The State of the Union with a family twist

A new take on a historically political event: President Donald Trump will give his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night. The event will draw the attention from both his supporters and critics.

Article II, Section 3, Clause 1 of the Constitution commands the president to “from time to time give to the Congress information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” Past presidents have traditionally brought special guests and used the address as a chance to highlight policy wins and goals for the coming year.

Most state constitutions and many cities now have the same requirement.

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My wish for the future

I walked to my car searching for the right words to describe the celebration. My coworker couldn’t have been happier. He had a smile that spread from one side of his face to the other. I couldn’t blame him for beaming. After more than twenty-some years with my company, he was retiring. A large group of his friends and coworkers had gotten together to wish him well.

Two weeks later, I attended a second retirement celebration for another friend. We had worked together at another company a number of years ago. We had lost track of each of other when I had moved on, but had reconnected in recent years. The celebration this time around was a more intimate lunch to match his personality. The common denominator for both retirees: their smiles.

They couldn’t have been more content and relaxed. They both looked like the weight of the world had been lifted off their shoulders.

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Going out for a long walk: My dream of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail

The guy in the picture has sun-drenched hair and a scraggly beard, but looks fit. His excitement and elation jump off the computer screen. He holds up his arms in celebration, a hiking pole dangles down from his arms. The woman in the picture has her arms in the air too and an even bigger smile.

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The two took the photo after they completed the Appalachian Trail, a 2,200-mile National Scenic Trail that extends from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine. The two started their hike in late March and ended six months later in early September. Like most thru-hikers, they walked during the day — averaging about 8-10 miles in the early going and then 15-20 once they got stronger — and slept in a tent or one of the 250 shelter sites spaced about a day’s hike apart along the trail. They kept a regular schedule and every seven days or so, spent a night in a hotel or hostel in one of the communities near the trail, where they rested and loaded up on provisions.

Since the trail was completed in the 1930s, more than 12,000 people have hiked the full-length of the trail, known simply as the A.T. Historically, only about 10% to 15% of those who make the attempt report to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy that they completed it. The husband and wife were two of the most recent hikers to accomplish the task this past fall.

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Giving Father Time the heave-ho

My wife recently celebrated a big milestone birthday. Leading up to the big day, I noticed that she was feeling a bit self-aware about the milestone. The usual stuff, everyone complains about getting older:

  • She woke up one day worrying that the pain in her knee had gotten worse because she was a year older.
  • Another day she joked that over night her hair had gotten grayer.

To help celebrate the big day, I set up a small surprise party with a few friends and family members. I also tried to cheer her up on the day itself with a card and a few presents.

To me she looks as beautiful today as she did the day we met so many years ago. (Scratch that, she looks prettier.) The funny thing is that I celebrate the same birthday later this year and have had the same crazy thoughts about getting older.

I get up on the wrong side of the bed and instantly blame the gathering years. It doesn’t matter that I spent an extra 30 minutes at the gym the previous day and having slowly been increasing my mileage on the roads.  In my mind, I’m falling behind to the “younger me.”

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Pinewood Derby parenting lessons

When my sons participated in the Cub Scouts, the pack would always have a Christmas party. The celebration was always a ton of fun, until the very end of the evening. I dreaded that part of the night, because that’s when the pack leaders would hand out the Pinewood Derby kits.

Each individual cub scout with the help of an adult over the next few weeks would build a car from a kit that contained a small piece of pine wood, plastic wheels and nails that served as metal axles. The pack would have a race, complete with a 32-foot track and timer later in the March. The winner of each den would win a small trophy.

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Trying to fall asleep on Christmas Eve

I couldn’t sleep. I turned to one side, then back to the other. I pulled my pillow over my head and clinched my eyes tight hoping that both would miraculously put me to sleep. I tried to count sheep, but nothing seemed to help put me into a blissful sleep.

I was tired, but I just couldn’t fall asleep. Despite my best efforts, I heard every little movement in the house. I’d hear a distant ruffling sound and wonder if the noise was one of Santa’s reindeers up on the roof — my guess was that Comet or Blitzen were acting-up —or simply a bush scratching against the house?

I’d count the minutes until I could race to the living room to see what Santa Claus brought my family and me. Christmas eve night is a sleepless night for many kids.

When I was very young, however, I remember one Christmas Eve when I swear I spent much, if not all of the night, tossing and turning. I didn’t fall asleep until the wee hours of the morning.

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The Ghost of Christmas Past

A number of years ago, my eleven-year-old daughter and eight-year-old son barged into my wife and my bedroom and bounced on top of our bed. Right behind them, their three-year-old brother waddled into the room too. His brother and sister reached down from their perch on the bed, grabbed him by the shoulders, and lifted him up.

I looked up in my half-awake state to see three little monkeys giggling and staring back at me. My wife and I looked at each other and pulled ourselves up to sitting positions. “Did he come, did he come?” my daughter asked. Right on cue, the two boys screamed out too, “Yea, did he come?”

They, of course, wanted to know if Santa Claus with his big red bag of goodies had come to our house and couldn’t wait to run downstairs to open their presents. They first had to convince my wife and I to wake up.

I grabbed the clock and let out a groan. The numbers on the clock told me that it was a little before 5 a.m. I considered telling the kids to go back to bed, but I doubted the move would work. My wife must have been thinking the same thing. She poked me in the stomach and told me to get moving.

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My life of Christmas crime

I tip-toed into my parent’s room. I’m not sure why I was worried about being quiet. My two older brothers were off doing something with their friends and my mom and dad had left to pick up milk and bread from the store and wouldn’t be back home for at least another 15 minutes. I had the run of the place.

In any event, I slipped into their room as quietly as I could, being sure to step over the two squeaky floorboards that announced your arrival anytime you stepped foot in the room.

I looked first under their bed and found nothing but a pair of my mom’s old shoes and a slew of dust bunnies. I then went to their closet. The room was small. If my mom was going to hide any Christmas presents in the room, the choices were pretty limited: underneath the bed, the closet, and maybe an old chest, but that was it.

I slid back the closet sliding and smiled. I had hit payday.

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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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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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