An Alternate Xmas Decor 2

Sometimes I am accused of going overboard when decorating for Xmas. It’s not the typical way most people decorate. I’m not one of those people who string up 12,333,435 lights, nor do I put up nine trees in my house.

I like to decorate manually, mostly making all the decorations and putting it together myself. It’s very non-traditional and startling the first few times you see it. It has a better effect in person.

Much of what I assemble requires an inordinate number of boxes, hollow cardboard tubes, clear tape, several HUNDRED personal pictures, xmas lights, ribbon, etc. The trick is to use anything and everything in the house.

I stopped counting after using 600 pictures in 2011.

This type of decorating is ideal for having children help. The more creative and involved they are, the more interesting the display turns out to be. At least, for me that’s true.

I usually make several columns of boxes reaching floor to ceiling. I then paper them with different wrapping paper, affix about a hundred pictures to each, wrap them with lights, ornaments and ribbons. A couple of years I made them all intertwined. There’s no reason you can choreograph them to synch too, if you wanted.

Some of it is funny, such as the picture of Zach Galifianakis as Jesus, the zombies, and pictures of the grinch and Colin Firth.

I then also wrap dozens of “fake” gifts and sit them around the room. These “fake” boxes also make great places to hide real gifts, undetected. I also wrap stuff that we store, such as scrabble boxes, puzzles, etc. These then feel like real gifts, further confusing anyone looking for presents mixed in with the madness.


I don’t have video of the year from which most of these pictures were from. It’s shame, because the house would light up like a runway when all the lights were turned on.


In the above picture, you can see that there are boxes attached to the ceiling, too. There is some safe and strong tape and adhesive to attach this sort of thing so that it won’t cause a lot of damage. I love putting boxes on the ceiling, walls, floor, anywhere you can add color.

Another trick is to take down your pictures in frames, wrap them, and put them back on the wall. It adds another level of color and decoration to your room.







You can see the hundreds of pictures I used in these decorations. The above picture also have the Jesus-Zach Galifianakis picture that tickles me. When people come over, they usually spend a lot of time looking at every display, seeking out the pictures and identifying people, places, and times featured in them.














Taxes and “Fairness”

Recently, someone I know who worries too much about money was lamenting the issue of taxes.

His comments echoed what I hear from a lot of people: taxes are too high. “Property taxes aren’t fair because they mean that they don’t ever truly own my house outright. Property taxes are thus really just another type of perpetual rent.” For the record, people who know me also know very well that I do NOT complain about paying taxes, whether they are income, federal or property taxes. We have it great here, all things considered.  I am in the minority in this regard as complaining about taxes is almost a national sport. I’ve never understood it.

I am not complaining about taxes now, either, in case someone with poor reading skills jumps to that conclusion. I’m making a point about the hypocrisy of many who constantly complain about “their tax money being wasted” on programs they dislike or don’t agree with.

What really annoys me if think too long on the subject is the entire concept of this type of taxation to begin with. Most people rant about their taxes. These people are also the ones who almost always complain about what their taxes are going for. Whether it’s abortion, subsidies, drug therapy, food stamps, jails, military, etc. Most have their particular ideas about what taxes should be used for.

With the issue of property taxes, though, we really are talking about local schools. Almost all of the funds go toward local schools.

If one were to honestly look at property taxes, the people with the biggest ax to grind would be those who don’t have children in the school system – and especially those adults who never had children in the system and never will. They are being forced to pay for services that result from voluntary behavior. (People having children.)

If people are going to complain about taxes and say the word “fair” without being hit by lightning, they need to stop and consider that those without children are getting hit the hardest of all. How high would taxes be if only people with children paid these taxes that go toward schooling? And why shouldn’t it be this way? Isn’t that “fair?” Would it be “un-american” to require ONLY those with kids to pay taxes to support schools?

They are the ones who decided to have kids. Isn’t it about responsibility? Isn’t that what we hear so often from so many people in society? That people should have to pay for their decisions and be responsible?

I’m making an effort to use this taxation logic against those who would otherwise argue for taxation fairness.

The friend of mine who was ranting about property taxation is also insistent that health insurance be adjusted based on whether you choose to smoke, drink and overeat. His logic is that voluntary behavior should affect how much you pay, which sounds fair, doesn’t it? Why not extend that logic to include children? If I don’t have any, I shouldn’t be paying property taxes. Those who have children should be paying ALL the taxes. Imagine the outrage if such a system were seriously proposed, much less implemented!

Again, I’m just using the ideas as a sample argument to demonstrate the inconsistency people hold in their heads about ‘fairness.’ I’m not advocating a system where only people with children should pay property taxes. But wouldn’t it be interesting to see it tried?

04082012 CLEP for College Credit

CLEP website

I’m a huge cheerleader for CLEP. It is a great way to save money.

More importantly, it can save you a lot of time. I’ve never understood the need to basically take the same class 1, 2 or even 3 times through high school and college. CLEP allows you to take the class at a lower level and then demonstrate that knowledge for college and avoid the wasted time and money taking a class again at the university level.

I took and passed several of these classes. At one employer, I convinced them to shift their academic policy to allow for CLEP exams to be reimbursed the same as traditional college courses. They are much cheaper and in many cases, allow you to demonstrate that you have the required knowledge of the course.

(Sidenote: I am convinced that much of our education system is radically flawed. For many college-level courses there is no justification for the brick-and-mortar system of attendance, traditional study and testing. If you can prove that you know the subject matter, you should be able to get credit for it, regardless of how you have learned it. To insist otherwise is intellectual snobbery, in my opinion. Requiring tedious traditional classroom presence is more of an adherence to sheer methodology and perpetuation of the previous educational model.)

Xmas Wrapping For Kids and Xmas Present ID (2012)


If you look on the presents to the right, you can see that each is decorated with pictures, especially of the intended recipient.

Everyone who knows me has seen that I can take anything and make it an interesting wrapping material for Xmas. Anything – with enough creativity.

For those of you lucky enough to have kids…

To get kids into the Xmas spirit, have them color or draw something they like. Or raid their coloring books and desks. Scan the image to a file. If you don’t have a camera, take the drawings to an office/copy store. They’ll scan it for a small fee.

Print the drawings in various sizes, colors, black and white, etc. Use these to wrap presents. They’ll be using paper they made and feel more connected to the process. They won’t be so stuck on how the packaging will look after they’ve wrapped it, either.

(Haven’t you noticed that people spend too much time focusing on how the wrapping looks? That’s just plain stupid in my opinion.)

Likewise, you can also scan stuff they’ve drawn or colored and give copies or paper to your friends and family. They can wrap your children’s presents with their drawings. The kids will be at least interested.

As for the other idea I often use… Print off pictures of the gift recipient. Use these pictures instead of name tags for all the gifts. This alleviates the need for a tag or emblem on the present.

Even small children who can’t read can recognize faces. It also allows for someone very young to be distracted on Xmas with the gift “hand-out” duties. They’ll have fun with it. To add an element to the process, use pictures of people from earlier ages.

If you don’t have a good printer, you can get 4 x 6 pictures for 9 cents each almost anywhere.

If you are feeling very adventurous, wrap presents using nothing EXCEPT pictures. These make some of the most memorable and best Xmas presents. Sometimes, people don’t want to open the presents because it will damage the pictures. Sometimes, presents wrapped totally in pictures are the ones that people remember, regardless of the range of price for everyone else’s presents.

You don’t have to use photo paper to do this. You can easily print off pictures on standard size paper and use it to wrap. Try printing on materials never intended to be printed on – it can be very interesting.

Final note: You can also do a ‘theme’ wrap for everyone’s presents. I personally love the crazy “Pitchforkkreeper” picture for gift wrapping. Nothing says “Christmas Spirit” like a crazy picture repeated constantly.









Soapbox Part II, Sort Of…

Another post quite a while ago, I reminded people why I don’t usually have comments turned on for immediate publication on this blog.

Having suffered with the idiocy of the internet, my opinion hasn’t changed. Anytime you put out an opinion, even an honest, reasoned one, many people simply can’t overcome the need to snark and snarl at it. People reading casually don’t tend to think deeply about the content and they then latch on to the most irrelevant details of your thoughts, twist it, and then retort back with the weirdest, least helpful things they can say. That’s the internet. I can’t change it, nor do I want to.

The more honest and personal the content, the greater the propensity for needlessly harsh commentary. Just as your Aunt Kathy will fill every status update on facebook with crazy religious nonsense (even posts about raising money for kittens), you will find yourself spending way too much time trying to get into people’s heads about what they write. (Remember one of my favorite quotes: “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”) Give them the benefit of the doubt and just assume that they are bored.

In an ideal world, I would love to leave commenting active for the blog. Many people have some great criticism or helpful advice. Other readers will see this and learn more from the comments at times than the even the writer can convey. The reality is, though, that much of the commentary on blogs is either edited praise or a crazy mashup of hatred and snipe, usually involving politics or religion. I’ve found that people with really great commentary or ideas find a way to get that idea to you in another form. The snipers tend to have a “drive-by” lazy mentality about their ideas. If they can’t lob an easy verbal bomb, they leave more quickly.

Many will criticize but few will take the time to rebut or argue in either a fun or meaningful way.

As always, I recommend that you get your own forum for your ideas if mine at too liberal, weird, or uninteresting for you. X

Family Opinion and Witty Indifference

(This is a “re-post” from quite a while ago. I fixed a couple of issues I had with it in its previous incarnation.)
Obvious yet necessary point: When members of your family believe that your personal belief system automatically banishes you to hell, it is a wise choice to ignore those family members completely – or, at least, ignore them about everything that matters in life. Of course, if you ignore them to that degree, you have to ask yourself what real value those people have in your life anyway.

It is a common thing to see people suffering from the lack of understanding this point. Are you gay or lesbian? Atheist? Jewish? Liberal? The specific label isn’t important. The issue is that family members believe differently than you do. They then form negative judgments about you, followed by expression of those judgments.

Most of us opt to spend our precious time ranting and fighting our family members mistaken beliefs. While there is a very small chance that this will work, it is more likely that you will be the one suffering in vain. To our dissenting and disapproving family, their opinion is the only correct one. You can’t really “convince” them of their error.

If the issue is very important and not really a question of choice as is the case with being gay or lesbian, you will look even crazier than normal attempting to “correct” your family. So packed with emotion and irrationality is this subject that many of your family simply don’t have the maturity to re-examine their beliefs. Remember the old adage? No baby is born homophobic.

Using the gay/lesbian example, why would you insist on attempting to repair your relationship to those  family members? The best sermon is ignoring them and living a happy life. Failing that, when they demonstrate their thinking in a hurtful way, smile and call them close-minded Neanderthals and stop talking. That will get them mad, as very little angers as much as witty indifference. It’s like watching a child scream and cry, kicking on the supermarket floor in front of the candy. Their righteous anger will feel good to them; however, witnesses will only see stupidity on their part. Eventually, like all ignorant bullies, they will go on to easier targets.

If family members have horrible opinions about your life or lifestyle, first think about whether their opinion has any merit. If not, decide whether there is any malice in their belief. If malice is present, write them out of your life, or at least marginalize them to a place where they can do harm, no matter how difficult it might be. From there, resist their manipulation to draw you back into the fray or to get you to argue your point. You are NEVER going to convince them. Make yourself happy and ignore them.

Even if those people are your parents, brothers and sister, etc. No one has authority over you in regards to your chosen beliefs or lifestyle. Nor do they have the right to insult you in their imaginary defense to their own beliefs. 

As I’ve aged, I’m seen family use their biological connection to bully those who don’t agree, whether it is politics, religion, music, lifestyle, etc. I grow ever more astounded that people tolerate this type of aggressive behavior from family members. If you wouldn’t tolerate it from friends or co-workers, why continue to fail to address the real issue? The issue isn’t so much that your family members might be asses, but rather than you are still attempting to impose the false reality of dealing with them rationally as you go through life. 

Did I mention “witty indifference” to them? Works fantastically!

Too Fat To Be Photographed?

Too Fat To Be Photographed?

A facebook friend posted this recently.

It struck a chord in me, especially as the holidays approach.

I know how it feels to look at a picture and realize that I look like a picture of John Candy. But, it’s me.

The blog post isn’t about people abusing other people’s feelings. It’s about recognizing that people love pictures and memories. My reaction is secondary to being able to be photographed.

I replied on my friend’s post that people had worn me down over the years. I was once an avid picture-taker; however, people wore me down and grew to make me feel like I was being rude just for taking pictures. Over time, I drastically reduced how many I was willing to take.

A Reminder for My Wife

If I were to die tomorrow, I would want my wife to do whatever she thinks is best for her, no strings attached.

This includes being with someone else, whether married or shacking up (to use advanced terminology), throw all my things into the river and to make all her future decisions based on her own desires – not out of an obligation to what she thinks I would want and certainly not anchored in the past.

I don’t expect to be idolized in my passing. I’ve seen many people try to live their lives through who they have lost and I’ve found it to be a misleading way to live. That’s my opinion and I certainly have earned it the hard way. All of us make choices every day that seems valuable at the time and later reveal themselves to be a total waste of effort and life. 

As horrific of a cliché it is to say that “life is for the living,” it is inescapably true. I know that we probably want to be remembered, loved in our absence, and not delegated to dusty long-gone memories. But all of that is out of our control. Given enough time, almost all the people who have ever lived in this world have slid slowly into history without fanfare. It is the way of things.

We should live our lives in full recognition of its transparent timeline and hope that we have left a ripple of consequences behind that aren’t damaging.

One of my biggest failures in life seems to still be that I can’t express my sense of humor and wonder to my wife very well. The daily ordinary steeple chase seems to occupy and overwhelm all the creative ways I want to enjoy life with her. I have a million ways I could make her laugh and step back from the lunacy of daily living but seems to get bear trapped by the most boring details and fatigue of life.

When I’m gone, whether I’ve succeeded or failed in my efforts to add happiness and comfort to her life, I hope she can laugh at the stupidity of much of what we think we value, including my beliefs.

If nothing else, I can be a negative example to her!

Once my life has faded, I don’t want people using the word “should” to her or adding additional obligations.

03052013 Existential Words to Ponder (“The Departed” and “No Country For Old Men)

Sometimes, a great quote can set my brain on fire with truth and simplicity. I think this is very common for most people. The problem is that we too often have weak memories or don’t understand that a great quote has just expressed a sublime truth to us.

Frank Costello: [laughs] … How’s your mother?
Man in Costello’s Bar: Oh… I’m afraid she’s on her way out.
Frank Costello: [walks away] We all are. Act accordingly.
[smiles and his straightens tie]
            From “The Departed”

Sergeant Dignam: I’m the guy who does his job. You must be the other guy.
            From “The Departed”

“All the time you spend tryin to get back what’s been took from you there’s more goin out the door. After a while you just try and get a tourniquet on it.”
― Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men 

 “I think sometimes people would rather have a bad answer about things than no answer at all.”
― Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men

“Ever step you take is forever. You cant make it go away. None of it. You understand what I’m sayin?”
― Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men

“If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?”
― Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men

How Good Does a Broom Need to Be?

How good does a broom need to be?
I saw this phrase somewhere recently. It resonated with me. Does your broom easily get at dirt? Is the handle long enough?

We spend a LOT of time, energy and money needlessly. If you need a computer to surf the internet, why does it need a dvd burner and 8 gigs of RAM? Shouldn’t you focus on whether you need a larger monitor to see better or built-in wi-fi to lessen the cable clutter in your house?

If you honestly feel like you need another 1000 square feet for your house, then go ahead and try to have it. But don’t pay for all that space (and heat/cool it) if you don’t want it, much less need it.

Years ago, in another life, when I was teaching a “Quality” course, part of my job was to beat into people’s heads that quality = conformance to requirements. Nothing more. Using that formula, the USER or consumer determines whether a device is “higher quality” or not – not the manufacturer, salespeople or advertiser
Yet, look at many of our interactions with our choices and you will certainly see “feature creep” or “quality blindness.” Just because BMW bills itself as unbeatable quality doesn’t make it true, even if we do pay an extra $30,000 for the logo. Is it great? Sure it is, but not when I can buy 3 reliable cars with all my desired features for the same price.

If appearance is a critical factor in your decision to buy one piece of furniture over another, by all means, lean toward the purchase of the prettier furniture – but only if appearance outweighs cost, sturdiness, size, etc. Is it really a quality choice if it doesn’t fit well into your room or if it breaks under normal usage? And buying a chair or recliner because it’s a known brand or made of genuine Gazelle leather is a terrible buying decision.

If you’ve got plenty of money, focus on what you want. If you have less money, focus on the best balance of usability versus cost. If you are broke, buy plastic chairs from Dollar General and go on with your life.

Besides, you can always deliberately pick the ugliest item and then hang really weird art in your house. You’ll be okay and considered to be ‘artistic.’