Santa Claus came to town, and this time we didn’t frighten the children.

Riverside Mission Inn
Some time after Christmas I’ll share the story behind this photo. We enjoyed a family celebration–a pre-birthday gathering for Aimee, at the Mission Inn in Riverside and the annual Festival of Lights. This old hotel has several historical connections I’ll be eager to talk about.
Tonight, my mind is busy.
Forty years ago, in the wee hours of the 24th, I walked into the hospital ready to deliver my first child. Someone at an admitting desk took one look at me and said, “The manger’s at the end of the hall.” A couple of days later Aimee came home tucked into a Christmas stocking, the best Christmas gift I ever received.
Tomorrow we’ll celebrate her birthday, but tonight we enjoyed our annual visit from Santa. 
It’s a delightful annual tradition.
But there was one year…

Our fire department has hosted this annual tradition since I was a child. We typically have advance notice of the night he will be traveling in our sector of the city, but on those nights all we know is to be ready somewhere between 6:30 and 9:30 pm.

On clear nights the sounds of amplified ho-ho-ho accompanied by intermittent wailing from one or more of the accompanying emergency vehicles let’s you know Santa is on his appointed rounds, but the trick is figuring out when he is coming down OUR street.

Many false runs into the cold night air typically indicate that the adults in the household are really just big kids themselves when it comes to Santa!

 One year, while eating our dinner, we almost missed the whole thing. Santa was a little earlier and all of a sudden we realized the sounds were mighty close! We abruptly grabbed the girls from the dinner table and ran outside.  Gratefully, the sights and sounds of an exuberant candy-throwing Santa seemed to offset the trauma of being whisked from the table with little or no warning.

But nothing compares with one year–the year we acted more like children than the children!

Sophia, barely two, was in the bath. Judging by the neighborhood sounds we thought we had plenty of time. But I went to the door and suddenly discovered that Santa was making a fast approach.  I took off running toward the bathroom quite literally screeching “Santa, Santa is coming!” 

Grab that poor wet baby and let’s get moving! With ludicrous antics mirroring TV’s Modern Family our behaviors took on a frantic display that should be reserved only for emergencies—or the Apocalypse!

Sophia was quickly bundled and rushed outdoors, someone else grabbed Karina, and somehow we clumsily  made it to the curb just in time to greet Santa.

It wasn’t until we came back inside that we looked at one another in disbelief! What had come over us? Had we lost our minds?

Well, yes, I think we sort of did just that.  Since that time we make yearly plans to greet Santa as he comes down our street, but we try to hold our enthusiasm in check so as not to scare the children.

Tonight’s Santa appearance was a success. The children were prepared and no one was traumatized. Only Zena  was a bit confused. The noise from the accompanying Christmas light bejeweled police cars and fire engines was a bit confusing–she howled her enthusiasm.

As I now say goodnight I also send my warmest wishes for Christmas and the remaining holiday season. Whether you celebrate in grand style or quietly withdraw into the stillness, it is my hope that however you observe this time of year you will be well and at peace.

And please know that I count you as friends, thanking you for all that you have shared with me this year. I value each encounter.

“Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveller, thousands of miles away, back to his own fire-side and his quiet home! “- Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers, 1836


Easing into the rest of the week with a few of my favorite things

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

Not  very original, but true. Considering that three days ago there were yet no cookies nor candy, no Christmas tree, and very little direction or plan to get me to the finish line, I’ve not only made progress, I’m beginning to feel the enthusiasm of the season.

I’ve been energized. As proof, there are more where these came from!

Cookie Platter

Maybe the colder than usual weather has contributed to a little of the holiday spirit.

I’ve never experienced a White Christmas. But this year I can at least imagine Jack Frost nipping at my nose.

When I hopped into my car for work this morning it was 36 degrees F (2.2 C) offering a rare glimpse of frosted window panes.

Frosted Window Panes

When I was teaching I wondered what the children envisioned while we sang Frosty the Snowman or working with paper and scissors creating snowflakes to decorate the classroom. It was often 80 degrees outdoors in December and the children were dressed in shorts and sandals.

Not this year.

And I’m happy to report I’ve been enjoying the spirit of Christmas with just the right holiday tempo–smooth and easy–at least so far.

I’m slowly making progress on the tree. It takes me a while to decorate. I have at least one hundred older ornaments collected over forty years. Some are much older than that, having once belonged to Jay’s mother.

The tree is a Nordmann Fir with short, dark green needles and a waxy cuticle that helps prevent against drying–after all, this cold spell may not last! This particular tree holds up well, too, with the weight and heat of old-style bubble lights. I just had to have them with a nod to my childhood memories.

Did you notice Darwin has his own ornament? I hope Zena doesn’t feel left out. Maybe I’ll find one that has her personality.

To ease us into the rest of the week let’s share a little music.

Several years ago I purchased Andrea Bocelli’s Christmas CD, and every time I hear Welsh lyric mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins and Italian tenor Bocelli I slow down and really listen.  This isn’t a traditional holiday song, but it’s beautiful.

Keep breathing lighter and enjoying the sights, sounds and tastes of the season.

And remember one very important thing. Calories don’t count in December.

Now sit back and enjoy!

Too cold for cacti and tortoises? Let’s roll out the frost cloth!

My usual ebullience hasn’t exactly flat-lined, but it’s on standby. Not exactly Bah Humbug, but I do feel a little emotionally drained. I know I’m not alone.


I’m very good at distracting myself. I love to spend time in nurseries and garden centers, dreaming about how to make the outdoors more beautiful. Spending time in natural settings is the perfect way to shift my attention to a pleasurable pursuit.  A Southern California December is relatively mild.

Roger's Gardens Collage

Laguna Nursery Collage

Succulents, Bromeliads, Orchids and Cyclamen are both colorful and plentiful. Taking in both sights and fragrance boosts my endorphin level!

I have managed to spend no more than one hour in a mall this season. I did most of my shopping on-line and I avoid crowds as much as possible. But I can spend hours in a beautiful nursery.

I didn’t bring much home. Not that it wasn’t very tempting to add to what we already have, but gardens require a lot of work. This isn’t the easiest time of year for me to engage in even more maintenance. Because we don’t have a snow cover, everything continues to grow throughout the winter–including weeds. And plants continue to grow, slowly, yes, but still requiring staking, pruning and watering.

Occasionally we get a cold snap with plummeting temperatures and the promise of a freeze. And when that happens we go into proactive mode.

The San Gabriel Country Club is the oldest private golf club and 18-hole course in Southern California dating back to 1904. Our home is adjacent one end of the course, and this lovely green belt is one of the reasons we have frequent wildlife visitations.

Golff Course

This lovely expanse of well-watered green also contributes to interesting micro-climates. Under particular weather conditions we can be socked in with fog when I leave for work in the morning, and within two blocks from home the sun will be shining. And when regional temperatures fall, we can have a night of hard frost.

The expected low is 34 degrees–I know that doesn’t sound that cold for winter, but our gardens aren’t equipped to handle a freeze. If our micro-climate conditions push us just a little lower, there will be frost damage! And even light frost can do a lot of damage to my many succulents and cacti. Damage to cacti and succulents usually occurs on the growing tips first, so we rolled out our sheets of frost cloth.

Covering Succulents

There’s more than one way to have a White Christmas, don’t you agree? We covered as much of the area as possible with a breathable fabric that retains warmer temperatures underneath and provides insulation between the plants and the outdoor air.

Backyard Freeze

The activity provided an opportunity to give Sophia and Karina a little science lesson. And gives me a little peace of mind that we have done what we could to prevent too much damage. And did you see Darwin? He’s also insulated. He remains as close to his little nest of Timothy Hay as possible. He hasn’t left his home in the greenhouse for a few days now. The spotlight and under-belly heat pad are his protection against the cold.

And the weather forecast hints at the possibility of rain for Christmas! I just might get to have a fire in the fireplace after all! What’s the song say?

Baby it’s cold outside!