Monthly Archives: November 2012

Skip to the Lou My Darling


I did something impulsive and silly last Sunday. I, a 50-year-old man, while walking down the wide center aisle of our local Target store, began skipping down the aisle. My daughter and I were there looking for supplies to create a Christmas cartoon. We were walking hand in hand when I just started skipping, and Elizabeth joined me. The two of us going back and forth:

“You’re copying me!”

“Nuh uh, you’re copying ME! I started skipping first,”

“Nuh uh, I did. I’m telling your Mama you were copying me when I take you back.”

“Nuh uh. I’m telling my mama you were copying ME.”

We found what we were looking for, paid for the purchase, and skipped out of the store, through the parking lot to our car; back and forth all the way about who was copying who. We received more than a few looks from other customers (and a few smiles). I hope that encourages some of those other people to do something spontaneous and silly too. I saw a sign once that said, “we don’t stop playing because we get old, we get old because we stop playing.” Maybe, and maybe that is why older parents seem younger than some of their peers. Or, maybe it is just because we have not been through those teenage years with our children yet. Who knows, but does “why” really matter.

This morning (Monday morning, while waiting for school to start) my daughter said to me, more of a statement than a question:

“I can’t tell anyone about yesterday, can I?” a small frown on her face.

“The skipping? Sure you can.”

Her principal was nearby; he was the first one she told. He pointed out that the security cameras probably caught us on tape. She smiled big at that thought.

There are several unrelated reasons why I am telling you about this. First, it put a smile on my daughters face and did not cost me a dime. She smiled when I started skipping, and when she joined me. She smiled when we skipped out of the store. She frowned a little when she said she shouldn’t tell anyone, but the smile came back in spades when I said she could, and even grew as she told her principal about our escapades from yesterday.

I also believe doing silly, unexpected things with people you love not only makes them smile (or should), but it strengthens the bond between you and them. I know it does for me. I can remember telling a story about my grandfather at his graveside. There were people, who did not appreciate me telling such a story at such a somber moment (I wrote about this in my e-book A Grandfather’s Legacy), but I saw a few smiles and it made me smile again. I think my grandfather understood my tears, but I also think he would have liked the smile that was there too. I hope that when my daughter stands at my graveside she remembers skipping through Target with her daddy when she was 7 years old. I hope that a little smile accompanies her tears as she remembers that moment.

We will all die one day, and some of you believe death is the end, there is no afterlife. I believe in an afterlife, you do not have too, but I do. Even if you do not believe in an afterlife, your influence does not stop at the grave. You still love the people you have lost, that does not end at the grave.

One of my favorite authors, Robert Fulghum, has this quote from the storytellers creed in a note to the reader at the beginning of his book ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED IN KINDERGARTEN.

“I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge.

That myth is more potent than history.

That dreams are more powerful than facts.

That hope always triumphs over experience.

That laughter is the only cure for grief.

And I believe that love is stronger than death.”

Amen, Mr. Fulghum. I did not ask his permission to include that, but in this case I do not think he will mind (hey I’m not making money on it, and maybe some of you might check out his books too).

My daughter knows both of her great-grandfather’s. My Maternal grandfather died in 1977 and my paternal grandfather died in 1995. Elizabeth was not born until 2005, but she knows them both very well. She has seen their photographs, my maternal grandfather’s gold pocket watch, and the small table that sat in my grandparent’s house since before I was born (it now sits beside my bed). She also knows what my grandparents kept in each of this small table’s two drawers.

But those are just symbols of the man, something we can touch, something they touched. More important than the “things”, she knows their character. She knows you tell the truth and do the right thing, even if you have to pay a price, because it is good and right to do. She knows that my grandfathers did this and taught me to do this. She also knows some of their failings as men. No one is perfect. But, what she has learned from them, through me, is that when they made a mistake they did not let the mistake define them. Their mistakes did not become their new character, they apologized when it was called for, and held true to their integrity.

Elizabeth knows her great-grandfathers were great men (though neither of them would consider themselves great men). She has received a great gift from her relationship with them. Their gift to her is a knowledge of the greatness within herself, compassion for others, and permission to be an imperfect person. She knows that it is ok to try and fail, but we should never stop trying. She knows that when you tell the truth or do the right thing, you do that for yourself and the people who love you, as much as for other people. This is why it is important to do the right thing, even when no one is looking. She got all of that from two men that she will never be able to hold hands with, but she holds them in her heart.

When you see the influence these two men have had on my daughter, can anyone say they are dead? No, they will live in the heart of Elizabeth all the days of her life. So it is with those people around you, your friends, family, and people you will never be able to hold hands with. Do not doubt me; I know I am correct about this. You see your own faults, and sometimes that is all you see. Others see your gifts, strength, and heart as well. Even if I am wrong about you (and I am seldom wrong about people, a gift from my grandfather), you can do something about that. Tomorrow has not yet happened, and you decide who you will be tomorrow.

Next year will be a year of great opportunity for you. There will be trials, but learn from them and move on as quickly as possible. Thomas Edison said he did not fail at making a light bulb 1000 times, he just learned 1000 ways not to make a light bulb. I promise you (and I never make promises), whatever your new career is next year, you will become the success you were always meant to be long before you go through 1000 learning experiences.

Just do not forget to be silly once in a while along the way. It lightens your heart, puts a smile on your face, and makes memories for people you will never get to meet. Happy memories, memories that will make it possible for those people to go through their learning experiences and become the people they were born to become.

You are great and no one is insignificant. Be thankful in this season of thanksgiving, I am. I am thankful for my grandparents, my daughters, my friends, all those I love greatly (and the ones I do not love greatly), and I am most sincerely thankful for you and the time we spend together for a few minutes on Sundays.

Have a great week and thank you.

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Of Rocking Chairs and Dance Lessons


This week we are going to talk about next year, 2013. YOUR 2013. I have a Thanksgiving Day article (American holiday on the November 22 this year) about a man and his partners, a team we can all be thankful for; then on to sailing ships and airships. But, this week we will talk about 2013 and how exciting a year it is going to be for you. Some of you may not think so now, but by this time next year, you will be thankful for 2013.

Next year the economy is going to change, and with it, you will be closer to where you should be in life, where you were born to be. As you know, I believe everyone is an expert at something, a genius who stands head-and-shoulders above the rest of us. You are so good at one thing, which would seem like drudgery to the rest of us, that it is fun for you. It energizes you, puts a smile on your face, and turns the hours into mere minutes. This is where you are going next year.

Next year the economy will get better, or it will get worse. My crystal ball is in the shop for repair right now, so I cannot tell which; but it does not matter which (and you will see why). With this change will come your opportunity, but you need to do a few things first so you may take advantage of the opportunity when it comes. If the economy does get worse, do not worry about it. Your opportunity will still come to you and you will shine. Worry and fear are like a rocking chair, they keep you busy but they do not get you anywhere.

You know that one thing which is your heart’s desire? “One of these days I will have my own auto shop.” or “One of these days I will be an artist.” … or a writer, teacher, designer or maybe a promotion at work; whatever it is, it is the one thing you shine at, for you it is not work. Next year is the year you begin to work towards that goal. Do not give up your “day job” just yet. You still need to pay the rent. But, next year, is the year you begin to change your profession.

First. Stop saying, “I am going to be a _____.” As long as you always say, “I am going to be a ____.” Then you will never be that, you will always be “… going to be …” YOU ARE! If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you always got.

Sound silly? As I was writing an article for you this summer at my favorite coffee shop, I got up for a refill and a man stopped me. “Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?” Sure, go ahead. “Do you come in here often? What are you doing? Why do you come here? Do you drink coffee? Did you see the new scientific study on coffee?”

The important point here is that when he asked what I was doing I told him I was writing my weekly article and that I like to write at that coffee shop, I like the atmosphere. That night on the local evening news, I saw a teaser for the story (on the new coffee study) following the break. The teaser was my face. When they came back from the break, there was my face again and the announcer started with “We are here at a local coffee shop talking with local writer Joe Combs …” Is it my only job, my “day job?” No, but I pay my water bill with my royalties; and full time writing is where I am going. I am a writer. I also build cars for a major car company to pay my mortgage. But, I began by paying my water bill with writing. I have a plan to be a full time writer and as of today, I am ahead of schedule. Let’s get back to what is important though, YOU.

Write on a piece of paper what you are (your new profession), the job that is going to replace your current “day job.” Keep that with you, always, look at it every day, and read it aloud to yourself every day. “I am a ____.” When someone asks what you do, THAT is what you tell them, not your “day job.”

Look at what you do every day now. Then look at what you will be doing every day then, at your next profession. Write these down on a piece of paper in two columns. Choose one thing from the column on your new career, and begin doing that. In my case, a writer writes. When I am working on a book, it is easy to put the manuscript aside for weeks at a time. But, a writer writes and that is not writing. Now I write weekly articles for you. Now I write on a regular basis. Every week I write an article for you, just as I will do when I write full time.

Pick one item on your list and begin doing that one thing on a regular basis. Then add another, then another; keep doing this.

Next, get business cards. There are several companies offering 250 business cards free, you just pay about $8 for shipping (Google “free business cards” and take your pick). Use that company’s online software to design a professional card. Include your professional e-mail address, if you do not have one get one; and use it only for your new profession … no personal stuff. Do not put a phone number on the card, unless you plan on answering the phone as your new profession (“Bill’s Flower Shop, how may I help you?”)

Surround yourself with at least two other people who believe in you as the new professional that you are now. People who are active and encouraging. I joined a writers group, but soon discovered most of those people were always talking about writing, but did very little writing. I quit that group and met other people who were active, believed in me, and were supportive. We support and encourage each other. After my readers, they are the most important people in my writing career.

Next, get a free website and use their software to design your website. It is easy; you do not need to know any codes or software programming languages.

Sometime next year the opportunity will come for you to spend more time at your new profession. Maybe someone will come to you with an offer of work for you; whatever that opportunity is, it will come next year. Remember, no fear, no worry; just do it! You did the things now to position yourself to take advantage of that opportunity next year … so … JUST DO IT!

As you change your attitude and become this professional that you were meant to be, you will attract people to you who will help you, and that you can help. Likes attract … always. Positive attracts positive, negative attracts negative. Positive people do not like to be around people who constantly complain. You are evolving and as you become the person you were meant to be, you will become more positive and more successful. It is a never ending circle (both the positive and the negative, so use the positive). As you become more successful you will become more positive, as you become more positive you will become more successful.

Those people who criticize and say negative things to you (“… you can’t do that …” or “… you’ll never be …”  or “… who would listen to you?”, and etc.), cut them loose. Remember this phrase “If your presence cannot add value to my life, your absence will make no difference.” You do not have to be mean about it, but if you do not avoid the negativity of those people, you will let them drag you back down into the pit.

Up to now you have thought of your passion as only having meaning for yourself; you could not possibly be more wrong. There are enough people, your future customers, who need your expertise, that over time they replace your “day job” with more money than you make currently at your “day job.”

Still do not believe me? Let me give you an example.

Several years ago I walked into a men’s shop, looking for a new shirt. The young man at the shirt counter greeted me with, “Yes?”. I told him I wanted a new shirt. He showed me a vertically striped shirt with colors I did not like, and a gaudy, diagonally striped tie. I was wearing a solid color, dark suit, with a solid color, light shirt, and my diagonally striped, conservative, “power” tie. What this young man showed me I would not be buried in.

The next store I walked into the man behind the shirt counter asked, “Are you looking for a shirt for a special occasion or every day?” He selected five shirts for me to look at, and placed them on the counter. He then picked up a light blue shirt with white collar and cuffs, paused, then returned it to the shelf. I hate that style of shirts; he just gained points with me. I looked over the one shirt with a button down collar (I rarely wear those), picked up the striped shirt (which I liked a better than the other striped shirt at the other store), then examined the remaining three shirts. Three shirts with no button down collar, light in color, solid in color. Three shirts that would look good in a dark suit, any dark suit. He then picked three ties (two solid, one with diagonal stripes), holding each tie wrapped around his fingers and against each shirt; so I could see how each tie would look when tied, and so I could see how each tie matched each shirt. I came in for one shirt; I bought three shirts and three ties. This man did not just make a sale; he had a regular customer in me, right up until the day he retired.

The first salesman had a job. The second salesman was doing something he loved. The second salesman observed my personality and the clothes I was wearing when I came in, and selected three shirts that he knew I would like, and two shirts to learn more about my preferences. Then he used all that information (and he did this without asking me anything except that one question) and selected three ties that would go with any of the three shirts, and matched my taste. Over time, he even got me to add a few light colored suits to my closet.

This man enjoyed his work, he was good at it, it was what he was meant to be, and he knew it. He knew good quality mens clothes, he knew how to size up a customer and show him styles he would like, he even knew how and when to get a customer to expand his tastes. He knew what clothes would make each of his customers look their best, and he enjoyed doing just that. He was very fussy during a fitting  to insure that the suit was tailored just right to make a customer look his best. He always made me put in my pockets the things I normally carried in my pockets, before marking the suit for adjustments, to ensure the cut would be just right when I wore the suit. I trusted and relied on this man’s judgment. If he had taken employment at a different store, I would have become a regular customer at that store. I sometimes wonder how many faithful customers he had.

You have that within you. There are people who will line up for what you have to offer. That first salesman will never be as good as the second salesman. The first man is working a job, a job he probably does not like. The second salesman was doing a job that for him was not a job, it was something he always wanted to do.

So, get yourself ready now to take that opportunity next year; and when “… you get a chance to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance …”

So, what is stopping you.

P.S. If men’s clothing is your interest, and you just happen to move to Columbus, Ohio let me know. Like I said, my guy retired, and I still have not found anyone I would return too.

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November 6, 2012


Elizabeth did not have school today (they have been off for three days, I still haven’t figured out why), so I had her with me this morning, and I took her to vote with me. I thought it would be a quick in-and-out, like the old days when almost no one voted. In Ohio we have been voting for a month, and the early voting lines this past weekend here in Columbus were 40 minutes long. Took us an hour … guess I blew that one.

The poll worker handling my vote told me he expects our precinct turn-out to be 75-80%, I have never seen that before. Then on the radio going back home they were reporting record level turn-outs around the state. That must be good for someone, but I don’t know who.

Anyway, back to the reason for our conversation today. My next-ex-wife woke me up to tell me not to teach Elizabeth one party or the other because Marine and I don’t vote the same way (she votes a straight party ticket). Well … I am not surprised she said that, if she really knew me she would know I never vote ANY party ticket (but then again if she really knew me we would probably not be getting a divorce).

So, anyway I decided to explain everything to Elizabeth like I have explained it to first time voters before. I explained that voting is a responsibility, not a right (my grandfather hounded that into me, and he never did tell me who he voted for). Then I explained how I found information about the issues and the candidates, and followed that up with quite a bit more information, remember I had almost an hour to kill. I answered her questions (except when she asked who I was voting for). Then we voted.

When we got back to the car I asked Elizabeth, “So, what did you learn about voting Sweetheart?” She said, “It’s not the party that is important, it is the people, and I am writing that down.”

And she is only seven … right on, you just made daddy proud.

So … who did I vote for? Well … I voted for … some D’s, some R’s, and a few that had other letters after their names (2 others to be exact). Hey, I always told ya’ll here on this page I do not take sides on politics or religion.

Now, don’t forget to vote and have a great day!

Voting

Voting (Photo credit: League of Women Voters of California)

Flag of the city of Columbus, Ohio, USA. Self-...

Flag of the city of Columbus, Ohio, USA. Self-drawn, based upon Image:Columbus city seal n6168.svg. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Ohio Statehouse in Columbus where the Ohio...

The Ohio Statehouse in Columbus where the Ohio Senate meets. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am not taking sides one way or the other on the links to articles below. I put these up only as a sample of what is out there already and we still have 5 hours of voting to go. The articles below are the “related articles” recommended by my web host. Looks like it is going to be a long day (think I turn the radio off … I already quit watching TV).

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Something For Yourself


I want to ask you to do something for yourself, but I need to tell you a couple of stories first.

This past week (just before Halloween), the Halloween stuff went on sale and the Christmas stuff came out at my local Kroger’s. I was telling this to my mother and it prompted a conversation about her best Christmas. That very same Christmas was my worst Christmas, but as a dad myself now, I can understand the parent side and the child side of that one Christmas, but I am getting ahead of myself.

When I was ten years old (gee has it really been 40 years ago … I can’t be that old) we were not going to have a Christmas. It was not that my brothers and I had been bad. My youngest brother had just been born on the 10th of December; we were already poor, and in a time when most people had to pay their own medical bills for the birth of a baby, the birth of Jason used all of the money my parents had. So, this year there would be no Christmas. With two older sons (I was ten and Jeff was eight) in the house to feed as well, there would be no presents for Christmas … for anyone.

Then a local minister, that knew our family’s situation, stepped forward. He mobilized his church and they came through with Christmas for us. He got in a lot of trouble for this when his congregation found out we were not members of their church, he could have lost his job. But, he stood his ground, it was the right thing to do, it was the Christian thing to do, and he was glad he did it. I guess you could say his attitude was consequences be damned, he was helping this family (though the word damn is not in his vocabulary). As an adult I will always be grateful to him for risking his job (and when you place your job at risk you are also placing your family at risk) to help us. My mother will always be grateful because her boys had presents to open on Christmas morning.

I understand that parental pain. We tell our children that Santa has a list of good boys and girls, and that he checks it twice. Then, Christmas morning your child runs to the tree and there is nothing under the tree. Even if they can hold back the tears, even if they do not ask the questions out loud, the questions are still there … and unanswered. “What did I do wrong? Why didn’t Santa bring me anything? With all the boys and girls in the whole world, did he just forget me?” Then comes the return to school and all the pain comes back again. All the other kids talking about what they got for Christmas and asking you what you got for Christmas. What did you get for Christmas? Nothing. The boy who got only socks does not feel so bad now.

My brother and I did not have to go through this. That church provided all the gifts we opened. My younger brother had a great Christmas and played with his toys non-stop all day. But like I said this was my worst Christmas ever, maybe I noticed this one small little thing because I was older than Jeff. Maybe, I noticed this one little difference because, as my grandfather used to say behind my back, I had an “old head on my shoulders.”

Whatever the reason I did notice the difference, the difference I noticed was that not one of my gifts had my name on the package. Every one of my gifts was addressed to “boy age 10.” I explained the parent side of this Christmas. Now I want to explain the ten-year-old-little-boy side of this Christmas.

I had no presents for Christmas. Sure I had stuff to open, but those presents were not for me, those presents were not “To: Joe From: Santa”, or from anyone else for that matter. I am Joe, I am not “boy age ten”. I went to school with a classroom full of “boy age ten.” If those gifts had been for me, they would have been addressed “To: Joe.” I knew I had not been a bad boy that year. Not only had I tried to be good, but as soon as my baby brother, Jason, came home I started feeding, changing, and taking care of him as much as possible. I watched him, bathed him, and in the future there would be many times when I was both mother and father to him. That cost me, to this day Jason and I have never had that brother-to-brother relationship (but that is another story, one that I am not going to share). My point is that I knew I was not bad, but I also knew that no one went to the store to buy a present for Joe C Combs 2nd. Someone went to the store to buy Christmas gifts for a generic boy who was “age ten.” That hurt, that hurt just like that kid I described in the fifth paragraph above. I did not say anything … to anyone. My mother did not know how I felt until this past week when we talked about that Christmas 40 years ago.

I think part of the reason I stayed quiet for so long was because I understood the intention. The intention was caring, thoughtful, and loving; I knew there were other kids that did not have anything to open, or if they did have something to open, it was only a few packages of things they needed, like socks. I was ten, but I understood these things, and I did not want to hurt anyone else’s feelings.

Why is it that two little boys are abused as children and one becomes a killer while the other one becomes a pediatrician that spends his weekends giving free medical care at the orphanage? In life, it is not what happens to you, but how you react to what happens to you. The one little boy passes the abuse to the next generation and the other little boy becomes a doctor and breaks that chain. That second little boy says “NO! No more will this abuse be passed to the next generation.” Not everything is as large as becoming a doctor or a killer, most things are small. Some things are so small that other people do not notice them, but you do. You know that small little thing (that no one else notices) that happened to you and to your parents before you. You know that you do not like that small thing, it may even hurt your feelings. Do you see the incredible power you have. You. You and no one else has the power to pass that on to another person or to say to yourself, “No. No more will this be passed to another person.” You have that power, no one else has that power, not your parents, your brother or sister, not the President of the United States. You and you alone have that power.

What I did was to spend the next forty years giving something to someone every Christmas, someone who was in need. I now include my daughter.  But, every time I give something it has that person’s name attached to it. I give anonymously, and sometimes I never know who the receiver is (like the angel trees in stores), but I always make sure the receiver’s name is on that package; always, every time, no exceptions.

One year I went to someplace collecting things and had this conversation (this is word for word, or as much of it as I can remember 22 years later).

“Excuse me. I bought this gift, but I want to make sure the child’s name will go on the gift.”

“Sir, we are not allowed to tell you who the gifts go to.”

“I do not care who gets the gift, I just want to make sure the gift will have the child’s name on it when they get it.”

“I’m not allowed to tell you who will get the gift.”

“I do not want to know the child’s name, I just want to know the gift will have the child’s name on it before they get it.”

“We do not give out the names of the people receiving the gifts.”

“Good. I do not want to know the name. But, if you cannot tell me a name will go on this before a kid gets it then I will keep it.”

She still would not guarantee me that the kid’s name would go on the gift. So, I went to Wal-Mart. The angel tree at Wal-Mart had angel cutouts with a child’s first name, age, sizes, and a toy that they wanted too. I walked up to the customer service desk and had this conversation.

“I have a gift I want to give for your angel tree, but I did not buy it here. Is that ok?”

“Oh yes sir. Thank you sir. You can leave it here if you want too, and I will take care of it for you.”

“I just didn’t know if you would accept something from another store for your angel tree.”

“We would like you to buy it here, but you do not have too. It’s about the kids.”

Yes Wal-Mart, it is about the kids, you are right. So, I left my gift at a Wal-Mart where I knew the child’s name would go on the gift before it was delivered. I know Wal-Mart gets bad publicity sometimes, but for everything I don’t like about them, I will never say anything bad about them because of two employees (this woman is the first and I will tell you another time about the second).

So, what is it I want you to do for yourself this Christmas? I want you to give something to someone anonymously. I want you to go to a church, fire station (remember Toys For Tots, the fire departments do this every year with the Marine Corps Reserve), or one of those angel trees and give something, something for a child. I know many of you are having a hard time now, and do not know what you will do for Christmas for your family. Just donate a pair of mittens to keep a child’s fingers warm. You have seven weeks. Take a coffee cup, set it on your counter and put some of your change in it every day, all your quarters, or all your dimes if you cannot spare all of your change. At the end of those seven weeks you will be able to buy those mittens, who knows maybe you will be able to buy two pairs and help two children.

I do not enjoy competition. I have awards in several fields (art, music, writing, military service & etc), people do not take you seriously if you do not have awards. My philosophy has always been that no matter how good you are someone is better, no matter how bad you are someone is worse. That applies to finances too. No matter how good you have it, someone is better off. No matter how bad your money is now, someone is worse off.

Yes, I know some of you are struggling right now, but there are those in worse shape than yourself and your family. One pair of mittens may not seem like much, but it may be the whole world to a child this Christmas. Maybe one pair of mittens is a big deal for you this year. Do you remember the Christmas story about the woman who cut her hair and sold it to buy a watch chain for her husband, while her husband was selling his pocket watch to buy silver hair combs for his wife for Christmas? It was everything they had. It was a Christmas when a husband and wife gave not only their most prized possession, but their only possession for each other.

Giving to someone else does something for you and to you. The harder it is for you to give, the more you receive when you give. I can’t explain it, but it is so, I know from experience.

So, this year I want you to give something to a stranger for Christmas, THAT is what I want to ask you to do for yourself.

Thank you, and may you have a good holiday season, and may you always feel the love that only giving creates.

English: Santa Claus with a little girl Espera...

English: Santa Claus with a little girl Esperanto: Patro Kristnasko kaj malgranda knabino Suomi: Joulupukki ja pieni tyttö (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Examination and Trial of Father Christmas,...

The Examination and Trial of Father Christmas, (1686), published shortly after Christmas was reinstated as a holy day in England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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