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.

Boots & The ‘Coffee with Cathy’ Guide to Everything

It’s never the birthdays with the zeros that bother me. In fact, I relish ushering in a new decade. It’s like a year-long New Year’s Eve of possibilities and Good Resolutions: Twenties? I’m a grownup! Thirties? I’m really a grownup! Forties? Finally, I can call myself a real grownup! Fifties? Love being a grownup! Nope, the zeros don’t bother me at all. It’s those mid-year birthdays, with numbers solidly stacking up — why does 56 sound so serious? — that get to me and make me spend a night or two thinking morose thoughts and peering dejectedly into the bottom of (several) glasses of wine, sort of like Olivia Pope but with 10-year-old yoga pants and Fourth Day Hair instead of satin and cashmere and perfect curls. (And, so far, no Presidential helicopters.) But this year, I Gave Myself A Talking To: “Damn, woman. What are you moping around for? You’ve got a great husband and a wonderful family and the best friends ever and jobs you enjoy and a house you love. And ‘Bama got beat!!! What else do you need?” Then the answer came to me: Better shoes. And better makeup. And maybe a closet overhaul. And a hair re-do. And that’s just what I thought of in five seconds. So I declared Year 56 to be the Year of the Makeover. Nothing drastic, you know. Just tweaking the details here and there, installing iOS 7.4 , slamming the brakes on all if those slippery slopes I’d glibly started down (Who cares if these are the wrong boots? Who’ll notice that my roots have been showing for the past month? Who will wonder if I’ve worn the same lipstick — literally THE SAME LIPSTICK — for two years?) Because here’s the thing: Only if you ARE actually Olivia Pope can you sit around looking depressed and beautiful and sipping wine and then Amazing Things Happen To You Without Warning. The rest of us pretty much have to do the amazing part on our own. So please join me as I upgrade the Pinterest boards of my life during the next few weeks (months?). I’ll tackle random categories and topics from my perspective of a 50-something small-town Southern woman who likes football and Cathead Vodka, reads Garden and Gun instead of Southern Living and still has a deviled-egg tray and monogrammed stationery. If it works for me, it might work for you. Or maybe not. But let us know — share your thoughts. Because it’s easier to kick butt when you’re wearing kick*** boots. (Which, I think, should be the new mantra of all Southern women who remember perms, white gloves and pantyhose.)

Ren Faire bootsSpeaking of boots, let’s consider a kick*** boot wardrobe. Before this year, I got by with my 20-something-year-old daughters’ Ren Faire rejects and a pair of painful high-heel black dress boots. And as creatively interesting as the brown laced-up mid-calf Ren Faire-pair was, I gradually realized they weren’t flattering or image-appropriate, at all. I mean, do these say “strong business woman who can manage the trickiest p.r. campaign” or do they say “lazy cheapskate whose best years were three decades ago”? I thought so. And every time I tottered around in the black stilettos, I thought only of “Pretty Woman.” And taking them off so my feet wouldn’t hurt So I upgraded and now I actually have a stylish, workable and comfortable boot collection:

  • The go-to wear-anywhere-with-(almost) anything pair — This dark-beigy-brown pair of riding boots works brownwith skinny jeans, leggings and dresses. I liked that the hardware says “I’ve got a bit of an edge” and not “Would you watch my Harley for me while I go beat somebody up?” Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. I also discovered that tall — and by “tall” I mean almost knee-high — truly is a flattering look for most women. Any shorter and you risk the dreaded “dumpy” word. Any higher and you literally are veering into “Pretty Woman” territory. I have not yet worn these with those cozy-looking socks that peek over the top. Is that look too young? Not sure.
  • You do need a pair of black boots, because … well … we just do. But choose wisely. No storm black croppedtroopers. Nothing to remind us of parades and marching and military reviews. Leave that to the professionals. What we want here is a slightly dressy and upscale sheen. A bit of class. If your brown boots can take you from mucking out a barn to the last tailgate of the season to getting a celebratory macchiato, then your black boots should take you from a meeting of the museum board to a casual Christmas party to drinks out with the girls. See? Versatility is key. Also a DSW rewards card. One caveat with black boots — be wary of going all black. Perhaps your brown boots might work better with black leggings. Just something to consider. We don’t automatically have to reach for black when we’re wearing black.
  • And now please steady the ladder for me because I’m climbing up on a soapbox. You need rain rainboots. We are past the age where it’s OK to walk around with wet shoes. Besides, remember all the time and effort you’ve put into finding fabulous boots (see above)? Don’t risk that. Of course, most rain-boot choices are of the mid-calf plasticized cute-little-yellow-ducks variety or a galoshes-like shock of bright pink. And if that makes you happy, who am I to argue? Or judge? But I don’t need cheering up on a rainy day. Or feeling like a 5-year-old on her way to kindergarten. I’d rather choose a well-fitting pair of grownup rain boots I can wear all day without anybody asking me if it’s nap time. That’s just me. Although I never turn down an offer of milk and cookies.

So that’s it. The first entry in the Coffee with Cathy Guide to Everything. Stay tuned for the next installment. I’m thinking — since we’re on a boot jag — we should turn to booties next.

Hair It Is!

About a year ago, I decided to grow my hair long. I’m not sure why. It’s Hair braidingnot as if I’d been pining away for long hair. Seems like one morning I woke up and noticed my short style was overgrown a bit and I could pull it back into a semi-ponytail and that started me thinking, “Why not?” Since then, I’ve kept it a bit longer than shoulder-length and have happily been stocking up on stretchy ponytail ties, headbands and baseball caps. Everybody likes it long — at least, that’s what they tell me. Of course, I’ve now fallen into the long-hair trap of having big dreams (“I’m going to curl my hair today!” “I think I’ll do loose beachy waves this morning!”) that go nowhere and I usually just try to brush it in the morning and then hastily pull it up by afternoon. However, when Younger Daughter is around, her natural hair skills makeHair styles her itch to try something new. It’s a well-known fact I personally have no natural hair skills whatsoever. Anytime my hair looks good, it’s a pure accident that I never can replicate. Both of my daughters, however, have a) beautiful hair and b) strong hair skills — developed in their style-deprived childhoods by desperate self-defense. Older Daughter is too busy with The Best and Brightest and Most Wonderful Grandsons in the World to worry about her mom’s hair so lately it’s been Younger Daughter who tilts her head and gets a look in her eyes and says, “Do you mind if I just … ?” Reminds me of a) when I was little and my mom let me help put her hair-rollers in (that’s early 1960s talk!) and b) when my daughters and their friends would hold all-day hair sessions in my bathroom for prom, senior photos, coronation and other Major High-School Events. And since it’s another well-known fact that my senior class (’75) virtuously donated its prom money to charity and thus I never had prom hair, I’ll take it every chance I can 40 years later.

An Area of Concern

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An Area of Concern

This sign continues to crack me up every time I drive by it — which is pretty much twice a day. I have two questions: 1) Since this billboard still is up in May yet advertises a March special, can customers still take advantage of the offer? And perhaps more importantly, 2) exactly what constitutes an “area?” Is it measured by square inch? By proximity? If I have a little tattoo on, say, my ankle but then a big ol’ one on my back, does that count? And who are these people pictured, anyway? Why are they so insanely happy? And gorgeous? Does hair and-or tattoo removal do this to you? If so, perhaps I should get a tattoo and then sign up for its demise. I just need a second area.

Thank you, Annette, Margaret and Lilly

This isn’t a well-researched scientific hypothesis or anything, but I’ve always thought that my generation of women — born in the late 1950s through the early 1960s — have had to be pretty nimble, culturally & sociologically speaking (although I really shouldn’t use words such as “sociologically” until I’ve had a second cup of coffee). Take “pretty,” for example. When we were little, our moms had no-strands-out-of-place bouffants that coordinated perfectly with the handkerchiefs and white gloves they took to church and to parties where the New Christy Minstrels strummed in the background. But by the time we were teenagers, hair was as free and flowing and unencumbered as cotton Indian tunics, incense and the White Album. Then as young married women, it was back to the salon for Madonna-style perms to go with our stirrup pants and oversized decorated sweatshirts that I still have nightmares about. (Shudder.) Today, in our 50s, we’re back at an awkward phase — this time trying to balance the fashion questions of is-this-too-young? with is-this-too-old? with can-I-play-with-my-grandchildren-and-then-go-to-a-board-meeting? Good times. Of course, my generation of women was buffeted not only by the fickle wind-gusts of style but by the turbulent weather fronts of expectations. Take Barbie, for instance. My Barbie (ONE Barbie — back then we only had ONE Barbie, the way nature intended. And we were grateful.) had a closet of June-Cleaver dresses, ski wear, formal gowns, tennis clothes and, for the days when she wanted to pretend, maybe a nurse’s and a stewardess’ uniform. Our dream – mine and Barbie’s together — was to go to prom, find the right boy, settle down and have babies. But by the time I was ready to get started on that, my senior class donated our prom money to Vietnam-war orphans and “settling down and having babies” was sort of frowned upon. Instead, we were supposed to Go Out into the World and Do Great Things. So I did, although my “world” was my hometown newspaper and “doing great things” was reporting on school-board meetings. But still. This didn’t last long, however, because why should we give up one thing just to have another??? So we realized we didn’t have to choose! We could do both!! We could settle down and have babies AND go out into the world and do great things!!! As head-scratchingly “duh” as this sounds today, a couple of decades ago it was revolutionary. REVOLUTIONARY!!! Back then, we called this stunning revelation “a new way of thinking” and “opening up opportunities for women.” Now, we just sort of call it “life.”

All of this to note the passing recently of three women who, each  in their own ways, influenced and shaped my generation and helped bring us to where we are today — where we can unashamedly smile and be sweet and kind while single-handedly and single-mindedly take charge of a chaotically lumbering mess and look joyfully sleek and pulled-together in a simple dress that’s equally stylish at the country club or the orange-juice stand. Thank you, Annette Funicello, Margaret Thatcher and Lilly Pulitzer. You showed us the way. We couldn’t have done it without you.

Keep (Small) Shopping

We’ve had Black Thursday Night Friday, where we spent all day fighting crowds and staking out parking spots at the mall. Coming up is Cyber Monday, where we hit multiple “submit order” buttons while watching out for the boss’s signature sneaky walk-arounds. But the best day of all is today: Small Business Saturday, sponsored by American Express and promoted by the Small Business Administration and The 3/50 Project. If your skin is dried out and your eyes are watering from all the florescent lighting you couldn’t get away from yesterday and your sinuses are protesting all the perfume samples sprayed your way, head to the nearest hometown downtown  this morning. You will find friendly local folks who sincerely are glad you stepped into their stores and will make you feel welcome and valued. You’ll meet your neighbors. You’ll talk to visitors. And you’ll find everything you need for a memorable holiday 2012. Look, I enjoy a mall crawl as much as anybody. Sometimes you just need a Cinnabon and The Gap and disinterested employees who are paid too little for too much work to care whether you buy anything or not. Nothing wrong with that, at all. The thing is that shopping downtown with your local retailers is a different experience — it’s somehow more satisfying, as if you’re doing something good and helpful.  That’s how I felt, anyway, when I spent my Black Friday wandering around my downtown of Corinth, Miss., where I spent a little bit of or maybe some or maybe a pretty good chunk found great gifts for lots of folks on my list and perhaps a whole big bunch a few things for myself. Highlights: The fun and funky decor and jewelry at the newly opened Baxter & Me and the wearable style and creative embellishments at women’s boutique Andi Grace. I also went to the bank, the dry cleaner’s, the alterations shop, a jewelry store for a couple of repairs, the library, the coffee shop and the museum; had conversations on sidewalks; waved and smiled to tons of folks; and enjoyed brownies made and sold by the young niece of one of the store owners — all in three or four hours and a couple of blocks from the house. And to prove my dedication to supporting the local economy, I’m showing you my shopping results — without revealing specific contents. Remember — no peeking until Dec. 25!

Why We Should Leave Christmas in December

Although Nordstrom and I share the same goal of leaving November to Thanksgiving and digging into Christmas only after you’ve got Turkey Day leftovers, I could not resist these hand-quilted holiday treasures I snapped up at a local craft show. These were made by members of the Corinth, Miss., quilting guild, and each piece is meticulously sewn with Southern style and creativity. I especially fell in love with the postcards. Yes! Hand-appliqued postcards you actually can send through the mail! What will they think of next??? I also loved the crazy-quilt stockings and the pieced pin cushions. I mean, I might even consider sitting down at my sewing machine if I had a cute pin cushion like this one. And then I might even Make Things. And I might even Make Things for Other People … See, this is exactly the sort of trouble you get in to when you start doing Christmas before Thanksgiving. I came awfully close there to talking myself into A Project. Not good. I should leave that to the folks who know what they’re doing — like the lovely ladies who created these holiday works of art.