How Big is Your Family?

I have been thinking about family a lot recently or I guess reminded a lot. Last weekend we held the funeral for the last remaining sibling of my father’s family of twelve. A week ago my well respected and deeply loved aunt Hazel, passed away a month shy of her 99th birthday. It was a day filled with reunions, stories and celebration of her life. It was surprisingly easy to reconnect with my cousins, some whom I had not seen for years. But, as they say, the years fell away as we shared our stories and caught up with our past.

What struck me more than anything else is the closeness that exists in strong families. I know as I write this there are readers who may have come from less functional families. From families where relationships may have been strained through time and differences. My heart has always gone out to them. I was fortunate enough to come from a family whose bonds were strong and remain strong to this day. That is not to say that there weren’t some relationships that were not as strong as others, but for me to remain as connected as I am to the cousins produced by a family of my father’s size, there must have been more that connected us than just our common blood line.

Families are a dynamic entity. Thus the question, “How big is your family?” Who does the term family encompass? How big is the circle that defines your family? Mother Teresa was once quoted as saying, “The problem with the world is that we draw the circle of our family too small.” Think about that. We spend so much time making our circles smaller, exclusive in their make-up. If we agree on principals, if we share the same beliefs, if we have common friends, then we draw our circle to include these people but not others. If we thought of the people we know, the people we work with, the people we simply interact with as family, then we would have widened our circle. If we then think of them as family, think how much better we would treat each other. Widen the circle. Make it inclusive, not exclusive.

Once we have widen the circle we draw to define our family, then we need to follow by being positive. By loving our circle unconditionally regardless of the differences that might try to separate us. What follows is compassion versus intolerance, unity versus divisiveness. Start to imagine what a better nation, what a better people we could be.

Today I listened to a sermon by our new minister, Heather Hayward and wanted to share an experiment she told us about. The experiment was done with water by Japanese author Masaru Emoto. Emoto experimented with water molecules and the effects of positive and negative words and music on the structure of the crystals they formed. (see: ) The results were stunning and beautiful when positive words and music were applied. They were confused and in some ways ugly when the opposite was applied. Whether you choose to believe his experiment, the images are impressive. When you consider that the human body is comprised of 60% water, isn’t worth at least trying positive words versus the negative words we are bombarded with daily.

We do not choose our family. We are born into it. But we can choose the people we would treat as family. So I ask you, how big will you draw the circle of your family? Will you make it big enough to include me?

Let the Road Rise up to Meet You

In a few days my wife and I will be packing up my Jeep and heading for the open road. We will pack on our bikes and golf clubs along with some clothes for all seasons and head south on Interstate 39. This trip is going to be different than our usual style. For my wife’s comfort, we would normally have it all planned out right down to the means of transportation and accommodations as well as site tours. On this trip we will leave almost all of that to chance and whim. I have no doubt we will survive and I have no doubt there will be hick-ups. But I also suspect that we will stumble onto several whimsical surprises. It is these whimsical surprises that I look forward to most of all.

I love my wife and have always tolerated and at times greatly appreciated her need to have plans laid out and surprises avoided, but truth be told, that is not my style. My daughters refer to any trip with dad as an adventure. I am a restless, impatient, let me see where this road leads me sort of guy. I will admit that the road didn’t always lead me where it was supposed to but I also made it to my destination somehow. The fact that my wife is tolerating this upcoming trip is either a testament to her willingness to humor me or at the least an acknowledgment that time has broken her will. I am excited for the trip to begin for only then will the adventure reveal itself.

Life is like this. We can go through it planning every step along the way seeking to avoid the surprises or we can take a more adventurous approach. Before we get carried away, remember that the lion share of my career was spent as a planner. I will be the first to acknowledge the benefit of goals and plans to meet them. It’s just that there is also a need for spontaneity. It’s a balance of the two that allows one to truly live. The goals are met in the planning and they in turn afford us the freedom to find the surprises that await us in the spontaneity. We can choose the direction we will point our vehicles or even the course we will travel, but to truly enjoy the journey, we must let the road rise up to meet us. The reward will be worth the risk. The surprises perhaps whimsical. The road can take us places we may never had considered and reveal to us experiences we would never have realized.

This Thursday we will get up, hop in our car and begin the trip, my expectations and imagination already miles ahead. I can’t wait for the road to rise up and take us where it would have us go. No need to wish us luck, we packed it in our bags.

Follow our journey at

One Man’s Treasure

I had just parked my car this morning after a masterfully executed parallel parking job in traffic, when as I exited the vehicle, I found a quarter staring up at me from the pavement. Now there are several ways to react to this found treasure. Most would likely dismiss it and possible have never risked traffic to even pick it up. After all, what does a quarter buy today…a gumball or maybe an after dinner mint? Some would pick it up just simply because it was something. Still others, like myself, would see it as an omen and maybe even a message. I viewed it as a message. A message from my Uncle Len.

Leonard Wundrow was my father’s younger brother and the source of most of the Wundrow joke reservoir. Any time that Uncle Len would stop by the farm, and that was often, we would be regaled with a litany of his jokes and stories, many I am sure, the kind my mother would have censored had she had the chance. There was never a dull moment when Len was involved.

But the story I want to share concerns Uncle Len’s past time. He would go for walks, head down, searching for the lost treasures of those who had passed before. Those little pieces of change that fell out of the pocket each time you reached in for your keys or a pocket knife or some other small tool. A penny here, a nickel there and if you were lucky the occasional quarter or even half dollar could be found if you knew where to look and you kept your eyes to the ground. Uncle Len was a pro and by the time he retired and found hours of additional time to search, a veritable force to be reckoned with. His house held jars full of coins waiting for their trip to the bank. Each day we would get the report, the tally for the day of treasures found.

Uncle Len’s secret, knowing where and when to look. Near the parking meter, outside the bar any early morning or in the park the morning after the fair. Locate the beer tent remains and the treasure could be impressive. He would sometimes take us with him and we would be shown the tricks of the trade but sworn to secrecy on his high production sites. One morning, the day after the VFW Fair had pulled up stakes and rolled out of town, Uncle Len hit the mother load. After a productive area pass of pocket dropped coins, Len found, tightly rolled up, a C note. Yes, My Uncle Len had found a one hundred dollar bill! His glee was contagious, his question possibly a bit naive. He was musing as to why any one would roll up a hundred dollar bill into such a small tube. They could of used it for a straw! He even considered using it as such to which we immediately said “DON’T!” I will leave it with you there, just as we did way back then.

We loved our Uncle Len. He was a character that kept his family and ours always on your toes. When he passed, he left the missing person syndrome in every family gathering that followed but he also left his legacy. To this day, and to a person in the Wundrow families, we can not pass a dropped coin without hearing his voice saying “you gonna pick that up?” So you see, this morning, with traffic whizzing by, I never thought twice, I bent down, stopped traffic, and retrieved the coin. Stepping back onto the sidewalk, my wife asked what I was doing. When I showed her the coin, we looked at each other and said, “Uncle Len’s watching us today.”

Legacies are the essence of who we were that we leave behind when we go. I can only hope that long after I am gone, I will have left some legacy, even if it just a quirky habit like viewing the little things as a treasure.

It would not be fair to end this story without reporting on what we did with the quarter. We left it in the tip jar at the cafe where we enjoyed breakfast and shared a memory or two of Uncle Len. Anything else would have seemed sacrilegious. Who knows how many hands that quarter will touch or what it might help accomplish. Thanks Uncle Len. One man’s treasure.

I Spy

Just the other day my wife and I were looking for a quick breakfast before finishing the last of our Christmas shopping.  Cracker Barrel happened to be right on the way.  I had not been back to a Cracker Barrel in many years and in fact this was the one that my youngest daughter and I used to frequent for our father daughter breakfast “adventures”.  The moment I stepped through the door the memories came flooding back.  When she was a young girl, Saturday mornings would often find us seated at our favorite booth ready to enjoy a country breakfast and begin our game of “I Spy”.

For our early trips, “I Spy” would be played with pretty straight forward clues like “I spy a pair of old skis” or “I spy a red sled”.  As she grew, the clues became less obvious and more deductive such as “I spy something I would need to ride a horse.”  There was no end to the variations and the game stretched breakfast into a most of the morning activity.  When we had finished our breakfast, she would beg me to play a game of checkers in the big white rockers they sold to their patrons and also made available for a quick game of checkers.  We would seat ourselves by the fireplace and begin our game.  The fact that she usually won might have had something to do with my graciousness to let her win but as time went by and thanks to her improving powers of observation, she would begin to win those games on her own merit.

As I said, all of these memories washed back over me and in a moment it was as if I was back there with my daughter soaking in the visual array the walls and ceiling had to offer.   As my wife and I enjoyed our breakfast it dawned on me that the game my daughter and I had played was really an alliteration of the importance of observation.  All those years, so long ago, our game of “I Spy” was preparing my daughter to be observant.  Observant of the people around her, of the environment she would live, play and work in, of the opportunities the world would afford her.  This simple game of observation would help her develop into the successful woman she has become.

Observation is something successful people practice every day of their life.  Through observation we witness our differences and how those differences can impact our lives in very positive ways.  Our individual differences allow us to specialize and to benefit from the specialties of others.  In short we both depend on and benefit from each other’s differences.  Observation also allows us to see things as they are and then to visualize how they might be made better or to work more efficiently.  Observation allows us to recognize the opportunities as they present themselves.

I spy might be a kid’s game but its applications are a life skill.  Take time to play the game with your child or grandchild but don’t stop there.  Take the time to play the game with yourself.   Be amazed with the simple observations you make and then enjoy the feeling as your horizons expand.

“I spy a world of possibilities, can you see them?”

Friends come and go….

I know I haven’t written for a while and I must tell you it’s become a bit of a thing.  The act of writing is a release for me and to have a bout of writer’s block is a real stress inducer.  I also need to warn my readers that I have had three cups of coffee this morning and as my wife can attest to, that is dangerous.  One cup leaves me witty while two cups brings out my sarcastic side.  Three cups is basically uncharted territory.

Friends mean everything to me and all too often I end up obsessing about one or two that I have lost contact with.  I always blame myself for that when in reality it is a two way street.  We all become busy with the things of life.  Careers, family, hobbies and past times all conspire to get in our way and suddenly that list of people you lost touch with starts to grow.

If you are now expecting some words of wisdom from me remember that I already warned you about the caffeine intake.  You can remain hopeful but I promise nothing.  It is just that for two days in a row, I have managed to reconnect with three groups of friends in a guilt driven effort of reunion frenzy.  It started yesterday with a lunch date with two of my previous co-workers and then continued last evening with a surprise birthday party for a friend that conveniently brought together several friends from an old couples group.

This morning, after an excruciating patience demanding drive across town in rush hour traffic, (I just needed that off my chest so thank you for that moment of venting) I arrived at a breakfast reunion with fellow retired teachers from my now distant past.  The group meets at the same restaurant every first Friday of the month for breakfast.  I had known about it but just couldn’t seem to find the time to attend.  Or was it the fear that I wouldn’t be able to go back to those old times with any success.  The moment I walked into the room, two things happened.  The first was instant acknowledgement by the assembled group.  They both acknowledged me and even though twenty plus years had passed us by, I still recognized them.  There is always that fear that as Thomas Hardy said “you can never go back”.  My apologies to Mr. Hardy but that was my take away or at least all I gathered a million years ago in some english lit class that I had been required to take.  Maybe one day I should actually read the book, but for now my contorted interpretation of his statement will suffice.  The point is we can go back, if we are willing, and might just be surprised that as much as life can change us there is still the chance for reconnections to take place.

The second thing that happened was that within a matter of minutes, the conversations took me back to the memories of the careers we had shared and the years between melted away.  The beauty of these reunions is that they take us back to times that were part of our life’s journey and were quite often the defining moments of who we had become.  It is important to realize that in those reunion conversations we focus on the happy memories.  Those memories of the times, that even though they may have had struggles and rough spots, we found ways to have fun.  That is what made us friends, that drew us together, that represented the commonalities we shared.

Breakfast lasted two hours, thus three cups of caffiene, and thanks to the memories, I was able to catch up.  We shared stories from the past and pictures from the present.  We marveled at how our thirteen and fourteen year old students of the past were now in there forties and yes, fifties, even as we were denying that we had aged at all.  The beauty of telling stories from the past is that our own age somehow retreats as the memories return us to those days.  Maybe even “the good old days.”

So if there is a point to this story it is that we should stop feeling guilty about the friends we lost touch with and just take the opportunity when it arises to reconnect.  Friends don’t really come and go, we just get separated by time.  Take the chance to go back in time every once and a while and surprise those friends that time has separated us from.  Odds are you might just surprise yourself at how quickly the years that separate you disappear.