Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Holiday Pops

It's a gray, cold day here in Kansas City, despite all the bustle I'm sure abounds out on the streets and in the shops. And, yet, with a few more Christmas parties on my social schedule, I've got my holiday look on my mind.

'Tis certainly the season to sparkle, yes, and neutral minimalism has ruled the runways as well as of late. But for the holidays, I think it's just as appropriate to look forward to spring and celebrate by being, well, both cheery and bright.

Neons and bright solids are a hot trend for spring, both in beauty and apparel and even if you're somewhat color shy, a pop of color can be easily added to your go-to little black dress. Personally, as I'm always erring on the side of preppy, there's nothing I love more than to mix together brights. Here's how:

Coral's one of the hot colors, as seen in the Marc by Marc Jacobs Spring 2011 show (above). Take a cue from this monochromatic look by adding some coral color to your holiday look with a mix of bangles, and some bright lips. Coral looks brilliant when paired with blue, but would look especially fresh with a winter white. Or try coral on your nails; a good polish to try is Essie's Vermillionaire.

The lips at Diane von Furstenberg's Spring 2011 RTW show were neon pink, as the makeup drew inspiration from Andy Warhol's silkscreens of the designer. Try neon pink with graphic black and/or white, a bare face, and simple hair. This look would especially pop with the bare shoulders of a strapless black dress, and perhaps a simple stud earring (turquoise, diamond, or pearl) and a tiny bangle on the wrist for jewelry.

Feeling braver? Try mixing two or three or four. I myself am quite fond of a watermelon-pink blouse with a skinny neon orange belt, which I balance with a navy mini and navy tights. I've a new pair of turqouise studs that I could add, and still keep things subtle (of sorts).  But if I'm going for a bolder look, I might try for more, as seen on the Gucci Spring 2011 runways, above.

Bonne chance! And may your holidays sparkle and pop!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Picture of Gentleman Gray

If you'll recall, a few weeks ago, I pondered the evolution of the modern gentleman. More specifically, the modern American gentleman.

It's a tricky area of discussion, sartorially speaking. Take the CBS show, How I Met Your Mother and Neil Patrick Harris's bro of a character Barney Stinson, who always, always suits up. There's even an occasional tuxedo night.

This is done in order to set him apart from the rest of the t-shirt wearing generation, but Barney Stinson - though he may enjoy his Scotch and fine haberdashery - is no gentleman. Britney Spears might even name him Womanizer.

The suit, it would seem, does not the gentleman make. Clothes do not make the man, but a man must possess style to make them more than clothes.

No, and though while I would love to return to a day and age in which everyman suited up and never left home without a hat, the truth is, these days, a gentleman of style is more sartorially complicated than coat and tie. It's about as being as effortlessly stylish in a henley and denim, as in fedora and gabardine.

There is a certain level of respect these days for the American-made tradition.

Take Made-In-America brand Rag and Bone. Started by English gentlemen Marcus Wainwright and David Neville, the designing pair began their creation with a trip to the land of high cotton, the Southern United States, to discover for themselves the tradition of of denim making:

Founded in 2002, rag & bone had one very clear vision in mind: to make clothes that they and their friends would love to wear every day. With no formal fashion training, Marcus Wainwright & David Neville set about learning how to make jeans. They believed that denim represented the history, authenticity and fundamentals of classic work wear that they would strive to reflect in their designs.
Beginning in Kentucky, rag & bone surrounded themselves with people who had been making patterns, cutting fabric and sewing their whole lives. Working with these kinds of craftsmen taught them the importance of quality, craftsman-ship and attention to detail early on.
These principles soon became the keystones of the rag & bone philosophy, the definition of what clothing can and should be. With these principles in mind, whenever possible rag & bone produces the majority of their garments in U.S. factories that still sew clothes the same way they did 50 years ago.

Which is why they partner with craftsmen and established businesses such as Martin Greenfield Tailors of Brooklyn, Norton and Sons of Saville Row, and Waterbury Button, "the oldest button manufacturer in US."

Which is why they're something of experts when it comes to a gentleman's aesthetic.

The fashion world is having something more than the normal fall and winter love affair with plaid   moment; it started with a hum as preppy went mainstream, grew with a low boom as hipsters collected the buffalo plaid woodsman look, and has all of a sudden become something you simply cannot miss; whether it's in lowly blogs such as this, in the pages of shelter mags such as Lonny, or in the pages of every fashion glossy from Nylon to Town and Country.

And, as the New York Times noted this week, the preppy plaid spread a widespread panic among moody chromophobes everywhere.

Rag & Bone's David Neville included.
“This is a gentler interpretation of plaid,” said David Neville, one of the partners behind Rag & Bone, who himself confessed to a certain aversion toward color. “Today I am wearing a combination of light gray, dark gray and black, so I guess I fit into that mold. But I can be a bit more adventurous — perhaps around the holidays. I wouldn’t wear a bold, bright plaid, but I would wear a shadow plaid. Subtle is good, you know?”
Shadow plaids. Gentle, subtle, yes, the colors allow a gentleman to remain distinguished, and un-dandified, yet the plaids add a pop, and betray him as a man of style and modernity.
“Shadow plaids are the new solids,” said Eric Jennings, the men’s fashion director of Saks Fifth Avenue. “They’re ideal for men’s suiting. From far away they read as a solid color, and up close the texture and fabric come to life. And they’re the perfect background for a pop of color.”
It is worth noting that “shadow plaid,” like many men’s-wear terms, has taken on different meanings. Mr. Jennings uses it to describe understated tone-on-tone plaids, like dark brown on medium brown. Others use it to describe gray-scale plaids. Still others use it to describe the ombré plaids popular in Western shirts in which two colors gradate from one to the other.
But there is no question that plaids in plain gray, black and white combinations are the ones that have come in this season."
Chromophobia, indeed.

If a gentleman is all class and polish, what does it mean for color?

David Neville may have an aversion to color, but as a gentleman of style, he has come to recognize this as his personal style (bravery, be damned) and owns it, and up to it. I've never seen Chuck Bass turn away from a purple, or a double-breasted suit, which is a personal style he holds true to season after season, trend after trend.

As I began work on this article this morning, I had the low hum of the television in the background and as I was re-reading the Times article, what should come on but Dolce & Gabbana's ad for their cologne, "The One," as in, the One True Gentleman.

Italian brand. American spokesman. Black and white. Miles Davis in the forefront. Take a look:

Interesting isn't it, how the mere absence of color renders a concept timeless? Yet, in the end, he is still a man, and the colors of his complexion are reflected in the cognacs and coffees of the cologne.

The classic trappings of gentleman-hood, are, in fact, often without color: Scotch, cigars, leather. Cliche though they may be,are they not what you picture when you call up Humphrey Bogart to memory? Or perhaps you see him in the silver time freeze of Casablanca, as I often do.

For now, though,
“It’s a part of the Americana vibe we’ve seen,” Nick Sullivan, the fashion director of Esquire, explained...This is a little step forward to something more sophisticated, and at the same time a step back to something more normal.”
But don’t go thinking that the emergence of shadow plaid is a sign that men’s wear is headed back to the Italianate ’90s, when Prada and Gucci put entire ZIP codes into sleek gray suiting with all the warmth of a charcoal briquette. As the retro-volutionary style of the gentleman continues to grow, its adherents are ready and willing to ferret out its less obvious manifestations. Kick it up a notch? A gentleman would just as soon kick it down.
It gives me pause: is it the gentleman's distinguished duty to leave the color to the ladies - and the dandies? Is the art of gentlemanly dressing in the power of restraint, in balancing sharp sartorial style while letting the lady grace the chromatic scale? Is it the art of modern gentlemanly dressing to do so?

I wonder.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

"I Can't! My Baby Alligator Just Fall Down!" - And Other Such Stories from N

Sometimes, these things just hit you like 25 pounds of funny and you forget what you were reprimanding, asking, thinking about. Often, it's the things that come out of your own mouth, as I experienced when I worked at the preschool. Never thought you'd ask someone to please stop running around with markers in their mouth with no underpants on? Work with kids. And think again.

I still have some of the funniest things from my pre-school kids on file in my memory.

One little girl walked into school one morning and announced to everyone, her mother in tow, that, "My mommy was naked when she woke up this morning." Sorry mommy.

N and I have our fair share of moments around here too, many of them just completely out of the blue, and as its been awhile since I've done a post like this, I thought I'd catch up over here off the Twittersphere.


Me: "Come on, you two!"
N: "I can't! My baby alligator just fell."
Me: "Oh no!"
N: "Yeah. Her name Pinnoch-nio."

N(looking up at the Christmas tree): "I need to grow bigger! (runs over to me) Rachel, I need to get bigger!"
Me: "You might if you sat down and ate your lunch!"
N: "I am eating!" Shows a mouthful of food.

N's mom: "Tell Rachel you'll see her later.
N: "Yeah."

N: "This is how you jump over Tipper (dog). We don't step on her. That make her mean."
Me: "Well, it probably hurts her too!"
N: "Yep. That make sense and stuff."

Me (as N and I are snugglin', and she's burying her face in my curls. She does this a lot as she likes to twirl them): "Does my hair smell good or something?"
N: "Your hair smokin'!"

N: "I princess just like you!"
I swear I don't bribe her to tell me that. Bless her heart, she came up with it all her own.

Me: "Morning, N!"
N: "Excuse me, Rachel!"
Me: "Excuse you?"
N: "Excuse me, I just poop again!"

N: "What's this?"
Me: "My zipper."
N: "Let's un-zip."
Me: "No, no, let's not."
N (pulls my dress up): "That your booty!"
Me: "Yep, that's my booty."

N: "I want this sticker for you." Sticks it on my forehead. Hello, Kitty.

Me: "What'd you do at school today?"
N: "Play."
Me: "What kind of things did you play."
N: "I not roll up my bottle."
Me: "Ah. Okay."

N: "Look, look!"
Me: "Oh you're in my boots! Quick let's take a pic to send mommy!"
N: "No. I too falling down."

N: "I not tall just like you, Rachel!"
Not nearly as complimentary as the princess comment.

N: "I not feeling well. You not feeling well?"
Me: "Yeah. Can we watch Cinderella pretty please?"
N: "Okay, nanny. We not feel well."

N: "I don't want to hit M on the head anymore."
Note: she hadn't been hitting him at all at the time, actually, was sitting and coloring quietly. Then volunteered this.

N: "Look at my Christmas!"
Talking about her family's Christmas tree(s).

N: "Why you have messy hair?"
Me: "It's curly. I have curly hair."
N: Why you have curly hair?"
Me: "I don't know, sweetie, I guess I just do!"
N: "No. You have messy hair."

Still yearning for more? Don't worry, N will keep saying things, and I will keep doing my best to record them, but to tide you over, see also my older posts, N Says and Grammar Lessons with N.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

No post today, but still looking for some reading? I've published a new piece of short fiction over at Fictionaut:

Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Disney's Last Princess - Why Tangled's Rapunzel Is the Studio's Farewell to Fairy Tales

I'm looking at my bookshelf and counting the fairy tales.

A Little Princess
Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (this would be there had my sister not heisted it)
The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm
The Classic Fairy Tales
Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister
The Book of Fairy and Folk Tales of Ireland

A month ago, twenty glossy children's books on loan from the library stacked tall next to my own fairy tales. In the spirit of conducting research for my own children's book I wish to write, I checked out all of what I could find in the princess genre at one of the local libraries.

I can say with confidence that there are a few more decorating the corners of my childhood bedroom, now stripped nearly bare. Save for two beds, two nightstands, a dresser, and books.

Twenty years ago, and that room would have been filled with much more magic, like shimmering cobwebs of imagination: fairy wands, and wings; princess hats, and petticoats; whispers of dragon's breath and princes.

But in young girl's rooms across our land, fairytale magic has become as flickering a hope as Tinkerbell's last light. For as Disney's "Tangled" - a take on Rapunzel - plays merrily down the street, the animation studio makes plans to abandon the princess and fairy tales motifs.
But across the pond - and throughout the world - all eyes keep watch on a new fairytale princess story: that of Kate Middleton, and her Prince William.

And yet, already it is different.

True, Kate is not of royal blood, marrying a royal - a common theme in the Cinderella, or Bluebeard, tale types.

But she is something that even Lady Di was not: college-educated.

As recently recounted in Time Magazine's feature, "Marriage: What's It Good For," this will be the first royal coupling in England in which the betrothed are equal in education, a high-profile representative of a current trend in Western marriages:

"Modern brides and grooms tend to be older and more similar. In particular, Americans are increasingly marrying people who are on the same socioeconomic and educational level."
Certainly a far cry from princesses waiting around for Prince Charming to rescue them from dire situations. We are no longer locked in towers; "since more women than men have graduated from college for several decades, it's more likely than it used to be that a male college graduate will meet, fall in love with, wed and share the salary of a woman with a degree. Women's advances in education have roughly paralleled the growth of the knowledge economy, so the slice of the family bacon she brings home will be substantial."

What's even more of a change is that we're rescuing ourselves, in a sense:
"Well-off women don't need to stay in a marriage that doesn't make them happy; two-thirds of all divorces, it's estimated, are initiated by wives."
In the past 25 years or so, Disney's princesses have made the move from sweet, trilling pretty faces to strong, independent characters, but the bottom line hasn't changed: these princesses have all needed to be rescued. What has changed, however, is that the men in their lives all required a bit of rescuing as well, somewhat equaling out the dynamic.

Take Ariel, for example: defiant, independent, imaginative girl with dreams and a voice all her own defies her father not simply for the love of the human world, but the love of a man. She becomes mute in order to meet him, and relies on her love to save her from the sea witch, and to elevate her to the world of her dreams.

However, we must not forget that it was Ariel who saved Prince Eric from drowning.

Then there was Jasmine: a fiercely defiant princess, confined by the laws of the land which mandated an arranged marriage, longs to escape palace life. When she does, she meets a pauper boy, who pretends to be a prince, then must defeat the evil Jafar in order to save the princess and her father, so that she can have her happy ending: a love match. This may be a triumph, yes, as she is allowed to choose her husband, something her predecessors have not been able to do, but ultimately, she is still being saved by her man.

Curiously though, Aladdin - the peasant boy and "street rat" is equally saved from his economic situation by Jasmine.

And in the latest princess installment, there was Tiana, of "The Princess and the Frog," whose father always told her that with hard work, her dream of opening a restaurant would someday come true. She meets Naveen as the Frog Prince, a lazy prince whose fortunes are out of reach until he learns to sustain himself, but who is also in danger of being kept a frog forever by the voodoo man.

Tiana teaches Naveen love, patience, and pride in independence, and together, they save each other: they find happiness in love, which turns them human again, and Naveen's fortunes are restored, and Tiana is able to open the restaurant of her dreams (One could even argue that Tiana needed less rescuing than Naveen).

But, "although critically acclaimed, last year's "The Princess and the Frog" was the most poorly performing of Disney's recent fairy tales. In the age of mega-franchises when movies need to appeal to a broad audience to justify a sizable investment, Disney discovered too late the "Princess and the Frog" appealed to too narrow an audience: little girls. This prompted the studio to change the name of its Rapunzel movie to the gender-neutral "Tangled" and shift the lens of its marketing to the film's swashbuckling male costar, Flynn Rider."

But it's not just about attracting boys to the theatres. Apparently, girls' interests have shifted: 
" 'By the time they're 5 or 6, they're not interested in being princesses,' said Dafna Lemish, chairwoman of the radio and TV department at Southern Illinois University and an expert in the role of media in children's lives. 'They're interested in being hot, in being cool. Clearly, they see this is what society values.' (LA Times)."
It is true that the fairy tale was born to another world entirely. When the Grimm brothers collected their tales, "they were intent on using the tales to document basic truths about the customs and practices of the German people and on preserving their authentic ties to the oral tradition" (Zipes). And while the brothers employed their own Disney-like editing - "eliminat[ing] erotic and sexual elements that might be offensive to middle-class morality, add[ing] numerous Christian expressions and references, emphasiz[ing] specific role models for male and female protagonists according to the dominant patriarchal code of that time," their belief was that the collection "should be, namely, an Erzeihungsbuch, an educational manual" (Zipes).

These tales - which, while fantastical, where primarily teaching tools - appeared in cultures throughout the world, beyond the realm of the Grimms', but "there is a basic plot structure (what folklorist refer to as a 'tale type') that appears despite rich cultural variation. 'Beauty and the Beast,' for example...has the following episodic structure:

I. The monster as husband
II. Disenchantment of the monster
III. Loss of the husband
IV. Search for the husband
V. Recovery of the husband " (Tatar).

And while a tale such as this may, in these modern days, be "deemed of marginal cultural importance...they must be addressing issues that have a significant social function...In a study of mass-produced fantasies for women, Tania Modleski points out that genres such as the soap-opera, the Gothic novel, and the Harlequin romance 'speak to very real problems and tensions in women's lives. The narrative strategies which have evolved for smoothing over these tensions can tell us much about how women have managed not only to live in oppressive circumstances but to invest their situations with some degree of dignity.' " (Tatar).

These days, it is far less likely for a woman to enter a marriage not knowing her husband, and the relevance of the "Husband as Monster" at first meeting has certainly diminished.

But when you look at Snow White, the existence of jealousy and rivalry among women is still very real to this day. And while "Tangled," has shed it's fairy-tale tropes and trappings, this element still remains:
"The villain, Mother Gothel, isn't the enchantress of the Grimm tale. She's an incarnation of "Mommie Dearest."

In one of the film's musical numbers, "Mother Knows Best," Mother Gothel tells Rapunzel she's "getting kind of chubby" — a line lifted directly from a real-life mother-daughter exchange recounted during a story brainstorming session (LA Times)."
In a world where girls must grow up to hold their own in the world, attractiveness is put in our own hands, not in the family bank hold. There is a new pressure - to be educated, to be successful, to be, yes, "hot," and "cool," and the mean girl dynamic has not left, it has merely shifted. But the face of femininity has indeed changed.

Perhaps it's time, too, to give boys an equal focus in the market, but should we really bid fairy tales adieu, to be redeemed only as classics? Or should we continue to refocus them, so that they are reflective of our culture and time? In my opinion, Disney should continue to make their fairy tale films more like "Tangled," but as the axe has been brought down on projects like "The Snow Queen," and "Jack and the Beanstalk" (a very un-princessy fairy tale), we'll be getting more robots and super heroes for the time being.

In this house, fairy tale princess dresses hang next to commonplace coats, and Tiana, Belle, Ariel, Jasmine, Aurora are household names. N is two, going on three in January and doesn't show signs of giving up on princesses anytime soon. She likes to twirl my curls, and brush my hair, and when she's finished, will pat my head and call me a "princess," a word she's associated with being pretty and feminine. Dresses and skirts make one a princess as well, as do painted nails. The girliest of girls - much like me when I was her age - will she grow up out of this as her peers do? If Disney has anything to say about it, yes. 

"Disney: After 'Tangled,' Disney Animation is Closing the Book on Fairy Tales" - Dawn C. Chmielewski and Claudia Eller, Los Angeles Times, November 21, 2010
"Marriage: What's It Good For?" - Belinda Luscombe, Time Magazine, November 29, 2010
The Classic Fairy Tales - a Norton Critical Edition, edited by Maria Tatar
The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, translated by Jack Zipes

Monday, December 6, 2010

Shoe-ing in the New Year

It's a Monday. I was up late ghostbusting with a friend. I'm gonna make this short and sweet.

Every holiday event has a different aesthetic, but is always one thing: festive. Therefore, it makes sense to be prepared with both a rockin' heel and a sweet flat for each occasion. Luckily, Payless has been collaborating with some super fierce designers as of late (hello, Mr. Siriano), so you can have your shoes, and still do your Christmas shopping (for others...of course) too.

First up, this peep-toe pump by Christian Soriano for Payless is expectedly edgy and trendy, yet subtle in its form. The python print in warm coppers and reds is right in tune with the season, and the chunky heel is both sky-high and sturdy. C'est parfait.

Christian Siriano for Payless pump: $44.99

Secondly (and lastly), there's this charming ballet flat by Isabel Toledo for Payless. Metallic, therefore festive, witty in its detail, and with a clever grippy sole, this one will carry you all the way through the winter, dressing up jeans, and toning down minis. C'est parfait aussi.

Isabel Toledo for Payless flat: $34.99

Et voila. Now back to your Mondays.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Nanny Goes Shopping - A Holiday Gift Guide

You must forgive me if this turns out to be something of my own personal wish list. Hey - if I didn't love it, I wouldn't suggest it! It's a sign of love that I would recommend you to give something I love to someone you love. Or something.

First up, in the thank-my-frozen-fingertips-they-came-up-with-this category, Echo Design has come out with a line of gloves, for both men and women, with touch pads at the fingertips which allow you to use your touch-screen phone or other device whilst keeping your fingers toasty. Can I get a huzzah?

There are 13 different styles, starting at around $30.

For the literary fashionista, genius Kate Spade has come up with the Book of the Month Clutch, a series of clutches painted with most cleverly re-imagined book jackets of literary classics, such as these:

Clever, no? Each clutch can be purchased for $325 at, or wherever Kate Spade is sold.

And, another item for the literary fashionista, on a budget is this darling print, in Jane Mount's Ideal Book Series: Robert Verdi:

An 8x10 print of this can be purchased at for $20, or a 14x11 for $50, or, a 20x16 for $200. These prices are uniform across the site, which is full of fabulous artists and prints. I also particularly liked this one, Lauren DiCioccio's interpretation of "Vogue March 2010: pg 230 (List of Contributors)":

Don't despair if you're not buying for a fashionista, either; there's a wide variety of artists and interests to be found on this site.

And while we're on the subject of books, an especially budget-friendly gift for a budget-loving fashionista would be the P.S. I Made This book  - the book inspired by the DIY diva's blog. If you haven't yet discovered her, she's seriously amazing. She takes high fashion looks and breaks down both the trends + easy ways, sources, tips, etc. to guide you in DIY-ing an item yourself. The book features more than twenty-five original looks and ideas based on iconic fashion pieces, such as the statement necklace.

And as I found it on Amazon for only $12.89,  a super-cute gift idea might be to buy one of the main pieces to a project, and pair it with the book.

As I consider baking and cooking something of a DIY habit, this next gift is for the cook and hostess in your life. I gave one of these Vera Bradley aprons to my mother a few years back - monogrammed, of course - for Mother's Day, and while she is of the belief that aprons are not meant to get dirty and this one is too pretty to cook in, it makes a lovely hosting apron, in any case. Especially as they've paired it into a gift set with a matching recipe tin - and at $28, you might even pair it with a favorite cookbook, or a fancy whisk. Lovely. Don't forget the monogram.

Oh, and for an extra-special touch, add a few of your own favorite, tried-and-true recipes into the recipe tin. (I especially recommend this, as I made and "illustrated" a cookbook as a wedding gift for newlywed friends and they have already offered to have me over so they can cook something for me out of the cookbook. Truly, the gift that keeps on giving).

Before we veer into the territory of seriously-long-blog-post (not that I haven't visited there many times before), I'm going to stop myself, because this Gift Guide is merely Part I in a series, where I will take you through my personal shortlist of books to give and read (don't worry, I'm qualified, I was an English major), DIY gifts, some of which I will be trying out this season, some of which I have created myself and made already, recipes, should you prefer your gifts to be edible (and why not?), and of course, more fashionista items. Also, as I'll be shopping for M&N (or creating...), there will be I'm sure a Gift Guide for Children.

Stay tuned for these posts and more - they will amaze the mind, and delight the senses.

Or something to that effect.

Happy Holidays!

Oh and p.s., one more! The World Cup was this summer - have a newly converted football fan, or a long-term rabid fan? This illustrated book of soccer chants is perfect: and so cheap too - about 7 US dollars! Of course, you'd have to pay the shipping from the UK, but we couldn't make it too easy on you, now.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

CC is for Christmas Cookie (well, and Chanel)

9:15 the Saturday morning after Thanksgiving. I was supposed to be at my parent's house at 9:00 am sharp. I've been awake since, oh, 7:30 or so. I won't leave until after 10 o'clock.

It's Christmas Cookie baking day. And yes, per my request. But every year, as I'm icing my 200th cookie (really, truly),  I wonder why it is I want to do it so badly.

When I finally arrive at my parents', my twenty-year-old sister is still in bed, so the Peyton and I go jump on her to wake her up. My mom is grumbling around the kitchen; as the family's matron, she's in charge of making the dough, a laborious task, I assure you. Our German lebkuchen recipe is a few hundred years old and has never been updated to suit modern appliances or ingredients. Each year, my sister and I hear, "You two need to learn how to make this, you know." And we will. Someday. But for now, all I know is that part of the dough-making process involves chilling it outside, in a large tub, until it is cool enough for us to knead, but still very, very sticky.

With the sister up (albeit still in pajamas), all members of the household are taking their traditional places for the day. As we have done since we were 1 or 2, my sister and I will knead the dough and cut the cookies, while my mother runs the ovens. In years past, our nana would help us with the cutting, and our great-grandmother would sometimes be on hand for the icing later in the day. The dogs lay around, heads and noses in our laps, and our grandpa will stop by later to help with the icing.

No matter what, every year, my father is indisposed. Usually, this means occupying himself outdoors with the hanging of the Christmas lights, a task which both removes him from the cookie process indoors, and gets him in my mother's good graces. This year, however, we have celebrated Thanksgiving on a Friday, due to my sister's late flight in from Colorado, and Cookie Day is taking place on Rivalry Day.

As we set up in the kitchen, our Volunteer dad is completely and fully plugged in, which means, out of the cookie loop. He sits on the couch, feet up, laptop open to a live feed of his game, headphones in, running Twitter simultaneously in another tab and on his iPhone. This year, the lights have already been (partially) hung. This year, he will watch the Vols beat Kentucky for the 26th year in a row.

We used to break our process up into two days: one for baking, one for icing. We used to make two batches, which yields several hundred cookies. Now we make a batch and a half, which leaves plenty to divide among us all and give away. This year, I went back to my little apartment this year with a tin holding 65 cookies, which I pray to God I don't all eat.

We used to listen to Christmas carols when we made the cookies. We used to start the Christmas carols with our beloved Alvin & the Chipmunks Christmas cassette tape. But a few years ago, around when my sister started grumbling about the process, she started grumbling about the Chipmunks, and then, a little while later, it was the music itself. Now, well, this year, the sounds of football fill the air.

My sister hates making the Christmas cookies. My mother suspects she uses only the biggest cookie cutters so she doesn't have to make as many. She's always looking to pawn her job off on somebody, and she always drags her heels. There is always a fair amount of grumbling in her Christmas cheer.
But rolling them out is nothing compared to icing them.

You see, our mother is detail-oriented. Extremely so. Each and every cookie gets its own special treatment - a collar of sprinkles for the reindeer, and antlers as well. A Christmas tree has each of its limbs be-decked, and a star to top its boughs.

I think we used to think this was the only way to ice. And maybe it should be - there was a time when I enjoyed it, after all - did we not try to make it through several hundred cookies - after baking them - in a day.

Did I mention that icing these cookies is an especially important part of the process? Our particular lebkuchen, curious as they are, harden almost immediately out of the oven and it takes icing them - along with a few days wait - to soften them so that they are ready to eat.

It's a process.

A long process.

An involved process.

A thoroughly exhausting process.

So why do we do it? Why do we make them every year, and why so many? Why do we continue to want to do this to ourselves, even though, the day of, I will lie in bed, putting it off as long as I can? And not rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor ill health (this year's cold + utter exhaustion did nothing to get me out of icing early), nor prior obligations (I also had a lingerie shower + bachelorette to attend that evening. Oh and did I mention, I wasn't feeling well?), nor age (we started at the tender age of 1, and my grandpa, in his 80's is still lending a hand) will get you out of the Cookies. And this year, not even football would, because for the first time since I can remember, we had my dad helping out, by running the iced cookies out to the sunroom to dry, away from sniffing dogs' noses.

So why do we do it?

Grumbling about these cookies has become as much our family tradition as giving them away to friends and telling them their story. They are a part of us as a family. The cookie cutters we use were given as gifts, handmade by great-grandparents and passed down through the years, or bought as souvenirs, or as a special treat: we make trumpets for my grandfather, trout for my dad, Montana moose for my sister, Jayhawks for my mother. We re-count stories and traditions and family lore surrounding them:

"We used to go to grandma's house - my grandma - and for Christmas, that's what she would give all of us kids, one cookie each." - my grandpa

"We started you at 1 or 2, and figured you'd just have fun putting your hands in the dough, but no, you stayed until the end (about me). Your sister, however, didn't like to get her hands dirty. When I was a little girl though, I remember all the grandma's, from both sides of the family used to come and help." - my mother

We discuss how difficult this process must've been for our ancestors, cooking on wood-burning stoves, without the aid of electric mixers, or two ovens, making their own icing (we fudge a little on this and buy canned frosting).

We remember. And we make. And we do.

We remember all those who came before us, and, amidst the grumbling, the complaining, the flour up our noses, and the sore backs, we are a family.

Forgive me for asking, but isn't that just one of the many things that the holidays are really about?

And so, after all of that, should your family decide that you too, might want to embrace (my family's) tradition and tackle this one out, here it is. The recipe. Enjoy. Don't forget to grumble a bit.

2 Cups Karo syrup
2 Cups sugar
6-9 Cups flour
4 eggs, well beaten
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking soda, dissolved in a little cold water
1/2 tsp. anise oil (not extract)

Mix together Karo syrup and sugar. Cook and let come to a boil but do not boil. Make a well in 6 Cups of flour, and pour over. Let cool until lukewarm (which can take well up to an hour - hence why it goes outside to cool). Don't let it get too cool or it won't mix up. Into the syrup, add soda first, then eggs, salt, and anise oil. Keep stirring in the flour well, gradually stirring out into a little more and more flour until all the flour has been stirred in.

Then add enough flour (up to 3 Cups more) to roll out dough, being careful not to get dough too stiff. Roll out small amount of dough at a time, about 1/4 inch thick on flour board, adding flour as needed. Cut out cookies with cookie cutters.

Bake at 375 F, arranging cookies of approximate same size on cookie sheet, for 8-10 minutes. Take cookies off sheet right out of the oven or they break. Cool. Makes approximately 200 cookies (varies according to cookie size).

Ice and decorate when completely cool. Can make icing or buy plain vanilla icing. Store in layers between wax paper. Adding a piece of lettuce or apple will help to soften the cookies faster so they are soft enough to eat (can take up to a week).

Enjoy! Genlesen se!

P.S. If you'd rather we just did the work for you, which, well, who wouldn't, I've got 64 cookies at my place, and a few hundred with my mom. I bet your name's on at least one (really, ask my mom. She might have sprinkled your name on one).

P.P.S. Happy #Cookie Week!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Little Bit of Holiday DIY

Oh my goodness. I'm finding it hard to focus over here, as Brooks Brothers just tweeted me complimentary words about my "Tartans & Tidings" post.

It's true. They did.
@BrooksBrothers: @missrachel_lora Caught wind of your plaid post. “A few more plaid findings, for your own tartan tidings”—lovely line.
As my dad just put it: "Praise from Mecca."

I'm finding it hard to wipe a big grin off my face.

But ever focused, I will press on.

On Wednesdays, I usually try to post something related to children, either the children - as in M & N - or relating to children, but as that's going to tie into tomorrow's Cookie Week post, well, I thought I'd try something a little different this Wednesday.

As this is my first year in my own apartment, I've been quite excited to decorate it for the holiday season. I got started the other weekend when I hosted a small pre-Thanksgiving dinner for friends, which prompted me to go on a Paper Source shopping spree (gosh I love that place. It's so gosh darn pretty). They have these nifty little kits, and since I've always been quite terrible at folding - and gluing, for that matter - when it comes to making crafts out of paper, I find it helpful to buy these kits. Is that cheating? If it is, I'm happy to do it.

Plus they're always so pretty, and made from the nicest paper!

Unfortunately, I can't quite take all the credit for these.

You see, I had just finished baking the apple pie when my friend C called. She would be unable to attend, but could she come over and offer me any help getting ready so we could hang out and chat?

Of course!

So when she knocks on the door, I'm full-on getting ready to stick my hands in some herb butter, and then inside two chickens and I answer, buttery hand, apron and all to find she has company!

It's my upstairs neighbor (whom I've never met) and he's locked out of his apartment and saw Cory and thought she lived here, and, well, she directed him to me.

So he came in, called management on my phone, and sat down. Cory asked what she could help with, and as buttering and roasting the chickens is really a one-person job, I directed her towards the craft portion of the preparations (plus she's an amazing visual artist, bonus!). And my neighbor, poor kid, well he sat down and got to crafting too.

And he made these:

Snowflake Kit from Paper Source

Three to be exact, which are all hanging in my windows. C had a terrific suggestion: that I cover the ends in glue and glitter (man, I love glitter) to make them extra pretty, something I will surely accomplish over the next week or so. But didn't he do an excellent job? Such a wonderful guest; when he finally was let back into his apartment, after hours of waiting and crafting (it was a Sunday evening) we invited him to stay for dinner.

C got to work on another Paper Source craft of mine, this wreath - from their Mums Wreath Kit:

Isn't it lovely? I just love the colors; I feel they work for both autumn and the holiday season. I'm currently working on finishing this one up.

Looking for some DIY holiday projects of your own? Here's some decorating DIY's on my list:

I also bought one of these large stars, from Paper Source as well, which I plan on decorating with wrapping paper left over from last year (and probably some glitter, and who knows what else what. I swear it won't turn out tacky!):

I'm currently trying some DIY in the form of gardening, via a bulb kit bought at Target this weekend. I'm trying my hand at some paperwhites and some amaryllis(es?), but in case that doesn't work out, Paper Source has me covered. I especially like this Shimmery Magnolia Kit.

I've been in search of advent wreaths all day, and while I planned on visiting Anthropologie after work, I found this assortment of ideas while doing a little research for a Creative Candles post:

From Kevin Sharkey Home, over at Martha Stewart: Beautiful Hanukkah Menorahs and Advent Calendars:

Isn't this matchbox calendar adorable? I actually have quite a few matchoxes laying around, many of which were laying on a windowsill, next to an open window, during a rainstorm (oops) and the matches inside are no longer functionable. This would be a perfect way to repurpose them!

I also loved this calendar made from socks. I'm obsessed with hosiery and socks this season, and just bought quite a few at Target over the weekend, where they're selling them for $1 a pair, or $2 for knee socks.

Last March, DIY genius Eddie Ross visited the Creative Candles factory and helped us all make some quite lovely monogrammed etched hurricane glasses, for our pillar candles.

Here's mine:

I've actually made two of these now, and I promise, they're so easy! Find instructions on Eddie Ross's blog post about the workshop - I think that I'll be switching out my pillars to holiday colors, and filling the hurricanes with cranberries, or something of the like. And you wouldn't have to etch your monogram either - snowflakes would make a lovely holiday hurricane!

Well that's all the DIY I have for today, folks, but check back next week as I get into some fashion DIY's that I've both done and want to do. Happy Holiday season!