Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Grandpa's Gator

I have a standing date on Friday afternoons. Friday because I get off work early every week. It's not a date I have to get dressed up for or nervous about. I don't even have to leave the house. I push the send button on my phone and dial up my grandpa. 

Sometimes he's home and sometimes no one answers. But I try and call every week if I can. Grandma is usually at work or teaching at Kids Club. And Grandpa and I just chat. Sometimes it's only for a few minutes, but sometimes we get going and talk for a long time. We talk about him growing up on the farm and the things they used to eat back then. We talk about the tricks he played on his city-slicker cousins when they came to town. We talk about his polio and how he was the victim of some of the worst kind of bullying I've ever heard of. We talk about how he met Grandma and their early years of marriage nearly 60 years ago, I think. 

He tells me that back in the day growing up on the farm he knew how to fix all kinds of car problems. Ladies' nylons could replace a fan belt in a pinch. If a steering tire went flat, you'd switch it out with a rear tire till you got it replaced. And Purex laundry detergent was the go-to traction device if you got your tire stuck. 

Last week, I got to spent a short afternoon visiting in person with Grandpa. He has a new toy. A John Deere Gator. The polio Grandpa had as a child never did make it easy for him to get around. But his new toy sure does help when he wants to get out and check the mail on the old farm road where he lives, or to haul fire wood when he needs it. Even though temperatures barely reached above freezing, Grandpa took me for a spin in the Gator. 

It's easy to see that even in the cold, I gave the Gator a thumbs up. I may have to skip Friday phone calls more often in favor of road trips and rides on country roads with Grandpa. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Christmas is for kids

I know I've been absent around here. I took a little break for the holidays. With all the fudge making and shopping and gift wrapping, not to mention traveling, I felt more like relaxing than writing. 

Last week, seems to have been a week full of children. First it was my nephew entertaining everyone with his antics, from riding his school bus to his lip sync routine. We also took him swimming, easily one of his absolutely favorite activities. Such a different Christmas than last year, when he fell asleep after opening the first gift. 

I spent one evening with my cousin's son, who I haven't seen in nearly a year. He's grown into such a little boy with his big eyes and giant dimples and head full of hair. 
And I even got to head over to visit a friend and her brand new grandbaby. The precious baby spent the entire time asleep in my arms. Her big sister and I became fast friends the first time we meet, when I read book after book to her. She has grown into such a little story teller, and it was wonderful to spend the day with her.  

Being Auntie has become one of my favorite titles in life. 

The week included more relaxing than doing. Movie theater with the family. Candlelight service. Pedicures. Visit to the grandparents. And all my favorite childhood Christmas flicks. Christmas just isn't Christmas without "White Christmas." 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Tradition. Tradition.

On the street where I grew up, I knew my neighbors by name. Maybe because I delivered their newspaper, back in the day of door-to-door collection. But also because that street was in a small town. It's easier to know your neighbor in a small town than in a big one, where you might not ever run into them at the grocers or the post office. 

Back on the street where I lived, one neighbor made Christmas candy. Every year. Without fail. A tin of chocolates filled with orange creme and mint, and the trick was figuring out which little chocolate drop contained your favorite flavor. Inevitably, I'd choose the wrong one. 

A few years ago, my sister and I started our own holiday tradition. Making cookies and fudge, and sometimes other crafty things like felt ornaments. 

Last week, we got together and decorated my sister's tree:

And on Sunday, we spent all afternoon making fudge. We skipped the cookies this year, and focused only on the fudge. Mint, peanut butter, and sea salt and Nutella. 

We had to wait for it to set, then we packaged it all up in gift bags to give away. Because we sure couldn't eat an entire afternoon's worth of fudge. 

Yesterday, after work, I got to walk through my old neighborhood, knocking on doors and delivering that fudge to everyone I knew. Some were home and I got to visit with them. Others were not, so I left them with a card on the front porch. 

Traditions don't have to be something that you've done all your life. New traditions can start any time. What Christmas traditions do you participate in? Do you make goodies to give away? Or are you starting a new tradition this year? 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Poinsettia Tips #1 & #2

I walked into the office today and was greeted by one wilted poinsettia. One out of six isn't terrible odds. But so far I haven't killed a Christmas plant, and I'd like to keep it that way.

I had forgotten that these plants, in this office, need to be watered ever 4 or 5 days, not every 6 or 7. I water the other office plants once a week or so, sometimes I can get away with going a little longer between watering. They aren't spectacular looking, but so far they are all still alive. But that schedule doesn't work for these great big blooms.

Poinsettia CPR commenced early today. The droopy plant got a cold water bath in the sink. The other plants, though not wilted, also got a good long drink. To be on the safe side, I rotated the weepy guy away from the heat vent, and my fingers are crossed that the he will bounce back by day's end. Thankfully, they usually do. Come Monday, I'm going to have to remember to repeat the routine all over again.

So how do you keep poinsettias alive for the month before Christmas?

#1 - water once every 4 days

#2 - rotate the plants with each watering

Happy growing!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Doe a deer

Sunday night I was driving home from my sister's house ready to tackle the last of the snow shoveling, when I stopped at a stop light. And what to my wondering eyes did appear, but three reindeer foraging in the snow.

The photo does not do justice to how very close I was to them. To see their thick winter coats from that close was a sight, knowing that the night before temps had dropped to nearly 30-below. Deer are not an unusual sight in this mountain town. But this moment, with the sun just on the verge of setting, was too perfect not to attempt to capture, even from the driver's seat.

And hey, after last week's Sound of Music special, doesn't it make you want to break out in song and frolic through the snow?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Negative temps, oatmeal cookies and snow shovels

Record breaking temperatures and lots of fluffy white snow had me threatening to declare Saturday a hibernation day. What? You've never heard of a hibernation day? It's a day where you resolve to do nothing, go nowhere, and be thoroughly unproductive.

But a text from my old neighbors changed the course of my day. An impromptu neighborhood holiday party was in the works. It was set to take place after this mountain town's annual Christmas parade, but when the parade was cancelled due to weather, mass emails and texts went out to all the guests.

Not wanting to go to a party empty-handed, I assessed the contents of my cupboards and whipped up some Walnut Oatmeal Cookies, based on Ina Garten's Raisin Pecan Oatmeal Cookies. Thankfully, I had some goody bags in my Christmas stash, and was even able to get Ol' Faithful, aka the Ol' Jalopy, aka my Camry, through the snow and across town to make it in time for the festivities and to chat and eat good food with all my old neighbors.

I miss them. My old neighbors. I've officially lived in my new neighborhood for 3 weeks now, and I haven't met a single person on the block. Thinking back, I realize it did take me 6 months to a year to meet all the wonderful people in my old neighborhood. It took longer to know which ones would come shovel my sidewalk after a snowfall. Or who I could borrow tools from if I needed something.

Not ready to put my gypsy life behind me completely, I don't plan on being in this neighborhood long enough to know whose been in the hospital most recently, or who will bring me soup if I get sick, or which neighbor's pet is on Prozac. Even so, I would like to know which one of my neighbors would be the most willing to let me borrow a snow shovel.

We don't have a snow shovel yet. Everyone else was out on Saturday shoveling and sweeping the dry powder off the sidewalks. Our duplex neighbors shoveled right to the middle of the driveway and sidewalk and not a step further. That act alone solidified in my mind how different this neighborhood really is. And even though that would have been the perfect opportunity to join in the neighborhood activity of shoveling snow and participate in community, I had nothing. I couldn't even go out and join them if I'd had the time in my baking frenzy.

I finally stopped by the office yesterday and grabbed the shovel I've never seen anyone use in the four winters I've worked there. And I was the only one shoveling snow on Sunday afternoon.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Tending a Christmas garden

Grandma Shelby's garden was always beautiful. Full of flowers. Roses. Always roses. No matter if she lived in the city or at the beach, everywhere she lived, she tended her garden.

When I was young, Mama assigned each of us a corner of the yard to garden. I learned which plants were weeds and which were not. But as I've grown older, I've come to learn that growing plants takes a lot more than making sure they don't get choked out by the weeds.

Houseplants have been a bit of a challenge. Water too much and they wilt and yellow. Don't water enough and they wilt and brown. I've killed off a number of houseplants for lack of knowledge and attention. 

Four and half years ago, I became the caretaker of the office plants when I started working at the firm. Some way, some how, nothing has died . . . yet (knock on wood). There have been touch-and-go moments with a few of the plants, including a wayward palm tree in a room with low ceiling clearance (it was starting to look like a jungle before I "accidentally" broke a few limbs). But so far, I've managed to keep everything growing, if feebly. I even took my own African violet into the office and managed to get it to bloom with a regular regimen of food and water.    

For the last four Decembers, I have been the recipient of half a dozen poinsettias. December in a family law firm is either really busy or really slow depending upon the day. Either people can't stand the idea of another holiday with their family, or they try to tough it out until January. You never know what the day will bring. But in December, on top of my other legal duties, I must tend to the poinsettias, and figure out a way to keep them alive until Christmas Day. 

They arrive wrapped in plastic. I unwrap them and marvel at their splendor. They are large. They come each year, two by two, red, white and pink. It is the one time of the year the office is full of color. I arrange them everywhere. All six of them. It feels like a floral shop (or maybe a funeral home). Flowers are everywhere in the small office. 

After they arrive, I head to the back room and pull out the Christmas tree. It's artificial, and I spend a good 20 minutes wrestling it to get it to stand up straight. I fluff and arrange the branches, as best as the old tree will let me. Then I spend another 20 minutes hanging ornaments while Bing sings "White Christmas" over Pandora radio. I end up placing at least two plants under the tree in place of presents. And clients ask if the flowers are for them. 

Inevitably, after a day or two the flowers lose their petals, their leaves, and I am left trying to resuscitate them in a cold water soak in the bathroom down the hall. So far, it's always worked. But they never look as splendid and as full as the day I unwrapped them. Every year I vow to do better. 

My six matching poinsettias arrived yesterday. Everywhere I turn, I see them in their gold foil wrapped pots. My fingers are crossed that I can balance their watering just right. It's not an easy task, keeping plants alive. But come Christmas Day when my bosses take the flowers home for their families to enjoy, I know it's all worth it. 

Have you ever been tasked with keeping poinsettias alive? Got any tried and true tips for me? 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Pure H2O

As I mentioned yesterday, Sister Konnie asked us all to write down what we were thankful for in 2013. I thought about writing the usual. Family, friends, health. But when I thought just a little bit longer, I thought about what was different in my life after 2013.

A couple months ago, I hopped on a plane (or three) and traveled to Guatemala with World Vision. I spent a week riding bumpy roads outside of Guatemala City witnessing the work World Vision is accomplishing in the country. Learning more about how they are addressing issues of malnutrition, providing sponsorship programs and education for children, building homes, and even bringing music to children way up in the mountains. (You can read all about my journey here, here, here, herehere, and here.)

One day during that week in September, after multiple stops on the bus, spending the morning listening to the sounds of string instruments join in the song of the birds, and after way too much bottled water, I entered a lean-to made of patched wood and tin. Its door nothing but a bright blue tattered tarp. With flies buzzing around my head, I contemplated the porcelain toilet in front of me. A glorified outhouse.

This is not the bathroom, but you get the idea. 
(Photo credit: Matthew Paul Turner)

I could see through the gaps in the "walls" and the blue tarp door. I could hear the conversations of those just outside the structure. And I knew in that moment that I was lucky that this, this was the most primitive bathroom I had ever been compelled to enter (outside of camping and hiking sans facilities).

On the drive every morning, we would see women doing laundry in the community wash center. Washing clothes by hand. And everywhere we went that week, laundry dripped from clothes lines. September is the wettest month. And it rained every day. Yet the clothes stayed out on the line. I wondered how it would ever get dry.

(Photo credit: Laura Reinhardt)

As I put a load of laundry in the washing machine in my home, I think about those women bent over wash basins. As I stretch sheets pulled straight from the dryer across the length of my bed, I think they'd never be this warm hanging outside in the rain.

And as I turn the tap on and off countless times each day, I think about the week I spent drinking bottled water, brushing my teeth with bottled water, cleaning my hands with bottled hand sanitizer.

Did you know that in this world nearly 1 billion people don't have access to clean drinking water? Double that number and add some and that's how many people don't have proper sanitation? Can you even imagine that? Nearly 4,000 children under 5 die every single day as a result of lacking these basic necessities we take for granted over and over again each day.

This holiday season I am thankful for indoor plumbing. For running water. And for organizations like World Vision who work to address the need for clean water around the world.  It hasn't been all that long since indoor plumbing was the standard even in this country. Both my parents remember a time and place without it. But we've got a long way to go to make sure everyone has access to clean water.

World Vision is celebrating this Christmas season with the Share #Joy Advent Challenge. Will you join me in the Share #Joy challenge today and advocate for clean water for every child? To do so, go here, and sign the Beyond 5 petition and tell your congressmen you support the Water for the World Act. To learn more about the sharing your voice, hop on over to the World Vision blog.  

Monday, December 2, 2013

A quiet day of thanks

Subdued. That's how Thanksgiving was this year. After last year's big family gathering, our last with Grandma Shelby, we kept things quiet this year. Mama and Daddy came to the mountain for a quick trip. Sister Konnie and her husband, Jon Boy, hosted the crew, and friends drove in from the big city to join us in our low-key day of thanks.

We had a beautiful view of the Cascades. 

Sister Konnie and Jon Boy cooked a feast. 

I baked that Pecan Pie again. And even Miss Kym who professes to dislike pecan pie, liked this one. 

Crafty sister Konnie made a paper turkey for all of us to add our feathers of thanks.

I thought about all the things I am thankful for: family, friends, health, work. But these are things I'm thankful for every year. This year, I was thankful for something new.

And to build suspense, I'm going to make you come back here tomorrow to read all about it. I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving.