Today is the 12th of December 2021 and Christmas is 13 days away! It’s also the second Sunday in December and the start of the 34th Annual SHIVER BY THE RIVER 5K & 10K Winter Race series. Each year this 4 race series is held by the PAGODA PACERS athletic club (PAC) , a regional Berks County running club founded in 1980. Shiver by the River is held on the second Sunday of each month at 10AM from December through March. The course starts at Dietrich Park Muhlenberg and loops though a nearby housing community before heading back to the park. The course is well-marked and staffed by volunteers to keep you con course . The race is timed by another local running giant, PRETZEL CITY SPORTS (PCS).
Although SHIVER is not specifically a Christmas-themed race, the first race of the series usually marks one of the last times local runners can wish one another a Merry Christmas before December 25th. The ONLY one other local race between now and then is PCS’s Humbug Bustle 5K on Dec 18th. On the day after Christmas, the PAGODA PACERS will hold a 5 Mile Kris Kringle Run in Leesport PA. Many runners today, (myself included) dressed in Christmas running attire.
4 Winter Running Tips
Always have a hat and gloves YOU MIGHT NEED THEM
Always have a running jacket YOU MIGHT NEED IT
Always have shoe-cleats YOU MIGHT NEED THEM
Always have a dry change of clothes YOU MIGHT NEED IT
In the winter, temperatures can vary drastically by region. Today in Berks County, it was 43°F (6°C). The sun was shining brightly, but there were occasional wind gusts. It was cool enough that I was very glad I had a runner’s jacket in my car. Just my red t-shirt would not have been enough, buy my Santa Cap kept my head warm. Thankfully we have yet to have a regional snowfall, so the streets were nice and dry. It was just warm enough that I could keep my jacket un-zipped to vent, so I did not work up a sweat. The key to safe winter running is to be prepared for the unexpected. On a short 5K loop, the furthest distance away from your vehicle may only be 2.5K (1.55 miles) but that can be a cold and miserable run back. You can always shed a layer if you need to, but it’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. Hypothermia kills.
Know your limits
The Shiver series gives you the OPTION of doing a second 5K lap provided you make the first round before the designated cutoff time of 50 minutes.
I have ALWAYS run the second lap ever since I started in 2019. Today I had every intention of doing so once again. Unfortunately for the past 5 months I have been plagued by a hamstring injury that just will not heal. I was doing well up until mile 2.5, then I began to feel the discomfort in the back of my knee. I did get my lap in before the cutoff time, but I could not be certain that I could finish a second lap if I dared it. I hesitated 15 seconds before I turned right to the finish line instead of left to an uncertain outcome. Yes, I was disappointed that my knee let me down once again, but IF I had not listened to my body and stopped when I did, I might have made things worse and possibly missed even more upcoming races.
Running is supposed to be fun
The joy of running these great local races held by both PAC and PSC is that you get to see familiar faces and are surrounded by friends. The power of a few encouraging words and thumbs-up from your fellow runners can be all the difference between a good time and a bad one. I carried a small Bluetooth speaker in my running bag today and played upbeat Christmas music as I ran. I wished people Merry Christmas. I told people they were doing great, and they had this in the bag. I had a good time that my non-running friends will never get, and I outran everyone who sat home. I had a great time.
ANOTHER YEAR OVER, A NEW ONE HAS BEGUN!
In regards to running 2021 didn’t turn out the way I intended. I got hurt, missed races, and my times went from personal bests to personal worsts. The good news is that I was able to run as many races as I did. I didn’t quit, I didn’t give up. My times are slowly dropping back towards my normal, and hopefully by Spring I’ll be able to start running half-marathons again, and by November I’ll be ready for that elusive Philly Marathon that keeps slipping through my fingers. I would not be half the runner I am today were it not for the support and encouragement of all my running friends.
Well, this has certainly been a very different and disappointing year for most of us, to say the least. Unless you were living under a rock, you know that COVID-19 (or as I like to call it, The Snowflake Flu) struck mid-March shutting down most of the world for months, cancelling plans and pretty much ruining people’s lives. The whole year flew by in the wink of an eye. Today is Christmas Day. It’s 30°F and there are occasional snow flurries here in Lancaster County Pennsylvania.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! In 7 days it will be 2021. Decades ago, television station WPIX 11 in NYC began the fun NYE tradition of running a Twilight Zone marathon. 2020 was not my favorite year, and I think many people will second that. I felt like I was living in The Twilight Zone, my only fun was running, and I ran my first marathon. I found a virtual race for New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day that had a Twilight Zone theme that just fit this entire sorry excuse of a year. Add-ons included a Christmas ornament which was the very last one which I places on my tree, next to a door and a blue ball. The blue ball was from the first real Christmas tree that I had in my apartment. If you recall the intro to the Twilight Zone, (depending on which of the 5 seasons ) These is an eyeball, a door, or a spinning black and white cone. I think I captured the look.
Two weeks ago, our evil tyrant, state Governor Tom Wolf shut down PA for the rest of 2020, forcing more closures, cancellations, and misery.
Last night was the 1st time in 20 years that I didn’t go to Christmas Eve service. Stupid shut down and mask rules. So I worked 13 hours. Today I slept in and did my virtual Kris Kringle 5K race. My last 3 December races were postponed to January, or in the case of the Kris Kringle 5K went virtual.
Now you’re probably wondering what happened this summer as I was training for a (cancelled) marathon, and getting ready for a vacation at the shore. Suddenly without warning my weekly blog went silent without warning. I apologize for that. If you were worried about my health, I did get injured a couple of times, but nothing serious. Also, my day job is considered essential, and because of COVID-19 we have been severely short-handed. I have been working mandatory 12 hour days six days a week, and training or racing on Sundays. Over the last 3 years, I have taught you everything I know about how to succeed. There is nothing new that I have to share about health, wealth, politics, religion, or attitude which I can explain to you. From this point on, your success is up to you. I have given you all the tools you need. If my advice has fallen upon deaf ears, there is nothing I can do. Starting in 2021, InstantCoffeeWisdom.com will no longer be posting weekly. There WILL BE new blog posts, at least once or maybe twice per month, and the focus during the coming year will be on running. Hopefully my longtime readers will enjoy the new focus and format.
Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year and there is always something to be thankful about if you pause a moment and think. Maybe 2020 was a very bad year for you and you are one of those people who blames the year for your misfortune. Find things in your life to be thankful about and shift your focus there. Attitude is more important than what is happening in this crazy world we are living in. Seize control of the things that you have the power to change and be the architect of your future success and happiness. One week from today you will have a whole new year. You can continue to wallow in self-pity, or you can choose to do something about it! Right now, I am home all alone on Christmas Day. What am I doing about it? I did a virtual race, I took pictures of Christmas trees, I looked at beautiful displays. I am posting a blog, one last time for 2020 to show you that happiness is a choice you have to make for yourself. To show you that success is possible if you choose to pursue it. To prove to you that you can do ANYTHING if you are serious and do the work required.
So what happened with my running and the marathon plans?
The USA re-opened in July and REAL races returned by the beginning of summer. I signed up for every race available. I was still doing my Hal Higdon marathon training, and I was attempting to run my first 30K Trail Run in August when I fell at mile number 5 during the Double Trouble 15K/30K. The impact knocked the wind out of me, and severely slowed me down. As a result, I could only complete the first lap, 15K. My bruises on my thigh took 4 weeks to heal.
I went to the beach for Jeep Week through Labor Day down in Ocean City Maryland, and ran 5 miles on the boardwalk in the early morning several times during my vacation. By September I was fully recovered, and on September 20th, I ran a solo 20-mile run completing my marathon training. As the Phily Marathon was cancelled, I was determined to keep training and stay in marathon shape until the time came. I ran a half-marathon every Sunday in October. Life happens. I never gave up! Quitters never win and winners never quit! This IS attitude! This IS Determination! This IS how you succeed in the face of adversity! YOU DON’T QUIT!
I signed up for the LABOR PAIN 10 ENDURANCE TRAIL RUN being held on November 22nd . (This race normally is 12 hrs, and was postponed from its NORMAL Labor Day Weekend Sunday, as well as being re-located to French Creek State Park, all due to COVID-19 restrictions ) By shear co-incidence, this was now scheduled the EXACT SAME DAY as the Philly Marathon was supposed to have been held. I ONLY INTENDED to run 24 miles, that was my INITIAL GOAL. I figured, trail runs have dangerous and uneven footing in spots, so a slow nice 2.4 mile pace for 10 hours= 24 miles, and it would be good training for the future marathon, whenever it eventually happens. First thing Ron Horn (the world’s greatest race director!) asked me was “what’s your goal today Michael?”. When I said 24 miles , he replied “24? If you do that you’ve GOT to go for the marathon!” I just said “we’ll see”. 7 hours and 56 minutes later, I finished my 6th 4-mile lap. 24 miles, with 2hrs. 4 minutes to go on the clock.
THEN I GOT THIS WILD IDEA! If I can JUST run another 7 miles, I can pull off a 50K! I almost have enough time if I really haul ass, I thought to myself. I could ULTRA before I marathon! I only needed 1 more full lap, plus 1 out-and-back to the 50K turnaround sign. I took off at break-neck speed as I began lap 7 with darkness approaching. 1.22 miles into the lap, maybe 50 yards past the Marathon out-and-back turnaround sign, I tripped and slammed full force into the rocky ground! I hit so hard my Garmin Forerunner 945 ended my run to send off an emergency distress beacon! This ‘special feature’ sent out a text message to all my emergency contacts alerting them that I had an accident. It gave GPS co-ordinates and a live tracking map of where I was, just in case I am immobilized or unconscious. I cancelled the alert, texted and phoned my emergency contacts that I was ‘alive and mobile, sort of’. Then I took a step, and my leg informed me that I was NOT finishing this lap, nor beginning an 8th. So I limped in pain back 1.1 miles in the growing darkness. It took me ONE HOUR to go ONE MILE. I had bruises on both knees, right thigh, stomach, scratches on my left calf, plus I injured my left iliotibial band which let me know with every painful step. I finished my endurance run at 9 hours 21 minutes 43 seconds having completed 26.2 miles. I had not intended to run a marathon, but I had ‘accidently’ done so. I had pushed myself to new personal records for both time and distance. My awesome running friends (all of whom ran 40 to 48 miles each) grabbed my gear and helped me to my car after we paused for our team photo.
I could not walk for the first 2 days after the race, and it took weeks to fully recover. If you want to avoid sports injuries, don’t do sports. They go with the territory and whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Pain is just weakness leaving the body. By December 6th I was back at French Creek in Elverson PA in time to do the Dirty Bird 15K trail run.
My body heals much faster from injuries now that I am in the best physical shape on my life.
When 2020 began, I had planned to run just 25 races. By the time 2020 was almost over, I had run more than 50 races instead. When you push yourself to new and greater heights, nothing is impossible!
The way I see it, you have two choices in life. You can sit on the couch and become a mountain, or you can run up a mountain and become a MAN! I choose to be a MAN! Your health is your wealth, and you should spend every day of your life working on some form of self-improvement. If you think you’re perfect, you’re perfectly wrong. There is always something you can improve upon. I made a decision to do something about my weight three years ago when I began the odyssey of diet, exercise, and self-discovery which got me from couch potato to marathon man. I did my research, I asked questions of expert runners, and I changed my entire lifestyle. I ate healthier, exercised more often, and got more sleep. As a result I feel great and I am in better shape now than I was at 25.
Your life IS YOUR LIFE. You are responsible for you own wealth, health, success, and happiness. The world owes you NOTHING. It is your job to pursue your own personal path to success. It is out there. Opportunity abounds and the possibilities are endless. You yourself have to do the work! No one is going to do it for you, and even if they did, could you truly appreciate it? There is pride in personal achievement.
If you refuse to set an example and inspire others, then you become a cautionary tale. There are people watching you every day that you aren’t ever aware of. Countless people I have met during my runs have told me I’m amazing and called me an inspiration. It is a humbling experience to be held in such regard. Everything that I have done to make my life better, you can also accomplish as long as you have the courage to make the necessary changes and the determination to tough it out to the finish line.
The caterpillar cries that the world is ending while the butterfly shouts the adventure is just beginning! You can fly too, but you MUST leave your cocoon behind. So as we leave 2020 behind, make the powerful and wonderful decision to take the steps needed to live your life to the fullest! Choose to be the best YOU that you can possibly be. Don’t repeat the same year over and over and call it a life. Fly into 2021 with a renewed sense of purpose and the determination to soar to new heights! You are not alone! God is with you always, and with God all things are possible! I wish you all the happiness and success that God has planned for you in 2021!
2018 has been a financial roller-coaster. Essentially, after a fantastic start, the financial markets had two corrections in one year before entering bear territory in what has been the worst December for the markets since 2011. With one shortened trading week and a day next week left, it is unlikely that the markets will close in the black this year. For nervous investors, this has been a financial heart-attack. The Dow is still in correction but poised to potentially enter a bear market, as is the S&P 500 which has reported that over 60% of its member companies are bleeding red. On Friday, the Nasdaq Composite confirmed that it is officially in a bear market for the first time since 2008.
A very important thing to remember is that despite the negative financial press, the market is still up compared to where it was two years ago. in fact, before the Dow hit its record in January, it had set 96 new record closing highs since the 2016 presidential election.
In all, the Dow Jones set 15 record closing records in 2018, and has had over 111 new record closing highs since Donald J. Trump was elected President in 2016. As of the close of business on Friday December 21st 2018, the 52 week high-low range for the DOW was 22,396.34 – 26,951.81 .
For comparison let’s look at the closing numbers of all three US stock indexes for the same day of December from 2016 to 2018
Dec 21st 2016
Dec 21st 2017
Dec 21st 2018
Consulting the data in the chart above shows that although we show financial losses over the past 52 weeks, the gap between the losses is not as great as the peaks and valleys of the highs and lows experienced in 2018, and if you go back another year to 2016, we are way ahead of where we are now vs. then.
This is why people who panic and pull their funds out of the market every time they hear a negative financial report lose money. This is why it is important to keep records, and focus on the big picture instead of reacting to every negative tidbit that we overhear. If you would have pulled all your money out of the market on December 21st 2016, and put in it a jar under your bed, you would have LOST money. Likewise, when the markets re-bounded in October, had you moved your funds out of the market, you could have locked in gains. As I am an optimist and felt the market would rise even higher in December, I rolled the dice and got craps. Despite this, I have still NOT LOST MONEY, because I am still invested in the market, and the market will rebound again, in time. You cannot time the market. Statistics have proven that attempting to time the market’s highs and lows do not provided as high a return as staying the course and playing the long game. One of the best books I have read on this topic is Unshakeable by Tony Robbins. Market panics are often caused by fools that don’t really know what they are doing. Knowledge is power and the more you read and retain, the greater your potential for success in life. All of the information that I have read indicates that the Dow will hit 30,000 by the end of Trump’s first term, and will hit 50,000 at the end of his second term when he wins re-election in 2020. Make no bones about it, if President Trump does not get re-elected in 2020, it would be a financial disaster for the USA. In the history of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, 10 of the 20 best single-day gains occurred so far under his administration. No other US president has done better.
I understand that there is a sizable percentage of the population that has been misled into thinking that Donald Trump is bad for America. The majority of successful people would tend to disagree because President Trump is good for business, and business is what drives our economy and creates jobs. I did not become rich by accident, or because I won the lottery, or received an inheritance. I worked hard, studied, and invested my money. I am a life-long Republican and support president Trump 100%. You can choose to love the president like I do, or you can continue to sit in your negative echo-chamber and sulk like some Grinch.
We are responsible for the choices we make in life, and it is a hard thing to change our mind about long-held beliefs. No one is keeping you from succeeding in life except yourself. Not God, not your parents, not president Trump. You! You are the architect of your own happiness or misery, and as long as you have air in your lungs, you have the potential to change your life for the better. You can do it, I believe in you!
InstantCoffeeWisdom.com will return on Sunday, January 6th 2019. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! As Always, I wish you success and happiness!
Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year according to numerous cards, songs, and movies. For some people the holidays are filled with stress as they obsess over various topics some of which are related to the practice of gift giving. ‘Tis the season to go broke for many people who go way over-budget on holiday spending. Unfortunately, many times we end up giving some people on our lists ‘the perfect gift’ which ends up being something they wouldn’t have purchased for themselves ever, even if it was on sale 95% off, and they had just received a huge Christmas bonus in their paycheck. Everyone has different tastes, and some people are just impossible to buy presents for.
To top it all off, It’s probably also impossible to get gifts for our entire family, as well as every friend you know. So we agonize over who gets a gift and who doesn’t.
“You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out, Kid!”
In the 1983 film ‘A Christmas Story’, a young boy named Ralphie obsesses over the only gift he wants for Christmas, a Red Rider BB gun. Everyone he tells this to, including the mall Santa, admonishes him that he’ll shoot his eye out. It’s a silly movie, and a little fun. I’ve watched it and at least one cable channel TNT shows the movie on a continuous loop each Christmas, but it’s no ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’. Now life seen through the eyes of a child are very different from the view of an adult. When we were kids, our parents were probably the only ones who knew what we wanted for Christmas, and as children our lives were over if ‘Santa’ failed to deliverer the coveted item. I’ll be the first to admit that I was a spoiled brat as a child and cried when I got sensible presents like socks and a warm coat. Now as a grown up, I want what ‘I want’, and sometimes I get an undesirable gift. It’s disappointing, but it’s not the end of the world.
The gift that keeps getting given.
One ‘option’ that we as adults have adopted to deal with the unwelcome gift is the practice of ‘re-gifting’. Re-gifting in and of itself is not a bad thing, but it can backfire. Whenever you re-gift, make sure it’s not in the same circle of friends, and NEVER EVER EVER re-gift within your family. You don’t want to give the fruitcake ‘Aunt Francis’ gave you, to ‘Uncle Billy’. Also make absolutely certain that there is no tag or personal note anywhere in the gift that identifies it as a ‘re-gift’. Think of these ‘twice-given’ gifts as recycling, and as a way of being thrifty. Just because you don’t want it doesn’t mean someone else wouldn’t appreciate it. If it’s something that you absolutely ‘hate’ keep in mind that re-gifting a despised item may elicit the same reaction in the receiver as it did you. If they in turn re-gift the gift, it might end up coming back to haunt you, like the Ghost of Christmas Past, or that infamous fruitcake that seems to be the same fruitcake that has been around, and around, and around.
Paper or plastic?
Cash is king, but some people still think of cash as an impersonal gift. Sticking bills in a envelope is probably the easiest gift you can wrap. The other option is the gift card. Like cash, a gift card enables you to give a gift that the recipient ACTUALLY wants, as opposed to what you think would be perfect for them. Gift cards have come a long way from the days of the paper gift certificate. Some of today’s gift cards (BUT NOT ALL) can even be purchased by credit card. Some gift cards are VISA/Mastercard ‘money cards’ and are good at any merchant. Store cards are good only at that store. You can’t use a Burger King gift card at McDonald’s. As a result gift cards are now the most popular Christmas gifts among adults, and are also the most easily ‘re-giftable’ gift, second only to cash.
Children don’t understand the economics of Christmas. For them, it’s all about the toys. For adults, it not about what’s under the tree, it’s who is around it that really matters. Money is a renewable resource, but people are finite and when we’re gone, we are gone. So as we head into the final days of the Christmas season, keep it simple and remember that it’s the thought that counts. As always, I wish you success and happiness!
There’s an old saying, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” which means the problems that make the loudest noise are the ones which get our immediate attention. Whereas this may be the case in some situations, it does not always apply to every instance. This is where discernment is important, especially when it comes to donations and charitable giving. The world is a big place filled with countless problems which impact various people at different times in their lives. Everyone has some problem at some point, whether it is evident or not.
You may also be familiar with another saying, “there, but for the grace of God, go I.” which is a phrase of humility acknowledging that one might be in the same situation were it not for some divine intervention in our upbringing. If you were lucky to be born in the USA, you enjoy many freedoms and opportunities not afforded to those in other counties around the world. If you were born in the 20th or 21st century, your life is radically different from someone born in the first century. Times change, but people are still people and we cannot ever truly and completely know the motives of another person, only God knows.
‘ The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings. ‘ Jeremiah 17:9-10
Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Proverbs 3: 5-6
I gave at the office…
I am not perfect, no one is, but I try to be good and do the right things in every situation. I donate on a regular basis to several worthy charities which I feel efficiently and effectively disseminate the largest possible percentage of my donations to the neediest of individuals. I can NEVER humanly know for certain if one person who benefited from my charity was more worthy than another, I can only HOPE and leave it in God’s hands. If a benevolent organization uses the lion’s share of contributions collected to cover salary and other overhead, they are still doing ‘some’ good, but there might be different organizations that are better stewards. This is why it’s important to research charities before blindly donating. There is much need in the world and there are many organizations for every cause that have duplications of their target recipients. No matter how good you might be at doing your job, there is always someone, somewhere who given the opportunity could do it better, and this also applies to charities.
Every year, the local union at my place of employment sponsors a local needy family at Christmastime. The union officials frequently encourage employees to donate to support the ‘Christmas Family’. It’s a good thing, but I do not contribute, not because I am uncaring, but because I already donate substantially to other organizations that fill a similar role . One year, a union official came to my desk asking for donations, and when I declined, he asked ‘Don’t you have a heart?’ This upset me greatly, and the next day I called him on the carpet in front of the boss brandishing a stack of receipts of donations I had made to various other organizations. I made him look bad, and he did apologize, but I could have just ‘let it go’ and ignored the slight. Like I said, I’m not perfect. A successful person admits his mistakes and learns from them. Next time I will handle things better.
“Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as ever you can.” – John Wesley co-founder of Methodism
Tightfisted vs. ‘Tithe-fisted’
Tightfisted means being cheap, the idea of clenching your money tightly in your hand so that it can’t be pried away.
“Tithe” means a tenth or 10 percent. The tithing system described in the Bible was designed specifically to meet the needs of the religious, economic and political system of ancient Israel. Each of the twelve tribes of Israel, except the tribe of Levi, initially received an allotment of land in the promised land of Canaan. The Levites were assistants to Israel’s priests and were supported by a tithe offering from other eleven tribes. All families of those eleven tribes were to give a tenth of all produce, flocks, and cattle to the Levites. In turn, the Levites were to give a tenth of that to support the priests (Leviticus 27:30-33, Numbers 18:21-28).
Tithes were also used to meet the needs of foreigners, orphans and widows. (Deuteronomy 26:12-13)
In addition, everyone was to be generous with those in need:
If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs. (NIV, Deuteronomy 15:7-8)
The Bible does urge us to be generous with our wealth and time. However, any claim that wealth, health, good fortune or other blessings will come as a result of a donation should be looked at with suspicion. Likewise never feel guilty if you must say ‘no’ due to honest circumstances. God knows your heart. Giving should be done hilariously, or with a great joy. Even if you’re in no position to make a financial contribution, but still wish to serve in some capacity, perhaps you can do volunteer work.
Remember the world is a big place with much poverty, you will never be able to help everyone, and there will always be needy. You should take care of your family, friends, and other people who live close to you before helping people who are living further away or in another country. Do what you can, when you can, and do it with a glad heart. As always, I wish you success and happiness.
A man’s gift maketh room for him, and bringeth him before great men. –– Proverbs 18:16 KJV
As I’m sitting here in the wee small hours of the morning of Christmas Eve 2017 working on my last Christmas-themed financial blog post of 2017, the main thought that is going through my mind is, ” I LOVE CHRISTMAS!” It is impossible ignore the fact that whatever your personal religious beliefs are, Christmas begins with CHRIST, Jesus is the reason for the season, and Christians like myself become ‘a little more vocal’ about what we believe. Christmas is a very good thing for both the believer and the non-believer alike. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year! So if you don’t believe in Christ, please don’t take offense at a person extending you a heartfelt ‘Merry Christmas’ at this time of year. It’s not a religious threat or insult, it’s a olive branch or a bridge to show that we are all connected. Take it in the spirit of goodwill in which it’s meant.
Talking about ‘spirits’ and giving brings to mind two secular and fictional aspects of Christmas: Ebeneezer Scrooge and Santa Claus.
I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ — Acts 20:35 The Holy Bible, New King James Version
There are people in this world today who claim that being wealthy is a sign of greed, and that somehow the rich people of the world are responsible for causing the poverty in it. This is far from the truth. Wealthy people pay the majority of all taxes collected, and donate the largest sums to charities. They build the factories, fund the businesses, and create the jobs.
The protagonist of A Christmas Carol written by Charles Dickens is a miser named Ebeneezer Scrooge. Some people get the idea that he’s the villain of the tale because all he cares about is money. Scrooge isn’t the bad guy because he has money, but because he lives a joyless existence, he mistreats his employees, and he’s horded his wealth instead of using it to bless the needy and do acts of great good. After he’s visited by the Christmas spirits, he sees the error of his ways, and is transformed by the renewing of his heart and mind. He then does great acts of charity that would not have been possible had he been poor. There are some acts of generosity that only a wealthy person has the ability to do. Anyone can smile, say a kind word, do good deeds, or pray for other people. These things are good, and we should always do them. Most people can even afford to donate money to the less fortunate, even if it’s only coins in the Salvation Army Kettle at Christmastime.
Only the rich can give charities million-dollar endowments or build factories to create jobs.
His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’— Matthew 25:23, New English Translation
Santa Claus is a bit more tricky. His origins have been mixed with fable thanks to L. Frank Baum and Clement C. Moore. Elves and reindeer aside, ‘Father Christmas’ is based on a real person, Saint Nicolas of Myra was a Christian bishop who helped the needy. He was born circa 280 AD and died December 6th 345 AD. In the twentieth century, Santa Claus stated to supplant Christ as the focus of Christmas, basically because he was a fun way to make the season more ‘inclusive’. Some people who were not religious felt left out. So advertising departments of companies like Coca-cola and Macy’s ran with Santa as a jolly alternative, and a new representative of Christmas goodwill. This is both good and bad. Bad because Santa distracts us from ‘the real reason for the season’ and can be confusing for young children. Good because Santa is FUN, and inspires giving.
As a Christian, I KNOW that ALL things come from God, and everything I have ultimately came from The Lord of All Creation. Christians especially have a duty to use their God-given gifts in the service of God, and Christmas gives us many great opportunities to help the less fortunate. I find myself a little merrier wearing a red Santa hat, it inspires me!
I’m going to wrap this up with the inspiring true story of Larry Stewart, the Secret Santa.
Kind words and kind actions can change lives!
Larry Stewart (April 1, 1948 – January 12, 2007) was an American philanthropist from Kansas City better known as “Kansas City’s Secret Santa.” After poor beginnings, Stewart — from 1979 through 2006 — made a practice of anonymously handing out small amounts of cash, typically in the form of hundred-dollar bills, to needy people.
Larry was a traveling salesman in 1970, and he wasn’t very good because by 1971 he was broke and sleeping in his car. After a few days of not eating, in desperation he decided to ‘rob’ a diner by ordering a big breakfast he couldn’t pay for, and then claiming he accidentally lost his wallet somehow. Ted Horn owner of the Dixie Diner realized the true nature of the situation, and instead of getting mad, or calling the cops, decided to give Larry a $20 bill he ‘found’ on the floor, which ‘might’ have fallen out of Larry’s ‘lost’ wallet. This lesson of kindness and generosity stayed with Larry Stewart. Ashamed of his initial act of deception, and humbled by the kindness of the diner owner, he vowed to himself that he would ‘pay it forward’ as soon as he was able.
Around Christmas of 1979 on a very cold day, he stopped at a drive-in restaurant. A carhop waitress was outside wearing a small, thin coat, and freezing as she served the diners at their cars in the hope of maybe nickel or dime tips. When she brought Larry his lunch, he handed her a $20 bill, and told her to keep the change. Her lips begin to tremble and tears begin to flow down her cheeks as she said, ‘Sir, you have no idea what this means to me.’
Stewart went on to become a multimillionaire, earning his fortune from cable television and long distance calling. Each Christmas from 1979 until his death in 2007 he continued giving cash away to the needy as Secret Santa. He quickly progressed from giving out $20s to handing out $100s, not just in Kansas City but traveling to other areas in times of tragedy, like NYC after 9/11/01 and Mississippi in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina. Sadly, he developed cancer, but because he was concerned about the poor and needy, he trained an army of Secret Santas and assistant ‘elves’ who would pass out $100s to the needy after he was gone. By the time he passed away on January 12th 2007, Larry Stewart had given away over a million dollars, all inspired by the kindness of ONE man who gave him a $20 bill decades earlier. Today, the army of Secret Santas continue to hand $100 bills to poor, their efforts supported by other wealthy philanthropists, and inspiring others to do likewise.
So as we open our gifts on Christmas morning, and give presents to our friends and family, let us all be inspired by all the beauty and wonder of all the aspects and icons of the season. Let us not focus on ourselves, but think of our fellow man, and be grateful for all that we have. May we all find the courage to better ourselves, so that we can extend a hand-up to the fallen, and together we can with a smile, encouragement, charity and kindness, make this a better world. As always I wish you happiness and success! Merry Christmas and God bless us, everyone.
Budgeting 103: Decorate for Christmas without breaking the bank!
Every Christmas, there’s at least ONE house in every neighborhood decked out with so many lights and lawn ornaments that it could probably be seen from space on a clear night. Forget the initial expense of buying all those lights and glowing plastic luminaries, imagine the electricity usage! The numbers on the electric meter are changing so fast they’re probably an unreadable blur. And if the house is that decorated on the outside, you know the interior is just as festive. Imagine also the amount of time to decorate, then after the season, to un-decorate. Let’s not forget storing it all. If you can’t fit it all in your home, you need to rent a storage locker for a year. That adds up to thousands of dollars a year to transform your residence into a festive Christmas spot for about 4-6 weeks depending on how early you start, and when you take it all down.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with spending that kind of money IF you are doing it to make YOURSELF happy, and you can afford it. If you’re just doing it to impress people you don’t know, or you’re trying to outdo the Jones’s on the corner with their ‘impressive’ display, you really need to examine your heart. Christmas is a great time of happiness and fellowship for the majority (despite some of the Christmas headaches) and should you care more about your friends and family than how your home looks. So here’s a few things to help save you money (and sanity) decorating for Christmas.
K.I.S.S. – Keep It Super Simple
Limit the number of lawn and outdoor pieces. Less is more. People will see a light up nativity scene or plastic Santa a lot easier it it’s not hidden among a 100 other luminaries on your lawn.
Instead of stringing lights all over your house, save time and money by projecting the lights with a laser light projector.
Decorate a room, or two at most. You don’t need to deck EVERY hall.
DIY – Don’t buy expensive Christmas decorations. A few craft supplies can be used to make homemade ornaments, spruce up pine cones with paint and glitter, or whatever your mind can imagine. Be creative, but remember crafting takes time and skill. You can only do what you can do. I wowed a couple of my guests this year with simple holly rings ( which I made myself with craft supplies ) added to the bases of cheap votive candles.
Don’t buy ‘collectible’ ornaments! Every year Hallmark and several other chains release HUNDREDS of expensive ornaments for every fandom base there is. They are cheap plastic trinkets that will never go up in value, and cost big bucks. No one cries when they accidentally break a simple glass ball. But Barbie’s limited edition Pink Corvette from 1997 or the Millennium Falcon? These will bring a fanboy or fangirl to tears when they break.
Pine cones are FREE, go for a walk in the woods and gather a couple dozen. Just be sure to clean and disinfect them if you find them in the wild, you don’t want bugs invading your home.
Use pine cones, a glass bowl, real greens and candles to make your own center piece.
Take advantage of after Christmas Holiday clearance sales and stock up for next year now. I’m always able to get a collection of spare Santa hats for my guests for pennies on the dollar every year after the stores mark them down. I’ve gotten a dozen glass balls for 75¢ ! Wrapping paper is never so cheap as it is after Christmas. Just make sure to store everything you pre-buy for next year properly. I use Red Plastic Totes, and Ziploc bags, then put these all in the walk-in closet where I can find them. I have a special ornament tote, and wrapping paper tote to keep these safe as well.
The money and time you save will make you jolly each Christmas, and allow you quality time with friends and family.
As always I wish you happiness and success! And God bless us, everyone.
Ringle, ringle, coins when they jingle, make such a lovely sound.
I am very fortunate to live in the USA, it’s the Land of Liberty and the American Dream, and home to more millionaires than any other country on Earth. There are many people today who seem to have a misconception that wealthy people are greedy and have somehow been responsible for the plight of the poor. Maybe it started with the depiction of the miser Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Let’s not forget that by the end of the story, Scrooge learns the true meaning of Christmas and becomes a wealthy benefactor to Tiny Tim and the Cratchet family, as well as reconnecting with his nephew Fred.
” You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” John 12:8 NIV
The true meaning of Christmas is the birth of Christ, and the Greatest gift was Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross for the sins of all mankind. There are many who try to diminish or remove references to Jesus Christ at Christmastime, and that’s unfortunate. Christians are the most generous people of any religious group according to phlianthropy.com , and philanthropyroundtable.org supports the fact that the wealthiest Americans are the most giving.
The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously; Psalm 37:21 NIV
I did not grow up wealthy, but I worked very hard to get where I am today. I am grateful to God for all that I have, and I give a sizable amount to charity at Christmas. There are many charitable organizations that support many great causes, and there is a lot of duplication of services. It’s very important when donating to charities to know that the majority of the donated funds are actually reaching those in need, and not being wasted on overhead, or to buy a new Mercedes for the director of the so-called charity. I recommend using charitynavigator.org Charity Navigator is an American independent charity watchdog organization that evaluates charitable organizations in the USA, and will help you evaluate worthy charities so that you can avoid the less reputable ones.
In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” Acts 20:35 NIV
Christians have an obligation to help the needy. We received a great Gift to cover a Debt we can never repay. The concept of tithing is mentioned in the Bible, as is the story of the good Samaritan. As Christians we are created for doing good works to further the glory of God. Faith without works is a dead faith because the lack of works reveals an unchanged life or a spiritually dead heart.
Pennies from Heaven
As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” Luke 21:1-4 New International Version (NIV)
There’s rarely a day that goes by that I don’t find a penny on the ground as I walk the streets doing my rounds. On average, I actually find about $2 in coins and bills per week. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to my annual salary. Every little bit helps, and that’s the basis of crowdfunding. If everyone gives something, even pennies dropped into a Salvation Army Kettle, it adds up. The current population of the United States of America is 325,467,306 as of Friday, December 8, 2017. If every person in the USA gave just ONE PENNY to charity each day, it would add up to 3.25 million dollars daily. So don’t feel that a tiny donation is meaningless. Little things mean a lot, and great things come from tiny beginnings. As always I wish you happiness and success! And God Bless us everyone.
“There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.” ― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and the average consumer tends to blow their budget to smithereens as they get carried away by the holiday cheer. Each year Christmas spending has been increasing, usually prompted by Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. This is good news for retailers whose profit earnings during the Christmas season can be significant, up to and even exceeding half of their annual profits. Christmas is big business, but it can land consumers in the poor house.
Haunted by ‘The Ghosts of Christmas Past’?
According to The American Research Group Inc. the average American spends almost $1000 on Christmas gifts. If you add other seasonal expenses like decorations, food, and expenses associated with traveling to visit distant friends and family, the amount can easily skyrocket. Most of this is rung up on plastic. Let’s not forget about charitable donations either. How much pocket change did you throw in the Salvation Army Kettle each time you passed a bell-ringer? Till it’s all said and done, the end-of the-year shopping spree spreading Christmas Cheer is followed each January by the real ‘Ghosts of Christmas Past’ – the credit card bills!
“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!” ― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
At the end of A Christmas Carol Ebenezer Scrooge learns the true meaning of Christmas. You don’t have to go overboard and be a miser to avoid the consumer trap, you just need to plan a budget and stick to it.
Naughty or Nice?
Do you honestly have to buy something for EVERYONE you know? It may be sad to say, but there are many people we know who deserve a lump of coal for Christmas. If you have little or no money to spend, you have two choices:
‘Everyone’ doesn’t get a gift.
‘Everyone’ gets a share of the pot.
I’m not a fan of cutting people out because I feel mistreated or cheated. Everyone we know is facing some inner turmoil we know nothing about. If someone gives you a gift, you don’t have to automatically reciprocate with an equal or even more expensive gift. Just say ‘thank you’. A gift is a gift, not an obligation. I have almost a thousand regular customers at my day job. I treat them all the same. A very small few give me Christmas gifts. I don’t expect anything from them, but I always thank them. I know that in many cases, some of my elderly customers are on fixed incomes and have very little money. I worry about accepting gifts from them, and I sometimes ask ‘are you sure?’ or state that they ‘didn’t have to do that’. It’s rude to refuse a gift. Be grateful, smile and thank them. They appreciate it far more than you know, and it costs NOTHING to be kind!
I budget for Christmas. I have a set amount ear-marked for the season, and I stick to that limit. Everyone on my list gets something, even if it’s only a card. It’s the thought that counts. I mail out almost 50 cards, each with a printed annual newsletter. It’s an expense, but I enjoy doing it. I have not been able to see some of the people on my list in years because I am so busy, and they are busy, and our schedules don’t mesh. A Christmas greeting in the form of a card and newsletter is a nice way to let people know you still care. Only about 20% of them mail me a return card, but that’s okay. Gifts are gifts, no obligation remember?
Keep gifts appropriate
Always consider that just because you like something doesn’t mean everyone will like it. Take fruitcake for example. Some people think it makes a great gift. Others feel it’s great for propping open the door. Some people have food allergies or special diets. Some parents don’t allow certain toys. NEVER GIVE PETS AS GIFTS! Give cash or gift cards and let the recipient purchase what they really want.
During the Great Depression, banks first started the idea of seasonal savings accounts earmarked for Christmas. These are still offered by some financial institutions. In many cases you can even arrange for automatic payroll deductions to make saving for even Christmas easier. Christmas Clubs usually send out checks or electronic bank deposits of the entire amount at the end of October, in plenty of time for Christmas.
Grandma hates me!
Children do not understand gifts of socks and underwear. I grew up poor, and Christmas was about getting toys. Very few children have the understanding and level of maturity to understand that they may be poor, and don’t get why ‘Santa’ didn’t bring them a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle, opting instead for much needed clothing. I was always disappointed by clothing. I also had too many toys. I didn’t play with the ones I had, or need new ones. I don’t have kids, but let me tell you, if I did they wouldn’t be spoiled with showers of toys. Yet each year, I see friends and relatives spoiling their kids. Some elderly people have a dozen or more grandchildren. They can’t afford a gift for every grandchild. If there is some special must-have toy that is quite expensive, consider pooling resources, and just labeling the one gift ‘From Santa’.
Visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads
Instead of buying gifts, throw a small dinner party. I do this each year for a few close friends who live local. Arrange party games and take pictures to make it memorable.
Made with Love
Maybe there is nothing in the store they need, but what about some token of love? Bake Christmas Cookies, or give a handmade gift like a decorated mason jar filled with coffee or cocoa mix, or a handmade ornament. Send cards to let them know you care. What about just love itself?, Share friendship, understanding, consideration, a helping hand, a smile, and a prayer. You can’t buy these things in any store , but these things are what people need the most. As always I wish you happiness and success! And God bless us, everyone.