November 2011


Traffic was terrible Sunday.  It was the Sunday after a holiday weekend, rain was pouring down, and I was stuck between Nashville and Chattanooga on I-24 on my way home to Atlanta.  For those of you who have never had the privilege of driving on I-24, you basically spend about half an hour gradually climbing a mountain while 18-wheeler drivers who have not yet mastered the concept of gravity try to pass each other.  This slow and frustrating climb is followed by a 20 second descent on the other side of the mountain at Mach 3.  Add in holiday traffic and a steady rain and you can imagine the fun we had coming home.

After we got home, we (Sara) decided that it was time to put up the Christmas tree.  We have this ginormous artificial 9 foot tree that would make Clark Griswold proud (if it weren’t plastic).  Interesting note: my spell check actually recognizes “Griswold”.  Anyway, it takes a couple of hours to put this monstrosity together.

After lugging the heavy, bulky box up from the basement, I realized that some of the lights went out last year and we needed new ones.  More driving, more delays, more frustration.

Sara ran out to Home Depot to get some lights while I got started on the tree.  If you’ve ever had an artificial tree, you know how long it takes to bend the wires out on each branch to make the thing look realistic.  Sara came back over a half hour later and I had not even completed a third of it.  When she came in, she said that it smelled like Christmas. 

My response was, “What… dust and plastic?”  We don’t have a real tree because I have asthma.  I’m beginning to think that our 12 year-old artificial tree has far more allergens than anything God created.

Of course, the whole time this is going on, we have two little girls begging to “help” put up the tree and a dog that never seems to move but is always laying right where I want to stand… odd.  I finally finished assembling the tree, putting on the lights, and helping run all the beads, banners, and other items that require someone taller than 5’ 8”.  As I made my way toward my chair to watch a little football, I realized the star on top was not lighting up. 

Fifteen minutes with this star and I realized it will never light up again.  I finally called it quits and put the unlit star back on top.  Of course, I wasn’t quite done yet.  I had to vacuum up all the little green plastic “needles” that fell off the tree.  I am amazed that this thing doesn’t look like the Charlie Brown tree yet.  It’s shed more plastic in the past 12 years than a Dave Ramsey convention.

Exhausted, frustrated, and hungry, I finally washed my hands of the tree project (literally – that thing is covered in dust).  That’s when I saw my little girls hanging their ornaments and loving every second of it.  I guess that’s why we always have such fond memories of putting up the Christmas tree… in July.

We’re getting ready to load up and head north to Tennessee for Thanksgiving.  Since we have a 6-hour drive and my kids are at the age where they like to be at home for Santa on Christmas day, we do Thanksgiving with my family on Thursday and Christmas on Friday.  Maybe it’s not traditional, but the kids love it!

Olivia is getting to the age where she is not only interested in presents, but also enjoys Nana’s cooking.  Just the other day she asked me about our upcoming trip.

Olivia:  How many more days until we get to go Nana and Grandaddy’s.

Me:  Six more days.

Olivia:  Will there be a feast?

Me:  Yes, Olivia there will be several.

Hearing a six year-old ask about an upcoming feast made me laugh, but it also puts some things into perspective.  The majority of children on this planet have no idea what a feast is.  Fewer still get to have several feasts over the course of a long weekend. 

With Thanksgiving approaching, we really do have a lot to be thankful for.  Yes, the economy stinks, unemployment is up, home values are down, and Tennessee’s only SEC win thus far is against Vanderbilt… in overtime, but if we focus on all of the things that we do have rather than lament over what we don’t have, we will soon realize how fortunate we really are. 

Happy Thanksgiving everyone and don’t forget to remove the giblet bag before putting the turkey in the oven (that was something my wife learned many years ago through experience).

I am your constant companion,

I am your greatest helper or your heaviest burden.

I will push you onward or drag you down to failure.

I am at your command.

Half of the tasks that you do you might just as well

turn over to me and I will do them quickly and correctly.

 

I am easily managed,

you must merely be firm with me.

Show me exactly how you want something done;

after a few lessons I will do it automatically.

I am the servant of all great people and

alas of all failures as well.

Those who are great I have made great,

those who are failures I have made failures.

 

I am not a machine, but I work with all the precision

of a machine, plus the intelligence of a person.

Now you may run me for a profit or

you may run me for ruin.

It makes no difference to me.

Take me, train me, be firm with me,

and I will lay the world at your feet.

Be easy with me and I will destroy you.

 

Who am I?  I am called Habit.

Performance of the Tennessee Volunteers notwithstanding, I am proud to be a volunteer. 

I’m not talking about college football… I had a couple of volunteer opportunities over the past two weeks.  One was with Habitat for Humanity and it was nasty work.  We removed an old railroad crosstie retaining wall.  If you’ve never picked up a railroad tie, I will enlighten you.  They are heavier than a Dennis Miller monolog and about twice as awkward to handle.  To add to our troubles, our footing was on a very steep slope, which was all mud because it rained the previous night. 

When the representative from Habitat for Humanity met us at the site, he apologized, shook his head, and told us we were in for a rough day.  The work was hard – I’ll give him that – but we had a great day.  In my experience, what you’re doing doesn’t matter nearly as much as who you’re doing it with.  We had a fun group of guys who took shots at each other all day with the crude guy humor that comes out during times of intense labor and we had a great time.

I’ve taken part in all types of work that is physically uncomfortable.  From driving 3 foot-long stakes through asphalt with a sledgehammer to bouncing around the remotest regions of Nicaragua in the back of a pickup truck, the physical discomfort of the work was always overshadowed by the camaraderie of those working.

We’re heading into the holiday season and there will be no shortage of volunteer opportunities.  This is also the time of year when people are trying to use up their vacation time.  Our company went from a policy where vacation time could be carried over to a “use it or lose it” policy.  Because of this, several people are trying to cram in vacation days at the last minute. 

One individual contemplating their unused vacation time said they didn’t have anywhere to go and didn’t have any projects at home, so they probably wouldn’t use all their vacation time.  He said something to the effect of, “I’m not going to take vacation time just to sit at home.” 

I suggested that he take his vacation time and do some volunteer work on his day off. 

He looked at me as if I was crazy.

Ok, so maybe I think a little differently than most people, but this makes perfect sense to me.  The biggest excuse people give for not volunteering is that they don’t have enough time.  The biggest consumer of most people’s time is their job.  If you’re considering just letting your vacation time waste away, why not use it help those in need?  For most people, the problem is their mindset.  They think vacation time is supposed to be “me time”. 

Earlier this year I spent a third of my vacation time in Nicaragua on a mission trip and am doing the same next year.  Even though I “lost” a third of my vacation time in January… and took a weeklong trip with my family in the summer… and took time off to work on my basement, I still have plenty of time off to schedule for the next two months.

I’m not telling you all of this to brag or try to make you feel guilty, I’m just letting you know that it is not only possible to use your vacation for volunteer work, but it is quite rewarding.  Who knows, maybe breaking a sweat doing some worthwhile work is more rejuvenating for you than laying on a beach.  I know it is for me.