It’s THAT season again

It is the holiday season, a time for peace on earth and goodwill towards man. Yeah, right, outdoor_christmas_decoration_maybe it is on paper but in real life the holiday season means shopping,  drinking, and over indulgence, and the place people have become the most over indulgent is the area of holiday decorations.

It used to be so easy. When I was a kid, we decorated our house for the holidays with one string of lights that had bulbs the size of small gerbils. The lights stretched across the front porch and took dad less than a six-pack to install. The entire budget for holiday decorations was used for replacement bulbs.

Fast forward to today when the average home is decorated with enough colored lights, animated characters, inflatable Santas, and flashing displays to turn the typical suburban home into a poor man’s Las Vegas…or a rich man’s Branson. The decorations are nice but the competition is rampant among homeowners who try to outdo each  other in the use of holiday voltage.

These displays are ostentatious, gaudy, and cost thousands of dollars. Gaudy and ostentatious do not bother me but the cost is high enough to turn holiday decorating into a rich man’s hobby. What can the average Joe do to compete in this ritual? After watching shows like Design on a Dime, I became obsessed with the idea of developing Christmas decorations that are both eye-catching and affordable. Here are some ideas.

Use Your Recyclables – Fill plastic soda bottles with colored water and hang them from the trees. Construct a Christmas tree in your front yard by stacking empty Budweiser cans. And turn your entire abode into a shiny ornament by stapling empty pie tins and pieces of aluminum foil to the front of your house. If you live in a cul-de-sac, the headlights of oncoming traffic will light the neighborhood in reflective brilliance.

Recycle Your Current Decorations – There is no reason to own decorations that are only usable for one holiday. Take the Jack-O-Lantern for example. These pumpkins are only seen during Halloween but there’s no reason you can’t extend their usefulness by gluing some cotton on the jaw and plopping a red hat on top. Presto, you’ve got a Santa-O-Lantern. I put skeletons in my yard for Halloween  but then I use bathrobes and Burger King crowns to turn them into the three magi for Christmas. And

Borrow Stuff – Everybody knows somebody who has a lot of decorations.              These people also buy a lot of decorations every year, so if you ask to borrow a string of lights or two, they will gladly give them to you. A string of lights here and an animated Santa there, and presto, you’ve got a festive front yard. Plus, after a couple of years, the people you borrowed the stuff from will forget all about it and will probably let you borrow even more. This method works best if you move a lot.

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This week’s big event was Columbus Day. It was celebrated on October 9th, even though Columbus-Day-Ships-Coloring-Pages-_27Columbus officially landed in the new world on October 12, 1492. We used to celebrate Columbus Day on October 12th until someone in government realized they could get another three-day weekend if they moved it to Monday. They did the same thing with  George Washington’s birthday.

We have had the last 525 years to learn all we could about the man credited with being the discoverer of the new world. He is hailed as a great sailor even though the place he was aiming for was 900 miles to the east. He wound up closer to Indiana than he was to India. To help you learn more about Columbus, here are some fun facts to know and tell.

1. Columbus landed his three ships, the Nina, The Pinta, and The Salty Margarita, in the Bahamas, at the height of tourist season. The Salty Margarita was what Columbus originally wanted his ship named but the painter was hard of hearing and thought he said Santa Maria, so that’s what he put on the back of the ship.

2. Columbus docked in Nassau and immediately claimed the island for Spain, which came as a shock to the Bahamian people living there at the time. The natives didn’t like Columbus and claimed he and his crew were illegal immigrants. Columbus said they were just dreamers.

3. Columbus sensed that his jokes weren’t going over very well and a war may ensue. This is when Columbus came up with an idea that changed the world forever. He figured that if there was going to be a war, there would be a need for life insurance, so he knighted several of his crew and sent them door to door as the Knights of Columbus.

4. Eventually more Spaniards moved to the Bahamas and real estate started to go through the roof. The locals used their profits to open Duty Free shops featuring sun screen, straw baskets, and rum.

5. Columbus made several trips back to the Bahamas, each time returning to Spain with loot he basically stole. Eventually he retired to Nassau where he enjoyed Bahama Mamas. Not the drink, real Bahama “Mamas”. He had 13 children and named them all after cities in Ohio.

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Fall, by any other name, is Autumn

We have left the glorious season of summer behind and are now firmly implanted in the season of fall, also known as autumn. I don’t know why this season is the only one with two names, but I bet it’s something political. What I want to know is why the N is autumn is silent. What does it have to hide?Unknown

Fall is certainly a season with positives and negatives. On the plus side, fall is the time for the World Series, the football season, basketball season, hockey season, and if you are into it, the new TV show season.

Fall is also harvest time when all of the vegetables you planted in the spring are on their last legs, except for the zucchini, which will produce fruit in up to a foot of snow. Apples are very big in the fall and that means apple cider, apple pie, and apple shoemaker…I mean cobbler. The highlight of fall is, of course, Halloween. This is the only day of the year that children are allowed to talk to strangers in the hopes of getting candy. These things all sound like fun but fall also has a few drawbacks.

Fall signals the annual leaf migration when they leave their homes in the trees and migrate to the ground. Early in fall, the leaves on the trees change color and paint the landscape in glorious shades, but soon enough, they fall. They fall in your yard to the point that your lawn will be carpeted by a foot of colorful fallen fall foliage overnight. This can be a problem. You can either rake all of your leaves into a big pile and jump in it, instantly regretting not picking up after the dog before you started raking. Or, you can use a power blower, and, working at night, blow your leaves into your neighbors’ yards. If neither of these alternatives appeal to you, here are a few more suggestions for your leaf disposal.

Sew two bedsheets together, forming a big pillow case. Stuff the case with leaves and sew it shut. You now have a handy guest bed for guests that you don’t want to stay too long.

Use leaves to make your Halloween costume. Cover yourself with spray adhesive and roll in a pile of leaves. When somebody asks who you are, simply move a bit and say, Russel,

Leaves make fine insulation for your home. Fill the attic with leaves at least a foot thick. This will save you money on your heating bill and provide a potpourri of rotting vegetable matter.

Now, let’s leave the leaf and look at the real folly of fall, and by that I mean the upcoming end of this year’s Daylight Savings Time.

November 5th marks the end of DST this year. On this day, at 2:00 AM, time will not only stand still, it will go backwards. This is the time that the United States Department of Messing With Our Heads  decided that we are not quite depressed enough, and make us re-set our clocks so that it gets dark at 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon.

Daylight Savings Time was invented by Benjamin Franklin, allegedly to allow more time for agrarians to tend to their crops. But when the clocks turn back again, my lights go on sooner, and that means my electric bill goes up, and guess who discovered electricity? Benjamin Franklin! Hey was just trying to put more dark in the day so he could sell more watts. He could be president today.

Finally, fall means that I have to change the batteries in my smoke detectors, even though they still have some juice in them. You change the batteries before they have a chance to remind you to change them by beeping in the middle of the night.

Fall is here and we need to embrace it, and not in a weird way, like hugging a scarecrow, but in a way that adds vodka to your apple cider so you can put the rake down, sit back, and enjoy the colors, or, as I like to say, “Fall, it’s a ball.”©️

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After a night of cramped quarters and constant movement aboard the AMTRAK Empire Builder, we arrived in East Glacier, Montana. From the train station, I saw the iconic Glacier Lodge only 200 yards away. As we walked up the stairs, we entered a beautiful lobby constructed over 100 years ago. It was made of giant logs and arched up for two stories. It was quite impressive. Then we found our room. IMG_1680

Like the rest of the hotel, the rooms were also built over 100 years ago. This is when I learned that the word “iconic” is an old Indian word that means “no modern conveniences.”

For starters, there was no elevator to get to the room, so we schlepped our luggage up the big log stairs to our room. When I entered the room, I scanned it and quickly noticed that someone had stolen the TV set. I called the front desk to report it, and they told me that none of the rooms had TVs. It must have been one heck of a heist.

It was unseasonably warm when we were there, with the highs in the 80’s. It was warm enough to turn on the air conditioning. Alas, that was stolen too! This time, when I called the front desk, I was told that the air conditioner was in the closet. I hung up and looked in the closet to find an electric fan. Ha, ha. There was also no mini-bar or room service, and water pipes hung from the ceiling, but at least the bed was bigger than the one on the train and the toilet was separate from the shower.

In the morning, we prepared for our pre-arranged tour and soon discovered that we would not be sight seeing that day because you couldn’t see any of the sights. A forest fire raging in the western park of the park was smoking up a storm and that smoke covered the rest of the park and much of the state. As we drove around, the tour guide pointed out where allIMG_1634 of the mountains would be if we could see them. He even showed us some alleged glaciers that we couldn’t see. For all I know, he was making it all up.

The next day we went for a walk, figuring that since smoke rises, we’d be closer to good air. Once again, ha, ha. The smoke could not be avoided and after three days of it I had not seen any sights and wound up with a three-pack-a-day habit. But we made some new friends and enjoyed our time talking to them. One couple was celebrating their 30th anniversary and flew to an airport near the lodge. From there, they were going to take their first train trip, on their anniversary, thinking they are going to have James Bond sex. Ha, ha. I hope they make it to 31.

On the last day of our smoked-filled adventure, we walked back to the train station and boarded The Empire Builder for the return to Chicago. It was quite refreshing this time because the entire train was a non-smoking area. At last, clean, recycled, air conditioned air.

Because of the smoke,we saw little wildlife in the park, but we saw a lot of it out the train window on the ride home. Cows and horses, of course, but we also saw a lake filled with beautiful white egrets. And we saw both deer and antelope and they appeared to be playing, just like in the song.

After another 30 hours of stopping at every Podunk train station on the route, we arrived back in Chicago, clutching the postcards we bought of what we would have seen had we been able to see it. Now it is on to the next adventure.

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I have traveled a lot in my life and have used all types of conveyance. I have traveled by plane, car, truck, sail ship, cruise ship, bus, and motorcycle but have never ridden a train except to commute from my home to downtown Chicago. This year, my wife and I decided that it would be an adventure to travel across the country by train. I’ve watched all of the James Bond movies and he traveled by train, if it was good enough for James Bond it was good enough for Irvin, Dale Irvin.IMG_1689

We began our journey in Chicago and traveled on the route built by the Great Northern Railway to Glacier National Park in Montana. The track was laid in the early 1900’s and was very bumpy. Now that the line is operated by AMTRAK, a company with government funding, it’s even bumpier. The trip took 30 hours but seemed more like 30 days.

There are three classes of travel on AMTRAK. Coach travel provides you with a seat. It’s not quite as big as a first class airplane seat but it reclines and provides ample leg room. Unfortunately sitting in a seat of any kind for 30 hours is never fun. I traveled by Greyhound bus when I was in college and it was a literal and figurative, pain in my ass.

A step up from coach is the sleeper car where cubicles are furnished with two seats, facing each other. They fold down to form a single bed and a second bed drops down from above, creating an upper and lower berth just like you’ve seen in old black and white movies.

The upper berth is accessed by a ladder and getting into bed requires the agility of an olympic athlete. Also, sleeper passengers get to eat for free in the dining car. We met several people in the dining car who obviously rode the train for the free food. They’re the same folks who rate cruise ships by the midnight buffet. I don’t know how they both fit into a sleeper car but I’m guessingIMG_1615 there was a lot of pushing involved.

The third choice for travel is the roomette. This is an actual room the size of a large walk-in closet. It features a sofa that folds into a single bed and a smaller bed that drops down from above. The roomette also has a large picture window so that you can enjoy the scenery and your very own bathroom. The bathroom, in keeping with the Lilliputian scale of the rest of the room, is the approximate size of a phone booth. If you are too young to know what a phone booth is, watch an old Superman episode on cable tv.

The bathroom served as both a toilet and a shower. In fact, the easiest way to take a shower is to sit on the toilet, and if you are into time management, you can accomplish two functions at the same time. But the roomette looked like the kind of room that James Bond traveled in, so I figured it was perfect for us, and it would have been perfect, had we been anorexic little people.

Neither of us wanted to venture up the ladder to access the upper bed, which was equipped with military-style safety straps to hold you in place, so we both slept in the single bed. It was like being back at college but much less romantic. Between the size of the bed and the constant motion of the train, I don’t know how James Bond ever got jiggy with it.

Real trains don’t roll smoothly like the one I put under the tree at Christmas. They bounce around like a beach ball in a bidet, making it very difficult to stand up and walk. Walking down the hall from car to car, I became part of a human pin ball game. I bounced from side to side as I walked down the narrow hallway at one point, even fell into someone’s sleeper car. Fortunately they were not asleep at the time. If you find yourself on a bumpy train like this, I suggest you drink to the point that you stagger. Then you will wind up going down the hallway as straight as an arrow.

Stay tuned for part II, The Park

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