October 24, 2012

Happy Halloween!

My Favorite Holiday

Lots of folks might think that Christmas, New Years or Easter are the best holidays, but not me. See, my birthday falls 3 days before Halloween, and so our annual American institution of dressing up in costumes and sharing sweets with the children has always been my favorite. 

All Hallow's Eve may have started out as a pagan ritual, but it has become something completely different and unique now, and while it isn't an official holiday, I think it should be.

For most of us, our love of Halloween doesn't have anything to do with religious beliefs, but has everything to do with getting to play dress up, indulging in safe fears, and of course, gratifying our childhood dreams of amassing large quantities of candy.

Ready, Set, Boo!

For me, this day marks the true beginning of the holiday season, so it's time to pull out an oldie-but-a-goodie. Over 30 years ago, when I was still a young man, I was feeling rather poetic as Halloween approached. Suffering from insomnia one night, I turned my hand for the first time to creating my own version of a literary classic. I was curious about combining Halloween and Christmas, and an idea was born.

Sadly, the original poem is long gone, unless someone else still has a copy. I handed out a number of hard copies to friends and family, so there may be one out there somewhere. Luckily, I have a mind like a steel trap, and it's only a little bit rusty. I still remember almost all of the poem, and in honor of Clement Moore and his masterpiece from 1823, I present the following updated story in verse, based on A Visit From St. Nick ...  

The Ballad of Dracu Claus

'Twas the night before Christmas
     And all through the castle,
Not a creature was stirring
     Or making a hassle.

The skeletons were hung

     In their caskets just right,
And even old Igor
     Was chained for the night.

The dungeon was quiet,

     The pendulum still;
The werewolf was sleeping,
     Having eaten his fill.

Wrapped in soft cobwebs

     And my slippers of lead,
I lay down with my shroud on,
     To sleep as the dead.

Then, from the graveyard,

     Across the deep moat,
I heard evil laughter
     From some sinister throat.

I rolled from my slab,

     But my knees felt like jelly;
The vile sound curdled
     The food in my belly.

I rushed to the window

     To find the fell cause,
But the sight that awaited me
     Struck me with awe.

The moon through the mist,

     Cast a sick greenish glow,
And I sighed for a moment,
     At the beauty below.

I spied moving toward me

     An old rusty sled,
Pulled by eight dragons,
     Five green and three red.

The driver's long fingers

     Appeared bony and brittle,
He cracked his long whip
     And I peed, just a little.

His skin was so pale,

     He was all dressed in black,
I knew in an instant
     It must be Count Drac.

He gave a sharp whistle,

     That master of pain,
Then the beasts became airborne,
     And he cursed them by name ...

"Now Smasher, and Crasher,

     And Charcoal and Grill,
On Muncher and Cruncher,
     And Raunchy ... and Bill!"

"Away to the rooftop!

     You know what to do,
And don't overshoot it,
     Or I'll have dragon stew!"

Then the monsters they landed,

     Their great wings all a-flutter,
Punched holes in my roof,
     And tore off the gutter.

He flew down the chimney,

     And he stood in the coals,
As ribbons of foot stench
     Issued forth from his soles.

Half-eaten in his hand,

     Was the thigh of an elf,
And I screamed when I saw him
     In spite of myself.

His fangs were so sharp,

     And the bloodstains so red;
He hissed once when he saw me,
     Then dismissed me, instead.

He pulled out a sack

     And as quick as a sneeze,
He stole all the stockings,
     Without saying please.

He took all the presents

     From our moldy old tree,
And the tinsel and garland,
     Of hair and string cheese.

He went into the kitchen

     Carelessly killing a drudge;
There he emptied the fridge
     (He even took all the fudge!)

He returned to the fireplace,

     And with a flourish of his cape,
Brought his wrist to his nose
     And made good his escape.

And I heard him exclaim,

     As he flew to his feast -
"Merry Christmas to all,
     And to all, Rest In Peace!"

(c) 2012 Dusty Grein

I hope you all have a wonderful and safe Halloween this year, and don't be afraid to bring me back some candy ... I don't get to go trick-or-treating any more, but I've still got a sweet tooth. If you get too scared, you can always just stop by for some laughter and love,

From Grandpa's Heart ...

October 21, 2012

The Power Of Make-Believe

Let's Say I  Was ...

Remember when you were little? With very little effort, you could pretend you were anyone, and you could do anything. From playing 'house' to adventuring through the jungle, all it took was an idea, and a sense of wonder. Even if you were all alone, you could pretend to be an entire group of different people, and they could interact within your imagination.

When we first become aware of the world around us, it is a place of wonder, mystery and endless possibilities. If we are fortunate enough to grow in a home filled with love and support, we soon develop a curiosity about all the things that we don't know yet, and a desire to experience our dreams. As we grow, we discover that we have within us the power to create any world we want to play in, and within our world, we can be anything or anyone we wish.

I can still remember being on board the U.S.S. Enterprise, and having to crawl along in the jeffries tube on my way to the engine room, as the Klingon Bird-Of-Prey was attacking. Okay, so I was just a child who watched Star Trek too much, playing under the kitchen chairs, but in my mind, I was a proud member of Star Fleet ... unless I decided to be a Romulan spy. The point is, it was MY world, and I had fun playing in it.

The Keys That Unlock Our Imagination

There's a simple reason that little kids love to play with toys. They give them a way to make their make-believe world real enough to touch. With a baby doll, a child who is pretending to be a parent has something tangible to hold, to touch and to love. With a truck in hand, a little one can not only pretend they are driving around, they can make tracks in the dirt that prove their world is really just a hidden part of ours.

Telling stories offers us another way to share our imagination with the world. Those of us lucky enough to have been read to at a very young age, know full well that a good story comes alive in our minds, and with children may just come alive the next day as well, while they play.

When children first start to socialize with others, they can unlock a magical world where they actually share an imaginary universe. With the exception of love, there is no force stronger than that of two children who have created a world of pure make-believe. Their dreams, hopes, and even fears, become real, and these special worlds of wonder will forever be a part of them, even after they forget to remember them.

Growing Up

Sadly, somewhere between the ages of 8 and 12, we learn to stifle our imaginations. Society is partly to blame for this ... we find a 7 year old playing dress up to be cute, but if a 14 year old does it, we assume they are trying to grow up too fast. And if an adult does it, it better be Halloween, or  we call the men with the white coats.

In truth, we do have to put aside some of our fantasies to become healthy and responsible adults. Learning to separate our make-believe worlds from reality is part of growing up, and the inability to do this can become a form of mental illness. Unfortunately, we all still have a need to play, and some people completely lose their ability to pretend. True artists, from painters to authors, retain this ability, and use it to their advantage. Others satisfy this basic human need in a number of ways, from books to video games, and from sports to drugs. In the end, they are all just ways to escape into the world of our imaginations once again, and rediscover our lost sense of wonder.

The world will always be a special and magical place to children. The ability to play make-believe is a gift that we are all born with, and one that every child should have the opportunity to experience for as long as possible. So the next time you have the chance to have tea with a child, or become the moat monster at the local playground, jump in with your whole heart. Maybe you'll discover that your imagination still works, and that child still lives inside you.

Consider this a special invitation to learn how to play again, delivered to you all ...

From Grandpa's Heart ...

October 15, 2012

The White Wolf

Unexpected Inspiration

Sometimes, the inspiration for my posts comes from unexpected places. Today, a young lady I know who normally just posts single sentences as her status, shared a story. While it isn't the first time I've heard this story, it struck me that it needs to be shared.

This is an old legend, but is still worth telling again, for any who haven't heard it. The origins of the tale are now lost in the mists of time, but the message is till as fresh as the day it was first heard. 

Here is my version ...

An aging Cherokee warrior gathered his grandchildren together. His life had taught him many things, and today he would share with them one of the most important lessons he knew. The youngsters sat in a semi-circle around him, and he patiently waited until they were quiet.

"A fight is going on inside me right now," he began. "It is a terrible fight, and it is between two wolves. A Black wolf, and a White wolf.

"The Black wolf is evil. He is hate, anger, regret, greed, arrogance, doubt, guilt, envy, lies and grief.

"The White wolf, though, is good. He is love, peace, hope, generosity, humility, faith, trust, compassion, truth and nostalgia.

"This same battle is going on inside each of you. Indeed, it is happening inside every person you will ever meet." 

The children sat in silence and considered their grandfather's words. A few minutes later, one young boy looked up, eyes filled with curiosity, and asked "Grandfather ... Which of these wolves will win?" 

The old Cherokee grinned, with a gleam in his eye, for he had been waiting for this question. "The winner," he replied, "will be the wolf that you choose to feed."

A Never-Ending Struggle

We all have this dual-nature, and it's true that this battle occurs in all of us. Keep in mind that you can always decide which wolf you will feed, and only you control the outcome of this battle.

The Black wolf is always hungry and will eat any scraps he can, but I have found that the White wolf grows stronger with every bite you feed him.

My wish for you all, is that your White wolf may thrive, and comes

From Grandpa's Heart ...

October 10, 2012

Dampa Wuv's Yew

Speech Impediments

When my wife was little she had trouble, like a lot of kids, making some sounds. For her, the elusive letter R was the worst, and up until 4th or 5th grade, she was a 'Wascally Wabbit' kid. She was given speech classes and finally learned to make that special sound though, and it never had any impact on her reading or spelling abilities (although to this day, Grandma can't roll her R's and so some Spanish words are beyond her.)

Our second oldest granddaughter, Lexi, has always had some difficulty getting her mouth to make certain sounds. She has one of the oldest souls among my branches of our family tree, and her inability to make herself understood by some people has often made her quite frustrated.

Grandpa The Translator

As she grew throughout her preschool years, it seemed that for some reason, I understood Lexi-ese better than most, and was often called to translate for others. Somehow I knew that 'Mawn, peets' would only be satisfied with a glass of cold milk, and a 'boo-day poddy' was a cause for celebration. The times that even I would scratch my head in consternation when trying to decipher her words were thankfully few, because when even Dampa couldn't get it, it sometimes brought her to tears.

This year, she is in first grade, and since she still has some trouble being understood by teachers (bad) and other kids (even worse), they had her tested for speech classes. Thankfully, she qualified for free therapy, since my daughter works hard, but is far from rich. She will receive up to two years of speech lessons, from someone trained to help her recreate the sounds that make up our language.

Test Scores

One of the worst things about having speech troubles is the standardized testing that her school does in first grade. Because the reading scores are based on sounds, she was scoring extremely low. Now, thanks to a caring teacher and her speech classes, she will stop being judged on her ability to form difficult sounds with her mouth. She is an awesome little reader already, and it's not right to punish her for a minor lacking in this purely physical motor skill.

Children in school can be cruel sometimes, and even when it's not intentional, teasing hurts. So do assumptions made by people about a child's intelligence, motivation and skill, based on their ability to fluently and clearly communicate their ideas, thoughts and desires. Having a child (or grandchild) with a speech impediment is not the result of their being lazy, stupid or mentally challenged in any way. Often, even well-meaning friends and relatives can make careless, hurtful remarks that can lead to even worse frustration and pain for a child who already is having trouble being understood.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Like any other skill, making sounds can be learned, with lots of encouragement, love and practice. This summer, Lexi and I practiced making silly sounds together, and she did make some improvements. I think it is awesome that now she is getting help from a professional therapist.

Soon, she'll be enunciating like a pro, and will leave behind the days of frustration at not being able to make herself understood. We all know that it won't put and end to life's challenges, but it will make it easier for her to express her ideas and desires, and share her fears and joy with others.

I just hope that as she makes this journey to better speech skills, she keeps in mind that to her Dampa, she'll always be a 'boo-da-foo wi-dew pin-dess', and along with all of my grandchildren, will always have an enduring and selfless love that comes straight

From Grandpa's Heart ...

October 3, 2012

Glass Houses

You Be The Judge

Most of us are aware of the expression "Judge not, lest ye be judged." While this is an admirable goal, I think it's not very realistic.

We all make judgements every day, about everyone and everything in our lives. It's part of what makes us human, and allows us to make the decisions in life that are important, but it can also be very detrimental to our relationships and success.

In order to decide on any course of action we must have an internal dialog and we must make a judgement call, based on our experiences and our goals. These judgements will decide our words, our actions, and inevitably, the course of our lives.

The Better Part of Valor

Here is where discretion plays such a vital role in the amount of happiness we have, and the amount we share with the world. We all have an 'inner voice' that makes snap judgements and tends to influence our decisions and actions. We gain maturity when we realize that not everyone needs to hear that voice, and true wisdom comes once we stop letting that inner voice make our decisions for us. We all respond to a tap below the kneecap with a reflexive jerk, but we can control the impulses that we feel to respond immediately to our initial judgements of people and their opinions.

In a way, I think that our egos sometimes really get in the way of making good decisions. Usually this is because that 'inner voice' is in control, and if we question it, or hold it in, we feel like we are not being true to ourselves. Sometimes, though, all it takes is a moment of introspection and evaluation to prevent us from suffering the dreaded foot-in-mouth disease that accompanies rash words and snap judgements.

None Of Us Are Perfect

As far as I can tell, there's only ever been one perfect human, and he died on a cross a couple thousand years ago. We all have our problems, our flaws and our issues. As a society, we have a need for judges, to decide on matters of public interest and to settle disputes under our legal system, but on a personal level, I think we have a bigger need for understanding and compassion, than we do for judgement and retribution.

When you meet someone, or hear an opinion on a subject you care about, stop and really think before you comment or create a lasting impression in your mind. Everyone you meet is both good and bad, beautiful and ugly, and capable of both cruelty and love. We are all human, so try and respect our differences. On that final day that you must be judged for your life, the fewer rocks you have thrown, the better. I know there's far too much glass in my house, and I bet you have more than enough in yours too.

Just a little bit of advice,

From Grandpa's Heart ...