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Wonderful Lexington brings a little cheer to Georgia

I don’t know if the last 2 1/2 months have been the toughest time of my life — I certainly remember a few times when I was younger when I felt a lot more hopeless — but when the person you love the most in the world is already on long-term disability for other problems and then breaks a bone in her back, that’s pretty rough.

Five weeks ago, my wife had surgery to repair the fracture. She is recuperating slowly, but has yet to have a single day without pain only a few levels below shark bite.

No fun at all.

The little guy

Until this weekend.

Our daughter Pauline came to visit from Jamaica, and she brought along a bundle of fun — our 16-month-old grandson Lexington Wesley Kastner.

Lex is at an age when he seems truly to be enjoying himself. as often as not, he has a big smile on his face. His vocabulary — at least the words we can identify as meaning something — is still in single digits, but this kid is constantly chirping. He enjoys so many things, too. Pauline says what he seems to have the most fun with at all is carrying the broom around their house, and we saw some of that this weekend.

We didn’t do all that much this weekend. Nicole is going through a rough period and we were pretty much tied to the house and the area around it. We do have a “grandchildren’s park” in our community and Pauline took Lex there a few times so he could play.

I haven’t been around babies much. I never fathered a child myself and I didn’t become a dad until Pauline was 12 and Virgile was 7. I really think my closest exposure as an adult came when I vacationed in Los Angeles in May 1986 and stayed with my friend Mick Curran. His daughter Kelsey — my unofficial niece — was just seven months old then. They lived in a small apartment and Kelsey was suffering from colic at the time. She was wailing pretty much nonstop for most of the night.

People who have — or have had — babies love to tell those who haven’t that that’s the way life is, and if that small amount of crying bothers you, it’s a good thing you never had to care for a baby. Maybe that’s true, but I also figure that if it’s your own kid, and you’re young, you manage it.

Nicole and Lexington

So he shrieked a little having his hair washed. He was still wonderful.

And if you look at the second picture, having him around was good for Nicole’s spirits too.

Her pain is starting to improve, very slowly but measurably. If we can get past that and get her back on her feet regularly, we can start working on the other stuff.

It’s too bad Lex won’t be around every day to cheer up his grandparents, but spending time with him this weekend did a lot for me.

Winter is nearly over.

I’m hoping for a good spring.


posted by Mike in Family,Happiness,Health,Home,love and have No Comments

Getting on the record with some (gulp!) resolutions

New Year’s Eve is a holiday for the young, although even when I was young, I can’t really recall many memorable times I had. The last New Year’s I remember standing out was 1987, when I left Sioux Falls, S.D., in a morning when the wind-chill factor was nearly 50 below zero. I had been there for four days covering a college basketball tournament — my only time ever in the Dakotas — and I was leaving for two weeks of vacation at home in Virginia.

Not mine, but same model same color.

I had it figured as a 2-3 day drive in my two-seat Pontiac Fiero — the only new car I ever bought for myself — but I wanted to get as far as I could the first day. When 1987 turned to 1988, I was circling Indianapolis on I-465 and looking for a motel to get some sleep.

I loved that car and I drove it till an 18-wheeler crushed it in December 1990 on I-5 in Los Angeles. But I never put as many miles on it as quickly as Colorado to South Dakota to Virginia and back to Colorado that winter. Nearly 4,000 miles in a little more than two weeks.

Anyway, I digress. I think the last date I had on a New Year’s Eve was in 1981, the second of two New Year’s dates with the lovely Lisa McGrady.

Tonight is the 21st New Year’s Eve of my second marriage, and there haven’t been more than a couple when Nicole and I were even awake when 11:59 p.m. became midnight. The only reason I’m still up with 90 minutes or so to go is that I really wanted to be productive and put down some resolutions for 2013.

I don’t usually do resolutions. I know how easy it is to break them, but 2012 has been a disappointing year in many ways and I want to go on record that 2013 will be better.

So, a few resolutions:

1. BE NICER — The best compliment I ever heard about anyone was when my son’s freshman roommate in college said to me, “Virgile is the nicest person I have ever known in my life.” Nobody’s ever going to say that about me, but I have a very fragile wife who I love with all my heart. I want to be gentler — and nicer — this year.

2013 is here.

2. GET HEALTHY AGAIN — I established wonderful habits for myself in 2010. I’ve got to get them back. Eat right and exercise. Every day.

3. GET PURPOSEFUL AGAIN — I need to finish my book. That means writing at least a little bit every day. No more screwing around.

4. RIDE MY BIKE — Part of the exercise thing, and I have to learn a whole new way of riding to do it, but I bought myself a thousand-dollar road bike and it’s time to hit the road.

5. BE THOUGHTFUL, NOT THOUGHTLESS — Don’t take anybody for granted.

6. DON’T PROCRASTINATE — Just because we have two phone lines, it doesn’t mean I should ignore the one that isn’t working. Call and get it fixed.

7. FOLLOW THE RULES — Love God, let go of regrets and treat other people the way I would want them to treat me. Three rules for a great life.

So, I guess I’ll file this and …

Oh Lord, here comes 2013!


posted by Mike in Family,Friends,Happiness,Health,Holidays,love and have No Comments

We all have memories of a few Christmases past

I was trying to remember my first Christmas as an adult, the first one I didn’t celebrate at my parents’ house or my grandparents’ house.

It was 1975, although you could argue 1971 on a technicality. I was still living at home in 1971, but the rest of my family went to Russia with a tour group. I got together with three other friends — my closest friends — whose families were also away. We worked together and did a Christmas dinner at my friend Mick’s house. Mick and my two Chris friends — one Christine and one Christopher — filled out the group. I think I can safely say without fear of excessive chauvinism that we were fortunate to have a female in our group.

My first apartment -- 35 years later.

That was really just Christmas dinner, though. My first real Christmas in my own place, with decorations and everything, came in 1975.

We had moved into a new development outside Herndon, Va. The apartments in Stuart Woods were brand new. A one-bedroom unit was $230. It was the only apartment I ever had with its own washer and dryer. We moved there in February, we got married in April and we lived there till May 1976. She commuted to Langley and I commuted to the Ballston neighborhood in Arlington.

I don’t know if we had any problem-free years in our marriage. We were together for less than five years; we probably married too young. It’s as good an excuse for failure as any. It’s funny how 37 years later, I have little memory of where in our living room we put our Christmas tree. Maybe we didn’t. Ironically, it was the only Christmas we celebrated together in the United States. In 1976 we were in Austria and in 1977 we were in London for Christmas week.

She spent Christmas of ’78 on temporary duty in Beijing and she went to Nevada to spend the ’79 holidays with her parents. In January 1980 we split for good.

Regrets? Yes and no. I doubt that a thoughtful person could fail to regret a marriage that didn’t work, but on the other hand, I have spent the last 21 Christmases married to the real love of my life.

Lex this Christmas.

If there is a sadness at all, it comes when I see my two grandchildren celebrating their first Christmases, Madison in 2009 (at 15 months) and Lexington this year (at 13 1/2 months). My first Christmas with my wonderful children came when Pauline was already 12 and Virgile was nearly 8.

Seeing pictures of the grandkids with the gifts we gave them is so wonderful. In the picture here, Lex is pushing a cart we gave him for Christmas and wearing a Georgia Tech football jersey we gave him for his first birthday in November.

Christmas is pretty wonderful when you have children or grandchildren, but it was also pretty special when I was first on my own and never dreaming that a marriage could end in the most excruciating pain. I don’t think of her all that much, but there are times I wonder what it would have been like to hold a baby in my arms and know that it was my child, not my grandchild.

I am a very fortunate man. I have two wonderful children who look at me and see a father, not a stepfather. I could never love a child more than I love Pauline and Virgile, and I could never love a grandchild more than I love Maddie or Lex.

I know it all worked out for the best.

No question at all.

That doesn’t keep the “what ifs” from popping into my mind once in a while. In the end, I guess I’m only human.

posted by Mike in Christmas,Family,Friends,Happiness,Holidays,love,memories and have No Comments

So beautiful to find wonderful old songs on iTunes

My grandmother was born in 1895, and we used to talk about all the amazing changes that had occurred during her life.

There is no way my own life — even if I do live to be 94 — will have the same level of changes hers did. When she was born, most Americans lived on farms without electricity or indoor plumbing. They used horses and buggies for short trips and coal-powered trains for long trips. No one yet flew, and there was no penicillin for infections. There were no motion pictures, television or even radio.

What didn’t we have when I was born in 1949? I don’t need to go into most of them, but I will mention one thing.


We didn’t have iTunes.

That might not sound like a big deal, but there are several ways in which it is just huge for people who love music. In the late 1970s, when the size of my record collection peaked, I had about 600 record albums. If you figure an average of about 11 songs per album, that means I had about 6,600 songs.

As I started moving around the country in the ’80s, my collection got smaller and music became something to be listened to on the radio.

I had switched first to cassettes and later to CDs, but they took up space too. A few years back, I noticed that my daughter and my son had both started saving their music on their computer hard drives.

Read more…

posted by Mike in Christmas,Family,Holidays,Home,love,memories,Music and have No Comments

‘It’s the most … craziest … time of the year’

For at least the last  15 years or so, I always seem to find myself getting a little bit crazy at this time of year.

Not Christmas, although that has become a problem of its own. No, it’s the first 10 days or so of December that seem to throw me off a little, whether it’s becoming overly emotional at dopey songs or missing people I haven’t seen in a long, long time.

I guess the best way to explain it is that December 11th is my birthday. When I was younger, I was excited — “Hey, I’m 9! — and of course there were the milestone ones like 16, 18 and 21, but the last birthday I can remember that actually expanded my world was 25. When I was 25, you had to be at least 25 to be able to rent a car. I don’t think I rushed out and rented a car, just as I didn’t get a driver’s license on my 16th birthday, register for the draft on my 18th or vote on my 21st. Back then …

After a while, though …

Oh Lord, I’m 30 …

Jeez, am I really 40?

Can I possibly be 50?

All birthdays were doing by that point was taking things away. It had been a long time since I could have been a prodigy, but I was long past young hotshot and well into grizzled veteran before I realized it.

Most of that was my own fault. Instead of graduating from high school at age 17, going through college in four years and having wonderful memories of my alma mater, I did almost everything I could do to destroy my chance at a bright future. When I was 5 or 6 years old, adults told my mother what an amazing future I would have.

I didn’t do amazing, although I was lucky enough (the second time around) to marry into amazing. My lovely wife of 20 years — going on 21 — was a brilliant scientist and a wonderful person, and my two children — who have everything of me except my DNA — are both sky’s-the-limit people who are succeeding beyond their years in the early part of their careers.

But am I really 60?



Back in the day

If there is one thing that pisses me off more than anything, it is that 12 years ago, I had a job that I thought I would do until I was 75 years old. I was a newspaper columnist and a damn good one. I won awards every year and I was developing a big following. But after five years, a boss for whom I had absolutely no respect as a journalist decided that I wasn’t going to be a columnist anymore. What I later learned that really infuriated me was that when our publisher asked him why I wasn’t doing the column anymore, the jagoff lied and told him it had been my choice.

We received dozens of letters to the editor complaining, and they didn’t run any of them.

I really enjoyed being a sportswriter and sports columnist the first 16 years of my career, and I loved the five years I wrote a news column. I really thought I would do it as long as I was able. But my last seven years in the business were just a chore comparatively, and when budget cuts took away my job in 2008, I had already started counting the days till I could retire.

I never once while I was growing up had a desire to own my own business, and I suppose I was naive to think that as long as I worked hard and did a good job, the people who signed my paychecks would treat me fairly.

I doubt that I’ll ever work for a paycheck again. I did earn a little money this year — $1,300 playing fantasy baseball on the Internet and $250 in a writing contest on All Voices, where I have blogged for years — but that’s not much.

I do have some good memories of at least a couple of my employers. The very best boss I ever had was the two years I worked as a sports editor and sports columnist at the Greeley Tribune in Colorado. Editor Ron Stewart was an absolute prince, but even if I hadn’t been dumb enough to leave for a job in Reno, he moved on to Oregon himself soon after that.

I’m not in denial. I know there were times in my career when I slacked off — or got burned out for a while — and deserved punishment. But in the 18 years I spent working in Ontario, Calif., there were four different times I got, well, screwed.

Fool me once …

I never intended to be retired when I was 58 years old, and it has taken me a long time to feel OK about it. I’m not sure I’m there yet, but with my wife’s health problems, I can’t leave her 40-50 hours a week to earn money that we don’t need.

I guess I’m getting to the age when I’ll feel OK about it.

Am I really 63?

Four more days, dude. Four more days.





posted by Mike in Happiness,Health,Home,love,newspapers,retirement and have No Comments

Taking great pictures can be a lot of work

My daughter has a family tradition that more families ought to have.

Late in every year, Pauline has family pictures taken professionally. It isn’t as if she doesn’t like to take pictures herself; I have probably purchased 2,000 prints of pictures either she or husband Ryan posted on Snapfish. She just thinks that at least once a year, having someone put them in their best light is a pretty good idea.

Pauline and Lexington

This year was the first that my grandson Lexington was much of a presence in the pictures, and the truly wonderful thing about him is that he always looks so interested in his surroundings.

Pauline and her family are in the first winter of a three-year tour in Kingston, Jamaica. By the time they leave, Lex will be as old as his sister is now. Madison is 4, and she is starting to look like a lovely young lady. She runs, jumps, swims and does all sorts of things that are so much fun.

I have hundreds of pictures of her, and over the next few years, I will be doing my best to get hundreds of pictures of Lex.

Pauline will be a big help with that.



posted by Mike in Family,Happiness,Jamaica,love and have No Comments

Lex, the Great Little Guy, is growing up fast

I called by daughter in Jamaica the night before last and got a pleasant surprise.

Through the beauty of Skype and video phone calls, I had an opportunity to see my favorite grandson — Lexington Wesley Kastner — enjoying himself in the bathtub. Lex celebrated his first birthday 11 days ago, and he also has grown his first tooth and taken his first steps.

Maddie and Lex

This is one happy little guy.

Whether he’s playing with his sister, or with his parents or just sitting there by himself, he always seems to have a big smile on his face. He’s also all boy. When you look at pictures of him, all the way back to the beginning, there’s no doubt that this is a boy who is going to grow up to be quite a man.

It’s a funny thing about time. The next 12 months will pass very slowly for Lex. They’ll be 50 percent of his life so far. But they’ll pass very rapidly for me, making up less than 2 percent of my my life so far.

Very strange.

I’m looking forward to spending some time with young Lex in a couple of months. We’re planning to spend some time in Jamaica this winter, and we’re looking forward to seeing both Lex and his big sister Maddie, our favorite granddaughter. That’s the nice thing about having just two grandchildren. They can both be favorites.

When Maddie was born, we called her the Amazing Baby.

I guess Lex can be the Great Little Guy.


posted by Mike in Family,Happiness,love and have No Comments

Are we becoming a rage-fueled society?

“These times are so uncertain, there’s a yearning undefined and people filled with rage. We all need a little tenderness, how can love survive in such a graceless age?”
– DON HENLEY, “Heart of the Matter

People who know me know I have been writing about this verse from this song for more than 20 years. Until recently I always focused on the last part of it, writing about what a graceless age in which we live. An age of trashy culture, disposable relationships and a ridiculous lust for wealth.

Lately I have been thinking more and more about the rage.

Jim Gaffigan in "The Great New Wonderful"

Everyone seems so angry all the time. Whether it’s the economy, or politics, or people furious that someone might want to practice a different religion than they do, even people who seem pretty happy have things that piss them off.

Danny Leiner’s underrated 2005 film, “The Great New Wonderful,” tells five intertwining stories about New Yorkers exactly one year after Sept. 11, 2001. In Sandie’s Story, Jim Gaffigan plays a man who worked in the Twin Towers and survived the day. His superiors have asked survivors to meet with a psychologist to make sure they are recovering.

Sandie says over and over again that he is fine, while the psychologist says that when he looks at Sandie, he sees a man completely full of repressed rage.

In the end, Sandie hits the psychologist over the head with a chair, runs out of the office and keeps running all the way to Connecticut.

“I think I’m lost,” he says when he finally stops running.

A lot of people are angry these days — filled with rage — and I blame an awful lot of it on our misbegotten culture and values that have gotten so far out of whack I’m not sure Americans from 100 years ago would even recognize our country.

The concept of “news” has all but vanished, and nearly everything is presented to us now — whether left or right — as both what happened and what it “really means,” courtesy of the agenda of whoever is paying the presenter. Watch Fox News and you’ll see that the agenda is to fill people with rage about what those awful people on the left are trying to do. Watch MSNBC and they’ll tell you the same stories but the villains are those on the right.

Truth has all but vanished. Candidates for president can tell literally hundreds of out-and-out lies and have them passed of as “differences of opinion.” A candidate for vice president can lie again and again about what his proposals would do, but the only time people really make a fuss is when he lies about how fast he ran a marathon.

When people don’t know what to believe, they get angry.

Seventy percent of American families are — at best — just getting by. It’s a constant struggle to pay bills, and the chance really to get ahead just doesn’t exist. Fear of losing everything makes people angry.

Watch movies or television and there is little that is ennobling or uplifting. Most of what we get from our culture is cynicism. That makes people angry.

Our economic system is failing most of us. Our political system serves no one except major campaign contributors. More and more people seem to be buying into old, discredited beliefs about how the only truly noble thing in the world is self-interest.

That makes me angry. There are few people less noble than those who live their lives based only on their own interest. And with all due respect to my conservative friends, that’s nothing that Ronald Reagan ever preached.

Yeah, I’m angry. I might even be full of rage, but most of it isn’t about politics. I’m coming up on my 20th wedding anniversary, and my wife has been suffering serious health problems for more than a year now. A great deal of my time goes into caring for her, and there are times it doesn’t seem to do any good at all.

All I can do is get up each morning and try to make that day as good as possible.

Then again, that’s really all any of us can do, and maybe — with God’s grace — things will get a little better and we’ll feel a little less angry.

Otherwise, what’s the use?






posted by Mike in Family,Happiness,love and have No Comments

A long summer without much reason to write

Sometimes it seems like every time I turn around, a month slips away.

I was horrified to see that it had been more than a month since the last time I wrote anything here, but I’ll be honest. Sometimes I feel like a lot of the stuff I write has no effect at all, at least beyond the people who know me and love me.

Maddie in action.

And even with them, I feel like I’m off there in space somewhere and not connecting with them.

Earlier this month, Pauline finished her two-year tour in Surabaya, Indonesia, and came through Georgia on a the second leg of a six-part vacation that will end in mid-August with the beginning of a three-year tour in Kingston, Jamaica. We had a wonderful week with our grandchildren. Maddie is nearly 4 years old now, and little Lex is coming up on 9 months.

We had only seen him before at an age of about 5 weeks, so this summer was really the first time his personality is starting to emerge.

As you can see from the picture, taken only a couple of hours after they flew in from Spain (and boy, were their arms tired), Maddie had all sorts of exuberance and energy. Jet lag really is much easier when you travel west.

It wasn’t an easy week. My lovely Nicole has been struggling with her health for several months, and having a week when we were going somewhere almost every day was stressful to say the least.

Lex is almost crawling.

They’re gone now, first to New Mexico and then to Seattle. They’ll spend a few days in Southern California before returning to Washington, D.C., for a few days of work-related things for Pauline.

Then it’s on to Jamaica.

It’s pretty amazing when you realize how little most Americans ever see of the world — my best friend Mickey has never been outside North America — to think that my grandson won’t be a year old until November and he has already completely circumnavigated the globe.

One thing he has seen plenty of is hot weather. Surabaya is pretty close to the Equator, and Georgia feels like it is a lot closer than it really is. We had one day in the last month when the temperature in Atlanta hit 106 — an all-time high.

Maybe it’s the hot weather that has been getting me down, or maybe it’s the fact that we are in an election year at a time when America just seems to have gone completely insane. Enough said about that for now. I make enough disparaging remarks about Mitt Romney on Facebook to get them out of my system, at least for the present.

What do I want?

I want my children and grandchildren to be happy and healthy, and more than anything I want Nicole happy and healthy again. It has been a long time.

If I could have those things, I would feel blessed.

I might even start writing more often.



posted by Mike in Family,Georgia,Happiness,Health,love and have No Comments

Fun is coming soon to our part of Georgia

I’m really looking forward to the next few weeks.

Lake Jackson

In two weeks, we will be getting our first visitors here in Georgia. Pauline and Ryan and their two children, Maddie and Lex, will finish their tour in Indonesia late this week. They’re going to Spain for a week on the way back to the United States and they will arrive in Atlanta the Friday evening after that.

They’ll be here for a week, staying at Lake Jackson, about 45 minutes from here.

I really like the way Pauline plans her vacations. Instead of renting hotel rooms, wherever possible she rents vacation houses so that her husband and children have plenty of room to move around and enjoy themselves.


The wonderful part of it is that at nearly 4 years old, Maddie is starting to be more and more aware of what’s around her and ought to be at an age where she will remember her experiences. As for Lex, when we first saw him in Seattle in November, he was little more than a month old. By the time he arrives in Georgia, he will be a little more than eight months old.

He’s not really walking or talking yet, but he sits up, he moves around and he has a big smile.

One of the things Ryan wants to do with Maddie at Lake Jackson is take her fishing. I think I’ll probably go along, even though I have never been fishing in my entire life. I don’t know if I will catch anything, but it will be fun to see my granddaughter’s reaction to a new experience.

It’s going to be a great summer.



posted by Mike in Family,Georgia,Happiness,love and have No Comments
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