Holiday Traditions

We are taking a brief break here at the end of the year, but I wanted to share a few of the end of year traditions in our family.  This is the time of year when there are probably as many family traditions in play as any other.  Here are some of ours:

Happy Holidays (whatever you may be celebrating)

Happy Holidays (whatever you may be celebrating)

The Nut Bowl : This is one that my dad started.  There would always be a wooden salad bowl filled with mixed nuts in shells sitting in the living room.  If you felt the need for a quick holiday munch you could start cracking walnuts, pecans, almonds, hazel nuts and the dreaded brazil nuts.  Today I own that bowl and it’s filled with nuts during the holiday season.

Christmas movies : There’s a standard list of movies we watch virtually every year – “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown”, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “White Christmas”, “A Wish For Wings That Work”, “WKRP In Cincinnati” Christmas episode, some version of “A Christmas Carol” (the Alistair Sim, and Patrick Stewart versions are our favorites.  Someday I need to add the Mr. Magoo version too), The Waltons special “The Homecoming”, and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”.  When The Kid was young we had a tradition of taping the Christmas morning present opening and the one when she was three years old has become part of our viewing tradition as well.

Christmas Ornaments – This is just part of the whole thing.  Those ornaments that must go on the tree.  We are blessed with some beautiful handmade ornaments done by members of our family plus the special ones that have some story attached to them.  Stories that are revisited every time we hang them.  Plus a pickle and a chicken wing!

Christmas Eve – We open one small gift on Christmas Eve (see below) and for the last thirty years or so, go to the midnight service at church.  This year will be different because we will be going to someplace different for that service.  I hope we can feel like the tradition continues to roll along smoothly.

Christmas Morning – I don’t remember ever hearing about families who opened their presents on Christmas Eve till we moved to Jamestown.  We are a Christmas morning family for presents.  We have a special breakfast of cinnamon rolls and an egg and sausage bake.  Since we usually don’t live in places with fireplaces we pop in the fireplace DVD for the TV and some Christmas music on the stereo.

Santa’s Helper – Every year The Kid dons her Santa hat and hands out the presents.  It’s been here job since she was small.  Wouldn’t be Christmas any other way.  Maybe someday there will be a different little helper to take over.

New Year Tradition – We have never been big New Year’s Eve party people.  Just never worked for us.  So we will stay at home (much safer), wait for the ball to drop and go to bed.  In the morning we begin our laziest day of the year.  We throw some hot dogs and sauerkraut in the crockpot and some kielbasa in barbecue on the stove.  You eat when you feel like eating, watch what you feel like watching (not a lot of bowl game watching since we’re not huge college football fans) and generally start the year goofing off as much as possible.

Epiphany – Our holiday season ends on the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6 in 2015).  That’s the end of the twelve days of Christmas and the day we will take down our Christmas tree.  Yeah, that usually means we are the last house on the block with a tree at the curb.  That’s fine with us.

Whatever you do this time of year, celebrate or not, I hope you have the best time of year you can have.  From this craxy, mized up world of mine I wish you the most joyous and merry of Christmases.  See you in 2015.

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For Valentine’s Day

I’m not sending flowers (ridiculously expensive this time of year.  I like to get her flowers all year long).

I’m not sending a card (sorry, but they seem silly to me.  Eventually they get thrown away.  Not the image I’m looking for here).

I’m not sending chocolates (neither of us need the extra calories at the moment.  Again, I’d rather buy her really good chocolate throughout the year).

Courtesy of DragoArt.com

Courtesy of DragoArt.com

I have a certain gift for words and I prefer gifts that are personal over ones mass produced.  So I thought I’d write an open love letter to my Valentine.

That’s when I realized there was a problem.  Where to begin?  Where to end?  What words to use to describe all the things she has meant, means and I hope will continue to mean to me?  It feels like I’m caught between not having enough words and needing so many words that I can not possibly put them all down.  The quote that leapt to mind is from “The Lord of the Rings” where Fangorn the Ent describes Entish names to Merry and Pippin:

…it would take a very long while: my name is growing all the time…Real names tell you the story of the things they belong to…

So how to name a love affair that will pass it’s 37th anniversary in just a couple weeks?  How to describe the ups and downs?  How many words are needed?  How do I name this love affair?  Name something that keeps on growing?

In the beginning we were a house divided.  I was smitten.  Unlike many boys I never went through the “Ewwww, girls” phase.  I’ve always liked girls.  So my first imaginings of a “dream girl” came in either third or fourth grade.  Over the years some parts of that image changed but two did not.  She was about my height (I love long legs) and she had long brown hair.  So when I looked across the floor of my Acting 1 class and saw long legs and long brown hair wrapped in a workout leotard I was pretty much done.  Didn’t know it the time, but it was over.

For her part, after short aquaintance, she decided I was an obnoxious jerk.  As always, she was correct.  I was an immature, insecure boy who covered it up with a thick layer of cockiness.  It would take the better part of two years before most of the problems in our early relationship got ironed out.  Or call it “Uuntil I grew up and realized how close I was to losing my dream girl”.

How many stories within our story do I need to tell?  If you ever see us dancing (which is rare) watch for the moment when we lean in close.  You’ll think we’re dancing cheek to cheek but you’ll be wrong.  For just a few seconds we’ll be dancing ear to ear.  Then we’ll move apart, smile and kiss.  It’s in memory of two nervous children who were dancing as part of a rehersal exercise, overshot the mark and were too embarassed to correct ourselves.

Ask about our first married argument.  We’ll smile widely and answer “Spaghetti!”.  It’s true.  Our first argument (in almost 32 years of marriage we rarely argue) was over how often we had spaghetti for dinner.  We’ve never argued about money.  We have argued about pasta frequency.

There’s the story about the pizza bought with pennies.  It’s my favorite.  Because it shows how much this lady loves me.  Money was tight, but then money has been tight our entire life together.  It bothers me that I can’t buy her special things.  Things she’s never asked for but that I want to give her.  On that day I was beside myself because money was so tight we couldn’t even afford a pizza.  A freaking pizza!  She assured me, as she always does, that it doesn’t matter.  Then later that day she bought me a pizza.  She gathered all the change in the house and bought a pizza.  I’m not sure how well she even remembers the story other than the fact that I tell it over and over and over.

You see, I’m amazed that she loves me.  I don’t see myself as conventional or easy to be around.  I’m a dreamer and not particularly practical in many ways.  I can be astoundingly lazy at times and easily distracted.  Certainly the professional life I’ve led has been less than smooth.  Two completely different careers (neither of them overly lucrative) so far, with uncertainty facing us yet again.  For all my verbal skills I can be uncommunicative.  I’m a romantic who is really quite bad at being romantic.  And at times I can still be an idiot.

One of my bosses, upon hearing that the love of my life was in the hospital again (the hospital is, sadly, a recurring set in our little life play), told me that most guys would leave a wife with this many problems.  I thought it was not only one of the most insensitive things ever said to me but also one of the dumbest.  Maybe “most guys” would (I don’t believe it for a minute but I’ve been wrong before) but I don’t want to be one of those guys.

Besides, I’m still crazy in love with her.

I love that I can make her laugh.  I love the sound of her voice.  I love the feel of her in my arms and the feel of her arms around me.  I am humbled that she loves with a fierce determination that has stood up through everything.  I love that she believes in me even when I don’t.  My heart lifts at the sight or sound of her.  She inspires me to keep trying to be my very best self.

This is my valentine to her.

Somehow flowers, candy and a card seemed terribly insufficient.

I love you, Beautiful.

For a New Year

Well 2013 was quite the experience.

My wife and I tried living apart for almost 4 months, the longest we’ve been apart in more than 30 years.  We didn’t like it.  But we’re doing it again in just a matter of days.

My daughter began advanced studies aimed at a Master’s Degree.  So far it has made her a better writer, a more confident person and taken her (with some little drama not of her own making) to Ireland.  She’s going to do it again as well (although we hope without the drama bit).

I lost the best job I’ve ever had after 13 years.  That has been both painful and inspiring.  The truth is that it was time for some kind of change.  Either move on or re-create what I was doing all together.  I’m nervous but excited.  To those who made the last 13 years the amazing ride it has been my thanks and appreciation.  I’ll keep you up date on the journey.  All I know is that I am headed somewhere I didn’t anticipate.  Kind of enjoy that really!

My travels this year took me to Del Ray, Florida, St. Louis, MO; New York City including a trip to City Island for some of the best seafood I’ve ever had; toured the wine country of northeastern Ohio; Williamsburg, VA; and a couple trips to play tourist in Pittsburgh.  There was a LOT of driving back and forth to Buffalo and the surrounding area.

I’ve continued to struggle with the weight gain of a couple years ago.  I’ve made some progress but not enough.  The time off will let me focus better and, with any luck at all, jump start that process.

I want to focus on my writing and guitar playing this year.  It’s time to let my creativity have some breathing room.  Also a good time to do some more winnowing down of the many years accretion of stuff.  I will be digitizing anything of value.  Got some toys to help with that this Christmas.

So 2013 was a good year.  I’m hoping for even more in 2014.

My Wonderful Life

A slight variation from the usual weekly post of thanks.

It feels tougher this week to focus on being thankful.  There are the usual suspects, I’m married to the great love of my life, I have a child of whom I am perfectly proud, my health is pretty good.  The bills get paid, I have food in the frig and a roof over my head.

And in just a week’s time I will be unemployed again.  This is my third foray into the land of the jobless.  It doesn’t really matter how it ended (and this ended better than many), the reality is that I’ll be without a job.

Right or wrong it feels like I failed.  At the very top of my list of the things I fear/hate the most is failure.  I can’t explain to you why I feel this way but I do.  I can not, must not, will not fail.

Losing my job feels like failure.

There’s no good time to be unemployed but there are certainly bad times.  Being notified that you’re no longer part of the plan just before Christmas is tough.  You start making austerity cuts and tightening the budget all around.

Just before Christmas.  It sucks.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is one of our favorite Christmas movies.  I know all the arguments against it.  It’s sappy and maudlin and suffers from what some people find to be Capra’s insufferable optimism.  That last one is pretty much why I love it.

At this time of sadness and worry a group of family members and friends pitched in to help my daughter make sure that this Christmas didn’t suck.  Just like the scene in the movie where George Bailey’s friends pitch in to help him at Christmas time these wonderful people did the same for me and my lady wife.  We were greeted by a generous collection of presents including one that we had just written off as being way outside the budget this year.

My daughter saved that box for last.  I pulled away the wrapping paper and opened the (big) box.  And there it was.  A present that I KNOW isn’t inexpensive.  I had pushed it down the road into the land of “maybe someday”.

When I saw it my face went blank and then the tears began.  I was stunned and speechless.  Then my daughter handed me the card that went with it.  In it was money for a few more presents with this message :

“No man is a failure who has friends.”

It’s a line from Capra’s Christmas classic.  It’s a sentence that I intend to make part of my personal credo going forward. How can I be a failure if there are people out there who care enough to reach into their pocket to care for me?

Not failure.  Not sure what to call it but it’s not failure.  Can’t be failure.

Not any more.

For that I am truly thankful.

For All These Things

How can it be 26 years ago this week?  I remember those days in a blur, yet like they were just last week.

My baby girl turned 26 earlier this week.

I don’t think I tell her often enough how thankful I am that she’s in my life.  Without her I never would have entered into one of the two best jobs I’ve ever had.  Father (the other is husband).  She allowed me to be the father to an amazing baby, little girl, teenager and young woman.  All those things came true at least in part despite me.  I have loved every minute of it.  Even the hard, confusing, angry moments.  At the time I hated most of those but I wouldn’t give them up.

My life would be different in so many ways if she hadn’t been there.  So different and so much the less without her.

This week I am thankful for –

The privilege of being part of her life,

The wonderful things I never would have discovered without her,

The inspiration she has been for me and continues to be.

For that I am truly thankful.

For All These Things

This is the day.

THE day for what this post is all about.  It’s Thanksgiving Day.  The day we are supposed to be truly thankful for all the good things in our lives.

But it feels like we’re just going through the motions.  Thankful for a couple days off from work.  Thankful for more food than we really need to eat.  Thankful for football and/or a day of shopping madness.

THAT’S what Thanksgiving is all about?  Somehow I don’t think so.  If the discipline of doing this post each week has taught me anything it’s that there are so many things to be thankful for that we need to stop and appreciate.  I’ve spent far, far, FAR too much of my life NOT being thankful for the things in my life.  Even the hard times because I’ve probably learned my greatest lessons from them.  How can I say thank you for all the things in my life in a few words, a few lines, a few minutes?

It’s not possible.  So I won’t try.  I’ll keep on being thankful day in and day out, week in/week out, month in/month out, year in/year out.

This week I am thankful for –

For family – the one I started with my lady wife, the one that raised me and the one that let me join them,

For friends – too often take for granted.  I love you all and cherish you,

The readers of this blog – I don’t know how you came here, I don’t know why you stay.  But I am thankful for each and every one of you.

For that I am truly thankful.