Tuesday, December 28, 2010

On Christmas trees, lost and found.

Stories like this one, are hard to believe, but you have my word that the things in this blog are entirely true.  It does beg the question though, why do I have so many of these things and stories happen to me?  I believe the answer is that God wanted my blog to be more interesting, so he continues to surround me with interesting people and events, and I haven't even told 10% of the good ones yet. Have I ever told you about the time I danced on Broadway?......

I lost a Christmas tree one year.  Go ahead, shake your head and scold me, I can already hear you.." Yarger, I can understand losing the remote, but seriously a Christmas tree?"  It wasn't like that though.  In my defense, that tree never even saw the inside of our house.... 

     Isn't life hard enough without starting harder traditions than your family passed on? Yes, but that's our nature in this family.  As far as I can recall my mom and dad never rounded the kids up and went off in the woods to cut down our own Christmas tree.  Now, that's not to say my siblings might not have done this with them, but by the time I started remembering things, I don't recall a single foray into the woods with my folks.  I have some vague recollections of picking one up at St. Mary's or from the Boy Scouts, but you can't prove it by me, that I was ever involved in an actual tree hunt.  Why then did Char and I start the tradition of bundling toddlers and all up and hiking through the tree farms to find the perfect tree that we all like and can agree upon?  Because we are stupid, that's why.
You can't see us, we are way, way, in the back
My family is at least consistent in this task.  We will hike the entire tree farm, no matter whose it is, or where it is, and always find our "perfect" tree at the furthest possible spot from where we started and will require the absolute most amount of dragging of the tree.  I think the kids do it on purpose because I make them do chores, it's payback.  One year we dropped our tree into a few feet of snow, tied a rope around it and tugged, and I didn't even shift it.  That was a fun next hour moving inch by inch to get way back to the farmhouse.  For the last few years we have gone to Darlings Tree Farm in Seneca Castle.  They have hot cider, they have the shaky thing that gets the dead needles off, the netty thing that wraps them up and they ship dozens of trees off to US soldiers abroad with the Trees for Troops program.  I highly recommend them.  This story, however, goes back about 20 years and the tree farm involved was on Rte 64 in Bristol N.Y.

 It was a few weeks before Christmas, and Char and I had heard about a good tree farm in Bristol NY.  We bundled up Molly, who was a toddler then, and my brother Ace rode over with us to pick out a tree too.
Dan, one year guarding his choice.

It turns out the tree farm was vastly overrated, and it took the better part of an hour before all of us found 2 trees that would pass muster.  We could only fit one inside the van, so we tied the other to the top with whatever we could find inside and headed for home.  We got about 1/4 mile away before the wind got underneath it and flipped it off the van and into the road.  After a mad scramble to re-secure it, we gave it a second attempt with the same result, we were 28 miles away from home and were destined to lose the tree every quarter mile. It dawned on me that my dad's recently built house was only a few miles from there and he had a pickup, so we decided to leave the tree on the roadside and go ask dad to borrow his truck.  This was not an easy decision, as my dad raised us all to be independent, and he likely taught Ben Franklin "Neither a borrower nor a lender be", but we had no choice, so off we went.  He really didn't give us much of a hard time and in less than 10 minutes we were back standing in front of where we thought we had left the tree.  I say "thought" because the area looked identical to where we had been....except there was no tree.
Ace and I examining the scene, I'm the pretty one. 

Now CSI was 10 years from being thought up but even Grissom would have been proud of our canvassing of the area and our identification of the pine needles that were strewn about. I think Ace even rubbed some deer dung between his fingers to test his working theory of the woodland animals needing a tree, but it was 2 days old so Bambi and pals were cleared.  What was left were 2 perplexed, cold, brothers standing on the roadside missing one out of two trees, and of course when we checked, it was my tree that was missing.  One of the only things worse than spending close to an hour combing a thin tree farm for a good Christmas tree, is to do it twice in one day.  Those were the hardest 25 dollars that ever left my hands, but after we went home and after it was up and decorated, it became like every other tree we had brought home, beautiful and ours.  I really didn't give it much more thought, that was, until 7 years later eating lunch at the end of that same road.....

     It's a good story so far, isn't it?  I agree, it lacks something, how about a surprise ending? 

     So that year I was on that road a lot.  I sold food to the local restaurants and my mom's house was there, so a couple days a week I would find myself on Rte 64 in Bristol NY.  A lot of weeks I would pick up food from Rumor's restaurant at Toomey's Corners and bring a cheeseburger to my mom and have lunch with her while I placed my morning orders.

Old gas station at Toomey's Corners (Rumors is back left)
It was during one of those times that I learned the ultimate fate of my misplaced Christmas tree.  As I was waiting at the bar, on one of these days,  just before Christmas again, I happened to start a conversation with a construction worker who was sitting next to me at the bar.  We introduced ourselves and got talking about the upcoming Holiday and whether we were prepared or not.  I, of course, told him of my trudging off into the woods the week before to get a tree, but I added "At least it wasn't as bad as the year I had to do it twice."  He curiously inquired how that happened, and I quickly told him my story of losing the tree 7 years earlier, totally convinced that I had the best Christmas story.   I was just as quickly proven wrong.  He set down his drink and asked me 4 rapid fire questions, "7 years ago?", "This Road?", "about 2 miles down?", and "on the right side of the road?"  I answered Yes to all the questions, and he laughed and said "Buddy, I think I found your tree that year".  He continued on to tell me the most fascinating story from the year that I lost my tree.  He was out of work, due to an ankle injury and times were tough.  He could still drive, but not climb ladders or do his job.  The night before his wife and him had discussed the looming holiday and decided to forgo the tree and to spend what little money they had on presents for their 3 kids.  The next morning, on the way to town in his pickup truck, he had come upon a Christmas tree laying on the side of the road.  He had assumed it had come off from a bigger truck carrying them, so he loaded it in his truck and brought it home to his family.
Nolan in front of his handiwork one year

He said that particular Christmas, to his kids, was indistinguishable from the others that they had, because of that tree.  He recovered from his injury and hadn't had a lean year since that one.  He insisted on buying both my mom's and my lunches and we shook hands, and I departed with a new found friend and a great story to tell. You see, my Christmas had been indistinguishable from my others too, I had the extra 25 dollars, and the time, so it hadn't impacted me at all, until he told me his story.  Then it impacted me, where it counts, in the heart, and not my wallet.  So I did lose a Christmas tree one year, but I got back a little of my humanity.  It was a good deal.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Fort Hill Christmas memories

Apologies to Raymond, my Buffalo friend who is usually the first to read the blog if I post it after midnight, I'm a little late this week.....

They say Christmas is for the kids or the young, and I would have trouble arguing with that statement.  Although at this age I find much more pleasure in giving than receiving, even that activity is less memorable than when I did it in my youth.  It's not hard to take the money out of a pre-arranged Christmas club account and go to several stores to spend it.  It is hard to break open your piggy bank and count the pennies and nickels and then agonize what you can spend the money on and who. I'm not a Christmas Scrooge, but I do like to think about how magical and overwhelming the emotions were in the time when my pajamas used to cover my feet and there was a zipper in the front and a snap up butt flap in the back....

We lived in the middle of Fort Hill Avenue in Canandaigua when I was young.  It started as a simple house that my dad kept adding on to, until it had 7 bedrooms.  It was cold in the winter in my bedroom when I was a kid.  My dad would tell me that it made me healthy, but in reality it just made me shiver.  We would scratch our names in the ice and frost that would form on the inside pane of our windows.  That's not to say it was 32 degrees inside of my room, but as a kid, it sure felt like it.  We shared rooms and I remember the day I got to move from a room shared with 3 brothers to a room shared with 1.  Although it should have been thrice as nice mathematically, I remember most how quiet it was and how I missed all the chatter and whispers that had been the norm for me for so long. That's probably the moment when I invented the string can telephone, just so I could hear what was happening in my old room (Later I would invent the Internet too).  Yes it was cold in the new room too, but the one morning I never noticed it, was Christmas morning.

We would go to bed early the night before under the threat of "the naughty list", but we could never sleep.  My brother Redface and I would talk until the wee hours about what might be under our tree in the morning.  Bikes were a common wish, but clothes were a more common reality.  We had bikes, but we always wanted bigger,better and with cooler options.  We would finally fade off to sleep, but even then we dreamed of the presents beneath the tree.  We never had to set an alarm, we just woke up at the crack of dawn. The next part though, was kind of tricky.   We weren't
Picture 12 kids by 2 filling these stairs.
allowed to be downstairs until Dad got up, and you wouldn't dare wake up my father (If a father was ever going to invent Christmas spankings, it would have been my Dad). So, one by one, we would wake up and start filling up the stairs from the bottom up.  My parent's bedroom was right at the base of the stairs, so the fidgeting had to be kept to a minimum. You try that on Christmas morning, before your first pee, when you are 7.  It's funny, we had 12 stairs, enough for 1 per kid, but we piled in 2 or 3 to a stair, like Richard Petty fighting for pole position. The bottom stair was the most prized.  It seemed like hours would pass before we would hear my dad stir.  He would walk out, either shake his head at us or ignore us completely, and he would go and start the coffee.  Back then we perked the coffee on the stove, talk about a watched pot!!  Finally, coffee in hand, he would come back, wake my mother and release the hounds.  We always started with our stockings while dad got situated in the living room near the tree.  We had huge hand made stockings that were gifts from a family friend.  I can't say who made them, but I bet a sibling of mine will at the end of this blog.  They were made of a burlap material, but were big and sturdy and each one had our name embroidered on it.  They were full to the top, and in the toe of each one was always an orange or tangerine.  My mother used to say it was a treat that went back to when you could only get citrus fruit in the summer.  I don't know how she explained the loose shell-on nuts that filled a lot of the rest of the stocking.  We would eat some things from our stocking and then stake out a corner of the living room to seat yourself and with room to stack your booty.  My dad would climb in to the stack of presents, glasses and white T shirt on, and start the distribution.....

OOPS, I missed a step.  My dad was an electrician's mate in the Navy, and he was responsible for playing the music on the ship. He inherited some old equipment and tapes, and especially liked an old Wollensak reel to reel recorder.  Many Christmas mornings, he would set this up first
with an open mike and just let it run.  You wouldn't believe how well it captured both the emotion as well as the sound, or maybe I just feel that way when I hear those tapes.  You would not want to be the last person to receive a gift, as the taunting would start immediately, about what you had to have done to deserve no gifts.  I would compare it to being chosen last in grade school for the
dodgeball team, but it actually was worse than that.  The other thing you wanted to avoid, was the dreaded "shared present".  I remember clearly the year I got the Walkie and my brother Redface got the Talkie.  I'd seen them sold in pairs in the store, but that's not how my Christmas present came. It forced me to get along with my brother for a while, but inevitably we would fight and then my present wasn't as useful as intended. There truly is nothing that looks sadder than a kid in his coat and boots (with Millbrook bread bags hanging out of them), walking around Fort Hill with a Walkie, talking to himself. Occasionally you'd pick up conversations between truckers or cab drivers.  A word of warning, if you do, these are not the "new" words you want to bring home and teach to your siblings (I can still taste the soap).   My dad would continue to hand out all the presents until the last branch was shook and there were no more. The teenagers sometimes would go back to bed at this point, but for me, I had a bunch of new toys and things that screamed to be played with and tot-tested.  The year I got the slinky, it lasted 8 minutes.  "They walk down stairs, alone or in pairs, and make a slinkity sound....."  Bullshit.

You know what you really get when you and your brother race your 87 foot coiled springs down the stairs all hopped up on Christmas candy, cookies and adrenalin?  174 feet of hopelessly tangled, stretched out steel.  Try putting that back in the box and returning it.
     Christmas morning was a time when you also found out the true meaning of "caveat emptor", let the buyer beware.  How about your dreams of reigning over mass villages of sea monkeys, only to find out you were raising brine shrimp?  Don't even get me started on my 5th grade fiasco with my X-ray glasses.  I remember mailing a bunch of pennies and a slip from the back of an Archies comic book to get one of these things, and it actually arrived a few weeks later.  I'm still amazed now that I think about it, that the envelope got through the mail to the place.  I had a friend, later in life, that mailed her dinner pancakes to "The starving children in Africa", but that is not a Christmas story, she just didn't like pancakes, but I digress.....

an unknown street in Buffalo during the 77 Blizzard
     So the toys would not live up to expectations and all too soon, Christmas day became like any other winter day off from school. We built igloos and snow forts, threw snowballs, and sledded down the hill across the street at Evan's Field.  I remember in 1976 or  1977, shortly after Christmas, we had a blizzard that was so bad that it snowed so much that we had to tunnel our way out to the street.  Anyone who lived through that week has no fear of global warming.  It was kind of cool to live in that environment for the following week, but to this day, I don't shovel unless I absolutely have to (just ask my wife). So those were some of my memories of my Christmas's on Fort Hill Avenue in Cdga.  Feel free to share your own by commenting at the end of this blog, or share this post to your Facebook and see what memories your friends have.  I'd love to read them all, while I wrap my Slinkys.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A 6 month old Ongion

If you are reading this blog from outside of the U.S., please leave a comment as to where you are and how you found the blog...

6 months ago I had the idea for this blog and a few days later posted my first one.  I appreciate each and every person who stops in on occasion and checks it out, but I really appreciate the regulars.    I thought the regulars might enjoy some of the more interesting statistics about the blog, so this week's blog is all about the history (a six month look back), and some stats on the traffic patterns.....

     I chose the onion as my symbol because I thought it best represented me.  I changed it to Ongion, because my wife tells me I can't say that word correctly.  I am a layered individual.  People that have only met me at work wouldn't picture me BBQ-ing and conversely the people I BBQ for, would struggle seeing me in a corporate setting.  My Scouts will never see me drinking or smoking a cigar, but you might,  if you meet me out.  The layers continue well after that, so I thought the blog was aptly named.  My first blog just spoke to my intentions and my plan for the blog.   I don't think I have strayed far from that mark.

  I started with a tale from my High Schools days involving red jeans (The Infamous Red Jeans Story).  I think it hit the mark I had intended and set the tone for the blogs to follow. Most of them I hope are humorous, but I have my moods too.  I've written about a dear friend who passed (My friend Eileen), and there were few chuckles in that one. I did a tongue in cheek blog about almost losing the franchise to be the fun Uncle, and that one was well received, even if not completely understood by some (The Franchise is in jeopardy). I went back to my altar serving days with another one, and that still rates as one of the least frequented blog, and it drew no comments at all (Time served - Adventures on the altar).   I was surprised that more people didn't connect with that one.  It's tough to gauge an audience that you don't completely know.  I can't tell who regularly reads the blogs, unless they comment or mention them to me later, so I do the best I can, and really write for people that I think have a similar sense of humor as me.  In one of my next blogs, I started to introduce my family, but in that one, my brother came pre-loaded with a nickname (They call my brother Aquaman), so it started the practice of only mentioning my family members by nickname.  I hope to put a running cast of characters on the left side of the blog at some point, so everyone that stops by will have a built in cheat sheet.  I don't know how to do this yet, so let me know if you do.

One of the next blogs was my take on facial hair (Of Beards and Men), and especially how I thought goatees were evil.  See the picture on the right and tell me you don't agree. 
I posted one about the college funding process and how hard it was to present to my daughter (I made my daughter cry that day), and I put one up on how I used to sneak in at night (Youthful Adventures- Avoiding the curfew).  At this point my blog has only been advertised to my Facebook friends, my family's website, and read by people known to me.  That, however, was about to change forever.  You see, my blog had always been open access and available by searching for it on the web, but no one had. I really wasn't writing for that audience either, but the first week in September I was forced to start to think about it.  I was on a trip and my wife called to tell me that my former boss had passed away.  I really liked him, so I penned my most emotional blog ever, and posted it ( Rest in Peace Papa Frank).  By the time I returned from that trip, the changes in traffic patterns were pretty evident.  Whereas the largest number of hits I had to any blog before that came to about 50, I suddenly surged to over 200 for that blog. I was confused until my brother had told me that the local paper had linked my blog to their Facebook fan page.  They later ran about 2/3 of the blog in a feature article too.  The blogger software I use had always had the ability to capture the country code of the visitors to the blog, but I never had any international visitors.  For that blog, I had over 10 different countries represented.   It was a departure from the norm, and it never went backwards from there.  The more blogs I posted, the more international hits I would get.  Now, I am not claiming that they are regular visits, I suspect that they are not, but they are real people finding the page and sometimes reading what they find. Here is an example of what my international traffic looked like for last week's blog....

United States 
United Kingdom
Bosnia and Herzegovina

It's kind of interesting, isn't it?  These are page views, not individual unique computer visits, which is probably the more accurate way of counting.  My counter on the blog tracks those, so you can see that the page views for last week totaled in excess of 290 hits, while the unique computer visits totaled around 150. I'm pretty happy with either one, and I am glad that so many folk check out the postings so often. 

So the blogging continued with one of my stories from work, entitled "The Accidental Pickup".  You can expect more work stories this year, but I have to buy a camera to get some good pics of the places I will blog about.  I take a lot of time selecting the pictures for the blog, to try and set the mood and tone.  I hope the audience appreciates the time that I spend, all I know is, that it looks "right" when I am finished.  My next few blogs were a combination of family growing up stories and my real world take on things.  The one I did on the field of my youth entitled "Reflections on Evan's Field" was very well received.  It was currently topical but also harkened back to the days of my youth and my experiences on the field.  That one got the most comments on my Facebook, but not on the blog itself.  A lot of people connected with it. I next did one on "My best magic trick ever" where I spoke of making my kids believe I could do magic. 

As I write this weeks' blog, I am digesting the sweet potato gnocchi with Gouda cheese sauce that my daughter made, which is a far cry from my blog, "The Night of the Skittle Pancakes" in which I revisited the first time I made her cook for the family.

     One of the things that all bloggers struggle with is the length of the blog.  Too short and people aren't entertained or they don't remember it. Make it too long and you risk losing their interest and your message along with it.  I found myself face to face with this issue, while penning, "Sweaty Hands and a Rotary Phone"  It was a recounting of the first time I called a girl on a phone to ask her on a date.
The blog wrote so easy, that I instantly realized that it was too long, so it became my first and only 2-parter. An oddity of these is that, to this day, the 2nd part has 20 more page views than the first.  Did some people really skip to the end and not read
the first part of the story?  I'm guessing that there
might be some verbiage in the second half that was not included in the first one, but is more popular as as Google search. A lot of people find the "Ongion" by searching on Google.  The most popular search to date is a combination of my name and the word Onion or Ongion, leading me to believe that those folks were actually looking for me.  That is obviously not always the case, however, and people find the blog with the weirdest combination of words (Try Bill Yarger + Swine and you will find my blog about my sister's pig roast "A Swine Time")  Some keyword examples from this week are....

Search Keywords
rubenesque women

james brolin hotel

calista flockhart lying on stomach

queen fat bottomed girls lyrics

bill layers

bill yarger evans field

full bodied women

i'll never falter i'll stand my ground lyrics

layers of a skittle 

I fully suspect that the number finding my blog through keyword searches about Rubenuesque women, will continue to climb, solidifying the theory I posited in my blog "Giving Thanks for the Ample Derriere".  The pictures probably help too...

This was my most racy blog and I warned my youngest, Nolan that it would not be appropriate for him.  The following week, he inquired whether he could go back to reading my blogs or, in his words, " Was this week's blog racist too?" This prompted quite the discussion at home about the differences in the words racy and racist, and I still wonder when the call will come from his school asking  me to come in for a conference.  It's not like it will be my first one anyway.  I blogged just a few weeks prior about my pugilistic experiences in high school. That blog was titled "Of Fisticuffs and Loose Teeth"  I was reminded at a family gathering later, that I forgot to include the fight with my brother Ace, shortly before my wedding. It was at my bachelor party and I drunkenly antagonized him with some cheap shots at his character, and a fight ensued.  He showed great restraint in not laying me out cold, or even punching me in the face, he just sat on my chest until I gave up.  It's no wonder I didn't tell that one, I don't look good in it at all, and my brother looks like the hero.  He may have acted the part in that story, but it was my turn to shine in my blog " My time in tights".  This was a really fun one to do, and showed some people a portion of what I do for a living. My next blog was one of the more creative I had done.  I took a favorite of mine from my youth and fast forwarded it to 2010.  I called it  Please bring back Schoolhouse Rock. 

This one took several days to write as I went back and forth with ideas brewing and coagulating in my head.  I get asked the question often, how long do you spend on the blogs? The answer is about 2-3 hours each week, with some taking longer and some taking almost no time at all.  I like to get the idea for them about a week before I publish, and then it comes to me like a slow simmered stew.  I go to bed wherever I am that week and ideas on what to include pop into my brain and I might take a second to put them into the draft to remind me later of how I want to present it.  The notes for the Schoolhouse Rock blog included, Obese Bill, Lolly and Inflation,and Conjunction Junction and TSA screenings.  The blog wrote itself after that.  The final blog I wrote before this one, was one of the easiest.  What I did on my Thanksgiving Vacation was a look back at that 4 day weekend and I simply had to recount it. 

That brings us to the present and this blog.  I hope you have enjoyed the look back.  I wondered when I started this, whether I would run out of ideas for the blog, but honestly it seems unlikely that I will.  I also have taken a firm stance as to not monetizing the blog, there will be no banners or links on it that will create income for me.  I do this for my entertainment first, and yours second.  I'd love some feedback on what you have thought so far, and any ideas that you might have for future blogs.  I'm sure my family can think of a few family favorites that I haven't posted yet, and they are not shy.  The blog allows anonymous postings as I want all the feedback people are willing to share.  I don't edit comments and they go up as soon as you post them. Have at it and I'll see you next week!  Thanks for your visits.

Monday, December 6, 2010

What I did on my Thanksgiving Vacation.

Do you remember having to write these for school about your summer?  I'd spend all summer going to Roseland Amusement Park, on vacation with the family, in talent contests at Sonnenberg Park, exploring on bike rides with my friends from one town to another, and then this question would be posed as I re-entered school and I'd go blank.  Nothing, nada, zip, zero, zilch.  The blank page would just stare back at me.  So, before I forget last week and all I did, I thought I'd write about it, and what better place than in my blog? Enjoy the peek behind the curtain.....
The gondola ride at Roseland over Cdga lake

I did work in the beginning of the week, mostly from the office, but I did do a quick round trip to Amsterdam NY.  I made my son Nolan file for me one day, as my work files were really backed up.  This serves three purposes, it catches up my filing, it connects Nolan to what I do, and I get small reminders of him as I travel.   If you ask Nolan what I do, he can tell you.  He can also name several of my brokers and a lot of my operators.  For me, I love nothing better than to sit in a meeting with a restaurant chain or a food distributor holding a folder that has been labeled by my 10 year old.  It connects me back to where I'd rather be.  So after I finished work on Wednesday, that's where I headed, 100 feet across the driveway to my home and where I started my Thanksgiving Holiday. 

     A lot of folks like to relax on holidays, but I am just the opposite. The busier I am, the more people I see, the happier I am.  I started the holiday, Wednesday evening,  preparing the stuffing for the next day.  We were cooking 2 -12lbs birds and a 26lb one for dinner and leftovers.  Char and I worked together in the kitchen, her making pumpkin pies and me making stuffing.  Our kitchen is a little tight, but I have to admit to enjoying the close proximity to my bride and additionally to copping a couple of feels of her butt as she passed close by me (those readers of my blog on rumps will instantly connect with this picture).  My staple, a Sapphire and Tonic was close at hand and I was instantly in a festive mood.  When the cooking was done I caught up on some of my shows off the DVR (It backs up a lot when I travel), and turned in around 11. 

I awoke slightly before the alarm went off at 4:30 am and pre shut it off to not wake Char.  I do that a lot, I have a great internal clock.  I dressed and loaded up and headed over to the Gorham Firehouse where we have held Thanksgiving for the last few years.  My brother Ace is a member, so we get a good deal on the rental. 

What I could have been wearing to cook, but not this year.
 He was also the reason I was up so early.  He insists each year that the turkeys take longer than they do, so I frequently find myself over there before the sun goes up. We discuss it each year, but truth be told his memory is not so great, and mine is only a step or two behind, so there we find ourselves putting turkeys in the oven at 5:15 a.m.  (They were done about 10:15 for a 1:00 dinner, so I could have slept in a little).  After the turkeys are in, we have a pot of coffee and talk about the plan for the day.  (The picture to the left is my kitchen  at home another year with me in my red silk jammies, a gift from a friend)

Brother Ace at the stove.
     My mother always warned me to stay hydrated, so after the coffee, it's time for a Bloody Mary.  Ace and I have just enough time for one before Char and my family come to take me to a Turkey Trot.  This is a 6 year tradition and is in memory of a local favorite coach, Jim Tuck, who passed away a while ago.  We normally do about 5 miles walking on the track and then head in for some cocoa and coffee and to chat with all the attendees.  Then it's back to the firehouse.  By this time the turkeys are nicely browned and we start to cover them with foil.  Some firemen that are hunting pop in to check things out and to wish the family well. Ace and I set up the tables that we will sit at.  It's a small crowd this year, only 21 of us.  On good years, we get near 40.  The crowd starts coming in around 11.   It's funny that, for as much time as we get to spend around each other as family, we always crave a  little more.  I like that, but it also means I have to share my Bloody Marys.  We have music from a small Ipod playing in the kitchen.  Ace and I have been collecting songs for a few years as we have catered together, so it's a really eclectic mix.  All my relatives show up with a dish, we plan it on our family website, so we don't get duplicates.  Our family website is about to celebrate it's 11th birthday, and it is still going strong.  I like that too.  Everyone finishes arriving and now it's time for one of my favorite T-day traditions, the prayer and giving thanks.

     For as long as I can remember my Dad had always given the same prayer for Thanksgiving.  I don't know it's origins, but it's not Thanksgiving to me without hearing it.  Dad's been gone for a while now, but I found a close copy of it on the Internet and start the meal with it.  We stand in a circle around the table holding hands, and when the prayer ends, it's time for each individual to say what they are thankful for.   There are serious ones, and humorous ones, but I like my mother's 4 F's the best.  She's thankful for  Faith, Family, Friends, and Food.  It about covers it, doesn't it? 

My mom this year at Thanksgiving
We then feast on the shrimp, turkeys, ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, olives, rolls, corn, squash, and a bunch of other things.  We have a whole other table set up with just desserts, like cookies, pies and cakes.  If you leave hungry from a Yarger party, you've no one to blame but yourself.  The adults linger over their plates and enjoy some conversation, while the kids break off to play games.  Eventually we start to clean up, and unlike when we we kids, no one tries to dodge doing the dishes or helping  clean the hall. 

My son Nolan and his cousin playing chess.
The day ends much too quickly for my taste, but around 4-5 the crowd starts to disperse.  We make sure that each family goes home with left overs, for when they get hungry later.  The tables and chairs get stacked and put away, the floors get swept and mopped, and soon it's just like the day started, just Ace and I having a drink and talking.  (Actually Ace's wife was there at the end too, but I haven't introduced her in the blog yet).  I accidentally sent my car keys home with my coat in my other car, so Char runs back over to bring them to me (sorry honey!).  We lock up and another family Thanksgiving is in the bank and an unqualified success.  I do get hungry later and make a turkey sandwich before bed.

     I wake up early on Friday and write last week's blog.  It takes about 2 hours to write and get the pictures I want.  I head off to my office, even though I am off, and catch up on 4 expense reports.  After lunch I clean the garage to get ready for some high school friends that are coming over to play poker. 

Back wall of the play room in the Garaj-Mahal
 We got the group together a few years ago, and it's as much about camaraderie as it is about cards.  They show  up around 7 and we have a blast until 11.  We smoke cigars, have a few beers and catch up on the happenings in each others lives.   I lose my 20 bucks, but my friend Todd walks away with $88, he's the big winner that night. Char comes out to the Garaj-Mahal to help clean up, but there really isn't that much to be done. We get in the hot tub and turn in about an hour later. Just think I am still only half way through the weekend!

Saturday comes and goes like any other one.  There is the obligatory trip to the dump with the trash and recycling.  I stop by Ace's house and spend some time catching up with his son and a few of his buds that are up for the weekend.  They talk about calling me to go out with them later, which I do a lot.  We are all going to a Bills game on Sunday together.  I catch up on some Scout work and another committee I am working on for my son Dan's graduating class.  Before you know it, it is 8ish and I am wondering if the call is going to come to go out or not.  Truth be told, I can use the night in, but I'll rally if the call comes.  It doesn't, so I take a few more shows off from the DVR. 

     We sleep in til 6 on Sunday and are headed over to Ace's by 7:15.  We want to beat the traffic and we are set for a few hours of tailgating.  It ends up being one of the warmest days that I have ever seen at a Bills game, around 40 degrees with sun a lot of the day.  We deep fry a few things, and share them with the groups close to us in the  parking lot.  The girls have made Chili and Mac and Cheese too, so we get plenty to eat.  We smoke some cigars, and head in to the stadium about half an hour before kick off.  The Steelers are in town and it promises to be a good game. (I'd like to wring the neck of the guy who invented the "Terrible Towel" thing though, it's pretty annoying to have those things being whipped around in front of your face when you are trying to enjoy a game, but after all he was a Steelers fan, he can't be that bright by definition)

The view from my seat as we had Big Ben backed up in the end zone

We all bought our tickets separately, but Char and I are able to keep swapping seats until we are next to my nephew and his group. His folks are up about 25 rows, surrounded by Steeler fans.  We are in the end zone 4 rows up.  That's the good thing about a bad season, the better seats start coming up for sale as the season ticket holders lose interest.  I love it when we win games, but I just like the action, and this game has a lot.  Fred Jackson breaks free and runs straight at me for a 65 yard touchdown.  I watch 3 defenders take him at the 15, and he still spins in for the score.   Later I watch Stevie Johnson drop the game winning pass in the same end zone.  It's heartbreaking for me, but I feel for Stevie, that's a tough thing to live down, just ask Scott Norwood.  What a great game though, and we even went into overtime again.  I got my money's worth for sure.  My brother Ace and his wife may not feel the same way, a fight broke out around them and security ending up pushing, shoving, and trapping them as they rounded up 30 people to eject from the stadium.  Ace and his wife went to the parking lot after that and listened to the rest of the game in their car.  We tailgate for about an hour after the game and then head home. The Thruway is backed up all 90 miles we drive, but it was worth it, and I'd do it again next year.  We get back about 9:15, and have a little time to relax before we head to bed and set our alarms for 4:30 and head back to the grind.  Well, that was how I spent my Thanksgiving Holiday.   I certainly avoided the blank page syndrome with this blog, but I wonder what kind of grade it will get? 

My nephew and I out on the town another time.