Sunday, December 30, 2012

Don't Cry 'Uncle.'

Lately, I've been thinking about some of the more significant stories of my growing up.  There are always people speaking different things over us and our lives.  This is another story like the 'Barn Floor' where I got some encouragement.  My uncle was the source on this particular occasion.

My uncle has a farm just next door to my Grandfather's farm.  My dad and I went one day to help chop some wood in the back corner of one of the fields.  After cutting and chopping, we loaded the wood into the trailer and pulled it back to the barn with the tractor.

When we got ready to load the trailer, my uncle told me to climb up in the driver's seat.  I was not very good at backing up a trailer.  This may have even been the first time I had ever tried.  I climbed up and backed up slowly. I turned the wheel the wrong way and the trailer jack-knifed off to the side.  The tongue of the trailer was bound against the hitch and one of the bolts in the tongue snapped.

My uncle walked back to the barn to get another bolt while my dad and I kept cutting, splitting, and stacking.  Uncle returned a short while later with a new bolt and some tools to make the repair.  We replaced the bolt in short order and he told me to climb back up in the driver's seat and try again.  I protested, lest I break another bolt.  He persisted, and I climbed back up for another try.

I first pulled ahead to straighten the trailer and then began backing up slowly remembering that I needed to turn the wheel away from the intended direction of the trailer. I corrected this way, and that way as I went slowly backward craning my neck to keep track of my progress.  It went well for a short time, but almost inevitably, I overcorrected and the trailer shot sideways and jack-knifed.  Snap!

Back to the workshop for another bolt.  We repeated this procedure a total of about 5 times.  The thing that struck me that day was the single bolt that Uncle brought back from the barn each time.  He only ever brought one.  Each time, he believed that I might get it right this time.  Each time he told me to climb back up in the driver's seat.

Each time he showed me that my past failures were not predictors of my potential for success.

May your failures of 2012 be transformed into the successes of 2013.

Note to self: Don't cry 'uncle.'

Sunday, December 23, 2012

On Scrooge and the Grinch

Every year, it seems that I hear someone saying they can't wait until the holidays are over.  It starts at Thanksgiving with someone slaving for days to prepare the perfect feast for dozens of relatives.  It ends with a paucity of thank yous and un-met expectations of gratitude for the food, the decorations, the hospitality. . . and the list goes on.

Then, we dive into Back Friday sales keeping our kids out 'til midnight so we can buy them twice as many presents if we get them all for 1/2 price.  We hide the gifts, bribe the kids into good behavior with the promise of dreams coming true on Christmas morning.  Then, we rush through the towers of gifts hardly having time to acknowledge one before moving on to the next. . . places to go, people to see and more gifts to unwrap.

Six weeks of greed can be exhausting.  Agreed?  It's enough to turn the most ambitious among us into Scrooges and Grinches.

By New Year's we're laden with guilt after our binge and ready to make restitution with diets and budget cuts and promises that next year will be different.

I can't help but think, "Maybe we're doing it wrong."

The other night we were scheduled to go to a nursing home and sing Christmas carols.  On the way there, Mrs O and I had a disagreement. . . actually, it was just a 'heated agreement!'  We both agreed that I was being a jerk.  There wasn't any disagreement about it!  Things were feeling pretty ugly going into that nursing home and I had all I could do to begin singing.

Then I started singing.

I saw the elderly folk smiling as we performed our amateurish caroling.  I spoke with a World War II veteran who was delighted to have someone who would listen to his stories.  I also met one lady with a strange looking eye.  I don't know if it was glass or if she had cataracts, but it induced a sense of hesitation to say the least.  At the end of the caroling, my two boys ran up to her and wrapped their arms around her.  They wished her a Merry Christmas.

She said, "That was the best Christmas gift ever!"

I left the nursing home that night feeling quite differently than I had upon arriving.  It's not really that surprising when I think about it.  Changing the focus of my actions changed the focus of my thinking.

We can do the same thing with our Christmas traditions.  If you are having trouble with the hustle and bustle of the holidays, try changing the focus of your actions.  If your family is less than grateful for your efforts, put that effort toward an outwardly focused cause.

Invite your ungrateful family members to join you in serving the homeless on Christmas Eve.

Invite some friends to visit an orphanage Christmas morning with a basket of trinkets from the dollar store.

Instead of taking up a seat at your church's Christmas Eve service, volunteer to greet people at the door, decorate, or serve up the snacks.

Changing your focus changes your life.  In fact, it's life inducing, because these are the things life is made of.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

9 days left. . .

Are you a gift-buying procrastinator?  Are you trying to find the perfect gift for the neighbor you don't know all that well?  What about gift-giving etiquette for the workplace?  Have a co-worker that celebrates a different holiday?

Well, Mrs O came across a great resource for give giving and I thought I'd share it.  It's called Cool Mom Picks.  They list all sorts of ideas for all sorts of people and they break down their suggestions by price range.  From DIY homemade gift ideas to gifts that give back by supporting African women or literacy initiatives, there are tons of great ideas.   

Let this be your springboard!

If the above link doesn't work for whatever reason, here's the URL you can paste into the address bar of your web browser:

Also, for the gent who has trouble finding the perfect gift for his lady, don't forget to take advantage of things like pinterest and facebook.  If she likes it on facebook and pinterest, she might like it under the tree as well!

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Touch of Whimsy

My Grandpa is a man of little whimsy, but during the summer projects that I did with him, he would sometimes recite these silly rhymes.  I'll remember them as long as I live.

I did a little looking around and it seems that these are rhymes that were popular in the '30s and '40s.  There are many versions, but this is the way I remember it.  It appears the author may be Asa Martin, a country/folk musician from Kentucky in the early 1900's.  If anyone knows where they came from originally, I'd love to hear more about it!

"Twas midnight on the ocean,
Not a streetcar was in sight.
The sun was shining brightly
For it rained all day that night.

"One evening as the rising sun
Was setting in the West,
All the fishes in the trees
Were cuddled in their nests.

"On a summer's day one winter
As the rain was snowing fast,
A barefoot girl with shoes on
Stood sitting on the grass.

"The organ peeled potatoes.
Lard was rendered by the choir.
When the sexton rang the dishrag
Someone set the church on fire.

"'Holy Smoke!' the preacher yelled
As he madly tore his hair.
Now, his head resembles heaven
For there is no parting there."

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The barn floor

One of my fondest memories is working with my grandfather on some of the projects around his farm.  I love telling this story to my boys.  I don't know who enjoys it more, them or me!

I remember one summer working on replacing the barn floor.  We first had to remove all of the equipment sitting on the old floor.  Then we continued by pulling up the old rough hewn boards.  Some of them weren't even nailed down and Grandpa slipped on one of the boards and fell through to the dirt floor, about 8 feet below.

I ran inside to get Grammie and fortunately, Grandpa wasn't hurt.  We continued our job of replacing the boards.  That summer, my cousin was working with us.  He was only about four years old, but he had--and still has--a strong work ethic and enjoys manual labor.

When we got to the point of laying down the new floor on the old boards, we used 2x6 boards and 16d galvanized spikes.  These are fairly thick boards and large nails.  They're not easy to drive.  One of us would start a nail for my cousin and while he tap-tap-tapped away, we'd work on a row of 2x6 boards.  My cousin worked feverishly on his 16d spike.  He missed more than he hit the head of the spike, but he succeeded.  At the end of the day, his spike was fully driven.

My favorite part of the story, though, is what Grandpa said to me at the end of the day.  He brought me over to review the day's work for our four-year-old partner.  There, in the soft wood, were a large number of very small dents surrounding the 16d spike over about an 6 inch circle.  With a grin, he said, "You used to do that!"

Why did I like that so much?  Because in not so many words, he told me, "You have come a long way.  You have what it takes."  He was saying that he had believed in me back when a day's work was driving a single nail and hitting the wood more than hitting my target.  He gave me the freedom to miss my mark, because I would eventually learn to hit the nail on the head.