Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 ~ I'd give it a seven

In a few short hours, 2013 will be a memory that we revisit in blogs, photographs, and journals. It's been an interesting year, and one of progress I'd like to think.
But in looking back, I must say it left a few scars.
We lost four of our beloved dogs -- ones that were with us many years. Astro and Black were big Labrador mix dogs. Both belonged to our niece at first, but as time passed, they were drawn to us.
It was difficult seeing them go. Taylor was a bulldog mix that we found in a roadside dump.
But Ol' Buddy snuggled the closest to my heart. The last few years since I retired, were inseparable. If I sat on the couch, his head was on my lap. If I went anywhere in the truck, he was standing at the door hopping like a miniature kangaroo trying to get in.
They are all buried under the wild cherry tree in the side yard. 
We also lost a nephew, an aunt, and a number of friends this year.  
On the upside, we've made progress with Jilda's health. We've been married almost 40 years and we took our first cruise in June. At times we got cabin fever, but out on the deck with nothing but ocean as far as the eye could see was a remarkable experience.
We completed our first CD together. It was a long time coming, but we made it happen. Playing the Johnson City Folk Festival was another highlight that will make the reel. There were many other significant accomplishments that I won't bore you with.
If 2013 were an Olympic event, I think I'd give it a 7.

Monday, December 30, 2013

My column from Sunday's newspaper

I spend the waning weeks of each year in reflection, and a topic that’s been on my mind this year is character. What’s interesting is that an old door triggered this line of thought. 

One day last week when the sun poked through clouds as grey as wood smoke, I decided to take advantage of the moment. 

The dogs were ecstatic as we headed down to the barn.

I pulled up a makeshift chair, which was a five-gallon paint bucket turned upside down.

Sometimes when I sit alone under the giant oak and hickory, life somehow seems clearer.

Not far from where I sat, a redheaded woodpecker landed on the stump of a dead pine to hunt for lunch and to see what I was up to.

Watching him knock his head against that tree made me smile. There were times I felt like I was doing the same thing.

The sun fell on a weatherworn door on the old house, bringing it into sharper focus. I
sat admiring it for a long while. 

A lot of folks would never think of that door as beautiful, but it had something. My mind wrestled with the right word to describe it. All of a sudden it hit me. That door had character.

This thread started me thinking about character and all it implies.

Character is not something you buy or something someone gives you. 

Unlike wealth, you can’t inherit character, and once you have it, no one can take it away.

Many things attribute to one’s character, but often it comes from trials and involves scars.

At times you only glimpse character in the way someone behaves when the ship hits the sand (to clean up the old saying and make it suitable for a family publication.)

Life is a constant trial. Some days you're on top of the world, and other days you're lower than the icky stuff at the bottom of the fishbowl.

Some trials are lost because you fought a losing battle. At other times you had a chance to win, but were outwitted, matched, manned/womanned (I made that word up), or because you ran out of juice before the sound of the bell.

Those are the ones that leave the deepest scars. The trials where you thought you had a chance. You scrapped, scraped, and gave it your best shot only to come up a little short. These trials are character building, and teach you lessons that help you grow.

Winning doesn't necessarily make you a winner. By the same token, losing doesn't make you a loser. The only way to become a loser is to stop trying. In the end, no trial is a total loss if you learn something.

Some of you are probably wondering how a story can begin talking about a hundred-year-old door and wind circuitously on to thoughts about life lessons, but that sometimes happens when I write.

That old door seemed a fitting metaphor for character. It was young once, built at the hands of a craftsman, and through the years, it served well, blocking out nature's storms. 

Maybe at times a little rain blew in at the bottom, or the cold wind seeped in around the edges when the mercury dipped. But for the most part it stood strong, keeping the homeowner safe, warm and dry. 

The sun, the cold, and the rain left their marks, but character is something that transcends the trials of time. I think old doors and people with character are beautiful.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

New year, new moon

After several days of foul weather, the sun sneaked out from behind the clouds mid morning.  The air was still damp so we bundled up to walk.
As we came to the barn, the angle of the morning sun painted the rusty old garden disks golden and I slowed down long enough to snap a photo.
I try hard not to whine about dreary weather, but when we have several days of it in a row, it lays heavy on my spirits, and I long for sunny weather.
Jilda and I both are planning our vision boards for 2014. We both have a lot we'd like to accomplish in the new year.
And speaking of 2014, on the new year will begin with a new moon. This is rare. The last time it happened was 19 years ago. But it's like beginning the new year with a clean slate.
I'm excited for what the new year holds.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Road trip

Jilda and I have had the good fortune to travel some since we were married. I started working with computers in the 1980s.
I moved in to hardware maintenance and as luck would have it, most of the training school for the computers I worked on were around Boston, Silicon Valley in California, Colorado, Texas, and Florida.
When I traveled, I'd take vacation after the class and Jilda often joined me so traveling cost us very little.
I have tons of pictures I've taken through the years and I spent time earlier today flipping through some of them.
One thing we haven't done is drive across country. I haven't talked much about it, but as I looked at pictures from Sedona, where we spent our 30th anniversary I realized I'd love to see this country up close and personal. Not from five miles high, but just outside the window. That way I could roll down the windows and hear the sound of the wind rushing by, and smell what aromas each region has to offer.
An agenda would be optional, but a list of great places to eat and fish would be mandatory.
Anyhow, a road trip will be on my vision board for 2014.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Beach

It's been too long since we've been to the beach. In fact, we haven't been since January. We were there for my birthday. I get a little envious when I visit my blog-buddy Barb who lives at the beach in Florida.
I love it there this time of year. This picture was taken at Gulf Shores just as the sun dipped below the sea.
It was cool there this past January. We spent a lot of time walking on the beach. By midday the sun was warm enough to wear shorts,  the wind off the water and the ocean spray made us glad we'd worn warm sweaters. At night we had to bundle up.
I think what I love most is that the crowds are almost non existent. We had the beach to ourselves, and there was no waiting at restaurants. I'm excited.
This has been an interesting year. We suffered loss, but we've celebrated success too. Most years are like that. The trick is to keep a journal so that your remember the good stuff, because it helps to temper the bad.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Happy Boxing Day

Most of the autumn color is gone now. What's left is hidden from view to all but the curious eye. I knew I needed a picture for my blog tonight so I walked with camera in hand.
The once colorful leaves now make up a crunchy brown carpet. You'd be hard pressed to sneak up on a deaf person this time of year.
The sun was low in the sky and when I walked up from the path in front of the barn, the trunk of an old hickory looked as if it were wearing a green velvet gown. I snapped this photo.
Tomorrow will be another beautiful day here. I think I'll catch up on the outside chores.
Happy Boxing Day.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

The sun came back today and while it was not warm, the sun made the cold feel not so cold. Today we spent time with family. Jilda has a family of great cooks so the food was remarkable.
In fact, tonight I'm still moving a little slow.
I hope you all had a blessed day.
Merry Christmas.
Sun through the bathroom window

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

May we all know peace

This has been a great Christmas Eve. It's been even more special because we had the opportunity to do the things we love.
We  ate with family,
Visited old friends, 
Took a lot of pictures, 
And watched Miracle on 34th Street.
Tonight Jilda and I put on our favorite Christmas music, and opened our presents under the light of our tree while munching on chocolate truffles and sipping champagne. 
As I type this entry, I can smell the heavenly aroma of biscotti baking in the oven. 
I feel blessed and humbled to be a part of this dance we call life.
Merry Christmas to all our friends across the world. May we all know peace.

Monday, December 23, 2013

A memory on every branch ~ My Christmas column from this week's newspapers

There are so many things that live in a special part of my memory that I only visit at Christmastime. 

Our family’s tree when I was a child is one thing I keep there. Growing up, it would never have occurred to my mom or dad to buy a Christmas tree.

When it came time for the tree, my mom would send my older brother Neil and me to the woods with a dull ax to fetch one. 

I’m not sure why we never thought to sharpen that old ax, but we never did. As a result, it would have been quicker for us to gnaw the tree down with our teeth.

One year my mom bought bubble lights. I remember spending what seemed like hours watching those fizzling red, green, blue and purple bulbs. 

When you plugged them in, it took a while for them to warm up. Watching for the first bulb to bubble was a game I played with my older sister Mary Lois.

This week we put up our Christmas tree. Well, to be truthful, Jilda decorated while I gently handed her the ornaments. 

We play a little game too. It’s called, “Where in the heck did this one come from?” Jilda’s a professional at this game. 

She not only remembers where they came from, but what year and what circumstances brought them to us. “This one was a gift from our friends Tom and Judy. Hospice gave this one to us the year my mom died.” 

We also have ornaments that she made before we were married. I think Lyndon Johnson was in the White House back then.

Each ornament is special to us.

A few days ago, I was under tight deadlines with several projects nipping at my concentration like a pack of hungry wolverines.

Just then I heard a tentative knock at the front door. When I opened it, my great nephew
Jordan was standing there.

“Are you ready to get my Charlie Brown Christmas tree?” It’s something we’ve done each year since he was old enough to walk.

I snapped the laptop closed and told him we’d been waiting for him all day. He beamed.

Jilda wrapped up and I stepped out to the shed to get my dull ax (some things never change.)

Off we went in search of the perfect Charlie Brown tree. I’ve learned that his idea of a “perfect tree” and mine are totally different.

I look for a tree the right size that is balanced with limbs to support a strand of lights and his ornaments.

He uses slightly different criteria. Although I haven’t figured out his methodology, he always knows the instant he finds his tree.

He doesn’t care if all the limbs are on one side or if most of them are toward the bottom. It’s always his decision.

He made his selection and I beat it down with the ax. He dragged it to a clearing, where I had him stand beside it so that I could snap a photo.

Afterwards we took it to his front deck and put it in his cinderblock tree stand. I think he has a patent pending on that invention.

Like in years past, Jilda gave him several of our old ornaments and told him the history of each one.

I’m not sure if any of our Christmas traditions will resonate when he gets older, but I hope he remembers that each time we decorated his Charlie Brown tree, there was a story on every branch. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Safe from the storm

My prediction of a fitful night was on target.  We kept an eye on weather radar for most of the evening, but turned in around 10:30 p.m.
Around 1 a.m. I thought I heard a roaring sound, but apparently I was dreaming it, because when I stepped to the back deck, the sound was gone.  The wind out of the south still rustled the trees and tinkled the chimes like a tambourine, but there was no sign of nasty weather.
Then around 2:30 a.m. I heard the unmistakable sound of heavy rain on a metal roof. Thunder in the distance rumbled and strobes of lightning turned the night into day for an instant, but our lights never flickered....for that I was thankful.
I saw where it was bad in Arkansas and Mississippi. It also looked like Illinois and Ohio got hammered too. I hope all my blog buddies are safe.
This morning the sun came out for a while and I snapped this photo of our pansies in the container by the road.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Winter Solstice

Summer grass is much more beautiful in winter
Today we marked the passing of the winter solstice.
I wanted to get a soltice'esk reading on the weather, so I punched the brew button on the coffeemaker and went out on the deck just after daybreak.
I knew without checking the forecast that it would be a blustery day.
I could hear upper-level winds whispering through the pine.
I stood for a long while looking at the sky.
Out of the south came a wind that blew a spray of mist across my face.
Even though there was sine ullis solibus, or as we say here in Alabama no sunshine, the sky was an odd shade of pink.
It didn't get quite as warm as predicted which is a good thing. Hopefully when the mass of cold air reaches us later tonight, it will play nice with the warm air and spare us the nasty stuff.
After coffee, we had a few errands to run. We decided to get out early to dodge the crowd. Flu is reaching epidemic levels here, and the last thing we need for Christmas is a hospital stay.
Tonight will probably be a fitful night as the cold-air mass won't be here until the wee hours of the morning.
I'm saying a prayer for our friends to the west and north of us. Y'all keep your heads down.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Moments when I feel most alive

It's much too warm for December. At one point today, temps reached into the 70s.
I know it's no big deal for folks in Florida and other locales where it's normally warm this time of year.
But here, when the weather swings from one extreme to the other, it tends to get nasty.
I'll be spending time watching the weatherman tomorrow.
A few days ago Caillou, our dog got a little stir crazy around sunset so I stepped outside and tossed his tennis ball for a while. He chased it with enthusiasm.
He heard something around the barn and in an instant he was off like a flash to check things out.
I leaned on the garden gate while he investigated.
The sun had dipped low enough below the horizon to play nice with the remaining clouds, and I stood for a while to watch the show.
It's a beautiful time of day. Waning light can change color of the clouds in a heartbeat.
It's in these moments when I feel most alive.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

It's all in how you see

I had someone send me a personal message recently asking about how I do my pictures.
I told her the equipment I use to take the pictures, and the software I use to edit them.
This lady said she has the same stuff, but her pictures don't come out like mine.
It took me a long time to understand, that for the most part, I needed to "see" a good picture before I snapped the shutter.
For many years I thought it was about technique, equipment, process, and things I could either buy, or learn.
As it turns out, it's much simpler, and more complex than that.
I have a friend that could take a remarkable photograph with a pinhole camera.
I've actually seen remarkable pictures he's taken with an old single lense reflex camera with the back taped on with duct tape.
It finally occurred to me, that it's not how much money you spend on equipment, or what software you buy, it's all about how you see.
You can turn your head in most any direction and see stunning photographs. You might have to move around to make sure the light plays right on the subject, and you might have to move in or out to frame it right, but they are there in plain sight.
I only wish I'd known years ago, that it's all in how you see.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Is it wrong

This morning I slipped out of bed before Jilda, closing the bedroom door behind me.
I left the overhead lights off, choosing instead to sit by the gentle light cast off by the Christmas tree.
I sat on the sofa absorbing the holiday ambiance while the coffee brewed. We chose white lights this year. We have colored lights, twinkle lights and pearl bulbs, but this seemed like a white-light year.
It's amazing how quiet it is here at that time of morning. Every now and then, a neighbor who lives further down our dead-end road, and still works for a living, drove by, but for the most part, it was peaceful.
I love that time of morning....before the rest of the world wakes up. It's almost as if I have the day to myself. I can do with it what I choose. I'm not a selfish person by nature, except during this time of day. The precious minutes before your mind becomes cluttered with the minutia of life.
This morning, I claimed these few moments as mine and only mine.
Is it wrong?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


Character is not something you buy, or something someone gives you. Character comes from trials.
Life is a constant trial. Some days you're on top of the world, and other days you're lower than the icky stuff at the bottom of your fishbowl.
Some trials are lost because you tried to win a losing battle. Sometimes you had a chance to win, but were out witted, matched, manned/womanned or because you ran out of juice before the sound of the bell.
Those are the ones that leave the deepest scars. The trials where you thought you had a chance. You scrapped, scraped, and gave it your best shot only to come up a little short.
It's there in the aftermath of those losses where bits and pieces of character are born.
Just because you win doesn't necessarily make you a winner. By the same token, losing doesn't make you a loser. The only way to become a loser is to stop trying.
I know this is a giant leap, but I was thinking about these things today as I walked. I sat down behind the old house and the sun, which we haven't seen for days, was out high and full.
Sitting there I got a chance to look at the old door on the back of the old house. I thought to myself, this door has character.
It's blocked out nature's storms for many years. Sometimes a little rain blew in at the bottom, and the cold wind seeped in when the mercury dipped, but for the most part, it kept the families who live there warm and dry.
For almost a 100 years this door has stood strong, and yes the sun, and the cold, and the rain have left their mark, but character is something that transcends the trials of time.
I think it's beautiful.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Our First Christmas Tree ~ My Column from Sunday's paper

I sat on the couch daydreaming this afternoon as I often do when I’m clueless about a topic for my column. 

Experience has taught me that the slight buzzing in my ears is only temporary and caused by an approaching deadline whizzing toward me. It’s a familiar sound that I often hear when I have writer’s block. 

My mind was a thousand miles away when suddenly a cardinal alighted on a lower limb of
The Watson Christmas Tree 2013
the white pine just outside our window. He looked the size of a pigeon, and was as red as a summer sunset.

I placed the laptop on the couch, and stepped closer to get a better look. His mate was a few branches up and she was fussing at him about something. I’m guessing he hadn’t collected enough Christmas berries for all the kids, or something.

I leaned close enough for my head to touch the frosty glass and from that vantage point, I still couldn’t see the top of the white pine.

A memory drifted back to me like a rerun of The Andy Griffith Show. It was of the day Jilda and I bought that tree. That little white pine was the first Christmas tree we had in our new house. Well, the house was new in December of 1983, which was thirty years ago.

It’s difficult wrapping my mind around the fact that we’ve lived here for 30 years, but the squeak in my knees when I stand, and the wrinkles around my eyes don’t lie.

I remember fretting during the first weeks of December that year because we’d had a lot of rain and we weren’t sure the builders would finish the house in time for Christmas. As it turns out, the weather gods smiled and we had a week of good weather. Our wish to spend Christmas in our new house came true.

The yard was as bare as a ball field then, and it seemed a shame to have a cut tree that we threw away. 

We decided to look for one we could plant after the holidays.

We found our white pine at a local nursery and although it cost a little more, we decided it was worth it. Though we didn’t realize it at the time, we gave ourselves a gift that kept on giving.

Buying that first living Christmas tree started a tradition that we’ve kept alive for the past 30 years.

Trial and error has taught us that some live trees are beautiful during Christmas, but can’t survive the harsh summers in the south.

We’ve had good luck with pine, cedar, hemlock and Leyland cypress, so we stick to those varieties because they can live in hot weather. The white pine is now well over forty-feet tall. 

We had company last weekend and the conversation turned to Christmas trees. They found it hard to imagine that the huge trees in our yard once stood in front of our great-room windows, with lights, ornaments, crystal icicles and presents underneath. 

Standing here today with a frosty forehead, I smiled at the memory of that first tree, and I realized as I sat back down on the couch I had a topic for this week’s column.

I hope remembering your first Christmas tree brings a smile to your face too.

Merry Christmas.

Read more: Daily Mountain Eagle - Our first Christmas tree 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

December Birthdays

There are a lot of December birthdays in our family. I've always thought it was kind of a rip to have a
December birthday, because so many people tend to clump December birthdays in with Christmas, so they sometimes get the shaft.
My old sister (she loves it when I call her that) had a birthday this week and we called her EARLY in the morning.
She normally doesn't get up that early, but she knows me and expects my call on her birthday.
This picture was taken in front of our house in Sloss Hollow.
It's the house we grew up in, and I've written about it often.
She always kept an eye on me. God help any kid that tried to bully me.
We lived in Indiana for a short while when I was in kindergarten and one winter day, a neighborhood bully pushed me down in the snow.
He felt he was entitled because he'd been bullying kids for most of his life.
Apparently he'd never run up on a spindly-legged girl from Alabama, because as he ran off after pushing me into a snowbank, she broke an icicle as thick as my arm off a nearby fence.
I'm sure fate, karma and some other unknown factors were at work, but when she chunked that icicle at him, it arced like it had a bully-seeking device embedded somewhere in the ice.
The trajectory was perfect and it knocked him face first into the snow. I thought for a moment she'd killed him.  We didn't hang around to find out.
A few days later we saw him. He was walking a little funny, but he gave my sister a lot of room on the sidewalk, and he never bothered me again.
Happy birthday to all December babies.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

O' Christmas Tree

My column in tomorrow's paper is about our first Christmas tree we had in our new house.....well, it was new in 1983.
I'll post it on Monday, so I don't want to say too much about it tonight, but I after writing it on Wednesday, I decided to shoot some photos of the trees we've had in years past.
The problem is, the weather has not cooperated. The sky's dark with low-hanging clouds the color of a bad mood.
I decided to go out this afternoon when the rain moved out and try to snap a few photos. As you can see from the photo below, I didn't have much luck.
But as luck would have it, the song from Annie came to mind.
The sun'll come out
Bet your bottom dollar
That tomorrow
There'll be sun!
Just thinkin' about

Our Christmas tree seven years ago

Friday, December 13, 2013


The weather app on my phone says it's 46 degrees tonight, but it feels much colder. Tonight, Jilda cooked a dish that her mother used to make. It's one of my favorites.
We had leftover roast from yesterday, so she peeled some red potatoes, sliced some onions, along with some other ingredients and cooked it on a skillet on the stove tonight.
As she worked, I took the peels out on the deck to put them in our compost bucket. I stood there for a moment, and I could hear wind in the trees. I usually only hear that rustling sound when rain is on the way.
A chill crept up my spine, so I decided to cut my weather observation short, but I thought as I went back inside that it feels much colder than 46.
When I flipped on the weather, a band of rain the width of Mississippi is headed our way and will be here by midnight.
We watched another Christmas movie tonight as we dined. We save our favorite Christmas movies until the week of Christmas. A Miracle on 34th Street, It's a Wonderful Life, and The Bishop's Wife are on our list.
Yes, it's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

They don't have an app for that

Yesterday morning when we walked outside on our way to Birmingham, frost as thick as icing on a cake covered everything in sight.
We were running a little late so I didn't take time to snap pictures. A woman who lives about a mile away has horses in a pasture in her front yard.
When we drove by, the sun had just risen above the horizon highlighting the blanket of frost, making the scene look almost as if it had been chromed.
The lady's horses were over near the fence and you could see puffs of breath that looked like smoke coming from their noses. It was a beautiful scene and I could kick myself for not stopping.
Jilda's treatments have been slowed to where they now take almost seven hours to complete. While she sat in the big green chair, I went to the cafeteria and finished my column for Sunday, and did some web work.
When we headed for home, we both were whupped. Even though it was late in the day when we drove into the driveway, we made a management decision to take a short nap. It seemed the right thing to do.
When I laid down, the sun slashed through the garden door on the back of the house and highlighted the mantle where Jilda's Christmas stocking hung.
I pulled the camera from my pocket and snapped this strange little photo. It wasn't the photo I would like to be posting tonight, but I couldn't transfer the image of the horses from my brain onto Blogger.
Looks like they'd have an app for that :)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Good health is a gift

I had a routine checkup today with my doc to renew a few of my maintenance medicines. As I sat in the waiting room, an older gentleman sat down a few spaces from me and started talking to a woman across the way. She seemed to get very interested in a six-month old copy of Southern Living. 
He kept talking to anyone within earshot, scanning the room for anyone who'd listen. I'd been expecting an email from a client and had just punched the fetch button when I realized no one was listening to him.
I put my phone back into my pocket and turned to him. It seemed he needed someone to listen, so I did.
He reeled off an inventory of ailment that he'd had over the last few years. Some were very serious. 
He tentatively asked why I was seeing the doctor, and I sheepishly told him it was a routine checkup and that I had no major health problems.
He looked thoughtful for a few moments before saying that he'd enjoyed good health for most of his life, but then things went south. I think talking about it made him feel a little better.
The nurse stepped to the waiting room door and called my name. I told the guy I enjoyed talking to him and to take care of himself. He said he would, but as I walked away he called after me to say thanks for listening.
I heard him say  as I walked away, "
be grateful for your good health, you'll miss it when it's gone."   
I know what that man said is true. While Jilda and I are basically healthy, she's had quite a few problems the last few years.
We've never taken our health for granted. For the most part, we eaten right, do regular exercise, get plenty of sleep, and combat stress with yoga and meditation. But still things happen.
Good health is a gift, that should never be taken for granted. Just ask my waiting room friend.

I shot this photo as the early morning sun fell on two chairs on our back deck.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A promise of sunshine

We had an early-morning appointment for Jilda to get an MRI....it's a long story, but suffice it to say we had to set an alarm clock, which is something I haven't done in quite some time.
The procedure took about an hour and we were on our way home. The weatherman kept saying it wasn't that cold, but there was a misty rain falling with wind out of the north, so it felt cold standing in my shoes.
We haven't seen the sun in days, which tends to dampen my spirits. 
As we topped the mountain a few miles from our house, I saw a patch of blue sky nestled in the dense grey clouds.
A promise of sunshine, I thought to myself. By the time we pulled in the driveway, the clouds were breaking up nicely and the sun found its way through.
Once home, I stepped out on our south-facing deck and let the sun warm my face. The wind was still cold, but somehow that little bit of sunshine warmed my spirits.
I snapped this photo of our blueberry bush this afternoon.
Happy Wednesday everybody.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Christmas time ~ My column from Sunday's paper

It’s Christmas time at the Watson house. My wife Jilda and I have funny ideas about holidays. We like to celebrate Christmas, at Christmas.

We have friends and family with grandchildren who are so excited, they put the tree up at Halloween. Usually by Christmas afternoon, they are sick of the tree.

We wait until the second week of December to get our tree. That’s always a fun day.

We have a tradition of selecting live trees with root balls that we plant on New Years Day.

Years ago we bought our trees from Frye’s Christmas Tree Farm near Burroughs Crossing off of Highway 69.

The first time we went out there, I got to know Mr. Frye and found out that he too was in the Army, and like me he’d spent a Christmas in the Panama Canal Zone.

The trees we bought from him are now well over 30 feet tall.

He got out of the tree business some time back so we had to find a new source for our Christmas trees.

We located a place a few years ago and headed out early to Pine Hill Farms, which is a fitting name because it has rolling hills with row after row of trees of all sizes.

This place was abuzz with tree shoppers who walked among the trees and select the one they wanted. A crew of young folks would then descend on the tree, cut it down or dig it up and load in on the customer’s vehicle.

They had a full sized Christmas sleigh. I quickly coaxed Jilda up on the seat and snapped a photo for our Christmas album. They also have live reindeer, which are somewhat shy, but are a sight to see.

As we wandered among the spruce and cypress, a snowflake as big as a quarter drifted down and kissed Jilda on the chin. Our spirits soared. While we walked, Mother Nature dusted the ground with a
layer of snow as fine as face powder.

When we went inside the gift shop to pay, the aroma of hot apple cider drew us to the corner. There is nothing better than hot cider on a cold day.

In addition to waiting to put up a tree, we refuse to listen to Christmas music until December. We dodge radio stations that play holiday music until it’s the holidays.

When we do start playing, the first record we put on is Windham Hill’s December. It’s an album of Christmas music played on a piano without any additional instrumentation. It’s one of the most beautiful collections I’ve ever heard.

When I was growing up, my mom always put her Christmas decorations up the weekend after Thanksgiving.

All the kids, grandkids, in-laws and outlaws gathered to put up mountains of lights, plywood cutouts of snowmen, elves, sleighs, and of course Santa.

My mom would spend weeks prior to Thanksgiving making fruit cakes, banana nut bread, divinity candy, and blocks of fudge as big as a deck of cards. She also made a vat of her world famous Christmas punch, and after the decorations were up, the family would pile into her living room and sugar up.

I feel bad for Thanksgiving. It has always been one of my favorite holidays, but I fear that one day soon it will be known only as Black Thursday where employees are forced to work so that shoppers can fight over cheap flat screen TVs for Christmas.

Call me old fashion, but I’m happy with the notion that holidays are gifts, and for us, it’s not Christmas until December.

Read more: Daily Mountain Eagle - Christmas should come on time 

Sunday, December 08, 2013

A fun gathering

It's been an old rainy day here. The weatherman said the temps would go up to the high 50s but he was misinformed. 
Each time I went out today dime-sized drops of rain pinged my face. I think rain made the day feel colder than it was.
I know my blog friends who live where it REALLY gets cold think I'm a wus, but when your used to fairly warm weather, it seems colder than it really is.
Our songwriting group braved the weather and came this evening to drink Jilda's special hot apple cider. 
This is a remarkable group of folks. Both Jilda and I feel blessed to call them our friends. 
We formed the group in June of 2012 and since then, all but one has completed CD projects and he's currently recording his now. We've played more gigs, written more songs, and learned more about the craft of songwriting than ever before. 
We've laid the groundwork for a book on how we approach the craft and business of songwriting.
We challenge each other without competing. We support and encourage each other to be the very best that we can be. No egos are allowed in this group.
I think the coming year will be even more productive and remarkable for our little group.
I'm excited.
On another note, I reached the milestone of 500 Followers today when Kathy W. stopped by. I'm humbled and flattered.

Jilda is still Santa'tizing our great room. This one appeared this morning.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

It's finally feeling like Christmas

The temps were in the 30s today with howling winds out of the north that made my feet feel like popsicles.
Christmas falls a little funny this year so today was the best day for our annual tree-fetching tradition. Jilda is like a Girl Scout because she NEVER leaves the house ill prepared, but today we waltzed out without her toboggan.
Her teeth chattering a little as we strolled among the trees. We'd hoped the tree farm had a white pine, but they only had spruce and cyprus, so we chose a six footer.
Once we found our tree, she stood by it while I fetched the digger-upper-guys.
Apparently everyone in Alabama decided to get a tree today too because the place was working alive with tree shoppers.
Most people wandered around with small hand saws and cut their own trees, but since we required "special assistance" we had to wait a while.
I stood there for a while at the office waiting for someone to help us. After about 20 minutes I heard my phone vibrating in my pocket, so I pulled it out, took off a glove, and punched the talk button.
I was Jilda and I could definitely hear her teeth chattering. "Forget the tree, I'm freezing." I started to abandon the tree and collect my frosty spouse when a young guy appeared with a shovel.
A short time later he'd dug up the tree, loaded it,  and we were on our way.
My old truck doesn't have a lot of bells and whistles, but it has a heater that will melt the soles off your shoes.
I cranked that baby up until I smelled burning leather burning. By the time we got home, her lips were no longer purple and most of the icicles had melted from her eyebrows.
When we got home, we put on Christmas music and she decorated the great room with all our decorations that we've collected through the years.
It's finally feeling like Christmas.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Fun Day

Today's been a fun day. We took our guitars to Jordan's kindergarten class today and they were sooooo excited to see us.
Jordan's teacher invited the other four classes to join us so we had a room full of five-year-olds.  We sang Christmas songs. We had the best participation of any group we've ever played for. 
I hear Jilda at her computer tapping away so I know she's writing about the kids too, so I won't step on her topic.
After we finished at the school, she went with me to sign books and CDs at the local mall.
One of our good friends is a poet and she went with us to sign her new book too.
Normally the place would have been packed but we had torrential rain this afternoon with a chance of ice, so I'm thinking people decided to stay close to home.
We saw a bunch of old friends, met some new ones, and sold a few books and CDs. 
All in all, it was a fun day.
I shot this photo at sunset a few days ago. It didn't turn out as I expected so tonight as I was deleting photos I knew I wouldn't use off my phone, I almost deleted this one, but then I thought I'd see what Photoshop thought about it.
This is the result.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Something old, something blue

I remember the day Sharky (Jilda's dad) bought this truck. It was used, but could have passed for new. It was blue as his Irish eyes, and when it idled, it was as quiet as a whisper.
He kept it for years, but after he passed away in 1993, it sat in his yard unused. Jilda's mom Ruby couldn't drive so she'd let us use the truck if we needed it, but she always wanted it returned to her yard. She couldn't bring herself to get rid of it.
Just before she died, she gave the truck to Jilda's brother who is a plumber and needed a bigger truck.
He drove it for years, until the cost of maintaining it exceeded the value of the truck so we parked it behind the barn.
That was over ten years ago. None of us seemed to want to part with the old truck. I guess one reason is that every day when we walk, it reminds us of her dad.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Strange weather

It's too warm here for December. I woke up in the night and kicked the cover off of me. Slipping out of bed, I stepped into the hall and switched the central unit to A/C, and bumped the setting down to 70 so the unit would kick on and cool the place off.
I woke up this morning and punched the brew button on the coffeemaker. 
I drew a glass of water from the tap and drank it while gazing through the south window at the sky.
 I stepped out onto the deck to get a feel for the weather. 
You can't get a true reading until you feel the wind on your face and a clear view of the sky.
The light was an eerie shade of purple, somewhere between mauve and violet. 
A breeze out of the southeast swirled leaves in a circle, and I could hear the wind chimes tinkling on the side porch.
This is common in spring, but it's rare in December. The last time I remember feeling turbulence like this in the air in December, we had tornadoes dancing across the south.
You'd think living here for over 60 years that I'd get used to strange weather, but I never have.
I shot this picture with my iPhone this morning.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013


I'm a little frazzled tonight. I had four meetings today with web clients. I got a lot accomplished but my head feels a little like swiss cheese except with bigger holes. I'll do better tomorrow night.

Here's a picture I shot earlier in the fall. I call it RiverCloud.

Monday, December 02, 2013

A month for reflection

December is a month of reflection for me. It’s the time of year when I think back at everything that has happened. It seems to me with all things considered, the good times usually outweigh the bad.

When viewed in this way, it allows me to put things into perspective. 

Most people don’t keep journals, so in December trying to remember how their year went is difficult. If they had a job setback in the fall, they lose sight of the fact that they had an incredible vacation in the mountains in the spring and found a long lost friend during the summer. 

My bookshelf has a special section for my leather-bound journals that date back to the 1970s. They are filled with life experiences I can revisit and relive any time I choose.

At the end of each year, I look back over my journal to see where I’ve been, who I’ve seen, what I’ve eaten, the victories I’ve celebrated, things that made me laugh and also see what lessons the losses can teach me.

I’m often surprised at how much I’ve done, and left undone. It’s easy to beat myself up when I dwell on the latter too much.

My wife Jilda and I do a vision board each January and we begin collecting pictures for our board in December.

A vision board is a piece of thick poster board with pictures clipped from newspapers, magazines and other sources. They depict things we want in our life for the coming year.

Our friends figure big on our boards. Mine is filled with group photos with our smiling-faced friends. I’m not sure it’s possible to spend too much time with your true friends.

I have pictures of a CD, of famous music producers, and a gold record hanging on a wall. Each morning when I look at the board, I imagine how great it would feel when we have one of those hanging on our wall.

We didn’t meet a famous producer this year, and we don’t have that gold record on the wall yet, but we recorded our first CD as a duo. As the old joke goes, you can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket.

My vision board also has a picture of a cruise ship. In the 40 years we’ve been married, we’d never taken a cruise until this year.

A vision board keeps the things I want fresh in my mind, and like most people, I tend to do the things I think about. 

Some people I’ve shared this idea with call it a bunch of hooey. I thought about the naysayers this past spring as I basked in the warm sunshine with a tropical breeze blowing on my face as I lounged on the bow of a ship in the gulf, sipping on a frou-frou drink with a colorful umbrella in it. 

Vision boards might be a bunch of hooey, but they work for us.

December is not a month of reflection for everyone. As I sit here writing today, I thought of people who’d rather rip December right off the calendar and start the New Year with a clean slate.

There are many reasons for this. Stress over finances, or family gatherings that for some, are more painful than a stone bruise.

I think that another reason is that when people suffer loss in December, the holidays tend to amplify the sadness.

I know first hand that when you dwell on sadness, the burden weighs more during the holidays. 

But The Good Lord, for the most part is an excellent accountant and, over the long haul, the balance sheet will show, if judged by an impartial witness, that the good things in life usually outweigh the bad.

Happy December.

Read more: Daily Mountain Eagle - A month for reflection 

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Ebb and flow

The evening sky was stunning this evening. I built another fire in the fire pit just after sunset. As the
smaller kindling crackled and started the slow process of involving the bigger lengths of hickory, I stepped down to the fence to get a better look at the western horizon.
I'd left a few stalks of okra standing so that I could harvest seed for next year.
The silhouette of okra against the evening sky looked stark enough to warrant a quick photo from the old iPhone.
I stood for a long while soaking in the sight.
Redbirds and doves were scurrying around getting ready for bed. They usually visit the fountain in the backyard for a drink before turning in.
The aroma of burning hickory wood aroused my sense of smell.
There's something about multi sensual settings that seem to burn the memory on my brain like a tattoo.
Soon it will be winter and the landscape will change again.
Ebb and flow, ebb and flow.

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