Monday, December 20, 2010

Taking it Easy

Well folks, I'm going be as relaxed as Snoopy this Christmas.  Family is coming so I'm going to take a blogging break for two weeks or so.  I'll be checking your blogs and will enjoy hearing how you are doing.

Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, make this year end a time of joy and peace.


Friday, December 17, 2010

Fridays are Golden

Ellie loved her soft stuffed toys.  She played and played with them.  Her favorite by far was a little yellow duck which she carried around wherever she went.  She would keep it next to her and took it from room to room.  The following photograph is the last one of Ellie and her beloved little duck.  That Christmas she discovered that soft toys always have a weak spot.  She quickly destroyed the soft toys she got for Christmas that year.  Then she systematically destroyed every single soft toy she had.  It was probably her best Christmas ever and she was so proud of herself.  Other than the occasional gift from friends, no stuffed toys have been around since then.

Ellie and the little yellow duck.

Fast forward to 2010.  We have a variety of little stuffed toys that were often left in stockings.  They aren't good enough for real decorations, so we put them in and on an antique chair we have.  They are there not so much for display, but because we'd prefer not to have anyone sit in the chair.

A Lucy van Pelt doll had been sitting on the top of the chair.  The other day I noticed she had fallen off and told myself that I needed to pick her up when I came back into the room.  That was the last I thought of Lucy.

Lucy had been sitting on top next to the reindeer.

Shortly thereafter, my husband went to his study.  There sat Ellie, happily chewing the muff off the Christmas Lucy!  She must have picked her up and couldn't believe her good fortune.  Someone had left her a soft toy at last!  I do so wish we had a picture of Ellie enjoying her unexpected treat.  My husband said she did not look at all guilty, so she apparently had no idea the toy in the floor wasn't meant for her.  He took the toy away and put it up.

Here's what poor Lucy looked like.  Ellie had just begun.  She had pulled off the muff and was working on the stuffing.  In hindsight, we probably should have let her enjoy herself and destroy the whole thing.

But she seems happy enough with the blue tug.

For those of you who celebrate Christmas this will be an exciting week.  In reading various blogs this month I am struck with the fact that some people are excited silly about decorating and celebrating.  Others, many of whom have suffered losses this year, feel almost guilty because they haven't caught the "Christmas Spirit."  They haven't done much decorating and feel bad that they haven't.  To these blogger buddies, I say, "THAT'S FINE!  You don't have to decorate.  Christmas isn't about decorations."  Someone once said "It is Christmas in the heart that puts Christmas in the air."  And I believe that is true.  Sometime during the season, you will indeed feel Christmas in your heart...and that's what it's all about.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Always Check the Box

Regular readers may recall that Christmas last year was far from normal at our house.  We had a player who sustained major injuries in early December before the tree was up.

During our thirty-nine-year marriage, a live Christmas Tree always graced our home.  Always a big large as the room would allow.  Christmas just wouldn't be Christmas without a huge tree.  We found out last year that isn't actually true.  Because I could not obtain and decorate a large tree by myself, I purchased a seven-foot artificial tree and decorated it.  And you know what?  It wasn't such a bad little tree as Linus would have said.

As nice as the tree was, I never dreamed my husband would suggest that we get a larger artificial tree for this year.  This from the man who loved going out to the tree farm, selecting the perfect tree and spending hours decorating it.  I was delighted, since I remembered the awful un-decorating process...the way the room looked when the tree was finally out the door and the struggle to get the tree on top of the SUV to take it to the lake.  And the mess all over the floor and on the porch and down the steps.

So this year, my husband ordered a tree in a box.

The tree sat in the box for several weeks.

We decided to decorate the tree on Friday, December 3.  We moved all the furniture and opened the box.  The metal tree stand looked "funny."  It would not open.  Closer examination revealed that the tree stand was not only broken, it was warped.  The opening was oval.  Just as you can't put a square peg in a round hole, you cannot put a round pole in an oval one.

There was a disclaimer with the tree advising us to call the manufacturer, not the store from which the tree was purchased.  I called them.  I waited and waited and waited until I finally reached a human voice.
Did you send in the warranty card?
No, I just now opened the box.
Send us the warranty card and we will send a new stand.
No, your warranty does not depend upon whether or not I have sent the card.  Perhaps I could speak with your supervisor.

The supervisor agreed that honoring the warranty did not depend upon sending the card.
Can you give me the UPC number on the box?
After much scrambling I found the number and gave it to her.
We will send you a new stand.  You will get it in 7-10 days.
Seven to ten days?  Can't you get it here sooner than that?
Not unless you pay an additional $90.00 for shipping.
Ninety dollars?  I should pay another ninety dollars to obtain a replacement for your faulty product?
Well, otherwise you can wait the week to ten days.
Perhaps I could speak with your supervisor.

The supervisor confirmed that no one in the company could waive the ninety-dollar charge.  I told him I would not pay another ninety dollars and asked that they send the new stand.  I asked if he could give me a tracking number.  He explained that it wouldn't be available until Monday and I should call then.  They would use my telephone number to find the tracking information.
[TIME SPENT ON PHONE:  about 40 minutes.]

We decided to put the smaller tree in the empty space until the new stand arrived.  At least we would have a lighted Christmas Tree there and wouldn't have to rearrange the furniture again.

I called on Monday, provided the appropriate history of my problem and asked for a tracking number.
I'll need some more information.
I was told you could use my telephone number.  Can't you just pull up the information on the computer?
I don't have a computer.
You answer the customer service line and you don't have a computer?
I take it down on paper and take it to the supervisor who can look it up.  I'll call you back.

She calls me back to say they have no record of my call on Friday, so we complete the process again.  When I called to check for a tracking number on Tuesday, we WENT THROUGH THE SAME PROCESS AGAIN!!!

On Thursday we came home to find that UPS had delivered the tree stand.  We put up the tree on Friday and it looks lovely.  On  Saturday, UPS delivered another tree stand.  Since I talked with five different people, I'm wondering just how many tree stands we might receive.

Here's the tree, up and decorated.  You'll need to click to see much of anything.

One thing I learned from this experience.  ALWAYS check any boxes you receive WHEN you receive them.  Also, just because a company doesn't appear to have a clue about customer service, they may actually come through for you.

Monday, December 13, 2010

What a Variety

Purple Finch, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, Chickadee, Goldfinch, Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Pileated Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Junco, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Cardinal, and Pine Siskin.  We have seen all these birds this morning.  What a treat!  Well, except for the Pine Siskins.  A week after we put the Niger and cracked sunflower seed feeders back up, the irruptive Pine Siskins returned in huge numbers.  So we took down everything except for the black sunflower and suet.  We still have a few, but they can't congregate as well on the sunflower feeder since there are fewer feeding stations and no platform.  At least the other birds have a chance to get to eat.

Like most areas of the country, we are having MUCH colder than normal temperatures.  Normally we don't have a problem with the water freezing, but today we've gone out on a regular basis to break the ice so the birds can get a drink.  They are really packing away the food and it's such a joy to see so many birds coming back and forth.  The trees are filled with birds waiting their turns.

No matter how common they are, Cardinals are delightful, especially in winter.

I drew the following names for the "Pay It Forward" blogger project.  They are Elora, Pat, and Tara Dharma.  I'll send each of them a handmade item within a year.  They, in turn will send handmade items to three of their blog readers within a year.  It's a nice way to "connect" with others in the blog world.

Stay safe and warm out there!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Fridays are Golden

I've decided to change the header often this month to show you some of my favorite Christmas decorations.  My husband gave me this Santa with dolls many years ago.  At the time and in our circumstances then, it was quite an extravant gift.  The detail is amazing and every time I look at it, I am reminded of those days when money was so tight.  It makes me realize once again that we had just as much fun and joy at Christmas back then as we do now.  Love and family make the season...not money or status.

If you watch the weather reports you know that the Southeast is in a deep freeze.  Our temperatures have been twenty-five degrees below normal for this time of year.  It's rare to awaken to ten degree weather around here.

The Golden Girls think the weather is just about perfect.  They love their walks in the cold morning air and are full of energy when they are outside.  When they come back in, they are content to lie around and snooze.

Lucy has just plopped down, once again pushing Ellie under the chair.  She looks so innocent, doesn't she?

Lucy sometimes curls up like a little puppy.  When she is like that she looks more like a one-year-old than the five-year-old that she reallly is.

Both dogs love their plush beds.

Lucy always manages to look relaxed and comfortable.

The Christmas season brings happiness and sorrow even to non-Christians.  We remember those loved ones we have lost and grieve anew for them.  There are so many reminders of them mixed in with our memories of Christmas.  The preparations and planning often overtake us and we may begin to dread the approaching holiday with so many things left to do.

We often become so caught up in the stress of the season that we lose our happiness for a while.  Hawthorne said it well:
"Happiness is a butterfly, which, when pursued is always just beyond your grasp but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you."

And so you need to sit down quietly away from the stress of planning the perfect Christmas.  Take yourself away from all those things.  They truly are not important.  Then, perhaps happiness like the butterfly might alight upon you.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

My Daughter the Fisherman

When we moved back to North Carolina, we laughed when people complained about the "bitter cold."  While we did bring our heavy dog-walking gear, we rarely wear more than a jacket.  Right now we are having cold weather by most standards.  It was 10 degrees this morning!

There is a big difference in how people in NC react to cold weather when compared to the reaction of the people who live in Wisconsin.  We lived there for twenty years and our daughter still lives in the Milwaukee area.  In Wisconsin, people simply bundle up and go about their work and play.

I must admit, however, that our daughter takes this to a different level.  She loves to fish.  Even in cold and snowy weather.  Last Saturday she and her fishing buddy braved the cold and snow to fish in Lake Michigan.  As you can see in the following photograph, not even the weather-immune Wisconsinites braved the cold and snow at the lakefront.  That is, except for my fishing daughter.

The photographs were taken by my daughter using her cell phone.  You may need to click to enlarge to see the snowflakes falling all around.

Shores of Lake Michigan in Milwaukee

Seems her persistence paid off.  She landed a very large Brown Trout.  She said it was pretty amazing.  One minute she was cold and miserable, almost ready to pack it in.  The next minute she landed her big trout and suddenly everything was fine once again.

She and her buddy are purely catch and release fishermen.  So there was little time for pictures.  She did persuade him to hold it for a moment before they released it.

Now that's a nice fish!

There will be fewer and fewer fishing days ahead.  The lakefront will freeze and the fish will go far too deep to catch.  No need to fish in the cold and snow if you know for certain the fish will not be biting.  As the inland lakes freeze over, the ice fishermen will pull their huts out and watch a small hole in the ice.  But they are a different breed from most fishermen.

You may note (and some make take offense) that I used the phrase fisherMAN rather than fisherWOMAN.  That's because I do not see the need for making every word we use gender neutral.  I resent the imlication that using the term "fellow man" is somehow demeaning to me as a woman.  But that is purely a personal prejudice of mine and I realize it is an important issue to others.

So whatever you call daughter knows how to fish and is willing to brave the elements in order to do so. rock!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Blogger Pass It On

Last year I was accepted by Donna (here) for a "Pay It Forward" challenge.  She received a handmade gift from Ruthie (here) and agreed to pass along handmade items to three blog readers.  Last week I received a gorgeous necklace from Donna, so it's my turn to meet my challenge.

 Thanks, Donna

My challenge is to repay this kindness by selecting three blog readers and sending each of them a handmade item within the next year.  Each recipient will agree to provide a handmade item to three of his or her blog readers within a year of receiving my gift.  The basis of "pay it forward" is that we do not pay BACK a favor; rather we do a kindness for someone else.

I fully understand that you are overwhelmed by the holidays, thinking of all the things you must accomplish in the next few weeks.  So you might be reluctant to add even one more thing to your responsibilities.  However, keep this in do not do anything until you receive my handmade gift and that may be as long as a year from now.  Once you receive the gift, select three of your readers who want to participate.  You have a year to fulfill your agreement.  So this is not something you will have to do anytime soon.  Finally, if circumstances prevent you from paying it forward everyone will understand.

I was delighted to receive the gift from Donna.  It is just lovely.  Most of all, I like the fact that the gift makes a connection between the two of us, so that we are not just individuals in cyberspace.  We are real people and this exchange is the next best thing to meeting a fellow blogger in person.

So if you would like to receive a handmade gift from me, and will pay it forward to three other bloggers, then mention in the comment section that you would like to participate.  Assuming that I receive more than three names, I will put everyone's name in a hat and do a drawing.  I'll post the three names next Monday.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Fridays are Golden

Our Ellie loves tennis balls better than any other toy.  Even when she was a little puppy, she loved to bat them back and forth.  When we are in the den, Ellie often has two tennis balls in her mouth.  She can, in fact, hold three of them but seldom does.  I suspect they do not fit as comfortably as two.  She picks them up with amazing ease.

She will hold the two balls until she decides to snooze.

Moving to another area she takes the tennis balls with her.

Resting beneath my husband's desk with her two tennis balls.

Lucy seems to know that Ellie can do something she cannot.  She tries and tries to hold two tennis balls.  She will push them around the floor for several minutes and occasionally she can get two of them placed in her mouth at the same time.  But as soon as she starts to walk with them, she will drop them.  She repeats this process several times a day, but her mouth just doesn't seem to hold them.

So what?  I don't need to hold two balls at once.  Besides, I've got more tennis balls than you do anyway.

The water levels are still high around here, but the sun is shining and we are enjoying the crisp clear air.  December is upon us and we will start decorating today.  I've already put some Christmas CDs in my car and I'm beginning to feel the spirit of the season.

I leave you with a quote from Marcel Proust:
"Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom."

I hope you have people around you who make you happy.  I hope your soul blossoms.  More importantly...I hope you are someone who makes other people happy.  Try to be a charming gardener this week.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Almost Ten Inches

Perhaps the most frequently asked question in Transylvania County the past few days has been, "How much rain did we get?"  I can speak only for our house...we got almost ten inches in a thirty-six-hour period.  That's a lot of rain.

Rain is quite unpredictable in the mountains.  Other areas of our community received six inches of rain.  The county had widespread flooding with several roads closed due to high water.  The French Broad Basin flooded fields and roads and isn't expected to crest until this evening.

The rain stopped during the night last night and today is sunny although quite chilly for our area.  On a clear day after a heavy rain, we always go visit waterfalls.  Because of the flooding and treacherous trails, we did not do any hiking.  Fortunately Looking Glass Falls is right off a highway overlook with no muddy trails to contend with.

There was lots of water, but we have actually seen the falls with greater volume.

The water crashes into the basin below.

A beautiful sight indeed.
All three photographs were taken by my husband.

The rain eliminated the deficit for the year and we are very happy the trees will get a good drink before winter.  But it was a lot of rain in a very short period of time.  Always complaining, aren't we?  We get rain and then complain because it wasn't spaced out to our satisfaction.

I've mentioned before that our dogs do not like the rain.  I will add that we do not like having to dry off two wet Golden Retrievers everytime they come inside.