and the other is a manically grinning skull & crossbones. Do not wear manically grinning skull-and-crossbones earrings to the preschool Christmas program. You’re welcome.

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

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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

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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

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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.

 

 

The Coffee with Cathy Guide to Everything — Holiday Management

When it comes to navigating the yearly ready-to-trip-you-up-and-drag-you-down maze that is The Holidays, forget everything you’re read advising you to “eat right, sleep well and continue your exercise routine (even a brisk walk outside will help!).” I mean, you read the same article every year and has that advice ever worked? Of course not. And why? Because a) nobody has the time to be all healthy and pro-active, b) nobody has the energy to fix a salad when there are eight dozen Candy Cane White Chocolate Mini Cheesecakes to finish and c) anyway ARE YOU *** KIDDING ME? Look, all of the holiday stress is in your mind. You cannot change the chaos. You cannot change the tightly packed schedules that have you in 14 different spots in a mere 24-hour period. You cannot change the last-minute panic, the all-night wrapping marathons, the tree disasters. Those things are going to happen. Over and over again. So how to deal? Instead of fighting it and complaining and moaning, change your strategy: Instead of letting the holidays be in control of your emotional welfare, woman up and take control yourself. After all, the holidays are fun. Remember fun? For most of us, that’s what this mid-winter break is supposed to be. It’s when we impose expectations and standards and must-do’s and must-haves on our celebrations that we start to feel cranky. So relax. And enjoy. I don’t know about you, but this is about the only time of year people leave presents at our front door, everything smells good, sparkles and sequins are approved daytime wear and you can eat Bourbon Balls with impunity. What’s not to like? And just in case you need some actual helpful advice:

  • Never ever use the word “tacky” in conjunction with Christmas sweaters. For those of us in our 50s who were around for the original Christmas Sweater Boom, it’s much too soon to relegate this trend to the “tacky” category. We probably still have a few stashed away in the back of our closets. You can make fun of our mom jeans, our rhinestoned sweatshirts and our Madonna hair, but step away from the Christmas sweaters.
  • Besides, as soon as you post a photo of your winning entry in the office Tacky Christmas Sweater contest, your best client/customer/patron will walk in with the same sweater on. You have been warned.
  • Whether hours spent with a cozy fireplace and comfy blanket figure large in your holiday plans or you’re going to be grateful for a few squeezed-in minutes of free time, celebrate the season by adding wintry books to your to-read list. Consider “Smilla’s Sense of Snow,” by Peter Hoeg; Stieg Larsson‘s “The Girl Who …” books and any of the Inspector Wallender novels, by Henning Mankell. These Nordic mystery writers know how to create tight and compelling stories amid snow, ice and freezing temperatures — and when they’re not solving crimes, our detectives are pouring coffee and eating sandwiches. Doesn’t get much better.
  • In your holiday travels — even if it’s only to the neighbor’s house for a cookie swap — you may be faced with the Problem of Bad Coffee. It happens, even with people who listen to public radio and still have a Dennis Kucinich sticker on their Prius. Don’t compromise — you don’t have to drink Bad Coffee just because it’s the season of good tidings and joy. There is a solution. Eschew — politely, of course — the see-through beverage in the Mr. Coffee carafe. Then discretely remove the flask from your purse that’s full of your best cold brew, pour into one of your host’s coffee cups and proceed with add-in’s as you see fit. If you’re staying with someone (cough-cough my mother cough-cough) who is not a coffee drinker, then arrive prepared. A personal French press-tumbler is a good choice if you’re the only coffee fan, but consider bringing a more group-friendly method if others will be jealous.
  • Best present ever? A hot-lotion dispenser. Trust me.

Moms Know How to do Christmas Right

Christmas decorIt’s not that I’m a Scrooge, exactly. I like Christmas as much as anybody does — the lights, the parties, the food, the chance to wear sparkly Christmas decorclothes with impunity. Presents? Santa Claus? Milk (punch) & cookies? More is more. Bring it on. But when it comes to decorating, I lean toward extreme laziness minimalism. The thought of wrestling with putting up the tree and finding unpacking the ornaments makes me want to take a nap. Color-coordinating hand towels with guest soaps, replacing everyday pillows and artwork with holiday-themed decor and creatively displaying Christmas cards in a Pinterest-worthy style are simply beyond me. Our struggles with ourHoliday decorations %^&*$@ front-door garland this year are well documented — does anybody have an industrial nail gun we can borrow? — and I’ve desperately clung to stuck with our gold mailbox bows now for eight years for fear of having to buy new ones out of loyalty to the young florist who made them. Look, I’ve done the basics. The stockings are hung by the chimney with care, the presents are wrapped and the Chex mix ingredients are ready. What else do you need? Naturally, you can guess that this is NOT the way I was brought up. My mother, with help from my dad, is a top-level Christmas advocate who turns their house into a holiday fairyland. There are surprises and delights everywhere you look and she’s always coming up with something new. As I do with folks who excel at the mysterious skills of gardening & painting & knitting, I admire and appreciate my mom’s Christmas creations without any troubling thought that I really should attempt to duplicate them myself. Thanks, Mom!

New Year Countdown

christmas-2008-part-2-0642On the second day of Cathy’s New Year Countdown, it’s time to do your part for the economy: Get out there and spend your Christmas money. On yourself. Look, you were good all December. You got everybody everything on their lists and you did it within your budget while ignoring all temptation to treat yourself. You resisted the pull of those luxurious cashmere sweaters that felt so good, those fabulous high-heeled pumps that called out your name, that gorgeous jacket you accidentally tried on. But your job as a giver is done now! It’s over. You did good and everybody’s happy. Time to reward yourself. And, listen, all this talk about sales and bargains and slashed prices are true right now. Go shopping this weekend and I promise you can get about three times the value for your money. Really. I promise. If you don’t believe me, check out Web sites such as http://www.gap.com/ and http://www.victoriassecret.com/ and see for yourself. Actually, Gap’s Web site is one of the best for online shopping. You can bundle orders from Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic for one $7-shipping fee; you can return (most) items to the stores; and right now, with up to 80 percent off on online purchases, Gap and friends are practically giving their things away. Do not miss out. And check back tomorrow for Day No. 3 in Cathy’s New Year Countdown. (I know I was calling this the 12 Days of Christmas Countdown Part 2, but I’m ready to move on.)