Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Keepsakes from the Past


Monday after Christmas I received a box from Mother and Daddy’s longtime neighbor, Marge Beard. Tucked neatly into the box were six crocheted glass cozies and a letter. She wrote:

“You won’t receive this before Christmas as I am enclosing it in a box I have been meaning to send to you for some time.

Your mother made these glass covers for me many years ago. She gave me a set of 12, but I never have more than 6 people in my small apt. –so I want you or your family to have the other six. She was always making something for me. Your Daddy asked her to embroidery my name on an apron (long time worn out) as I always had an apron on. Remembering all those good days on Timberlane –good friends, etc. I’m the only one, except Thelma Callendar, who is still alive.”

This is not the first time  something Mother made for someone else found  its way back to me. Situations change; Marge’s husband Leldon died, and she had to move from the house on Timberlane and downsize. Zella Parham, another old friend, went through a similar situation and returned to me a painting Mother had done for her many years ago. I get photographs occasionally from old family  friends who have come across them and felt I needed to have them.

Just as most people do, I have a house full of things connected to my mother, and to Daddy, too, for that matter.  We are embarking on a remodeling of our house, which requires me to empty closets, drawers, and shelves to pack things away until the work is finished. I keep finding little mementoes  as I do the packing that are really not used  anymore, but have connections to Mother and Daddy and other older family members.  How does one dispose of things that bring back memories and affirmations of childhood? Things that are part of the family legacy, but don’t always serve a purpose other than being part of the family legacy?

Most of those things have already been packed away safely for the remodeling, or I would take a picture of them and share their stories with  you.  So I will save that for another time, perhaps after we unpack and move back in to the refreshed house. I suspect I will find that I still can’t bring myself to get rid of them and instead find a way to incorporate them into the personal touches that make a house a home.

But in the meantime I will just be thankful that my life and the lives of many others were touched in thoughtful and caring ways by my parents. To borrow from that often-copied MasterCard ad: trinkets from the past-useless; memories they carry-priceless.

So maybe serving no purpose other than being part of the family legacy is enough reason to keep them.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Fancy Christmas Balls


There was a time in the recent past, defined here as my teenage years, when elaborate sequin and bead-decorated Styrofoam balls were all the rage for Christmas ornaments. Mother and I thought they were pretty and decided to make some. She dug out remnants of pretty material, tag ends of ribbons and decorative trim, odds and ends of discarded and broken costume jewelry, to which we added newly purchased sequins, beads, pins, and balls, and we were all set. I don’t remember the exact year we started or how many we came up with that first Christmas, but it was fun, and we enjoyed adding to them each Christmas after that.  Later Grandm0ther got into the act and so between the three of us, we came up with decidedly different designs, which made the tree interesting.


Grandmother was quite the seamstress, as was Mother, and Mother was also very artistic, so their creations were more intricate and elaborate than mine, but over the years I have come up with some pretty nice designs myself. I don’t know what other people would call these decorations, handmade Christmas ornaments, I suppose. In my house they have always been referred to as the fancy Christmas balls. 


Using these balls is trip down memory lane. Several are covered with the brocade material Mother used to make my wedding dress. The material was brought back from India by Eloise’s father, Bill’s grandfather, who worked overseas as an engineer. There are a couple made with my bridesmaids’ dresses material, a shiny burnt orange satiny stuff. I assure you burnt orange would not have been the color of choice had we already been at A&M-we had a fall wedding and the dark russet color seemed appropriate then. Then there are the three red satin-covered, already decorated Christmas ornaments that I carried in the bridesmaid’s bouquet when I was in Sharon Vacek  Guest’s Christmas wedding. I added a few decorative  flourishes, and they fit right in on the tree. And looking at some of the balls puts me back in the location where I remember making them: Mother’s kitchen; our little trailer house in College Station; the house in Edna, in front of the computer/TV here in Muleshoe.




The tree is really full enough now; I don’t really need to make any more balls, but I can’t stop myself. I have this rather old-fashioned sewing kit full of  the  material, ribbon, beads, sequins, unstrung pearls, everything necessary, and I can’t stop myself.  I I keep making more balls. Yes, my OCD is showing up again, but it’s fun, and it keeps me off the streets.


I do have one helpful hint just in case you might be inspired to try some of these yourself. I found out the hard way when balls would fall apart, that those little short sequin pins are pointless-hah! Mr. Gulley, I made a pun without even trying-they don’t stay in over the long haul. Use regular dressmaker’s pins and use extra long pins when pinning on larger beads. They just stay better.  They are a little trouble when making little balls, as they tend to run into each other in the middle of the Styrofoam, but on those just use as much fabric as possible. And wrap them individually in pieces of flimsy drycleaner plastic when storing. It protects the balls from each other and sequins and things don’t pull out.


I would blather on some more with tips for making these things, but I don’t have time. Christmas is coming up, and I have silver sequins and pins staring me in the face as we speak…

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Vitamind


I taught a high school leadership class for several years, and every day I posted what Zig Ziglar called a vitamind, a positive saying that served as a vitamin for the mind, if you will.  We of the older generation grew up with these maxims, proverbs, and such, things like The hardest lesson in life to learn is which bridges to cross and which bridges to burn; What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and Seven times down; eight times up, as well as old standards like A penny saved is a penny earned. Or even pithy sayings pulled from song lyrics, like when Bonnie Raitt sings  Life gets precious when there’s less of it to waste. Today’s students aren’t well versed in these sayings. I had a file full of them and the kids would bring them in from time to time to share with me. One day this one appeared on my desk: ONLY PUT OFF UNTIL TOMORROW  WHAT YOU ARE WILLING TO DIE HAVING LEFT UNDONE.

Hmmm, a blunt and precisely worded vitamind, but one that cut right to the heart of the matter. Only put off what you are willing to die and leave unfinished, because, as you have heard before, probably in some form of a vitamind, we really don’t know what tomorrow-or the next minute-will bring.

I don’t know about you , but I can think of a few projects that I really wouldn’t mind leaving undone, things like dusting, cleaning out that hall closet, balancing the checkbook-no, wait, that one I think I probably should do. But others deserve immediate attention, the ones like calling the friend drifted away from and missed, writing a sympathy card to the family who lost a loved one, congratulating a former student on an accomplishment, actually going to visit an old friend instead of just talking about it, writing down the family history so the kids will have it when no one is around to tell them about it, identifying the relatives in old family pictures, visiting someone who is alone, taking a long dreamed-about trip, telling people they are loved and valued, hugging children and grandchildren and anyone in need of a hug, fulfilling a dream once desired  but put on the back burner. Fill in the blank with all those things you intended to do that have paved that road to Hell. You know the ones.

So think about it. Leave no unfinished important business; have no regrets.  Or to paraphrase another vitamind, Seize the opportunity.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Oldest Wildlife Refuge in Texas


One of Muleshoe’s sometimes  overlooked claims to fame is the Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1935  to provide a wintering area for migratory waterfowl  and sandhill cranes. The refuge, located 20 miles south of town on highway 214,  celebrated its 75th anniversary this past Saturday  with activities to entertain and enlighten visitors about the history, purpose, and successes of the refuge.




The morning started with coffee, doughnuts, and a sandhill crane- counting contest. Jamie Grey from Littlefield won with an estimate of 15,500 cranes; the official estimate was 17,500. Many more cranes will winter here as the season progresses. Guest lecturers presented information on local history including the Buffalo Soldiers who traveled this area, grassland management and weed control, prairie chickens, and even refuge-inspired ceramics.


I arrived in time for a two-hour tour of the refuge and rode with Jude Smith, a wildlife biologist who has been with the refuge for  ten years, first as resident biologist and now as manager. His affection for the place was evident as he named the lakes and pointed out all the things they have done to control the salt cedar and mesquite and to encourage the native grasses for the benefit of the wildlife that call the refuge home: 350 species of birds; 50 kinds of reptiles and  amphibians, and 25 different mammals.

Smith was encouraged by the response to the open house. After counting those who registered plus the people who showed up later in the afternoon to drive around and watch the cranes come in to roost, about 300 visitors enjoyed seeing what the refuge has to offer. He says they plan to establish a yearly event starting with a similar open house in January of 2012.

Let me share with you some of the things I saw on my tour that day and encourage you to visit. It is your national refuge, after all. Not everybody has one, you know.

White Lake, like the other two larger lakes, is a saline lake. The water comes from underground springs and may start out the day dry, and by the middle of the afternoon will have standing water. And of course, when we finally have rain, the lakes also fill up with rain water.


Prairie dogs were out and about that day,  graciously posing for pictures as they are wont to do.  The prairie dog town is very popular and sees lots of traffic from people coming to see them as well as the cranes, as their town is located on the road that leads to the crane viewing area.

Controlled burns, which try to mimic natural fires,  are used to renew ungrazed land and to reduce, but not  eliminate,  mesquite.

Salt cedar is not native to the area and takes water and moisture away from native grasses, making it an undesirable plant. The refuge managers are also using controlled burns in the battle against it. Here you see blackened trunks of the salt cedar.

This levee, built from 1938-42 by hand by the WPA separates the Upper and Lower Pauls Lake. On occasions water has been high enough to spill over the causeway (not shown)  from one lake to the other.

The viewing stand and public restroom are located on Lower Pauls Lake where many of the cranes come in to roost.

Note the salt build-up on the tree stumps and in the dry lake bed, typical of the water areas in the refuge.

Taking pictures of the cranes is somewhat addictive-I’m always thinking the next shot will be even better than the last, but I picked this one for a last glimpse of the big birds who spend their winters with us in Bailey County.