Christmas Can Wait

November 20, 2018

My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. For good reason, I think. It’s a time when we get together with family and friends, enjoy each other’s company, share a warm meal, and appreciate the good things in our lives. And, despite all the negatives that may consume us on many days, we actually don’t have to look very hard to find some –or a great deal of — good.

Thanksgiving includes all religions, or lack there of. It requires no gifts. It involves no loud, bright explosions (going on way later than anyone in the neighborhood actually wants). There are no costumes. There are no fancy decorations. It doesn’t celebrate a person, a group, or a belief. It even always falls on a Thursday, making short weeks and long weekends a reality for many. It’s pretty damn perfect, in my book — even when my family has to host.

Yet, despite its simplistic perfection, Thanksgiving may be the most overlooked holiday. As soon as Halloween ends, Christmas decorations start going up everywhere. People become consumed by the idea of Christmas. So much so that many folks even skip out on Thanksgiving in order to go buy gifts that few of us really need. Hey, I get it! I love Christmas, too. But it has its time and place. It shouldn’t upstage a day that focuses on gratitude — something we seem to be sorely lacking.

This Thanksgiving I will look around the table at my growing kids and aging family. I’ll recall fond memories, while pondering what the future may hold. I’ll eat well, enjoy some good beer, and might even throw a pigskin around. I’ll appreciate quality time with people I love, something we get less and less of as the years go by. I’ll be truly grateful — even for the people who have already moved on to Christmas.

Slow down and be thankful. Christmas can wait. Happy Thanksgiving.

forgotten bird flies

through a freezing moonlit mist

singing Auld Lang Syne

the frosty window

November 23, 2017


is sipping

warm coffee

as my loved ones

softly snore


a single streak of sunlight

penetrates the frosty window

with more soon on the way


Photo Credit: Audrey Bowers

There’s a good chance that you haven’t heard about today being National Teacher Appreciation Day, which is a shame and a bit ironic. I’ve been working as a substitute teacher all school year. I’ve been to a number of different schools, and have interacted with many teachers. What have I learned? We are so lucky to have teachers, and should never take them for granted.

The majority of uninformed people seem to think teachers have it pretty easy. They mostly babysit all day and get summers off. Sure, they don’t make much, but why should they? If you fall into this category, let me try to enlighten you a bit.

Being a teacher is a largely thankless job. A teaching degree with a state teaching certification usually requires more than four years of college (without a Master’s Degree, which is highly recommended), classrooms are typically too full, resources are almost always very limited (many teachers buy classroom supplies with their own money and are not reimbursed), oh and yes, the pay is not very good. So bad that many work a second job in the summer.

Teachers are educators, mentors, and friends. Sometimes they are more involved than parents in their students’ lives. They spend evenings and weekends planning lessons and grading papers. They deal with bullies, offer a shoulder to cry on, break up fights, inspire our next generation, and get vomited on. Teachers are expected to keep students in line and well-behaved, yet routinely get harassed by uninformed parents for mistreating their kids. It’s all in a day’s work. Oh, and the pay is not very good.

How bad is the pay? Depending on the source, an average elementary school teacher makes about $44,000 a year. To put that in perspective, let’s look at the average pay of a few other professions:

Accountant – $66,000

Physical Therapist – $82,000

Chef – $53,000

Computer Systems Analyst – $86,000

Podiatrist (yes, a foot doctor) – $121,000

Cartographer (correct, a map maker) – $61,000

Teachers are largely responsible for preparing our children for adulthood, yet they make significantly less than a cartographer. By the way, no one with a cell phone uses a map anymore.

I ask many of the teachers I meet if they like what they do. Almost all of them say yes. Not one has ever said they like their job because they get the summer off. They don’t usually mention that they wish the pay was better (although I know they do). Most admit it can be very frustrating. However, I can’t think of an instance where a teacher hasn’t mentioned that their job is rewarding.

I was talking to a younger, male teacher about a month ago. “I could go make a lot of money and probably still enjoy my job — maybe even like it more,” he said. “But I’m doing this because I have a chance to make these kids’ lives a little better.” I believe this to be how most teachers feel, and think it helps define the type of person that most teachers are. As a father of two school-aged children, it certainly makes me feel a little more at ease.

Teaching may be an underpaid, largely thankless profession, but teachers seem pretty happy to me. They should be, they have the opportunity to genuinely make the world better. On National Teacher Appreciation Day — and every other day — I’d like to offer a very sincere “thank you.”

Illustration Credit: An Illustrator

Although I have no data to back me up, I have to assume that the postcard industry is in complete shambles. In an age where we can take a picture of something on the spot, then immediately send it to any individual or post it on social media for the entire world to see, how many people are actually going to the trouble of picking out, purchasing, and mailing a postcard? It’s a shame, really, as getting a postcard from someone traveling in a far off destination used to seem so cool. I’m as guilty as anyone, however.

These damned, beloved cell phones of ours are really screwing things up while they make life so very convenient. We are always reachable, and are constantly making sure we haven’t missed a text, notification, or email (no one really wants an actual phone call anymore). It wasn’t that long ago that I would happily take my landline (gasp) phone off the hook to avoid being bothered. Now my cell phone is like a lifeline.

We waste, er spend, hours a day on social media looking at pictures of “friends'” (although we may have never actually met) kids doing “cute” things (you know, like sitting, standing or walking), narcissistic selfies, and annoying videos of cats. The same silly memes are seen hundreds of times a week, while the amazingly clever things I post never seem to gain any traction…alas.  

Between the photos of birthday parties, selfies at concerts, vids of cats jumping three feet high for a fake mouse, and memes with the Dos Equis dude, our nation is divided by political posts. These are commonly lies or extreme exaggerations, which are presented as facts (both sides are terribly guilty of this). I should mention there is plenty of good news posted, too, though controversial and judgmental posts are apparently more interesting. Despite it all, I can’t seem to turn away or stop posting things, myself.

My twelve year old son is already addicted to his phone — as are most of his friends. He is on Facebook, Twitter, and (mostly) Instagram. My wife and I resisted letting him get accounts on these for a couple of years before giving in to his pleas. Snapchat is still off the table, although he asks us almost daily about letting him join. My kid spends a good part of each night FaceTiming with his girlfriend. They don’t say much, but just watch each other as they go about their lives. It’s somewhere between funny and disturbing. The most effective punishment we have for my son is to take his phone away. If we do this for any length of time, he not only shapes up because he wants it back, but he seems genuinely happier and is certainly more involved with our family. I don’t think this is any coincidence.

It’s probably too late for the current generations, but I give our species enough credit to expect that there will be a paradigm shift at some point where people will realize that while they are constantly looking down at their devices (at some point the term “phone” will surely fall out of favor), they are missing far too much of their short lives. Maybe this will be some future generation that wants to be better parents than they had growing up. Perhaps it will be sooner than later?

In the meantime, I hope everyone has purchased the latest and greatest phone, and that you will continue texting or emailing instead of calling me, letting us all know about your kids’ milestones and achievements, and posting selfies with famous landmarks when traveling. Let me ask just one favor: drop me a postcard sometime (you can use your phone to find my address). I’ll try to send some too. 

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. As a kid I naturally preferred Christmas, but now that I’m older and have growing children of my own, I’ve come to realize that the anticipation of receiving gifts robs Christmas of much of its potential. That potential, of course, is spending time with our family simply because we enjoy their company (hopefully more than their presents). Also, I like the fact that Thanksgiving is all about, well, being thankful. Something I’m trying to get better at.

Most of us spend far too much time throughout the year wishing we had more. More money, a bigger house, a nicer car, new clothes…just more stuff. However on Thanksgiving — one day each year — we find time to be thankful for what we already have. Let’s face it, most of us have enough, if not more than we need. This year I find myself giving extra thought to how fortunate I am. I’m thinking not just about how incredibly lucky I am to have my family and all the other essential “stuff,” but also about how and why I got where I am today.

I’m thinking about how I was born into freedom in the United States, why I happened to make the friends I did, how I fell in love with such an incredible woman, and why I was somehow chosen to get the two amazing children I have. I’m thinking about how each step along the way — hundreds or thousands of seemingly irrelevant decisions — could have taken me in a completely different direction. While I can imagine taking a different route in life, I can’t imagine doing it with different traveling companions.

This year I find myself not only thankful, but thinking about those less fortunate. I think about anyone who truly doesn’t have someone to love, parents who have a child fighting some horrible illness, and those with little time left to live. I could be one of these people. I’m grateful that I am spared from problems like these this year, but my heart goes out to those who are not. I sincerely hope they find something to be thankful for.

I ask myself why I’m not one of the homeless people I drive past who are standing in the cold under a waning sun, holding up a sign asking for food. Many of these people had the same opportunities that I did, but were wounded in war, suffer from mental illness, or perhaps just made bad decisions that they now terribly regret. I think about how they might feel tonight as they look for a warm, safe place to rest their worn out bodies. What do they go to sleep thankful for — a piece of bread, a blanket, or maybe a bottle? I’m grateful I don’t share these circumstances, and I hope these people can turn their lives around. Until then, I won’t look away, but instead will do what I can to help.

I think about those who happened to be born in other parts of the world, such as the Middle East, the poorest villages of Africa, or communist North Korea. This could have been me — I was given no choice. I could be an innocent man assumed to have a hidden agenda, who is running from a war-ravaged home with nowhere to go, desperately trying to make my family safe. It could be me who is forced to walk miles to the nearest stream each day so that I can get just enough dirty water for my family to survive. I could have been born in a country that won’t allow me the freedom to raise my family the way I see fit. What are these people thankful for? I trust they can at least find gratitude in having a family to care for. 

I’m not using the unfortunate circumstances of others as a measuring stick to make me feel better. I simply feel it is important to remember what others may be experiencing, and to avoid taking anything for granted. Imagine how much happier we could be if we truly practiced gratitude each day, rather than wishing for something else. If we can’t be happy with what we have, why is there any reason to believe we would be happier with more? Keep in mind that our lives can change extremely fast. What we think isn’t enough now, could easily become much less.

Melody Beattie wrote, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house in a home, a stranger into a friend.” This year I hope all of us — regardless of our circumstances — can find something to be grateful for. As we are being thankful, let us also make sure to be “thinkful,” and remember those who are less fortunate.

Cheers and happy Thanksgiving. May everyone’s glass be full enough.



For anyone who doesn’t have access to the internet…or television, or radio, or newspapers, or any other form of media, I should inform you that today is National Doughnut Day (and also World Environment Day, but that’s apparently much less important).  Ever wonder how or why this fattening tradition got started?  I assumed it was created by some struggling baker who wasn’t making enough “dough” (sorry, I couldn’t resist).  You know, kind of like a “Hallmark holiday;” a day that was invented as a marketing ploy.  So, I did a little research.

It turns out that National Doughnut Day got its start in 1938 as a fundraiser for the Salvation Army.  They decided on “doughnut” day because female Salvation Army volunteers had handed out doughnuts, among other supplies, on the front lines in France during WWI.  (These “Doughnut Lassies,” later more commonly referred to as “Doughnut Dollies,” continued to supply troops with doughnuts until the end of the Vietnam War.)  Today, nearly 80 years after its inception, the Salvation Army still uses the day to raise money, and many local and national doughnut shops donate a portion of their sales.

It’s nice to know that there is a good cause behind National Doughnut Day, or Day From Hell, as it’s probably referred to by those in the industry.  I feel like less of a sucker for taking my kids to get doughnuts today, regardless of whether or not our local shop was donating.  I hope they were, of course.  I’m quite sure, based on the line out the door and the depleted supply of dunkable delights, that the shop could afford to help the cause.

I will probably decide not to participate in the upcoming “national days,” including National Russian Language Day (June 6), National VCR Day (June 7), National Donald Duck Day (June 9), National Ballpoint Pen Day (June 10), and National Beef Jerky Day (June 12).  I will just wait until the more widely known, but still in need of attention, National Father’s Day (June 19, by the way).

Now you know that today is a national day worth supporting, so grab a doughnut and hope that some of your money is going to a good cause.  If nothing else, enjoy indulging a little on a Friday.  My kids certainly did.