Tag Archives: family

Christmas Tree Traditons

Before my parents divorced when I was 12, our Christmas traditions centered around the Christmas tree. Dad, my sister Lacy and I always tromped through the snow in the mountains of our ranch to cut down the ideal silver-tip fir tree. We were a staunch No Fake Trees, Don’t You Dare Buy One From Town kind of family.

After my parents split, we still had the real-live tree tradition, but we three no longer searched the forest for hours looking for Mom’s perfect tree. During college one year, on the rare holiday when Lacy and I were in the same place, we tagged along with Dad to trim a couple horses. On the way home, we stopped the pickup and hacked down a fir by the side of the road. We’re not the kind of family that lets tradition get in the way of efficiency – or legality, for that matter.

Another year, my aunt and uncle were visiting from Oregon. On Christmas Eve, my dad took them to town, where they shopped, ate dinner, and swiped a discarded Douglas fir from a Dumpster. My first thought wasn’t “Oh, how embarrassing – my father Dumpster dove for a Christmas tree!” but “Wow, that is way too close to a store-bought tree.” What can I say? My parents raised me right.

Half the fun of hunting for our own tree (in the mountains, not trash cans) was debating the symmetry, height, and fullness of each potential tree. The other half of the fun was a proud refusal to purchase a Christmas tree permit. I’m sure this goes back to some self-sufficient, rural (backwoods, perhaps?) mindset of my dad’s. Or maybe it’s just more fun to feel like you’re getting away with something – the same theory that propelled Dad to teach us girls to sneak into the county fair, rodeos, and concerts. Paying admission was like admitting defeat.

Sometimes, we’d take a friend’s used permit and tie it around the trunk of our freshly cut Christmas tree. That way, if someone saw it from afar, they’d assume it was bought and paid for. Did you also know that at a rodeo, you can take an ink pen, color the design on your friend’s admission stamp, quickly press the back of their hand to your own, and forge your own admission stamp?

Did you know we are a bunch of mooches? If you invite us over for Christmas dinner, I guarantee Dad will eat all the lemon meringue pie and I will drink all the mulled wine. My aunt and uncle will wash and dry all the dishes. They’re pushy like that.

In high school, Mom and I got creative one year and had a themed tree. We used only blue and silver decorations. It was nice; very Martha-Stewart-meets-Walmart, heavy on the Walmart.

During a different holiday season in high school, Dad was too depressed to help me decorate. I had to set up a tall live Christmas tree by myself, which is extremely difficult. I cried a lot, and not just because the tree ended up crooked after dozens of adjustments of the screws in the metal base.

These days, we still have a decorated tree in the living room each year, its branches filled with ornaments made when we girls were in the single-digit years. The fun is I never know exactly what kind of tree it is until I drive home on Christmas Eve; sometimes it’s a thick, bushy Douglas fir, one year it was a Charlie Brown type, one year it was plastic and lit up in psychedelic colors.

Instead of a tree, Mom and I had a Christmas poinsettia one year. We stacked our gifts around it, propped an “Our First Christmas”ornament against the flowerpot, and laughed ourselves sick.


 This is Mom screwing my head back on after another gathering of our weird family.  Note the cowoy hat ornament.  It served the first part of its useful life hanging from the rearview mirror of my  Dodge Neon, wafting a pleasant fragrance throughout the cab.  Yes, we decorate with used air fresheners.  Is that tacky?  I don’t think that’s tacky.

Here’s me and my best friend, Casey, sitting in front of her parents’ tree and holding (of course) a wooden bowl over our heads.  I wish I could explain…an inside joke, bad instructions from our parents, an impending indoor hail storm…but I have no idea what prompted this pose.

I like how Casey is cowering on the corner of the couch, trying to blend into the furniture and out of the picture. Boy, Uncle Jerry and I are sure proud of our gifts we received at the White Elephant party! We do like our vino.


Dad's sure happy with his White Elephant gift. It's just what every 60+ year old ex-rancher wants: a Shape-Mate. Go buy one for the aging cowboy on your list today.


Dad and my oldest sister, Sara, demonstrating how to properly use the hands-free devices for their cell phones. Maybe they just shouldn't drive.


Mom, Sara, Lacy, me and Dad at my college graduation.


My stepmom, Susan, and my dad. She aged so much better than he did, don't you think?


Dad loooooves to put on a mask, casually sit down on the sofa next to me when I'm not paying attention, and scare the bejeebers out of me when I turn and look at his face. Notice how my mouth is screaming, but my body language says "I'm bored." He pulls pranks a lot. We get used to them.


Dad likes to tell people that I raised him through the divorce. I'm not sure I want to take the credit for this.

Well, I’ll find out what this year’s Christmas tree is like, plus see Dad’s new mask/snack food shoved in his facial openings, in a week and a half!  I’m pretty stoked.  I just hope Uncle Jerry brings more wine. 


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What Would You Take?

Yesterday I taught at a small school, so my classroom contained a mixture of sixth, seventh and eighth graders.  They finished an assignment early, so I gave them a quick journal write to fill the extra time.

I told the kids to pretend that their house was burning down and they had time to grab only one item.  What would it be and why?

After about two minutes of silence, hands shot up one after the other.  The kids asked, “Does it have to be only one thing?”  “What if we can’t actually carry it up?”  “Can it be a bunch of little things in a box?”  “Does a dog count?” 

Seeing where their young, literal minds were going, I told the class, “The point of this exercise isn’t to determine how much you can physically carry from a burning building.  This is about priorities.  I want to know what you think and why.”

Once they were done writing, I asked volunteers (“volunteers” is teacherspeak for “whomever I call on when no one volunteers”) to share their answers. 

One kid said he’d take his mattress, because that’s where his money is hidden. 

“Why don’t you just take the money?” I asked.

“That would take too much time.”

Another boy said he’d take all his money, so he could buy food and clothing for his family until they could get a new house. 

One girl would grab a box on her desk filled with special gifts people had given her that couldn’t be replaced.  One boy said he’d be sure and grab his dog.  Another kid said he’d take his DS, which I understand is some kind of new handheld video game, so he could connect to the Internet. 

If my house were burning down around me, I’d grab the afghan my Grandma Shelley made for me when I was a baby.  She died when I was four.  Grandma Shelley made adult-sized afghans for everyone in the family, second cousins and in-laws included.  I’m so grateful I have a big afghan, rather than the typical baby blanket that no one uses after age two, to snuggle in and remember the matriarch of my mom’s side of the family.

What would you take?  And no, you cannot “take the fire and move it somewhere else,” as one boy suggested 🙂  More importantly, ask yourself “why?”


Filed under Tales From The Schoolroom

People Like Me! Who Knew?!

I just returned to my current home of Elko, Nevada from a Christmas week in my childhood home of Siskiyou County, California.  After looking through all the photos I snapped (yes, I finally figured out how to use the dang camera!), I realized a few things.  First, I definitely need to pay more attention to my hair.  My standard beauty routine of showering, applying a little mousse, ruffling it all up, squinting into the mirror and telling myself “no one will notice” is not fooling anyone.  The camera doesn’t lie.

Second, it’s so sad that I used to think I was always in the way; that the people around me would have an easier time if I wasn’t here.  That’s one of the main reasons I nearly took my own life when I was seventeen.  Third, it’s wonderful to be so distanced from that hopeless frame of mind that I feel only sadness, not sameness, with that despairing girl. 

This trip home proved the demons wrong, the ones who fill my brain with thoughts of “You’re worthless.  No one likes you.  The only reason they invited you over is because they feel sorry for you.  Don’t let anyone see you eat.  You don’t deserve to feel good.”  I went home for 9 days and was simply exhausted from visiting dear friends and family!  People who love me and hugged me!  They gave me the best gifts.

Susan gave me leftover turkey, Theo gave me half her bed, Jamie gave me her baby to hold during church, Smokey gave me his arm to snuggle under during a movie, Don gave me a leather scarf slide he’d made, Matt gave me a hard time about being a crazy old lady with too many cats, and Coleman gave me a compliment by asking me how to braid. 

It’s crazy to remember the days I would tear apart a razor blade with a Leatherman and slice my forearm when I was left alone in an empty house.  I didn’t need to despair; I only needed to migrate.  Feeling worthless and abandoned and are not the same as being worthless and abandoned.  The same goes for fatness.  It’s unfortunate but true that wounds, whether real or imagined, are equally detrimental to our sense of well-being.  We need to take control of our minds, listen to our rational brains, and believe the goodness in our lives.

I am overflowing with goodness.  I haven’t slept in a week, and I stuffed every day with all the good things in life.  Playing cards, making new friends, catching up with old ones, dancing ’til the wee hours of the morning, eating candy cane Hershey’s kisses, drinking gin and tonic and playing pool, sitting in a leather shop listening to old cowboy stories, watching The Pink Panther, eating homemade creme brule, and knowing I am truly loved and valued.  It was an excellent Christmas 🙂

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Marathon Visiting

I’ve been in Siskiyou County, California, the place I was raised, for a full week.  I’ll be relieved to go back to work in Elko so I can get some rest!  I have the most wonderful non-problem: tons of people to visit.

In high school, I was rather nomadic, acquiring several “second families” around the county.  Now, I walk through front doors without knocking, raid the fridge, load the dishwasher, and plop down on the couch to watch whatever’s on with whomever’s holding the remote.  At Susan’s we drink wine; at Mary Ann’s we play cards and feed the bummer calf; at Bill’s I study his Las Cruces bit designs; at the Dowlings’ we listen to Smokey play the guitar and we all sing along to “Smoke Rings In The Dark.”

My cousins and I got together for hamburgers and fruit salad last night, and the five of us grown-ups solved all our family problems.  The five little kids ran around with walkie-talkies and princess tiaras, and I learned there’s another one due in April.  The girls are in 4-H, where they’re learning how to sew, make jewelry, and shoot firearms.  Good girls 🙂

We managed to assemble five of us who’ve gone to school together since fourth grade at a pizza parlor one night.  It was fun to catch up and see who grew up.  Most of us seem to have escaped that fate so far.

I visited Don Brown, seventy-five-year-old cowboy/cowboss-turned-braider slash coolest person I know, a couple times.  I made him peanut butter pies and German chocolate cake, and he taught me a few knots last winter.  When I called in despair with difficulties over the one-strand long button, he asked me “Now, how much of all this trouble you’re having do you think is because you’re a girl?”  Don’s always good for stories about riding bareback horses in the ’60s and cowboying at various outfits.  He helped me with my horsemanship, warned me about men (they’re all terrible and I shouldn’t associate with them), and encouraged me to ride colts in Idaho and cowboy in Nevada because “you never know until you go.”  This visit, he told me he was proud of me.

My far-flung adventures are wonderful, but it’s so nice to get all filled up with a big dose of hometown-ness.  Comforting to be around folks who knew me when I wasn’t yet born, who encouraged me to go to college, to write, to ride, to go to church.  Now I’m prepared for another year of out-there-ness, taking the best of my hometown with me.


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Post-Christmas Recovery

I haven’t written in a few days, as I have been staying at Copco Lake, CA, a remote locale with no electricity, running water, cell phone service, or high speed Internet connection.  Ok, we have lights and water, but I haven’t been around a computer in a while.

I love not having cell phone service, because it’s a great excuse to fully immerse myself in the present company and enjoy the people I am conversing with face-to-face.  For Christmas Eve dinner, we ate crab with newspaper spread over the table and just made a big ol’ mess.  On Christmas Day, we drank a thirty-year-old bottle of wine and I laughed way too loudly.  It was fun 🙂

We (Dad, his girlfriend Susan, her son Matt and I) visited the neighbors’ ranch, where more neighbors stopped by and we had a two-deck card game underway.  The only way you could be heard is if you yelled at least three times, because someone always missed what you said the first time or two.  We played a Fitzgerald specialty called “Oh, Hell” and decided everyone should put in $2 to play, winner take all.  We ended up with $21 in the pot.  Most of us graduated Chico State.

We finished the night with a game of pool in the basement, eating Jelly Bellies while Casey and I schooled the boys in eight ball.  They claimed they were being gentlemen, but didn’t take us up on our offer for a re-match.

 At church on Sunday I saw my friend’s new baby, then visited high school and college friends I haven’t seen in a year.  Coming home is fun, but I’m exhausted!  So many people to visit in such a short amount of time!  I’m going to do some braiding with an old cowboy friend, so that will be an enjoyable afternoon of stories largely untainted by facts.  I’ll bring my tape recorder and call it a start on my book.

I received plenty of neat presents for Christmas, but the best one was being with the home folks.  Corny, I know, but the older I get, the more true it seems.  I’m able to go running about the country on my wild crazy adventures because I have so many people who love and support me.  I’m a lucky girl.

Mushy stuff aside, now we’re preparing for New Year’s Eve.  Around these parts, that means sweeping off the dance floor, tuning Smokey’s guitar, and gathering enough wood for a sweet bonfire.  If you’re not otherwise engaged, head on over to Eastside Road for the best (if not only) party in Scott Valley! 

Happy 2011!

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Redneck Christmas

“Mom got drunk/And Dad got drunk/At our Christmas party…..Carve the turkey/Put the ballgame on/Mix bloody marys/’Cause we all want one….”  Seriously, was there a spy at our house?  Robert Earl Keen, even though he’s a Texan, sings a dang good new-fangled Christmas carol.

My family doesn’t skip around the shopping mall wearing Santa hats like the blond, slender people in TV commercials.  We don’t fly in from far-off locales and spend the weekend in lavishly appointed guest rooms.  I have never once heard my older sister say “Gee whiz!”

We don’t draw names out of a hat for a family-wide gift exchange; we are not that organized. We’re the kind of family who has a White Elephant gift exchange party and at least one person brings something borderline obscene.  The most popular item is always the bottle of Crown Royal with two commemorative glasses.  Okay, it’s actually a bottle of Jack Daniels.  I lied to make us sound a little classier.  But it really did come with two glasses. 

When we visit relatives for the holidays, we sleep on sofas, the floor, or boot the dog off the guest room bed and breathe pet hair all night.  Our gatherings usually include an uncle with a beer gut, a dad who arrives two hours late, and at least one person who didn’t make it because they had a near-mental breakdown.  A pack of little kids runs around, coloring on a cardboard playhouse with Magic Markers and answering with painful honesty when a great-aunt asks, “Do I look old?”

One of my favorite parts of Christmas is feeding cows at the Fitzgeralds’.  I know, I know, I’m probably the only person in the free world who actually enjoys feeding cows in the snow.  It takes me back to being five years old and not wanting to go to kindergarten because that meant I couldn’t feed cows with my daddy.  I’m oblivious as to how to drive an old feed truck in inclement weather, so it’s nice to take a break from responsibility and just let one of the guys drive while I shove flakes of hay off the bed.  It’s just me, a stack of bales, a bunch of bawling mama cows, wet snow falling on my face, and 2,493 pot holes that Coleman could have steered around but didn’t.  I crave it.

I hope everyone has safe travels this year – don’t forget chains, a flashlight, a car charger for the ol’ cell phone, and food and water.  Unless you’re in Southern California, then don’t forget a paddle and a life jacket.  Haha! 

But seriously, Feliz Navidad!

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Family Christmas Letter

  Holidays 2010

 Dear Family and Friends,

 Greetings from the Fogelbergers! We send our best holiday wishes to you from a snow-encased Paradise Valley. The children’s sled marks run down the hillside opposite the driveway, hot chocolate simmers on the stove and bunny tracks criss cross the snow. So do coyote tracks, but no matter.

We seven have had a stellar year. Eunice is enjoying her new workplace for physical therapy and Herbert is growing his home-based computer cleaning business every day. The home fires continue to burn, if not sputter and smoke at times.

Richard is raking in tens of dollars cowboying each month. He acquired a four-year-old gelding as a Christmas gift from his last employer. He looks forward to starting the beast under saddle, once he locates and collects it from the BLM allotment where it jumped the fence and took up unauthorized residence. Ollie got out of jail last year and has retired the Grant County jumpsuit for good – we hope. He is planning to take night classes this fall and earn his AA through an accelerated 12-week program. We are very proud.

Stella Bell has taken up semi-permanent residence in Washington D.C. One of the perks of her new job is a company cell phone, so she calls home quite often. She appears to be enjoying herself, as she is usually hungover or preparing to be hungover when she calls. That’s our lush – I mean Stella Bell. She is busy saving the world by promoting and protesting private property legislation as each bill merits.  She has an apartment near Capitol Hill, a Metro train pass, and regularly attends big-wig political conferences.  More importantly, Stella Bell is doing something few graduates of Jefferson High accomplish: she wears a suit and heels to work every day.   

Nicholas has moved on to a new and different set of sorority girls, or, as he calls it, “transferred schools.” He will be spending the 2010-2011 academic year in Bozeman, Montana, studying agriculture business, local history and freshmen in mini skirts. He is looking forward to broadening his horizons and acquiring a deeper appreciation for culture and fine arts as they apply to keg parties.

Kenneth made the decision to not further his academic career at Golden Valley Community College after his first year. The decision was not particularly difficult; if Kenneth hadn’t made it, the dean surely would have. After a broken back suffered during a violent horse wreck (the horse was uninjured) and a summer-long recuperation period, Kenneth advanced his cowboy career by rez-hopping around Nevada. He day worked for several outfits, carefully saving his wages for fuel and beer to get to his next destination. Always a planner, that one. After a successful tour of the Nevada desert and…desert, Kenneth returned to Paradise Valley, where he immediately totaled his pickup (the cow was injured).

Margaret, our former exchange student from Little Valley, has transitioned from starting colts in her backyard to cowboying in northern Nevada. She has undergone much personal growth and learning. For example, she learned it is very difficult to get your dallies when the steer is running right and your horse is running left. A Mexican’s shouts of “Stop your horse! Stop your horse!” only added to the general ruckus and heightened the overall anxiety.  We fully expect to see her married by next fall, as she is one of one single women in the American Valley. She will be registered at JM Capriola’s.

That’s all our news. I hope you enjoy the holiday season, stay warm, and tell your dear ones you love them. Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!

 Much love,

The Fogelbergers

 *Names have been changed to protect the innocent, as well as the guilty. 
**This letter is entirely fictional, and any resemblences to actual people is unintentional and coincidental. 
***The above sentence is not true.  At all. 

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