Why We Should Leave Christmas in December

Although Nordstrom and I share the same goal of leaving November to Thanksgiving and digging into Christmas only after you’ve got Turkey Day leftovers, I could not resist these hand-quilted holiday treasures I snapped up at a local craft show. These were made by members of the Corinth, Miss., quilting guild, and each piece is meticulously sewn with Southern style and creativity. I especially fell in love with the postcards. Yes! Hand-appliqued postcards you actually can send through the mail! What will they think of next??? I also loved the crazy-quilt stockings and the pieced pin cushions. I mean, I might even consider sitting down at my sewing machine if I had a cute pin cushion like this one. And then I might even Make Things. And I might even Make Things for Other People … See, this is exactly the sort of trouble you get in to when you start doing Christmas before Thanksgiving. I came awfully close there to talking myself into A Project. Not good. I should leave that to the folks who know what they’re doing — like the lovely ladies who created these holiday works of art.

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 …

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.

To Dress or To Stuff, in White Bread or in Corn

I think we all know there are two kinds of people: Those who start making their Thanksgiving dressing by tearing up pieces of white bread and those who start by whipping up a couple of pans of cornbread. And although husband JP and I generally are in sync with almost all of our opinions — except, of course, the eternal questions of politics, the Clintons and whether or not Sarah Jessica Parker is “hot” (I just don’t see it) — we each are pretty adamant in our position when it comes to white bread versus cornbread in Thanksgiving dressing. And neither of us is budging. When I tell you that I come from Yankee stock since my mother’s family was from Illinois and my dad’s from Pennsylvania and that my husband’s family is full of Southerners from way back , you probably can guess which side of the bread basket we each claim. Read more in the food story I wrote for the TimesDaily. But whatever sort of bread/cranberry sauce/pie/potatoes/vegetables (just not lima beans, please), hope your dinner is yummy and you eat it with people you love.


It’s Still Fall, Y’all

I’m rebelling. I’m staging a protest. I’m calling it “Occupy Autumn” and I’m refusing to budge until Dec. 1.  Or at least until Thanksgiving’s over. Who’s with me??? I mean, Christmas ads are all over TV, Wal-Mart’s been stocking eggnog for a couple of weeks and my town already has Christmas lights strung up and downtown windows decorated — and all before we barely got out of our Halloween costumes and had time to separate the good candy (anything chocolate, caramel or peanut butter) from the bad (anything that looks as if it came from a basket of restaurant mints). Forget Turkey Day — Christmas*** already has obliterated that quaint tradition and now has set its sights on blasting Oct. 31 out of the holiday rotation. Before you know it, Labor Day will simply be a precursor to the pre–pre-Christmas sales. So, let’s make a stand. Keep your pumpkins and your earth-tone tableware out for a few more weeks. Use those orange dishes and autumn-themed linens right up until December. Let your fall flag fly!

***And by “Christmas,” I mean that whole outspend/out-buy/out-holiday mentality that causes us to go broke and crazy every year about this time. The birth of a baby to a young couple staying in a barn in Bethlehem about 2,000 years ago? That’s a whole different story.

Purple Potatoes

Thanks to everybody who’s worried that I’ve already dropped my plan to cook supper for my husband at least one night a week. It’s true that the week of Thanksgiving I did take a break (hey, I’d cook two or three times by then!) since we were fed practically everywhere we went, but I got back in the groove this week and for our weekly-supper-at-home, I fixed … wait for it … stir-fried vegetables. But the big surprise was the PURPLE baked sweet potatoes. Yes. Purple. I got the potatoes and the broccoli, onion and red pepper at the Jack-O-Lantern Farms market in Muscle Shoals (I think fall broccoli has a sweeter taste than its spring version) and added some mushrooms and baby carrots from the grocery. We liked the potatoes — which I’ve seen in specialty grocery stores, too, such as Earth Fare — although they weren’t what we expected. They have the creamy consistency of sweet potatoes combined with the subtle  taste of white potatoes. But how much fun is it to eat purple food? I think purple mashed potatoes would be sort of wonderful. Husband got a kick out of them, anyway. So score another victory for Week No. 3 of Cooking Supper At Home. And before you start congratulating us for unpacking all the boxes that have been evident in the previous CSAH photos, I have to tell you that they’re still there — Husband simply was sitting on the other side of the table for this photo. I know, I know, but surely you don’t expect me to cook supper once a week AND unpack boxes, too???


My husband and I were finishing our lunch at Ruby Tuesday today (And is it my imagination or does Ruby Tuesday change its menu, like, every three months?) when I noticed that, as usual, I’d left a good part of my salad-bar meal on the table. “I am such a messy eater,” I said, aggrieved, in that way we wives have of begging our husbands to please please please disagree with us, and my husband began to point out, as he usually does, that at least I didn’t leave a good part of my meal in my lap instead, when suddenly he leaned over the table toward me and my leftover mess and said, “Take a picture of that and then I’ll tell you why.” So because I never always do what my husband requests, I snapped a photo of the somehow artfully arranged lettuce and carrot pieces and turned the camera over to him. He zipped through the review menu, found the photo I’d just taken — this one — and gave the camera back to me, saying, “You need to post this on your blog and say, ‘In a California restaurant, this would be a $40 meal’.” So, I did. And the funny thing is that he’s probably right.

And in more food news, I thought I was being smart by doing my Thanksgiving grocery shopping today — surely the crowds wouldn’t start this early, right? Wrong, of course. Most crowded were the paper-goods aisles as people stood and debated the merits of foam over plastic plates and the dairy section, where people mostly just stood. In my way. So if you haven’t done your shopping yet, you may want to consider one of those 2 a.m. expeditions. I’m just saying.


Fall decor I don’t want to sound all grumpy and old — I mean, I know who Monsters of Folk are, after all — but aren’t we rushing the holidays just a little bit? Look, it’s only early November, but I’ve already seen enough Christmas-shopping commercials and front-door Christmas wreaths to last me through December. And the thing is that I love the holidays. I am definitely a Christmas kind of girl. I believe you can never have enough wassail and frankincense and festive good cheer, not to mention yummy food, fun parties and presents for all. It’s just that I also am a fall kind of person. I love autumn leaves and pumpkins and brown and orange sweaters. I adore warm days and cool nights and those lovely 5 p.m. sunsets. And I know, I know — stores started  selling Halloween merchandise in August so technically we’ve had enough time to celebrate fall. But, still, it’s the first week of November. I’m just not ready to flip the switch to Christmas yet — particularly since that means Thanksgiving gets sort of lost. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays — you get all the fun without any of the pressure. What’s not to like about that? This arrangement I saw in a Tupelo, Mississippi, hotel lobby this past week would make the perfect Thanksgiving decoration — although it’s probably gone by now and replaced by a Christmas tree. Sigh. And, really, why fight it? I have been thinking about going ahead and unearthing the holiday CDs that every year I put away so carefully so I can find them easily the next year, which never works, of course. It usually takes me a couple weeks to track them down, so that should be about right. Feliz Navidad!

Thanksgiving Day

behel-family-thanksgiving-002We have a new name for 8-month-old grandson Nolan Thomas Behel: behel-family-thanksgiving-0221Tractor Boy! When his grandad Buddy Behel put him up on the tractor after Thanksgiving dinner at Behel family headquarters on Hawk Pride Mountain in Tuscumbia, Alabama, it was as if Nolan had found his natural place in the world. Hard to tell who was more delighted — grandpa or grandson! The Behels are my older daughter’s in-laws and graciously include my family in any holiday celebration. And am I glad. Honored, really. Twenty-five friends and Behels were there for Thanksgiving behel-family-thanksgiving-0331along with all the classics — sweet potatoes, dressing, green bean casserole, pumpkin pie. Could it get any better? Yes! I didn’t have to cook! My assignment was macaroni and cheese, which I let the frozen-food aisle take care of. (Thank you, Chef Stouffer’s.) After dessert, Buddy took everybody for a hayride — the non-scratchy kind with cushions instead of hay. As we rode through woods and fields and gentle hills, he showed us the remains of his family’s original log cabin. Plus, some of the city dwellers who’d never tasted persimmons before got to sample some straight off the tree. I’d rather have my persimmons in jelly and jams, so when we got back to the house I had another slice of my daughter’s yummy sweet-potato coconut pie instead. Thank goodness her mother-in-law taught her to cook — Stouffer’s will take you only so far.