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By LENNIE BENNETT
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 6, 2000
Imake no secret of my affection for the annual Christmas Belles Coffee, now in its 38th year. Its cause (the Christmas Toy Shop), setting (always a very nice home), refreshments (always fabulous food prepared by the hostesses), date (always the first Friday in December), and guests (always dressed for the holidays) all put me in a festive mood.
Christmas Toy Shop founder Ardith Rutland opened her new home in Coffee Pot Riviera, with the paint barely dry on the walls, for several hundred of us to tromp through on Friday. She has lived in a number of lovely homes over the years, raising a family, but this one, she said, "is mine," designed just for her. It certainly is designed for parties, with a large living area opening onto a large terrace and into a larger kitchen, a layout letting people mingle easily.
By tradition, guests bring both a new toy or gift item for the shop and a donation, its amount determining which of four pendants you wear during the party. If you're a cheapskate like me ($20), you got the jingle bells this year. High-end donors ($100) received a silver star that Mrs. Rutland had made by a local jeweler. Everyone then knows your level of generosity, which I think is a clever touch.
In the crowd were Marsha Anderson; Louise Weaver; Pam Hamby; Debbie Rutland; Merritt Saunders; Helen Wallace; Anne Gooden; Aila McEwen; Bobbie O'Malley; Liz Curry; Ardith Rutland (Mrs. Rutland's daughter); Diana Craig and daughter-in-law Kimberly Craig; Cecile Chadwick; Betty Corty, wearing a spiffy new pin purchased at a BayWalk shop; Janet Raymond; Carol Fisher; Jeannine Hascall; Vicki Fox; Hope Andruss; Pat and Christina Palmer; Murray Beairsto; Caryn Rightmyer; Maggi McQueen Anders and Grace Elizabeth Cooper, who shared with me that Secretary of State Katherine Harris is a graduate of Agnes Scott College, as are Mrs. Cooper's daughter, Martha Maddux, and I. (That explains a lot, I guess).
Stacy Booker had horrifying news with a happy ending: Husband Jay, an avid sailor, was sailing alone recently when the engine caught fire. The boat quickly went out of control, and Booker had to abandon ship and tread water until the Coast Guard arrived. The boat burned to the water line, a total loss. No harm done beyond the boat, though, said Mrs. Booker.
And now the important stuff: the food. This year's menu featured a wonderful hot chicken salad and a congealed salad with apricots (I feel I have gone beyond Jell-O now that my children are older, but this recipe was really good), plus all those little cucumber and curried chicken sandwiches that taste better when someone else has made them, though I regret that the tomato sandwiches did not make the cut this year.
To be congratulated are the hard-working Christmas Belles, volunteers who make this party special: Mary Wyatt Allen, Ann Armstrong, Marion Ballard, Lynn Cox, Tina Douglass, Ashley Gairing, Kally Harvard, Rosemary Hempel, Susan Hicks, Judy Holland, Shannon Knowlton, Anne Long, Laurie Lowe, Evelyn Moorefield, Lynell Owen, Carol Piper, Mrs. Rutland, Nancy Rutland, Iris Salzer, Betty Shamas, Judy Stanton and Patsy Wheeler.
Santa, a different mystery man each year, is chosen by and known only to Mrs. Rutland. "You've known him all your life," she said when I tried to pry his identity out of her. I promised not to divulge his name, but he was the perfect choice, even though he is tall and slender and has red hair.
Elizabeth Skidmore of Bayfront Medical Foundation tells me that despite the Bay Care rupture that has ended the affiliation between Bayfront Medical Center and St. Anthony's Hospital, the two guilds have decided to remain merged, which is good news. They will continue to co-produce a fall gala and the upcoming Bayfront on Vine, scheduled for Jan. 20, and share the proceeds between the two hospitals. "We thought it was important to send a message," Mrs. Skidmore said. Of Bayfront on Vine, she said new restaurants have been added to the line-up, including the hip new Tampa eatery Zazarac and a new donor added to the always huge silent auction. Kanika Jelks Tomalin, a former St. Petersburg Times staffer who is now with the foundation, has secured designer items from her sister-in-law, Susan Sarandon, so expect a new level of glamor at the event.
IS THAT YOUR ... ANSWER? The Arts Center spoofs that show on TV, something about millionaires, at its holiday fundraiser, which features a winner-take-all drawing for a pot of money (probably not $1-million). Cocktails and buffet. 6-8:30 p.m. 719 Central Ave. $100 admits two and includes a chance ticket. 822-7872.
A LITTLE CHRISTMAS: Actually, a lot of Christmas will be served at the St. Petersburg Woman's Club holiday luncheon. The Little Sugar Plum Ballerinas from the Suncoast Dance Academy will dance, the Boca Ciega High School Chorus will sing and Brown Dog Cafe will provide a four-course meal that will make dinner redundant. The fundraiser benefits the ongoing restoration of the historic clubhouse. 11 a.m. 40 Snell Isle Blvd. NE. $30. 344-5404.
KRINGLE MINGLE: Members of the St. Petersburg Florida Orchestra Guild and guests gather for holiday cheer at the Brightwaters Boulevard home of Joann Barger. 11 a.m.-1 p.m. 866-0925.
A TASTE OF BAYWALK: The Junior League of St. Petersburg hosts a light buffet and dance, with music by the Swingin' Mooks, in the plaza of the new downtown shopping and entertainment venue. 7-10 p.m. $20. 895-5018.
GINGERBREAD HOUSE EVENT: A gloriously gooey fundraiser for the Tampa Bay Chapter of the American Red Cross. Plain gingerbread houses, compliments of the chefs at the Don CeSar Beach Resort, are given to patrons, and are the blank canvases for creative impulses, fueled by champagne and snacks. Also provided are tubs of frosting, powdered sugar and assorted candies, but those in the know bring their own embellishments. When it's over, you take your customized house, wrapped in cellophane, home for the holidays. 11 a.m. 3400 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach. $75. 898-3111.