Monthly Archives: December 2013

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One Last Gift . . .

With our Christmas travels now over, my wife and I are ready to give our last gifts before the start of the New Year.  

Charitable giving is very important to both our families. From a very early age I learned to help others in need. From participating in Greensboro’s annual March of Dimes walk to building houses for Habit for Humanity, my mother ensured my brother and I learned the value of giving back to one’s community.  My mom’s active approach to giving is best exemplified by her participation in the annual Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. She has raised thousands of dollars in memory of her sister Tommy and marched in a variety of cities including Charlotte, New York and Santa Barbara.  Her and my Aunt’s resiliency against breast cancer has always been a source of inspiration. I will never forget the fight my mother took up against her own cancer scares.

My Dad’s charitable giving focuses on helping the homeless.  He feels that this is the best way to remember my Uncle Dave.  My uncle was a generous and caring spirit.  Unfortunately, our family lost him too soon. Every Christmas we light a candle in his memory and my Dad honors him by giving to Urban Ministry.  My dad and his girlfriend also volunteer their time to feeding the homeless during the holidays.  For my part, I try to keep my Uncle Dave’s memory alive by giving to the Union County Community Shelter.  I also try to spend as much time as possible with my brother and dad. Brotherly love is important and our annual camping trip together has always been my favorite way of celebrating the special bond we share with one another.

My wife’s side of the family is very active in the Catholic church  and they support a variety of causes throughout the year.  It is very heartening to see Pope Francis refocusing the church on the needs of the sick and poor. While this has always been important to the church, I think the rise in income inequality and other social ills makes the Pope’s message especially well-suited for our times. Our favorite volunteer effort sponsored by St. Matthew Catholic Church is the Muffin Ministry.  My wife bakes 24 muffins every quarter to feed the homeless at local shelters.  Her efforts combine with hundreds of other like-minded parishioners.

I share all of this because it allows me to link to some really great organizations that are willing to help fund research and help people in need. Telling the story of other people’s giving can inspire others to do the same.

As the year draws to a close, my wife and I will make one last donation to Goodwill and then we will choose two organizations to help in the coming year.  While our giving isn’t large by any means, I do believe that doing a little can help a lot.

This year our two chosen organizations are Doctor’s Without Borders and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. With the birth of our new baby boy I am constantly reminded how lucky we are.  Having a supportive and caring network of family and friends will go a long way in helping us successfully raise our sweet baby boy.  Not everyone has access to such support and we like these two charities because they give help in situations where there often is nowhere else to turn.

With that said, here’s hoping that everyone gets the help they need in the coming New Year.  We are all a part of the global village and we can combine our small efforts to make a lasting impact on countless lives in need.

Happy New Year!

Doctor’s Without Borders 2013 Highlights: This year MSF responded to major emergencies all over the world, including: running six hospitals and two clinics inside Syria; delivering surgery and treating malnourished children as one of the few organizations working in Central African Republic; reaching people completely cut off from medical care due to violence in Afghanistan; searching for people needing aid by helicopter after they fled violence in their villages in South Sudan; treating and vaccinating hundreds of thousands of children against measles in Democratic Republic of Congo.

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital 2013 Highlights: St. Jude recently completed an extensive expansion program that bolstered the hospital’s research and treatment efforts, more than doubling the size of its original campus. The expansion included the Children’s GMP, LLC, currently the nation’s only pediatric research center on-site facility for production of highly specialized treatments and vaccines; an expanded Department of Immunology; and a new Department of Chemical Biology and Therapeutics for discovery of new drugs. St. Jude now has 2.5 million square feet of research, clinical and administrative space dedicated to finding cures and saving children.

The new Chili’s Care Center integrates patient care and research where rapidly evolving CT (computerized tomography) and MR (magnetic resonance) technology keep St. Jude at the cutting edge for radiation therapy in a pediatric / adolescent setting. Additionally, a state-of-the-art cyclotron enables St. Jude researchers to undertake many important new PET (positron emission tomography) radiochemistry studies. These imaging techniques facilitate the rapid evaluation of new therapeutic approaches and help choose those most likely to be successful.

Music to Rock Your Christmas Eve

As promised, I am posting my favorite Christmas albums.  Hopefully this music will help you rock your Christmas Eve parties and holiday gatherings. At the very least the list can serve as a reminder of your favorite albums of holidays past. Merry Christmas everyone!

A Very She & Him ChristmasA Very She & Him Christmas is by far my favorite holiday album.  There is nothing better than hearing M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel sing the classics.  The production is timeless and will liven up any Christmas themed playlist. The album is also special to me because I gave it as a gift to my wife.  To my delight, Lunchbox Records had cool album themed wrapping paper and a Christmas pen to go with it.  What a great record store! Anyways, this made the gift more special. My wife loves the album and we play it during many special Christmas occasions.  This year the record comes with an a Yule Log app. Crazy!

The GatheringFor some North Carolina flavor, look no further than The GatheringThe Wall Street Journal featured the project as one of six holiday albums worth picking up last year, writing: “Five established folk-roots artists gathered in a Greensboro,N.C., house to record this unusual album. The first six songs by singer-guitarist Laurelyn Dossett were commissioned by the North Carolina Symphony and tell the tale of a wandering daughter’s return to her family home on a winter’s night. The next seven tracks are a mix of traditional and old-time holiday folk songs. Three voices work in harmony backed by banjo, mandolin, fiddle, guitar and bass. What the season must have sounded like before shopping and Irving Berlin.” And The Chicago Sun-Times hailed the album: “Collections of Appalachian holiday tunes have come along before, but one of the finest is now ‘The Gathering.’” Needless to say, the record is great!

Christmas with the Rat PackAnother one of my all time favorite albums for gift giving and holiday celebration is Christmas with the Rat Pack.  There’s nothing quite like hearing Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra swoon over the very best holiday standards.  The songs on this album set a very high mark and very few artists have ever met it.  The record has everything from “White Christmas” to “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” While Sammy and Frank deliver the goods, Dean Martin outperforms them all.  If you want to know what Christmas sounds like, listen to the Rat Pack.

A Very Special ChristmasLast but not least is a A Very Special ChristmasThis compilation album of Christmas songs has everything: Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Whitney Houston, U2, Sting. If an artist had any traction in the 1980s they are on this benefit album.  While all the songs are great, my Brother and I were floored that our mom had actually bought a CD with a RUN DMC track on it. And she liked it! Another special album highlight is Stevie Nix’s “Silent Night.” There’s nothing like having the witchy woman herself sing about the birth of the Saviour. in addition, the record is still very popular and continues to help raise money and awareness for the Special Olympics.

A Christmas Memory: A Dad’s Tale

Good story tellers never tell all their stories all at once.  For this reason, I will be sharing several Christmas memories leading up to the big day.  May all your families find peace and happiness in the New Year.

simple treeMy Dad, Brother and I are often referred to by other family members as “the boys.” The boys have enjoyed Christmas in many places.  We have celebrated in a tiny apartment across from my brother’s old middle school.  Our hearts forever closer than the walls that surrounded our merriment.  We have even spent Christmas in an old yellow VW bus. Hurling down the highway towards Grandma’s house, opening presents along the way.

Our favorite place to celebrate Christmas is Reidsville. Every year we boys share our holiday spirit at our Grandparent’s house. We celebrate with our Uncle Steve, Aunt Mary Lynn, Cousin Kellie and Cousin Neal. The whole family band marveling at the blessing of family as our Grands entertain us all.  Now that band has grown to include spouses and great grandkids. Needless to say, the merriment multiplies infinitely with the company of our youngest celebrants.

Of all the places we have celebrated Christmas, there is one setting that is truly special. It is special not for place but instead for the holiday memories forged there. The year my Dad bought his first house, we enjoyed a holiday that had all the hallmarks of a classic Christmas.  And like all great Christmases it centered around the securing of our new home’s first tree.

“You have to have a Christmas tree!” my Brother and I exclaimed in unison as we arrived on my Dad’s doorstep. With those magic words we coaxed our Pops to take us out to add the last essential decoration to our new home.

The three of us piled into the old suburban just hours before Christmas day and headed out to find the perfect tree. My Dad never let on that this was not the most ideal time to find such a tree. I suspect my Brother knew. I, however, was the innocent, gullible believer. My confidence ran sky-high.

Alas, once we hit the road my confidence took a hit.  All the tree traders had packed up and left town.  In their wake were giant worn patches of grass and empty parking lots.  If you looked close enough you could still see the specter of smiling families and happy hucksters.  We were too late.

Despite all this my Dad never showed discouragement. My Brother never signaled to me that our endeavors were a lost cause.  And so we persevered.

Then came the miracle. One more lonely parking lot. One more missed opportunity. One more Christmas tree!

The tree laid smack dab in the middle of that empty lot as if waiting for rescue. In unison we rejoiced! We would have our Christmas tree after all.  With giddy delight we all jumped out of the suburban and surrounded the tree.  We took in the moment. We marveled at our luck.  It was a scrappy looking thing. Not too far off from the tree Charlie Brown rescued in Charles Schultz’s classic tale. And like that my Dad scooped the tree up and secured it to the roof of our car.  With our spirits again riding high, we made our way back home.

Finding the tree, however, was just the beginning.  It was the catalyst of some of my fondest Christmas memories.  My Dad rescued some Christmas lights from an old box. He found some ornaments in an old tin. My brother and I cut out snowflakes and strung together popcorn. We attached garbage ties to cereal box prizes and G.I. Joes. We hung them right next to the few Christmas balls my Dad had managed to scrounge up. And of course we added a make-shift star to top it all.

When we stood back, the tree was no longer the scrappy loner we rescued. Transformed, it glittered in ideal form. There would never be another tree like it. In the future we would not press our luck when it came to finding a tree. In the future we would add more traditional ornaments. No future tree, however, would resemble the miracle we had erected in our new home. To this day I do not remember what presents I opened that Christmas. What I do vividly remember is the feeling of us all working together to make our quaint little tree shine.

Little G OrnamentThat first home has long been sold, but it still occupies a special place in my heart.  It was a place where the boys grew up. Dad, brother and me. Learning from one another.  Loving one another. Celebrating birthdays, graduations and all sorts of moments in between.  But in many ways it all started with that first Christmas tree. We were bound together by the miracle. The miracle of family. The miracle of togetherness. The miracle of a life worth living.

We continue to celebrate Christmas in a variety of new and exciting places.  From the new homes made by my Dad, Brother and me to the grand gathering in Reidsville. We come together.  We break bread. We open presents. We hug and laugh. We remember loved ones long gone. We, the boys, celebrate Christmas.

A Christmas Memory: A Mother’s Story

Good story tellers never tell all their stories all at once.  For this reason, I will be sharing several Christmas memories leading up to the big day.  May all your families find peace and happiness in the New Year.

Stocking and chimneyAfter the luminaries along the driveway had been lit. After little Katie dog was secure behind her fence. Secret laundry room shots taken. The turkey and ham cooked to perfection. After my Uncle Clyde lead the neighborly gathering in prayer. My Aunt Lollie’s dressing finally served.

After people filled their plates and broke bread.  After everyone who came finally went home.  Silent Night echoed throughout midnight mass. The candle wax cooled and an empty house welcomed us home.  After all of this, my mother prepared us for bed. She prepared us for Santa. She prepared us for life. She read us  A Christmas Memory.

My brother and I nestled in with my mom on the living room couch. Sometimes on my double bed.  Santa’s milk and cookies set.  The story began.

Mom read to us Truman Capote’s holiday story about Buddy.  Young Buddy and his dog named Queenie. Buddy who had a caretaker and sweet, old friend named Sook.  Mom read to us about the pair making whiskey-soaked fruitcake. She told us about how one of those 31 fruitcakes went to Franklin Roosevelt.  How the White House stationary received in return connected Buddy and Sook to the world beyond their tiny, impoverished kitchen. The tale of fruitcake connected my Mom, brother and me to Buddy and Sook.  It connected us to Christmas. It connected us to the prayers of the outside world.

Mom read to us about the chopping down of Buddy and Sook’s Christmas tree. The cutting of a tree that healed the wounds inflicted on Sook by scorning relatives.  A tree, according to Sook, that was too unique to sell.  In truth, we are all like that tree.  Special in our own way. Precious to those who love us most. Not worth betraying, no matter the cost.

Mom read to us about the pair making kites for one another.  How both Buddy and Sook longed to buy something grander. In the end they settled on gifts crafted from their own hands.  Presents infused with the heart’s love. Surely these handmade kites still fly high, intertwined like the purest of friendships. Mom told us about one such friendship. The friendship of Buddy and Sook.

Unfortunately, people separate. Sook and Buddy separate. Life separates us all. But memories hold us together. They are pure. They are simple. They are ideal.

I keep searching the sky. As if I expected to see, rather like hearts, a lost pair of kites hurrying toward heaven.

Santa figurineMy mom reads this story to us every Christmas Eve. Year after year the tale holds us three together. Mother, brother and me.  Christmas Eve holds us together. No matter the distance we must travel. No matter what disappointments a year might bring. We gather with family and friends. Love and fellowship renew us. It binds us tight. We will always have one another. We will always have our Christmas memories.

2013 Albums of the Year UPDATED

After reviewing my 2013 Albums of the Year list, I noticed I forgot to mention my three honorable mentions.  While Dylan’s Another Self Portrait was a revelation,  these three albums also received heavy rotation.

Honorable Mentions:

I picked up the Sarah Jarosz’s Build Me Up From Bones and the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s Made Up Mind in Blowing Rock, NC on a family tailgating trip to see the Appalachian State Mountaineers.  Both records are exquisite.  This is Jarosz’s third album and she continues to refine her bluegrass femme fatale sound.  I’ve been a fan since her first record release and the wisdom and heartache in her voice resonates throughout her work.  While only 22, Jarosz presence is as timeless as the bluegrass tradition itself.

The Tedeschi Trucks Band’s Made Up Mind record is also stellar. I saw Derek Trucks when he was thirteen at a local spot in Greensboro, NC.  To this day his solo guitar performance of “America the Beautiful” is the best rendition I have ever heard. Derek has now transformed his solo project into a family band that feature his fiery soul singing wife, Susan Tedeschi, on lead vocals.  The record will blow you away. It is by far one of the bluesiest, grooviest, earth quaking recordings to break through this year.

Last but not least is the 20th Anniversary release of Nirvana’s In Utero.  The super deluxe edition comes with 3 CDs and 1 DVD, a remastered version of the album plus 31 bonus tracks, 17 live tracks from their Live and Loud performance at Pier 48 in Seattle (12/13/93) and 11 bonus videos.  The packaging does not disappoint either.  This is all window dressing, however, for one of the greatest albums ever recorded.  Putting it back in the rotation taps you into the loud purity that made Nirvana the tour de force of 90s rock.

Best Lines: Formulate Infinity’s 2013 Albums of the Year (Complete List/ Original Post)