Sunday, December 30, 2012

Is Kelly Lucky Or What (Especially At Christmas)

We were married on New Year’s Day, a Monday, a new beginning in many ways. Since then, I’ve described myself as the luckiest man on earth, and that remains true.
I am lucky to have Kelly, but here’s a modest reminder of how lucky she is to have me, a man who likes having someone to do things for.

One night, after a long day of shopping the flea markets, she set up this lovely display of her plates on our bedroom wall. She was unhappy to leave “a hole” where one more plate should go, but she was nearly falling over for want of sleep. I’ve lived with her long enough to know that once she gets to that point, she is useless for anything but sleep. As I tucked her in, she whispered, “If you loved me you would put up one more plate….” And then she was out.
I figured it couldn’t be that hard. Kelly had put up 11 plates already, and only broke two, so I could probably manage. But she was out of plates, and out of the wire racks to hang one with. So I did the next best thing, what any man in love would do to prove his devotion. I went downstairs to the cupboard and found the exactly right shaped and patterned paper plate to fill in for the time being, until we could make another trip to the thrift stores.

When Kelly awoke the next morning, she noticed the plate first thing, and showered me with affection. She was so excited, so pleased, that she took photos to share with her friends in Blogland. She is still so happy with my act of kindness, these many months later, that she refuses my offer to put up a real plate in place of the paper one. She's sentimental that way.

While installing Christmas decorations a few weeks ago, we found a small pink tree that our daughter Carrie left behind. With her permission, I set it up for Kelly in our sitting room, because I know she loves pink Christmas trees and I know how much she loves the twinkle lights. Few things bring Kelly as much joy as sock monkeys, so I thought “what better for this little tree than her favorite sock monkey,” this pink little guy with the big smile. Kelly came in and saw the tree, then saw the toy on top, and she squealed with delight. More kisses came my way, I’ll tell you that.

Kelly’s new favorite place to sit is right under this tree, with the monkey man watching. While there has been talk of having to take down all the trees and decorations in the rest of the house here in a couple of days, she has not mentioned taking down the pink tree. It just means too much to her. She's sentimental that way.

On the porch, we have a white tree, another flea market find, which Kelly says she has always wanted. The ornaments are all pretty, but they are plastic, because they are exposed to the sun and wind and rain. The topper on this tree, a colorful keepsake from one of our many trips to Wendy’s, a family favorite, has become a tradition for us, and a reminder of what really matters.
This disposable display is highlighted by a used paper cup. The neighbors might call it trash, but to us it represents the true meaning of holiday celebrations. Ultimately, everything we have is disposable, and all the gifts and foods and trappings of Christmas mean little. Some people may have a perfect Martha Stewart magazine-cover Christmas, but neglect each other. What matters, what really lasts, is our family, each person, each individual. The love and kindness that we share, the bonds we form that will never be broken, that is what Christmas really means, and the humble little tree on our humble little porch helps us to never forget.

Here, Aubrey shows that she has learned the lesson, too. Awwww….

So I ask you. Is Kelly lucky or what?

Enough Already With The Ancient Christmas Carols


One drudgery of Christmas season – which, as you know, is much, much too long, starting in mid-October – is the tired old Christmas carols the stores insist on playing. Perhaps they assume it makes people more, what, festive, to hear those sleigh bells in the snow, but mostly it just annoys people.

We need some new Christmas music, not just more tedious remakes by whatever singers happen to be popular today.

Every year I try to buy one or two Christmas CDs, or downloads the past two years, hopeful that the new recordings will make a difference, but generally they do not. This year was an exception, as I came across some pretty good music, and added two songs to my favorites list.

First was Christmas Cello by Steven Sharp Nelson, aka one of The Piano Guys. The entire set is wonderful, perfect for decorating the tree, as we did (at least one of our trees), or for just having as background while reading, or talking, or doing dishes. My favorite is Simple Gifts, which is simply beautiful.

Next was Christmas Island by the one and only LeonRedbone. The title track is excellent, but my favorite, barely beating out That Old Christmas Moon, is Christmas Ball Blues. Great for dancing in the kitchen with the one you love, and if you ender up under the mistletoe, even better.
So here’s my updated list of Five Favorite Christmas Songs, with a tie for the bottom spot:

  1. Merry Christmas Baby, Elvis Presley (another great one for dancing in the kitchen, when the kids aren’t home)
  2. Baby, It’s Cold Outside, Brian Setzer and Ann-Margret (although the Ann-Margret Al Hirt version is much more sensual)
  3. Christmas Ball Blues, Leon Redbone
  4. Christmas Wish, She & Him
    Simple Gifts, Steven Sharp Nelson
What are your favorites?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

White Christmas Is A Scam

WARNING! FRAUD ALERT! If you are about to snuggle up in front of the DVD player to watch WhiteChristmas, be warned that it is not a Christmas movie. Except for the opening minutes where Bing Crosby sings the song, and then, of course, the closing minutes where the women in those beautiful red robes join in the singing, there is no mention of Christmas. None. The plot has nothing to do with Christmas. The story line is not about Christmas. Except for one brief mention of doing their show on Christmas Eve, NO ONE SAYS A WORD ABOUT CHRISTMAS in the entire movie. It’s a scam.
These movies are more about Christmas than White Christmas because they mention Christmas or have more Christmas decorations in them:
Die Hard
Lethal Weapon
Dirty Harry
Trading Places
When Harry Met Sally
Edward Scissorhands
Batman Returns
The Godfather for Pete’s sake.
Or even Life Of Brian.
I’m not saying White Christmas is not a good movie. I’m just asking you to not be fooled. Watch Crosby sing White Christmas on YouTube if you must, but then go watch a real Christmas movie, like Steve Martin in Mixed Nuts. You’ll thank me for it. Ho ho ho.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Another Christmas Tree For My Brother's Birthday

Today is my older brother’s birthday, which has many fond memories because December 17 was the day our mother finally let us put up the Christmas tree. It never crossed my mind that Gary Jo  might have thought he was cheated, having a birthday so close to, you know, the BIG holiday, and having his party overshadowed by trimming the tree. If it bothered him, I never knew it.
Nor would I have cared, because getting the tree and decorating it was a BIG deal at our house, and we waited for it for months. Four of the six of us shared one big room, half of our basement, and we used to count down the last 65 days until Christmas. And before that, we would count down the days until October 22, when we could start counting down.
As the 17th approached, one of us would get to ride along with dad to Heck’s IGA, where they had a rack of bundled trees leaning up against the building every year. Dad would carefully check each one to get the one that seemed just right, and he always did get it right. We never had a bad tree.
One year, when I was 12, dad let me pick the tree, and it was a thrilling and terrible responsibility. He never minded the mess of needles and sap. He loved the smell and the texture. Our decorations were simple: bright red and blue and green and white and yellow lights as big as his thumb, hand-glittered glass ornaments, and 20 boxes of tensel, placed carefully and evenly, one strand at a time.
Every tree we had growing up was fabulous, but no matter how fabulous, my mom had them down and out on the trash heap by noon, December 26.
Now, on the other hand, we feel bad taking any of our seven trees down before February, and I admit there was at least one year it was still up on April Fool’s Day. This year, so far, anyway, we have a white tree on the porch, the big green tree in the living room, another white tree in the dinning room, a silver tree in the baking kitchen, a pink tree in our bedroom, a mulit-colored tree in Libby's room and another silver one in Aubrey's room. The other green tree, we gave to Lydia for her new house. That's normal. Right?

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Lennon? Pearl Harbor? What Does What We Remember Mean?


I’ve remembered for a week or so that today, December 8, is the anniversary of John Lennon’s murder in 1980.
Yesterday, it wasn’t until I saw part of a newscast that I remembered December 7, 1941, and the horrors at Pearl Harbor. December 7, of course.


My children, at least the two still at home, were unaware of the significance of either date. “Why should we know that?” one of them said. Right now, they are in our bedroom with Kelly discussing the most important date they have, December 21, 2012.

I wonder how much that is a sign of some generational difference in cultural literacy, or whether that’s just representative of our insensitivity and absence of gratitude. Am I the only one to either lack or have such a distorted historical consciousness?
I apologize to veterans and their families everywhere, especially those who served in WWII. And to John Lennon fans, I still feel your pain. As for December 21, I guess we’ll just have to see, but I suspect it will be an even bigger dud than Y2K. Just in case, though, I'm postponing any Christmas shopping or trips to the mall until the 22nd....
Images of front pages from here and here.

Monday, December 3, 2012

You Gotta Love A Good Movie, Which Is Why I Don’t Love The Breaking Dawn Saga

Last year, the girls dragged me out in the middle of the night for the opening of the new people turning into dogs movie, Breaking Wind. No, wait, that’s not right. Breaking Dawn. Sorry.

This year, Grace saw it with college friends, and Libby was out of town with her dad, so Aubrey and I went to see Dogs Into People, Part 2, just the two of us. This one was a better movie than the Part 1, but that’s like saying shooting yourself in the foot is better than shooting yourself in both feet.
When Libby came back, it turned out that she hadn’t seen the movie, like I thought she said she would, so she and Aubrey and I went back to the theater. Only Aubrey was excited about a second viewing. It was fun being with the girls, especially going out for doughnuts after, but I’m glad this is the last of the Twilight movies.
In the past two years, I’ve seen Breaking Dawn 1, Breaking Dawn 2 twice, and The Lorax (read about it here). So I’m not a big movie goer. Perhaps the reason is that the movies just don’t move me like they used to.

Years ago, I went with a buddy to see one of the Rocky movies, where Stalone fought the Russian. We were the last two people seated, back row, middle. The movie progressed like all the other Rocky movies, and everyone was caught up in the excitement when Rocky began his inevitable comeback. But no one more so than my friend, who, when Rocky finally delivered the telling blow, leaped to his feet, shook his fist at the screen and screamed, “Take that, you Commie fag.”
You gotta love a good movie.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

In Honor Of Zig Ziglar’s Passing


Zig Ziglar passed away last week, at age 86. He was one of the best.

My first exposure to motivational books on tape was Zig Ziglar. At age 18, I applied to a want ad that said “Christians Wanted,” and ended up selling cookware across the state with a bunch of boys from one of the local Baptist colleges. While I sometimes doubted the level of their Christian devotion on the road, there was no questioning the quality of their listening material. I enjoyed Ziglar’s humor and humility, and what he said sounded good to me.

I have lots of favorites among Ziglar’s many stories, but there’s only one I shared with my students every semester. During the lesson on language and word choice, I’d run through this exercise, swiped from Ziglar. You take this simple sentence:

I did not say your wife was ugly.

Then you change the meaning of the sentence just by which word you emphasize. Try it yourself.

I did not say your wife was ugly.

I did not say your wife was ugly.

I did not say your wife was ugly.

I did not say your wife was ugly.

I did not say your wife was ugly.

I did not say your wife was ugly.

For speech students, it’s an effective illustration. What makes it memorable for me, though, is that as I would work through the list, changing the emphasis on each repeat of the sentence, I couldn’t help but assume a distinct southern accent, like Ziglar’s.

So Zig, now I guess we’ll see you at the top….

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Somehow My Plan Is Askew - What Would Bill Murray Do?

It’s so easy to take everyday things for granted: family and friends, cars, refrigeration, grocery stores, indoor plumbing.
Remember Bill Murray in Groundhog Day? He has this remarkable experience where he awakes to the same day, day after day. It makes him miserable and he goes through a seemingly endless repetition of gloomy days, a one-day season of doom. Eventually, he comes up with a plan to improve himself – he learns piano, for example – and to help people in the small town. And, of course, to woo Andie MacDowell (lucky boy).
It isn't until he realizes that he is only happy serving others, living for others, that he is able to break through the mundane routine of his day-to-day existence. The value of his life becomes obvious to him only after he recognizes the value in life around him.
While John Lennon may have been right singing that “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans,” life is too valuable and too short to not have a plan.
As Bill Murray eventually discovered, a good plan includes goals for making money and for giving it away. A good plan includes time for family and for fun. A good plan includes good health habits, diet and exercise, and mental stimulation. A good plan includes other people.
As Andie MacDowell says to Murray, “You couldn’t have planned a day like this,” remember his response, “Well, you can. But it takes an awful lot of work.”
I need to work on my plan.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

I Have No Accordion, Thanks To My Dad

You would think that one way to have peace in your home is to not have an accordion, but it didn’t work out that way for us. My grandmother, my dad’s mom, loved her accordion, and like most things she did, she played with gusto. This was a woman who, following a divorce, could not find work, so she dressed herself as a man and worked for more than a year as a lumberjack before her gender was discovered.
Before she died, my grandmother gave her beautiful, old accordion to my dad. Her desire was that one of his sons would learn to play.

A few years later, my dad, to raise money for church, donated a number of things from our house, including his mother’s accordion. It was one of his only mementoes of her life, and it sold for a small portion of its value. I remember my mom being angry about it, but I was impressed by his choice.
I don’t suppose there is a way to measure the loss in anyone’s life from not being able to play the accordion. Neither do I suppose there is a way to measure the blessing of having a good father, a man who keeps his word, and shows that doing what is right takes more than words.
Thanks, dad.
Check out the accordion photo here.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Walmart: The True Meaning Behind Thanksgiving

We didn’t shop on Thanksgiving, not wanting to be responsible for anyone having to work who would rather be home with family.

Nor did we shop on Black Friday, or Moron Day, as I like to call it, not wanting to be out with the crazy people, like those who stood in line with more than 500 other, um, shoppers, waiting to get into Toys R Us.


But we did shop for groceries on Wednesday, thick in the swarm of last-minute  food buyers looking for that last treat or two to top off their Turkey Day celebration. For us, grocery shopping almost always means Walmart. Here are some thoughts on my time in the store.

Those handful of people complaining so loudly that Walmart was out of big turkeys by 3 pm on Wednesday really don’t have anything to gripe about. It’s not like they didn’t know Thanksgiving was coming up.
You can buy turkey seasoning that comes with a hypodermic needle and syringe that lets you inject the stuff (ha ha) right into the bird. Doesn’t that seem wrong, somehow?

All of the frozen desert bins were hit hard, with lots of empty shelf space and very few of the really good pies left. Across the aisle, the so-called healthy frozen dinners-Smart Ones, Healthy Choice-had not been touched. Throughout the frozen entre section, most still looked fully stocked, except for the turkey dinners, which were mostly gone, too.
I made the assumption that anyone eating a frozen TV turkey dinner was likely alone for Thanksgiving. Is that a fair conclusion? It made me sad that so many people had nowhere better to go for the holiday than to the freezer for a Stouffer’s dinner.
Even turkey pot pies were nearly sold out, not just the Marie Callender’s, which are pretty good, but also the 88-cent Banquet pies. That really made me sad and kinda lonely as I pictured some elderly woman all on her own, again, or some college freshman, far from home and all by himself for the first time.
Then I realized that I was wrong. They may have been alone, but at least they had something. Even a cheap pot pie alone is better than nothing. It wasn’t that many years ago, alone in an empty duplex in some strange town, that all I had for Thanksgiving was generic grape jelly and a long, long weekend.
I’m thankful that has changed, and wish everyone had it as good as I do.

Images swiped from here, here, here, and here.



Monday, November 19, 2012

Great Book Idea, Yours For The Taking


I have this great idea for a book. You know how some books are about houses that are built over ancient grave yards, and the spirits rise to haunt the poor people who live there now? You know how some houses, like ours, are built on property that belonged to an orphanage that burned down 100 years ago and three children died, and they sometimes wander the attic and stairs at night?

Those kind of books seem to do well, especially when they are made into movies, and the author gets a check for half a million dollars. So here’s an idea you can take, straight to the bank.

A young couple moves into an old house that was built on an ancient golf course. Yeah, a golf course. And the house is haunted by two bad golfers who don’t get along and a caddy who died there long ago.

I would write the book, but I just don’t know enough about golf. I mean, I thought a Mulligan was when you put whiskey in your coffee, for Pete’s sake.
But if you know golf, maybe you’re the one to tell the story. Let me know how it turns out.
Photo swiped from here.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Wiper Blades Ain’t The Half Of It, Apparently

Someone spent quite some time this weekend trying to persuade me that I was pretty much inept at everything, not just minor auto repairs. As hard as it was to hear, trying to produce enough evidence to prove otherwise was harder still.

Monday, November 12, 2012

When Did I Become So Inept?

I used to be able to look at something and pretty much figure out how it worked or how to put it together, at least by following the instructions. I used to write instruction manuals, for Pete’s sake.
But I was nearly defeated this morning by the windshield wiper on Kelly’s car.
It says “Easy To Install” right on the package. It says “From package to windshield in minutes.” I guess that’s true, literally, but instead of taking one or two minutes as is implied, it took nearly 20 minutes.
The parts are black on black, the interlocking pieces are small, and the print is tiny, but that shouldn’t have been a deal breaker. What’s worse, I nearly didn’t make it that far. The hard plastic package took far longer to open than I care to admit.

I guess my easy FLIP and SLIDE days are over....
At last, the blade is installed, but Kelly is taking her chances. I only guarantee my wiper work in sunny weather.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Presidential Issue 5: Don’t Tell Us Who Won Before The Polls Close


I just read, again, how the media uses exit polls and computer models and divining rods and palm lines and tea leafs and previous results to project election winners long before everyone gets a chance to cast their ballot. I wish they wouldn’t do that.

It’s too late this time, but I say let’s elect a president who will make a difference, who will stop it. Let them gather their voodoo numbers but make them keep it to themselves until after the last person votes. Except, of course, for people in Hawaii. I mean, who wants to wait that long. And California, like it’s any surprise what they will do there.

Now, I’m off to cancel my wife’s vote….

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Amy G: Sorry We Missed You In The Bass Pro Marathon

One of my best students, one of Ms. Anthony’s favorite students, ran by our house today in the Bass Pro Shops Marathon. We missed seeing her, probably because she was a front runner, and by the time we made it out to the sidewalk to cheer everyone on, they had been passing by for a while.

Neighbors clapped and cheered with each passing runner, which was fun. Many of the runners seemed to appreciate the applause, with a quick nod or wave, but just as many could only breathe heavily. We are just short of the 16-mile marker, so we felt sorry for them, knowing they still had 10 miles to go.
"Getting up early to make this sign was hard, too."
That made me laugh, but I'm not sure what the runners thought.
A surprising number of the runners were not, um, fit, shall we say. But there they were, running, so you have to admire and respect that. It made me think that I could do it, too, you know, start slowly, running a bit today, a bit farther tomorrow, a bit more the day after that. Then, by next November, there I’d be, flying by the house, waving at everyone, my first marathon.
So, I went in right away, and ate chocolate pie until the feeling passed.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Say Trick Or Treat, Say Thank You

The first time I took a child out trick or treating on Halloween, Thriller was the top album,  ET was the big movie, and Commodore 64 was the hot, new computer. John Belushi and Grace Kelly were both alive, and the Cardinals had just won the World Series. I’ve done it and loved it every year since, rain or shine, warm or cold, one kid or seven.
I thought I would miss it last night, not going out with a costumed kiddie, but we had too much fun to notice. I missed the kids, yes, a lot, and I miss the grandkids, but I didn’t miss carrying the toddlers and wheeling them in the stroller and worrying about traffic and standing on the sidewalk and reminding them to say “trick or treat” and “thank you.” I enjoyed all that, and am grateful for all those years of fun, and I miss the kids – did I mention that? - but I didn’t miss it. I watched the parents as they came to our door, and I have to say it is fun from the front, too.

Kelly and I were thrilled watching the wide-eyed little ones walk up, the pirates and soldiers and princesses and witches and super heroes, that one kid dressed up like a police call box, so happy, so excited, so filled with wonder at what was happening.
We live in a neighborhood that dresses up for Halloween. People come from all over town, even from nearby towns, to see it all, to be part of it. We usually have around 1,200 goblins come to our door. That may seem like a typo, but it’s not. From 4:30 to 9:30 last night, we gave away 44 pounds of candy. It is common to have 20 or more children lined up on our sidewalk, hour after hour, and the fun doesn’t stop.
Kelly always puts out a nice spread for the friends who come over before the door-to-door action.

She always decorates inside the house, subtle touches of holiday made personal for and to our family. I like that about her.

It doesn't look like much, 44 pounds of candy, but it sure was popular. Some people in the neighborhood give out full-sized Snickers bars. We aren't one of those families. But we have tableclothes for every holiday, every occassion. I like that.

I decorate the outside of the house, based on a photo Kelly found in one of her many holiday magazines.

The calm before the stampede: the Purple English Teacher waiting to pass out the goodies. She said "great costume" and "happy Halloween" so much last night that she woke up hoarse.


Part of the queue. It is like this at every house, up and down the street. Fun, fun, fun. 

One of the parents said that she got married in our house, 26 years ago. We invited her in, with part of her her large family, and she seemed very pleased. We took pictures of her behind our stair rail, just as she stood back in 1986. That was cool.

Our windows always get a lot of attention, and a lot of favorable comments, another idea from one of Kelly's holiday magazines. One woman said she has a photo of our house on her Facebook opening page. That seems weird.

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