How will you spend them?

Every year I try to think of a way to keep myself and family focused on the excitement of Christmas. This year’s entry was the “Twelve Days Before Christmas”. Each day was a tease aimed at one or more of my family members. Example; 2. “Adela with two pairs of aviators”, a tease of my two year old granddaughter’s insatiable urge to try on sunglasses, often to the chagrin of the person who was supposed to be watching her in the store. For your consideration, I wanted to share with you the final, twelfth day.

On the twelfth day of the twelve days before Christmas , I will give to you ……………………………

12. Twelve hours before midnight and Christmas Day.
What will you do with those final 12 hours? It’s possible that you still have some last-minute preparations like, wrapping the last few gifts, or maybe even getting that one last gift on your list. Maybe it will be preparing your children for the arrival of Santa, putting out the cookies and milk or just hanging the stockings. Maybe you’ll watch a favorite Christmas movie. Some might even have a tradition of trimming the Christmas tree in those last few hours.
Whatever your tradition might be, do it with Christmas in your heart. We celebrate Christmas morning, but we often forget to appreciate the days and eventually the hours leading up to Christmas day and then it’s gone. Celebrate family and traditions. Depending on your beliefs, celebrate the birth of Christ or simply celebrate the season. Somewhere, in the midst of all the hustle and bustle, think of those who have so much less and then appreciate how much you have. Yes, I know how old fashioned that sounds, especially the bustle part, but it is at the heart of this season and so easy to miss. Find a way to give from your resources, even if it is just to be a little more accepting, a little more generous or maybe just a little more thankful for the things you have. Hug your loved ones, hug your children, greet a neighbor or reach out to friends with whom you may have lost touch.
No matter how you spend these last twelve hours before Christmas, slow down, be with the ones who count and enjoy the moments.
Merry Christmas

It’s Been a while

If you are one of my avid followers, I apologize for going so long without a blog piece. Lots of optimism in that statement, I mean I hope you are avid readers. Sometimes I just get distracted while other times I have too many ideas and none of them actually make it to my blog. As an example, I had really intended to do a piece about diners. You know the old sit at the counter and enjoy that breakfast kind. The ones with old time menus on a blackboard that remind you a good breakfast used to cost 25 cents a lifetime ago. I even visited one of my favorite ones, Willalbys, and took pictures I fully intended to post. But then I got so involved in all the things that made it a favorite haunt and never wrote the blog. But I sure did enjoy the breakfast and the conversations.
Willalbys

Life’s been like that. Trying to keep caught up on all the activities and people who have crept into my life lately, has stolen my free time. Not that any of it has been bad, just busy. People too often come into and out of our life and it is important to take the time to guarantee that the time between is well spent. I want to believe I’ve been doing just that.
Dinasaurs
So here has been my dilemma. As Thanksgiving and Christmas approach, I have been searching for a way to get away from all of the political turmoil swirling around our Country, all the divisiveness it has created, and not least of all, the general pessimism and cynicism that has come about because of it. To somehow escape with out getting caught up in the argument has been my quest. I do have strong opinions but I recognize both the right and the unavoidable fact that others will have equally strong opinions that butt up against mine. And so I choose to express my opinions at the voting booth where I appreciate my right to privacy and my chance to exert my will. Please don’t lose faith in me when I don’t use my blog to exert my will.

I have instead decided to immerse my self in the season. I will sit with my family this Thursday and express to them how thankful I am for their presence in my life. I will remind them that I am the collective of not only my parents’ and grandparents’ perspectives but included in my personal DNA is the imprint they have had on my character. The great thing about life is that it gives us daily opportunities to take from the interactions we have with the people around us, the ability to grow and even change . I will remind them that they have helped me grow and when I needed, to change.
Adela and Jackson
I have also decided that I will make every effort to make this Christmas special for the people around me. I want Christmas to be more than that one day of opening gifts, some we really wanted and others we only needed, you know, the socks and underwear. I want Christmas to be the joy of the season, the traditions and the sharing of a spirit that lifts us to be better than we have been, to be more than just present, maybe even a force. I want it to be the twelve days of Christmas, the twelve days before and for that matter the twelve days that follow. Maybe then it will become a spirit and a drive that can last the whole year through. I want people who matter to me to know that they matter to me. I want all the noise to go away and to have it replaced with a peaceful quiet like that of falling snow. I want the Season to wash over us and leave us refreshed.
Falling Snow

Maybe, just maybe, with a little luck and a lot of effort, I can quiet the noise of the evening news and replace it with Thanksgiving thanks and Christmas joy. Even if for just a month. This Thanksgiving and Christmas know that I care about you deeply and wish you the very best this Season has to offer.

The Spirit of Christmas

It has become a bit of a tradition for me to write a piece about Christmas on Christmas Eve. I am usually found keeping myself awake, awaiting the arrival of my daughters and their families for an overnight before the grand opening of gifts in the morning. This year is just a bit changed in that my younger daughter and her significant other, Eli, can’t get here until tomorrow morning. None the less, we will be graced shortly with the arrival of my older daughter, her husband and our two grandchildren. Adela at not quite two isn’t old enough to believe in or not believe in Santa but Jackson is another story. At nearing five, he is testing the existence of Santa by carefully analyzing the items left in his stocking and the wrapping on his Santa gifts. We thus have to be very carefully in our scheming to keep the myth in tact.

Of course, you must understand that I still believe in Santa, or at least what the jolly old man represents. It is the mystery of Christmas that can only be seen in the eyes of small children. The anticipation of weeks of waiting to see if they will in fact get the gift they had told Santa they wanted. Jackson will not be disappointed as we have plotted against him with extreme precision. We were all tasked to find out what it was he was secretly asking Santa for and we have performed with the precision of a team of Navy Seals. His Santa gifts will be there cleverly disguised from his other gifts and for at least one more year he will hold the thrill of Santa and Christmas in his heart.

We all know that eventually the Santa belief gives way to the reality of where those gifts came from but until then we believe. It is only once we stop believing that it becomes important to realize what the gift giving is all about. You see the secret of Christmas is to give it away. Give away the love in your heart. Give away the spirit of Christmas to everyone you meet. Give yourself away at Christmas. The material gifts and the idea of Santa are just representations of the gift of giving. Jackson actually said it best the other day when he told Mimi, “I know why you got me lots of gifts. You like seeing my smile when I open them.”

I hope that this Christmas you have enjoyed all three aspects. I hope that you had someone to play Santa for. That you got the gifts you wanted and that above all you found a way to give back. If you did, then this truly was a Merry Christmas.

My Christmas wish for you is that the blessedness and spirit of Christmas stays with you the whole year through.

Merry Christmas, 2018.

Santa Claus is Coming

Christmas is, in no particular order, a season of lights and decorations, gift giving, charity, Santa and the birth of Christ.  If you are like most people, your Christmas is a combination of all of these.  You likely put up a tree and decorated it.  You might even have had a little family friendly competition for the best, biggest or craziest tree.  You maybe thought about charity a bit more than other times of the year and likely put your change in the “red bucket” as you exited the store.  You have looked for the perfect gift and checked it off your list once you found it.  If you are fortunate to have children or grandchildren who yet believe in Santa, you found them Santa and thrilled at the excitement in their eyes.

I have two grandchildren and we recently did our visit to Santa and yes, the toy aisle in that department store.  In fact, I got to spend the better part of an hour watching my grandson carefully inspect each toy, trying to find the one he would add to his Christmas list.  Of course, now I need to sneak back there and make the purchase, knowing the reward will be his excitement as he opens the gift Christmas morning.  This is a part of what Christmas is and I will not diminish it with a lecture on the evils of commercialism.

Christmas is a season of sharing.  We share traditions.  We share friendship and charitable behavior.  We share the myth of Santa knowing that it is only a brief time in our lives when we choose to believe in him.  My grandson, on his way to being five years old, is already showing signs of questioning the idea.  He is testing.  This Christmas he has established that he knows what he wants from Santa but try as we will, he will not reveal his request to anyone other than Santa.  Oh, we will find out because it is our duty.  The knowledge of the truth is another piece of childhood innocence lost.  And so we will go out of our way to perpetuate the myth as long as possible.

This brings me to the story I need to share.  It is the story of my oldest daughter’s discovery that Santa was a myth.  Bailey had been holding desperately to her belief in Santa.  My wife and I, with Bailey in tow, were out doing some shopping.  My wife had stumbled onto the bargain bin of stocking stuffers and without realizing, picked out a couple of items and commented on how they would make great “Santa Gifts”.  Unfortunately, Bailey was clearly within earshot and her reaction was predictable.  Her tear stained face looked up at me and the question she wanted to ask was obvious.  We took a little walk and eventually she asked the question.  “Does this mean there isn’t really a Santa, that it’s just you and mom pretending?”  I could have tried to cover it up or maybe even lied, but the explanation was in order.  I explained to her that we were in fact Santa but that what was important to understand was that it was an honor and a responsibility to play this role.  I went on to explain that Christmas was about sharing and that Santa and being Santa was a way of showing this.  I told her that now that she knew the true intention of the myth, she had earned the right to become the Santa for the baby sister we were expecting.  She would get to be the Santa for her.  That next Christmas, Bailey did not disappoint.  Christmas Eve found her putting out the Santa treats with her little sister and even stomping around the living room going ho ho ho after her sister had been put in her crib.  Bailey never missed a beat those next few years as she added her own layers to the Santa story.

Christmas is about sharing.  Being Santa for our children and grandchildren is a chance to demonstrate the spirit of that sharing through our gifts.  We have an incredible opportunity to give from our bounty through our gifts and our actions and our willingness to share.  That is the true spirit of Christmas.  Model this spirit with your children and when they have outgrown their belief in Santa, invite them into the true spirit of the myth.

This Christmas, as you consider the perfect gift for that someone special, realize that it is the action of sharing that is the truly perfect gift.  This is your chance.  Don’t wait.  Go be Santa to someone.

 

Angels Among Us

It had started out like any other trip.  The plethora of planning items to check off, airfare, hotel, rental car and the never ending list of things to pack.  We were ready for our trip to the Seattle area.  And for the most part, things went as planned.  We arrived safe and sound, picked up our rental car and found our way successfully to the hotel suite.  One minor detail, and at the time it seemed like such a good thing.  The rental agency had offered us a free upgrade from the midsize car we had paid for to a brand spanking new full size.  Who wouldn’t take that deal and we did.  But more later on that.

We spent the first two days and evening exploring the downtown area of Seattle and took in some nice west coast seafood.  Day three found us on the road to Astoria, Oregon, a beautiful old fur trading center at the mouth of the Columbia River where it meets the Pacific Ocean.  On the way there is where my story begins.  Traveling down the interstate we suddenly hear a loud crack as a stone seemingly thrown at us out of the sky cracks the windshield of our brand new car.  Now had I taken the insurance coverage offered, that would be the rental agency’s issue, but then you see I didn’t take that offer.  When quizzed by my loving wife, I explained that the windshield, thanks to our $500 comprehensive deductible, now belonged to us.  “But fear not, said I, I am sure that lightening does not strike twice.”

We spent a really nice evening in a quaint hotel on the riverbank of the Columbia.  After a nice dinner and exploratory hike around town and up to the “heights”, we had almost put the windshield issue in our rear mirror.  Oh yes there was the suggested scrimping on our choice of restaurants due to the looming $500 bill, but all in all, the issue was fading.  Then came the morning of the next day and the realization that lightening does strike twice.  Sometime in the wee hours someone had pulled out of the stall behind us and managed with the precision of a demolition derby driver to scrape off most of the paint and some of the plastic of our rear bumper.  Of course they would be too ashamed to just drive off you think.  Well apparently the thought never crossed their mind.  My wife, god love her, shrugs and says, “Well at least we already used up our deductible, so it can’t cost us anymore.”  This is when I get to explain the difference in an insurance policy between comprehensive coverage and collision.  After a call to our insurance agent to verify what I thought was obvious and my wife thought was collusion, not to be confused with collision, which my agent explained was a $1000 deductible, we now owned the bumper of this car as well.  With our luck, we just might buy the car one piece at a time before we had to turn it back in.  The better part of this day would be spent getting my family to back away from the emotional cliff we were now poised on the edge of.  But thanks to resilience, humility on my part and a beautiful Oregon Coast beach, we were soldiering on.

We have by this time reached the city of Port Angeles.  Port Angeles is the exit point for the ferry to Victoria Island in Vancouver, Canada.  I wish to insert here several key facts.  You need a passport to get into Canada, Victoria is an island, coffee can cost a lot more than you think and the ferry is not cheap and even more expensive when one takes their car.  These facts will play a key role in a series of decision I will soon make.

We have spent a day and a night in Port Angeles in a motel booked weeks in advance.  On the morning of the second day, we are to drive our car onto the ferry and head to Victoria Island.  After doing a little math on the cost of the ferry, with car, and parking for same car on the island let alone getting a hotel room on the island, it has become obvious that coupled with the multiple car parts we will be paying for soon, that a more fiscally responsible plan might be the order of the day.  And thus the decision that will set me on my course to hell has begun.  I have decided, against the better judgement of my wife, to stay one more night in Port Angeles and leave the car there for the day.  Simple, go speak with the hotel manager to book our room for one more night.  Not so simple he explains.  There are no rooms available and we cannot leave our car in the lot.  But then what seems like our first good fortune.  There is a room available at a motel right next to the ferry and not only is it less than the cost of taking the car over to the island, we can leave our car in the parking lot all day, no cost.  And the die is cast, or as the French say, and I like the feel of this, “the carrots are cooked.”  We park our car and merrily board the ferry for the next leg of our vacation.  After a nice day touring the island and its quaint history, we are disembarking from the ferry and walking up to our motel.  As my wife actually mentions that this turned out to be a good decision, I am struck by the emptiness of my pocket.  Not just any pocket, but the pocket where there should be a heavy set of keys.  After a mad dash back down the hill to the ferry and a desperate request to search the boat.  Remember the passport, I left it with my wife on her way up the hill to our motel, you know, the one with our brand new car in its lot with all of our luggage securely locked in its trunk.  It turns out that the ferry is actually considered Canadian soil.  No passport, no getting back on the ferry.  After relaying my tale of woe they agree to have a crewmate search the boat for me, did I mention that this was the last ferry trip of the day to or from the island?  No keys!  Did I really think my luck would change?  I am thinking now that when we stopped into buy a cup of coffee at that inviting java bar on the island, my keys were left on the counter.  This may turn out to be a very expensive cup of coffee.

I am back up the hill now and explaining to the hotel night manager that our vacation has gone off the rails, our luggage is locked in the car and I have no keys.  Time to give you another fact.  Port Angeles interpreted means “City of Angels”.  Enter angel number one.  The hotel manager gets AAA on the move and offers us a free upgrade for a room, one my family can at least enjoy while I suffer quietly in the parking lot waiting for AAA.  By the way, misery DOES love company.  But the manager doesn’t stop here.  He next offers us his car to drive downtown to get something to eat and even offers us money to buy some clothes for the night.   Meanwhile, AAA has informed me of my next problem.  Any other car and they would come out, pick the lock and we would be on our way.  Any other car, but not the brand new car we rented and equipped with an electronic smart key.  Never fear, the driver would come out and tow it to the nearest Chevy garage, where I could go work the problem with them tomorrow.

Did I mention that when I parked the car early that morning the lot was empty and the last thing I was concerned about at that time was needing to have my car towed?  The lot is now full, and my car is neatly tucked in between three rows of tightly parked cars.  Enter the tow truck driver.  As I point out the location of my car, he groans and says “This is going to cost someone a lot of money….” but I stop him mid-sentence and painfully fill him in on our vacation story to this point.  The windshield, the bumper and now the lost keys.  He sucks in his breath and finishes his sentence “but not you.”  Angel number two has arrived.  He is going to call a friend with another truck and through a miracle, sounds better than what actually took place, they will drag this car out of there.  Once the extraction begins, he reminds me not to watch and when I ask if this is hard on the car, he reminds me in a calm and soothing voice “just remember, it’s not your car.”  After what seems like an eternity, I watch as my car, dangling from the hook of a tow truck, heads away on its journey to the garage.

Early, very early the next day, the night manager comes to my rescue again.  He has returned to the motel to give me a ride to the garage to retrieve my car.  This guy is amazing in his determination to rescue us.  Arriving at the garage, I am given more bad news.  They do not have the key codes to cut the key as the car is so new.  But they are not giving up either.  They are Port Angelinos and they are duty bent to save me.  After two failed attempts by local locksmiths, we have no luck with an ignition key but they have cracked the trunk and I now have luggage.  Enter angel number three and four.  The service manager knows a guy in town with a rental car business on the side.  It turns out he has an arrangement with our rental agency and that he is going to give us, yes give us, a car to continue on our way.  Ten minutes later he rolls in, throws our luggage in his car and beckons me to get in.  I tell him I need to settle with the service manager, who tells me “no cost, I didn’t fix anything.  Just enjoy the rest of your vacation.”  Meanwhile, as I enter the agent’s car, I ask “what about that car and the damage?”  His reply reminds me for the fourth time, “not your car, not your problem.”  He explains that he will deal with the rental agency and I should no longer think about it.  He then drives over to our motel, picks up the rest of the family and then at his place of business, provides us with a car and a full tank of gas.  As we drive out of town, we pass the garage and the “cursed car” as my family now refers to it.  Port Angeles has lived up to its name.  Facing a ruined vacation, they have not only come to our rescue, they have bolstered our spirits and reminded us of the power of generosity.

Upon returning to Seattle to turn in a car that certainly does not resemble the car we rented, we are actually greeted with an apology for all that has happened to us on our trip, a personal cab ride to our motel and a “no charge” bill of receipt.  To not put in a shameless plug for the agency would not be in the spirit of this story.  The company, I will now always attempt to get my rental from, is Enterprise.

I will end this story with this antidote.  There are angels among us and to recognize them is to acknowledge that we need to be no less when our opportunity arises.  Don’t miss your opportunity.  It just might be your only chance to be someone’s angel.

 

The Generosity Effect

Generosity

I am a firm believer that generosity is something that people can sense. When a truly generous person approaches, there is almost an aura of openness and acceptance in that person. You have a desire to talk with them and to share ideas. I have likened it to Santa Clause walking down a street and without so much as a word, states “naughty” or “nice” as each person passes by. A generous person will walk with a quicker step, head up and eyes looking outward. They are approachable. This I believe makes them much more likely to be successful and open to the opportunities that just seem to unexplainably come their way.

So what defines generosity? This is a whole different conversation. I believe that to be generous means that a person is willing to give up that which is most important to them or seemingly that which drives their decisions. For some this is money, for others it is time. For still others, it is things. If a person values money and measures their success by it, to be generous would be to give it away.  But not in an effort to buy one out of giving time.  That act would be self serving in that the giving of money for them was actually nothing more than a purchase of time for themselves. An example of this would be the fund raiser I am asked to do for a cause I am somehow involved in, take my child’s sports program. Instead of going out, spending my time and risking having to ask someone else for money, I simply buy all the books or tickets or food stuff that I or my child would have had to sell.  Don’t get me wrong, the end effect of raising the money has still been accomplished but I have not been generous in the true sense of the word and I may have even deprived my child of a valuable lesson in fund raising. If I am going to be generous with my money, then two things need to occur.  First and foremost, this needs to be, on some level, a sacrifice.  I have to feel the amount I give.  It cannot just be an insignificant amount relative to my ability to give. Second, and equally as important, the giving has to be done with no strings or expectations attached.  It is given freely to the person or organization to be used as they see fit. I have been asked by people if the biblical “give and the gift will be returned ten fold” actually holds true.  If I give with the expectation that I will get something back, maybe even ten fold, it is nothing more than bartering.  Do I believe that what you give comes back to you?  I do, if you understand that it cannot be the motivation and that you are ready to recognize that it may not come back in the same form as the gift.  Perhaps it is simply an opportunity that now comes your way.

If I take this same idea of time and material items, to”things” as I called them, the same holds true.  If time is my most valuable item, then I give my time to those who need it.  As with money, this giving of my time is not intended to benefit me but rather to help someone else benefit from the time I give. This begs to be connected to those who give money to an organization as opposed to their time. If that money is given to buy them out of giving the time, then they are merely benefiting themselves by easing their conscience.  If the money is given so that the organization’s volunteers can carry on their mission, then there is nobility in the gift. For those who value the things they own, the truly generous gift would be to give those very things they cherish to those who could benefit from them. Here it is important to note the world of Goodwill Industries and all those similar organizations. Ask yourself this, the last time I dropped items off at Goodwill, were they really usable items, or just the stuff I couldn’t even sell in the garage sale, and what value did I then claim on my tax return as my charitable donation? I suspect that Goodwill is annually strapped with tons of donated items that they then have to dispose of, sometimes at a cost to the organization. Regifting might really be a great and noble act, provided I valued the gift in the first place.

I will end where I started.  I believe that generous people lead happier, healthier and far more successful lives than those who would cling to the things valuable to them with an iron fist.  I can only receive with open hands and to give away the best of my resources will guarantee that those hands will in turn be open to receive.