Category Archives: Leisure

The Perfect Tree

Low maintenance Christmas tree

Low maintenance Christmas tree

I actually wrote this story three years ago, and sent it out to some friends and family members in a holiday e-mail. I thought I would publish it again here, because now I have the tree painting to go with it. I had planned to send out a few hand painted cards this year, but got sidetracked by the crazy planet-building frenzy, so this is my attempt to compensate. Enjoy. And have a lovely Christmas day.

Almost as soon as I started taking watercolor lessons, burning with the desire to paint Grand Canyons and beaches and sunsets, it was time to paint Christmas cards. Christmas cards? I think the last time I sent out Christmas cards was over twenty years ago. I was still a student, trying to write a little personal message in each card to all my friends and family, and my in-laws, and trying to study for finals. No wonder I gave it up as a hopeless business.

But I decided to make the best of the painting lesson, anyway. Knowing how to paint a snow scene might come in handy some day, although Christmas in central Texas almost never involves snow. The next two lessons were “painting Christmas decorations,” and “painting poinsettias.” The Grinch in me came roaring to life and I skipped those two weeks. After all, I had paid for six lessons, and I could exercise a little discretion over which six lessons I chose to attend. At the “paint what you want” lesson I painted a beach scene and a desert scene while almost everyone else worked on their poinsettias from the week before. The next lesson would be “painting a snow scene.” Jeez, will this never end? Once again, I opted out, this time using my dad’s birthday as an excuse.

“I have to bake a cake that day,” I explained.

I used to enjoy the Christmas season. I was always eager to drag out the old decorations, dust them off, and set them out for another holiday season. So what happened? Maybe it’s because I live in the “House of Grinches.” Four years ago I left my job and life in Kentucky and came home to look after my aging father. My mother died in 1989, and since then, my dad and my divorced brother had been living under the same roof. Now I (also divorced) was going to move in with them. Oh, joy.

Neither of them has ever runneth over with holiday spirit. That was my mother’s department, and mine. Or it was thirty years ago, before I left home and tried to live with other people’s expectations. Come to think of it, I was married to a couple of Grinches.

So maybe I can paint a memory, I thought. Maybe I can paint a Christmas tree, and hang it on the wall where it won’t take up any room, and the dogs can’t knock it over, and I can paint all the old ornaments on it — the ones I remember from childhood. I can paint a perfect Christmas tree. And I remember one that came very close.

I think it was my last year in high school, and with one thing and another going on, no one had had time to go shopping for a tree until finally, my mother and I went out with only a few days left before Christmas. We were expecting to find a bargain. We also expected to find the trees no one else wanted — the ones with uneven branches that created flat sides and asymmetrical gaps. We needed a funny looking tree because some of those old ornaments I mentioned were eight-inch long daggers — glass and tin “icicles” — that needed space to swing.

The tree we came home with needed work.

“This is not going to fit on the coffee table,” Mother pointed out.

“So we’ll have to saw off a few inches. We can do that,” I assured her. The masculine family members were off hunting for the weekend, but I was confident that we didn’t need men for this job.

I found a saw and went to work. Mother held the tree while I removed several inches of the base of the trunk. Needles rained down. When I was finished, the tree wouldn’t fit in the tree stand; lower branches were in the way. Simple. They would have to go, too. I started sawing again. More needles fell.

“If we keep going like this, we’ll end up with a naked twig,” I muttered. Mother started giggling. The tree slipped. I dropped the saw. I started giggling. Pretty soon we were both laughing so hard we could barely stand up, much less cope with a balky Christmas tree. Finally, after much huffing and puffing, and pauses to get our giggling under control, we had the tree in the stand (with water, to save the few remaining needles), and the whole thing perched atop the coffee table in the living room, with a white sheet draped around the bottom to hide the stand and simulate a snowy landscape for our “Christmas village.”

We strung the lights, then hung the ornaments.

“Look at this,” Mother said, as she held up a huge blue globe. She added an extra hanger to the one already attached, and hooked it to a branch. She gave the ball a light push and grinned as it swung free.

“Now that’s how tree decorations are supposed to look,” she concluded.

After the ornaments we added the “icicles,” shiny strips of silver plastic, one strand at a time. Then I arranged the houses and residents of the village under the tree and turned on the lights. Mother turned off the room lights and we stood back to admire our work.

“Now blow,” Mother instructed, and we blew softly toward the tree, stirring the glittering icicles and swaying the ornaments. The tree sparkled. My eyes filled with tears. They still do, at the memory.

And that is the Christmas scene I want to paint. If I don’t get it right this year, I can keep trying next year and the year after; and every year, no matter how the painting looks, I’ll have that memory — that spirit — back again.


Drinking hot (ish) coffee this morning

I have gone through phases in my adult life with and without caffeine. I’ve come to the conclusion that some caffeine is required, since I’m basically a morning person but am frequently a groggy morning person. And I like coffee. I even like the decaf kind. With a caveat… I like it to taste like ice cream. And I usually like it ice cold.

I started keeping my coffee in the refrigerator earlier this summer when I would sit at my computer on a typical, muggy, central Texas summer morning (even the A/C didn’t prevent all perception of mugginess), drinking my freshly dripped coffee, and I would start sweating buckets. Seriously. Buckets. Because hot weather plus hot coffee equals hot flash equals buckets of sweat. Buckets. What am I — stupid? I thought. Put the frakking coffee over some frakking ice. Then I came up with the brilliant idea that I could make my own coffee, separately from my brother’s normal coffee, and I could have flavors! like caramel truffle and chocolate velvet. My brother doesn’t like his coffee to taste like ice cream, so he isn’t interested in sharing my flavored coffee. So I make my own pot of coffee and pour it into a bottle to keep in the fridge. Then every morning I can pour some in a tumbler and add some sweetener and half and half, and have a nice, cold pick-me-up to start my day with.

Only this morning it was chilly. So I put my cold coffee in a mug and microwaved it hot. But adding the half and half cooled it off to almost room temperature. I’m running the furnace, after all. It’s not like it’s 53 degrees in here. And I’m not fond of hot beverages unless I actually need to drink something hot to get warm.

I’m about to make a point with this. Wait for it…

I was reading Havi Brooks’s recent post over at The Fluent Self blog about being your own, authentic self, dammit, and not apologizing to anyone about it. And I thought about my cold coffee habit and my flavored, ice-cream-tasting coffee habit, and how my brother always sneers at flavored coffee (and the people who drink it, I fear), and I thought, you know, this is me, dammit. Yeah, maybe I have a few screws loose, but they are not in the area of coffee drinking. Ever since I started drinking my coffee cold in the mornings, I have fewer hot flashes all day. So there. Dammit.

How a blog is like a house plant

This should be fairly apparent. Both need regular attention. Sometimes you can get away with a certain amount of neglect, like if you have all potted cacti, and if your blog is well established and people are going to keep checking back even if you only write one or two articles a month — if the audience knows you’re good for that one or two articles every month. But you can never just forget about the whole deal. Plants don’t water themselves; they can’t turn on their own grow light, and a blog won’t write itself.

Low maintenance real plants

Low maintenance real plants

So much for the ridiculously obvious. Here’s a link to a site called 43folders. It’s about being more productive/creative. I thought at first that it was actually about folders — as in how to use 43 folders to organize one’s productive/creative efforts. And that it would answer my burning question — “Why 43?” But alas, my attention span is only so long, and after skimming a few articles and not seeing an obvious answer, I gave up.

It didn’t help that I couldn’t exactly remember the name correctly. I was thinking 47folders? or was it 48folders? It wasn’t until I went to the meeting about “scrumming things done” and somebody mentioned 43 folders and how you have 31 days and 12 months that I had that “duh moment.”(It used to be a “eureka moment” but nobody says “eureka” any more unless they’re talking about the town in California or the totally awesome show on the Syfy channel — which I still maintain is a lame-ass name.)

So I came home and counted out 43 folders from the box I got back when I thought I’d be doing more teaching, and I put numbers one through thirty-one and months January through December on the tabs. Now I have no excuse to lose paperwork and/or receipts. I just put the stuff in the numbered folders that correspond to what day of the month it is, then on the first of the next month I move everything into the month folder and start over again. I reckon I’ll need year folders, too, so I can keep stuff I need for taxes. But only seven. I swear I’m not going to come up in 2057 and still have folders full of junk from 2009, 2010, etc. The IRS says you only need to keep tax records for seven years, and, by golly, that’s good enough for me. Going through my dad’s desk after he died, I found all his tax returns going back to the 1960’s. Seriously.

For me to start using any system to get organized is a huge step. This system is so simple that I think even I can do it. It’ll just take a little effort to remember to put the stuff in the folders. They need regular attention. Like a houseplant. Or a blog.

Not real - always blooming

Not real - always blooming

"Top Gear" and Dream Cars

For those of you who may not know, I’m something of a “gear head.” Oh, not so much to sit around discussing technical specs and that stuff, but I like cool cars. I took one of those silly Facebook quizzes to see “What Car Fits You Best,” and my result was Bugatti Veyron. Yeah, uh,huh, that’s what I’m talking about. Can’t exactly see myself running to Kroger in it, and don’t think even one of my dog crates would fit in the back, but-oh-well. I suppose if I could afford a Veyron, I could probably keep a Honda Fit around for the grocery store errands and the like.

And I’m a fan of “Top Gear” on BBC America. They just started their new season last night with a showdown of three different cars — one for each of the three hosts. Jeremy drove an Aston Martin, Richard a BMW, and James a Porsche. At the end of the show they all pretty much agreed that the Porsche (a 911) was the fastest, the BMW was the most powerful, but hideously difficult to “program,” and the Aston was, well, I forget. Anyway, I wondered aloud what kind of gas mileage the Porsche got. My brother said if you can afford to buy one, you probably don’t need to worry about saving money on gas. Hello. Not talking about saving money. Talking about not using so much gasoline. And I’m thinking that if they can build them to go 200 miles an hour, they should be able to build them to go 1000 miles on a tank of gas.

When they can build a car like that, then I’ll think it’s worth 65 thousand pounds (or the dollar equivalent) — not that I’d be able to afford it anyway. I’m just saying.

How I Handle Hot Weather (and Hot Flashes)

  1. Stay inside in the air conditioning. And you might be surprised how cool 78 – 80 degrees feels when it’s 105 outside.
  2. Keep plenty of popsicles on hand. I believe I’ve mentioned this before. If you can find one of those little gadgets that you can fill with your own juice or whatever, make your own popsicles in any flavor you want.
  3. Paper plates — or suitable substitute. Keep some handy for fanning wherever you go.
  4. Keep a damp washrag in a sandwich bag on the top shelf of the fridge. OMG does this feel good on the face after walking the dogs in the scorching sun! Hold it against your throat where you can feel your pulse, and you can cool off the blood going to your brain. Get a fresh washrag daily — really, people, I shouldn’t have to tell you this.
  5. Drink plenty of cold fluids. Beer is okay only up to a point. Same for cola and anything else with caffeine or alcohol, which are both diuretics. When you are already sweating your ass off, you don’t need to be losing more water out the kidneys.
  6. Cool showers. In fact, I think I’m going to go take one now.

“Professional” blogging experts all say that lists make great content. Just thought I’d try it.

This totally cracks me up


Biomechanical Artificial Soldier Engineered for Nocturnal Judo and Infiltration


Get Your Cyborg Name

That a random word-generating thingy came up with such a perfect designation for what a basenji is rocked my day. (Why do you think I make the little darlings sleep in crates at night?)

The T.V. Show That Ate My Brain

– and the ones that still may.

When I moved back to Texas to look after my dad, I had a lot of “Oh, just shoot me now” moments. Like every day at four p.m. when we had to watch “Walker, Texas Ranger.” Back then Daddy was still capeable of working the T.V. remote, and in fact maintained a death grip on the thing the rest of the evening. And of course since he had to crank the volume up, there was very little chance of escaping Walker’s grasp anywhere in the house. And it was not like he’d never seen the show before.

Pop was big on repetition. He had read every Perry Mason mystery ever written… at least a dozen times. He claimed he didn’t try to remember how they turned out, so they were just as fresh to him the next time he read them. If they were anything like the T.V. show, he wouldn’t even need to remember particulars.

I can’t think of more than a handful of Walker episodes where the girlfriend/lawyer didn’t get carried off by the bad guys and have to be rescued. She made it through law school, could apparently handle herself in a hostile courtroom, but couldn’t pick up a wrench and clock a guy upside the head — had to wait for mister kung-fu asskicker to rescue her. Oh, please. Let me just open a vein.

But watching television was about the only thing I could do with my dad by then. Conversations were out. Even when he could still hear reasonably well, he wasn’t much of a listener. As his hearing got worse, he just got mad at everyone for not speaking clearly enough. I remembered that when my mom was still alive, she just nodded a lot. I decided if it worked for her…

I also got in the habit of jumping up at every commercial break to go do something I was actually interested in. I worked on a lot of things piecemeal. My sanity level hovered right around the edge.

So what’s ironic is that every day at four p.m. I tune in to the SciFi channel to watch re-runs of Star Trek Enterprise and Stargate SG-1. How many times have I seen them? It doesn’t matter. There are no NEW shows going off-planet these days, so I have to get my outer space fix any way I can. And anyway, what’s up with the no new space operas? I can’t remember a time in recent years when there hasn’t been even one series that took place on a space ship, a space station, or a distant planet. Until Stargate Universe fires up this fall, I’m going to keep watching these re-runs. I wonder if my dad was watching Walker because all the shows like Gunsmoke and Rawhide and Wagon Train were gone extinct. For my money, Walker was a sorry-ass substitute anyway.