Friday, December 2, 2016

Stop Saying "This is What Christmas Is All About" ...unless it is

I've got a seasonal gripe. It might make me sound Grinchy, but I can't help it. 

I keep seeing Facebook posts with a dubious claim. Sometimes it is a touching story of generosity, sometimes a pretty song. Or maybe it is just a beautiful holiday scene. Whatever it is, it starts or ends with:

This is what Christmas is all about!

Sorry. No, it isn't.

It is all over TV this time of year. I watch way too many Hallmark movies, as I said before. And the main characters of these sappy holiday TV-movies are constantly coming to the brilliant realization that baking cookies with kids is what Christmas is all about. Or that old fashioned decorations is what its all about. Or having coffee with your estranged mother, brother, father, boyfriend. Sometimes it is working with the poor, or gathering with the community to save an historical building, or saving a dog from...whatever. 

Now, I am not personally against baking cookies (proof is in my freezer), nor am I against having coffee with anyone, estranged or not. And, of course, I am not against caring for the poor, or saving historical buildings. And I like dogs. Really, I do. Don't own one, but, you know, dogs are fine pets. I don't want anyone to think I am anti-dog.

However....none of these things are "what Christmas is all about". 

So now, forget all those other TV characters and listen to Linus. 

Actually, I think there is another TV star who said it even better. Venerable Fulton J Sheen tells us what Christmas is all about in his book Life of Christ

No worldly mind would ever have suspected 
would one day have need of an ox and an ass to warm Him with their breath; 
would have His birthplace dictated by an imperial census; 
would Himself be naked; 
would one day have tiny arms that were not long enough to touch the huge heads of the cattle;
would one day be too weak to walk; 
that Omnipotence would be wrapped in swaddling clothes; 
would lie in a manger; 
would be hatched therein—
no one would have ever suspected 
would ever be so helpless. 

And that is precisely why so many miss Him.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Happy Birthday Dad! Can I have the candy bar now?

Today would have been my father's 81st birthday (did I count that right Mom?) And so he is on my heart and memories are flowing. Here he is as a little boy in Milwaukee. Isn't he cute?

Here he is as a little boy in Milwaukee. Isn't he cute?

One memory that Ethel reminded me of  is a small incident of tough love from childhood that has served me well all my life.

My Dad, a full blooded Italian--though American born,  had a big heart, loved hugs and was occasionally prone to tears. But, when need be, he could be tough.

So, there I was standing near the check out at the local drug store staring at a large rack of candy bars. Dad had said we three kids could each pick out a candy bar. This was not a regular thing, though Dad had a soft spot for sweets. Candy was usually reserved for Halloween, Easter and Christmas. But, for whatever reason, he said we could pick one out. My brother and sister quickly grabbed their favorites, but I was stuck. The Hershey bar or the Nestle's Crunch? Or maybe a Snickers? Special Dark or Milk Chocolate? Wait...maybe M&M's.

This indecision went on so long, and with so many threats to "Hurry up!" that my Dad finally said "That's it! No candy bar for you!" and he checked out without my candy choice.

I am sure I cried. Sweets were  are very important to me. But I can remember vowing to never let indecision paralyze me, especially when it came to inconsequential things, or those of medium consequence.

I have often thought about this memory when life's little decisions become difficult, everything from "Whats for dinner?" to "Do I make a doctor appointment about this?". I can't claim to be a great decision maker--after all, down deep I am still the same kid who couldn't choose a candy bar--but the little hard lesson early on reminds me that indecision comes with consequences. Real life consequences. Sometimes you just have to move forward no matter how unsure you are.

And it also gives me hope that those things that I nag my kids about, the ones that I think they will never get, may just sink in enough to serve them well someday when they are on their own.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Famous Cookie Dough Analogy

Picture from this recipe.
This is not an endorsement of said recipe. 

So I was trying to think of something to write and I searched my computer for the word "blog".  I know I have lots of documents in which I have quickly scrawled brilliant blog post ideas, most of which never made it to the blog. This is mostly because, on second thought, they weren't so brilliant. Although some of the time, as in today, it is because I went back to the note and had no idea what the heck I was thinking.

Today I ran across a document called "blog/cookie dough analogy".

Now that is enticing! What brilliance lays buried there?

Whatever it was, it is apparently still buried. Here is the only sentence written on that page:

You can’t fix the cookie dough once you put that tablespoon of salt in it. 

Wow! Profound...don't you think?

I can't, for the life of me, remember what I thought was so brilliant about this and what analogy was coming from it. It could be that I thought there should be some great lesson in the destruction of cookie dough...I mean beyond "NEVER DO THAT AGAIN!".

I do recall the story behind it. It is family legend.

We were making cookies with my mother and I believe there were some neighbor kids involved, in addition to my sister. Legend has it that I added multiple tablespoons of salt to the batter. In reality, it was probably just one. I am sure I misread teaspoon as tablespoon and it couldn't have been any more than one.

My mother thought she would save the day and multiply the recipe to accommodate the extra salt. Apparently it doesn't work that way. The giant triple sized recipe still tasted bad.

Lesson learned...when the mistake is salt, and it is huge, just start over.

So....writing prompt: apply this to life.

This is an analogy for......

I won't eve try to apply the lesson to the election in any way...trying to make any statement without offending anyone is like adding a half a cup of salt instead of a half teaspoon...ruin that cookie dough!

Well, how about this....some days, as a mom, you start with a huge dose of saltiness. And...and....those days need a do over, start again, go back to the beginning.....

That's it!! (here I can imagine Lucy yelling and Charlie Brown tumbling over)

I think this analogy applied just today.

You know when you somehow get on the wrong footing with a kid. You start down the path of grumpy, challenging interactions. And your thermostat keeps rising and the kid's attitude keeps getting, ummm... saltier, and you are headed straight to a disastrous and disappointing day batch of cookie dough. 

That is when you need to stop the escalation, don't triple down on that "What did you just say?" or that "What did I just tell you to do?".

Just start over. 

Go back to the beginning. (Why do I picture a drunken Portuguese swordsmen when I say that?)

Somedays that means a little dash of humor, a moment or two of easy direction following, and an offer to help with that writing prompt. Some days it means someone (read: me) needs to be sent to her room to cool off. Some days it means some other one (read: kid in question) needs to cool down in quiet.

But most of all, what is needed is a fresh start.

For some reason I have this incredible urge to bake cookies right now.

Maybe the kid sequestered in said room would like to help.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Important "Lessons" Learned from Hallmark Movies

True confession---I watch Hallmark movies. Yes, those silly romantic movies staring old TV stars and written for every holiday. Sometimes you just need to be able to watch TV without worrying about what you might see or hear--no autopsies, serial killers, or nudity. Just inane dialogue with a happy ending. 

However, they are not all fluff. I have learned important lessons from Hallmark movies. Here are just a few: 

1. All good people love dogs. If someone does not respond with the appropriate cooing and fussing to a dog, they are a bad guy. You especially should never consider marrying that person. 

2. All good people work for charities or companies that produce alternative fuels. No exceptions. Okay...they can own a bakery, but they have to do it "from the heart" and for the shear "love of making people smile". 

3. There are only really three plots for romantic comedies: 

A: boy meets girl, falls in love, one of them moves away, comes back engaged to a dog hater, and then re-falls in love with original old flame. 

B: boy meets girl, they hate each other, then are thrown together in an uncomfortable situation in which they fall in love (usually happens over very short time....unless it is the next plot)

C: boy and girl of rival families who hate each other (rival business, family feuds, whatever) and fall in love but have to hide it from the family. Spoiler the rom-com version of this they don't commit suicide. They usually all become friends and the couple marries.  

4. If a father is sports-minded, his son will want to go to Art School. 

5. Similarly, if the son is NOT sports-minded he must want to go to Art School.

6. Deciding to get married is "taking a chance". If it is the right person, you will just know, and then live happily ever after. Unless you are unlucky and your spouse decides they really hate dogs. Then you are out of luck. Shouldn't have taken that chance, huh? 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

How To Be Popular And Win Lots of Influential Friends

Do you ever wish you had MORE friends? Even if you are lucky enough to have an Ethel or two, you may find that those close friends live too far away for lots of interaction, even in the land of the internet.

Well, I have discovered a way to make LOTS of VERY INFLUENTIAL and IMPORTANT friends in HIGH PLACES!

Okay, I didn't actually DISCOVER it. It as been around for about 2000 years. BUT, you may not know about it.

I can selflessly share it with you only because there are so many of these friends to be had that I know we won't be stealing from each other or anything. And you can even acquire these friends if you don't live any where near a cemetery!!

Have I creeped you out yet? It IS almost Halloween!

Don't be creeped out, though. This is the perfect time of year to begin gaining influential friends and to become popular in heaven.

So, here is how it works for us. We have trained our kids to do most of the work.

Each Sunday, on our way to church (a 50 minute drive) we pass at least two cemeteries.  The first one is a very small and old country cemetery with no sign, just a beat up iron fence and scattered headstones about the field. The kids will stop whatever conversation is going on and say "The cemetery!!!" and then begin to pray:

Eternal rest grant unto them and let light perpetual shine upon them, may they and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. 

Then they add a few names of our family and friends and we go back to conversation or whatever we are listening to on the iPod. We will pass another one within the first 20 minutes of our drive. By the time we have reached our parish church we have established "a bond of unspeakable sweetness" with lots of people whose names we will someday know.

"Here is an easy means of surrounding ourselves in eternity with many grateful friends, whose gratitude will augment our glory in paradise: for we can make all the friends we wish in purgatory. What we shall have done for them on earth shall establish between us and them, in eternity, a bond of unspeakable sweetness. God will reveal to them the good we have done them and they will know us to eternity as their benefactors. We shall find them crowding around to intercede for us when we come before the judgment seat of God."
(from Purgatory and the Means to Avoid It by Father Martin Jugie as quoted in the November Magnificat) 
With All Soul's Day coming up on November 2 it is the perfect time to start your campaign for friends in High Places. Of course, with All Saint's Day is just the day before, you can do those friends even bigger favors by asking the intercession of the Big Shots in Heaven on their behalf.

So, when Joe Schmo walks through the pearly gates and meets St. Thomas Aquinas who says "I know all about you, my good friend (fill in your name) told me all about you!", Joe will be very thankful for his good friend in that lower place.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Texas: Land Of Storage Units and Donuts

We have lived in this small area of Texas (just north of Houston) for about four years now and I have made some very shrewd observations, if I do say so myself. 

We here in NorthOfHouston apparently eat donuts...lots of donuts. There are donut shops everywhere...lots of them drive-throughs. 

There is one, big, powerful, chain of donut shops called Shipleys. Though not my favorite donuts (locals are right now readying to burn me at the stake for that heresy), they are good and the shops are usually clean-ish and bright-ish and new-ish looking. 

Most of the donut shops are older and not very creatively named....many just have a big sign saying DONUTS. But what else does the sign on a donut shop need, really? 

There is apparently another type of pastry shop very common in Houston, but not so much out here in NorthOfHouston...Kolache shops. A Kolache is a pastry filled with various things such as sausage, bacon, jelly, custard, etc....though not usually together--I have never seen a bacon-custard Kolache. Then again, I have not had many Kolaches.  

Another astute observation I have made is that we here in NorthOfHouston have lots of stuff. 

This is made obvious (to me) by the fact that almost every new building in our area is a storage facility. 

Each time we think this new building will be something interesting...the sign goes up: 

Coming Soon! Another place to put all your stuff!

When we first moved here I got the distinct impression that the locals were accident prone. This is because, at that time, all new construction tended toward the Emergency Room type. We even have a pet Emergency Room down the street--not an ER that is our pet, but an ER for pets. 

When the storage units began cropping up I amended that impression of the locals. However, I may need to resurrect it. 

We recently noticed more than one auto body/collision shop going up in the area. 

Apparently, we here in NorthOfHouston are accident prone...while in our cars. 

On the other hand, perhaps all this building has little to do with the demand of the local population for storage space and easy access to the ER. 

Maybe, just maybe, there is some government regulation or tax shelter that allows land owners to write off their losses and so it is better, financially, to build a useless business and make no money, than to let the land stay the way it is until the right building project comes along. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

URGENT: Dogs in Strollers

So, I was thinking....(good reason to write, huh?)....and, at the risk of sounding like the neighborhood crank, I was thinking our world has gone a little nuts over animals.

We have a neighborhood website on which people can share relevant messages like things for sale, recommendations (or not) about local business, complaints about speedy drivers, know, important stuff. I get a daily email with a list of all the new messages and I occasionally get a single, really important, urgent message.

Every single time there is an "URGENT" message it is a lost dog. Every. Single. Time. I have yet to see an "URGENT" message that wasn't a lost dog, in four years of living here.

Now, I am sympathetic to the owner of the lost dog. I have vivid childhood memories of following my dog up the busiest street in our neighborhood, calling her name and crying for fear she might run into the traffic and be hit (for the record, she did eventually run into traffic and get hit, all without me chasing her....but that is another story). I get it. No one wants their pet in danger.

And I am not saying these people shouldn't search for their dogs, or ask for help.

It is just this overuse of "URGENT".

When I first moved here and got on this website I expected every "URGENT" message to be about flooded roads, or brush fires, or roving gangs of deer attacking residents.


But, you say, maybe your beef is just with the use of the word "URGENT" (I can't stop capitalizing it and putting it in quotes...forgive me).

No, it isn't just about the is the whole idea.

Because people push their dogs in strollers. IN STROLLERS, for goodness sake!

I know, I know...the dog is old, and needs fresh air. Whatever. (sorry, that was cranky of me)

No, it isn't just the stroller's the talking about dogs like they are kids. People will actually ARGUE with you that their dog is just like your kid.

I think I first started noticing this in England when we saw at the public parks that the children were fenced in...or on leashes....and the dogs ran free.

The pet thing is over the top and, I think, a sign that our culture wants to be pro-life, pro-child, pro-family, but doesn't know how and is scared to try. We practice on pets and sometimes never master skill at all.