Monday, December 30, 2019

Family Thoughts As We End the Decade

I: A Family Tradition

My brother, thundering36, texted me early Sunday morning to remind me that Sunday was the Feast of the Holy Family in the Catholic faith. This day will always be special to me and a few of my siblings.

A post I originally wrote in 2010 and reposted in 2013

Memories ofttimes have a way of pervading our daily lives, bringing special meaning to certain sights, sounds, days, or occurrences. Today was one of those days for me.

In the Catholic church, the Sunday after Christmas is the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. One of the readings at church today was from the Book of Sirach, which may be unfamiliar to those brought up in other faiths or Protestant religions, since Sirach was not included in the Hebrew Bible.

The Book of Sirach (also called Ecclesiasticus) is largely a collection of ethical teachings. Today's reading for the Feast of the Holy Family:

God sets a father in honor over his children;
a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons.
Whoever honors his father atones for sins,
and preserves himself from them.
When he prays, he is heard;
he stores up riches who reveres his mother.
Whoever honors his father is gladdened by children,
and, when he prays, is heard.
Whoever reveres his father will live a long life;
he who obeys his father brings comfort to his mother.

My son, take care of your father when he is old;
grieve him not as long as he lives.
Even if his mind fail, be considerate of him;
revile him not all the days of his life;
kindness to a father will not be forgotten,
firmly planted against the debt of your sins
—a house raised in justice to you.

With my father in the church pew next to us, my siblings and I loved to elbow each other and smirk when this passage was read. The line that elicited the action, of course, was "Even if his mind fail, be considerate of him." Little did we realize that when my father grew older, dementia would begin to take over his life. We have always considered it a blessing that my dad's body gave out before his mind.

I felt like I was okay with my dad when he passed away. Although his birthday and the anniversary of his death pass by each year without much trouble, the Sunday after Christmas is always the day that gets to me. I remember a sanguine young guy sitting next to a father who worked his ass off for his family...

lightning36 in high school

My Dad

II: A Timely Decision For Which I Was Rewarded

A little earlier this evening, I suddenly remembered that exactly four years ago, my brother, thundering36, was on his last full day in Las Vegas while I watched over our mother. She had turned 90 years old earlier in the year and seemed to be starting the slow descent toward the end. Her poor health and many medical demands had thundering at pretty much the end of his sanity. I saw a great opportunity to give thundering a much needed break and at the same time have maybe a last chance to have some quality time with my mother. I told thundering that I would pay for his plane fare and watch my mother while he took a short trip to Las Vegas to relax. He at first said no. I told him that he was crazy and that this offer wouldn't be on the table for long. He got his mind right and decided to go. This is what I wrote in my blog four years ago:

After spending Christmas with my wife and kids, I headed to the Chicago suburbs on December 26 to drive my brother, thundering36, to the airport for his vacation to Las Vegas. While he was gone, I took care of my 90-year-old mother, which is quite a chore. The first day went fine. However, thundering36 booby trapped me by making sure our mom was taking a stool softener. Well, dammit, on Sunday it worked ... in spades. I will spare you the gory details, but believe me, I earned my merit badge that day! The rest of the time wasn't so bad. And ... I had not had a chance to spend some real time with my mom for quite a while, so the time was important to both of us.

That brief paragraph did not go into the details about how much fun that day was when the stool softener took effect. I wanted to get some Chinese carry out and asked my mom several times if she would be okay for the short time I was gone. She assured me that she was fine, so I made the trip. When I returned, I ran into the horror show of all time! She felt really bad about it, so I reminded her that she had changed my dirty diapers more than  a few times when I was a baby. So yes - it is kind of funny to talk about that wretched day NOW. However, the assessment of her health was accurate. She passed away less than six months after that visit. While that, of course, was devastating, the thing that will always remain precious and personal to me was having several days of just the two of us, watching television, talking about the past, joking around. I will always treasure those days and will never forget the feelings I had.

III: A Good 2019 Christmas Visit and What the Future Will Bring

My youngest daughter still lives with my wife and myself and my oldest daughter lives only 20 miles away. However, my son lives in Seattle -- 2,000 miles away. He was able to come home this holiday season and stay almost a week. Having adult children together can sometimes be challenging. There were no big fights or arguments with any of the family, and Christmas Eve and the day of taking family pictures with lunch afterward went very well. I am thankful for that as it is upsetting, especially to my wife, to see any of the kids not getting along with one another now that they have grown up.

Realistically, my wife and I also know that we are at a point of change in our lives. I will be retiring next July and my wife will also. If we do not have our house sold and/or are just quite not yet ready for our planned move to Arizona, we might stay in Illinois for a bit longer. My wife would likely continue in her part time job while we wait, and I would finally get a chance to relax. But moving out west will also mean that we will now also have our daughters 1,600 miles away. For the first time in 28 years, it will be just the two of us again. That will certainly be different. I look forward to it, but am also somewhat scared of it after having kids in the house for so long. My wife's best friend lives in Scottsdale and I have a brother, a sister-in-law, a niece and a nephew (and their families) in Phoenix, so we won't feel totally alone out there. I know at least one former poker blogger in the area and know that another who lives 100 miles away from me now will also be living in the Phoenix area come next summer or fall. Going on the assumption that we like living there, we will be near a major airport and will expect that some family and friends will visit. Las Vegas will be only a five hour drive or short plane trip away.

A former high school friend, in response to an old picture I posted on Facebook, said "Some things never get old. Too bad I'm not one of them." I guess he is feeling it too. As one year heads out the window and another begins, I am reminded that I am not a young guy anymore. But like with anything, it is up to us to chart our own future. It is a scary, yet hopeful time.

Thanks for reading. I treasure the many friends that I have made over the years through poker, poker blogging, and trips to Las Vegas. May we all have an excellent 2020!


Saturday, December 21, 2019

Some Family Memories During the Holiday Season

This morning was one of those times when I channeled my mother for a little fun with my wife. We were both up earlier than we'd like on a Saturday morning and I decided to fix my wife breakfast. She had to head out for a bit, but when she came home, she was greeted with an omelette, bacon, a roll and tea. It gave me a chance to say (one time too many as I always seem to!) one of my mother's favorite lines: "It's not like I wanted anyone to thank me, but …" Ha! My mother was one of the most thoughtful and generous people I have ever known. But every once in awhile, it would stick in her craw if she did a bunch of stuff for some organization, or charitable endeavor, yet was amazed that sometimes the words "thank you" seemed to go missing.

Another thing my mom said as she aged was "You know, I'm getting older/over the hill." The smart-alecky son response was, of course, "Getting? What do you mean 'getting'?" Once one of her friends heard that I would say that and was astonished that one of my mom's kids would say that to her. I guess that woman's family didn't use humor the way that mine did.

For the early part of my life, the family Christmas tradition was to open Christmas presents on Christmas Eve starting at about 7:00 p.m. We would usually be joined by an aunt, uncle and cousin. Although they lived in the next town, we didn't see them very often. However, without ever even checking with my mom, they would show up every Christmas Eve. One year, my parents must have been in a snarky mood. Instead of staying at home and opening presents, we went out for the evening. I am guessing it was to my oldest brother's place. Since my aunt never called to confirm about coming over on Christmas Eve, my mom didn't bother telling my aunt that we wouldn't be there. When we got home later that evening, we saw tire tracks in the newly fallen snow in our driveway. To this day I still chuckle about that night.

When I was about ten years old, I was scared to hear that my father had a mild heart attack. I remember him cutting back on caffeine by drinking Sanka freeze dried coffee, trying to cut down on the booze, and trying to stop smoking cigarettes. The coffee part seemed to be no problem for him. He did get to a point years later when his alcohol consumption went down. He struggled with giving up smoking and tried to hide his smoking from the family by doing it outside the house. Like we didn't know when he came inside reeking of cigarette smoke, could see him hiding behind a bush next to our garage, or had a ton of cigarette butts next to the garage. My younger brother and I used to refer to my dad as "Smokey" (never to his face, of course!), and if someone was mad, we always said that the person was "smoking."

Years later and shortly before my dad passed away, I asked him about the mild heart attack. He acted puzzled, and I told him that it was when he started drinking Sanka. It was then that I found out that the mild heart attack was the cover story for the kids and that he actually had been having anxiety/panic attacks from work. I had no idea!

As for my present family, we will all actually be together for a short time this Christmas season. My wife has arranged for a photographer to take some family pictures next weekend. I am actually sort of looking forward to it.

Lastly, I wish a wonderful holiday season to the readers of this blog post. My father has been gone for 15 years and my mother passed away 3 years ago. Holidays are never quite the same when your parents are gone. Be thankful if you still have yours and do something extra nice for them. It will be something to look back on years later that will put a smile on your face.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Getting Used to This Idea of Retirement

As my retirement in the summer of 2020 creeps closer, I keep hearing some recurring themes from people who have already/recently retired:
  • You will get a lot of rest once you hang it up. Expect that your body will need the rest and then start to recover. You don't realize how fatigued you are.
  • You will be surprised at how quickly you begin to forget all the multitudes of things you have to remember in your current job.
  • Once all that information you no longer need to remember is gone from your head, you will feel like your brain has expanded. You will be able to use that space to remember other things.
  • Take time immediately after retirement to do nothing or indulge in some recreation that, for you, will be relaxing. Once you have gotten that out of your system, you will be ready to move on to the next phase.
  • The next phase will be getting some type of a job, volunteer opportunities, putting more time in your hobbies -- basically, some kind of anchor to everyday living. The important thing will be that you will control things here and be able to do as much or as little as you want.
  • You will enjoy life so much more.
I have been working in my current job for almost 26 years and in my profession for almost 38. While I have enjoyed my career, it is time for the grind to end and for me to move on to other things before I croak ... or at least I hope so. I have know several men (including my father-in-law) who have either had debilitating illnesses or have passed away right when they should have been receiving the fruits of their labor. I hope this is not me. I have some medical issues and definitely need to lose a bunch of weight as I have ballooned out the older I get.

The plan for 2020, which might or might not work out on a  timeline my wife and I would like, would be for me to retire in July (this will definitely happen as I have already signed off on the paperwork for it), sell our house in central Illinois, and move to Scottsdale, AZ, where I have family and where my wife's best friend lives. My thought is that we would rent a place for a year and see how we like it. I was just reminded last night as snow came down how I have finally had enough of the cold weather the Midwest gets in the winter. I know that adjusting to the blazing heat of the Arizona summers will be a challenge, but having an abrupt change in my life will be good for me. I have never lived outside Illinois, spending basically the first third of my life in suburban Chicago and the last two thirds in central Illinois.

Of course (u see), being a poker addict, I would like to give Las Vegas a try. However, my wife has never been a fan of Sin City since she is not a gambler and has only been there a limited amount of times, mostly on or near the Strip. I've tried to tell her that t is much different when you get away from that area, but ...

So ... if everything goes well, before 2020 is over, I hope to be one of the regs at Talking Stick Resort and Casino, playing poker in my spare time and living a moderately paced life. Now if I can only make it through the next seven months ...

Thanks for reading!