Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

Here's to a happy, healthy and prosperous 2009.

Keeping Things in Perspective

On my way to the barn today I saw the silhouette of a large bird flying fairly low over the fields adjacent to the road. Somehow I knew it wasn't a run-of-the-mill crow, didn't have the legs and neck for a heron.... So I kept an eye on it as I tried to keep the car inside my lane. The bird flew across the road just ahead of the car. It was a bald eagle! Honest to goodness national symbol. I had to sneak a second look to make sure of what I was seeing. Yep! An adult bald eagle.

Mother Nature always seems to help one keep things in perspective. Provided you're alert to what she's doing. The woman following me a little too closely had a cell phone plastered to her ear and didn't notice the bald eagle. Anyway...I was impressed. I got the message. Keep yourself open to Mother Nature's gifts. Glueing oneself to modern high tech gadgets seems to create a barrier against the real world.


Back in the saddle!! Again. I longed Phantom for 10 minutes, then rode for only 20 minutes. But I got what I wanted and we're both out of shape after so much time off since I broke my wrist and the snow kept me "cabin bound."

Lots of forward walking to warm up eventually got us to round and connected. Circles and serpentines at a posting trot got us to "beachball" round engagement. Did just a wee bit of leg yielding. Phantom was stiff through the middle and I lacked the muscle to bend him, so we were a pair. But he was good-natured about it all and despite a glance or two for cougars, he was well-behaved. So I was happy with my brief ride. A little trot on a long rein to stretch out and we concluded with a happy walk.

Today my fuzzy, grey Goober Boy was pricesless. Not for sale at any price. :-)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


I asked Santa for a digital camera and he came through with some money so I could shop for one. I wanted a camera a few steps above my little Kodak digital, but not one of the expensive SLRs. I took note of the models recommended by "Consumer Reports," which included two cameras by Canon. I came across the Canon PowerShot SX10 IS, a new model with favorable reviews from users.

So...I ventured to the closest Best Buy, played with the cameras, kept coming back to the above model, and finally bit. I decided I'd probably be disappointed if I got a different model, so I went for it. What sold me was the zoom, since I want to play at horse shows and the audience is always at a safe distance from the action. Plus it uses AA batteries. I went for the two-year warranty against damage (the knowledgeable sales clerk had experience with repairs to a camera covered under the warranty), a memory card, and camera case.

This was a big purchase for me, and lots of bells and whistles to learn. So I was both excited and apprehensive about the purchase. But once I got home the camera was easy to set up and put in working order. Learning how to use all the features will come with practice.

THE PROBLEM: I can't load the Canon software onto my Mac. My operating system is too old. :-(

I have Mac OS X 10.3.9. Old, old, old (apparently). I need at least OS X 10.4. And the newest Leopard operating software is 10.5+.


It appears that I can purchase Leopard for around $130 (cheaper than a new computer), but I need "512 MB of physical RAM." What the h___ does that mean?!

I'm not a computer person. I want to turn on my Mac and start working on my novel, or poke around online, or download/upload photos, or create a PowerPoint slide show of a story outline, etc.

So I poke around on the computer and search on Google. I think I discovered that I have more than adequate space on my computer to upgrade to Leopard. What I don't have is the $130.

So do I take an "advance" on my income tax refund to buy the software sooner rather than later? Will my computer melt if I try to do an upgrade? Will my head explode if I attempt to load Leopard?


All I wanted was a digital camera to play with!

Monday, December 29, 2008


Cold, wet, Doug fir-whipping, in your face RAIN. It's what we know on the wet side, er, west side of the Cascades. This we can handle.

Most signs of snow are gone. A few dirty mounds remain from shovels and plows, or in shady areas.

I reintroduced myself to Phantom today. Since it was cold and blustery, and rattling the big arena doors, I decided against riding. So it was a barbershop day. I gave Phantom a good brushing, cleaned and treated his feet, and brushed and rebraided forelock, mane and tail. My little gray guy almost dozed off while I was working on his mane. What a cutie.

Boarder Genevieve longed Zorro, who was convinced that cougars were trying to batter down the doors of the arena. Yep, good day to keep the saddle in the tack room.

Yikes, the Wranglers are pretty snug after essentially three months on the sidelines. Maybe NOW I can work off some calories from the saddle.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Boxing Day

Although this photo was taken on Sunday, our street doesn't look much different. It's more chewed up due to additional traffic and the slow melt. Some ruts in the snow are slush, others are still ice.

As Indy and I were coming down the street after our morning stroll, a young woman drove past in a small SUV. She got out of her rig to deliver a gift and as we walked past she said our street was scary. Her SUV is gone, so she must have been able to get our of our neighborhood. White knuckles and all.

We had ourselves a Merry Little Christmas. Thoughtful friends from the Seattle area sent all kinds of goodies that solved our emergency situation: running out of See's candy! Mom and I exchanged clothes, items from our lists, and items that should have been on our lists. We had discussed splurging on a roast or steaks for Christmas dinner, but had to make do with Marie Callendar's spaghetti dinner and mincemeat pie for dessert.

Indy received a stuffed blue sheep that makes a "baa baa" sound when squeezed instead of the usual dog toy squeak. He doesn't quite know what to make of the funny noise. He did finally pick up the blue sheep but quickly dropped it. He later poked his nose at it and immediately jumped away. Finally last night he started to chew on it. He's now two years old, but I'm not sure that's he's completely outgrown his chew & swallow phase. So we're keeping a close eye on him as he gnaws on the sheep's ear or leg. (I can verify that hydrogen peroxide will make a dog regurgitate lengths of towel and other inappropriately ingested items.)

Mom has kept busy at the sewing machine during our forced confinement and she's still working on her Christmas cards (more like New Year's cards now). I've been working on "Legacy." Today I FINALLY sewed a fleece cover for the elastic dressage girth that gives Phantom galls. I'm just over halfway through Cornelia Funke's "Inkdeath," the last book of her trilogy.

The horses are reportedly turned out today after spending Christmas inside due to the slippery conditions. Snow and ice sliding off the roof of the arena barn apparently gave a few of the horses coronaries. Only minor boo boos. Poor Finn, our big little guy, nearly came out of his stall in a single bound according to Owner Susan.

I think Mom and I need to discuss the possibility of studded tires or chains for her car. Particularly considering that January and February are our usual snow months. :-0

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Indy says, "You've got to be kidding!"

The official measurement was 14 inches of snow for our burb south of Portland. During the past two days, I-5 in our vicinity has been one of the worst trouble spots for travelers.

The change in weather began today. The morning walk with Indy was similar to yesterday's...traveling on the packed snow in the streets because the unshoveled or nonpacked snow/ice/snow combination was difficult to navigate. The rain began shortly after we returned from our walk and continued most of the day. I watched the snow fall off of the trees in the neighbors' yards while I wrote. By the time we ventured out for Indy's afternoon walk, all the trees were bare and the cold rain was just nasty. The streets are melting, however, the packed snow has turned to thick slush that is even more slippery than the snow!

Would you believe we have no idea where our snow shovel is? Misplaced during one of our moves, or maybe in the commercial storage unit. So I used the only shovel I could find to clear out the gutter at the curb so melting snow can flow past the house. Hey, I'm Oregon born and raised -- I've seen the Oregon City falls completely disappear under flood waters -- twice.

We'll hunker down again tomorrow to let the warmer temperatures and rain further scour out the snow from the neighborhood streets.


Would you believe Aisley and her traveling companions had to dash into the fen to escape the bad guys who caught up with them? People get lost in the fens and are never seen again. Could it be because of the Fen Folk? They're an elusive, odd-looking, highly intuitive race that exists between the magical races and mortals.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Snow, Part VIII

Does the theme from "Jaws" go through your mind when you see this?

These are the harmless boxwoods planted along our walkway given a sinister appearance by snow drifts. I couldn't resist the picture.

The morning tramp with Indy through the Xerox campus revealed that even our well-used streets are packed snow (no pavement in sight). And I-5 was brown slush. Weird to observe vehicles on the freeway traveling around 40 mph instead of 70-80 (despite the 65 mph limit).

Two mobile neighbors have offered assistance if needed. So far we're doing okay.

Making progress on "Legacy." Aisley and her traveling companions have dealt with bandits, a lost horseshoe, and additional information about Aisley's heritage. The bad guy is only a few days behind them. I have a suspicion [ :-) ] that Aisley will encounter a problem or two that will delay their northward escape. Hmmm.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Snow, Part VII

Compare today's 3:00 pm measurement on the left with Saturday night's measurement on the right. Check out the snow piled on top of the deck railing. And note that evidence of Indy's leap into the snow has disappeared!

Yes, we woke up this morning to MORE snow on the ground. Snow contined to fall here all day until about 3:30 pm.

Get this, all State offices located in Portland are closed today. During my 30 years of employment with the State of Oregon, offices were NEVER closed.

This long-lasting snow "event" has become one for the record books. Reminds me of the 1968-69 winter when we had a lengthy cold spell and several snow showers.

Per "The Oregonian," total snowfall for Portland is approaching the all-time record from 1949-50. We have a photo in the family album of our '49 gray Chevy coated with an inch of ice (no exaggeration) during the 1950 silver thaw. My mother recalls ice flows in the Columbia River that winter.

Still great weather for writing and I'm making progress on Legacy.

Staying inside unless I need to venture outside with Indy so he can conduct "business." The only way we can get around is to walk in tire tracks in the street. Otherwise we're stepping into snow, crunching through ice, and sinking into more snow.

The horses are again confined to their stalls, since it's too treacherous for turnouts. Phantom is in the little barn, which I'm sure is pretty snug. Owner Susan keeps us updated daily about our ponies.

My uncle suggested it's good weather for hot, mulled wine. Hmmm. Regretfully, we have no peppermint schnapps to add to our hot cocoa. Cinnamon schnapps in hot cocoa is also killer!

Our gas fireplace is fronted with protective glass. Toasted marshmallows are out of the question. :-(

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy Winter Solstice

This says it all.

Our street in the burbs.

The bird buffet is open.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Snow, Part VI

No narrative necessary.

All photos taken around five hours prior to this posting. It's been snowing nonstop all day, so these pics are already outdated.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Snow, Part V

Guess what's back?

I took this photo on the return from my morning walk with Indy. As I am writing this, there is melting while more snow periodically drifts down. ?!!

Three inches of snow reportedly fell at the barn and Owner Susan kept the horses inside today until conditions improve. For the uninitiated, horses are subject to the same strains and sprains as humans when slipping and sliding on slick surfaces. Plus, wet and heavy snow packs in the horses' feet which can be dangerous. (Imagine trying to walk on snowballs and you get the picture.) All the stalls have been provided with buckets of water to supplement the automatic waterers. And Phantom has graciously taught his aislemates how to amuse themselves by tossing their halters and other items within reach. Keeping up with current weather conditions may be making a wreck of Owner Susan and crew, but I am confident that Phantom is in good hands.


The local news media, per usual, went into overkill on weather coverage. Folks mumbled and grumbled about the excessive reporting from various locations in the metro area and on Mt. Hood. However, extreme weather conditions are unusual on the west side of the Cascades and with our varied landscape we have numerous mini climates. For example, while the Portland metro area experienced mixed snow and rain the other day, several inches of snow dumped north of Vancouver in the Ridgefield area. Folks planning to travel in the region need to know what kind of conditions they're traveling into.

Then there's the "I'm from ______ (fill in the blank of a location east of the Rockies) and they know how to deal with this weather there!" As a child of the Tom McCall years, my initial response is: "Go back." But that's not neighborly. So let's think about it. As mentioned above, snow storms are unusual in western Oregon and Washington. So it isn't financially responsible to have an army of snow plows and gravel trucks parked for 364 days a year. The reason I could operate my car for 18 years is because we don't salt our roads. Afterall, the snow will melt on its own in a day or two. As for the goofy "Oregon" drivers, just consider for a moment that if the compainer didn't learn to drive in Oregon, then perhaps the other driver is also from out of state. The immigrants from dryer climes can't drive in Oregon rain, either. In case you haven't noticed, it isn't flat here. While downtown streets and heavily-traveled roads may clear up quickly, numerous side streets in the metro area often remain icy and dangerous. So driving skills learned in the midwest might not help one climb Portland's West Hills, or Mt. Tabor on the east side.

So give Oregon a break. Something attracted the complainer from fill-in-the-blank to the Pacific Northwest. If you don't think we do snow correctly on the west side, then move to Enterprise or Burns. They know extreme weather.

Okay. The soap box has been put away.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Fracture Fable Finale

Today I had my final therapy session with Heather. I have been released to go forward and stay upright! But I will miss Heather. What a cutie!

I'm not yet at 100%, but much improved. Today I registered just under 40 on the "squeeze-o-meter" with my left hand. The last two sessions I managed like a 32 and 34. I registered 50 with my right hand (I'm assuming it's pounds of pressure) and since I'm right handed it's normal for the dominant hand to register higher. But my left hand should pick up some more oomph. So I'm to continue working with the putty goop.


So obviously we finally got the car out of the driveway if I made it to my therapy session. Yesterday we had snow, then snow and rain, and then rain that helped scour out the residual packed icy snow on our street. Earlier today we still had slippery slush, but enough bare asphalt for traction. Seems the worst spot in the neighborhood was in the vicinity of our driveway.

Of course, the warmup came AFTER I had hiked to and from Walgreen's to pick up Mom's prescriptions. When I set out on foot, the exits from the neighborhood were still icy and, although the busy streets were basically wet pavement, the side streets were still slick. I marched through several snow flurries, and snow mixed with tiny ice pellets. I was pelted with sideways frozen stuff on the I-5 overpass. I encountered some bare pavement, but for most of the trek I was dependent on my YakTrax. They were not, however, very helpful on linoleum! Oh well, it isn't like I don't need the exercise. I'm thankful that I'm in good enough shape that I can make the trek. I have no idea how far the round trip is. I'll have to measure it in the car.


The clinic is very close to the Town Center Mall, so we zipped over there when my session was over. We drove through some snow flurries on the way to the clinic, but there were patches of blue sky and sunshine when we headed to the mall.

Mom hasn't been able to get out to do any of her shopping. She's sewing a couple of items, and sent away for some gifts, but no visits to the stores yet. She was getting panicky, what with the prospect of more winter weather this weekend. So when we arrived at the mall we went our separate ways. She emerged from the mall with a huge shopping bag (hmmm!). I picked up one more gift for a friend and our holiday box of See's candy.

Back in the burbs, we cleared out our jam-packed mail boxes, and then stopped at the grocery store to stock up in case the weekend is snowy and/or icy. The forecasters say it could get nasty again. Oh well, we're ready. And it's perfect writing weather.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Snow, Part III

This photo makes one have second thoughts about venturing out on the icy roads in Clackamas County.

The unfortunate driver spent the night in his crunched truck with his Lab puppy. Both were rescued and the driver is being treated for frostbite and injuries from the crash. The location of the accident was on one of the primary roads that I take to the barn, very close to the road where I turn off on my "barnward" journey. YIKES!

Amazing how a split second can give one 20/20 hindsight. I should have left the car in the driveway, I should have made sure the safety was on, I should have picked up the longe line [ :-P ], etc.

Although there are sections of bare street in out neighborhood, the two egresses (which are on a slope up to the busy street) are ICE. Our remaining car has front wheel drive, but no studded tires. So even if we managed to make it through the neighborhood, I doubt we could exit. I've observed some of our neighbors coming and going and I don't know why they aren't sliding, since they're traveling on ice. Kristie Yamaguchi could do axels out there! There has been some melting today, but water and ice are slicker than s---- (nasal discharge)! And I noted with interest that a few of our neighbors have elected to leave their SUVs parked during this weather. So our little Civic is hunkered under a coating of snow in the driveway. Been-there-done-that when it comes to contacting the insurance agent, dealing with the body shop, etc.

I have a great pair of "tire chains" for shoes that allow me to trek the area with some semblance of security. I put them on a pair of waterproof/insulated Ariat paddock boots that I wear when walking Indy. I LOVE my "Yaktraks!"

Indy is still enjoying the weather. He eats snow and bites at the ice. This afternoon he picked up a chunk of ice and was playing with it! If the ice hadn't been a suspicious shade of gray, I would have let him continue. I later found a smaller, cleaner piece of ice that I kicked his way. He ate it, and then tried to bite ice from the street that was frozen solid to tire ruts. What a character!

So we're staying home and preparing for the next winter storm arriving tomorrow.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Snow, Part II

Took this photo yesterday at the Xerox Campus during my afternoon walk with Indy. It has a sort of abstract look. The snow doesn't remain piled up like that on a tree limb for long, so I couldn't resist.

The car is happily parked in the driveway. One of the advantages of being retired -- no workplace demands our presence, and we're not burning up vacation time waiting for the thaw.

My ventures outside with Indy give me a chance to scout out driving conditions in the area. Seems most of the streets in our neighborhood and the one adjacent are ice. Yesterday's compacted snow froze overnight and remains frozen. The main road has two clear ruts per lane (except for the sections in the shade) for easier travel. The trick is getting to it.

I must say, I don't feel very confident about risking our safety and our only remaining car when I observe a teenage boy driving a Jeep Cherokee on ice while fiddling with the stereo instead of watching the street.

We discovered that Indy loves to chew ice cubes. Our new refrigerator has a water and ice dispenser in the door and whenever we add ice to a glass, Indy comes running for a cube to crunch. So he is LOVING the snow. The world is one giant ice cube!

Found out my friend Emily is already home from college! And here I thought she'd be in the middle of finals and papers this week between snowball fights on campus.


Great writing weather!

I completed another scene today. Aisley and her traveling companions were jumped by bandits. Eldwyn, the weathered clan warrior, suggests a game of chance to regain their horses and gear as well as safe passage. He knows the bandits will cheat, but Aisley (with her Ability to cast glamours) is his secret weapon. Can she pull it off?

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Snow is a big deal in the temperate Pacific Northwest west of the Cascade Range. So we get excited, stressed and whatever else when we're visited by a significant snowfall.

The above picture was taken on the Xerox campus around 3:30 pm today. The picture below of Indy was taken at the beginning of our walk.

Note the absence of falling snow. Within 5-10 minutes we went from gentle, occasional snowflake to sideways snow flurry.

This is my favorite photo of the day taken right after the shot of Indy:


Friday, December 12, 2008

So Much for the Return of the Barn Schedule

We're getting a blast of winter weather that began today with a drop in the freezing level, high winds, and rain. it was so nasty when I went to the barn today I just ran a brush over Phantom and put him in his stall. I just didn't have the heart to put him back outside in the wind and rain.

Of course, after I left there was a break in the weather. ARGH! Guess I overreacted in the midst of the cruddy storm cell.

The meteorologists are warning us about the arrival of Arctic temperatures and they are pretty much uniform in predicting snow on the valley floor on Sunday. And a chance of snow flurries later in the week. Get this, low temperatures the first part of next week in the TEENs. Not so uncommon east of the Cascades. Very unusual in the valley.

I am a WUSS. I stay home in the snow and ice. I don't ride in the cold. If the roads clear, I will go check on my fuzzy guy, give him a carrot/apple treat, and book on home.

Fluffy Phantom is wrapped up in his medium weight blanket (with two turnout sheets and a fleece cooler available as emergency backups). The barn crew is prepared for the weather with a slew of buckets should (when?!) the automatic waterers can't take the cold. The little barn is snug when closed up and full of horses at night. The horses will get their usual turnouts as long as the ground isn't dangerously slick.

So just when my riding schedule resumes, the weather puts a crimp in it. Ah well. Mother Nature has a sense of humor.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Barn Schedule

(2003 photo file)

After being sidelined for a couple of months with my broken wrist, it is sooo nice to return to my usual barn schedule. I've been gradually increasing my time in the saddle as I feel more solid. Both Phantom and I are still battling the pudge factor after eight weeks off. The Wranglers and schooling chaps are still a bit snug on me, and no way can I tighten Phantom's girth that last hole.

But we're coming along. Cantering only briefly, and just beginning sitting trot work. Phantom is a pretty good guy in spite of my position issues. He gives me beach-ball round and connected moments when I get situated correctly.

Owner Susan has been easing the boys onto their winter turnouts. The girls remain on the huge front pasture all year 'round, but the boys are rotated. The winter turnouts are closer to the barns...yah! Makes for shorter treks during our juicy weather.

The meteorologists are predicting a cold spell for the Pacific Northwest...that arctic front affecting the midwest is heading our way. So I put Phantom in his "warm jammies" today. Switched his turnout sheet for his midweight blanket and neck cover. I even found the connectors for the hood after they'd been packed away all summer and fall! Pat on the back for me.

Indy was a very happy puppy today He got to play with Abby!! I don't think we've seen Boarder Kim and cocker Abby since I rearranged my wrist. Abby was sporting a new blanket...very barn dog chic. We let the pair run loose, since there were no horses in the barns. They had a blast, racing through the barn, cutting cookies outside, zipping into the arena, and back outside to flop in the middle of a puddle. ARGH! Two panting, muddy, thoroughly happy dogs!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Legacy: A Tale of Pennleah

Well, I got Aisley and her two clansmen traveling companions across the scary bridge over the mountain river gorge. One villain took a nasty fall...yeah, into the ravine. But not to worry, another nasty guy awaits.

I continue to scribe by hand. This weekend I managed a couple of chunks of time to work on the story, so that was great.

I'm reading the final book in Cornelia Funke's trilogy: "Inkdeath" ("Inkheart" and "Inkspell" are the first two books). Inspiring and discouraging. Her books are so rich and imaginative that I wonder why I even try. I could never write like that. On the other hand, we write OUR books, not someone else's. And when I've put a draft out for first readers, they seem to think I have a good imagination.

So I'll keep at it.

I'm finding my first drafts are more like a detailed outline. I go from scene to scene with "this happens" and "then this happens." Instead of peeling an onion, I need to ADD layers. Things like sensory detail, revealing character, etc.

And, by handwriting my first draft, the writing seems to be more ME. Not censored through the keyboard. I've done too much business writing directlty on the computer.


Yay! I've got my cards printed and in hand. With envelopes...that fit!

Over the years I've had trouble with empty-headed front counter workers. I bring in a drawing and state that I want to print a greeting card. So the vacuous counter worker thinks I want the drawing printed on 8-1/2 x 11 paper and folded in the middle to go into a business envelope. Sheesh! Hasn't she ever been to Hallmark?!

Then there was the time that the card was printed correctly (card stock, picture on the front of the card, blank on the inside), but the envelopes provided were the interior envelopes used for wedding invitations. No glue on the flap!!

Both my parents and I used to take our drawings to Zapp's in close-in east Portland. No explanation required, they knew exactly what we wanted. But they were bought out by one of the big companies that I used to have trouble with.

So this year I tried the Wilsonville LazerQuick. Lo and behold, they understood what I wanted, made intelligent suggestions, and produced exactly what I had in mind for a reasonable price.

What cards I have left over I use for other occasions -- thus the reason I leave them blank inside. I've tried selling some, but without much success. I'm not really that good an artist, and I print on the cheap, not via fine arts venues.

I also got smart and put our addresses on sticky label sheets this year. My mother's handwriting is deteriorating because of arthritis, which is a shame. She has beautiful writing. But this should make things easier for her. I also write the dreaded annual Christmas letter. But this saves us both from writing the same news over and over to the folks we don't see very often.

So I'll be in Christmas Card World for a few days instead of Pennleah.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Fracture Fable, continued

Had my final visit with Dr. S today. The breaks are healed and unless I have a problem, there is no need to come back. Yay! Not that Dr. S isn't a good guy; however....

I have two more appointments with Therapist Heather. With the breaks healed, I'm now doing strength-building exercises. I have a stretch band for resistance work, and yellow putty to squish. I don't know if I'll need to continue with her after the next sessions. I'll have to chat with her.

My left hand still isn't as flexible as the right, but gradually improving. Strength is getting better, at least to the level that I feel confident walking an exuberant dog and riding a contrite gelding. Heather had me use the "squeeze-o-meter" and I registered 30 with my left hand and 50 with my right. I can tell my left hand isn't up to par when I groom Phantom.

Anyway...I'm on the mend!


I'm not doing too badly this year. The best part is, I've got gift ideas for everyone on my list. The great news is, I've completed shopping for at least four folks. So far I'm having good luck locating what I want. I'm not much for shopping online anymore -- not after my account number was acquired by strangers. So I'm doing most of my shopping in person.

I actually completed the drawing for my card last weekend and it is at the printers as I write. My father, the REAL artist in the family, starting drawing pictures and cartoons for their Christmas cards that my mother had printed. Of course, everyone started expecting his personalized cards and couldn't wait to see what he'd come up with each year. So one year I drew a picture, left the inside of the card blank so the leftovers could be used later, and began my own tradition. Now everyone expects unique cards from me. I usually draw a horse or horses, but in the past I've drawn a Sheltie puppy and deer (while still working at ODFW). For Christmas I try to compose a greeting that ties in with the drawing.

The outdoor Christmas lights are "up." I toss net lights over our boxwoods and Japanese maple. I placed the white lights on the boxwoods lining the walkway for Halloween to guide the goblins to the front door. I just left them in place but didn't turn them on. Last week I added the colored net lights to the small maple at the front of the property and plugged in everything to the timers. I love the lights at Christmas and wish people would leave them up through January. It is so dark and dreary during the winter months and the lights really lift the spirits. It's fun to walk Indy and take note as more and more lights go up. Mom and I have taken strolls with the dog(s) on Christmas Eve in the past to enjoy the lights in the neighborhood -- followed by hot chocolate when we got home.

Put our tree up yesterday. We live in the Christmas Tree Capitol of the World and (true confessions) we have an artificial tree. I know, I know. Totally lacks the great smell. But you pay for the fresh tree, get needles all over the place, worry about it drying out, then pay someone to dispose of it. So we have a modest little tree that I decorate a little differently each year, and it works for us.