Climate change your mind, skeptic

People who doubt that mankind has had an effect on the climate of the earth puzzle me. I am a person of faith, and not a scientist, but I do believe in the scientific method, and scientific-methodwhen well over ninety percent of the world’s scientists agree on something, I think it is foolish to doubt their logic, their methods, or their conclusions. I believe strongly in the scientific method (question, pose hypothesis, experiment, analyze results, form a conclusion). But aside from simply accepting the claims of others, there is something I have in my own home that using in simple, accidental, experimentation convinced me that the theories behind greenhouse gasses and climate change are legit.

It’s bacon.

The earth has been hanging around for millions of years, and aside from the natural life cycles of natural pollutants like forest fires, volcanic eruptions, and flatulating cows, it is not unreasonable to believe that a couple of centuries of an industrial revolution pumping all the junk we do into the atmosphere of the planet has had an undesirable effect.

Bacon is a perfect example. Judge for yourself.

Grab a pound of bacon, throw it in a basic, twelve-inch frying pan, put it on the stove and turn the burner on beneath the pan.  Cook the bacon and then don’t stop cooking the bacon. Let the bacon fry to a crispy brown and then let it simmer to a crispy, charcoal-black shade. Cook the bacon until the bacon no longer is visually identifiable as bacon and scientific-method-editthen keep cooking the bacon until every smoke alarm in the house has triggered in tandem.  Then, turn off the stove, shut off the smoke detectors, let the pan cool down, throw out the bacon char (and probably the pan, too).

Then look up at the ceiling of your kitchen.

That sooty, greasy, glop you see?  It’s not going away. It will be there, timeless in its heaviness. Ample proof that global warming is indeed caused, at least in part, by mankind. Obviously, one pan of bacon is not absolute proof of anything, but if you replicate this experiment, which, according to National Safety Council statistics is done at a steadily increasing rate on a daily basis in America (with statistically alarming spikes on Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day) and extrapolate the results outward mathematically, manmade global warming is easily believable.

Oh, and, if you have a textured ceiling in your kitchen, you will also have more faith in the theory that dinosaurs became extinct by being choked en masse not by gasses produced by a huge asteroid strike or volcanic eruption, but by the smoke and grease from billions of wild boars who were barbequed by the conflagration triggered by the aforementioned asteroid.

Try this experimentation yourself, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. As a wise old man once bacon1told me, “Don’t ask a question if you aren’t ready for the answer.” Global warming is real.

The proof is in the bacon. And on the ceiling.

Signs of…

We spent our two weeks of Christmas break on the road, traveling from New Orleans to visit family in Minnesota and then back. A wonderful time was had, but we put in over 3800 miles of windshield time, with plenty of stops; ample opportunities for “Umm….?” moments.

This first one actually resulted in my coining a new phrase.

Driving through northern Missouri, I saw a billboard for a real estate guy; (First name) ‘Hoodie’ Hood. asterisk1I teach in an urban high school, I know nicknames and monikers. I know American culture, and I know hoodies. I see a guy who calls himself ‘Hoodie’ I’m thinking someone who is hip.

Happening, with it. Yo!  Ya know?

‘Hoodie’ should be pretty much anything other than a middle-aged, white bread, white guy, yet there he was, smiling (sort of), in his sportcoat and open neck shirt on a big ol’ highway billboard: ‘Hoodie’ Hood.

‘Hoodie’ is what I now call a ‘badassterisk’ – someone who thinks they are a badass*

*…but they really aren’t.

Feel free to use the phrase, badassterisk*. I think it has a fair number of applications. If someone is trying to look or act tougher than they could ever hope to be, or just posturing in a ridiculous way for whatever reason, simply comment, “Oh yeah, that guy is a real badassterisk*.”

Trust me. You’ll be using that one.

blackfridayAnother double-take-inducer was this sticker I noticed in the drive-through window at a Minneapolis area fast-food outlet.

Black Friday hours? Seriously? Black Friday is now an official enough holiday to warrant its own fast food drive through hours? As a promotion or public service?

Really? Breakfast for Black Friday?

“Emperor Nero, please phone your office.”

But the true pièce de résistance comes this masterpiece of modern culture from Memphis, Tennessee.

We stopped at a really small gas MemphisPosterstation/convenience store to get gas and use the restroom. While waiting in line for the restroom key, I noticed the poster at left posted on the store’s limited wall space. Next to the (fairly large, for a small store) beer cooler, I might add.

The poster’s wording itself was jarring enough: ‘Give Responsibly. Lottery Tickets Aren’t Child’s Play’ was one thing; the visual of the gift boxes (which I took to represent Toys for Tots or some other such donation setting) really pushed this one into a whole new realm.

Then I really started to think about it.

Wouldn’t you love to have been a fly on the wall of the meeting where this whole concept came to fruition? “Folks…we have a major issue here with kids being given lottery tickets for Christmas gifts. People are even putting them in donation boxes for charity toy drives! I think we need an ad campaign to tell people ‘this is really not okay.’ We’ll hang ’em up everyplace we sell lottery tickets. Preferably by the beer coolers.”

What I wonder is, what prompted the revelation that this was a problem? Dickensian waifs oliver1showing up to claim their winnings? Family shout-outs on Facebook? (“Happy ninth birthday, Johnny! So glad you enjoyed the scratch-offs! Hope you win big!”)  Maybe it was kids themselves, gleefully Instagraming themselves holding wads of scratch-offs.  “Folks, we have a problem here…”

Yeah, that particular lottery department meeting and subsequent creative session would have been something to behold.

Bet the person who pitched this ad campaign is a real badassterisk.*

Showing some resolve

“When a person is accountable to someone else for doing what they said they would do, they get stuff done. They make changes they’ve been toying with for years. They reach their goals.”

– Shana Montesol Johnson

Accountability. People can’t help you with achieving anything if they don’t know what you dorothy-galeare trying to achieve. Dorothy would still be roaming around Oz if she hadn’t shared her goal of going home with everyone around her, after all.

Some of the items on the list that follows are one-shot deals, others are lifestyle choices I am consciously making that will require sustained effort. And accountability.

The things on this list are obviously personal, some are professionally oriented. Some of them are slam-dunk, one-planned (2)shot deals while others will require stick-to-itiveness and more concerted effort and accountability. Some of the entries are spiritual, many are fairly esoteric.

New Year’s Resolutions? Not in the traditional sense. I think of this as more of an ‘Intention Martini’- positives are the gin while the not-to-dos are the vermouth. And I like my resolve dry, very dry.

Throughout the coming year, feel free to prod, cajole, remind, opine, encourage, support, and reassure me should I stray or simply get lazy from carrying out the objectives set forth below.

Without further ado:

Do’s, Don’ts and ‘Ehhh…I dunnos’ for 2017

Write more.Photo0541

Read more. For fun.
Blog more frequently.

See more movies.
See more good movies

Coin a new phrase, at least once each fiscal quarter.
Be never enough to be too much of a good thing.

More baseball.

Keep my ‘eyes on the prize.’ Unless I am eating out of a box of Cracker Jack.

Finish at least two major writing projects, submit them for publications.

-.-. — — — ..- -. .. -.-. .- – . -… . – – . .-. .-.-.-

Build a better, quirkier vocabulary.
Utilize said vocabulary.
Without excessive, superfluous verbiage.

Be inspiring.

Avoid saying ‘paradigm.’
Unless being sarcastic.

Insert tab ‘A’ into slot ‘B’ with impunity

Keep in mind that sometimes, less is more. More or less.

Write a mantra – in Dr. Seuss style rhyming couplets. Use it.Mack

Keep experiencing

Avoid referring to others as pedantic.
Avoid being pedantic.

Walk more.

Don’t immediately disregard real-life deus ex machinas.

Write more.
Read more. For fun.
Blog more.

“Don’t perspire the piddly stuff.”

Adopt ‘Do-overs done right’ as a pseudo-credo.

More music, less static.FW412c
More poetry.

Fill my spare change bottle. Multiple times.

Make regular, daily contributions to my blessings jar.

Love more
Like less
Eschew vacillation.

If it aint broke, don’t try to fix it. Especially if it is someone else’s.

Dream.
Teach others how.

Pay it forward
Cash-and-carry.

Take a penny, leave a penny.

Sing to grandson Felix via Skype.
Don’t sing to anybody else via Skype.

Don’t say that I’m ‘thinking outside of the box.’ Unless brainstorming with someone who actually lives in a box.

Learn to tie a bow tie.
Wear a bow tie from time to time.

Edit better.

Lose the additional 3.2 pounds I didn’t by the end of 2014.
Don’t reclaim the 16.8 pounds discarded in 2014.

Engage more actively in the Shalom of others.

More baseball.
More poetry.

In 2017, I will measure twice, cut once. Maybe measure three times, on occasion.

Read more books to grandson Felix via Skype, including bedtime stories.
Read bedtime stories via Skype to anybody who asks nicely.

More prayer.MD3
Less frustration.

Yell less.

Use the word ‘repugnant’ once in a while. As a noun, gently.

Practice succinctitude. With brevity.

Mentor more.
Engage better.

Write more. Read more. Blog more.

More to come, coming soon. Always.ONLY o.k. sign (2)

Keep promises
Keep issues in perspective

Find other roads less traveled. Take them.

In 2017 I will endeavor to….

Look both ways before crossing
Close cover before striking
Look before I leap
Think before I speak
Think after I speak.

Check local listings,
Void where prohibited.
‘Serving suggestion.’

More baseball.
More poetry.

Honor an urge.

Procrastinate less. Or at least, less often.
Partake in more rainstorms.

Go camping
2017Go bowling

Live faithfully

Right some wrongs
Make amends

Live a life worth living.

Happy 2017

 

The Christmas Pageant

Hard to believe a quarter-century has passed. Each Christmas I wonder; where are all these folks now..?

I was involved with a small, urban Minneapolis Lutheran church. We were an aging congregation with only about fifteen kids (including toddlers)  in our Sunday school on a regular basis; this included three kids from one family – one of whom was 14 and confined to a wheelchair due to Multiple Sclerosis.

What we lacked in group size we more than made up for in spirit.

When it came time to put together our annual Christmas program (the traditional Joseph & Mary story) we had very few options for Mary, as most of the girls participating were only seven or eight. Except for Sheri, our 14-year-old girl with MS, who desperately wanted to be involved with the program, which we said we would definitely make happen in some form.

Sheri was certainly capable of taking on Mary; she was vivacious, articulate, had a great speaking voice…but her wheelchair was problematic. The role required Mary to enter from the rear of the church and make her way to the front during the opening narration. Admittedly, much of this was set up by tradition and for dramatic effect, and we certainly had other options, but limited maneuvering room. While we had a ramp up the one step in front of the pulpit area (or ‘stage’) there wasn’t a lot of room for extras like a motorized wheelchair to turn or do much once you were up there.

My friend Mark Knutson and I were in charge of the youth committee, and we had given the idea some thought. When the full committee met to put together the program, the first item of business brought up was a request from Sheri and her mom to get her involved in the program, which Barb, the woman directing the program was nervous about.  One of the other women on the committee suggested Sheri would make a great Mary, noting that her motorized chair made that impractical, adding “Maybe she could sit off to the side and narrate”.

As a writer, the idea of the story being told first-person intrigued me.

Mark had a better idea.“What if we made Sheri our Mary, and disguised her wheelchair to look like a donkey”?  he proposed to surprised looks around the table. “We could cover her with blankets, and my brother-in-law is an artist, and I can get him to paint a couple of plywood donkeys that we could mount on the sides of the chair”.

After a few moments and some surprised looks,  Barb asked, “Do you think anybody would mind?”

Mark and I looked at each other and shrugged. “Who cares if they do?” And just like that, the decision was unanimously accepted. Yes, it really was that quick, that simple.

The evening of the pageant, it was hard to tell who was more excited; Sheri or her mom and dad. At least until the audience – including all four of Sheri’s grandparents – showed up. The grandparents sat in the front row, beaming with joy, as it was the first opportunity that Sheri had been given to truly participate in something like this in a major way. Mark and I had better-than-front-row-seats to it all – our own roles in the pageant: we were costumed as manger oxen, wearing homemade, long-snouted masks and kneeling in the small choir pen off to the side of the pulpit. We were there for pseudo-authentic manger atmosphere,  but also with hidden scripts handy to prompt any of our frequently forgetful young actors.

Our Mary needed no such assistance.

Sheri did a fabulous job, and between the plywood donkey cutouts, and the blankets we laid over them and Sheri, in her motorized wheelchair, it truly looked like Mary slowly moving through our candle-lit, church-aisle Bethlehem on her donkey led by Joseph; an incredibly Christmasmoving moment I remember vividly. It was a small space; looking out at the audience from behind oxen masks from our choir-manger, I could see people wide-eyed, some dabbing their eyes.  Holy Communion Church also had great acoustics; you could hear the gasps and murmurs of awe.

By the time the program drew to a close, tears were running down a lot of faces.

Sheri’s  family was so grateful, expressing their thanks repeatedly for us ‘taking a chance’ and ‘letting’ Sheri be involved. We told everyone the truth; Sheri was our first choice and only logical option. As I added with a smile, to hearty laughter from Sheri and her family, “The fact that she came with her own donkey…was just a bonus”.

‘And a little child shall lead them’.

 

Photograph of Christmas Past

Some  years ago, I decided to pick up a few extra holiday dollars by taking a part-time job as a shopping mall Santa in suburban Minneapolis. As I was neither the natural size, age or type (nor naturally hirsute enough for the role) I wore a roll of foam rubber beneath my suit, silver nylon beard on my chin, and ended up working mostly the mall’s lower-traffic hours – late morning, midday.

On a very quiet Wednesday afternoon in early December, I was sitting there in my big Santa chair chatting with my college-student, elf-for-the-day Susie, and grad-school photographer,  brookdaleholiday2Jen. They, like me, were simply making some extra holiday cash, we were rookies, all. This particular day, we hadn’t taken a picture in an hour or so, though we did a lot of  waving and yelling ‘Merry Christmas’ to assorted passers-by, and took pictures of  each other. As the three of us chatted about school stuff, I looked down the nearly deserted mall and saw a sight not really of the season: walking down the center of the mall was a tall, young U.S. Marine, in full dress blues; along side of him was a petite, middle-aged woman.

It quickly became obvious they were headed right for us.

Elf Susie walked cheerfully back to the gate of Santa Land to greet the pair, and I straightened up in my throne and smoothed out my beard – although I wasn’t sure why as I didn’t see any kids. I watched the young Marine, who glanced around nervously, while the woman spoke to Susie.brookdaleholiday1

“O.K. Santa! This young man is next!” chirpped Susie merrily, as she swung open the little white picket gate for the youthful Jarhead to pass, as Jen took her spot behind the camera. The Marine walked up to me and I greeted him with my usual “Ho-ho-ho” shtick, to which he replied quickly, coming to crisp, serious attention, “Merry Christmas, sir.”

Their story was short, sweet, uncomplicated. Unless you are a twenty-year old Marine.

The young man was an only child, U.S.M.C. Corporal home on leave, and his widowed mother was very proud of his recent accomplishments: a marksmanship award, three ribbons and a training award. Having her only son home for the holidays was a huge thrill, and, per what the young Marine told me, and what his mother shared with Susie and Jen, she wanted only one other thing in the world for Christmas: pictures of her son in full dress blues.

With Santa Claus.

The young Marine told the young women had no idea why this particular setting was so important to her, but it was. So thus began a suddenly interesting Wednesday afternoon, just the five of us: Susie, Jen, proud mom, Santa, and the Marine.

This was in the days before digital photography; our pictures were the time-consuming, one-shot-at-a time, Polaroid-you-stick-in-a-cardboard-frame variety – and the young man’s mother wanted nine of them to send out to relatives all over the country. My arm around his waist, the young Marine sat awkwardly but patiently at attention on the arm of Santa’s throne, glancing around nervously.

After the first picture was snapped, he staged whispered to me, while staring directly at the camera, “I’m really sorry about this, sir.”

I smiled, quietly chuckled “ho-ho-ho” as Jen readied the next shot. “Sorry about what?” I asked, robustly Santa-like.

brookdaleholiday4“About doing this, sir. It’s my mother’s idea. I’m a little…uncomfortable.”

“Ho-ho-ho!” I bellowed.

I didn’t much look the part without help, but I could sure play it.

The scene played out, the Marine finally getting comfortable enough to lean into my shoulder a little bit, as Jen continued to focus and shoot, reminding us to smile – which the Marine did only slightly less uncomfortably with each shot. We sat there, his mother beaming with pride while chatting with Susie the Elf, me ho-ho-ho-ing-it-up and trying to help the guy out. After a few shots, I whispered to the young Marine.“O.K., I know this feels silly, but it’s making your mom really happy.”

He glanced at his mother, smiled slightly. “Yes, sir.”

He was loosening up a little, though that was countered a bit as by now as a small crowd was gathering, eyes wide; guess it’s not every day you see a Marine sitting on Santa’s lap. He smiled self-consciously. I made more Santa-small talk while Jen snapped away. “Grow up around here? Afraid you’re going to see somebody you know?” I inquired.

“Yes, sir,’ he said, staying focused on the camera, “I graduated from Park Center.” which was a high school within walking distance of the mall.  I nodded, ho-ho-hoed some more, asked him a few more questions, reminded him a couple more times about how his mother was smiling, talked sports with the young man, while Jen finished getting all of the pictures to the mom’s satisfaction.

It took fourteen shots to get the nine pictures the Marine’s mom wanted (I saved a couple of the botched extras; they were wonderful.). As his mom was paying Jen and newly Marine-smitten Susie (from the looks on the women in the crowd, she wasn’t the only one) finished sliding each picture into its candy-cane-and-reindeer-motif cardboard frame, the young Marine stood up, turned toward me, started to salute but then stuck out his hand to shake mine.

“Thank you, Santa, sir.” He said crisply, with just a hint of relief, in what I think was proper-holiday-Marine-etiquette.

Then, bag of pictures in hand, proud mother and dutiful, loving son walked off, arm-in-arm back down the mall, as the smiling crowd quickly dispersed.

To my understanding the young man was probably breaking protocol by wearing his dress blues in such a setting, but in the years since, I’ve gotten the opportunity to tell this story to quite a few Marines. Younger Jarheads tend to dressbluehatlook at me   quizzically, apparently pondering the obvious ‘what ifs’ if their own situations. Older Corpsmen mostly nod, smiling proudly.

All have agreed it’s a pretty unique take on ‘Semper Fi’.

As for me, every year around this time I read newspaper or magazine articles about mall Santas, the at times heartbreaking requests they get, the funny things kids say, that sort of thing, and I think of twenty-minutes on a long-ago afternoon in a quiet mall.  Sometimes in conversation someone will start talking about the best Christmas they ever had, or the favorite present they ever received.

Those articles and conversations always make me think of one of the best Christmas presents I ever had a small part in giving.

brookdaleholiday3

“You’ll bob yer eye out, kid!” A Christmas Party Tale

Some twenty-plus years ago, when I was thirtyish and divorced, a co-worker and I decided to become roommates and we rented a small home in the Minneapolis suburb of Robbinsdale.

Emphasis here on ‘small’.

John Lloyd, my new roommate, had one prized possession that had to be a part of the new set up: a full-sized, 1960’s vintage pool table he had inherited from his grandparents. What better edifice for a hip bachelor pad than a pool table? One problem: the pool table occupied our entire dining room and still jutted a solid foot-and-half into the living room. Even then, when shooting from wall-side of the table, or the dining room wall end, you had to hold your cue at an 81-degree angle in order to shoot.

John 'Minnesota No-Trans-Fats' Lloyd, circa 1990
John ‘Minnesota No-Trans-Fats’ Lloyd, circa 1990

We quickly learned to improvise; our expertise at ‘nose pool’ (using your nose as your cue) became legendary.

Having moved in late that summer and thrown a swingin’ house-warming party that co-workers and friends were still rehashing, we logically decided a Christmas party was the next ‘must’ for the first holiday season in our cozy abode.

John and I were co-workers at a small radio station in another Minneapolis suburb. ‘Small’ again comes into play; the station was by no means a player in the Twin Cities market. What the station lacked in basic amenities, technical quality and signal strength, it more than made up for in ownership and managerial dysfunction and sheer comic relief.

What kept the place functioning and an enjoyably quirky place to work was that we also had a very talented, close-knit and fun-loving staff: a dandy core-group for a top-notch party, as we had proved with our summertime housewarming.

KANO radio  boasted a truly eclectic mix of old-school broadcast veterans winding down their careers, and twenty-something guppies straight out of broadcasting school with dreams of stardom via underdeveloped reality checks, and a recently laid-off, then retrained, forty-something, mid-life career change newbie finally living his dream.

A typical week of management and oppertional chaos at KANO made WKRP seem like a weekend in cloisters.

This was no wine-spritzer and brie crowd; radio people genetically predisposed to being allergic to the mundane. Add in their assorted significant others, and a few folks from other parts of our various lives, John and I had invited quite the eclectic and enthusiastic crowd. They wanted, and now expected John and me to deliver, plenty of party action.

Thus was born the centerpiece event of our epic Christmas House Party: Bobbing for Pine Cones.

We had started planning this extravaganza not long after the summer soiree. Somewhere around Halloween, when bobbing for apples was en vogue (Anoka, where our station was located,  proclaims itself ‘The Halloween Capitol of the World, so we had a lot of experience with such things) the idea occurred to us that this whole bobbing thing had some definite Christmastime applications – with a few holiday modifications. The first tweak we made was to replace the autumnal apples with the more festive, holiday-oriented, easier-to- grip-with-yer-lips pine cones. Secondly, we knew boring old, not-all-that-competitive (or interesting) water also needed replacing.

eggnog_09_400With eggnog.

Pure genius, it was. What, we agreed, would say – shout, even –  ‘holiday party fun!’ more than bobbing for pine cones in turkey roasters filed with eggnog?

Don’t strain yourself trying to answer that question.

The night of the party came, and with it, all the high expectations for a rockin’ around the Christmas tree good time. We were truly able to deliver, due in large part to a factor we didn’t have for the house warming party: his name was Jim Holt.

Jim was a fairly recent addition to the station, fresh out of Brown Institute of Broadcasting (the alma mater of both John and I, and a number of other colleagues) but more worldly than most. Jim was a married guy in his early forties, and being a disc jockey had been a dream of his for many years. He had been working in the construction business, and when the company he worked for went belly up, he used the opportunity to go back to school and be retrained as a broadcaster, of all things, eventually winding up on our doorstep at KANO where he used his business acumen in sales during the week, and picked up weekend and evening shifts as a part-time announcer.

He was having a kid-in-a-candy-store blast and we were glad to have him.

Jim was neither fish nor fowl, so to speak. He was certainly a radio neophyte, which we seldom let him forget, with a wide array of on-air pranks and booby traps pulled on the guy, but he was much farther along the chronological and maturity scale than most of the rest of us.

At least, in some regards.

Okay, he was older than most of the rest of us. He reveled in the role of rookie/old dude; for Jim, it was 1969 all over again – only done better this time around.

pinecones3We had set up the Bobbing for Pinecones as an eight competitor, three-round tournament – poster board tourney bracket taped to the dining room wall to document the fun. Jim arrived fairly early with his wife Kathy, and signed up eagerly for the bobbing. Kathy, as she was during the whole mid-life career shift for her husband, could best be described as…warily supportive.

The party zipped along quite nicely for a couple of hours; food, libations, and laughs in abundance: at one point, John counted over 30 people in attendance. Sardines-in-a-can analogies ran rampant and getting from one point of the house to another meant holding your food and/or beverage high above your head, lest you find it smashed into your chest. About ten o’clock, we got folks quieted down and announced that it was time for the big event; Bobbing for Pine Cones.

We asked those that had signed up to step forward (most actually did) while friends helped us spread out plastic all over the living room floor. Then we brought out the aluminum turkey roasters and the pine cones, placing them on top of the plastic, as we explained the rules: contestants were to kneel in front of their roaster, hands behind their backs, and using only their mouths, were to bend over at the waist, and pluck as many pine cones as they could in one minute from the roaster, dropping them onto the plastic next to their tubs, then repeating the process until we said “times up!” A good sense of balance was crucial. We had an ample supply of pine cones, and would continue to add them to each roaster as play continued, should someone pluck their entire supply of pine cones. (Nobody did, though Jim came close in round one.)

I’m not really sure if people didn’t read the sign-up sheet closely, or maybe we even forgot to put it on the poster – who can remember? I was pretty sure that we had told people, and maybe they just forgot, about switching out the water for egg nog, but when we brought out the nog and started filling the roasters, there was definite surprise and apprehension from some of the participants and a noticeable uptick in the level of crowd anticipation.

Of the eight bobbers, there were a few I didn’t know; dates of various guests who decided to sign up on a whim and were never seen again dating those coworkers. (Go figure.) Our station engineer Dan Zimmerman made it through round one, if I remember correctly (Dan was hard to forget; competitive eggnog bobbers should probably crop their beards/goatees before a eggnogwithnutmegcompetitive event) but the true break out star of the night was Jim Holt.

We got the first two competitors lined up on the floor, gave a countdown and said “Go!” to instant shouts of encouragement and exclamations of “Ewwww” “gross” and “nasty” from onlookers. Things quickly got a little…umm….messy.

But hilarious.

Once the competition started, we realized a few things very quickly; it is one thing to dunk your head in water, and inadvertently suck some in, then come up for air. It is a whole different thing when you accidentally inhale stuff the consistency of rich, creamy, dairy-fresh holiday eggnog – It is a much different sort of gasping for breath.

We also learned that a human face hitting a tub of eggnog with any velocity makes more of a ‘bluorp’ sound than a splashing noise.

The first round went pretty quickly, as most of the competitors had little natural ability at the sport, or were just laughing too hard to effective bob/grab/drop.  Not so, our pal Jim. He took to jim-h-bobbing-1-19881bobbing in eggnog like a young penguin takes to belly sliding on ice. Truly a natural.

After successfully plucking a pine cone with his mouth, he quickly dropped it on the plastic and went back for another. It was never a contest; the competition was just not up to matching Jim cone-for-cone during a round, beer-for-beer between rounds. Plus, he was one of those athletes whose natural charisma just showed through, which got the crowd quickly on his side. Jim would come up for air at the end of a round, shaking like a wet St. Bernard – his sopping, floppy moustache spraying the crowded-around onlookers with ‘nog. It was a glorious thing to watch.

From as far afar as you could get in a house that small. You don’t sit in the front row of the Shamu show at Sea World and expect to stay dry. Same principle applies for pine cone bobbing in eggnog.

After the first two rounds, we were ready for the championship. Jim and the other finalist had another beer, as we prepped the tubs with fresh eggnog for the finals; nothing but the best for our competitors. We also had a slight competition ‘tweak’ for the finals; just like the World Series, or the Super Bowl, any great sporting event needs a little ‘sumptin’ sumptin’ for its championship round.

nutmegWe had nutmeg.

The nutmeg was meant to spice things up, of course. Which it did in unexpected ways. What, after all, is eggnog without a sprinkle of nutmeg on top? It is traditional serving method and we felt it only fitting that the finals of our little event should be…showcased a bit. Plus, it added a touch of holiday class.

And, unwittingly, a sneeze factor.

Once the final round started (two minutes, not the typical one – twice the fun for the finals!) We learned very quickly that inhaling large quantities of nutmeg makes one sneeze, and that adult males sneezing into tubs of nutmeg-laced eggnog makes something akin to eggnog ‘depth charges’ as little geysers of eggsnot were flying up from the living room floor with each sneeze. (Spreading the heavy plastic over the living floor was a very smart move on our part).

Jim of course, won going away. It was quite a show.

Fortunately, our friends and other guests were agreeable to helping us clean up the mess – so the party could continue, if nothing else. At the end of the night, a sticky, haggard Jim proudly clutched his oil filter and trophy as designated-driver/wife Kathy walked him out to their car, shaking her head in awe. Or disbelief. It was hard to tell.

End of the party, not end of the story.

As was related to us later by a still incredulous Kathy: At about 2:30 in the morning, Jim wakes up screaming that he can’t open his eyes. Kathy gets up with him, and realizing that her husband indeed, cannot open EggNogGrouphis eyelids fully, takes him to the emergency room at Mercy Hospital. There, the attending E.R. doc determines the problem; Jim had forgotten to remove his contacts before the festivities, and some traces of eggnog and nutmeg had apparently dried on them, essentially gluing them to his eyelids.

I do not know the correct medical terminology for this condition.

As Kathy related the story later, the doc and the nurses just shook their heads and tried not to giggle while they repeatedly flushed Jim’s eyes with saline solution before sending him home with a bottle of Visine and a suggestion to take up other forms of holiday recreation.

Who knew.

So this year, as always, I will indulge my own passion, quaffing a tasty mug or two of cold eggnog, toasting along the way the competitive spirit of bobbing, friendships forever (and eyelids temporarily) bonded. Here’s to John; best roommate I ever had. Here’s to my old KANO pals; “Good times, gooood times, my old friends”.

Oh, and here’s to you, Jim, wherever you may be today.

pinecones4

A little free advice, should you want to enliven your holiday gathering with a BFP event. Bobbing for Pinecones is an exciting, competitive, engaging spectator sport with broad appeal and very accessible in strategy and performance to a wide range of ages and talent levels. Just go easy on the nutmeg, and don’t forget to have competitors read and sign the ‘wearing contacts’ waiver.

Just sayin’.

 

Thankful, grateful, hopeful

Recent Thanksgivings have found me in this spot musing on watching my Facebook feed as people debate being ‘thankful’ versus being ‘grateful’ – a semantic back-and-forth that, due to being the writer and English I am, I have taken more than cursory interest in.

This year, as you might expect, is quite different in tone, due in large part to our recent election.

Not terribly unusual in-and-of-itself, but this year is different; the divisions and emotions are far more raw, due in large part to two very unpopular (by most everyone’s estimation) presidential candidates, and, I believe due also to the fragile psyche of the American populace. Politics has always been partisan; our reaction doesn’t have to be, and if we are being honest, should not be. – if we, as America, are who we claim to be.

This Thanksgiving, there are too many people who will not be spending time with family directly because of the way people they normally break bread with did, or did not vote this election.  Some people have made the choice to stay away on their own, others have been asked to not come, to not be part of the divisiveness, many are staying away from traditional settings to not expose their children to familial discord that, for whatever the reasons, can’t or won’t be controlled or curtailed in the name of family.

Therein lies a new, great American tragedy.

There are those of us who will not be with family today due to simple geography or finances – absent by circumstance, not choice.  Others will be missing from their spot at the table because of service to others; military personnel, first-responders, medical workers.  The list is substantial.

Those who are distancing themselves by choice because of politics may have very legitimate concerns; previous history of conflict, distrust, old wounds people do not want reopened.  Some may have underestimated the capacity of family members to not engage in dinner table divisiveness, and some are so angry they are staying away out of pure rage.

More is the pity.

Most of us who lived an appreciable amount of life have come to realize that sometimes there are no second chances, there will be no next year’ or even ‘next time’ – or even tomorrow. Nothing is guaranteed except that many of those who will not be with family this year, by choice or by circumstance, will not have another opportunity to make it up; life just doesn’t work that way.

There are no do-overs.

My family and I fall into the because-of-logistics-and-finances not-being-withfamilyy category; distance, travel time and cost are the only things keeping us from being with loved ones today, and even were that not the case, we would be with family knowing full well that the political divide would be wider than the array of foods lining the center of the table.   But we would work through it, civilly and hopefully without lasting damage.  Come Christmas, we will hopefully prove that theory.

Which brings me back to the thankful-versus-grateful issue that I first dove into a few years back.

Curiosity drove me to Merriam-Webster where I found that being thankful and being grateful have some very unique connotations, to wit:

To be thankful is to be conscious of benefit received.

To be grateful is be appreciative of benefits received.

The distinctions are important. Am I conscious of the blessings in my life? I hope so. Am I grateful and appreciative? That is something I ponder.

Consciousness is pretty straightforward, and my list is a lengthy one starting with my loving, healthy family; wife, sons, daughter, son-in-law and grandson. My extended family and in-laws. Friends old and new. Health, shelter, a full pantry and refrigerator. For a loving G-d, for a country where I can live freely. These are some of the people and things I am conscious of and thankful for, but rarely think of in such terms as thankfulness. Except on days like today.

Am I appreciative of all of these things? Probably not as much as I could or should be.

Bigger picture. There is much, as Americans, that we are conscious of, and should be thankful for, but I think take mostly for granted. In 1943 Norman Rockwell painted an iconic series of oil paintings entitled The Four Freedoms; Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear. Those are enduring things that resonate (or at least, should) more strongly today than ever.

four-freedomsThere is nothing new or unique about these musings on what to be thankful for; every fourth Thursday of the year we are awash platitudes from various points and perspectives, Hallmark cards to social media, everything in between. Hence the debate I alluded to: are we thankful, or grateful.

Thankful or grateful? We all know we should be one or the other for something or another – our culture tells us so every November.

Still, when it comes right down to it…

I am grateful today for my life, what it is today and what it was and who it was that got me here: family, friends, mentors, past and present. I am grateful today for the memories of those who have been a part of my life at every step, but who are no longer here physically. I am thankful to live in a time and a place where technology allows old friends to find me, new friends to enrich my life. The ability of all of them to reach out in support – theirs and mine. To ask for and offer advice and comfort, to share a laugh or kind word when most needed.

I am grateful and thankful for the love of family. They help teach me humility, to see beyond myself.

I am thankful for the children in my classroom, for they teach me patience and understanding.

I am grateful and thankful for friends who are hurting and who have suffered loss, for they teach me compassion, and allow me to share it.

I am grateful for the gift of discernment, which allows me to see where I can do better, understand that I always can.

Mostly I am thankful and grateful for G-d’s grace in my life, as all of the things I am thankful for and appreciative of stem from that grace. I am happy and blessed to be who I am, where I am today. Happy Thanksgiving, indeed.

Peace.

Mark,
Thanksgiving 2014, 2015, 2016