Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Welcoming the new year

During my life, each year has entered in new fashion. As a young child, I remember my parents going out for the evening with friends. As a teen, I babysat for neighborhood kids while their parents went out (often with my own parents!). I have been to a few New Year's Eve parties but most of my years were spent safe and sound by the television.
I've been wide awake and snoozing, sick, well, and tipsy. I've spent it alone more times than I care to mention and spent it with someone special.
As I reflect on years past, I recall the various celebrities that have rung in the year.
Not being a television historian, I can't be certain who the first was, but I do know for many years, Guy Lombardo was the leader of the band (pun intended).

Dick Clark soon took to the streets of New York counting down with the rest of the nation. I have to wonder if youth of today realize what an icon Clark is and how much he influenced music and television from radio to "American Bandstand" to game shows. He created the American Music Awards and was a murderer on the last "Perry Mason."

Since then, the tube has exploded with everyone counting down one way or another, yet none of the faces have held out as long as the two icons above, together covering nearly a century of new years. As we look to the future, don't forget the past!
Cheers and good wishes for a prosperous 2009!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Sharing good deeds

Often my commentary here makes a point about how people follow blindly and fail to think or do things for themselves. I also get aggrevated with people who, in my opinion, behave inappropriately. I wanted to share a couple of anecdotes from this week as testimony that I am not always snipping at people and to lead by example. In no way am I trying to break my arm by patting myself on the back nor am I seeking kudos of any sort. I honestly hope that by sharing, I can create a "Pay it Forward" kind of atmosphere.
Two young girls left an interesting message on my voicemail the other night. I would estimate their ages to be around 10 or 12 and they were trying to create a three-way conference call with a friend. One of them did most of the talking and explained, "We are sorry but we got the wrong number. We were trying to reach our friend and must have dialed wrong." She was very clear, to the point and asked me to excuse the call. Impressed by her politeness and demeanor, I checked caller ID and returned the call. The little girl answered, but I asked for the woman's name that showed on the ID. When the girl hesitated, seemingly confused, I explained that I had the name on my caller ID. The girl immediately apologized again and started explaining. I stopped her. "No sweetheart, I am not at all upset. I wanted to call your mom or whoever and her know she should be proud of you - you were so polite and did such a wonderful job with your message. I thought she should know and YOU should know that you did a good job."
The young lady seemed genuinely touched and thanked me profusely. I wished her well and hung up. It took two minutes of my time and hopefully gave her some positive reinforcement.
On Christmas Eve, I was in a store parking lot talking to my mother. A woman approached with her young daughter, I'd estimate to be six years old. They had walked from the opposite side of the parking lot and as they neared the woman said, "Excuse me, but my daughter wanted to know if she could see your reindeer." Knowing she was referring to the bobble heads on my headband, I laughed and said "Of course!" I began conversing directly with the young girl. "Do you want me to take them off?"
"Yes, please!" she said. Her eyes were dancing and I was enamored with her. I let her hold the headband and she carefully wiggled the heads back and forth. She asked where I got them and chatted a bit before handing them back. The four of us continued to talk a few more minutes and the mother prompted the girl to tell us her name is "Sierra." As they said their goodbyes and thanked me for my time, I felt compelled to do more.
"Sierra, I have had such great fun with these the past couple of days - watching people smile and compliment my reindeer. Would you like to take them and have fun with them now?"
Sierra's eyes widened and she immediately said, "YES!"
I placed them on her head and she thanked me. I told her she was welcome to them - just spread the cheer. As Sierra and her mom walked back across the lot, they talked. I could detect an extra lilt in the girl's step and saw her gently touch the top of the band, securing it in place.
Interactions like this hold a much deeper meaning than the ones where we have to confront someone about a wrong-doing. Telling someone hello, thank you or extending a helping hand takes only a moment but the warmth lasts much longer. I can be having a bad day, but recognizing the good in someone else immediately helps me feel better.
So please remember lamb chops, I share these stories in hopes of sparking a flame for you to continue passing along the warmth of humanity.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas and Christianity

I need to get busy with a couple of last minute holiday preparations but find myself thinking about several people at the moment that have guided my behaviors and beliefs. What better time to share such contemplations than on Christmas Eve?
Many years ago, I worked in a large office building, analyzing health insurance claims. A young co-worker maintained an altar at her desk with various items such as a Christian calendar, her Bible, reference books and scripture dust-catchers. She read during her lunch break and I had to give credit to someone that was a wild-child-turned-holy-saint. One day she perched on my desk top as I worked.
"Iris, can I ask you a personal question?"
"Sure." I stopped and leaned back in my chair.
"Iris, have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour?" Her face showed lines of deep concern.
"Well ... yeah Melanie, I have."
"Gee, ummm, well ..." I thought about my affirmation in the Methodist church, then switching back to Presbyterian when I married. Was it then? Or when I started devouring Shirley MacLaine books? "Honestly, Melanie, there's no exact time or day that I came to that revelation - it's been a process of learning for me. Jesus has always been a part of my life."
Melanie leaned closer. "I love you Iris and I worry about you. I want to know that you will join me in Heaven."
She pointed to the cubicle across from me and shook her head, saying "Just look at Paula over there"
"WHOA!" I responded. Melanie straightened up. "Just because Paula is Jewish, doesn't mean she is not going to heaven" I protested. "Paula is a dear friend, someone I can depend on and exhibits more 'Christian' behavior than most self-proclaimed prophets I know!"
Melanie looked like she was staring into the face of Satan as I continued. "Paula will do anything for anyone, is kind, considerate, volunteers her time and her heart to many causes and respects Christians expecting nothing but respect in return. God has a special place in heaven for her and if he doesn't, he's not a God I want to follow."
Melanie blinked a few times, took a deep breath and said, "Oh. Well, okay, I just wanted to be sure you are headed for salvation." She hopped down and scooted around to her corner.
My heart was pounding and I sat back for a minute, taking in the warmth of the sun streaming into the window, thanking God for a beautiful view of the city. When Paula returned from lunch, I gave her an extra smile.
I was reminded of this episode when I happened to meet a woman from the West Indies last week. An odd set of circumstances drew us together for only five minutes and to describe the series of events that brought us to the train depot at the same moment would take two more posts, but the discussion we had naturally and comfortably led to religious beliefs.
She said that many people assume her national origin and spiritual beliefs are those of witchcraft and voodoo but she said it is as natural to her as the rituals of other beliefs and countries. I nodded in understanding. She went on to say that she does not consider herself "Christian" but instead prefers the term "Christ-like." To be a "Christian" is to be everything Christ was and is, she explained.
"No one is that perfect," she said. Instead, she feels she is constantly learning and striving to become a Christian which will happen only in death. In the meantime, she is in training.
Interrupted by her boarding call, I shared my appreciation for the conversation and the new perspective on my own belief system.
"I believe God brings people together for a reason whether it is for a lifetime or a fleeting moment," I said. "Today I am thankful our paths were crossed." She smiled and said, "I agree."
I can't remember her name but I will always remember her face, her smile and her impact.
As we come together with family and friends in the upcoming hours, remember that regardless of religion, or belief-system, this holiday is about giving. You don't have to be "Christian" to be Christ-like and you don't have to be religious to appreciate the gift of humanity.
Blessed be.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Get off my ass

Yes - I said it and not politely. What IS it with people that tailgate? I am not a bad driver. I try to keep reasonably close to the speed limit and hope I don't get a ticket. I stay off the tail of the person in front of me, too. Yet there is always the driver that HAS to go faster than everyone else. They have the obsession of being first and can think of no one else but themselves.
Sure, it's old news but today was an exception. I had my car worked on over the last week which was unnerving enough as I was without transportation for about 5 days. When I hit the gas, it would go but had started jolting or acting like it wasn't getting gas. The mechanic, who I have dealt with for 10 years, said it was probably the air intake thingy (he said it better than I can) and would be about $500 bucks for the part. Once he got into the engine, he said he felt it was just the hoses leading to the filter - much cheaper and easier to repair. There was a delay with the parts but I picked up the car yesterday afternoon and my wallet was thankful that it only cost $200 and some change. Most of the fee was for parts.

Today I headed out to do errands and had to pick up my teenage son at a friend's house. I live in the boonies and the friend lives in another area of the county's boonies. I got on the two-lane highway and was driving 45 in a 50 mph zone because it was pitch black, drizzling rain and I was looking for my turn.

The car started to protest. It was not happy with the two C-notes I just paid. Noooooo! It wanted MORE. It screamed "FEED ME SEYMOUR!" and jerked me around. I hit the pedal to the floor and there was no response. Suddenly, the gas would kick in and my head would fly back like I was hitting G-force. I couldn't find my turn. Dammit. I tried calling the friend's cell phone since my son broke his. (That's another rant for another time). No answer.

I called my daughter. "Where in the hell is the turn?"

"What's YOUR problem? Don't get pissy with me!" She was right. I apologized and took a deep breath. I explained that I had been approximately 5 miles up the road and back and knew his street was around the area, but couldn't find it. Between the dark, the rain, and the car I was at my limit. She gave me a couple of landmarks and I turned around on a side street to search again.

Of course, every time I stopped and changed gears to do a three-point-turn, the car would choke.

Put in neutral, turn the key, put in gear. The car died. Neutral. Ignition. Gas. Gear. Death. AGAIN. I prayed I could hit the gas hard enough to back up without ending up in the ditch or getting hit in the side by an oncoming car. Finally on the main road, I started rolling along at a good clip and thought I'd be alright. BIG mistake. The car is telepathic. EVERY car is telepathic. Without a sound from the engine, I lost speed. I laid the pedal down again but the speedometer continued dropping. I couldn't find the hazard lights. I never use them so why would I know where they are? Did I say it was dark? It was DARK.

Of course, the obnoxious driver behind me in a truck that should be banned for abusing natural resources was riding my ass. If someone is going to get that close to me it should either be 1) an enjoyable and erotic experience or 2) an effort to help me maneuver out of the way. Perhaps he flashed his lights in an effort to light up the inside of my car so I could find the hazard light switch? It didn't work. Instead I was blind. The street I needed was just ahead so I signaled and started turning. Of course, the gas was useless and I didn't move fast enough to suit this guy. He laid on the horn letting me know that someone else on the road was actually more frustrated than I!

There is no consideration and it's not like these problems are new.

My Great-Aunt Violet was quite eccentric, set in her ways but she got around. My mom once met an oncoming car on the road that was being driven by a hat. As she strained to see if a person was under the hat, she realized it was Aunt Violet, her eyes focused in the space between the dashboard and the steering wheel. Around the same time, in the early '70s my sister and I rode with Aunt Violet on a Sunday afternoon in the summer. The main highway hosting beach traffic was a two-lane road near our home. On Sunday afternoons, the northbound lane stayed bumper to bumper. Aunt Violet joined the traffic and assumed the position, letting her hat sit even with the top of the steering wheel. Her car puttered along at what would have been cruising speed in the 1930s. I looked out the back window and said, "Gee Aunt Violet, there sure are a lot of cars behind us."

"Good!" she said. "At least they aren't speeding." She had a commanding presence and there was no arguing with her.

This attitude seems to permiate this side of the family. Her brother was around 6' 3" and a solid, well-built man. He had been a boxer in his day and part of his rugged looks came from having his nose broken several times. He looked intimidating but was a sweet, sweet man. What else would one expect from a man that owned a chihuahua? He had his own well-drilling company and drove a huge truck. One day, at a stop sign, the truck stalled. He was trying to restart it and someone in a compact car behind him started blowing the horn. Uncle Dale slowly got out of the truck and strolled back to the car. The person's window was open, so my uncle put his hands on the roof and stooped down to eye-level with the other driver.

"I tell you what," Uncle Dale said in his slow southern drawl. "You go up and start my truck and I'll sit back here and toot your little horn."

The person sputtered and stammered. Uncle Dale nodded and went back to his truck.

I guess it is days like today that I need to remember the resolute nature of my family, draw on that strength and ignore stupid drivers. After all, assholes tend to adhere to someone's butt.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Scrooged by library rules

We've all had experiences where a simple transaction is blocked because of a rule. Thanks to some idiot that abused a privledge, the rule was established and we now have to jump through hoops. I understand why rules are set and generally try to conform rather than ask for an exception. Once in a blue moon, exceptions can be justified and should be made. Karen "DeafMom" Putz had just such a circumstance in her local Illinois public library.
Her daughter, also deaf, was to attend a production of "The Christmas Carol" with her class. A series of events left her without an interpreter and a suitable option was to obtain the captioned video. The Putz ladies headed for the nearest library, though not the one that receives the family's tax dollars. A reciprocal agreement allows for the loan of non-fiction videos. Fictional videos require a $100 annual fee plus $1 per loan.

Karen explained the entire situation and the librarian confirmed the captioned video was not available at their hometown library. The only option given to Karen was to pay the annual fee.

As a child I had a physical disability and used crutches for several years. I did not want preferential treatment, have never sought pity nor coddled anyone because of their differences or challenges. As an adult, I have worked with people facing physical challenges and my opinion has not changed.

I do believe in reasonable accomodation, but this instance was even beyond accomodating someone with a disability. The child had a school project. The mom had reciprocal rights to check out most materials from that library. Her contact information is on record. Her home library, as a reciprocal lender, confirmed they did not have the video. An exception in this case would not have caused a proverbial flood of patrons to request exceptions since this was a circumstance where the material was not otherwise available.

She wasn't asking to take out reference material - just a classic fiction DVD. Surely it would be better to extend goodwill and customer service than to have the Naperville, IL Library publicly humiliated.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Keep up with your kids!

A mother leaves her two-year-old daughter alone in a car that is double-parked with the engine running. Mom is inside a home chit-chatting while a tow truck leaves with the car. Why are the two men, doing their job, being charged with felony child endangerment? What is more dangerous than leaving a child in an unattended car? Not only did mom leave the child alone, she wasn't watching the car at all, or else she would have seen the men around it.

Until my children were old enough to unfasten their own seatbelts and handle a door lock, I never left them alone in the car. Too many stories circulated about moms leaving the engine running to run in and pay for gas, returning to find their car stolen with the child still inside. Granted, anyone taking my kids would probably have done a u-turn, brought them back and offered apologies and sympathy.

Children are a responsibility. They have to be nurtured, cared for and taught how to behave. Which brings me to another point - once your kids are walking on their own, teach them to keep their hands to themselves and to respect other people's property. Riding and playing on toys they won't purchase is annoying and tantamount to stealing. Would you buy a toy for your child if another kid abused the package or wore out the batteries?

Running around, jumping on store furniture, hiding in clothing racks, and leaving Spiderman in the dairy section is annoying. I wouldn't come to your house and put your toilet paper in the refrigerator.

So please, control your children, teach them some manners and above all - keep up with them!