Friday, December 23, 2011

Fridays are Golden

Here we are.  It's almost Christmas at our house.  The past two Christmases have been a bit muted to say the least.  But all is well this year and we are so looking forward to the big day.  We always do a lot of decorating which, by the way, is ever so much easier when you are retired and don't have to do it all in one weekend.  One of my favorite decorations is a lovely Santa, complete with toys for good little girls and boys.

There is an interesting little story about this Santa.  My husband bought it in Sarasota, FL where he was attending a conference.  He asked the store owner to ship it to his office since it was a surprise for me.  A few weeks later, a very large box arrived at his office.  The package was actually two boxes taped together.  When my husband pulled off the top box he was totally surprised to see that the bottom box was not as tall as the Santa.  When he pulled it off foam peanuts flew all over his office and especially all over his wool suit.  He called his adminstrative assistant to help and after she stopped laughing, they managed to gather up all the peanuts.  The assistant loved to tell everyone this story about her boss.

I just love him.

 He has such a kind face.

Lucy is reminding me that Fridays are supposed to be all about her.  Well, and a little bit about Ellie.

Her Royal Highness!

 When you are the Princess you can rest your head anywhere you wish.

 This is Lucy's version of silent night.

I am having my children here for the holidays.  So I will not be posting until after 2012.  So whatever you are celebrating, or even if you are not celebrating anything except the coming of another year I hope you and your family and loved ones have a wonderful week.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Gratuitous Cards and Gifts

I can understand when circumstances preclude sending Christmas cards.  We sent none in 2009.  And I suppose it would be fine to send ecards if a person is otherwise not able to mail cards.  But this year I have received several ecards from people I know to be perfectly able to sign and address cards.  They always get caught by my spam blocker and I simply hit "silently discard."  Am I being unreasonable?  Perhaps so.  Except in rare circumstances I believe people should decide whether or not to send cards.  And if they decide to send cards they should send real cards.

I feel much the same way about gratuitous gifts.  Everyone has acquaintances with whom you have exchanged gifts.  There comes a time when the relationship has changed, either by moving away or moving on.  When that happens and the gifts are more of a burden, then it's time to stop the exchange.  One of our relatives sent us Hickory Farms packages for several years.  What's the problem with that?  We lived in Wisconsin at the time, home of some of the best and freshest cheese around.

The best Christmas gifts are those that clearly indicate that the person knows you and has selected a gift that is right for you.  So it is with one of my best friends.  When she last visited us, she thoroughly enjoyed watching my husband suddenly rise from his seat and fly out the door to attack a squirrel with his super-duper water gun.  Yes, my husband hates those beady-eyed little monsters as much as I do.

When her Christmas package arrived yesterday, she had included a perfect gift for my husband.


Although my friend indicated that my husband need not wear it, he will.  In fact, he will wear it to Wild Birds Unlimited to pick up another "squirrel proof" bird feeder.  It gets pretty chilly running out on the deck in the midst of winter.  And of course he cannot take time to close the door or the squirrel will be gone.

When will we learn to stop exchanging gifts when it becomes a chore rather than a pleasure?  I can assure you with confidence that my friend had almost as much fun sending this gift as my husband did in receiving it.  And that is how it should be.

[Totally unrelated note:  If you are a fan of NPRs "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me," or a fan of Neil Gaiman you need to turn to BBC America Friday night at 8:00 pm (EST).  The show will be televised with Neil Gaiman as the special guest.]

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Collection Part Three

I may have mentioned that we have a lot of the Byers Carolers.  Fortunately we have them spread over the house so they are not overwhelming.

These are the street vendors, including Molly Malone and her kitty.  I think my favorite is the organ grinder with his little monkey holding a cup.  My dear husband made a slip of the tongue one year and called him the "monkey grinder."  In our family we remember things like that for a long time.  Perhaps it is because he seldom makes such a misstatement so we have to rely on the few he does.  Not a Christmas goes by without mention of the monkey grinder, usually more than once.

These are the villagers, including the lamplighter.  The nurse figure was the first Caroler that we had, a gift from our son.

 Once again I am posting a photograph that someone sent me and I cannot credit.  But I think it does emphasize that Christmas is a time of peace,  misinterpreted as piece.

Well dear readers, I wore my lucky Packer shirt.  My son and his wife ate tacos at halftime for the fourteenth week in a row.  But somebody dropped the ball and the Green Bay Packers lost their first game yesterday.  Actually, more than one person dropped the ball.  Unfortunately they were playing on the field and couldn't hold on to Aaron Rodgers passes that hit them in the numbers.  So, Suz, you can relax.  The shirt is in the dirty clothes.  I'm hoping that washing it will restore the good luck for the next game.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Fridays are Golden

Friday is here again.  You hardly need a countdown, but in fifteen days we say goodbye to 2011.

Our Golden Girls hardly notice the time flying by.  Life for them is so simple; eat, play, sleep.  Because they run a lot, they also sleep a lot.  And no matter where Ellie chooses to sleep, sooner or later Lucy will plop down and use Ellie for a pillow.

When it is gloomy outside;

 Or in the bright sunshine,

 Lucy finds creative ways to be more comfortable.

The following photograph has nothing to do with dogs.  I cannot credit the photographer because it has become one of those viral pictures and someone sent it to me.  She captioned it, "Something you didn't really want to see."  I looked at the photograph and felt entirely different about it.  My caption would be more like:


The ladies are dancing the ballet "Swan Lake."  It brings to mind an anonymous quote:
Never be afraid to try something new.  Remember, the ark was built by amateurs; professionals built the Titanic.

I will leave you this frantic Friday with a poem that I memorized as a young child.  I can't remember a time when I didn't love poetry.  Our third grade class learned this one.  I was so proud of myself when the teacher asked me to recite it alone.  Then she turned to the class and said, "See how Carolyn did it?  You don't pause at the end of each line.  You pause at the end of each sentence."  I was so thrilled and I guess I still am because it has been many decades since third grade.  And I am sitting here smiling to myself.

  The poet is John Greenleaf Whittier.

Somehow, not only for Christmas
But all the long year through,
The joy that you give to others
Is the joy that comes back to you.

And the more you spend in blessing
The poor and lonely and sad,
The more of your heart's possessing
Returns to you glad.

I hope joy comes back to you and your hearts are filled with gladness.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas Collections Part Two

Many years ago our son gave us one of the Byers' Carolers.  She was a nurse like me.  The following year he gave us a doctor like my husband.  We like them so much that we started buying others ourselves and before long we had quite a collection.

We were delighted when Byers offered the Christmas Carol collection.  We love the story and watch the DVD every Christmas Eve.  We have several DVDs of the story, but our favorite is one that was originally a made-for-television movie.  George C. Scott plays the role of Scrooge, and the film has the best Tiny Tim ever.  He is so frail, so angelic.  (The link is here)

The ghost of Jacob Marley visits Scrooge and foretells the three spirits.

 The Ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge to his past.  They watch Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig dancing.

The Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge to the home of Bob Cratchett.

 The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come silently shows Scrooge his own death and burial.

We haven't bought any of the Carolers for several years.  We have them displayed in three areas of the house.  Maybe we should look for more.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas Collections

Neither of us were born rich.  There was no "grandaddy's trust fund" to inherit.  We each brought to our marriage a car payment, outstanding student loans, and a strong work ethic.  Throughout our married life, we never bought anything if we couldn't pay for it.  The only loans we had were for cars and houses.

Both of us are fond of Hummel figurines and we knew we wanted to own a Hummel Nativity.  Our first Christmas together, we bought the Holy Family because three pieces were all we could afford.  Each subsequent Christmas we bought one figurine until the time came when we could afford to complete the set.  We found a stable at an estate sale and purchased the palm trees from another collectable set.  We have been lucky in that we managed to raise two children and four dogs and still have the intact set with no broken figures.

Our Hummel Nativity Collection

We bought a small and inexpensive hand-pinched clay Nativity for our future children even before we had any children.  Over the years this set delighted our growing children.  The excitement began each year as we brought out the box containing the figures.  Our son and daughter alternated choosing one figure at a time.  The biggest triumph was selecting the Christ Child.  All during the Advent season, the children would rearrange the figures.  The only rule about arranging the figures was that all of them had to remain on the table.  So at a given time, one might find Baby Jesus anywhere.

This is the most common arrangement.

My husband bought this inexpensive Nativity in a fair trade shop.  All items in the shop were handmade by women in South America who otherwise would not have meaningful work.  I just love these fat little figures.

 The Holy Family, an Angel, and some Lambs

We have other Nativity sets but we rarely display them.  Perhaps the smallest one is also the oldest.  It is one I purchased for my parents when I was ten.  For years it was called "Carolyn's Little Manger Scene," by my Southern Baptist family.  No photograph of it, since it's packed away.

I love bringing out Christmas decorations that we have used for years.  Not the least of which are ornaments made by our children when they were small.  Each one is treasured and my now grownup children still move them around on the Christmas Tree, making certain each ornament has a conspicuous spot on the tree.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Fridays are Golden

How can it be Friday again so soon?  The waning days of 2011 are just flying by.  Our weather has been bipolar this week.  Heavy rains, followed by a cold front.  Fortunately the predicted snow did not appear and by week's end the sun burst out to brighten our lives (and show every little particle of dust and dander).

We often take the Golden Girls to places where they can run free.  Sometimes we go to large cemeteries or our less popular community trails but most often we go to one of the four lakes within the community.  The girls love racing up and down the steps leading to the various docks along the lake.  And it is great exercise for them.

They always run in tandem starting up the stairs.

Still together as they race to the top.

 You already know that they often lie in the same bed.  Surprisingly enough, they also lie together on the hard floor.  It is rare to find one dog without the other.

The holiday season is in full swing.  Everyone is anxious and busy.  Like children, we get so caught up in the mad rush that we never slow down.  And because we have been so rushed and anxious, many of us suffer a post-holiday letdown.  Stop.  Take a deep breath.  (just don't forget to exhale)  Repeat often and remind yourself that this is a season of peace, not panic.

Seneca the Younger said it well:
Expecting is the greatest impediment to living.  In anticipation of tomorrow it loses today.



Wednesday, December 7, 2011

We Just Bought Some Stock

We bought a new stock this week.  It will never go up in value.  It cannot be sold but can purchased as a gift for someone else.  It does not pay dividends.  Once you own the stock it can be transferred only within your family.  It has not been available for the past fourteen years and will no longer be available after February 29, 2012.

So what does this stock do for us?  Well, all modesty aside, we are now part owners of the Green Bay Packers.  This team, in relatively small Green Bay, Wisconsin (population 105,000) is the only publicly owned team in the National Football League.  We fell in love with the Packers when we moved to Wisconsin many years ago.  A good friend with season tickets provided the opportunity to attend games at Lambeau every year.  We loved seeing the outstanding quarterback Brett Favre before he threw his adolescent temper tantrums, retiring and un-retiring and took his football and moved on to play for two other teams.

Since Brett moved on, we have seen that a quarterback can be immensely talented, have a deep love for the game, be as enthusiastic as a teenager, and still be a grownup.  Aaron Rodgers is unbelievably talented and after leading the team to win the Super Bowl last year, he has led them to an unbeaten season this year.  (I was actually sort of wishing Eli Manning might have beaten him.  I'd hate for their first loss to be during the playoffs!)  Watching this team is so much fun.  You will see Rodgers chatting with the opposing team.  The players seem to be having fun as well.

The fans certainly enjoy the team, especially when they do the "Lambeau Leap" after a touchdown.  Lambeau Field is outdoors and when there is snow during the season, local people vie for the opportunity to work with shovels clearing the stadium.  Every summer the fans line up several persons deep at the fences surrounding the training field to watch the players in training camp.  Little kids stand at the gate with their bicycles.  Many of the linemen will take a kid's bike and ride it to the fieldhouse.  What a wonderful sight...a three-hundred-pound player on a kid's bike.  The excited kid runs alongside.  More often than not the Packer riding the bike stops to autograph it for the kid before going into the locker room.  And pose for a photograph if Dad or Mom brought the camera.

(Both photographs from the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel)

Aaron Rodgers and his winning smile.

 My two favorite players, Rodgers on the right and Donald Driver on the left.

So what will we get from our new stock?  Although we are not likely to do so, we can attend the annual meetings that precede the training camp.  We have voting rights.  So why would we bother to purchase stock that will never appreciate in value and that we cannot trade or sell?  Because the stock sale is to raise money for renovations at Lambeau Field.  And, as I mentioned before, because technically speaking, the stock makes us  team owners.

Next Packer game, I can more honestly say they are MY Packers.  I will be glad when the season is over and I can wash my Packer shirt.  (I don't dare wash it for fear it will jinx the team.)  Of course I wear it only on game day.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Local Culture Cannot Trump the Constitution

Here in the "Bible Belt" many schools do not follow the letter of the law.  Over the holidays there are frequently religious Christmas themes in the work children do.  Recently in a nearby county, the public elementary school participated in "Operation Christmas Child."  This project is run by Samaritan's Purse, led by Franklin Graham (son of famous evangelist Billy Graham).  Is that a problem?  Probably not.  The problem you see, was that each first and second grade child in this public school was given a little fill-in-the-blank questionaire to include in the box of little gifts.  The questions in this project included the following:

I love Jesus because_____________________________________________

An employee of the school sent an email to a friend.  The friend forwarded the email to everyone in his contact list.  Can you see where this is going?  Yes, the recipients and bloggers lit up the Internet with discussions about First Admendment rights.  Of course the word eventually got to the members of the school board and the principal sent out an automated voice message to all parents.  He indicated that the project was undertaken to give the students an opportunity to experience the joy of giving.  He said that he did not receive a single complaint about the Jesus question from any parent.  He did, however apologize and said the school will look more closely at documents to make certain they do not include any religious matter.

We had some First Ammendment problems here in Transylvania County two or three years ago.  It seems the school board and the County Commisioners both included an opening prayer in their meetings.  A concerned parent went to the school and county leaders stating that invoking the name of Jesus Christ to look upon the public meeting was not only offensive to non-Christians; it was also against the law.  The man was "blown off" by both boards so he called the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).  An ACLU attorney called the boards and explained that the practice of Christian prayer could not be part of a public meeting and indicated that the ACLU was prepared to bring legal action if necessary.  So the boards reluctantly agreed to eliminate the prayers as part of the meetings.  The Chairman of the school board made a statement to the press.  She said that the prayers were not limited to one religion but that all religions were represented, including Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians.  [Does that send a message to all us Catholics, Mormons, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Agnostics, etc.?]  One of the other members said something to the effect that if the ACLU was not going to permit the liberty of bringing Jesus Christ to the meetings then it did not support Americans or their liberties.

BTW:  Generally speaking, the reason many folks in western NC do not always recognize Catholics among the Christians is their mistaken belief that we "worship Mary."  My daughter was the only Catholic in her first grade class.  Upon learning that we were Catholic, her teacher asked me if it was all right for her to join the other children in praying just before going to lunch.  I told her that was fine with us and then bit my tongue to prevent me from adding, "But it's not all right with the Supreme Court."  Until we moved to Wisconsin, my children participated in Christmas programs at public school, including Christmas carols and the Nativity.  In Wisconsin, the program was "Winter Sing" and did not include any religious songs.

For the record, we do celebrate Advent and the religious meaning of Christmas.  We do have several Nativity sets around our house.  But our secular decorations far outweigh the religious ones.  Because this is my house, we can do what we please.  And I, for one, am glad that no public school first-grade child should feel uncomfortable because his or her parents are not of a particular religious (or non-religious) belief.

One of my favorite Santas, cradling some dolls he just made for the good little boys and girls.

There are folks who are surprised to find that I am Roman Catholic.  It's especially hard for those who knew me in my younger years to be Southern Baptist.  I think their surprise comes with the fact that I am vehemently pro-choice, I support birth control of all kinds, I strongly support marriage of same sex persons and I respect people of all faiths and non-believers as well.  I am just as furious as you are that the Bishops of the Church who turned a blind eye to child molestation by some priests were never held accountable.  I am definitely a cafeteria Catholic and pick and choose what I wish to believe.  Is this being hypocritical?  I think not.  The only religious dogma I could support without question would be the Church of NCMountainwoman.  Otherwise I can choose which parts of the church I will support and which parts I will cast aside.  I did the same when I was a Southern Baptist.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Fridays are Golden

This has been an amazing weather week here in Transylvania County.  It began with pouring rain.  We got more than eight inches of rain from late Sunday and through the day on Monday.  The river basins overflowed into fields.  Eight roads were closed because of flooding.  Fences were underwater and the cows and horses had to find the highest spots in the pastures.  A major logjam threatened to break loose causing further damage.  All the rain was followed by snow during the night on Monday.  At our house the snow was less than an inch but higher elevations received much more.  The storms were called "twenty-five-year" storms.  Statistics don't amount to much.  This is the second consecutive year in which we have had the "twenty-five-year storm."  The sun came out on Tuesday afternoon and we have had a very pleasant week since then.

Our Golden Girls hate the rain but they love the cooler weather, especially the high winds we have also had.  On rainy days they go out as little as possible quickly completing their business and wanting to come straight back home.  They follow us up and down the stairs, settling down whenever we do.  We have several dog beds throughout the house but most of the time Lucy will come over to share (or take over) Ellie's resting place. 

Lucy, that is too much even for you.
Well, Mom, she could move if she wanted to.

 Ellie's head is actually shoved underneath the chair.

 Lucy squished her way onto the bed, leaving no other place for Ellie's leg.

Finally, it is Lucy getting squished.

I must admit that I sometimes fear that the weight of Lucy on Ellie's shoulders or hips might cause a problem.  In those cases, I just go get two little treats to give them.  Most often Ellie will wait for Lucy to take a bed and she will then take the other one.  And if she is lucky Lucy won't get up and move to Ellie's bed.  Only the most devoted pet owner knows how much we love these two.

The quote for the week comes from Albert Schweitzer:

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person.  Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.

If someone has rekindled your light, think of them with gratitude.  Then reach out and thank them once again.  Tel them again how much they have meant to your life.  And take every opportunity that comes your way to rekindle the spark in someone else.

Twenty-nine days left in 2011, folks.