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.