Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Past Visits Christmas Present

Well, as usual, the holidays have sped up and before we know it, we'll be taking down our decorations and looking back at this Christmas instead of anticipating its arrival.   A few days ago we were driving around our neighborhood looking at Christmas lights and noticed a remarkable absence of trees in windows and houses festooned with multiple strings of blinking (or non-blinking if that is your preference) lights.    I am not sure if that is a reflection of a more somber mood about the season or just a change in what the decorating fad is for this year.    All I know is that in the not too distant past you could drive down any street (in neighborhoods rich and poor) and you could count on seeing a tree in the window, proudly lit up and showing off its finery to all who passed by.  I could scarcely believe my eyes as we passed house after house that was dark and no evidence of  Christmas or any other holiday for that matter.    There were a few but even those were restrained and Clark Griswold (you Christmas Vacation fans know who you are!) would win a neighborhood decorating contest, hands down.   And it was only four days until Christmas.  

So that had me thinking about the good old days when we would beg and plead with mama and daddy to hurry and put our tree up.  This always took place after we got out of school for the holidays.   That meant that no amount of begging, pleading or nagging would entice my parents to put up a tree before December 18th.   Daddy frequently reminded us that in "his day" Santa brought the tree.   In the 1950s, not too many people put lights outside but most of us had a wreath or candy cane (fake) on the front door.    One year mama made (with Daddy's help I am sure) a cut out of Santa and a chimney made of plywood that she hand painted and then placed in our flower bed by the front door.    Most of the decorations in our home were pretty simple and often handmade.    We made paper chains of red and green construction paper at school and brought those home to drape on the tree.  We had a collection of glass ornaments for our tree that were quite delicate and some got chipped or broken nearly every year.  The lights that we used back then were most frustrating and sure to make a father pull his hair out in rage when one single bulb burning out could make the whole darn string go dark.    Finding the offending bulb was a tedious and unpleasant chore.    We had some friends who had the "bubble lights" that were long, skinny tubes that had colored liquid in them that made sparkling bubbles.   I always coveted those lights but, alas, we never had that kind.

Memories of those days are pretty dim and distant but sometimes I see something these days that helps transport me back to those happy days of childhood.    Today I saw some something that stirred a memory long buried.    As I was driving out of my neighborhood, I saw that on a house not too far from ours, someone had gotten hold of a can of spray snow.    That was one of those things that we frequently hounded mother to buy during the holidays and more often than not, she did not buy it.    It was easy to put on and really hard to get off.    The house near us had sprayed every single window pane on the front of the house, top to bottom, with a thick layer of "snow".    It was as if a blizzard had come to Pensacola last night instead of the steady stream of thundershowers that passed through.    I couldn't help but laugh thinking how tempting it was when I was a kid to make it "snow" and put the fake stuff on the windows, write Christmasy sayings like, "Ho Ho Ho" or "Joy to the World" all over our front picture window.   

And then I remembered the decorating stuff I wanted most of all back then.    It was called Glass Wax and you bought it in cans along with a set of holiday stencils and a sponge.    It was really easy to use and even  pleasant to remove since it was designed to go on glass and essentially was a cleaning aid that not only dried to a whitish finish (perfect SNOW!) but left the windows clean and shiny when you polished the stuff off when the holidays were over.    Not so with the fake spray on snow.   You could rub that stuff for days and it stayed stubbornly on whatever it touched!     I think mama probably consented to buy the Glass Wax for us maybe a time or two and I am sure that our joy knew no bounds.     Such a simple time with simple pleasures and entertainment.   

34 designs for 59 cents! 
Whatever triggers those moments that transport you back in time to simpler ways and simpler wants, please be sure to take a few minutes this holiday season to remember them with fondness.    We live in a crazy world with lots of things to frustrate us and cause us much stress and unhappiness.    Just a few minutes down Memory Lane can bring a smile to your face and can ease your troubles for a while.     May all your Christmas wishes come true and your memories take you to special times and places.   OH, and if you have a happy memory of childhood (or even of recent holidays) please leave a comment.    
Ginny, Marcia and Rebecca 1959, Christmas in Jackson, Mississippi
Blessing our Tea Party----while one of us sneaks a peek at the camera!

Happy Trails to you,


Friday, December 16, 2011

December at the Beach

Some of you may be having the kind of December we're having along the Gulf coast.    It is warm and definitely not the kind of weather to put one in the mood to sing holiday songs and deck the halls with bows of holly or any other form of greenery.    In fact, yesterday as I was leaving the house, I was struck by how "spring-like" the weather felt.    You know what I'm talking about.    You walk out and are met with warm air, blue skies and the feeling that it's going to be a lovely day.    You half expect to see flowers sprouting everywhere and robins scratching the ground for worms and other goodies.   Except it was mid-December and I was thinking about putting the Christmas wreath on our front door when I got home.

We have years like this pretty often where we are a week away from the jolly fat man coming down the chimney and you'd swear it's time to break out the shorts and tee shirts.   The very thought of wearing a sweater or other winter apparel makes you start to itch and sweat.    In fact, having really cold weather at Christmas is more often the exception to the rule.  Having weather cold enough for even a fake log in the fireplace is rare.  True winter weather is probably another two or three weeks away, in January.  The one time I remember snow at Christmas was in 1993 and it was big, gloppy flakes that melted upon contact with anything they touched but they sure put us all in the mood to sing, "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas".     Never mind that it never accumulated, not even enough for a decent snowball.   We did get very cold weather that Christmas, just not a winter wonderland to go with it.   

So with such a lovely day before us, Larry and  I took a drive to Gulf Breeze on a short shopping trip in search of a new recliner for me.    Since we were so close we decided to go on a few more miles to Pensacola Beach.    Truthfully, the beach is only about a half hour drive from our house.   We are so accustomed to having this wonder of nature so close by that we often forget about going down there.    We really take it for granted except when a hurricane wipes the beach clean and flattens all the dunes so we don't even recognize the place.     The beach has definitely recovered from the last big blow that re-arranged the landscape down there.   It has even recovered (on the surface anyhow) from the BP oil spill of 2010.    

Beach visitors and shore birds (who live there!)
On the drive along Scenic Highway as we headed toward Gulf Breeze, we couldn't help but notice the flatness of Escambia Bay.   It was slick and smooth and Larry commented that he could have gone out there even in his tiny Porta-bote.      As we entered Pensacola Beach, we saw the sign that warned beach goers about the "moderate" surf.     The Santa Rosa Island Authority gives tourists and locals the heads up on the surf conditions every day with wise instructions on when it is safe to go in the water and when it is mandatory to stay out.  (Here's a hint for any of you who come here:    Rip tide days---high surf days--- are good days to stay on the beach and out of the water.)    

After seeing the calm waters in the bay, we were surprised to find a fairly vigorous surf when we got to the beach.     In fact, the noise from the waves crashing into one another made quite a smack and near booming sound while we stood at the water's edge admiring the water, the shore birds and the stunningly beautiful day we were privileged to be enjoying.     We watched one wave after another come rolling onto the beach and then retreat back only to be thrown back on the beach over and over again.   

Larry soaking up the sun.
Shells for the taking.
The beach was populated with a few locals and some tourists visiting here for the holidays.     Larry and I remarked what a great time it is to come to the beach since you could have your pick of choice spots to set up a chair or do a bit of surf fishing. And some folks were doing just that with some very long fishing poles, jammed tightly into the sand.   There were no drunken visitors making a nuisance of themselves.   No dogs running amok in the dunes.  The weather was so nice we did not even need a jacket or long sleeves.    In fact, if we had stayed much longer, we would have needed a wide brimmed hat and some sun screen.    

Marcia by the shore.

So I snapped some pictures, breathed in the salt air and just took in the free show that the Gulf of Mexico provides for us on a regular basis.    It struck me that even when I am back home in the quiet of my family room, when I am sleeping, when I am reading the newspaper, doing the most mundane, ordinary things, the waves and the tide go on.    The waves lap at the shore, sometimes in a great, crashing crescendo, other times gently kissing the sand.  Tide moves in--tide moves out.  It is eternal and doesn't need me to do what it does.   It just is.  

It never stops moving.
There are so many places like that in our world and we need to visit them from time to time to remind ourselves of the vastness of time and space.    We need to put ourselves into that scene to gain some perspective on our tiny part in all of it.     We have the power to protect this for ourselves and for those who will come after us.   If you have one of these great spaces near you, get out and enjoy it.    Take pictures and spend time breathing in the air and soaking up the beauty around you.     When you get the opportunity to do something to preserve that special place or donate money to those who are trying to save our mountains, meadows, forests, beaches, rivers and wetlands, think of what your world would be without them.   Then give what you can and do what you can to protect and save them.   And if you are so inclined, please comment and tell about your favorite spot to go when you need to renew your spirit and remind yourself of all the wonders and beauty of our world. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Tackling a Black Hole

Perhaps you have one in your home.    I think there must be at least one in every dwelling.   You will know what I am talking about shortly.    I refer to ours as a Black Hole.   In most homes these days we have places where we euphemistically "store" things.     Sometimes these places are closets.   Other times they are the so-called junk drawer.     On larger scale they are our garages and out buildings.    For today's blog entry I am referring to that dark, dense place known as our pantry.     

When we moved in this house in 1994 our galley type kitchen had a pantry----basically a closet with shelves and a door to hide it all.     I was happy, at first, because it was a pantry separate from the other cabinets.     It seemed like an enormous amount of space to put cans of baby corn, sacks of dried beans, cereal and syrup.    We had lived in an apartment and had not lived in our Mobile, AL house for several years.      So having what was clearly planned as a storage space for all those staples we use to stock our kitchen seemed like the bee's knees.  (That is a good thing for all you readers who are many years younger than me.)   

For a while this pantry worked nicely and functioned as intended.     But you know it had to happen.   One day I realized that things had migrated to the back, never to be seen again.     Cans of chili beans, lone jars of mango-chili pepper jelly (given to us as a gift), half a box of raisins (long since petrified into a muy shriveled version of itself), nearly a whole bag of dark brown sugar (easily a substitute for a brick) and assorted remnants of half eaten boxes of cereal (clearly past their prime so that even the birds would not eat it if I tossed it out in the back yard).   Our pantry needed help and fast!  Food was being wasted and ruined.   In addition I would get aggravated when I would discover (by accident) that I had 6 cans of tomatoes but NO tomato sauce when it was the sauce that I really needed to buy. 
Nice pantry, but definitely a Black Hole!

                                                           Pantry pre-modification

So I would pull it all out, re-arrange the contents and vow to do better to use up things, never allowing it to mysteriously migrate to the far reaches of the shelves again.     But it is hopeless when the shelves are too deep for me to reach to the back.    Things get shoved back there, not rotated to the front.     The pantry is also dark inside, another factor that makes it extremely hard to see what is in the pantry, no matter where it is located on the shelf.     It would have taken a lot of discipline and determination to stop the inevitable and I had neither.   
After many complaints and hearing me bemoan the poor design of the pantry, Larry finally heard my pleas.     It also helped that my niece, Rebecca, recently got a makeover to her pantry, a storage place in her kitchen of very similar design to mine.     And what was the solution that turned the black hole (hers and mine) into better storage places for our family larder?     Pull out drawers that sit atop the shelves, thus making things at the back, easily accessible to even a shorty like me.     Yes, there are limitations to this solution, but all in all, we're pretty happy with the way this modification turned out.  

Larry started the process by measuring the shelves and door opening of the pantry.    Then he went to the local building supply company where he found the drawers at a very seasonable price, made out of real wood---Italian Oak!    Then we unloaded the food inside the pantry and discovered before he could do anything else, he would need to paint the walls and shelves.   (He actually asked me if I wanted him to do that!)  Who knew that cans and boxes could leave so many black marks on the walls and shelves?     A quick two coats of an off-white paint to the dingy walls and shelves and he was ready to install the drawers.    
Making measurements and marks for drawer guides

                                     Two coats of paint to cover the black scuff marks.

Next he had to put the runners on the drawers and then make the appropriate marks on the shelves to determine where he needed to screw the runners in place.      Then it was just a matter of installing the drawers in the guide-runners.
                                           One drawer installed----three more to go!

Once that was done, it became apparent that the small vinyl covered shelves that hold boxes and bottles of spices on the inside of the door would no longer fit inside the pantry without butting up against the newly installed drawers.     OK, so we didn't think of everything.     That meant moving them up or down slightly so they would fit correctly.    Problem solved at no extra expense.    

The pantry looked nice after I started putting things back inside.     I am still adjusting and figuring out the most logical way to have the food inside, but so far, I am very happy since I can pull out the drawers and actually SEE what is there.      There are spaces along side each drawer where I can put more food and will use those for things like cans of tomatoes that I usually keep in quantity.    I also have put some taller bottles of things like catsup and vinegar that are too tall for the drawers but fit nicely along the sides.

Checking out the contents of the pantry is much easier now.

                                           Drawers pull out so the contents are easily seen.

                                        For right now, things are pretty neat and tidy!

Oh and one other thing.    After Larry put the door back up and the drawers were loaded, shelves filled with the food necessary to keep our kitchen open, I shut the door.    Or at least I tried.   One last little glitch jumped into our faces----the door knob bumped into the drawer directly across from where it entered the pantry.    I was somewhat stumped with what to do about that problem.     Larry took one look, went to his tool box and retrieved a screw driver.  Before long he had the whole problem solved.     Since this is a pantry and no one will ever be on the inside, hoping to get out, he simply removed the inside knob.   Duh, now why didn't I think of that?  The door shuts, doesn't hit the drawer and all is well.     Yay for people like Larry who can see the problem and instantly know what to do to fix it!    And thanks, Larry, for fixing this black hole!

                                         No need for a knob on the inside of the pantry!
So this was one more step in finding the good life. It's amazing how much a little thing like improving storage can raise your mood and make your kitchen a happier place. This entire project took less than two days to complete. It could have been done in a day if we had not had to wait on the paint to dry for a second coat. If you have one of these black holes at your house, I urge you to consider installing some pull out drawers so that the contents can no longer go into hiding, never to be discovered until 3 years after their expiration date!   

                 A happy Marcia inspects the inside of the reformed and transformed pantry.

Happy Trails to you in your search for the good life!