Your Life Is A Great Story. Are You Telling It?

If there is one thing that the march of time does for you, it has an ability to enhance  your observational skills. When I was younger, I saw ordinary people for what I thought they were: very ordinary.

Now that I’m…ahem…older, I see individuals around me as anything but ordinary. I wrote about it in a post about my grandparents, about how extraordinary they were. But there’s so much more to see.

As I see it, everyone has a story.

For the bulk of my life, I didn’t think I was anything special. A regular guy (average Joe, if you will) that grew up, went to school, got a job, met a girl, got married, blah blah blah. Just like everyone else.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

However, that opinion is untrue. Mine looks like an ordinary life, but there’s a story behind everything. You have them too. How are you telling them? As The Who’s Roger Daltrey once famously shrieked, “Can you see the real me, can you?”

When I was growing up, I lived in a neighborhood that was all about community, culture, and traditions. The kind of world that barely exists anymore. There’s a story behind that.

I was a fat kid that didn’t want to be fat anymore, and I made a decision,  after being inspired by a movie, to take control of my life and lose that weight and never gain it back. There’s a story behind that.

I went to middle and high school at a military academy, and struggled to fit in. There was conflict and rebellion, and it ended when I made it out and graduated. Another story.

Instead of getting a college degree, I decided to go to work in the family business. At the time, I thought it the only way to build on a relationship with my Dad. I was a bartender in his restaurant for nearly twenty years. There’s many stories behind that. 🙂

The working hours there were long, and at times went into the wee hours. If they didn’t, I probably wouldn’t have met my future wife one of those nights, while she was out having fun with friends. There’s a great story there.

If we didn’t get married and have our two wonderful kids, I probably wouldn’t have made the move to change careers, which was another struggle. I left my comfort zone behind to make sure I had enough time to spend with my family…and have no regrets.

The two loves of our lives, looking over the Queen of American Lakes.

Notice a pattern?? There’s a story behind that.

You have stories too. Just about everyone I know has a great story. Whether they believe it or not. They can be amazing, they can be tragic. Most of them fall in between. But “in between” is still worth telling. You live a bigger life than you know.

Growing up in the 70s and 80s, I was under the impression that all of the family that surrounded me were ordinary. That’s just plain crazy thinking. They had some of the best stories of them all. They had memories of living through the Great Depression, of the family farm, of surviving Allied bombing raids in Italy, and relatives that fought in the World War.

Many of those life reflections were shared with me around a kitchen table, told in the simplest of terms. I am grateful to have heard them when the opportunity was there.

Don’t miss your opportunity to share yours. Remember, there’s a story behind that.

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So This Is Christmas…

So this is Christmas,  and what have you done, another year over, a new one just begun. And so this is Christmas, I hope you have fun, the near and the dear ones, the old and the young.

A very merry Christmas and a happy New Year. Let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fears.

Happy Xmas (War Is Over) – John Lennon/ Yoko Ono 1971

Christmas music starts on the radio in November, and pretty much continues to the end of the year. It can be enough to drive you insane.

But, along with any Christmas tune by Frank and Dino, the Lennon/Ono collaboration that became Happy Xmas is one of those Christmas songs that I could listen to repeatedly without getting sick of it.

It’s just a shame that its message is as relevant today as it was in 1971. A world without war to celebrate Christmas during our lifetimes? Not likely.

Photo by Gabrielle DeGiorgio

Post-Christmas, some other thoughts running around in my head:

I’m torn about gifts – While I think that my kids (and my wife and I) got far too many gifts again this year, fighting it may not be fair, and is probably a lost cause anyway. It’s a perfect right of their grandparents to spoil them as they see fit. So they get multitudes of gifts.

I’ll probably do the same thing when I’m a grandfather. I can’t bitch about the gift giving methods of anyone else when I know future Joe could be just as guilty.

As much as I like to complain about the lack of spirituality around the Christmas holiday, there wasn’t a seat to be had at the church where I attended Mass. In fact, there wasn’t much standing room, either. Elbow to elbow.

The fact that the church was packed reminded me of Christmas celebrations in past years, when I attended Mass with my grandparents and other family members. In the days when going to church was an essential activity in late December. That’s old school stuff that has a place here in 2011.

Next week, there will be plenty of available space. Next week, I’ll be able to sit if I want to.

Avoiding advertising is nearly impossible – The ramping up of ads proclaiming the latest and greatest discounts for Christmas sales is more intense than ever. To avoid it altogether is a tall order that’s hard to achieve. Materialism is front and center and it all reeks of receive, receive, receive. If you can get through the entire season without being tempted to spend more money than you actually have, congratulations.

And on that note…

The American economy is far too dependent on holiday shopping – A large part of our economy is based on consumer spending. What a house of cards. I can understand the fortunes of a retail chain bouncing up and down with the sales numbers, but…

Consumer confidence?

The stock market?

Crazy stuff. Thankfully, the average consumer was more than willing to put themselves into hock this holiday season to help out the economy. It was said that Americans were suffering from “frugal fatigue”, and their inclination was to spend their way out of it, to make themselves feel better.

Ho ho ho…

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Running Out Of Time? Try This Brilliant Christmas Shopping Idea

It’s getting close to crunch time. If you haven’t gotten your remaining holiday gifts for the people you buy for, you’re running out of days and minutes.

For many, panic mode is soon to set in.

My wife was feeling the pressure. With the nephews and other relatives still on the list, I saw her mind starting to race, and her actions becoming harried. I’ve already had to tell her to go slower.

Women especially feel obligated to purchase gifts for everyone, as an expression of love. Even though most of us have everything we need, the ladies (and a lot of men) have hit the malls in record numbers.

I am of the opinion that if you’re becoming short on time, maybe gift cards are your solution. But my wife won’t have it. “What seven year old wants to open a gift card?”

She’s right about that.

But, what seven year old (or person of any age) would not like to open an envelope with some cold, hard cash in it?

If you’ve read this far, some of you may be thinking, “What an unthoughtful gift!” And to that I say, keep an open mind. When I was younger, I was privy to the Christmas shopping genius that was my Grandmother.

Her shopping method? Order her grandson to get in his car, and take a trip downtown to the bank. When there, grab a couple dozen fancy bank Christmas envelopes, go to the teller, and make a withdrawal of varied denominations of dead presidents.

Boom. Christmas shopping completed.

Now, while it may not seem thoughtful to you to give cash gifts I, like Jimmy Fallon, can’t think of anyone who doesn’t like money. Aside from the fact that practically no one will say “You gave me money??” with a disdainful look on their face, there are other advantages to the glorious gift of cash:

There is no stress involved – The process for cash gifts is one stop shopping. The bank is your store, and the teller your retail clerk. “Can I help you?” “Why, yes, I’d like a pound of twenties, please.” And you’re done. No running from store to store. No jostling with others to be first in line.

And no pepper spray. Easy breezy.

You take away the possibility of overspending – At the bank, you can’t buy another toy other than what was on your list, and there’s no sneaking a little something for yourself there, while you’re buying for others. Even if you really deserve it.

If you’re gift giving budget is $300 or $500, there’s no overspending. That’s what you get.

You can focus on family and fun – Gram had no time to go to stores, unless it was to the import store for cheese and mortadella (I drove there, also). She had people to make happy, and mountains of food to prep and cook. And she had to go to church, too. Because that’s what the holiday is about anyway.

You help the economy! – Yes, you do help the economy when you shop at Macy’s or J.C. Penney’s. I’m aware of that. But why not help the economy and your mental state? Instead of going on expeditions through shopping mall jungles looking for hidden treasure, admit to yourself that cash is the perfect gift! It’s a win win! The economy gets a little boost, and you don’t feel like strangling your fellow shoppers!

My Grandmother handed out envelopes like she was the Queen handing out royal appointments. She gave gifts to her favorite people, and every single one of them appreciated the gesture. She would be met every once in a while by an “Oh, you shouldn’t have!”, but every gift was accepted.

I even tried to tell her on a couple of occasions, “Gram, I don’t want your money. You do enough for me.” Remember, I ate meals at her house 300 days out of the year. Or more.

“Oh, come on!!” was the response I would hear. And my hand would extend to take the envelope.

This week, don’t wrack your brain trying to buy yet another gift. Use a gift from an old Sicilian lady instead. Stick a greenback in an envelope, relax, and enjoy the sights, sounds, food, and events of the holiday with those people closest to you. That’s the true spirit of Christmas…

Buon Natale!

Not Your Average Heroes

As I wrote in this post, we have the bad habit of heaping praise and admiration on celebrity and athletic figures that are far from deserving of it.

But in reality, true heroes don’t have roles in movies, throw footballs, or star in television shows. They are all around you, doing everyday things, having their small but important impact.

When I think of true heroes, my mind always comes back to my grandparents. My grandfather, and my grandmother, the woman everyone called “Nonna”.  One of the inspirations for this blog, the very definition of what I perceive to be “old school” values.

They left their homes in Italy, coming to America for opportunity, for a better life. The trip to this country was far from easy. I imagine when they were arriving at Ellis Island, they weren’t treated very well. Beginning a life in America was just as hard.

They were here to experience the Great Depression, a time in the USA that made our current economic recession pale by comparison. Hard times looking at a bleak future. They made it through.

They worked physically demanding jobs in blue collar factories that were once the backbone of American industry. Proud of the work that made their living and fed their children.

They built businesses in the restaurant industry, putting in thousands of hours to make them successful, while supporting a family. The care that was put into the food and service for the restaurants was my grandmother’s stamp of excellence. No one roasted a better turkey or made a better bowl of pasta e fagioli.

They survived the worst family tragedy, having to bury a son, my uncle Anthony, when he was just a boy. I can’t even imagine the level of pain and emptiness they felt. Somehow, they made it through. Years later, Nonna would shed tears talking about him, then be smiling again just a few minutes later. Courageous.

They made a vow in 1936 and stayed together for over six decades. Through the good times and the bad, they never wavered in their commitment to each other. They had a better shot at being married for 72 years than 72 days. Take note, modern reality show wackos.

Later in their lives, they both had a variety of health issues, but very little stopped them. They never really “retired”. Just kept working until their bodies would no longer allow them to.

They rarely complained, if at all, and didn’t think they were entitled to anything they didn’t work for. They thought that people who would rely on the government for support were “misinformed”, and the only place that they would ever “occupy” would be their house, after coming home from another hard day’s work.

Heroes. How do you define them? Are they movie actors? Sport stars? Or do they have a little more…substance? I know my definition. There are no trophies or ceremonies, and the best of them may look like nothing special in day to day existence.

But they have more influence than they know. The world is a better place because they were here.

What Do You Believe In?

My eleven year old son lost a tooth the other night in what has been a succession of lost teeth over the last few weeks. The only difference with this one is the tooth fairy forgot to  slip some money under his pillow in exchange for the tooth (damn short term memory).

This led to a discussion with Mom about, well, how Mom and Dad actually are the tooth fairy. Over the initial shock, he seemed to take it pretty well. Since his reaction was less than explosive, my wife took it a step further… to include Santa and the Easter Bunny.

At first, I couldn’t believe she was doing it. I think both my son and daughter are growing up too fast as it is, and I wasn’t sure if telling him that Santa and his reindeer are fiction was the greatest idea.

I thought, in the past,  maybe my writing partner Gabrielle would spill the beans to her brother about Santa and his holiday crew (she has an affinity for the Great Pumpkin). Impressively, she kept it tightly under wrap.

Turns out he suspected it, anyway. Although Suzie and I have always made a big fuss about leaving cookies and milk for Santa and seeing hoof prints from the reindeer in the snow, the little boy spied gifts from Santa he unwrapped on Christmas Day in the back of a mini van in a department store bag.

I know they’re growing up. I know the concept of “being realistic” is setting in.

I knew they weren’t going to believe forever.

Tooth fairy or not…there’s some things Dad thinks they have to believe:

I want them to believe in themselves. Without self confidence, the world can be a hard place. Even if they don’t feel confident, I’d like to see them fake it. Until they are. With a good dose of confidence, their opportunities will open right up.

I want them to believe that they will always have something to offer the world. Because they do. I’ve already posted of my daughter’s budding talents in art, writing, and photography. My son already has a martial arts black belt, and is honing his skill in baseball. They have the ability now to help and inspire others if they want to.

I want them to believe that no matter how many times they get knocked down, they can always get back up. Dad can tell them a little about rejection. I work with it every day. The sting of rejection goes away the more you deal with it.  If you’re not meeting some resistance, you’re not doing anything of consequence.

I want them to believe there are no shortcuts. The very best way to win, do a task, fulfill a dream, achieve a goal is desire: to want it just a little bit more than the next guy (or girl) and give maximum effort to do it.

It’s a very simple solution that their great grandparents could have taught them. Just outwork everybody else.

I want them to believe, no matter what, Mom and Dad will always have their back. Enough said here. My wife and I could not imagine loving anyone more. We’ve got your back.

I want them to believe that no matter how old they get, living the dream is always possible. Even if they get caught up in the cycle of education, getting a job, paying the bills, wrestling with the mortgage, and wondering if a retirement is even possible… they can always believe in something more, no matter what “it” is.

Even if you’re in your forties and you still wonder what you may be when you finally grow up…you’ve still got time.

That’s my case. What do you believe in?