Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year

In less than two hours, Eastern Standard Time, 2007 will be done. Out with the old, in with the new.

New Year’s Day is my favorite holiday of the year. It symbolizes fresh starts and opens the door to positive changes and new opportunities. New Year’s Day is a communal, global celebration, cutting across most of the barriers we put up between us. There is no particular religious, political, racial or class connotation associated with the day. We can all enjoy it in some way.

As I watch TV coverage of the clock striking twelve in various cities and countries around the world, I try to picture what it is like being there. It’s been 2008 in Australia since 8:00 am here near Washington DC. It’s been 2008 in China, Russia, Iraq and Europe for several hours now.

Every year I go through a month-long goal-setting ritual, starting with New Year’s Day and ending on my birthday near the end of January. It’s not a rigid, formal thing – just a “taking stock of last year and looking ahead to next year” process. I did hit a couple of goals this year but it was a mostly uninspired twelve months. I’m hoping for a more engaging year in 2008.

Happy New Year to you and thanks for visiting.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Restless Creativity

Did you notice that I changed my blog a little? No reason. Just felt like it. A little restless creativity.

Most of what I do for work and fun involves creativity of some kind and sometimes I get restless. My friends and coworkers might laugh at this because they probably see me as consistant, almost boring. But I never get tired of trying to create something and sometimes I just change things for the sake of changing them.

I write, voice, produce and edit radio commercials for a living. I surround myself with music, sometimes editing it, other times playing it on the radio. My hobbies include photography and writing. My writing includes blogging, journal keeping, proposal writing and poetry. Sometimes I build things around the house, like storage units. If I had to describe who I am, using very few words and no job descriptions, I'd call myself a story teller.

Where do these creative interests come from? My Dad was an engineer and Mom was a housewife. In my younger days, before I obsessively analyzed every last element of my life, I would have stopped there and assumed my creativity was a fluke. How could I learn creativity from a man who designed plumbing systems for shopping centers and a woman who washed clothes and cooked meals for her kids?

Upon further reflection (or analysis), however, I see that I grew up surrounded by creativity. Part of my Dad's engineering and design job involved drawing plans and creatively locating pipes, restrooms, water fountains and fire sprinklers. Mom was in the same line of work at one time. Dad's hobbies included photography and furniture making; in his youth he played piano. When Mom wasn't doing housewife stuff, she was painting. Two of her five paintings that survived the Katrina flood are on the wall of my home office.

Mom and Dad both liked to tell stories. Dad wrote a short autobiography during the early days of his battle with Parkinson's because he wanted to chronicle as much of his life as he remembered before it would be lost to dimentia. Mom told her stories of her life each time I visited her in the nursing home. She told some of the same stories many times, then out of the blue she'd tell a new one.

So I just added this little story while taking a break from the decidedly uncreative chore of straightening out my perpetually messy home office. My restless creativy impulse dragged me from the closet to the keyboard.

That's my story and I'm stiking to it.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Instead of a tree ...

I mentioned in an earlier post that we didn't put up a Christmas tree this year. We did decorate, however.

This is the fireplace this morning, complete with fire.

And these are the gifts. Some are for the dogs. Many are for me - my wife gave me some new tools, one individually-wraped tool at a time. We spent an hour opening gifts, even though it's just the two of us and three dogs.

Here I am with one of the dogs.

M e r r y C h r i s t m a s !

Monday, December 24, 2007

Then One Foggy Christmas Eve

Sometimes cultural icons become so much a part of our lives that we forget how they started. Maybe we never knew how they started.

Case in point: Santa’s reindeer and Rudolph. We all know the song and the basic story, but do we know how each began?

I looked it up on Google and here are a few things I found:

- According to at least one website, there were eight reindeer in the original story but no Rudolph.

- This website says the extra reindeer was created by an advertising guy at Montgomery Ward Department Stores in 1939 and his brother-in-law wrote the song a few years later. Gene Autry had a big hit with the song in 1949 and the legend took flight, so to speak.

- The same site also says the story changed over the years and in the original, Rudolph’s parents were not embarrassed by his red nose.

- Rollo and Reginald were also considered as names for the character, according to this site. Hmm, Reginald the Red Nosed Reindeer? I think not.

- And this site points out that the original eight reindeer were all female.

Christmas isn’t the only holiday each December. Although it is named for the holiday, the site All Things Christmas does a pretty good job of providing background information on many celebrations.

The origin of Christmas is religious but in American culture it can be viewed as a center piece celebration for family, friends, love and nature. For me, the Merry Christmas greeting and the good wishes that go with it include sentiments involved in Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice ... even Festivus.

So to quote the last line in another famous poem, “Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.”

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas Meme

I saw this on DeeJay’s Age Is All In The Mind blog and thought I’d do this myself. Post your version too and let me know where.

1. Do you put up a real tree or artificial?
Artificial – much less messy. No tree this year, however, because we’re in the middle of a huge ‘reorganize the house’ project. We did put up some decorations on the fireplace mantle and on some shelves and there are lights in some of the trees in the front yard.

2. When do you put up your tree?
At the end of November, usually on Thanksgiving weekend.

3. When do you take down the tree?
New Years Day.

4. Do you like eggnog?

5. Favorite gift received as a child?
A plastic kid-size steering wheel/instrument panel thing so I could pretend to be driving a car. It was similar to this:

6. Worst Christmas gift ever received?
No one thing, just the occasional shirt or sweater that didn’t go with anything else in my wardrobe.

7. Favorite Christmas movie?
It’s A Wonderful Life

8. Have you ever recycled a present?
Do you think I’m going to admit that here? I know some of my readers in real life. :)

9. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas?
Pumpkin pie

10. Favorite Christmas song?
The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire), especially the classic Nat King Cole version and a 1990s version by Trisha Yearwood

11. Most annoying thing about this time of year?
Crowds at the mall and too many parties.

12. What you love most about the holiday?
A chance to think about friends and family.

13. How many reindeer did Santa have?
Uhh, I’m not sure. So I looked it up ... eight plus Rudolf. More about this in another post.

14. Best Christmas memory?
I can’t name a best, but one of the most memorable was the first one with my wife. We had a nice meal, opened presents and then I lit a fire. It was our first fire in that house and I didn’t realize the fireplace flue wasn’t fully open. Smoke started pouring into the room, the smoke detector went off, we opened the door to vent the room – the outside temperature was in the teens that night. Fortunately the only damage was to my ego and the only injuries came from laughing so hard it hurt.

15. If you could have one Christmas wish what would it be?
To have one more Christmas with my parents. The last few years they were alive, I was never able to be back home on Christmas Day and if I could relive those years, I would be there every Christmas.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Summer Is Coming

Here is a very interesting quirk of nature. Today is the Winter Solstice, the day with the shortest daylight and the longest amount of night; it is the official first day of winter.

Here is the quirk part: the coldest two or three months of the year are ahead of us, yet each day from tomorrow till June, there will be more daylight than the day before. More sunshine, colder temperatures … go figure.

As is often the case, nature provides an interesting balance. Winter is a pain in the butt, with depressingly cold temperatures and bad weather conditions including ice and snow. But each day is longer, providing more depression-relieving sunshine as well as the optimistic reminder that summer is coming.

Of course, all of this applies to the Northern Hemisphere. In the Southern Hemisphere, today is the longest day and the Summer Solstice.

Santa Claus could be wearing a Speedo in Sydney.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Tonight’s Channel Surfing

My new computer has a TV tuner, which means I can surf the channels while I surf the net. I could just stop on the Guide channel and read the list of what’s on, but nooooo – I’d rather stop at each channel to confirm my suspicion that there isn’t anything on tonight that I want to watch.

Care to join me for my channel surfing tour? Here’s some of what’s on:

Home Alone

Mary Poppins

Jingle All The Way – Friday must be movie night.

Man vs. Wild – if you catch a ParanĂ¡ for food, make sure you cook it thoroughly because it has many parasites … I’ve always wanted to know that.

CSI: Miami – does David Caruso ever face the camera? For nearly every scene he is standing sideways. And do you think that just once … he could say the words to … a whole sentence … in a row … without … pausing?

A Crown Royal commercial – does it taste as good as it looks? I don’t remember. I mostly drink wine and sometimes beer.

White Christmas – Bing sings the classic to soldiers in the middle of a war zone. Hmmmm.

History Channel - a promo for a show about the hunt for John Wilkes Booth.

VH1 – The 100 Greatest Songs of the 1990s – You do know that the singer’s name is NOT Hootie, don’t you?

City SlickersI’ve had two mid-life crisis periods and in neither case did I want to go on a trail drive.

Him - Four people arguing about Drew Peterson and his missing wife.

Rachel Ray – any day now, she’ll be on more channels than Law & Order reruns.

Travel Channel – a program about a haunted lighthouse

NUMB3RS – that’s how they spell it. A drama about numerology geeks who solve crimes. Isn’t it cool that geeks are finally stars? CSI, CSI: Miami, CSI: New York, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Cold Case – all shows with science geek characters in prominent roles.

Him again, on Dateline - a discussion about Drew Peterson and his missing wife. Him again! This is almost as annoying as the OJ case was.

BBC World News. Why do people who speak English with a British accent always sound so intelligent? This anchor’s story about a little girl’s missing goldfish sounds like a doctoral dissertation.

Weather Channel – patchy drizzle? Is that a meteorological term? And why are they playing the Charlie Brown music during my Local On The 8s?

ESPN – Dallas is winning, with 6 left in the 1st half.

ESPN2 – FLA ATL is ahead of MEMPHIS. Who is FLA ATL and why are these teams playing in the Louisiana Superdome? Guess I’m not much of a sports fan. Where is the NASCAR Channel?

Comcast SportsNet DC - with all these sports channels, I wish I was more of a sports fan. Where is the Dog Agility Channel? Can I get that if I buy the top shelf package? Or would I have 300 channels and nothing to watch, rather than my current 78 channels and nothing to watch?

Under The Mistletoe – looks like every Christmas movie except It’s A Wonderful Life is on tonight.

The 40 Year Old Virgin – OK, not every movie tonight is a Christmas movie.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Deanna Bogart Is So Cool

Because of a computer crash a few weeks ago, I am reloading my iPod. I decided to dig deep into my collection this time and find music I haven’t listened to in a long time. This little project led me to a performer I used to see a lot but haven’t seen in many years. I even knew her at one time, but I don’t know that she’d remember me.

Here is a video that showcases only a small part of Deanna Bogart’s amazing talent. She is an outstanding piano player, a great saxophonist, singer and writer and does some amazing live shows. Her style is blues and boogie with country, swing and a bunch of other things mixed in.

This is not a commercial; I’m just a big fan and I plan to go see her again soon.

Take a break and enjoy, then check her website to see if she is playing anywhere near you.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Life Lessons In A Song

Songs have always had the potential to provide advice and inspiration. Songs often champion a cause, portray someone’s life, serve as an anthem, paint a picture, conjure up a memory or lead to love.

My favorite song these days gives advice. The singer sees a news story about a man who just turned 102; the man is asked what he thinks is the secret to life. This is part of his answer:

Don't blink
Just like that you're six years old and you take a nap and you
Wake up and you're twenty-five and your high school sweetheart becomes your wife
Don't blink
You just might miss your babies growing like mine did
Turning into moms and dads next thing you know your "better half"
Of fifty years is there in bed
And you're praying God takes you instead
Trust me friend a hundred years goes faster than you think
So don't blink.

These lyrics are part of a fairly new song by Kenny Chesney, and as with many country music songs, the message is basic and direct. In this case: life goes by fast, don’t blink or you’ll miss it. There is nothing particularly original about the concept, but these lyrics give it a nice twist and Chesney’s voice has exactly the right amount of emotion to bring the message to life.

There are two other songs that I believe offer life lessons in a fairly simple, but powerful way (in spite of questionable grammar). In Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying,” the singer looks into what someone might do if he found out he had a life-threatening disease and would die soon. Part of the answer in the song:

He said I was finally the husband
that most the time I wasn't
and I became a friend
a friend would like to have.
And all of the sudden going fishing
wasn't such an imposition
and I went three times that year I lost my dad

I went skydivin', I went rocky mountain climbing,
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Foo Man Chu;
and I love deeper and spoke sweeter
and I watch an eagle as it was flying,
and he said someday I hope you get the chance
to live like you were dying.

Another “life” song is “The Dance,” from the first Garth Brooks album.

And now I'm glad I didn't know
The way it all would end the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance I could have missed the pain
But I'd of had to miss the dance.

Boomers often wake up to the realization that more of our life is behind us than ahead of us. Songs like this serve a great purpose in that they remind us that life is short. There can be much pain in life, but don’t avoid it; the experience makes us stronger.

Don’t miss out on life, live life. It goes by faster than you think, so don’t blink.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Life in 2007

A fifty-something friend sent me this. I don't know the origin, but I do know how true it is, no matter what your age.

You know you're living in 2007 when...

1. You accidentally enter your password on the microwave.
2. You haven't played solitaire with real cards in years.
3. You have a list of 15 phone numbers to reach your family of three.
4. You e-mail the person who works at the desk next to you.
5. Your reason for not staying in touch with friends and family is that they don't have e-mail addresses.
6. You pull up in your own driveway and use your cell phone to see if anyone is home to help you carry in the groceries.
7. Every commercial on television has a web site at the bottom of the screen.
8. Leaving the house without your cell phone, which you didn't have the first 20 or 30 (or 60) years of your life, is now a cause for panic and you turn around to go and get it.
10. You get up in the morning and go on line before getting your coffee.
11. You start tilting your head sideways to smile. :)
12. You're reading this and nodding and laughing.
13. Even worse, you know exactly to whom you are going to forward this message.
14. You are too busy to notice there was no #9 on this list.
15. You actually scrolled back up to check that there wasn't a#9 on this list
AND NOW U R LAUGHING at yourself.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Even If You Know How It Ends

Tonight my wife and I did something I’ve wanted us to do for as long as I’ve known her. We saw a live performance of the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol.

I often feel the effects of holiday depression or holiday blues. I was on a slow, downward spiral this week, feeling worse as the days progressed, not sleeping well, losing interest in many things and feeling unmotivated. Friday was a fairly crappy day at work, ending with computer problems, followed by having to handle a work problem from home in the middle of my very late dinner. One of the radio stations I work with plays all Christmas music each December and the words “bah, humbug” formed on my lips each time I walked through their hallways this week. In short, I was feeling like a Scrooge. Merry Christmas, indeed! Christmas is a humbug!

Somewhere deep in my head, I was happy that my wife finally agreed to see A Christmas Carol with me after 13 years of saying no or making some excuse. It’s not that she doesn’t like plays or going places with me, she just doesn’t usually like going out. And my previous requests involved seeing this classic at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC – yes, the Lincoln assassination theatre. I saw it there once, more than 20 years ago, and have always wanted to repeat the experience. She just does not like to go into DC. What made things different this year is that there was a performance at the theatre right here in our county.

For me, A Christmas Carol is a lot like It’s A Wonderful Life. Even though I know how it ends, I enjoy taking in all of the steps leading to the end. Sometimes I get a little misty-eyed at the end because I see someone realize there is value and joy to living. Both of these stories put me in a good mood.

To add to the enjoyment of this evening, we saw this performance in a restored old movie house from the 20s or 30s. We share a fondness for these old buildings. This place is the heart of cultural life in the county; it might very well be the only cultural life in the county.

So with ten days left till December 25th, my Ghost of Christmas Future is pointing to a season that I might actually survive with smile on my face.

Friday, December 07, 2007

She's Fifty

If you know that the woman in this picture ...

is the same person as the girl in this picture ...

you might be fifty-something or older. Or you just might be a student of American history. Maybe you just watch a lot of television.

Caroline Kennedy turned 50 last week.

For me, this is the most memorable photo of the daughter of the 35th President of the U.S.