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Being Santa is not a job, it's a calling. Meet the men behind the magic.

Doug Keesey and Rick Rosenthal are known in Arctic circles (and greater Atlanta) as Santa Doug and Santa Rick.

Rick and Doug are two of Georgia's most popular Santa Clauses, entertaining the young and young at heart at events across the city.

Santa Rick (left) and Santa Doug (right) working their Christmas magic. Photos courtesy of Santa Rick/(left) and William Graves Photography/Santa Doug (right), used with permission.


I went looking for the inside scoop on Santa Claus to discover how the "cookies are made" so to speak.

My conversations with these holly, jolly gentlemen revealed some surprising Santa secrets and tricks of the trade. It's easy to see why kids adore them so much. Here are seven surprising things I learned chatting with two of the men behind the magic:

1. Why become Santa? Holiday cheer is a helluva drug.

"It becomes a calling for a lot of people," Santa Rick says. "Most people don't choose to be Santa, Santa chooses them."

That's the case for Santa Rick, 64, who's been Santa for 47 years. He started out with a full black beard under his fake one, but now he relies on the real thing. He's a trained mediator and arbiter, a skill that comes in handy when kids get a case of the gimmes.

Photo courtesy of Santa Rick.

As for Santa Doug, it's his second season as the Big Guy. He has a soft white beard and loves kids, so he thought he'd give Santa work a try when he retired from his video production business. A friend, who is also a Santa, said, "Why wait?" So, at just past 50 years old, Santa Doug was born.

What keeps them coming back? You don't find that kind of genuine happiness just anywhere.

"One of the things that really keeps me going is knowing that I'm helping families develop memories that will last for years to come, something that will really be special for them in the future," Santa Doug says. "That's not something you get to do every day. What a privilege to be in a position to be that kind of blessing to others!"

Photo courtesy of Santa Doug.

2. You don't know busy until you take a look at Santa's calendar.

There's more to being Santa Claus than long shifts at shopping malls. Santa Rick appears year-round as the man himself, helping out with birthday parties, special announcements, and potentially a spring wedding. There are two gigs he won't take though.

"I will deliver anything but divorce papers and termination papers," Santa Rick says. "I'm a Santa with a sense of humor, but it's gotta be in good taste."

Of course, the holiday season is their busiest time of year. Rick and Doug work parades, private parties, corporate gigs, home visits, fundraisers, schools, and hospitals. Santa Rick doubles as a Santa booking agent and routes nearly 100 local Santas to events across the metro area.

"I get pretty busy, honestly, I think 'Wow, the schedule is just going to be very difficult, and I don't know if I have the energy, and I'm tired and wish I could stay home,'" Santa Doug says. "But then I get out there and see that kid that is just awestruck by Santa walking in the door and you think, 'OK, that's why I'm here.'"

Santa Doug appears in a local parade. Photo courtesy of Santa Doug.

3. There are schools to learn how to be Santa. But one of them is essentially Harvard.

Anyone can dress like Santa, but truly becoming Santa takes some practice. There are Santa Schools across the country that open their doors to teach people how to bring the big guy to life. Classes include how to dress, how to answer tough questions, how to set up a Santa business, and even how to make simple toys.

Santa Rick leading a class at Northern Lights Santa Academy. Photo courtesy of Santa Rick.

The Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan, is widely considered the premiere Santa school, boasting a traditional higher education application process and a waiting list.

After mentoring and teaching at Santa Schools, Santa Rick opened his own school, Northern Lights Santa Academy, which held their inaugural session this year.  While he's proud to teach the next generation of Clauses, he hopes they each bring their own unique style to their work.

"Does [attending Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School] make you a good Santa? No, it just means you got a good education," Santa Rick says. "What makes you the best is you. You have to figure out how to utilize the information ... to make you the best Santa you can be."

The Northern Lights Santa Academy is in session! Photo courtesy of Santa Rick.

4. Santa Claus hears some seriously silly stuff, and sometimes even he can't keep it together.

Kids are nothing if not honest, so Santa Rick and Santa Doug have heard it all. One child who (definitely already had one at home) asked for a toilet this year. Another hoped the baby his mother was carrying was a boy, and not a girl, prompting surprised faces from everyone in the room who didn't know his mother was expecting.

"You really do laugh, and it shuts you down, you're just laughing so hard," Santa Rick says. "You just get told these hysterical stories."

Photo courtesy of Santa Doug.

5. But Santa is also a kind, loving ear in tough and tender moments too.  

For many kids and their families, Christmas isn't the most wonderful time of the year. Santa Rick and Santa Doug have both heard some emotional requests from kids and the young at heart. Some wish for peace on Earth. Others ask for a relative in the hospital to get well. A mother had a teary encounter with Santa Rick while her son was deployed. And last year, a child asked Santa Doug to help get his parents back together.

"There's not much you can say, as Santa, to things like that," Santa Doug says. "All I could do was say, 'Santa understands. I know how you feel and I'm very sorry, but Santa loves you ... and it will be all right.' I think he just kinda wanted Santa to hear and understand."

Photo courtesy of Santa Doug.

6. Santa would dominate an improv class, as the big guy has to be quick on his feet.

When you're working with kids, you have to stay ready. That's why Santa has an answer for everything. Even if a child asks for one thing, Santa knows better than to make any promises. Instead, Santa Rick usually tells the kids: "I'm gonna talk to the elves about that ... but did you know the elves are very busy? They make the presents and put them in a box and then they wrap it and sometimes they forget what's in there. You might end up with a pogo stick."

What happens if Santa Rick and his Santa buddies go out for lunch and a child sees a half-dozen Santas in one place? Don't worry, they've thought of that too. "We say it's a Claus family reunion," he says with a big laugh, clearly nailing the whole, "bowlful of jelly" business.

Photo courtesy of Santa Rick.

7. Santa is about more than presents. He's all about hope.

For kids of all ages, Santa is more than a toymaker, gift-giver, or elf-in-chief. He's magic personified. He's a jolly old reminder  to never stop believing in the impossible.

"What Santa really does is he inspires hope," Santa Rick says. "We have to have hope to go on and that's really what Santa is. He's a toymaker, but he gives people hope and belief in the best of the best."

After this year, we could all use a little magic. Between international conflict, a tiring election, and Santa's own home melting away, there's a lot to be scared or worried about. But this is the season to hope, dream, and plan. To look ahead to the future with optimism and hope, even in the face of doubt.

No matter your age, background, or faith tradition, it feels good to believe in the impossible. After all, hope is the one thing Santa always delivers.

Photo courtesy of Santa Rick.

Pop Culture

Airbnb host finds unexpected benefits from not charging guests a cleaning fee

Host Rachel Boice went for a more "honest" approach with her listings—and saw major perks because of it.

@rachelrboice/TikTok

Many frustrated Airbnb customers have complained that the separate cleaning fee is a nuisance.

Airbnb defines its notorious cleaning fee as a “one-time charge” set by the host that helps them arrange anything from carpet shampoo to replenishing supplies to hiring an outside cleaning service—all in the name of ensuring guests have a “clean and tidy space.”

But as many frustrated Airbnb customers will tell you, this feature is viewed as more of a nuisance than a convenience. According to NerdWallet, the general price for a cleaning fee is around $75, but can vary greatly between listings, with some units having cleaning fees that are higher than the nightly rate (all while sometimes still being asked to do certain chores before checking out). And often none of these fees show up in the total price until right before the booking confirmation, leaving many travelers feeling confused and taken advantage of.

However, some hosts are opting to build cleaning fees into the overall price of their listings, mimicking the strategy of traditional hotels.

Rachel Boice runs two Airbnb properties in Georgia with her husband Parker—one being this fancy glass plane tiny house (seen below) that promises a perfect glamping experience.

@rachelrboice Welcome to The Tiny Glass House 🤎 #airbnbfinds #exploregeorgia #travelbucketlist #tinyhouse #glampingnotcamping #atlantageorgia #fyp ♬ Aesthetic - Tollan Kim

Like most Airbnb hosts, the Boice’s listing showed a nightly rate and separate cleaning fee. According to her interview with Insider, the original prices broke down to $89 nightly, and $40 for the cleaning fee.

But after noticing the negative response the separate fee got from potential customers, Rachel told Insider that she began charging a nightly rate that included the cleaning fee, totaling to $129 a night.

It’s a marketing strategy that more and more hosts are attempting in order to generate more bookings (people do love feeling like they’re getting a great deal) but Boice argued that the trend will also become more mainstream since the current Airbnb model “doesn’t feel honest.”

"We stay in Airbnbs a lot. I pretty much always pay a cleaning fee," Boice told Insider. "You're like: 'Why am I paying all of this money? This should just be built in for the cost.'"

Since combining costs, Rachel began noticing another unexpected perk beyond customer satisfaction: guests actually left her property cleaner than before they were charged a cleaning fee. Her hypothesis was that they assumed she would be handling the cleaning herself.

"I guess they're thinking, 'I'm not paying someone to clean this, so I'll leave it clean,'" she said.

This discovery echoes a similar anecdote given by another Airbnb host, who told NerdWallet guests who knew they were paying a cleaning fee would “sometimes leave the place looking like it’s been lived in and uncleaned for months.” So, it appears to be that being more transparent and lumping all fees into one overall price makes for a happier (and more considerate) customer.

These days, it’s hard to not be embittered by deceptive junk fees, which can seem to appear anywhere without warning—surprise overdraft charges, surcharges on credit cards, the never convenience “convenience charge” when purchasing event tickets. Junk fees are so rampant that certain measures are being taken to try to eliminate them outright in favor of more honest business approaches.

Speaking of a more honest approach—as of December 2022, AirBnb began updating its app and website so that guests can see a full price breakdown that shows a nightly rate, a cleaning fee, Airbnb service fee, discounts, and taxes before confirming their booking.

Guests can also activate a toggle function before searching for a destination, so that full prices will appear in search results—avoiding unwanted financial surprises.


This article originally appeared on 11.08.23

National Autistic Society/Youtube

"Diverted" educational video shared through the Too Much Information Campaign.

Everyone who lives with autism experiences it somewhat differently. You'll often hear physicians and advocates refer to the spectrum that exists for those who are autistic, pointing to a wide range of symptoms and skills.

But one thing many autistic people experience is sensory processing issues.


For autistic people, processing the world around them when it comes to sight, smell, or touch can be challenging, as their senses are often over- or under-sensitive. Certain situations — like meandering through a congested mall or enduring the nonstop blasting of police sirens — can quickly become unbearable.

This reality is brought to life in a new video by the U.K.'s National Autistic Society (NAS).

The eye-opening PSA takes viewers into the mind of a autistic woman as she thinks about struggling to stay composed in a crowded, noisy train.

It's worth a watch:

The PSA hit especially close to home for 22-year-old actress and star of the video Saskia Lupin, who is autistic herself. "Overall I feel confused," she said, of abrupt changes to her routine. "Like I can't do anything and all sense of rationality is lost."

She's not alone.

According to a study cited in NAS' press release, 75% of autistic people say unexpected changes make them feel socially isolated. What's more, 67% reported seeing or hearing negative reactions from the public when they try to calm themselves down in such situations — from eyerolls and stares to unwelcome, hurtful comments.

The new PSA aims to improve that last figure in particular.

It's part of the organization's Too Much Information campaign — an initiative to build empathy and understanding in allistic (i.e., not autistic) people for those on the spectrum.

Autism Awareness Day, campaign, World Autism Awareness Week

Campaign by National Autistic Society created to share the autistic experience to the world.

Photo from Pixabay

"It isn't that the public sets out to be judgmental towards autistic people," Mark Lever, chief executive of the NAS, said in a statement in 2016. It's just that, often, the public doesn't "see" the autism.

"They see a 'strange' man pacing back and forth in a shopping center," Lever explained, "or a 'naughty' girl having a tantrum on a bus, and don't know how to respond."

Well, now we do.

Instead of staring, rolling your eyes, or thinking judgmental thoughts about the young person's parents, remember: You have no idea what that stranger on the train is going through.

“We can't make the trains run on time," said Lever. But even the simplest, smallest things — like remembering not to stare and giving a person some space and compassion if they need it — can make a big difference.


This article originally appeared on 03.28.18

Image from Pixabay.

Under the sea...

True
The Wilderness Society


You're probably familiar with the literary classic "Moby-Dick."

But in case you're not, here's the gist: Moby Dick is the name of a huge albino sperm whale.

(Get your mind outta the gutter.)


There's this dude named Captain Ahab who really really hates the whale, and he goes absolutely bonkers in his quest to hunt and kill it, and then everything is awful and we all die unsatisfied with our shared sad existence and — oops, spoilers!


OK, technically, the narrator Ishmael survives. So it's actually a happy ending (kind of)!

whales, Moby Dick, poaching endangered species

Illustration from an early edition of Moby-Dick

Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Basically, it's a famous book about revenge and obsession that was published back in 1851, and it's really, really long.

It's chock-full of beautiful passages and dense symbolism and deep thematic resonance and all those good things that earned it a top spot in the musty canon of important literature.

There's also a lot of mundane descriptions about the whaling trade as well (like, a lot). That's because it came out back when commercial whaling was still a thing we did.

conservation, ocean water conservation

A non-albino mother and baby sperm whale.

Photo by Gabriel Barathieu/Wikipedia.

In fact, humans used to hunt more than 50,000 whales each year to use for oil, meat, baleen, and oil. (Yes, I wrote oil twice.) Then, in 1946, the International Whaling Commission stepped in and said "Hey, wait a minute, guys. There's only a few handful of these majestic creatures left in the entire world, so maybe we should try to not kill them anymore?"

And even then, commercial whaling was still legal in some parts of the world until as recently as 1986.

International Whaling Commission, harpoons

Tail in the water.

Whale's tail pale ale GIF via GoPro/YouTube

And yet by some miracle, there are whales who were born before "Moby-Dick" was published that are still alive today.

What are the odds of that? Honestly it's hard to calculate since we can't exactly swim up to a bowhead and say, "Hey, how old are you?" and expect a response. (Also that's a rude question — jeez.)

Thanks to some thoughtful collaboration between researchers and traditional Inupiat whalers (who are still allowed to hunt for survival), scientists have used amino acids in the eyes of whales and harpoon fragments lodged in their carcasses to determine the age of these enormous animals — and they found at least three bowhead whales who were living prior to 1850.

Granted those are bowheads, not sperm whales like the fictional Moby Dick, (and none of them are albino, I think), but still. Pretty amazing, huh?

whale blubber, blue whales, extinction

This bowhead is presumably in adolescence, given its apparent underwater moping.

GIF via National Geographic.

This is a particularly remarkable feat considering that the entire species was dwindling near extinction.

Barring these few centenarian leviathans, most of the whales still kickin' it today are between 20 and 70 years old. That's because most whale populations were reduced to 10% or less of their numbers between the 18th and 20th centuries, thanks to a few over-eager hunters (and by a few, I mean all of them).

Today, sperm whales are considered one of the most populous species of massive marine mammals; bowheads, on the other hand, are still in trouble, despite a 20% increase in population since the mid-1980s. Makes those few elderly bowheads that much more impressive, huh?

population, Arctic, Great Australian Blight

Southern Right Whales hangin' with a paddleboarder in the Great Australian Bight.

GIF via Jaimen Hudson.

Unfortunately, just as things are looking up, these wonderful whales are in trouble once again.

We might not need to worry our real-life Captain Ahabs anymore, but our big aquatic buddies are still being threatened by industrialization — namely, from oil drilling in the Arctic and the Great Australian Bight.

In the off-chance that companies like Shell and BP manage not to spill millions of gallons of harmful crude oil into the water, the act of drilling alone is likely to maim or kill millions of animals, and the supposedly-safer sonic blasting will blow out their eardrums or worse.

This influx of industrialization also affects their migratory patterns — threatening not only the humans who depend on them, but also the entire marine ecosystem.

And I mean, c'mon — who would want to hurt this adorable face?

social responsibility, nature, extinction

BOOP.

Image from Pixabay.

Whales might be large and long-living. But they still need our help to survive.

If you want another whale to make it to his two-hundred-and-eleventy-first birthday (which you should because I hear they throw great parties), then sign this petition to protect the waters from Big Oil and other industrial threats.

I guarantee Moby Dick will appreciate it.


This article originally appeared on 11.04.15

How to clear a stuffy nose instantly.

With cold season upon us, there's no better time to learn a couple of awesome and easy tricks that will clear up the dreaded and annoying stuffy nose.

Prevention magazine created a short video showing two easy ways to get you breathing free again no matter how stuffed up you might be.


Both tricks take less than two minutes and are certainly worth trying out when it feels like that runny nose might never go away.


Watch the YouTube video below:

This article first appeared on 9.8.17.

Pop Culture

A brave fan asks Patrick Stewart a question he doesn't usually get and is given a beautiful answer

Patrick Stewart often talks about his childhood and the torment his father put him and his mother through.

Patrick Stewart often talks about his childhood and the torment his father put him and his mother through. However, how he answered this vulnerable and brave fan's question is one of the most eloquent, passionate responses about domestic violence I've ever seen.



WARNING: At 2:40, he's going to break your heart a little.

You can read more about Heather Skye's hug with Captain Picard at her blog.


This article originally appeared on 06.26.13.