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Happy Thanksgiving 2015

I haven’t seen as many of those countdown to Thanksgiving posts on FB this year as I’ve seen in years past, but I decided to do my own list of thankfuls this year. So, I’m thankful for…

*the USA. Despite all my “serious issues” with our government, it’s still the best nation on the planet (why else would thousands give their lives trying to get here?) and I’m glad I’m here and not somewhere else.

*my job. In this day and age there are a lot of people still out of work.

*my boss. A boss can make all the difference in your job; a good boss can make a bad job tolerable and a bad boss can make a good job miserable. I’m fortunate to currently have a good one!

*a roof over my head. With all the hubbub surrounding the refugees, regardless of your stance, I’m thankful that I have a home with a roof over my head, unlike many of them.

*my nuclear family. As of this writing, BJ and I have been married for 25 years and we’ve produced two wonderful kids, both of whom I’m very proud!

*my extended family. So blessed to have the dad, mom and sister that I do. And all the aunts, uncles and cousins to go with them. I’m proud to call them all “family!”

*YOU. You come here and read my blog…and I can’t tell you how grateful I am that you take the time to read this when you could be doing something else—even if it’s just Candy Crush!

*my faith. Yeah, many with my faith are under constant scrutiny (and even attack—though many who do would deny they do so!), I’m still thankful for a loving God who can accept a screw-up like me.

So…what are YOU thankful for?

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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In the Spirit of Thankfulness part 1

All these posts going every day on Facebook got me a bit in the thankful mood…but there was no way I was going to keep up with that. So, I offer, here in its entirety, my 30 days of thankfulness! So, I’m thankful for…

30 life! I don’t know that I’ve ever taken it for granted, but the recent scare made me consider it all the more.

29 my wife! (and just for all you snarky folks looking at the numbers—it isn’t a countdown or a count UP, it’s supposed to represent the 30 days of November!) She’s better to me than I deserve! I love you, BJ!

28 my job. In this messed up economy which only looks to get worse, I’m glad to be doing something I enjoy: teaching creative writing to (mostly) pretty motivated students.

27 my daughter. Even though I’ve tried to convince her to stay OUT of the arts because it’s the pathway to a lot of potential heartbreak, she’s multi-talented and incredibly smart, too…if she’ll just apply herself I have no doubt she’ll be incredibly successful(on both counts!).

26 having a roof over my head. Even though I’d really like to sell my house in Oxford so that I can get my family all back under one roof all the time, I know we’re fortunate to have a home with electricity and running water.

25 my son. Also incredibly talented (can you say FIRST CHAIR bay-bee!) and smart, I appreciate the fact that he’s just as happy geeking out with me playing war games as he is doing anything else.

24 my doctor. When we first moved to Oxford, Dr. Will Dabbs was just the kooky doctor we took the kids to see. Over time, however, he’s become my doctor and my friend…and I DO trust him with my life!

23 facebook. Yeah, yeah, I know. I can hear all the groans now. But I’m of the age that I can remember life before social media and there are a lot of names on my facebook “friend list” that I didn’t speak with that much and that now I get to at least keep up with them now and again. For writer-types who dwell in caves, it’s nice. And even though I hid EVERYONE during the last election season—that’s over and I can now enjoy posts again.

22 technology. I’m a technogeek, I admit it. I love technology. And even though I’ve fought (and still do) the idea of me carrying around a cellphone, I LIKE what they are capable of…I just don’t want to have to carry it around.

21 my parents. I’m blessed to have the best set of parents in the world. How they managed to allow me to continue to live in their house when I was a smart-aleck teenager, I’ll never know. I’m thankful for the way they raised me and for the values they taught me.

20 my church. When you move around as much as BJ and I have, it’s difficult to get “settled” with a church family. We’ve been fortunate, though, in that every place to which our names have been on the roles, they’ve welcomed us with open arms: FBC Muscle Shoals, FBC Loretto, FBC Piggott, Yellow Leaf BC, and FBC Oxford.

19 my books. Yeah, I know this sounds like a very materialistic thing…and maybe it is, but I’m still thankful for them (and for BJ allowing me to surround myself with them). Maybe it’s a writer thing, but I do love to—when I’m in “thinking” mode—to just sit back and take in the surroundings of my books, looking at the titles and recalling the emotions of the read or the particulars of it.

18 BCW. Or Byhalia Christian Writers Group. I was shocked by the lack of anything remotely faith-based in Oxford (aside from the Churches, of course) and really expected to find multiple writers group in Oxford…I mean, it’s OXFORD, the home of Billy Faulkner. Byhalia, Mississippi was the closest group I could find…and they treated me like a long lost brother. I don’t get to go as often as I’d like (for various reasons—one of which it’s an hour drive one way), but I know they remember me in their prayers—and how can one NOT be thankful for that?

17 my bed. Traveling makes you realize just how much you appreciate “your” stuff. And while BJ made me buy a mattress for the apartment in Florida, it’s still not “my bed.” And being a reenactor, I sleep on the ground every now and again. Yes, I’m very thankful for my bed.

16 Spalding. Yeah, one of my alma maters makes this list. It’s not that I am NOT thankful for the others—I am—but Spalding has that special place in my heart, mostly because, I think, the admin and faculty there have embraced the idea of nurturing the writer. It’s the first “hall of higher learning” that did NOT scoff at the body of comic work I have.

15 Spalding peeps. So, yeah, I can’t mention Spalding without mentioning my classmates/colleagues who helped make the program what it is…and ALSO embraced my comic geekiness, some of them even sharing that. There are lots of names I could mention, but the Devil Dawgs (don’t ask—long story) are deserving of special call-out for my thankfulness: Marjetta Geerling, Kat Shehata, Karin Goodwin, Rebekah J Harris, Mary Knight (one of my favorite Yankees!).

(so this is longer than what I thought it would be…to be continued)

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How time flies

Not long ago, I had a telephone conversation with Lou Bank, an old friend from back in my comic book heyday. Lou is a marketing guru and was in charge at Marvel during its heyday in the early 90s (another friend once said that Lou could sell refrigerators to Eskimos!). Lou and I caught up on a lot of personal and business things throughout the conversation, including the very cool fact that he is a promoter for Andrew Vachss, an author whose work I enjoy (though admittedly, I haven’t read anything of his in quite some time). That, and he was silly enough to ride a bicycle from down around New Orleans all the way up to Memphis…in the delta…in JUNE! Love’im…but he’s still a silly Yankee!

Reflecting back on the conversation, the realization hit me: it’d been at least ten years since I’ve seen Lou. Heck, it’s been more than ten years since Marvel Marvelcuted the whole Malibu division. That was in 1996. I began my work with Malibu/Marvel in 1992…that was 16 years ago. I’ve been married 18 years! E-gads!

I graduated from high school (uh-oh—age alert!) in 1983. I recently heard parents at my kids’ school talking the other day that their kids had an “80s day.” My first question—as should any sane person’s be—was WHY? 80s music was bad the first time around (though not as bad as disco). I think it’s good the 80s are in the past! Then it hit me: we used to have 50s day when I was in high school.

AIIIEEE. I’ve become my parents!

As absurd as it sounds, there’s truth to it. Many of my friends no longer have parents. They deserted them years ago. J No, I don’t mean to make light of it, but several of my friends are the “old” generation now…and that number is growing yearly. A few of my friends have already married off their own kids. I’ve yet to tell my kids that I walked to school everyday uphill in the snow…both ways, but I have told them things my parents told me:

Because “I” said so. I never liked it when my parents used it and I’d bet my kids don’t like it when I do. In truth, I try to give them legitimate and valid reasons, but sometimes “I said so” is all the reason I want to give!

Just wait until you have kids of your own. I can’t count the number of times I heard this one. ‘Nuff said.

Your face will get stuck that way.

Okay, so I haven’t told my kids that one yet…but I still find it funny.

Mom said recently that her birthdays quit bothering her…several of them back (Happy Birthday yesterday, Angie!). She said it was Angie’s birthdays and mine that really bother her now.

My how time flies.

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On the treadmill

About a year ago, my son Brett asked if he could get on the treadmill and walk. He’d seen me do it a lot…okay, not a lot, but some. Anyway, he wanted to do it, so we let him. This happened at my parents’ house in Arkansas and the treadmill is kinda behind Dad’s chair. I hooked him up to the abort string—the little string that if you fall, the treadmill stops so that the user won’t go around and around like George Jetson—and set him walking.

So he’s walking at a decent little pace and the rest of us go back about our business, which was probably just chatting, solving all the issues of the world.

Unbeknownst to us, Brett was playing with the buttons on the top. We should have noticed the treadmill sound, but didn’t. What we did hear was Brett say—in a VERY calm voice, mind you: “Uh. Can somebody help?”

When we look over at him, he’s running full speed hanging on to the side rails, having accidentally cranked the speed all the way to the top. I wish I’d had a camera to capture the look on his face.

About a month ago, I started walking pretty regular on the treadmill. I’d gotten reenergized because of a “challenge” by a group of ACFW writers. While I don’t know what my cholesterol is now (I haven’t had it checked in some time), the last two times I’ve had it checked, it was high. I was even prescribed medicine at the last doctor visit. He said, however, that I could help myself a lot by losing some weight.

While I never really considered myself overweight, I figured it had to be an issue if the doctor was telling me to lose some. Truth of the matter is that I’m about 50 pounds heavier than when I graduated high school—oh so many years ago! Frustrating thing is that when I was a junior and weighed in a 170, I tried everything I could possibly think of to gain weight. As an offensive tackle on the football team, it wasn’t unusual for me to go up against guys 220 or more. I desperately wanted to get to 190.

Now, I’d love to get DOWN to 190.

I got out of the habit around the time I went to Minneapolis…but I’ve been back at it for about a week and a half now. I had a preacher once remind us that if you did something for 30 straight days, it was a habit.

I’m not sure about that. I hate exercising. Oh, I like to participate in sports activities, but just to exercise. I can think of 100 different ways I’d rather spend my time!

I’ve tried all sorts of things to help pass the time: watching TV (I have to turn it up so loud and even then I can barely understand), reading (I just can’t focus on the words) and other things. But this time, I’ve found a little trick this latest time around: Playstation.

Yep, I play NCAA football while I’m walking. Hey—I’m closing in on 2 miles per day, so it’s a victory—a minor one maybe, but a victory nonetheless!

On another happy note: The kids brought their report cards home on Thursday and they both made straight A’s! Mom and Dad are very proud! J

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The story of how it happened

One of the true joys and blessings of life is family. I’m pretty fond of mine, too. But you already guessed that or I wouldn’t be writing about them here, huh?

My wife’s name is BJ. Well, her family still calls her Bobbie Jean, but it’s always been BJ for me. I always tease BJ that I’ve known her longer than she’s known me. She was a grade behind me in school, but I knew who she was when I was in 8th grade. She was one of two girls that started for the junior high football team. She was a starting guard. You’d laugh if you see her now to think of that. She only stands 4’11”. She’ll tell you, though, that back then she was bigger than most of the boys.

We didn’t actually meet until I was in the 11th grade. We had a driver’s ed class together. I already had my driver’s license and was taking the course simply because my parents said I had to – seems they got a break on car insurance if I successfully completed the class. She was the unfortunate one: she was put in a group with my best friend and I and she had never driven before in her life.

I asked her out once that year and she turned me down. Now normally, being the prideful sort of male that many teenage males are, I would never ask a girl out twice. Hey! If she said no the first time, her loss. As I said, I was a teenager, whaddaya want?

Nearly two years later, I’d graduated and was working the graveyard shift at the local Stop-N-Rob. I came home early one morning to find a gaggle of girls at my house practicing some kicking routines. Seems my younger sister had invited the pom squad over to practice. Regardless, I wanted to use the phone and one of the pom-toters gabbed non-stop. In my angry “college boy,” voice, I demanded the phone, but asked who she was talking to. She was talking to BJ. I once again demanded the phone – with BJ still on it – and proceeded to ask her out once again. I was, of course, older and wiser at that point.

BJ said yes, and the rest, as they say is history. BJ will tell you that I took far too long to ask her to marry me. It was July of 1983 that we began to date. We weren’t married until 1990.

The pressure had been put on me, however. She wanted a “unique” proposal. Ladies, let me suggest to you now: take the proposal however you can get it. Do not, I repeat, do not put undue pressure on your hopeful spouse to be.

Well, I came up with a “unique” way to propose, but some of the situation was out of my hands. Initially, the proposal was to come in 1988…but that fell through. In 1989, I had my very first written published work — I proposed to her in that work.

We’ve now been married for 18 years and I’m now able to introduce us as “Dr. and Mr. Mann.”

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Family reunion revisited

I attended my first family reunion in 2004. I’d been wishing to have one to attend for nearly 20 years. Y’see, I started “looking up my family tree” around 1986-ish. What caused it was my growing interest in history, particularly American, specifically War Between the States.

Really, I got so interested in the war, the causes of war, migration patterns during expansion and all…that I just got to wondering where my family was during all this. I also discovered the historical/heritage organization The Sons of Confederate Veterans and wanted to join. In order to join, however, you had to prove direct link to a confederate soldier. So, I started searching.

Eventually I found the ancestor who fought and joined the organization. I eventually took my own research back to about 1790. (The family has since “met” another branch and the lines go back another hundred years or so)

I think every family should try to attend a family reunion. We live now in such a society that very few folks even know great grandparents. I remember asking one of my classes at Northwest Shoals how many knew their grandparents and on back. I was amazed at how few knew beyond grandparents.

Attending a family reunion allows you to meet cousins that you might never have known. Also, one of the things I found neat was to hear different stories of the family–or different perspectives.

2008 Mann family reunion in Piggott, Arkansas

Photo of the 2008 Mann Family reunion in Piggott, Ark. Photo taken by Ken Renshaw- renshaw@newwavecomm.net and used here with his permission (click photo to see larger version). His website is: http://www2.jpl.nasa.gov/ambassador/profiles/Kenneth_Renshaw.htm)

Dad and I were talking after the most recent reunion that they seem to go by too fast. It seems, organized the way it is, folks come and then leave right after the meal. Heck, I’d rather have everyone plan to stay for another couple of hours so that we could sit around and talk with each other. There are members of the family that I’d like to at least spend 10 minutes with to say, hey, who are you, what interesting things do you know about the family? That, and what do you do where do you live, etc. I’d like to see that happen at the next one, maybe a more kicked back and relaxed atmosphere to allow us to spend some more time actually talking with extended family members. I’d also like to see us take it back a generation or two and try to get a whole host of families to come. THAT would be interesting.

If your family doesn’t have one–start one! Get to know your family; who they are, what they do and where they come from!

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The college football season is over…bad?

Y’know, I love watching the bowl games every year. Like most football fans, it is one of my most anticipated few days of the year. But bowl season just seems to be changing each year…and I’m not sure it’s for the best.

 

It seems like we get more and more games each year. This year featured 32 bowl games. That’s 64 teams playing in a bowl. That’s more than half the Division I teams. So, in order to make it to a bowl game, a team has only to win half their games. 6-6 teams just shouldn’t be playing in bowls. Somehow it just seems to make the bowls less special.

 

I’ve also become a little disappointed with ESPN this year. They practically campaigned non-stop for Tim Tebow to win the Heisman. I’m not trying to take anything away from him—he’s a great player, but the gang at ESPN gushed all about him non-stop. Not only that, it seems the entire crew is so biased to USC it’s ridiculous. They started a “countdown” clock to the USC-ILL game. None of the other games were significant enough to receive a countdown clock. If anything, the countdown clock should have been for the “big” game, the championship game: LSU vs. Ohio St. Had it been up to ESPN, they’d have handed the championship trophy to USC before they’d even played their game.

 

Also, somebody up in the “director’s booth” should stay a little more on top of things. Did you notice that during the FSU-KY game, ESPN kept going close-up on one of the FSU coaches? I don’t know his name, not sure I’d write it here if I did. He was chewing on something—I think it was gum—but his mamma evidently forgot to tell him to chew with his mouth closed. Not only that, he kept sticking his tongue out of his mouth while he chewed. ESPN seemed to like that as they kept showing it. It was pretty nasty to watch.

 

The other thing that really bothered me this year was the Trojan commercials. Now, don’t mishear what I’m saying. I’m not opposed to the product, I’m opposed to running it during a “family” football game. It’s terrible to have to sit through a football game and keep covering up my 7 year old son’s eyes because of the stupid commercials. I’m willing to bet the networks (I don’t recall which network(s) the commercial was on—probably ESPN, but I’m not sure) could have found a more suitable advertiser willing to shuck out equal bucks with just a little effort.

 

It sure seems like it’s gonna come to a point, sometime in the future, where even college football will be rated MA (mature audiences) because of silly stuff like this.

 

Wonder if Trojan will run ads during the SuperBowl?

 

On a lighter note…I’ve been picking (no money involved, just bragging rights) the bowls for some years now with friends and family. We picked 25 of the bowls. I didn’t do so well this year…I went 13-12. My Dad took top honors at 19-6!

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