The Coffee with Cathy Guide to Everything — Overcoming Gift-Giving Envy

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:

  • DSCN2893Did 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.
  • coffeebagDid 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 personalized coffee mugmug 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 DSCN2895garbage 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?)

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.

You Have to Buy a Beverage First, People!

free whipped topping

The added “with beverage purchase” rule cracks me up … because of course somebody asked or the free whipped topping WITHOUT a beverage purchase. I mean, free whipped topping would certainly liven up a trip to the service station when you’re paying $4 a gallon.

September Sales Bring April Awesomeness

This is why I love shopping post-season clearance sales. These two spring/summer dresses? Total price — less than $30, which is less than I spend on a typical Starbucks order. Because you might as well pick up one of those oh-so-cute coffee mugs while you’re there. And some extra Via. But back to the dresses. Going by the original price tags, I would have spent about $200 on these. And of course, when I picture myself wearing these dresses, I also have long tanned legs and perfectly toned arms. And, if I’m fantasizing, might as well thrown in some soft and shiny hair. Sorry for the mental meanderings here — saving close to $200 makes me giddy.

Friends Bearing Presents

Presents! I love presents! Particularly the unexpected kind — the kind that somebody gives you just because & for no reason, the kind that make you feel special because somebody thought of you and went to the trouble to do something for you. Such as that wonderful little box of “Pocket Espresso To Go.” A friend and her husband, who are enthusiastic travelers, found these adorable little packets of espresso AND chocolate in Italy and brought one back for me. I especially am tickled with the coffee pitcher on the package — it seems so … Italian! I also received a trio of some of my favorite things when I helped host a wedding shower for a friend’s daughter. Are hostess gifts a Southern thing? It’s times like this when my native non-Southerness comes out because I always forget about hostess gifts and then when I receive one I’m thrilled and surprised and then of course I mentally run through all the times I should have given hostess gifts and I wonder, “Did I?” Anyway, our mother-of-the-bride friend is a gracious native Southerner and ALWAYS does the correct thing. She knows that we all are crazy about her 1) hand-knitted dish cloths, 2) homemade plum-fig jam and 2) seasoning mix made from her own dried herbs, so that’s what she gave us when we hosted a shower for her daughter. How did I end up with such sweet and thoughtful friends? (Reminder to self: Give people more presents.)

Coffee Treasures in Chattanooga

We’ve talked about art in one of my favorite adopted towns of all time — Chattanooga, Tenn., here and here. Now, art is good. I like art. I like people who make art, which is convenient since I work (most days) in an art museum. But when it comes to other things Chattanooga really is good at,  have to put “coffee” high on the list. I’m not sure if it’s the mountain or the river or that whole we’re-cool-and-hipster-and-still-a-little-bit-country thing Chattanoogians have going, but folks there sure love and know their coffee. Me, too. At least the “love” part. Chattanooga fans surely will recognize where these two photos come from. On the left, it’s Rembrandt’s Coffee House in the Bluff View Art District, identifiable by its awesomely wonderful desserts. It’s one of those bakeries where you just stare through the glass and say “I want one of those and one of those and …” And, yes, the foam on my macchiato is a bit too foamy, but really that’s a minor complaint for such a fun location and satisfying sweetness. On the right, nobody could mistake the sturdy recycled tables and skillful foam art of Camp House Espresso, a few blocks from both the burgeoning Southside Art District and bustling downtown Market Street. The Camp House building truly is multi-purpose, housing at various times during the week a church, an entertainment venue and a clothing mission as well as a coffee house. That is sooooo Chattanooga.

Zebra Tape and Espresso Mirrors

I read or heard recently a news report that shopping is good for you — it gets you out of the house, gives you exercise and company and a new perspective on things. Of course, in my case that new perspective is “What’s happened to all our money?”, but that’s a minor issue. The point is that you can Learn Things and Gain Experience by shopping. For  example: I recently discovered that you can buy duct tape in patterns remarkably similar to some throw pillows I have. And more. Am I the only person around here who didn’t know that duct tape comes in bright neons and animal prints as well as the standard battleship gray? I’m guessing this idea was inspired by more women doing more do-it-yourself jobs around the house. But, honestly, does everything we touch have to be cute and colorful? I realize I’m wandering into dangerous grouchy-old-lady “you-damn-kids-get-outta-my-yard!” territory here, but seems to me that when you need duct tape, having the good ol’ dependable gray workhorse around is best. I’m not sure I’d feel quite confident that zebra stripes are going to do the job. With all due respect to zebras, of course. But we all know that manufacturers and retailers have all sorts of tricks to lure us into buying stuff. Such as this sign my husband and I spotted in a home warehouse-store. It uses all the correct decorating words to grab our attention: “Euro!” “Shaker!” “Espresso!” — a combination of adjectives that only exists in marketing land. I mean, is there such a thing as “Euro Shaker?” I’m doubting it. And Mr. Google agrees with me. Plus, throwing in “espresso” is just silly. Are they talking about Italian roast? French press? A Starbucks doppio? Define your terms, people! But I do like that mirror.

Chocolate and Coffee

I know, I know — I’m sorry! Y’all who passionately pointed out that if I’m going to talk about cool Nashville food and uber-cool Hillsboro Village then I can’t not mention Olive & Sinclair Chocolate and bongo Java’s newest eatery, Hot & Cold.  I have an excuse for not mentioning Hot & Cold: We didn’t go in, even though I’d read good things about it in Nashville Scene. On the day we were in Hillsboro Village, the weather was miserable and I was in a hospital funk after sitting for days with my dad in a nearby cardiac-care unit (he’s home now and doing incredibly wonderful) and all I wanted was a cup of good coffee and even though Hot & Cold supposedly had good ice cream AND good coffee I was cynically suspicious that this was true so we bypassed it for Fido, Hot & Cold’s older brother coffeehouse and a steady and reliable source of the good stuff. But I will not make this mistake again. Next time, we’re going in. But I have no excuse for not mentioning Olive & Sinclair Chocolate– made in small  bean-to-bar batches in Nashville. I simply forgot to talk about it because I was too busy savoring every smidgen of the Coffee and Sea Salt bars we bought.  I won’t make that mistake again, either — next time, I’ll get the Double Chocolate Nibs, too.



How Fido and My Husband Saved Me One Day

Thanks to husband John Pitts, I now have a new favorite coffee house — Fido, in Nashville’s hip Hillsboro Village. A couple of weeks ago I spent several days lurking around a Music City hospital while my dad recovered from cardiac arrest and got a defibrillator. Did you know that hospital coffee is very very bad? (Although everything else about this hospital was very very good, including the care and skill my dad received.) Anyway, please never even try drinking hospital coffee. Do. Not. Even. Try. Learn from my mistake. So after hearing me complain for days and days, husband JP took great pity on me and squired me around town one day for some refreshing non-hospital air and some Real Coffee. He said we’d been in Fido before with friends, and I do sort of vaguely remember that. But now I’ll never forget this fun and funky cafe that’s part of the ever-growing local Bonjo Java coffee company. Bonjo Java roasts and wholesales its own beans and owns some of the town’s most popular cafes/coffeehouses/restaurants, of which Fido is one. It’s open all day every day and has a full menu, which we need to go back and check out because all I had was a restorative and perfect espresso macchiato. But when you’re dealing with perfection, one is good enough.

Caffeine and Cash

At first I was so pleased that my husband and I got these offers in the mail. I mean, it’s a free $5-purchase at Starbucks. Thank you, Our Bank, for such a nice surprise. Y’all rock. However, on a closer read, I quickly became less happy. For instance, to receive the gift card, you have to use your debit card as a credit card, which I rarely do. And it naturally makes me suspicious — why is Our Bank pushing the credit-card angle? Obviously something’s in it for Our Bank and to distract us from asking questions, Our Bank is dangling a coffee-flavored carrot in front of us. Hmm … Also, note that these two cards require two different numbers of purchases to receive the gift card. The one for my husband, who maybe has used his debit card at a Starbucks perhaps twice ever, says “20 purchases” and the one for me, who knows every Starbucks employee in three states, says “33 purchases.” Thirty-three? Really, 33??? I’d love to see the calculations that came up with that number. And, finally, there is probably only one Starbucks near any of Our Bank’s locations, not to mention the fact that Our Bank markets itself as a hometown homegrown business — the sort of opposite of Starbucks. I wonder how well these Starbucks offers have gone over with Our Bank’s customers. Not great, I’m betting, although coffee and money are two essentials in my life.

And now for something completely different. Have you ever wondered what really happens on the other side of Friday-night lights? I’m talking about the center of high-school football: Sports desks at local newspapers. Read my weekly newspaper column to get an inside glimpse of the sprints, the tackles and the fumbles involved in getting info from dozens of games to press in the space of about a couple of hours. And you thought play-offs were stressful!