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            Ho, Ho, Ho! Merry Christmas, Happy Holiday and Special Greetings to you at this wonderful time of year!

            Gifts come in all shapes and sizes, and from some of the most unexpected places.

            Our office became the site of a “pop-up Christmas party” when close family friend Brian Chamberlain stopped by. He was sporting a Santa beard and a bag of gifts he happily distributed.

            I think my biggest gift was when he went from calling me “grandpa” to “Uncle Frank.” That’s right, I just got younger!

            Brian is a special family friend who truly is family. Just coming by would have been more than enough. But being the generous guy he is, he gave gifts for all, without even checking if we were on the “naughty list.”

            Let’s face it, gone are the days when a single bat or ball is the only gift we joyfully receive, cherishing it as the greatest treasure. We spoil and are spoiled with great modern gizmos and gadgets beyond the wildest dreams of Jules Vern or Flash Gordon’s rocketry.

            One-button happiness with a thousand apps to chose from has replaced the simpler gifts and times.

            There is still a place of happiness for the giver to replace the worries of “Will they like it?” “Did I get the right size?” “Is it the top model?”

            Now’s the time to give kindness to a stranger who may be struggling, a coin or bill to a red kettle, a smile to someone who is overwhelmed. Best yet is to simply give a hug or kiss to a family member to let them know they’re loved.

            It’s the same receiving a gift. More than likely whatever it is, it was given with thought and love. Be gracious and enjoy the idea of being remembered.

            If you happen to be alone this year, let me tell you, you are a special person who is remembered by this old outdoor writer who’s had some lonely moments too.

            We are grateful for Christmas gifts that came early for the Sousa Clan. We now have two wonderful little packages that we all will enjoy for many years to come: Sophia and Joselynn. Cute as can possibly can be! Healthy loved baby great-grandchildren who have added to our family’s mounting number of ones to love. True blessings indeed!

            May you enjoy the gift of just being here on this great sphere of green and blue, with the best in health and happiness.

            ELMER’S WISH: Along with a wet nose, big eyes and a knobby head that always needs a scratch, Elmer has a big wish for you: Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

            A LONG WINTER’S NAP: Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife reminds us that black bears typically enter their winter dens at this time of year and exit between March and April. Bears commonly den in brush piles, mountain laurel thickets, or under fallen trees or rocks. If food is available, bears that are not pregnant may remain active throughout the winter.

            IS THIS ICE NICE?: How can you tell if ice is safe? There are no guarantees. Always consider ice to be potentially dangerous. You can’t judge its condition by appearance or thickness alone; factors such as water depth, size of waterbody, water chemistry, currents, snow cover, age of ice, and local weather conditions have an impact.

            New ice is stronger than old ice. Four inches of clear, newly formed ice may support one person on foot, while a foot or more of old, partially thawed ice may not.

            Ice doesn’t freeze uniformly. Continue to check conditions frequently as you venture out.

            Ice formed over flowing water and currents is often more dangerous. Avoid traveling onto ice-bound rivers and streams, as the currents make ice thickness unpredictable. Many lakes and ponds may contain spring holes and other areas of currents that can create deceptively dangerous thin spots.

            For more on ice safety check out the Massachusetts Fish & Wildlife website.

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