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posted: 11/27/2011 5:00 AM

Holidays: A test to see if your glass is half full

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The holidays, if you ask me, are when one is really tested by the timeworn question: Is your glass half full or half empty?

The day before Thanksgiving, I'll admit, I was inclined to go with the latter. A favorite uncle had died, coordinating plans among blended families is a challenge, and it seemed everyone I knew had the day off or was working but watching things wind down for what is for many a four-day weekend. But I had so darned much work to do, coasting was not an option.

Indeed, it was a long and fairly exhausting day. And even though I write this on a scheduled day off, I've been reminded of several things, on the personal and work front, that really helped me keep that half-full perspective, which I truly believe is better for one's outlook and mental health.

On a personal front, my wife and I reminded each other Thanksgiving morning that we have good health (that day, anyway), our grown children are doing well -- all employed, including the two recent college grads -- and, most significantly, they've chosen to remain in the Chicago area. Our family holiday meals were warm and fun, even though my wife has made a dangerous ritual of declaring her top three favorites among the items prepared by various family members. (This year's winner: stepson Brett, with his goat cheese-stuffed dates wrapped in bacon.)

On the work front, yes, we're busy, trying to do more than ever with our print and website products, asking people to multi-task in ways previously unimagined. But, you know what, and I've noticed this particularly around the holidays, we really have each others' backs. Much of our work on the editorial page, for instance, is a collaborative effort: One person will write an editorial, but all members of the editorial board are encouraged to and do chime in with other views and critiques. One such suggestion I especially liked was the idea that we try to humanize a particular editorial a bit more.

And that's what I enjoy most about the holiday season: We really do put a face on the news in ways we might not at other times of the year. Just a quick recap of some of those highlights:

• Kerry Lester's story on Tuesday about the challenges faced by our local food pantries of meeting an "increasing demand, but shrinking supply." Lester talked to Mary Insprucker of Catholic Charities while she was handing out turkeys from a pantry in Des Plaines. "It really tears into your heartstrings," she said. "You see a man come in hat in hand, near tears, that due to a job loss he's having to come for help for the first time in his life."

• On Wednesday, we looked for people willing to share their stories of falling on tough times. It not something everyone wants to share, so this was a challenge to the reporters assigned to the story. But Justin Kmitch, with the help of Loaves & Fishes Community Pantry in Naperville, found Gina James. She and husband Farren, who was wounded while working as a security guard, were both unemployed after Gina recently lost her job as a property manager. Still, their story was inspiring, as Gina told how she takes only the absolute essentials from the food pantry and how despite her hardship she still tries to give back through PTA work and organizing clothing drives. And how could you not be touched by Madhu Krishnamurthy's vignette on Beverly Brewster of Hoffman Estates? After a layoff, she just found work as a counselor for Lutheran Social Services of Illinois in Elgin. But despite the new paycheck, she still struggles to care for her daughter and two grandchildren, facing such cost-cutting choices as whether to drive to the store for food or to church.

On Thanksgiving Day, our Page 1 theme was people who had something to be especially thankful for. Again, how could you not be moved by Jessica Cilella's story of Joan Evans of Elk Grove Village? She chose to look beyond her battle with cancer, her husband's recent unemployment and the fact that she cares for four children with disabilities. Instead, Evans is thankful to God, friends and family who have helped the family deal with its financial challenges.

And I'm thankful that I have a job where we can tell those kinds of stories. A long workday seems an incredibly small price to pay.

With that kind of perspective, here's hoping that your holidays are at least half full.

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