Christmas 2011 fireplace

Christmas 2011 Fireplace

Early last year, I finally broke down and bought a fireplace for the living room. I should have done this years ago. It transformed the entire room and gave me an excuse to never put a television in it.

During October, I brought the fake pumpkins out of storage to put on the step outside, but they didn’t quite make it. While I was pondering how to string the power from the garage, I plopped the pumpkins on the mantel and plugged them in. They never made it to the step outside.

For Thanksgiving, I put up some autumn decorations and for Christmas, what you see below.

Christmas 2011 Fireplace

The poinsettia theme was inspired from my puppy days of Christmas time at St. Agnes Church in St. Paul where the altar was decorated with poinsettias from Seeger’s Flower Shop on Dale St. in Frogtown (it is long gone) from end to end starting with the first Sunday in Advent. The flowers were all tilted slighting so the flowers would face forward. Every week, the florists would come in and tilt them foward just a little bit more as the flowers would fight to grow upwards. By New Year’s Day, the stems of the flowers were as crooked as a leprechaun’s staff. Apparently, even nature is an illusion in church.

I don’t have photos for Halloween or Thanksgiving because I only just thought of this. Apparently, after you do something for three consecutive holidays, it is a tradition so I’m going to decorate the mantel for each season. New Year’s up next, then Valentines’ Day, followed by St. Patrick’s Day. Fair warning; the non-Christmas decor will probably not be as elaborate.

Stay tuned as I post up the fireplace photo here as the theme turns!

Watch what you say, the kids are listening

Several months back, my daughter (who is now 19) and I had a quick text message exchange. I can’t remember what it was about, but I’m sure it is archived somewhere in the bowels of the AT&T servers if I ever run for some government office. As she is prone to do, she asks: “Do you need anything?”

Apparently feeling rather frisky, I typed back:
I don’t need anything. Well, serenity, a deep blue sky, a crisp cold morning, a loyal dog and a hot cup of coffee. 😉

On Christmas Eve, she gave me a series of presents that had me a bit confused, until she showed me the text message she had saved for months. The presents are below.

serenity, a deep blue sky, a crisp cold morning, a loyal dog and a hot cup of coffee

The book is to help me find serenity in the nuthouse I find myself in daily, the glass jar was filled with shiny bits of blue and silver tinsel, the candle scent is ‘morning mist,’ the dog wags his tail and lifts his head when you press his back and the coffee mug is always waiting to be filled.

Thank you! Not only did she give me a present, but she gave me a story which is worth more than any present she could have wrapped. I have the best puppies in the world.

Merry Christmas everyone. And remember the kids are always listening, especially when you’re babbling.


Senators Jim DeMint and Jon Kyl are no ‘public servants’

Yesterday, Sen Jim DeMint commented on the onerous work schedule Sen Harry Reid is “forcing” the Senate to work.

We shouldn’t be jamming a major arms control treaty up against Christmas; it’s sacrilegious and disrespectful. What’s going on here is just wrong. This is the most sacred holiday for Christians. They did the same thing last year – they kept everybody here until [Christmas Eve] to force something down everybody’s throat. I think Americans are sick of this.

Sen Jon Kyl joined in, saying that meeting Sen Reid’s voting schedule would be impossible “without disrespecting one of the two holiest of holidays for Christians.”

Thousands of firefighters, police and other first-responders work Christmas every year. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers, sailors and others who secure our nation work Christmas every year regardless of their faith. And they do it silently and without a lot of the benefits that Sens. DeMint and Kyl enjoy.

In the private sector, thousands work the restaurant, hospitality, transportation and entertainment industries with far less pay and respect than given a US Senator. And their jobs are far more important in the daily lives of Americans than two Senators. If it’s such an issue for DeMint and Kyl, they should just pack up and leave early, enjoy Christmas with their families and come back to work in January. They can afford to do it without getting fired.

I think Americans may be more sick of the 24/7/365 work culture your policies have forced them into. For some, missing work on Christmas means their families make a choice between paying for food or heat.

Perhaps DeMint and Kyl need to be reminded just what it means to be a “public servant.”

NB: For the record, Easter — not Christmas — has historically been accepted as the holiest day of the year for Christians.


How to shape and light a Christmas Tree properly

This guide was published two years ago and it one of the top read blog posts here. As lots of people will be decorating their homes for the holidays today and in the coming weeks, I thought we could at least save a few more of them from ugly trees.

I have “decorated” a lot of pine trees on my walks, so it is probably safe to say I’m as close to an expert as you will ever find on shaping and lighting a Christmas tree. Almost all of the Christmas trees I have seen since Halloween in the stores are dreadfully shaped and badly lit.

It doesn’t need to be like this as shaping and lighting a Christmas tree is so very, very easy.

Overall rules: Do not buy a pre-lit tree. They look great for one season, but after one wire goes bad, the whole tree is shot. Also, buy a good quality tree. Personally, I like the ones that come in three sections with permanent hinges on the branches. If the branches need plastic inserts or hinges or any other part, walk away.

Step One: Think like a tree.
No, really. You have to think like a tree. The primary job of the needles on the branches is to attract sunlight so photosynthesis can happen. Don’t worry about the science, but think about where the light is relative to the branches you are shaping. If the branches are near the trunk, how do they get sunlight? Well, they stretch out and up. Now, ask yourself this question of every branch you are shaping and it all suddenly makes sense. For the visually impaired, I drew a sketch. (I’m a dog, people, not an artist, but if someone wants to draw and send me something better, I’ll use it!)

Branch side view. Note that the closer the branches are to the truck, the more upright they will be.
Branch side view. Note that the closer the branches are to the truck, the more upright they will be.

The closer the branch is to the trunk, the more upright it will be as it strains to reach the light. This also has the side-effect of filling in the tree more. Don’t be afraid to stand thses branches straight up.

Nature makes sense, but she is imperfect. All this means is that nature has a reason for everything and it usually points to survival. Everything competes with everything else for resources; even individual tree branches on the same tree. That is one reason you will never see the branches all lined up in a row, neat levels of branches or a 90 degree bend in a branch! So, don’t do this while shaping your tree.

As you can see in the branch diagram above, the smaller branches are curved. Use your forefinger and palm to gently curve these branches.

The smaller branches also alternate left to right in the rows. Remember, there are no perfect rows of branches on a tree. Choose an alternating patterns and make sure the branch in front is alternated between the branches in the back. That way, each needle on the branch does not have to compete with the branch in front of it for sunlight. Are you still thinking like a tree?

I wish I could draw better, but the diagram below should kinda work. As you work through each row of branches, from the trunk to the end, alternate with the row behind it. When looking at the diagram, imagine you are looking at it straight on from the front.

Alternate the branches with the row behind each. Once you start left-right, left-right, DO NOT change your mind and go right-left. Do the entire tree in the same pattern.
Alternate the branches with the row behind each. Once you start left-right, left-right, DO NOT change your mind and go right-left. Do the entire tree in the same pattern.

Step Two: The top
The trick for the top is to make sure it blends into the rows below it. Most tops will have long tree branches on the lower rows. Shape the branches like the diagram and then shape the upper top branches with the gentle curve you used throughout the tree.

Shape the top branches to swoop into the layer below it. The goal is to make the top and the layer below it seamless.
Shape the top branches to "swoop" into the layer below it. The goal is to make the top and the layer below it seamless.

Step Three: Touch Up
If you have shaped each branch to reach toward the sun, with the back branches standing up and the end branches reaching out and alternated each row with the one in back of it, your tree — no matter how cheap — should look full. Tweak the branches you may have bumped into and don’t be afraid to pull the lower branches wider to fill out the bottom row.

Step Four: Lighting the tree
For a 7 1/2 foot tree, you will need a minimum of 600 lights. Really, don’t skimp on the lights. Make sure you plan your outlets accordingly as many manufacturers will recommend only 3-4 strings per. DO NOT BLAME RUFUS IF YOU BURN YOUR HOUSE DOWN. If you were too stupid to follow the directions on the box, homeless is probably going to be the least of your worries anyhow.

If possible, use LED lights. They cost more, but they are brighter and they don’t burn out.

Like shaping, lighting a tree is very simple once you know the technique. Start from the back, bottom and near the trunk. Run the cord to the power source. If you will need 2 circuits, now is the time to run a green extension cord about 1/3 up the tree trunk and tape it there. Why 1/3? Because you will use more lights at the bottom of the tree (bigger branches) than you will toward the top.

Look at the diagram below. (Again, any artists out there, please)

The pattern of lights on the branches.
Working from the back to the front, lay the row of light on the top of the branches, looping them around the front branches, underneath the main branch and back to the trunk.

Working from the back to the front, lay the row of light on the top of the branches, looping them around the front branches, underneath the main branch and back to the trunk. Do this on EVERY branch, making sure the lights are laying in the middle of the row of branches. When you are done with the layer, move up, but always move up at the trunk. Never connect a new string of lights aat the front of the branch. Make sure you wrap loosely and don’t mess up your shaping job you did earlier.

If you string lights like the diagram on every layer, your tree will look amazingly full AND you will not be able to see the light cords (well just barely).

I hope this helps save at least one tree from a fate of looking ugly for the holidays. Feel free to let me know if this has helped at all by leaving a comment!

A matter of meat perspective

At Christmas dinner, eating a 2lb hunk of rib roast in front of your friends and family is gluttony. But, in front of a television on a Tuesday night with two dogs, it is responsible left over management.

Beef. It's what's for dinner.
Beef. It's what's for dinner.

Barney, barney, barney

I won’t begrudge any dog his day, but what is the point of a Barney Christmas video every year? Is it some private joke I just don’t get?

Meanwhile, the economy is in the tank, we’re still mired down in the Middle East, gas prices are on the rise, oil production is being cut…. *sigh*

How the US Postal Service blows its brand every December

USPS Santa Letter Box at Englewood OH 45322
USPS Santa Letter Box at Englewood OH 45322
Every December, Santa hands the US Postal Service a shiny new opportunity to rebrand itself as a lovable, caring organization that is an integral part of all 43,000+ Zip Codes it services. Every year, the USPS blows it terribly.

I found myself in the Englewood OH 45322 Post Office last Friday about 4:00pm. Ironically enough, I had forgotten it was Christmas and there might be a line. There was. But that was a good thing because it gave me an opportunity to look around, read all the signs on the walls, thumb through the FBI wanted sheets, straighten the certified mail postcards and Priority Mail envelopes and stickers. And then, I noticed a wrapped box on top of the glass case.

It was a box so kids can drop in their letters to Santa Claus. In truth, it was a spare box somebody found in the back. Perhaps another employee went to Big Lots and bought the cheapest wrapping paper they could find with Santa faces all over it, wrapped it hastily, punched a hole in the top and wrote “Santa Letters” on a card and glued it to the top.

What it should be is an opportunity that comes once a year that every postal employee is excited to be a part of.

What it should be is a old-tyme mail box, encrusted with candy canes and icicles, covered in snow with reindeer prints leading up to it.

What it should be is a production for every kid in the Zip Code area to go to their local Post Office to drop their one and only Santa letter into the magical mail box that only comes out the Friday after Thanksgiving and goes away when the post office closes the day before Christmas Eve.

What it should be is a tradition that kids mark on their calendar like an Easter egg hunt, their birthday and Santa coming down the chimney on Christmas Eve.

The US Post Office — in Englewood, Oh anyway — has taken an opportunity to market itself for free and turned the Santa drop into an obligatory wrapped box, stuck on a glass counter, too high for most kids to reach and too nondescript for them to care about.

Don’t worry, Postmaster General John E. Potter, this little pesky holiday will be over in eleven days and all your postal workers can get back to work and quit worrying about kids coming in wanting to mail their letters to Santa Claus.

What are the little brats doing running around a post office anyways. Don’t they know there are lines to stand in, postal standards to adhere to and stupid questions about perishable or hazardous materials to answer?

Bonus Material:
This is some bonus material that was knocking around my brain, was kinda related, too much for a tweet and not enough for another blog post, so here goes.

Other unfriendly stuff I saw while waiting in line: FBI wanted sheets, sign that said: passports by appointment only! Hours: 10am-2pm, no Fridays, sign that said in all caps NO DOGS! (presumably cats are ok), a long list of crap we can’t mail, the rules of standing in line, including no cell phones… and the ever ubiquitous, but entirely unnecessary barking when it is your turn… “NEXT!!!!!!!!!!!!” *sigh*