The Coffee with Cathy Guide to Everything — Holiday Management

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.

Boots & The ‘Coffee with Cathy’ Guide to Everything

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.)

Ren Faire bootsSpeaking 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 brownwith 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 black croppedtroopers. 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 rainboots. 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.

All Things Pumpkin

Pumpkin Spice

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.

My Keen Observation Skills …

You know how you see something every day and really don’t pay attention? You drive blissfully by, say, a fast-food restaurant multiple times in the course of a week and it just sort of fades into the background andWendy's new look you couldn’t describe it to anybody beyond “It’s a building and it has a door and some windows and … ” That’s the relationship between me and the Wendy’s restaurant in Muscle Shoals, Ala. I don’t think I’ve ever actually been in it (maybe a couple of times?) but it’s been a fixture on the daily commute and a navigational placeholder for years. You know — “Turn at the Wendy’s,” “go a couple of blocks pass the Wendy’s,” “it’s in that block behind the Wendy’s,” etc. And then the other day somebody said something about the new Wendy’s and I had no idea what she meant. “The new Wendy’s? In Muscle Shoals?? What are you talking about??? I pass by there every day and I haven’t noticed anything,” I (luckily) said silently in my head because I’ve learned through bitter experience to keep comments that make me look stupid to myself. Turns out that the old Wendy’s had been closed — which I vaguely was aware of — and then demolished and then this new Wendy’s rose from the ruins, in all its sleek and modern glory. Turns out it’s all part of a Pan to Modernize. Old-fashioned down-home folksy is out. (Tell that to the folks who gather around Jack’s fireplaces for their morning biscuits.) Minimal urban is in. Even Wendy herself got a style update. All I know is that this does NOT look like a Wendy’s to me. Sushi? Thai? Chinese? But not hamburgers. On the other hand, I obviously am not a reliable observer since I didn’t notice when it was nothing but an empty lot and some construction equipment, so what do I know?.

An Area of Concern

An Area of Concern

This sign continues to crack me up every time I drive by it — which is pretty much twice a day. I have two questions: 1) Since this billboard still is up in May yet advertises a March special, can customers still take advantage of the offer? And perhaps more importantly, 2) exactly what constitutes an “area?” Is it measured by square inch? By proximity? If I have a little tattoo on, say, my ankle but then a big ol’ one on my back, does that count? And who are these people pictured, anyway? Why are they so insanely happy? And gorgeous? Does hair and-or tattoo removal do this to you? If so, perhaps I should get a tattoo and then sign up for its demise. I just need a second area.

Friends (and Family) with Words

Here are some conversations I recently have heard, been part of, eavesdropped on and otherwise been amused/horrified/fascinated by:

1) I didn’t pay attention to the two sweet elderly white-haired women talking quietly in the local diner’s corner booth until one of them jabbed her fried-chicken leg in her companion’s face and said, loudly and emphatically, “Well, why should she even try when somebody’s always covering her butt?” She then took a bite out of the chicken leg and their conversation continued softly. Wish I could have heard the rest. I’m guessing the “she” in question is the two women’s baby sister who even years ago was everybody’s favorite … and still is.

2) A non-profit I work with hosts receptions for its corporate sponsors. One of my jobs is to liaison between the sponsors, who can invite whoever and how many ever folks they want, and the volunteers who cook and decorate for the party. The volunteer in charge of the food for this specific reception was in our office kitchen and asked me how many guests the sponsor was bringing.

“He told me it wouldn’t even be 100,” I said, proud I’d talked to the sponsor that morning and had a ready answer.

“Well, that doesn’t help us much,” the volunteer said, rolling her eyes at my incompetence. “‘Not 100′ could be 20 or 80.”

She was correct, of course. Anxious to redeem myself, I backtracked quickly. “I’ll check with him again. What’s the deadline for when you need an exact count?”

Busy counting napkins and cocktail plates, she shrugged. “Oh, it doesn’t really matter. We always cook for 50, no matter what.”

3) An Episcopal priest I know relayed the story of her 2-year-old daughter’s new book of Old Testament stories. My friend started out reading every word to her daughter but then, as bedtime got closer, began summarizing paragraphs with “And then God was sad because the people acted ugly.” (Just like putting grapes in your chicken salad and letting any part of your underwear show in public, “acting ugly” is something Southern children are taught not to do. Ever.) The little girl then got impatient with the reading pace and flipped through the rest of the book, turning pages and chanting, “They acted ugly. They acted ugly. They acted ugly.” Thousands of years and millions of words of Old Testament analysis boiled down to three words.

4) On a gorgeous spring day, I was playing Ninja-Turtle-Star-Wars-Pirates with our 5-year-old grandson in the backyard. I was the lookout on top of the slide in case Penguin attacked us (he does not like to mix up his food but gleefully combines his Super Hero fighters). However, lookouts need naps, too, so I sat on the bottom of the slide, leaned back and contemplated the perfectly blue spring sky. Breaking character for moment, he came up behind me. “Kacky. O, Kacky! I’ve got a dead slug I’m going to put in your hair,” he said, chuckling. “That is so cute,” I thought to myself. “How adorable that he’d pretend to do something so icky to tease me. What a sweetie.” That’s when I heard Older Daughter yelling, “STOP RIGHT THERE AND DO NOT PUT THAT DEAD SLUG IN KACKY’S HAIR!” He did warn me.

Random Thoughts from a Cluttered Mind

Recently I had a mad cleaning fit and finally — finally! — took on my home-office space. Although I think I’m a fairly organized person, the stacks of magazines and piles of papers and random notes stuck everywhere (I hope “Snd by 4:30 Tuesday” wasn’t important because I have no idea what I was supposed to “snd” or to where) said otherwise. Inspired to do better, I cleaned and filed and recycled and threw away and ended up with such a clutter-free work space that I know it will take me only a few days to mess it up again I’m feeling back in control. So why not do the same thing to my brain? We all have these unfettered half-finished thoughts and lists and ideas sort of floating around — you know, the things that keep you up at 2 a.m. because you simply CANNOT GET THEM OUT OF YOUR HEAD. If you can declutter your desk, why not declutter your mind? So here are some of my thoughts that are just lying around taking up valuable space. Who knows what I could accomplish without them in the way — finish start my novel, clean out the refrigerator, take a nap? The possibilities are endless!

  • We early-to-bed and early-to-rise folks do not like springing forward into Daylight Saving Time, with its dark mornings and its sunshiny evenings. Bleh! Of course, it does feel as if you have more time to go clothes shopping after work to get home and pull weeds, so that’s a good thing.
  • I never have to complete this sentence when talking to a fellow female about why I can’t go to the movie and sit still for two hours: “You know I had that major sinus infection for six weeks and then I finally went to the doctor and got some high-powered antibiotics that worked great, except that now …”
  • I don’t know why I cannot look away from “Celebrity Apprentice.” Has Donald Trump’s hair somehow hypnotized me? Scary stuff.
  • The baby-switching at the end of “Downton Abbey’s” final episode still bugs me. From one frame to the next, Lady Mary went from holding a “newborn” with fluffy reddish hair to one with slicked-back black hair. What does this mean? Did the producers think we wouldn’t notice? Or when season four starts and we’ve jumped ahead 10 years but nobody’s changed except for this strange child who DOESN’T LOOK LIKE ANYBODY ELSE, will somebody remember that Lady Mary blacked out for a bit after childbirth and nobody was with there with her for a few minutes and maybe SOMETHING HAPPENED???
  • I hope colored jeans are still in style this spring because I picked up several pairs last year and if everybody else is back in classic blue denim and I’m bopping around in turquoise and lime green and bright red … well, it won’t be pretty. Literally.
  • Speaking of babies — and this is a good thought I don’t want to get rid of — seems as if everybody’s having them. In the past few months,  my brother & sister-in-law had their second, a girl named Harper (love, love, love that name); several friends welcomed new grandchildren; and almost everybody I talk to is hosting or attending a baby shower. More, please.

Ah, I feel much better now. Thanks for helping with my decluttering project. Sadly, I already can feel those empty brain spaces filling up, much like my clean desk seemed instantly to sprout new stacks of staff. So come back soon for my next data download. Who knows what’s in there?

The Science Kid

GrandchidlrenThis is why I am in awe of Older Daughter. It’s an experiment she set up for our almost-5-year-old grandson, also known as Capt. Adorable, sort of along the lines of a “Sid the Science Kid” investigation. (Speaking of Sid and his preschool co-horts, am I the only person who thinks Gerald will turn out to be Keith Moon‘s grandson?) Older Daughter and the Captain wondered what would happen to an egg left soaking in water and one left soaking in vinegar. They identified the hypothesis — he thought the water egg would turn into a snowball and the vinegar egg into what he logically called  a lava ball (because if there’s a snowball then surely there’s a lava ball, right?). Mommy helped with the handwriting but the scientific drawings are all the Captain’s. I predict a bidding war between John Hopkins and Stanford in about 20 years.

Who’s on First & Chewing Strawberry Gum?

One of my part-time jobs is working at the local community theatre, where my title of “managing director” sounds impressive but only means I have fewer mouse traps in my office than everybody else. I handle publicity and marketing and am having a blast learning more about the the-ah-ter (said with dramatic flourishes). And theatre people are so … well, interesting? Theatrical? Creative? Also: Actors. Take this conversation I overheard the other day from my office, which faces the main thoroughfare folks use to wander in and out.

Person No. 1, who had just walked in the lobby — It smells good in here, like strawberries.
Person No. 2, who had been there all day — There was a teenage girl in here earlier.
PN1 — Yeah, I saw the Facebook status about young people coming in and wanting to get involved with the theatre. That’s great.
PN2 — I know! We’ve had several folks get in touch with us this week. It’s great to see such enthusiasm. We really can use all the new faces and the youthful energy. She was chewing gum.
PN1 — Who was chewing gum?
PN2 — The girl who was in here earlier.
PN1, not quite sure what he’s supposed to say about the gum-chewing teenager — Well. Chewing gum, huh. How about that.
PN2 — And it was strawberry.
PN1 — What was strawberry?
PN2 — The gum she was chewing.
PN1, dazed and confused by now and obviously wondering if Person No. 2 thinks chewing strawberry gum is an indicator of theatrical skill and ambition  – Huh. Well. Is that, like, a thing now? Chewing strawberry gum?
(Conversation temporarily halted by muffled laughter coming from my office)
PN2, not quite sure where she lost control of the conversation, to PN1 — What? What are you talking about?
PN1 — What are YOU talking about?
PN2 — I’m talking about the fact that it smells like strawberries because a girl was in here a few minutes ago chewing strawberry gum.
PN1 — Can we start over?

It Seems Only Yesterday That We Went to the Pumpkin Patch …

Awww … they were good pumpkins. Their cheerful orange brightened our front door for a couple of months. Sadly, their time is over. Bye-bye, pumpkins. You were good gourds.