Friday, December 27, 2013


At precisely 4:30pm on Christmas Eve my cousin, Maggie, rang the front doorbell and the annual celebration of Christmas officially clocked in. If we were the VanTrapps, Maggie would have been the one blowing the whistle and like little soldiers we all would have jumped in line; Ebby "rolls, three kinds all separated in zip-lock bags", Sandy "Angelfood cake made from scratch with fresh strawberries and hand whipped sweet cream", Bonnie "A crockpot of potatoes au gratin", and Rick "One smoked turkey and two beef tenderloins one cooked rare and the other not so rare for those who don't want to see any pink". We were ready, but just barely.
The dining room table was going to have to do double duty this evening. It was off with the tablecloth and on with the first official gingerbread house decorating competition.
Seventeen houses had been glued together and then each was bought back by each aspiring gingerbread a cost of five bucks per house, which was thrown into a kitty for the winners of the decorating competition. One would think Rick or I would have a leg up on a decorating competition but this was not the case. I filled my pastry sleeve with the frosting goop you use for glue but forgot to twist the top closed.
One squirt and I had frosting all over my hands, my sleeve, the table and the floor. Fortunately one of the dogs cleaned the floor of all the goop. Unfortunately about an hour later that same dog came down with a nasty case of diarrhea. I stopped decorating after about two rows of shingles made from mini-marshmallows and those gummy dots.
One of my nephews took first prize with a winning entry that would have put the makers of Candyland to shame.
By the end of the competition the soft sweet frosting glue we had been licking from our fingers had now turned to rock on the dining table, the floor and even some of the chairs. Candy was everywhere, but a quick sweep with the broom, some very hot water and a lot of elbow grease brought the dining room back to ready and set for the main meal. We're too many for a sit-down dinner so everything is served buffet style and then you're on your own to find a place to sit and eat.
It was not intended to be a thematic celebration or a costume party but my sister who currently teaches in the Middle East brought her burqa with her adding a new dimension to the term "inclusion".
We can get a little a Joan Crawfordish at our house with, "NO PAPER PLATES OR PLASTIC UTENSILS!" Everything gets served on vintage Fiestaware with Martha Stewart stainless flatware wrapped in wire edged ribbon and freshly pressed 100% cotton napkins. My job as cleanup scullery maid is to scrape and load all the dishes until the dishwasher is full and then move into the hand-washing phase. When that part is complete it's time to hit the countertops with a sponge, some Windex and a terry towel for a finishing buff.
In most families all hell would break loose after that, but our present exchange tradition is a rather long drawn out process where each gift is unwrapped for all to at a time. There were seventeen of us. You do the math.
Now all the presents have been unwrapped. The dining table has been stripped of gingerbread house sweet Spackle. The last of the leftovers have either been eaten or put away in refrigerator containers until next year when they'll get thrown out to make room for that year's batch of leftovers. The needles on the tree are beginning their decent and I've stopped watering the poor thing to allow its demise to progress quicker and less painfully. I expect to be finding little candy balls rolling around the dining room floor at least until Easter.
We're now headed to Tennessee for Christmas with the other side of the family. The Duck Dynasty crew will not be present. Hope y'all had a nice Christmas.

A Cottage Grove Light Show
Emmy Shaver/Melahn, photographer

Thursday, December 19, 2013


It was a close call. He did use store bought wrapping paper but the ribbon and name tags were genius and the last minute wrapping rescue scored him enough style points to beat Martha at her own game.
Here's what he did. First it was a smart early purchase of wrapping paper done well before the rush at his new favorite store, Marshalls. Who knew? Who knew Marshalls would have tasteful discounted merchandise. Then who knew Rick would like what he saw. Now he can't go in there without ending up at the checkout counter with a shopping cart spilling over with plush velour dog beds, several dozen cotton waffle drying towels we would use as napkins, olive oil from Italy, coffee from the Mud Truck in New York, a pair of fleece lined slippers, Ina Garten's "Fool Proof" cookbook and ten rolls of Christmas paper that caught his eye and inspired this year's decorating theme.
When we had our store we'd use twill tape to attach price tags to our merchandise and as wrapping ribbon for customer gift packages but there was no way this year's twill tape was going to be used without a little modification. It was dying time for the tape.
One bunch was dipped in a mixture of coffee grounds and steaming water. The tape was allowed to wallow in the grounds until it turned a nutty brown.
Another spool of tape was dyed with scarlet Rit Dye in a big pot on the stove. The tape was allowed to dry for several days ,not out of necessity, he wasn't in a hurry we had plenty of time.  But if you are a little last minute you can drop them into a bra bag and throw them in the dryer. In either case they tend to crinkle up as they dry.
I'd say fine but both Rick and Martha would have to get out the iron and press out yards and yards of tape to get rid of those nasty crinkles. When ironing watch out for the red dyed tape it tends to come off on the ironing board cover. I, unfortunately, was the next person to use the iron. I ended up with a set of napkins with a distinct rosy cast ironed in to their pristine previously white finish.
Next it was the gift tags that were tea dyed in Earl Grey.
Red and white baker's twine was also run through the tea solution giving it that same vintage look and feel. I'm sensing you're getting the trend.
My services were enlisted to help with the paper wrapping and, of course, my first attempt ended in a paper cut too short to cover the entire package.
Rick to the rescue and the production of the extra credit points that pushed him ahead of Martha.
He wrapped the wonky end with contrasting paper and used his dyed twill tape to cover up the seam. Genious.
At our house it's all about presentation and the love that goes into that extra effort. It's not about money. What he did cost very little - thank you Marshalls. What he did was give us his time and the knowledge that we mattered. That was the gift that was priceless. Take that Martha.

Flowers are always a big part of any holiday celebration both emotionally and financially, and well they smell nice too.  The only issue is the fleeting nature of nature. Once the blooms have been separated from their roots there's no life support system that will keep the flowers from a steady wilting decline. Eventually the stems give out and the blooms begin to bow their heavy heads. It's usually a trashcan burial or cremation in the fireplace but Rick has come up with a more Marie Antoinette inspired solution. It's "Off with their heads". He fills a glass compote with all their beautiful petals and mists them with fragrant oils for weeks of extended pleasure. I'll bet anything that next year's Martha Stewart Living's Holiday edition will include this same handy tip.
It won't be the first time that Martha has copied our ideas. Just think jadite.

The Tree at 714 Merryturn Rd
Lee Melahn, Photographer
Happy Holidays to all

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Top ten movie: Miracle on 34th Street. Biggest ambition at the age of seven: ride the escalator at Macy's along with Natalie Wood. Biggest thrill in my forties: taking Emmy as a toddler up 5th Avenue to see the windows at Saks, Bendels, and Lord & Taylor. I'm not sure what Emmy thought. It was cold. She was constrained to her stroller. I'd taken her at night because I thought the magic of the window was enhanced by a night's twilight but it meant she was tired. I wanted her to look forward to it as much as I did. Now she's grown and in school in Wisconsin tethered to the Midwest, preventing her from jumping on my imaginary sleigh to be pushed down 5th Avenue from department store to department store window. I still walk the streets and avenues with a delightful regression to my childhood wonder at the beauty of Christmas in New York. I circle through the red and white striped aisles of the outdoor Christmas markets watching all the fathers with young children in tow. The cold of New York is no match for the biting sting of a Midwest December freeze. A winter scarf and a pair of lined gloves is enough to fight off the chill. If the cold starts to tickle my fingertips and toes making them itch as the temperature drops below freezing I step inside one of the department stores where snow-clad branches twinkle with millions of sparkling lights taking the chill away.
Since I can no longer find the time to write out cards let alone finding everyone's home address my Christmas gift is this folio of pictures without editorial or comment for those who couldn't make the trip ot the city of lights and magic. Let the child or parent in you take a journey on my Polar Express.
Columbus Circle,
The Time Warner Building

The Peninsula
Henri Bendel
Grand Central Station
ABC Home, Broadway & 19th Street
Lord & Taylor
Bryant Park

Saks Fifth Avenue
Rockefeller Center


New York City, 1939
Photographer, Unknown