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Clippings by John Flowers: Giving thanks for the little things

Thanksgiving is upon us, so it only seems appropriate to give a hearty “thanks” for the things that keep my professional and personal life interesting. Having a happy, healthy and loving family of course tops the list. But as I jam turkey, stuffing, yams, Watergate salad and pumpkin pie in my face next Thursday, I will also remember some of the more routine things to be grateful for:
•  Being a reporter in the state of Vermont. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The level of access reporters have to their state and federal officials is virtually unparalleled. Most Vermont commissioners and agency secretaries will take your calls if they aren’t in a meeting; some will even give you their cell phone numbers after you’ve built up a level of trust. The governor holds weekly press conferences and is virtually on call. You can walk into the Statehouse and chat with the House speaker or lieutenant governor in the cafeteria. Local House and Senate members are your neighbors and almost always return phone calls from Montpelier, or you can reach them at home or at their other, “regular jobs” seven or eight months out of the year. Vermont politicians’ longstanding practice of providing good access stood in sharp contrast to their New York counterparts three years ago during the replacement of the Champlain Bridge. New York State Department of Transportation public information officers insisted on managing the news. I won’t soon forget the day I had one of the bridge’s lead engineers on the line, only to have him tell me an interview request would have to be funneled through the NYSDOT flacks.
•  A powerful vacuum cleaner. Unannounced strangers who come to our house probably think we have black shag carpeting. In reality, it is flat and in some places a little threadbare. But you wouldn’t know it thanks to regular and rapid hair deposits left by our two shaggy dogs, Bertha and Libby. They follow my wife Dottie wherever she goes, laying close to her feet and leaving a hairy remembrance at each spot. There are days when we harvest almost a bale of black hair from the vacuum cleaner after taking a pass through the house. I’m not angry so much as envious; I haven’t needed a comb for 20 years.
•  A pellet stove. We first invested in a pellet stove in 2008, when heating fuel prices were hitting $4 per gallon. The contraption saves us money during the winter and also gives me some exercise on the coldest days when it’s downright painful to go outside. Hoisting 40-pound bags of pellets keeps my heart rate up without breaking my back. Our stove has begun throwing us a few curveballs in recent weeks, though. The auger that feeds pellets into the burn pot has begun to squeak to the point where it sometimes sounds like 15 sadistic teachers simultaneously running their fingernails across a chalkboard. And we learned first-hand this week what happens when a power outage occurs while the pellet stove is running: Indoor smoke bomb at 3 a.m. What fun! A wood stove is suddenly sounding real nice.
•  Very successful fall seasons for local and regional sports teams. As a Bristol resident, I still pay attention to the Mount Abraham Union High School teams even though our two student-athletes graduated several years back. It was great to see the Eagles field hockey and boys’ soccer teams take Division II state titles. Our daughter, Diane, is a field hockey alum whose teams couldn’t quite come out on top. It was also gratifying to see the Mount Abe-Vergennes football team make the playoffs again after staggering through several excruciating years that our son, Mark, a former Eagles football co-captain, remembers too well. It is great to see the collaboration and camaraderie with Vergennes — until they meet on the basketball court and baseball diamond, of course. Those rivalries are special.
•  Having a garage. As winter weather approaches, it’s comforting to know that I won’t have to chisel at my windshield in the morning following an evening snowstorm. But true to Murphy’s Law, it’s only a matter of time until I find myself without a scraper when the first daytime storm hits.
So there you have it — just a few things, most of them mundane, for which to be thankful. Here’s hoping my fellow Addison County residents have some lengthy lists, too. 

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