Posted in Wednesday Warriors

Buddy the Elf

From the North Pole, where Santa prepares for another Christmas, the elves’ manufacturing machine churns out toys 364 days in the year. That fateful day, Christmas Day, the elves receive a few hours of rest as their reward for a year well done. From there, they begin the cycle again, pressing toward another tight deadline, another joyous Christmas with all its splendor intact.

Will Ferrell as Elf
Will Ferrell as Elf

What better way to usher in another Season’s Greetings than to focus attention on Buddy (Will Ferrell), the holiday warrior in the film Elf who sees things differently than the rest of us?

Buddy isn’t a normal Santa little elf. In fact, he isn’t little at all. At the height of well over six feet, he’s got his brothers and sisters beat. His feet are too big for his bed. His appetite is even larger, consuming a vast amount of candy that would choke anyone into an early grave. And his spirit for the season is equal to that of Santa’s.

Buddy is a warrior for Christmas.

Elf's version of the Christmas spirit
Elf’s version of the Christmas spirit

However, one day Buddy realizes he’s not like the other elves. Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) tells him he’s not an elf at all. That’s when he sets out to find his true parents across the northern tundra, through the great Canadian Rockies, traveling to New York where he finds clues that lead him to his real father.

Only, his real father, Walter (James Caan), is not who he imagined him to be. As a big publishing executive, Walter’s goal with his book company is to make as much money in the industry, despite if he has to cut a few corners—or throats—to get there. The spirit of Christmas definitely does not live within Walter.

Once Buddy meets his real father, he doesn’t let his dad’s preoccupation with his job get to him. Determination sets in for him to show his dad what a wonderful time of year it is instead. Selfless acts of kindness, like staying up all night to decorate the apartment, comes easy to Buddy. Hauling a tree into the apartment and decking it from from top to bottom with homemade decorations is what Buddy’s good at.

Yet, Walter doesn’t appreciate his son’s passion for the day. He wants nothing to do with his son other than for his son to disappear from his life.

Unaffected by his dad’s rejection, Buddy carries forward to bring back the spirit of the season to shoppers everywhere. His sudden interest with a department store and the endless possibilities he has at his disposal to create a Christmas wonderland excites Buddy to pull another all-nighter. The next morning, the entire children’s department becomes a wonderful destination for parents and kids everywhere.

The story doesn’t end there. Buddy’s unwavering belief in the spirit of Christmas, and its effect on those it comes in contact, to change them, provides him the inspiration to spread cheer toward everyone, including his father.

Buddy is more than a two-dimensional character. Buddy represents someone with absolute faith in the power to move crowds into a call for action. As lighthearted as the film Elf is, the underlying message it delivers, that of tolerance and forgiveness, makes for fun moments of entertainment laced with a few lessons for those in need of a positive role model.

The film is correct in saying Buddy isn’t an elf. He’s more than an elf. He’s a character filled with hope—hope for the future, and hope for a time when the spirit of the season will flow year-round.

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What do you think of the film Elf? What do you think of Buddy’s positive attitude?

Posted in Freedom Friday

Christmas Talk Already?

I wrote an entirely different post for today that I eventually scrapped because I felt the tone was not conducive to a positive atmosphere. My original post poked fun at the phrase “pay it forward” and it’d implied a message of performing good deeds with the expectation of getting something in return. Some folks call it reciprocation, but I have a better word for it.

Christmas Eve
Christmas Eve

In my world, I call it a transaction.

Anyway, after thinking about it, for today’s Freedom Friday I decided to talk about something else.

With winter right around the corner, it’s that time of year when I start thinking about putting the lawn furniture away, raking the leaves, and sealing all doors and windows to our house in preparation for those cold days when all I can see is my breath floating in the air. For some, autumn is over the day after Halloween. The Christmas lights go up. The carols play in the department stores. And the first snowflakes hit the ground.

It’s also the same time of year that many use to finish old or plan new projects. In my case, I look forward to this time as a way to draw closer to the family. Given I have such a stringent writing schedule, it’s nice to settle indoors and spend time with the people I love.

Christmas shopping season madness
Christmas shopping season madness

However, in the hustle and bustle of yearend, I’m eagerly anticipating one thing—Christmas shopping season. It may be a strange thing to think about, considering Christmas is a month away, but I actually love the buzz in the stores. As we get closer to that fateful period. Many of the game manufacturers wait until now to deliver their most prized treasures to consumers.

I know the film industry is on top of it. Who can deny Jurassic World hasn’t already prep’d the audience last summer with the subliminal suggestion that folks ought to offer the DVD or Blu-Ray as a gift under the tree? The whole opening sequence to the movie has Christmas in mind.

Then LEGO announced recently the company has a brick shortage and won’t be able to fill all its orders on time, in spite of opening new manufacturing plants throughout the world. I don’t know about you but Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without at least one LEGO set making an appearance. Isn’t there some unwritten rule about that? I don’t know.

Let’s not forget the crowds. Oh, how much the crowds make up the best part of the season. Elbow to elbow, everyone gunning for the last toy on the shelf. Is there anything else that can be so perfect?

Of course, I’m being facetious. The idea of driving around senseless to grab the last parking spot in the mall so that I can drag my butt into a store I never will visit again to buy a toy that in a year’s time will end up as part of a junk heap really appeals to me. Do you see me jumping for joy?

Okay, so maybe I’m not really looking forward to Christmas as much as I thought, but you can’t tell me it isn’t fun watching the season unfold into chaos. That’s the best part.

Nothing quite replaces the spirit of giving when everyone’s thinking about materialism.

After all, greed and fear is what makes the economy go around, especially during this time of year.

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Are you looking forward to the holiday season? What are your plans?

Posted in Freedom Friday, Other Things

Warren Buffett

I have a story to tell you. It’s an interesting story, but not so far-fetched that you can’t believe it. It has to do with a school assignment, one of the richest men in the world, and a letter that made a young boy’s Christmas.

Warren Buffett
Warren Buffett

I’ve saved this Freedom Friday article for today because I thought it would be a great pick-me-up for anyone wondering if wonderful things do happen when you least expect them. And we’re in the middle of winter, so that’s another reason.

The story begins with a school assignment my son received in November. His task was an easy one—to write a fan letter to someone he admires. Simple enough, right? Only, his heroes are not the type of heroes you’d expect. Unlike his father who enjoys watching his heroes blow things up—namely Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone or any other buff actor who is ready to rip the larynx from a zombie. My son holds in high regard heroes such as Bill Gates whose foundation contributes to a wide variety of global causes, and Warren Buffett, philanthropist extraordinaire, the second richest man in the world (at the time of this writing).

What does he do? He writes a letter to Warren Buffett explaining how he’s a young investor with the dream of one day becoming as wise and as prudent as he, the Oracle of Omaha is. And a wonderful letter he wrote—three paragraphs talking about his aspirations, and why Mr. Buffett is his idol.

He didn’t send the letter out right away. It hung around the foyer shelf for a while before his mother got after him to get the letter to the mailbox.

The day he sent it, he thought nothing of it. He wasn’t expecting anything back and chalked it up to another assignment under his belt.

Berkshire Hathaway's Warren Buffett
Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett

Christmas Eve came and so did the mail. In between our town’s pizza ads and Season’s Greetings cards, a letter arrived addressed to my son from Berkshire Hathaway. For those unfamiliar with the firm, it’s Warren Buffett’s holding company where he completes most of his trades and transactions. Simply put—it’s where Mr. Buffett works. My son received a letter from them.

Exciting stuff, eh?

I asked him to open it. Do you know what he said to me? He said, “No, I’ll wait until tomorrow to open it.” Man, I don’t think I could have held off that long, but my son’s a patient kid and until the next day, we waited.

When Christmas morning arrived, my wife and I attempted to complete the ritual of sleeping in while the kids executed their nefarious plan to make as much noise as possible to wake us. Of course, wide-eyed and knowing, we slogged our way down the stairs into the family room to open the presents.

As each present met the hands of its intended recipient, the Berkshire Hathaway letter sat, lonely and depressed, wondering if my son had forgotten about it.

He hadn’t. He left it until the very end—that is to say—left it until he had no choice but to open it.

“Are you now going to tell us what the letter says?” I asked him.

Somewhat apprehensive, a bit timid, he reached for the letter from his hero’s company and ripped the outer layer away to get to the meat of the communication.

He unfolded it. To his surprise, it was his letter. The company had returned his original letter to him. No explanation. Nothing. For a moment, my son had disappointment gushing from his face.

Soon he noticed the very bottom of the letter had some writing on it. It said:

“[My son’s name]—Thanks for writing me. Good luck to you. Warren E. Buffet.”

And right there, we all had shock on our faces. The second richest man in the world had taken a moment to write my son’s name in his own handwriting, and topped it off with best wishes.

Not only did the experience make for a wonderful year-end gift for my son, but also provided me the opportunity to write about it today.

We’re still saying, “Wow!”

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Have you had something so unbelievable happen to you that it could make for a great plot to a movie?

Posted in Freedom Friday

The Day After the Night Before

Is it over? I don’t know how long I can survive. The gifts, food, family, fun, arrangements, hugs, kisses, handshakes, decorations, lights, marshmallows, hot chocolate, snacks, parties, TV, movies, music, and in some cases, dancing. It’s not over yet. The day after is PJ day in our home and there’s still New Year’s Day to look forward to.

Not our family.
Not our family.

Freedom Friday is the day I talk about anything that pops into my head. Today let’s talk about the day after the night before.

This is no joke. It’s PJ day here at Casa Flacco, and like past years, the day will go something like this: We’ll wake up at an ungodly hour, have a late breakfast filled with sugary treats for the kids and carbs for the rest of us. Around mid-afternoon we’ll probably start lunch—still in our PJs, then move on to laze about around the fire reading, playing games and reminisce about the night before where we spent the holidays with my parents.

Family time for our family is a big deal. During this time of year, we spend an inordinate amount of hours together with the added benefit of not getting on each other’s nerves. I slipped in that last part because getting along is something we do well. Actually, let me correct that. A fight is a fight, but the next day is a new day and we typically forgive and forget quickly. So, yeah, I’d say getting along is one of our strengths.

The game of Risk
The game of Risk

Previous years, we played games as the evening wore on. The whole event consists of a board game, bowls of snacks and tons of drinks to keep us occupied round after round of competitive play. Before the kids came along, my wife and I used to do the same thing only with another couple. We’d play Risk until the wee hours of the night stuffing our faces with food while orchestrating a virtual takeover of The Americas. Those were the days. What am I saying? These are the days.

The other good thing about this day has to be the sleep. I’d mentioned how we all wake up late into the morning. That’s not fiction. You see, one of the things we do the night before is wear the new PJs we purchased for this occasion. We do this every year. We get new PJs for all of us, and we then have a reason to sleep in. I don’t know what it is, but new PJs is like a sedative on the body. So comfortable. So relaxing. It’s too bad it only happens once a year. I could sure do this more often. Then again, how many times do we have the opportunity to do that? Okay, I’ll stop self-analyzing.

Now you know a bit more about my family. In some respect, we’re weird—but not as weird as any other family steeped in tradition. We’re just regular folk.

I hope you also have fun today.

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How are your holidays so far? Do you do anything special during this time of year? Movies anyone?

Posted in Wednesday Warriors

Clark Griswold

It may seem odd to highlight an everyman for the second article in the Wednesday Warriors series, but Clark Griswold is not your everyman. He’s the family man who’d make even the Father of the Year look ordinary. And since it is Christmas Eve, who can say Clark is not a warrior for the holidays?

Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold
Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold

Known for going overboard with his dedication to the holiday season, Clark (Chevy Chase) takes his place among heroes willing to uphold traditions in order to have a fun old-fashioned family Christmas Vacation.

It begins with hauling the family through the white tundra of the awesome winter wonderland in a quest to find the perfect tree. Not just any ol’ tree, but a tree that would make the Eiffel Tower seem short. When asked where he plans to put a tree that size, since it wouldn’t fit in the yard, he quickly says it’s not going in the yard. It’s going in the living room. And, of course, once the tree is set, all Clark has to do is to cut the rope holding the thing together. With a tree that size, we all know what happens. Let’s just say not a window survives.

Clark losing it.
Clark losing it.

Ah yes, Clark Griswold, the world’s last true family man. His idea of spending his bonus check is to buy a swimming pool and fly his family down to christen it. A man like him is a lost art. He makes setting up exterior illumination easy. He can’t simply have one, two, three rows of lights on his roof. He has to have the whole roof, pillars leading to the roof, window and doorframes covered in lights. If the draw of electricity becomes too much for the town to handle, all they have to do is switch to auxiliary power to keep up with Clark’s demands on the grid.

When Clark goes all out, he goes all out.

And when everyone’s ready to bail on him because the holiday becomes a full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency, he steps in to do what any reasonable man would do—he holds them hostage by threat of violence while wielding a chainsaw as if it were a carving knife for the holiday turkey. Who could blame him? He lost his mind ages ago when he attempted to be the perfect father and hell showed up at his doorstep declaring war on his annual festivities. No, no—no one’s walking out on his fun old-fashioned family Christmas.

But the best part of who Clark is comes when he realizes that no matter how bad things get, he eventually snaps out of his morbid sense of adventure to accept what little good the holiday season presents—even if he keeps company with the jolliest bunch of idiots this side of the nuthouse.

[Author’s note: From my family to yours, have a wonderful holiday season.]

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Have you seen Clark Griswold in Christmas Vacation? What is your favorite part of the movie?

Posted in Freedom Friday

Holiday Decorations

Nutcrackers fill our house. I don’t know where this deep fascination with these inanimate objects came from, but all I know is that they’re everywhere. Nutcrackers guard our fireplace mantles, they stand at attention at the entrance of our doorways, and they even keep watch over the landing of our stairs to the second floor. They’re everywhere, I tell you.

Holiday Decorations
Holiday Decorations

Stuffed snowmen fill our house, too. They hang on our home’s front door in the form of a wreath. They sit as decoration on the landing into our basement. They even grace our little winter town display on the bay window. They’re everywhere, I tell you.

If you’re wondering what I’m talking about for this Freedom Friday article, wonder no more. It’s all about this season’s decorations.

Tinsel is a big feature in our home this winter. I don’t think anyone is safe going anywhere without encountering the red, silver and gold decoration. It travels along the railings of the staircases. It covers our furniture. And it’s in places I didn’t even think it would appear. But that’s another story.

More Holiday Decorations
More Holiday Decorations

And the lights? The seemingly endless strands of lights? There’s no end to them. I’m sure you’re going to ask where they lie. But I’m afraid to say. I’m afraid. Are you ready? They run along the staircase, they cover the fireplace mantles, and they rest on a small table in the foyer to light the way for us when we come back from visiting friends in the late evening hours. They cover the bay window, providing color to a cold winter night. They’re in the form of trinkets spread through the house, and they’re always ready to amuse after our evening meal when all we want to do is lie on the couch and relax. I’m sure they’re in other places. I just don’t know where. After the holidays, it’s like an Easter egg hunt. We wonder where we put them all only to find them in July wedged in a corner somewhere before a visit to the park or after a family BBQ.

But you know what? I like this time of year. Not so much for all the decorations, although they make the winter months seem warmer, but for the feeling I get when sitting by the fireplace with a hot drink in my hand. It’s calming. Relaxing. Soothing. Especially with the wind howling outside, the temperatures dropping to sub-zero, and snow filling our driveway. I don’t know, it’s just—just perfect. If only the feeling would last all year round.

Wouldn’t that be something?

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ALIEN INVASION, on sale now.

Do you decorate for the season? What do you do to make the year end special?

Posted in Women Who Wow Wednesday

Kate McCallister

I have yet to meet someone who hasn’t seen Home Alone. That is no slight exaggeration. In its short twenty-four year history, the film has gone on to become a holiday favorite for many families, including ours. Once a year, we dim the lights, set the fire and curl up to the sights and sounds of “Kevin!”

Catherine O'Hara as Kate McCallister
Catherine O’Hara as Kate McCallister

Today’s Women Who Wow Wednesday is all about wide-eyed Kevin’s mom Kate McCallister—the parent who left her son home alone for the holidays.

It’s Christmas and the McCallister family has plans to vacation in France. The night before their trip, amid the chaos of the kids fighting, the ruined pizza and everyone ganging up on Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) for being a nuisance—read: kid with high IQ who no one appreciates—a wish passes through the nuisance’s lips and suddenly the next day the family disappears.

Among the family members who go missing is Kevin’s mom Kate McCallister (Catherine O’Hara) who finds herself on a plane with her husband and family heading to France. Nothing wrong with that, it was the plan after all, until she realizes she’s forgotten her eight-year-old son home alone.

The guilt tears her up so much that she wonders what kind of mother she is for having forgotten her son during a family trip. And like any good mother, when the family arrives in France, the first thing on her agenda is fulfilling her desire to get home to see her boy.

Macaulay Culkin as Kevin McCallister
Macaulay Culkin as Kevin McCallister

It sounds like an easy task, hop on a plane and she’s good to go. But it’s Christmas time and all the flights are bustling with folks with the same idea—get home for the Holidays. Determined to get back to her son, Kate presses for an early flight that would get her close to home, but not close enough.

When Kate arrives on U.S. soil, she hits another obstacle. She can’t get transportation anywhere. Rentals and flights are gone and her only hope is that someone would be gracious enough to help her get home to see her son. But not before she let’s go on one of the airport attendants venting her plight, reminding them of the common decency of the season. To no avail she gets nowhere.

It isn’t until a bandleader (John Candy) and his buddies offer Kate a ride that things start to make sense again for the exhausted mom. In the back of an old dingy van, she and a gang of old-time polka musicians jet cross-country through the winter Illinois landscape.

Once she arrives home and sees Kevin for the first time since abandoning him, she doesn’t know what to day. Well, actually, she does know what to say, but I’m not going to spoil it for you. You can watch it on your own and relive the excitement of Home Alone.

A mother’s love for a child is a wonderful thing, and Kate shows us what that love is all about.

[Stay tuned next week when the new feature Wednesday Warriors debuts here on JackFlacco.com.]

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ALIEN INVASION, on sale now.

What do you like about Kate McCallister? What makes Home Alone so gratifying to watch year after year?