Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Guest Post: A Merry Christmas and a Smile

by Mike Jones

It never fails. Anytime I pass a red kettle, I feel an overwhelming urge to give money. Change, bills, it doesn’t matter. It’s almost a compulsion. I do not say this to pat myself on the back. I say it because it is so.

This year, I decided to do something a little different. The church we attend signed up to collect money for the Salvation Army at a local store. I decided it was time for my daughter to give back and signed the two of us up for a shift.

We showed up for business on a cold December night. Wearing Santa hats and clutching two bells, we set to “work.” It really wasn’t work though. It was just fun. I told Isabelle as soon as we started that you could not be frowning or in a bad mood if you were volunteering. I challenged her to try to frown! Sure enough, she couldn’t do it and we were soon merrily ringing the bells as people walked out.

We were doing Gangam Style-- Salvation Army Style. And laughing away.

 I also decided to try a little experiment. We counted. The number of people who walked by; the number who acknowledged us with a nod or “Merry Christmas”; the number who gave money, and the number who ignored us.

There were seventy people who walked by in the half hour we collected.  Out of that number- 58 replied to our “Merry Christmas” with a reply.  Twenty five of those 58 with a donation. One man made it a point to thank us for saying “Merry Christmas” and not a generic “Happy Holidays” like the employee he had just encountered.

The amazing thing was that 12 people walked by and deliberately ignored a twelve year old girl ringing a bell and smiling. She was not begging. She was not harassing. She was just smiling, ringing a bell and wishing people a “Merry Christmas.” Twelve!

Not a smile. Not a nod. Not a wink. Just looked at her and looked away. I explained that maybe they were ashamed that they could not give anything or they were sad. Or maybe they did not celebrate the holidays.


I am not one of those twelve. I celebrate. I love this holiday!

MERRY CHRISTMAS! Have a great day!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Cat Scratch Fever

Sara took her dog to the vet and sat in the waiting room for half an hour. The dog strained forward on his leash every time someone new walked through the door. It was easy to tell the dog lovers from everyone else: they either smiled or stooped to pet Dixie. The non-dog lovers simply gave him a wide berth with a sour expression on their faces and sat across the room.

One woman walked in with a carrier full of cats that she'd rescued. She quickly moved out of Dixie's range and sat with her mewling box of kittens as close as she could to the examination room door.

The woman sitting next to Sara scowled at the kittens and leaned over to Sara. "Those are the nastiest animals in the world. That's what my doctor told me. The nastiest in the world."

Sara wasn't sure how to respond. She tightened her grip on Dixie's leash and gave the woman a half-smile, even though Sara had two cats at home.

"I got cat scratch fever last year and it like-ta killed me. Nasty." The woman shook her head and frowned at the cat rescuer. "I've had the worst year of my life. No, the worst ten years of my life. My husband got killed by a drunk driver. Then my son's apartment caught on fire. And his truck blew up. Then I got scratched by some cat he was trying to rescue and I nearly went blind. I can't even see! So I got these special glasses. $669. And then they were stolen out of my car. My phone charger and my glasses." She shook her head again.

"And now this one is about to break me." She held out the tiny chihuahua she's been cuddling to her chest. "He's having seizures. We've been in here twice already this week. I think I'm cursed."

Sara wasn't sure what to say. She shook her head compassionately and then concentrated on the words of the country music song playing overhead.

    Mama's addicted to Mary Kay.
    Brother's addicted to Maryjane.
    Daddy's addicted to Mary, two doors down.

"By the way, my name's Mary," the woman said and stuck out her hand for Sara to shake. Sara switched Dixie's leash to her left hand and started to reciprocate, but the woman suddenly pulled her hand away and held it close to her chest as she clarified one point. "You two aren't here with something contagious, are you? That would be my luck."

Sara shook her head and let the woman briefly shake her hand before the receptionist mercifully called Dixie's name.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

WWSKD? (What Would Stephen King Do?)

The Book Depository
Dallas, Texas

It's been a long time since I read a Stephen King novel. But when my mother brought 11/22/63 along on a recent road trip and kept stealing moments to read a few more pages, I was intrigued enough to ask what it was about, and then hooked enough by her description to read it when she was done.

I'm not usually a time-traveler fan. Nor am I that interested in JFK's assassination, since I wasn't even born when it happened. Still, I found King's storyline interesting: his protagonist would travel back in time to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from shooting Kennedy. I immediately wondered why King chose this event as the most pivotal in history to change. I decided it was worth a read.

Again, I don't read many books that include time-travel. It's too much for me to figure out. Even as King started to explain the rules in his time-travel scheme, I was immediately besieged by questions: But what about...? and was thrilled that as soon as my doubting-Thomas skepticism flitted to the surface, King answered my question. And then another question would arise and I thought, But what about...? again, and King answered my unasked question again. I started to trust him and decided to sit back and enjoy the ride.

Stephen King answered every question I thought of. I started to think he could answer anything, and so my friends and I started posing the same question to each other any time we had a quandary. It became our tag line at work: WWSKD?

Little did I know that one author had basically asked just that. After I finished 11/22/63 (which I thoroughly enjoyed), I picked up another book to read: The Speed Queen by one of my favorite authors, Stewart O'Nan. It was totally coincidental that I opened it up and saw that he'd dedicated the book to Stephen King. The reason why immediately became clear.

O'Nan's main character, Marjorie, was a convicted murderer sitting on Death Row, telling her story to Stephen King because he'd bought the rights to her life story. She had a list of questions she was required to answer as part of the deal, and she did -- along with several writing tips and suggestions for King on how he should write her book. I thought that was so clever of O'Nan. It was a bit of humor in an otherwise dark novel. Marjorie had all sorts of writing advice for Stephen King and as I read it, I wondered whether he'd read the book, too, and what he thought of it?

So I started with a book that prompted me to think that Stephen King could answer any conundrum and then followed it with a book about a killer telling him what he should do. It's made for some interesting reading.

Now I'm on to a Gillian Flynn novel. If Stephen King is in this one, too, I'm going to think there's some kind of literary conspiracy that will probably be as hard to prove as the one surrounding the JFK plot that got this whole thing started.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Kicking Off My Christmas Spirit - Literally

Every year there is one event that moves me from a distanced, Oh yeah, Christmas is coming to actually being in the Christmas spirit. It's not putting up the tree, or buying gifts, or watching Charlie Brown, or baking cookies. No, for me, it's going to the children's Christmas program at church. Watching the preschoolers and Kindergartners tickles me every year, and kick starts my Christmas mood.

You never know what they'll do. And that's the beauty of it.

They may remember to put on their paper antlers. They may jingle their bells (and many will throughout the entire program). They may even do a few hand motions to the songs, though you can be sure that each child is watching the others to see what they're supposed to do, so it's never quite in unison.

One or two children will know most of the words to the song. You can usually count on one responsible girl to memorize them all, stand up straight, and either belt them out, or barely whisper. She's the one to watch if you want to see what's supposed to happen. And many of the children will be watching her, too, with a look on their faces like they've never seen any of this before.

If there's a gimmick, or any vaguely naughty sound effect, the boys will shout it out nice and loud. Laugh, and they'll repeat the performance over and over.

But these are all the things you come to expect with young kids. What's most wonderful about the Christmas program is the element of surprise; the things you just can't see coming.

This year was no exception.

The class sang a song and then stood up. They turned the gold blocks that had seemed to be nothing more than gift boxes around and spelled out the word J-E-S-U-S. But they were too far apart; scattered wherever the box holders had (uncarefully) placed them. So one little boy took it upon himself to straighten them up -- and kicked all the Jesus boxes into place.

And suddenly, I was consumed with Christmas spirit.

You probably had to be there, but it was just so wrong that we were all stifling giggles. It kicked off my holiday, all right. I can't wait for next year's show!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Bye, Bye Butch

I believe the hate tweets and facebook notes began the minute Bucth Jones' resignation from the UC Bearcats was announced this morning. Football fans are fickle. We loved Butch Jones a month ago. We hate him now, the traitor. Though I don't think any Bearcat fans feel as much animosity toward him as we did when Brian Kelley turned his back on Cincinnati. (Don't even say his name in our house!) At least we knew Butch Jones' resignation would be coming, and can't really fault him for accepting the job with Tennessee.

Loyalty is only temporary in football, though. We only like a coach as long as he's loyal to our team. The minute he's not, he's out. Bye, bye Butch.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

After the Wedding

I don't know if this is normal. I don't know how you're supposed to feel after your child gets married. On one hand, I'm joyous, elated, and thrilled that my child is so happy and that we have a beautiful new addition to our family. We love his wonderful bride.

But at the same time, I'm besieged with feelings of melancholy. I don't know why. Maybe it's the normal letdown after months of anticipation and running around. Maybe it's the delayed depression of empty nest syndrome; he's really not coming home again. Maybe it's knowing that he's a grown man now with grown man responsibilities and has taken the first step toward creating a family of his own?

I just don't know if these feelings are normal. I'm thrilled and sad at the same time. I feel like I'm walking in a fog. All I want to do is look at wedding pictures.