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8 days until Christmas…

I want to talk about ghosts, those scary, shadowy phantoms that haunt all of us.  The dictionary definition of a ghost is a dead person’s soul, imagined as a vague, shadowy figure.  My definition is a bit different.  Now maybe I watched too much Casper when I was young, but I think ghosts are typically friendly and they’re usually trying to teach humans a lesson.  Aren’t ghosts just people spirits in 32% transparent bodies with a 78% vivid light outer glow?   Yeah, okay, I spend too much time with Photoshop.  I do believe ghosts can be dead or alive.  Whether it’s the dead ones that are completely invisible or the live ones that are in plain sight, their presence is known.  Yesterday I visited one ghost, and two ghosts visited me.

The Ghost of Christmas Past

I have to say, I didn’t want to see this ghost anymore than Scrooge did, but I reluctantly, yet intentionally decided to visit him.  This particular ghost is one that I usually don’t go searching for, but I thought it might shed some light on my Christmas beliefs and struggles with our existing Christmas culture.  This particular ghost is a vintage Poloroid camera, as the ghost of Christmas past has presented himself in photographs.  The person behind the camera?  My grandpa.  He passed away many years ago and I miss him terribly.  My grandpa was a shutterbug and also the designated family photographer.

My first exploration took me to a large box in the garage, filled with old photos that belonged to my grandparents.  I enjoy looking at the past, captured through my grandpa’s eyes, on these little black and white squares.  I love visiting this box, but you couldn’t tell that from the amount of dust on it.  I searched though the box, looking for any Christmas photos I could find.  I found Christmas photos of my dad, aunt and cousins.

The second part of the search took me to my own childhood albums.  These albums were meticulously organized by my mother, every photo page referencing my age in years and months.  I can only imagine what these albums would look like had they known scrapbooking back then.  Not only do these albums contain photographs, but every birthday card I ever received as a child.  There must be hundreds of them, and I would venture to say, there are as many cards as photos.  I guess that explains why I don’t like cards.  All those cards are symbolic of how many superficial contacts my parents had, it was the number that meant something, not the depth of the friendships.  Christmas was no different, there were hundreds of cards taped on the wall, creating an oversized map of  numerical acquaintanceships.  It looked to me like the US, and if anyone looked closely enough, I expect they would have seen tiny little cars driving aimlessly all over it, looking for an unknown destination.

I was an only child until the age of 13, and I was the poster child for ‘spoiled brat’.  The photos I found depict the excess of gifts, boxes in such large quantities they spilled out into the room from under the tree.

I remember getting so many gifts, my mom always shuffling me toward the things she liked best, asking me how much I liked this and how much I liked that.  She was buzzing around the gifts, all the while, reminding me how lucky I was to get all this stuff.  As a child, I remember it being fun getting so many presents, but the moment it was over, the emptiness set in.  I saw my friends and neighbors celebrating Christmas and I could tell, even at that young age, that they were experiencing something I wasn’t.  It looked nice, felt warm and seemed surreal, yet I had no idea what ‘it’ was.

The ghost of Christmas past brings a melancholy gloom, but visiting with this ghost gives me hope.  A hope that I might be able to find ‘it’.

The Ghost of Christmas Present

Get it?  Christmas ‘present’?  I crack myself up!  The really funny thing?  This crazy ghost manifested herself in the form of a present, and yes, she led me into the abyss of retail madness.  The human ghost behind the present is Candy.

Remember me telling you a few days ago that I needed to buy one more gift?  Yesterday, I set out to find a pair of mismatched shoes for Candy.  No, you couldn’t pay me enough to go to a mall to shop this time of year, although you could pay me to go there and people watch.

I made my usual discount store rounds, looking for a specific ‘Converse’ style pair of shoes, but in two different colors and patterns.  Now I haven’t been shopping in a long time, but when did all of the shoes turn brown and black?  What happened to all of the fun colors and styles?  Boring!  I received some strange looks as I asked for help, and as I’m guessing, nobody actually goes to the store to purposely purchase a pair of mismatched shoes.

I have to say, I was very excited to find a pair of Sketchers for $16.99.  Yeah!  All I have to do is find another inexpensive pair in the same style, now how hard can that be?  Let me just say that I never intentionally bought a pair of mismatched shoes.  My favorite pair?  One came from Kelly Tuggey, the other from a thrift store.  I really needed to get back to work.  Where should I go to find another pair to stylistically match?

Running out of time to find a deal, I had to settle for a higher priced place.  I finally found a pair of orange Ed Hardy shoes.  Yes Geoff, I paid $49.96 for these puppies!  I know I will never hear the end of this.  That was about half of what they would cost at the mall, but it’s way more than I would ever consider spending for a pair of shoes.  And don’t get me started on the statement part of this!  Ed Hardy… phssshhh.

So what did I learn from this ghost?  I learned that sometimes it’s good to do things you wouldn’t normally do.  The cost, whether financial, emotional or otherwise, is very worth it.  Even though I won’t be there to see Candy open her gift, I know that she will love the shoes.  I’m going to write her a note and have it translated, telling her that she is special and loved not only by me, but everyone.  Yes, Candy is a very special ghost.

The Ghost of Christmas Future

I met the ghost of Christmas future last night and her name is Flo.  She was at the nursing home where our church was hosting a Christmas party for the residents.  This is a photo of Flo talking to one of the kids at the party.  The little girl was asking what her name was and Flo replied, “My name is Flo.  Pretty crappy name, hey?”  She had my full attention now.

Flo and I have the same hair philosophy, wash it, go to bed, and whatever you wake up with is the new style of the day.  Capturing Flo in a photo was a difficult task, as she was working the room at an unbelievably rapid pace.  Her walker, with tennis ball feet, must be jet propelled.

During one of the Christmas songs, she was dancing.  I later told Flo that I captured her dancing on video.  She asked, “Is this the New Year’s party?  You got me dancing?  I don’t remember doing that.  I’m not leaving this party until I see myself on TV.”

Flo is cute and spunky, and in her day, I bet she was a blast to hang out with and had many friends.  Flo disappeared from the party early, I’m assuming to get ready for bed.

A while later, a large group of us went caroling down the halls.  There were four wings, and I so desperately wanted to find Flo again.  Toward the end of the last hall, there it was, Flo’s room.  She and her roommate were sleeping.  I see Flo as the ghost of Christmas future because that will probably be me in 40 years.  We were not allowed to take photos in the rooms, you know, all that HIPPA junk, but when I saw the painting hanging over her bed, it took my breath away.  I had to secretly snap a photo.

In the nursing home filled with small traces of personal artifacts, arranged into the same basic, beige shell, this colorful painting spoke loudly about Flo.  I knew the moment I saw it hanging over Flo’s bed, that she loved color… and loved life.  I so terribly want to know her story, but Flo’s memories have been stolen from her.  Sadly, Alzheimers, or whatever she has, might have taken her memories, but it made me happy that it did not rob her of her wonderful personality.

I told my kids about Flo last night during our prayer time.  Joe prayed for her not to die before he had a chance to meet her.  She might be his ghost as well.

We can all learn from our ghosts, and whether you go seeking them or they come to haunt you.  Don’t be frightened.  Also, don’t ignore them.  Remember these are friendly ghosts, and they want to show you something in your life through their own human experience.  The Christmas spirit?  Yep, it’s a ghost, and I think I’m a little closer to it now.

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12 days until Christmas…

I’m at the hospital this morning.  My friend Elizabeth is having her final surgery this morning.  E has been battling breast cancer, and is fully expected to beat it.  I’m at Medical City Hospital, and this is one crazy place.  The cute little old man at the information booth sent me to the wrong floor.  After visiting a few restricted areas, I talked to a friend that gave me the correct info.  I found her and got to spend some time with her before her surgery prep.

Last night was the Chateau Cinema showing of It’s a Wonderful Life.  Block parties in my neighborhood are always a blast!  We had to wait for some warmer weather to do this one, so it was a last minute thing.  I borrowed the extra projector from work, yes, the one that says ‘replace bulb’ which always makes me nervous that it will choose to die when I have 20+ people watching it.

I like getting together like this, however organizing events is not my gift.  I have to do things spontaneously, not planned.  Jay has the best plan, just do something and invite people on your Facebook status.  Now that’s my kind of inviting people!  I did print small invites for everyone on the street and the boys and I taped them on every door.

Every neighborhood has a creepy house that everyone avoids and ours is no exception.  The boys were taking turns going from house to house, and we were quickly nearing the dark angel house.  I had every intention of skipping this house and thought if I distract my kids, we could walk past it without them knowing.  As I tried to execute my plan, Cole noticed we were skipping a house, and as he proceeded to the door, he made no secret that he was irritated about me even considering the possibility of excluding someone.

They just rolled E down the hall.  She’s ready for surgery, well, as ready as anyone can be.  We lined up on both sides of the hall and did the sporting event hand slaps as they rolled her toward the restricted area.  We love you E and we’ll see you in a few hours!

Everything was set up in the front yard for the outdoor theater.  Movie screen, check.  Projector and speakers, check.  Patio furniture and fire pit, check.  Inflatable Santa, check.  No, not really, but my next door neighbor has one.  Yes, we’re ready for sunset and an awesome time with friends, drinking hot chocolate and toasting the giant pillow-sized marshmallows I brought back from Mexico.

We started the movie and many people showed up, not only from our street, but from the Facebook invite.  The kids had fun playing while the adults watched the movie.  Toward the end of the movie, the temperature dropped significantly, then the kids came to snuggle with their parents.

The hospital just moved us to the pediatric waiting room, although I’m not sure why.  Maybe because E, like me, is a kid at heart.  Or maybe it’s because all of us, her friends, act like children in the waiting room and they don’t want us disturbing the grown-ups.  Well, either one makes sense.  We’re going to go downstairs and grab a bite to eat before heading to our new location.

The movie ended and everyone helped me do a quick clean up, then they headed home.  I went inside to my warm, cozy house and was immediately overcome with sadness.  I thought about all the homeless people that endure this bitter cold every single night.  I want to help them.  I don’t know what that means yet, but it’s on my heart.  Maybe I need to start the ‘shares‘ program here like they have in Chicago.  Maybe I need to go downtown and experience the homeless situation in my own area, meaning Frisco and Dallas.  This feeling won’t go away, maybe it’s part of that Christmas spirit I’m so desperate to find, although it’s not what I expected.

I’ve had this feeling for a long time, but it’s been getting stronger lately.  I was hoping to cross paths with some homeless or impoverished people on my trip to downtown Dallas last week, and as I said in an earlier blog post, I was ready to help.  I’m glad I didn’t see any of them, as it was very cold that night and I was hoping they all found warm shelters somewhere.  But more than that, I wanted an education that night.  I want to know their stories and how they got there.  This photo is staged, but makes me think this might be a likely scenario one night when we are at home in our suburban palaces.

We just got word via a small scalpel icon on the large FamilyVue plasma screen that they’ve started E’s surgery.  A little impersonal, but it’s good to know what’s going on.  They have a little icon that looks like stitches when they start sewing people up too.  Again, this seems a little odd, but again it’s nice to know what’s happening.  I suppose that keeps people from pacing and wearing out the carpet like they did in the olden days.

I miss doing photo shoots with E.  She and I are the ones that started the ‘photo safari’ group.  We’ve had some great times scoping out small towns, looking for abandoned houses or any other interesteing places we can trespass.  Just for the record, if “keep out” or “no trespassing” is posted, then we don’t go in.  But that doesn’t mean we stay out of trouble.

I keep thinking about these feelings I have, the ones of concern and love.  I’m aware of worrying about my close friend and also thinking about homeless people I don’t even know.  These feelings are very similar, although very different.  I realized today, whether it’s my closest friend or someone I don’t even know, all of these people mean a lot to me.  Life is the greatest gift and we should cherish it.  The Christmas spirit feels closer today.  It really is a wonderful life.


22 days until Christmas…

God is awesome!  He arranged some ‘bonus’ family time.  I usually don’t have my boys on Thursdays, but he knew we needed some crazy, fun, out of the ordinary time together.  We ditched homework, house work and everything else we didn’t really want to do.

We went to the hospital to see a friend’s new baby, then to the store to buy candy for our Christmas boo bags.  (Christmas boo bags will be explained in a future post)  We also bought some hot chocolate and lots of marshmallows, now prepared to start our new family tradition… Santa shooting.  Again (from yesterday’s post), this is not with a gun, it’s with a camera.  We picked up a couple of the boys friends and took off in the car to look for quirky Christmas yard art and photograph it.  Oh, and we had our hot chocolate, each cup with enough marshmallows for six cups.

People in west Frisco don’t seem to enjoy the hazy plastic people yard art, unless it’s in the form of a nativity scene.  The west ‘Friskies’, as Hank Stuever calls them, are on the conservative side with yard decor, that is, everything with the exception of lights.  There were basically three types of lights.  First, the ‘hired’ lights.  These people spared no expense in purchasing lights and they were clearly hung by professional elves.

Second, the ‘I have lights on my house because it’s a Christmas expectation’.  These lights are sometimes required by the HOA, but probably more often a husband putting up the three strands of lights in an awkward manner to check it off his honey-do list.

Third, the ‘bountiful jumble’.  These houses have as many strands of lights as they can possibly place on the outside electrical system without blowing a fuse.  These random sets of non-matching lights have strands added every year.  Half of the yard is traditional lights, the new strands are the bright LED’s.  Basically, they have replicated the WalMart sample light display into their yard.  After these people put their lights up, they most likely look up and down the street to be sure they have clearly won the “I have the most lights” contest.

Although I was disappointed not to see yards filled with Christmas weirdness, I can always find a photo opportunity.  This one was light painting.  Instead of trying to explain this, I’ll just post the photos.

The kids got to play, we learned some new photography skills, but most importantly, we all had some great family and friend fun time.  Living differently, a tinselectomy of sorts.  More tomorrow…


24 days until Christmas…

We put up our Christmas tree last night.  The good thing about it?  I didn’t get stuck in the attic this time, trying desperately to get the tree down.  I spent over an hour up there last year, no cell phone and nobody in the house to save me.  But the best thing about this year?  It felt good.  It was good to rearrange the furniture in my small house to fit the gigantic ten foot tree.  It was a pleasure to listen to Christmas music while decorating the tree with my kids.  It was even nice getting the tree out of the attic this year.  Why?  Because I stripped away the social expectations of Christmas.

My ‘tinselectomy‘ has been a progressive thing, as I have never cared for the craziness of Christmas.  Growing up, Christmas was defined as whatever my mom wanted.  The pristine, Better Homes and Gardens tree was put up the day after Thanksgiving and taken down Christmas day.  By bedtime, there were no visible signs that Christmas ever happened, other than the loads of extra toys that were meticulously stored away and a sad feeling like something was missing.

After all my years working in retail, watching the insanity and working ridiculous hours to accommodate shoppers that have no appreciation for anything but buy more things they don’t need, I began to dislike Christmas.  Not the meaning of it, but the commercialized version of it.  I remember having to open the store during the ‘season’ and the hundreds of people waiting to come in, looks of anticipation and glances at their watches, waiting impatiently to carry out their strategic plan.  Run and grab all the items they absolutely had to have.  We set the security cameras to record the frenzy, counted to three, unlocked the doors, then had to quickly press ourselves against the wall to avoid being trampled to death by crazed shoppers.  I gave that tape to the local news station.

Over the years, Christmas to me was just a time of year where people were too busy replacing relationships with materialism, justifying it with family photos printed on cards with quirky family updates written inside.  Great, your kids are perfect, your life is wonderful and we are all a year older.  I quit sending cards years ago, although I do send some printed photos to my grandma.

This year?  I’m celebrating with old and new friends, and even with people I don’t know.  I’m giving my time and financial resources to people in need, not people in want.  I’m teaching my kids to do this as well.  I’m changing the way I live to keep doing these things after Christmas.  And if you want to know what’s going on in my life and my kids lives?  Look at my wall on Facebook, updated daily.

Don’t worry, I have a photo as promised in yesterday’s blog post.  It’s December, and in Texas, the trees are still deciding whether or not it’s time to drop the leaves.  Fall?  Winter?  It’s hard to tell.  Oh, wait!!!  We had snow flurries last night.  The trees are probably angry now.  I like snow… on postcards.

Apparently the holidays are a big blur for some people.  Just to make sure we don’t miss any important holidays (you would think it’s illegal not to decorate here) so we will put up the Christmas tree with the pumpkin in front of it.  That would be the Halloween pumpkin with a face on it.  I would love to say this was the only house decorated in multiple holidays, but we saw many of them during the two hour shoot.  In the words of Rod on cold meds, “Merry Christmas or whatever…”  Whatever has become of Christmas?  I better go watch Nightmare Before Christmas so I can find it.


25 days until Christmas…

Only 24 more shopping days until Christmas!  Oh wait, maybe they’re actually going to open stores on Christmas now.  I feel awful for the retail workers.  Not only is this a crazy time of year for them, but they didn’t even get to enjoy Thanksgiving.  I know this, because I worked in retail for several years.  Doorbusters have been around for many years now, but as everything we do at Christmas, it has reached the point of ridiculousness.  If we can’t open earlier than the store down the street, than we’ll open the day before… Thanksgiving.

Let me just say I am all about getting a good deal.  Why can’t these stores just all give good prices and run some regular sales instead of creating mass chaos?  The stores are controlling people.  The stores decide when we shop, how we shop and what we buy.  And if Black Friday isn’t enough, we now have Cyber Monday.  UPS, get ready.

My 24 days left will be spent avoiding stores.  The few gifts I am buying were purchased at a local discount, hole-in-the-wall store.  Yes, they do still exist, but they aren’t easy to find.  I also made my one online purchase, the one gift my kids are getting besides their passports this year.  The gift was $19.95.  The rest of the money we would spend on Christmas?   It’s going to Casa Hogar Elim in Mexico, to the Sons of Lwala in Kenya and to some local compassion ministries in Frisco, Texas.  Have a tinselectomy!  I did.

Elizabeth and I found a new form of holiday entertainment, well, probably more like a hobby.  We went Santa shooting last weekend.  No, not with a gun silly, a camera.  We will be doing this throughout the ‘season’ and will share some photos with you!

This is our first find, and quite honestly, the most funny and somewhat disturbing.  I like to call ‘The Symmetrical Hazy Plastic People Nativity Scene with Flying Peanuts’.  Yes, because inflatables aren’t weird enough just sitting on the ground, let’s bungee it across the walkway so Charlie Brown and Snoopy can hoover over baby Jesus and hit people in the head if they come visit us.

If this is your house, and you’re reading my blog, just know that I also do some weird Christmas things, so don’t be offended.  We’re just having a little fun.  I use flamingos in my yard and I have a full size mannequin named Darla.

More Christmas fun tomorrow…


clean

cleanThis is a light painted photograph that was part of my series called ‘excessable’. 


smokin’

smokin’This is a light painted photograph that was part of my series called ‘excessable’.  


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