Heads up, phone down, left, right, left

It’s official – we’re dumber than we thought. The New York Times recently published a piece on the dangers of distracted walking (walking glued to electronic devices) complete with tips on how to walk.

Yep, it’s that bad. We need instructions on how to walk.

On the bright side, the article did not include instructions on how to stand upright. At least we still know how to do a few things. Sort of.

If Charles Darwin were alive, he might need to update that popular graphic on the evolution of man. Upright man is rapidly returning to crouched positon. It began with Earbud Man (head slightly down) followed by Cell Phone Man

Cell Phone man(head down, shoulders rounded and back hunched). Of course, there are the occasional interruptions in regression demonstrated by Selfie Man, who frequently assumes erect posture with an extended arm, elongated neck and upright head.

Distracted walkers are also known as petextrians, people who text while walking. Petextrians often stumble off curbs, walk headfirst into light poles, fall down stairs, or collide with you and your hot cup of coffee. They are like drivers who text, only without the protection of a large steel casing and airbags.

Petextrians often admit to texting while crossing the street. Anybody who navigates traffic areas on foot, glued to an electronic device, has weak survival instincts. Whenever you intersect the path of a human with the path of a motor vehicle, the odds are overwhelming that it’s not going to end well for the human.

Two of the more famous petextrians include a woman in Alaska who fell off a 12-foot cliff and had to be airlifted to safety before the tide rolled in, as well as the Pennsylvania woman who walked into a mall fountain while glued to her phone.

A man at the gym I go to often winds up on a treadmill only a few treadmills away. He has wonderful headphones that shut out the world. I know, because I have a pair, too. The man’s headphones lead him into such a deep, faux isolation that he often sings along. Loudly. The problem is, it is often hard to tell if he is singing or experiencing acute pain.

There is something captivating about the gadgets that let us create small worlds within the larger world. There is something compelling about the small devices that beep, buzz and chime. We have been conditioned to respond to them and respond quickly, like Pavlov’s dogs.

Unfortunately, unlike Pavlov’s dogs, we do not have eyes on the sides of our heads giving us good peripheral vision, nor are our reflexes as quick. And so we are back to square one, the basics of walking: “Look where you’re going.”

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons reports that, at any given moment, 60 percent of pedestrians on the streets of America are distracted while walking.

All this petextrian business gives added dimension to the jokes that used to begin, “A priest, a minister and a rabbi walk into a bar . . . “

 

 

 

 

Mary and Joseph are coming to town

A young pregnant woman, about to give birth, is refused suitable lodging. We are aghast. We are appalled at the dearth of human kindness.

That is the story we hear each Christmas about Mary and Joseph turned away because there “was no room for them in the inn.”

We wonder why wouldn’t somebody sorry no vacancymake room? Why wouldn’t somebody invite them in to sleep on their floor? We are incensed at the coldness; yet we are those somebodies.

Pollster George Barna once said when most people hear statistics, poll results, or information on behavior patterns, they usually apply the findings to others, not themselves.

We hear a report on the declining civility in American culture, and we think of someone else who has been rude or abrupt or who has behaved like a cad. We tend to give ourselves a pass.

We hear about a woman nine months pregnant forced to give birth in a shelter for animals and we think how self-absorbed those people were. Rarely do we consider that they were probably people just like us.

We could have been those somebodies all those years ago—too busy, too crowded, and too preoccupied. We could be those somebodies even now.

The inn has never been more crowded than it is today. Best wishes prying open the door. The inn is packed with over-scheduled people frantically coming and going, scrambling to host or attend parties, creating playlists, cooking, baking, shopping, wrapping and decorating. So much to do and so little time.

Why, no, we’d never shut out the holy family. We’d never be so preoccupied as to miss the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of Christ. Or would I? Do I?

Truthfully, much of what we do, the many activities and self-imposed requirements for celebrating Christmas, have little to do with the genuine meaning of the holiday. On the one hand, they’re fun and a delight to the senses and create marvelous memories. On the other hand, we grow nearly frantic with each additional activity, raising the water level a little more and a little more until we are struggling to stay afloat.

We recently watched a program about Christmas traditions in Europe. The narrator said the celebrations there are usually understated but elegant. We Americans have never done understated well.

We excel at doing things big. Even Christmas. Especially Christmas.

But perhaps the best way to celebrate Christmas is not to pack the inn quite so full. Leave room for the unexpected, for extending spontaneous hospitality and for a sudden change in plans.

Be the sort of somebody willing to make room. Keep the door open a crack. And in the spirit of advent, keep watch. Wait and watch—in the small snippets of quiet, in the still of the night, the early rays of sunrise, or the twilight of late afternoon—stay alert and you will witness the joy and beauty and mystery of heaven reaching down to earth.

 

‘What Can I Give Him?’

I’ve shared this poem in Christmas talks recently and have had requests to post it. I transcribed this years ago from a poor-quality cassette of a woman reading it at a conference.  Consequently, I may have the author’s name wrong and I may have a few words wrong (my apologies), but you’ll like the big idea.

Christmas starWHAT CAN I GIVE HIM?
Claudia Langin

As I’m thinking of Christmas, the birthday of Christ,
I’m thinking a gift for Him would be nice.
But what can I give to the one who owns all?
Nothing seems fitting; I could buy him the mall.

He owns all the cattle on the hills where they roam,
He owns all the valleys and oceans of foam.
I can’t knit Him a sweater or buy him a doll,
Nothing seems fitting; no nothing at all.

I remember His birthday, when to earth He first came,
And Kings from afar brought gifts in His name.
And the story of the drummer boy who had nothing to bring;
Except for his song to give to his King.

O what can I give him, what can I bring?
To Jesus the Christ child, to Jesus the King.
I’d give Him whatever He’d tell me He’d want,
If He’d give me a list I’d know where to start.

Then He whispered so softly that only I knew,
I could give Him my anger when my thermostat blew.
And how about that bitterness that had slowly crept in,
That had turned my faith sour and revealed my sin.

Or maybe that lie that I told just last week,
When it seemed so much easier than the truth I should speak.
Or maybe the anger that crept in on the way,
While jealousy lingered and pride seemed to stay.

Or maybe those thoughtless words that came out,
And hurt those that are near me or caused them to doubt.
I could give him impatience, hatred and strife,
I could give him my heartaches and troubles of life.

Or how about those motives too evil to share,
Or that depression that seems to come up from nowhere.
I could give him the critical words that I said,
Or the frustrations I felt before the kids went to bed.

Or how about those grudges I’m holding on to,
Or the pressure I feel when there’s so much to do.
Or my lack of forgiveness when others do wrong,
Or my unwillingness to sing when he gives me a song.

“Oh, what can you give me?” I heard in my ear,
“Whatever you’re willing to give me this year.
I need nothing from you, but want all that you are,
Not giftwrapped or fancy, not gifts from afar.

“Are you willing to give up those handcuffs of self,
Or is it easier to hide them up on a shelf?
Packages pretty of red, green and blue,
Are not what I’m asking this Christmas from you.

“Try giving a present to me every day,
The list will be shorter by Christmas that way.
The time is fast fleeting, there’s so much to do,
To be finished by Christmas is up to you.”

I dropped my head slowly and pondered awhile,
Then I prayed help me Jesus and felt his soft smile.
To others I’ll share the gift of my wealth,
But to Jesus this year, I’ll give him myself.

 

Ho, ho, hold that pose!

Today I offer simple rules and basic scare tactics for taking pictures of small children for Christmas cards. I did portrait work for some years, although today I only do portraits for people I am related to—or to whom I am deeply indebted.

The husband and I met while studying photojournalism at the University of Missouri. The story goes that we met in the darkroom to see what would develop. If you got that joke, thanks for laughing. If not, return to your iPhone.

A good rule of thumb for taking pictures of small children is this: for every year old the child is, that is how manymontage3 minutes the child will cooperate.

A second rule of thumb is that for each additional child you add to the picture, reduce the age-to-minutes ratio of cooperation by 80 percent. Or more.

A third rule of thumb (and yes, we are completely out of thumbs) is that you should expect the photo session, at some point, to become a train wreck. There may be tears, scowling, anguish, and wringing of hands— from the adults.

When you work with three or more small children, there is a good chance one child will jab or elbow another child. Physical contact will escalate and you will have to intervene. You will later feel guilty about putting the picture on a card that says “Peace on Earth.”

When you work with four or more small children, there is a good chance at least one of the children will be crying. Take the picture anyway.

When you work with five or more small children, plan on one of them exiting the picture entirely. This is why we have Photoshop.

What to do with uncooperative children? Bribe them – but carefully.

You can give a child an M&M, but never give a crying child an M&M hoping it will pacify the child. The child will gladly eat the M&M, but keep crying, only to have chocolate drool down the child’s face and onto the white shirt. All the other (non-crying) children will be wearing dark shirts, but the kid drooling chocolate will be wearing a white shirt.

If you want an easy and enjoyable experience taking family photographs for your Christmas card, it would be best to take pictures of family members age 95 and older. They usually move slightly slower than small children, are far more patient and may even nap as you change lenses and adjust the lighting.

It may be true that a picture is worth a thousand words, but the thousand words have been heavily edited. We have years of pictures of children, our own and others and now grandchildren, in which the children look calm, peaceful, casually color coordinated and fully cooperative.

For a split second, maybe they really were.

 

 

Kids have ‘wunnerful’ time on family room dance floor

You can still catch Lawrence Welk on Saturday nights. Of course, that’s assuming you want to. He’s on PBS, still leading ladies across the dance floor, tapping the baton with “ah one, ah two, ah three,” and cuing the bubble machine.

My three great aunts, who lived together in a two-story white clapboard house in Lincoln, Nebraska, used to watch “The Lawrence Welk” program religiously. It was like attending the United Church of Lawrence Welk—services lawrence welk ladiesevery Saturday night at 7. The room was hushed, viewers sat quietly and watched with reverence.

Despite regular attendance, I lost interest in Lawrence Welk and we went our separate ways, although I doubt Mr. Welk noticed. Maverick that I was, I found myself more drawn to Ed Sullivan who hosted acrobats spinning plates and a curious rock band from England.

Some years later, after I had married and had become a mother, I heard a familiar “ah one, ah two, ah three” drifting into the kitchen one Saturday night.

Our preschool children were plastered to the television, transfixed by Lawrence Welk and his color-coordinated orchestra. They were mesmerized by the hairdos, hats and costumes, the sets, the singing and the dancing. At least the girls were. Our son wasn’t that interested; he probably had something to dismantle somewhere.

“Back up from the television before those bubbles burst in your face, girls!” They did back up, all the way to the toy chest. They reappeared wearing play high heels, faux fur stoles and dress up clothes. They imitated the dancers on screen. They danced with each other. And they danced with their dad, that night and many Saturday nights to follow.

Eventually they, too, grew older and their tastes change. They lost interest and the Saturday night dances faded into memory.

We hadn’t heard from Lawrence for some time. Then a couple of weeks ago when three of the grands were with us for the weekend, one of the five-year-olds asked if Lawrence Welk would be on.

“Of course,” we chimed, as though he was part of our weekend routine.

They stared with big eyes at puffy hair styles, bright costumes and a beautiful brunette singing out her heart in Spanish. They danced with each other and danced with Grandpa. The numbers that seemed dated to us were fresh to them. The warmth and affection of the performers appealed to the girls as much as the gowns and the gloves.

And then a baritone crooner sang, “Somebody Stole My Gal.”

Somebody stole his gal!
Somebody stole his gal!

“What’s a gal?” a small voice asked.

“It’s like a girlfriend.”

“Somebody stole his girlfriend?” another asked with concern.

“It sounds like it.”

The three of them stood wide eyed in disbelief. There was palpable concern; it was an unanticipated ripple.

The next number began and the camera zoomed in on a woman playing trumpet.

“Is that a gal?” the 3-year-old asked

“Yep.”

“Maybe she’s the one he’s looking for!”

Problem solved. Cue the bubble machine. Adios, au revoir, auf weidersehn.

 

 

 

 

Why you probably can’t measure up to the dress

A website I was browsing offered a helpful feature for online shoppers—the  model’s height and the size of the dress she was wearing.

I was looking at a particular dress, wondering if it might be doable, if it might be forgiving in all the right places, if maybe I could actually wear it, when I noticed small print saying the model wearing the dress was 5’10” and wears a size 2.measuring tape this one

And another dream dies.

Knowing the model’s height and dress size unravels one of the great mysteries of the universe—why a dress never looks as good on most of us as it does on a model. Or on the hanger for that matter.

Statistically, the odds are far greater that you are closer to 5’2” and a size 10 than you are closer to 5’10” and a size 2. Same numbers, just a slightly different order.

Honestly, I wouldn’t even mind if they included a little asterisk beside the model’s stats that said, “If you’re not 5”10” and/or a size 2, and you regularly eat solid food, this dress will not look the same on you. Not even close. Not ever. Not even if we undo the chip clips.”

Have you seen the chip clips? They may be the ultimate fusion of food and fashion.

If you’ve glanced at the back of a store mannequin lately, you may have noticed the excess yardage of the clothing pulled to the back and gathered in what looks to be a chip clip. I saw one recently with a clip just like the one we put on the bag of tortilla chips. Or is it the Flaming Cheetos? Some people use chip clips to store chips, others use them to make their clothes fit. You’re either in one camp or the other.

The dress site that gave the model’s height and dress size also gave measurements for her bust, waist and hips. She was 34, 24, 34. She being the one whose lips have not tasted a medium rare steak in years, nor known the comfort of pie. It was like a flashback to the old Miss America pageants, where the host would announce the contestant’s name, the state she was representing, her height, weight, bust, waist and hip measurements in a warm and congenial tone, like it was the way everyone introduced themselves to strangers.

My first literary agent said that when she hit 50, she weighed exactly the same that she did when she was 20. It just all shifted.

There might have been a day I wished I had to use a chip clip on the back of a dress, but now I am glad to have them where they belong – on the chips. I’m also glad to know why the dress will never look the same on me as it does on the model.

 

Thankful for Ye Olde Pilgrim Games

We play outdoor games at Thanksgiving. I blame the Kennedys. As a child, I remember hearing about the Kennedys JFK footballplaying football at Hyannis Port every Thanksgiving. Everyone around me had eaten themselves into a carbohydrate-induced stupor and the Kennedys were outside playing ball. It sounded so fun. So wholesome. And they all had such good teeth.

We instituted a tradition of Thanksgiving games a decade ago when the youngest invited a bunch of college friends home the weekend before Thanksgiving. After feeding them, we announced Ye Olde Pilgrim Games would commence out back.

The original (and only) pilgrim game consisted of a person balancing the tip of a broom handle in the palm of one hand, staring up at the bristles and spinning in a circle 10 times. We told the kids that the game was a favorite of William Bradford. We think they believed us. Even the history majors.

After spinning wildly, the player throws the broom to the ground and tries to jump over it. This results in a lot of staggering, tripping, falling, sprawling and great Ye Olde Pilgrim Game photos. If only the Pilgrims had had cell phones.

In the ensuing 10 years, we have acquired numerous small grandchildren whom we do not want spinning to the point of nausea so our traditions are changing. Last year we implemented new Ye Olde Pilgrim Games, including a turkey chase and a deer hunt.

Yes, the deer did look a lot like the husband wearing felt reindeer antlers and a cardboard deer huntbox with four cardboard legs and a tail. Each grandchild got two tags, or purple Post-Its. (It is a little known fact that the Pilgrims lived in a two-tag county.)

They tore out of the house and flushed out the deer with shrieking and screaming. Back and forth, in and out of the pines, around the maple, the deer was tagged once, twice, maybe three times. Then the deer cut a sharp turn, stumbled and dropped to the ground.

The deer jumped back up, but his cardboard hindquarters had been crushed, his chest was creased, his antlers were catawampus and the tail was history. The deer hunt was suspended due to a sensitive toddler screaming, “Don’t hurt Grandpa!”

The turkey chase went slightly better in that there was no crying.  The goal was to pluck brightly colored feathers from the turkey. This was a tall challenge since the hunt party hovered around 40 inches high and the turkey was 6-foot-2 (tall for even a free-range pilgrim turkey). There seemed to be a clear winner until the kids started swapping feathers for different colors and eventually nobody knew which feathers belonged to who or who had how many.

In any case, new traditions were born and will continue again this year providing a deer and turkey step forward. There is one tradition that never changes however, and that is the one of gathering around the table, sharing a bounty of food and giving thanks to God for his generous provision. A heart of thanksgiving was as essential to life in 1600s as it is today. The world around us changes constantly, but a few of the permanent things never do.

Wrap rage leads to life on the cutting edge

Nothing destroys self-confidence like losing a battle with a package marked “Easy Open.”

Last week a shrink-wrapped smoked sausage got the better of me. A big red arrow marked the Easy Open corner where you peel the front from the back and the sausage gleefully falls into the skillet.easy open

I tried peeling the Easy Open corner with my fingernail. I tried separating it by flicking it back and forth. I thought about trying my teeth, but why risk hundreds of dollars’ worth of dental work on a few bucks of meat?

I decided to cut right through the package with kitchen shears, but realized my old pair had snapped in two and the new ones I had purchased were still unopened in one of those impossible to open blister packs. It’s quite a conundrum when you need shears to get at your shears to get at your sausage.

Blister packs are the culprits often causing wrap rage. Maybe you haven’t heard of wrap rage, but it’s real. I know this kitchen aid shearqsbecause it is on the Internet. Wrap rage is defined as “heightened levels of anger and frustration resulting from the inability to open hard-to-open packaging particularly some heat-sealed plastic blister packs and clamshells.”

Ninety-one percent of Canadians have experienced wrap rage. Two-thirds of Brits suffer wrap rage. There are no statistics on the number of Americans suffering wrap rage because we are suffering from pollster rage, which precludes us from answering questions about wrap rage. So much rage, so little time.

Wrap rage is usually caused by blister packaging, a thick, hard plastic that conforms to the shape of the product and is virtually impenetrable, short of a box cutter, hack saw or the fangs on a German shepherd.dog teeth If you do manage to pierce the packaging, razor sharp edges will then lacerate your hands and knuckles. In fact, blister packaging is a terrible misnomer. It should be called cut and bleed packaging.

Of all the things housed in blister packs (hair styling implements, batteries, tools, lightbulbs) the saddest ones of all are the dolls. They cower in rigid, plastic bio domes with zip ties fastened around their limbs. It’s sick, like they’re in bondage. There’s something wrong about a child watching an adult wrestle a thick plastic tie from around the neck of Baby Drink and Wet.

Of course, the reason we encase and tether everything from toy trucks to cosmetics and computer accessories is to prevent theft. Today there is absolutely nothing that someone won’t steal — from steak and shrimp at the grocery to the copper tubing on an air conditioning unit.

Our youngest worked at a Bed Bath and Beyond in college and said the most frequently stolen item was the votive-size Yankee candle. I wish I didn’t know that because now whenever I’m in someone’s home and they are burning a Yankee candle, I wonder if they stole it.

It might be a good deterrent to theft to package votive candles in blister packs and then require offenders to open
thousands of them using nothing but broken kitchen shears. And maybe their teeth.

From death to the joy of life and a burgundy recliner

We have had a strange run with a funeral nearly every week since late September, a sad and mournful toll of accidents, age and disease.

Having been witness to the finality of life so much in recent days, it causes me to ponder my own mortality and how I might live differently.

After considerable thought, I decided not much.

I live intentionally for the most part, and am prepared to meet my Creator. That said, I did decide I would probably clean out some closets and dresser drawers and wish our finances were in better order. Note, I didn’t say I would actually put our finances in better order, simply that I would wish they were in better order.

The heartache of death is often tempered by the joy of new life, which is why Providence ordained that I would be hosting a baby shower this weekend. I dropped off decorations to be assembled to a friend and neighbor helping with the shower.

Her house was trashed, just as she said it would be. Paper scraps with pencil squiggles were scattered about in the front hall. The family room was littered with toys and stuffed animals, games and scads of plastic hangers. The trail of clutter led directly to a burgundy recliner. There sat my friend’s husband and their granddaughter, snuggled side by side watching Bob the Builder or some other such show with short people wearing yellow hats operating construction equipment.

My friend’s husband has a Ph.D, in history. He’s not a cartoon sort of guy. But he was today. And he was happy to be so.

The charmer beside him was feeling secure and content, sheltered from all the world and all of life’s uncertainties by her grandpa’s presence and strong right arm.  What a golden start to life, to be loved and protected and made to feel safe. How different life might have been for some of those making headlines had they been showered with love and stability as small children. The little one shot me a look with her dark brown eyes that clearly said, “Do Not Disturb.”

I wouldn’t dare.

The book of Genesis details the creation of light and the heavens and the water and the land and all the things that swim in the seas and move upon the earth. Each of those wonders is anchored within the creation of time.

I was saying goodbye to a young family recently after an hour or so together. They are intentional about their use of time and were on their way to another commitment. As we parted, the father sighed and said, “It seems we are always so busy.”

We all are. And therein lies the rub — how to harness time and use it in ways that will reverberate through hearts and minds and eternity.

One of the greatest gifts we are given in this life is that of time. One of the greatest gifts we can give others is time.

So put your arm around a loved one and have a seat.

 

Kids can’t take these grandparents anywhere

One of the most treasured moments of parenting is taking your children out to eat and having a stranger comment on how well behaved they are.

We know because it happened to us. Twice. OK, maybe it was only once.

As a realist, I am always sympathetic to the embarrassed mother with the wailing infant in her arms or screaming toddler plastered to her legs. Having been there and done that, I often smile and offer support by whispering, “Hang in there. Tomorrow will be better. Or worse. You never know.”

Naturally, as grandparents, we wish for our grandchildren to be well behaved in public places and not create the sort of spectacles that wind up in YouTube videos. When we took four of the grands to Steak ‘n Shake, we went over the expectations for behavior. They all listened attentively and the 1-year-old responded, “Baa, baa, ack!”

Our server showed us to a somewhat isolated table at the back, near the restrooms. Every time she passed by, she left another stack of napkins.

The kids were coloring, folding cardboard cutouts, patiently waiting for their food. When the server brought water (with lids) they all placed them near the center of the table to avoid spills. Milkshakes arrived and they carefully put those, too, near the center of the table.

I nearly expected a stranger to stop by and compliment the children on their behavior.

A few moments later, the child to my right pointed out she had dribbled milkshake on her shirt. Reaching for a couple of napkins, I elbowed her milkshake and knocked it flat. Milkshake instantly flooded our side of the table, rolled over the edge and began cascading in waves into my lap. I was catching milkshake by the handful, throwing it back into the glass and onto my plate. The children were stunned and wide-eyed, probably because they’d never seen Grandma throwing milkshake overhand. The husband hurled napkins across the table. We frantically smeared milkshake from east to west. My clothes were sticking to my body and my shoes were suctioned to puddles of milkshake on the floor.

Wordlessly, our server dropped off another round of napkins.

We hastened the eating along and the husband, being of the waste-not, want-not mindset, offered a glass of milk still half-full to the little one in the high chair. Never hesitant to express her disinterest, she batted the glass out of his hand, sending milk arcing like the beautiful St. Louis Gateway Arch, all of it showering the husband.

The server stopped by with more napkins. The kids were cowering under the table and the baby was inconsolable.

As we stood to leave, the husband noticed that our pants were so soaked that we both looked woefully incontinent. I considered that we might be stopped at the door and asked if we were responsible enough to manage small children.

We delivered the children back to their parents. Our own kids looked us up and down with our splattered shirts and wet pants, and chorused, “What happened to you two?”

“All you really need to know is that we tipped 50 percent of the bill,” I said. “Oh, and don’t be surprised if next time the kids want to go without us.”