“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one precious and wild life?” Mary Oliver

Are you quick to pack up Christmas/holiday baubles or do they keep you company into the new year?  As much as I delight in decorating for the holidays, when January hits I’m normally ready to welcome the new year with a clean and fresh slate.  This unusual year, I decided to keep my holiday lights up a little longer. 

So instead of taking down greenery and packing up my Santas last Sunday afternoon, I sat on my perch, surrounded by scraps of paper with scribblings on them (brilliant thoughts for future blog posts!), tablets for different blog subjects and a calendar, trying to come up with some organization.  It was snowing out and I could hear strains of Bruce Springsteen coming from the TV room where Mr. Smith was watching Western Stars the Movie.  Bruce has certainly gotten reflective in his old age.

I hit a lull in my process so to clear my mind I texted my sister.   I wrote longingly of hoping to spend some extended time with her this summer (post-vaccination), helping her work in her yard.  She has lovely visions of what she would like dancing around in her head. And me being me, I started talking about measuring and graphing out the yard and thinking about what would grow well where.  Her response was: “My sister, the inveterate planner.”

I am a planner, some might say it’s my superpower.  I love lists, sub-lists, and calendars.  If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.  Sadly, COVID-19 has thrown a colossal monkey wrench into my way of life. How do we plan when we don’t know what’s coming?  After the pain of cancelling Camp Grandma last summer, I am gun shy to start planning trips and vacations.  But I also miss the process.

Personality tests and quizzes attempt to divide us into one of two camps.  Either you are a studious planner or a spontaneous free spirit.  Despite what I know about my nature, I took a couple of online quizzes and yes, I am admittingly a Determined Planner.

I know that I am never going to be comfortable with the “oh, let’s just wing it” approach.  But aren’t we all planners to a certain extent, or at least we must acquiesce to a certain amount of it?  You don’t wake up in the morning, brush your teeth and say – hey, I think I’ll drop by my doctor’s office for a visit.  We don’t sit around waiting when we need a repair person thinking they will serendipitously show up.  We schedule them.

Likewise, I don’t think all planners are devoid of joie de vivre.  As much as I like to know what’s on the schedule, I have been known to call an audible.  I have never played professional football, but I have been at the metaphorical line of scrimmage and had to change my plan.

This new year more than ever, I will accept my natural tendency to be a planner, but also endeavor to find a bit more balance in my life.  I will never be laissez-faire, but I will try to be a little less controlling.  It could be an adventure.  If we learned nothing else in 2020, it’s that we have very little control over our lives and the control we do exert can unexpectedly or quickly become a mirage.  

Summer will come and instead of being overly rigid or stringent when working with my sister on her landscaping, I will strive for harmony.  Between the two of us, we will bring the best of both worlds.  Just like I believe our lives are enhanced when we surround ourselves with others who think and believe differently, I believe we can both bring our different skill sets and create something better than either of us would on our own. 

In Anne Lamott’s book, Almost Everything, Notes on Hope, the Prelude begins”

            “I am stockpiling antibiotics for the apocalypse, even as I await the              blossoming of paperwhites on the windowsill in the kitchen.”

This book came out in 2018, long before COVID-19 was front and center on our minds each and every day. The realities of the Pandemic are unprecedented, but I have always been worried about something, often trying to plan for the unexpected.  While I am a planner, I am also a realist.  I realize we can’t foresee all that life may throw our way.  I will take Mary Oliver’s wise words to heart and do my best not to waste my one precious and wild life trying to plan out every detail.  I think I’ll start by buying myself some paperwhite bulbs and wait for them to bloom.

C’est la vie.

Now is the winter of our discontent…

This was already the winter of my discontent and now Mr. Smith has tested positive for COVID. There have been several cases at his place of employment so when he was feeling under the weather this past week, he decided to go for a test.  The call with his results was like a punch in the gut to me.  He is my pandemic pal and I thought we were taking good care of each other.   We adhere to the CDC guidelines.  We wear masks, wash our hands, use hand sanitizer and social distance.  Yet he got the dreaded virus and as we all know, it is scary stuff.

 Now we are quarantining and luckily, so far so good.  His symptoms are mild and hopefully it will simply run its course.  If not, our granddaughter Eleanor has offered to “take grandpa to the doctor and then take him home where she’ll get him water and make him dinner.”  If only everyone had access to such wonderful care!

After my initial panic and a calming phone conference with his doctor, my attention returned to other matters.  With Christmas quickly approaching we were quarantined with piles of Christmas gifts that needed to be on their way to our kids and grandkids.  Always resourceful, Mr. Smith hopped on the UPS website, entered the needed information, printed out labels and scheduled a pickup.  There were some interesting moments as we got on the bathroom scale alone and then holding boxes trying to determine their weight.  With the presents boxed up and the prepaid labels applied, we simply shoved them out our front door during our pickup window and they magically disappeared.  And just as magically, we could go online and track them.  Many, many thanks to the people of UPS!  We may not be able to see our children and grandchildren this holiday, but their gifts will be there!

On one hand I’m trying to count my blessings that Mr. Smith’s symptoms are mild, on the other hand, his positive test result is one more thing for me to add to my long list of grievances with the year 2020.  And the timing!!!  This entire holiday season has been unusual to say the least and I have had trouble getting a grasp on it.   Recently my friend Marilyn shared a column written by Ben Jackson back in 2015 for wbru Cognoscenti, Muddling Through the Season of Joy, long before COVID-19 had taken over our lives.  This year I believe I am a muddler.

 When Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane were asked to compose a song for the Judy Garland film, “Meet Me in St. Louis”, the result was “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, acknowledging the melancholy many feel during the holiday season.  This was particularly true at the time the movie was released in 1944.  WWII was raging, some soldiers having been deployed away from their homes for the entirety of the war.  “Have Yourself a Merry Little. Christmas”, along with “I’ll be Home for Christmas” recorded in 1943 by Bing Crosby which was written to honor soldiers overseas, hopefully provide them with a small bit of comfort. “Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow” may have been originally written with regard to getting through the war, but it also describes how I feel about waiting for the COVID-19 vaccine to be available to everyone.

So right when I was muddling my way through this holiday seasons – no kids, no grandkids, no sister, no friends, no travel, no parties – the big bad virus invaded our home.  After making sure we had all we needed to care for Mr. Smith, a thermometer and pulse oximeter and some reassurance from his doctor, I allowed myself to indulge in a little pity party for one – ME!  

Busy with my pity party, I was slow to respond to an email from my niece who, having heard about Mr. Smith through the family grapevine, was inquiring about how things were going.  I told her I had been busy feeling sorry for myself but was clawing my way out of it.  She graciously responded with love and wishes for a speedy recovery for Mr. Smith and with some very kind words just for me.  She suggested I wasn’t truly having a pity party, but more what could be characterized as a “freak out” party.  That when “all that pressure got you down”, you just have to freak out…

Ah, freak out, Le freak, c’est chic Freak out!

I hope we all find our holiday cheer this season.  But  like Ben Jackson, I hope we also “…look for the muddlers, the sad eyes behind the strained smiles.  See them.  Hold them close, acknowledge their feelings, include them.”  And should the pressure start to get to you, remember, Le freak, c’est chic!

C’est la vie.


“Time to set the table!”  I can’t remember the number of times I heard those words from my mother while I was growing up, much less remember the number of times I’ve repeated them to my own children while they were still home to set the table.  Growing up, dinnertime was a casual event in our home, but my parents and whichever siblings were still living at home all ate together, no one off in front of the TV or computer.  The dishes, Mom’s first set of Melmac, were welcome for their indestructability for a family of nine.  I don’t remember napkins at all, but I’m sure they were paper if any.  It was only on holidays and the occasional birthday celebration that we pulled out her trusty old lace tablecloth.  Like most large families, we didn’t have china or silver flatware for 12, so holiday meals with extra relatives meant pulling extra odd plates from wherever you could find them.  Mismatched plates, flatware and glasses were placed on the table following certain conventions, but in retrospect that was part of the charm.  “Oh here, Aunt Ruby, you sit at the fancy plate!”

When I was about eight years old, I received a copy of Betty Crocker’s Cookbook for Boys and Girls.  In the back of the book there were illustrations of “proper” table settings, as well as how to lay out a buffet table.  I spent a lot of time looking at those pictures.  They captured my fancy more than any recipes!  I have since passed that book down to my grandson Henry, albeit his interest lies more in cooking than table setting.

Fast forward a quarter of a century and I was living in small town Indiana with Mr. Smith and our three sons.  Late afternoon one day, I walked down to pick up young Emmet from a friend’s house.  The mom was getting ready for dinner and had set the table for her little family complete with tablecloth, cloth napkins and a candle.  No special occasion, just a cozy dinnertime for four.  It woke up the domestic goddess inside me just waiting to burst forth.  I was hooked.  

While I had used tablecloths and cloth napkins in the past on special occasions, I now started looking for casual, everyday offerings.  Cooking dinner was something that had to be done each day but serving it on a table with a lovely woven tablecloth that didn’t have to be ironed, matching napkins and lighting a candle or two was something I chose to do.  And I choose to believe that making every day mealtimes a bit more special played a big part in getting our sons to linger at the table, share something from their days and connect and strengthen our relationships.

Having conquered the casual and warm dinner time for my immediate family, creating dinner parties for our friends became my new passion and took “lingering” to a whole new level! 

Mr. Smith and I would work out a menu, he would take charge of the cooking and wine selection, leaving me free to think about the table.  I always want my guests to be greeted with a beautifully set table that makes them feel welcome and wanted.  It has been said we first taste food with our eyes and I wanted the presentation to be worthy of Mr. Smith’s exemplary culinary talents.  Selecting the table linens, flowers, candles or other table decorations is a thrill for me.  If I can add the perfect party favor, all the better.

Dinner parties for friends and family became such a part of our life that for Christmas one year my son Elliot gave me an “Entertaining” book to record dinner parties in – who was there, what was served, the wine, the table décor, even the seating chart.  It is a wonderful keepsake and I look forward to the day we can again entertain!

I am drawn to beautiful dishes and it often takes all the self-control I can muster to keep our inventory to a minimum.  I love glassware and it has been said that I am the girl with a glass for everything.  Different wine glasses, champagne coupes, brandy snifters, cordial glasses and beer glasses.  Our friend Bob was a beer drinker and while he was a guest at many of our dinner parties in Indiana, we never could convert him to wine. To my dismay, he preferred to drink his beer straight from the bottle.  He and I came to an agreement on this – he could drink his beer out of the bottle in the kitchen but as soon as he stepped into my dining room, that beer had to be in the proper glass.

The setting of the table is important to me, but it is an act of creative love, not a snobbish putting on of airs or trying to achieve some archaic ridiculous level of elaborateness.  You will never find me measuring the position of each plate and fork like they do at the White House or Buckingham Palace.  But you will find me reviewing my arrangement with an eye to whether it will be pleasing to a guest.  Will they be comfortable?  Will they feel welcome and special?

Perhaps it is all the time at home this last year that has dinnertime in my thoughts even more than usual.  I miss my family and friends and remember so many meals around a festive table where I didn’t want the evening to end. My heart is happy whenever my phone pings and there is a photo of my children and grandchildren at the dinner table, waving hello to grandma.  While we can’t all be together, I am thrilled that they are carrying on the tradition of gathering together for a meal, sharing their days, and connecting.  And I’m already planning for the day we can all gather around the same table again.  I will set the table with flowers and candles and we will linger, oh, we will linger.

C’est la vie.

Covid Thanksgiving – table for two…

Mr. Smith and I have spent Thanksgiving alone before. The first year we moved east, it was also a table for two. But that year I knew we were getting up on Friday and heading into New York City for a couple of nights, complete with a trip to Radio City Music Hall to see the Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular. But that was then and this is now. With my Thanksgiving boxes in the mail making their way to my grandkids, I knew it was time to turn my attention to the home front. I decided that instead of feeling sorry for myself, I would put my energy into creating a fun, festive celebration for Mr. Smith and me.

While Mr. Smith’s focus is on the menu, mine is always on setting the table and creating a gracious atmosphere. I scoured the Internet including spending way too much time on Pinterest in search of inspiration for my tablescape. There are sooooo many lovely, inspirational table settings to peruse. Unfortunately, they often make me want to start ordering up new items to recreate the settings. I almost broke down and ordered some special “turkey” dinner plates that I would have had to store the other 364 days of the year. Luckily reason prevailed. While in my dream life I have a dish room/butler’s pantry to store all types of wonderful bits and bobs, that is not my reality. I have a small, highly curated collection of fall decor and I’m always pleased with myself when I create with what I have on hand. There is also the added bonus of being able to savor the memories associated with each holiday trim when it comes out to make its annual appearance.

I wish I had noted the year on this little handcrafted turkey. It was given to me by niece Rachel many years ago when she came for a holiday visit. Every time I unpack it, it is a warm reminder of the many Thanksgivings our families celebrated together. I can see her sporting a black olive on the tip of every cute little finger. I can see her – and her sister Hannah – squirting whipped cream into their mouths straight from the can. Rachel and Hannah are similar ages to my sons and we shared many a holiday.

Earlier this fall I had purchased the Fleur des Indes tablecloth from Couleur Nature. We have a small dining table by American standards so it’s always fun to discover a company that carries a variety of sizes. Covered in curling vines and floral designs in harvest tones make this cloth the perfect backdrop for our holiday table.

I’m using our Guy Buffet dishes I found over a decade ago on the clearance table at Williams Sonoma. I found the gold pear napkin holders while shopping in a consignment store with my sister. I added a ceramic turkey, faux leaves, faux pumpkins and pomegranates, and candles. When some of the pomegranates wouldn’t sit up quite like I wanted them to, I simply put a little double sided tape under them and voilá! The one good thing about daylight savings time and it getting dark so early is being able to eat by candlelight earlier! I love the incredible warmth created through candlelight and like to blend tapers and tea lights. I have gravitated away from a large formal centerpiece in favor of scattering treasures throughout the center fully down towards the ends. A mix of textures and height always adds interest to your creation.


Buttermilk-Brined Turkey Breast – New York Times Cooking

Roasted Brussel Sprouts and Apples – Allrecipes

Herby Bread and Butter Stuffing for Two – New York Times Cooking

Cranberry Sauce – Natasha’s Kitchen

Libby’s Famous Pumpkin Pie & Whipped Cream – Libby’s!

We will toast the day with a special bottle of wine Mr. Smith has chosen for our dinner. We will reminisce about Thanksgivings past and make hopeful plans for Thanksgivings future. And just in case my pandemic pal and I run out of things to talk about – we do spend a lot of time together – I printed up some conversation questions I found on www.skiptomylou.org. I hope Mr. Smith gets ‘If you were a circus performer, what act would you perform?’

Our Thanksgiving will be different this year, but we will be ok. We will miss our family tremendously, but are happy to do our part to help keep them safe. I will start the day like I have almost every Thanksgiving day for the past 42 years. I will put a pumpkin pie in the oven. Mr. Smith will make us a lovely brunch. Hopefully we will go for a walk. We will definitely do some reading. I haven’t watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in years but I may tune into this virtual event in hopes of catching the Rockettes’ performance. And I will be thankful. Check out the blog on Wednesday for the top ten list of what I am most thankful for right now.

C’est la vie.

COVID, Creativity and Coping

midweek musings…


The horrible COVID-19 has been with us so long, I unexpectedly find myself adapting to the “new normal” as if it were normal.  I rarely forget my mask anymore and I automatically social distance when queueing up at the post office or grocery without giving it a thought. While initially I found it difficult to read or concentrate on anything for an extended period of time, I have adjusted to the changes in my situation and am doing my best to bloom where I’m planted – at home, alone 80% of the time.  I suppose I’ve adapted.


I’m striving to focus my creativity on sewing and needlework instead of baking to avoid the infamous Quarantine 15, the extra pounds it’s rumored show up uninvited after a few delectable treats.  My handstitched Christmas ornaments for my grandchildren are finished!  Now it’s the delicate decision of who receives which animal.  My sister has already requested a squirrel and although she’s not a grandchild she is a grand sister, so I will comply.

Several weeks ago, I got a bee in my bonnet about making sundresses for my granddaughters.  The three sisters were happy to model theirs for a photo op!

Sweet little Eleanor’s will be on its way to her in a grandma box as soon as a book I ordered for her arrives so I can send it all together.   I already purchased another pattern to make Eleanor a couple of fall smock dresses – I’m thinking pinwale corduroy for one and velveteen for the other.  I think they will be fabulous with some great patterned leggings.

My next project is embroidering some vintage pillowcases with their name for each of my granddaughters.  On our walk yesterday morning, Mr. Smith and I discussed how to get the letters correctly aligned when transferring to the pillowcase.  He was most helpful.

My oldest granddaughter is also indulging her creative side.  Her other grandma owns a quilting store with enticing fabrics and fun accessories. Olivia completed her first quilt square this week.


There are still days that I find myself in a funk.  Mondays tend to be particularly uninspiring with Mr. Smith returning to work.  But apparently, I’m in good company.  Even Michelle Obama admits to suffering from low-grade depression during our challenging times.  So, in addition to limiting my exposure to the news, exercising, eating well and working on a creative project, I’m adding another dimension to my COVID-19 coping.  Back in December 2019, I spent more time than I should have picking out a date book for 2020.  I haven’t looked at that calendar in a couple of months.  Sadly, no dinner parties or trips need to be scheduled. Today I pulled it out and I’m going to use for my own hybrid of a gratitude journal.  Each day I’m going to write down one good thing that happened.  I don’t want to look back on this time and only remember the frustrations, I want to remember the good memories.  Visit my blog on Sunday when I’ll share a memory from high school.  It’s an oldie, but a goodie!

C’est la vie.