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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

Stand up to the gun nuts and take reasonable steps

It’s tough enough being a kid when all you have to worry about is other kids.

When my son was in second grade, he was getting bullied by a couple of kids a year or two older. Rather than complaining, he found a tiny little penknife that he had bought as a souvenir at the Roy Rogers Museum in Victorville, California. The blade was less than an inch long, and he would never have stabbed anyone with it. But he thought if he showed these kids he had the knife, they would leave him alone.

I didn’t find out about it until the school called to tell me my son had brought a knife to school. I didn’t argue with them, although I probably could have pointed out that it was so small and the blade so dull that I probably could have swallowed it and had it pass through my entire digestive system without doing any damage. I told them I would talk to him, and he made it through the rest of his school years without taking a weapon to school.

Read more…

posted by Mike in Family,Politics,Ranting,Tragedy 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

‘Black Friday’ says nothing good about America

I’m not sure there is anything that says more about what this country has become in recent years than the concept of “Black Friday.”

Black Friday

Bargain hunters line up in front of stores waiting for them to open on the Friday after Thanksgiving so that they can get fantastic bargains on limited numbers of items for sale. My first experience with it was 11 years ago, when I found myself outside a Walmart in Upland, California, at 5 a.m., looking at a line of 1,500 people waiting for the store to open at 6 a.m.

I don’t remember exactly what the bargains were, although I do remember that DVD players were new enough that they were still selling for $125 or so and Walmart had several hundred of them for $50 each. The other stuff was pretty much the same as it is now — game systems, computers, big screen televisions. I know there were very small numbers of items at incredible bargains — $1,500 televisions for $500, $1,000 computers for $300. Enough to make some folks really aggressive when the doors opened.

If that sounds like a recipe for disaster, it’s because you’re looking at it from 2012 and not 2001. You’ve read the stories in intervening years about the weaker shoppers who got knocked down and trampled, or the Walmart employee on Long Island who actually was knocked down and died from his injuries. My own favorite horror story was about the woman who made sure she got one of the real bargains by using pepper spray to get the competition out of her way.

Hey, is this a great country or what?

Actually, Black Friday keeps edging forward on the calendar. Instead of 6 a.m. Friday, the Walmarts are starting their sales at 8 p.m. tonight and going through the night. I won’t be anywhere near any of the sales. We got most of the things we’ll be giving our grandchildren last weekend, and our kids and their spouses are old enough that gift cards seem to be best for them.


It has actually been sort of a strange Thanksgiving. My wife is in the hospital for the third time in less than a year, although I’m hopeful she will be home on Saturday. When we lived in California, we went to a wonderful restaurant — Twin Palms in Pasadena — every Thanksgiving. They had a delicious dinner buffet just for the holiday, and while it was pretty expensive ($35-40 a person), they did something nice by letting everyone fill a styrofoam container with more food to take home as leftovers.

They were wonderful dinners, but as I get older and more sentimental, what I remember the most was home special the days were when our kids were still at home. Our Thanksgiving tradition for some years was to go to a matinee, then have dinner and then go to another movie.

Happy days.





posted by Mike in Americana,Family,Happiness,Holidays,Ranting 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

Of birthers, bicycles and wonderful Trick or Treaters

Short takes from a journey through a disorganized mind:

I’m pretty fed up with these idiots who keep insisting that President Obama wasn’t born in the United States and thus should not have been eligible to serve the last four years as president. I mean, he had three major obstacles to overcome if he were hiding something. I find it impossible to believe that if there was something to the claims, Hillary Clinton wouldn’t have used it against him in the primaries. Then Republicans certainly would have used it in the general election campaign. Finally, the “birthers” filed suits in court after court that were thrown out.

To believe that Obama really was ineligible, you almost have to believe that everyone is in on it, including numerous Republicans.

The whole thing is ridiculous anyway. The idea that a president had to be native-born was an 18th century fear of European royalty ruling our country. The American people should be the ones to make the decision, and if at various times people might have wanted to vote for Republicans Arnold Schwarzenegger (Austrian born) or Henry Kissinger (German born) or for Democrat Jennifer Grantholm (Canadian born), they should have had that opportunity.

Admittedly, I’m prejudiced. I have a daughter who I honestly believe could have a great career in politics should she so desire, but even though she has been in this country since she was 7, she wasn’t born here. I shudder to think of a world where brilliant, personable people can’t run for president, but Michelle Bachman can.


Halloween in Jamaica

Speaking of my daughter Pauline, aka the mother of my grandchildren, she and husband Ryan made a big deal out of Halloween in their first year of three stationed in Jamaica. They ordered costumes online. Ryan was something called a Tauntaun, which is a character I failed to remember from the “Star Wars” movie, while Pauline and little Lex have costumes from “Star Trek” and Maddie is a princess.

I get a kick out of the look on Lex’s face. Halloween is three months before his birthday, and he is 1 year old now.


I am very impressed by Performance Bicycle. As I wrote last week, I ordered a road bike online. I was told it would be shipped from North Carolina and I would be able to pick it up from the Atlanta store in three weeks.

They cut 16 days off the time.

My bike arrived last Thursday — 16 days ahead of schedule.

I picked it up Saturday, and while I haven’t been on it yet, it’s only a matter of time.

It’s a lot different from my first bike — no basket on the back to carry things, for one thing.

But damned if it isn’t beautiful.


Tuesday is election day. Exercise your right to vote, whether you’re supporting the guy I like or the guy I don’t like.



posted by Mike in American Dream,Exercise,Family,Politics,Ranting and have No Comments

Can this old dog learn some new cycling tricks?

I haven’t owned a bicycle for nearly fifty years.

My old bike (sort of)

I had one when I was a kid, a basic one-speed Huffy bike (not the one in the picture, but close). I don’t know how much it cost, because my parents bought it for me, but the kid in Stephen King’s “Hearts in Atlantis” was saving for a similar bike and it was $25.

It was a relatively simple bike. You pedaled to go forward and pushed back on the pedal to slow down or stop. There weren’t any gears, so there were plenty of times I had to dismount and walk my bike to the top of the hill.

By the time I was in my teens — the mid 1960s — 10-speed bikes were starting to come on the market. We called them “English racers,” but I’m not sure why. I doubt that the UK was the only place people were riding them.

I guess I rode my bike for the last time when I was 13 or 14, and as best as I can recall, the only time I have been on a bicycle since was three years or so ago when Nicole and I rode a tandem bike at Huntington Beach.

That might have been the end of it, except that my son started doing triathlons. Running, swimming, cycling. He was good at it and he stretched out to where he ran in the L.A. Marathon — breaking 3:30 his first time out — and eventually working up to where he was doing Ironman Triathlons. In May 2009, at the age of 24, he swam 2.2 miles in the Mediterranean Sea, raced for 115 miles in the mountains just outside Nice, France, and then ran 26.2 miles along the beach.

Virgile in Nice

This kid isn’t just a man, he’s a horse.

Virgile started with a fairly nice bike, moved up to a really nice one and finally stepped up to one he assembled himself from components. My guess is that it would probably cost him three or four thousand dollars in a store. Plus he’s got all kinds of great clothes, helmets and other stuff.

But it’s pretty obvious that it has been worth every penny. Virgile is 27 years old, has a sedentary job and doesn’t have an ounce of fat anywhere on his body. He has formed good habits that became a good lifestyle. I couldn’t be more proud of him.

Anyone who follows this Website  knows that two years ago, I spent six months getting into great shape. Then I spent the next year losing all the progress I had made. Now I have to figure out how to get back to where I once belonged.

I had a small windfall recently. I played a few fantasy baseball leagues online and I actually won two of them for a total of $1,300.

I had been thinking for a while about getting a bike, and I priced some at Walmart. The most expensive one was $499, but I knew I wasn’t going to buy anything without discussing it with my son. When it had looked for a while as though I might win only one of the leagues (and take second place in the other), I figured maybe I could spend $600 or so on a bike.

When I won the second league, though, I started thinking a little bigger. Virgile pointed me to the Performance Bicycle Website and I realized there were some amazing bicycles out there. In the category of Road Bikes — which is what I wanted — I saw one on sale for $5,999, marked down from $6,899. Wow! I actually bought a nearly new Camaro in 1975 for less than half that amount.

My new bike

Of course I wasn’t buying anything in that price range, but Virgile recommended a really nice-looking bike for $1,319 that was on sale for $999.

I ordered it online, and it’s going to be delivered to the Performance Bicycle store on the north side of Atlanta in a couple of weeks. They will assemble it, although it’s actually going to cost me a little more than I thought because it comes without pedals.

There’s an old expression that basically says once you learn to ride a bike, you never lose that skill. I’m not sure that applies to me here. Not so much because of age, but look at the differences between the two bicycles pictured. On the Huffy, you ride sitting up and you brake by pushing back on the pedal.

On this Fuji Roubaix 2.0 road bike, you sit high and lean way down to hold the handles. There are gears that give the bike 20 different settings, something I’m going to have to learn from the beginning. And the brakes are hand brakes. All I will be doing with the pedals is pumping.

It’s going to take time, but I am going to learn how to do it. Cycling will give me an extra tool in working to get myself back into shape.

It’s also a challenge, and at this point in my life, challenges are good for me.





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