Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas!

Hi-ya! I hope you all have the merriest Christmas ever. Lots of love and smiles from our house to yours.

Talking about smiles, it's time for me to share that old chestnut Christmas post with you again. What can I say? Don't wanta buck tradition. So with a few revisions, here ya go... again...

Traditions don't have to necessarily be classy, you knowSometimes, they're just plain fun... or funny. Candlelight services on Christmas Eve, singing the Hallelujah Chorus with the church choir, and caroling with the neighbors... especially when it's snowing... those things are all both traditional and classy. This post? Not so much. But this is the fifth year I'm running it, so I think it has now officially become a tradition. Because I said so. And because I'm lazy it's just plain fun... and funny.

 So, here it is, my classic tale, although not exactly in the same category as Dickens, about (ahem)  inflated dreams... 



Thought for the day: We don't stop laughing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop laughing.

No telling how many years this wreath has graced our front door.
We never made a huge production out of outdoor decorations, but every year, our kids made the same grand proclamation after we cruised our decorated-out-the-wazoo neighborhood on the way home from the candlelight service on Christmas Eve.

"The best one of all!" they'd lie as we pulled into our driveway.

Okay, so maybe they weren't really lying through their braces. Maybe anticipation of the hidden presents awaiting inside added a certain luster to their perception of our decorations.

Anyhow, I'd say decorating styles can pretty much be divvied into three categories: traditional, enlightening, and inflated. Us? We're traditionalThat means, except for an occasional new acquisition, I've pretty much used the same decorations every year. For a LOT of years. Like the ornaments that hung on my parents' tree when they were first married, some of which are now paper thin, and considerably faded with age. And a slew of decades-old goodies fashioned by our children with copious quantities of felt, glue and glitter, construction paper, walnut shells, clothespins, eyeglass lenses, and even a Mason jar lid. A black spider in a golden web and a huge decorated crab shell, both made my by sister-in-law. Boxes of tinsel painstakingly applied, strand by strand, and then painstakingly removed to store in a box for yet another year. Like I said, traditional. Well, to be more accurate, I suppose we've become more traditional cum lazy, because each year, I use less and less decorations, and some of them don't even make it down out of our attic anymore.

These singers once belonged to my grandmother.

Everybody knows the enlightening type of decorator. They're the ones with so many lights blazing in their front yards, they risk causing a blackout across three states every time they turn 'em on. Very flashy. Sometimes, they even incorporate animation and music, too, and carloads of people stop by every night to ooh and aah over their winter wonderland. It isn't at all unusual for a competition of sorts to begin when multiple enlighteners live in close proximity. (Those neighborhoods can be seen from the space station.)

And then, there's the inflatedThis is a fairly recent category. I sure don't remember seeing this sort of display when I was a kid. Nowadays, you can purchase just about any character you can think of ... inflate it ... and stick it on your front lawn. And if you can't find a particular character, for the right price, you can probably have someone make one for you. Then, all those characters can weave and bob all over your yard.

Now then, to the point of today's post. Time for a tale about a Christmas inflatable of an entirely different ilk. This story originated in 1999, and was alleged to be the winning entry to a Louisville Sentinel contest about the wildest Christmas dinner. Turns out, no such newspaper ever existed, and the writer remains unknown, but the story lives on, thanks to the good ol' Internet. (WARNING: Better put your drink down before you read it.) Now here, after a bit of minor editing on my part, is that story:

As a joke, my brother Jay used to hang a pair of pantyhose over his fireplace every Christmas Eve. He said the only thing he wanted was for Santa to fill them, but what they say about Santa checking his list twice must be true, because every Christmas morning,  the other stockings would all be bulging with treats, but Jay's poor pitiful pantyhose were still dangling empty.

So one year, I decided to make his dream come true. I put on sunglasses, a fake nose, and a ski cap, and went in search of an inflatable love doll.

Know what? They don't sell those things at Wal-Mart. I had to go to an adult bookstore. By the way, if you've never been in an X-rated store before, two words: don't go. You'll only confuse yourself. I was there for an hour saying things like, "What does this do?" "You're kidding me!" and  "Who would buy that?" 

So anyway, I finally made it to the inflatable doll section. I wanted to buy a standard, uncomplicated doll that could also substitute as a passenger in my truck so I could use the car pool lane, but finding what I wanted was difficult. Love dolls come in many different models. The top of the line, according to the side of the box, could do things I'd only seen in a book on animal husbandry, but I settled for the bottom of the price scale: Lovable Louise. To call her a doll took a huge leap of imagination.

On Christmas Eve, with the help of an old bicycle pump, Louise came to life. My sister-in-law was in on the plan, and let me in during the wee morning hours. Long after Santa had come and gone, I filled Jay's pantyhose with Louise's pliant legs and bottom. I also ate some cookies and drank what remained of a glass of milk on a nearby tray. Then I went home, and giggled for a couple of hours.

The next morning my brother called to say that Santa had been to his house and left a present that had made him VERY happy but had left the dog confused. She would bark, start to walk away, then come back and bark some more. We agreed that Louise should remain in her pantyhose so the rest of the family could admire her when they came over for the traditional Christmas dinner.

My grandmother noticed Louise the moment she walked in the door. "What the hell is that?" she asked.

My brother quickly explained, "It's a doll."

"Who would play with something like that?" she snapped.

 I had several candidates in mind, but kept my mouth shut.

"Where are her clothes?" she continued.

"Boy, that turkey sure smells nice, Gran," Jay said, trying to steer her into the dining room.

 But Granny was relentless. "Why doesn't she have any teeth?"

Again, I could have answered, but why risk it? It was Christmas, and nobody wanted to spend it in the back of an ambulance saying, "Hang on, Granny, hang on!"

My grandfather, a delightful old man with poor eyesight, sidled up to me, waggled his eyebrows, and said, "Hey, who's the naked gal by the fireplace?"

I told him she was Jay's friend, and a few minutes later, noticed Grandpa standing by the mantel, talking to Louise. And not just talking. He was actually flirting. It was then we realized this might be Grandpa's last Christmas at home.

The dinner went well. We made the usual small talk about who had died, who was dying, and who should be killed, when suddenly Louise made a noise that sounded a lot like my father in the bathroom in the morning. Then she lurched from the pantyhose, flew around the room twice, and fell in a heap in front of the sofa. The cat screamed. I passed cranberry sauce through my nose, and Grandpa ran across the room, fell to his knees, and began administering mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. My brother fell back over his chair and wet his pants, and Granny threw down her napkin, and stomped outside to sit in the car.

It was indeed a Christmas to treasure and remember. Later in my brother's garage, we conducted a thorough examination to decide the cause of Louise's collapse. We discovered that Louise had suffered from a hot ember to the back of her right thigh. Fortunately, thanks to a wonder drug called duct tape, we restored her to perfect health.

After that, Louise went on to star in several bachelor party movies, and I'm pretty sure Grandpa still calls her whenever he can get out of the house.


 Merry Christmas!  May all your dreams... no matter how inflated...  come true.

                                Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Last Minute Gift Ideas

Thought for the day:  Very often, what an older person most wants from you isn't your presents... it's your presence. Your time. Your ear. Your caring. Nothing is more precious than a friendly visit.

Christmas is only a week away, so hopefully, you've gotten most of your shopping done by now. I meant what I said in the thought for the day, but if you want an idea for something you can actually put into a box and wrap for an elderly person on your list, how about a selection of various greeting cards? Birthday, anniversary, get well, sympathy, that sort of thing. With stamps to go along with them. Maybe a pen and some writing paper, too. When I gave that to a neighbor a couple years ago, she said it was her best gift ever. (Along with my scintillating company, of course...)

Now then, let's get a little silly. How about some ideas for that hard-to-shop-for man in your life?

What man doesn't like bacon??? What could be sexier than a bacon strip shower curtain...? (Not MY fault if your dog eats the curtain.)

What macho man wouldn't like to belly up to the bar on these beer keg stools?

How about this? A genuine Darth Vader refrigerator. The father of all gifts...

Your guy more of a farmer than a Star Wars fan? How's about a John Deere fridge? You could even stock it with his favorite beverages. Or bacon.

For car guys like Smarticus, how about this special-made engine coffee table? For guys who like to, um, ride their sofas, too... vroom, vroom!

The ideal gift for the gung-ho prepper or escapist in your life.  

For the gun enthusiast...

Yet another for the guy who appreciates firepower. And light.

For the man who has an arsenal of guns, but no place to keep them? Nothing says I love you like a walk-in gun safe.

For the guy who's, um... going places? Or maybe he just likes to spin his wheels...

For the handyman, knives with a... twist. (Never can tell when he might be cutting up his steak and suddenly have the need to use a socket wrench...)

What handyman wouldn't love to get his grubby hands in a sink that looked like this? (Tools not included.)

If your guy wears himself out, maybe wrenches his poor back doing all of those items on your honey-do list, what better place for him to relax than on a sofa beside this one-of-a-kind coffee table?

Then again, maybe he doesn't need an elaborate present at all. Maybe all he really needs is... you.

                                        Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Ways of a Warrior

Thought for the day:  Think lightly of yourself, and deeply of the world. [Miyamoto Musashi]

This time of year, most battles usually involve fighting for breathing space in the midst of shopping mall crowds, or trying to find a parking place within the same zip code as the store you want to enter, but I never enjoyed playing the role of shopping warrior, even on an uncrowded day. No, I prefer something a little more... exciting. More educational. More historic and romantic. I prefer another kind of warrior altogether: the Samurai.

So this past Saturday, given the choice of going shopping, writing out Christmas cards, or going to the Georgia Art Museum at the University of Georgia to see a samurai exhibit, which do you think I chose? Wasn't a hard choice at all...

The samurai were members of a powerful military caste in feudal Japan. They were provincial warriors in the beginning, and then rose to power in the 12th century under the Shogunate, the first military dictatorship, and dominated Japanese government and society until the end of the feudal system in 1868. However, the traditional samurai code of honor, discipline, and honor, known as bushido, was revived, and became the basic code of conduct for much of Japanese society.

Sheaths were things of beauty, and were uniquely designed for each warrior. The ornamentation on the sheath in the foreground depicts numerous insects.

Samurai philosophy:

I Choose
To live by choice, not by chance,
To be motivated, not manipulated,
To be useful, not used,
To make change, not excuses,
To excel, not compete.

I choose self-esteem, not self-pity,
I choose to listen to my inner voice, not the the random opinions of others.

I choose to do the things that you won't do so I can continue to do the things you can't.

The frontal ornament, or maedate, on this helmet, or kabuto, depicts a turtle-like creature called a minogame. He has fantastical tusks, pointed ears, a dragon-like snout, and a flowing tail of seaweed.

This frontal ornament, made of wood and lacquered in gold, depicts a shachihoto, a creature with the head of a tiger, body of a fish, and sharp spikes on its spine. Legend has it that when a shachihoto sees flames, it extinguishes them by either summoning rain or spraying water from its mouth. Many structures in Japan still have shachihoto ornaments on their roofs to protect them from fire.

 This helmet features a birdlike tengu demon. In some ancient Buddhist stories, the tengu personified evil in the form of passions and desires that hinder enlightenment. In other stories, it was a positive creature, fighting evil, guarding sacred mountains, and endowing humans with superhuman powers. I suspect the latter description is what inspired a warrior to feature a tengu on his kabuto.

This helmet, fashioned after a creature called an oni, was made with actual water buffalo horns, and features a mane made of horsehair. The oni are multi-faceted creatures that reside in Buddhist hell, but bring good fortune to humans. They can be malevolent tricksters or loyal protectors. Protectors is a good way to describe the Samurai.

By protecting others, you save yourself. If you only think of yourself, you'll only destroy yourself.  [from the 1954 movie Seven Samurai, upon which the later movie The Magnificent Seven, was based]

You may have seen helmets like this before. They seem to be worn by Samurai warriors, as depicted in most movies.

What does it mean to be Samurai? To devote yourself utterly to a set of moral principles. To seek a stillness of your mind. And to master the way of the sword.  [Algren- The Last Samurai]

Isn't this a cool-looking helmet? Too bad I didn't take any notes about it. (Sorry.)

Believe it or not, this picture shows a saddle and stirrups. Made of hardwood, and decorated in gold. Beautiful to look at, but I don't think that saddle (or any of the others in the museum) were particularly comfortable. They must have covered them with some thick blankets. I hope so, anyway. Not that comfort was a high priority for Samurai:

My life is simple, my food is plain, and my quarters are uncluttered. In all things, I have sought clarity. I face the troubles and problems of life and death willingly. Virtue, integrity, and courage are my priorities. I can be approached, but never pushed; befriended, but never coerced; killed, but never shamed. [Admiral Yi Sun-shin]

Here are a couple of short swords. There were many samurai weapons on display, and many of them were quite beautiful. One bow was reeeeeeeally long, and I can't imagine how one person could have possible wielded it. The arrows still looked lethally sharp, and quivers were magnificently decorated, and still brightly colored. The sheaths, hilts, and blades were genuine works of art. Most amazing to me, though, is how well all of these items have lasted through the centuries. Quite an experience to see in person, but in pictures? Not so much, so I won't bore you with any more of them. (You're welcome.)

To any fellow Georgian reading this, this exhibit will only be at the UGA museum until January third. If you have a chance to go see it, go for it! (Much more enjoyable than playing shopping warrior!)

In addition to this temporary exhibit, the museum contains many other permanent exhibits, as well, all worth seeing. This painted canvas screen especially captured my imagination. The curator told me it shows a scene inside of the Paris metro.

Oh, and did you know Samuel B.F. Morse was also an artist? I had no idea until I saw some one of his paintings at this museum. (And you don't even have to understand code to appreciate it.)

                                       Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Grandbabies and Manatees

Thought for the day:  Wherever you go, no matter what the weather, always bring your own sunshine. [Anthony D'Angelo]

Check out this palm tree. Talk about bending over backward!
We took our usual portable sunshine with us last week, but the weather bent over backwards to contribute ample quantities of it, as well. It was warm, humid, and sunny... with brief bouts of rain. What can I say? We were in Florida... AKA the Sunshine State. There, where we spent Thanksgiving week visiting our younger son and his family, we were reminded of plenty of reasons to be thankful.


I always delight in our first sightings of Spanish moss and egrets on our trips south. Right on schedule, the moss started showing up in southern Georgia, but I didn't see hide nor feather of a single egret during our whole drive down. Not good. Then again, I didn't spot any armadillos taking naps at the side of the road, either. Very good. But ya know what was even better? When we arrived at our motel, I looked out our window, and what do you suppose I saw? Egrets! Lots and lots of egrets! Whole flocks of 'em, all over the grounds outside our window. Welcoming us! I knew then it was going to be a fabulous visit.

And it was. Wanta see some pictures? (But not too many...)

I don't suppose Jordan, a senior in high school, would appreciate being called a grandbaby, but I won't tell her if you don't. Besides, you all know it's the truth... no matter how old our kids and grandkids may be, they'll always be our babies.

Chloe, our other teenage baby, and Ella, who spent a lot of time wearing that silly, but adorable, pink cat hat.

This is our youngest grandchild Atlas. They call him Bud, or Bud-Bud. (Bet that takes some weight off his shoulders...)

Our son left the hustle and bustle of the Orlando area earlier this year to relocate to a rural area in horse country. (Not far from where John Travolta has his spread.) They don't have horses, but they sure have room for them now. And there's lots of massive moss-draped trees on their property. Just beautiful.

And even more beautiful? Seeing the three younger girls having fun running around in the yard, playing together. Olivia, Persephone, and Ella spent a lot of time swinging on this rope. Swinging high. Taking turns. I got lots of action shots, but settled for sharing this posed shot of all of them. Tell ya what, they were having so much fun, I was sorely tempted to give that ol' swing a try myself. Alas, common sense prevailed. Fear of breaking the rope, or worse, pulling the whole darned tree down, prevented me from indulging.

I read an article earlier this year about a place where manatees spend the winter. They usually come into the area in early November, so we planned our visit in hopes of seeing them while we were there. Smarticus kept checking the website to see if they'd come in yet, and there was nothing, nothing, nothing... and then the day after Thanksgiving... BAM! The first two were finally sighted. (Are we lucky, or what?) So on Sunday, Smarticus and I made the hour and a half ride to Blue Springs, winter home of the amazing manatees.

The water there is incredibly clear. We could see the bottom all the way across its width. Could see fish swimming around! Lots of very large gars. Catfish. Turtles.

And YES!!! Manatees!!!

And not just THIS perky-looking fella. Lots of real live manatees. Big lumbering critters, lolling in the water, leisurely feeding from the bottom, floating with the water's flow. We saw them in ones and twos, in larger groups, and mamas with their calves.

It was amazing! I took lots of pictures, but none of them really do the experience justice.

So I'll just share this one picture. Can you see 'em? There are a number of manatees in this shot.

In all, we saw almost forty of them. As the weather gets cooler, there will be more of them. Maybe hundreds. What an experience! And you know what? Blue Springs is such a beautiful place, it's worth visiting even when the manatees aren't there for the winter. For me, it is definitely a do-over, no matter what time of year we go to Florida.

It was a terrific week, all the way around. But it's good to be home again. Our cats evidently agree. They were so glad to see us again, they didn't even pretend not to care. Life is good.

                                 Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

P.S. If you're interested, the e-version of  Hot Flashes and Cold Lemonade will be on sale for cheap-cheap-cheap from the 7th to the 14th, both in the U.S. and the U.K. A Goodreads giveaway for two autographed paperbacks will also be going on in the U.S. from the 8th until the 21st.