Our tree is still up so I’m still talking Christmas

It’s the kind of spousal stalemate when neither one of us is deeply committed enough to Take Action Now.

“Whenever you’re ready,” my husband says. “I’ll take the Christmas tree down after you’ve taken the balls off.” (Pausing here for “balls” joke–c’mon, you know you’re thinking it.)

But I know he loves that tree–an authentic 1950s tinsel one I found on eBay, complete with original individual branch wraps–so I don’t want to appear concerned that it’s up way past the point of reasonable explanation.

“Oh, I’m fine,” I say. “No hurry. Doesn’t bother me a bit.”

So that’s why we still have a Christmas tree up. But that’s a good excuse to brag on the awesome  presents my daughters gave me last month. I’m not sure where they learned such successfully creative gift-giving since I’m more of the put-it-on-your-Amazon-list-and-if-it’s-Prime-I’ll-get-it-for-you type, but I’m tickled to be the recipient of their much better approach. Plus, these are great ideas in case you need some gift-giving inspiration.img_0386(1)

  • Family photo session. Older Daughter did this for me & the grandboys once before (“You’re always taking pictures of them but you don’t  have any with you & them,” she said.), and it’s time to update. The first one was for Mother’s Day, and this time, for Christmas, she made a point of including Grandpa for a true family portrait. Even better, she booked with our favorite local photographer. When both the experience of having photos taken AND the resulting photos themselves are priceless, you know you’ve got a winner. Hijinks will definitely ensue.

 

  • img_0443(edited)Woman Power! Younger Daughter tapped into our mutual love for all things Woman with these two finds: a necklace version of Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent collar & illustrator Lydia Ortiz‘ Little Feminist Playing Cards. I’ve pretty much felt like dissenting every single day for the past two years, so RBG & I are solid. And–shout-out to public education AND book-reading parents–Oldest Grandson, who’s in the fifth grade, accurately identified Rosa Parks, Sally Ride, Marie Curie, Frida Kahlo & others. In fact, he did better than I did. Which is exactly as it should be.

 

  • img_0444(2)Warmth. You know that eureka moment when somebody gifts you something you had no idea even existed but as soon as you see it, you think “well, of course”? That’s how I felt when I opened Younger Daughter’s USB-heated gloves. If you’re like me & value warm & toasty fingers right up there with good hot coffee, get these immediately. Even if you don’t like coffee. They’re for computer work but I love these so much I’m getting an extra pair for the car. Take that, very-slow-to-warm-up car heater.

Daughters weren’t the only ones who excelled in their gift-giving this past holiday.

  • img_0384(1)My husband & I somehow lucked up with the best neighbors ever in the whole world. The. Best. Ever. We don’t deserve them, but there you are. Who else remembers & indulges my possibly obsessive love for all things pumpkin spice? There aren’t many, I can tell you. This collection of wintry coziness makes for the ultimate in comfort: Warming mug of coffee with a splash of Bailey’s plus a slice of fresh homemade bread with yummy pumpkin butter. Turn on the fireplace & endless episodes of “The Great British Baking Show” and I’m all set. See you in April.

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  • This was the year of Advent calendars. Thanks to ALDI, I introduced my people to the concept of opening a little door every day in December to find a little surprise–wine, chocolate, Hot Wheels, American Girl cuteness, etc. My middle brother & sister-in-law were so entranced with the cheese calendar we gave them at Thanksgiving that they one-upped us with a Jim Beam version for Christmas. Twelve little airplane-size bottles were are perfect for sampling & sipping.

Family, friends, woman-power, warm fingers and good food & drink. Here’s to 2019!

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P.S. Remember that nobody pays me or gives me anything or helps me in any way in exchange for a mention in “Coffee with Cathy.” Whatever you read here is from me alone, for no other reason than it’s something I like or saw or heard or feel or want to talk about. Of course, if Cadillac wants to gift me my dream car–an Escalade SUV–I’m open to negotiations, but other than that, I can’t be bought.

 

How much red, white & blue is too much?

Every time a holiday rolls around, I struggle with the same question, fashion-wise: To embrace celebratory colors with fun & festive exuberance or make a grownup move toward subtlety & sophistication?

Yeah, subtlety & sophistication never win in my closet.

I blame the 1980s. And the ’90s. All of that economic growth & McMansion building & IMG_8114 (Edited)hey-have-you-heard-about-this-thing-called-the-internet led to a optimistic feel-good-ism. Which, for some reason, led to a proliferation of sweatshirts decorated with teddy bears & ribbons & puffy plastic paint. And since the competitive get-ahead 1980s and ’90s was my prime daughter-raising period, I was fully committed to whatever my-young-mom-friends were doing so that I could do it better to creating special memories for my children. This was the era of the Ugly Christmas Sweater, although we didn’t know they were ugly & we bought a new one every year because new ones were at Proffitt’s & Parisian & Castner-Knott every year. But our true love was seasonal sweatshirts. We were fully committed to marking each holiday with the appropriate colored sweatshirts IMG_8113decorated with the appropriate colored … well … decorations. I don’t know how else to describe this sweatshirt frenzy that overtook us. We bought books. We stocked up on hot-glue sticks & glitter. We debated 100 percent cotton over a nylon-cotton blend. Each approaching holiday was an opportunity to showcase our creativity, our access to a Michaels and our deep & abiding dedication to our children. After all, nothing says “I love you, sweetie pie. Now stop picking off those sequins I glued on at 2 this morning.” like strongly encouraging your child to wear a sweatshirt you made at the last minute for Heather M.’s (you always had to identify which Heather you were talking about because there were at least five in every class) birthday party because you’d heard that Heather R.’s mom wiped out the entire inventory of neon pink and DAMN IT, NOBODY IS GOING TO BEAT ME AT THE NEON-PINK SWEATSHIRT GAME.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that the other moms actually were just being creative & I was the only one vying for first place.

So the years passed & soon my daughters moved from My Little Ponies & Care Bears to “The Tribe” & “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” & the Age of the Sweatshirts was over. And it wasn’t just my family. All across the country, glue guns gathered dust. Little bottles of puffy paint dried up. Our beloved crafting books became yard-sale staples. Sigh. But a tiny voice in my head still says, as holidays such as the upcoming Fourth of July get closer, “Maybe you should wear that T-shirt with the stars and the stripes on the pocket? What about those flag earrings? Or perhaps the red-white-and-blue bracelet stack?”

And maybe Hobby Lobby is having a sale on sweatshirts …

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Family birthdays, or how Older Daughter time traveled & took us with her

We all think our children are wonderful. We all believe our children are the very best ever & have extra-super talents that make them unique & special. But can your child travel forward in time–and not only propel herself a month into the future but take other people with her?

I didn’t think so.

The first thing to remember in this story is that my son-in-law’s birthday is today, Sept. 10. It always has been, for as long as I’ve known him. His Sept. 10 birthday is an indisputable fact, confirmed by both his mother & the state of Alabama. I wouldn’t argue with either one.

The second thing to remember is that we are a birthday family. When it was just my two daughters & me, we celebrated each birthday with wild abandon … desserts, balloons & presents & surprises for days. Now that the girls are all grown up (how did THAT happen?), we continue these birthday traditions (albeit somewhat muted) to the bewilderment of our menfolk, who were brought up much more sensibly and really only want maybe a simple acknowledgement & a slice of chocolate cake. This love of birthdays mean that my daughters & I start planning early (despite the recent crisis that I shall call The  Year I Let My Husband John Pitts Forget My Birthday*) to make sure everybody’s on board & there are no scheduling conflicts.

The third thing to remember is that Older Daughter, wife to our Sept. 10 son-in-law & mom to the three most adorable, funny, smart, creative & kind young men–our grandsons, ages 9, 5 and almost 3–is an organizational beast. She runs her household with precision. The exterior of her refrigerator door resembles a NASA control room. She is in charge of who is supposed to be where at what time. When she says “Soccer practice is at 6 & then PTO at 7 & I’ve got dance class at 7:30,” we all nod & agree & synchronize our watches.

So, a couple of months ago, when Older Daughter glanced at her calendar and said to me, “You know that Jason’s birthday is next Thursday,” I immediately went into birthday mode, briefly thinking “Wow, is Sept. 10 already coming up? That sure was fast,” before joining her in a discussion of cake flavors & gift cards. After all, school was starting & vacations were ending & we were recovering from the afore-mentioned Year I Let My Husband John Pitts Forget My Birthday*, so it didn’t surprise me that somehow we had rushed through August & were now into September without anybody really noticing. During the next few days, I alerted other family members (“Don’t forget that Jason’s birthday is Thursday”), shopped for presents & helped Older Daughter organize a birthday timeline.

It’s at this point in the story that I have to pause & seriously question my life choices. I mean, during all of this early-September birthday planning, I was operating in the real world. I went to work, I met friends, I read the news. I used my laptop, desktop, tablet & smart phone daily. I knew who the president was, I knew a total solar eclipse was coming, I knew that “Broadchurch 3” was wrapping up.

Apparently, though, I didn’t know that it actually was August and NOT September.  The upcoming 10th was Aug. 10. Not Sept. 10. It was as if I was in two parallel universes, one in which everybody agreed it was August & then one in which everybody believed it was September. But maybe somehow I sort of knew? When Older Daughter finally told me that somehow she had time-traveled our entire family a month into the future & that her husband’s birthday was not in two days but in fact was in 32 days, I wasn’t that surprised. It was if I’d finally cleaned off my glasses & realized that the fuzzy spot I’d been seeing was not, as I’d feared, a supernatural presence that kept hovering at my left side but in actuality a fingerprint from the almost-3-year-old grandson.

Clarity is everything.

And how did this story turn out? Well, given all of the prep work, we went ahead & celebrated Jason’s birthday on Aug. 10, resulting in only slight family confusion. (“Kacky,” said the 5-year-old, “it’s Daddy’s birthday but it’s not really because Mommy messed up.”) Older Daughter claims it was an issue of stuck-together calendar pages. I now know I’m extremely susceptible to believing things that are demonstrably untrue. And Jason gets two birthday cakes this year.

And Older Daughter once again has proven the strength & power of an organized mom. There’s nothing like it.

*  I’m still not sure how “The Year I Let My Husband John Pitts Forget My Birthday” happened. Although I usually let him know my birthday is approaching by dropping subtle hints such as “We might have to take the garbage can out to the curb early on Wednesday because THAT’S MY BIRTHDAY,” I got distracted this year. We were out of town & then stuff happened & more stuff happened & suddenly the window of reminding him ahead of time had closed & it was more a matter of damage control. To be fair, he did say that he knew my birthday was Aug. 2 & he knew that Aug. 2 was coming up & he knew that Wednesday was Aug. 2–he just didn’t realize that the Aug. 2 coming on Wednesday was, in fact, the same Aug. 2 that was my birthday. I forgave him–after flowers & chocolate & a nice dinner out.

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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.

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(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.