Remembering to be thankful: Holidays and counting our blessings

I don’t know how it’s been for the rest of you, but 2016 has been one of the most challenging and nerve-wracking years of my life.

And here we are, it’s late in December, the year is almost over. Why wait until New Year’s Eve to look back? I’m going to use that day to look forward.

So, for this entry, I want to look back at the year and count the blessings. To talk about being unemployed or to talk about the major music deaths won’t accomplish anything.

Sometimes it’s understandable to dwell on the things mounting against you. Politics, health, loss, bills, etc. Life’s pressures can build up and become too much at times. I certainly understand and appreciate that. I’ve been there (many times), even recently.

I don’t want to sound like one of those folks who always tells you what’s best for you, but I’ll say this: I’ve learned that dwelling in the darkness does you no good. Sometimes counting your blessings helps turn things around, at least mentally.

So let’s look at some blessings, shall we? I’ll give you mine, and then you can provide yours in the comments. Fair deal?

My family.

My parents, my wife, my in-laws, my brother, my extended family … Everyone was so kind, generous and full of support this year. We shared meals, shared laughs, shared memories … and when you can share all of those things with anyone, especially a group of people this large, then you are truly blessed. I was able to see so many family members this year, more than I’ve seen in any other year without a wedding or a funeral being involved. And that’s pretty darn special.

The family time started off with a ski trip to Colorado. My wife and mom couldn’t go, but I was able to spend time with both before and after the trip. I was able to hang out with my dad, my brother, my sister-in-law and their foreign-exchange student. We spent a few days in a nice condo, and we had some fun times together. Can’t knock that!

A fun crew ready to ski! From left: my brother Mitch, my father Derik, student Lisi and sister-in-law Hillary.
A fun crew ready to ski! From left: my brother Mitch, my father Derik, student Lisi and sister-in-law Hillary.

I had my wisdom teeth pulled this year. My wife and I have had car issues off and on across the last few years. We’ve had a number of work-related anxieties, too. But our families were there for us, and we never felt alone or dismissed. Whether it was financial help or just being friendly folks we could vent to, having such a good family support network has made all the difference.

Spending time with my family meant doing some traveling, too. My wife, Kate, and I did some driving in August. We saw my grandmothers, we saw my folks, we saw my brother and my sister-in-law, and then we saw The Dixie Chicks in Kansas City. And my wife got some barbecue, which she’s really fallen in love with over the last few years. That was a wonderful trip!

My wife, Kate, poses outside of Arthur Bryant's, one of Kansas City's great barbecue locations. We visited the famous spot on Aug. 30, during a trip that took us to see family and catch a Dixie Chicks concert.
My wife, Kate, poses outside of Arthur Bryant’s, one of Kansas City’s great barbecue locations. We visited the famous spot on Aug. 30, during a trip that took us to see family and catch a Dixie Chicks concert.

My friends.

There’s an old saying that goes something like “to be rich in friends is to be poor in nothing.” And I’ve been so fortunate to have so many wonderful friends. Jeremiah, Mitch, Jeff, Mick, Tyler, Melissa, Abby, Vicki, Jason, Aleisha and Mike, Maggie and Tony, Ian W., Jon, John, Becknar, Ian K., Brenda, Courtney, and on and on and on … No shortage, right? I have so many great friends (and I regret not all are named here, but ALL are treasured in my heart).

They’ve all been great! Food, music, drinks, friendly ears, kind words, helpful hands, all of them being people I saw step up to help lift me up time after time. Some friends, even from far away, would send me stuff in the mail that let me know that I was appreciated, cared for … When you are around people who respect you, appreciate you, laugh with you, commiserate with you, when you are around people who understand what you’re up against and always jump in to help out, that’s when you know you’ve been living your life right. You’ve got real friends, friends who are there through thick and thin.

My pal Ian W. sent me the incredible vinyl box set of The Monkees' records that were issued for Record Store Day. It's a set I treasure every day.
My pal Ian W. sent me the incredible vinyl box set of The Monkees’ records that were issued for Record Store Day. It’s a set I treasure every day.

When my wife was changing jobs and our finances changed, it looked like we’d need to sell our Brian Wilson concert tickets. But our friends rallied behind us and pooled together to pay for our tickets, our parking and our fuel. And even more friends offered to help out in other ways, too. My friends are incredible blessings.

A number of friends pooled resources to help my wife and I see Brian Wilson when he performed
A number of friends pooled resources to help my wife and I see Brian Wilson when he performed “Pet Sounds” in Minneapolis. What a generous group of incredible people!

My new friends.

In the last handful of years, I’ve met a number of friends at concerts or through social media (shared music interests on Facebook has led to a number of warm friendships). Rene, Nick, Eddie, Daniel, Todd, Karla … and again, a cast of many more!

When you can share your interests with people who enjoy something or someone as much as you do, you shouldn’t take it for granted. I’ve “met” people online (some in real life, after the fact) who cherish the same music I do, or have similar interests in history or other hobbies, and it’s led to a lot of wonderful sharing. Great conversations, getting pointed to videos or audio that was previously unexplored, having music shared …

These friends also have been there through my trials and frustrations, and have sent gifts to let me know the care … And when people you’ve never met in person do such wonderful things out of the kindnesses of your heart, you start to think maybe things aren’t that bad, maybe things are pretty good. I mean, to have such good people who want you to feel better, to feel appreciated, you must be worth something. And guess what? You are.

Though I've never met him in person, a Facebook friend of mine named Eddie sent me these generous gifts recently. Some vinyl records and CDs, a care package that covers some of my key interests (Beach Boys-related music). What a kind fella, that Eddie!
Though I’ve never met him in person, a Facebook friend of mine named Eddie sent me these generous gifts recently. Some vinyl records and CDs, a care package that covers some of my key interests (Beach Boys-related music). What a kind fella, that Eddie!

Music.

There’s been so much great music released this year. For all the really sad music deaths we’ve had this year, we’ve had almost as many great records.

We’ve gotten great music from David Bowie, The Monkees, Weezer, Beyonce, Ian Hunter, A Tribe Called Quest, Childish Gambino and so many others. And there have been great archival releases and box sets, from Pink Floyd to Bob Dylan to Big Star and The Beach Boys. And then there’s music that came out before this year, but that I hadn’t heard until recently (like Langhorne Slim).

There have been great concerts, some live albums and books about musicians too. It’s made for a rich year of musical goodness. There’s been so much to enjoy, audio gold that provides a soundtrack that redeems the year.

My music column.

The column I wrote for the St. Cloud Times for more than two years was a lot of fun. I learned a lot about myself, and I was able to have conversations with so many people around the world too. It was an opportunity that I’ll be forever grateful to have had, especially since newspaper music columnists are becoming such a rare breed.

I was able to write about favorite albums, new releases, good memories and tried to share why some music was so special to me. I tried to appeal to people through shared feelings, even if it wasn’t for the same music. Sometimes you can gain appreciation for music you never tried (or never cared for before) by learning what others get out of it. Maybe those feelings mirror what you feel for some other music. It was a lovely way to establish a dialogue, and I did manage to make a number of friends and acquaintances over email because of my column.

And through my column, I also landed on the radar of some musicians and some PR agencies. I was able to exchange words with some musical heroes, and my Facebook and Twitter accounts grew with friendships and follows from these great talents. And by being taken seriously as a music journalist, I started landing on promotions lists. I was honored to be one of the journalists who got the Pink Floyd box set “The Early Years” that came out this year (read my review here). In my wildest dreams, I never thought I’d be “on the inside,” or that I’d be having conversations with Monkees and Boomtown Rats (or with Matt Sharp and Chuck Negron, woo!). Magic!

Because of my music columns, I started landing on the radar of some of my music heroes and their great PR teams. A column I wrote about Roger Waters and Pink Floyd opened dialogue, and got me on a promotions loop. The Pink Floyd box set
Because of my music columns, I started landing on the radar of some of my music heroes and their great PR teams. A column I wrote about Roger Waters and Pink Floyd opened dialogue, and got me on a promotions loop. The Pink Floyd box set “The Early Years: 1965-1972” came out of this.

Tri-County Humane Society.

As the year rolled to an end, and as I was looking for jobs, I had some time on my hands. I hate being idle, and Tri-County Humane Society provided me the opportunity to do some volunteer work.

I really do like helping others. I believe in community service. I was a Boy Scout, I was the community service chair of my high school’s National Honor Society chapter, and I’ve tried to make it a point to donate or contribute to good causes whenever possible the last 12 years.

Through TCHS, I’ve been able to do some work to try to help animals. Whether this is taking on gift-wrapping shifts over the holidays, or doing social media promotions for volunteer activities, or stuffing envelopes to send to supporters, or donating money, food or supplies to the good folks who help the animals, it’s been a really good feeling to give back to people (and animals) who need help more than I do. It gives you context. It also makes you feel good to know you are helping others. It’s nice to get out of your own mess and do something that benefits other living things.

Tri-County Humane Society, based in St. Cloud (Minnesota), does so much for area animals and families. Finding animals the right furever homes is the goal of TCHS' staffers and volunteers.
Tri-County Humane Society, based in St. Cloud (Minnesota), does so much for area animals and families. Finding animals the right furever homes is the goal of TCHS’ staffers and volunteers.

Enjoyable TV shows.

As much as I love music, sometimes it doesn’t always get me out of my own head. And if you’re feeling down, getting out of your head is important. And the sooner you do it, the better it is for you.

I like dramas, documentaries, sci-fi, etc. All genres have programs I enjoy. But when I really need to start feeling better fast, I go with comedies. When I’ve had free time, I’ve been watching a mix of classic TV and current shows.

When it comes to the classics, I’ve been enjoying revisiting “Cheers.” Nothing like hanging with my pals Sam, Carla, Norm, Cliff, Coach, Woody, Frasier, Lilith, Rebecca and the whole talented crew. And with newer shows, I’ve really been enjoying “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” Terry Crews and Andre Braugher make the show for me, but I like the whole cast (all the actors work so well together, a great ensemble … I wasn’t the world’s biggest Andy Samberg fan, but I love him in this show).

Looking ahead to 2017.

I know that I’ll have a job (and maybe more than one) in 2017. I am going to look ahead to 2017 as a year that has to be better than 2016.

There’ll be plenty of frustrations, fears and anxieties next year. You can’t avoid them. But I want to do my part to make 2017 a good year. I want to make it a year that makes 2016 just an unpleasant memory. I want to be able to look back a year from now and say, “Wow, 2017 was great! Look how far I’ve come.”

That’s my goal. That’s my plan. I don’t want to dwell on negatives.

Me with my wife, Kate, at the Brian Wilson concert on Oct. 2 in Minneapolis. I am blessed every day to have Kate as my wife and as my best friend. I love her very, very much.
Me with my wife, Kate, at the Brian Wilson concert on Oct. 2 in Minneapolis. I am blessed every day to have Kate as my wife and as my best friend. I love her very, very much.

After all, look at all these blessings I have. Look at the blessings around you. When the bad things all start to pile up and feel like too much, take a breath. Step back. Look at your family, your friends. Look to music and TV shows. Find the things in your life that inspire you and fill you with good feelings. Hang on to those. Cherish those. Develop those.

I hope your 2016 ends on a positive note. I hope the holidays are a time of love, laughter and happiness.

Keep your chin up. And keep the tunes a-playing!

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