Thursday, December 31, 2015

Looking Forward To A New Year

I made a resolution many years ago to no longer make New Year’s resolutions, and I’m fairly certain that’s the only resolution I’ve ever managed to keep. I’m not really a resolutions kind of person. I prefer to just do things and, like so many people, when I do state in advance what I am going to do, I tend to bite off more than I can chew and then get frustrated when it doesn’t work out. This can end up making things worse rather than better, so I just opted out of the whole system.

If it works for you, use it. It can be a good tool, and some people work better when they have that plan laid out in front of them. There is no One Size Fits All solution. I don’t think I can ever say that often enough. I do not tell you what works for me so that you will do what works for me. I tell you what works for me so that you can see that things work, see ideas for how they work, and adapt those ideas to what will work for you. If what works for me does work for you, great! Use that. If not, though, just adapt to fit. Variety is part of what makes life magical, but it can also make functioning in life difficult.

What works for me is light planning and then jumping in. I do the same thing with most of my activities. When I am writing, I am often as surprised by the ending as anyone. Even when I have a grand plan for what is going to happen, that is rarely what ends up happening. As short as these articles are, there have been a couple times now when I had to change the title after I was done because what got written was not what I had sat down to write. It seems to work though.

I do need that light planning, though, or I might go off on a random tangent, and that doesn’t always have the best results. One of the tricks I use for that is simple notes. Rather than plan out or even outline what I am going to do, I will make a small list of, for example, five things I want to cover. I will put them in an order that seems to flow smoothly and then I will write a paragraph or two about the first one. Write a paragraph or two about the second one, and see if they flow as smoothly as I had thought. Adjust as needed, and keep going.

You should know by now that the last part there is pretty much the theme of my life. Adjust as needed, and keep going. No matter how well planned you make it, life is going to throw you surprises. If you can’t adjust, those surprises may break you, but if you can keep it light and make changes as you need them, you can then weave the changes into the tapestry that is your life and make something new come out of the process.

If you need a plan, plan. Use the tools you need when you have them available. Just make sure your tools aren’t using you. Don’t get so hung up on the plan that you can’t adjust to life’s surprises. Spending too much time looking ahead can be just as bad as spending too much time in the past. The point of living is to live, and to do that you must be in the present. You are living right now. What you did yesterday is gone, and what you may do tomorrow you also may not do. Right now is the only thing you have for certain, so make sure that you are making the most of it. Use the past and the future as the tools you need when you need those tools, but live now.

One of the best things about the New Year’s celebration, and the tradition of resolutions that goes with it, is the symbolism of ending something old and beginning something new. Have you had a difficult year? It’s over now, and here’s a new one that you can build to your liking. Have you had a good year? Use it as a foundation as you begin to build this new story. Everything gets to be new now, and that includes you. The new year is a great time to look at making a new you. Turn the page, close the last chapter, and start writing this new one knowing that you can do anything with it. You will be building from the past, because your past has led you to this point, but where you go from here is up to you. You can stay the course or change direction, as you need and as you choose.

Don’t be afraid to make a mess while you’re doing it. If you’ve had a difficult time and need to make some changes, you’re probably going to get dirty. Making life changes can be rough work, but the results can be amazing. I’ve been listing to “Cut the Cord” from Shinedown, and that is basically what it’s about. As vocalist Brent Smith explained in an interview with Billboard:

"'Cut The Cord' is a wake up call reminding us all that we can control our own destiny by finding the courage and tenacity to destroy whatever it is that's holding us back. The process may not be pretty or perfect or even easy, but absolutely necessary. The song is brutally honest and unapologetic, which is what Shinedown has always been."

Sometimes you have to be brutally honest and unapologetic, and that includes being so with yourself. When it comes time to change, the hardest person to convince can often be yourself. Don’t believe what’s holding you down. Cut the cord and fly.

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, but I can acknowledge a few things that are going to happen. I will continue to work on being healthier, and that includes physical, mental, and emotional health. I will spend a little more time exercising and a little more time meditating, and a little less time worrying and stressing. It won’t be a perfect balance, but I’ll keep working toward making it better, and that is really all we can do. I’ll keep writing because I have remembered that’s what I do. I have definitely found that it helps, and I will continue to hope that it helps you as well. I will continue to be a father, a husband, and a friend, and hope that I can be the best of those that I am able to be. I will continue to be obsessed with music. When I die, eventually, it will be the loudest memorial service you’ve ever heard, with a wildly eclectic combination of musical farewells. I will continue to be me, and I will continue to invite you to join me on this journey of discovering exactly what that means.

Happy New Year to each and everyone of you. I look forward to seeing what it brings, and I intend to bring all my best to it. I hope you will do the same. If we all make such a resolution, the new year can’t help but be great. Peace be with you, and let’s keep moving forward.

Check out the video for "Cut the Cord" below and, as always, all copyright belongs to the artists.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Happy Hump Day 12-30-15

Some ideas to consider, while you're thinking about New Year's resolutions.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Year In Review

Sometimes it can be a good thing to look back and take stock of where you have been. I often get the impression that you’re not supposed to say that if you’re someone who teaches living through mindful awareness, but it’s true just the same. It’s all a matter of perspective. If you’re wallowing in the past, you’re not living and certainly not growing, but if you’re learning from the past … Well, that is exactly how you live and grow. There are productive ways of looking back. They’re just often overshadowed by the less productive ones.

One of the most productive ways of looking back is looking with an eye toward learning. One of the biggest secrets of a mindful life is that you can learn from anything, and what you learn can turn almost anything into a positive experience. Even our most painful moments go into making us who we are, and if we use those moments to make ourselves better than those moments have achieved something positive. Not only is this educational, but it can be lifesaving as well. I can’t tell you the number of times that focusing on the positive lesson learned has gotten me through a devastating experience. Sometimes we have to actively look for the positive, and sometimes the lesson learned might be the only positive we can find. There is always a lesson to be learned. If you can remember that - not always an easy task, I know - then you know there is always a positive to find.

It isn’t always possible to learn in the moment. Sometimes you’re too busy being in the moment to learn from the moment. That’s just life. You have to know this is going to happen from time to time and, when it does, take it as it comes, live through it, and learn your lesson later. That’s when looking back comes in. Don’t waste an opportunity to learn, but don’t try to learn when it isn’t the right time. If you’re busy, you’re busy. Be busy, get it done, then take stock afterward. Living a mindful life comes with all sorts of aphorisms about living in the present and taking time to breathe and all of that, and they’re all wonderfully useful and important aspects of living, but living is messy. You won’t always be able to do things exactly right in the moment. That’s fine. That’s why we have memory. Hit rewind when it’s all over, play it back, and see what you can learn when you have time to learn.

Looking back can even help us to move forward. That sounds strange, I know, but you can’t keep the line straight if you don’t occasionally look back and make sure you’re still guiding by the same path. That’s how you plow a field, it’s how you lay a road, and how you build any sturdy construction. What came before is the foundation, and you can’t build a solid structure if you don’t line up properly with the foundation. You’re not expected to just memorize where that foundation is supposed to be. Look. Double check. Measure twice, cut once.

It also helps that you can look back for reassurance and comfort. If you’re at a tricky spot, you can look back and remind yourself of previous successes. “Things have been tough before, but I succeeded there, there, and there, so I can succeed here as well.” If you’re missing someone, you can relish the memories that you have. I miss my dad terribly, and there hasn’t been a day gone by since he died that I haven’t come across something that I wanted to share with him, but I have so many wonderful memories of and with him that I can look back to those and smile instead of being crushed by the grief. It helps.

Again, it’s all a matter of perspective. Learn from the past without dwelling in it. Use the past to better live in today. Don’t let the past use you and prevent you from living today.

I say all of this because, of course, it’s that time of year when it is customary to look back on the year and review what has happened. It’s the end of a year, looking forward to the beginning of a new year, and everyone is doing lists trying to capture the various things that happened in the previous year. I don’t really do lists, and certainly not the Best Of variety of lists. If you asked me to name my favorite song, movie, or book, I couldn’t do it. If you asked me for ten, I could possibly make that list, if you didn’t want them ranked. My brain isn’t wired that way. I like things, and I don’t like things. I like some things better than other things, but that’s about as specific as my thinking gets. So no Top Ten lists for me.

What I can tell you is that it’s been a wild year. It’s been busy, stressful, and just plain full, so, pretty much all of the things that usually make up a year. If I had to look back and compare, I couldn’t tell you with any certainty how it stacks up against previous years, but I think, on the whole, it has worked out to being a pretty good year. I am quite certain that it’s ending better than it began, and that’s progress. Things are at least moving in the right direction that way.

A year ago, we were trying to figure out how to pay the bills and not lose everything we own. That might be an exaggeration, but not by much, and it didn’t feel like one at the time. We had a bad patch that was, quite frankly, terrifying as it was happening. Today, we are far less afraid. We didn’t win the lottery or anything, just paid off some expenses and got some others better lined up. We keep working and doing what we can, and doing that a little better each day. That’s really all you can do, when it comes down to it.

Of course, some of our expenses were medical, and we have come a long way in that department. It’s been a two-year journey, but one that has been steadily improving. My A1C numbers have stayed in the healthy range; my weight loss seems to have plateaued, but it has stayed off, at least; and my blood pressure and heart attack risk have all stayed within more healthy ranges. As we approach the end of the year, we are starting to make strides that will hopefully push past that plateau and make these things even better. We bought an elliptical machine from a garage sale (I had been saying that I wanted one but they were too expensive, and then Heather found one at a steal, so there went my last excuse), and I have begun using it three times a week. I’m starting slowly, but steadily increasing the work, and it’s going well. It has been many years since I was in anything like good shape, but it’s happening, and I have every hope that it will continue to happen.

One of the biggest things to happen for us this year was the gaining of a new person in our household. If you’ve been following along, you already know that we have taken in a foster daughter. It’s been an amazing experience and a learning experience, but it’s mostly been a full experience. It’s been very busy, and very eye opening. Opening our home to someone in need and helping her to have a better life has helped us to have a better life. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it many more times in the future, there are an estimated 400,000 children in the U.S. who lack permanent homes. If you have the means to help, take a look. I can almost promise you that you will be helping you in the process. Hearing someone learn how to laugh again might be one of the most amazing things you will ever experience.

We wouldn’t be talking about any of this if the past year had not also included the launch of Frequently Interrupted. I started this site because I needed it. As a person who lives with an assortment of mental and emotional disorders, I was drowning. Earlier this year, I was in one of the worst places, mentally and emotionally, that I have been in a very long time, and I was not seeing a way out. I made a way out. I created Frequently Interrupted because I needed it, and it has become a way to help others while helping myself. Thank you for coming along with me, and I hope that we will continue to make this journey together.

It has been a learning year, and that is right and proper. Look back without regrets, so that you can look forward with hope and understanding. The most important thing about this past year is that it is past. For good or ill, leave the past where it belongs, learn from it, and keep moving forward. Always move forward. That’s the trick. Life will throw many interruptions in your way but, as long as you continue to move forward, you are doing the right thing.

Keep moving forward, no matter the interruptions. Stop when you need to, smell the roses, learn the lessons, and then keep moving forward.

Namaste.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Merry Christmas! 12-23-15

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Reminder, we will be taking the rest of the week off, so I hope you have a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful holiday season. Namaste!

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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Yes Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus

One of my favorite Christmas stories of all time is not really a story. It's a letter, written in answer to a Letter to the Editor in the New York Sun in 1897. It was written by Francis Pharcellus Church, and has become the definitive answer for those who would doubt the spirit of Christmas. Most of us are familiar with it, in concept, but I believe that more people would benefit from being familiar with it, in truth. There is magic in the world because we believe, and because we believe the world can be magical. We could all use a little more magic.

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(From the New York Sun 1897)

We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun:

Dear Editor— I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, "If you see it in The Sun, it's so." Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus? Virginia O'Hanlon 115 West Ninety Fifth Street

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.

We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! He lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

***

From our family to yours, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a most joyful holiday season. However you celebrate, celebrate. Hug your loved ones, enjoy your friends and family, and thank you for being part of our family.

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Friday, December 18, 2015

TGIF 12-18-15

‘Twas the Friday before Christmas
As Santa draws near
We bid you good tidings
And a season of cheer

Not my best, but the sentiment is genuine. As we move into this final weekend before Christmas, I hope that all of your bulbs are lit, your presents are wrapped, and and none of your ornaments have rolled off and hidden under the couch. If you don’t have any of those things (or any of those issues, as the case might be), I still hope that you have a wonderful time this year, and enjoy the season however you find it. Best wishes from us to you, and here’s wishing you a fantastic New Year.

Speaking of which, I just looked at the calendar and realized that this is the last TGIF post of 2015, so yes, Happy New Year as well. Next week, of course, is Christmas, so it will be another holiday week here at Frequently Interrupted. We’ll be posting Monday thru Wednesday, but Thursday and Friday will be reserved for family time. I hope you’ll do the same, if you’re able. Hug the ones you love and spread good cheer wherever you may go.

So, a year in review? It’s certainly been a busy and full year for us. For starters, we had the launch of this site and everything that went along with that. We’ve been rolling for six months now, and the time just keeps flying by. We passed 120 followers on Facebook a couple weeks ago, and that number keeps steadily climbing. I don’t know what that rate is like for most such sites - we are not in competition here - but I’m happy with it. If people keep enjoying what we do, and it keeps being helpful, I’ll keep doing it. I would probably keep doing it anyway, but I might have been less public about it. Keep spreading the word, though, and I’ll certainly keep being public.

We do have to pay for the electricity, and other related bobs and bits, though, so any help in that direction would be appreciated. Wander over to our Patreon site and help us out, if you are so inclined. Spread the word, because that always helps. I’ll be looking into some ideas come the new year. Advertising of some sort will probably happen, though I haven’t settled on the sort yet. I’m also considering selling some good, branded t-shirts, cups, and things of that sort. What do you think? Sound good, or any ideas you’d like to offer? Let me know, and I will be glad to look into any solid suggestion.

I’ve been invited to participate in a Health and Wellness fair at my day job. I haven’t decided yet whether or not that is something I want to do, but the invitation is thrilling and certainly positive, regardless. I’m not certain that I am actually qualified to be the best presenter, and I’m not a big fan of public presentations in the first place, but I love the idea of helping to spread the word on mental health and wellbeing. If you have any thoughts on that one, feel free to let me know as well.

The foster licensing proceeds in an orderly fashion. The requirements that can be completed have been. What’s left is waiting for scheduling and courts. I think, all in all, things are going quite well in that department, and I thank you for all of the support and positive sentiments that have been sent our way. The licensing portion should be complete in the first part of the year, so that is something exciting to look forward to.

I started writing Frequently Interrupted to help me deal with what was, to be honest, not being a good year up to that point. I was struggling, and needed some ways to get a handle on my own demons, because those demons were getting loud. I feel so much better going into the end of the year than I did at the beginning of the year, and I am glad that you have come along with me on this journey. For those who are curious about such things, I have even written a few pages of fiction for the first time in I don’t even care to think about how long. The journey is just beginning, and I hope you will stick around and see where we go. Bring some friends, and let’s make it a social event.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone out there. I hope you have the best season possible, in whatever way you celebrate the season. Make it great, and let’s kick off a wonderful New Year while we’re at it. See you next time.

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Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Sun Returns

We are quickly approaching the longest night of the year. For the northern hemisphere, the Winter Solstice this year will be on December 22. There may be earlier sunsets or later sunrises as the Earth’s elliptical orbit marches the seasons through their patterns, but the time between the sunrise and sunset is the shortest on the Solstice, with the “day” lasting only single-digit hours in some places. It’s dark and it’s cold, and it could even be scary if you don’t understand what is happening. It is not terribly surprising that there are more overlapping cultural holidays during this time of year than at any other point on the calendar.

The Yule celebrations are among the oldest recorded holiday traditions in European history. While it is nearly impossible to put anything like exact dates to such things, we have Germanic month names going back at least to the 4th Century, and Nordic deity names going back into antiquity. Though the Prose Edda, which includes names like “Yule Father” and Yule Beings” for Odin and the gods in general, is believed to have been compiled in the 13th Century, it references tales and traditions that predate the arrival of Christianity to that part of the world, and the Midwinter celebration is common to those tales. The exact origins and traditions are lost in time - and attempting to research the subject will lead you to dozens of conflicting experts, but we know that many of our modern customs originated with these older activities, and we can surmise some of the meaning from other festivals and from contest.

Among the items that we know were carried over are the decorated Christmas trees. While it is unlikely that the earlier celebrants actually chopped down a tree and carried it indoors for decorating - the actual cutting tradition is believed to have begun in 16th Century Germany - streamers and other decorations may have been hung from living trees, and the limbs of firs and other evergreens were used as decorations for good luck and as reminders of the renewal that would soon be more evident as the days began to grow longer and the sun returned to its glory. In places where evergreens would be less common, other “magical trees” like the hawthorne or cherry tree may have been used instead. These trees symbolized renewal and rebirth, and it was a time to recognize that what was ending would begin again.

The Yule Log was an ancient tradition that probably centered around the same ideas. Again, we have to rely on commentary written in the Middle Ages discussing older customs, so the details are fuzzy, but there seems to have been communal bonfires that were part of the seasonal celebrations. Logs from these fires would be taken into the homes and burned on the hearth as a continuation of the communal event. These logs would have provided much needed light and warmth on these darkest days, and were likely the central focus of the family celebrations. It is unclear whether the bonfires were intended as an inducement for the returning sun or a celebration of its victory (or, as seems even more likely, some combination of the two), but they were almost certainly connected with the sun and its cyclical journey in some fashion.

A third custom that has fallen out of favor somewhat in modern households but still holds sway among traditionalists is the Christmas or Yule Candle. The exact origins of the connection between winter celebrations (and this includes just about all of them) and candles is unknown, but we are familiar with two specific candle traditions. The first and most well-known is the tradition of using candles to light up the trees. This custom is, of course, still in wide use, though the candles have been replaced in most cases with safer electric lighting. The other tradition involves lighting a single large candle on the eve of the solstice (or on Christmas Eve, depending on your tradition) and allowing it to burn through the night. Sometimes this candle is placed in a window to act as a beacon, and it is thought to represent faith or hope in the returning sun. It is considered to be bad luck to blow out this candle, and a piece of the candle stub is often kept to be used for lighting the candle the following year. Again, this is tied the idea of renewal, and especially of new life arising from the old.

It is significant that one of the happiest holidays on the modern calendar is anchored around the shortest day and takes place during the season that is most commonly thought of as dead. The chill winds of winter bury everything in a cold embrace and yet, in our earliest cultural memories, we looked upon this time of year as the time to celebrate the renewal of life. The human spirit is amazingly resilient, and hope is the defining element of our species. Take away the sun, and we will light the very sky on fire to bring it back.

This can be a difficult time for some people. Sunlight and physical activity are very important to good health, both physical and mental, but sunlight and physical activity can both be difficult to come by during this time of year. The days are getting shorter and colder so that, even when the sun is out, we are often huddled inside trying to stay out of the weather. We get less sunlight and physical activity, so our health tends to respond accordingly. This can be even worse if you are someone who is prone to such ailments, so it is an important time to remember that the sun does return.

Traditions serve as reminders, of history, of meaning, of what’s important. Often the things we see as just fun and games began with very serious reasons. Many modern sports were originally war or work exercises, and most holidays were established to commemorate specific events. We sing songs and celebrate, but the original cause was probably to remind us why we needed to sing songs and celebrate. That was probably easy to forget if you were huddled around a dying fire on the shortest day of the year.

This is a good time to remember that we can experience short days of the spirit as well. There may be times when you can’t feel the sun no matter how brightly it shines. You may experience an emotional solstice, so to speak, but remember, this too shall pass. The sun will return. Celebrating life under the summer sun may be easier, but celebrating life during the dead of winter is more important. That is when we need the reminder, and when it will do the most good.

Whatever your traditions, celebrate the season, and celebrate life. It may seem dark sometimes, but you know what they say about the dark and the dawn. Light a candle and see how fragile the darkness really is. The darkest night is just a reminder that tomorrow is a new day. Celebrate it. Enjoy it. Live it.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Spirit Of Giving

For the Germanic peoples (which description covers most of northern and western Europe, parts of what is now the United Kingdom, and the Scandinavian countries), the midwinter season around the Winter Solstice was marked by the Yule celebration. Aside from a few traditions that almost everyone knows (the tree, the log, etc.) very little direct knowledge of that celebration has made it down to us today, but one thing that we do know is that part of the celebration included a belief that Odin (or his local variation), known during this season as Giftbringer or the Yule Father was believed to travel around and deliver gifts to his people. He was generally seen as wearing heavy fur-lined robes and with a long, flowing white beard. Sound familiar?

Saint Nicholas of Myra was a Greek Christian bishop in 4th Century Turkey, who was famous for his generous gifts to the poor. His Saint's Day was celebrated on December 6, and traditionally included giving small gifts to children in his honor. After Pope Julius I established the date for Christmas as December 25, the two celebrations quickly overlapped, and St. Nick's tradition of gift giving was soon an integral part of the holiday season. During the Reformation, the veneration of saints fell out of favor with the Protestant churches, and the idea of the Christkind (literally, "Christ child") was introduced to take the place of St. Nicholas as the gift bringer for the Christmas season. The Christkind would later become re-integrated with the idea of St. Nick, and would become the name Kris Kringle.

One of the reasons that the removal of St. Nicholas from the Christmas season did not fully take even among Protestants was because the Dutch would not let him go. Though I haven't been able to find any reliable information on why the Dutch were so stubborn (if anyone knows, I would be fascinated - I love good history stories), St. Nick remained a part of their traditions and was brought to the Americas with the waves of Dutch immigrants, where Sinterklaas (his Dutch name) would evolve to the now more familiar Santa Claus.

At around this same time, the English were importing Father Christmas, and the French were importing Papa Noel, two very similar figures who were usually portrayed as bearded men in red robes trimmed with white fur who traveled around delivering presents to children who had been good throughout the previous year. These presents were usually left in shoes or stocking that had been left out for that purpose, which is the origin of our modern custom of the Christmas stocking. Both figures were seen as great jovial men known for good cheer, whose arrival was anxiously awaited each year by expectant children.

St. Nicholas, Kris Kringle, Father Christmas, Papa Noel, and even Odin Giftbringer all figure together to form the modern idea of Santa Claus, the jolly bearded man who slides down chimneys to bring presents to good boys and girls around the world. All of these and so many more make up our cultural idea of the Christmas season. There are various differences and similarities, but they all share the idea of gift giving. There is even a list of “Christmas gift-bringers by country” on Wikipedia, which is rather long and still listed as “incomplete”. There are people who will argue endlessly over the meaning of Christmas, but one thing that is almost universally agreed upon is the idea that you cannot have Christmas without giving.

I don’t claim to have The Answers, ever - I believe a large part of the point of life is to ask the questions, one leading to another, revising the answers as new answers are discovered, which makes having any one right Answer somewhat difficult, to say the least - but this, to me, has always been the “reason for the season,” so to speak. The point is not why we give, or even necessarily what we give, but that we give. Through giving, we make the world better for someone, which usually has the net result of making the world better for all. If it’s done right, that is. If giving is truly giving, and not the false ideas that often go around disguised as giving but really have more to do with taking, then the giver and receiver both benefit, and the world improves.

It is possible that I have a perspective which offers some unique insight into this season. Though raised in a Christian church, I was raised in a church that did not recognize religious holidays, but did not go so far as to prohibit holidays. It was a culture that split the difference in a way I have not seen among most others where such holidays are usually either all religious or entirely banned. We celebrated things like Halloween and Christmas, but without the slightest hint of theology, so we always and only focused on the secular elements of family, giving, and universal goodwill. As such, I don’t share the modern confusion when I see families celebrating Christmas in different manners. I just see families celebrating together, and I believe this is a good thing. If more families celebrated together, more children might grow up learning the value of family and, though that, the value of love and the value of life. To me, that sounds like just about the greatest gift we could offer to the modern world.

We live in difficult times, but we live in amazing times. We have so many options available to us today, it is discouraging that so many people so often choose the negative options. Still, if more of us keep choosing the positive, we can continue to push the world toward the better, and it isn’t really a choice if the alternative isn’t available.

The spirit of Christmas is the spirit of giving, and the spirit of giving is always at odds with the spirit of taking. We have no shortage of such open conflict in the world right now, but this is a good time to take stock, a good time to re-evaluate whether one is giving or taking. Are we lifting the world up, so that we all can see from a higher perspective, or are we driving the world down so that we can only see over the heads of the oppressed? It makes a difference. One improves the whole, and helps everyone to see further. The other might let the individual see further, but not as far, only over the heads and backs of the whole, and only temporarily. When you stamp down on one surface so that you can see past it, that ledge tends to collapse over time. Then everything falls, and we certainly don’t get to see further.

This year, gather your family close to you and celebrate the spirit of giving. Give the gifts of love, togetherness, and universal goodwill. There are more than seven billion people on this planet. Can you imagine what we could do if we were all giving, what that combined effort could accomplish? Isn’t it about time we find out? Merry Christmas to all, and to all, Good Night.

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Friday, December 11, 2015

Holidays And Social Media

Those who know me individually on social media know that I tend to post quite a few more pictures and status updates around holidays, with a big push around Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. To some people, this may seem like a bit much, maybe even oversharing. I want to spend a few minutes with today's Friday spotlight to address that, and maybe offer a different perspective. If nothing else, it gives me an excuse to do another holiday post, and I rather enjoy holiday posts.

When I was a child, the whole family would gather for Thanksgiving and Christmas. My grandmother kept a stack of folding chairs in the spare bedroom, and we would bring those out, spread them around the house, and still not have nearly enough seating space. The house would be wall-to-wall children. Because I grew up in south Texas, this was handled fairly easily by tossing the children outside when their presence was not actually needed inside. That meant that we children got to file through the meal line first, so that we could get our food and get outside, out of the way. There are always benefits, if you know how to look for them.

As we got older, people moved away and the gatherings got smaller. My generation of cousins is rather large (I honestly couldn't give you a count - we collect cousins like some people collect coins), but my generation has also had far fewer children than our parents did. More of us also "left home" than was done by the previous generations, and both of these factors are generally true nationally. Family sizes have been steadily shrinking for generations now, more people live their adult lives some place far removed from where they lived their childhood than ever before. I think most of us know this, but it can lead to side effects that may go overlooked.

When I lived in south Texas and wanted to share something with my Mom, I just drove down the street. That street might be as much as thirty minutes or even an hour long - we didn't always live in the same town - but we could drive it without issue. When I wanted to share the decorations with the family, I just invited them over for barbecue, and vice versa. Obviously, things aren't so simple when you live more spread out.

If "what I want" were the only consideration, we would be back home in south Texas, and things would be easier. They still wouldn't be easy, though. Being closer to my family means being further from heather's family. Life is not always easy, and "what I want" is nowhere near the only consideration. All things taken together at the moment equals us continuing to live rather far removed from people we would rather have just down the street.

Enter social media. It isn't perfect, by any means, but social media has allowed us to share with distant people more easily than ever before. When I post those pictures of our decorations, I am sharing with the people I wish could see them in person. When they post their pictures, that is my way of staying in touch with family I can't see every day.

Try to keep this in mind when you see someone taking a picture or sharing on Facebook. It isn't always what you think. There has been a movement lately, judging people for their posts and reminding people to put down the camera and experience the moment but, for some people, that camera is part of the experience. If you have the people you want to share with right there so you can share, or perhaps if you are the type who doesn't like to share as much anyway, try to remember that not everyone has the same or is the same. Take a moment to step outside of yourself and try to be more understanding. The people around you may have experiences and needs you know nothing about. Go easy on the judgment if there isn't some kind of life-threatening need.

Happy Friday, have a great weekend, and enjoy this holiday season. Love the ones you love, and share some love with the people around you. Remember that love actually increases by being shared.

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Thursday, December 10, 2015

Christmas Wishes And Charities

In our previous article, I focused on Christmas and Holiday charities with a military or first responder angle. That one was originally written for a website that is devoted to military and first responder issues, but I thought it well worth sharing with our Frequently Interrupted family as well. Today I want to look at a broader picture and present some charities that aren't as specific, but are just as beneficial. As always, this is not a comprehensive list, by any means. There are many more out there, and anything that helps, helps. These are just some ideas to get you started.

Feeding America

The Feeding America network is the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization. The nationwide network of food banks provides more than 3.6 billion meals to virtually every community in the United States through food pantries and meal programs. They have a nationwide network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs that provide more than 3 billion meals to hungry families every year. While the Feeding America network operates year round, there is an extra focus during the holidays and right now they are running a matching campaign so that every donation is automatically doubled, feeding twice as many.

Angel Tree

The United States has one of the largest prison populations in the world. There is a huge debate over that subject that goes far beyond the purpose of today's article, but one piece that often gets overlooked is the fact that many of these inmates have children at home. Approximately 2.7 million children will face the holidays with at least one parent incarcerated. These children are undeniably innocent, and Angel Tree, a program of Prison Fellowship, helps to ease the holiday season for them through donations of time and presents. The children of inmates can often feel abandoned and left out, even though they have done nothing wrong, and Angel Tree tries to help them feel the love of the season.

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

There is never a bad time to help St. Jude, but the holiday season can be especially difficult for the children in their care. These children are fighting heartbreaking, life threatening illnesses, and that can make it more than a little bit difficult to get into the Christmas spirit. St. Jude offers a variety of ways to volunteer and donate, but one of the ones you might want to take special notice of right now is a feature on their website where you can create and send Christmas cards to the children of St. Jude. It's under the Get Involved tab, so go take a look. St. Jude doesn't need me to sing their praises - I've never met a person who didn't know what amazing work they do - but they do need all of us to help them keep doing that amazing work.

Heifer International

Hunger is not just a problem at home. In fact, it is often a larger and more pervasive problem elsewhere, in places where life can be so difficult that people have no time for holiday seasons. Heifer International has spent 70 years working to change this global situation. Through a combination of education, donations, and just plain hard work, Heifer works toward ending world hunger by improving local communities and helping local farms become more efficient and sustaining. The Gift Catalog at the Heifer website has a section for holiday-specific gifts, so you can find the giving style that is right for you, and help a community grow (we like the theme of growing communities around here, in case you haven't noticed). For $500, you can even give an actual heifer to a community farm in need.

Make-A-Wish

If you're not already familiar with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, you might be on the wrong website. I can't really imagine anyone reading Frequently Interrupted who isn't already a fan of an organization that makes dreams come true for children who are all out of dreams. The goal of Make-A-Wish is to grant the wish of every child who is diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition. Sad to say, but that's a lot of children, and a lot of wishes. It's a lofty goal, and one that cannot be achieved without the help of every day people in every day lives. The Make-A-Wish Foundation relies on volunteers, donors, and supporters around the world to make these dreams come true. Perhaps you can help give a Christmas miracle to a child in need.

The Salvation Army

Red kettles, ringing bells, and "Merry Christmas!" It's a sight and sound that is, for many of us, an integral part of the Christmas season. The Salvation Army Red Kettle bell ringers give of their time every year, rain or shine (or snow, as the case may be) to help raise money for needy families. Started in 1891 by Salvation Army Captain Joseph McFee with the goal of providing a free Christmas dinner to everyone in San Francisco who needed one, the red kettles have spread around the world and are now probably the most easily recognized donation site of the holiday season. If you're out doing your Christmas shopping, you will almost certainly see a bell ringer. Say Hi, say Thank you, say Merry Christmas! Give what you can, and help make someone day and season a little better.

However you choose to make the season special, I hope that it is special for you and yours and everyone around you. It can be a difficult time for some, so do what you can to make it less difficult. If you are one of those for whom it is difficult, reach out. Don't be afraid to ask for help. It isn't always obvious, but the world can be a pretty good place with plenty of pretty good people. You might be surprised how many people want to make a positive difference. You might also be surprised by how many people are right there with you, feeling the weight right now. You are not alone, but it's all a little easier if we all help each other. Together we can make a better world.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from ours to yours. Make it a great season this year.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Merry Christmas From And For Some Heroes

'Tis the Season, which makes it a good time to take a look at a few Christmas charities. I ran this information in a different forum last year, but it is certainly worth repeating.

Toys for Tots

The Toys for Tots program was founded in 1947 by Major Bill Hendricks, USMCR, in Los Angeles, CA, and was officially adopted and expanded into a national program by the U.S. Marine Corps the following year. Every year, around this time, Marine Corps League Detachments and selected local community organizations set up collection centers in public spaces to accept donations of new, unwrapped toys for distribution to less fortunate children in those same local communities. As of the conclusion of their 2012 campaign (the latest year for which I could find completed numbers), Toys for Tots had distributed nearly 17 million toys to more than 7 million children.

FOP Cops and Kids – Shop With a Cop

The “Shop with a Cop” program is a local effort conducted by police departments across the country, designed to remind children that the police are there to help. Police departments conduct fundraisers to purchase school supplies and Christmas presents for children who would otherwise go without, and then take the children shopping, so the children get to participate in picking out their supplies and presents. Through this, the Fraternal Order of Police hopes to make a lasting impression and make a real difference in their local communities, one child at a time.

Soldiers’ Secret Santa

The holiday season can be especially difficult for families of military members serving abroad. After a soldier in the 101st Airborne Division was killed by an Iraqi roadside bomb in early December, 2007, the Soldiers’ Secret Santa program was established to try to help ease this load, in some small way. Within weeks, the fledgling program raised enough to provide anonymous Christmas presents to five families and eighteen children. Today, the Soldier’s Secret Santa program continues to provide anonymous Christmas presents to the children of military members from all service branches, and is one of the fastest growing military charities in the country.

Holiday Mail For Heroes

Every year the American Red Cross helps to organize sending Thank You and Christmas cards to military members and veterans serving overseas or others separated from their families due to their military service. Beginning this year, the Red Cross is giving this program a new look, making it more about “neighbors helping neighbors”. Unlike previous years, there will be no national PO Box. Instead, local chapters across the country and overseas will organize individual programs, to benefit service members within and from those communities.

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There are, of course, far too many charities and events to go over in this small space, but these are some highlights that I believe are worth looking into. From everyone here at FrequentlyInterrupted.com, we hope that you and yours have a wonderful season. Stay safe, enjoy your families, and remember to keep moving forward, no matter the interruption.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to each and every one of you!

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