A grateful heart 

Several stores where I live seemed to start earlier this year with the Christmas decorations. I felt like they were ready for Christmas in August. When I turn on the television, I hit every Christmas show on the air. (My wife and her love of sappy Christmas romances on the Hallmark Channel could have something to do with that.) And then everywhere I’ve turned the past two weeks I’ve stumbled across advertisements for my town’s upcoming Christmas festival.

While I love the original Christmas story, the Nativity Story, I must admit that I have a special place in my heart for Thanksgiving. It lacks the commercial glamour of Christmas, but what it lacks in pizazz, it makes up in heart-felt moments.

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I’m especially in love with Thanksgiving this year. Here’s what I mean:

—I love that Thanksgiving celebrates the coming together of family and friends. In our house, my three kids will be home under the same roof for more than one night for the first time in nearly a year.

—I love the traditions, from everything from waking up to watch Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade to the Thanksgiving staples, turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes. (The healthy eating, exercise, and 20 pounds I’ve lost over the past ten weeks will be put on the shelf for the day and that’s fine.)

—I love the chill in the air, the hope and expectation of Christmas to come, and realization that we have no where else to be, but exactly where we are.

—It’s a simple thing, but I love the idea of slowing down, if only for one day out of the year to celebrate our many blessings: family, friends, food, a warm house, work to keep us busy, and plenty of ideas to keep me writing.

I could go on-and-on, but I’ll end on this: Happy Thanksgiving.

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This year I’m done!

Every year in November and December, I complain about the work involved in putting together the annual calendar that my wife and I give out as a Christmas gift to family members. I’ll say, “that’s it, I’m done. I’m never going to do this again.” I mean what I say and deservedly so, since it takes a ton of work to organize and create, but then a year passes and I can’t wait to get started again.

I typically fill the calendar with key birthdays, anniversaries, and special events — everything from my parents in-law wedding anniversary, my niece turning 12, to the football schedule for my favorite college team —  and then load it up with photos from the past twelve months.

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It takes a ton of work and then when I have it together it takes a small fortune to get it printed and bound. Hence my threats about throwing in the towel. “Oh, no one’s going to look at it anyway,” I’ll tell my wife.

She calms me down and tells me to keep at it.

Every picture tells a story

In reality, I really do love the calendar. I’ve been creating the calendar for the past fifteen years and I love looking back through prthe photos. I know that I could go an easier route, relying on Shutterfly and other photo services, but I like customizing the calendar to fit our needs. I’ll reminisce and reflect on everything that we’ve accomplished and been through over the past 365 days. I’ll look at the big events, like graduating high school and starting college, and the mundane ones such as taking the odd family selfie on a lazy Sunday in July.

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For instance:

–I look at one picture and I see how much my son has grown since we dropped him at his college ROTC orientation. We dropped him off as a freshman and in the picture, a recent visit home, he returned as a man. “Look at his arms,” I tell my wife. “He’s got muscles I never knew that he had.”

–I scroll through another page until I come to a picture of my daughter in her apartment. She’s got a bright smile, excited to be out on her own. She couldn’t have been happier. The smile reminds me of another one well in the past. It’s the same smile that spread across my wife’s face when we rented our first apartment. She couldn’t have been happier.

–My youngest son stands erect on another page in his marching band uniform. He looks tall, and dare I say it, gallant-looking in the picture. I think back to another picture that made the calendar a few years ago, where it took everything he had to keep his infant body up right and not falling over.

–And finally, I pull up the various family selfies that we took over the past year. We’re smiling in many of the pictures, but I see a few tears too. There’s the college drop-offs, the goodbyes and the hellos too.

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Letting out a sigh

So I’ve finished another calendar, our 2018 calendar. Now all I need to do is just get it printed. With the heavy lifting out of the way, I let out a sigh. I’m glad that I don’t have to pick it up again for another year, but I’m also happy that I have the pictures and the memories for decades to come.

I’ll never forget the smiles and even my hard work. It’s what makes a family.

A misfit among misfits

The kid looked out of place in the waiting room.

His glasses were smudged and he couldn’t stop fidgeting in his chair. He kept bouncing his feet up and down on the chair and accidentally kicking his mother. She had it with him. She kept telling him to stop and he kept telling her that he was bored.

When I looked at him, I couldn’t help but think of myself at the same age. Like him, I had thick glasses; my hair curled this way and that, never seeming to flow in one direction; my clothes usually were rumpled or grass-stained from playing outside; and, when I moved, I moved in herky jerky, skittish movements, constantly hitting the kid next to me on the bus or one of my brothers at the dinner table.

I liked playing sports — any sport for that matter — but I wasn’t an athlete. I liked to read, but I wasn’t an academic. I liked talking with friends, but was far from being gregarious.

I was a misfit.

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Pleasant dreams with dad

I had the dream again. It’s the same one I’ve had for months. I’m walking on one of my favorite wooded, running trails. It’s Autumn. The trees are a bright orange, red, and yellow. Every curve, every twist, in the trail brings out a new colorful surprise. Large antlered deer, rabbits, and other wildlife run and play in the woods.

And, I’m walking with my dad.

This is probably a good time to say: my father died more than 13 years ago.

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Which pretend superhero are you?

DC Comics supervillain, the Joker, stared back at me across the conference table. His skin bleached white and his hair a ghoulish green, the Joker asked in a high squeal if the paper he held in his hands was my best work.

The Joker is a homicidal maniac, bent on creating havoc, and rarely, if ever, fights fair, relying on acid-spewing flowers and fatal laughing-gas. I knew better than to take his bait.

I simply imagined what would Batman do in this situation. I sat up in my chair in my best Caped Crusader pose, smiled back, looked him straight in the eye and said, “My team and I gave it our best shot. We put in a lot of hard work, sought out feedback of others and polished and polished our proposal until we thought it shined.”

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When is a size 4, a size 12?

I have a bone to pick with clothes retailers.

When my wife and I visited my daughter a few weeks ago in  Washington, D.C. we decided to take her out shopping for a formal dress. She has a formal event this weekend at her college. I’m the last person you want to take shopping, but I knew that she would be hesitant to splurge on herself. I figured it was a great opportunity to reward her for all her hard work.

Now I’ve gone shopping with wife and daughter plenty of times over the years, but each time I go I’m still amazed at the challenge. It’s nothing like shopping for a man.

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One sad look, a friend forever

She looked up at us with the saddest brown puppy dog eyes. She looked so tiny and fragile in the store window. I leaned over to get a closer look and she reached up and pawed the window.

Paw to fist, fist to paw, we were instant friends.

We had to make a quick trip to pick-up something at our local mall. We never go to the mall. We buy most things online now, but coming out of the mall, we stumbled across the little guy.

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A large tag in one corner announced that she was a beagle and her name was Annabelle, a big name for a little puppy. She couldn’t have weighed more than a few pounds. I guessed that a stiff wind might send her tumbling. I whispered through the window, “hang in there big guy.” She didn’t bark, she didn’t whine, she just kept looking up at me.

We have an eight-year old dog that takes much of our time and I have my doubts about the store. I worry about where it gets its animals. I suspect most come from nearby puppy mills, but I still joked with my wife and son that we should take the puppy home.

“What do you think? Can’t you see Annabelle in our home,” I asked.

I could see Annabelle, our other dog, Nittany, and my son playing in the front yard. Annabelle and my wife snuggling on the couch. Annabelle and Nittany lounging throughout the day. (My wife didn’t quite share my dream. She promptly told me that Nittany would have none of the friend stuff. Nittany has been the queen of our family for too long. She wouldn’t react well to an intruder in her home.)

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In the end, we continued on our way and walked out of the mall. We had other errands to run and I still needed to get ready for work the next day. However, I couldn’t stop thinking about Annabelle: Is there anything more adorable then a puppy?

If I had a large farm or even had more time to take care of and train her, Annabelle would have been ours in a heartbeat. In the end, though, she needed another loving family. In the end, Annabelle needed a family and not a spur of the moment purchase.

We made the right choice for Annabelle and us, but it still took everything I had to not drive back to the store. Oh the love of a family pet. Oh the love an instant friend.

 

Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin to the rescue

In a matter of a couple of blocks, we ran into a life-sized Woody and Buzz from “Toy Story,” twin zombies with blood dripping down their clothes, maniacal-looking clowns similar to the one featured in the movie “It,” and a woman straight out of The Handmaid’s Tale, the TV show envisioning a totalitarian future state.

We visited our daughter in Northern Virginia over the weekend and I half worried about what we might find around the next darkened corner. It didn’t help, that the street lights seemed especially dim. When I gripped my wife’s hand especially tight, she reminded me that it was all make-believe.

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Fortunately for us, we saw earlier in the day a little kid dressed up with his dad as the Super Mario brothers, two other kids as Spiderman and Ironman prepared to save the day and, of course, a cuddly little Elmo.

Everywhere I looked this weekend I found kids and adults dressed to the nines for Halloween. My wife and I made most of our kid’s costumes over the years, these looked like they came right off a television or movie set. In a word, they looked “professional,” they were certainly out of the league of any we ever had ourselves or got for our kids.

We also found store after store peddling huge bags of candy, that will be marked down 50% off on November 1, and bars packed to the gills with partiers. I must admit a part of me looked back to a simpler time.

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I drove home Sunday mulling where Halloween had gone over the edge, where the fun had been taken away. Fortunately for me, I stumbled across “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” on television. I was reminded of Linus waiting up all night for the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown trick-or-treating and getting a rock, and Snoopy as the brave World War I flying ace, fighting heroically against the Red Baron.

When I was a kid, my friends and I used to look forward every Fall to the Great Pumpkin coming on TV. I was reminded once again of the joy of dressing up for a few hours to play make believe and the joy of hanging with friends. I was reminded that Halloween is for the kid in us all. Of course, I’m no fool, I’m still running the other way if any zombies come knocking on my door Halloween night.

Lost and confused

I seem to be getting confused lately about the smallest things. Somewhere along the line without me noticing, A turned into B, X turned into Y, and 2 + 2, started equaling 5. I think it could just be me, maybe I haven’t kept up with the times. You tell me.

Here’s what I mean:

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Thou shalt judge

I saw a meme the other day that nailed me to a “t.”

It read:

Things I will not judge you for: Sexuality, religion or race.

The meme then included three things that I will judge you for: Not signaling, while driving; how you treat wait staff; and which way you place the toilet paper.

The first one — judging people who fail to properly signal — sums me up perfectly. If you’re respectful to me, if you’re nice to me, I really could care less about your sex, religion or race. I would probably throw age and politics in there too.

Forget to use your turn signal though and I’ll make broad, sweeping generalizations about you, your family, and your long-forgotten ancestors. The meme got me thinking about other seemingly silly actions that I most certainly judge others:

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