Friday, November 26, 2010

Christmas Shopping (Stories About Me)

It's a major shopping day for most retailers and - I suppose - the first official shopping day of the Christmas Season.  Time was, I liked to get out in all the "bustle" and mingle with the crowd and pick up a few gifts.  That adventure doesn't hold much value with me any more, people are not especially jovial any more.

This "Story About Me" would often come about as we approached the holiday season....

When I was a kid, living in Cedartown, Georgia, our family always seemed to manage to fit in one or two trips to Atlanta for Christmas Shopping each year.  These occasions were pretty memorable, sometimes they might include some "pre-gift" purchases like a fancy pair of cowboy boots (the pointy toes of which exactly matched the indentations in my big sister's shins), a coat or maybe a book.

On a typical shopping day, we would split up with a plan to meet back at a certain time.  At some point early on I wanted to be with Dad because he would typically work his way over to the "Nut Center" and buy a bag of chocolate covered peanuts.

These visits would aways include a visit to the pinnacle of retail department stores in the south: Rich's.  Many times the one at the Greenbriar Mall in Marietta...

...but in the early days, it was always the downtown Rich's in Atlanta (think "Macy's" on Miracle on 34th Street).  It was a mecca of multi-story shopping, but most of all, it was the home of The Pink Pig ...

...I am pretty sure I remember riding the Pink Pig at least once when it soared (soared?) above the heads of shoppers in the toy department.  I know I rode it at least once when it was stationed outside on the roof of Rich's (for another -more detailed- description of the experience read Chris Queen's post from last year).

On some of these trips, I might end up hanging around with my much older brother and sister - I was under the impression that they didn't want me around, but perhaps that wasn't really the case.  They liked to pick on me and of course, I enjoyed being obnoxious; but they also served as a buffer between me and the disappointments of growing up.

On one particular trip while I was in the company of my siblings, I saw my Dad taking a scooter across the parking lot.  I knew it was mine, my brother and sister were too old for scooters, they tried to convince me that Dad was probably just helping the people at the store.  Despite my childish naivete, I didn't buy it.  I think I began to doubt Santa Claus at that point. 

My scooter was not quite this vintage - picture a trimmed
down 1960's version in powder blue without the fins

Fortunately, I received the scooter as a gift from Mom and Dad - before Christmas.

Those shopping trips would usually run late into the evening and if I played my cards right, I could go to sleep in the back seat (sometimes in the floorboard - an unheard of luxury today) and if I remained asleep when we got home (or was able to mount a convincing performance) - I could get carried into the house.

I remember one weeknight trip, my sister and I took with Mom after school, we did some quick shopping in Cobb County.  On our return trip, I remember how thrilled I was to see snowflakes - LARGE, fluffy snowflakes - peppering the windshield in a mesmerizing fashion.  As the glorious white substance accumulated, we barely made it over the arching railroad bridge on East Avenue.  Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, I later learned that school was cancelled for the next day. 

What a magical Season, indeed!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Almost Done With ... Walmart

This will not be a hate-Walmart post. 

I am of the opinion that most people that go on and on complaining about Walmart probably dislike the organization simply because it is an icon of American capitalism. Therefore it is capitalism - not Walmart - that they truly hate.

I am not one of those - in fact I find myself vigorously defending Walmart (albeit quietly and within small circles) for the most part because of its testimony to the powerful effects of the free market.

However, due to recent incidents, I am considering limiting my purchases from the retail giant.  I am - at least for awhile - done with buy wheat straw from Walmart.

Before I recently pawned off my two hay-consuming quadra-peds, it was necessary for me to occasionally supplement their diet with hay.  On my last attempt to purchase hay from the Garden Center at Walmart, I arrived with my son on a Saturday morning, before the crowds arrived. AA and I walked around in the Garden Center for a time - there was no cashier there yet so we worked our way up front.

Hesitantly, I went to the open register - I was hesitant because I had done the same thing on an earlier trip to Walmart and the cashier could not ring up wheat straw...

I will give them this much - they are consistent.

As we made our request ..."would like to buy some wheat straw" she did not seem to know how to reply (no ChicFilA "My PLEASURE!" here).  Soon she brought in the apparent Lead cashier who informed us that we could make that purchase in the Garden Center. 

Upon learning that no one was back there, she proceeded to try and find a price they could charge me.

Eventually she called and apparently found a cashier back in the Garden center who gave a price and a code.  The lead cashier told the regular cashier and the regular cashier told me ... then she began to complete the transaction however....

...the little lights on the screen facing me all worked together to form the words "Pine Straw". 

"Wait, that says 'pine straw'  - I wanted 'WHEAT straw'" - I protested.

The regular cashier told the lead cashier - "that was 'pine straw'"
"Isn't that what you said?" replied the lead cashier to me.
Now I had listened real closely to everything I said and I am certain I said "wheat straw".
When I assured her that I needed WHEAT straw she asked me if I could just go back to the Garden Center.

That's when I felt my inner Big Daddy rise up.

My Dad, Big Daddy, would have used this occasion to say something like - "this would be a good place to build a retail store!" and then speak loudly to the embarrassed boy at his side "Remind me not to come here anymore!" as he pointedly walked out.

I curbed my instincts - but only slightly - smiled and said thank you.  AA and I headed for the door.

"Sir, you can go this way" the lead cashier called... assuming that I was so bewildered by the exchange that I couldn't find my way through the store to the Garden Center.

"No Thank you"

And AA and I departed triumphant and frustrated.

I won't be "done with Walmart" at this point but there are some serious cracks in our relationship.

I still believe in this icon of capitalism - simply because that's what it is.  But capitalism doesn't answer all things and losing touch with the life's blood of business - customers is a serious error.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Worst Spanking (Stories About Me)

I am not sure why this story happens to be the first in my new "Stories About Me" category, but it is.

In thinking about these stories, I realized that the telling of these stories may sometimes be different from their original rendering simply because they were sometimes told in conjunction with something we were discussing at the time.

For instance, I used the word "spanking" in my title - mainly because I thought it did not sound as harsh as the word we always used to describe corporal punishment:  "whipping" or in the vernacular - "WHOOPING". . .

It always seemed important for my brother and sister ( who were much older than me) to point out that they received far more whippings than I did as a child.  For some strange reason, this always made me feel guilty - as if I should have demanded spankings at the hands of our parents. I did, in fact, receive fewer spankings, but now I like to point out that it was because I was a much better behaved child.

Being a compliant child, I probably was a little easier to manage - but the fact is, by the time I arrived, my parents were a little more mellow.

I do remember the worst whipping I ever received - in fact if memory serves me correctly - I received TWO whippings on this particular occasion. 

Jim and Ruth Barnette lived next door to us when I was a kid in Cedartown, Georgia.  Next to them, lived my best friend, Steve. 

Steve and I were the same age and had been fast friends since before Kindergarten.  I think sometimes, that it may have been a friendship of convenience but we really did have other kids in the neighborhood.  Unfortunately one was erratic and unpredictable in his behavior and the other was a girl.

Jim and Ruth kept a beautiful yard. There were shrubs, green grass, and flowers - in fact during the early summer we had to move to the far side of the road when walking in front of their house, just to avoid all the "June Bugs". 

I don't know why but on one particular day, Steve and I targeted Jim and Ruth for mischief.
My family had grilled out some time earlier and Steve and I had come upon the idea of mixing the used ashes and charcoal with water to form some sort of brew.  We were always finding reasons to mix stuff with water:  on several occasions we concocted "Ant Cures" and proceeded to pour the compound on ant hills in my yard; another time we discovered that when you briskly stir a charcoal and water mixture, it will produce a foam - like soap - which is why we tried to scrub my patio with it.

So we ended up with a bucket of water and charcoal and nothing to do.

To this day, I do not know who came up with the idea - mischief happens that way, it just kind of evolves- but somehow we noticed that Jim and Ruth were not at home.  So we took our bucket of gray matter over to their carport.  There we commenced to pouring the mixture into just about anything that would hold liquid:  an unoccupied flower pot, a pair of Ruth's outdoor slippers, the indention in the seat of Jim's riding lawn mower.

I seem to remember something deliciously satisfying about darting around from evil deed to evil deed - almost like opening gifts at Christmas.

My memory is fuzzy on details at this point but I do recall running to hide when I heard my Mom calling me.  I think we had already finished our work, but like Adam and Eve - it only took the sound of a voice to snap me back into reality and to allow conviction to seize me.

I remember hiding behind a shrub at the corner of our house.

I think that was when I got my first whipping.
The second one came after Jim talked to my parents - he came to our back door and I remember hearing him say something about not wanting to get us boys in trouble.

To add insult to injury, I later learned that Steve's parents had received a similar call from Jim and -get this - Steve received "a good talking to" from his Dad  . . .

... a good talking to!?!?!

He tried to raise the ante by saying that his Dad could talk pretty hard at times . . . yeah tell that to my behind.

There were all kinds of lessons for me in this little episode.  I learned about conviction, guilt; I learned about how sin can bring momentary pleasure; I think I even learned a little about redemption - once the price was paid for my sin (in this case, my punishment) my relationship to my parents was restored as well as my relationship with the neighbors.

In my life today, redemption still works that way only I trust in One who has ultimately taken the punishment for all of my evil deeds (as well as the evil deeds of Steve and everybody else in the world)  - that having been done, corrects my relationship with my heavenly Father and with everything else in His creation.

A Perspective on Gifts

Over the past year I have not done what most bloggers say that bloggers should do - and that is to read other blogs and post comments.  I usually go to my better half's blog to see if she said anything about me and then on occasion I will use her links to visit a couple of the several "mommy-blogs" in her favorites list.

Today I found a very interesting post on the Lot's of Scotts  blog.  JMom's posts are always heartfelt and each one provides an excellent learning opportunity. 

Earlier this week, she linked to a great post from a site called Rethinking Christmas, which I think presents a proper perspective with which we should launch the upcoming Christmas Season ( which, of course, comes after we have given that understated holiday - Thanksgiving - it's due).

Here's the link to the post:

I like the idea that Christmas Gifts should remind us of the Reason we celebrate; the heart with which we give should reflect Christ.

Read it when you have a few quiet moments.

Friday, November 19, 2010

It's Not Them .... Its Us

We just finished a "fine-tooth-comb" study on the book of Jonah in our Wednesday night Family Gathering at church.  Pastor Bill placed a strong emphasis on the fact that the book of Jonah provides a MIRROR in which we can view ourselves - if we dare; it also provides a WINDOW through which we can see God's amazing patience and grace!

Here's a link if you want to read or listen to the study:          

With that study as a back drop in my mind and my contemplation of just what should occur in our country after the recent history-making elections . . . I heard a Chuck Colson Breakpoint program on "Repentance".

I highly recommend it.

Stories About Me

I'm launching a new category today.
It will sound a little narcissistic but the category title is "Stories About Me".

When Ab and AA were very small, they liked stories; and one of our mutually favorite past times in the car or at home before bed was for me to tell a "Story About Me". 

Confidentially, I probably liked this mostly because it allowed me to talk about myself in an uninterrupted fashion (I'm just that shallow).  On the other hand, I truly did view it as a means of preserving the family heritage.

Now these were not deep stories and there were no amazing adventures (we didn't sail the Mississippi with Huck Finn) - they were just quaint little tales about memories that stood out for me.. often for no particular reason.

My kids are getting older and have entered a new era, Ab - my middle schooler and AA - nearly nine, they fill any otherwise quiet time with their DSI's or - on better days - with reading.   They hardly ever ask for stories about me anymore.

Once recently, we talked about some of these stories and it occurred to me that they were seeping away from their memories.

One of the intentional purposes of this blog is to provide some written record that our kids can enjoy. 
So from time to time, I will try and throw in one of these "Stories About Me".  Perhaps you will find something there that will trigger a memory or two for you.

Monday, November 15, 2010

My Quest to Save Thanksgiving

My annual quest to save Thanksgiving has begun in earnest in my humble abode.

My kids feigned disgust when they saw all the Christmas decorations going up at the local Walmart, just after Halloween.  Yet now Ab has already uprooted a defenseless little cedar tree from our woods and planted it in a pot of sawdust in her room.  It has been decorated with an aluminum foil covered star and a construction paper chain.

Mind you - this is right down my alley (some of you will remember my caper with a Rustic Christmas Tree last year)- I like old fashion remnants of Christmas . . . but NOT until the proper time.  I argue that to begin the Christmas celebration too early is to invite Christmas fatigue and besides, doing so negates one of our most important holidays - Thanksgiving Day. 

I mean what better way to enter the Yuletide season, than to inaugurate it with a season of thankfulness.

It doesn't help that our local "positive" music station (used to be code for "Christian", but can now mean any music that doesn't entail cussing and - up until recently - anything sung by Miley Cyrus) is now wall to wall Christmas music ... now in the middle of November!

It reminds me of one year that every television station known to man was playing "It's a Wonderful Life" (possibly the best Christmas movie ever made and in my top five all time favorite movies).   I think the movie rights must have expired that year or gone into public domain - anyway it was overkill and "familiarity bred contempt".

So our rides together now often turn into a battle of the radio knob.  Ab diving to the radio to fill the vehicle with the sounds of the Brenda Lee "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" - while I try to manage  the wheel and fend her off at the same time.  All this as I lay out my systematic defense of keeping things in their proper timing and place.

I am persuaded that anticipation is one of the true joys of the Christmas Season - and perhaps understatement is one of the true characteristics of that preceding season...

Here's to a happy thanksgiving day...

Sunday, November 7, 2010


I jumped ahead of my normal schedule of reading trendy books a decade or so after they were popular, when I recently read David McCullough's "1776".  I am only about five years behind on it.

The book was quite impressive.  It is a detailed description of George Washington and his "rabble" as they spent the first year of the War of Independence.  I found the book to be very eye opening as it pointed out the dramatic weaknesses of the Americans. In fact most of the "victories" this ragtag militia enjoyed during those early days were not victories at all.

They felt triumphant because they had made a valiant stand against the greatest military force on earth, or because they had successfully retreated from just under the noses of the British.

The book paints a picture of the illustrious George Washington that is, I think, accurate but not flattering.  Washington believed that he should lead by example and so acted often in ways that would today seem pretentious or hypocritical.  Washington apparently failed miserably over and over again during that first year in terms of strategy.

After he waited and waited during the siege of Boston, he lacked the powder to mount an attack.  Finally, he gained the high ground after Henry Knox led a daring expedition to obtain the Guns of Ticonderoga and transport them to Boston.

The British fled but the tables were turned when they met again in New York. Washington's troops retreated from Manhattan, Brooklyn and Fort Washington, and near the end of the year, found themselves scampering to try and evacuate and then defend the capital at Philadelphia.

McCullough pulls no punches when he points out how inept the Americans were. 
Yet they stood.  They fought - often valiantly.
While McCullough stops short of giving credit to God for the admittedly miraculous events that surrounded this army, he does at least acknowledge that some of the patriots were quick to credit the Almighty with any success they found.
Things like General Washington sitting tall (and quite peaceably) in the saddle all along the front lines as musket balls zinged back and forth around him - he was there to encourage the troops and he dared not show any fear.
There were countless examples of amazing retreats. In one instance, a night time evacuation took place without the notice of the British troops.  As dawn approached and the evacuation wasn't nearly complete, an uncanny fog settled into the area and provided cover until the operation was complete.

I was overwhelmingly impressed with the evidence of God's sovereign overseeing of the birth of this nation.

As I neared the end of the book, I was reminded of an American Trait that I had not thought of in quite awhile:  The tendency of Americans to stand strong when the odds are against them.

We haven't seen much of that since the apparent establishment of our world dominance after WWII.  There has been a trend among liberals since that time for us to fawn over other nations just to prove that we are not the "ugly Americans" they think we are.

But there exists in the hearts of freedom-loving people, a strong constitution to stand even though the cards are stacked against us - event though it seems apparent that we are beaten.

It is a trait that was displayed prominently over the recent mid-term elections by members of the Tea Party.  Those who won and those who lost.  Those who found little support among the party they were running with and those who ran in the face of petty and ugly personal attack, all stood - they fought the good fight and some won ... others will live to fight another day.

And fight they will, because like those early Americans who realized that 1776 was not the end - it was only the beginning, many Americans are awakening to the same realization. 

Washington closed out that year with a tremendous Christmas season victory at both Trenton and Princeton.  Yet there were many more battles to face ahead.  So they continued resolutely into the next year and the others that followed.
Just as we must do today . . . . it is the American way.

Farewell Farmer Bill

Well I have hung up my bib overalls (figuratively speaking) and have thus retired my "farmer Bill" persona.

History may reveal this brief chapter in my life as being just a symptom of a brewing mid-life crisis - nevertheless yesterday, we said goodbye to the kids...

...not the children....

...but our two goats that have been a part of our family - albeit a distant part - for the past few months.

Thunder and Floyd bleated their baaaah- baaah's ("bye-bye's") from the back of a pickup truck around dusk last night as they pulled out of our driveway en route to their new home.

The duo added a taste of adventure to our family over the summer and early fall.  Alas, now R. can give her eyeballs a rest from their continual rolling at the latest news of all their shenanigans.

Only yesterday -before their fate had been sealed for certain - they had been tied out in separate locations near the back yard.  They seemed to be enjoying the last remaining morsels of liriopa and the munching of newly fallen acorns.  As AA and I were stacking some firewood, along with my brother-in-law and nephew, the two came bounding around the house - prancing gaily in their pride of having obtained liberty on their own.

Floyd had finally broken the dog lead that was once used occasionally for Tanner, our chocolate Lab; Thunder had somehow untied the Cub Scout inspired knots I had used for his tether.

I will say that they are very entertaining animals and - I believe- quite valuable.  They completed -fairly successfully - their mission:  clearing portions of our woods of undergrowth.

Lately as the days have grown cooler - and shorter, it has interfered with their grazing ability.  Typically, I had been able to let them out for a couple hours each evening to graze.  However, of late they had turned to our landscaping for nutrition. Darkness and the fullness of our after-school schedules often conspired together to eliminate that grazing opportunity.

I will say that they are very relaxing animals.  I don't know if it is their constant munching or the tender way they softly bleat to one another while grazing, but it serves to set one's mind at ease.

I think most appealing is their single-mindedness.

These animals seem to live for nothing else but to eat.  They are eating machines. They are quickly drawn to anything that sounds like grain or that is green -  and they plunge toward said items with reckless abandon.

Maybe there is a lesson I can learn from my time with the goats (don't laugh - everyone seemed to take Jane Goodall serious).  There is something very positive and right about having only a few, well-defined priorities and going after those with all that is within us.

The Apostle Paul said "This ONE thing I do" and for him that ONE thing was to press forward toward the mark for the prize of the high calling that is in Christ Jesus.

Even though I am now a "goatless wonder", perhaps that lesson will stay with me awhile. . .

.... at least for as long as the smell lasts.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Relevance and Truth

For a time it seemed that the trend in new churches was to achieve "relevance".
It may still be the trend.

Relevance means "we are hip to what's happening today   ....   man".

In the seventies, Christians adopted terms from the drug culture and invited sinners to get "hooked on Jesus"...
In the eighties, I distinctly remember lobbying for our church to get with it and bring in Pac Man and other video games.
All in the name of relevance.
Even then, it seemed a little hollow.

Today, churches are struggling to discover where the culture is going and adapt, adjust - become relevant.

I have no problem with churches serving their congregants better and I like fresh perspectives; but sometimes I am afraid that we focus too closely on being relevant.  We adjust so much that we forget who we are and lose sight of who God has called us to be.

We who make up the universal church are called to be "lights".
The compelling thing about light is that it stands out.  It provides a stark contrast to the darkness.

I have been thinking a lot about truth lately.  There is a standard that says that All Truth is God's Truth, and I buy into that whole heartedly. In fact Jesus said " I am the Way, the Truth, . . . ". 

And because God is Truth, we can trust that Truth will always triumph in the end.

Have you ever thought about how constantly relevant the Truth is?

 Truths never change, and though cultures change, fashions change, people change - the Truth is always relevant - it is always "hip to the jive".

Quickly rattle off some truths that you know:

You always reap what you sow
if you play with fire you'll get burned
Give and it shall be given unto you
the idle mind is the Devil's workshop
many hands make light work

They are always relevant; they always work.  Now rattle off some relevant catch phrases:

The earth is flat
Love means never having to say you're sorry
Drop out, turn on, tune in
Never trust anyone over thirty

.... phrases that were quite relevant in their day but today they are trite.

These thoughts have given me some solace over the past couple of years as I watched our political landscape. . . the truth is always relevant - the truth always wins in the end.

When our founding fathers decided to put down their reasoning for seeking independence from Britain, they did so with a written document.  One that could easily be used against them, but one they could also use as a standard, a benchmark in case they grew weak.

It is fitting I think that they began that document with a reference to the Truth. . . .

"We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness...."

...Truth that is still relevant today.
Keep standing, America.