“Come as you are.” Or, um, maybe not

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‘Decoding the dress code on party invitations’

Who doesn’t love getting invited to parties? Well, maybe The Dude, actually. He’d much rather relax in his jammies in the comfort of his own home than head out to a party after a long work week. But the last two Fridays in a row have found us helping two Birthday Boys celebrate very Big Birthdays at a couple of very Big (and very nice) Parties.

One of the nice things (aside from the free-flowing champagne and hors d’oeuvres) that we appreciated about these two parties in particular was that there was no dress code. At least, not a dress code that was spelled out on the invitation. I guess the hosts (or hostesses, in these cases) figured that guests old enough to go to a birthday party without holding someone’s hand would be able to figure out how to dress.

Now, me, I love parties. And I look forward to getting party invitations of almost any kind. Including the ones with the little notes on the bottom of the invitation that tell you what to wear.

Should I wrap myself in cellophane like a bouquet from the corner deli?

Or should I make like a rosebush?

Being a dyed-in-the-wool-New-Yorker-of-40-years-and-counting, I’ll probably just don my wear-to-pretty-much-every-party basic black. Maybe I’ll carry a nosegay. Or wear rose-colored lipstick.

But back to those dress codes. I’m sure you’ve seen your share of these. ‘Jacket and tie’, ‘Formal’, ‘Semi-formal’. (Does this mean half of you is dressed up, and the other half not? You know, like a suit jacket with jeans — a look I rather like, actually.) And then there is ‘Business casual’, which, honestly, I’ve never been able to figure out, except that when I was working in advertising, being ‘casual’ while doing ‘business’ (like on Casual Fridays) inspired the guys to dress like toddlers — in tee shirts, shorts and Teva sandals. At least most of them skipped the socks.

Some girlfriends and I were discussing the more creative party dress codes the other day over lunch. One of them (hi Sue!) had us all cracking up over her interpretation of ‘Casual Chic’. She said that when she sees this on an invitation she’s tempted to show up in something like sweatpants and a head covering. And what’s ‘Beach Chic’? Rudolph Valentino in a bikini?

Speaking of ‘Casual Chic’, The Child tells me that when she was in college she and her friends kept getting invited to events calling for ‘Casual Chic’ attire, and she said it got to be a running joke because they never knew what it meant either. Though they do seem to ‘get’ ‘Formal’.

The Child and her pals at a decidedly NOT ‘Casual Chic’ event

Oh, while we’re on ‘Formal’, my favorite party of the year is one I call The Prom because I get to really dress up, which I love. It’s a dinner dance and the dress code is ‘Black Tie, White Tie, or Full Military Dress’. Which tempts me to wear combat boots with my taffeta skirt.

Me in my One Long Skirt. Without the combat boots

That picture was taken at one of my late belated Tree-Trim parties, which is how I got my Christmas tree decorated Back in The Day. (I hate decorating, but love parties, so combined the two with great success. If you’re interested, I’ve got a funny story about this called ‘(No) Tannenbaum.’ These days, with no Santa-believing Child at home, I not only skip the decorating, I skip the whole tree.

But when I did send out invitations to those Tree Trims, I admit that I was guilty of adding a little note to dress ‘Festive’. Which, to me, meant dragging out the ole taffeta skirt.

And to everyone else, ‘Festive’ meant pretty much anything they wanted. Why, my guests didn’t even have to wear the festive little crowns that came in the Christmas crackers if they didn’t want to.

The Child appropriates all the Christmas Cracker Crowns, thus saving other guests the indignity of wearing them

Nowadays I’m even more casual, if that’s possible, in my interpretation of ‘Festive.’ Given a ‘Festive’ occasion, I pretty much wear whatever I want — jeans, even — and slap a tiara on top. Yes, I actually have a tiara. My Favorite Sister got it for me a few birthdays ago, and now I wear it not only on every birthday, but pretty much every chance I get. Nobody gives me a second glance, because at my age I’m invisible anyway.

Oh! Before I go, I should explain what occasion The Dude was dressed for in that picture at the top of this post. No, he wasn’t on his way to a ‘Come as you are’ event, though that would have been wildly entertaining for our hosts. He was dressed for a birding excursion. On his motorcycle.

New York City. May 2017

Many happy returns

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‘Observing Boxing Day, the American Way’

Yes, yes, I know. ‘Many happy returns’ is something you say on someone’s birthday, not Christmas. But yesterday was ‘Boxing Day’ (and, incidentally, Monday, which is when I start pondering what the heck I’m going to write about on Tuesday).

I sort of knew that December 26 was a British Holiday that originally had to do with boxing up Christmas goodies for the servants. Who had to work (duh) on Christmas Day (see Holiday episodes of ‘Downton Abbey’ for colorful detail) so they did their celebrating the day after, with the help of said donated largesse from The Master.

But — voila! — when I looked up ‘Boxing Day’ on good ole Wikipedia, there was this secondary explanation:

In modern times, it has taken on the meaning of boxing up unwanted Christmas gifts and returning them to the shop.

Yesterday I also happened upon an article in the Wall Street Journal about stores gearing up for our kind of Boxing Day. Apparently, about 10% of all gifts bought in stores are returned, and 30% of gifts bought online are. But guess how most are returned? In stores. So the smarty-pants stores stock up on stuff that you might really like in exchange for That Thing Uncle Joe Got You. Continue reading

The gift that keeps on giving

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‘It really is the thought that counts’

First, I must extend my heartfelt apologies to The Child for using that photo up top from a Christmas-morning-in-her-early-teens-when-she’d-dyed-her-hair-an-unfortunate-hue. But it’s the only picture I could find of her actually presenting us with Christmas Coupons. So I simply could not resist.

As for the Christmas Coupons themselves, here’s one I had the foresight to save. Too bad it has, alas, expired.

I don't have a photo of The Child presenting me with this, but she was not a teen, and had normal-tinted hair at the time. I'm thinking maybe 8 or 9

I don’t have a photo of The Child presenting me with this. But I’m betting she was 8 or 9 at the time, with untinted hair and pretty impressive cursive

The Child came up with the idea of Christmas Coupons when she was barely able to scrawl with a Number Two pencil on lined paper. Instead of going to the Ben Franklin store to buy her Mommy a teensy vial of Evening in Paris (like I did for my mom, and which she probably still has), The Child would inscribe small bits of paper with promissory notes, usually for personal services. (Her foot rubs were in great demand, by her Dad anyway; I’ve never been able to let anyone anywhere near my feet.)  Continue reading

The Perfect House meets The Perfect Storm(s)

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‘The Little House that could. For a while, anyway’

A few weeks ago I told you about sharing a very small beach house with a couple of necessarily very small people.

This week’s story is about an even smaller beach house. At 450 square feet (this included the deck), it made the share-with-the-short-people boat house seem like the Taj Mahal. But at least it was ours-all-ours. It was the first house we bought, and we didn’t have to share it with anyone. Well, at least not till The Child came along.

This house was so small (around 20×20; think about it) that the whole thing could fit into the kitchen of the house we have now. And, trust me, this kitchen is pretty much a normal-sized kitchen. But darn it, that Gerard Drive house was cute. And located right on the water. Gosh, it had water on two sides.

Our teensy little house was the second one from the top (right after the squinched-in bit) on that skinny little road running down that itty-bitty piece of land that looks like an appendix. Or a Junior Florida. Or something

How could we afford this waterfront-front-and-back property? Well. The wiring was spaghetti, the insulation was nonexistent, and the plumbing? Well, when you turned on the shower, the water came on just fine — but in the closet. So we basically had to rip it down to the studs and start over. (The studs, incidentally, turned out to be recycled burned timber. Sigh.)

Looking from our bedroom into our kitchen. The good news -- and bad news? That's Gardiner's Bay outside

Looking from our bedroom into our kitchen during our ‘remodeling’. The good news — and bad news? That’s Gardiner’s Bay right outside

Well, every renovation has a silver lining. Or, um, a price that would equal, like, tons of silver ingots. But we ended up with the snuggest little shipshape house you ever did see. Everything was designed like we lived on a boat: no wasted space at all. No room for a closet in the (one) bedroom? Fine. We had a bed built with drawers in it. No room for a second story? Fine. We put a boat ladder up to a ‘loft’ (ten square feet with a futon). Add some skylights and sliders to the afore-mentioned deck, and we had ourselves all the sun-drenched room we needed. And boy, was that house easy to clean (!) Ten minutes, tops, and that included scrubbing the (one minuscule) bathroom. Continue reading

It’s a wrap

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‘Yet another Christmas has come — and gone.’

When you were a kid, did you have an Advent Calendar? If you did, you got it around the first of December, hung it somewhere handy, like on the fridge, then every day you opened this little numbered door to reveal a gift or an animal or an ornament. Whatever was behind that little door didn’t really matter. It was just fun to do, and added a sort of ‘countdown drama’ to your already-overexcited anticipation of Christmas. (BTW, I just googled ‘Advent Calendar’ and guess what? It was invented by Lutherans.)

[I remember that The Child had a particularly clever Advent Calendar (a gift, natch) made of felt with little toys and ornaments that stuck to it with velcro. It’s buried somewhere in a bag full of (now underutilized) ornaments, ready to be unearthed and pressed back into action at some future (extremely hypothetical at this point) grandchild-populated date.]

But even if you weren’t a Little Lutheran armed with an Advent Calendar, waiting for Christmas was a pretty exciting time. We Henrys got so jazzed that we called December 23rd ‘Christmas Eve Eve’ and sometimes even December 22nd was dubbed ‘Christmas Eve Eve Eve’. But that’s nothing compared to one of my Facebook friends who posted on June 25 that it was ‘just six months until Christmas’. Now that’s a person who’s really got her Christmas Countdown down. Continue reading

Who’s yer Santa?

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‘What’s more fun than believing in Santa? Hanging around with a little kid who believes in Santa’

Can you remember when you believed in Santa? I certainly can. We’d be at my Swedish Gramma Peterson’s on Christmas Eve, and we’d hear stomping around upstairs (‘Santa’s sleigh just landed on the roof!’), then here he’d come, ho-ho-hoing his way down the stairs in all his red-suited glory with a big ole pillowcase of presents slung over his shoulder.

It never occurred to me to ask why he carried a pillowcase, nor did I ask to go see the sleigh up on the roof. I never even wondered why one of my uncles was always missing when Santa was in the room. I guess I just wanted to believe in Santa.

Which uncle is missing from this picture? Gramma P, who yes, believed in Santa, eagerly awaits his Big Entrance

Which uncle is missing from this picture? That’s Gramma P, who I like to think still believed in Santa, eagerly awaiting his Big Entrance

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(N)o Tannenbaum

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‘I love The Tree. As long as somebody else decorates it.’

One of my earliest memories is of checking out the Christmas trees in the front windows of the houses in the small towns we’d pass through on our way to Gramma’s house in Northern Illinois. The radio would be playing Christmas music (‘Little Drummer Boy’ didn’t exist back then, thank god) and Dad would be driving. Usually I’d be the only one awake. Except for Dad, of course, who’d be smoking and sort of shaking his head from time to time to stay alert. Heady times.

I’d gaze at those trees through those windows and imagine the families gathered around them, the kids rattling the presents and trying to guess what was in there. Which I would do myself once we got to Gramma’s house. (You can see me, and my Oldest Younger Brother Scott, in the picture at the top of this post getting caught red-handed doing just that.)

My Aunt Marilyn, who would be home from college and in charge of Gramma and Grampa’s tree, loved decorating. She’d even decorate herself with Santa earrings and reindeer sweaters and such. She’d pick out the biggest tree she could find and go decorating crazy. I remember these lights that looked like candles. Special ornaments with stories attached. And tons of tinsel, which we called ‘icicles’. One year the tree was so big it had to be lopped off at the top to fit into the living room. She told us that tree went on up through the ceiling. And we believed her.

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