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Christmas Made Easy

So far everything about Christmas has been really easy.  It may be going a little slowly, but its been without any major consternation.  Maybe it’s the extra few days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year.  Or maybe I’m just more relaxed.  Haven’t bought any presents yet.  And haven’t told anyone what I want.  Mostly because I don’t know what I want.  For Christmas or anything else.

But I’ve decorated the house with lights and blow molds.  And I’ve gotten a nice fresh tree.  Getting the tree was easy.  And decorating it was too.  One part of me wants to think, “what disaster is waiting for me around the corner?”   Another part of me wants to say, “lucky you, dude, this easy life is your new normal!!”  I’m sticking with the new normal for now.

Putting the lights on the tree is usually a nightmare. Untangle the strings of lights. Plug them in to make sure they work. Replace bulbs, or strings.  Then figure our how to get them all on to the tree.

This year I’m using a different tree stand. It’s a big flat bottomed bowl with a six inch spike sticking up form the bottom.  After you drill a hole into the tree trunk it just slides onto the spike and rests peacefully.  Or that’s the plan.

I’ve been told to make a fresh cut on the trunk before I put it into the stand.  I was afraid that such a move would shorten the hole too much to make the spike work as intended.  Thinking that I just cut the tree that day, I decided not to make another cut.  Its still fresh and will drink water with great thirst.

So, I slid the tree onto the spike and stood the whole thing up.  After chopping about a foot off of the very top, it was perfect.  Yay!

We always do two trees at my house.  A live and colorful one for he family, and a more elegant, fake tree with white lights.  I used to call that the neighborhood tree since it sat in the picture window at the front of the house for passersby to admire.  In my new house the re are no passersby, and the tree is in the family room.  So its now called the angel tree as it is festooned with ceramic angels.

This year we added a new stand for this white tree. It makes the whole tree rotate. So ever so slowly, the tree spins round and round.  I looked at that and thought about the other tree.  Maybe I can put the strands of lights on it by just holding the lights and spinning the tree!

Yes, that actually will work.  I tried it.  But I like to put the lights deep into the tree to give it a real sense of depth so this easy method wouldn’t really work for me.  It did come in handy a few times though.  The lights were so easy!  And beautiful.

And then the ornaments.  We have literally thousands of ornaments.  All different and gathered from around the world.  Or handmade by  my children.  Some of them I like more than others and this year I decided that I didn’t have to put every single one of them on the tree.  I like it to be full, but several hundred would suffice.

There are paper things, cloth things, and wooden things.  Shiny things made of metal and glass.  Pictures and pottery.  There is even an old tennis shoe!  And each one conjures up a memory of something.

Lots of room on the tree.  Lots of ornaments to hang.  It took a couple of days because I could only work on it an hour or so at a time, but I think it may be finished.  I can always tweak it.  But each memory is carefully placed on the branches of the tree offering my family, and our guests, an opportunity to review our lives.  And o rejoice in the spirit of Christmas.  Its so easy!

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

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Over the River, and To the Woods…

Being retired from the traditional workforce affords me a great deal of time to do things I really enjoy.  And busy I do stay!  One of those adventures which I recently undertook was the search for the perfect Christmas Tree.

It sometimes seems to me rather odd that we stick a tree in the middle of our house, but I do understand the history and traditions involved.  Both the long term story, and my own personal history with a Christmas tree.

Because I have the time, I like to be extravagant and drive up to the mountains of North Carolina where I can cut a live tree. That far north I can get a nice spruce or fir.  In my area I’d have to go for a cedar or cypress or even a white pine.  All beautiful in their own way, but not what I’m used to.

Many times I’ve gone to a hardware store or pop-up tree store and picked up a pre cut tree.  But I worry about how long they have been cut and how dry they may already be.  So for the past several years I have gone to Osage Farms to cut a tree.

It’s a mountain, and covered with trees.  Each one is tagged with a colored ribbon to indicate the height and price.  When I pulled up at the place this year the man working there asked me how big a tree I was looking for.  When I told him I just needed a little one, eight feet, he said that I’d have to drive down the road to where they had another mountain full of smaller trees. This hill was for the big ones.

Normally when I go to this place it’s packed with families trudging up and down the hills looking for their perfect tree.  This year I was able to go in the middle of the week, and was thus all alone on the mountain.  I drove down the road and found what I thought was the right section of the mountain for my size tree.  Orange tags for eight footers.  Yellow for five.  I needed one for my daughter too, and the yellow tag would be good for her house.

It was a beautiful day.  Cool, as winter in the mountains should be, but not cold. And of course sunny.  All I needed was some snow and I could have taken a million dollar Christmas card photo.

Lots of trees to chose from .  I enjoy climbing around on the hillside and examining each and every tree.  Is the trunk straight?  Any big holes in the branches?  Tall enough? Not too wide.  In her bounty, Nature creates many such trees.  And it’s always hard to choose what I think will be the perfect one.

But I do choose.  And this year I didn’t have to go too far up the hill to do it.  The first yellow tagged tree that I saw was the one I ended up with .  About five feet tall.  Very straight with no holes.  Of course I scouted out a number of others, but this was the one.  The orange tagged tree needed a little more of a search, but after looking at six or seven trees I found the one I thought was best.  I marked it so I’d know which one it was when I walked away to look at another.  It’s very easy to find a good one, walk away seeing another, and to never find the first one again.

The man came down from the other mountain, the one with the big trees and I showed him which two I wanted.  He pulled out the chain saw and in a flash both were cut, loaded onto this ATV and on thier way to the checkout table.  That was easy.

I’ve cut the tree myself before.  With a handsaw.  Now that’s some work.  So I let the guy with he chainsaw do it for me.  And I give him a tip for that.

On this tree covered mountain it seems like I’m in the wilderness.  And one year I did see a bear walking across the road.  But it’s only a few miles from the nearby town.  They have a little ski area there and today they have eight inches of real snow covering the mountain.  Glad I went last week.

So, with a perfect tree in my possession, I’m headed home to cover it with lights and decorations.  And that’s another story.

All of which is part of my story.  What’s yours?

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Mountain Dog

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Man’s best friend.  Of course that means a dog.  That friendship goes way back and is a fascinating story in itself, but one for a later time.

Just to be clear here, the term “man” refers to mankind.  Humankind if you will.  Women love dogs, and dogs love women too.  I know that because my house is full of women.  Including my dog.  And everyone loves each other.

In my younger days my family had two dogs. Both of whom lived pretty darn good lives, until they ran into the street and got hit by a car.  I saw it both times.  Terrible, terrible thing.  But they were good dogs.

The first dog I had on my own turned out to be a lemon.  Very high strung pure bred male cocker spaniel.  He was very aggressive and I was afraid he’d hurt my children so I had to adopt him out.  I’m sure he became someone’s best friend, but not mine.

For some reason, a bad personal interaction with some beast I presume, my children were terrified of dogs.  My youngest finally decided she wanted a dog, fear or not, and asked us to get one.  My older daughter stayed home the day we all went to the shelter adoption event.  She still wasn’t sure about this dog thing.

We came home that afternoon, my youngest daughter beaming, with a little black and white puppy.  A mutt named Doris Day.  She was named for the famous actress and animal rights advocate.  We changed her name to Scarlet.

My oldest gingerly came closer, got a big tongue lick in the face, and fell in love.  We had Scarlet for thirteen years.  She was very sweet and loving, somewhat timid but friendly.  And she was very well known in the neighborhood as a sweet dog.  I always thought that was because people would walk by our house and she would greet them with a wagging tail.  But it turns out that in spite of the fence we had, Miss Scarlet would go walking around the neighborhood to visit with everyone in their yards!

After we lost Scarlet we debated about getting another dog, but we did.  She is a brown mutt which I describe as part German Shepherd and part reindeer.  She runs like the wind, and leaps over tall buildings with a single bound.  Her name is Mae and at age three she is getting to be a really good dog.

My kids are grown now and live in their own homes. My youngest, the animal lover, says she doesn’t want a dog right now.  Her apartment is too small and she’s never home anyway.  My oldest daughter however has taken the plunge and got herself a dog.

She’s always wanted a pug.  A black female pug.  And that is what she got.  We drove two hundred miles to get this dog, up into the hills of Tennessee. Practically to Nashville.

This little girl is so cute!  And tiny.  She likes to snuggle.  I call her a mountain dog because she climbs everything.  Her favorite seems to be to climb onto your shoulder to cuddle up around your neck.

The pug’s name is Essie.  That’s short for Espiranza which translates from Spanish to Hope.  My daughter’s middle name is Hope.

I love both of my children.   And am very proud of them .  I don’t have to hope that this dog will be good for my oldest because I already know that.  The look on my daughter’s face when she first met that dog was priceless.  Pure sunshine.

So yes, they call a dog man’s best friend, but I know one woman who loves a little pug.  And a pug who loves that girl.

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

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Marching at the Gym

Its almost time for some New Years resolutions, but maybe I should start on one I made a couple of years ago.  OK, I’ve started.  I joined the gym on Tuesday.  And have actually gone two days this week.

Many years ago I was in pretty good shape.  I ran marathons and trained hard.  But my back started bothering me and it quickly spiraled down.  Life was like a descent into the maelstrom.  And after my second back surgery I gave up on exercise.

Needless to say, no exercise wasn’t good for my weight control program.  Nor my hard earned muscle tone.  So I gained weight and got flabby.  Hell, tell it like it is dude- I got fat.

I don’t want to body shame anyone because I know what its like to have body issues.   I was ok with my new look.  Until I realized that my back was getting worse again and losing weight would help to slow that down.  Thus, the gym with a new vigor.

This morning I was riding a stationary recumbent bike.  Good workout and no pressure on my back.  I’m building up to something impressive.  While I was pedaling away I began to hear something.  It was a rhythmic drum like sound coming from the gym.

It reminded me of my early days of military service.  We learned to march.  Left, right. You’d think that a bunch of people in good shape would know how to walk together.  But getting us to step in sync was another story.  It took some practice.

Our leader would call the cadence.  Left, right, left, right.  And we’d shuffle our feet and do weird little quick steps to get in line. We’d march while someone called out a marching song.  A Jodie. Like this~ you had a good home but you left / You’re right
You had a good home but you left / You’re right
Jody was there when you left / You’re right
Your baby was there when you left / You’re right
Sound off! / 1,2
Sound off! / 3,4
Cadence count! / 1,2,3,4,1,2…3,4!

I can’t finish it for you because it’s not family friendly.  A bunch of people getting their ass kicked every day by mean drill instructors don’t always speak politely.  But they do keep good cadence.

And that’s what I heard at the gym.  I’ll admit I have a self diagnosed form of OCD where I feel a need to count.  Sometimes by all the numbers, sometimes by odd numbers, sometimes even numbers, so I thought maybe I was hearing things.  The whir of the machines or a fan or something.  But then I looked around at all the people on the treadmills and bikes and even the weight machines.  They were all moving in coordinated step.  It was unbelievable.  Even the lady next to me was cycling her feet at the same pace as me, and in left, right sequence with me.  And everyone else.  I could hear the footsteps clunking of the treadmills.  Left, right, left, right.

When some of the treadmillers moved on to another machine or left the gym the sound was ever so faint.  But I still heard my machine.  Left, right, left, right.  Maybe there is a natural tendency to fall into step when you are exercising.    Or when you are doing anything repetitive.

Next time I’m at the gym I’m going to make a point of doing right, left, right, left.  Because I’m not like everyone else.  I’m just me.

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

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Fire

My neighbor told me the other day that if you have a fire in your fireplace before Thanksgiving you are a wimp.  Then added that he himself had indeed had a fire during wimp season.  I didn’t tell him, but I did too.

Early man must have been ecstatic when they figured out what fire could do for them.  Light, safety, cooking, warmth.  Just to name a few things.  Millennia later we still enjoy certain aspects of the power of fire.

My earliest memories are of a split-level house my parents owned in New Jersey.  Some very vivid images, but I can’t remember if there was a fireplace.  I remember the yard, the neighborhood, the stairs and the lower level family room.  And the bathroom downstairs and the garage.  Other than the living room I remember nothing of the upstairs.

When we moved to Pennsylvania in 1962 my parents built a new house.   It had a fireplace in the living room.  During the construction I remember going in and out of the house through the fireplace. Or the hole in the wall where the fireplace would be.  We had to walk across a board that spanned the hole in the ground that would serve as the ash chute.  I was in kindergarten.

That fireplace was often lit with a burning log. My dad let me crunch up old newspapers to build a base to start it.  He managed the wood.  On a winter’s night we would sit in front of the fire and read Shakespeare’s plays out loud. Or watch the colorful flames dance. Or wish that school would be cancelled because of the snowstorm raging outside.

They waited until I graduated from high school to move again.  This time into an old farmhouse in the country.  And yes, it had a giant stone fireplace.  I was in college by the time the first winter rolled around and I don’t remember there being a lot of fires in that fireplace.  My father preferred to sit in the kitchen next to the blazing coal stove.  But at Christmas there was always a burning Yule log in the fireplace.

The various apartments I lived in, and the first home I owned did not have a fireplace.  On a cold, cold day I missed that burning warmth.  So when I bought my second house I made sure it had a fireplace. I didn’t use it that much because by this time I had infant children in the house.  But one winter the power went out and I had to light the fireplace off to provide any heat in the house.

Part of the joy, and nuisance, of building a fire is that you have to build it, and tend it.  So, in my next house I had not just one fireplace built, but two, both with gas logs.  Flip it on and off at will.  Want a fire for fifteen minutes?  No problem! The main fireplace saw endless service! Almost every night from Thanksgiving until Easter, and often on a weekend during the day, that fire was burning. It was warm and tantalizing.

The house I’m in now, after “downsizing”, has a wood stove inserted in the fireplace.  That thing will crank out some heat.  And although I don’t light it up as often as I’d like, because you have to build it and tend it and so on, I do enjoy building it and tending it.  So I’ll light it up and settle into my lounge chair to feel the warmth and watch the flames.

With all the wonders of fire apparent, I have to remember that it is a powerful force.  And it demands respect.  I’ve seen scary and destructive fires.  It’s a sight you’ll never forget.

Like all of nature, we as humans can enjoy it in many ways, but we have to take care of it.  Future generations want to enjoy it too.

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

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Bring on the Decorations!

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The Thanksgiving turkey is all eaten and the holiday houseguests have gone home. Ready for a bigger and better adventure.  Bring on Christmas!!

I love Christmas.  For all of the wrong reasons. Well, maybe there are two reasons that I love Christmas that aren’t so bad.  One is that I like to make other people happy.  Maybe with a cheery Merry Christmas, or Happy Holidays, or maybe with a little gift that I’ve carefully chosen for them to represent my thoughts about their personality.  Sometimes what they asked for or a gift card might be a better idea, but I like to make the gift something really special.

The other thing I love about Christmas is that it makes me happy.  Reason number one contributes to that but there are so many other things too.  I love all of the food.  Especially the baked goods.  I don’t cook.   Yes, I’m a dinosaur, but I certainly appreciate those who do cook.  I don’t feel deserving of gifts and I’m uncomfortable making any kind of list, no matter how short.  Goes back to reason number one again.  But I enjoy getting a pretty package with something given by a friend or loved one.  I’ve never received a bad gift.

The town where I live is famous for music. .  Musicians are a special breed and I appreciate their creativity and their love of their muse.  Some of the tunes are good, and some are better.  Not much of it is Christmas oriented, but I love cheery holiday music.  There is a radio station that has started playing all Christmas music.  They may have started that the day after Halloween!  Who knew there were so many holiday songs?  I like the happy and silly ones.  The slow ones sound too sad to me and one thing I don’t need now is sadness.  My mother always seemed sad a Christmas.  Maybe overwhelmed?

But what I love best about this season is the colored lights and decorations.  The malls and stores and even television have been loaded with holiday décor and ads for a while now.  There is such a thing as too much.  But after Thanksgiving it’s game on for me.  And yesterday I started adorning the house.

It was supposed to be blowmold day.  You know blowmolds.  Hollow plastic statues of people, animals and toys related to the season.  Santa, snowmen, the Holy Family and wise men. You know.

I have a small collection that I put up both inside the house and outdoors.  Did I mention that they light up?  Cool!  I have several Santas, some toy soldiers, an angel, and this year I got a Nativity set. I’m missing one of the kings so if you have it I want it.

My sister has a big collection.  I think she told me she had a hundred Christmas blowmolds, but she’s got them for every holiday.  Fun to collect but they take up some space.

So I move kinda slowly and I only managed to get a few of the blowmolds put out.  My mind wandered and I had to put some lighted snowflakes up in the picture window.  Really big snowflakes.  Each one is a blizzard by itself.  And then I had to put up a white tree in the woods.  Enough for today.

I’ve still got a few more blowmolds to put up, and the colored lights on the eaves of the house.  And then there is a whole other story regarding the tree.  I should say trees.  At least two at my house.  So, I have lots of lights strings to wrestle with and hundreds of ornaments to carefully place.  And then I can sit by the fire and enjoy it all with a cup of eggnog.  Spiked for me thank you.

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

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Reindeer Shepherd

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Mae is a nut. Actually, she’s a dog.  My dog.  She’s some kind of mix of German Shepherd and reindeer.  Really.  Her nose is German Shepherd but her color, and her jumping ability are pure reindeer.

She’s almost three years old now but isn’t very well behaved.  Probably my fault since I never taught her anything.  Bad daddy.  She likes to play fetch, but never brings the stick or ball back to me. She thinks its great fun to run toward me with it, then leap over my head and run off.

She does know how to sit.  And she’s very good at sleeping.  That she may have learned from me.  But what amazes me is her choice of toys.

During the summer, and it seems like all spring and fall as well, I cut the grass in our yard with a push lawnmower.  It’s a lot of grass so it takes a couple of days in short bursts.  It’s slowed down considerably by Miss Mae.

For whatever reason she has decided that she doesn’t like the lawnmower.  The noise I assume.  She hasn’t said.  But I know her opinion of the lawnmower because she loves to bark at it.  And to bite the wheels.  Scares the crap out of me.  With the mower running she’ll run up and bite at the tires.  It’s loud so I’m yelling at her to get away and quit biting. The damn mower is gonna bite you Mae and it will be nasty.

Eventually she gets bored and bounds off to find something else to do.  She might even follow me around as I cut the grass.

On the other hand, she is terrified of the vacuum cleaner.  It’s smaller and quieter than the lawnmower.  Go figure.  She sees that thing or hears it rolling out of its closet and she’ll disappear.  You can see the panic in her eyes.  Maybe because its indoors.

I guess we all have our likes and dislikes.  Even dogs.

Her choices seem weird to me, but she is my dog.  And a loyal pooch she is.  Follows me everywhere.  So, weird or not, she’s my friend.  And she accepts all my weirdness.  That’s what friends do.

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

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