Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Getting in the Christmasy Mood

Cookies 1 I love the holidays. It's so much fun to do the things you think you haven't got time the rest of the year to do. Like bake cookies. The only problem with baking cookies, is the temptation to eat them. ALL OF THEM! (It's a tough job, but someone's got to do it.)

While I was baking the other day, I had my boom box on the counter and changed CDs with flour-dusted hands. (Not so good for the boom box or the CDs, but I loved hearing all those cheerful Christmas tunes.)

Here's today's Vintage Christmas Card of the Day. Hope you enjoy it!

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Christmas Things I Collect

MerryChristmas I collect a lot of Christmasy items. Of course, my biggest collection consists of my Made In Japan figurines, and I have at least 200 of them all crammed into a china cabinet. They give me pleasure 365 days of the year, and I'm a sucker to buy them at yard and garage sales (even the ones who've been broken and not-so-carefully glued back together). But they're not the only things I have stowed away in my closet. I have boxes of old wrapping paper, gummed Christmas labels, and to-from cards to put on Christmas gifts. But I also collect old Christmas cards.

Xmascard1 There's something sweet and charming about the cards that were sold in the 1940s, 50s, and early 60s. Whenever I find a batch (whether they are unsigned and "prinstine" or signed "Love, Aunt Ruth, Uncle Jimmy, Rose, Frank and Elwood"), I snatch them up.

Most of the cards are yellow with age. They were printed in the years before acid-free paper, but through the years they've managed to maintain their allure.

I'll be putting up a bunch now through the 25th (and maybe I'll sneak in a New Year's card on Jan. 1st, too.)

Ivy signature

Monday, December 14, 2009

Five Things

I don't know about you, but I can't get ANYTHING done. I seem to blunder my way through days/weeks/months (years?) with a trail of things undone.

Martha Housework is at the top of my "not done" list. I definitely was not cut from the same cloth as Martha Stewart. Oh, I would love a clean, tidy home (and for the most part I wouldn't be ashamed if someone just "dropped in"), but I would like the house to be more like the homes in the decorating books and magazines I read (and reread...and reread).

I love that feeling of accomplishment I get when my kitchen countertop is totally clear (for the entire five minutes it lasts). I love it when I can sit in my "happy hour" seat and see that everything is tidy, the rug vacuumed. Picture perfect.

Newspaperstacked597864That doesn't happen a lot. Because...I read. I read newspapers, I read magazines, I read books. I tend to put my reading material down intending to get back to it/them soon. Consequently, at any given evening there might be newspapers, magazines, and several books open on the couch and the coffee table.

FigurinecaseThere's reading material on every flat surface. Usually it's neatly stacked, but...not always. And I collect stuff. Stuff that collects dust. For years my motto has been, "I dust twice a year--whether it needs it or not." But the truth is I would like it dusted ALL the time. I just don't want to be the one doing the dusting.

Lately, when the housework guilt starts to mount and I don't feel like doing it, I'll tell myself: five things. Just do five things. Supposedly small things mount up.

Okay. Five things in the kitchen. Clear off that catch-all spot in front of the TV (which only Formalmcdreamy_290x422 seems to get switched on during dinner-making so we can find out what's new in Anna Nicole's death (is that the story that won't quit, or what?), or what (usually unmarried) starlet is sporting a baby bump, or who's on the red carpet wearing what monstrosity of a dress. (Guys have it much easier. Who doesn't look good in a tux? And does any man worry about the size of this ass?)

Five things in the dining room: put away those two platters that are on the sideboard. Pick up the three cat toys and put them away. Yes! Five!

Five things in the living room: Two more cat toys; line up all the remotes (three). Close the armoir doors (to hide the TV--four). Consolidate the tissues in the two opened boxes and toss out the now empty one. Yes! Five!

Everytime I get up from the computer (and I seem to be glued to the damn box), I'm trying to remember to do five things as I walk through the house. Fold laundry. (God, I hate laundry. I'd rather clean the toilet than fold laundry.) Go back to office to work (or, goof off as the case may be.) Head to the kitchen for a cuppa. On the way, one biggie (empty dishwasher) or five small things (empty coffee grounds from hubby's coffeemaker; toss out the junk mail on the counter that hubby sometimes leaves for me to inspect (but I'd just as soon he toss it in the recycle bin as he walks in).

Five. Simple. Things.

Why does it all seem so complicated?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Mind Altering Substances

I am a pusher. Yes, I dispense mind-altering substances at the drop of a hat ... or more likely the drop of a tail. And last week we took the dried product out of our garage and put it in a big tupperware bowl to be enjoyed through the winter.

Yes, I grow catnip. And I serve catnip. My audience? Four cats who willingly surrender to the mighty aroma of this pretty-damned common mint leaf.

CatnipblossomAccording to Wikipedia: "Nepeta is a genus of about 250 species of flowering plants in the family Lamiaceae. The members of this group are known as catnip or catmint because of their famed effect on cats—nepeta pleasantly stimulates cats' pheromonic receptors."

Pleasantly stimulating? Come cats go NUTS--but to different degrees.

Backstory: Years ago (possibly ten or more?) I bought a solitary catnip plant from the grocery store and planted it in the backyard. It didn't do well. By the end of the summer, it was skanky and shriveled up and turned brown. It was a dismal disappointment.

The next summer, however, the children of most-disappointing plant said "WEEEEE!" and took off like wildfire. Said offspring of that one original plant are still seeding the backyard, much to the cats' delight.

Betsy_toys72107Each kitty reacts differently to catnip. Betsy, our little black-and-white princess (also known as "the Kitten" or "Baby") eats it and rolls and rolls on the floor. But she usually only eats part of one leaf and is contented.

Chester, hubby's boy, thinks he likes fresh catnip, but he really doesn't. He'll pretend to eat it, lick it a lot, and spit it out. Chestercloseup It's the dried stuff he likes. And not just any dried stuff. We ran out of our own catnip around March of this year. I bought him catnip from our local Petsmart. He let me know that this catnip was vastly inferior to the homegrown variety and he refuses to eat it. (Grrrr...and I bought two bags which he will not touch.)

Mumfred_correctedFred, my tiny son, loves fresh catnip. All I have to do is walk out the enclosed-porch door and he's sure I'm going to come back in with a whole handful of fresh catnip leaves. (NOT!--or not always, at least.) He's really good at being hand-fed fresh "nep" (as my hubby calls it). He will gladly eat whatever Betsy and Chester leave behind. He never gets silly, and he's always appreciative.

Bonnie2_608_2Bonnie, our gingerbread girl (because she has a nose the color of gingerbread), takes catnip best of all. She's not greedy, but she will patiently stand there and munch as long as you want to feed her. Often, she gets more than every other cat (despite Fred's vacuum-cleaner ways). Poor Bonnie has never adjusted to Fred's and Chester's arrival (and Chester arrived ten years ago). She's fearful of boys and constantly looks over her shoulder, anticipating attacks that usually don't happen. But all they have to do is LOOK AT HER and she will scream bloody murder. She particularly likes to do this in the dead of night when you're asleep, waking you with the sure knowledge that the house is about to explode!

I have never felt guilty supplying mind-altering substances to my cats. Hell, hubby and I observe happy hour every evening...why shouldn't the cats indulge, too?

And how do you spoil your pets?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Tell Me Again Why I Love It Here!

Snow on trees Winter has arrived in Western New York. Snow. Howling Winds. And yet, I've vowed not to leave this area. Not to travel to southern climates for winters. To stay put. Forever.

I must be out of my friggin' mind!

Saturday it was dry and cold. A day later it was snowy and COLD and miserable. And I had to go out in it to run an errand. I HATE WINTER.

So why am I going to stay here for the rest of my life?

Well, it's home. I guess that really says it all. Mind you, it didn't have to be home. My parents emmigrated to the U.S. before I was born. Of course, their sponsor lived here, so that had a lot of do with why they originally landed here. And the climate here was a lot different from where they came from. (Portsmouth, England.) Still, there was nothing really holding them to this area. Okay, gainful employment may have had a lot to do with that. But really ... WINTER. (Snow, snow--and did I mention SNOW!)

Still, there are perks. It's one of the prettiest states in the country. (Okay, it can't hold a candle to Maine, Vermont, and parts of New Hampshire.) It's also got the highest taxes in the country. (Ouch!) It's got cold winters and humid summers.

What we don't have: Earthquakes. Wild fires. Tornadoes (at least not often). Hurricanes. Mudslides. (Yea!)

Of course, besides my family members (and there aren't that many of us), the other reason I stay here is our family's cottage. I love that place. It's got the most gorgous Swansswimming view in the world (aside from just about all of Scotland), and it's quiet (well, at least when there aren't a lot of jet skis zooming by). It's got swans. It's got geese. It's got ducks. How come we never get sick of watching them? And what about that silly kingfisher who likes to beat a fish to death before he eats it? And the hummingbirds who visit each summer. (And have dogfights.)

Of course this time of year, there's no cottage. Well, it's there--but it's a seasonal place. No water. No heat. And remember I mentioned snow up above? Being on the water, it gets about TEN TIMES the amount of snow we get here (and I live about 2 miles from Lake Ontario). According to those who live there year-round, come winter it's like living on the moon. White sky, white world, bitterly cold.

SodusBaypainting3 But I think about that place, and hot summer nights, when the biting wind howls. I look at the painting my hubby did that hangs over my computer. It keeps me connected to that wonderful place on the coldest, darkest nights (and days) of winter.

Thinking about that little house on the water makes me yearn for warmer weather. I start to plan the bean crop I'll plant over Memorial Day Weekend. I think about planting the annuals in the window box (which are actually mounted to the deck, not windows). I think about seeing the two electric palm trees across the bay that delight us every night. I think about our neighbor's dock lights that come on at dusk. (Aah! Two minutes later than last night (in June) and two minutes earlier every night come fall.)

Thinking about that little house gives me hope through the long, long winter.

I can't wait for spring.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Christmas Paper Weight

I confess: I'm a big-time lover of Christmas. I love everything about it. The lights, the trees, the food, the music. And I love to read just about everything about this wonderful holiday season.

Country home cover 1999 I have another confession: I cannot part with old Christmastime magazines. I have Christmas issues of Country Living and Country Home (this one is from December 1999) that go back to the 1980s, and every year I haul them out and reread them (or at least look at the pictures).

I have issues of old (English) Country Living magazine from years gone by that my mother gave to me. Old December issues of Better Homes and Gardens, Cottage Living, Martha Stewart Living, Mary Engelbreit's Home Companion and much, much more. I remember the articles and still manage to enjoy them. I like and always reread one in the December 2000 issue of ME's Home Companion called "Have A Merry Mitzvah" (by Rachel Kornblum) about how Jewish people do good deeds at Christmastime like take their Christian colleague's shifts in hospitals, go caroling in Nursing Homes, etc. It includes pictures of the two cutest little girls--who are probably in college by now.

Then there are all my favorite Christmas "annuals." Christmas with Victoria. Christmas with Southern Living. Country Woman Christmas.

I have a bunch of Christmas children's books I reread, too. Naturally, The Polar Express; but then I have some that you've probably never heard. "Emma's Christmas Wish" by Sallyann J. Christmas Robin cover Murphy (and illustrated by Cary Phillips), Christmas Tree Sam by Helen D. Olds (copyright 1952--before I was even born; got it at a garage sale for a quarter); A Pussycat's Christmas by Margaret Wise Brown (illustrated by Anne Mortimer); The Christmas Robin (an English "Ladybird" book), adapted by David Hately from the Wise Robin by Noel Barr; and the extremely tacky (photographic) Merry Christmas America: A Front Yard View of the Holidays.

A Christmas Carol At some time during the holiday season I listen (and usually more than once) to Patrick Stewart read (an abridged version of) Dickens' A Christmas Carol (and look at the wonderful illustrated version of the book by Italian artist Roberto Innocenti).

After Christmas, I'll put all these books and magazines away until next year. But they'll be waiting for me to take out and enjoy again, and again, and again . . . .

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Pillow Talk

Pillows A while back, I bought myself a new pillow. It was soft and squishy and really quite marvelous ... and, unfortunately, it didn't last.

Just last night I laid my head upon what was, only a few months ago, a big, fluffy pillow and it was flat and ... really quite horrible.

My mother has always been of the opinion that down pillows are the best. I beg to differ. Down pillows tend to "wad up" and to me are extremely uncomfortable. And, being an organic object, in an environment where heat is not available 24/7 (think winter at our cottage), they tend to get ... iky (and musty, too).

That said, there's a big difference between a good synthetic pillow and a bad one.

Sleeping peacefully Sometime in the past, my mother bought a really, REALLY nice synthetic pillow. I use it when I'm at our family's cottage. It's MINE. It 's fluffy and bouncy and something you can nestle your face into and fall into a deep, comforting sleep.

Okay, I don't always fall into a deep sleep when I lay my head down upon that particular pillow...but during the last few months without that pillow I have not slept well. I could have brought it back home when we closed the cottage down last fall--but I didn't. Sometimes I think I was a fool to leave it behind, and sometimes I think--wow--I can't wait to go back in the spring and be reunited with the pillow of my dreams.

When I've tested pillows at J.C. Penney and Sam's Club and everywhere in between--I've often thought that "this is the pillow of my dreams" but...they aren't, either.

Let's face it, a pillow is a pillow is a pillow. Something to raise your head above the mattress. There should be no emotional attachment to an inanimate object. And yet ... on the many, MANY nights when I can't get back to sleep, I think back to hot summer nights lying under a slowly rotating ceiling fan in that celery green bedroom in the town of Huron and think of my squishy, sort of foamish pillow and wish I had it under my head.

I'm spoiled...and I like it. And why shouldn't I?

How about you?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Where have all GOOD the Christmas Catalogs Gone?

JCPenny1966_Page0001 When I was a kid, back in the dark ages, my brothers and I would look forward each fall to snagging the Sears and Penney's Christmas catalogs when they came in the mail. We'd study the toy section and make L-O-N-G lists, noting the name of the item, the page number and the price. (Somehow we managed to NOT include the total at the bottom of the page, probably because we didn't have a calculator.) I don't remember if we ever got anything that was on the lists, but we did always have about a million presents under the tree, and I don't remember ever being disappointed.

For for more than a month now, I've been receiving two Penney "Christmas" catalogs a week. They're filled with all kinds of wonderful things like tableware, linens, small appliances, and Cindy Crawford, in front of "her" holiday table with glassware and a bottle of wine. Doesn't everybody serve Christmas dinner in a little black sheath and dripping with diamonds? (Um...I don't. I usually have on a Christmas sweatshirt, sweatpants, and if I remember, my Christmas socks, which are invisible because my feet are stuffed inside my Wicked-Good slippers.)

Vacuform The other catalog was a bit bigger, but nothing like the old days, when the Christmas catalog would be up to 500 pages long. (This one was 196.) Of course, like the days of old, this catalog is stuffed with clothes. (BORING!) As far as we were concerned, getting clothes was the ultimate BAD Christmas present, but someone (usually our godparents) gave us pajamas or a scarf/mitten/hat set. You just knew when you got a box that certain size, that there wasn't going to be a record or tape player, or a board game (MONOPOLY!!!), or a Mattel Vac-U-Form in it. (Yes, one year we got a Vac-U-Form and it was fantastic! I think we used up all the provided plastic sheets on Christmas Day.)

The new-improved 2009 Penney Christmas catalog does have toys, but they're scattered throughout the last fifth of the catalog, mixed in with the PJs and the kid bed linens. In total, there's about ten pages.


Maybe it's just as well I grew up. That would just be too hard to take.

Catalog1 Of course, I really don't approve of the glut of catalogs that show up in my mailbox this time of year. (The US Postal Service, which is currently going down the tubes, does, however celebrate.) I wouldn't mind so much if the catalogs were from companies I do business on a regular basis--like JCPenny--but mostly they're from places I would never do business with. Say, Harry and David. Mind you, I've received gifts that were purchased from Harry and David -- just last year, as a matter of fact (a lovely box of chocolates), but there are too many diabetics on my Christmas list to purchase anything from that company. And way too many trees are sacrificed for catalogs that will end up, unread, in the recycling bin.

For the past couple of years, I've done most of my Christmas shopping on the Internet. Much as I love to see the lights, to hear the music, and gaze through the seasonally decorated shop windows, I can't bear to tackle the traffic, the crowds, and the germs that are the Christmas season.

Too bad we can't time travel back to our childhoods, when everything seemed so much better, fun, and happy. When lying on your stomach on the living room, gazing at those Christmas catalogs and dreaming of the BIG day was a thrill with no compare.

What do you remember about the old Christmas catalogs?