Thursday, December 31, 2009

13 Fine Things About Me

Thursday Thirteen - Grandma is not listless anymore

A few days ago, I explained why I no longer make New Year's resolutions. One reason involved the demotivating effect of contemplating all my imperfections. Today I decided to make a list of things that I don't need to improve on. I feared that I might not reach thirteen. But they came pretty quickly:

1. My sense of humor
I got it from my father and it's sustained me through hard times. It also makes my daily life a lot lighter.

2. My coding skills
After 40 years of computer programming, they are almost second nature. And I still enjoy it.

3. My loyalty
My definition of friend is a lot more conservative than MySpace's. But I'm there for those I love.

4. My playfulness
According to my granddaughter. She didn't use the word "playfulness", but she did mention a large number of informal games that we play: snatching jelly beans from her belly button, claiming her security blanket (tiki) is mine, singing silly songs ... the list is endless. I'm not sure which of us enjoys them more.

5. My driving skills
I lived and commuted in Atlanta for 12 years. I only know of one other person who lived there and didn't have an accident in that time - my daughter.

6. My perseverance
In my working days, I was frequently asked how I managed to find solutions to problems that had perplexed others. My response was, "It's not hard to find folks who are smarter than I am. And even easier to find those who are faster. But you'll look a long time before you find someone with more perseverance." Thomas Edison claimed that he had learned 2000 ways NOT to make a light bulb, before the working model made it's appearance. I believe in that approach.

7. My rebelliousness
I never thought of myself as a rebel, but lots of folks have used that term to describe me. Usually it's with a sense of admiration. I've just made the choices that I felt were best for me. Yes, they've been a bit unconventional at times.

8. My love for animals
We've always had a house full of pets. I even devote a fair amount of time to caring for virtual ones.

9. My addiction to American Idol
I'm really hooked! And it's returning soon!

10. My kindness
That's what my daughter said. I wouldn't have thought of it, but I'm pleased that she thinks so.

11. My cooking skills
I don't do much of it these days. A stroke has left me too unsteady to handle many of the things I loved to do. But I still have the skill and I'm happy that I passed it on. Talk about an investment with a great return.

12. My analytical skills
Closely related to my curiosity. I always want to know why. Must have driven my parents crazy.

13. My sense of adventure
Another contribution from my daughter. And who should know better? We've made some major changes together and had fun doing it. We also enjoy small adventures in our everyday lives.

Wow! I'm feeling a lot better about myself than I did 15 minutes ago. Looking for a mood lifter? Give this a try. Beats the overindulgence in alcohol that is so predominant at this time.


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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Surprise or Fear?

Carousel Ride

Seconds after this photo was taken, fright overtook surprise and my granddaughter burst into tears. She wouldn't mount another animal, but loved riding on a bench seat in this old restored carousel in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Although she enjoyed petting fish at the aquarium and taking her first train ride, the carousel and adjoining fountains were her favorite spots on this vacation. And they certainly were the least expensive!


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Alcohol Rates . . .

high in New Year themed clip art. I was searching for some clip art for my website. I found Father Time, the New Year's baby, fireworks, confetti and music. But the predominant theme was alcoholic beverages.

I guess that's not very surprising. Just a reflection of what's happening in real life. But it is scary. The New Year holiday ranks high in the statistics for highway accidents. Even higher when the holiday becomes part of a weekend. Fatalities increase when alcohol consumption is involved and it is involved in the majority of New Year's accidents.

Don't Drink and Drive is a fine motto, but for this holiday, it doesn't go far enough. Don't Drive makes far more sense. Inconvenient? Perhaps. But you can't become a part of those statistics if you stay off the road.

How does your life rate? Enough to get those errands done before the holiday? Enough to try something different? Twenty years ago, I made a decision to see the new year in at home. I've enjoyed those celebrations. And it's been a decision I've found easy to live with.


Monday, December 28, 2009


I won't be making any New Year's resolutions this year. Truth be told, it's been years since I have made one. No, I haven't reached that elusive plane of perfection. Still plenty of room for improvement here. But it won't be starting on New Year's Day. Tempted to join me? Here's 5 reasons not to make New Year's resolutions.

1. It's a bad time to tackle anything new.
We're still celebrating the season. Why not enjoy it? Resolutions can really distract from the festivities. I had a friend who resolved to stop smoking. Fifteen minutes before the clock struck midnight, she left her guests to party on, went into her bedroom, smoked her last cigarette and cried. Happy New Year? To her credit, she did kick the habit. But did she have to miss her own party to do it?

2. It let's you off the hook.
You decide to lose a few pounds and start a diet. You go out with some friends a few days later and kill any diet progress that's been made. The resolution has been broken and you can't take that back. Why not forget about it and try again next year.

3. It's depressing.
Just coming up with resolutions can be depressing. When I was younger I couldn't stop at just one. So I'd produce a staggering list of areas that needed improvement and resolve to fix them all. Overwhelmed by this tower of imperfection, I just gave up before I started.

4. There is no magic in the day.
Everyone likes an easy fix. A weight loss pill that requires no diet or exercise? Ooh, take my credit card now. A get rich scheme that will end my financial woes. Hang on, I haven't put the card away yet. It's easy to think that New Year's has some magical power that will take the work out of our resolutions. Buying into that can be the first step towards failure.

5. Remember Mr. Rogers
When my daughter was young, she watched Mr. Rogers everyday. Her favorite part? When he told the watching children "I love you just the way you are." We find it easier to accept the imperfections of family and friends than to tolerate our own. So why not resolve to give yourself the gift of acceptance this year. That's the kind of resolution you can live with.


Sunday, December 27, 2009

Animal Rescuers

We have always loved our pets. Never turned away from an animal in need. But we went a bit over the edge yesterday. Yeah, I'm blushing as I relate this silly story.

Have you ever heard of SuperPoke Pets? It's a nifty little web application that let's you adopt a virtual pet, name it and care for it. You are awarded coins for various activities, such as caring for other folks pets in addition to your own. Then you can use these coins at the Pet Shop and buy all sorts of extravagant things for your pet. Various rooms and settings for them to "live" in, furniture, toys and clothes. You can adopt one pet per email address. Needless to say, if you have multiple email addresses, you can acquire a sizable family of pets.

We adopted several pets and had a lot of fun with them. But caring for them proved to be quite a time consumer. In the midst of moving last summer, there just wasn't enough time to care for all of them. So several accounts were removed and the virtual pet family achieved a more reasonable size. We got busy packing and moved on.

Recently we made a startling discovery. Although the pets had been disassociated from our email addresses, they were not gone. Instead they continued to live on in cyberland. Standing in the middle of a field - hungry, dirty, dejected, abandoned. My heart broke each time I saw one.

Yesterday, my daughter figured out how to retrieve the abandoned pets. We cleaned and cared for these poor little guys. Our current pets checked their storage areas for spare rooms, clothes and furnishings and donated them to the cause. Rooms were setup and decorated. Not much else got done yesterday, but by evening those sweet little guys were out of the fields and living in relative splendor.

They aren't real? Yeah, I knew that.

Pet Picture


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Many Happy Returns

My granddaughter wanted to go to the store today. My daughter explained that this wasn't a good day to go anywhere near a store. When asked why, she explained that this was a day when lots of people liked to exchange the Christmas gifts they've received. This just raised another question.

Why do they want to exchange their gifts?

I don't have an answer for that. I've never participated in the manic exchanges of this day. I don't even understand them. Love it or hate it, I want the gift that I have been given.

Admittedly, there are very few that have fallen into the hate category. Perhaps the most disappointing were some exquisitely wrapped and very expensive gifts that I received from a friend one year.

We had exchanged gifts for over twenty years. Each year we decided on a day that would be set aside just for us. We'd begin with a special event - a movie, a Christmas concert, or a dinner out. Then we'd spend a couple of hours next to the tree. Listening to Christmas music, sharing our thoughts and exchanging the gifts we had selected. We knew each other well and our gifts reflected that knowledge.

My friend started her own business and for several years she struggled to make it a success. Some of my favorite gifts come from those lean times. Gifts from bargain stores, gifts made by hand, gifts that made me laugh, gifts that touched my heart. How precious to know that I had been in her thoughts throughout the year as she watched for special gifts for me.

Finally the business took off. Profits reached a million. She moved out of her parents' basement and into a lovely home. She expanded her business staff and hired a housekeeper and a personal assistant. She devoted the saved time to making more money.

One December, my friend could not find time for our usual exchange. She asked if it could be postponed until January. That was okay with me. It was a special time no matter when it happened. Shortly before that day approached, she left me know she couldn't get together until late in the day. Could we skip our special event and just do the present exchange? Again I agreed. When I arrived, there was no sense of relaxation and luxurious time to spend with an old friend. We got right down to business and started opening presents.

The presents were beautifully wrapped. The contents were expensive and disappointing. It was as if they had been chosen by someone who didn't know me. Which was exactly what had happened. My gifts had been selected and wrapped by the personal assistant.

I didn't like those presents and I never used them. But exchange them? What exchange could erase the hurt and sense of loss? I gave them to charity, I learned from them, I moved on.

Yesterday's gifts were a happy contrast to the ones from that Christmas past. My heart was warmed by the love and thought that went into them.

I hope that you had a wonderful day. I hope that your gifts were filled with love. I hope that your gifts will never be exchanged.


Friday, December 25, 2009

The Best Of Times

I still remember the year we got flying saucer sleds for Christmas. Those wonderful saucers were made for flying through mounds of powdered snow. No runners to get bogged down in the white stuff. Perfect for the hilly fields of New Hampshire that were already hiding under a couple feet of snow. I don't remember what was in my sock that Christmas, I don't remember what I got from my grandparents. But under the tree were 3 shiny metal saucers with red bows. My brothers and I could barely be persuaded to partake of Christmas dinner. As soon as possible, we raced outside and spent the rest of the daylight hours flying down the white hills.

It was the best Christmas ever.

Candy Cane Divider

My mother also remembered that Christmas.

There was no money for Christmas. We were fortunate that your dad had found employment after losing his job when his father's business collapsed. But it was an entry level position paying less than half of what he had earned. He moonlighted when he could find something, but times were tough for everyone. The savings were gone. In January there would not be enough money to pay the mortgage. We had nothing to give our three small children for Christmas. Grandparents had been asked to provide necessities as gifts - warm clothes for three growing children. But there was no money for toys. No money to fill the stockings.

Do you remember Mrs. Morse?

Sure I do, Mom. That nice old lady who lived at the end of the little dirt road that ran next to our property. We used to bring her mail to her every day. She always had a treat for us and always tried to give us money. We never took it. We would have been in big trouble with you.

That's right. I worried about her living alone, but it would have hurt her pride to have me check on her each day. But she always enjoyed the visits from you. After her husband died, she rarely saw anyone else.

A few days before Christmas, she had you bring back a sealed envelope to me. Inside was ten dollars and a note. She begged me to accept the money and use it to buy my children a Christmas present. I couldn't have accepted it for any other reason and I think she knew that. Flying saucers were the most popular toys that Christmas and cost three dollars apiece. I got one for each of you and went to the local Five & Dime store to get some stocking stuffers. With lots of fun toys at 5 cents each, a dollar went a long way. I filled the bottom of the stockings with big oranges, some nuts and some homemade fudge. I added the stocking stuffers at the top. The stockings seemed a little skimpy to me, but you didn't seem to notice.

The flying saucers were the hit of the day. Once you saw them, I don't think you thought about anything else. I'll never forget the kindness of our neighbor. She let us bring Christmas to our children.

Your father and I did not have gifts under the tree from his parents. But it did hold a check that paid our mortgage for the next two months. And that was just long enough. Near the end of February, your father got the transfer and promotion that moved us to Vermont.

Times were hard that Christmas. I would never have picked it as the best. But perhaps it was.


Thursday, December 24, 2009



When I moved south, I dumped most of my belongings. Some to friends, some to charity, some to trash. What I kept fit into my subcompact car. Among those things were my Christmas ornaments.

I don't have any insights into this behavior. Sure they had memories attached. But so did many things that I ruthlessly discarded. It wasn't the cost of replacement, there was little monetary value. I just knew that I wasn't going to throw them away.



An online course for a graphics software package led to my favorite retirement pursuit. Given my love of ornaments, it's not too surprising that I've spent a fair amount of this holiday season creating virtual ornaments.

I have no insights for these either. I'm not sure what I'll do with them. But today I'm giving you a peek at my virtual ornament obsession. You may love them or you may hate them. No matter. I'm not going to throw them away.



Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Let It Snow

I grew up in northern Vermont where snow was almost a constant.  Spring waited until May, followed by a brief summer and briefer fall.  By October, snow regained it's rule. Roads that were snow-blocked for days and drifts as high as power lines were common parts of that winter experience.  Some  loved it.  They strapped on their skis or climbed onto their snowmobiles and went out to enjoy their winter wonderland.

I hated that white stuff.  I had no interest in winter hobbies.  I hated wading through it, shoveling through it, driving through it.  I don't claim to be a fast learner.  I spent most of my first half-century coping with it, accepting it.  Until the November day when I climbed on a plane headed for Georgia.   The world was white and the temperature was 6F, when we took off.  Two hours later, I arrived to fall leaves and temperatures in the 60's.   Sure I'd known it was warmer in the south, but the concept had seemed surreal.  Reality arrived that day.  Six months later, I had a home and job in Atlanta.

Snow no longer reigns.  Long fragrant springs are followed by hot summers that bake the arthritis out of my bones.  Fall arrives late and winter has only a couple of weeks to make it's presence known.  "It's Snowing!" means that a few flakes are falling from the sky.  Anything that accumulates on the ground is considered a blizzard, even if it melts off before noon.

I was surprised when someone asked  if I'd  had trouble adjusting to the climate.  Sunshine and warmth require little adjustment.  But once a year, just about this time, a small pang of loss creeps into my heart.   Just for a minute, I dream of snow-covered hills and trees, caroling in the winter night, a world filled with pristine white. 

Just for a minute, I'd let it snow.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Paper Or Plastic?

Sorry, that's not right.  Cloth or Disposable?  No that's not it either.   Real or Artificial?  That's the one.

Interesting how simple decisions can turn into major debates for some folks.  Paper or plastic was an easy one for me.  The plastic ones have handles and that beats  bags breaking out of my hands on rainy trips to the car.    Cloth or disposable was settled by the pediatrician.  The disposables put an end to my baby's diaper rash.  But real or artificial is a decision I still struggle with.

High on my childhood memory list are trips through our woods to pick a Christmas tree.  About a week before Christmas, my dad would take my brothers and I on the quest.  Acres of sweet, heady pine trees drenched in clouds of pure snow defined the search area.  The perfect tree was always an hour away.  My brothers and I would point to this one or that  But Dad said we should keep looking.  Just when we thought we could walk no  longer,  he'd point to a tree.  We'd sit on fallen logs or brush snow off a makeshift rock chair and watch him cut the tree.  Afterwards,  we'd gather up that last of our energy for the trip home.  Mom had hot chocolate and Christmas cookies waiting for us.  She'd give Dad a smile and nod her head.  I always assumed it was her approval of the tree.  Years later I learned the true meaning: "Yes, I got all the presents wrapped."

When I left home , I could still count on my father to bring a tree.  Until a new job took me hundreds of miles away.  A lot tree lacked the charisma of those from childhood, but it was a beauty nonetheless.  There was a moment of panic when the entryway appeared too narrow, but then the branches bent and the tree was in my apartment.   Up and decorated, it outshined any from my childhood.

Unlike my parents, I'd set up my tree early in December.  Why not enjoy it for the entire holiday season?  But over the next couple of weeks, my tree lost some of it's lustre.  A visiting friend suggested I put some water in the tree base.  You water trees after they're cut down?  Oh!   Too little, too late.  The day after Christmas found me rushing to remove an expired tree from my home.   Branches that had gracefully bent to accommodate my entryway were gone, replaced by unyielding sticks that snapped and cast hoards of brown needles into the carpet.    The memory of hours on my knees picking needles out of the carpet stayed with me.  The next year I got my first artificial tree.

My daughter was four that year.  Needless to say, she does not remember real trees.  My granddaughter only knows  artificial ones too.  Her excitement when we purchased a new tree this year was certainly equal to mine on childhood tree searches.  The tree is beautiful and perfectly shaped.  It requires no maintenance. It's branches will never turn brown.  A tree hasn't been killed  A fire safety hazzard has been avoided.  This should be an easy decision.

Still, I remember.  And I struggle.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Dog's List

"What do you want for Christmas?"

How I dread that question. As the requester waits for a response, my mind goes blank.  A couple of ideas flit by.  One is too much to ask for, another is too trivial.  What do I want for Christmas?  Why not ask what I want from life?  You've got the same odds of getting a response.

Our dog has no trouble with questions like this.  No, he hasn't written his own list, but I know just what it would say:
  • I want a promise that I will never be left home alone. Take me with you or don't go.
  • I'd like some new SB's. You know how fast they wear out. (SB stands for Slobber Ball. A tennis ball that has been carried around in his mouth for so long that it could hydrate a few deserts.)
  • A coupon reedemable for daily fetching sessions.
  • And another one to let me skip bathes.
  • A few opportunities to escape from the yard. I treasure the opportunity to crash a backyard barbeque or take a dip in an algae ladden pond. Guess it goes without saying that I'll be using one of those "Skip A Bath" cards when I return.
  • I'd like a spot on the bed for those cold nights. A blanket and a pillow are optional, but they'd make me very happy.
  • From the cats, I'd appreciate a little respect.  Not likely,  I realize, but this is a wish list.
What do I want for Christmas?  I'd like a life with the clarity of my dog's.

Not likely, I realize.  But this is a wish list.


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Love It, Hate It

I have a love/hate relationship with Christmas:

I love getting cards and news from family and friends.
I hate sending them.

I love the brightly decorated stores.
I hate the long lines and the broken budget.

I love the brightly lit tree and the warm vibrant decorations that fill the house.
I hate the boxes and clutter that precede and follow it

I love listening to the Christmas music on the radio.
I hate listening to Christmas Shoes and Pretty Little Dolly.

I love the look of excitement and belief on my grandaugher's face.
I hate the thought of the last minute mail she will send to Santa. You know, that overpriced and unavailable toy that she's suddenly decided she should have put on the list she wrote two weeks ago.

I love the wonderful smells of all the traditional Christmas recipes,especially the Christmas cookies.
I hate where those cookies are headed - my waist, my hips, etc., etc.

I love that pretty covering of white snow for Christmas day.
I hate that I'm unlikely to get it. Wet drizzle just isn't a delightful substitute.

I love when Christmas is over. No more shopping, cooking, decorations and squabbling relatives.
I hate that it will be a whole year before it comes again.