Ho, Ho … WHOA!

By now, I should be used to the wacky and the tacky at Christmastime, from beer-can trees to Kris Kringle toilet seat covers. But nothing in a lifetime of holidays prepared me for The Ugly Sweater.

The best thing I can say about The Ugly Sweater is that it’s one-of-a-kind, because the existence of two on the planet would cause me to despair for the human race. To properly envision it, imagine a sweater created with the budget of Donald Trump and the taste of Liberace on a bender, with just a touch of George Lucas for panache.

A-glitter with nearly 25,000 gaudy crystals, it features Santa Claus flying through space on a unicorn, while garishly red-and-green planets gleam in the background. There’s even a faux diamond necklace around the collar – because, you know, if you’ve gone this far, you might as well do it with class, right? The price tag for this little gem? About $30,000.

Hey, who needs a car, anyway?

Yes, it’s real. You can Google dozens of references in a blink as long as you remember not to eat first. And it’s tempting to be just a little outraged at someone spending thirty grand for a sweater that’s too heavy to even wear comfortably. (Yes, of course it comes with a frame!)  But anytime something like this comes to my attention, I usually calm myself with two thoughts:

1) Anyone who would blow $30,000 on Santa Bling Is Coming to Space probably wasn’t about to spend it on widows and orphans as their second choice, anyway.

2) Unicorn Santa and gewgaws like it make a nice lightning rod for people with much wealth and little judgment, relieving them of their cash before it can do some serious damage. Sort of like taking the keys from the inebriated at New Year’s, only with less need for breath mints.

Besides, while it’s easy to laugh – and I did my share, believe me — it is possible to turn the question around.

What have we done with our time and money that could have been better spent elsewhere?

Reality check: I don’t live like a monk and I’m not about to force anyone else to do the same. We all do fun things, frivolous things, even downright bizarre things with our resources at times, and that’s not a bad thing in and of itself. It’s even part of what makes this world a fun and colorful place to be.

But it’s also never wrong to ask “Have I done all the good I could do?” Maybe we don’t live in golden palaces or have Rudolph the Ruby-Encrusted Reindeer, but many of us have something. Compared to much of the world, we have a lot.

What are we doing with it?

It’s a question that becomes very palpable at this time of year. It’s one that should be more visible at all times.

The writer C.S. Lewis once said that the only safe rule for charity was to give more than we could spare. “If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they were too small,” he wrote. There should be something you would like to do, and can’t, he insisted, because of what you’ve already given.

It can look overwhelming, I agree. But just because we’re not doing everything doesn’t mean we can’t do something.

Is there someone to be helped? A friend, a relative, a stranger not yet met?

Is there a task that needs our skill? A hurt that needs our comfort? A wrong that can be made right, however briefly?

All it takes is a willingness to start. And if each of our littles can equal a lot, that is one dazzling gift, indeed.

Even more dazzling than Santa Claus on a space unicorn.

Run of the Miller

Don’t look now, but the invasion is underway.

Bang on a storm window, and half a dozen visitors may fall from the screen.

Leave a door open just a little too long, and you’ll turn to find 20 of the newcomers in the front hall … or the laundry room … or your office, charging the fluorescent lights.

The silent whir. The soft collisions. The persistence that keeps them coming back more often than robo-calls in election season.

Ladies and gentlemen of Colorado, it’s “miller time.”

Miller moths have been an annoying feature of Colorado springtimes since I was a kid, but every few years they manage to put together a swarm of epic proportions. About 25 years back, for example, they became so numerous that even the cats stopped stalking them.

“They say that to a cat, miller moths are like pizza,” a radio host said at the time. “But if pizza kept falling out every time you pulled down the sun visor on your car, you’d start to get a little sick of it.”

It’s not even anything inherent to the moth itself. One moth in a room is distracting but tolerable. But like potato chips, you never just have one. You get entire flight patterns.

Anything in those quantities, even things we would normally welcome, starts to get overwhelming and hard to handle. It could be an army of puppies. A cacophony of radio stations. A torrent of water …

Ah, I saw some of you nodding with that last one.

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that I love a good rainfall. I like to claim that it’s in the blood – Mom’s family came here from England, after all, and my sister even lives near the famously soggy skies of Seattle. So when the Colorado landscape turned into “Home on the Range” in reverse – where the skies remain cloudy all day – I gave a mental “hallelujah” and settled back to enjoy it. Heat? Sunburn? Ha!

And then it kept coming.

And coming.

And … well, somewhere after the 16th iteration of “coming,” it began to be just a tad overdone. Even more than a tad, as rivers rose and anxieties climbed with them.

Water is one of the most precious and treasured things in Colorado. But in such relentless quantities, it can officially become Too Much, a curse of house painters and construction workers and anyone who just needs a little sun. A good thing, made horrific through excess.

As I write that, I wonder how well we’re paying attention.

After all, we’re Americans. We’re good at excess. We eat big meals, work long hours, and rack up the highest credit-card debt of anywhere in the world. And of course, anytime the Powerball total starts to climb sky-high, our attention climbs with it.

And yet … deep down, I think most of us know better. We know that too much food makes you fat, too much work makes you crazy, too much debt ties you into knots that can take years to untie. That there’s such a thing as “enough.”

Heresy, maybe, in a consumer culture. But true. Someone once suggested that the real definition of “wealthy” is to have enough that you no longer need to worry. Anything more than that just starts to create its own problems, as the celebrities of the world seem determined to prove every day, and twice on Sundays.

I don’t mean to suggest that we have to become monks, to simply swing our lives to a different extreme. But there’s a quiet beauty in balance. One that lets you truly enjoy the pieces of life – and eventually, the peace of life – without being overwhelmed.

I’m still working on it myself. But it’s worth working on.

Right after I get these moths out of the laundry room.