Photo of the month

Glenn and Ben get wrapped up in their work while decorating our Christmas tree. Decorating for the holiday season is an all-day affair at our home, with work on the tree starting in the morning on Thanksgiving weekend and usually not concluding until late evening. Stringing the lights is the most time-consuming aspect. Photo by Roni.

December 2005

Ben looks on as Roni prepares to stuff the turkey on Thanksgiving morning. The big bird had been thawing for the past three days. Photo by Glenn.

Ahhhhh, now that's a juicy looking turkey. Roni has basted it in rosemary and a special marinade. Photo by Glenn.

The table's set for our little feast. It may not look like we're swimming in edibles, but we had more than enough to feed the three of us. Photo by Glenn.

We decided to theme the tree this year around our Southwest vacation in September. Roni designed most of the ornaments. Here she works on painting some whimsical saguaro cactuses. Photo by Glenn.

It looks sort of like a Southwestern box of Lucky Charms. Cacti, boots, horseshoes, saddled horses and cowboy hats were among the cutouts we painted. Photo by Glenn.

With the lights strung and the new ornaments dry, it was time to hang goodies from the tree. Roni and Ben work on the tree while it's on the floor of the living room, before we moved it to its permanent spot on the table in the corner of the room. Photo by Glenn.

The decorated tree is finally on its table. Roni will soon add her Christmas village around the base, but for now we can enjoy the lights. Besides, it's too late to do any more tonight. Photo by Glenn.

The interior decorated, we turned our attention to the front lawn. Roni works to hang a string of lighted stars in the branches of our ornamental plum tree. Photo by Glenn.

Quick! Bring the crime scene tape and call the coroner. Someone has dismembered Frosty the Snowman! Photo by Glenn.

...Phew! False alarm. Frosty is fine. Just needed some assembly to stand tall on our front lawn. Ben regales us with Christmas carols while we work. Photo by Glenn.

Roni poses with Frosty once the yard decorating is finished. We got sort of ambitious this year with the lawn ornaments. Photo by Glenn.

Several days after it began, the decorating of the Christmas tree is complete. Roni's village now occupies the base. Photo by Roni.

Our new ornaments look right at home amid the branches of our faux fir. Photo by Glenn.

Roni's village is actually three villages in one, each representing one state. This is the "New Mexico" village. Might be Gallup. (Does it snow in Gallup?) Santa Claus appears to be camped out on a bench along Route 66. Photo by Glenn.

It wouldn't be the great Southwest without a rodeo somewhere. This one looks to be chock full of excitement as three bullriders go at it head-to-head. This is part of the "Arizona" village. Flagstaff? Photo by Glenn.

It does occasionally snow in Texas, but in the "Texas" village it's a constant deep freeze through the end of December. Photo by Glenn.

Natural disasters can strike small towns without warning, whether it's fire, flood, earthquake, tornado... or in this case, a cat-astrophe. Photo by Glenn.

Ben has his own Christmas tree this year, a fiber optic model that fits comfortably on his dresser. Photo by Glenn.

Ben has decorated the tree just the way he likes it, with lots of cartoon cat ornaments. Photo by Glenn.

Roni has been trying her hand at baking this season. She made up this batch of fudge to share with Ben's teachers at school. We got to sample it. Photo by Roni.

The best part about outdoor decorations is seeing them all ablaze at night. This is looking out on the lawn from our front porch. Photo by Glenn.

Everyone else has had the chance to pose with Frosty, so now it's Glenn's turn. It's Saturday just before midnight. Photo by Glenn.

A nearly full moon peeks through a thin layer of clouds above our garage. The Season's Greeting sign has stars that flash in sequence. Photo by Glenn.

The Christmas tree and the fireplace mantel make a pretty pair. Photo by Glenn.

Ho, ho, ho. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night. Photo by Glenn.

We always enjoy hearing from our visitors. We welcome your comments.

An ode to traditions

December 18, 2005

'Twas a week before Christmas and all through our town, it was foggy and cold, wintry rain falling down. The lights in our yard for whose beauty we'd worked at, are now dark from the storm that shorted a circuit. The Gehlkes are nestled all snug in their beds, except for one, Glenn, who's got words in his head. As he sits down to write it is one in the morn, he hopes to finish by three then get started on snorin'. We're caught in the thick of the holiday season, and are working our way through some coughin' and sneezin'. There's shopping to do and presents to wrap, cookies to bake and that sort of crap. ...Now don't get us wrong, 'Tis a magical season, but if harried you find us... well, that's likely the reason.

With all due respect to Clement C. Moore, the prose employed in producing the rest of this month's newsletter will be somewhat more contemporary and much less poetic. Sorry to disappoint those who were expecting a full-length spoof on the original "A Visit From Saint Nicholas." In fact, we are expecting a visit from the great white-bearded one in just a few days and have been working diligently to prepare our home to receive him. Short of cleaning the fireplace flue, we have been making our lists and checking them twice, discovering all the stuff we left off and reprinting them repeatedly from our computers.

Well, some of us have been reprinting them. Ben has been without a computer for a couple of weeks since the power supply on his aging iMac up and quit one morning earlier this month, leaving him to borrow Mom and Dad's and to wonder how long it might be before his replacement unit ships from Illinois. We discovered that buying an identical used computer off eBay was about half the price of replacing the power board at the repair shop, so the law of economics won out. No telling if Santa might help us save on shipping by popping it into his sleigh on Christmas Eve. We're hoping it arrives soon and doesn't get lost in the crush of holiday mail.

There's something about this time of year that makes the days grow longer if you're under the age of about 13, and fleetingly short if you're a parent. There just don't seem to be enough hours in the day to get it all done. Yet somehow we always find a way. We got a good jump on the decorating this year, thanks to Glenn being off work on Thanksgiving day. By Saturday the 26th we were well enough refreshed to dive in on raising the tree and placing lights inside the house.

We had considered ditching our artificial tree this year in favor of the real McCoy. It has been at least six years since we bought the fakie, and while it has served us well it is also showing its age. But it sure is nice just being able to walk out to the garage and snap all the prefabbed parts together rather than tromping around in the cold in search of a tree lot and then playing with the sappy wood while you wrestle it into its stand and drop needles all over the house. Besides, we no longer own cars capable of hauling something as large as a Christmas tree without strapping it to the roof, and neither of us was prepared to do that. So the old faux fir was pressed into service for another year.

While Glenn worked to stick the tree together and unfurl its branches in preparation for adding twinkle lights, Roni headed to the craft store and came home with wood cutouts, spools of ribbon, paints and a head full of ideas to make ornaments. Inspired by our recent trip to Arizona and New Mexico, she decided this year's tree should have a Southwest theme. So for a couple of hours on that Saturday we all sat around the dining room table making ornaments as if they were sugar cookies. Ben got into the act as well, creating his own "Garfield" ornament to add to his collection of cat-themed decorations we made for his small fiber optic tree in his bedroom. Our new Southwest collection features cowboy hats, boots, horses, and a couple dozen saguaro cactuses that we decorated in whimsical poses. Roni added cowboy hats and sunglasses to some of them, made from clipart she found online.

We started assembling the tree after breakfast and spent the entire afternoon and evening stringing the lights before we were ready to put the ornaments up. With all our new decorations it was time to retire some of the older ones that had been making regular appearances over the years. We'll keep them in a box for another season and probably mix them in to the lineup again next year. Right now it's fun just to be different. Roni used four spools of red and gold ribbon to wrap around the tree after we saw a similar theme at a department store display. Then we hoisted the decorated tree onto its display table in one corner of the living room and Roni went to work creating her Christmas village scene at its base.

Roni's villages continue to grow each year as she adds new pieces. This time she divided the diorama into three sections and tried to theme them around the states we toured on our vacation, linking them all via a mythical highway identified as Historic Route 66. In "Arizona" you'll find a rodeo and plenty of cacti climbing into the mesas. We didn't see any snow on our trip, but you see a lot of that too in this display. "New Mexico" is supposed to look like an Indian pueblo, although most pueblos weren't constructed in the Victorian style of architecture. The town is frequently obliterated by the arrival of giant felines that park themselves in its central district for a nap. "Texas" lies opposite "Arizona," which if you know anything about geography would be cause for great concern if you encountered this phenomenon while driving along I-10. There is a considerable gap between the two villages, however, which could be symbolic of the Rio Grande. The seismic activity experienced by the residents of "Arizona" is substantial, thanks to the aforementioned cat-astrophes, so it is not uncommon for residents to lose their homes in the gap following a significant temblor. And you thought the folks on the Gulf Coast had it tough with all those hurricanes!

We had hoped to get the front yard decorated the day after putting up the tree indoors, but when Sunday rolled around we realized that our goals were more ambitious than our energies. We delayed the front yard until Dec. 3, taking part of the afternoon to assemble our plastic spiral trees and cover our bushes in lights. We have a new addition this year: a 4-foot metal and wicker snowman that provides the framework for a bunch of twinkling white lights. It is all very impressive when you see it all lit up at night, especially considering that ours is one of the few homes at our end of the block to have any sort of outdoor display this year.

Unfortunately, it didn't take long for the local Grinches to discover us. A couple of days after the lights went up, Ben went to turn them on and discovered none of them were working. Roni investigated and found that someone had unplugged all the cords from the central power strip located beneath our ornamental plum tree. Two nights later, Glenn arrived home to find Frosty sprawled on the grass, the victim of a violent assault with one of the giant plastic candy canes we had used to string the lights at the edge of our driveway. Frosty fared better than the cane, which was smashed to pieces. Glenn reassembled him, and just like the bionic man he was actually better than before —  a string of lights in his right arm that hadn't been working had somehow been jolted back to life. So take that, you snowman molesters!

There have been no recent incidents with the lights, although as this is written we are in the midst of a minor storm that caused a circuit to fail when water probably got inside one of the plugs. It happens at least once every year and is easily fixed with some electrical tape placed at strategic locations.

Now all that's left to do is finish shopping. Roni is much more on the ball about this than Glenn is, which is a fortunate thing for Ben. We don't want to spill the beans about what he's getting, but no doubt it will be a merry Christmas for him. We took advantage of his last few days of school prior to the start of winter break to hit the local malls and stock up on goodies. There has been plenty of traffic to be sure, but it seems less busy this year than others. That probably won't remain true this week, as folks race out for last-minute purchases. We've incorporated a little more shopping on the Internet this year, trying to ignore the high cost of postage and figuring that we're saving gas and the frustration of standing in long lines at Wal-Mart and the like. With luck our purchases will actually get here before Christmas Eve.

...As he typed the last line and gazed up at the clock, he saw it was 3 and high time he should stop. But 'fore he shut out the lights and went swiftly to bed, one thought yet remained in his tired old head. "We wish you glad tidings," he tapped on the keys, "and hope the rest of this month you survive with a breeze." And on that note December's newsletter had reached its end. Merry Christmas to all, from...

Glenn, Roni and Ben

This page was last updated on Sunday, January 22, 2006 at 16:37 hrs.

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