Thursday, December 31, 2009

Random Thoughts on Christmas

  • Two year olds have a limit on the number of presents they will open. Four year olds do not.
  • One of the best gifts the entire family has enjoyed (together) is 40 Years of Sesame Street on DVD. It's fun to relive a lot of those classic animations, characters, and episodes. Highlights include the Ladybug Picnic and the Song of One.
  • I'm beginning to think Sesame Street may be responsible for a lot of my liberal viewpoints. There's a lot of songs and segments about everyone being equal.
  • Toy manufacturers today use way too many "security precautions." In the past week, I've spent literally hours untwisting wires that are used to prevent shoplifting. I understand that the shoplifting of toys is a problem, but I think they've gone overboard just a little bit. I wonder how many wire lobbyists there are in the world.
  • We love great grandma Lee. We love that she bought our children some wonderful DVD movies for Christmas. But, I hate the Disney "Buddy" movies. It started with the Air Bud series of sequels revolving around one golden retriever. Now they have an entire bunch of movies about the "buddies," which are just a group of puppy versions of Bud. Santa Buddies save Christmas - weird, lame, left me with a feeling that there was something strange going on just under the surface of the story, like it was about something totally different. Perhaps it was an art film I just didn't understand. The "Christmas Icicle" made me sad on various unintended levels.
  • Movies I did like: The Hangover was funny and raunchy. I liked Superbad better. J.J. Abrams' Star Trek was just as good on DVD. My wife even liked it, and she hates the original Star Trek even more than I do. District 9 was a gem. It's a great sci-fi flick with strong commentary on humanity's love of greed and cruelty. 500 Summers is a movie every young romantic should see, not because it's romantic, but because it's more realistic.
  • Apparently the HP (Hewlett Packard) company doesn't see the benefit in making their digital video cameras Mac compatible. Instead of creating MPEG files, they produce outdated Windows Video files. It seems like they'd go with something more universal, but what do I know about running companies? I thought more customers was better for the company. Luckily, my dad bought the camera from QVC, so they'll happily take it back.
  • Large, fuzzy pajama pants are all the rage this year. I got two pair from two different people. My brothers both got the same thing from totally different people. They're big. They're fuzzy.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Owen's Letter to Santa 2009

Heidi helped him craft it, but here's Owen's letter this year:

Dear Santa,

Owen would like a Devastator, a Bulkhead, or a Megatron. Or a brown (or red) Bakugan with horns.

Gage would like Word World toys.

Merry Christmas!

For those that don't already know, the first three things are transformers. A Bakugan is typically for older kids, but they're also usually either robots or monsters - both of which are high on Owen's list of cool things.

Owen's uncle Bob has reportedly bought the Devastator despite our request that he: 1. Not spend so much money. 2. Not buy something so complicated and likely frustrating to Heidi and I.

We had picked up Bulkhead, Megatron, and Word World toys on clearance months ago. A problem arose when Owen spotted another character at a store just a few weeks ago, and then asked Santa in person for that character. Ugh…

So far, we've never had to go all out shopping for our kids for Christmas. They have two sets of grandparents that do that. We've taught Owen that Santa only brings one gift, and it might not be exactly what he asked for.

We also make it a point to constantly remind him that we celebrate Christmas for much more important reasons than just presents and toys.

Friday, December 18, 2009

I've tried to start a yearly tradition of illustrating my kids as a gift to my wife. I don't think she's really that into it, but I am.

I went for a Charles Schulz inspired Peanuts like theme. My kids love Charlie Brown, especially A Charlie Brown Christmas. They watch it year round. Whenever they hear anything similar to music from the soundtrack, they beam with recognition. It seemed like a logical choice this year.

Hope you enjoy it. Hope my wife does too.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Those Crazy Ideas

From time to time I get these off the wall ideas, the ones that involve doing things for people or giving them things in ways that they won't expect. I don't want to go into too much detail. I don't want this to sound like I'm patting myself on the back or any grand thing like that, because it's really not about that at all.

I just want to point out that doing these crazy things, these things that aren't dictated by our society, from my experience, they benefit everyone involved.

So, if you're getting these ideas, about generosity, giving, sharing, I urge you to not hesitate. Do it even if everything in you is screaming that you do the contrary because what you're thinking isn't normal, everyday behavior. I say rebel. Do the unexpected.

There will be times when it seemingly falls flat. There will be other times when the blessings you receive in return will be almost immediate. Don't do these things for the blessings you'll receive.

I can't say more, but I hope I started my kids out on the right path this evening.

Mission Santa

Owen was ready this year. He was determined to sit on Santa's lap without being shy or afraid. He even rehearsed what he wanted to ask for.

I think I've been pretty public and vocal about my disappointment regarding the cost of visiting Santa. The various malls in our area don't allow you to take your own photos, and then charge an arm and a leg for the photos they take. I'm a photo guy. I want to have a visual record, a keepsake. I'm also unemployed and not really big on the idea of paying for something I can easily do myself - often just as good as the "Santa Photo Professionals."

Lapeer's Chamber of Commerce Santa is usually a good value. They do charge $4, but you get a 5x7 photo with Mr. and Mrs. Claus. You can also take as many photos as you want with your own camera. This year, Lapeer's Santa wasn't as available as we needed him to be. We promised Owen he could see Santa on Tuesday. Lapeer's Santa was out for the day.

We found a Plan B at Bronner's. Tony July had mentioned that they had a daily Santa, and he was likely free to the public. He was correct.

It was a long drive on a snowy day, but it was well worth it. Bronner's is usually a mad house. They claim to be the biggest Christmas store in the country. If you've ever been to Canterbury Village in Lake Orion, I think Bronner's might be claiming size (square footage), not necessarily selection. But, I've gotten off topic. It wasn't a mad house on Tuesday. It was busy, but not 'weekends just before Christmas' busy. There was maybe four kids in front of us in line.

Owen hopped up on Santa's lap without hesitation. He was a little shy, but he still launched into his list. To our astonishment, he started telling Santa that he wanted Power Rangers. He's never watched the show, and really doesn't understand what the show is about. My jaw dropped as he told Santa he preferred a purple ranger. What?

Gage watched from the sidelines. Just before Owen hopped down, Gage acted like he wanted to go up, so we let him. As soon as the big man put his arm around him, Gage started to bellow. Too strange of a situation I guess.

We spent another half hour touring the store, which is fun for the kids and the kids in all of us. We didn't even break down and buy anything (they did have an awesome green Christmas monkey). The entire trip only cost us the price of the gasoline to drive that far. It was a snowy mess on the way home, but that only added to the realization that Christmas is not far away.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Storming the Gates

Imago Dei Community is a church community that I keep up with online. Don Miller, a favorite author of mine, calls this church home. Don often talks about his pastor, Rick McKinley, and through online sermons and one of his books, I found Rick to be inspiring too.

A few years ago Imago Dei helped jump start a movement called the Advent Conspiracy. The basic idea is this: Instead of buying aunt Gertrude a new set of kitchen towels she doesn't want or need every year. Why not take that money and give it to people in need all over the world? As an added bonus to you, you'll have less stress looking for the perfect towel set, and you can invite your aunt over for a special dinner instead, making your relationship more meaningful. That's a pretty simplified version of their mission of course, but I found the ideas they were presenting very moving.

The movement isn't saying, "Don't buy any presents for anyone, and feel bad if you do." It's saying that, at the heart of Christmas, for Christians, there's a story of love, of giving, of relief - good news. Consumption is rarely any of these things.

Living Water is one of the organizations that the Advent Conspiracy recommends for donations, but the idea is that you can help any cause that's important to you.

There are many parts of Africa that exemplify hell on Earth. They lack the most basic human needs, like clean drinking water. Some of these things can be easily fixed by introducing or supplying them with the basic technology to access what is already there. Living Water is just one organization that builds simple wells that then supply water to entire villages, villages full of men, women, and children. When life improves for these people, hell loses its footing there.

Matthew 16:18
18. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

A lot of people think this means that Christianity can deflect any attack from hell, but others think it means that hell can not defend itself from us. If we want to overcome the hell we find on Earth, we need only rush in armed with love and generosity.

I'm happy to say, our church has joined the Advent Conspiracy this year. You can listen to the most recent sermons here. Below I'll give you some more links to some of the other organizations I mentioned.

None of us should feel shame over pouring love onto our loved ones, but if you get a second, cruise over to these other sites. See the great things that they're doing. Let me know if anything lingers in your thoughts or on your heart. Perhaps you'll become a co-conspirator.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Crying Out to Santa Claus

The following was actually part of a scrapbook/journal I keep for my kids every month. I thought I'd share it.

We took the boys to Genesee Valley mall Wednesday. Heidi had a day off. They played in the play area for about an hour. Then we set out for lunch in the food court.

We came upon their Santa set up. No one was there at that moment. Santa and the photo lady waved at us. Then Owen noticed Santa. He immediately started straining against Heidi’s grasp, stretching as close as he could. We were about 25 feet away. He started shouting his Christmas list at Santa, “I want a square Bakugan. A red one and a brown one. I want a Megatron and Bulk Head.” We couldn’t help but laugh. We explained to him that he needed to actually sit on Santa’s lap, but we couldn’t do it that day.

The malls are another example of a dying business model that doesn’t seem to want to change to save itself. They still charge way too much to visit Santa. They ban taking your own photos. They almost insist on the purchase of their photos. The cheapest mall photo we found was a 5x7 for $13. No thanks.

Even if saving their own image were off the table, they could be kind and take into consideration that many families are financially strapped this year. No such luck.

We’re planning on a Santa visit out in Lapeer this coming Tuesday. For $5 both of our kids can see Santa and Mrs. Claus. They take a 4x6 photo for us, and we can take as many other photos as we want.

It was fun to watch the other kids sitting on Santa’s lap. We had a good view from the food court. They’d shyly share their lists. You could see how timid each kid initially was. Santa would set them down, hand them a coloring book, and this love would break out over them. You could see it physically happen. They’d lose all fear. Their arms would fly up to hug Santa. It was great.

It finally dumped snow on us Wednesday night. I decided to take the boys out for a few minutes Thursday afternoon. It was cold though, about 15˚.

Owen tried to do all of the warm weather activities he had been doing in recent months, often sitting on snow covered riding toys. He was wet and cold very soon.

Gage refused to wear his mittens. He slowly walked around the backyard. He grabbed a few bare handed scoops of snow, clearly disliking it. After about five minutes, he walked into the middle of the grassed portion of our backyard, looked up at me and started crying.

I took him inside, where he started to cry harder. He wanted to be outside. It was like he was protesting reality. He was told he could go outside, but the outside I had taken him to was a harsh, cold place that wasn’t fun to be in.

I tried to calm both kids with some hot cocoa, but it was too hot. I just couldn’t win.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Random Thoughts

I've been sick lately. Sorry for not posting. Here's a few random things on my mind lately:

  • Paper Heart with Michael Cera wasn't a bad movie, but it really wasn't overly funny, heart warming or thought provoking either.
  • We bought a few products from the grocery store lately with advertisements for Beyonce's new tour: I AM… Sasha something or other. The thing is, the "I AM" part really stuck out and the rest was kind of lost. So it reads, "Beyonce's I AM," which on first glace seems rather blasphemous or at least Old Testament centered.
  • I once worked with a guy that didn't believe that dinosaurs were ever real. At the time I was very atheistic and antagonistic, and he was a Christian. His theory was that scientists needed an excuse to fleece government grants, so they found elephant bones and re-arranged them to resemble giant lizards. He stated that, since they weren't mentioned in the Bible, they never really existed. As a Christian now, I find that to be a strange position. The Bible isn't primarily about the creation of everything from A to Z under the sun. It's about God interacting with humans. Dinosaurs don't really fit into that story. Including stories about dinosaurs in the Bible would be pointless. Then again, there are a handful of scriptures that refer to giant beasts. So…
  • Some thoughts on salad: 15 years ago, if you'd told me I'd be eating a salad today, I'd have thought you were crazy. 5 years ago, if you'd told me the salad would be merely a mid-day snack, again, you'd be crazy. 1 year ago, if you'd told me I'd include green onions as my favorite ingredient, I'd say you were insane. Me and salad, we've come a long way.
  • I still have an opening for a brother-in-law. Let me know if you're interested.
  • I'm not real happy with our local malls (we have two). The economy is bad. Unemployment at an all time high. Malls? Not so popular anymore. Some would say dying off. But, they still feel the need to charge an arm and a leg for kids to get photos with Santa. I understand that you want and need to charge something, but $13 for a 5x7? That's outrageous, and they don't allow you to take your own photos. We're skipping the mall altogether. Lapeer's Chamber of Commerce hosts a Santa cabin that charges $5 for a 4x6 and all the digital photos you can snap yourself. For that price you get Santa and Mrs. Claus too! Malls can go the way of the dinosaur.
  • The Flint Institute of Arts is showing Pontypool, a zombie movie starting tonight and running through Saturday. It's cheap. They tend to show films that don't get wide releases or marketing budgets.
  • Mayor McCheese is awesome.

Feeling like I should be more random, but that's all I have today. I have to go finish up a bunch of design projects for Christmas. Happy Thursday people.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Shane Claiborne, a (long) letter of apology.

Shane Claiborne is someone that I look up to. He often puts things into practice that I only dream about or aspire to. He's also very good at putting things into words, things that often get all jumbled up in my heart and in my head.

If you've got a few moments, I recommend reading the entire letter. It's full of apology, God, and dirt.

Gage, It's All in His Name

Heidi and I have gotten pretty good at choosing names for our children. We worked out a system that had stages. The first stage was kind of the brainstorming stage. We both took a separate pad of paper and just started a long list of every name we liked. We then compared the two lists for similarities. Sure, there was some arguing still. I was over ruled on Roland and Otis every time I tried to sneak them in.

With Gage, we never really got past that brainstorming list. Heidi had written the name down, I had not. But, as I read over her list, the name really clicked for me. There was a small, sly voice in the back of my mind reminded me that there was a tragic Gage character in Stephen King's novel, Pet Sematary. "We are seriously considering naming our child after a character in a horror novel," the sly little voice said gleefully. I chose not to voice this little tidbit out loud. As we discussed it, and the name was moved toward the top of the list of potentials, another small voice inside wondered if using such a name wasn't a bad omen of sorts.

I beginning to wonder that myself. I won't give away any major plot points from King's novel, but our Gage does exhibit some of the fictional Gage's more tragic attributes.

Now that I'm the stay-at-home parent, it seems like Gage is constantly causing me to question my parental abilities. He's always trying to do something dangerous. I think our first born son, Owen may have given me a false sense of security. He rarely endangered himself.

It's kind of like Gage has read the handbook on ways that children can have household accidents. It's like he has this to-do list that he's testing me with, and I'm failing a bit.

In reality, he's really a lot like my brother Bob. Gage enjoys the outdoors, wrestling, exploring, getting dirty. We haven't lost track of him only to find him inside the dog house sharing a dog food meal yet. He also hasn't found his way into my garage and doused his clothing in gasoline (both things my brother pulled off as a two year old), but I surely wouldn't be surprised by either incident. He's also like Bob in that Gage is a bit of a Mama's boy especially when his Mama is around.

I can't wait until he's a daredevil teenager, skydiving off of tall buildings with a bungie cord and hover board. Oh, they'll totally have hover boards by then. And Michigan will likely be part of New Canada, but I'm getting off topic…

My point being, I think this kid will always need extra attention. I'm sure I'll be up worrying more about adventurous Gage than bookworm Owen. It may be hard to tell sometimes, but I am equally happy to have a kid that stretches my abilities and another that is easy to handle.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving Potential

I'm up late. I think I do some of my best writing when I'm tired, and everyone else is fast asleep. The house is quiet. My emotions often run more sentimental.

Thanksgiving is less than a week away. "The Holidays" are officially under way. There's great potential in the next few weeks: potential to forge fond memories, potential to relax and enjoy the love of family, and the potential to utterly disappoint ourselves when the first two outcomes don't show.

Thanksgiving can be a tricky holiday. We tend to worship food. It kind of opens the flood gates of temptation for the holidays that follow. Beyond the food, I think we hunger for the warm family connection. We take the day off. We come together with some set of regular family or friend oriented group. Typically we all prepare something to add to the feast. We look forward to catching up with one another, putting our feet up, and hopefully walking away with the feeling that the day was special.

I know that all of these things are possible. I've experienced them. Not always in the same Thanksgiving, but sometimes the elements are all aligned. You find yourself not wanting to go home at the end of the evening. You find yourself ready and raring for Christmas gatherings so you can feel some of these things again.

It seems like things always fell into place when I was a kid. We'd have to travel to two different houses, two different feasts so both sides of the family could celebrate with us. In one twenty-four hour period we'd visit with all of our aunts and uncles, both sets of grandparents, and every cousin. We'd run and play until the feast was complete, and then we'd pause to break bread together. We'd eat like kings with our own special table away from the adults. Shortly after, we'd feast again on desserts that only seemed to appear for this occasion. Then we'd run and play again until we were exhausted. Our parents carrying us to the car, eventually tucking us into bed. As we'd drift off to sleep, we were left with this great sense of family, of belonging.

I remember the first time my father and my uncles invited me to play games with them. For more than eighteen years I'd watched as they'd play poker, euchre, and Statego. On my nineteenth Thanksgiving, I was allowed to sit in, and I did great. I kept up with euchre despite the fact that they appeared to be playing some lightning version I'd never seen before. I also dominated the map with Stratego, a game I'd never played prior (or since). I left that night feeling like I'd arrived at adulthood.

So, I sit here tonight, much like I've done in recent years, with Thanksgiving quickly approaching. I have this yearning for this year to be a memorable one, but I'm doubtful. In recent years, Thanksgiving hasn't left me with much to carry away and remember. True, I have kids now. You'd think that alone would supply me with plentiful memories, but it hasn't. Instead I'm left with memories of rushing around, trying to get little people ready. We often have to eat multiple meals, but they're often rushed. Instead of fond memories of feasting, I remember being overly full and pressured to eat. Instead of fond memories, I remember hoping in vain for something to click into place leaving us with those feelings of family and bonding. But nothings been clicking during these recent Thanksgiving celebrations. I'm left feeling more like we've just had a few good dinners where I over ate and barely spoke to my family. It's disappointing, and a bit scary to think about as I sit here right now. I wonder if it was like this for my parents.

But I'm not giving up. I intend to go in armed this year. Sure, I was somewhat armed last year, armed with dreams of praying over my entire family - saying something that clicks things into place. I'll admit it. I chickened out. But I might not this year. I might find the right words this time around… and if I don't, I plan on taking board games. Those have been missing in recent years. True, it's hard to get anyone interested in playing. Everyone else seems to be rushing to other events too. But I'm going to try again this year, maybe not for me. Maybe for my kids, so they can not only be thankful, but so they can actually feel that feeling of belonging to a family.

Monday, November 16, 2009

What to Expect

This will be hard to pin down.

I consider myself a very spiritual person. I also love horror movies. Being a father is one of the greatest parts of my life. I'm married. That alone could send me into a rant on any given day.

I've been called a lot of things over the years: Crazy, eccentric, funny, strange, scary, humble, liberal, harsh… My wife often calls me a jerk. In college, I had a friend tell me that I was a walking contradiction in my Ozzy jean jacket and khaki dress pants. I could go on.

I've also been told that I do alright at writing. More than one college professor tried to derail my dream of becoming a graphic artist in favor of writing. They were the good college professors too, the ones I respected because they were difficult. You know, the ones that caused panic when their names showed up on a class schedule?

I guess, if you throw all of this in a blender, you might expect a mess. I'll fight hard not to turn this into a mess. Perhaps if it gets too complicated, I'll turn this one blog into two in hopes of separating some of the subject matter. For now, it will fall victim to my various whims.

Life is a wild ride, hopefully a good story, and rarely static. Come along if you want. I'll share a bit with you, if you'll have me.


I lost my job slowly staring in November of 2008. It's kind of a long, drawn out story that had a lot more twists and turns than anyone could have predicted in the beginning.

I (very happily) worked for the local newspaper as a graphic artist in advertising. At that time, many newspapers were going out of business. Ours did not, but they did cut back on the number of days that they publish. This meant fewer days for published obituaries, something that would normally run every single day.

The local television news companies pounced on this opportunity, and you can now quickly read local obituaries on television specific times throughout the day. In the beginning, these obituaries got a bit ridiculous. They were showing them, what seemed like, once an hour.

One day, as I was pontificating my possible new career paths with some of my also soon to be unemployed co-workers, I started talking about how the local tv stations were all acting like ravenous dogs now that our paper was less of a thorn in their side. I kept exclaiming, rather loudly, "Bam! Obituaries." It seemed like you'd just get done watching a tv show and BAM! They'd be showing those obituaries again.

Someone pointed out that I should start a blog containing all of my daily rants and musings so they could keep up on my banter after "the end" came. They said I should call it 'Bam! Obituaries.' That made me laugh, which means I was sold on the idea.