We were just strangers when we met

The sign read “There are no strangers here, just friends you haven’t met.”  This turned out to be pretty prophetic.  By the end of one month of travel, we had met many strangers who by the time we had to part ways, were new friends.

August found my wife and I on a trip up the Rhine in Europe.  It started with us meeting two couples from Nebraska, Mureen and her husband Murray and Gayle and her husband Larry.  We shared stories and drinks and continued those conversations all week long.  Now we also met another couple the very first day and bravely introduced ourselves.  Through the next ten days, we shared walks and talks, dinners and stories of our lives.  But eventually we were saying goodbye to our new friends, Polly and Stu, but knowing we would make a mutual effort to meet again.  Strangers had turned out to be friends we just hadn’t met.

And then there was Lucerne.  We had boarded a paddlewheeler for a trip around Lake Lucerne.  Knowing no local dialects and completely on our own, we took a seat across from an elderly women.  As the boat moved away from the pier, she leaned over and asked if we were from the U.S.  Over the next hour we carried on a fascinating conversation learning things about our new friend, Lucerne and Switzerland.  When she had to disembark at her stop, the women next to her, not knowing any of us, leaned in and said “I’ll take care of them from here.”  And she did.  No language barrier was going to thwart the effort of strangers becoming friends.

My wife and I just returned from a short trip to the North Woods.  On day two of our stay, I headed out to an area golf course.  I was going to squeeze in a quick nine holes somehow hoping I could just play alone and practice my game undisturbed by any semblance of competition.  But this was not to be.  Instead, I was paired up with two gentleman, Gene and his son-in-law, Ryan.  As they had never played the course, I turned out to be their guide.  The three of us shared a very beautiful fall morning and what turned out to be one of my best scores of the season.  As I finished on the ninth hole, we all wished each other well and where we had been strangers just two hours earlier, parted as friends.

The next day, Deb and I took a long bike ride on a trail near our cottage.  When we returned back to our car, which we had left parked at a local pub, we decided we needed some lunch and the pub looked inviting.  It was while we were there that I discovered the sign I quoted at the beginning of this piece.  It was placed prominently above the bar and in the patrons soon proved how true it was.  In no time at all we were in conversation with two local construction workers, the bartender / owner of the pub and two other couples who were traveling like us and had decided to drop in, because that’s what you do at a North Woods pub.  The sign was true, there really were no strangers there.

The next day found us again at the end of another bike ride exploring yet another local pub.  Before you start worrying about my drinking habits, remember that we are on vacation, wait even better, we are retired.  Earlier, as we were locking our bikes and walking downtown, a woman crossing the street had overheard us pondering about this new place, well new to us, and told us it was a great place and that we ought to stop back later when the place opened.  Well it was later and we heeded her advice and entered the establishment.  To our surprise, the women, it turns out her name was Margaret, was not only working there but was in fact the co-owner.  We ordered our drinks and retired to the warmth and coziness of their backyard patio.  There Margaret waited on and conversed with us, sharing her story and getting ours in return.  Within the span of half an hour, we felt like friends.  Hopefully Margaret is reading this blog and is approving my story.  There is no doubt that The Vine in Minocqua will be a new favorite stop on our stays up North and we will look forward to more conversations with the owners, Margaret and Scott.

Our trip was coming to a close when we got one last chance to make a stranger a friend.  It was Saturday and we had just finished golfing.  Not wanting to miss the Badger’s football game, we stopped in the Sayner Pub, yes, I know this is starting to sound like a North Woods pub review but it’s just a coincidence.  We seated ourselves at the bar, best viewing position, I swear, and began watching the game.  We were soon surrounded by strangers who through the comraderie of a sporting event would become our new friends of the day.  Bob on our left, recently retired and living up North and Ryan on our right who turned out to be from Madison.  The Badgers won, we all celebrated and after sharing our stories, parted with the memories and emotions of another well spent day.

This piece would be pointless without a message, okay moral.  One never knows what interesting story resides in the stranger sitting next to you or maybe waiting in the same line.  That is unless you take the step to find out.  To maybe even introduce yourself.  What’s the worst that could happen?  They might just turn out to be the friend you haven’t met.

Somewhere over Ireland

We have been flying all night, which is a relative term.  While my watch says it is 5:00 am, the outside tells me it is much later.  Seven hours later to be exact.  It is a strange sensation, especially if it is the first time one has ever done it, to fly east, racing toward the sunrise.  The airlines, Delta in our case, does everything possible to help you through this body clock dilemma.  You are served dinner at 11:00 pm, lights and all noise dimmed, eye shades handed out along with blankets and pillows all to get you ready for the big time shift that awaits you.

I walk through the plane several times during the wee hours of the morning, enviously watching the seasoned travelers actually sleeping.  But sleep eludes me.  Though the seats are “comfort seats” designed for extra leg room, my legs will not let me sleep.  They twitch and remind me that I am sitting up when they want to be stretched out parallel to gravity.  The night passes and then at roughly 1:00 am, my time when I should be sound asleep, the plane catches up with the sunrise and reality sets in, you have reached tomorrow, today.

The plane comes awake at 4:30 am.  By this I mean that the lights are slowly brought up and breakfast sounds are coming from the galley.  At 5:00 am we are having breakfast, while miles below, somewhere over the coast of Ireland, they are sitting down to lunch.  As we are landing soon, my body will just have to adapt if this adventure is to begin.  It has been twenty-four hours since I got up in my bedroom thousands of miles behind us.  The world has shrunk and we aren’t in Kansas anymore.

Next stop, Amsterdam, with its canals, windmills and bikes…..hundreds and hundreds of bikes.

Amsterdam

Dreams Can Come True

Growing up on a small Wisconsin dairy farm in the 50’s, I constantly had chores to do, among them, cropping the fields, stacking the mows, filling the cribs and silos, and the main one, milking twenty three cows twice a day. Because my dad always believed that music would keep the cows content and that they in turn would produce more milk, meant that he would play the radio with the station tuned to WGN out of Chicago. This was an am radio station with a wide assortment of music, news, and talk shows. Thus, I and the cows were treated to a wide variety of programming. Two of my favorite programs were Let’s Go Fishing and Hawaii Calls. Let’s Go Fishing, as the name implies, was a half hour show about fish and catching them. The catchy little tune they would play, totally intended that pun, has never found its way out of my brain; “Let’s go fishing, for a day and a half, and a half a day, for a day and a half a mile.” Don’t ask me why they ended it with “mile” and I will leave the melody to your imagination. The second program was entitled “Hawaii Calls”, a show that took you through the music and stories of the Hawaiian Islands. As I listened, I would imagine one day getting to go there, but to my ten-year-old self, it seemed an impossible dream.

This memory has remained so vivid to me, and I have recalled it countless times over the years. I am happy to report that sometimes the impossible dreams of our childhood do in fact come true. As I write this blog, I am sitting in the Denver Airport waiting to board our flight to Hawaii. We will be spending the next two weeks Island hopping between Kauai and Maui. I say waiting, waiting because our flight is delayed for a technical issue, hopefully one that has nothing to do with the guidance system as I really want to get where we are meant to be. If not, I fear I will have the wrong wardrobe packed. Though this is not my first trip to Hawaii; Deb, my daughters, and I made the trip in 2008, it will be looked forward to no less than my first one. This time, my wife and I are traveling with two dear friends and looking forward to a shared experience as we explore the attractions and enticements of the Islands. There will no doubt be several Mai Tai and other fruit laden cocktails mixed in with hikes, waterfalls, and dinners on the beach.

Travel has always been an integral part of who I am. It started all those years ago as I poured over my National Geographics and listened to radio programs like Hawaii Calls. During my college years It grew into trips outside my home state. Eventually, it took me both north and south of the border and even across the ocean. It has introduced me to new friends and new places. It has allowed me to experience the cultures of people very unlike me and my travels have created memories everywhere I went.

It was just a radio program that planted the seed, but now, all these years later, Hawaii actually is calling and by the way, we just got the call to board our plane.

Aloha

Anticipation

19 days, 15 hours, or as my grandson Jackson would say, 19 more sleeps. That’s what the widget on my phone is telling me as it counts down to our Hawaii trip. It has kept me optimistic through these cold dreary days of winter as we prepare a little more each day for our departure and greatly anticipated trip to the Islands. As much as I can’t wait to trade emails and meetings for sand and sun, the anticipation of the trip and the excitement it generates will not be overlooked. Just as joy is in the journey, anticipation is that joy.

Anticipation: the act of looking forward. especially : pleasurable expectation. They looked forward with anticipation to their arrival. Carley Simon felt strong enough about anticipation to write a song about it. My intent is to convince you that it’s the anticipation of things that brings joy to the waiting.

I am, as my readers know, a very visual person. From the moment we began our planning I was already there. I could see the aqua blue water, the lush tropical jungles, the palm trees swaying in the breeze. Hell, I could feel the sand between my toes. The fact that there was still better than six months to wait only enhanced the anticipation and that only heightened my awareness and spiked the excitement. The first part of my trip had begun, the anticipation of what it could be was setting in. I knew that anticipation would make the wait bearable.

Life is a constant process of anticipation. The anticipation of that surprise birthday party you just know they are planning. Meeting that special someone on a first date. A family wedding with all it’s planning and tension. The first day on a new job or just that first cup of coffee in the morning. My wife conditioned me to that last one and now I wake up dreaming of it. If you aren’t recognizing and savoring those moments of anticipation, well you just aren’t living. Just as the story is read between the lines, true joy of living is between those moments of anticipation. Anticipation is the hopefulness that allows us to tackle each brand new day, each brand new opportunity, life’s next adventure.

I will be brief today as I believe I have made my point. To truly enjoy the next adventure, one must embrace the anticipation that comes before. I will look at my cell phone tomorrow and the days remaining will be down to eighteen, eighteen more days of anticipation. I will trade waiting and impatience for that anticipation any day. Afterall, why hurry the process of getting there when all it will do is start the countdown of the days I will be there. Hawaii awaits me, what awaits you?

Savor the anticipation.

Headed Home: The end to a twenty-three year run

My wife has lovingly referred to it as my tour. There was the Wisconsin tour, the Mississippi tour, and now the Iowa tour. Lest you get excited, there were never amps to be lugged about, press agents, or even screaming fans, no, it was my tax gig. For 23 years I have held sway in over 30 cities in three states as I taught tax law and planning to my faithful tax planning students. I hopefully educated them on at least several new tax codes, gave them some hot planning tips for managing their clients and employees, and maybe even provided a little entertainment mixed in with the lecture. Along the way, I visited multiple casinos, far too many hotels, and even learned a little Cajun. I visited at least half a dozen universities and witnessed the aftermath of two hurricanes, several tornadoes, and multiple blizzards. I met over 1500 tax planners, EA’s, CPA’s and attorneys and made friends with most of them. Today, as I sit in Ohare International Airport, I thought it appropriate to jot down a few passing thoughts as this phase of my life comes to a close.

I just finished an in-person presentation in Sioux City, a pretty little city tucked neatly in the corner of three states; Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota, which in its early years, served as the railhead for some historic cattle drives. It is not my true final gig as I have one more in-person to be held in Ankeny, Ia, and then one more on-line performance in a couple weeks. When that last one concludes, it will be in fact my very last one ever. The groupies say that I will be back, but I am no Brett Favre or Tom Brady. I have been saying it was my last year for the last six years, and this time it really is. I know that a year from now, I will miss the stage, I am after all a true ham when you give me the mic, but I won’t miss all the late-night drives, many done in rain or snow, the prep work, and the nervousness the nights before and the mornings of. I may appear cool, calm, and collected, but anyone who tells you they don’t sweat a little as they take the stage, is, shall we say, bullshitting.

I started this little career back in the year 2000, when the owner of the firm I was working for, turned down the request to be the speaker for these tax schools. He instead sent one of my mentors, Phil Harris, to hit me up for the job. I still remember a nervous Phil sitting down across from me and making the most tenuous job offer ever. It didn’t help much when he started out with “you aren’t my first choice.” He went on to tell me he would offer me half what he had intended and just a two-hour slot. I, being full of myself, needing the revenue, and just plain hopeful that I would impress him, accepted the job. Two hours turned into a half day, and by year two, I was the entire second day of a two-day conference. Along the way we built a two-way trust between Phil and I, and we became the two-man show known as Tax Insight. Phil gave them the theory and the law; I gave them the planning and the practicality. We wowed our crowd with famous hits like, The TCJA, Qualified Charitable Deductions for Everyone, and the ever-popular Passive Activities and You.

Six years ago, as I was ready to hand over the mic to younger talent, Phil became ill and within a year had passed away. Thus began my run of one more year’s. I was devastated by Phil’s passing and knew I had to stay on with the transition, year one, and then the attempted sale, year two, gifting to Iowa State University, year three, Covid-19 forcing us to move on-line, year four and five, but as year six approached I had to redraw the line in the sand, With that decision, year six would be, with acquiescence to my wife, the farewell tour. We even entertained making up shirts with the names of all those cities our tour had passed through, but saner minds prevailed, and the shirt idea was nixed.

It has been, despite my whining here and there, a spectacularly great decision. I learned much along the way; taxes, business planning, the histories of people, places, and things, and even some odd tidbits, like always make sure you know where the wipers and light switches are on your rental car especially when driving through Mississippi in the dark. As I leave, I want to thank my co-workers who unbegrudgingly filled in for me back at the office while I galivanted around the countryside, my boss who not only put Phil onto me, but gave me the time off to do it, and especially to my wife, Deb, who supported me, cheered me on, and eventually even became my paid handler, coincidentally the best I ever had.

But all things do come to an end, and this will be my swan song. I am extremely proud of the work I have done and will be forever grateful for the experience. If there is a lesson here for my readers, never be afraid to take the chance. You just might surprise yourself as to what you can accomplish and where the decision might lead.

Thankyou Phil

Who Knew Christmas Trees Fight Back?

The day after Thanksgiving, our tradition is to cut our Christmas tree. Yesterday was no exception other than the fact that my younger daughter and her husband would be unable to share in the festivities due to Covid-19, the virus hell bent of ruining our family traditions. John and I would be tasked with cutting their tree.

The day started out beautiful, sunshine and temps in the upper 40’s. Perfect weather to cut a fresh tree, which coincidentally was what half the population of the state had decided to do and at the same tree farm we had chosen. As was the tradition, we would meet our daughters and their families out at the tree farm for a day of bonding over picking out and cutting our three trees. The men folk, John and I, damn you Eli, were well aware of the painstaking process that lay ahead of us as we marched back and forth, checking out at least a hundred trees before the women folk, Bailey and my wife, would settle on the very best tree ever! All that remained was to cut them down, at ground level, in the muddy ground. The first tree fought a little bit before John was able to saw through. Tree number two, Kathryn and Eli’s actually went quite well, but then came the tree Deb had chosen for our house. This should have been my warning of things to come. With two people pulling on the tree as I attempted to get my saw to cut without binding up, we eventually got it to succumb to my efforts, but not before we cracked a nice chunk out of the trunk. No problem I told Deb, the skirt will cover our damage.

After standing in line with the mobs that like us, felt yesterday was THEE day to cut a tree, we got our tree back to the loading barn, violently shook free of loose needles, bound up tighter than an Egyptian mummy, purchased and paid for with a small loan we took out at the bank ….. have you bought a Christmas tree recently? And it didn’t even come with lights and decorations! We were now ready to pull up the car to load up our tree for the ride home. Fifteen minutes later after waiting in the line of cars loading their trees, John and I managed to jam two of the trees into the back of my Jeep with the third tree tied to the back. As my grandson and I climbed into the car for the drive home, it became apparent that a seven foot tree in a six foot bed, would be sharing the space between us. Just one more minor inconvenience. This too will pass.

An hour later, after dropping the first tree at Bailey and John’s house, and the second tree at Kathryn and Eli’s place, Deb and I arrived home with our “best tree ever”. Into the house and into the stand, I wish! After three unsuccessful tries at centering the tree in the stand, we finally got the beast secured. Leveling and centering came next and thanks to my wife’s keen eyeballing abilities, we eventually reached perfection, some twenty minutes and several gymnastic maneuvers later. Next step, throw on the lights. starting at the top, and after too many times to count of circling the tree, (this step might be what inspired Brenda Lee to write “Rock Around the Christmas Tree”) we ran out of lights two feet from the bottom of the tree. This is where the math you’ll never use should have been used…… pi x diameter = circumference, average circumference x number of times around the tree = the number feet of lights you’ll need, which apparently was short by 100 more bulbs. But wait, we had an unused box of exactly 100 ‘white’ light bulbs. Saved….NOT! This is where one learns that there are many shades of white lights, none of which matched our already strung white lights.

One hour later, Deb has returned from Target with the light supplies needed to finish our assault on the Christmas tree. Would these be the right white? Close enough, the tree is strung and lit, Deb now begins the final Battle of the Tree, while I retire to the coach, content to watch my first Christmas movie. Things are going well, Deb has half the ornaments on the tree when, out of the corner of my eye, I simultaneously hear Deb scream and the tree cant drunkenly towards the front door. As the tree tilts further toward Deb, I snag the backside of the tree and haul it back up. Close call, but after some tinkering with the anchors and Deb sternly scolding the tree, we have it standing upright. All that leveling and centering is far less important now as Deb wants this battle over. Establishing that the tree now seems stable, we will settle for the leaning tower of Christmas and move on.

We settle in for a quiet night of sleep planning on dreaming of the beauty of the tree that awaits us tomorrow morning. 7:00 am comes quickly and we rise, vision of tree grandeur dancing in our heads. As we enter the living room, ready to turn on the Christmas lights, there lays our tree, yes, I said lays not stands our tree. Our tree lays draped like a drunken sailor across the chair it took out on its way to the floor. Christmas balls are strewn in a dizzying array across our living room floor.

I turn to my wife, anticipating either tears or a string of curses, but to my relief, she is laughing. As we survey the scene of the wreck, we decide we will not be defeated by this tree. We resurrect the tree, replace the stand, straighten the lights and start replacing the bulbs. In order to thwart any further escape attempts, we hog tie it securely to the stair rail and dare it to try to get loose from that.

In good news from the front, the tree is still standing. We have faced the enemy and he is ours. Maybe let’s get a smaller tree next year.

Twas the night WAY before Christmas and all through my house ……..

As I write this piece, Christmas music is playing in the background. For those of you who are now questioning my authority to be playing Christmas music before Thanksgiving has even arrived, will be quite upset to know that I started it this year on November 1st, literally the first day I could find a station putting it out there. And…..I am not ashamed!

There is no better season than Christmas in my book. We have just come off a very mean spirited election season, plenty of blame on both sides. I for one am desperate for some cheer and Christmas brings that to me each and every year. It is a chance to be reminded that people matter more than things. It is a season for giving and for receiving and the best gift one can give or get is the sense that we can all, for at least a couple of months, take the time to care for each other and to spread a bit of joy even where there is little to be found. It is a season of hope buoyed by the Spirit that lives more generously in its traditions. Christmas is a chance for a reset.

During Christmas, the memories of my childhood come floating back. The first Christmas I have memories of happened when I was maybe six or seven years old, and yet all these years later, lots of years later, they are still vivid. I can recall getting my Christmas bag of peanuts and carrots as we left church Christmas Eve, a simple reward for the Christmas pageant we had just pulled off in angelic perfection despite a year of less than angelic behavior. Of getting dad to hurry us all home to open the presents beneath the tree. Of finding that tin tab garage set complete with its lever for the car elevator. I am sure the five Christmases that came before were also full of traditions, but memories of them unfortunately weren’t recorded in my childhood brain. When I think about my first Christmas memories, I also recall the first Christmas celebrated with my wife in our tiny little house on Ring Street. That first Christmas it was just Deb and I and Huckleby, our cat. Then I think of the first Christmas for each of my daughters. I know it’s just a fact of life that they too will have no memories of that first one or much of any before they were old enough to start the act of remembering. I will promise myself to ask them to share their first memory of Christmas and I suspect it won’t match mine. But then it is their memory to recall in the way it comes back to them. We all have memories of our Christmases, and at this time of year we should take time to recall the best of them and then let them inspire us to spread the good cheer of Christmas wherever the opportunity presents itself.

Christmas music sets the tone for me. It lifts my spirits, renews my faith in mankind’s ability to care for each other, and rekindles those traditions my family share, the ones we have created, and the ones we will create. This Friday, in the rain, snow, sleet, or I hope, sunshine, you will find my family cutting our traditional tree(s). I will string indoor and outdoor lights that will cut out shortly after I plug in the last strand. My wife and I will set aside enough time to watch as many Christmas movies as possible. Christmas eve, I will sing my favorite Christmas carols and then return home to wait for the arrival of my two grandchildren. I will wait till they are fast asleep and then creep down the hall to place the Santa gifts beneath the tree. And then, Christmas morning I will sit back and watch the chaos erupt as the presents are exchanged and opened with wrapping paper discarded and covering the room like a blanket of Christmas morning snow. I will soak in each and everyone of these traditions throughout the season, and if I am lucky, maybe another great story will emerge,

This Christmas season take a pledge to make it the best one yet. Reach out to family and friends and even, and maybe especially, to a stranger. The season of Christmas is a reminder to share; share joy and peace and self. My Christmas music has been playing since November 1st and will continue until someone convinces me the season is over. But I will tell you, I won’t be convinced easily.

So if you haven’t yet turned on the music, stop being the grinch, find a Christmas station, and go Rock Around the Christmas Tree. Brenda Lee is waiting to get you started.

(For additional reading, check out “Lost and Found”: https://kenismsblog.com/?s=Lost+and+Foundand “Can we at least drive it around the block”: https://kenismsblog.com/?s=Can+we+at+least+drive+it+around+the+block)

Being a Grandpa is No Piece of Cake

Before I was one, I couldn’t wait to be a grandpa. My belief was that it would be a piece of cake. You spend some time with them with your entire goal being to spoil them, feed them full of sugar, my grandmother actually created sugar sandwiches, (see Being Loved: Sugar Sandwich) and then send them back home with their parents. No sweat, right? Turns out there are a few more requirements in the fine print of that grandparent contract.

The other day we got our two adorable, sweetest, smartest grandkids in the whole world, consigned to us for the weekend. Seems mom and dad needed mom and dad time. Saturday morning they appeared magically at our doorstep, backpacks full of clothes, toothbrushes, toys, games, and projects. Wait, what, they’re staying overnight? I thought we were just being given a few hours to spoil them with hugs and kisses, a few pieces of candy of their choice, maybe a few extra TV minutes and that would be it. Hugs all around and off you go. As mom and dad got goodbye kisses and I heard my daughter say “Now you guys behave this weekend, brush your teeth and go to bed when Mimi and Opa (our loving grandparent handles) say it’s time.” My blood began to run cold! My first thought, we haven’t got enough candy in the house to last the weekend. Dear God, what will we use to bribe them after the candy supply runs out?

Major mistake number one, there were plenty of minor ones, “What would you like for lunch?” Never ask your grandkids that unless you know where the nearest McDonalds or Culvers, or for that matter, both of them are since after lunch comes dinner and then eventually there’s breakfast. And now that creative and fun activity of washing dishes I was planning on is gone. Guess the little amount of TV time will need to be renegotiated and lengthened.

Major mistake number two, wrestling with your grandkids inevitably ends up in injury. It was just a simple dive off the coach, how bad could it wind up? Hint, when wrestling in the living room, remove the coffee table. At least the time spent rocking and cuddling used up some of the 36 hours we were facing. Of course TV time got renegotiated and extended again. “Remember Jackson, mom and dad don’t need to know how LONG you watched TV, just that we watched a couple shows, short shows, really short shows.” At this rate of teaching him to spin the truth, I may have prepared him for a political career (see Being a Citizen: What Happened to Truth in Advertising).

Major misunderstanding number three, their notion of bedtime and sleeping arrangements and our wishful thinking of that would go down didn’t seem to quite align. Actually, they bore no resemblance at all. Yes, Jackson was content to sleep in his designated bed, but not without the perfect combination and illumination levels of the lights, plural. After several trips out to the living room with a request for a tweak to the systems, we got him to sleep at an appropriate time, plus or minus and hour or two, okay, just the plus. Meanwhile, Adela, our youngest and closest relative to story of the Three Bears, tried three different beds and bedrooms before settling on the one she was most likely to possible stay in for the whole night….our bed! Fortunately, that left open two other bedrooms, that upon finding my side of our marital bed occupied by our very own Goldilocks, I could spend the night in instead.

Being a grandparent takes skill. It takes a combination of patience, wisdom and love. And I won’t pretend that we haven’t closed the front door after they have gone without at least once or twice taking that deep relaxing breath as we picked up the toys and pillows and reclaimed our space. Being a grandparent requires all the wisdom you have to answer the many questions; the difficult ones, the deep thinking ones, and sometimes the awkward ones, like “How does the baby get in there?” Don’t forget the ingenuity required to think up the activities that will keep them busy. I have produced a wealth of scavenger hunts in that category. And finally, hone those negotiation skills required to handle yourself in the countless off the books wheeling and dealing you will be led into, example, McDonalds for breakfast! Here’s a tip, if all else fails, use my wife’s strategy, cards with $5 bills in them. A sure rise the to the top of the popularity poll guaranteed. Being a grandparent really isn’t piece of cake, though it might involve cake….. and ice cream….. with sprinkles…. lots of sprinkles.

Those of you know me, know that I tend to exaggerate. This story may just have some of that. Our grandkids truly are the delight of our lives and we have gone through versions of the story I laid out above and have not only survived them all, but have cherished the moments, the stories, and the memories.

For Jackson and Adela, the pride of my life and welcome to spend the weekend anytime.

A Saint for all Reasons

Disclaimer, I intend no offense to Catholics or the many saints that exist, but did you realize that there is a saint for almost every purpose. Did you know that Saint Alexander of Comana is the patron saint of charcoal burners. That will come in handy next time I am forced to grill. Meanwhile Amand would be the patron saint of bartenders, another one of my many occupations. Anthony the Abbot would be the patron saint of gravediggers. And let us not forget the patron saint of women seeking husbands, Anthony of Padua. Shouldn’t that one have been a female? And those are just the patron saints that start with the letter A. If you want to check out the complete list for yourself, go to: https://d2y1pz2y630308.cloudfront.net/24191/documents/2019/11/Patron%20Saints%202.pdf

This morning our church was celebrating All Saints weekend and the conversation about saints came up. We were asked to consider the people in our lives that have passed on and though too many came to mind, I found myself thinking of my brother. He was only seven when he died. I was only eight. We were thick as thieves in our short lives to that point but we had already survived a lifetime of hijinks. There was no dare that he wouldn’t throw down and there was no challenge I didn’t accept. “I bet you can’t jump from that rock to this one.” I bet you’re too scared to jump off the hay loft.” And then there was the “I dare you to jump from that fence post to this one.” Though most of them resulted in various injuries, that last one was way too close to serious, not that mom or dad ever found out thanks to the unwritten code that we just didn’t tell on each other, ever! We clearly needed a patron saint of our own, like maybe Cajetan, the patron saint of gamblers.

My brother Karl and I circa 1959

Looking back and thinking about the impact on my life, I am nominating my brother for the patron saint of risk takers and I am thanking him for impressing on me the value of taking a risk. Without his encouragement, er goading, would I have grown up to accept and deal with the risks in life that gave me the opportunities to succeed, or the ability to take chances when they took me to the next level? Or for that matter, to have and have benefited from the experiences of my life? Without the willingness to take acceptable risks, would I have ever climbed a mountain or jumped from a plane? That last one definitely traces back to the leaps we took from the top of the hay mow. In short, life might have been far less exciting without the occasional walk on the edge.

Don’t get me wrong. There are risks we should never take, especially when they might impact others. But if it’s an acceptable risk, if we understand what we control and that within that element of control, we can build in the safety net we need, maybe then we might be willing to take the leap. One of the strongest traits of a leader is the willingness to take the risk that is necessary to advance the cause. Without risk takers imagine all the inventions, all the historic events, businesses, and all of the discoveries never made. Would we have ever walked on the moon or would we just be earthbound wondering what was out there? What would the world be like without risk takers?

Today I thought about my brother who all those years ago dared me to take the chance. For that he is MY patron saint.

For Karl

Apparently It Skips a Generation

Sharing our childhood home with my grandparents created so many endearing memories, most of them the sights and scents of my mom and dad, and my grandmother canning in our tiny farmhouse kitchen. There was the hundreds of mason jars lined up on the table, the big blue canning kettle and the steam rising off the boiling water ready to seal the fruits and vegetables into those mason jars where they would slowly disappear from our fruit cellar as the long winter gave way to spring and our garden thawed out, readying itself for the next growing season. Every once in awhile something brings that memory flooding back. In those moments, I can still remember the smells wafting from the kitchen all the way to my upstairs bedroom, that aromatic mixture of pickled corn and beets, dill pickles and relish, fruits and ah yes, the apple sauce. Oh that glorious mixture of apples and cinnamon. That recipe so perfected by my dad.

When canning came to an end each fall, and all the canning equipment had been stowed away, we would stack the shelves of our basement fruit cellar with enough canned vegetables and fruit to last us through the winter. We were self sufficient and I always remember mom and dad’s pride as they recorded the inventory. Nothing in our garden had gone to waste. As the winter wore on, each meal would be augmented with something from the cellar, fresh, aromatic, and delicious. But my favorite was always the apple sauce. We would have it on ice cream. We would warm it up and put it in a bowl with a little splash of cream, or as my grandfather liked it, spread across a warm slice of grandmas’ homemade bread. There just wasn’t anything it didn’t go well with.

Recently, after trips to every apple orchard pumpkin patch in the area, with grandchildren in tow, my daughter handed me a pint of the golden nectar. She has been working on it for the past several years and she just might have perfected it. Somehow, through experimentation, old recipes scratched out on weathered notecards, and of course hours of shared applesauce sessions at her grandfather’s side, Bailey has come as close as humanly possible to my dad’s apple sauce recipe. It now sits proudly on my counter awaiting the moment I crack the seal and carefully ration out my first serving.

Where my wife and I have never seemed to successfully carry on the tradition, my daughters have prevailed. They have become the gardeners, the chefs, and yes the canners I never was. The art had skipped a generation but thanks to my daughter, I now have a pint of homemade, ready to savor, dad’s special recipe, apple sauce, and along with it, a chance to bask in the memories it has evoked. Memories of being that eight year old kid, sneaking down the stairs , and sneaking a peak of my dad as he worked side by side with my mom as they canned more than just food for the winter, but memories for a life time.

You’ll have to excuse me now, I have a bowl of warm applesauce and cream waiting on my evaluation.