Looking forward to 2014

As 2013 comes to a close I am reflective of the past and quietly looking forward to tomorrow, the beginning of a new year. The past year of reflections include memories of great trips to fun destinations, significant issues affecting family and another interesting year of work at the Nine Network.

WORK STUFF

As for the work, my staff had two significant resignations. In April our foundations director retired and then in December the director of major gifts and planned giving moved on to a new job. Both are nice people. It will be a challenge to replace them and yet all changes of this type offer opportunities to upgrade the positions with new talented people who will bring new ideas and talents to their job.

This will be my last year as the Vice President of Development at Nine Network. I will resign my full time position effective June 2014. I’m going to find something else to do where I can work nine months a year and travel for 12 weeks or so. That should satisfy our desire for travel and my desire to continue doing some useful work of some kind.

My goal before I leave is to help Nine Network achieve our $25 million Igniting the Spirit of Possibility goal. We are at $22 million as we end December. I think we surpass the goal soon.

FAMILY ISSUES

Kerry and Kris packed up family and possessions and left San Francisco returning to their home in Mount Vernon, Washington. Sienna and Sebastian are making the adjustment pretty well. Kris’s contract with Oracle expired in December. He may get another offer to join another Oracle campaign beginning in May or June of 2014. Larry Ellison is deciding if the Oracle will defend the Americas Cup and race again in a few years.

Brent has spent more than a year living in Saint Louis. He had been living in Washington, California, and Colorado for most of the past six years. He has such a special spirit about him. He is a joy to be around.

Kelly and Mark bought a new home in Anacortes, WA. The Guemes Island resort continues to be successful year after year. Rumi and Teo are getting bigger month by month.

Todd and Jessica have had a very interesting year. Jessica changed jobs, while Todd has switched from advertising to consulting. They continue to be amazed at Scarlett and share in the joy of parenthood.

Brian made the biggest surprise announcement. He and his girl friend, Emily, are expecting a child in April. This will be granchild number ten for Sandy and me. We are looking forward to the trip west when they give us the OK to come see the baby. In the meantime, Fisher is looking forward to being a big brother.

Craig and Nicole are still living in the fast lane. Their lives are as busy as ever. Olivia is 15 years old and started driving lessons. Evan is still playing three sports year around. Ella is on a traveling soccer team.

TRAVEL

In April, Sandy and I flew down to Tallahassee. Jim Short picked us up at the airport. We enjoyed a three day weekend with Jim and Debbie. They showed us all the cool places along the forgotten coast of Florida. The trip included Apalachicola, St. George Island, and Carrabelle, a small fishing village where they now live. Jim and Debby are happily retired. They sure know how to treat their guests….good food and good friends.

In May our PBS annual meeting was in Miami. After five days in Miami (working), Sandy I took a few extra days of vacation to Key Largo and Key West. I’ve got a Jimmy Buffet t-shirt to prove that I was there. The margarita’s seemed to taste better on Key West.

In August we traveled to Atlanta for the NETA Conference. Sandy joined me for an extra day with our friends Joe and Pam Krygiel. Joe resigned his CEO position with Catholic Charities and he returned to Delta Airlines as a flight instructor. They are planning to move to South Carolina next year so we will have another great destination to visit. We enjoy their company.

Then, in September, we took my first ever, three-week vacation. We traveled the first week with our good friends, Jim and Eileen Schaller. We flew to Seattle, ate dinner that night near Pikes Market. The next morning we took the Clipper Ferry Boat to Victoria, Canada. After a one night stay at the Empress (and enjoyed High Tea, by the way) we traveled by ferry boat again to Vancouver. After two pleasant days there we were off by train to Mount Vernon WA. Fortunately, Kelly picked us up and provided car transportation to her home in Anacortes, WA. We enjoyed two great days as Mark’s guest at his Guemes Island Resort. Then, we headed for the Snorting Elk Bar at Alpine Inn, Crystal Mountain for a spectacular view of Mount Ranier.  The final day we were back to Seattle for plane departures. We had a great time with too many highlights to mention here. Being with Mark, Kelly, Rumi, Teo, and Brian and Emily on Anacortes and Guemes was fun.

When the Schaller’s headed home, we still had two weeks left for our trip to see Kerry, Kris, Sienna and Sebastian in San Francisco.  What a great time.

We were in San Francisco when the USA Oracle Sailing team was competing with New Zealand for the America’s Cup finals. Kerry’s husband, Kris, works for Oracle. So, we had VIP treatment as guests and family members of the Oracle team. If you follow sailing you know that the United States team had an amazing come from behind victory. At one point they were down 7-1 only to come back to win 9-8. We were there for every victory, and oddly enough ,we never saw them loose a race.

When they lost races we were in Healdsburgh, California visiting our friends, David, Gretchen and Oliver. Or, we were in Yosemite National Park with Kerry and her kids and my nephew Luke Politte and his girl friend Amber and little Leo.

Yosemite was awesome. I love national parks and Yosemite was my second favorite next to Glazier National Park in Montana. All parks remind me of our friends Leo and Mary. Leo passed away in September after a nine month battle with cancer. We know he is in a better place but we miss him.

As I write this it is December and we are on a ten day trip by car. On December 22 we headed south to Nashville, then on to Chattanooga. By the 23rd we were driving through Atlanta and on Christmas eve we  returned to Apalachicola Florida for a two night stay in a haunted, turn-of-the-century hotel called the Gibson Inn.

On Friday, December 27 we show up on Sanibel Island and Captiva with no reservations. This is one of their busiest weekends all year. Traffic jams were all over the island, restaurants were packed, waiting lines for all of the popular places, like Lighthouse Cafe, Grandma Dots, Mucky Ducks. That didn’t stop us. Sandy visits a real estate office for island rentals. They say, “Sorry Charlie” the island is sold-out. Five minutes later, and right across the street,  I notice a small place partial hidden by Palm trees. They had a vacancy. And, even though the Parrot’s Nest looks funky from the outside it turned out to be just what we needed for a two night stay on the Island.

On our trip home we had an over night stay in DeFuniak Springs Florida, lunch at Bay Saint Louis Mississippi, and dinner in Jackson Mississppi with an overnight at one of our favorite places the Cabot Lodge.

So, the year 2013 comes to close. We are prayerful and grateful for our great family that chooses to love each other above all us. We look forward to 2014. It’s going to be the best year ever!

Remembering Leo and Giving Thanks

leoI have always loved the Thanksgiving holiday. In fact of all the holidays, it’s my favorite. For me, Thanksgiving has been a time for family, food, and football. Sometimes we would play American  touch-football but more often than not my family played the other “football.” A game played with a round ball and two goals. Any number of players would do. No weather or excuse could stop the annual Thanksgiving “football” match. At Christmas, the same rules applied for the “Santa Cup.”

As I have gotten older, Thanksgiving now consists of a drive out to Eureka, Missouri, to Kevin and Kimberly’s horse ranch for a fantastic turkey dinner prepared by multiple family members including my sisters, nieces, nephews and  brother-in-law. Everybody brings something and it comes together successfully with more food than anyone can eat or take home in their pockets. There is still time for football. But these days, I watch more than I play; I hope for a good NFL game on television.

This coming Thanksgiving and Christmas to follow will be different this year. Members of the Dunn’s, Robinson’s, Politte’s and the Shasserre’s will celebrate the family holidays without our friend, my brother-in-law, Leo Politte, Jr.

Leo died September 17, 2013. He and his wife Mary have a home in Frontenac, Missouri and a second home in Blue Hill, Maine. The past several years they would spend equal time in both. Though I’m pretty sure Leo enjoyed Maine the best.

He was born in Washington, MO. on November 2, 1940 to Margaret and Leo Sr. So his death comes just short of his seventy-third birthday. Leo loved Thanksgiving too–all of the family gatherings, good food (lots of it) and a glass or two of wine or his favorite bottled beer.

Leo was not a football fan. Nor was he a fan of most any sport played by professionals and watched on television. In fact, his interest in sports watched on television was near “zero.” And his tolerance level for those of us who watched sports on television was less than zero. But, I loved him anyway.

Instead, Leo was all about “doing” not watching. He believed in playing the game just for the fun of it. He only kept score because everyone else did. He loved volleyball, especially beach volleyball. He loved hiking, camping, canoeing and sailing. Just about anything that could be done in a river, lake or ocean Leo had done it or was planning to do it. And if you wanted to head to the mountains or even a small hill somewhere near or far Leo would be the first to say “yes, when do we leave?”

Leo may have been the most generous person that I have ever met. That’s why remembering him fondly in the month that he was born and in the month of the Thanksgiving holiday is so appropriate.

In bible parables, Jesus talks often about the importance of being a good neighbor. Leo was a good neighbor. If you needed help of any kind he was the first to volunteer. The gift of one’s personal time and attention is the greatest gift of all. It was a gift that Leo gave freely and frequently.

Shortly after Leo and I first met, he helped me to find a summer job at State Hospital. I was a Psychology major at Southeast Missouri State College. I needed a job and without asking for help Leo went out and found it for me. He repaired my cars and those of all family and friends at his backyard “shady tree” garage. He helped me move from house to house on many occasion. He was constantly giving me other things, like a canoe for our lake house or a bench table because he thought it would look good facing the lake and the fire pit. His generosity, and Mary’s as well, continued until his death. More about that later in this letter.

Leo was a “neat guy,” as his nephew, David Politte put it in an email message sent to Mary and her three sons, Mark, PJ, and Luke, the day Leo died. The email message read as follows: “Kim and I express our condolences on Leo’s passing. I know that’s what folks customarily say and I’ve said it many times, but when I thought more about it I realized I’m not really sure what ‘condolences’ means. So, I looked it up. According to Webster, ‘condolences’ is an expression of sympathy with another in sorrow or grief.

So, does that word really fit? Certainly, it is sad that Leo will no longer be with us here on earth. But, maybe it is more fitting to give congratulations and to be happy because Mary-you were married to, and you guys were raised by-such a neat guy. You all are very lucky. With three boys of our own, I have always admired the way he (and you too, Mary) raised your three boys.

I have tried to look up to him for inspiration. From my perspective, he always seemed to have the right combination of discipline, leader, counselor, friend, and comedian which caused his boys to grow up in his image and become the good people they are today.

Perhaps, saying we will ‘celebrate’ his life on the 28th (the day of his funeral mass at All Saints) also sounds like a cliché’ but to me it really is more fitting than the cliché of expressing ‘condolences’. Kim and the boys and I look forward to seeing you then.”

I was honored that day, being asked to give the eulogy. From the pulpit I commented to David, who was in the church, that his email message was exactly right. Because Leo’s way of life, his way of doing is to be remembered. His values are to be honored. His love of being with friends and giving back to others is what giving thanks is all about. His grateful nature and loving smile we will all remember.

Leo planned his funeral mass details. He wanted all in attendance to celebrate his life and to comfort his wife. He wanted all to gather as family and friends to share our stories. To smile, to laugh, embrace with gusto just as Leo laughed, smiled and embraced.

I knew Leo for 47 years. My memory of him and the recall of stories are many. But, there is one story that I must tell just because to me it is a priceless memory. Leo Politte had a reputation for traveling the back roads. In fact, often times he would leave the main highway to explore a road less traveled.    

This particular story begins almost twenty years ago when Leo’s oldest son, Mark and Samantha were married. Their wedding was in a small town in the State of Connecticut. Following the wedding Sandy and I joined Mary and Leo for a road trip up to Montreal and Quebec, Canada. Our plan was to drive to Boston, then head up the coast to Rockport MA. Then, we drove up to Merrimack NH to visit an old friend.

The next day we headed off to Quebec via New Hampshire with a path set to cross Maine. We were supposed to be traveling north, then northwest but never south or southeast.

If you have ever traveled by car with Leo you know he had a tendency to get side tracked occasionally or should I say, frequently. Along the way we stopped every two hours or less. We stopped for garage sales, flea markets, interesting road signs, and historical markers. We stopped for breakfast, for lunch; and of course, we had many stops for Mother Nature. We stopped, I kid you not, for every information center in every city along the route.

At some point along the trip Leo decided to get off the highways to drive through small towns. Then, it happened. Leo came across a road he couldn’t resist. The sign read– Logger road (a place where only loggers were supposed to go).

We headed up the logger dirt road surrounded only by trees. In the middle of nowhere Maine we see a marker… Appalachia Trial.

So, what do you do if you are Leo Politte? Or, any Politte for that matter. You get out of the car and you hike the Appalachia Trail. One hour up the mountain trail and MARY says, LEO, it’s time to turn around. One hour we hike back. By the time we load the car and continue our journey the day is turning to dusk. We have nowhere to stay.

We ended our day in Moose River, Maine. Look it up! It’s in the middle of NOWHERE, MAINE. There was one place in Moose River for lodging and one restaurant to buy a meal. Fortunately, we ended the day with a good meal and a clean bed. Leo was lucky that way.

This past January Leo was given the news. His doctor told him that the cancer had spread. He had weeks to live. Weeks, not months……Leo responded to that news by living each day pretty much as he lived each day before the diagnosis. His daily routine was unchanged as long as he had the energy. He spoke with gratitude about his life. He spoke about his blessings, his good fortune. He spoke with pride about his three boys and the great women who had entered their lives. He was grateful for his grandchildren. And, he talked with affection about his life lived with his best friend and loving wife, Mary.

He faced death with a smile, a good sense of humor and a generous amount of time for anyone in his path. Leo’s entire life, it seems to me, has been spent in service to others. His work life before retirement was spent working for the State of Missouri with mentally challenged clients. In his retirement days, he enjoyed his volunteer activities serving the Saint Vincent DePaul Society, working at the Missouri Transportation Train Museum, and then, ironically, working in both Missouri and Maine as a volunteer for Hospice patients.

Leo’s last eight months were spent in a courageous battle against a formidable disease. In the end, cancer was the cause of death. But, cancer didn’t deter the spirit within. Cancer didn’t stop Leo’s generosity. And, it certainly didn’t stop that big smile and loving hug that he gave to each of us in greetings.

Every person who knew Leo Politte will have fond memories that will never pass. We will remember family visits to the farm in Washington MO., Sunday drives to Alton to see the Eagles fly, short trips to site-see or for a hike. We will remember longer trips driving from Washington DC down the east coast all the way to Amelia Island, one day traveling only 100 miles in seven hours, because of all the interesting stops that Leo just couldn’t resist.

We will remember the trip to the Bad Lands in South Dakota, the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone in Wyoming, the Grand Canyon in Arizona and Glacier National Park in Montana. We will remember the Dunn family gathering in Blue Hill Maine, the cruise trip and snorkeling in the Cayman Islands and Kelly’s wedding day on Guemes Island. For all of the Politte’s, the Robinson’s, the Dunn’s and the Shasserre’s, we will always remember Perdido Key, Florida because it was there, that we all bonded as family. Again, through the invitation and generosity of Leo and Mary Politte.

The day before Leo’s funeral I came across this quote. “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as if nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is.” Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

Leo chose the latter. Leo A. Politte Jr. was a great person and a great friend. He was a great husband and a great dad. He set the bar high. He offered himself generously as a way of life not as though the act of giving was an intrusion, but rather an opportunity.

This Thanksgiving holiday, Sandy and I will honor the lessons from Leo’s life by making a donation to Well Spring Journey Project, a 501c3 nonprofit agency established in 2011 by Kelly Sontheimer and Pat Kerber. It was Kelly who came to Leo’s bedside every week to offer comfort-oriented massage therapy for both Leo and Mary. This tender care helped to reduce pain, anxiety, sleeplessness, nausea and fatigue. Mary and Leo looked forward to Kelly’s visit with great appreciation. Kelly offers this service to others facing a cancer diagnosis or other life threatening illnesses. Often times she offers this valued service for “free-no charge.”

If you would like to make a donation you can do so by sending a check to Wellspring Journey Project, in honor of Leo Politte, 3284 Taylor Avenue, Bridgeton, MO 63044. Or, you can go their website at www.wellspringjourneyproject.org

Final thought, another Einstein quote, “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.” Rest in peace, Leo.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe you were born to make a difference in this world.

Direct marketing experts advise when writing a solicitation letter to include a PS, because the reader will always read the PS first, before reading the body copy. So, make the PS an important part of your message.

When creating print advertisements experts advise on the importance of the headline. Sometimes these are the only words the reader will read, so make it count. The same advice would be true, I believe, when writing an article such as this. Perhaps, the only thing you will read, or remember, is the headline. So, go ahead read it again, at least twice.

My target audience for this communication is my children, grandchildren, friends and family. So, my New Year’s wish for each of you is that you are blessed with an outrageous amount of foolishness so you will believe, without a doubt, you were born to make a difference in this world.

So here is the 2012 question for you. How will you live a life of meaning and significance? What does God want you to do with your life? Why do you do what you do? For some of you these questions may be easy to answer. But, for most people, even mature adults, these questions remain unanswered for a lifetime. They can haunt people well into adulthood.

I will not tell you that I have a magic formula guaranteed to help with your personal discernment. But, I will offer advice as to where you may find answers. I suggest that you begin with this thought from the Bible, “Commit you works to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” Proverbs 16:3  My suggestion is to start your day with a prayer. Include God in your daily plans. Recognize that you can’t succeed by your efforts alone.

My second suggestion is that you form the habit of positive thinking. In every situation, regardless of circumstance, you can decide to be positive or to be otherwise. Choose to be positive. As Aristotle once said, “we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit.” So, form the habit, of being a positive person, it will change everything you do for the rest of your life.

The third suggestion is to be grateful. This morning, for instance, I had my morning cup of coffee (freshly ground beans), followed by a glass of orange juice, pancakes with real blueberry jam from Maine, and then a few grapefruit slices. And, I thought to myself, how many people in the world will never have a single breakfast as nice as this one? I have small indulgences such as this on a routine basis. I am I grateful?

Finally, I would suggest that every worthwhile enduring purpose is virtually always motivated by a desire for the well being of others. So, to the degree that is possible, think less about what you need and more about how you can be of service to others. True success, I believe, will be measured  not by what you have but rather by what you gave away.

Here is a better way to express the same thought, “Remember when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing you have received—only what you have given. St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226)

So let’s go back to the article headline, the only thing you will likely remember, my wish for you this new year is “May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe you were born to make a difference in this world.” Get started. Make a difference. Remember, the journey of one thousand miles begins with one step. Chineese Proverb

Happy New Year. May 2012 be your best year ever.

Freedom Riders: from Alabama to Africa

“How wonderful it is that no one need wait a single moment to start improving the world” Anne Frank

What an emotional week this has been. I have been inspired and motivated by storytelling so compelling that it brought on personal feelings of disbelief, astonishment, anger, compassion, and admiration. Tuesday night, I had an opportunity to meet Stanley Nelson the producer of “Freedom Riders.” Stanley had come to Saint Louis, at the request of Nine Network, for a private screening of his extraordinary documentary movie about the 1961 civil rights movement that eventually led to the 1964 Civil Rights Act designed to abolish segregation throughout America. The movie is so well done. It is a powerful reminder of the shameful acts of violence and hatred carried out against non-violent African-Americans and white supporters in Montgomery, Alabama and throughout the south. But it is far more than that. It is story of “heroism” of mammoth proportion. The film clips that we viewed left me with a sense of awe and admiration for the young people of that time. They sacrificed everything for what they believed was absolutely necessary as they faced almost certain injury or even death. Freedom Riders will be shown on PBS stations throughout the country on May 16, 2011.

I believe you will soon be hearing more about the movie Freedom Riders because Oprah Winfrey will feature Stanley Nelson and his movie. She has also invited all 150 living original Freedom Riders to her studios for one of her last televised shows. Of the 436 originals activists who rode on more than 60 bus rides only 150 riders are living today.

Then, early Wednesday morning I departed for Chicago to attend a three-day Advisors in Philanthropy conference. I was attending at the invitation of a friend, Chris Jacob, who owns a company called Cadeau. Chris is a wealth advisor and many of his clients are high net-worth individuals. My expectations of long days, boring meetings listening to financial advisors who would speak of sophisticated ways for wealthy people to avoid taxation via legal clever methods was totally unfounded. Instead, I found to my surprise, none of the speakers talked about such tactics. Instead, they spoke about their desires to benefit the people they serve. The entire two days was focused on the potential of philanthropy to benefit communities around the world. The two days of key-note speeches and multiple seminars addressed lofty topics like, how to teach our children and grandchildren to be philanthropist. For those interested in teaching children why giving is important I recommend www.youthgive.org I suggest that you search the website for stories told by children who want to help homeless people in the United States or those who lack water in Africa and throughout the world.

Another fascinating topic covered in these seminars is the art of storytelling. A fantastic “storyteller” himself, Scott Farnsworth, President of Sunbridge Financial Advisors, told us how an old letter from his deceased mother was a pivotal moment in his life leading to the creation of “precious moments.” Farnsworth teaches financial advisors and estate planners how to touch hearts, change lives, and connect families using elegant practical tools and systems for legacy building story sharing and deeper relationships. I had dinner with Scott and his two business partners. This year they are working with only three customers…each of these families have a net worth between $25million- $125million. The major challenge in every case is not how to protect the financial assets against unnecessary taxation. That’s the easy part according to the advisors. The hard part is getting the family to talk about family values, issues of importance to each person, distribution of wealth to benefit these issues of importance, structures to promote organizational accountability and family member participation. This theme was consistent from speaker to speaker and workshop to workshop. This was truly an inspirational opportunity to examine my own gift giving process and procedure. As a professional fund-raiser this workshop has challenged my skills and my strategies as I seek to demonstrate the potential impact that public media can play in collaboration with other organizations to benefit people in my community and beyond.   

“There is a wonderful mythical law of nature that the three things we crave most in life–happiness, freedom, and peace of mind–are always attained by giving them to someone else.” Peyton Conway

One of the interesting findings that I discovered in one workshop was research that indicated that 65% of high net-worth families questioned in the study say their greatest fear is that inheriting wealth will harm their children. And, there is ample evidence to indicate this is a legitimate concern. According to the study 70% of intergenerational wealth transfers fail by the end of the successor generation. The primary reasons for this failure are poor family communication and inadequate preparation.

Another interesting finding was learned from author Stephen Post, the director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Stony Brook University. In his latest book, The Hidden Gifts of Helping he extols the health benefits of altruism not just for the receiver, but for the giver as well. Giving, claims Post, extends life span, relieves stress, improves mental health, and helps the heart.

And so my take away from this past exhausting week is that the greatest human need is the feeling that our lives have significance. And one certain path to gaining significance is to be a “giver.”   

“You must be the change you wish in the world.” –Mahatma Gandhi

Where to begin?

January 2011-Lay of the Land

Our oldest son Craig and his wife Nicole and family, Olivia, Evan and Ella are living in Springfield, Illinois. They are planning another busy year with kids activities, vacations, and the usual trials and tribulations.

Brian, Jen and Fisher are living in Portland, Oregon. Jen’s new business start-up, Rawdacious, shows promise. Brian is busy traveling to and from Guemes Island where he has multiple construction projects lined up for the new year. Fisher is doing well in school.

Todd and Jessica have been on a great adventure. Jessica accepted a new job recruiting students for her Alma Mater, Maryville University. Her territory is California. Todd and Jessica moved to San Diego. Then, great news! Todd found a new job opportunity. All is well in sunny California.

Kelly and Mark have big plans for 2011. Kelly is pregnant, due in May. Their daughter, Rumi, will be 3 yrs. in March. Kelly and Mark have decided to build a new house on their acreage on Guemes Island. They will need to move into a rental home on Anacortes until the new home is built.

Brent left Saint Louis in October last year. He’s planning for a new life in Boulder, Colorado. From the latest report, he’s on track. He found a great log cabin home on a farm overlooking the mountains. Sounds good.

Kerry and Kris have big plans as well. Kerry is pregnant, due in March. Kris has a new opportunity working on the next United States America’s Cup entry. This will be the fastest sail boat in the world. Oracle has offered him a three-year contract. They will need to move to San Francisco shortly after the new baby is born. Sienna is getting ready for her new baby brother.

So, that’s it, our family has BIG PLANS. What could go wrong?

January 18 – Catholic Charities Midtown announces a need to downsize. Sandy looses her job.

January 21 – Kelly calls home to ask her Mom for help. Sandy will soon be headed to the West Coast to help pack up Kelly’s house on Guemes for a move to Anacortes.

February 18- Sandy leaves for Seattle. The plan is to meet Jen and Fisher at the airport, then to take Fisher for a spring break vacation with his dad on Guemes. The plan is to meet with Kerry and Sienna for a while. Then help Kelly with the move. Hang out with Brian and Fisher. Then return on March 3. Well, that was the PLAN.

February 20 – A tornado quickly passes through St. Louis. At 2:00am I hear a loud noise. Sounds like a tree limb on the roof top. I go back to sleep.

February 21 – That noise was not a limb on the roof. It was my dining room ceiling crashing down from the weight of water on top of the dining room table. Glass and water everywhere. Looks like a plumbing issue to me since the ceiling hole is directly under the second floor bathroom.

February 22- The plumbing company comes out to investigate. Thirty minutes and $62.00 later the plumber says this damage is rain related. But, how did the rain get to that spot on my ceiling with no other sign of rain? It’s an unresolved mystery.

February 23- Happy 43rd Anniversary Sandy. Oh, wait a minute. She is on Guemes Island helping Kelly. And, Sandy is worried about our youngest daughter, Kerry.  Her pregnancy has been difficult, especially the last few months. And, now, Kerry’s blood pressure is unusually high. Very  high. The mid-wife is  concerned.

February 24- Kelly, now six months pregnant, gets back lab results to learn that she has gestational diabetes.

February 25 – Heavy rain storm hits Saint Louis. It rains all night. Most of it ends up in our house. Mystery solved.

February 26- I discover rain damage. Water dripping from the kitchen ceiling, dining room ceiling, dining room windows, walls, ornate hardwood floor has buckled badly, second floor bath has water damage in the walls. Water from the third floor to the second floor to the basement,  It’s dripping everywhere. Time to call the insurance company. The $1,000 deductible has clearly been surpassed.

February 28 – Sandy predicts that Kerry will have her baby a few weeks early. She is too concerned about Kerry’s health to care much about the swimming pool in her house.

March 2 – Sandy, and Kerry head to the emergency room with Sienna. Sienna has a severe case of pink eye. Worse case, Sandy has ever seen in twenty-three years as a Peds RN.

March 3 – Kerry discovers a rat (a very large mouse) has entered her kitchen. Of course, Sandy loves living with this undesired visitor. The three dogs–Madrona, Ceilo, and Buddy should keep this guy out of the house.

March 4- Kerry goes into labor. She has chosen a natural home birth. The mid-wife is on the way. Kris is headed back from San Francisco. Sandy and Sienna will “sleep” in one room while the baby is delivered in the other bed room. At 2:00am, Sebastian is born. He’s a healthy 7 lb. baby boy. Kerry is ok too. I make plans to go see my newest grandchild.

March 8 – At 4:00am Sandy calls me to tell me she is seeing “pink elephants.” Two hours later I get another phone call. She is leaving the emergency room. Sandy had a 104 temp. She fell in the bath tub hitting her face on the faucet. She refused stitches. She has a mild concussion, lacerations to the face, scarlet fever and strep throat. She  needs bed rest and, of course, she has to stay away from Sebastian, Sienna, Rumi, Fisher and parents too.

March 9 – Kris and Sienna both have eye infections. By this time Sandy knows the pharmacist on a first name basis. That’s not a good sign when you are an out-of-town visitor.

March 15 – Brian has an accidental fall and breaks the eye socket bone. He may need surgery.

March 16- Mid-wife examines Kerry to find a growth in her lower chest area. She’s concerned and orders a cat-scan.

March 17 – Happy St. Patrick’s Day. I leave St. Louis at 6:00am headed to Seattle.

March 18 – Good news. Brian will not require surgery. He was lucky. The fracture will heal on its own. His multiple construction projects on Guemes will continue as planned.

March 23- Kerry has a ultra-sound instead of the cat-scan and the test results are good. Nothing to worry about for now. She will leave for San Francisco as planned.

March 25- Rumi turns three today. We spend the morning helping Kerry and Kris pack up the 22 foot rental truck for San Fran. They leave for California on Saturday. We have lunch with them and then Sandy and I head to Seattle to spend the night.

March 26 – We wake at 4:00am by an error to catch a 7:00am flight back to Saint Louis. She travels by Delta through Minneapolis. I’m returning on Southwest via Chicago. We learn later that Saint Louis is getting an unexpected snow storm. Our flights are delayed. We finally arrive in STL. Sandy gets to see her ‘home soaked home” for the first time. The remodeling company has accomplished nothing since I left 10 days ago. We had planned to have new gutters put up while we were out-of-town. So, much for PLANS.

March 28- I wonder what happens next…

Blessed by Another Year

Last week I visited one of my favorite places for lunch–Gioa’s Deli, located across from Berra Park. They offer great sandwiches, chips and drinks. Try it, you’ll like it. Of course, Berra Park was named for the New York Yankees Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra. Yogi played baseball at that little park in a small Italian neighborhood on the western edge of St. Louis–the area is affectionately referred to as “the Hill.”

There are many funny baseball stories involving the famous Yogi Berra. Here’s one more. When catching a game in Yankee Stadium one day, Yogi became increasingly more annoyed by an opposing team player who made the “sign of the cross” each time he came to the plate. The day was hot and the game was slow. This guy wasn’t helping to move things along any faster. When the player came to the plate for the fourth time and he made the “sign” ever so slowly, Yogi snapped, “Hey buddy, why don’t you stop doing that and just let God watch the game.”

You know sometimes I’m like that guy who annoyed Yogi. I call upon God only when I come to the plate, only when I face a tough situation, only when I need something? My God, then, is a very distant aloof God. He’s called upon only when I need a miracle, when I need strength, when I need help. I don’t know about you but maybe I should invite God into my life on a daily basis. To know Him better would probably be a good thing.

How is your relationship with God? Are you adamant in you beliefs and unwavering in your convictions? Yes, that would be ideal, but…my world is rich in everything, except clarity in the area of faith and spirituality.  Albert Einstein once said, “God does not play dice with the universe.” Einstein accepted the notion of a Creator but was stymied with the problem of good and evil. He concluded there must be a Creator, but he agonized over  the personality of that Designer. Do you ever agonize over the personality of the Designer? At times, I do.

It seems reasonable for me to believe that we are creatures created by God. There is a purpose for our lives with eternal implications. We are not cosmic accidents with no purpose but the grave. Each person then is a unique soul. Each life then has great value. Why then doesn’t the Designer cover each of us with a layer of self-assurance and a sense of peace? As I take a close look at those I know best, I can find a few people with deep faith convictions, people with a healthy self-assurance, people filled with internal peace. These people all seem to have a close relationship with God. As I reflect on the past year, I think I would like to be more like those people. Yea, that would be good.

Who ever coined the cliché, “Life is short” certainly knew what he/she was talking about. As this year comes to an end and another begins I reflect upon how fast a year can pass.  I recall my favorite days on vacation with family and the joy of accomplishing something important with co-workers. I see clearly the connectedness of actions of the past that lead to opportunities today. I’m reminded of life’s fragile nature. I’m reminded frequently that each day counts. Everything I say and do has consequences.  I can’t replay yesterday. I can do something worth doing today.

I believe we are at our best when we’re climbing, thinking, planning, working–when we are trying to bring about something worthwhile, especially something that will benefit others. I am blessed to have such opportunities in 2011. As we bring this year to an end and begin another, I pray that my friends and family may be embraced by God. I pray that they find something worth doing, then do it with a strong sense of purpose. I pray that they have the courage to love one another, forgive one another, encourage one another, and lend a helping hand when necessary.

Happy New Year!

The Day After Thanksgiving

For those of you who know us, and that would be just about everyone reading this post, Sandy and I have six children and six grandchildren. I am the oldest of six in my family and Sandy is one of seven in her family. So, family holidays are a very big deal. There is nothing more important than family. To top it off, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Thanksgiving is a time for kick-back relaxation, turkey dinners (at least two per day) and lots of pie….all kinds–pumpkin, apple, cherry, custard, lemon marangue….yea, those are the ones that I ate yesterday.

With all of our six children and six grandchildren living out-of-town, this Thanksgiving will be a very special family occasion with new family traditions and new family memories. Some of the kids will come to visit us in St. Louis. This year Kelly arrives with her daughter, Rumi Kai, on the Thursday before Thanksgiving. They will stay for eight days. Her husband, Mark, is headed to Florida to be with his family.  Kelly and Mark live on Guemes Island, Washington, so we see them usually only once or twice per year.

Our son, Todd, and his wife, Jessica,  just moved to San Diego. Todd came to Saint Louis for business reasons the week before Thanksgiving. He arrived Thursday night the same day that Kelly arrived. On Friday, that same week, our grandkids from Springfield arrived. Their parents, Craig and Nicole, were in Florida. So we had Olivia, Evan, Ella, Todd, Kelly and Rumi spending the weekend with us. Then, to add to the fun, Saturday night, Kerry, Kristin and Sienna arrived direct from Seattle (they live in Mount Vernon, WA). If you are still with me, I believe that makes six adults and five little people spending the night Saturday night. Four double beds and two air mattresses were filled. This is what we call family fun, right?

My recall of that weekend (just five days ago) is kind of foggy. Kerry, who is pregnant (forgot to mention that), spent the first night, and most of the weekend, throwing-up. Saturday night, she crawled into bed with us so she could stay close to the toilet. Now, I don’t mind if my little girl comes into our bedroom. Privacy is something that big families are not accustomed to anyway. But she’s twenty-seven years old and about to have her second child. Somehow it seemed a little weird having her in our bed. She was pretty sick so Sandy decided we should give up our bedroom for the rest of the week so Kerry could be more comfortable. We would spend the rest of the week sleeping on a futon located on the third floor, and, of course, there are no bathrooms on the third floor. Not that people my age need bathrooms in the middle of the night, mind you. The third floor? Sure, I was in total agreement.

Saturday morning our grandson, Evan, woke us up at 6:00 am because he wasn’t sleepy any more. Since he doesn’t get to see his out-of-town cousins very often he thought it would be a good idea if they all woke before their parents. Because he and Rumi and Sienna were awake he figured he may as well wake up those two sisters of his. They may have slept a few more hours but, hey, if Evan is up, why not everybody else. Ella and Olivia didn’t seem too happy about the early wake-up call.

By 10:00am Kelly, Todd and I were headed to pick-up their grandpa. My dad is eight-six years old. The kids don’t get to see him often. Mom died last January, so this is the first Thanksgiving without Mom. My kids wanted to take grandpa to lunch. Sandy, the brave one, took four kids (Sienna didn’t arrive until 7:00pm) to the Zoo. By 1:30pm I connected with Sandy to transfer kids to my car. Olivia, Evan, Ella and I headed to the Magic House. Sandy, Kelly and Rumi headed home for a nap.

Fortunately, Todd met me at the Magic House to help me entertain the kids. It was huge fun. I lost my grandkids (or maybe they lost me) many times over the next three hours…fortunately they are old enough to manage the Magic House, it’s three floors and many activities with ease. Forty bucks lighter and three hours later it was time to head for home and then off to the airport to pick-up the arriving visitors from Washington.

Sunday, Craig and Nicole arrived to join us for dinner before they headed for home in Springfield Illinois. When I went to sleep Sunday night I could have slept in the middle of an airline runway. I was tired. Sandy was tired. I think Kerry, Kris and Kelly were tired. I’m not sure if Rumi and Sienna were tired. They were still going strong at 9:00 when I headed upstairs to my futon.

The rest of the week is a blur…I recall some of the highlights….lost socks, broken glasses, spilled milk, cold pizza, ice cream treats, lots of food crumbs all over every room, and, did I mention Kerry had to go to the hospital one day? She had a scare with false labor pains. It turns out she was dehydrated from so much vomiting. I don’t like to write about vomiting so I’ll just end that story here.

That brings me to Thanksgiving Day…..that wonderful holiday that I so look forward to…that day of kick-back relaxation. It all began with coffee in bed. A good start. Then, a nice shower. Then, I’m told, Rumi was running too fast being chased by Sienna when she crashes into a living room light and gashes her chin. Moments later Kelly and Rumi and I are headed to Cardinal Glennon emergency room for stitches. After a three-hour hospital visit with some very nice doctors and nurses at Cardinal Glennon, we headed to my sister’s house for Turkey dinner and lots of pies. Rumi has her chin repaired and one more story for our memory book.

Finally, it’s the day after Thanksgiving. I was up at 4:00am today for my first trip to the airport. Kerry, Kris and Sienna are off to San Diego to see Todd and Jessica as they continue their holiday. At 8:00am I’m on my way back to the airport with Kelly and Rumi. They are headed to Denver to spend a few days before they head home. Another of my sons, Brent, who recently moved to Denver, will pick them up at the airport.  So, they are enjoying time together, as I write.

We miss all of the kids who are out-of-town. Brian, Jenn and Fisher are in Portland, Oregon. Brent is single and finding a new beginning in Colorado. Todd and Jessica are starting a new opportunity in California. Mark, Kelly and Rumi will settle back into their groove on Guemes Island. Kris, Kerry and Sienna return to their life in Mount Vernon, WA. And Craig, Nicole, Olivia, Evan and Ella are busy again with weekend soccer games in Springfield.

Sandy and I are home alone, in our quiet, clean and uncluttered house. And, of course, we are looking forward to next holiday weekend with the kids and grandkids. We are counting the days in anticipation.  We can’t wait! No really, I’m serious. We are really look forward to it. Honest injun. We can’t wait. Well, maybe we can wait.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. We hope you enjoyed your holiday as much as we did.

“We sanctify all we are grateful for.”
- Anthony DeMello SJ