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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

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

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

I’ve got amazing children and 10 toes to boot

This is going to sound strange, but sometimes I wish I didn’t love my children so much.

You see, it’s because I love them so much that I spend so much time missing them. Pauline and Virgile are two of my very favorite people in the world, and I cannot imagine being any more proud of them than I am. They are both intelligent, good-looking, hard-working caring people, and neither one of them smells bad.

Editor’s note: Where did that come from?

I’m not sure. I think I was afraid if I didn’t lighten things up a little, I might start weeping.

Pauline, Lex and Maddie

Pauline is the older of the two, and she has done a wonderful job of trying to do the impossible — what they used to call having it all.

She has a good marriage, two wonderful children and is one of the rising stars in the diplomatic corps. She is nearing the end of her third overseas tour — Cameroon, China and Indonesia — and her reward is that she’ll spend three years living in the same time zone with us, albeit a little farther to the south.

She’s going to Jamaica, mon.

Maddie will be 4 years old in September, starting her final year of preschool, and baby Lex will celebrate his first birthday in November. By the way, I also wish I didn’t love my grandchildren so much. Same reason.

Virgile is nearly five years younger than Pauline, so in some respects he has been following in her footsteps. Then again, he has blazed some trails of his own at the same time.

My son started out with the goal of becoming the next great jazz saxophonist. He was damn good, too, but about halfway through college he made the tough decision that he was only good, not great, and it might make more sense to try something else.

from left, Joe, Virgile and Sterling

He wound up following the same route his sister had, into the diplomatic corps, and in 2010 he and his wife Sterling left for their first tour.

Give the kid some credit. He didn’t pick a boring post for his first. He has been in Athens, Greece, for about 18 months, and will be returning to Washington for language training for his next post later this year.

Virgile is still a few years from turning 30, and he has already received two compliments that are nicer things than anyone has said about me in my entire life.

In his first year of college, one of his roommates took us aside and told us that Virgile was the nicest person he had met in his entire life.


Then last year, in his first job evaluation, his boss wrote that Virgile was the finest young foreign service officer he had known in 20 years.


I’d have given up a toe — not an important one — to have had anyone ever say something like that about me. But actually, I learned something when I heard that second compliment. When you’re a parent, I think you’re happier to hear someone compliment your kids than to hear somebody compliment you.

You see, you get the joy of it and you get to keep all your toes.


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

Little Lex progressing nicely as Amazing Baby II

Every time I look at this picture, I find myself smiling.

Lexington Wesley, Amazing Baby II

And I can’t keep myself from looking at it, again and again and again.

Lexington Wesley Kastner, my grandson, is now in his fourth month of life, and he seems to get more and more interesting by the day. His mother does such a good job of posting pictures online and also keeping in touch through Skype at least once a week so that I can see him live.

I love his name, especially since I believe he might be the only boy in the entire United States with that particular name. His parents, Pauline and Ryan, decided they didn’t like any of the common names for boys — the world definitely doesn’t need any more Michaels — so they had a problem.

They handled it well. They could have named him something like Optimus Prime or Agamemnon, but they gave him a name that, while unique, has a perfectly reasonable nickname. Lex is more commonly known as a nickname for Alexander, but it works really well for this kid.

I’ve said some of this in earlier posts, and of course we went through this stage with Madison Nicole, the first grandchild. It makes me a little bit impatient to see Lex advance to some of the next stages — walking, talking, etc.

He’s going to be such an interesting kid.

It’s wonderful to get so much happiness from someone so small.


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

Grandchildren seem to be in a ‘N.Y. State of Mind’

The call came at about 2 a.m.

It was my son-in-law Ryan, reporting that his son — our grandson — had been born just a few minutes ago.

“So are you finally going to tell us the name?”

George Bailey lassos stork.

For whatever reason, Pauline and Ryan had been very closed-mouthed about what the name of their second child would be. They had been saying all along that they weren’t going to tell anyone their selection until after the baby was born. I was a little bit afraid they were going to pick something really odd, like Gustav, Wilbur or Melvin.

“Lexington Wesley Kastner.”

An interesting name, and even though it was a unique enough name that it didn’t even appear on the site of baby names, I found myself sort of liking it. Even if naming their first child Madison and their second Lexington did leave me wondering if all my Kastner grandchildren would be names after streets in New York City.

I’m hoping they’ll run out of children before they get around to Flatbush Avenue Kastner.

So the baby will probably be known as Lex, and although I tried to think of someone famous named Lex, the only one I could come up with was arch-villain Lex Luthor from the “Superman” comics.

Of course, his name was short for Alexander.

The most famous Lex

And he was also serious warped after a lab accident left him bald at a very young age.

Editor’s note: Lab is for laboratory in this context, not Labrador Retriever.

My grandson’s middle name has several family connections, even though only one of them was intended. Wesley is Ryan’s middle name, which I am sure is why they gave it to him. Oddly, it’s also the first name of someone I haven’t seen since 1952, the man who provided half of my genetic makeup.

I’m pretty sure Ryan and Pauline weren’t even aware of that.

Anyway, I have two grandchildren now, and the only thing better than that would be to have three. We’re planning a trip to see them in a couple of weeks, God willing and the creek don’t rise. Pauline took three months off from her job as chief consul at the American Consulate in Surabaya, Indonesia, to have her baby in Seattle, and they’ll be in the U.S. till just after Christmas.

Seeing them — baby Lex, big sister Maddie, Pauline and Ryan — will make for a wonderful time in what has been a very challenging year.

Very few years are all good or all bad, and this one should end very well.




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

Coming soon: Another Amazing Baby

Could there be anything more wonderful when you’re 61 years old than learning that you’re going to have another grandchild?

Wonderful Maddie

For the last 2 1/2 years, I have been Madison Kastner’s grandfather, and while it has been wonderful to be a husband and a parent, there is something so special about being “Grandpa.”

My daughter Pauline’s plan all along was to have her second child about three years after the first, and it was a couple of months ago when she and Ryan started trying.

Last week she called us from Surabaya, Indonesia, and told us that the bun, so to speak, was in the oven. Their second child, our second grandchild, is due November 11th. Since Pauline can’t get the best hospital care where she’s currently stationed, they will be returning to the United States at the end of September so that she can give birth in Seattle.

They will be in the U.S. for three months and return to Indonesia at the end of the calendar year.

We’ll go out there in November, both to spend some time with Maddie and her parents and to meet our newest grandchild.

It has been a long time since I have looked forward to anything as much.

Can there really be two Amazing Babies?

posted by Mike in Family,Happiness and have No Comments

Life is wonderful with grandchildren

I defy anyone to interact with a baby and not feel good about the world.

Pauline and baby MaddieI spent the better part of two weeks with my lovely daughter and my wonderful granddaughter, and I feel extremely happy that I have been able to share so much of Maddie’s first 16 months on Earth.

Ten days in Beijing, three weeks in Los Angeles, two weeks in Washington State and two weeks in Northern Virginia isn’t bad, although the odds are pretty good that I won’t be able to spend any more time with her in person in 2010. We won’t be going back to Virginia until autumn at the earliest, and Maddie and her parents will be leaving for three years in Indonesia in late June.

Once Nicole is retired, we expect to be traveling to see each of our kids and their families at least once at every posting they have as Foreign Service officers. We’re only one out of two so far — we visited Pauline and her family in China but not in Cameroon. Whether we make all the postings from now on depends at least a little on where they go. We’ll visit Virgile at his first posting in Greece, but if he winds up in some -stan country after that, we’re not promising anything.

Of course once Virgile and Sterling start giving us grandchildren, all bets are off.

Pauline and Ryan are talking about having a second child during the tour in Indonesia, but I think Maddie will still be the star of the show for a few more years at least. She’s walking, talking and doing a pretty good impression of reading books (she turns the pages and points at the pictures). She has also learned to applaud and say “Bravo,” which is pretty impressive.

In the picture above, she had her first visit to the Kennedy Center for a special children’s show.

By all accounts, she enjoyed herself.

I’m sure everyone with her did as well.

How could they not?

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

It’s fascinating to watch a child grow

Life is very strange when the most interesting person in the world is only coming up on her 14th birthday — 14 months, that is.

The Amazing Baby

The Amazing Baby

This Thursday, Nov. 19th, my granddaughter Maddie will be one years and two months old. She’s walking, displaying a fascinating variety of facial expressions and pulling books and DVDs off the shelves like mad.

The only thing she isn’t really doing yet is talking.

We saw little Maddie and her parents last weekend, and we’ll see them again in Washington, D.C., for Christmas. I know I’m acting like this is the first baby in the world — after all, they’re born every day and there might even be one somewhere as pretty or as smart as Maddie — but you have to understand this is all a first for me.

I missed out on my own children’s infancy, and I don’t really remember much about my younger siblings at that age. I imagine I was a lot more preoccupied with my own life in those pre-puberty days.

With Maddie I heard her cry over the phone when she was 10 minutes old, and I held her in my arms when she was 10 days old. I have seen her numerous times since then, and what I haven’t seen in person I’ve seen in the photos and the videos posted on Facebook.

I can hardly wait for her to learn to talk, to learn to read and write and all the other things that come along with childhood. My daughter Pauline tells me that Maddie already loves books, and I’m happy to know her parents intend to raise her on the written word and not on television.

Who knows? By the time she grows up, she might be the proverbial one-eyed person in the land of the blind when it comes to literacy.

However it all turns out for her, I won’t stop watching.

posted by Mike in Family,love and have No Comments
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