Archive for December, 2010

Theme for a decade: It’s a small world, after all


Tonight we say goodbye to 2010 and also to the decade, depending upon how you count it.  A couple of days after Christmas my husband and I went to Disneyland because I wanted to see Small World decorated for the holidays.  I didn’t realize that quite by accident, I may have stumbled upon the theme of our next decade.  Perhaps of our last decade, also.  Now, more than ever, it’s a small world.

Mention the Disney ride It’s a Small World, and people will go ballistic on you, saying I hate that ride. I’ll never go on that ride again.  I can’t stop singing that song afterwards.  Drives me crazy. I say ok, the melody can be annoying, but there could be worse songs to have stuck in your head.  Here are the lyrics:

it’s a world of laughter, a world or tears
its a world of hopes, its a world of fear
theres so much that we share
that its time we’re aware
its a small world after all

its a small world after all
its a small world after all
its a small world after all
its a small, small world

There is just one moon and one golden sun
And a smile means friendship to everyone.
Though the mountains divide
And the oceans are wide
It’s a small small world.

There’s so much that we share. One moon, one sun for everyone. Smiles are universal. Get with the program and understand that we’re truly all in it together in our small interconnected world.

Having those lyrics heard round the world and resonating in your head could be pretty positive if people would stop and internalize the message because we don’t need peace on earth, goodwill to men only during the holidays. By internalize I mean stop a moment and look at the person in the car next to you, in line next to you, standing on the street corner or passed out in the gutter, over the border, over your back fence, cutting in line, waiting in the emergency room.  You don’t have to like that person, approve of that person, or believe in the same things, but you do need to remember that that person was brand new once, a baby who cried, ate, pooped, crawled, smiled – babies all over the world did the same things.  Every one of those babies had at least one person who loved him or her, and wished for a better life for that child, whether in America or France or Iran or China or in any other country. And now those babies are all those other people who started with the same aspirations.  Some are advocating hatred, killing and committing crimes, behaving like bad people, but the vast majority are going about their daily business just trying to get by, or maybe make the world a better place.

Sometimes I think peace could be achieved in the Middle East if we just put everyone in the same room and waited until they started to talk and find out the other person wasn’t so very different in what they wanted after all.


Back in the early 1960s, Walt Disney – a visionary if ever there was one – put the stamp of arrpoval on developing this ride, this message.  It was debuted at the 1964 New York World’s Fair and moved to Disneyland in 1966, the year Walt Disney died. Disney always looked to the future and his message here, camouflaged in the guise of happy little dolls, cannot be improved upon.

So we found ourselves at It’s a Small World, got in the boat, and there was that song.  Wait, no, we were hearing Christmas songs and the entire ride was decorated for Christmas (which is why I wanted to see it – I love spectacle.)  I took pictures which I’ll share, even the ones that aren’t crisp and clear because we were, after all, in a moving boat full of people.  The ride was worth the trip. We loved it. The next photo I am thinking of as the winds of change.

Light up the night: at the Mission Inn, 3.5 million lights will have to do


Yesterday I wrote about the Mission Inn at Christmas – during the day.  Now it’s night time.  I really wanted to see this, and if you take a look at yesterday’s post, you’ll see how we ended up here.

This is what I wrote about the Mission Inn at Christmas in a post last year: The Inn has an annual Festival of Lights and it must be really something.  Nearly 3.5 million lights and hundreds of holiday characters are put up by 15 full-time employees who work for over two months on this alone!  Parts of the Inn are decorated in different themes:  Spanish, Victorian, nutcrackers, Santa’s Workshop, etc

We went outside at dusk, waiting to see the lights go on.

Nothing thrilling yet.

Whoopee!  We walked around the building, which takes up a city block.

I don’t care how blase or jaded you are, there is something magic about a Cinderella carriage ride.

It was amazing to sit in the hot tub and look at all the lights in the pool area.  We were the only ones there, also – our own private spa!

The next day we were off in search of more lights – this time, at Disneyland!  Stay tuned.

The Mission Inn at Christmas


On Christmas Day, we bolted.  We had breakfast with one daughter and family after which they left town until today.  The other two daughters were in Colorado.  The thought of Christmas Day without kids and grandkids was terrifying, so Mark and I had our own adventure.  A year or so ago we went to a cousin’s wedding in Riverside and we stayed at the Mission Inn. It was a random choice.  If you click on the link, you can see what the hotel looks like normally, and read some of the history, too.  It’s very interesting.

Let’s start at the beginning, however.  Leaving home.  I was particularly tired because I’d done the big family Christmas Eve dinner the night before (although this year there were only 18 people) – and it was a looong time before we found a Starbucks.  All  the way in Adelanto.  But the ride from Bakersfield up Highway 58 through Tehachapi and down to the Mojave desert is pretty cool.  I took photos from the moving car because – well, just because.  Too tired to stop I guess.

There’s a new addition in the car – the Garmin, sharing space with the hula girl, a gecko and a tchotchke a friend brought from Dubrovnik or someplace around there.  The Garmin was so helpful and easy to use.  By pushing enough buttons, I figured it out.

I know we’re in Tehachapi here because I can see windmills on the mountains.

Looking back, you can see all the airplanes put to rest at what was the Mojave Airport but is now the Mojave Air and Space Port.  You might want to check the link because it’s actually a famous place on the leading edge of aviation research.  It’s where the Voyager was developed (now in the Smithsonian) and where SpaceShipOne was developed.    The company that built SpaceShipOne is Scaled Composites, owned by Burt Rutan, and SpaceShipOne won the Ansari X prize – ten million dollars to the first private rocket that flew – well, click on the link.  This post is about the Mission Inn.

Continuing the journey.  Kern County is also home to the famous Edwards Air Force Base and although I’ve been there several times for tours, air shows and to see the shuttle land, here’s something I hadn’t ever noticed.

Up there on top of the mountain are rocket testing sites – my husband actually saw one launched once.  And I didn’t notice until I examined the photo, there’s a vortag – that white thing – which is an aircraft navigation beacon.

We also passed a very small desolate looking town in the middle of nowhere.

So, let’s get to the point.  The Mission Inn.

You can look back at the old post to see the entrance, etc.  These are just a few photos for comparison at Christmas.  For example, this spiral staircase had garlands and wreaths.  It’s a rickety (seeming) set of steps and I’d hate to be the person hanging these.

Looking down at this fountain from last time,  you’ll see a little boy as a ring bearer looking in.  This time, poinsettias.

It was lovely to see the touches of Christmas everywhere.

I should clarify that the Mission Inn has nothing to do with missions.  In fact, Riverside doesn’t even have a mission.

The entrance and outdoor walkways were full of animated figures like these, elves, etc.

There is something wonderful about poinsettias and the way they make even the drabbest place look festive.  This place is anything but drab.

Looking down into the Mexican restaurant.  I think there are giant nutcrackers back there.

Balconies on many levels were lined with angels, and at night when the lights went on, they moved their heads and arms.  Actually, it was a bit creepy.  But nice.  I can never see angel figures without thinking of Baruch and Balthamos. the poignant angel couple in the His Dark Materials trilogy who were deeply in love with eachother.

We had dinner in the Spanish Patio which is quite lovely.  It was cloudy, and we just beat the rain.  As we were finishing, drops began to fall.  I zoomed to the room for my swim suit and then zoomed to the hot tub, because I love to get in hot tubs in the rain.

We ate dinner quite late.  Earlier, we had a martini in the Presidential Lounge (find the other post and read the history – this was built for TR) and watched the lights start going on inside.

Here’s a random photo.  In the lovely pedestrian area on one side of the hotel, there is an outdoor ice rink!  I don’t know how many days or when it is operational, but it’s a nice touch.

Stay tuned for tomorrow night – the Mission Inn at night.  3.5 million Christmas lights in one place!  This was the spectacle I came to see.  And my husband, wonderful man that he is, gamely agreed to come although I am sure it wasn’t his first choice of activities.

Gift for the grandkids – I’ll never outdo this one


I must say, I was inspired this year.  I doubt I’ll ever think of a gift as good as this one for my grandkids.  I started by thinking that gift cards were the most useful gift, and although not boring to get, they are boring to give.  So what could I do to fix that?

Being a photographer (at least in my mind), I of course thought photos.  And personalizing, so I took a look at Shutterfly and Kodak to see what they were offering this year in the way of calendars.  I found desk calendars, and just like that, a thought was born.

These were for the Bakersfield Seven, so I made each one a “page.”  First was Danny, the oldest.  To see each page better, click on the photo to enlarge it and then arrow back to the main page.

This was the plan, then.  Line each page with photos from events during the year that had been memorable or fun, and put a gift certificate on each page.  For example, on Danny’s Page I wrote something about it being cold outside so go get some hot chocolate at Starbucks.  Each kid got exactly the same gift cards on every page.

February was “Ali’s Page.” I said to get something sweet because Valentine’s Day was coming up, and put a Coldstone gift certificate on.

March was Sarah and itunes to put a little music in your life.

April was Daxton’s page and a Ross gift card.  Remember, every grandkid got every gift card.

May was Sophie and the movies.

June was Joe and Barnes and Noble.

July was Xavier and Jamba Juice

Uh oh, I had run out of Bakersfield grandkids – so I started going through the families.

August was the Smith/Castellanos’ and a Target gift card for school supplies.

September was the Constantine’s and a Dick’s Sporting Goods gift card.  I tried to match card to month.  In September, it’s getting ready for sports.

October was the Davies and Subway.

November was the Davies Four and Michael’s for a little holiday creativity.

And December was Gramser and Gramp with a $20 bill to help with Christmas.

This was so much fun – and I wanted to share it so you could all use this idea on somebody.

And there was a cover.

Limos, lights- a Christmas visit to CALM (California Living Museum)


Here in Bakersfield, CA we have a place called CALM – California Living Museum.  Each year for the holidays, CALM is decorated with millions of lights.  Josh Barnett, whose company is Lightasmic, designs the show, which is a fundraiser for the museum.  Josh started doing lights as a teenager here in Bakersfield and now his company does displays all over the country.  It’s just stunning, and I hope everyone in Bakersfield has been at least once.

We’ve been going for many years, taking the grandkids.  Now the Bakersfield Seven are teenagers – all but one, but we still go.  This year I had a surprise in mind.

Yep, I rented a limo.

We tried to go in the limo and really enjoyed it for the first five minutes, until the limo broke down.  You know, those things happen, and we went ahead and took our cars.

We spent a little while just sitting in the limo, though, as we parked and waited near a cleaners.  This led to lots of joking about being on a stake-out looking for laundered money.

We got the limo from The Limousine Scene – I had it reserved, then it rained for three days and three nights, CALM was closed, I canceled the limo, and the rain stopped and CALM opened.  I tried to rebook and it was so last minute  – but these folks worked like crazy to get us a limo and driver.  It was a beautiful limo even if it broke down – that could happen to anyone anywhere.  Next time we hire a limo (like we do this all the time, right?) we will call Limousine Scene again.  I think they’re even making it good by giving us credit even though we didn’t have to pay.

So we got to CALM.

The dinosaurs were first, as well they should be.

I was sorry the Colorado Four weren’t here.  Jackson loves dinosaurs.  We’ve taken them before, but since Sam is brand new (almost two months old) the Colorado group didn’t come out for Christmas.  The T-rex was animated by the way.

Stegosaurus is my favorite dino, and then triceratops.  Why do I like those two?  I have no idea.

I am really truncating the exhibit – I have so many more photos than I’m showing but this ought to be enough to get folks out there before Jan. 31.  So into the Congo Safari…

Many of the exhibits are animated.  For example, this monkey climbs the tree and drops the coconut.

It really is a wonderland out there.

This was the most important place. Ali was bathed in purple light but we’re not calling her Purple Ali. (I never did figure out why Kelly on Survivor was called Purple Kelly.)

Jen took the obligatory group photo.

At least Jen made it into a picture, here with Sarah.  Martians.  Actually, I was happy with the photos since I didn’t take my tripod.

Xavier wanted his photo with the penguin.

So that’s our CALM journey.  Bako folks, get yourself out there before it closes.

Small treasures in the rain


After three days and three nights of rain in a row, we had a day without.  Then it rained again.  But it hasn’t been cold, and it’s been so exciting to run around in the rain and get wet! We have a yearly average of 4.6 inches or something pathetic like that.  Once I got over huge puddles turning into lakes, I started to notice small things like drops of rain.  I took pictures, all in our yard.

I think that the plants are happy to feel water and get washed clean after the dry dusty summer.  They must feel rejuvenated.

It’s amazing – the infinite number of photo possibilities in the same little group of berries, or seeds, or whatever the little brown balls are.

The leaves are gone except for the lone brown leaf trying to hang on.  And the green – what’s that about?

The rain drops give a new look to old things.

It would be interesting to follow fall across the country.

Or maybe just follow it in my own backyard.

The Big Rain: Riverlakes Golf Course lives up to its name


Somewhere around 6.4 inches is our annual rainfall in Bakersfield, CA.  We might hit that in one week at this rate – it’s been raining steadily for three days and three nights and no one can remember that happening before.  We’ve had almost 4 inches.  We might get a break of 30 minutes or so, but for us, this is an incredible amount of water.

We live on the Riverlakes Golf Course, and it finally is living up to its name.  Both the river and the lake part.

There is a small lake that belongs here somewhere, but it’s obliterated by the larger lake that’s formed.

Everyone jokes (I think they’re joking) that people in Bakersfield will have ocean-front property when the Big One (earthquake) comes and the current coastline drops off into the sea.  Well, we don’t have to wait for that because the people in those houses back there found they now have waterfront property.

I know people are thinking, big deal.  She thinks that’s a lot of water?  For us, it really is.  The section of the Kern River that runs through town actually has water in it!

This is where the river part comes in.  See all that water meandering through the golf course as if it’s a river that is always there, thank you very much?

For some reason, watching these ducks walk across their new lake cracked me up.

Before we moved to the golf course we did live on an actual lake in Riverlakes.  We’re renting the house out  but we drove by to see how it was faring in the deluge.  The water is up to our docks and this was yesterday.  Didn’t look today.  Actually, maybe we looked day before yesterday.  It’s hard to recall as all these rainy days run one into another.

Glancing at this, you might think it’s swift current running over rocks in a river.  But it’s the lake water rushing over the drain.  The water is so full today that the lake manager called us to warn the renter to loosen the lines, and as the water recedes, make sure the boat isn’t on the dock!

Actually, there’s been quite a bit of flooding around town.  You can see images here.  I’m sure you can find other images of flooding all over the area, including into homes.  This just never happens here!

The adventure continues as it’s still raining and more predicted throughout the week.  Wow.  I don’t know how much more water the ground can absorb.  Our yard is just mush right now, the pond is overflowing, and I bet the frogs are drowning.

Ornaments Part 4: A history of a life continues


Wow.  It’s Friday December 17.  Next Friday is Christmas Eve.  This is the way it happens every year – the planning is so much fun, I always think I’m ready early, and then boom! still have the newsletters to send out, etc.  But this year I am in good shape.  Now it’s time to enjoy.

I have a few more ornaments to talk about.  Not that they are that significant or important, but just because I got started on this as a way to take a walk through a life.  Now I see that if I’d taken them chronologically, I would have a timeline.

Yes, it is.  It’s a Starbucks ornament.  I’ve spent many pleasurable hours in Starbucks with family and friends. This is a nice reminder.  Although it’s now a reminder of how pricey it’s getting there.  Doesn’t keep me out, though.  I just get less expensive drinks.

THIS is precious.  My three girls went to elementary school at Franklin in downtown Bakersfield.  It was a great school, great teachers, and just a block from our house.  In those days, the “old” days, the school had a Secret Shop.  I don’t know, perhaps the PTA sponsored it, but my kids shopped there.  One year one of them gave me this – it’s lost a few reindeer along the way but I put it out every Christmas.  Something about the tacky plastic santa and sleigh, and the beauty the kids must have found in it, makes it so precious.  I have something else they purchased at that Secret Shop – a shoehorn that hung on a hook.  It has an Old West look to it.  I use it all the time.  That plastic shoehorn is as tough as the West it emulated.

The Mouse King.  Nutcracker.  As a child I played the music over and over.  When we moved to Bakersfield we started going to see the Civic Dance Center production of Nutcracker.  This is an amazing ballet school and their production is just the best – nothing amateur about it.  Also, they dance with live music from the Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra.  The dance studio is owned by Cindy and Kevin Trueblood.  When I was teaching 7th grade at Fruitvale, along came a student one year named Mason Trueblood.  He is Cindy and Kevin’s son and the most delightful young man you can imagine.  Funny, too.  And a beautiful, accomplished dancer.  I watched Maso (as I called him) play many roles in the productions.

Why did I call him Maso? Because on a standardized test, he asked why his name showed as Maso.  The answer was easy – there wasn’t enough room for the “N” to print.  And a nickname was born.  And see how much of a story I can get from the ornament of the mouse king?

I first saw the wiener mobile at Stop and Shop Market in Studio City, where I grew up.  It was thrilling!  To see a big truck shaped like a hot dog is almost a fantasy, but there it was.  So when Hallmark put out this ornament, I had to buy it.  It even plays the song: “Oh I wish I was an Oscar Meyer wiener, that is what I’d truly like to be.  Cause if I was an Oscar Meyer wiener, everyone would be in love with me.”  Strangely enough, one of my grandkids saw the wiener mobile just the other day here in Bakersfield.  That was marketing genius – 50 some years later, still chugging along.

This is the last ornament I’ll write about.  Jackie Robinson.  Oh the memories this evokes on so many levels.  First, baseball itself.  I’ve been a Dodger fan since they were the Brooklyn Dodgers and Jackie Robinson wowed the world as the first black man to play major league baseball.  Robinson was a marvel – quiet and dignified, an elegant player with a sort of pigeon-toed walk.

Next level is the historic Jackie Robinson.  I coached teams of students in a national competition called History Day for many years.  The competition has three levels – local, state and national.  My marvelous principal at Fruitvale Jr. High, John Hefner, was big on history day.  He did lots of things last minute but they always worked.  One day I was standing outside his office and he poked his head out and asked me to come in.  Three students were in there and John told me they were doing history day, they needed a topic.  I said oh no, John, I wasn’t coaching history day this year.  Oh, he understood, but would I just give some ideas? That day was the deadline for entry forms and this group needed a topic.  Ok, I said, – Branch Rickey.  Who was Branch Rickey? The Brooklyn Dodgers general manager responsible for integrating baseball.   Without Branch Rickey, there would have been no Jackie Robinson.  So Branch Rickey it was.

I did end up coaching the project.  As I type this I’m cuddled in a blanket made for me by the kids, a blanket of baseball material and fleece and signed by the three.  Another memory.  But the project itself – heaven for a baseball fan.  We had a video conference and tour with a historian in Cooperstown at the Baseball Hall of Fame.  We interviewed Branch Rickey’s nephew; Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s widow; Buzzie Bavasi, a consummate baseball man who was with the Dodgers; Don Newcombe, the second black man to play in the bigs, the list goes on and on.  The kids went all the way to nationals.

The next layer of memory is about this ornament itself.  Jacob George, a fellow teacher at Fruitvale, was also a baseball fan and he coached history day.  He saw how much the project meant to me and he gave me this ornament.  It was his and he so generously gave it to me.  Jacob moved on to another job up north, and I’ve lost touch with him.  But Jacob, if you should ever by a small miracle read this, I’m so grateful still for the gift of this ornament.

This plus the last three posts are just a smattering of the dozens of ornaments on the window, all of them telling stories.  And now that I’ve started, I think I’ll continue for myself so the kids will know what these all are – if they should one day care.  Plus – I’ll have this to remember from when I wonder myself why I have something.

Season’s greetings to everyone, whoever you are and whatever you celebrate.  We celebrate Christmas and Chanukah, but my theory is, you can never have too many celebrations!

Ornaments Take Three


More ornament stories.

I bought this in 1971 in Malaga, Spain.  It’s a little set of a chair, hat, castenets and also a guitar.  I don’t know what it was intended for, but I use it as a Christmas ornament.  In 1971 we were in the Peace Corps in Oujda, Morocco.  Oujda is on the Algerian border and about 60 kilometers from the crossing to Spain.  There’s actually a small town on the Moroccan coast, Melilla, that is part of Spain.

So – it was cold.  We had no heat and we could see our breath inside the house.  We moved the stove into the bedroom and tried to keep warm by having the oven on all day, but it was a very small oven and ineffective.  We moved our dining table into the bedroom also.  The table consisted of a wide board on bricks and cushions for the floor.  That arrangement worked until I spilled a pot of soup I was cooking on our very small, light three-burner stove,  all over our bed.  And it took so damn long for anything to dry!  We hung our laundry in the living room all winter and it took days to dry.

I was pregnant, cold, and not real thrilled, so we decided to take a boat to Malaga for the day.  We got the cheapest tickets for the overnight trip and oh boy, was that ever a mistake.  We must have been in the very worst part of the ship.  There was a bunk bed – Jennifer probably slept on the top, but I don’t recall.  The only thing that I remember was that I threw up all night long.  My dear long-suffering husband took care of me.

But Malaga was warm! Oh it was nice to let warmth seep into our bones.  I remember looking in stores, Jennifer playing at a park, seeing the bull fighting ring, but I have no recollection of whether we spent the night or not nor do I remember the return trip.

That’s a lot to get out of one Christmas ornament, isn’t it?

Ah, the shoes.  Michael Purcell gave this ornament to me a few years ago just for fun.  Why? Remember when Bush was giving a speech in some Arab country and a guy threw his shoes at him?  The oddest bits and pieces of history stick, and inconsequential as it was, it’s now history.  I think many people will remember the shoe incident.

Ah, Jean Luc.  I taught 5th grade at Voorheis School and Tracy Elder had the other 5th grade class.  She is very sweet and generous, always picking up things at yard sales and so on that she knows other people will like.  She found Jean Luc Picard and gave him to me.  This was a moment of high excitement and I am eternally grateful to Tracy for this.  Yes, I’m a trekkie.

And while we’re on the subject…I bought this last year.  All you original Star Trek viewers, remember The Trouble with Tribbles?  It was a favorite for so many.  When you push the button on the ornament, the tribbles bounce around and parts of Kirk’s dialogue from the episode play.  This year’s new ornament is from the episode where Kirk and Spock were forced to fight each other, and the music that plays is so corny!  It’s amazingly terrible, but so wonderful too.  Mark and I watched Star Trek avidly and we probably have every episode of The Next Generation memorized.

The space shuttle.  An astronaut.  These probably came from the Smithsonian catalog years ago.  They tell me about my youth.  We were always excited about the space program.  I remember Dad waking us up when Sputnik was overhead, even if it was in the middle of the night.  It was so exciting! To run outside on the lawn (there goes the crazy family again) and watch for the little speck to move across the sky.  Mark and I of course watched every second of the moon landing, and we got up to see launches on television no matter what time.  That meant we saw the tragedies also.  The shuttle lands here in Kern County at Edwards Air Force Base when weather prevents it from landing in Florida.  When Ali was just over one, we were babysitting and heard that the shuttle would be landing.  We jumped in the car and drove the hour plus to Edwards, made it on time, and watched the shuttle land on Rogers Dry Lake bed.  Wow.  I don’t know if Ali observed anything but we marveled at how quickly the shuttle dropped in – really, it is as if it drops in, it loses altitude so quickly.  Great day.

One more for tonight.

Glennwood Hot Springs.  Soon after Karen and Steve moved to Colorado, we headed out on a spring break, taking Ali and Daxton with us.  One day we drove up to Glennwood Springs to see the caverns and swim in the hot springs.  I’ll always remember all of us taking a tour of the caverns – except Jackson, who was screaming his head off.  I believe Steve stayed out with Jackson.  The hot springs were wonderful but Karen didn’t go in – she was pregnant.  Karen’s spent a lot of time being pregnant.  Good trip though.  I’ll always remember Ali’s amazement when we went up the mountain on an aerial tramway.  She didn’t know we’d be going up so high, and so high off the ground.

Good memories.  Even Jackson’s screaming fit.

Ornaments tell a story, part 2


Yesterday I started a little series on Chrismas ornaments and how they tell stories.  How every year when I hang ornaments on our window, I replay the particular occasion that the ornament brings to mind.  I put this photo in yesterday, but in case you missed it, I’ll do it again because we don’t have a tree, we have a window.

So, a few more stories.

When I taught at Fruitvale Jr. High my lunch was fifth period.  About ten of us had 5th period lunch and we became a close group.  We always ate in the lunch room.  I didn’t allow anyone to eat lunch in their classroom while they worked.  Not that I was in charge or anything, but it just seemed important.  I know when new teachers started they must have wondered who the lunatic was who thought she was the boss.  But soon they realized we had a good thing going.  We pulled the tables together and talked, laughed, and learned.  There was no griping or complaining or gossiping allowed.  Our 5th period lunch bunch was legendary (or else it’s a legend in my own mind) and we gave each other little goodies at Christmas.  Lori Maynard, who taught history, gave out these tin seahorses one year.  Lori and I both coached history day and we spent lots of time together traveling to the state and national competition.  We don’t see each other now because she’s still teaching and I’m not, but I remember Lori every time I put out this decoration.  I think I’ll call her for lunch soon.

We went to China right before the Beijing Olympics.  It was a wonderful trip – a National Geographic Expedition and boy, did they do it up right.  I bought this little Olympic mascot doll to hang on the window.  You can see a pagoda hanging next to it – another of those Cost Plus ornaments I talked about yesterday.

I used to go to Lugano, Switzerland to visit William Jordan, a student of mine in 7th and 8th grade who went to high school in Lugano.  I went the first year for a long weekend.  Was I crazy? Perhaps.  But a friend of mine surprised his wife on their anniversary one year with a long weekend in Paris.  If they could go to Europe for a few days, so could I!  And I did.  The second year, however, I realized it was a bit much for a weekend so I added three days in Venice by myself.  I took a tour of the Doge’s Palace and afterwards, out front, found these cute little puppets at a cheesy souvenir stand.  I bought some for everyone and decided to give them out as ornaments.  Who knows – maybe that’s what they were designed to be – but they always make me remember that trip.

There’s something else it reminds me of, too.  I booked a room in a small little place I found in the Rick Steves tour book.  After checking in, I set out for a walk to get an idea of the surroundings, and when I decided it was time to head back, I realized I had no idea what the name of the place was or where it was – and no business card or anything!   I didn’t really panic because I realized Venice is very small and it’s an island so I was bound to stumble upon it sometime. I started walking until I saw places that looked familiar – and I’ll tell you, my lifetime habit of taking note of my surroundings really paid off. I did find my room without too much difficulty – no small feat, but I did it.

This star was a gift from my dear friend Michael Purcell.  He’d gone to Santa Fe and brought this ornament back.  I remember lots more that I won’t discuss, because it became a very painful time in Michael’s life.  It all worked out, and I see the ornament as a testament to resiliency and the human spirit.

Ah, this bedraggled kitten in a mitten.  I fell in love with it as a twisted version of the Three Little Kittens who lost their mittens.  And I bought it in a Christmas store on the Outer Banks in North Carolina.  Christmas stores that were open all year weren’t so common then – it must have been 1974 – but we had good years in North Carolina and great trips to the Outer Banks, so that store provided me with lots more than a kitten in a mitten.  It’s provided me with memories of our three years in North Carolina.

Yes, it’s a key chain and I really didn’t need a key chain but I determined it could go on the Christmas window.  When Ali, my 16-year-old granddaughter was in 7rh grade, she and a friend made a video documentary for History Day on Fannie Lou Hamer.  Hamer was a hero of the Civil Rights Movement and you can go right here on You Tube and watch their video  Take ten minutes to learn something about this remarkable woman.  Ali and Allie were invited to present their documentary at the Second Annual Conference of Mississippi Civil Rights Veterans, where it was well received.  This key chain has nothing to do with Fannie Lou Hamer, but it is from the Mississippi Museum of Natural History and it brings the entire experience to mind.  And it is a gecko, which again has nothing to do with Fannie Lou Hamer, but I like geckos.  I have a tattoo of a gecko on my back (my 60th birthday present to myself).

If you watch the video and want to contribute to a fund for a statue to honor this woman, go to  You can give as little or as much as you want.

Ok last one today.

Two gold birds.  Three years ago was my parent’s 65th wedding anniversary and I planned a big party.  I went all out with decorations and these gold birds I believe I used on the napkins.  It was an amazing event if I do say so, so now I put the birds on the Christmas window not just as a reminder of the party, but as a testament to a long and happy marriage.  My parents just celebrated their 68th.

More tomorrow.