Tag Archives: shopping

free stuff

When we arrived to the Mission Arlington conference Saturday morning, Tillie was quick to put us to work. What better way to see what is going on there than to experience it first hand? Works for me, I’m ready! She quickly found drivers for the three buses filled with garage sale leftovers. She then asked for volunteers to go with the drivers to take these buses to specific apartment complexes to give it away. I have no idea what other jobs she had, as Christine and I jumped on this one.

We headed out to our bus with Mark and Joan. Mark was driving and we figured we would just get in the bus and go. The bus, an old handicapped city bus, was packed so full there was no place to sit, much less get in. We decided to sit on the steps of the bus and ride along. Probably not the safest thing, but it’s God’s work and to me, it made perfect sense.

None of us had a clue that MA did this kind of stuff. They go to garage sales that are over and pick up all of the remaining items. What an awesome way to get this stuff to people that can use it, not to mention it’s a great way to be green and help others.

When we arrived, we found a grassy area by the office and mailboxes to unload the bus. Storm clouds were rolling in however it was not raining yet. Our instructions? Unload the bus, knock on doors to let everyone know that we’re there with free house wares, clothing and other free stuff and give it all away. Honestly speaking here? I did not want to knock on doors. I quickly offered my services of unloading the bus. Turns out we all started unloading the bus before knocking on the doors.

I’m not sure what got into me at this point… well, it was obviously God, but after about ¾ was unloaded, I said, “I’m going to knock on doors.” I quickly ran off to spread the word: free stuff. It was about 10am? Not a lot of people answered their doors, probably one in four or five. I was also reminded yet once again that I don’t speak Spanish and should really learn just a little bit.

As I was going door to door, my brain was on overdrive. This is not a world I am familiar with, yet it felt very comfortable, like I was meant to be there. Some of the million thoughts running through my head… I didn’t plan on doing this today. What was I planning? I need to learn some Spanish. These people can cook, that smells good. I wonder how many times this building has been painted? These doors are heavy and have a lot of locks. My knuckles hurt. I wonder what these people are thinking when they look through the peephole and see me? It’s chilly in these hallways. I wonder how many people are over there getting stuff from the bus? How do we do something like this in Frisco? I live in a palace. I have a lot of stuff. How can this world be a 40-minute drive from where I live? Why haven’t I been here before? I worked for a low-income property management company, could I have done something to help people? Can I still contact them now and do something? Wow, many of the apartments that opened the door have a picture of Jesus on the wall, some with candles. Okay, you get the picture, through my ADHD eyes.

Mark came looking for me, apparently I just kept going and knocking. Well, I hadn’t gone to all the doors yet, right? I knocked on a few more and went back. The area was swarming with people! How incredibly cool is that?


As people were shopping, or as I like to call it, treasure hunting, it began to rain. Just a little bit at first, but that didn’t slow down the hunters. Tillie had told us before we left the we might have to do the rain plan since it was going to rain. So what was the rain plan? It was the same as the dry plan. Always was, still is and will continue to be that way. Helping others doesn’t stop with a little rain, or even a lot of it. I’m guessing when we have a few snowflakes and all of Texas goes into an unnecessary panic-shut-down mode, Mission Arlington does not.

While I was knocking on doors, a gentleman that sells taquitos came by and left a food package for us. We didn’t have anything to drink, but they smelled so very good. As the shopper traffic died down, we sat in the bus and ate our food. There was a baggie of green chili sauce that smelled so good, I could have just opened the bag and ate it all by itself. Without drinks, if it was spicy, we were all in some trouble. I decided to try it. It was not too spicy, but it did have a little kick to it. The others declined the green mystery sauce. I had some left over, and yes, I packed it up and placed the green liquid gold into my backpack to finish later.

It started to rain much harder, so we moved all of the stuff onto the sidewalk under an eave. The few shoppers that were there stopped to help us. We moved everything right in front of the mailboxes so we were hoping the mail person didn’t come anytime soon.

We got a chance to talk to some of the later shoppers before we packed up to leave to go back and be assigned to our next adventure. We only brought back maybe a fourth of what we had. As we were about to drive away, the mailman showed up. God’s timing is perfect.

There are so many lessons to be learned here, and this was only the beginning of the weekend. I suppose besides the obvious lesson of always helping others, it was weighing on me a lot of just how wasteful we be. I’m not judging anyone here because I can be wasteful too, purchasing things I don’t need, getting sucked into the strategically placed retail ‘impulse’ items and buying things to make my life easier without thinking of the consequences.

After this experience, I’m even much more intentional about shopping at thrift stores, not retail stores. I’m trying to be better about not being wasteful and teaching my kids that as well. And don’t get me started on impulse purchases. My kids and I have a plan. If it’s something we didn’t plan to buy when we went to the store, we walk away for at least 24 hours. If we remember the item and we still want it (and can afford it), we can go back and get it.

I’m not sure what the shoppers were thinking about this whole process, maybe a subconscious appreciation for the people that bought the stuff in the first place. Maybe they were happy to get some free stuff, needed and wanted. Maybe they didn’t even think about it at all. Either way, I hope they felt loved.

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the book is DONE!

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Christmas -4 days.

Christmas is done for the year.  We took our tree down, hauled it up to the attic and all the evidence of Christmas is gone, as if it never happened.  We each left an ornament out to remember the changes we want to make this Christmas and throughout the next year, but in our house, that’s not really out of the ordinary.

What is out of the ordinary?  Choosing to help others and live differently in a way that changes life as we know it.  My kids really didn’t seem all that bothered by the lack of gifts they got from me.   They still received the mandatory 27+ gifts from my mother, gifts they will never give a second thought to once they are put away.  They were both on board with the plan of donating money to their favorite charities, but I just wasn’t so sure come Christmas, they would still feel that way.  I was pleasantly surprised.  Christmas evening, after the kids came home, we rented a few movies and enjoyed some time together.  After all, I had not seen them for almost a week.

Yesterday we ventured into the stores, only for the purpose of grocery shopping and finding a small rug for my closet floor.  No store was exempt from the typical long return lines and post-holiday sale events.  Seriously, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

I decided yesterday to clean out my closet and get rid of the mountain of unused linens.  Why do I feel the need to hang on to stuff that I will never use again?  I made the compulsory closet purge, filled up the Infiniti sleigh and headed for the thrift store.

After unloading our surplus of worldly possessions, we went treasure hunting.  No, not shopping, treasure hunting.  Shopping is buying overpriced new ‘goods’ at large chain stores.  Treasure hunting is finding something special, previously owned by someone else at a price that doesn’t break the bank.  My kids quickly made their way to the toy section, disappointed that it was mostly baby toys.  I headed for the crowded book area, my kids not far behind.

I found a Man Ray photography book for 50 cents, which in the bookstore, was probably closer to $50.  Man Ray is one of my photography inspirations, mostly for photograms.  My photogram ‘Coffee Addict’ is one of my favorites… not that I have coffee issues or anything like that.

Cole found a Star Wars picture book, which he kept directly in front of his face in the entire time we were there, miraculously not walking into anyone or anything.

As we were making our way toward the front of the store, I stopped to see if there were any jeans or sweatshirts for the boys.  I guess everyone has been doing their Christmas purge, as the racks had three times the amount they usually do.  I found this t-shirt that pretty much sums up what society is teaching our kids.  “WARNING: allergic to lame gifts.”  I wanted to buy the shirt just so I could destroy it and take it out of the clothing circulation.  I would have saved the small candy cane skull icon though, as it seems appropriate to use as a symbol of our cultural Christmas consumerism.

As we neared the front of the store, Joe didn’t seem to bothered that he didn’t find anything.  That is, until he turned the corner to find a kid-sized guitar, complete with stand and strings.  His little face lit up and I knew that guitar would be coming home with us before he even asked.  I don’t know much about musical instruments, but just the stand alone probably would have cost $19.99, which was the price for both.

We stood in the very short line at the checkout, quickly making it to the register.  The lady at the counter was very nice, talking to all three of us as we were paying for our purchases.  The last item rung up was Joe’s guitar.  The lady asked who it was for and I pointed to Joe.  I explained to her that he has been wanting to learn how to play, but the full size guitar I bought a while back, still has no strings and was really too big for him.  She told me, with a very sad face, that this guitar belonged to her son… her son that had passed away six years ago, and she finally had the courage to part with some of his things.  I promised her that it was going to a home where it would be appreciated and loved.

As we were leaving the store, Joe asked me if the guitar belonged to another kid, as he overheard part of our conversation.  A little uncomfortable with his completely appropriate question, I tried to shuffle him out of the store so I could explain about the previous owner.  The lady heard him and said, “It belonged to my son and he’s in heaven now.”  What does anyone say to that?  There are no words that could have lessened her pain or brought him back.

As we climbed in the car, there was grief-stricken silence.  A silence broken only by discussion of the young boy that we never knew, yet felt so attached to at that moment.  Both kids had many questions about the boy, “How did he die?  Are you sure he really died?  How old was he?  What happened to him?  Why did his mom still have his guitar?”  They were asking questions I would never have answers to, and questions I’m not sure they thought would be answered.  I had the same questions in my head, but speechlessly saying a small prayer that the lady would have some peace around her son’s death, a situation where I cannot comprehend a peace could possibility exist.

We tend to surround ourselves with things we like, stuff that entertains us or makes us happy.  Material things are not evil, that is, unless we order our lives around them instead of people and relationships.  I don’t see a problem with a bound portfolio for artistic inspiration, a book for imagination and fantasy or a guitar to learn self-expression through music.  Inanimate objects are visual triggers for remembrance, things that pull memories from deep within our minds, surfacing them as current thoughts for enjoyment, reflection and sometimes necessary action.

Are all of my non-essential possessions useful or meaningful?  Not entirely, but I can honestly say that most of them have some meaning or story behind them.  I don’t do new year resolutions, but I will challenge myself to be more aware of my attachment to belongings.  I guess belongings is a good word for this, as it is broken down to ‘be longing’.


2 days until Christmas…

There’s not much time left until Christmas.  It will go by very quickly though.  Looking at the Facebook news feed, I get the distinct feeling people are ready for this to be over.  People are either extremely tired or they are frantically shopping.  Well, maybe they’re just tired of shopping.

It reminds me of what it’s like to take a road trip, the busyness of preparing for the trip, running around making sure you didn’t forget anything.  Is everything packed?  Did I give the key to the neighbor?  Are all of the important items checked off my to do list?  (it’s not even possible to complete all of them)  Should I check my email one more time?  Is the iron off?  Oh yeah, I don’t have an iron.  Okay, I think it’s time to get in the car.

Pulling out of the driveway, I’m going over the mental list in high speed, before I’ve driven too far to go back and get whatever it is I’ve forgotten.  Once I’m on the road for a little while, this restful peace sets in.  Ah, the blissful haven between life’s pandemonium and the inescapable reality of a final destination.

As I dream of the adventures, the gentle rocking motion of the Infiniti sleigh is soothing to me and I’m trying to adjust the volume of the radio.  Turn, turn, turn… to no avail.  Eventually I’ll replace the shocks and get the volume knob fixed… or maybe not.  The sleigh has character and it makes me smile.  Not because it’s been paid off for 8 years, because it’s my happy place.  The sleigh takes me to wonderful places and the unexplored universe of reckless abandon, a place once called home to someone.

I will be in the car for many hours.  I have my journal and camera ready for action.  What great adventures will I find?  On a trip to Austin with Amy and my boys a few months ago, whenever we saw something interesting, we wrote down the exit number, then stopped at all of them on the way back home.  The trip home took 3 times longer and was 100 times more fun.  What did we see?

I think back to the many road trips I have taken over the past several years.  The tiring anticipation of an arrival.  Will it be the ‘getaway’ I expected and needed?  As I wonder if it was worth going at all, the moment finally comes.  Arrival.

I’m here, the red push pin and the pulsing blue dot have finally come together.  For a brief moment, the purple cloud of excitement is overwhelming.  As quickly as it came, the cloud dissipates and reality sets it.   My chaotic life has just moved to a new location.  Plug in the computer, check email, unpack and get out the time-away to do list.  Did I turn off the iron?  No, because I don’t have one.  Maybe I should get one so I can check to see if it’s turned off.

Why does a road trip remind me of Christmas?  People are scurrying around trying to accomplish all of the last minute details to create their perfect Christmas experience.  What did they forget?  Before they know it, Christmas day is here.  Did they find any moments of tranquility or fulfillment?  Did they find their happy place?

I knew Christmas was coming and at some point, I did find a place of contentment and joy.  Now it’s so close, I’m apprehensive and too busy to enjoy it.  What will Christmas day bring?  Happiness?  Loneliness?  Joy?  Sadness?  I don’t know the answer to that question.

I have learned something about Christmas this year though, it’s about the journey, not the destination.  The fantasies and lofty expectations of Christmas are an unavoidable let down.  I plan to enjoy the journey when I can and embrace the Christmas chaos when I have to.  I will not get caught up in the commercialism of Christmas, as it creates a false sense of pleasure, and in end producing a massive plunge into a materialistic despair.

I love the true meaning of Christmas and I hope to experience the joy of the day, but honestly?  I’m ready for it to be over.


3 days until Christmas…

Three days until Christmas really means only one more day to get all of my work done.  This year we have Christmas eve and Christmas eve, eve services.  Yikes!  Short blog today?  Probably not.  😉

Last night, someone found by blog with the search words ‘why do people choose chaos’.  I doubt they found the answer to that question here, as I choose to embrace it, but now I’m pondering the question.

First, what is chaos?  Let’s take a look at the definition.  It is defined as ‘a state of utter confusion or disorder; a total lack of organization or order.’  Synonyms: disarray, jumble, turmoil.  Antonyms: order, peace, calm. Or in other words, my writing style?  Well…

So do people chose chaos, or is chaos a result of human actions?  Is it something that we’re born into, and on some level, will always have to react with accordingly?  I believe life itself contains chaos, and from what I see, an abundant quantity of it.  I do believe we can choose our own level of participation though.  Now I’m not talking about a person just choosing to be disorganized and live in a messy house, I’m talking about cultural chaos.  The chaos that results from masses of people coexisting on this planet, the development of our interactions and the outcome of our participation in society.

Cultural chaos is not only having too many choices, but the expectation that we are to participate in all of them on some level.  Since this is the 25 days of Christmas blog, let’s look at Christmas chaos.  Before I do that, I want to share a conversation I had yesterday with a couple of coworkers.

This little guy was sitting on the desk, inside a plastic bag, smiling at me.  Of course I took him out to play with him, and I also got him a car to ride.  Zoom, zoom!  Peppermint wheels!  I’m glad Sonic still believes in peppermint wheels.  (see Jody’s List from 2 days ago for the reference)

As a few us us were talking, someone said, “It’s the Wal-Mart symbol.”  I immediately argued that Wal-Mart cannot own the smiley face, as it’s a representation of happiness in the 70’s.  Can anyone copyright a smiley?  One person in the room asked, “Somebody designed it, don’t they own the rights to it?”

The answer is yes.  Harvey Ball designed it and owns rights to it, and as you would expect, Wal-mart and their high priced attorneys tried to claim ownership.  In 2008 they lost… or did they?

If we see the smiley and consciously or subconsciously think of shopping and happy prices at Wallyworld, mission accomplished, right?  It hurts me that this symbol of happiness makes people think about a money hungry retail giant.  They might not legally own the smiley face, but make no mistake about it, they do own it.

Now, back to Christmas chaos, which by the way, is just a more specific form of cultural chaos.  Why do you do all of the things you do at Christmas time?  Because you want to?  Because you feel you have to?  Maybe because you’ve been doing it this way for so long, it’s a programmed holiday response?  Is it a tradition?  I recently heard about a child asking her mom what a tradition is.  The mom answered, “It’s something that was started long ago, things we still do today, but we don’t like to do them.”  So why?  Christmas chaos is the fusion of many old customs and countless new practices.  We try so desperately to hang on to something magical from the past and try fiercely to make it work in the present, all the while adding new things, creating a new framework of chaos every year.

Adbusters magazine, a radical, yet thought provoking publication, or as they call themselves, a journal of the mental environment, addressed the christmas chaos in one of their issues a few years ago.  They encouraged people to not buy anything for Christmas and to remember the real meaning of Christmas.  Here’s an image from the article…

The article encouraged people to do a ‘Jesus Walk’, cut out the Jesus face and walk around with it at shopping malls.  They also asked people to photocopy the ‘Garbage Christ’ image and tape it up in any public location they could.  Now, I realize this is radical, and being an activist would be considered reverse chaos.  I  also know some people might find this offensive, but is it anymore offensive than celebrating Christmas without Christ in it?  That’s celebrating the ‘mas’, or mass.

Civilization creates icons of all sorts, placing in our subconscious, the type and location of where they want you to participate in their piece of the chaos.  I don’t want people or large companies dictating what I do and why I do it.  Yes, we have brains and we have to respond, but we don’t have to be clones of society.  They create chaos that we can choose to be a part of or we can learn to coexist with in a healthy way.

Chaos is a really deep subject and I can only hope to scratch a tiny, barely noticable mark on the surface of it in it on a daily blog.  You’ve heard the saying if you can’t beat them, join them?  Chaos exisits, whether we like it or not.  I don’t know if the person searching for the chaos answer was looking for this answer.  In my mind, the answer?  I think it’s ‘comfort zone’.  We choose chaos because it’s what we know and it’s comfortable, even if we don’t like it.  This Christmas, you can beat the chaos, join the chaos, make fun of the chaos or embrace the chaos.  Get out of your comfort zone.  Even if it’s just a little bit, baby steps are good.  Try it.  You can always return to the chaos, if you choose to do so.


6 days… no, wait, 5 days until Christmas…

Whatever.  I can’t count!  Leave it to me to try and change the birthdate of Jesus.  Okay, math has never been my thing.  I’m focusing more on the artistic process here, not the time, or time-math.  Work with me people.  Only one person has been brave enough to point this out, and as soon as he gets out of the hospital, you can ask him about it.

Have you read The Five Love Languages?  I have, and although I may not know my love language, I know what it’s not.  It’s not gifts.  With that being said, please enjoy my 2009 Christmas gift giving guide.

The 2009 Christmas Gift Giving Guide by Jody Wissing (aka Jody’s List)

Your most memorable childhood gift.

What was the coolest, most mind-blowing gift you received as a child?  No silly, besides the box it came in?  Mine was a Krazy Kar.  It’s that bright yellow thing with the swirly peppermint wheels.  I don’t recall how long I had it, but I know it was several years.  I’m guessing it was completely worn out, not suitable for anything but plastic recycling, as I loved it to death.  I had no idea what this was called until last week when I posted this photo on Facebook.

The Amloid Krazy Kar Ride-On is available on amazon.com for $75.99

Product description: The Krazy Kar is as equally wild as it is wacky! Drive it forwards, backwards, or in circles for indoor and outdoor fun all year long! Features giant 3′ action ride-on and big 18″ wheels. Made with safe, rugged, durable construction and holds up to 70 lbs. Colors may vary. Adult assembly required.

Although I like the new edition of the lightening bolts, I’m a little saddened that the swirly peppermint wheels are gone.  Oh well, nothing a little paint can’t take care of.  And 70 pounds?  How am I supposed to show my kids how to ride this if I can’t?  Their Green Machines hold up to 180 pounds, not that I ever take advantage of that.  But hypothetically speaking, let’s say you want something like this so you can ride it too.

The Deluxe Whirly Wheel is available at amazon.com for $99.99

Product description: Kids use their hands to power this innovative twist on the conventional ride-on. Lightweight construction helps riders cruise right along, safely take corners, and spin 360s on almost any surface. Features a steel frame, rubber tires and a padded seat for riders up to 110 lbs.

Okay, so I don’t weigh 110, wishful thinking, but I’l only a bit over it, so technically…  Also, if you buy one of these for your kids and they choose to keep spinning in circles, keep them outside for a little while before bringing them in the house.  Is your favorite toy still available?

Creative, memorable and just downright awesome.

What is the most meaningful or creative gift you have ever received?  The most creative for me was a bouquet of paintbrushes.  I’m not a flower kind of girl, and this gift giver, although knowing me for a short period time, gave me a meaningful gift.  I was married for eight years and the man still gave me flowers when he was in the dog house.  That made me angry, spending a crazy amount of money on something that’s dead upon arrival and will look like it in three days.  I cannot comprehend this.

The most memorable gift?  Flamingos and Skelemingos.  Again, this friend took the time to know what I would like, not jewelry, not flowers, not a sweater, but something quirky that nobody else would ever think to buy.  Not that your friend will want these, but just in case…

Skelemingo Pair available at thepinkflamingo.com for $15.95

Product description: NEW!!! One pair of s-c-a-r-y, b-o-n-y flamingoes! For All Occacsions: Halloween, Over-The-Hill Parties, Special Birthdays, Block Parties, Special Occasions, Retirement Parties etc. Can be used indoors or outdoors. “Perfect for the party…then in the yard for the rememberance!” When assembled they stand approximately 34″ high. Made in the U.S.A. of HDPE plastic.

How well do you know your friends?

Red fish, blue fish, old fish, new fish.

Dr. Seuss might be on to something here.  Why do we feel like gifts must be something new?  What’s wrong with old stuff?  Anyone can go into the cookie cutter stores, purchase mass produced material goods (available in many colors and styles), take the stuff home, wrap it in a bunch of fancy mass produced paper and call it a day.  Thought process?  “I’ve made my expected purchases, checked it off the to-do list and I’m on to my other busyness.”  What has been accomplished here?  We’re supporting financial insanity and overseas sweatshops.

Now don’t get me wrong.  We need people to buy lots of new stuff, because without that, there would be nothing at the thrift stores.  I would not have found my $1,300 grill for $70 or my son’s $595 Sleep Number bed for $6.  Okay, I’m being sarcastic, but seriously, if you are supporting thrift stores with your old stuff, please continue!  These stores raise money to help needy people, so why not go treasure hunting?  It’s three times better!   You are saving money, you’re supporting people in need and you’re spending the time to look for something special for your loved ones.

Favorite resale shops:  CCA (Christian Community Action) in Lewisville and The Colony and Frisco Resale, obviously in Frisco.

You can Google these for locations and also look for other resale shops, as there are many great ones in our area.  Buy gifts with character.  What would that person on your list fall in love with and not regift?  Oh, and don’t get me started on the re-gifting thing…

Judge a book by it’s cover.

With all of the used bookstores around, and to use a car dealer term, why not buy some pre-owned books?  There are many great reasons to do this.  First, you can write a special note in it for the person you’re giving it to.  (Unless you’re buying a book for Jerod Chambers, then you need to write on all of the pages in the book, as he loves that!)  Second, with the the endless number of topics and abundant, ingenious styles, it’s easy to find a book for any person on your list.

But my favorite part of giving books as gifts?  Altering them.  That’s right, altering them.  Write notes, scribble, paint, tape things, glue cutouts, add bookmark strings… the list goes on.  There’s two ways to do this, make a book into a completely new books by gluing pages together and adding your own embellishments, like the vintage books pictured here.  The other idea is much simpler, just add your own stuff to the book on the blank pages, creating a personalized copy of whatever book you’re giving.  Either way, I doubt this gift will end up in a thrift store.  Oh, what a dilemma, which idea should you choose?

Personalized recycling.

At the risk of offending anyone who’s done this, I just have to say, this has brought a whole new level of ridiculousness to gift giving.  I have to add this to Jody’s list, but as a ‘don’t do it’.  What is it?  Personalized wine bottle etching, the gift that keeps on… recycling?  So let’s suppose you get one of these treasured heirlooms, and instead of keeping it in a rack, you actually want to drink it.  Hmm, now you’ll have an empty bottle that will look really nice, if you just happen to love empty wine bottles all over your house.  Great, just what I need, a guilt trip if I throw this bottle away after enjoying it, as it was intended.  Or maybe I should keep it, and I’ll set it on the counter when you come to visit.  No, this bottle will be a wonderful addition to my recycling bin.

Look, I’m all about the free stuff.  The engraving is free at Market Street if you buy a bottle of wine over $10.  I have to ask, what is the engraving guy thinking?  He didn’t look all that happy to be doing this, or he might just have been in his engraving ‘zone’.  Do your friends really need a name on their bottle of wine to know it belongs to them?  If you’re not sure, look inside their coat and see if their name is written on the tag with a Sharpie.

Your resources.

I was at a party last night, one where the white elephant gift exchange was the football half-time event.  Cool!  Because I’m all about finding an unusual gift.  The gift I walked away with last night was a good one.  It was someone giving me two hours of their time for whatever I might need it for.  This got me thinking.

This Christmas I’m trying to live differently, giving my time and money to people in need.  Let me just say that I am giving money, but I don’t have a lot to give.  I’m also giving my time, and even though there’s not a lot of that either, I have more time than money.  What are your resources and how can you use them to help people?  My kids and I chose to sponsor Casa Hogar Elim and The Sons of Lwala this year, financially and with an allotment of our time.  What would your friends think if you did this in their name as a gift?  My experience?  It inspires other to do the same thing.  Give to someone that can’t give back this Christmas.  Set an example of giving goodness for others to follow.

The ultimate gift.

God gave us the greatest gift of all, his son.  When gift giving this Christmas, or any Christmas, just remember why you’re doing it.  Don’t get sucked into the vortex of materialism and meaninglessness.  Celebrate the Ultimate Gift by giving gifts with the true meaning of Christmas in your heart.  (Yes, even if it’s an impractical engraved bottle of wine)


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.


10 days until Christmas…

Yesterday I was pondering my favorite Bible verse, Romans 12:2.  It’s so applicable to the Christmas consumerism and might just be another clue in finding the Christmas spirit.  Here is the verse in two popular translations.

NIVDon’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

The MessageDon’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

This one short verse floods my mind with vivid images, many of them exist as photo light paintings in a collection I’ve entitled “excessable”.  I was also inspired to paint this abstract rendition of Romans 12:2 earlier this year.

The details on this canvas were painted with cookie cutters and guitar strings.  I always start painting with brushes, but end up painting with my hands and three dimensional objects.  I guess I do that because I like the feel of the paint and the energy that goes into the painting by touching it.  I also like finding objects that produce intriguing impressions, creating a visual adventure on the canvas.  You can often find the ‘hidden’ eye candy in my art pieces if you look long enough.

The cookie cutters symbolize our current culture and represents the expectation placed on us to conform to our society.  The guitar strings could represent the ‘strings attached’ to us, but truth be told, I just love painting with them.  This painting was auctioned off last month to raise money for the Sons of Lwala benefit.

I’m thinking about Romans 12:2 lately because I desperately want Christmas to be different this year.  Does anyone realize that we’ve all been sucked into this vortex of materialism, buying things because we feel we have to, not because we want to?  If it’s the thought that counts, what does this say about how we feel and what we think of people?

The more I take notice of my surroundings, the more I see a contrast of rich and poor.  Also of good and evil.  However, I also see that people are slowly coming over from the dark side, doing random acts of kindness and serving mankind in very creative ways.

We have the ‘tinselectomy’ thing going on at the church and they’ve asked people to blog stories of helping others or stories of something nice that was done for them.  The problem is, this can’t be done anonymously, so most choose not to share their experiences.  They don’t want to be boastful or prideful about it, but we need to find a way to get their stories out there as an inspiration for others.

In talking to people and simply paying attention in my day to day activities, I’m witnessing so many stories!  People are doing wonderful things for their friends and for people they don’t even know.  I’m going to share some of these stories without using names.  There are so many, and I’ve tried to update my journal frequently to record all of them, but I know I’ve missed some.  I’ll just share a few of them.

The most recent story happened yesterday.  My friend called me to see if I needed anything, as I had a sick child at home.  I needed some Sprite and crackers for him, but I did not want to take him out of the house.  She brought everything he needed and also something for me.  All of my neighbor’s, together, picked up my other child from school and brought him home.

This friend that brought the supplies, whom has been out of work for several months, has a job interview in a couple of days.  To understand this situation a little better, her husband has also been unemployed.  She mentioned her coat being in hock at the dry cleaners.  She needed to get it out, but didn’t really have the money to do so.  Another friend overheard this, went to the dry cleaners, picked up her coat and brought it to her.

She didn’t get the coat right away, because she and several others were out serving lunches they had made for the day laborers, the guys standing in the cold, waiting for any paying job they can get their hands on.  These men sometimes don’t eat for a couple of days at a time.  We plan to make this an ongoing ministry once the Christmas season passes.

Knowing these men are standing in the cold, another guy I know, but not very well, bought a bunch of coats to give to homeless or impoverished people.  We have experienced some incredibly cold temperatures and I’m sure those coats are going to be much appreciated.

Many of these men have families they are trying to support.  Our church sponsored a party for the kids last week giving them some toys and an opportunity to talk to Santa.  Another friend, knowing many of these families don’t have cars, not only tried to arrange transportation, but she gave rides to anyone needing it.

I could go on writing stories all day, spanning from friends collecting money to buy a shower chair for a special needs orphan to paying for a person in line behind them at a restaurant.  Although these people have chosen to remain anonymous, their hearts are in the right place.  Are they experiencing the Christmas spirit?

Do you want to participate?  There are plenty of ideas available on the internet, or just try this simple exercise.  Look closely around you, through the lens of kindness and mercy, and you will see things you’ve never seen before.  Your mind will be transformed, as will your heart.

Also, if I peaked your curiosity earlier on the ‘excessable’ collection, here are some of the images.  Not really Christmas related… or are they?


13 days until Christmas…

Bright and early yesterday morning, I got a glimpse into a new world, one I had not experienced before.  The new world?  Wrestling.  My son has been doing this for a couple of months now, but this was the first time I had the opportunity to take him to a tournament.

The night before, we drove across town to get him weighed in.  They weighed him and inspected him, in a very non-personal manner, writing on him with a Sharpie every time something was determined.  If I was nine years old I would want to wrestle too, just so I could have the marker art all over me.  When the process was complete, the coach said, “You can go over there and see what bracket he’s in and you can buy your brackets for tomorrow.”  I smiled and said, “thank you.”  Buy what?!  Surely I didn’t hear that correctly.  He said they might change before tomorrow, so I figured we would just do the bracket thing tomorrow, whatever that was.

We arrived 30 minutes early the next morning.  There were people everywhere, I couldn’t even find a parking spot.  I parked on the grass with a few other cars that were also on the late side of early.  We walked in and I had no idea where my child was supposed to go.  The ‘brackets’ on the wall are in a special, secret code that everyone else understood but me.  Where are the decoder rings?  I never found one in my Cracker Jack box.  There were no less than 30 sheets of paper taped to the wall with lines and fine print.  Where is Carla Moss when you need her?  She probably wouldn’t even need a decoder ring.

Joe found his coach and we finally got tot the right place.  Joe was on mat 8, match 4, so we had a little time to find a seat and wait for the tournament to begin.

Let me just say that I don’t get organized exercise.  Sitting there, I had a flashback to third grade kickball.  I wanted desperately to play, but I didn’t understand the game.  Back then, I suppose they thought all kids should know how to play that game, but I had not learned that at my last school, nor from my parents.  One day, I finally got to the front of line.  It was my turn to kick the ball and have people cheering me on to accomplish running around in a circle before the ball could catch up with me.  Here comes the ball… kick!  I kicked, I ran and the cheering began, only it wasn’t cheering, it was people yelling at me because I ran the wrong way.

Now it was time for Joe to wrestle.  He does and he wins his first tournament match, not just the today, but his first ever.  Yeah!  After he won, it was time to find out where he’s supposed to go next.  One would think that the coaches have this knowledge and would be willing to share it.  Nope.  One of Joe’s coaches said that I could go look at the brackets on the wall in the other building or I could just buy one.  What?!  The was the second time I heard the word ‘buy’ before ‘bracket’.  Okay, let me get this straight, I have to pay to know where my kid is supposed to be?  Seriously?!  The only cash I had was a $10 bill, neatly folded in a tiny envelope to give to an impoverished person if I happen to run into one.  No, I wasn’t expecting to run into one there, but the envelope was in my coat pocket if the opportunity presented itself.  Feeling odd, I took the cash out and bought a bracket.  And for those who know me well, no, I did not throw it away and yes, it will be an art project.  😉

Now I’ve heard about these crazy parents at sporting events, but this was my first time experiencing them.  The word ‘wow’ came to mind.  The parents were giving their kids advice, telling them what to do and what not to do.  Some were practicing moves, one guy even had his kid standing on his head to practice balance.  Hmm, maybe that’s how we’re supposed to achieve balance in our lives, let’s all stand on our heads.

Studying these intense parents, I had to wonder if I’m a sucky parent because I just want my kids to enjoy what they do, support them and cheer for them without trying to make them into competitive animals.  We had to wait a long time in between matches, kids and parents pulling out their electronic pacifiers to deal with the boredom.

It was almost Joe’s turn again, but first ‘Hoss’ was up.  I won’t even get started on that.  His parents were right in front of me, yelling at him, shouting loudly at him, all of the moves he’s supposed to do and not do.  It seemed to me like Hoss was struggling to do his best, distracted by his obtrusive, pushy parents, attempting to listen to his coach and sporting a look of confusion and defeat.  At the end of this particular match, his mom looked over to his dad, as she had no idea what just happened.  Did he win or lose?  She was as clueless as I was.

Yes, that was a long-winded story and I know you’re asking, “What does any of this have to do with Christmas?”  It has a lot to do with Christmas.  Christmas chaos.  The chaotic vision of people all over the place, running around trying to accomplish a win, not unlike what you would see at the mall at Christmas time.

Our competitive nature has spilled over into Christmas.  Shopping has become a marathon, it’s even advertised that way.  Christmas decor has become a production, not just a simple display of our love of the season.  Who can buy the most gifts, put the most lights on their house and attend the most parties in less than 30 days, assuming they didn’t start before Black Friday?

The bigger problem here is that nobody seems to be enjoying it.  Sporting events used to be about supporting your team, now kids are playing portable video games and parents are playing with their mobile phones, distractions from the real meaning of the event.  Looking at the Facebook news feed, I see a lot of comments about having to shop and finally getting the tree up.  These types of comments do not have a happy tone.  The mood is unfortunate.  The drudgery of shopping for people that are on the ‘I have to buy for’ list.  The torture of trying to find the perfect gift or top last years perfect gift.  Having to attend the company ‘holiday’ party.  Tolerating the extended family.  Suffering through the repetitive motions of the season.

I also had to buy a ‘bracket’.  Really, they can’t provide a meaningful 3¢ piece of paper to the coaches?  Every ounce of my being did not want to make that purchase, however I did not have a choice.  Do we buy gifts because it’s the socially acceptable thing to do and we feel there is no choice?  Sadly, I believe the answer is yes.  This year, our gifts will be thoughtful and meaningful, as I’m choosing to ditch the social ‘I have to buy’ expectation.  My kids and I are giving money to many worthy charitable causes in the name of all the people we are expected to buy gifts for this Christmas.

And what did Hoss learn yesterday?  Did he walk away yesterday feeling loved and supported or feeling like a failure because he didn’t accomplish the mission set before him?  Is he wrestling because he enjoys it or because he’s trying to appease his parents?  Are we celebrating Christmas for the right reasons?  Once Christmas day arrives, what have we achieved?  More stuff, less joy and in most cases, a lot of debt.  Are we any closer to Christ?

I hope I can feel the Christmas spirit on Christmas day, without my decoder ring.  I have some good ideas about how to feel the Christmas spirit, but yesterday’s experience has moved me a little bit away from it.


16 days until Christmas…

As we were driving home last, I thought about our house being one of the few without Christmas lights.  I had every intention of putting lights up, but we still haven’t.  I have a few strands of lights on the garage, however it would look like I had a few random strands unless I got really creative with them.  Last year I wanted to use flamingos as reindeer and a lawn chair for a sleigh.  I posted on Facebook that I was looking for flamingos.  Amy Nemeczky bought me a cool ceramic one, and we fondly named him Chris.  Thad also bought me a whole flock of plastic flamingos and two skelemingos.  Since they arrived right before Christmas, I never got a chance to carry out my plan, not that my neighbors would have thought anything out of the ordinary had I created this landscape scenerio after Christmas.  Oh, and the photo of Skelly is him on vacation with me and the boys.  That was a rabbit trail, hey?

I’m also one of the few houses in Frisco with mature trees.  When we had that crazy snow flurry about a week ago, all of the yards were covered with the untouched white snow, all but one, our house.  The enchanted forest in my front yard has a beautiful canopy of trees covering every square inch, protecting my yard from the portrayal of winter.  I did have the trees trimmed, so if we did add lights to the house, you would be able to see a lot of them.

So why haven’t I put lights up?  It just hasn’t been a top priority, or any priority for that matter.  Since starting the 25 days of Christmas blog, yesterday was the first day I had the feeling of being too busy.  My Christmas and work to do lists are long, but all of the items on them are very important.  Shopping is not on the list.  The tiny amount I had to do has been done for weeks.  At least this year busyness is an improved kind over last year.  It’s about helping others, letting our friends and family know that we appreciate them and not participating in the consumerism.

The lights may not be a priority, but carrying on a tradition my boys and I started last year was of great importance.  We did our annual ‘boo’ last night.  Now I know what you’re thinking.  If you live around here, you know that booing someone is a Halloween thing.  If you don’t live around here, Texas has a lot of things that don’t make any sense to people outside of this big star-shaped land mass.  We made our candy boo bags a week ago, finished assembling them last night and attached our mysterious Christmas gift  in a tiny envelope taped to the front.  Nope, I’m not telling you what that is yet.

We made our hot chocolate with more marshmallows than chocolate, loaded up our gear and took off in our very old Infiniti sleigh.  We spent two hours driving all over Frisco until we ran out of bags.  We’ll have to make a lot more of these next year.

I drove the sleigh, pulled up in front of the target house and turned off the lights.  Next, the boys took turns, dropping a bag by the front door, ringing the doorbell and running to the car quickly so we could drive off before being caught.  And those of you with babies, we knocked instead of using the doorbell, as to not wake them.  We aren’t as experienced as Santa, or we would have just come quietly down the chimney.

Now ‘boos’ are supposed to be anonymous, and last year we were, yet somehow people knew who it was.  Go figure.  This year these little bags have some mystery, but ultimately our friends can go online and see what we are up to, because we are always up to something.

This Christmas I am trying to plan things ahead of time and get things done early.  When my ADHD and OCD collide, that usually means that events happen spontaneously, but everything is more than prepared and ready for it.  Sometimes doing things last minute is the motivation I need, so it works for me.  It seems to stress other out to the point that they won’t make eye contact with me, in hopes that I won’t ask them to be involved.  The funny thing about it?  I apparently do this to others, as I did it yesterday in a staff meeting.  Just for the record, it didn’t work, I have to make a bunch of vinyl signs for Christmas Eve.

I suppose what I experienced yesterday is that busyness, no matter if it’s good or bad, takes away from the Christmas spirit.  Is slowing down to experience the joy of the season really possible?

Okay, it’s time to share a few more ‘Santa shoot’ photos.  See if you can recognize the light scenarios.


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