Saturday, December 31, 2011

Wishes for the 2012 World

2011 is draggin' its tired old butt toward its death at midnight. A brand new baby year will be born, and like all babies, it carries our hopes and dreams of health and happiness. But as with human babies, years have a tendency to weave their way through ups and downs, the good and the bad.

Still, I offer up three wishes for the world and the new baby 2012. While, of course, I hope for world peace and the end of hunger and human suffering, I'm pragmatic enough to know that all of those things may not happen within the next 12 months, so I'll scale back on the grandiose and wish for the possibles.
  • Common courtesy, civility, better listening and understanding among folks. People are angry, I get that. People - well, mainly politicians - think compromise is weak and winning the day is the central goal (even if it means losing the future). Appalling things are said. Publicly. And spun throughout the media and on social networks, where they reverberate in dangerous, immoral ways. My wish for 2012 is that everyone would think before they speak or bang out something to the internet. Be nice It won't compromise your ideals, it will enhance them.
  • An end to intergenerational squabbling. We're all in this together, people, from the newly-born to the nearly-dead. Each generation is complex; each has its inventors, dictators, artists, and baby-killers. Each has unique struggles and problems to face. (Example, "the Greatest Generation," is a term coined by Tom Brokaw in 1998, not a moniker pre-ordained by God. I seem to recall they were seen as the bad guys, creators of the soul-sucking military-industrial complex, for a few decades. See how fortunes change?) I guess in some sense, every generation "steals" from the next, but it also provides new ways of coping and changing the world for good. Attacking the problems of unemployment, lousy health care and education, and diminishing quality of life benefits should be what we're all working for, across generations. Be nice (see wish #1).
  • An end to anything relating to the Kardashians. Please. I know this can happen because I wished for the same thing to happen to Paris Hilton a few years back. Go. Away. And y'all stop watching and feeding this disgusting display of silliness.
In short, let's be nicer and encourage everyone else (folks on the street, TSA, politicians, CEOs, and our children) to be nicer. If we manage that then the intergenerational pissing and moaning will go away, as will anyone's need to feed the Kardashian machine.

Who knows? Maybe world peace will follow.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Days Fly Swiftly By

Time always moves too fast for me this time of year. I love the time between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day, but most especially the week leading up to the big day. I arrived in Atlanta early Saturday morning and am trying to be present in every moment, because it will all be over in the blink of an eye.

The schedule has been jam-packed, running errands, partying with the family, lunching with friends, frantically wrapping presents, even managing to get a few hours sleep every night. But even amidst the frenzy (and I mean "frenzy" in a good way), I'm trying to savor each minute. The traditions and memories of this time of year is what winds me up to go forward into the new year. Sounds like a lot of pressure for a few days out of 365, but even when I've encountered a "blue" Christmas or two in my life, enough of the season's spirit works its way into my soul.

Highlights so far:
  • A long, late lunch with daughter Kate on Saturday. Burgers, a bottle of wine, and lots of time to catch up. Best Christmas present ever.
  • The annual Bully Bartow Family Christmas Gathering, this year for the first time in Dalton, Georgia, at niece Ashley's house. Always fun. Always too much yummy food. Always proof-positive that a big, close family is what makes life worth living. Thanks, Ashley, Roger, Hope, Halle, Bryleigh, and Jaxon for being fabulous hosts!
  • Playing with GrandBoy. Everything from hitting a bouncy ball with a cardboard wrapping paper tube, to dancing around to the Thomas the Tank Engine song, reading storybooks, and playing with his huge array of toy cars - laughter and hugs always ensue. (And he can almost say GrandMary!)
Today, we get to take advantage of son-in-law's day off to finish up shopping, gather the gifts for our Angel Tree family, lunch together, and enjoy every special instant. Still, it all seems to be flying by. I wish there was a way to do all that we've been doing, yet have the minutes go more slowly.

Wonder if Einstein had a solution for this dilemma?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

It's Christmastime in the City

I spent yesterday finishing up my Christmas shopping and soaking in the spirit of the season as only New York City can throw at you. It was the Saturday when Santas and their elves hit the streets full force, flash-mobbing all around the town. Here's a taste of the mobs, the lights, the city.

Along 5th Avenue, each store is more audaciously decorated than the next.

I stopped by the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the tree of angels. Photographs are not allowed in front of the tree, but perhaps you can tell a little about it from this angle. Gorgeous angels and tiny white candles are spaced all over the tree, while around the bottom is the Nativity scene and little village motifs. It really is magnificent.

Part of the Santa flash-mob at Grand Central Terminal. They were a friendly, fun bunch.

One of the Bergdorf-Goodman windows.

"The Tree." The Rockefeller Center tree is just beautiful this year. It always takes the breath away, but this one does seem to out-do past trees.

It's a great time to be in New York!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Why We Need a Postal Service

These are dark times for the US Postal Service. It's billions of dollars in the red. Post offices are closing left and right, and not just rural ones; several in Manhattan are closing, as well. First-class postage will now take a minimum of two days, not one (even just across town?). The elimination of Saturday delivery is a real possibility. Postage rates are going up.

And, let's face it, "going postal" should apply more to the customer than the postal worker. Every time you walk into a post office you find long lines with only one or two folks at the counter, while 14 other postal workers stroll through the back, look at the crowds, make a few jokes, maybe shift a package, then saunter back to the break room.

No matter how much grousing and grumbling those of us in line do for the 45 minutes we're standing there, it's darn certain that at least one of those two folks behind the counter will be scheduled for lunch/bathroom/grocery shopping, put up a "Window Closed" sign, and leave the counter. Not one of the 14 saunterers will come to take his/her place, either. And the line of customers just gets longer. So it's a wonder the folks in line aren't the ones going postal. It's outrageous.

And yet, I'm here to defend this noble, wounded institution. Why? Because:
  1. In this age of email and instant messaging, there is nothing better than going to the mailbox and finding a hand-addressed card, note, or letter from a friend, acquaintance, or family member. The card or stationery, the stamp, the signature and note all took thought and care, even if the handwriting is barely readable. It's special in a way that email and texting can never be.
  2. Wedding invitations, thank you notes, birth announcements, party invitations (I always do real ones + e-vite ones to cover all bases), and Christmas and birthday cards should always come via snail-mail. They are special. They are personal. They demand a little extra effort because they are keepsakes. Electronic versions of all of these get deleted and disappear into air, but real, actual cards are things to enjoy for years. I keep all of my birthday and Christmas cards. I love going through them each year. Can't/won't do that with email, even the lovely Jacquie Lawson e-cards.
  3. Have you sent anything via UPS or FedEx recently? If so, you've got a lot more disposable income than I have. You may as well hand-deliver those wedding invitations and Christmas cards. Airfare to 96 locations is cheaper than sending them individually by FedEx/UPS. Go to their websites and try to get a quick rate quote. Good luck. And yet, for well under $1, you can send a card or letter through the US Postal Service, and it pretty much always gets to where it's going within a couple of days. (By the way, if the check really was in the mail, you'd have it by now.)
  4. Stamps. I love stamps. I love commemorative stamps. No need to stand in the "going postal" line to get them. I order mine online directly from USPS, and they get to me within two days. Plus, you can design your own stamps now. Very cool. UPS and FedEx = no wonderful stamps, just boring informational stuff. Shoot, I say, raise the rate of a first class stamp to $1 (which should include delivery insurance). Still way, way cheaper than a delivery service.
  5. No need to arrange special pick-ups or get out of your jammies to go to a special store to get your missed delivery or mail a fist-full of cards. Mail comes right to your home and office! How convenient is that? Plus, you can dump all those cards in conveniently-located blue mail boxes. They're all over the place.
  6. Flat-rate boxes. Love 'em. If you can fit whatever you're shipping into a USPS small, medium, or large box, it goes out for one flat advertised price. If that 40-lb brick fits into a small flat-rate box? $4.95 (a little cheaper if you pay and print out your label online). It's a real money-saver for our little Elegant Scribbles business, where we often have to ship back and forth. Plus, they usually arrive at the destination within three days.
Yes, the post office needs to clean up its business. My suggestion is to start with the surly, incompetent folks who work in post offices (take fewer breaks; if there are more than three people in line, add more counter help; pay attention to the customer). Go ahead and up the postage rate to $1. And, yes, if need be, do away with Saturday service.

But keep the stamps coming. Stick with those flat-rate mailers. Keep using that cute little guy in your commercials. Keep putting wonderful cards and notes in my own little mailbox. Make Benjamin Franklin proud!

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Fail . . . Pass. Perspective

I chalked up a massive Fail last week. In an effort to jump-start one of my personal writing projects, I signed on to the infamous NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). The goal is that between November 1st and 30th, hopeful writers will churn out a 50,000-word novel. And I was hopeful.

Three pretty darn good stories lie fallow on my computer. Once in a while I drag out one or the other of them, flesh out a little more, and make some headway. Then the real world of getting day-to-day things done intrudes, and the story stays safely tucked away in its own little Word file until the writing bug nibbles again. Sigh.

So, yes, I was NaNoWriMo-hopeful. I started out well enough. At least for the first two or three days. But even knocking myself out to write 1600+ words a day - either getting up early or staying up late to do it - proved beyond me. I got so far behind that I realized I'd never get anywhere close to 50,000 words as the days ticked away. Massive fail. Sigh.

All was not lost, thankfully. Those few NaNoWritMo days pushed me to move my story forward and rethink the characters and plot. Perhaps if I start gearing up mentally for next November's event in, say, August, I can pass the test of finishing one of my stories. Until then, I'll have to mark the effort a big ol' "Fail."

On a more successful note, I passed my colonoscopy with flying colors. Perspective, friends. Perspective.