Their last phone call

Her son sought to calm her. He told her that his fellow submariners had everything they needed to live underwater. Argentinian mother Susana Miguens told the Wall Street Journal recently that she last spoke with her son Leandro Cisneros, a seaman in the Argentine Navy, in early November.

Unfortunately, she would never have the chance to speak to him again.

Earlier this month, the Argentina Navy said that it had officially given up hope of finding the submarine crew aboard the ARA San Juan. The 44-member crew left Ushuaia on November 8 bound for its home base of Mar del Plata about 260 miles south of Buenos Aires. Argentine Navy officials believe the sub took on water and had a fire in a battery compartment. The crew got the fire under control, but officials believe a later blast instantly killed the sailors and sent the vessel to the seafloor.

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My top five most overplayed Christmas songs

I let out a scream. I had had enough of sports talk radio, the rock station I was listening to seemed to fill the air with more talk than music, and Spotify and Audible weren’t cutting it.

I turned to one of the local radio stations playing Christmas music round-the-clock and, of course, within a few seconds of tuning in, the station started playing “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” by Andy Williams.

Now I live in Pennsylvania and love snow as much as anyone, but despite Andy William’s  pleas of “parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting,” I can’t recall that I’ve ever gone “caroling in the snow.” Oh, I have nothing against Andy Williams, but I just had had enough of his song and, quite frankly, his voice. It seems that anytime I turn on the radio anymore I come across his song.

So, I, of course, let out a scream in my car. Fortunately for me I had my window shut and the guy in the car in the next lane couldn’t hear me.

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Help me Magic 8-Ball!

I got the miniature Magic 8-Ball when my daughter gave it to me after she attended a friend’s birthday party. She handed me the 8-Ball happily and told me that it was for me since her friend didn’t give out any parting presents for the parents.

img_7338.jpg“You came too. They should give party favors to the mommies and daddies too.” She was so earnest and concerned about me, I couldn’t dare to say no. I took the cheap plastic Magic 8-Ball into my office and sat it next to computer monitor. In the many years since, when I’ve been twitchy with nervous excitement or simply looking for a moment of inspiration, I’ve picked up the 8-Ball and shaken it. I can’t say it’s brought on any divine inspiration or gotten me out of any jams, but it’s still been a fun break.

Should I go to lunch with my friend Steve? Ask again later. Will the technical review and client acceptance testing process be completed on time? It is certain. The water has leaked out of the ball, making the advice hard to make out now, and it’s been pushed aside to a far corner of my desk, but there it still sat today until I decided that it’s usefulness had come and gone.

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A new kind of College Signing Day?

The big man on campus walks across a podium in the Rice University basketball arena to the cheers and applause of more than 5,000 adoring fans. In their new book, The Power of Moments, Dan and Chip Heath describe the hoopla surrounding College Signing Day that a start-up charter school in Houston creates each year.

I can envision the scene in my head: coaches and the guest of honor seated at a table in the middle of the arena with two or three college hats with school colors situated prominently on the table. Mom and dad stand off to the side, their eyes beaming in the arena lights and the crowd explodes with excitement.

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The head coach says a few quick words and then hands the mic over to the football star. Which will it be? Florida State, Miami or maybe a surprise school, Ohio State or Oklahoma perhaps?

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Goodbyes are the hardest

When I was a young boy, my mom would gently wake me before my two brothers. It would still be pitch black outside, but since I was the youngest, I had to get up first to get a shower and get ready for school.

I never wanted to get up. It was always a struggle, in no small part, because I hated elementary school. My mom though encouraged me to keep trying and to give school a chance.

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Once I was dressed, my mom would have my favorite cereal ready for me. While I ate breakfast, we would chat about little things, how school was going, about my basketball practice, whatever book I was reading.

We couldn’t talk for long. My mom carpooled with a neighbor from up the road and soon enough she would pull up to our house. As soon as we saw the car lights outside the kitchen window, my mom would gulp down the last of her coffee and give me a quick hug. She’d tell me to have a great day in school and to do my best. She’d then run outside for her ride.

I didn’t want her to go, but I couldn’t do anything about the situation. I would walk to the window and watch the car drive away down the hill. My fingers pressed against the window, I would stay to watch the last remnants of the car’s taillight fade away into the distance and only then would I take a deep breath and go back to getting ready for school.

Goodbyes are the hardest. 

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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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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.

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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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