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Track Santa: NORAD is up and running

It’s Christmas Eve, and the U.S. military squadron charged with protecting the airspace for North America is already on duty to track Santa Claus.

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The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) will be tracking St. Nick and his eight reindeer as they trek across the country Sunday night.

NORAD said in a statement that the public can access its official Santa Tracker, which went live at 2:01 a.m. ET on Sunday. The public can track Santa’s position and access NORAD's “Santa Cams” in anticipation of Christmas morning.

Starting at 6 a.m. ET on Christmas Eve, the public also can call 1-877-HI-NORAD (1-877-446-6723) and speak live with NORAD trackers. 

The Santa Tracker program began in 1955 because of a mistake in a Colorado Springs newspaper advertisement from Sears Roebuck & Co. The Sears ad misprinted the telephone number for children to call Santa, CNN reported. The phone number published was actually for the commander in chief's operations hotline at the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD), which was NORAD's predecessor.

On Dec. 24, 1955, Air Force Col. Harry Shoup was on duty, and instead of hanging up on countless children that night, Shoup checked the radar and updated Santa Claus’ “location.” That 1955 misprint and Shoup's actions started a 62-year tradition that is made possible today by volunteers and corporate sponsors who bear the expense, CNN reported.

New Orleans hairstylist gives away 560 bicycles to needy kids

A Louisiana hairstylist bought and gave away 560 bicycles Saturday as part of the New Orleans Police Department’s bike drive to benefit children, NOLA.com reported.

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Jesseca Dupart said she had her best year of business since opening Kaleidoscope Hair Products three years ago. When she heard about the bike drive, Dupart was eager to participate and went to Walmart to buy the bicycles.

“I look forward to doing it next year but I want to do it on a way larger scale," Dupart told NOLA.com. “The way God is blessing my life, he's going to provide me enough to do tenfold this time next year.”

Dupart said it was the first time she had ever participated in a such a large-scale donation. She said she got emotional when she arrived at Walmart and saw how many police officers and police cadets were helping to load up the bikes and transport them to her business.

“Seeing the idea and the fruition of it” was emotional, Dupart told NOLA.com. “Just looking at the magnitude of it.”

Chiefs' Marcus Peters gives away 300 coats to local youths for Christmas

As a defensive back, Marcus Peters strives for blanket coverage. Saturday, the Kansas City Chiefs’ cornerback helped provide some cover for underprivileged youths.

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Peters handed out 300 winter coats at the inaugural Kansas City Christmas Coat Giveaway, The Kansas City Star reported. He also signed pieces of clothing for the youths and posed for pictures with them and their families.

“This is all Marcus,” said Nick Ayre, a sports marketing assistant manager for Adidas who attended the giveaway. “He’s always looking to give back to the community, whether it’s Oakland or Kansas City.”

Peters was joined by actor Paul Rudd, a Kansas City native and University of Kansas graduate. Peters, who was born in Oakland, California, also got help from the charitable organization from his hometown, the Fam 1st Family Foundation.

“It's cold outside and these are really cool coats,” Rudd told KSHB. “Nobody should be cold. It's an amazing thing [Peters] is doing.”

The Gregg/Klice Community Center reached out to Peters, through the Chiefs, to be a partner in a coat drive they were holding this month. Peters agreed, and with the help of Adidas -- which sponsors Peters and safety Eric Berry -- sent 300 jackets directly to the team’s practice facility, the Star reported. Peters then loaded a truck and drove to the center on Saturday.

Rudd said he heard about the event through Peters’ agent, Doug Hendrickson. He decided to attend, and he and Peters ended up rolling a giant cart of coats into the center together, along with passing out coats, the Star reported.

“I’ve been a fan of Marcus’ -- I think he’s great,” said Rudd, who met Peters for the first time Saturday. “I think Marcus does things under the radar. He’s cool like that.”

In addition to jackets, kids and adults received free haircuts. KSHB reported.

"A haircut can make you feel good, pass a test. You can do whatever with a fresh haircut," said Armon Lasker, one of the barbers who helped organize the event.

Peters' Oakland-based Fam 1st Family Foundation helped organize the event.

Without a stable home, quarterback finds comfort living with coach

football coach and his quarterback always have a special bond, but at Harding University High, it's a deeper, more meaningful one.

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Sam Greiner started coaching the football team in 2015.

He said, right away, the athletic director told him some of his star players weren't eligible to play, including quarterback Braheam Murphy.

Murphy says he went home and cried for two straight days because he struggled with his grades and a place to live.

"Sometimes I'd stay at my friends' house,” Murphy said. “Me and my sister would have to stay at my friends' house. We'd go back and forth. Basically. I wasn't in a stable home."

Greiner first noticed this when he dropped Murphy off at different homes.

"Eventually, he just opened up to me and he was like, ‘Uh, I have to stay with my sister from place to place,” Greiner said. “I didn't know what to do at the time."

Greiner said that after talking to his wife, they decided to take Murphy in.

Two years later, Murphy is still living with the Greiner family.

He started getting straight As in school and found comfort in his faith.

Murphy earned a scholarship to the military academy at West Point.

Harding capped off its season with a North Carolina High School Athletic Association 4-A state championship.

Restaurant offers free Christmas dinner to those in need

A Seattle Thai restaurant is offering a free Christmas dinner to anyone in need on Christmas Day.

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“If you know someone who would not be able to have a festive holiday (meal) on Christmas Day, Thai Siam Restaurant would like to extend our warmest invitation to a free turkey and meatloaf dinner,” the restaurant’s Facebook page said

The meals will be served from noon to 2 p.m. on Christmas at the Crown Hill neighborhood restaurant. 

The free meal for those in need has been a family tradition at the restaurant since 1988. 

“Every year when we do them, it’s a good feeling that we can give back, because everyone here is supporting (the cause),” Thai Siam manager Ott Pinbang told KIRO 7 last year. 

In 2016, the restaurant served 800 meals on Christmas. 

Earlier this year, Thai Siam also had a benefit dinner to support the Union Gospel Mission, Cancer Lifeline and other organizations. The dinner was $25 per person for adults, and all proceeds from the dinner benefited those in need. 

That benefit dinner raised $30,739.08.

“What a beautiful day today,” restaurant staff posted afterward on Facebook. “Thank you everyone for your generosity and support to our 2017 benefit dinner. Making this year the most successful one.”

Thai Siam is accepting donations ahead of the Christmas Day meal. To donate, call 206-784-5465.

Man hosts Christmas breakfast, gives gifts to neighborhood kids

For the past 12 years, a Jacksonville man has made it his mission to ensure every child in the neighborhood has a merry Christmas.

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Larry Rogers invited children and their families to have a warm meal in front of his home at his annual Christmas breakfast Saturday. 

Rogers also had clothes, toys and books to give to the children.

“You got kids that are just not as fortunate as other kids,” Rogers said. 

Rogers funds most of the event, but said people in the community also chip in by donating gifts.

Rogers said seeing the joy on the children's faces is why he does it. 

“We just go the extra mile to bring joy to kids,” Rogers said.

Ola Williams, who lives next door to Rogers, said this was her first year participating in the event.

“It's like a family when you have a community coming together,” Williams said.

She said it's a way to give the children a positive influence.

“We want children steered the right way,” Williams said. “It takes a village to raise a child.”

Rogers said he hopes this small meal inspires others to improve their own neighborhoods.

“Christmas is not all about receiving. Christmas is about giving,” Rogers said. “The most important thing in the world you can give is love and joy."

Virginia family, including toddler, hike entire Appalachian Trail

This is one family that enjoys taking a hike.

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The Quirin family -- Bekah, Derrick and 1-year-old Ellie -- hiked the entire length of the Appalachian Trail this summer, The Roanoke Times reported.

The Quirins, who live in Roanoke, Virginia, completed the 2,190-mile trek over a six-month period. They began on March 20, heading south from the McAfee Knob trailhead in Roanoke On March 20, they set off from the McAfee Knob trailhead in Roanoke County and headed south to Georgia. From there, they traveled to Maine and marched back to McAfee Knob on Sept. 30, the Times reported.

“She’s a really happy baby, and she loves being outside,” said Bekah Quirin, who like her husband is 26. “She just flourished out there on the trail.”

Ellie is the first baby known to complete the Appalachian Trail. She technically didn’t hike it, because she spent most of the trek in a child backpack, the Times reported.

Ellie didn’t even know how to walk when the journey began. Her parents carried her in a backpack, but Bekah Quirin said they often let her out to explore. Creeks and streams were her favorite to play in.

“She’d grab sticks and play in the dirt or mud,” the mother said. “She was never bored. We didn’t even have to bring any toys.”

Because of her age, Ellie wasn’t permitted to climb to the summit of Katahdin, the trail’s majestic mountain terminus in Maine. The title of youngest thru-hiker belongs to Christian Thomas, also known as “Buddy Backpacker,” who walked the trail in 2013 with his family at the age of 5, the Times reported.

“We thought about how we could incorporate Ellie into that lifestyle early on,” Bekah Quirin said. “We had to adjust our lifestyle when we had a baby, but we wanted to get as close as we could to bringing her on outdoor adventures.”

The Quirins encourage other parents to get outdoors with their children, although they don’t necessarily need to embark on a 2,000-mile hike.“You don’t need to go on a thru-hike to have great outdoors memories with your kids,” Bekah Quirin said.

Hurricane Irma brings romance to Florida senior citizens

Hurricane Irma created romance for two Florida senior citizens, whose whirlwind courtship after the storm led to their marriage, USA Today reported.

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Denise Praz and Joseph Mazur were married in Naples on Dec. 15, three months after Irma smashed into their independent living facility in Collier County. 

“If it hadn’t been for Irma, I don’t know if we’d be getting married,” Mazur told The Naples Daily News. “Irma created this situation for romance.”

Before Irma made landfall on Sept. 10, Praz, Mazur and about 400 fellow residents of Bentley Village were evacuated to Orlando, USA Today reported.

Praz and Mazur, both 79 and widowed, knew one another only casually before the storm. But as they hunkered down in an Orlando hotel, the couple joined a group for happy hour and got to know each other.

Over the next few weeks, they talked, they swam together, exercised together, took walks, went to Sunday Mass.

“We had a lot of personal time and realized we had a lot in common,” Mazur said. “It developed rather quickly. We are very comfortable. It feels very natural to be together.”

Praz agreed, saying: “I’m just always happy to see him. He’s very protective of me, which I like.”

Mazur, a 17-year resident of Naples, was previously married 53 years before his wife died in 2015. Praz was married for 57 years before her husband died in June, USA Today reported.

“I remember praying that the Lord would send me another good man, who was faithful in his life of the Lord and who wanted to marry again,” Praz said.

They have seven children between them, all in their 50s. There was a little grousing among the offspring over the speed with which their parents planned to marry.

“My daughter said, ‘I like him very much, Mother, but you just buried Daddy,’” Praz said about her daughter, Marisa. “I said, ‘This is right. I’m going to do it.’”

And they did, exchanging vows at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in North Naples.

“God, in his great wisdom, used Hurricane Irma to bring them together,” said the Rev. Paul D’Angelo, who officiated.

Texas high school senior takes graduation photos in home flooded by Harvey

A Texas high school senior decided to take her graduation photos in her house, which was flooded by Hurricane Harvey in August.

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Claire Fortier is graduating from Cinco Ranch High School next year. She wanted to take professional photographs in August, but the strong hurricane smashed into the Houston area and hit her home in suburban Katy, KTRK reported.

Her photographer, Nikki Guest, suggested that Fortier’s neighbors were able to help each other after the storm, which was a positive sign for the community. That’s when Fortier decided to have her senior photos taken in her family’s flooded home.

“It was such a devastating time for our community, but at the same time you saw neighbors helping neighbors and strangers helping strangers,” Guest wrote on her blog.

The photos represent a reminder to remain strong and positive despite adversity, KTRK reported.

Fortier is set to attend the University of Arkansas after graduation.

Santa prays with Texas boy, seeks good health for child's ailing father

A Santa Claus in a store gets plenty of requests and wish lists from children. A request from a Texas boy, however, asking for good health for his ailing father, produced a heartwarming scene as St. Nick offered to pray with the child.

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The photo of 12-year-old Jacob Coker and Santa, taken at Bass Pro Shops on Tuesday in Garland, has gone viral after a parent waiting in line with her son snapped a picture and posted it to Facebook, KXAS reported.

The woman was standing in line when she witnessed the exchange. Jacob had a wish list, but told Santa all he wanted was good health for his dad and help with the family's medical bills.

The woman, who asked KXAS not to use her full name, said she was touched and took a photograph, posting it on Facebook and asking anyone who saw it to help find the family.

The Coker family responded, KXAS reported.

“I have no real words. It's just been heartwarming that so many people out there believe and care,” said Jason Coker, the boy's father.

Emily Coker, Jacob's stepmother, said she was touched when Jacob told her he didn't want any toys or gadgets for Christmas.

“He picks up on those things that you don't realize he picks up on until he brings you the glass of water or offers to help,” Emily Coker said. “He's just special.”

Jason Coker, an electrician, has made several trips to the hospital for the past two years, most recently on Dec. 10, to treat a blood disorder, KXAS reported.

“All he asked for, all he wanted was for me to help his dad,” the store Santa said. “He said (his father) had a lot of pain.”

The Santa told KXAS that he explained his expertise was in toys, but he offered to pray with Jacob.

“I asked that the Lord would help him with the pain and that he would have enough joy in his heart to get through the pain,” he told KXAS.

Janet Contreras, a Bass Pro Shops employee, also saw the exchange.

“It broke my heart, especially when I turned and saw the mom in tears,” Contreras told KXAS. “It definitely tugged at my emotions.”

“It brought it closer to home for me, because that's what Christmas is all about,” store manager Kathy Thompson told KXAS. “Those special moments and innocent moments of a child, sharing a moment with Santa just kind of brings us back to what Christmas is all about.”

5-year-old Florida boy writes Santa, seeks new heart for baby sister

A 5-year-old Florida boy had a special request in a letter he wrote to Santa Claus: a new heart for his baby sister.

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Isaac Vargas left his note for Santa at the Christmas on the Square celebration in Live Oak, WCTV reported. His 2-month-old sister, Ray Lynn, was born with a rare heart condition and is in the hospital, waiting for a transplant.

Workers cleaning up after the event found the letter from Isaac, WCTV reported, and decided to organize a special visit from Santa for the boy.

Suwannee County first responders and local businesses surprised Isaac’s family with gifts and well wishes, WCTV reported.

Suwannee Fire Rescue shared photos of the special surprise to Facebook:

Georgia officer reunited with man he helped deliver on interstate in 1997

A Georgia police officer was reunited for the first time with the man he helped deliver on the side of an interstate highway 20 years ago.

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“I hugged him and said, ‘Look, we're family. I brought you into this world,’” Suwanee Officer Elton Hassell said.

On a July night in 1997 on I-85 in Norcross, a crash had backed up traffic.

While sitting in the traffic jam, Hassell noticed something unusual in the car next to him.

“So I stepped out of my truck and I looked. (A woman) was in childbirth and I looked down and I saw part of a head and a full head of hair,” he said.

The woman and her husband had panicked, so the officer jumped in to help deliver the baby, something he'd never done before. He also saved the baby's life.

“The cord was around (his) neck and his face was blue. His lips were blue,” Hassell said.

The officer unwrapped the cord from the baby's neck -- and 20 years later that baby, now a man, could not be more thankful.

Yelsin Vazquez, 20, now has a family of his own. On Thursday in Suwanee, he reunited with Hassell.

“Oh my God. The last time I hugged you, you're weren't much bigger than her,” Hassell said when he saw Vazquez and his young daughter.

Vazquez did not want to speak on camera, but he said he is very grateful to Hassell.

Neighbors call 911 after seeing ‘dummy’ Christmas decoration hanging from roof

Strings of lights are bunched and askew, a ladder is falling over and there appears to be a man atop it, hanging from the roof of the house. 

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The scene appears so real that some neighbors called police, paramedics and firefighters Thursday to help, according to KDVR

But the doll is part of an elaborate decoration by homeowner Chris Olson to pay homage to the frustration of untangling and hanging Christmas lights.

“My wife really didn’t want me to do it this year,” Chris Olson told KDVR. “I said, ‘No, it’s an Olson tradition.'”

The doll is supposed to be Olson. Some say the scene is reminiscent of Clark Griswold from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” so Olson nicknamed the dummy “Sparky.” 

He has no plans to remove the decorations.

Dogs can feel post-holiday letdown

The day after Christmas last year was underwhelming for our family, especially for Teddy, our Lab.

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There was no laughter or jubilation around the living room Christmas tree and the shredded paper and empty boxes had been carried off to the trash bins.

There weren’t even any good breakfast smells in the kitchen as the humans replaced the previous day’s red-and-green pancakes with the usual fare of cereal, yogurt and muffins.

And with no new toys to be pulled out of stockings, what was a dog to do?

The pooch laid on the living room carpet. His head rested on his left front paw. His ears drooped. His gazed seemed aimless.

Teddy had a case of the post-holiday blues.

It’s not unusual for dogs to feel down, particularly in times of change, writes veterinarian Bonnie Beaver at webmd.com. John Ciribassi, past president of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, also at webmd.com says the “blues” can include less activity and socializing with humans or animals, and eating and sleeping habits can change.

Teddy looked like a black blob lying in our living room. A baby carrot was offered, and he turned his head.

Teddy’s human family was also feeling “blah.” No one seemed to have the energy to do anything.

Our house had gone from full-fledged holiday bedlam with all the bells and whistles to complete and utter calmness.

Both human psychologists and veterinarians agree that a simple case of the “blues” isn’t serious depression, but many people and dogs do experience it. It’s a basic psychological problem called contrast effect, JR Thorpe writes at bustle.com. Everyday life can’t compete with the excitement of the holidays.

Dogs sense their owners’ moods, according to Jill Sackman, at dodo.com. They can even become depressed because their human families are depressed.

So what do we do Dec. 26 to prevent the holiday blues from seeping into our home and sapping the good moods and energy from the day before?

Ed, my husband, Jordan, my daughter, and I can do what we did last year, which is nothing, or we can get moving and prevent the holiday blues from killing our “holly jolly” moods as well as Teddy’s.

Ed will take a long walk with the pooch. If it’s cold, they can bundle up in their warm winter coats. Both will reap the health benefits.

Jordan will play with Teddy more than usual. Rounds of keep-away with his new Kong toy will get them both moving. Jordan will laugh as she runs around the house. Teddy will prance after her with ears flapping and tail wagging.

Normal tummy rubs and games of fetch-shake-tug-chew will be played throughout the day. These activities will keep all four of us engaged and not moping around the house.

Dec. 27 and the days into the new year are just as important. To stay healthy and happy, my family, human and furball alike, needs to be active and socially engaged. I envision more walks, games and tummy rubs for Teddy in 2018.

Karin Spicer, a magazine writer, has been entertaining families for more than 20 years. She lives in Bellbrook with her family and two furry animals all who provide inspiration for her work. She can be reached at spicerkarin@gmail.com.

‘Christmas Vacation’ decoration causing tension in Idaho neighborhood

Looks like Cousin Eddie is not only causing problems for Clark Griswold.

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A homeowner association is threatening a resident over her Christmas decorations, particularly a mannequin dressed as the “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” character. 

“I think it might be someone doesn’t find it as funny as others,” homeowner Rita Anderson told KHQ

Each year, the family decorates with a theme in mind; this year’s is “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” 

The Montrose Master Association said the mannequin, which is holding a can of beer and wearing a blue ushanka hat, has to be moved from a tree that is in the right of way, to Anderson’s front yard, or else she could be fined.

Anderson, however, said Cousin Eddie is not going anywhere, yet.

“He’ll come down December 26th,” she said.

The Montrose Master Association did not comment.

Army dad deployed for year surprises son at school concert

An Army dad who had been serving overseas for a year surprised his 11-year-old son on stage after the sixth-grader’s winter concert Thursday.

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Alex Carrion, Jr., who plays the trumpet, had finished his final performance when his father, Alex Carrion, Sr., listening to the concert feet away, entered a side door and walked on stage. The younger Alex sat in disbelief, as his father rushed to him, picked him up and kissed him, the crowd cheering with joy.

“I did not expect this at all. It was a complete surprise, and when it happened, I didn’t really respond at first,” said Alex, Jr., a student at Fitchburg’s Memorial Intermediate School. “It’s amazing. It’s wonderful. I haven’t seen him in so long.”

His father, a sergeant with the U.S. Army Reserve, had been deployed for about a year, serving in Poland and Lithuania in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve.

At Thursday night’s concert, Sgt. Carrion anxiously paced backstage, eager to embrace his boy after arriving two days earlier. The reunion was worth the wait.

“I could hear him playing, and obviously I just wanted to get to him as soon as possible,” said Sgt. Carrion, who lives in West Springfield. “I’m really excited and can’t wait to spend more time with this little man.”

Missing Oklahoma teen was raising cash for mother's Christmas gift

A panic attack had a happy ending for an Oklahoma mother, who is relieved to be celebrating Christmas with her family intact.

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Sophia Reed’s teenage son, who had been missing for a week, was actually preparing a heartwarming Christmas surprise, KFOR reported. 

Reed was frantic when her 13-year-old son, Diauris, disappeared, KFOR reported. Reed had just moved her family to an Oklahoma City apartment, using funds that included money earmarked for Christmas.

“What little Christmas money we had, you know, to pay my security deposit for here” Reed said.

Reed was unaware that Diauris was collecting cans for refund money in order to buy his mother a gift, KFOR reported.

“I was afraid he was going to get in trouble,” said Reed’s daughter, Deneisha, who suggested the money-making idea. “I was very afraid he was going to get in trouble. I just didn't want to say anything because it would blow the whole thing."

“I just wanted to do something for my mama,” Diauris said.

The boy went home after he saw police officers and told them what he was doing.

The story touched Officer Roland Russell, who began inviting other officers to meet the family, KFOR reported. Then the officers raised $800 and bought the family Christmas and housewarming gifts.

“Most of the time when I see the police it's like, bad stuff,” Diauris told KFOR. “Up here I guess it's changed, good.”

“They caught us at the right time and we are so grateful,” Reed told KFOR.

Delaware high school senior raises cash for K9 unit

Police in Delaware thanked a high school senior who used his service project to help K9 officers, WPVI reported.

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Brennan Wright, attends Appoquinimink High School in Middletown. He hoped to raise $2,200 to buy bulletproof vests for the K9s of the Wilmington Police Department.

So far, he has raised $5,000, WPVI reported.

Wright said he wants to be veterinarian.

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