I’d like to wish you all a Happy Christmas full of blessings, peace, and good times with loved ones. And to my people up north, I’m trying to send some Florida sunshine your way!
I’d like to wish you all a Happy Christmas full of blessings, peace, and good times with loved ones. And to my people up north, I’m trying to send some Florida sunshine your way!
A while back, my dear friend Elena asked me if I had registered for fine china before getting married. After replying that I had, she asked me if I intend to use the china I received in the near future. I said “absolutely” and she, herself a bride-to-be, agreed that china bought/owned/gifted ought to be china used at the dinner table. She explained that she and her mother don’t see eye to eye about it because her mom is of the mindset that one shouldn’t use the fine china. We both laughed about it, and it made me think about my own mother who received a lovely set of china from her wedding forty-two years ago. Not only is this set stunning, but it is also stunningly unused and remains the cornerstone of an old mini-museum in the midst of suburban South Florida.
What causes this mini-museum syndrome in so many households? You know, the china that sits on display for four or five decades. The stuff that gets taken out of the cabinet every now and then just to get cleaned, so it can go back on display dust-free. The stuff that’s reserved for ultra-special occasions…that never come.
I asked my mom why she doesn’t use that particular set of china, and she gave me an unbelievably long convoluted response that boiled down to “I hate washing china.” I sat and thought about it, and just to make sure I had it right I asked her point-blank, “So you don’t use the china because you don’t feel like washing it when you’re done?” Defensive reply : “I don’t want to prepare a big meal and then have to wash the china afterwards.” Fair enough.
Elena’s mother’s reason for not using the good china: “It will break.” Isabel, another best friend: “No, we didn’t register for any [fine china]. We each had plate sets, and we decided we didn’t want to make people spend money on china if we already had plates. We actually just use a set of four that Mike’s mom left at our house that are these thin, inexpensive ones that won’t break if you drop them.” I spoke to another bestie, Maria Alejandra: “Ale, did you get fine china? Do you use it?!” She responded that she was eager to use her silver platters and trays and such, but being that they had temporarily moved to another state where they didn’t know anyone, there wasn’t much opportunity for entertaining. “But I don’t see the need for ultra-fancy plates because I think [you and I] are just too young for that.”
One day on Facebook, months later, Elena announced that she wouldn’t be registering for fine china after all. So with my ultra beloved set of vintage-inspired, toile-patterned china, it seems I’m fast becoming the dinosaur in my bunch.
There was once a time when stores sent you coupons that you could bring in for a percentage off your purchase. I hardly ever buy things at full price, so I appreciate the gesture and reward such establishments with my business. Unfortunately, in the last few years, it’s all gone to shit, really. It’s mostly complication and inconvenience and a million little details.
Coupons once drew people in to spend, and spend willingly the people did, glad in the knowledge that they’d save a little money on what they were buying. Now, big retailers seem to hope you’ll either misplace their coupons or forget that they exist. They tie in a bunch of rules to help ensure that you never bother with the damn thing. It’s “Here’s a coupon that you can use at an (inconveniently much) later date” or “Here’s a coupon with your receipt that you can use for your next purchase with us; the coupon is valid starting two weeks from tomorrow; make sure you bring both the coupon and the receipt stapled together, otherwise you can’t use the coupon.” Sure thing– I have time to keep coming back to your store every two weeks to buy stuff, and I love to clutter my home with old receipts.
In the spirit of meanness and non-generosity, many big retailers who still mail coupons to their customers are sure to mail out these crappy coupons looooooong before the time that the coupons are valid. This way, you set the coupon down somewhere on a table, then put stuff on top of it over the course of the next several days, then forget all about it, then ideally shop without the courtesy of the discount.
Williams-Sonoma mailed me a coupon roughly two weeks ago, telling me that for every $50 I spend between December 18 and December 24, I’ll receive a $10 coupon that I can redeem between Dec 26 and Jan 30. I went to Williams-Sonoma twice over a week ago to get a Christmas gift for my husband; their little reward would have been nice. Unfortunately for me, my patronage has cost me more because I refuse to shop at stores the week of Christmas–my sanity and sensibility won’t allow it, plus I run the risk of what I seek being out of stock. Williams-Sonoma, what gives? Give me something I can use TODAY. Don’t bother mailing me crap like that–save paper and postage.
On a related note about saving paper and postage, check out the amount of Christmas-gift-inspired buying madness printed matter I got from Bloomingdales within a two-day window; a tad excessive, n’est-ce pas?:
So big retailers, I don’t mind that your coupon is valid between December 18th and December 24th. I’m just asking you to do me the courtesy of mailing that coupon around Dec 14th, as opposed to say, November 28th. And I’m asking you to do me the courtesy of offering me a real discount, a SIMPLE discount, not a “spend this in one week, then come back in three weeks and get X amount of money off something else if you spend Y” shenanigan. If that’s all you’re gonna send me, I’ll happily buy your stuff on Amazon instead…where prices are most often cheaper and where I get free two-day shipping with my Amazon Prime membership. Hey big retailers, you listening?
My grandmother, Erna Stecher Rameau, was a gifted and shrewd lady. She had to be: she had a long career in education as a teacher and as a principal of children’s schools–a trying task for anyone, anywhere, anytime. While masterfully navigating the waters of this challenging career, she managed to remain a devoted wife, a doting mother (and grandmother!), and a loyal, gracious friend. Admirably, she did it all without losing her fiercely strong sense of self, or her love of excitement and adventure. I found a wonderful photograph of her recently and thought I’d tell its story…
Two dear friends of hers, Leonce and his wife Annette, were both educators. He and his wife set about achieving that universally desired (and universally challenging) feat of giving their family a brighter future. Their route? They left Port-au-Prince for the newly independent Central African Republic, and he took a teaching position at the University in CAR. Far away in their new country of residence, husband and wife sat quietly for dinner each night, unable to eat, instead using many a mealtime to cry together. They cried every day for their five young children that they had left behind in Haiti with relatives. There was little hope of seeing their children anytime soon: all five were minors between the ages of two and eleven; they were too young to travel unaccompanied, and no airline was willing to take on the responsibility of ushering five little ones through such a long journey with so many layovers.
Skip back to the island in the Caribbean, fast forward to a later time…my grandmother was readying herself for a trip to France to visit her oldest daughter (my aunt) who was studying in Paris. Ever resourceful, dear grandmother phoned her friends Leonce and Annette in CAR and told them that she would be in Paris on Day X of Month Y (Year 1962), and that if they would be willing to travel to Paris to meet halfway, she would gladly bring their children with her. Annette, who now lives in New York, says she never forgot that day. Already painfully separated from her young brood for over a year at that point, Annette quickly accepted the offer, then soon after countered it with a fun raising of the stakes: “Erna, would you mind bringing the children the whole way to CAR? Come for a visit, we’ll send you a ticket for the Paris-Africa leg…” My grandmother, not about to pass up an opportunity to see Africa, accepted the offer. She made all the travel arrangements and when the big day arrived, set off for Central Africa, her friends’ five kids in tow. The youngest, two-year-old Georges, clung to her the entire trip and refused to let go of her even during her visit in Africa. After being reunited, the family remained in CAR for a decade. Today, the surviving members (Leonce passed away a few years ago, and sadly, exhaustive illness claimed one of his and Annette’s daughters last year) still fondly remember the trip that brought them back together.
After some weeks with her friends in CAR, my grandmother traveled to France for a month to spend time with her daughter. She finally returned home to a patient husband and three impatient adolescent offspring, the fourth remaining in Paris, not yet done with her studies. My aunt tells me all interested parties keenly felt the distance; she describes my grandmother as une mère-poule (a mother hen). I wholeheartedly agree.
The homecoming brings me back to the wonderful photograph, the inspiration for this blog post. This photo was taken the day that my grandmother returned to Port-au-Prince from her trip to CAR and France. Relatives and friends came over that evening to hear tales. She’s seated center stage in the adirondack chair, her aunt on one side resting her hand on the chair, my mother (smiling, arms crossed) and my youngest aunt in matching white dresses on the other side. Attention is fixed on my dear grandmother. Her body language is priceless: hands up gesticulating, the mouth smiling and open and surely telling an exciting story. My aunt and mother both tell me they vividly remember this enthusiastic statement my grandmother made about the Central African Republic: “I loved the markets! The marchandes sell ants in the marketplace by the bowlful! They eat ants!” Classic.
Ten Slightly-to-Wholly Ridiculous Tips for Staying Warm in the Winter
(feel free to add to the list)
#1 – Take a pair of socks. Take a hand-held blowdryer. Open up your sock and stick the tip of the blowdryer inside and blast some heat for 30 seconds. Put the socks on your feet. Remember to turn off the blowdryer.
#2 – Therma-care heat pads. Normally used for injured/aching muscles. You can put them just about anywhere on your body, so stick them on all over for several hours of continuous heat. The effect is akin to that of standing inside a lit chimney. Best you don’t do this in public, of course…
#3 – Do a load of laundry. After you take the load out of the dryer, lie down and cover yourself in the hot clothes/sheets/whatever. Pure bliss. Should keep you warm for at least 15 minutes.
#4 – Bake a batch of cookies, brownies or a cake. After you’ve taken the goods out, leave the oven door open and stand in front of it so the hot air blows all over you.
#5 – Iron some pajama pants and put them on immediately after you’ve removed all wrinkles (enough heat for a good 10 minutes). For an extra special warm sensation, do this with your underwear.
#6 – Drive your car continually from sunrise to sunset with the heater on.
#7 – Drink mulled wine with breakfast, lunch and dinner, and drink it between meals instead of water. You won’t feel cold at all. As a matter of fact, you won’t feel anything.
#8 – Put your laptop directly on your skin for a few minutes. Move it around from spot to spot. Roll over onto your stomach and have someone put it on your back. Less efficient, hard-working laptops are best since they generate more heat more quickly.
#9 – Make your way to the grocery store; go to the section where hot prepared foods are sold. These items are usually kept warm under heat lamps behind glass. The glass is extra toasty from the heat, so it’s a perfect spot to lean on and rest your body.
#10 – In all honesty, I only get cold in the winter when I’m forced to get out of bed and attend to matters of everyday living, so might I suggest that you tell your employer that you’re unavailable for X number of days/weeks/months (length of time to be determined by you). Place a few gallons of drinking water at your bedside along with some candy and wine, and hire a servant to bring you bowls of good hardy dishes every four hours or so (coq au vin, poutine, rabbit paprikash and the like). Leave the bed and the comforters only to take hot baths and to attend to personal hygiene. Outside the front of your home, be sure to display a clearly-visible note explaining that you won’t be taking visitors or answering the doorbell during the winter season, as opening the front door would let in a draft. The note should be handwritten, of course; a typed message is cold and impersonal.
A final note: Avoid certain settings and situations such as caroling, chopping wood in the backyard, skiing and going to hockey games (these games take place in indoor rooms with flooring meant to simulate ice–preposterous!) Don’t let yourself get roped into shoveling snow, either. If your neighbors complain that the snow is piling up, just tell them it’s biodegradable and whatever bit is on the sidewalk will go away on its own within two to four months.
*I would think it understood that this list is for entertainment purposes only. But just in case it’s not understood: this list is for entertainment purposes only. In the spirit of honesty, I do confess that I did some of these things out of desperation at one point or another.
WordPress has finally stopped being a naughty boy, and my blog homepage is now a well-functioning subtle picture of frosty loveliness. I am ever grateful for my darling husband’s formal training and expertise in graphic design; he not only quickly and calmly addresses many a technical meltdown, but manages to make it snow at the top of my blog. Thank you, love…
Jack Frost is making himself known in these parts and elsewhere lately; I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the fruit trees aren’t broken by this week’s freeze. To avoid being broken by these freezing elements, I recommend that you make and drink the following hot concoction. Don’t go using rum in this recipe; it had better be rhum. As in Rhum Barbancourt from Haiti, either 5-star Réserve Spéciale or Réserve du Domaine (aged 8 years and 15 years respectively).
sugar or honey
One part very hot water. Two parts rhum. Juice of one lemon. Honey or sugar to taste (I use a bit of both). If it’s too rhummy for you, do one part rhum. Totally flexible and always great in the evening.
Please don’t drink and drive. Stay happy and keep warm!
It’s that time of year again– certain radio stations are playing Holiday music around the clock. Here are some of my faves, most of which can be found on iTunes or Amazon mp3 downloads, etc:
#1 – “Footprints” by the Barenaked Ladies. This is an original song by Barenaked, off their Barenaked for the Holidays album, a collection of classic and original Christmas and Hanukkah songs (one of the absolute best holiday albums out there). A cozy and sweet song about a man, the object of his affection, and snow.
#2 – “Greensleeves” as performed by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. A smooth, pared down jazz rendition of an old (so old you could probably call it olde) tune. Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas is a must-have album–I listen to it year-round, but it makes my holidays extra happy. Technically not a Christmas song, but the popular carol “What Child Is This” is set to the “Greensleeves” melody, so the tune is often associated with the holidays.
#3 – “Les Patineurs” also known as “The Skater’s Waltz” as performed by the Mantovani Orchestra. Originally inspired by a skater’s glide, elements in composer Émile Waldteufel’s piece are meant to remind the listener of winter and snow and ice. Mantovani’s light orchestra version…well, it’s just so quaint and happy.
#4 – “25th December” by Everything but the Girl. A beautiful introspective tune with Christmastime epiphanies of both melancholic and hopeful natures, and the desire of a now-mature man to connect on a meaningful level with his father.
#5 – “Petit Papa Noël” by Tino Rossi. Don’t worry if you don’t speak or understand French–the melody and the sounds of an early recording get the mood across well enough. The heartfelt plea of a child asking Father Christmas to remember to fill his little shoe with a gift when he descends from the sky.
#6 – “Mi Burrito Sabanero” A traditional Spanish-language Christmas carol, usually sung by children. A first-person account of someone strumming his little guitar, happily singing and riding his donkey on the road to Bethlehem. Growing up in Miami, there was no way to avoid this Christmas classic–in school, on the radio, anywhere. In all honesty, it’s not Christmas in South Florida until local radio station Power 96 first plays it in early December. “Con mi burrito sabanero, voy camino de Belen…”
#7 – “Happy Christmas (War is Over)” by John Lennon. Most covers of this song by other musicians have an undistorted, perfectly on-key, glossy studio-finish quality; this is why all remakes of it are awful and don’t measure up to the charming, slightly messy, full-of-heart original.
#8 – “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” as originally sung by Judy Garland. The heartwarming sad & happy Christmas song.
Someday soon we all will be together
If the fates allow…
Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.
#9 – “In the Bleak Midwinter” as performed by Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. Find and listen, please. There are simply no words.
#10 – “Christmas Day” by Dido. The lyrics suggest a bygone era: a young gentleman rides by on a winter’s day, and stops at the house of some strangers for a brief respite by their homefire. He admires one of the young girls, paying her sweet compliments and finishing by promising her, “I shall return for you, my love, on Christmas Day.” So she waits and waits, childlike and starry-eyed… Gorgeous song. Its story of a girl promised to be swept away by her lover sort of reminds me of the wonderful late 80s film A Summer Story, which is based on John Galsworthy’s poignant short story “The Apple Tree.” Seriously, make some time: read the story, then watch the film, then listen to the song. Probably best you do this in private; you may shed a tear or two.
Several years ago, I went to pick up my dear sister Yamilee at the airport. She got into the car and told me, “You have to try these wafers! They’re not like anything you’ve ever had!” I was intrigued. She explained, “They were at the airport lounge in Paris and I had them there, and then on the flight, the attendant gave me several packs!” She whipped one out: a pack of Gaufrettes au Sel de Guérande by Fauchon, or translated into English on the packaging by a Frenchman who probably didn’t consult an English-speaker, “Salt from Guérande Wafers.” They’re these tiny little waffle cookies. In all honesty, it’s strange that they should be so enjoyable because eating them is a bit like swallowing a mouthful of ocean water–the batter they’re made with is salted heavily with this Guérande sea salt, so they’re salty, salty, salty. But they’re yummy, yummy, yummy, and ridiculously addictive.
Anyhow, after getting home, the family partook in the deliciousness and eventually, the flavor trip came to an end. Resourceful finder of things great/small/random/unobtainable that I am, I told my sister that I’d search for the wafers and buy some for the family. Well, they were nowhere to be found. Google and Yahoo. Yahoo and Google. Just random ramblings from people who’d had them on their own Paris-to-Anywhere flights and thought they were quite good. I looked on Fauchon’s website, but the wafers didn’t exist except as small samples within bigger multi-cookie sampler packages. Eventually I found a sampler that had other cookies and crackers that I liked, but couldn’t purchase it. I emailed Fauchon’s customer service and received a very kind and apologetic reply that their website wasn’t configured for selling to the US, but that if I really wanted something in particular, she could arrange to send it to their boutique in New York, etc. I told myself that it was unreasonable to go to so much trouble for a cookie, but asked the employee to let me know when the company configured a US site.
One day, I bought a jar of Guérande sea salt to cook with. Sometimes, I’d put a few grains on my tongue and remember the flavor of the long-lost gaufrette. In 2007, my husband–fiancé at the time–went to Paris for a work trip. “Fauchon,” I said to him before he left. “Gaufrettes au Sel de Guérande. Please try… And some perfume for my hair.” My poor husband. Anytime he wasn’t holed up at the trade show, he was scouring the shelves of boutiques unsuccessfully for those damn wafers. He did manage to find me the other item on my wish list though– a perfume oil made specially for hair in Lolita Lempicka’s original signature scent. Only the French…
Years later, in May of 2010, that same Fauchon employee emailed me: “As promised I wanted to give you an update concerning our activity in the US…” and she let me know that I could now buy many Fauchon products online in the US as the company had finally created a US online shopping site. I was excited, then soon disappointed because they didn’t have my wafers, whose flavor, by the way, I could now barely remember because it had been so many years since I’d had them. Two weeks ago, I don’t know what came over me–I decided to google the gaufrette and it turned up on this website, The Frenchy Bee, a company that sells French products in the States. A whole box. Of Fauchon Salt of Guérande wafers. For sale in the US. I ordered two boxes and a couple of days later they were sitting on my desk. They taste as I remember them–ultra savory, salty, delicious.
Since Yamilee now lives in Brazil, she couldn’t partake of the flavor trip firsthand, so I sent her a message with the good news. Her response: “That’s newsworthy stuff!” Ahh, folks, if you seek sincerely and if you seek enough, the white whale may just come into view and make your day. And it’s not even Christmas yet. I went back to the site a week later to buy some for my sister for her upcoming birthday. The wafers are now out of stock. Damn it.
I found a perfect gift for my oldest sister. Farah, who is incredibly artistic and did many wonderful sketches and drawings throughout her youth, is incapable of holding a piece of paper without drawing on it in some way. Magazines featuring humans, for instance, will quickly be drawn over, features and clothing altered and re-colored, hairstyles changed etc. I frequently buy coloring books for Farah’s son–my beloved nephew and godson–but she usually ends up coloring in them herself; she finds it relaxing. My love for Farah is devoted and and unconditional, but this uncontrollable tendency of hers to alter printed matter keeps me from lending her certain reading materials of mine…
My gold medal find for her: Rosie Flo’s coloring book, a coloring book with drawings of dresses and accessories. The drawings are headless and limbless–you draw them in and then color the image as you see fit. It’s one of a few coloring books created by British illustrator and designer Roz Streeten. Streeten says she originally created them for her little girls who were always asking her to draw dresses for them to color. In the US, you can get them at Amazon and they cost $8.99– in my opinion, an affordable and unique gift or stocking stuffer for a child or for the creative grown-up who has no hang-ups about enjoying things intended for kids (i.e. yours truly, and her sister Farah).
Some hae meat and canna eat, –
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.
I’m giving thanks from the Carolinas this year. I wish you all a Thanksgiving holiday filled with good times and much contentment.