Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Year In Review

Near the end of each year, many newspapers publish stories about the “biggest news events” of the preceding twelve months. To produce this, editors devote many hours of research, planning, analysis, and review, poring through 52-weeks worth of clippings.

I thought I’d try to present my own version of “the year in review”… but frankly, I just don’t have the time to do all that research (since I’m actually writing this column on Christmas weekend, and I also have to start my gift shopping.) So, I’ll just have to try to give you my annual recap from my own personal recollections.

(Here’s one problem: My memory doesn’t always extend back a full year anymore… so my wrap-up of the year might seem more like the highlights of the last six or eight weeks… or maybe even the biggest news items from late-December!)

Anyway, here we go, with my own personal version of “The Year in Review”:

-- The race for the presidency. For the first time since Eisenhower, we have a truly “open” race for the presidency, with neither an incumbent president nor vice-president seeking election. Additionally, we have a reasonable likelihood of electing either our first female or first African-American president. Also, although overshadowed by the Hillary/Obama contest, we also have a chance to elect our first: a) Hispanic; b) Morman; c) Mayor of NYC; d) Baptist preacher; e) OBGYN doctor; or f) former POW. And -- let’s not forget Dennis Kucinich – our chance to elect: g) our first President who believes he has talked to space aliens. The primaries and elections are actually in 2008, but the campaigns here in South Carolina have been center-stage all year long.

-- I lost 35 pounds, and was runner-up in a weight-loss contest. While this probably doesn’t qualify as a big news item of the magnitude of electing the next president, bear in mind that these “top stories” are coming from what’s left of my own memory.

-- Gas is expensive. Most of the year, we paid up around $2.50 - $3.00 per gallon, meaning the cost to transport all goods are higher, and therefore, the prices we pay for all goods are higher. The price of gas spiked suddenly right after Hurricane Katrina, supposedly due to the interruption of Gulf Coast refineries. That was nearly two-and-a-half years ago, and the prices are still high. I may start riding a bicycle.

-- The economy is in rough shape. Well, duh-h-h! (See “Gas is expensive” above.) And I would guess it doesn’t help any that: a) we have now exported MOST of the jobs we once had in America to other countries; and b) the emerging industry in our nation now seems to be lending people money that they probably can’t afford to pay back, ranging from pay-day and title-loans, to sub-sub-prime mortgages, to billions in foreign aid from the federal government. And now you say our economy is struggling? Huh! Go figure!!!

-- Sanford-gate. The world’s most nearly-perfect living human being, our own Governor Mark Sanford, sort of got caught with his hand in the public cookie jar! Well, not exactly. He wasn’t stashing taxpayer cookies into his own pockets… but he was secretly slipping it to his rich and powerful buddies, to help promote their mutual “Lifestyles of the Rich and Powerful” agenda. Stay tuned, I’m sure, as the $101,000 transfer from the Governors Conference to his buddies was just the tip of the iceberg.

-- In Entertainment News for 2007: Marie Osmond fainted on Dancing with the Stars; Brittany’s too-young sister is pregnant; and the Hit Movies of the Year were: “Walk Hard” and “Charlie Wilson’s War”. (I gotta be honest… I haven’t seen either movie yet – they were both just released last week -- and I don’t know if they’re hits or not. They’re just the only movies I can recall, mainly because they’re new and still being advertised heavily. And while I’m being honest… I didn’t even know Brittany had a sister. The only entertainment news I can really remember from the whole year is Marie fainting… mainly because they showed it over and over and over and over.)

-- Al Gore won an Oscar. He also won the Nobel Peace Prize, and, I think, an Emmy. I’m happy for him. It suits me fine if they let him win every prize and award given – a Grammy, a Tony, Major League Baseball’s MVP, the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes, etc. – as long as he doesn’t ever win any more elections!

-- The Internets. It’s doing quite well in 2007. Let’s give Al Gore a special award for inventing it.

-- Sports Highlights of the Year. They big sports news story of the year is most likely the annual rivalry collegiate football game between the USC Gamecocks and the Clemson Tigers. But, as I mentioned earlier, I’m relying on my own personal memory for this “Year In Review”… and I can’t for the life of me remember back far enough to recall the outcome of this year’s contest. Oh, well… let’s just turn our attention to next year!

-- And the biggest story of the year: Monks no longer selling eggs in the Lowcountry! The animal-rights activist group PETA has succeeded in thwarting those sinister monks who live in their monastery on the banks of the Cooper River in Berkeley County. Selling eggs is cruel to chickens, PETA said. So now the monks have announced they will no longer sell eggs, which was their only means of supporting themselves. No eggs! I feel bad for the monks, I really do. It’s not enough that they devote their entire lives to their faith, and do without the things we all take for granted. They don’t have TV. They don’t have Al Gore’s Internets. They don’t dance. While we’re all New Years Eve Parties, they’ll be fasting in silence. And, of course, no sex. In short, they do without almost everything. And now PETA is taking away their eggs.

So, that’s the way it was in 2007.

Happy New Year! Here’s wishing you a safe and prosperous 2008, and the opportunity to build upon the experiences of 2007… the year PETA took eggs away from the monks.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The New Traditions of Christmas

I was thinking to myself the other day: What Christmas really needs is a few more traditions.

Of course, I was thinking satirically. Because really, the LAST thing Christmas needs is more traditions or symbols.

There seem to be a gazillion of them. Let’s try to count:

Santa Claus. Christmas Trees. Parades. Parties. Reindeer. Holly. Mistletoe. Gifts. Shopping. Decorations. Manger scenes. Wreaths. Stockings. The North Pole. Elves. Sleigh bells. Jingle Bells. Silver Bells. Toys for the kids. Snowmen. White Christmas. Blue Christmas. Silver and Gold. Candy Canes. Fruit Cake. Caroling. Egg Nog. Yule Logs. Holiday Movies. The Fireplace and chimney. Cookies and milk. Grandmothers House. Rudolph. Scrooge. Holiday Sweaters. Silent Night. Holiday Break. Turkey and dressing. Shepherds watching flocks by night. The Naughty and Nice list. Candles. Icicles. Sugar Plums. Joy to the World. Secret Santa. Top-hats and scarves. Sounds of the Season. Green and Red. Chipmunks. Dogs Barking Jingle Bells. The Gifts of the Magi. The Grinch. Christmas Pageants. Nutcracker. Holiday Lights. The Little Drummer Boy. Gift Exchange. Christmas Cards. Toyland. The Christmas Cantata. Deck the Halls. Gift Exchange. Ribbons and Bows. Figgy Pudding. Tiny Tim. Santa’s hat. Three wise men. Toys for Tots. The Christmas Ham. Gift Wrap. Garlands. Chestnuts roasting. Poinsettas. Ornaments. Jolly Ole St. Nick. Star of Bethlehem.

Okay, maybe not a gazillion… but lots. And those are just the ones that came to mind while I was sipping my hot chocolate with marshmallows.

We seem to add new holiday customs every year. (Mostly fueled by “the commercialism of Christmas”, I expect.)

As long as we’re going to keep adding new symbols and ceremonies to help celebrate the season, I thought I’d try to slip in a few I’d like to see.

So, just in time for YOUR holiday enjoyment, here are the Top Ten New Holiday Traditions I’d like to suggest:

10. Newman, the Nuclear Reindeer. This is my idea to replace Rudolph. Rather than the out-dated, rather-cliche glowing-nose, Newman would be a “glowing-all-over” reindeer, for cutting through the really dense fog certain to be brought about by global warming. Also, a nuclear powered reindeer could help solve the perennial question of all first-graders: “How can he make it all around the world in one night?” With a nuclear reindeer, the question practically answers itself.

9. Holiday Hum-a-longs. Face it. When’s the last time you went Christmas Caroling and actually knew the words to the carols? Oh, sure, maybe Jingle Bells or O Christmas Tree. But not the actual carols, like Good King Wenceslas. You don’t know the words. No one does. My solution: Hum-a-longs! And what’s the perfect complement for humming? Christmas Clogging!!!

8. Putting up the Grafitti Tree. It’s not unlike the traditional Christmas Tree. But instead of ornaments, garlands, and the ever-troublesome strands of lights, we’ll now just turn an inner-city kid loose with a few cans of spray paint. If you want to show off, add a can of Silly String. And to make it really glisten in the light, finish it off spraying on a light coating of PAM.

7. Nogzilla, the Destroyer. This is my idea for the next big Christmas villain, to go along with Scrooge and The Grinch. (As a writer, I have this notion that everything should come in threes.) The mythical Nogzilla follows St. Nick around on Christmas Eve night, destroying all the toys left by Santa, and leaving a cup of spoiled nog in its place. (There is a happy ending, of course -- just like Grinch and Scrooge – when all the nog magically turns into Peace and Goodwill.)

6. Jingle Bell piercings. I’m not a big fan of facial or body piercing… but some of those grungy kids would love it, I’ll bet. I’m guessing the “grunge” community is somewhat disengaged from the whole Christmas thing, and giving them their own new tradition – jingle bells dangling from various parts of their faces – would help pull them back into the spirit. Plus, for the rest of us, it would help give us early warning when they’re approaching, so we can leave.

5. Christmas Resolutions. Sort of a warm-up for New Years Resolutions, but they would only last a week. It could be a good way to test out our resolutions on a trial basis. Let’s say you want to break the habit of eating straight peanut butter with a spoon out of the jar every night before bedtime. If you can go a week without it, maybe you could give it up for good. I can even envision a new holiday TV show: “Dr. Phil’s Christmas Resolution Special.”

4. The Christmas Cat Exchange. It’s a cross between exchanging gifts and sending Greeting Cards to friends. I haven’t quite got the details of this one worked out, but I think it could work.

3. The Airing of Grievances. Full disclosure: I stole this from the TV show Seinfeld. It’s part of the annual celebration of Festivus, a holiday for the rest of us. For the record, I do not subscribe to the celebration of Festivus. But I’m perfectly willing to hijack their very noble tradition: The Airing of Grievances during the holiday season. And, it could help steer the conversation around the Christmas Dinner table away from “you wrapped up WHAT for her Christmas gift?!!!”

2. The Holiday Spam. Self explanatory, I believe. Need I say more?

1. A cell-phone which also serves as a holiday sweater. They can do every thing else, so why not a sweater? Leading up to Christmas, approximately every third TV commercial is an ad for a new cell phone which can take pictures, play music, send email, etc. They’re trying to make us believe a cell phone is THE perfect Christmas Gift. If they can make one that doubles as a Christmas Sweater, then it will, in fact, be the perfect Christmas Gift.

Well… there you have it: My list of suggested new holiday traditions. Of course, we could also go back to just celebrating that FIRST Christmas tradition -- the reason for the season.

Here’s hoping you have your best holiday ever: Season’s Greetings, Merry Christmas… and Happy Birthday, Jesus!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Holiday Blessings: Part Two

From Thanksgiving weekend until the Christmas Season, right through the annual fresh start afforded by New Years Day, most of us do a lot of thinking.

We think about our blessings. We think about our family and our friends. And we think about our lives, our careers, our future plans, and the improvements we should each make in our lives.
In my case, I try not to dwell too much on the “improvements” needed, because if I do, it ends up occupying all of my thinking time, leaving no time to think about the blessings, etc.

Fact of the matter is I could spend all my time counting the blessings: I have way too many to count. From time to time, I acknowledge some of them in this column – especially my family and friends – because I simply don’t take the time I should to show my gratitude otherwise.

This week, I need to add to my list of blessings: I am truly fortunate to have some of the finest people I know working each week to make this newspaper a reality.

As you probably know, our small enterprise publishes five different community newspapers each week. We believe these very localized newspapers are important to the communities they serve… giving local communities a forum for communicating local issues, allowing small businesses to reach their most-likely customers, and simply helping neighbors know neighbors a little better.

But this newspaper would not be possible without the dedicated efforts of a small, hard-working group of people. We depend on a few individuals who make this their full-time occupation, and a much larger group who contribute a smaller amount of their time and talents each week.

We have writers, reporters, columnists and editors who provide most of the content you read each week, and we have photographers who capture the images which help bring the written words to life. We have account executives who work with local businesses to provide the advertising while actually provides the income which makes the newspaper possible. We have graphic artists and page designers who create the ads, and transform the words, pictures, ads, and headlines into pages ready to print each week. And we have circulation specialists who insure the delivery of thousands and thousands of copies of the newspaper each week.

In addition to these paid staffers, we have dozens of volunteers who contribute news releases, columns, photos, or other creative offerings on a regular basis.

After carefully organizing all those elements together – like hundreds of pieces of a weekly jigsaw puzzle -- we somehow end up with a newspaper each week… a prospect which concerned us a bit when we embarked on this journey back in 1989!

It’s a lot more work than you would imagine could be done with a very small staff. But somehow, it gets done… every week… through rain, sleet or snow, just like the mail.

Probably the biggest key to successfully getting the job done each week is the fact that I stay out of the office most of the time. Years ago I discovered – much to my chagrin – that the business operated better without me than with me!

So, when I say “we somehow end up with a newspaper each week”, I should more appropriately say “THEY end up with a newspaper each week”.

I am blessed to be a small part of a great, hard-working group of people who pull together to provide something important for our community each week.

We will continue to try to improve each week to give this community the newspaper it deserves. And, as always, we ask for your continued help and support. Whether you contribute a neighborhood column each week, send us an occasional photo, use our newspaper to advertise your business, or simply thank local advertisers for supporting the newspaper, your help is appreciated.

And this holiday season, I’m thankful for you.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Christmas Grab Bag

December has arrived. It’s the Christmas Season for real now. So I thought I’d share a few of my random thoughts about the holiday season.

First, though, I need to wrap-up one of my pre-holiday activities: The Great Weight Loss Contest of 2007, which concluded before Thanksgiving. Seventeen of each threw $100 in the pot, with the Biggest Loser taking it all.

And, for the third time in a row, I finished just out of the money: first runner-up to my business partner, Kirk Luther. This time, I lost a total of 35 pounds in three months… but Kirk lost 37! Barry “Fatback” Walker came in third, losing 27 pounds, and the other 14 contestants seemed to lose an average of 15 or 20 pounds each. I say “seemed”, because we don’t know for sure: most of them didn’t bother to show up for the final weigh-in. But those who did had lost 20 pounds or so… not a bad weight-loss routine for only $100.

Since both Kirk and Rod have each gained about half of their weight back already, I’m pretty sure the other candidates -- Brian Jeffcoat, Danny Frazier, Jake Knotts, Stan Bowen, Gerald Head, Andy Gobeil, Scott Malyerck, Douglas Adam, Ricky Wingard, Terry Campbell, Jim Miles, Angileigh Wingard, Tim Kelley, and R.J. Shealy -- will have another chance during the Great Weight Loss Contest of 2008, which will most likely begin right after New Years.

Sigh. It was fun being thin for a week.

Okay. On to Rod-Boy’s Random Holiday Observations:

-- Christmas parades remind me of trains. Parades have Santa at the end, just like choo-choo trains have cabooses… both of which are everybody’s favorite part!

-- Holiday air travel is always the worst, because that’s when “amateurs” fly. Business travelers know in advance to take their shoes off while they’re waiting to go through the security check-point; holiday travelers invariably think THEY might be the one passenger allowed to make it through without taking of their shoes. So the line moves a lot slower.

-- I’m not a big fan of Egg Nog… just because of the name. In my opinion, beverages should not have the words “egg” or “nog” in their name. It scares me.

-- I AM a big fan of the Gamecocks… but I’m delighted the football team didn’t get a bowl bid. I stated my position on this several years ago: Places like Shreveport, Louisiana are not appropriate destinations for Holiday Bowls. (Similarly, items like the “Weedwhackers” were never appropriate sponsors for a bowl.) And 6-6 is not an appropriate record for a reward. However, I’m still a Gamecock Fan, and I believe in Steve. He WILL have us playing on New Years Day soon.

-- I believe smoking cigarettes in America is declining due to the use of cell phones. (I’m not sure why this is a holiday thought; maybe because I see so many TV ads pushing cell phones as a Christmas gift idea.) My theory is simple: For years, cigarettes have been addictive. People smoked ‘em to make themselves look “cool”. And, of course, they gave the smoker something to do with their mouths and their hands. Now, however, cell phones are doing those exact same things. So people no longer have the need to smoke! (Or the opportunity, because you can’t smoke and talk on a cell phone at the same time!)

-- I’m betting that “Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la” is one of the best known lines of any Christmas Carol…. for that matter, probably of any song, period. (It’s because there are no words… only short syllables.) The Van Morrison song, Brown Eyed Girl, uses some of the same syllables. These are great songs to sing when you have a hard time remembering lyrics… like I do.

-- On Thursday, December 20th, this newspaper will have its annual Christmas Drop-In from 4:30pm til 7:30pm. You’re invited. (The location is at our office is at 7595 St. Andrews Road in Irmo.) If you don’t get another invitation…. This is it!

-- As a special treat for you this year, I’m offering you a few of my personal recommendations of events and activities you should make a point to include in your holiday schedules…

There are two special Christmas Light displays which are great entertainment for the whole family. Riverbanks Zoo is presenting the 20th Anniversary of its “Light Before Christmas” display through Dec. 30 (Go to www.riverbanks.org for info); and Saluda Shoals Park is presenting “Holiday Lights on the River” until Dec. 31 (call 772-1228 for info). Together, these two displays combine for Eleventy-seven Gazillion brightly twinkling Christmas lights.

Two local churches present well known Christmas pageants. Union United Methodist Church in Irmo presents its annual drive-through Living Christmas Story from Dec. 6th - Dec. 9th (call 781-3013). Lake Murray Baptist Church presents its much-heralded “This Man Called Jesus” each weekend through Dec. 16th (call 957-1435 for info).

If you enjoy Christmas musical shows, I can recommend two: The Palmetto Mastersingers’ Christmas Show will be Thursday, Dec. 6 at 7:30pm at the Koger Center for the Arts; and a 31-year tradition continues as “The Elf Show” is presented by Christy’s School of Dance and Tumblebus on Saturday, Dec. 8th at 8pm at the Batesburg-Leesville Fine Arts Center (Call 364-1139 for info.)

On Dec. 8th and 9th, the Historic Lorick Plantation House steps back in time to Christmas season circa 1840 for the Annual Holiday Open House, presented by Capital City/Lake Murray Visitors Center. (Call 781-5940 for info.)

Village Square Theater in Lexington is presenting O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi” one-act play weekends until December 9th. (Call 359-1346) And while you’re in Lexington, the Holiday House at Harmon’s Tree Farm is always a great holiday treat.

And finally… I hope you’ll all drop by our newest Christmas Tradition – Gatsbees Worlds Fair Soda Fountain – for holiday desserts after your favorite holiday events. And bring your out of town guests to visit our new tourist attraction. Gatsbees is open nightly til 9pm, located at 7585 St. Andrews Road in Irmo.