Saturday, December 31, 2011

Long December, My Ass....

I am sitting here in Kim’s kitchen drinking butter pecan coffee out of the picture mug Roni & Jude gave me. Kim and I have been doing our usual morning talking while she makes whatever amazing breakfast. This morning, I’m getting biscuits to go with marmalade. Yum.
The realization has just hit how very different 2012 is going to be as compared to how I started 2011. For the first time in years, I actually have hope rather than just wanting to get the year over with. The line from Long December by the Counting Crows comes to mind, “Maybe next year will be better than the last.” Not this time.
2011 began with a single Robby. Over the past 12 months, he’s had a lot of changes. Single Rob is a memory. He met an amazing girl on E-harmony. She decided to open her life to him so he met two outstanding kids. They quickly became whatever the 21st century considers a nuclear family in the making.
This picture changed my life. I saw it on E-Harm and had to meet this woman.
2011 started out with Single Robby being End Stage Kidney Disease’s bitch. He got better though. A lot better. Robby switched his dialysis after fighting his insurance company and threatening legal action. Something changed in Robby and he realized that he didn’t have to rely on bottom dollar suits in an Atlanta office to deem what form of dialysis is best.  Home hemo was rough to learn but now he does it every day at his home and in a comfy chair his drill sergeant friend stole from the army. He feels great and believes that by this time next year, Kidney Disease will be his bitch.
2011 started off with Single Robby starting his next big thing, The Afternoon Tide. As the year ends, he realizes it’s not even close to what the project visualized in his head but that can be remedied. He is happy that, as of tomorrow, he will have been writing continuously for one straight year.  He’s always loved telling a story but now he really gets into writing a good story too.
2011 brings a lot of honorable mentions in the life and times of Robby. He took his first family vacation since 1982.  Pretending to be a pirate became a somewhat lucrative side job. He met Greg Allman over milk shakes in Richmond Hill. Robby finally got to use all his years of Star Wars knowledge for something useful (impressing a seven year old). He matched wits with a ten year old girl until they finally made a truce and began to respect then love each other. In a million years, Robby would have never thought he’d dress up like a Wookie for Halloween with said seven year old as Han Solo. They received honorable mention on’s costume contest. Robby finally met someone he could cook in the kitchen successfully and they did a kick ass Thanksgiving. Dave the Elf and Robby the Santa went Christmas shopping in their costumes at Target which led to much Christmas cheer. Robby had the best Christmas ever with his new and old family. For a bit, his mom was back. He stood his ground when a sad, little man got in his face and threatened him in front of his mother. That part is not going well but Robby is doing fine because his sister and fiancé’ are there for him.
A lot of things happened to Robby in 2011. Some of it sucked. The cool thing is there’s more good than bad. Not good, great.
2011 brought so much laughter in this guy’s life that Robby looks at 2012 and is excited to see what happens next. Rumor has it that there might even be a wedding……
Bring it on 2012. Robby feels invincible.

Monday, December 26, 2011

It's Not Such a Bad Little Tree...

I don’t know if this is normal for other people who write blogs but often I find myself starting out with a clear idea in my head and somehow a whole other creature turns up by the end. Take this blog as an example. For the past three times, I have been trying to write about Christmas traditions. Every time something new pops in and suddenly, I find myself down a different road. Not today. I don’t care if it’s the day after Christmas; we’re doing this, people!
            To me, I think that’s another reason in making Christmas so relatable to everyone. We all have a process and everyone can appreciate the similarities and differences. Everyone loves to share and I love hearing about them. Kim and I even discovered a show on the all Christmas radio station with this horribly cheesy DJ called Delilah. She plays soft rock Xmas music and in breaks, takes callers with the ways they spend the holidays. The calls are usually pretty good but then Delilah has to open her mouth and say something very morning talk-showish. It’s so bad that Kim and take turns pretending to be the callers with horrible traditions like squirrel putting or how grandpa always puts up the mannequin of Santa on the chimney taking a dump. It’s very 9th graderish but then again our humor isn’t always reflective of the sophisticated people we are. Ahem.
            The Big Guy was pretty regimented in his traditions. For as laid back as he could come off, the holidays transpired with almost drill sergeant precision. I used to joke to myself that if our family had a coat of arms then somewhere in Latin was the phrase, “There is a certain way to do things.” It was my father’s creed.
            Take the Richardson family Tree for instance. Growing up in the mountains of North Georgia, Dad always dreamed of cutting down his own tree from the forest. After someone broke into Dr. Dotson’s and Rev. Kay’s Xmas Tree farm and stole every tree, the Big Guy had his chance. Packing the family, the dog and even and axe into his ’75 Blazer, off to the National Forest we drove.
            The Big Guy was determined we’d have an old fashioned family Christmas ( I swear he said it and had not seen Christmas Vacation which meant he didn’t understand why I’d laugh every time he’d say it). Unfortunately, why there are many trees to select from in the forest, they are not groomed to lush, full ornament holding structures like we’d come to expect. 19-year-old Robby enjoyed pointing this out on a repeated basis. To further illustrate myself, I even went so far as to pick up my nine-year-old sister and pass her through one of the holes in the tree. My mother did what she always did best in those days. She ran interference and somehow I had to hike back to the blazer to get the water.
            When I returned, I froze. As I trudged through the chilly North GA air and over a ridge, I could see my father’s body language and tell he was proud of himself. Uh oh. The Big Guy was holding not one but two trees. My sister was excited because this meant a tree to decorate, the dog was doing laps, and my mom seemed perplexed. I could tell she was trying to figure this one out but at the same time not set off the Big Guy’s creative sensibilities. It was a tightrope she could walk blindfolded and with explosions going off. 19-year-old Robby saw this as another opportunity to match wits with his arch nemesis, Dad Man.
            “Robert, how is this going to work?” my mom asked carefully.
            “Jan, it’s simple. None of these trees are full enough but if you take them like this,” The Big Guy wove the two pine trees together. “Bam, you’ve got one full tree!”
            Mary began clapping her hands together. Mom can’t decide if he’s on board and I saw this as my chance to yank the old man’s chain a bit.
            I took a deep breath and went for final vector with no warning. “Not a bad idea but how are we going to keep the damn thing upright? It’s not going to fit in our stand much less be too top heavy once the ornaments are hung.”  I was a bit full of myself at this point.
            “Watch your language, your little sister is here. “ The Big Guy corrected.”Don’t worry about the tree, I’ll figure something out and make it work.
            To drive home the point that the time for discussion was done, the Big Guy began hiking toward his Blazer with tree in tow. He left the bigger tree behind for me to drag back along with the chainsaw and axe. “I really got to remember to keep my mouth shut,” I reflected.
Christmas 1988

            Upon returning to the house, the Big Guy disappeared for several hours to tinker in his shop set up in the garage. I took my cue and began to get Xmas decorations out of the attic to avoid working together. I’d learn years ago that the Big Guy and Robby don’t mix with power tools. Many swear words later, a device was constructed and a Xmas tree was upright in our dining room.
            Looking back, I have to give props to the Big Guy. It looked good. Mom was not thrilled about having to set the tree in a small washtub in on her oriental rug but somehow the Big Guy placated her. Mary put the first ornament on our old fashioned family Christmas tree. We stood back to admire her handiwork only to watch the tree fall over on top of her.
            “Told you it’d be too top heavy.” 19-year-old Robby had impeccable timing.
After my father picked the tree up off my little sister, he disappeared into the garage. Ten minutes later he returned w/ string, hammer, and nails. His idea was so ingenious that I even tried to do the same back during the first Christmas during my experimental marriage project to Satan’s daughter. It did not go ver as well as when teh Big Guy did it. My father used camouflage fishing string tied to two, tiny nails. No one could see the string and our old fashioned Christmas tree made it through the holidays.
We never came up with a name for this Christmas tradition but up until the Big Guy passed away, we’d always go out that first weekend in December to collect two trees which we’d bring home. Once, the Big Guy got so ambitious, he even wove together three trees.
I don’t really miss this tradition but love telling people about it. The funny looks make all the trudging in cold weather worth it. After my father died, we tried to keep most of traditions alive year after year. Some were important which we still do,  but some just didn’t feel right without him there. Some were actually just impractical and that was when my mother did something that I am still proud of her. It was just one sentence but it completely changed how I look at Christmas not to mention all holiday, and made our lives easier.
“Sometimes, it’s time to start a new tradition.”
I now put up my tree the day after Thanksgiving. We don’t have to put everything out which makes putting decorations back much easier. I host Christmas Eve dinner with a small soup and salad meal compared to the huge dinner we used to have. We sleep late on Christmas morning and I buy the Christmas Stolen from World Market rather than making it from scratch.
You know what we still do every Christmas? We have an amazing time.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

I Love It When a Plan Comes Together...

            Heist movies are a favorite of mine. I always love to watch a variety of characters interact, formulate, then execute a plan that usually screws over the bad guy who deserves it. Afterwards, our heroes sail off into the sunset to enjoy their rewards. I guess that is why I was always such a fan of the A-Team. I do love it when a plan comes together especially one that I coordinate. Yesterday helped fulfill that for me.
            On top of that, it was a day that went so smoothly that I meant to go out and buy a lottery ticket because of all the good fortune that kept coming my way. I found lost money, a 25 dollar gift card to Ruby Tuesdays that I got during my new teacher orientation for Savannah schools, and awesome parking at the mall. I could go on but you get the idea. I quote from the book of Ice Cube, “It was a very good day.”
            It was one of those days where I needed it all to go as planned because yesterday was the day I planned to pop the question to Kim.  Kim and I have been talking for some time about getting hitched. It’s been pretty much inevitable. We have known, early on, that we are made for each other.  
            Sometime around the start of the new school year, I began to work on some possible ideas. My roommate, Dan, and I came up with the plan while eating out one night. My little sis, Mary, started e-mailing some ideas and Operation-Get-Kim-To-Say-Yes was hatched. My Mom, Dave Westbrook, Steve Freenor, Kristin Wilson, the good People at Bass Pro Shop, WSAV3, and FOX 28 also got on board to. The biggest confidant came from Veronica, Kim’s 11 year old daughter.
            Anybody who has read my blog for a while can see how my relationship between Ronnie has developed between adversarial to one of mutual love and respect. Back over the summer, Ronnie and her little brother, Jude, started asking about the “m” word. Since then, a promise was made to give them a heads up regarding when we were getting married. I knew I had to include the kids. Ronnie was no problem but Jude can’t keep a secret to save his life. The funny thing was how Ronnie’s first words, when informed her of my plans were, “Don’t tell Jude. He’ll tell.”
            My A-Team was formed. It all came together December 21, 2011.
 11:30am We arrived at Savannah Mall under the pretense of doing some last minute shopping and have a family picture with Santa at 1pm. I dropped Kim and Jude off. The plan is to meet us back at Bass Pro at 12:45. Jude was given explicit instruction to keep his Mom busy while Ronnie helped me finish my Xmas shopping for Kim.
11:45am  Mom and Mary show up at Bass Pro. Mom had the ring gift wrapped in red which is Kim’s favorite color. Mary was supposed to bring my camera and favorite hat. It was the one I bought with Jude to wear on our first vacation together in St. Augustine. Kim loves that hat and I wanted to wear it while proposing. In their rush to meet us on time, Mary forgot both. I had a momentary freak out but regained composure. Sorry again, Mary.
11:50am  We picked up Fast Pass for our appointment w/ Santa from Bass Pro Shop Manager, Lara. Everyone starts making jokes about “You sure she’s gonna say Yes?”  ( Note to Readers: Don’t make this joke to someone about pop the question to their girlfriend. It just makes the popper more nervous.)
11:55am  My stomach begins to get that loopy feeling because I knew I’d  hit that point of no return as I handed off the ring to the Store Manager of Santa’s Village and we went over the plans of how things would go.  More jokes about Kim saying Yes occurred. Geesh!!
12:00am  My hair kept falling in my eyes and I really hated not having one of my newsboys hats. Mary, Mom, Ronnie, and I make a run to Target to get another.
12:05am  WSAV called to set up final details for filming the event. They wanted to meet out front which I thought ruined that whole surprise element I was going for. We worked it out as I rummaged through hats. Ronnie picked out one that made me like Elmer Fudd. I began to grin because I realized an 11 year-old had gotten the better of me.
12:10am  Mary had assumed role of keeping me focused. Apparently, I can get distracted by shiny objects. Mary began to work me towards to the door. I realized I need to have some gifts because that was the main reason we separated. Ronnie and I began to shop for Kim’s stocking stuffers.
12:15am  I headed out the door with new hat on head and hair not in my face. Dave Westbrook called because he wanted to watch the event. I told him to hit us up in front of Bass Pro which was where I was headed for Kim.
12:20am  Ronnie asked how I going to ask Kim and I realized it was the one thing I hadn’t forgotten to figure that one out. I knew there was a good chance I’d get choked up so I decided to go with simple.
            “Kim, will you marry me?”
            Ronnie shook her head, “It needs to be more like you. Bigger.”
            I asked louder with more exaggeration. My response was an irritated stare from an 11 year old. Ronnie was not amused. “You better take this seriously.”
            Trying to stifle a laugh, I looked at Ronnie and said, “Kim, will you do me the honor of marrying me?”
            A pleased grin spread across Ronnie’s face and she said a very satisfied, ”Perfect.”
12:30am   Dave Westbrook showed up. He’s brought his recorder. Dave is one of the most talented musical people I’ve ever met but he loves to play his varying set of recorders. I hate recorders because of a crazed Uncle and Medieval Music Camp that Young Harris College hosted every summer while I grew up. He plays it wonderfully but I suspect he also loves to bring it out to aggravate me.
12:45am  Jude and Kim arrived. We began to go in and I realized I couldn’t swallow. I had to buy a bottle of Bass Pro brand water. I kept thinking of that scene in Jaws where Richard Dreyfus is about to be lowered in the shark cage and can’t make any spit for his goggles.
‘Why am I so damn nervous? It’s all working out,” goes through head on a loop.  
12:55am  We got in line. Mary and Dave kept Kim busy with chatting and small talk. WSAV and FOX 28 showed up and are rolling tape on the kids seeing Santa. Perfect. I hang back with my Mom. She knows I’m nervous and squeezes my hand. We both grinned at each other. She whispers to me, “I am so happy for you.”
            I squeeze her hand again.
1:00pm  Moment of Truth. The whole gang huddled around Santa and we took the best family photo ever. My mom has never looked more happy and beautiful. Kim is so happy and had no idea what is about to go down. The kids were perfect. Mary was beaming and Dave relented on the recorder. Yesssss!

1:03pm  Everyone began to disburse when Mrs. Claus walked up to Kim, She said perfectly, “Kim, I have something for you.”  She handed Kim the box. Kim looked at me smiling nervous because she knew something was up.
Santa said, ”Come here and sit on my knee while you open it.” Kim walked over hesitantly and I stated my descent to one knee.
What happened next is a blur to me. It’s all very fuzzy muddled with a lot of joy and happiness. I kind of remembered her opening the box. I know I asked her to marry me without messing up. Somehow, I even thought of taking off my hat out of decorum. I also know, for a fact, that she said yes because my next clear memory is her smiling at me while holding face and kissing me. A small cheer erupted in Bass Pro and according to Kim, everyone was crying, including Santa and Mrs. Claus.

I had that perfect moment that I always like to talk about. This time it occurred with my family, old, new, and adopted.
I started this blog about a year ago to work on my storytelling skills. Along the way, Kim, Ronnie, and Jude entered my life and filled in all the empty pieces that I had. The more I wrote, the more I realized how much better my life was by the addition of the three of them.  Yesterday, I got the greatest Christmas gift I could ever ask for. As much as I covet my Star Wars Death Star Playset that I got back in 1978, I have to admit that getting a fiancée and two awesome step-kids definitely trumps anything George Lucas or Kenner could ever come up with. I am a lucky man.
I know everyone does the obligatory Merry Christmas and blessed holidays stuff  this time of the year. It’s probably a bit trite by now. Please realize that as I type this from my un-Grinched heart, I mean every word.
Merry Christmas! Go tell someone you love them and hold ‘em close.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

How About a Penguin?

            Christmas specials are a huge favorite of mine during this time of year. I know everyone can say this but they have a different meaning to me. It always gets me to see the hero racing home to either save Christmas or spend Christmas with his loved ones.  I get a little fanatical about them and I blame my father for this.
            The year was 1974 and I was attending first grade at Northside Elementary in Milledgeville, GA. By some crazy coincidence, my teacher’s name was also Richardson even though she was a tall African-American lady. The situation got some double takes but we made it through.
            It was Christmas break for Georgia College where the Big Guy worked as the Director of Circulation in the library. I always loved this time of year because he’d be home early and we’d watch TV together. One evening, the Big Guy walked in with this monstrosity under his arm. This thing was huge and I could it was heavy because the Big Guy rarely had a strained look on his face when he carried stuff.
I told you this thing was huge. Note state of the art channels on right.

            My father proceeded to explain to me that this was a state-of-the-art something or another. All I caught and comprehended in my six year old brain was that this device could tape things off the TV. As a treat, we could tape all the Christmas specials and I could watch them whenever. I almost began to salivate at the thought of getting to watch Rudolph or Peanuts anytime I wanted. It seemed too good to be true. It wasn’t, It was amazing.

            The following day was Show-and-Tell to which I had begun to garner a bit of a reputation. Mrs. Richardson didn’t put up with any of my crazy stories so I had toned things down a bit to stay out of being sent to the office. Of course, the magic machine that played my programs on command was too good to keep to myself so I stepped forward. Halfway through my whole spiel, Mrs. Richardson interrupted me.
            “Robby, are you sure you want to continue telling this tale?” she asked.
I nodded my head and attempted to continue but she stopped me again.
            “Robby, you have a wonderful imagination and it’s going to do you well someday but I just can’t allow you to fib like that. There is no such machine like what you’re sharing. That’s only in Science Fiction.” Mrs. Richardson tried to be matronly but I could also see that stern teacher look lurking in the shadows.
            Unfortunately, my parents always raised me to stand up for myself especially when I knew I was right. For the next ten minute was a struggle of wills that ended with me crying in frustration. To be fair, I am guessing Mrs. Richardson was feeling the same. Our contest of wills was a draw. I was still crying when Mama picked me up in the car riders line.
            About a day or two later, the whole magic machine debacle was just chatter best saved for the playground. Everyone had moved on and I just wanted to put it behind me. Mrs. Richardson stopped our Math lessons, which was always fine by me.
            Mrs. R- went on and said, “Class, put down your pencils and pay attention to our special, surprise guest.”    
            In walked the Big Guy with his magical machine in tow. Apparently, my old man had called the school and sorted out things with my teacher. The two organized their schedule and Dad had come over not only to prove that I was right but also we had our own screening of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Afterwards my popularity soared and everyone wanted to come over after school to watch Christmas Specials.
            The Big Guy carried this tradition on with my little sister. As a result, we both can pretty much recite word-for-word most of those old Christmas Specials. You really got to see Mary act out the Lucy-gives-roles-to-the-Peanuts-cast. “How about a Penguin?” will never be funnier.
Mary has this scene down...

            In 2006, I got my chance, back when I was married, to experience my own real life Christmas special. Things were dark and I’ll just leave it at that. The marriage was limping to an end but neither of us wanted to cut the cord during the holidays. I was still sore about last year when I completely missed Xmas day so we’d could spend it with her family. I know it hurt Mom and Mary.
            Dec 25th was looking nearer and I knew that I couldn’t handle spending all day with her family again like last year. I made a command decision. We would be going to down the night of the 25th so I decided to head out earlier so I could help prepare for the Oyster Roast we always have the day after Xmas.
            The ex started to give me grief but somewhere the old Robby roared back to life and I just gave what we refer to as the “Neder” stare in our family. My sister can actually cut through steel with it. Not only did the ex back down, I also got driving privileges to her new Altima in holiday planning session. Score.
            After a drawn out dinner with her father and new family on Christmas Eve, I crashed early only to be woken up by the alarm around 2 am. I rode that night and it was probably the most enjoyable driving experience of my life. No traffic. Great tunes. New car. The time flew right by in my little Christmas special as I raced home to Savannah to spend it with Mom and Mary.  
            The funny thing about those Christmas specials is that everyon’se timing is perfect. Mine was not so I actually got into Savanna much earlier than I expected. There was nowhere to go that was open and it was cold so I crept quietly into the house around 6am. I passed the time reading some of the books I had gotten from the ex for Christmas.
            Around 7am, I heard Mom stirring in the hallway so I crept out to make my big entrance. When the right moment arrived, I called their house on my cell from the front porch.
            “Hello,” a sleepy voice answered.
            “Mom, it’s me. Sorry to call so early but I am a bit depressed about not being with you and Mary this morning, “ I said, as I tried not to start snickering.
            “Baby, it’s OK, You have a family of your own now and we understand,” Mom said trying to soothe me.
            I went on in an Oscar winning performance that’d make Meryl Streep take notice. “It’s just I miss y’all so gosh darn much and I wish I was there right now w/ you two.”
Mom replied, “I do too, baby, and so does your sister.”
“Well, I guess I need to just drop on by,” and I entered through the kitchen door.
The look on my Mother’s face was priceless. She was stunned then overjoyed. Before she could react a tall flash zipped by her and had me in a massive bear hug. It was Mary.
At this point all three of us were in tears and Mary wouldn’t let go. Neither could I. She looked up at me with her grin that I know all too well and whispered, “There really is  Santa because all I asked for this year was to spend Christmas morning with you and Mom.” Tears really begin to pour at this point. All was needed was for Amy Grant or Faith Hill to sing some sort of chart busting Christmas song.
At that point, I made a promise to always spend Christmas with those two if humanly possible. I am happy to say that promise has not been broken and looks like my streak should continue for a long time. As I type, Mary should be landing here in good ol’ Savannah Hilton Head Airport. To say I’m excited is an understatement.
I love Christmas and the Oyster Roast but it’s somehow sweeter when my li’l sis is by my side. This year, we get the opportunity to experience a new Christmas Special because the cast has grown a bit larger with Kim and the kids plus her family driving in. I just pray that it’s not Christmas Vacation though, because the last thing I need is my best friend pulling his “Cousin Eddie” routine in my drive way……
I could see Gideon doing this for a lark.....

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

I am Santa Claus!!!!!!!!.....

...And then we went shopping at Target but that's a blog for another day.

      I realize that is a bit of a bold statement, but hear me out. I love Christmas. I don’t just love it but I lose myself in it and feel no guilt about it. It comes to me naturally because my two first great male role models were incarnations of Santa themselves. As I look back over past Christmases, I always remember seeing the big guy and my grandfather (Pop), laughing, chuckling, and conspiring to give us a better Christmas than the ones previous. They did.
            This past year has possibly been one of the best Christmases I’ve had since I was a kid. After a long illness due to my kidneys, a divorce, loads of anger, Dad and Belle’s passing, I kind of lost my way but have come out the other side with a Zen-like appreciation for this time of year. I’ve always enjoyed the Holidays but I am now seeing them through new and brighter eyes. Call it a Yuletide Lasik.  
 My Dad always used to light up in telling the story of how my Pop loved the Holidays so much that during the Depression, Pop drilled a hole in the apartment they were renting to make a pond for the Christmas Village he built from scratch. He couldn’t do much in the way of presents but figured he could use his natural talents to make something special for his wife and my uncle to enjoy by their tiny tree.  He did. We still talk about this and have tried many attempts at our own Christmas Village. None seem to rival the homemade masterpiece constructed on Bull Street back in the 30s by my Pop.
            My Dad got so into the holidays that we’d go two hours out of our way on the seven hour car ride to Savannah from Young Harris to mail the family Christmas cards from Bethlehem, GA.  As a teenager, I hated it and would get so frustrated with him. I’d always point out that no one really looks at a stupid postmark anyway.
 He’s always respond with the same year after year,” It’s not about the end result but the effort to make someone happy during Christmas that matters. You’ll get it one day, son.”
As I’ve gotten older, I‘ve finally come to grasp the real meaning of this time of year and why it’s so special. Christmas is universal and is relatable to everyone on some level. We tell of traditions and stories about our pasts to our friends, families, and co-workers and we all get it. It might be one of the most easily relatable subjects on the planet.
I hate to use the term blessed because I am not that religious but it’s the only term I can come up with to describe the feeling that I have this year. Blessed. I have the love of an awesome mother and sister, an amazing girl friend, and two amazing kids. Pardon the Christmas cliché’ but those two damn kids have really un-Grinched me. I didn’t think it was possible to enjoy Christmas anymore that I already did. Add two kids to the mix and JINGLE BAM! (This is our new Holiday catch phrase stolen from Prep & Landing. Feel free to use)
Kim has always told me that she feels sorry for anyone who doesn’t have kids at Christmas and now I understand why. We all laugh a lot as it is but I am wearing this damn perm-a-grin smile because we are having a blast
. I am about to embark to my least favorite place in the world, the Mall. We are taking the kids to do their Christmas shopping. We’re taking Ronnie and Jude to pick out gifts for Kim. My job is to help the kids pick out gifts for their mom.  I should be grumbling but I keep looking at my clock because I am so excited to go.
It always irritates me to hear people say there is no Santa Claus. My students have learned and passed on to their replacements to not go there with me. I do believe and I also believe it’s our responsibility to be Santa to those around us. I don’t mean just the kids but the people who move in and out of our lives. A little consideration goes a long way and I do believe that our senses are a bit heightened this time of year to put ourselves out there more in a giving manner. So when I say that “I am Santa Claus, I guess I should be saying that, WE are Santa Claus!”
from the  Robby & Belle Christmas Card series, 1999 ed.

Belle and I used to do our annual Christmas card every year while she was alive. I’d always figure out clever ways to put ourselves into famous Christmas specials with me in my Green Santa hat that Lori Burnette made and the infamous reindeer antlers Janelle law gave Belle. I always tried to keep them light and funny and they were. While living in Snellville, I realized that Bethlehem, GA was just 15 minutes away. Guess who started mailing their cards to get that damn Bethlehem postmark? Right again, Big Guy. Dammit…..

Monday, November 28, 2011

Making a List and Hash tagging It Twice.....

            When I was a kid there was no bigger thrill than the one that came with the heralded arrival of the Sears Christmas Wishbook in early November. I’d spend hours circling the ads looking at all the toys and cool Christmas stuff. It always amazed how every toy looked like the coolest toy ever made. The Big Guy would always remind me how this was due to photography tricks and it was no accident that every toy looked amazing.  According to the Big Guy the Wishbook was a scam designed to entice little kids to want more.

Decision, decisions.....
           Christmas ‘78 arrived and the Star Wars collection was all time frenzy. Did I want the remote controlled Sandcrawler? How about asking for the plush Chewbacca doll? I considered the new TIE Fighter to go alongside my landspeeder and X-Wing for a bit. It was too many choices for my young mind to make. This was my first Sophie’s choice if you will.
            I was home faking being sick to get out of a math test when Mom delivered the latest edition of the Wishbook. Needless to say, the Star Wars collection was intense. Four new figures were added to the previous twelve. They were the aliens from the cantina scene: Hammerhead, Greedo, Walrus Man and Snaggletooth were awaiting my toy chest in my future. The best part was Sears offered an exclusive only available if you purchased the new guys from them. It was a Cantina Play set to host all the adventures my Star Wars gang would be having. As a budding StarWars-ologist, how could I be denied?

GEEK SIDE NOTE: It’s important to also mention that the Sears Snaggletooth was destined to become a bit of a collectible because the Sears product was full size and wearing a blue jump suit while the off-the-rack Snaggletooth was half size as seen in the movies and wearing his red jumpsuit.

            The Big Guy took one look and crushed all my hopes and dreams by pointing out how the exclusive Cantina Play Set was merely a “laminated piece of cardboard” and I could make one that would have been better.

I can remember looking into the very serious blue eyes of the Big Guy and thinking how sad it was for him that he had lost the ability to see the world through the eyes of a ten year old. Silly Man. Did he not understand that between the magic of my imagination and the hard working people at Kenner how we could create many new and exciting adventures for my action figures? My father kept reminding to be aware of camera/advertising tricks. I kept pointing how sad it was sad it was to have a heart like the Grinch. An impasse was created that neither side would relent.
Christmas morning came and went. I did not get my Cantina Play set but I was surprised to receive the Death Star Play set. The funny thing was that I never asked for it because of the whopping price tag of 25 bucks. We quickly fell in love and it was Cantina Play set who? I loved playing with the trap door which led to the trash compactor. Sadly, the trash compactor would not close all the way which really screwed my some great scenarios I had planned for C-3PO.
Best toy ever! Thanks, Big Guy & Mom

I came across the Cantina Set a few years ago in a comic shop and got my first chance to take a long look at its construction. To my great chagrin, the Big Guy was right as usual. Cardboard. I could have made a much better one myself. Dammit.
I did a little research and discovered that Sear scaled back on its Wishbook premise back in 1993 and created a smaller version. Finally in 2005, with the rise of the internet, Sears called it quits for the mail order division. I also discovered that the issues came out in September which makes me wonder if Mom and the Big Guy were hoarding it to keep my Christmas wishes at bay.
It makes me a little sad to know that Veronica and Jude will never know the thrill and excitement in how a 300 page book can create shopping hysteria. Kim and I were laughing about how we drove our parents nuts with all the “I want this and that.” I did discover it’s not completely gone just revised.
I noticed the kids were not interrupting us like always do when I saw them sharing Kim’s laptop. They were on Amazon making their Christmas Wish List. I guess Santa’s Wish List has gone paperless. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Channeling the Big Guy and Clark Griswold

 I bet there's some Richardson somewhere in his family tree.

Now that I have kids and an amazing lady in my life, I am often commenting on how much life reflects that thoughts and attitudes of the Big Guy and how I am truly his son. The event of last night’s shopping adventure at Target Black Friday sale has never brought out those traits more in my life.
Surprisingly enough, the actual idea of going out and sitting in line for 4.5 hours goes against all that my father stood for.  The Big Guy was doing mail order before mail order was cool. My father would often comment on “all the idiots wasting their time and how that’s not what the holidays are about” in his anti-Black Friday rant.  Over the years I have gradually accepted the Big Guy’s Holiday manifesto and lived it to its extreme. Until last night.
Li’l Sis had told me about the how Target would be selling the X-box Kinect for 99 bucks with 4 games. The idea of saving 150 dollars plus seeing the looks on my newly acquired sidekicks made me realize “this is the gift.” I knew I was committed at this point. Somehow I talked my amazingly understanding girlfriend in joining me and we took off for what was to be a grand adventure.
The line would have wrapped way out of the bottom right of this picture

In order to not waste your time, I am going to request you read Kim’s blog which details in great detail about our shopping excursion and all its epicness. After that come back and I want to hit a few highlights/thoughts. I’ll wait.

I walked away from last night or rather I limped away from last night with three things revolving around my head.
1)      Shopping on Black Friday doesn’t have to be a bitch. We were stuck in line with some awesome people and I loved getting to know them. I am ashamed to admit that I was worried when the 4 large black guys got in line behind us. They were nice enough but I was concerned their boisterousness would get on my nerves. I love it when I am wrong. Amazing guys. It’s funny how anybody can sit back and relate if you can find a common thread. We probably spent hours laughing about the things we do for our kids and the wackiness that ensues. Later, we had a heated discussion about who has the best milkshake in town. It came down between Sonic and Krystal. That discussion brought all the surrounding men and a small clique was formed.  We never shared names which bothers me today because I realize I will spend the rest of my life looking back at that Thanksgiving night where a bunch a dads and me spent 4 hours laughing about family, drinking buddies (some Rag’s stories were shared to hilarious uproar), and milk shakes.
Who'd thought milkshakes was such a conversation starter?

2)      Lucky Man is going to be the working title for my book when I publish all theses adventures because I am. Having Kim in my life is the greatest thing to happen to me. She lets me be me. Kim went into the cold Target parking lot last night fully expecting failure but was willing to allow me to try. I am happy to say we were successful. I believe it’s because we make a good team. We pretty much threw a Thanksgiving dinner for 12 people and turned around to sit at Target with no arguments or major stress.  We did, however, laugh like hyenas the whole time. She kept me in stitches. Anybody that can make a Warriors and a Close Encounters of the Third Kind reference in one night is tops in my book. I fell in love a little more with her last night.

3)      I understand my parents a little bit more and why my dad became Clark Griswold every Christmas. For the first time in my life, I get to make two children make some memories of their own that will carry on to the next generation of Richardsons and Wades. That is powerful thing yet also beautiful. I realized last night I wanted that Kinect because I wanted to see that “look” on their face when they open it. It was the same look I gave my Mom and Dad when I opened up my Death Star Play set in 1978.  It’s that look of pure Christmas Morning Joy. I want to see that.
Yep, this is what I want to see.

Yeah, I am probably going to spend way too much money this Christmas, I’m probably going to get stressed about stupid Holiday issues like tangled lights or lines at the Mall, and I’ll probably act a bit like Clark Griswold as my own Christmas Vacation unfolds. I just hope that when those moments happen I can remember how I am in very good company because I come from a long line of Griswolds and I am great with that.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


I’m getting my catheter removed so around 7am Friday morning, I’ll no longer be a human bagpipe. Needless to say, I am psyched. Having kidney disease sucks but I hated having a tube run out of my body. It made me feel like a frickin’ droid and not in the cool way.
As I was leaving the hospital for my Pre-Op, I ran into this lady who was the spitting image of the mother from the Walking Dead who has the missing kid. She had short cropped, blonde hair and I could tell at one point she was a looker but sickness has aged her. She was walking very slowly like each step was painful and I noticed her angles were swollen with edema. She brought a lit cigarette to her lips as we passed.
She said to me with a sad smile and low voice, “Good to know that I am not alone,” as I hobbled by her.
Spitting image, just needs a cigarette.

My heart was hurting for her because I know how she feels but I couldn’t relate to her at that moment. Truth be known, it kind of pissed me off. I feel good. I feel real good almost like I used. I don’t walk very well anymore but I have boatloads of energy compared to Robby 2 years ago. I am not in pain anymore. I don’t feel sick all the time or weak. I am also happy.
Thanksgiving is a week away. I am very excited because I am spending it with my new family and my old family. I am thankful to have these people in my life and I hope they know I am proud to be in theirs.
I am sure at the dinner table on Thursday; we’ll go around and share what we’re thankful for. I know that I am going to say something about having my Mom and Kim and the kids at my table and I am going to mean every word. Deep down, I have already given thanks that I do not feel one little bit like that lady I passed yesterday. I apologize for my selfishness but it’s a good feeling to wake up and realize that I am going to make it through the day without being exhausted or hurting or depressed. I guess being thankful just doesn’t cover thinking of other people and appreciating them but also being a bit selfish from time to time.

Sorry being so serious. I just needed to get this off my chest. It has been haunting me since yesterday. I originally planned a Thanksgiving sort of blog because of a picture I found. Over the next week, I am going to try get a few fun T-day stories in but I love this picture. It is cracking me up and is over on the Star Wars blog. If you get a chance, read the T-day Holiday special idea pitched to them regarding Wookies and  a Turkey based Jedi. Priceless.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Oatland Island

Oatland Island Wildlife Center is located just outside of Savannah along the way out to Tybee Island. The history associated with this place is amazing.  It started out as a way station for railroad workers back in the early 20th century and eventually morphed into a major research facility that was instrumental in developing insect repellant. Its’ latest version is owned by the Chatham public school system to be used for outdoor education programs.  Here is their website:

I don’t know if you can use the term “zoo” but Oatland has created many wildlife habitats along some pretty amazing walking trails. My favorite is the wolves. Man, they are gorgeous and so huge. Oatland also sponsors what they call the Georgia Farm to give some of the local city kids an idea of just how rural Georgia works and sustains itself.
Oatland does the Harvest Fest which has become something I look forward to every fall. They do an old fashioned cane grinding to make syrup and even make some of the best apple butter I’ve had since I left the mountains. The whole event is presented in rustic log cabin setting to simulate what coastal Georgia might have felt like back in the mid 1800s. As the day moves on, traditional arts and crafts are shown along with games and even clogging with some old timey music.

The Harvest Fest has become a favorite for me for many reasons. First, I grew up in North Georgia and we had something similar called the Sorghum Festival which I volunteered for many times during my junior high days with 4-H. It takes me back.
Second, I get a chance to cook over an open fire and be outside for a whole day. Outdoorsy Robby gets way too neglected and this becomes his chance to come back out and roar a bit. Besides, I believe food always tastes better outside. Don’t believe me? Try eating a PBJ on your front porch.  I’ll wait.
Third, I love anything old and covered in history. The Harvest Fest gives a bit of a peek into the old ways that we are so quickly forgetting. When I see little kids walking around and being impressed with how things “used to be done” I can feel the Big Guy channeling through me and I know why I am a teacher. I love my Xbox 360 dearly but I also love that I know how to cook over a fire.
Gary with his portable forge

This is Gary Lester from  This guy’s the real deal when it comes to knowledge about the old timey ways and is the closest person I’ve met to being a true mountain man in the last several years. Gary travels around to perform blacksmithing demonstrations while also teaches open fire cooking. We met a few years ago in one of his classes hosted by Oatland. That was a tasty day.
I could just pull up a chair and listen to this guy. Gary’s latest project is restoring an old chuck wagon. It goes without saying that when the Zombie Apocalypse comes, I want Gary on my team.

Gary teaching Jude the basics of smithing

Meet Wah Ho Ho, Oatland’s resident Barred Owl.  She was raised from an egg by volunteer, Vint Keener, who is affectionately known as the “Owl Guy” over at Oatland. According to Vint, Wah Ho Ho gets her name from the Cherokee word for “Owl.” Anytime Oatland makes an appearance, you can count on seeing these two and they are always a huge hit with the kids.

Vint and his buddy, Wa Ho Ho
Veronica meets Wa Ho Ho

These are some various shots from the Harvest Fest of our Open Fire Cooking Demonstrations. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of cooking with a Dutch oven and am quite surprised at many people are into it. It’s like a whole another sub culture not unlike Trekkies and Deadheads though not as scary.

I think it appeals to people because we are in this habit of rushing everywhere for work and even play. I believe some people just appreciate the slow pace that comes with Dutch oven cooking.  I know that I do. The only other thing I wish I had with me on Saturday was a cigar and some Scotch.

Chicken on a string. Nature's rotisserie

Bannana Bread

My biscuits are burning!

Veronica manningthe samples table
This year I got the opportunity to get up on the main stage which is usually reserved for the musicians and cloggers, to do a little storytelling. There was a request to tell something with a Harvest theme so I shared a story about my Dad’s teenage years in 4-H. It went over pretty well and I had a blast. The kicker was to go up and see this sign:
One day this will be in lights...

As much as I love this, I loved Harvest even more because I got to share it with Kim and the kids. Once again, I realize just how lucky I am because everyone got into the spirit of things and had a blast. Jude practically became an Apprentice blacksmith with Gary. Veronica learned how to build a fire and was my cooking assistant. As usual, Kim jumped right in and helped out where needed. She usually was doing something before I could even ask.
At the end of the day, Kim looked at some the awesome food we had prepared and said to me,” I had no idea just how much fun today would be.”
I fell in love all over again.  Lucky.

Lucky man.