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No German Thanksgiving

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            Thanksgiving was quite different this year. For the past three or four years we celebrated what our family called German Thanksgiving. Our celebration was combined with dad’s birthday on November 15th.   Instead of the traditional turkey feast, our family made all of dad’s favorite German dishes including sauerbraten, dumplings, red cabbage,  and of course, chocolate cake, etc. Dad and the rest of our family loved the tradition and the food.

            This year, however, marks almost exactly six months since dad passed. He would have been ninety-nine this last November. Somehow, the tradition didn’t seem as important any more. I miss my dad. I don’t miss the way he was during his last months, but as I remember him when we were both younger. As I told him those last days, I had learned a lot from him through the years, and I am grateful. I believe Crystal and I have passed a lot of our parents’ teachings on to our girls: the importance of honesty, responsibility, and respecting others just to name a few.

            As much as this year brought a feeling of melancholy, it was also a year to give thanks. Our family continues to grow. As we lost dad, Michelle and Alex brought our 7th grandchild, Ripley, into the world.  Our family is really close. The girls are always talking and planning. Sometimes they even include us in  their plans.

            Even though there was no German Thanksgiving it doesn’t sound like I’ll get away unscathed. Everyone’s favorite German meal will come between Christmas and New Year’s. I will once again spend three days marinating over ten pounds of beef for the main course. The girls will, as always, help with some side dishes. We will once again thank God for our many blessings, and enjoy our family fellowship.

            The Bible says “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 2). Sometimes these seasons seem to overlap. Yes, we will remember our parents fondly. Yes, the time of mourning will continue for a season. But, it will not overwhelm our ongoing times of joy. Mom’s old world recipes will be enjoyed for many years to come. Someday, maybe you too can enjoy them. Our family cook book which includes family stories is coming close to completion. Their life stories will also continue, as our memoir is almost ready for the publisher.

            As we enter another Christmas season, be sure to give thanks for all of those in your life who contributed to making you who you are. Look forward with hope and anticipation. Seek peace. And always try to be a blessing to those around you.

God Bless You

Ron and Crystal

Christmas 2010 (This was a German Christmas Meal) Mom, Dad, and Family Happy
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Crystal’s Corner: Raspberry Soup and Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie

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            Ron likes to experiment in cooking which makes sense. He was a chemist. We usually just eat the results. I try to get him to follow tried and true recipes when he wants to make something new and/or different/weird.

            I asked “Why are you using sweet potatoes in the shepherd’s pie?”

            He answered, “That’s what we have, but I could add cheese.”

            I said, “No, I don’t think cheese would help”; even though I love cheese (I think I was possibly a mouse in another life). You can’t add cheese to everything.

            So I tried the sweet potato shepherd’s pie and it wasn’t that bad.  Actually, it was pretty tasty, and he had put cheddar cheese on the top of the sweet potato part (yum).

            When we were first married Ron decided to put red wine in macaroni and cheese.  That, I couldn’t even eat.  It was really a mistake. Even Ron agreed.

            Now let’s talk about the raspberry soup.  Ron doesn’t really understand about making pie filling.  My mom taught me from probably Betty Crocker’s cookbook, how to make pie filling with fresh fruits.  Unlike Ron, Betty Crocker and I use measurements in cooking.  Ron decided to just “wing it”.  So even though he did add starch and sugar to the raspberries with not much water, he didn’t let this mixture boil down enough to thicken.  He lacks patience which, I have found very useful in cooking.  So he puts this “soup” into a baking dish and adds ingredients he thinks will make it into a cobbler.

            Even after we cooled this dessert in the refrigerator after baking it, it didn’t thoroughly gel.  I wasn’t that surprised.  It did however, taste pretty good especially with vanilla ice cream.

            Ron also still thinks he is cooking for five or more people.  So we will be having leftovers for days and days.  Sometimes we share his cooking with neighbors, but these dishes were just too strange to explain and share.  If Elizabeth comes over she will try anything we cook.  She is the main cook for her houseful full of kids, and gets pretty tired of making breakfast, lunch and dinner.  She looks in our refrigerator and ask me “how old is this?” before she tries it.

            Don’t get me wrong.  I love it that Ron shops and cooks.  I just wish he would leave some of the baking to me and Betty Crocker, but again he is not good at waiting for me to make something.

Ron:

In my defense, I am getting better at measuring, especially since I have had to for our cook book. I will admit to a certain joy in winging it, and am probably successful 9 out of 10 times. However, they only remember the 10nth. And the raspberry cobbler was delicious, and shared with neighbors, after another bout in the oven at lower temperature to drive off moisture. It thickened very nicely. Thank you very much!

I have just a quick note about marriage. You have to learn how to work out differences. However, sometimes those differences are what make your marriage fun. Crystal and I, over the years, have spent more time talking about and laughing about my experiments than a reasonable person would guess. It has never been a serious cause of contention. It’s what I call, adding flavor to our marriage. Pun!

Here is a slice of my Turtle Pie. I did have to create a recipe for it. It will be in the cookbook.
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Vacation Down Memory Lane in Chicago

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            Crystal and I recently took a trip to back to my old stomping grounds in the Chicago area. The trip had several purposes. First, it was the beginning of a new phase in our retired life. Now that dad has gone on to be with mom in heaven, we have a lot more free time. When I first married Crystal, I promised to show her more of the country and the world. We finally can, and are planning some trips. Second, our trip was to take care of some details of dad’s estate. Finally, we went to catch up with some friends and neighbors. That last one is the subject of today’s post.

            It’s amazing what memories can flood your brain when visiting former residences. The first day there, Crystal and I took an extended walk near the downtown Chicago lakefront. The walk almost proved too long for Crystal (which I heard about often). It’s amazing how much change there has been over the years. Many new and tall buildings, some over 100 stories tall, have overtaken the skyline. As we stood close to the new Millennium Park and looked north, I saw the building known as One Prudential Plaza (formerly, and as I remember The Prudential Building). It was built in 1955, about a year after I was born. When I was around five, at 41 stories, it was still the tallest building in the city. Dad took mom and me up to the top to see the view. The elevator almost knocked me over. I loved it. I thought the view amazing. The buildings looked plenty tall enough for me. Over the beautiful Grant Park, you could see the home of my Chicago Bears, Soldier Field. Surprisingly, it doesn’t look much different now than I remember. Although, it might closely resemble the Roman Coliseum, instead of feeding Christian’s to lions, this stadium is about feeding Lions (Detroit’s football team) to Bears (sorry, couldn’t resist).

            After a Chicago style pizza, we headed back to our hotel room in Plainfield. The trip back reminded us of what we don’t miss, the traffic. The next day it was on to Oak Lawn where I grew up. To our delight, Mrs. Baker was home. Living in the brown brick house directly across from my old house, she is probably the last original neighborhood resident I remember from my youth. They moved into that house in 1957. Two years later, we arrived. Now 90 years young, it was fun and sad to remember good old times and people while commiserating about all the changes in the area.

            My old playmate, Jeff Baker,was in from Colorado for a visit. The oldest of the Baker’s seven children, he seemed so far from the carefree adolescent with whom I used to play. Darting in and out of the room with his cell phone attached to his ear, he seemed so focused. Apparently his boss wouldn’t leave him alone while visiting his mom.

            As we walked out of the Baker’s house, I looked across the street at my old house. I was flooded with memories. The house itself looked pretty much the same. The yard, however, wasn’t nearly the pristine “Better House and Gardens” type dad always kept. The joke around the neighborhood was that a weed wouldn’t dare show up in his grass. He was so proud of his yard that he wouldn’t even trust me to mow it. Instead, I made my candy money mowing for some of the neighbors.

            Next to the Bakers live the Preisers. They were good friends to my parents, but weren’t home for our visit. Before, they moved in, the house was owned by the Pozdols. They too had a Ron. He was my age, their middle child, and we got along quite well. His father was our scout master and a really great mentor to us kids. I remember sitting in a field with Ron for three hours watching an ant hill for our ‘Insect Life’ merit badges. Ron got bored, so he ripped the wings off a moth to see what the ants would do. Oh the carnage! Fortunately, the battle didn’t last long and the boring peace returned.

            Next to the Pozdols lived the Browns. They were an older couple who had one son, Billy a few years older than me. Mrs. Brown was so nice to us kids all the time. That kind of balanced her often grumpy husband. Mr. Brown was a fixture on his front porch summer evenings, with a cigarette in one hand and a can of beer in the other. He yelled at us when we played softball in the street. “You kids know there is a park just a block away.” He worried we would hit a parked car, even after I assured him that we were too good, and aiming away from the cars.

            A couple houses down from the Browns were the Byczeks. They’re oldest; Tim was my best friend growing up. We went through school together and hung out whenever possible. With a couple other friends, our usual Friday nights were spent either playing pool in his basement or ping pong in mine. Occasionally, there was a movie night. John Wayne was our favorite star. After the movie, it was always McDonalds. Back then you could get a Big Mac, fries and a Coke, and get a nickel back from your dollar.

            Summers were spent playing softball in the nearby field, now a large school. Mom would be ready with Kool Aid and cookies. The rest of those fleeting years included school, scouting, and in the winter, skiing.  It seemed such a simpler time.

Finally it was time to leave. As we drove away for quite possibly the last time, I peered in the rear view mirror,  remembering the good times, and visits with Crystal and the girls. And then sadly, as we drove away, mom and dad waved from the porch. Mom usually was crying.

            When she was gone, for a few months, until we could move him closer, it was just dad on the porch. And then, as dad and I drove away that last time, only the house remains. It outlasted my parents, and will most likely outlast us too.

            And so it goes. The house on Oak Center Drive still appears in good shape. It will probably need a new roof in a couple of years. But that is someone else’s concern. There is, from what I hear, a new young family for it to protect and serve.

            After Oak Lawn, we visited with some old friends, Laura (Crystal’s childhood friend), and Bob (her husband), whom we haven’t seen in forty years. We couldn’t visit Crystal’s old neighborhood because, as Crystal put it, it’s no longer safe.

In the end, our trip gave us what we needed. As we enter a new phase in our lives as empty nesters without parents, a look back gives us some perspective, and a greater understanding of who we are and how we got here. I think that’s always a good thing.

Our old house now

Me after a storm and our house about 45 years ago
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Ella’s Blog March 2019

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            This was my first winter. I discovered snow! Dad took me outside and put me in it. I didn’t like that. It looks nice, all white and fluffy, but it’s too cold and wet.  It has been a confusing winter here in Warsaw, Ohio. I noticed that sometimes it snows and is cold, other times it rains and is warmer.  Fortunately, we have a nice heater in our living room.  I sit under it on the couch when it is cold.  I also like to look out the window on my seat and watch the birds eating at our bird feeders.  Mom got a bird feeder for Christmas.   All kinds of bird come to the feeder: cardinals, blue jays, sparrows, doves, and other small birds, woodpeckers, and lately starlings.  It is exciting to see all of this birds coming and going to our hanging bird feeder, hanging planter and porch feeders. The redheaded woodpecker is so large he has to do acrobatics, hanging on the edge of the feeder in order to eat.  As many as 7 or 8 little birds can hover on the four feeder sides.  Sometimes they just perch there to get out of the rain or snow.  The bushes, pine trees and other trees near the porch offer shelter to the birds.

On warm sunny days Mom takes me out on the porch swing.  The birds scatter when they see us, but we can hear their songs.  There is this big screen in the living room and sometimes we watch birds, tigers, whales and other wildlife on it in color.  I go up to the screen sometimes and try to touch the birds and the animals, but mom pulls me back.  Sometimes when mom pushes buttons on this rectangular black box the screen changes from color to black and white.  That’s when Dad and I go upstairs to Dad’s room with a big chair and a smaller screen.  He likes to watch shows where people bounce balls and throw them around.  Occasionally I go down to see what Mom is doing.  She plays with thread, yarn, fabric, and papers which I try to take from her.  I love to push pens, pins, spools of thread, plastic forks and spoons and mom’s glasses around the floor.  I lose my cat toys, bottle caps, and other small objects under the bookcase and shelves holding the big screen.  I think there is a cat hiding behind the furniture that takes them and plays with them.  Sometimes Mom takes a wooden ruler and pokes it under the bookcase and TV shelves to fight with the other cat for my toys.  The problem is, they seem to end up there again and again.  Sometimes they fall into mom’s shoes or slippers.  Someday, I know I will be able to reach under the TV table and push all of those great toys out.  I keep trying.

             You may notice that I have a photo with my typewriter.  One of my hobbies is pushing the keys on this typewriter.  I have tried to take it apart with my mitten paws and my teeth, but so far I haven’t had any success.  Like many items in the house, it is a mystery.

               I know that I am lucky to live in this house with mom and dad when I see another tabby cat walking across our porch on a regular basis.  Sometimes I make a trilling sound when I see that cat.  It is my way of laughing at him.  He should realize that this is my house and he is not coming in while I am in charge.  I have to try to get some of the toys from under the TV table now, so this is the end of my report. Until next time, “meow”.

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Get Your Mirrors at Walmart

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            New Years Eve was spent alone watching an old movie, there was some sparkling cider, a smooch or two with Crystal and then to bed shortly after midnight (cause that’s what older couples do). I woke up bright eyed and bushy tailed on January first. Crystal was still in bed. I decide to pick up a couple of things for dad at Walmart (where else?). The difference struck me immediately. At ten AM the parking lot was practically empty. I parked directly in front of the door. Gone was the annoying (sorry) Salvation Army bell ringer; no gilt ridden Merry Christmas today.  As I walked in the contrast from just a few days prior was amazing. Where were the multitudes of people busting down every aisle. There were no lines or employees to speak of. I also noted the dramatic change as I entered. All of the colorful toys, gifts, and the multitude of candies, cookies, cakes and decorations had been replaced by yoga mats, exercise balls, and protein powders.

            Oh Walmart, ye know us so well. We Americans are a fickle people in need of constant direction. It is now time to give all of those New Year’s resolutions some life, all be it temporary. I promise that by the third week or so in January those exercise balls will once again be replaced by some less expensive TVs. The yoga mats and protein powders will give way to valentines’ decorations and ironically chocolates. The time for fasting will be over; we will once again be looking for a sweet treat and an excuse to celebrate.

             All year long Walmart stays one step ahead of us. After the Valentine’s Day love fades the ugly Christmas sweaters will be replaced by ‘Kiss Me I’m Irish’. Corned beef and cabbage will be on sale. Then the Easter bunny will be displayed in multiple aisles and once again it will be candy time. Though I do look forward to those Cadbury eggs and jelly beans. Then it will be time for the Fourth of July and all of the stinky, smoky stuff, flags and red white and blue shirts, etc. Immediately after Labor Day we will be getting ready for Halloween. Finally, the day after Halloween out comes Christmas. Oh Thanksgiving is in there somewhere. But how much can you do with turkeys. The cycle is complete.

            In a consumer society, Walmart has our number, or numbers; dollars that is. Sure it’s all about marketing and maximizing profits, but there’s more. Is Walmart really reflecting our increasingly diverse society or telling us what they need us to be. Are we really a culture that lives for the holidays? Do we show love by what we buy or the number of lights and flags we display? Don’t get me wrong; I love driving around this time of year and seeing all of the beautiful decorations. But I wonder what goes on behind the lights. Why are marriages and families in our country under such stress? It reminds me of the movie Elf; when Santa’s sleigh needed extra propulsion because the true Christmas spirit was no longer enough to magically make the sleigh fly.

            I am ever hopeful for this country. But I believe we need to spend less time believing in Walmart and more showing actual, noncommercial love.

            Just one extra note; ugly Christmas sweaters are currently 75% off at Walmart. It will be Halloween before you know it. Just sayin.

Its resolution time entering Walmart
Empty Aisles
Ugly Sweaters 75% off

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Christmas Tree Oh Christmas Tree: A Liz and Brad story

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By Crystal Meinstein

            Every year Elizabeth and Brad and their five children go to the tree farm in Coshocton, Ohio to cut down a fresh Christmas tree to display in their home.  This year they are moving around the middle of December (YIKES), so they didn’t know if they were going to cut down a real tree.  On a very warm day early in December, Liz decided that they should go get the tree.  She mistakenly believed that only a few people would be getting their trees this early. Also, she invited her friends with their new baby and foster children,her sister in law and mother in law to go.

            Approaching the Christmas tree farm, they saw the longest line of cars they had ever seen in all the years they have been cutting down their own tree.  The line was slowly moving forward.  Elizabeth, Jazmyn (16), Bradyn (10) and Elijah (8) decide to go look for trees instead of waiting in the line with Brad.  Elizabeth has Addy, who is one, along with Jazmyn and the boys climbed the hill to look at trees.  Jazmyn, who is very artistic, found the perfect tree right away.  The problem is you have to use an electric saw to cut it down and they were all being used.  So Elizabeth followed someone else(feeling like a stalker) who had one of the saws, and watched them cut down their tree and then asked if she could use the saw.

            Elizabeth ended up with her friends’ new baby in one arm and Addy in the other, waiting until they could move the tree to the car. Then she got a text on her phone from Jazmyn. I guess she used her third, ‘mother arm’, to answer it. Apparently, Jazmyn had gone to the out house on the farm and the door stuck.  She couldn’t get out.  Elizabeth didn’t know what to do.  So with both children in her arms, she tried to find one of the adults to help.  Jazmyn, who was nervously waiting in the outhouse; was stunned when a strange man kicked the door open.  The man was also surprised and apologized.  But Jazmyn thanked him for saving her and letting her out of the outhouse.

            Brad and the boys carried the tree to their car. They strapped it to the roof and transported it home.  However, because they are moving soon before Christmas, they decided to not decorating the tree.  So according to Elizabeth, Brad is trying very hard to keep the tree alive so they can move it to their new place.

            Ron used to take the girls for tree cutting when they were young. However, recently its been strictly artificial for us. Ron and I bought a new tree a few years ago.  This tree comes in three parts and you have to “fluff” it, separating the branches to make it look like a real tree.  It is much smaller than our oldtree which we had to build one branch at a time before fluffing.  I had trained all of our girls and Keylan and Jazmyn to help put together our old tree. I come from my parents’ philosophy: Everything you teach your children and grandchildren to do, they take with them to use in the future. 

            This year I was fluffing and decorating the tree with lights and ornaments all by myself.  Our new cat Ella, tried to help me by knocking the ornaments off the tree. She played with them all over the downstairs.  Her favorites are a stuffed yellow Woodstock and a small green stocking.   The other day she brought the green stocking back to me so I could put it back on the tree and she could knock it off again.   Ella also likes to put the small decorations in our shoes.  Ron made her a seat on the window ledge, right by the tree. This helps her to reach more ornaments.

            We recently visited Lisa in her house in Kentucky. She has a new tree this year and guess who helped her to fluff it out and put on the lights?  Yes, it was me.  I must have been an elf in a former life also a psychiatrist, chauffeur, baker, teacher, nurse, janitor and more interesting occupations.

            Good luck decorating your house and/or office this year.  I don’t seem to have the energy to take everything down until the middle of January. Now I am in the process of wrapping the presents, sending out the cards,and making cookies.  Where are those elves when you need them?  “Meow”   No,Ella, not you.

Our Tree and our Christmas cat Ella.
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The Cat Report by Ella Meinstein

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Hi!  My name is Ella.  I am six months old.  I am a tabby mix with mitten paws. I am the new cat at the Meinstein house.  I am very happy to be living here.  I receive food, water and lots of affection and attention.

My life wasn’t always so good. I was living outside, hiding wherever I could. It was scary. There were all sorts of animals including some big dogs. The weather went from hot to rainy and cold. I caught a bad cold and still cough periodically. Food was hard to come by. I finally found a relatively safe place to hide under the Meinstein’s raspberry bushes.

Now I don’t care for raspberries, but fortunately the Meinsteins do. One day, late this summer, they were out picking along with their neighbor Susan. I was hiding and listening. They worked their way methodically around to my hiding place. They were smiling and laughing as they picked. Finally, I got up my nerve. Anything had to be better than my raspberry home. I stuck my nose out. They seemed friendly. I walked boldly right up to Mrs. Meinstein and rubbed her legs. She started petting me immediately. Then I went to Mr. Meinstein and he petted me. Then he left and brought back some food and water. I was very hungry.

Soon they were done picking and went back into their house. I went back under the raspberries. The next day however Mr. Meinstein was back. I came out immediately. He picked me up and asked if I would like to come into their house and be their kitty. I purred yes, yes, please. And that’s how I found my new mom and dad.

I’ve been here a few months now and couldn’t be happier. I eat when I want, sleep when I want, get all of the loving and snuggling any cat could want. And I play a lot. The house is full of toys. However, mom and dad get upset sometimes. I am still trying to get a handle on what toys I can play with and what toys I can’t. I am pretty sure mom’s glasses are off limits.

Mom talks a lot and apparently speaks some cat. She offered to help me write my very own blog. She is so nice. I will try to write at least monthly. I hope you enjoy it.

As far as what is new, this strange funny smelling tree showed up yesterday. Mom put on colorful lights and covered it with an assortment of exciting toys. So far I haven’t found the ones I am allowed to play with. Well that’s about it. Hope you have a purrfect day!

Hi I’m Ella as in Cinderella.

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Taking Care

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My dad is the last of our parents still surviving. He will  turn 98 in November. He is in assisted living and I visit on the same days every week. Consistency is important. Crystal comes with me about once a week. The girls visit whenever they can. Visiting him has apparently led to a new topic of conversation between our daughters. When our time comes, it has been decided that Lisa will get Crystal. That makes sense since they talk on the phone for hours every week anyway. Liz will be stuck with me. Michelle, obviously the wisest of the three, will just be available when the others complain.

I do find it interesting that in no scenario do Crystal and I stay together in our approaching old age. We’ll have to see about that. But, if the girls have their way, Liz gets me. Sorry Brad. Liz is smart, organized, very compassionate, and can out stubborn a herd of goats. Crystal insists that Liz reminds her of someone. When I ask who, she just smiles and rolls her eyes. I’m still not sure to whom she was referring. Except for the final trait, she might have meant me. I, however, have never been stubborn a day in my life; and I would fight anyone to the death who said I was.

Liz, however, was born that way. She was also born a daddy’s girl. I remember coming home from a hard day at work ready to crash in my favorite chair only to be greeted at our front door by an adorable two year old wearing her winter coat on backwards (easier to put on that way). She turned her head briefly to her mom and said her two favorite words “Daddy, Out”. Inevitably there was something I thought of that we needed at the store or something for dinner, or just a walk or a couple of pushes on a cold swing. She had me trained.

On rare occasions, her well tolerated manipulations backfired. She had to be around three years old and we had just finished some errands. It was time for a little treat. We stopped at one of my favorite restaurants, Pepe’s Tacos. Picture a classy version of Taco Bell with actually good Mexican food. I can’t remember what I ordered, but I always ordered a side of pickled Jalapenos. I just liked a little extra spice. Unfortunately, Liz loved pickles. She immediately reached for the peppers. I unceremoniously pulled them out of her reach. What followed was at least five minutes of discussion about what Liz insisted were the pickles I was hoarding. Somehow, I was unable to convince her that she wouldn’t like them. Tears were shed. Finally, after I wiped my eyes, I gave in. I cut off the tiniest piece of a pepper I could manage. She quickly popped it into her mouth and chewed. Her face changed in a matter of moments from the thrill of victory to the agony of defeat. The little green temptress wound up on the table cloth. And I fed her some chips to sooth her burnt palate.

It was one of those rare teachable moments you get as a parent. When you are a kid, you promise yourself you’ll never say certain things when you are the parent. But temptation was too great. I believe my next sentence began with the phrase ‘maybe next time when I tell you’.

By now I’m certain that with her five perfect children, Liz has more than once, repeated similar shallow words in an attempt to maintain some measure of control and authority. That is just what you do with kids, try to keep them safe, sometimes in spite of themselves.

And someday when Liz and I return to Pepe’s Tacos and I ask for a side of Jalapenos; Liz will take them away and try to explain that they are no good for my ulcer. Who do you think will win that argument?

Spoiler Alert: Next post will contain details of progress on the publication of our memoir. Yes, there has been progress.

The girls visited this weekend. Liz and I enjoyed a couple of Jalapenos. They had no idea why I poised them like this. Can you guess?

 

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Grandson Going to College: Part Two

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 Live by the Golden Rule

This is always good advice. In life, there are net givers and net takers. It usually isn’t too difficult to figure out which is which. Hint: the truly happy people give more than they take. Treating others as you want to be treated, generally, takes effort. It’s called going the extra mile. In class it means asking the questions probably half the class wants asked or helping another student. On a date, it means being more concerned about your date’s happiness than your own. It means taking time out to offer words of encouragement, directions, or even a cool drink to someone in need.

I remember one weekend when I was alone in our three person rental at school and the phone rang. It was one of my roommate’s sisters. I didn’t even know my roommate had a sister. She desperately asked for her brother. He was gone for the weekend. I asked if I could help. Apparently, a bat had gotten into her apartment and she was terrified. I got directions and told her I would be there as quickly as I could. I didn’t know her and had never previously confronted a flying rodent; but I knew I had to try. She was cowering in a corner when I got there covered with a blanket. The bat flew directly in front of me and into a window. I wasn’t sure who I was sorrier for the bat or the girl. I borrowed a sheet, caught the bat, and gave it its freedom out the window. It appeared unharmed. The girl was extremely grateful. While I never saw her or the bat again, I am confident, we all benefited from our encounter.

The lesson here is to do good whenever possible, and treat others as you want to be treated. In the end, you lose nothing; build good character, and, eventually, the good will return to you (even if only in a good story).

6.) Don’t do stupid stuff

Oh where do I begin? Where? Where? Where?……..OK, true story, I did some stupid stuff and have been witness to far more……A lot happens in four years where there is stress and young people are testing their newly acquired freedom. Young people, without restriction, think they are immortal and are bound to make poor decisions. I will give you a minor example from my own life.  I thought nothing of giving away my old expired driver’s license to an underclassman so he could get some beer. It wasn’t a month later that he and his whole floor were caught by police having a beer bash in the park. The next morning on the second page of the “Peoria Journal Star” was an article about the event. It named a bunch of my friends as Bradley students (they had shown their student IDs) and ended with ‘and Ron Meinstein and a sixteen year old girl.’ Fortunately, the dean stepped in and nobody got in serious trouble. My mother, however, carried that article proudly in her purse for many years and used it as a conversation starter. So I paid for that one.

In general, much of the trouble on campus was related to various, shall we call them, libations. So my advice, drink responsibly and legally or not at all. No one will pressure you. It’s college not high school. Definitely don’t drink and drive. And finally, just say No to drugs!

Other bad decisions involved driving, inappropriate behaviors, unnecessary chances, etc. I could write a book. Oh wait…I did.

With all that said, some bad decisions will be made. It’s part of learning. So mom and dad, don’t stop praying for them.

7.) How to attract the opposite sex

Don’t shake your heads mom and dad. If you ever want grandkids, and I don’t mean immediately after college, your kids need the right approach.

At this point, I know some young people reading this are saying, finally the good stuff. Please don’t get me wrong, I don’t proclaim any expertise on the subject, but I learned some things which might be encouraging.

When I started college, I was somewhat awkward and even a little shy. I had some bad experiences in high school and a poor self image. College was different. You are surrounded by young people who weren’t in some of the stupid high school clicks, more serious people, people with goals. Conversations were easy to start, what classes, what major, how’s that teacher, where are you staying, how is it, how are you doing, what are your plans for the future, etc.

My secret to attracting the opposite sex is…..drum roll please….be yourself. I know that was a little anticlimactic. The right people will be drawn to you for who you are, not who you are trying to be. In high school, I was silly, geeky and awkward. In college, I was witty, friendly and responsible. I never felt as if I had changed. I was just myself with a fresh start in a better environment. Also, don’t forget the golden rule. You will get a reputation in college; make it a good one.

Once you have enough nerve to ask, dating is easy. There are always safe activities to do on campus. There are lectures, plays, movies, sports, groups to join, concerts, etc. Often they don’t cost a lot. To maximize your college experience and meet people, get involved, and plan (see above) your activities. Invite someone you met in the library. That’s right, the library. You will do fine with the opposite sex. And, along the way, you will meet some amazing people who share your interests.

There are also groups to join. Crystal and I joined APO, a service fraternity originated from the Boy Scouts. Young men and women working together on community work projects, not to mention playing sports and week-end parties. The number of groups to choose from seems almost limitless. Be careful though not to choose one which requires too great a time commitment. In APO all activities were voluntary.

One final point on dating is always being respectful and caring. Remember the Golden Rule (worth repeating).

8.) Always remember the end game

End game is a funny term. During my tumultuous college years, I met one young man I will never forget. His name was David. I honestly can’t remember how we met. However, I could tell David was struggling. He was seeking God’s will for his life. At the time, I thought he was a little odd and I didn’t understand what that meant. He was obviously lonely. Without taking time to further assess his situation, I told him he should come to our fraternity party. There would be lots of great guys, girls and beer. That’s where I was at the time. I don’t know whether he attended. It was a few weeks later that I found out that David had killed himself. The stress was too much for him. To this day, I regret not doing more. David’s life shouldn’t have been for nothing. Maybe if you are reading this you will know to do more. Suicides are not uncommon in college. If you meet a person you feel is at risk, tell someone of authority like a teacher or counselor. If you have such thoughts, tell someone. Suicide is never the answer to what is inevitably a short term problem. I apologies for this detour, but if it helps anyone, it was worth it.

What is the normal end game of college? It’s graduation, right? Yes and no. Graduation is the short term goal. At some point, maybe on graduation day, or shortly after, a scary thought will hit you. I have achieved my goal, now what? Answer: you keep living. Living life the best way you can is the long term goal.

My very smart grandson told me that graduating high school was like a consolation prize. While I appreciate his focus on the future, that view is just wrong. In this country roughly 25% of High School freshmen fail to graduate in four years. I have substitute taught in Jr. High and High School and I see the difference. The peak of immaturity occurs somewhere between 8th and 9th grades. It is highlighted by wet Willies and fart jokes. By senior year, there is a definite difference in focus and manners. High school is not only a time for learning, it’s a critical time for growth and development. So graduating High School represents a great deal more than just getting grades.

Of those graduating High School, less than 70%, will go on to college. The other 30 plus % will go directly into the workplace. Most of the college bound will start in a community college. Less than 60% of college freshmen will graduate within six years.

So let us never take any step as a consolation prize or given. High School graduation represents a significant step forward in life. It also is a key for the next step. In the case of my grandson, that means college. Graduation from college represents another significant step and another key. Subsequent steps include getting a job, or attending Graduate School, getting married, renting an apartment, buying a house, having children, and, in general, just living.

The point is its fine to look toward goals, but realize that there are no shortcuts. Live each day to the fullest (carpe diem, seize the day). Don’t dwell on setbacks, learn from them. Give yourself credit for your accomplishments in life, and never stop planning or trying. In the end, and in all your pursuits, always do the best you can, help others when possible and enjoy the ride. That’s how to attack college and the rest of your life!

And finally a word from our sponsor: Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. Proverbs 3:5-6, NLT

 

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Grandson Going to College: Part One

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A good part of our memoir is dedicated to Crystal and my experiences as baby boomers growing up. We met in college, and the rest so to speak, is history. I have to say, I learned a lot in those few short college years; some of it even in the class rooms.

This fall, our oldest grandson is beginning his college journey. I know he is one of many heading away from home for the first time. It’s an exciting time and a little scary. I have talked to him from time to time and I know his parents have given him good advice. However, writing this blog has given me a chance to organize my thoughts about a number of things, and different times in our lives. Time and experience gives you a little perspective. When I look back now, I realize what would I have wanted to know, what advice would I have wanted to receive before mom and dad abandoned me in that strange foreign land. I have a few thoughts/rules I wish to share.

Just as a warning, this blog got a little wordy, even for me. Therefore, we will break it into two parts. Expect part two in August (just in time for school). I think you will find it worthwhile; especially if you are planning on attending college or have older children.

  • You will meet all types of people. Make them part of your learning experience.

Coming from a basically all white community I found college a fascinating and great change. College is a unique crucible of people roughly the same age with different backgrounds, beliefs, ethnicities and experiences, but one goal; to graduate. I have found that you only need one thing in common with a person to start a conversation, and in some cases, build a relationship. I was lucky to find a core group of friends in college. While we no longer stay in touch regularly, I still know they will always be my friends. Others fell into categories of acquaintances or just fellow students. Still, it was interesting talking to, and getting to know so many different people from so many different backgrounds. My junior year and part of my senior year I stayed in a boarding house just off campus. It was owned by a Scandinavian American who won a gold medal for walking in the 1932 Olympics. During that year others who lived in our house included: two students from Viet Nam, one from Hawaii, two Arabs named Mohamed and Ali (not kidding), an Afro American (we played B-ball together), a Polish Agricultural Scientist (we worked together at the Government lab), and a very country shoe salesman. My college experiences helped me better understand a much larger world. It helped me appreciate my family more. It made me a little better at seeing life from more than my own point of view. That type of empathy can only bode well for your future.

Some of my housemates from Mr. Magnesson’s Boarding house.

  • Keep your eye on the prize. Study always comes first.

This is one admittedly; I wasn’t too good at when I got to Bradley U. I always wanted to study hard and be a model student, but unfortunately often temptation prevailed. “Hey Ron you want to toss a Frisbee? Hey Ron you want to play some ball? Hey Ron let’s play bridge all night. Hey Ron, fill in the blank.” I was too easily distracted. I got better by around my junior year when I found some more secluded study hideouts. When I met Crystal, my senior year, and discovered the study date, I finally peaked. We were immediately good for each other. We both got advice from our fathers. Mine told me to study harder while hers told her to have some fun. We balanced each other. While improving your grades every year, as I did, is a worthy goal, starting out with the right mindset is much more effective and far less stressful. When you learn to get the work done first, there will still be time for fun; and the fun will be more fun.

  • Become a planner.

One of the most vital lessons I developed during four years of college was planning. This goes hand in hand with the previous point. Yes, it should be obvious that you need to plan your studies. By the way, it won’t take you long to figure out that your instructors take it for granted that their class is the most important/only class you are taking.  At some point, you will be overwhelmed. The only way to fight that is through organization and follow-through.

Everyone is different. It may take you a while to know what you need to do to learn and what each professor requires. Each week set up a study schedule and stick to it. You may need to tweak your schedule from time to time, but it will get easier. Next, and this is critical, plan your distractions. All work in college doesn’t just make Jack dull. Half way through your first semester, a man will show up with a straight jacket and take you to the loony bin. You need reasonable breaks. You need a life.

In the end, if you stick it out and graduate, those planning skills you have developed will prove to be among your most important assets in life. You will be a more valuable employee: more independent and effective in your personal life, a better life partner, and in general better capable of handling the complexities of adult life.

Tip from Crystal:

In the 70’s we used a physical calendar.  Your professors will give you or email you a syllabus which is a plan for the whole class including assignments, tests, etc.  Write on the calendar when everything is due.  Also, it was helpful to write a week or several weeks ahead when a paper or major assignment was due. It won’t take you long to figure out how long it takes you to finish an assignment and then you can make a daily study schedule so you will get everything done on time.  Also, get enough sleep.  It has been proven that while we are sleeping, our brain is organizing what we are learning.  This is time management.  Once mastered, college and even life in general will seem easier.

  • Learn how to fail

This is a big one, and probably the single greatest source of anxiety for not just college students, but people of all ages. Sadly, failure is part of life and will be part of your college experience. Failure means different things to different people: whether you actually fail a class or a test, maybe you got a C when you thought you had a B, or you didn’t get the internship you needed.  You got into a fender bender, or that girl you asked out turned you down. Life is full of failures. It’s what you do next that will make the difference.

One quick example should make the point. One of my best friends and I were walking across campus one cold starry fall evening. We had been studying all day and had just taken the big evil Organic Chemistry test. As a hint to how we did, we were talking about dropping out of college and joining the Marines. The next day we both wound up dropping the class. He changed his major from pre-med. to Economics. I retook the class over the summer and aced it. I went on to get a degree in Chemistry and he became an Economics Professor. So when you experience a failure, remember it’s only one of life’s many battles, not the war. You don’t truly fail until you stop trying. Also, remember your plans aren’t always God’s plans. A temporary failure might just set you up for a change of direction that leads to even greater future success.

Winston Churchill was a smart man; he agreed with me:

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

He also said: “Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”

From Thomas Edison:

“I failed my way to success.”

 “I have not failed I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

 

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