Oh, good, I haven’t missed it.

I have a fairly well documented dislike of the Christmas season.  For me, it has become an overblown collection of infectious songs, energy-sucking light displays, and colossal waste of human resources to ensure the happiness of a very few individuals.  However…and I know that you’ll want to keep reading because it will be beyond belief that I have penned these words…I believe that I may have found myself some of that old Christmas spirit that everyone keeps yammering on about.  For the last decade, and probably even before that, I found Christmas to be a chore, an unnecessary evil that needed to be dealt with simply to maintain social convention.  I participated, but I disliked practically every minute of it. This year will be an exception.

Now many of you will claim that it’s due to the birth of my daughter this year and while I must admit that she’s been the absolute joy of my life these seven months, she is not the reason for my shift in Christmas jollity.  Some will claim that even a blind squirrel finds an acorn on his very best day.  This may be true, but the law of averages demands that I would’ve had Christmas spirit well before now if that were the explanation. No, the truth is, the return of my Christmas spirit was due in no small part to a group of people I’ve never met before and who have very little idea of their impact on me.  Truth be told, many of them may be feeling the exact same way I do.  And, lo and behold, this very saving grace occurred to me during an evening at the theatre with the in-laws.

Last night, we ventured out to Actor’s Theatre of Louisville to see A Christmas Carol.  Truly, it has been many, many years since I’d seen this classic nugget.  I believe, even, the last time I saw it, Mickey Mouse was playing the part of Bob Cratchit.  I had lumped it in with a great many other holiday classics that the mere mention of make my eyes roll and my mouth groan and had avoided it like the plague.  Yes, Virginia, that includes such schmaltzy nuggets as Miracle on 34th Street, It’s A Wonderful Life, and even, A Charlie Brown Christmas.  Yep, I had become the Scrooge of all curmudgeons and was firmly planted in my dislike of Christmas.  But, last night, I became unstuck.  There were several moments during the play where I found myself wiping away a tear and truly enjoying Christmas; remembering why there are reasons to celebrate this season.

I have been blessed in this life with family and friends and I know that this is the true wealth, the true happiness.  And to that end, I wish you all a wonderful Christmas season and a joyful New Year that might bring you the same happiness that I’ve been given.  And, just to show you that I’m not above tacky and overly sappy…God Bless Us, Everyone!

See you in the funny papers!

Best of 2009 – Shop + much much more

According to Gwen Bell’s Best of 2009, today’s category is shop…online or offline.  Now, I don’t do much shopping, probably not as much as I should if you were to really take a hard look at it.  But it’s just not my thing.  I don’t prefer to shop.  Still, I do the occasional gift buying, particularly for my wife, but sometimes just for me.  To that end, I believe I have a couple of recommendations

  • Schulz’s Florist is the best florist in the city in my opinion.  I mean, it’s the only one I shop at and my wife is tremendously impressed with their arrangements.  Their online presence is currently undergoing renovation, but I’ve found that the best way to buy flowers is always to go pick them out yourself.  The staff is always helpful and friendly and I apparently go there enough that they remember who I am.
  • Swag’s Sport Shoes is where I do all my running shoe shopping.  They’re knowledgeable and friendly.  And, according to their website, I’m not the only one who thinks so…they’re one of the top 4 running stores in the country.  I just completed a purchase there last night Aside: Thank you D. for the gift certificate and pictures are soon to follow of the new adidas Supernovae that will carry me to my marathon goal.

Now then, since I last posted, I entered a new age bracket.  I turned 35 on Wednesday.  There was some fanfare, but as it was an extremely busy day, the excitement was mostly muted.  I did, however, have a very nice birthday.  To help celebrate that fact, I’m posting here a list of things that I had written down on my thirtieth birthday of things that it had taken me that long to learn.  The first 20 are the originals.  I’ve added a few more at the end to cover the last 5 years.For your edification:

20 things it has taken me 30 years to learn

  1. Pre-drill the damn holes.
  2. Don’t lie…ever!
  3. You may not be responsible for the whole earth, but you can be responsible for yourself.
  4. Fractions really are important.
  5. Write it down…twice if necessary.
  6. Your parents can teach you most everything you need to know, but you’re not going to listen anyway.
  7. Take pride in the way you look because many people judge you based on that very look.
  8. Swearing changes nothing…but it does relieve some pressure.
  9. The batting cage and the shower are the two best places to think.
  10. Credit is a vicious thing.
  11. Pick your team and stick with them.
  12. There is a lot of gray area in matters of religion, politics and ethics.
  13. Just because you can lift it by yourself doesn’t mean you should.
  14. Don’t take somebody’s word for it, explore your interests for yourself.
  15. Health and wealth both contribute to happiness, but you can be happy without one of them.
  16. Keep the protractor you buy in grade school.
  17. A good book always beats a good television program.
  18. Keep an umbrella in your car.
  19. Being mean doesn’t help you or the person you’re mean to.
  20. If you don’t want the world to know your secret, don’t tell anyone.
  21. A decent cup of coffee almost always has either chocolate or whipped cream.
  22. Just because you started the movie doesn’t mean you have to finish it, although if you paid for it, you might as well.
  23. There is no better relaxation than a well-timed nap.
  24. You can sleep anywhere with a decent pillow.

So there it is, my collective wisdom over the past 35 years.  I would say, for the most part, it has been a good three and a half decades and I can only hope that the next 35 will be as good.  This is also my last day of work for the year which is very exciting.  I’m looking forward to some time off to be spent with family and friends.  However, I do hope that this is not the last you’ve heard of the Conspiracy for the year.  Surely there will be more in coming days.  Stay tuned!

See you in the funny papers!

Best of 2009 – Packaging

Well, I know it’s been a while since I posted and I believe that if you go back through the archives, you’ll find that this part of the year is particularly hectic for me.  This year is no different and, honestly, it seems a little bit more chaotic in some ways with the baby Aside: though, I know, those of you with children will merely shake your heads with that knowing look because you’ve already been through this before…it’s new to me C. even made a “Christmas Stress List” after our trip to see The Nutcracker see the Events page for more which ennumerated the myriad things to be done before the actual day descends upon us.  To quote the mother from “The Middle”… Christmas is HARD!

Anyway, the point of this post is to talk about the best packaging of 2009.  This seems like a very odd thing to post about, but me being the odd person that I am, I really have an entry for this.  Recently, I ordered some items from Dr. Bronner’s because their stuff (the soap, the lip balm, and the shaving gel) is amazing and it’s good for the earth AND it gives me something to read in the shower because their bottles are covered with text.   But what excites me even more is the package that it came in.  All 3 things were wrapped very tightly together with bubble wrap and placed in a box just slightly larger than all the items and the extra space was filled with cornstarch peanuts.  It was pretty much the most environmentally friendly packaging of anything I’ve ever ordered and that made it an even better purchase.

So here’s to Dr. Bronner’s and their excellent packaging.  And, I highly recommend their products.  Anyway, back to Christmas!  I’m trying really hard to stay in the Christmas spirit.  I haven’t done that too well in previous years.  This year seems to be going well.  I’ve been listening to Christmas music a lot more, I’ve tried to be a little more jolly in my own sarcastic way…and, I didn’t curse under my breath a single time while waiting in line to see Santa Claus last night.  I’m actually looking forward the event which is a change from recent memory, although, it’s only the 15th, so we’ll see how it goes.  I have decided that you can’t have Christmas without the following:

  • Thurl Ravenscroft singing “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”
  • Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas”
  • Lou Rawls, Peggy Lee, and Burl Ives
  • Elf and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
  • pointing out the hideous Christmas inflatables that you would never, under threat of death, have in front of your house, e.g. Santa playing poker at the North Pole

See you in the funny papers!

Best of 2009 – Moment of Peace

Another in a series of Gwen Bell’s Best of 2009 Challenge: Today’s entry is Moment of Peace

There are moments in my life, pretty much on a regular basis, that would qualify as a moment of peace.  They are often brief, fleeting seconds, but they are there and they are noticeable.  However, I think today’s challenge should reflect a much larger moment of peace.  After a brief review of the year, I identified two moments of peace that warrant discussion here.

  1. The birth of my daughter on May 4.  For a few moments, just after the little one made her appearance in the world and was whisked off by the neonatologist team to be examined, I let out a deep breath that I’m sure I had been holding for several minutes.  The room sort of calmed in an extraordinary way considering that there were seven people present other than me and my wife.  At that moment, I had no fear, no worry, no conscious thought at all…there was just basic quiet and I relaxed.  It didn’t last long, but I remember it distinctly.
  2. The inauguration of President Obama on January 20.  It had been a long time since there was a palpable calm in politics even amid the overwhelming joy and excitement.  Still, there were moments when people in the office stood completely transfixed as the events of the day unfolded and there was good reason.  The world, and I don’t mean this lightly, the WORLD was changing with the onset of Barack Obama’s presidency.  There was unique and genuine moment during the day when you felt a shift to a new paradigm that heralded great change.

Both of these moments were amazing…and to have them come in the same year is remarkable.  I can only hope that 2010 brings some life-altering moments as well.

See you in the funny papers!

Best of 2009 Challenge – Blogs

Another in a series of Gwen Bell’s Best of 2009 Challenge:  Today’s entry is Blog Find of the Year

I suppose my best blog find of the year was Swiss-Miss.  No, not the chocolate…it’s a design website and it’s a repository, not only for her own design information, but for all sorts of neat/cool/wonderful things across the Intertubes.  I find myself getting lost in this website.  I don’t really have a need for any of the things, but sometimes you see things that you just really REALLY want because they’re so darned amazing.

Also, Gleemonex turned me on to All & Sundry this year, due in no small part to my minor nervous breakdown and my having a child this year.  Gleemonex is still the queen of funny on my browser, but Sundry has managed to capture a lot of wonderful “milk-snorting” moments in prose.  They’re sort of my West Coast Valium duo that keeps my sanity in check.  I can’t believe I’m so lazy that I haven’t added her to the blogroll list yet.  I promise to do that this week.

And, finally, it can’t hurt for me to plug my brother-in-law’s website JBPots for all your pottery needs.  J. is an accomplished ceramics artist and I can vouch for the functionality and artistic design of all his creations.  Most of our favorite dishes (particularly coffee mugs and serving bowls) are JBPots originals.  He has an etsy shop for purchases as well, so if you’re still looking for that perfect holiday gift for a special someone, may I recommend JBPots for something unique and useful.  I don’t do nepotism for just anyone, and I assure you that this plug for his art was in no way compensated.  Everything you get here at the Conspiracy is 100% free from bias and coercion.

See you in the funny papers!

O Come All Ye Faithful

When I started dating my wife, I acclimated to a tradition of her family by venturing out into the wilds of Indiana and selecting a fresh Christmas tree, cutting it down and dragging it home to decorate.  Previous to this, I had merely pulled out the dusty tree from a box in the closet and placed it in the corner, but now, here was a new exciting part of the holiday that felt exotic and exhilarating.  There is truly something invigorating about wandering in a field in the cold, crisp weather and breathing in that beautiful pine scent; the sharp odor of fresh cut wood.  I really enjoy the moments outdoors selecting our tree.

All of this is to say that yesterday, we went out again into the cold with our daughter and C.’s mom and dad and we chose our tree and it was, yet again, a serene experience to be in the company of family, participating in an old-fashioned tradition, and enjoying the beginnings of our holiday season.  Also, part of this tradition is the listening to Christmas music, particularly John Denver and the Muppets, but several other Christmas CDs as well, which leads me to my minor “conversion” moment this morning on the way to church. Notre Dame Cathedral

Now, one would think if I were already headed to church, I wouldn’t have needed a conversion moment.  And, I don’t want to alienate anyone who thinks I’ve jumped on the “crazy Christian” bandwagon, because that wouldn’t be an accurate account either.  Truth is, I attend church for a lot of reasons…one is that it’s a job, I get paid to sing.  Second, the community that is shared among the group of friends at our church is really second to none.  We, my wife and I, really enjoy the friendships we’ve made at church.  But, the main reason I attend church is that I don’t have all the answers and, honestly, there’s quite a bit of doubt.  I AM the “Thomas the Apostle” for my generation.  Still, there are clear and shining moments wherein the voice of God breaks through the cloud of mystery and doubt and floods my heart and mind.  This morning, I was going to change the cd in the stereo because we’d listened to it at least 3 or 4 times yesterday during various trips across the county, but I left it in because I wanted to hear Earl Scruggs play “Jingle Bells” on the banjo.  Well, a few songs later, Patty Loveless began her version of “O Come All Ye Faithful” and that is the moment that it made sense to me:

O Come, All Ye Faithful

It was an invitation; an invitation to be a part of a season, a tradition.  Sure, it specifies the faithful, but also the joyful and the triumphant.  I would venture to say that it was also an invitation to the doubtful, the disheartened and the downtrodden.  I felt a part of the faithful, not necessarily the believers, but those who have faith, however shaky it might be, that there is good and purpose in the world.  And, we’re invited to share in a community with other faithful.  I’d like to propose that the comma in that opening line is maybe premature.  Maybe, instead, it should read:

O Come All, Ye Faithful

So, during this season of Advent Aside: for those of you who didn’t go to church this morning, Advent is the season of preparation that precedes Christmas.  You won’t find it in the Hallmark card section as it goes largely unnoticed by the general populace. as we prepare for our Christmas traditions with fresh or dusty trees, fresh or dusty faiths, I’d like to believe that we’ve all been invited to attend, to celebrate in the joy of this season.

Finally, in keeping with Gwen Bell’s Best of 2009 challenge, today’s “Best of” is workshop or conference.  I don’t attend many workshops or conferences.  My job is not such that it’s necessary, however, this year I did attend a marriage retreat that might fall into this category.  My wife and I, as part of the aforementioned church, journeyed down to the All Saints Conference Center in Leitchfield, KY for a short marriage retreat.  We truly enjoyed the retreat and were able to further solidify our marriage by recognizing that we share many of the same constructs for making our marriage work smoothly and joyfully with a minimum of distraction and discord.  It was a very nice weekend and I feel like it strengthened our marriage.  So, even though it’s the only one, I’d say it was the best one of 2009.

See you in the funny papers!

Best of 2009 Challenge

All my good ideas seem to come from other bloggers.  Today, I wandered over to my friend LP’s blog and, lo and behold, I found her participating in the Best of 2009 Blog Challenge which intrigues me.  The good part of this, for me, is that it is not a command to participate every day which my track record shows quite clearly that I’m not capable.  It also helps to do a little retrospective at the end of the year with which to reminisce and recommend.  To that end, today’s Best of 2009 is Best Book.

The Best Book of 2009 is…The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck. You really can’t go wrong with a classic, and it seems that my choices were limited because according to my count, I only read *GASP* FIVE BOOKS this year.  Man, having a baby really does take some free time away from you.  Anyway, about the book:  I love Steinbeck.  I think I’ve only ever read one novel by Steinbeck that I wasn’t a big fan of, but almost always I find myself engrossed by his glorious prose and his ability to create characters that I both identify with and sympathize with.  The Winter of Our Discontent is about a man who is down on his luck and has taken a job that he feels is beneath him but it is helping his family to survive.  We watch as he confronts various demons that attempt to sway him from his moral convictions and how that affects his family, particularly his children.

I also enjoyed Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman this year.  It was an interesting look at various realities that Einstein might have dreamed in his years as a patent office clerk in Switzerland.  They were short and varied which made for easy bedtime reading.

So…look for more Best of 2009 from the Conspiracy of Happiness.  This promises to be an interesting look back at the year.  Also, feel free to post your own “Best of…” in the comments section, which seems to be woefully underused these days.

See you in the funny papers!

I don’t even know what to title this post.

I have a number of things to get through, so just sit down, hang on and stay as quiet as possible.  I realized when I was thinking about this post that my mind kept jumping back and forth between topics…plus, I found a story on NPR this morning which demanded my attention, so today you’re getting it all.  Plus, I know I haven’t been around much since Thanksgiving, so you’re probably starved for attention anyway.  So here goes:

Tiger Woods – I know, you’re probably tired of hearing about it, but I only rarely deign to dwell in the celebridiot world, so indulge me just this once.  I can think of only three reasons why you might cheat on your wife.  One is you’re lonely or bored.  This is the believable aspect of this story as it must be difficult to travel around the world, I assume without your family by your side Aside: although, surely they could afford the extra plane fare and so you search for companionship when you’re away from loved ones.  This is not an excuse and should not be tolerated, but it is a plausible explanation.  The second reason is you’re stupid.  This is not as plausible because Tiger has not shown himself to be anything but intelligent and dedicated, at least on the golf course, and his ability to maintain a top ranking worldwide as well as position himself as one of the top earners in endorsements doesn’t lend credence to the idea that he’s an idiot.  So, he’s not stupid, or at least not obviously so.  That leaves us with reason three which is egomania, and this is by far the most logical of the three reasons.  There is reason to believe that Tiger’s ego Aside: which arguably has only been enhanced by his status, his model wife, and his place as golf’s media darling has created a reality for him in which he believed himself to be infallible or incapable of being caught.  This is, at best, misguided and now that his world has been crumbling around him one would hope that his ego has been sufficiently damaged to show him that he’s not “bulletproof.”  If this is truly the case, you feel slightly bad for him, but not enough to make him the victim, or god-forbid, a martyr.  The real victim in this case is, of course, his wife and I can imagine that she’d want to take a golf club Aside: how ironic?! to his vehicle, or even his head.  Some will say, well, how could he cheat on such a hot woman.  That’s immaterial.  Cheating on your wife shouldn’t involve whether or not she’s hot by some bizarre fantasy standard…it should be based on whether or not you love her, and no one who cheats on their wife can say that they are in love with them.  It’s antithetical.  And that, Intertubes, is all I have to say on the Tiger Woods affair.

Cycling and Road Rage – Pursuant to this article on NPR, I thought I’d add my $0.02 that I’m certain I’ve shared before in this very space.  Cyclists are entitled to the rights and privileges afforded to other vehicles in those very same spaces.  As well, they are also bound by the laws and restrictions concerning those spaces.  There are any number of persons, both cyclists and drivers, who, on a regular basis, fail to heed those laws and restrictions and should be penalized as such.  They are dangerous, literally and figuratively, for those of us who are careful to abide by the law regardless of which mode of transportation we choose.  As a regular cyclist, I do worry about being the victim of road rage…and I have been targeted for verbal abuse on several occasions.  I also try to stay out of the way as much as is humanly possible so as not to be a hindrance to drivers because I know I’m not traveling as fast as they are.  As a driver, I try to consider the safety of both drivers and cyclists when I am driving and I also get frustrated at cyclists who flaunt the rules to achieve their own personal happiness.  This is trite and overused, but “Can’t we all just get along?”  For my part, I’ve noticed that there seems to be a small, but growing, acceptance of cyclists in this city.  Unfortunately, there are still many uneducated cyclists and drivers who contribute to the sad state of affairs as related in this story.   Also, shame on NPR for using an image with this article that plainly shows a cyclist riding improperly in traffic which is direct conflict with the number one cycling tip listed in the article.  At least the guy has a helmet on though.

Christmas – Christmas is coming and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.  There will be lights and music and family and traffic and myriad other things that will delight and annoy at alternating intervals.  My goal this season is to attempt a Zen-like approach and allow all of the noise and chaos to simply wash over me and, hopefully, emerge in the New Year without a holiday scratch.  We’ll see if that works.

New Goals – I had made previous mention of new goals and I had hoped to unveil those at the beginning of this month.   What’s that they say about the best laid plans…anyway, I’m now prepared to announce these goals.  The first of these goals is to run in the Country Music Marathon in Nashville in April.  That’s the full marathon folks…all 26.2 miles of it.  I’m not a country music fan, per se, but the marathon is relatively close in proximity to my home and it’s relatively flat which will be a good “first marathon” for me.  The second goal which will include the first one to some degree is that I’m going to attempt a new “virtual run” that will take me around the perimeter of Kentucky.  I’ve decided to dedicate two years to this attempt Aside: not the least of reasons is that my wife scoffed at the idea that I could complete it in one year and she’s usually right about this sort of thing. which will mean 50 miles per month for the next 2 years.  Round trip…1200 miles.  I will, of course, be showing you a map on a semi-regular basis (per my whims, of course) and in return, I’m hoping that you can donate a little money to a cause.  I’m hoping to use this “virtual run” to generate funds for a cause dear to my heart.  I would donate any money raised to either the “Pennies of Promise” campaign or to an activist organization that supports the banning of mountaintop removal, likely KFTC or something similar.  If you’re not moved by those ideas, feel free to suggest another possibility, or choose not to donate.  My theory is that if you pledge, say, a penny per mile, then if I do manage to go the distance, your total outlay would be $12.00 which is not a great deal of money over the course of two years.  I would hope that some of you with deeper pockets Aside: assuming there are those of you WITH deeper pockets who actually read this would be tempted to wager a bit more on my abilities and if I fall short of the goal…well, then you’ve saved a few bucks.  Either way, the goal starts on January 1 and hopefully I can put together a page for donation collection by then to make it easier for you to support me in this endeavor.  And, for those of you who simply can’t afford anything (which I completely understand) I am also accepting generous helpings of moral support and encouragement.

Finally, because if you’ve read this far down, you’ve really stuck with it for the long haul, I’d like to wish my beloved wife a wonderfully happy birthday.  I know that as we get older birthdays become a little less exciting and a little more annoying, but I always want hers to be special and I hope that she has a great day.  I love you C. and I hope your day is magnificent beyond measure.

See you in the funny papers!