Starring: Alexander as Mount Vesuvius

Posted on June 14th, 2011

Today we took my newborn son Alex to visit our local writers group.  Unfortunately, this visit interrupted his feeding schedule, so by the time we got home, he was ready to eat.

I changed his diaper while my wife got ready to feed him.  His stomach was a little hard, so I decided to give it a rub as I usually do to help his bowels push everything out.

He let out a few toots, and I figured that was it.  I wiped him off and reached for the other diaper.

That’s when he erupted.

A mixture of poo and water shot out like water from a fire hose.  Four feet away, the white wall splattered with yellow excrement.

I had no idea a baby could poop with such force, or that my son had such artistic aspirations.

“A little help!” I called.  My wife came running down the hall.

When Brenda entered the room, she burst into laughter. “So the crap really hit the fan, huh?”

His changing table, both diapers, and the wall were covered in poo.  Somehow, through the carnage, I escaped any serious wounds.

Ten minutes and a whole lot of paper towels later, the nursery was back in order.

My son is teaching us every day that we should approach life with laughter and enjoyment.  We’re so lucky to have him in our lives.

Even on a crappy day.

Last post as a daddy-to-be

Posted on June 9th, 2011

Just a quick note to say that Brenda and I are in the hospital and about to deliver our first child into this world.  We’re so excited that we’re going to blessed with a little baby.

Here’s Brenda just after we arrived:

And here she is just before we start pushing.

And here’s me, excited about the next step in our lives!

Now I’m off to become a daddy.  See you all on the other side!

2011 Resolutions

Posted on January 1st, 2011

I’m doing something I haven’t before:  putting up my resolutions for 2011 on my blog.

My hope is that this helps keep me accountable.  I expect to write up my results in December 2011.

I have printed off a shorter version of this list and posted it in my office.  By doing so, I hope to remind myself to make daily progress towards these goals.

Get serious about chasing dreams

I’ve long said that I would like to publish a novel.  This year, it’s going to happen (at least to the point of being accepted by an agent and–hopefully–sold to a publisher).

How can I say that?  There are a few reasons:

  1. I wrote approximately 60% of the novel (both in terms of planned length and planned events for the characters) in the second half of 2010.  I should have little trouble writing the second portion because I now understand my characters and the world they live in so much better.
  2. I’ve created/joined a novelist group where I work with three other writers to finish our novels.  Since we review about 3000 words every week, this should motivate me to finish the rest.
  3. I’ve completed the synopsis for the novel, which is actually the more difficult job.  Now that I know the direction the novel will take, I have less to think about as I write–I can focus on the prose, not the direction.
  4. I’ve arranged to reduce my volunteering commitments in order to create more time for writing and (after our baby arrives) my child.

I’m not sure how to do this one yet, but I have some ideas for a new method of educating children (they’ve been baking for about 6 years).  I’ve shown some success for this through the ILEO robotics program I created.  However, creating a program is one thing, creating a school is quite another. A program like ILEO can be started by one person (Note:  that’s start, not run–we use about a hundred volunteers to run the program).  A school requires a team of experts to be successful.

With all of the other events coming, I don’t believe I’ll succeed at creating a school by the end of the year.  However, I’d like to have something to show for this by the end of the year.  This may result in a new blog focused on spreading my ideas and encouraging dialogue with educators, or forming a panel of like-minded individuals to help me better formulate this idea into a plan.  I’m sure more will come on this later.

For part of our baby’s education, I want to be able to point to a plethora of examples (the ILEO robotics program, a master’s degree, novels I’ve helped get published, etc) when I tell my child that they can achieve their dreams–if one applies oneself.

Focus on family

With Brenda’s pregnancy, I’ve found myself focusing more on spending time with family.  As a part of this, I am preparing to invest my energy in helping our little one be everything they want to be.

We hope to spend a good portion of our vacation this year traveling to see family with our new tiny addition.  We want our parents to be able to see their grandchild.

Also as a part of this, I want to resume writing monthly letters to our nieces and nephew.  I love these kids, but haven’t spent as much time as I’d like with them.  Through writing letters, I can help them to get to know me better.  With luck, they’ll write back (as they have once already) and help me get to know them better as well.

It may be some time until our newest niece can write back.  She’ll start writing coherent letters by what, 18 months or so, right?

Get our financial house in order

This goal sounds more dire than it really is.  It’s not like we’re in any serious financial difficulties–I simply want to improve our financial picture.

Due to some medical emergencies and one of our vehicles breaking down in the past two years, our emergency fund isn’t as large as I’d like it to be.  My goal is to do whatever we can to cover at least six months of our new expenses (considering extra costs associated with the baby).

I expect this will take a combination of reducing unnecessary expenses and generating additional income from my writing and editing business.  Perhaps I’ll also be successful in supplementing our income with some money from my novel, but I’m not going to count on that yet.

As a part of this, we’re sweeping through our house looking for things we don’t use anymore.  Even though the items might be sitting idle, there are hidden costs associated with keeping things we don’t need.  For example, we still have to clean them, or work around them, or (eventually) might have to move them.

Instead, we can donate them to places that might find a better use, sell them in a garage sale, or toss them out.

Focus on building relationships and future opportunities

One of the things I’m quite proud of from the past year is taking over the Rochester Writing Group.  I’ve met lots of wonderful writers through the group, and these connections will help me to be successful in the new year.

I want to continue to build on these relationships so that I and other writers can develop new opportunities over the next several years.  The neat thing about making connections is that you don’t know where they’ll lead.

As an example, last January 1st, I had no clue that I’d be involved in (much less leading) the Rochester Writing Group.  I had no clue that I’d help out with the work for creating the Rochester Writing Festival.

However, I’ve always been good at recognizing an opportunity and seizing it.  I hope to continue to do so over the course of the next year.

The other major collective I want to continue working with is the local entrepreneur group.  While I’m not quite ready to dive in, the connections I build there and the support I can give to help the local entrepreneurs will pay dividends at some point in the future.  I can also learn from their successes and missteps as they progress down that road.

So that’s it: my resolutions for 2011.  Feel free to ask what progress I’m making.  Keep me accountable.

Feeling the Christmas Spirit

Posted on December 5th, 2010

This year, I’ve felt more in the Christmas spirit than I have in a long time. It might be because my wife and I are expecting a baby in six short months.  It might be because my neighbors have young ones who are so excited by the prospect of having Santa visit their homes.

And it might be because my heart’s grown three sizes this year.

Whatever the cause, I’ve been watching Christmas movies almost non-stop this weekend as my wife and I transform our home into a Christmas wonderland.  We have lights and decorations on the tree, stockings hung on the entertainment center (no fireplace at our house), and a giant inflatable snowman floating in our snow-covered lawn.

Over the weekend, a nearby small town had a “Olde-fashioned Days of Christmas” celebration, where we saw penguins, reindeer, and the Grinch.  Our neighbors (as close as family), my wife and I all traveled across time and space to this land of fantasy.  The children shrieked with laughter and delight at the animals and some familiar friends, like Elmo, Grover, the Grinch, and of course, Santa and Mrs. Clause.

At one point, we were even approached by the crabby old miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, who spat, “Bah Humbug!” at us as we passed by his house.  Our Christmas spirit was strong, however, and we fended him off with a joyous round of “Jingle Bells”.

We then came home and enjoyed a meal with our neighbors, putting A Muppet Family Christmas on our projector for the kids.  Watching the kids dancing around with the songs (in full disclosure: I was dancing with them too) made me look forward to a couple years down the road, when my own child will be able to do the same.

A friend, in good nature, commented to me the other day that this will be the last Christmas my wife and I will be able to spend alone. There was no malice intended; indeed, he was trying to help us appreciate our time together.

“I don’t see this as the last Christmas Brenda and I get to spend together,” I replied.  “I see this as the first Christmas where we get to look forward to sharing our holidays with our child.”

Perhaps that’s the real difference for how I feel this Christmas season.  Whatever the cause, I hope you’re enjoying the holidays as much as I am!

Big announcement: I can’t wait

Posted on November 13th, 2010

My wife and I attended our first prenatal appointment yesterday.  After receiving our first positive pregnancy test almost six weeks ago, we couldn’t wait to find out more.

Stacks of literature were dumped on our laps to prepare us for what to expect–and most of it is what you’d expect: symptoms, growth charts, tips for dealing with anxiety, etc.

More importantly, we were able to share two life-changing moments:  the first time we’ve heard our baby’s heartbeat, and our first hint at what our baby looks like.

The doctor warned us that it was still early, so we might not be able to hear anything.  As she took her fetal pulse monitor and placed it on Brenda’s belly, we listened.  I held my breath as I sorted through the sounds we heard–the static, squishy noises (I assume they must have been Brenda’s digestive tract), and a couple of faint sounds that might have been the liquid thumping of a tiny heartbeat.

Then the doctor found the right spot.  Strong and clear, we heard our tiny offspring (or is it still in-spring?) beating away, growing in Brenda’s uterus.

For the ultrasound, at ten weeks pregnant there wasn’t much to see except for the baby’s heart beating.  However, we could see the faint outline of a tiny body resting at the bottom of the screen, with a heart flashing a bright white.

Outside the womb, Brenda and I smiled at each other. A moment of pure joy.

For her, it crystallizes the first time that she could prove she was pregnant.  Without hearing the heartbeat, she would have been disappointed until our next appointment, and somewhat adrift until she could “feel” pregnant.  She’s been one of the lucky ones who hasn’t had much nausea or other symptoms typical of pregnancy.

Except, as her husband points out, extreme fatigue and sleeping all the time.

For me, it’s a precious milestone on our road to becoming parents. I’ve always loved helping kids become whoever they’re going to be.  Now I’ll be able to pour my energy into my own child and his or her (or, eek! their) friends.  That doesn’t mean I’ll stop doing other things, just changing my focus.

As my wife will rapidly point out, only one heartbeat showed up on the ultrasound, so we’re pretty sure there’s only one in there.

Unless, my devious writer mind fishes up, multiple heartbeats were perfectly in sync.  Or the doctor stopped looking once we found the first.

But we’re pretty certain it’s just one.  Really.  And one will be plenty of responsibility to handle at one time.

As I mentioned to the doctor when we arrived, “we’re thinking of becoming parents.”  At ten weeks along, we’re heading in the right direction.

I can’t wait.  🙂

Seeing Ghosts

Posted on September 6th, 2010

On Saturday morning, I went to a funeral for a beloved great-uncle.

Louis Lanyk was 93, and was in good health most of his life.  He died of heart failure–the doctors had warned him a couple of months before that one of his valves was leaking, and there was nothing that could be done for him.

He lived a good life.  I’ll always remember his brilliant bright blue eyes, and the way he loved to laugh.  I’d grown to know him well over the past several years, driving up to the Twin Cities to see him about once every month or two. We both looked forward to those visits.

I was only related to him through his marriage of Lily Lanyk (formerly Sutkaitis), my maternal grandmother’s sister.  She was also someone who loved laughter–someone who could find good humor in almost any situation.

The service was held in a 100-year-old church in Eveleth, Minnesota.  The church had a kind of timeless beauty to it.  The first thing I noticed upon seeing the display in the center was Louis’ staff sitting in the middle of the aisle, next to his cremated remains.

It was perfect symbolism.  He had leaned on that staff for many years, just as he’d served as support for countless others in the past 93 years.  It had been his constant companion for the past several years, and fit him well.

The service proceeded as funerals generally do.  The priest spent some time covering his life, and I found two pieces of information that I hadn’t known.  First, Louis had been retired my entire life–it was amazing to think of someone having their entire childhood, raising several children to adulthood, and their entire career before I was born.

After that, he still lived long enough for me to go through my own childhood, college, and starting my career before we really started developing a relationship.  There’s an amazing aspect of time there, and I cherish the connection that we were able to make:  both with him and my Aunt Lily (though I only had a couple of years of getting to know her before she passed in 2008).

The second new piece of information was that Louis and Lily had actually been married in the same church, about 68 years before.  As I sat in the pew, I couldn’t help but imagine the two of them standing before the same altar, vowing to love each other forever so many years ago.

In other words, I was seeing ghosts.  Times long past, but I could imagine the two of them together then, and now laid to rest next to each other for many years to come.

After the funeral, burial, and wake, we drove around the towns in the area.  My mom had spent a good portion of her childhood there, and she’s only been back a few times since she left.  I remembered a lot from one of our earlier visits, including recognizing some of the places.

One of the places we visited was the family farm home built around eighty years ago.  Unfortunately, it’s falling into disrepair, but there is enough remaining that I can still visualize how kids must have sat around the table, or people cooking in the kitchen.  All along, I could almost hear the laughter of a close-knit family.

Connecting to one’s past is enlightening.  Words are failing me at the moment, but I am grateful for the opportunity to have connected to where part of my family came from.  While I’ll miss Uncle Louis, it comforts me to know he had a life that was so full of good.  It gives me hope for the future.

A Minnesota Campfire

Posted on May 14th, 2010

Had a great party last Saturday, but it’s been a busy week, so I’ve been slow to get this up.  There were so many people who came that I dare not try to list everyone here…I’d be certain to forget someone!

Since it was cold and rainy, we had the party inside rather than out — but there still seemed to be enough room for everyone.  We did have to expand to the garage and downstairs, but everyone managed to fit without too much difficulty.

Far be it from a bunch of engineers to let a little rain and cold stop us from roasting some marshmallows!

A Minnesota Campfire

When it’s not safe to burn logs indoors, just use an electric heater!  When properly used, there are no safety hazards.  (Disclaimer:  roasting marshmallows is not a proper use for a space heater).

Along with brainstorming ideas for self-roasting marshmallows, we all had fun playing Rock Band, Air Hockey, and just simply eating and talking.

Megan and the Rock Band

Megan and the Rock Band

Our caterers (a.k.a. my parents, sisters, and lovely wife) provided a filling and tasty meal.  Brenda and I shall not go hungry for a very long time.

Completely unrelated – does anyone want some tacos or enchiladas?

Thanks to everyone who was able to come help me celebrate the completion of my Master’s degree.  I had a great time!