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Well, I asked my parents to just give me stories this year instead of things.  You think, after a lifetime, that you know your parents pretty well.  But then my Dad sends me a story like this and I realize I still have a lot to learn. My parents continue to surprise me in wonderful ways.  As we all head into the holidays, I just wanted to share this gift from my Dad about appreciating what we have while we have it.

It was a little chilly that day, but we would fly with the doors open, we wanted to help make his wish come true. He wanted to be a helicopter pilot when he grew up, he wanted to experience what we did daily yet we took it for granted. When we strapped Tommy into the helicopter the sun was shining, it was an early fall day in Rapid City, South Dakota. Tommy was only twelve years old, but he looked so mature for someone of his age. Tommy had already lived a lifetime of pain. Yet he had such a good attitude – he smiled even though you could see the pain in his eyes. He had an ashen gray appearance, you see Tommy had leukemia.

As we prepared to take off Tommy’s nose started to bleed, we almost thought we weren’t going to be able to fly him. He was a little weak but with a tissue and a cotton ball, he was good to go. We were on a “Make a Wish” mission. Tommy had requested to fly in a US Air Force helicopter and see his family farm from the air. This was the farm his grandfather had started and passed on to his dad. It would have been Tommy’s some day; at least that was the plan. As we ran the check list and started the engine on our single engine Huey, Tommy’s eyes were filled with excitement, our Flight Engineer kept a close watch on him and we made sure he could talk to us. Tommy wore a standard Air Force Flight Suit and aviators flying helmet that engulfed his head. He had on Nomex flight gloves under the Velcro of the flight suit sleeves.

As we lifted off, a huge grin came to Tommy’s face; the first step of a dream came through. You almost feel weightless as the helicopter is hovering just a few feet above the ground. We were cleared by tower to hover taxi. We performed our last pre-takeoff check list, were cleared for a west departure, pulled collective, pushed forward on the cyclic, a touch of right rotor petal and wop, wop, wop wop, we were on our way. Some people say helicopters don’t fly; they beat the air into submission. We arrived at our cruising altitude of 1000 feet and headed toward Tommy’s farm. We chatted with Tommy, mostly small talk; we offered to answer any questions he might have about flying or the helicopter. Tommy didn’t seem to want to talk much, just absorb the experience like someone slowly enjoying a much desired meal.

As we reached the family farm, there were two houses, a barn, and a fenced area with horses. One of the horses was Tommy’s he used to ride him every day.  As we descended to 300 feet and flew a racetrack pattern around the farm, Tommy’s Grandfather and Grandmother came out and waved and waved. His Grandmother looked like so many you would expect to see, she had on an apron and cotton dress, his grandfather had on his overalls, both were smiling and waving at Tommy. That was the happiest we had seen Tommy the whole flight. His parents had also come out in the yard along with his dog and followed the helicopter by turning this way and that so they could keep eye contact with Tommy. We made several passes as Tommy waved and explained to us some of the important features of the farm, his horse and dog.

It was bitter sweet when we landed and Tommy unstrapped from the helicopter, he was able to realize a dream. He gave us far more than we gave him, it has been over 20 years and I still remember the experience, the patient consideration Tommy demonstrated, the look in his eyes and the optimism as he talked about the future. Two weeks following this flight, Tommy went on to be with the Lord.

— by Faron Thompson, December 2010

Thank you, Dad.

It’s that frantic time of year between Black Friday and Christmas morning, when the overwhelming question coming out of our media boxes seems to be “What are you going to buy?” with the very clear assumption that you must buy SOMEthing.

I have a long-standing love/hate relationship with Christmas.  I prefer to celebrate the Winter Solstice instead and I wish I could ignore the whole gift-obsessed culture of the holiday season all together.  At the same time, I end up getting a new holiday CD every year, I love it when people wear Christmas hats to work, and I think decorating for the season is way super fun.

Over the past few years I’ve been struggling to come up with my own holiday customs and rituals.  This is the first year Mark and I will spend the holidays together as a married couple and now I feel the setting of traditions to be even more important.

Recently I met someone who gave me a wonderful idea.  A retired schoolteacher is meeting with Mark once a week for a writing group.  She’s an incredible, sharp-as-a-tack woman.  The writing she brings each week is short stories — often true stories from her own experiences.  Some of these she hopes to develop into a children’s book, others are simply stories to pass down to her grown kids and their kids.

Think about that.  Stories to pass down.  Real life, this-happened-to-me stories.  Do you know how your parents met?  Do you know how your mom/dad broke a leg at 10 years old?  Do you remember when you first learned the truth about Santa?

We lose so many stories, and yet there is such a wealth of incredible, personal stories out there in our families, among our own friends. How awesome would it be if we exchanged short stories this year in lieu of store-bought gifts?  I would be THRILLED if someone gave me a story.  It’s a beautifully satisfying gift on all kinds of levels — the obsessive collector, the curious busy body, the affectionate relative, or the estranged long-distance friend.

In a way, that’s what people were doing with the old custom of holiday family newsletters.  A friend of mine used to write us all a poem at the end of each year that summed up her adventures for the past 12 months … and it usually rhymed!  I’ve already asked my parents to just give me a story – any story – for Christmas this year.

Sure, writing a story is harder than just picking up something at a store … or is it?  I don’t know about you, but I would much prefer to sit at home, looking out the window, composing a little memory on my computer than go outside in the cold, drive through slushy crazy traffic to a crowded store or mall, and figure out which knick-knack will not be completely useless to the gift recipient.

My only regret is that I didn’t start asking for stories sooner.

It is with a sorta-heavy heart that I report:  I have broken my streak at 750words.com.  I had 45 days under my belt – 45 days! – almost half way to the coveted Phoenix badge (awarded to those who write 100 days in a row).

If you’re not familiar with 750words, I encourage you to check it out.  It’s a very simple, basic idea.  It gives you an online space to start and stick to a writing habit.  You write 750 words a day, you win cute little meaningless animal badges for writing so many days in row, or writing without distraction (ie. a 3-minute break), or completing a one-month challenge.

Even though I knew the cute little badges amounted to nothing really, I was actually mysteriously motivated by them.  Before I broke my streak, I had accumulated 9 badges – 9! Including things like the Speedy Cheetah and the Undistractable Hamster.  I was on a roll, man.

But the most mysterious thing of all? … I’m actually not that disappointed about breaking the streak.  No, really.  Maybe if I had been actively trying to write my post and wasn’t able to because of the cable went out, I might be upset.  In reality, I just plum forgot.  I had a wonderful day yesterday – got off work early, lunched at our favorite coffee shop, did some errands, made cookies, watched the X-Files pilot (which I had never seen and, heck, it was on Netflix Streaming), read a bunch out of a really great book I’m into — all around, a superbly relaxing day.  Writing?  Didn’t even occur to me.

So now I’m looking at this mishap as an opportunity – a chance to take a week off from writing, and focus more on all the reading I’ve piled up for myself, which will be mentioned in a separate post.

And I have to give 750words credit for doing the unexpected — it got me writing again on a regular basis.  Something I haven’t had with that much consistency in *years*.  In grad school, writing had become a laborious, painful punishment.  Considering I used to keep a journal, used to write poetry, used to *love* writing (before grad school) this was a pretty major change in attitude for me.  The silly animal badges and the colorful graphs showing progress in 750words helped me love writing again, even if it was just a simple journal entry.  So even if I won’t get that Phoenix badge as soon as I hoped, I am now looking forward to writing an article in the near future and I’m even considering getting on the NaNoWriMo bandwagon.

That can all start in a week.  For now, I will pause this newfound love of writing to revisit my love of reading.  Another beauty of 750words — I can always start again.

Okay, so it’s been – what – over a month? since my last post.  I could open a new tab and find out for certain, but I’m trying something out here … just writing for the sake of writing.

Or it might be more accurate to say I’m writing for the sake of letting anyone out there who only knows me through this blog know that I am indeed still alive.  Just very, very busy.

These two months – September and October – are the Run For Your Life Non-Stop months at my job.  I find this time exhilarating, challenging, breath-taking and exhausting. And my classes this term are dynamic, fun and  well-balanced.  It’s actually a very good term on the whole.

But, as you might have guessed from my last post, I’ve been thinking a lot about personal expression.  This includes a lot of different things for me — everything from individual style to creative outlets to one’s writing voice.  I’ve had some great conversations about this with various people this semester, giving me plenty of food for thought.

From an art student friend, I’m learning about using the influence of the great masters in your craft as a process toward finding your own voice.  I had always been frustrated by all the influences on me, feeling that I would never know what *I* wanted to say, because I have so many other writers buried in my sub-conscious.  But this friend has pointed out to me something rather obvious — that these influences blend together and form a mosaic that becomes a part of your voice.  That those masters had mosaics of their own, going back farther than we can see.

From a kindred spirit with a love of words, I’m rediscovering the subtle power of poetry.   My study of poetry has been  varied but rather lazy up till now.  I’ve always shied around the science of poetry, never really delving into the mechanics too much for fear of tarnishing the enchantment of poems with the nuts and bolts.  But this friend has shown me and reminded me that, linguistically, the careful and deliberate construction of poetry is key to its power.

So with all this in mind, I plan to steal away some time for myself to revisit some familiar and unfamiliar masters, unlock some favorite and foreign poems, and allow this mosaic I’m sitting on to show itself bit by bit.

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