Yup, those are jingle bells we hear in the distance this weekend, impelling us to switch from pumpkins to snowpeople RIGHT NOW THIS VERY MINUTE because THERE’S NO TIME TO WASTE! But before we get lost in wrapping & baking & where-did-I-hide-those-Christmas-presents-I-bought-in-March (upstairs linen closet? under the guestroom bed?), let’s savor Thanksgiving a bit longer.
For the past several years, Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday, mainly because
I don’t cook
I don’t decorate
I don’t clean up
Obviously, I don’t have Thanksgiving at my house. (I could, you know. I could bake or roast or do whatever it is you do to turkeys. I could make cute little centerpieces out of empty peanut-butter jars & duct tape. I could smash, mash, cream & saute the heck out of anything. Really, I could. Y’all quit laughing.) Instead, husband John Pitts & I are lucky enough to enjoy Thanksgiving somewhere else that’s not covered in cat hair. Older Daughter’s in-laws always make us feel part of their family — an extended eclectic group connected by love & respect & hospitality for all. There’s plenty of food (hello, tamales) & fellowship. But one of the best things about their Thanksgiving is the location: the log-cabin homeplace on an Alabama-style mountain (anywhere else it’d be a “hill”). It’s peaceful & serene and, on this Thanksgiving Day, was surrounded by the gentle beauty of a perfect Southern autumn. And here’s the thing — all that unaccustomed stillness & quiet made me sort of contemplative. Made me stop listening to my soul-sucking inner dialogue (“Does my hair look OK? Why does her hair look better? Wish my budget included getting my hair styled every day. Is she rich enough to get her hair styled every day? Why am I not rich enough to get my hair styled every day?” Rinse & repeat.) for a couple of minutes. Made me look around — REALLY look around — and appreciate the blessings I usually overlook & the relationships I usually take for granted. So, I guess, this Thanksgiving I’m grateful for being reminded to be grateful. Hope you are, too.
Because I am trying to corral my natural tendency to be all emotional & whimsical & use words such as, well, “whimsical,” I decided to reduce this blog post to a simple, factual & objective list comparing the advantages & disadvantages of burning the (insert your favorite four-letter cuss word here) out of — or, more literally, in to — my hand.
First, the advantages:
It makes a really funny story — “See, it was morning & I really wasn’t awake yet & you know how sometimes you have to press down really hard on the plunger of your French press because it feels likes it’s stuck or something & so I pressed down really really hard but turns out it wasn’t stuck at all because almost all of the hot water splashed out & … “
It inspires creative descriptions from your newspaper-editor husband John Pitts — “I’m thinking maybe burnt grilled wienies? Burned marshmallows?”
It gets you out of doctor waiting rooms and into the coveted examining rooms very, very quickly.
Ditto emergency room reception.
You don’t have to tell people that it hurts like #$%^ because they can see for themselves that it hurts like #$%^.
It’s the perfect excuse for one of those lovely stay-on-the-couch-and-nap-all-day weekends.
Of course, there’s a downside to everything. Thus, the disadvantages:
I burned my hand and it hurts like @#$% and it looks even worse. That’s pretty much the major disadvantage here.
Actually, there are two other problems with burning my hand. First, it makes me lose my domestic-incident superiority over my husband, who recently had a nasty tussle with a sock — let me repeat: A SOCK — that ended with a pulled tendon (for him, not the sock) and surgery to pin it all back together. A French press run-in pales in comparison. But that brings me to the second disadvantage of burning my hand the way I did: the unfortunate involvement of coffee. See, I love coffee. I adore coffee. I love the making of it & the smelling of it & the drinking of it & the talking about it. I know that coffee would never, ever hurt me. Coffee is my friend, my soulmate. I can only surmise that, for that one French-press-plunging instant, there was some sort of cosmic rip in the space-time continuum that caused coffee to attack. It’s the only explanation I can come up with, although, granted, it HAS been suggested that perhaps the cause of this accident can be traced to a lack of paying attention on the part of the French-press operator, as ridiculous as that sounds. The investigation is continuing. But I have switched to pour-over in the meantime.
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 a 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, actually, 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.
And, 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.
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 …
I know, I know. An all-SEC men’s basketball final would not be good for the sport, but I still fantasize about the joys of a Florida v. Kentucky battle. Sadly, it’s not to be. This year, at least. So now the question is can Kentucky defend SEC’s honor? We’ll see …
In the meantime, here are some things people have said to me or I’ve (over)heard that made me laugh — sometimes embarrassingly loud and obnoxiously. What can I say? I like a good laugh.
Our newly 6- and 2 1/2-year-old grandsons came to stay with us for a few days last week. Older Daughter is expecting So-Far-Unidentified Grandbaby no. 3. At one point Younger Grandson and I were talking about family. “What do you think Mommy’s doing right now?” I asked. “Mommy tired. Mommy lay down,” he said. That pretty much covers it.
One of the things Older Grandson did while at our house was set up an obstacle course for his brother using my workout gear (cardio steps, yoga blocks, hand weights and stretch bands). He then asked for paper and markers. “Are you going to draw medals for him?” I asked, admiring his creativity. “No, Kacky,” he sighed in the way that means “Dear old Kacky — let me explain to you how this new-fangled world works” and looked at me patiently. “I’m going to download his medals from medals.com.” Of course. Why didn’t I think of that?
Even Younger Grandson knows his way around mobile devices. We were staring intently at my iPad, waiting on a new game. He looked up at me and nodded wisely. “Loading,” he said.
On to some adult humor. Not “adult” in that way — “adult” in the “I-did-something-so-silly-that-my-husband-fussed-at-me-and-I-couldn’t-even-tell-my-mom” way. And, strangely enough, by “I” this time I DO NOT mean “me.” Anyway, this past weekend I was a hostess for our town’s home and garden tour. My assignment was in the house of a young couple who had just renovated their first home. The husband, who shall remain anonymous for reasons to become clear, owns one of our favorite restaurants in town. Between my tour speech (“The master bedroom previously was a den. The bathroom and walk-in closet were added in 2010.”), I of course spent LOTS of time chatting in the kitchen. One conversation turned to gardening, and the wife talked about her commitment to avoiding pesticides and herbicides in their yard. “In fact, last year I ordered ladybugs from amazon.com because I’d read they eat aphids,” she said. We older women, including her mother, sort of glanced at each other, thinking — I’m sure — the same thing: “You actually ordered bugs for your garden? Through the mail?” Maybe one of us even said this aloud because she grimaced and said, “I know. I know. And (insert husband’s name here) even got upset with me because I had them sent to the restaurant. I didn’t think that one through.” Her mother couldn’t believe it was the first time she’d heard this story and the rest of us were laughing so hard I’m sure we scared some of the tour-goers away. And you know I’ve never felt the same about ladybugs since the Great Infestation of ’92, when I vacuumed them off of our curtains by the hundreds every day for two weeks. Stupid ladybugs. You’d better fly away home.
Having an identity crisis doesn’t seem to be in style anymore. You don’t hear much about it. We don’t pull it out as an excuse — “Oh, I’m sorry I forgot to pick up the dry cleaning yesterday. I’m having an identity crisis.” — like we used to. And that’s a shame. It sure was a handy shortcut for “I’m just not feeling your unreasonable demands right now because I’m questioning the whole meaningless existence of life so just back off. Also, my espresso machine broke.” I guess “identity crisis” has been replaced with “identity theft,” which not only is a frustrating and unwelcome tangle of legal problems but leads to further existential wanderings that require more than a perfect macchiato to fix. Which you can’t buy because some criminal jerk has stolen your identity and rendered your spending capabilities useless. On the other hand, sometimes people simply don’t get your name right. I’ve dealt with this for years. My name is one of those that’s easily mis-written: “Kathy” and “Woods” are what I usually get. I’m used to that. I don’t take it personally. And even when folks call me by my former last name — that of my ex-husband’s — I can handle it. (Although my now-husband vehemently objects to people ascribing that name to him.) Even when people call me “Mrs. Pitts,” giving me my husband’s last name which I never changed to, I’m cool. But when I get letters to all three versions of me — or, because I personally am so important to this company, “Current Resident” — it sort of makes you stop and think. And I have no idea who “Cassie Woods” is, although she sounds like someone who is small and elvish and has long curly hair and knows the difference between a pansy and a peony. That person is not me, but the bakery guy who took my phone order for pick-up apparently thought it was. Nice try, bakery guy. Actually, I think he’s on to something: “Hello, XYZ Bakery? I’ll take a half-pound of wild-yeast sourdough, sliced; two almond croissants and a new name, please. I can pick up in an hour.” It’s a whole new business model.
Here is proof that mirrors lie. Big time. This is me (bottom left-hand side) at a recent morning meeting of the Corinth, Miss., tourism board at the Crossroads Museum. Barely an hour before this photo, I had gotten ready and curled my hair carefully, spending my normal 20 minutes or so on maneuvering the curling wand and applying all sorts of Guaranteed Moisturizer Anti-Aging Shiny Hair things. I’m not a natural hair person but I’ve been practicing and I sincerely believed that my mirror at home approved of this morning’s effort. I could hear it saying, “Girl, you are an awesomely talented curler.” I could see it reflecting luscious and smooth and soft Sofia-Vergara-style waves. I could head out of the house with Hair Confidence because my mirror said so. But … no. (Cue sound of brakes screeching.) So obviously my mirror has launched a guerrilla-attack campaign and Cannot Be Trusted anymore. Because what I see in this photo is not Sofia Vergara but rather did-this-woman-even-brush-her-hair-today? Sad. So sad. And terribly inconvenient. How much to pry a bathroom mirror off of a wall and stage a redo?
For almost the past year I’ve been on a super-secret mission — one that required patience, endurance and meticulousity (which is a word I have just now made up to mean “what happens when you’re meticulous.”) But it wasn’t only me. Months and months and months ago, cupcake baker and blogger Stefanie Pollack, of St. Louis, asked 50 of us bakers/food bloggers/intense cupcake fans to help test recipes as she searched for the Ultimate Chocolate Cupcake. She called us “Explorers,” and, I mean, who could resist setting off for the land of Chocolatey Loveliness? Who among us would pass up the chance for eating tasting sampling making an unlimited supply of chocolate cupcakes? Although I usually resist any effort that involves being in the kitchen any longer than it takes to pull an espresso shot, I enthusiastically joined Stefanie’s quest. I envisioned spending a couple of days immersed in all chocolate all the the time and then wiping the cocoa powder from my hands and leaving the kitchen behind for more profitable pursuits, such as checking out the new handbag shipment at T.J. Maxx. But I was wrong. Why? Because I did not factor in 1) Stefanie’s dogged determination to GET IT RIGHT and 2) the other Explorers’ refusal to settle for LESS THAN PERFECT. Me, I followed Stefanie’s directions, made the first recipe, invited enthusiastic friends and family to taste-test (“Eat chocolate cupcakes and tell you what I think? Yes, please.”) and happily sent Stefanie the results, confident that we’d found the Ultimate Chocolate Cupcake and I now could go on to other projects (see previous reference to “new shipment of handbags”). Wrong. Wrong. And wrong. Apparently I was in the minority of Explorers who were satisfied with Recipe No. 1. Some thought the cupcake batter was too thick. Some too moist. Some too crumbly. Stefanie promised adjustments based on the comments and a couple of weeks later sent us Recipe No. 2. Still enthused about exploring chocolate cupcakes, I cheerfully bought more ingredients, followed the recipe, distributed the cupcakes, dutifully noted all comments (“More chocolate cupcakes? Cool!”) and passed the results on Stefani, confident that this was the one. But, no. Too dry, some of the testers said. Too cocoa-y. Too bitter. So Stefani adjusted accordingly and soon we had Recipe No. 3. By this time my enthusiasm was waning a bit — as you can see from the photos, I am not the neatest of bakers and spend approximately twice the time cleaning up as I spent actually baking — and I was starting to get pained looks from my testers (“Oh, more chocolate cupcakes? What’s wrong with them this time?”). By Recipe No. 4, my husband took to ducking out of the house when it was Cupcake Time and friends started making excuses (“Sorry — I think I’ve become allergic to chocolate cupcakes.”) to avoid taste-testing. By Recipe No. 5, I was down to enlisting casual acquaintances to help out (“Hi. You may not remember me but your sister’s best friend’s cousin is in my book club and I’ve baked these chocolate cupcakes …”). When we got to Recipe No. 6, my reputation was preceding me and people literally would hurry out of my way when they saw me approaching with cupcakes. Even the cats ignored me as I started pulling out the mixer and banging utensils around — activity that usually brings them running in hopes of wayward splatters. Finally — finally! — it was Recipe No. 7. I scrupulously followed the directions, eschewing any rebellious thoughts of striking out on my own (My favorite salted chocolate bar instead of plain? Fat-free sour cream instead of full-fat?) and pressured nicely asked friends to taste. Could this be it? Had we intrepid Explorers reached the Fountain of Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes? And, more importantly, would I ever lose the 5 pounds accumulated from months of chocolate-cupcake research? Answers: Yes, yes and not yet. But if we can discover the Ultimate Chocolate Cupcake, then anything is possible. Go here to see the recipe and read Stefani’s story of our explorations.
This probably will NOT be his first-day-of-kindergarten outfit, but it’s cute, anyway. (Cut-outs from a Melissa & Doug Jumbo Drawing Pad, although Son-in-Law Jason Behel probably could draw these in, oh, about five minutes.)