Thursday, December 29, 2011

I've been working on the railroad

This is a Christmas story about a young boy. A boy slight in stature and mighty in personality. He's a unique one, this kiddo. He's a throwback to a different time.  He does not like electronic toys. Yes, you read that right.  No batteries, no remotes, no power.  The only fuel he taps into is his own imagination. 

He likes trains. Wooden trains and wooden tracks.  He had a sizable collection but he wanted more. And in wonderful synchronicity it so happened that a friend of mine had four tubs of tracks and trains that were the same kind as this little guy's collection. Four tubs just sitting in her garage. My friend had them because her mother had collected them through the years, picking up boxes here and there at thrift stores. Her mother gave them to her to see if she find a home for them or sell them. 


Remember when I filled a Saturday baking Christmas goodies?  It was at that friend's house, the one with the trains in the garage, where the baking took place. And my other friend, this boy's mother, stopped by for a visit that afternoon.  I believe that is when Santa Claus reached his great gloved hand into the scene. The trains came up in conversation. And before you could say, On Donner and Blitzen on Comet and Cupid, four tubs of train tracks and trains and bridges and all sorts of related things changed hands. 

So, Santa delivered the trains! But, as we all know, Santa is a busy guy. He tapped our shoulders for a little assistance. Yesterday morning and into the early afternoon, my friend, her partner and I assembled and connected the tracks. We wound those pieces this way and that all over their backyard patio and sidewalks. 



We assembled bridges and overpasses, a major train station, a zoo, a repair garage, a village and so much more.





We did all of this without my friend's son having any idea what was awaiting him.  He was pretty darn happy when he found out!


Being Santa's helper?  It's a great gig if you can get it. ;-)


Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Every year when I pull out this collar from the Christmas decorations box, Cheyenne dances in circles around me.  From the day after Thanksgiving until New Years Eve, each morning and afternoon, I pull it from the counter for our walks and, when she hears those bells, she jumps up with excitement, all butt wiggles and smiles.  One of the many things I love about her.


Monday, December 26, 2011

The day after

Christmas was beyond my expectations.  My fear of being alone, or worse, lonely, was never realized.  Not even close.  I realized that if they can't come to you, go to them.  So, Christmas was spent with family and also friends.  It was spent in Austin and also Houston.  There was much cheer and joy, and I found myself more than once pausing to look out over a room filled with people I love, and thinking, you are blessed.

I have so very many photos to go through and share but for now I want to share just one.  This is a tree that my friend made for me.  I think it's just lovely, but more than that, I look at it and think, she made this with her own hands with her own time. That's a pretty awesome gift to receive.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A very yummy Christmas!

A couple of years ago, I learned that I enjoy cooking during the holidays and gifting friends with a little yummy goodness.  It feels good to take the time to make a gift with my hands, to prepare and stir and mix and bake and wrap and give. 

This year, the gifts are three-fold:  Pumpkin bread, cranberry sauce, and, for those friends with dogs, dog biscuits.  All the baking took place in my friend's kitchen. She's a great cook and her kitchen is much better equipped than my own. For instance, she has a Kitchen Aid mixer.  That comes in handy when you're making over 20 loaves of pumpkin bread.  Saturday was a very busy day in her kitchen.


I really enjoy making cranberry sauce. The recipe is so simple, just fresh cranberries, orange juice and sugar. Once those cranberries heat up and start popping open, the kitchen starts smelling fantastic. Combine that with the smell of baking pumpkin bread and the whole house smells dreamy.


Cheyenne stayed in the kitchen most of the day, ever hopeful for a taste. 


Speaking of dogs, Dixie is back! I'll post about her progress later but, for now, would you just look at her legs and her big feet? There's some dinosaur blood in that dog.  I'm sure of it.


She must be dreaming of these biscuits.


All in all?  Thirty-four dog biscuits, 12 jars of cranberry sauce and 25 loaves of pumpkin bread.


So far, the feedback has been a resounding Yummy!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Here and now, because she was once the same


Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.

~ From a headstone in Ireland so very true.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


Do you remember the summer?  How hot it was?  How dry it was? I do. I feel that for those of us who live in Houston, where there was no rain for months on end and way too many days in a row that read triple digits on the thermometer, there should be a badge.  Something like the boyscout's patches, but ours would say, I survived Summer Twenty Eleven ~ In the air-conditioned capitol of the world. It could arrive by the way of discount in our electricity bills.

It's been the opposite lately, weather wise.  We've been swinging back and forth in a temperature range between the 40s and 70s. A range like that? I file that under the letter "T" for Thank goodness.

It seems that all that heat we suffered through just a few months ago has been all but forgotten. Nature is full of wonder, isn't she?  Now, our city is dotted with the Fall colors of reds and golds and yellows in our trees. Trees all over the city are glowing with color.  Houston in December is looking very much like Vermont did in October.  It's as if Mother Nature is sending us an apology.

Okay, Mother Nature, apology accepted.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A two-way street

Yesterday I went to Target to buy some things but first I had to return some things. Visiting Target between Thanksgiving and Christmas is a painful exercise but I figured that a Tuesday morning might be less so. I found a cart in the parking lot, put my return items in it and went inside the store and to the Service counter.  There was no line.  (Happy me!) 

I had to return several things (hence, the cart I gratefully retrieved from the parking lot) that I'd bought as possibilities for a friend whose living room I am helping re-decorate.  Lamps, frames, some other stuff. 

I gave my receipt to the woman behind the service counter and then handed each item to her, waited for her to scan the bar code, and handed her the next item.

It took all of a minute.

As she stapled my return receipt to my original receipt, I said, Thank you for making this such a painless process for me.

She looked at me, smiled, and said, Thank YOU for making this painless for me. She went on to explain that returns and exchanges are her job but that many customers don't bring in a receipt or don't remember which credit card they used.  She said it can be a long process for her and a line builds and people get upset when they have to wait but there's nothing she can do. After she explained, she said again, So, thank YOU.

As I strolled through the store with my then empty but soon to be filled cart, I realized something.  If you want good service, be a good customer.  It's an exchange of expectations, one that can go smoothly, or not. It's important that you play your part towards the outcome you are after. The equation is that simple.

Monday, December 12, 2011


The greatest gift I was ever given was the gift of adoption.  I was just five weeks old when I was adopted.  Seems like a lot of time by today's adoption standards, but back then it was not.  I was the youngest baby placed in a home by the agency that handled my adoption; I was also the first child placed in a home that was the third child in that family.  Benchmarks.

Still, for the first five weeks of my life, my name was Baby Girl. 

Since Mom passed away, I've felt like Baby Girl again.  In my head, I oftentimes consider myself an orphan, parentless.  While I understand that as we age, it is a natural progression that we lose our parents, for me I also lost the two people who chose me, pulled me into their fold, created the life I lived, gave me my family.  They took me from Baby Girl to Alison.

That's a lot to be thankful for, and I am.

Fast forward to Christmas 2011.  Wait, no, I need to back up, just a bit.

For too many reasons to put forth here, since 2007, I have taken charge of Christmas for my little family, my two nieces and my nephew.  We went to Colorado one year, New Mexico another.  In 2008, we went to the family cabin and put the first Christmas tree in that house.  Last year, I had them here with me in my house.

Okay, now to 2011.  Everyone has plans.  Plans to be with the boyfriend's family, the maternal grandparents, the fiance's family.  I find that for the first time in my little life, I am alone for the holidays.

And so it was that Saturday night when I was at my friends' house, celebrating their family Christmas, a celebration where I was the only non family person there, a celebration where there were mothers and fathers and step fathers and brothers and uncles and nieces and nephews and lovers and love, I looked around me at all that wonderful history and connection and realized, I am an orphan.

Now, understand, I was having a wonderful time. My friend's partner has a big beautiful family and I fell head over heels for the people I met and every single person was delightful and I tried (and I think succeeded) to be delightful right back. In fact, I was so very swept up in family that I felt right at home.  But feeling at home, feeling that comfortable, is what reminded me that while the comfort was there, the history and connection were not.

Then I said out loud, I am an orphan. I said it to my friend, the friend I've know for almost 30 years, the one who helped me raise my sister's children, the one who screamed for a doctor when I was in the hospital and a nurse had screwed up a blood transfusion so badly that my eyes rolled back in my head, the friend whose hand I held when we buried too many of our friends at too young an age, the friend who is a sounding board for all the big decisions in my life.  She looked right at me and said, You are NOT an orphan, you're family.  That's why we wanted you here, you're family!

I stood there and let her words move from my ears to my heart.  She was right, my friend was.  Indeed, I was with family.  I belonged there, was invited and included.

Life shifts this way and morphs into that thing, but always if we look for and accept, we find where we belong.  We find family, even if we have to create that family.  I should know that better than many.  To my delight, I've been adopted again.  For the second time in my life, no longer an orphan am I.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

We were there

I drove by our old house today, parked on the narrow street like the stalker I never considered I would be. I saw myself there, stringing lights on the pear tree with my father. I saw the two of us hanging the wreaths on the front doors, the lights on the balcony rails.  I glanced through the windows and saw Mom there, gently and specifically hanging the ornaments on the Christmas tree. 

Sitting in my car, I could smell the pine logs burning in the fireplace, the ones I carried inside, the ones my father would watch and say, those are too heavy for you, Cat. But I did carry them, I wanted to be strong. And he smiled when they landed and connected flame with the others there.

I sat there and looked at each window and remembered the loved ones who slumbered on the other side of the glass, remembered the prayers we said out loud together.  I focused on the trees that were young when we built the house, young and tender, but so strong and tall now.

I looked at the white bricks and the green shutters and I smiled.  I saw us, all of us, on those stair steps, through those windows.  We were living our lives, just living our lives.

Sitting there, feeling like a connected outsider, nothing moved.  I remembered and remembered and remembered. With every ounce of me, and no effort at all.

It seemed that I should cry, but instead I smiled.  For once I smiled.  We lived our lives there, we loved there! So much love we shared there. For a moment, I saw it all, every bit of life we lived there.  I saw all the sparkles from our loving hearts.  And then I watched all of my memories rise up in the sky like beautiful bubbles, rising, rising, rising beyond my reach but not my view, not my heart.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Happy holidays!

On Saturday I did some volunteer work for a local dog adoption event. Santa was there, so of course I had to get Cheyenne up on his lap so she could whisper her wishes. I did not take this picture, which is why Cheyenne isn't looking into the camera.  She's looking at me, standing off to the side. 


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Dixie. Grrrrrrr

Dixie has the sweetest deep brown eyes and, when she frets, above them are a fold of red wrinkles that fall from her brow in stacks of perfect pancake shapes. Dixie is tall and lean, curious and excited. She is at oftentimes sweet, generous with kisses and an occasional gentle paw gesture.

Dixie is also aggressive and struggling to find her place in this household. Cheyenne has a scab on her ear and I have a bruise on my finger, both from an episode of Dixie exploding with anger because I dropped a green bean on the kitchen floor when I was heating leftovers on Sunday and both dogs naturally went for it.

It was not the first such event. The truth is that when she wants something that Cheyenne has or is moving towards, be it food, a stick or a toy, Dixie attacks and Dixie bites. She absolutely loses her mind and I have to use force to get her to stop, to calm her down.

The truth is that this behavior is severe and has had me struggling with what to do with Dixie.  I didn't choose her lightly and, although there are no vows between human and dog, when I got her my heart did promise to take care of her for all of her life.

Dixie is a happy dog but I'm not at all sure that she's living the best life she can. What I didn't consider is the absolute depth of struggle between elder dog and puppy, between Cheyenne's set patterns and our relationship and another living element thrown into the mix and what that life might need and deserve or how that life would struggle to find its place.  I thought it would be, if not easier, smoother.  

While the two dogs have interacted in wonderful play together at times, the past two weeks have been incredibly stressful for me and for Cheyenne, and Dixie too I suppose. If I could undo my decision to get Dixie, to drive past that moment, I honestly would do so.  But I did stop, I did choose Dixie and I will not unchoose her. I struggle because the responsibility is my own, not hers. She's young, just seven months, and it's clear to me that the aggression is a symptom of a larger struggle. What Dixie needs from me is love, understanding, patience. 

What she also needs is intensive training. While I've trained her on the leash and we've been working on the sit command, what she needs is beyond my ability.  Tomorrow morning, Dixie and I have a meeting at an organization that provides such training, over a two-week period while she's boarded at their location.  It's not an inexpensive exercise.  Over the phone, I was told that she has possession aggression.  Yeah, one could say that.  I was also told that my armchair diagnosis was likely correct, that's she's 1) young, 2) struggling to figure out her place in the order of things, and 3) in need of training beyond my ability. 

The goal is that once she receives that training, and I learn how to work with her on her lessons, that she will become a happier dog with her newfound understanding of the order in things. She deserves that happiness.  Wish us luck, won't you?


Saturday, November 26, 2011

The happy joy

My Thanksgiving day began quietly, just me and Cheyenne. Dixie too, but she was not participating in the quiet. The day's tradition changes a bit each year for me but a few things are constant:  a long walk in the morning, family, and friends who are family. 

This year, I had Thanksgiving lunch with my dear friend, Jessie. We feasted at a table she set for two, and then we watched some trashy television and laughed out loud at the silliness of some people when they're being serious. Jessie's laughter is music to my ears.

Then I went to my friends' house where I was given a leaf on which to write the things I am thankful for. What a great idea that was, to take the time to write that gratitude down and then hang it on a branch.

Blackberry May 016

Blackberry May 031

My nephew and his girlfriend joined us and they brought their daughter, Faith, who will not sit still long enough for me to get a focused photo. But that's beside the point, isn't it?  Because we were all there, together, friends and family, and the day was one of love, smiles and appreciation.

Monday, November 21, 2011


These paws of Cheyenne's, I love them. They have carried her beside me down many roads and through many parks. As she has aged, the hair between her toes has grown longer and gray. It's very soft but she hates for me to touch her feet so, of course, I like to mess with that hair when she's not paying attention. It tickles her. Then she kicks me.


Friday, November 18, 2011

Chasing the blues away

This week has not been the best collection of days I've experienced in my life. Each morning, I've awoken with the same heavy heart that I carried into my sleep. Each day, I've not done much towards lifting my spirits. Instead, I wanted to allow myself to feel the grief and the sadness and, yes, some anger. I didn't want to drape any emotion over my shoulders that wasn't really there.

This morning though, I let the sunshine in. The morning was so blue sky, cool air crisp that it creeped into me and lifted my spirits. I decided to take my camera on my morning walk with the dogs, and see if I could spot some more things to help me feel better.

This burst of gold leaves was the first thing I spotted.


Then I noticed the pretty simplicity of this front porch.


Watching Cheyenne enjoy a good roll in the grass never fails to put a smile on my face.


Then I passed these two beauties and inhaled their sweet scent because that's what we're supposed to do, stop and smell the roses.

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My girl and her shadow.


My neighbor's landscaping along the fence. I love the glossy green leaves and the tall ornamental grass.


Rounding the corner back home, I noticed how tall and lovely this River Birch is in my front yard. I planted it late last year. Every time I notice its sturdy progress, I smile.


I'm glad I took my camera with me this mornig as holding it in my hand reminded me to seek out the little things that I enjoy, and to let them go to work on my healing heart.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I got the news today

This man, he of the wide grin and sparkling eyes, he's my uncle.  He is my mother's brother.  For me, to me, he was laughter and tickles, intelligence and a quick wit I tried to keep up with, and compassion.  He loved his sister, my mother, and he loved me as well.  I'm sure he loved my sister and brother as they too were his niece and nephew, but he was charmed by me and I held on to that, formed my own relationship with him. Our focus was always on us, our banter, our time. I can hear myself now, remembering him, giggling with the delight of a child.  So happy I was to see him, always. My Uncle Carl.

I am positive that my Uncle Carl made hard decisions in his life, struggled, cried, fought. He lived through the tragedy of losing the love of his life in a horrible accident, and several years later the good Lord blessed him with another woman with whom he could share his life and heart.  He raised three sons who my mother whole-heartedly adored.  But I didn't see or really know that part of his life, save for a few foggy family trips. He and I, we started talking, really talking, about 20 years ago. He egged me on for years, to be an adult, to be honest, stand up for myself, laugh at myself.  This life, not as serious as I was making it. When I finally was able to laugh, he loved it.

When mother began to unravel, I called him. My father called him. He came here. Of course he came here, she was his sister.  He was shocked, sad. He was also direct and firm with her. To no avail. The last time I saw him, his heart was sad. My heart was sad. too. He knew he wouldn't see his sister again and I held on tight to our goodbye because I wondered if I would see him again.

It's okay, kiddo, you're doing a good job. Just keep loving her, that's all you can do. Be strong.

I called him when she passed. I think we cried together over the phone but he was trying to be strong.  He couldn't make it here for her service, his legs and hips would not allow the travel.  Months later when I went to New York City to scatter her ashes, and told him that I was doing so, he excitedly shared stories from their childhood. Central Park, their skating, the museums, the security guards, and the out-witting. I learned that those two were quite a mischievous team.

He said to me, you're a good kid, Alison, a good kid. She'd like what you're doing.

I called him from Central Park that day and he let me cry over the phone, he shouldered my tears, understood them.  He encouraged my journey. 

My Uncle left this life in March of this year. Seven months ago. I found out today.  It's a cruel way, how I found out, a cruel and unnecessary way. 
Carl Oxholm, Jr., age 87, died on March 8, 2011, at his home in Dunwoody Village in Newtown Square, Pa. He was born March 21, 1923, in New York City to the late Carl and Dorothy Oxholm. He lived in Staten Island, N.Y., until enlisting in the Army in 1942. He returned to the New York City area upon his honorable discharge in 1946 and graduated from Brown University in 1949. After several years in retail he joined the Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company of Philadelphia in 1952. He married Eleanor (Ellie) Councilman of New York City in 1952, and moved to the Philadelphia area where he has lived ever since. He enjoyed a 24-year career with Penn Mutual as a Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU) and long-time General Agent, eventually retiring from the position of Vice President of Marketing. During his career he made hundreds of friends in the life insurance business and served as President of the General Agents and Managers Conference in 1968. After retirement he enjoyed his main passion, golf, primarily at St. Davids Golf Club in Wayne, Pa., and The Meadows Country Club in Sarasota, Fla., including scoring four holes-in-one. He was preceded in death by his parents, his sister Elizabeth Groth, and his first wife Ellie who died tragically in an auto accident in 1982. He is survived by his wife of 27 years, Frances (nee Hopkins). In addition, he is survived by his three sons; Carl (Tobey) and his wife Kim, of Sacramento, Calif.; Tom and his wife Becky, of Raleigh, N.C.; and Paul and his wife Karen, of Wyomissing, Pa.; and eight grandchildren. He will be interred in Quogue, N.Y. In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts can be made to the J. Wood Platt Caddie Scholarship Program, Golf Association of Philadelphia, P.O. Box 808, Southeastern, Pa. 19399. Stuard F.H., Ardmore, Family owned since 1822.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


I never met Carmon, never had opportunity to hear her laughter. We never said, bless you, to each other's sneezes or clinked our glasses in toast to our successes.  She was, however, my friend for several years.

We met through each other's websites. She was a tremendous support during the time I was caring for my mother, and when Mom passed away.  I will always remember and appreciate Carmon's words and her kindness during that time. We further connected through horses and compassion. The above photo is of her magnificient dabbled grey horse, Griton, one of many BLM Mustangs that she and her husband, Mike, saved. 

Carmon's compassion was enormous and she put so much energy into following through on her beliefs. I enjoyed reading about the work she did towards adopting and acclimating rescue horses into her care, or finding the right home for those she was unable to take in. She adopted rescue Greyhounds as well.  Carmon's heart was a big one, her respect for and knowledge of animals tremendous. She was incredibly kind and patient with the animals in her life, and so skilled at helping abused animals trust humans again. For years I enjoyed reading about her process and progress with her animals.

We had hoped to meet, but on two occasions the snow and ice kept us from doing so. Next time, we saidThere won't be a next time. Carmon passed away on Friday. Melonoma stole her from this life. The last time she posted on her website, Life at Star's Rest, she did so under the heading, I'm doing alright!  She closed that post with these words just after Mike left the hospital to care for the horses and dogs:  I still smell of woodsmoke from where he hugged me and I'll wrap the scent warm and close around me through the night.

Today, I find tremendous comfort in her words as I know the scent of loved ones is a powerfully comforting blanket and I'm glad my friend had that.

There is so much more that I can write, that I can share with you about Carmon, but I find that I'm at a loss for words as I absorb the news of Carmon's death. Sometimes, silence is what is the most soothing.

On the sidebar of Carmon's website, are these words by Stanley Harrison:

Somewhere in time's own space,
there must be some sweet pastured place.
Where creeks sing on and tall trees grow,
some paradise where the horses go;
for by the love that guides my pen,
I know great horses live again.

I believe that somewhere in time's own space in a sweet pastured place, Carmon is with the great horses who live again, with her beloved Star again.

Neither of the photos in this post are my own, I think obviously. Still, I want to say that because copyrights were important to Carmon. The first photo is one she took; the second one is credited to her husband, Mike. I copied these from her website without permission but I do give full credit. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Sole dreams

I think I've been up front on this little site about my love of shoes. I think I even mentioned that when I once referred to myself as a shoe whore, my friend told me that she preferred I say shoe enthusiast. She had a point. Back in the old days -- which are only referred to as the old days because I went and broke my ankle in 2010 and had to have surgery which resulted in my no longer being able to wear my favorite platform or wedge heel shoes -- I would eagerly look forward to changing out my shoes for the change in season, assessing what new shoes would be needed and heading out to shop. Yeah, that activity came to a halt last year.  Still, I do enjoy window shopping.  These shoes are some that would be in my closet this Fall.  You know, if only.

Sunday, November 06, 2011