Uncle Andy, Superhero

I walked outside on Sunday and Tom, the young son of our neighbor, called out to me. “Mr. Cota,” he hollered, “my uncle Andy is here and he’s a superhero. And he’s gonna stay with us and it’s gonna be awesome!” I could put a lot of exclamation points at the end of that statement, but it still wouldn’t convey the pure, unadulterated excitement Tom was feeling.

I, however, being older and wise, responded, “He’s a superhero, eh? Wow. That’s pretty cool having a superhero for an uncle.”

“Yeah, you want to come over and meet him? I’ll run in and get him!”

I did, in fact, want to meet him, but I was on a mission to retrieve Lily from the other neighbor’s house and get us all to mass on time. (Not quite a ‘superhero mission’, but a mission nonetheless.) I asked Tom if I could meet him later and he agreed. I was looking forward to it.

A few hours later, I’m outside again, and Tom yells across the street: “Mr. Cota! Do you want to meet my uncle Andy? He’s a superhero!” About this time, all of the neighborhood kids went flying across the street to meet Uncle Andy, Superhero.

Turns out that Andy is an FBI agent based out of Oregon and assigned to anti-terrorism. He also happens to be a member of the FBI tactical response team (think SWAT), an additional duty that these guys do because they want to, not because they get additional pay (they don’t.) In Tom’s eyes, that makes Andy a superhero.

I agree with Tom.

A White Envelope Christmas

[Note: I received this e-mail from a friend today and, like so many others, it’s impossible to apply attribution. In this case, however, it doesn’t matter. This is what I want for Christmas…

It’s just a small white envelope stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past 10 years or so. It all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas — oh, not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it — the overspending, the frantic running around at the last minute to get a tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma — the gifts given in desperation because you couldn’t think of anything else.

Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties, and so forth. I reached for something special just for Mike. The inspiration came in an unusual way. Our son Kevin, who was 12 that year, was wrestling at the junior level at the school he at tended.

Shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church.

These youngsters, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes.

As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without headgear, a kind of light helmet designed to protect a wrestler’s ears. It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford.

Well, we ended up walloping them. We took every weight class. And as each of their boys got up from the mat, he swaggered around in his tatters with false bravado, a kind of street pride that couldn’t acknowledge defeat.

Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly, “I wish just one of them could have won,” he said. “They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of them.” Mike loved kids — all kids — and he knew them, having coached little league football, baseball, and lacrosse.

That’s when the idea for his present came. That afternoon, I went to a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church. On Christmas Eve, I placed the envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done and that this was his gift from me. His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year and in succeeding years.

For each Christmas, I followed the tradition — one year sending a group of mentally handicapped youngsters to a hockey game, another year a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground the week before Christmas, and on and on. The envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning, and our children, ignoring their new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents.

As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents, but the envelope never lost its allure. The story doesn’t end there. You see, we lost Mike last year due to cancer. When Christmas rolled around, I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree, and in the morning it was joined by three more. Each of our children, unbeknownst to the others, had placed an envelope on the tree for their dad.

The tradition has grown and someday will expand even further with our grandchildren standing around the tree with wide-eyed anticipation watching as their fathers take down the envelope.

Mike’s spirit, like the Christmas spirit, will always be with us.

May we all remember Christ, who is the reason for the season, and the true Christmas spirit this year and always.

An Amazing Kid

Ben Underwood, a 14-year-old from Sacramento, California, has completely blown me away. This young man lost both of this eyes to cancer when he was two, but he hasn’t let his “handicap” slow him down in the slightest. Ben has taught himself to use echolocation to know what’s around him. He’s truly amazing. Watch this video, and remember Ben next time you hear someone say “can’t”.

[See the video from CBS]
[Read The Boy Who Sees With Sound from People Magazine]

Dad, avert your eyes… Sony’s e-book reader PRS-500

Seems like the perfect gift for the guy who has everything and spends most of his reading time with his head on a pillow. Other readers in the past caused problems with eye strain; the screens were illuminated to let you see them in the dark (or, really, see them at all.) But Sony and MIT have solved that problem. The new PRS-500 inflicts no more eyestrain than your typical paperback. That’s because MIT-developed E-ink doesn’t glow like the backlit LCD screen on your computer monitor. Instead it uses microcapsules filled with oppositely charged black & white nanoparticles. Even better, the e-book reader can hold hundreds of books, and, thanks to those cool little nanoparticles, has a nearly inexhaustible battery.

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