Archive for December, 2013

2014

December 31, 2013

It would be very easy for me to throw every bad word in the book at 2013.  It’d be easy to hurl insults, give it a few finger gestures, or come up with a clever comic to really show my disdain.

But how could I do that to a year I’ll never forget?

For the most part, it was a pretty good year.  Moved home closer to family.  Had an amazing sendoff by students, staff, faculty, and friends out in Quincy.  I started a good job with good responsibility.

But sure there have tough times with the passings of family, friends, and colleagues.  We’ve all seen the struggles of people around us getting just one year older.  Some struggles have been surprises, while others were unfortunately anticipated.

Births, weddings, new love, old love, funny incidents, and touching moments filled in the gaps.

The big battle was fought and continues to lean in my healthy favor.

I checked a few things off my bucket list including crashing a wedding.  The two women who got married also noted a few weeks ago that the crashing was extra special because it was two women who got married (Congrats Amanda and Eva!)

To me, I think 2013 can be summed up in one word… educational.

2014 needs a new word… a new direction… a new action.

I wish I knew what the word was but a lot can happen in a year.  I do know that 2013 was filled with moments that happened to me.  I need 2014 to be filled with moments where I happen to it.

That may make no sense to you.  I understand.  It may take a year to explain.  Well, wait… hey, look what we got here!  A whole new year to explain!

I’ve sat back a lot this year and things have just happened.  Good and bad.  Nothing I regret!  Nothing I regret for you either!

But 2014 needs to be a year of action.  2014 will be a year of saying, “F–k it.  You beat cancer (again, please note the little c.  Explanation for the little c can be found here).  There’s no excuse.”

My mom’s motto is “Live life with gusto!”  And maybe at the end of 2014 “gusto” will be the word.

She’s right though in that “gusto” needs to be the direction.

A friend asked me and another person at the table the other day about resolutions.  And I do have a few.  Some of these I told her.  Others I’ve thought of since…

1) Run a 5K- Her response almost immediately was, “Why?”.  I replied, “Because I’ve got to start somewhere…” I’ve got the shoes.  I’ve got the energy.  Just need the direction.
2) To end a raucous speech not with my fist going down to emphasize a point.  But instead with my finger going up.  Kinda like when you make the sign of an airplane taking off.  Use one finger and start off on the runway, then go straight up in the air.  I saw it in a movie recently and thought, “That’d be cool to do”
3) Get back on the darn stage- I did a show in Quincy last year and had a blast.  Time to do one here.
4) Travel- The travel bug bit me a few years ago on that backpacking trip through Europe.  Time to put more stamps in the passport.
5) Learn how to pick out shoes- I’m semi-intimated by guy shoes.  My brother has good shoes.  My sister has good shoes.  Friends have good shoes.  Mine feel kinda, “Meh…”
6) Finish one of the six-ish scripts that I’ve started
7) Road Trip- I’d like to take a map of the northeast.  Put it on a spinning hanging thing.  Give it a good twirl.  Throw a dart at it and go have a beer in that town.  Unless it ends up on top of a mountain which means that #8 might need to be “Learn how to mountain climb”.  And then have a beer on top of the mountain.
8) Learn to play the guitar- More on that here.

That’s a good start.

So goodbye 2013.  Thanks for the memories.

Hello 2014.  What fun will you bring?

Thanks for reading…

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The Crane

December 28, 2013

“Oh look.  The crane is moving”

The year was 1994.  I was a sitting in a school bus at this intersection:

https://maps.google.com/?ll=42.722046,-73.675479&spn=0.002327,0.005654&t=m&z=19

Joe R. said it with little conviction.  Little effort.  Little excitement.

What he didn’t know was that I had been waiting to see the thing move since 1984.

My head had been buried in a math book scrambling to do homework on the way to high school.  I had been sitting on that side of the bus when Joe and a few other folks were catching up on the weekend’s events.  To be honest, most days when we passed through this intersection, I was either part of the conversation or staring blankly out the window.  Sometimes it crossed my mind to look.  Other times, I never thought twice about it.

The 10 years waiting wasn’t a life stopping waiting.  It’s a crane.  It’s on a track.  It’s nothing too special.  You can see it more closely here:

https://maps.google.com/?ll=42.721757,-73.675395&spn=0.002319,0.005654&t=m&z=19&layer=c&cbll=42.721677,-73.675371&panoid=8JgO37xNV426FRk9j2xA8A&cbp=12,282.29,,0,2.35

At the top of a cliff in the river, this crane sits waiting to clear out debris so that water can flow freely over the dam.

As I grew older, I’d pass by there often on my way to work and occasionally remember to glance over to see if it was moving.

Nothing.

The story would come up occasionally with Joe or with other friends in the car.  There’d be a few laughs and I’d join in right along with them but still, I couldn’t help but glance every time we drove by.

Since moving back to Troy and living just a few blocks from this crane, I continue to check it out.

Recently, while giving a coworker a ride home, we passed through this intersection and I told him the story.  “So my buddy Joe says, ‘Oh look.  The crane is moving.’  No enthusiasm.  Just blurts it right out as if he’s saying the sun is shining.  To this day, I’m still a little irked that he’s seen it and I haven’t”

My coworker’s response… “Yea, I’ve seen it working a few times now.”

In my head, the breaks squealed, he flung forwards by the force of the stop, and I put the car in park stating, “We’re not moving until you give me dates and times that this happened.”

By this point, I’ve now been waiting to see the thing move for 29 years.  And this guy, who has maybe lived in Troy for a few years says, again, with little effort, little excitement, and little conviction, “I’ve seen it working a few times now.”

In reality, I continued driving and made a sarcastic remark about the length of time.  He laughed and even said, “Well Jeff, if I ever see it moving again, I’ll give you a call.”

Fast forward to Christmas Day of this year…

I had spent the night at my parents house and after opening gifts and having some breakfast, I told my Mom and Dad that I was going to head home a little early to prep for the Christmas festivities happening at my apartment.  I remember hesitating at the door because I felt like there was still some work needed to be done at their house.  But they both said it was a-ok to go.

I drove as I normally do with the radio piping out some Christmas tunes and me navigating the potholes and sewer covers of Pawling Ave.

I saw a local bus pull out in front of me and remember thinking, “Great.  Now it’s going to take me even longer to get home.”  Honestly the difference in time between me riding behind this bus and me getting every green light is probably seconds.  But, it crossed my mind.

We pull up to the light at this intersection and my car ends up behind the bus which pushes me into the middle of that bridge there.  I remember bouncing around to some song on the radio and flailing to the left due to some awkward “dance” move.

The world went silent…

The crane was in the middle of the track digging it’s claw into the icy river pulling out icy branches.

I was in awe.  I was frozen.  The world was silent.

By now the bus had pulled through the intersection and a beige jeep cherokee had pulled up behind me.

The jeep never honked.  I still wonder if this was because he/she was amazed by the sight too.

My silence and frozenness did not pay off for them though as I was so excited, I breezed through the light right as is was going from yellow to red.

I wonder if they even cared.

….

It may have been an odd interest.  I don’t feel any differently today than I did before Christmas but it’s a little story about the random things in life you wait for.  Hopefully your 29 years of waiting is more like 29 seconds.

So here’s to the next 29 years of random things.  What oh what will they bring.

Thanks for reading…

25 Days of Thanks- Day 25

December 25, 2013

Thankful- My House’s Front Porch

photo 1This darn front porch has seen a lot covering all sorts of emotional moments both big and small.

From family pictures… to school dances… to sleepovers (yes, a few have slept on that front porch)… to epic wiffle ball games… this thing has been through a lot.

To enter into whatever we might call home, you have to enter through the front door.  I’m sure your front stoop could tell some stories.

Mine continues to do so.

As many know, I’ve moved back closer to home.  Trips are made to my parent’s house weekly for errands, snow shoveling, dinner, roof shoveling, Riley time, leaf raking, etc.

And I recently just realized that something has been happening each time I leave the house for the over 30 years we’ve lived there.  I’ll walk out the door, say, “See ya later”, close the screen door, then get into my car.

Then, like clockwork, my Mom, sometimes my Dad, and almost always the dog will stand in the doorway waving goodbye.

Again, this continues to happen today even though I live right down the street.

And it doesn’t matter how much time I spend in the driveway waiting for my car to warm up or for me to plug my iPhone in.  95% of the time, there my mom will be with the dog, waving goodbye.

It’s a small thing that I appreciate each and every time.

I know that the small things add up and are the priceless memories we take with us long into the future.

Fast forward a few years after we’ve sold the house and I imagine this will be the conversation:

(Turning onto Brookside Ave)

Me: Hey kids, did you know that this bridge up here used to be all metal and we could hear cars going over it at all hours of the night!

(Turning onto Marion Ave)

Me: Oh!  And here is where your Dad fell flat on his face in the middle of a snowstorm riding his bike and trying to use the proper bicycle hand turn signals.

(Continuing down Marion)

Me: I used to deliver the newspaper to all these houses.  Your uncle Chris had that other street and I had this one.

(Turning onto Hillside)

Me: There it is.  The house that your Dad grew up in.  We used to have a lot of fun in this street from playing 4 Square to basketball.  I broke my nose right over there by that sewer cover. 

(Pulling up in front of my house)

Me: Gosh!  Look what they’ve done with the place.  (A few more stories are shared.  My kids will be so enthralled, engaged, and riveted by my stories.  No sign of impatient-ness, boredom, or “Oh boy…not another one” will be seen in their eyes.  Right?)

(Then as I’m pulling away)

Me: Ok, wave goodbye to Grandma (or whatever my Mom wants to be called) and I’m sure Grandpa (or whatever my Dad wants to be called) is in there too sitting in his chair.  Who wants to honk the horn?
Kids: Me! Me!  But why are we doing this?
Me: Because this is what I did every time I drove away from the house just to say “Bye!” one more time.

I hope the future owners of that house are ready for a future of random car honks as we continue to honk and wave to my mom for many years to come.

Thanks for reading…

 

25 Days of Thanks- Day 24

December 25, 2013

Thankful- Passionate Singing

Whether in the car or maybe at Church, we’ve all heard those people who put their all into hitting the notes.  If you think deeper about it, there’s a level of trust that these people have when they belt out a tune at the top of their lungs.

Sure, at Church, it’s a trust in the Big Guy upstairs, but in the car or house, they trust that either no one is around to hear them sing or that the person in the vicinity will treat their effort with support.

Singing has always been welcome in the Spain family household.  Sure we’ll jab at each other if a note is off or the words just aren’t right, but there’s usually a welcome atmosphere to sign along to the song on the radio.

Unless, you’re my sister.

Amy, for many years, has been subject to the teasing that comes from being the little sister.

But here’s the thing about her singing.  While, sure, a lot of times it’s just a bit off… every now and again, I turn to her and say, “WAIT!  That’s it.  Stay right there.  Do what you just did… in the same tone.”

It happened tonight at mass.

It’s happened in the car where, while listening to WJEF (my iPod), she start belting out the words and I sit there in amazement as I wonder where the heck it’s all coming from.  I’ve even replayed the song at a lower volume just to make sure I wasn’t hearing something else.

Somewhere, deep inside her, is a good voice.  Hopefully we as a family can help draw that out of her a lot more this year.

So tonight, I’m thankful for those folks who, with no fear, belt out tunes even when everyone is listening.  Because every now and again they get it right.

Merry Christmas and thanks for reading…

25 Days of Thanks- Day 23

December 24, 2013

Thankful- The Little Pushes Forward

Every now and again, we all need that little nudge…that little tiny shoulder shove that pushes us forward.  Sometimes it’s a physical whack upside the head to snap out of it.  Other times, it’s a verbal unexpected prompt or interjection that catches you off guard but is exactly what’s needed.

My brother and sister-in-law are excellent at these.

Whether it’s during my job search, the stuff earlier this year, or some recent events, I’m appreciative and thankful for how they both can be so effective at this kind of stuff.

The added bonus from these two is that these little pushes come at very surprising times.

A few months ago I was prepping for an interview and had a theme to what I wanted to say.  I chatted over Google with my brother and sister-in-law and shared with them the theme and some responses.

“But what about this…” comes out of my sister-in-law’s mouth.

And in my head I picture myself throwing all my notes in the air and responding, “Tell me more.  Oh and you’ve got five minutes before the interview starts…”

My brother is no less different.  That story for another time.

The two of them together make an exciting force.

While I know they will always have my back, I also know that they’ll always be pushing me to do better and be better.  I’m thankful for that looking forward into the future.

Thanks for reading…

25 Days of Thanks- Day 22

December 22, 2013

Thankful- Fantasy Football

Earlier today on facebook I wrote:

________________________

Epic fantasy football showdown today for the finals in one of my leagues….

Father vs. Son
Teacher vs. Student
Has no food allergies vs. Food Allergies
Blood vs. Blood
Senior vs. Junior

That’s right folks Jeff Spain vs. Jeff Spain. One will rise. One will fall. And in the end, Jan Spain will have to clean up the mess. Hide the kids because this ain’t going to be pretty.

Game on!

________________________

And it has been epic.

There was lots of yelling.  Well… mostly yelling at the dog for dragging mud all over the house after being outside.

Food was thrown.  Well… the dog dish dropped and spilled food everywhere.

Friendly requests were denied.  Well… Amy refused to support my dwindling Diet Coke addiction.

My Dad and I have actually kept it pretty civil.  We watched the games all day in the living room.  Had some dinner.  And went into the evening game pretty much tied.  It looks like it’ll come down my Dad praying that the 49ers Defense and the 49ers Kicker do absolutely nothing special tomorrow night.

We’ve kept it civil.  Wouldn’t have it any other way.  He’s been civil and supportive this whole year through a lot of ups and downs.  And tomorrow night, no one will really win.  No one will really lose.  One of us will just pat the other on their back, say “Good Job”, and keep on being father and son is a pretty outstanding Spain family.

Thanks for reading…

 

25 Days of Thanks- Day 21

December 22, 2013

Thankful- Pixar Animated Shorts

Many of us have seen a Pixar movie.  Toy Story.  Finding Nemo.  The Incredibles.  They’re the ones that have the bouncing desk lamp during their companies title screen.  All excellent movies in their own right.

But the added little bonus for me is always the animated short that comes before it.

Pixar movies always invoke some sort of emotion in the audience.  Whether you’re rooting for toys to make it out of the neighbor’s backyard or rooting for the family to get their act together, these movies did deep into the human spirit and tug at the very strings that binds our hearts and tear ducts together.

The double whammy that did it for me was a short called Partly Cloudy followed by the movie Up.

Partly Cloudy tells the story of a stork working with the ugly duckling of the creative clouds to bring baby humans and baby animals to their parents.  This description does not do the short film justice.  If you’ve got five minutes, you can watch it quickly here:

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xkvi29_partly-cloudy-hq-walt-disney-pictures-and-pixar-animation-studios_shortfilms

I empathize big time with both the stork and the dark cloud.

By the end of this short, my “Awww” factor was already at it’s limit.  Anything more was going to turn me into a slobbering mess.  Anyone who has seen the movie Up, knows what the first 10ish minutes are all about.  So, yep, this guy, in a packed movie theater, turned into a blubbering, slobbering mess.

I went to the film Up with two good friends who are husband and wife.  The husband sat in between us and put his arm around his wife.

Partly Cloudy ends.  “Awww”s all around the theater.  My heart strings are tuned perfectly and Pixar knew just how to play them with those first few minutes.

By the end of the beginning scenes of Up, the husband was consoling two slobbering messes and probably pulled a back muscle trying to keep his arms around the both of us.

I can only imagine what this looked like to the people behind us.  But that moment, I really didn’t care.  I needed it.

To this day he still jokes about it and to this day I have no problem backing up the story.

Each time one of these Animated Shorts comes on the screen I’m reminded of this moment with good friends and thankful for their support.

I’m very lucky to have these friends, Rochester friends, Quincy friends, Troy friends, city friends, new friends, old friends.  I’m thankful for the touching moments.  I’m thankful for support.

These shorts remind me that I’m blessed to have friends around.  Sometimes with a football helmet (Partly Cloudy reference).  Sometimes with a back breaking shoulder to cry on.  Sometimes with a phone call, facebook message, email, text.  But always with a smile.  Which is a small curve that can straighten a thousand things.

Thanks friends.

And thanks for reading…

25 Days of Thanks- Day 20

December 20, 2013

Thankful- Love Actually

Another quick one tonight.

Love Actually (IMDB Link) is a romantic comedy set in London with an ensemble cast full of recognizable faces.

Great quotes throughout the whole movie… “There was more than one lobster present at the birth of Jesus?”

Great musical moments including the best darn use of Good King Wenceslas that I’ve ever seen…

Emotional moments that tug at the heart-strings…

But where it really gets to me is the opening and closing scenes in the movie.  I’m not giving away any huge spoilers here but what the filmmakers did was send a crew to the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport.  There, they simply taped people getting off their planes and excitedly greeting their loved ones.  From kids reuniting with their parents to old friends reconnecting, the scenes show unscripted joy and happiness.  Ordinary people, just getting off their flights, hugging it out with family and friends.

The quote used to start the movie… If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.

This year, of all years, I couldn’t agree more.

Thanks for reading…

25 Days of Thanks- Day 19

December 19, 2013

Thankful- Sitting Under The Stars

The night air blows through the camp with a certain bite to it lessened briefly after it passed over the fire.

Shadows bounce around the trees as if they’re partners in a waltz.

The moon’s light casts a rippled white line on the lake pointing right at you.

Smoke billows up toward the sky accompanied by tiny fireworks of burnt embers.

Sitting back in your chair, with a beverage in your hand, you look up at the dome of dark blues and blacks punctuated by tiny white specs that seem to fade in and out.

Your mind harkens back to childhood where sometimes the only goal of the day was to connect the dots.

But then those astronomy classes come in handy as you draw the Big Dipper, Orion’s belt, and the Gemini twins.

I do enjoy a nice clear night under the stars.  My imagination takes over and sometimes the only thing I’m aware of is the sound the wood makes popping in the fire.

A few times I’ve been in amazing places where the stars outnumber the blades of grass on the ground.  And then there have been really special times where you can make out the Milky Way galaxy that we’re all floating through.   

I’m thankful for the little moments of looking up and just wondering what the heck might be going on out there in that crazy dark dome of a universe.

Thanks for reading…

25 Days of Thanks- Day 18

December 19, 2013

Thankful- J.C. Penney Catalog

Back before the internet, Amazon, and even email, toy information around the holidays came from one of four places:

1-  Friends
2- Commercials in between Ducktails
3- Begging your parents to take you to Toys R Us
4- The J.C. Penney Catalog

The J.C. Penney catalog was an amazing feat.  If you’ve never seen it, think of it as Amazon on paper.  Everything from tools, to office supplies, to jeans, to tires were in this thing.

But all that mattered to a young child were the 30-40 pages somewhere in the middle.

Flipping to these pages brought you face to face with the hottest things for the year.  The Star Wars playset in full color and setup with action figures having massive battles.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles driving their van through a mock-up of city streets with Leonardo hanging out the top ready for action.  Lego builds that would span two pages.  And yes, we’d point out the Barbie section to my sister so she could get her fix.

I know my parents worked very hard each year to provide us with a great Christmas and I thank them each year for what they do.

It must have been tough, as I’m sure it is for many parents and will be for me one day, to see the amazement and excitement as I flipped through pages but knowing that they couldn’t buy all the things I “wanted”.

I’m glad they showed restraint.  It was a valuable lesson that helps me everyday.

But I guess what I’m thankful for with these catalogs are the moments of imagination and wonder.  Let’s be honest…when you got the physical toys, it never really played out like it was shown in the pages.  Don’t get me wrong.  We did have fun with the toys.  I think that I just never said “thanks” for the imaginative moments.  The moments when you put the catalog down, went outside, grabbed a wiffle ball bat, and turned it into the lightsaber that will save the galaxy.

I don’t know if I’m saying this right but, I’m thankful for the imaginative moments just as much (if not more) than the hands on moments.  The J.C. Penney catalog helped, in a small way, encourage my imagination.

Thanks for reading…