Sunday, November 6, 2011

It's that time of year again...

In our little family, the first weekend after Halloween is Tree Raising Weekend!

I'm not much for the commercial celebration of Christmas, but I sure love the feeling I get, surrounded by soft lights and greenery and... plaid tree skilts.

(Did I just coin a new word??)

I didn't used to feel that way. I used to dread the winter holidays. Some of my more dominant memories were always of people bickering and fighting about having too many or not enough ornaments on the tree and lots of hustle and bustle and parties where I had to behave properly (or, better yet, not be seen).

When I was still dating my wife, the topic came up as we were decorating her mom's Christmas tree.  Or, rather, as THEY were decorating the tree and I was sitting in the other room not having a terribly good time. That day I realized something - that I had to make my own positive Christmas memories, that I've changed a lot over the years and it doesn't have to be a holiday I hate!

So, the year we moved into our new house, we decided to start a new tradition and get into the holiday season a little earlier than most.  We always make a small party of it - invite a few close friends over to a good meal, good beer, Christmas music (this year's first album was Rob Crabtree's A Piper Christmas, which is a repeat from last year... it's a great album!) and then we went to something a little more hands-off, using Pandora to (mostly) play a good variety of holiday tunes.  (I say "mostly" because Pandora and I have been known to fight about what is deemed "good" music.)

We've minimized the dangers to Finley a bit by only using non-breakable ornaments. We try to stick to wooden ones, when we can find them, but also use cloth, pressed tin, and pine cone ornaments, as well.  He seems to be drawn to the simple ones, like little sleigh bells on a cord. He certainly had a blast last night.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the tree stays up all season without any major mishaps...

While the tree is the main decoration, it isn't the first. The first decoration I always put up is a lighted wreath out on the front porch.  I love seeing how long it takes my neighbor across the street to get a wreath up on his front door, too. I imagine the discussion with his wife to be something like, "Well THEY already have decorations up... why don't we??" "Alright, I'll get started on them this weekend... *mumble mumble* damned neighbor and his Christmas spirit *mumble mumble*"

(It's usually about two weeks.)

As per her usual, Baby Teeters took position under the tree before we even had it totally put together.  This time of the year, if the tree lights are on, you will find her sleeping under it.  She does look lovely under there, I must say.  She tends to leave the presents alone, as long as I leave a spot for her to sleep, but I have had to re-wrap a few over the years.

Let me be the first to wish you a very Merry Christmas and happy holidays!  I hope the season brings you the same kind of joy I get from it.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Yes, this is pretty much how I felt when I was there, too...

I seem to be in a really good music groove lately.

When I first started listening to Mumford & Sons, it wasn't long thereafter that I saw them play a few songs on VH1's Unplugged. My only real disappointment was that the show was a half hour long and they only aired three songs.  I wanted more!

And one of the songs, England, wasn't even theirs!  It is by The National, an indie band out of Cincinnati, OH.  Fortunately, it's a great song. I love the original version.  But I think M&S made it just a little better...

I've only spent a week in London (two weeks total in the UK) so far in my life, and it was a while ago, but I still have very vivid memories of the general atmosphere, of the places we visited, and of the people we met.

I remember being awed into silence during the drizzly walk back from Westminster Abby after listening to the choir. I recall thinking it would be hard to sit in such an overwhelming and monumental building, listening to the beautiful sounds of the boys' choir, and not have your belief in a higher power be strengthened. And this was even in my rebellious, flop-but-shaved haircut, long black trench coat, spiked bracelet and boots days.

When visiting another cathedral (the name of which leaves me at the moment), we entered from the east and ended up leaving the grounds from the west. Upon exiting, I figured if I just turned left, and then made two more lefts, I'd end up back where I started. So I turned left. After about 15 minutes of walking, I realized I'd never come across any way of turning left! I looked back behind me to see the whole rest of the group following... as if I knew where I was going. I was having a good time, so I didn't say anything, but kept walking. Eventually, we ended up in a residential neighborhood, where we walked past a cemetery to see two men digging a grave out by hand. I waved. They stopped to stare at the punk teenager leading a group of people on a walk down a quiet street in the outskirts of London.

In Bath, while walking through one of the markets, I was approached by a couple with a German Shepard; they were panhandling for money. I'd seen most people shy away from them - two less-than-kept Brits with dreadlocks and a mangy dog. But, really, they were quite nice and the dog wasn't at all sickly or mangy-looking. I told them I wouldn't give them any money, but if they were hungry I would buy them lunch. (That's always my way of finding out if they really want the money for food or for something else.) To my good fortune, they agreed, and I spent an hour visiting with them, chatting about anything and everything and nothing - where they were from and where I was from and what brought us to that spot on that day. I remember the visit with the homeless British couple more than going to see the old Roman baths, to be honest with you.

I don't often find music that stirs such memories in me...

I want more.