I am married to a winner!

18242_494253743947639_1572248831_nThis past weekend, my wife and I attended her company’s Holiday party and let me tell you, Uniform Color Company goes ALL OUT for their employees.

We left the girls with Grandma for the evening (and overnight) and arrived at the decadently decorated country club around 5:45pm. We were directed where to leave our coats and my wife was handed an envelope and a raffle ticket. Inside the envelope were ten different raffle tickets, two vouchers for adult beverages, a plea for people to either drink responsibly or use the company-provided taxi service without charge or condemnation, and an explanation on how to enter for the prizes that were littered about the room.

There were fourteen prizes for which an employee might enter one or all ten of the raffle tickets from the envelope. This allowed for a bit of strategy as one could either enter ten of the fourteen drawings with one ticket per drawing, or if there was only one item that employee wanted, they could put all ten of their tickets toward that prize to increase their odds of getting drawn. We’ll get to the prizes in a moment.

There were no assigned seats for the three hundred some guests, so after perusing the prizes and snaffling some appetizers, my wife and I loitered about waiting for people with whom she worked more closely to arrive. As we were waiting, my wife’s boss, the emcee for the evening, started calling out numbers from the individual raffle tickets (not part of the ten from the envelope). The winners of these impromptu drawings were given a choice of ten cash envelopes, ranging in value from $50 to $1,000.

I’m going to ruin the suspense for you a bit here. We did not win one of the cash prizes.

Once some of my wife’s closer coworkers showed up, we snagged a table and waited for the dinner to begin. Before the meal though, we were somewhat surprised, but quite pleased, when one of the board members was asked to pray over the meal. And though the official name of the event was Holiday Party, we were wished a Merry Christmas and reminded that Christ’s birth was the true gift this season.

Dinner was served semi-buffet style with food stations located around the room. My wife and I parted ways for different lines, each grabbing a plate for the other, and we ate dinner in shifts. Our courses consisted of salad and pasta, followed by prime rib and mashed potatoes, and then we entered the dessert line together (dessert was chocolate fondue and cheesecake). Every part of dinner was delicious.

After dessert, the winners of the big prizes were announced. Here are some of the things that people were able to put their ten tickets toward:

  • 47″ LCD HD TV
  • 16 GB iPad
  • Kindle Fire HD 8.9″, Accelerated Charger, and a Blanket
  • 7 Piece Patio Set with Umbrella, Base, and a Tall Outdoor Fireplace
  • Snowblower
  • 2 Lions vs. Vikings tickets
  • 10 Griffins Hockey tickets with Griffins jersey and $25 Visa gift card
  • 2 ticket to Les Mis in February and a $150 gift card to Webster’s Prime
  • Cleaning Package with 2 people to clean your house for 2 hours and a pressure washer
  • Kitchen Package with new pots & pans, a knife set, and mixing bowls
  • $200 gift card to The Melting Pot with a $50 IMAX gift card
  • Wine cooler, wine glasses, corkscrew, and 2 bottles of wine
  • 2 Two-day Go Chicago passes (they let you into 25 Chicago attractions for free and first in line)
  • Keurig Special Edition Coffee Maker, Assorted Coffee, Keurig Coffee Stand, 2 mugs

When we put our tickets in, my wife and I decided to put nine out of ten of them toward the Les Mis tickets and one toward the iPad. Our strategy centered around the fact that the Les Mis showing happens one day after my wife’s birthday, and a fancy dinner and a show would be a nice way to celebrate.

As we ate with her coworkers, discussion came up about the prizes, which ones people had entered for, how nice they would be to win, etc. Then after dessert, the drawings began. We had to wait until nearly the end for the winners of the Les Mis package. And then it happened.

“696073,” announced the emcee. “That’s 696073.”

My wife stood up. We had won.

Afterward, the boss of my wife’s boss stopped by our table.

“Congratulations guys,” he said. “You got the best prize up there.”

“I know,” said my wife.

And we did.

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Innermost Secrets 23 – 27

DSC00863And so we wend our way down the back alley of my past, baseball bat at the ready should something jump out from one of the darker shadows. If you are just joining us, you may want to start at the beginning (Innermost Secrets 1-8, 9-15, 16-21, & 22).

23rd Innermost Secret:

  • I don’t know how to read (or write).

Or blog.

24th Innermost Secret:

  • Sometimes I feel hungry. Otherwise, I’ve no feelings at all.

This is true of all men, not just me. Next time you see a man emoting, congratulate him on his acting ability. Either that, or call him some medical attention. Or both.

DSC0095425th Innermost Secret:

  • Every girl in camp is on my Top 5.

I don’t remember who started the Top 5 thing, but it went like this: Male staff would rate the female staff and come up with the five they would most like to be with romantically. The girls rated the male staff in the same way. It was mostly a good-natured thing where everyone wanted to be on everyone else’s Top 5 list. Of course, anytime you aren’t on someone’s list, it hurts. In truth, I wasn’t really ready to be a good boyfriend while I was at camp anyway, so I should have avoided the game altogether. I’m at least glad that I was all-inclusive.

DSC0095526th Innermost Secret:

  • I wear a toupee.

Technically, it is two toupees.

27th Innermost Secret:

  • I’m really the Arts & Crafts Director.

Not really. I really was the Visiting Groups and Weekends Director. But it has always been my dream to be an Arts & Crafts Director. No, that’s a lie. It has always been my dream to be ten feet tall and have a backpack that dispenses frozen Coke whenever I want it. But neither of those dreams is coming true any time soon.

My Grandpa Shot Santa Claus

In the words of Doug Ten Napel:

This is a fairy tale. By fairy tale, I mean that this is true without being fact. There’s an important distinction we used to believe in that we don’t believe in so much any more, and that is the idea that there are truths outside of facts. The forms of story telling that best house this claim are Myth and Fairy Tale, for they are not about facts, but are about truth.

This is one of my favorite stories about my Grandpa Mosey. Whether or not it happened, I don’t know. It’s possible that I heard the story wrong and supplemented the rest from my imagination, but that is what makes the following tale a fairy tale. So, if you know the true story, don’t bother correcting me. I’ve got my own truth here, and it is pretty good.

Even better, it is short.

SantaHatMy Grandpa Mosey is best remembered for his skill as a fisherman, but when my dad was just a boy, my grandpa hunted as well.

It was December, not long before Christmas. In fact, my grandpa had been playing Santa in town for some VFW function. When he got home that night, he carried the rented Santa suit in one arm and his gun in the other. My dad, being just a boy at the time, saw what his father brought in and drew his own conclusions.

Bursting in tears and running to his room, he cried, “Daddy shot Santa Claus!”

Our Lego Christmas Tradition

My wife did not grow up playing with Lego sets. Her mom probably never knew the excruciating pain that is stepping on a Lego brick. And so, when we started dating, my wife did not understand my fascination with Lego.

But I won her over.

It took some time, of course. Things that are worthwhile often do.

DSC00951It started with the cake topper at our wedding and my wife’s love of not-spending-money-that-doesn’t-need-to-be-spent. After pricing out our cake options and judging between the many lackluster cake toppers available, I offered to build the cake topper myself, out of Lego bricks and Lego mini-figures.

It turned out pretty well.

DSC00941The next Lego-related memory happened less than a week later when God put a little Lego set in our honeymoon path (I think we got it at IHOP, but I don’t remember ordering from the kids’ menu that time). It was a helicopter. We named it Copty.

A couple of years went by and other than me asking for Lego sets for my birthdays, my wife didn’t have much to do with Lego. But being that I love her so much, I wanted to share my Lego joy with her, so I got her a set for Christmas. My thought was to have her build it by herself and that would be our ornament for the year. We had been doing the new-ornament-every-year thing since we got married, so it seemed like a good idea for that year.

DSC00942Well, instead of building it alone, my wife insisted that we do it together, taking turns between each step of the instructions. It took five or ten minutes, but in that short time, a new tradition was born. Every year since, we specifically go out and buy a Lego set to be our ornament for the year. We’ve had some good luck with the Creator series (each set of which can make one of at least three different things).

Personally, I can’t believe that Lego hasn’t come out with specific ornament sets. They have a few different Advent sets out in the market, and I know they do some special Christmas mini-sets, but no ornaments yet.

So Lego, if you are reading my blog, feel free to take my idea and run with it. All I ask in return is an unlimited supply of Lego sets and bricks for me and my family for at least four generations. Not much.

DSC00944When possible, we try to match the Lego set to something that happened that year. Last year, my wife and I tackled our first large-scale home improvement project (insulating the attic). Our ornament was a construction set.

DSC00943The year before, we brought home our oldest daughter from the hospital, so we got a train. You know, train up a child in the way they should go…

DSC00940This year’s ornament is an airplane. Maybe to honor the fact that my wife and I officially have our careers off the ground, now that she is finished with school and employed full-time as an accountant. Or maybe because the choices were limited at the store and the plane was pretty cool. One of those, definitely.

What Christmas traditions does your family have?

I am afraid of karma at Christmas.

Little known fact about me: Before I developed a sense of humor, I had a pretty volatile temper.

When my parents were out one night and my older brother was left in charge, we had some kind of altercation that ended with me putting my bedroom doorknob through the wall and the leg from my tiny desk chair through my brother’s bedroom door.

But that isn’t the instance that I want to talk about in this post.

No, this post is about an incident even earlier in my childhood (Mom, feel free to correct me in the comments if I don’t get this right).

DSC00937I was two. The same age that my oldest daughter is now. It was Christmas and my aunt and uncle had given me a nice, little wooden rocking chair. It was a fine chair, perfect for my two-year-old height to rock away my toddler cares and/or woes.

But apparently, it was not what I had asked Santa for that year, because I was not happy with that rocking chair. Not happy at all.

A strong child, of both will and muscle, I picked up that nice, little rocking chair and threw it at the Christmas tree with all of my might. A lesser toddler would have missed, but my aim was true. The Christmas tree, like the walls of Jericho, came a-tumblin’ down, breaking about half of the ornaments in the process.

Many years have passed, but I still have that rocking chair. My two-year-old seems to like it better than I did initially, so that’s good. But we just put up our Christmas tree…

On Answering Why?

In a recent post, Chad Allen (Editorial Director for Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group) told some of the history of the company where I work.

In 1939 Herman Baker was twenty-eight years old. He had a young family and a steady job working for his uncle, Louis Kregel. Everyone would have expected him to continue in that job, providing for his family and moving up the company ranks.

It was, after all, the Great Depression. Herman was lucky to have a job at all, let alone one in the sweet spot of his passion—books. If I was his friend back then, I would have told him to relax, to enjoy his work and his family.

And what Herman Baker actually did would have floored me.

He quit his job, loaded two hundred books from his own library into a storefront, and placed a sign in the window: “Baker’s Book Store.”

The rest is history. Seventy-some years later the company Herman founded is called Baker Publishing Group, and it is one of the largest Christian publishers in the world.

Chad goes on the search out why Herman did this. What motivated him? And how can we follow what motivates us in the same way?

It was an excellent post and has had me thinking about my own career path.

I love my job. I love the people I work with. I am proud of the things that I do and am ecstatic that even while working retail, I have a consistent schedule with weekends off. But I fell into this job.

I applied to Baker Book House while rising through the ranks at Eddie Bauer, partly because I wasn’t passionate about selling nice clothes, but I knew that I loved books and music. Before that, I fell into a job at Eddie Bauer when I went there to buy a shirt that would be part of my uniform for working at a video store in Middleville. I quit the video store because the management grossly mistreated their employees. I got the video store job just to have something after I discovered that the job that I thought I had at the YMCA camp reverted to the Summer Camp Director after the summer was finished. And before that I was in school full-time with summer jobs at lumber warehouses and in restaurants.

Every step was another happy accident of employment. Now I’ve been at Baker for 8 years, and it has easily been the best job I’ve ever had. The management takes wonderful care of its employees, the work is different everyday, and I feel like I’m doing something needed, that I wouldn’t be easily replaced. But what motivates me?

At the moment, what motivates me in my job is the fact that I am able to provide for my family, that I have time with them, and that I am near to the publishing industry, into which I hope to break soon. So I do think I’m right where I am supposed to be. All the same, thanks Chad for helping me think it through. I am obviously cut from a different cloth from Herman Baker, since I am such a fan of stability over risk-taking, but I am thankful for his risk back in 1939.

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Innermost Secret 22 | Being in a Dead Woman’s House for 3 Days

DSC00863Let us delve deeper into the murky past and discover that tawdry secrets locked up in my notebook from one decade ago. If you are just joining us, you may want to start at the beginning (Innermost Secrets 1-8, 9-15, & 16-21).

22nd Innermost Secret:

  • 21st Innermost Secret is actually true.

I was in 8th grade when I had the paper route. One of the worst parts is that it wasn’t even my paper route that the old lady was on. I was covering a friend’s route while he and his family were on vacation. The woman was a shut-in, so you actually had to deliver the paper in the house. The protocol went like this: Knock on the door, enter, announce yourself, walk into the kitchen, the old lady was probably watching television in the kitchen, greet her, and every Friday you would get a 3 Musketeers candy bar.

IS2122What happened while my friend was on vacation was this: The first few days proceeded according to plan. The fourth day, the old lady was not in the kitchen when I arrived. Oh well, I thought, everyone has to go to the bathroom sometime. I announced that I was there and I left the paper sitting on the kitchen counter.

The next day was the same, except it was raining, so all of the papers I was delivering were stuck in water-proof bags. I saw the paper from the day before sitting there, but didn’t think much of it. It didn’t register that the paper had not moved an inch.

The third day that the lady wasn’t there, I noticed the first paper with the second bag-wrapped paper on top of it in the same position as the day before. It was once again raining, so my mom was taking me around on the paper route in the family van. At seeing the papers as they were and not seeing the old lady with a candy bar ready for me, I went out and got my mom.

My mom ventured into the house a bit further and discovered the old lady dead in the bathroom. This was before the age of ubiquitous cell phones, so she went over to a neighbor’s house to call 911. The paramedics came and apparently the woman had been dead for a while.

“Didn’t you notice the smell?” ask people when they hear this story.

Well, here’s a little known fact about the elderly. They always smell a bit like decay anyway. So the distinction between nearly deceased and deceased was so subtle that my nose did not pick up on it.

If you are elderly and reading this, I’m sorry that you had to find out this way. But now that you know, maybe take this news into consideration when asking for hugs and kisses from your family members. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t. Just make them short.

Anyway, that’s the truth of the matter and the story behind my 22nd (and 21st) Innermost Secret(s). Stay tuned next week when I will likely talk about a whole batch instead of just one (or two)!

My friend Bob wrote about our upcoming writers’ mini-conference, Jot. Take a minute and read his post, then fill in his poll at the bottom. Thanks!

PART-TIME NOVEL

On February 8th 2013 two of my writers friends and I are launching Jot a mini writer’s conference. I have a fifteen minute segment as a speaker to address the attendees. I wasn’t sure what I was going to discuss. I have been writing for a while and have learned many tips along the way.

So, in my search of a topic I decided to talk about things I wish I knew before I started writing. Things like – the longer the novel the more likely it will not be published, don’t waste time on silly things like font or spacing or page format, writing is best done alone but you need other writers for accountability, and so on.

I’m still debating the topic and wanted to reach out to my audience here and ask what they would like to hear about if they attended. Also, if you…

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The Value of Struggle

Chinese schoolchildren during lessons at a classroom in Hefei, east China's Anhui province, in 2010.STR/AFP/Getty Images

Chinese schoolchildren during lessons at a classroom in Hefei, east China’s Anhui province, in 2010.
STR/AFP/Getty Images

About a month ago, I heard a story on NPR about some of the parenting differences between East and West. The basic idea was that the West places great value on being smart, while the East places great value on the struggle to succeed. There were two bits that really stuck with me.

The following is from Jim Stigler, a professor of psychology at UCLA who studies teaching and learning around the world.

“The teacher was trying to teach the class how to draw three-dimensional cubes on paper,” Stigler explains, “and one kid was just totally having trouble with it. His cube looked all cockeyed, so the teacher said to him, ‘Why don’t you go put yours on the board?’ So right there I thought, ‘That’s interesting! He took the one who can’t do it and told him to go and put it on the board.’ ”

Stigler knew that in American classrooms, it was usually the best kid in the class who was invited to the board. And so he watched with interest as the Japanese student dutifully came to the board and started drawing, but still couldn’t complete the cube. Every few minutes, the teacher would ask the rest of the class whether the kid had gotten it right, and the class would look up from their work, and shake their heads no. And as the period progressed, Stigler noticed that he — Stigler — was getting more and more anxious.

“I realized that I was sitting there starting to perspire,” he says, “because I was really empathizing with this kid. I thought, ‘This kid is going to break into tears!’ ”

But the kid didn’t break into tears. Stigler says the child continued to draw his cube with equanimity. “And at the end of the class, he did make his cube look right! And the teacher said to the class, ‘How does that look, class?’ And they all looked up and said, ‘He did it!’ And they broke into applause.” The kid smiled a huge smile and sat down, clearly proud of himself.

And another part of the story.

“We did a study many years ago with first-grade students,” he tells me. “We decided to go out and give the students an impossible math problem to work on, and then we would measure how long they worked on it before they gave up.”

The American students “worked on it less than 30 seconds on average and then they basically looked at us and said, ‘We haven’t had this,’ ” he says.

But the Japanese students worked for the entire hour on the impossible problem. “And finally we had to stop the session because the hour was up. And then we had to debrief them and say, ‘Oh, that was not a possible problem; that was an impossible problem!’ and they looked at us like, ‘What kind of animals are we?’ ” Stigler recalls.

“Think about that [kind of behavior] spread over a lifetime,” he says. “That’s a big difference.”

How many times have I been proud of myself because of my innate abilities rather than how hard I work to improve the things that aren’t as good? How many times have I thrown in the towel when things got hard?

There is value in the struggle. There is honor in the accomplishment. And even though some things come easy to me, I need to learn to struggle with the things that don’t.

You can listen to the original story here.

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