Friday, December 22, 2017

Yes Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus 2017

I take great delight in re-posting this one every year. I hope you enjoy it, and take it to heart.

I'll be taking my annual end of the year vacation next week, so there will be no regular updates here. Keep an eye on social media, because I will probably share things as I see them. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year.

***

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.

***

(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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Thursday, December 21, 2017

You Don't Know the Power 2017

Even before audiences knew the power of the Dark Side, we knew the power of a voice. In 1977, Darth Vader was poised to be little more than a glorified thug, a man in a full-body suit who made vague threatening gestures and, let’s be honest here, had all of the physical grace of Frankenstein’s monster. To be fair, he had the physical presence of the monster as well, provided by the fantastic body acting of David Prowse, and that certainly helped, but it was the voice of James Earl Jones that tipped the scale and gave the character that real sense of menace that he would become known for. Vader would go on to be one of the most memorable movie villains in cinema history, and that was due largely to a power that had remained mostly unknown before it was released upon the world.

Luke Skywalker was a farm boy who wanted to be somewhere else, almost anywhere else. He was every small town teenager looking for a way out while believing that nothing was under his own control. Ultimately he would be the pivot point upon which an entire galaxy would shift, being instrumental in ending an evil empire and reestablishing a force for good in the universe. In the process, he made Mark Hamill one of the most famous people in geek culture who has gone on to be an important element in a few popular franchises. Not bad for a backwater orphan whose previous ideas of excitement centered around shooting rats with his buddies at the local watering hole.

More recently, we have the character of Rey, played to perfection by relative newcomer Daisy Ridley. Kept largely under wraps in the pre-release build-up for The Force Awakens, Rey would turn out to be the epic hero of the movie, and has lit up the imagination of an entire new generation of fans. Retail outlets are having trouble keeping up with her popularity, and I know that I am in plenty of company with people looking forward to where she goes as this new trilogy progresses. I don’t think even Disney really knew how much she would take the world by storm, but you can bet they’ll be capitalizing on that fact now. If you’re one of the people having a hard time finding merchandise for Rey, be patient. I’ll be very surprised if there isn’t a flood coming in the very near future.

Power often comes from unlikely sources and in unlikely ways. Even with this Star Wars discussion, I’ve only highlighted a few of the more prominent examples, and those are actually just some of the more obvious ones. The Force users. The people who can demonstrate their power with the wave of a hand or the swing of a lightsaber. There are plenty of less obvious examples as well. Think about R2-D2, who probably has more Save the Day moments in the original trilogy than any other single character and is, hands down, one of the most popular characters in the entire franchise, all without a single spoken like. How’s that for hidden power?

The truth is that we all have hidden power, and most of us don’t know about it. That power won’t always present itself as dramatically as it does in the movies, but it’s there just the same. It’s in the examples we set, the lessons we provide, and the history we leave behind. True power changes the world, and everything you do changes the world. It won’t usually change in a big blockbuster cinematic way, but that’s a good thing. Small changes are less disruptive and can often lead to more long lasting, positive results. There is a reason that “May you live in interesting times” is considered to be a curse.

Don’t ever believe that you don’t have power simply because you don’t see it in action. I remember running into a guy a while back who I had known indirectly when we were kids. He’s a few years younger than I am, but has an older sibling who was often a part of my loose association of friends in high school, who was in turn a neighbor of one of my closer friends. We didn’t necessarily hang out all the time, but we saw each other often. One of the things that came up when we reconnected was his telling he remembered some weird but cool item that I used to wear way back when and then informing me that I was something of a trend setter. Me? As far as I had known, I was mostly invisible in high school but it turns out that there were people who believed I was a trend setter. I had no idea. I’ve learned over time that having no idea is far more common than most people realize. I found out about that one, but how many such instances never get discovered? You never know who is looking, and you might be changing the world in numerous ways that you know nothing about. Hidden power.

Power is a weird thing, and it is pretty common for it to go unnoticed until something happens where it grabs the spotlight. It’s possible that individual examples of power never grab the spotlight, but that makes them no less powerful. The merest trickle of water can cut a hole through a mountain with just patience and time. If you think about it, big, overt displays of power usually just cause trouble anyway. They’re a good way to get thrown down a reactor shaft or blown up because you forgot a little detail like an exhaust port, but large displays of power tend to be more about show than results. When it comes to results, a lots of successes will outdo one showy demonstration almost every time.

You don’t know the power that you have over the world around you, but you don’t have to know it to know that it is there. I can almost guarantee that you know people who you can see exert such power without knowing it. If you see one example and they don’t see it, isn’t it likely that there are more that you don’t see? Have faith that you are one of those. We all have power. Part of living a mindful life is using that power responsibly even when you don’t know that you’re using it at all. Figuring out that trick is usually what separates the Light side from the Dark.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Sun Returns 2017

We are quickly approaching the longest night of the year. For the northern hemisphere, the Winter Solstice for 2017 will be on December 21. 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 19, 2017

May The Force Be With You 2017

This past weekend, we took the family to see the new Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi. I have not had an opportunity to write about it yet (though I suspect that I will), but we all thoroughly enjoyed it. There were moments when, not only have I never seen my own personal beliefs so clearly displayed on the big screen, but they were even displayed on subjects about which I have been recently thinking and discussing. Yes, I strongly suspect there will be some Star Wars related posts in the near future. In the meantime, please enjoy some Star Wars flashbacks during our ongoing flashback week. Thank you.

***

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, many of us were introduced to a new story that would change our lives forever. If you happen to know a Star Wars fan, you know that I’m not exaggerating. If you don’t know a Star Wars fan, well … For one thing, that doesn’t seem very believable to me. How can you not know any Star Wars fans? I have a hard time grasping the idea that you might not be a Star Wars fan, but that you might not even know any fans? Odd. Anyway, if you really don’t know any Star Wars fans, trust me, I’m not exaggerating. These last few sentences might have given you a clue.

I love Star Wars. As a huge fan of big world-building invented realities, Star Wars has always been one of my favorites. In fact, it is quite possible that my love of that galaxy far, far away is part of how and why I developed such a fascination with those sprawling fictional universes. Star Wars was certainly one of the first for me, and it has been one of the most enduring. I was there for the original trilogy, and followed numerous books, comic books, video games, additional movies and TV shows, and all kinds of other additional fun-filled visits along the way. Now we have a new installment in the movie franchise, and it is lighting up the world with Star Wars love once again in a big way. It’s a pretty exciting time to be a fan.

The basic idea underlying it all is one that has a surprising amount of real world application. It is, of course, highly unlikely that you will be using the Force to levitate objects or choke an enemy (or nuisance, that Force Choke seems to get used on nuisances far more often than on enemies), but most of us are familiar with thinking of our emotional being as a pool of energy that ebbs and flows, gives and receives. Some of us are more in touch with it than others, and some need more training. It can be used for good or ill. The Dark Side often seems easier and with more immediate results, but tends to blow up in your face and really make a mess of things eventually. The Light Side requires patience and hard work, but will reward you with a positive, healthy life. It also just happens to be present in all living things. “It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together." The movies may have exaggerated a bit, but they didn’t exactly get it wrong.

In the movies, the choice is very stark: you are either of the Light Side or the Dark Side, but even in the movies it is often hinted that it may not be quite so simple. “Because there is good in him. I've felt it.” Much of Luke’s activity in the latter part of the original trilogy is based in the belief that things aren’t necessarily black and white, or, at least, that decisions once made can still be unmade. Made again in a different direction? At the very least, Yoda may have overstated things when he said, “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will.” In fact, proving that statement to be wrong, demonstrating the hope and possibility of redemption is a huge part of the original trilogy. Remember that Vader was supposed to be the next best thing to evil incarnate. He was a very bad man who did very bad things, most of which were only hinted at in the movies, but we see him come back to the Light in the end, however brief that return may have been. You can do good and you can do bad - and most of us will do a bit of both, from time to time - but you can also change your mind. You are not required to stay with the decisions you have made in the past.

That is not to say that you aren’t required to accept the consequences of the decisions you have made in the past. Vader died as a direct result of his decisions and changing his mind about those decisions. That is a pretty solid consequence, but there can be many others, even less tangible. You don’t have to be who you were, but you do have to clean up your own mess. If who you were involved some bad choices, cleaning up that mess may even be required in order to truly change who you are. Who we are today is a direct result of both who we were yesterday what we decided to do about that. Partial decisions will only lead to partial results. If you are going to be a better person, you have to address whatever was preventing that from happening.

The Dark Side is insidious and seductive. Once you start making bad decisions, it becomes more and more easy to keep making bad decisions. I have a feeling that’s what Yoda actually meant. It isn’t that making that decision will dominate your destiny, but that it will be difficult to undo and will become more difficult the further along that path you go. And, of course, teachers love to exaggerate for effect. It’s practically part of the job description.

Making one bad decision usually won’t destroy your life, but it can make it easier to make additional bad decisions. Living isn’t black and white, but it is best to focus on the Light whenever you can. It works that direction too. Making good decisions usually ends up making it easier to make additional good decisions, and over time it can act as a sort of vaccine against the bad ones. If you are scrupulous in developing good habits, you will be far less likely to fall prey to bad ones.

Good lessons can be hidden in the best places, and I think it’s great that some of my favorite movies also include some of my favorite lessons. We can learn from anything, but it’s even better when learning is fun. Remember that the Dark Side is a lie. It may look easier, but it won’t give you the better results. You may not be using the Light Side to levitate friends and teachers, but you can use it to lift your own spirits and be a better person. That’s ultimately what it’s all about, right?

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Monday, December 18, 2017

The Spirit of Giving 2017

We will continue the flashbacks this week, as we journey into the holiday season, and get ready for Christmas. If you have been with us all along, I hope you enjoy the reminders. If these are new to you, I certainly hope you enjoy that as well. Thank you.

***

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 15, 2017

Holidays And Social Media 2017

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 14, 2017

Christmas Wishes And Charities 2017

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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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Merry Christmas From And For Some Heroes 2017

'Tis the Season, which makes it a good time to take a look at a few Christmas charities. I've run this information before, but it is always 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

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.

***

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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Monday, December 11, 2017

Give Cheerfully

It's that time of year when we most often start to spend more time thinking and talking about giving. I hope we do so cheerfully, and I hope we do so secure in the knowledge of how much good we can accomplish in the process. Peace, love, and happiness, these are lost when hoarded and magnified when given. Remember that.

In the spirit of remembering, we will be running several seasonal reminders this week. If you are new to our family and have not seen them before, I hope you enjoy them. If you have seen them before, I hope you enjoy the reminders.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Namaste. Let's make a better world.

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Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Meaning 2017

With my birthday so recently past again, I thought it was a good time to run this reminder from our first year. It's also that time of year when I often start running some reminders, so I hope you enjoy them. 'Tis the season, and Happy Holidays to all.

***

If you’ve been paying attention - and of course you have - then you know that this past Monday was my birthday, and that I celebrated that birthday with a new tattoo. You also know that the new tattoo was the site logo for Frequently Interrupted. What you might not know, and what several people have asked me about now, is what it means. Today we’ll take a few minutes to answer that question.

The original idea was generated by reading about Project Semicolon. With my history, I was instantly intrigued by this idea of using the semicolon as a reminder that life keeps going. Pause, but don’t stop. I knew that I wanted to follow that idea, but I also knew that it had to be more than that. While I like things to be simple, I also like things to be artistic, and I also like things to be mine. I wanted something that could tap into the Project Semicolon symbolism, but I also wanted something that could express my uniquely artistic view of the world.

All of this consideration was taking place at the same time that I was beginning to put together what would become Frequently Interrupted. At some point in the early stages of design, I made two critical decisions: the end result would be the logo for the new website, and it would also be my next tattoo. With that in mind, I started talking to some artistic people I know (I may have an artistic mind, but I can’t draw convincing stick figures), and expanding on my original idea.

I had already put together the basic site brand that appears on many of my posts and images, and knew that I wanted to continue using the enso that was central to that brand. The Japanese enso is a Zen design of a circle made with one or two quick brush strokes. It can be an open or closed circle, but I prefer the open circle, as that adds an imperfection element to the basic idea, which is about being open to creation, minimalism, inner strength, and, ultimately, enlightenment. It has many subtleties of meaning, depending on who you ask, but it can be summed up in my mind as the enlightenment of recognizing the perfection of imperfection. It represents the idea that nothing is complete, and it is perfectly beautiful as it is.

I wanted to somehow combine the enso with the semicolon, and we hit upon the realization that two semicolons, inverted to each other, have a striking resemblance to the Yin and Yang symbol. Duality. Light and darkness together make up the whole.

I had what I wanted, or, at least I had the pieces of what I wanted. My own initial designs were as amateurish as might be expected, but I tossed them out to people who know better, and what came back was beautiful.

Long story short, it is a reminder that life is beautiful and worth it, not in spite of, but because of all of it’s mixed up imperfection. Life keeps moving. Pause when you need to, take a breath, and keep going. Everything is Zen.

Namaste.

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Friday, December 8, 2017

Beyond Description

Everything is transient, but what you are is more than the sum of its parts. Be truly yourself in all that you experience and you will always be enough.

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

Meditation Is The Journey

Every single step is a complete journey. Be present. Be mindful. Be complete. Experience your journey for all that it is in every moment, and live life to the fullest.

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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

A Mistake That Makes You Humble

We all want to succeed, but sometimes we get a little too caught up in that idea. We let success go to our heads and learn the wrong things from the lessons we are experiencing. Sometimes we need reminders. Stay humble.

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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Radical Honesty

There are three steps to this plan, and all three are necessary. Say what you mean and mean what you say, but never say it mean. The more we can keep all three in mind, the more we can make a better world.

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Monday, December 4, 2017

Kindness Is Like Snow

There is always room for kindness. There is always time for kindness. Kindness is the addition that makes everything better. Don't believe me? Give it a try and find out for yourself.

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Friday, December 1, 2017

No End To Knowledge

Learning who you are is an ongoing process. You don't figure it out. You don't arrive at a goal. The learning, if done well, never ends. This is the nature of learning. There is always something new.

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Thursday, November 30, 2017

A Mind That Is Stretched

Once you have learned, once you have become something new, there is no going back. You can't put on the old shape and be who you were before. You might try, but it won't fit. The wear will be uncomfortable, and nothing will hang quite the way you remember it hanging. Grow. Keep going forward. That is how we live.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Doing Your Best

No one is perfect, and you're not always going to succeed. As long as you are genuinely doing your best, always trying and working to correct when you do find errors, you will almost certainly be moving in the right direction. Keep doing that and you'll get there. The journey may be slow, but there's nothing wrong with that. Life is about the journey.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Go Further

This is another case where times have sure changed. It used to be that a child following in a parent's footsteps was the expected goal, but no more. Walk beside me, learn from me - both from what I teach and from my mistakes - and then follow your own path. Don't just go further than I did. Go further than I dreamed. Push the boundaries, and take the world with you. Conversely, parents, don't be afraid when your children outpace you. That's growth, and it's a good thing.

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