When I sent Mr. Smith off to work on January 4 after two 4-day holiday weekends in a row, I wondered how I was going to make it through January with no holidays or long weekends. Now here we are, smack in the middle of February!
My granddaughters have been busily preparing to celebrate and have spent time working on their Valentine boxes. This brought back warm memories of my time in first grade and the excitement of taking an empty cereal box to school to decorate for classmates to put their Valentines in.
My grandsons on the other hand were not so interested in making fancy boxes and took reusable grocery bags to collect their greetings. Sam did write out his Valentines, whereas Henry and Eli decided to just throw candy at the other kids and be done with it. Eli explained, “It’s okay, I’m not really a fan of the love thing.” Oh Eli, we’ll remind you of that in ten years.
One of my favorite things about the St. Valentine holiday is that it has grown beyond roses and chocolates. Apparently, we have the fictional character Leslie Knope of Parks and Recreation to thank for the creation of “Galentine’s Day”, a day of women celebrating women. Leslie explained, “Every February 13, my ladyfriends and I leave our husbands and our boyfriends at home, and we just come and kick it, breakfast style. Ladies celebrating ladies. It’s like Lilith Fair, minus the angst. Plus frittatas.” With February 13 being unofficially added to the calendar, it is now more a “season” of love than one stressful day where significant others feel considerable pressure to create a perfect experience. Acknowledging that there are many different kinds of love and none of them perfect, The Washington Post offers up this list of romantic movies showing love in all its permutations.
This year more than ever we need an excuse to disrupt the banality of our daily life and a little creativity may be required. COVID-19 has made the possibility of our typical celebrations challenging and unsafe. Like so many, I am missing restaurants and longing to indulge in a long, leisurely meal at our favorite bistro, but alas we are waiting. Out on our walk the other afternoon, we passed our favorite Thai restaurant. The centerpiece on the sweet little front window table is no longer a candle, it is a bottle of hand sanitizer. Nothing says romance quite like that.
Mr. Smith and I rarely dined out on Valentine’s Day even pre-Pandemic, but we still endeavor to make the day pleasing. Today we’ll get out for a long walk and then do some reading. I’m planning to drag every candle I can find into the bathroom and have a lovely candlelit soak with my best bath oil. We’re making pizza for dinner, sharing a bottle of Chianti and watching Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy. And we are still each other’s favorite Valentines.
In the past, my journalistic son has accused me of burying the lead, so today I’m just going to get it right out there. Mr. Smith and I are staying in on New Year’s Eve. This isn’t exactly front-page news as we have spent more New Year’s Eves at home than out painting the town, occasionally visiting New York City for a special New Year’s. A cozy yet festive dinner party at home with family and/or friends wins hands down over the often-forced gaiety of a raucous night out. This year it will be Mr. Smith and me, so luckily there are just a couple of things I now need to make my New Year’s celebration memorable and an important one of those is Champagne.
Since 1693 when the near-blind Benedictine monk named Dom Pierre Perignon first stumbled upon and then developed an effervescent pale colored wine that caused him to exclaim, “Come quickly, brothers! I am tasting stars!”, Champagne has grown to be synonymous with celebrations. Mr. Smith and I didn’t always ring in the new year with bubbly. There were years when we had small children that we were just pleased with ourselves if we stayed awake until midnight, but for the past couple of decades as empty nesters, it has been de rigueur.
A glass of bubbly has become my drink of choice and no longer limited to special occasions. I have sampled Champagne, Cava, Prosecco and Sparkling Wine and learned some of their differences. Champagne, of course, must be made in the Champagne region of France from traditional Champagne grapes – chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier – and follow the traditional winemaking techniques developed by Dom Pierre Perignon. Cava is a Spanish sparkling wine also fermented in the bottle like Champagne but using less expensive grapes resulting in a lower price tag. Prosecco is from Italy and made from the Charmat method, meaning it is fermented in tanks first and then bottled. Sparkling Wine is a general term for fizzy wines that do not follow any traditional wine-making techniques and can come from any location, from California to Switzerland.
When you are searching for your bottle of bubbly, I believe the most important factor is the sweetness factor. Check the label for:
Doux: This is as sweet as they come. It might pair well with a dessert, but it is not for me.
Demi-Sec, Sec and Extra Sec: This on the label lets you know that they are still on the sweet side, pairing well with desserts, but sometimes also with spicy foods.
Brut and Extra Brut: Now you are in dry territory. You can invite me over for a glass as soon as we are all vaccinated!
Your bubbly should be served at 47-50 degrees F and never in prechilled glasses. And if you are using an ice bucket, it is best to use ice water rather than all ice. This helps the bottle chill more evenly plus it is easier to get the bottle in and out of the bucket.
You have your bottle chilled to the perfect temperature and now you are ready to “pop” the cork. Cut the foil below the large lip of the bottle, untwist the cage while putting pressure on the cork to keep it from popping prematurely, cover with a napkin or towel to prevent the cork from flying across the room or at your eye, and the best tip I ever learned for opening a bottle of Champagne – turn the bottle, not the cork. I don’t think I have opened a bottle of bubbly in the past twenty years without repeating this mantra to myself over and over until I hear that perfect POP!
After opening your bottle like a pro, you need to pour it into a glass. Many vintners recommend serving it in a white wine glass. The larger bowl enables you to enjoy all the aromas and flavors. Traditional Champagne flutes are better at showing off the bubbles, but their narrow shape limits your experience of the aromas and flavors. Coupe glasses with their extra-wide mouth are said to expose the Champagne to the air, allowing the bubbles and aromas to quickly escape. I don’t care. You will never separate me from my elegant vintage coupes. I simply pour small amounts.
While scouring the internet for any hints or suggestions that might be helpful for your New Year’s Eve toast, I came across some information that necessitated an apology to Mr. Smith. While pouring me a glass of Chandon recently, I asked him to please hold the glass and pour down the side to lessen the foam and lessen my wait time between pouring and drinking. Turns out, I was wrong. You should hold the bottle by the punt (the divot in the bottom of the bottle) by inserting your thumb and splaying your four fingers on the bottle to hold it. You can use a couple of fingers on your other hand to support the top of the neck as you pour. You leave the glass totally straight and level and pour directly into it from above. You don’t pour all at once, you “wet” the glass with just a splash, allow the bubbles to settle, then finish pouring slowly, about 2/3 to 3/4 of the way full. Sorry, Mr. Smith, and thanks for still being my sommelier.
I have never had Dom Perignon, but here are a few sparkling wines I have savored over the years and recommend. My preference is for crisp, dry bubbly.
G. H. Mumm Grand Cordon (We drank this at our wedding in 1978 and we’ll be drinking it this New Year’s Eve!)
Veuve Clicquot Brut
Mumm Napa Brut Rose
Moet & Chandon Imperial Brut
Chandon California Classic Brut
La Marca Proseco
Freixnet Sparling Cordon Negro Brut Cava
Trader Joe’s Blanc de Blanc (at $5.99 a bottle, this a a great value!)
I am lucky that Mr. Smith is often happy to share a glass of bubbly with me. We usually have a bottle or two tucked away in the wine frig and don’t require a special occasion to indulge. Sometimes a Friday night is occasion enough.
But right now, my favorite bottle in the house doesn’t contain any wine. It is an empty Chandon bottle from New Year’s Eve 2010, the last time Mr. Smith and I were together with all our sons and their spouses to celebrate. I had found a New Year’s Eve questionnaire online and printed up copies for everyone to fill out. The completed quizzes are in the bottle, waiting to be revealed the next time we are all together on New Year’s Eve. I have completely forgotten what the questions were, so it will be fun to pull these out and see both the questions and the answers. I hope we get to all be together before another ten years pass!
This year I won’t have all my peeps, but I’ll have Mr. Smith, Champagne and a kiss at midnight. I’ll take it.
May you always have love in your heart and Champagne in your belly.
How was your Christmas? Ours was predictably lowkey, but not without its highlights. The Christmas Eve weather forecast was for rain and more rain so we were up and out early for a quick trip to the market to pick up fresh mussels and a ciabatta for our dinner. The rain hadn’t started yet when we returned home so we decided to try and get a walk in. It was cold and blustery but felt good to get some fresh air. Our Christmas geese friends agreed.
Eventually it started to spit rain, so we headed home. Mr. Smith thought he was quite witty when upon closing our apartment door he announced, “Home for the holidays!” as we had no plans to go anywhere else. Much of the afternoon was devoted to reading with the backdrop of sleety rain pinging on our windows. Mid-afternoon we Face Timed with our grandchildren, letting their excited babble of holiday happiness fill our apartment. As the sky grew dark and our flameless candles began to flicker, it was time for Mr. Smith to prepare our dinner. We ended our day with bubbly, mussels and the annual viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life.
Christmas morning started with us watching crews put up barricades closing the Market Street Bridge that we overlook. All the widespread rain in our area that had help melt the large snow piles left by last week’s storm was causing the Susquehanna River to rise. The flood gates had been closed on Christmas Eve and Mr. Smith had begun monitoring the river level online, as well as popping out for photographs. While the level was high and flowing rapidly with all sorts of debris, it doesn’t look like it will reach the previously predicted flood level.
Safe from rising water ten stories below, it was time to think about Christmas dinner. Normally it takes extensive planning – the menu and wine selection, grocery getting and deciding on the table setting. Earlier in the week while scrolling through menus and table setting inspirations, I was pining for Christmases past and longing for the time we can again gather to celebrate outside our bubble. I fondly remembered the family chaos and craziness of holidays past and thought – I should have paid more attention and soaked up every single detail. And then it hit me. I needed to pay attention to NOW and not wish my Christmas with Mr. Smith away. In the years of raising children, there were countless times I wished the two of us could enjoy a quiet dinner for two. Ah, just the little attitude adjustment I needed. It made a huge difference and I took it as a personal challenge to make it a special day.
Barring dinner with our extended family this year, we’d have a romantic, elegant dinner for two. We decided to keep the menu simple and chose Caesar salad and a simple carbonara. Mr. Smith and I have prepared many a dinner together and have it down to a superbly choreographic dance. There is no question he is in charge and I am the sous chef. With Diana Panton singing Christmas tunes and a glass of wine, dinner prep seemed to fly by and it was time to light the candles, sit down together and savor our creation.
A Hobby Lobby commercial chides us that “Christmas is what you make of it.” But isn’t all of life what we make of it? In my very first blog post on January 1, 2019, I wrote about the most important lesson I had taken away from counseling, that it is our job to make our life the best that we can. I am in no way discounting the very real challenges of this past year, but I’m sure it helps our mental health to find positive moments to focus on in a year of chaos. I have had more than my share of “melancholy moments”, but I’m trying to follow that maxim.
I’m hoping 2020 will be the reason I’m more grateful in the future. Sometimes “gratitude” can seem like a platitude, but I do have much to be grateful for. Mr. Smith weathered COVID pretty easily, I am healthy and so is my family at the moment and those are no small things. And I’m grateful we have a home for the holidays and can gaze out our high windows and watch the beautiful Susquehanna below and know we are snug and content.
Do you remember where you were on Christmas Eve, 1971? I do. I was 16 years old, a junior in high school and working the 2-10 shift at the Indiana Toll Road Wilbur Shaw Plaza Restaurant outside Rolling Prairie, Indiana. There weren’t many places for a teenager to work in our small Hoosier town, so scoring this waitressing gig was a bit of a coup for me. The main drawback was the “attractive” uniform. When Howard Johnson restaurants were on their rise to fame, Christian Dior was hired to design the uniforms. Unfortunately, that was not the case with my employer. You can just see the lovely bow we had to wear on the back of our heads peeking out. It was precious…
Few people want to work on Christmas Eve, but I didn’t really mind. The regular truck drivers would wish me Merry Christmas as they headed home, happy to be off the road for a couple of days. Traveling families were a delight, little ones often cozy in footie pajamas for the trip, excited to be on their way to grandma’s or other family. They were usually very excited to tell a willing listener (me!) where they were going, what they were hoping for from Santa, and if one of their parents had blurted out a bad word while negotiating the busy holiday traffic.
The afternoon passed quickly but after dinner time business slowed to the occasional truck driver or harried traveler just wanting to get to their final destination. About the time I started to watch the clock crawl towards 10:00 p.m., a customer came and sat in my section, making me forget about the time. He wasn’t dressed all in fur from his head to his foot nor wearing red, but he was definitely the spitting image of my childhood picture of Santa Claus! While fetching his coffee order, the only other waitress working that night made a beeline to the coffee station. “Ask him if he’s Santa!” She was relentless in her badgering, but I refused. Was I sensitive enough to think someone who bears such a striking resemblance to Kriss Kringle might not welcome yet another inquiry into his identification? More likely I was a sullen teenager wanting to believe there just might be a little magic left in the world. That I wanted to hang onto the wish that Santa were real and sitting in my section drinking a cup of warm truck stop coffee. The gentleman finished his twenty cent (it was 1971) cup of coffee, put down the money for his check and took his leave. When I went to clean up his cup, he had left me a dollar tip on his twenty-cent bill and this post card.
My shift ended and I headed home, knowing I had to be back to work at 6:00 a.m. Christmas morning. Christmas Day had been divided into four-hour shifts, so I would be done for the day at 10:00. My younger brother had lobbied hard that we open gifts before I left for work at 5:30 a.m., but luckily my parents vetoed his wish. My four hours passed fairly quickly while my co-worker and I poured quarters into the jukebox, playing all the Christmas music it offered. I’ll never know whether it was my postcard Santa or not, but I got my magic that year. When I arrived home after my four-hour shift, what to my wondering eyes should appear but my beloved Aunt Ruby! She and Uncle Ike had left their home in Illinois at 5:00 a.m. to drive to Indiana and be there when I got home from work. It was a total surprise and one of my best Christmases ever.
Wishing you all your own moments of magic this unusual holiday season and perhaps a glimpse of Santa wherever or whenever you might need him.
How’s your holiday shopping going? Every day in our mailroom there are piles of deliveries courtesy of the beleaguered UPS, Fed Ex and USPS delivery people. Luckily my shopping is almost complete as I’m only waiting on one last delivery. Today we are under a Winter Weather Warning due to the first Nor’easter of the season and I’m watching out my window for the first flakes to start falling. While we are only expecting about seven inches, higher elevations nearby are expecting up to two feet. That’s a lot of snow!
But from my cozy perch inside the love nest with no need to go anywhere, I look forward to the snow falling and turning my view into a winter wonderland. This afternoon I am going to crank up the Christmas music and try my hand at making biscotti. But this morning as I sit here with a cup of tea, my mind drifts to wintertime memories. There was a time when a major snowstorm ten days before Christmas would have caused me considerable panic, but that was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.
When our sons were growing up, they looked forward to providing Mr. Smith and me with a Christmas list of all the loot that would make their Christmas dreams come true. We would review their lists and try to find a balance between delighting our children and avoiding excessiveness. Some years we succeeded more than others. Who doesn’t love to hear delighted squeals on Christmas morning. Yet over time, my perspective on gifts has shifted. I don’t want to be just an enabler to mounds of “stuff” often discarded in a few months. Many years later when our oldest son was a father, he came across the advice of limiting the number of gifts each child receives to four:
Something you want, Something you need, Something to wear and Something to read.
I wish I had seen that before I had children but wonder if I would have been able to stick to it any better than he has!
Years ago I worked in a family owned flower shop. The matriarch of the family had a rule when Christmas shopping for couples. If you were married, you received a gift for the two of you. If you were not married – even if you were living together – you received separate gifts. That always stuck with me and this year I’m thinking about starting some rules of my own.
As the parents of adult children and grandchildren, we still take great pleasure in trying to come up with a Christmas gift that will please. Along with switching to a couple’s gift for our adult children, I’m doing some serious thinking about gifts and grandchildren. I’ve decided that up until age 10 my grandchildren can receive A toy, but after 10 it’s going to be a book. Like most grandparents, I certainly have the urge to indulge my grandchildren, but I can do that with reading, attention, special meals and experiences. And every once in a while, a little something special. This year the favorite gift I am giving is to three of my granddaughters who now all sleep in big girl beds, even the youngest sister, Elizabeth. I found vintage pillowcases on Etsy and embroidered them with the girls’ names.
This was also the year I followed in Grandma Pat’s footsteps and fashioned all my grandchildren an ornament and I plan to continue this tradition. Grandma Pat’s ornaments made for my sons through the years now hang on their trees, keeping her memory alive. I’m guessing one day my grandchildren will remember me as they unpack the ornaments I have made for them at Christmas time and be reminded of all our special adventures together.
“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.
I gave my husband a bit of a scare the other morning. We were sitting savoring our morning lattes when instead of looking out the window at the rooftops and river, my attention was focused on our apartment. “I think I’m going to need a Christmas tree this year.” He didn’t say a word in response, but I detected a look of fear in his eyes. I could tell the wheels were turning in his head as he glanced around our intimate (small) apartment. After a couple of deep breaths he said (with a tone of relief), “Aren’t all the ornaments in storage in Michigan?”
We haven’t put up a full-sized tree in years. For the past few years, we have settled for a tabletop version or no tree at all. We are normally out-of-town for Christmas, so I just decorate enough to feel festive and don’t bother with a tree. But now I’m looking at Covid Christmas and trying to be proactive and do whatever I can to make the season jolly.
Mr. Smith is not a Scrooge. During our Indiana years, at the beginning of each Christmas season he opened the trap door in the upstairs hallway ceiling and pulled down the stairs so he could lug numerous large plastic bins of holiday decorations down for me to decorate our home. The first week in January, he would again open the trap door and haul them back up. He has hung miles of fresh garland and lights for me over the years. And while he thought his contribution to decorating the tree was dealing with the lights, he was always a willing participant. I might note that Mr. Smith is a very artsy fellow with a fine eye for design, something I have always appreciated over the years.
When I asked him why he wasn’t wild about having a tree this year he gave me two reasons. He felt it wasn’t practical from a space issue. Also, it didn’t really feel right with the state of the world. If there were grandchildren coming for the holiday, he would definitely be all in. Surely next year.
But I was still thinking about a tree. I understood his point about practicality. We don’t have room to store an artificial tree. I thought briefly about purchasing one of the small, (somewhat) freshly cut trees in front of our grocery store. I felt certain I could decorate it just fine without a trip to Michigan to raid the storage. Then it came to me. I had tucked away an image of a tree made from books in my inspiration file. This would be the perfect year to try my hand at this. I kept it small in size, no furniture had to be moved and I love it! After gathering bunches of books, I built my creation in our little TV room. It helps create just the Christmas-like coziness I was longing for. It is economical, environmentally friendly and makes me smile. There are a gazillion YouTubes on making your own. Mine is a simple version and took only about half an hour to put together.
With the tree completed, I was ready to work my magic on the rest of our home. With many of the books on our bookshelf repurposed into a tree, I was left with some open shelf space. Those open shelves were the perfect location for my Santa collection. I started by adding green garland and twinkle lights to the shelves. My Santas collected over the years in their different sizes and colors are the perfect crowning touch.
My Christmas tree is made from books, one of my favorite things, but I still want the smell of fresh greens in my home. A quick trip to the garden center and I was armed with pine, cedar, Fraser fir and holly. Now when I walk in the front door, I am greeted with the smell that always evokes great memories.
I often style a centerpiece down the entire length of the dining table built on a bed of greenery, usually seeded eucalyptus. This Christmas I decided I wanted something I could easily pick up and move off the table. I arranged three candle cups on a rectangle tray, added faux greens and pinecones and had my centerpiece! I love the look of the wood with my Falalalala table runner but want to be able to easily replace the runner with a tablecloth when we dine at the table. We have fallen into the habit of dining in front of the TV a little too often these past months. I am determined that at the very least on Sundays during December I will set the table with my Spode Christmas china, light a plethora of candles and we will linger over dinner.
A few other touches of Christmas around the apartment and my halls are all decked out. Closer to Christmas I’ll add some fresh flowers and refresh my greens. This year’s decorating is low-key and cozy and makes me happy.
I have visions of some major rockin’ around the Christmas tree next year with a gathering of grandchildren. But this year I will enjoy my little book tree and Mr. Smith. And maybe a glass of wine or two.
My grandsons headed out with their parents to TLV Tree Farm in Gleneig, Maryland over Thanksgiving weekend and selected the perfect tree for their family. Henry, Eli and Sam all assisted with the selection, the cutting down and hauling of the tree. I love this shot of Henry taking his turn toting their magnificent find. It is going to fill their home with the earthy, fresh fragrance you just can’t get from a candle!
To help kick off the Christmas season here in the love nest, I stole a page out of my sister’s book and switched out our regular coffee mugs for Christmas mugs for the month of December. On the Friday after Thanksgiving, I enjoyed my morning latte in my new Falala mug!
In further search of holiday joy, I’m gearing up for some Christmas reading with my grandchildren. My grandsons and I are going to read Merlin Missions #16 A Ghost Tale for Christmas Time by Mary Pope Osborne, a twist on Charles Dickens’s classic, A Christmas Carol. I sent them a letter to let them know what I had chosen, along with self-addressed postcards for them to mail back to me with what they thought might make good reading snacks. I don’t believe they have ever responded quite so promptly!
Instead of Victorian London, Olivia, Emily, Elizabeth and I are going to head to New York City with Claris, The Chicest Mouse in Paris. We will help her solve a Holiday Heist, me reading and them munching their treats on their new Paris plate and cuddling their own stuffed Claris.
I don’t have a fresh cut tree to make our apartment smell holiday-ish, so I decided to start on some baking. First up was my mother’s famous date nut bread. I shared the recipe in a post last December. Chopping the dates and mixing the thick batter takes me right back to hanging around the table in Galena Township where my mom was working, trying to “help”. I put a couple of loaves in the mail to my brother Danny in honor of my mother. I still don’t think mine is quite as good as hers was, but I keep trying.
What puts you in the holiday mood? Is it the first snow fall or Christmas carols on the radio?Baking is a good start for me. And FaceTime reading with my grandchildren always puts a smile on my face. They will show me their trees and I will try to spot my favorite ornaments. I think it is time for me to start decorating. I wonder if I have enough twinkle lights…
I love Christmas shopping. I am in my element making lists of who to buy for and thinking about what they would like to receive. I love taking the bus into New York City between Thanksgiving and Christmas, checking out the tree in Rockefeller Plaza, the over-the-top window displays at Bergdorf and winding my way through the holiday fair in Bryant Park, searching for the perfect gifts for the people on my list. Not this year. This year here I sit at my computer, surfing the web and placing orders for presents I hope will please.
Considering the state of our economy, it seems like a good year to be less gift-oriented and think more about others. While I can’t imagine a world in which I don’t buy gifts for my grandchildren, they all have more than they need, and I have no desire to add more big pieces of plastic to the landfill. My preference is always to give experiences instead of things, but because of our current lock down a simple gift under the tree is called for. I shared with my oldest son that Mr. Smith and I were cutting back on Christmas spending this year and he obviously passed that information on to my grandsons. Instead of a request for an iPhone or laptop, my youngest grandson asked for a $7 box of colored pencils. That just warms this grandma’s heart!
It is nearly December. Christmas movies are on TV, holiday songs are on the radio, and for the past month I have been buried in emails from retailers, magazines and bloggers featuring holiday gift guides. Best gifts for husbands, for sisters, for teenage boys. The list goes on and on. Some I delete without opening. Some I skim through. And one I read word for word and then read again. Jennifer Connolly writes the blog A Well Styled Life. Her post Gifts from the Heart – Women Helping Women, really struck a chord with me. On her Facebook page she had asked her readers “what’s on your personal gift list?” Their responses brought a lump to her throat, as they did to mine. Many acknowledged they have more than they need and want to help women who do not. This lovely post even includes a link where you can enter your zip code and find shelters in your area which are often so badly in need of support.
The economic fallout from COVID-19 has hit many people hard, with many struggling to pay their bills, keep up with rent and put food on the table. It is heartbreaking to see the lines of cars backed up waiting for food giveaways. After watching a segment on the news regarding the overwhelming need this season, Mr. Smith and I turned to each other is dismay when the commercial following was for a luxury car line that was suggesting a couple of new cars complete with oversized bows in the driveway would make the perfect Christmas gift. I know they have a business to run, but this seems tone deaf to the dire economic climate many are facing.
Like most grandmothers, I love giving gifts. So, what to do? There are many ways individuals who “have enough” can share with others this holiday season. We can shop retailers who give back to the community. TOMS donates a pair of shoes for every pair they sell. Warby Parker donates one pair of eyeglasses for every pair sold. Online pet supply company Chewy partnered with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and is donating and directly distributing $1 million in pet food and supplies to pet parents in underserved and impoverished rural areas, helping families care for their pets during the pandemic. Everlane, Bombas and so many more give back all year long. How fun to find the perfect gift and support companies that care at the same time! If you find yourself continually turning to Amazon this holiday season, you can sign up for Amazon Smile, pick your favorite charity and a portion of your purchases will be donated. If you have the time and inclination, you can contact your local Salvation Army or other charity to “adopt” a family for Christmas. And if you can afford it, you can write a check to your favorite charity.
Like everyone, I am looking forward to a return to normal life next year. It would be wonderful to be able to get out and Christmas shop, stop for hot chocolate and attend holiday parties. I have wonderful memories of lunch by The Great Tree in the Walnut Room at Marshall Field’s in Chicago as a young girl. I loved the years I would get up in the dark and spend Black Friday with my friend Lou Anne, looking for elusive bargains but mostly just enjoying having a day together.
Someday soon I’m hoping to make new memories and take my grandsons on their first trip into New York City to see the Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular and do a little shopping. I want to walk through department stores again and admire their wares. I want to stop at a little wine bar and enjoy a glass of champagne with Mr. Smith. I am filled with gratitude for my good fortune and want to remember how quickly life can change, that instead of shopping for Christmas gifts for their children, many parents are suddenly grappling with how to put food on the table because of a family crisis, illness, or even a pandemic. If there was ever a holiday to share, it is 2020. To reach out with kindness, support and donations because there but for the quixotic randomness of Mother Nature , could go you or I.
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.
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.