Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas Dinner

Yes, I know that Christmas was 2 days ago. But we have an additional tradition in our family. We have a big sit-down dinner with the entire family.

See, our family is a little unusual. First, it's a blended family, my kids and her kids. We started the Christmas dinner before my wife and I got married. We realized that year we may not be together on Christmas day, at least not all of the family. So we make a strong effort to encourage all of the kids to come to this dinner. Sometimes it's a few days or even a couple of weeks before Christmas. Sometimes, it's after Christmas. This year, today worked best.

So far, we've had near 100% perfect attendance. One year, the oldest boy was otherwise occupied in Iraq. While he couldn't be there in person, he did make a video and spoke to each person at the table. I'm not sure if he realized it, but he went perfectly around the table and spoke to each person in perfect order. Maybe we are just that predictable. We tried to petition Pres. Bush to give him leave for our dinner, but unfortunately, that didn't work.

This year, we may have our second ever absentee. I'm still holding out hope.

It's hard for all of us to get together on Christmas day. Four of the five kids are married and have another set of parents to visit. Then there's grandparents and extended family to visit. I'm hoping to see the new movie "Four Christmases" so I can empathize with all that the kids go through.

I'm very thankful that all of our kids make a special effort to attend this extra event.

Merry Christmas! (still)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays

You hear that all the time now, "Happy Holidays". A few years ago, I made a big push to change it to "Merry Christmas" by asking a few cashiers "what holidays?" Once confused, I would say "you told me to have a happy holiday, I just wanted to be sure which one."

I can be mean that way, to the cashiers. When they ask me "did you find everything ok?" I typically answer "yes, you'll have to hide things better next time." (Stupid question deserves a stupid answer). What do they think, I'm going say something like "no, I have this list of 48 items, can you help me find them?"

A few years back, the stores starting banning the Salvation Army. Now, I've never been a big fan of those guys, but somehow banning them seemed anti-American or anti-Christmas. So, now I make it a point to drop whatever change I have in the kettle as I walk by. This year, our local television station highlighted a lady who is still ringing the bell at age 100. Margaret Helen Yockey is ringing the bell for her third year. She rings on the other side of town from me, so I want be seeing her, but I'll put some extra money in the kettle when I pass the store near me. (Read Ms. Yockey's story here). If you Google her name, you'll see her story was picked up by MSNBC and USA Today. I hope you're still ringing the bell for years to come.

Back to "Happy Holidays", I don't make a big deal about this anymore. Some of the cashiers are just plain tired. They are out their earning a $ (hopefully a few $$) and don't need me (or anyone else) to hassle them. I guess I've mellowed out a little, I just thank them and tell them "Merry Christmas". Well, sometimes, I still go hassle them some, but always in fun.

Merry Christmas to all.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Unusual Christmas songs

I love listening to unusual Christmas songs. Everyone has heard "Grandma got run over by a reindeer" (lyrics here). That song has probably been banned in several homes.

This year, I heard a new one: an old Ray Stevens song called "Bad Little Boy" by Ray Stevens. If you're like me, you start laughing when you know it's from Ray Stevens. The lyrics are here. Seems Ray "ain't gettin' nothin' this Christmas". Now most people will confuse this with the song "I'm Getting Nuttin' for Christmas" (lyrics here). But they are two different songs.

Yesterday, I heard one that I'm not sure I ever heard before. The title is "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas." You can find the musical version here on YouTube. I can just picture the little girl singing and marching to the song. You can find the lyrics (and youtube) here, but don't launch both websites at the same time.

What's your favorite "unusual" Christmas song?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Recession proof jobs

I think I've figured out a job that is recession proof. It's not glamorous, but it appears that this company has hired more people than they need to server their customers, and shows no signs of layoffs. The company? McDonald's.

Now, first, you have to understand their vision. Yahoo reports that "McDonald's vision is to be the world's best quick service restaurant experience. Being the best means providing outstanding quality, service, cleanliness and value, so that we make every customer in every restaurant smile." (highlighting is mine)

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I stopped at this McDonald's in Duncan, SC. This was in the middle of a lot of other activities (see here for a description). We stood at the counter and watched nearly half a dozen workers mulling around on the other side without caring the fact that we wanted to actually buy something. After waiting for several seconds, we decided that they obviously didn't want our business, so we left.

Then last Friday, I stopped in this McDonald's in Chapin SC on my way home from Columbia. I had skipped lunch and was tired and hungry. I only wanted a drink and something small. Why I went in, I'm not sure, but I waited a couple minutes while three workers discussed looking through the cash drawer for an Obama quarter (apparently, one of them believed that the new Hawaii quarter had President Elect Obama's face on it, something I seriously doubt).

And finally, this morning, I stopped at this McDonald's for a cup of coffee. The lady was quick and not impolite (but not great either) as she took my order and asked if I wanted cream and sugar, then asked how many. When she handed me my coffee, I asked where the cream and sugar was and she said it was in the coffee. Yep, she had mixed it in for me.

Now, I'm not sure that mixing the coffee for me qualifies as quality or value, but I typically like to mix it myself. But it strikes me that McDonald's is the kind of place to get a job that's recession proof. Apparently, it doesn't matter how bad the services is, you'll keep your job and stay in business.

No one ever expects a gourmet dinner at McDonald's, but they do expect the company to live up to it's vision of "quick" (not fast) food. And I expect reasonable service. Apparently, it really doesn't matter.

P.S. Not sure the links will work to the map sites, if you're interested in exact locations, let me know.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Is being transparent good or bad?

I'm going to break my own taboo hear and blog a bit about my job.

Several years ago, I heard a lot about people being transparent. It took me a while to understand that this was viewed as a good thing. The idea was that you could see straight through someone who was transparent. What you see is what you get. Their walk matches their talk. If they tell you something, they mean it. And it's real.

But my question is, is being transparent always a good thing?

In my business some managers are known as being transparent. In this case, that means that "stuff" flows right through them. If their boss says something, it flows straight down hill. You can be sure that any flack they get, you will get. If they get praise for something, they will pass that along as well.

Less transparent managers run interference. They realize that sometimes sales are affected by the economy and that no matter how many hours we work, we just can't always have an affect on customer decisions.

So which is better? Transparency or not?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Rescue Plan! (Diego style)

Ok, watching Go Diego Go with my 2 year old grandson has warped my mind. Everyone is calling the bailout plan a "rescue plan" and my mind switches to a silly video (see here). I get to singing the little song every time I hear it.

Previously, I posted on pyramid schemes (here) and multi-level marketing (here). I also talked a little about profits (here) and said they were a good thing. My goal was to get to this post and after a few interruptions I'm here.

My thought all along on this bail out plan (excuse me Rescue Plan! - Diego is very emphatic) is that it reminds me of a pyramid scheme. Everyone is saying that the problem we have is because of bad home loans. Ok, I've blogged about that too (here, here, here and here). I've been talking about this for over a year. The problem I have now is with our solution.

We've decided that the way to fix the problem is to allow more people to borrow more money. See, the problem before was that they couldn't repay all that they had borrowed, so now we're lending them more. Makes sense, right?

This is like the pyramid scheme. As long as people are buying and selling homes, we can keep the economy flying. Once people stop and look at what they really have, it all falls apart. I really don't like the alternative (lots of foreclosures, depressed home values, layoffs, general depression), but I honestly believe the longer we delay this the worse it will be. Someday, we have to pay the piper and it won't be pretty.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

My first granddaughter

What a busy week. I took a short trip (2 nights) to New York. On Thursday, I flew back to find out that our oldest daughter was going to the hospital in Raleigh to have her baby. I flew into Charlotte, so rather than drive to Greenville (home) I decided to drive to Raleigh. However, I had barely gotten off the airport property when my wife called me and she had car problems. I drove an hour to pick her up, only to travel the same roads back on my way to Raleigh. We arrived in Raleigh about midnight and went to our daughters apartment to sleep for the night (trusting that nothing would happen that night).

Early Friday morning we went to the hospital and spent the day waiting. Then about 8pm, she went in for a c-section. At 8:13, Kayden Grace was born. She weighed in a 9 pounds, 9 ounces and measured 21+3/4 inches long. Now that's a big baby. What I don't understand is that they measured her head at 14 centimeters. Why is the head measured in centimeters and the length in inches? Is this done to confuse the baby, parents and grand parents? Seems like a communist plot to me.

We've spent to weekend starting the spoiling process. This is the God given job of all grand-parents, that along with trying to outdo the other grandparents. We're starting out strong.

This is our second grandchild, the first girl. It's also the first in this "batch", we have another due later this month and two more in June. Hopefully, they will all be spaced out a couple weeks from each other so that Grandma gets to help when they first come home from the hospital. I like the idea of having them in batches, I'll have to encourage the kids to plan this way for the next batch.

When our grandson was born (see here), I said "babies were a sign from God that he intended for the world to continue. A miracle from God, babies teach us so much." Kayden Grace can teach her parents and grandparents all about love once again.

Welcome to the world Kayden. Audry, it's almost your turn.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Fly or drive?

A couple of weeks ago, the heads of the three big auto companies (GM, Ford and Chrysler) showed up in Washington singing the old "Brother can you spare a dime" song. Trouble is, they showed up in private jets. Congress railed them and sent them packing back to Detroit without a dime to show.

Looks like this time they've learned a lesson and will drive instead. (see here). I know I will have folks who disagree, but I'm not sure that having them drive is better.

The question is, if you were a stock holder, how would you want Mr. Wagoner to spend his day, driving or conducting business. Oh sure, he could go in a big car, hire a driver and sit in the back and conduct business. I can see him shuffling papers, talking on the cell phone with a fax and computer on his passenger side desk at 70 mph. But doesn't it seem that he would be more productive in an office where he could walk around even if it was at 30,000 feet.

It certainly was bad PR to show up in a private jet and ask for money. But I think the congressional reaction was a little off key on this one.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

It's a recession!

Unless you missed the news, we are officially in a recession. You can see articles just about everywhere, here's one such article.

Everyone should be glad. We've talked about it for long enough, and just as many people predicted, we've been in a recession since late last year. If this had come out before the election, it wouldn't have changed the results, but may have increased the margin.

So, now that we have finally accepted the fact, what do we do about it?

Well, we have a couple of choices. We can wring our hands and go around crying and screaming, asking the government to bail us out. They've bailed out AIG a couple times, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase and several others. Why shouldn't I get my share? You know, Wall Street and Main Street (even though I don't live on Main Street).

Another choice would be to keep doing what we should have been doing all along. Work at a job. If you don't have a job, go get one. Unemployment is still very low, which means there are lots of jobs available. Spend on things that you need, but save for big things you need. Plan for the future, for the next car you need, for the house, etc. Don't buy things you can't afford.

I heard a reminder story a few months ago, that pointed out that during the feast years, Joseph stored up grain for the coming famine. A wise man. We should do the same. We know that a famine is coming, then a feast, then another famine. We don't know how long each will last or the time in between.

One more thing. To my conservative friends to the ones saying "Yeah Baby!" at the points above. Now is not the time to rub this in people's faces. Instead, it's time to be the way Christians are commanded to do and to help others. Give help to those around you. Give a job to a jobless person. Pay a friend's power bill, give them a grocery store gift card. Praise Him who allowed you to be in a position to do all these things and then do them.

For my previous comments on the recession see here and here.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Lots of children, lots of children

This Thanksgiving, my daughter announced that she has something new to be thankful about, she is now expecting a baby. That means that I now am expecting FOUR new grandchildren in the next 6+ months.

As it says on the right side of this page, my wife and I have five children between us. The oldest is expecting a little girl THIS FRIDAY. We'll wait and see the actual date. (No rushing). The youngest daughter is also expecting a little girl, the due date is a little fuzzy. Sometime between December 16 and January 1 is our best guess (I really wish they would schedule these things).

Sandwiched in between those are our other daughter (the one who just announced) due on June 6 and our oldest son's wife due June 17. The gender of these last two is yet to be determined.

We're all excited and can't believe that we are so blessed. My youngest son, took in the news and after pondering for a bit said "I'm the only one who's not expecting a baby". At 18 and still in school, I told him he could wait a while.