Choo Choo

The Christmas tree this year is a small living one. But, unfortunately, Max, our new dog, decided that the usual train tracks around the base of the tree were ideal for scattering all over the room. So the regular little train chugging around the tree was out.
Last year a friend had had one of these little toy train sets as a centerpiece on his table. So I picked one up last January for possible use at our house.

It has saved our “trains at Christmas tradition” in a tinker toy way. It’s not too ornamental and prompted a discussion about the Carreras family choo-choo train tradition. Unfortunately, it’s also not so quiet, and at the Christmas Eve buffet, we had to turn it off so the gathering could hear themselves think.

Since my sons and I are railroad buffs, it gave birth to a discussion on the prototype. Model railroaders come up with incredible mashups and strange things on their miniature layouts. The odd thing, however, is how often the real railroads wound up with some similarly bizarre piece of equipment or circumstance. So our conversation automatically turned to what the prototype for this train might have been.

We might have had too much of the rum-soaked fruitcakes. Gotta put a limit on how many slices you’re allowed before you’re shut off.

The New Christmas Tree

The price of a natural, fresh cut or cut-your-own Christmas tree grew out of bounds. So my spouse and I decided that we’d try something else. A local greenhouse/ garden center had an end-of-season sale on trees, and we bought a three-foot-tall Alberta spruce for much less than a fresh-cut Christmas tree.

It wasn’t that we felt a budget pinch or were in a draconian mood about holiday extravagances. It was the thought of all the years of trees composted at the fenceline of our property.

The little spruce came home with us. We carefully dug a hole for it and plunged it into the ground. It’s been carefully mulched around with hay to protect it from drying winds. We’ll move the mulch aside early next week and bring it in for a two-week visitation. After which, it will return to its hole and be carefully mulched again.

It’s feet shorter than our usual trees have been. And the boxes of ornaments will have to be culled for the most favorite. One thought we’ve had is long holiday swags over the doorways with the other decorations. So instead of the usual large train around the base, there will be a tiny wind-up circle.

It’s still Christmas; the feeling hasn’t changed, but the details – like everything else in life changes. Well, let’s not sweat the details.

Star Bright

Mr. and Mrs. Claus arrived on Harold Sprague’s lobster boat on Saturday. And the Cap’n officially decided it was time to decorate Psyche for the holidays. But, of course, as Able Bodied crewman and son-in-law, it was I who would do the brunt of the decorating under the direction of the Cap’n’s wife, Cora.

“Wes, hang the swag right at that rubber thingie.” Cora usually did not associate with the boat and meant the winter rub rail.” ” OK, but if I hang it there, it’ll be washed away on the tide.” And so it went until the boat was tarted up with swags and decorations. It was a fun enterprise, now, but come January, taking it all down would be a more painful issue, alone with no help in the snow. Still, at the end of the effort, Psyche looked attractively decorated. And stood out among the other boats in the cove with forlorn wreaths hung unimaginatively on their bows.

I fortified myself by imagining a giant cup of hot cocoa with a large marshmallow melting on the top. Maybe even a triple threat of treats on top.

At last, the Cap’n emerged from the shed with his favorite decoration, and the reason he moved the ketch to the float at this time of the year; was the lit and decorated star ornament hoisted to the masthead every Christmas season. But, of course, it needed refurbishment every year – check the bulbs and wiring, and renew the spruce covering.

So the entire family stood about and ceremoniously watched and shivered in the cold as old bulbs were replaced, the electrical connection was tested, and the whole contraption sent aloft.

Later that night, the star stood out brightly in the dark of the cove, almost as the star must have over Bethlehem. We sipped our cocoa with marshmallows and felt pleased with ourselves.

CAT-agorically Speaking of Christmas

Many humans have no idea how to keep Christmas. Cats, on the other hand, think that the holiday was designed for them. Ask any cat, and should they deign to give you an answer, it would be that there is an inextricable link between cats and Christmas. Carreras family cats always maintain it started when the cat in the manger shared her kitten’s bed with the baby Jesus. 

Less religious-leaning cats will point out that the tinkling bells and little balls of decorations are natural cat toys. So what could be more normal than a catnip toot and a boisterous field day playing with delicate ornaments ( with the humans running around shrieking!)? 

Afterward, a nice nap can be had in front of the fireplace, followed by an excellent roast.

About this point, your cat has determined that they have proven the point definitively, categorically ( so to speak), and in the words of the ancient cat philosopher Aristocatocles – QED (Quod Erat Demonstratum, thus I have proven it).

So as you decorate your tree, remember all the nice bells and balls go where your cat can grab them.

How Things Work Around Here

OK, listen up! To be clear, it’s not convoluted. It’s been known to Carreras cats and dogs back to prehistoric times. Santa Clause delivers toys to humans. His cat Santa Claws distributes to cats, and Santa Paws ( the dog elf), provides for the dogs. I understand that somewhere way back, an expedition to the North Pole was launched to confirm all this. Trust me; I’m a cat, and we know these things.

It’s different for cats and dogs. Cats are supposed to be bratty, indifferent to their humans, and disdainful of the stuff in their food bowls. People expect snotty behavior from us. Dad would take me to the darned vet if I were all sweetness and light. It would be like Santa’s reindeer not eating lichen and demanding celery. Yuck!

Dogs, on the other paw, are expected to obey. Cats are partners with humans. You guys drank the Cool Aid. You behave or get old dried reindeer poop in your stocking. 

In your defense, I know you’re still a pup. You have to learn now. I get first dibs on bows and wrapping paper under the Tree. 

Cats rule, and dogs drool!

Hold The Muzak

How can I say this…the long retail slog towards Christmas has started. Yesterday I visited my doctor for an immunization, and on the way home stopped at the big box bookstore for a treat. It was low but insidious. Christmas music, on the second of November. 

Oh, Lord! Do I have the stamina to withstand two months of Chestnuts Roasting in an Open fire, Here Comes Santa Clause, and Silent Night? Can I do this without becoming a grouch or, worse, a grinch?

I still have the build-up to our Thanksgiving ( here in the States), and I understand that between bird flu and supply chain issues, the rush to the freezers with the turkeys will make Black Friday a stroll in the park. It is almost enough to make a teetotaler like myself lust for a drink of the Golden Egg Nog they have already started pushing in the stores. Ick!

Don’t get me wrong, the holidays at this time of year are my absolute favorite. Nothing is mundane about lighting the first Christmas lights at sundown on Thanksgiving, preparing a holiday dinner, or listening to sappy songs. These things light off old memories like fireworks on the fourth of July.

So I guess I’ll put my earbuds firmly in place every time I go into a store for the next two months, play Tom Waits or ZZ Top, and buggy through the schlock. I love the holidays,

Early Bird

November is almost here!  

This time of year, I start perusing the catalogs and websites for small gifts for Christmas. I know what you are saying – “Lou, you are one of the people who complain about “Holiday Creep”…hypocrite.” But I’ve had reasonably concrete evidence that the good stuff goes first. So he who hesitates misses the good stuff. It’s no secret that outstanding small items are in limited supply. So the real aficionado needs good timing. I prefer PBS, Lee Valley, and museum shops. 

Pulling a successful small item hunt off is not an arbitrary plow through dozens of catalogs and websites. Instead, it’s an intricate dance because there are early offerings and later offerings at some. So first, you need to know your vendors.

My goal each year is to reach the finish line before our Thanksgiving here in the States. So no Black Friday rushes, no attempts to get those late shopping days deals.

I used to shop up till Christmas Eve. I think I spent more and enjoyed the holiday less. There will be enough craziness without shopping pressure. Making the rum-soaked fruitcakes and the Christmas Poppyseed Bread are my duties. My wife is a night shift nurse, so planning and preparing holiday meals are my jobs, as she’ll almost certainly be working. I can do without more craziness.

So, Happy shopping. And don’t blame me if those lovely little goodies you eyed for four weeks are gone by the time you order. The early shopper gets the goods.

Attack of the clone kittens

When he had time to sire this bunch I don’t know. But they seem to be identical to the “cute” Gray Menace, my cat from 1969 until he ascended to cat heaven in the mid ’80’s.

Shot in 1980 these adorable kittens haven’t come into the menace part of their inheritance, yet, just the cuteness stuff. But like their ancestor Clancy AKA the Gray Menace soon the desire for O negative blood will appear and mayhem ensue.

If I need a remembrance of what he looked like when young and still innocent I just have to watch this commercial

A Christmas Caper

The snowshoes are parked in front of the cabin for the photo. It’s a memento of a previous Christmas spent on the coast of Maine. Inside the house sat the perfect little Christmas tree the family had hunted throughout the woodlot for; hours spent tracking through the snow. The snowshoes were finally getting good use in the deep show of a cold Maine winter.

The family decorated the tree. Then, as each ornament emerged from the box, a story unfolded about a past Christmas. The bells bought at a church Christmas Fair, and the little Santa hanging from the lowest bough. The tree was decorated, at last, with gifts around the base. Finally, the family headed to bed.

It was quiet. No din of family chatter. Just the peace of an eve ending and a Christmas Morning preparing to dawn.

What was that rustling in the corner? a Christmas elf? Santa?
Why was it attired from tufted ear tip to tip of the beringed tail in gray? Wait, was it? Could it be? Heigh-ho hey, it was the gray marauder! Yes, it was the gray destroyer creeping up on the tree. His objective? The fat furry one swinging temptingly from the lowest bough and saucily daring the Grey Menace to carry him away in captivity to the dark recesses under his father’s bed. The slinking progress along the floor did not alert the fat one in red to his imminent danger. The hunt itself should be facile. It had to be achieved without disturbing those tattletale bells above.
A fast jump, a grab, a single abortive jingle, and Santa was his! Now away to the lair with his captive. Another Christmas Eve Caper pulled off with perfection!

“Georgia? didn’t you put Santa on the lowest bough last night?”, “Yes, Daddy, I did.”, “Are you sure? He’s not there now.” The Grey Menace watches the fun from under the couch as the grim search for Santa ensues. Then he notices his dad, the one these people call Wes, looking at him with suspicion. Was the jig up? The Gray Menace lashes his tail in frustration. No! dad pulls Santa from under the bed, walks into the living room, and secretly drops him into the empty box of ornaments.

“Hey, Georgia? Here he is! You must have just thought you put him up.” Georgia starts to protest but stops and places Santa back in his place. The Menace decides that the look of confusion that crossed her face was almost as good as an hour-long search for Santa.

Well, maybe better. The bows, ribbons, paper, and boxes of Christmas morning are a lot of fun. And it beats being put in the bedroom while the presents get unwrapped, like last year. Baby Jesus hadn’t minded getting stolen from the nativity scene.

Humans take this stuff way too seriously.


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