Tuesday, December 31, 2013

..and a happy new year!

Let me be among the first to wish you and yours a happy and healthy 2014!

This is always an odd time of the year, to me, anyway.  We're now beyond the hustle and bustle of Christmas, which is wonderful because of the occasions we have to see people that we care about and that we may not see as frequently as we'd like.  Most non-retail businesses are in kind of a holding pattern, as no one wants to get into anything major until the new year.  And with Christmas and New Year's occurring on Wednesday this year, most business things will actually wait until next Monday, January 6, which starts the first FULL week of the new year.

So, did you have a nice holiday?  See folks you wanted (or even needed) to see?  Were you able to find that 'special' gift for each of those on your holiday shopping list?   I'm fortunate that I can say "yes" to all of those questions, so I hope that you are, too.

Not such a happy new year to all of the NFL coaches who were fired yesterday....one was even canned Sunday night.  I couldn't tell you whether those six men deserved to be relieved of their duties or not, and most of the official statements from the teams who parted ways with their coaches indicated the need for a change, new directions and so forth.  In other words, more of the kind of corporate-speak that so many of us get tired of hearing.  Personally, I'd like for one team owner or official to come out and say "He just didn't get the job done, and I fired him because of it." But in this era of hyper-political-correctness, that will simply not happen.

Speaking of things corporate, have you ever wondered what happens to someone like Bill Gates, the co-founder, former CEO and chairman of Microsoft, when he steps away from the company he started and ran for so long?  I saw a headline online last week that mentioned that he is involved somehow in an effort to develop batteries that are powered by human urine.  I swear I'm not making this up!  He also has devoted a considerable amount of time and effort (and presumably some of his fortune, as well) to developing a better and more efficient toilet.  I believe that both undertakings are ostensibly directed at or to the third world, as ways of giving people in less fortunate circumstances a leg up.  And I know that Gates and his wife Melissa have given generously to many worthwhile causes, so I can't completely dismiss his efforts or intentions.

And that makes me wonder what would happen if everyone who's so concerned about helping those with little or no means would then direct their efforts to helping people here in this country.  It occurs to me that we could end childhood hunger, homelessness and all kinds of other problems if we could just keep those resources within our own borders.

I just try to do my little bit, and hope that it makes a difference.  If we all did that, imagine how many more of us would indeed have a healthy and happy new year.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The holiday spirit

Christmas is fast approaching (and it really is, even though retailers have been trying to accelerate the process for some time) and I was in kind of a holiday mood as I write this afternoon.  So ho, ho, ho, indeed!

No, actually, I want to mention some holiday acts of decency and kindness that I have been a party to over the years around the holidays.

First such instance was when I was a kid, probably eight or nine years old.  I liked accompanying my mother to the grocery, for some reason (and wound up working in a grocery store for almost six years through high school and college).  One such occasion we were making the rounds through the aisles of the long-gone A&P in Paris, Kentucky, my hometown, and I recall finding an envelope on the floor.  I showed my discovery to my mom, who looked inside the envelope and said that I should go to the office at the front of the store and turn it in.  I was pretty sure there was money inside, but had no concept of how much paper money was a lot (most of my experience with money at that point was in coins, of course).  The person up front took the envelope and said they would try to find out who lost it.

Not long after that, a middle-aged African-American woman came up to my mom and me, asking if I was the little boy who found her money.  Turned out that she had cashed her weekly paycheck and a small Christmas bonus, so that was all of the money that she had in the whole world for groceries, other bills and for Christmas gifts for her family.  She was crying, thanking me and Mom over and over again.  And she hugged me and gave me a $5 bill and kind of ran off.  I will never, ever forget that moment.

Fast forward about twenty two years.  I'm now married, stepfather of two, and my wife and I had volunteered to purchase and deliver Christmas presents to a needy family through our church.  We went to deliver their gifts to their home, which was a dilapidated mobile home.  The entire family was not at home when we visited, but those who were appeared to be in dire need of as much assistance as we (or anyone) could provide.  That shook me up pretty thoroughly.

Not long thereafter, I remember driving to work one morning near Christmas.  At that time I was feeling pretty trapped in my job of that time, with no opportunities for advancement and one or two people whom I would rather not have been involved with as my coworkers.  I was feeling pretty sorry for myself.  Then the Band Aid song "Do They Know It's Christmas?" began playing on the radio, and I began to cry.  Weep.  Hard.  I knew that song, which had been released as a way to raise funds to fight famine in African countries, but had obviously not stopped my self-absorption long enough to really take in the words and their meaning.  I was VERY ashamed of myself, and I have to confess that while I enjoyed Christmas a lot up to that point, it took on added meaning for me thereafter, as I was much better able to recognize the life of privilege that I and so many of us lead.

My last anecdote occurred just two or three years ago.  My wife and I were preparing to have family over for dinner and presents just before Christmas, and I had made a quick run to the grocery to buy what was on our current shopping list.  I breezed through the store, picked up the requisite items and a few more, and arrived at the checkout to empty my cart.  It was only then I realized that I had run out of the house without my wallet, and, therefore, without any money.  So I sheepishly admitted my error to the checkout clerk, apologizing that I'd have to come back after making a quick trip home.  The man immediately ahead of me in line heard me, said something reassuring me that I shouldn't be embarrassed, and then INSISTED ON PAYING FOR MY ENTIRE GROCERY ORDER.  I protested, begging him for a business card or some other evidence of where and how to reimburse him, but he just smiled, and said, "You seem like a nice guy, and I have to say, life has been very generous to me, so it would be my pleasure.  Merry Christmas!"

Wow.

So I went home, still a bit numb from this experience, and decided to donate the exact amount of our groceries to a local charity.  Paying it forward, I guess.  We still contribute to that charity a few times a year to this day.

So, when I say "have yourself a merry little Christmas," you know that I mean it.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Twenty questions

Good morning to one and all....thanks once again for stopping by.

We're in full holiday prep mode at my house, and you may well be in that state yourself.  So as a slight diversion from that, here are twenty questions, some with actual answers, other rhetorical, that should tickle your brain a bit....

Does anyone know why Santa Claus is fat?  I don't think I've ever heard, not even in the old stop-motion animation "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" television special....

Who's with me in being sick of references to Black Friday, nearly two weeks AFTER Black Friday?

Are we in another one of those years when every contemporary recording artist releases a mediocre Christmas music album?

Why are people being so negative about NBC's live presentation of "The Sound of Music" last week?  I watched it with my wife and thought it was actually pretty good, given the performers could not go back and do scenes again, as they could have if it had been recorded.

Why do we care about the lighting of the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center in New York?  My wife was very eager to see this, always is.

Why is such a big deal being made out of one man shaking the hand of another whom he did not know until that moment?  At a funeral?

Word is that President and Mrs. Obama were accompanied by former President George W. Bush and his wife and by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on their trip to South Africa to pay their respects to the late Nelson Mandela.  Wouldn't you love to have been a fly on the wall for that flight?

And is Hillary running for president in 2016?  I can't quite tell....

Now that the General Motors stock owned by the federal government has been sold, and they're naming a woman as their next CEO, does that make you more or less likely to buy one of their cars?

Agreeing with one of the folks I follow on Twitter, is there a worse winter weather term than "wintry mix?"

Why do people still go bananas at the prospect of bad weather and all run to the grocery for milk and bread?  Do they not have other food in the house?

How great is it that Pope Francis is sneaking out of the Vatican at night to minister to the poor of Rome?

Why are we, as a society, more geared to giving to the poor and homeless during the holidays, when these people need our help all of the time?

And why do celebrities get involved in "causes" overseas, when there are plenty of people who need assistance in our own country?

Now that the city of Detroit has filed for bankruptcy, will this become the model of how city and county and other public entities minimize their exposure for having an underfunded pension model?

And has everyone forgotten that New York City went through bankruptcy in 1975?

Who's going to see "Anchorman 2" that didn't see the original mediocre movie?  I thought so.  That will answer my next question:

Who thinks Will Ferrell is funny?

Why can't we just buy subscriptions to the cable TV channels we watch, instead of having all 188?

And, finally, are you going to have a Merry Christmas?


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Early December musings

Good morning all....here's hoping you had a nice Thanksgiving.  I know that my family and I did.

Lots of assorted stuff in the news....

Seems that certain kinds of stories come in bunches, and with the train derailment outside of New York City over the weekend I was reminded of this.  Third major derailment incident in recent memory, although one was in Europe.  But it was reported that the train was going about 80 as it approached a curve that required a much lower safe speed.  No way to know what was happening, neither you or I were there.  But a shame nonetheless, four people dead, many others injured.

I also took note of a story that actor Paul Walker, known for his role in the recurring "Fast and Furious" movie franchise, died in a car crash.  Lots of conflicting information on this, as well.  But an actor who's probably best known for playing a high-performance driver on screen dying in an auto accident is most ironic indeed.

Oh, and did you know that racism has ended?  According to the Republican National Committee, Rosa Parks ended racism when she refused to move to the back of the bus all of those years ago.  I think we've all heard enough revisionist history to call BS on this one.

Kentucky's football season has mercifully ended, 2-10 record, just like last year.  Fans hope that the cavalry (in the form of additional, more talented players) is coming in time for next year.  We shall see.

Despite the fact that the World Series ended over a month ago, baseball manages to still be in the news, if you're looking for that kind of news.  Mostly concerning contract issues this time of year, and the "winter meetings," where team officials meet mostly to discuss official rules changes but unofficially meet to discuss trades and free agent signings, are coming soon.  And this Friday and Saturday my Cincinnati Reds host their annual winter fan event, Redsfest.  It's a sort of fan convention with activities and meet-and-greet opportunities included.  Fun, but tiring because of the difficulty in navigating through the large crowds and smallish aisleways.  My son and I have been twice in the past, were supposed to attend on a third occasion but for my first kidney stone!

The house is decorated for Christmas, we've finished about 2/3 of our shopping and the Christmas cards have been mailed.  No time to take it easy, though, we all have less time after Thanksgiving than usual.  So if you haven't started your holiday preparations, you had better get busy!




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