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Cercis: No Seasons nor Reasons Required

While there are established times of the year that get officially branded as “gift-giving seasons,” or those special occasions (birthdays, anniversaries, and showers) that get special Hallmark attention, I grew up with a different tradition of gift-giving: the treasured tradition of cercis. My mother hails from the low country of South Carolina, but she attended college in the state’s midlands in Columbia before moving to upstate, where she raised my sister and me. And somewhere between the Atlantic and the Appalachians, she encountered the cerci tradition (also spelled circe, circi, sercy, searcy, surcy, surcee, and infinite other variations, but consistently pronounced sur-see) and, lucky for me, she passed this custom along to her daughters.

You may be wondering where such a word originates, as it has a very different twang from other Southern-ese, like “fixin’ to” and “y’all.” It’s something you might associate more with a white-gloved debutante than say someone with a bottom lip full of smokeless (not that the two are mutually exclusive). As for the word’s origins, there are a lot of rumors and speculation– another area the South excels at, some might say (bless their hearts). There is a private all-girls college in Columbia, SC that has a long history with the tradition, but it doesn’t seem they actually created the cerci phenomenon. Some linguists, namely Joan Hall, editor of the Dictionary of American Regional English (aka DARE), make a connection to the Scottish word “sussie” (to care, to take trouble, to bother oneself), which in turn is derived from the French word “souci” (care, trouble). Some connect the word to the Irish that settled in the South. Personally, I do sense something French-like about the word, but seeing as three semesters of Latin does not a linguist make, I’ll leave that mystery to the word detectives.

In order for a gift to qualify as a cerci, it must, first of all, be a surprise. Secondly, it must be something small and somewhat inexpensive, but thoughtful. Generally cercis are given as a thank you for something the recipient helped you with or as a “just because” present– something you see randomly that makes you think of someone so strongly and instantly that you are magnetically drawn to connect that person to that object via the magic of the cerci without waiting for a birthday or hallmark holiday. Examples of cercis I have received include mittens that display the words “over here” when you wave, a box of dark chocolate caramels (always a solid choice), and a small hand-carved wooden spoon from India (the handle is a bird head, so it looks like I have a feathered friend nesting in my tea cup, which always makes me smile). Generally when you thank the giver, the response is “oh, no thanks needed- it’s just a little cerci!”

Non-southerners are often puzzled when they encounter this tradition, but many quickly adopt it once the cultural shock wears off. The south isn’t the only place you will find a culture-specific tradition in regards to gift-giving. In Zanzibar, there are many different gifting traditions intertwined in Swahili culture, and the term zawadi or gifty is used similarly to cerci. In the Netherlands, surpriseavond is a Sinterklaas (Christmas) party held on the evening of December 5th, prior to which names are drawn out of a hat. People must either make a homemade present or buy an inexpensive present called a surprise (spelled like the English surprise, but pronounced ‘sur-pree-zuh’) for the person they drew. Usually the sur-preee-zuhs are connected to a favorite hobby or treat and are wrapped up very dramatically and generally humorously. However, the most treasured part of the surpriseavond is the original poem (Sinterklaasgedicht) that must accompany each gift, which is read out loud at the party, often as a funny riddle about what’s inside the ridiculous packaging.

What special giving traditions do you practice and how did you come by them?

p.s. Looking for a cerci for someone in your life? Check out our special “Gifts for Celebrating” section!

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Chicks in Flight

Between business travel, vacation, and family/friend visits, we chicks are on the move. And we need items in our life that prevent our feathers from becoming ruffled in route, from hectic holiday travel to the bimonthly work trip. While we have no control over the traffic on the beltway, delayed flights, or missed trains, we can at least show up packed perfectly for the potentially perfect trip. The universe will take it from there.

Blogfessional: packing is not my strongest suit (by a really longshot). So over the years, I’ve paid close attention to friends of mine who are the quintessential queens of the road– their suitcases are always ready to put on display at Macy’s or say a TSA checkpoint. I have sadly little original wisdom to share with you, other than the golden rule of always double-bagging shampoos, sunscreens, and other sticky liquids in ziplocks (I’ve never regretted throwing in an extra ziplock). However, I have accumulated some knowledge for you from TWK (those who know– hey, if teenyboppers can make up acronyms so can I)! :-p

  • Technology is your friend. Friends of mine and their four children are, like me, serious bibliophiles. Pre-iWorld, they used to lug suitcases of books across the country– and even the Atlantic– on their family vacations. Thanks to Kindles and iPads, they no longer have to hold up the baggage check-in line while they shuffle books between suitcases to avoid weight overages and the related surcharges (the Harry Potter years must have been especially challenging, hey?). Now they can preload library downloads (audiobooks and ebooks) on tablets before they take off on their adventures– it’s always a smart idea to start a road trip or airport journey with a fully charged e-reader fully loaded with on-the-go entertainment! Also if you are driving, it’s smart to look ahead via the GPS or google maps to figure out your stops—it gives you something to look forward to and helps breaks up the trip (coffee-aficionados, I’m looking at you: be you a Dunkin-roo or a Buckster, I know you gotta get that fix, for all our sakes).
  • Layers are also your friend. They are, in fact, your forever friend. My sister-in-law never leaves for a trip without her black pashmina—it matches everything, is easy to throw on and off, can be bawled up for sleep if you forget your neck pillow, and fits easily in your carry-on. Going between hemispheres and very different climates, I’ve had to walk through a summertime airport in a ski jacket that wouldn’t fit in my carry-on; however, I was so glad to have it at my fingertips when I was deplaning in sub-30 snowy weather on the other side. Raincoats, flashlights, and umbrellas are also on my “friend list.”
  • For a road trip, beach trip, or even as your carry-on, you can’t beat a great tote bag. Lands’ End, L.L. Bean, and Thirty-One, for example, all make monogrammable totes in different sizes and colors. Some are open on the top, some zip. I’m sure you can find one that will be just perfect for you.
  • Hydration on the go: One of my NYC friends uses a platypus water bottle that she can empty and roll up for travel, then refill on the other side of the security gates. They can be tricky to clean, but at least you know TSA isn’t going to confiscate your favorite water bottle. Plus they take up very little space when rolled up and not in use.
  • Toiletries and Jewelry: Nothing worse than getting to where you are going to discover your jewelry is in an impossible knot or that your toiletries are spread throughout so many different pieces of luggage you have no idea where anything wound up. For this, you can find some great organizers here on this site: there’s an insert for keeping your purse or briefcase organized, a weekend or vacation jewelry case, make-up and toiletry cases, and even a lingerie-specific tote.
  • For the mommies: Small clear or mesh zip bags so you can pack the whole family in one suitcase. If you have wee ones, ditch the stroller and go for the baby-wearing technique for air travel so you have your hands free (same idea as bringing a backpack instead of a wheelie bag). It can be very hard to navigate airports with a stroller, and most resorts have them for you to borrow or rent. If you are visiting family or friends, hopefully they can just ask the neighbor for their spare stroller.

Now it’s your turn to educate me! What are your go-to tricks of the travel trade?

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Working in the Nest

For some of us Nesting Chicks, the proverbial office water cooler is the through-the-door water dispenser on our home fridge. Conveniently this means you can visit the water cooler in your pajamas as well as your power suit. However, the downside is there’s no one there to chew the fat with you while you try to decide between earl grey and that third cup of coffee, aka nectar of the gods. There’s also no formal transition time from home to work: no train, car, or sidewalk commute. The coffee stop is the Keurig in the kitchen. The newsstand is the paper collected from the end of the driveway. There’s no train ride enabled downtime for your favorite podcast, new book, or mini-nap… no navigation-required or workbag packing- any of those things that help your mind shift from home life to working life and then back again.

At home those transitions must be created. Artificial borders are drawn between home and office. A new kind of work day routine is carved out. Out-of-office interactions are sought out deliberately to keep “outside world” connections fresh and morale high. Work-life boundaries have to be heeded with more careful intention so neither overruns the other. For working moms, the home office gives the freedom to substitute coffee breaks for a timeout for afterschool check-ins with their children- a prized chance to not have to wait until dinner to hear about the schooldays. However, the temptation to go back into work mode post bath and bedtime rituals is perhaps a more slippery slope when the office is just down the stairs.

Whether you work from home full time or just occasionally, creating a functional, comfortable, and inspirational space for working is essential. What you need to make your work space work for you (pun intended) can really vary depending on use, layout, and personal style. For some chicks the home office space may take the form of desk in the kitchen used to organize mail, pay bills, and supervise homework all in-between steps in dinner recipes. For others the home office is more of a reading or writing nook- a sacred space for pursuing a passion, personal or professional. Some chicks share their home offices with partners and children, which calls for further organization and separation- and perhaps some extra patience. Some offices are first floor front and center with nowhere to hide thus making tidiness a must, while others are tucked away, happily hidden from the prying eyes of in-laws, drop-in guests, and the postman. Some nesters are minimalists- just a flat surface of any kind and a lap top- where others need -at a minimum- a 27 inch touch screen monitor and laser printer to function.

Sometimes the smallest changes make the biggest differences. The addition of a decorate board to hold reminders over the kitchen workspace to ease desktop clutter or a more aesthetically appealing version of the dorm-door whiteboard to let folks know you are on a work call. Some of my best home office tweaks came from suggestions from friends and coworkers. So Nesting Chicks, I want to hear from you. How do you transition to and from work? What is your home work space like? What about it do you love and what would you love to change?

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Cloak of Many Feathers

cloak-of-many-feathersEver find yourself staring into your closet like it’s a black void? Or a jungle of tweed, leather, corduroy, cotton, and denim- purses perched precariously like monkeys ready to swing down on you while scarves weave like vines across tangled branches of hangers, some of them bare as the escapees accumulate on the floor like shed leaves? The lion, the witch, and the rest of Narnia could all be hiding in there and you’d be none the wiser. But more importantly where the heck is that perfect lightweight cardigan you’re looking for and should have been out the door with 15 now 16 minutes ago?

In my post on decluttering the nest, I mentioned seeing the trees through the forest. The closet is the heart of that forest- the shining example of how establishing and maintaining an order can pay off exponentially just by making it easier to get out the door in the morning or pack for a trip. I remember the moment when I first fell in love with the idea of bringing order to the black hole some refer to as the clothes closet. I was a college student being given a home tour for a family for whom I was housesitting. The house was lovely, but forget the fireplace and walls of windows- the closet was immaculate, pristine, a thing of wonder. Clothes organized by color going from sleeveless to short-sleeved to long-sleeved. There were drawers for non-hanging items. Special hangers for belts and scarves. Shelves for hats and purses. Rotating shoe racks. While they were in Hawaii enjoying paradise, I pulled up a stool in that closet and sat in awe of the ideal organization system that had somehow magically transplanted from the Sex and the City set to a lake house in North Carolina.

Now while we don’t all possess a walk-in closet that would make Carrie Bradshaw forget all about Mr. Big (for while anyway), we can, however, all take steps to make it easier to see our forest of fashion options a bit more clearly. Aside from making it easier to throw together an outfit, without some intentional prevention lovely items will get pushed into the shadowy corners of the closet (aka Siberia) not to see the light of day again until you change zip codes. Reorganization can help your clothes get more even wear as you are more likely to rotate through outfits and also help you realize what items are not seeing the light of day and are ready to leave the rotation permanently via donation or consignment.

For me, it’s the little things that make all the difference. A jewelry stand that I can have out in the open to make it easy to see all the options. Specialized bags that make packing for a trip easier. A cosmetics case I can keep out and I don’t feel the urge to hide under the sink when company comes over. Because I don’t want to just consume-consume-consume (which my mom would call clutter-clutter-clutter though I believe the current buzzword for this is “fast fashion”) I try to buy clothes that are well-made and more classic than trendy. I also invest in (or improvise my own) organization products that make it easier to see what I actually have on hand.

While there are plenty of experts out there to give us advice, Nesting Chicks need a special space for their cloaks of many feathers. I’d like to hear from you: how to you establish and maintain order in your clothes closets and other “getting ready” spaces like the bathroom, the bedroom, etc. For those of you who have made it from jungle chaos to manicured forest, draw a map for our sisters still fighting through the foliage!

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Setiquette: The Art of Table Setting

There’s nothing better than sharing food you love with people you love in a place you love: your home. That’s why one of my favorite social events to host is the dinner party. Well, that is until about three hours before everyone is due to arrive, when I try to cram in a day’s work. Sticking with the positive, I’d say the thing I love the best is setting the table. I can’t always control when the crock pot creation doesn’t resemble the cookbook pictures or when the weather forces the BBQ indoors, but I can reclaim my serenity as I lay out my serving dishes and decorative table pieces. From special sangria pitchers and pretty bread baskets to seasonal serving platters and funny cocktail napkins, I love laying out the table, be the occasion casual or formal. It’s the food form of the welcome mat!

While I am always merely happy that anyone is cooking for me, I have to confess I get a special thrill when I arrive at a friend’s house and see a beautifully laid table, set with love and care. As a child, I usually grumbled when sent to haul the card tables from the garage, but once my mama had transformed them with table cloths, runners, placemats, napkins, and seasonal cercis, I was inevitably energized and excited for the meal and celebration to come. There is just something fun about breaking away from the typical dining routine and bringing out festive colors and taking down the fancy china from the top of the hutch.

I’m not talking only about formal table settings using real, freshly polished silver and multiple salad forks. Imagination goes much further than expense, in my experience. Creative place cards or handcrafted table décor made by the resident 4 year old (or 40 year old), droll napkin holders or a few tapered candles, and unique baskets or pottery thrown by someone you know are conversation starters– they add a splash of the extraordinary to the table. Sometimes with what my crockpot yields I have to splash twice (when all else fails, add some appetizers, pour the wine with a heavy hand, and distract-distract-distract with crazy coworker stories– unless, of course, your guests are your crazy coworkers in which case the dinner was probably doomed from the start)!

What about you, my feathered friends? What are some of your favorite table toppers?

Perhaps you have some setiquette words of wisdom for someone hosting their first dinner or other festive occasion. Or maybe you have a memory of a favorite table you’ve set (or sat at) that you’d like to share.

Send us a picture if you have one!

p.s. If you looking for something special to add to your table, here are a few of my favorites from our shop: