Archive for the ‘Thanksgiving’ category

SwanShadow Gives Thanks: Eight Is Never Enough

November 24, 2011

Welcome to the eighth (count ’em, eight!) edition of my annual A-to-Z Thanksgiving post. After the darkness and loss that characterized much of 2010 — as most of the regulars here know, my wife KJ lost her decade-long battle with breast cancer in July of that year — 2011 has been another year of sweeping change. A brighter one in several ways, but again with more than its share of tragedy and challenge.

We lost my father-in-law, who had been in ill health for many years, in February. Shortly thereafter, we bid our last goodbyes to my dutiful personal assistant Abby. Add in a new life partnership, a career redirection, a new residence for the first time in nearly 20 years… well, you get the idea.

Enough recap, already. Let’s get on with the gratitude. On this fourth Thursday in November, I’m thankful for…

Audacity, the free audio recording and editing tool I use every day. One of these days, I’ll invest in some pricey software that does everything Audacity does, only for hundreds of dollars more. Yeah… in your dreams. Remember Uncle Swan’s motto: If it’s free, it’s for me.

Bravo, because who doesn’t love Top Chef? And Millionaire Matchmaker? And yes, even Project Runway? Okay, sure, they put on all that dreadful Real Housewives crap. That’s what the channel button on your remote is for. Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.

The City by the Bay — always my favorite city, once my alma mater, now my home. I’ve enjoyed a love affair with San Francisco for the better part of four decades, but I would never have envisioned living here. Where little cable cars climb halfway to the stars. Where Mark Twain spent his coldest winter one summer. Home of the 2010 World Series Champion Giants; the Team of the ’80s, the 49ers; and naked dudes wandering the streets of the Castro. Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.

The Daughter, whom I love more than life itself. Smart, funny, perceptive, and the world’s greatest horsewoman. You should have a daughter so awesome. But you can’t. She’s the only one.

Eggs Benedict. How can you go wrong with eggs, pork, and hollandaise? Don’t believe the people at Denny’s when they tell you they can do it with melted Velveeta. They lie.

Facebook, which keeps me in constant touch with my voice actor colleagues, my chorus buddies, people I knew in high school, and friends, comrades, and associates of every stripe. If that brat Zuckerberg hadn’t stolen this gem from the Winklevii, Facebook would be the exclusive province of snooty preppies in cardigans and Top-Siders, and you and I would never know what the other is eating for breakfast.

Goorin Brothers, makers of stylish hats. I’m wearing my black Cash Canyon right now.

Hope, because if you don’t have that, you have nothing. Keep it alive, as Jesse used to say, back when people actually cared what Jesse said.

iTunes — without it, we’d still be stockpiling eight-tracks. Isn’t it wicked cool that I can punch up Meat Loaf, or the House Jacks, or Sir Mix-A-Lot, or Journey, anytime I want, with just a keystroke or two? Why, yes, it is.

Jim Harbaugh, the man who turned Alex “Sow’s Ear” Smith into a rayon purse overnight, thereby restoring the 49ers not merely to respectability, but to darn near invincibility. If you’d told me in August that the Niners would be 9-1 going into Thanksgiving, I’d have laughed in your face, and recommended a good therapist.

KJ… gone home, but never forgotten.

The Legion of Super-Heroes, or as we used to call them in my comics-reading youth, the Legion of Stupid Heroes. Where else could characters like Bouncing Boy and Matter-Eater Lad find stardom? It’s no surprise that many of the Legion’s best adventures sprang from the typewriter (go on, look it up… I’ll wait) of a brash kid named Jim Shooter, who began writing Legion stories when he was a mere stripling of 13. Nevertheless, the Legion always had the cutest girls in comics. Imra Ardeen… call me.

Maddie the German shorthaired pointer mix, who replaced our dear departed corgi Abby at The Daughter’s side, if not entirely in her heart. Maddie is in many ways the anti-Abby — long-legged, frenetic, and eager for affection to the point of clinginess, in contrast to her squat, chill, laissez-faire predecessor — but no less a character. I’m glad The Daughter found a new friend.

The house of the Naked Fish-Tailed Lady, home of hot, caffeinated, life-sustaining squeezings of the noble bean. Get yourself an eggnog latte this holiday season. You know you want one.

My fellow comic art collector Damon Owens, with whom I’ve shared countless e-mail conversations about comics, art, and life over these many years. Damon’s theme galleries — The Brotherhood, an all-star team of black superheroes; Dead Universes Project, featuring heroes from publishers who’ve vanished into the ether; and Cage Matches, recalling the greatest adventures of Luke Cage, Power Man — are the envy of every other commission collector, yours truly included. Beyond that, Damon’s just a really cool guy. You rock, amigo.

The Pirate Queen, who restored light to a world that had become horrifyingly bleak. All it took was a visit to Starbucks and a midnight at the asylum. Thank you for making me First Mate, Captain. I love you… and happy birthday.

Quotations. Gifted wordsmith though I am, I can’t be expected to pump out all the pithy sayings all by my lonesome. “Because remember, no matter where you go… there you are.” Buckaroo Banzai said that. See what I mean?

Rocketfish, my new favorite sushi joint. Have a Rocketfish Roll, brother. They’re fresh.

Stars, The Agency, simply the best talent agents in the whole wide world. Thanks for believing in me, Nate and Kristin. One of these first days, I’m going to make you guys a fortune. Not that you need it, or anything.

Trader Joe’s. Okay, so it’s owned by this mysterious, creepy, reclusive German family who probably have Anne Frank locked up in their attic or something. But I get a giddy thrill every time their Fearless Flyer lands in my mailbox. How TJ’s crams so much exotic yet tasty stuff into one little grocery store is beyond me. Must be the Hawaiian shirts.

The United States of America. Yes, we’ve had our problems. Yes, we have more than our share of lunatics, lowlifes, miscreants, and Tea Partiers… but then, I repeat myself. Still, we’re the place everyone else wants to be. The big dog on the block. The coolest kid in class. The land of milk, honey, Barack Obama, and Filet-O-Fish. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. And I have, so I’d know.

Virgin America. We flew to Vegas with these folks in July, and I have to give them credit, they make flying about as much fun as an airline can in these post-9/11 times. Nice to see a company doing a serious business not taking itself entirely too seriously. Besides, you have to admire the chutzpah in the name alone. I’m not sure what they call it the second time you fly, though.

West Portal, our little neighborhood downtown. Feel like Mexican tonight? Check out El Toreador. Indian? Try Roti. Peruvian? Fresca will hook you up. Breakfast? There’s a branch of Squat and Gobble on the corner. Want to catch a movie? The CineArts at the Empire shows the latest blockbusters. Need hardware? Legal pharmaceuticals? A glass of fine wine? A crab melt? An ATM? It’s all here for you, in the space of three short blocks. And of course, there’s a Starbucks. Where isn’t there a Starbucks?

Xfinity from Comcast. A bazillion cable TV channels, lightning-fast Internet access, even land-line telephone service if you’re all old school like that.

Yin and yang. Because there are two sides to everything. Male and female. Light and dark. Bitter and sweet. Ebony and ivory, together in perfect harmony. Just like life.

Zazzle. You can create T-shirts, mugs, and every conceivable other kind of novelty item and sell them to people. Or buy the stuff other people came up with. I picked up a nifty pair of Bettie Page mugs there just recently.

Did I mention that I’m thankful for you, friend reader? I am. I’m glad you’re here, and I’m glad you’re you. Have a happy, thoughtful, and reflective Thanksgiving.

SwanShadow Gives Thanks — Episode 7: A New Hope

November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010 marks the seventh consecutive year that I’ve written my annual A-to-Z list of people and things for which I’m giving thanks on this contemplative holiday.

As those of you who drop by here regularly know, 2010 has been a challenging year at Casa de Swan. KJ, my life partner of 29 years – my wife of 25 and a half years – passed away in July after a lengthy battle with breast cancer and degenerative liver disease. One might suppose that, in the wake of such a monumental tragedy, it would be more difficult than usual to find gratitude in my heart for the trivial accoutrements of life.

Truth to tell, however, I could write several dozen of these lists – the X’s, Q’s, and Z’s would get tough after a while – and not exhaust the limitless possibilities of thankfulness. If I’ve learned anything from recent experience, it’s not to take anything or anyone in my life for granted.

Before I delve into this year’s alphabetical progression, I’m going to take time for some special acknowledgments that belong on a list all to themselves.

I’m thankful for every moment of every day KJ and I were blessed to share together. Like all couples, we had glorious times and dark days, sunshine and struggle, soaring heights and devastating lows. Through it all, we never stopped loving each other. KJ’s quiet influence made me a better man, and a better human being. I would not be the me I am today without her. There’s a pretty fair argument to be made that I would not even be alive today without her. She has been the single most powerful presence in my life. She was my lover, my companion, my good right hand, and my very best and closest friend. I miss her terribly. I am grateful for all that she gave me, and I am especially grateful that she is now at peace.

I’m thankful for The Daughter, who, like her mother before her, makes me a better person just by being around me. KM has been a model of strength and perseverance throughout her mother’s illness, and in the aftermath of her death. She is everything any father could ask a daughter to be – kind, respectful, sweet, helpful, diligent in her studies, and quite often, wickedly funny. You would love her if you knew her, because everyone who knows her already does. She will graduate from university in May after just four years, even though her entire college career has been overshadowed by her mother’s failing health. You go, Supergirl — I am more proud of you than you will ever know.

I’m thankful for my parents-in-law, whose support and compassion has been invaluable in these haunted times. They have never stopped regarding me as their son, even though, technically speaking, the contractual connection between us no longer exists. This hard road would have been impassable without them sharing it with The Daughter and me. I will be forever grateful to them for all their help, encouragement, and love.

I’m thankful for the three communities of people whose fellowship has buoyed me over the tempest this year: my church family; my chorus family – the incomparable men of Voices in Harmony, and their significant others; and the family of Bay Area voice actors with whom I work and study at Voicetrax San Francisco. All of them have aided me in ways of which they are likely not even aware. I love them, every one.

And now, in keeping with our long-standing tradition, I’m also thankful for…

Abby, my personal assistant. Her typing is abysmal, her filing skills nonexistent, and she leaves her toys and chew bones strewn about the office, but she’s as warm and furry as any daily companion could ever be.

My BlackBerry Torch. It’s hard now to imagine how I functioned for so many years without a smartphone. It has made life easier and more organized in ways that I’d never have imagined – especially considering the fact that I rarely use the actual phone. The e-mail access, text messaging, GPS navigation, and instant updates from the Weather Channel and ESPN all pay for themselves ten times over.

Comic Art Fans, the home of my online art gallery and those of hundreds of other comic art collectors. The estimable Bill Cox has built, and continues to refine, an invaluable resource for participants in our hobby – and doesn’t even make us pay for the privilege of using it unless we choose to. (I do. Gladly.)

Dragon NaturallySpeaking, the nonpareil voice-recognition software by Nuance Communications. I’m now on my third iteration of Dragon, and the program just keeps getting better and better. It’s an incredible timesaver for clumsy typists like myself. In fact, I’m dictating this blog post with it.

The Eagles, one of my all-time favorite American rock bands. Do I ever get tired of listening to Hotel California? No, I do not. They stab it with their steely knives, but they just can’t kill the beast.

Faith. I always knew it was important. Until this year, I’m not sure I understood exactly how important.

My beloved San Francisco Giants, who this year won their first World Series championship in 52 seasons by the Bay. For diehard fans like The Daughter and myself, the joyous accomplishment of the Orange and Black couldn’t have come at a better time. Big-Time Timmy Jim, Shotgun, Buster, Huff Daddy, The Boss, BWeez, Pat the Bat, Magic Juan, J-Lo, Fast Freddy, Andres the Giant, MadBum, and the rest of the crew brought a ray of soul-cheering sunshine to a dismal summer.

The House Jacks, the original rock band without instruments. Their latest album, Level, flat-out kicks butt. (You can buy it on iTunes. And you should.) I’ll be seeing The Jacks live at the Freight and Salvage in Berkeley on December 11, as an early birthday present to myself.

“Indian Food,” our household nickname for Stephen Curry, the Golden State Warriors’ premier point guard. We like our Indian Food hot and spicy, dishing the rock, and bombing away from outside the arc.

Jury duty, which may, I know, seem like an odd thing for which to be thankful. I haven’t written much about it for reasons that will become immediately obvious, but I served on a jury this year that convicted a man of murder. It was a harrowing month-long experience, and yet one that I am glad I underwent — and which I will never forget.

KJ. As previously noted, I can’t say enough how thankful I am for her life.

Ladybugs, KJ’s personal totem. The Daughter and I refer to the mausoleum where KJ is encrypted as the Ladybug House. She would have liked that.

Memories – I have so many precious ones to treasure. With God’s blessings and a fair wind, perhaps I’ll make many more before this trip reaches its terminus.

Nigiri sushi. Man, that stuff is tasty. My favorite bites: tako, ebi, unagi, hamachi, and the ineffable toro.

Old school. That’s how I like my music. That’s how I live my life. Get off my lawn, you punk kids.

The Princess Bride, one of my best-loved motion pictures of all time. It has taken on a new meaning recently, ever since I came face to face with the real-life Dread Pirate Roberts. I’ll be your Westley any time, Buttercup. Just watch out for that six-fingered man. And, never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line.

Quail. Cute little birds they are, and yet, they deserve to be persecuted. I’m just looking for a few good recipes.

Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill. Their Taco Tuesdays, when you can score all the fish tacos you can wolf down for $1.25 each, are among the greatest fast food bargains on the planet. Not to mention, delicious.

Supergirl – which, in addition to being my pet name for The Daughter, is also the nom de guerre of one of my favorite superheroines. I crossed an item off my bucket list this year by meeting Helen Slater, the actress who played Supergirl in the 1984 movie, and getting her autograph on the 50th issue of this current Supergirl run, to which she contributed a story. She’s every bit as lovely in person as she is on screen.

Throat Coat, the herbal tea from Traditional Medicinals that is the best friend of voice-using professionals everywhere.

The universe. Standing under a clear night sky never fails to remind me exactly how small and fragile I am. “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, hat is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?” (Psalm 8:3-4).

Voice acting. It took me more than 45 years, but I am at long last becoming what I really want to be when I grow up.

Writing. Where would I be without the mystery and beauty of language? Words truly are my greatest passion. (Well, one of my greatest passions, anyway. Ahem…)

The X factor — that is to say, the unknown. I don’t know what the future holds for me. Whatever it is, I’ll face it head-on. And, knowing me, with a witty quip or three.

Yelp, the ultimate do-it-yourself review site. I’ve lost count of the number of great restaurants – not to mention other businesses – I’ve discovered using this helpful tool. As is the case with Wikipedia, one has to take what’s written on Yelp with a grain of salt, because anyone and his Dutch uncle can get on and write whatever they please. Still, used with discernment, it’s an incredible resource.

Andrew Zimmern, the globetrotting chef and culinary adventurer who hosts Bizarre Foods on the Travel Channel. You’d never catch me eating half the items that Andrew is called upon to sample, but I always enjoy journeying vicariously with him to the exotic places he goes, and seeing the amazing array of comestibles enjoyed by people of various cultures around the world.

Last, but by no means least, I am eternally grateful for you, friend reader. May you and the people you love experience the true joy of Thanksgiving this holiday. Please understand that no matter how challenging your life circumstances may seem, you have much for which to be thankful, if you just stop and look around.

Peace to you. And pass the mashed potatoes.

SwanShadow Gives Thanks: This Time, It’s For Real

November 26, 2009

On each of the five most recent Thanksgiving Days, I’ve used this space — and the space this blog occupied previously — to itemize in alphabetical format a random sampling of things for which I am grateful.

This year, I told myself: If it’s working, don’t fix it.

Thus, the sixth annual edition of SwanShadow Gives Thanks. (You can peruse the previous years’ lists here.)

Amazon Kindle 2. A virtual library of books everywhere I travel, in a lightweight device the size of a DVD case. Everyone on the staff at the hospital KJ frequently visits wants one. I’m currently reading Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend, Larry Tye’s fine biography of baseball star Leroy “Satchel” Paige.

Brizzly. A nifty online client that lets me track both of my Twitter accounts and my Facebook page in one convenient location. If you’re not already following me, you should be.

Common Elements, my signature theme of comic art commissions. Each artwork in the series depicts two (and occasionally more) unrelated comic book heroes who share something in common. The connections are sometimes obvious (i.e., Red Arrow and Red Sonja), sometimes obscure (i.e., The Question and Starfire, whose civilian names — Vic Sage and Koriand’r — are both herbs). You can see all 87 of the existing Common Elements pieces in my online gallery.

Disneyland, the Happiest Place on Earth. This summer, I had a chance to visit there for the first time in several years. It still makes me giddy.

Eugene Finerman, one of the all-time great champions in the history of Jeopardy!, and the man who every day on his excellent blog, Your RDA of Irony, teaches me something that I didn’t know. Eugene is a one-man compendium of all things historical — like a university survey class, only funnier.

Freebies. I love getting stuff for free, whether it’s product samples in the mail or random nibbles at Costco. Uncle Swan’s credo: If it’s free, it’s for me.

Gasoline. We need things to make us go.

Headlines, the most hilarious five minutes in weekly television. I missed my Monday night fix while Jay Leno was transitioning from The Tonight Show to his new 10 p.m. gig. I’ll probably miss it again when Jay’s new show gets canned by NBC, as I’m increasingly certain that it will.

Iraklion Air Station, Crete, Greece. I spent two halcyon years of my youth there, in the early 1970s. Some wonderful memories that I cherish more than 35 years later. The base is long since decommissioned, but I’d like to get back and see what’s left of it while I’m still on the planet.

Jon Miller, quite possibly the premier broadcaster in all of baseball. And we Giants fans have got him.

KJ and KM, my wife and daughter. I’m especially thankful that they are together for Thanksgiving. They’ve missed each other while KM’s been away at college.

My Lord Jesus, who makes all things possible, and who hasn’t given up on me just yet.

Max’s Café in Corte Madera. Terrific sandwiches, and friendly service. You’ve gotta love a joint that gives you both French fries and onion rings with your order. I recommend the BLT with avocado, and the Philly cheesesteak.

No Reservations, Anthony Bourdain’s show on the Travel Channel. I don’t think I’d want to tour with Tony — he drinks and smokes too much for me to find him a pleasant companion — but I’d like to see some of the places he goes. In fact, I have seen some of them.

Oracle Arena, the home court of my beloved Golden State Warriors. KM and I saw a few fun games there last season. The games will be even more fun when head coach Don Nelson finally retires.

Plasma TV. Ah, the wonders of modern digital technology.

Quiet. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget how great a blessing it can be.

Round Table Pizza. It’s the last honest pizza, or so the ads say. All I know is that it tastes pretty good.

Sausalito, the beautiful waterfront town where I go every week to study the craft of voice acting. Speaking of which…

Traxers — my fellow students at Voicetrax. A more encouraging and supportive community of actors you will not find. Here’s to everyone’s success in 2010.

Unfriend, the Oxford English Dictionary‘s 2009 Word of the Year. In case you’re unclear, it’s a verb, not a noun. Although I’ve known a few people to whom such a noun might have been appropriately applied.

Vitamin Water. Because you could take vitamins, and drink water, but it’s just simpler to have them commingled together.

Walmart. Scoff if you will. They have the stuff I need at prices I like. And the other patrons provide free entertainment. Do I think the people who run the company are whacko? Sure. But I’m not so wealthy that I can afford to pay a premium for non-whacko. If you are, do what pleases you.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Not because it was a great — or even a good — movie, but because it made enough dough that other superhero films will continue to get the green light. You know I loves me some superheroes.

Yellow highlighter. Whoever invented this indispensable tool should have received a medal. Or a knighthood. Or something.

Zero Tolerance, manufacturers of military-grade blades. I like sharp things.

I’m thankful that you’re here, too. Be genuinely grateful for every one of your blessings — they can disappear in an instant. Never forget that.

May you and those you love enjoy a happy, healthy, and honored Thanksgiving.