Saturday, November 28, 2009

Black Friday, the sparkle season, and me

Black Friday is winding down.

I don't know what, if anything, that means to you. When I worked in retail management, this day was rather fun...when you are behind the counter, long lines are a good thing!

Now I avoid shopping on Black Friday. Part of the reason is I am not really a fan of struggling through crowds with several bags in tow. Although, with the right companion, I can spend time sitting in the mall, watching people, making up stories about them.

Beyond the crowds, however, there is something else about Black Friday that is troublesome to me. And yet, I can't clearly define my objections.

To some degree it is the abject consumerism. But I love choosing presents, and have often been accused of buying too much.

Maybe it is the craziness of stores opening at 12:01AM. Or that it is the start of stores being open for 14,15,16 hours each day. As if 11 hours isn't enough. But I generally take advantage of these monger hours at least once or twice each year.

Or is it the fact that Santa now arrives on Nov. 1? Is that really necessary? Back in the day, part of the fun of the day after Thanksgiving was that Santa arrived during the annual Christmas Parade. I passed him twice in the mall last week - he was sitting alone, no kids in sight. Poor guy could be at home making more gifts for me.

I love Christmas decorations and, yes, I took advantage of warm temperatures to put my outdoor lights up on Nov. 22. But, out of respect for Thanksgiving, the yard remained dark until this evening.

More than anything, I see Black Friday as symbolic of what I see as the negative side of this beautiful season. Consumerism is, obviously, not intended meaning of Christmas. I enjoy gift-giving and receiving. But I am also well-acquainted with what the pressure of buying does to some people.

That pressure to keep up is one of the reasons this period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is recognized in psychological and psychiatric services as being one of the most difficult. The strain of watching Black Friday madness while not having money in the budget for gifts, the sadness that comes from thinking everyone else is attending fabulous parties every weekend while you sit at home, the loneliness associated with "the most wonderful time of the year" will never be cured by spending copious amounts of money on gifts.

I am not opposed in any way to gifts or to holiday gatherings. And while I have never smelled chestnuts on a fire, nor am I a fan of Jack Frost, yuletide carols are my favorite. In fact, we need more carols, more songs about the JOY of this season, of the hope it offers the entire world.

Even if you aren't a Christian, you would benefit from those of us who do make the proclamation actually becoming proponents of peace on Earth and Goodwill to all.

And THAT is Christmas to me. Not a 20% sale or the ability to shop at 4AM or having to fight someone for the last zhu zhu pet. Although I do enjoy receiving gifts.

While it is not impossible to embrace both sides of this season, we live in a culture that does not allow us to focus on the true meaning, but devotes much time and attention to sales and crowds. We say "Happy Holidays" and call it the "sparkle" season. We try to avoid being exclusive, with the result of often missing the folks who need the best of our time and attention.

My hope is that in the next month I can, indeed, finds nice gifts for my loved ones. But at the same time, I pray for a heart open to see and hear the needs of people around me. THAT is what Christmas means, all year long.

But did I mention I like getting gifts?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Birthdays, Gratitude, and the Significance of 5-0

I turned 50 this week.

The number doesn't bother me. I consider every year - no, every day- to be a blessing. As folks like to say, "Celebrating another birthday is better than the alternative!"

But I do find it to be odd, mostly because my mother's 50th birthday is the first "zero" birthday of hers I remember. Obviously, when she turned 30 I was a child. When she turned 40, I was 19 and in college. But for her 50th birthday I surprised her with a trip to Disney World and Bradenton, FL, the Pittsburgh Pirates' spring training site.

That intergenerational crossing is strange. To think that I am now the same age as my mother was when we took that trip is, for lack of a better word, freaky.

Beyond that, the number is not troublesome. I appreciate the wisdom I have gained, even if I was often ungrateful in the moment. I am thankful to be in a place of doing what I love for a living. Writing is such a blessing - and I get to do it every day! Such a gift that is.

One of my favorite parts of getting older is that I am finally weary of thinking about ME ME ME. What about me? What about my feelings? What about what I want? The thought of it is, thankfully, so tiring to me now.

At the risk of sounding trite, the world is an amazing place when it is experienced through eyes and a heart that is no longer self-consumed. The beauty of creation can move me to tears. The simplicity inspires me. The consistency of the seasons challenges me live the same way, to be person my loved ones can count on.

The people with whom I share this journey, whether for a moment or lifetime, are the source of the most amazement. It is easy to say everyone has a story, everyone has hurts, fears, experiences that shape their life. But I am continually humbled by the challenges some folks have each day, the tragedies some have experienced, the heartaches some of faced.

Half of my lifetime ago, I lived with my beloved Grandmother as she battled and eventually succumbed to congestive heart failure. For a number of reasons, the lessons were mostly lost on me at the time. One of the benefits of age is the opportunity to reshape how the past is viewed. I have an appreciation for the pain and the loss of dignity she endured. And while I still wish I could see her face again, I hear her voice and feel her presence, with increasing strength and clarity.

But , in the shadow of this milestone birthday, I stand in awe of this: There are people who have loved me for every one of those 50 years . Some friends have loved me for 15,20,25 years. And I have loved each of them. That is a treasure beyond compare. Knowing that a person accepts and loves me through all circumstances is a gift that makes me stronger, gives me courage, allows me to take chances knowing I have a safety net.

That is a reason to celebrate being 50!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Einstein, Newton, coffee, my Westie...the conclusion

You know how sometimes the morning is going along nicely, you are drinking coffee, reading the morning paper...

That was me..until my beautiful Westie ran into the room, jumped on my lap, spilling the coffee... I screamed, she tried to flee and knocked the laptop off the ottoman...MASS CHAOS in 3 seconds or less..

A perfect example of all three of Newton's Laws of physics. them.

• A body in motion stays in motion until acted on by another force

• Force =mass times acceleration

• and my favorite, For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction

This is not a physics lesson...keep reading...

This mini-disaster also generated lots of energy. It takes approximately 1 joule to lift a small apple one meter over your head. According to Albert Einstein, my sweet 17 pound dog has approximately 719,004,142,989,454,112 joules of potential energy. Of course, that amount could only be reached if she were to spontaneously explode.

But that's not my point.

And you're saying, "What is you point, egghead?"

My point is there is a LOT of potential energy just waiting to be used, inertia just waiting to push something around.

Do you have a dream in your head? A job or hobby you are longing to pursue? A calling that won't let go of your heart?

Maybe you want to go back to school and pursue a different career. Or open a specialty retail store. Or become a dog trainer. Or a chef...or a florist. The possibilities are endless.

And know this: dreams don't come alive in your heart to play a painful joke on you. You aren't ever give a dream that can't be fulfilled, even if it has to be tweaked bit.

Also know this: whatever you dwell on comes to being. There are no exceptions. Because thoughts are energy, thoughts create their own reality.

If you think your dream can come true - you're right.

If you think your dream is impossible - you're right.

Name your dream. Hold a picture of it in your mind. See it coming true every day. Then take action. A small first step. Then another. Inertia will keep it moving and the law of reciprocating motion will build on each success.

Please send me your thoughts...and be alert for the dog jumping on your lap...


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Thinking about coffee, my Westie, Newton and Einstein...

My time is short this morning but here is what I am thinking about...


Three laws of physics

A banana in my coffee

My sweet Westie...

Maybe you already know where I'm going? We'll talk in a few hours =)

Until then, peace!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Seneca's Tips on Sailing

What plans do you have?

"If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is the right wind." - Seneca

Can you believe Thanksgiving has come around again? Where has the year gone? Where has YOUR year gone? Do you even know? Or do your days rush by in a blur with no direction?

The great Roman philosopher Seneca was right on, wasn't he? Statistics show that only 3% of us have tangible goals. The other 97% are sailing with no port in mind. Just going where the wind blows us. Watching the years fly by.

Success in any venture requires a plan. So often we overlook this wisdom, don't we? And yet, we hope the chef at our favorite restaurant has plan. We surely hope the dentist with a drill has a plan.

Don't tell me it's different. It only seems different because you didn't have to make the plan and follow through. Most of what we do would be more successful if we had a plan. Big things, small things, short-term or long-term. CEO's and pastors need plans. Generals and teachers need plans. Coaches for every sport at every level need a detailed plan. Even when I coached elementary basketball and T-ball, there had to be a daily plan.

I have not always been a stellar example of planning and following through. But I am making strides, laying out specific ports where I want to land, calculating wind speed and direction to get there...and leaving room for spontaneous fun!

If you are doing that as well, or if you want to talk about how, or if you think this column is complete bunk, leave me a comment. I'd love to hear your thoughts...