It’s not a Southern party unless you’ve got …

Here in the South, we are in the middle of that lovely season when every day week DSCN3432there’s a tea or reception or shower or some other similar gathering where you show up and bless everybody’s hearts profusely and come away with 1) a new egg salad recipe, 2) details from Person A on where she bought those adorable shoes and 3) details from Person B on what Person A did after she bought those adorable shoes and who she did it with. And there are at least two food items that MUST be present to make it an official DSCN3435Southern party. Both of those items are in this photo. Southerners were raised on
these two items; non-Southerners have never heard of them and don’t really understand them. Can you spot them in this photo? Bonus points if you can name the Muscle Shoals, Alabama, party classic that is not present in this photo but no Muscle Shoals tea/shower/reception is complete without. The flower arrangement is essential Southerness, too. Sadly, my mother did not bestow upon me the love-of-gardening gene and all I know is that this arrangement has some green leaves and pretty flowers and looks really nice? On the other hand, I can tell you every single detail about every single food item on that table. Priorities! But also possibly the reason my jeans seem to have a little trouble zipping up lately. Sigh.

Christmas Parties & the Coffee with Cathy ‘How To Do Everything’ Guide

 Or, how to be happy in your new house

Susan's coffee table is gorgeously decorated for the holidays. And see those papers? We actually read our assigned books and go over discussion questions and have some lively conversations. Over wine, of course. But still.

Susan’s coffee table is gorgeously decorated for the holidays. And see those papers? We actually read our assigned books and go over discussion questions and have some lively conversations. Over wine, of course. But still.

You know that friend you have who has been through so much yet still is a rock(ette) and everybody relies on her and she is cheerful and giving and loving despite every reason not to be and you want only good things for her always? My friend like that — let’s randomly call her ‘Susan’ for no reason whatsoever — is the DEAREST AND BEST person ever and I am so lucky she lets me be her friend. She recently bought and moved into her own house and because I am a bad friend who doesn’t deserve her, I hadn’t seen the new place until this week when she hosted a Christmas party for our four-woman book club. (We are small but extremely opinionated — or maybe that’s just me. The opinionated part, I mean.) She was beaming as she welcomed us in to her warm and cozy and festive oh-so-her home. Even if I didn’t know she lived there, I would have said she should — it fits her so well. She didn’t have to do a thing to it, paint-wise, and her furniture works perfectly, with plenty of space and traffic flow for family and friends as well as her own woman-cave for relaxing. She has such good taste in decorating — simple yet elegant with a big dash of creativity is the best way to describe her style. For instance, look at her china cabinet (below).

The clear glass centerpiece reflects the candlelight and the silver and white colors add to the festive wintry atmosphere.

The clear glass centerpiece reflects the candlelight and the silver and white colors add to the festive wintry atmosphere.

highboy

Susan adds personal touches to her china cabinet with a unique display of her Gail Pittman collection.

Love, love, love the way she propped up her square Gail Pittman plates in the back to look like inlaid tiles. Clever! (And remind me to tell you about some of our Gail Pittman adventures. You wouldn’t believe what folks will do for a matching dessert plate and espresso cup. And by “folks,” I mean me.) Anyway, for Christmas Susan used silver and pale blue and glittery white to create a magical wintry evening. She fed us yummy food and fun cranberry margaritas and we opened presents and talked about the book and laughed a whole big bunch. Doesn’t get much better than that, especially when you’ve got a hostess who is so happy to share her own home with her friends. Seems like that’s the way to do Christmas parties.

Life of Setting Cool Tables

Creative folks amaze me. I mean, how can they come up with ideas out of nowhere that just knock you over with adorableness? My creativity is limited to “Hey, I wonder what would happen if I put tiny chocolate chips in the cookie dough instead of the regular-sized ones???” and coming up with excuses when my husband calls me and he KNOWS I’m in T.J. Maxx yet again. That’s about all the creativity I’ve got.Thank goodness I have friends and Seared tuna with saladfamily who practically are oozing with creativity, so all I have to do is relax and enjoy. Take my four-woman book club. Three of our members prepare thoughtfully themed meals with fun decorations and appropriately chosen wine for our sort-of monthly meetings, and one of our members does not. Draw your own conclusions. Needless to say, book club was NOT at my house for our recent “Life of Pi” dinner and discussion. With her usual flair, our hostess went all green and tropical with the decor (loved the leafy chargers!) and served us delicious seared tuna, veering away from the book for a Mardi-Gras dessert of king cake and bread pudding. (Full disclosure: She had a friend bring back the king cake from a New Orleans bakery but was disappointed  because, she said, it tasted like a gas-station cinnamon roll. Luckily, gas-station cinnamon rolls are pretty much tops on my food list so I was happy.) As for the book, we all agreed that the writing was graceful and lyrical made us feel as if we were there with Pi and Richard Parker. On the other hand, we were confused about parts of the plot and what it all was supposed to mean. WERE we supposed to pick which story was real? WERE we supposed to question Pi’s sanity? CAN bananas (thank you, Gwen Stefani, for guaranteeing I always can spell “bananas”) truly float? And what’s with the person-eating island, anyway? Surely that had some allegorical/mythological/philosophical threads we were not picking up. We didn’t come to any conclusion but had a fun time, anyway. As always. And now I just realized that our next book — my recommended pick of “The Dressmaker,” by Kate Alcott — is about shipwrecks and lifeboats, too. But no tigers.

A Blue-and-Orange Graduation

You know this is a completely objective and un-biased blog — except when it comes to the Smartest and Most Adorable Grandbabies Ever in the Whole World, of course — and just because I recently went to an Auburn-themed graduation party and had a wonderful time does NOT mean I lean that way. Although it’s a proven fact that Alabama fans are THE MOST obnoxious crowds and Nick Saban is THE MOST inscrutable coach. Because here in the Heart of Dixie, you have to choose. There is no middle ground between THE MOST annoying folks in the conference and Auburn. See? In my state, even a graduation party brings out the football in us. I mainly wanted you all to see these fun and creative decorations, such as the crepe-paper streamers that honor the ailing Toomer’s Corner trees and the cute and delicious graduation mortarboards with blue and orange accents, but now I’ve worked myself into such a state that I need another cup of coffee. Anyway, congratulations to Older Daughter’s nephew-in-law on his graduation from not-Alabama. He’s a smart and talented young man who will do great things. War Eagle!

Friends Bearing Presents

Presents! I love presents! Particularly the unexpected kind — the kind that somebody gives you just because & for no reason, the kind that make you feel special because somebody thought of you and went to the trouble to do something for you. Such as that wonderful little box of “Pocket Espresso To Go.” A friend and her husband, who are enthusiastic travelers, found these adorable little packets of espresso AND chocolate in Italy and brought one back for me. I especially am tickled with the coffee pitcher on the package — it seems so … Italian! I also received a trio of some of my favorite things when I helped host a wedding shower for a friend’s daughter. Are hostess gifts a Southern thing? It’s times like this when my native non-Southerness comes out because I always forget about hostess gifts and then when I receive one I’m thrilled and surprised and then of course I mentally run through all the times I should have given hostess gifts and I wonder, “Did I?” Anyway, our mother-of-the-bride friend is a gracious native Southerner and ALWAYS does the correct thing. She knows that we all are crazy about her 1) hand-knitted dish cloths, 2) homemade plum-fig jam and 2) seasoning mix made from her own dried herbs, so that’s what she gave us when we hosted a shower for her daughter. How did I end up with such sweet and thoughtful friends? (Reminder to self: Give people more presents.)

When Life Gives You Parties, Make Mimosas

We aren’t bragging or anything — well, I obviously am, although the rest of this group is much better behaved —  but a group of friends and I have pretty much perfected party-hostessing. Seems as if every year one of our children is getting married or getting engaged or graduating or having a baby, and naturally each of these occasions calls for a celebration. We can plan a party at the drop of a (wide-brimmed, ribbon-decorated white straw) hat and check off half of our to-do lists before the men in our lives — who, even after all these years, still do not understand the difference between “tea” and “brunch” — can ask “Tell me again why you pay so much for flowers when the side of the road is full of them?” Take, for example, the bridal shower a few weeks ago that we hosted in an old bank in the once-thriving and now-quiet Sweetwater business district of Florence, Ala. Recently the space had been a restaurant and the owner now rents it for events. We originally thought “rustic,” “vintage” and “weathered” were appropriate decor themes to coordinate with the exposed brick walls, tin ceilings and original woodwork. However, a professional we consulted — we’re always up for a second opinion — suggested we go sleek, sophisticated and girly instead for a visually intriguing contrast. And she was correct. The light and airy silver “bamboo” chairs paired with snowy white linens and stunningly tall tropical-flower centerpieces were the perfect touches. Add a steady supply of mimosas, good times and good friends and you’ve got a party. I told you we are good!

What Your Table Should Wear for Spring Parties

After being inspired by these completely cool table coverings at Nellie Mae, in Tuscumbia, Ala., I am immediately ditching all the matching and carefully pressed contents of my linen closet shelf drawer and going for joyously eclectic creativity. I mean, how sweet are these? I love the ethereal layering of the neutral-toned tablecloths on the left and then the cheerful fabric garlands, rosettes, bows and flowers decorating the one on the right with the netting underskirt. I think these would be perfect for a bridal shower or even an informal outdoors wedding — you know, those oh-so-fun weddings that are really just parties in disguise, where the bride wears cowboy boots and everybody’s kids are running around and there’s beer and barbecue for all (except the kids, of course). On the other hand, I’ll always love the simple elegance of crisp white napkins paired with Grandmother’s linen tablecloth. And the retro fun of colorful vintage table squares that demand place settings of Fiesta ware. Of course, the way Husband JP and I usually eat is out. Or on the couch watching basketball. But I just like to know that I COULD set a nice table if I were inclined to.