Thanksgiving Day: The one blessing we overlook

This post was originally published on Nov. 20, 2013, but between food prep, writing, voiceover work, and chasing after a 3-year-old, my time is extremely limited this week! So I thought it might be appropriate to dust this off and re-post it for any of my followers who hadn’t caught it the first time around. I hope you enjoy your week, whether or not you’re celebrating Thanksgiving here in the U.S., and be grateful…that you have the capacity to be thankful!

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Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. will be here in two days, and everywhere you turn, people are talking, writing, and blogging about all the things they’re thankful for.  I, for one, am growing weary of it.

Now, please don’t get me wrong; it’s good to be grateful.  Indeed, we should be thankful – and display that thankfulness – every day of our lives.  We should reflect upon our blessings on a regular basis and never hesitate to show our appreciation for what we have.

My problem is not so much with the thankfulness; it’s that we’re missing an important reason to be thankful.

The Usual Suspects

Again, please don’t misunderstand me; I’m glad people are thankful for their blessings.  But there are certain blessings that show up on nearly everyone’s lists – our faith(s), our families and friends, our lives, our pets, our homes, our talents.

Some people may be thankful their loved ones made it home safely from being abroad; others may be grateful that they received a year-end bonus, or even have a job at all.

Even the poor and destitute among us may be thankful for things like the warmth of the sun or the kindness of a stranger.

I can say honestly that I am truly, truly, TRULY thankful for all these things…but you probably could have guessed that, even if you had never met me or had never even heard of me or this blog.

These are the blessings that most of humanity celebrates – and the acknowledgement that we should be grateful for these things is rooted in the love, compassion, and empathy that separates our species from the rest of the animal kingdom.

We recognize the importance of both gratitude and thankfulness.

A quick vocabulary lesson

Gratitude and thankfulness are not necessarily interchangeable.

I’m no lexicographer or linguist, but it has always been my understanding that these words had different meanings.  To be thankful means you’re appreciative that something that you wanted came about; to be grateful indicates you are appreciative towards someone or something.

(Any English professors in the house?  Please correct me if I’m wrong!)

The reason it’s important to know the difference is because gratitude is directional; thankfulness is not.  Feed a hungry animal and it may be thankful it received food, but it might not be grateful toward you for feeding it.  I know pet owners will disagree with that – having two dogs and two cats of my own, I’ll admit that some animals probably are grateful to the person taking care of them – but how many of these animals understand what it means to be grateful or thankful?

And therein lies the rationale for my previous statement that our recognition of the importance of both gratitude and thankfulness is one of the important qualities that elevates us above the rest of the animal kingdom.

Little blessings, and the BIG one

As I ponder this, I come to the conclusion that the human condition of feeling gratitude, thankfulness, and appreciation is itself a blessing.

Yes, I’m thankful for all those things we talked about earlier.  I’m thankful for my family, our friends, and our pets.  I’m thankful I live in a country that promotes freedom of speech, religion, and personal excellence.  I’m grateful to God and Jesus for their love and sacrifices; I’m grateful to my wife and family for supporting me as a self-employed stay-at-home dad; I’m grateful to Al Gore for creating the internet.

(I’m also thankful – or grateful – to whomever or whatever was responsible for getting my 2-year-old to finally stop waking up at 5am…daylight savings time really screwed up the poor little dude’s internal clock for a couple of weeks!)

But I don’t want to overlook this very important aspect of our humanity; that is, the recognition of the importance of gratitude and thankfulness.

Thankful…for being thankful?

Yes, that is basically what I’m saying.  Chuckle if you’d like.  However, when you actually think about what it means to be thankful for having the comprehension of what gratitude, appreciation, or even indebtedness mean…I hope you will understand why I believe it is so important.

We humans are not simply grateful, or thankful.  We comprehend – and celebrate – the importance of being grateful or thankful.

So this Thanksgiving Day, while we’re giving thanks for all we have, think about why you are thankful.

Think about why you are grateful.

And give thanks that you are.

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Revelations from the state fair, Vol. V

hsflogo-lg

Every Labor Day Weekend, I spend Friday through Monday working at the local state fair as the PA announcer, a position that requires not just a lot of talking, but a lot of walking and a whole lot of preparation.

It’s one of the most fun jobs I’ve had in my life, and I look forward to it every year. One minute I’m heading over to one of the small stage areas to double-check times or check out an act I hadn’t seen before; the next, I’m inside the administration building chowing down on a loaded baked potato piled high with every ingredient known to mankind.

(Trust me, when it comes to fair food, one needs to pace oneself.)

As has been tradition here at Triple R, I always share some of the things I’ve learned from each fair, because it’s not just an enjoyable work experience – it’s a learning experience, to boot. In the past, I’ve learned the most despised candies in the universe;  why environmentalists hate truck pulls; and even the best time to “smell” the fair.

So what nuggets of wisdom did I glean this year?

  1. The threat of a hurricane drives up Friday attendance. There was a lot of talk about whether or not Hermine would make it to the New Hampshire coast, and when. We were anticipating getting hit Sunday and Monday, the latter half of the fair, which is why I think our Friday ticket numbers were off the charts. As it turned out, Hermine never even made it, and we had a stupendous weekend all four days!
    .
  2. sandtasticSand used for sand sculptures is not normal beach sand. As Sandtastic Sand Sculpture Company’s sculptor (pictured) explained to me, the sand they use is comprised of faceted grains, which help the sand to wedge together and stick to itself. Conversely, beach sand is worn smooth from being tossed in the water and therefore is much more difficult to work with.
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  3. Speaking of sculpting…chainsaw sculptors use specially-designed chainsaws. I was chatting with Ben Risney, whose chainsaw
    risney-1
    (Click to enlarge)

    carvings are masterful, when he told me that some of his smaller chainsaws are custom-designed, industrial-grade. His larger saws are standard chainsaws, but the smaller ones, like the one pictured, have an angled bar and run at twice the RPMs of a normal chainsaw. The primary benefit of using a saw with such high RPMs is that the cuts are so smooth, he rarely needs to sand the sculptures once they’re completed! You can see Ben in action and more of his handiwork HERE.
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  4. “Battered Savs??” Who knew? corn-dogs
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  5. Some folks take their fried foods way more seriously than others. I was walking along a pathway when I overheard two young women chatting behind me. The conversation went something like this:
    “So, so sad.”
    “Yes, it is.”
    “Such a sad situation.”
    “Things like that just shouldn’t happen.”
    It was at that moment I realized they were talking about a piece of fried dough that lay on the ground; perfectly elliptical, not one bite had been taken out of it. I shed a tear, as well.
    .
  6. Saw blades are high-tech pieces of equipment. One of the many attractions at the fair this year were the Axe Women: Loggers of Maine, featuring championship women loggers competing in axe throwing, log rolling, cross-cut sawing, and a number of other events. I learned that their crosscut saw (bottom photo) is made in New Zealand of a special metal alloy that is strong and smooth – but is extremely sensitive to moisture; in fact, if the blade is not kept properly oiled, under very humid conditions it will start rusting within 30 minutes.
    axe-2  axe-1
    axe-3
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  7. Deep-fried pickle chips are superior to deep-fried pickle spears. This is not a decision I came to haphazardly; I spent a number of years researching the merits of each. You’re welcome.
    .
  8. dino-2 Dinosaur costumes are a lot heavier than they look. Really high-quality costumes, I should say. I had an opportunity to chat with John and Chance Bloom and their family, who run (among other things) a business called Dinosaur Xperience – which brings a walking, talking T-Rex right to your event.
    Chance told me the lifelike suit is 80-100 pounds, and contains a metal cage around the  head and thorax, which allows for

    dino-1
    Yes, even dinos need ID.

    electronically-controlled motion and sound. She can tolerate about 30-40 minutes inside the outfit before she needs to get indoors to cool off and re-hydrate…so thank goodness her husband and their 4 kids are all part of the act, helping her!

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Well, I hope you enjoyed this little review. It’s amazing the things one can learn at the fair – and spending so much time at this one allows me ample opportunity to discover things I might never notice otherwise. And for writers, learning and observing is crucial!

Until next time, have a good week! (and seriously, let me know your thoughts on the deep-fried pickles!)

risney-3
Some examples of Ben Risney’s work, which were featured around the fairgrounds.

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Poetry Friday: Throwback Summer concludes in “Stride”

Let me just tell you.. I am SO glad I didn’t need to come up with anything too long or witty for today’s post – I simply could not have done it.

poetryfridaybutton-fulllJust before 3pm on Thursday afternoon, I was ripping out part of our garden when I apparently disturbed a yellowjacket nest. I was promptly stung about 8 times, primarily on my scalp. Not fun.

Then, after my wife came home from work, we were eating dinner when the crown on my right front tooth fell out – and rather than relax for awhile, I was on my way into the city half an hour away to get to a pharmacy for crown repair cement. Doubly not fun.

And this is all happening the day before I begin a long, 4-day weekend as the PA announcer for the local state fair! Triply not fun.

I’ve been trying to maintain a positive attitude about all this (hey, at least I didn’t have a serious allergic reaction to the stings, right?), but in all honesty, I’ve had enough. I’m exhausted, and my bed is looking really good right now.

So with that said, I can now present the final installment of my Throwback Summer series, which started when I discovered my old high school journals and other papers in my parent’s attic.

Today’s poem was written in my college Creative Writing class, and I was still trying to get a handle on free verse at this point. I really liked rhyme and structure and that sort of thing, so free verse took some getting used to. And unlike most of the Throwback Summer poems I’ve shared here, this one isn’t too bad. Yes, it has its faults, but compared to everything that has come before…I think it holds its own…

Stride (poem)

I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip down Memory Lane – it’s certainly been eye-opening for me, to recall what I was writing and doing back then. And it’s quite a relief, to know that my writing has gotten (marginally) better! Speaking of writing, Penny Parker Klostermann is hosting Poetry Friday today, so please stop by and check out all the links and fun!

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How I saved a butterfly, told the story in 10 words, and ended up on a blog

Just goes to show, one never knows from whence inspiration might come…

DMC_ColorMichelle H. Barnes over at Today’s Little Ditty is holding her “Ditty of the Month Challenge” writing prompt, and this month’s challenge follows her interview with children’s poet/author Diana Murray. Diana challenged blog readers to write poems based on unlikely heroes, and it took me nearly all month long to discover I was the hero I would eventually write about.

Our family was at a local farm over the weekend, and while inside the gardener’s shed I discovered my subject, having a very difficult time trying to get out of a plastic-sheeted window. When I got home, I wrote a haiku about it -and today, Michelle is featuring it on her blog! I hope you’ll stop by and check out my poem along with all the others…there are some very good poems there, written by many talented folks.

And by the way, I’ll be wrapping up my Throwback Summer series this coming Friday, with another one of my early free verse poems, that I wrote in my college Creative Writing class. It’s verbose and overdone, but not half-bad – so please come back  and let me know what you think!

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Poetry Friday: Throwback Summer takes a 180 turn…

…into Not-Quite-So-Bad Land.

As you might have heard, I’m sharing some of my old high school poetry each Friday this summer – and yes, most of it has been painfully horrendous.

poetryfridaybutton-fulllBut as we’re coming to the final stretch of this series (I anticipate wrapping up this trip back in time the first week of September), I’m now sharing a couple of poems I wrote in college. And although they are not the best poems ever written, they are nowhere near as vomit-inducing as most of the previous ones I’ve subjected you to.

(In other words, if you were expecting another “Ode to a Dishrag,” prepare to be disappointed)

Today’s poem was one of the first free verse poems I ever wrote. (The very first one was actually published!) It was written for my college Creative Writing class with Dr. Joyce Thomas, at Castleton State College, Vermont. I recall revising it a number of times, so I think  this was the final version. If you don’t mind mixed metaphors, verbose lines, and obvious connections, read on…

The Performance

Houselights down:
the sky grows increasingly dark
pinholes of stars shrouded
by clouds fully drenched with water;
giant sponges
floating in the otherwise barren atmosphere,
waiting to be squeezed by some giant hand.
A burst of light, center stage –
a short flash of lightning illuminates the earth below,
the black, India-ink sky turns to a dull gray.
The celestial sphere appears as an oyster shell.
Two more bolts spotlight the event;
……….Act I, Scene 1.
Hesitant only for a split second
lightning’s comrade enters stage right,
jarring the thoughts of those already attentive.
The deep baritone voice of the leading man
echoes throughout the auditorium;
more loud rolls of thunder echo each other,
flowing over grassy hills that provide proper acoustics.
the curtain of soaking rain
drops from the proscenium
to a captive audience lost
in bewilderment.

The show begins.

– Matt Forrest Esenwine, 10-20-88, Class: ENG465

This is one of those poems that I’d really like to shave down and rewrite…but I have so many other more pressing things to do I’m sure it’ll never happen! The one thing I like best about this is the fact that I was able to combine a narrative with some poetic imagery and internal rhyme, even if it was quite amateurish and clunky.

My professor (a published poet), knowing how bad most of my poetry had been up to this point, seemed genuinely impressed that I had somehow knocked this out onto paper. With her encouragement, I soldiered on and wrote many, many more truly horrible poems in-between a handful of publishable ones. I like to think that I have now turned that ratio on its head…but that might just be me being delusional.

Ready for some more poetry? Much better poetry? Then please visit Doraine Bennett at Dori Reads for today’s complete Poetry Friday Roundup!

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
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Poetry Friday: The worst poem ever used as a writing workshop example (yes, Throwback Summer continues!)

journals - high schoolI have been amazed – in both good ways and bad – at the amount of poetry I’ve come across while poring over my old high school journals, which were discovered earlier this summer in my folks’ attic.

Most of it was horrendously bad – but at least I was writing, and that practice helped hone my poetry skills, vocabulary, and my sense of humor. This is why I encourage people to #WriteLikeNoOneIsReading – if we’re all supposed to dance like no one’s watching, with carefree abandon, we should apply the same principle to writing, yes?

So today, I’m sharing a poem I wrote in April 1985, and although I didn’t plan to use it as an example during my free verse poetry workshop at the New England SCBWI conference this past spring…that’s exactly what happened.

I was explaining different types of poetic “voice” (Lyrical, Narrative, Dramatic) and made mention of two types of dramatic voice: mask and apostrophe. Mask voice is when the poet speaks from the point-of-view of an inanimate object or animal; apostrophe, on the other hand, is when the poet is speaking to an inanimate object or animal.

(Speaking to a specific person might be considered apostrophe, but would most likely be deemed lyrical voice as opposed to dramatic voice, since lyrical poems are spoken in the first person…it’s a bunch of technical, poetic mumbo-jumbo that only academicians fret over, so don’t worry if you’ve already forgotten what we were talking about.)

Anyhoo…I was explaining apostrophe (the poetic voice, not the punctuation mark) and the following poem suddenly popped in my head – and this was before I even discovered it hidden away between old, empty jelly jars and a dust-covered Air Hockey table at my parents’ place. Yes, it’s a rhyming poem, but it uses apostrophe in a most ridiculously overblown way, elevating a kitchen cleaning product to Shakespearean heights.

Even now, I look back on this and chuckle…it wasn’t the greatest poem ever written, but I’ve read a lot of poems that were worse, written by adults who should know better:

Ode to a Dishrag

O limpy piece of terrycloth,
Stained from last night’s chicken broth,
How I love to hold you, thus –
I clean pans and you don’t fuss.
And tho’ you soak in many a sud,
Ne’er do you complain of the crud.
You don’t mind the soggy bread,
Burnt-on Spam of which I dread),
Bits of egg and moldy cheese…
You put up with all of these.
Coffee grinds, potato skins,
Parts of fish – like eyes and fins –
And then, of course, there’s pots and pans
That always seem to stick to hands.
All these things you clean with care;
You touch things I wouldn’t dare.
So if I never let you know,
Dishrag, how I love you so!

– Matt Forrest Esenwine, April 11, 1985

I’m honestly not sure what kind of “poetry” I’ll be sharing next week, but I only have one or two more weeks left of my Throwback Summer – so your brain can rest easy knowing that by the time the kids are back in school, (slightly) more tolerable poetry will be coming your way here at the ol’ Triple-R blog.

poetryfridaybutton-fulllSpeaking of back-to-school, Julieanne at To Read To Write To Be has today’s Poetry Friday roundup, and is as excited as a person can be as she prepares to venture forth in the new academic year. So head on over and check out all the poetry links and fun!

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
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To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)
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Poetry Friday: “Ode to Lint,” a Throwback Summer lost classic

poetryfridaybutton-fulllYes, this poem had been lost for a long time…and had I not stumbled upon it in my parents’ attic, we all would have probably been better off.

If you have somehow not heard, I am sharing bits and pieces of my high school journals this summer, having come across a huge stash of old schoolwork while cleaning out my folks’ house, in preparation for its sale.

Back in June, I wrote about the initial discovery, and just this past Tuesday I explained why it was inevitable that I ended up in careers involving writing and advertising. Today, I’m sharing another one of the chestnuts I wrote in my English journal during senior year…and although it’s far from stellar-quality, it is probably the best-written poem I’ve shared from my journals so far.

You be the judge…

“Ode to Lint, II”

What is this, that I do see
floating past, in front of me?
Small dust speck, or puff of hair?
What is that thing flying there?
I reach out, it comes to me,
hardly larger than a flea;
I look close, I analyze.
Staring hard, I scrutinize
and attempt (as best I can)
to discern this work of Man.
Oh, too hard to contemplate!
Leaves my hand to impend fate.
What is that, that I do see
floating past, in front of me?
Small dust speck, or puff of hair?
What is that thing flying there??

– © 1985, Matt Forrest Esenwine, 4-4-85

Now, you have not known this until now, but I’ve done you the great service of not sharing most of the horrible poetry I wrote back then. Yes, yes…hard to believe, considering the subterranean level of quality of most of it. But true.

I had a penchant for trying to elevate the most mundane, ridiculous objects into flowery, verbose poems – so consider yourself fortunate that I have not shared my “Ode to a Stool,” “Ode to a Desk,” “Ode to Crust,” “Ode to Dropping Socks,” “Ode to Slippery Shoes,” “Ode to a Deep Thought,” or – what just might be the worst of all – my “Ode to Lint, I.” That’s right, I wasn’t happy with just one poem about lint; I apparently felt the subject was worthy of two, at least.

For today’s complete Poetry Friday roundup, head on over to Books 4 Learning. And be prepared…there’s a whole lot more mediocrity coming your way next week, right here!

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
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To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)
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Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!