Monday, December 15, 2014

Receiving Ain't All That Bad: My 15 Best Christmas Gifts

     Christmas is the time of year- to be with the ones you love.  Factual statement.  It's better to give than receive.  Also, factual statement, but receiving ain't all that bad.  Right?  Is it wrong to have a child-like excitement when you rip open that wrapped present?  I don't think so, and I think it is all part of the magic of Christmas.  That's kind of the idea.  Everyone is and should be happy around Christmas for a variety of reasons, and one of those would be the giving and receiving of gifts.  Makes sense to me.  So, with this idea in mind I attempted to remember the best gifts that I have ever received.  This list will be limited to Christmas gifts,  and I narrowed it down to 15.  I enjoyed the nostalgia involved with this post, and I would recommend it.  It's tough to just name a few, but each gift contains some memories that are meaningful in so many ways.  I would recommend that Nat King Cole's classic "The Christmas Song" be played while reading this post, but that is my personal preference.  My Christmas song list will have to be saved for a later date.  Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.....

#15- The Stretch Armstrong like Stretch Monster.  This stretchy green guy brought me much joy, but this gift also caused some issues for yours truly.  I didn't have Stretch Armstrong.  I had the green monster with the creative name Stretch Monster.  Imaginative lot that came up with that one.  I always wanted to have Stretch Armstrong, but I got Stretch Monster.  However, the stuff inside Stretch Monster was the same as that inside Stretch himself.  Memorable gift nonetheless.

#14- 2XL the Robot.  This guy was an interactive robot who I felt was really talking directly to me.  Put an 8 track tape in 2XL's belly, and you were off and running.  2XL was my friend, and I often wonder what ever happened to him.  Hopefully, he didn't end up living on the "farm" like those animals I lost track of.

#13- Truck tool box.  This was important to me not only because it looked really cool on my old GMC Sierra pick up truck, but it was one of the last things I remember my father giving me.  I know there were other gifts before he passed away, but this one sticks out.  He had it put on my truck while the family and I travelled to Wisconsin for Christmas.  I miss my Mother and Father very much, and Christmas is a time I really wish they were still around.  However, whether it is the passage of time or a guardian angel these days, instead of sadness I look back fondly on the great memories that we shared.

#12- A Barbie doll.  The first gift my daughter Maddie gave me.  Jesse got a pink sparkley ball.  Smart cookie that Maddie.

#11- Polo cologne.  The first time I received cologne as a gift, outside of an English Leather miniature gift set, was from a young lady.  This was a big deal to me back then, and that kind of thing releases teenager endorphins that should be bottled and sold.

#10- Money.  Doesn't really matter who it was from.  To quote Cyndi Lauper, "Money Changes Everything."  True dat, Cyndi.

#9- Honda XR 100 dirt bike.  Oh the problems I caused with this machine.  Terrorizing North Jefferson County like a boss.  Back when I-65 was dirt.  My bike and I experienced freedom that can't be described or duplicated.  Good times.

#8- CM Punk "Best in the World T-Shirt."  The back of the shirt is emblazoned with that exact phrase.  Best in the World is a personal challenge that my son, Jesse, and I have accepted.  We're working every day to achieve just that.  Thanks to my Mother and Father in Law (Arlene and Bob) in the great state of Wisconsin for this gift.  My philosophy on a T-Shirt is pretty cool, plus I am a big CM Punk fan.

#7- Tickets, air fare, and hotel accommodations to Pasadena, California for the 2009 BCS National Championship game to watch the Alabama Crimson Tide return to glory!  Wait, that's what I wanted, but I didn't get it.  I did get a really nice pair of retro Reebok high tops though.  Thanks to my lovely wife, Cheryl. 

#6- An iPad from my dear wife.  Not only was the gift an iPad, which is an Apple product- which I love, but it was an iPad that was inscribed with the following:  CJP  Best in the World- This was at the end of my first semester back in college, and followed a President's list all A's performance by yours truly.  The Best in the World thing has some merit.  Thank you darlin'!

#5- A jukebox style stereo system with disco lights!  Darn straight!  I was maybe, 9, possibly younger.  I came home from my Aunt Josephine's bar, (she ran a bar many moons ago) and dang if ole' Santa Claus hadn't already shown up at 1521 Bessie Ave. Fultondale, Al.  I walked in the living room, and found this unbelievable vehicle of Rock n Roll!  I cranked it, and did my best Chris Travolta.  You can tell by the way I use my walk, I'm a woman's man, no time to talk.  That's all I've got to say about that.

#4- Christmas notes from my both my children.  Jesse was the more eloquent writer, at least up till this point in time. He wrote of my awesomeness as a father, and how much he appreciated all that I have done for him.  Maddie, on the other hand, was more low key.  She kept it simple with a "Merry Christmas" and I love you, because you make me mac and cheese seashells.  She's got a way.

#3- The Led Zeppelin box set that was released in late summer of 1990.  These CD's were purchased by me with Christmas money (see #10) and I literally wore these things out.  Up and down the road in the old Blue Mustang.  Black Dog would drop and then Travelling Riverside Blues.  Whole Lotta Love and Over the Hills and Far Away weren't far behind.  Memories were made and to this day every time I hear any of those songs a smile immediately comes over my face, because I actually survived that phase of my life.  It was a heckuva ride.  I may have been Dazed and Confused, but I always would Ramble On.  Thank you Led Zeppelin for the Rock and Roll.

#2- A trip to New Orleans.  This one really happened!  My unbelievably cool wife actually bought us a trip to New Orleans when we were a young newly married couple.  Before dogs.  Before children.  Before serious living began.  I love Nawlins.  It is one of my favorite towns in the world, and we did it up right!  Pat O's, Bourbon Street, Café Du Monde, Jackson Square, Voodoo Museum, and many more.  I had my fortune told by the Chicken Man right there on Rue des Bourbon.  It was a great gift, and that is why it is so high on this list.  I love that woman.

#1- The greatest gift I have ever received is watching the magic of Christmas with my children.  The excitement and pure joy on their faces is the best thing around.  The happiness of a child is a special thing, and I've been very fortunate to see that happiness in my children's eyes.  They are the greatest gift, and the value of which cannot be measured.  I only hope that my wife and I can kick around this earth long enough to see our children's children experience that same magic.  My cup runneth over.

     Well there it is.  My 15 greatest gifts.  I'm sure when I sit down and read this over again I will think of 15 more that should have been on the list, but that tells me my life has been one that is definitely worth living.  Much worth.  Merry Christmas!




Monday, December 8, 2014

The Sick Days

     It starts as a whisper that rises faintly above normalcy.  It begins with, "Mom, I don't feel good."  It is never, "Dad, I don't feel good," because it is known what will follow.  Like my father before me, and most likely several generations before him the response would be the same.  Three words that sum up the situation.  "Suck it up."  That's right.  This world is tough, and we must adapt, adjust, improvise, and above all overcome.  However, that is why the statement is directed at the mother and not the father.  But, let's be honest here the mother is normally the tough one, and the father will give in and let the offspring stay home from school.  Yes, that's right- I'm speaking about sick days.  Whether we are referring to playing hooky or an actual malady that prevents the attendance of scholarly adventure.  Three days in the most recent version. A knew a man once who said, "Death smiles at us all, and all a man can do is smile back."  Sickness, especially child sickness, could fit into this philosophy.  I'm smiling though the pain.  Three days.

Day 1

The biggest fear that I have when it comes to a child being sick is the expulsion of stomach contents.  I can do swine flu (I've always liked bacon), I can do avian flu (I used to wear those shoes back in the day. Avia that is), and I can even do all the related cold weather illnesses that pop up every year (the cold never bothered me anyway.  See, I learned from Frozen.)  However, if the words "stomach virus" are mentioned it scares the beejeezus out of me.  I don't do stomach illnesses very well, because I'm not crazy about the process involved.  I won't go into details here, but we're all adults.  At least I hope we are, but I do know the spots where one would expel what you have eaten and I don't like them.  Not one bit.  My sole male heir was struck with the dreaded stomach virus, and he had to stay home from school with yours truly.  The lovely Miss Madison, my daughter, saw this as an opportunity.  She's a crafty grifter.  So, believe it or not as soon as Maddie found out that Jesse would be staying home from school she was stricken with a serious illness rivaling monkey pox.  The first day was deceptively simple, and outside of a lot of whining (by Jesse) and video game playing (by Maddie) all was well.  The silver lining was the rediscovery of Super Mario Bros., and a serious attempt by me to return to the glory days of 1985 and capturing the princess.  Those stupid hammer turtles got me on level 8.  No dice.  As the day progressed Jesse seemed to be getting worse, and this was concerning to everyone except Maddie.  She was living high on the hog and getting a free day off.

Day 2

After a long night of emptying mucho stomach contents my poor son was doomed to spend another day at home with dear old dad.  My wife assisted with the process by staying home in the morning hours, because Jesse requested it and I had to take the sick or is it slick Grifter Maddie to school.  She tried to run another con game on me, but just like George W. Bush said, "Fool me once shame on you, but fool my twice and I won't get fooled again."  I always liked The Who.  Once Maddie was in school, and Mama had left the house Jesse was in obvious gastrointestinal distress.  I felt really bad for him so I put my master plan into effect.  Operation Mario would commence.  Recently, I moved the Wii downstairs for Maddie to play since Jesse was more of an XboxOne and PlayStation kinda guy.  Maddie has staked claim to the device, but Jesse and I played a marathon of Super Mario Brothers adventure.  Mainly to keep Jesse's mind off the evil plague-like stomach virus.  New Super Mario Bros., Old Super Mario Bros., Mario Kart, Mario Sports, Mario Super Sluggers, and Mario Call of Duty.  He ate some Ritz crackers and drank Powerade to stay hydrated.  I thought he might be out of the woods, but I wasn't sure yet. 

Day 3

Still progressing but over night issues caused another off day.  On this day his mother, undoubtedly concerned with Operation Mario, decided to stay home with the sick boy.  What follows is the story of the Toaster Lesson.  Jesse needed food, because if the tank is empty it needs to be refilled.  The foodstuff of choice was toast.  Good old toast.  Easy on the stomach, and buttery seared bread is a delicacy.  Well it is with gravy and beef, but that wouldn't work for a stomach virus.  My beloved wife decided to teach young Jesse how to use a toaster.  This is the same boy who has made a living on having other people do stuff for him for quite some time, and need I mention he is a kind innocent soul who asked me the other day if the pets we once had, "Got excited about Christmas" and "Wondered who put the gifts in their stockings."  He's extremely intelligent, and he has a great way of looking at things.  Unfortunately, I think he lives in the land of Magic and Unicorns like his mother, but back to the toaster thing.  Is it difficult to make toast?  For Jesse, the answer would be a resounding "Yes!"  The Mom questions kept on coming.  Mom, is this the toaster?  Mom, do I put the bread in there?  Mom, what do I press down?  Mom, how do I know when it's done?  Mom, is it done yet?  Mom, I think it's done.  Mom, should I take it out now?  Mom, where's the butter.  Mom, how do you put butter on it?  As much as I want to say that I am exaggerating here, I'm not.  He was a sheltered child.  Heart of gold and a better young man you won't find, but man alive- It's just toast!!  It was becoming obvious that Toasty J, while not a bread cooking savant, was in fact getting better.  The stomach virus was relinquishing it's grip on my son, and he would be returning to school.  Whether he liked it or not.  Unfortunately, now the ever mindful young man began to overly concern himself with all the school work that he would have to make up upon his return.  I had to talk him off a ledge, and tell him that I was sure that no teachers would force him to take any tests that he was not ready for.  Well, they better not.  If  so, I'm climbing a clock tower.....just kidding.  As far as you know.

Conclusion

This too shall pass.  Sickness will end, but to quote Axl Rose, "I'd hate to look into those eyes, and see an ounce of pain."  True story.  I remember well the days when I would stay home from school, and my dear saint of a mother would care for me.  On occasion I had a true sickness, but I wasn't above faking it.  Those were days that I still think of fondly, because of how safe I felt with my mother there.  I always felt better.  I would lay in my bed and wait for an old rerun of Batman or The Brady Bunch.  The Price is Right was always a big hit too.  While times are much different now I still hope that at least in some ways they are the same.  I hope my children feel as safe with my wife and I as I did with my mother and father, although Drew Carey is no Bob Barker.  Come on down!