Can we at least drive it around the block?

Christmas is a season of traditions.  Every family has them and we were no different.  In the family I grew up in, three brothers and two sisters, we would always have a live tree for Christmas.  The tradition for us involved my two sisters.  Each year, once we had secured the tree, it would be flocked.  For those of you unfamiliar with this term, it meant the tree would be sprayed with an icing of sort.  Now normally that would be snow colored.  Not in our family.  Each year my sisters would pick their current color of the year.  There may be some argument on this, but I actually remember a year when the tree was purple.  Dad must have really loved his daughters to support this tradition.  That or he had just given up and went with the flow or shall we say the flock.

Traditions evolve as families extend.  The Friday after Thanksgiving has always signaled the beginning of our Christmas traditions.  It is on that Friday that we head out as a family to bag the perfect Christmas tree.  Simple, right?  Our family consists of my wife, Deb, and my two daughters, Bailey and Kathryn.  Like my dad before me, I too love my daughters and for them it couldn’t just be a live tree, it had to be found and cut down as well.  Needless to say, when four people are trying to find the perfect tree, things can get messy.  After several years spent arguing and wrangling and yeah even tears over who got their way, and by the way, that wasn’t ever me, we decided to become dictatorial.  Now in  a perfect dictatorship, that would be dad gets to pick since he pays for and trims that tree with the lights.  You know, the lights that work perfectly until you get them on the tree, but that might be another story for another time.  After wrangling and arguing and yeah even more tears, we settled on a rotation.  Each year would be the next in line’s right to choose the tree, no arguments, no wrangling, just compliments for the magnificence of the tree chosen.  It worked, sort of, until we would get the tree on the car and head for home.  Then the arguments would still ensue but at least the deed was done.

In the year of this story, it had been my turn to choose the trophy tree for the cutting.  As the day approached, I was eager for my turn after my three year wait.  As my daughters implored me to come upstairs to get going for the tree hunt, I calmly asked them to come down to our lower level.  You see, we had four very large evergreens in our back yard and one had now grown too close to the other three and was starving for light and life.  I knew it had to come down and had on a previous inspection, noticed that the top of the tree was the perfect Christmas tree shape.  When the girls came down to join me, I announced that I had already chosen my tree.  Bailey and Kathryn looked suspiciously at me and asked where we would be going to get “my” tree?  As I pointed to the tree in the back yard, I was met with total disbelief and then my youngest declared, “You can’t do that, we have to drive somewhere.”  Bailey, the light coming into her eyes, spoke up, “Remember the rules, who ever’s turn it is gets to pick the tree.  No questions arguing.”

With that decided we headed out to the yard, saw in hand, to cut down the tree.  As my wife and the girls stood by watching, the tree came down and the top seven feet was cut off.  Proudly standing it up alongside of me, the tree was given the required compliments on it’s majestic qualities.  Ready to drag it inside, Bailey makes her request, “Can we at least put it on the car and drive it around the block so we can argue about it?”

I guess the arguing was part of the tradition all along, just as my dad giving into my sisters was part of that tradition.  Our family continues to extend and my daughters have their own homes.  One perfect tree has become three perfect trees and I suspect in not too many years, Jackson and Adela will be getting their trees too.  Its not just what the tradition is but how you preserve it and evolve it into your own family that counts.  So pick one and drive it around the block, if for no other reason do it for tradition sake.


I never met a Chicken I didn’t like….stuffed and baked.

The first telling of this story dates back to a Thanksgiving almost 40 years ago.  I was bringing my then girlfriend, now wife home to meet my family.   We were all seated around the feast deliciously prepared by my mother and as the bird was being destroyed, the story telling began.  My family consists of story tellers all somehow trained in the art by my father.  To entertain or perhaps warn my new girlfriend to the perils of our family, we were reliving, colorfully, stories of our growing up past.  I was, due to the occasion, being particularly roasted a bit harder than the others.  When I was finally able to find a slot, I decided to tell the story of “the rooster from hell”.

I need to take you back to the scene of the crime.  I was likely nine or ten years old at the time and growing up on our family farm.  One of my daily chores was to tend to the chickens.  For my readers not familiar with a chicken other than one roasted, baked or fried, they are a dirty animal to begin with.  They are equipped with tough thorn bejeweled chicken legs that they expertly use to scratch the ground, and anything else for that matter, into a mottled mess.  This is likely the reason they have those deliciously developed drumsticks.  When you throw roosters into the mix, well it only gets worse.  Roosters, by their very nature, are built to fight.  The year before, my parents had decided to add a batch, or should I say, a gang of roosters to their usual order of some fifty hatch lings.  The hatch lings had all grown, along with the now street smart gang of roosters, into a producing flock.

Each morning, I would head out to the chicken coop to collect the eggs.  Without fail, those roosters would be waiting for me, thorns drawn sporting for a fight.  They would be poised there on the roost and as I went around the coop collecting the eggs, they would one at a time come down and corner me, pecking at my legs and threatening me with their thorns.  I was a little scrawny kid, I’m just laying out my eventual defense here, and was soon not looking forward to that daily chore.

After several weeks of this relentless harassment, I had decided it was time to arm myself.  It was on this particular morning that I secreted a baseball bat into the coop concealed behind my back.  As the first rooster dropped down from the perch, I prepared to defend myself.  With the rooster coming at a full clip, I took my best swing.  My aim was good and the rooster, needless to say, went down, unfortunately for the full count.  The crime of the century had been committed and I was now a felon on the run.  Or perhaps “fowlon” on the run.  The good news was that the remaining gang took due notice of their felled chieftain and had retreated to the roost.  It turns out, chickens have memories and none of them ever bothered me again.  I had new found respect but a dead rooster to get rid of.  No way were my parents to ever find out.

The solution to my dilemma was the cow yard manure pile.  After artfully burying the victim deep within the pile, I felt I was safe.  No way would my parents have actually counted the number of chickens, let alone the roosters in their possession.  Since the manure pile would remain there until spring, my crime was out of sight and out of mind.

As winter came and went, I had completely forgotten about the body and my involvement in the heinous crime.  But then there we were, loading the manure spreader and slowly diminishing the pile, when what should suddenly appear?  As the fates were on my side, after all the victim deserved it, I was the first to spot the body.  Fortune further intervened when my father decided it was a full load and headed to the garage for some errand.  With a quick two step, I dug the corpse free and reburied it deftly within the spreader’s load.  In another hour, it would be a part of a soon to be plowed field and gone forever.  The crime of the century, buried and gone.

At this point, my story had garnered the desired effect among my siblings and as the laughter subsided, my mother turned to my father and said “I told you there were thirteen.”  I guess they HAD counted and un-be knownst to me, my parents had been waging this argument for the ensuing twenty years.  To this day, I want to believe that my dad had seen the corpse and been covering for his son all those years.

If there is a moral here, it might be that parents always know more than we think and that chicken, as far as I’m concerned, is best enjoyed stuffed and baked and then served with an ample covering of gravy.


Happy Thanksgiving.

Thankfully Thankful

Tomorrow our family will all be at our home for the Thanksgiving feast.  All the effort in cleaning and cooking may or may not be noticed but what will be noticed is that we have all placed another year behind us.  What will we be thankful for?   I know that there will be two new homes to celebrate and even more importantly, a new granddaughter.  Adela will be celebrating her first Thanksgiving and in honor of the occasion she has just begun to perfect her crawling.  In not too long she will stand and soon there after she will take her first cautious steps.  And suddenly the world will open up to her.

For the success of my family and the birth of our first granddaughter, I am truly thankful.  We will celebrate the day and remember the year.  But there is one more event that I will be celebrating.  After a 25 year career in teaching and a 19 year career as a financial planner, I chose to retire.  This Thanksgiving I will look back at lifetime of accomplishments and lasting relationships.  I am so incredibly thankful for all the people that have passed through my life as students, clients, co-workers and friends.  Each one left their mark on me and I have become the sum total of all those relationships.  It would be so easy for me to look back and take credit for all the assistance and advice I gave over the years but the truth is I received so much more than I ever gave.  That is the beautiful thing about life.  It is not so much what you do, but more so what you do with the opportunities life gives you through the lives of the people who intersect with yours.

I am now relishing retirement and am thankful that my career has led me to this place.  I have decided that I will spend my retirement finding ways to pay forward all the wisdom and experiences given to me by the multitude of people who have shared my journey.  For my family, my career, my friends and my life, I am thankfully thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving 2017

Sugar Sandwich

Disclaimer, my siblings may each have their own memories of this story and that is okay.  Memories are just extractions of an event that occurred in the past and come back to us the way we remember them as well as the way we perceived them.  Because of this, each person will take a unique interpretation of the memory.  What follows is my own memory of this event and the significance it had for me.

I grew up in the farmhouse my parents and grandparents shared.  At the time this story took place, my grandfather was no longer alive and my grandmother was living in the upstairs of our farmhouse.  I and my two brothers were typical boys.  We tried to be good and most times we were kept so busy with farm chores, that we didn’t have a lot of time to get in much trouble.  But as boys will be boys, and no that is not an excuse, we would still find times to get in our share of trouble.

It would be at these times, exasperated by our behavior, that our mother would lay down the law and send us upstairs to our room.  I am not sure how this was really going to straighten us out but it seemed to be the law.

Upon arriving upstairs, grandma would take us aside and ask us what we had done this time?  Upon our confession, we would be given her sage advice on how we might have made a better choice had we thought about the consequences.  And then would come the sugar sandwich.  Grandma was always making homemade bread.  You know the kind, soft and chewy and warm enough to melt the butter she applied.  But grandma added an extra ingredient, a spoonful of sugar.


After her advice was taken and sorrys were said, the sugar sandwich treat was ours to devour.  We would then be sent back downstairs to repent our behaviour, tell mom we were sorry and promise never to err again, or at least not for the rest of that day.  We always thought mom didn’t know about the sugar sandwich and that if she ever found out, it may have changed our punishment routine.  In some ways I have always wondered why the whole process didn’t cause us to seek out the punishment just to get the sugar sandwich.  Truth of the matter was, that as good as those sandwiches were, the lecture from mom and the reinforcement from grandma were enough to make us want to behave better.

If there is a moral here, and there are multiple morals, it is that children aren’t raised by just the parent.  The more we share the responsibility of inspiring our children, the more rounded they become.  A pun involving the sugar here comes to mind but that is not the “rounded” I am referring to.  There is value in the sage wisdom of grandparents, relatives and friends that can teach children perspective and help develop their opinions and ethics.  My grandmother knew how to get us to listen to the lesson.  In some ways, the sugar sandwich reminded me that I could be forgiven if I was willing to accept my responsibility.

In the day to day ups and downs, we can all use the occasional sugar sandwich to let us know we are still okay and still loved.  Try giving someone you care about a sugar sandwich.  Who knows, they might even take your advice.