You know what I mean by “gift-giving envy,” right? It’s that forehead-slapping moment when you unwrap The Perfect Gift Picked Out Just For You and while you’re speechless at the insane appropriateness of it all (how did she know I’d looked at that scarf just yesterday???) you’re also inwardly wondering WHY CAN’T I EVER DO THAT and secretly dreading when it’s the giftor’s turn to unwrap your Wintry Forest-scented candle, limited edition. Or maybe this is just me. Because I have the extreme and completely undeserved good fortune to be surrounded by folks who always get it right. I don’t know how they do it. But there are clues: “I pay attention,” our community-theatre intern shrugged when I asked how she knew I needed the travel mug and Starbucks Via she gave me. “I loved it so I knew you would, too,” a friend said when she gave me the most adorable necklace ever. “I remembered that you really liked the last one,” a sister-in-law said when she gave me a local artist’s tabletop calendar. Hmmm …
And since I can’t turn around and use these to dazzle folks in 2014, here are some more unexpected and fun ideas to delight YOUR special people in upcoming gift-giving opportunities:
Did you know you could buy assorted single earrings? I didn’t, until Younger Daughter gave me this ultra-cute collection. I wear an uneven number of earrings because … well … I’ve forgotten why I decided to do that originally but I’d like to think it’s my one Rebellion Against the Status Quo. Or something. Also, when it’s Grandbaby Time, I switch to studs. One experience of having your gold hoops yanked out of your ears by an adorable yet incredibly strong young child will do that to you. I love that these have various colors and textures. And that Younger Daughter knew I’d love it.
Did you know there was such a thing as wood-roasted coffee? I never, in all of my coffee-drinking years, had heard of that. And I pretty much consider myself to be up on all things coffee. But Younger Brother knew there was a gap in my coffee knowledge, so he gave me a bag of Matt’s Wood-Roasted Organic Coffee, made in Maine. At Matt’s, organic coffee is small-batch roasted in a vintage Italian roaster fueled by wood from native and nearby forests. And it is sooo good. It’s subtle and rich and layered and smooth, just as the perfect cup of coffee should be. Order some. Now
Of course, I can drink my perfect wood-roasted coffee in the most perfect coffee mug ever. Older Daughter is one of those folks skilled at using online photo and printing sites to create ooh-and-ahh-worthy gifts everybody looks forward to. Her expertise in designing hard-cover photo scrapbooks is legendary (if only I could convince her that photos of my precious grandbabies PLAYING AND POSING ON RAILROAD TRACKS are unnecessary). And this year she outdid herself by adding a coffee mug. Just for me. It makes me smile every time I drink coffee out of it — and since Husband John Pitts probably is reading this, I won’t reveal how many times that is. But it’s enough to make me feel good all day. Even with the railroad tracks.
Our neighbors are awesomely wonderful. We look out for each other and bring in each other’s garbage cans and pick up the trash. And give good gifts. One neighbor gave us a gift card to one of our favorite downtown eating spots, which we used immediately on beer and guacamole. Another neighbor gave us a basket full of goodies, including these book ends. Book ends! I love the idea of book ends — things such as pretty stationery and statement-making key fobs that used to be staples of everyday life but now are special enough to be elevated to why-didn’t-I-think-of-that gifts. Also please note that this is John Pitts’ side of the bookshelves, used for photography purposes because his side is organized and neat while mine is overflowing and messy and so overloaded that the movable shelves actually do move — downwards — every few months or so.
So, here’s to 2014! May the gifts you give always be welcome and never donated to the Salvation Army store. (Please give money, instead. Because if the set of four white-swan plastic napkin rings terrifies you, do you really want to impose it on somebody else?)
When it comes to navigating the yearly ready-to-trip-you-up-and-drag-you-down maze that is The Holidays, forget everything you’re read advising you to “eat right, sleep well and continue your exercise routine (even a brisk walk outside will help!).” I mean, you read the same article every year and has that advice ever worked? Of course not. And why? Because a) nobody has the time to be all healthy and pro-active, b) nobody has the energy to fix a salad when there are eight dozen Candy Cane White Chocolate Mini Cheesecakes to finish and c) anyway ARE YOU *** KIDDING ME? Look, all of the holiday stress is in your mind. You cannot change the chaos. You cannot change the tightly packed schedules that have you in 14 different spots in a mere 24-hour period. You cannot change the last-minute panic, the all-night wrapping marathons, the tree disasters. Those things are going to happen. Over and over again. So how to deal? Instead of fighting it and complaining and moaning, change your strategy: Instead of letting the holidays be in control of your emotional welfare, woman up and take control yourself. After all, the holidays are fun. Remember fun? For most of us, that’s what this mid-winter break is supposed to be. It’s when we impose expectations and standards and must-do’s and must-haves on our celebrations that we start to feel cranky. So relax. And enjoy. I don’t know about you, but this is about the only time of year people leave presents at our front door, everything smells good, sparkles and sequins are approved daytime wear and you can eat Bourbon Balls with impunity. What’s not to like? And just in case you need some actual helpful advice:
Never ever use the word “tacky” in conjunction with Christmas sweaters. For those of us in our 50s who were around for the original Christmas Sweater Boom, it’s much too soon to relegate this trend to the “tacky” category. We probably still have a few stashed away in the back of our closets. You can make fun of our mom jeans, our rhinestoned sweatshirts and our Madonna hair, but step away from the Christmas sweaters.
Besides, as soon as you post a photo of your winning entry in the office Tacky Christmas Sweater contest, your best client/customer/patron will walk in with the same sweater on. You have been warned.
Whether hours spent with a cozy fireplace and comfy blanket figure large in your holiday plans or you’re going to be grateful for a few squeezed-in minutes of free time, celebrate the season by adding wintry books to your to-read list. Consider “Smilla’s Sense of Snow,” by Peter Hoeg; Stieg Larsson‘s “The Girl Who …” books and any of the Inspector Wallender novels, by Henning Mankell. These Nordic mystery writers know how to create tight and compelling stories amid snow, ice and freezing temperatures — and when they’re not solving crimes, our detectives are pouring coffee and eating sandwiches. Doesn’t get much better.
In your holiday travels — even if it’s only to the neighbor’s house for a cookie swap — you may be faced with the Problem of Bad Coffee. It happens, even with people who listen to public radio and still have a Dennis Kucinich sticker on their Prius. Don’t compromise — you don’t have to drink Bad Coffee just because it’s the season of good tidings and joy. There is a solution. Eschew — politely, of course — the see-through beverage in the Mr. Coffee carafe. Then discretely remove the flask from your purse that’s full of your best cold brew, pour into one of your host’s coffee cups and proceed with add-in’s as you see fit. If you’re staying with someone (cough-cough my mother cough-cough) who is not a coffee drinker, then arrive prepared. A personal French press-tumbler is a good choice if you’re the only coffee fan, but consider bringing a more group-friendly method if others will be jealous.
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.
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.
You know you are deep in Southern territory when women driving open-air Jeeps keep an aerosol can of hairspray handy. Reminds me of the time many years ago when now-husband John Pitts called me from his office in Washington, D.C. “My ink pen exploded all over my shirt,” he said. “Any advice for getting it out?” I replied with the universal antidote: “Sure. Ask one of the women there if you can borrow their hairspray and then saturate and blot.” There was a pause and then laughter. “You forget,” he said, chuckling, “that this is not the South. I bet none of the women I work with even know what hairspray is.” Putting aside the argument that Washington IS, in fact, the South, it is true that hairspray — lots and lots of hairspray — is a Southern essential. Especially in Jeeps.
Continuing the January theme of “newness” and “making positive changes” and “taking risks that don’t involve bodily harm,” after four years of sticking with the same blog layout, I’ve updated to a sleeker and cleaner look. Which sounds as if I spent all morning designing and coding but actually means I simply slicked on the “Your theme has a new version” button that WordPress annoyingly insisted I pay attention to. And I’m glad I did. I like this minimalist & organized format — it obscures the fact that in real time I have stacks of newspapers, magazines and books threatening to topple over and take over my workspace and I can’t decipher the bottom item on my scribbled grocery list. I need to add “live up to the image of your blog layout” to my rapidly decimated list of New Year’s resolutions. Inspired by the one-click success of trying something new, blogging-wise, I then decided to update all my various profiles scattered throughout cyberspace — you know, those bio forms you filled out back when you were proud of your Beta Club presidency and those photos you posted back when you were a size four. Those days are never coming back, so why enshrine them in Interwebs permanency? In other attempts at newness, I’ve started a new job as managing director of our local community theatre — have I mentioned that theater folks are a wacky bunch and I seem to be fitting right in? — and I somehow have gained 5 pounds over the past two weeks. Could it be that my steady holiday diet of eggnog, sugar cookies, Chex mix and See’s chocolates is responsible?
If my New Year’s resolutions were to watch football and stake out the coziest corner of the couch, then Jan. 1 was a success — although my beloved SEC took a hit as both LSU and Mississippi State LITERALLY dropped the ball(s), leaving Georgia and Vandy to represent so far. Now, since I am lazy lucky enough to work part-time in places that sensibly close during the holidays, it’s back to work for me after a two-weeks vacation. My family had a super Christmas. Hope yours did the same. I did discover that my children are sneaky — Older & Younger Daughter conspired to give me an iPad for Christmas and kept the secret (after bringing husband JP into the loop) ever since Black Friday, when my son-in-law apparently was conscripted to stand in line for it after Older Daughter came down with the flu. And you know I try not to be materialistic and to believe in the simple things of love and laughter, but the iPad is THE BEST THING EVER. Ever. It only leaves my hands when it’s time to finish leftover Christmas cookies. Also, husband JP took note of my Amazon wish list and I now have a gorgeous Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired business-card holder and a lotion warmer that is the most luxurious thing ever and makes me think that perhaps a towel warmer is next. And then my mom gave us a monogrammed doormat, not knowing that JP only tolerates the open-scrollworked metal one we have now because although I think it’s the coolest doormat ever and totally says who we are as soon as you come to our front door, it does leave rust marks all over the porch’s concrete floor. So everybody was happy. And that’s a pretty good start to 2013.
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!