Birthdays! Some of us love them and will dedicate an entire week to celebrating the special day, while others hope and prefer that it just go unnoticed and treat it just like “any other day.”
In any event, I hope that everyone at least has cake, pie, ice cream, cookies, or whatever you enjoy on your special day. If not, tell me when your birthday is and I will celebrate with those goodies for you!
I love my birthday. Dec. 21. The day winter usually begins. I always thought that winter began on the 21st of December until I started noticing that calendars were showing it before or after that day on occasion. Oh well, I still claim that winter begins on my birthday, regardless of what the calendar says.
My brother Tim was born on Dec. 25, so he has the distinction of being a Christmas baby, which is another reason why I hold on to the idea that winter ALWAYS begins on my birthday, just so I can have the claim to having something “special” fall on my birthday.
Another interesting tidbit about my special day is that I share it with my sister-in-law Cheryl. Not just the date, mind you, but the year and the hospital too! We were both born at Sturgis Hospital about 12 hours apart on the same day and same year. Interesting, right?
As much as I love birthdays and the attention, this birthday was the one I have been dreading. It was a milestone, but not one that you would expect. I already had the milestones of becoming a teenager, climbing into adulthood, reaching the magical age of 21, and hitting the quarter century mark.
But this one was bigger and more meaningful, and one that I have both looked forward to, but yet fretted over, for many years.
And big surprise … I did NOT turn 40!
No, the milestone was not the one that most people fear most. I am not entering a mid-life crisis or anything like that, either.
I simply turned 39. The BIG 3-9. Yes, that is the age I have been dreading for the past two-plus decades.
The reason is simple. That is the age my mother was when she passed away from cancer. My siblings and I always talked about it as we each inched closer and closer to that magic number.
I don’t know if they really thought about it as much as I did. But we were all aware of it. We all want to live as long as our parents, especially if they live to a ripe old age. But when a parent passes away at such a young age, it kind of puts life in a different perspective.
I guess there was always a little fear in my mind that I might not make it to my 39th birthday. I mean, did my mom really think that her life would end at such a young age, especially with children that depended on her at home?
Now that I have reached that “magical” age, it has made me stop and think just how young my mom really was when she lost her battle. I think of my children and how they would react to losing me right now. I wonder about how life would change for them and my wife, without me being there. But most of all, it pains me to no end to think about not being able to watch my babies grow up and experience life and to grow old with my wonderful wife. I also think of my children in the respect that I do not remember much about my mom, so it is important to me to make sure we make the most out of each and every day.
As I celebrated my birthday, with my wife, daughters, friends and a few thousand others at a Kalamazoo Wings game last Friday, I was both at ease with my life but also mourning my mother, even after all these years.
All in all, it was a happy birthday. But now that it is over, I can begin preparing/worrying/agonizing for the BIG 4-0!
“And I’ve brought some corn for popping”: This time of year is bad for my waistline. Like many others, I tend to eat a tad bit more around the holidays. Well, to be honest, I consume a little bit more than a tad! But most of my eating does not happen at home, but rather at the office. Aside from the holiday goodies that co-workers bring in, such as cookies and candy, our vendors, clients and others graciously send in an array of edible treats for us to enjoy. From jars of assorted nuts, which are delicious, to boxes of candies and other gifts, finding a snack in our office around the holidays is never a problem. The real problem is not being able to STOP snacking. Just this week one of those large jars of nuts was placed at my desk, which is more or less the water cooler of the office. When someone stopped by to grab a few, I felt it was my duty to help myself as well. The jar is nearly empty after just a few days. Luckily we have another unopened jar still in the box waiting to take its place! If there is one thing I wish I could get for Christmas, it would be self-control. When I see snacks just sitting there, waiting to be eaten, I tell myself, “hey, it’s the holidays, live it up.” The guiltiest pleasures of all the yummy things we receive in our office are the tins of popcorn. If there is any variety of cheddar or white cheddar popcorn in that tin, I am like a kid in a candy store! We often joke that it would be nice if we received baskets of fresh fruit instead, how nice that would be. In the end, it doesn’t matter. If it is edible, we will eat it. Well, maybe except for figgy pudding. I still have no idea what that even is. But if it tastes good …
“Greeting cards have all been sent”: I have mentioned before how much I enjoy sending Christmas cards. It is a tradition that I personally started years ago that I picked up from my Grandma and Grandpa Wellington, who always sent out and received more cards than I can remember each Christmas. I added an annual “update” letter when I moved to Kalamazoo in 1996 and have dropped one in my cards ever since. I told my wife that I will probably be the last person on earth sending Christmas cards and I will do so until they stop selling them. That time may be coming. I noticed that many stores have slashed their greeting card sections almost in half, probably because of the popularity of the photo card. I also had a hard time finding Christmas stationery for my annual letter! Of course, I waited until the last minute to purchase it, but still, there selection was pretty poor. Those are the two items that I always venture out for the day after Christmas. I have a feeling, based on the pre-sale inventory, that I might come away disappointed this year. I have softened my ways regarding the photo cards, however. We do purchase a handful of photo cards as well, but they are sent WITH the card and letter. Otherwise, the picture is included in the letter itself. Change comes so slowly for some people!
Twenty years ago I graduated from Constantine High School.
It does not nearly seem possible that 20 years have gone by. But at the same time, it feels like a lifetime ago and in many respects it was.
When I walked across that stage to receive my diploma, I had no idea what was ahead for me. I could not tell you what I was going to do the next day, let alone five years down the road.
One thing I never thought about, especially coming from a small town, was if I would see or stay in touch with many of my friends and classmates. Most of whom I attended school with from kindergarten until our senior year. I thought it was just a given that we would remain in contact.
I was not the popular kid in school, but I was not disliked or shunned either. Everyone knew me and I knew them, but I was definitely quieter and kept to myself more, which is the total opposite of how I am today!
As with many of us, we all drifted off in our own directions. Some of us have stayed in touch in some way or another while others have not seen each other since graduation day back in 1992.
Planning for our 20th reunion started well over a year ago and I was excited about it. Thanks to the invention of Facebook, I have been able to reconnect with many classmates that I had lost touch with over the years, but to hang out together as a group was something I was looking forward to.
Being proactive, we created a “reunion committee” to discuss ideas and carry out the event. While I was pumped for the reunion I was not sure I wanted to be a part of the committee, but I reluctantly joined.
The group started out with gusto. Ideas were floated around; committee members were gathering names and address, calling locations to have the reunion, inquiring about catering and entertainment. We were working like a well-oiled machine.
Then it stopped. Communication stopped. Planning stopped. The reunion stopped.
We had a date set in late September, but as August was coming to a close, and with no decisions being made, we had to decide if having a reunion was even going to happen.
That is when I decided to take the bull by the horns, and with the assistance of another classmate, we set a new date and secured a location. We figured if we did not do it now, we never would. I took care of the DJ, catering, invitations and financial aspect of the project. Between the two of us, we were determined to make sure the Constantine Class of 1992 had its 20th reunion.
It was not an easy task, especially with the short time frame we had to pull it off. But I am proud to say our reunion, which was held a few weeks ago, was a great success. Several of us attended the football game the night before and went out after to enjoy each other’s company.
Before the reunion on Saturday, tours of the schools were organized so we could step back in time and roam the halls that were once our home for so many years. A special thanks to Superintendent Chuck Frisbie for taking time out of his Saturday to accommodate this for us.
At the end of the night two things struck me as I turned out the lights at the American Legion. After 20 years it was good to see everyone again. It was not like high school (which was one reason some of my classmates decided not to attend the reunion). There were no egos, backstabbing or whispering. There was laughter, friendship, fun and more importantly, new memories.
I understand why people prefer to stay away, especially if they do not have fond memories of their time in school. Like I said earlier, I was not a part of the “IN” crowd nor was I the sports star. I was me, for better or worse. But to see the faces and hear the voices of those that I spent so many years with was well worth it in my opinion. People change. I changed.
Which leads me to the other thing I thought about; my personality. How would things have been different if I was who I am now as compared to then. I am not the same skinny, quiet kid anymore. I think I surprised a few people that night, on and off the dance floor, which is kind of what I was hoping for.
The best moment of the night happened when a classmate approached me and said “I really wish we would have talked more in school. You are a really fun guy.”
I wish we had too. And I am a fun guy! We can’t go back in time, but we can move forward.
That is the only word I have to describe the feat that Andy Ashkar pulled off when he won $5 million on a scratch-off lottery ticket six years ago in Syracuse, N.Y.
In 2006, Andy bought a “$500,000,000 Extravaganza” scratch-off ticket at his parents’ convenience store, the “Green Ale Market.” The ticket was sold to Andy by his father Neyef. Before anyone jumps on the conspiracy bandwagon, the lottery bureau investigated the situation, as they do anytime a winner is related to the owner of a store and the sale was legitimate according to their findings.
Andy decided to share the winnings with his brother Nayel. That is where this story takes an even more interesting turn.
The brothers decided not to tell anyone that they won, nor did they cash in their winning lottery ticket until this past March, nearly six years later.
Unlike many lottery games such as the Lotto, Mega Millions and others in which you have one year from the date of the drawing to claim your prize, winners have a year after the game has ended to turn in their tickets.
In this instance the “Extravaganza” game was retired on March 12, 2011 and Andy turned in his ticket on March 1.
Why did they wait so long, you ask? Andy told media outlets that he did not want his newfound financial windfall to be an influence in his engagement and eventual marriage to his girlfriend.
In addition, the brothers did not want the money to impact their lives in a negative way so they took the time to put plans in place to ensure things would not get out of control before coming forward.
What a fascinating turn of events. I am not sure I could wait that long to claim a prize as large as that. When I do play the lottery, if I am a $5 winner on a $2 ticket, I am as giddy as a boy waiting for the ice cream truck. I proudly declare that I made money on my little investment and it makes me feel good about myself.
Hey, it is the small victories in life, you know.
In all seriousness, though, how many of us could wait that long like they did? I know several people who say that they would prefer not to come into a large sum of money like that just because of the all the problems associated with it. I see their point and I am sure if I ever became a multi-millionaire that I would have some regrets as well.
But to have that available for college educations for my children, pay off our own student loans and other debts that we have would be awesome. In addition, my wife and I would not have to have that yearly discussion about whether we should purchase season tickets for the Kalamazoo Wings again or not. I could own the team!
That may be stretching it a bit.
I am just not sure I could do what Andy and his brother did, even if in my heart I knew it was the right thing to do. I give them all the credit in the world for doing it.
But I am the kind of guy that even if my stomach is full and I see a piece of chocolate cake sitting on the counter … I have to eat it. I do not care how full I am or how many pieces I already consumed, that cake is a goner.
Luckily for me, though, I have my wife Heather. She is the female and much more attractive version of Warren Buffett. She handles our finances and plots years down the road, sometimes to my dismay, but in the end, she keeps us afloat and ahead of the game, even when we fall behind. I guarantee you, if we ever won or came into a substantial amount of money there is a plan for how she would handle it. I have also come to terms with the fact that she probably won’t tell me what that plan is either!
Would you be able to wait six years knowing that you had won $5 million before you claimed it?
Miguel Cabrera has been hailed as the best player in the game of baseball right now. In fact, some are saying the slugger is the best in baseball period. Ever.
That assumption is a little premature. Cabrera is only 29 years old, and no one knows what the future holds for this current one-man wrecking crew. For now, though, I think it is safe to say Cabrera is one phenomenal player. He is a team player, always has a smile on his face, and knows what his job is, and he does it with almost relative ease.
Since coming to the Tigers via a trade in December 2007, Cabrera has electrified not only the Detroit Tigers faithful, but fans in every park. As he becomes more lethal to opposing pitchers with every swing of the bat, managers and players alike hate to play against him, but they all admit they love watching him play.
With all the excitement and hoopla surrounding Cabrera, there were times of doubt and despair as well. Lingering issues of Cabrera’s off-field behavior brought into question whether he would interfere with helping the Tigers reach their ultimate goal, a World Series Championship. Read more
When my wife and I purchased our first home back in 2004, we knew it was not going to be the home that we lived in for the rest of our lives.
It was small, needed some work, but we both agreed that we could make it work. The fact that it fit into our budget at the time was a major bonus too. Aside from that, the house was in an area that we were comfortable with, in the middle of all of our activities and in a school district that we would prefer our children to attend when that time came.
Looking for the right house was not an easy task. We had our disagreements. What I felt was important to have in a house was not necessarily what my wife felt was important and vice versa. What helped make our decision, however, was the idea that we would spend about five years in the house, put it up for sale and find the house we really wanted.
Of course we all know what happened to the housing market shortly thereafter, so here we are eight years later in the same home we started in. We have made the house our home and have many happy memories there. New paint, siding, roof, windows, a deck and even a new hot water heater have improved the home to the point where there is not much left for us to change or re-do.
When our neighbor across the street sadly passed away, the family put the house on the market. Much to our surprise it sold in five weeks’ time. Then we started thinking. Could the time finally be right to put our home up for sale? After all, every time we watched the news, they kept saying that in our little part of the world, the real estate market was really picking up.
Deciding to give it a try, we called a realtor over to discuss our options, answer questions and get a general feel for what we were doing! We have purchased a home before (obviously), but never sold one. Everything just seemed to be coming together, so we listed our home. We did not hold any unrealistic expectations however. We were just going to go with the flow.
Of course, once you decide to sell your home, the real work begins. What needs to be repainted, fixed, changed or staged just right so potential buyers can see the possibilities that your house presents. Being that we have already taken care of the big items in the house, I figured why worry too much about the rest. I firmly believe that if someone does not have an imagination, they should not be looking. You look at a house and envision yourself and your family in it, not base it on how the current occupants have it decorated. That is one thing that drives me insane when watching shows like “Sell This House” on television. People come in to homes and say “wow, look at that couch” or “I cannot believe the paint color they have chosen” or “this looks like my grandma’s house.” You buy a house to make it yours, so unless a house is totally beyond repair, keep an open mind.
Our house has been on the market for nearly two months now. While we have not had anyone come to look at it, we did have a few drop in to an open house last week. It only takes one interested buyer.
Even though a new house would be nice right now, we are fine with waiting too. The area we want to move to doesn’t have many houses too choose from at the moment. And to be honest, I am not sure I am ready to have those “what do we want in a new house” discussions with my wife just yet.