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 Instead of creating MPEG files, they produce outdated Windows Video files.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.