Thursday, December 30, 2004

Weekend Assingment #41 Pet Resolutions

Weekend Assignmet #41: Make a new year's resolution... for your pet. If you have more than one pet, of course, feel free to make resolutions for any or all of them.

This shall be short and sweet.  Thank you, John.  This is perfect for the New Year's weekend assignment.  But then, you knew that!

We just welcomed a little kitty into our home five days ago.  His resolution for the new year will be that he will develop such a craving desire and love for dry cat food that he'll forget that nasty cat food in cans even exists.  Right.  And now I'd like to interest you in a bridge I have for sale!!!

Extra Credit: Imagine what your pet would make as a resolution for you.

My cat's resolution would be that we never stop thinking that having him share our bed is the nearest thing to heaven on Earth that we could possibly imagine and nothing could make us change our minds.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

The Gift Part Two

Many years before the dogs came into our lives, we adopted a kitten from an animal shelter. This was when we lived in a ramshackle little house out in the country that was over run with wildlife. Hence, the need to bring a cat into our family, appropriately named Necessity. She proved to be a wonderful cat and lived with us until the ripe old age of 17. I wrote a little story about her a while back. We didn't rush out immediately to get another kitty because Lucy did not get along with cats at all!

As I stated at the beginning of this story, we've been pet-less for about two years but have been talking on and off lately about bringing a pet into the family once again. A kitten, definitely a kitten but a specific kind this time around. A Siamese cross-breed found his way to our door one day around Thanksgiving about 16 years ago and visited for a short time. He was a great cat, full of personality, and stayed with us until his owner spotted him in the front yard one day and informed us that this was his cat. The cat seemed to know the man and went with him willingly enough. There was nothing we could do. This fluffy creature left a very deep impression with my husband who bonded and fell in love with this cat in no time at all. I have to admit he was a pretty cool kitty! This event planted the seed that the next cat we get should be of the Siamese persuasion.

Personally, I don't care for purebred Siamese cats. I don't like their lean and hungry look, their cross-eyed appearance or their yowl. I do like the coloring of a seal point Siamese, the beautiful eyes, the short hair. For a long time I've been searching the classifieds for a kitten listed as a cross Siamese. Pure bred kittens cost a fortune and we're not in a position to shell out $300 to $400 for one. I have always felt the place from which to acquire a pet is an animal shelter and, trust me, they're not abounding with Siamese-type kittens.

Sometimes circumstances fall into place, the planets align themselves and Jupiter is in Mars or something like that. My husband has the misfortune to have been born two days after Christmas. His birthday has been lost in the shuffle of the holidays all his life. My son-in-law called me the other day to share the fact that his brother's cat had had kittens recently and, wonder of wonders, they were half Siamese. He and my daughter wondered if one of these would be a nice birthday gift for Dad. At this stage of my life I'm old enough to recognize a golden opportunity when I'm presented with one. They wanted to keep it a surprise but decided I should come along to check out the goods. It didn't take me long to see that one particular kitten was exactly what we were looking for and he had a major side benefit going for him--he'd already been neutered. Yes!

I wrestled with the firm knowledge that it's not a good idea to surprise anyone (no matter how well you know them) with an animal and my gut feeling that this was too good an opportunity to let slip by and everything would be okay. My gut feeling (which I've also learned to trust over the years) won and we gathered up this gorgeous feline into a carrier box and embarked on the anixiety-filled journey home, both the kitten's and mine. I'm happy to say the gamble to surprise Dad with a kitty for his birthday was a huge success and now we're getting acquainted with each other. I think we're in for a long, happy relationship. Oh, and his name? Finnegan. What else would an Irishman name his Siamese cat?

Our first little cat looked something like this:

    innocent baby tabby cat

The newest member of the family looks something like this:

  siamese cat licking

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The Gift Part One

We haven't had an animal in the house for almost two years. The last pet we had was a dog that belonged to my Mother. She had two dogs and there was no way my Dad could deal with them after she died so my husband and I decided to take one of them to love as our own. Enter Lucy, a Shepherd-Lab mix, and while not the sharpest knife in the drawer, we came to love her dearly. We had her for a little over eight years before she became so debilitated that the kindest thing to do was to have her gently, peacefully put down. I couldn't handle arranging and carrying this out so my daughter came to my rescue and took care of everything. This was doubly difficult for me because not only had I grown to love the dog, she was my living legacy from my Mother. I regarded her as a very close, furry connection.

Before the advent of Lucy, my daughter brought home a miniscule, rat-like dog that she found sitting alongside a bridge one day. I suppose it was some kind of Chihuahua, a breed I find most unattractive. We're big dog people but my daughter worked on me long enough and I, in turn, on my husband to wear him down into agreeing this animal could stay. Big mistake! This little dog stank--even after a thorough bath--and crapped and peed all over the house. This was indeed the dog that refused to be housebroken despite all my efforts. When Lucy came on the scene, the two dogs were not compatible so we took the little dog to the animal shelter. I felt bad about this but apparently the timing was right. This occurred a few weeks before Christmas and someone adopted the little dog almost immediately.

The common thread between these two dogs was that we did not choose them; they were thrust upon us. My dear, patient husband stated that the next animal to share our home would be one that he chose, with my input as well.

Lucy looked something like this:

The little rat-dog looked something like this:

My daughter named this tiny animal "Siva" which we found quite amusing as this is the name of the Hindu god of destruction and reproduction.  Yeah, right!


Saturday, December 18, 2004

Weekend Assignment #39 Disappointing Toys

Weekend Assignment #39: Tell us about the toy you had to have for the holidays when you were a kid, only to find out it was kinda disappointing once you had it.

The "must- have" toy of my early childhood was a "Little Red Spinning Wheel". I had to have this marvelous item. I remember telling everyone that if I received this gift, I would use it and cherish it forever. I even remember the catchy little jingle that accompanied the TV ads for it: "Spin and loop and then you pull", sung to the tune of "Skip to My Lou".

Well, Santa came through and granted me my wish. I was seven or eight years old that Christmas. The disappointment began to set in when I realized that my little red spinning wheel was nothing more than a new spin (!) on an old fashioned toy; namely, a spool into which four nails, evenly spaced, are driven. Yarn is then looped around the nails in such a manner to pull a resulting braided strand down through the hole. This, in turn, could be made into pot holders, placemats, etc.; whatever one's creative little mind could fashion this long braid into.

I spun, I looped and I pulled but it wasn't anywhere near as exciting as I had anticipated. I don't even think the spinning wheel part had anything to do with the braiding process. This was probably my first introduction to the fact that things are not always what they appear to be. It happens to us all at some point in our innocent childhood.

Here is a picture of this item in all its glory. Wouldn't you be enchanted with this if you were a little girl?

Religion vs. Tradition: Why Do We Have to Fight About It?

The current controversy reported in the news recently about prohibiting Christmas carols, Christmas programs in schools or barring the inclusion of any religious reference in a holiday parade disturbs me a great deal. Some say these performances should be stopped because they may be "offensive" to some. Well, I am offended at the very idea that these things should be discontinued.

Whatever happened to our freedom of speech, expression and religion? In these days when the gap of separation between church and state appears to be narrowing in a frightening manner, these suggestions are puzzling.  The United States of America has always been comprised of a "melting pot" populace.  This means different ideas, customs, religions, etc. are going on all the time. When did our tolerance of these differences disappear? Was it never there in the first place?

The performance of Christmas-themed concerts and programs are often as much of a traditional and nostalgic nature as a testament to faith. Many people singing these carols are singing purely for the joy and love of the music; they've been hearing and singing these songs since the beginning of their memories. This is what we do at Christmastime. I'm so tired of being treated as the minority we seem to be fast becoming. I am the product of a protestant-based upbringing and I look forward to and treat Christmas as a time to celebrate even more joyously the love of my family, immediate and extended. Much of my so-called faith stems from the love and strength I receive from them. God's light and lessons shine down on us in a multitude of ways.

It will be a dark day in this country if an edict comes down from "those men in Washington" declaring Christmas carols and any and all references to Jesus' birth must be confined to the inside of churches. I'm no religious fanatic, believe me, but there's something very wrong here. No one should be forced to participate in these programs but they shouldn't be taken away from those of us who enjoy them.







Saturday, December 11, 2004

Christmas Eve, Revisited

When I was growing up, it wasn’t until the day before Christmas that my parents put up the tree. This was quite an undertaking and it wasn’t until I grew up that I realized how difficult this job must have been every year. They never used the conventional tree stand we see everywhere today. For all I know, this helpful item hadn’t yet been invented and marketed in the mid 1950’s through the ‘60’s--the Christmas years of my childhood memories. The tree, which had been purchased up to a week beforehand, was stored safely and lovingly outside, propped up in some protected corner of the house. It often acquired a sprinkling of snow which helped keep it happy and fresh.

When the time came to set up the tree, my mother brought forth a sturdy bucket in which it was set and gravel was poured in and around it. We had a long gravel driveway but surely this wasn’t the source of the stuff year after year. We’d have had no driveway left in a few years so where did this mysterious gravel come from? I honestly don’t know. Two thin lines of twine were attached to the upper part of the trunk and radiated out and attached to nails or screws fastened into the walls to help hold the tree straight and steady. We always had a good-sized dog around with an energetic tail so it was imperative that the tree was well secured. Once the tree was up, my dad proceeded to take on that time-honored chore of all dads and put the lights on; lights with bulbs bigger than nightlight bulbs and those fanciful, wonderful "bubble lights".

The tree was now ready to be decorated and my mother took over. The privilege of helping her with this pleasant task was not granted until one reached the age of some semblance of knowledge of symmetry in the placement of ornaments; maybe somewhere around eight years old? All my siblings had already arrived at this point when I was born. Here was a classic example of desperately trying to catch up with the rest of my family, an on-going effort throughout my youth. Once the tree was finished, mother swirled a white sheet around the base of the tree. Not even one present was visible but it was all ready for the much anticipated, annual visit from Santa Claus. For many years I had a stuffed white cat that I left in front of the tree before I went to bed. It was always moved to the back the next morning and my childish reasoning was certain only Santa could’ve moved it. This fact, even more so than the appearance ofgifts, was concrete evidence that the jolly old elf had actually visited my house.

I remember sitting on the sidelines watching the gradual, magical transformation of the tree take place before my eyes. Then, at some point late in the afternoon, I was hustled off to my bedroom for a nap. Why? Our whole family went to the late night Christmas eve church service at All Saints Episcopal Church and no one wanted the company of a tired, cranky child. This was the one time in the whole year I loved going to church. I knew that instead of some long, boring sermon and even more boring Sunday School, there was going to be the best kind of singing in my young opinion, the singing of Christmas carols and lots of them! Our church was always beautifully decorated with lots of wreaths, garlands and candles. My mother was a member of the choir and I always felt such pride watching my beautiful mother singing in the church choir each Sunday and especially on this special night. Evidently this sight was laying the foundation for my future love of singing four-part harmonies in future choruses and choirs which I joined in the years to come. Add all of this to the rare opportunity of staying up late and Santa’s impending visit and I was in little kid heaven.

When we returned home from church on Christmas Eve it was quite late and time for bed (for me, at least). Even though we had a fireplace and mantle from which to hang one, I never hung my stocking there. Instead, I attached a large sock to the side of my bed at the end with a big safety pin with care, of course! I favored one of my big brother’s hiking socks as it was sturdy and quite roomy. On this most wondrous of all nights, no self-respecting kid could ever sleep a wink. All through the night I would reach down and check the status of my stocking. Limp. Limp, sigh! Would he ever get here?...and then, finally, I would make contact with a bulging, crackling, temptingly full of who-knew-what Christmas stocking. It was perhaps then that I was able to finally go to sleep for an hour or two. I always waited until Christmas morning to open my stocking and as I got older, I became savvy enough to have crayons, scissors and pencils handy by to help keep myself occupied until it was safe to even think about venturing out to the living room to see if Christmas had started yet.

In later years, I would sometimes get up and tip-toe to within sight of the tree just to take in the bounty that always appeared as if by magic around the tree. I don’t think it was a sense of greed or materialistic longing but the sight of a beautiful Christmas tree with colorfully wrapped presents set all around it, pristine and untouched, was always one of my favorite sights. It still is! I never touched anything and returned to my room until I heard sounds of people finally getting up. This was the signal that Christmas was finally about to begin. There was always what seemed like a multitude of gifts for all of us. The love which ebbed and flowed among us was palpable and the stuff from which the most indelible Christmas memories are made. These are memories I have within me for as long as my memory remains intact.

I thank my parents for creating these wonderful times for me and my siblings and for themselves as well. I’d like to think my children will one day look back on the Christmases of their youth with similar fondness and affection.


Monday, December 6, 2004

In Search of...The Perfect Christmas Tree

For the past 23 years or so, we've gone to Christmas Tree farms to select our tree. Prior to this, the only option I was aware of was visiting a lot to pick a pre-cut tree. Both methods have always taken much time and lots of thoughtful consideration. This is a serious matter, after all, and one can't go picking the first tree that meets the eye. This very special tree is going to be a semi-permanent fixture in the house for an extended period of time. In my case, it almost becomes a beloved, if temporary, member of the family. We usually make the tree-selection excursion a family event and over the years, my children have been the ones to find the perfect tree; my son, especially, has shown a unique talent for zeroing in on the best tree year after year.

Yes, I love my Christmas tree and the entire process from search and selection to the finishing touch of adornment is a project very dear to my heart. As most people do, I have much sentimentality stored within the ornaments I place on my tree year after year. Part of the joy of decorating the tree is unwrapping each ornament and briefly reliving the memory of where or who it came from and the significance attached to it. It usually takes me anywhere from two to three days to complete my Christmas tree. The perfect place must be found for each ornament and, ideally, all should hang freely for the optimum, overall effect.


              "Christmas Morning" Print     


I'm not exactly sure when it was that we began putting our tree up in the early days of December. This was not the custom to which I'd been exposed in all my growing-up years. Some of it probably has to do with the discovery that freshly cut trees last an amazingly long time if properly cared for. Most of it has to do with the high price tag these choose and cut trees carry and wanting to get my money's worth. Add to this the mere fact that I simply adore having a beautifully decorated tree in my living roon and when the day comes that I must take it down, it is always a sad one.

A long time ago, we lived in half of a duplex that was so small that there was no room in the living room for a tree. There was a huge, multi-paned window facing the street in our bedroon, however, so we decided to put our tree up in there. There was no one around to protest such a radical change in location; our only child at the time, our daughter, was only 3 and a half and the entire Christmas celebration was all very new to her still new perception of the world and wonders therein. The tree in our bedroom doubled as a most unusual, equisite nightlight/lovelight. I was already a couple of years shy of my 30th birthday and soon discovered that the soft glow of Christmas lights was quite flattering to a face and body that were just beginning to show their age.

In fact, I loved having that tree in my bedroom so much that I didn't "un-deck" it and take it down until we were well into March of the following year. Crazy? Yes, but I couldn't bear to part with it. A major fire hazzard? Most definitely yes, but I was very aware of this fact and extremely careful about how long I'd turn the lights on and made certain someone was always in the room. It remained amazingly fresh and fragrant for the longest time.

When I finally did take the tree down, the top of it very much resembled the antlers of "Thidwick, The Big- Hearted Moose" at the end of the story--if anyone is familiar with this little Dr. Seuss gem of a story. There were all sorts of little creatures who had set up housekeeping among the top branches over the weeks the tree stood in our room. Gracious! For all I know, several generations were conceived, born, lived and died in the uppermost branches during those weeks. All I can tell you is that they didn't keep us up at night and I never kept a tree up this long ever again, much to my husband's silently suffering, utter relief I'm sure.

         Thidwick The Big Hearted Moose


The Saturday Six

Picture from Hometown

1. Think back to weddings you have attended (other than your own):  what was the nicest part of the one you liked the most?

Invitations to weddings are far and few between at this point of my life.  I would pick my daughter's wedding that took place on June 1, 2003.  This was her second ceremony that I was witness to.  The nicest part was that this time I knew her new husband was the right one, the one that was meant to be, a real "keeper".

2. What is your favorite color and which room of your home has the most of this color in it?

My favorite color is green and the room which reflects this preference the most is my closet where about one-third of the clothes hanging there are assorted shades of green.

3. What is your favorite kind of popcorn:
A) Unsalted
B) Buttered
C) Extra Butter
D) Kettle Corn
E) Caramel Corn

B) Buttered  (Love the stuff, rarely eat it.)

4. Take a little time (!!) for a quick inventory of the clocks in your home:  how many do you have and what is the widest difference between any two of them?

There are 12 places to check the time in my house, including 3 watches.  The widest difference in time is 5 minutes ahead which is what both alarm clocks on either side of our bed are set to.  The rest are set at the same time, more or less, that I believe to be the "real" time.  I often wonder how anyone knows what that actually is!

5. When was the last time you used a real rotary dial telephone to place a call?

Probably some time around 1980 at my parents' house.  I remember their phone was red and it took my folks a long time to get around to installing a push-button model.

6. READER'S CHOICE QUESTION #34 from Shannon:  What is your favorite sport and why?

I don't really have a favorite sport but if I had to choose, it would be boxing.  My husband likes to watch boxing matches sometimes and this is something I don't mind watching with him.  It's fast paced, and I like the one-on-one rather than a team effort where there always seems to be "star" players who get more media coverage than the rest of the team.

Friday, December 3, 2004

The Music of Christmas

When I was a little girl, the initial nod to the Christmas season in my house occurred on December 1st.  This was the day we were allowed to start playing holiday music.  Nothing else Christmasy was visibly evident but just hearing the sounds of the season was enough to carry me for several weeks.  I looked forward to pulling these records out every year and never got tired of listening to them.  They were the same albums year after year but that didn't matter; their predictable familiarity was part of their charm.  I even loved looking at the album covers. 

I've spent a bit of time throughout my adult life searching for cassettes or CDs to replace the long gone vinyl discs but I haven't been very successful.  Many are listed as "no longer in stock".  My favorites were compilations from Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians, The Robert Shaw Chorale and a very obscure record entitled, "Christmas in England".

Listening to the Fred Waring arrangements throughout my youth proved to be quite helpful in my years of glee clubs, choruses and choirs.  Very often my music directors chose those same arrangements as part of the Christmas music program.  Since I was so familiar with them, it was extremely easy to learn my alto part.  As a member of these assorted choral groups over the years, I learned so many lovely Christmas carols and holiday songs.  Believe me, there's so much more out there than "Silent Night" and "Jingle Bells".

I love singing these songs as much as hearing them.  I often become quite overcome when I listen to certain carols; a great emotional surge that is comprised of all the wonderful Christmas memories of my past up to the present washes over me.  The result is tears but they are soft, welcome, feel-good tears.  There are tears that cleanse the soul; these are the kind that fortify the soul.  Oh, how I love Christmas!


Wednesday, December 1, 2004

Thanksgiving's Leftover Thoughts

The last of the turkey has been relegated to the freezer in the form of soup.  The lingering triangles of pie have been divvied up among us.  Thanksgiving is over and, once again, we survived.

We had a wonderful day, the food and company was superb and we had quite a bit of help with guests supplying some of the "fixin's".  Even so, I found the day overwhelming and, truly, it's time to take a hiatus from hosting the big feast.  This year I was more organized than usual and while things flowed along very smoothly, I was acutely aware of having little or no time to actually visit with any of my company.

This was the company I love to have visit me.  I receive great strength from my family and to have all of them together in one place is close to a spiritual feast for me.  I love having my dear Auntie, cousin, nieces, nephews, their significant others and my in-laws by marriage join us for the day.  I love having my daughter, my very dear son-in-law and their little family living close enough to be able to join us for these special times.  I especially enjoy being in close proximity to my two sisters and my brother.  These three and I are the remaining core of my immediate family from my growing-up years.

Despite the fact that I had done so much ahead of time, there was still no time to actually sit and visit with any of them.  I want to go to someone else's house next year.  I want to bring a dish, drop it off in the kitchen and be done with it.  I want to circulate merrily through the crowd spreading congenial cheer.  I love hosting this day for my family; my husband and I are just getting tired, I guess.  Oh, how I admire all the mothers and grandmothers who've been responsible for providing Thanksgiving dinners for so many years.  It's not easy!

Now, I look to my most favorite season of the year--Christmas and all its glory.  Just the word "Christmas" evokes in me a magical, comforting feeling.  Soon I will transform my home into a fairyland of lights, decorations and such, ultimately to become a beautiful, softly-lit haven for my family to return home to on these cold days after work and school.  This is one of my happiest, pleasantly anticipated creations of the year.  Oh yes, I'm in my element now!