Category Archives: Wisdom and Encouragement

Tough Life Lessons

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            We recently had Liz (our first daughter) and Brad’s (hubby) family over for an informal dinner. We always enjoy spending time with them and our grandchildren. Of their five children, we are proud to say, their two eldest are currently in college.

            When our three daughters were young, we programed them to go. Did you know you can program your children (to some extent)? When Lisa won a state wide art contest in first grade, she won $100, among other prizes. A reporter asked what she would do with the money. She immediately answered, ‘probably save it for college’. Liz was in high school when she came home one day, somewhat disillusioned, to tell us some of her friends weren’t going to college. Somehow, she had the impression that everyone had to go. I wonder where she got that idea.

            Getting back to our dinner and grandchildren, I often ask about school progress. Our grandson is a senior and doing well in college. He is looking forward to, and questioning the next step, and the great unknowns of life. Our granddaughter is a freshman, and finding out what many find out. College is hard. It’s not high school 2.0. I know, in time, she will adjust. She is motivated, just as I was.

            Her experience brought me back to my school days. For me, as for many of my peers, I was ill-equipped for the riggers of the scholastic requirements. Surely, they had to be kidding, a minimum of two hours study per hour of class. That would make it…like a full-time job…and then some! Plus, nobody had prepared me for all of the distractions. There were sports, parties, and worst (or best) of all, girls. In addition, you took care of yourself. Mom had given me the basics on doing laundry, but I had barely paid attention. My freshman year was also, my pink underwear year. I thought I had figured out a better way. In short, it took me a while to adapt to college life.

I may have told this one before, but it’s a good one, especially for my grandkids. The first semester of my sophomore year, one of my best friends, Larry Rose and I had Organic Chemistry together. Chemistry was my major, and Larry was, like his father, going to be a doctor (no pressure there). After pulling the college classic “all-nighter”, Larry and I entered the test the next evening somewhat confident. We exited united a couple of hours later, with the same question. What was that??? Apparently, our efforts to circumvent the recommended daily school grind had fallen short. It was as if we had thoroughly learned the alphabet, and then been asked to form words. The problem was, our words came out like kat and daug.

To make a long story short, after that brief walk across campus, and the meaningful discussion about joining the Marines, we both survived. The next day, we both dropped the class. I retook it during the summer. I aced it. It’s amazing how much easier it can be when you are truly focused. It also helps when you aren’t concurrently taking advanced Physics and Calculus. I kept my major; and several years later was one of fourteen Chemistry majors to graduate. OK, chemistry was still tough.

I know, everyone looks excited. This was after dinner and playing in the park. It’s always good to have family visit.

Holocaust

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            Through the years we have broached many marriage and family topics, and even some of historical significance. However, with the apparent rise in anti-Semitism and hate crimes, I feel compelled to give some perspective on one of the greatest travesties of the last century, the Holocaust.

As a child I grew up fairly isolated from relatives. I knew my dad’s brother, Max Meinstein, and my father’s Uncle Max and aunt Audrey. I just called them Tante and Uncle. They helped raise dad when he came to the US, before the War, and before his parents arrived.  

I was probably around eleven when we visited the home of dad’s his youth, Zirndorf, Germany. One of my few vivid memories was the local graveyard. There was a section dedicated to the Meinsteins and our relatives. Row after row of relatively small, unadorned headstones, dating back to the 1700s. Many of the older ones were illegible; washed clean by the years of wind and rain.

            Suddenly I had a real sense of history, of belonging, and roots. Years later it occurred to me that, during those early trips to Germany, my parents and I visited with my mother’s relatives and friends, but never my fathers. I thought it curious, but never enough to ask a question.

            I know in his job as a CIC operative, during and after the war, dad had many encounters with death camp survivors, NAZI criminals, and other first-hand witnesses of the horrors of the Holocaust. He mentioned only a few, which I included in our book. While he never shared details of other events, except that he was present at several camps after the war, I always sensed that, the experience had changed him.

            His view of Germany, the world, and even God were changed. As a child he witnessed his nation shift from common purpose nationalism, to political unrest and extremism (sound familiar?). The quiet neighborhoods, with neighbors helping neighbors, were slowly becoming more tense. Political debates were replacing peaceful coexistence. Tensions between political ideologies grew. Fights broke out. Different groups were named as scapegoats for the nation’s troubles.

            As fascism took hold, and Jews became the focus of Hitler and his followers, there became only two options. Jews could either leave the country, or lay low, hope and pray. Dad and his family did the former. Many of his relatives living in and around Zirndorf did as well. A number moved to different parts of America, from New York, to Michigan, to Florida, and Texas. Others moved to different countries. Israel and Africa are two of which I know.

            The latter group, who chose to stay, didn’t fare well at all. Our book documents eight of dad’s relatives, who were part of the six million Jews, killed as part of Hitler’s ethnic cleansing process. May we never forget and always remember those lost. ‘Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.’

            So, what can we learn from this sad time? I have been fortunate enough in my life to meet at least some of my Jewish relatives. In my life, I have also been fortunate to see many parts of this great country, and to Europe several times. I have been with people of different races, religions and ethnicities. What I have found is that, every group has it’s good and bad, but we are all trying to get by the best we can. We love, and want what’s best for our children. Our beliefs are rarely original, but subject to our environments. In summary, people are just people.

            Until most of us acknowledge that, and start focusing on what we have in common, more than our differences, we are at risk. Until we realize that God loves all of us, we will continue to disappoint Him, and fail to fulfill His purpose for our lives. When He says to ‘love our neighbor as ourselves’ (Mark 12:31), He is talking about looking out for the wellbeing of all people (think Good Samaritan, Luke 10:29). Can you imagine a world where everyone believed that?

Dad’s soccer team in Zirndorf, Germany circa 1930 (the coach has his left hand on dad).

Bloom Where You are Planted

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            I don’t have to tell you; these are unprecedented times. With travel restrictions, masks, theaters closed, work and some schools at home, etc., etc., etc….If you watch the news, you’ll go crazy. That is, if you aren’t crazy yet. Psychologists and physiatrists are overbooked. Psych. drugs are in short supply. Liquor sales are at near all-time highs. In some states, let’s just say, marijuana companies are doing well.

            So, what’s an old married couple to do. So far this year, Crystal and I have cancelled two highly anticipated vacations and a multi-night outing. Still I consider us extremely fortunate. For one thing, and this can never be taken for granted, we like being together. Also, over the years we have become very adaptable. While I don’t want to waste time with examples, let’s just say, we’ve been through the whole richer/poorer, sickness/health things multiple times. I love the old saying; ‘the only constant in life is change.’ The good news is that, just when you think everything is getting worse, things can also change for the better. And they will.

            Getting through the tough times just makes you stronger for the future, and helps you appreciated the good times even more. In addition, you may have new opportunities. People are working on their houses like never before. At one point, I thought the constant rumbling of the lawn mowers would never stop. Crystal has brought her “porch garden” (new name – I made her change from Pot Garden) to new heights. I’ve been working on decluttering, hiking and improving my miserable golf game.

            Whether it is a blessing or not, families are spending more time together. Lisa lived with us for a while, and we have made multiple trips to Kane-tuck-kay (I think that is how they spell it down there) to be with family. We have also spent time with Liz and Brad and our grandchildren.  

            Family and day to day aside, Crystal and I have gone on a number of mini-adventures. Since we don’t feel comfortable staying overnight right now, we have taken a number of day trips. It’s amazing how many interesting places you can find and see when you take time. Last week we went to German Village in Columbus, Oh. Crystal went to her favorite 32 room book store, The Book Loft, mainly to buy great books as presents for our grandchildren, while I walked in nearby Schiller Park. Then we ate wonderful filet mignon, steak rolls, salad and delicious macaroni and cheese at one of our favorite restaurants, Redlands.

            This is a restaurant that was a favorite of my Dad’s.  The manager and one of the waitresses recognized us.  The waitress didn’t know we had lost my Dad last year in May and got teary when we told her.  She related how Dad was such a big eater in his 90’s and so alert.  She remembered that we always ordered coffee and usually dessert and took our time and enjoyed dining there.  We haven’t been visiting Columbus very often not only because of the virus, but also because we are still grieving the lost of my Dad.  We are thankful that he was well enough to go to so many places in the Columbus area like the parks, the library, over by the Scioto River and many restaurants.  He enjoyed Columbus and compared it to Chicago, his favorite city, where he lived most of his life.

            I believe, with a little imagination, you can always find worthwhile activities.  No matter what is going on, it’s always better to plan and do something fun.  Crystal has a list of quilt shops, book stores, gardens, and eating places where she wants to go in Ohio. We both look forward to these outings. Just knowing your immediate life will be more than staring at four walls will lift your spirits. Having someone you like being with, also helps.

Schiller Park in German Village
Another image from Schiller Park

What Ya Gonna do When Corona Got You

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            Like many churches, ours (Burt Avenue Wesleyan Church) has Sunday services on line. They are also starting a Tuesday Bile study (details on their Facebook page). With this current virus situation, we need all of the encouragement we can get. That is why I thought, this post might come in handy.

            I don’t know about you, but I am not one to be stuck inside day after day. Honestly, I think there was one day when I didn’t get outside. Others, my wife, Crystal, and daughter, Lisa in particular could probably live in the house for weeks at a time, with no ill effects.

            I am just not that kind of homebody. On good weather days I golf, walk, shop, garden, or visit a neighbor (at a safe distance). Others are out as well. I see very few who seem downtrodden or sad. In fact, many people I come across seem positive, even happy. Most seem to know that, like many things in life, this is just something we will have to get through and do the best we can.

            Never underestimate the human spirit or ingenuity. That is the point of this blog. As you pull out your few remaining hairs, or cry about what to do with your kids at home, I have a few suggestions. First, with your kids, be creative. Plan non-school activities every day. Walk, drive for ice cream, play catch, or even have them help in the kitchen. Use this opportunity to teach them some life skills. I saw a picture of my three-year-old granddaughter walking their dog (supervised of course). When we homeschooled, some years ago, I bought a science project kit with over one hundred experiments. It was a big help, and a lot less boring that regular school work. For physical education I made an obstacle course, with things around the house, and some playground equipment.

            Finally, take this opportunity for me time, and personal growth. Remember what they tell you on the plane. Put the mask over your own mouth first. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to help anyone else. So, get enough rest, stay active, plan and achieve goals, and in general realize and take care of your needs.

            I have taken this time to finish editing our book and write a few extra posts for this site. I also am taking some on line courses, which I thought I would pass on. One of my weaknesses has always been learning language. I am currently working a little every day to learn German. I still have a few relatives over there, and if anything I’m learning sticks, and we ever have an opportunity to visit, it could only help. The free course I am taking is through Duolingo. You can learn any language for free. You can spend as little or as much time as you wish, doing simple exercises, on a daily basis.

            I am also taking some inexpensive courses to become better at photography and social media book promotion through a company called Udemy. When on sale (wait for their sales), you can take a course on numerous subjects for less than fifteen dollars. Of course, you can also learn a lot on YouTube for free. There are home projects, friends to connect with, cooking projects, exercise programs, job skills, virtual book clubs, organize your photos (coin, stamp, card, etc. collection), pod casts, etc. The list goes on and on. Also, believe it or not, there are still people less fortunate than you. Is there someone you can help? Can you be a blessing to someone?

            The point is, and this is a life lesson, every problem is also an opportunity. This type may never come again. What you focus on only gets bigger. So, focus on the opportunities, and let God take care of the rest.

For many years this goose graced Crystal’s parent’s home. Now it’s in our back yard. As life goes on, so should we.

Fear Not!

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            You can’t spell pandemic without panic. And that’s just what we can’t do. Admittedly, life has changed in 2020. It has been slowed, almost to halt for many, by a particle so small even a bacterium would have to ask ‘What was that?’. The spiky little virus named Corona (or crown from the Latin) is all anyone is talking about. I figured I would too. We were about to post a nice article about the recent activities of our cat Ella; but this may be slightly more relevant. I know that everyone is upset. These are tough times. THE TOILET PAPER IS MISSING! A large number of Americans have been ordered to stay home. We are now relegated to elbow bumping our loved ones instead of the hugs we are all used to. Schools, businesses, and even churches are closed. People are without jobs. Worst of all…. many of us are stuck at home with the kids all day. Oh, the horror! But let’s all take a step back and chill.

            What are you really afraid of? Are you afraid of dying? I’m sorry you’ll have to pick another fear. In the US, as of today there have been less than 30,000 diagnosed cases .009% of the population (by my calculation). Of that, 2 to 3%, according to current estimates (assuming no further advances) will die. Many of those are older or immune compromised. I just had a wellness check with my doctor. He told me that I have a 13% chance of having a heart attack in the next ten years. I’ve never felt better. I guess I’m an optimist. So that means there’s an 87% chance I’ll be fine. When I used to play basketball, I was about a 67% free throw shooter. I would have killed to shoot 87%.

FYI – The number one factor the Dr. used to determine that number, is age….I didn’t need a doctor to tell me I’m getting old…I’ve got my knees and my back for that!

            Are you afraid that this disease will kill an extreme number of people including friends and relatives? Please understand, I value human life very highly. And I’m not saying we are overreacting to this highly virulent stain of flu. However, some steps we are taking, such as social distancing, we probably should have all along. Maybe Howie Mandel has had it right. Just so you know, during the 2018-2019 flu season an estimated 61,200 Americans died of flu related diseases. So far, in this country, this strain has caused around 400. That number will grow. We are, however, taking unprecedented precautions. This will have a positive effect.

            Are you afraid that this is the beginning of the Apocalypse or other end times scenario? Of course, I can’t speak for God, but my guess is, he could do better. From a Biblical point of view, picking us off a couple hundred at a time just isn’t His style. When the dead start coming back to life in search of brains, I may rethink this one.

            Are you afraid we will run out of the essentials of life? Yes, toilet paper is included. Outside of medical supplies, for the most part, the supply chains are intact. Once the hoarders are done, things will slowly return to normal. Aldi was a lot calmer yesterday than a week ago. 

For me, the economic and social hardships are by far the greatest threat, and cause for concern. But we shouldn’t just assume things will continue to get worse. Just like sars (the last big corona virus), Ebola, The Great Flu Epidemic of 1918, or even the Black Plague these things have their season. “This too shall pass.” If fear isn’t dominating your life right now, you have to know that we will survive this. Franklin D. Roosevelt had it right “We have nothing to fear but fear itself”.

The truth is some good will come out of this. Focus on the good. Pull yourself away or at least limit watching the news. It will probably just depress you. Focus instead on what you can do. If you are going to the store, is there someone in the neighborhood who can’t get out or might need essentials? Maybe they just need to know they are not alone. You could help. Of course, be respectful of personal space and cleanliness. But try to be part of the solution. On a macro scale, realize that, as a country we were woefully unprepared. But because of our current fight, maybe we will adjust our preparations and be better prepared in the future.

Also, take advantage of this time. Aren’t there some chores around the house that you have been putting off forever. Read that book you’ve wanted to finish. Write something. If it ever stops raining it is gardening time. The plants don’t know about corona. I was walking today, and enjoying the budding trees and new spring flowers. Social distancing aside, stay in contact with friends and loved ones. If you are stuck at home with the kids, play some games. Maybe you can end the argument about who is the best at Monopoly once and for all (fat chance). Yesterday, as I walked around Warsaw, and talked to a few people (at a safe distance), they seemed to be doing alright, and were enjoying the outdoors. Even if you are living in a restricted area, like New York or California, there is always the phone or skype. The bottom line is focus on what you can do, and not what you can’t. As for that other thing, do not waste time on fear. Did you know that the Bible say ‘Fear not’ 365 times? That’s one for every day of the year. I think God’s onto something there!

God willing, our next post will be an update about Ella (our cat). She’s not worried. In fact, I think she’s just happy I’m home more these days. Keep your spirits up. Things will get better. I guarantee it.

From Crystal’s Corner

            I agree with Ron that we can’t have the spirit of fear.  We need to have the spirit of faith.  As Ron and I watched the minister and praise team of our church, on the Facebook page today, I felt connected to all the people who were watching this service.  More people were watching than attend our regular services.  We, as Christians, are a church family, and we are together in spirit even if we can’t be together in person.

            When the President and the doctors said on TV that we shouldn’t have more than 10 people together at one time in one place, I thought about the early Christians.  At the time when Christians were being persecuted, they would secretly meet at houses in small groups.  Also, they would put symbols like the drawing of a fish in places, to tell other Christians that they weren’t alone. 

            We are in contact with family and friends, through the Internet, phone calls and sending out cards, letters and through this blog.  If you know someone who is anxious and upset about this challenge, feel free to send them this blog.

            When things were difficult during my childhood, my mom would tell us two things: “This too shall pass. And keep looking up.” I am working on a baby quilt for our newest granddaughter and doing some writing and reading magazines and books.  I am not a statistical person who knows all the numbers, like Ron and other scientists.  I watch the birds at our bird feeder, talk and play with Ella our cat, and thank God every day for His Blessings, which are many. I believe that God will answer our prayers to end this virus.

From my walk yesterday. Assurance that there is still life and beauty in the world.

His Eye is on the Sparrow

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            A lot went through my mind as I watched Ella’s intense gaze. Periodically, she would open her mouth and make a soft guttural sound. It reminded me of when my car didn’t want to start on a cold day last winter. Her sound was usually accompanied by a quick head bob. Her unblinking stare was on Crystal’s Christmas present, the bird feeder on the front porch. More specifically, she was watching as a small flock of sparrows darting to and fro, apparently taking turns at the seed. Our cat’s vigilance reminded me of something I’d just watched on the nature channel. She was just missing some tall grass, a gazelle, and maybe a few pounds.

            As I peered over her tabby gray shoulder, she looked up quickly to acknowledge me, then went back to her vigil. My thoughts went to the old gospel song, “His Eye is on the Sparrow”. It’s a tribute to the way God watches over us. Sometimes His presence is difficult to discern.

            We watch as our adult children go through many of the same struggles we did when we were younger. We help when we can, encourage whenever possible, and pray for them unceasingly. One truly positive factor is that they are all well trained. They generally know what to do to survive. I guess we did some things right to get them to this point. Still, it’s kind of like we are watching them through a pane of glass.

            Crystal isn’t the healthiest person in the world dealing with chronic fatigue syndrome and sinus problems, and frequently  is stuck at home. I bought the feeder, at her request, so she could watch the various species of birds, cardinals, blue jays, wood peckers, wrens, etc. from the comfort of her couch as she lies down, reads, writes, or sews. Maybe this was just God’s way of tricking me into feeding his birds.

The Bible says that God cares about every sparrow, but much more about each one of us (Psalm 32:8, Mathew 6:26, 10:29-31). It never says He will always keep you safe or from having difficulties. However, if you honor Him with your choices, maybe He’ll trick your spouse into loving you, your kids into respecting you, and you into finding some of His peace (Philippians 4:7) in a world which seems so greatly lacking.

Ella Watching Birds
Sparrows Being Watched

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

 

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.”

 

God at Work

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In an earlier post, I bemoaned missing an opportunity to help an elderly lady when I had a chance. Well, God must have read it. He gave me another chance. This past Sunday, our student pastor, Michael Cormack, gave an inspired sermon about how God is at work even when circumstances don’t indicate His presence. I remembered his words later that day.

I was on my way home from visiting dad in Columbus. It is a 75 mile trip, and I almost always take the same route. This Sunday was an exception. It was a beautiful evening and I decided to take the scenic route. It’s not as fast, but passes through some picturesque hilly forests and farmland. It was about 8 PM and I was about four miles from home. I was passing the turnoff to Mohawk Dam. The sun was just setting, and inspiration hit. I felt that I had to drive the few extra miles to the dam for a photo op. When I arrived, the sun was in a perfect position, the sky was blue with a hint of orange, and, as always, the dam was a great foreground. I called Crystal to tell her of my whereabouts and plan. I got out of the car and began shooting. It felt good to get out of the car. It was wonderfully quiet and peaceful.

I had taken only a few pictures, when I saw a pretty young women walking directly toward me. She was, I would guess, mid thirties with long dark hair. Her face was red. She had obviously been crying. As I glanced down the hill, I noticed several other people making their way up. When she came up to me, I greeted her. She tried to hold back tears and asked what county we were in. I told her Coshocton. I immediately thought, oh, just a lost traveler needing directions. Well, I was right, and I was wrong. She, her husband, and their three kids were where they were supposed to be. Her husband, like me a former Eagle Scout, had taken his family on a twenty-five mile canoe trip down the Mohican and Walhonding Rivers. It wasn’t until they arrived at their destination that they realized that their car keys were back at the beginning in their second car.

The mom told me that she was responsible for forgetting the keys and felt horrible. She asked whether there was any Uber or taxi service in the area. At 8 O’clock on a Sunday, in Coshocton County, the sidewalks are rolled up and the roosters tucked in for the night. I told her not to worry; I could take them. She looked stunned. She offered to pay. I said ‘don’t be silly, that’s not necessary.’ ‘I told her I needed to call Crystal.’ When I did, Crystal just said, ‘of course, I needed to help, be careful.’ She would still be there when I got home.

So the husband, one daughter and I took the 25 mile trip through Coshocton and Holmes County’s back hills country. We followed his GPS instructions, not knowing where the destination was. We avoided the deer, the Amish, and a few tractors on the way. We had a nice talk in the car. They too were Christian. They were vacationing from the Cleveland area. Apparently, the father was trying to share some of his scouting skills with his family. His father had done the same when he was growing up, and it made a lasting impression. I related, since I had always done the same with Crystal and our girls. By the time we arrived, it was almost dark. They thanked me again and I was on my way home again. Since I finally knew where I was, I took a slightly simpler route home.

The chance of me being at that exact location at that time was incredibly small. Five minutes later, I would have been gone. When I regaled Crystal with the tale, she had the same reaction I did. It was God.

 

.Crystal’s Corner

When Ron and I were students at Bradley University we would go to one of the tallest buildings on campus and watch the sunset holding hands.  It was something that couples did because the Bradley campus was on a hill and known for beautiful sunsets.  Ever since then we have occasionally watched the sun set together and held hands and talked.

What happened on Sunday night with Ron was spiritual as well as earthly.  He was stopping to look at the sunset, the light, and ended up helping people who were lost as well.  He was on a hill as well.  To go up to a stranger today is risky, but I think the young mother was led to Ron by God.  I’m sure they had been praying for help and this was God’s response.

As Christians we need to be aware of what God wants us to do and where he wants us to be.  Sometimes we just get this push to go somewhere, to talk to someone, or to get involved. That is what Ron felt on Sunday night.  He responded and God’s will was done.

Ron and I often look at the sky and we are in awe of its beauty.  I tell the girls that “God paints us a new sky every day.”

I think that it is interesting that Ron was interrupted while taking a photograph of God’s sky to help some of His children.  Most people don’t like to be interrupted, but sometimes God stops us because we are needed elsewhere.

Keep looking up and believe that the Creator who made the earth and the sky also sees and hears us and knows our troubles.

Psalm 121:1 I will lift my eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my help   King James Version

Pictures taken just prior to God’s interruption.

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.