They cleaned up the beach at Chain O' Lakes State Park, all ready for the big holiday weekend ...

And now the beach is gone.

And more rain is expected tonight.

Be very careful driving--there was lowland flooding last night, and there's going to be more tonight across local roads, so slow way down, watch out, and don't go into standing water. Remember this rule: Stalling out your car is no fun, and drowning is even less fun. I've heard.

 

Have you ever looked back at something you did, and realized you’d been warned all along not to do it?

I don’t mean like when you were a kid, and your mom told you not to go out without your hat and gloves. Although come to think of it, sorry, mom: My mottled, aching hands tell me you were right. No, I’m talking about when you get those little signs, those portents that, in retrospect, stick out like giant stop signs.

Our plan was to go to southern Missouri, to see my wife’s family and visit with her friends. The friends are largely alumni of Emily’s Girl Scout camp, Latonka, where for many years she went as a camper and then worked. It’s the basis for (and receives half the profits from) my novel The No-Campfire Girls.

This trip required driving a thousand miles over a four day period in late December. What could possibly—well, you know something went wrong, or I wouldn’t have written this.

 

Spoiler alert: Emily did get to spend some time with her family.

 

I got the time off work, but felt guilty about it because right afterward one of my coworkers resigned, making scheduling a problem. Early in December, Emily got sick with what might have been a mild case of strep throat. Later my oldest daughter and one of the grand-kids came down with a much more than mild case of strep throat. (The other grand-kid came later.) A week before we were to leave, the dentist told me I needed a filling replaced as soon as possible, plus a crown on another tooth. Three days before we were to leave, I was cleaning my glasses when they literally fell apart. And I literally don’t use the word literally very often: They just broke into two pieces. Then my grand-kid got scarlet fever. Friggin' scarlet fever.

All the while I kept watching the weather forecast.

I’m accused of obsessing about the weather, and it’s true; but when you’re about to drive five hundred miles through three states in winter, then hopefully return, it’s a reasonable obsession. In this case, we had a one day window to get there, after which a winter storm would hit the whole region, clearing just in time for a one day window to get back.

What could possibly—ah, never mind.

Emily was better by then, and although it was a cold trip all the way down, that only counted when I had to get out of the car for gas or the dog’s bathroom needs. (As for my bathroom needs, I held it. Kidding! But I didn’t join the dog by a tree.) That was Friday.

On Saturday the temperature got up to 69 degrees in southeast Missouri. That’s not a typo, you northern Indiana people. We ran some errands before the party, and were driving around in t-shirts with the windows down. It was glorious, right up until about the time the tornado sirens went off.

Surely you expected that?

 

It even got a degree warmer than this.

 blob:null/48fa92d1-a7ed-4434-933a-8069f64d8ec9

There was a confirmed touchdown, although safely to the south of us. At about the same time, starting on a line twenty or thirty miles north, the rest of the Midwest was being socked in by an ice and snow storm. But we’d expected all of it—except the tornado—and although it was a little odd watching lightning in December, we really did have a good time with Emily’s parents and at the party.

This despite the fact that by the time the party started, the temperature had dropped thirty degrees. As the storm progressed south the temperature dropped close to fifty degrees in twelve hours, and if you think my car doors got iced shut, you’re right.

But we were there, and had some time before we had to go anywhere, and everything was just swell until Emily developed severe pain from a urinary tract infection. It was bad enough that we decided to go back a day early, which was totally not inside my weather window.

Still, a lot of dedicated highway personnel had the roads in good shape by the time we left Sunday afternoon. We passed some wrecks along the side of the road and, just to punctuate the point that we should have seen the “don’t do it” signs, we hit a discarded semi tire tread in Illinois. That was an exciting after-dark moment. But we got home, where at 9 p.m. Sunday night it was three degrees. For those who didn’t do the math, that was a 66 degree temperature change for us.

Sure, I got hypothermia unloading the car. But it was good that we’d traveled and charged up the car’s battery, because it got down to minus 9 later that night.

 

The sad part is that I've been colder.

 

 

It was a couple of days later when people who were at the party, including Emily and I, finished incubating our upper respiratory infections.

So, what have we learned from this? Don’t travel in winter? Be prepared? Watch for signs and portents?

I’m gonna go with all of the above.

 

I haven't had time to write a Christmas column this year, so this is a shorter and greatly modified version of a column I first wrote back in 2009 or so. It's a confessional column ... I confess.



SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

Years ago I DJ’d part time at a local radio station (which figures into my next novel, but we’ll cover that later). I happened to be on duty when the boss decided it was time to start the Christmas season with the Gift of Music.

He produced a card file and a stack of CD’s. On each card in the file (no computers -- it was that long ago) was the name of a Christmas song, which we shuffled into randomness. As soon as I saw what happened to fall as the first one, I had my intro.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to get the holiday season under way with WLNB’s selection of Christmas music, and I’ve been chosen for the honor or starting it out. I’m perfectly okay with that, as long as I don’t have to play ‘Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer’. Now, let’s see what’s on top of our play list ... no. It can’t be. Not that -- anything but that!”

Ah, but it was. And so I started out the Gift of Music with a redneck song about a reckless driving Santa Claus murdering elderly pedestrians.

Hey, I never said I was a good part time DJ. Note that I’m no longer employed there.

I’ve made it a practice to be the best combination of Scrooge and Grinch that I can possibly be. For the uninitiated, Scrooge is the old time British fellow who gets scared by ghosts into loving Christmas. The Grinch is the green guy who goes down to Whoeville to steal Christmas, but ends up returning everything when the Whoeville people start singing happy carols. This begs the question: if the people in Whoeville were happy anyway, why didn’t the Grinch just keep the stuff, and sell it on Ebay?

Yep -- two great stories, two bad endings. Just call me the Scrinch. Or Grooge, that would be okay.

I base most of my attitude on either out of control commercialism or people who, themselves, act like Grinches. Yes, I get upset when I see giant plastic Santas on display at Wal-Mart -- in September. But don’t we all get mad when some scumbag burglar steals the Christmas presents right from under someone’s tree?

I’ve mentioned this before, and recently: Christmas all year round might seem like a good idea, but in reality it would make the holiday cheap and ordinary. Put a friggin tarp on the decorations until mid-November, okay? I once went shopping for Halloween clearance items, and turned the corner to discover a plastic Frosty giving me a ... well, a frosty look.

As for stealing gifts, vandalizing decorations and such ... not that I haven’t wanted to vandalize decorations, but only when the outside ones are turned on in October. For everyone else, a public whipping on New Year’s Day should beat the holiday spirit into them.

My point is this: Although I get as angry as everyone else when “Let it Snow” starts playing in the store while people in shorts and tank tops stumble in, wiping sweat from their brow --

I don’t know if I should say it. It might ruin my reputation, and where am I without that? Next thing you know, people will discover I really like animals. But ... okay, complete honesty, here ...

I love Christmas music.

People may never look at me the same way again.

Christmas is the only thing I look forward to through the months of bitter cold, with nothing but driving snow and black, dead foliage. I never said I was big winter fan. I hate cold, I hate snow, I hate heating bills, I hate bulky clothes that never warm me up, I hate that some people like all that stuff -- but I love Christmas. Colored lights shine through the dull twilight of winter. People actually cheer up a little. Well, some people. And of all the things about Christmas, I love the songs the best.

It doesn’t matter if they’re old or new. Sure, the barking dog Jingle Bells thing grates on me, and I’ve heard versions of “Santa Baby” that make me want to hurry down a chimney. But from Frank Sinatra to Christina Aguilera, nothing perks me up more. What they’ve done elsewhere in their lives, or what other people think of them, doesn’t matter -- I’ll listen to it if it’s Britney Spears, or Barry Manilow.

Old or new? I love “Carol of the Bells” and “The Hallelujah Chorus”, which my choir sang in high school. They didn’t have new Christmas Songs back then. But I’ve got songs in my Christmas library by Faith Hill, the Trans Siberian Orchestra, the Eagles, and, yes, Hannah Montana.

Type of music? It’s all Christmas to me. Doesn’t matter whether it's the Bryan Seltzer Orchestra, Jessica Simpson, or Andrea Bocelli. Or that other fella, Tchaikovsky, and his Nutcracker thing. Still, nothing will ever beat the classics, and Bing Crosby is the king of the classics. I may not like white winters, but “White Christmas” will always be close to my half-frozen heart.

So that’s it --  my big confession. I love Christmas music ... almost all Christmas music. As long as the lyrics aren’t being “sung” by pets.

I don’t even mind that great tribute to holiday violence, “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”.

Much.
 
 
The Wreath of Khan.

I'm not sure we'll be able to make the holiday pops concert at the school in Albion tonight, due to some (by which I mean a lot) of illness in the family. Still, I hope everyone else will go and support the Fort Wayne Philharmonic coming to our little town. It starts at 7:30, they sell tickets at the door, and the Facebook event page is here:

https://www.facebook.com/events/1097909366961263/

Meanwhile, happy birthday to my lovely wife Emily, whose birthday means the days will now start getting longer! She's been feeling under the weather for, oh, the entire month of December--in fact, this whole autumn has been one thing after another for our family. Here's hoping winter will go better, even if it isn't my season.

 

 

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
 
 
I always feel a little disjointed when the holidays arrive. I’ve never ready for Thanksgiving, which is followed within hours by Christmas, and minutes after that by New Year’s Eve, followed immediately by several months of miserable winter. I’m never ready.
 
And yet, the holidays come every year. So, what’s my excuse?
 
“Gee, I thought for sure it wouldn’t happen this time. Why was I not warned?”
 
My mother calls every year to find out when we want to celebrate Thanksgiving. We never celebrate Thanksgiving on Thanksgiving—that would be too easy. But many of us work in the service industry. In my 911 center, we almost never close down for the holidays. Okay, we took a few hours off when the Cubs won, but otherwise …
 
Many of my other relatives work in the more difficult service jobs, the ones where you have to work a register and deal with customers face to face. They don’t take 911 calls, but they often make 911 calls. I think I’d rather be on the receiving end. It’s because of their jobs that we can’t celebrate a holiday on a holiday. It used to be they were busy on Thanksgiving, setting up for Black Friday; now they’re busy on Thanksgiving, having Black Friday.
 
If you’re old, like me—I always feel old when the days get shorter—you’ll remember a time when everything shut down for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Go out for Thanksgiving dinner? What a turkey of an idea. Go shopping that same evening? There are ball games to watch, people. But these days we’re thankful for our alarm clock, so we can get up at 3 a.m. to work our part time job in riot control at Best Buy.
 
Don’t worry, ma’am: A little ventilation will get that pepper spray right out of your new flat screen TV.
 
So mom calls, and want to know if we want to have Thanksgiving the Sunday before, or the Saturday after. “But mom,” I say, “Why worry about that in August?”
 
“It’s November, dear.”
 
“But what happened to Halloween?”
 
“Your cardiologist ordered us not to say you missed it until November 7th.”
 
“But—the full sized candy bars!”
 
The irony is that there are plenty of reminders that the holidays are approaching. This year I saw my first store Halloween display in August, and my first Christmas display in September. It was 90 degrees. Nothing says Christmas like watching a plastic Santa melt like the Wicked Witch.
 
“Ho ho oh noooooo!!!!”
 
Nothing left but a bubbling pool of liquid on the floor, smelling faintly of peppermint and gingerbread. It’s enough to make you hit the eggnog.
 
Maybe my denial about the approaching holidays is an unconscious response to the cheapening of those same holidays, the way they come earlier and earlier. It’s not special any more. One year, on January third, I started poking through Christmas clearance items when I was stopped by an employee:
 
“Sir, those aren’t available for purchase yet—we’re putting up the store display tomorrow.”
 
It gets confusing. The Valentine’s Day cupid wears a fur lined red hat, and instead of a bow carries a little bundle of fireworks. Every time you pass him he says, “Happy Easter!” and tries to give you pumpkin shaped candy, while waving a sign advertising a President’s Day sale. On Thanksgiving.
 
The underlying meaning of all holidays has blurred into one unmistakable message:
 
“Give us money, and we’ll give everyone ‘free’ stuff that will make us all happy.”
 
Which they stole from politicians, but never mind.
 
Thus my idea for a new federal law: No holiday can be mentioned more than six weeks before the actual date. No holiday decorations can be put up longer than the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. No special sales can be held on an actual holiday, with the exception of President’s Day, which is a lost cause.
 
One exception: Christmas lights can be put up outside while the weather is still good, as long as they’re not turned on before Thanksgiving. If they’re lit (or inflated) earlier, it’s open season for anyone with a rifle, paintball gun, blow gun, lawn darts, or snowballs. Or bazookas. No, that’s overkill—literally.
 
Our aim should be to make holidays special again, and you can’t do that if the holiday never goes away. If you go to the party store and can’t remember if your decorations are supposed to be red and green, or pink, or red, white and blue, then you’re doing it wrong.
 
How do you know if you’re doing it right? Well, I suppose you’ve got the right attitude if you’re thankful. If you’re giving. If you’re getting along with people, or at least trying to. You know, the good will thing.
 
And if that doesn’t work, you could try giving me some of your Halloween candy.
 
For Christmas.
 
ozma914: (Courthouse)
( Dec. 14th, 2016 05:17 pm)

The Fort Wayne Philharmonic is coming to Albion for a holiday pops concert, and that’s pretty cool.

So … let’s go! It’s where I’m taking my wife for her birthday, because I’m a cheap date. Come to the Central Noble High School auditorium on December 21st, from 7:30-9 p.m., and get in the spirit with some honest to goodness great music, of the classical/seasonal variety.

Here’s the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1097909366961263/

Remember, whenever you miss a holiday pops concert, an angel loses its wings. Then he wanders around in the snow, cold and depressed, and aren’t we going to see enough of that in January?

ozma914: (ozma914)
( Nov. 3rd, 2016 09:39 am)

 

The Albion Fire Department helped patrol Albion during Trick Or Treating on Halloween, including a crew with Engine 91 on the Noble County Courthouse square.

 

 

 

Emily and I hitched a ride with my oldest daughter's family for trick or treating around Albion.

 

My son-in-law was nice enough to drive, but he didn't talk much: Vince had a splitting headache.

 

My daughter Charis has always loved Halloween. Me, not so much since the doctor made me cut down on candy ... please don't tell him I collected a treat tax from the grand-twins.

 

That's Brayden on the left--what, you don't recognize him? and Hunter on the right. I asked Brayden why his character has an eye patch but doesn't use it, and he replied, "He does, sometimes". Maybe that's how he picks up girls.

 

I wonder if the grand-twins were nervous to have a zombie and vampire sitting behind them? That's not my costume, by the way: On my days off I always look like that.

 

September Sixth is the day I first saw Christmas items on the shelf of a local store. September Sixth. Well over a quarter of a year before Christmas.
And yes, I have now been banned from still another store for still another anti-early Christmas tirade, but the jokes on them: They had to clean up after my head exploded.
ozma914: (American Flag)
( Jul. 4th, 2016 04:50 am)

On this Independence Day, please remember that while we all have differences, we’ve always had differences. We’re still all human beings, and far more alike than we are different. I think most of us—at least, most of us outside the Beltway—still want to keep this country free and great, even if we disagree on how to do so. So disagree, but try to find areas of agreement, and respect each other.

In this time of world war with no end in sight, we need each other now more than ever.

 

 

 

ozma914: (Dorothy and the Wizard)
( Mar. 27th, 2016 03:53 pm)

Happy Easter, everyone!

Been feeling a little under the weather, so we’re taking the day off (well, after I get off work at 7 a.m.) Then: It’s right back to copy and photo editing for Hoosier Hysterical. After all, two full time jobs keeps me out of trouble.

It’s not only Easter, but Walking Dead night. Which, come to think of it … irony.

 

 

Unfortunately for me, Valentine’s Day comes during a time of year in which I don’t do well. I’ve said before that the only good thing about February is that it isn’t January, but let’s face it: they’re not all that different.

 

The best way to describe most men on this dedicated-to-love holiday is: epic fail. This is two steps beyond complete fail, which is itself three steps below just fail. As a result, any store that’s open the morning of Valentine’s Day is sure to see an influx of desperate, rather dazed looking men, searching for flowers or chocolate. If they can’t find a place open with Valentine chocolate, there’s always the corner convenience store.

 

“Let’s see … what’s more romantic, Baby Ruth or Milky Way? Say, do you have any wrapping paper here? No? I’ll just use the real estate listings, they’re a little colorful.”

 

My wife is not a fan of flowers, and is allergic to milk chocolate. She also doesn’t like to go out to eat, citing the expense and the crowds on a holiday. At first glance that seems like a great thing. But it takes away all the emergency “I’m in trouble” backups.

 

Now, you may be thinking, “But Mark, what does she get you for Valentine’s Day?”

 

If you’re thinking that, you’re a man.

 

Valentine’s Day, like weddings, is for the woman. The man’s job is to show up, look fairly nice, and make her the center of the day. With weddings men can usually focus just well enough to handle that for a day, having been around the planning stuff for months beforehand. With Valentine’s Day, the word “planning” puts them on life support.

 

I love my wife. I wouldn’t have married her if I didn’t love her. The idea of marriage for convenience ignores the fact that making a successful marriage isn’t convenient at all. And yet, as each holiday approaches, I utterly freeze up. I stink at shopping. I stink at picking out cards. And—this coming from a man who actually writes romantic comedies—I stink at being romantic.

 

The fact that most men have the same affliction is in no way an excuse.

 

At least, that’s what I assume my wife would say, if I was dumb enough to ask her.

 

My conclusion—and guys, you can all benefit from my hard-won wisdom—is this:

 

Being a man is no excuse. Suck it up, fellas. If, like me, you can’t seem to function during winter, try this: Go out in the summer and buy a bunch of generic presents. It’s your job to find out what your wife likes, I can’t help you with that. Figure it out, buy a bunch of them, and hide them away somewhere. When you hit that inevitable panic point—and you will—and realize the holiday happens to fall on a Sunday and there’s no store close enough for you to sneak out to, don’t gift her a zippo lighter from the Sunoco station. No, break into your horde of presents, and—surprise!—you’re a hero.

 

That’s what I’m going to do. Next year. This year, wish me luck.

 

"Yes, I promise to try to remember ... what was I supposed to remember?"

 

 

The Groundhog came out, saw the Iowa Caucus, and is predicting ten more months of misery.  

"Drive us off a cliff before Super Tuesday."

I was waiting for this to be released on video and as a result waited too long … so now here’s my new Christmas column, coming out just in time for my youngest daughter’s birthday. I thought of deleting “Scrooge” and putting in “Jill”, but it just didn’t work.

This is a busy time of year for my publisher, and I’d imagine they couldn’t find the time to do the animation—hopefully next year. Meanwhile, you just have to read this and imagine my voice or, perhaps better, don’t. It was originally in print in the 4County Mall (previously the Kendallville Mall), then on their website here:

http://www.4countymall.com/mark-hunter---slightly-off-the-mark

 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK:

How the Grinch Spent Christmas

 

I was in Dollar General—

I don’t make this stuff up—

When I ran into the Grinch,

And his reindeer, the pup.

 

“What brings you to town?” I asked, to be nice.

“The last time I heard you suffered the vice

Of hating all Christmas, the presents and lights;

Yet you stand in the isle of Yuletide delights.”

 

It’s true: We were right in the holiday lane,

The same place I cursed when Halloween came.

There were pine trees by pumpkins, costumes with wreaths.

You could get pumpkin spice with mint or with wraiths.

 

(See what I did, there?)

 

“I’ve joined the club”, he told me with a sneer.

“I’m going full out on Christmas this year.

I’m buying up lights and tinsel and stuff;

Don’t know what this is, but I can’t get enough.”

 

The thing he held up was a Thanksgiving display,

On clearance from last month, but I didn’t say.

“But I don’t understand,” I told the green guy.

“I thought you hate Christmas, and want it to die.”

 

“Oh, I do,” said the Grinch, with a Darth Vader like laugh.

(I don’t think Vader chortled, so that may be a gaff.)

“I’m joining the club; I’m going all in.

The result is a club they won’t want to be in!

 

“I’m putting up stockings, a tree in each room,

Outside speakers from which carols will boom.

Gaudy garland to drape all over my cave,

And starting that evening: all night holiday rave.

 

“I’ll have not tree skirts—oh no, tree gowns!

My garland will go wrapping around and around

Not just my home but the whole doggone mountain—

And a red, green, and yellow spice flavored fountain.

 

“Candles and pillows and shelves of snow globes,

Warm but so gaudy sweaters and robes,

Pillows and rugs and a gingerbread house—

And my wife will be decored … if I find me a spouse.

 

“Decoration limits? We won’t have any lid.

My holiday lights will take down the whole grid!

I’ll blind passing planes, then I’ll darken the state.

And then I’ll light candles and start a clean slate.

 

“And, oh yes, I’ll put my own name up in a blaze,

In rich Christmas colors, to cut through the haze

So all the Who’s down in Whoeville, that dump

Will know it is I who gave Christmas a bump.”

 

I have to admit, I was a bit mystified.

When it comes to the Grinch—well, this wasn’t the side

You think of when picturing this big green guy.

(Sure, he’s no Hulk, but still.)

So with great trepidation, I had to ask: “Why?”

 

“Why? You want to know why?”

(He sounded very much like Jack Nicolson at this point.)

“I’ll tell you why.

 

“My plan can’t be stopped, so I’ll tell you the reason:

By the time I’m done you’ll be sick of this season.

Everyone will hate Christmas: The music will grate,

The spice cinnamon stuff will make them hesitate

 

“To go out and carol, even if it fat free!

Or at least that’s how I’d feel, if caroling me.

And when it’s all done, they’ll feel the same way

As they feel about me—the Grinch—every day.”

 

I have to admit, he’d made a good plan.

Immersion attack from a Christmas hit man.

And it would have worked too, except he didn’t see

It had already been done, with consumerist glee.

 

I began to explain, but we’d hit the checkout,

And I realized what he was about to find out.

The clerk rang it up, a green sounding ring,

The numbers kept rising with every new bling.

 

The Grinch stumbled back, his hand to his head.

“With that bill the reindeer dog won’t get fed,

The heat will go off, hot chocolate won’t trickle—

I’ll end up a homeless, frozen Grinch-cicle!”

 

And he left his load there: every last light and trinket.

“If I knew of the cost I never would think it!

I’m going old school, next year I’ll lay low

And steal all the stuff from the Who’s down below.”

 

It’s an odd way to save Christmas, I think you’ll agree.

But that’s just how it happened … take it from me.
ozma914: (Dorothy and the Wizard)
( Dec. 26th, 2015 02:29 am)

I always get in the mood for Christmas right after Christmas. I can’t explain why, but the day after Christmas, when everyone and his brother completely stops playing Christmas music, is when I want to hear it. Well, that’s what CD’s are for. This year I might just let it go early, since my oldest daughter got me the new Star Wars movie score as a gift. A day spent writing and sipping tea with John Williams playing in the background? Yes, please.

Between my surgery, overtime, and various other factors, there wasn’t much lead time this year, so Christmas came and went in a flash … or is that part of getting older? Although it’s over, I’d like to share one of my favorite, if badly rhymed, Christmas columns:

http://markrhunter.blogspot.com/2013/12/changing-rhyme-schemes-or-not-so.html

Also, you can still read/download my new Christmas short story, and two other short stories, on our website:

http://markrhunter.com/extras.html

ozma914: (American Flag)
( May. 25th, 2015 02:56 am)
I don't recall where I got this from, but kudos to the original author; it says it all:



"It is the
VETERAN,
not the preacher,
who has given us freedom of religion.

It is
the VETERAN,
not the reporter,
who has given us freedom of the press.

It is
the VETERAN,
not the poet,
who has given us freedom of speech.

It is
the VETERAN,
not the campus organizer,
who has given us freedom to assemble.

It is
the VETERAN,
not the lawyer,
who has given us the right to a fair trial.

It is
the VETERAN,
not the politician,
Who has given us the right to vote."

 

“With love for mankind and hatred of sins.” – St. Augustine.

 

In other words, love the sinner, hate the sin.

 

It seems black and white, but it covers an area vast and gray as a Midwest winter. Love? Do we love Hitler? Michael Vick? The Kardashians? All the Kardashians?

 

And how do you define a sin, anyway? Some people think it’s a sin to start a sentence with a conjunction. Hopefully they hate my sentences, not me. I think it’s a sin to make a turn without signaling, but I don’t want to blow up those drivers—just their cars.

 

In Indiana we’ve had just a bit of discussion on the subject, lately. I’m not going to address it because, as I mentioned previously, no one cares to listen to the other side. Instead, I’ll address another sin, which is that no one cares to listen to the other side.

 

There are bad people in the world. Call them sinners, or whatever you want. But here’s the thing: Most of the people you and I disagree with are not bad people. We just have different opinions. You may think there’s nothing wrong with making a turn without signaling. I think it’s a sin, and your car engine should explode and leave you stranded by a dead skunk carcass. Neither of us is bad, even if one of us in wrong. (It’s the stinky guy.)

 

So, while the issues may be complicated, and the differences may (or may not) be insurmountable, that doesn’t mean we can’t get along. There are more important things than whether that uncaring bum uses his turn signal. I’d like to think that, at the end of the day, he realized the world’s problems were too big for him to worry about why that guy behind him honked and waved with one finger.

 

The Bible has some pretty strict definitions of sin, and punishment for sinners. Then Jesus came along and said, “Hey, lighten up—good people do bad things. We should still care for them.” (I’m paraphrasing.) I’d be a poor Christian if I didn’t try to live up to that. Besides, we’re all sinners. You think it’s not a sin that I want to blow up perfectly good cars?

 

On Easter and every day, let’s try to keep that in mind. Debate, but don’t hate. Hey, I like that … I wonder if it’s been copyrighted? I don’t want to give it up to that guy who doesn’t know how to find the turn signal switch.

 


 

I’m not going to lie: 2014 sucked.  Everybody got sick or hurt at least once, and the world’s a train wreck. On a personal level I lost my first writing job after 23 years of steady work, and the book sales that might have made up for it have stagnated. On a family level I can’t even say “at least we have our health”.

But I can’t dwell on the bad stuff—there lies madness, and don’t we have enough madness? I have a new part time writing job and people are, if not healed, being taken care of as best can be. The world’s still a train wreck, but I think maybe the world’s always been a train wreck to some degree.

My intention for 2015 is to make people laugh, and to write. A lot of things in life I can’t control, but that I can do—and laughter is, if not the best medicine, a pretty good preventative. I should soon be done with my contracted book, then we’ll get the “Slightly Off The Mark” book out, then it’s on to more writing and, hopefully, publication. My simple goal is to make 2015 better than 2014 was. Shouldn’t be too hard.

My challenge to you is the same. Maybe you can’t change the world, fine. Then make your part of the world a little better. Cheer up yourself and others. Do good things. Think good thoughts. Be prepared. That’s the best anyone can do.

Oh, and buy my books; always be closing.  Happy New Year!

 

Check me out at the Kendallville Mall:

http://www.4countymall.com/mark-hunter---slightly-off-the-mark/im-dreaming-of-an-evergreen-christmas-slightly-off-the-mark

 

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

When we put up the Christmas tree last year, our dog became very puzzled.

“Dude, there are all kinds of trees surrounding this house already. Seriously, just come outside with me next time. Mind the yellow snow.”

Amazingly, he said all that with a glance.

If you take an objective, dog-like look at America’s Christmas traditions, you quickly realize we’re a little crazy. We bring a tree inside; we haul electric lights outside. People who refuse to listen to music that’s not still in the top 40 happily sing carols that were written by people who thought the Earth was flat.

(It’s a sphere; just thought I’d throw that in.)

And we celebrate Christmas on December 25th, even though most experts agree Jesus was actually born in the spring. Why? Because it’s close to the shortest day of the year. What else are you going to do in late December? Go to the beach? Get that garden in? Take a road trip to Buffalo, New York?

I doubt very much if Jesus would care when we celebrate His birthday, especially since the truly important Christmas holiday is Easter. By then the days are much longer, so we don’t need the pick-me-up.

The Christmas tree is one of the most interesting and puzzling aspects of Christmas decorating. It’s also big business: Trees in all fifty states are grown for the express purpose of being chopped down in a celebration of life. I used to drive through an area of Michigan that had more trees than Indiana has deer on the roads.

The origins of that tradition make sense, though: In ancient times, anything that stayed green all through winter held special significance. Without evergreens, people in past winters would sometimes completely forget what color was. It was like being stuck in a 50’s TV show, without the laugh track.

Evergreen boughs, hung over doors and windows, were reminders that spring would return. They also helped keep away witches and evil spirits, and as a bonus could be garnished with garlic to fight off vampires. So far as I know, they did nothing against banshees or marauding politicians.

But it was the Germans who, with ruthless efficiency, decided to just bring the whole darned tree inside. Martin Luther added lighted candles to the tree, bringing us the Christmas tradition of homes burning down.

Christmas trees didn’t come to America until the 1830’s, when German settlers arrived with the tradition. Naturally, the neighbors were curious:

“So Hans, why did your house burn down?”

“Oh, I brought a tree inside and hung candles on it.”

“No, seriously.”

A lot of Americans were against anything like carols and trees anyway. People in New England got fined for hanging decorations, although it was legal to hang witches, as long as you didn’t decorate them.

Then, in 1846, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert (of “in the can” fame) were seen standing around a Christmas tree. Suddenly it was all in fashion, even though hanging witches didn’t catch on at all. They were often decorated with popcorn, berries, and nuts, a great idea to guard against food shortages. (The trees, not the witches.) Rodents were a problem. (With the trees. Well, maybe both.)

Then, in 1850, Christmas trees went up for sale commercially in the United States. Next thing you know the early version of Wal-Mart, then known as “Mart”, got ahold of it, and the rest is history. They went up in Rockefeller Center, at the White House, and in Woodinville, Washington, where a 122 foot tall, 91 year old Douglas fir does not get cut down every year.

I like that idea, of leaving the Christmas trees alive. I don’t like the idea of going outside in December to look at them, so never mind. Besides, since 77 million Christmas trees are planted each year in an industry that employs a hundred thousand people, closing the business down would result in an unhappy holiday for many.

I used to love having a live tree. The wonderful scent, the look of it. Then I grew up, and after that I loved it for three days: From after it was up until it started dropping needles.

There’s a reason they’re called needles.

Now I have an artificial tree. I love my artificial tree. It looks exactly like a real tree if you squint a little, and I’ve never had to tweeze a single needle out of my foot. The dog, while still puzzled, doesn’t harass it. It has never burst into flames, not even for me, and I can break anything.

It doesn’t dry out, or spoil, and I don’t have to dispose of it every season. It’s durable and doesn’t wear out for years.

It’s a lot like fruitcake.

Ah, but that’s another puzzling tradition.

My wife and I sometimes confuse Christmas with Valentine's Day, but a tree's a tree.

 

 

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

Thanksgiving in America continues to be one of the most traditional holidays. It still features the original four hundred year old activities of overeating, football, and complaining about Black Friday.

In the Hunter household, as in all of Indiana and much of the world that’s not outside this country, we battle the overeating. How? By serving food that the rest of the year we hate. Stuffing stuff. Cranberry things. Pumpkin anything. It was good enough for the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians, who the Pilgrims politely invited to share a meal in the new home they’d just stolen from the Wampanoag. The Indians brought a housewarming gift of deer, mostly because they didn’t want to eat cranberries or pumpkin.

But what was actually served at that original celebration? And did they really all sit down at long tables outside, in New England, in November? That’s a recipe for a nice heaping helping of frostbite.

 

The first Thanksgiving was a three day event, leaving one day each for the meal, football, and Black Friday shopping. The Pilgrims were naturally dismayed to discover no mall or Wal-Mart in sight. Rumor had it there was a Target down the road, but both the trip and the name were a bit more dangerous at the time. They compensated by throwing another feast that third day, during which they discussed the football. )

 

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