29 December 2009

Christmas Gifts

The Saturday after Christmas we drove 14 hours from Little Rock to Minneapolis. Snow on the ground from Alma, Arkansas northward. Off and on we discussed the snow that was awaiting us back home, 12+ inches, and the snowblowing/shoveling chore that awaited us when we arrived.

At 6pm we pulled into the driveway and found the problem had been solved by a neighbor with a heart for Christmas. A neighbor who had been out on Christmas morning clearing our path. A neighbor with two boys who had every reason to stay inside but instead decided to teach his kids a lesson on Christmas morning about what being a neighbor is all about.

I won't remember some of the gifts I got this year, but I won't forget this one, nor will my family.

21 December 2009

South Carolina, Christmas and Family

The last weekend was a quick trip to South Carolina. I won't be with my Mom and brothers for Christmas but I had a couple of days free for a flight to their home.

I can put on five pounds just by walking into my Mom's kitchen. It's the only place in the world where the much-maligned Christmas fruitcake tastes good enough for seconds. The worlds best fudge. Grits and eggs for breakfast. Soup beans on the supper table.

A lot of the trappings of Christmas when I was a child have long gone. Ornaments broken or lost. Decorations that could not withstand the wear of three boys and four grandkids. A few remain. Green candleholders that spell NOEL. Knit Santa faces on doorknobs. Moravian star over above the porch steps. A christmas cactus that refuses to die and insists on blooming right around this time each year.

We went to Christmas services together, just mom and me. Spring Valley Baptist Church. My brothers, the smart one and the chosen one, had other commitments. How many Christmas services have we been to together? I have no doubt that when I was three months old she hauled me to my first one. Over the years they grew in importance and somewhere along the line I finally got it, at least part of it. Every Christmas service helps me understand this thing a little bit better. The incomprehensible. The puzzle. The Lord of the Universe coming to earth in the form of the creature created most like him. God become flesh. The wonderful mystery surrounding his blessed mother.

I confess that I dozed off during the service. We left shaking a few hands, meeting a few of her friends, exchanging Christmas greetings. It was nice to be there, repeating a ritual that goes back to my childhood, my parents childhood, my grandparents childhood, the Sunday Christmas service.

When I was a child and we had Christmas at my grandmother's in East Tennessee, the Sunday service was at First Freewill Baptist of Elizabethton. The deacons passed a bag filled with fruit and candy to everyone afterwards. Every Christmas I think about that and the kick we would get from the very simplest of gifts. There was a message in that bag. The best gifts are often the humblest. I got it then, I get it now.

The last person I spoke to before leaving the state was the TSA agent at the gate. "I have a question for you". She surprised me, not sure what was next. "Can you name Santa's reindeer?"she asked with the warmest of smiles. Not only could I answer that,  I can also describe the sound of reindeer walking on my grandmother's roof.

16 December 2009

It's Winter in Minnesota

And that means........
  • The squeegy at the gas station is frozen in the bucket of windshield cleaner
  • The half cup of coffee you left in the car in the morning is a cup of black ice in the evening
  • Your overcoat crackles as you walk outside
  • You feel the cold through the soles of your shoes
  • That unopened coke can in your car becomes a soda bomb sometime during the day
  • The ice chunks on your wheel wells start looking nice
  • All the cars are the same shade of road salt grey
  • Wind chill factor is meaningless
  • Snowblower envy
  • You stroll to the mailbox in shirtsleeves if the temp warms up to the twenties
  • Global warming seems to be taking way too long
  • The stars are out at 5pm and 7pm seems way past bedtime.
  • A "great" weekend is any time the temp is in the 30's. 
  • Any flight you're on is to someplace warmer. 
  • You love it 

08 December 2009


Youngest daughter got her driver's license today. Beat us all in having the best driver's test success story, as it was taken during the first big snowfall of the season. Nothing like driving in snow for the first time during your driving test! Good work.

Big winter finally moving in. Snow blower comes out tomorrow morning around 5am. First time of the season, a little later than normal.

The forecast for tonite: Snow and areas of blowing snow. Low around 10. Blustery, with a north northeast wind between 20 and 28 mph, with gusts as high as 39 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100%. Total nighttime snow accumulation of 3 to 7 inches possible.

02 December 2009


In business, I'm all for people making as much money as they honestly can. But I don't like it when I feel like I've been tricked, even when I deserved it. Two nights ago I stayed at the Hilton on O'Farrell St. in San Francisco. Not the best of hotels, but reliable, predictable, within walking distance of the financial district, and adjacent to a great Indian restaurant.
The M&M's I took from the mini-bar were great. My favourite candy. I dozed off with a half-empty regular sized bag next to me. What did they cost me upon checkout? $8.35.

I asked for it. I'm sure there was a sign in the room with the prices posted. I knew they would cost double or triple the price at Wal-Mart. But ten times more? Still bugging me.

So they got a few extra bucks, perhaps $5 more than most hotels. But rather my leaving as a satisfied customer planning to come back, I left thinking about the type of attitude that would charge so much for so little and wondering where else had they stuck it to me.

Shortsightedness is a bad habit. I suspect this is a problem elsewhere at this Hilton. No doubt, they'll get by without me, and the other late-night candy cravers. I stay there about twice a year. But loyal customers are hard to come by, and they just lost one......

Then again, they were pretty good M&M's.