I was never a huge Oprah Winfrey Show fan, mainly because I was just out of college and working long days when it first came on. A few years later I was a young mother at home, but I didn’t watch much daytime television because it felt like such an indulgence (except for my favorite dearly-departed soap opera, Another World, and Days of Our Lives, of course–those were as necessary as my daughter’s afternoon naps). And late in the game, after I began to write novels, the very mention of Oprah Winfrey and her book club was demoralizing because so many well-meaning people would say, “Maybe yours will be the next Oprah book!” (A writer has a roughly equal chance of being struck by lightning, winning a Power Ball lottery, or finding out they’re an heir to the English throne. Just know that if you say this to a writer, it may damage their tender little soul.) But then I heard about her Favorite Things series, in which she would occasionally give away cars and vacations and tablets and similar yummy things to carefully chosen studio audiences. That got my attention.
What a wonderful privilege to be able to give the things you love away to other people. (And even better to have corporate partners to help pay for them–but we won’t go there because that’s not in the spirit of the game!) Kudos to Oprah for having such a marvelous impulse. What a rush it would be to make dreams come true for people.
My mom is pretty much the best gift giver I know. I’ve studied her these many years, and have seen how she seems to know exactly what a person might want. Like Oprah, she’s generous to a fault, and she’s made plenty of sacrifices to make sure her husband, children, and friends have what they need and want. It’s a talent that requires a certain amount of moxy. Chutzpah, even. Her skill belies the fact that she’s a shrewd observer. She watches. Listens. That’s serious dedication to the perfect gift-giving ethos.
But I don’t have the luxury of knowing everyone I want to give gifts to at this moment, so you’re stuck with My Own Personal, Probably Peculiar List of Favorite Things. Here’s what would be delivered to your door:
1) A puppy. You’re thinking, “Seriously? A puppy? She has to start with a puppy? How cute, but what a freaking nightmare.” BUT…everyone needs a puppy. Puppies are Everything Wonderful All at Once. Like most small beings, they constantly take from us–care, attention, random shoes, patience–but also constantly give back. It’s a privilege to love a dog, and if one loves you in return, then you are automatically a better human being. Trust me on this one. (Plus, I’d give you all the veterinary services you need for it, too.)
2) A comfortable, dignified bed. The bed I share with Mr. Benedict looks a lot like this one. It was a wedding gift from my in-laws, and is possibly my favorite present, ever. It has been with us for 25 years, in every house we’ve lived in (except an apartment for 3 months when our furniture was in storage and we were in between houses). A good, familiar bed is the perfect place in which to retreat from the world.
3) A lifetime supply of pistachios from the Nuts.com people. I don’t know what these folks do to the pistachio bushes (or whatever) that their pistachios grow on, but it must be something special. This is a pic of our most recent five pound bag purchase. I’m not even going to tell you how recently this bag arrived. You would be scandalized to know they’re almost gone.
4) Muck boots. I know. How prosaic. But the best things often are. There’s nothing like tromping through the rain and mud in bright red boots, knowing you could jump up and down without disastrous footwear repercussions. They are positively confidence-inspiring. And the good news is that cheap red boots are just as much fun as the expensive ones (and shinier, which can be a virtue). But I would give you the most expensive ones, of course.
5) An entire day at a county fair. I don’t know if you’ve ever lived in a place with county fairs–or agricultural fairs of any kind. Every year we go to the state fair that takes place in Southern Illinois–not technically a county fair, but similar in scope to one (and far, far smaller than the big state fair in Springfield). It helps if it’s not too hot outside during the day. But if it is, there are often misting fans set up around political booths, and plenty of fresh-squeezed and terribly sweet lemonade from a vendor. You can get just about anything fried–including Oreos and Twinkies. There’s music, plenty of people to watch, and, of course, the midway, where you can ride vaguely dangerous rides until you get dizzy. And if you’re really lucky, you’ll get to volunteer to be sawed in half in a sideshow (which I did–it was fun, but I got quite claustrophobic in the box!).
6) A lifetime supply of Palomino Blackwing pencils. So, pencils might not be to everyone’s taste. I understand. But these are amazing pencils. The lead is fairly soft, so you might find that you go through them quickly. That’s okay, because I’d send you all you need. Here’s the coolest thing (aside from their delightful, funky shape)–the eraser bit actually pops out and is adjustable so you can make use of all 3/4″ of the eraser instead of throwing it away when it gets worn down to its metal collar.
Marie’s Banana Nut Bread
Preheat oven to 350 degrees, grease loaf pan
1/3 C Softened butter (or shortening)
1/2 C Sugar
2 Eggs (after butter and sugar are mixed)
SIFT OR STIR TOGETHER:
1 + 3/4 C All-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1 C very ripe bananas
1/2 C walnuts or pecans
Sifted mixture to creamed mixture, slowly. Stir in mashed bananas and nuts.
40-45 minutes or until toothpick or tester comes out of center, clean. Remove from pan and cool on rack before serving.
7) My grandmother’s banana nut bread recipe. I was torn here, because pie is very important to me, too. But this banana bread recipe has made an awful lot of people happy, and I think you’ll like it. I’ve even taught my kids to make it. My grandmother didn’t bake very much when my grandfather was alive because he was diabetic. When he was gone, she started baking all the time. So while I don’t have memories of the smell of banana bread in the kitchen of the house where she lived with him for 40 years, I do remember walking into the tiny, sugar-fragrant apartment where she lived later and feeling instantly at home.
8) Aveda Hand Relief Lotion. Oh. My. Gosh. This stuff. It’s stupidly expensive, but nothing but the best for you! It doesn’t smell like cheap perfume and lasts through several hand-washings. You’ll love it. Promise.
9) All the books. Okay, this was a tough one. I wanted to give you just one, perfect book. But while I have a favorite hand lotion and a favorite recipe, I have about a hundred favorite books. I suspect you do, too.
The novel I remember loving first was JANE EYRE. It had everything I wanted in a book: A fascinating setting, a brooding hero and a smart heroine, language that didn’t make me feel like I was reading a kids’ book, and a haunting story. I still read it every couple of years.
10) A Garden (Secret or Otherwise) and a Beach House. Technically this is cheating, I know. But since it’s my list, you’re just going to have to forgive me for doubling up here at the end. Everyone needs a garden. I’m sorry if you don’t have room for it right now–perhaps there will be room at the beach house. I came at gardening as I do pretty much everything that scares the heck out of me in my life: full throttle. Twenty-three years ago, for my first garden, I spent months looking at catalogs and reading books and magazines before I dared to put a thing in the ground. Now I choose what I like, and make sure it has the sun (or shade) that it needs, and enough water. Feel free to put as much or as little effort into it as you care to–though I think you’ll be hooked. Gardens beget life, and living things beget happiness and satisfaction. Beauty is no slouch in the satisfaction department either. As to the beach house…It comes with water and waves that will lull you to sleep at night and make you dream big dreams right there out in the sunshine while your toes are in the sand. Enjoy!