Monday, December 20, 2010

Turner Syndrome Society Christmas Party

My wife and I are part of the local Turner Syndrome Society and this last Saturday was the annual Christmas party and we had a great time. TS RibbonIt was at Casa Mexico in Boise. There was a wacky gift exchange, gifts for the kids and dancing (including a hilarious rendition of the Macarena).

You don’t know what Turner Syndrome is? Well you should. TS affects about 1 in every 2500 females born. It is almost as common as Downs Syndrome, just the general public knows so little about it. With modern screenings, TS is now being diagnosed before birth. Although this is great, there is a very terrible down side as more and more doctors are recommending parents to abort these children. I take great offense at this. Not because of the issue of abortion, but for much more personal reasons. Before I explain my reasons, let me tell you a little bit about the TS women at this party. Although there were a couple of kids there with TS (whom you could not tell from the other children there), the majority where adults. One is finishing up her masters in speech therapy. One is a school teacher. One works for a local hospital. One is a social worker. One works as a human resources specialist. And one has even given birth twice. These women all live very full, happy lives. I cannot understand how any doctor can justify recommending terminating such potential just because they have TS. Yes, some TS children has health issues but is that a reason to terminate them? My nephew was near death a few times as a baby because of health and allergies, but no one thought they should just terminate his life. In fact we all (including the doctors) worked hard and prayed hard to save his life. TS is anything but a terrible life. I am very sure the women I met at the TS party would all agree with me. These are all very amazing women.

Why do doctors that recommend aborting babies with TS bother me so much? Well my wife of 25 years has Turner Syndrome. Had someone did that when my wife was conceived, then I would have been robbed of meeting the love of my life, my soul mate. Recommending aborting a baby just because it has TS is like saying my wife should be killed because she has it, and I take that VERY personal.

So what is the solution? Since it is illegal to take every doctor that recommends aborting babies because of TS and buggy whip them, the solution has to be education of parents. Parents need to be made aware of all of the aspects of TS. A doctor is going to list all of the possible health issues, but those are only possible. My wife found out she had TS at age 17. All her health issues where just written down as normal childhood issues. If you found this blog because you are searching for information on Turner Syndrome, I highly recommend checking out the Turner Syndrome Society of the US, the Turner Syndrome Foundation, or even contact me and I’ll put you in touch with my wife. The TS community is friendly, warm and very open to support and education. 

I am a 45 year old man who is affected by Turner Syndrome only through marriage, but I can tell you that a life with TS is a life worth living.


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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Meridian Christmas Parade and Tree Lighting

Last weekend was the Boise Christmas Parade and Tree lighting. This weekend was the City of Meridian Christmas Parade and Tree lighting. (Meridian is a suburb of Boise which was named 1 of the best 100 cities for young people.) Although we didn’t get up in time for the Boise parade, we did make it for the Meridian parade (and since we live in Meridian, we had less distance to travel).

101_2080 We staked out a place in front of Main Street Burger (great burgers!). This is at the end of Main street and thus near the end of the parade.


Here is the start of the parade. It was a little snowy but still a nice day for a parade.


I got a laugh out this. Apparently Miss Meridian is someone in a dog costume.

101_2085 101_2086

Now I found this set up a little wrong. Why does the Woman of the Year get the Corvette while the Man of the Year gets the Fiesta? There is just something totally wrong with this picture. And I wasn’t the only man to notice this injustice.

101_2087 There were lots of pretty girls on horses.


And lots of old cars. I liked how they dressed this one up.


And a few dance groups. The only thing really missing was a marching band.


Spiderman made a special appearance.


And lots of floats.


And what is a parade without a garbage truck? Seriously, why did SSC entered a garbage truck, with a bow on it? How does this make a float? WTH? At least they washed it before the parade.


At first I thought this was a walking turd but my wife informed me that is was a coffee bean since it has an ad for a coffee place on the back.


And at the end of the parade came Santa. I loved his “rain deer”. Looks like Rudolph has been upgraded with more horse power. We had a great time at the parade.

Later that night was the Meridian Tree Lighting. Not having a park big enough down town, they blocked off a section of a street.


There were lots of different groups that sang Christmas Chorals. The only down side was that the microphones didn’t seam to work as I had trouble hearing them.

101_2128 Seeing them was not a problems as they had setup a Jumbo-Tron!!!!

101_2129 Here we are all bundled up for the tree lighting. And for the record, I love my cap and scarf. My mom made it for me and the scarf is 10 feet long.

101_2132 They had a very special guest to turn on the lights, Santa himself.


And finally the tree. It was a grand day of Christmas festivities.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Is that a pickle in your tree or are you just happy to see Santa?

pickleThis evening while at the store, my wife puts in our basket a Christmas ornament in the shape of a pickle.  This brought the most inquisitive look on my face. She then tells me that it is a Christmas tradition and brings good luck. At this point, I am pretty sure she is just pulling my leg. I have never heard of a “good luck” pickle on the tree. She then whips out her phone, locates a web site and begins to tell me about how the tradition started over 100 years ago in Germany. How parents would place a pickle on the tree and on Christmas morning, the kids would get up and look in the tree for the pickle because the child who found it would get a special gift. A pickle, on a Christmas tree… who knew.

So, to summarize the events, this evening my wife informed me that she wants to play hide the pickle with me and the tree this year. This is going to be a Christmas I won’t soon forget. 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Christmas Decoration Time Again

Well it is that time again, that time when we go crazy and put up all the tacky and flashy Christmas decorations. Being a red-blooded American, of course I put up my share of said decorations. In fact, I rather enjoy it. This blog will chronicle my efforts this year.

101_2051I have to say that I am amazed at the wondrous world that we live in. We live in a time when scientist have used genetic manipulation to create a tree that grows inside a box, doesn’t need sunlight, dirt or water, and even requires a little assembly to make full. Now if only they could make one that doesn’t shed its needles, we would live in a perfect world. As such, the first step to Christmas decorations is the putting together of the tree.

101_2052 And here we have the miracle modern tree. Not bad for a 5 year old tree, although next year, I think I might try to find a little bigger tree.

101_2069Next comes the lights and ornaments. My wife believes that you cannot have too many lights on a tree. You might also note that we have a LOT of ornaments on the tree. We have had 25 Christmases together and managed to collect many ornaments. Plus we went through a few years where my wife went looking for the “perfect” Christmas tree. There was the year of the plastic fruit ornaments. The year of the all gold tree (gold ornaments). The year of the red and gold tree. No matter what we tried, it never felt like “our” tree. Then, one year, neither of us were very excited about Christmas. I had setup the tree but was waiting for my wife to put the ornaments on it. She didn’t feel like putting them on. As such, a friend came over a few days before Christmas and was appalled to find that we had not decorated our tree yet. She then proceeded to unpack and place on our tree every ornament we had. That included all our gold, fruit, everything. When it was all done, we both realized that, at last, we had found our “perfect” tree.

I do have to say that I did receive some resistance in placing on the tree the handmade gold bows, that my wife had made, on the tree. But after a “Please, please, please” fit that would impress any 10 year old, I got her to agree to put them on the tree. Besides, how many of you can say that you have ornaments on your tree that are hand made? Well… let me rephrase that question. How many of you have hand made ornaments on your tree that were NOT made by your kids? My point exactly. These gold bows are pretty special to me.

101_2070 Next to go up is the Festivus Pole. Yes, we do celebrate Festivus in our household. That includes the traditional meatloaf dinner, airing of grievances, and the feats of strength (although the feats of strength usually happen later that night after we go to bed).



We put up Christmas Town again this year. We have Shelly’s Diner, the movie theater, firestation and Mike’s Boathouse. I even have working street lights. All the town folk in Christmas Town await the arrival of that cute, fuzzy terror know as “Kitty-zilla.” For those of you who remember, last year, Kitty-zilla was responsible for the wanton destruction around the town and for the disappearance of two of the town’s children. But you will be happy to know that they were found, mostly unmolested and after a year of therapy and a lot of Prozac, they are ready for this Christmas season.

101_2071 Now my wife and I do not have any kids, other than the kind that a four-legged and have more hair then me. Even so, my wife feels the need to put up a stocking for them. If you look a the picture, you might think that we care more about them then ourselves (since their stockings are a lot nicer than ours). That however is not the case. the ones on each end are stocking my wife made for use during one of our first Christmases together and they mean a lot to us. Plus, the stretch really well and you can really cram in lots of goodies.

101_2073The last part of Christmas decorations is the outside of the house. Now, decorating the outside of the house is a competition. However, it is not against your fellow neighbor, it is a contest against death. The real challenge is to not fall off the rickety ladder or roof while dealing with numb fingers, ice, and possible electrocution. i did have to make one trip to the store to buy some replacement bulb for the snowmen on the walkway.

Over all I am very happy with the decorations this year. Merry Christmas everyone!!!!!

City of Boise Christmas Tree Lighting

101_2057On Saturday, November 27, the City of Boise had it’s official Christmas tree lighting. My wife and I had planned to attend the Holiday parade earlier that morning, but since we didn’t wake up until 9am (and the parade started at 9:45), we decided to watch it on the TV from the warmth and comfort of our bed. The tree lighting was at night, so we did manage to get up and downtown in time for it. 

We found a pre-pay lot (instead of using the city garage) that was only two blocks from where the festivities were taking place.  A good crowd turned out for the lighting and there was even live music. 101_2056 It was a little cold out and the Moxie Java there was doing a banner business selling coffee. I was very impressed with the two baristas working as they managed to keep up with the huge line. IMG_0135 At the tree lighting, they were handing out these candles that we were supposed to have lit for the tree lighting. It was nice that they were free. It was pretty neat to see everyone with the lit candles standing around the big tree. As we were standing around waiting for the tree lighting, apparently the mayor walked by us and according to my wife, almost hit me. But since 1) I didn’t see him and 2) he didn’t actually hit me, I didn’t really care. As you can see, my wife had all the required equipment for the event: her candle, her coffee and her cell phone. She made me hold her candle while she took my picture, which is why I have two of them. 

It was rather funny that they kept asking everyone to give a big round of applause only we were all holding a lit candle, making clapping a little difficult. In the end, the lights where turned on and the tree was rather nice.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Case for Christmas

I wrote these last year to help better understand Christmas. As an adult who lives far from family and has no kids, the meaning of Christmas had become lost of the past few years. I had trouble talking to people about this as they usually ended up just calling me a Scrooge when I presented my arguments against their “meaning” for Christmas. As such, I got the idea from reading “the Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis, and wrote letters to Scrooge. This helped me layout my arguments and find my answer. I hope you enjoy them:


Scrooge Letter #1

Dear Uncle Scrooge,

I seem to be having a crisis of faith about Christmas lately. Since you have some special enlightenment about the holiday, I am hoping that you will share some of your wisdom on the subject. As I am now firmly in the middle ages of my life, I find I have lost the meaning or purpose of Christmas. It no longer has any mystery or magic to it and I have trouble seeing it in others. I hope to discuss with you Christmas, but not on some high level, but to tear it apart and look at each of the pieces as if under a microscope. I guess the best place to start is to look at where Christmas comes from.

The very base of its name is Christ Mass or the celebration of Christ. Just about anyone you talk to today would tell you that it is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. However, with a little research, one can find a flaw with December the 25 being the date that Christ was born. In the account of the birth found in Luke chapter 2:

1 And it happened in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. 2 (This taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own city. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee to be taxed (out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family line of David). 5 And he took Mary his betrothed wife, being with child. 6 And while they were there, the days for her deliverance were fulfilled. 7 And she brought forth her son, the First-born, and wrapped Him, and laid Him in a manger– because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 And in the same country there were shepherds living in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And lo, the angel of the Lord came on them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them. And they were grievously afraid. 10 And the angel said to them, Do not fear. For behold, I give to you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For to you is born today, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this is a sign to you. You will find the babe wrapped, lying in a manger. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. 15 And it happened as the angels departed from them into Heaven, the shepherds said to one another, Indeed, let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing which has happened, which the Lord made known to us. 16 And hurrying they came and sought out both Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in the manger. 17 And seeing, they publicly told about the word spoken to them concerning this Child. 18 And all those who heard marveled about the things spoken to them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these sayings, meditating in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as was spoken to them.

Here we can see that when Jesus was born, shepherds where living out in the fields with their sheep (verse 8). I now live here in sheep country. Shepherds do not leave their flocks of sheep (let along live outside) in the middle of winter.  Sheep are brought in during the winter months. Now I have never been to Israel to see the land for myself during the winter, but unless that nation is in the southern hemisphere (and last time I check a globe it was not), it would have been winter there too. This passages seems to indicate that Jesus was born in late spring, summer or even early fall and not in the middle of winter.

But how then did Jesus’ birthday get set at December 25? For this we can thank the Catholic church. In the early days of the church, priests found that many pagans celebrated the winter solstice (shortest day of the year). Their goals where to please their gods so that their gods would bring spring and new life. Since the Catholic church had such a hard time getting people to stop celebrating winter solstice (a day with such importance and meaning to them), the Catholic church did what they do best and just assimilated the holiday, making it their own. To give it even more importance and meaning, they set the birth of Jesus to that day. What could be more important that the birth of the Christian Lord and Savior? This allowed people to celebrate the holiday without going against faith.

So, given the evidence from the bible and the history of the holiday, it is clear that it is NOT the real day of the birth of Jesus. But does that make the holiday null and void? If it is not the actual day of Jesus’ birth, then is the entire holiday a farce to be avoided? The answer to that can also be found in the Bible. Paul address this in 1 Corinthians 10:

31 Therefore whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense, either to the Jews, or to the Greeks or to the church of God; 33 even as I please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, so that they may be saved.

Since the church’s purpose of the holiday is to bring glory to God and that many may be saved, there is is nothing religiously wrong with celebrating Jesus’ birthday on the 25 of December (provided your religious beliefs include the new testament of the Bible).

As you can see, I find this holiday to be one of conflict and paradox and I have only started with this issues I have with Christmas. However, the hour is drawing late and I must go for now. I will continue this in a later letter. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this confusing subject.

Your loving great nephew

E. Cliff


Scrooge Letter #2

Dear Uncle Scrooge,

In my last letter I talked about how even though December 25 was not the actual birth day of Jesus Christ, it is still okay for a Christian to celebrate it, provided they do it to the glory of God. But do people really celebrate the birth of Jesus on that day? It is the custom of Christians to give gifts to the person celebrating their birthday. Although there are a lot of gifts being exchanged on December 25, I have never known a single person that gave a gift to Jesus on that day. Instead, we give gifts to each other. I have been told that the reason we give gifts to each other is that Jesus gave us the gift of life. And although I agree that was a great a noble thing to do (and wish to take nothing away from it for it is the greatest gift once can give), Jesus gave that gift on Easter so would it not make more sense to give gifts to each other on that day instead of Christmas? Clearly, that cannot be the reason for the giving of gifts. Perhaps the reason we give each other gifts is simpler. Maybe we give each other gifts because it is our custom to give gifts on a birthday and Jesus is not here (physically) to accept them. Although this reason may not be as noble, it does make sense (and as long as we do it for the glory of God, then this is still okay). But there is a great danger in this line of reasoning. It is too easy to forget Jesus, to remove the glory of God from the day. I would believe that if you asked anyone how much of that day (December 25), and if they were honest, they would admit that a very small percentage of the day was spent focused on Jesus. I image that if you asked their children, that percentage would be almost non-existent.

Perhaps we are celebrating in the wrong way. Perhaps giving and receiving gifts is not how we are to celebrate the holiday. The best place to look for an answer would be God’s word (the Bible). Here in lies a problem as there is no mention of celebrating the birth of Jesus in the New Testament (the Old Testament was written before He was born so there would not be a mention of the holiday). But that is not to say the Bible is not without any input on the subject. We can look at His birth and surrounding events. Again we can look at Luke chapter 2:

1 And it happened in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. 2 (This taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own city. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee to be taxed (out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family line of David). 5 And he took Mary his betrothed wife, being with child. 6 And while they were there, the days for her deliverance were fulfilled. 7 And she brought forth her son, the First-born, and wrapped Him, and laid Him in a manger– because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 And in the same country there were shepherds living in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And lo, the angel of the Lord came on them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them. And they were grievously afraid. 10 And the angel said to them, Do not fear. For behold, I give to you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For to you is born today, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this is a sign to you. You will find the babe wrapped, lying in a manger. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. 15 And it happened as the angels departed from them into Heaven, the shepherds said to one another, Indeed, let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing which has happened, which the Lord made known to us. 16 And hurrying they came and sought out both Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in the manger. 17 And seeing, they publicly told about the word spoken to them concerning this Child. 18 And all those who heard marveled about the things spoken to them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these sayings, meditating in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as was spoken to them.

First event was a census and taxes. Is this how we should celebrate Jesus birthday, by counting ourselves for taxes? Thankfully, I think the answer to this is no. Clearly this event was started by the Roman government before His birth. It’s affect was only to dictate where Jesus would be born (Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem to be counted in his tribe). Next we see that He was born in a manager. This would be located in a barn. So are we to all go spend the night in a barn? To follow in his footsteps? Again I do not think so. They passages does say the only reason they were in the barn was that the motel was full (and the generous heart of the motel manager). The last part deals with shepherds and how angles appeared to them, gave them a message and sang. The shepherds then traveled to see the baby. So should be sing and travel to see Jesus? Well, these are both events that happened because of His birth so I think these are good candidates for how to celebrate the birth of Jesus. The singing is still done by some today, we call them carolers (although singing of Christmas Carols door to door is a bit of a lost art). What about the going to see the new baby? Obviously we cannot go see Jesus as a baby today but where could we go? What would could we do and see to bring glory to God? Go to a special church service? Go do some special community service? I think the answer to that question must be answered by each person.

The are other events that took place that I choose not to cover as they were standard for any child in that era. Luke 2:21-24 tells us of His circumcision and His presentation to the Lord. The next non-normal event that took place occurs in Matthew 2:

13 And when they had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise and take the young child and His mother and flee into Egypt. And be there until I bring you word, for Herod is about to seek the child to destroy Him. 14 And he arose and took the young child and his mother by night and departed into Egypt. 15 And he was there until the death of Herod; so that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the LORD through the prophet, "Out of Egypt I have called My Son."

Here we see that Jesus (via his parents) had to flee the land of Israel and go to Egypt. Since the reason for His exile was self-preservations, I do not think that God would want us to pack up and flee our country every year. Although one could argue that take a trip to a foreign land during this time could be in celebration of His birth, that same person would have to be very careful to do it “for the glory of God” as it would be too easy to forget about Jesus on a vacation.

We have seen how Jesus celebrated his birth, but how did other people? First, let us look at the three magi. Matthew 2 gives us an account of their visit:

1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men came from the east to Jerusalem, 2 saying, Where is He who is born king of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east and have come to worship Him. 3 But when Herod the king heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. 5 And they said to him, In Bethlehem of Judea. For so it is written by the prophet, 6 "And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the governors of Judah. For out of you shall come a Governor who shall rule My people Israel." 7 Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, inquired of them exactly what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child. And when you have found him, bring me word again so that I may come and worship him also.
9 When they had heard the king, they departed. And lo, the star which they saw in the east went before them until it came and stood over where the child was. 10 And seeing the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 And coming into the house, they saw the child with Mary His mother. And they fell down and worshiped Him. And opening their treasures, they presented gifts to Him, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

Here we have the account of gifts for the baby. The Bible refers to these men as Magi or Wise Men from the east. This is where one can get this idea of giving gifts and I can find no argument in that line of reasoning. The gifts given were not only nice, they were expensive. Gold has always been of great value; frankincense is an oil of a tree highly prized for it aroma; and Myrrh is a powder from rare trees, also prized for this aroma. So, should we be giving the most expensive gifts at Christmas? To understand this, we would need to know the financial situation of these three men. They could have been VERY wealthy and these gifts represented very little to them or they could have been very poor these represented all their worldly wealth. I just do not have enough information to answer that question. I must therefore fall back on the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:31 for the answer to what the value of the gift should be.

The three magi appear not to be people of the Jewish race (having traveled from the east). How did the people of the Jewish faith celebrate? We have already talked about the lay-man (the shepherds) and how they celebrated the birth of Jesus. Perhaps we should look at the people of the church. How did they celebrate the birth of Christ. Luke 2 gives us on such account.

25 And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. And this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel. And the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 And it happened to him, being instructed by the Holy Spirit, he was not to see death before he would see the Christ of the Lord. 27 And he came by the Spirit into the temple. And as the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do according to the custom of the law concerning Him, 28 even he received Him in his arms and blessed God, and said, 29 Lord, now You will let Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word. 30 For my eyes have seen Your Salvation 31 which You have prepared before the face of all the peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the nations, and the glory of Your people Israel. 33 And Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken by him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, Behold, this One is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel, and for a sign spoken against 35 (yea, a sword shall pierce through your own soul also), so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. 36 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in many days, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity. 37 And she was a widow of eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, serving God with fastings and prayers night and day. 38 And she coming in at that instant gave thanks to the Lord and spoke of Him to all those in Jerusalem eagerly expecting redemption. 39 And when they had finished all things according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth. 40 And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom. And the grace of God was on Him.

Although this account occurs several days after His birth, I think we can still look at it because they were unique to His birth. Both Simeon and Anna praise God for the child and both give the child and Mary a blessing. I think giving thanks to God definitely fits the “glory to God” criteria. Giving Christ our blessing is also a great act too but here we have the same problems as with the gifts, the baby Jesus is not here physically with us. However, maybe we should use the same logic here as we do for the gift giving: “Since Jesus is not here for us to bless, we should bless each other.” But how do we give someone a blessing? I think we can rule out gifts as this passage does not show any gifts being exchanged. Maybe a blessing is more about the act and less about the gift. I believe you have some experience with this Uncle Scrooge. What act can we do for someone to bless them? I do see people today that spend time in homeless shelters helping people in need. There is no gift exchanged, only their time and effort. Is this how we bless people today?

Lastly, I want to look at how kings celebrated his birth. To see this, we look in Matthew 2 again:

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked by the wise men, was greatly enraged. And he sent and killed all the boys in Bethlehem, and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had carefully inquired of the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, 18 "A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not."

Again, this takes place after the actual birth but it is still done only because of His birth. King Herod (king of Israel at the time of Jesus birth), celebrated His birthday by killing all children in Bethlehem. I will not even ponder that thought that we are to repeat this terrible act in honor of Jesus’ birthday. Nor should it be a day where there is “wailing and weeping and great mourning.” This act was obviously done to the detriment of His birth, not to honor it.

As you can see Uncle Scrooge, the birth of Jesus Christ was a moment of great joy and singing as well as the cause of great mourning. How does a person resolve such a conflict in order to find “joy” in the day? I look at how most people celebrate Christmas these days and I see so little of Jesus in it. And when I look at His actual birth, I find both great joy and great pain. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this issue.

Your loving great nephew,

E. Cliff.


Scrooge Letter #3

Dear Uncle Scrooge,

Thank you for your last letter. It has given me a lot to think about and I must concede on point. You are probably right that I am over thinking this whole Christmas holiday. I fear that I have given you the impression that I am against celebrating Christmas and that is not the case at all. My goal in writing you is not to convince you of the futility of Christmas (like anyone could even do such a thing), but rather to help me find what is missing for me and Christmas: a purpose and reason. To paraphrase my mentor: To do something just because that is how it has always been done is wrong. To do something because you understand and agree with why/how it is done is right. I just want to understand why I do the things I do at Christmas.

I must say that something you said in your letter (I think more of a passing comment to make your point) has given me the most to think about. Perhaps Christmas has less to do with Jesus. This made me think maybe Christmas has nothing to do with Jesus (at least as it is celebrated today). This caused me to look at Christmas with a religious meaning.

Certain parts of the holiday become easier to explain. Things like the lights and the tree become just decoration for the holiday, much like the decorations for other holidays. This would also help explain “Santa Clause” as this I can find nothing in the Bible to account for such a character. And why give gifts? One could say that it is for the joy of giving, but if that is the case, why not then tell children the gifts are from you instead of Santa? I will admit that giving a gift to someone (especially a child) that they really like does make a person feel very joyful. However, for many people, there is much stress over finding the ‘right’ gift for someone. Worse of all, is seeing the look of disappointment in the face of a child (or hearing their cries) when they did not get the gift they wanted. The feeling you get from their disappointment cancels any joy from the act of giving. Without a religious meaning, how does one explain gift giving in moments such as these? Now please understand I do not blame the child for acting that way as they are only acting how the feel. One of the things that adults learn is how to how to hide their feelings at such times so as to spare the giver’s feelings. Could we then argue that (without religious meaning), the purpose of gift giving, and thus Christmas itself, is to teach us how to deal with disappointment? Heaven forbid such a thing. If it were true, then the best way to celebrate Christmas would be to purchase the worse gift for each person, thus helping them with their Christmas spirit. This hardly seems like a valid reason for such a holiday. Still, I am hard pressed to think of another reason for the gift exchange.

And what of the “good will toward your fellow man?” Although its origins would be a mystery, the idea of helping improve the condition of other people is a great idea. This idea does not need a religious purpose or meaning to be followed. Perhaps the idea comes from the concept of karma (or as the Christian call it, the Golden Rule). I have found this concept in just about every religion. Making Christmas about good will towards your fellow man could then be a way to remind us we should be mindful of the condition of others and gives us a change to do something about it. (Remember I am speaking of a Christmas without religious meaning).

There are elements that do not fit when you remove religious meaning from the holiday. This includes items like the Nativity Seen and most Christmas Carols as they both are religious in nature and subject. It is clear after close examination that Christmas must have some type religious meaning in order to make sense (or it much be completely made-over). Christmas must has a religious meaning if it is to be celebrated at all.

Your loving great nephew

E. Cliff


Scrooge Letter #4

Dear Uncle Scrooge,

I do agree with you that it was a bit strange to try to look at Christmas without Christ, but it was an exercise that I needed to do. In order to find out what the real meaning of Christmas is, I have asked my friends what they think of the meaning is and why they celebrate the way they do. Most have given me the standard answers that I have address already with you. When I present my arguments against, I usually get one of two responses.

The first is they say that if I had children, I would feel different about Christmas. They say that seeing Christmas through their eyes is to understand Christmas. Now I will not deny that my feelings towards this holiday would be very different if I had children, but does this mean that since I do not have children, then I can never truly know Christmas? Is Christmas just about children? If it is, then there is no hope for those without children to fully appreciate Christmas. I hope this must not be so. This attitude focuses too much on the gifts and the birth of Jesus would be easily be lost. If the Holiday is just for the children, then what of the caroling and good will? Children are and always will be a large part of Christmas, but they cannot be the focus or purpose of the special day.

Another reason they say is that Christmas is about family. I can understand this as I do have a family and enjoy the (American) Thanksgiving, which is about family. The problem I have with Christmas being about family is that I have for many years lived several hundred miles from my family. Although traveling during the Thanksgiving holiday is fine, the roads are too treacherous and the weather unpredictable to travel to be with them at this time. Spending time with friends becomes awkward as my friends spend the holiday with their families. If Christmas is about spending time with your family, does this mean that people who either have no family or live to far away to travel cannot enjoy Christmas?

Although I will admit that I am part of a minority of people (I have no children and live far from my family), I do not believe that Christmas would exclude anyone. A religious holiday is for all believers of the faith, not just for the majority. I will not deny that children and family can and do enhance Christmas, but the meaning and enjoyment of Christmas cannot be solely found in them.

Now after four letters, I fear I am no closer to an answer to the real meaning of Christmas. I cannot seem to reconcile the Christmas that I see and feel with the Christmas I am told about. My mind tells me that Christmas is supposed to be about Jesus Christ, but my heart does not feel that. I pray that you might have some insight to help me with my dilemma.

Your loving great nephew

E. Cliff



Scrooge Letter #5

Dear Uncle Scrooge,

I have been giving your last letter a lot of thought.  I think you might be right that in my quest to find the true meaning of Christmas, I have found but overlooked the real answer. In comparing the acts of celebration today with the Bible, I found that although they did not line up, there were Bible verses that made it all right. Of course I am talking of 1 Corinthians 10:

31 Therefore whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense, either to the Jews, or to the Greeks or to the church of God; 33 even as I please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, so that they may be saved.

At first, I thought these to be just catch-all verses, but now I think they are the key to Christmas. On the surface, these verses would appear to be a way that a Christian can get away with doing anything, but these verses go much deeper. They are not a license to do anything but rather are guideline on how to tell if what you are doing is right. These verses are very clear that it is not about the act but about the heart. The Bible states this more clearly in Matthew 15:

17 Do you not yet understand that whatever enters in at the mouth goes into the belly, and is cast out into the waste-bowl? 18 But the things which come out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile the man. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies; 20 these are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.

Clearly God is saying that what is in your heart matters and not what you say or what you do.  Our intensions matter more than our actions (although our actions to do matter).

So what does this have to do with the true meaning of Christmas? The secret to the holiday is not what you do or even why. The secret is in your relationship with God. If we have an active relationship with God then our hearts will rejoice at Christmas and it will not matter what we do. If however, a person lacks that close relationship with God, then the holiday can hold no meaning as without God in our hearts, there is no meaning in Christmas. It is clear that the place for me to search for the meaning of Christmas is to work on my relationship with God. Christmas is not in any action, any carol, any gift, or any lights or decoration. Christmas is found in the hearts of men (and women) when God dwells within.

I want to thank you for your guidance and wisdom in this issue. I see now how I must proceed. I hope all is well with you and wish you a very Merry Christmas.

Your loving great nephew

E. Cliff

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Holiday Season Challenge

Well it is quickly approaching that time of the year again. The silly season or as others call it, the holidays. That time of year when more people commit (or at least attempt) suicide and depressions runs rapid like flu outbreak. I must admit that am one of those people that gets depressed during this time of year. Last year was a particularly bad year for me. I really struggled with what Christmas means. I would bet that if you are a person that loves Christmas, then you spend it with family including your own kids, and you have the means to purchase gifts. However, if you are missing one or both of these elements then finding meaning at this time of the year can be a challenge. For me the missing element has been the family (and sometimes the money). My wife and I have no kids and have lived far from our families for most of our adult lives. Of course, one could say we could travel to our families to spend the holiday with them, but driving mountain passes in snow and ice storms is not my idea of a fun time. Of course there is always our friends but I always feel awkward hanging out with them and their families.

So, my challenge this year is to find a way to find meaning in this holiday season and not become depressed. The question I pose to all of you is what makes the holiday season meaningful to you?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

2010 Zeitgeist Half Marathon

I must say I truly believe that God is great, but sometimes I don’t really appreciate His sense of humor. When I reviewed the Columbia River Marathon, I said one of the lessons I learned was that I was pretty good at hills. Well, I was promptly proven wrong. The Zeitgeist is a half marathon that demands respect. It has some very long tough hills. In fact you start off with a 3 mile climb. That first hill took so much out of me that I ended up walking a parts of this course.


Packet pickup was the same morning as the race so everyone got to show up nice and early. It was a typical fall morning in Boise. The temp was in the 40 and it was overcast, however the weather man assured me on the news that it would not start raining until the following day.


At least they had donuts, bagels and coffee to help keep you warm.


There were over 1000 runners of this half marathon. As such, they had lots of port-a-potties (and the lines where long to use them).


Here is out self photo before the start. I would title this the “Happiness of Ignorance” as neither one of use had a clue what awaited us.


As we lined up for the start, the PA system had some technical difficulties. Sadly, the announcer had no idea and all his attempts to get the crowd cheering were just not working. They started this race a little differently. They had a group of people spell out Zeitgeist. I think we were supposed to shout out the letters as they spelled it, but since the PA wasn’t working, nobody cheered along.


With the fall colors, it was a very pretty course to run. The first 3 miles are a long slow hill climb. I found this to be very difficult as with short steep hills, I can just push through them and make it to the top. But when the top is 3 miles away, it is very hard to push through.


To give you an idea of how high of a climb, these two ladies were at the top of the hill at mile three. After hearing what sounded like a Ricola commercial, I was pretty sure I must have run all the way to the top of the Swiss alps.


Mile 3 to 4 was downhill. Now when I say down hill, I mean you drop all the elevation in just one mile that you just spend 3 miles to gain. I cut lose and managed to do this mile in the quickest time.


Miles 4 and 5 were through a cute little community called Hidden Springs. My favorite part was a sign that said “If you are interested in running for city council, please see city hall before Tuesday.” I guess they are having problems getting people to run for city council in Hidden Springs.


We passed lots of horses along the course. What got me was that all the runners seamed to really upset the horses. Most were stand offish, but some were visably upset. I think I know why they were so bothered by the runners. I am sure they are all thinking “What? When did humans start running? And why don’t we get to ride on their back? This is totally unfair!!!!” I can see how that would be upsetting.


Mile six was a nice little hill. Up and down. The worse part of these hills is that you think see either flat spots or small down hills in the middle of the climb only to find out you were wrong.


Mile 7 was at the bottom of what I call “The Punisher.” This is a mile and 1/4 hill that gets steeper as you go. This was a killer hill. I ended up walking the last 1/4 miles and i was still winded when I got to the top.


But once you made it to the top, you started a nice 2 1/2 mile down hill.


This was the only part of the course that was not on paved road. It was very packed dirt so it was pretty nice to run on.


By mile 11, we were back in town. I have to say, the course was pretty well marked, with volunteers at all turning points. They even had all the mile markers out and visible.


Miles 11 and 12 were through city streets and was pretty flat. There was a nice, very short hill right at mile 13 (it was about 20 yards of running up hill). After that it was all down hill to the finish.

The after festivities include Chill, corn bread, pasta salad and Apple Crisp. There was also a beer garden and a live band.

My official chip time was 2:29:57. Given that I walked parts of the race, I am very happy with this time.

I would like to take a minute to talk about my wife. My wife also did this half marathon. She walks them so I finish before her and walk back to finish with her. I have to say she really impressed me. She was hurting so bad and was so discouraged because the sweeper car was following her (which meant she was last), but she pushed through and didn’t quit. She didn’t have her best time, but she did finish. I think that one reason we run these along endurance races is to find our limits and then push through them. I am so proud of her. Also, as we walked to the finish line together, a cat, sitting in the a grove of trees, was meowing. I told Shelly the cat was cheering her on. Also, was she crossed the finish line, everyone there yelled and cheered her on. It was so great that everyone was cheering so loud and congratulating her. Her tears of pain, turned to tears of joy.


This was a very tough race, much harder than I thought it would be. I won’t make that mistake again.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Shopping with a 12 year old

I am currently on a long overdue vacation (but are you ever on vacation when you work from home and have a smart phone?). I chose the time of the vacation based on a marathon near my family. Sadly, it also coincides with elk season. This means that my father and older brother would not be home for my visit. Instead they would be doing their annual "armed nature hikes." I would call it hunting but that implies shooting something and they haven't done that for a few years now.

Today we decided to drive to Portland (about an hour away) and go the a mall. It would be me, my wife, my mother, my sister in-law and my nephew. I knew that my nephew would hate shopping with the women as much as me (maybe more since he is only 12) so I figured he and I could go to guy stores and have a better time (plus the women would have to listen to us complain about how board we were. Now my nephew just turned 12 and among his gifts he got, he got $60. Of course, this money was burning a huge hole in his pocket. The concept of saving money is just beyond his grasp at this time in his life. But since he would be with me, and I would not have a detailed list of what was okay for home to buy from his mother, I was worried that he would use the old "but Uncle Mike said it was okay" excuse to buy something his mother would not approve of. I had to come up with someway to keep him honest. And I must say, I think I came up with a good one. Just before we walked into the mall, I told him, in front of his mother, that if he bought anything with his money that his mother did not approve of, then that item would become mine. I asked his mother if that was okay with her and she, with a smile, said yes. And thus the two parties split ways and entered the mall.

Our first stop was to a directory as he wanted to go to a video game store. As we looked for the video game store, we also saw they had a Star Wars store. So we mapped out our two stores and headed off. Along the way, was came across a knife store and he had to go check it out. He pointed out several knifed he liked, then he spotted a mechanical Swiss army knife display that he had seen on the Tv show called the American Pickers. He was very excited about the display. However, he didn't try to buy anything from the store. He only said that he would have to come back with his mom. Our next stop was the video game store. Here the boy was in total torment as there were just too many games that he wanted to get but he could only afford one. After some heavy looking, he decided to go see the Star Wars store before making a purchase. The Star Wars store was cool to look at but all the really cool stuff was too expensive. Now we went back to the video game store were he toiled over which game to get all over again. Finally he picked one and I really hadn't thought much about my statement. However when he went to buy the game (and I knew it was a game his mom was okay with) he stopped. He wanted to call his mom because he said she didn't like the store we were in and was afraid she would not approved and he didn't want me to get his game. I finally convinced him that his mom would be be okay with it (which she was) and he bought the game.

We finally ended up at the arcade playing sone shoot 'em up together. We were still playing when the women showed up.

I remember what it was like to be 12 and have money to spend. I also remember that it was easier to get forgiveness than it was to get permission. This little trick worked really well. He knew what his mon would approve of and this just made him think before doing something (which for 12 year old boys can be quite a task).

After a nice lunch, we loaded back into the car and drove home. We all have a great day out.

Monday, October 25, 2010

2010 Columbia River Power Half Marathon

Or how I came to dread down hills.


After talking with my cousins, who are marathon maniacs, I found out that my uncle is a sponsor for a marathon. The marathon is the Columbia River Power Marathon in Umatilla Oregon. This marathon let’s you run across the McNary dam (a working hydro electric dam) and then back across an interstate bridge. You get to cross the mighty Columbia river twice. Plus, you get to run in two states, Oregon and Washington. This sounded pretty cool.

There was no expo, only a packet pickup. Also, there were no timing chips. I have to say, I was very surprised as to the contents of the packet. In the little bag was a $500 gift card from Red Start World Wear. I was shocked to find this but I went to the web site and it was indeed a real gift card (one that you don’t have to spend money to use). Sweet!!!!!

The morning of the race was of concern as the weather forecast was for rain. In fact, on the drive to the race, it did rain. We (my wife did the half marathon too) arrived at the race start about an hour before the start. It was a little confusing as the “Start” was not very well marked. Usually they have big banners and music but there was none of that.

101_1882(To get an idea of how small this marathon is, there were only two port-a-potties at the start and there were no lines.)

101_1883 Here we are ready to run. As we gathered behind the start line, a small band (ok, two trumpets and a clarinet) played the Star Spangled Banner. I am sure someone announced that they song was going to start but no one had a bull horn or loud speaker. There were a couple of officials talking but I could not hear a word they said.

101_1884 As it turns out, this race starts and stops at the highest point of the race. This comes into play later.

101_1886 This is the from the top of the hill.

101_1889 This is the view of the dam from the top of the hill. The first mile had a very nice down hill. However, all I could think was “and I have to go back up this hill to the finish?”


As we entered the dam, this guy greeted us. He is the mascot of the Oregon Potato Growers association. I think he is supposed to be a red potato. I high-fived him as I ran by.

101_1894 The approach to the dam. It was pretty cool getting run across the dam.


Mile two was on the dam. The view from the dam was pretty cool.

101_1897 There is the bridge that we get to come back across on.


The first water station of right after the bridge on the Washington side. They had Gatorade, water and bananas.


Miles three and four was a gradual hill climb. The weather was cool (in the 50s) but not rainy.


At mile 4, there was a sign that the photographer was just up ahead. Since I didn’t want to spend $20 for a digital copy and since I had a camera with me, I snapped my own picture.

101_1902 Mile 5 was a long flat stretch along a road. The only exciting thing here was when the cattle truck drove by and it stunk (see pic).


Mile 5 1/2 was a nice down hill into Plymouth, Washington.


Mile 6 was a long flat stretch back to the bridge.


The was a water station just before the tunnel under the freeway.


In this case, you wanted to run towards the light. There was a tight left turn after the tunnel that I kind of missed as it was only marked on the ground. This took you up a path to the bridge.


The bridge had a foot path so we didn’t have to run on the road with the cars, but it was still very loud. Mile seven was on the bridge.


There is the dam that we crossed (as seen from the bridge).

101_1911 This is a few from the bridge of where we run next. After the bridge, we take a hard left turn and run back to the dam.

101_1913 This section was a nice flat section of the course. We ran back to the dam and crossed our path where we crossed the dam.


Next we ran through the port. There was a very short section of gravel here and of course I managed to get a rock in my shoe.


Almost through the port. This turned out to the be the bottom of the hill as next we had the long mile climb to the top of the hill.

101_1917This is the view as I started up the hill, looking back. Ti was a nice little park. Mile 11 denoted the top of the hill and the last climb. After this, the views got a little less desireable.

101_1918 We got to run along side the prison…


and the lumber yard. Miles 11 – 12 where flat along a road.

101_1920 The last mile was on a nice walk/bike path around a golf course.


The finish line was little subdued. In fact, had there not been runners a head of me I probably would have missed it.

101_1925 After the race, there was a potato bar. A baked potato with chili, cheese, sour cream and butter for everyone. They also had bananas, yogurt, Clif bars. I was surprised at how well the potato hit the spot after the run. An of course, they were the best potatoes on the planet (they were from my uncle so I am slightly biased.).

Now for the swag….


You got a nice t-shirt (given when you got your packet) and a metal for finishing. Note that both say 26.2 even though I only ran 13.1. That is because that is what they all said. I finished my half marathon in 2:23:13 (thanks to my Nike+ GPS for time). Overall I had a good time on race. It was a lot hillier of a course than I had done before but I still managed to run the whole way (I didn’t walk any of it).

So now for the big question, what did I learn:

  1. I am pretty good at running up hills. I kept passing people that would pass me on the down hill or flats.
  2. I really enjoy running half marathons. I am not sure I want to run a full marathon again. I find the halves more enjoyable, easier to train for, easier on my body and most courses have all the cool stuff to see on the first half of the full marathon anyway.
  3. You know how pilots  say that “What goes up must come down”? Well I think runners should say “What goes down, must come back up.”

I am glad I did this marathon but am not sure I will do it again. If you are a person that does not like running under power lines, this might not be the race for you. Otherwise, I think everyone should do this run at least once.


So my next half marathon is in two weeks and I guess it is a pretty hill course too, only you start at the lowest point. Happy running.