The Incredible Blessings of a Year Well Spent–A Grandma’s Love Story

Almost a year ago, Larry and I began providing “daycare” for our new grandson.  We moved 4 1/2 hours away, rented an apartment, and started what has become one of the most meaningful and emotional years of our lives.

I’ve always known that if I was ever lucky enough to have a grandchild that I would fall head over heels in love with him.  What I didn’t know was how deep that connection would actually become and how many other incredible blessings would develop over the course of the year spent taking care of him.

We’ve been blessed with a front-row seat to all of Jase’s firsts…everything from first baby coos to first tentative steps.  We’ve shared in all of his big milestones.  Also, (and even more special), we’ve been touched by his first baby kisses, his gentle snuggles, and all of the quiet fleeting moments of dawning awareness seen through his precious big brown eyes.  We’ve watched the wonder of his discovery in everyday simple things that as adults we take for granted.  We’ve learned every nuance of his very big personality and his very small body.  He has become, very simply put, a huge chunk of my being.

This journey also produced many additional and unexpected blessings.  We’ve been able to develop new and closer relationships with our daughter and son-in-law.

I’ve always felt that Bear was more than just a son-in-law, but this year has provided a deeper insight into his caring, giving nature.  We’ve shared so much–from cooking tips to serious medical scares.  I’ve seen his loving care, not only for Jase, but for Lauren as she went through a very tough and scary time.  I witnessed his rock-solid commitment and I am so comforted to know that my daughter and my grandson are in such good, loving hands.  What a blessing to have seen that first-hand.

I have also been privy to my daughter’s journey into becoming an incredible mother to Jase.  I’ve gotten to watch her very tender, very purposeful nurturing of her son.  I’ve seen her selfless love for him in countless ways, even through times of intensely scary personal struggles.  I am incredibly proud of her and so thankful for the chance to see her loving maternal ways.  I didn’t think I could love her any more than I already did, but this year has proven me wrong.

Lastly, this year has made me fall in love all over again with my huge-hearted husband.  I’ve watched his gentle and very tender care of Jase.  I’ve seen his loving patience and his overwhelming joy and wonder at Jase’s development.  I’ve seen his vulnerability in his concern for our daughter.  And I’ve seen his determination in giving Jase the very best of himself.  It touches me to see his very deep, very emotional connection to our grandson, and I love that he is unafraid to show it.

Our time here caring for Jase on a daily basis will end in a few days.  I will be forever changed by this experience, and forever grateful  for this time we’ve had and for the many blessings we have received.  We will return home to Arlington with tears in our eyes, but with very full hearts.

It’s been a wonderous year.



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The Power of the Girls Weekend!

Recently, I went back to Pennsylvania to spend the weekend with four of my closest friends from high school.  We don’t get to see each other very often…the miles and life’s obligations get in the way.  But it didn’t take long for it to feel like old times.  The bonds formed all those years ago melted away any distance caused by time and geography.

We all told our stories.  We told of our adventures and our disappointments.  We talked of lessons learned and difficulties overcome.  We shared our sorrows and our triumphs, our greatest joys and our deepest regrets.  And we laughed.  And then we laughed some more.

We sat there in our comfy pajamas, with glasses of wine in our hands, and talked politics and religion.  We talked about family and about responsibilities.  We talked about life and death and everything in between.  It was exhilarating and funny and heartbreaking and poignant all at the same time.

Most of all, it was comforting and reassuring.  And it was just what I needed to help me over the funk I’d been in since coming back from Africa.  I came away from that weekend with a renewed sense of connection and shared humanity.  I was proud of the five strong, resilient women we had become.  And I was humbled and grateful for the love and support shown in that room with those four incredible friends of mine.

This weekend, I’m heading off to New York City with Larry’s mom and his three sisters to celebrate Karen’s birthday.  It will undoubtedly be another empowering weekend with four remarkable women.  I’m sure I’ll be getting a booster shot of life, love, and laughter.

Here’s to the Power of the Girls Weekend!!!  Life is good.


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Grammar Police: To Correct and Serve

When we returned from Africa, we focused our volunteering to have a direct and lasting impact on people.  In Africa, I enjoyed teaching, so I offered to teach GED classes:

Librarian:  What would you be willing to teach?
Our Hero:  I would be most comfortable teaching either Mathematics or Reading or Science or Social Studies, but if you are really desperate, then I would be willing to teach Writing.
Librarian:  Congratulations, we are really desperate, so you will teach Writing!!

Now, the pontytailed runner is an English teacher, relearning mechanics and organization and structure and usage weekly (or weakly), just before teaching it to 20 GED students.

Becoming an English teacher changes your persona, in a way that becoming a tax preparer or becoming a van driver does not.

No one says,” Ooh, I’m sorry that I missed that tax deduction,” or “Ooh, I’m sorry that I missed that stop sign.”

Some people will say, “Ooh, I’m sorry that I missed that dangling modifier,” and many people will say, “Ooh, I’m sorry that I did not say that correctly.”

If you think that you are more aware of your grammar when you are speaking or writing to an English teacher, then you can imagine how much more aware that you would be if you were an English teacher yourself.

After 55 years of blissful ignorance, I can no longer hear or see a grammatical error without noticing it.  For example, we were watching a TV program about 10,000 rape kits that were never tested for DNA matches:

Our Hero:  What a human tragedy!  What a miscarriage of justice!
TV Announcer:  After 14 years, she finally came face-to-face with the man who attacked her in the courtroom.
Our Hero:  What a horrible mangling of the English language!

(In the courtroom, did he attack her or did she come face-to-face with him?)

I apologize if you think that I am examining everything that you say or write, looking for grammatical errors.

If it makes you feel any better, I will not be writing any tickets; however, I may be issuing some warnings.

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Kiss Your Wife, Love Your Kids, Play with Your Dog…

Last weekend, we watched old home movies with our son and daughter and son-in-law.

Twenty-five years ago, the camera panned around a house that we no longer own, in a neighborhood where we no longer live, filled with possessions that we no longer have,  and rested on some beloved relatives and some cherished pets who are no longer with us.

The camera found my pretty wife of seven years and my sweet children, ages five and two. Soon, it found me, a 29-year old man at the beginning of a 25-year career in finance.  “So, that is how I looked before I gained 50 pounds and lost a million dollars,” I thought.

Then, I missed my in-laws and my dog and my house and my neighborhood and my stuff, and I missed my pretty wife and my sweet kids, and I missed my strong, young self.

“I am as old now as you were then,” my daughter said wistfully.

I leaned into the TV, intently staring at my 29-year old self, as he leaned into the camera, intently staring at me, or so it seemed.

Suddenly, I felt the piercing gaze of my 29-year old self, as he scanned my surroundings. He saw my house and my neighborhood and my stuff, and he saw my wife of 32 years and my children, now aged 29 and 26.  He saw my son-in-law, soon to be a father himself.

Somehow, he knew that I had lost the 50 pounds and recovered the million dollars, just as he knew that we were retired, that we were healthy, and that our kids were successful.

He knew that we spent our time driving a van and helping people with their taxes and playing with sick kids and teaching writing.  “A good life,” he thought, “No, a great life.”

Then, he wanted my life and my pretty wife and my successful kids and my old, steady self (and I knew that he would, because he was always in a hurry to find the future.)

“Hug your in-laws, kiss your wife, love your kids, play with your dog,” I said to myself.  “You are in a hurry, but savor the moment and take your time.  The journey is the thing.”

He silently nodded, as the camera slowly panned away.

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We Have Met the Enemy…And He is Us.

After working for 30 years, we have retirement savings, but we do not have any income from annuities or disabilities or pensions or social security or unemployment.

Basically, we are depleting our savings as we spend money for food, clothing, and shelter, and we are replenishing our savings only if or when we realize capital gains or dividends.

Each day, we lose money in the market or we make money in the market.  It is not easy.   We are living by our wits, so we are certainly not “living large.” 

Recently, I have had a few reasons to review my investment performance, to determine what I do well and what I do poorly and to distinguish what is working from what is not.  

It has been helpful to review my market timing, security selection, and entries and exits, and to measure things like average gain, average holding period, and win/loss percentage.  Generally, did I buy and sell the right stocks at the right times for the right prices? 

In my case, I learned that most of my mistakes were not because I did not know better, but because even though I did know better, I bent or broke my own rules.

Most losses came from stocks that I never should have bought or never should have held.  Sometimes, I doubled down on stocks that I never should have bought in the first place.  Other times, because I was not vigilant, I held on to good stocks that became bad stocks. 

I let my pride get the best of me, and I allowed my judgment to override my rules.

Also, I found that I was often too quick to take gains, as well as too slow to take losses.  Without time, gains cannot become big gains.  With time, losses can become big losses.  Unfortunately, fear and greed too often cause us to “cut our flowers and water our weeds.”

Again, I let my pride get the best of me, and I lived with my bad decisions for too long. 

As an investor, I am only one bad trade away from a second career as a Walmart greeter, so I cannot ever afford to be too complacent or too confident.  

When I think about it, I realize that I could have applied the same lessons in other areas — “Don’t bend or break your own rules” and “Don’t live with your mistakes for too long.” 

Good advice.  Maybe I can start following my rules and swallowing my pride in the future.

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“Now that You Know, What Will You Do?”

In Ghana, we heard presentations from a variety of experts on subjects such as child labor, education, and health care.  The presentations always ended with questions and answers, and one of our speakers concluded his presentation with a haunting question of his own:

“Now that you know, what will you do?”

Since our return, several family members and friends have asked the same question, and some of them have offered to help us, if we find ways to make meaningful contributions, but there are a lot of factors to consider, and we are still thinking through them:

We can directly give to individuals or organizations, but direct giving is difficult to monitor.  How do we know that the homeless person buys food and clothes, not beer and cigarettes?  How do we know that the student enrolls in school, stays enrolled, and studies hard?

Does it help to buy a computer for the school, if the school does not have electricity, and does it help to buy a generator for the school, if the school does not have fuel to run it?

We are looking at indirectly giving to deserving charities that manage and monitor funds.  There are online marketplaces, such as GlobalGiving ( and microfinance partnerships, such as Kiva ( to channel gifts and loans.  GlobalGiving offers tax deductions to U.S. taxpayers, who support projects in other places.

We are looking at giving to charities that support individuals and organizations in Africa, but there are a lot of factors to consider when giving to charities, too.

How do we know that charities fund goods and service, not administration or fundraising?   How do we know that charities provide goods and services, not advocacy and research?   How do we know that faith-based charities provide goods and services, not evangelization?

(Some support advocacy and research or evangelization, but these are not our priorities.)

There are many online resources that provide useful tools, including the following:

American Institute of Philanthropy (
Better Business Bureau (
Charity Navigator (

Hopefully, we can find ways to give more, as well as to give more knowledgeably, so that whatever we give can have the most direct impact on the people who most need the help.

As we find deserving charities and deserving projects, we will report back on our findings.  In the meantime, suggestions are welcome.

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“What is the Problem?”

In her last posts, Jill explained that we are still processing what we experienced in Ghana.   In Ghana, it appeared that I had a more difficult time dealing with the circumstances, but at home, it seems that Jill is having a more difficult time recovering from the trip.

Anyone who follows us on Facebook saw pictures of beautiful scenery and smiling children, and hopefully, they got a good sense of the hospitality and warmth of the Ghanaian people, but there are things that cannot be conveyed in a casual conversation or a Facebook post.

For starters, we were overwhelmed by the cultural differences and the living conditions, and we were saddened by the lack of opportunity and by the obstacles to improvement.   At the same time, we had a medical emergency that challenged us on many levels.

Two months is too long to be away from home, and the immersion in different cultures, with different currencies and customs and languages and time zones is difficult enough.   Five weeks later, we are still dreaming strange dreams and having trouble sleeping.

We also had a change in perspective and a sense of detachment that may be permanent. We were living in a country where there is not much government and not much money, and we were able to see the impact on the educational system and the healthcare system.

At the same time, we were seeing the U.S. elections from halfway around the world, and we were watching contentious debates about “big government” and “small government” or about “Obamacare” and “Romneycare,” from a place with “no government” and “no care.”

Here, our differences are hardly different, and our problems are hardly problematic.

During the medical emergency, we were unable to access our funds or use our credit cards. It is difficult to describe the resulting anxiety, loss of control, and sense of powerlessness.

In my darkest hour, our program director gave me a much-needed reality check:

Program Director:  What is the problem?  The insurance company is paying your bills.  Shortly, you will be returning to Hohoe, where your food and lodging are already paid for.  You have $1,000 in your pocket, and you may be the only guy in Accra who can say that. Please help me to understand.  What is the problem?

Our Hero:  Well, maybe there is no problem, but it sure felt like there was a problem!!

In the end, I passed the test.  Looking back, I wish that I could have been stronger, but looking ahead, I know that I will be stronger next time, thanks to what I learned this time.

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The Other Side of the World or Your Own Backyard?

We recently got home from a month-long volunteer experience in Ghana, West Africa.  It was a long way from home to a place culturally very different from what we were used to.  We were immersed in a situation where everyone looked differently, dressed differently, spoke differently, and often times, behaved differently than what we were used to.  Communication was difficult.  The heat and humidity were brutal.  Since resources were scant, we struggled to find creative ways to teach in the schools where we were working, and we were often frustrated.  We frequently worried about our effectiveness in these conditions.

Was our doing this a good decision?  Did our being there impact those we were trying to serve at all, or were our attempts futile?

Is it better to stay home and give our time and energy to our own community where we can communicate easily, navigate the system freely, and feel comfortable in the surroundings?  Maybe.    OK….probably.

There is no question that we can be more effective here at home where we can speak English and be understood.  There are plenty of resources to access and utilize.  And feeling comfortable in your surroundings goes a long way in being more effective.  Being a part of the community gives you a head start in building relationships, sharing experiences, and being productive.  And it’s no small thing to go home, sleep in your own bed, and get rejuvenated in ways that are familiar and work best for who you are.

But…there is something to be said for getting (way) out of your comfort zone and sharing part of yourself with people living very different lives.  Academically, we may not have been very effective in teaching the Ghanaian children.  But maybe we at least showed them a glimpse of the other side of the world…a place where most of them will never see.   And hopefully we showed them that there are people on the other side of the world that care about them. I like to think that cultural interchange fosters understanding, not only of our differences, but of our shared humanity.  That makes the distance between us not so far after all.

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“How was Africa?”

That is the million dollar question I keep hearing lately…and a very difficult one to answer.  When I’m asked that question, the first thing I do is try to assess what kind of answer the person is looking for.  Was the question asked in passing, like a quick “How are you?”, “What’s happening?”, or “What’s new?”?   Or is the person really interested in the details of a difficult, meaningful, life-changing experience?

Don’t get me wrong…I totally understand not wanting to hear about the intricacies of our story.  Some of it is difficult to hear, and difficult to tell as well.  It’s ok to just ask in passing if we had a good experience, and leave it at that.  The answer is, “Yes, we did.”

Forgive me if I misinterpret the level of interest in the question, though.  I’m still trying to process all that we went through in Ghana, and sometimes experiences we had there start spewing out of me like a volcanic eruption.  We were immersed in a situation that was wonderful and awful, beautiful and ugly, and rewarding and scary and difficult all at the same time.  So please bear with me if I either give too much information to your question, or gloss over things too generally.

If you are someone who really wants to know how Africa was, pull up a comfortable chair and carve out some time…because there is a lot to tell.  We taught school (or at least attempted to teach school!) in a very challenging environment, we survived a scary and sometimes brutal hospitalization, and we developed relationships that touched us deeply.  We learned many lessons and discovered much about ourselves in the process.  Our experience is somewhat emotional and exhausting to tell, so bear with us in the telling if we go there.

Hopefully, there will be some interesting blog topics that come out of our Ghana experience, once I figure out how I feel about everything.  In the meantime, thanks for all of the prayers, well wishes, and welcome backs that we’ve had since getting home.  I’m grateful for all of them.

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Final Scrapings from the Cutting Room Floor

By popular demand, here are the long-awaited final scrapings from the cutting room floor, which were mentioned in two previous posts about experimenting with digital hairstyles:

My apologies to my Chief Editor and Lovely Wife for posting these silly pictures.

The Chili Bowl

The Pageboy

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