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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


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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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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Reindeer Shepherd


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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Sometimes you just can’t win.  Do your best, work your ass off.  To no avail.  There are forces beyond our control, much bigger than we are, that just can’t be overcome.  But if you keep plugging away you can at least hold your own.

Fall is my favorite season.  The weather cools off from the unbearable heat of the Summer, and the leaves on the trees turn so many brilliant, vivid and beautiful colors. The world becomes a palette of reds, yellows and browns. Driving up into the mountains to see this display of color is something enjoyed by millions of people.  And on a gorgeous Fall day, cool and brisk, you may find a long line of cars filled with sightseers.  Still beautiful.

But as Mother Nature moves through her annual cycle, all of these wonderful leaves begin to fall to the ground.  And cover my yard.  I am privileged to live in a place with a lot of trees.  Tall hardwoods like oaks and maples.  Each one with thousands of leaves.

The other day, when I noticed that I could not see any of the grass of my front yard, I decided it was time to tackle some leaves.  There are three ways to go about this, and none is perfect.  I can laboriously rake the leaves, or I can get out my noisy leaf blower and cause them to flutter on the breeze.  Or I can break out the big guns and hit them with the mulching lawnmower.

Raking is hard work and then you have to do something with the pile of leaves.  More work. Blowing the leaves is fun, but they tend to blow in unintended directions.  So I prefer the mulching mower.  I can do double duty and give the lawn a final haircut for the season and grind up the leaves at the same time.  Its actually triple duty because the mulched leaves serve as fertilizer for the grass.  That sounds great, but if there are a lot of leaves the mower can’t grind them fast enough and you get piles of semi ground leaves.  Which you have to go over again.

No matter how you do it, getting rid of the leaves is a lot of work.  So on this day I used the mulcher, went over and over the same spots several times, and finally was satisfied that I had once again made my lawn beautiful.

I looked at the lawn, and blinked my eyes. Then I felt a wisp of a breeze, and saw a leaf drifting down to the ground.  Then another and another and another.  Within a few minutes, hundreds of them had fallen from the trees and taken up a position on my freshly cut grass.  I know I’m going to have to do this all over again.  Several times.

It might be nice if all of the leaves fell off the trees at the same time.  I could clean it all up once and be done.  But like us, each leaf is unique.  Has its own mind and its own timetable.  It falls when its ready and not before.  And that’s what makes them all so beautiful.  Individuality.  Wouldn’t the world be boring if every leaf, or every person, was just the same as every other?

I can’t overcome nature.  She’s gonna make more leaves next year and have them fall when they are ready.  I’ll clean them up, several times.  And I’ll love every minute that I can spend in Natures wonder.

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

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The Toy

What I call toys are not what they used to be. Some of these games and gadgets are so expensive that I’d be afraid to turn a kid loose with them.  And when you buy some fun thing you have to wonder whether its going to twist your kids mind or if it will even work when you open it up for use.  All the electronics

Nobody knows how this stuff really works.  You push some buttons and get whatever it is your supposed to get.  You hope. Maybe that’s why in some places electronic voting machines were delivered to polling places without electrical cords and no one batted an eye.  Who knew you had to plug them in to make them work!  But I digress

When I was a kid toys were all about imagination. You created your own story.  Your own plot twists and your own reality.  I guess that’s why I like to watch television with the sound turned off.  I can come up with just as good a story as the TV writers.

A simple metal Tonka truck could provide hours of entertainment in a sandbox.  Up a hill, down a hill.  Dig a hole, move something around.  Plan a trio to anywhere.  And go! Or a pile of plastic green army men. Not bendable.  Don’t light up or make noise.  Just stand there wherever you put them.  But you could recreate all of World War Two with just a few of them. The Allies still win, because of teamwork.

So I bought a simple toy the other day.  For my dog.  I needed something a little more complex than a stick or a ball, but not an HD virtual reality thing.  I like real reality.  Anyway, I throw something and the dog chases it.  But since I broke my shoulder several years ago I cant throw anything very far so I bought a distance enhancer.

It’s a spring loaded tennis ball launcher. Put the ball in the tube, pull the lever back to compress the spring and release.  The ball flies maybe thirty feet in the air and then bounces and rolls on the ground.  Zoom!  Off goes doggy to chase it.  Works great!!

Just one problem.  When I bought the thing I was worried about how well, or if, it would work.    The toy works fine, it’s the dog that’s defective!!  She’s good at chasing the ball.  And she grabs it up in her mouth.  Then runs away with it to play by herself.  Or to make me chase her around to get the ball back.

So I get another ball to launch and while she is distracted by the second ball flying and rolling, I grab the first one that she has dropped.  And round and round we go.  She gets plenty of exercise and I get to see her play, but it doesn’t work quite the way its supposed to .

Then again, her playing this way is like me watching the tube with no sound.  She’s enhancing the game.  Creating her own reality.  She’s a genius.  Things don’t always work out the way they were planned, but they always work out.

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

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