Previous month:
November 2009
Next month:
January 2010

12 posts from December 2009

I do have Uncle Paul VanDenBerg's World War II Army Air Corps Medals

My Aunt Florence was right.  I do have my Uncle Paul VanDenBerg's medals from his service in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II.

She called me a few years ago from her home in Florida asking me to find my uncle's medals from some image from pretty distinguished service performed during bombing missions over Europe during the war.  She maintained they were in some boxes she left with me before she made her annual trek down south.

I looked and looked, but couldn't find them and told her I didn't have them.  She insisted that I did.  She was elderly and she spoke her mind freely.  I felt bad.

Well, my wife found them while going through a box that had a whole different label for things that had been from my elderly mother.

Aunt Florence is up in heaven and I'm sure the medals are a non-issue.  But, none-the-less, she was right.  If anybody see's her up there, let her know.

image from The story behind the medals is harrowing and is indicative of the ugliness of that war.  My uncle's plane was shot up pretty badly and had to be stabilized with his parachute flying out a gaping hole in the aircraft.  He and most of his crew made it back to Italy.

The material from that parachute was used to make a baptismal gown worn by me, my cousins and my kids.

Now I've found the medals.  Does anybody recognize what they are?

I think my uncle's unit was the 456th Bomb Group led by Col. Thomas W. Steed and based out of Italy.  I have an old calendar that my aunt had where Col. Steed gives the background and activities of the unit during 1945.

My Uncle Paul died several years before my aunt.

Our Christmas newsletter for 2009

Dear Family, friends and everybody else,

The family This is the 28th edition of our annual Christmas letter where we share with family, friends and others what's been happening in our lives during the past year.

What do you share when the kids are gone, the house is quiet, the plumbing works, we are both retired and we are both committed watchers of Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy?

We are thriving.  And we hope you are too.  This Christmas we invite you to join us in our prayer to do more than observe the birth of Jesus Christ this year.  We want to experience it.  The Apostle Paul said it in Ephesians 3:19:

19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

QUESTION: So, do we have any big news to share from this past year?

ANSWER:  Yes, yes and yes.  We are going to be grandparents.  Krista called one afternoon severalMeandher weeks ago and said she had a surprise.  I was thinking they may have bought a new car.  Way better.  She's pregnant and due at the end of June next year.  A while back, I felt I wasn't old enough to be a grandpa.  Looking at the birthdate on my driver's license, I can enthusiastically say that I am.  Gladys and I are excited.  We've seen a video of their first ultrasound and heard the heartbeat.  Wow.  .

QUESTION: Who's getting into who's hair now that both of us are retired and that we spend a lot of time together?

Meandher2 ANSWER:  I don't know how to answer that without sounding like I took too many happy pills.  This past year has been like we are dating again.  It brings back memories of eating Saturday breakfasts at the Char House in Bay City where we talked and talked and drank lots of coffee and really enjoyed it.  Let me emphasize that we are not joined at the hip, but we spend lots of time together and we love it.  I still have lunch every Monday with my friend Ken and Bible study on Tuesday morning's with my other friend Ben.  Gladys still gets into classroom and I still get downtown.  I'll share more about that in a minute.

QUESTION:  What's this about Gladys getting back into the classroom?

ANSWER:  Actually, she's been in a bunch of different elementary school classrooms in the Lansing Justinandmom area in her part-time role as a student teacher supervisor for Spring Arbor University.  Given her background in and her love for teaching, it's a natural next step for her to pass on what she knows to the next generation of teachers.  This school term she's had three which keeps her busy along with her tutoring of three refugee students.  She's teaching them English and helping them with their homework.  I almost forgot her blog-- - where she shares practical ways parents can help their early elementary students, especially third graders.

QUESTION:  Was that us who was spotted at six different wine bars on the Old Mission Peninsula by Traverse City, in the woods just outside of Caseville at the tip of the Thumb, in Brewton, Alabama eating sweet potato french fries, on the streets of Washington, D.C. this summer and fall and in Indianapolis a couples of times?  And what about a 'Wes and Gladys sighting' in Michigan's Copper Peninsula?

Winetour  ANSWER:  That was us.  This past year has had a "Where In The World Is Carmen San Diego" quality to it.   As a gift, Justin wanted to share his love of wine with us by giving us a very special wine tour on the Old Mission Peninsula.  Riding in a special limo, we stopped at six different wineries and sampled the results of their efforts.  There were five or six offerings at each stop.  We quickly learned the value of taking a sip and pouring the rest in the bucket.  We had a great time. 

Then there was Caseville where we stayed at our first bed & breakfast.  It was a gift from Krista and Adam.  No television.  Just a nice suite in the woods with wi-fi, a hot tub for two, a screened-in porch where we could watch the deer and a fireplace.  Great time.  We'd do it again.

We flew to D.C. for Justin's birthday in June and last month.  Special stops included the National Food and Wine Festival, some of the Smithsonian museums that we hadn't seen before and some really nice restaurants.  It was good family time with Krista and Adam joining us at his apartment for Thanksgiving holiday. 

The sweet potato french fries were part of our road trip to Florida where we stayed with my aunt and uncle in Destin.  It was a great drive down and back on Easter weekend when we stayed in Indy and celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus. 

Ask us about our trip to Michigan's Copper Peninsula.  We met Gladys' siblings there during the last weekend of August.  We had a great visit in Houghton-Hancock, an area that has an Artic Circle flavor.

ONE LAST QUESTION:  How do we feel about the upcoming year with all the uncertainty and turmoil in this country and around the world?


Easterdinner ANSWER:  Because of Christmas and the birth of Jesus and because of Easter and what happened there, we feel confident about the promises of God to see that we get what we need regardless of the circumstances.

This newsletter is just a birds-eye view of our life during the past year.  I invite you to visit my personal blog to follow what we are doing.  The address:  We are both on Facebook and so are our kids.  Give a shout there.  We'd love to visit.  And, of course, you are always invited to call, write or visit.

Regardless of how you do it, please stay in touch.  We value our relationship with you and let us know what's up in your part of the world.



Are Michigan's public employees living in an alternative reality?

Starting with Detroit, cities in the state of Michigan are having trouble making their payrolls and paying their bills.  This has resulted in layoffs galore and severe cutbacks in services.

I've read and heard from right-wingers about how public employees in our state have a sweet deal when it comes to what they're being paid and the fringe benefits they receive.  It's easy to shake that rhetoric off as being partisan.

Then this morning I read this article in the left-leaning and Bristish magazine, the Economist, titled, "Public-sector unions-Welcome to the real world."  It paints a picture that compares them to private sector employees in this country.  It depicts public employees as being spoiled and having pay and benefits that are sending our cities into bankruptcy.  Some quotes from the story:

  • About the city of Detroit-"Few cities have such a sprawling workforce-50 bargaining units in all or so little money to pay for it.  But Detroit is not alone.  Most cities and states will collect only meagre revenues for the next year."
  • About public employees being unionized:  "Nevertheless, as private-sector unions have faded, public-sectors ones have thrived.  In 2008 37% of government workers were unionized, nearly five times the share in the private sectors, and the same share was was unionzed 25 years earlier."
  • About pay:  "Government employees earn 21 % more than privates ones and are 24% more likely to have access to health care."
  • About pensions:  "Only 21% of privates workers enjoy a difined-benefit pension which guarantees retirement income based on years of service and final salary.  But 84% of state and local workers still receive DB plans."

#3-Our Christmas newsletter-The day I met God face-to-face in Ada, Michigan

This is the third post of items I'm considering for our Christmas newsletter and it's about getting hit between the eyes by a reality that I need to be reminded of everyday.  The reality:  If I fit the pieces of my life together, I can see the presence of God and I can feel his hand directing me in my steps.

What am I talking about?

As you may remember from our last Christmas newsletter, we are no-longer card-carrying Lutherans.  We still believe strongly in the Christ alone, faith alone, grace alone theology of the church that bears Martin Luther's name, but we needed a change.  Our spiritual lives needed a kick in the pants where we could recalibrate our relationship with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

Most recently, we've been attending Ada Bible Church just east of Grand Rapids where they've been on a 13-week series of sermons about the missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul.  Jeff Manion, the teaching pastor, has done a great job of making this part of the Bible relevant to life right now.  

For the sermon series, the church has produced their own study guide.  On page 47, they invite people to:

"Think of the journey that has brought you to Ada Bible Church for this series.  Maybe it has been five weeks or five years.  

What evidence do you see of God's work in your heart?  

What are the events, encounters, friendships, questions, feeling, or mosings that you would chalk up to the "supernatural" side of your journey?"

I never thought of my life, especially my spiritual journey in that way.  When I did I could see the hand of God.  He's there and it's that relationship that's key to everything else.

I will put in more links to this later.

#2-Our Christmas newsletter: Taking our new Honda Civic on a road trip to Destin, Florida

This is the second post about possible items for our Christmas newsletter.  In 

Just before Easter, we took our new Honda Civic built in Indiana on a road trip to spend a few days with my aunt and uncle in Destin, Florida.  They have a beautiful home that's a mile or two from the Gulf of Mexico and they had invited us several times before.

It was fun and it was a positive reinforcement for our empty-nest status.  We really enjoy doing stuff together.  Memories that stand out include staying overnight in Cullman, Alabama, another small town in the southern part of that state where we ate sweet potato french fries for the first time and where we developed a real close relationship with our GPS.

One of the best parts was staying with my Aunt Aileen and Uncle Ron.  They're really neat people who are in their 80's.  My uncle still plays golf, has a Facebook page, has other web presences and who designed his new house.  He was one of the first Apple dealers in the country.  He's also a World War II vet who I interviewed with my Flip video camera while we were down there.

On the way back, we celebrated Easter in Indianapolis with Krista, Adam and Justin.  Title of the sermon on that Sunday, "Easter-so what?"

I will dig out a couple of pics from that trip.

#1-Our Christmas newsletter: Introduction and our backyard bird sanctuary

I'm having trouble listing and sorting through all the things that Gladys and I did this past year and what we would like to specially share in our Christmas newsletter.  My plan is to put items that come to mind in blog posts, sort through them and produce a hard copy summary.  I will also try to find pictures as I go along.

This past year we became bird people.  In the spring, we started seeing all these different birds in our backyard.  When we've had bird feeders in the past, it was the squirrels who had the feast and not the birds.

In East Lansing, we found Wild Birds Unlimited where they sell bird feeders that are squirrel-proof.  They have various models to let squirrels know that they don't belong on your feeder.  They get twirled or dropped to let them know.  We got one and then another.

Our Michigan bird book is on the kitchen table and we use it.  We've put a few hundred pounds of seed through our feeders.  

A question:  What day during the creation did God create birds?

I'll try to find backyard pictures and then post them. 

An average person's status report on national health care debate

I'm sickened by the prospect of the federal government doing a half-a**ed job of fixing healthcare problems in this country.  I don't see where this is made better.  In fact, as a newbie senior citizen looking at Medicare in less than two years, it seems a lot worse.  Here's a status report from the blog ParcBench

It seems like the time for everybody to be heads up is this Saturday when the Senate will try to take a vote to send it to the U.S. House.

Meet my grandchild

My daughter Krista and my son-in-law Adam heard the heart beat of our first grandchild the other day and they saw it on their first ultrasound.  The did a short YouTube video of the experience and Adam writes about it in his blog.

It's exciting times for them and for us.  I haven't found anything yet that competes with parenthood.  

I've been practicing saying, "Want to see some pictures of my new grandchild?"  It rolls off my tongue pretty easily and I'll have it down by the time Baby Jones comes in the end of June.

How would you describe your relationship with your father?

My friend Lance O'Donnell, a Lutheran pastor in Chicago, wrote this post about his father and it caught my attention because I knew that his relationship with his late dad had been, at times, strained.  

And my experience has been that pastors usually don't jump at the chance to be transparent about things in their lives that show their struggles whether in the present or in the past.

But, in his post, Lance talks about one of the most important human relationships, father-child and father-son and he does it from a personal perspective.  I'd like to hear more from him and from others.

Why?  I still have scars from my relationship with my dad.  I've forgiven him for deserting my mom and me when I was a baby and for never coming back and then for disowning me when I finally found him in my twenties when he had a whole different family on the other side of the country.

Continue reading "How would you describe your relationship with your father?" »

Here's "top words" for 2009 from the Global Language Monitor

I've always been fascinated by word and that's why I'm fascinated by this post from the Global Language Monitor naming their top words for 2009.

Number one word, of course, is "twitter."  Number two is "Obama" which can be stuck onto other words like Obama-care.  Number three is "H1N1."  Number 4  is "stimulus."  Number 5 is "vampire." 

Check the post for the rest.  After a cursory look of the blog, I will come back and take a deeper look to see what more it has to say about words and language.

My Wednesday a.m. online reading

It's 7:15 a.m. with MSNBC's Morning Joe on in the background.  Here's what I'm reading online:

  • Detroit Free Press--Story about GM's board pushing out Fritz Henderson as CEO and giving the job to Ed Whitacre.  New guy must be tough.  Check out quote from U of M business professor: "If it was Jesus Christ, he would have bowled him over."
  • Detroit Free Press--Hunt for long-term GM CEO will be tough because of the complexity of the company and the issues it faces.  A few names are mentioned, including:  John F. Smith, a GM group vice-president.  Anybody have other names?
  • Detroit Free Press--Auto columnist Tom Walsh says that now was the time to replace GM's Fritz Henderson if the company was looking at doing an IPO of the government's share of the company sometime next year.
  • Detroit News--Reaction from Michigan delegation to President Obama's plan to increase troop level in Afghanistan.  I was struck most by the lack of any reaction from U.S. Sen Carl Levin from Michigan who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
  • New York Times--Story about GM CEO change says the goal was to show change from the past corporate culture and to make product changes quickly.  It also says that the GM Board asked Fritz Henderson to resign.
  • Lansing State Journal--Story about how Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero wants $1 million in cuts from the city's police and fire departments.  The city provided few details which it said should be coming in a few days.
  • Lansing State Journal--Story about how Mayor Virg Bernero is mulling a run for Michigan governor.  He says state government has gotten too partisan and he mentioned that White House political operatives asked him if he was interested in running.

Here's our family 2009 Thanksgiving picture

We got back from Washington D.C. yesterday where we celebrated Thanksgiving with our kids.  It was first a time of catching up and visiting.  There was plenty of eating and there was sightseeing.

Our tradition for the past four years has been to gather at our son Justin's apartment in the southeast portion of our nation's Capital.  

On Thanksgiving morning, we participated in the Thanksgiving Day Trot for Hunger where our son, daughter, her husband ran and where super-wife and I walked.  It was a gray, foggy morning where we had memorials in the background and where thousands of people participated.

We saw the movie, The Blind Side, at a theater complex in China Town.  It's an inspiring story where Sandra Bullock plays a character who shows the difference one person can make in the life of another individual.  It's based on a true story.

I thank God for my family, each one of them.  And we give special thanks for a family-member in waiting who is still in utero and who will be our first grandchild. 

My family, the six of us