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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Looking back, as the joy and chaos of the holidays approaches

**Long post warning for all of my short-attention readers**

The holidays undoubtedly mean something different to most everyone who celebrates them. Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday for a very long time now, even more so than Christmas (with certain exceptions).

Aside from the extensive spread of amazing food that is always present at Thanksgiving, I've always loved having my favorite people in one room at the same time. Being from a "broken home", I've always had double holidays; dating all the way back to my years at the kids' table.
**I use broken home only because it's the most widely recognized term for someone whose parents are divorced. There was nothing "broken" about our home and that term needs updating because mixed families are more common than ever in a time when divorce is the "easy" way out.**

In my 31 years of enjoying holidays, minus the few early years before I could participate, I've had some great experiences...........

Back in '93, my mom, sister, and I took a trip to Georgia for Thanksgiving. My mom grew up there so it was really a big deal for her. Kris and I had fun too, and our cousins were there so we didn't feel too out of place at a house filled mostly with mom's family, none of whom we had previously met. I rode a quad for the first time in my life on that trip, nearly breaking my sister's tailbone coming down from a jump. That Thanksgiving consisted of the usual events, including the Thanksgiving Day football game, endless trips to the kitchen for "just one more" helping of stuffing, and lots of laughs. The extras came when my uncle Frank strapped on his guitar and started the family concert. My mom and him had sang in school so they were the primary "players", with songs ranging from John Denver to some old folk songs I never knew about. It was a great experience and one that I'm sure my mom held dear for the rest of her life.

Another memory, one of my fondest, came a few years later in 1998. My sister and brother-in-law, Kris and Dan, had a house in south Sac and I was in my prime as a manager for Jamba Juice. Fresh off a bad breakup, I was a single guy who was spending as much time around family and friends as I could and they were always fun to be around. Thanksgiving happened at their house that year, with many of their friends joining the fun. Before most of the people arrived, it was relatively quiet at the house as Kris prepared the feast while I helped (to make a bigger mess). The silence was deafening and Kris recommended one of us starting some music to fill the air. As Dan and I stood at opposite sides of the kitchen, the same thought entered our minds and in perfect unison we sang "Gimme fuel, gimme fire, gimme that which I desire.....oooh" of the song "Fuel" from Metallica's "ReLoad".There must have been something powerful in the air because it was the most random thing that could have happened but we both channeled it. To this day, that is the coolest moment that Dan and I have shared (and my favorite Thanksgiving memory) and I'll never forget it.

Another memory comes from just a few years back in 2004, which was the first Thanksgiving I spent with my wife Kacy. That was very early into our relationship and her parents were away in Minnesota at her grandmother's house so I said I'd cook at her parents' house. As pretentious as it may sound, I will say proudly that in the spectrum of the average guy's cooking ability, I'm a very good cook. That being said, I can't make decent gravy if Paula Deen herself was standing at my side, adding in her customary pound of butter, and we were both at gunpoint. This is where the problem came into play for mine and Kacy's first Thanksgiving together. The bird was done well, from what I remember; the herbs that crusted the bird were well-chosen and placed, and the potatoes and vegetables were as they should be. My biggest mistake came when, attempting to put a manly edge on my turkey, I put a bit of liquid smoke in the roasting pan to envelope the turkey in smokey flavor as the steam passed over it. What I didn't think of was that it would equate to a bowl of soupy liquid smoke that I called gravy; needless to say, it was nasty. I would say "bad" or "inedible" but those words would not do my failed gravy was nasty. From every bad experience comes the opportunity to learn so I'm hoping that my next attempt will not yield the same results.

Now, in addition to Thanksgiving there is Christmas, which I believe to be more for children than anything else. Why else would we make up stories of a big man in a silly red outfit who crams himself into a chimney to bring presents to every child in the world? (and why did it have to be the chimney...does Santa not like to use the door?) What you have to love is that a child's imaginative mind can easily accept this myth as fact because in their heads, limits do not yet exist. Just like most kids, I was raised to believe in Santa Claus and thinking back now I think it really adds the magic to what could just be another day without Santa being a part of it. If you grow up and there's a day when your parents just lavish you with gifts, it would really be no different than a birthday in that sense. When he's ready, Santa will be a part of our son Gavin's Christmas for many years until it finally just wears off; and I'm not really sure at what point it does.

As I mentioned above, I had two families after my parents divorced; I was around 7 years old. That usually meant that I'd trade year to year but I'd still see both parents on Christmas day since my dad lived very close. I remember always loving to help wrap presents with my mom and sister, even though I'm sure I was probably pretty bad at it. Decorating the tree was always a huge deal for me, and we always got a fresh tree from a nearby tree farm.

Every year the same decor adorned our tree but I think that's what lent to the feeling of tradition. Of course, a few new ornaments would make their debut from time to time, so our tree wasn't completely outdated.

One year, my sister and my mom went out to do some last minute shopping and I decided to take a sneak peek at my gifts that were under the tree. I got away with it, as several years later I told my sister about it and she was shocked. I may not have known how to wrap a gift, but apparently I had skills when it came to covering up my tracks after cheating.

One year, I spent Christmas with my (then) step-mother and her family up in the snow. The house was big and a lot of fun. The area near the door had a large block of snow which served as a terrific ice chest. There were snowmobiles and lots of games to play and it was a great time.

As I got older, Christmas wasn't nearly the same but nice at the same time. I remember one year my mom was a bit short on cash so we just had a tree and dinner and passed out a few small things. Sometime around January or February, she decided she wanted to take me on a shopping spree since she had recouped a bit, financially. I didn't feel comfortable about it, because I felt like the whole point had gone out the window and she felt obligated to buy me stuff. She insisted and said that it would make her happy, so I picked out a few items and enjoyed some post-holiday excitement.

**Note for audiophiles.....Among the choice items I grabbed was the Led Zeppelin box set, which I think is the most essential collection of rock music ever compiled. A few years later I received Pandora's Box by Aerosmith from my dad which goes hand in hand with the Zep set as a must-own for any rock fan.**

My dad and I share the same idea at this point that Christmas is for kids, but we both love the holiday just the same. I love the music and decorations and the feeling in the air as everyone seems a bit more cheery than on most days. I love to hear "A Charlie Brown Christmas" by The Vince Guaraldi Trio. It's hard to find a CD that gets you feeling festive more than this one, but the Home Alone movie soundtrack does a good job, too. For a different spin on the popular track "Linus and Lucy", known as the Peanuts theme, pick up "The Urge" from Stuart Hamm and check out "Quahaogs, Anyone?" which contains the song performed on bass guitar during a concert solo.

Another holiday approaches us, this year with the addition of our son Gavin who is a bit young to understand what's going on but will add even more joy to our festivities. Christmas for kids means the day that they get all of the toys they've wanted all year long for being good (even though they probably get them either way). For parents it means a month of chaos: fighting crowds at the stores, trying to figure out what that thingy is that their kid has been begging them for, and then the climax when your home gets thrashed from paper and decorations covering the floors, after spending weeks making it nice and festive. It also means seeing the joy and surprise on your kid's face as they slash through colored paper to discover what becomes the toy they'll never let go of (until next year).

Whatever these upcoming holidays mean to you, I hope they're everything you wish for. To me, these holidays are just another time for you to look around and appreciate what you already have, not what you may receive. Gifts are nice but if you have nobody to share them with or to give to, they mean nothing. Holidays are a time to rekindle old friendships, make contact with someone who's become estranged, and get everyone together to celebrate one another.


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