When One Door Closes, Another Opens

One door is closing for our little family. However, another one is opening. We will be leaving our much loved two-story house on Saturday. It was nearly nine years ago that we moved into our current home. This house is cozy and it has a lot of character. Unfortunately, it is not very handicap accessible. Likewise, we have begun to outgrow it. So, for the last month we have been loading our lives into boxes. It is amazing how much stuff can accumulate over the course of several years.

This house holds so many good memories. It was the first house that Amanda and I shared as husband and wife. It has kept us warm in the winter. It has sheltered us from the storms of life. This house has been a retreat from the world around us. It is where we welcomed Baby Boy. He will be two years old in December. He took his first steps through these halls. He spoke his first words in these rooms. When we leave on Saturday, we will unpack our boxes and breathe new life into a much bigger house.

Our new house will be a place to create new memories. Likewise, we plan to add on to our family. Our house will become a home just like our existing house. I am excited to see Baby Boy running through the halls while opening each new door. There are lots of closets, so he will have many new nooks and crannies to explore.

Turning over the keys to this house will bring mixed emotions. However, I can’t wait too see what the future will bring. God has blessed us and I know He will continue to do so. Come and see us sometime. We will leave a light on for you.

Time

Baby Boy had his first trip to the beach today. Amanda and I had originally planned to spend more time on the water while on vacation. I would have enjoyed laying on the beach reading all week. However, the weather didn’t cooperate the first few days. Likewise, soon after we arrived in Panama City Beach we found that there are not many easy access points out to the beach for those with disabilities.

This does not make me upset. I am used to living in a world that was not made for people like me. It was difficult to get to and from the water today, but I would not have missed it, as I got to watch Baby Boy’s reactions to waves lapping at his feet. I also was able to witness his curiosity as he touched the warm, powdery sand. He often tries to figure things out. It is fun to see the wheels turning in that little head of his.

I think Amanda, Baby Boy and I got a little too much sun today, as we all were a bit tired after we came back from the beach. After washing most of the sand off of us Baby Boy and I settled down for a nap.

One day at the beach was enough for us. I know it was for me at least. I’ll be washing sand off of my body and out of my mouth for the next few weeks.

We still have a couple days in Florida. It has been good to leave the routine of home behind. Likewise, it has been good to connect with family that we don’t get to see very often. It has also been an important reminder that time is fleeting.

Sometimes we let frustrations get the best of us and we lose sight of what is most important. Time is very precious. We shouldn’t waste it by getting hung up on things that do not matter in the long run.

I am glad I got to experience this time with family. We will have travelled over 2,000 miles by the time we get back home on Sunday. However, it was worth it to the see the world through a child’s eyes this week. We’d all be better off if we did this more often.

Day 2 – Paducah

After a fitful night’s sleep in Paducah, Kentucky, Amanda went and got us all some breakfast of powdered donuts. I believe this was Baby Boy’s first time experiencing those. Powdered donuts always bring back memories of a “staycation” my family and I had when I was a kid.

We stayed at a local hotel for a weekend and did a lot of swimming. Afterwards, we ate powdered donuts by the pool. The Ramada Inn and powdered donuts will forever be linked in my head, but I digress.

Paducah is a town with a lot of nice, little shops. If I was a shopper it would be a great weekend getaway spot. It is also home to Hancock’s of Paducah, which apparently is popular with those who quilt. Amanda and Baby Boy went in for a look while I stayed in the car. The ladies at Hancock’s were nice enough to give Baby Boy a fabric sample. We then went for some sandwiches at Kirchoff’s Deli & Bakery. If you are ever in Paducah, it is worth a stop here. The sandwiches were delicious, and so were the cookies.

After lunch it was time to get back on the road. Our destination for day two of our travels was Montgomery, Alabama. Despite hours of torrential rain, we eventually reached Montgomery last night around eight. After so much travelling, we were all pretty worn out. Well, Amanda and I were anyway. Baby Boy was ready to bounce on the bed, after which he procedeed to vomit. I guess the comedian Ray Romano was right when he said, “Having children is like living in a frat house. Nobody sleeps, everything is broken, and there’s lots of throwing up.” I am ready to see where else this “frat party” takes us.

Wild Turkey and a Bowling Ball!

I think God often brings people into my life as a way of teaching me things. For instance, I recently met an older gentleman who has lived a life fit for a screenplay. Jack, as I will call him, is nearly 80 years old. He served a few different tours in Vietnam. He also has lost most of his hearing. Communicating with him was difficult, however, it was time well spent.

Jack is a man whose life experiences could fill volumes. I enjoy meeting these types of people, as their stories are so often rich with historical insight and humor. Jack went to Vietnam in the early stages of the war. He stayed until the United States was firmly entrenched within the conflict. He was a Marine, and fiercely proud of that.

After returning from the war, Jack opened a barber shop and cut hair for nearly 50 years. He just recently retired. I would have enjoyed visiting his shop so that I could have heard more stories of his life. I’m not sure Jack was always an easy person with whom to get along. It sounds as if his relationship with his family was strained. This may be due to Jack’s years of substance abuse. He is a recovering alcoholic. Jack’s brother is also an alcoholic.

The way Jack described his brother was humorous to me at first, however the more I thought about it, the sadder it became. Jack said his brother could simply be described as having “a bottle of Wild Turkey in one hand and a bowling ball in the other.” This description makes me think Jack’s brother is not a very pleasant person with whom to spend time.

It also got me to thinking how others would describe me if they just had one sentence in which to do it. I am hoping I’d be known for something much more positive. Fortunately, I don’t drink Wild Turkey, and I am a horrible bowler.

Our Wedding Day

Today, Amanda and I will have been married 8 years. I can seriously say she is still the one for me. She is the love of my life. We still enjoy being together and we love to laugh. Our wedding day was a little bit of a different story. If you have been following me here, especially over the last couple of weeks, you know I am prone to cuts, and scrapes, and skin break downs. These are all common for those with spina bifida, due to decreased sensation in various parts of the body.

In May 2012, I finished my master’s degree in school counseling. Then in late July of that year I accepted my first position as a guidance counselor. This was at a small, public high school about 40 minutes from my hometown of Sterling, Illinois. Briefly, after I took the job I began to move things in to my new office and then began to pick up the pieces the previous counselor had left behind.

For one, nearly none of the nearly 300 students had a set schedule of courses they’d be taking, despite the fact that school was a month from starting. This meant that I was given a crash course on how to use the computer program that the district used in scheduling its students into classes. This hasty “tutorial” was given by a counselor that had been there for nearly 20 years, but had retired a few years previously. She was a good teacher and she helped me and the guidance secretary to learn things quickly.

Previous to taking this job, I had divulged to the principal that I’d be getting married in a few weeks, and would be gone on my honeymoon up until all teachers and support staff were due back for in-service days. However, I told him I’d get as much scheduling done before leaving for my wedding.

This gave me about two weeks, including weekends to get student course schedules completed. Luckily, I did have the help of the retired counselor and the counseling office secretary. Despite this, the night before I was supposed to be in St. Louis, where the wedding was being held, we were only about 75% through the entire process. Therefore, I had to leave the rest of the scheduling in the hands of my colleagues.

I went home late that night feeling defeated, but not entirely worried. However, I did feel a bit feverish. This I just chalked up to being overworked, as I had put in some very long days that week. It never even dawned on me that it could be something else.

The next morning I rode down to St. Louis with one of my groomsmen. On the way I began to feel less and less like myself. Then it dawned on me, I had an infection in my knee. I had cut my knee earlier in the week. I don’t even remember how it happened now. I just knew that once we hit Peoria, Illinois that I needed to find an emergency room (ER). We stopped at a ready care facility at first, but once I explained what was going on the doctor there suggested I go to the hospital that was just down the street.

Arriving in the ER there, they assessed the situation, realized there was infection in my knee. They suggested cutting my knee open with a scalpel and draining all of the pus. Then they were going to admit me. I told them to go ahead and cut the knee open and clean it out, but that I would not be staying, as my wedding was the next day. So, they got my knee “fixed.” This means they sliced it open, drained it, left it open, bandaged it and sent me on my way with antibiotics and painkillers.

We did make it to St. Louis, but I missed my bachelor party. Which by that point was just as well, since my knee was throbbing. I got to my hotel, which was within walking distance of the church in which Amanda and I were to be married. I was finally able to crash, and that I did. As I recall, I spent much of that day in bed to try and conserve as much strength as necessary for the wedding rehearsal that night.

For the rehearsal, I remember walking the few blocks to the church, as I was curious to see how my knee was going to fair the next day. I was also on Vicodin, a painkiller that makes me both anxious and drowsy. It is a wonder I did just lay down under a tree and go to sleep. However, I did make it to the church. Throughout the rehearsal I felt a little confused, and my legs were a bit rubbery. However, I soldiered on and the rehearsal ended. From this point forward things are a bit hazy.

I know I somehow made it to the church next day a few hours before the wedding to get dressed and go over last minute plans. I remember feeling both excited and very anxious about the day. I was not having second thoughts at all. It was mostly just stage fright. Likewise, I was concerned about how well my knee was going to hold up. However, before I knew it the wedding had begun. In just a few short minutes I would be going out on stage and trying my hardest not to pass out in front of a few hundred people.

I do remember how beautiful Amanda looked as her dad walked her down the aisle to me. Without her smiling at me the entire time, I am not sure I would have been able to withstand the agony I was in for that period I was up on stage. It was a beautiful ceremony held in a perfect sanctuary. Sadly, I remember very little of it. To this day that bothers me. I wish my mind would have been more present. It is a day every couple should be able to remember together.

There are so many other memories Amanda and I have made since then. It is reassuring to know that there is someone who loves me unconditionally. We are really two peas in a pod. I love Amanda dearly and I am thankful she is my wife. She is a strong woman that is not afraid to get down in the trenches with me. She has cared for me when I have been ill, and continues to do so. I feel fortunate to be married to someone who is so giving and so patient. Here’s to 40 or 50 more years of making memories. There is no one else I’d rather being doing it with.

Saturdays

For as long as I can remember, Saturday has been my favorite day of the week. When I was a little boy I’d get up early and watch cartoons. I’d grab a pillow and a blanket and bed down on the living room floor and lay in front of the TV for hours. After cartoons would finish it was on to This Week in Baseball. I loved to get a behind the scenes look of my favorite players each week. Perhaps the best part of this show, however, was the host, Mel Allen.

Mel Allen was a sports broadcaster who was born in Alabama, so he spoke with a distinct Southern drawl. His voice was warm and very welcoming. It made Saturday mornings more cozy hearing him deliver highlights from around the world of baseball each week. I miss those carefree days. However, there is still nothing like a Saturday morning.

As I write this I am drinking some coffee and enjoying hearing the sounds around the house. Amanda’s parents are in town this weekend. So, grandma is holding Baby Boy as he giggles. Amanda and her dad are putting a puzzle together at the dining room table. I am in the kitchen feeling nostalgic for my 1980’s childhood.

I am 43 now, the cartoons I enjoyed as a kid are still available through various streaming services. However, I have not been able to find This Week in Baseball. I’d love to be able to relive some of those moments from my childhood with Mel Allen. I suppose there might be some episodes on YouTube. I’ll have to see.

Hopefully, by the end of this month baseball will have returned to the airwaves, as players are preparing to begin a shortened season. It looks as if quite a few players are opting not to play. Therefore, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see if things truly get underway.

I wonder what an episode of This Week in Baseball would look like today. I am sure players would be wearing masks as they were being interviewed. Highlights from the games would show nearly empty stadiums, as fans would not be allowed through the gates to watch the action in person. The voice of Mel Allen would not be there, as he has been gone since 2013. I am glad I have memories of those simpler times.

Life is still good. There are so many things to be thankful for each day. However, I truly miss some of the things that I once knew and loved. Lazy Saturday mornings are still here. They would just be a little sweeter if I could hear the voice of Mel Allen coming through the TV speakers, while clips of Ozzie Smith performing some of his “wizardry” played alongside Mel’s commentary. Those were the days.

8-Track Flashback

One of the fondest memories that I have of my dad is riding around in his truck with him and my brothers. He had an 8-track player in his truck. It was through that 8-track player that I was introduced to much of the music that I still love today. My dad’s taste in music varied. He enjoyed everything from Motown to the Beatles to Southern Gospel.

As I write this I am listening to an old gospel song called, “Is That the Old Ship of Zion,” performed by the Southern Gospel group called the Kingsmen Quartet. When I hear this song I can’t help but think of my dad, as it was one of his favorites. So it is with many of the songs that I have in my iTunes library. For instance, I cannot help but think of those rides in my dad’s truck when I hear a song by Hall and Oates or Foreigner, as those were in heavy rotation during those trips.

It is because of my dad that I have a fondness for Motown as well. I love The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and The Supremes. This music is timeless to me. It is some of the music that I have started to introduce Baby Boy to after we read at night. I can tell he enjoys music already.

As a student of history, I have always had a desire to go deeper and examine how things began. It is this curiosity that led me to explore the origins of the music I heard on those rides in my dad’s truck. Ultimately, that journey led me to discover the blues. There I found musicians like Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy, and B.B. King. It was the music created by these men that gave rise to much of the music that I discovered as a teenager. This is the music that I still love today.

Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Pink Floyd, all were influenced by the blues. Music is still something that lifts my spirits, and helps me to escape the troubles of the day. One cannot help but feel better after listening to a song like “If I Fell” by the Beatles. In my opinion no group ever harmonized better than the Beatles. Plus, no other duo could write a song quite like Lennon and McCartney.

I thank my dad for instilling a love of music within me. I hope to pass that same love on to Baby Boy. I will be curious to see where it takes him. He might just introduce me to some new things. One thing is certain, I’ll never forget that 8-track player and the music it introduced me to all those years ago.

America’s Game

One trivial, but nevertheless disappointing thing about the “social distancing” that has become a part of everyday life across the world, is that the start of the baseball season has been delayed. To me baseball is something that takes me back to simpler times. Days when I was a boy and summers were spent outdoors nearly from sunrise to sunset.

It also brings back memories of my dad. He would often stop by the store on his way home from work and buy me a few packs of baseball cards. The best part was opening those packs to see what kinds of treasures they contained. Plus, there was always that rock hard stick of gum that tasted like cardboard! I still have all of those cards packed away safely in a big, plastic tub in our basement. There are a few cards that are worth something, I am sure, but I’ll probably never sell my collection. It holds precious memories. I’ll hopefully be able to pass it down to someone else some day.

It always brightens my day to hear baseball return to the radio after a long, cold winter. It is a reminder that spring will soon be here. Days will start to get longer, and the temperatures will begin to rise. This year there has been no baseball. There hasn’t been that reassurance that spring is on its way. However, I know that it is.

In a few short months, baseball will be back in full swing. The Chicago Cubs will be back on the radio, and I will tune in to listen to Pat Hughes and Ron Coomer describe the play-by-play from Wrigley Field. This season will be more special as I will be able to introduce Baby Boy to the magical game. In fact, just today, Amanda, who is a St. Louis Cardinals fan, graciously presented Baby Boy with his first Cubs hat.

Perhaps by midseason it will fit him. Likewise, we might just have to bring those baseball cards up out of the basement and I can tell him about the greats of the game when I was a boy, such as Ryne Sandberg, Ozzie Smith, Ken Griffey Jr., Ricky Henderson, and Greg Maddux.

Baseball is a sport that still captures my imagination, especially when I hear it on the radio. There is nothing better when your team is down by a run in the bottom of the ninth inning, and your favorite hitter comes to the plate. There is one man on first, the count is full, and you hear the crack of the bat and the announcers erupt when the ball lands in the center field bleachers. This drama is what makes the game so magical. With one swing of the bat, the game can change in an instant.

Stay safe as we all wait patiently for this global pandemic to pass. Spring is on its way. Baseball will be back and all will be right with the world once again. Let’s go Cubs!

Baby Boy has some growing to do before the Boys of Summer return.

Paint Your Pets and Other Love Stories

Yesterday I met the love of my life. Well, it only seems like yesterday. However, it was actually 10 years ago yesterday. Amanda and I met for the first time on February 13, 2010. She was, and still is, a St. Louis girl. We were introduced through my cousin Brad, who was Amanda’s pastor at the time.

Our relationship began through late-night chats on Facebook, and then progressed to nightly phone calls that would last for several hours at a time. About a month after phone calls, texts, and Facebook messages we decided to meet face-to-face.

I decided I would travel to St. Louis from my home in Sterling, Illinois. It is approximately a 4-hour drive, so I had a long time to think about what our first meeting would be like. Would Amanda run and hide when she saw me for the first time? Would I be so nervous I would be unable to speak? These are some of the things that were racing through my mind as the miles began to melt away.

After a few hours I arrived at my cousin Brad’s house. This is where Amanda and I would meet for the first time. After settling in Amanda arrived at the door. Fortunately, she did not run away when she saw me. However, she thought about it as she heard me creak my way across the floor. I’ll never find work as a ninja, as my crutches squeak too much as I walk.

I think it helped that Amanda and I had spoken on the phone quite a bit before meeting for the first time, as it helped to make face-to-face conversation flow more effortlessly. Amanda and I had an easy time getting to know each other as we had lunch. We then went to the art museum, stopped for a cupcake at The Cup, a little shop that makes the best cupcakes ever! We then ended the night with The King’s Speech, a movie that we have since adopted as “our movie.” The next day we spent some time at the zoo. Simply put, it was a perfect weekend.

Amanda and I spent the next several months getting to know each other. I then asked her to marry me. Fortunately, she said yes, and we tied the knot on August 11, 2012. About a week later I started a new job in Northen Illinois and Amanda returned to St. Louis. For the first few months of our marriage Amanda and I only saw each other on the weekends. This was a very difficult situation, However, it only lasted until October when Amanda moved north to join me. In December 2012, we purchased our house and have added two cats to our lives since.

Amanda and I enjoyed being with each other that very first day, and we still enjoy being together. Today is Valentine’s Day, but we did not exchange gifts. However, we were together. That has been enough and will always be enough for each of us.

This morning we took a painting class together. We each painted a portrait of our cats, Dot and Cat. I chose Dot, and Amanda painted Cat. You can see the results below. I think I’ll hold on to my day job, as an artist I will never be.

Learning to live with another person was an adjustment for the both of us. I like organization. Amanda enjoys spreading her things throughout the house. This isn’t always easy for me. However, my stubborness is not something she always enjoys about me either. However, I can still say that Amanda is easy to be with. We laugh and we cry together. However, we are always together.

Being one has helped us adapt to our newest challenge, foster care. Since December 29th, we have been the proud foster parents of a sweet baby boy. He has transformed our lives. Sleep is hard to come by these days, but love is always there, even amongst the frustration of poopy diapers and midnight feedings.

We are now three, plus two cats. Love is never in short supply in our house. We are together and that is enough for all of us. Material things are good to have, and we have been blessed with far more than we deserve. However, time is the most important thing. Time is what allows us to create memories. Ten years of memories has made me a rich man. I am rich because I have a woman who loves me despite my faults.

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