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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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.

Starting over after tragedy

I turned on the television last week to see a story on a husband and wife clearing away mud and debris caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. They told the reporter they were still without power and lacked the basic essentials.

The husband tried to keep a brave face and said much of the house could be replaced, but he teared up when he talked of family mementos and photos that had been destroyed. The two turned away from the camera and went back to work. They looked exhausted and weary.

Later that same night, I saw another report on a California married couple who managed to survive six hours inside their neighbors pool while their entire neighborhood burned to the ground.

The Santa Rosa couple had gone to bed and woke to find thefire upon them. They tried to get away, but with no place to turn, they ran to their neighbors pool and huddled together in the pool while flames overtook everything around them. After the terrifying night in the pool, the couple walked back to their home to find it completely burned along with their SUV and truck.

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You can take the boy out of the country, but . . .

I shake my head some days.

I grew up in a rural farming community where small, simple church steeples outnumbered taverns and watering holes and you had to drive 30 minutes to get to the nearest grocery store.  Each small village had a post office and maybe a gas station. When I was young, I couldn’t wait to leave the community. While I had good reasons for wanting to get away, I’ve come to appreciate the small-town values that helped shape me.

I’ve lived now for most of the past thirty years in the suburbs and there’s much I love about my adopted hometown. I love that I’m close to the best of all worlds, close to the rapid, mile-a-minute pace of the city, but still relatively close to laid-back attitude that comes with open space and farmland.

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Living in a viral age: Hello Germany

airplane-paper-2648958_640When I was a kid, I would take out a piece of composition paper from one of my school notebooks and fold it into an airplane. I would be especially careful to keep the folds crisp, like I had steamed them with a hot iron. I would repeat this process, making a hangar-full of planes, coloring and designing them with lightening bolts and flags.

When I was finally ready, I would run to our small porch and have competitions to see which plane would fly the farthest. I would heave each plane as far forward in the air as I could. Most attempts would start off strong and then spiral out of control into a nosedive. When I was really lucky, a plane would hit a little bit of a breeze, build-up even more speed, and take off down the hill and land in my neighbor’s pasture.

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Superman versus Batman? Who ya got?

We jostled each other in line to go back into school from our morning recess. The bell always seemed to ring too soon. I’m not sure who started it, but everyone started chiming in with an opinion on their favorite superhero. One kid cried out Superman. Another yelled Batman.

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When together, comic book publisher DC Comics called them “The World’s Finest” as they worked to fight the Joker and Lex Luthor and all that’s wrong in the world. When against each other, they each brought something different to the fight.

The Man of Steel was “faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound” and to boot he could shoot lasers out of his eyes. On the other hand, Batman possessed no superpowers; but relied on his genius intellect, physical prowess, martial arts abilities, knowledge of science and technology, vast wealth, and indomitable will.

Hence, my classmates’ fight.

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My own lil’ time machine

A friend of mine recently gave me a unique, one-of-a-kind gift. You can’t find one of these in an Apple store or on Amazon. You can’t even travel across the globe to a quaint little shop in some faraway country to pick up a gift like this.

My friend gave me a mini time machine that allows me to go back to an earlier time in my life. Think H.G Wells Time Machine, Doc Brown’s Delorean from Back to the Future,  the time traveling TARDIS from the Dr. Who TV show, or if you must, the hot tub from the Hot Tub Time Machine from more recent fame.

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An unlikely mentor

I keep trying to write something about the current state of politics. I’ll start commenting on one side of the aisle and then the other does something that I find completely ridiculous. In the end, I find myself right back where I started. So, instead of a political blog, I write today about a mentor who saw something in me that no one else had ever seen.


I lifted the ax and took a huge whack out of the log. With each swing, I could feel the anger seep out of my pores. I worked the summer helping a family friend on his small farm. I mowed his fields; helped build a fencepost and clear out a small barn, hauled hay; cut wood and a million other odd jobs.

Every day seemed to wrap into the other.

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My difficult day: life & death up close

I’m not sure what put me over the edge. My first thought was two sad stories I saw on my local news on a terminally ill teenager and a woman fighting breast cancer.

It could have been the realization that my children are getting older. They’re no longer little kids, running around the house. In a few years, we’re going to have a tougher and tougher time getting everyone together at the same time for the holidays.

In addition, I’ve been putting in a ton of hours in my job. I have a major project coming due in a few months and my work-life balance has certainly been tilted too much in one direction. It could have been the Christmas lights or even the picture a friend of mine sent me of him and his newborn baby.

I had a million thoughts racing through my head, but nothing prepared me for the news I got later in the day.

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‘With a little help from my friends’

When you hear former NFL Quarterback Jake Plummer describe Pat Tillman, who left a lucrative NFL career to become a U.S. Army Ranger and who died in a friendly fire incident in 2006, you find yourself wishing that you would have had the chance to get to know him too. Continue reading “‘With a little help from my friends’”