Dirty Santas and awkward gifts.

If played correctly, the Dirty Santa gift exchange is a hoot-and-half. The idea is that you bring prank gifts to your party and trade back and forth until you end up whacking everyone in the room and leaving with the coolest prank gift that you can then bring to another Dirty Santa party. A couple years ago I snagged a muumuu at the first party and traded up to some authentic Sea Monkeys at another party later the same week. The Sea Monkeys proudly sit on a shelf in my office next to other professional items and scholarly publications.

Our family is big into making Christmas wish lists. You know, the kind where people don’t have to guess what you want for Christmas so that people won’t accidentally buy each other crap. Nobody wants crap for Christmas. We try to prioritize time together all year round, not just during Christmas. As my wife Princess Bride (her real name) recently said, “When are you people going to get off social media so we can watch T.V.?” In the spirit of togetherness, we’ve tipped children off wagons, gone bankrupt in Monopoly, and pulled muscles playing Twister. Many of these activities and injuries were due, in part, to our youngest daughter (who for the sake of anonymity and potential creepership I call Fair Maiden #2) often puts a game or something that you could play with as a family on her wish list.

Whether giving or getting, the greatest gifts are ones that make us smile and draw us closer to each other. This year I’m giving my family a DVD player. I’m keeping the Sea Monkeys for myself.

Calvin G. Roso, Copyright December 2013


Sammy was whacking whoever got in his way and shouting “figgy pudding” loud and clear for all to hear.

The other day I observed a little five-year-old boy angrily strutting around the room with chest thrust out and fists clenched. While others were quietly playing Sammy (not his real name) was throwing toys, whacking who ever got in his way, and shouting “figgy pudding” (not his actual words) loud and clear for all to hear. Sammy was in a children’s shelter. For whatever reason, the authorities had taken him from his parents. He was afraid.

My daughters have some pretty crazy fears: one is afraid of baby dolls (the porcelain ones with moving eyes) and the other is afraid of clowns (all of the clowns in the entire world). I’m not sure where our girls’ fears came from except for the fact that baby dolls and clowns are both kind of creepy. One friend of ours is afraid of walkers and canes. Fear is a funny thing. I don’t think God created us to be afraid; I don’t think God wants us to be afraid.

When I was a kid, monsters and skeletons — the ones that were alive and ate children — scared the bajeebers (real word) out of me. My adult fears are much bigger but just as irrational. Fears like afraid I won’t have enough money to pay my bills or afraid the car will break down. And even bigger fears like I won’t be accepted or that when I die it won’t really matter much to those left behind.

People say that angels must be big and scary and that’s why the first thing angels in the Bible always say to people is, “Fear not.” I think the reason angels say “fear not” isn’t because angels are scary, but because people are always afraid.

2000 years ago, in the midst of normal life, in the midst of daily activities and anxieties, God interrupted the lives of simple, average people — teenagers and carpenters and shepherds — and said “Fear not.” May God also interrupt my life this day.

Calvin G. Roso © December 2013


There’s nothing like having Baby Jesus jabbed up your nose to put you in the Christmas spirit.

When my brothers and I were kids there were two things we could always count on for Christmas: cologne and soap-on-a-rope from the Avon Lady (real name). The cool thing about cologne at age seven was the authentic artistic decanter it came in. My older brothers typically got cologne in guitar or car-shaped decanters, while I was stuck with a cologne-dripping bunny. Soap on a rope — coolness on a rope is what that is. Why? Because you can hang your soap and never have to use your hands to wash. Boys under twelve usually have their fingers up their nose, so hands-free soap is pretty awesome.

Mom (her real name) usually did the Christmas shopping and more times than not there wasn’t much money to go around. Still our parents worked and sacrificed to make sure that, in addition to Avon, we each got something we wanted. For example, I remember coming out early one Christmas morning and finding an BRAND NEW ELECTRIC TRAIN SET!!!!

The best Christmas gift I ever received was the one I didn’t like. I was in college living miles away. Back home, Dad was in and out if the hospital and things were pretty tight financially. Mom had been taking ceramic classes at the community center that year and had an idea from Saint Nick himself.

One night my phone rang.

“We don’t have much money this year, so I’m making you something. What would you like?” Mom asked.

[What? No Avon? No new cars for my train set?] “That’s okay, Mom. You don’t have to make me anything.”

“Shut up. I’m going to make you something. What do you want?” She demanded in her thick New England accent.

I was studying Ansel Adams (real name) at the time and remembered the silhouette of a tree Ansel photographed that looked really cool. That’s it — a tree. “I’d like a tree, Mom. No leaves on it; just a trunk with branches. Thanks Mom.”

Vacation came and we all traveled home to eat food and yell and stab each other with forks. On Christmas Eve, we ate food, yelled, and stabbed each other with Christmas figurines. There’s nothing like having Baby Jesus jabbed up your nose to put you in the Christmas spirit.

It was then time to open the gifts. My parents apologized for not being able to give much and we all said it was fine. We were just glad Dad was getting better. Mom reminded us how much time she spent on our gifts so she hoped we liked them. My brother Huey opened his gift — a ceramic black panther with deep green eyes. Then Dewey opened his. Then Spartacus. Then me.
I pulled opened the wrapping and bows with anticipation and cheer. When, what to my wondering eyes should appear? A huge ceramic stump with three dumb looking owls.

I quickly thanked Mom for the gift and then made fun of it the rest of the night. I was too self-centered at the age of 19 to notice if her feelings were hurt. I’m too ashamed 30+ years later to tell her I’m sorry.

At the end of the visit I took the hideous gift back to college and shoved it in a closet under some dirty laundry. The stupid thing followed me from apartment to apartment for five more years. I finally freed myself from the grip of the albatross by abandoning it in the corner of a storage unit.

A huge ceramic stump with three dumb looking owls that I discarded was probably one of the nicest gifts I’ve ever received, and, next to the gift of God’s own Son, one of the most costly. Sometimes in my broken humanity I can’t comprehend how much the simplest gift has cost the giver.

Calvin G. Roso © December 2013


Big Ugly Truck Guy parked illegally in a mini-me lot.

Why does it matter to me where Big Ugly Truck Guy (his real name) parks? I typically stop at Starbucks 3-4 days a week on my way to work and purchase a tall (not the real size) dark roast coffee. “No room for cream and may I have a ‘stopper,’ please?” The barista (coffee person) gives me a confused look — I’m trying to train the baristas to call the plug (Starbucks’ term) a stopper.

I’m usually in a pretty good mood when I pull into Starbucks. I always grab the coffee to go, and, I always go inside to order instead of using drive-through (I can’t stand using drive through ANYWHERE). Parking my car is a great adventure because Starbucks Corporation’s prime directive for each Starbucks is that the parking lot contains only three spaces for every 36 customers.

What trips my mood is when I pull into Starbuck’s mini-me parking lot and see Big Ugly Truck Guy has parked his BIG UGLY TRUCK IN A SPOT THAT ISN’T A PARKING SPOT. That’s not right, and it puts me in a mood every time. Other things bug me, too, like when people at the gym don’t put their weights back (as if the 75 signs that say “Rack your weights or lose your privileges” aren’t enough). Here’s another one: the grown adult who takes cuts in front of me when I’ve been standing in the line at Wal-Mart so long that I’ve forgotten the names of my children.

I find myself wishing that Big Ugly Truck Guy’s big ugly truck gets hit . . . or at least keyed. I think that it would be great if I’m Too Special to Put My Weights Away Person (real name) lost his or her privileges; it would also be cool if Mrs. Line-Cutter (real name again) got kicked to the back of the line. You see, I believe in justice for others big-time, but I’m not so keen on grace and mercy except when I need it. Or, more precisely, I think that only those people who deserve grace and mercy should get it. I love randomly tossing out judgment toward those I disagree with and I love hoarding mercy for myself and my BFFs.

Hosea 12:6 tells me to hold fast to justice and mercy. I’m all about holding fast to justice for those who have wronged others. But I find myself being pretty selective about when to distribute grace and mercy. I’m pretty generous with judging others who do things wrong but I’m miserly when it comes to offering grace and mercy to the same people. I’m glad that God is both just and merciful. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, I don’t get what I deserve. God’s mercies never fail — they are new every morning.

One way I should apply Hosea 12:6 to my own life is to “walk justly and show mercy.” This means judging myself to see if I’m practicing Christ-like living in every area of my life instead of putting others under the microscope. And maybe I should buy Big Ugly Truck Guy a cup of coffee the next time I’m at Starbucks.

Calvin G. Roso © December 2013


Hey kid, Santa needs his coffee break! ~or~ The Care Bears smell like cigarettes.

For a short time in college, I had a job as a mall security cop.  This was a long time before mall cops rode Segways, so my job required a lot of walking in and out of corridors and was, essentially, pretty dull.  I was a small guy and security cop uniforms only came in double extra large sizes, so I wasn’t only bored, I also looked like an idiot  The boredom all disappeared, however, when Santa and the Care Bears came for Christmas time.  Their arrival impacted me because it was my job to escort them away from Gum Drop Village to the mall office for their scheduled coffee breaks.  I just knew I was going to to spend quality time with the Big Guy and we were destined to become BFFs.

The first coffee break escort was very exciting, of course.  So much so, that I had difficulty thinking of what to say to Santa as we walked together toward the office.  The best I could get out was, “Now you know I’ve moved, right?” (Awkward.  As if the only thing he was interested in was where to deliver my presents to.)

So there the four of us quietly walked:  the bearded man and I side-by-side, and the two over-stuffed bears sauntering closely behind.  Occasionally a wonder-eyed child would amble up and I’d have to use my big voice.  “SORRY, KID.  GOTTA BACK OFF.  SANTA NEEDS HIS COCOA BREAK.”  Out of the corner of my drooping over-sized security cap, I saw a tear well up in the poor child’s eye.  Oh well — the law’s the law.

When we stepped into the break room, my paradigm was forever changed.  Santa and the bears didn’t sit down for a cup of hot chocolate, or even coffee.  Instead, the three of them pulled out their cigarettes and proceeded to chain smoke for the next 30 minutes!!!!  This isn’t at all how imagined Santa to act during his down time!!!!  This couldn’t be true!  After all, what kind of role model was he?  (For reasons I’d rather not discuss, I didn’t have a lot of emotional investment in the Care Bears.  I was hardly even concerned when Santa’s ashes fell dangerously close to their highly flammable fur.)

Since that time, I have had other more serious experiences in life that have brought disillusionment and tempted me to become cynical about Christmas, Church, God, or even life itself.  I’m sure anyone reading this could come up with a lengthy list of valid hurts and reasons to lose hope.  C. S. Lewis said our deepest desires unfulfilled tell us that there is something — some One — beyond this world who can fulfill.  The empty pain inside me reminds me I was created for some One more.  The next time my dreams and expectations are popped by a fat man in a red suit with a nicotine habit, I won’t stop believing.

Calvin G. Roso © December 2013


Editing blogs to rewrite history — the ever reluctant troll

No matter what I say on the Internet, I can always delete it. If I delete quickly, no one will ever even know that I was in a bad mood, or hated someone’s facebook rant, or was trying to give our cats away online. (By the way, I have two elderly cats for free. Email me for details.)

I’m actually a bit of a reluctant and somewhat insecure writer/tweeter/status filler on social media. When I am on Twitter or facebook I skim quickly, only occaissionally stopping so people know I’m alive. I avoid political statements from either party because like Ghandi said, “I don’t think politics on social media will ever change the world.” What catches my attention as I’m scrolling is the opportunity to make a joke or wisecrack.
Friend status: Enjoyed our birthday celebration at Chuck E. Cheese.
My comment: I never eat at a place that has overgrown rats running between the dining tables.

My daughters and their friends told me awhile back that looking at people’s comments and making wisecracks was called “trolling.” Sigh. Since I’ve been labeled a troll, I’m now to wisecrack less — or, more precisely, try not to get caught at it. This is why I like the internet, because I can quickly make the wisecrack knowing what I would have said and then take it down ten seconds later before anyone sees it. Now that I’ve been labeled a troll I probably delete more wisecracks than I even write. So if you ever think you see a status or a comment and it disappears before you can read it, it was probably me. I am the ever reluctant troll.

The new blog runs the same way, both for proofreading and for comments I decide to reword later. For example, a recent blog was titled “Why I started writing a blog and I grew up in Pakistan.” Just last night I changed the title to “Why I started writing a blog and I grew up in Paris.” I made the change because if I travel to some countries it looks better to say I grew up in Paris.

I’m always in a hurry when I write and when I speak. Like a little kid at a party, I feel as though if I don’t release it quick I’ll never get another chance. So I spew a lot of things that I never should have said in the first place, and I’m often sorry for it.

Editing online is great. It’s nice to be able retract the things I’ve said and wish I hadn’t or to proofread my errors after they’ve already been read by someone in Constanshinoble. It’s even better if I took a moment to think before I even said it in the first place.

Calvin G. Roso © December 2013

Accounting for kids at Christmas time.

I met this random lady out walking yesterday and we had a brief conversation.

“What do you do for work?”
“I work at T–s ‘R Us [store name edited for anonymity]” she said.
“Well thanks for what you do for kids,” I responded.
“I do accounting there. But when I’m all done each day I go out and see the kids. I love our kids!”

Random accounting lady walks two miles each day on a path that is literally up hill each way, to catch a bus to work. At age 60-ish, she just recently moved back to town after experiencing a horrific family tragedy. She now lives with her son.

“I’ve been working again for seven months now and next month I’m moving out into a place of my own.”
“Well, you’re growing up!” I chuckled. (Sigh. Always the inappropriate smart aleck.)
She laughed (I think).

Now I’m not sure what an accountant does, especially an accountant for a toy store. Anything math-related overwhelms me — I barely passed freshman algebra and what little success I had was thanks to a cute tutor. Maybe random accounting lady counts Monopoly money at the toy store.

The point is, random accounting lady’s attitude. She has a math job for goodness sake! But her response is loving kids. The guy who cleans the gym I go to is the same way. I’m sure he makes little-to-nothing and yet he’s always happy. I’m sure it’s a struggle for him to make enough money to support his wife and baby boy but instead gym cleaning man has an attitude to die for.

To die for. Maybe one of the reasons Jesus came, and lived, and died for, was so that I could have hope, and joy, and look beyond myself on any given day. It’s nearly Christmas. Life’s not so bad.

“The humble will see their God at work and be glad.” Psalm 69:32

Calvin G. Roso © December 2013

Why I started a blog and I grew up in Paris.

It all started when I gave Jesus a ride to work the other day (see December 9 blog). What I learned about my own shortcomings through this man was something I needed to share and it needed to be a little longer than 140 characters. Once it was written down I realized how much I missed the creative writing process. You see, this was probably the first time I had written creatively in 25 years, which is too bad since my English professors consistently marked my essays “C- ” and “Shows minimal potential.”

One of the things Jesus asked me in car was, “What do you do for fun?” I hate that question because to answer it honestly I’d have to say “I creep on people on facebook,” or “I watch Criminal Minds.” So maybe one reason I started a blog was to have a better answer the next time. Anyhow, here’s my list . . .

(1) I write a blog because it is productive method of procrastination.
(2) I write a blog because I believe in the power of the story.
(2) I write a blog because writing helps me to not take myself and/or the daily problems of middle class America too seriously.
(3) I write a blog because writing helps me take important things (love the reality of God and His love for each of us) more seriously.
(5) I write a blog because, as I tell my wife, “there are a lot of stories in my head.”

Because most of what I write will contain elements of true stories with real people, at times I will change names to protect the anonymity of others. For example, when I write about my wife, I will call her “Peppermint Patty,” “the delight of my eye,” or “Princess Bride” — all depending on the context of the story. My daughters will be referred to as Fair Maiden #1 and Fair Maiden #2. If a story demands I use the actual names of my brothers, I will refer to them as Huey, Duey and Spartacus; or, “the brother who was married to Margaret Thatcher.” Instead of saying I grew up in South Dakota or lived in Wisconsin, I might change the location to Paris to protect the privacy of the townspeople.

To the best of my knowledge, each story I share really happened. It should be assumed that I can’t remember every word from every conversation 30 or more years ago (I barely remember what I did yesterday). And, I can guarantee that if my brothers and I weren’t stabbing each other with Baby Jesus on Christmas Eve, we were beating each other with whatever else we could get our hands on.

Finally, if you are a former student of mine and you discover a typo I probably left it there on purpose just so we could reconnect after all these years. Thanks!

Calvin G. Roso © December 2013

Two of them were knocked down on top of me, wedging me deep into the snow. King of the Mountain.

School cancellations for snow days seldom happened in northeast South Dakota in the 1960s. It wasn’t a full day, but actually more like an hour early dismissal. My three older brothers and I hiked the one-mile trek home in hip-deep snow. Us Roso boys were all about danger and peril so at a time when we should have hurried home to keep our mother from worry, we meandered from snow mountain to snow mountain climbing and pushing and conquering. As a kindergartner, I probably did more falling and whining than conquering. I vaguely remember my socks sliding down a lot and the insides of my boots rubbing against my cold, wet ankles.

Two blocks from home was time for “King of the Mountain.” It was the first time I’d ever heard of the game. My family was poor so the idea of being King of anything sounded inspiring. What I didn’t realize was that being king of the mountain required strength and weight — neither of which I had. (I never really bulked up. . . . I’m pretty sure I was still under thirty pounds for my high school senior pictures.)

My brothers climbed up the mountain first and before I could even get a grip, two of them were knocked down on top of me, wedging me deep into the snow. After being royally mocked by the King, the next try I ran as fast as I could to force someone down (Maybe speed would work?) but I flew over the top and hit the ground hard on the other side of the mountain. In the midst of this fun we would punch and kick each other as hard as we could, sliding down and saying encouraging things like “stupid jerk,” “stinkin’ idiot” and “you slob” just to help build each other’s self confidence. We finally stopped (which is obvious because I’m now writing this as an adult) and walked home with one of us crying (probably me) and one of us tattling to mom about what happened (probably me, also).

What had started as fun ended with all of us being mad at each other and Mom yelling at us for being home late. We probably yelled at each other throughout dinner, complained about the food and jabbed each other with our forks. Then, when Dad had enough, he probably “settled it” once and for all. I probably went to bed mad or hurt and cried myself to sleep because I acted like a baby (a habit that started as far back as my infancy).

But the next morning . . . we all loved each other again. My tears from yesterday were now only stains on the pillow case. Childhood was like that — every day was a new day. No matter how bad the fight was, each morning was a fresh start. Things were simple back then.

Calvin G. Roso © December 2013

Making room. Why Grandma’s visits were never a pain.

Grandma would come and visit every couple of years or so when I was a kid. . . .   One day we all packed in the car and drove to the small regional airport and watched Grandma climb out of the plane onto the tarmac.  There she was in with red hair sticking out of her pale green and flowered head scarf and wearing the same overcoat she always wore for travel.  She looked rather grandmotherish and sported an assortment of freckles from head-to-toe.  (I must admit, I was always a bit nervous seeing her walk down the tarmac, because I was sure she would pinch my cheeks the hardest.) 

I don’t know how, but we always made room in our three-bedroom house for Grandma to stay one full month.  My guess is that all four of us boys shared one room — probably all crammed into one bed.  (I was the youngest so I’m sure I was “coaxed” to the floor so the other three wouldn’t have to experience three a.m. pajama dampness caused by my bed-wetting.)  Even so, sharing one room was well worth the sacrifice because once we got passed the pinching of our cheeks and Grandma unpacked her suitcase full of medicine on what used to be my bed, she baked cookies and pastries non-stop for the next thirty days.

The visits sort of caught me by surprise, as I recall.  I can’t think of any discussion or preparation ahead of time . . . although I’m sure there was some on my parents’ part.  I don’t remember seeing Grandma’s itinerary on the family calendar, but it seemed she left almost as quickly as she came.  And there was always a quiet sadness inside me as I saw her wave “goodbye” from the plane window.

I don’t know much about Advent, but what I’ve read reminds me a bit of my Grandmother’s visits.  You see, Advent is all about preparation.  It’s about making room.  It’s about my willingness to give up the stuff (my past hurt, my sin, my preoccupation with self) that isn’t important so I can welcome the love of Christ.  As I think about the upcoming Christmas holiday, I want to daily prepare my heart.  I also want to make room for Jesus — not just a little room for a temporary season — but the room of my entire life.  And when Jesus (not the baby Jesus, but the adult Son of God who died for my sins) takes residence, it is well-worth the inconvenience.  If I prepare for Christ prior to Christmas, I think I’ll be less empty when the season has left.  Advent reminds me that the joy is in the preparation.  The joy is in the making room. 

Calvin G. Roso © December 2013

I gave Jesus a ride to work today. He told me he worked at 61st and Peoria selling cigarettes.

I gave Jesus a ride to work today.  When he got in my car he introduced himself as “Marcus” but I knew he was Jesus.  He told me he worked at 61st and Peoria selling cigarettes. 

I was on my way to work and saw him walking on the street in the cold.  I was careful; before I offered him a ride I put my wallet in my coat pocket and slid my bag with my iPad behind the seat.  He was friendly and inconvenient and inappropriate. The moment he sat in the car he thanked me and then cranked the heat high without asking.  A few minutes later he asked me to turn some country music on the radio.  I hate country music — inconvenient and inappropriate.  He asked me to stop at McDonalds and when I offered to buy him his sandwich he asked if I would buy him coffee, too -— with six packets of sugar and six packets of cream. The nerve of this guy.

Ironically, he did a better job asking me about myself than I did asking him.  He told me he didn’t go to church because the churches he’s attended didn’t say what he wanted to hear.  “But, if I do go to church I want to go with you.  When are you going to take me to church and have me in your house in Broken Arrow?”

I found myself back-tracking.  I wasn’t looking to invest my life . . . I was only looking to do a good deed and then get on with my day.  I found myself thinking of people and/or churches in his area I could contact who were “better able” to help him.  I gave him my work number instead of my cell hoping he wouldn’t call.

As he finished eating he said, “I never eat the last bite — I always leave it for the homeless because they don’t have anything.”   

Calvin G. Roso © December 2013