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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

‘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

Friends pass away and others sometimes come back

When you reach a certain point in your life, the world stops giving you things and starts taking them away.

In the last couple of years, I have gotten several rude surprises in the form of bad news about former friends and colleagues. In April 2009, my former roommate David Poole of the Charlotte Observer died at age 50. I hadn’t seen him for more than 25 years, but he had been morbidly obese when I knew him and I don’t think that had changed. The bad news in that case was a surprise but hardly a shock.

Andrew Cseplo, upper right

The news I got this morning was truly a shock. My friend Andrew Cseplo, who preceded me as editor in chief of the campus newspaper at George Mason University, was found dead in his cab Thursday night at 13th and Constitution in Washington, D.C. Emergency medical technicians tried to revive him, but were unable. It looks like he had a heart attack, which came as a shock to the friends who actually see him from time to time.

He was 53, and at least during the last two years on Facebook, he seemed to be having a really good time. He had one of the best senses of humor I have ever seen; I would have thought he might have been able to make it as a stand-up comic.

And now he’s gone. It is depressing to lose a friend, but it is especially depressing when the friends you lose are younger than you are.

I have been blessed in my life. I had three grandparents alive till I was 35 years old, and I was 58 before I lost one of my parents. I have only lost one relative — a cousin — at a shockingly young age, but he had a medical condition that made it certain he wasn’t going to make it past adolescence.

It’s strange, though. Relationships end all the time, and some end with a finality that resembles death. For five years or so, I was closer to my first wife than I had ever been to anyone else. But we split up in 1980 and haven’t seen or spoken to each other in more than 30 years. We might as well be dead to each other.

Still, for all the friends and relatives we lose along the way, occasionally they come back. Some years back, I was able to re-establish contact with my friend Walter Masterson. We stayed in touch for the last three or four years of his life. When he died at age 87, our renewed friendship had made both our lives more pleasant.

Billie Johnson

Friday on Facebook, I got a pleasant surprise. A woman that I knew for only one year — my senior year in high school — sent me a message. Billie Johnson was my government teacher in 12th grade, one of the two or three finest teachers I had in my many years getting educated.

She taught government at my high school until she retired in 1994, and she is still actively working for teachers — both active and retired — to protect their rights. In a challenging time when the far right seems to see teachers as the villains for everything that’s wrong with our country, it’s important for people to stand up and say no to them.

It made me very happy to hear from her. I have never forgotten something she said to me at the end of 12th grade. She apologized to me for not being able to make the class more interesting. She said she knew I would have benefitted from a more advanced class, but government was a required subject for every high school senior in Virginia. She had to teach a class that would get as many kids through as possible.

Her apology embarrassed me. Sure, what she said was true, but I hadn’t even gotten an “A” in the class. I didn’t think I had the right to a more challenging class.

Good teachers are like that, and she was one of the best. It’s strange to go from a teacher-student relationship to a friendship between two retired adults.

It’s kind of nice, though.

Not all the surprises we get at this point in life are bad ones.








posted by Mike in Friends,Happiness,Health,memories 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

In the long term, doing it right is what matters

There is something so great about getting into a good routine.

My six-mile walk.

Two years ago, I established a regimen in which I walked for at least two hours every day. Along with eating sensibly, I managed to get into the best shape I had been in more than 20 years.

Unfortunately, I let it slip away from me once we moved to Georgia, and it is a lot more difficult to re-establish a good regimen than it is to maintain one. When I started again this spring, it was everything I could do to walk for one hour — three miles — on a flat surface.

Well, I’m back.

I go out at about 7:45 p.m. and walk the golf course from beginning to end, all the ups and downs or a fairly hilly course. I walk for two and a quarter hours and I come home feeling great.

I still have a lot of weight I want to lose, but I know I will get there.

No matter how long it takes.

You see, I know I’m doing it right, which is really all that matters.


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

Too many folks don’t pay attention to their vows

When you’re young and you marry, it’s all about the good times.

Unless you’re somehow forced by circumstances, you marry someone because you are happier with them than without them and you are optimistic that things will get even better the longer you two are together.

In sickness and in health

When you’re young, marriage is maybe the ultimate act of belief in the future.

You say the vows — better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness or health — but you don’t really believe anything bad will happen. You’re in it for better, for richer, for health and if any of that bad stuff happens, you’ll deal with it with all the invincibility of youth.

It’s different when you’re older. When you marry past 40, you carry the baggage of previous failure and the awareness that bad things happen as well as good things and you may not be able to control very much about either.

If your life has gone at all according to plan, richer or poorer may not be as much of a factor as when you’re younger, but health is much more likely to come into play. My good friend Mick and his wife have been married for nearly 33 years and both are dealing with health problems.

For the last six years of my father’s life, my mother was his 24/7 caregiver. She was only a year younger than he was and not in the best health herself, but she gave everything she had to help him. I don’t think there’s any better way to show love for someone than that, and I wonder how many of us could do something like that for as long as she did.

I know I couldn’t. I have such admiration for her efforts, and also for the help my sisters and my brother gave her. But I also know none of them considered it a chore, an imposition or even hard work. When someone you dearly love needs your help, there really isn’t any question whether or not you will help them.

Sickness or health never came into play in my first marriage. I was 25 and she was 21 when we took our vows, and I wasn’t even 30 when it all fell apart for reasons that had nothing to do with health. It was 30 years ago this spring that we spoke for the last time, nearly half a lifetime ago for me. Of course, I’m 62 now and health problems are becoming a reality both for me and for my lovely wife.

For me it’s mostly aches and pains, as well as elevated blood pressure as my weight fluctuates. I take glucosamine for my incipient arthritis, pills for my blood pressure and over-the-counter sleep aids to help me nod off at night. My wife is dealing with much more significant issues, most of them involving anxiety. At times during the last year or so, things have been extremely difficult for her.

I do what I can to help, and we seems to have made at least some progress. I’ll be damned if I give myself any credit for it. When you have one failed marriage in your past, all you’re really trying to do is get even. I love her, though, and I’ll be here as long as she wants me and I’m still drawing breath.

That’s what “in sickness or in health” is all about.









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

It’s tough to do it twice in just three years

I haven’t written much about my diet lately, mostly because I think it’s boring to read about.

The one thing that tends to freak me out about it is how ridiculously unhealthy it is to spend six months losing 112 pounds one year, gain it all back and then some the next year and then start losing it again the very next spring.

Part of my six miles.

The only thing dumber would be not to lose it, to be stumbling around the house weighing 284 pounds and counting down to a damn heart attack.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I started on March 1 and lost 34 pounds the first month. Then it got difficult. I lost 11 the second month, 10 the third and I made it through three months without getting halfway to my goal of 168.

I have lost two more pounds so far in June, which leaves me at 227. I’m only 10 or 15 pounds from all the great shirts I bought two years ago — including four Tommy Bahamas that I paid $75 each for at a half-price sale — fitting me really well. I probably need to get down to 190 or so for my pants (33 waist) to fit me well.

I’m exercising pretty much every day, either walking 5-6 miles or playing 18 holes of golf. My favorite walk is waiting until dusk and then spending a little more than two hours walking the entire golf course. Last week I got caught out on the course during a surprise downpour and walked home completely soaked.

It has been a strange spring.

posted by Mike in Exercise,Georgia,golf,Health and have No Comments

Life changes when you go from ‘kiddo’ to ‘daddy’

Some changes in our lives are obvious and expected, but others not only take us by surprise, sometimes they happen so gradually we don’t even notice.

When I was a kid, I never worried that someone would break into our house during the night and hurt me. There may have been nights I had things on my mind and didn’t sleep well — although I really don’t recall many — but I always felt protected because I knew my dad was there to deal with anything that might happen.

Still one of my favorite pictures

To be fair, we didn’t live in the kind of neighborhoods where that was a big concern. But even if we had, I don’t think it was something I felt that I needed to worry about. My dad had that covered.

Through most of my 20s and 30s, I lived either alone or with one roommate. For a few years it was a wife, but for some reason, I’m not sure the thought of feeling safe — or not feeling safe — ever really crossed my mind. Maybe it’s just that when you’re physically mature and aren’t facing any real threats, you don’t worry.

My life changed in the fall of 1992 when I remarried and became a dad to a 12-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old son. I certainly didn’t worry about anyone breaking into the house. We lived in one of the best neighborhoods in Southern California, and the scariest thing that ever happened — heck, maybe the only scary thing that ever happened — was being awakened very early one morning by the Northridge Earthquake.

Of course, that was January 1994, and by then I had already come to a realization. For the first time in my life, there were people sleeping without fear because I was there. I remembered an exchange from the Bruce Dern movie “Middle Age Crazy” where he talked about the time in his life when he had been the “kiddo” and the time when he was the “daddy.” In that movie, Dern was wishing he could be the kiddo again, but I was happy to realize there were people counting on me to keep them safe.

It’s funny. My dad was the most ethical man I have ever known, and I have no idea if he had any sort of weapon — for lack of a better term — to use if someone tried to break into our house. I know for sure that he never had a gun, and I would never use one either. I’m a big believer in the statistics that guns in the home are a lot more likely to be misused than to be used for the intended purpose.

So what did I use? For most of the years my kids were at home, I had a softball bat that I kept beside my bed. I wouldn’t use it to stand up to someone with a gun, but with just about anything else, I would take my chances with the damage that metal bat could do.

I don’t have that bat anymore, but I have one that’s a little more aesthetically pleasing — a Louisville Slugger with my name on it.

I’ve also got an autographed bat in a display case, but if it reaches the point where I have to bring Pete Rose into the conversation, I’m probably in trouble.

Actually, I get awakened a lot more than I used to. My wife of 20 years is having problems with anxiety, and she wakes me in the middle of the night because she thinks someone is in the house. It doesn’t worry me, because it’s not a prowler. She sometimes thinks people she knows — who live thousands of miles away — are in the house, so all I have to do is prove to her that they haven’t come to visit without letting us know.

Just more of the service when you pass from “kiddo” to “daddy.”

All part of being a man.

I learned that from my dad.



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

One really good month down, five more still to go

Not an endless highway, but ...

And the road goes on and on … and on.

Two years ago, first in Texas and then in California, I thought I had successfully managed to get my life straightened out. I lost 112 pounds and got into an exercise routine that had me walking for at least two hours every day.

I weighed 168 pounds, the first time in more than 20 years that I made it under 170, and I swore to myself I would never let things get out of hand to the point where I had to diet for six months just to get healthy. I didn’t need to starve myself or spend hours doing grueling exercises to maintain my healthy weight; all I needed was to eat sensibly and walk every day.

As it turned out, I couldn’t do either. A foot injury got me out of the habit of walking, and by then I was already getting back into the habit of eating too many things that were bad for me.

By summer I was back to 230 pounds and by late fall I had gained back all the weight I had worked for six months to lose.


I learned an important lesson, but it wasn’t one that made me happy. I learned that no matter how hard I work to lose weight and get into shape, no matter how I promise myself I will never be overweight again, I cannot trust myself.

I get thin, I get fat, I get thin again …

Pretty depressing, huh?

But for every negative, there is a positive. And if I can’t manage to keep the weight off, what matters is at least I keep trying. So as I wrote earlier, when the calendar showed March 1st, I began the Great Diet and Exercise of 2012. I weighed 284 pounds, four pounds heavier than I had ever been in my life and 116 pounds more than I had weighed at the end of October 2010.

One day at a time, and now 31 days — the month of March — is in my rear-view mirror. I walked more than half of the days and I got more conscientious about it as the month wore on. I ate on average a little less than 1,100 calories per day and I had the best weight loss month I’ve ever had on any diet in my life.

I dropped 34 pounds, and while 250 is still pretty horrible, it’s a lot better than 284 and it’s one helluva good start.

One month down.

Five to go.



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