One Voice

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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

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

More people should know what really matters

Some months back, I was trying to discover some basic truths about life.

I asked numerous people who mattered to me to send me their thoughts on the matter, and it came as no surprise to me that one of the most insightful comments came from my daughter Pauline. She wrote that what really mattered in life was family, and that living that belief was the most important thing to her.

Family, what matters most

“I always put my family first,” she said.

Recently, when I wrote about the Proust questions and posted an interview with myself, Pauline sent me an e-mail — not for publication — in which she answered the same questions. Her answers showed something I knew all along — that what she had said earlier was 100 percent sincere, 100 percent true.

That left me wondering, because I agreed with her 100 percent. If you look at the basic human motivations, going back thousands of years, it seems to me that loving and being loved are pretty near the top of the list. Certainly there are others that matter, such as the desire for security, but it seems to me that so much of modern society with its “he who dies with the most toys wins” attitude has gone off track somewhere.

I could ask almost any of my friends who have children what matters most to them, and I can’t think of any of them who would rate their careers ahead of their families. Even the ones who haven’t been particularly successful, when I look at the choices they have made, their career problems have come because they refused to put their jobs ahead of their families.

The other night I was watching “Awakenings,” the wonderful film from 1990 in which experimental drug therapy helped “awaken” patients who had been catatonic for more than 40 years since an encephalitis epidemic in 1926. Some of the patients were resentful, upset at how much of their lives had been lost. The main character, played by Robert DeNiro, wanted people who hadn’t been through it to understand what really mattered.

After his character was once again catatonic, his doctor — played by Robin Williams — passed along his thoughts.

“What we do know is that, as the chemical window closed, another awakening took place; that the human spirit is more powerful than any drug – and that is what needs to be nourished: with work, play, friendship, family. These are the things that matter. This is what we’d forgotten – the simplest things.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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

With modern communications, nothing goes away

Nothing ever goes away anymore.

I can listen to just about any song I ever liked on satellite radio, and if it doesn’t show up I can buy it on iTunes. I can buy seasons of just about any TV show I ever liked — except, inexplicably, for “LA Law” — and I can find 99 percent of the movies I love on DVD.

But perhaps the strangest part of it all is people. When you spent 60-plus years on the planet, you find that a fairly large number of people seem to pass in and out of your life. Some of them, you make the effort to maintain contact. Others, you avoid. Still others avoid you.

The Internet has changed all that, and what it didn’t change, Facebook did. Over the last five years or so, I have re-established contact with people I hadn’t seen in more than 40 years. And within the last year or so with Facebook, I touched base with my wonderful friend Christine Miller, who I hadn’t seen since before I was married.

Married for the first time — in 1975.

There are three women on Facebook who are friends of mine that I actually thought at one time or another — long ago and far away — I might marry. For whatever reason, it didn’t happen, but I feel no bitterness toward any of them and I don’t think they feel bitterness toward me. Time may not heal all wounds, but I suppose the fact that I’m happily married and so are all three of them probably helped.

My oldest friend of all isn’t on Facebook, at least as far as I know, but he and I made contact again in 2007 at our 40th high school reunion, and I’m glad to know he’s got a good life and a happy family going for him. Gary and I became friends in 1963, and even though you could count our meetings in the last 30 years on one hand and have fingers left over, we always seem to pick up where we left off.

Pauline, Madison and little Gustav

Mostly what I appreciate all these additional forms of communication is how much they help me stay in touch with the people I love. My daughter Pauline and her family are on the other side of the world in Indonesia, but through Skype we talk nearly every week and through pictures she posts to her Facebook account, I get to see my little granddaughter Madison grow up. She’ll be 3 next month, and her little brother is expected to join the family in November.

Pauline won’t tell us what the new baby’s name will be, which is her prerogative, but as a grandfather and a writer, I have to call him something.

For now he’s little Gustav.

I certainly hope he never goes away.



posted by Mike in Family,Friends,Happiness,love,memories and have Comments (2)

This young woman knows what matters in life

A few months ago, I was working on a project where I asked a number of people I know what they considered the basic truths of life.

I got a number of excellent responses, but the most fascinating one came from my daughter Pauline.

“My family is my No. 1 priority at all times. Not just when it’s convenient.”

An old picture but a great one.

When she said that, Pauline had a little daughter and a husband. Now she’s nearly two-thirds of the way through her second pregnancy, and by Thanksgiving — assuming all goes well — she will have a son.

Her family loves her, her friends love her and her career in the Foreign Service is going swimmingly.

I’m in awe of her, because I don’t know how she manages to find the energy to do her job so well and still be such a good wife, mother … and daughter.

She has become one of my favorite people to have conversations with, whether the topic is personal or simply current events. She always has something intelligent or insightful to say, and while I have been blessed to know numerous highly intelligent women in my life, Pauline would rank near the top of the list.

Everyone who knows me knows how I feel about my daughter, but just in case you’re wondering why this is being written today, well, it’s Pauline’s birthday.

Happy birthday, Pauline. I’m very proud to be part of your life.


posted by Mike in Family,Happiness and have No Comments

When the stupid fits, it’s time to own up to it

I am really proud of my daughter.

I have written that before, but for different reasons. Pauline has a wonderful career and a great marriage, she’s a good mother to Maddie and she’s got another one on the way. She seems to balance everything in her life really well, which is impressive.

But what makes me really proud is that this morning, when I signed onto Facebook, I found a comment from her:

“You wrote a really stupid, uneducated, insulting blog.”

Say what?

The thing is, I did, but she left out one word. Sloppy. I looked back and read the particular blog she disliked so much, and I realized that I had said something I didn’t intend to say at all. I was writing about the killing of Osama bin Laden and the aftermath of the tornadoes that hit the South. This is what I said:

“What happened in Pakistan really has no tangible effect — lasting or otherwise — on their life.

“Foreign policy successes don’t solve domestic policy problems. In fact, billions spent on foreign policy probably actually exacerbate domestic policy problems by leaving fewer resources available to be used.”

Foreign policy? But that wasn’t what I meant. I am not an isolationist, and I certainly believe in America engaging with the rest of the world.

Military, not foreign policy

I meant “military.” Killing bin Laden had nothing to do with foreign policy. It had everything to do with us flexing our military muscles and telling the rest of the world that you don’t mess with the big dog.

Precisely the kind of thing I’ve always hated.

But because I wrote imprecisely, because something may have been on my mind that caused me to say it wrong, because of all that or maybe just because I’m getting old, I said something stupid. Of course Pauline jumped to a conclusion from that and thought I was attacking foreign aid. I certainly wasn’t, and I have always understood that we spend less on foreign aid that most critics think.

When I spoke about exacerbating problems, I was referring to the fact that building one less stealth bomber could probably fund some worthwhile domestic program for a year. I’m not an isolationist and never have been.

So, mea culpa. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

And Pauline, thanks for holding my feet to the fire.

Thanks for calling me a dumbass.

I hope this clears that up.

posted by Mike in Family,love,Ranting and have Comments (2)

Trying to get that Christmas feeling going

I wish it felt more like Christmas.

It’s eight days till the holiday, and I have absolutely no trace of the Christmas spirit. Part of it is that I’m being told Christmas is a holiday for children and that adults who aren’t spending the holiday with children shouldn’t get excited about it. Ordinarily I’d blow off comments like that — I don’t really agree with them — but when the person saying them is the one person I’ll be spending Christmas with, it’s tough.

A big part of the problem is that even though we’ve been in Georgia for a month now, we’re still a long way from being settled in. The painters come Monday, and once our walls are painted, we can start putting some stuff away and other stuff on the walls. We’ll also have our new living room furniture delivered. Trust me. When you don’t have furniture in your living room, it doesn’t make much sense to put up a Christmas tree.

One thing I thought would help actually hasn’t. We have a really cool sound system — speakers in the ceiling — in four different rooms in our house. As of today, I have my XM Radio hooked up through the speakers, and as I type this in my office, I have Christmas music coming down from the ceiling. I thought that would lift my spirits, but as of yet, not so much.

Christmas 2009 in Virginia

Part of the problem is I’m missing my kids.

This is the first Christmas that both Pauline and Virgile have been overseas, and with the move, we haven’t had a whole lot of contact with them the last month or two. I’m happy that Pauline, Ryan and Maddie are using some vacation time to fly from Indonesia to Greece to spend Christmas with Virgile and Sterling, but I really miss them.

As I wrote yesterday, last Christmas was a lot of fun in Virginia with the kids.

I think I just need to try and figure out a way to help Nicole have a little more Christmas spirit.

That would definitely make me feel better.

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

A few words about the best daughter in the world

It’s easy to get carried away with comments and pictures about my wonderful little granddaughter, but I certainly never want to overlook exactly how amazing I think her mother is.

Chief Consul Pauline Kastner in Surabaya

My daughter Pauline, who had one of those momentous birthdays earlier this week, is only on her third tour as an officer in the Foreign Service. Despite that, she is already chief consul in the largest consulate in Indonesia, living in a city the size of Los Angeles.

Don’t tell me the Department of State doesn’t know what it’s got in her.

I have always been proud of her, but I swear, she gets more impressive every year. She has done an incredible job of balancing her job responsibilities with her family life. She has been a wonderful mother to little Maddie, while still doing good enough work to get top-flight performance evaluations.

You certainly can’t overlook how beautiful she is, either.

Pauline is someone who has worked very hard to make herself into the person she is, and one of the reasons I’m hoping to live as long as possible is that I want to see all the impressive things she will do in the course of the next 25 or 30 years.

There couldn’t be a better daughter in the world, and no, I’m not biased.

I’m right.

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

It’s a long, long way to Indonesia and Greece

The Amazing Baby

For all its negatives, there are some things amazing and wonderful about technology.

Yesterday evening, through the miracle of Skype, my wife and I were able to carry on a 20-minute conversation — complete with video — with our daughter Pauline and our granddaughter Maddie from 14 time zones away.

I even did a video capture, but I’m showing you this somewhat older picture instead because I don’t want to be the type of grandfather who humiliates his granddaughter by putting a picture of her in a diaper out there on the Internet for all to see.

It took a while for me as an old guy to be able to work out the Skype thing. I had a headset that was a combination of headphones and a microphone, and it took me forever — or so it seemed — to realize I had to plug them into two different jacks, one to listen and one to talk.

In the end, though, it was wonderful. I hadn’t seen Maddie since Christmas, which is about when this picture was taken. Not only has she grown a lot since then, she has expanded her vocabulary exponentially. When asked how old she is, she responds, “Almost two.” She even recognizes me as “grandpa,” which is quite an accomplishment since she has three grandfathers in two countries.

I’m really counting on Skype now that Maddie and her parents are in Indonesia for the next two years. It will probably be early 2012 before we get over there to visit, and it’s a long way for them to come home for R&R. Maddie might be nearly three and a half before I actually see her in person again.

It’s times like this that the world seems larger and larger. In another three weeks, Virgile and his wife Sterling will be in Greece to start their two-year tour there. With our children so many thousands of miles away, and with most of our other living relatives either back East or over in France, things have gotten really spread out.

Moving to Georgia next spring will help a little. For one thing, the 14 time zones that now separate us from Indonesia will go down to 11.

Thank goodness for Skype.

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

Life’s lessons to be learned from Frank Costanza

I was never a huge fan of “Seinfeld,” but I’ll admit there have always been things about it that make me laugh.

One of those things is Jerry Stiller as George Costanza’s father Frank. I always liked the Festivus episode, especially the part about the airing of grievances, but the one that never fails to leave me clutching my sides is when Frank is working on his temper and has come up with the mantra of “Serenity Now.”

At first he’s saying it calmly, but by the end of the episode he’s shouting it to himself in an angry voice.

Frank Costanza's Festivus card

To me in addition to being hilarious, it also shows just how hard it is sometimes to be human. No matter how much you feel like you’ve learned, no matter how certain you are of the right thing to do and no matter how hard you work to do it, being human means you’re going to fall short and let yourself — and other people — down at times.

“During the past year, you have disappointed me in the following ways …”

Sounds just like Thanksgiving or Christmas in a lot of families, including just about every movie made in the last 20 years about grown children returning home for the holidays.

The fact is, we hurt the people we love more than anyone else.

But that’s because they care what we think and vice versa. There is no one in this world whose good opinion of my I value more than my wife’s opinion, and that isn’t just because it makes things more peaceful at home.

It’s because at least theoretically, the person you love enough to marry is the one who knows you better than anyone else in the world, so if your wife thinks you’re a schmuck – or a smuck, as a close friend of mine used to say — then there’s a good chance you are one.

A schmuck, not a smuck.

So when I mess up, all I can do is apologize, put it behind me and try not to do it again.

And go around muttering “serenity now” until I feel better.

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