Category Archives: Memories

Yahtzee Lessons

I was probably seven when Grandma Anne taught me to play Yahtzee.  I’d spend the night at her house with my cousin, Devin, and invariably, we’d be at her kitchen table, playing Yahtzee all afternoon.

It’s a simple game…on the surface.

Each player gets thirteen turns to complete their score card.

The top section of the score card consists of numbers 1 thru 6.  You need to roll three ones, three twos, three threes, etc. to get your “minimums.”  You could also roll four fives (or four of anything), which comes in handy if you were only able to roll two threes on a previous turn.  The idea on the top section is to score at least 63 total points, so you can get the 35-point bonus.

Yahtzee! scores 50 points.  That’s when you get all five dice to be the same during your turn.  Some players focus solely on getting Yahtzee at the expense of everything else.  The theory being that 50 points is huge, and if you get a second Yahtzee that one’s worth 100.  Of course, the odds of getting a Yahtzee are against you, but the payoff is big when it happens.

Grandma was always clear that while a Yahtzee is nice, the most consistent winning strategy is to get your bonus on the top section.  Rely on those 35 points as your foundation.  A Yahtzee, or a big four-of-a-kind on the bottom section of the score card would be icing on the cake.

Relying on the foundational 35 and less on the Yahtzee probably explains many of the best decisions I’ve made in life.

Each turn, you roll five dice to start.  You get two more rolls in your turn.  Depending on what the dice show after your first roll, you may not need to take those additional rolls.  Life is good when you roll a complete large straight or a Yahtzee on your first roll!

The bottom section of the score card has three-of-a-kind, four-of-a-kind, full house, small straight, large straight, Yahtzee! and Chance.

Chance comes into play when you’re rolling for something that doesn’t happen.  Like, you already have your small straight, and now you’re rolling to complete a large straight.  Unfortunately, that last number doesn’t come up.  You count-up the total of all the dice and enter that number into Chance.

Chance is a lot like a mulligan in golf.  A do-over.  In this case, you get to capture some points even though the rolls failed to produce.  They say there are no do-over’s in life, but I disagree.  There are plenty of second chances, if you’re willing to ask for forgiveness (mostly from yourself), learn from your mistake(s) (hopefully), and try again.

How often do three sixes come up in a roll?  How likely is it that you’ll be able to roll that one specific number you need to complete your straight or full house?  When you’ve used up your Chance spot, and your rolls have led to nothing, which slot are you willing to sacrifice to end this turn?  Odds and decisions.

Yahtzee seems like a game of chance.  It’s much more.  It’s a game of decisions and imperfect trade-offs.

After a while, we graduated to playing Triple Yahtzee, which entails playing three games simultaneously.  You get 39 turns.  One column is worth triple points, one is double points, and the last column is regular points.

The decisions and trade-offs from the “Single Yahtzee” game are in play, but now you want to maximize the point values in your triple column and consider sacrificing some of the slots in the regular column.

Don’t be fooled.  Mastering Triple Yahtzee isn’t just triple the challenge.  As in real life, something that should be only triple the challenge is often exponentially more challenging than it first appears.

What is the answer to all this exponential chaos?  Methodical effort and focused strategy.  The priorities and the strategy are defined.  The decisions that follow from these priorities become clear.  Maybe even simple.

There’s a certain genius in showing a seven-year-old the game of Yahtzee.  They haven’t fully formed their approach to decision making.  Success, failure, decisions, and sacrifices are in play with every turn.  Excellent practice for the real thing.

Yahtzee illustrates how something completely random and driven by chance can be managed within a solid set of priorities and strategies.

I didn’t just get to learn about rolling dice, counting numbers, and making decisions.  Grandma gave me the gift of lasting memories that I cherish to this day, playing Yahtzee at her kitchen table.

Now that I have six (!) grandkids of my own, I can’t wait to teach them the game of Yahtzee…and then, Triple Yahtzee!

Photo by Lea Böhm on Unsplash

 

 

Momma’s Song

I have a friend.  I haven’t seen him in at least 40 years.  Though all these years have passed, I have nothing but fond memories of our childhood together…usually in the desert, climbing on rocks, playing in the dirt, getting too close to the campfire.

His name is Jack now, but he’ll always be Jackie to me.  Just like I’m Bob now, but I’ll always be Bobby to him.

I couldn’t believe it when I heard Jackie’s wife had died.  It was sudden and unexpected.  There he was, facing this tragedy, trying to tell their daughter where her mom had gone.  I couldn’t imagine the heartbreak.

For some reason, each time I thought about Jackie and his daughter, I couldn’t help thinking about playing momma’s song and singing along.  I had no idea what any of it meant, but still, this refrain continued…singing along to momma’s song.

A couple weeks later, I was sitting in an airport (as I often do nowadays) waiting for a delayed flight to take me home.  I decided to pull out a yellow pad and see where this refrain about momma’s song would take me.

Here’s what was on that yellow pad when they finally called us for our flight:

Momma’s Song

Looking back…

We were so complete

Everything was sweet until that day

we heard the news.

Our silence grew

How could this be?

 

We never knew until that day

The doctor said it was too late

Her momma was gone, all too fast

There was nothing the doc could do

He shook my hand and held me close.

 

My only thought was of her song

That one I used to sing along

It was our Endless Summer

It had just begun

And now, alone, I faced her setting sun.

 

Oh Lord, please won’t you play her song!

I only want to sing along

You know the one I need, won’t you help me sing along!

 

And there she was, our sweet Lorraine

I could see through all her tears

All she felt was numbness and pain

Who would ever play her song?

Especially now that momma’s gone.

 

Oh Lord, please won’t you play her song!

She only wants to sing along

You know the one she needs—won’t you help her sing along!

 

We sat and cried

I held her close

I felt so weak, but it was our sweet Lorraine

Who gave me strength.

There we sat, I had no plan

What should we do now that momma’s gone?

And there it was, her words so sweet

The melody we knew complete

She was singing to us once again

The sun was rising, her new day was born

We could feel her in those words

We couldn’t help but sing along.

 

It’s been many years since that day

It’s our sweet Lorraine’s wedding day.

As we started to dance the Father’s dance, my daughter cried

Oh Daddy please won’t you sing her song

The one momma used to sing

I only want to sing along

You know the one, won’t you help me sing along!

 

And so we danced, and her momma sang

Her words so clear, she’s singing now and that’s all we can hear

Oh, momma, we can hear your song

We’ll always sing along!

Photo by Olivier Fahrni on Unsplash

A Gentle Reminder

I recently witnessed a mom with her newborn.  It was feeding time.  Mom was ready with the bottle and within a minute her baby was content and eating.

Slowly but surely, the bottle was drained, and the effort seemed to exhaust the new baby.  She lay on her mom’s lap with a little dribble of milk around her mouth.

The neat freak in me said, “Hey, it’s time to wipe that kid’s mouth,” and my next move would have been to reach for a wipe.

This mom had the same idea but wasn’t in a hurry.  She remained still and put the empty bottle away.  She moved with a grace and fluidity that didn’t disturb her nearly-sleeping baby.

She then grabbed the edge of a soft towel and delicately wiped the milk.  She purposely took her time and continued to move with smoothness and grace.

The gentleness was amazing.  Her focus was complete.  The moment was silent.  This mother’s love and caring approach were there for anyone to see.  She took the time to be gentle and her reward was a moment of grace for her baby and herself.

When was the last time you purposely chose gentle as your first response?  To anything?

It’s easy for our lives to become a series of tasks, goals, deadlines, rules, disruptions and shiny objects that are anything but gentle.

Only our conscious choice to be gentle will make it happen.  Our desire to experience moments of grace and peace will bring them to us.

We control the gentleness we give to those around us…and to ourselves.

I, for one, am glad I got to see my daughter being so gentle with her new daughter.

It was a gentle reminder that I will not soon forget.

Getting on the Next Pole

I sat in front of a pole vault coach on a recent plane ride. Overhearing his discussions brought back memories of my vaulting in high school.

I had no idea I’d become a pole vaulter when I went to the first track practice in my sophomore year.  The coach told us to go run a green (running around all the grass in the school, maybe a mile) as a warm-up.  I didn’t know anyone on the team as I started my warm-up run.  Suddenly, a group of guys ran up behind me and asked what my event was.  I said that I didn’t know, but I was a pretty fast runner so I figured I’d do one of the running events.  Looking back now, I really had no idea.

Immediately their response was, “You should be a pole vaulter.  It’s the best event out here!”

My response, “I’ve never vaulted before,” was met with an even quicker response of, “No problem, we can teach you…it’s easier than it looks.”

So, by the time we got back from running the green, I was a vaulter.  When the coach called my name and asked what event I was trying out for, I said, “Pole vault,” like it was my plan all along.

Fast forward a year or so.  I was stuck at 11 feet for the longest time.  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t clear 11’ 6”.  We were blessed to have a pole vault coach, and he recommended I move to a pole that was a foot longer and rated for a bit heavier vaulter than my actual weight.

Moving up to the next pole is quite an adjustment.  It feels completely different.  Everything is off from what you’re used to.  The run-up needs to be adjusted to accommodate the additional height of the pole.  Plus, you have no idea how the pole will respond on your first jump.  In a worst-case scenario, your step may be off, the plant goes poorly, the launch is compromised, and the pole might spit you back, instead of taking you into the air.  For a high school kid, that’s a lot to consider.

In practice, I never actually took any jumps with the new pole.  I merely worked on adjusting my run-up to get the plant right.  As our next meet, against Warren High School, approached we decided to bring both my old pole and the new, longer and stiffer pole.  I remember the bus ride to Warren, wondering if I’d have the nerve to jump with the new pole in competition.

Warren had the “new” rubberized track and runways (standard nowadays).  The rubber runways added bounce and speed to my approach.  This was the perfect time for me to get on the new pole.

My coach’s advice was to block out any negative thoughts (always good advice, by the way), focus on a smooth approach, and nail the plant.  He said that if I relied on my technique, the rest would take care of itself, and I’d have no problem making my first jump.

My warmups were over and I still hadn’t actually vaulted with the new pole.  The plan was for me to take my first attempt on the new pole, and if it didn’t go well, then use the old standby pole to clear a height.

My opening height was usually 10 feet, just to establish an opening.  We decided to pass to 11 feet since our competition was good and we might need to win with fewer attempts.  Pole vault competitions are won by the vaulter who goes the highest with the fewest number of total attempts on the day.

I passed at 10, and then 10′ 6″.  Other vaulters cleared their opening heights.  My tension mounted as 11 feet came up.  He gave me the sign to pass that height as well!  So, I did.

Finally, at 11’6″ I took my attempt.  My heart pounded in my ears.  I didn’t hear anything else, except for my deep breath as I readied for takeoff.  My run up felt great.  I focused on hitting my plant perfectly and blocked everything else out.

The plant was perfect and I felt a sensation I’d never felt when vaulting. There was a noticeable pause in the takeoff and then a sudden lunge straight skyward.

As I twisted at the top of my vault I saw the crossbar whiz by and still I was climbing.  I had skied over the crossbar by at least two feet!  Everything slowed down and I reveled in amazement that I was higher than I’d ever been before.  I caught myself celebrating in my mind before realizing that I needed to let go of the pole and prepare for my landing.

I fell backward toward the pads in slow motion.  All I saw was that crossbar sitting there, motionless, as I cleared my opening height with a pole I’d never used before that day.

The cheers from my fellow vaulters (my team and the Warren vaulters) and my coach were deafening. The height I cleared wasn’t high (even by 1983 standards).  But, everyone knew that I’d just catapulted (literally) to the next level in my vaulting career.

“You flew that vault!  You could have easily cleared 12’6″ or even 13′!” my coach yelled as he patted me on both shoulders.

We decided to pass at the next two heights and come back in again at 12’6″.  Another height I’d never cleared in my life.

On only my second vault of the day and my second vault on the new pole, I easily cleared 12’6″.  My new personal record.

I don’t remember what place I finished that day.  I think we swept the top three spots in the vault and collected all the points from that event for our team.

It didn’t matter to me at the time.  Overcoming my fears, leaping to a new level, delivering for my team, and creating a new launch pad for future improvement was more important to me than my place in that day’s standings.

We are being formed throughout our lives, whether we realize it or not.  We face opportunities for failure every day.  Opportunities to let fear win, for status quo to take the day.

Overcoming the mental terrorism that only we can inflict on ourselves is the key to finding that new level.  The new levels are there, waiting for us to arrive.

Once we arrive, we can choose to stay or leap to the next level.

The Vocabulary of Christmas

MerryChristmas

I’m fascinated with the way our vocabulary morphs as we approach Christmas.  Consider how often you hear these words other than this time of year:

Jingle Bells

Rudolph

Reindeer

Santa

Elves

Cinnamon Sticks

Tidings

Nutcracker

Jack Frost

Mulling Spice

Christmas Island

Jolly

Jack Frost

Snowman

Stockings

Baking

Chestnuts

Trimmings

Joy

Twinkles

Tinsel

Sugarplums

Merry

Noel

Caroling

Village

Christmas Tree Lot

Chimney

Crèche

Gingerbread

Frankincense

Welch Cakes

Wishes

Myrrh

Fruitcake

Holly

Manger

Nativity

Goodies

Home (as in “for the holidays”)

Frightful (as in the weather outside)

North Pole

Workshop

Ornaments

Traditions

Partridge

Cornish Pasties

Poinsettias

Rejoice

Scrooge

Sleigh

Wise Men

Yuletide

These words trigger great memories, but none would matter without family and friends to make them special.

May we each create wonderful new memories with our family and friends this Christmas season.

What’s Not to Love about Carrot Cake?

I had my first piece of carrot cake in 1974, or maybe it was 1973.  We were at my uncle Denby’s wedding, and the cake they served was this oddly wonderful concoction of flavors I had never tasted.  Being one of the munchkins in the crowd, I did what smart munchkins did back then:  I eavesdropped on the adults who were talking about the cake.

They called it carrot cake, but this cake was a lot more than carrots, and it was awesome!

I don’t remember having carrot cake again until college.  I may have had it before then, but those memories are lost in a din of other information like the capital of North Dakota, the difference between an adverb and an adjective, why the earth rotates around the sun and not the other way around, and who shot J.R (we watched that episode with a huge crowd of Hilltoppers in a hotel bar in Rosarito Beach, but that’s another story).

Whenever I see carrot cake as a dessert option at a restaurant, I order it.  Carrot cake muffin?  Gotta have it.  I’ve sampled carrot cake recipes across the US, and even a couple in foreign countries.  Some are decent.  Claim Jumper’s is probably the best, especially with a scoop of vanilla ice cream (everything is good with a scoop of ice cream).

When the time came to choose our wedding cake, Janet and I chose carrot cake.  Actually, I think Janet knew I’d love it, and it was her small wedding gift to me.  The only bite of that cake I got that day was in the cake-cutting ceremony.  We were too busy with all the other wedding stuff to actually eat any of the awesome cake we’d chosen.

As good as everyone else’s carrot cake is, none come close to mom’s.  Mom’s is the only carrot cake that captures the awesomeness of my first carrot cake experience in the ‘70s.  It’s simply the best.

Unfortunately, my love affair with all things carrot cake came to a screeching halt a little over a year ago when I was diagnosed with gluten intolerance.  Someone asked me recently what I miss the most now that I basically can’t eat anything made with wheat, or containing gluten as an additive (it’s hidden in tons of sauces, dressings, and of course, beer).

The first thing that popped into my head was carrot cake.  It’s not that I miss the taste of carrot cake so much (but, really I do).  It’s the freedom to try everyone’s attempt at carrot cake…knowing that none will compare to mom’s.  I miss getting to have a huge slice of carrot cake at mom’s, and then getting to take about half of the cake home (since it’s not everyone else’s favorite) to enjoy every night for a week.  There’s nothing like a slice of carrot cake and a tall glass of milk after a hard day of whatever I did that day.

Thanks to gluten intolerance, I thought those days were gone.  Not so fast!

Turns out there’s an excellent gluten-free “all-purpose flour” available at Trader Joe’s.  What’s the first thing I thought of when I saw it?  You guessed it!  I need to get mom a couple pounds of this stuff so she can make some of her carrot cake with it, just in time for my 49th birthday!

We are about t-minus one hour from heading over to mom and dad’s to celebrate the September birthdays in our family (there are a bunch of them).  We’ll eat some barbecued steaks with all the trimmings.  But, more importantly, we’ll be trying the gluten-free carrot cake that she and my niece baked.  I’ve heard that it’s pretty good.

I know it will be awesome.  Why?  Mom (and my niece) made it, and that’s all that matters.

 

Taking Time to Grieve

When someone we love dies, we often hear about the grieving process.  We hear that we should take time to grieve.  It’s something we can’t skip.

Grieving is unavoidable, no matter how busy or tough we think we are.

I remember when my Grandma Anne died (over twenty years ago).  My cousin, Devin, told me about DAWA, the four stages of the grieving process that he’d learned as a policeman:

Denial—we deny that the person has died, or that this is really happening.  We may also deny that it’s impacting us emotionally, or deny that we even understand the mix of emotions that are welling-up inside of us.

Anger—we realize this is real.  We wonder what we could have done differently.  We wonder how something like this could have happened.  We may question the justice in the universe, or how God could allow this.  Bargaining phrases like, “if only…” come into our mind.

Withdrawal—sometimes the only way to cope with the reality of our loss, and the emotions we can’t control, is to withdraw.  This may be within ourselves, or to some place where we can be alone.  Denial is giving way to reality.  Anger is turning to sadness.  We look within ourselves for the strength to overcome our sadness.

Acceptance—we begin to get our head wrapped around what is happening.  We start to make peace with this new reality.  Acceptance doesn’t mean we’re “over it,” or that there isn’t an irreparable rip in the fabric of our soul.  It means we start to understand how to go forward with our life.

It’s easy to list these stages and assume grief is a simple process with a beginning, middle, and end.  It doesn’t work that way.  Some people never get through all the stages, or, they may cycle through one or more of the stages numerous times.  It’s a process without a true endpoint…only the hope of eventual acceptance.

The grieving process applies to more than our loved ones passing away.  It can apply to losing just about anything else we love (whether we realize it or not).

Maybe it’s a friend who we don’t get to see anymore, a hobby we can no longer participate in, moving into a new house (and leaving the old one behind), graduating from college and saying goodbye to our friends, losing that job we thought we’d have for many years to come.

It doesn’t matter if we’re the ones driving the change in our life, or if the change is thrust upon us without warning.  It doesn’t matter if our loss is a stepping stone that leads us to something even greater (which is often the case).

The loss is real.

And, so is the grieving process.

Hourglasses, Egg Cups, and Grandma Anne

Hourglass

‘Cause you can’t jump the track,

we’re like cars on a cable,

And life’s like an hourglass, glued to the table.

No one can find the rewind button, girl

So cradle your head in your hands

And breathe… just breathe,

Oh breathe, just breathe.

Anna Nalick

Grandma Anne had a small hourglass in her kitchen. It was her egg timer, and I’m sure thousands of other kitchens had the same thing. In my Grandma’s kitchen, that timer was the magical key to making Eggs in the Egg Cup. The starring attraction was a perfectly soft-boiled egg. The proper dipping tool was a lady finger (toast cut into strips).

Forty years later, I could soft-boil some eggs. I could slice my toast into strips. I could find proper egg cups for serving. It wouldn’t be the same. I don’t have Grandma’s egg timer, or her loving touch.

Hourglasses don’t care about how time passes. Their job is only to measure its passing. Each grain of sand merely represents a moment in time.

We know better. Some moments carry more magic than others.

When I started this post, it was going to be about time passing through the hourglass and how it symbolizes our lives. We only get one pass through the hourglass (it’s glued to the table). We don’t know how much sand is left. We don’t know if our hourglass will fall off the proverbial table and shatter in an instant.

Nothing new there, but I had a sense there was something else, so I started writing to find out.

The image of Grandma Anne’s egg timer and lady fingers filled my head. I haven’t had Egg in the Egg Cup in forty years.  Grandma Anne passed away more than twenty years ago. Yet I can see the many breakfasts she served when I spent the night at her house. I smell the bacon.  I hear the crunching of the toast.

She taught me Yahtzee, and then Triple Yahtzee. I can hear the dice rolling around in the cup.  She folded a napkin in the bottom of the dice cup to keep the noise down.  She shared a lot of Grandma wisdom on strategic thinking during those Yahtzee games.

One thing is certain as the sand passes through my hourglass.  I get only one pass.  But I get to experience my memories as often as I’d like…even when I least expect it.  How cool is that!

 

Photo Credit:  Nick Valdovinos

#tbt – Throwback Thursdays

It’s fun to see how long (and not grey) our friend’s hair was twenty or thirty years ago…especially if that person has little or no hair now (like me).  It’s neat to see our faces before years of experience (and sun damage) have made their mark.  The clothing styles are always good for a laugh…nice OP shorts, Magnum!

#tbt posts provide a window into who we were, and the things we thought were important.  As we look at a #tbt photo, we know how things turn out for this “stranger” in the picture.  The person in that old photo has years of decisions to make, countless lessons to learn, and many hearts to touch.  Each #tbt post gives us a glimpse of potential yet to be fulfilled.

Look in the mirror.  You get to see your future #tbt photo every day.

What potential do you have that has yet to be fulfilled?  Whose hearts will you touch?  Will you make sound decisions?  What will you learn along the way?  None of us know for certain.

One thing is certain.  Many of the things that seem important today won’t be so important in twenty or thirty years.

Wedding-Day

Your humble writer, on his wedding day in July, 1988.

Everyday is a Surprise

 “Bobby (what anyone who knew me before I was about 13 calls me), it all started with an earache.  The doctor gave me some ear drops.  The pain didn’t stop and seemed to get worse, so he gave me stronger drops.  That still didn’t work.  He ran some tests and told me it’s cancer, and I’m gonna die.  It was an earache, and then I was dying.  He says that I will probably just die in my sleep, so each time I wake up, it’s a surprise.”

Pete_Triumph

In Pete’s case, it took about four months for the cancer specialists to identify the type of cancer that is killing him.  He told me the name, and said it is very rare, untreatable, and fast moving.  I made a mental note to look up the cancer and learn more about it.  As I type this post, I have forgotten its name.

The fact that each of us will die is no surprise.  The timing is the surprising part.  That, and the name of the thing that ultimately causes our death.  There’s always a name.

I remember a conversation I had with Grandpa Clyde (my wife’s grandfather) at least ten years ago.  He was in his late-80’s at the time, showing me how to cook ribs properly on a barbeque.  I asked him what it was like to have lived as long as he had.  I will never forget his response.  “If you live long enough, you say goodbye to a lot of friends and family.  Most of the people I grew up with are dead and gone.  I stopped going to funerals a long time ago.  I spend my time making new friends, and enjoying this time I’ve been given with my family.”

Growing up, Pete was one of my role models for a life worth living.  A firefighter, motorcycle tuner, racer, helmet painter, wheelie king, runner, water skier, speeding ticket magnet, traveler, and a Bluegrass fan.  Although I never actually saw it, he used to say that he also jumped rope, attended three world fairs, and a few other things that are probably better left unmentioned.  Pete never stopped making new friends, or appreciating his old friends.  He grabbed all that life has to offer, and then some.

Pete_Wheelie

Pete wears a patch over his right eye now.  The tumor has grown and prevents that eye from blinking.  He is in a lot of pain, and the pain medications cloud the passage of time.  This hasn’t stopped Pete from grabbing what life has left for him.  He is living each remaining day as a surprise.

In truth, each day is a surprise for all of us.  An opportunity to appreciate our family and friends.  An opportunity to make new friends, and enjoy what little time we’ve been given.