Thursday, November 28, 2013


So, does it count that I got some of my cards with the annual Odell Holiday Form Letter out before Thanksgiving? Maybe not, but as make-ahead-mashed-potatoes warm in the oven and banana cream pies chill in the fridge for Thanksgiving dinner with friends later today, perhaps I can make good on my positive intentions here. 

Holiday 2013

Dear Ones,

Surprise!  I’m ahead of the curve this year. With Thanksgiving cards, which establish the theme of this year’s Odell Holiday Form Letter.  

I know I should always be thankful.  But this year has brought that truth into focus, as I realize most of my first-world problems have attainable solutions, and the rest aren’t worth fussing over. So, this year I give you a few things I’m grateful for as we close out 2013 and plunge into 2014. 

First and foremost, I’m thankful for doctors, nurses and insurance to pay for them.  This is because Tom’s annual bike trip took an unexpected turn to the burn unit at KU Med Center instead of beaches in Texas, or wherever the Over the Belt Gang went without him this year.  He took a spill on a trip home from the gym one steamy Saturday morning in August, arriving home with a great big hole in his ankle from the motorcycle exhaust pipe.  For a few days, he dismissed all discussion of seeing a doctor as the wound did not hurt, which he later learned was because when you burn to the bone you take out the nerves.  So I’m also thankful that once signs of infection appeared he was willing to relent.  A week in the burn unit, a wound vac, a skin graft and $160K in medical bills later (did I mention how thankful I am for Hallmark’s insurance? It bears repeating…) he still has his foot, and is on the mend.  Although awaits another skin graft. And still thinks he knows more than the medical professionals, obeying their orders selectively…. I’m thankful they have figured him out and are dealing with him accordingly. 

I’m thankful our kids live close by and are able to pay their bills.  I’m thankful that Rob got the opportunity to be a brewer for Boulevard Brewery, and that Jeni has stepped out on her own as the sole massage therapist in the eponymous Bodywork by Jeni.  That’s at 8012 State Line in Leawood, 816-830-6051, should you feel the need for aching shoulders to get a good work-over.  They both love what they do. They may not yet realize what a gift that is, but I sure do.

I’m thankful I can use the word “eponymous” in a Christmas letter.  For that, I have my parents – who insisted on good grammar and expansive vocabulary, despite my resistance – to thank.  It’s probably good they’re not here to witness the language devolve into text-speak, however.  U 2? Gr8. 

I’m thankful Tom likes to cook, because I don’t. And he doesn’t like it when I do, so it works out. Probably why we’ve stayed married for 40 years.  

I’m thankful the motorcycle is in its winter home in the back of the garage, right in front of where I pull in my trusty vehicle.  The temptation to step on the accelerator instead of the brake is fierce.... Tom should be thankful I’ve resisted that urge.  So far. 

It’s been a tough year for many dear friends.  I won’t recite the list – you know who you are.  My heart aches for all you’ve endured.  But I’m thankful beyond measure that you have, and are in my life.  Love you.  Or U. Whatever.

Most of all, I’m thankful for every person who reads this letter, and not just because you’ve got the stamina to get all the way through it.  It’s an honor to share space on the planet with you, to learn from and with you, to work or travel or sing in the choir with you, trade Facebook status updates, reconnect every so often and share memories, future plans and perspectives on the world.  Preferably with food and an adult beverage. 

All good things this holiday season and in the year ahead.

Friday, November 9, 2012

No, I don't want 'things'

I did not vote a straight ticket in Tuesday’s election.  But I did fill in more little circles for Democrats than Republicans.

I’ve heard what some people think that means.

That I’m a Godless socialist.  That I wish to punish those who achieve success. That I think government should pick winners and losers, make all our decisions, solve all our problems.

That I relish red tape paralyzing business.  That I want to tell you what kind of light bulb to use.

That I care more about contraception than the nation’s economic health.

That I sanction murdering babies and the demise of the family.  That I don’t pay taxes and refuse to take personal responsibility for my life. 

That I want the government to give me things.

So, let me set the record straight.

I sing in a church choir and am a person of faith.  I believe in the free market.  I pay plenty of taxes.  Have done so for more than 40 years, thank you.

I do enjoy a few government handouts – the mortgage interest and charitable contribution tax deductions to be specific.   I’m guessing quite a few of the folks who filled in Republican circles take those handouts, too.

I see contraception as an economic issue, as well as evidence of personal accountability.  I believe being pro-life should extend beyond just birth and that whatever options apply to Viagra should apply to The Pill as well.

I believe who you love is your business, and I’ll gladly let you choose whatever light bulb you want if you’ll let me define the people I call “family.”

I think we should be as interested in the education of our children today as we are in reducing the debt we leave them in the future.

I believe we should each take responsibility for our own lives – but also should care about more than our own personal interests.  Government is not some faceless entity – it is all of us, pooling our resources to accomplish things for us all, together, that we could not achieve on our own.  Roads. Bridges. The nation’s security. 

And, yes, lunch for hungry school children, and a hand up for those who need help getting their footing on the path of personal responsibility.

So if the “things” you believe I want are about caring and sharing, rather than acquiring solely for me and mine – I’m guilty as charged.

If not, I’ll thank you to not define what you think my vote means. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day

I was a college student in the early 1970s when the Vietnam War was in full force, as was the resistance against it, especially among people my age. There's a US Army base about 30 minutes from the university I attended, which meant that students and soldiers ran into each other with some frequency.

More often than not, those encounters were less than positive. The students visited their opposition to the war, in insufferably rude ways, upon the people drafted to fight in it. Never mind that the privelege of being in college exempted us, for awhile at least, from mandatory service in those days of the draft.

The soldiers, understandably, did not respond well to such open derision. It was not a proud moment for my generation.

I think about those days now, when our country is again involved in an unpopular war. Despite many opinions about whether the wars of our age are just or necessary, this time we seem generally able to separate our feelings about the war from our feelings about young men and women who are waging it.

At least that's a bit of progress.

My personal behavior back in the day was relatively benign -- singing along to protest songs at coffehouse concerts, mostly. I certainly didn't taunt anyone -- I'm too much of a harmony-seeker for that. But I don't recall standing up for those who were soon to be shipped to a far away place to be shot at or killed. I don't recall even thinking much about what their perspective might have been.

Looking back, I'm shocked at my insensitivity, and I realize that makes me just as culpable as those who were overtly hostile to so many young men who really had no choice in the matter.

So today, I am thinking about those who served - my peers - who fought, who died in that war, while I was free to be bored in geology class and go to Saturday night keggers. I apologize for being a witless snot.

And whatever I think about this war, that war, any war.... I humbly thank anyone who has fought on my behalf so I can sit in my comfortable house and do nothing of remotely similar import.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Guess I Had to Be There

We've been blessed with spendid autumn weather for three weeks running now. My twice-daily walks with Otis are filled with beautiful moments of bright blue skies and leaves turning red, orange and yellow, more crackling underfoot every day.

I've been meaning to bring my camera on one of these walks to capture the scene, but I never seem to remember until I'm a block or two away from home.

Until today, when I realized it was just as well.

There was another time, almost 20 years ago now, when I took a camera everywhere. My kids were in all sorts of school activities -- sports, school plays, music programs -- and I captured all of it on film or videotape. Today I value the photos, the video clips, especially the class videos I assembled for each of them at the end of their 8th grade year.

But in documenting all those activities, in watching their pre-pre-pubescent years through a viewfinder, I kinda missed experiencing them.

So maybe that's why these days I can't seem to remember my camera. Maybe it's better just to be there.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Bully is as bully does

There has been a lot of talk decrying student bullying in the days following the suicide of a young man whose college roomie decided to videotape his private activities and post said video on the world wide web.

Trust me, I'm right there with the anti-bullying crowd. But I think the problem goes way deeper than that. I suspect it was less about bullying, and more about a couple of things I find even more disturbing: Doing unto others what they see modeled for them by the adults in their everyday lives... and plain old stupidity.

What's a kid to think when he or she moves through the day with the likes of Glenn Beck calling for Pelosi to be poisoned, or the literati making equally irresponsible suggestions to solve for Sarah Palin? When a vile Kansas crackpot who gives Christianity a bad name can extend his 15 minutes all the way to the Supreme Court? When the path to national leadership is paved with innuendo and quasi-truth as expressed in attack advertising from left, right and everywhere in between?

As for sheer cluelessness, some wise soul once cautioned us never to attribute to malice that which can adequately be explained by stupidity. I suspect that's a relevant thought here. One need not venture far into the blogosphere to find evidence that some people seem to literally lose their heads when it's just them and a computer screen.

We may never know what (if anything) was going through the minds of the kids whose unconscionable actions set this tragedy in motion, as their lawyers have surely by now filled them with get-out-of-jail talking points. And maybe they were indeed motivated by hate for a sexual preference other than their own. But I can easily picture them encountering others' private moment, thinking "wow, this is wild!" and pulling out the flip-cam with no greater thought of the consequences than the hope of becoming famous for posting the next multi-million-view YouTube phenomenon.

So is there a lesson to be learned? Sure. We must recognize that free and easy access to the tools of communication in the digital age does not necessarily grant us the wisdom to use those tools responsibly. Or put more simply, please, find a brain cell somewhere in your head to engage before your fingers hit the keyboard. Don't be stupid.

And if we wish our young people to behave civilly toward their peers, perhaps we should try it ourselves.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Tale of Two Eras

On this lovely, lazy Saturday evening, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is on the television. I have settled my 50-something body into a comfy chair in my 83-year-old house to watch a 1937 movie with my daughter - 2010 style.

She's sitting in her own house on her own sofa a mile away and we're enjoying the movie together via text message.

"Oh my gosh, the singing is soooo 1930s," I tap into the ether.

"I know!" comes the reply. "And the graphics. Or maybe then it was just called animation."

Indeed. It's difficult to watch this, the first full-length cel-animated color feature movie ever (something I know because I could look it up on Wikipedia from my iPhone) without noticing how much charm and rich detail has been lost in surrendering the painstaking hand of the artist to the efficiency of the computer.

"When we grew up everyone focused on the fairy-tale ending - either saying 'pooh pooh I don't need a prince,' or 'I want a knight in shining armor,' says the next message on the little iPhone screen I hold in my hand, while Otis the dog snores beside me.

"But no one focuses on how sweet and good Snow White is to emulate, or you could be ugly and jealous like the queen. A much better lesson learned, if you ask me."

Interesting point.

"Makes me want to see Bambi, even though it makes me cry," comes her next message, as Snow White makes her way through the forest and encounters woodland creatures that look a lot like characters in that 1942 tear-jerker. Although for my money, nothing draws out the hankies like the scene of Mrs. Jumbo caressing her baby elephant through the bars of lock-up in Dumbo, circa 1941. Both dates drawn from another quick Wiki check.

"They'd never get away with naming a mute character Dopey today," I observe. There is something to be said for progress.

The ending, of course, is preposterous. Felled by the poison apple, Snow White sleeps as snowflakes turn to spring blossoms, awakening only when the visiting prince plants a kiss on her lips. She opens her eyes, stretches, steps out of her glass coffin, hops on the Prince's horse and heads off to happily-ever-after.

No matter that she's had nothing to eat or drink for months. No muscle atrophy. No bedsores. No need for a quick trip to the bathroom or a tooth-brushing. And no idea whatever what this fellow is actually like. Today, we'd suspect he's an internet stalker.

"Good thing it ends here before they both get fat and grouchy," I type.

"You should see the shortened version of the children's book. There they never even met before he came upon her and kissed/fell in love/married," she responds. Fairy-tale meets E-Harmony.

Thus a thoroughly enjoyable 90 minutes with my daughter comes to conclusion.

Not a word spoken, nowhere near each other physically, but comfortably close.

The best of both the old and the new.

Saturday, July 31, 2010


For the last 3 1/2 years, my morning routine has been the same. Up at 5 a.m. Take dog out for a quick pee. Feed the cat. Off to the gym for an hour of torture. Then the reward: a stop on the way back home at the neighborhood coffee shop for a lovely hot latte.

But as of Monday, my routine will be disrupted, because my coffee shop is closing.

It's not a surprise, really. The proprietor and her barista son operated it on their own, offering really good coffee and delectable treats baked fresh every morning. It's a labor-intensive endeavor, and even at $3.50 a latte and $2 a muffin, it would be tough to generate the volume to make the numbers work. Which apparently they didn't.

It's hard to watch someone's dream dismantle, and their routines are clearly far more disrupted than mine.

But still.

I'll miss more than the latte. I'll miss the fact that I never needed to remember "tall skinny grande" whatever. All I had to do was show up and my order was placed. No thinking required.

I'll miss the fellow coffee shop congregants, about whom I know both very little and a whole lot. Jeannie, who has a bulldog named Louie, a husband named Randy, a mother with health issues and a left-of-center take on political issues. Eric, principal of an elementary school, and his wife, Marie, who likes her bagel with cream cheese. Susie, who walks for 45 minutes before her daily caffeine fix. Philomena from Ireland.

I don't even know the last names of any of these people but I know intimate details of their lives from the pre-dawn snippets they share as they, too, have made this place part of their daily routines.

Mostly I'll miss the fact that I could count on all of this to be there every day to anchor my morning.

All the coffee shop patrons were there today, the final day of operation, getting one last brew and freshly baked scone or cinnamon roll. Bidding farewell not just to the coffee shop owner and her son, but also to the fleeting yet intimate relationships they, too, have formed over their daily ritual.

How attached we get to people and things that play even a small, but daily, supporting role in our lives. And how disquieting it is when something beyond our control upsets the routine we have come to depend on.

There are other coffee shops in the neighborhood, none so convenient or (in my opinion) to my particular taste. But after awhile, I'll form a new routine, meet a new cast of characters and find comfort in something else I can count on. Until I can't.