Sunday, December 13, 2009

Jesus and the Elves

And Joseph went up from Galilee to Bethlehem with Mary, his espoused wife, who was great with child. And she brought forth a son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn. And the angel of the Lord spoke to the shepherds and said, "I bring you tidings of great joy. Unto you is born a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord."

"There's a problem with the angel," said a Pharisee who happened to be strolling by. As he explained to Joseph, angels are widely regarded as religious symbols, and the stable was on public property where such symbols were not allowed to land or even hover.

"And I have to tell you, this whole thing looks to me very much like a Nativity scene," he said sadly. "That's a no-no, too." Joseph had a bright idea. "What if I put a couple of reindeer over there near the ox and ass?" he said, eager to avoid sectarian strife.

"That would definitely help," said the Pharisee, who knew as well as anyone that whenever a saviour appeared, judges usually liked to be on the safe side and surround it with deer or woodland creatures of some sort. "Just to clinch it, throw in a candy cane and a couple of elves and snowmen, too," he said. "No court can resist that."

Mary asked, "What does my son's birth have to do with snowmen?"

"Snowpersons," cried a young woman, changing the subject before it veered dangerously toward religion. Off to the side of the crowd, a Philistine was painting the Nativity scene. Mary complained that she and Joseph looked too tattered and worn in the picture. "Artistic license," he said. "I've got to show the plight of the haggard homeless in a greedy, uncaring society in winter," he quipped.

"We're not haggard or homeless. The inn was just full," said Mary.

"Whatever," said the painter.

Two women began to argue fiercely. One said she objected to Jesus' birth "because it privileged motherhood." The other scoffed at virgin births, but said that if they encouraged more attention to diversity in family forms and the rights of single mothers, well, then, she was all for them.

"I'm not a single mother," Mary started to say, but she was cut off by a third woman who insisted that swaddling clothes are a form of child abuse, since they restrict the natural movement of babies.

With the arrival of 10 child advocates, all trained to spot infant abuse and manger rash, Mary and Joseph were pushed to the edge of the crowd, where arguments were breaking out over how many reindeer (or what mix of reindeer and seasonal sprites) had to be installed to compensate for the infant's unfortunate religious character.

An older man bustled up, bowling over two merchants, who had been busy debating whether an elf is the same as a fairy and whether the elf/fairy should be shaking hands with Jesus in the crib or merely standing to the side, jumping around like a sports mascot.

"I'd hold off on the reindeer," the man said, explaining that the use of asses and oxen as picturesque backdrops for Nativity scenes carries the subliminal message of human dominance. He passed out two leaflets, one denouncing manger births as invasions of animal space, the other arguing that stables are "penned environments" where animals are incarcerated against their will. He had no opinion about elves or candy canes.

Signs declaring "Free the Bethlehem 2" began to appear, referring to the obviously exploited ass and ox. Someone said the halo on Jesus' head was elitist. Mary was exasperated. "And what about you, old mother?" she said sharply to an elderly woman. "Are you here to attack the shepherds as prison guards for excluded species, maybe to complain that singing in Latin identifies us with our Roman oppressors, or just to say that I should have skipped patriarchal religiosity and joined some dumb new-age goddess religion?"

"None of the above," said the woman, "I just wanted to tell you that the Magi are here." Sure enough, the three wise men rode up. The crowd gasped, " They're all male!" And "Not very multi cultural!" "Balthasar here is black," said one of the Magi. "Yes, but how many of you are gay or disabled?" someone shouted. A committee was quickly formed to find an impoverished lesbian wise-person among the halt and lame of Bethlehem.

A calm voice said, "Be of good cheer, Mary, you have done well and your son will change the world." At last, a sane person, Mary thought. She turned to see a radiant and confident female face. The woman spoke again: "There is one thing, though. Religious holidays are important, but can't we learn to celebrate them in ways that unite, not divide? For instance, instead of all this business about 'Gloria in excelsis Deo,' why not just 'Season's Greetings'?"

Mary said, "You mean my son has entered human history to deliver the message, 'Hello, it's winter'?" "That's harsh, Mary," said the woman. "Remember, your son could make it big in midwinter festivals, if he doesn't push the religion thing too far. Centuries from now, in nations yet unborn, people will give each other pricey gifts and have big office parties on his birthday. That's not chopped liver."

"Let me get back to you," Mary said.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Byrnes Days of Christmas

Dennis Tom was asked to be in charge of 'entertainment' at the Legacy ladies Christmas party. Apparently there is an assumption that since Shanna sings with a group from church and sings in a band that there is automatically a longing to perform running throughout our family. That must be what Dennis thought since he sent me an email asking if our family would like to be on the line up.

There isn't. At least not with me. I put off Dennis for a while and justified it by telling myself that I had been busy and hadn't had the opportunity to ask Shanna. Truth is I knew she'd be all over it and I was less than thrilled. Perhaps if I waited long enough he'd tell me that he already had it covered. I waited (naturally Shanna thought it would be neat) and Dennis still had room on the roster. So much for my plan.

But when it was all over I had to admit it was fun and I think it turned out pretty well. It is posted on Facebook but here's another showing just in case you weren't able to catch it there:

Seems like it was a hit. We've gotten some requests for additional performances.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Not Lazy

Ok, May 25th was the last post. I realize that's ridiculous. Here's a quick summary of what's happened since:
Trip to Horseshoe Bay with the Crawfords
Mission trip with Dillon to San Antonio
4th of July in Arkansas with Art, Nanny and the Garrisons
Camp with Dillon AND Dawson (his first year!)
15th Anniversary (why has she stayed with me for 15 years?)

There's a lot more - I mean it was summer. We used to long for summer to start because we were under some spell that made us think summer was easier than the school year. This summer definitely let us know that is not the case. Shan and I were longing for school to start so we could get our lives back to some degree of normal. (This is where you say 'You've got 4 kids - how do you know what normal is?) But really, it seemed like there was hardly a moment to take a breath during the summer. Now perhaps we all understand why the last post was made during the last week of school.

But to be completely honest, I think Shanna was looking forward to school starting. (After the summer we had I know I was). But that meant she was that much closer to her cruise. It also meant she was that much closer to a pretty significant birthday but in the end I think she was more excited about the cruise than she was depressed about the birthday.

That's right - for this 'milestone' birthday she went on a cruise. It was her first cruise and she was fortunate enough to be able to share that experience with three of her dear friends - Cindy, Kristi and Su.

I've seen the pictures and heard the stories. There's no doubt in my mind they had a great time and it was well deserved.

In the meantime I was perfecting my 'ponytail' technique. It's the only hairstyle I know how to do for Delanie and it got a workout while Shanna was gone. Looking back, we had three days to get ready for school without mom and I think we did pretty good. As far as I know all the homework was done, everyone was in acceptable clothing, and no meals were missed. Get this - I even ran a full load of laundry and dishes every night. Not too bad for a clueless dad.

Like I said, this is only a glimpse of what has happened in the past, almost four, months. But I did want to get something on here. To the best of my knowledge, the one and only Aunt Pat may check this from time to time and she certainly deserves some new material. But there is a chance that we may have a new reader. The 'great' uncle Odell is now surfing the web - email and all. That's the same Odell who is mentioned at length in one of the first posts on this blog. Scroll back and check it out if you get a chance. To say he's one of a kind would be an understatement. Odell, I hope you find this post and the one about you riding out the hurricane. It's somewhat amusing now because you've promised us you'll never do it again.

Like I said, Facebook has become more of our venue for connecting. Check it out if you get a chance: You'll have to register and request friends and all that garbage but it is pretty neat.

But I do have a tremendous sense of guilt for neglecting this for so long. I'll try to do better but make no promises.

Love to all from Texas and welcome Odell to the world wide web.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Dakota the fish

This is pretty cool. Dakota took what was basically 4 days of swim lessons last week (Friday was 'performance' day). So in 4 days he went from a 'water wing' swimmer to what you'll see here:

And here:

And here:

Friday, April 17, 2009


Tax season is over.

A very good CPA friend of mine asked if I'd be interested in helping them out during their crunch time. I agreed. You ask why and I don't have a very good answer other than that he's a friend, 4 kids keep cash in short supply and I have some sort of sickness that actually makes me enjoy doing tax returns.

See I was going to be a CPA. I actually worked for this friend and his father for a few years. The thing I couldn't stand was tax season. 80 hour weeks for two and a half months just wasn't my thing. This experience was a good reminder that made me thankful for my current occupation. Although the markets of 2008 did make me long for an endless supply of 1040s. Thankfully that appears to be over.

Dillon is doing fine. Some of you know of the spill he took while skiing over spring break. (Break being the key word). The doctor says his growth plate may be fractured but it shouldn't be a concern. The hard cast was off within two weeks and now he just wears a brace on his wrist. Funny, he never missed a lick on Xbox - even with the hard cast. Fortunately no scientists have tried to make any connection between this and evolution.

We had a great Easter. Family get together in Waxahachie complete with Easter egg hunt. Followed on Sunday by a great morning at church and indoor egg hunt at Vic and Kathryn's. A little rain wasn't going to keep our kids from yet another supply of sugar.

Everyone else is doing great. Our little Oreo has managed to grow to six pounds. I have to admit that even though he's only the size of a stuffed animal he's pretty cool.

Now I'm back to one job and dinners at home and American Idol live instead of off the DVR. Ok, ok, I'm a fan.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Economic Stimulus Package

I'm now referring at least one portion of Obama's massive plan as the Economic Stimulus Paradox. I'm sure as more details emerge I'll be able to place additional items under this heading.

Obviously no one thinks that economic salvation will come without a cost. The government is not sitting on almost a trillion dollars just wondering what to do with it. Someone has to pay for this. The terms 'children' and 'grandchildren' come up often as the likely ones to pick up the tab.

The stimulus package calls for those who are involuntarily laid off to receive help to pay for their health insurance premiums. Ok, sounds good. Let's make sure that the millions who have been laid off during this mess don't lose their health coverage and further compound their financial problems.

If you worked for a large employer and lost your job due to downsizing, restructuring, etc. then you are able to continue your health coverage through a provision known as COBRA. The coverage remains the same and you now pay the premium yourself without any subsidy from your company. It allows you to remain insured while you look for another job. Once a new position is found you drop the COBRA coverage and enroll with your new company's plan.

For smaller companies, at least in Texas, you're not subject to the COBRA rules but you do have to offer a similar option according to state continuation rules.

Without getting too bogged down in the details here's it all in a nutshell - lose your job but keep your insurance. Again, I'm all for it.

Until the stimulus package came along. It calls for the terminated employee to only be liable for 35% of the premium. In soundbite form this sounds great and I'm sure contributed to someone's job approval ratings. But you discover the paradox in the details.

Case in point. We have a client who owns a small business (less than 25 employees). They offer a health plan and pay 50% of the employee's premium. As with many small businesses they have seen things slow significantly. As a cost cutting measure they let some employees go. One of them was enrolled in the health plan and desires to continue coverage according to the state continuation rules.

Two months ago this was easy. Employee leaves, employee signs paperwork indicating the desire to continue coverage, employee sends the full premium payment to the employer each month.

Now thanks to the government's plan to save the economy it gets complicated and confusing. Employee leaves, employee signs paperwork indicating the desire to continue coverage, employee only has to send in 35% of the monthly premium.

That leaves 65% to be paid. So who pays it?

Well this is where it gets complicated and confusing. The employer has to pay the additional 65% initially. Remember that these companies are usually in cost-cutting mode. We've just offset the amount saved in salary by the amount being paid in premiums. But for argument's sake let's assume this amount is not material.

They actually will get this money back - it will just take a couple of months. Whatever they pay out in health insurance 'subsidies' can be counted as a credit against their payroll tax filings.

That's the paradox.

We've just paid for health insurance premiums using social security and medicare taxes.

So apparantly the solution is to use programs that are already grossly underfunded to help pay for the stimulus. Yes, kids and grandkids need to watch out.

And remember in this case, while working the employee was paying 50% of their premiums. Now they only pay 35%.

It would actually be funny if it wasn't SO absurd.

Economic stimulus? Hopefully somewhere but not in this case. In this instance the phrase "Robbing Peter to pay Paul" comes to mind.

Back in the saddle

I've used the catastrophes from January as an excuse for far too long now. So thanks to a nudge from Allan yesterday during lunch I'm going to get back in the habit of posting something here on more of a regular basis.

First, things are back to normal at the Byrnes house (insert your own comment about our version of normal here). Everyone is back in their designated sleeping area. New carpet and floor has been installed. And thanks to our very good friend Gary Roberts we also managed to get a very nice makeover of our master bathroom. Thanks Gary - we couldn't have done it without you.

We've also added a new addition. Shanna brought home a Bichon/Poodle mix the day before Valentine's as a gift for the kids. He's mostly white with black ears and some black markings on his head. Dakota immediately commented that he looked like an Oreo and it stuck. Oreo.

Ironically he weighs about the same as a package of Oreos. Typically about twice a day we have to go looking under beds and the back of closets to find him. Quite an adjustment for someone who grew up never having a dog that you had to bend over to pet.

Due to all of the unfortunate events of January we have officially decided to cut the entire month from the 2009 calendar. We have deemed February 1 as New Year's Day. So I guess I'm still 36. Now that's a silver lining.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Day 2 continued

We got home from the vet and everyone was in a zombie-like state. I can't remember what dinner was but it was nutrionally lacking I'm sure. Cereal or something.

Delanie didn't want anything. Her stomach was hurting. I chalked it up to the emotional trauma she had just experienced. We just sat on the couch mindlessly watching SpongeBob. At least there was something normal going on.

Dawson was very upset. He was on our bed face down as Shanna made a few calls to share the news. He definitely took it the hardest. He finally sacked out on his temporary bed (the futon) clinging to Casey's collar.

Delanie managed to pick at some cereal and then we made her bed on the couch. Soon after she was throwing up. I wish it had been nerves but it wasn't. She had the stomach bug. We got her back on the couch with the trashcan beside her. Once she was settled I got into bed and knew nothing else. Fortunately Shanna was there because Delanie ended being up most of the night. Not much sleep for the girls.

With Delanie's first episode Shanna and I looked at each other and no words were necessary. It was perfect non verbal communication.

"What else....?"

Day 2 - 2009 continues its downward spiral

Monday morning we wake to the hum of fans and dehumidifiers running in the back of the house. Delanie is sleeping on the couch, Dillon and Dawson are on the futon in the gameroom and as usual, Dakota is in the middle of Shanna and me. He started the night on the other couch. It doesn't matter where he starts. He'll wake up sometime during the night and make his way to our room. Hey, at least he makes it there on his own.

I was unable to coax our dog Casey into the house Sunday night with grilled chicken. That was unusual. But there a lot of commotion in the house and she really isn't all there anymore. Almost 15 in dog years can take it toll. Can't see much, can't hear much, can't really do much. I assumed the serene setting of the backyard was preferable to the chaos that had been inside. So I picked her up - all 85 pounds, and hauled her in.

For the most part, Monday went as expected. I stayed around the house for a couple hours and continued rearranging toys, furniture and the like. I made it out to the office around 11 and had a pretty normal afternoon.

At a few minutes after 5 the phone rang. It was Shanna and there was something wrong with Casey. She had fallen a couple of times. I could tell from Shanna's voice that this was different than the falls she would take while trying to navigate the wood floors. Something was very wrong.

The vet is near my office - almost 45 minutes from the house. Our dear friend from church, Cynthia, works there and has always been a tremendous help with Casey so I've never minded the distance. Shanna called and they said they would wait for us to get there.

I met Shanna and the three older kids at the vet's office. Fortunately mom had Dakota. He wouldn't have understood what was going on and why everyone was crying. We took Casey in and spoke at length with Cynthia and the vet. As always, they were wonderful. They were willing to do whatever we wanted. After lots of discussion and lots of tears it was finally decided that her quality of life was not going to improve and we should put her down. Shanna and the kids said their goodbyes and left. I stayed behind for a few minutes to handle the details.

It's hard to believe she lived as long as she did. Keep in mind she made it through four kids. They all pulled her tail and ears and tried to ride her like a horse. They all came running through the house laughing and screaming and interrupted her nap. She took it all in stride. Not one time did she ever snap or growl or show the slightest discontent.

She was a great dog and a great companion to us all and she will be missed.

Friday, January 9, 2009

How many days until 2010?

I've been off the blog for a while - I know. It seems like I've been chasing my tail for the past few months. The time off during the holidays was greatly anticipated and appreciated. It was good to spend time with family and unwind for a few days.

I even took the day AFTER New Year's which was hard. Three and a half days off Christmas week and the office was calling. But I fought off the urge to just 'drop in for a couple of hours' and stayed home January 2 as well. It was a true Four Day Weekend and quite honestly there was very little accomplished which was also refreshing.

Then Sunday night came. Dakota was sick Sunday so Shanna and I swapped going to church. She stayed home Sunday morning and I stayed home Sunday night. He and I were catching some quality 'Sponge Bob' time on the couch. I figured I'd throw some laundry in so I could say I did something during my four days off. Later on I headed back to throw the clothes in the dryer and hmm, that's strange, the washer is still running. It shouldn't be running. And there shouldn't be water standing in the hallway....and Dillon's room...and Dawson & Dakota's closet.

That's right, something deep inside the machine gave way and water was pouring out from the bottom. Panic set in, call mom, call Shanna, tell them to get here ASAP.

Our good friend, Tony Burnett, was over in minutes with his shop vac and we moved furniture, sucked up water and threw stuff out the window. Then the pros finally arrived about 10:30 to put on the finishing touches and set out their fans and dryers. By that time I had been at the laundromat for over an hour re-washing the clean clothes that had been in Dillon's floor as well as everything else that could no longer be washed in the broken machine. 7 commercial loads of clothes, towels and the comforters that were inconveniently stored under Dillon's bed. 3 and a half hours in the laundromat and $30 bucks worth of quarters.

That was Day 1 of the countdown to 2010.