Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Carma’s Corner: Secret Santa

I don’t believe in Santa; I actually can’t recall a time when I did believe in Santa. My parents were not anti-Santa, but the whole “Santa charade” wasn’t really promoted either. Of course, I always had stockings and gifts—but being the realist that I am, one man flying around the world and sliding down chimneys did not seem very plausible or believable. Some may argue that I have been deprived; I don’t think so. I still experienced all that Santa stands for—happiness, cheer, gifts—just without the flying or sliding!

While I don’t believe in Santa, I’ll admit that I like the concept of Santa—sharing joy and cheer with others. On the CBS Evening News the other night, a story aired about a man who plays “secret Santa” each year. He randomly chooses individuals and hands them a $100 bill. He doesn’t know the individuals; he doesn’t know how the money will be used, but he believes the world can be changed by one random act of kindness at a time.

Imagine a world where more “secret Santas” existed; would society even look the same? Granted, not every “secret Santa” could pass out $100 bills, but perhaps opening a door for a mom with two small children, scooping the walk for a widow/widower, or buying a cup of coffee for someone means more than the wad of cash. Oftentimes, the actual gift or act is remembered for awhile and then forgotten, but the thought is what actually leaves the impression and touches lives.

Secret Santas will come and go; their gifts or acts will offer momentary happiness and lifelong memories. Just recently, my mom, sister and I experienced a “secret Santa”. We were ordering lunch at a deli when an elderly lady came from behind and pressed money into mom’s hand. As mom turned around to thank the stranger, she was disappearing in the crowd. However, beyond “secret Santas,” there is only ONE who brings everlasting joy and eternal life. For it is because of Christ that society may see more good will to all… especially during this time of year.

So… in retrospect, I have not been deprived at all. My parents just taught me to place my hope and joy in the eternal… and in light of my eternal hope and joy, I love sharing tidbits of happiness, especially when I get to be a “secret Santa!"

Carma’s Corner: A Tribute

Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to
live taking form of readiness to die. –G.K. Chesterton

On Friday, November 11, 2011, the country will take a step back and honor the epitome of courage, the veterans. 11/11/11 will mark the 92nd observance of Veterans Day; President Wilson proclaimed November 11, 1919 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day by stating, “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…” On May 13, 1938, it was declared that November 11 in each year would be a legal holiday. However, on June 1, 1954, the holiday was renamed from Armistice Day to Veterans Day; Armistice Day was primarily dedicated to remembering and honoring the men and women of the first World War, but Veterans Day was declared a day to honor and remember the men and women of all wars.

I could go on with more of the history of the holiday; I could go into great detail about the various observance ceremonies around the country, but I really don’t believe facts and traditions truly capture the core of Veterans Day. The core of the holiday is found among the thousands of white crosses at Arlington National Cemetery; it’s found in a tight hug to a returning or leaving soldier; it’s seen in the choked back tears at the sound of the national anthem.

In honor of this national holiday, I have decided to share something that I recently received from a fellow writer in Florida. She ran across a poem composed in September 1944 by a soldier from Sibley; the author is unknown, but it is known that the poem was written shortly before the soldier was captured and taken to a German prison camp. I am told that the poem was published in Newspaper Clippings of Osceola County of World War II Veterans by Merrick Publishing.

My Only Plea

Still laugh, said I, when I'm away,
And gather all the flowers of May;
Still keep my room, the pictures all,
That I have loved upon the wall;
For I shall want them every one,
The moment that the war is won.
Still play the records, dance and sing;
And spread no fears of sorrowing,
Be happy every time you can,
For Victory, work and pray and plan;
For I shall want you looking well
When we have fired the final shell.
Still bake the pies as it might be
That I were coming home to tea;
Still plant the garden, roundabout,
Still grub the sturdy thistles out;
And stake the blue delphinium,
As if this war had never come.
For if this struggle shall be long,
At home there must be mirth, and song.
Since these are what we fight to keep,
So hide away when you must weep,
And be as brave at home, as we,
Who fight in sky, on land and sea.

Can anyone tell me more about the author of this poem? If so, please contact me at or stop in at the Osceola County Gazette Tribune office.

Carma’s Corner: Sparks

Sparks have certainly been flying the last few weeks; the tiniest flicker of fire combined with gale-force winds and saltine-cracker dryness has resulted in several dancing flames in fields around the area. Unfortunately, snap, crackle and pop is not the sound farmers want to hear behind their combine; a season of nurturing and growing can quickly crumble to ashes, leaving farmers with more questions than answers.

Like the tumbling leaves, questions regarding the flammable fields swirl around the community. Why is it so dry? Why is it so windy? Why doesn’t it rain a little to settle the dust? Why is hard work and toil reduced to charred stubble in a matter of minutes? The answers are not known, like many answers to life puzzling questions. The only certain answer is that sparks, dry fields and gusty winds make for a dangerous, anxious-filled equation.

It is with confidence that I have to report a favorable forecast of “sparks” flying once again this week. But, don’t worry, I’m not foretelling of great field fires; even if I did know, I wouldn’t be putting that knowledge into print. No, the “sparks” will be igniting in the print world, or perhaps more accurately in bookstores around the world. For the last year, fans around the world have been waiting for the latest “spark,” and this week marks the newest release from Sparks, Nicholas Sparks that is.

I have been a Sparks fan for over 15 years. I am one of those fans who has read all the books, who has seen all the movies and who will order the new book on its release date. Sparks has written 18 novels, including The Notebook, A Walk to Remember, Message in a Bottle and many more. While all these novels present the “boy meets girl; boy falls in love with girl” story, it isn’t actually Sparks’ “love stories” that I have grown so fond of—it’s his endings.

As a student of writing, I have always detested happy endings; I don’t like knowing the ending of a book by the third page. For many love stories, if the boy sees the girl by the third page, a reader can be fairly confident there will be a couple in the end… oh, there will be the little tiff in the middle to add suspense, but then the characters will reunite and live happily ever after.

Ugh!Sparks doesn’t have that nauseating sweetness concluding his novels. Don’t get me wrong, his conclusions aren’t depressing or doom and gloom either—it’s just the right amount of reality mixed with glints of hope… or perhaps I should say little sparks of assurance for better days to come. And I believe that is an accurate portrayal of reality, days filled with sparks of goodness to keep moving on.

Although I’m an avid fan of Sparks, I do not aspire to be another Sparks; it’s not possible. There are hundreds of fans who want to be just like Sparks; I’m not among those hundreds. No, I’ll use the “sparks” of creativity that God has given me and blaze my own way. I’m no Sparks. I’m a Smidt.

Carma’s Corner: 09/11/01-09/11/11

September 11, 2001 was like any other early Tuesday morning; I was reluctant to get up, knowing my daily schedule consisted of four demanding college classes. Before jumping into the shower, Mom switched on my radio, and I halfheartedly listened to the music. I wasn’t completely convinced that waking up was in my best interest, although I knew my time in bed was limited to the length of Mom’s shower. For the next fifteen minutes, I wavered between dreams and reality, but in an instant the dreams abruptly dissipated when the radio announced, “The World Trade Center has been struck by an airline.”

Needless to say, the radio was replaced by the TV; the dreams were replaced with the shocking reality of a building inferno—and questions were replaced with terror when the second plane slammed into the other tower. As the day unfolded, these two initial attacks were only the precursor of a day filled with indescribable horror and years filled with never-ending recovery efforts. When all was said and done, 9/11’s aftermath left approximately 3,000 empty chairs, places where grandfathers, fathers, brothers, uncles, sons, grandmothers, mothers, sisters, aunts, daughters, friends, and even children once sat. Irreplaceable individuals were taken too soon by the ruthless tyranny of terrorists.

It’s been ten years now since that fateful Tuesday morning, when America, the land of life and liberty, quickly vanished into America, the land under attack and turmoil. It’s only natural to remember those who had their lives snatched away on that day, but it’s just as important to remember those who survived and were left behind. For thousands of people, life changed forever; for the nation, the sense of security and invincibleness waivered.

In the ten years since 9/11, America has seen its share of victories, the most notable being the capture and death of Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011. However, other victories include the dedication of several memorials, the growth of children of 9/11 victims and the sense of moving on while remembering. September 11, 2001 marked the start of a new chapter not only for many people but also for the nation.

On November 11, 2001, President George W. Bush stated, “Time is passing. Yet, for the United States of America, there will be no forgetting September the 11th. We will remember every rescuer who died in honor. We will remember every family that lives in grief. We will remember the fire and ash, the last phone calls, the funerals of the children.”

After ten years, this statement still rings true. We will not forget, but we will move on as a nation—and as I believe—one nation under God!

Carma’s Corner: Back to School

It seems only fitting that I should write about back to school preparations; I mean, after all, it is August, and the days of summer freedom are quickly vanishing, much to the protest of students… and possibly even some teachers. There’s just something about summer—late evening strolls, dancing bonfires, smoky barbecues, chilly swims—that is hard to relinquish for desks, textbooks, and homework. But, every August, the calendar begins its march toward that red letter day, the first day of school.

For some students, the first day of school is dreaded; for other students, the day is merely another day, just one step further in the education journey, and, for a few, the day is exciting and can’t arrive soon enough. I guess I’ll confess that I tended to belong to the latter group; I truly did love school!! Oh, there were days when I wanted to heave the homework out of the window, and there were other days when skipping classes to go shopping sounded better than balancing chemical equations. But, for the most part, I didn’t find school to be dreadful. However, it wasn’t until recently that I fully discovered and understood my attraction toward school and learning.

When I was in kindergarten, I was a patient in the hospital more than a student in the classroom. It was pneumonia, then lung congestion, then sinus infection, then flu—the laundry list of infections went on and on. Being a kindergarten student, the hospital was the last place I wanted to be; I needed to be learning my letters and mathematics, not watching the IV drip the latest antibiotic. If I remember correctly, I spent more time watching the IV drip than learning my ABCs during my kindergarten year. But yet I knew I needed that IV in order to receive my reward—returning to school.

Ever since my kindergarten year, I always saw going to school/classes as a privilege—because, if I was going to school, it meant God had given me strength and health for that day. Don’t get me wrong, I was no perfect student; I had my fair share of fun, but I held a genuine respect for learning. I still do. In fact, I have so much respect for learning that I will be returning to the world of academia at the end of this month. I’m going back to school, not as a student though but as an adjunct instructor.

Beginning August 24th, I will be teaching English Composition on-line for Dordt College. This opportunity has exceeded all my expectations; I feel very honored… and a little overwhelmed, but not defeated. I’m confident that I’ll learn along with the students, if not more than my students! Because of this new venture, my contributions to the newspaper will be slightly less; I’m still planning to write, but more on a part-time basis for awhile… or at least until God reveals the next chapter of my life.

But, until then, I’ll be joining the ranks of those going back to school… and drawing strength from God who promises: “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Carma’s Corner: Death Race

A couple weeks ago, the news anchor on Nightline stated, “There are three types of beings who will run themselves to death: dogs, horses, and humans.” I was not surprised by this statement; I have heard instances where dogs and horses have run until dropping dead—and, as for humans, it is not uncommon to run ragged, figuratively until death. However, the news anchor was not speaking figuratively; he was talking literally in which numerous individuals participate in the annual The Spartan Death Race.

How bad can it be? It’s just a race! Well, the death race makes RAGBRAI look like a cake walk; it makes the Tour de France look like a Sunday afternoon joy ride… and the Boston Marathon?? Phew… nothing more than a leisurely jog!! What exactly is The Spartan Death Race? According to the web page, “This is the highest level of Spartan Challenge. The Spartan Death Race is designed to present you with the totally unexpected, and the totally insane! This endurance race is comprised of mud runs, obstacle racing, physical challenges, and mental challenges all in a +48 hour adventure race.” Doesn’t sound too horrible yet, right? Oh, did I forget to mention that participants are not allowed sleep, have no knowledge of the obstacles to be completed, and not told where/when the finish will be??

The death race was created in 2007 and takes place in Pittsfield, Vermont. The race’s capacity is limited to 200 applicants, and all have to sign a fatality waiver upon registration. The race has an average recorded completion rate of 10 percent. This year’s race began on Friday, June 24, at 6 p.m. and lasted until 3p.m.on Sunday, June 26—45 hours. The race required participants to complete more than a dozen challenges through the central Vermont woods. The details only get better from here!

Challenge One: dead-lift 100,000 pounds worth of stones over a six-hour period without stopping!

Challenge Two: hike upstream in 45-degree waters… after getting out of the water, carry a candle for a quarter-mile—if the flame goes out, do it over again. Regardless, the task has to be repeated seven times!

Challenge Three: pick out a three foot, 40 pound tree stump and carry it around for more than 24 hours, including a nine-hour hike to the top of a mountain. At the top of the mountain, participants receive several Bible verses to memorize and are required to recite the verses at the bottom of the mountain.

Have I lost anyone yet? No? Keep going then! Other challenges included carrying a 10-gallon bucket filled with water for 2.5 miles without spilling—if spilled, start over. After more than 40 hours into the race, participants were given a 166-question test to recall information given to them at the beginning of the race and throughout the course. Of the more than 150 who applied from 29 states and Canada, only 35 individuals survived the 2011 Spartan Death Race. Their prize package included: Spartan Death Race jacket (on completion), Spartan Death Race Finisher Medal, weeks of pain after the event, and the entitlement to be called a True Spartan (Gold Level).

By now, the overwhelming question may be… WHY? Why would people willingly volunteer for such torture? Why would anyone subject a body to such hardship? I do not have the answers. One participant who survived put it this way: “It’s unexplainable. When he announced it, it was sheer exhilaration. Then I had a moment where I thought, ‘I did it.’ It’s a life-changing experience. It puts things into perspective… you can move mountains if you really put your mind to it.”

So… there it is! Is anyone interested in enlisting in the 2012 Spartan Death Race? I don’t know; I’m considering it… I’ll be happy if I survive the registration process!!

For more information on The Spartan Death Race, visit the official web page at

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Carma’s Corner: Taming the Dragon

I have become slave to a dragon. Yes, I’m at the mercy of a dragon, and, trust me, this dragon is no Puff the magic dragon who lives by the sea and frolics in the autumn mist. No, this dragon is stubborn, ornery, and disruptive on bad days and understanding, cooperative, and a blessing on good days. But I never know when good or bad days will occur; I just wait and see for the dragon to reveal its daily attitude.

For the last 12 years, my life has revolved around this dragon; I live with it; I work with it, and I even socialize with it. By this point, the secret is probably becoming clearer that the dragon isn’t a fire-breathing, winged creature (although there are days when the dragon makes me breathe fire)—no, the dragon is found in my computer and is known as DragonDictate, or as I like to call the dragon, Princeton.

When I was a senior in high school, I was introduced to DragonDictate as I had lost all abilities in my hands. DragonDictate is a voice-activated computer program that can operate a computer via voice. Dictation appears as text on a computer screen, and voice commands are used to navigate the mouse and other functions of a computer—on good days, that is.

In the beginning, I’ll admit I was not one bit impressed with DragonDictate; it was much easier to tell someone else what needed to be typed. But I was assured DragonDictate only needed to be trained in order to follow my dictation and commands. Training was a rigorous 30,000 word vocabulary repeated three times. I laughed, wondering if DragonDictate would rule me, or if someday I would master it.

The first year of the relationship was frustrating, tiring, and slow. DragonDictate’s favorite word to print was “Princeton”—no matter what I said—it was always “Princeton”. Hence, I named DragonDictate, Princeton—the name has stuck for the last 12 years, although the dragon rarely feels the need to print its name anymore.

Today I have a love/hate relationship with Princeton. Some days I rule over Princeton, but the next day Princeton rudely reminds me that I’m not the master. Nonsense words appear on the page, and little to no commands are followed to operate the computer. On these bad days, I simply state, “Princeton has an attitude.”

Over the last couple weeks, I have been in basic training once again with Princeton—my fourth time in basic training. Computer problems caused issues with the voice activation program, which only leaves one option: repeating a 30,000 word vocabulary list. At this point, I’m in the “taming the dragon” phase, convincing it that cooperation is much easier. Even though training is tedious and time-consuming, I don’t mind doing it because the freedom and independence I receive from Princeton far outweighs the frustration.

I am thankful for Princeton because I know God is using it as a tool to allow me to be an active member in society. DragonDictate (Princeton) is more than just a voice-activated computer program to me; it’s one of the keys to show how God can use all people, even technology, for His glory. With God, all “dragons” can be tamed!