I have a mad, mad girl-crush on Elementary’s Joan Watson. Well, more specifically, I have a mad girl-crush on Joan Watson’s closet. I want every single thing in it. Joan herself? Meh. I mean, she is fearless and compassionate and smart and can hold her on against her arrogant-yet-vulnerable Sherlock. But would she and I be friends? Not sure. She hardly ever smiles. I’m afraid she’d find me frivolous. (She probably never devotes a whole evening to catching up with The Bachelor. With accompanying wine and chocolate-chip cookie dough.) And do you think she’s been a bit cranky lately? As their friendship deepens, seems as if she and Sherlock pick at each other and are impatient with each more than they used to be. Although that’s probably just my Southerness politely raising a hand and saying nicely, “You know, y’all could say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ every once in a while. Wouldn’t hurt you.” (Also, does anybody ever clean 221b Baker Street? Their kitchen reminds me of the one in an almost-century-old house that friends and I rented in college: charmingly vintage teetering on big ol’ mess.) But back to Joan’s closet. I covet it. I want EVERYTHING Joan Watson wears. I fervently follow the blogs, Tumblr posts and Polyvore and Pinterest sets that follow her. Every week, I ponder her fashion choices: How does she make a red window-pane-tablecloth ruffly tiered dress paired with a big yellow handbag look so stylish? Is a black leather snakey-looking dress what all New Yorkers wear when chopping onions? And, most importantly, could I possible sneak the purchase of her $600 black ankle boots past my husband? (No, I could not.) The thing is, I can’t explain exactly why I like Joan’s wardrobe. I’m not a fan of her go-to colorblocking, I studiously avoid t-shirts with words and/or animals on them (I wore more than my quota in the 1980s) and some things I’d look ridiculous in (see “red window-pane-tablecloth ruffley tiered dress” above). But there’s something about the way she puts it all together that’s appealing. She’s strong, no-fuss, modern and confident — and her clothes say that. I want my clothes to say that, too. Unfortunately, my clothes usually say “This woman has too many cats and literally cannot hold her coffee.” But I’m getting there. I not only have several gray-tweed-knit-and-black-(fake)leather tops similar to this dress Joan wore recently (thank you, T.J. Maxx winter clearance racks!) but I also have the EXACT SAME Brita filter pitcher Joan is pouring a glass of water from. Things are looking up.
Creative, artistic, super-nice people. Don’t they just
infuriate annoy inspire the heck out of you? Jaylene Whitehurst, of Corinth, Miss., is one of those folks. She is a painter, storyteller, poet and counselor. Energy and compassion are her native languages. She sees the world differently from everyone else and knows how to make you see it differently, too. And she does it all in that lilting-yet-deceptively soft Southern-woman voice that greeted the damnYankee officers who broke into the finest home in town and found the diminutive hoop-skirted lady of the house pointing Daddy’s hunting rifle at them. But if it were actually Jaylene in this situation, after she had their attention she would put the gun down and gently led the DYOs in a heartfelt discussion about why they felt it necessary to break into her house and steal her food and wouldn’t they rather just go back to their homes in Ohio or wherever and live peacefully? And they would say “yes, ma’am” and be out the door and on their horses and headed back north with no strong grasp on what had just happened to them. That is Southern women. Luckily for us, Jaylene lives in the 21st century and can spend her time painting instead of Protecting Her House Against Marauding DYOs. An exhibit of her endlessly fascinating work is at the Crossroads Museum, in Corinth, and on Saturday she invited friends to meet her there for a gallery talk. I know nothing about art but I’m constantly amazed at how artists can create something out of nothing. Jaylene uses texture and collages (that’s what you call layering things on top of other things, right?) to tell her stories. I especially liked this piece, where she used buttons, doilies and clothing patterns from her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother along with flowers from a poster she’d designed a few years ago. This work is more than a family tribute, though. It explores our fascination with circles — a fascination that connects people throughout time and all over the world. That’s the power of art, I think: gently nudging you to think about mandalas, crop circles, rose windows and Jung while looking at vintage buttons and old crocheted doilies. And footballs. Because after the gallery talk, the group ate lunch at a downtown Thai restaurant but I had to go help Vanderbilt win its bowl game. That makes five of seven SEC bowl wins, with optimistically six of eight after tonight. We shall not speak of the Recent Unpleasantness.
You know what I mean by “gift-giving envy,” right? It’s that forehead-slapping moment when you unwrap The Perfect Gift Picked Out Just For You and while you’re speechless at the insane appropriateness of it all (how did she know I’d looked at that scarf just yesterday???) you’re also inwardly wondering WHY CAN’T I EVER DO THAT and secretly dreading when it’s the giftor’s turn to unwrap your Wintry Forest-scented candle, limited edition. Or maybe this is just me. Because I have the extreme and completely undeserved good fortune to be surrounded by folks who always get it right. I don’t know how they do it. But there are clues: “I pay attention,” our community-theatre intern shrugged when I asked how she knew I needed the travel mug and Starbucks Via she gave me. “I loved it so I knew you would, too,” a friend said when she gave me the most adorable necklace ever. “I remembered that you really liked the last one,” a sister-in-law said when she gave me a local artist’s tabletop calendar. Hmmm …
And since I can’t turn around and use these to dazzle folks in 2014, here are some more unexpected and fun ideas to delight YOUR special people in upcoming gift-giving opportunities:
- Did you know you could buy assorted single earrings? I didn’t, until Younger Daughter gave me this ultra-cute collection. I wear an uneven number of earrings because … well … I’ve forgotten why I decided to do that originally but I’d like to think it’s my one Rebellion Against the Status Quo. Or something. Also, when it’s Grandbaby Time, I switch to studs. One experience of having your gold hoops yanked out of your ears by an adorable yet incredibly strong young child will do that to you. I love that these have various colors and textures. And that Younger Daughter knew I’d love it.
- Did you know there was such a thing as wood-roasted coffee? I never, in all of my coffee-drinking years, had heard of that. And I pretty much consider myself to be up on all things coffee. But Younger Brother knew there was a gap in my coffee knowledge, so he gave me a bag of Matt’s Wood-Roasted Organic Coffee, made in Maine. At Matt’s, organic coffee is small-batch roasted in a vintage Italian roaster fueled by wood from native and nearby forests. And it is sooo good. It’s subtle and rich and layered and smooth, just as the perfect cup of coffee should be. Order some. Now
- Of course, I can drink my perfect wood-roasted coffee in the most perfect coffee mug ever. Older Daughter is one of those folks skilled at using online photo and printing sites to create ooh-and-ahh-worthy gifts everybody looks forward to. Her expertise in designing hard-cover photo scrapbooks is legendary (if only I could convince her that photos of my precious grandbabies PLAYING AND POSING ON RAILROAD TRACKS are unnecessary). And this year she outdid herself by adding a coffee mug. Just for me. It makes me smile every time I drink coffee out of it — and since Husband John Pitts probably is reading this, I won’t reveal how many times that is. But it’s enough to make me feel good all day. Even with the railroad tracks.
- Our neighbors are awesomely wonderful. We look out for each other and bring in each other’s garbage cans and pick up the trash. And give good gifts. One neighbor gave us a gift card to one of our favorite downtown eating spots, which we used immediately on beer and guacamole. Another neighbor gave us a basket full of goodies, including these book ends. Book ends! I love the idea of book ends — things such as pretty stationery and statement-making key fobs that used to be staples of everyday life but now are special enough to be elevated to why-didn’t-I-think-of-that gifts. Also please note that this is John Pitts’ side of the bookshelves, used for photography purposes because his side is organized and neat while mine is overflowing and messy and so overloaded that the movable shelves actually do move — downwards — every few months or so.
So, here’s to 2014! May the gifts you give always be welcome and never donated to the Salvation Army store. (Please give money, instead. Because if the set of four white-swan plastic napkin rings terrifies you, do you really want to impose it on somebody else?)
When it comes to navigating the yearly ready-to-trip-you-up-and-drag-you-down maze that is The Holidays, forget everything you’re read advising you to “eat right, sleep well and continue your exercise routine (even a brisk walk outside will help!).” I mean, you read the same article every year and has that advice ever worked? Of course not. And why? Because a) nobody has the time to be all healthy and pro-active, b) nobody has the energy to fix a salad when there are eight dozen Candy Cane White Chocolate Mini Cheesecakes to finish and c) anyway ARE YOU *** KIDDING ME? Look, all of the holiday stress is in your mind. You cannot change the chaos. You cannot change the tightly packed schedules that have you in 14 different spots in a mere 24-hour period. You cannot change the last-minute panic, the all-night wrapping marathons, the tree disasters. Those things are going to happen. Over and over again. So how to deal? Instead of fighting it and complaining and moaning, change your strategy: Instead of letting the holidays be in control of your emotional welfare, woman up and take control yourself. After all, the holidays are fun. Remember fun? For most of us, that’s what this mid-winter break is supposed to be. It’s when we impose expectations and standards and must-do’s and must-haves on our celebrations that we start to feel cranky. So relax. And enjoy. I don’t know about you, but this is about the only time of year people leave presents at our front door, everything smells good, sparkles and sequins are approved daytime wear and you can eat Bourbon Balls with impunity. What’s not to like? And just in case you need some actual helpful advice:
- Never ever use the word “tacky” in conjunction with Christmas sweaters. For those of us in our 50s who were around for the original Christmas Sweater Boom, it’s much too soon to relegate this trend to the “tacky” category. We probably still have a few stashed away in the back of our closets. You can make fun of our mom jeans, our rhinestoned sweatshirts and our Madonna hair, but step away from the Christmas sweaters.
- Besides, as soon as you post a photo of your winning entry in the office Tacky Christmas Sweater contest, your best client/customer/patron will walk in with the same sweater on. You have been warned.
- Whether hours spent with a cozy fireplace and comfy blanket figure large in your holiday plans or you’re going to be grateful for a few squeezed-in minutes of free time, celebrate the season by adding wintry books to your to-read list. Consider “Smilla’s Sense of Snow,” by Peter Hoeg; Stieg Larsson‘s ”The Girl Who …” books and any of the Inspector Wallender novels, by Henning Mankell. These Nordic mystery writers know how to create tight and compelling stories amid snow, ice and freezing temperatures — and when they’re not solving crimes, our detectives are pouring coffee and eating sandwiches. Doesn’t get much better.
- In your holiday travels — even if it’s only to the neighbor’s house for a cookie swap — you may be faced with the Problem of Bad Coffee. It happens, even with people who listen to public radio and still have a Dennis Kucinich sticker on their Prius. Don’t compromise — you don’t have to drink Bad Coffee just because it’s the season of good tidings and joy. There is a solution. Eschew — politely, of course — the see-through beverage in the Mr. Coffee carafe. Then discretely remove the flask from your purse that’s full of your best cold brew, pour into one of your host’s coffee cups and proceed with add-in’s as you see fit. If you’re staying with someone (cough-cough my mother cough-cough) who is not a coffee drinker, then arrive prepared. A personal French press-tumbler is a good choice if you’re the only coffee fan, but consider bringing a more group-friendly method if others will be jealous.
- Best present ever? A hot-lotion dispenser. Trust me.
I love being a grandma. And I’m pretty good at it. Look, when you are the mommy and you have kids, you’re pretty much stressed and busy and even though you know you’re supposed to slow down and enjoy, there are clothes to wash and homework to check and teachers’ presents to come up with and cookie dough and wrapping paper to buy and so on and WHO HAS TIME TO SLOW DOWN??? But when those kids grow up and give you the most wonderful and adorable grandbabies in the world and you no longer have to worry about 101 ways to make chicken casserole, you can relax and indulge in grandbaby love. Which is The. Best. Ever. But I do try to follow the rules Older Daughter sets down. First, because she is an awesome parent and I have no idea where she learned to be so wise. And, second, if I follow the rules, that means more grandbaby love for me. So I try to be as creative and low-key and green as her standards request. That’s why, one recent afternoon, we all were sitting at the kitchen bar and I noticed four random rectangles of paper — tickets or coupons or something. Eager to show how
smart environmentally friendly I was and proud of my educational initiative, I quickly drew a shape on each piece for an impromptu game with 2-year-old grandson of Identify This Shape. And as the genius baby he is, he got the triangle. He got the square. He got the “E” (first letter of his name). But when I held up the fourth shape, he wrinkled his cute little adorable grandbaby forehead in concentration and then, puzzled, looked at his mom, his primary interpreter. She then literally fell on the floor laughing. “What? What?? WHAT???” I said, not sure what was happening. And in that patient tone of voice she uses with me with alarming frequency, she explained: “That doesn’t look like any circle he’s ever seen.” So, OK. I’m not a great artist. And nobody can read my handwriting. But, I ask you, isn’t that clearly a circle? Sort of, anyway? Thank you.
Or, how to be happy in your new house
You know that friend you have who has been through so much yet still is a rock(ette) and everybody relies on her and she is cheerful and giving and loving despite every reason not to be and you want only good things for her always? My friend like that — let’s randomly call her ‘Susan’ for no reason whatsoever — is the DEAREST AND BEST person ever and I am so lucky she lets me be her friend. She recently bought and moved into her own house and because I am a bad friend who doesn’t deserve her, I hadn’t seen the new place until this week when she hosted a Christmas party for our four-woman book club. (We are small but extremely opinionated — or maybe that’s just me. The opinionated part, I mean.) She was beaming as she welcomed us in to her warm and cozy and festive oh-so-her home. Even if I didn’t know she lived there, I would have said she should — it fits her so well. She didn’t have to do a thing to it, paint-wise, and her furniture works perfectly, with plenty of space and traffic flow for family and friends as well as her own woman-cave for relaxing. She has such good taste in decorating — simple yet elegant with a big dash of creativity is the best way to describe her style. For instance, look at her china cabinet (below).
Love, love, love the way she propped up her square Gail Pittman plates in the back to look like inlaid tiles. Clever! (And remind me to tell you about some of our Gail Pittman adventures. You wouldn’t believe what folks will do for a matching dessert plate and espresso cup. And by “folks,” I mean me.) Anyway, for Christmas Susan used silver and pale blue and glittery white to create a magical wintry evening. She fed us yummy food and fun cranberry margaritas and we opened presents and talked about the book and laughed a whole big bunch. Doesn’t get much better than that, especially when you’ve got a hostess who is so happy to share her own home with her friends. Seems like that’s the way to do Christmas parties.
It’s never the birthdays with the zeros that bother me. In fact, I relish ushering in a new decade. It’s like a year-long New Year’s Eve of possibilities and Good Resolutions: Twenties? I’m a grownup! Thirties? I’m really a grownup! Forties? Finally, I can call myself a real grownup! Fifties? Love being a grownup! Nope, the zeros don’t bother me at all. It’s those mid-year birthdays, with numbers solidly stacking up — why does 56 sound so serious? — that get to me and make me spend a night or two thinking morose thoughts and peering dejectedly into the bottom of (several) glasses of wine, sort of like Olivia Pope but with 10-year-old yoga pants and Fourth Day Hair instead of satin and cashmere and perfect curls. (And, so far, no Presidential helicopters.) But this year, I Gave Myself A Talking To: “Damn, woman. What are you moping around for? You’ve got a great husband and a wonderful family and the best friends ever and jobs you enjoy and a house you love. And ‘Bama got beat!!! What else do you need?” Then the answer came to me: Better shoes. And better makeup. And maybe a closet overhaul. And a hair re-do. And that’s just what I thought of in five seconds. So I declared Year 56 to be the Year of the Makeover. Nothing drastic, you know. Just tweaking the details here and there, installing iOS 7.4 , slamming the brakes on all if those slippery slopes I’d glibly started down (Who cares if these are the wrong boots? Who’ll notice that my roots have been showing for the past month? Who will wonder if I’ve worn the same lipstick — literally THE SAME LIPSTICK — for two years?) Because here’s the thing: Only if you ARE actually Olivia Pope can you sit around looking depressed and beautiful and sipping wine and then Amazing Things Happen To You Without Warning. The rest of us pretty much have to do the amazing part on our own. So please join me as I upgrade the Pinterest boards of my life during the next few weeks (months?). I’ll tackle random categories and topics from my perspective of a 50-something small-town Southern woman who likes football and Cathead Vodka, reads Garden and Gun instead of Southern Living and still has a deviled-egg tray and monogrammed stationery. If it works for me, it might work for you. Or maybe not. But let us know — share your thoughts. Because it’s easier to kick butt when you’re wearing kick*** boots. (Which, I think, should be the new mantra of all Southern women who remember perms, white gloves and pantyhose.)
Speaking of boots, let’s consider a kick*** boot wardrobe. Before this year, I got by with my 20-something-year-old daughters’ Ren Faire rejects and a pair of painful high-heel black dress boots. And as creatively interesting as the brown laced-up mid-calf Ren Faire-pair was, I gradually realized they weren’t flattering or image-appropriate, at all. I mean, do these say “strong business woman who can manage the trickiest p.r. campaign” or do they say “lazy cheapskate whose best years were three decades ago”? I thought so. And every time I tottered around in the black stilettos, I thought only of “Pretty Woman.” And taking them off so my feet wouldn’t hurt So I upgraded and now I actually have a stylish, workable and comfortable boot collection:
- The go-to wear-anywhere-with-(almost) anything pair — This dark-beigy-brown pair of riding boots works with skinny jeans, leggings and dresses. I liked that the hardware says “I’ve got a bit of an edge” and not “Would you watch my Harley for me while I go beat somebody up?” Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. I also discovered that tall — and by “tall” I mean almost knee-high — truly is a flattering look for most women. Any shorter and you risk the dreaded “dumpy” word. Any higher and you literally are veering into “Pretty Woman” territory. I have not yet worn these with those cozy-looking socks that peek over the top. Is that look too young? Not sure.
- You do need a pair of black boots, because … well … we just do. But choose wisely. No storm troopers. Nothing to remind us of parades and marching and military reviews. Leave that to the professionals. What we want here is a slightly dressy and upscale sheen. A bit of class. If your brown boots can take you from mucking out a barn to the last tailgate of the season to getting a celebratory macchiato, then your black boots should take you from a meeting of the museum board to a casual Christmas party to drinks out with the girls. See? Versatility is key. Also a DSW rewards card. One caveat with black boots — be wary of going all black. Perhaps your brown boots might work better with black leggings. Just something to consider. We don’t automatically have to reach for black when we’re wearing black.
- And now please steady the ladder for me because I’m climbing up on a soapbox. You need rain boots. We are past the age where it’s OK to walk around with wet shoes. Besides, remember all the time and effort you’ve put into finding fabulous boots (see above)? Don’t risk that. Of course, most rain-boot choices are of the mid-calf plasticized cute-little-yellow-ducks variety or a galoshes-like shock of bright pink. And if that makes you happy, who am I to argue? Or judge? But I don’t need cheering up on a rainy day. Or feeling like a 5-year-old on her way to kindergarten. I’d rather choose a well-fitting pair of grownup rain boots I can wear all day without anybody asking me if it’s nap time. That’s just me. Although I never turn down an offer of milk and cookies.
So that’s it. The first entry in the Coffee with Cathy Guide to Everything. Stay tuned for the next installment. I’m thinking — since we’re on a boot jag — we should turn to booties next.
It does exist! I’d heard rumors about sugar-free pumpkin spice syrup but had not spotted this rarely seen creation in all of my many meanderings through T.J. Maxx grocery aisles … until now. I found this lone bottle tucked away behind the vanilla and hazelnut flavors on the top shelf in the Tupelo store (which is one of my favorite T.J.s, with its smattering of good-zip-code designer finds and a truly breathtaking hair and skin-care section). Not sure if I had broken into someone’s pumpkin-spice stash or if it had inadvertently been pushed to the back, but I grabbed the pumpkin-spice and put it in my cart immediately, under the jealously watchful eyes of two other shoppers who were not as quick. Or fast. Or, perhaps, pumpkin-spice obsessed. Yeah, yeah, I know. I know that “pumpkin spice” is (brilliant) marketing and mostly has nothing to do with actual pumpkins. I know that Starbucks and other retailers have wiggled their way into my head and made me lust after cozy & rustic & warming pumpkin stuff I didn’t even know I wanted. (Candles! Lotions! Pringles!) I know that no actual real pumpkins are harmed in the making of almost everything claiming a connection to our favorite orange squash. And yet. Here I am drinking pumpkin spice coffee and eating a pumpkin spice muffin with pumpkin butter, thinking about lunch with pumpkin beer to go with pumpkin salsa and pumpkin-seed crackers. I may need an intervention. But could you wait until Christmas, please? I’ve got a bunch of pumpkin soup leftover in the fridge.
besides being too
lazy incredibly and importantly busy to post here, that is?
I adore working on a college campus. I love the energy and the enthusiasm of 20-somethings. I always defend them when folks start conversations with “Oh my gosh, can you believe kids today?” Almost every student I encounter WANTS to be in school and WANTS to learn (at least something) and many of them work two jobs and drive two hours and otherwise sacrifice A LOT to be at school. On the other hand, sometimes this generation sort of stuns me. Such as when I recently noticed this how-to-address-an-envelope tutorial taped to the mail-center counter in the student center. “Are you seriously telling me that some students don’t know how to address an envelope?” I asked the mail-center staffer, incredulously. She nodded grimly. “We just got tired of explaining it all the time,” she said. I know that actual paper envelopes are going the way of landlines, CDs and watching movies in a movie theatre — but still. I mean, can you believe kids today?