With the year soon concluding, gifts piled under our Christmas tree and, best of all, the daylight soon to begin gradually lengthening, it’s a good time to consider the things in my life that help foster an attitude of gratitude.

I start with- as always- Carol, who’s shared my life and honored her vow of “for better and for worse” for over 20 years now.

I’m grateful that 54 years after my parents started it, my seven brothers and sisters, and my parents, are all still around. I realize that won’t always be so.

I’m particularly grateful for my brothers Bryan and Steven, who helped so much in transforming both our old house in Oak Park and our new Forest Park home. It would have been so much harder without them. And for Peggy, who’s always seemed willing to serve as a conduit and communicator for the rest of us, especially when I’ve managed to place my head in some unfortunate place and can’t get it unstuck.

I’m grateful for this great old brick house, with its deep rear yard where I can fool around with our dogs and garden- though, it seems, never at the same time. And for the sprawling attic where my wife can once again enjoy her dance workouts.

I’m grateful for the beautiful new fire place we were able to install in out living room, due in large part to the increased value of our old house, and to lower taxes here in Forest Park. I’m grateful for being able to share good wine and food and laughter with both family and friends in warm rooms. To be able to look out beyond hard wood front windows, where snow flies past a brick lined streetscape that’s looks like a picture post card throughout the year, but particularly in winter.( I’m also grateful to Forest Park officials, who decided to not only keep the brick streets we have, but are apparently committed to maintaining them as needed.)

Speaking of Forest Park officials, I’m grateful they see fit to plow the side walks after heavy snow. Kudos to those responsinble for this excellent service.

I’m grateful Forest Park is so easy to get to for our friends from around the Chicago area when the drive here to visit us. I’m grateful our neighbors here are as nice as our old neighbors in Oak Park.

Speaking of neighbors, I’m grateful that Jimmy of Jimmy’s Place decided to make his next remodeling project the dilapidated “three flat” a couple doors down from us. Last summer we regularly smelled reefer drifting over our deck, courtesy of the friends of an alleged gang banger living there. Soon the house will be a beautiful single family home, with new neighbors who will bring good things to our neighborhood. I hope the guy makes a fortune on the deal- he’s earned it.

I’m grateful for a village that usually, if not always, lives up to its slogan of “Big city access, Small town charm.” I’m grateful I work near where I live, and don’t have to drive hundreds of miles each week just to earn a pay check. I’m grateful too that my wife has only a brief walk to the Blue line to get downtown to her job.

I’m grateful for all the businesses that have moved to this village in the past five or six years, as well as the ones that have been here for decades and gotten even better. They’ve made this village, particularly Madison Street, a great place to walk about, sight see, stop in, linger and enjoy. And to spend money.

I’m grateful for the culinary magic of Chef Gaetanno diBennedetto and his La Piazza restaurant, the best around for miles. I’m also grateful for another business at Circle and Madison, this area’s best video store, Circle Video, which has been transformed into an even better joint. What the hell- at the risk of sounding like a hopeless shill, I’m also grateful for Goldy Burgers and Star Ship Subs and Jimmy’s Place, for those times when we want a quick burger or sub or pizza to go with Saturday or Sunday afternoon football or baseball games.

I’m grateful for as good a park district facility as you’ll find anywhere around. And I’m willing to be more grateful, and pay additional taxes, for a couple of nice little satellite parks in the future. One south, one north.

I’m grateful for a village- and our block in particular- that still has the sort of towering trees that I loved as a kid. Trees that live up to the name “Forest Park.”

I’m grateful for lower taxes after paying (willingly, until recently) to support quality schools that my wife and I never made use of during 15 years in Oak Park.

I’m grateful in general that after four tough and uncertain years, Carol and I are actually able to be considering the possibility of a long deferred vacation sometime next year.

I’m grateful for people like the members of CUinFP, among others, who take seriously the idea that government stops serving the people’s interests when “we the people” lose interest in what their government is doing. I’m grateful to Terry Steinbach and Patrick Doolin as well, who keep insisting that this town’s current rulers stand accountable for their decisions.

I’m grateful I live four blocks from the best 4th of July fireworks show around, and that I can watch it- partially obscured- from our front porch. I’m grateful I live the same distance from the best 16-inch tournament in existence.

I’m grateful to be working for the best weekly newspaper chain in the state, and for the opportunity to comment on events in my new home town, to be earning my living writing, and observing the goings on in towns I’ve known all my life.

And for as good as Forest Park is, I’m grateful that I live just minutes from several other pretty special communities, like Oak Park, River Forest, Riverside, North Riverside and Brookfield.

None of that means I won’t be critical in 2006. You can count on it. But for a week or two, I’m grateful to focus on what’s good and pleasing in my life.

So Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah and a very happy Happy New Year to all men and women of good will, here in Forest Park and everywhere else. May your days be merry and bright.