The Forgotten Tradition of Christmas Cards

Don’t Let it Slip Away

Have you ever wondered whatever happened to Christmas Cards? Do you remember receiving piles of holiday wishes from family and friends in the days of Christmas past? Have you seen your received pile dwindle year after year? I know I have, and I’m not happy about it. I just finished up our cards and took them up to the post office, for speedy delivery to their Christmas destinations. As I dropped my bundle of cards into the slot it made me wonder, how much longer are people going to be sending out Christmas Cards?

Growing up in Detroit, I remember checking the daily mail for the next batch of seasons greetings. Along with the Christmas catalogs, which threatened to rip the mailbox right off the side of the house. After we received our cards, my Dad would tuck them into the molding on our ceiling. Since we had a coved ceiling, he was able to put up a colorful display that surrounded our living room with holiday wishes. When my wife and I were house-hunting over 25 years ago, the two things that instantly attracted me to our house were the fireplace and coved ceiling in the living room. I have continued the tradition my Dad started all those years ago.  

Since we live in a digital world, it seems like something as old-fashioned as Christmas Cards is on the endangered species list. Kids these days seem to have no interest in picking out just the right cards for their family and friends. I’m sure Hallmark is greatly disturbed by this trend and the alarming dip in their Christmas Card sales. It probably explains why their cable channel starts pushing out those cheesy Christmas movies as early as July and keeps them coming right up until the big day. 

To be honest, I get it. Christmas Cards can be a pain in the butt. Many years ago, I automated as much of the process as possible. Generating printed labels, and using stickers to seal the envelopes, has sped-up the procedure considerably. It used to be a much bigger job, but we don’t send out as many cards as we used to either. However, I have recently added all of our nieces and nephews to our Christmas Card list, and that has pumped up the card total considerably. Hopefully, this will encourage them to send out their own Christmas Cards, thereby preserving a beloved holiday tradition. We’ll see. In the meantime, I’ll keep an eye out for your Christmas Card in my mailbox. Don’t leave me hangin’ like Charlie Brown. 

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The Last Cut

Finally

Have you ever had to mow your lawn in a snowstorm? Do you keep a heavy quilt on your lawnmower in late fall? Have you ever had a mix of leaves, grass, and snow in your grass-catcher? If so, you probably live in Pure Michigan.

This November, Mother Nature threw us a huge curveball and dumped 7” of snow on the Metro Detroit area on Veterans Day. I’ve been trying to catch up with my yard work ever since. Normally, our fall weather routine is pretty well-established. Leaves change color from mid-September to early-October, then a screaming rainstorm strips them off the trees by early November. Shortly thereafter, that colorful carpet is collected and bagged up for the garbage man. There’s only one problem with that scenario, this year it never happened.

Instead, the leaves just kept hangin’ on. They finally started to drop in mid-November, only to be buried under half a foot of snow. After all the white stuff melted, the leaves still on the branches had turned brown and hung on even harder. Here we are in December, and some trees still have a full inventory of leaves remaining to drop. Both of my trees out front finally gave up their clingers after a wild windstorm. Once the grass dried up, I was ready to polish off the remaining grass and leaves. Then I could concentrate on getting my Christmas decorating in gear.

When the day came for the last cut, it was a crisp 34 degrees. I had my lawnmower under a quilt, warming it up for a quick start. I have a locust tree in my front yard that deposits millions of teeny-tiny leaves and twigs. They would kill my lawn if not sucked up by my mower. The front yard was done quickly. Before tackling the backyard, I took a quick break for lunch. 

There was snow in the forecast, and as I fired up my mower, a snowflake drifted past my nose. Ruh-roh! I got mowing as fast as I could, all the while listening to Bing Crosby crooning White Christmas. The grass was thick from weeks of rain and snow, so it made for slow going. In addition to all the leaves in the yard, I had to look out for biological hazards. Since we lost our crazy dog, we have been frequently visited by treacherous raccoons. Because they are unable to open our garbage cans, they choose to take their revenge by using our backyard as a litter box. So I have to keep an eye out for their land mines as well. Little bastards!

I finished up the backyard without too much snow in the grass-catcher or coming across any Raccoon IEDs. As I stored away my mower, I smiled. Knowing full well that I wouldn’t have to break out that sucker until mid-April. There’s a certain satisfaction you get once the last cut has been completed and all the leaves and grass have been bagged up and dragged down to the curb. It’s an exhilarating feeling, when you realize that your weekends now belong to you for the next four months. So enjoy it while you can fellow yard warriors. Before you know it, that lawn will need to be cut again. But for now, there’s nothing to do but relax and watch the snow. Enjoy.     

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The HD Generation

Lucky Kids

Have you seen the latest selection of TVs these days? Do you know the difference between 4K and 8K? How about OLED and QLED? The vast selection of today’s video technology is truly staggering. The other day, it occurred to me that there will soon be a whole generation of kids who have never seen SDTV (Standard Definition Television).

These rugrats will never know the joys of cable, or over-the-air television. They will never be asked to act as human antennas, or fine-tune rabbit ears with tin foil. There are now children who will have never known life without cell phones, iPads, laptops, Netflix, Hulu, Xbox, and so on. 

However, baby boomers should feel lucky to live during these times as well. Think about it. We’ve seen astronauts land on the moon, bounce around like happy idiots, and even drive a lunar dune buggy. We’ve also been on the front lines of the computer revolution. We’ve heard data communications go from a screechy 1400 baud modem to the silent fiber optic technology of today.

Not to mention the amount of data that can be stored on a flash drive or the ever-expanding cloud. Boom, mind blown! This is from a guy who used to screw disk packs the size of curling rocks, into disk-drives that held an amazing 288 Mb of data. Like I said, mind blown. 

Kids today have seen technology migrate across all platforms. That’s geek-speak for “You can watch what you want, whenever you want, wherever you want, on whatever you want.” Gone are the days of running home in time to catch Batman on your family’s RCA console monster. We didn’t have no stinkin’ DVRs!

My son moved back home for a year and brought with him his 65” Sony 4K TV. Honestly, I wasn’t all that impressed with the cable picture. It was blotchy and fuzzy. Cable is really lagging behind in the tech wars. Having a 4K TV with cable is like having a Lamborghini you can only drive up and down the driveway. Unless you switch over to a streaming-only service with 4K content, you’ll never see all that pizazz you saw at your local Best Buy.

If you’re in the market for a new TV, my advice is to do your homework. If you have a friend who owns one of these hi-tech beasts, ask to come over and check out the picture on cable, Netflix, Blu-ray, Xbox, and so on. Also, don’t be afraid to pick up last year’s model.

Like that Lamborghini, new TV models come out every year. The difference between this year’s model and last year’s might only be visible to a nerd with a magnifying glass. Last year’s HDTV could save you a whole lotta bucks, and still have an amazing picture. If you’re in the market for a new TV, check out the breakdown of all the current TV types, and see which one is right for you. Good Luck! 

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Bamboozled!

Doh!

Have you ever convinced yourself that an upcoming event was one thing, and it turned out to be something entirely different? Have you ever convinced yourself of this so thoroughly, that you were completely flabbergasted when you realize how wrong you were? Last week, I had one of those moments when my wife and I attended a concert at our local community center. I had somehow led myself to believe that we were going to see a Christmas concert being given by active-duty choir members of the Armed Services. Boy, I couldn’t have been more wrong!

Turns out this particular show was performed by a senior citizens theater group. It was designed to be a salute to the military, along with some Christmas songs from the ’40s and ’50s thrown in as well. The minimum age for this ensemble was 50, but most of these folks were waaaay past that age requirement. This troupe of geriatric entertainers fumbled their way through various song and dance numbers, in addition to what I will generously call comedy. For the most part, these folks couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. Although, there were actually a couple of ladies who weren’t half bad.

However, after tackling a yard-full of leaves, all I could think of was the well-earned nap I was missing out on. At intermission, my wife and I debated hitting the road, but we decided to stick it out. This resulted in sitting through Act Two. Thankfully, this included a Christmas sing-a-long. Five carols that were straight out of the red hymn book at church. These songs were guaranteed to make any secular snowflake run for cover. It was nice to hear them being sung by such a large audience. My wife and I joined in as well.

Then the moment came when I suddenly became very self-conscious. To be honest, I had been dozing off during most of the show. However, towards the end, the cast members asked for veterans in the audience to stand up when their service branch was mentioned. When the Marines were called, I immediately thought of my Dad and felt a pang of guilt. I became ashamed of how I was acting. It finally hit me that most of these folks were veterans, and they were actually enjoying the show.

I also felt a little ashamed because of my lack of empathy for the entertainers. I suddenly remembered that performing onstage, in front of a large audience, is one of the most terrifying experiences you can have. Back in the day, I was in a couple of plays in junior high and high school. These productions had me acting in front of a theater full of students, family, and friends. So, I understand the intestinal fortitude it takes to get up there in front of a large crowd.

That said, I wish these elder thespians well in their future performances. I would tell them to break a leg, but at their age, it may be more of a curse than a gesture of good luck. All I know for sure is that I will skip next year’s performance, and take that nap instead.

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Visiting Ol’ St. Nick

Do you remember taking your kids to the mall to see Santa? Hoping in vain that the line didn’t stretch all the way back to Terre Haute? All the screaming, crying and whining, and that was just from the parents? Oh yeah, those were the days.

Recently, I saw a picture of a toddler who had fallen asleep while waiting to see Santa. St. Nick wisely asked the parents not to wake the little guy. He arranged himself on his chair, with the toddler in the crook his elbow, as if they had both fallen asleep while reading The Night Before Christmas. It was a spur of the moment photo, that I’m sure the family will treasure for many Christmases to come. I’m pretty sure Santa will treasure it as well, since the photo went viral, and turned him into an instant celebrity.

To be honest, I don’t remember much about my visits with Kris Kringle when I was little. I vaguely recall hitting up the reindeer driver with a laundry list of expected presents, before turning over his lap to my sister, or one of my brothers. I can’t even remember where we used to visit the big guy. Since Eastland Shopping Center had only been built two years before I was born, I don’t think we would have been to Hudson’s to see the jolly old elf. More than likely, we went to another local department store, such as Federal’s, where my Aunt Aurilee worked. However, I do know we saw St. Nicholas, I have photographic evidence.

Santa has played a prominent role in many movies over the years, but none as great, at least in my opinion, as in A Christmas Story. If you are somehow unfamiliar with this classic, our intrepid hero Ralphie is on a quest for a Red Ryder BB Gun and seeks out Mr. Hohoho’s help in a last-ditch effort to acquire his blue-steel beauty. However, Santa hits him right between the eyes with that famous line, “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.” Ralphie is crushed.

Given the state of the retail industry these days, I’m concerned that many Mall Kringles may be cast out of their work-homes and onto the streets. This will certainly start a turf war with the Bell-ringer Santas, who have already staked out their territory at local shopping centers. This could get ugly. So the next time you’re at your local mall, give Santa a wave from me. Who knows, maybe next year the fat man will be fighting it out on the mean suburban streets. Peace on Earth, indeed.

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The Game

That’s how it’s known, both north and south of the Michigan / Ohio border. The annual rivalry game between the University of Michigan and Ohio State University is one of the oldest, and nastiest in college football. This year, the battle will take place at The Big House in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines are playing their best football in years, so they have a decent shot at kicking the Buckeyes in the teeth. Hopefully, knocking them out of their #1 ranking as the best team in the country.

I became a Michigan fan back in the 70s when the sidelines were patrolled by two lunatic coaches named Bo and Woody. The contest of who was more asylum-ready was won by Woody Hayes when he actually struck a Clemson player in the 1978 Gator Bowl. However, Bo was a bit of a nut job as well. Watching him lose it on the sideline was always the comic relief within the game. Ironically, Bo used to be an assistant coach under Woody. So, when he took the job with “that team up north” (Michigan), The Ten Year War began. Of course, it ended in a 5 – 5 tie. The legendary rivalry became epic.

My mania for the Maize and Blue was well known back in the day, but year after year of OSU wins have left me frustrated and jaded. Even when the Wolverines seem to have the Buckeyes on the ropes, something inexplicable always happens, and OSU escapes with another win. Last year, #4 UM was slightly favored over #10 OSU, and they wound up getting pounded 62 – 39. Honestly, it looked like OSU was playing St. Mary’s Home for Wayward Girls, instead of the #4 ranked team in the country.

So yes, I have become a warped, frustrated old fan. So much so that I don’t even watch the game live anymore. I can’t bear to witness another disaster as it unfolds. Instead, I set up my DVR to do the dirty work, just in case the Wolverines manage to pull out a win. Since I work Saturdays, I wouldn’t be able to watch the game anyway. However, last year’s reaction of my co-workers to The Blue Debacle was enough to let me know that we were blowing another one, badly. This was all pure joy for my next-cube-neighbor Don, who went to OSU, and actually played for Woody Hayes. Another year of Don’s smirking will be enough to drive us all to drink. Especially when he wears his alumni National Championship ring from 2014. It’s too much to bear.

Despite how the Wolverines have been playing lately, I still have a horrible feeling about this game. We’re in year five of Jim Harbaugh’s reign as coach, and I’m afraid we’re no closer to beating the Buckeyes. I anticipate another blowout or a close loss. But we will lose, again. I hope to God I’m wrong. If so, I will gladly eat a plateful of crow. Especially, if it means that Michigan knocks Ohio State out of their #1 ranking!

So go get ‘em, boys! Remember The Ten Year War and play like Bo is ready to tear you a new one if you screw up! Go Blue! Beat Ohio!

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Can Malls Make It?

Go While You Can

When was the last time you took a trip to your local shopping mall? Did it look like a ghost town? Did you hear a whistling sound, as tumbleweeds rolled through the food court? Things have certainly changed in the retail world in recent years. Gone are the days when armies of harried Christmas shoppers stormed the concourses, trying to get that special something for their loved ones. As much as I loathed dragging our sons through Lakeside or Macomb Mall during the Christmas season, I’m surprised that I kind of miss it now.

Let me be perfectly clear, I generally despise malls. My Christmas shopping usually consists of targeted strikes on unsuspecting retailers. I’m in and out like a ninja, before they even know I’m there. Mission accomplished, as I fade into the night like Batman. However, this time of year tends to make everyone wax nostalgic, even about things they hated back in the day. Christmastime makes me feel that way about shopping malls. I remember when we would take our boys to see Santa, then running after them as they charged into every toy store in the place. All the while, making mental notes of the toys they were checking out. Targeted Market Research.

It’s no secret that malls are in trouble. Our digital world has certainly turned many retail warehouses into the aforementioned ghost towns. They’re victims of what I like to call The Kodak Syndrome. Kodak failed to see the handwriting on the wall when it came to digital photography, and they paid a heavy price. Bankruptcy. Malls are staring down that same gun barrel. With online shopping choices like Amazon, eBay, Overstock, Wayfair, and many more, they’re struggling to compete. I’ve always thought that stores should try an online / brick & mortar approach. The best of both worlds. Many of them are finally trying this method, but it may already be too late.

Since we had an early snowfall this year, it’s put me into Christmas-mode way earlier than usual. We’re planning on multiple trips to Partridge Creek Mall this holiday season. It’s a suburban outdoor mall, that has somehow managed to thrive in a cold-weather climate. The outdoor lighting display, cozy fire pit area, and shoppers strolling along with their dogs are experiences you don’t get at your local mall. Maybe that’s the hope for these mega-retailers, more outside-of-the-box thinking. I know it’s worked for Partridge Creek.

So this Christmas season, I suggest you visit your local mall for some shopping and reminiscing. Who knows? It might be gone by next year. Do me a favor while you’re there, grab me a cookie at Mrs. Fields. Happy Shopping!

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Black Friday Madness

Jingle All The Way!

Whatever happened to Black Friday Madness? Back when you’d get up at 4 am and freeze your butt off, just to get a great deal on a PC or High Def TV. Do you remember watching all those live news reports about the carnage? Ambulances were standing by, just in case the savages got out of control. It was a scene straight out of Jingle All The Way. Jamie wants a Turbo Man! Things have certainly changed over the years. Nowadays, you get up before the crack of dawn, spend a few minutes online, and bam! Your Christmas shopping is done and you can head back to bed.

Don’t get me wrong, I know there’s still Black Friday Madness out there. However, with many stores opening right after Thanksgiving dinner, it’s stolen a lot of Black Friday’s thunder. Online shopping has dealt an even bigger blow. Gone are the days of waiting in line on a frigid morning with a mob of rabid shoppers. When the doors opened, they would charge through the gap like a pack of hungry wolves. There once was a TV commercial where some unlucky slob got to be the one to open the doors. All of his co-workers were still wrapped in bandages from previous Black Fridays. Funny stuff.

I only participated in this chaos once. Back in the day, when DVD players were still all the rage. My oldest son and I got up at 5 am to get to Walmart, for a special deal on an Apex DVD Player. This piece a crap lasted about a year, then died. However, I’ll never forget that freezing morning as we stood in line with the rest of those crazy people. There’s a certain camaraderie that develops among the crowd. It’s all about surviving a shared experience. Like boot camp, for example.

However, once those doors opened, it was every man or woman for themselves. Like ziplining, parasailing, and whale watching, it’s an experience that everyone should have at least once in their lives. If nothing else, it gives you a good story to share over Christmas dinner. So sharpen up those elbows and happy bargain hunting!

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Forgotten Thanksgiving

Don’t Let it Pass You By

Have you ever wondered what happened to Thanksgiving? How did it become just another speed bump on the way to the real holiday season? Do you remember when you were little and Thanksgiving came to town? What a wonderful spectacle it was! Not so much these days. Now that one of the nastiest Halloweens on record (weather-wise) is in our rearview mirror, we can officially look forward to the holidays and Thanksgiving in particular.

I can remember when Turkey Day used to be a big deal. Preparations at our house would go on for weeks. Mom and Dad worked tirelessly to get the house ready for company, and a gut-busting Thanksgiving dinner. School windows would be adorned with little handprint turkeys, plus pictures of Pilgrims and Indians sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner. That’s about as politically incorrect as you can get these days.

However, I prefer to think of Thanksgiving as it pertains to our two greatest presidents, Washington and Lincoln. Both made Thanksgiving Day Proclamations that encouraged Americans to give thanks and praise to God for all of His gifts. Another politically incorrect sentiment these days.

Our family’s routine is pretty structured when it comes to Thanksgiving day. I pick up a Black Friday newspaper from 7-11, then we settle in with a cup of coffee and hot chocolate to scope out the best deals for our Christmas shopping. Around 9 am, we turn on WDIV to watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade, and listen to the cheesy commentary from the play-by-play commentators.

Post-parade, there’s a half-hour window before the Lions game. We use the time to prep the turkey and pop it into the oven. Then, I do my best to stay out of my wife’s way, while remaining nearby, in case I’m needed for a last-minute run to Kroger. Our sons hunker down in the living room or basement, trying to stay out of the way as well.

Over the years, Thanksgiving has gotten a reputation for family squabbles. Because of the politically-charged world we live in, the dinner table is hardly a safe space. Plus, in an effort to force people to be thankful, many families have started the, “What I’m thankful for this year” tradition. This has always seemed too contrived and phony for me.

How about taking a moment before the big day and think about reasons to be thankful for your family and friends? Then during holiday conversations go through your mental checklist and sprinkle in your thanks. This will probably be accepted as genuine gratitude, and not just drummed up thankfulness. Who knows? Maybe it will catch on. After all, that’s what Thanksgiving is all about, Charlie Brown.

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Not So Fast, Fat Man!

There’s Plenty of Time Left for Fall

Have you found that November usually sucks? Are you fond of 45 degrees and sideways rain? Nope, me neither. That’s why I grow a beard at this time of year. Usually, after Halloween, we get hit with a shrieking wind/rain storm that rips the remaining leaves off the trees. Then the trees are bare until snow coats them in December. However, this year has been a little different. I had predicted an early leaf-fall, but it turns out I was 100% wrong. For whatever reason, the leaves are hanging on for dear life this year. It could have been all the rain we received this spring and summer. Whatever the reason, it has resulted in a fabulous November.

It’s no secret that most of the time, we leapfrog over late fall in anticipation of a certain jolly fat man coming to town. This is especially true this season since we recently got hit with over 8 inches of snow in the Detroit area. However, this year seemed to be an exception to the leapfrog rule. I witnessed a beautiful sunrise the other day before the blizzard hit. It was followed by a display of dancing leaves that rivaled any snowstorm. I can’t remember when I’ve seen such a beautiful fall spectacle.

School kids chatted happily, as they ran through a tornado of swirling leaves. Suburban chauffeurs dropped off their precious cargo, then raced off leaving a tsunami of golden leaves in their wake. Since the leaves are still hanging on for dear life, it has resulted in a late fall display that many of us have not seen in this area for many years. So even though it looks more like a winter wonderland out there right now, this season still has plenty of fall splendor to reveal. So hop back in your sleigh fat man. We’re not quite ready for you yet!

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