Time to undeck those halls

Standard

‘Christmas is a wrap.’

No, I didn’t have to go to the City last week.

There I was, comfortably ensconced on our well-worn Amagansett couch — pile of knitting on my left, stack of New Yorkers on my right — when I realized that I had not seen the Metropolitan Museum Christmas tree.

That’s me, making like a Medieval ornament at the Met

I had nary a doctor’s appointment or lunch date or party invitation. My calendar was clean. But I knew that if I didn’t get myself back to the City and up to the Met, I would miss seeing the Christmas tree. Because, like almost every other Christmassy Thing in New York City, it would disappear after January 6.

January 6, you see, is Epiphany. Or Three Kings Day. Or the Twelfth Day of Christmas. Whatever you call it — well, except for the Day The “Patriots” Stormed the Capitol — it is more or less the end of Christmas. (Hmmm, I guess the Day They Stormed the Capitol was kinda the end of Christmas, too.)

But back to decorations. After January 6, people untrim their trees, dismantle their mantels, take down their lights. Well, except for the Russian Tea Room. They famously leave theirs up all year ’round.

She’s not Russian, and this isn’t a tea room, but I have a friend who decided to leave this up all year round. And who wouldn’t?

To be honest, taking down the decorations used to be my favorite part of Christmas.

Oh, I enjoyed looking at decorations. As long as someone else put them up. For some reason I’ve never been fond of hanging shiny balls or strewing tinsel. And don’t get me started about stringing lights. (See one of my takes on this in “Deck the Halls with Bough of Holly.”)

The extent of our Amagansett Christmas decor: a bowl of ornaments

Why, back in the day I disliked decorating so much that I used to bribe my friends with champagne and pot roast to get them to come over and decorate the tree for me. (See “(N)o Tannenbaum” for delicious deets.) This went on for years until The Child grew up and left the house — taking my Tree Trim urge right with her.

Our last Tree Trim Party. We held it on Jan. 6 and “undecorated” the tree. Needless to say, this tradition did not “stick”

But somehow this year felt different. I liked looking at all the pretty lights. I liked smelling all the evergreens. I even liked setting out my bowl of ornaments and my little ceramic tree with the teensy train that goes round and round its base.

And I kinda didn’t want to put them away.

But put them away I did. Then went and poured myself a bourbon.

The little ceramic tree, before I (sniff) put it away

New York City. January 2023

 

 

Peace on Earth, Good Will toward Socks

Standard

‘The Child’s footwear phobia, conquered at last?’

It’s been cold here in the Great Northeast. Why, last weekend, the temperature dropped from 51 to 15 in twelve hours. But it’s even colder where Her Childness has been spending the Holidays. She reported twenty-nine below on Christmas Day up in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where the SIL’s family — bless their rugged little hearts — is based.

Forget the frankincense and myrrh. Somebody bring the Holy Family a space heater

And what has The Child been doing every single day she’s been up there in the Frozen North? Why, running, of course. She made a resolution at the beginning of the year to run every single day, no matter what. And, by golly, she’s kept it. Neither rain nor snow nor sleet has kept her from her appointed running rounds. All year long.

What happens when you run every day — including days when it’s -29

I’m not worried about the running-in-all-weathers. Nope, as a Concerned Parent, I’m just hoping that she’s had an attitude adjustment toward socks. 

See, when Her Childness was an actual child, she hated socks. (Well, except for her Christmas stocking, which you see her brandishing in the picture at the top of this post.) It wasn’t a fashion issue, the hating-sock thing; she was notoriously anti-fashion, preferring to dress with the utmost simplicity. She once rejected a gift tee-shirt because it was embellished with a practically microscopic applique of a flower.

I trust there are socks down there. Somewhere

No, it was the way socks felt. Apparently, they crumpled up and caused great distress to her tender little feet. If I didn’t get them on just right, she’d howl. During the normal course of things this didn’t bother me too much. I’d just skip the socks. Though I did get sharp looks from well-meaning interfering old ladies. “Aren’t her feet cold, dear?” “Well yes. And so is her head, since I can’t keep a hat on her either.”

Now, a mixing bowl on her head? Different story

The problem was school. There was a uniform, which, one would think, would make dressing every day a breeze. But this uniform included socks. Which meant that dressing every day was a battle.

The Child, at prime sock-hating age, dressed in her school uniform. You can’t see them, but there are socks on her feet. I think

Middle Younger Brother Roger can attest to this. Once, after a lovely visit with him and Aunt Nobody-Doesn’t-Like-Jenn, we almost missed our flight home — we were going directly from the airport to school — because we couldn’t get the socks to feel right. (Somewhere there is photographic evidence of this; in this long-lost-but-memorable shot, The Child wails while Roger holds aloft the Offending Sock.)

She likes some socks, at least socks on other people. She gave me these as a gift one year

Could antipathy toward socks be an inherited trait? There are some pretty wacky inherited traits. (See “Hands on Clocks, Hands on Hips” for a particularly nutty example.) I wonder because The Child’s great uncle Buddy never ever wore them — not even riding his bike in the dead of winter. (He never drove, either.) Of course it didn’t get down to minus 29 here in Amagansett. But if it did, I betcha, being a Whitmore, he would have stuck to his sockless guns.

A Whitmore Wish to all for a warm — and warm-sock-filled — Holiday Season

Amagansett, New York. December 2022

 

How much is too much to pay for a party dress?

Standard

‘Read this before handing over your credit card’

Apologies for being (sort of) late with this week’s post. Unless you’ve been living under an undecorated rock, you too have been attending party after holiday party and don’t have a lot of time for relaxing pursuits like blog writing.

Part of the fun of these parties, for me anyway, is dressing up. What’s the fun of going to a party if you can go “casual?” Since I retired, “casual” is how I dress pretty much 24/7. I like a little duding up.

Speaking of “duding up,” here’s his Dudeness looking extremely spiffy in black tie. Dressing up is so easy for guys

I was at a party last week where I admired a woman’s earrings. (Hi, Elizabeth!)  Coincidentally, we were both talking to another woman who was also wearing stunning sparkly earrings. (Hi, Kim!) Turns out they both got them at the same time, from the same jeweler. And they both spent outrageous sums on them. (No, I did not ask how much.)

I’ve worn this fur hat so much it’s now practically free. Read on to see what the heck I mean

Their Spending Guilt prompted me to reassure them with my CPW Theory. Simply put, CPW (Cost Per Wearing) means that the true cost of an item of apparel is not how much money you spend on it. No, the true cost of that item is how much money it costs each time you wear it. In other words, it’s the cost of the item divided by the number of times you wear said item.

This taffeta skirt is the same taffeta skirt in the previous shot of dressed-up peeps in an elevator. The elevator wearing was 22 years ago. But there was a glitch this last time: read “Skirting the Issue” to find out what it was

Say you spend $500 for a coat. (Is this expensive? It’s been years since I bought a coat.) Anyway. If you pay 500 bucks for a coat and wear it once, well that coat cost $500. But you usually don’t wear a coat just once, do you? I have a black plaid Burberry that I’ve owned for 20 years that I’ve worn, oh gosh, 20 years. That’s 20 winters at 4 months a winter at 4 weeks per month times 3 days a week. That’s 960 times. Even if that coat cost a thousand bucks — which it didn’t; I got it on sale — its true cost is about a buck a wearing.

Too bad you can’t see the rest of the Burberry coat here. Trust me, it’s a keeper

On the other hand, say you pay a mere pittance for something like a bargain at Target or TJ Maxx. Something like a spangly top for $20. (Yes, I have done this.) I fell for the spangly top, wore it once, then gave it away. It was sort of itchy and hot, and very very spangly. So guess what? According to the CPW Theory, that was not a cheap top. It cost me $20 per wearing. So. More expensive than the Burberry.

(Notice that I am wearing a sort of spangly top in the photo of The Child and Me admiring ourselves in the mirror while drinking Birthday Veuve. That’s not the top. This one I got on e-Bay. For 80 bucks. So far I’ve worn it twice. But it’ll get out there again. You’ll see.)

The only downside to practicing CPW is that, if you wear an item enough, people start to recognize it. As in, “Oh! I remember you — I recognize that dress.” Which happened with this one. So I finally gave it away

Back to that Burberry coat for a sec. Every time I wear it, I get a compliment. So there’s that. In fact, I told my earring-bedecked friends that even if they didn’t wear those pricey earrings lots and lots of times, they could modify the CPW Theory to be Compliment Per Wearing. So. Still a good investment, I say.

I’ll close with the ultimate in CPW, as practiced by the one and only Child.

New York City. December 2022

“I can’t believe I read the whole thing.”

Standard

‘Literary taste: The Food Theory of Books’

I’ve actually written about this before — how books are like food. Check out my fifth-ever post from (gasp) 2014. I called it “Tolstoy is So Tasty,” because, like beets, I didn’t know how delicious War and Peace would be until I actually tried it.

It’s no War and Peace, but this book was also waaaay more delicious than you’d think (!)

But tonight I am going to an event featuring Andre Soltner, he of the late lamented Lutece fame, and I got to thinking about this whole topic — how reading is a lot like eating — and decided to give it another go. (Also, it’s the Christmas season, and though I do very little decorating — see “Deck the Halls with Bough of Holly” — and send absolutely no cards, I have been holiday-busy, mainly going to a lot of holiday-themed events. Which involves little work other than dressing up, but does make me blog-lazy, to say the least.)

Holiday Decorating, Ken & Barbie House style

So. In “Tolstoy is So Tasty”, I explain how some books are like a good dinner: satisfying, filling, memorable. As a bonus, they inspire conversation.

Continue reading

“I want to see what I’m eating”

Standard

‘Let there be light. Very bright light.’

We were about to introduce “Tell No One,” a really great multi-watchable movie (I’ve seen it at least a dozen times) to our multi-Thanksgivingable pals Jim and Phyllis (they’ve been Turkey Guests at least 20 times) when Jim says, “I think we could dim those lights, can’t we?”

Jim, bless his dimmer-loving heart, just secured a Thanksgiving invitation for at least the next 20 years. Or as long as I can lift a 20-pound turkey. (Probably not 20 years, but one can hope.)

That’s Jim (in red shirt) describing a cheese. (Note turned-off ceiling lights) Of course, it is still daytime. Barely

See, I hate bright lights. Especially bright ceiling lights. In fact, if it were up to me, there would be no ceiling lights. Just discreetly placed table lamps. Maybe a standing lamp here and there.

I am particularly fond of cabinet lighting, like this in the Ken & Barbie House *sigh*

But guess who loves lights, the brighter the better? Three guesses, and the first two don’t count.

Continue reading

Stuffing and Nonsense

Standard

‘Nothing’s on the back burner this week’

My cart at the IGA this morning actually inspired comment from my fellow shoppers. “Wow, you sure have a lot of cooking to do!” (“That I do, that I do.”) “You must be expecting a crowd!” (“Not so many. But they’re young!”) And my favorite: “Such gorgeous short ribs. So meaty!” (Sage nod.)

What happens to 15 nice meaty short ribs. I have a batch cooling right now. This is what I serve Friday when everyone’s sick and tired of turkey

See, not only did I have a twenty-pound turkey propped up in the cart’s kiddie seat, but I had a Saran-Wrapped slab of fifteen big old beef short ribs balanced on top. The rest of the cart was filled with various and sundry: Granny Smith apples (for the pies), cranberries (for the sauce and the pies), plus breads, milks, tons of deli meats and loads of snacks to keep the Young’ns at bay. (Note: this was just the perishable stuff. I’d shopped for all the nonperishable stuff on Sunday.)

Continue reading

The Dude shares a bird-day

Standard

‘Felicitations to a newly-minted 70-year-old, his cousin — and some future purple martins’

Last Thursday Dude Man celebrated a Very Big Birthday — his seventieth. (Gosh, that birthday is not only big, it’s really hard to type.)

Oh. If any of you are shocked — shocked, I say! — at my “outing” my husband’s age in this public way, let me assure you that I’ve already outed myself. I turned big ole scary 70 last November — and boldly and unabashedly wrote about it too. See my story “Skirting the Issue” for proof. (And fun party details.) See also “Doing the Math” for how one’s attitude changes upon reaching this hoary landmark.

 

Me, celebrating 70 in style — and with a heck of a lot of veuve

But enough about my birthday. We’re here to celebrate Dude Man and his 70 trips around the sun. Speaking of the sun, he happens to own a gizmo called a “sun scope” which he sets out on the second-floor deck and commandeers all and sundry to come up and squint through. Yes, you can see the sun. Okay, fine. But somehow I don’t quite get it.

The sun scope wasn’t a present. No, we’ve reached the stage in our relationship where we pretty much get what we want on our own. (Like that, um, sun scope.) Though I did get a request from The Dude. He wants a nice notebook in which to record the antics of his gift from Mother Nature — a flock of martins.

Dude Man’s martin house. There are martins in there. Finally. And yes, that’s the ocean in the background. I mean, what martin wouldn’t want to live here?

It was about fifteen years ago when The Dude got his martin house. And every year he’s cleaned it and doctored it (more gourds, fewer gourds, higher gourds) and watched over it. He’s opened the little doors, closed the little doors, mounted some of the gourds on the roof. Last year he played a loop of martin songs on an old iPhone that he rigged to a tree. (Incidentally, you can see the martin house over The Child’s shoulder in the photo at the top of this post.)

Nothing. For fifteen looooong years.

Then, this year two showed up. Then three, then four. They chased away some wren interlopers and kicked out a pair of flycatchers who’d settled in, eradicating their nesting materials with contemptuous tosses of their beaks.

And, on Dude Man’s birthday, this happened:

Martin eggs. Yes, you can lower the whole martin rig and open little doors on the gourds to look inside. The martins don’t mind. At least I hope not

Even more exciting (for me anyway) somebody else besides martins flew in. Last Sunday I got a call. Child: “Hey, what are you doing for Dad’s birthday?” Me: “I offered him a party, but he said no way. So we’re going to Smith & Wollensky.” “Really? Would it be okay if we came? It’s a Big Birthday.” “Of course you can come. He’d love that!”

News spreads of The Child and Hub joining us. But no, that bird is not a martin

Now, Her Childness lives in Flagstaff, Arizona — which is not exactly a hop, skip and a jump away. Which is why I hadn’t bothered to mention this dinner to her. But guess what? She booked herself and the SIL on a flight that got in the afternoon of the dinner. And when that flight was cancelled, they drove to Tuscon to catch a flight that would get them there.

“But what about the cousin?” you may well be asking.

Here’s the cousin (in back) sharing a snake — instead of a cake — with Young Dude (in front)

This cousin — a Whitmore; no doubt he puts his hands on his hips Backwards-style — has a birthday a couple of days after Dude Man, so we often get together in Amagansett to commiserate (er, celebrate.) And this year was no exception.

The other end of the birthday table, featuring Dude and SIL — and Carvel cake

So. Birds flew in. Kids flew in. And a cousin was the icing on the cake. Happy Birthday times were had by all!

Amagansett, New York. June 2022

 

 

 

Taking motherhood to a whole new level

Standard

‘In The Heights On Christmas Day’

“It’s not rational,” I said as I lamely tried to explain my fear of heights to my pretty-much-100%-fearless son-in-law. “It’s emotional. Visceral, even. I react to a cliff the same way I’d react to, well, a snake.”

“You’re scared of snakes?” was his befuddled reply.

Well, yes. As you know if you’ve read my piece “The Year of the Snake,” I have a very well-developed (and healthy, in my opinion) fear of snakes. A fear that I have yet to conquer.

But I’ll have you know that this Christmas I faced my fear of heights in fine fettle. By hiking the South Kaibab Trail in the Grand Canyon. Without fainting or shaking or cringing. Much.

Me, not shaking all that much, pausing to gloat on the Kaibab Trail

Sure, I didn’t hike the whole trail — it’s seven miles all the way down. But, for a person who can’t even stand on the top rung of a ladder to change a screeching smoke alarm at three in the morning (see “Things That Go Shriek in the Night”) climbing down — and back up — a mile of steep, icy, rocky switchbacks is a pretty darned proud-making accomplishment.

It all started Christmas morning. “Hey, it looks like a great day to visit the Grand Canyon!” was The Child’s delighted cry after opening presents. “We’ll do a Christmas hike!”

I didn’t object, but, needless to say, I didn’t join in the general glee. And I was quiet on the almost-one-hour drive from Flagstaff to the South Rim. Too quiet.

Even the roadside stop at Jerky Guy’s stand failed to get a rise out of me

The rest of our carload sang along to country music and nibbled on snacks while I quietly composed my eulogy. All too soon, The Child shouted, “Look out to the left! There it is: the Grand Canyon!” And yes. There it was: magnificent, massive — and oh so very very deep. I’m glad no one took my picture. Continue reading

The Ghost of Christmas Presents

Standard

‘Thinking back on a battery of gifts’

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time wielding a corkscrew. I envy people like The Dude or even my Favorite Sister who, when I complain about not being able to wrest a cork out of a bottle, go “Oh, but it’s so easy. You just slip this gizmo here, lift, and there you go!”

A unopened bottle of wine serves as a pacifier during a family reunion. (Pretty much the only thing an unopened bottle of wine is good for)

I’m especially jealous because they both swear by those mysterious (to me, anyway) waiter-style corkscrews. When I can’t even get a bottle open with a Rabbit.

But guess what? Problem solved. A little elf named Jeff (one of my Mom’s buds at her newish home, the senior-living facility where I’m visiting her right now) listened to me whine the other day over Morning Coffee and said, “You should get one of those electric corkscrews.”

That’s not me capturing the mountains out the window on the way to visit my Mom — it’s some random person with an iPad. But the mountains are stunning, eh?

Of course I’d never heard of any such thing. An electric corkscrew? What’ll they think of next? An electric knife? (Hah-hah, they have. My Dad was an early adopter. Also of the electric toothbrush. The Christmas where he gave one of those to my mom will forever live on in infamy.)

Was this the Christmas of the Electric Knife? Hard to say, though the decade seems about right

Well. Not only did Jeff extoll the virtues of the electric corkscrew, he zoomed off to his apartment and, within minutes, had zoomed back with something in hand. “Here. Take this. I already have one. Merry early Christmas! Do you have batteries?” Continue reading

“Your turkey or your life!”

Standard

‘The time I was mugged on my way to Thanksgiving dinner’

I did a little calculating this week and realized that this will be the 25th time I’ve hosted Thanksgiving dinner out here in Amagansett.

Flippin’ the Bird at one of those 25 Flippin’ Feasts

Yup. My first turkey and fixins’ for a crowd was in 1995 — when the “crowd” was my Mom and my Dad and The Dude — and The Child when she was an actual child. There may have been Others here as well. If so, it would have been our Same-Age-Best-Friends, J and P. I’ll have to ask them. They (of course) will be here this year.

An even-earlier Amagansett T’giving, when The Child was so small that we tied her to a kitchen stool with a bathrobe sash, having no high chair out here at the time

If you’re good at math, you’ve no doubt found a discrepancy in mine. “But every Thanksgiving since ’95 makes 26 times, not 25,” you might be thinking. And you’d be right. One year (2009) I was persuaded to skip the Amagansett Thanksgiving because The Child, who was a college freshman at the time, wanted to have Thanksgiving in the City so she could see her friends.

Speaking of “seeing friends,” here’s a batch from a few Turkey Days ago

Well. That year we enjoyed a perfectly-nice (but rather sedate) feast at Wayne’s Club. But The Child was fruitless in her attempts to connect — turns out all her friends were celebrating in away-from-the-City family hoedowns of their own. Continue reading