Saturday, December 29, 2012

A New Year Just Ahead

The arrival of a new year always brings the promise of another chance to get things right. Of course, it's merely a metaphor and hanging a new wall calendar is not to be confused with signaling a fresh start. But it's still refreshing that we can begin a new experience.

Guess that's why many people make resolutions to help guide their behavior in the new year. Resolutions are actually promises which address actions for which we otherwise lack discipline, matters such as losing weight, getting more exercise, saving money and finishing projects. Rather than wallowing in guilt, we can look toward the future and promise to do better.

Personally, I'm not a big believer in resolutions and in the past have often hung on to promises made at midnight until perhaps 8 or 9 a.m. the following morning before admitting defeat. "Oh, well," I usually sigh. "There's always next year."

But this year will be different. 2013 will be the year I adhere to at least one new year's resolution -- not to be such a worrier.

I've usually taken bold actions in life. Not afraid of much, I got out of a young but dreadful marriage that no one could convince me to avoid in the first place. I've left jobs and relationships that bored me silly. I was never afraid to make decisions about hum-drum issues that make some people crazy. Rather than ask someone if an outfit looks good, I visit the nearest mirror and judge for myself. I've spoken my mind and trusted my instincts.

Yet in recent years, I've become a bit hesitant to rely on those instincts. Perhaps I have become more concerned about my image as a senior. Just why this hesitancy has begun to creep into my decision making is unclear.

The unrelenting bombardment of information might be one reason. Insignificant details of no importance jump off the web or are announced with banner crawls across our televisions without a break. As we are coerced into caring about such drivel, perhaps we tend to alter our view of the world based upon some issue, such as how others view us. Would someone think that wearing a bright color makes me looks as though I am avoiding growing old? Do they think…? Who really cares what they think?

We all tend to worry too much. Whether it is how your family will be viewed, how your children behave or how you will cope with growing older, we must all face the worry habit and try to break it.

Worry is nothing new but has plagued humans for centuries. As we make our resolutions, and welcome a fresh start, let's take a quick glance at some of the great comments made about worry over time:

"With certain limits, it is actually true that the less money you have, the less you worry."
-- George Orwell

"There are many terrible things in my life and most them never happened."
-- Michel de Montaigne

"Of all your troubles, great and small, the greatest are the ones that don't happen at all."
-- Thomas Carlyle

"Don't lose today by worrying about tomorrow."
-- John F. Herbert

"When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of an old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened."
-- Winston S. Churchill

"To live by worry is to live against reality."
-- E. Stanley Jones

"Worry is the interest you pay on a debt you may not owe."
-- Keith Caserta

"When I don't have something to worry about, I worry. Nothing comes so naturally to a human being as anxiety and worry."
-- Brian Richardson

Try to begin the new year with a fresh outlook. Make a few resolutions of your own and try and remain true to those promises. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

No Spouse Like an Ex-Spouse

The holiday season is a time to dust off our memories. Christmas cards bring messages from those we haven't seen in some time. Some day soon certain of the efforts to keep in touch will cease entirely. Friendships take work and require effort.

I received a pre-Christmas card from my ex-husband. It was a formal card with an address label, a printed signature and enclosing the inevitable, impersonal "form" letter to bring the readers up to date on events of his life.

I did not send him a card this year. Over the decades since our divorce, we have experienced periods of non-contact alternating with phone calls and actual conversation. We shared no children and were married and divorced at a very young age. So there were no issues requiring us to keep in touch. It has come down to this: if he was in a funk, unhappy or experiencing a break-up with one of his many female friends, he would initiate communication, despite the fact that we have lived on opposite coast for decades. He knows I am a phone call away and -- if he wants sympathy -- he will call.

We spoke last on Christmas 2011 and during that call, his other phone was ringing. After a several rings and a long pause, he said, "I've got to take that call. I'll call you in a week or so and we can catch up." He didn't call back.

Early in 2012, I heard that a mutual friend had committed suicide under extremely distressing circumstances. I sent my ex an email to see if he had heard the news or knew any more details. That awful event occurred in the city where my ex lives. He emailed me back, "I'll call you in a week or so and we can catch up." He didn’t call.

When eleven months had passed without contact. I decided to write off any attempts we had made to keep in touch. I also knew from his pattern that there must be a new woman in his life and predictably when that relationship ended, he would contact me again.

When his card arrived, I sent a brief email saying in essence that there is no point in our keeping in touch.

This exchange brought to mind the strangeness of having an ex-spouse somewhere out there in the universe. He is my only ex-spouse. I never saw too many benefits to the marriage tradition. However, my ex has had three failed marriages (including ours), plus several near-misses, involving a few women lucky enough to escape with nice chunks of diamond as the result.

After my email telling him that we should just "forget it," he phoned me to apologize. Since my experience in the world of exes is rather limited, I don't know if we are supposed to share some type of communication "bond." I have friends with ex-spouses but their breaks were clean and final.

My ex is talking about getting married again. His prospective bride has also had three failed marriages. They are both nearing 70. What on earth would make someone with that type of track record want to try another lap around the course? He said, "Isn't that romantic?" I said, "No. It's seems a little foolish."

I have to add here that I have always talked to him like that which exemplifies why we were so mismatched. In the late 1960s, few couples had the nerve to live together openly without being married. Had we gone that route, we would never have made it down the aisle. Perhaps the more modern approach is a step in the right direction.

No doubt there are people out there who benefit from being married, although probably not as many people as existed 40 or so years ago. Single people today are independent, able to live alone, pay their bills and find happiness, also a step in the right direction.

But women seem to still get thrilled about planning a wedding, getting a big diamond ring and new dishes. A marriage means a fresh start, a blank slate, a shining future.

That sounds nice in theory. But people need to remember that reality comes into play.

Friday, December 21, 2012


Here is the conclusion to "The Christmas Wish," a modern tale of festive traditions. 
Wishing you all a Happy Holiday! 

(Part Three)

The next day, Mildred removed the stockings from the mantle and tucked away her favorite centerpiece. She scurried around the house, removing decorations and door hangers, washing placemats and other linens. "In case you hadn't noticed, Leonard," she said finally, "Christmas is over. It's time to get rid of that tree. I would appreciate it if you would remove the decorations and haul it out of here."

Leonard knew she would bring the matter up again. In the meantime he was enjoying the sight and smell of the fresh tree and prolonging the holiday atmosphere.

Mildred had carefully packed a large box with candles, placemats and her good poinsettia tablecloth. She stood in the hallway grumbling loud enough that Leonard couldn't help but overhear. "I guess I'm going to have to put this box on the shelf myself," she said. "Clearly, no one else in this house is going to help me."

She stormed off to the garage, returning with the two-step aluminum stepladder. The ladder, purchased a couple of years earlier, was generally used for small chores around the house. It was made of aluminum tubing and was light enough to be maneuvered easily in tight spaces. Leonard avoided using the ladder whenever possible because of its flimsy construction. He preferred to step on his favorite footstool or even a kitchen chair. Stepping on furniture always angered Mildred and whenever she saw that occurring, Leonard would suffer the consequences.

This time, Mildred wrestled with the aluminum ladder banging it against the door and the side of the hallway, making a great deal of noise. She unfolded the ladder loudly, grumbling. "I guess I'm going to have to do this myself, like I usually do most things around here."

From his favorite chair, Leonard heard the squeak of the closet door and the sounds of fumbling. He imagined Mildred struggling with the cardboard box, scowling, cursing him under her breath. It was advisable to leave her alone at times like this. No question about her present state of mind, but it would pass when she turned to the next project. So Leonard remained in his recliner, feet slightly raised and focused on his newspaper.

A few minutes later, Leonard's serenity was interrupted by a loud thud, shortly followed by a single soprano-pitched shriek. Slowly he rose from his chair and walked to the hallway door. He peeked around the corner to see Mildred sprawled on the floor, blood trickling from the right side of her forehead. Next to her was the collapsed aluminum step stool, its thin tubular legs splayed and twisted.

Leonard was paralyzed for a moment. Mildred was not moving and, most noticeable of all, she was quiet. He squatted down and felt for a pulse but found none. Her wrist was limp.

Standing over the scene, Leonard tried to determine what had just taken place. It appeared as though the stepstool had twisted, its thin legs giving way. Mildred may have reached too far forward or shifted her weight slightly, collapsing the ladder. As it gave way, she must have struck her head, perhaps on the partially opened hallway door.

Leonard did not contemplate his next action. All he realized was that it was quiet in the house.

Again he reached for Mildred's wrist, searching in vain for a pulse. Clearly she was dead.

Suddenly feeling relaxed and a little hungry, Leonard strolled to the kitchen and opened a beer. He then returned to the living room, to his Christmas tree. Tipping back in his recliner, Leonard sipped the cold beer, savoring the quiet atmosphere. The scent of evergreen hung in the air, like a pleasant memory. What a lovely season Christmas could be.

His beer finished, Leonard began gently removing the ornaments as he had been instructed, placing each one carefully in its proper box. He carried the ornament boxes to the garage, watching where he stepped in the hallway and glanced down at Mildred still motionless on the carpet.

Leonard carried the Christmas tree into the backyard, leaning it against the fence. He had recently read that cardinals and blue jays often take shelter in discarded Christmas trees. Gardeners making this gesture might be rewarded in the spring when birds returned to nest in the same yard.

Standing in the yard, Leonard savored the brisk December air. He breathed deeply, filling his lungs with the loveliness of the season. Leonard paused to scatter sunflower seeds around the base of the discarded tree and refill the birdfeeders that dotted the back yard. He paused for several minutes, enjoying the bracing air and wood smoke from his neighbors' fireplace.

When Leonard returned to the living room, he noticed that the only visible reminder of the holiday season was the large white plastic tree bag. Scooping it up, he carried the bag into the hallway. After pulling and tugging, he had managed to enshroud Mildred's body in the billowy white plastic. Tomorrow the city's tree removal crew would be in the neighborhood to retrieve discarded Christmas trees. After dark, Leonard would drag the tree bag to the curb for their convenience. For now, the stuffed bag was secured with twister ties and dragged to a spot near the side door.

Leonard went to his storage cabinet above the hot water heater in the garage and removed a half-finished bottle of Dewar's. Everyone is entitled to at least one vice, he often rationalized. Leonard poured himself a glass of Scotch and returned to the house. At the side door, he stepped around the billowy tree bag, then returned to his chair. As he raised his feet, Leonard realized what a fortunate man he was. He had made only one Christmas wish this year and it had been granted.

(The End)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


In keeping with the holiday season, offered here for your reading is an original short story (The Christmas Wish), Part Two of Three.  The concluding episode will appear this Friday, December 21, 2012.  Happy Holidays!
(Part Two)

As Leonard leaned forward to plug the extension cord into the wall socket, he heard the ding of the kitchen timer. He raced to the oven and removed the cookie sheet, placing it on the stovetop, then returned to his task.

Now that the lights were in place, hanging the glass ornaments would follow. Leonard gently removed lids from the old, worn cardboard boxes. He knew all of the ornaments well, like old friends he visited each season. Some of the boxes were left from his own childhood and when he saw their contents again, he smiled at the warm memories that flooded forth. Leonard began hanging some of his favorite ornaments, spacing them on the appropriate boughs. As he reached for the second box, Mildred burst back through the door. She paused briefly to stare at the tree.

"What do you think you're doing?" she shrieked. "You have all the gold ornaments on one side and all the blue ornaments clustered in a group. For God's sake, mix 'em up. You have no eye for this sort of thing. Did I ever tell you that? Your sense of color and balance is faulty. I don't suppose you want my advice on the tree, though, do you? Did the timer go off? Did you remove the cookies? You must have because I don't smell them burning." She returned to the kitchen, apparently not expecting a reply.

Leonard wondered when Mildred was able to draw a breath or perhaps she was able to control her breathing so as to complain without additional breath intake.

About an hour later, the Evans' tree was completed. Leonard thought it looked wonderful and stepped back toward the hall doorway to admire his handiwork.

Mildred approached from the kitchen when she saw that work had stopped. "Well, it looks fairly good, I have to admit. It could use a little more height. Thank goodness you used a tree bag, because any moment now the tree will start to shed."

"It's pretty fresh, really. I had it cut only this morning." Leonard extended his hand to feel the needles. They were soft and pliable, shiny droplets of sap glistening in the lights' reflection. "See, still soft."

"That just goes to show that you know nothing about evergreens." Mildred spat her statement, emphasizing the words "know nothing."

There was no need for Leonard to respond. The tree was fresh and wouldn't be shedding for some time. He knew it and he also knew there was no arguing. Mildred turned and left the room.

Leonard stood before the tree, focusing on each limb and the decorations applied. He was pleased with the finished project, the balance and color scheme. No one could tell Leonard about trees and when they would lose needles. He packed up his emptied boxes and removed them to the garage. Now that the tree was complete, it felt officially like the Christmas season had arrived.

During the previous week, Leonard had decorated the outside of the house. After having experimented over the years with colored lights and various themes, his favorite combination had become an oversized wreath on the front door, illuminated by two clear floodlights. It was a simple but beautiful scheme and always drew compliments. With the storage boxes removed, Leonard flipped on the switch to illuminate the outside lights. Christmas always made him feel like a boy again.

Mildred had already headed to choir practice at the church. There were many activities at their church during the holiday season -- rehearsals, concerts, a Santa party for the children. Fortunately for Leonard, many of these events did not require his attendance while at the same time providing treasured moments alone.

As his thoughts turned toward dinner, Leonard wandered into the kitchen to make himself something to eat. The kitchen was peaceful with Mildred gone. This was her territory and she seldom let Leonard do what he wanted. He fixed himself a roast beef sandwich, opened a beer and sat down at the kitchen table to read the paper. Mildred would never have allowed beer at the kitchen table or, for that matter, reading the newspaper. It pleased Leonard that he was breaking a few of her steadfast rules.

Spending time alone was important to Leonard. Some people believed that his quiet personality and amiable nature made him easy prey for the dominating Mildred. Leonard really didn't care that she bossed him and he seldom let her temperament bother him. Even when Mildred did manage to wear thin, Leonard was able to restrain from saying anything in his own defense, preferring the quiet approach, often simply leaving the room.

But inside Leonard was often miserable. Even if Mildred's comments didn't bother him, her mere presence intruded on his privacy. Her shrill voice, so lovely in the choir, penetrated Leonard's ears, annoying with its high-pitched, unrelenting tone.

"I don't know how you can listen to that voice," his friend Marvin had said repeatedly through the years.

When people made comments of that type, Leonard would shrug, smile and generally say nothing. He knew that others appreciated his position and that they recognized his precarious balance. Somehow he found that awareness comforting.

As Christmas approached, every day was filled with holiday activities and Mildred was busily involved with events and absent from the house.

The week after the tree selection, Christmas Day came and went with little or no fanfare. Presents were opened and generally deemed acceptable.

The day after Christmas, Mildred began to hound Leonard about the tree being dry. "It has to go soon," she announced. "Christmas is over and I am tired of looking at it. You know, it never was a very nice tree."

"So soon? Well, sometimes we have left the tree up until New Years," Leonard offered. "But I can take it down anytime you wish, I suppose."

"No, no. If you are going to make a big thing out of it, leave the tree up. It's all right. I was only expressing my opinion. Not that you ever pay attention."

The issue was dropped for the moment. Leonard knew when to let a subject cool off.

(To be continued)

Friday, December 14, 2012


To celebrate the arrival of the Christmas holiday season, I am sharing an original short story appropos of this festive week.  The following story -- The Christmas Wish -- will be shared in three installments.  Parts Two and Three will follow on Tuesday, December 18 and Friday, December 21.  Happy Holidays!

Part One

Leonard Evans strolled slowly among the glorious evergreen specimens at the Thompson Tree Farm, searching for the perfect Christmas tree. This was one decision which Leonard enjoyed making alone. Not only did Thompson's have the freshest evergreens around, but hiking the manicured rows provided him with a few precious moments of serenity. Leonard didn't even have to dissuade his wife Mildred from accompanying him on this annual quest. He knew she would find a reason to do practically anything else and that was just fine with Leonard.

A young man wearing heavy denim overalls approached, his cheeks rosy from the crisp December air. "May I help you?"

Leonard smiled and extended his arm toward the chosen tree. "This one. It's beautiful."

The young man wielded his chain saw and in a flash had cut the trunk flush to the ground. He then hoisted the tree in one hand as thought it were weightless and turned back toward the office.

"How's business this year?" Leonard asked the young man as the two strolled through the perfectly shaped specimens.

"Oh, brisk," was the reply. "Last weekend was really busy. But we still have plenty of nice trees left as you can see." He propped the selected tree against the outside wall of the office, stepped to the open door and called inside, "A six-footer." The girl behind the desk jotted something on a small note pad.

The tree farm office was a small, cheery space, festooned with ornaments, garland, stuffed snowmen and sequined stockings. In one corner stood a large refreshment table covered with a red plaid cloth trimmed with green tinsel. A coffee urn labeled "Hot Cocoa" stood at the ready with Styrofoam cups nearby. A large bowl of popcorn invited sampling, so freshly prepared that its aroma still hung in the air.

A pegboard along one wall held tree stands, outdoor electrical extension cords and other seasonal necessities. Leonard retrieved a giant white tree bag and laid it on the counter to be included with his purchase.

"I always get one of these," he smiled at the girl. "They're the best."

"Oh, yes, we sell a lot of those bags." She added $1.98 to the total and handed the bill to Leonard.

Bidding her "happy holidays," Leonard headed toward his car, tree bag in hand. The man in overalls rejoined him along the path to the parking lot, carrying the 6-foot tree as if it were a feather. He positioned the tree into the trunk of Leonard's car so that only a few inches protruded and quickly tied the lid closed with twine.

"Merry Christmas," said the young man. "Thanks for shopping at the Thompson Tree Farm."

"Same to you." Leonard smiled, climbed into the car and laid the tree bag on the seat next to him.

Leonard congratulated himself that he hadn't forgotten to purchase the essential tree bag. The oversized trash bag would be carefully arranged around the tree's base before it was trimmed. When the tree was ready to be removed, the bag could be stretched to the top of the then-dried tree to catch shedding needles and help alleviate most of the mess. If Leonard had forgotten the tree bag, he would never have heard the end of it. Merely imagining the scene that might have ensued sent shivers down his back.

As Leonard pulled into his driveway, he was pleased about his tree selection. To him, the yearly selection of the ideal Christmas tree was significant, the official start of the holiday season.

He climbed out of the car and headed toward the trunk to unfasten the lid precisely as Mildred burst through the front door.

"Well, it's about time you got back. I was wondering what could have happened to you. How could such a small purchase take such a long time?"

Unfazed by her welcome, Leonard proudly removed the tree and stood it upright on the driveway. "What do you think? Isn't it nice?"

"Nice? It's all lop-sided. Look at it. The limbs aren't even. We have more ornaments that that tree will hold. Besides, it's already dry and the bark is flaky. And my goodness, the needles are already falling off."

Leonard said nothing, but hoisted the tree, closed the trunk lid and proceeded toward the back porch. He needed to attach the stand and knew to do so outside. If he had learned one thing during his many years with Mildred, it was that the Christmas tree enters through the rear of the house. He might still expect problems related to the general disruption of the household, but the back door was the only acceptable entrance route.

Leonard had discovered some time ago that if he were going to endure marriage to Mildred, he had to ignore her. The survival skills had been difficult to develop and took a great deal of practice. But he had become able to tune out the high nasal whine of Mildred's voice and could usually anticipate the type of things that might provoke her.

Christmas had always been a special time for Leonard Evans and remained his favorite holiday. Even though he and Mildred had never had children, they still managed to enjoy the holiday season. They visited friends, participated in church activities, performed errands for elderly neighbors and took pride in decorating their home.

Every year they continued the gesture of buying gifts for each other, but Leonard knew that nothing ever pleased Mildred. The sweater wouldn't be soft enough, the jewelry wouldn't be impressive enough. Through the years, her ceaseless criticism had dulled Leonard's creative gift giving. He had learned to select gift certificates or items that Mildred had described in specific detail, like the top-of-the-line cookware she had requested this year. Such gift selections removed any need for creativity.

After Mildred supervised Leonard's delivery of the tree, she returned to the kitchen to bake for the church's cookie exchange. The tree stand was attached now and the tree had slowly made its way from the back door toward the living room window. Leonard popped in a CD of his favorite Christmas carols and set about decorating the tree.

Following the holiday season each year when the decorations were put away, Leonard carefully wound the strings of lights so they would be tangle-free for the next use. He handled the lights carefully, stringing them through the dark green boughs, bottom to top. Decorating the tree was Leonard's responsibility and he enjoyed the task. He had heard friends refer to tree decorating as a family project, but that was not the case in the Evans' household.

A few minutes later, Mildred appeared in the hall doorway. "I have a batch of cookies in the oven, but I have to run next door. I'll be back in a few minutes. If the timer goes off, take the cookies out of the oven." She did not comment on the tree or pause for more than a moment. "Leonard, did you hear me?"

"Yes, I heard you," he replied from behind the tree, connecting the extension cord to the tree lights.

"Well, you'd never guess that from your reaction. I couldn't tell if you heard me. You seldom listen." Mildred bolted out the door, carrying a small wrapped gift.

(To be continued)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Different Christmas Message

There are only two more weeks to go, folks. Better get on those holiday chores. Is the tree up? The lights on the house? Shopping done? Packages wrapped and mailed? Mom has cookies to bake and cards need to be done and mailed. Time's a-wastin'!

Hey, I enjoy Christmas as much as anyone. But I try to keep focused on the fact that life is genuine while Christmas stories and classic films are far removed from reality.

It's a tough old economy right now. And yet parents and grandparents will take their plastic money to the mall and charge gifts that are neither appreciated nor necessary. As merchants struggle to counteract sales slumps, they will do anything to make us think that we have to buy something, even if we can't possibly afford it. My personal dislike for such tactics is inflamed by commercials suggesting that a fine luxury car should be placed under the tree. They forget to mention that there is a sizeable price tag attached. Oh, and maybe even future car payments to be made.

The one event that may encourage shoppers and the rest of us from going over our own "fiscal cliff" is the prospect of a new year looming just ahead. It's a clean slate that means we will all start over fresh and be able to think good thoughts and move on. Last year my year began with the news that old acquaintances (husband and wife) had decided to start 2012 with a suicide pact. That tragic news and resulting despair has stayed with me most of the year. The holidays are notorious for increased suicides and depression.

Life is not perfect. There are plenty of people out there who are unhappy, alone, desperate, struggling and lost. We may pass them everyday on the street. They may be our neighbors, our co-workers, faces we often see. During the holidays, they are expected to smile and wish others a "Merry Christmas" and seem as though life is just dandy. Many folks wish that their circumstances were the way they once were or should have been, but that's not the case.

People pretend to be living in a Christmas card illustration, sitting in front of a fireplace and sipping hot cocoa as carolers serenade us outdoors. Well, life may be wonderful, but sometimes it's tough, too.

Most of us try to accomplish way too much in a futile attempt to make the holidays perfect. We want life to be depicted as it was in classic holiday movies, complete with snow, community singing around the piano and Santa tip-toeing to visit during the night. Christmas and related holidays have been molded out of everything good and idealistic. Well, it's not the real world today.

It's easy to get too caught up in the fluff of the season. Instead of trying to make our lives and homes into something other than what they are during the rest of the year, perhaps we need to take it down a notch.

Try doing something nice for someone. Perhaps one nice task or gesture every day. If that seems like too much, aim for every other day. Hold a door open for someone at the post office or the bank. Smile once in a while. If a clerk addresses you with "Merry Christmas," stop, smile and return the sentiment.

Walk a little slower. Try to enjoy the day and not to sweat about what to do next. Lists often help us see what actually needs to get done. Once items are crossed off the list, it all seems less intimidating. Talk to your family and friends. Send emails if you are too busy to do cards and don't fill your communication with whining about your own miseries. (The email reader will sit there in shock and wonder how he/she is supposed to react to your libretto.) I would sincerely prefer to get a few friendly, newsy lines rather than a summary about how miserable the sender's year has been.

It's easy to get too caught up in all the hype. After all, advertisers have been "hyping" Christmas since Halloween. Make an effort to keep Christmas in a way that is meaningful to you and yours.

See? It's really not that complicated.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Best Part of Christmas

Alright. So the holidays are fast approaching and no amount of denial can alter that fact. It's inevitable that the next few weeks will include a number of tasks which require attention, no matter where you live or what demands are made on your time.

First, there is some type of gift giving on which to focus. Whether your family is large or small, where you are still in the workplace or retired, chances are there is at least some gift shopping to be done. So best to start reviewing the avalanche of advertising to see what might make a good gift for the people on your list. Just because an item is the "current favorite" for this year does not make it a logical or even desirable choice. Have someone on your list who is a bona fide techno-phobe who hates and avoids electronics? Doesn't sound like a tablet, sophisticated phone or other gadget would be a good fit. Your gift recipient can't cook and barely knows how to find the kitchen?   Perhaps cookware or kitchen gadgetry would not be an ideal selection.

Home decoration is a big event. Neighbors of mine have had their trees up for many weeks already, some from before Thanksgiving. Usually this rush to decorate is fueled by youngsters who are anxious to begin the Yuletide countdown. But anyone who still gets a real tree -- like me -- can appreciate that a live tree isn't going to be too pretty after a couple of weeks. There is something nice about going to a tree farm, selecting a tree, having it cut down, and hauling it home. The tree is real. It's fresh and the growers are conscientious about growing more to replace this year's crop. That part of decorating is lost when a "fake" tree is purchased, its manufactured limbs installed and later when it is hauled into the basement/attic until next year. Having a real tree is one thing I'm not willing to change.

Cards are part of Christmas, to be sure. Last year I waited too late to find boxed cards. Apparently enough people are no longer sending purchased cards that stores carry a smaller number of choices each year. Cards of any type include the preparation of a list, the writing of a line or two and perhaps the enclosure of a festive photo. Sending cards takes a certain amount of organization and focus and must include built-in time to get the cards to their destination.

During my working years, there was often the awkwardness of the office party. Would there be one? Was there anything to celebrate each year with co-workers I could barely tolerate? Could I concoct an airtight excuse not to go? Parties varied from one year to the next, one location to another, some of which were far more enticing. I had always wanted to see inside Mr. X's house or something along those lines. Some parties I simply avoided. The mixture of alcohol and people you sincerely dislike can be dangerous and career-limiting. Know your limits.

Fortunately only a couple of places I ever worked had a "secret Santa" routine, a rather silly attempt to get a gift for someone without them knowing the name of the giver. This might be enchanting in fourth grade, but in the adult workaday world, it's all rather unnecessary.

When I was a teacher, I used to get about 25 little gifts each year from the students. Many were forced onto the kid by moms who thought it was a good idea. On behalf of the teachers who continue to scoop up ornaments or desktop decorations every year, please be advised that most teachers truly dislike this sort of thing. Most of the time, the money spent on an unwanted gift would be better off deposited into the Salvation Army kettle for use elsewhere. Teachers are somewhat annoyed by the entire gesture. Also, students are often embarrassed at having to deliver some item that was not picked out by them.

Then there is the line of thought that we should remember and bestow a gift upon everyone in our vicinity. Years ago we used to bake cookies and deliver them to neighbors. But neighbors move and change, some now have dietary restrictions and others feel they must reciprocate. The mailman does not get a gift from me. Neither does the paper delivery fellow, although I tip him with each payment. It all gets a little tedious.

Traditions vary by geographical location, age group and other criteria, but there is still a tremendous amount of energy required to get everything on the list accomplished. Perhaps the best part is when we reach the point where we have done all the holiday prep that we are going to do. Then we can sit back, sip some tea and watch some classic Yuletide movie on TV.

That just may be the best part of Christmas.





Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Gift to Treasure

In the current onslaught of holiday advertising, it's easy for the Christmas message to get lost in the shuffle.

Mine is not the first rant this year about renewing the spirit of Christmas. And it probably will not be the last. But reminding each other about what really matters is not something that can be overdone, especially at the holidays.

News programs frequently offer interviews with shoppers hurrying along the street in some bustling city. An interviewer thrusts the microphone at a shopper who spews some inane comment about his/her shopping trends this year. The biggest question seems to be: Are you spending more than you did last year? The world economy awaits the answer.

The answer is spoken to the hushed audience: "More." Ahh, a collective sigh of relief. We can all relax now that the nation is avoiding financial disaster. Americans are spending more. Good news. Carry on.

From interviews and current information, it does appear that more "money" (or plastic) is being spent this year. One recent interview featured a frantic woman shopper with a heaped shopping cart who smiled and said, "After all, it's all for the children."

Is it? Really?

Think back to when you were a kid. Christmas was an exciting event, it's arrival heralded by several weeks, not many months. Kids began to anticipate Christmas when we began to rehearse Christmas music at school. In the lower grades, there was the making of some gift for the home. I recall such items as a candle holder with a Styrofoam base, decorated with sequins. One year there was a fabric table scarf displaying our family surname initial. These gifts were not great, but teachers seemed to enjoy the diversion of making an item which the students took home proudly. It was fun, everyone got involved and kids enjoyed providing a gift for the family.

So much has changed since those days. When I taught school, children who didn't observe Christmas had to be excused from participation in such events. There is ongoing discussion in many areas about what can/cannot be said in school about various holidays. But it's a little sad that many kids don't get to enjoy creating something that they can give as a present. Somehow those simple items convey the true meaning of the holidays and allow both parents and children to feel the joy of giving a gift.

Kids are missing out on a lot. If they receive a gift they don't want or something horrible -- like clothes! -- they protest, say something rude, have a tantrum or leave the room in a huff. What about behaving in some subtly civil manner? What about a "thank you"? Consumers have headed down a slippery slope in making everything about the kids -- and the kids realize this.

The next time you venture into a discount store, watch the kids. You will likely see enough displays of "gotta have" to jolt your system. Moms and grandmothers will do anything to get the kiddies what they want. As kids begin to appreciate that a human being is the holiday shopper -- rather than some jolly man in a red suit -- they set about to get what they want. They connive and plead to get the right result, knowing full well that parents will do just about anything to make each precious dream a reality.

We've gone way too far.

A few years ago, a friend was lamenting that her 12-year-old daughter wanted a cell phone for Christmas. My friend was a single mother on a tight budget and didn't see how another phone fit into her monthly expenses. Those of us offering our advice tried to convince the mother that her daughter was too young to be responsible for a cell phone. But the mother could not be convinced that she might have to disappoint her daughter. She would find a way.

Kids are running things now, like the proverbial tail wagging the dog. I'm not sure when that all came about and certainly do not understand why it happened. But if parents refuse to deny the kiddies things which are not only unnecessary but overpriced, poorly made and soon discarded, then it looks like we are in need of an overhaul.

Why not encourage kids to participate in some activity that might actually help others? Let them volunteer to help the homeless, serve a meal at a local shelter or collect coats for those who need them. Show them that there is more to Christmas than getting the latest electronic device.

Your action might just start something.