The Coffee with Cathy Guide to Everything — Overcoming Gift-Giving Envy

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:

  • DSCN2893Did 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.
  • coffeebagDid 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 personalized coffee mugmug 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 DSCN2895garbage 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?)

Boots & The ‘Coffee with Cathy’ Guide to Everything

It’s never the birthdays with the zeros that bother me. In fact, I relish ushering in a new decade. It’s like a year-long New Year’s Eve of possibilities and Good Resolutions: Twenties? I’m a grownup! Thirties? I’m really a grownup! Forties? Finally, I can call myself a real grownup! Fifties? Love being a grownup! Nope, the zeros don’t bother me at all. It’s those mid-year birthdays, with numbers solidly stacking up — why does 56 sound so serious? — that get to me and make me spend a night or two thinking morose thoughts and peering dejectedly into the bottom of (several) glasses of wine, sort of like Olivia Pope but with 10-year-old yoga pants and Fourth Day Hair instead of satin and cashmere and perfect curls. (And, so far, no Presidential helicopters.) But this year, I Gave Myself A Talking To: “Damn, woman. What are you moping around for? You’ve got a great husband and a wonderful family and the best friends ever and jobs you enjoy and a house you love. And ‘Bama got beat!!! What else do you need?” Then the answer came to me: Better shoes. And better makeup. And maybe a closet overhaul. And a hair re-do. And that’s just what I thought of in five seconds. So I declared Year 56 to be the Year of the Makeover. Nothing drastic, you know. Just tweaking the details here and there, installing iOS 7.4 , slamming the brakes on all if those slippery slopes I’d glibly started down (Who cares if these are the wrong boots? Who’ll notice that my roots have been showing for the past month? Who will wonder if I’ve worn the same lipstick — literally THE SAME LIPSTICK — for two years?) Because here’s the thing: Only if you ARE actually Olivia Pope can you sit around looking depressed and beautiful and sipping wine and then Amazing Things Happen To You Without Warning. The rest of us pretty much have to do the amazing part on our own. So please join me as I upgrade the Pinterest boards of my life during the next few weeks (months?). I’ll tackle random categories and topics from my perspective of a 50-something small-town Southern woman who likes football and Cathead Vodka, reads Garden and Gun instead of Southern Living and still has a deviled-egg tray and monogrammed stationery. If it works for me, it might work for you. Or maybe not. But let us know — share your thoughts. Because it’s easier to kick butt when you’re wearing kick*** boots. (Which, I think, should be the new mantra of all Southern women who remember perms, white gloves and pantyhose.)

Ren Faire bootsSpeaking of boots, let’s consider a kick*** boot wardrobe. Before this year, I got by with my 20-something-year-old daughters’ Ren Faire rejects and a pair of painful high-heel black dress boots. And as creatively interesting as the brown laced-up mid-calf Ren Faire-pair was, I gradually realized they weren’t flattering or image-appropriate, at all. I mean, do these say “strong business woman who can manage the trickiest p.r. campaign” or do they say “lazy cheapskate whose best years were three decades ago”? I thought so. And every time I tottered around in the black stilettos, I thought only of “Pretty Woman.” And taking them off so my feet wouldn’t hurt So I upgraded and now I actually have a stylish, workable and comfortable boot collection:

  • The go-to wear-anywhere-with-(almost) anything pair — This dark-beigy-brown pair of riding boots works brownwith skinny jeans, leggings and dresses. I liked that the hardware says “I’ve got a bit of an edge” and not “Would you watch my Harley for me while I go beat somebody up?” Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. I also discovered that tall — and by “tall” I mean almost knee-high — truly is a flattering look for most women. Any shorter and you risk the dreaded “dumpy” word. Any higher and you literally are veering into “Pretty Woman” territory. I have not yet worn these with those cozy-looking socks that peek over the top. Is that look too young? Not sure.
  • You do need a pair of black boots, because … well … we just do. But choose wisely. No storm black croppedtroopers. Nothing to remind us of parades and marching and military reviews. Leave that to the professionals. What we want here is a slightly dressy and upscale sheen. A bit of class. If your brown boots can take you from mucking out a barn to the last tailgate of the season to getting a celebratory macchiato, then your black boots should take you from a meeting of the museum board to a casual Christmas party to drinks out with the girls. See? Versatility is key. Also a DSW rewards card. One caveat with black boots — be wary of going all black. Perhaps your brown boots might work better with black leggings. Just something to consider. We don’t automatically have to reach for black when we’re wearing black.
  • And now please steady the ladder for me because I’m climbing up on a soapbox. You need rain rainboots. We are past the age where it’s OK to walk around with wet shoes. Besides, remember all the time and effort you’ve put into finding fabulous boots (see above)? Don’t risk that. Of course, most rain-boot choices are of the mid-calf plasticized cute-little-yellow-ducks variety or a galoshes-like shock of bright pink. And if that makes you happy, who am I to argue? Or judge? But I don’t need cheering up on a rainy day. Or feeling like a 5-year-old on her way to kindergarten. I’d rather choose a well-fitting pair of grownup rain boots I can wear all day without anybody asking me if it’s nap time. That’s just me. Although I never turn down an offer of milk and cookies.

So that’s it. The first entry in the Coffee with Cathy Guide to Everything. Stay tuned for the next installment. I’m thinking — since we’re on a boot jag — we should turn to booties next.

Dishing …

After decades of fighting it, I somehow and suddenly have fallen in love with dishes. I blame friends who I’ll call — for no reason whatsoever because these random names just came to me — “Susan” and “Sherry.” Others, including my mother and grandmother, are un-indicted co-conspirators, but “Susan” and “Sherry” are the main perpetrators. (And now I’ll drop the quotation marks as long as you remember that “Susan” and “Sherry” are my very good friends who constantly lead me unwillingly astray into shopping adventures completely made-up names with no resemblance at all to any real persons.) I trace my initial dislike of dishes to visiting my grandparents every summer. My grandmother was a dish-obsessive of the highest order. She adored her Haviland china and delighted in her lead crystal. Many summer afternoons she and 61JVul8FYvS._SL1200_my mother would sit in my grandmother’s dining room, reverently lifting plates, bowls and vases out of the corner cabinets and talking about the beloved friends and family members who previously had owned the pieces — or the sales and auctions where they’d blown the grocery budget scored a bargain. I just wanted to go to the pool. Of course, my mother was an early adopter of dish love. How could she not be? Many of my childhood memories revolve around being dragged to accompanying her to estate sales where she spent HOURS poking through boxes. I always took a book. As I grew up, you’d think I’d come to appreciate my maternal lineage. But, no. After all, this was the 60s and the 70s and the times they were ‘a-changing. I was too timid to rebel by doing anything actually, you know, illegal. Or even against house rules. So my rebellion took the form of rejecting my mother’s preferences of collecting dishes, playing bridge and wearing slips. Boy, that sure showed her, huh??? As I married and had children, my grandmother and mother continued to hope I’d come to my senses, They tried to turn me with gifts of their duplicate finds and delicate treasures. But … nothing. And recently, as my friends and I have arrived at the empty-nest point where we pretty much can do whatever the heck we want to do whenever the heck we want to, I still resisted. I still tagged along to auctions and sales — with the promises of margaritas after — but I brought my tablet. But all of this came to a screeching halt a couple of weeks ago, when Susan and Sherry were visiting me in Corinth, Miss., and they spotted Waits’ Jewelry and Fine Gifts. Opened in 1865, this downtown-Corinth tradition was going out of business and offering major discounts on everything — jewelry, china, crystal, flatware, etc. Susan and Sherry soon had piles of potential purchases while I wandered around aimlessly — until I spied this dish set. My heart started pounding. I got goose bumps. It was love at first sight. I don’t know what it is about Lenox’s Chirp — the delicate flowers, the retro colors, the oh-so-cool bird — but in one instant my dish-defenses crumbled and I HAD TO HAVE IT. And now, unaccountably, I HAVE TO HAVE MORE. I’ve already scoured the Interwebs looking for Chirp bargains and scoped out area department stores. I cannot get enough of Chirp. I smile everytime I look it. I’m officially a lover of dishes. And I went back to wearing slips years ago. But I still refuse to learn how to play bridge. The rebellion lives!!!

Lunch

DSCN2579No, this is not what I’m planning for lunch today. Because that would be silly. You don’t indulge in this much rich & yummy frosted baked goodness for your mid-day meal. These gems from Sweet Treats Bakery, in Tupelo, Miss., strictly are breakfast items. (Note No. 1: Actually, lunch today is a leftover half of the Mediterranean Veggie Flatbread Sandwich from City Hardware in downtown Florence, Ala., home of the only balcony dining on Court Street. Note No. 2: I wouldn’t actually eat ALL of this for breakfast. Some crumbs would remain. And Note No. 3: Both of these places are locally owned and locally managed eateries that serve fresh & flavorful food accompanied by friendly smiles and welcoming attitudes. Highly recommended — and that’s a completely unsolicited and un-paid-for recommendation.)

Thank you, Annette, Margaret and Lilly

This isn’t a well-researched scientific hypothesis or anything, but I’ve always thought that my generation of women — born in the late 1950s through the early 1960s — have had to be pretty nimble, culturally & sociologically speaking (although I really shouldn’t use words such as “sociologically” until I’ve had a second cup of coffee). Take “pretty,” for example. When we were little, our moms had no-strands-out-of-place bouffants that coordinated perfectly with the handkerchiefs and white gloves they took to church and to parties where the New Christy Minstrels strummed in the background. But by the time we were teenagers, hair was as free and flowing and unencumbered as cotton Indian tunics, incense and the White Album. Then as young married women, it was back to the salon for Madonna-style perms to go with our stirrup pants and oversized decorated sweatshirts that I still have nightmares about. (Shudder.) Today, in our 50s, we’re back at an awkward phase — this time trying to balance the fashion questions of is-this-too-young? with is-this-too-old? with can-I-play-with-my-grandchildren-and-then-go-to-a-board-meeting? Good times. Of course, my generation of women was buffeted not only by the fickle wind-gusts of style but by the turbulent weather fronts of expectations. Take Barbie, for instance. My Barbie (ONE Barbie — back then we only had ONE Barbie, the way nature intended. And we were grateful.) had a closet of June-Cleaver dresses, ski wear, formal gowns, tennis clothes and, for the days when she wanted to pretend, maybe a nurse’s and a stewardess’ uniform. Our dream – mine and Barbie’s together — was to go to prom, find the right boy, settle down and have babies. But by the time I was ready to get started on that, my senior class donated our prom money to Vietnam-war orphans and “settling down and having babies” was sort of frowned upon. Instead, we were supposed to Go Out into the World and Do Great Things. So I did, although my “world” was my hometown newspaper and “doing great things” was reporting on school-board meetings. But still. This didn’t last long, however, because why should we give up one thing just to have another??? So we realized we didn’t have to choose! We could do both!! We could settle down and have babies AND go out into the world and do great things!!! As head-scratchingly “duh” as this sounds today, a couple of decades ago it was revolutionary. REVOLUTIONARY!!! Back then, we called this stunning revelation “a new way of thinking” and “opening up opportunities for women.” Now, we just sort of call it “life.”

All of this to note the passing recently of three women who, each  in their own ways, influenced and shaped my generation and helped bring us to where we are today — where we can unashamedly smile and be sweet and kind while single-handedly and single-mindedly take charge of a chaotically lumbering mess and look joyfully sleek and pulled-together in a simple dress that’s equally stylish at the country club or the orange-juice stand. Thank you, Annette Funicello, Margaret Thatcher and Lilly Pulitzer. You showed us the way. We couldn’t have done it without you.

You Have to Buy a Beverage First, People!

free whipped topping

The added “with beverage purchase” rule cracks me up … because of course somebody asked or the free whipped topping WITHOUT a beverage purchase. I mean, free whipped topping would certainly liven up a trip to the service station when you’re paying $4 a gallon.

Free Books!

I am such a geeky nerd. Or is it a nerdy geek? I’m not sure, but It’s whatever you are when the communications department chairman at the university Old cookbookswhere you somehow were asked to teach a media-writing class cleans out his office and leaves a big box of used books in the lobby with a “Free to good homes” sign and it’s like a mega sale at T.J. Maxx — you are THAT excited. So you pull the box over to a nearby chair and ignore the student chatter around you and delve into the treasures: “Ethics in Media Communications”! “Communicating for Results — A Guide for Business andBooks the Professions”! “Media Flight Plan III”! Was there ever a greater collection of (used and possibly outdated) media textbooks? Strangely, I seemed to have been the only person interested in this unexpected bounty, and the department chairman walked by and whispered approvingly that I could ignore the two-to-a-customer posted limit. I cannot wait to browse through these and revel in the grownup luxury of getting to read textbooks without having to study them — and that right there, I believe, is what marks me as a nerd. And THEN, to make this day even better, my newspaper-editor husband brought home a couple of Junior League cookbooks from the food editor’s giveaway stash. Both  were published in 1977, when only single women got to use their real names and everybody else got to hide behind their husbands’. The golf-themed cookbook from Augusta, Ga., is in green, of course, and features adorable golf illustrations. The hardback cookbook from Nashville is rather more posh — as Nashville believes it is — and starts with a formal-dinner menu that starts with caviar soup, which I don’t think I’ll be making but it sure is fun reading about.