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December 29, 2005

Eat Your Heart Out, Martha Stewart

by Nancy

By the time you read this I will be on an airplane. Go to fullsize image

In my family, we’ve stopped giving Christmas gifts because the stress of shopping is just too much for everyone.  And really, we all have absolutely everything we want or need.  Most of us live in places where one more item might make our closets explode, so we’ve abandoned the gift-giving in favor of a book exchange, which has transformed our holiday for the better. 

We draw names, and each person receives one book on Christmas morning.  It’s a book that’s been well-considered, fully researched, carefully wrapped (hey, if you’re only wrapping one gift, you can make it look magnificent!) and wonderfully appreciated---half because you didn’t have to race to the mall on Christmas eve because you realized Aunt Becky’s gift looks a little meager and you need to get her just one more thing—and half because the choice reflects the taste of both the giver and the recipient.  We all love books.  They’re the ideal gift.

Otherwise, we don’t shop.  (Although I have just heard a wonderful gift idea:  My friend Ramona reports that her sister in


sent Ramona’s twin teenagers a gift of leftover MREs, which I think is a brilliant gift for teenaged boys.  They loved them, and are agonizing about whether or not the MREs should be eaten or saved as souvenirs of Katrina.)

But I’ve come to think my family doesn’t shop so we can focus on the food instead. Go to fullsize image

The family came to my house this year.  And stayed for five days.  I cooked turkey, a ham, an entire filet of beef, a pot of soup, seventeen dozen sandwiches, two escalloped potato casseroles, a blackberry cobbler, two dishes of tiramisu, chicken satay, ham and pineapple skewers, four shrimp cocktail rings and twelve hundred and ninety seven cookies.  (Okay, I’m lying.  I didn’t roast the turkey myself.  My local grocery store has just started doing rotisserie turkey breasts along with the rotisserie chickens and rotisserie hams, which have saved my family from starvation lo, these many years, and the turkey breasts are equally fabulous.)  We played Balderdash and were enthralled by my sister’s photos and stories about her trip to the

Galapagos Islands

. We read all the Christmas letters our friends sent.  (Hey, be critical if you like, but I love ‘em.  I write one every year, too.  What’s worse than getting a card from a friend you haven’t seen in twenty years and it’s signed simply, “Merry Christmas, Joan.”  So a form letter with a little hand-written note at the bottom is delightful, if you ask me.) My in-laws came for dinner and a football game. My mother and sister took an afternoon to tour a museum.  They took  my aunt to the movies, too.  Me, I cooked.  Or washed dishes.  Or laundered table cloths.

Because the house was relatively clean, I decided to have a cocktail party for our friends and neighbors on Friday night, too.  (Hey, you seize the night if your house is clean, right?)  I figured they’d stay for an hour of cocktails & go home to wrap presents. But they stayed for 4 hours, and we had a blast.  I played Diana Krall, Manheim Steamroller, the soundtrack to Chocolat and a CD of downloads I put together myself. The chicken satay was a big hit.

Last year, my daughter got married on New Year’s Day, so we took it easy on Christmas because we were working on the wedding.  I think we spent Christmas eve putting together the gift bags for out-of-town guests. The gift bags included noise-makers, party hats, water bottles, snacks, a weekend itinerary (hey, it wasn’t just a wedding.  We had a New Year’s Eve party right alongside the river where the city fireworks were launched.  Plus a pizza party for the college girlfriends, and a football-watching party for the menfolk and a farewell breakfast for the extended family) and a home-made brochure of things to do in the city—all of which we researched and printed ourselves. 

You’d think a wedding would be more…well, work than Christmas for the family. But the wedding included a wedding planner (all part of the Renaissance hotel service, which has endeared us forever to the whole Marriott brand of hotels) who essentially became my employee, my right hand, my crisis manager.  (“The violinist just cancelled.”  “What?!!  THE WEDDING IS TWO DAYS AWAY!!!”  “Oh, it's no problem,


. Let me take care of this.”  “Oh.  Okay. Thanks, Yvonne.”)  But this year’s Christmas was way more work than the wedding.

I enjoyed it, though. Really.  I like to entertain, but because I’m a writer who never stops writing, I don’t often make the time for parties anymore.  So the holiday season is sort of enforced partying for me, if that makes any sense.  I get out all the silver and crystal, and open those cookbooks that seem awfully dusty these days.  I make a few phone calls to invite extra guests just because we don’t see enough of our friends. I bought flowers and arranged them myself because I enjoy doing it.  I like to cook for special events. (I’m just not that great when it comes to making dinner while my brain is still working on which suspect has the better motive for murder.) Being with the family was a pleasure.  Seeing friends was delightful. Seizing the night felt great.

My husband and I don’t really exchange gifts either.  We buy each other a trip instead.  This year we’re taking our younger daughter along just because she’s great on a vacation.  (We have a Camper of the Day award, and she nearly always wins.)  Unfortunately, we didn’t get around to making the travel arrangements early enough this year, so we were kinda stuck for a destination that suited everyone.

So . . . we’re going to Disney World.

Not my favorite place on the planet.  I figure, if you want adventure, go on a real adventure, not a sanitized one.  But my husband loves it, and Sarah’s up for anything.  I’m packing a suitcase full of books and plan to loll around the Marriott pool. Okay, I must admit I'm looking forward to seeing the new zoo at Disney, too.

No doubt by the end of next week I’ll be ready to see the backs of my family, and I’ll be itching to write again, re-connect with the Tarts and my new online friends here at TLC.  Creating this new community has been wonderful, don't you think?  I'm looking forward to more of the same.

See you next year.


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I've so enjoyed reading about everyone's holiday celebrations. Nancy, I'm with you on the letters -- I don't have many old, old friends, and those I have are scattered around the country. The letters keep us connected enough that I know I can call if I'm going to be visiting and will probably be offered at least a couch to sleep on :) And I'm always fascinated to think about the kids we all were in high school or college and reflect on the people we've become now.

Enjoy The Mouse and the books, and if I haven't said it before, thanks for the community y'all have created here. Oh -- and if you felt like sending along the recipe for the escalloped potato casserole, that would be great (I'm already looking forward to the coffee cake).

Happy New Year, everyone!

Okay, you're clearly a perfect candidate for enjoying Buy a Friend a Book Week (http://www.buyafriendabook.com). The next one starts bright and early January 1st.

Hope you have a great trip - I love Disney World. Everyone who works there is cheerful and everything is clean. Don't care how they accomplish that, either. Of course it's fantasyland!

If you want a great dinner, cross town to Universal and go to Emeril's. Get the Marriot concierge to get you a table. It's worth it!


me too, me too! Love those Christmas letters! Even the one (this year) where someone told me she lost 20 pounds.

What great ideas - give books for Christmas and give your hubby a trip somewhere. I love it! I'll have to share the ideas with my family.

Happy holidays,

Hey, if you like Balderdash, you should try this game I got for my family this year. It's called 'Wise and Otherwise' and it's basically the same thing, except that you get the first half of a (real) old saying and have to make up endings for it. It's fun because some of the sayings are completely insane. (My favorite: "When the hill is on fire, the grasshoppers are roasted.")

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