20130611 – Extra Effort, Big Dividends

Sorry folks, I’m a little slow getting this post done today!
Thinking back on the past week of life in the sandwich, it hasn’t felt much like sandwich living. The kids are taking care of themselves. Mom is adapting to living in her apartment at the manor. D is back from Tucson and a symposium put on by a software supplier. And I’ve caught up on most of my work obligations.
Actually, it was a big work week in the home office. I’m providing back office support for a consulting partner which, in this case, means building a new software tool to help in research on certain behaviors and core competencies. We anticipate this may become a full-fledged performance support package, so it has to be designed from the ground up to be converted from a stand-alone application to a commercial product. Extra time invested now makes a big difference in effort later.
Funny how extra effort early makes things easier later. Retirement (to which I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately) is a good case in point. So many young people these days forgo the opportunity to invest in their own future for the sake of spending it on today’s desires and whims. But a few extra dollars invested in a retirement plan every week pays such big dividends down the road, what with the miracle of compounding. Our parents got that message, encouraged by the great depression of the thirties and early forties. We got that message through the economic crunch of the late seventies and early eighties. I’m hoping our kids are getting that message through the recession of the last few years and the jobs crunch we seem to be continuing to experience.
We shouldn’t count on Social Security being around in its present form when the younger crowd approaches retirement age in thirty years. Unfortunately, by then it will be too late to build much of a nest egg to carry them through what will likely be a much longer post career life than we can look forward to.
So Grasshoppers, even though I haven’t been able to follow this advice to the letter over the last thirty years, here’s my best retirement planning advice. First render unto Caesar that which is his; in other words, pay your taxes. Second, if you are a believer, render unto God that which is His; ten percent of your income. If you are not a believer, do some good with your income and give ten percent of it to the charities of your choice. What goes around comes around folks. Third, commit ten percent of your earnings to your own future – your retirement; if you can do it pre-tax, great, but just do it! And fourth, commit ten percent of your earnings to the present – save it for activities and things that will make your life happier and more pleasant. Budget the rest, and if it doesn’t go far enough, look for more income opportunities.
That’s really tough advice to follow, I know. But I also know people who have followed it, and it’s always worked to their benefit. Most of the people I know who tithe have had their gifts returned many-fold. Simple mathematics tells us that investing for retirement early will result in the accumulation of major financial resources you can draw on in thirty or forty years. And saving for now keeps you free of those pesky little interest charges on your credit cards, since you can pay for those extras with your own money!
Well, that’s about all the wisdom for today, Grasshoppers. And mostly it’s just common sense. Take it from an old guy who learned from the school of hard knocks, and continues to learn, even today.
Getting smarter about getting older…

20130604 – Road Trip!

You know how New Yorkers talk about going up to Connecticut for the weekend? Well, that’s what we did, my Sister, my Dad, and me; only it’s a bit more of a drive from West Michigan, 855 miles from my house to the hotel in Meriden CT where we stayed. Eighteen hours is a long time to spend with family in a car, and then in a hotel, and at events, and finally another sixteen hours in a car for the return trip.
We left Friday and returned Monday giving us two full days in Connecticut; four solid days of time together; and we had a blast! Dad said it was the best time he’s had in 100 years, and he’s only 85! The last long road trip he went on was in 1996 to Arizona to visit family. Since then he spent many years caring for my steadily declining Mother, and the last eight and a half years on his own. This trip he didn’t have to do any driving and could just enjoy the ride.
When I proposed this trip to our family reunion out East he jumped right on the idea as did my sister. My brothers couldn’t make the trip, but they really wanted to be there. So it was down to my Dad and his oldest and youngest offspring.
I was wondering at the start of this trip how we would survive four days with each other.  The answer was, quite nicely thank you. Sis is quite talkative and kept the conversation going during the long hours on the road. She gave Dad and me plenty of opportunity to chime in. And she spelled me with the driving chores for a few hours of the trip out. The result, we caught up on a lot of the 40 years I’ve lived apart from them. I like quiet and jealously guard my “alone” time, so I wondered if the constant chatter would get to me. A couple of times for a few minutes I would drift away from the conversation, but always found myself lured back in by a new subject, or a question by Sis designed to keep me alert and my attention on the road.
This whole trip seemed to be just one of life’s little perfect moments in time. We were totally engaged, living in the moment, allowing a little serendipity to guide us, meeting distant relatives from all over the country, and absorbing everything we could in those all too brief days. It didn’t matter what we did or where we went, we were just doing it together. A trip to a trolley museum and a trolley ride along the New England shore just because we happened to see the highway sign; a visit to the ocean beach, mentioned in a parting comment from our host and distant cousin Peter as a place he took his family in their younger days. What’s more serendipitous than that?
When I finally got home late last night I thought I’d be falling into bed. Instead I talked with S and L for half an hour, unpacked, cleaned up, and chatted with my wife out in AZ. When I finally crawled into bed about 12:30 I was humbled, energized, and excited; and tired, but pleasantly so.
I don’t know if there will ever be another road trip with my Dad quite like this one, maybe it was one of those once in a lifetime experiences but we reminisced about some great times, and made some great new memories in the process. Life doesn’t get much better!
Living in the moment…


20130521 – Sitting and Running

Well, here I am, sitting in the customers’ waiting area while my truck, car, SUV, or whatever I’m supposed to call it, let’s call it my “vehicle”, is being serviced. Replacing a power door lock actuator and mounting an old tire on a new rim apparently involves two visits; one to diagnose the problem and order parts, and the second to have the replacement parts installed. I wonder if parts departments actually have parts in stock anymore. One Saturday morning and one weekday morning shot. Oh, well, just some ripples on the pond my friends.
On a side note, the customer waiting area here is nicely arranged, with a conversation “pit” headed by a flat screen TV on a tall and wide credenza and centered on a large elongated coffee table surrounded by about ten decent sized easy chairs, close enough for conversation but separated just enough to permit the occupant his privacy if so desired. Just around the corner is a grouping of bar-height tables and stools, alongside which can be found coffee and the popcorn machine, overflowing with fresh movie-theater popcorn at 8:30 in the morning, how cool is that (well for a popcorn lover anyway)! Behind the TV against the wall are two cubicles for customers who absolutely insist on being productive while waiting for their vehicles. This morning I find myself in one of those cubicles rather than my much preferred breakfast venue where I could be chatting with friends as well as Ernesto, Linda, and the crew.
In the meantime I can always blog a little, and dive into a new (previously owned?) book on Behaviour Analysis in Training, © 1977; formerly housed at the University Library, Golden Gate University, San Francisco, and apparently withdrawn for non-use, having been checked out once each in 1978, 1980, and 1982. Wha-a-a-t, you might ask? Yeah, sounds awfully textbookish, doesn’t it? And why am I misspelling behavior? Well it is kind of a textbook because I’m learning the secrets of valid statistical analysis for some specialized data analysis and reporting I’ll be doing for a consulting partner. Guess things haven’t changed too much in a third of a century in this arena. And the consulting partner happens to be a native of the UK, as is the acquaintance of his who wrote the book, which explains the Queen’s English spelling and grammar. I hope he doesn’t expect me to reset my Spell Checker for writing reports in a non-American English dialect.
I always enjoy learning new(?) things so I expect this to be an interesting adventure, despite that it involves post graduate studies in behavior analysis, training, and statistics. It’s only one book. The neat thing is I get to apply that knowledge immediately in my work, that’s the practical side of learning as you go. College often is hard for people; it was for me, because the application of knowledge is frequently delayed for months or years.
Unfortunately the TV in the background is distracting; Moore, Oklahoma. Heartbreaking stories, heartwarming stories, such devastation in such a short time. I don’t mind admitting I’m a man who isn’t afraid to let some emotion out; I’m just glad I’m in a cubical facing a wall so the other customers don’t see my red eyes. Most often it’s been firefighters and police officers on the front lines, demonstrating true heroism in the face of extreme danger and adversity. Yesterday it was teachers sheltering students with their bodies; like it was at Sandy Hook. Ordinary people, called to extraordinary courage in the face of inconceivable horror. What would you do, how would you respond?
Back to learning, I hope I never stop. On my deathbed, in the waning moments of my life, I want to be learning. When I graduated from MSU I must admit I was happy to be done with 16 years of school, and to be getting on with my life. That was forty years ago. It took five years after that for me to be ready for more formal education and three years more to complete my Masters degree. But since then I’ve taken continuing education classes in my chosen profession almost every year of my life. And when I wasn’t studying for my profession I was teaching myself things like home construction, electrical work, plumbing, pond design, construction and maintenance, computer programming and assembly, website programming and maintenance, starting new businesses, managing finances, and just trying to keep up with changes in information technology. And these days my learning is taking on a new perspective.
Living in the sandwich kind of forces you into learning about many different subjects; things like Medicare, health insurance, diseases of mind and body, estate planning, powers of attorney, wills and trusts. I’m learning to deal with the many challenges of aging, and of caring for aging parents. At the same time I’m learning more about what’s going on with the younger crowd, how to understand their language, how to open up more in my own communication, and how to be friends with my kids. Sometimes I find the communication uncomfortable and sometimes just plain fun, but rarely boring. Hmmm, the soup of life, or maybe soup and a sandwich? Now I’m thinking about Panera; yeah, I missed breakfast.
Sitting, distracted, but learning; always learning…
And now service guy Joe is telling me my vehicle is ready. He looked for me a few minutes ago but didn’t see my hat (I took it off) and assumed I was out getting breakfast. I guess he gave me a little extra time to get this post done. The hat seems to have become my trademark…
So I’m off and running: pharmacy, Comcast, appliance store, zoo (donating some used towels for animal care), and all before 11:45. Not a bad morning. Since I feel like I finally earned a meal, and I’m close to another favorite dining haunt, it’s time for a stop at Mr. Burger, a place I’ve frequented off and on for more than thirty years. The people are always nice, breakfast is big and served anytime (and of course as you already know, my favorite meal of the day), and it feels like home in a way. It’s a good spot for a little centering and contemplation, and to wrap up this post.
Sorry my friends that I can’t offer much in the way of words of wisdom for the day. Then again, life in the sandwich isn’t always about big ideas; sometimes, and I know I’m repeating myself, it’s just about putting one foot in front of the other.
Off and running again; oops, can’t forget the hat…


20130514 – Happiness and Strawberries

More life in the moment …
Yesterday I read a little post titled “Sunday Sermon” by fellow blogger Bob, and it struck me as if it were a common theme I’ve been hearing for weeks. Oh; it is. He talked about getting past our sense of not being happy today because we’re thinking about the future and what we want, or the past and what we had. Then my daughter posted about self-imposed stress and maybe just letting the kiddos go at their own pace. And my DIL (daughter-in-law) posted about her upcoming extremely busy and stressful week.
I’m very much a planner and a daydreamer, always thinking about what’s the next step in the plan, and what haven’t I planned for, and remembering what life used to be like when I was a twenty-something husband with a wife and a dog and a condo on the edge of the mountains. Of course I was a planner and a dreamer back then too, but we had a lot of simple and good times in between the planning and the dreaming while living a relatively unencumbered lifestyle. Life has gotten a lot more complicated since then, and these days we seem to enjoy precious few of those simple and good times we used to love.
In his message, Blogger Bob related the story of the monk being chased by a tiger when he suddenly found himself at the edge of a huge cliff. Facing a choice between certain death and … certain death, he stepped off into the abyss. Grasping an extended root he briefly interrupted his journey to his unavoidable fate, and saw that he was facing a beautiful and luscious strawberry growing from the chasm’s wall. Unable to return to the brink and face the tiger, and with his strength and grip ebbing away he savored the beauty, and tasted the fruit, and happily and fully lived his last moment.
We’re all facing certain death. For the monk, it was a matter of seconds, it was immediate. For us it’s a matter of unknown seconds, minutes, hours, days, years; it’s a lifetime by whatever measure. How many of us live in the moment? How many of us take the time to be happy with the present? It is, after all, a gift. The past is history, we can’t change it. Tomorrow never really comes. The present, the gift of time, of now, is all we really have. Kind of a sobering thought.
OK, so now the practical side of me is kicking in. What if I need work to support my family? What if I want to watch my grandkids grow and spend time with them? What if I lose someone I love? What if my kids get sick? What if my dad needs elder care? What if I make it to retirement age? Surely I need to plan for all this stuff, just in case?
Well yes, I do, but that planning doesn’t need to keep me from being happy. After all, even God plans. I know it because He has a plan for each of us, doesn’t He? All of His creation is evidence of His plan. And if you don’t believe in a Creator or Supreme Being, isn’t a little planning a useful tool in helping you manage your life and weed out the things you do and do not want to accomplish? We planned for our kids, and savored the moments of their births. We planned a monster vacation fifteen years ago, and lived in every moment of every day. We also had unplanned job changes, and unplanned illnesses, and scary test results, and we rolled with the punches. We weren’t necessarily happy but we accepted and dealt with the challenges as they presented themselves. And here we are.
So, all that being said, I hereby resolve to find happiness wherever and whenever I can; and not dwell on what I want but don’t have or what I had a long time ago, as in yesterday. I resolve to plan my work; i.e., my life, but only just enough, and joyfully work my plan, while accepting and engaging in the serendipitous and spontaneous opportunities that constantly reveal themselves. I resolve to look for, admire the beauty of, and taste the richness of the strawberries.
Doing my best to welcome serendipity and live in the moments I’m given …
- Pops

20130423-2 – On the Same Bus, or Just the Same Road

Living in the sandwich can be frustrating. You begin thinking about changes you want to make in your life and start getting excited about them. Then by habit, or necessity I suppose, you begin considering how changing part of the sandwich will affect the rest. If I change the protein, what about the cheese, what about the condiments, what about the tasty outsides that hold it all together? Maybe the changes will be too great and will have too much impact on the other people in my life. What if the whole sandwich falls apart? Maybe I’m stuck with the same old sandwich, the status quo, with waiting for changes to happen around me that free me up to make the changes I want, no, need to make.
When I wrote about planning for the future a few weeks ago I figured I was pretty comfortable with what I should do with my life. It seemed that spending time with my family and being in some kind of ministry to others were two of the most important ways I could make a difference. It seemed like helping people become better than they were was what I could contribute to the business world in some small way. It seemed like recharging by exploring this tremendous country I live in was necessary to strengthening myself for the other things I needed to do. And it seemed like building my faith through worship and study and prayer would firm up the glue that holds me together. Thinking about it, I’m getting comfortable with what I love about my life and what I want out of life.
I guess what I worry about are the specifics. Maybe “what” isn’t the issue, maybe it’s the how, where and when. I believe that God opens doors that He intends us to walk through. There’s a life to be lived out there, and it shouldn’t be by default, it should be intentional.
Then again, living in the sandwich isn’t living by default. In fact, it is living very intentionally. It is sharing plans and ideas, and figuring out how it all works together. All of us in this sandwich want the best for each other, but if we don’t share, we won’t know how to help. Maybe we’re not really on the same bus, but just caravanning on the same road. At any point some of us may choose to take a different route, hopefully with the support and encouragement of the rest.
Hmm, I think the frustration is fading a bit.
Adjusting my thinking, and my attitude…

20130507 – What Makes You Smile?

I was out for my (becoming routine) two mile walk yesterday morning when I realized the sun on my face was making me smile. Then I greeted some other walkers and found myself smiling again; and it got me to thinking about what it is that I find myself smiling at. Here’s the short list (with a little thought it would be much longer):
A mother and preschooler sharing breakfast at McDonalds; the sun on my face; a warm car on a cold winter day; tree blossoms in the spring; flowers; fish in the pond; frogs croaking into the night; a warm summer evening; a late night thundershower with the window open;  an empty highway ahead of me; kids walking home from the bus stop; a dad playing with his kids on the trampoline; my granddaughter calling out “Pop-pop!”; hugs; people walking their dogs; dogs walking their people; a greeting from a fellow walker; sunset over the lake; sailboats, big and small; the men’s group engrossed in debate; a friend’s successful transplant; another friend kicking colon cancer’s butt; a day without heart arrhythmia; glucose below 100; parents and kids holding hands; coming home to a dark family room with son and daughter-in-law snuggled in watching a movie; seeing my wife’s tears at a happy ending; holding hands with her; her sleeping on my shoulder; a walk on a warm sunny day; two little dogs curled up asleep on my brother; my family chattering away while I listen; a starry night by the campfire; anticipation of camping in a new place; an inexperienced Robin Williams trying to dump his holding tanks in front of an audience of campers in the movie ‘RV’; snuggling under a blanket in front of the fireplace on a bitter cold winter evening; singing a beautiful anthem; listening to great music; tears of appreciation for a well-wisher’s thank you; an emotional musical worship experience.
Distinctive by their absence from that list are things like money in the bank, paid for cars, a steady job, a semi-solvent retirement plan, etc.
Why? Maybe it’s the difference between what merely satisfies my need for security, and what makes me happy. Don’t get me wrong, when I count my blessings, security counts, particularly financial security, and I’m thankful for that. But what really counts are the intangibles, the experiences, just being in the moment, or maybe living life intentionally for some of those perfect moments.
At the end of the day I hope I’ve counted way more smiles than I have things. I hope that for you, too.
Counting my blessings, and mostly my smiles…

20130430 – Pondering …

It’s a rather moody day weather wise. Heavy thundershowers awakened us early this morning. Then for a while I lay in bed and listened as the rain softly echoed around the house. It stopped by the time I took S to work, and we were struck by how high the river was yet, and how many sandbags were still in place protecting low-lying buildings and roads near downtown.
By the time I reached my favorite Tuesday breakfast haunt the skies had darkened again and a few large raindrops splattered on the windshield, warning me to move quickly. As I took the last few steps to the door the deluge began. Water blasted through the drive-up window so hard one of the staff asked for a mop to get rid of the puddles growing in front of the register. Guess I know why those employees covering the window wear raingear!
Sitting down with my Egg White Delight (the new Egg McMuffin with fifty fewer calories, good but it could use a little extra flavor boost) I watched as the rain blasted cars and rooftops free of the dirt gathered since this month’s record rainfalls. And now, 45 minutes later, the sun is breaking through and temps are headed up toward the high seventies; I’m looking forward to a nice two mile powerwalk in a T-shirt this afternoon, a great time for pondering, noodling, and otherwise contemplating life.
I think I’m earning my nickname, Pondering Pops, today. I was thinking about my favorite blogger extraordinaire, Glenn at tosimplify.netand his recent efforts to locate fixtures for his new home-on-wheels, a VW Vanagon that he has repowered and is outfitting right from the bare walls. And I thought living in a condo was a pretty big downsizing decision, ha! He is trying to fit what amounts to a 4-6 cubic foot chest style refrigerator/freezer into his 48 square feet of living space while keeping his power consumption low enough to operate the thing along with all of his other stuff on solar-charged batteries. Meanwhile I try to manage a $140/month electric bill and a gas bill that varies from $35-$135 per month depending on the season, not to mention cell-phone and triple-play (cable, internet, and landline) bills that each top out above the electric bill and $350/month of gasoline to keep the cars fed. Not that I’d like to live full time in an RV, but the thought gets very tempting from time to time!
If you were going to simplify your life, regardless of your current stage of life, what would be the necessities unique to you? They could be necessities like food, clothing and shelter of course; probably transportation suitable to your environment; a means of support, i.e., earning a living or think of it as funding your life choices; perhaps a venue in which to give back to society/people and provide happiness in your life; and perhaps time for family, friends, yourself, and the things that interest you, maybe time to grow in your knowledge and faith? What are the barest necessities that would leave you with the resources and time to explore your inner self and the world around you?
Whether you are young and just starting out, married and raising a family, closing in on retirement, stretching your remaining years to their fullest, or just living in the sandwich like me, the question is a great one to pursue; and I do, often. Am I ready to downsize my life? How does that work and still let me maintain a multigenerational lifestyle? If I get rid of stuff, I’ll have more time for people, and for living a simple and fulfilling life. I think Glenn is right in trying to avoid the traps of consumerism and materialism. And he’s quick to point out that his solution is right for him, but not for everyone. We each have to find our own solution for living that simple and fulfilling life, however we define it.
Pondering it all on a moody and contemplative day …

20130423 – Floods and Choosing Wisely

Floods really change the landscape, usually only temporarily, but sometimes permanently. This past week I’ve watched the “off the beaten path” intersection near our home gradually become a small stretch of rapids in the Grand River, and a popular viewing spot for the neighborhood locals. It seems that intersection is within the 100-year flood plain of the river, and we’re experiencing a 100 year flood, worst since 1904. Fortunately our home is located above the 500 year flood plain and in no danger.
Each day has demanded the obligatory pilgrimage to observe just how much higher the water has risen, until Monday morning when the river crested and began to recede. I even drove through that intersection several times while I could still see the centerline through the gradually deepening water which wasn’t reaching the differentials and axles on my SUV, and still avoid the stretch of forcefully flowing water that could have shoved me off the road. Later, it was fun to stand at the edge of the flood waters and see a river where the golf course was, that stretch of rapids where the road used to be, a huge lake where a fifty acre or so pond once stood separated from the marsh and sand mining excavations by a two-track and loads of scrub trees and bushes. I wondered if the road would still be there, or washed away with the receding water. I assumed the golf course would survive; it always has with minimal damage.
Eventually the paved road was less than a foot beneath the surface, but invisible beneath the brown floodwaters. The heavy current was enough to push smaller vehicles off the pavement, but large tow trucks and pickups with at least a foot of ground clearance, their drivers practicing a huge amount of caution and care, were able to get through to the airport. Stupid? Maybe, maybe not. Most drivers didn’t take the chance that the road may have washed out under the river, and just stayed on solid ground. Smart people? Most likely.
Two kayakers and a canoeing couple had to be rescued from the river this week, having ventured out onto the water despite warnings from local authorities to keep away due to the extreme flow rates of over 33,000 cubic feet per second. Were they risk-taking adventurers, or just plain stupid? The kayaker who helped rescue the canoeists had been told he was stupid by law enforcement the day before, and yet there he was, the very next day out on the river again, and quite likely saved two lives on the journey. Was he a thoroughly prepared and expert kayaker, or a stupid one who through dumb luck happened to be in the right place at the right time to save two other possibly stupid people.
Some people do what would appear to be dumb things, but they’ve thought about it, learned about it, prepared for it, learned the necessary limits, and taken appropriate precautions before taking on the risk.  Some people just choose to do really dumb things, to take big risks. Stupidity enters the picture when people leave out the learning, preparation and precaution steps.
I’m a normally risk averse person. Did I drive through a flooded intersection? Yes. Did I know what was going on and what could happen? Yes. Was I prepared? Yes. Did I know what the limits were? Yes. Did I take precautions? Yes.
I think there’s a metaphor for life in the flood and the behaviors I observed this week. Yes, life is a do it yourself adventure. But you don’t have to be stupid about it. Consider the choices, learn, prepare, know the limits, take the precautions, and go live it.
If life is my first, last and greatest crusade, here’s hoping I’m choosing wisely, not poorly …

20130416 – Friends

Why is it such a pleasant experience to run into friends unexpectedly? Dave and Karen just happened to drop into my favorite haunt this morning and I invited them to join me for breakfast. I assured them they weren’t intruding, and we were able to catch up on things since their return from wintering in Florida. After a really nice chat they were off to take care of other obligations.

I proceeded to set up my office and had just started considering timely topics for today’s post when I spotted John and Bonnie heading over to a comfortable sun-warmed booth; wow, the sun is actually shining today, it doesn’t feel quite so much like Seattle as it has for the past week! They were celebrating the end of tax season for John as he wrapped up work last night on his couple of hundred clients.
I guess there’s something about the familiarity, the shared memories, and the social connection that leaves me feeling good about these chance encounters. Our daughter commented a few days ago on Facebook that it was so nice to be out shopping in a new town they’d only lived in for two months and to run into someone she knew. Maybe friendship is an important part of developing a sense of place as well.
Last week it was Stew and Kathy. We go back more than thirty years, having met as part of a model railroading group I joined when my family and I settled in Grand Rapids. Stew caught me up on the rest of the Kenowa Valley Switching and Sipping Society, both the fun news and the not so happy stuff such as dementia invading our little group along with heart conditions, diabetes, Parkinson’s and other ravages of age. Still it was good to be in the company of friends. Oh, and they just now popped in again.
Sometimes my wife and I think we’re social outcasts, with really small circles of friends. But then we think about her Joy group, my Promise Keepers guys, our church choir family, and Jim, the old goat, and our close friends, Mike and Carol, whom we haven’t even seen in fifteen years since our families vacationed together in the mountains of Colorado. These are people who know and have been part of the best and worst of our times, the fun we had and the messes we made, the struggles we got through, the times when they needed to carry us or we them, and they love us and care for us anyway.
Oops, now it’s Ann and Dale breakfasting on the spur of the moment. When they asked what brought me here I mentioned this is my regular Tuesday hangout for blog writing which promptly piqued their interest. And I digress, happily…
Then there are our friends Lou and Ginny whom we met when Lou and I were young Air Force Lieutenants more than forty years ago. Adversity and change so often bring people together. We haven’t seen them in twenty-eight years, but we still exchange cards every Christmas. Somehow I think we’d pick up right where we left off despite these long years of absence. And our “Second Generation” camping friends whom I’ve known for over fifty years. And the friends whose acquaintance we’d made when our children met on a two week People to People Student Ambassadors trip when they were twelve. Sixteen years later and they are still the best of friends; and we can’t get through half a year without a quick trip up north to spend some quality time with Barbara and Stan.
Friends, they just seem to pop up when you least expect them to, and I love it. Hmm, sounds like a blog post; oh wait, it looks like I’m already blogging!
Way back in high school, my junior year, we performed the musical Funny Girl, first high school in the nation to get the rights or so we were told. More good memories there folks! Anyway, there’s a Streisand song from that musical, “People”, from which a particular line springs to mind; “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world!” Whether we admit it or not, we all need people. Sometimes when we think we don’t need anyone, those are the times we need each other the most. Although our circle is pretty small, I guess my wife and me, well we’re pretty lucky, maybe a couple of those luckiest people.
To all of you friends out there thanks for the chance encounters, the warm conversations, the cards and gifts, the shoulders we’ve cried on, the laughter that reduced us to tears and aching sides, the campfires we’ve sat around, the love we’ve shared … and the memories. Thanks for the memories, the old and dusty ones, the new and fresh ones, and the anticipated and longed for ones yet to come…

20130409 – Just Being There …

Sometimes the best thing about life in the sandwich and being a Grandpa is just being there.

The newly transplanted California contingent was home for a week for E’s first birthday. Yesterday, my son and daughter-in-law were working at home, son-in-law was home with his parents and a little under the weather, and daughter was visiting for the day with the grandkids. The wife was working and there I was, taxes unfinished, a pile of prep for my Chicago business trip waiting for my attention, washing the dishes after fixing fresh grass-fed beef burgers for lunch. I think the grandkids were napping.

I noticed it was kind of quiet; I looked over into the family room and there they were. My daughter, not my granddaughter, was in the middle of a mountain of toys busily building the biggest building she could imagine out of Duplo blocks (the oversized Legos for the toddler crowd). Not ten feet away sat my son, not my grandson, hard at work trying to figure out how to use every piece of wooden train track in the house to create a railroad complete with reverse loops, crossing, bridges and a pier for the little wooden freighter; a layout only a true died-in-the-wool model railroader like me could appreciate. I silently watched, not knowing whether to laugh at the juxtaposition or cry for all of the memories of my kids being, well, kids again. After choking up a little I ended up smiling and drinking in the scene, and appreciating just being there. By the way, both were successful and the grandkids loved and promptly demolished the results of their labors, and they didn’t really care! Twenty-five or so years ago they would have been crying and yelling at each other for messing with the other’s creation. Ah, good stuff, good memories.

Last Wednesday on the Californians’ arrival I heard the front door open, the patter of toddler feet in the foyer, and my favorite words, “Pop-pop?” Finally she was home, my little CJ. I dropped to my knees as she came running around the corner and flew into my arms. During the obligatory massive hug I realized she was looking past me, not at me, and I knew immediately what her next words would be. Sure enough, “Where’s Uncle Scott?” We all roared. It never fails. Not only is Uncle Scott a chick magnet, he’s a niece and nephew magnet for the whole family. If there was ever a family vote for favorite uncle, his wife’s side or his, doesn’t matter, hands down he’d be it! Oh, don’t worry about the chick magnet thing; he’s hopelessly devoted to my favorite daughter-in-law, who’s more than happy to remind them of his marital status when necessary.

And again the other day when they arrived for more family time C hugged her Uncle Scott, then danced into the family room with a resounding, “Woo-Hoo, Yaa for Uncle Scott!” Which exclamation was met with a wave of laughter and puzzlement, “Where’d that come from?” We didn’t even know she was familiar with the woo-hoo hoot common in the vernacular of the younger crowd. Just being there …

Wednesday, E took his first steps, right in our family room. He’d been one- and two-fingering it ever since February, and must have figured it was about time to throw caution to the wind. We teased him by placing the play lawnmower just out of reach until he did his junior Frankenstein impression, walked over and started mowing. By yesterday Lawnmower Man “Frankensteined” his way from the kitchen to the front door, with the occasional back step and one-foot balancing act for added effect. We were so proud of the little guy and thrilled about just being there …

Saturday night was the big event, E’s birthday party. People everywhere from both sides of the family; balloons, treats, dinner, cake, ice cream, and beverages all provided (well, Grandma did have to prepare a main dish and a fruit salad). We made conversation, gawked at E, relished the mandatory cake mashing, and enjoyed the evening; even made some new friends in the process of just being there …

Sunday night Mee-ma and Pop-pop got to babysit while the California couple had date night for the first time in who knows how long. Grandkids played for hours and watched Mickey’s Clubhouse, while Mom and Dad had dinner at Friday’s and entertained themselves with some unencumbered shopping at a few favorite establishments (whatever happened to dinner and a movie?). They loved it. And for us, playing with and watching C and E was all we needed to make it a great evening. Just being there …

Today the Californians are headed home. It’s been a heartwarming and heartbreaking week and we loved every minute of it. Except for Skype, we won’t see them again until September when, finances and schedules permitting, we’ll wing our way to the west coast.

Sometimes life in the sandwich is a matter of just being there, whenever you can, wherever you can, however you can. That describes this past week to a “T”.

Already missing them, and wishing for a little more of just being there …