Eking out a living on the streets of Paris

Searching for my daily dose of French culture, I stumbled across this story about early 20th century les petits métiers. Striking and sad at the same time, the images capture the essence of “eking out a living.”

Parisian Fields

Paris has a reputation as a city of glitz and glamour. But in the early 20th century, beneath the glamour, many barely survived from day to day. In London, journalist and reformer Henry Mayhew had written a multi-volume study, London Labour and the London Poor in 1851, a fascinating but depressing study of people living on the margins in that city. Mayhew, who had earlier lived in Paris, said of the self-employed poor: they “don’t find a living, it’s only another way of starving.” He could have been speaking about those in Paris who eked out a meagre existence through “Les petits métiers.”

The term referred to those who made their way in the world without the stable structure of apprenticeships, journeyman status, and achievement of mastery. Some were talented at what they did; others did jobs that required only perseverance. They may have worked hard, put in…

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Garden & Gun’s Summer Reading List

Each issue of Garden & Gun has at least 20 things worth sharing here, but this little tidbit is one of my favorites. Whether sitting low in a beach chair pushing my toes into the cool, dark sand, or cramped in an airport lounge hoping my flight is not delayed again, the summer brings some “downtime” moments that make me long for a really good read. And when that gorgeous new favorite book is purchased from an independent bookseller (all too uncommon these days), well…it is that much better still! Enjoy! And feel free to leave your own suggestions. One can never know of too many bookstores!

 

From Garden & Gun

Summer Reading List

We canvassed some of our favorite bookstores around the South to see what summer books have their customers staying up all night. Whether it’s a mystery or a memoir, written by a debut author or a Southern great, set in the Texas oilfields or the streets of Zambia, there’s enough here to satisfy readers of all stripes—and get you through the dog days of summer.

Flyleaf Books
Chapel Hill, NC

Between Wrecks by George Singleton
“If your criteria for a passel of great short stories include blue-collar characters with mouths like sailors and irreverent prose that’ll make you chuckle out loud and then curse under your breath, George Singleton’s your fellow. Read these on a beach with a tumbler of whiskey and an appreciation for the impossibly weird, kudzu-laden South that Singleton evokes with a painter’s precision.”
–Recommended by Linnie Greene, marketing coordinator

BookPeople
Austin, TX

Monday, Monday by Elizabeth Crook
“This is a moving, vividly imagined novel around the tragic tower shooting at the University of Texas in August, 1966, and how it changes the course of three lives. The characters, three students, are entangled that day and reunited decades later when they must confront what changed them and what is most meaningful in their lives.”

Beating Goliath by Art Briles
“A memoir about overcoming loss and keeping faith by the innovative head coach of the highly ranked Baylor football team. Filled with dramatic football stories and lessons learned, this book will inspire and entertain.”
–Recommended by Steve Bercu, owner

Blue Bicycle Books
Charleston, SC

Abroad by Katie Crouch
“Taking the flattened-out, scattered-to-rumor-and-madness story of the Amanda Knox trial, Charleston native Katie Crouch cleans out the guts and inserts her own. She imbues it with completely new and fictional stuffing: wine and Campari, mozzarella and pancetta, cocaine and designer drugs, Ovid and Patricia Highsmith, blood and cigarettes, and mud and clay.”

The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee by Marja Mills
“One of the few outsiders to be let into the reclusive world of Harper Lee, Marja Mills chronicles what started as a professional relationship with the author and evolved by 2004 into doing laundry side-by-side.”

Echo’s Bones by Samuel Beckett
“Published for the first time this July, Beckett’s story was originally rejected by his editors for narrative inconsistencies, ironically one of the trademarks of his work.”
–Recommended by Sara Peck, manager, and Jonathan Sanchez, owner

Malaprop’s Bookstore
Asheville, NC

Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal
“McNeal has written a moving coming-of-age story nestled against the vivid backdrop of New Orleans during the ‘60s and ‘70s. Brimming with thought-provoking commentary on the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam, family secrets, and the unfair judgments we sometimes make about the people in our lives. I couldn’t put it down—a powerful debut!”
–Recommended by Laura Donohoe, children’s book buyer/receiving manager

The Witch of Belladonna Bay by Suzanne Palmieri
“This is a magical mystery set deep in the heart of the South with characters you’ll care about from page one.”

The Stories We Tell by Patti Callahan Henry
“A book that keeps the reader riveted. This mystery is set in a lush and decadent Savannah, and unfolds with an ending that’ll stay with you for weeks.”
–Recommended by Cindy Norris, bookseller

The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons by Sam Kean
“Quirky, strange, funny, tragic, and delightful. Made me laugh and appreciate how far medical science has come! SO much better than a television episode and a perfect way to spend a summer afternoon learning and laughing.”
–Recommended by Erin Makara, bookseller

Square Books
Oxford, MS

2 a.m. at The Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino
“Madeleine is a singer, has an impressively profane vocabulary, is recently motherless, and is nine years old. Determined to fulfill her dream of singing, her story collides with others when she goes to the Cat’s Pajamas and meets up with her teacher, her principal, and the jazz club owner.”
–Recommended by Lyn Roberts, manager

The Ways of the Dead by Neely Tucker
“A debut mystery novel by the Washington Post journalist and Mississippian. Based on the 1990 Princeton murders, this is a taut thriller.”
–Recommended by Cody Morrison, buyer

Factory Man by Beth Macy
“Third-generation Virginia furniture company owner John Bassett defies globalization and saves a town by keeping it local—a brilliant story we should all take notice of.”
–Recommended by Richard Howorth, owner

That Bookstore in Blytheville
Blytheville, AR

The Garden of Burning Sand by Corban Addison
“Thrillingly suspenseful, romantic, and lyrically told, this book is set largely in Zambia, where human rights attorney Zoe Fleming searches for justice for a young rape victim with Down syndrome, only to uncover a disturbing link between the girl and a powerful and ruthless Zambian family. This one will tear your heart out and make you want to do something to change the world.”
–Recommended by Chris Crawley, owner

Jackson Street Books, Inc.
Athens, GA

Children of the Levee by Lafcadio Hearn
Hearn lived an extraordinary life as a Greek-born writer who explored both the city of New Orleans and Japanese ghost stories in his travels. Co-owner Tony Arnold says, “This is a long-unavailable collection by this historic Louisiana icon and an early writer on Japan.”
–Recommended by Tony Arnold, co-owner

TurnRow Book Co.
Greenwood, MS

Wayfaring Stranger by James Lee Burke
“Working outside of his usual detective series, Burke may well have delivered his masterpiece with this novel about two war heroes who start their own business in the oilfields of Louisiana and Texas during the 1940s.”
–Recommended by Jamie Kornegay, owner

For more recommendations, TurnRow’s top 20 list can be found here.

Parnassus Books
Nashville, TN

Flying Shoes by Lisa Howorth
“Not exactly a crime novel, this is a story of a particular time and place in the South, with a cast of colorful characters, plenty of humor to balance the darkness, and an acute sense of history.”

The Vacationers by Emma Straub
“We’re huge fans of Emma Straub’s The Vacationers and she lived in Nashville and taught at Vanderbilt this spring, so we consider her an honorary Southerner. Expect to see this one sticking out of everyone’s beach bags, for good reason.”

Rural Studio at Twenty: Designing and Building in Hale County, Alabama by Andrew Freear, Elena Barthel, Andrea Oppenheimer Dean, and Timothy Hursley (photographer)
“Here’s a book that looks good, reads well, and leaves you with a warm feeling in your soul. The follow-up to the bestselling Rural Studio (2002) checks in on this amazing project as it reaches its twenty-year anniversary. Architects, community advocates, professors, and students will love it.”
–Recommended by Karen Hayes, co-owner

 

The Final Goodbye

I wrote this essay for a magazine class I took with the one of my favorite writers, Rick Bragg. He liked it, which helped me walk on air that day. I promised him I would keep writing, so I am putting this here as a reminder. I hope you enjoy it too!

The Final Goodbye

by Jenn Rogers Cox

In the movie Stand By Me, twelve-year-old Vern turns to his friends and says, “You guys wanna go see a dead body?” They all nod enthusiastically and set off on an adventure to find the novelty of death. Personally, my answer to that question is no, even at 41. When I was seven years old it was even more so, but at that very age I saw my first dead body. I actually had to walk up to it, talk to it, touch its hand, and lean over and kiss it goodbye.

            I know this concept is probably foreign to many people. Friends who hear this story usually recoil at least five inches and give me a look that makes me think their wine is bad. I don’t know how funerals go in other parts of the country, but we are Southerners. Here funerals are conducted with much the same fanfare as a housewarming or holiday party, and though they are far more somber events, there is no excuse for not having the right clothes, the perfect guest list and the best food. This is a very important part. Southerners eat well every day of the year, but it is a known fact that you are not a true Southern woman unless you have at least one go-to dish for a funeral. Sometimes there is music, sometimes a speaker, but always a gathering of family from near and far. And, as is proper when invited to any party, one is required to bid her host or hostess farewell when leaving.

            My grandmother, Eden, as she was forever known after my bumbling three-year-old attempt to say “Evelyn,” introduced me to the fine art of a Southern funeral. I was staying with her that summer, as I did every summer, and I was in heaven. I went to work with her every day and pretended to answer the phone at her beauty salon. In between sweeping up hair and collecting towels, I repeatedly washed and set the beautician’s mannequin head she had given me to play with. We ate steak at Bonanza once a week and went to church on Sunday. As always, I was hoping the summer would last forever. Then Aunt Sally died.

            Eden had not missed a wedding, funeral or family reunion in more than forty years, so I knew she would be making that long, boring drive to Decatur, Ala. without question. When I learned that, as a beautician, she would also be the one to “fix up” Aunt Sally for the viewing, I selfishly sulked because this meant she would be gone longer. What did not dawn on me was that, given my presence and the fact that her shop girl Wanda could not keep me overnight, I was going with her.

            There were two major problems with this scenario. First, this was a family gathering and would likely consist of every “old person” I had never met in the family. At that age, I didn’t like “old people.” They pinched my cheeks, made a fuss, and pulled wadded rolls of tissue from their sleeve. The men had hair growing out of their noses and ears. The women were covered in a haze of powder two shades too light for their skin tone, and their lips were drawn on with sticky red lipstick that reminded me of a grimacing clown.  Then there was the “old lady smell,” which to my young nose was somewhere between Vicks VapoRub and watery roses. I would come, in time, to realize that we all go down that path eventually, but then old was old.

            The other problem was really unrelated to age, as I still hold on to this little idiosyncrasy to this day. I don’t like dead. I was never the child who dragged home dead things found in the woods. When my first pet died, I cried but could not see him. I am sure I’m not the only person who feels this way, but I am convinced that my dislike goes beyond a rational sense. The knowledge that the spirit of a person, that bit of someone you know, has left this bodily shell behind is overwhelmingly and soul crushingly sad to me. And what remains simply scares me. Unfortunately, funerals were about being dead.

            In spite of my best pleading and whining, neither of these issues made any difference in the long run, and I soon found myself in Eden’s station wagon, slowly crawling up the dusty road that winds its way to the top of Trinity Mountain. To make matters worse, we were staying with my Aunt Ollie on her farm. Her dark house, always filled with the smell of stale grease, scorched coffee and cigarette smoke, was one of my least favorite places, even in the best of circumstances, and when we finally drove back down the mountain the next day, my need to get out of that house completely overshadowed where we were going. Eden had gone ahead of us to work on Aunt Sally, leaving me with Aunt Ollie. When we arrived at the church, I immediately made myself scarce in hopes of avoiding the inevitable onslaught of “My goodness, look how big you’ve gotten” comments from people I truly had never seen before.

            I spent most of the viewing sulking in a back pew, arms crossed, legs swinging, face scowling. I was trying to be invisible to everyone, especially those old ladies who knew Eden well. They all thought they knew me too, and they were definitely of the cheek-pinching type. My stomach was still a bit queasy from the cigarette-smoke cloud that swirled between the closed windows of Aunt Ollie’s Oldsmobile. From my vantage point I watched a stream of black suits, stockings and hats walk up the center aisle and back down the perimeter. At the front they would stop and stare into the casket, their lips moving as if they were talking to the nothing that was there. Then most of them would lean over the body. I had no idea what that was about, but I sure was glad I didn’t have to be that close to an old dead person. Each of them would then pull a tissue from their sleeve and wipe their eyes. As they passed me, still dabbing at the milky streaks running through the rouge on their cheeks, they would say things like “She looked just beautiful,” or “She looked just like she was sleeping.” I was pondering these ridiculous remarks when Eden appeared in the aisle beside me.

            “Let’s go,” she said, and I was so anxious, I slid across the hard wooden bench and jumped up before giving any thought to what she meant. Instead of heading toward the door, she grabbed my hand and started up the plush green aisle runner. I had no choice but to go along. Pitching a fit or making a scene was simply not allowed, and I knew my manners well enough. I stood dutifully beside her trying not to look. Then she turned and picked me up. I found myself face to face with what had once been Aunt Sally. She did look like she was sleeping.

            “Tell Aunt Sally goodbye,” Eden said as she dangled me over the casket like a rag doll. Desperate to end this madness, I said goodbye to this person I never remembered saying hello to.

            Holding me with one arm, Eden placed a hand on top of Aunt Sally’s hands, which I later learned were sewn together to keep them in place. With her other arm she held me solidly against her hip. “Go ahead,” she said. I immediately went rigid. There was no way on earth I wanted to touch a dead body, family or not. No way, not going to happen. But as I looked down at Eden’s warm hand on top of Aunt Sally’s cold ones I found myself reaching out. I placed my tiny, sweaty palm right beside Eden’s on top of Aunt Sally’s. She felt solid. As I looked down at the three hands, mine young and chubby, Eden’s wrinkled and roughened from years in a shampoo bowl, and Aunt Sally’s, though the oldest of all, so smooth and hard, it occurred to me that her skin looked just like the hard plastic of my beautician’s mannequin.

            “Well kiss her goodbye, “ Eden whispered in my ear.

            Now I began to squirm. It was one thing to see a body, and one thing to touch it, but kiss it? No, thank you. Even at that young age, I was adamant. Well, as adamant as a seven year old can be.  In spite of all the manners I knew I should display, it was time for a scene. I clamped my mouth shut and turned my head. She was still holding me and started bending me toward Aunt Sally’s face. I turned my head the other way. She shifted. I whipped my head back. She shifted. So I did the only thing I could do. I began to cry. When her grip didn’t loosen, I moved from whine to wail, directing my loudest straight into Eden’s ear. She put me down. Then she leaned over, gently brushed Aunt Sally’s now-smooth cheek and pressed her lips to it. “Goodbye, sweet lady,” she said. And we walked away.

            I’d like to say that I was proud of my little temper tantrum and the fact that I actually gotten my way. I didn’t have to kiss that dead old lady after all! Instead I felt disappointment. I had let Eden down. In the car during the processional to the gravesite, she was silent. I am sure now that this was due in part to grief, since she actually did know Aunt Sally, but I think part of it was from the simple contemplation of the finite nature of life. I guess a few decades can put a new spin on things. At the time, however, I was convinced I was in trouble. She wasn’t calling me “Angel,” her pet name for me. She wasn’t even looking at me.

            “Eden, I’m sorry I didn’t want to kiss the lady,” was all I could think to say.

            She took my hand and smiled at me. “It’s alright, Angel,” she said. “You will someday.”

            I was so elated that she called me Angel, which meant I wasn’t in trouble after all, I didn’t think anything more about the rest of her words. Why would I ever want to kiss a dead lady?

            Thirty-five years later, I completely understand that what Eden wanted me to do was a sign of respect and love. We live in a world, at least in the South, where family is the most important thing. From the times when plantations or farms were run by family members to the family reunions my parents dragged me to every single summer to swelter at some picnic ground, there is a sense of continuity we derive from family.  When someone leaves us we hug him or her warmly, with wishes of being together again soon. When someone leaves us permanently, we feel the same way.

            I have, unfortunately, attended several funerals since that first with Eden, many for family and some for friends, a few that were expected and a few that were far too premature. With each passing, I struggled with how to act, what to do and what to say. I did eventually learn to walk to the casket, holding tight to the image of Eden paying her final respects to someone who deserved to be remembered. I have even managed, in the case of my grandfather when I was nine and my Aunt Sarah when I was 30 to place my hand over the cold, hard plastic shell of those that once held such warmth. But I have always stopped short of kissing anyone goodbye. Well, almost always.

            In 1995, cancer took Eden from me. Weeks of chemotherapy and radiation had whittled her body down to a nearly unrecognizable shell. Her eyes and cheeks were hollow. A blue and white bandana had long taken the place of her once brilliant silver hair. The strong and beautiful woman who had instilled in me a sense of pride and family, who had taught me to make cornbread without a recipe, and who taught me to strive for a standard I still struggle to live up to, had disappeared. When she breathed her last breath, her spirit was long gone. That same familiar sense of overwhelming sadness settled in, but this time it wasn’t enough to repel me. I sat by her bedside long after she stopped breathing, holding her hand and stroking her forehead while my own tears blinded me to the fact that she was no longer there.

            For the funeral, which was to be open casket of course, Eden had wanted to look as much like herself as possible. This meant a good wig and the proper makeup. Having managed to peer into a few open caskets over time, thanks to Eden, I knew that the hired beauticians would do what they could, but that the inevitable over painting would result in a body that looked less like my Eden than she already did. So the little girl who was terrified of old people and of death, the brat who would not kiss her Aunt Sally goodbye, the one who could only manage a cursory pass through a viewing salon, sat in a room alone with the body of her departed grandmother and carefully applied just the right amount of rouge and lipstick, the way she had shown me. Then I lightly dusted her face with powder, in the correct shade this time. The wig, which I had already styled into her familiar hairstyle, slipped easily from the wax mannequin head and onto hers. With a couple of adjustments I knew that every person who walked up to her ivory satin-lined casket would say “Doesn’t she look beautiful. Like she’s just sleeping.” She really did. She was my Eden. As I stood and looked at her, my streaming tears turned to sobs. The ache in my heart turned to a burning sense of grief so overwhelming I thought I might faint. At that moment, I did the only thing I could possibly think to do. I leaned over, put my arms around her neck and held on for dear life. After a moment, the tears subsided. Eden, in death as she had in life, had quieted my fears with simply a hug. I straightened her wig, freshened her lipstick, and kissed her firmly on both cheeks. “Goodbye, sweet lady,” I said. “Goodbye, my angel.

Keeping Christmas

Sometimes it is fun to give you something beautiful for your day. I love this poem by Henry van Dyke (1852-1933). No matter what you believe the holiday is about, it is hard to argue with van Dyke’s take.

Keeping Christmas

by Henry van Dyke

There is a better thing than the observance of Christmas day, and that is, keeping Christmas.

Are you willing…

  • to forget what you have done for other people, and to remember what other people have done for you;
  • to ignore what the world owes you, and to think what you owe the world;
  • to put your rights in the background, and your duties in the middle distance, and your chances to do a little more than your duty in the foreground;
  • to see that men and women are just as real as you are, and try to look behind their faces to their hearts, hungry for joy;
  • to own up to the fact that probably the only good reason for your existence is not what you are going to get out of life, but what you are going to give to life;
  • to close your book of complaints against the management of the universe, and look around you for a place where you can sow a few seeds of happiness.

Are you willing to do these things even for a day? Then you can keep Christmas.

Are you willing…

  • to stoop down and consider the needs and desires of little children;
  • to remember the weakness and loneliness of people growing old;
  • to stop asking how much your friends love you, and ask yourself whether you love them enough;
  • to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear in their hearts;
  • to try to understand what those who live in the same home with you really want, without waiting for them to tell you;
  • to trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front so that your shadow will fall behind you;
  • to make a grave for your ugly thoughts, and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open—

Are you willing to do these things, even for a day? Then you can keep Christmas.

Are you willing…

  • to believe that love is the strongest thing in the world—
  • stronger than hate, stronger than evil, stronger than death—
  • and that the blessed life which began in Bethlehem nineteen hundred years ago is the image and brightness of the Eternal Love?

Then you can keep Christmas.

And if you can keep it for a day, why not always?

But you can never keep it alone. 

Enjoy the day! MS


Finally figured out the Southern Buttermilk Biscuits my grandmother made!

I love to cook, and southern food is especially important to me because it is “how” I learned to cook. One could even say southern food truly developed my desire TO cook. My grandmother, Eden, was a gracious lady who believed in God, loved her family, worked hard every day, did not cotton to silliness in any form, and could cook with no recipe at all. In fact, in the 23 years I had her in my life, I don’t believe I ever saw her with a recipe card or cookbook. I know she had them, because I inherited them, but I don’t think she ever used them. Which makes life rather difficult when one is trying to recreate certain things.

I completely understand and love why she didn’t use a recipe. There’s a certain creative process and sense of pride involved. Knowing you are making something that comes completely from your own head is a powerful thing for a cook, especially when it turns out well. Eden’s always did. Mine, on the other hand, did not.

Don’t get me wrong. My own concoctions, from soups to spice rubs to cookies to cocktails, tend to turn out fine. But it has taken me ages to perfect her recipes. After all, I only ever watched her make them; she never let me actually help, except to stir. So trying to recreate the measurements was a challenge, considering I was always just told or shown “a pinch of” or “just enough and then a smidge more.” My measuring cups and spoons don’t have a “smidge” line, though I think they should.

I mastered cornbread early, then hopping john and corn casserole, even dressing for Thanksgiving (through MUCH trial and error), but one thing always kept giving me the same trouble – buttermilk biscuits. All the recipes I found in southern cookbooks rendered these big fluffy biscuits that were delicious, but were simply NOT the small, dense biscuits I loved from my grandmother’s kitchen. When I moved to Colorado, I even tried several of them again, thinking the altitude might make them so. All I ended up with was golden hockey pucks. They didn’t rise at all. So where was the balance? I was looking for the right amount of lift, but with a very solid center, to stand up to sawmill gravy or simmered strawberries. Those were Eden’s biscuits. But try as I might to remember every single step, they never turned out. Until this weekend!

I finally resorted to one of her cookbooks, and then played with the recipe a bit, as I knew she would have (if she had ever read the thing!) A little more of this, a little less of that, and it all worked!! Perfect size, thickness and density:

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I think Eden would be so proud of me! True, I used a cookbook, but I made it my own. I made some sawmill gravy and grits while hubbo made some bacon and eggs. Yes, that’s right! We actually sat down to breakfast!

I thought perhaps I should record what actually worked, so the recipe is here. If I move back to Colorado one day, perhaps I’ll have to up the soda, but for now, these work just fine!!

Buttermilk Biscuits (adapted from Martha Meade’s Recipes from the Old South, 1961).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

2 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. soda (1/2 if milk is very sour)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. buttermilk (about)
2 tbsp shortening (the recipe calls for lard or animal fat, but this actually contributes to the softness I was trying to minimize. Shortening is a good substitute for added density.)

Sift dry ingredients together and blend with shortening.

Add milk slowly (may not need entire amount) to make a soft dough.

Knead and roll out on a floured surface to 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Cut with biscuit cutter (I use a glass dipped in flour like my grandmother did, but be sure to flour it well).

Place in biscuit pan (or baking sheet) and bake in 350-degree oven about 10 minutes.

Brush tops with butter and continue baking until brown but still soft when top pressed.

Now we can all have biscuits any time! Hmmm…maybe I’ll post the gravy recipe next. Enjoy!

Reminiscing about my old neighborhood

I get homesick – and often. I recently moved from Denver, and while I am certainly not reminiscing about snowy drives to work and 12 degree days, I have lately been thinking about spring days in my old neighborhood. Capitol Hill is a wonderful place to live – or to visit. On foot, or by car, there is wonderful, eclectic mix of vintage shops, record stores, dusty book shops…oh, and people! If live music is your thing, as it is mine, there is something to satisfy every night of the week.

I started thinking about the perfect day, and night, in my old stomping ground. If you have the occasion to visit, perhaps this map will help a bit.

Happy New Year!

New Year’s Eve. Amateur Night. Ole Year’s.

My friends all have different names for this particular evening. What do you call it? Over the years, I have rung in the New Year in a variety of ways: on the water, at the beach, dancing, evening dress, on the street in West Palm, in the mountains of Colorado, driving down I-75, sitting quietly at home, an elegant champagne party with my lovely friends, in a fleabag motel in Nowhere, NM. I have my own opinion, based on experience, that the best years have been preceded by the least amount of celebration. Perhaps it is just me; maybe you blow it out every year and every year keeps getting better. For me, the years I’ve had the craziest nights have been the worst years (worst is relative here…not all terrible, but in comparison to others, not at all great). When I have taken the simple, low-key approach, those years have turned out pretty well. Is there a true correlation? Probably not; but for this superstitious Southern girl, I’ll take a quiet evening.

Wanting to start this year off on the best possible footing (because Lord knows I need it!) I went for a simple elegant evening at home. Dinner with my lovely man and a couple of friends. True…I’m recently back in Birmingham and don’t really know anyone, but that’s just fine. We had a wonderful meal, great champagne, good music, and fabulous company. What better way to start 2013?

The best part about it was, I got to flex my Southern girl muscle. Dinner party? That means only one thing to us entertainers: linens, china, silver, flowers, music, LBD, pearls…wait, I guess it means many things. In any event, it was time to do it right. So Emily Post and I set the table:

There is something so great about crystal, silver and white linens! Very classic…I hope.

Then of course: the music was Miles, the menu was filet medallions with a bearnaise sauce, creamed spinach and roasted potatoes. Oh…and I found my pearls!

It was simple, elegant and warm. The perfect way to start off what I hope is a fantastic year! Cheers y’all!