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I have always been a major fan of authors Norman Vincent Peale and Robert Schuller. Recently, my cousin from Texas told me about this new church opening at the Compaq Center in Houston. I began following the build-up to the event and shared the info with my mother. One day she told me one of the police officers with whom she works was reading Your Best Life Now by Joel Osteen, the minister of this new church. I got the book from the library and it is wonderful. Generally, I am apprehensive of books written by ministers as they tend to delve too much of their own doctrine, which is fine, but not for me. Joel Osteen, like Peale and Schuller, has a remarkable way of presenting these life enriching thoughts. Here is an outline of what Osteen has to say:

Enlarge your vision:
* Your own wrong thinking can keep you from God’s best
* Envision your own success
* You must receive it in your mind and heart before you can receive it

Raise your level of expectancy:
* Program your mind for success
* Break out of your self-imposed prison
* Find somewhere you can dream

God has more in store:
* What you will receive is directly connected to how you believe
* Break curses

Break barriers of the past:
* Clear the battles of the mind
* Each day is a new day
* Get some fire in your spirit
* Let God open doors
* Don’t let anything keep you down

Develop a healthy self image:
* You will never rise above the image you have of yourself in your mind
* Change your self image
* Don’t focus on weaknesses

Understand your values:
* Learn to be happy with your self

Become what you believe:
* We receive what we believe
* What you believe has much greater impact on your life than what anybody else believes
* Dare to believe for greater things

Develop a prosperous mind-set:
* Learn to appreciate differences
* Be the best that you can be, then you can feel good about yourself

Choose the right thoughts:
* Constantly think about what you are thinking
* Set your mind on higher things
* When you think positive, excellent thoughts, you will be propelled toward greatness
* If you transform your mind you will transform your life
* God believes in you

Reprogram your mental computer:
* You are programmed for victory

Power in your words:
* What you say in the midst of your difficulties will have a great impact on how long you stay in those situations
* Stop talking about how big your mountains are to God, and start talking to your mountains about how big your God is
* Guard what you say

Speak life changing words:
* avoiding negative talk is not enough… you must get on the offense

Let go of emotional wounds:
* Make the most of what you have
* Change the channel – just like the remote for your television set
* Get up and get moving

Don’t let bitterness take root:
* Forgive to be free
* Forgiveness is a choice, but is not an option

Defeat disappointments:
* You can’t unscramble eggs
* Don’t become trapped in the past

Find strength through adversity:
* Even when we are sitting down on the outside, we must see ourselves as standing on the inside
* Keep on standing firm

Trust God’s timing:
* God often works the most when we see it and feel it the least

Trials have a purpose:
* It’s in the tough times of life that we find out what we’re really made of
* The trial is a test of your faith, character and endurance

Keep your heart of compassion open

Choose to be happy – it is a choice:
* Happiness is a decision you make, not an emotion you feel
* Don’t worry about the things you cannot change

Live with enthusiasm – don’t go through the motions in life – have enthusiasm!

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When Matthew first arrived in 2002 as a little scrawny 12 yo boy, I helped him unpack his clothes from foster care, most of which were faded or dingy, and put them away. Between my mother, Aunt Dena and myself, we had the boy “stylin” within a few weeks. A year or so later, Matthew experienced a tremendous growth burst and grew five inches… and he continued to grow.

Late into 2003, after nearly 18 months of living with me, I noticed he had a peculiar stride when he walked. I checked his shoes and they were fine. I asked if he had any injuries… none. Hmmm…. Dad was baffled. We put on our coats and I took him out front and had him walk up and down the side walk so I could observe him. He continued to walk the same way. I asked him to stand up straight so I could check to see if he had one leg shorter than the other. They matched. Finally, it ocurred to me to ask him why he was walking funny.

“My underwear is tight.”

“Well, throw those away and put on another pair.”

“All my underwear is tight.”

“Why is all your underwear tight?”

“Because they are the same ones I brought from Texas.”

The underwear he had was size 12 in boys. The way boys’ clothing is sized is still a profound mystery to me, and thank God for cell phones in the middle of Wal-Mart so I could call my sister when shopping! Matt, of course, was no longer a size 12 but a size 28! Ugh! I have resigned my self to the fact that I have probably destroyed any chance of my eldest son fathering children.

When Jose arrived I immediately asked him what size underwear he wore. Clueless. At least he knew he was wearing underwear. I checked and he was a 12. He had five pair and indicated that his foster mother kept a bunch because she felt as though she had purchased enough with her own money (no comment from me at this time!).

Today, I began a new exercise program of “walk-run-walk-run.” I decided it would be best to begin with just the power walk as our block is the size of approximately 6 large city blocks together since it contains the entire high school campus (with soccer stadium, baseball field, about 8-10 practice fields, the new basketball and fitness arena, tennis courts… you name it!) the library, several major businesses and probably 30 homes bordering the block. It is a wonderful neighborhood!

I started out on Shroyer and moved pas the high school and turned on to Lincoln Park Boulevard, past Brody’s house. His new bride was not working at home so I continued to clip along without taking a break to chat with her. Finally, down the hill to Far Hills Avenue, also known as Main Street in various parts of town, and State Route 48. As I rounded the corner I noticed my shins were beginning to get that sharp ache… no problem – 15 minnutes and half way home. Then, in front of the library I became even more uncomfortable. My white briefs had ridden up and pulled along with them my red, fake silk running shorts. I was in just as much agony from the undies in a wad as I was from the aching shins. Naturally, it was impossible to make any adjustments as I was walking on the busiest road in all Dayton!

My stride slowed and my walk must have appeared humorous, if not pathetic. Of course, the music that began on the CD was… “You Sexy Thang”! Oh yeah, Baby! I know I was the essence of sexiness on Far Hills Avenue, looking as though I was imitating Tim Conway in an old Carol Burnette Show skit!

Wow! I could not have enjoyed my birthday weekend as much as I did this 41st year. As of Sunday, I officially began my forty-second year by celebrating my forty-first birthday. And what a celebration it was. The best part, it was not all about me – but centered on others very dear to me.

SATURDAYBreakfast with dear friends to start the day. Came home and got the boys moving so they could have everything ready for Brody’s wedding.

At 2:00pm we walked across the street to Christ Methodist Church where the beautiful music was already underway. What a collaboration of musicians! The Kettering Fairmont Symphonic Chorale, boosted by alumni, sang “Set Me With A Seale” and the highlight was Brody’s Bowling Green State University men’s chorus director, R. D. Mathy, singing “The Lord’s Prayer.” Quite a moment.Everything seemed to have the right touch. The dresses were simple, but lovely, and the flowers, a summer bouquet, were chopped straight across the bottom and tied with a matching brown, satin ribbon. Marty is one of the most beautiful women I know, and she chose the perfect dress – it was simple, off the shoulders, and with little trim. The dress alone would have been attractive, but she made it look exquisite! When Marty started down the aisle, most missed Brody’s tears while waiting for her at the alter.

After greeting the couple and wedding party, we waited a short time outside with our bubbles, chatting with friends and former students who sang in the chorale. Finale, Brody and Marty arrived to climb in the huge white limo, only to be driven to the otherside of the church to return inside for photographs.

The reception began at 6:00pm and was held in the big barn-like structure in the Lake Choctow community resort. What a nice evening it was. The DJ’s choice of music left a considerable amount to be desired, but it was fun sitting with teachers and choir parents. Debbie Allen, the Wandlands and the Williamsons and I were out there nearly every fast dance. I did learn that the songs seem so much longer than they did 20 years ago. Needless to say, I was not sore the next morning and felt more energetic.

After the reception ended at 11:00pm I helped with the tear down process and then offered to bring all the tuxedos back, as well as the top of their wedding cake so they would have less with which to deal.

I arrived home after 1:00am and took care of the tuxes, and other home stuff, making it to bed by 2:00am. Of course, Marcus, Brody’s dog, decided he needed a walk and would not cease whining. So, I took Flyer and Marcus for a short walk, finally hitting my pillow by 2:20am.

SUNDAY
We were up and moving by 6:30am, and on the road to Muncie, Indiana by 8:00am. Dr. Jeffrey Carter is adopting Austin J. Hunter, and his church held an adoption service (similar to a baptism).

En route, the boys slept and I reflected on the past 41 years. What a wonderful life I have had! I was fortunate to be the son of a wonderful woman whose parents were also mainstays in my life, clear up through my 40th year. My loving and supportive family and friends have been abundant, and I have enjoyed twenty-one years of teaching music and directing students and professionals in musical theatre. The past three years, I have been a father. Much has been crammed into these past 41 years, and there is very little I would change – even those moments when the dark clouds seemed to hover. As I drove beneath the dark, cloudy skies of rural Indiana, I had a flash of my grandparents’ face, and wished they could have been with me that morning. The sky seemed to lighten and to the northeast, a rainbow appeared. Gradually, the sun began peeping through the clouds and the day became brighter.

We arrived around 9:00am, so I took the boys on a tour of Ball State’s campus, showing them where I lived in Swinford Hall and my off campus house. It was the first time I had ever attended an Episcopal Service, and it was very interesting. Jeff preached a most beautiful service and I do not believe I have ever been as touched by a Sunday morning message as I was on my 41st birthday. After the service, Mother, Dena and my nephews were waiting on us to give me my birthday greetings. We talked in the parking lot a while, and soon Jeff and AJ joined us so they could meet Mother and Dena. Afterwards, we hurried back to Kettering so I could teach a few students preparing for MUSE Machine auditions and for Matt to go to work at One Lincoln Park. Brody and Marty stopped by about 6:00pm to retrieve Marcus and we had a chance to relax and chat.

By midnight, I was finished with all the things that needed to be neglected from Thursday through Sunday. What a wonderful, wonderful birthday!

Well, today began the round of birthday lunches and greetings. One of my dearest friends, Debbie Allen, the mother of one of my students, took me on our annual birthday lunch outing to the wonderful French bistro, Cest Tous (pronounced “say too”) in Oakwood. Cest Tous is owned by my former neighbors, Chef Dominic, and his wife, Sally. They have truly built one of the finest restaurants in the Miami Valley.

Today we sat at the bar for our lunch and chatted a good deal with Daniel, the bar tender. Daniel is also a budding composer who wishes to break into the world of film scoring. Very nice chap.

The thing that is fun with Debbie is that this birthday lunch is never rushed. We began at 11:30am and I rushed out at 2:10pm to be at my home to teach her son, Tyler, at 2:15pm. It was such a great start to birthday weekend. And, I tried my first snail! Debbie ordered snails in a creamy mushroom sauce. It was much like eating a mushroom, only there was a sweet taste, and to be honest, I truly liked it. Very interesting experience.

Tomorrow (Friday) I have an early breakfast with some teacher friends, and lunch with some friends from church. The Salchaks and student, Sue Branson – the gang from our summer Tuesday evening lessons/dinners will be here tomorrow night and I am
fixing chicken and noodles.Saturday morning, some more friends are taking me to breakfast at First Watch. Saturday afternoon, the boys and I will walk across the street for my best friend, Brody McDonald’s wedding. Afterwards, the boys will return home and I will head on to the reception which is sure to be a FUN event. Sunday morning, we will rise early and head to Muncie for a church service “a Thanksgiving for a child to inaugurate the new father-son relationship of Jeffrey Carter and his new son, AJ. We will then return to Dayton in time for Matt to go to work. Sunday evening some friends are throwing a quiet dinner.

Tonight, Brody brought his dog, Marcus, to stay with us through Sunday when he and Marty return from Columbus. Marcus and Flyer are both four years old and have grown up together. Brody has been slightly stressed all week, but has really borne up well with the wedding and demands of school. This morning he joked that he was throwing me a surprise birthday party with about 150 attending… then I realized he meant the wedding reception. Tonight, when he brought Marcus over he gave two bags of wonderful pipe tobacco, a new lighter with the tamper attached, pipe cleaners, and some aromatic candles. I was so touched that he would go to that trouble when he was practically overwhelmed with getting his last 48 hours of bachelorhood in order – mainly his home for Marty’s official arrival this Sunday evening. What a swell surprise.

I love birthday week. As a child, Mother always made our birthday weeks so memorable with the paper chains and all sorts of neat little events. Our cakes were generally made by Mother and mine were always fantastic – sheet music with the high school fight song, a drum-major, a saxophone, and something with BSU. Of course, my sister, born on February 14th, jokingly complains that she only had heart shaped cakes. Deal with it, Dena! You got the birthday on a holiday! Mine was sandwiched between the Fall Equinox and Yom Kippur! Oi vey!

Matthew is excited – he got his first paycheck and will be going on his first official date to the homecoming dance! He will be going with a girl from his science class, and her parents are having a cookout for their two daughters and their dates. Exciting new stuff for the Haasienda!

Tonight was also Matt’s open house at the high school. His teachers all had glowing things to say about how mature he is in class and how they adore him. His English teacher gushed! As I traveled through the halls, calling out to other parents and teachers, I was pleased to hear from his freshman class teachers how they missed him and wished him the best.

What a nice start to the birthday weekend… of course, the impending doom of hurricane Rita is hanging over us as my Uncle Raymond and Aunt Betty, and their son, Steve, are in Houston. They are not in good health and moving them would have been an ordeal. I guess Steve’s trip to his offices downtown was 9 hours there and 14 hours to get home! I cannot even imagine what those people must be enduring…

This evening we had our dinner at 9:15pm… Monday and Wednesday nights I am teaching when Matthew leaves for show choir, so we have a snack around 5:00pm, and eat supper together when he returns home from rehearsal. That is one thing upon which I insist – we eat dinner together.

One rule in the house is “no candy upstairs” in the boys’ room. This became an issue several years ago when ants invaded the room. It does not help that two black walnut trees hug our house – especially next to their room. This morning I noticed tons of dead ants at the foot of the stairs… the trail led upstairs where their carpet was buried with hundreds of black ants. After playing Sherlock Holmes, I discovered candy that had fallen behind one of the dressers and candy wrappers by Jose’s bed. As I continued the search I discovered a plethora of clothes, trash, etc. under their beds – a major “no, no.” Of course, they had told me their room had been thoroughly cleaned last week – one of their chores – sweeping, dusting, cleaning – the whole shebang.

I spent 90 minutes cleaning their room – something I almost refuse to ever do. However, they were appropriately rewarded a nice chunk of extra chores this evening after school.

Tonight there was a PBS documentary on Lucille Ball, hosted by Fran Fine and Carol Burnette. I have seen it before but I can always watch it over and over, again. Matt and I had watched some of the I Love Lucy classics on DVD, but Jose was not as familiar with her. The three of us could barely eat our tuna casserole because we were laughing so hard. During the segment where they highlighted her funniest moments, we were all wiping away the tears and cackling.

At the end, Carol Burnette, a dear friend of Ms. Ball, was explaining how Lucy had always sent roses on her birthday. Ms. Burnette said Lucy was in the hospital the week of her birthday and the next morning she woke to hear the news that Lucy had died… on Carol Burnette’s birthday. That afternoon, the flowers, ordered the day before she died, arrived from Lucille Ball. How beautiful! I looked over and both boys had tears in their eyes.

What an incredible woman she was, and still is in many ways. I cannot flip through channels and not stop to watch an I Love Lucy episode, no matter how many times I may have seen it. I was so glad that the zany red-head could still work her magic on my two sons. Despite the rough start of the ant invasion and me cleaning their room, Lucy brightened our evening and gave us plenty of reason to laugh… and cry.

Diane Sawyer summed it up so beautifully at the end, “Heaven certainly must be a happier place now that Lucy is there.”

Do you remember when customer service was a priority and you did not have to pay extra for it? Even at forty, I can easily remember clerks or store owners going to the ends of the earth to accommodate customers.

One of my earliest memories of cistern’s service was going with my grandmother to Carter’s Supermarket in Elwood. It was our largest supermarket, but family owned – not like Marsh that later invaded our community. Carter’s was operated and stocked like any other huge supermarket – the only difference was that it was part of a huge conglomerate. The one thing that stands out the most was the bag boys placing all your groceries into the brown paper sacks (there was no question about preferring paper or plastic) with great care. After they placed them in your cart, they pushed your cart to the parking lot and loaded your groceries into your car! What a great service!

Here in Kettering (and Centerville & Springboro) we have Dorothy Lane Market – the home of the Killer Brownies. The store is not cheap, but you are provided very good service. The employees wear tux shirts and black slacks, and their job is to serve the customer. They assist with elderly and mothers with young children and have these gigantic Burgundy umbrellas for rainy days. During Kettering’s Holiday At Home parade each Labor Day, the Dorothy Lane Market cashiers and staff march in the parade. It is hilarious, and one of my favorite portions of the parade. Some of the employees push carts – imitating the Shriners in their cars or cycles, and a huge squad does a routine to music with the Burgundy umbrellas! Not that is a class act! It is a great marketing scheme, but to me it also demonstrates their commitment to our community and their customers.

In DLM, customers are always cheerfully greeted by almost every employee from management to stockers. At the cashiers place, we are always made to feel as though we are the most important customer they have had all day. Now, down the street in the opposite direction is the much cheaper Kroger, which I almost detest. Unlike the cashiers at DLM, we are seldom greeted with any degree of courtesy – unless you are in the store after 11:00pm and there is an older individual manning one check out lane. I do not mind the younger cashiers not chatting, but I do mind them not greeting me at all, or worse yet, shouting to their friends at other registers about their teenage drama or goofy stuff. I don’t expect each cashier to carry on conversations, but I do expect a little courtesy and professional demeanor. I have gotten in the habit, especially at Kroger’s, of telling the management when a young cashier has been exceptionally good and courteous.

I do not mind bagging my own groceries at Aldi or Cub Food, or loading my own groceries in my car; however, I do believe the elderly and mother with young children or babies should be afforded this courtesy. I watch elderly individuals struggle with so many things while shopping, and my heart, and often my hands, go out to them. I am so proud of my sons when they offer assistance to others, especially the elderly. They are learning that although we currently live in a society where customer service is not a priority, it is now our responsibility to show good customer service to others when in public.

I encourage others to do this as well. Another thing that we do is not park as close to the store as we can possibly get. My hope is that a senior citizen or mother with small children will have the opportunity to park closer. Plus, I can always use the extra exercise. I applaud those stores who designate senior citizen and mother with children parking. I think the DMV should provide stickers or those tags for your rear-view mirror indicating senior citizen driver or mommy with children, and all major department stores should have designated parking areas for these individuals. I have no problem with handicap parking, but I often see seniors and mommies struggling so much that I believe they should receive the same benefit.

Keep being nice to others!

ONE. Give people more than they expect and do it cheerfully.

TWO. Marry a man/woman you love to talk to. As you get older, their conversational skills will be as important as any other.

THREE. Don’t believe all you hear, spend all you have or sleep all you want.

FOUR. When you say, “I love you,” mean it.

FIVE. When you say, “I’m sorry,” look the person in the eye.

SIX. Be engaged at least six months before you get married.

SEVEN. Believe in love at first sight.

EIGHT. Never laugh at anyone’s dream. People who don’t have dreams don’t have much.

NINE. Love deeply and passionately. You might get hurt but it’s the only way to live life completely.

TEN. In disagreements, fight fairly. No name calling.

ELEVEN. Don’t judge people by their relatives.

TWELVE. Talk slowly but think quickly.

THIRTEEN. When someone asks you a question you don’t want to answer, smile and ask, “Why do you want to know?”

FOURTEEN. Remember that great love and great achievements involve great risk.

FIFTEEN. Say “bless you” when you hear someone sneeze.

SIXTEEN. When you lose, don’t lose the lesson

SEVENTEEN. Remember the three R’s: Respect for self; Respect for others; and Responsibility for all your actions.

EIGHTEEN. Don’t let a little dispute injure a great friendship.

NINETEEN. When you realize you’ve made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.

TWENTY. Smile when picking up the phone. The caller will hear it in your voice.

TWENTY-ONE. Spend some time alone.

This is not the daytime talk show led my Ms. Barbara Walters (who celebrates her birthday the same day as me!) but a beautiful story sent by Matt’s former Texas case worker who is still a wonderful family friend…

Two men, both seriously ill, occupied the same hospital room. One man was allowed to sit up in his bed for an hour each afternoon to help drain the fluid from his lungs. His bed was next to the room’s only window. The other man had to spend all his time flat on his back. The men talked for hours on end. They spoke of their wives and families, their homes, their jobs, their involvement in the military service, where they had been on vacation.

Every afternoon when the man in the bed by the window could sit up, he would pass the time by describing to his roommate all the things he could see outside the window. The man in the other bed began to live for those one hour periods where his world would be broadened and enlivened by all the activity and color of the world outside.

The window overlooked a park with a lovely lake. Ducks and swans played on the water while children sailed their model boats. Young lovers walked arm in arm amidst flowers of every color and a fine view of the city skyline could be seen in the distance As the man by the window described all this in exquisite detail, the man on the other side of the room would close his eyes and imagine the picturesque scene. One warm afternoon the man by the window described a parade passing by. Although the other man couldn’t hear the band – he could see it. In his mind’s eye as the gentleman by the window portrayed it with descriptive words.

Days and weeks passed.

One morning, the day nurse arrived to bring water for their baths only to find the lifeless body of the man by the window, who had died peacefully in his sleep. She was saddened and called the hospital attendants to take the body away.

As soon as it seemed appropriate, the other man asked if he could be moved next to the window. The nurse was happy to make the switch, and after making sure he was comfortable, she left him alone. Slowly, painfully, he propped himself up on one elbow to take his first look at the real world outside. He strained to slowly turn to look out the window beside the bed. It faced a blank wall. The man asked the nurse what could have compelled his deceased roommate who had described such wonderful things outside this window. The nurse responded that the man was blind and could not even see the wall.

She said, “Perhaps he just wanted to encourage you.”

Epilogue: There is tremendous happiness in making others happy, despite our own situations. Shared grief is half the sorrow, but happiness when shared, is doubled. If you want to feel rich, just count all the things you have that money can’t buy. “Today is a gift, that’s why it is called the present.”

I was leaving the post office today and noticed a sign indicating holidays when the post office is closed. I laughed out loud when I saw Columbus Day is still a holiday. I have not thought of Columbus Day in years. As a child I remember talking about it in school but I do not remember having the day off or even that it was a national holiday. I remember celebrating Veteran’s Day, and hearing my fifth grade teacher describe how it had once been Armistice Day, celebrating the end of WWI. Mrs. Brugger said that at 11:11am, they would stand and face east for one minute. As a young boy who was always immersed in American History, I thought this was a cool thing.

But Columbus Day?

Why is Columbus Day a federal holiday? Is there not something else to be celebrated? Is it because we need a holiday sandwiched in between Labor Day and Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving is often associated with the Pilgrims and Native Americans (formerly known as Indians in my youth). As a junior Lincoln scholar, I always cringed when the teachers would make us draw Pilgrims (an early form of Gothic costuming!) or worse, yet, make Pilgrim hats! The girls would fashion those dreadful little white caps with flaps, and we guys would make the black hats with buckles. In third grade (1973), Mrs. Vance, the long worn out art teacher who had tutored da Vinci, had us make our Pilgrim gear for the Thanksgiving celebration. Instead of the Pilgrim hat, I produced a stove pipe hat and black beard to represent President Abraham Lincoln. Mrs. Vance was livid and without listening to my story, insisted that I had not listened to the assignment and sent me to the coat hall (Washington School was a beautiful 1894 building with marble floors, a staircase that rivaled Twelve Oaks, and tons of wood carvings). Mrs. Hennegan, my third grade teacher, a darling lady, saw me in the coat hall and asked why I was there. I explained to her that the Pilgrims celebrated their big dinner in August or September and that it was President Lincoln who established Thanksgiving as a national holiday – not the Pilgrims. Mrs. Hennegan asked where I got my information. Well, by third grade I had read Carl Sandburg’s 1400 page book several times. She pondered my information for a moment and took me back to the classroom.

“Class, can you please stop what you are doing for a minute.” And looking over at Mrs. Vance with what I envisioned as disapproval, “Darin is going to tell us the real story about how Thanksgiving became a holiday. It was not like I had imagined all these years.” Mrs. Hennegan placed my Lincoln construction paper stovepipe on my head and stepped back.

The story… President Lincoln, though never a member of any church, was a very devout man. February 20, 1862, his (favorite) son, thirteen year old William Wallace Lincoln, known to everyone as “Willie,” died from a typhoid/malarial fever. Though we tend to hear how ‘crazy’ Mrs. Lincoln behaved, we seldom understand just how devastated Lincoln was. Several weeks after the funeral, Lincoln was driven to the Congressional Cemetery where Willie’s coffin was temporarily entombed in the Carroll mausoleum until a time it could be removed to Spingfield to be buried by the brother he never knew, Eddie. Lincoln had the sarcophagus cover removed and the coffin opened in order to look upon his dead son’s face (yes, Willie had been embalmed in what is now called the Green Room). President Lincoln repeated the tragic death to anyone who would listen, and kept himself closed up in his room for days. Since Willie died on a Thursday, Lincoln retreated to his bedroom every Thursday, refusing to see anyone. In 1863, Lincoln, still mourning his beloved son, requested the last Thursday of every month be celebrated – not as a day of mourning for all the young soldiers who were killed – but as a day of Thanksgiving. In 1864, the last Thursday of November was proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving (following several major Civil War victories) and has remained a national holiday since.

When I was in school we celebrated the birthdays of Lincoln and Washington. They were big deals! We did not have a President’s Day, yet, but I was in my element every February 12th. My grade school teachers (Mrs. Hennegan, Mrs. Lane, and Mrs. Brugger) always made a big deal of Lincoln’s birthday just for me.

I think it is marvelous that we celebrate a day to honor those who have served our nation in the highest office. What has always bothered me is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I have never thought him the ultimate hero of civil rights, as there were so many before him who fought, worked, and died for civil rights. MLK was merely the last voice prior to President Johnson signing the amendment. To me, I believe it should be referred to as Civil Rights Day, a day to celebrate all those who fought throughout the years to win this battle. Why does Martin Luther King, Jr. get his own day? I mean, Jesus Christ must share his own birthday with Santa Claus, Frosty, and retail!

If we must celebrate MKL Day, why don’t we set aside days to also celebrate Women’s Rights Day, Gay Rights Day, or anything else that should be “righted.” I am not a big fan of any one particular minority receiving special attention and I often wonder why we cannot have a Human Rights Day – a day to celebrate a nation that truly believes in the rights of each citizen.

I guess, for the first time, I have used my blog as my soap box… I am sure my opinions will offend some, but that is fine. This is actually pretty mild compared to some of my stronger beliefs…

This morning we took off about 9:00am and headed south towards Cincinnati – destination: Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens. What a beautiful place this is. I highly recommend it to everyone. Rather than create two separate sites, they masterfully combined the zoo and botanical gardens – exceptionally well done. Mother and I took my nephews to the zoo around 2001 or 2002 and we fell in love with it. Since my last visit, it seemed that major improvements had been accomplished.

We started started off at the Bird House. Now for those who don’t know this, I, like my mother, am terrified of bird and bats. Once inside the building I realized I would not be traveling through the open rain forest section. As the boys walked through one huge, open room, I stood outside watching a pair of macaws. They were beautiful and I enjoyed them. The boys came out saying, “You should have seen how big the bats were in…” The next thing I remember is standing outside the building. My breathing calmed down and I believe my stomach began sliding back down after being wedged in my throat for a few minutes.

There was one area called the Monkey Adventure and you walked down this beautiful jungle path to watch the various breeds of monkeys in the open. It was fantastic. The lions also had a similar setting.

The polar bears put on a spectacular show of semi-synchronized swimming, entertaining a huge gathering of zoobies.

I think, the best part was the mammal exhibits – the manatees – large and unattractive, swimming so gracefully… Matt was standing by the glass and this huge manatee came right up to him, staring right at… it raised its paw to the glass and Matt laid his hand against it. I sat on the long sofa with others (I brought the average age down to 73!) and watched it… it was very touching. Of course, Jose called out, “Just like looking in a mirror, eh?” which had everyone rolling with laughter. In another mammal section of the zoo, the seals were also playing and very entertaining – playing ball and swimming up to the glass and staring back at us.

The gorilla/ape section is always my favorite. When Mother, the nephews and I were there, a mamma gorilla was nursing her baby. As she held it she caressed its head, brushed flies off of it and was so human in her mannerisms. Well, today, there was this huge male gorilla who was apparently in a foul mood and the others literally tiptoed around him! At one point he sat there, reached up to scratch his head, and folded his arms with his one hand still at the side of his head. It was amazing! I hated to leave that section. Of course, Jose could not help but to compare his brother to the one grumpy ape…

Another favorite area is the African/India section. The elephants and giraffes are in these huge open areas, and you have so many areas surrounding them in which to view them. At times it felt like being on a genuine safari.

I hurried through the reptile building after seeing the alligators… at age 5, while vacationing in Florida, an alligator ate a five year old boy – and several days later, one surprised me at Silver Springs during the glass bottom boat ride… Ugh!

If any has a chance to go to the Cincinnati Zoo, please do. It is beautifully landscaped and I cannot wait to return next summer – hopefully with friends and family.

For more information about the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens: http://www.cincyzoo.org/index2.html


After leaving the zoo, we moved south on Vine Street to the heart of the University of Cincinnati. It is located on a beautiful hill overlooking all of the surrounding area. Breath-taking views. The campus area was packed due to a football game and it was neat to feel that spirit.

We drove through downtown so the boys could catch a glimpse of bigger city life. We traveled across the Ohio River into Newport and then over to Covington to drive to the tallest hill – ahhh… what a site. I don’t think my sons enjoy the beauty of such things, but I figure one day they will remember those moments when I point these things out.

Then, the icing on the cake (for the boys, at least) was a visit to Dave & Busters. I had received gift certificates from the cast of my last professional production as a director and we had not used them. Since it was Jose’s GOTCHA DAY and a few days past the 2nd anniversary of Matt’s finalization, I figured it was time. What a fun place. I had been there before with some friends back in 2001, and I had a blast. The dining room is beautifully designed, very Edwardian in style, and the ceiling fans still fascinated me – all interconnected – you would have to see them to understand. This server came up to talk to the manager as the host was preparing to seat us, and I was taken with Meredith immediately. I asked if she could take more customers and she said she could. I said she looked as though she would be so much fun! And she was. Meredith was kind of like the actress, Cathy Najimy (Sister Act, Hocus Pocus).

After dinner we moved into the arcade. I don’t think I could do it justice with my own description… but try to imagine several gynamsiums filled with every imaginable arcade game, a huge bar in the middle and tables all around. You get your game cards to swipe for the various games and your are off. I caught glimpse of the boys every now and then. I tried my hand at a shooting game – all video – and my goal was to hunt dear. LOL! Well, I felt as though I should have a pickup truck with a rifle rack in the back window! Then, I failed miserably in the simulated Star Wars battle. Then, I was shooting gangs and criminals with the FBI. At first I did not realize I was shooting my fellow agents, but I quickly got the hang of it. I was involved in several White House and Capitol Hill terrorist attacks, and thanks to me we our country dropped to Code Purple. Woo hoo! Due to my exceptional shooting skills in the shooting range on this same FBI game, I received an award stating I was eligible to apply for service with the FBI. I would prefer the Secret Service or CIA and will call, first thing Monday, to see if my points can be transferred to their McClain, Virginia headquarters.

For more information, or to locate a Dave & Buster’s in your area, please go to: http://www.daveandbusters.com/?f=1

We left Cincy at 8:00pm and ended up at Books & Company and Half Price Books to cap off the evening. The boys, thank Heavens, love book stores and we can literally spend hours in them. After buying a few books, we returned home to a very excited Flyer.

What a nice day!

Well, a year ago tonight Matthew and I stood in the concourse of the Dayton International Airport, eagerly awaiting the arrival of Jose. Our first telephone call was September 3rd and I had a nice 30 minute chat until Matt arrived home from show choir rehearsal. Jose immediately asked to talk to Matt, and for the next two weeks, each night for an hour or so, those two chatted away.

I knew Jose and his siblings were Hispanic and I was busy watching for a little Mexican boy. The crowd continued and suddenly this little Indian (Eastern) boy was excitedly waving at me. I nodded. I suddenly realized it was my Jose! He immediately left the side of his case worker and jumped into our arms. Jose was home.

As we waited for his luggage, I continued looking at this little stranger who was to be my new son. He was animated (and even more so now) and so brave. Like Matt a few years before, Jose was so courageous to leave his home and friends to come live with complete strangers – and then, call them “my family.”

For two weeks I had prepared her by saying, “Jose is coming to live with us.” She would cock her head and look at me. We brought Flyer with us, leaving her in the car. As we approached the car, Flyer immediately went into defense mode and was ready to tear into the young creature walking with Matt and myself. I opened the door and said, “Jose’s here!” Flyer suddenly shifted from defense mode to utter excitement. She began crying and shaking and was all over Jose. She had her own new pet at last!

At home we took our first photographs together and after chatting a little while, I tucked both my sons into bed. I told Matt that once he completed his 3rd hour exam he could come on home from school. So, that night, both boys chatted away – well past 2:00am. It was the most beautiful song I had ever arranged…

So, it has been a delightful year as Jose’s father. I am in the process of looking for more sons, and I pray I will be as fortunate to find ones that will be as wonderful as the two I now have.

Matt started his new job this past Tuesday, working in the dining hall of the posh, reputable One Lincoln Park – a retirement community across the street. I had several students work there throughout the years and have provided a ton of references for them. In August, when Matt was officially hired, Jose was eagerly telling everyone that Matt had a new job “wiping old ladies’ butts.” At some point in the family it became a joke of Matt “patting old ladies’ butts.” Now, Matt does not have the quick wit of his younger brother but when he does grab one, it is a classic. Matt came home Tuesday night after his first night of work and I asked him if he patted any old ladies’ butts. He looked surprised and said, “No, Dad!” Then he smiled and said, “They all patted mine.”

Tonight, he rushed over to the high school’s vocal jazz concert for M-Pact and on the walk home I asked him how the night went. Matt explained that as he was leaving one table an elderly lady let out a sigh to the other ladies and said, “My, my, my! He’s cute.”

Last weekend when my eldest son, Matt, was dealing with some issues, he commented that I was always pushing him to make friends. The boy went through fifteen foster homes, and was never in any one school and entire year until he came to live with me. In fact, he was in five middle schools his 6th and 7th grade years. I could understand why he elected to distance himself from others. Still, these past three years I have insisted that he needs to make an effort.

When he went to Van Buren Middle School to reinvest in the 8th grade, he sat alone at lunch and preferred it. The lunch room ladies were so kind and always going to sit and talk to him. They were all lovely for doing so. Last year, before starting his freshman year of high school I insisted that he sit with others – try the show choir kids. He found a table with the best possible students you could find in the school – all show choir students but amazing young individuals: Tyler Allen (gifted singer, academic wiz!), Will O’Hanlon (football player, wrestler, singer) and Rachel Henry (band, choir – great little musician). I was so relieved that he had the best of the school at his table… I thanked each of the students for welcoming Matt to their table for the entire year. Unfortunately I don’t have photos of Tyler or Rachel – just Will.

This year, I encouraged Matt to find a similar table – and he did. He sits with Tyler & Will again, Phil Williamson, and Nick Budich. All these students, are once again, the very best of Fairmont High School – and I appreciate these students as the fantastic role models they are for my son.

Last weekend, Matt questioned why he should even have friends. I began thinking of my own close friends. I am so blessed with people like my mother, sister, Aunt Norma, Paula Simmons, Valerie & Mike Lockhart, Amanda & Scott Berlon, Nancy Winslow, Carolyn Bendrick, Debbie Allen, Christi & Paul Salchak, Sue Branson, Duneen DeVore, Robin Tinsley, Patricia Hill, Bob & Sarah Koogler, Geary & Jennifer Biggs, the Seybold Family, Rita Bomholt, Don McAdams and Brody McDonald (photo in previous blog as a prince). I have a ton of good friends who are fellow teachers, other adoptive parents, parents of students or parents of my sons’ friends. They have been great resources for parenting and my first stab last year as a 6th grade parent.

In 1997, I met Bill & Kay Hetzer, and their two teenage sons, Brian and Andy. Andy was a star football player at Centerville HS, and had a winsome personality. Sadly, Andy was lost in a tragic automobile accident in 1998. That event brought Bill, Kay and I so much closer. A few years later, they adopted Joey, and the next summer, Chris. Thanks to them, I started my own family’s journey. Each week, the Hetzer boys are here for piano lessons (since 1992) and it is about my only chance to catch up with Bill & Kay due to our hectic schedules. They are just the dearest friends, and I enjoy our several family outings throughout the year.

The Hetzer Family

The past six months or so months I have gotten to know Jeff Carter, director of the Ball State Singers. Jeff is so well-read, witty, charming and a delightful conversationalist. Time spent with Jeff is always memorable. Jeff is in the process of adopting his own son, AJ, also a family friend. My sons adore them both, and when I say we will be seeing Jeff (and or, AJ) the excitement rises. The one thing that impressed me with Jeff was when we were having the dinner party at the Richards, I mentioned the boys were disappointed that they did not get to see Jeff and AJ. When AJ arrived, Jeff said, “This summer, we are making a road trip to Dayton to spend time with Matt and Jose.” I did not think much of it until a week later when he wrote me, asking for possible dates. I was blown away. Here was a man who is terribly busy with all his responsibilities at Ball State, yet he was determined to follow through with a promise to visit. I was both blown away, and touched. Due to logistics, we ended up going to Muncie for our day together. At the Singers’ pool party, I noticed several moments when Jeff was spending time with each of my sons individually… very impressive.

People are always saying, “Let’s get together sometime.” It seldom happens. We are so busy and it is difficult to find the time. There are friends from college and NYC I intend to write more or call, and when I think I will get it done that day, something invariably comes up.

Thanks to the fine example of Jeffrey Carter, I intend to make myself a better friend by sending out more notes (hand written or Emailed) or making calls now and then. Of course, I intend to encourage my sons to do the same with family and friends so that they can become better friends to others…

It is already the middle of September. Yesterday was the first part of June… and somehow I lost several months. The summer was delightfully busy and for the first time in years I was fortunate to have some fun time. The summer of 2003 I could easily write off since there were two boys (foster/respite) who were with us – and life was just not pleasant. The summer of 2004 began with my grandfather’s death and I could not shake the blues that accompanied his passing. This summer was just fun!

June
Several visits to Indiana with the family… an evening with the Richards, Jeff Carter, AJ Hunter and Corby York… hiking with the Berlon & Haas boys… tons of swimming and biking…

JulyMy sister, Mother and nephews came over for a visit… we visited Indiana…. Jeff and AJ invited the boys and I over for a pool party, dinner and movie… more hiking and biking and swimming…

August
Trip to Cleveland for a concert… Kings Island… State Fair with the BSU Singers and then the pool party afterwards… more visits to Indiana with the family…

On most Tuesday nights, the Salchaks (Christi, Paul, Carrie and Sam) and Sue & Sara Branson joined us in pot-luck dinners… so much fun and laughter. One of the best evenings was when Sue had us make our own individual ice cream! Neat!

And here we are in mid-September… School has begun and the boys are doing so well. I knew Matt would, but Jose has mastered his organization skills and loves school. This summer his tutor, Sue Branson, worked so hard with him and it paid off. He now loves math and has become a favorite of his teacher.

Fall is nice, but one of my least favorite times of the year… yes, the trees are lovely and the fall foliage is wonderful in Southwestern Ohio, but Spring and Summer are my months.

Friday evening the boys, Flyer and I piled into the car and headed west towards Elwood. It was an uneventful drive, but excitingly since I knew I would be home with family. We arrived shortly before 8:00pm and pizza was already waiting on us. Eric, my sister’s new boyfriend was there, and he was so nice. He has a great sense of humor which fits in beautifully with our boisterous clan!

It had not been one of my favorite weeks of parenting and I was weary from reminding both boys, my eldest especially, of their obligations to complete tasks at home before aiming their minds and energies at free time. This seemed to come to a head Friday evening with my eldest and I pushed a few buttons to get the emotional dam to burst. This is something we encounter at least two times a year – much better than every day as in the first year. Still, it is part of the emotional baggage that accompanies the teenage years, as well as some leftover issues from pre-adoption life. The moment came to a head in my mother’s kitchen. I am so amazed how much softer and crisper I speak when I am agitated – and by this point, I was very agitated.

Tears seldom work with me, and both boys know that any attempt to manipulate me is major grounds for privilege suspension. Knowing the consequences, I am always amazed at how one or the other of the two will even consider manipulating me… but I guess that is some manner of perseverance. After about an hour of dredging through the emotional mire of what was bothering him, my eldest finally began laughing at some of my jokes, which is generally how I finish “battles of the emotional bulge.”

Parenting is such a peculiar world… I truly have an amazingly easy job as a single father, but life is not without its glitches – and that’s what makes life so much fun.

Whew… it is Monday night and the weekend has finally passed. And what a weekend it was.

Friday night, Brian drove to Mason to stay at the Best Western across from Kings Island. The boys had an early supper – I got them a bag of Rally’s hamburgers (we seldom do fast food) and drove to Cox Arboretum, a beautiful park not too far from us. Afterwards, I drove to Mason where Brian and I enjoyed a late dinner at Perkins. As we were eating, an elderly gentleman approached our table and it was obvious he was experiencing dementia or possibly Alzheimer’s. He stopped, tossed a used napkin on our table and asked if either of us knew of who was the 1972 star player was for the Bengal’s (I did not even recall a musical called THE BENGALS from 1972…). The gentleman across from us excitedly said he knew. Immediately the elderly gentleman whirled around and repeated his question. Brian and I had been discussing Disney World and all the parks in Florida and he mentioned The Tower of Terror just as the man left our table area. The lady across from us asked, “There’s a Tower of Terror at Kings Island?” There were a few other comments – and Brian and I could scarcely control our laughter – we knew she and her husband were double checking their Kings Island map once they returned to their car to see where they had missed the Tower of Terror.

Saturday morning we were on the road at 9:00am to Kings Island. We met Brian at his hotel and drove over. From 10:00am until 10:00pm we hit all the major rides, had lunch, water breaks, amusing times waiting in line playing alphabet games or still wondering where the Tower of Terror was! At one point, while we were on the Vortex and waiting to re-enter the loading/unloading zone, there was a group of people waiting for another ride near by. I shouted out, “Hey! Chris!” I called out “Chris” again and people in line were turning to find Chris. Brian shouted and waved. People were really interested in assisting us find Chris. Finally, this befuddled teenager shouts back, “But I’m Chris!” Our Vortex car took off and we were rolling!

We left the park, famished and could only find a Frisches Big Boy open. We ate a semi-decent meal and headed back to Kettering.

Sunday we all slept in and enjoyed a wonderful lunch at First Watch, a great eaterie a few blocks away. Lunch was great and I ran into a very dear friend, Ingrid, who I have not seen in years. Afterwards, we walked through the festival at Lincoln Park. We walked back home and the boys watched a movie while Brian and I sat out back and chatted for several hours. Afterwards, we decided to go to Barnes & Noble for a while and then go see the movie, The Brothers Grimm.

We were up and early to head to the parade which takes place on the opposite end of our block. Matt worked the Choral Booster’s refreshment stand, Jose played football with a group of fellow students he collected, and Brian and I sat next to a great couple with four sons. The parade was not nearly enjoyable as in years past, and seemed long and spread out. Afterwards, Brian, Jose and I went to La Pinata for a great Mexican lunch. Brian left around 2:00pm and I took a quick nap.

I taught three lessons and then took the boys to Marion’s Pizza a few blocks away.

What a great weekend this was! But it also signals the end of summer, which I dearly love.

PICTURES TO BE POSTED SOON!

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