Was Dec. 25 really only 25 days ago?

Yes. Yes, it was. Only 25 days ago you were knee-deep in LEGO boxes & sugar-cookie crumbs & desperately trying to remember if you’d wrapped everything correctly because it sure looks your third-favorite sister-in-law is opening the bracelet you bought for your second-favorite sister-in-law. Oops.

(Side note: I’m sitting here with my computer while A Very Important Football Game is on TV & I’m, like, “Oh, it’s the cute guy from the insurance commercials. Aaron somebody.” This is the extent of my NFL knowledge.)

Returning to the Great Gifting Extravaganza of 25 days ago–remember how, before image3Dec. 25, we’d anguished over our burgeoning holiday gift list? Remember how we second-guessed every purchase & debated every gift-card-v.-actual-item decision? We worried & stressed & considered paying extra for the super-duper-extra-fast-guaranteed-delivery-yesterday-or-maybe-next-week shipping because we wanted to give everybody the perfect present. But, right now–25 days later–can you remember what those presents were? I have to admit that for me it’s all faded into a warm fuzzy memory of “thank-yous” & hugs & those Dec. 25 words every grandparent longs to hear: “It’s exactly what I wanted!”

However, I DO remember the awesomely wonderful presents I opened 25 days, and I bet you do, too. We focus so intently on our own holiday shopping that we forget it’s a two-way process. I need to grab a gratitude journal & remind myself because my family includes some of the best present-picker-outers ever. Here’s proof:

  • OK, it’s true that my husband John Pitts didn’t actually go out & buy the BrevilleIMG_2325 Barista Express Espresso Machine for me. But he DID say “go for it” when I told him I had ordered was going to order it & it it could be my Christmas present & I really really wanted it because had he noticed I hadn’t been making espresso lately because my other machine leaked all over the kitchen counter & we can’t have that but we must have espresso. Must. Have. Espresso. At least, I think he said “go for it.” He might have said “What the @#$% do you need a $500 coffee machine for?” I wasn’t really listening. But this? This is life. I love it so hard. We have deep meaningful conversations every morning. We understand each other completely. There was a learning curve in which I doubted myself a couple of times but we finally figured each other out. If you appreciate good coffee as well as the process of making it, then this is a must-have.image1
  • I have two sisters-in-law & they are both generous, loving & giving women who care about things such as equality & environment. One of them gifted me this gorgeous World Wide Fund scarf. It’s a meaningful gift because it reminds me 1) to be more like my sisters-in-law instead of pondering such minor annoyances as “Do you think my ears are different sizes–like feet? Because the left AirPod always slips out.”; 2) “WWF” stands for “World Wide Fund” & not “World Wildlife Fund” or “World Wrestling Federation” because legalities & trademarks, people, and 3) the WWF website has disturbing reports on the Australian wildfire & other climate-change news–and it’s not good. Take a minute & read for yourself. My sis-in-law says “thank you.”

But, wait! There’s more! Come back tomorrow for more gifting fun & other goodies.

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P.S. Nobody pays me anything 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 otherwise, I can’t be bought. (Also blue. I like Dark Adriatic Blue.)

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.