Shopping in Homewood, Ala.

I swear that as soon as I walked into the furniture store Soho Retro in Homewood, Ala., I expected to see Aunt Helen stub out her cigarette in a glass ashtray on her Eames (-inspired?) coffee table and rise from her Hans Wegner-style sofa (although she called it a “divan”) to greet us. Which would be a great trick since she died about 20 years ago and had to give up smoking and her mid-century Modern home several years before that. Soho Retro, where the late lamented Red Rain eco-friendly general store was,  definitely is time travel at its finest — not to mention a top destination for furnishing a space with all things 1950s. As my friends and I wandered through and admired, we began every sentence with, “I remember …” (Well, okay, my sentences also began with “Are we ready to go get some coffee now?” and “I really shouldn’t have had that second martini at lunch.”) I’m conflicted about the recent revival of mid-20th-century Modern style. On one hand, I love its sleek minimalism and function-equals-form industrial approach. On the other hand, since I lived it, I’m not sure about embracing it wholeheartedly 40 or so years later. It’s the same as in fashion: Just because I once wore pleated and tapered pants and long boxy blazers doesn’t mean I should do it again. No matter what Nina Garcia says.

It Feels Like Christmas, Just Like Christmas

This Exhibit A why I’ll never ever ever be an interior decorator and/or marvelous hostess: These photos illustrate the way the holidays are supposed to be done, as opposed to my method of tying a few bows on light fixtures, opening a box of fancy Ritz crackers and hoping for the best. Thankfully, there are people like Mary Katherine Butler, an interior decorator and lover of all things colorful who owns a shop called Kates and Co. in downtown Corinth, Mississippi. She carries the slack for the rest of us … well, slackers. This was the Christmas open house at her shop a few days ago, and it definitely put everybody in a festive spirit. How could it not? I smile just walking into her shop. In the hands of folks who know what they’re doing — like Mary Katherine and several of my good friends — a bunch of stuff on a table turns into something gorgeous and magical. But if I arranged a bunch of stuff on a table, it simply would look like a bunch of stuff on a table. But at least that’s better than a bunch of cat hair, which is what’s usually on our tables. Sigh.

Interior Design and Cooking

Going to my brother’s house in Chattanooga, Tennessee, is like going to a restful mountain retreat. In fact, six years ago when my then-husband-to-be and I were thinking about where to get married, we considered Mark and Tammie’s house — although I don’t think we ever told them that. (So, Mark and Tammie, would it be OK if we laid claim your house for a weekend and invited 200 people over? Thanks!!!) Anyway, when they bought their house on the side of Lookout Mountain, the interiors were sort of dark and chopped up. Since then and after much hard work, they have let in the light and gone bright and airy by taking out walls, adding light-colored hardwood floors and sticking with minimalist decor. I especially love the kitchen, where they took off the cabinet doors to offset the dark wood. Bonus: Everybody gets to see their collections of colorful vintage espresso cups, bowls, glasses and other dishes, although, as my brother pointed out, sometimes you have to wipe off your chosen dish before you use it if it’s been sitting on the shelf for a while. But that’s a small price to pay for fabulousness, don’t you think? Their bedroom continues the theme of calm and serene, with pale green walls and light-wood furniture. If you didn’t know this family but you walked into this house anyway, you’d know instantly that the folks who live here are creative and artistic and love being outdoors. And they are.

And speaking of creative, I kept telling my husband I was going to cover a “Cooking with Ginger” class for the TimesDaily — the newspaper I freelance for in Florence, Alabama — and he was bitterly disappointed to find out I was not making a Gilligan’s Island reference. But I did learn that ginger is an incredibly flavorful and versatile … herb? spice? … that will brighten up everything it’s added to. Younger Daughter has taken to putting some in the fresh juice she makes, and after this class I’m adding ginger along with the onion-garlic stir-fry duo to everything I get a saute pan out for. Read more and get some wonderful recipes at