Tag Archives: Holiday

The Angel and the Duckling: A Holiday Story (okay, not really)

There was a time when I had very few ornaments. Now we have far too many to actually put on a Christmas tree, but there are two that I’ve had since I was a child that always grace the tree and will always do so as long as I have the strength to decorate a tree. They are also the ugliest ornaments we own. And truth be told, one is not really an ornament.

ugly angel ornament
The Christmas Tree Fairy (click to get a good look at what is left of her rash-inducing hair)

The first ornament was, at one time, the angel that sat on top of the tree when I was a child. I loved that angel. It was beautiful. It had the softest, whitest hair I’d ever seen. To me it was Christmas — or the promise of Christmas.

One year my parents gave into my begging to take the angel to bed with me. I held her tight and slept with her all night long. In the morning I awoke to a bright red itching rash on my face, neck and arms. At first my parents didn’t know what was wrong, but eventually figured it out. The beautiful angel’s hair was made of spun glass and while I slept, bits of it must have broken off and pierced my skin, leaving the rash.

ugly duck decoration
Kevin’s first gift to me. Don’t bother clicking — it doesn’t get any better looking at a large size.

I still loved the angel, though, but never asked to take it to bed with me again. As the years went by the angel lost much of its beauty, including most of its hair and both wings. When I moved out on my own my mother gave me the angel for my tree and we always put her near the top of the tree just before we add the Christmas Fairy to the very top.

The second ugly ornament was, at one time, a fluffy duck with googly eyes. It was the first thing my brother ever gave me. He didn’t know he gave it to me because he’d just been born. My father picked it up in the hospital gift shop so I could have a present from my baby brother. I must have played with it a lot through the years, it must have meant a lot to me or why else would I have kept it once the eyes fell off and the bill wore away?

This ugly ducking is always one of the first decorations on our Christmas tree each year and, like the rash-giving angel, will continue to be placed on the tree for as long as I am around.

I love most of my Christmas decorations, but these two will always have a special place in my heart.

Opinion: Google+ Gifs (or My gifs to You)

Warning — if you are at all sensitive to quickly moving animations, turn your images off now….

Back sometime in late June or early July I noticed something strange on my Google+ photos: many of them moved. And they were not videos. I did some investigating and discovered that Google was making gifs out of my photos. Without my knowledge or permission. Not that it was that important, but I really hate animated gifs. I thought they were ugly in the 1990s and I think they are ugly in 2013. They are distracting and take away all semblance of professionalism.

What Google was / is doing is taking photos that were shot within seconds of each other and stitching them together to make mini-animations. For instance I took a bunch of photographs of various family members holding my grand-nephew at a family picnic and when I saw them on my Google+ page the photos were all part of a new photo/animation/gif. (although the photos were there as well)

Jill and Preston with grumpy Dean int he background
Jill and Preston with grumpy Dean in the background
Jill, Preston, Brandon, Ashley, Steven
Jill, Preston, Brandon, and Ashley

When I took a lot of photos of the flower girls and other children dancing at a wedding Google+ made a rather cute animation. (okay, not all the gifs are bad)

Dancing flowergirls
Dancing flower girls
Dancing flowergirls
Dancing flower girls

Then, a week or so ago I took a photo of Rupert in front of a snowy scene. What did Google+ do? Made it snow in front of Rupert. In the house.

Rupert in the snow.
Rupert in the snow.

A few days later I took a photo of a Christmas tree in Bethesda. Google made the lights twinkle. (okay, that was kinda cool).

Estrogen Alley tree
Estrogen Alley tree

I took a photograph of our Christmas tree, and again, Google made the lights twinkle.

Christmas tree
Our Twinkly Christmas Tree

So, while I don’t like most of the stitched together gifs, I don’t mind the twinkles.

Merry Christmas!

Saint Bah Humbug

It's Valentine's Day! Again? Bah Humbug. Love, Clutch Cargo LipsI didn’t always dislike Valentine’s Day. In elementary school, when we used to exchange Valentine’s Day cards, I remember being excited to chose particular cards for whatever boy I happened to like that year and to read more into the messages of the cards I received from those same boys than was actually there. The mere act of inserting the small white envelopes into the handmade “mail boxes” of each student was exciting as was opening each card and reading the name on the back, then taking them home and sharing my excitement with my mom after school.

When I was a teacher, Valentine’s Day was one of those days that we often turned over to “room mothers” for planning, at least in public school. It was always a party day and the kids got high on too much sugar and anticipation. It was nowhere near as bad as Halloween (or the day after Halloween).

When I was a mother of young children, the days preceding Valentine’s Day created an anxiety in me second only to Halloween. At least I didn’t need to create two costumes. I did, however, have to make sure my kids got exactly the Valentine’s Day card packs to send their friends then get after them to write their names on the cards and address them to the children in their classes. I also often needed to send in a baked product for the Valentine’s Day party.

My husband and I usually exchange cards and small gifts on Valentine’s Day and I sometimes make a special meal for him. His cards are usually silly ones and mine used to be romantic. Last year his was romantic and mine was silly. We never go out for Valentine’s Day but we did once and it was a disaster.

It was when we were first dating and I assumed that all couples went out for Valentine’s Day — like it was an unwritten law. He, however, didn’t think this way and felt pushed into a situation in which he was uncomfortable. The evening was memorable in that my date was obviously angry for being there. After that I never pressured him into celebrating Valentine’s Day and this year I said we should do nothing. No cards. No flowers. No chocolates. No special meal either — he has Tae Kwon Do tonight.

Bah humbug.

The Story of the Kissing Clauses

One Christmastime, long, long ago there lived a schoolteacher. The schoolteacher had many students and these students came from many backgrounds. Many of the students gave small gifts to the schoolteacher as tokens of the holiday season. Some of the gifts the students gave the schoolteacher were handmade by parents. Some were bought at the dollar store. Some were purchased at department stores. Sometimes the parents spent too much on the gift for the schoolteacher. Sometimes they regifted something they’d been given. If the schoolteacher thought about the gifts years later, she would probably remember most of them and who she got them from. The school teacher may even keep some of the gifts she received from her students for many, many years.  Some because they are genuinely useful. Others because she has fond memories of the student who gave them to her. And then there are the gifts from students whose parents were sort of celebrities at one time.

The Kissing Clauses was such a gift. It was a set of salt and pepper shakers shaped like Mr and Mrs Claus. They were both slightly bent at the waist, lips all a-pucker, ready to kiss each other. Not really exceptional — the family most certainly did not spend too much on the schoolteacher, but it probably was not bought at the dollar store and probably was not regifted. It was an average teacher gift from a sweet 6th grade girl. A sweet 6th grade girl whose father was an attorney in one of the most public court cases of the year — Bill Clinton vs Paula Jones. He was on Paula Jones’ side.

One recent night when the [former] schoolteacher put up her Christmas decorations she could not find the Kissing Clauses. The schoolteacher could not imagine a Christmas with out the Kissing Clauses so she looked one last time and found, behind the doll house in the knee-wall of the attic, a box of more decorations. Breath held, fingers crossed, she opened the box and there, wrapped in tissue so they would not break, were the Kissing Clauses. Once again, all was right in the world.

Merry Christmas to my blogging friends. Kiss someone you love this season.

The Kissing Clauses
The Kissing Clauses

Oh yeah, Easter

We did celebrate Easter this year, unlike last year when I sort of forgot about it (except for the obligatory going to church thing and taking photos afterward). I remembered to decorate the house.

Oh look! there's a naked bunny in the yard.
Oh look! There's a naked bunny in the yard.
Help us! We're being held prisoner!
Help us! We're being held prisoner!

We also colored Easter Eggs:

Easter Egg Dye
Easter Egg Dye
Experimenting with vinegar (cider works as well as white -- shirt optional)

Had an Easter Egg hunt:

Who forgot to dust up here?
Who forgot to dust up here?
Dean really hid the eggs well
Dean really hid the eggs, oh well here's a gallon of Jelly Bellies(TM)

And finally, took the traditional after church photograph with lots of practice shots while we tried to remember how to use the self-timer:

No, I'm not taking a photo dear, says Dean.
"No, I'm not taking a photo yet," assured Dean.
"Ok, I think I've got it. Smile," called Dean.
"Ok, I think I've got it. Smile," called Dean. Andrew and Dona pose.
And again
And again
"Hmm," thinks Dona, "where's Clare for these photographs?"
"Hmm," thinks Dona, "where's Clare for these photographs?"

Finally! The three of us:

Happy Easter
Happy Easter

September already?

The nightmares have started early this year. I knew they’d come. They always do. In fact, as an incredulous young (and soon-to-be-a-father) Englishman overheard on New Year’s Eve, I discussed this reoccurring nightmare with a the hostess of the party.

Me: I’m so glad Christmas is over.
Alison (something like): Me too, it is so stressful
Me: I wonder when the nightmares will start — the ones where it is near the end of the year and I start panicking about Christmas
James (young and soon-to-be-a-father Englishman): Slow turn of his head and puzzled look.
Me to James: Yes, really. They usually start near the end of January.
James: Shakes head

Last night I dreamed that I remarked to someone that I couldn’t believe it was September already. Where did the year go, we wondered. Then I thought in the dream, only a few months until Christmas. The panic began to set in. I also recall thinking that maybe this year I should start shopping in September.

I wonder if these dreams might not really be about Christmas, but about life zooming by at an alarming rate. Either way, I’m relieved that it is only January 4th and not September 1st.

Merry Ex-Mas


We went “home” for Christmas. Just like the song says. We debated this plan because Andrew has wrestling practice over the winter break, but decided to go because I’d not seen my brother in a year and because Andrew wanted to.

Dona, slightly marinated in red wine.

We drove into Illinois on December 23, just as an ice storm was developing. We had a nice visit with my brother over pizza and beer. We awoke the next day to ice-sheathed trees, ice-covered walkways and ice-encrusted snow drifts. We normally spend Christmas eve with Dean’s family and this year was going to be unique because it was going to be held at Danny and Carol’s new home. However, not only were trees, walkways and snow covered in ice — so were power lines. The electricity to the new house was out and the celebration there was postponed.

Mom, relaxing. Happy to not cook.

So, instead of having a ham dinner at Carol’s we ate mediocre Greek food at Paul’s. At least the wait staff was friendly.

Since we stayed with my brother, Kevin, I thought that having dinner (cooked by Kevin and me) at his house would be the best plan. I didn’t plan on the ice storm. Or the flooded garage. Or the frozen turkey. And I’m a little confused (but not in a bad way) how we ended up celebrating Christmas with Kevin’s (first) ex-wife and her ex-boyfriend.

My mom doesn’t like to drive in bad weather, so the drive down and back was a little nerve wracking for her.

Everything worked out well, though. Jill (Kevin’s ex-wife) is a brilliant and resourceful cook. Too much meat (turkey breast, ham & rib roast) to cook in the one oven? No problem — pull out the grill. Result = delicious smokey flavored chicken breast and moist ham in addition to perfectly cooked stuffed rib-roast.

Gingerbread house

Jill’s ex-boyfriend, Devin, was the life of the party, alternately serving as DJ and practical joker (Kevin is still finding beer-bottle caps around his house).

Mom and Dad had a safe journey home and we spent the rest of the night building gingerbread houses, watching movies and finishing off the wine.

Sometimes traditions are what is needed, but occasionally spontaneous moments are just as rewarding.

He painted clothespin men…

I’ve written a bit about Jeremy here and there. We met on a student exchange. He lived in Yorkshire and I lived in Illinois. We were friends for several years and even talked of marrying someday. We visited back and forth for several years.

On one of his visits to Elgin we picked up a clothespin ornament kit from Lee Wards. It held paint, a paintbrush, clothespins, glue and felt as well as directions on how to assemble the ornaments. One evening — the evening before he was to go back to England — we assembled the ornaments.

Now if it were me, I would have made the faces basic. Two dots for the eyes, one dot for the nose and a curved line for the mouth. Not Jeremy. He was an artist. He gave the faces large, expressive eyes. He gave the faces freckles and cheekbones that blushed. He made even added knees to some of the ornaments. Arms occasionally wore wristwatches.

Being the not-an-artist of the pair I was assigned the task of gluing the felt clothes to the clothespin people — which turned out to be quite fun. We pretty much stayed up all night, but the results were awesome.

Jeremy fashioned several of the clothespin people after people in his life. Strangely, I was not turned into a clothespin person. Nor was my mom. But the rest of the family was as was his family. A couple times over.

He made a nurse that actually does look like his mom and a doctor that looked like his dad. His dad was also the hiker and I think Mrs. Claus was his mom. He made a policeman that could have been his brother Nick who was trying to become a British Constable. He made a cowboy that looked like my cousin Bob who was living with us at the time and who made our life a little hellish at times. He made a boy scout for my brother Kevin and a sailor for my dad. And no relation, but a common interest — the lumberjack held a bra (it since has been mostly lost).

A couple of years ago, after a decade or two of hinting, my mom finally gave me the ornaments and yesterday I put them on the tree.

The video below is about the artist L. S. Lowrey — an artist Jeremy introduced me to. The song was popular back then. Whenever I think about my clothespin men and women I think about this song.



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Christmas Tree Bird Count

Yeah, we got snow. Lots and lots of snow, but that didn’t stop me from birding this afternoon. I saw a surprising number of rarities for this time of year and for this area — must have been the Nor’easter.

The first bird I saw was very far from home. I am not sure of the exact species, but it sure was decked out in warm weather gear. You’d think he (or she) would be toasty in the above freezing temperatures here in Bethesda without all that warm weather gear.

Warmly dressed penguin

The second bird I spotted was a common resident here in all seasons, but most welcome in the winter after a snow when its red coloring is a vibrant contrast to the snow.

Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal

I was delighted to spot my third bird of the day. This one of my favorites and, not counting today, I’ve only seen them two other times in my life — and had to take a boat ride to do so.


The next bird was one I had trouble identifying because they are not found in the United States. I did see some similar species in Ireland, but even the Internet didn’t help. I think it is some sort of Tit.

Not sure -- A Blue Tit perhaps?
Some sort of Tit

The next bird is unidentifiable and nothing I’ve ever seen nor heard of. Based on its habitat I’m leaning towards albino cowbird. (and although not a bird, what IS that animal behind it?)

Not sure but better looking than the pig
Abino Cowbird

Again, another bird far from its natural setting. This one was quite shy and wouldn’t smile for the camera.

Pelican (Possibly Brown)

The next two birds look similar to the bird near the barn, above, but have double neck rings. They may be related, but probably are not the same species. I’m thinking they are a vagrant species blown in by the winter storm from Africa — given their symbiotic relationship with the fox. I’ve seen enough nature shows to know that Africa has a lot of birds that sit on backs of bigger animals. I wonder whose heart the birds are fighting over.

Not sure -- but they have a symbiotic relationship with that fox
Vagrant Species from Africa that eats hearts of animals

The next one is very familiar to me, although I don’t see it nearly often enough. It’s without a doubt my favorite bird. This one is lacking a little color, but it has enough identifying field marks for me to know what it is.

Cedar Waxwing
Cedar Waxwing

The next bird has no identifying marks at all. It may be the same species as the one by the barn, but its bill looks a lot different. In fact this one’s bill looks more like a warbler or titmouse, but its body shape is more like a junco. I have no clue though, as to its identity.

Little Brown Bird
Little beige bird

This next one is easy.

Pheasant perhaps

I was shocked to find this fellow — especially after already seeing one earlier in the day. This one was dressed even more strangely than the first.

Penguin in a Top Hat

This next one is also hard to identify. It has the crest of a Jay or Cardinal, but is pale yellow. I’m just going to guess though.

Not sure
Yellow white-capped jay

The next one was also something I’d never seen before. It looks a little like a starling.

Not sure
Iridescent golden-bellied starling

Couldn’t find the next one on the Internet either.

Not sure
Black-beaked glitter-winged turtle dove

This next one looks somewhat like a wren so I’ll take a guess.

Maybe a hummingbird?
Cactus Wren

You cannot see the crest on this one in the photo, but it’s there.

Blue Jay perhaps?
Blue Jay

I don’t know what this is, but I suspect it is a variety normally found in Europe. Maybe Gwen can help out. In the meantime I’ll name it myself.

Not sure
Red-belted zebra-backed thrush

The last bird I spotted today is one of the hardest to identify. It has no identifying marks and only the color and shape provide any clue to what it is.

Little Brown Bird
Little Brown Bird

Although I’d love to take credit for the idea behind this post, I’m going to come clean and admit that Birdchick did it last year.