Thanksgiving Football Rules

If you're like me and play football on Thanksgiving morning with family and neighbors, The Wall Street Journal Sports Writer Jason Gay has 32 rules you need to know before playing.

1. If you have a healthy relationship with your family and speak to them all the time, you're playing touch. If you see your family only once a year, it's tackle.

2. Find a nice patch of grass. It doesn't have to be big. You don't need a regulation 100 yards. Half the people in your family, if they ran 100 yards, they'd wind up in the hospital for a month.

3. The game must be played before dinner. Nobody wants to play football after Thanksgiving. Nobody wants to wear pants after Thanksgiving.

4. All family on the field! Everyone plays. Mom, Dad, Grandpa, Grandma, Cousin Jake, and Regis the one-eyed Jack Russell terrier. Don't laugh. Regis is the best receiver you've got.

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24. Three-minute halftime. Don't kill the momentum. Anything longer, and aging muscles seize up. Remember: if Daddy sits, Daddy is d-o-n-e.

25. If you're playing on a city street, please don't dent the blue Honda, or I will find you.

26. If you're a random guest at Thanksgiving, it's your job to be good at touch football. Lie and say you "played a little" at Alabama and pray you don't completely embarrass yourself.

27. If you find yourself surrounded by middle-aged men in blue jeans and a quarterback who keeps getting picked off, you're not with your family. You've accidentally walked into a Brett Favre Wrangler spot.

Read the entire article.

Have a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving!

Ghost Pumpkins and other Random Halloween Thoughts

This Halloween season I was surprised to see that a local store selling large, white pumpkins albeit under the clever name of “ghost pumpkins.” Though I’ve seen stores selling small white pumpkins from time-to-time, this was the first times since I lived in Bulgaria that I’ve seen such big ones. (In Bulgaria, all the pumpkins are white. Orange pumpkins are unheard of.)

The kids weren’t too up on the white pumpkins so we ended up getting the traditional orange ones. Now I’m regretting that decision not to buy one. At the very least it would have been fun to harvest the seeds and grow a couple of plants next year. Besides, after looking online, white pumpkins offer some unique decorating possibilities that wouldn’t look good on orange ones.

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Speaking of Bulgaria, apparently Halloween has taken off in popularity over there. Recently I was talking to someone who just returned from there and he said that it common to see kids dress up and go around trick-or-treating and young adults attending Halloween parties. Older people still aren’t in to it. This article is a few years old but it pretty much mirrors whatI was told about Halloween in Bulgaria.

When I lived there, no one even knew what Halloween was. We started a couple of Halloween parties but the Bulgarians who did attend thought it was a silly holiday. I wish I knew what caused the popularity of it to take off. At least the kids are dressing up.

But they also do Halloween fireworks.

And have dance to traditional Bulgarian music at their Halloween parties.

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I’ll be taking Jack Sparrow, Captain Rex, a purple fairy, and a skunk out trick-or-treating tonight. I’m glad the kids are excited and the weather will be warm. Hope you all enjoy your Halloween events too.

Songs That Make Me Feel Old

I just found out Adam Sandler's origional Chanukah song was originally performed back in 1994. I knew the first performance was from the 1990's but for some reason I thought it was from the latter half of the decade. Knowing that the song was performed 16 years ago makes me feel old but not as old as I'll feel when I'll hear the song 10 years from now and my kids will ask me who David Lee Roth, Arthur Fonzarelli, O.J. Simpson, and Rod Carew are.

Widower Wednesday: Remembering the Late Wife during the Holidays

Last week I received seven emails from women who were all worried about the same holiday issue: how to deal with the widower doing something to commemorate the late wife during the holidays.

One lady wrote to me concerned that the Thanksgiving dinner she was attending would include a toast to the late wife. Another woman was worried about her widower wanting to scatter her ashes on a ski slope Christmas Eve. A third was worried about the widower who insists on visiting cemetery Christmas morning and how that might affect his attitude the rest of the day. You get the picture.

Holidays can be tough on anyone who’s lost a loved one. Generally, the first holiday season (and the first year for that matter) without the late wife is the hardest because the widower’s learning how to adjust to life without his wife. Once someone’s made it through their holiday without the late wife, the holidays become the second, third, and fourth time around.

My suggestion on how to handle these situations depends on 1) how long ago the late wife died and 2) how the widower acts during these events. For example, I didn’t have a problem with the Thanksgiving toast because this was the family’s first holiday season without her. Instead of focusing on the toast, I suggested she watch on how the widower treated her during the time before and after that moment. Did he seem focused on the late wife and the past or her and the present? Was he introducing her to friends and family or letting her fend for herself? Was he doing his best to make the day festive or did it feel like a wake? So long as the widower was doing his best to make the day special for her and treating her like number one, I didn’t see a problem with the toast.

I was a little more concerned with the widower who wanted to scatter the ashes onChristmas Eve. First he brought up the scattering the ashes after the two of them had already booked their trip. Second the wife had been dead two years and I found it odd that he was choosing their trip to do it. Sure, it might have been his way to saying good-bye and move on, but doing it during a trip that was supposed to create new holiday memories with another woman seemed like awfully bad timing. My suggestion was to talk to him and see what the reason was for doing it during their trip and there was a better time to do it that wouldn’t distract from the fun trip they were to enjoy together.

I was really worried about the widower who wanted to visit the cemetery on Christmas morning. The day held no significance in their relationship aside from the normal holiday stuff. They weren’t married on that day, she didn’t die on that day, nor did any special event in their marriage happen on that day. It’s just something he had done every Christmas (and every other major holiday) since his wife died five years ago. The woman said that after he visits the cemetery he’s comes home quiet and moody – not exactly the best way to usher in the spirit of Christmas. Where the wife’s been dead five years and he won’t go the day before or after Christmas to visit the cemetery, it appears like he’s still grieving and not ready to move on. I suggested that unless the widower was willing to forgo or delay the cemetery visit, it would probably be best if she spent the holidays elsewhere. In the meantime she might want to think about whether the widower is ready to start a new life with her.

Holidays without a spouse can be tough, but remember that once a widower has made the choice to enter a committed relationship with you, your relationship—not his grief—should come first. While there’s nothing wrong with remembering the past, living in the present, counting our blessings, and creating new memories with a new love is a much happier and productive way to spend the holidays.

Halloween Links and Thoughts

For those parents who are on bit on the paranoid side about your little ghosts and goblins being poisoned, molested, or anything horrible happening to them this weekend, read the article by Lenore Skenazy in the Wall Street Journal on why Halloween is one of the safest days of the year for your kids.

With Halloween falling on Sunday this year, it seems like many kiddies will be trick-or-treating on Saturday instead. Why this irritates some people is beyond me. I really don’t care if kids trick-or-treat on Saturday or Sunday. I’ll be handing out candy either day.

Some people are wondering if an age limit should be imposed on trick-or-treaters. I don’t remember talk of an age limit when I was a kid but generally everyone I grew up with stopped trick-or-treating by ninth grade. Marathon Girl grew up in a home where you couldn’t trick-or-treat after you were 12. I don’t know about enforcing an age limit but I do admit I find it annoying to see a 16 year old trick-or-treating. I’d think by that age they’d have more fun at Halloween parties.

Cool pictures of The Walking Dead in Sofia, Bulgaria. I wish they would have had cool things like that going on when I lived there.

Why do dentists always have to take the fun out of Halloween?

OK. I can understand the dentist/candy things to some extent. By why on earth are schools and educators try to take the fun out of Halloween too?

As a kid I remember me and other kids wearing masks to school on Halloween. Yet it seems like in the last decade masks have become a big no-no. Anyone have any insight as to why?

My kids: Batman, Robin, Princess Tiana, and a skunk. Me: A grumpy middle-aged writer. Marathon Girl: Herself, though I wish she’d give one of those sexy Halloween costumes a try. She has a great body for it.

Who Are The Johnsons?

Return to Sender

When Marathon Girl and I moved into our home five years ago, we went through the inevitable process of receiving mail that hadn’t been forwarded to the previous owner. We had her new address and forwarded the mail on to her. After a few months, we stopped getting her mail.

Then Christmas came. Holiday cards arrived in our mail box not only to her but two cards address to the Johnson Family. We had no idea who the Johnson Family was but figured it was the owner before the woman who sold her house to us. We Return to Sender on the cards for the Johnsons saying they were no longer at this address.

We forgot all about the Johnson Family until the next Christmas. Once again two Christmas cards arrived for the Johnson Family. And though Marathon Girl and I weren’t 100% sure, we were fairly certain that they were the same two families that sent cards the year before. Once again we sent them back and went about with our lives.

We’ve now spent five Christmases in our home. And each year two cards arrive for the Johnson Family arrive from the same two families. The last two years we haven’t bothered returning them. Whoever sends these cards either don’t get the cards back in the mail or have lost touch with the Johnson Family to the point where five plus years have passed and they have no idea where the Johnson Family lives. If it’s the latter reason, I’m somewhat surprised. In an era of email and social networking, it’s not hard to keep in touch with people or, at the very least, notifying them that you’ve moved. Our lives take us in a hundred different directions making it impossible to keep in touch with everyone. But you’d think after (at least) five years, you’d either find a way to contact them or hear through the grapevine that they moved.

As a writer, a collector of stories, and one who is fascinated by human choices and behavior, I want to know who these families are and what their ties are to the Johnson Family. Were they neighbors? Childhood friends? Casual acquaintances? Ex-lovers? There's a story here and the storyteller in me wants to tell it. But the Johnson Family is just a name on an envelope. With no forwarding address, their story will never be told but maybe, just maybe, the seeds of a book have been planted.

Fidget: A Christmas Story

Fidget: Santa's Smartest and Fastest Elf

Sometime during the fourth year of life, Dad told my brother and me about Fidget.

Fidget was one of Santa’s elves that lived in our house. He watched us all day, every day and carried around a notebook where he’d write down everything we did. As Christmas time approached, he would send all of his notes to Santa for him to determine whether or not we were going to get presents.

Fidget wasn’t a normal elf, Dad told us. He was the fastest and smartest of Santa’s elves. If he was standing right behind you in the middle of the room he knew when you were going to turn around and would run before you could even see him. If you walked into the same room where Fidget was, he could hide before you could see him. He could also squeeze and hide himself into the tiniest places so no matter how hard you looked for him, you could never find it. And to top it off, no matter where Fidget was, he could see what you were doing and would take notes.

As Dad told the story I remember looking around the living room and wondering where Fidget was hiding. Was he hiding behind the leg of the couch just out of site? Maybe he was peering between the heating vents so he could keep warm while he watched us. Perhaps he was peeking from behind a corner only to run away as soon as I looked in that direction. Fidget was fast, after all.

Though Dad told us this story to elicit some better behavior from us during the Christmas season, my brother and I bought the story of Fidget hook, line, and sinker. We spend hours setting up traps hoping to catch him or searching our room hoping he’d never be as quick as Dad said he was. Proof of Fidget’s existence, however, came on Christmas morning. Not only did Santa eat his plate of cookies and milk and leave a thank you note, but Fidget’s ate the food we left for him and left a note of thanks as well.

The story of Fidget went over way better than Dad expected, so he milked the story for all it was worth. No matter what time of year it was, Dad would reference Fidget. If we were fighting or getting under his nerves all he would have to do is say “Fidget’s watching!” and we’d stop fighting. When we moved from Utah to small Colorado town that summer Dad assured us that Fidget knew we were moving and would make the trip with us.

Now, 30 years later, Fidget lives again.

A couple weeks ago, while trying to get Aidan, Steven, and Molly to behave, I blurted out that Fidget was watching them. All three of them stopped and gave me blank looks.

"Who’s Fidget?" Aidan asked.

"You don’t know who Fidget is?" I said quickly feigning surprise.

They all shook their heads.

"Come sit by Dad," I said. "And let me tell you about the fastest and smartest of Santa's elves."

So far, the story of Fidget has worked just like I hoped. Sure, the kids still fight and argue like all kids do, but the mention of Fidget is enough to end the bickering—at least temporarily—and have them look around the room, wondering where he’s hiding.

My only hope is that Fidget is something I can use after this Christmas is over.

Like Dad, I want to milk the story for everything its worth.

Things I Learned from Our Vacation

Before we left on our trip last week, I wasn’t sure how our first family vacation with three kids was going to turn out. We’ve taken kids on overnight trips before but they’ve usually been a three or four hour drive away and we’ve always stayed with a family. We’ve never taken them on a 1,300 mile round-trip, stayed in hotels, and had them meet people and kids they’ve never seen before. Thankfully, we couldn’t have asked for things to turn out any better.

Instead of making the drive to Phoenix in one day, we made it a two-day journey. We thought that the kids would do better with shorter drives. We were right. After about six hours in the car the kids were ready to run around. So it was nice to have a place to stop and let the kids expend all their energy. It was also nice to learn that the kids found the hotel an exciting, mysterious place with cool things like swimming pools, ice machines, and elevators – three things they couldn’t get enough of.

The second good decision we made was to buy a portable DVD player. Okay, the DVD player wasn’t just for the trip. Marathon Girl and I do like watching movies together on the weekends after the kids are asleep and my laptops a little too big to be comfortable in bed. But we thought that during long stretches of the drive the kids might like watching a movie and keep them out of mischief.

I should admit that until this trip I’ve been opposed to kids watching movies in the car. And there was no real reason for my opposition other than I just figured the kids would either sleep or find something to do themselves or enjoy whatever part of the country we were driving through. Of course that’s easy to say when you’re an adult and the one doing the driving. I remember talking long, family vacations when I was a kid and being bored out of my mind during the long drive. At the very least, this would give them something to do for a few hours.

The DVD player worked just liked we hoped. About two hours into a drive, the kids would become bored and restless so we’d start a movie. This would keep them focused on something for another two hours. After we turned the movie off they’d sleep or play until we reached our destination. And while we won’t use this DVD player on short, every day trips, it’s nice to know that when we have to take a trip longer than two hours, the kids have multiple entertainment options – including the occasional movie.

The third good decision we made was not to pack the days with lots of events but small things that the kids would enjoy. (This was helped by the fact that the friends we visited had kids roughly the same age as ours.) Whether it be trips to a “train” park, a baseball game (more on that later), or swimming at the hotel, or eating at a place the kids would enjoy, we tried to make the trip as kid friendly as possible. We must have done a decent job of it because, much to our surprise, our two oldest kids expressed disappointment when we told them we were finally heading home.

It’s nice to know they enjoyed the trip just as much as the adults.