The End Is Near!

 

I don’t know when the world will end, but the end of the calendar year is in four days. Whether it was a good year or a bad year for you, 2018 will soon expire. You will have survived another 365 days of life. But what’s the significance of this end? Is it simply that you’ll now need to buy a 2019 calendar?

When the end of the year approaches, the main focus is on what’s ahead, i.e., a new year. People look forward to a new start; resolutions are made–usually to be broken. But short shrift is given to what’s happened in the immediate past, the year which is ending. Oh, sure. Newspapers and magazines will compile a list of the top stories of the year, and a person of the year is named. The average Joe, though, is not one to look back and reflect on the events he’s personally just lived through. That lack of review is both sad and short-sighted.

Author Roy T. Bennett tells us that “The past is a place of reference…a place of learning….” If we don’t consider the past, then what will we have learned by living through it? Certainly you have heard that those who do not remember their past are condemned to repeat their mistakes. I don’t like to make mistakes. Making the same mistake twice is even worse. Don’t we want to put our past experience to use and learn from our mistakes?

Now that Christmas is over, visions of sugar plums are no longer dancing in our heads. So let’s put our thinking caps on, as my dear mother always said, to conduct a post-mortem on the year just passed. If we don’t do it now, we might forget what happened. Don’t think this is true? Quick! Tell me what you have for lunch last Friday. Ha! Told you so!

Yes, I’m going to practice what I preach. I will utilize this blog post to determine what life lessons I have learned during 2018 that can benefit me as I maneuver through 2019. If I’m not learning anything, then I’m either stagnant, too lazy to think about it, or dead. I don’t like any of those options, so here goes.

The first lesson learned from my review of 2018 is that independence is overrated; you get by with a little help from your friends. No man, and no author, is an island. I am absolutely amazed at the encouragement, advice, inspiration, and friendship I have received from fellow authors in my Destin Word Weavers critique group. A tip from one group member led to the staff writing gig I obtained this year with adoption.com. When I first started writing seriously and regularly, I naively felt that I knew what I was doing and did not need “help.” Boy, was I ever wrong. Everyone needs help.

A second lesson learned when viewing 2018 in retrospect is that reality and my perception of reality are not necessarily the same. Sometimes we feel that what we do or say isn’t that big a deal or doesn’t have that much impact. But we can be very wrong.

In the first part of October I was in Budapest, Hungary on a missionary care retreat. Our group cooked for visiting missionaries, went on outings with them, played games such as Heads Up with them, and worshiped with them. There was no visible, concrete result from our time together such as a well having been dug. I questioned whether I had traveled overseas merely for a fun time doing fluff. That notion was blown up in a final worship gathering when one of the missionaries was in tears; she said that we would never know just how much our time with her meant to her. I was blown away. I was also struck by how actions I took or things I said with little thought were of such consequence to someone else. Maybe I should be a bit more considered with my speech and actions in the coming year.

A final life lesson that really hit home with me in 2018 is not to let trappings trip me up. As the Christmas season zoomed by, I was concerned that I hadn’t gotten my Christmas tree until mid-December and (I confess) I never decorated it. I did not get out every Christmas trinket and ornament which I have collected over the many years of my adult life. In fact, I didn’t even have the opportunity to cook a holiday meal on Christmas due to work obligations and family illness. But, like the Grinch, it dawned on me that these trappings were a superficial and even superfluous part of Christmas.

Christians celebrate the birth of Christ on Christmas. Jesus was born in a lowly and undecorated stable. I doubt Mary was feeling like whipping up a holiday feast after birthing the little Lord Jesus. Decorations and feasts are simply trappings which distract us from the true meaning of  CHRISTmas. While I may not have decorated a tree, I did attend a candlelight Christmas Eve service to worship. I didn’t slave over a hot stove producing more food than I really need to eat anyway, but I did pore over some Scripture to focus on my faith and what I have to be thankful for. [HINT: It doesn’t come in a box wrapped with Christmas paper; it came in a manger.]

Viewing 2018 in hindsight, I am happy to say that I have identified some life lessons from the year’s events, i.e., I do need help from my friends, I need to be more considered in my thoughts and actions, and I shouldn’t get caught up in trappings. While these are wonderful takeaways, they will only benefit me if I move from not simply learning them, but living based on those lessons. Yes, I look forward to 2019, but not simply because it is a fresh start. It is also an opportunity to put into practice what I have learned in the year just ended. The end of the calendar year is not the end, it is just the beginning of the next chapter in my life which will be shaped by my experiences from the year just ended.

Just WONDER-ing: Do you look back over the events of the past year or do you prefer to let the past stay in the past? Have you learned any lessons from your experiences in 2018? Will they impact your actions in 2019?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Giving Gifts With An “I” In Them

It’s less than a week until Christmas, so time is running out to buy gifts for friends and family. In case you are stumped about what to get for someone on your list, don’t worry.; retailers will gladly assist you in locating the “perfect” gift. Unfortunately, January looks to be a bad month if you can’t afford a new truck or diamond jewelry for your significant other.

Christmas is a religious holiday. I mean just look at the name. Yup. It’s spelled with “Christ” right at the beginning. But despite its religious basis, Christmas has gone to the commercial dogs. It is the largest economic stimulus for many nations around the world. According to Statistica, the U.S. retail industry generated over 3 trillion (that’s trillion with a “tr”) dollars during the 2013 holiday. Statistica also reports that the average American consumer will spend around $800 on Christmas gifts.

And why do we Americans engage in this buying frenzy? Unfortunately, for many, gifts are bought for others merely because it is expected of them. As a gift recipient, I am not so sure that I would be flattered and happy that someone purchased something for me merely out of obligation. Would you be thrilled to be handed a beautifully wrapped box by someone who said, “As a token of my duty to you, I’m giving you this Christmas gift?” OK, perhaps you would if the gift was a Christmas bonus from you boss, but when it comes to friends and loved ones, duty is a poor reason for giving a gift.

Most of us, I daresay, would like to receive a gift because it came from someone’s heart. That’s why mothers are thrilled to receive something that their young offspring have hand made for them. What the object looks like or how much was spent to make it is irrelevant. The gift is priceless because it was created out of love for the recipient.

I personally like to give gifts that are homemade. In years past I have given co-workers peppermint milk bath, peppermint lip scrub, gingerbread sugar scrub, limoncello, homemade turtle candy, etc. Why do I do this? Because I am giving a bit of me in each gift. Time, an important commodity for busy women, goes into deciding upon and then making the gift. My time and creativity are part and parcel of what the recipient is given. And isn’t this only fitting? You can’t spell gift without an “I” in it.

Yes, “I” does go into many Christmas gifts which are given, but not in a good way. The gift is more about the giver than about the recipient. The giver may be pressed for time, so she simply gives what’s expedient. A mad dash is made to the nearby discount store to buy each person on the list a tin of Christmas cookies. Or perhaps the giver wants to impress the recipient as to how much money she can afford to spend or where she shops. “Won’t Betty be thrilled to receive something from Ritzy Retailer?” the giver thinks.

In other instances, the giver buys what she herself would want. Raising my hand for being guilty on that one. When I was growing up, the Christmas gift I wanted most of all was a Kenner Easy Bake Oven. Did I get one? No. Was I naughty and got lumps of coal instead? No. “Santa,” in his infinite wisdom, thought I’d be better off with some clothes and books. (In hindsight, I have to admit the jolly old elf was right.) But I never got over the desire for that oven. Hence, when I had my own daughter, guess what I got her for Christmas one year? Why, the Kenner Easy Bake Oven, of course! Did she ask for it? No. Was she thrilled to get it? Well, not as thrilled as her mother was. My daughter is grown and gone from the house, but I still hold onto that Easy Bake Oven.

In other instances, people’s hearts are in the right place, but the gift fails miserably. Although I never got an Easy Bake Oven from my parents, they did try to give me the candy I liked the best–well, at least the candy they THOUGHT I liked best. One year they gave me some chocolate covered cherries. They were good, but not as good as my favorite Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. I expressed my thanks because, well, my momma raised me to be polite. I didn’t want to appear ungrateful and tell them I really didn’t want to receive the candy they selected. Mom and Dad took that to mean that I wanted more of the same. As the years passed, I continued to get the chocolate covered cherries; by that time, though, it was too awkward to reveal that I hadn’t ever been thrilled to receive them.

The charade ended one year when I was married and living in Ohio. Mom and Dad mailed me my Christmas presents which included the traditional chocolate covered cherries. As I didn’t care about the candy, I left it under the tree. Cue my dog, Beauregard a/k/a “Bo”. (Southern girls have to have dogs with Southern names.) Unlike me, Bo adored chocolate covered cherries; in fact, he ate the whole box at one time. I wouldn’t have known (or cared) until I saw a trail of regurgitated cherries in the snow outside our back door. When my parents asked if I’d enjoyed the candy, I confessed that I hadn’t gotten to eat it because the dog stole it. I mentioned that the chocolate covered cherries weren’t my favorite, and it might be better to send another type of candy in the future. But for the Bo incident, I may have been receiving chocolate covered cherries for years to come.

To avoid gift catastrophes and make the most of gift giving, let me suggest the following:

  1.  Ascertain what the recipient likes or wants.
  2.  Make sure that what you think the recipient likes/wants to receive is   actually what he likes/wants to receive. (Review Bo story above.)
  3.  Remember that the gift is for the recipient, not for you. (Review Kenner Easy Bake Oven story above.)
  4.  Consider giving something that contains a part of you, i.e., something   home made, No one else can give that gift because you are unique!
  5.  Ignore the commercials; those people don’t know the recipient.

While gifts are nice, they aren’t the real reason for Christmas, Christmas is not about giving gifts. It is about the gift God gave us the very first Christmas–Jesus. And, yes, there’s an “I” in Christ. There’s no better gift than that gift with an “I” in it!

Just WONDER-ing: What do you want most for Christmas? If you receive it, will it make you truly happy? What’s the best gift you ever received?

 

 

 

 

 

 

BOWL-ed Over

At this time of the year, there are not enough hours in the day to do all your Christmas shopping, baking, decorating, partying, etc. And that’s before you factor in all the college bowl games you’ll want to watch. What would the Christmas season be like without them? Nothing says “Peace On Earth” like two teams physically assaulting each other repeatedly over the course of four quarters.

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE college football. Of course, I’ll be glued to the boob tube during a great number of the bowl games, especially the Sugar Bowl. Yes, my alma mater, UGA (GO DAWGS!), will be playing in that bowl on the evening of January 1st. While it is exciting to be invited to participate in such a famous bowl game, UGA fans are disappointed that our team will not be a part of the College Football Playoffs (CFP). Excuse me while I make moose ears and stick my tongue out at the selection committee. Oh, well. You can’t spell “sugar” without UGA, so I guess we’ll make the most of the crumbs we’ve been offered.

But I’ll be watching bowl games long before New Year’s Day. Yes, sir. It’s off to the races starting this Saturday when a total of six bowl games will kick off. Better get all your Christmas activities completed by noon ET when the Celebration Bowl commences in Atlanta.Not available to watch that bowl? Not to worry. Approximately 40 bowl games will be played, so certainly you will be available to view at least some of them.

It used to be prestigious to go to a bowl game. There were only a few, and it was a really big deal to get invited to one. Now there are a plethora of bowl games and a zillion (OK, I might be exaggerating a tad) of teams that are bowl eligible. Currently a team must win six games to be bowl eligible. Despite the scads of bowl games to be played, some eligible teams will sit out bowl playing. 1, 2, 3. All together now: Awwwww!

Should I want to see a bowl game in person, I reside in a good location to do so. Florida leads the states with the number of bowl games played within its borders. Eight are held in this state–Boca Raton; Camping World; Citrus; Cure; Gasparilla; Gator; Orange; and Outback. What? No Lemon Bowl or Grapefruit Bowl to be played in the Sunshine State?

If you enjoy traveling abroad during the holidays, you can combine travel with football. Head to Nassau for the Bahamas Bowl on December 21st. Celebrate the great American tradition of a bowl game by leaving the country.

Some bowl names make us snicker. I was amused to learn that the precursor to the Fiesta Bowl was the Salad Bowl. Guess dressing for that event could get messy. The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl sounds silly, but, hey, it’s really appropriate. Who wouldn’t want to sit down to view a bowl game with a big bowl of potato chips to munch on? (Preferably with my favorite bacon onion dip.) And then there’s the Cheez-It Bowl in Phoenix on December 26th. Wonder if they sell the delicious salty and cheesy snack in the stadium during the event.

The name of a bowl is not always the winner of a truth in advertising award. I was disappointed to find out that tickets to the Dollar General Bowl in Mobile, AL are way more than a dollar. Reserved tickets are $45, but you can get a deal with $15 general admission tickets.

Those glued to their TV’s for bowl games are likely to be ACC and SEC fans. Why? Well, these two conferences lead the (large) pack of teams participating in bowls with eleven conference teams each represented.

And patriotism has not been forgotten in the frenzy of bowl games. The Armed Forces Bowl will be played in Fort Worth on December 21st. Army’s Black Knights will do battle with Houston. (GO ARMY!) Thoughtfully, Lockheed Martin sponsors this bowl. And why not? The company’s made tons of money off defense contracts, so why not give a shout out to those defending our country?

This year’s Orange Bowl will provide a match-up of the Heisman Trophy winner, Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray (no relation to me), and the Heisman Trophy winner runner up, Alabama’s Tua T. Who can pronounce Tua’s last name much less spell it? Although I am not an Alabama fan, I will be rooting for the Crimson Tide in this game for two reasons. First, I’m an SEC gal; I’ll root for a family member–even one I don’t like–when the family member is pitted against a non-family member. Second, I want Alabama (you know, the #1 team that didn’t look so invincible against by beloved Bulldogs in the SEC Championship), to cream the Sooners just to show the CFP selection committtee what an idiotic selection it made for the #4 slot. Pfft!.

The final game in the marathon of bowl games is the national championship to be played on the night of January 7th. Speaking of idiotic decisions, who schedules such a monumental game on a Monday night? Hello! Everyone has to get up and go to work the next day! We’ll be up late watching the game and will probably have a stomach ache from devouring that bowl of potato chips during the game. The team that wins will be happy, but the rest of us will be tired and grumpy.

My advice for getting through the bowl season? Be selective. You can’t watch all the games, so don’t try. Everything in moderation–even watching bowl games. Choose the best match ups or at least watch the teams you usually root for–or against. And while you are practicing moderation, don’t eat the whole bowl of chips during the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl or the whole box of Cheez-Its during the Cheez-It Bowl.

Just WONDER-ing: Did you realize the huge number of bowl games to be played? What bowl games do you plan to watch? What will be in your bowl to eat as you watch them?

 

411 On 41

Our nation’s 41st president, George H.W. Bush, took his final breath on Friday, November 30th. While tributes pour in about his political career and presidential accomplishments, how about a breath of fresh air? Let’s hear some interesting things about George Bush the man.

Although 41 was a president, he was like the average American in many ways. He had personal likes and dislikes, and one of his most famous dislikes was of a green veggie–broccoli. His mother made him eat that vile (to him–I love it) veggie, but finally he could take it no longer. In March 1990 he announced, “I am president of the United States and I am not going to eat any more broccoli.” Now we know why growing up to be president is such a common desire of school children–become president and ditch a disliked veggie.

As a result of Bush’s proclamation, broccoli was banned from being served to the president on Air Force One or in the White House. There’s was just one catch. 41 was not the only one in the family eating dinner. First Lady Barbara Bush apparently enjoyed eating broccoli. She even conspired with the president’s personal chef, Ariel De Guzman, to serve a yummy (to Barbara and the rest of the family) broccoli salad with golden raisins, toasted sunflowers, red onions, and a creamy dressing. Nope! 41 was having none of it. He only picked up the bowl of salad to pass it on to other family members who desired second helpings. If 41 had emphatically proclaimed, “Read my lips, I will not eat broccoli,” we would believe he would keep that promise.

Not only was 41 a president, but he was related to royalty. Genealogical research determined that he and Queen Elizabeth were 13th cousins. While that connection may not be close enough to be considered “kissing cousins,” 41 and Her Majesty did get along. In fact, Queen Elizabeth liked her cuz so much that she knighted him in 1993. But he was an American cousin, so 41 was not required to kneel to her nor was he allowed to refer to himself as “Sir.”

When 41 wasn’t making millions in the oil business or busy in the political arena, he was into sports. As a college student at Yale, the future president played on the baseball team, mainly at first base. He was even elected team captain, perhaps an omen of future election success. Bush’s team was so good that they made it to the College World Series twice, losing both times.

41’s love of baseball continued into his adult life. When his distant British cousin, Queen Elizabeth came to the U.S. on a state visit in 1991, 41 took her out to the ballpark in Baltimore. No word on whether he bought her peanuts and Cracker Jack, but she did meet the Orioles and Athletics in the home team dugout. Baseball probably wasn’t Her Majesty’s cup of tea as the visit to the ballpark only lasted a couple of innings.

When he had a rough day at the Oval Office, 41 might have pulled open a desk drawer to cheer himself up. There he kept a worn Rawlings first baseman’s mitt. He pulled this treasured item out on April 3, 1989 when he traveled to Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium and became the first president to throw a ceremonial first pitch from the mound. He may have had so much fun that he didn’t care if he ever went back to the Oval Office. He did go back to the ballpark numerous times, becoming a fixture at Houston Astros games.

Life did throw some curve balls at 41. In his later years, he developed Parkinson’s and was confined to a wheelchair. He turned this lemon into lemonade by using his condition as a springboard for showcasing his crazy socks. From his seated position in a wheelchair, his ankles were clearly visible as were his amusing ankle coverings. When Bill Clinton paid a visit to his fellow former president, 41 marked the occasion by wearing socks with Bill’s face on them. Bush tweeted that he made sure that the socks were clean for Bill’s visit. When 41’s beloved wife Barbara died, he wore special socks to her funeral service–ones bearing stacks of books in honor of her passion for promoting literacy. As his soul ascends heavenwards, 41 will be laid to rest wearing gray socks with Naval aviator wings and a squadron of soaring jets.

Left behind when 41 departed his earthly life was his service dog Sully. The yellow Labrador retriever, obtained shortly after Barbara Bush’s death, was named for hero airline pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. Sully was a faithful companion who was trained to perform two pages of commands, including answering the telephone. It’s not clear if Sully could take phone messages in addition to answering the phone, but, hey, some humans cannot even handle that task.

Sully was not 41’s first dog. 41 had presidential pets while living in the White House. His dog Mildred “Millie,” an English Springer Spaniel, has been dubbed the most famous presidential pet. She was so special that when she gave birth to a litter of six puppies, an Army veterinarian was called to attend her. Millie even authored a book which Barbara Bush may have helped her with just a bit. And Millie was politically astute as well. During 41’s 1992 re-election campaign, President Bush dissed Bill Clinton and Al Gore by commenting that “My dog Millie knows more about foreign affairs than these two bozos.”

As our nation mourns the loss of a former president, 41’s distinguished career will be recounted. While historically it is important to be mindful of his positions and accomplishments, let’s not forget that a man has died. He was a loving husband (of 73 years!), a devoted dad of six, a sports enthusiast, and a pet owner. His last words were not political; they were, “I love you too” to his son, George W. Bush, our 43rd president. Politicians, whether Republican or Democrat, are humans first. Don’t make any of them one-dimensional by labeling them simply a politician. A politician is more than his political career; he is first and foremost a human being.

Just WONDER-ing:  What do you remember best about President Bush? Does knowing personal information about a politician give you a better insight into who he is? On his stand on the issues?