Sunday, January 21, 2018

Happy Birthday.......Always

And, now, it will tell you the story of The Day I Was Born........

Memphis Tennessee.  Early cold morning, snow falling.  My mother had had a couple of false alarms, and wasn't quite sure that this was, in fact, THE Time.  Besides, it was Early, and like most all the Jasper wimmen, Early Morning is an almost insurmountable challenge.

My Daddy was not taking any chances this time ( after all, it was their third child), and insisted that they were, in fact, going to the neighborhood hospital.

He bustled my mother out to the car, in the snow, only to find that the tire on his 1950 Chevy was flat.

We are talking dark ages here, folks.  There was no InstaAir to pump up the tire.  Not even a spare tire in the trunk.  His only option was to get out the hand pump.  Manually.  Like a bicycle pump. Attach the nozzle, brace your feet on it, and put your biceps to work.  And so he knelt down and began to air up that flat.  In the cold January  snow.

My mother, waiting for her knight in shining armor to slay this dragon, did what any Southern born princess would do.

She laughed.

She jumped up and down, her turgid belly rolling like Santy Claus, and clapped her hands and Laughed.

And as the snow blew and the tire filled with air, my father doubled over in severe abdominal pain, exactly coinciding with his wife's labor pain. His appendix later ruptured, and he nearly died, but not this day.  That is another story.

They arrived at the hospital in plenty of time. It was Morning, remember......I was not born until after 4 that afternoon. My father consumed an entire bottle of Paragoric (a camphorated tincture of opium, commonly used to treat belly aches, available overthecounter in those days), and staved off the appendix rupture for a few more months.  He also endured taunts from his friends about "sympathy labor."

I emerged into this world quite ugly. Dark, ruddy skin and exploding straight Black hair.  My eight-year-old sister looked upon me in horror and asked my proud father, "you mean we waited all this time for....for....This?!" My father fell in love from the very beginning. He and I share the same stubborn spirit.......

Quickly my sister’s mothering instincts overrode the initial shock, and I became a Permanent Appendage upon her right hip.  I did not walk alone until I was nearly two.  My days and nights were disordered, and I never, really learned to sleep when proper children should. Seldom did I allow others to teach me, insisting I make my own mistakes in the Learning Process. Always I rushed in where more prudent folk knew never to tred. Beloved and confirmed and doted upon by my older sister and brother, I grew up believing that Life was beautiful and everyone loved me.

As the third and final child, my parents raised me with the idea that I would outgrow any unacceptable behaviors. My siblings believed I was their very own to dote upon and entertain. They all taught me joy and kindness and showed me how to be grateful.

For 66 years I have been loved with overwhelming abundance and affirmation. My life is rich. My memories are sweet. My heart is full.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Walking with Sorrow and Suffering

This litter was in 2013.  Such a beautiful mix of Color and Life.  Eyes opened, lustily suckling, crawling with tummies off the floor, learning my voice and my scent. Sadly, All of them passed on, onebyone, and there was nothing we (the vet and I) could do.   They just could not make it. I grieved for each little Life as it succumbed to the demands the Planet required. 

I spoke very little about them afterwards. (Denial is one of my coping stratagems).  I also determined that I would Never do this again.  My days of neonate rescue were Over.   I did not want to risk the grief.  And Pain. Too many days spent caring for them, wth such horrible results.  These babies, these very beautiful babies, took with them a large piece of my heart.  I had been so careful!  I had done Everything Right. And still.....and still, they faded.....and breathed their last.  

Time blurs ones memories.  And softens ones sorrow.  

For, you see, Sorrow and Suffering walk silently beside us in our journey on this planet.  They hold our hands so we cannot cover our ears and miss the Voice of Love. 

Me?......Well, I would much rather have Peace and Joy as my traveling companions....

Pride tends to step in and attempt to guide me on my walk.....And to keep me from admitting failure and, yes, even Death.  For Sorrow and Suffering bring us point blank to the things we want changed on this Plane....We can overcome the bad stuff with a bit of Good. 

And, yeh.....I took in the next tiny litter months later when someone called.  I fed their tummies and wiped their bottoms and worried and fretted while Sorrow and Suffering held my hands and reminded me that Everything is up to God. 

Friday, November 3, 2017

Everyone needs an Emily......

At first she was our Only Child.  We learned that being parents was easy and a Discovery about who we were.  We learned that a human, much younger than ourselves, could (and Would) take over our lives. We learned about worry. Infinite Worry. We learned that not every one agrees with us or has the same dreams or desires as us. We learned to laugh as we learned. We learned to give up, release, let go, believe in The Planet's protection, cease control, and watch and learn.
But mostly, Mostly we learned a fierce Love from this baby. Love that never goes away, no matter how many times we botched the parenting thang.

Thanks, Em, for choosing us.  You grew up nicely, despite our efforts.

Oh! And Happy Birthday. We did an Excellent job.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Sand County Almanac

"During every week from April to September there are, on the average, ten wild plants coming into first bloom.  In June as many as a dozen species may burst their buds on a single day.  No man can heed all of these anniversaries; no man can ignore all of them.  He who steps unseeing on May dandelions may be hauled up short by August ragweed pollen; he who ignores the ruddy haze of April elms may skid his car on the fallen corollas of June catalpas.  Tell me of what plant-birthday a man takes notice, and I shall tell you a good deal about his vocation, his hobbies, his hay fever, and the general level of his ecological education."
              A Sand County Almanac 
              Aldo Lepold

This summer I re-discovered this wonderful book when I ran across a copy at a thrift store in Northern Virginia.  My own copy long since loaned to someone, or perhaps given.....
It is an important book to read, at any age of Life, but, at this stage of my development, I am finding it soul-fulfilling and rather like meeting an old friend again, after all these years.  An old friend who has discovered pieces of Life that I am just now getting to.....

Twenty-three years ago,  my dear husband, Rob rode in his first Century bicycle ride.  This is 100 miles of bicycling.  In one day.  In August.  In Texas.  Wichita Falls, Texas.  With 12,000 other bicyclists (no, this is not a typo.  You read it correctly. 12,000.  Some years over 15,00).

He has been riding in this event every year since then.  Sometimes I tag along, Collies in tow (not riding, only joining in the celebration....and worry....); sometimes our sons-in-law ride with him; sometimes he goes alone and makes new friends in the thronging, sweaty crowd of deranged (and later, after 100 miles, delirious) bicyclers from all over the country.

The first year he chose to do this, I went along justincase he needed someone to accompany him to the ER.....It's always good to have someone identify the body....

While he rode, well, of course, I went shopping.  Thrift stores, garage sales, interesting grocery stores, and huge plant nurseries.

Remember.  It is August. Always the fourth Saturday in August.  In Texas.  Everything is suffering in this heat.  Dry heat. 100-degree heat.

Certainly nothing is blooming, and the plant nurseries are eager to unload any and all of their summer plants for pennies on the dollar.  Please adopt these and take them to a Better Place where there is shade and water and cooler temperatures. Have Hope for prettier days next spring, where, if they survive, they will bless you with their blooms in the greening-up of April.

I always have Hope, especially where plants are concerned.  Once released from the bonds of their plastic pots and tucked lovingly in the soil with a layer of leaf mulch,  I can almost hear their sighs of relief and contentment.  Their promises of Springtime blossoms and adding beauty to Eden......

Amid the brown and crunchy perennials gasping for life in the 100+ heat,  enter this:

Garlic Chives.  Blooming their little hearts out.  Potbound and pleading for a good place in the solid earth.  I planted them in the backyard.  They have migrated to the front yard. I have shared and Shared them with many friends who love their garlic smell and their welcome blossoms when everything else has given up in the heat.  

And every year, the fourth Saturday in August, they bloom.  Their leaves grace our salads, and the flowers adorn our vases.  I call them my Hotter'n Hell Flowers.  And I pretend that we are still as young as we were 20+ years ago, as the Earth has turned round and round, and the bicycle wheels spun hundreds of miles.

So.....Reading Leopold's passage again......What does this marker Tell about me?

Mostly, I think, it speaks of the change of the seasons and the anticipated relief of the oppressive heat with the coming September.  And of a 70-year-old man who continues to throw his leg over a bicycle and ride beyond his physical limit.  And who brings me presents of coffee cups and cookie jars and Sonic coupons.  Of Life.  Life that continues with the Young and delights the Old.  Of noticing.  And appreciating.  And always looking forward.  

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Father of the Year....I Don't Think So......

There are many things that the Fatherofmychildren cannot and will not do.  He is incompetent in several.  Refuses to do the remainder. Things that Most Dads just naturally teach their offspring, he sees no use in instruction.

In the beginning of this Parenting Odyssey, and, admittedly, even during the most demanding times of the children’s growing-up, I struggled  with these Deficiencies and Imperfections in his plans to bring the girls up correctly.  My heart saw only the holes in his efforts. 

Dancing.  He never danced with them.  Never.  Not even at their weddings.  Not even in the living room with their tiny feet on top of his…..He doesn't dance.  He plays the music people dance to.  He has a trumpet up to his face while he watches their circuits around the dance floor.

But he does smile so sweetly when the children “twirl” for him, spinning around like dervishes, their  skirts flying, their faces bliss.  Bliss because of his blatant approval and appreciation for their skill and beauty.  They always knew they were beautiful in his indulgent eyes.  

Grilling.  He has never cooked a meal outside.  INside, for that matter.  The man does not cook.  He doesn't even honestly appreciate the skills that it takes to get a good meal together.  He will eat anything.  And have seconds.  But he takes no pride in the preparation or even the end result.  

He bought me the biggest grill I would allow on the deck.  He hooked it up to the maximum safety standards and makes sure that it is fully turned off after the meat is done. He savors the meal. He compliments my efforts.  But do not ask him to do anything more than push the electric igniter to begin the process.  

He does know how to French Braid our daughters’ hair…..When I went to Europe with Emily’s Girl Scout troop for 6 weeks, back in the ’80’s, Kathryn was left in the care of her Dad. The 10-year-old child would only allow her hair to be brushed and French Braided at this moment in time. No exceptions.  No deliberations.  No discussion. So, he took instruction from me, detangling spray and comb in his left hand, and mastered the skill. He became proficient. And The Baby had less angst (at least about her hair) while her mother traveled the world without her.  

Mowing.  Mowing the yard.  It’s a big yard.  Almost 1/4 an acre.  All clipped with a push mower because of all the twists and turns he must make around my flowerbeds, water gardens, and various trees I’ve planted.  But he never saw fit to teach the girls how to propel the mower across the lawn.  He always insisted on doing it himself while they “stayed inside where it is cool.”  They married men who mow religiously and bore sons who mow.  

He is the Finder of Lost Things, our very own St. Anthony.  Irritating, sometimes, when all one wants to DO is rant and rave about how she “cannot find ANYthing around here.”
But he calmly processes the possibilities of where the Lost might be, and always, Always discovers its hiding place. He finds Lost Things. And he soothes our defiant, ruffled feathers…..Unfortunately for those of us who would like to remain angry and frustrated because we insist it aids in finding things. 

Shooting a gun.  The girls never held a gun in their hands until they were grown women.  Never. They never felt the kickback of the wooden stock against their shoulders.  Never felt the thrill of hitting the Mark with their keen eyes.  Never experienced the rush of holding the smooth steel of a pistol in their hands. 

He does know how to bathe a baby and change a cloth diaper.  In the ’70’s this was a skill that many fathers left to their wives.  There was still a bit of designated “women’s work” that hadn’t eased its way into the realm of masculinity at that time.  Rob never considered these tasks, these opportunities, to be relegated  to just one parent. He folded and pinned on diapers  better than any professional.  

He has fallen way short of the Dad Things most people expect.  He doesn’t meet the bar at all for the qualifications of Traditional Dads.  He barely disciplined the children or raised his voice.  Told them more than once, “If you do that again, your Mother is going to spank you.”  Never prepared pancakes for breakfast or took them to a ballgame.  Took them camping, but once they were asleep, escaped to the car and dozed. Always deferred to me regarding pets, but always dug their graves and played the role of minister when they died.  Never engaged in decorating for Christmas, but drove us thru ice and snow to celebrate the holidays at Grandma’s.  

Nope.  He’s not the Dad we all read about and admire.  But I write this to tell you that I have never met a better Father.  He raised two very intense and entertaining women who continue to improve the planet and show the world what Love looks like.  I’ll take that.  Anytime.

Happy Father’s Day, Rob Bailey.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

They were playing with some plastic Army guys, when I overheard Emily tell baby sister Kathryn, "Bang! Your guy is dead! I shot him!"
"No, he's not dead," Kathryn told her....."His Dad was with him."
And that was when I realized what an impact you had on their lives.
Nothing bad can happen when Dad is with you. Nothing. You are protected from all evil and all pain. Dad takes out splinters without even a pinch. He gives you his time and understanding and listens without judgement. Winds can blow and rivers may flood, but as long as Dad is with you, nothing bad can happen.
You came into this job with no real background or training. First you loved. Loved tenderly and sweetly. And then you discovered these children were intriguing and funny. So much like you in their kindness and patience. So much like me in their ability to wind you around their tiny fingers. So very unique in sharing their talents and gifts with the planet.
I can recount several really Good Parenting moments where you are concerned. With each daughter, you remained calm and allowed them to take responsibility for their lives. With each of them, you offered wise advice and a chance for God to work within. And you laughed. You took such great joy in seeing their sense of humor develop and widen. You never failed to make them laugh.
As grown women, they still laugh with you. They still Flirt with you! They still want to coddle you and take care of you. They want to show you off to their friends and brag about your musical ability and the miles you have ridden on your bicycle. They beam with pride when they see your influence in their hearts.
Our daughters chose men of integrity to marry. Men who love passionately and love kindness.
I always knew they would.
They had a wonderful Dad to set the bar high. You cannot settle for just anybody when you have lived all your life with a man who loves you beyond measure and beyond limits.
Thanks for showing us ALL how to be a Dad. Your methods are the best. make us laugh.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

What I Expected

Forty-five years ago, I expected a lot.  

I expected that my body and my charms would make you stay home from work.

I expected that I would be able to cook anything, since I already knew how to make biscuits and chocolate cake.

I expected that you would agree with me.  On everything.

I expected that our disagreements would always progress to loving forgiveness.

I expected that you would be very famous one day.

I knew that we would always have plenty of money.

I expected that I would be able to drive a stick shift after only one lesson.

I knew that you would never be ashamed of me…..Or cringe in embarrassment…..

I expected you to be romantic, and to be able to ride a white horse and sweep me off my feet.

I expected you to always be healthy and never wind up in hospital.

I expected you to get over an argument in an hour…..a head cold in a day….

I expected to never have to mow the lawn.  Or clean the roof gutters.  Or paint the up-high part of the house.

I expected you to always know how to fix anything. And never call the repairman. Or even Want to call the repairman….

I expected that you would agree with me.  On everything.

I expected you would like the same tv shows as I do.

I knew that you would always love me.  I knew that you could hate me, too.  

I expected that we would always look and feel young and beautiful.

I expected that our children would grow up without issues.

I knew that we would never change, and that our goals in Life would never change.

That was 45 years ago.  That was when I knew everything and had the world under control.  That was when I did not take blood pressure medicine or megadoses of ibuprofen when I “did too much in the yard.”  That was when I weighed 20 pounds less and my hair was 10 inches longer….and actually blonde…..That was when my arms didn’t sag and my bosoms were taut.
And, even though it would be wonderful to revisit those people from 1971 again who so confidently walked down the aisle with daisy bouquets and daisy boutonnieres, well, I do believe that I like these two people much, Much more.  I Like you.  I Really do Like you.  And I understand a lot more about you now. Even with your silver hair and those lines around your big blue eyes.  

I actually enjoy your company and your endless talk and your need to discuss politics and allthingsserious…..I actually enjoy our pillow talk at night and our attempts at solving the world’s problems at 2 am.  I actually enjoy fried mush. I love the coffee you bring me with just the right amount of cream. I actually love the fact that you are too lenient with the children…..and the dogs….and the cats…..

I hate your tv shows (seriously, I cannot Take one more episode of How It’s Made or that Saturday morning painting guy or Lawrence Welk).  I still hate getting up early in the morning, I still hate it when you insist I come inside before dark after a day working in the yard.  I hate it when you insist I stop and takeabreak.  I hate it that you pick up after me (though I DID teach you to be neat and tidy).  I hate it that you can be more logical and even social than me.

But what I hate most is that we have less years ahead of us than we have behind us……It has taken us a long time to realize what a blessing we have in this marriage.  And I realize that no good relationship comes without work and effort and just plain letting go.  But I would really like to have 45 more years with you.

I suppose that is something that can only be evaluated in Heaven.  Right now, just for the record, let it be known that I morethanloveyou.  And it truly has been a fun ride.  

Happy Anniversary.

Toni Bailey

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Robert Bailey Junior

Toni Jasper Bailey
 added a new photo.
2 minsOS X
Yesterday we said goodbye to Junior….aka Robert Bailey Junior…..He would have been 16 this summer….The summer that our first grandbaby was born.
Junior is the first and Only kitten we have ever kept from the hundreds of neonate kitties that have been raised in our home. I never name them. Never get attached. They are all destined for other loving homes. Naming them makes them Ours….
After Bailey Rose was born, and about 8 weeks old, her mother had to have surgery. I left for the weekend to go check on how this new family was faring on their own.
Earlier, we had 13 kittens in our kitchen….3 different boxes, 3 different litters, mostly the same age. They had all gone to their forever homes….except one….a fuzzy peach-colored boy. He was going to his new home the following week, all grown up, doing all the “cat things” required for him to graduate to adoption.
However, he wasn’t to be picked up until after I returned from Kansas and the new baby….So I asked Bikeman if he would please watch the kitty while I was gone. Of Course he would. This baby was no problem at this point, and just at that point of getting very cute (a dangerous situation, if you have ever fostered….).
I returned home on Sunday, and Bikeman was referring to this kitty as “Daddy’s liddle man…..Daddy’s liddle soldier…..”
“uh….hmmmmm…..What’s going ON, here,” I asked him….
“Well,” he told me “……. we’ve really bonded this weekend. “
Uh…..This baby is scheduled to go to his home this week…..
“He’s too little to leave just yet, “ I was told…..
WHAT did he Mean?! All his other siblings and friends had been gone for several days! Are we Keeping this baby?
“Well, we’ve really Bonded this weekend.”
The cat was staying. Of Course he was staying…We Love those whom we serve…..
So, we sat down with the Baby Name Book. Bikeman liked “Max”; I like “Maurice.”
We got to the “R’s,” and I said, “you know….I’ve always Liked this name….Never got to name anybody that….”
So the fuzzy baby with the lion face became Robert Bailey, Jr.
They were quite the pair, these two….Jr would sit in Bikeman’s shorts when he was on the pot. When he went to practice his trumpet behind closed doors, Jr. would run his paw under the door….Whenever he sat in the recliner, Jr. would Always be cuddled way up high on Bikeman’s shoulder.
Jr.’s purr was the loudest we have ever heard. We laughingly said he was going to strip a gear, purring so loudly….Jr. always put his front paw in the water dish when he drank……Children could pick him up and pack him around…..He was always quite tolerant of dogs, any dogs…..He never scratched…..He was always glad to have company visit…..He was Always hungry…..He was always laid back and calm…..He was very like his master…

And today, his master had one less food bowl to fill for the morning ritual of “wet cat food.” We have wept and laughed and laughed again at what this fool meant to us….This sturdy, Beautiful, sweet spirit was laid to rest in our garden, very near where this picture was taken.

Jr……Prolly the nicest cat you will ever meet. Rest with no pain, June-Bug……JR…..BabyBabyBaby….Purrbox…. Rob Junior….

Friday, February 26, 2016


He was 18 when his baby sister died.  Cancer.  Debilitating, agonizing, excruciating.  When you are 18 and male, all you want to do is escape.  Run. As fast as you can run. Cleave yourself from these people and these hospital beds in the middle of your living room.  Seek solace and answers on another plane.  Another source of being.  Away from this pain and the agony of your silly baby sister.  This baby who should be tottering in high heels and weeping over Lost Loves instead of lost hair.....

So he moved out. Away from the sterile syringes the nurses brought and the grim faces his parents displayed.

One semester in college was all that he was willing to spend of his parents' money.

He quickly learned the value of an earned dollar and pursued his love of learning within the daily work in electronics and installation and repair.  Life got better, and the dollars increased.  He married a woman several years older with children who were teenagers.  Perhaps this could be a way to "right" his "abandonment" to that silly, sweet sister.

His father died soon after in a violent car crash.  Fifteen months later his mother succumbed to grief-induced asthma.  He was left with plenty of money inside a loveless marriage.

When the currency ran out, so did she, and he found himself alone, in his parents' expansive home. His business partner locked the doors to their company. His friends disappeared.  His grandparents, all of them, died for various reasons.

He found another job, using his talents for detail and precision, kept learning (he was always learning, that is his way), paid his bills, rattled around in the huge manor, letting the weeds take over the acreage.

He ate when he was hungry. Went to bed when he was tired. Emptied the trash and recycled his beer bottles.  Not the Life he'd envisioned for himself.  But, unlike the rest of his family, he was alive.   He was  breathing. He continued to seek the solace of the Earth and its gifts. And he learned.  He always learned.

I really have no details of how this dear spirit came into his home.  I only know that, by a series of miracles, a gangly, smiling, affable Golden Retriever strolled into his home and ensconced himself upon his couch.  Their eyes met.  Their hearts intertwined, and their souls were knit together.  Neither were really aware of what was happening.....except that, suddenly, they were skyrocketed into indescribable joy and unexpected gladness.

It was as if the dog had waked him from an endless sleep.  The dormancy and  the lethargy of a quiet life had lost their footing, and paw prints roused his heart.

The overgrown manor harbored wood ticks that greedily launched themselves onto the Golden.  Days were spent bringing the lawn back to its glory. He restored the breaches in the neglected fence.  Clutter inside the house disappeared.  His neighborhood has expanded within the realm of daily walks and trips to dog-friendly establishments.

What mysteries compile our days to change us and transform us into humans. The conundrums we view as unalterable change in the soft whisper of dark brown eyes and a moist nose.  He has quit his dying.  He has moved back in.

Friday, December 12, 2014

A Christmas Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

This picture says perhaps more than a 1000 words....When you view it, you are viewing a very intimate place in my life and in the history of my life......More than just a sweet pup curled up under the Christmas Tree on a cloudy December morning.....To understand it, in part, you must look closer....Much closer....And in doing so, you might just see a bit deep into my heart. So, if you are willing to look, I will start you off with a few guided glimpses......

The nativity scene you see on the table is our First Nativity, started 44 years ago when we were newly married, pieces added (and some, beyond repair, taken away) thru the years.....I have over 40 Nativity scenes  thruout my house at Christmas. Several from foreign countries, including Israel and Mexico and Switzerland;  several whimsical (a "dog" nativity, a "s'mores" nativity, a "snowman" nativity...); many that were gifts from friends and family and preschoolers.  I love decorating for Christmas with nativity scenes.  I think my Mom endeared me to them.  Tho she had only one, it was the centerpiece of Christmas in her home.   

When I was a child, Santa Claus scared the Dickens (pun intended) out of me......He "knew" things about me that I was embarrassed to reveal....He knew that I sucked my thumb, even tho I tried, in vain, to stop......And he informed me (via letters from the North Pole) that, should I continue to suck my thumb, I would not receive a Bride Doll for Christmas.  It wasn't so much the thought of not getting Bride-y that broke my heart.  It was the fact that I had this "character flaw" of seeking comfort in such a babyish manner......If I couldn't stop the thumbsucking, how in the World would I be able to be a grownup someday?

And, to top it off, this stranger, whom I barely knew, was aware of my shortcoming.....
When I  had my own home, I did not celebrate Santa....I wanted no part of him and his voyeurism and wiretapping...

Until I met Bruce Kotowitch.....

When I was 50 years old.

And  now I Believe......  If ever there was a Santa, it is Bruce....When it is not the Christmas Season, Bruce is Professor of Vocal Music at Lorus University in Dubuque Iowa.  His powerful baritone voice resonates in his speech; his body towers over most of us; his face says "yes" in its very demeanor.  He is one of the kindest, most caring and pleasant people I know. To be in the same room with him is truly food for your soul. I think that Bruce embodies the type of person that Santa Claus tries to bring forth.  And he overlooks my shortcomings and loves me anyway....

Bruce considers his role as Santa each December one of foremost importance and pays meticulous attention to detail. 

 His Santa suit is authentic right down to his red one-piece long underwear.  The trousers were tailored to fit a size 60 waist.  His belt buckles (he has several) were custom made of finest brass from artisans in eastern Tennessee.  His sleigh bells, beautifully tuned, are made by the same metallurgists who created the bells for the Anheuser Busch Clydesdales.  Bruce wears white eyelashes.  And his beard and mustache are real human hair.

Bruce makes sure that he is well-educated in the realm of toys and most-requested items that children ask for each year.  I do not believe that I have ever seen any child afraid or even Suspicious of Bruce-as-Santa. A bit awed, certainly.....overwhelmed by the bigness of body and spirit.....but never afraid. 

When you see him, you, too, will Believe.  I believe in all that Christmas is again, and my heart and soul slow down to incorporate its meaning.....Maybe he will come visit your home some year......

      Ah.....More about this picture.....The dulcimer hanging on the wall was made by us. By me and husband, Rob.  Many years ago, when the children were young, we visited Silver Dollar City in Branson Missouri for a vacation.  While there, I was intrigued by the beauty and sound of the dulcimers made by one of the artists.  I discovered, much to all our surprise, that I could, indeed, play the instrument, with very little instruction. Perhaps it was some of my Appalachian ancestors harkening in my ears.....For whatever reason, I became almost obsessed with the instrument, and would have stayed at that booth all day, had the children not been tugging at my sleeve. 

So, at Rob's encouragement, I ordered a "dulcimer kit" from these folks, and received it in the mail only a couple of days after we returned home. Soon I would have my very own dulcimer and be able to play those mountain tunes as my ancestors had in the hills of Tennessee.

Turns out, instead of buying a couple of pieces of wood shaped like a dulcimer that we just glued together, what we got in the mail was a box of boards!

Boards.  Several shapes and sizes.  And instructions.  I thought about crying.  But Dear Rob, as he has so many times in these 43+ years, assured me that, together, he and I could do this.  We would make this dulcimer, even though it meant many hours of careful and tedious work. 

And so, we began, one night soon after, to make some sense of the dulcimer directions to create one of my dearest treasures.

The Treasure of it, lies not only in its physical beauty, but in the memories it gave us as it came to be....

We would put the children to bed and make tea and sit at our dining room table, working on it--together--one step at a time. The process was ponderous and  painstaking and some evenings, imperceptible. I learned to admire Rob's patience.  He learned to admire my technological skills. Each night we would finish one more step towards completion, stopping to let the glue dry or wet the boards to curve into the proper shapes.

Finally, it was time to make the sound holes.  I was so eager to hear it sound, that I was content to cut simple circles into the body of the instrument. But Rob asked me what I Really wanted, if I wasn't in such a hurry.  I admitted that I loved the hummingbirds carved into one I saw in a picture book......He carved with his pocketknife, two perfect hummingbirds each facing the fret, with leaves and vines woodburned beside them. There is no other dulcimer as fine as this one we made together.

Keep looking at this picture, and you will see the quilts...on the floor, on the wall, on the chairs.....All made by me, at one time or another. A comfort in many ways, for the body, for the eye....for the pup.  I truly believe that quilts that have been sewn by loved ones have pieces of that person stitched into their core.  And the magic of it is that someone took Time out of their life just to bring this art into existence for its recipient.  Never underestimate the power of even the simplest of quilts.

The Christmas Tree doesn't reveal all its beauty in this picture.  It's ornamentation is a culmination of 44 Christmases, having begun in a tiny apartment in South Jersey, boxed and moved to several states and endured babies and toddlers and clumsy adolescents. Some of the ornaments are exquisite.  Made by my mother in times gone by.  Some are little handprints, little footprints, old pinecones, school pictures, vacation souvenirs, gifts from friends long passed on, plastic trumpets, baby angels, icicles, strands of old glass beads.....And then, there's the Star.

You should be able to see a bit of the Star in this picture.  It, too is 44 years old.  Made by two kids who strung popcorn and wrapped glue-y yarn around balloons and pulled ribbons thru pinecones that first Christmas they were married.  The star was carefully cut out of a cardboard box, then covered with aluminum foil.  A holder was fashioned on the back of it to loop over the top branch of the tree. We signed it, and dated it, and said we would Always use this star to put on top of each tree, each year.....

Some years I am tempted to purchase a fancy, lighted-up star to grace our tree, but I always remember those two young folks who made Christmas together, even when their budget would not allow the tinsel and shiny decorations.  And we smile and weep a bit, and Rob stands on a chair and puts the cardboardandfoil Star more year.......

Of course, the picture would probably not have held your interest were it not for that sableandsnow Collie puppy resting at the base of the tree.  He is 8 months old.  Our 4th Collie to live with us, with huge shoes to fill......His name is Tartanside A Spirit of Courage, and we call him Curtis.  His name is inspired by the Bible verse from 2Timothy 1:7 "God has not given us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power and of courage."

He is, as Anice Terhune said of Lad, the Dearest Dog!  And I  believe that he, too, in the years to come, will make his place in the hearts of many more than just mine.  For Collies were meant to be shared in this world.  They were bred to love and teach wisdom and bring great joy.  I guess you could say that Collies and Christmas bring the same Message.  Hopefully, we can continue to spread that Word, and, in everything we do and say, we can keep Christmas all year long.