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The Evolution of Family

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Jack says to his fiancée, ‘nice dress Jill.’ What he is really thinking is, ‘Wow Jill’s a real hotty life is goood’. Jill looks longingly into Jack’s eyes and says ‘thanks, I’m so glad you like it’. What she is really thinking is, ‘I wonder if our children will have his deep soulful eyes.’ Not wanting to escalate the situation Jill adds, ‘we better go up the hill to get that pail of water for your mom’s fish tank’…..The rest is history.

That’s how it starts. You get some water then fall head over heels. There is little you can do with what follows. I’m a guy, so by definition, a little bit dense. Somehow I never saw it coming. I grew up with very limited family. There was mom, dad and me. On rare occasions, we would go to New York, Florida, or Europe and visit other relatives. When I met Crystal, I couldn’t even keep all of her relatives straight. At family functions, I would stealthily ask, ‘now who’s that again?’ Crystal would say something like, ‘Oh that’s my third cousin Leopold on Aunt Martha’s side, and that’s his girl friend, Sally.’ That would usually be good enough until I met a couple more people or slept.

Never, in my wildest dreams, did I think this could ever happen to me. Oh, Crystal and I talked about how many kids we would have, even before we were married. She said four and I grudgingly went with two (although I knew one was the perfect number). The funny thing is that, none of those iron clad guesses meant anything, as the years rolled by. Once we started trying, the rest was kind of up to God. He apparently thought three was a good number.

The way things turned out, I was OK with that and so was Crystal. The part I didn’t anticipate was that the girls would decide to make more people. Also, there are in-laws and friends. Even the grandkids have friends. Who could have predicted such a predicament? Again, I am overwhelmed by abundance.

Please don’t think I am complaining. In fact, in some ways I find our daughters absolutely amusing. Our two oldest daughters, at one point, like most youths, thought they had everything figured out. They could do this parenting thing better. Now they say things like ‘I don’t know how you did it.’ Or they call and ask our sage advice. Michelle, who just had her first child, some four months ago, asked, “when does this fear of bad things happening to your kid go away”.  I told her, I would let her know if, and when it happens.

In retrospect, I guess we did a passable job parenting. That’s right, it is pass/fail. If your kids live and have enough life skills to live on their own and have healthy relationships with other humans, you pass. Grand parenting is considerably easier. You show up to some events. Help out as possible. Set a good example. And finally, at the end of the day, you pass the kids back to their parents and go home, watch reruns, in a peaceful environment. Life makes sense again.

Thank you God.

Keylan’s 17th birthday party called for a picnic. Quite a family, as seen by a very proud son, husband, father and grandfather (I mean me).

When Someone Dies

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When someone dies, I believe as part of grieving, we have a tendency to look at our lives.  As we contemplate mortality and loss we might ask questions. Where are we going?  Where have we been?  What do we do, now that this person who meant so much to us is not here anymore?

My father lived a long time, much longer than he thought he would live – to 90 years old.  The last few years were not good for him. He stopped doing his leather-work.  He stopped writing letters to family and friends. He couldn’t remember things like what time it was or what day it was or what season.  He would eat a meal with us and ten minutes later, ask “When are we going to eat?”  We would tell him he just ate and bring him a snack and a drink.

Ironically, my brother told me, he was in pretty good health. His blood pressure was normal as was his cholesterol.  My Dad loved donuts, pie, cake, ice cream, cookies and candy.  But his cholesterol was always fine. He got much thinner during the last years. He was wasting away.  We had to get him smaller clothes and punch more holes in his belt.  My brother said it was like we were losing him inch by inch and pound by pound.

My father didn’t lose his sense of humor.  He liked to tell funny stories. He was very witty.  We all have a pretty good sense of humor. We have the ability to laugh at ourselves.  It is a good quality to pass on from one generation to the next.

My mom also had a great sense of humor and told funny stories. I miss her laugh. I miss my Dad’s voice and the love for me I saw in his eyes when we visited him. He was someone in my life I always wanted to talk to; to listen to and to share what was happening in our lives.  There is a void in my life without him that is impossible to fill. Even now, I sometimes forget that he is gone.  I won’t need to buy a father’s day card or present this year for him. Somehow that hurts, and yet I wouldn’t want him back because he wasn’t well.

Do we really understand heaven?  For those who believe in everlasting life, heaven is the place we are heading for at the end of our lives.  I wonder if heaven is like the People’s store.  I use to go to the People’s Store on Michigan Ave. in Chicago with my mom and my Dad when I was a little girl.  There was a large landing with a half circle of chairs between stair cases.  We would sit there with my Dad eating chocolate covered peanuts from a paper bag and watch the people.  This was the best part of shopping according to my Dad. My mom was buying what she needed.  We were watching the world go by and having fun with Dad.

When I was growing up in Roseland, I thought my Dad was the handsomest, nicest and funniest man that I knew.  I had watched him shave with the old type of razor and shaving cream.  I watched him comb his black hair. He used some type of greasy stuff on it to hold his hairdo. I knew all of his hats – mostly fedoras. I watched him tie his ties not understanding how he was doing it. I was very glad that girls didn’t have to wear ties. They looked completely uncomfortable and it was easy to spill things on them like gravy and chocolate syrup.  They were also hard to clean although my mom usually managed to get the stains out.  My Dad had a leather case he had made for his shirt pocket.  In it he would keep his glasses, his pen, and some pipe cleaners.  He always had a pocket knife in his pants pocket and change and keys that jingled when he walked.

Now my brother, my sister and I are getting everything out of my Dad’s house. My talented brother is painting all the walls and ceilings and redoing both bathrooms.  He also is removing the horrible disintegrating faded rose carpeting and cleaning the wonderful hardwood floors underneath.  We always called mom and dad’s house, the Quilt house, because there were quilts hanging up in almost every room, on the beds and on quilt racks.  My mom also had a large doll collection and teacups scattered on shelves around the house.  Their home has been a home to me and my children and grandchildren.  So many memories of family get togethers, eating around the large dining room table, opening presents on Christmas morning, and finding the Easter eggs.  Always talk and laughter filled that house.  Now it is quiet.

The last time I was there in May, I felt like the house was saying goodbye to me.  It was letting me go.  As we drove away with our car filled with boxes, it was like we were taking time with us; time that would be spent in our house around our dining room table, in the living room and on our wraparound porch.  I felt a certain peace about it, like mom and dad were looking down from heaven and smiling with love and approval.

 

Ron’s Corner:

Crystal writes so well; don’t you think? I too love remembering the many good times in my life. Every life has both good and bad. I think the key to satisfaction in life is remembering the good and learning from, but not focusing on, the bad. I too have many fond memories from my childhood, some of them are recorded on this web site.  I am so glad that we took the opportunity to interview our parents while they were all still with us. Now only one parent, my dad, remains. However, we are determined to get the memoir published to preserve and share their lives. I read a few pages every now and again. My totally unbiased opinion; It’s really good!

I am so glad we undertook this project. If you are fortunate enough to have living parents, ask them about their lives. You might learn something. It might help you understand a few things. If nothing else, it’s never a waste of time talking to someone you care about. Do it while you can. The time is fleeting.

Ron holding Liz, Crystal holding Michelle, Mary Jane and Jim circa 1986 (the way we want to remember Crystal’s parents).

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Where Have all the Sandlots Gone?

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The other day I was talking with my grandson, Keylan. I asked how he was doing on his high school track team. As usual, he is doing his best, but the World and Olympic records are probably safe for the time being. I told him about my non-record setting times from my high school gym class. I also told him that my best sports were football and baseball. I explained that while I never tried out for a team, I played a lot of sandlot sports. Suddenly, I felt quite old. I was using terminology unfamiliar to today’s youth. I also felt somewhat bad for this generation, staring at screens all of the time, when they could be experiencing life.

When I think back, my interest in baseball probably goes back to around 1959. Even as a five year old, the energy around Chicago was palpable. I didn’t understand much, but this baseball was an exciting game. Everyone was talking about the White Sox. In the end, they prevailed. The Sox won the Pennant. Little did I know that they would not win another Pennant until 2005. However, that’s not the point. At that time, commonly recognized as the Golden Age of Baseball, there were games everywhere. It seemed that every field big enough would have kids playing. My Oak Lawn neighborhood was no exception. From the first day school was out, we played baseball. The school park was only a block away. Sometimes that seemed too far. We would play in the street until Mr. Brown came out and yelled at us. I tried to reassure him that we were all too talented to hit any parked cars. He never seemed to buy that argument. So we walked the tiresome journey to the park where we could run and hit and field for the next three hours, unencumbered.

Some days we would break for lunch and return in the afternoon until dinner. I never really had any lessons. I just watched my favorite players on TV and did what they did. We had a core group, but some different players would show up every day. Often, there weren’t enough to field two full teams so we played modified games. We could play a modified game called Indian Ball with as few as four. With three we played running bases. With two, we played catch, hit, and pitch with a tennis ball against the wall of the school (usually around the corner from the “NO Ball Playing Allowed” sign).

A nice lady across from the school let us drink from her hose. I still remember the taste of the warm rubber flavored water. As bad as it tasted, it’s probably allowed us to survive on the really hot days. After playing, mom usually had cold Kool Aide and cookies waiting for anyone who wanted it. We probably drank a couple glasses before we actually could enjoy the flavor.

Over the course of a summer, we went through a lot of baseballs. However, funds were scarce. Being resourceful, we found tricks to prolong their life. It usually involved sneaking into dad’s tool chest and stealing tape. Eventually, no matter how hard we tried to preserve it the cover would come off. Then it was time for a serious tape job. It made for some colorful baseballs; green, red, black, or whatever tape I found. Mrs. Byczek always thought it was hysterical. To me, it was just a lesson in survival.

Over the course of a few summers, I actually got pretty good. I was a natural hitter and rarely missed. I was also quite good in the outfield. However, I spent most of my time in the infield. I needed more work there. I had a lot of difficulty judging hard grounders. They made it look so easy on TV. Somehow I never considered that the inconsistent clumps of grass and sand and rocks might have some effect. I thought it must be that I wasn’t keeping my eye on the ball, or getting in front of it. What I lacked in ability, I made up for in determination. My favorite game came at a price. The price included scrapes, black and blue shins, an occasional ball in the face (the wrong way to keep your eye on the ball), and at least once a summer the dreaded groin shot (with laughter adding insult to injury). Broken fingers were part of the deal as well. A couple of them are still noticeably bent. Unlike my TV heroes, however, no trainer rushed onto the field. Instead, I excused myself and went home. I enjoyed a Popsicle. The stick made an ideal splint. When combined with a little more of dad’s seemingly endless tape supply, I was again set to rejoin my friends on the field of honor.

Yes I do feel sorry for today’s generation. They don’t know what they are missing. Or maybe they do?

Crystal’s Corner

I also remember sandlot baseball.  My brother and his friends played often.  Sometimes they let me play with them even though I was a girl. Other times, they refused to let me play.  I would get mad at them, yell at my brother, and stomp home.  But after a while, I learned a way to get them to let me play.  I stole the ball.  There was usually only one ball.  Balls got lost so often in weeds and prairies that the parents couldn’t keep replacing them.  I would bring the ball home with me and my brother would follow yelling. “Crystal, you have to give the ball back to me.”  I would go in the house smiling, gripping the ball.  My brother would try to get my Dad on his side, but Dad would say, “Let your sister play.”  Finally, my brother would give in and say, “All right come on, I will make them let you play.”  We would then return to the sandlot where all of the players were now sitting on the ground resting.  That was what was really good about playing sandlot ball. When you got tired, you just sat down.  Then either we would find a hose we could turn on for a drink or go home for snacks and Kool Aid.  A lot of the time, my brother’s friends, Georgie and Bobby, came to my house because my mom made the best chocolate chip cookies and other baked goods.

Summer was fun. Summer was being outside in the sunshine running around, roller skating, playing tag, jump roping, playing red rover, playing mother may I and other games.  We didn’t watch much TV because our moms wouldn’t let us stay in the house to watch TV.  All the parents agreed to tell us, “Go out and play.”  They knew it was good for us.

OK, it’s not sandlot, but it is my grandson Keylan playing baseball. He’s a good kid. He’ll never know what he missed.

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Words of Wisdom

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I just got back from Kentucky. It was an overnight to take care of some business dealing with Crystal’s dad’s estate. We stayed with Michelle, Alex, and our new grandbaby, Ayla. As a rule, I always try to be helpful. They mentioned their fight with sleep deprivation and Ayla’s lack of consideration for their needs. I told them they would have to adapt to her. It would take time, but to take heart, for ‘this too shall pass’. I also mentioned that, now that she is a mother, Michelle’s days of being right are over. Someone would always be around to tell her that she is doing it wrong. I told her it wouldn’t be easy, but I had faith in her. She and Alex would make good decisions. I told Alex to always agree with his wife. It will make his life soooo much easier. If she needs your help, she will ask.

On the way home, I thought to myself, how did I get so smart? When did I switch from total uncertainty to the font of all knowledge? I think the difference is distance and time. Once the last child moves out, (Crystal will cry when she reads this) you have something you haven’t had for years….time to reflect and process. I suppose that is why the generals aren’t actually on the front lines. They are more effective away from the action, where they can process and plan.

OK, now that I think about it, if I had to give one key point, it would be to decide on what you and your spouse believe, and parent accordingly. The largest hurdle for Crystal and me was deciding rules we both agreed on, and consequences (both positive and negative) for those rules. We knew we needed to agree and be consistent or the kids would pick us apart. We spent time almost every day reviewing our progress and if necessary, adjusting our strategy.

However, advice is cheap, and worth what you pay for it. I don’t think our kids know that though. They still think we have a few answers. Maybe we do. However, what they need to realize is that outside of never ending love and support, our job is done. The goal of parenting isn’t raising kids, it’s preparing responsible adults. What I failed to mention to Michelle is that her child is now totally dependent on her. But that will soon change. As years go by, it will be her job, along with her husband to decide when and how to release control, and promote independence. You need to be there to congratulate them when they succeed, and reassure them when they fail. When you are done, they will let you know. After that, and for the rest of your life,  they will still be your kids, but they will be grownups. You need to treat them as such.

Sounds like we really knew what we were doing, right? We were perfect parents. Now I get why I have all of this wisdom to share…..Except….it didn’t always work. Our kids still had problems, got into trouble, and we weren’t always consistent. Occasionally, Crystal and I wouldn’t agree and would argue about how to handle things.

Reality has set in. I am really not the font of anything except maybe ego. Parenting is a struggle. The good news is that my advice (worth every penny) was good. For a new mother, like Michelle, I know it was reassuring to know that in a little while her baby will adapt and sleep through the night. As the child grows, there will be new challenges, but she will adapt. She was raised to be able to adapt and overcome. I have no doubt that she will always put her child’s needs ahead of her own. I think that is the simple definition of a good parent. I will continue to give my two cents. Some habits are impossible to break. But I know, and I think she knows, she is ready, and with God’s help, she and Alex will be wonderful parents.

Left to right, daughter Liz holding Addelyn, My dad, daughter Michelle holding Ayla

This was at a Greek restaurant in Columbus Ohio for Easter celebration.

Category: Make Marriage Last

Our Hearts belong to Daddy By Crystal Meinstein

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Sorrow lasts for a night, but Joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5)

Last week this Bible verse came true for my family. On Thursday evening, Feb. 16, my father went home to be with the Lord.  On Friday morning, Feb. 17, my daughter, Elizabeth, gave birth to my granddaughter, Addelyn Klein.

I will miss my father very much.  We were always very close and happy to be together.

I have wonderful memories of my childhood with my Dad.  We would go to the People’s store on Michigan Ave. in Chicago.  My dad would buy chocolate covered peanuts at the candy counter and we would sit on the large landing dividing the staircases and watch the people.  I thought that was why they called it the People store.

Every fall we would rake the leaves and my dad would burn them so we could roast marshmallows over the fire.  When our hands could reach the push mower handles, Dad would have us stand in front of him to help him cut the grass.  We also learned to paint the walls as toddlers: first with water and then with paint.  Dad and I loved to watch Tarzan movies starring Johnny Weissmuller on Saturday afternoons. As a child I thought he knew Roy Rogers and Gene Autry personally.  We watched westerns with him and he liked shows like Bonanza and Gun Smoke. Sometimes when our old black and white TV broke down, he would get out his harmonica or his mandolin and play for us.  We would sing cowboy songs with him.

He would eat Jeannette and my tiny cakes we made in our Easy Bake Oven.  A few years later, he was even happier when we baked large cakes, cookies, brownies, etc. in the real oven.  My mom made great pies and butterscotch meringue was Dad’s favorite.  She would make it for his birthday.  Fortunately, mom taught me to cook and to bake when I was young because when she got sick I could do the cooking.  When mom was very sick, Dad, Larry, Jeannette and I joined forces.  Dad said we would never be able to do all that Mom did, but we could team up together and try.  He would split the grocery list in half and give me half and then race me in the grocery store. This didn’t work very well because Dad didn’t know the products that Mom usually bought.  I did.  But he always tried to make things fun even in the worst of times.

Dad was a wonderful speaker who won awards in the Toastmaster organization. Most of his speeches were humorous.  His sense of humor got us through a lot of trouble and hard times. I followed in his footsteps, giving several public speeches in Jr. High School and joining the Debate team in high school. He also read all of my term papers, poetry, and short stories.  When I was about 10 years old and having problems with mean kids at school, my dad gave me his books, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie and The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale.  He also would read Rudyard Kipling’s poetry to me.  He told me that when someone hurts you write him a letter and then tear it up.  He also said that, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.”  After I left home, I had Dad’s and Mom’s voices in my head. When I had difficulties, I would think; what would Dad do; or what would Mom do?  It helped me in making decisions.

For several summers when I was in high school I worked at dad’s office at Sherwin Williams.  This experience consisted of riding in Dad’s car pool with his friend, Crazy Fred. I attribute learning to pray often on those terrifying trips.  Dad at the office was very well respected.  He would take me out to lunch with his friends, Alice Harris and Norris Bishton.    I could tell that he was proud of me and that gave me confidence in myself.

When I married Ron, Dad walked me down the aisle.  He really didn’t want me to get married yet.  He said I was completely trained to do everything in the house and now I was leaving.  Ron and I lived close to Mom and Dad in Illinois and so Ron established a close relationship with both of them.  After they moved to Cincinnati and we moved to Indiana, we saw them as often as we could.  We played pinochle, went out to dinner, visited and took care of the kids together.  Daddy was a wonderful grandfather and great grandfather.  He loved babies and was a great babysitter.  My children were all very attached to their grandfather and my grandchildren were also close to him.  His presence in their lives will be missed.

I know that Dad is with Mom in heaven right now and that is where he wanted to be.  But it will be difficult to not see him and talk to him.  When I lived at home, every morning, Dad would hug me and tell me that he loved me.  He knew when I was upset and would ask me to tell him what was wrong.  He was my confident, my companion, my supporter and my Daddy.

 

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Goodbye Mr. Carlson

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It is February 17, 2017. My father in law passed away yesterday. It was no surprise. He had been losing ground for some time. Even so he will be sorely missed. I am writing this because it helps me process my feelings and find peace.

We saw Mr. Carlson a couple of weeks ago. He seemed glad to see Crystal and me. We spent time talking about the past and our family. When we left, as always, he thanked us for visiting. I could tell he wasn’t going to be with us much longer. He was down to just over 100 pounds and periodically talking to people who weren’t in the room (according to Larry). As a nurse, I have seen that happen before. I believe, at some point, we transition to our next reality. For years, since his wife’s death, Jim has yearned to be with her. Oh, he was as much as possible, engaged in the reality of everyday life, but things were never the same. At least today we know where he is. Our loss will be Heaven’s gain. He and his Mary Jane are once more reunited.

I remember the first time I met Jim Carlson. He smiled and shook my hand. He looked at his daughter and his expression changed. He never gave me the lecture, but I could tell. He might as well have been cleaning a firearm and explaining how important it was that no one should hurt his daughter. However, the scowl didn’t last long. He could tell that Crystal was in love with me. And worse yet, I think Mary Jane knew, and told him to give me a break. He always listened to Mary Jane. Between the two of them there was some kind of unspoken balance. Together they worked.

It was only a few months later that I asked him for permission to marry his daughter. The scowl returned, if only for a moment. Both of us knew that wouldn’t last. Crystal had laid the ground work. While our relationship hadn’t always been perfect, we were in love. She talked about me all of the time, and quoted me as if I were the second coming of Niche. He told me about the importance of the commitment and how much he and Mary Jane cared for Crystal. I reassured him that he wasn’t losing a daughter and I would do my best to care for her. He relented and I have felt part of their family ever since.

Though the years my relation with Jim has been special. I have learned a lot from him. He has always been there when I needed advice or reassurance. Of course when it came to his daughter, all bets were off. When Crystal and I argued he would always take her side. His best advice to me was, ‘your wife is always right’. On the other hand, Mary Jane was usually more understanding. She told Jim to stay out of it and then helped Crystal to calm down. Most of the time that was all the help we needed.

Ironically, in these modern times, both of my married daughters’ husbands came to me prior to their engagements, to ask for my permission or at least my blessing. I acted as if I had learned nothing from Jim. The first I warned that I thought my daughter was too screwed up (from a previous relationship) to marry anyone. The second, I warned that we considered marriage a lifelong union and I worried about his level of commitment. Fortunately, both ignored my warnings, and currently have my daughters popping out more grandbabies. Not to bury the lead, my daughters are both happy.

Over the years, Jim has always treated me like a member of the family. I know he thought of me that way. I helped when I could. It was little things; shoveling a driveway, a little yard work or shopping.

What he gave me was far more valuable than a few odd jobs. He showed me what it meant to be a real man. Jim always put the needs of others before his own. Whether it meant helping friends and neighbors or being there for his own family he was always trying to help. I still remember sitting with him during one of Crystal’s surgeries. The surgery was supposed to last six hours, but wound up lasting nine. While he tried to reassure me, I could tell he was more nervous than me. Somehow, watching him squirm while trying to read, and asking me every fifteen minutes to check with the nurse, helped me to relax. I knew he cared as much as I did.

He loved his grandkids as well. Those feelings were mutual. One time, when we lived in Greensburg, our wives abandoned us. It was a cold day in October and Crystal and her mom were at a quilting show in Kentucky. Jim and I were left to hold a garage sale and take care of the kids. I stayed outside while he stayed (smartly) in the house. The girls, along with several neighbor kids, went back and forth. When they were out we threw a football, or they just sat with me and talked. I will admit to some evil thoughts about my wife (the sale was her idea) as the snow flurries began. But the girls helped. At one point, I had three of them sitting on me on top of the old chair we were giving away. I was finally warm. When they were in the house, I knew they were safe, playing, watching TV or talking to Jim. Every once and a while, he would check on me to make sure I was still alive and not covered with snow.

I’m also so pleased that Jim and Mary Jane agreed to be in our memoir. The first time he met her was during WW2 at the Kenosha USO. He saw her across a room and immediately was drawn to her. When he arrived at her side, he knocked over a lamp which Mary Jane caught. Together, they were a testament to what marriage should be. I don’t mean the love at first site bit. That never lasts. It’s the part about when one person knocks over a lamp the other will always be there to catch it. Through fifty-five years of marriage, Mary Jane and Jim never lost that.

Those last ten or so years, after Mary Jane’s passing, were never the same. Each time we visited, Jim was glad to see us. We spent hours just talking, watching his favorite westerns or playing pinnacle. Often Crystal and I would cook a nice meal or take him out to a restaurant. But we could tell, he was different. He had lost the love of his life and longed to be with her again. Today, that day has come. While their legacy will live on through their children and those who loved them, Mary Jane and Jim are together again. Praise God!

Also today, February 17, 2017 our latest granddaughter, Miss Addelyn Macenzie Klein, entered the world. A healthy baby girl, Liz and Brad’s latest, serving as a reminder that life will continue. Love will go on.

Jim at Michelle’s college graduation in 2008.                 Liz and new baby Addelyn

 

Procreation, God’s Creation

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I was surprised when Sunday’s sermon was dedicated to the sanctity of human life. I was surprised since I had just finished writing the following much related post. I was going to wait a couple of days to post it, in case Crystal had something to add. She has just given me the all clear to post it as is.

Our daughters take the sanctity of human life very seriously and are doing their part. Sometime, over the next couple of months both Liz and Michelle are expecting to bring a couple of new baby girls into the world.

I find the decision to be a grandpa again, was an easy one. We love our four grand children very much, like spending time with them, playing with them and handing them back to their mom and dad. The decision to be a parent is infinitely more difficult. Not everyone should become a parent. There is nothing sadder than seeing parents who should have never been parents. I won’t elaborate. I don’t think I need to. Go out in the world or watch Dr. Phil.

The decision to raise children will impact every aspect of your life: your relationship with your spouse (significant other), where you live, how you spend your money, how you spend your free time (I use the term loosely), etc. I know my girls are and will be great parents. They have both put in the ground work. They have good value systems, will put the needs of their children ahead of their own, and have adequately trained their husbands.

That last one is in no way a slight on their husbands. Brad and Alex are wonderful, but we (guys) all need some training. You see, most women have a head start on us. They think about being moms from the time they are toddlers. Most young boys aren’t very much into baby dolls or doll houses. Also, even if it’s only in those stupid gym class lectures, girls are taught about their greater level of commitment. Guys don’t get pregnant, or have to give birth. The joke that, if guys had to have babies the human race would have died out a long time ago, might not be that farfetched. Also, during the pregnancy or after the birth, guys may come and go. But a mom is a mom, is a mom. As I have said on several occasions, finding a spouse and having a child are two decisions which, while they may affect each other, should be made independently.

From my own experience, Crystal and I both agreed before we got engaged that we wanted to raise a family. However, it was Crystal who read the books and magazines, had the baby shower, organized the nursery, and set up the child birth and Lamaze classes. I went along with everything. Once she was pregnant, I did my best to be supportive and empathetic, but I had my work and my life. I admit, in a lot of ways, I was ignorant. Things for me became a different level of reality, only after the nurse handed me my daughter(s). The first time they looked up and saw daddy, they knew they had me. They were right.

I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday, but that first day with Elizabeth I will never forget. I carried her proudly with my best one handed football carry. I knew she was safe. I never dropped a football. Of course footballs don’t giggle and wiggle. After I picked her up…..Kidding…..we arrived at the car. I think it took about the next five minutes to fight the car seat into submission. Somewhere in that time I had my Prissy moment. I don’t know noting bout raisen no babys. That moment only lasted for about the next twenty years. I’m OK now. The point is the miracle of birth is followed by years and years of work and commitment. However, it is so worth it. Besides, to do any less is like telling God to take back his miracle.

To say birth is a miracle is an understatement. To me, a baby is the ultimate proof of a God. As a scientist, I look at the world from a critical point of view. I drove my anatomy teacher crazy pointing out the inconsistencies and errors in our book. I read my Bible (excuse the pun) religiously. While I often struggle with details and have a list of questions for God, I never doubt His existence.

While many scientists struggle to find the proposed missing link, my question is much more basic. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? There is a correct answer…..They had to arrive simultaneously. Think about it. So the next time you look across the table at your spouse, you can thank God for that one magnificent chromosome, which made all of that difference. Procreation is God’s creation.

To my beloved daughters, their husbands and all who have decided to perpetuate the human race regardless of the costs, congratulations, mozel tof, and shalom.

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I finally have something in common with my daughters.

Category: Make Marriage Last

The Gift Grinch     

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That’s me! I am the Gift Grinch! When it comes to giving gifts I am probably fine. I say probably because I don’t do a lot of Christmas shopping. I generally buy for Crystal and for my dad. Crystal is the real shopper. I think she starts Christmas shopping in July. Of course books are a big part of her shopping list. I think she is just determined that everyone should enjoy reading as much as she does. She is affectionately known as the book nana. She is also happy with whatever you give her. I think gratefulness is in her nature.

It’s not that I’m never grateful. I have a great life. I am blessed with a wonderful wife and family. We live in a nice house in a very pleasant small town. We basically have everything we need. However, I definitely have a problem accepting gifts. It is never the fault of the giver. I know my wife and daughters spend a lot of time planning and shopping.

I am truly grateful for all of the efforts and truly grateful for the sentiments behind them. It’s just the gifts and my reactions, I have problems with. Oh, I often say all the right things and smile appropriately, but that’s not enough. The real problem is that I am surrounded by women. Women can tell when you are sincere, unless you are a really good liar, which I’m not.

You see, I have simple desires. When I need something, I will either buy it or start a prolonged process of searching for it. Often, I will have a list in my mind and when I stumble onto what I need, buy it. For example, I have needed a new golf bag for a while. My old one was still functional, but getting holes and more and more worn. I first went to a few stores. Before long, I realized that golf bags are overpriced. I wasn’t going to pay that for a bag to hold my clubs, and no one else should either. The bag won’t increase your enjoyment of the game or improve your swing. In my research I did however decide on exactly the perfect type of bag. I wasn’t about to mention it to my daughters or Crystal. They would probably spend way too much and buy one. Instead, I just kept my eyes open for a few years. One day Susan, our neighbor, mentioned that her church was having a garage sale. Always trying to be supportive of our Christian community, I checked it out. There it was…my bag. It was slightly worn, but marked down to five dollars. I’ve been using it ever since.

OK, so what happens when I do get a nice, meaningful gift from those who care about me? Maybe the best example which my girls still talk about happened a few years ago. My favorite charcoal grill finally broke down. I had picked the neighbors Webber out of the garbage and used it for another ten years. Naturally, since I grill quite often, I went immediately out to look for a new one. Webbers were too expensive, so over the next couple of years, I tried a few others. None worked as well. My girls knew that and went in together to buy a really good grill. I pulled the paper off and looked at the picture. It wasn’t a Webber. It looked more like one of the grills I had already tried and trashed. OK, I’m sorry. I once again need to apologize to my girls. I can’t help what my face does. They instantly knew I wasn’t happy. All of their planning and conspiring to please me were in vain. So I took the grill back added a few bucks and got my new Webber. I’ve been happily using it ever since. I’ve also been periodically thanking them with grilled food. Somehow, it will never be enough. My initial Grinchy reaction may never be overcome. It does, however, provide for fun stories from time to time with the moniker, Oh that’s just dad.

Another example: A few years ago I got a new set of knives. I didn’t need a set of knives. I still used the same knives I had used for the previous twenty years. They were getting a little smaller from continuous sharpening. I had lost one and the handle was loose on another, but it was still functional. Again I made ‘the face’. SORRY! Finally my favorite knife’s handle broke off. It was time for a new set. WOW, look at that I found a new set of knives under the kitchen table. Didn’t someone give that to me for Christmas or my birthday? Of course, it was from Michelle. I used it for a while and came to a stunning revelation. This set was actually better than my old set. I finally called Michelle and earnestly thanked her. The only problem was that the set was from Elizabeth. OH well….do you see the problem? That’s why I’m the Gift Grinch.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not without hope. If the Grinch could do it so can I.

And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow, Stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?” “It came without ribbons! It came without tags!” “It came without packages, boxes or bags!” And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! “Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.” “Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”

It is nice to be understood and accepted by your loved ones for who you are. Of course, I will try to be more grateful for whatever I get. After all, it’s really the love of the giver that’s the real gift. Jesus knows that.

Merry Christmas!

The grinch grin

Category: Uncategorized

Getting in the Mood for Christmas

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Now that all of the election unpleasantness is over and our bellies are returning to normal after Thanksgiving, we can turn our attention to the really important matters. That’s right, Christmas. In the old days, listen to me kids, you started talking Christmas after Thanksgiving. These days, however, Christmas decorations appear in Wal-Mart around Labor Day. The Hallmark Christmas movies start two weeks before Halloween. Sadly, it’s no longer about preparing for the birthday of Jesus, but Black Friday and shopping. Of course, this is nothing new, probably worse, but not new.

I still remember, as a kid, this season being my favorite time of the year. Mom wouldn’t have it any other way. I was her only child and the rightful prince of the house. i.e… I was spoiled. The only thing I think I liked better than the day, was the anticipation of the day. It would start when every day in November I would check the front porch. I knew it would arrive in a timely manner. Then finally it came! About two to three inches thick, everyone got one. The day the Sears Christmas catalog arrived, my season began. I would spend hour after hour pouring over each page of the colorful guide to my happiness. Yes, I even gave a casual glance to the clothing section. Models would be poised like they were having fun just wearing clothes. Of course, I spent most of my time studying the new and wonderful toys and sports equipment.

The first few days I would just fire through the pages to get a feel for them. What a wonderful feeling. After that it was time to get serious. With pencil in hand, I began to form my strategy. I would start to circle all of the possible choices and duck tailing the pages. It might have been easier to circle the ones I wasn’t interested in. Of course, at least I could skip over the girl pages. I had no interest in dolls, tea parties etc… However, I might admit I kind of had a thing for the Easy Bake Oven. The idea of baking my own cookies and cakes did have a certain appeal. Once my list was complete, I would categorize according to priority. A target rifle and scuba gear was always at the top of my list. I never got either.

Then it came; the shopping trips with mom. We would typically go by bus the ten miles or so to the Evergreen Park Mall. Mom didn’t drive until I was older. We would get to the mall and there was Santa. I stopped believing in him at an early age. How could he be on every street corner and at the mall? Santa’s brothers? Give me a break. I had friends with brothers. They were named Tim and Kevin, not Tim and Tim. Besides, why would so many parents be wondering around my favorite area of the department (toys) if Santa did all of the heavy lifting? I pretended though. It seemed to make mom happy. I even remember once sitting on Santa’s lap and when he asked what I wanted, saying, ‘Didn’t you read my letter?’. This seemed to embarrass mom.

Then things got real. For days, the house would get more and more Christmassy. I never appreciated how much work was involved until many years later. The tree and lights were my favorite part. Occasionally, I would go with dad to pick out the perfect tree. Without me, he would inevitably get it wrong. I do remember some “discussions” about the tree quality. However, they always looked great once decorated (mom’s job) and after dad cut enough off and the proper side was facing the street.

On Christmas Eve, mom and I would walk through Oak Lawn by night. We would enjoy all of the beautifully decorated houses on our way to St. Linus Catholic Church for the service. It was my favorite service of the year. It was mercifully short and almost entirely in English (they still spoke a lot of Latin back then). Then back home for my half-hearted attempt at sleep. Usually, I would find an excuse to get up a few times before actual sleep occurred (bathroom, water, etc.).

I think it was probably a late night for mom and dad; but in the morning I was never disappointed. I would rip open the clothing presents and toss the contents casually aside in order to get to the more important gifts. While I don’t think my parents were overly concerned with my Sears catalog marking, I always got more than I deserved. On Christmas night, we often drove through the neighborhood. Dad always seemed to know where all of the best decorated houses were.

These days, as an adult, the times seem a little more turbulent. There is no more Sears catalog. I read an article saying that Sears itself may not be long for this world. These days, I wish someone else would buy my socks or underwear. I miss mom. However, when I talk to our girls, I can see that they are not willing to give up on our traditions or the season. Liz drags her kids around shopping unceasingly. Lisa usually is with her to assist. Michelle, while she no longer lives in the area, calls to ask all of the when and where details of our celebration. Our grandkids look forward to getting time off of school and all of the associated festivities.

I guess, all in all, there is still plenty to look forward to, and even more to pass on. Getting back to the real reason for the season, this last Sunday was the first of Christian Advent. The first candle lit was for hope. I think that’s what it’s really all about. The future has no guarantees, but where there is hope, there is life. May this little look back help prepare you to truly experience the joy of this season. When you are fighting for the last ‘Rogue One’ doll at Wal-Mart, try to ask yourself WWJD.

Crystal’s Corner: Christmas Traditions

To me, Christmas is the best season of the year because we are celebrating Jesus coming into the world to bring us light and peace and hope.  My family, especially my mom, was very involved with Christmas.  I sang in the choir at our church, so for weeks we were practicing for our December Cantata.  That music in my head would last for months afterwards.

My Mom sent out over 100 Christmas cards.  Before she did a newsletter, she wrote a note in almost every card.  She would set up an assembly line in our living room.  Signing the cards (usually Jeannette’s job because of her excellent handwriting), putting on the return addresses and stamps, sealing the envelopes and then sorting them into states.  We were very organized.  Some of my friends, once they saw what we were doing, wanted to join in.  My Mom took all helpers.

Then there was the baking.  We started right after Thanksgiving and every weekend, we baked cookies, sometimes raisin bread, and pumpkin bread and other sweets.  We froze the cookies and then right before Christmas, we made up plates and gave one to everyone we knew including the paper boy, the mail man, the neighbors, the tax man, etc.  We also had our cookie bake with friends.  My best friend, Debbie, and her mom would come with their cookie dough including potato chip cookies.  We had mixed up several batches especially cut out cookies, snickerdoodles, spritz, gingerbread, drop cookies, etc.  The morning was spent baking and in the afternoon, we decorated the cut outs and gingerbread with icing and sprinkles and candies.  Then we would divide up the cookies.  This way, we got quite a variety.  I have continued this tradition with my girls and my granddaughter.  Boy, can these girls make wonderful cookies and candies.  One year, we had the cookie bake at my house.  We were making goodies in the kitchen, the dining room and the living room.  I was having problems with my microwave that day (it was sparking) and when you opened my freezer, something would fall out.

We have a lot of fun at our cookie bakes, no matter where we do it.  I miss Jeannette and my friend, Debbie at our cookie bakes.  Jeannette and I did a lot together with Mom for Christmas.  Beyond shopping and decorating and baking, we made many of the presents to give away.  Mom would get us started in the summer, buying craft supplies and patterns on sale.  We always made items for the craft bazaar at church in the fall anyway.

I actually shop for Christmas presents all year round and for birthday presents too.  I learned a long time ago to spread it out and shop the sales.  Now I shop online which is very helpful as well.

I cherish our Christmas traditions and I am very glad that my girls also continue to make the season very festive and enjoyable.  Mostly, we enjoy doing things together, laughing, talking, eating any mistakes when we bake, and being thankful for each other and our faith. Christmas can be a lot of work, but if you do it with family and friends, it can be a wonderful season.  My mother would sing carols all the time and we sang right along with her. “Tis the Season to be jolly!”  Ron and I both hope that you are.

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A couple of Christmas pictures from a few years ago.

Category: Uncategorized

Cubs Win! Cubs Win!

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I would like to start with an apology to those loyal faithful fans of the Cleveland Indians. They played their hearts out. If any of a dozen balls had bounced a little differently, I wouldn’t be writing this. But the Cubs did win, and I’m happy for them and for my old home town of Chicago. It still amazes me that my dad will turn 96 later this month, and, in his lifetime, this is the first time they have won the series.

This was a nice break from one of the dirtiest presidential campaigns in American history. I am proud to be an American, but disappointed in both of our major candidates. However, Donald’s slogan made me think. “When was America really great?” For me, that would have to be 1969. Why, you might ask. It was because of the Cubs of course! That was the year they were destined to win it all.

Being from the south side of Chicago, I was a diehard White Sox fan, but it was obvious from the start they were going nowhere. The Cubs, on the other hand, started the season winning eleven out of their first twelve games and were due, heck, overdue!  With one of the most compelling lineups in the history of the game including Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Ferguson JenkinsRon Santo, and Billy Williams, they were the team of destiny. On August 19th, they led their division by 8 1/2 games. What followed was one of the most indescribably painful collapses in baseball history. In the end, they wound up 8 full games behind the team, now known as, the Miracle Mets.

I suffered right along with them. I remember that summer, walking everywhere with a little transistor radio glued to my ear. Even when I played my sandlot baseball, if the cubs were playing, the radio was right by my side. Occasionally, I had to field a ball to protect it. By the way, in case you were wondering, yes I was pretty good. At fifteen, I too dreamt of the day when I would play for the Sox. I would play for ten years, raking in an excess of $25,000 a year and be set for life.

But baseball aside, truly this was a time of America’s greatness. It had been six years since Kennedy had been assassinated. So that scar had almost healed. Of course it had been only a year since his brother Bobby Kennedy (then running for President) had been killed, and the riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.  That was not so great. Still, President Kennedy’s cold war inspired dream of beating Russia in putting a man on the moon had happened. The pride was back.

Housewives and mothers were, for the most part, still in their homes. Neighborhoods were safer because of it. And then there were girls! At fifteen, I was alive at the right time. Long straight hair and miniskirts made life a little more fun. Even our future was assured. The women of Star Trek showed that to be true. I wonder how many outtakes there were when Yeoman Janice Rand or Lieutenant Uhura bent over wearing those short skirt uniforms.

Of course, in 1969 AfroAmericans (before they were blacks) were rioting. I never understood that. Here they were living in the land of opportunity. They had been free to enjoy all of the country’s privileges for over 100 years (ironically the same amount of time it took the Cubs to win). They were on TV, and in sports. Of course, living in the all white community of Oak Lawn, I had never actually met an AfroAmerican. Oh, I had seen them. Several worked in the Branding Iron Restaurant. They made the best spare ribs I had ever eaten. Surely the problem was just some giant misunderstanding.

Speaking of misunderstanding, this was also the height of the Viet Nam war. What was the big deal? We were America, so we had to be right. Nobody wanted the Commies to be on our doorsteps or under our beds. Besides, we always won our wars. A bunch of hippies didn’t agree. Of course, the girl hippies were cute, rocking out with flowers in their hair. OK, and the music was the greatest ever. Still, most of it didn’t say a lot of great things about our country.

I guess, when you look at it objectively, it makes you wonder, outside of baseball again becoming our national pastime, to what “great America” are we trying to return? On the eve of this critical election, please remember the words of the immortal long time mayor of Chicago, Richard J. Daily. ‘All “yous guys” should vote early and often’ (yes he actually talked like that).

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Lisa and my dad at a White Sox Game (not Cubs) in 2012.

Category: Uncategorized