Category Archives: Self Improvement

Transcendence On the Way to Preschool

Claire

In life there are few moments of transcendence, or perhaps better said, there are few moments of transcendence that we recognize and commit to memory, and even fewer that are clear enough to shift our existential bearings and redefine our hopes.

When they do happen, they’re usually fleeting, they’re often mundane (given our inability to see the forest for the trees), and unless our emotions and spirit communicate, they’re usually glanced over so as to leave no trace of meaning.

For me the dark glass is lowered and transcendence is recognized almost always in the presence of my children, in particular aside my oldest daughter Claire (four years old). It happens simply, when undeterred joy emanates from my daughter and I feel partly to blame; when somehow my being her dad and being present in her life plays a role in it all.

It has happened at a pizza parlor as Claire watches her younger sister Maren do the funniest thing ever: refuse to keep her feet off the table. I’ve been wise enough to notice it as Claire is caught in a whirlwind of leaves, a recently raked pile behind her, the remnants of fall clinging to her hair and eyebrows.

Most recently it happened in the car, on the way to preschool. Claire and I have a tradition: We crank the volume up on the radio and act wild. We do this to get our crazies out—something both of us need to do before entering the real world where calmness and put-togetherness are most admired. A hit song from a few years ago comes on and we’re both dancing; we’re both unhinged. I look back and catch a glimpse of her, lost in the moment without concern. To make her laugh, I look forward and scream. I pretend the traffic cones on the side of the road are a brick wall and I’m about to hit them. I’m nowhere near them and I hit nothing but the explosion is real; it’s Claire in the back seat, head back, erupting with laughter; she’s like an infant guffawing for the first time at something that’s only funny in the beginning: a coo, a song, a bark, the tearing of paper, an older sister shaking her head inches away.

To see this innocent, explosive, in-the-moment elation was too much for me; I sobbed. I was happy. I was sad. I was nostalgic. I was worrying about the day she wouldn’t think a fake collision with traffic cones was funny anymore. I was in limbo.

I was no longer in the car. I was no longer on earth. I was outside looking in. I entered a realm that felt like home in a strange land. The meaning was clear and it was mine. And then I watched my Claire put on her backpack and walk toward school, a big girl.

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Crowded, dumpy Pizzeria, 12:30pm: This is Happiness

Claire, Pizza, Happiness  2

So much of the human experience is spent in the pursuit of happiness. People define/redefine happiness and then spend the rest of the time looking for it, as if it was a lost puppy they’re certain to recognize and love once it’s found.

Happiness has become a destination, an X at the end of a long, squiggly line that’s pressed between folded pages and tucked beneath an old pair of blue jeans on the top shelf of a storage closet—the best place to keep the best things that will be the best when they finally get used.

The things people do to be happy, the journeys taken, the experiences had, they are a means to an end. Happiness is the great if/then statement when it should be a fond feeling in the ever-present, ever-fleeting now.

For Me, Today was Different

Today, my wife and two daughters (Claire, four and Maren, five-months old) met me at work. We walked two and half blocks to a nearby pizzeria—my favorite in our little city. The Pie Hole is dumpy: it’s covered in flour, the walls are lined with empty PBR beer cans, the tables and chairs are rickety, the crowd is diverse and constantly coming and going, and the pizza is the best in town.

On Mondays, five dollars gets you two slices and a drink. We spent ten dollars, dusted some crumbs from a vacant table, found a third chair, and sat down to lunch. Maren was in my arms and wouldn’t stop pressing her legs against the edge of the table. I’d pull her back, her legs would drop, and she’d lift them right back up again and press them against the table. Claire, across from me, a mouth full of half-masticated pepperoni pizza, thought this was the funniest thing in the world.

I looked at my oldest daughter. I squeezed my youngest. I glanced at my beautiful wife. This was happiness. It didn’t matter what happened on the walk back to work. The next day, the next year was irrelevant; for in those few minutes, in the thick of a crowded, dumpy pizzeria… I was happy.

Claire and Pizza an Happiness 2

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We’re All Confused Children That Need Help

I’m not old. I’m only 28, soon to be 29. And while my sense of humor may suggest otherwise, I’m not (and I don’t feel like) a child—at least not usually. For me, and for all of us I assume, there are moments in life that the inexplicable happens, moments where our limited experience in this thing we called existence leaves us unprepared or incapable of understanding the pain and confusion that surrounds us.

For My Wife It Was Five Years Ago This Sunday

We had only been dating a couple of months. I will never forget the moment she heard the news. We were driving in her car along a windy road. It was night. It was dark. She received a phone call and, being overcome with emotion, had to pull over. She stepped outside and started pacing in front of the car, back and forth, cutting through the glow of her headlights. I stayed inside. I wanted to give her some space. From the call I knew that someone had died but I didn’t know who. After she hung up the phone she collapsed in the street. I ran to her. I sat on the pavement with her. When she had recomposed a bit we got back into her car. I drove. I kept my eyes on the road as she whimpered in the passenger seat. Her father had died. He was young too.

We spent that night on the couch. Me sitting up, awake, comforting her in any way I could (there was no real way to comfort her), and her laying on my knee. She would sporadically wake up, cry, and then fall asleep again. Her tears wet my jeans.

It was then that I knew I loved her—which surprised me. Despite only knowing her for a matter of months I knew that if she were to ever experience something as heart-wrenching or confusing as this again, I wanted to be the one to comfort her. It may have been the only thing I knew in that moment but I knew, like I know the sun will rise each morning, that if the frustration and pain of the world left her defenseless, like a child, I wanted to be her defense. As weak and pathetic as I am, I wanted to protect her, to care for her.

For My Two-Year-Old Daughter It Was Yesterday

It was around 3:15 in the morning when my wife and I heard the small, confused voice of our small child. “Mommy, mommy, help.” She had thrown up in her crib. We had just gotten over a 24-hour bug and now she had it. If I could make it so, I would have a world where children never get ill. They don’t understand it. Their experience rejects it. Never have I felt more helpless than when my little girl is sick or sad. Never have I loved her more.

Throughout the night she would jump to her knees and cry out “mommy” or “daddy.” We’d hold a small metal bowl in front of her and she would throw up it in again and again. After she’d finished she’d curl up in a ball. She took turns snuggling up so close to my wife and I that we were nearly falling off the bed. We didn’t sleep. She never cried. She handled it like a champ but I could tell she was sad. Her eyes betrayed her sweet nature. She was frightened and no “It’s going to be okay” or “I love you” spoken softly by my wife or I chased the pains in her stomach away.

The first real food she ate was a small piece of a banana. As she was chewing it she said, “oh mommy, it tastes so good.” She threw it up. At dinner she begged and begged for some bread. We finally caved in and gave her a small piece. She ate it like the characters in the movies, who have not had a meal in a long time, eat their food.

This morning she woke up at 6:00. She felt better. She wouldn’t stop talking about food. Like a little hobbit she was listing everything she wanted to eat: milk, bread with jam, scrambled eggs, tomatoes. It broke my heart to hear it. She didn’t understand why she had to go hungry for so long. My saint of a wife made her a feast of all her requested food. She devoured it.

For Me It’s Every Time…

For me I feel lost, confused, and in pain every time I’m called to be the protector, the defender, the care-giver to someone else who is scared and unsure. I feel like a child when my own wife or daughter need me to be a man, an adult. It’s then that my experience fails me. It’s then that my existence comes full circle. And then that I’m grateful to know that I, too, am a lost child. I’m grateful to know I have a Heavenly Father that knows how to comfort me, protect me, care for me.

Who or what has helped you when you’re confused or in pain?

 

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My Near-Death Experience In A Snow Igloo

A quinzhee made in Finland

Our igloo looked nothing like this one.

In honor of winter—everyone’s favorite season—I’ll be traveling back in time to a more care-free period of my existence. I was 14 or maybe 15, I had a great group of friends, and I lived in a small town about 45 minutes outside of Philadelphia.

Unlike the thick and blustery winters I experience here, in Salt Lake City, the winters there were pretty pathetic; and people’s preparation for the cold was even more pathetic—they’d close school for one inch of snow. Here, kids trudge and shiver through feet of snow on their way to elementary school. But that’s beside the point.

One Time I Almost Died

Or at least, in the moment, I really thought, “This is it. This is how I’m heading out of this cold world.” And when I thought cold, I was referring to the weather. Like I mentioned before, it was winter.

As it didn’t snow a ton in Pennsylvania, my pals and I did the best with the snow we had. One day, possibly a weekend, probably a weekday after school, we were making an igloo in the only probable spot: the pile of snow made by the city plow.

Now, all of us came from good homes with good parents and had heard from our moms that making igloos is a dangerous business; “kids die in them every year.” We’d also heard our dads say, “when you make an igloo, make sure to pack the snow first, so it doesn’t collapse.” We happily ignored both bits of counsel. Igloos are fun and packing the snow beforehand makes them smaller.

English: An igloo made for fun by teenage boys...

Here’s another sample of what our igloo DID NOT look like. And those aren’t my shoes.

The snow mound was probably six to eight feet tall. We had excavated a sizable hole and were in the process of shaping the inside and outside. My friends worked on the outer edge as I cleared snow from the inside—something I realize now was not the safest of arrangements.

They (I’m not sure who they are) say your senses amplify when you’re about to die, that your survival instincts kick in and your suddenly able to see, hear, smell, and taste everything clearer than ever before. I do remember hearing the crunch and then feeling the crack in my back when the igloo collapsed and six feet of snow pinned me to the ground, but what I remember most is not being able to breathe.

My life didn’t pass before my eyes. I didn’t see the faces of my loved ones or reach out longingly to my future wife. I just thought, “you gotta be kidding me. I’m going to die like this, trapped in a pile of dirty snow and gravel. What a dumb way to die.” Of course I was scared, but I was almost more angry. I could’t go like this.

I had already tried to lift myself and failed. But somehow I found the strength and the will to get my knees beneath me. From there, with all the force I could muster, I pushed upward, towards the sky, towards life. To my amazement it worked. My face broke the surface. I took a deep breath and was dug out by my panicked friends.

Once I was out my friends started laughing. I said nothing to them. I just threw punches in their direction. Without a word I headed home. Those dumb kids had no idea how frightened and mad I was. Only now do I realize that I was only able to get out because they were digging on top, probably frantically digging. I never said thanks. Thanks friends.

For two weeks I could barely move. My back just hurt too bad. I probably sprained it. But I was breathing, walking, alive—something I need to remember more often.

I’m breathing, walking, alive.

Happy Winter. Don’t make igloos.

Have you had a near-death experience? What happened? What ran through your mind?

Building an iglu in Cape Dorset (southern regi...

This isn’t me.

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Trains, Buses, and Occasionally an Automobile

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It’s early. The sun has yet to rise; its rays are barely a threat on the backside of the mountains. I ride smoothly, gently rocking back and forth. I’m surrounded by lights—on the street, in the windows of small homes, on the tops of buildings, on the cars whizzing by. I’m writing this on my way to work. Only the train conductor’s voice, calling out the next stop in an English accent, interrupts my thoughts.

Public Transportation

It’s been six months since I first rode public transportation to work. If I were to drive, it would take 50 minutes. On train and then bus it takes a little over an hour and a half. I know, it seems silly, but it’s really not, not if you understand my hate of monotonous driving, not if you recognize that for me, the extra time riding is productive time, time to imagine, time to do the work I love.

I write. I read. I research. I sit quietly, thinking. There are no car horns to interrupt me, no row of brake lights to frustrate me. Just the comfortable 2nd floor of a flying train. Strangers surround me. Most of them sleep, some nibble at a bagel or sip some coffee, some tap away (way too loud) on their keyboards. Others drift into the pages of their novel and slowly float away.

I pass six stops before reaching mine. When I get off, all good feelings leave me. I have to get on the bus. Trains are smooth, poetic, romantic. Buses are the devil’s chariot—if you go to hell, you’ll probably be taken there on a bus. And somehow, always, a fellow bus traveler, a tiny cute lady, always sits next to me, and she always smells like body odor and Fritos.

Bus. Train. Bus. Train. Home. Only sometimes do I drive.

What’s something you like to do during your commute? Tell me in the comments below!

Vine Time

This is how Claire travels. She uses her super-hero powers to defy fear and gravity. (Hover over the image and click the speaker icon in the top left corner for sound.)

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A Summertime Walk With My Two-Year-Old Daughter

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If it’s summertime and you decide to go for a walk, try and go with a child. That way the pacing is perfect and the realizations are lovely.

Our Walk, My Awakening

Sidewalks melt like abandoned popsicles into rivers of pavement and lakes of grass, all while my daughter Claire skips ahead, happy not to be tethered to her stroller, and completely uncaring that the path she errantly travels has no known destination.

I would do well to learn from her example. She travels slowly and stops to investigate every sound and scent that meets her inexperienced senses. The airplanes and birds that fly overhead don’t go unnoticed, the flowers we pass don’t go unseen or unsmelled.

She’s the perfect travel companion—not anxious for an agenda but excited for adventure. Her only concern is that we keep moving forward.

I hover close behind, watching her watch the world and doing my very best to see it like she sees it. It’s beautiful, she’s beautiful, and I’m happy to think she’s mine, to love and to shape (I just hope I don’t corrupt her natural greatness). I get to watch her grow and luckily, I get to re-experience this madness that we call life through her eyes—what a blessing.

Goodbye Summer

*This post is obviously late in coming, but, I guess the saying is true, better late than never. Rather than forget the realizations I had when this walk took place, I thought I’d put them down on paper (or internet) as a way to remember, and as a way to say goodbye to summer.

An LTT Sandwhich — Hold the Bread

Life is tricky. It likes to throw curve balls. Which, when I come to think of it, is impressive — I can’t throw curve balls. And, just like in baseball, each pitch can end in a multitude of ways: a strike, a home run, a black eye. The important thing to know is that the batter (the liver of life) has a hand in how it ends. That’s not to say the LOL (liver of life) has complete control, but they have a say in the matter.

With practice and experience, confidence can grow. Adapting to the pitches as they come, switching up your stance, tightening up your grip, keeping both eyes on the ball, and getting the timing just right, can all help. When a LOL is active, doing something, making decisions, and not stepping back from the plate, much good can come, even if the pitch is thrown, the bat is swung, and the ball explodes in the catcher’s mitt.

I recently read that, and excuse the horrendous paraphrase, suffering is not caused by unfortunate events in life but by our response to those events. People, in controlling their thoughts, their attitudes, can shape their existence. I know, I know, this is all fine and good until the car breaks down, the bank account flashes zero, and your neighbor’s kid throws a watermelon through your kitchen window; but bear with me. If you will, allow me a moment of your time — you’re already here, might as well stay — to share a recent experience my wife and I had. One that is neither too awesome or too funny — it’s just everyday, regular — so of course, it’s the kind of experience that matters most.

It was Wednesday. The meeting was over and I’d just stepped outside when my phone rang. It was Rinda. She wanted me to go to the store and pick up a few things: peppered turkey, a head of lettuce, yeast packets, and dough enhancer (whatever the H that is). She was making wheat bread and it was to be used for sandwiches. I’m a fan of homemade bread and sandwiches, so I complied.

I hate to do this, but I am going to stick with the baseball metaphor as a way to highlight the balls, strikes, and hits of our experience.

I was at the store. Everything I needed was in the cart except for the dough enhancer. Again, what is dough enhancer? I’m smart enough to assume that it enhances dough, and thanks to the disturbing infomercials and early morning radio ads you hear about other types of enhancements, I could gather that it improves bread’s ability to rise; but still, what was it? A powder? a liquid? Two stones you clap together while spinning in an office chair? Already having lost my pride due to the mental link I made between dough enhancer and other enhancers, I had no problem reaching out for help — I asked the nearest old woman (the official makers of homemade bread, right?) if she knew what or where dough enhancer was. She did not. I let Rinda know my excursion to find the world’s first dough enhancer was a failure, she understood. BALL 1.

At home, Rinda started the bread, but not before she realized she had somewhere to be in an hour or two; meaning I was left in charge of part of the preparation process. If I could have, I would have declined: it’s always best to be as far removed from the success or failure of a new recipe as  possible — both outcomes can be disastrous. That did not stop Rinda from repeating and then, again, repeating my tasks: put a hot, moist towel over the dough; put the dough in the oven; let it rise; after so much time, pull it out; knead it; let it rise some more.

When, in response to her request, I repeated the steps in a high voice, while doing a silly dance, Rinda was not amused. I’ve said it before, but my wife does not think I’m funny. Good thing I think I’m funny, or life and dough making would be a lot more boring. BALL 2.

Rinda left, leaving me to my silly dance and dough duty; and that, of course, is when strike one came hard and fast. I did exactly as I was told and it was now the dough’s turn to do its part. Most of you are laughing at me now. Don’t worry I am laughing at me now, too. This was not my first dough rodeo: I should have remembered that dough is like unto a 15-year-old — difficult, non-responsive, and unable to do what it’s supposed to without a lot of convincing. Needless to say, the dough did not rise, the first time or the second time.

Where are you dough enhancer? Why can’t I find you? Why have you gone away? Where is the laughter, you used to bring me, why can’t I hear the music play? STRIKE ONE.

Rinda came home. The dough was in its pan, ready to go in the oven. Cooked, cooled, and it stood an inch and a half high. Rinda did not laugh at my Jesus bread joke. STRIKE TWO.

Slicing the bread the regular way was not an option — unless we wanted bread the width of ketchup packets — so we cut it lengthwise, crafting as many normal-looking slices as possible. HIT 1. The ball sailed out of the stadium; but wait, no, it was kissing the line between homer and foul. The bread was so heavy and so coarse, that the gallon of water we each drank to swallow it, was not enough to wash it down. FOUL BALL.

Rinda still wanted sandwiches. We had no bread and, due to slow work conditions, not much money for bread either. So, we got creative. I wish what followed was a sure sign of our culinary genius, but, no, it was a result of ruined bread and poorness.

In came the Lettuce, Turkey, and Tomato sandwich, hold the bread:

Add a cute baby and we had a serious HOME RUN. With this simple experience — recognizing that it does not represent a huge trial or triumph — we were bombarded with all types of pitches. It took balls, fouls, and strikes for us to finally hit a home run. In the end, the home run had nothing to do with baseball and everything to do with making the best out of a situation. Oh, and guess what, I’m positive we will make LTTs again; this time, on purpose.

LTT SANDWICH:

INGREDIENTS: Head of lettuce, peppered turkey, provolone cheese, tomato, onion, mustard, mayonnaise.

Break off 2 large pieces of lettuce. Spread mustard and mayonnaise on the lettuce. Add turkey. Top with cheese. Add chopped onion. Add tomato. Wrap the two pieces of lettuce together. Eat while humming a tune from the 80’s.

UNFUNNY HUSBAND MOMENT: See above: recipe repetition using a high voice and silly dance & Jesus bread joke.

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Old Year, New Day, Tomorrow

Sadly our tree no longer leans awkwardly against the wall of our front room, its lopsided behind scratching the wall (my 4th grade teacher had the same problem with her buttocks). Rinda removed the few ornaments we own one by one and lowered them safely into their plastic catacombs. The hand-sewn stars she made, the stockings, and the bent paper clips used to hang the ornaments, all found a new home in a now empty, puppy-themed, holiday popcorn barrel.

With the last of the popcorn garland plucked from the tree, the needles swept up, and the tree flying through the air, its dead bristles preparing to shatter on the frozen ground of the backyard, I stood still in the hollow room. Rinda broke the silence with a silent hint and stacked the storage cases by the door. Before I hauled them out to the garage for their year long slumber, I chose to say a few words in Elvish (okay, okay, I said them in English, but with a British accent):

“Christmas is over; the goose that got fat is now eaten; the poor man bought booze with the penny that some stranger dropped in his hat and punched the woman that tried to give him a half-penny (what does one do with a half-penny?). Christmas is over but Christmas is not past; I shall walk with Ebeneezer and Charles who gave him speech, and ‘honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The spirit of all three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach'”

I shall live in the Past, the Present, and the Future — not the past, the present, and the future — important stuff gets capitalized, right? — like Abraham Lincoln or the Transcontinental Railroad. I choose to live importantly or make life important.

Allow me a brief return trip to the Past or the year formerly known as 2011:

I turned 26. I started working full-time from home, meaning, I got to be around my family 24/7. We rented our first house. Rinda and I had our second anniversary (I know, we are babies; but, it is still a wonderful accomplishment). McKay, my second nephew, was born. One of my biggest dreams came true when Claire was born: I became a father. My niece Abigail was born (within her first few months of life, my Abi-Gal endured 2 open heart surgeries — she is doing swimmingly.) The TV show I worked on was cancelled. I created content for and was part of a very strange sketch comedy group (thanks Chris and Jeremy). We shot the comedy webseries I wrote and co-directed, starring: Flavor Flav, Danny Trejo, Jon Gries; and YouTube celebs: GloZell Green, Miranda Sings, Antoine Dodson, Wheezy Waiter and Donnivin Jordan. We spent Thanksgiving with Rinda’s family and Christmas/New Years with my family.

Let me share some Christmas memories that, if remembered, will help make my New Year dreams a reality:

Above you see evidence of our Home Alone marathon (we watched 1 and 2 back to back), ate name brand pizza (Little Neros) from the film, and drank Fuller’s classic Pepsi. We also had an awesome Home Alone trivia game and a dance party around a mini Christmas tree, in honor of Kevin McCallister, the little guy.

Below, on the left, you see evidence of our Twas the Night Before Christmas gift exchange. Each of us had a gag gift and would pass it clockwise when the word “the” was said in the classic story. By the end of the game, you’re stuck with what ever gift lands in your lap — I got glasses that double as straws — joy to the world. Below, on the right, is evidence of our Ginger Bread house contest. Rinda and I gave up when our doorway collapsed. We promise to finish next year.

Present:

I’m worried as I look for more steady work. I have several projects lined up but nothing solidified. I am working really hard to make connections and find new opportunities. Somehow I know everything will work out. I have my family.

Future:

I’m applying the lessons I learned from Kevin McCallister to my New Year.

1.) Don’t forget what is most important: family. If you do forget, change; remind your self and those you love that they are number 1.

2.) Protect what you have: family, home, freedom,”I could go on forever baby.” If you don’t protect it, you will lose it. If setting booby traps is necessary, do it.

3.) Be kind; to everyone. Family, friends, teachers, co-workers, bird ladies with poop on their clothes.

4.) Listen. (I won’t say anymore…that’s the way listening goes).

Happy New Year!

UNFUNNY HUSBAND MOMENT: I gave Rinda the option to take down and throw our real Christmas tree out the backdoor in to the backyard or feed Claire (which I was doing when I gave her the options). I think she chose the tree in spite.

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Christmas Before Thanksgiving — An Annual Argument

NOTE: I want this post to cause heated arguments between those who are FOR and those who are AGAINST celebrating Christmas (in particular, listening to Christmas music) before Thanksgiving (mostly joking).

Normally, I try not to be a man of contention. I don’t like to stir the waters, to cause a scene, to bite back in rage. But, and this is a big but (with one “t”), I get pretty saucy every time November 1st colorfully floats down from the trees, hits the ground with a hush, and peaks over the jack-o’-lanterns.

Crawling through boxes to the dark and forgotten corners of my garage in search of a dusty rake or climbing a ladder aimed for my drains with dish gloves and a garden shovel in hand is not what releases my impudence; it has everything to do with the attitude in the Thanksgiving air — an attitude that has nothing to do with gratitude.

The attitude, if put in to words, would sound something like this (probably spoken in a foreign accent that sounds “evil” when overdone): “Christmas before Thanksgiving is the devil, meaning: bad, dumb, not good.”

Just to get it out of the way, I am a hypocrite and bias. I am as ardent a lover of pre-Thanksgiving Christmas celebration and faithful a hater of those who are against early festivities as many are haters of pre-Thanksgiving Christmas and those who support it.

Okay, so I don’t hate those who get mad and post Facebook statuses whining about how their roommate is listening to Little Drummer Boy on November 2nd or about how their local supermarket is already selling candy canes, but I do find them annoying; as they, I am sure, loathe me — he who starts celebrating Christmas with an annual viewing of The Nightmare Before Christmas on Halloween night, followed my around the clock listening to Christmas music (commercial and spiritual), decorating, traditional movie watching and book reading, and so much more. Yes, I am that guy, the one who even Christmas lovers call overkill or O.K. for short.

You have heard the catchphrase, “where’s the beef,” well, here is my beef:

In all my conversations with those who hate celebrating Christmas “prematurely,” I have yet to hear a reason that really makes sense. I will now attempt to make sense of what I have heard.

1. “One holiday at a time. Let’s not skip over Thanksgiving; it, too, is important; don’t cheapen it.”

I have zero interest in getting political or American historical here, but, what I will say is this, if Christmas for you has anything to do with Jesus Christ — His being born on earth so He could save all mankind — then is that not the thing you should be most grateful for? Isn’t that the PERFECT way to celebrate thanksgiving — to put Jesus at the top of your I Am Grateful For… list? You don’t even have to forget or overshadow all the other things you are grateful for.

If Christmas for you is not so much about Jesus’ birth, but more a time to remember, recall, and celebrate the joy and goodness that still abundantly exists in the world today; a time to step up and be a little kinder, a little less selfish and more giving, then is embodying the spirit of Christmas early, bad? Isn’t reminding yourself to be more grateful an attempt to be a better person? Shouldn’t you be grateful for the ability to improve in life?

An aside: I support a Christmas that celebrates both the birth of Christ and the spirit of Christmas (what I consider to be mankind’s attempt to emulate Jesus Christ).

Now, if Christmas is ALL commercial for you; just a stressful time to dwell on “corporate schemes” to make money, to get stuck in crowds at over-packed malls, to never find the perfect gift, to spend money you don’t have, to high five The Grinch and chest bump pre-changed Ebeneezer Scrooge; well, then having Christmas arrive early would be a reason to cringe.

2.) “If you start celebrating now, by the time Christmas rolls around, you’ll be burnt out with everything Christmasy.”

This is the argument that most makes sense to me. But, truth be told; it is very difficult for me to imagine being over-Christmased. For me, two months is too little time; it’s never enough. I find that if you healthily mix the commercial with whatever else Christmas means to you, you will find it’s hard to get too much of a good thing.

3.) “I don’t have a good reason for hating pre-Thanksgiving Christmas celebration. I probably had a parent who hated Christmas music before Thanksgiving and so, without reason, I’ll do the same.”

No attempt to understand this mind set will be made.

I want to end with this: forgive my written bitterness — not very christmasy —  and, I love Christmas, even commercial Christmas.

Somehow, commercial Christmas always takes me back to what I consider to be the true meaning of Christmas. I love that stores decorate before Thanksgiving and play Christmas music once the turkey is tupperwared away in the fridge; I love the colors, the emotion, the busyness (I even loved it when I worked retail for years); I love that a man in William Sonoma got the whole store clapping their approval in an attempt to convince a manager to allow an employee to accept a gift from him (obviously against the rules), I love the movies (I have a long list of must-watch Christmas flicks) and the books (each year I read Christ’s birth story in The Bible,  A Christmas Carol and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever); I love it all. Somehow, the energy in the air, the want to give, the excitement to receive, and the symbolism always reminds me to look up “to that blessed star which led Wise men to a poor abode” (borrowed from Dickens). It reminds me that I am blessed and can bless the lives of those familiar and unknown to me.

I didn’t really want this post to cause fights or sporadic sibling wrestling matches, but I do want it to open up conversation. Why do you like or not like celebrating Christmas before Thanksgiving? What does Christmas mean to you? Tell me in the comments below.

UNFUNNY HUSBAND MOMENT: I end my yawns loudly and musically. My yawn is as follows: “YAWWWWWN…AHHHHH, I FEEL GOOD! Na na na na na na nuh, I knew that I would now, SO GOOD, SO GOOD, I GOTTA YOU oo oo ooo ooo. WATCH ME NOW!” My wife LOVES it.

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My Diet, My Breakdown

DISCLAIMER: So as to not disappoint you when you find no breakdown worthy of a trip to the ER in this post, just know that my breakdown was me being depressed (quite depressed actually) that I couldn’t eat an inviting slice of supreme style pizza in an open box, on my parent’s kitchen table; all because I was vacationing in Diet Land.

When I started my diet I weighed 168 pounds. Not bad, except that I should weigh 150 pounds. Now, I don’t expect you to cry me a river or write a book listing 184 reasons the residents of earth should feel sorry for me; just know that I didn’t feel comfortable or good at 168. So, I set a goal — I was going to lose 18 pounds.

I’ve never been on a diet; not really at least. I’ve had three days here or a week or two there that I made wiser food selections and actually exercised, but that’s grown-up, normal life stuff, right? Or at least it should be. A diet is something else.

One of those embarrassing photos where the husband (me) pretends to also be expecting (taken forever ago):

Let me be a hypocrite and do something that always annoys me — offer a definition of the word diet, found on the world wide web:

Restrict oneself to small amounts or special kinds of food in order to lose weight.

And I will include the awesome sample sentence that was attached to the above definition:

“It is difficult to diet in a house full of cupcakes.”

Fact. Except, truth be told, I’m more of a pie guy. Although, there is this cupcake place in Phoenix, AZ that will send you traveling, bare foot, on clouds of flavor and joy, all before you are surprisingly dropped in to an abandoned alleyway just to have your insides murder you; all for your time piece.

One more thing: not only would it be difficult to diet in a house full of cupcakes, it would be difficult to live in a house full of cupcakes. I’d like to imagine myself swimming through the cupcakes like Scrooge McDuck swam through his money, but get real, swimming through cupcakes or trying to move around in a house full of them, would be awful, and sticky.

Back.

I wanted to weigh 150 pounds; and so, like the definition says, I restricted the amount and types of food I ate — I started a low calorie, limited food option diet. I could eat most white meats, red meat sparingly, vegetables, and fruit. Other than Total for breakfast, that was basically it. The menu was fine; I’ve always loved and eaten fruits and vegetables; I enjoy chicken breast and fish; all was well or so I thought.

The first week was great; I didn’t mess up or cheat; I even discovered that pickles have no calories. That was all before visions of Mexican food, thin sliced cheese pizza and Tom Yum Ghai danced in my head.

The blues I was feeling were not caused by eating yet another chicken breast with broccoli and 6 baby carrots as a side, they were caused by seeing my wife eat the steak ranchero plate from one of our favorite Mexican restaurants; it was my sister and mom bringing home a Costco supreme pizza, of course after 7 pm — when I can no longer eat — and of course, after I’d already consumed my limited calories for the day (like I could eat the pizza anyway).

My breakdown. I do not exaggerate when I say I stalked the pizza like a lion stalks a gazelle. I paced around my parent’s island, pretending to be casual but casting dangerous eyes at the pie. Rinda kept telling me, “James! Get away from the pizza, that’s not going to help. You only have 4 more days of your diet, you can do it!”

She was being a good wife; but that didn’t change the fact that I wanted to punch every diet, especially mine, in the neck and lunge for a slice; and then proceed to scarf it down — like Buzz did with Kevin’s cheese pizza in Home Alone. Instead, I chose to pout. I literally sat down at the counter (right next to the pizza) with hate and gloom painted all over my grill. Rinda: “What’s wrong? I was just trying to help you out, you have lost so much weight already. If you want to eat a slice of pizza, go ahead.”

I had lost 11 pounds but I didn’t care about the weight loss, I wanted pizza. When she saw me, still mad, Rinda said, “James! just eat some pizza.” I resorted back to my 4 year old self and whimpered, “you’ll be disappointed in me;” she kind of laughed (I am almost 27) and she said, “James, I’m not going to be disappointed, it’s one slice of pizza.” My sister chimed in with, “if it’s going to make you unhappy…just eat a piece of pizza.” Needless to say, I did not eat pizza that night.

Instead, I chose the mature route: I stood up, packed our things, and we left my parent’s house, leaving my family and their blasted pizza behind.

I have since assimilated that it was not the particulars of the diet that was making me unhappy, it was the lack of choice — I felt like I was trapped. From this diet I have learned the importance of balance. Go ahead, eat the things you like, even the unhealthy ones, but if you do, make sure the other meals you eat (that day or the rest of the week) are healthier; and for heaven’s sake, do some exercise.

Now, by no means am I a champion exerciser — the only time I’ve ever been to a gym is when they forced me to lift weights in 8th grade. I don’t like rooms full of exercise machinery. However, I do love being outside, especially in the morning; and so I use that as inspiration to get out and a run a mile or two. I like movies; so I watch one while I’m on a stationary bike; I like Rocky; so I pretend I’m him while I jump rope. You get the point — if you hate exercising (traditionally speaking), find an activity you do love and add exercise to it. Do you like bad radio music? Do some jumping jacks while you listen to it (not while driving).

I have lost 12 pounds. I have two days left in my diet. Pray for me.

UNFUNNY HUSBAND MOMENT: I’m a genius when it comes to reworking the words of existing songs. Rinda just LOVES it when I roam around the house singing my rendition of Hakuna Matata: “hakruna makrata, crhat a cronderfuld craze, hakruna makrata, craint no crassin craze, crit creans no crurries cror the crest of crure crays…crits crure croplem cree, cricosophy, hakruna makrata.” Thank you. Thank you. I know. I know.

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