Our Thanksgiving Tree

Thanksgiving Tree 2020Our Thanksgiving Tree

A friend’s 9-year-old came home from school some years back, wearing a paper “Indian hat.” He excitedly told his historian father, “We learned all about the Thanksgiving party the pioneers threw for their Indian friends!”

“Well, actually,” his historian father explained, “they weren’t just ‘pioneers,’ they were pilgrims, people who came here to live the way they believed God wanted them to live.

“And, although they were very grateful to the Wampanoag, they considered everything, even the Native Americans’ help, to be from God. Their previous year had been horrible, but things were finally getting better. In fact, there was so much food (the Wampanoag brought five deer!) that the celebration went on for days! And all of it, the pilgrim Edward Winslow wrote in his diary, was ‘because of the goodness of God.’”

Many Americans think of Thanksgiving as the start of an ongoing season of gratitude. My wife liked the idea so much that this year she pre-decorated our Christmas tree with a Thanksgiving theme. And then it struck us that we should begin gathering brief “What I’m Thankful For”s from family members. She plans to neatly calligraph these “thankful fors” onto year-dated leaf cut-outs. After which we’ll place them on Our Thanksgiving Tree each year, along with new ones, creating a sort of History of Gratitude.

Of course, 2020 has been more like the pilgrims’ “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad” pre-Thanksgiving year than their “Indian hat” year. But this year’s “thankful fors” belong on Our Thanksgiving Tree, as well. Because they’re seeds of hope, seeds that, fed by “the goodness of God,” will produce next year’s bumper crop!

“For this light, temporary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory that is far beyond comparison. And so we fix our eyes not on what we can see, but on what we cannot see.   For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”  ~2 Corinthians 4:17-18

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Harvest of Hope

“Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all… As long as matters are really hopeful, hope is mere flattery or platitude. It is only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength.” ~G.K. Chesterton

It doesn’t feel like harvest time. The autumn leaves have fallen away, and so have our hopes for a quick fix to this mad pandemic. Like the fields and trees, our optimism has gone bare. But barrenness is an illusion. Late fall is the time of ingathering, of storing up. Throughout history, people have celebrated the harvest not when the fields were full, but when they were bare. When the hard work of ingathering had been completed, and the storehouses were full. Hope is the same. It’s a storehouse, a time of huddling by the fires of memory. A time to remember that the barrenness of winter is an illusion. And that beneath the frozen ground, even now, the seeds planted by hope are preparing sprout in the spring.

Click on any image to enlarge it, or the begin slide show.

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Who Do You Thank?

When I first heard the songAll Good Gifts” in the adorably ragamuffin movie version of Godspell way back in 1973, I got choked up. I didn’t understand why. And then, even though I considered God (“if there even is such a thing”) a mindless force, I began to cry when the cast sang:

We thank thee, then, O Father,
For all things bright and good,
The seed time and the harvest,
Our life, our health, our food:
No gifts have we to offer
For all thy love imparts,
But that which thou desirest,
Our humble, thankful hearts.

Not just because of Stephen Schwartz’s lilting melody or Merrill’s sweet tenor, but because the century’s-old words touched some deep longing in me. A longing that overrode my official atheist-turned-agnostic-turned-“I have my own religion” views at the time. A longing that pre-existed not just my theories, but me. A longing to know, love, and thank my Creator for my very existence.

I learned later that virtually every study on happiness shows an inseparable connection to gratitude. Humans are wired to give thanks. We’re made that way.

Three years later, I took a leap of faith, and for the first time began thanking God “for all things bright and good.” But most of all, because I had “no gifts to offer,” I offered him the one thing he desired, my “humble, thankful heart.” And I still do. But when I forget and focus on mere things, the longing returns. And then I remember what I’m made for.

On this day that Americans call Thanksgiving, I’m grateful to those who love and support me, to my wife, to my family and friends, and to those who are kinder to me than I deserve. But most of all, I’m grateful to the One who made them. The One responsible for all good gifts. 

Who do you thank?

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Autumnal Shoot In Margam Park, Wales

dscf4762-01My Featured Blogger this week is Welsh documentary photographer Mark G. Adams of OneCameraOneLens. Mark captures breathtaking images using a digital process that emulates the rich, grainy look of traditional film. He also offers his readers tips along the way about how to capture similar images using his “one camera one lens” approach. These photos are from Margam Park in South Wales, a historical site dating back to ancient Roman and Celtic times. Enjoy!

OneCameraOneLens by Mark G Adams

Today was the first day we were able to get out with Great Photography Walks South Wales since Wales came out of lockdown yesterday. We prayed for good weather as it has been very wet lately, and we were lucky enough to have a few fine hours to get some amazing shots of Margam at this wonderful time of year.

My plan for the day was simple. Capture the wonders of autumn, in camera, using only my Fred Herzog Kodachrome Slide Film film simulation from the jpegs that my new Fujifilm X-T3 produces. This simulation is really meant for street photography and architecture, but I thought I would give it a go in the countryside, and I am more than happy with the results!

A couple of the images were cropped slightly using Photoscape X Pro, and they were all resized to 1200×800. No other edits were performed to…

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The Ultimate Comfort Food

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Full Stomach, Fuller Heart

(an occasional series)

I really should write about “turkey with all the trimmings. After all, it’s the American Thanksgiving meal. And I do love it. But Thanksgiving means tons of preparation. And most of my food-associated memories are about comfort foods, SiBY (Simple-but-Yummy) dishes you can fix with minimal prep (or even none, in the case of take-out). So, as wonderful as “turkey with all the trimmings” is, it doesn’t qualify as comfort food.

What does?

Tom & Chee (tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches)! No American food combo so epitomizes SiBY as tom & chee. I even associate it with being sick. Wait, isn’t that bad? Nope, it’s comforting! As a kid, it meant I got to stay home from school and watch Rocky & Bullwinkle while mom fixed me tom & chee. Later, as a college guy, I did it for myself. What could be easier when it was raining felines and canines than heating up a can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup and smash-grilling a massive amount of cheddar cheese between two slices of bread? (A proper grilled cheese sandwich is as flat as that favorite old vinyl record you still listen to.)

I associate tom & chee with romance, too. My college acting teacher assigned me a scene with a former teen beauty queen. Oh, and it featured a kiss. My first thought was, “We’ll have to rehearse that part a lot to get it right.” She invited me over for rehearsal and “a quick lunch” at her apartment, and I thought “Yes! There is a God!” (I was an atheist at the time, but started rethinking that).

When I arrived, I saw two steaming servings of–you guessed it–tom & chee on her dinette table. Forget sharing a bottle at a little café on the Seine (wait, no, don’t—that sounds awesome!)… But anyway, I was certain this would be the moment we fell in love. It wasn’t. Or rather, it wasn’t for her. But we did become friends. And the kiss was cut.

Some time later, however, I did end falling in love, mutually this time, with a smart, talented, beautiful girl who happily rehearses kissing scenes with me–all the time! Oh, and 35 years on, guess what we eat when we want something SiBY?

And when we need a quick meal away from home? We often end up at a Cincinnati-based comfort food chain that makes delicious sandwiches and soups. They’re named for their specialty:

Tom & Chee!

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Without Wonder…

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Thought for the Week

To say it’s been a hard year would be a gross understatement. And yet this week Americans will celebrate Thanksgiving. In theory. In truth, many will wonder what there is to be thankful for. But they’ll be wondering about the wrong things, wondering about what’s lost, instead of what can never be lost. Pet your dog. Look up at the sky. Touch a “dead” but soon-to-be-reborn tree. Touch your skin. Everyday wonders. Everyday miracles. Every moment of every day of every year–even this one–the universe is filled with wonder. Are we?

“You’ll never find a rainbow if you’re looking down” ~Charlie Chaplin

“Look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.” ~Betty Smith

“Every moment of light and dark is a miracle.” ~Walt Whitman

“(When you’re) wondering ‘bout the big things and asking ‘bout the big things, you learn about the little ones, almost by accident. But you never know nothing more about the big things than you start out with. The more I wonder, the more I love.” ~The Color Purple (Alice Walker)

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The Unknown

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“Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not anxiously look about. I will strengthen you and uphold you with My strong right hand.” ~Isaiah 41:10

“There is nothing we fear and desire in such equal measure as the unknown. So choose the right travelling Companion. And then hike up your courage and get on with it!” ~The Wishing Map

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Deep Thoughts (While Avoiding Weekend Chores)

An occasional frequent weekly series

I have a theory. Bear with me, it’s kind of crazy, I know, but… What if conspiracy theories are actually just conspiracy theories?

I’m back from the supermarket. This is always challenging for me. Not only because I have to wear a mask, but because I suffer from Advanced EIOTS (Everything in One Trip Syndrome). Please don’t laugh. Millions have contracted the condition this year.

Things are getting better! Have you noticed that the old expression, “I don’t give a sh-t” has lately become, “I don’t give two sh-ts”? Apparently, people now give at least one sh-t!

Linked-In just informed me that my profile was being read by the U.S. Air Force. I knew I should have done a better job hiding my spacecraft. I’ve sent a message to the Mother Ship: Ħ≈ᲴᲶᲱ჻Ჭᵹᵲᶞ₾₹ⴟ.

And now I wait.

Christmas, 2020 Christmas 2020And you thought the first half of the year was surprising.

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Surreal Redecorating Ideas for the COVID Era

We’ve spent a lot of time at home this year.  And somehow, in this surreal era, it seems appropriate that our home environments should suit our new reality–or lack thereof.  So here are some suitably surreal redecorating suggestions (most of which are for sale—see their captions).  The key is not to take things too seriously.  After all, this year hasn’t taken us seriously.  It’s           messed with our heads, our relationships, and who knows what else?     Isn’t it time we returned the favor?

Click on any image to enlarge it, read caption, or begin slide show.

“Exit, pursued by a bear.” ~William Shakespeare

“As beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table.” ~Lautreamont

“Sometimes in life we can’t grasp the boundary between reality and unreality. The boundary always seems to be shifting. We need to pay close attention to that movement otherwise we won’t know which side we’re on.” ~Haruki Murakami

“So I set my mind to know wisdom and madness and folly. But I learned that this, too, was just chasing after the wind.” ~Ecclesiastes 1:17

“That’s what dreams are really like, you know? They’re not full of melting clocks or floating roses or people made out of rocks. Most of the time, dreams look just like the normal world. It’s your feelings that tell you something’s off.” ~Amy Reed

“There are no coincidences, only mysteries that haven’t been solved, clues that haven’t been placed. Most are blind to the language of the bird overhead, the leaf in our path, the phonographic record stuck in a groove, the unknown caller on the phone.” ~Sara Gran

“Dive again and again into the river of uncertainty. Create in the dark, only then can you recognize the light.” ~Jyrki Vainonen

“Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all.” ~G.K. Chesterton

“(He finally) understood that, despite everything, life was a gift.” ~Albert Camus

Φ

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Tips for Writers: The Serious Business of Funny

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It’s been said that the only difference between Shakespeare’s tragedies and comedies is this: at the end of his tragedies, everyone dies, and at the end of his comedies, everyone gets married.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream could have been a creepy thriller about people tormented by supernatural beings who gradually pick them off. Eat your heart out, Stephen King!

Romeo & Juliet could have been a hilarious rom-com about two love-smitten teenagers who fake their own death, and then jump up at their joint memorial service, having punked their families into realizing only love matters! It could end with a joyous united wedding scene. Heck, in “modern” versions Mercutio and Tybalt would probably get married, too.

The point is, the only significant difference between comedy and drama is how the characters react to the situation. The best comedy actors understand this. They don’t try to “make it funny.” That’s the writer’s job. Instead, they focus on the underlying seriousness. If a character’s buddy slips on a banana peel, it’s horrible—he’s hurt! Or he’s slowing down their getaway from the mob hit-men!

The writer’s job is to start with a dramatic, even tragic situation. And then to find the funny. Not in the premise, but in how the characters respond. (In humorous memoirs, this means finding the funny in your own responses.)

I wrote an absurdly over-the-top screenplay for my movie Notzilla. And yet the underlying story is deadly serious: A huge monster is heading for the city. And a nuclear physicist, bent on destroying the creature, is building an experimental atomic ray that may cause even worse destruction. Funny? No!

But the characters’ responses are. The monster, basically a kid with scales, is only playing, after all—except that beer has altered his metabolism, making him 160’ tall. And the nuclear physicist? He’s a narcissistic idiot who’s oblivious to how his actions affect others. When he’s told his weapon will leave a radioactive cloud over the city for 50 years, he replies, “Sure, but after that you’ll never even know it was there.” And when everyone finally unites against him, he turns the weapon on them, insisting it’s “for your own good.” But instead, it strikes him. Resulting in his dramatic demise? No. Something far more suited to his ego. And considerably funnier.

And then everyone gets married.*

*Note: This is optional in modern humorous writing.

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