What Kind of Plates Do Reindeer Eat From?

One of the hottest after-Christmas-sale items is Pottery Barn’s Reindeer Dinnerware, which already is pretty much sold out on Pottery Barn’s website — and everywhere else.  And you can see why with this gorgeously festive table at our friends’ house in Murfreesboro, Tenn. It’s a family project, with everybody in the house snapping up pieces when they find sales. And, come to think of it, frugal shopping is a valuable family holiday activity. As is sharing laughs and stories with good friends over deliciously yummy food. And adorable reindeer-decorated tableware. Which you kind of hate to pack away at the beginning of January. Do reindeer and Valentine’s Day mix?

 

So Long, 2011 — Or, What Happened to All That Money We Had Laying Around?

Happy New Year! Even though the Tournament of Roses parade (and I guess a football game?)  isn’t on until tomorrow  so it really doesn’t feel like New Year’s morning, this is the first day of 2012. So far I’ve celebrated by (thinking about) a healthy breakfast and (thinking about) doing an exercise DVD, so I count that as a successful year so far.  And since we”d already enjoyed the big-city lights of Nashville, Tennessee, this weekend, husband JP and I stayed home for the New Year’s Eve countdown. We chased some screw-top bubbly wine we’d unaccounatably found in the back of the fridge with some yummy Christmas chocolates, threw glitter out on the front porch and alternated being horrified by the (literal) spectre of a propped-up spray-tanned Dick Clark and being sympathetic with the Mobile, Alabama, TV hosts trying to make the anti-climatic Moon Pie drop and the lackluster crowd seem somehow festive. It’s a tough job. Bye-bye, 2011. You brought us adventures, opportunities, a boy grandbaby and much love and joy. However, you also brought us a few tears, fears and heart-stopping moments. Overall, though, you were pretty balanced. Here’s to 2012 — and we’re eating as many black-eyed peas as we can today.

When I Grow Up …

When I grow up, I want to be just like Felice Green, this wonderful woman here. Felice is a local retired educator, and I imagine that if you had her for a teacher, your life was changed forever. For one thing, she has a gorgeous voice. It’s rich and gracious and she enunciates every syllable so distinctly that you’re like, “Oh, so that’s how that word is supposed to sound.” Also, Felice does not put up with foolishness. Of any kind. She just looks at you and you know that by the sheer force of her will, she simply Is Not Stand For It, thank you very much, so you’d Better Straighten Up and Fly Right. (I still call her “ma’am” when I talk to her.  I can’t help it.) And then there is Felice’s style. Like her tutorial counterpart Mary Poppins, Felice is practically perfect in every way. She is impeccably groomed and immaculately dressed and I only wish I could rock this over-sized man’s suit jacket hand-painted with a Santa Claus and other symbols of  holiday cheer that she found in a vintage boutique. But instead of looking  chic and stylish and even sort of royal as Felice does, I think I’d simply end up looking foolish — a word that’s probably not even in her vocabulary. I first met Felice when I was a staff writer for the local newspaper and she helped with her sorority’s annual hosting of the Ebony (magazine) Fashion Fair, the world’s largest traveling fashion show. Fashion Fair brought high-end designs and runway productions to the normal everyday small-town Sears-clearance-rack-wearing folks like me, and I loved every minute of it. I’ve tried to talk Felice into organizing our own version of Fashion Fair, but she’s too busy hanging out with her grandchildren and doing good works. And looking fabulous, as always.

Cupcakes and Tablescapes

Think a beautifully set table is beyond your creative reach this Christmas? Cringing at spending $4 for that festively decorated cupcake? Don’t worry — your holiday can be magazine-worthy AND frugal at the same time. First, some background. The Florence-Lauderdale Public Library, in Florence, Ala., excels at connecting with the community. The folks there have turned the FLPL into a local gathering spot. You don’t go there simply to check out a book or check on the Internet — you go there to meet, eat, drink, sip, learn, watch, view, play, shop, talk, research and more. Example: A series of free monthly programs focusing on do-it-yourself topics that might especially interest young adults. Created by two young women staffers, the series brings in local experts on such subjects as grilling, sewing pillows and pulling together your first Thanksgiving dinner. December’s program was “Christmas Cupcakes and Tablescapes” and it was so much fun. Decorating this season is bold & graphic and casual & eclectic — I was especially pleased to learn that since down-home imperfection is  hot and glossily meticulousness is out, I now am apparently completely on trend — so creating decor using what’s within reach is both stylish and smart. Take the tablescapes. I’ve never considered using flat king sheets as table linens, but what a super idea that is. Add brown craft paper for a kid-friendly table runner, place cards for a thoughtful touch and a centerpiece featuring old glass jars  with unpopped popcorn anchoring backyard-branches and you’ve got a simple yet eye-catching design. And, here’s breaking news from the cupcake front: The latest thing is to leave a border of unfrosted cake to enhance that imperfect undecorated feel. I think I’ll need to do more research on this and report back. In the meantime, make your own edible snowflakes by drawing patterns on parchment paper, melting candy-making wafers in a plastic squeeze bottle and then piping along your pattern. Adorable! Allmost tempts me to wander into the kitchen and pull out bowls and beaters and get to work. Almost …

The Last Sausage Ball

(Photo by Mary Carton, Tuscumbia, Ala.)

You know how when you and your husband go to a party and you’re, like, “Oh, this food looks so good but I can’t eat it all so would you split a plate with me and we can share everything?” and your husband’s like, “Sure, sweetie. Whatever you want” although he’s remembering the time you said you didn’t like hot wings and then you ate the whole basket but a party is different because you want to taste a little of everything so you take the plate and fill it up with things you know you’ll like and things you’ll know he’ll like and then you’re working your way around the plate and you come to a sausage ball and you break it in half and eat your half and it’s really really good but because he’s busy eating the pork tenderloin slider he can’t eat his half of the sausage ball and it was so good that you really want him to have a whole one, you tell him, so you quickly eat the remaining half and then go back to the table only to find NO MORE SAUSAGE BALLS and then your husband realizes YOU HAVE EATEN THE LAST SAUSAGE BALL right in front of him? This is what that moment looks like.

Shopping Is Fun! That Is, if You Go with the Right Person

This photo was taken about eight minutes after the store opened, and three minutes after this corner was full of shoppers plopping bargain-priced boxed Christmas trees in their carts. They then moved on to the tool aisles, while we stayed and picked out poinsettias and evergreen wreaths in relative peace and quiet.

I like shopping. I like bargains. But I also like sleep, which I guess is why I’ve never done Black Friday. That, and as a newspaper reporter I always worked the day after Thanksgiving (& was damn lucky to get Thanksgiving off) and simply couldn’t manage both power shopping and deadline writing in the same day. But now that I live the financially challenging free & flexible life of a freelance writer, I can get up at 2 a.m. and hunt those door-busting deals with enthusiasm. And with Older Daughter, who talked me into going with her this year for my first Black Friday experience. “It’ll be fun,” she said. “It’s relaxing. Really.” Given all the scary stories I’d seen through the years, I was skeptical, but this is the young woman who has produced two of the Cutest Grandbabies Ever in the History of the World, so I figured she knew what she was talking about. Turns out she was correct:  Black Friday shopping — the way she does it, at least — is fun and stress-free. Her secrets? First, she researches and prepares by studying all the newspaper circulars. She knows which stores she’ll go to to buy specific items and which stories she’ll go to merely to browse. From her years of experience (she has stood outside in freezing sleet and spent hours in barely crawling checkout lines), she knows which stores to avoid when and which stores are worth  some discomfort and crowding. Second, she also knows in which stores you’ll find the most helpful and best-trained Black Friday staff (Home Depot excels at this) and in which stores you’re pretty much on your own because the yawning uninterested employees couldn’t care less. She knows how to ask about truck arrivals and restocking times and “do you maybe have any of these in the back?” She knows to grab anything you’re interested in while you ponder and discuss the competing merits of a Rock Star Mickey versus a Let’s Rock! Elmo — and she knows to put the rejects back where they belong so others can ponder them, too. Third, she has a great attitude and never gets upset or tense, even when the last pair of size 8 Tom’s Chocolate Canvas Women’s Classic at 25 percent off is gone before she can get to it. She simply switches gears and goes for the Brown Metallic Woven Women’s Cordones instead. No problem. She also approves of frequent treats, so she had me at “And as soon as Starbucks opens and if we’re doing well at that point …” Plus, she was also correct that being out in the pre-dawn hours with other for-the-most-part good-natured shoppers is sort of fun. On the other hand, it probably has a lot to do with who you’re with. Thanks, sweetie, for including me in your annual holiday shopping kickoff. I’ve already started saving up for next year.

One-Stop Shopping …

... for your Fourth of July celebration, because what's more convenient than being able to buy your fireworks and your liquour at the same time and in the same place? (Special thanks to favorite nephew Sam for help with the secret journalism photography.)

No Audience for Little Boys

I’m not sure what our (at this point) almost-3-year-old grandson, Capt. Adorable, was thinking here at his mothers’-day-out Easter program after-party. He’s in the 2-year-old class, which was the youngest group to perform in the annual spring event  — and by “perform” I mean “stare bleakly out at the audience and try to get out of his chair numerous times.” He loved singing the oh-so-cute little songs about bunnies and chicks and birds and flowers AT HOME. But, sadly, singing before an adoring audience of Mommy and Daddy and Kacky did not prepare him for singing in front of an impersonal audience of hundreds of strangers who did not jump up and down and hug him in delight after he finished each tune. He stuck it out, however, even as he silently implored his mommy and me with his precious Capt. Adorable eyes to please take  him offstage to someplace where there were trucks and trains and other cool things. He actually sing and make the hand motions to one song. Out of about 12, that is. But, still. We thought the party treat of chocolate cupcakes would cheer him up, but it took awhile. Does this photo capture him contemplating revenge? Is he already rehearsing the words his 37-year-old self will tell his therapist: “Oh my gosh, when I was almost 3 my mother and my grandmother forced me on stage and I’ve never been the same since.”? Or perhaps he’s simply eyeing the party plate of the child sitting across from him. Actually, however, I’ve seen this look before. It means “I’m not happy and I want you to know it but I’m not going to go all 2-year-old on you and scream and cry and throw myself on the floor. I just want you to know that I’m extremely not happy. And you will pay.” I first got this look when he was about 9 months old and I put this darling hat and scarf on him one windy winter afternoon. He was not amused. Sort of, you know,  like when he’s made to sit on a stage and sing Easter songs.

Of Food, Clocks and Men

Here are some things I’ve written lately — a couple of food stories and my weekly newspaper column — that you might like to read. And this does not mean I’m too lazy to put up a blog post this morning. No, it does not mean that at all. Nope. Definitely not.

Did you know that food can help you deal with the stress of this weekend’s time change? It’s true. Studies show that the first few days after springing forward (and you have to do that this Sunday morning, remember) can be stressful as folks adjust to the changing routine. But using mealtimes as a way to combat the effects of eating breakfast in the dark and supper at 10 p.m. can help! (This story includes some fun and easy breakfast ideas.)

And don’t forget that St. Patrick’s Day is Thursday. Even here in northwest Alabama, where leprechauns are pretty rare and Guiness is considered an exotic brew, there’s a deep Irish connection we can honor with food.

I’m almost 54 years old. I still do not always understand men. And by “men,” of course, I mean my husband. But when the “men” are a precious 3-year-old who’s cute and sweet and has a smile that makes me melt and say things such as “Sure, sweetie, I’ll read ‘Cat in the Hat’ again for the fifth time,” I understand completely.