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.

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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Making a connection at 65 mph

When my daughter was in high school several years ago, I had the job of driving her to school. I would use the miles to list out in my head all the things that I needed to get done that day. My to-do list always seemed to outnumber the number of hours in the day.

I spent most of my time though shaking my head at the carelessness of the other drivers and worrying about getting into work on time. A fender bender here, a garbage truck there, and I could automatically count on another five to ten minutes tacked onto my commute.

My daughter would sleep or chill for much of the drive, but she’d usually wake up a few minutes before we got to the school and talk about her schedule, what tests she had coming up, how her friends were doing, and her worries and concerns. I have my flaws and can be thick-headed with the best, but I was somehow smart enough to shut up and just listen. I learned a ton by just listening.

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I came to count on the last five minutes of the drive. And in a way, I think she did too. Soon, without any prompting, she was asking for my thoughts on college and her future. She came to trust me so much that she even let me go prom dress shopping with her. We connected in ways that I never would have expected.

Despite the hassle, I came to miss the drive.

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My five biggest parenting mistakes

I checked the calendar on my smartphone one more time. My coworker was running late. We were supposed to meet for coffee early in the morning before our schedules got too crazy. We needed to come to agreement on a key section of our project plan.

He’s normally an obsessively punctual person so I was surprised when I didn’t immediately see him in our company cafeteria and even more surprised when he showed up fifteen minutes late looking flustered with his bag flying behind him and his shirt tail sneaking out of his pants. He apologized and explained that it had taken everything he had to get out the door.

I told him to get his coffee and take a few minutes and we could start when he was ready. When he came back he told me that his 6-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter both had meltdowns and didn’t want to go to school. He ended up making matters worse by screaming at the two of them. Everything went downhill from there.

I told him that I could relate and shared that I’ve had more than a few parental failures in my day. We chatted about our families for a few minutes and then quickly tackled our work issue.

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You’re only 21 once!

I’m having a panic attack.

It’s not your normal kind of attack. I’m not stressing over work or home. It’s not a mid-life crisis. I have no desire to run into work, throw my laptop onto my boss’ desk and get on the first plane to Hawaii or the Maldives or run to the nearest car dealer and come home with a flashy new convertible. I have to admit the trip to Hawaii wouldn’t be half bad.

No, I’m panicking, because in a few days my daughter will turn 21. I’m extremely happy for her, but I’m having a tough time with the milestone. I’ve known this day has been coming. She’s matured in front of my eyes from a bright-eyed, studious high school student to an energetic, passionate, young woman full of ideas and beliefs on how to make the world a better place. She’s mature beyond her years and wiser than some people twice or three times her age.

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Getting good at saying college goodbyes

The inevitable happened.

Several weeks ago, we dropped our middle child, our oldest son, off at college. He’s starting his freshman year and he couldn’t wait to start. As soon as the car was unloaded, he was ready for us to say “goodbye.” And then this past weekend, we loaded up the SUV and drove our oldest child, our daughter, to Washington, D.C. where she’s taking two evening classes and working as an intern.

In the end, it was worse and in some other ways, easier than we thought it would be. I’ve written in the past about the challenge of saying goodbye to our kids. You get used to having your kids in your life and hearing everything about their day and then one day you drop them off and you watch them get smaller and smaller in the rear view mirror. Oh, that’s life, that’s the way it’s supposed to be, we’re adults, we know that, but it can be still be a challenge.

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The wisdom of Solomon

In the Bible, God comes to King Solomon in a dream and offers him whatever he wants. The mind explodes with possibilities: wealth, jewels, power, fame, and status all come quickly to mind.

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If in Solomon’s position, knowing me, I’d probably snicker or take on the “doubting Thomas” role, suggesting that God’s offer had to be a joke.  I would more than likely say something sarcastic like: “God asking me what I want? Yea right, when pigs fly.” I would assume it was a mixture of insomnia and a very active imagination.

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Learning to let go

vials-1781316_640I should be better at this.

My son is attending a science camp geared for middle school students at a local college this week and has come home with stories about the experiments the class has performed each day and some of the antics of the other kids.

I’ve been encouraged by the experiments, not so much by the other kids. In short, some of the boys have been rude to the teacher and other students; played video games when they should have been listening; and misbehaved. The behavior hasn’t been crazy or even extraordinary, just bothersome.

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The art of the negotiation: The shootout at the O.K. Corral

I look him over coldly, head to toe. I pay close attention to the little beads of sweat forming on his brow and the twitch of his hands. He does the same to me. We’re both trying to read each other, to get a sense of the other guy.

We’re two cold-hearted gunslingers from the American Old West. In another time, we would have been in Dodge City, Kansas, or Tombstone, Arizona, facing off in a real life duel. Instead, we’re two men facing off in, well, a mattress store in suburbia.

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He’s a salesman, looking to add to his weekly sales total and push up his commission. I’m a customer looking to make the best possible deal. If we walked outside right now guns drawn, we’d probably get run over on this hot 90-degree day by a pimply-faced teenager fighting for a parking spot in front of the new frozen yogurt stand or by a soccer mom or dad in a huge tank-like SUV going to the LA Fitness gym. Continue reading “The art of the negotiation: The shootout at the O.K. Corral”