Holiday Green

Over the river and through the woods…  No, not to grandmother’s house.  My grandparents have all been gone for a long time. Instead, I’m off to find a Christmas tree!  The perfect one.

During the first half of my life my family would always wait until a week or so before Christmas and go off to find a fir or spruce tree somewhere.  Sometimes we’d go into the woods to cut one down.  Or we might go to a retail operation of some sort to get one already cut. And one year I remember that we got one that came with a root ball wrapped in burlap so we could plant it after the holidays.

That one was short and we kept it in a big galvanized tin wash bucket.  It got planted in the back yard and as far as I know it’s still there.  Part of a hedge.  That was fifty years ago.  It must be huge by now.

The tree would go into a bucket and wait outside, in the cold, until Christmas Eve when my father and I would bring it inside and stick it in a dinky little tree stand.  I don’t know how that thing held the tree but everyone had the same kind of three legged red and green contraption.

We’d put the lights on it, attaching each bulb to a tree limb, hoping like hell that none of the bulbs would go out and darken the whole string.  Then we’d eat dinner and go to church.  And after that, we’d put on the decorations.  My mother would stay up several hours after we kids went to bed (but not to sleep!) to put hundreds of individual strands of tinsel all over the tree.  How it would glimmer and shine.  She always said Santa put them there.  Ho, ho, ho!

During the second half of my life the routine has changed.  We launch our quest for that perfect tree the day after Thanksgiving.  And it goes straight from the top of the car to a tree stand and into the family room.  Over the years we’ve had the traditional spruce and fir trees.  And also leyland cyprus and cedar trees and pine trees.  I live in Georgia and blue spruce don’t grow here naturally.

Some years we’d go to a tree farm to cut them down. With a little bitty manual saw. Or we might get the people who worked there to cut it for us.  With a chain saw.  We have gotten fresh cut trees from nurseries, and charitable organizations, and the hardware store.  They are all different, but all good.

The first tree my wife and I got was an Italian green colored shrub.  The Amalfi Coast where we lived isn’t known for its forests or wild Christmas trees. But it was green and sort of tall. And we stuck it in a bucket of water and decorated it.  It fell over in the living room and I ended up tying it up to the handle on the door to one of the verandas of our villa.

It always takes several days to get the lights on it, but I can just toss them on and stuff them into the depths of the branches. No attaching. And if one bulb goes out, the rest keep burning!

Ornaments take several more days as we dig through boxes of treasured memories and place them lovingly in a special place.  Things the kids made.  Pictures from years gone by.  Ornaments from places we’ve been.  Oh, the nostalgia.  Put up an ornament.  Tell a story about it.  Put up another.  It takes forever!

But even the most Charlie Brown tree looks beautiful when we are done.  Short looks tall and scrawny seems bushy and burly!  It’s magical.  Like this time of year.

I love Christmas.  Maybe not for all the right reasons.  But it all makes me happy and I do my best to spread joy and cheer wherever I go.  And that’s what it’s really all about – making the world a better place for everyone.

That’s part of my story.  What’s yours?

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Star Gazer

It comes around this time every year it seems.  No, not Thanksgiving and not Christmas.  It’s a stargazer’s delight.  The Leonid meteor shower.

Of course it always happens at night.  In the dark.  And this time of year it’s very likely to be cold.  Maybe even rainy.  So I’ve never actually seen it before.

In past years I’ve either fallen asleep before it starts, or gone outside and decided that it’s too cold or overcast to stand out there for any length of time watching.  But this year is different.  I’m wide awake.  It’s warm. And although there is some cloud cover, there is a lot of open sky to gaze upon.

The word is that tonight, well, last night, between eleven PM and around twelve thirty AM, looking up and to the east we should be able to see lots of shooting stars.  Of course “lots” is a relative term.  The prediction is anywhere from fifteen per hour to four hundred during a fifteen minute burst of activity.

I feel a little like Charlie Brown’s friend Linus out in the field on Halloween night waiting for the Great Pumpkin.  Vigilant every year, but never actually closing the deal.

If you think about it too much it doesn’t really sound very spectacular. Fifteen an hour is one every four minutes.  And the actual individual “shooting star” event takes less than a second.  That’s quick.  Considering the vastness of the area your looking at, by the time your eye catches it, and moves to focus on it, the shooting star is shot.  And gone.

And then you see it and WOW!  It is so cool!  A flash of light speeding across the dark sky in an instant.  Airplanes make their way around the globe, with their lights flashing. But they go so slowly compared to these meteors.

It reminds me that the universe is so vast.  And I ask myself what, or who is up there?  As a child of Sputnik I’ve always been fascinated with outer space.  And while I was in the Navy I volunteered for the space program so that I could be the first Supply Corps officer on the moon.  That never happened.  But there are “airlines” taking reservations for space travel now.

As my eyes adjusted to the darkness of the night I was able to see deeper and deeper into space.  Layers of stars and planets filling a space only measurable in light years.  With the naked eye it’s a little hard to see things like nebulae but I let my imagination run.  I wondered if the beings watching this same display from the other side of space had any ideas about planet Earth.  Or maybe they’ve been here before…

I stayed out for about thirty minutes and saw eight shooting stars for sure, and maybe one or two more. They were going all different directions and coming from several different angles.  Some were brighter than others and they were different colors. With each one I let out an audible OOOH or AAAH or WOW with childlike wonder.  And more than once exclaimed “whoa, that is sooooo cool!”  It was indeed spectacular.

I finally had to go in because my neck hurt looking straight up into space but my mind was running full speed.  Off to dream…

That’s part of my story.  What’s yours?

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Seventy eight million, nine hundred forty seven thousand, two hundred and six. I’m counting the leaves on the ground in my yard. That’s a lot. And far from all of them.  Don’t let me forget where I am.  I’d hate to have to start over!

I’m trying to figure out how to get rid of them. This time of year they fall out of the trees and cover the ground.  Red, yellow, orange, brown.  And the dead ones.  If I leave them there they’ll kill the grass and make for a slippery driveway.  So what do I do with them?

In the past I’d rake them up. It’s good exercise but filling up a lot of plastic garbage bags and sending them off to the landfill does not meet my criteria for a solution. I can put them in paper bags and have them carted off, but again, I don’t like sending stuff to the landfill if I don’t have to. I love recycling!

Many people out here burn them, but I’m afraid of fire. It could somehow spread to the nearby woods causing a disastrous forest fire. It might spread toward my house and burn my house down.  Or somehow I myself might get burned.

Fire is one of my greatest fears. I saw a big one once. It was at the same time awe inspiring and very frightening. A Wal-Mart sized grocery/department store was fully engulfed and totally destroyed.  As the flames rose higher the roof collapsed, the windows blew out, and the walls imploded while the fire continued to burn everything inside. The whole neighborhood came out to watch. It was really quite a sight and I don’t know what caused the fire. Somebody built something there again and today you’d never know anything had happened there.

When I was in the Navy I didn’t get a chance to go to real firefighter’s school but I did go to a damage control school that included some fire fighting. Being on a ship realizing that you either have to beat the fire and the damage or face the possibility of drowning is a very sobering thought.  There’s no place to go except the water.   And when you hear the alarms going off and the sound of iron hatches being dogged shut you find that you can move a whole lot faster than you ever imagined possible. But I digress…

Another solution would be just blowing them off into the woods. That’s OK, but it’s a lot of work!  The leaves blow all around in the air, and they’re just going to blow back later.  Or I could run the lawnmower over the whole thing, grind them up and turn them into little bits of nutrient filled fertilizer for the grass.  I think that’s my choice.  Fast and pretty clean.  I’ll rake when I need some stress relief or inspiration.

So where was I on that count?  Dang, I told you not to let me forget!  Oh well, it doesn’t really matter.  More have fallen while I was telling this story.  And there are plenty more to come…

That’s part of my story.  What’s yours?

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What’s Casual?

The invitation read “business casual.” Sounds simple, but what does it mean? I have no clue as to what it might mean for women, but it suggests that men need not wear a necktie.  And maybe shouldn’t wear flip flops and shorts. But anything in between is fair game. And maybe even the extremes.

It’s confusing.  Very few men wear suits anymore.  Lawyers and bankers maybe.  And shorts and sandals are indeed appropriate in many settings.  So how is a person supposed to know what to do?

I’ll always go with being overdressed because I can step it back if I need to.  You can’t upgrade if you show up underdressed.  You have to know, or figure out, how  the group you’re going to be with defines casual.

When I was a child I was invited to a birthday party which promised to be exciting.  The invitation read “dress for football.”  Oh boy, we’re going to a football game!  I wore a long sleeved shirt and corduroy pants.

The other kids showed up wearing t-shirts and shorts.  And sneakers. Turned out that we weren’t going to a game.  We were playing in a game.  Oops.

I don’t always learn quickly from my lessons. Or maybe I forget what I learned long ago.  There were two occasions I recall when I showed up for “management” job interviews wearing a suit and tie, but the job, or the workplace, expected something much more relaxed.  Another dream shattered…

I know I’ve arrived late for things, and unprepared, but never underdressed.  But the world is a lot more casual these days.  I remember when flying in an airplane was a big deal.  And you dressed up for it.  Same thing with going to the theater.  Now of course you see people wearing every possible type of outfit. Even churchgoers no longer feel a need to dress up.

I like dressing up.  But I’ve never liked wearing a tie.  And if I can go casual I will.  But I think sometimes people take it a little too far.

When I travel I always stay in a hotel that offers breakfast.  I can wake up and get something to eat before I hit the road again without have to stop at two places.  But before I go down to breakfast I always get dressed for the day.

It’s amazing, and honestly a little shocking for me, when I see people show up in the dining room at a hotel wearing their pajamas and bedroom slippers.  Maybe it’s just me, but I wonder if these same people go shopping or off to work wearing their PJ’s?  I understand casual and comfort, but this?

Somehow food seems a little less appetizing when I’m in the buffet line next to some dude with his eyes half open, scratching his butt with dirty feet glaring at me, and reaching in to get the same grub I’m after!

I have an idea… I like to sleep nekkid. How ‘bout I show up for breakfast dressed like that!

That’s part of my story.  What’s yours?


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How Low?

How low can you go?  That sounds kind of , well, questionable, so let me rephrase that. When is it too cold outside to ride your scooter?

As the warm days of summer slip away into memory and are replaced with cooler temperatures, some of us have to think about when our scootering season ends.

Oh sure, you can get all sorts of really cool special gear so you could probably ride during the winter in Antarctica. Heated handle grips.  Plug in warming gloves.  Heating units in your boots.  And an air tight space suit using solar power to provide warmth.

Or you can bundle up in multiple layers of “warm” clothes.  Thick socks. Long johns.  Layers for wind and warmth.  Face mask and heavy gloves.  And of course somewhere out there lives a person, part polar bear perhaps, that will continue to ride in jeans and a t-shirt.

Me?  I bundle up until I look like the Michelin Man.  And feel like I’m wearing a straight jacket.  Immobile.

My knees do bend,  as do my elbows, so I can steer my scoot.  But it’s not comfortable.  Nor enjoyable.  Invigorating maybe, but not fun.

Those of you who live in places where the seasons include only winter and the Fourth of July have adapted differently to the cold and probably don’t let it bother you too much.  Up to a point.  For me, if it’s less than thirty-five degrees Fahrenheit, I’m driving the car.  If it’s thirty-five degrees, and you’re moving at fifty miles an hour, the wind chill makes it feel like eighteen!  At that temp your nose will turn blue pretty fast. Brrr!

It’s no fun putting the scoot away for the season. But it gives me a chance to tear it apart and rebuild it which I wouldn’t do during riding season.  And gives me next year to dream of…

So, how low can you go?  That’s part of my story.  What’s yours?

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Mobile Advertising

Mobile advertising is great.  You take some paint, or a decal or whatnot, and slap your company name on a vehicle and viola!  Travelling billboard.  Add a phone number, website, maybe an email and picture of something that represents what you do and you’re all set.  Pretty cheap. And everyone who sees your vehicle will say “gee, I need that.  Let me get in touch with them!”  Wow!  Great idea…

Until the driver, whoever it is, does something really stupid.  Then everyone says, “oh, look at that company.  They do really stupid things!”  And the phone stops ringing and the emails quit coming in.

You need examples you say?  You’re driving down the road and said vehicle whizzes by you at a speed well above the posted speed limit.  And you comment to yourself that such speed might not be too safe.  Oh sure, I speed sometimes.  Ask the police.  But I don’t have my name on my van so everyone knows who I am.

Whoa!  That guy just cut me off!  I coulda been killed.  Oh, it’s Joe’s Fix-It Service being reckless.  If they are as careless with their work as they are with their driving I certainly don’t want to use them when I need a fix-it person!

Dude!  Back away form my tailpipes!  And why are you honking at me?  Just go around me.  Wow! They gave mew the finger!  What’s that phone number?  I’m mad as hell now and I’m calling someone!  Hell, I’m calling everyone!

And what does it look like when your vehicle, with your name all over it, is idling on the side of the road while another vehicle, with its blue lights flashing, is pulled up behind it?  Ooops!  Somebody did a bad thing…

The saying goes that it’s not illegal if you don’t get caught.  You may not get in trouble with the law for speeding, reckless driving or road rage, but people notice.  Customers notice.  And they judge you.  Yes, YOU!

So, if you put your name on your vehicle, you must be proud of your business.  Be proud of everything you do, and do it right.  Believe it or not, being kind, civil and courteous does come with rewards.

That’s part of my story.  What’s yours?

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A Walk

The unpaved gravel driveway winds through the woods and fields not too far from town.  Riding in the car it only takes a minute or two to get from the garage to the road.  The pathway to civilization.  It’s a pastoral scene of trees and grasses punctuated by barbed wire fencing and all set to the tune of the gentle, muffled rumble of gravel grinding under the tires.

But if you slow it down, to the pace of a walk, the experience changes.  The music on the radio changes to birds chirping and cows mooing.  Climate controlled surroundings inside the car become the warm , humid air of the Georgia Fall, and you can feel the gentle breeze on your face.  That muffled rumble of gravel becomes a crunching sound, each step making a crisp clash of individual stones.

But most notably, the view goes from the big picture of generalized fields and forest to one of minute details.  It’s not just a gravel driveway, but one made of a million unique stones.  Each different in shape and color.  White, grey, black, brown. Each with a touch of sparkle or inlaid quartz.  The forest becomes a thousand individual trees. Many species.  Oak and maple and sassafras.  Sweet gum and dogwood.  Large, small. Each with a million unique leaves. Sizes, shapes and colors.

What caught my eye the most however, was the color of the wild flowers.  Weeds and vines I should say.  It was the blue ones that I noticed first.  A bright pale blue trumpet shaped bloom set against the brown of the drought baked clay.  One flower, maybe an inch across, basking in its glory and showing off for me.  But it wasn’t really alone.  It was on a vine with several others.

And as I began to look for more, I was not disappointed!  There’s another blue one, a different variety.  This one on a stalk and shaped like a furry ball.  And very tiny white blossoms.  Dozens of them close to the ground.  A tall, bountiful sunshine yellow one.  Goldenrod perhaps?  Another vine, this one covered in quarter inch sized round flowers of yellow and red. No idea what its name is.  I call them beautiful.

I make my way up and down the driveway every day. Sometimes by motorized vehicle, sometimes on foot.  There is much more to be found on foot, and unbounded by the confines of the car, my spirit and imagination run free.

That’s part of my story.  What’s yours?

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