Peace, Joy, Hope

Sharing a quick message to all of you. Keep the Hope going, it will help.

Holiday love.

From the Hermits’ Rest to your place of refuge, celebrate what’s meaningful to you today.

It’s a memorable Christmas!

Here’s what’s keeping the ranch house looking cheery!

Of course, dogs
Blooming on time!
Looking forward to food. Yay.

Peace! Hope! Love!

Okay, Let’s Spread Some Cheer

One of the things I like about the way Hearts, Homes and Hands does its business is that they do lots of nice things for the clients and staff. Every year, goodie bags and flowers show up out of thin air to give out to everyone.

Just kidding. Many hours are spent making those goodies. Last night, after a long day of work, Kathleen, Meghan, and CC showed up at the Hermits’ Rest to go into goody overdrive. I got to help, and even Lee measured some cocoa for fudge! (I picked and shelled a small bunch of pecans from the tree outside our office, but Lee ate most of them.)

Ready to make treats.

Meghan and I made many, many pretzels dipped in almond bark and sprinkled with sugar. We got better as we went along. Everyone laughed at how I wanted to be sure every treat bag had the same number of treats. Well, MAYBE I enjoy divvying them up! (Hey, I spelled divvying right the first time!)

The pretzels are hiding in here.

The other half of the crew made Kathleen’s special fudge recipe, which contains cheese product (you’d never guess). The microwave was going nonstop between melting fudge ingredients and almond bark. Good thing we have a big kitchen.

Fudge, not solidifying.

After the fudge was done, Kathleen made “trash,” which is her version of Chex Mix. It’s spicy! That’s mostly for the caregivers, since we don’t want to shock the systems of the clients.

Trash. And remnants of the pretzel operation.

We had so much fun making a mess, enjoying adult beverages (some of us), and telling stories to each other. I’d say the management team put a LOT of love into our gifts.

This morning, they discovered our fridge wasn’t quite cold enough, and the fudge hadn’t solidified. It got re-melted and put in the freezer for a while. Our poor saucepan was traumatized, but everything worked out, and after a good soak, that saucepan can cook Christmas foods.

Ready to deliver the goodies.

Eventually, everything was all packed up and ready to be delivered by Kathleen and Meghan at some point today.

Personal Note

I’m really proud of them. They work SO danged hard, taking phone calls at all hours, filling out paperwork, supervising…trying to help team members better themselves…etc.

A personal assistance service is not an easy business to be in, since you tend to be surrounded by sick people, hurting people, grumpy people (and FUN people, too, don’t get me wrong) and doing your best to make their lives easier. Luckily, the great people on our team and the truly wonderful and appreciative clients make up for it. I’ve always felt that work that helps others is the best, and I think the Hearts, Homes and Hands team will agree.

Have Yourself a Hermits’ Rest-y Christmas

Glorious. That’s the word for today. So, I went out to the woods to look for signs of Christmas and miracles. I found some of each!

The first miracle was water in the stream.

I ended up standing right where the above photo was taken for a long time, just listening to bird songs and watching them flit around. It’s lots easier to spot them in winter. I saw one I could not identify that could have been a black phoebe.

Too blurry. Wah. Not a miracle.

Once I got walking, the subtle signs of Texas Christmas began to appear. First, there was a Christmas cholla. That’s pretty obvious.

Then I found our one holly plant, a possumhaw (deciduous holly).

Cheerful berries.

So, how much more holiday greenery could I find? Of course, mistletoe!

I brought it home but no one will stand under it. Correction: Lee is willing.
Continue reading “Have Yourself a Hermits’ Rest-y Christmas”

A 2020 Kind of Christmas Hope

Enjoying a raspberry Coke on the deck.

I’m tired. I’d hit all my exercise goals by 3 pm, so you know I’ve been physically active. It’s all good, though. Some of that time I even spent walking with my son. Finally. We got to walk and chat outside. It takes a lot of coordination to get to see each other, but it’s just so nice to hear stories of his work, his friends, and normal stuff like that. It was a pretty day, too. Cloudless!

I spent much of today outside, which was much better than the hours I spent yesterday in a chilly drizzle. My decoration and home improvements have been quite 2020. Allow me to explain.

Yesterday

I worked so hard that I bruised my hands, but I got stuff done I’d been putting off, boring things like changing the air conditioning filter that’s practically inaccessible in the attic, and replacing all the burned out porch light bulbs.

Oops

Unfortunately, the teeny nut that holds one fixture together fell out of my hand and landed somewhere under the deck. Anita and I searched for it, but no luck. I tried many things to save it, but failed big time. Duct tape only lasted a few minutes.

Ahh

Finally, today it occurred to me I had wire. It worked and hardly shows. 2020 ingenuity!

The main project I worked on yesterday was outdoor lights. Our next-door neighbor, Ruth, gave us 3 boxes of icicle lights. We had another one just like it, hanging around in the Big Box of Lights. So, I set about lining a long stretch of our deck with them. I used pushpins to hold them up (one way I got bruised). I finally finished, in a dripping rain, only to realize I’d put the female end on the far side, rather than close to the extension cord. Face palm. After going inside and sulking, I figured out a way to rearrange the cords to make them plug in. A 2020 Holiday Miracle.

You can sort of see the lights. This is right after I got them working.

I also set up some lights in a different spot from usual, down by the basement, where people driving by could see them. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of that before. It was a start on a winter wonderland to match my indoor stuff.

Little sparkly trees outside the door to Anita’s den.

I managed to get up lights around the front door, with Anita’s help, and think it looks cheerful.

Not perfect, but okay. And the fact that I changed the bulbs in that porch light is a mini miracle. It was not easy.

Today

At some point, I had to drag myself inside and warm up. This morning, I was back at it, driven to use every single light we have. I’m not sure why I felt so strongly about it, but I think there were two reasons. One, it cheers me up to decorate. I’m not as good, nor do I have as many nice things as a lot of people who decorate do, but I have fun and it looks like “me” when it’s over with.

Cheesy, but cheery.

The other thing is I know how I get cheered up when I see cheerful lights on houses, and I just want to give back. No one’s going to be able to enjoy our inside lights but me and Anita, so I’m sharing 2020 Christmas Hope with others by my decorations.

I did NOT get a dumpster fire ornament. Proud of myself.

The first thing I did was complete the winter wonderland. I added our snowflake lights that we’ve had a few years down at ground level. I hope they look pretty. And then I also brought down our sleigh with a tree in it, which usually sits on the deck. I had no way to light it, thanks to my icicle-light-stringing faux pas, so it didn’t hurt to give it a new spot.

Here’s how it looks in the daytime.

I put some decorations on the rocking chair area on the porch, so it didn’t look neglected, and put some stuff in my sad Texas mountain laurel at the entrance to the deck, too.

Then I went into some kind of overdrive. Honestly, I had decided to tone down my lighting this year, you know, because it’s a somber time.

Looks so exciting.

But nope, I kept thinking of Anita walking Pickle, making her tea, or whatever. She needs cheer, as hard as she works every day. So every light that was left got strung in a tree branch.

From the other direction.

It’s not a thing of true beauty, but no matter what window you look out, you’ll see lights this year. Woo!

Obviously I need another extension cord. Back deck.

Plus, it’s a family tradition to just sorta throw lights on trees and call it done. Declan remembered us doing it at our Braesgate house for many years. Back then we used brooms to get higher in the trees. No professional light-stringing service for us! And it showed. But, it was cheerful.

Yes! You can see them from the road!

What’s left now is decorating our villa-sized tree. It may be the tree’s last year, since it no longer will sit up straight in its pot. Anita tied it up with string, and at least from the front it looks all right. From the side, though, it’s a 2020 Christmas tree.

It’s just leaning a LITTLE.

I feel better having done this. And a neighbor texted that it looks good. My 2020 Christmas is just fine.

They look good from inside, too.

Do whatever works for YOU to get through the season. I will support you! Now this is a real Blogmas post!

Ready for a disco party for me, Anita, and Pickle!

More Yoj and Christmas Decoration Confusion

Yes, I have now broken down and begun turning my Austin house into a winter wonderland, even after saying how much I loved the autumn décor. It got cold. That did the trick. Thus, I’ve been wandering into all our secret storage areas and getting out items. And thanks to those crazy people at JoAnn Fabric and Crafts, with their 80% off (with coupon) sale and curbside delivery, I got more.

I didn’t have to buy anything to create my thematic table setting. I just combined stuff I had around. I don’t have silver candles, so the pop of red is on purpose, yeah.

But, there’s another Yule mystery going on! It all has to do with our YOJ sign. I shared the story of it back in 2018, but I bet you weren’t reading the blog in 2018. In brief, I bought this light-up sign that said “JOY” at Target back when we lived at the tiny casita house in north Austin, when Anita first moved here. I proudly set it up in my bedroom window, which was the only window in the house visible from the street. I went outside to view it in its glory, only to realize that I’d set it up backwards, and the sign said “YOJ” (with the J backwards).

Back in the glory days when YOJ lit up.

This struck Anita and me as totally hilarious. It really felt just right to us, with our contrarian bent and strong dislike of the commercialization of the season. So, we left it that way. A few neighbors pointed it out and enjoyed the story. So, we’ve put up YOJ ever since.

Here’s how I improved the mantel. Garland and little pine-cone picks really make it look like a frosty forest, to me, at least.

The sign fell in the garage and lost a light, so now it doesn’t shine with, um, joy anymore. But it lives in our current living room year around, along with our tree for all seasons, etc. We had a second YOJ in 2008, but I don’t recall it returning last year (which was not our best year for decorating).

Where did this go? I’m confused!

This year, though, we spotted some stocking holders in a catalog, so Anita got them. Now we have matching signs in our living room windows, which makes up for the other one, which is probably hiding in the garage, where we haven’t looked yet.

Joy to our windows!

Sadly, we can’t light them up, because they don’t go on and off automatically, and we will not be climbing up there every evening to turn them on to save batteries. Maybe the last week I’m in Austin before Christmas, we’ll light them up.

One of my Christmas cactuses is doing its best to provide decorations, as well!

I’m not sure if the neighbors can see the signs in our windows, but I like the idea of bringing in some joy to our lives so much that I got a couple of smaller signs to go in the windows. They also look like they are knitted, which endears them to me more.

Here’s where the second YOJ is. The decorations around my ancient gingerbread house light up at night.

As you look around my decorations, you will see a lot of large, white branches with bells and snowflakes. I thought they were much smaller, and was going to put them on the mantel. Instead, even the sad cactus that got messed up last year looks happy again, thanks to those branches. And the little palm tree. Whatever, I made it all cheery and like a woodland snow scene around the house.

Now, that’s a happy cactus.

We will drag out the Christmas tree from the garage tomorrow, I guess. I hate to admit it, but that cheers me up. As for the ranch, we’ll see if I can come up with anything dog-proof. Maybe we will get a new branch or something. And I can look forward to doing something in my office next week! There, I have a reason to live!

Semi-happy palm tree, with weird broom I made.

Just kidding. What are YOU doing to keep your spirits up? Suggestions are welcome!

Controversy? I Prefer Autumn Decorations in Autumn

Let’s talk about something less serious for once. To start of, I’m happy to say that the meal Anita and I created for ourselves yesterday was quite nice. I made a very moist and yummy turkey and am looking forward to a sandwich for lunch. I spent many hours turning the carcass into broth that will make a fine soup tomorrow, too. And we sat around being thankful we weren’t sick or endangering anyone else. Wow, such smugness. Moving right along.

Anita prepares to dig in. We brought out all the Fiesta ware, for festiveness.

Main Topic

Right now I’m going to declare that I am not one of those people with a compulsion to slap up my Christmas decorations the second they go for sale in the stores, nor mid-November, nor US Thanksgiving, and sometimes, not even in early December. Shocking!

I do allow some silvery items to accent the fall stuff. Who says you can’t mix and match seasons?

How can I be so un-traditional? First, for many families in the not-so-distant past, trees didn’t go up until December 24 and they went down at some other holiday in January, which I’m too lazy to look up (readers have helpfully pointed out it’s Epiphany, which is on January 6). So, this whole frenzy to decorate and keep the décor up for a few months is not a hallowed tradition; it’s a marketing thing. Granted, lights and shiny things are cheerful, and we could all use some cheer right now, so if it makes you happy, decorate away.

The fall and winter stuff are very happy together, so I say.

Second, and this is my big reason, so I have a legitimate excuse, I’m not someone who celebrates the religious Christmas holiday, given that I’m on a more Buddhist/tree-hugging path and growing fonder of some of the more “Christ-like” groups of Christians these days. So, I’ll decorate for winter solstice, for which there is no frenzy.

We secular people who like all traditions do sometimes end up with confusing items.

And another thing (like this matters one bit, right, but it’s fun!), I like to enjoy the autumn decorations while it’s still autumn, I think our tree is really pretty, and all we had to do is remove the overtly Halloween/Samhain decorations to create a lovely ambiance here at the Bobcat Lair (the poor ranch missed my decorative touch this year, which probably didn’t bother Lee one bit).

The seasonal tree in its fall incarnation.

Here in Texas, it just doesn’t feel all that wintry, so I don’t feel awful about enjoying the leaves, acorns and such.

On the Other Hand

I do have some winter decorations out all year round. I happen to love my green glass trees and peace plates from the late, lamented Pier One (the online version is NOT the same). And there are a few wintry bird items I can’t bear to put away.

I think peace, birds, and trees are appropriate all year.

And then there are all my glass pumpkins and acorns that never go away. Pumpkins are attractive year round, so I am not hiding them. I guess I just focus on the things for each time of the year, dragging flowery things to the foreground in the spring, etc.

These move around some, but they are always here. Sigh, no more pumpkins from Pier One.

Where Do You Put It All?

Something I ponder about the people with all the decorations, like complete re-decorating of many rooms for the Christmas period, is where do they put it all when it’s not Christmas? If you have separate linens, towels, pillows, rugs, and assorted décor items, where do they go? I know my friend Maggie has an entire garage for that stuff. At the ranch I happen to have a holiday closet, since we added SO MANY closets when we built the house that there’s space. And dear Aunt Margie in North Carolina had a “present room” in her house; now she had some decorations!

Not everyone has the space for winter, spring, summer, and fall niches in their living room. Also, aren’t these pretty?

But, these are all people who are, shall we say, privileged. The examples I gave have or had big ole houses with only two occupants. There was space to put all this excess stuff. I feel rather wasteful for having duplicates of my dishes and other items that I can drag out every year. Or maybe I’m just grumpy.

This winter bird is too lovely to hide for most of the year.

This year, with all the struggle going on, I’m going to tone things down. It just doesn’t feel right to wallow in excess right now. That’s just me, a person who doesn’t celebrate Christmas. I do like shiny things, and don’t hold it against any family that wants to decorate every surface of their home, inside and out, it just doesn’t feel right for ME.

Granted, as gloomy as this weekend is looking to be, some cheerful lights might be useful.

One Final Gripe

Plus, I really don’t like those inflatable decorations. They seem to spend most of their time as sad, deflates, non-festive lumps. Again, that’s just me. Feel free to convince me otherwise in the comments!

These things just don’t do anything for me. I must be too old. Image from @ginarossi via Twenty20.

Angsty Holiday Introspection: Christmas Eve with the Hermits

Here I sit, alone with my fellow Hermit, each of us typing on our separate keyboards, listening to a dog bark in the distance. Ah, Christmas Eve.

More than one of my friends, and one family member in particular, has asked why I’ve gone out of town for the past three Christmases. So, I’ll answer that instead of giving another boring nature report (I’ll do that tomorrow; I did cool stuff today). The short answer is: self preservation. The longer answer, and how I plan to deal with my holiday angst follows.

We interrupt this angst for a cowboy Christmas display. Carry on.

Background on how I’m wired: One of my major “love languages” is gifts. I’m one of those people who hang on to things for years, just because they remind me of the person who gave them. I have my Kathy Dettwyler Faberge pansy thing, my cake cover and weird quilts from my Granny Kendall, a pod sculpture and a goddess from my friends in Illinois…on and on.

Because of this, I always loved Christmas. I treasured so many gifts, even ones I didn’t actually like, because I knew some family member or friend took time and effort to choose it. That made me feel loved. I looked forward to my sister’s gifts, as well as those from my brother and later my boyfriend, because they were just what I liked (all three of them have the gift knack, which I don’t think I actually got). I just loved being with family and enjoying each other as we exchanged thoughtful and fun gifts (we were never much for expensive ones).

Pause to enjoy a ranch in Bandera County.

When my kids came along, I just loved buying and making gifts for them, because I loved them so much and wanted to see them happy. Same for the rest of the family.

At some point, I realized I was going way overboard and buying too many things for too many people I cared for. It became clear when I found many carefully chosen and hand-made gifts discarded when Declan’s first girlfriend moved out. I realized many of the nice/carefully chosen things I’d given my own kids weren’t treasured; they were just tossed in a pile in their rooms to be found when I cleaned them out. (I KNOW some kid gifts are just for fun and don’t last forever!)

Mr and Mrs Goose honk a holiday hello.

Then it dawned on me that no one in my current family was big on giving gifts. I guess it isn’t their love language. (My spouse likes to give surprise gifts, but doesn’t like Christmas.)

PLUS, I always wanted to have a wonderful family meal for Christmas. When it began to also include all the neighbors and many friends, I got overwhelmed, though, and the planning started to stress me out. The last time I hosted a dinner, I looked out and saw three people cooking and serving like crazy and the rest just staring at each other.

Ah, deer. They prevent angst.

That was 2016, the same year that half the people invited didn’t even have the courtesy to bring a token gift or food contribution. I’m all for giving. Honest. It just suddenly struck me as really unequal, and I felt like I was giving like crazy without even thanks (I am sure I was thanked; I was over-exaggerating, a thing I have been known to do.)

I looked around after that Christmas dinner and exchange of 90% gifts from me and very few gifts for me. I said this isn’t working for me. It’s also not working for them. Why am I trying to give them the Christmas experience I want? What do they actually want? I decided that next Christmas would be different.

High-quality fencing is all one needs for Christmas.

The next year I booked us a week in New Mexico, and my kids, the current partner of Declan, Lee, and Anita all showed up. We drove around, hiked, shopped, relaxed, and played games. It was great.

Continue reading “Angsty Holiday Introspection: Christmas Eve with the Hermits”

Whoops

When I wrote yesterday about a feeling of dread, more than one reader responded that they felt clumsy at those times.

Doom came to this squirrel. Great shot of the black vulture by Anita!

Sure enough, today was full of minor oops errors and even a major one. And it wasn’t just me. My poor friends and colleagues dealt with it, too.

I got Maggie this fine hat as a consolation for not getting to go to Party City with me.

There were also disappointments and such at work. Even the good news of the day went sour. I couldn’t even make things better by shopping for our department party (at the Bobcat Lair) with coworker Maggie, because traffic got weird.

I’ll just cheer you up with photos of our Christmas lights, all from a box we found in the garage.

But hey, I remembered lots of positive things at therapy, too, and managed to go out with Anita to get the last party and family gifts just in time. I wish I hadn’t broken a delicate glass orb, though (the major error of the day), but I only got a small cut!

I even put lights in the cedar trees ( ashe junipers).

So yeah, those feelings of doom seem to portend something. But all in all, I’m grateful to the people who brighten my days.

Those blurs are snowflakes. Wish I had more!

I’ll be way more interesting after tomorrow’s party! In the meantime I hope you like our hodgepodge of holiday lights.

Christmas Fun

Sending seasonal love and peaceful thoughts to all you readers.

Many of you will be celebrating Christmas with friends or family this year. We have both. Even if this isn’t one of your holidays, looking at cheery lights at the darkest time of the year isn’t all bad.

The square in Fredericksburg, Texas.

So, that’s what we did last night. Lee drove me, Anita, and my son, Kynan to the downtown square in Fredericksburg to enjoy the lights and fun. It was a crisp, but not cold, night, so you didn’t have to shiver and rush your viewing. It felt “Christmas-y.”

This is one big Christmas pyramid.

We really enjoyed watching the little kids running around, looking up into the trees, and saying ooh and ahh at the German carousel thing going round and round. Ah, thanks to Wikipedia, I know that these are called “Christmas pyramids.” I guess I thought they’d have a more exotic name. Anyway, it sure was a big one.

The tree was also really big, and delighted the small children.

We are saving the lights in Johnson City for tonight. Kynan says they were spectacular when he was driving to Fredericksburg from Austin.

The face looks sad, and the looming cross makes an interesting statement, if you are into that kind of thing.

Oddly enough, my favorite things I saw were some statues that are in the park all the time. This one of a Native American who had lived in this area looked really thoughtful in the light of my camera flash.

This is one of the municipal buildings across the road.

While we wait for the final family members to join us, I’ll try to share some more images, so there may be two posts today.

Austin, You Make Me Smile

I love a mule in a hat.

Anita and I were driving to our last haircut by our current hair person (she’s moving to Dripping Springs). Glancing up I saw the totally Austin spectacle of Santa riding a bay mule down South Congress.

Don’t let the trees fool you. He’s right in front of St Edwards University.

Yee-haw, Santa.

Ok. We looked it up. That was Sam Gray Horse, who rides the mule all over town. Here’s an article!

So shiny! Blinding!

Also I made the nail lady in Cameron do fancy holiday nails. I guess I’m all set.