Portraits of Gratitude 2013


There’s a certain degree of perfection that people try to attain as the holidays approach. The perfect Thanksgiving meal, the best presents, the ultimate in outdoor Christmas light decorations. And I’ll admit I fall prey to it just as much as the next Joe. I find myself lured by the Siren’s call. The one that insists that everything must be homemade to be acceptable. Make your own butter! Needlepoint that pillow! Craft your own Thanksgiving centerpiece from fishing line and dried cranberries! And sometimes I succeed, patting myself on the back as I create my own Thanksgiving table runner from ribbon and construction paper. And other times I fail miserably, as evidenced by the burnt homemade granola bars now lining the bottom of my garbage can. And the pressure of being perfect, of creating the ultimate moment for your family is, dare I say, exhausting. And virtually impossible.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I feel like there is also tremendous pressure to be as grateful as you possibly can. Of savoring each and every moment of the past year and never, ever forgetting to be appreciative and humbled by the bounty of our lives. And as much as I wish I could, I just can’t seem to find the energy to be grateful all the time. I mean, I wish I could. I wish I could be one of those amazing people who go through every second of every day soaking up the wonder of life and saying little prayers of gratitude to every flower, every tree, every moment of sweetness. But I’m tired, people. And I find it almost impossible to feel grateful when I’m scraping doggie doo-doo from the bottom of my son’s tennis shoes. “Isn’t it wonderful that he had so much fun that he walked though poo without noticing! I am grateful for those small moments of happiness!” Nope. It’s just poop on a shoe. I don’t mean to say that I don’t experience moments of great thankfulness, in which I am literally overwhelmed by the beauty and sweetness of my life and the people in it. I do. And I cry over it quite often. But it’s just not every second of every day. At some point I think you have to put the grateful voice on mute in order to get the laundry done , pluck the gray hairs, and start all over again tomorrow. And that’s OK. It’s OK to be tired and cranky and ungrateful…just as long as, occasionally, you turn the volume up on that little voice that’s telling you to stop and put down the fabric softener and the tweezers and remember that even though we may be baffled by the complexities of life, at the rhyme and reason for the events that unfold before us, we can be mindful of the wonder inherent in the journey. My life is messy. It’s loud and frustrating and beautiful and sad and outrageously funny. And I wouldn’t change anything about it. But in loving my life as much as I do, there comes a freedom to be irritated by it. To loathe making lunches every morning. To cringe at the urine lurking behind the boys’ toilet. To roll my eyes each and every time my husband rearranges the dishwasher with the precision of an engineer. I think we work hard enough that we’re allowed to sigh occasionally out of complete frustration, while never forgetting how lucky we are to be irritated by anything at all. For it is in loving something so completely and so generously that we are able to feel the flip side of it, and yet still continue making the lunches, and cleaning up the pee and watching the gray hairs accumulate like a badge of honor.

That said, and in the spirit of last year’s post, I give you my 2013 Portraits of Gratitude…

I am eternally grateful that I married this guy…

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And that I can easily drive and see a place that looks like this:

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That, despite the distance, my children can have friends like this:

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And that this coffee mug exists…

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For letters like this (please note President Taft trapped in the bathtub)…

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For these two amazing, funny, crazy, inspiring boys of mine

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Who send me texts like this

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And for people who write books like this

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And students who make art like this

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And this

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And who never let me forget that I am learning from them

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For a small Beastie

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And a thespian

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That this guy picked me up from the airport

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When I got to fly across the Pond and drink tea with my dear friend

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And go back to the one place in my life that truly changed who I am

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For mother and grandmothers all rolled up into one

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For furry things

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And furrier things

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I am grateful for kitchens

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And for the friends who cheered me on as I read my heart out

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And for jumping in, white bra and all, without a single moment’s hesitation

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Let’s all give ourselves a break this Thanksgiving and aim less for perfection, and more for perfect chaos. For though we grumble and grimace, our lives are full of everything we can handle. And with each new memory, whether joyous or heartbreaking, comes a firmer ground on which to stand. (Hopefully with no dog poo on it).

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Raising the White Swimshorts, or The Battle of Turning 40


sundek-white-blue-volley-swim-shorts-men-product-3-6026934-301973630_large_flexI worry that the slow, oozing descent into middle age has already begun for me and I blame it on the swim shorts. Gone are the days of the off-the-rack one-piece. I’d say bikini, but the last time I wore one of those was in high school on Senior Ditch Day and I spent the entire afternoon rearranging it at the bottom of each and every waterslide. No, my one and only foray into bikini-dom was about as successful as my one and only foray into smoking when I singed the back of a little person’s neck at a concert with my ash. A once-in-a -lifetime experience.

So, for years I devoted myself to the one-piece, preferably with some sort of embedded cup and low hip line. And for a long time, the one-piece served me well. As well as a piece of lycra can do. But now, in its place, is the proverbial tankini, defined by a halter top and white “swim shorts” which, for some, might as well be synonymous with “I give up.” And as much as I should probably rage against the dying of my swimwear light, I’m really OK with it. I’ve settled into swim shorts with a whimper, not a yell, and I doubt I’ll ever go back.

I love my swim shorts more than is humanly appropriate. I adore them. I have, at times, taken them out of my drawer in the winter just to look at them. They have opened up a new world for me – one of independence and self-acceptance and I am forever grateful for that fateful Land’s End catalog which opened my eyes to this new and wonderful world. Gone are the days of tugging at the bottom of my swimsuit so as to avoid blinding passersby with my literally lily-white fanny. Gone are the days of walking with my legs slightly apart to give the inane impression that my thighs don’t ever rub together. And, perhaps most importantly, gone are the days of worrying incessantly about lawn maintenance. Please don’t make me elaborate. You know what I’m talking about. I’ll just say that, while the lawn is still edged, it’s not mowed within an inch of its life.

Perhaps I should be ashamed of the white swim shorts. Maybe I should fight back and use them as a reminder of what I don’t want to wear…or even use a string bikini as a carrot on a stick for a body goal. But I just don’t want to. I don’t want to fight this particular battle anymore. I’m done. I’ve Thighmastered and Nair-ed myself within an inch of my life and, as parenting books often tell us, you need to pick your battles. And this is one battle that I am happy to wave the white shorts, I mean, flag over.

Which isn’t to say that I won’t continue to fight back on certain things. My mother has always said that women of a certain age shouldn’t wear short sleeves. And as I watch my arms get older I wonder if the threat of, what I recently heard referred to as, “bingo wings” (imagine an older lady yelling “bingo!” while waving her arms around and you’ll get the reference) might force me to abandon short sleeves forever, or at least tank tops. But I’m not quite there yet. I don’t have Michelle Obama’s arms, but I do like short sleeves and spaghetti strap dresses and as long as my arms maintain some semblance of elasticity, I’ll continue along the path of resistance.

And as I watch the older ladies at my local MacCalous department store purchase a year’s worth of tent-like underpants, I wonder when I will succumb to undergarments the size of picnic blankets. But, happily, I’m not there yet either.

The gray hair dilemma has me flummoxed. I don’t have enough to really go all out on full hair dye, and yet I have enough that I periodically catch my husband, who is five inches taller than me, staring down at the faint mohawk of gray lining the part in the hair. I’ve plucked the most offensive of them, and even tried that little mascara-looking do-hickey that dyes just the little patches you apply it to. But I do wonder what I will do as the gray takes over. It’s seemingly manageable for now, but what will I do when, as my hairdresser lovingly warns, “your gray goes from spotting to heavy flow.” I’m fighting it with a mascara wand and tweezers for now.

One fight I know I need to give up is my long-standing refusal to jog. For twenty-two years I’ve put off running for recreation (I don’t count running away from things in terror) since enduring four years of cross-country and track in high school. For decades I’ve told myself, and anyone who would listen, that I’ve “done my time” running. That a high school career of lumbering along, dreaming of tripping into a ditch to end the agony, was enough to last me a lifetime. But just today I ran. I tuned into my newly crafted Spotify playlist, the aptly titled “I Hate Every Minute of This”, and ran. And while, in my mind, I’m sure I looked like Andre the Giant running away from something, I did it anyway. And I’m going to do it again tomorrow. And the next day. And hopefully the next day. Until I like it. I have to like it at some point, right? I didn’t like it for four years as a teenager, but there’s still time.

Aside from the physical aspects of turning 40, I’ve begun to consider just what routines, personality flaws and other lifetime baggage I’d like to shed by the time I hit that particular milestone. I do think I’m finally at a place where I’d like to stop worrying so much what other people think. Not in terms of suddenly being mean and nasty and barreling down my social path like a bulldozer. I mean, as I near 40, I look forward to easing into a sense of self that precludes maintaining that ever-present “third eye” that’s constantly trying to see myself as other’s see me. I’ll admit I sometimes pick out outfits more for the other people attending the party than myself. And I have, at times, come home from a party and dissected everything I said and did to make sure I didn’t come across as odd. I edit myself from making the Monty Python references. Or singing at the top of my lungs. And I think about what my butt looks like from behind. And how I come across to my friends. And what the overall image people have of me is. And, after all these years, I’m finally trying to silence these judgmental voices in my head and just be authentic. To move into a psychological space in which I’m just more welcoming of myself and who I really am.

Also, I’ve been more aware lately of the decisions I make in life and why I make them. I’ve attempted to be more carefree and take more risks when it comes to everyday pleasure. Case in point…we recently came home from our annual vacation to Maine and, while there, we had the pleasure of attending a long-time island favorite’s 80th birthday party. We celebrated with a gorgeous cocktail party on the porch of their cottage. The gin and tonics flowed, the sun set over the Atlantic and, soon after the party came to its beautiful end, my two sons wanted to jump off the high dive of the wharf because high tide was hitting later that evening. So, they trundled off to change into their swimsuits while my husband and I made our way down to the wharf to meet them for their moonlight dip.

Once there, with the moon on the water and the smell of the spruce trees and the sounds of the waves hitting the pilings, I regretted not changing into my swimsuit with the boys. Until I realized that one doesn’t necessarily need a swimsuit to take advantage of an amazing moment. Which is why I jumped off the high dive, holding the hand of my older son, wearing khakis and a white bra with the underwire sticking out. And the action of not caring, of not being eternally mindful of what I looked like to the world around me, and just seizing the moment for myself and the memories it would create, was truly liberating. Yes, my father-in-law, with his aquiline nose high in the hair, watched me from the dock, but I didn’t care. I leapt and I loved every minute of it.

Now that we’re back, and I’ve had a chance to go through the myriad photographs from that trip, I was happily reminded that my dear friend was on-hand to capture the moment. And there, among the photographs of lupines and lobster boats and gorgeous ocean vistas, is a picture of a nearing-forty woman, in mid-leap, the moon reflecting off of the underwire of her white bra. And while I wore soggy khakis instead of my white swim shorts, the freedom remained the same.

No matter how you look at it, turning 40 is a milestone. Whether socially inflicted upon us or not, the fact remains that, for many, turning 40 is like a huge age-specific New Year’s Eve. We have the opportunity to create resolutions for ourselves and enter this new epoch with, perhaps, a little less clutter. I, for one, am hopeful that my 40s will be full of new adventures and laughter and just a little less worry. That I’ll run in short sleeves, making Holy Grail references in smaller-than-a-tent underpants. And that I’ll leap, whether in soggy khakis or white swim shorts, into the cold water and love every minute of it.

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Originally posted on Museum Masters:

getting-personal-deacon-627I was so thrilled to jump-start my Winter Session of Museum Masters with an artist I admire greatly. Richard Deacon, a Welsh-born artist, writer and sculptor, has created, in my opinion, some of the most beautiful and compelling pieces of sculptural art in the world. Deacon’s sculptures are abstract and often constructed of everyday materials and, while a true artist at heart, Deacon prefers to speak of himself as a “fabricator” as opposed to a “sculptor.” In class today, we discussed Richard’s colorful childhood as the son of a doctor and a pilot who moved with his family every two years or so. We learned about his early dabblings in performance art, including his piece Stuff Box Interior in which he built a box and bolted himself inside, like an art-minded Harry Houdini! We also took a close look at some of his most famous works, including Let’s Not Be…

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A Few of My Favorite Things


Seeing as it’s my favorite time of year, and I’m one of those people who secretly listens to Christmas carols starting in September, it’s probably time to share a few of my favorite things from this season.

Here’s my top 10 list of traditions that connect me and my family to the season.

Please share any of your favorite holiday things with me. I’m always thrilled to discover new and wonderful treasures.

German Pickle Ornaments: Growing up, we always had the pickle ornament. Admittedly, we didn’t follow the German tradition that holds that whoever finds the pickle gets an extra present. Trust me, I would have won every year. I still love it when I open that little box every year and unwrap the pickle from its tissue slumber. You just have to love a glass pickle ornament. There are no two ways about it.

Giving little gifties to the neighbors: For the last few years, I’ve made cookies for each of the neighbors. It seemed to be a great idea in the beginning–as I began looking through my cookbooks and Sunset magazines for the best and most wonderful cookie concoctions this side of the Mississippi. And when I began making the cookies and the house smelled wonderful and I felt homey and domestic, it was just all fantastic.  And then, hours later, when I was covered in flour and the spritz cookies looked like lumps of playdough and I still had nine dozen cookies left to make, well, let’s just say the holiday spirit seemed to wane. So last year, I cheated big time and opted for M&Ms and candy cane Hershey’s Kisses in cute little boxes. Cheating never tasted so good!

Jackie Gleason’s Christmas Album: What many people don’t know about this particular Honeymooner is that he was a renowned band leader and composer. This album is, for me, the sound of Christmas. It is the album my parents would put on as we opened presents every year. It’s soulful, jazzy, retro and perfect for a little nip of brandy by the fire.


Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas: They used to show this on TV every year, and it’s just the sweetest thing in the world. Honestly, who could resist a show that has a song with these lyrics:
So, get the frown off your face
We’re gonna replace it with a grin and a dream come true
With a perty girl dancin’ to jug-band music
And a mess of mama’s barbecue.
They sell this on DVD and VHS at Target sometimes, so please look for it. It’s one of those rare treasures.

Handmade presents from your little ones: So far, my sons have given me tree ornaments made out of:
–A wooden spoon, the little kind that used to come with the containers of ice cream you’d get at elementary school parties in the ’70s;
–A white clay snowman that looked beautiful and was then “deconstructed” by my abstract modernist 5-year-old;
–A pine cone sculpture that puts Rodin to shame;
–A glittery snowflake tree topper.
But my favorite must be the handprint wreath wall-hanging. I mean, really? How cute could this possibly be?

Barefoot Contessa French Chocolate Bark: I’m a bit of a sucker for Ina Garten, so when I saw this holiday recipe, I couldn’t resist trying it. It’s unbelievably amazing and makes a beautiful treat to share with friends and neighbors.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Inactive Prep Time: 2 hours
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Serves: 24 pieces
Ingredients:
9 1/2 ounces very good semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
8 ounces very good bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup whole roasted, salted cashews
1 cup chopped dried apricots
1/2 cup dried cranberries
Directions: Melt the two chocolates in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water.
Meanwhile, line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Using a ruler and a pencil, draw a 9-by-10-inch rectangle on the paper. Turn the paper facedown on the baking sheet.
Pour the melted chocolate over the paper and spread to form a rectangle, using the outline. Sprinkle the cashews, apricots and cranberries over the chocolate. Set aside for two hours until firm. Cut the bark in 1-by-3-inch pieces and serve at room temperature. 2007, Ina Garten, All rights reserved.


German Pyramids: My mama has a beautiful collection of authentic German figurines, music boxes and pyramids. My favorite of all time is a large wooden Advent pyramid. You light the candles and the heat from the flame makes the propeller blades turn, which then makes the little figures around the bottom spin in a procession. It has four little doors that you open each Sunday of Advent. On my mama’s dining room table, I thought it was the most magical thing in the world. Still do.

Tom & Jerry’s: My grandma Deedles had a beautiful white Tom & Jerry bowl with little mugs to match. I prefer Tom & Jerry’s to eggnog any day of the week. The drink is sweet and warm and totally yummy. This recipe does call for uncooked eggs, which, for some of you, might be a deal-breaker. I totally understand. But for those willing to give it a try, you won’t be disappointed. 
Here’s Deedles’ recipe: 

2 eggs (I know, I know, but just bear with me)
1/3 cup sugar (superfine is best)
3 drops vanilla extract
Pinch of baking soda
2 tablespoons of your favorite whiskey or 1/2 rum and 1/2 brandy–for each serving
Scalded milk
Nutmeg (freshly ground if possible)
Directions: Beat the whites and yolks of the two eggs separately until very light. Add 1/3 cup sugar to egg whites, continuing to beat until fluffy. Add the beaten egg yolks to whites of eggs. Add three drops of vanilla and a pinch of baking soda, continuing to beat well. Put desired liquor into each mug and fill with scalded milk. Stir and sprinkle with nutmeg. Serves 8.

Dropping gift hints: Do you remember when they used to give away prizes in which you went to a store and grabbed as much stuff as you could in like five minutes? Picture desperate ladies zooming down the aisles and throwing things into their shopping cart willy-nilly. If someone would like to give me that for Anthropologie, I’d be forever grateful. Just saying.

Last, but certainly not least, See’s Scotchmallow candies: Although I’m hard-pressed to discover a See’s candy I’m not in love with, I must say, over the years–and over many, many taste tests–Scotchmallow has my vote. Honey marshmallow, caramel and chocolate. My Grandma Deedles loved them–as well as Bordeaux and apricot bon bons–and I love them, too. Have a box for me. Or send me one. I’ve been very good this year

Originally published December 2010 Walnut Creek Patch

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It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Jell-o


what mrs dewey did with the new jell-o

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it’s that time again, ladies and gentlemen! time for Deedles’ holiday jell-o salad recipe!

i don’t know about your grandmothers, but my grandmother deedles loved jell-o. jell-o molds, jell-o parfaits, jell-o with just a dollop of mayonnaise on the top…jell-o was something yummy and sophisticated and worthy of purchasing several differently sized and shaped plastic jell-o molds for various occasions. as such, i love jell-o, too. perhaps not with the mayonnaise, but i do love it – especially around the holidays when i get to make her raspberry pretzel jell-o extravaganza. curious? here’s the recipe..(trust me..it’s divine!)

RASPBERRY PRETZEL SALAD

Bottom layer:

  • 2 cups crushed pretzels
  • 3/4 cup butter, melted
  • 3 Tbs. powdered sugar

Mix butter and sugar together. Stir in pretzels. Pat out into a 9×13 pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Cool (very important to let this cool completely – keeps the crust nice and crusty…) and set aside.

Middle Layer:

  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 8 oz. cool whip, thawed
  • 1 cup powdered sugar

Beat the cream cheese until smooth. Mix in the sugar. Gently stir in the cool whip. Spread over the cooled pretzel layer.

Top Layer:

  • 3 cups boiling water
  • 1 large pkg. raspberry Jello
  • 16-20 oz. frozen raspberries

Stir Jello and water together until dissolved. Add frozen raspberries. Stir until the raspberries are separated and soft. Pour gently onto the cream cheese layer. Refrigerate several hours or overnight.

Deedles never served this as a dessert – rather she served it as an additional salad during dinner. yummy and nostalgic. What a combination!

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Speak Softly and Carry a Big Peppermint Stick, or, How to Survive the Holiday Season


photo courtesy Getty Images

photo courtesy Getty Images

It’s the holiday season. Christmas trees on the tops of cars. Shoppers bustling through the stores, peppermint mochas in hand. Squeezing into that little black dress for the holiday party next weekend. It is indeed a wonderful (albeit Spanx-ridden time). But if you’re like me, there are moments when it all seems a little overwhelming. When trying to balance the spirit of goodwill with the holiday to-do list seems almost impossible. Yesterday, I was trying to get a little Christmas shopping done at BroadwayPlaza, the ringing of Salvation Army bells in my ears. I was looking through the window of the Kate Spade store (pardon the drool) when a woman (you know who you are, my dear) literally pushed me into the wall with her shopping bags and muttered “move it” as she passed. And as initially irate as I was, I recognized in her that frantic holiday feeling I get sometimes – that feeling that everything has to be absolutely perfect and Martha Stewart-like in order for it to be a happy holiday at all.

I knew how she felt – shopping bags askew, gift list a mile long, cookies to bake, school holiday parties to plan – and I realized that I, too, could be just like her. Forgetting what the season is all about and becoming mired down in the details. But not this year. No, this year I’m going to approach the holidays with a little less zeal and a little more Zen – and here’s how you can too.

1)      You don’t have to cook everything

Here’s a little secret. When it comes to food, most of the time people can’t tell if something is homemade or store-bought. Certain things, yes. Like chocolate chip cookies, for example. There is literally nothing in the entire world like a homemade Nestle Toll House chocolate chip cookie. Except maybe two Nestle Toll House chocolate chip cookies. But typically, there’s not a whole lot of sense behind driving yourselves bonkers making puff pastry from scratch or chopping basil for 3 days to craft homemade pesto. Now, I’m not saying you should never go all out and cook every single thing from scratch. I committed to doing it for a month this year (don’t ask) like some sort of crazed pioneer woman. And, while there were fleeting moments of blissful domesticity, honestly, I couldn’t wait until the month was over.  For some reason, when the holidays come around, there’s this sense that if you didn’t make it, you’re going to ruin the entire holiday season. I can’t tell you how many women at dinner parties feel compelled to confess that they’ve “cheated” on the dinner by buying certain dishes. That’s not cheating. That’s mitigating insanity. And I’m all for it. So for yourHoliday party this year, lay down your apple corers and pasta makers, pry your clenched fingers from the rolling pins and juicers and do yourself a favor. Hop on down to Trader Joe’s and treat yourself to some frozen appetizers, pop them in the oven and, when everyone asks how you could have possibly made such delightful delicacies, smile and proudly tell them you bought them in the freezer aisle. Cause that’s how you roll.

2)      Your presents don’t have to look perfect

Now, if you know me at all, you know that I’m obsessed with paper. I’m the crazy lady who strolls through the container store admiring the wrapping paper for fun. And for many years, I succumbed to my inner demons and worked my fingers to the bone creating “the perfectly wrapped present.” A lot of this is genetic, since my mother is the quintessential present wrapper. Her gifts are like pieces of fine art – gorgeous papers, exquisitely tied ribbons – and my DNA is programmed to follow in her scotch-taped footsteps. But last year when I found myself covered in paper cuts and muttering under my breath with each package, I realized that I was only doing this to maintain some sort of image. Do my children care if the ribbon picks up a subtle accent color in the wrapping paper? Do they really mind if the corners aren’t creased perfectly as they tear through each present like little hurricanes? No. What’s more, why, oh, why didn’t I allow those nice teenagers at Barnes & Noble to wrap my presents for me? This year, I’m taking a deep breath and when someone offers me free gift wrap, I’m going to say “Of course!” and watch them as I sip my non-fat peppermint mocha in peace.

3)      You don’t have to decorate every square inch of your house

Now, I truly need to take a dose of my own medicine on this one. Every year I am compulsive about filling every nook and cranny of my home with Christmas decorations. The tube sock snowman my son made in kindergarten? Right here! The oversized German woodcutter nutcracker? Over there! Enough lights on the tree to illuminate a small village? Of course! And I do it because I think my children can’t survive without living inside a replica of Santa’s workshop. But it’s not necessary. Yes, there are certain decorations with lovely sentimental value, like pickle ornaments and stockings my husband’s grandmother made, but overall if you find yourself going crazy as each plastic storage box of decorations is emptied, then take a break from the madness. Decide with decorations you adore and which ones you just put up because you’ve gotten into the habit of it. This year I left a lot of decorations in the box, like the paper mache Santa from our old neighbor. Because, honestly, the paper mache Santa from our old neighbor belongs in the box.

4)      You can stop and smell the fruitcake

Finally, the best advice I can give during this busy holiday season is to take a moment and enjoy it. Before our wedding, a dear friend told gave us a piece of sage wisdom – to, at some point during the reception, just stand quietly and take it all in. Reflect on the fact that all of your friends and family are there to celebrate you and remember what the day is truly for. The same advice works wonders for the holiday season. Take a minute. Smell the fruitcake. Sit in your living room next to a nice fire, listening to Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald sing “Baby it’s Cold Outside”. Put on your pajamas and watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” with your kids. Meet a friend for coffee and laugh. Just take a few moments for yourself. Remember all that makes this season wonderful and give your loved ones an extra squeeze from me. For that is worth more than homemade pesto anyday.

*Originally published December 2010 Walnut Creek Patch

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The Best Holiday Music for Every Occasion


It’s that time again! Time to dust off your Christmas CDs, tapes and albums, create new holiday playlists on your iPods and browse the music sections at your favorite music store for the perfect jingle. (Incidentally, I think I’m dating myself by referring to Christmas “albums,” but I do still have my parents’ “Christmas with Ray Conniff” on vinyl.) For me, there is always a perfect album for every special Christmas moment – and here are a few of my favorites:

For listening with your children

A Christmas Together: John Denver and the Muppets

Best Track: “The Twelve Days of Christmas”

Second Best: “A Baby Just Like You” Not only does this album feature the irreplaceable John Denver singing some of the most beautiful carols of the season, it highlights all of your favorite Muppet characters: Miss Piggy, Kermit, Fozzy Bear, Gonzo … even Animal makes an appearance on “Little Saint Nick.” For me, the highlight of the album is “The Twelve Days of Christmas” if for no other reason than you get to hear Miss Piggy’s warbly soprano on “five golden rings.” For those of us who grew up with the Muppets, it’ll be a walk down memory lane. And for those too young to remember, it’s a timeless introduction to the wonder of Jim Henson.

For a retro holiday cocktail party

Christmas Album: Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass

Best Track: “My Favorite Things”

Second Best: “Winter Wonderland”

In 1962, Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass debuted with a new sound – trumpets and beats and a distinctive Latin flair. Their aptly titled “Christmas Album” is the perfect mix of holiday favorites and retro brilliance. Imagine a Mad Men holiday party with margaritas. My favorite track is Alpert’s rendition of The Sound of Music’s “My Favorite Things.” You can’t help but smile and swing your hips. And be sure to listen to “Winter Wonderland.” It makes me think of Mary Tyler Moore in the snow.

For motivation while wrapping presents

A Very Special Christmas Vol. 1: Various Artists

Best Track: “Christmas in Hollis” by Run DMC

Second Best: “Merry Christmas Baby” by Bruce Springsteen

What were you doing during the holidays in 1987? If you’re anything like me, you were listening to the fabulous compilation album, A Very Special Christmas Vol. 1. This benefit collection features such greats as The Pretenders singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and Stevie Nicks’ haunting version of “Silent Night.” But the best has to be Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis.” Honestly, you hear those first chords and the beat behind, and you’ll be wrapping presents with renewed rhythm and swagger. And don’t miss Bruce Springsteen’s “Merry Christmas Baby.” The Boss has outdone himself.

For sitting by the fire with your sweetie

Christmas Songs: Diana Krall

Best Track: “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”

Second Best: “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”

There’s just something about Diana Krall. Her voice is deep and rich and just makes you feel sultry and cool. Her Christmas Songs album is a fantastic accompaniment to sitting by the fireplace, maybe even with someone cute. There’s something remarkably simple about her singing – no bells and whistles – just a beautiful voice and a little piano and snare drum. “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” has never sounded so good.

For those moments when a little country is needed

Now That’s What I Call a Country Christmas: Various Artists

Best Track: “Silent Night” by Johnny Cash

Second Best: “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” by Burl Ives

This album is a veritable goldmine of country greats: Brad Paisley, George Strait, Kenny Chesney, Brooks & Dunn – just to name a few. Where else can you find Johnny Cash singing “Silent Night” and Daruis Rucker (yes, Hootie) belting out “Winter Wonderland”? With 29 songs to choose from, you’re sure to find something to get those boots tapping. And don’t miss Burl Ives singing “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” from the 1964 television special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

For those of you who wanted to be in an a cappella group in college (or just like in Glee)

Holiday Spirits: Straight No Chaser

Best Track: “12 Days of Christmas Live”

Second Best: “This Christmas”

I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for a cappella. And, yes, I watch Glee. But my adoration for this accompaniment-less genre really started in college when “The Mendicants” (one of the myriad a cappella groups on campus) came to sing at my freshman dorm and I swooned. Since then, I’ve kept up my love for all things harmonic – especially Indiana University’s own Straight No Chaser. If you haven’t heard them, maybe you’ve seen them on YouTube – their video of “The 12 Days of Christmas” has more than 8 million hits and you can see why. Their melodies and personalities are infectious and you’ll love how 80s band Toto makes a seamless appearance during those twelve days.

For no reason other than it’s wonderful

A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Vince Guaraldi Trio

Best Track: “O Tannenbaum”

Second Best: “Linus and Lucy”

Who could forget Charlie Brown and his poor little Christmas tree – so small and forlorn? The long-running television special is still a favorite of mine and my boys look forward to it all year long. I think one of the secrets to its longevity is the soundtrack – masterfully composed by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. This album, with its jazzy bass guitar and soulful piano, is a wonderful addition to any holiday collection – with the added benefit of the Peanut’s theme song, “Linus and Lucy.” You’ll be-bop right along to the music in spite of yourself.

I could go on. Willie Nelson and Norah Jones singing “Baby, it’s Cold Outside”…Frank Sinatra singing “Jingle Bells”…Johnny Mathis singing “Sleigh Ride”… Sara Bareilles singing “Winter Song”…and, especially, The Weepies singing “All That I Want”…much like Nick and Norah, I have an infinite playlist. And I’m always looking for something new. I’d love to hear your holiday favorites…for every occasion!

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