What do Stevie Nicks, Scarlett O’Hara and Della Street have in common? Besides being awesomely fabulous females, of course. Give up? They were my fashion icons when I was growing up — well, Scarlett’s Southern Victorian diva and Della’s sexy smart secretary were, and then Stevie’s flowy boho hippie came along when I was old enough to make my own style mistakes buy my own clothes. Today, I’d like to think I’m sort of a combination of all three, with some Michelle Obama thrown in. (But maybe I’m flattering myself — that’s what I’d like to look like, at least!) I wrote more about how TV, movies and music influence what we wear in my quarterly fashion column for the TimesDaily’s Shoals Woman magazine, in Florence, Alabama, at http://www.timesdaily.com/article/20090624/SW/906239986/1085. On a day when two fashion inspirations have left us — Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson — I’m thinking about how much influence entertainers have over the way we want to see ourselves. And remembering one gold-star day in college when my wings turned out perfectly — my hair has never looked as good as it did that day more than 30 years ago when Farrah gazed back at me from the tiny dorm-room mirror. Sigh.
As Fat Tuesday rolls around — it’s tomorrow — everybody has a little New Orleans in them. And if you didn’t make it to Mardi Gras this year, you can celebrate at home (and a little quieter) with your own personal tribute — and you don’t even have to wear purple beads. For instance, you can find Cafe Du Monde Beignet Mix and ground coffee in almost any grocery store. And it’s pretty good, too. Not the same of course of sitting at a Cafe Du Monde outside table and brushing powdered sugar off your clothes while you make fun of other tourists people-watch, but it’ll do until you can get there yourself. Check out http://www.cafedumonde.com/ for details. And for some delicious New Orleans reading while you’re sipping your chicory cafe au lait, pick up a copy of “Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table.” Sara Roahen was a professional cook when she moved to the Crescent City while her husband attended medical school. She soon got a job as a food writer, and this book chronicles her joyous exploration of New Orleans’ food and people. She falls in love with her adopted city, and she’ll make you want to book the next flight there. Go to http://www.sararoahen.com to learn more. And for another New Orleans fix, don’t forget about “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” If you haven’t seen it in the theater, put it on your must-rent list when it comes out on DVD. This intelligent and cinematic film is so thoughtful and artistic — and the city of New Orleans should have gotten a supporting-actor award for its part in it. I thought that such a mystical and magical and slightly other-worldly film could have been shot only in New Orleans, despite the Baltimore locale of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s original story. Visit http://www.benjaminbutton.com/ to find out more. Need more NOLA? Go to http://www.nola.com/mardigras/ for Mardi Gras parade webcams and up-to-the-minute details on what’s happening. Best viewed with a Sazerac in hand.
My wonderful yet workaholic husband actually took a few days off recently and we headed to Nashville, Tennessee, for time with family, friends and a peacefully quiet hotel room. We like Embassy Suites — the two rooms to spread out in, the consistent quality of service and cleanliness and of course the free drinks and snacks in the afternoon. (What? We’re easily impressed!) We loved this bar-food gizmo set up in the lobby for the daily happy hour. It had all sorts of crackers, pretzels, nuts, candy and mixes for do-it-yourself creating — the perfect accompaniment for beer and lazy discussions about where to go and who to see and what to eat later that night. Good times! It doesn’t take much to amuse us when it’s just the two of us on vacation. If we have access to real coffee (me), Diet Dr Pepper (him), reliable Internet and plenty of newspapers, we’re content. Throw in good restaurants and time to do whatever we want whenever we want to and we’ve gone beyond content and straight into happpy. And by the way, one thing we did while on vacation was catch “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” If you haven’t seen it yet, go immediately. It’s a moving and powerful story you’ll think about long after you leave the theater. I was disappointed it didn’t garner more awards at the Golden Globes, but I’m hopeful it will clean up at the Oscars — it’s that good.
Thanks for checking in all week as we’ve counted down my five favorite Christmas movies. So here we are at the top spot. Have you guessed it yet? No surprise, really. At No. 1 of the five top holiday movies, we have – ta da! — “A Christmas Story.” This is the best Christmas movie ever made. Ever. In the whole world. I will accept no arguments otherwise. Ralphie’s quest to make the adults in his life understand his heart’s desire crosses all boundaries. This movie is the perfect confluence of writing, acting and producing, and I’m proud to say I saw it during its theatrical release in December, 1983, in a theater in downtown Nashville, Tenn. – and told everybody I knew afterwards that they had to watch this movie. Its gentle nostalgic humor combined with writer Jean Shepherd’s sharp dialogue is a rare cinematic treasure. Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillion are perfect as Ralphie’s parents, and Peter Billingsley as Ralphie is pure joy. I especially love all the authentic late 1930s-early 1940s details, such as the wonderfully stocked kitchen and other interiors in the Parker house. You can actually feel the wintry cold and smell the lost turkey. (Go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Christmas_Story to read more about producing this movie. It’s a fascinating back story.)
If you’ve never watched “A Christmas Story,” go do it. Right now.
Merry Christmas! Ho, ho, ho.
And if you want to read a condensed version of my top Christmas movie picks, go to my column in the TimesDaily today, http://www.timesdaily.com/article/20081212/ARTICLES/812120301
Cheerful mugs of warming goodness — what better way to cheer up on dreary winter mornings or cozy up at night? Or anytime. I love pulling out holiday mugs and cups every December. When piled up on a tray in the kitchen, they double as the best kind of decor: cheap and functional! From morning cappuccinos to post-lunch macchiatos to afternoon tea to evening hot cocoa, I’ve got every drink situation covered. Not that I drink coffee and espresso and tea and hot cocoa all day — well, actually, I do. But of course some holiday drinks are not rich and hot and creamy and served in a sturdy mug — such as these cool ruby-red margaritas my friend Evelyn served us at our Christmas book-club gathering. Delicious and refreshing.
And for another delicious and refreshing treat, how about the No. 2 pick on my list of favorite Christmas movies? It’s “Christmas Vacation” (1989) with Chevy Chase. How can you not sympathize with Clark Griswold, the Every Little Man who sincerely wants to provide a stupendous Christmas for his family despite almost insurmountable odds? It’s like an updated “Wonderful Life,” only with redneck cousins. I absolutely love this movie. It’s the first movie I pop into the player when the holiday-movie mood strikes. From the opening Christmas-tree hunt to the final group hug, this movie delights every year. I adore the light-stringing scenes and Clark and Eddie’s shopping trip and literally laugh out loud as the family arrives and settles in. The Christmas dinner is priceless, and is there anybody not touched by Clark’s look at Christmas Past while he’s stuck in the attic? Randy Quaid is at his comic best here, and it’s nice to see a young Juliette Lewis be normal before she convinced herself she’s a rock star. However, the thing about “Christmas Vacation” is that my husband strongly dislikes it – which is very strange because usually he goes for gross-out humor flicks and I head for the Jane Austen aisle. I’ll admit that some parts are cringe-inducing and pander to the National Lampoon typical demographic, but this movie still ranks right up there for me. Stay tuned tomorrow for my top pick, the best No. 1 all-time greatest Christmas movie in the world. What do you think it is?
There’s just something special about holiday hospitality. When my friend Evelyn recently hosted the December meeting of our four-woman book club, the other three of us practically refused to get up from her elegant red and gold dinner table when we were finished eating. She made us feel so pampered that only the promise of opening presents in front of the fire — and, oh, yeah, discussing our book of the month — made us leave. I love the way she used simple solid red napkins and plates to create such a festive and sophisticated look, proving once again my grandmother’s timeless advice to always buy red things — they’re good for three out of four seasons, which is a record you cannot beat.
And for a record you can beat, we’re back with Cathy’s Hit Parade of Christmas Movies. Coming in at No. 3 is the two-fer I promised you yesterday — the duo of 1954’s “White Christmas” with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye and its older sibling, the 1942 “Holiday Inn,” with Crosby and Fred Astaire. Does it get any better? Not much. Look, I know these are white- and male-centric movies that do not reflect how life really was for the folks watching in theaters during the 12-year span, but still. This is vintage Christmas: Singing, dancing, fake snow, cavernous New England inns, star-crossed lovers and misunderstandings with some sleigh rides thrown in for fun. It’s Hollywood escapism at its finest — the movies that made me think being a grownup woman meant going out dancing and drinking martinis and wearing evening gowns every night. Sadly, in the intervening years this dream has proved to be false, although I’m somewhat hopeful about the martinis. But I can relive the fantasy every Christmas with these films, and you should, too. Tomorrow, it’s on to No. 2 — one of the few movies my husband and I vehemently disagree about. (And remember that we both walked out of “Wild, Wild West,” so go figure.) Stop by on Thursday to find out which innocent Christmas movie provokes such intense conflict in our house.
I’m 51 and a grandmother and somewhat capable of handling things on my own (no, really, I am) but I still want to go home to my parents’ for Christmas and have everything as it always has been. Like the John Deere village my mom puts up — my dad had a John Deere dealership before he retired and now he buys every JD catalogue and ad that comes up for auction anywhere in the world, or at least in Illinois. And like the ornaments I put on the tree when I was a kid, and now my 20-something-year-old children help me put them on their grandparents’ tree — great-grandson 8-month-old Nolan is no help since he would only eat the hooks. And then there’s the great holiday food that only Grommy — what my children call my mother — can make: TV Mix eaten in 40-year-old wooden bowls, graham crackers covered in butter and brown sugar and hot cocoa stirred from scratch in an ancient heavy saucepan. Grandmas definitely are special, and I’d better get my act together if I’m going to be the same for Nolan. But I’ve had lessons from the best, so hopefully I”ve got a headstart. One of my favorite parts of going home during the holidays is coming back to my house with fresh-cut holly and fir branches from my dad’s nursery — one of his other retirement projects. I cannot keep up with them! At least this year I’m making my own Chex mix — I’ll have to call my mom, though, to talk me through.
And now for No. 4 in my Favorite Christmas Movie list — the 1946 “It’s A Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. I know, I know. It’s a heartwarming American classic. It’s a Frank Capra masterpiece. It’s a multi-layered holiday icon. It’s everybody’s favorite. So why isn’t it No. 1 on my list? Because it used to scare the #$%^ out of me! The drunk pharmacist who boxed young George’s ear and made it bleed, the mean and rowdy crowd at the bar, the cheap and hateful Mr. Potter who caused such misery — these disturbing black-and-white images did not bring me comfort and joy when I was younger. And as I grew older and understood the sacrifices George made and the dreams he lost and the drab and dreary life he felt he was living, it made me sad. George did have a wonderful life but bitterness and regret kept him from realizing it — what a waste for all those years. I mainly feel sorry for him. It’s a good thing Clarence comes along to shake him up because I sort of want to do that myself. And here’s the thing: Where were all George’s friends before the bank shortfall? Why does it take a crisis to bring them together and make them value him? Do these people ever stop by to say “hello” or to eat lunch or go to a ballgame? And will they do that now? Or am I being too cynical? You have to admit, though, it’s the kind of movie that breeds cynicism if you didn’t have a healthy dose of it already. Like me. Come back tomorrow for No. 3 — a bonus two-fer. Can you guess what they are?