A beautiful day in the neighborhood #2: Holiday Creosote

Picture of a creosote bush in a Tucson front yard. The hand-lettered sign in front reads: Decorate Me! Neighborhood Holiday Creosote. Be Creative! Include name, address, message. No Gathering - Social Distance.
Seen in a front yard around the corner from me in Tucson: a holiday creosote bush.

Continuing my attempt to notice the beautiful and/or quirky in my everyday surroundings. Tucson is a quirky and beautiful city, so I should have no shortage of material.

I love this little neighborhood experiment–communal decorating of a creosote bush. It says so much about the kind of attitude that helps us get through tough times and lead a happy life: making due with what you have (because Christmas trees don’t really grow in the desert) and inviting others to share what they have to create something beautiful and joyful.

A beautiful day in the neighborhood #1: desert Christmas

This is a thing here in Tucson–Santa hats for cacti.

One of my goals for the new year is to post more consistently on here. Another one of my goals is to notice the beautiful and/or quirky in my everyday surroundings. Last April, I wrote a post, N is for Now, about how our worlds had shrunk to the size of our houses and neighborhoods and about looking at our surroundings through a macro lens, noticing the beauty in the often-overlooked details of our everyday lives. I’ve been thinking about that idea a lot as I’ve moved to a new city, and many of us, at least here in the USA, are back on lockdown (or should be–stay home, ya plague rats!).

So, I’m starting a new series on the blog: A beautiful day in the neighborhood. I hope to post a picture a week of something interesting or cool in my home or neighborhood. Let me know in the comments if you’d like to join me in this venture. It might be a fun topic for a blog hop–I’d love to see y’all’s neighborhoods!

C is for Christmas (#AtoZChallenge)

C2020I spent a good part of today pondering today’s topic. Let’s see… what’s a popular topic that starts with C?


I am not going to write about the Microbe That Must Not Be Named. That damn thing already has me wearing a mask in public when it isn’t Halloween and disinfecting my 12-packs of Diet Coke before I drink them. It’s not getting any PR from me.

So, fellow quarantinos, let’s talk about something slightly more fun, shall we? How about… Christmas! No, I’m not one of those bizarre creatures who starts listening to Christmas music before Labor Day. I’m actually the local Grinch that gripes about the fact that Christmas crap shows up in stores before Thanksgiving. I didn’t even put up a tree this year.

So why the heck am I writing about Christmas? Because it starts with C and isn’t a) one of George Carlin’s 7 words you can’t say on television (Google it – and note that most of them are now said on television every 1.3 seconds–except the ones that start with C), or b) that unmentionable microbe. Oh, yeah, and c) because I want an excuse to promote the oldest post on my blog. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

I’ve been thinking about Christmas more than usual, because I’ve been reading the 2019 Chicken Soup for the Soul Christmas collection. Yes, you read that right. Your friendly neighborhood writer of stories about psycho killers is reading a sappy Christmas book. In April. Someone tell Satan to take off the ice skates before he hurts himself.

I bought the book a couple of months ago (yes, after Christmas), because I’d decided to submit a piece for next year’s collection and wanted to see some examples of the kinds of stories they publish. The first draft of that piece is the oldest post on this blog, Christmas With Mom. It’s the most painful piece I’ve ever written and one of the ones I’m most proud of. And this whole post is really just an excuse to sucker you into reading it. So go do that. And I’ll know if you didn’t, because I have nothing better to do than refresh my blog stats every 1.3 minutes.

But seriously, I’ve found the Chicken Soup Christmas collection to be a wonderful escape from the current reality. I can dip into it and spend a few minutes–or even an hour–lost in a world of snowy evenings, simple faith, and children who still believe in Santa Claus. It’s a series of glimpses into a simpler time, a time when people could meet without Zoom and hug without fear.

You know, the old days.

Last December.

In yesterday’s post, I said that one of the themes of my A to Z Challenge would be discovery. And that Christmas book, something I wouldn’t normally go out of my way to read, has been a delightful discovery. I might have to buy next year’s volume. Unless my piece is accepted–then I’ll get a copy for free.

What bright spots have you discovered in these last few weeks? What bits of unexpected joy? Please share them in the comments. We all need ’em.


Christmas past–with Krylon

christmas_ornamentNote: A version of this piece first appeared on my garden blog three years ago. I’ve mostly retired that blog to focus on this one, but I hope to share a few pieces from it—and from other past blogs—on here from time to time. I’m busy preparing for a long-awaited holiday road trip, so this seems like a good time to recycle something from the past. I hope you enjoy it.

Christmas is one of those times when past and present converge in a strange time warp. Memories haunt this time of year, resurrected by the familiar sights, sounds, and scents of Christmas: happy memories we try to recreate for our kids and grandkids (often at the cost of our own sanity) and sad memories of loneliness, dysfunctional families, or loved ones no longer with us. The ghosts of Christmas Past and Christmas Present blur together in a muddle of memory and emotion and nostalgia. It’s no wonder people drink a lot this time of year.

But this isn’t going to be an essay on the joy or heartbreak of Christmas or (heaven forbid) how to do Christmas right (damn you, Martha Stewart!) Instead, I’m going to share one of my Christmas stories with you, the first memory of Christmas I have. So come on in, find a comfy chair, and join me for a visit to my Christmas Past.

The first Christmas I remember was when I was somewhere between 4 and 6 years old, so sometime between 1971 and 1973. We lived in the country in Northern California, and we were, ahem, dirt poor (garden jokes = dad jokes with dirt, not to be confused with dirty dad jokes). I don’t remember the presents I got that year, though I’m sure there were one or two. What I do remember are the ornaments. My mother bought a dozen royal blue Christmas balls, and those were the only ornaments we had. So my mother, being the creative problem-solver she was, decided we would make more. We cut up styrofoam meat trays and some other sort of packaging we had lying around, glued bits of eucalyptus to them (California, remember? Not a lot of evergreens where we lived except for juniper), and coated the results in silver spray paint. A Krylon Christmas! See? When I describe myself as a California redneck, I’m not lyin’.

Somehow my parents had found the money for an artificial tree, and that year it was festooned with blue globes and silver eucalyptus meat tray parts. Awesome, huh?

The last of the blue balls (ho ho ho – I said, “blue balls”) broke about 20 years ago, but I still have a few of the Krylon-coated meat tray ornaments. There’s a picture of one of them at the beginning of this post. Here are some more:

They don’t have much eucalyptus left–it’s worn off over the last nearly 50 years of loving use–but they’re still around, and I still hang them on the Christmas tree. Each time I do, I think of my mother, doing the best she could, making something beautiful out of what she had and could afford–and teaching me to do the same.

I’m not poor now. We aren’t rich, but we have what we need and some of what we want, and that is a blessing beyond measure. But the lesson I learned that Christmas, cutting out scraps and gathering bits of eucalyptus, has stuck with me. For me, it’s part of the allure of gardening. You can start with almost nothing–a tiny seed, a fragile transplant, a cutting–and nurture it into something beautiful. Growing things is a form of magic to me, a way to make something out of (almost) nothing. Gardening also teaches me to find clever uses for stuff that other people throw away: garden art from recycled materials, pots from yogurt containers, winter-sowing containers from takeout boxes, and, of course, compost from kitchen scraps and yard debris. Reuse and repurpose and recycle–and make something beautiful. Thanks, Mom, for teaching me a lesson that has shaped my life all these many years. It’s the best Christmas gift you ever gave me.

2019 update: My mother passed away in late September. May this post and the one I wrote last Christmas stand in tribute to the woman who gave me more than I can ever say. I miss you, Mom.