Monday, December 17, 2018

Christmas trees

I'm in favor of artificial trees. It has nothing to do with saving the environment. My reasons also have nothing to do with pine sap and pine needles getting in the carpet, although that is a major point against trees that used to be alive. I don't particularly care if a sparrow lost a nesting site. After reading other blogs about peoples experiences with cutting their own tree, I believe I'm not alone in my reasons.

Here's a pretty funny one:  8 reasons why I won't cut down a Christmas tree.

We have plenty of tools and don't get in the predicament of breaking saw blades like the writer of that blog.

Christmas trees at tree farms have been sprayed with something to improve the natural color to a bright, healthy green. The branches have been trained and trimmed until the tree has the perfect cone shape. You don't find out that the trunk has scoliosis and won't stand up once it is detached from the roots until you bring it into the house.

The real reason I prefer artificial, which my children actually demanded when they were old enough to realize a reasonable request would be given thoughtful consideration, is the steps their dad will take to ensure the imperfect tree he cut down will display as a champion.

First, forget about going to a tree farm where practically every pine tree looks like a good candidate. There are plenty of likely specimens of cedar trees in the shelter belt or windbreak behind the house. They are free. Although the windbreak was planted in the 1930's or 1940's, there are numerous younger trees that grew from seeds of the older ones. Hopefully, the selection will be found close to the house instead of half a mile away at the end of the tree row.

Second, cedar trees have a fairly uniform shape, but that doesn't mean they won't have bare spots or holes where it seems there should have been a branch growing. It certainly doesn't mean the trunk will be any straighter than the farmed trees.

Third, when the pick of the litter is brought back to the house, the real fun begins for part of the family. I don't have fun with this project. I stay out of the way. However, before it is brought in the house, one should give the tree a good shake or bang the trunk against the sidewalk to dislodge dead or loose needles, stray deciduous leaves and bird feathers. For future reference, most of the following steps really should take place outside.

Naturally, the trunk can't fit in the tree stand without removing a bunch of limbs that grew close to the ground. Just lop those branches off so there will be room under the tree for the Christmas gifts. If the trunk still doesn't fit in the stand, whittle it until it does.  One might think the left-over branches could be used to decorate the mantle, or tied into swags to hang above the door or even shaped into a wreath. But no. Don't throw them out. They do have a purpose.

Now the tree must be stood up in the middle of the room and inspected from every angle to find thin places in the shape. At this point, the reserved branches are held in the bare spots, checked for proper length, and shortened if necessary.

Then, the electric drill is brought into the living room, a room where no drill belongs. The set of drill bits are compared to the diameter of the lopped off branches. Next, bore a hole half-way through the trunk at a slightly downward angle and trim the end of the branch until it fits in the hole. Repeat until the formerly bedraggled looking tree is nicely filled out.

Finally, the moment of truth. Will the tree stand up on its own?

If it doesn't, the solution is simple. Screw an eyelet bolt into the corner and run a wire to the tree trunk.

Now the clean up begins. I don't know why my name is the first to come up. I didn't make the mess. Even after vacuuming needles and bits of wood, the work isn't over. The reservoir in the tree stand must be filled with sugar water to keep the tree fresh and topped off every day or so.

Finally, Christmas is over and the new year has arrived. It's time to take the tree out. More messes to clean up. We didn't even talk about stringing lights and ornaments and the removal thereof.  Or how itchy the trees are to certain people.

Here are the steps required to get ready for the holidays with our artificial 4-foot green tree. Pull the tree out of the box in the basement crawlspace where it has been out of sight all year. Place the center pole in the tripod holder and stand it up. Fold the branches down. Don't worry about the lights. It is pre-lit. Decorate. Enjoy the festivities and repeat in reverse order after New Year's.

Now wasn't that much easier? 

Optional:  Remove from box early in October and decorate with fall colors. Leave in place until time to change the seasonal decorations after Thanksgiving.

My autumn tree. 


Monday, December 10, 2018


In the early 1980's the County repaved the blacktop road that bordered one of our fields. The road engineer asked if we would allow them to stage some of their equipment near the intersection. This included a cone of sand which was used to spread on the road after it was resurfaced and sealed with oil. When the work was finished, we were left with several cubic yards of crushed rock consisting of particles 1/2" or smaller. The road department didn't want the expense of removing it, so we were stuck with the inconvenience of farming around it.

Occasionally, we thought of a use for the sand and chipped away at the pile.

We had two kids, and they got old enough to play outdoors without constant supervision. I thought it would be fun if they had a sandbox to play in. Their dad thought it would be a lot of work to get the sand from the field to our house.

He must have had a boring day because he gathered up empty seed bags and a shovel and transported some of the pile to the house. Did you know you can put 100 pounds of sand in a sack designed to hold 50 pounds of corn seed? 

Ed proceeded to pour sand into a pile in my flower garden. I cringed but didn't say anything. We found some 2x6 boards to make it an actual sand BOX. I gathered up plastic cups and anything else I could think of for our son and daughter to play with and led them outside to see the surprise. As they were walking down the steps, one of the cats was busily staking a claim. The confused children wondered what was so exciting about a cat scraping the sand over the hole he had dug. 


Even though mom removed that portion of sand along with the cat poop, the two kids never played in it. Not once.

The cats loved it though, and my poor flowers were never the same.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Expression Lessons

Mrs. Gray's Expression Lessons. My mother enrolled my brother and me in her beginners' class when he was in the first grade and I was in the third. The house was across the street from the football field and had a separate entrance to the 'theater.'

The room had a stage, wings and a seating area for the audience. Mrs. Gray stressed that she was not giving acting lessons. That was good because I couldn't act. My brother, on the other hand, was a natural.

She expected a lot of memory work. Paying attention proved to be the key to remembering. Everyone in the class sat quietly and listened while she told a story. Then she assigned parts, and we went to the stage and acted out, interpreted, the story. 

I think the hardest thing she ever asked me to do was pretend to be one of the characters in a Nativity tableau. There was no acting or speaking. We took our places and didn't move for five minutes. Excruciating.

Besides performing, we also memorized poetry and recited it. At the end of the term of lessons, there was a recital with our parents and grandparents as special guests.

At the event, my brother recited the following poem, Elf and the Dormouse.

I found this cute illustration on Art Side.

It was published in 2012 and gives credit for borrowing it from a 2011 post on Marge8's Blog.

It is slightly hard to read, so here are the words:

'The Elf and the Dormouse'

Under a toadstool crept a wee Elf,
Out of the rain to shelter himself.

Under the toadstool, sound asleep,
Sat a big Dormouse all in a heap.

Trembled the wee Elf, frightened and yet
Fearing to fly away lest he get wet.

To the next shelter—maybe a mile!
Sudden the wee Elf smiled a wee smile.

Tugged till the toadstool toppled in two.
Holding it over him, gaily he flew.

Soon he was safe home, dry as could be.
Soon woke the Dormouse—'Good gracious me!'

'Where is my toadstool?' loud he lamented.
—And that’s how umbrellas first were invented.

Oliver Herford (1863-1935)

My brother was a trooper when he stood on the stage and recited the poem. It went without a hitch until the last line when he said, "Where is my toadstool? loud he lamented. -- And that's how umbrellas first were convented."

Everyone laughed. From the wings, Mrs. Gray whispered: "invented." During the reception afterward, Mrs. Gray told my parents that 'convented' worked much better in the poem. She was considering having future classes say it just like that. For years, at our house, my dad said convented instead of invented if the word came up in conversation.

The next year when Mrs. Gray opened up enrollment for another class, we were given the option to participate or not. I declined, but my brother went for two or three more years.