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


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.


Happy New Year!




Christmas Movies

christmas-story1Thanks for checking in all week as we’ve counted down my five favorite Christmas movies. So here we are at the top spot. Have you guessed it yet? No surprise, really. At No. 1 of the five top holiday movies, we have – ta da! — “A Christmas Story.” This is the best Christmas movie ever made. Ever. In the whole world. I will accept no arguments otherwise. Ralphie’s quest to make the adults in his life understand his heart’s desire crosses all boundaries. This movie is the perfect confluence of writing, acting and producing, and I’m proud to say I saw it during its theatrical release in December, 1983, in a theater in downtown Nashville, Tenn. – and told everybody I knew afterwards that they had to watch this movie. Its gentle nostalgic humor combined with writer Jean Shepherd’s sharp dialogue is a rare cinematic treasure. Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillion are perfect as Ralphie’s parents, and Peter Billingsley as Ralphie is pure joy. I especially love all the authentic late 1930s-early 1940s details, such as the wonderfully stocked kitchen and other interiors in the Parker house. You can actually feel the wintry cold and smell the lost turkey. (Go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Christmas_Story to read more about producing this movie. It’s a fascinating back story.) 

If you’ve never watched “A Christmas Story,” go do it. Right now.

Merry Christmas! Ho, ho, ho.

And if you want to read a condensed version of my top Christmas movie picks, go to my column in the TimesDaily today, http://www.timesdaily.com/article/20081212/ARTICLES/812120301

Christmas Drinks and Christmas Movies


Cheerful mugs of warming goodness — what better way to cheer up eveylns-christmas-009on dreary winter mornings or cozy up at night? Or anytime.  I love pulling out holiday mugs and cups every December. When piled up on a tray in the kitchen, they double as the best kind of decor: cheap and functional! From morning cappuccinos to post-lunch macchiatos to afternoon tea to evening hot cocoa, I’ve got every drink situation covered.  Not that I drink coffee and espresso and tea and hot cocoa all day — well, actually, I do. But of course some holiday drinks are not rich and hot and creamy and served in a sturdy mug — such as these cool ruby-red margaritas my friend Evelyn served us at our Christmas book-club gathering. Delicious and refreshing.

 new-vacationAnd for another delicious and refreshing treat, how about the No. 2 pick on my list of favorite Christmas movies? It’s “Christmas Vacation” (1989) with Chevy Chase. How can you not sympathize with Clark Griswold, the Every Little Man who sincerely wants to provide a stupendous Christmas for his family despite almost insurmountable odds? It’s like an updated “Wonderful Life,” only with redneck cousins. I absolutely love this movie. It’s the first movie I pop into the player when the holiday-movie mood strikes. From the opening Christmas-tree hunt to the final group hug, this movie delights every year. I adore the light-stringing scenes and Clark and Eddie’s shopping trip and literally laugh out loud as the family arrives and settles in. The Christmas dinner is priceless, and is there anybody not touched by Clark’s look at Christmas Past while he’s stuck in the attic? Randy Quaid is at his comic best here, and it’s nice to see a young Juliette Lewis be normal before she convinced herself she’s a rock star. However, the thing about “Christmas Vacation” is that my husband strongly dislikes it – which is very strange because usually he goes for gross-out humor flicks and I head for the Jane Austen aisle. I’ll admit that some parts are cringe-inducing and pander to the National Lampoon typical demographic, but this movie still ranks right up there for me. Stay tuned tomorrow for my top pick, the best No. 1 all-time greatest Christmas movie in the world. What do you think it is?

Holiday Parties and Christmas Movies

eveylns-christmas-006There’s just something special about holiday hospitality. When myeveylns-christmas-004 friend Evelyn recently hosted the December meeting of our four-woman book club, the other three of us practically refused to get up from her elegant red and gold dinner table when we were finished eating. She made us feel so pampered that only the promise of opening presents in front of the fire — and, oh, yeah, discussing our book of the month — made us leave. I love the way she used simple solid red napkins and plates to create such a festive and sophisticated look, proving once again my grandmother’s timeless advice to always buy red things — they’re good for three out of four seasons, which is a record you cannot beat.

And for a record you can beat, we’re back with Cathy’s Hit Parade of Christmas Movies. Coming in at No. 3 is the two-fer I promised you yesterday — the duo of 1954’s “White Christmas” with Bing Crosby and Danny white-christmas1holiday-inn3Kaye and its older sibling, the 1942 “Holiday Inn,” with Crosby and Fred Astaire. Does it get any better? Not much. Look, I know these are white- and male-centric movies that do not reflect how life really was for the folks watching in theaters during the 12-year span, but still. This is vintage Christmas: Singing, dancing, fake snow, cavernous New England inns, star-crossed lovers and misunderstandings with some sleigh rides thrown in for fun.  It’s Hollywood escapism at its finest — the movies that made me think being a grownup woman meant going out dancing and drinking martinis and wearing evening gowns every night. Sadly, in the intervening years this dream has proved to be false, although I’m somewhat hopeful about the martinis. But I can relive the fantasy every Christmas with these films, and you should, too. Tomorrow, it’s on to No. 2 — one of the few movies my husband and I vehemently disagree about. (And remember that we both walked out of “Wild, Wild West,” so go figure.) Stop by on Thursday to find out which innocent Christmas movie provokes such intense conflict in our house.

Christmas Decorating and Christmas Movies

manchester-decor-013I’m 51 and a grandmother and somewhat capable of manchester-decor-0052handling things on my own (no, really, I am) but I still want to go home to my parents’ for Christmas and have everything as it always has been. Like the John Deere village my mom puts up — my dad had a John Deere dealership before he retired and now he buys every JD catalogue and ad that comes up for auction anywhere in the world, or at least in Illinois. And like the holly-003ornaments I put on the tree when I was a kid, and now my 20-something-year-old children help me put them on their grandparents’ tree — great-grandson 8-month-old Nolan is no help since he would only eat the hooks. And then there’s the great holiday food that only Grommy — what my children call my mother — can make: TV Mix eaten in 40-year-old wooden bowls, graham crackers covered in butter and brown sugar and hot cocoa stirred from scratch in an ancient heavy saucepan. Grandmas definitely are special, and I’d better get my act together if I’m going to be the same for Nolan. But I’ve had lessons from the best, so hopefully I”ve got a headstart. One of my favorite parts of going home during the holidays is coming back to my house with fresh-cut holly and fir branches from my dad’s nursery — one of his other retirement projects. I cannot keep up with them! At least this year I’m making my own Chex mix — I’ll have to call my mom, though, to talk me through.

And now for No. 4 in my Favorite Christmas Movie list — the 1946 “It’s A Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stewart and life2Donna Reed. I know, I know. It’s a heartwarming American classic. It’s a Frank Capra masterpiece. It’s a multi-layered holiday icon. It’s everybody’s favorite. So why isn’t it No. 1 on my list? Because it used to scare the #$%^ out of me! The drunk pharmacist who boxed young George’s ear and made it bleed, the mean and rowdy crowd at the bar, the cheap and hateful Mr. Potter who caused such misery — these disturbing black-and-white images did not bring me comfort and joy when I was younger. And as I grew older and understood the sacrifices George made and the dreams he lost and the drab and dreary life he felt he was living, it made me sad. George did have a wonderful life but bitterness and regret kept him from realizing it — what a waste for all those years. I mainly feel sorry for him. It’s a good thing Clarence comes along to shake him up because I sort of want to do that myself. And here’s the thing: Where were all George’s friends before the bank shortfall? Why does it take a crisis to bring them together and make them value him? Do these people ever stop by to say “hello” or to eat lunch or go to a ballgame? And will they do that now? Or am I being too cynical? You have to admit, though, it’s the kind of movie that breeds cynicism if you didn’t have a healthy dose of it already. Like me. Come back tomorrow for No. 3 — a bonus two-fer. Can you guess what they are?

Christmas Music and Movies

new-choirShining faces … precious voices … proud parents … Is there anything more moving during the holidays than children’s Christmas choirs? Not much. And it’s especially heartwarming when you don’t even have a child up there and you haven’t spent the past three months in frantic dashes to rehearsals or the past three days in frantic hunts for a white blouse that everybody can agree on (ah, memories!) — you simply can sit back and enjoy. And that’s what I did this past weekend at the annual Community Choir Christmas Concert sponsored by the Rotary Club in Manchester, Tennessee. This is my dad’s project. He’s been organizing this concert for the past 14 years — combining choir music and Rotary, two of his favorite things. He loves it and everybody who comes to listen feels blessed. I’ll bet there were concerts like new-class10this everywhere this past weekend, along with open houses, parades and parties as December deepens and the 25th gets closer and free weekends and evenings get scarce. A side benefit to all the activity? Catching up with folks you may only see once a year. Several of my high-school classmates sing in the community choir, so we all go out afterwards. I know what you’re thinking when you look at this pic: “There is no way these people graduated high school 33 years ago! They are far too young and hip to be 50-plus!”  Thank you for the compliment. And in fact you would think that if you had heard our conversation — riding new Harley-Davidsons (and this was not the lone male alum, either), installing environmentally friendly pool-filtration systems, eating the raw-food way and discussing details of the upcoming class-reunion Caribbean cruise. And of course there were a few grandbaby pics passed around.


And what would the holidays be without Christmas movies? All year I look forward to December, when I have the perfect excuse to pop in my favorite holiday DVDs and declare a family movie night. And be honest: Wouldn’t you rather lounge around in PJs in front of the TV and be lazy than get dressed up in heels and go out and be social? I thought as much. So in honor of this tradition, this week I’m counting down my top five holiday movies. See if you agree with my picks, and please weigh in with your own. Every day I’ll post my favorite, ending on Friday with the absolute best Christmas movie ever in the whole world. You don’t want to miss it. So here we go: At the No. 5 spot: The 1998 love-story “You’ve Got Mail” with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. I know, I know — it’s sort of silly and prettified and manipulative and you’ve got the whole sneaking-around-via-e-mail thing and slightly creepy concealing-identity-possibly-stalking problem, but despite those glitches, I adore this movie. Don’t you, really? It’s not truly a Christmas story, but the Christmas scenes are so sweet and New York looks so festive. Plus, this is the movie that moved Joni Mitchell’s “River” to everybody’s favorite-Christmas-song list, so for that alone it gets props. Tomorrow: At a surprise No. 4, this one ranks higher on most other lists but not on mine. Check in on Tuesday to find out why.