Christmas Traditions

Long gone are the Christmas traditions I grew up with during childhood. I’m not sure I can remember any from that part of my life. Not unless you count having to hang each icicle on the tree individually!

Seriously, my wife, Kathleen, and I have established our own Christmas traditions. Christmas Eve starts with a candle lighting service at church. If we don’t eat before going, we have a quick meal when we get home and then head to the table we keep the little tree and the presents on.

I’m not sure why we started doing our opening of presents on Christmas Eve, but it makes Christmas morning easier. (While I was growing up, my mother’s health situation required her to eat breakfast before we could do presents; obviously not a kid-friendly necessity.)

After that, we put the DVD of Celtic Woman’s  Christmas special on and thoroughly enjoy the music and the costumes. And we always express our amazement at the way the CW violinist dances and prances around on stage while playing so beautifully!

Breakfast on Christmas morning is apt to be one of the favorites we usually only have on weekends–waffles or pancakes. This year we’re getting bacon bits to put in the waffles.

Although we always eat out for Thanksgiving dinner, I doubt there are any restaurants open on Christmas day. Sometimes we splurge and buy crab for me to make crab cakes. Or a leg of lamb. But this year Kathleen is going to fix pizza and a sugar-free apple pie. Yum!

This year will be the beginning of a new tradition. We saw the animated movie The Star when it came out last year and then bought the DVD to watch on Christmas Day. As much as we enjoyed it last year, it’s been tough to hold off watching it ever since the DVD arrived.

Most important of all traditions, however, is making a point of remembering that Christmas isn’t really about any of those things. It’s the celebration of the birth of our Savior and Lord. How God could impregnate Mary supernaturally is something we’ll never be able to comprehend, but the fact that Jesus was both God and man is an essential element of the Christian faith.

That makes His the most worthwhile birthday of any to celebrate year in and year out.

Thanks to my good friend Tammy Van Gils for her recent blog post about Christmas traditions; that’s what inspired me to write about Kathleen’s and my traditions.

Do you have any special traditions? How about sharing a comment.

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

Now available on Kindle!

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Little Aids for an Older Me

I’ve never been the world’s most coordinated person. Even a slow dance with my daughter at her wedding in 2011 (yes, I can remember the date–9/10/11) required my constant attention, but at least I didn’t fall or knock her or anyone else down.

Nonetheless, it’s not a wonder I started using one of my many homemade walking sticks some years ago when walking for exercise . I’ve always been fond of telling people it’s because I can trip over a line in the floor. Perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration, but if there’s a slick or ever so slightly uneven spot where I’m walking, one of my feet is sure to find it.

I have to admit I occasionally use a walking stick when shopping or just going somewhere where having something to lean on is useful.

When will I really need to use it all the time? No idea. But at least I’m prepared.

But walking isn’t the only activity aging affects. Getting in and out of the shower–and remaining upright while showering–and in and out of the car are things younger people probably take for granted.

But not me.

Although my mother-in-law doesn’t have a shower handle, she’s the person who made me realize how much I needed one. After spilling some shampoo in the bottom of the tub one day, I needed something I didn’t have to keep from sliding and falling down.  (No, I didn’t fall, but I was on pins and needles about the possibility.)

Even on a normal daily basis, simply leaning against the wall while raising each leg in turn to wash my feet didn’t make me feel safe. Rinsing my hair (with eyes closed, of course) tended to make me feel less steady. And totally drying one leg and foot and setting it out on the bath mat while the other remained in the tub felt especially dangerous.

So I found a shower bar online and managed to install it without doing too much damage to the bathroom.

The other two gadgets I’ve found useful are for the car; we have one of each in both cars. A car cane–I learned about that from my mother-in-law who does use one–and a swivel cushion make sitting down and getting out of the car far easier.

Two gotchas about the car cane. Some have all kinds of extra stuff–flashlight, window breaker, seat belt cutter–you get the idea. That’s not one of the gotchas. I just threw that in to see if you were paying attention.

The rubber handle of some car canes comes off. Imagine that you’ve just lowered yourself into your seat and dutifully removed the cane from the hook it attaches to. And then you close the door and hear (and feel) a loud clunk.

Whoops! The handle is still in your hand, but the rest of the cane is still in the door, blocking it from closing.

The other gotcha has to do with the user’s remembering to unhook the cane before attempting to close the door. Those canes are pretty strong, but both of ours have a few nicks from my failure to unhook the cane first.

The swivel cushion is a whole different story; it won’t get caught in the door unless it falls out when you get out–highly unlikely. It’s important to get a cushion that fits within the depressed part of the car seat. And it’s more of a challenge to use if the seat is so far forward that you must watch your knees while using it.

Nonetheless, it’s a wonderful gadget to keep from having to slide into a car seat.

Not to mention the fact that swiveling is fun if you have the kind of sense of humor I have.

That’s all, folks. If you’re older, or if some of the needs I’ve described apply to you, Amazon has a good variety of car canes, swivel cushions, and shower bars. And, by all means, if you care about some older person who might benefit from one or all of these things, they make great–albeit strange–gifts.

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

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Electrifying Kisses

 

We’re not totally in freezing weather yet, but it’s coming soon…and far too fast.

I’m not overly fond of cold weather, although it does kill the grass until spring and frees me from having to mow the lawn at least once a week.

And, my word! My Honda Civic, which automatically calculates gas mileage, goes down from an average of 29 mpg in-town driving to 21 or 22. Partially because I have to run the car a little while to defrost it and warm the inside just a tad. And partially because the tire pressure warning light comes on periodically and it takes me a while to use the plug-in tire inflator.

I used to like cold weather better than hot weather. But, with the coming of age, I’ve reversed my preference. And it has nothing to do with gas or grass.

It has to do touching. Touching almost anything.

Cold weather at our house means almost everything I touch shocks me. I always hear it, and—more times than I like to think about—I even see the spark.

Once the weather gets cold enough for that to happen, I’m tempted to put on gloves before touching the front door handle, even if I’m not going outside. Or a light switch.

 

DoorKnob     LightSwitch

 

I touch the plastic part of the pet gate latch first in the hopes the static electricity will leave me alone for once. I tiptoe across the carpet to try to prevent static buildup.

I haven’t totally given up the idea of dragging a chain wherever I walk inside to ground myself. (Yes, I know that probably wouldn’t really work.)

Remaining well grounded is important for a seventy-two-year-old man, anyhow, isn’t it? In every way.

But the most shocking problem occurs when Kathleen and I kiss. If one of us has just scuffed across the carpet,  kissing becomes an electrifying experience. Kissing isn’t supposed to be painful, is it? Or something to be apprehensive about doing?

I don’t know how to solve other shock problems, but now Kathleen and I touch  fingertips before kissing. Better to do that and get the shock out of the way so we can have a safe, spark-free kiss.

 

FingerTouch    kiss

 

Exciting kisses are one thing. But shocking ones are awful.

If you have or have had any shocking experiences during winter, how about sharing a comment.

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

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Living in the Past, Present, or Future?

We older folks are often accused of living in the past and thinking everything back then was so much better than now. I’m not one of them.

As a few of you may recall from a former blog post, I don’t seem to have nearly as many memories of my childhood and teen years as adults typically have. I attribute that, whether correctly or not, to the acute viral encephalitis that could have killed me or left me in a vegetative state, but from which God restored me to a reasonable normal condition. But one that was somewhat fuzzy about the past.

That was in the eighth grade. I wouldn’t want to relive that part of my past.

College years were fine, but not exciting. Neither was my teaching career or my years at the Maryland State Job Service as a counselor/interviewer.

Life grew more meaningful when I took some computer programming courses and went to work at the International Mission Board. Working behind the scenes of something important gave me a feeling of significance I’d never experienced before. I had some wonderful successes before I started having problems with a new job assignment.

And then I got downsized after almost nineteen years.

Those memories aren’t things to dwell on. Despite the many good moments, I’ll never think of those years as “the good old days.”

 

What about the future?

As a Christian, I’m not afraid of death, although I would love to have the assurance that the process of dying would be quick and painless…and that my wife, Kathleen, and I would die at the same time so neither of us would have to face life without the other.

But the future–at least the part where I’m still alive on earth–isn’t knowable.

I don’t have many dreams about what I’d like the future to hold. Yes, of course I’d like for my novels–some of them, anyhow–to suddenly take off and start selling. Not because I care about the income, but because I want to know they’re blessing and entertaining readers.

I can’t help wishing and hoping (yes, and praying, too) that at least one of my songs will end up in a collection of praise and worship songs. Maybe even in a hymn book!

I hate to admit it, but when I’m expecting a shipment of some tiny something-or-other from Amazon, you’d almost think I was a little kid waiting for his parents to wake up on Christmas morning so he can start opening presents.

That’s a bit weird, maybe, but that’s how I am. My future on earth doesn’t promise to be the best time of my life. Especially as my body falls apart a little more year by year. I hope and pray my mind doesn’t do the same thing.

And the present?

That leaves the present. I’ve ended up with two skills–two things I love using–I’m not able to use the way I’d like to. Yes, I’ll keep working on developing them even more, but knowing I may be doing it only for my own benefit is discouraging.

Until yesterday–or was it this morning?–I was super-frustrated at what I perceived as my lack of usefulness. I couldn’t see myself accomplishing anything, and that thought was more depressing than I’d like to think about.

It’s no wonder. Many–maybe most–of the authors I know have more book ideas running through their heads than they can use in a lifetime. I don’t.

I’d started working on a sequel to one of my teen books. I’d even designed a cover for it and written a few chapters.

But I just couldn’t get excited about it and haven’t been able to proceed. It’s not a matter of writer’s block, but of questioning whether this was what I should be doing.

You can better understand now why I was feeling useless and insignificant, at least in the areas of my life that are so important.

But I prayed, and I kept praying, and God led me back to an idea I had begun considering in January of this year. Why I set it aside then, I couldn’t tell you.

But I’ve fallen in love with it. Working on it won’t restore my losses in other areas, but I feel good again. Great!

Living in the present seems to work best, as long as I don’t totally forget the past or fail to consider the future. And when today’s present becomes the past, I’ll find something in that future time to make that present time the best.

Where do you live–past, present, or future? How about leaving a comment?

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

P.S. Here’s the new cover and title for what was previously published as PROJECT MUFFINTOP.

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Always Ask Your Users…or Your Readers

A number of years ago I worked with a fellow who was clever at making small wooden objects. Although they were all very nicely done, the only one I remember was a small desk plaque that had a Susan B. Anthony dollar coin mounted on it. Inscribed beneath it was something like “Always ask your users.”

Whatever equally clever government employees came up with the Anthony dollar obviously failed to consider the needs, wants, and wishes of the American public. By the time my co-worker starting making those plaques, that coin had long since proved as unpopular as a stomach virus and eventually disappeared. Hence the “Always ask your users.”

Flash forward to very recent times.

I’d published a book called Project Muffintop. Cassie was disgusted with being nineteen pounds overweight. She talked her best friend, Jason, into helping her come up with a weight loss program to help her attract a hot prom date and maybe even a boyfriend. But she didn’t know Jason was crazy about her and he realized that helping her would simply make her even less interested in him except as her best friend.

He was afraid that telling Cassie how he felt about her would ruin their special friendship if she didn’t feel the same way about him–which she didn’t. He couldn’t chance having that happen. So he kept quiet.

The preacher’s daughter came up with a godly plan, however. Jason could tell Cassie everything he wanted to as her anonymous Secret Admirer.

If you want to know how everything turns out, the book will be available again shortly.

Okay, you say. What does that have to do with paying attention to users…or, in this case, to readers?

More than I’d ever dreamed of, to be honest.

I belong to a Facebook group called Avid Readers of Christian Fiction. When I realized how much of a turnoff the original cover was, I designed a new one that my wife and I thought was pretty catchy. So I submitted the following graphic to Avid Readers.

All I was expecting was a simple #1 or #2 answer. But what I got was overwhelmingly more helpful, once I got over the initial shock.

Dozens of women (and one man) not only objected to both covers (those that expressed a preference liked #1, the original one, better), but to the title and the emphasis on the importance of weight loss. Not to mention that the shorts on the muffin mold were objectionably tight. Etc.

I knew the diet was just the backbone of the story and that Jason had actually tried to convince Cassie that her weight was fine to start with. And, as her Secret Admirer, he’s able to convince her that weight didn’t affect who she was inside.

What I knew didn’t count, however. If that many avid readers wouldn’t give any consideration to Project Muffintop with that name and either cover, I had to pay attention to them. They would never even look at the back cover and see everything from a different perspective.

Tonight I plan to share with them the new cover and new title. Although I feel confident they’ll approve of it heartily, I’ve learned too well that I need their input–no matter what they say.

Since I don’t think any of them follow this blog, let me share the new cover with you.

There you have it. If you have some kind of product you want others to take seriously, make sure to get some feedback before you go deeply into something that might prove unsuitable.

Any comments–like whether you’d look at the back cover copy after looking at the front? I’d love to hear ’em.

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

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How Will You Be Remembered?

What probably sticks out the most in my mind from last Saturday’s luncheon for people who graduated from Frostburg State University fifty years ago wasn’t seeing a few familiar people, but having a time of remembrance for former classmates who’ve passed away.

 

A good-sized list of those stood on a table at one end of the room, and co-master of ceremonies Pat Garrett went through that list name by name as part of the luncheon’s events. He told whatever he knew about each person and asked attendees to share anything they knew or remembered about the deceased.

A number of the deceased were remembered only as having been good people–or nice ones. But those were still positive memories.

Many of the deceased either weren’t commented on at all, however. Whether they had truly been that inconspicuous during their college years or attendees didn’t feel it was right to say bad things about them, I couldn’t say.

I can’t help being curious. Once I’ve passed away, what will people at future reunions remember about me? I wasn’t an athlete. I wasn’t in any activities except the Baptist Student Union. (If any of my friends from the BSU came to the reunion, I didn’t see them.) I did play my guitar and sing at the Leaves of Grass coffee house on Friday nights, but that probably wasn’t overly memorable, either.

Hmm.

Death for a Christian is a good thing, not something to dread or regret. We believe we’ll be in a better place. Such a perfect place it makes the best earth has to offer seem trivial and worthless.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t want to be remembered–and hopefully in a good way. I don’t know about other peoples’ legacies, but I hope and pray that my novels and songs (maybe even some of my blog posts) will prove to be a worthy legacy, even if they’re not overly popular.

Success with the masses now or later isn’t the important thing. Blessing lives–eve a few lives–is, even if people don’t remember my name.

Twenty-five years ago I wrote a song called “What Will You Leave Behind?” Several years ago I did a video selfie of myself playing and singing that song. I keep the DVD in a lock box under the bed…to be played at my funeral, which I hope won’t be anytime soon.

The lyrics go like this:

When you die, you can’t take it with you,
But what will you leave behind?
Precious memories for your friends and family
Or relief that you’re no longer there?
Will the faith you’ve shared bring them comfort
Or your hopelessness cause them more grief?
When you die, you can’t take it with you,
But what will you leave behind?

When you pass away, you can’t take it with you,
But what will you leave behind?
Will your words continue to encourage
Or the harm they’ve engendered linger on?
Do your teachings tell of God’s Kingdom
While your actions point the other way?
When you pass away, you can’t take it with you,
But what will you leave behind?

When you depart this life, you can’t take it with you,
But what will you leave behind?
Will the good you’ve planted bloom like flowers
Or the problems you’ve sown spread like weeds?
Is your life well invested in others
Or will your influence die at your death?
When you depart this life, you can’t take it with you,
But what will you leave behind?

How I hope I will be remembered for the good. What about you? How do you think you’ll be remembered?

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

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You Can’t Go Home Again…or Can You?

I’ve never been to a high school reunion, although I’m keeping watch for information about the 55th year reunion next year. But when I received a very nice invitation to a special luncheon for those of us who graduated from Frostburg State College (now University) fifty years ago, I found myself more interested than I would typically be for something like that.

I’d lived in Cumberland, Maryland, the four years I was in college. I attended  Allegany Community College (now the Allegany College of Maryland) which was just a few blocks from home and then transferred to Frostburg for my last two years. I stayed off-campus at the college during the week.

My memories of college life are pretty spotty, but the older I’ve grown, the greater my desire to see people and places from my past. So my wife, Kathleen, encouraged me to plan on us attending the reunion, which was to be held during Homecoming. I agreed. Gladly.

As time drew closer, however, I wasn’t able to determine that very many of the people I really wanted to see would be attending. And when I saw the names of people who would be attending an informal Friday night restaurant get-together, most of even the familiar names were people I hadn’t really known. Thank goodness one of my old roommates and his wife were going to be there!

So I felt slightly apprehensive about being in even a small gathering of basically strangers. That wouldn’t be “home” the way being with some of the folks I really wanted to see would have been, but I not only felt comfortable in that group, I enjoyed it.

There was only one problem. Everyone looked so old! Or so much older, anyhow. I didn’t even recognize my former roommate at first, although he recognized me.

But if physical changes to my fellow grads were, uh, sometimes more substantial than others, changes to the campus were even more drastic. Kathleen and I drove around the campus for a little while before heading to the restaurant, and I didn’t recognize anything! The number of new buildings was beyond my ability to comprehend. Very attractive, but nonetheless very strange to eyes that had seen things the way they used to look.

I’m writing this half an hour before Kathleen and I drive to the campus again. Thank goodness for the map we were provided for finding where to park and where at the building housing the luncheon!

Today is a dreary, rainy day. I’m afraid we won’t be walking around to view the campus. That’s frustrating,

Kind of. But the people–even just a few–will make Frostburg seem more like home than the university itself.

P.S. We enjoyed the luncheon today, but there were far more people than I’d expected. I couldn’t very well go around inspecting every name tag to see if it belonged to someone I knew. However, I did run into one person I’d known even before attending Frostburg. He’d belonged to the church in Cumberland my father had pastored, and my father had even married him and his wife. That was extra special.

I have to add that the president of the university welcomed the group, and his remarks really helped to put the relative newness of the university into perspective. Nonetheless, we 1968 graduates represented one phase in Frostburg’s development. But the university has moved far past where we were.

So it wasn’t home. Not the “home” we knew back then. But a worthy one for future students.

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

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