Remember Christmas… When you were 10 years old?

My favorite Christmas song is the theme song from “Bewitched.” I’ll explain. It was one of those Norman Rockwell scene evenings as I trudged down the street. I was returning homeimg_5764 from cub scouting or sledding or playing hockey and snow was falling lightly in the air. I don’t remember where I was coming from. It was a typical Iowa winter evening, frigid and dark and the snow was crunching under my feet. The streetlights had halos around them because the light didn’t even want to penetrate out into the cold night air. The snow was piled high along our sidewalk and driveway but I could manage to see in our front windows. A soft yellow glow from the lights inside the house promised warmth not only from heat but also love. The Christmas tree was lit in the back corner of our living room and projected all of the welcoming joy that the season represents.

I stomped the snow off my boots at our back door landing and proceeded to hang my hat, gloves and coat on the hooks screwed into a board and nailed to the wall over the steps leading to our basement. Something from the kitchen smelled warm and delicious. My mom was good at that; cooking up vittles that were at once welcoming and welcome. I could hear the soft sound of Spanish polka Christmas records playing. That meant my mom was likely feeling nostalgic for her mother. I was sure to give her a little more of a hug when I made my way into the kitchen.

After dinner I went to the living room to settle in and watch some of our favorite shows. We all had a favorite chair and it was the same one. A gold swivel rocker that sat next to the freshly cut Christmas tree. Our tree was lit with those big primary color bulbs of red, green, blue and yellow. A little bit of tinsel reflected the explosion of colors when you turned off all of the other lights. It was my version of a high tech light show. I turned off the lights, turned on the TV and got comfortable.

And here was my moment. We all have those memories that stand out and always give us a warm feeling when they cross our mind. The Bewitched theme song came on and for one reason or another I had my first and perhaps most poignant feeling of contentedness. To this day I recall the soft glow of the television, the colorful lights in my peripheral vision and my parents, brother and sister making their way in to join me. My tummy was full and the chill of the outdoors was now only a memory. The theme song, light and airy, is whimsical and I suppose that’s not unlike the life I enjoyed in those days. For evermore I would attribute the Bewitched theme with a Christmas memory.

I don’t remember how old I was. Bewitched first aired in 1964 and went to being broadcast in color in 1966. We didn’t have a color TV until 1972 so that distinction was lost on me. I’m guessing I was elementary school age. My kids today are of an age where it is rare that we all gather around a program on TV. That and with the multiple media options available and the three high definition televisions spread out through our house; I can’t remember the last time all of us watched a show together. Maybe I’ll ask for that from them for Christmas this year.


Holiday Shopping Survival Tip.

Our Christmas tree garland was beginning to show some age. It would be a simple thing I imagined; slipping into AC Moore unattended by my wife. Typically I would never stop in a craft store except as a husbandly duty in support of maintaining my 33 year marriage. I have to admit, fight or flight adrenalin coursed through my veins as soon as soon as the automatic doors slammed shut tight behind me. I was instantly assaulted by merchandise displays that attacked my senses and had me double checking for my wallet. I wanted to ensure my wallet would not be absconded by the thousand upon thousands of items marked down fifty percent for trinkets that held one tenth of that value.

Mother’s and daughters as far as the eye could see. Young daughters though. It was as if by 14 all hope of getting a post-prepubescent teen to share a love of crafting was lost. I get it. I found my garland fairly quickly and made my way to the holiday Eager Retailers Greet Crowds Of Shoppers On season check-outs. The store was under staffed which I found amazing given that it was a weekend in holiday season. I chose my line carefully selecting a line that didn’t have ladies with more than one overflowing shopping cart filled with gifts doomed to be met with an awkward expression of gratitude on Christmas morning.

The line I chose had two women ahead of me. One with a conventional shopping cart that was filled over the top of its capacity. The next lady, sporting a Duke Mom cap, had this cute little basket tote on wheels that is maybe unique to craft stores. It was overflowing too. I had three lengths of garland and cash and secretly hoped the woman in front of me would have pity on me and let me move ahead of her. I engaged in light banter and holiday greetings and was quickly rewarded for my efforts. The Duke Mom cap wearing lady in front of me told me she had a complicated transaction and I was welcome to step ahead of her if I wished.

We managed to have fun as I explained my need to replace tired garland and the fact that shaping our artificial tree was something that my family had accepted as being my and my alone reasonability. She teasingly feigned understanding and then exclaimed, “everybody has something.” referring to my obsession of a perfectly shaped plastic tree. It only now occurs to me this lady may have felt trapped in line by a chatty man who’s wife had broken some code and let her husband enter a domain reserved for moms and prepubescent daughters. Maybe that’s why she offered to let me cut in line.

After a full 10 minutes of comparing every last items to sale flyers and phone apps the lady in front of us finally appeared to be preparing to pay. But no. That transaction would take another five minutes as the order was recalculated and double checked. I mentioned to the Duke Mom cap wearing lady that perhaps all transactions here are complicated. We continued talking of holiday travel plans and kids and holiday preparations until it was my turn to check out. I had found a store flyer in the checkout line and asked the cashier if there were any coupons in it for me. She somewhat curtly said no and the Duke Mom cap wearing lady said she had a 25% off one item she wasn’t planning to use.

At that point my gratitude for the Duke Mom hat wearing lady prompted me to reach for three point of sale holiday candies. One for her, one for the over worked cashier and one for me. The cashier lit up and smiled as she explained she had a better coupon for me which saved me fifty percent of my entire purchase. I wished my new friends a very Merry Christmas and made my exit. This hadn’t been so bad. A dreaded stop into holiday retail hell had ended up heavenly and for a moment I had engaged with strangers who ended up feeling like friends. Life is what we make it. Instead of brooding over the long lines and harried shoppers the next few weeks it’s nice to slow down and understand we are all in this together. Merry Christmas.

The Kids Will Be Ok.

Back before video games and internet and oh hell, before push button phones and color TV; life was much… how should I say this… slower. Yeah. That works. Life was much slower. I grew up in Iowa on California Street in a sleepy little town called Cedar Falls. Pretty much every summer evening the kids of California Street would 9252FC11-7F46-4D0A-94F5-B40E12E057F7gather for nightly rounds of Four Square. I don’t recall that we played a particularly competitive brand of Four Square. We played a more social version. The rule was we played until the streetlights came on or the girl from up around the corner’s dad would step out on their front porch and blow his whistle. It was a source of embarrassment for her and I never knew why.
To summon us home my Dad did a cool single note tweet loud and shrill. The tone would rise and fall a bit then rise again before a staccato stop. There was no mistaking his call. He could also make a pretty cool noise blowing past a single blade of switch grass. I suppose these are skills that were needed before everyone’s kids carried cell phones. I can whistle but I never mastered a loud whistle that would have been useful to call the kids home from a block away. I would have had to use one of those referee whistles like the girl’s dad from up around the corner. I wonder if my kids would have been embarrassed by that?
Kids today can engage with their friends instantly 24-7 and their friends can be from anywhere on the planet. We were pretty much limited to the kids on our block, maybe one over and until the streetlights came on. The dynamics of that difference is pretty remarkable if you think about it. I’ll not be casting judgements on the quality of connections and relationships between then and now. No judgements other than, our life was, as mentioned before, slower.
Every generation recalls their youth as the best path to virtue. I recall when my kids were young I’d often hear people talk about “kids these days” in a way that was rarely complimentary. I’d sometimes hear that in gymnasiums or auditoriums filled with hundreds of peewee wrestlers or high stepping show choir competitions. I’d point to all the determined performers faces and say, “the kids are going to be ok.” My youngest is now a senior in high school. A friend recently posted on Facebook that she worries about kids these days. Her post wasn’t so much about the previous complaints I’ve referenced but rather the state of the world they are facing.

I recall when I was growing up we were witness to civil rights battles, assassinations and the Viet Nam war. When my twins were growing up in the 90’s there was 9/11, Genocide in Rwanda and the gulf war. Today we see, well you know why people would worry about kids these days. The thing is, every generation faces their challenges and the great thing about God is that he wired us to be resilient. If we focus on helping each new generation and those among us that need a hand up things are going to be ok. It’s always been that way and by the grace of God it always will be.

This holiday season don’t get too wrapped up in the things going on in the world. Slow things down a little bit and engage kids where they are. Hug those close to you and let them tell you about the awesome victory they had on their favorite Xbox game. Know that you are doing the best you can to lift up the people you can and encourage them to value the same. The kids are going to be ok. My days playing Four Square on California Street taught me that.

Me Too.

As industry icons drop like flies from the recent sexual harassment awakening one can’t help but wonder how we let this go on so long. As a daughter’s father and as a husband I should have been more aware, more proactive and less complicit. I don’t know a man who hasn’t made inappropriate comments about women, who hasn’t engaged in untoward banter with women or conceded that there was nothing we could do about unequal pay, glass ceilings and double standards regarding women in the workplace. The latter is a form of sexual harassment in its own right. I wonder how women put up with all of this for so long. I wonder how men ignored the situation that has led us to this point in time. Is it fair that men were allowed to behave in a way for so long and suddenly find themselves accountable for deplorable actions? Yes.

Men need to accept this wake up call. We are hearing 74C6DD69-BC8D-403B-8A12-BD2DD39F8F53about men abusing power but I wonder how many of us are guilty to a degree but lacked the power or the vulnerable victim that could have been just as predatory? The fact that we think we never did anything so horrible as those in the news should not be comforting. Inappropriate comments, untoward banter and conceding inequality in the workplace are the same behavior. Imagine that in the victims mind, they have to wonder, is he kidding? Is this really happening? The fact that our daughters and significant others just endure this should sicken us all. The battle is in our mind. Maybe our actions seem exemplary to us but if we are honest our thoughts and desires are where this problem begins. As a society we seem to be awakening to all sorts of bullying, racism and discrimination. We are taking a good talk but it is beyond time to put words to action.

This is finally a job only men can fix. We are getting some encouragement from some brave women who have said, “Enough!” This isn’t about Garrison Keillor, Matt Laur, Roy Moore or even the president. This is about every man. All of those institutionalized principles about a real mans role in life should give us a head start on facing the underlying misogyny that is a cancer in our world. What better mindset can we foster this holiday season than to stand with our sisters and change the world? That’s how we do it you know… change the world. We fix ourselves. The world will follow.

How To Beat The Holiday Blues.

Now that Thanksgiving is over and we say goodbye to loved ones it’s not uncommon to feel a bit forlorn. It’s time to get back to work and add the grind of Christmas shopping, office parties, pageants and preparations. Even the mostly avid of Christmas aficionados acknowledge some anguish associated with the Yuletide season. We BB0A349D-498C-4B14-93B7-314F6D9AA6A4long for lost loved ones and languish for the carefree days of our youth. Many of our most magical memories of Christmas are remnants of childhood. It’s not hard to understand how some people struggle with the holidays and it’s not unexpected that most of us experience occasional bouts of sadness this time of year. That’s ok. Our humanity mandates that we cherish the connections of our past.

As our kids pass through our doorways heading back to their lives at school or work and as we recall the loved ones who have passed before us it’s normal to sense a piece of us is missing. To ease your stress this holiday season I recommend you read, “The Book of Joy: Lasting 3C447346-6FF2-4F23-BCB0-1D6A587CB309Happiness in a Changing World” by Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Douglas Carlton Abrams. You can add it to your shopping list for those hard to buy for family members as well. (You’re welcome!) Maybe share it as a book club with those you gift it to and enhance its value immeasurably. The book mentions “the concept of Ubuntu. It says: A person is a person through other persons.” That makes sense. A large part of our humanity is made up in our instinctual need for community.

What better example of community do we witness than our family? That being said, all families aren’t perfect and I would add they aren’t enough. In these days we spread ourselves around the world and getting together is sometimes a major undertaking. Cherish those times together. In the mean time we can grow relationships in our neighborhoods, our markets, our jobs, pretty much anywhere other people gather throughout our day.

In “The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World” Archbishop Tutu says, “I could not speak as I am speaking without having learned it from other human beings. I could not walk as a human being. I could not think as a human being, except through learning it from other human beings. I learned to be a human being from other human beings. We belong in this delicate network.” It states, “So the best way to fulfill your wishes, to reach your goals, is to help others, to make more friends. “How do we create more friends?” he now asked rhetorically. “Trust. How do you develop trust? It’s simple: You show your genuine sense of concern for their well-being. Then trust will come.”

Our next job, a new car, or next pay raise or even the passing of a debilitating ailment will never bring us happiness. It might for a minute but always looking ahead or looking backward for better times is not how we are meant to live. When we do that we are focused on ourselves and our current condition. Appreciate when times are good but know that science and all of the great religions agree that our most fulfilled life comes from serving others. If the holidays get you down this year take a moment and find a way to help someone near you. When you focus on others that forlorn feeling you’re having will recede and you might just experience again that magical feeling of Christmas you are longing for.


Thanksgiving Reminder

The first Thanksgiving as told in elementary schools is pretty much the version we commemorate as one of our favorite holidays. I don’t suppose it was as altruistic as conventional lore suggests. The Wampanoag people, the Indians around the table at the first Thanksgiving, have a different perspective. The Wampanoag gather on 2FB26B9A-62F2-4655-BA45-918EB453C041Thanksgiving in mourning. The Wampanoag claim, “We, the Wampanoag, welcomed you, the white man, with open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end.” We often forget that without Samoset, a Monhegan from Maine and Tisquantum (Squanto), a Wampanoag, the pilgrims likely would have starved out in their second winter here. I wonder what our celebration would look like had Squanto not befriended and helped those settlers by showing them how to plant corn, fish and gather nuts and berries.

Gone are nearly all of the threats and challenges our forefathers faced. We are no longer hunter gatherers threatened by the challenges of finding nourishment, shelter, safety from predators and such. Those basic instincts no longer require the urgency they once did but remain a part of our DNA. It’s no wonder we can be confused when our body injects inappropriate responses to things that make us uncomfortable. The American story is remarkable but not without atrocities. We have a history of exploiting the people and world around us.

We now have the luxury of seeking a rich and fulfilling life where once the biggest priority in life was to survive. That’s a pretty big void if you think about it. This Thanksgiving I will be grateful for all of the wonderful people and things in my life. I will thank God that he put me in the time and place He did. I will also pray that I remain humble and not overlook the great sacrifice that has been paid to make my world so. It seems disingenuous that we might gather around our feast this Thursday not reflecting on the fact that we wouldn’t be where we are today had people of a different culture and belief system given us aid. We should remember the Wampanoag this Thanksgiving and perhaps join with them and do a little mourning of our own. Perhaps before we give thanks we should ask for a little forgiveness.


Thanksgiving Is For Memories

I’m at an age in life, where my wife, who is younger than me, is retirement eligible. That’s good for her and she flirts with that idea from time to time. For myself, I just can’t imagine it. I have no interest in retiring although I suppose one day I may have to. I’m going to do my best to postpone that for at least ten years. I love what I do and I figure it will take at least ten years to get my gardening skills up to a retirement worthy level.
How did so many years pass so quickly? First my grandparents and then my parents warned me that life is fleeting. I’m not sure how I might have done things differently had I internalized that the way I now find myself wishing I would have. I have a fantasy that heaven might be the opportunity to come back and live the same life all over again. Hopefully that feeling won’t change before I die in 2068. I know that is the year I will die because a Facebook profile survey told me so. I wonder how scary that will be.. after my birthday in 2068… knowing that at any time…0E1ADCAE-5C7E-4E9C-9E10-E8D675109E27
Time has a way of accelerating as we grow older. Life is fleeting kids. Make note. I’ve told my kids that this Thanksgiving I want them to start listing the specific heirlooms and gadgets that they would like to keep after 2068. They looked at me like I’m crazy and I had to assure them there was nothing ominous about my request. My hope is the exercise will spark some conversation of memories that make up the core of what the holiday is all about.
There are many things to be grateful this Thanksgiving season. Our shared journey has been supported by some of the peripheral accumulations in our lives. Things will never be what hold the value in our family memories but maybe they are invaluable to reminding us of the special times we have shared together. Have a Happy Thanksgiving my friends. By planning ahead we can preserve our past.

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