Thursday, December 23, 2010

Back in Preschool

Today, I got to go to Preschool with my three year old as a volunteer for her Christmas Party. It was a blast! There are 15 children in the class and two teachers on a normal day, and am not quite sure how they do it on a daily basis. God Bless them for it.

For the party, we had four parent volunteers of which I was one. A couple of weeks before the part my wife had signed me up to do a game. At first, I was like, "Oh, Gee Thanks." I did not realize at the time that on top of volunteering for the party, I had to volunteer for a specific function. It really wasn't a big deal, just a bit surprising.

Plus, I cannot complain because she offered to help figure out what to do. But, I was being stubborn and felt that I could come up with a game on my own. Well, that was not meant to be. I procrastinated and by Monday night, had nothing. Fortunately, I had one more day to "come" up with something. So, I asked my wife for help. She could have easily said NO!, but she is not like that. She agree completely.

We came up with "Pin the Ornament on the Tree" (it was mostly her idea.) It was a pretty simple game and no way for a kid to lose. My wife made the tree out of green poster board.  She drew used various shades of green marker to give the tree depth and silver glitter glue for the garland. The star is made out of yellow construction paper.  The ornanments are "stiff" sparkled red felt cut into circles. Shannon wrote each child's name on the ornament in the silver gliter glue, and then glued a silver snowflake on them. For the ornanment "hook," my wife glued sparkly red pipe cleaners on the top. Finally, she stuck magnets to the back of the oranments so that the children could take the home to display them.

To get the ornanments to stick to the paper tree, we attached blue painters tape to the back. This gave us the proper adhesive to stick to the tree without destroying it when we removed it. When it came time to Pin the ornaments we blindfolded the children, spun them around, and guided them to the tree.  Below is a picture of the tree after they were all done. (They may have had a little help to affixing the ornaments so none overlapped.)
I have to say that Ms. Patty and Ms. Bonnie (the teachers) were good sports as they played too. It was excellent and we really enjoyed ourselves. In an earlier post, I talked about how I volunteered in my older daughter's class. Again, I will say that if you have an opportunity to do it, volunteer in your child or grandchild's class. It is time well spent.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

This is what Christmas is About

In November, I posted some notes about Advent that I used to teach my Faith Formation (CCD) class. I want to do the same for Christmas. Much of the content from this lesson came from "Catholic Customs & Traditions: A Popular Guide” written by Greg Dues. Even though this lesson was geared towards Catholic children and their parents I think that it has value for everyone.

As Christmas Day approaches, we can all get wrapped up in the final preparations – baking cookies, getting those last minute gifts, wrapping gifts, and decorating. It is important that we remember the reason we as Catholics celebrate Christmas. As I did for Advent, I have compiled some notes covering what we have talked about - what Christmas means to Catholics.
  • Christmas not only celebrates the birth of Jesus, but also his second coming.
  • The name “Christmas” comes from the Old English Cristes Maesse or “Mass of Christ.”
  • Christmas also celebrates the mystery of giving and receiving
  • The actual date of Jesus' birth is unknown, but we use December 25th as a day to commemorate his birth.
  • Why December 25th? One possible explanation is that on the Julian Calendar (early Christians followed the Julian Calendar we now follow the Gregorian Calendar) the Winter Solstice fell on December 25th. Prior to the solstice, the days grew shorter (the darkness was creeping in), and after the solstice, the days grew longer (light was pushing out the darkness).
Some ways we celebrate Christmas:
  • Christmas Tree – The Christmas tree originated in Germany. Today's Christmas trees, for some, “ Christian symbolism: the green of hope at a time of dying, the burning light of Christ at a time of spiritual darkness, and the fruits of paradise” in the form of tree ornaments. (Greg Dues, Catholic Custom's & Traditions: A Popular Guide.)
  • Lights in the Window – Comes to the United States from 19th Century Irish Immigrants and represents either:
    • A beacon for lighting the way for Mary and Joseph, or
    • During the times of Catholic suppression, to let fugitive priests in Ireland know where safe houses were located.
  • Nativity Scene – Shows the scene at Bethlehem when Christ was born. The scene includes Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, Shepherds, Angels, and Animals. St. Francis of Assisi popularized the living nativity in Greccio, Italy in 1223
Christmastime runs from Christmas to the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6th. This is the Twelve Days of Christmas. There is the idea* that says that the song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” originated as a Catechism for teaching Catholics in 16th England the basics of our belief. (Practicing Catholicism was against that law in England at that time.)  Below is a list of the days and their Catholic meaning (source):
  • 1st Day – Partridge in a Pear Tree – Jesus is the Partridge and the Cross the Pear Tree
  • 2nd Day – Two Turtle Doves – The Old and New Testament
  • 3rd Day – Three French Hens – Three Theological Virtues (Faith, Hope, and Love)
  • 4th Day – Four Calling Birds – The Four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John)
  • 5th Day – Five Gold Rings – First Five Books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy)
  • 6th Day – Six Geese A-laying – Six Days of Creation
  • 7th Day – Seven Swans A-swimming – The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Prophecy, Ministry, Teaching, Exhortation, Giving, Leading, and Compassion)
  • 8th Day – Eight Maids A-milking – The eight Beatitudes (Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake)
  • 9th Day – Nine Ladies Dancing – The Nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit (Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Generosity, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-control)
  • 10th Day – Ten Lords A-leaping – The Ten Commandments (You shall have no other gods before me, Do not make an idol, Do not take God’s name in vain, Remember the Sabbath Day, Honor your father and mother, Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not covet
  • 11th Day – Eleven Pipers Piping – The Eleven Faithful Apostles (Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon, Judas son of James)
  • 12th Day – Twelve Drummers Drumming – The Points of Doctrine in the Apostles’ Creed ( 1.I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. 2. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. 3. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. 4. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell [the grave]. 5. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. 6. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. 7. I believe in the Holy Spirit, 8. the holy Catholic Church, 9. the communion of saints, 10. the forgiveness of sins, 11. the resurrection of the body, 12. and life everlasting.)
I hope that you have a very Merry Christmas!

*There is some debate about the authenticity of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" being used to teach Catholics children about our faith. To me it doesn't matter whether it is true or not. The fact is we can use the song as a mnemonic device to teach our children about our faith.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Grateful to Be a Father - The Best Job in the World

I have a confession to make. Being a Technical Writer is not my favorite job. Shocking, I know. Instead, I would rather be spending time with my wife and children. I am grateful for that time. Over the next two weeks I will have the opportunity to spend more time with them. I am on vacation until January 4th.

All three of my children did something today that made me realize, yet again, how lucky I am to have them in my life. To avoid any accusations of favoritism, I will list the events based on the time in which they happened today.

First up, the boy, Coilin. My son has more energy than any other child I know, with the exception of his older sister Jillian, and somehow, he is able to channel that energy into speed. That kid is fast. On top of that, Coilin has the best sense of humor out of any 20 month old that I have ever met. He is a funny kid, and he knows it. I was getting ready to put Coilin in his high chair for lunch. I opened up the baby gate that was keeping him corralled in the living room. Somehow the little buggar got right past me and took off running into the kitchen. He was giggling all the way; Coilin knew that I was going to chase him down. His giggle made me grateful to be a father.

My dear sweet Molly is up next. The fact that I am on vacation excites Molly very much. She loves the idea of me taking her to school and then picking her up at the end of the day. The dismissal at her school works like this - all the kids that are picked up by their parents, wait in a gaggle, with Teachers, on the sidewalk. As the parent drives up, the child gets into the vehicle. Apparently, Molly had forgotten that I told her I would pick her up from school today. As soon as she saw me sittting in the driver's seat of our sweet mini-van, I heard her squeal "DADDY!" with delight as I pulled up to the curb. (Mind you that must have been some squeal because my windows were up tight - it was in the 20s today.) Her squeal made me grateful to be a father.

Finally, we have my Jillian. I have mentioned a couple of times on my blog that Jillian likes me or Shannon to lay with her while she falls asleep. Usually, I do not mind; but tonight, I had some things that I wanted to get done. The urge to do my chores ended quickly when Jillian laid her head on my chest and draped her arm across me and proceeded to fall asleep. Her snuggling made me grateful to be a father. 

Most parents will say that they have the best children in the world, and I am no different. However, I firmly believe that God blessed my wife and me with the three best children for us. I cherish the time that I have with them now, because I know before too long, they will be grown and may have children of their own. The irony is that I never wanted children; but, now that I have them, I do not know what I would do without them. Thank you God for giving me these little blessings. I am grateful to be a father. 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

4th Sunday of Advent: "Everything's Going to Be Okay"

Today is the fourth and final Sunday in Advent. Next up is Christmas - the time when we celebrate the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ. In order to get to this celebration though, we first have to get to that time and place of his birth. Today's readings take us on quick scriptural journey of the prophecy of Jesus' birth, just before his birth, and after his resurrection. In all three readings, Father Bob told us in these week's homily, that one message is clear -  "Everything is Going to Be Okay."

Isaiah in chapter 7: 10-14 tells the people when the demand a sign that God will fullfill God's promise to David of the ideal king in 2 Samuel 7: 12-16. He tells them that a woman from the House of David shall give birth to son whom she will call Immanuel (Emmanuel) which means, God is with Us. Isaiah tells them that "Everything is Going to be Okay."

Joseph, who was engaged to Mary, finds out the she is pregnant. According to Jewish law at the time, he could have had Mary stoned to death for having relations with another man while betrothed to Joseph. But, Joseph was simply going to divorce her. I think Father Bob said it best when he said to put yourself in Joseph's shoes. Here he was very close to marrying Mary and think of how he must have felt when he found out she was pregnant, presumably by another man. Then, an angel appears to him in a dream and tells Joseph that "Everything is Going to be Okay." Think about the faith that Joseph displayed.

Finally, in Paul's letter to the Roman's, he tells the people that "Everything is Going to be Okay" because they "have received the grace of apostleship, to bring about the obedience of faith, for the sake of [Jesus] name" among all peoples (Romans 1:5). Those first apostles laid the foundation for a Faith that has lasted close to two thousand years.

Christmas can be a very hard time of year for some people either because they are alone, have suffered tremendous loss, or are hurting for whatever reason. It makes me really sad for those folks because this is one of the two Seasons in the Church year that really reminds us that with faith "Everything is Going to be Okay."

I think it is up to us to remind those people who are suffering that they are not alone, we will do what we can to ease their pain. God never said it was going to be easy, but with a little bit of faith "Everything is Going to be Okay."

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Nice Dinner

My family and I just had a wonderful dinner with my in-laws tonight at Bravo!. I have mentioned before how lucky I am to have in-laws that treat me as one of their own children and not someone who has married one of their children. Tonight was no different.

There we were, the seven of us sitting at round table near the back of the restaurant. At one point, while we were waiting for our dinners, I sat back and watched as the kids and their grandparents and my wife played with their dough (Bravo! gives kids pizza dough to play with). For me, it was the best part of the night. I love watching my kids play with their grandparents (mine folks or Shan's).

I say thank you to my in-laws for being so kind to me and my children, and I really appreciate all that you do for us. My family and I thoroughly enjoy the time that we spend with you.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

That's Why I Love My Town

I love my town for many reasons. Santa Claus made one of those reasons evident tonight. Each year, the fire department tows Santa on a flatbed sleigh around the streets of our town. One of the fireman elves hands out candy canes to the children. To let everyone know he is coming, one of the Fire Engines drives ahead and sounds the siren. It is truly wonderful.
This year, one of the neighbors was told that Santa would be coming around at 6 p.m. Somebody gave her bad information. Santa did not arrive to our street until about 8. Maybe he started on the other side of town and worked his way over. I am not sure. What I do know is that it kind of made it more exciting. All of us were anticipating his arrival, and nobody was disappointed when he came.

My almost 20 month old son may be too young yet to understand that Santa Claus is going to bring him gifts next week; but, he is certainly old enough to recognize him. As soon as he saw the master elf, he shouted "Santa!" The girls were equally mesmerized. They just stared at him on his sleigh for a while. Finally, they started waving at him. He waved back and gave a hearty, "Ho, Ho, Ho!" And he was off to make some other child's night.

I say thank you to our local fire department for doing this each year. And God Bless you for being firemen in the first place. You are real heroes.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

It's Not McDonald's Fault

I say a news story today about a woman who is suing McDonald's because they put toys in Happy Meals. Monet Parham says that her kids ask to eat at McDonald's so that they can get the toys. She feels that McDonald's is getting into her children's heads and influencing what they want to eat. To that I say, No Kidding.

It is no different than what supermarkets do by putting foods targeted towards kids on the lower shelves where they are more visible to them. How is this different from Cereal makers putting toys inside cereal boxes? It is called marketing, and whether you agree with it or not, McDonald's and the Cereal makers are not the ones feeding our children these food. The last time I checked, my wife and I decided what we feed our children.

Ms. Parham complains that she has to say no to her children for so many other things that it is too hard to say no to them when they ask for Happy Meals. Too bad. Part of beginning a parent is doing things that we do not want to do. One of those is saying no to our children if they ask to do something harmful to themselves. Frequently eating McDonald's food can be detrimental to the health of a child.

When we do go to McDonald's, which really is not often, we only get the girls a Happy Meal if it is a toy worth having. Most of them are junk and join the other garbage in the trash within a short time.   But, this Ms. Parham needs to stop blaming McDonald's and look in the Mirror. It is her job to help her children make nutritious choices - not McDonald's or any other fast food restaurants. She needs to set the ground rules at home; not her children. Sometimes being a parent means being the "bad guy." So, take accountability for raising your children and stop blaming everyone else.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Wrapped Around Her Little Finger

I have a confession to make about a special person in my life - and it is not my wife. In fact, I probably should not be writing this post lest Shannon finds out about us. Then again, I am pretty sure she already knows about her. I just wonder if Shannon really knows how much Jillian (my three year old) has me wrapped around her finger.

Last night, after Jillian had been in bed for a good two and a half hours, I heard her crying at the top of the steps. I walked up to see who it was and what the problem was. There was my little Jillian crying and telling me that she could not fall asleep without me. Now, I know that she had been asleep for a while. There is no way that she would have laid up in her bed for three hours without leaving her room at least once or twice.  If I would have tried, I could have probably laid her back down and left the room. Yeah, that did not happen. Instead, I ended up laying down with and falling asleep myself.

Tonight after dinner, the girls asked for dessert. Jillian asked for a piece of the candy that I had brought home from work (someone had given me a box of chocolates). I told her that she and Molly could split a piece. Molly only wanted fruit for dessert; so, I told Jillian that I would split a piece of chocolate with her so that she could still have a piece. Apparently, that was not a very good idea. She looked me in only a way that Jillian can and said:
"I hab and idea. You pick out a piece of chocolate for me, and I will pick out a piece of chocolate for you. How's that?"
Really, what could I say? She was so stinking cute that I caved. In my defense, I did get her to eat about seven raspberries too.

I probably should not give into her as much as I do, but I cannot help it. She knows how to work me over. But, I am not the only one she does that to. Just ask her grandfathers and uncles. Am I right?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Top Five Christmas TV Specials

So far, I have told you about my five favorite Christmas Albums and Movies. Tonight, I am sharing my top five favorite Christmas TV Specials. To qualify for this list, like a movie, the TV Special has to make me feel good about life after I am done watching. Also, the special had to have been broadcast first on TV and not on the big screen. 

5. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer -If there ever was a story that show-cased the importance of celebrating people's differences, this is that story. Poor Rudolph gets rejected by his peers because his nose glows. We all know who has the last laugh.

4. How the Grinch Stole Christmas - Part of the reason I like this show so much lies in the fact that it reminds me of "A Christmas Carol." Both stories end with main character learning the true meaning of Christmas. Christmas is about people and the chance for redemption. Is that not the reason we celebrate a very special birth on December 25th?

3. Prep and Landing - This Disney gem first appeared in 2009 on ABC, and tells the story of two Elves, Wayne and Lanny, who are part of the Prep and Landing team. The Prep and Landing team ensures that the house is ready for Santa's arrival. Wayne and Lanny run into some trouble when Wayne loses the Christmas spirit. It is a show that makes me laugh and helps me to remember why the secular side of Christmas is so much fun to celebrate. 

2. A Charlie Brown Christmas - This is one of the few secular Christmas specials that touches on the real reason that we celebrate this most glorious of days - Jesus' birth. I am going to let young Linus Van Pelt finish this out:

"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown." 

1. Emmit Otter's Jug Band Christmas - This is a Christmas classic. It originally aired on HBO in 1977. I am not sure when I first saw it and whether it was on TV or on VHS Tape (yes, VHS Tape). We get to see into the lives of two otters - Ma and her son Emmit. They are but poor otters who barely have enough money to survive let alone buy each other a Christmas gifts. Without realizing it, they both join the same talent competition to try to win $50 to get Christmas presents. This is one of those movies that shows you the true meaning of Christmas.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

3rd Sunday of Advent: Gaudete - Rejoice!, Patience, and Preparation

The third Sunday of Advent is a time for us to rejoice as Christmas is getting ever closer. We must show some patience for we have still have preparations to make. Today's readings cover all three of these aspects for this glorious day.

"Let the desert and the dry lands be glad, let the wasteland rejoice and bloom; like the asphodel, let it burst into flower, let it rejoice and sing for joy." (Isaiah 35:1-2a) We should rejoice; we know that Christ has come for us once, and we can prepare for the day when he comes again. It will be a glorious day.

In order to be ready for his second coming, we need to prepare our hearts. The first time around John the Baptist was sent before Jesus to tell of his coming. This time around, I do not know who will foretell of that great day when Jesus returns. We had better be ready. This is the perfect time of year for us to change. The Christmas season is full of chances for us to change and redeem ourselves.

We also need to be patient, because we do not know when Jesus will be back. 2 James 5:7 says: "Now be patient, brothers, until the Lord's coming. Think of a farmer: how patiently he waits for the precious fruit of the ground until it has had the autumn rains and the spring rains!"  Like a farmer, we are going to have to wait through barren seasons before the spring comes, in the form of Jesus.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Friends' Opinions

It would terrible if we lived in a world where all of our friends hid their true feelings from us. We all have friends who would not say something negative to us even if they were being dangled over a shark-filled pool. On the other hand, we have friends who will give us their opinions whether we want them to or not. Both friends are equally important to our personally growth, and I am glad that I have both kinds.

I have had a Facebook account for two years. Some of the statuses that I have posted during this time have been greeted with less than positive feedback from my friends.  I appreciate that they have called-me out on what I have said. Hearing differing opinions is the only way I am ever going to learn anything, and I do not care how old you are, you are never too old to learn something. My Dad, the man I admire most in this world, is in his 60s, and I know, without a doubt, that he would be one of the first to admit that he is still learning.

That is why I get bummed out when people, for whom I have a great deal of respect, get bent out of shape when their friends disagree with them on sites like Facebook. It is as if they feel they should be able to voice their opinions on a public forum and expect only to get responses from those friends that agree with them. That is not the way it works, and nor should it be.

No matter how carefully you select your friends on something like Facebook, chances are that you will connect with someone who disagrees with you from time to time. That is a great thing. That means you have a diverse friend-base AND people who are willing to share their opinions with you much like you are sharing your opinions with them. Take those differing opinions and learn something. I am not saying that you have to agree with them, but at least give your friends the same opportunity that they have given to you. I think that we owe this to our friends.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Fiction Friday Brain Freeze

I have not posted any fiction since November 19th - Stuck in the Driveway IX. About 95% of the reason lies in the fact that I am not sure where the story is going. The whole story is a bit of an experiment. I had asked my wife to give me a situation that I could use to get a character out of. She gave me: "A car is stuck in the driveway with four cars behind it."

This is how "Stuck in the Driveway" started. From the first line, I have been trying to figure out how Stan Brogran is going get out of his driveway, and what is going to happen to him now that he is out. Here is what he know so far.

Stan Brogan owns a Landscaping business. He has gotten himself  involved with some foreign investors who, unbeknownst to Stan, are poisoning the United States water supply through the chemicals Stan uses in his Landscaping business. The investors are now after Stan because he found out what was going on. Stan, his wife Mary Ann, and daugther Elizabeth are under the protection of Witness Protection. Stan's son Johnny has been captured by Sergeant Owens (aka Mr. Darksuit), a mercanary working for the investors trying to get to Stan. Bev, Stan's cousin who was almost captured by Sergeant Owens but escaped with the help of Eddie has teamed up with Eddie and three his old Marine buddies. They are getting ready to try and find Stan to warn him that a mercenary is after him, a mercenary Eddie and his team know from the Gulf War.

That is about all I have so far. I have some ideas on how to continue, but I do not like any of them. For the most part, I like what I published for you to read so far, and so, I do not what to force anything. That is the other part of the experiment. I do not have an outline, and I have not predetermined how anything is going to end up. As soon as I figure out what is supposed to happen next, I will write about it. Until then it looks like I am the one stuck in the drive way.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Christmas Lights

This is going to be a short post tonight. I think I am finally succumbing to the cold that has been going around plus I have some other things I need to get done before I head to bed.

The family went to Jillian's Winter Open House tonight. It is always fun to see how your child interacts with other children her age. Not to mention, it is very fun to see all of the projects on which they have been working. Jillian grabbed my hand and lead me around the room showing me everything that she had done. I get a little tear in my eye just thinking about it.

After Open House, we drove around the neighborhood looking at all of the houses decorated for Christmas. You should have heard the girls directing our attention. Jillian was the funniest tonight though. She said, "Look out my side or your are going to miss it." It was cute.

My mom and I used to drive around to look at lights before I was married with children, and I am thrilled to share that tradition with my wife and children. If you have never done this yourself, turn on some Christmas music and go drive around your neighborhood to look at the hard work that people have put into their homes to make them look festive.  You will not be disappointed.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Christmas Carol

I just finished my annual reading of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." No matter how times I have read this story or seen it on film, it still moves me. It is one of the greatest conversion stories ever written. We are forever indebted to Charles Dickens for giving us this masterpiece.

Although most people are familiar with the story, let me give you a quick summary. A miserly old man, Ebeneezer Scrooge, thinks that Christmas is a humbug. He is visited by the ghost of his dead partner Jacob Marley. Marley's ghost tells him that he will be visited by three Spirits, Spirits who are the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. They teach Scrooge the true meaning of Christmas. In the end, Scrooge changes his ways and learns " to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge."

I mentioned in Why I Watch Christmas Movies/Specials that I feel good after watching Christmas movies.  The same is true after reading "A Christmas Carol." My spirit was immediately lifted. It inspires me to treat my fellow man better. Equally important, it reminds me that I can change things in my own life whenever I want. At the same time, it cautions me that many times when we change things in our lives we are often ridiculed by those around us. Dickens' wrote it best: about the people around Scrooge:

"Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him."

It seems that we always run into people who would rather laugh at everyone else than make changes in their own lives. They laugh at our every move when we set out to do something new or different. I say let them laugh. In the end, we will have the last laugh when our hearts, and the hearts of those we touch, are filled with the joy that change can bring. It does not matter if that is something as simple as being friendly to others or getting ourselves out of a bad situation - our hearts will swell like dear Ebeneezer Scrooge's.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Relief and Sadness

Today was a very sad day for some 40 of people where I work. They were laid-off today. Fortunately, I was not one of them. Despite my relief for being "safe." I cannot help but feel a great deal of sadness for all of those people.

I was in their shoes about seventeen months ago. It was a terrible feeling. For me, I felt like a complete failure; that I had somehow caused the layoff. That simply was not true. I was laid off because business was bad - non-existent really. The owner was getting away from Technical Writing and into Information Management. She had a tough decision to make, and I was on the wrong end of that decision.

Today's layoff was a similar situation. People were laid off because business is not what the share holders would like it to be. Good people lost their jobs because of that. I feel terrible for my unemployed colleagues and their families. It is a crappy time to be unemployed - not that it is ever really a good time.

Good Luck to all of those affected by today's layoff.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

2nd Sunday of Advent: Remorse vs. Repentance

Today we celebrate the second Sunday of Advent. Today's readings were about preparing for Jesus' coming and for whom Jesus came. Father's homily focused on one aspect of preparing for Jesus' coming - repentance.

He said that repentance was when you ask for forgiveness and then take steps to change your ways.  Remorse is merely asking forgiveness because you know what you have done is wrong. For example, if you have a man who cheats on his wife and feels badly about doing so, he may ask her forgiveness. Then, two months later he does the same thing. He has not repented. He will repent when asks forgiveness and stops cheating.

I had never really thought about repentance in that way. It was a pretty profound statement. I had always believed that if you asked God's forgiveness then you had repented. It never really occurred to me that I would need to change my ways to fully repent my sins. Then, as I sit here and write about it, I wonder why I did not see that earlier.

I would feel badly if I did not talk about the second topic covered in today's readings - for whom Jesus came. The simple answer is that he came for the Jews and the Gentiles. That covers everyone on the planet. It is comforting to me to know that no one is excluded. We just have to choose to follow in his Ways.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Top Five Favorite Christmas Movies

Last week I listed my five favorite Christmas Albums. Tonight, I want to share my top five favorite Christmas movies. To make the list, a movie has to make me feel good about life after I am done watching it. Admittedly, that leaves things wide open, but, hey it is Christmas the time for giving.

5. It's a Wonderful Life - "Elf" almost beat out "It's a Wonderful Life." Really, it is hard to top a 6' 3" inch elf who teaches New York City about the Spirit of Christmas. But, Jimmy Stewart does just that. I will admit that I wonder some times how my life is affecting other - am I really making a difference? This movie shows us how much George Bailey meant to the people of Bedford Falls, and how much of a difference one man can in people's lives.

4. A Christmas StoryRalphie's desire for an "an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle" reminds of the Christmas that I wanted an Optimus Prime (for those of you who do not know, he is a Transformer - leader of the Autobots (good guys)). We both would have done anything to get that ultimate gift. Ralphie's stunts are way more entertaining that mine were. Fortunately for Ralphie, he received his dream gift.  

3. White Christmas - Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye, and Vera Ellen. I really do not think I need to say more.

2. The Muppet Christmas Carol - I really love the George C. Scott version. That was my first introduction to this story. But, when you add the Muppets to a superb story, well, that just makes the movie better. Brian Henson retains the message of Dickens' classic Christmas Ghost Story. We still learn about poverty in 19th Century England, and a miserly old man learns the meaning of Christmas.

1. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation - I totally related to Clark W. Griswold. All that this man wants to do is have a successful family Christmas. No matter how hard he tries - things just go wrong. In the end, Clark does the best he can. I could watch this movie every day of the Christmas season.

Update: As Carpedavid so astutely noticed, I should have listed Rosemary Clooney and NOT Donna Reed as one of the cast for "White Christmas." My apologizes, and thank you Dave for pointing that out.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Oh, There will be Days

"Oh, there will be days." That's some very sage advice my wife's late friend shared with Shannon. When the friend said this, she was referring to my wife's job as a Stay-at-Home Mom (yes Virginia, it is a job). However, that phrase transcends all jobs and all parts of life. My friends, Today was one of those days.

I will not sit here and complain about everything that went wrong, because that really serves no purpose other than agitating me more. I have so much to be grateful for that I need to get out of my funk. So, I say goodbye to the computer problems I was having at work. Farewell to the aggravation of children who do not want to listen. So long to the frustration of a little girl who will not go to sleep.

Instead, let me say thank you Lord for three beautiful and healthy children. Dear Mr. Full-time Job, let us see if we cannot get along better tomorrow.  To my Jillian, Daddy loves you so much; but it is time for you to go bed honey. You need your rest. Finally, to you kind reader, I say good night as well. I am going to finish the dishes, grab some ice cream (Spumoni), and read Charles Dickens' "The Christmas Carol."

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Teachers Make a Difference

Tonight, my oldest daughter re-enforced a fact that I have known to be true since high school. Teachers make a difference in students' lives. Friday will be the last day for Molly's student teacher. Molly is very sad about this, and I can understand where she is coming from.

Throughout my life, I have had teachers that have had a significant impact on more than just my scholarly education. The best ones have also prepared me for life. Only time will tell how much Molly's student teacher truly affected Molly's life. But, I can say this with a great deal of certainty - Miss Sizer has affected her in the short term, and I can see why.

About two weeks ago, I wrote about a Surprise that I gave to my daughter. That was me volunteering for a couple of hours at her school. During that time, I was able to witness how Miss Sizer interacted with students, the faculty (including the principal), and the parents (me). She is going to be a very good teacher, and she is going to have a tremendous affect on a great many children's lives. Like I said, she made an impression on my princess and that means she is okay in my book.

I wish Miss Sizer the best of luck, and I hope she never forgets how important her job is to the future of America. Apart from parents, teachers spend the most time with our children (in some sad cases the child may see the teacher more than their own parents). Thank you Miss Sizer for what you have to for Molly and what you will do for future generations.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Why I Watch Christmas Movies/Specials

It is official. It is time to start watching Christmas Movies and TV Specials, and I couldn't be more excited. (For simplicity, when referring to movies, I am also referring to TV Specials.) I love to watch Christmas movies this time of year. It is for a simple reason - Christmas movies are full hope and redemption. 

With the world seemingly falling apart around us, I can sit down and watch a movie about a man who thinks the world would be a better place without him. But, he quickly learns that world is better place because of him. Or, I can see how a human raised by elves was able to bring Christmas spirit to, of all places, New York city. Or, I can follow the path of one grumpy old man as he is enlightened by ghosts that it is not too late to change. That he too can make a difference, a huge difference in the lives of those around him.

I feel good about life after watching these movies because it reminds me that there still is hope, and we can all be redeemed. Life is not as bad as some people make it out to be.  We can make a difference. Like I said last night, the catalyst does not need to be much. Start by smiling at someone or just saying hi. Just maybe, you will give that person hope and a reason to believe. It is that simple.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

1st Sunday of Advent

Last week, I posted an Introduction to Advent, a quick overview of the season along with a brief description of my favorite Advent Tradition - the Advent Wreath. I look forward to lighting the candles on our family wreath, and I really enjoy watching the priest light the church's wreath. I was fulfilled at home this evening; but, I was three minutes late to church, and I totally missed the wreath lighting at church.

This was the first time in a long time that I was late to church. I was bummed, and I have no one to blame but myself. The girls were at their grandparent's. So, I only had me to get ready.  I guess I thought I had more time than I really did. The other bummer is that we sing "O Come, O Come Emanuel" as the opening hymn - missed that too. Well, there is always next week.

Mass was not a total loss though. In fact, that was one of the best homilies (sermon) that I have heard Father give. It was based on the first reading Isaiah 2:1-5. In particular, he focused on Isaiah 2:3 "Come, let us climb the Lord's mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths." Father asked us how we were going to go to the mountain this Advent. 

It is so easy to get lost in the secular part of Christmas that we lose focus on the reason many of us celebrate this holiday - Jesus' birth. We also celebrate his second coming and those times that he makes himself known in our lives. He is present. We just have to be open to accept him. 

If you do nothing else during this holiday season, at the very least show kindness to one another. It is ironic to me how we can treat total strangers during this busy time. I watched on the news as a man was trampled at a Target Store in Buffalo. Thank goodness that he was not seriously injured. It was sad to see the number of people that just walked over top of him to just to save some money. 

The next time you see someone is down and out, offer that person a hand and help raise him/her up. A friend of mine posted the following on facebook, "Don't ever hold back when it comes to giving a compliment or brightening someone's day. You just may save a life." It is true. You never know how much of an affect you can have on someone's life.

For me, I am going to go to the mountain this Advent by helping others the best way that I can. It doesn't matter if it is just giving someone a smile, or telling someone that the outfit they are wearing is nice, or by purchasing gifts for people who have fallen on tough times. What matters is that we show each other kindness and compassion.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Top Five Favorite Christmas Albums

Yesterday marked the first day that I allowed myself to listen to Christmas music. This year it was hard to wait. About two weeks out, I was dying to listen; but, I stuck to my rule. I will not start celebrating a holiday before the one before the one before it has gotten its fair share. But, I will admit that I was very happy to load my iPod with holiday music.

Music has always been an integral part of my life. When I hear specific songs, especially Christmas songs, I am taken back to a time and place connected to that song. The holidays are the same way. When I see certain decorations either at my mom's house, or now, my own home, I am taken on a journey to the past. So, I think for me, that is one reason why I love Christmas music so much. The combination of the music and holiday season is a nostaligic tour.

Tonight, the five albums on this list all have special meaning to me. I want to share with you my five favorite Christmas albums.

5. Mannheim Steamroller Christmas -My brother first introduced me to this album in the 90s, and I have loved it ever since. It combines two of my favorite types of music - old school, and by old school I mean Renaissance music, mixed with some 80s synthesizers. On the surface this would seem like an abomination, but take a listen - it really is magical.  In particular, listen to both versions of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" one after the other. It is neat to listen to the differences.

4. The Vince Guaraldi Trio's A Charlie Brown Christmas - Like just about every other child in America, I watched "A Charlie Brown Christmas" every year. But, it was not until I was married that I listened to the soundtrack. It is wornderful. Of course, "Linus and Lucy" is one my favorite songs on the album; it's the song that everybody knows from the special. However, "My Little Drum," is the tops for me. It's a really cool version of "The Little Drummer Boy." You know what though, every song on the album reminds of the part in the show where it appears. (There is an Expand, MP3 download version of the album that has four alternate takes on it. If you own it, let me know what you think of them. I have not heard them all the way through.)

3. A Froggy Christmas  - My brother bought this for me when I was in college. His girlfriend at the time thought he had wasted his money. She did not think there was any chance that I would like it. I am happy to say she was dead wrong. This is one the funniest albums I have ever heard. It is a collection of ten songs in which all of the "singing" is done frogs, owls, and other wild creatures. It is hysterical; but, I have to admit there is one song on there that actually moves me. It is the "Little Drummer Boy" as performed by 'The Hoot Owl Boys Choirs and the Okefenokee Orchestra. The song is done really well. 

2. Harry Connick Jr.'s When My Heart Finds Christmas - You may notice a recurring theme in two of the three albums mentioned above - I mention my brother. This album is no different. He bought this the Christmas of my Senior Year in high school, and I feel in love with it. Every song is awesome. The two best are "The Little Drummer Boy" (shocker, I know) and "Ave Maria."

And my number one favorite Christmas Album of all time is (drum roll)

1. Ray Conniff's We Wish You a Merry Christmas - To me, this is the quintessential Christmas album. It is the first one I listen every year.  You may be surprised to know that my brother did not introduce me to this album. Nope, it was my parents. I fondly remember putting this cassette (yes, I am old enough to have listened to cassette tapes) into the tape player and decorating the tree, and then flipping the tape over to listen to the other side. As I am typing this, I can see us decorating our tree in my mind's eye, and the song that I hear is the "Jolly Old St. Nicholas/Little Drummer Boy" Medley. I love this album so much that it was the first one that I bought when Shannon and I married. I had to have my own copy to start my memories with my family.

I hope you enjoyed my list of top five Christmas albums. What are some of your favorites?

Thanksgiving - Stuffing Results

In "Thanksgiving Eve," I told you that I was going to be making the Stuffing for Thanksgiving dinner. I was so tired Thursday night and did not post anything Friday. So, I wanted to give you an update today on how my Mom's/Nana's stuffing turned out. 

Everybody really enjoyed it. My mother-in-law had nice things to say about it as did my wife. However, the biggest compliment I received was from my mom. She said, "It tasted just like mine." Success! 

Thank you for the help Nana. Oh, and I should note, that the stuffing is all gone. That is always the first of the leftovers to be eaten up.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

What are you Thankful for?

On Thanksgivings past, I never really focused on what I was thankful for. This year started out no different. My son, whom I love very much, cried out at 6:15 am. Typically, when he cries like that, he is up to stay up. This time, however, he decided to go back to sleep. I was optimistically thankful.

The way I figured it, he wasn't going to stay down for very long. I was half right. About two minutes, literally two minutes, after I had hunkered back down into my bed, my dear, sweet Jillian decided to wake up. My thankfulness quickly disappeared. Just as quickly, it was back again.

I was holding Jillian in the kitchen while her waffle was toasting, and I knew I needed to get out of my funk. It is one thing to be grumpy on a normal day off. But, to be in a lousy mood on a Holiday is unacceptable. To get help myself out, I asked Jillian what she was thankful for. Without hesitation, she responded with a smile that would brighten anyone's day, "my famiwee (family)." That got me thinking about how I would answer the same question were someone to ask me.

I am truly thankful for all of my family. God blessed me with an loving wife, the best children, parents that love me, a big brother who has always looked out for me, and in-laws who I do not think of as "in-laws" but as family. Thank you to my former boss for laying me off, otherwise I probably would not be working for the great company for which I am working today. Finally, the friends that I have are the best kind of friends I could ever ask for.

These are just a few of the things on my thankful list. What is it that you are thankful for?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Eve

Tomorrow is the Big Day - Thanksgiving Day. In tonight's post, I am going to focus on the food part of the day, and tomorrow, I will focus on what Thanksgiving means to me.

This is the second time that my wife and I are hosting Thanksgiving Dinner. The first time was when we lived in Harrisbrug and had my dad and Shannon's mom and dad. That was when we were a family of three and a half - Shannon was pregnant with our second, Jillian. This year, we will have my wife's mom and dad and my mom, brother, and nephew, plus the five of us. You may be thinking we are crazy for bringing two families togehter on a holiday; but, it is not that way for us. Our families get along.

I have to say thank you to my mom for relinquishing dinner at her house. Most of our married life, my wife and I have been going to my mom's for dinner. We asked my mom if we could give turkey day a shot this time around. She graciously agreed. However, just because it is at our house does not mean that we will not have my mom's stuffing. I will be the care taker of that dish. Fortunately, I have made her recipe before just not on Thanksgiving. I should note that I found out tonight that the recipe is actually my grandmother's recipe. I am definitely feeling the pressure now. I cannot let those two wonderful ladies down. Nana, if you have some time tomorrow, can you give me a little guidance from you place from in heaven?

I did take some of the pressure off of myself by cutting up my celery, onions, and bread tonight. With three little ones, we have to get that prep work in when we can. That is why Shannon and Molly already baked the Carmel Apple pie. Shannon is also prepping the mashed potatoes and Sage butter (for the turkey), and she made the "kid's dessert" - a pie sized sugar cookie with Pumpkin pie orange frosting. Get it, it is a Faux-Pumpkin Pie.

We are also going to have Brussel Sprouts picked straight from our garden. I am really excited about those too. I planted two of the plants from seeds in May and they are finally read to harvest. The entire family has been waiting six months to sink our teeth in those beautiful little green orbs.

Everyone in my house is on pins and needles waiting for tomorrow to come. We still have a good bit of work to do; but, I think the prep work we did tonight will help ease some of the stress tomorrow. Besides, my wife and I make a good team. Remind me to tell you about the year we hosted Christmas about ten days after moving into our current home. Yes, I know that was crazy. Like I said, we make a good team.

With that, I am going to enjoy a glass of wine with my wife and talk about our game plan for tomorrow. Good night to you all. May you have a happy and safe Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Introduction to Advent

I have mentioned in other posts that I teach Faith Formation (CCD) at my church. This week's lesson was on Advent. I wanted to share some of the notes that I talked about in class with my readers. The Advent Wreath is a Christian Tradition started in Germany. Many of my notes below are geared towards to the Roman Catholic Church because that is where I teach Faith Formation.


Advent is one of my favorite times of the year tied with Lent. They both hold special meaning for me. For Advent, I wanted to put together some interesting tidbits of information for my student's parents. I know how busy life can be with working, raising children, and trying to maintain a home. Then, when we start getting into the Holiday season, it is easy to lose sight of why we really celebrate Christmas.

The other reason for these notes is to explain the tradition of the Advent Wreath. We made wreaths in class this week. This is something that I knew I wanted to do when I first decided to be a Faith Formation teacher. This is a tradition that we follow in my home with my children. They really enjoy it. If you do not participate in this tradition already, give it a try. It only takes about 6 or 7 minutes a night. For my students, I included with the wreath “The Little Blue Book.” It is a book that contains six-minute reflections for each day of Advent and Christmastime. The books were provided by the Church. (If your church does not hand out "The Little Blue Book," you can find the daily Mass readings here.)

Here are some high-level notes about Advent:
  • Advent marks the beginning of the Roman Catholic Church year.
  • Advent comes from the Latin Adventus meaning “arrival” or “coming.”
  • Advent is the season in which we celebrate the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ at his birth and when he will come again.
  • The Advent Wreath is one of the traditions that we have to celebrate this season.
Advent Wreath

"Wreaths have always been symbolic of victory and glory. The basic symbolism of the Advent Wreath goes beyond this. It lies in the tension between darkness and light. It represents the long time when people lived in spiritual darkness, waiting for the coming of the Messiah, the light of the world. Each year in Advent people wait once again in darkness for the coming of the Lord, his historical coming in the mystery of Bethlehem, his final coming at the end of time, and his special coming in every moment of grace.” (pg. 47 “Catholic Customs & Traditions: a popular guide” by Greg Dues).
    The traditional Advent Wreath consists of an Evergreen wreath and four candles (three purple and one rose/pink). “Three of the candles are purple, reminding us of the penitential nature of the season. A rose or pink candle is lit for the Third Sunday of Advent, also known as Gaudete (rejoice) Sunday. The name is taken from the entrance antiphon or Introit "Rejoice (gaudete) in the Lord always, again I say, rejoice." It is reminding us that the end of Advent is almost here, and we can hardly contain our joy.” (Source)

    Light the candles in the following order:
    • 1 Purple
    • 2 Purple
    • 2 Purple and Rose/Pink
    • All four candles.
    As the weeks progress, the light from the wreath gets brighter and brighter pushing out the darkness and bringing us closer to the light of Jesus and his coming. The wreaths we made in class have four bows (three purple and one pink) and the candle has four bows with the same colors. For those families that did not not have an Advent Wreath already, I wanted to give them an opportunity to try out this wonderful tradition that we as Christians have.

    You can buy an Advent Wreath that is already made of you can make one like we made in class. Go to a Craft store and pick up a small wreath, some pink and purple ribbon, and a battery operated candle and make this wreath . Use hot glue to attach the bows to the wreath and candle.

    Advent Wreath


    The idea is for you and your child to match the ribbon on the candle with the ribbon on the wreath. Light the candle and then read the day's reading in “The Little Blue Book” or from where ever you decide to get your scripture. When you get to Christmas, put the candle in the center of the wreath and then do the readings in the “Little Blue Book,” if you have one, for the rest of the Christmas season which runs through January 9th 2011.

    Author's Thanks: I want to say thank you to my wife for tying all of the bows for my class' wreaths and candles, and for gluing the bows onto the candles. She also made a beautiful Advent Wreath for the Classroom too. I will post a picture after next week's class. Goofy me forgot to take a picture before I took it to the Church.

    Sunday, November 21, 2010

    "You Can Snore in my Bed"

    "You can snore in my bed." So says my three year old Jillian when I laid her down for her nap today. As I mentioned in "A Call to Snuggle," Jillian has taken to my wife or me laying down with her before she goes to sleep. It isn't for very long - maybe a minute or two.  I do not mind it because I know how quickly time passes, and soon she will be all grown-up.

    So, Jillian,  made her snoring statement after I made a pretend snore noise in her ear, and after she had me hold her really, really tight. I have no idea how she was able to breath comfortably. I was getting ready to leave her room, and she could sense this by my movement because she says, "Stay a wittle wonger." What could I say?

    I agreed to lay with her for one more minute to which she responded, "Snore Daddy." I complied.  Then she got inquisitive:

    Jillian: "Do you like to snore daddy?"
    Me: "No I don't."
    Jillian: "Why do you snore then?"
    Me: "Because that is the way my body works."
    Jillian: "Oh, Snore Daddy."

    Believe me, I know that I am in trouble. Not only is she really smart, buy I have a really hard time saying no to her. She definitely has me wrapped around her little finger - and I DON'T CARE!

    Anyhow, it was time for her to sleep. So, I gave her a kiss on the top of her head and left her room, and I made a B line straight to my wife to tell her the good news:

    Me: "Shannon,  Jillian said I can snore in her bed."
    Shannon: "Good, you can sleep in her bed every night."
    Me: (silence)

    I guess I know to where I am getting bootedon the nights when my snoring gets too loud. Personally, I do not see how my snoring can bother my wife. After all, it does not bother my Jillian, AND, I sleep right through it.

    Saturday, November 20, 2010

    Where'd it Go?

    Apparently it has been time to gross out Mommy the last few days. I have to say that I am surprised by this because there is not a whole lot that affects my wife in that way. Thursday it was the Alternative Syrup that grossed out Shan. Last night it was a fly.

    We have had this fly buzzing around the house for the last week.  That thing has been driving us crazy - especially my wife. She cannot stand any type of flying insect buzzing around the house. This particular fly must know how much it was driving Shannon crazy because it really only pestered her. Last night, my wife got her revenge, but the fly did not go down without a fight.

    Shannon was sweeping the floor when the fly made its presence known. Now, Shannon was using a hand broom and dustpan to clean up from the mess that Coilin had made at dinner. That is when the fly started buzzing around her. That was a mistake. She was a little grumpy already (we will not get into that). Shannon swiped at the fly with great fury, but lost sight of it. That's when the following conversation transpired:

    Molly: "Get IT!"
    Shannon: "Where did it Go?"
    Molly: "It's under you hand!"
    Shannon: "EW!"

    The little fly was still alive, well for a moment. With the deftness of a deadly ninja, Shannon crushed the fly with the hand broom. Bye-Bye, Mr. Fly. Good job honey!

    Author's Note: My wife contends that she was not grossed out by the events described above. She said, "I just got the heebie jeebies." We agree to disagree. 

    Friday, November 19, 2010

    Stuck in the Driveway Part IX

    It is Fiction Friday again. We are going to continue with our story from last week. Tonight we are going to learn a little bit more about Stan and his family.

    Stuck in the Driveway Part IX

    "Where is my son!"

    "We are still trying to located him Mrs. Brogan," said Agent Walker.

    "Mary Ann," Stan said. He pulled Mary Ann aside and began whispering, "these guys are professionals they will find him. You know how Johnny is. He was supposed to be home last night; but, shockingly enough he wasn't. He's probably over at B.J.'s house playing video games. What else would a college kid be doing over break? This isn't Agent Walker and his team's fault."

    "Well, they should have back up plans," she hissed.

    "They do, Mary Ann, they do. They will take care of him. Trust me," Stan said.

    "Please don't say that to me anymore," Mary Ann replied. "You said that when you took on the new investors. Ever since then, things have gone down hill. Now, look at us. We are in Witness Protection. I can never see my parents again. The children have to give up all of their friends. We have to leave the town where we fell in love and started our family. And for what?" Mary Ann trailed off and sat on the floor sobbing. Stan tried to put a comforting hand on her shoulder, but she pulled away. Their daughter Elizabeth walked over and sat next to her and started crying with her.

    Stan turned to Agent Walker, "Please find my son. She is losing everything else because of me. Please don't let her lose her son."

    "We have a team headed to B.J.'s house now," said Agent Walker.

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
    "I've got you right where I want you scum bag. Don't even move," a voice spoke into Johnny Brogan's ear. 

    "You'll never take me alive," Johnny said.

    "Oh, we'll get you and your little doggie too," the voice said.

    "WHAT!" Johnny said, and turned around in his chair. "B.J., what is wrong with you. We are playing a perfectly good game of Halo 3, and you going to quote the Wizard of Oz. Seriously? You are crazier than your dad."

    "Hey, we have been playing this all night," B.J. replied. "I am delirious and used up all of my good lines by 6 am. That was like 2 and half hours ago."

    "Crud! So, it's like 8:30?"

    "Yeah, Johnny, the clocks right on the DVR box." 

    "Dang it! I promised my old man I would be home by now."

    "Stan will be fine. He knows you are over here. Besides, he's never cared about you coming home here before."

    "Yeah, I know," said Johnny. "He usually doesn't ask me to come home, that's why I was really wanted to do what he asked. I gotta go. 

    "Are you kidding me," B.J. said. "You are leaving now? We've almost got this game mastered."

    "I'm sorry man. I really need to split."

    "Tell Stan, Mary Ann, and Lizzie I said hi," B.J. said. 

    "Yeah, I will," Johnny said. B.J. looked guilty when he mentioned Johnny's sister. Johnny knew why. Elizabeth, or Lizzie to everyone but their dad, had told him that she and B.J. had started dating while Johnny was away at school last semester. Johnny was livid at first, but Lizzie explained that he hadn't tried any "funny business," and was being a perfect gentleman. She had asked Johnny not to say anything; that B.J. had wanted to tell him, but couldn't find the right time. "You look like something is on your mind."

    "Just tired," B.J. said evading the question. 

    "All right, man, I catch you later," and Johnny was out the door. He jumped in his car and headed towards the family business. Johnny figured that by now his dad would be at Brogan's, and he wanted to apologize for not being home. True, Johnny was 19, but he had always had a great deal of respect for his father and felt badly when he "disobeyed" him. 

    He was approaching Brogan's and could see that his dad's car was not in the parking lot. That is when he remembered that all of his friend's cars were parked at his house. After their night out, Johnny, had driven everyone else home because they were all wasted. He told them they could get their cars tomorrow, and Johnny realized that he had something else to apologize to his dad about - getting him stuck in the driveway.

    Johnny pulled into the parking lot at Brogan's and noticed a black sedan. It's driver's side door was open. Two men lay on the ground. One was by the driver's door and the other by the open trunk. He stopped the car and got out to see if he could help them. Johnny had a kind heart.

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    Sergeant Owens heard the gravel crunching as Johnny pulled his car into the parking lot. ka-chunk a car door closed

    "Hey Mister," Johnny called. "Are you all right." Sergeant Owens lifted his head. "Let me give you a hand." Johnny looks at the bruise on Owens' check. "What happened to you?"

    "My driver and I were mugged," said Sergeant Owens. "Some man came out of the woods and attacked us." Owens pointed to the general location of Eddies hovel.

    "Was he a white guy wearing army fatigues?" Johnny asked. Sergeant Owens nodded. "That was Eddie Bum, well Eddie DescenzioBev were all high school friends, and my dad says he wouldn't hurt anybody. That's why he had trouble in the Marines they say. He couldn't handle all those Kuwaiti kids getting hurt."

    "Is that so?" Sergeant Owens asked. He couldn't believe his luck. Was this really Stan's son. The mission wasn't a total loss after all. "Thank you again for your help. What did you say your name was?" Sergeant Owens stuck out his hand.

    Johnny took his outstretched hand. "Johnny Brogan, this is my dad's place. Wait a second. Is that my aunt's car?" Before, Johnny could get a good look at the yellow Pontiac Sunfire, Sergeant Owens had him in a choke hold. "Hey," Johnny wheezed, "what are you doing?"

    "Getting some insurance," Owens said. He kicked his driver to wake him up. "Wake up Sanchez. We have what we came for." 

    Sanchez got up and wobbled on his feet for a moment. "The woman is gone," Descenzio jumped us. He regained his balance.

    Owens pushed Johnny into the trunk and shut the lid. "We have something even more valuable. We have Brogan's son. Sanchez and Owens got into the black sedan pulled out of Brogan's with the new cargo in tow.

    To be continued...

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