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And a new tradition begins…

I was never sure if the Christmas sweatshirts were meant as a joke or if my mom was just being festive. She had both a quirky sense of humor and a great love of the holidays so it could have gone either way.

Nearly 20 years ago, she bought herself, my sister and me Christmas sweatshirts on sale at Kmart. They’re exactly what you’re picturing: jaunty red, green and white sweatshirts with plaid appliques of Christmas ornaments or trees or presents. We wore them every Christmas morning through brunch and opening the presents and sometimes for the rest of the day if we didn’t have a need to change. She died 11 years ago this year but I still faithfully wear the sweatshirt every Christmas. Until this year.

This Thanksgiving, I’ll be sporting an ordinary gray t-shirt, plain except for a simple declaration across the chest: “Thankful for: REMISSION! 11/24/16”.  On Christmas Day, it’ll be joined by another declaration: “Blessings for…”.

Some people consciously search for something to be thankful for or someone to bless every day. I’m not one of those people. I’m thankful in the moment, seek blessings on the fly.  I’m not a prayerful person. I did eight years of Catholic school, went to Mass six days a week so I figured as an adult, maybe I was “prayed up” at least until my 50’s. But while my circumstances of the past three years haven’t made me a more religious person, I’ve become a more spiritual thinker.

So starting this year, my 50th on this crazy spinning sphere, each Thanksgiving and Christmas I’ll add a phrase to my new “holiday” shirt. Something I’m thankful for on Thanksgiving, someone I think needs an extra blessing for Christmas.

This year was a no-brainer for thankfulness but it won’t be so easy every year and I’m glad about that. Because it will challenge me to really look at how the year’s gone and give some serious thought about what I’m truly thankful for. And to look outside myself at the people and world around me, take clear note of the trials others are facing and ask the man upstairs to please give them a little help.

I’m interested to see how this project goes for the next 10 or 25 or 50 years. What will a 92-year-old Kelly be thankful for? Who will a 67-year-old me see struggling and in need of a hand?

And the fate of “Jolly Red, the Christmas Sweatshirt”? We’re not totally parting ways. I’m hanging it on my front door instead of a Christmas wreath this year so anyone stopping at our house or driving by will see it. If it makes you laugh or crack a smile, great. If it gives you an extra boost of holiday joy, awesome. I think that’s what my Mom intended all along.

voter-instrux-1116I’ve voted in every general election since 1984. As a registered Independent, those are the only elections I can vote in but I never considered that a limitation to having my voice heard. I appreciated being able to vote for the person I truly thought could do the best job regardless of their party.

But Tuesday, for the first time in my voting career, I’ll be voting for the person I think will do the least amount of damage.

Clinton and Trump have definitely made the 2016 Presidential race one worth talking about. People I’ve never heard discuss politics before are talking about it now…loudly. Friends who haven’t been registered to vote in years, if ever, will be casting ballots on Nov. 8.

There’s a multitude of reasons why we vote for who we vote for. But there are a few I just can’t accept.

I’m only voting for Hillary because she’s a woman.

It’ll be an historic moment if we finally elect a woman president. Other countries have long had female leaders; it’s crazy that it’s taken this long for our country to get on board. The first woman president of the United States will be under tremendous scrutiny and face a lot of criticism if they screw it up. Plenty of people are waiting for that to happen. Don’t vote for Hillary just because she’s a woman; vote for her because you believe she’s the best PERSON for the job. History will write itself on the gender issue.

I’m only voting for Trump because we need a change.

Change is coming no matter who wins. Trump’s appeal is that he’s the anti-politician and Americans are tired of the typical politician. Don’t vote for the Donald because he’s promising to “change” America; every politician runs on a platform for change. Vote for him because you believe he’s actually got a plan – a viable, specific plan – to change America for the BETTER.

I’m only voting for Clinton/Trump because I don’t want Trump/Clinton to win.

Leave that kind of strategy to high school homecoming elections where the winner’s biggest duties are riding on a parade float and posing for a yearbook photo. The person who’s elected on Nov. 8 will spend four years making important decisions that affect all of us – our families, our businesses, our financial stability, our future. They’ll have a lot of power and if they don’t know how to use it, we’re all in trouble.

Most of what we’ve heard about our presidential candidates in the last few months are reasons why we SHOULDN’T vote for them. Is Hillary Clinton the first political candidate who’s made questionable decisions, acted in secret and has blood on her hands? No. Is Donald Trump the first political candidate who’s groped women, insulted minorities and run an entire campaign without detailing what he’ll really do once he’s in office? No.

In South Dakota, we’re limited by law (SDCL 12-18-15) to no more than 10 minutes in a voting booth on Election Day. I’ve read the Secretary of State’s pamphlet on the ballot measures and marked my sample ballot already. When I walk into that voting booth on Tuesday, I’ll spend about 3 minutes actually voting. Which leaves me 7 minutes to stand there and wonder if I’ve made the right decision.

Are you nervous about the outcome of the 2016 Presidential election? Why or why not?

 

Feeling pretty proud of yourself, are you, Cancer? So you kicked my ass today. I don’t know that I’d say you did it fair and square but it happened and I’ll give you that.

Maybe now you’re sitting around, tossing back a couple of cold ones, laughing about how you gave me the shakes, had me so lightheaded I was staggering into walls, and blurred my vision to the point where I had to take the back streets at 10 mph to make it home. Go ahead. So you beat me today. Big deal.

It’s one day. One day in a long succession of days fighting you. It’s not a winning streak. You didn’t knock me out. One day. Big whoop.

Tomorrow’s another day. And guess what, Cancer? It’s going to be MY day, not yours. Some days having cancer is about hope and prayers and positivity. Some days it’s about anger and fear and frustration. Either way, it’s about one day. The day you’re on and doing whatever it takes to make it through that day.

To my friends and co-workers who helped me today, thank you. For popping into my office to check on me. For offering to give me a ride home so I wouldn’t kill anybody. For saying “we’ll make this work” even if it meant doing something you didn’t plan on doing. Thank you for doing that today, without making me feel weak or helpless or sick or less than the person I was before I got cancer. One day I’ll be that person again, and you’ll have helped make that possible.

One day, Cancer, I’m going to kick your ass for good. Maybe you’ll see it coming, maybe you won’t. But it’s coming. One day. Soon.

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They lurk in the shadows, waiting to rob you blind…

 

I have nothing against people who buy useless crap at discount outlets. Unless they’ve stolen my bank information to do it.

You know who you are. So do I. As do the people I’ve reported you to.

“Don’t share your bank information with anyone – EVER!” said my mother, who worked at a bank, when my sister and I got our first checking accounts as preteens. And I never have. But somebody got it anyway.

About 15 million Americans are victims of identity theft every year. While many of them take responsible steps to protect their information, the world is making it increasingly easy for thieves to get it. Swipe your card, scan a code, sign a screen with your finger. Convenient for us, a new way in for thieves.

So what do you do if your bank account is compromised? My first step was to freak out and message a friend who works at my bank who reassured me the bank knew what to do. You can skip that step and do this: 

Notify your bank immediately. Give as many details as you can – how you noticed it, the amount that appears to be gone, dates, unknown names on your statement. 

Close the affected accounts. The longer the account is open, the more you stand to lose. 

Report it to authorities. Include check verification companies and make it a national/international alert. The Federal Trade Commission has helpful resources at IdentityTheft.gov

Be vigilant with your accounts. Check them daily; it’s not paranoid, it’s proactive. Use all the security features your bank offers. Be careful about using third party vendors to order checks and other materials.

Though I hope my situation is resolved, I’m still wary. Is that really just an impatient fellow customer crowding me at the self check-out lane or a would-be thief eyeballing my passcode? I’m not taking any chances. Back up, buddy, while I cover the keypad with my hand.

Our mail gets delivered mid-morning, brought in and sorted at noon. Bills to the computer room, junk mail to the garbage and personal correspondence to the kitchen table where it waits, unopened, until after work. When I can relax and enjoy it like the special treat it is.  

I email and text, like everyone else. And I handwrite letters. Because cursive is a beautiful way to say what you want to say.

Whether it’s telling a secret…

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sharing big news…

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or just saying “You should be here!”

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The time we take to smooth down the paper, get the right pen, choose our words and physically form them on the page adds weight to our message and a personal touch to its delivery. In an age when a thought can be typed, sent, read and deleted in seconds, handwriting gives us the gift of a conversation that can be relived over and over again.

January 23, 2016 is National Handwriting Day.

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My gun-toting granny who was also a nurse, a fieldhand, a church organist and a cancer patient.

My grandma flushed out a thief who was hiding under her house, loaded him into her car, and drove him at gunpoint into town to the sheriff.

My dad, who was there, told me the story. Had I gotten it directly from my grandma before she died, I’d have asked, “Were you scared? How did you know he was under there? Would you have shot him?”

Family and friends are the people we think we know better than anybody else. But do we really? Maybe we would if we just took the time to ask.

For the past 12 years, StoryCorps has given ordinary people the chance to find out extraordinary things about the people they know by simply asking questions.

Through the program, people record interviews with someone who’s made an impact on their life, knowingly or unknowingly, relative, friend or acquaintance. The interviewer picks the questions and hopes the interviewee answers them. And most of the time, they do. The interviews (65,000 of them already) are stored at the Library of Congress and some of them air on National Public Radio.

Our lives are a series of great stories. Happy, sad, scary, exciting, funny, unusual. Facebook and Twitter and Instagram are packed with the edited versions of the best (or worst) stories people want to tell about themselves. What about the incredible stories we can tell about others?

In my reporter days, it took tape recorders and reel to reels and notebooks to get the story; today, all you need is a smartphone and an app. StoryCorps has one. It lets you record your own StoryCorps-style interview and upload it to be preserved by the Library of Congress. It even invites you to take a selfie with the person you interviewed.

So, is your grandma tougher than my grandma? We’ll never know unless you ask.

A tale of two houses at Christmas

The light and the dark side of the holidays

 

We’re not Grinches and they’re not the Griswolds. We’re just neighbors with vastly different electric bills for the month of December.

You’ve seen the viral video of the house festooned with thousands of Christmas lights, glowing reindeer grazing on the lawn, neon icicles dripping from the trees, all pulsing in time to Mannheim Steamroller’s “Carol of the Bells”. My neighbors live there. We live in the dark house next door.

When we moved into the neighborhood 20 years ago, we were all on the same level when it came to decking the halls. Icicle lights on the eaves, luminaries lining the walk, wreath on the front door. Every house was different but together we made a companionable display of holiday cheer.

Then about 2010 or so, giant snowflakes appeared on the front windows of the house to the north. In the years that followed, a herd of glistening deer gathered by the shrubs, a forest of spiral rope light trees sprang up in the front yard, and endless rows of twinkling lights crisscrossed the shingles and siding. Then a big electrical box with cords and cables snaking across the snow and finally, the electronic carolers.

As the neighbor’s house got brighter, the rest of the block went dim. It’s not like we couldn’t compete; the rest of us just didn’t try to. 

When their display went up Thanksgiving weekend, my husband asked what we were going to do this year.

“How ‘bout a sign that says Ditto with an arrow pointing to their house?” I asked.

He suggested that maybe they wouldn’t think that was as funny as I did. I figure if you’ve lived by me for 20 years and you’re still talking to me, you must have some sense of humor.

But since they’re not dicks about it – their timer shuts everything off about 11:00 p.m. which is good since our bedroom and guest room both face “Viva La Christmas” – I took the high road, too. Our front deck railing is now wrapped in white lights which cast a soft glow on the “Peace” sign perching on the little wooden bench.

Though the neighbors’ decorations shout and ours only whisper, our holiday spirit is no less heartfelt. After all, it’s Christmas…and it’s the thought that counts. And I’m thinking a little peace on earth is just what we all need this year.