Category Archives: Hearth and Home

Matched set

A Boxing Day in the life of a word nymph:

She didn’t hit the mall at all this week, opting instead to stay home and gorge herself on fattening leftovers. She contemplated why a family of two—expanded to four for the holiday—needed three pecan pies, seven pounds of ham (after having cancelled her ham order when another appeared on the doorstep), a large turkey breast, two smoked salmon filets, two crates of oranges, and infinite cookies, truffles, nonpareils, candied nuts and salted caramels. She is now prepared for the Blizzard of 2012, when she’ll be cast in the role of Snowman.

She’s not just stocked with with comestibles, but with readables as well. She received several new wordie books this season, so prepare for meaty discussions on such things as Anguished English. Meanwhile, though, we find her struggling with storage:

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m the lucky recipient of a panoply of reference books on all things wordish. Readers from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Rome, Georgia, have sent me their treasured tomes, which I’m proud to display prominently in my office.

I have two bookcases here, one devoted to fiction and frivolity and another to my profession and my hobby, so intertwined that they mingle well on the shelves.

About halfway through this year, my collection of communications-related material officially exceeded its shelving capacity. I knew that a set of nice bookends would allow me to expand stylishly to the top of the bookcase.

When Santa was unable to process my request for bookends, perhaps because they were too heavy for the sleigh, I took matters into my own hands. For years I’ve considered what kind of decorative bookends would suit me best. This is where you come in.

For background, I almost feel as though I should take you on a tour of my office, much like Vanity Fair’s monthly spotlight on the contents of various celebrities’ desks, but I’ll save that for another day. For this exercise, let me say simply that my office features two predominant themes, reflecting my interests in the written word and international travel. There is also a host of old family treasures and several pieces of hand-made pottery of varying origin.

After Christmas I embarked on an online dig for the right bookends. I have a pair waiting in an Amazon.com shopping cart. Right now, they’re my first choice but, before I finalize the deal, I’d thought I’d solicit your input.

Here’s the space in which they will go, followed by five finalists. Which ones do you find most suitable for a well-traveled, slighly off-balance word geek?

The space

A to Z

Leaning Ladies

Porch of the Maidens Acropolis

Roman Colosseum

Stop Hand

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Filed under Hearth and Home, Reading

A tough act to follow

Over the last 10 days, I’ve approached the keyboard to spill my latest observations. I’ve started several blog posts, all of which remain unfinished, like the homework assignments of my less productive youth.

Each time, a distraction beckoned and I fled my desk chair—to tend to a client, an errand, a chore, a phone call, a doorbell, a cat, a newspaper, an egg timer, or a call of nature. Let’s just call it seasonal attention deficit.

A week’s worth of grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning are finished now, on the eve of December 23rd, as finally I sit quietly, with my feet on a pillow, laptop atop my lap, glass of wine nearby, committed to reflect quietly before the Yuletide.

It’s times like this I wish I could communicate with my late mother-in-law, who used to make the most wonderful Christmases.

Many years in a row, on December 23rd, we pulled into her driveway in Shelby, North Carolina, where the streets were lined with luminaries. We walked into the house to the smell of pot roast and pound cake. Her pound cake was the best, but at Christmastime, it snuggled beneath a warm blanket of caramel frosting. For days, she pampered us with our favorite drinks, savory hors d’oeuvre, special ordered breakfast ham, homemade pecan pie, ambrosia that took hours and hours to make. The house was beautifully decorated and the bed sheets crisp and line dried.

Christmas morning brought one thoughtful gift after another, perfectly wrapped. She would sit straight up, on the edge of the sofa, hands clasped between her knees, delighting in our smiles as we opened our gifts. Every year, after all gifts had been opened, she brought out one last surprise for each of the three of us, my husband, his brother and me. It was always the same sized box—three inches square, tied with an elastic gold ribbon, and holding inside a crisp one-hundred-dollar bill. She and my father-in-law likely didn’t have it to spare, but they knew how deeply we needed, wanted and appreciated it.

She allowed everyone to nap or watch sports until dinner and then again after the big meal, while she and her husband washed all the dishes.

When it was time for us to leave, she packed turkey sandwiches with Duke’s mayonnaise and sliced dill pickles wrapped in foil into a cooler, along with several cans of Coca-Cola (and occasionally a can or two of Schlitz) for the ride home, and waved good-bye from the porch.

As a young bride, I never gave the first thought to what kind of preparation this all required. She made it look so effortless. No sighing, no brow-wiping, no complaining, no asking for help in the kitchen.

She passed away right after Thanksgiving in 1993. After the funeral, her sister asked my help in cleaning out her things. We came to the closet where the Christmas decorations were stored. Her sister regarded the stacked boxes of glass balls and garland. She turned to me and said, “Nancy always hated Christmas.”

Nancy, if you can read this, please know you’re my hero and my inspiration. I’ve tried to make a beautiful Christmas for my family, as you did. I just can’t seem to control the sighing, brow wiping, complaining, or asking for help in the kitchen. How ever did you do it?

18 Comments

December 22, 2011 · 11:13 pm

Waring thin

December relics, part two

This time of year I spend a lot of time standing at the intersection of Memory Lane and Frustration Freeway.

Yesterday, I took you on a tour of my aging crèche. Last December you kindly indulged me in accounts of favorite holiday movies (including a really old one), traditional cookies and some pleasant and less pleasant family rituals.

Today, I remember Fred Waring.

From my youngest days, the definitive holiday album in our house was The Sounds of Christmas, by Fred Waring and The Pennsylvanians (sometimes called His Pennsylvanians). I’m pretty sure this record made its way into our home about the same time I did.

You can go online and read all about Fred Warning who, by the way, was also promoter, financial backer and namesake of the Waring Blendor. Yes, with an o.

There were songs on that album that you don’t hear—at least I haven’t heard—on other collections:  “I Wonder as I Wander,” “Go Where I Send Thee,” for example. I always loved his rendition of “Caroling, Caroling.”

The pops and cracks of the LP are essential elements of the audio experience, and they transferred well when my mother copied the record to a cassette tape for me one year. Short of digging a boom box out of the basement, though, there’ll be no easy way for me to enjoy The Sounds of Christmas this year.

Amazon would be happy to sell me a CD version for 99 dollars. Another site offers a CD copy of the LP for $24, but “to abide by copyright laws, you must own the vinyl record to buy the CD. If you don’t already own the record, you can purchase one with your CD.” I wonder (as I wander) what proof they require that an LP exists somewhere in our family.

While browsing the Fred Waring shelves in cyberspace, I was offered an opportunity to acquire a Waring carol as my ringtone. Having never tapped into an online ringtone, I stupidly completed three steps on a site called Jamster which, by its name, should have clued me in that they’d have no Fred Waring. Indeed, despite the come-on, they didn’t and my mobile account was charged $9.99. I then spent 20 minutes on the phone with a gentleman in the Eastern hemisphere who finally agreed to send me a hard copy refund check via snail mail.

But I digress. Literally.

What’s your definitive holiday album?

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Filed under Hearth and Home, Holidays, Music

Crèching down

It isn’t 2011 years old, but the little replica is getting up there in years.

Our family crèche was bought in December 1959, just before I was born.

Every year that it is lifted from its tattered box, as it was yesterday, our nativity scene shows more wear. The stable has become unstable. A couple of figures have lost their hands, one of which remains attached to the end of a camel’s rein. Two animals are each missing an ear.

One shepherd has lost the bundle of twigs he once carried on his shoulder. I know where it is—behind a heavy buffet in our dining room. If we ever move, I must remember to retrieve it. In the meantime, it’s been replaced with a shred of mulch from the yard.

The roof is in terrible disrepair, resulting from angel-induced erosion. For the first 35 or so years of use, we affixed the angel—which has a hooked wire in its back—to the roof by poking the wire into the thatching.

One year, our young son asked why we attached the angel that way: “Why don’t we just hang it on the hook?” He pointed to a tiny loop in the ceiling, which none of us had ever noticed. Sure enough, that’s where the angel was meant to hang.

A few things have also been added.

In the 1970s, a plastic cow from my brother’s toy farm set joined the cast. In the 1980s, my husband added a plastic California Raisin to the trio of processing Magi—to proclaim that he had “heard it through the grapevine.” The raisin has since disappeared mysteriously.

Between this nativity scene and my frail and dusty birthday Washington Post, the 1950s-era relics are looking pretty badly aged. (Dare I look in the mirror?) Watch this space for more citings.

Speaking of things acquired in December, 23 years ago today, at 8:49 a.m., we welcomed one blessing of a boy into our little house. Happy Birthday, kiddo. (And thanks for locating that hook; you’re an angel.)

And to the rest of you, Happy St. Nicholas Day. Read what St. Nicholas’Day means to me, from the ‘Nymph one year ago.

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Filed under Hearth and Home, Holidays

The tell-tale tub

One of the first subjects I wrote about on this blog was anthropology.

I asked you to consider what social scientists would learn about you if they happened upon your magazine rack.

Now and again we have a chance to learn about each other, as households of humans, through our recycling bins.

We know quite a bit about our neighbors—their dietary habits and how they spend their weekends—on recycling day. They also get a glimpse into who we are, that is, unless we’ve mastered the art of burying clues, as I do when necessity dictates.

Doesn’t every  family stash its Little Debbie cartons or otherwise-telling proof of vice beneath the Kashi Go Lean?

What do we know about people based on what’s on their curb?

A bin brimming with dead PBR soldiers might reveal a group house of twenty-somethings, while a heavier load of Shiraz bottles and brie rinds is a sure sign of a girls’ weekend.

Walking down my street, you’d envision from this curbside container an adoring aunt who spoils her visiting nephews:

You’d also know that neighbors aren’t rushing to party with the empty nesters who left this blue bin behind.

Quick, take a look, what’s in your trash tub? Do tell: What’s buried beneath those Evian empties?

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Filed under Food, Hearth and Home

Acute ailurophilia

In 415 blog posts I haven’t yet written about my cats. Sure, I’ve mentioned Ricky and Lucy a time or two, but they’ve never been the subject of the blog. There’s a reason for that.

Six-and-a-half years ago, a wise person cautioned me that people who talk about their pets are boring. I don’t necessarily agree but–except in the most personal company–I’ve  borne that advice in mind.

That wise person was my son. When my husband and I began thinking of getting a pet after not having had one, we consulted our son, primarily because he suffered from allergies. He said he’d support our getting a cat under the firm condition that we not become “pet people.”

To his mind, “not being pet people” came in two parts: not talking about pets to anyone and not putting their pictures on Christmas cards.

I honored this condition for a while but, when our son went off to college, Ricky and Lucy achieved human status and bumped him from his place in the household hierarchy. Yes, I’m a Crazy Cat Lady–what of it?

Last week I noticed a blog featured on Freshly Pressed, WordPress’ selection of best posts. It caught my eye because it didn’t include more than a few words. Simply, there were pictures of cats. Lots of pictures of cats. Cute and funny pictures of cats. Here, have a look.

I thought, if the good people at WordPress deemed this sweet display worthy of featuring, then I might be free to express my ailurophilia for just one day in this space, usually devoted to the written word.

Meet Lucy, who likes helping me in the office:

Now meet Ricky, who works feats of marvel and self incarceration:

Please don’t unsubscribe. I’ll be back with words next time.

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Filed under Family and Friends, Hearth and Home

Shock therapy

Two readers took me up on my offer yesterday to share a personal story about a 70s fad. So here goes.

The year was 1973 and a wild trend was sweeping the nation. The fad and the name—streaking—had begun centuries earlier, but for some reason it made a big comeback in 1973.

During the time of this craze, my job as a seventh grade girl was to spend as much time as possible on the telephone. My girlfriends and I talked for hours after school and on the weekends. Literally, hours.

Our household phone hung on a wall in the kitchen. Like many houses, there was a circular traffic pattern joining the foyer, living room, dining room and kitchen, where my brothers used to chase each other pushing Tonka trucks. The phone cord reached from the kitchen to an arm chair around the corner in the dining room, where I spent the bulk of my adolescent years.

One Saturday afternoon my parents tried everything to get me off the phone. Little brothers yelling and screaming, pots and pans clanging, nothing fazed me.

Just then, my very clever parents paraded in and ran the foyer-living room-dining room-kitchen circuit. All they had on were novelty hats, which they held over their frontal regions. The phone receiver I held instantly crashed on to the floor.

Parental streaking: The fast-acting remedy for your difficult teenager.

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Filed under Family and Friends, Hearth and Home