Tuesday, February 4, 2014

My Final Blog

     And so it ends, this 3.5 year hemorrhage of words on my thoughts, deeds, relationships and recollections.  

      The title itself is a misnomer as it really isn't my last blog.  It will be the last one that I post to this site, but I do plan on writing a little more and compiling a collection of my favorites into a self published book tentatively entitled "Caramelized Ongion".  I envision 6 or 7 chapters with the
broad stroke titles of Faith, Family, Friends, Food, Fun and Finance.  I should be able to include my favorites under those titles or I'll make a catch-all for those that don't fit. I anticipate a one time printing of a few hundred copies, retailing for $20,  that I'll hawk to my family, friends, co-workers and fans of the blog.  I'll spend this year compiling, editing and writing and expect a late 2014 publishing date. A close family member has already agreed to do the editing, but I've given strict instructions to not touch the commas.   I received a very special gift this week from my sister Wilson that I will include in the book, and it was her blog entry of my brother Redface's life, a blog that I could just never write, and now I know why, because there was a person out there who could write it better. It will be included in the book.

     Endings are tough and as the guy most likely to be the last to leave the party, I'm not sure saying goodbye is a strong suit of mine, but I know the time is right.  I've faithfully given you 182 unique blogs over 3 and a half years.  I took 4 weeks off by re-posting some favorites, but since I gave you a 
few extras in there too, I'm finishing all caught up with exactly the right number for that time period.  I'm pretty proud of that.  I was assisted by 5 guest bloggers over that time too, and I thought each of their efforts well worthy of inclusion in both the blog and the book.  I've built a loyal fan base of a few hundred readers and many hundreds more who drop in and read a blog when they see a title that interests them.  This week, this blog entry will generate the site's 100,000th hit, and that's a good number to go out on.  For my loyal fans, I suspect that Tuesdays are now, and for a long time after, will be, associated with Blog Day!  I'll candidly admit on those mornings that I would publish a little late, the Facebook comments, the texts and hits to the site anticipating that week's post were especially flattering. An average blog took between 2-4 hours of pondering, writing, rewriting and scouring the internet and my computer files for the right pictures, not to mention the hundreds of hours that I spent in bars
I'll have another glass of research, please.
trying out my new material or meeting those special people that I introduced you too, and I offered it up for free (technically the site has a value of a little over $2,000 right now, but if you do the math, I would have made much more money putting those hours into saying "You want fries with that?") You'll notice that I didn't say editing, because early on, my wife edited all my blogs for me, but then, with my travel, and the early posting time, it became too difficult to coordinate, so I started to self-edit... poorly.  Some mornings, my sister Wilson would call or text me to let me know the blog would be missing whole sections in it (most people would not have recognized it from my regular dis-jointed writing style).  The blogging platform had that issue, so I'd have to copy the whole blog just before posting, in case it was truncated. This blogging  project inadvertently gave me a 3 and one half year record of my writing and editing ability, or lack thereof.  I can see my wife, in the
future, consulting with a doctor who asks "When did Bill start losing his mental faculties?", to which she'll reply, "I have his book, right here" (Think of the later journal entries in Flowers for Algernon here).  In any case, I gave you the best that I had to offer, each week, and you saw it, warts and all, and yet, you came back each week, and for that, I thank you.

     So, to review, where did I take you during this journey?   We went together to Boston, China, Halifax NS, Canandaigua and Hall NY, Ottawa and London Ontario, Phoenix and Sedona Arizona, Cancun Mexico, Rochester's South Wedge, and to the insides of countless small hotel rooms.  We traveled back in time to Roseland Park, Evan's Field, St. Mary's Catholic Church and School, Sonnenberg Park, Cdga Academy, to my childhood home on Fort Hill Avenue, to a Broadway stage at the old Studio 54 and to a high hill in a shopping cart.   You met my first crush, my first foe, my first car and my first boss, all of my siblings, my 3 children, my parents, my girlfriend, my cousins, my friend Frank, the organ recipient in Philly, the nameless girl at LaGuardia Airport, the stranger on my Facebook, the clothing lady with the one shoe story, the guy who stole my Christmas tree, my Boy Scout Troop, my wife's Girl Scout Troop, my
My first boss, Papa Frank
friend Eileen, my cat Nibbler, my dog Barney, a friend in need at Wally's Pub, and of course, my beautiful wife.  You had a front row view of Yarger events like eating at our dining room table, camping vacations, my sister Meter Maid's pig roasts, graduations and birthdays, our progressive dinner, our Christmas celebrations, our corn roasts, our mens shopping night, our family reunions, some family weddings and funerals and, of course, the Yarger Memorial Golf Tournament.  If I've had one comment repeated more than any other, it's been how much people would love to be part of our family, and trust me, I know how blessed I am.  I loved revisiting the classic family stories like the red jeans, pogi-ing behind cars in winter, things in my mother's purse, running away from home, Turkey Cake, and of course, the
Most of my siblings
flaming deodorant story.  I hoped that I've started some in my own family too, like awesome 26 cents, our imaginary house guests, the "I'm Sorry, But" jar, my best magic trick, and of course Skittle Pancakes.  Speaking of food, I've taught you how to make Uncle Bill's Clam Chowder, Nolan's Armadillo Eggs, Dan's beef brisket, a shark-shaped watermelon fruit salad, pure maple syrup, roast pork, dad's famous grilled cheese hot dogs, roasted corn and steamed lobster.  I've done my best to feed your souls with heartwarming and inspiring stories, and to feed your bellies with delicious treats.  Finally I attempted to tickle your funny bone with my unique takes on life,  a Schoolhouse Rock parody, my reputation as a hard partying uncle, squash season, and a few on my wife hiding my stuff, the Dixie cups and one of my favorites about her dimpled rear end... of her minivan.  This seems like a good spot to end this paragraph.

     So I should start my summation now, or I'll lose my readers with short attention spans.  Each week, as I finished a blog, I tried to convey a lesson or at least give you some points to ponder.  As I finish this project though, I'd like to tell you all what I have learned.  You see, it's tough to bare your soul and life each week without being a little
A recent photo of my family
introspective yourself and when you do it for this long, there are bound to be improvements.  I thought writing the blog would be somewhat therapeutic and it has been, but would you be surprised to know that during this time period almost every aspect of my life has changed for the better?  I was, a little.  I shouldn't have been, because I tend to squeeze more out of things than I put into them, but as I started to count my blessings, I was amazed at how many there truly were.  I'll start with my siblings, as without them, there would be no blog.  I've invested more in these relationships and almost without exception this has borne fruit.  I've stepped up my communication with each of them and make a point to try and visit on as regular a basis as my schedule allows.  I do the same with my nieces, nephews and cousins.  A week or so ago, I got a random text from a niece recalling a night where we danced in a group and she said it brought
My wife and my girlfriend, trying to hide their identities.
joy to her heart.  It brought joy to mine just hearing that.  I think it's fair to say that I've grown closer to each of my children and my wife during this period too.  I learned a little late to truly value the time at home with them, but Nolan has been the beneficiary of a lot of extra time spent together doing some interesting things.  With my adult children, I've tried to visit as often as they'd like me to, while still giving them the space that they need.  If I didn't do as good of a job of spending time with them while they were home, at the very least I taught them the value of keeping up with their siblings, and almost every week they choose to spend some time together.  I am glad for
Me with some of the boys, doing more research.
 this.  As to my wife, if you had told me that it was possible, after 26 years of marriage, to fall more deeply in love, I would have been skeptical, and yet,  I have.  Most recently, I've tried to "fix" some habits of mine that I know slightly annoy her, and she has responded in kind, trying to do more of the things that I like to do.  Through the blog and with this constant examination of the relationships that are important to me, they all have improved.  I've gained a deeper appreciation of my in-laws, they are a tough group to crack, but I get to know them a little better each year.  My close friends, grew closer and we chose to spend even more time together.  I had a 30 year high school reunion and I both reconnected and connected for the first time with some of these classmates.  In the midst of the celebration, one of them remarked that my wife and I, telling our story of managing our relationship, had helped to save her marriage, and for one of the few times in my life, I was left speechless.  It was sometime later that I realized the possible effect that these 
Practice hiking for Jamboree
stories that God has given me to tell,  might have amongst those who hear them. I have celebrated life in this blog, but always given the credit to him for providing me that opportunity.  I don't talk much about my work in the blog, as less and less I let this define me, it's just what I do, so that I can do all the things that I love, but I've had some of my most successful years during the course of writing this blog. My Boy Scout Troop, similarly, has thrived during this time and we have outgrown our meeting space, sent 9 Scouts to the National Jamboree, and have 4 Scouts currently working on Eagle projects. The Troop currently is at it's largest point in membership in recent years, at a time where participation in Scouting is dropping.  I am blessed to have a great leadership staff and supporting committee.   On the health front, during the course of this blog at one point I lost 19% of my body weight, but more importantly incorporated regular exercise into my weekly routine.  All the weight didn't stay off but I recently had the best physical of my adult life, because the exercise became habitual.  One year we lost 30% of our annual income and not only survived that year, but thrived.  I suffered the loss of my mother, but as deaths go it was quick, she was surrounded by family and a favorite priest and it was the time of her choosing.  She was ready.  I also lost 4 cousins, who deaths were untimely and tragic, but also learned what a wonderful support network extended family can be at times like that and it brought me even closer to a great group of people.  I grew more spiritual during this time too, and recommitted to weekly church attendance, something that I value, but had not prioritized.  I'm proud to say we've not missed a week since making the commitment.  I could go on, but I won't, and I hope you don't feel as if I am bragging about these blessings, I'm just grateful that I've cast my bread upon the waters, and it has come back to me in so many meaningful ways.

     I'll close now, as I've already exceeded my self-imposed limit on blog length, but I figure you'll forgive me, as it is the last one.  It has been my great honor to share these stories of my family, my travel, the people that I've met and my life,  with you.  I've tried my best to entertain, amuse, enlighten and possibly inspire you and I hope you've found my efforts worthy.  I've appreciated all the Facebook and blog comments, and those in-person encounters where we've conversed about the latest post.  If you'd like to be given advance notice on the book launch, please send an e-mail to wyarger@rochester.rr.com and I'll send you a note when it is ready to order.  As always, for this last blog, feel free to comment or share, and the blog may be ending, but I hope to be around for a while.  Be Well. 
Thank you.

    

     
     

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A different approach to the end of life - a guest blog from Molly Yarger



    This blog is a guest post from my daughter Molly.  Shortly, she'll finish her last few courses, a clinical and then her licensing exam, but if this blog is any indication, I'd say that she's ready now.       

As I sat and listened to a long-time hospice nurse speak to my senior nursing class, I was moved. My eyes welled up with tears, though my calculated stoicism allowed none to fall, as she described her experience with hospice patients. I had been removed from the geriatric population, it seemed, just 
long enough to begin to lose some of my passion for nursing. By the end of the address, however, I began to feel that old familiar inspiration that initially drove me toward nursing as both a career path, and a lifestyle. My passion was renewed just when I needed it (perhaps by chance? divine intervention? I’ll let you be the judge).

Modern medicine can accomplish some amazing feats. The treatment and eradication of illnesses continues to improve day by day. That being said, modern medicine is also mainly concerned with “treating.” A terminal diagnosis ends the possibility of eradication. When a terminal diagnosis occurs, therefore, it as treated as a perpetual end point for modern medicine. Many patients feel a sense of powerlessness.

Simultaneously, this is the beginning of end-of-life (and hospice) care. We cannot change the terminal nature of the diagnosis. We are nurses whose patients are headed toward imminent death. These patients feel as though their power has been stripped.

The inability to “cure” our patients, however, does NOT mean the inability to restore this power. We treat our patients holistically. That is, we care for our patients’ bodies, minds, and souls. Rather than falling into the trap of perceived powerlessness due solely to terminality, we take an active role in empowering our patients. They cannot, unfortunately, “conquer” death. This can be difficult for 
patients to accept. We do everything in our power to ease them through this difficult process. Once acceptance has occurred, we are able to move forward and place the focus on that which the patient may control. We assist them in reframing their thinking to help them understand that they DO have power to make decisions specific to their individual preferences. The patient DOES have the power to choose whether they’d like to pass on at home or in a hospital setting. They have the power to choose how sedated or non-sedated, they’d like to be. They have the power to choose which activities they participate in “just one last time” (or even for the first time) before they go. They have the power to choose to see those they want to see. Often patients will hold on just long enough to hear someone’s voice one last time. Sometimes they’re waiting for a loved one to arrive before they can go peacefully. There are even those who seem to wait just long enough to be left entirely alone before passing on.

But eventually, the conclusion of this interaction is death. Ideally, I’ve guided my patient (and their soul, I feel) through to the next era of their existence peacefully, comfortably, and in the setting/manner of their own choosing. I’m not even going to begin to describe what I think that “era” 
is, nor what it involves. I could write volumes guessing. But what I do know is this: terminal illness does NOT equate to powerlessness. Healthcare professionals treating terminal patients must actively work to empower their patients. Sitting in that room, listening to memory after memory from a hospice nurse, I was moved. These patients cannot choose not to die. (At some point along the way, nor can we.) But we can all choose how we would like to live… no matter how long we may or may not have left. There is nothing I perceive as more humbling than being able to not only ease someone through the dying process, but empower them through it. It is a role that, pending one last semester and a passing grade on my NCLEX exam, will humbly and graciously fulfill… perhaps for the rest of my days, if I so choose.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Master Manipulator - a guest blog from sister Wilson



    This morning's post is a guest blog from my sister Wilson.  I'm not saying that she is right on anything that she reports below, although there is strong evidence that she is correct, the strongest being that I am currently in the Bahamas and she is writing a blog and babysitting my son. 

    You may not realize it, but last week’s blog (a few burnt ends) was intended for me.  You see, the Ongion asked me over a year ago if I would be interested in writing a guest blog, and although I responded in the affirmative, I just hadn’t quite gotten around to it.  A few months ago, he dangled
the idea that he was considering wrapping up the blog in the relatively near future, and had hopes of compiling it into a book for his children.  He appealed to my ego that such a book just wouldn’t be complete without a guest blog from me.  What the Ongion forgot to realize, however, was that unlike him, I am not at all motivated by my ego….so I still hadn’t gotten around to it.
Earlier this month I accepted a job offer, after years of being a stay at home mom.  I can imagine the Ongion, sitting at his desk with the realization that if I hadn’t made time to write a guest blog when I wasn’t working, there was little chance that I would get around to it, once I was employed.  It was time for action. So today, he published a blog entitled, “a few burnt ends.”  Out of 
You know who also manipulates?  Nick Fury, that's who
all of the blogs that he has published thus far, this was the worst.  He claimed technical difficulties, but I don’t buy it.  It was disjointed.  It made me think about the bark on a pork butt and the gross things in a hotel room all while being assaulted by a series of painful malapropisms (a word that he pluralized with an apostrophe.) He even posted it late. To those of you who do not know my brother as well as I do, this may seem innocent….but that is only because you have not yet been exposed to a deep layer of the Ongion.  You did not grow up with the master manipulator.

     When we were growing up, we children were always given assigned chores.  Most of us, like them or not, completed the chores and moved on with our lives.  Not the Ongion.  His mantra was to work smarter, not harder…and his goal was to minimize any and all chores that might come his way.  If it
was his job to dry the dishes, he would inspect each piece of cutlery and dining ware that came his way, and inevitably find a spot or grease mark that would prompt him to pass the item back to the washer for further cleaning.  If you were the washer, you either had to remain captive to the whims of dish inspector #12 for the remainder of the foreseeable evening…or excuse him from his duties and wash and dry the dishes yourself.    More times than not, it felt less painful to spend a resentful evening alone at the sink then put up with the antics. Lest you think we could simply complain, you must know that my parents would not tolerate any fighting over chores. If bickering erupted around a chore, we may as well hang a sign around our necks that read, "oh, please, give us additional work".  Lest you think I could simply retaliate, I was seven years
2/3 of a sandwich according to The Ongion
 younger than the Ongion, and had vowed that I would never grow up to be that mean.  So the Ongion would nitpick us into frustration, and his eventual release from duty,but stalling was just one tactic  
that he employed.  There was another that was even more annoying, and unfortunately on me, the most effective.  I refer to it as the dry cheese sandwich approach.


     One of the chores that was in our rotation was the task of making lunches for the children in the house.  I am the youngest in the family, so this chore usually meant lunches for just 3 of us; the Ongion, myself, and one other sibling.  The parameters were few.  You could make anything available in the house if there was enough to go around.  Peanut butter and jelly was the most common, which involved having to stir the oil back into the peanut butter to make it soft enough to spread.  Occasionally, there was fluff.   There may have been lunchmeat, now and again, but by lunchmeat I really only mean bologna.  There was cheese, and with just 3 kids left in the house, there
The other 1/3
was canned tuna.  Almost any time the Ongion was assigned the chore
of making lunches, I knew the conversation that would occur the following morning, and every morning that he had that chore.


Me:  “What are you making for lunches?”
Ongion: “Dry Cheese Sandwiches”
Me: “Dry cheese sandwhich?  That’s just you putting one slice of cheese between two pieces of white bread. Can't you at least put mustard or a slice of bologna with it?"
Ongion:  "Nope.  Dry Cheese Sandwich”
Me:  "Gross."
Ongion: “Well, if you don’t like it, you can always make your own lunch.”

     So the choices for me was either make my own lunch, or try and choke down a dry piece of cheese between 2 pieces of clearance rack white bread.  Master manipulator.  Man, he was good.
So, my other sibling and I would usually acquiesce and end up making a can of tuna, making our sandwich, and heading off to school, at which point the Ongion would swoop in, and make himself a tuna sandwich with our leftovers.
See, I told you he was good.
So when I was reading his blog this morning, call it PTSD, but all I could think was “He’s dry cheese sandwiching me”….  If I don’t like it, do it myself.

So, Ongion,  you got me.  I promise next week I will do my guest blog.  And I promise, it will be better than dry cheese. - Sister Wilson

Sister Wilson and the Ongion



Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Just a few burnt ends....

     For those not familiar with this BBQ term, burnt ends are the really flavorful pieces of meat that come from the tips of a beef brisket.  They are full of flavor but their burnt appearance turns some folks away and they can be a little tough to chew, but if you've got a taste for them, you can never get enough.  The bark on a pork butt or pig is similar and my brother Ace and I go round and round about whether to include it in the meat trays for sandwiches, I say yes and he says no.  This morning's blog is a collection off those tasty little bits of blog idea that I've had that I just couldn't expand into a full blog.

     Just because we disagree on the bark issue, that does not mean that my brother Ace and I don't get along.  I devoted a whole blog to him one time and we spend as much time talking to each other as we do our wives.  This gives me a unique opportunity to pick up on his little idiosyncrasies and his mastery of malapropism's is one of them.  He frequently substitutes the wrong word, but a close one, into his phraseology without even knowing he is doing it.  Almost every time we speak, he utters one of these, and I've always meant to do a blog on them, but I never remember to write them down and I can never recall enough of them to fill a blog, but this morning I'll give you the first one I remember and the best one.  He always has said "Nip it in the butt" instead of "nip it in the bud".  Most times he is talking about his work and it creates a quick comical moment for me when I picture his coworkers running around trying to nip his butt, and I've corrected him several times, but I think it's too far ingrained in his grey cells for him to change it, so I silently chuckle when he uses it now.  The one I was totally unprepared for, however, he used one time while discussing his feeling alienated in his office and he told me that they were "treating him like a leopard".  That one cost me a pair of pants cuz I spit my coffee out laughing when he said it.  I can easily imagine what it would be like if they "treated him like a leper" but had a much harder time imagining the former.  Sorry Ace, but I had to share that one.  


     I get a lot of articles forwarded or shared with me about how hotel rooms are not really cleaned as they should be.  These are not helpful.  I am aware that the glasses may not be clean and no I would never even consider bringing a black light into a hotel room with me, because, at the bend of the day, I still have to sleep in them (see what I did there?).  I can't wear a hazmat suit while I travel so I just have to accept the fact that I don't know what I am coming in contact with in the hotels, but ignorance is his, so I  Kerry on.  

     There's a great family story about my mom making mud cupcakes and tricking my oldest brother into eating one, but while it's a great story, I, Shirley couldn't make it into a hole blog, could I? 

     I'm likely not as clever this morning as I think I yam, so I'd best try to finish quickly.  The blast thing that I would want to do is to alien ate my readers, less they treat me like a leopard. 

     

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Canandaigua of my youth......

     If it's true of every generation, to age and then to wax nostalgic for the simpler time that they knew, is it more true of mine?  Did the generation before me wish to go back to hand pumping water and using outhouses because they remembered the simplicity of those times?  I'm truly not sure, however, I find myself more and more, wishing that my children could have experienced the city of my youth as I knew it, and I'd go back and live there in a New York minute if I could, and never miss a thing.

     It seemed like there were more hours in a day when I was young.  Maybe this was because we got up earlier, things took time to cook and to prepare and you had things you had to do before you got
Norman painted my life often
ready to go to school, so there may actually have been more hours in a day then.  I grew up in the 60's and 70's in the small city of Canandaigua NY.  It had a population of under 10,000 then, and the city itself really has only grown about 10% in population since.  Oddly though, it seemed like there were more people then, than now, because they were always outside.  Our high school football games drew capacity crowds, and the church of my youth was full, so you went early to get a good seat, and not just on Christmas.  I'll take you through a typical week.....

      On a normal school day you'd arise an hour or two prior to the first bell.  You'd do your morning chores and then any extras that might need to be done.  In my house, if you were a male, you were likely an altar server and you might have to walk back and forth to church, prior to going back there for school to serve the early mass.  In winter you might have had to go out and shovel the walks and driveway prior to school, and when you were done, Dad was sure to "suggest" that you do the same
for an elderly neighbor or two.  Inside lunches and milk were being made, and..... Wait, you didn't make milk as a kid?  In my house, milk, for a lot of years, came in a big box marked Carnation, whose magic crystals would become milk when you added hot water.  This was best done the night before as hot instant milk is surely an acquired taste.  When you were done with breakfast, mostly Buckwheats and Oatmeal, you'd pack up your brown paper bag wrapped textbooks, slip your small feet into plastic bread wrappers and then your boots, and then you'd walk to school (yes, uphill both ways, carrying your brother).  The streets were full of kids just like you.  In school, you'd behave or when you got back from the Principal's office, you'd find it harder to sit on your seat.  There were chores at school too, clapping erasers, emptying trash, washing desks, and anything else that you were asked to do.  After school, you'd check back in at home, and then have a few hours to explore the city or neighborhood parks. 

   I'd arrange to meet back up with my friends downtown and we'd walk the streets exploring.  We had to arrange it ahead of time, there were no cell phones and if you screwed up the plan, well, you missed out on the plan for that day.  More commonly now kids step out their doors and then call to
The original Leroy Brown
 see in which direction to point their feet or their cars.  We'd look in the windows of the stores, Valvano's Newsstand was one of my favorites.  We could browse the newest comic books that we couldn't afford and they always make sure to kick us out before we finished the story.  We bought cheap magic tricks and modeling clay and playing cards to put on the spokes of our bikes.  A lot of times our homework would require a trip to the library to do research, so we'd head over there and look among the stacks for the reference books that we would need and while there we might check out the latest Encyclopedia Brown Book.   Frequently on our trips to the library, we'd detour into Seneca Dairy and buy chocolate milk or ice cream in a cup.  Soon it would be time to head home for dinner, and in my house, you weren't late for dinner without a very good excuse.  You all sat down together and shared your days, and then after dinner was done and dishes were washed and dried by hand, you might settle in to watch some TV, not of your choosing, but what your father wanted to see.  At bedtime, you were reminded to brush your teeth and to say your prayers. 

     On Saturdays we'd have our weekly chores to do and then settle in to watch the Saturday morning cartoons.  Many mornings there would be pick-up football games arranged or we'd plan a longer exploration.  I remember taking my bike and riding to Manchester or Cheshire with friends to see the
sites there. Sonnenberg Park was a regular destination for me and we'd climb the trees, play foursquare or play some basketball.  It was common for us to be gone all day, or home just for lunch and then back out again.  We had more time to go downtown so the candy stores like the Goody Shop or uptown, the Corner Store were great places to spend some time.  Some Saturdays, Dad would announce a work day and take us to our Uncle's garden to spend some time there weeding or harvesting.  Sundays would start at church, early again, 7:30 and then if we were lucky we took the car to one of two bakeries, Schreck's or Vecchi's to pick up some donuts.  This was likely the first time in the week that we would ride in the car.  After we got home, Dad would read the paper and we'd wait until he set down the comic section to grab it and read it.  We'd take the wax wrapper from the cereal box and make imprints of the comics on them.  Abbott and Costello movies
were on the TV regularly that morning and if we stayed at home in the afternoon, we'd watch the Yankees play.  We'd eat an early dinner (lunch) and most weeks Dad would pile us in the car to go visit an Aunt or Uncle.  Sundays were for family and Dad took this seriously.   Sunday nights were for finishing homework and I remember taking religion classes with my Mom, since she didn't think I was learning enough at the Catholic school that I attended.  We'd watch "The Wonderful World of Disney" before bed and we'd see classics like "Herbie the Love Bug" or "Old Yeller" (Travis, get the gun). 
    
     I'll close this walk down memory lane with a brief description of the Canandaigua summers that I knew.  Long days in the park with Boone Baker, and the rec program featured variety shows or costume contests in addition to the shuffleboard tournaments.  We'd walk down to swim, but not in a 
cordoned off area, we had all of Kershaw Park and the pier to swim from.  We'd fish in the outlet, and a few times a summer we'd go to Roseland Amusement Park.  I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that the Kiwanis Club sponsored one of those trips with the Sunshine Special, which would give you free tickets for good grades and a trolley ride to the park too.  The civic groups then were numerous and well attended, and some even had thriving youth organizations.  Now, some are non-existent or struggling for active members.  The summer wasn't complete without a week long visit to stay with an Aunt or Uncle just at their house or at a cabin or lake house.  We'd take camping vacations regularly too.  Maybe I am a little too nostalgic about my youth in Canandaigua, but maybe I'm not.  I was ignorant of world politics, talk of crushing debt and political upheavals, and could just play without worry, all day.  Sadly my kids will never know that world. 
 

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Elf on the Shelf, but not for myself.....

     Please don't be offended if you are an "Elf on the Shelf" family reading this.  This blog is meant as more of a primer on what I could have done better in celebrating this holiday with my family and not to chastise any family on their own traditions.   I fully believe in creating Christmas traditions in fact, and compliment any family that spends this much time and creativity to foster one.  Not too many years ago I could have seen me being an "Elf on the Shelf" family too, but I've had more time to reflect on the messages that I wanted to send more clearly as a father and as a Catholic.  Being as old as dirt and having your kids largely out of the house will do that for you.  

     I have to admit that prior to this year, the Elf on the Shelf thing went unnoticed by me.  This year,
The Elf on the Shelf balloon
 however, I started to see mention of him popping up at Thanksgiving.  He had his own balloon in the Macy's parade and I saw it that morning and again over the next few days as some adult shows poked some fun at it.  His appearance there wasn't enough for me to be motivated to go look up the story, at my age a lot of what others call "culturally significant" passes unnoticed by me, and I'm ok with that.  A few weeks later though, it became a lot harder to not notice.  Several Facebook friends of mine decided to "adopt" an elf and for the next 3 weeks it co-opted their status updates.  I'm not saying that it was pervasive on my page, but it almost made me miss Pinterest and cute cat pictures.  Most mornings I was treated to pictures of the unique position of the elf by multiple friends, the rest of my friends, thankfully, were still bit-stripping themselves in their statuses.   Point is, it gave me a lot of time to ponder this phenomenon.  It was around the same time that I heard that only
25% of my fellow Catholics were attending church on a weekly basis.  I found the number astounding, I would have thought it was closer to 40% and I know that in the 50's we hovered around 80% but I was saddened by this and I had to blame someone, and the elf was pretty handy (he was right there on the shelf), so....

     In a crisis of faith I always go to my roots and I only had to ponder the question shortly "What would my mother do?"  I realized that my mother had always done her version of elf on the shelf as I'll bet a lot of Catholic families did, but they used the journey of the Wise Men to do it.  For those
I swear my blog idea came first, it's only the calendar that disagrees
 that knew my mother, and before they fall down laughing, I am not suggesting that she arose before the household each morning to place the Wise Men, or 3 Kings, or Magi, on the toilet tank or in the fridge, however as Advent started and over the month of December they would systematically make their way around our living room, getting ever closer to the nativity and would finally arrive on the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th.  There was no Christmas Magic associated with their moving and if we touched them they didn't go back to Santa to tattle on us, but nevertheless, it was a tradition that my mother kept up.  I do remember doing this with our own nativity here at home over a long period of time, and I honestly can't say why or when I stopped doing it.  That is how traditions get lost though.  I also recall quizzing the kids on the names of the 3 Kings, can you name them?  The accepted names are Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar, however, in the gospel of

Matthew, the only gospel to mention the visit of the Kings, they are neither named nor numbered.  It also doesn't mention if their camels were any happier on Wednesdays than the other days, but you can't get all the details all the time.  The gifts that they brought were though and that's how they surmised the number of Kings who visited Jesus.  Can you name the 3 gifts?  I'll bet more people can do this one than name the Kings, they are Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh.  I'd give you more trivia, but it will be more fun if you go and read or re-read up on the Kings yourselves.

     So what am I going to do with all these thoughts?  As I had said, my current household is a little beyond either the elf or the journey of the Kings thing, but I can start to prepare for any grand-kids that I might have.  Heck, I can even Snapchat pictures of my traveling Wisemen to people (note to self, download Snapchat app).  I can talk with my son who's still at  home about the 3 Kings, but he does go to church each week, so he probably knows as much as me.  I'll do what I always do though, I'll take my best shot at this idea of re-centering my Christmas around Christ and I'll stick with it, if it 
works.  For your house, feel free to do the same.  For what it's worth though, I'm a poker player and 3 Kings always beats a single joker (or even an elf). 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

How we celebrate Christmas

     This will post on Christmas Eve and we will have several Christmas traditions in the bank by then, and here's how we tend to celebrate this Season.....

     I was going to blog about the traditions that we have in our family, and then I realized that I could probably fill a page with just the things we do around Christmas, so I thought I'd peel that Ongion skin for you this morning.  The Christmas season starts for us about 3-4 weeks prior to Christmas. 
Nolan in front of our Christmas tree
 Our first tradition is to hunt and chop down our fresh Christmas tree.  No artificial ones for us, we have to see it standing, crawl underneath it with a hacksaw, sever it from the earth and then drag it through the mud or snow.  For as long as I can remember, this is how we get our Christmas tree.  I did a whole blog a few years ago on the year we lost a tree, the link is attached here if you want a true heartwarming story, but that's how we kick the season off. (On Christmas Trees, lost and found.)   When we get home with the tree, Dad strings the lights, and Mom and the kids hang the ornaments.  We're angel people, don't try to convince us of putting anything else on the top of the tree, in our house, that space is reserved for an angel.  We aren't pretty white light people either, ours are big, gaudy and brightly colored. We don't string popcorn to go round it, although the Boy Scouts keep us in good supply.  We have a small living room, but that's where we put it, so we can plug it in and enjoy it each night.  Char decorates the rest of the house with nutcrackers and wreaths and other assorted things, and our nativity set is simple and Jesus arrives on Christmas, and not beforehand. 

     We throw some lights on the house outside, but we don't aim to be the brightest lit house strewn with lawn decorations, timed to music and such.  My brother in law down the street, however, strings 
lights completely around his house and stages several blow up characters in front too.  I've been tempted to just take credit for his decorating, like the guy in this picture did, but he's too far away for me to do this.  Our church puts up a giving tree each year, and we participate in it, sponsoring 3 anonymous children so that they might have a better Christmas morning.  We volunteer a shift at a Salvation Army kettle on a Saturday prior to Christmas.  My wife's family had a winter house fire when she was small, so this is an important tradition for her, to make sure that we think of those less fortunate.  Our Boy Scout Troop has a great tradition of spending $400 of their hard earned money and making 40 fruit baskets to distribute to the needy, aged and infirm.  It's our 2nd biggest budgeted item each year and this tradition goes back decades and my family has both benefited from this tradition and met some amazing people.  I wrote a blog about one of them a while ago, and it's another heartwarming holiday story that you can share (The clothing lady with the one shoe story).  That's how we try to keep Christ in Christmas in our house.

     We have 2 other traditions that center around my family in the weeks prior to Christmas, our Men's Shopping Night and our Progressive Dinner.  Both go back over a decade, with the first being 
5 of my sisters at a Progressive Dinner
at least a 20 year tradition and the second encroaching that number.  My brothers, and brothers in law spend a Friday night out together and try and relieve some of the holiday stress.  We used to shop for an hour and then go bar-hopping, but now we don't even pretend to shop anymore, we just do a 12 station bar crawl.  Traditionally we stop in at Wally's Pub and try to eat 20 wings apiece, but only a few of us ever do.  We tear up our hometown of Canandaigua and we laugh and dance and just hang out with the male members of our clan.  I'll include the link here to the blog I did on this event, and you can read about our hijnks and shenanigans if you'd like  ( Men's Shopping Night) The Progressive Dinner kicks off at noon on a Sunday, just prior to Christmas and
we caravan through a 5 or 6 course meal visiting some of my sibling's homes and viewing their decorations.  This is open to all of my immediate family and we get a great turnout each year.  I did a blog on this before, see (Our Progressive Dinner).  I'm a big fan of this one, especially since it involves 2 out of 4 of the F things that my mother was thankful for, Family and Food, the others are Friends and Faith, but we'll get to those in the next paragraph.  Here's a shot of Mom and how she dressed for this event some years.  Sometime prior to Christmas my wife, children and I try to sit down and watch my wife's favorite movie "It's a Wonderful Life".  We've done this for so long that we all can recite the best lines as they come up and it's a special night for us to snuggle in.

     We celebrate Jesus' birth by attending church as a family, mid-day on Christmas Eve.  We arrive almost an hour early so that we can sit together, but it's tradition that my sons and I give up our seats to older parishioners or ladies that may be standing just prior to the service.  I don't even have to spot the people anymore, both my boys are on high alert for this opportunity to sacrifice a little and to make someone else's Holiday a little brighter.   I'm a little beyond getting excited on Christmas morning anymore, my kids are older and I've never liked the commercialism that is so
Nolan make armadillo eggs for the party
prevalent on this holiday, but I'm as guilty as the next husband and father when it comes to doling out gifts for this day.  What I do look forward to each year though, is the intimate party that we throw on Christmas Eve.  This idea, we blatantly stole from my best friend's family and made it into our own tradition.  We mix a few close friends and just a couple of our family members from each side whom we spend more time with each year, and we host an upscale evening complete with cocktails, singing round the piano, and tasty dishes that require a lot of prep and forethought.  We laugh and sing and enjoy the small gathering, and there are no gifts exchanged except the pleasure of the company.  We knock off the other two F's of my Mom's Friends and Faith that evening. 

     On Christmas Day, we arise early, get the coffee brewing and gather in our living room for the gift exchange.  Santa fills the stockings overnight though for some reason only my wife's stocking stuffers are wrapped each year.  A tangerine or orange is placed in foot of the stocking.  I always thought this was to take up a lot of room, but this tradition dates back to when citrus was hard to come by in this area in the winter, so it was a special treat to receive an orange in your stocking.  The
Watching a Christmas tree burn
gift sorting is done by me, the man of the house, and I pass out each present and we watch as each one is opened with oohs and aahs.  After we finish, I make breakfast for the family and then we travel to see Char's Mom.  We used to see her on Christmas Eve and my mother on Christmas Day, but now we just have the short trip down the street.  I miss my Mom, but it's nice to see Mary on Christmas Day so that we can hear about the gifts that her family got her.  Last year was extra special as one of her grandsons arranged all of her grandchildren to be in a family picture and we got to present it to her.  For all intents and purposes, that terminates our Christmas celebration, except for one small last tradition.  We drag our tree out a few days after Christmas, but it gets stored behind the barn for a while, drying out.  It becomes a home for rabbits or birds and when it is sufficiently dry, we donate it to a bonfire at a friends house or a family gathering and we watch the tree go up in a few seconds of blazing glory.  It's kind of like a Viking funeral for the Christmas Season, and it's spectacular, you should try it.  Those are some of the traditions in my family around this time of year, how about yours?