Category Archives: Just for Fun Stories

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.

Remembering Field Trips

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            One of my favorite parts of school was field trips. I cared much less about where we went than that we went. I hated being cooped up indoors, in the same place, day after day. The teacher would drone on and on about dead people (History), or places you knew you would never see (Geography), or math you knew you would never use (I actually used quite a bit). And all of this, while you sat quietly (the hardest part) in the same uncomfortable, little wooden chair, and pretended to pay attention. In case you haven’t guessed, I wasn’t a very good student, at least in my early years.

            Then finally, the day circled on your calendar came, the field trip. The prison doors swung open, and, bag lunch in hand, you along with your fellow inmates, happily piled onto chauffeured limonene (school bus), on a quest for adventure.

            One of my most memorable was, I believe, in sixth grade. This was our last year at Gasteyer School, before we all moved on to the Jr. High. They actually, for the first time, gave us a choice. The trip was to downtown Chicago (about fifteen miles). The first part was set. Across the street from the Art Institute was the Borg Warner Building. At that time, they had a science exhibition in the lobby. Science was one of the few subjects I found interesting. The second part was a downtown movie. This is where the choice came in. We voted for either “Gone With The Wind” or “Dr. Dolittle”. From what I remember, it wasn’t even close. Which do you think an eleven-year-old would rather see, another history lesson about old dead people, or a guy who can talk to animals? No-brainer!

            The movie was just all right: too much singing. The exhibition however, was very interesting. I can’t remember a lot of details. I think there were a lot of sparky electrical things and a few motors. I believe one was a see-through engine. But the exhibit I found fascinating was smell-o-vision (not sure that’s what it was called). It was an actual large screen TV (probably all of 27 inches) with a repeating program. The difference was, you could actually smell what you were seeing. I thought, surely this was what we would all have in the future. I was even more certain when the camera panned over a field of flowers, and later a rain storm in a forest. It felt like I was there. Then they switched to the wet dog on the beach. Let’s just say, some ideas are better in theory. I was just glad the dog was only running on the beach, and not stopping to do anything, or discovering a fire hydrant.

            Sometimes it’s fun to remember those fun days from school, or other youth adventures. Take a minute or two and try to remember some from your childhood. If you want, write them down. Who knows, maybe that could be the way you begin your own memoir.

Crystal’s Corner

            My first school was in Roseland in Chicago.  It was a red brick tall Victorian building surrounded by an iron fence.  We very rarely went on field trips.  I do remember going to Brookfield Zoo, probably in the spring.  My brother, who was two years older than me was also on the field trip with his class.  The teachers took us all over the zoo in groups.  It was very organized and we were told to stay with the group many times.  Of course, I stayed with my group.  I didn’t want to get in trouble or lost.  Brookfield Zoo is a huge place and as a child it was fascinating but also intimidating.  I was glad we were with the teachers, in groups.

            However, that wasn’t true of my brother, Larry and his friend, Georgie.  Georgie was very adventurous, and not one to care too much about rules.  My brother was more obedient, but when he was with Georgie, anything could happen.  In the afternoon, we piled into the buses.  I thought that Larry was with his group.  I think they were on a different bus.  Then I heard a teacher saying, “Has anyone seen Larry Carlson or Georgie Bailey?”  No one answers. 

            This made me very afraid, that the buses will leave without my brother and Georgie.  This was a very strict and crowded school.  Every class was filled to the maximum.  They ran out of books sometimes.  So, I believed they could just leave my brother and Georgie at the Zoo and not really care.  I wasn’t too happy with Georgie at this point, but his sister, Debra, was my best friend so I didn’t want him to be left at the zoo either.

            Finally, one of the boys said that they were in the reptile house, and didn’t leave with the rest of the group.  So, one of the teachers had to go to the reptile house to find them, and bring them back to the bus.             I am sure they were teased about that for days and days.  I don’t think I told my mom or dad about it.  My brother and I had a code; and we didn’t always tell about stuff that happened at school.  But I told him, when I had a chance, to never do that again.  He said he knew the school wouldn’t leave them at the zoo.  They liked the snakes and other reptiles, and didn’t want to be dragged to other places in the zoo.

            After we moved to Dolton, I am sure we did go on field trips.  They took us to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.  In 8th grade we had a choice to see the play “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” or see a White Sox game.  I wanted to see the play, but there were more boys than girls voting, and we ended up at the White Sox game.  It was a really hot sunny day and we were in the sun.  We were not very close to the infield, but we could see what happened at the game.  We brought our sack lunches.  I thought the whole thing was boring.  I didn’t go to another White Sox game until I went with Ron and his friends from work.

It was much more fun with Ron and his friends. I also had a few sips of really cold beer and Ron bought me a Chicago style hot dog with all the toppings and a big pretzel.  He was surprised that I got excited at the game when the White Sox were hitting the ball.  Carlton Fiske was my favorite player.  He was the catcher, but also a great hitter.  I wasn’t a sports fan before we got married, but I decided to take an interest so we could watch games together.  I found a player I liked on all the Chicago teams: Michael Jordan on the Bulls, Walter Payton on the Bears, etc.  Then I would get excited when my guys did anything great.  I picked some really good players. 

OK, this has nothing to do with field trips, only a trip to Oregon with my parents when I was about the same age. That was the first gun I ever shot, and the first goat I ever milked….I think she liked me.

Another Father’s Day

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            Father’s Day came and went again. That’s some 30 plus for me. I know the exact figure but; I have learned not to reveal women’s ages. I have learned a few more things about women and raising good ones over the years.

            My first lesson occurred while carrying my first, Elizabeth out of the hospital. I carried her proudly in one arm, like a football. I looked down, and she looked up. She seemed to convey a confidence that, I knew exactly what I was doing. I hadn’t a clue. Crystal had read the books, taken the classes, and baby sat. Besides that, it was a girl. I barely understood Crystal. This was a much smaller, and totally dependent version.

            I was, however, motivated to learn. I changed my share of diapers. Got up occasionally for night duties. Fortunately, Crystal knew all of the rules. Did you know you have to wipe in a certain direction; and you can’t give them even a little bite of your hamburger?

            Then, just as you think you are getting the hang of it, they change. You are ecstatic as they start to crawl, and they walk. That is, until they start to move closer to an electric cord, or the stove, etc. Then come the gates, locks and outlet protectors.

            They start to talk. Again, you are so proud; until they start to say NO! repeatedly, or become overly demanding or defiant. But then at the same time, they can be so sweet, scream Daddy, Daddy, when you magically appear after a hard day. You just can’t help but love them.

            Just when you think you might have a handle on things, along comes another one. Another girl! What was Crystal thinking???? OK…. I may have had some input. But for a while, that was a lot of diapers.

            To my surprise, it wasn’t long before Elizabeth actually began to help with Michelle. She took her big sister role very seriously. Before she was four, she knew how to feed her and even change her. When the three of us (me and the two girls) went to the store, Liz would help me push the cart.

            Crystal and I were blessed by two wonderful girls. Five years later, just when the routine is being established, along comes girl number three. This time I blame God. He has a sense of humor you know. Growing up, I remember complaining to Him that, I just didn’t understand girls. Now, they outnumbered us.

            A lot happened over the next few years. Crystal insists she will write a book someday. I can just tell you that, living with that many females I learned a lot. First of all, even the quiet times, weren’t very quiet. Girls have a lot of words to use each day. But, on the plus side, you never have to wonder what they are thinking. Second, sometimes they just need you to listen. It takes patience. At times, I know I wasn’t. Occasionally, you need to wade through a lot of emotions to really understand what they are “really” saying. Finally, they are capable of great passion. That can go one of two ways. Enough said.

            So, in the long run, Crystal and I have no regrets. Our girls turned into loving, responsible, dependable women. All have lived on their own. Two have wonderful families. And they all get along and support each other. Who could ask for more?

            What is even better, is now, more than ever, they understand us, and a lot of things they might not have fully gotten when they were young. They frequently thank me (and Crystal) for all they learned. Elizabeth’s card this year mentioned, cooking, driving, sports, math, running errands, shopping, volunteering at church, appreciation of nature, and how to talk to anyone.

            I look at parenting as a long-term experiment. In some ways you are learning along with your children. You can do all of the research you want, but in many instances, it comes down to trial and error. Being there for your kids is most important. Teach, discipline, and guide in love. As an adult, you realize one truth that you can’t teach them. The lessons they don’t learn in the safety of your home, and your protection, life will teach them. Our girls definitely get that now, and are grateful. We are too.

Here I am wearing my Father’s Day gift….My daughters know.

Crystal’s Corner Registration at Bradley University

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            I came to Bradley University as a Junior.  When I was in community college, we met with our advisor and they helped us make our schedule.  So, I would receive my classes in the mail, with all the information about two weeks before classes started.

            So, when I came to Bradley in August, I thought I would be receiving my schedule the same way, but instead I think I got a letter telling me to come to Bradley Hall to register.  Fortunately, my roommate Debra, was also a Junior and her fiancé had been at Bradley for two years.  He explained to us what was going to happen.  He also informed us that because we were Juniors, we would get into the classes we needed to graduate as Seniors. 

            Going into Bradley Hall that day was stepping into chaos.  There were tons of people standing in lines and wandering about.  I got into the first line for one of my classes pretty quickly, and was accepted into the class.  Then I went to the next line.  I don’t think very many of my lines were long.  I was mainly taking my English major classes.  I did have to take a Calculus class, and that was crowded.  So, I might have just gotten in line early.  I couldn’t believe that a school like Bradley could be so disorganized with registration.  It was such a prestigious school.  Of course, this is before the computer systems had taken over the paperwork that had to be dealt with at colleges.  I was just glad that I got through the process very quicky, without any problems.  Some of my friends had problems getting into the classes they needed, and had to adjust their schedules, and stand in more lines.  I did notice some students swearing as they were refused to be accepted in classes.

            I had not found APO yet, so I didn’t know that the students that were helping with registration were from APO.  I just knew that they were friendly, encouraging and helpful.  I thought that was nice.  I may even have seen Ron that day, but didn’t know him yet.

            I think God planned the way we met and got to know each other.  I had to establish myself at Bradley, and get used to being there before I met him.  I wasn’t ready yet.  Getting to know Debra and my friend, Paula, helped me to adjust.  I was very homesick at first, and had decided to stay at Bradley for about 6 weeks before I went home.  That was a long time for me, but I think it helped me to get settled.

Ron: Some things seem so fun, and even funny, when we look back on our lives. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have the funny stories, without having to go through the stuff? My sophomore year it took all of 8 hours to register. Sophomore were low on the totem pole.

I know this has nothing to do with Registration but I like it. Brandywine Falls near Cleveland (we were just there celebrating our 43rd anniversary}.


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            Ok, it’s time for a fun story, from the past. Because APO, our fraternity, did community service project throughout the whole school year, Bradley University’s administration loved us. We helped give the school a good name in the community, and beyond. Our reward was, they gave us more work.

            However, as opposed to our usual volunteer status, they paid us. It really wasn’t a lot of money, but it was nice to know we were appreciated. One of our jobs was helping out at registration.

Unlike today, where so much is done on line, back in the 1970s, everything was manual. You sat in a large auditorium, and the classes, which still had seating, appeared on a large screen. You would write down the classes and times you desired; then the fun would begin. As hapless students wandered back into the halls of the ivy-covered Bradley Hall building, they were directed. It was somewhat similar to cows being herded. They were directed from room to room to pay their various fees, and verify their class selections. Occasionally, by the time they got to the signup room a class had been filled. Then it was back to the auditorium to start over. Of course, if one class changed it might conflict with other classes. So those needed to be changed as well. By the end of the day, many students were wandering around in a daze.

That’s where we came in. We were the directors. Basically, we stood in the hallways on all three floors, and answered student’s questions, and helped to direct them to their next room. We also provided moral support, and some minor psychological therapy. We would say things like, ‘I know it seems impossible, but you can do it. Just one step at a time.’

I don’t know how it happened, but my first day on the job was assigned the most important job of the whole event. I made the coffee. I had never made coffee before. However, I quickly mastered the basics. Turn on the giant percolator. Water goes in the bottom, grounds in the basket, and push the on button. They were so impressed; I was assigned a primo post. It was on the third floor by the payment office. Since everyone needed to stop, all I needed to do was direct whoever made it that far into the office.

About the third day I had a brilliant idea. I used a table to block 2/3 of the hallway. Then I put up a sign on the room door at eyelevel, with a large arrow, saying everyone must stop here. Then I simply stood in back of the table and watched. I thought my plan was fool proof. However, in there dazed and confused state, I watched as about one out of every three college students simply dodged the table, and the sign, to walk past. I then caught and redirected them. I spent the rest of the day sitting on that table and pointing into the room.

Of course, when my time to register came, I don’t think I did much better. At least I knew that I had to stop in that room.

I got this picture of a couple of my fraternity “Little Sisters” working their assigned posts at Bradley registration. Ahh, don’t you miss the short skirts of the seventies?

Fun With Chemistry

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I think this blog has been a little too serious lately. I was going to share the last in our series about long marriages, but it can wait. As you know, if you have been keeping up, we are in the editing process with our memoir. Sadly, a few of my favorite stories have been lost in this process, and will not make it to the final draft. That’s bad for the book, but good for the blog. I will share one of my favorites with you now. My junior year at Bradley University was easier than the first two years but not without challenges.  

One Thursday afternoon I took a quick nap with my friend Dianne after lunch. We were just nap buddies.  We both had the time between classes and I wouldn’t have to go all the way back to my apartment. I very rarely actually fell asleep during the day but just rested. Unfortunately, this day was the exception. I was late. When I rushed into the lab, my partner George was there and set to start. He had not given up on me, but had started some homework on one of the lab benches. I apologized and explained my dilemma. He was fascinated and asked me to share some of my worldly wisdom on women. While a good example of the blind leading the blind, unfortunately, this became the predominate topic of conversation that afternoon. We probably should have paid a little more attention to properly interpreting our instructions.

            We had an idea about the identity of the unknown compound. In order to prove it, we needed to make a derivative. As we began, one of the professors brought a group of freshmen students into our lab, to take a test. Sitting at the benches, they could be spread apart properly to eliminate temptation.

We were still quietly discussing our topic of the day when we reached the part of the procedure which, was marked in quotes, “A vigorous reaction will occur.” If we had been focusing, we probably could have anticipated what happened next. As we added one compound to the other, the mixture started boiling rapidly. We stopped the addition, and turned off the flame. This only seemed to make it mad. A fume of white smoke was now filling the hood. That particular hood never seemed to work very well. Soon the beaker was sputtering and then began jumping up and down. The smoke was now pouring into the lab. We were still trying to control the reaction when one of the professors came in and rescued the freshmen, who had started to cough and wheeze from the smoke. The dense white smoke had now covered the entire ceiling of the lab. When I say cover, I mean, you could not see the ceiling.

             Another professor came in and yelled, “Who is pumping hydrochloric acid into my instruments?” He stopped only long enough to give us a dirty look and disappeared again. We finally threw a couple of handfuls of ice on the mess and left the room coughing and gagging. To this day, it still bothers me a little, that, while the precious Freshmen were quickly saved, us poor Jr. Chemists were left by two professors to die. By the time we re-entered the lab, George had explained, in great detail, the reaction which had occurred and all the noxious gasses generated. George was even higher on the geek scale than I. Think Sheldon Cooper with more personality. The lab experiment that should have taken about three hours, wound up taking about six. It was at that point that I realized, even the topic of girls, can cause problems.

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

Riding Henry

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I still remember the first time I got on Henry’s back. He was a bright shiny new blue two wheeler bicycle with classic balloon tires. My feet barely hit the peddles. But it was OK; the training wheels would keep me safe. As I recall, they weren’t on too long. Between my dad and one of my friends, I was free of them in no time. Furthermore, I was free to roam. In those days (1960s) Oak Lawn was a safe community. As long as I told mom where I was going, I just needed to be back by dinner. The few little detours, I took were better kept secret. I was particularly fond of the prairie near Stony Creek. It was there I invented BMX biking. That’s right! It was me! My course had ramps for jumping, sharp curves, hills and valleys, and even a water hazard (Stony Creek) to be jumped. I never got credit for the sport because I couldn’t tell anyone.

Mom knew better than to press me on the bumps and bruises. I did my best to maintain Henry. Bending the metal was easy with dad’s pliers. The broken spokes were a different story. Still, Henry always got me wherever I needed to go. I went all over within about a mile and a half radius. The pet store was one of my favorite stops. About a mile from my home, in addition to a wonderful selection of fascinating animals, it also had the best local assortment of penny candy in the area. Whenever I could scrape together a quarter, I was off to the pet store.

In the spring of 1967, I was riding Henry back from a Scout meeting, when a tornado hit Oak Lawn.  There is a chapter in our book dedicated to the ordeal. To make a long story short, I was fine, but Henry got a few more bruises. It was shortly thereafter that Henry retired as his replacement arrived. By a strange coincidence he was named Henry too. He looked nothing like his predecessor. Henry II was a sleek red 10 speed road bike with ultra thin tires. He was built for speed. I once got him up to 40 mph on level ground. However, he didn’t like my course at Stony Creek. I can’t remember a time when the front wheel rim wasn’t bent. He still rode just fine.

Henry II allowed me to extend my biking radius. Several times a summer I would ride out to the Forest Preserves about five miles from home. I always love the forest. Once, my mom accompanied me. I couldn’t understand why she had so much trouble with the hills; or why she complained about soreness the next day…..Now I get it.

My biggest adventure with Henry came during the summer of my 16th year. My friend, Mark, and I took a fifty-four mile trip (one way) to Starved Rock State Park in Kankakee, IL. I learned a lot on that trip. During the first mile and a half, I learned that riding with a full knap sack on your back is not a good idea. The extra weight and racing seat reminded me, in an extremely uncomfortable way, of my manhood. Fortunately, the knap sack strapped nicely to the rack on the back of the bike. Secondly, as we passed our first multiday old road kill, we realized what we had been missing all those years as we quickly passed in a car. Thirdly, was that wet brakes don’t work. I slid into a car on my way home.

Finally, I learned what I had seen, but missed my whole life. As we went on our route of back roads and former major thoroughfares, state routes, and county roads, the world appeared somehow different. Our journey took us through seemingly endless corn and soy bean fields and through meadows, pastureland and groves of trees. It gave us a renewed feeling of appreciation for how truly great this country really was. We stopped at a somewhat dilapidated truck stop for lunch. The concrete and asphalt was all cracked and the building itself in desperate need of repairs and paint. To us, however, it was an oasis. As we enjoyed our burgers, we talked to the waitress. She was impressed with our adventure. She told us about how this diner had once, before the interstate, been a Mecca for truckers.

The rest of the journey was fairly uneventful. The last few miles seemed to take forever. I still remember our relief when we finally entered the park. We paid the two dollars for the camp site, pitched our tent, and gathered firewood. Mark’s parents and my mom drove down to meet us for dinner (I cooked). Then they drove back and we spent the next day exploring and rock climbing above the Illinois River.

After a second night of camping, it was time for our return trip. We set a fast pace, covering the first 21 miles in an hour. The trip to the park had taken around five hours. We made it back in just three. It pays to have a few adventures as you grow up.

I kept Henry II through our marriage. As the girls grew, we would ride together. He went with us as we moved from Illinois to Michigan to Indiana and finally here in Ohio. His front wheel was still bent and at best half of his gears worked. Over the years, I rode him on average maybe once or twice a summer, but never far. One day, a couple of years ago, an older man with  ragged clothes and a scraggly beard was passing by and noticed him in the garage. We talked for a while. I asked him if he wanted Henry II. He seemed thrilled. While I never saw the man again, I like to think Henry II is still being ridden around somewhere.

Mark and me at Starved Rock

The Gift Grinch     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas!

The grinch grin


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The other day I was with my dad on the bank of the Scioto River watching the boats. He had a place to sit. I went to climb on some large rocks by the river. I didn’t say anything, but I almost fell into the river while trying to sit. While that might have been amusing (America’s Funniest style) it made me remember a few even funnier things about my youth.

Two things I was an absolute natural at growing up, were swimming and climbing. I was quite young when I decided I didn’t want to stay in the shallow end of the pool anymore. I sat by the edge of the pool and watched someone doing the crawl. She obviously knew what she was doing. I watched her hands and then her feet. I watched how she turned her head for air. Then I got in the water and just did the same thing. I wasn’t perfect at first, but in a few minutes, I could swim the width of the pool. Mom’s jar dropped as she watched. She couldn’t believe it. I later took lessons, but that was just for fun.

The second thing I took to almost as soon as I could walk was climbing. If mom were alive, she could tell you when I fist conquered the coffee table. I can’t remember. The first experience I remember was when I figured out how to turn kitchen drawers into steps. With the aid of the toaster I was on top of the refrigerator. Mom’s reaction was classic, the expression of horror (which I lived for), a few words in German, and a rush to my rescue.

When I was eleven, mom and I went to Europe for six weeks. While in Austria, I got the idea of mountain climbing. Mom reluctantly agreed. She picked a relatively safe well traveled peek with a well maintained trail to the top. It was during that hike that I first realized that mom was getting old. While she was in relatively good shape for a forty-one year old, she couldn’t keep up with my young legs. I was continuously outdistancing her and waiting. We would talk for a while and then I would again jog ahead. I was excited and couldn’t wait to see the next overlook or see what lay ahead. Finally I reached the end of the trail. Mom was nowhere in sight. However, there were another hundred feet of slightly angled rock cliff to the very peak. Excited, I began climbing. I was about at the half way point when the relative silence was broken by mom’s scream. She ordered me down immediately. I pleaded, but she would not relent. This was the first time I had looked down. All of a sudden I was aware of how high I was. It took three times as long to get down as the climb took. I now know why a cat gets stuck in a tree. After a brief lecture, we both enjoyed the view and rested before the trip down.

Then there were the trees. From the first time I found an easy climb tree (one with a lot of low branches) I was hooked. The world looks so much different from 20, 30 even 40 feet up. You start to see things from a different perspective. The world seems like a different place. Even as a child you start to realize, how did Einstein put it, everything is relative. From the top of the apple tree in our back yard, I could see the roof tops of over thirty houses, plus my grade school (yuck), plus my favorite baseball field (yeah!). My average sized mom (5’3”) looked tiny, as did all of my earthbound problems. From his point of view, God must laugh at how serious we take ourselves.

I used tree climbing to my advantage whenever I could. In scouts, I would climb a tree when lost to figure out which way to go. In college, I would demonstrate my skills to impress the ladies. I was sure that’s what they were looking for. When I looked down, I knew they had to be thinking, if he’s that good at climbing what else is he good at? Or maybe that bewildered look just meant this guy is crazy, what am I doing here? However, most of the time the tree climbing ploy work in, if nothing else, starting a conversation.

Then there was rock climbing. I took two girls (individually not together) to Staved Rock State Park for rock climbing. First there was Jan. She was athletic and a photographer. We spent the day climbing freestyle up and down the moderately inclined cliffs over the Illinois River taking pictures as we went. We cooked out and drove the eighty miles back to campus before dark. It was a fun day until I got to my fraternity party that night. I had missed the football game. It was probably the only game we might have won if I hadn’t been AWOL. It was a great day and I was OK with a little condemnation.

The second girl’s name was Crystal, whom I wound up marrying a few years later. This time the only condemnation came from her. Oh she had a great time. She wasn’t nearly as athletic as Jan, but I was careful to keep her close and keep the climbs easy. We rested frequently. I also took a multitude of pictures. She loved the adventure and kept saying that her family wouldn’t believe it. That might have been true, if I hadn’t documented the entire adventure on film. The problem came after I had started the evening fire. I finally realized that I had been shooting the entire day without changing film. 35mm film has at the most 36 exposures. I must have shot fifty before I checked. You guessed it. For the first time in my life, I had forgotten to load the camera. I blame Crystal. I was obviously so excited that she agreed to go that……OK it was totally my fault. To this day, that is one of the only stupid things I have done for which, Crystal has yet to forgive me. We have gotten a lot of mileage out of the story though. I think when you’re married for as long as we have been, you learn to look at your lives a little more like you are seeing them from the top of a very tall tree (and with a little humor).

Jan at Starved Rock 001


This is Jan about 100 feet above the Illinois River at starved Rock State Park. It would have been Crystal but ……………….