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.

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!

Could I Have Those Green Peppers Chopped, Please?

If these photos are any indication, it’ll be good times in our kitchen when it comes to making Christmas dinner this year. Grandson Capt. Adorable, who’ll be 3 next spring, is a whiz at cutting up green peppers — at least, the wooden peppers in his Captain-sized kitchen don’t stand a chance against the skillful wielding of his (not sharp at all) knife. He also cooks a mean pepperoni pizza, thanks to outstanding toymakers Melissa & Doug, who make all sorts of safe and imagination-stirring toys in case you’re still looking for a special something for the little ones on your list. You’ve got to watch the Captain, though — he’s just as liable to cook up a serving of cute little Beanie Babies as he is a yummy wooden vegetable stir-fry. You have been warned.

Gifts

One of my friends is so organized that she’s already giving her Christmas presents — and am I lucky to be on her list! I’m so impressed with the way she did her gifting that I’m going to steal share some of her ideas. First, she knows that gift bags/baskets are always fun to receive — who doesn’t like reaching in and pulling out all sorts of goodies? Second, she went with a theme — always a good idea. Having a theme provides some structure and consistency for gift buying, which is especially good for somebody like me who sort of buys little things here-and-there without any overriding goal and then ends up with five coffee mugs and three calendars and a bottle of balsamic vinegar. Plus, having a theme leads to point No. 3 — buying “in bulk.” My friend knows that we all love food, love cooking, love eating and love New Orleans, so she brought New Orleans to us here in landlocked northwest Alabama with iconic Central Grocery bags filled with such Cajun classics as hot sauce, Creole mustard and olive salad for authentic muffulettas. And, finally, she personalized our bags by adding the latest issue of magazines she knew we liked but didn’t subscribe to. I think she had as much fun putting these together as we did opening them up — the mark of successful gift giving!

12 Days of Christmas Countdown

peppermintIt’s Day No. 4 in Cathy’s 12 Days Before Christmas Countdown, and it’s time for the world’s easiest and most appreciated gift ever: Peppermint Bark. Or, as we call it in my family in honor of my brother Mark, who claims this as his favorite holiday candy ever — Mark’s Bark. Sure, you can buy it fancy and already made from gourmet stores like Williams-Sonoma. But I promise you can make it much easier than pie. Here’s what you do: Melt some chocolate — whatever you’ve got around the house is fine. Spread it out sort of thin on a wax- or parchment-paper lined pan. Crush up some christmas-and-new-years-2006-07-01818peppermint candy (very therapeutic this time of year if you put the candy in a securely closed plastic food bag and whack away with a rolling pin) and sprinkle the candy on the chocolate before it’s cool. When cool, break apart into cookie-sized pieces (again, very therapeutic). Stack and wrap for a festive gift or arrange on a plate for instant oohs and ahhs. You can get more complicated by layering white chocolate over the dark (a bit tricky because to make the layers stick you have to add the white-chocolate layer at just the right point in the cooling process) or by adding finely crushed peppermints or other flavorings to the chocolate. Need more help? For a video step-by-step tutorial , visit http://www.myrecipes.com/recipes/holidays/video/0,31570,1855603,00.html. Another good site for is http://www.instructables.com/id/Chocolate-Peppermint-Bark/. Check back for Day No. 3 in Cathy’s Christmas Countdown for the quickest and most festive decoration ever.

12 Days of Christmas Countdown

last-minute-gift1For Day No. 6 in Cathy’s 12 Days Before Christmas Countdown, here’s an idea for a super last-minute gift and stocking stuffer. I love these! One of the best timesaving holiday tips I’ve ever heard is to have a signature gift that you can buy in bulk and have on hand for almost everybody on your list. You may not have thought of travel mugs as a one-size-fits-all gift since not everybody drinks coffee or has commutes, but these mugs are perfect for all sorts of folks. You can use them for coffee, sure, but also hot cocoa for those late-night drives out to see the lights and hot tea for extra energy to make it through that final shopping push. Or make your morning smoothie portable. And you don’t even need a cupholder to enjoy these mugs, of course. Maybe your kids will drink christmas-and-new-years-2006-07-01814their milk if you give it to them in a penguin “glass.” I’ve seen mugs like theseeverywhere this year — Starbucks especially has some cute ones. To make them useable past December, my friend Susan (who gave the tall mug in the middle to her book-club members this year) says to look for winter themes rather than strictly holiday designs. She is so smart! Check back for Day No. 5 in the Christmas Countdown for a festive yet simple door design.

American Girls

samanthaMy 22-year-old daughter and I were looking through the latest American kirsten1Girl doll catalog this weekend and started getting nostalgic. Back in the early 1990s — about 15 years ago — when we lived in Athens, Tennessee, she and her now 24-year-old sister loved these dolls. Me, too. Every birthday and Christmas we added to our collection with clothes, accessories, books and furniture. I even made some of the doll clothes and — I’m embarrassed to admit this, but it’s true — on a few occasions we were a complete mother-daughters-dolls matching set. Ouch. But we had fun. Among the three of us, we had the original three dolls: Kristen, the pioneer girl; Samantha, the Victorian girl; and Molly, the World War II girl. We then added Felicity, the Colonial girl; and Addy, who escaped slavery with molly1her mother. Almost all of our friends in Athens had them, too, and we’d have lovely tea parties with girls and dolls. Wonderful, wonderful memories. But the girls got older and gradually put away “childish” things. When we moved to north Alabama in 1995, the dolls stayed packed up and I’ve only sort of peripherally kept up with new American Girl dolls and the shifting emphasis from historical characters to contemporary Just-Like-You dolls. But when I noticed this past Christmas that the newest doll is Depression-era Kit Kittredge whose date is 1934, I knew she’d be perfect for my mom, who was born that year. The doll even looks like my mom, and Kit’s clothes and accessories seem straight from my mom’s Illinois childhood. My daughters and I are having fun getting back into American Girl collecting. I can’t wait until I have granddaughters to buy for, too. We’re sad beyond belief, however, to hear that Mattel — which owns the company now — is retiring Samantha. That’s a shame. Seems as if learning from the past is more important than ever. So long, Samantha. Thanks for being such a vital part of my daughters’ childhood. We’ll miss you. Click here to read more Samantha farewells: http://americangirlstories.typepad.com/american_girl_stories/2008/09/test.html