Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Ten 2015 Re-solutions

December 31, 2014
Day 245

These are guidelines I set for myself for 2015.  They are in no particular order.

In 2015, I will... take control of my health once and for all.  I won't promise myself to lose x number of pounds by x day with x smile on my face, but I will pursue a healthier lifestyle through diet, exercise, and spirituality.

In 2015, I will... learn to stop wasting so much time online.  My online life is important to me, but I need to look more at the messy house around me more often, and get my house in order--literally!

In 2015, I will... publish two books.

In 2015, I will... write prominent essays on prominent websites and substantially grow my freelance writing career.

In 2015, I will... launch a personal website.

In 2015, I will... blog daily until my 40th birthday on May 1st, and then happily stop!

In 2015, I will... meditate more often.  I will center myself in spirit more frequently throughout each and every day, posting reminder notes to myself to do so.

In 2015, I will... teach or guide multiple classes on spiritual topics.

In 2015, I will... reach out to more people through personal letters.
In 2015, I will... not wait until 2016 to make these improvements to my life.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014: Year in Review

December 30, 2014
Day 244

In 2014, I made this public resolution on January 1st: "I will believe in myself more.  I will trust in the God-given spirit within me, and I will overcome fears and challenges, obstacles and roadblocks.  I will take leaps of faith into the unknown, and find myself growing more than I ever have before.  In 2014, I will transcend, I will dream, I will be.  And I hope you'll be there with me, to journey into the realm of possibility and imagination, where the highest mountains we've ever climbed will be conquered together!"

On January 9th, in the wee hours of the morning, I asked Andy to bring me to the hospital.  There was no evidence it was anything other than bad heartburn, but it scared me nonetheless, and made for a sour start to the new year.

On March 11th, I published my second book, The Papal Visitor, sequel to Book 1: The Uniter.

On April 23rd, I began writing my third book, the last book of the Heaven, Hell, and the Planet In Between series.

On May 1st, I turned 39 and began writing this daily blog.  Today is the 244th consecutive day I've published an entry here.  To date, my blog entries have gotten over 7,000 views.  My most popular blog entry was on November 23rd, called My Buddhist Calling, which has received 131 page views.  My least popular entry was on June 1st, called June's Many Meanings, which got only 2.  (My views aren't counted.)

On June 14th, Andy and I attended the Long Island Pride Parade, and when a small band of sick men with signs walked past, I shouted, "God loves everyone!"  The confrontation that followed was tense and scary, but I was happy to have said my peace in response to their hate, and encouraged them to just get lost and leave everyone alone before I called the police (who were already around the area to protect us).

On June 29th, Andy and I marched in the New York City Pride Parade.  It was Andy's first time marching and my second, and we both had a wonderful time!

From July 18th to July 23rd, Andy and I vacationed in beautiful Colorado.  We stayed with our great friends Isobel and Sam for half the time, and at a hotel in the Rockies the other half.

On July 20th, we made a special trip up to Laramie, Wyoming.  Why such a long drive out of the way for a little town in Wyoming?  Because Laramie is the place a 21-year-old gay man was attacked and left for dead when I was 22 and still coming out of the closet.  Matthew Shepard's story shook me then and always has, and he's become an important character in my book series about heaven.  You can read about our trip to Laramie on my blog entry here.

On August 11th, I learned Robin Williams had committed suicide.  Celebrities we've never met die all the time, and we feel the sadness of it for moments or maybe even hours.  His death shook so many of us for weeks.  I wrote this about Robin: "The smoke of a burned-out candle is not the candle. Tonight, I'm so sad to hear Robin Williams has left us. None of us can understand why people get to the point of taking their own lives, but for those of us who have been directly impacted by suicide, we are all too aware of the unending impact it makes on us. That said, again, the smoke of a burned-out candle is NOT the candle. The entirety of light that still is Robin will shine on forever. We cry for the smoke of this moment, but we know his light shines on."

On August 13th, we found out Andy's Uncle Fai had been rushed to the hospital with a serious and possibly fatal stomach condition. 

From August 23rd to September 1st, I enjoyed a 10-day trip to Ludlow, Vermont, my home away from home.

On October 1st, I was a guest speaker at two classes at Nassau Community College, thanks to the generous invitation from my friend Bill, who teaches there.

On October 10th, my Aunt Nancy died.

On October 12th, Andy's Uncle Fai died.

From October 20th through October 28th, I served on a federal jury in Brooklyn.  Talk about a life experience!  Wow!  Check out my blog during those days to read some of my reflections.

From November 1st to November 30th, I participated in NaNoWriMo, which stands for National Novel Writing Month.  In the month of November, each participant is asked to write 50,000 words of a new novel.  I didn't think it was possible at first, but by month's end, I'd written 60,112 words.

From November 15th to November 17th, Andy and I visited our friends Cherri, Maria, Mark, and Robert in Columbia, Maryland, and made a special visit to Andy's Great Uncle Nilo as well.  Nilo is a celebrated artist whose work still graces the halls of the Pentagon, as well as air force bases worldwide.  We purchased some of his paintings, and if you're at all interested in doing so too, I encourage you to check out his work available for sale on his website.

On December 3rd, I received a new computer via FedEx, my first new computer since 2005.

These are not my only major moments of 2014, but they are the lion's share of them.  Writing these out has been a wonderful exercise for me, and very helpful as I look ahead to resolutions for 2015.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Looking Around, Catching Your Breath

December 29, 2014
Day 243

I paused my reflections yesterday to add a little Christmas story I thought up (one I knew some of you would laugh at and others would hate), but today I'm back to reflecting mode again. 

Reflection and mood swings seem to be part and parcel this time of year, the time when you literally turn off your brain's computer more than normal, ahead of a reboot come January 1st.

We know New Year's Eve is coming up on Wednesday, but we don't think as much about the fact that 2015 starts this Thursday.  It's coming up so quickly, yet time seems to slow down for us, just so we can look around and catch our breath.  I have a lot more to muse on tomorrow and Wednesday, but right now I'm just in that morning-haze mode where I've just woken up, and can't yet see what's out in front of me.

It feels right to feel this way today, so I'm going with it.  Before I add up my accomplishments, joys, and sorrows of 2014, and before lining up my resolutions for 2015, I need this time right here first, this time to just look around and be.  A whole year has now passed, and a whole new year awaits.  Right now though?  Now is the time to catch our breath and lose ourselves in thought.  Now is the time to just sit back and muse for a while as we peer through a cloudy morning in late December.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Christmas Surprise

December 28, 2014
Day 242

(A new short story, rated PG-13)

Dennis knew it wouldn’t go over well.  When he first had the idea, he laughed.  He knew that were he to do this, no one would ever speak to him again.  Not only that, they’d absolutely hate him besides.  And that’s exactly what he was counting on.

With each new present Dennis put together, he painstakingly personalized it for the recipient, making certain they understood how much effort he put into the gift.  He went on like this all day long and into the night, as his Christmas party with friends was now just hours away.  “No rest for the weary,” he muttered on his way back from the bathroom.

Around 2 AM, he was finally done.  All the presents were individually wrapped in gorgeous wrapping paper under his tree, not one of them foretelling the incredible surprise waiting inside.  Dennis smiled softly, his eyes sparkling with the reflection from his tree, as genuine tears of joy welled up from within him.  He’d created something magical, something personal, something truly horrible for each and every one of his so-called friends.

By the time 1 PM arrived, and all his guests were sitting around the beautiful living room sipping cocktails, marveling at the beautiful tree and all the presents below it, Dennis was feeling absolutely electric.  He waited for a brief lull in the conversation before ringing a little bell he’d bought for the occasion. 

“My friends, it’s time.  It’s time for you to open the special gifts I’ve made for each of you.”  A coo of loving wonder let out from a few of the women, followed quickly thereafter by a sarcastic “Aww” from some of the men.  Dennis smiled as he handed out the presents, warning them all to wait until everyone had their gift before anyone opened them up.  Once they were ready though, he rang his little bell again, and watched as they ripped open the wrapping paper to see what was inside.

One by one, each guest’s smile turned quickly to a frown as they lifted a shiny, wet rock from inside.  Carefully encircling and tied to each stone was a list of things Dennis hated about the person, a long list of the most hurtful phrases and curses he could think of for each.  He noted how the disgust overtook each person in turn, and delighted in seeing the particular horror surface on some faces when they realized the rock had been coated in his own piss.

Once they’d all had their moments of individual hatred and horror, and guests were just starting to grow furious at him, he did it.

With just one quick motion, Dennis tossed a lit match onto his dried out Christmas tree, and watched as they scrambled toward the front door. 

“GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY FUCKING HOUSE!!!” he screamed.  They were screaming terrible things at him as they grabbed their coats and ran out, but Dennis didn’t hear any of it.  He was in a special place in his long-lost brain now.  He walked calmly past the burning tree and toward the sofas, where various rocks were left behind.  Picking up a few in his arms, he walked out the door and started hurling them at his former friends.  They were too far away to reach, but he enjoyed watching them run nonetheless.

As the flames began to rage out of control inside the house, Dennis sat down on his front lawn to watch it.  His friends were finally out of his life, Christmas had brought him everything he'd ever dreamed and more, and the fire inside was beautiful.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

All This Extra Time

December 27, 2014
Day 241

Earlier this month, I got a new computer for the first time since 2005.  Everything with it was awesome, except our internet speed was still lagging.  It was becoming more and more obvious we needed a new modem. 

Almost at the same time, my Ethernet cord broke--the little piece on the end snapped off.  So on Christmas Eve, we finally received a new modem and cord in the mail.  Yes!  Life is good!

I now have a computer that boots up in less than 30 seconds, instead of the 45 minutes it used to take (no exaggeration!), and we have internet that works at the speed it's actually supposed to.  Who knew life could be so easy?!

The only problem is, I've got so much more time on my hands all of a sudden, and I'm not accurately filling it with the right things.  This world was already filled with enough distractions to keep me away from housework, laundry, cleaning, reading, and writing.  Now I've got even more time on my hands, and I'm not putting it to good use.

The new year is just four-and-a-half days away now, so I think this would be an excellent addition to my list of resolutions.  It'll go right behind weight loss, and just ahead of finding ways to make more money.  I think this would be an excellent resolution for the new year, so I'm going to try my very best to make it happen once and for all!  2015: I'm taking back control of my life!

Right now though?  I need to catch up on YouTube.

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Day After

Our house this morning, 12/26/14.
December 26, 2014
Day 240

'Twas the day after Christmas,
and all through my home,
not a thing was occurring,
not even a comb.

Andy and I thought and said the same exact thing when we woke up: "the day after".  Neither of us had to work, so we enjoyed a healthy sleep-in this morning.  When I did finally grab my mountain-climbing gear to lug myself out of bed, I walked outside with a long, loud yawn, turned up the heat, and looked around at the aftermath before me.  Little piles of presents here and there, Christmas cards and rolls of wrapping paper not needed now until next year, and everywhere I looked, I saw Christmas Past, right behind me now in the rear-view mirror.

Well, not exactly.  We keep our Christmas decorations up until early to mid-January, so much of the magic and light of the holiday stays around now for a while.  The mess that greeted me this morning will get tidied up in the hours (days) ahead, and we'll keep enjoying the beauty of the season for a while longer.

In this mean time though, I feel immense gratitude, not just for presents received yesterday, but for all the incredible time I spent with family.  I don't think I've laughed so much or felt so loved as I did yesterday in quite a long time.  It was just a beautiful, awesome, wonderful day spent with so many people I love so much.

So wherever you are today as you read this, I wish for you days like I had yesterday.  The aftermath of Christmas is often a messy house and a tall stack of reality to return to, but there's also a mist of love that will last for a long, long while!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Morning 2014

December 25, 2014
Day 239

I woke up this morning ahead of Andy--not so unusual, really--and turned on all the Christmas lights.  I always leave the outside decorations on Christmas Eve night, but I peeked out just to see if they were okay. 

They weren't.  Poor Santa had a bad night apparently, because he and his teddy bear friend were passed out face down in the mud.  I put on my sneakers and went outside to help him up, asked him how he was doing too, but he just mumbled something about Dasher.

Back inside, I made the coffee and looked out my back window for a moment.  I spent some time there wishing my deceased loved ones a Merry Christmas.  Merry Christmas, Mom, Dad, Ma Ma, Esther, Sal, Bob, Fai, Aunt Nancy, Larry, Richard, Joseph, Francis, Aunt Kathleen and Uncle Battie, Jim and Kathleen Hunston...  I stopped there, as the list could go on and on.  And on.

Turning on the TV, I found the Yule Log "show", and listened to some Christmas music for a little while as I looked at the tree and thought about Christmas Past and Present.  I mused on how big this tradition was for me growing up with a household filled with kids, and thought about all my friends and loved ones experiencing their own Christmas mornings right now too.  These thoughts led me upstairs to my computer, where on Facebook, I scrolled briefly through some pictures from this morning taken at households all over. 

And I gotta tell you, it chokes me up.  It makes me so happy to be experiencing Christmas morning WITH all of you just because of the way we're connected through social media.  Even if we aren't all posting, some are, and it's enough for me to feel connected to everyone. 

Merry Christmas!  May your heart appreciate every beautiful second of this beautiful day, and may the memories made today last your whole life through!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Starting Point

December 24, 2014
Day 238

Jonah Cord loved Christmas.  Each year, he bought gifts for all his family and friends, and often donated his time and money to local charities, spreading all the goodness he could.  He was well known in the community, and a highly respected member of his church family too.

One Christmas, Jonah decided to take things to another level.  He decided he'd spend the entire three weeks before Christmas reminding people every chance he got that Jesus was the reason for the season, that the baby Jesus, and not Santa, should be the true focus of everyone's attention.  So he changed the signature on all his e-mails right away to read, "Jesus is the ONLY reason for this solemn season!"  He also made a point to share something about the baby Jesus to his Facebook account each day, and even opened up a new Twitter account just so he could reply to popular Tweets with Christian messages.

Every chance he got, Jonah spread his special message, but the more he did, the more frustrated he got at the constant barrage of Santa Claus images on TV and at the mall.  Everywhere he looked, people were celebrating the non-religious part of the holiday, and turning their backs on Jesus.

Jonah began to get angry and sad at the same time, and by the week before Christmas, his posts online and messages to friends were growing more and more forceful, and less and less friendly.  Before he realized it, and really without knowing what he was doing at all, Jonah was spreading more animosity than he was joy, and his desire to spread God's love was failing miserably.  Still, he stuck to his game plan, and only increased his work the closer Christmas came.

By Christmas Eve, Jonah was very sad.  He felt he'd only reached his fellow Christians, and hardly made any impact at all on the rest of the community.  Just hours left now before Christmas, a frazzled Jonah was handing out flyers he'd made up to share with people around the mall.  Many pocketed the flyers politely, and others just threw them out nearby, but Jonah noticed one woman walked off to the side, and was thoroughly reading the message he'd typed up.

After another minute, this woman approached him with a smile.  Jonah said a polite hello, but kept scanning the passing crowd for new people to hand his flyers to.  "You know," the woman said, "I like to think Jesus would really love all the Christmas we have right now, and not be asking people to only think of him."  Oh boy, Jonah thought, here we go.  "I mean, Christmas is such a beautiful time of year filled with love and joy, gift exchanges, and so much wonderful time with our families."

Jonah had heard enough.  "Jesus is the reason for the season, and people need that reminder.  I'm sorry, ma'am, but I don't think you understand what I'm trying to do here."  The woman just smiled and said, "Of course I do.  It's just that you're missing the whole point of Christmas in the pursuit of a history lesson.  Jesus preached love and friendship, forgiveness and compassion.  He spent most of his time sitting with friends and neighbors, having wine and just talking--not passing judgment."

Shaking his head quickly, Jonah opened his mouth to speak, but the woman continued, "Jesus is the reason for the season, but the season surpassed the reason, and Jesus would be thrilled!  Christmas can be great even when Jesus isn't at the center of it all, because the reason for the season isn't alive on Earth right now.  Your family members are.  Your friends are.  Your coworkers are.  Your neighbors are.  Love them, Jonah, and celebrate all of Christmas with them, the sacred and the fun, and if you do that, you'll be honoring Jesus just fine."

Jonah looked at her funny and said, "How do you know my name?"  The woman smiled and said, "I'm your neighbor.  I've tried to stop by to say hello, but you haven't been at home."  "Oh," Jonah said, "Well, I've been a bit distracted lately."

He mindlessly began handing the flyers out again, but kept an eye on the woman, who now stood right up close to him so he couldn't avoid her.  "I'm your neighbor, Jonah.  I'm standing right here in front of you.  And instead of welcoming me, you're trying to prove your love of God.  You know who else did that?  The Pharisees.  Jesus was right there in front of their faces, and all they cared about was Scripture.  Jesus is the reason for the season, Jonah, but reasons are just starting points.  Look around you," she said, gently taking the remainder of his flyers and pointing behind him, "And see what's right in front of your face."

Jonah looked around him at the shoppers passing by.  He saw all the happiness on their faces, noted so many decorations of all shapes and sizes adorning the atrium, and listened as Christmas music softly played throughout the mall.  All around him, Jonah saw only love and joy.  And when he turned back around, his visitor--and the flyers--were gone.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

I really should be panicking

December 23, 2014
Day 237

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, and I still need gifts or more gifts for 15 people, and 90% of my purchased gifts aren't wrapped yet either.  Panic seems about due now, so I expect it'll kick in some time before lunch.  Until then, I'm going to just expect it to all work out in the end. 

Or maybe...

Maybe I will panic.  Maybe I'll make today my last day to truly panic, so that tomorrow is as peaceful and joy-filled as possible.  My dream every year is to achieve a Christmas Eve free of present-buying and present-wrapping, free of stress and anxiety, when I can sit next to my Christmas tree with a cup of coffee or hot chocolate, and bask in the beauty of the season.  Maybe a Christmas movie on Blu-ray or a good book to cozy up with.

I'm reminded right away though, even as I type these words, that I can't have that dream scenario if the presents aren't all bought and wrapped by tomorrow evening.  Which brings me back to my original point...

I really should be panicking!  I really should be absolutely freaking out right now, pondering how the heck I'll ever get this all done in time, and wondering why I ever thought it possible to reach that dream scenario in the first place!  Hot chocolate and basking?  How about heartburn and aspirin!

Panic mode: ON!!!

Monday, December 22, 2014

I pause to reflect on the news

December 22, 2014
Day 236

It's three days 'til Christmas, and the news has us all depressed. 

I generally stay away from talking about the news, not just because it makes me so sad so often, but because it's too easy to touch on nerves, and cause more grief than I intended. 

So I think today I'd just like to briefly summarize what's been going on lately, and try to make some sense of it all...

Some law enforcement officers in some places have reacted hastily or wrongly in the process of otherwise doing their jobs well.  People have died who should not have, or who might not have, had things been handled differently.  People have protested, as is both their right and their need, as sometimes voicing our emotions is an absolute need, and is the only way our hearts can be heard.  In some cases though, civilians and law enforcement officers alike have reached a breaking point in their emotional states, and have said and done things to only cause more pain and more hurt.

I'm proud to call myself a Democrat for many different reasons, but I'd like to just offer, in case anyone's curious, my opinions about Reverend Al Sharpton and Mayor Bill de Blasio.  And that opinion is that I'm not a fan of either of them.

The Reverend is too often a publicity-hungry ambulance chaser, seeking the spotlight more than he seeks to spread God's love.  We need civil rights' activists, and we need strong, loud voices, but we do not need his particular brand of hatred masked in the cassock of faith.  And Mayor de Blasio, for all the good he's done and other issues I agree with him on, is handling this all wrong.  He's trying to make everyone happy, but is doing the complete opposite.  He needs to admit this now quickly, and fix the growing tensions he's helping to create. 

Two police officers, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, were killed this weekend in New York City by a deranged (off the range) individual.  Ismaaiyl Brinsley was not some official representative of any cause or camp, rally or party.  He was simply deranged and demented to a very sick degree.  The two officers lost their lives right before Christmas in a completely senseless act of cold murder.

Here's what I believe with all my heart though.  And this is the part as many as 98% of you will disagree with me on, or strongly doubt.  I believe that seconds after the officers were shot, and the man who pulled the trigger killed himself, they all arrived in heaven, and the tears and heartache there were both immense and powerful.  Tremendous healing began immediately, or soon after, and this sick individual who killed these good men is now getting the kind of healing only God can give him, because God is more forgiving than humans are of one another.

We've got a city, a nation, and a world looking at everything that's been happening, and emotions are running high.  But beyond the emotions so many of us feel, there are some that matter more.  And those belong to the families of the fallen: the fallen in Missouri and the fallen in New York.  Pain is colorless, and felt by all.  It's sharp and horrid, and it's deeply wounding for so many of all places and backgrounds, uniforms and skin colors alike.  It's just plain awful.

Richard Gonzalez, Officer Ramos's cousin, had this to say in the aftermath of the shooting in Brooklyn: "The Ramos Family forgives him, because God forgave us.  We don't blame him, we forgive him.  If it were the other way around, Rafael would say the same words.  He'd forgive him."

Christmas is just three days away, and two more families are now in the grip of despair and mourning.  Two more families are now caught up in an ongoing conversation told through megaphones and pulpits alike.  And two more families are left with a senseless tragedy which has taken their loved ones away. 

As Christmas approaches, I pray for peace.  I pray for a calm to settle on the hearts and minds of all men and all women everywhere.  I pray for it to settle on their souls like soft snow.  I pray for faith, that those in mourning may look to heaven with an unbreakable knowledge of all that is well there, away from this earth.  And I pray that we may all see in each face we meet the face of our brothers and our sisters in this one holy family all crying together.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The graceful rush to the finish line

December 21, 2014
Day 235

It's after 10 on Sunday night as I write today's blog, a full 12 hours after I'd normally post.

Today, and indeed this entire month so far, has been a massive blur of Christmas lights, Christmas shopping, and all manner of other craziness.

Because it is so late in the day, I know you'll forgive me for making this one of my shorter blogs.  Suffice it to say, I love this beautiful season, but will equally breathe a huge sigh of relief once it's past too.  I think because Thanksgiving fell so late this year, we all got a later start than usual, and we're all in super-rush mode now.

Anyway, it's now after 10:30, so I'm gonna just upload this quickly and then start my pre-bed routine right away.  Here's hoping we all stay graceful now in our rush to the finish line!  We can do this!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Better To Give

December 20, 2014
Day 234

I remember those days so well, the every-other-year Christmases at my house, when I'd look out the window like an eager puppy waiting for his owner to come home.  As each new car pulled up outside or parked down the block opposite our house, I'd yell out to my household that Aunt so-and-so or sibling so-and-so had arrived. 

But I wouldn't just watch for them.  I'd watch for how many presents they carried into the house too!  As each new car-full of people arrived--and there were many--I'd look to see how many trips they made back and forth from the car to the house.  At least one present from each person would be for me, I knew, so I was more than happy to help them bring them in and put them under the tree!

I don't know what year this all changed, but it may not have been until I was in my 20s some time when it did.  At some point though, a Christmas arrived in which I was a buyer myself, getting presents for everyone, and when this happened, something else magically occurred: I stopped thinking about what I'd receive.  I didn't even remember I was due to get presents, in fact, because I was so concerned with making sure I had enough gifts for all the people on my list. 

This has been the case now each and every year since.  I buy a bunch of presents, and always forget about the fact that my loved ones are buying gifts for me as well.  And it's awesome!  There really is something so wonderful once you cross this point in life, once you realize that Christmas is about giving, and not receiving. 

My house isn't big enough to host my whole family for Christmas, so I always go to my brother's each year now.  He and my sister-in-law open their home to our crazy-huge family, which is always very much appreciated!  And I love that as Andy and I arrive with our bags or boxes filled with gifts, the children all watch to see how much loot we bring in, knowing that some of those precious gifts will be all for them!

Friday, December 19, 2014

My Better Tomorrow

December 19, 2014
Day 233

The Ghost of Christmas Future stares at me emotionless, and watches me writhe in pain.  With every tear I cry, he does nothing.  Just when I'm about to charge at him, he pushes his bony arm straight through me, and I feel all the truth of his message, all the possibility.

I gaze up into his cold, heartless gaze, and suddenly see a candle flame flickering slow and steady.  The more I stare, the more the darkness fades away, until I see the candlelight softly shining in a bright new room.  Christmas has arrived, and I'm still here to enjoy it!

Every year at this time, I watch a bunch of Christmas movies, including Scrooged, It's A Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, and more.  The one theme they all seem to have is that when they end, you believe the main characters have either turned their lives around or made the world a better place to live in.  I cry at the end of each one, and feel so happy I could jump for joy!

For the first time in many years, I re-read A Christmas Carol this past week.  It's a short book, a novella really, and you can buy it for free on Kindle at this link.  At the end of the story, after Ebenezer has been visited by his three ghosts, he exclaims, "I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future.  The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me."  And really, that's what every Christmas is about.  We share and listen to stories about Christmases past, we bask in the beauty of the day and the moment here in the present, and we exchange gifts to make each other's futures a bit brighter. 

I still have five more blog days left before Christmas, but I'll say it now anyway.  Thank you for reading along with my random musings here, and Merry Christmas!  For those not feeling merry, I pray something changes in you soon.  I honor and respect your sadness or misery, but I so want you to be happy too.  More than that, I want you to have reason to be happy. 

Enjoy these last few days of pre-Christmas prep, everyone!  And oh yeah: God bless us, every one!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

My Ghost of Christmas Future

December 18, 2014 
Day 232

As the bells ring out one last time, I sit alone in the darkness of night awaiting my final visitor.  He is the one all men fear most of all, the Ghost of Christmas Future.

What will my future hold?  How will things play out with my life, career, writing, friendships, and relationships?

What changes must I make now to avoid dire consequences later?

I beg all this from the spirit, but he does not speak.  Instead, he just points a bony hand forward, commanding me to walk with him and see...all of the future, all that may be. 

We cross a threshold through mist on a dark night, and see a scroll opened up before me.  Written there is a long list of friends' names who have now left my life for one reason or another.  I ask the spirit why these souls and I are no longer friends in the future, but he will not say.  A sudden gust of wind tosses the scroll up into the cold night sky, and as I watch it rise, the Ghost of Christmas Future suddenly shoves me forward onto the ground, where a second scroll awaits my gaze.

I see written the names of family members now dead, many I know to still be alive.  "Spirit!" I plead, "What is this awful future?  My loved ones gone so soon?  Won't I have more time with them?"

In what feels like a second of time, he blinks, and we are now in a large white room filled with paper and pens, and in the center, a computer.  A tiny stack of papers is labeled, "Successes," but throughout the rest of the large room, there are only empty pages representing stories left unwritten or unread. 

It's at this point where my sadness is now just a numb feeling of despair, and I completely resent this spirit for showing me all this.  I open my mouth to curse him, but we are now in a graveyard covered with snow.  A tombstone rises up from the earth, and the strikes of an old-fashioned typewriter slowly type out my name...with a typo, no less.

"Nooooooooooo!!!" I yell.  I see the year of death, and I shake my head furiously back and forth in denial.  "No, this cannot be.  I can't have lived such a short life.  No, please, spirit, please tell me this is only the possible future.  Why else would you be showing me all this if it is already certain?!"  He stares at me emotionless, and watches me writhe in pain.  With every tear I cry, he does nothing.  Just when I'm about to charge at him, he pushes his bony arm straight through me, and I feel all the truth of his message, all the possibility.  I gaze up into his cold, heartless gaze, and I...

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

My Ghost of Christmas Present

December 17, 2014
Day 231

The specter of my past is gone, and long minutes pass as I wait in wonder.  Finally, the clock bells ring out again in the silence of the night, and before I know it, I'm face to face with a most unusual creature.  The Ghost of Christmas Present is the happiest, friendliest being I've ever encountered, but something in the twinkle of her eye tells me she has something up her sleeve as well.

We first journey to my job, where I see my colleagues in their pre-Christmas rush, trying to get all their work done ahead of the festivities to come.  Someone jokes to someone else that I've put on some weight again lately.  I frown to feel the sting of the words, and the truth in the statement. 

We quickly pass into the homes of all my family members, the ones I'm closest to, as well as the ones I'm furthest from.  I'm made to feel all the love, despite the distance, both literal and emotional, and the ghost shows me all the potential love and connections too. 

Next we travel to the homes of all my friends, the ones I see all the time, as well as the ones I haven't seen in years.  I'm reminded of how much love I've experienced with so many of them, but also how much more I've never felt too.  The spirit shows me with each new soul how I can rekindle some relationships and let go of others who are meant to stay in my past.  I laugh and I cry with the wisdom she brings me, and I try to keep learning as much as I can.

Quickly--too quickly--I'm back at home, and shown my house and my partner Andy.  I see all the potential there too, the jobs and home improvement projects waiting to be done, as well as the many ways I can be even closer to Andy in the future, to give him an even better life.

A mighty breeze comes through the open window, calling my attention away.  When I look back, the spirit is gone, and I'm once again alone in the darkness, wondering what comes next.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

My Ghost of Christmas Past

December 16, 2014
Day 230

So many happy memories, so many fond recollections of days gone by, years gone by, lives long gone.

My Ghost of Christmas Past would undoubtedly show me plenty of joyful occasions from my childhood, as well as tons of happy times from high school, college, and even my 20s and 30s.  Yet the job description, as I understand it, is to bring the person reminders of who they ought to be, and maybe point them to a place in time where they began to change.

Where was this moment, I ask myself.  When did I go from carefree to stressed out, from patient to impatient, and from accepting to judgmental?  How did I get from one place to another, from one kind of person to another?  Why did I let myself change?

At 39 years old, I have high blood pressure, and often get stressed out over the silliest possible things.  Why do I let small matters matter so much?  Why do I permit this?

At 39 years old, I'm too often a very impatient person, watching the clock too often, expecting change too quickly.  Why do I do I allow impatience to rule my life so often?  Why do I permit this?

And at 39 years old, I'm so judgmental so often.  I pass judgment even when I tell myself not to, and far too often feel superior to friends and family for reacting to situations better than they do, or making different choices in words and deeds.  Why do I allow my ego to run rampant like this?  Why do I permit this?

My Ghost of Christmas Past shows me the young man I once was: the happy toddler, the hard-working employee, and the dedicated altar boy and monk.  I see all my best moments, but also some of my turning points, the ways I began to change.  Most of all, I'm haunted by the ways in which my younger self could have made better choices earlier in life. 

I'm grateful for the man I am right now, and appreciate all the ways in which I learned and grew as a human being, but I can't help but see the roads I didn't take, the lessons I never learned, and the choices in retrospect I should not have made.  Like any good Scrooge, I'm left now to ponder my Christmas Past, and more importantly, to learn as much as I can from the long glance backward.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Scrooge In Me

December 15, 2014 
Day 229

Most of the time, I'm not a Scrooge.  I do my best to be generous with my time as much as my money.  For this week though, this last full week before Christmas, I'm going to explore some of the ways I am a Scrooge.

Mr. Scrooge's kind young assistant, Bob Cratchit, asks for Christmas off, and though he's granted this wish, he's also ordered to come in early the next day.  Now I'm a hard worker, and I expect hard work from my employees or colleagues when I'm put in charge.  I often demand too much of them, and I grow far too serious far too quickly when they are relaxing too much on the job.  I have trouble fully relaxing until the job is done.

Old Ebenezer Scrooge gives nothing to charity.  I often feel as though I don't give as much as I could, and wonder if I keep too much for myself.  Andy reminds me how poor I am at saving money, and how quickly what little I do save could be gone in an emergency, but I still can't shake the fact that I might sometimes do more than I already do.

But Scrooge is known for more than just his stinginess, and his stringent work ethics.  It's his relationships, or lack thereof, that really pull on our heartstrings.  He turns his back on his own nephew, and derides him and others for wanting to celebrate the holidays--or any day at all--in such a cruel, miserable world.  How do I do this?  Well, I'll explore this more later in the week, but for now I'll just say, I do often make myself an outsider more than I should.  I see a gathering, even one I'm at, and though I'm included, I too often feel apart from it all too.  I don't know if it still stems from my years away from the family when I was a monk, but I need to work on this, and I plan to in the future.  For now, it's something I continue to stew on with deep consideration.

Charles Dickens was only 31 when he wrote the story of Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, but he was already well aware of the trappings of life, the miseries felt so keenly by so many poor people of his time, and the overwhelming need for inspiration, especially at Christmas.  As I go through the next few days, I hope and pray to follow in his Dickensian footsteps, by learning about old Ebenezer through his eyes.  Because if you stop to think about it, that's where we find our hearts lifted most, when we seek not just to inspire, but to fully respect the feelings of those in most need of our inspiration.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

My Christmas Morning Tradition

Andy checking his stocking on Christmas morning
December 14, 2014
Day 228

I grew up in a large, three-story house--large by necessity, because ours is a very large family.  I have five brothers and five sisters, and though not all of us lived under the same roof, most did.  That meant we needed the 7 or 8 bedrooms and three bathrooms we had.

So as you can begin to imagine, Christmas morning was VERY BIG when I was growing up.  7 AM was the start time, and there would be no deviating from that, my sister Marilyn and I made sure.  We must have been awake by 6:30 or 6:45 at the latest, and we quickly began making sure the entire household was getting up.
Our tree with presents for each other ready to be unwrapped

My adult brain can't even conceive of such an early start now, nor can I understand how my family allowed us to make this happen.  (I can only guess that as children, we were the main focus of attention in those years, and they enjoyed how much we loved Christmas morning.)

So picture the scene: it's around 7:00 AM on Christmas morning, my parents have gone downstairs now to plug in the tree and start the coffee.  "Ooh, Santa was here," my mom or dad might say.  My little sister and I are sitting at the top of the second-floor landing, surrounded by several of our older brothers and sisters. 

"Okay," my mom or dad eventually tell us, and like a herd of elephants, we stampede down the stairs and into the living room, each of us taking seats around the large room. 

That's right, we didn't even rush to the tree to start opening presents.  The excitement of the morning needed to be paced out just perfectly.  We looked at the tree, and saw what my child brain guessed were about four hundred thousand presents, but we waited patiently for my parents to run the show.  Stockings were taken down from in front of the fireplace first, and we each had one.  Then, once we were done with that, my mother would begin handing us presents, one at a time.  "To Sean, From Santa," I'd hear, and my excitement was off the frickin' charts. 

The whole process would take maybe 45 minutes at most, but it was so much fun, and so amazing in hindsight to experience it as part of such a large family.  I'll never forget those years, and I'm so grateful to my parents and siblings for always making it so special for us.

Now it's just Andy and me, and though I love him more than I can ever possibly express, I do still miss the way things used to be.  I do my best though  to make our Christmas morning special anyway.  I get up first, always earlier than Andy, and now I'm the one who makes the coffee and turns on the tree--and I plug in all the other Christmas lights too.  I set the mood with some Christmas music, and then I wait.  And then I wait some more.  And then, after a while longer, I keep waiting, hoping Andy will soon wake up. 

The kid in me is still very much there, I realize all the time, and Christmas morning will always be incredibly special to me.  No matter how old I get, no matter how many years continue to pass, I still have all the excitement of that little boy sitting at the top of the stairs, waiting for the magic to begin.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

This Life I've Lived

Rome, 1996

December 13, 2014
Day 227

I have stood in the Coliseum in Rome, gazed across the majesty of the Grand Canyon, marveled in the mist of Niagara Falls, and been floored by the beauty of Galway Bay.  I’ve been kissed under The Eiffel Tower, been to Disneyland and Disney World, traveled to Italy, Ireland, Canada, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, England, and France. 

I’ve been an altar boy and Bishop’s server, and gave four years of my life as a monk in a Roman Catholic religious order.  I've heard Mother Teresa speak live in my local parish, and got within 20 feet of her as she left the church.  I attended an audience with Pope John Paul II in Rome, a mass celebrated by him too where we had seats right up near the front, and attended other speeches by him on both sides of the Atlantic.

Grand Canyon, 2006
I have stared at the bones of Saint Peter from less than 10 feet away, toured the Secret Vatican Archives with its curator, and participated in a private mass held several levels below ground in the catacombs of ancient Rome.

I've been to 26 states including Hawaii, where I watched the sun rise from the top of Mount Haleakala, rode in a submarine out between the Hawaiian islands, and swam underwater with a giant sea turtle.   

I was a member of the Publishers Clearing House Prize Patrol, and surprised people with big checks, balloons, flowers, and champagne.  I've been on network television twice, have an autographed Golden Ticket from the original Mike Teevee, who I also e-mailed with, and I've toured the Guinness factory in Dublin, Ireland.  I've flown first class, eaten fish and chips in an English back garden, and once had a delicious lunch at the top of the CN Tower in Toronto.   

I've written hundreds of poems, some of which have been published through both professional and college presses, I've read the Bible cover to cover, I can recite and sing the alphabet backwards for you, and I've found true love.

London, 2007
I have preached over a dozen homilies to the monks I lived with, and lived at four different locations, all on Long Island.  I have dipped my hand into the Trevi Fountain in Rome, the Thames in London, and the Seine in Paris.  I have been blessed with five brothers and five sisters, many nieces and nephews, and one great niece.  I have received multiple messages from Heaven, including some from my deceased loved ones.  My father's soul appeared to me on a train seconds after he died.  We spoke for about 10 seconds, and it was an experience I'll never forget.

I've been to Las Vegas several times, and even won a thousand dollars on a slot machine.  I've stared out from The Statue of Liberty's crown, and seen New York from the top of the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, and the observation deck of the Twin Towers.  I slept on the steps of the New York City Post Office the night of the 2003 blackout.  I've been the victim of an attempted mugging.  I've stolen from relatives, and shoplifted from a supermarket.  I've been kissed on the lips by a stranger in a bar, been a ring bearer at one wedding, read a prayer at another, and caught the garter at a third. 

Summer 2002 with Andy
I've been thanked for saving someone’s life, been nominated for Volunteer of the Year, and won the Humanitarian of the Year award in my local community.  

One year I proofread the shareholder letters of Kenneth Cole, Steve Wynn, and Jeffrey Katzenberg.  I was in Little League as a kid, and one night hit a triple that brought in three runners, winning us the game.  I umpired a Little League game in high school once, too.  I've been a babysitter, a Newsday delivery boy, and worked various jobs in my local A&P during high school.  I was even trusted to run the Produce Department while the manager was away on vacation. 

I failed out of my first high school, but ended up living there as a monk years later.  I graduated cum laude from Manhattan College with degrees in English Literature and Theology. 

I've seen Billy Elliot The Musical 56 times between London, Broadway, and on tour.  I've met and become friends with cast members and their families, danced on the stage of The Imperial Theatre on Broadway, and made countless friends through theatre and Billy Elliot as well.

I grew up in the same house on Long Island that actress Ann Meara did.  I've toured the U.N., Central Park, and NBC Studios.  I’ve seen the Declaration of Independence and the Papal Bulls protesting the marriage of King Henry VIII to Catherine of Aragon.  I’ve had long conversations with Andy Kaufman’s brother Michael, who I used to work with.  I attended a private screening of Man on the Moon with the Kaufman family and some of Andy Kaufman's friends. 

I've had to jump over fences and run to escape arrest.  I've marched on Washington for the rights of the unborn, and twice marched down 5th Avenue in Manhattan for gay rights.  I've written and published two books, and I'm writing three more at the moment.  Along with my sister and her friend, I once got a “wave” going at a Mets' game in Shea Stadium. 

I've toured Westminster Abbey in London, Notre Dame in Paris, and St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  I've visited the Hollywood Hills and stood near the famous Hollywood sign, I've driven down 8 Mile Road in Michigan, and I've stood inside the home of Saint Augustine.  I was once in a small room in Vermont at the Calvin Coolidge homestead, and a man who played guitar with Elvis Presley introduced himself to a woman whose father played in a band for Calvin Coolidge.  I've walked through the Sistine Chapel, and I've stared into the eyes of Mona Lisa.

I recently celebrated 13 beautiful years with my beautiful partner Andy, we bought our house together in a little town I've always loved, and I've had countless other wonderful experiences with him over the years.  I certainly hope and pray to have countless more in the future!

These are just SOME of the many beautiful life experiences I have had so far in my first 40 years of life on Planet Earth.  I pray God will let me make many more memories for years to come!

Friday, December 12, 2014

All Wrapped Up

December 12, 2014
Day 226

Somewhere around 8 or 9 PM on December 25th, we'll look around us, and realize it's all over.

We'll see the wrapping paper crammed into garbage bags, the presents tossed beneath the tree, and the snow falling softly outside the window (I like to dream).  It'll all be over, just like that.  All the card writing, all the decorating, all the wrapping, and even all the unwrapping.  All of it will just be done, gone, finished, tossed aside like those cards, presents, and wrapping paper.  And that's when we'll remember.  We'll remember that it was never about the cards, the gifts, or the decorations anyway.  It was all, always, about the magic of the season.

The holiday--holy day--began with a little baby born in a stable, and though there were gifts presented him that day, the gifts or their bearers were hardly the center of attention, the reason for the season.  It was, and always will be, about the child, and the miracle that brought him here to begin with.  As we go through these hurried last two weeks before Christmas, we need to remember this.  We need to remember the spirit and love of the day, and less the hoopla and stress. 

Most of all, we need to spend every day now these last two weeks in joyful appreciation for the magic and beauty of the season.  In every exchange of gifts and every exchange of smiles and hugs, we reclaim the magic for ourselves, and we joyfully forget about all the work we had to do along the way.  So join me, will you?  We'll make this pact together.  Let's make a conscious choice to not wrap ourselves up in stress.  Instead, let's spend each new day unwrapping more and more of the Christmas spirit.  It's the gift that comes completely free, without stress of any kind, and doesn't even need to be wrapped.  This whole Christmas season is the gift you're hoping to get, and it can be yours even before Christmas if you just slow down, and truly appreciate all the beautiful moments.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

I need a little Christmas

December 11, 2014
Day 225

You know that spark of energy you get several times this season, when just the right happy feeling at just the right moment inspires you to decorate, buy presents, or write cards?  Well this year, it's taking me a little longer to find that.

I've done the lion's share of decorating, I've started my cards, and God knows I've been working hard on finishing off my shopping list for gifts, but I'm still not quite there.  Today's the 11th of December, and I'm quickly running out of time.  Two weeks from today, Christmas will be here!  And what do I have to show for myself so far?  Only about 40% of what I need to do between now and December 25th!

As I wrote the title to this piece, I could already imagine those who want the opposite--a literal reading of the title, if you will.  They literally want a little Christmas, and no more.  And I get that.  I really, really do.  For me though, Christmas brings back so many happy memories, and I try my best to fully enjoy each new Christmas I'm blessed to experience, as well as bring as many happy moments to my loved ones' Christmas, too.

So today, I'm putting myself in pre-energy mode.  I know I need to locate that magical spark of Christmas joy by this weekend, if for no other reason then to get my decorating and Christmas cards done!  My plan is to watch a few Christmas movies (I have two stacks of films I watch every year at this time), play some Christmas music, and just try to really enjoy it all as much as I can.  With any luck, I'll have most of the work done by the end of the weekend, so more of the fun parts of the season can arrive right on schedule in the days leading up to Christmas Day!  Wish me luck!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

My Monastery

The school's beautiful front entrance.
December 10, 2014
Day 224

I never felt like a co-owner of the building, but I did firmly believe I'd always be there, always be a monk until the day I died.  I gave up my life to the service of God as a religious brother, and my home during those four years was at Chaminade High School in Mineola, New York.
The Olympic-size swimming pool just steps from my bedroom door.

I never felt like I owned the school, a school I actually failed out of in 1990, but the monastery did always feel like my own.  When I walked the halls of the brothers' house, I felt like I was walking through a special place I'd always dwell in, and always be.

I had many difficult days there as Brother Sean.  It was a time in my life right after high school when I fully came to terms with the fact that I was a gay man, and I subsequently went through a very difficult bout with clinical depression, too.  The support I received from my superiors could be characterized as warm at best, far from loving.  I'd be offered a tissue, but never a hug, for instance.  And the way they showed me the door, followed by the cold shoulder these past 17 years, has hardly made me feel close to them since.

And yet I'd be lying if I said I didn't still want to be close to them, and to the community.  They were my brothers for just over four years, and like any family, we had our challenges together.  I still care very much for and about them, and I am forever grateful to them all for the help and guidance they gave me while I was there.

The monastery they still call their home was once my home too, and it's a place I will always think of with great fondness and happy memories.  No matter what struggles and issues befell me there, it was still my monastery, my home, and in some way, whether or not I ever step foot on those grounds again, I know it always will be.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Spider by My Sink

December 9, 2014
Day 223

I'm in a long-term rehabilitation program right now to treat my arachnophobia.  I "checked myself in" to this self-made program at some point in the past year or two, after finally realizing my fear was just controlling me too much.

So far, I've been doing well.  I even had a major breakthrough last winter while watching a camel cricket get caught in a web inside my house.  Just seeing a spider do something that good made me feel so much better about having any of those arachnids in the house!

Today I want to tell you about the spider I keep seeing by my kitchen sink.  He's been there for the past two weeks or so, and doesn't bother me at all.  In fact, he usually stays hidden.  You know that pull-out faucet some kitchen sinks have on the side?  Well this little guy has made a little home for himself in a small hole in the back of the tube for that thing.  All I can ever see of him is one or two legs hanging out from the inside.

Can you imagine that?  With just one leg out, he can tell what's going on outside his little hole.  Isn't that cool?!  With just one-eighth of his appendages, he knows what dangers may lurk outside, what the situation is in my kitchen, and when it's safe or unsafe for him to come out.

I marvel at this, I really do!  And I wonder what life would be like if I could do this too.  What if I could just wrap three fingers around my bedroom door to know whether the house was warm enough for me to come out on a cold winter's morning?  What if with just half a foot out, I could tell whether the mailman had come, or if the rain was falling outside?  What kinds of tricks could we do with this kind of security and power?

I'm still afraid of spiders, but I've come a long, long way in just the past year.  I'm learning to hate them less, and appreciate them more.  When I see one scramble out of a radiator or from behind my washing machine, I still jump and shriek, but I don't subsequently loathe the creatures like I used to.  Instead, I talk to them.  I thank them for capturing those hideous camel crickets I will forever hate and fear (with no regret).  I wish them well on their journeys too, and sometimes even escort them outside my house on a paper plate or inside a container--a far cry from the murder I used to commit.

Spiders serve a purpose, after all, and the spider by my sink?  Well, maybe he's been secretly saving my life from smaller insects, who knows?  I hope to discover the secrets to this spider's super powers one day soon, but in the mean time, I'll keep marveling with a smile at his one leg dangling out from that hole.  I'll smile to know he's got some secrets to life I still don't.  And for now, that's enough to make me appreciate his company, if not yet his friendship.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The December Blur

December 8, 2014
Day 222

I just feel weird today.  Every day this month is just one big blur, isn't it?  I like the blur, I enjoy the blur, and I look forward to the blur every year, but that doesn't take away from the fact that it can all be very blurry.

Those of us who celebrate Christmas are always forgetting the Hanukkah celebrations our Jewish friends and family are having, and they--well, some of them wish they could forget our celebrations, because let's face it, Christmas is everywhere right now!  At least by me in New York, you can't drive down a single block without seeing some decorations out front, and I think the Christmas music actually began at some point the week after July 4th this year.

In my family alone, we've got at least six birthdays this month, and when you add in holiday parties, concerts and theatre events, Christmas movies, TV shows ending for the year, Christmas cards to write, and Christmas presents to buy and wrap, it's literally one giant blur of a month.  So yeah, I'm just feeling weird today, and it's partly because I have a mountain of important things on my to-do list right now, and by my math, it's an impossible feat to accomplish it all.  Still, I always do.  Year after year, I bitch and I moan, and somehow, through some kind of holiday magic, it all comes together. 

I guess what I'm trying to say is, the blur is hard to appreciate sometimes.  When so much comes at you so fast, so much to do and so many places to be, you can't help but feel a little weird.  And when this happens, as it seems to be happening to me today, I think it's best to just sit and let it happen to you.  Take a breath and wait until your vision catches up to itself.  Wait until the blurs feel less blurry, and the hurrying less hurried.  Let yourself just sit down from time to time and do nothing.  Relax.  Have a sip of hot chocolate, or whatever your favorite warm beverage may be.  Be grateful the holiday season is here, and just appreciate every part of it.

Isn't that nice?

Okay, good.  Break's over!  Get back on the sleigh!  We've got a long ride still ahead of us!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Holiday Glow

December 7, 2014
Day 221

Yesterday, I finally began putting up my Christmas decorations.  I don't go overboard, and I don't have a large house anyway, but I like to do my best.

Some parts of the process always remain the same, like the placement of the real Christmas tree we buy each year so it's safely away from the fireplace and radiators.  I like to keep the holiday houses on the mantel above the fireplace too, sometimes with different elevations created by books underneath the fake snow.  Other decorations I switch up fairly often, trying out new ideas each year.

No matter where a Santa Claus or snowman decoration is placed though, the overall goal is always the same: creating a beautiful, magical glow to the house. 

Soft lighting in as many different places as possible works best, with as many pops of color as I can squeeze in too.  It takes a long time to achieve all this, especially considering the mess of boxes I start with, but somehow I always get it done, and always feel great about the results.

But why do I really do all this decorating?  Why do I spend so much time?  Because Christmas, for me, is so much about every Christmas I've ever experienced.  It brings me back to my awesome childhood, and the many fun Christmases my parents and family gave me year after year.  I want my guests to feel this magic as much as I do, and to bask not just in the glow I've created through a series of decorations, but in the glow of their own fond memories too.

Each Christmas is every Christmas.  It's another chance to tap into the one Christmas we believe in our hearts goes on forever.  It's a holiday glow we never lose, but only rekindle this time of year.  We spend so much time preparing our homes and hearts for just one day each year because it's never about just one day.  It's about how this special feeling glows within us, and wants to glow forever.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Andy "Miss Treats" Me

December 6, 2014
Day 220

When Andy and I first started dating, I'd eat whatever I wanted and it wouldn't affect me at all.  Soda, potato chips, you name it--my 26-year-old body and I got along jusssssst fine.

And then the change happened.  The sugars and sweets I was used to eating started piling on with a voracity not seen since JAWS played with his very first chew toy.  I don't know how else to explain it.  When before fat would simply "move on" from me, it began to stick around and put up tents.  Then once gentrification set in, there were quickly condos and then mansions of fat all over my body.

Diet Pepsi was soon my savior.  I didn't like the taste at first, but I quickly grew used to it.  All that caffeine and zero calories?  What is this magic?!  But even that has now sadly ended.

As I wrote on October 10th (Day 163), Andy recently intervened, and got me off of artificial sweeteners.  That means no more diet soda and no more Equal or Sweet'N Low in my coffee.  Real sugar's okay, but I gotta be careful with that again now too.

In 2012-2013, I lost over 40 pounds, but in 2014, I gained about 10-15 back.  I've slipped and I've fallen on this icy path to better health, and still haven't really gotten my body balanced perfectly.  Now that I'm back on real sugar again, I have to watch my drink calories again, and that's only half the struggle I'm facing.  Real sugar is affecting my body differently than fake sugar did, and I need to really pay attention to the signals my body gives me along the way.

All of this of course is my way of saying that Andy "miss treats" me.  He makes me miss my treats!  He won't let me have them, and sometimes?  Well, sometimes I genuinely sulk in response!  He really can be quite cruel, you know?  He helps me lose weight and get fit and healthy, he watches what processed meat, sugars, artificial sweeteners, and other unhealthy stuff goes into my body, and he's helping me so, so much...the jerk.  Who does he think he is saving my life like this?  Where does he get off caring about me this much? 

All jokes aside, I really do need Andy's help every time he gives it to me.  I've pleaded with him at times to be gentle with me, to understand how much of a struggle fitness and healthy eating is for me, but overall, he's been great.  He really has helped me stay on the right path, and even looks the other way often enough to let me enjoy a treat here and there too! 

So thank you, Andy.  Thank you for "miss treat"ing me.  Thank you for caring about me enough to offer yourself up as "the bad guy".  I hate it, I really, really do.  But I love you very much, and truly appreciate everything you continue to do for me.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Gift of Hell

December 5, 2014 
Day 219

I've never liked the phrase, "go to hell".  It's just always stung me as an incredibly hurtful, awful thing to say to someone.  You wish someone would go to hell?  Seriously?  Whether you believe in hell or not, such a phrase intends unimaginable levels of pain and suffering for all eternity.  How could such a thing possibly be justified after any kind of evil act here on earth? 

Worst of all, I'll hear the phrase shouted just based on someone getting cut off on the parkway.  Huh???  The person cut you off, and now you hope they'll be sentenced to the fires of hell for all eternity as payment for their "sin" against you?

I just don't get it.
Time and time again, we treat hell like a stupid throwaway phrase.  We hurl it at people like it's a stone we've found nearby, something we can quickly attack someone with.

But hell isn't like this at all.  It's a place--whether you believe in it or not--where God throws people who have committed really grave, malicious acts against others.  God takes these tiny little souls, who He's created and raised since they were just a glint in His planet-sized eye, and He throws them away in the furnace down in the basement.  He watches them burn, slowly, for all time, all eternity, forever and ever and ever, amen.

And therein lies the problem.  Can you really imagine God doing this?  Being so bloodthirsty and hateful?  Forgive me for saying this, but if you can imagine exactly that, you have a truly fucked up notion of God right there.  You and your version of God are really sick motherfuckers, and it's kind of--no, really frightening to the rest of us.

Now I'll agree with you in part: the concept of hell is a pretty good sign that we all know our sheep from our goats, but wouldn't only a so-called goat want to see his fellow goats tortured and burned like that for all eternity?  A child of God would not.  God him- or herself would not.  The gift of hell, then, is the knowledge of who created hell, and who did not.  The gift of hell is the knowledge that it's just a nightmare, just a contrived fantasy land dreamed up by some sick goats long, long ago.

I believe in the very real likelihood that I'll have to answer for my sins and hurtful deeds one day.  I believe that some acts are so grave they will mean some kind of important judgment from God.  I even believe in the concept of good and not-so-good souls seeing a different entrance experience in the afterlife.  But I will never believe in the version of hell so many have spread over the years.  I refuse to believe in such a thing.  A god who throws his children away, who watches them burn in a furnace for all of time?  No thanks.  You can keep that god if you'd like, but I know in my heart that God loves us all, and would never, ever, ever do such a thing to her children.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Problem of Heaven

December 4, 2014
Day 218

Imagine there's a horrible natural disaster that's just beginning to hit, and you're quickly whisked away into a completely safe shelter with lots of big, safe windows. 

You and a whole bunch of other people are safe, but you stand there watching in horror as millions more perish outside.

Sound cool?  Sound fun?  No, it doesn't.  The problem with some ideas about heaven is the same thing.  They see it as a place where the wicked aren't allowed in, and in fact the list of what you need to do and the person you need to be is so long for some people, it's hard to imagine many at all would ever get inside.  The tiny shelter looks tinier and tinier all the time.

This journey I'm on right now from 39 to 40 quickly became a journey of perspective.  Right from the beginning, as I began telling you about fun or interesting stories from my life, or shared my thoughts on various topics, I realized I was like a man standing above the fog line, looking down on his city, before deciding where to go next.  Is Heaven where I'll go after I die?  I believe so.  I believe so.  It is my belief that we are all welcome there, and will all be sheltered from the storms of this world.

The problem of heaven is not that people are actually locked out, or sentenced to hell.  The problem of heaven is, some human beings would like you to think this.  They've written down their stories in books, and they've convinced you that because their stories are thousands of years old, they must be true (you know, like Poseidon and Zeus).  They must have been written by God, or at least been heavily influenced by Him.  I'm not sure why this is.  I'm not sure why verses about stoning people to death for their sins is considered God's holy word, and don't get me started on the many silly passages detailing what kind of haircuts we should have or how our crops should be laid out. 

At some point in life, your eyes are either opened or they're not.  At some point, you either realize what's good and what's not so good about scripture, or you do not.  At some point, you either believe God loves us all or you believe God sends many, many souls to hell for all eternity, and you realize both can't be true.  The problem of heaven isn't a real problem at all; some people just make it a problem, and they really need to stop doing that.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

This is the year

December 3, 2014
Day 217

I guess I always knew this would happen, but it's surprising me anyway.  40 seems like a normal age to finally start showing the usual signs of aging, but for me, it's definitely been 40th year.

Part of me wonders if it's because I chose to document my 40th year of life in this daily journal, because I truly am taking a long look at things every single day of this year.  But I think just as likely is the chance that my body's finally ready to begin crumbling.  Muscles, bones, organs, tissue--all of it has begun deteriorating at a frightening pace, and I fear there's no escape now from my imminent, ultimate, irreversible demise.

Too much?

Okay, fine.  All I know is, this year is when it all started.  This is the year: 39.  Mark your calendars now, younger friends!  Your 40th year of life on Earth, the year you're "happily" still 39?  Yeah, well, Father Time, that son of a bitch, is gonna come for you a little earlier than you'd originally guessed!

You'll be looking at yourself in the mirror one day and then bam!  White hairs are waving at you from the hairline above your ear, and more start sprouting up in your facial hair too.  Just as you're forming the words What The Fu--, your heartburn will start up, followed right afterward by pain in your knees, back, and feet.  You'll stumble to the couch just in time for your vision and hearing to get a little worse all of a sudden.  And then, as you put on your glasses to watch TV, you'll realize how stupid the shows and music of "this generation" is becoming.  A kid will run past your house calling to a friend and you'll shout, "Shut the hell up!" and you'll shake your newspaper at him, or your fist, whichever is closest (don't hurt yourself now).  Finally, you'll sit back down to watch your TV and wonder why the dang thing freezes up as much as it does (you'll start saying dang more too).

All of this begins, my dear, dear friends, at age 39.  Yep.

Resistance is futile, too, so just put on your favorite cardigan, pour yourself a nice delicious glass of prune juice, and line up your regimen of pills.  Oh, and don't forget to stop by at Old Joe's Barbershop later.  Really need to get those ear hairs trimmed a bit, dang nabbit!