Jingle Bell Rock, Catalogues & Christmas Trees

The very cool 1960s Tammy doll house!

The very cool 1960s Tammy doll house!

Looking at catalogues used to be a mother-daughter bonding activity in our household.  In the 1960s, my mother and I pored happily over the Sears Christmas catalogues.  She put checkmarks beside  mini-dresses that would look “adorable”on me,  and I circled mini-dresses for my Tammy doll, and put multiple exclamation points beside the very cool Tammy dollhouse, which had a soda fountain, ping pong table, and jukebox.

In the last years of Mom’s life, I lugged a shopping bag of catalogues  to the  nursing home.  We spent hours flipping through Talbot’s, Land’s End, and Harry and David. We speculated,  “What would Michelle Obama wear?” or  “What would Hillary wear?”

Since Mom died in 2013, I have lost all desire to shop for the holidays.  Ironically, I am so glutted with catalogues this year that I schlepped 40 directly from the mailbox to the recycling bin last week.

Happy Holidays, Jingle Bell Rock, etc. but I no longer swoon over pictures of Christmas trees and ask , “Would our Christmas be improved if we ordered a tiny decorated evergreen tree from L. L. Bean that we could later plant outside?”

Or maybe I do.

My husband says we don’t need a potted evergeen.   He says the ground would be too hard for planting it.

I say, “You wait till spring!”

He says, “But do we want an evergreen?”

No, we’d rather plant a maple.

And yet I look at the catalog and think,  MAYBE THIS IS THE YEAR.


tinsel christmas trees and tigger IMG_0574I love our tiny kitschy tinsel trees decorated with LED lights. Put in a battery and they light up.

And the cats enjoy an artificial tabletop tree that lives in the basement year-round. The branches are so unkempt from cat love that we no longer bring it upstairs.

My holiday decorating has always been sporadic, but Mom took it seriously.  I fondly remember her silver aluminum tree with blue ornaments. After I moved away from home, she acquired some scary huge white-clad angel dolls that moved their arms when she plugged them in.   She also had a white flocked Christmas tree in the shower in the basement.  Obviously nobody used the shower.  “Do you want it?” she would ask.  No.  Now I sort of wish I had.  What happened to the angel dolls?

“Do you realize we’ve never had a real Christmas tree?”  I ask my husband.

“We have a real Christmas tree,” he says indignantly.

“That’s an artificial tree.”

Would I enjoy a real tree so late in the game of Christmases?  I’m past the age where I would enjoy stringing popcorn while we listen to Jingle Bell Rock or watch A Christmas Carol.  And the cats really prefer batting ornaments on the floor like soccer balls to seeing them on the tree.

And guess who would vacuum up the evergreen needles?

It is unnecessary to replicate the holiday from old Christmas cards or my favorite Betsy-Tacy books.  Every family has its own traditions.  Ours?  Go to the bookstore on Christmas Eve, plug in our tinsel trees, make a dinner from Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking, and watch Christmas in Connecticut.  It’s good enough.

Catalogues, Ruined by Classics, & Literary Award Burnout

Sears Catalogue 1968

Sears Catalogue 1968:

I love the summer.

Summer is the relief we feel when we shed thick coats and boots. We sit outside, walk, bicycle, go camping (ugh), rent a cabin (better), or stay in a lovely hotel (best).

Winter is cabin fever and going to the mall. We disembark from the bus with the other puffy-parka-clad stragglers, and begin to sweat. We drink a gigantic coffee and try on sweaters and wonder if anyone still eats Maid-rites and end up buying blankets and Yaktrax.

Summer is the end of mall rat season. Instead of being a mall rat, we do what little shopping we do via catalogues or online.

I have always loved mail-order catalogues, which have historically been a  lifesaver on the prairie. The first Sears catalogue was published in 1888. Catalogues provided a wider selection of goods than general stores for farmers and others in remote locations.

We loved the Sears catalogue at our house.  We circled everything we wanted for Christmas.  My mother was an ardent shopper in  department stores, but she also ordered clothes from Sears and Montgomery Ward.  It was very exciting.  Would that plaid jumper fit?  And how about those rather odd ’60s psychedelic pink and lime-green mini-dresses my mother ordered for me?

amazon_boxI am fond of catalogues and online stores.  Without leaving the house, you can order books, black-out curtains, tables, towels, pans, fine china….everything.

Ruined by Classics and Unable to Read Award Winners & Nominees.

I am ruined by classics.

Here is what has happened.

large_baileys_women_s_prizeYou cannot really go back and forth between Chekhov’s stories and, say, Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, which was longlisted for the Bailey Women’s Prize last year.

I do not know if Chekhov was nominated for any prizes, but guess which writer is better?

Semple’s novel is both enjoyable and dismaying.  Bee, the teenage narrator, arranges a mix of emails, reports. and letters  in chronological order to figure out why and where her mother Bernadette disappeared.  I like Bernadette’s voice best.  Her emails, reminded me slightly of E. M. Delafield’s The Diary of a Provincial Lady.  But there is a little too much here of the crazy neighbor’s emails.  And it essentially reminds me of a Y.A. book.

Now I realize that politics are involved in these prizes, though as I have said elsewhere, I DON’T WANT TO KNOW ABOUT IT.  I intend to avoid all articles this year that are likely to spoil the charm of the literary awards.

Oddly enough, reading Semple’s novel (not many pages to go) has made it impossible for me to go on to  Ali Smith’s How to Be Both .

How to Be Both Ali Smith 9780375424106_custom-66420141237c01275ebff57053eea17dc3e26d7f-s300-c85Smith’s How to Be Both won the Baileys Women’s Prize this year.  It is divided into two stories, one set in the present and the other in the Renaissance.  Half of the books have been printed with the present narrative first, and the other half with the Renaissance narrative first.  In my e-book, you are simply given a choice.

I chose the part set in the present, because it looked easier.

Smith’s writing is elegant, but oddly I am finding echoes of Maria Semple’s books.  In both books, a teenage narrator has lost her mother.

So I am simply going to have to start over with Smith’s book later.  I just can’t read it right now.

Perhaps it is a classic, but I cannot judge at this point.

I am put off by the opening of the Renaissance section, which seems to be a poem containing such extravagant phrases  as “Fathemotherplease spread/extempore”…

I’ve read so many classics that I need to go to literary rehab so I can appreciate this.

Or perhaps Semple’s book really IS better.  I’ve read 275 pages, but am not finished yet.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette?  Maria Semple 13526165