Posts Tagged ‘decorations’

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.

We don’t have a Christmas tree; we have a window.


Many years ago we were struck with a thought: why did we buy dead trees every year and put them in our living room? And just like that, we stopped.  We devised a Christmas window.  Mark built a frame, we wound lights back and forth, and hung the ornaments.

Somehow, hanging the ornaments became more interesting and fun because we could really see each one and reflect on what it meant.  All our ornaments have a story – some funny, some poignant, some tragic, some satiric, some historic, but all with a story.  I thought I’d share just a couple.  And that’s a relative statement.  By just a couple I don’t mean two or three, but not many compared to the total mass.  I’ll do some every day for a while.  At least it may give people the idea that anything at all can be an ornament, and as such, ornaments can tell a family history.

This decorated the top of our wedding cake in 1968.  It hung around the house for years – in a box here, a cupboard there.  Couldn’t quite bring myself to throw it away even as it became more tattered and stained.  Finally the answer presented itself – make it a Christmas ornament.  So I did and now it’s a reminder every time I hang it of 42 years of marriage.  Overall they’ve been good years, or I guess I wouldn’t still be married.

This ornament joined the family in 1997 when my daughter Karen’s childhood friend Carrie Coons got married to Julian Harvey.  These were the favors and we’ve enjoyed this ornament for 13 years now.  Carrie and Julian dropped by for Easter dinner last year – I love being friends with my kid’s friends still.  When I look at this, so many memories flood my mind besides just the wedding.  For example, I think of the time Karen was riding on the handlebars of Carrie’s bike and she was so nervous and guilty because she knew we wouldn’t think that was a good idea.  I think she did fall, or maybe I’m making that up.  At any rate, all parties survived without permanent damage.

Anything can become an ornament.  This was on a drink stirrer in Haiti that our friend Don McLaughlin brought to us.  Don was more than a friend – he was our best man, he was the kid’s Godfather, we were students together at Cal Berkeley.  Don traveled to Haiti and other countries as an auditor for Bank of America and came back with tales that got less and less believable.  Tales about being followed, spied on – but during those years that sort of thing was happening to American businessmen in South America.  There was a spate of kidnappings.  So even though we didn’t believe these tales were true, we did believe them.  It came to pass that Don had paranoid schizophrenia and eventually he committed suicide before he was 30.  We still think of Don and love him and I’m so glad I saved this inconsequential drink stirrer.

Mark and I entered the Peace Corps in Morocco in 1971 when our daughter Jennifer was two years old.  Sometime during the subsequent two years I purchased these little dolls and eventually they found their way to the tree and then the window.  I stuck paperclips through their hair to hang them but hey, it worked.

Now they will remind us of more than the Peace Corps years.  Our country director was Richard Holbrooke, the American diplomat who just died.  He was a man of destiny even back then – he had such a towering intellect and such drive that you just knew he would become a force for good.  Now we’ll never know what he would have forged from his position as President Obama’s special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan.  I do know he would have made a huge contribution toward a solution to those problems, and perhaps even bring the countries together as he did in the Dayton Accords which brought peace to Bosnia.

This ornament of the Coliseum is more lighthearted, especially if you don’t consider all the gladiators, servants, and common people who were killed for entertainment in this venue.  Retailers and manufacturers know what we all want – we want memories.  So Cost Plus World Market has ornaments each year of landmarks around the world.  And people like me buy them – in my case, an ornament for each country we’ve visited.  I still get shivers thinking of the excitement of seeing the Coliseum in person.

This was given to me by Esmerelda Ramirez when I taught 5th grade at Voorheis School.  My students always brought presents carefully picked out from the Dollar Store and I treasure them all.  This one is meant to hang on a wall – it weighs a ton but I manage to find someplace on the Christmas window to support it.  Many of my Voorheis students are graduating from college, one is going to medical school – such wonderful kids from a school many considered hopeless.  Far from hopeless, they are carving out good lives for themselves and I remember every one.

Last one for tonight.  One of my grandkids made this pink flamingo and it had been hanging around for years – sometimes from a piece of luggage, a purse; sometimes it sat in a box in the closet.  And one day, voila! I thought to use it as a Christmas ornament.  I don’t remember exactly which grandkid made this, but perhaps they will remember.  Perhaps not.

That’s only seven ornaments from the Christmas window, but it’s seven stories and memories, seven meaningful decorations.  I’ll do some more tomorrow.

Christmas Decorations Part Two


It’s the LAST DAY of Art Every Day Month.  Tomorrow I don’t have to post!  Wahoo.  About now you’re probably saying, well you didn’t have to post every day anyhow. It’s been a bit excessive. In some ways, yes, of course.  But it’s been a self-challenge and a form of self-discipline to decide to do something and stick with it.  I’m sorry I haven’t been in the studio but that’s the way it is.  I’ve focused on photography and photo essays.

But for this last post I’m going to do more Christmas decorations because, as I said yesterday, they qualify as art.  So here we go.

First, Nikolai and the angel.  My mom made these.  Over the years I’ve debated whether to keep them or not.  I never was that fond of the angel, and Nikolai is getting sort of ragged.  But I’m so glad I still have them.  Because I don’t have my mother in the real sense of the word.  She’d never be able to create anything now, and she probably wouldn’t remember she had done these in the past.  She’s well, she’s happy, and she doesn’t know that she doesn’t remember.  When I take Nikolai and the angel out of the box I can see my mom – how she used to be, the interests she had, the love she had for the family, making a Nikolai for all of us four kids.  I’m getting a little choked up writing this so I’ll move on.

This isn’t any better because my mom made the snowman also,  A few years ago – I say a few but it’s probably 10 at least – she did a “tune up” because snowman was coming apart.  He’s still shaky, but I’ll keep him until he dissolves or otherwise disappears.

My sister gave me this silver tea pot.  I think she bought it at By the Water Tower Antiques in Exeter.  We like to go up there periodically and Cris and I both admired this.  She bought it, and  being my generous sister, she gave it to me.

The snowman plate is from a student, Ries Murphy.  I’m telling you his name because I want you to remember it.  He’s graduating from college this year and he’s enlisted in the Marines – but what Ries is, is a writer.  I knew it immediately in the seventh-grade.  I told him he was a writer.  He went through various stages throughout junior high and high school – he was going to be an architect, he was going to be a priest, etc. – but each time I told him no, in fact, he was a writer and he wasn’t going to be able to not write.

I was right, as Ries finally acknowledged.  His university degree is in creative writing.  I’ve read some chapters from the book he’s working on and it is brilliant.  He is brilliant.  I had many brilliant students in their own ways, but Ries as a writer, and William as an artist – well, writing and painting chose them, they didn’t choose writing and painting.  Sometimes you cannot escape your destiny nor should you try to.

I’ve had these little guys around for a while now.  These little figurines are something I would have avoided at all costs for most of my life.  I have an abhorrence for things that are “cute.” Somewhere along the line, that changed.  I love my little mice and the snowmen and actually purchased them – they weren’t given to me.  We have a “thing” in our family with us three sisters.  We like small things – little animals and so on.  Old broken ceramic animals.  Little figures destined for the junk heap.  We rescue them from the thrift stores. We give them homes and don’t want to break up the family.  We have them in curio cases and little shelves all over our houses.  Old printer’s type drawers make particularly good shelves.

And finally, we are at the North Pole.  Besides the Dickens’ Village, I collect Dept. 56 from the North Pole collection.  I started this because it’s the sort of thing that I, as a child, would have been delighted with.  I would have been enraptured and stories would emerge about the little village coming to life.  Since I have grandkids, I started collecting so they could similarly be transported to magic places.  Unfortunately, they did not seem to enjoy them so much.  Until last year. Annabelle was thrilled. She wanted to touch every piece and she looked for a long time.  Thank you, Annabelle. I expect Cooper to be similarly enthralled.

So here, in the back on the right, you have Tillie’s Tiny Cup Cafe.  Elves need a place to hang out and get a cup of coffee after all their hard work.  In front is the Hot Chocolate and  S’mores stand for a quick treat on the go.  Even people that live in snowy climates like ice cream, so the ice cream vendor is beginning his rounds.  And the Kris Kringle Elementary School is in session.  A lineup of elves is carrying some glitter garland through the snow because it’s time to decorate.

The gum drop tree in the back needs some help I’d say.  It makes me want real gum drops – I love gum drops but you don’t see them so much anymore.  Or maybe I’m not in the right places.  Reindeer Flight School is in session, while various elves rest on the candy cane benches.  To the left you can just glimpse the movie theater playing Babes in Snowland.

The Elf Spa is just the place for tired elves with sore muscles.  If they’re too tired to walk, they can take the polar bear taxi, who’s motto is “they will bear you anywhere.”  In the back, Santa surveys the entire scene from the bridge above the perpetually frozen pond.  It is a magical place indeed.

So that’s it although I should add one note.  After last night’s post, I went online and ordered Cratchit’s Corner, Bob Cratchit holding up Tiny Tim in the classic “God bless us, everyone” pose, and some carolers to annoy Scrooge as he tries to suppress all Christmas cheer.  It’s about time I added to the Dickens’ Village.

As we say goodbye to November and Art Every Day Month, I wish you the joy of decorating, if indeed you do decorate.   I usually say I’m not going to put out the villages this year, or not decorate but I always do because each decoration tells a story.

Decorating for Christmas: Dickens’ Village, Gurley candles and more


Second to last day of art every day month.  Y’all won’t have to see posts from me EVERY single day unless Gwen Bell is doing Best of Blog.  I’d better check.

Decorated for Christmas yesterday and today.  I’m calling it art of sorts so I can share as this post.

This is something my SIL (Jen’s husband) made for us years ago.  YEARS ago and I use it every year.  I think it’s called a Swedish Christmas Tree? This year it’s the centerpiece at the dining room table.  We’ll probably never sit there so it won’t be in the way!  I’m using a gold shawl as a runner – something I bought at Olvera Street last year.

These funny things are candlesticks my sister bought years ago as she was rummaging and reselling on eBay.  I wish she was still doing that except I bought too much of her stuff and she gave me too much.  But I use these every year.  They are different, that’s for sure.

Raise your hand if you remember these.  Gurley candles – they were so inexpensive when we were kids and to think we didn’t appreciate them because they were a dime a dozen, almost literally.  My sisters find these and buy them.  These were an Xmas gift from my Alaska sister years ago.  I just love them.  Nostalgia.  I’d like more.

Cost Plus World Market has been selling these little nutcrackers for several years and I’ve bought the ones I can find from places we have traveled.  I have Italy, France, China, Alaska, Mexico and England.  Next year I hope to get Hawaii.  And I hope we’ve gone someplace new also.

A couple of years ago I bought a giant pack of ornaments at Costco.  It just seemed like a good idea.  So I wrote each family member’s name on an ornament with puffy paint.  Cant’ really read them b/c I had to hang them high in the new house.  I used to put them on garlands up the staircase.  It was nice to have a staircase to decorate for nine years, but I am so happy to be on the flat land now.

More collecting: Dept. 56 makes various villages for collectors and I have been building a Dickens’ Village and the North Pole.  We used to have a theater in town called The Great American Melodrama, and my youngest daughter was cast in The Christmas Carol several times.  During those years I believe I had the entire play memorized.  When I became aware there was such a thing as Dept. 56 and they manufactured Dickens’ village pieces, another collector was born.

Starting from the left – because the display now takes up lots of room – we have Williams’ Coal Works and the house of Ebeneezer Scrooge.  I seem to have lost the light for Scrooge’s house but that’s fitting, isn’t it?  He probably wouldn’t replace anything that stopped working.

Moving along to Thomas Mudge Timepieces and the poulterer’s stand.  The little boy is standing there – he goes to buy the turkey for Scrooge at the end of the play and when Scrooge asks does he know which one, he says “The one as big as me?”

There is a coal wagon making a delivery to Mudge Timepieces, and next door is Scrooge and Marley’s Counting House.  On the right is Fezziwigs.  Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig are standing in front celebrating their anniversary.

Fezziwig’s delivery wagon is heading out past the town square.  The Chocolatier’s wagon is making Christmas deliveries also.  You can barely see the newstand in front of the park.

People are gathered in the town square, which needs maintenance because the sculpture on the statue has lost her head. Alas, she will remain that way.  People are sitting on benches visiting, and Father Christmas is making his way with a sled full of toys.

In the foreground, Bob Cratchit is pulling Tiny Tim on a sled.  Behind them is the knife sharpener. The Royal Stock Exchange is in the background.

Next to the stock exchange is a building of flats, and I think Fred lives there.  To the left is the East Indies Trading Company and to the right is the fire station.

This is the Old Globe Theater.  Some folks are riding in a one horse open sleigh.

Writing this has inspired me to check out what pieces might be available this year.  Oh my.  Perhaps tomorrow I’ll finish the month with the North Pole.