Be my Valentine…

Love may be in the air, but today there was also rain and gloom. My antidote was to go in search of the perfect pink flowers for my Vday dinner a deux. With the Be Mine banner hung, it was time to think about the table.

I love our table and it fits our space beautifully, but it’s not always easy to find tablecloths to fit. When I saw this beautiful gray floral print that was the ideal size, I didn’t hesitate to make it mine. I even purchased a few gray plates to complete the perfect setting. With this tablecloth in mind, I decided I wanted to use pink spray roses as a centerpiece. It took me three stops, but my perseverance was rewarded!

I separated the stems and made three small vases to line the center of the table. I wanted them to look like I had gone out into my cutting garden and snipped a few blooms. I interspersed different candles with the vases, including a couple of the tapers to provide some height and add interest. But the piece de resistance today was finding a Chalkboard Paper Roll at Target for $3.00! I used it down the center of the table and the drama it adds is a fabulous touch.

I have a set of cocktail plates I got years ago on clearance at Pier One. I’m sure Mr. Smith will take pleasure in knowing my heart still beats for him! I tied a spray rose to a piece of chalk for each of us as a party favor. What sweet nothings will be written?

Mr. Smith will be working all day on Friday so I’ll be preparing our lover’s feast. But he is providing the bubbly and nothing says it’s Valentine’s Day like the pop of a freshly opened bottle of champagne…

C’est la vie.

Love is in the air…

When I stopped into the post office to mail a package on Monday, I remembered to ask for some stamps.  The postal worker assisting me responded: “Love is in the air!”  For a split second I thought how great it would be if he and his fellow employees broke into song, a disco rendition of Love Is in the Air ala Tom Jones! What he did do is show me the valentine stamp offering which I quickly purchased.  Perhaps next time, a song.

I had another Valentine encounter on Tuesday at Target when I watched an extremely patient mother look on as her two young children carefully selected their Valentines to distribute to their friends and classmates.  She recognized the seriousness with which they approached this task and didn’t rush them or try to influence their choices.  That’s some great mothering.

Since love is in the air, everywhere I look around (read in Tom Jones voice), I decided it was time for me to get rolling on my V Day preparations.  I already have the requisite Valentine greetings ready to go to my grandchildren and I am digging out my heart-shaped cookie cutters for some fun cookie baking.  I already found the absolute perfect card for Mr. Smith and I’ll be preparing a special dinner for him on the day of love.  

All that is left for me to do is create my Valentine cloche.  Brainstorming what to put under the glass dome to create a holiday vignette is great fun for me.  My goal is to primarily use items I have already.  The Love Nest is short on storage space, so I prefer not to purchase still more holiday gewgaws and anyway, I like the challenge of using what I have in different, creative ways. This year I decided to honor both Valentine’s Day and New York City.  I have a beautiful Empire State Building statue that my sister Jeanne gifted me.  Mr. Smith and I have been in New York City on Valentine’s Day and I love looking up at the heart on the Empire State Building, so I added one!

I searched for other items that I have around the apartment that evoke New York City.  When my niece and I took the tour of the New York City Public Library, we visited the gift shop and I bought a Christmas tree ornament of one of the sentry lions.  There’s no reason a Christmas ornament can’t be shown a little love at Valentine’s Day. And luckily I had a tiny NYC taxi.  I was ready to start creating.

One issue with my cloche is that the bottom is not completely flat so items don’t always stand up the way you would like.  Years of working in a flower shop (thank you, Donna!), taught me where there’s a will there’s a way.  There is a lot of engineering involved in flower arranging and display design so I knew I simply needed to shore up my building and all would be well.  

With my New York City items in hand, I needed to add a few whimsical touches.  Some pink paper shreds for the bottom, chocolate hearts for fun, and in the background I hung a glittery heart that I cut out from a Valentine Mr. Smith had given me years ago.  The only things purchased were the paper shreds and the chocolate hearts!  I will save the paper shreds and I’m sure the chocolate hearts won’t go to waste.

Do you decorate for Valentine’s Day?  Do you send Valentines or bake cookies?  Check in on Wednesday to see a sneak peek at my Valentine tablescape and setting, complete with fresh flowers.

C’est la vie.

What are you doing New Years Eve?

There are still Christmas leftovers in the refrigerator and too many treats in the house for my comfort zone, and now New Year’s Eve is upon us. Not only are we ringing in a new year, we are ringing in a brand new decade! Remember the whole Y2K scare? That overblown panic over a computer bug that would totally disrupt commerce and our social lives never happened yet it led some people to build emergency bunkers in their basements to ride out the feared impending apocalypse.

Happily, this year most people are focused on the need to celebrate and not worry about the possible end of the world. While many Americans ring in the New Year sitting on their cozy couches watching the giant crystal-covered ball drop in New York’s Time’s Square, other countries around the world have their own ways of celebrating. People in Brazil, as well as other Central and South American countries like Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela, believe it is lucky to wear special underwear on New Year’s Eve. The most popular colors are red which is thought to bring love and yellow, thought to bring wealth.

In Spain, people will eat 12 grapes, one for each stroke of the clock at midnight. Each grape represents good luck for one month of the coming year. In Denmark, people save up old plates and glasses to throw against the doors of friends and family to banish bad spirits. And one tradition I can really get on board with comes from Colombia. In hopes of a traveled filled year, people carry empty suitcases around the block. That beats clanging pots and pans for me!

There are all the typical ways to ring in the New Year like the countdown to midnight and kissing the person you hope to keep kissing all year, a champagne toasts, ringing bells or blowing horns, and singing Auld Lang Syne. It can also be a holiday that creates stress for some, particularly if they don’t have a significant other or tribe to celebrate with. Yet many solo seniors find satisfying ways to celebrate one more trip around the sun, racing ahead of the grim reaper I know one old Duchess who is looking forward to a solo evening, drinking her split of champagne from a hand-blown coupe and watching the ball drop from the comfort of her couch with the warmth of her fireplace.

Through the years, Mr. Smith and I have celebrated New Year’s Eve in numerous ways, from sipping a little bubbly by ourselves while watching our young sons fall asleep, one after the other, despite their valiant efforts to stay awake to witness the ball drop to other years of hosting fun, festive dinner parties for friends. We’ve gone to parties, to the movies, out to dinner with friends and on our own. Some years Mr. Smith has prepared me a fabulous meal worthy of the occasion in our own home. This year I’m giving Mr. Smith a night off from cooking. We will go down our elevator, walk across the street to one of our favorite restaurants and share a table for two and say goodbye to an eventful 2019 in style. And in a nod to my Brazilian friends, I think I’ll wear some special red underwear.

C’est la vie.

Tis the season…

Christmas is just around the corner and Mr. Smith and I are again on the road, off to visit family and friends, some family that are also friends and some friends that are family. The weather forecast predicts temps in the mid-40s with zero chance of a white Christmas.  And while I have vivid memories of the magic of snow falling on Christmas Eve when I was a child, as a traveling adult I am thrilled with the gift of dry, safe roads.

The planning, shopping, baking, wrapping, packing and mailing are all done and now it’s time to relax and celebrate the season.  This past week, I hosted some old friends for a holiday happy hour, appreciating the comfort of those who have known me for years and still love me!  On another occasion, I shared a dinner out with newer friends, getting to know them better over a glass of chardonnay and tasty crab cakes.  And now it’s on to the main event.

Mr. Smith and I were up early this morning to pack up the sleigh and hit the road.  The long hours on I-80 with our festive holiday beverages from Starbucks and holiday tunes on the stereo provide plenty of time to discuss the week ahead of us with eager anticipation.  We are particularly looking forward to a visit with our bubbly granddaughters.  It is enchanting to enter their mystical world of girliness and camaraderie.  It is my grandma hope that when they are in their sixties they will still get together at the holidays and share heartfelt memories of a Christmas visit from Slick Grandpa Nick and me as cherished as those I have of Christmas visits from my beloved Aunt Ruby.  

And before we hit Ohio, I-80 becomes Memory Lane and we ponder the decades of Christmases with our three sons. Like Emmet’s second Christmas.  During his afternoon nap, Mr. Smith and his brother Pete went out to get a tree. When Emmet woke up there was a tree in the living room complete with holiday lights.  He was overjoyed.  Or the year we were stunned to remember late on Christmas Eve after the boys were in bed that their gifts were still in the closet of Mr. Smith’s office out at the printing plant.  Luckily, he remembered how to turn off the alarm system.  Our precious memories are a treasure trove of cookie decorating, messy tree trimming, noisy holiday meals and fun Christmas movies.

When Mr. Smith and I take a break from our discourse, my stream-of-consciousness mind drifts back to my own childhood Christmases.  There were always colorful gifts under our simple tree and stockings stuffed with candy and an orange, but my most vivid memories are of the anticipation of family coming home and the meals shared.  One year in particular was when I was in high school and working at an Indiana toll road restaurant.  My usual shift was 6:00 am to 2:00 pm.  For Christmas day, the shifts had been split and I was only working 6:00 – 10:00.  My younger brother thought we should get up and open gifts before I went in at 6:00 am, but thankfully my parents put the kibosh on that.  When I got home from work shortly after 10:00, my wonderful Aunt Ruby and Uncle Ike were at our house, having driven up that morning from Illinois.  It was my sweetest Christmas surprise ever!

My mother always decorated for Christmas, made cutout cookies that we frosted, and baked date nut bread.  She baked it in Dad’s empty beer cans after he had carefully removed the tops. This created little round loaves.  It was moist and delicious and it is what we always left out for Santa on Christmas Eve, along with a can of beer (Dad’s idea).

ZELLA’S DATE NUT BREAD

  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4-1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 4 T. soft butter
  • 3 eggs well beaten
  • 2 tsp. soda
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 cup chopped nuts 
  • 2 cups chopped dates
  • 2-1/2 cups boiling water (pour over dates and walnuts and baking soda and let sit for 30 minutes)

Cream the butter and sugars and add the vanilla. Combine the flour and salt, then add the flour mixture and the date mixture a little at a time, alternating between the two. Fold in the eggs at the end.  Don’t overmix.

Grease cans (6-7) and fill ½ full.

Bake 55 minutes at 350 degrees or approximately 1 hour for loaf pans.

Of course, you don’t have to bake your date nut bread in beer cans, but I can attest that Santa never left any behind.

C’est la vie.

Who let the dogs out?

This past Saturday I popped out of bed and jumped in the shower, eager to get the day rolling. We loaded up the car, braved the local Starbucks, and headed down I-81 for an early Christmas visit with our three grandsons and their parents.  It was a beautiful sunny day for a drive and Mr. Smith indulged me with Christmas carols on the car stereo, even singing along with a couple of his favorites.  He gave Elvis a run for his money on Blue Christmas.  When we pulled up to their house, what to our wondering eyes should appear, but three little grandsons offering to help us carry things into their house!  Despite their trying to be coy, Mr. Smith and I both knew they were checking for Christmas loot.  

We had scheduled this weekend for a visit because Glen Echo Pottery where Emmet takes classes was having their annual holiday pottery sale. Emmet, Mr. Smith, Eli and I loaded up to go to lunch and the sale while the rest of the group went off on their own adventures.  After a quick yummy lunch at Cava, we were off to the sale.  We meandered through room after room of ceramics.  I had a superb grandma time helping Eli with his Christmas shopping.  It was fascinating to listen to his thought process of who would like what and why.  It’s always a treat to get a little one-on-one time with a grandchild.

When we rendezvoused back home, it was time for Christmas fun.  I had brought Wilton Build it Yourself A Puppy for Christmas Gingerbread Doghouse Decorating kits so building those was our first order of business. The boys are no strangers to a craft project and did a great job.  Sam was a bit more interested in eating the candy bones than using them to decorate his house, but we all had fun.

The rest of the evening was spent playing a rousing game of Apples to Apples, devouring a platter of tacos and opening Christmas gifts.

As part of Christmas, the boys had received Barnes and Noble gift cards so Sunday morning the three amigos and I headed out to redeem them.  After a quick stop in the adjacent Starbucks for a latte for me and a sandwich for Sam, it was up the escalator and on to the toy section of Barnes and Noble. While I was hoping they would want to peruse the book selection, the visions that were dancing in their heads weren’t of sugar-plums or books, they were of toys! They spent a lively half hour selecting their purchases. Then it was back down to Starbucks for hot chocolate and checking out their purchases.

For any grandma in need of a little Christmas cheer, I advise getting a little old driver so lively and quick, loading your sleigh with toys and heading off to visit your grandkids!

C’est la vie.

My old house.

I miss my house.  Most of the year I’m amenable with our downsizing lifestyle.  It’s a luxury to be able to close the door and take off without any thought of mowing the yard, shoveling snow, or electrical failure.  But when the holidays roll around, I miss my house and all that came with that rambling old homestead.  We spent over 20 busy years there, raising our three sons.  Mr. Smith sanded, stripped, painted, and wallpapered every square inch of the place, creating a lovely home from a diamond in the rough.

I reveled in decorating for the holidays.  Trees, garlands, Santas, angels.  I would spend a week transforming the place, devoting one night each to the dining room, living room, kitchen and TV room.  Mr. Smith would hang fragrant fresh garland and lights on the outside.  It was a wonderful Christmas house, lots of bedrooms and plenty of space for everyone.

I miss being the hostess queen.  I loved planning the meals, treats and activities, as well as dinner parties for family and friends using Christmas china and candles, and bottles of wine and great company.  One year for Christmas, my son Elliot gave me a dinner party journal in which I would record the menu, the wines, the company and seating charts.  I was able to document the table decorations and party favors.

Perhaps it’s because of all the changes this year that I find myself particularly melancholy. The loss of family members, moving and leaving a job have left me at loose ends. And it’s the end of the year and time to reflect on things you’ve done and things you’ve left undone.  Goals reached and projects left undone.  

Luckily Mr. Smith and I have a bit of yin and yang in our relationship.  When I start to look at the past through rose-colored glasses (that old house had its issues), he’ll remind me how much our life has expanded by letting go of the past. It’s easy to think all would be perfect if we were back there, but it’s our todays that we should value and so I will.

C’est la vie.

And what a time it was…

Thanksgiving came to be my favorite holiday when my sons were in college.  Their arrival home on Wednesday would fill our home with renewed life.  We would feast on chicken enchiladas and decorate turkey cookies.  On Saturday, we would put up the Christmas tree together and Mr. Smith and I would try to persuade our sons to watch It’s a Wonderful Life with us.  We were never successful.  

My friend, LouAnne, turned us on to turkey cookies. The Smiths have devoured dozens and dozens.
My three sons.

Many Thanksgivings were spent with family, some with friends and one was spent just Mr. Smith and me.  Our first year out east, we spent the holiday on our own in the love nest 1.0.  Then on Friday morning, we hit the road for NYC and Mr. Smith made one of my childhood dreams come true when he took me to Radio City Music Hall to see the Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular.

It was amazing!
Uncle Pete and Adam.
Hannah and Elliot. Everybody always wanted to sit by Elliot. I bet Rachel is on his other side.

It’s hard to recall all of the Thanksgivings over the past years.  However, the last two seem to accentuate the persistent drumbeat of time.  Last year we were with my mother-in-law in Cass City, Michigan.  We made dinner for her and her dear friend Mimi and Mimi’s husband, Dave.  There was much talk of Thanksgivings past and of course, Pat had many memories of the family over the years. 

Thanksgiving circa 1960.

Pat has since passed away so for the second time in three years, we shared Thanksgiving with our youngest son Adam, his wife Hsin Yi and their beautiful daughter, Eleanor Patricia.  Eleanor filled our apartment with giggles, energy and joy.

Helping make the whipped cream for the pumpkin pie!

It is sobering to reflect on all that has transpired from our early childhood through today and it is with a sense of wonderment that we look to the future.  By the time Eleanor is 18, we will (with any luck) be in our 80s.  I hope we are still making memories.

Long ago…it must be… I have a photograph Preserve your memories They’re all that’s left you.

Paul Simon, Bookends

C’est la vie.

And all the lives we ever lived and all the lives to be, are full of trees and changing leaves. Virginia Woolf

We’re hosting our youngest son and his family for Thanksgiving tomorrow.  This is Eleanor’s third Thanksgiving and we will have spent two of them with her.  Today I’m baking pies, making a centerpiece for the table and thinking about Thanksgivings past.

Mr. Smith and I married in August of 1978.  Somehow three months later (I believe his sister Patrice was the instigator), we ended up with the “privilege” of hosting Thanksgiving dinner for the Smith clan and my sister Jeanne and her family.

I had never made a turkey, I was a less than stellar cook, and we had a kitchen the size of a small closet.  But with the hubris of youth, we said we’d be delighted.  The menu was planned, the shopping lists made, and I requested the Wednesday before Thanksgiving off work. Although I accepted all offers to bring a dish, there was much to be done. Intimidated by my always seemingly perfect mother-in-law, I thought everything had to be from scratch. I practiced making yeast rolls and tried out different cranberry relish recipes. We ordered a large turkey, borrowed some tables and chairs and cleaned our apartment top to bottom.

The day before Thanksgiving started with a little panic when I discovered the turkey was too big to fit in our miniscule apartment-sized oven.  Commence the scrambling to find a roaster to cook the turkey.  This was actually serendipitous because it freed up our oven for baking the rest of the dinner. Figuring out how everything was going to fit in that tiny oven wasn’t something that made it on to my to-do list.  That Wednesday, just like today, I baked pies, cut up the bread for stuffing, and worried about getting everything done at the same time!

Thanksgiving morning, I was up early chopping and mixing, getting everything ready for the oven and crossing my fingers that the roaster wouldn’t die on me.  Guest arrived, wine was poured, and dinner was served more or less on time.  

It was a convivial afternoon and no one left hungry.  By the time everyone was gone, I was exhausted and had no interest in going back into the kitchen.  In a move I’m not sure I could pull off today, Mr. Smith and I went to bed and left the mess.  This was the first of many times Mr. Smith’s odd sleep schedule came in handy.  When I got up the next morning the dishes were all washed and the kitchen was spotless thanks to my own personal thanksgiving elf!

We have now shared 41 Thanksgivings, some as hosts, some as guests.  Sometimes a small group, sometimes lots of family and friends.  The recipes have changed a bit over the years, there’s no longer any cream of mushroom soup on my green bean casserole.  But there is always pumpkin pie.  And Mr. Smith always helps with the dishes. Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

C’est la vie.

It’s coming on Christmas…

When I was a child, my siblings and I looked forward to the arrival of the Sears & Roebuck Christmas catalog with great anticipation.  When it arrived, we would flop on the living room floor and page through that massive wonder until many pages were dog eared and some falling out.  I could spend hours looking through it to search for the items that could fulfill my Christmas dreams.  

Decades later our sons would spend hours leafing through catalogs and providing Mr. Smith and me with their Christmas lists. I wish I had saved them all, but I do have their lists from 2001.  As they grew older, they usually asked for music and clothes and these lists were no exception.  Except for Emmet.  His wishes were for a Ford Escape and a pony.  Sadly, for him, he received neither.

I’m not a part of the grandparent mindset that believes grandchildren are for spoiling.  A vast amount of love, yes, but vast amounts of gifts, no.  One gift I will always give without guilt is books, so I was pleased when Eleanor’s father forwarded me The 2019 New York Times/New York Public Library Best Illustrated Children’s Books article.  At age two, Eleanor hasn’t begun sending us Christmas wish lists, but I hope she’ll enjoy the books we chose from this list.

While the Sears & Roebuck Christmas catalog may be a thing of the past, there is no shortage of current Christmas catalogs.  During our recent visit with our grandchildren, history repeated itself with a new generation of munchkins flopped on the floor pouring over the colorful, enticing catalogs.

Having raised three sons and shopped for more Transformers, Ninja Turtles and He-Man figures than you can shake a stick at, I was thrilled to enter the glittery world of Christmas shopping for granddaughters.  They are a diverse and delightful crew with Christmas wishes running the gambit from Harry Potter, American Girl, Fancy Nancy, Legos, books, art supplies and more.  Our girls are as happy building a fort as they are having a tea party so it’s next to impossible to get them something they don’t like. I will be careful not to stereotype, case in point, our newest bundle of energy granddaughter has forgone the world of pink for Coco Chanel black.

I believe my grandsons have enough Legos to build me a grandma pod in their back yard should I ever need one, and I had promised myself Mr. Smith and I weren’t going to buy anymore Legos.  Yet every birthday and Christmas, the boys always ask for Lego sets.  While grappling with whether to stick to my guns or grant their Christmas wish, I remembered some words of wisdom I received years ago from an old friend in Kendallville.  Amy’s two daughters are the same ages as my two oldest sons and we shared many a parenting challenge through the years. When one of my sons wanted an expensive class ring, my first instinct was to say no.  I had a class ring back in 1972, gave it to some boyfriend and never saw it again.  I viewed buying a class ring as a waste of money, something they wouldn’t care about a few years down the road.  Amy told me “Just because it won’t be important later, doesn’t mean it’s not important now.”  Her words stuck with me, a little reminder to perhaps consider my son’s wishes more thoughtfully.  I’ve carried these words of wisdom with me through the years and they have reminded me to listen more carefully and to take my time responding.

When we asked our grandsons what they wanted for Christmas, we didn’t ask what they wanted that grandpa and grandma would find acceptable. We simply asked them what they wanted for Christmas. During the years our boys were growing up, I tried to impress upon them that when you are giving a gift, you should endeavor to give the recipient something they truly want, not something you want them to have.  How could I object to giving a gift that would provide a few hours of reading, following directions, and building something amazing? The grandsons are getting Legos for Christmas.                                                                                                                                                            

With Christmas just over five weeks away, my holiday shopping is in full swing.  I do much of it online, but still take pleasure in meandering the stores, checking out the seasonal decorations and taking advantage of being able to see items up close and personal.  I’m planning a day trip into New York City soon to peruse the holiday fairs, museum shops and the new Nordstrom.  This trip will be an opportunity to fill in any gaps on Mrs. Santa’s list, and hopefully find something for the fabulous Mr. Smith.  He hasn’t given me a wish list and I’ve yet to see him flopped on the living room floor paging through catalogs, but 42 years of familiarity should help me pick just the right thing.

C’est la vie.