Category Archives: Relationships


Recently I was introduced to Deborah, who works with my new neighbor, Heather. When I told Heather about it, I thought about the web of connections leading to this chance meeting. 

A mid-August day in western Illinois can take your breath away. Temperatures run high that time of year. The humidity of the Mississippi River and the flat, fertile ground clings to everything and makes it hard to breathe. But on that day in 1933, the air was milder than usual and a light rain freshened the skies.

On that day in 1933, John welcomed Dorothy to his side, and they spoke their vows to honor and love each other, vows that were kept for 69 years. While Dorothy held his hands, her bridesmaid and cousin Rosemary held the bride’s bouquet.

John and Dorothy had nine children together, one of whom was Jim. Rosemary and her husband had children, too, one of whom was Chuck. Chuck and Jim, second cousins, knew each other as they grew up, attended the same university, and had overlapping social circles.

When Jim graduated college, he married, began a teaching career, and became a father. His teaching career thrived and his daughters grew, but his marriage struggled and ultimately ended.

One summer Jim began a master’s degree program at another university in Illinois. While there, a mutual friend introduced him to Melanie. Melanie and Jim quickly fell in love and married the next year.

After Melanie finished her degree, she applied for a job in downtown Chicago. Her interview was on the coldest recorded day in Chicago history (really!), and she got a job developing software for a major bank. One of her work mates was Bruce. Soon Bruce left the software development team to join the bank’s trust management group.

After a couple more years, Melanie left the bank to enter graduate school. She finished the degree and gave birth to a son, after which she taught Finance at the same school.

In the summer of 1992, Jim, his wife Melanie, and their young son moved to Iowa. Melanie was about to start graduate school (again!), but Jim didn’t have a job arranged yet. After 23 years teaching high school science, he hoped to find a similar position.

John and Dorothy’s son Jim spoke with Rosemary’s son Chuck. Chuck had a connection in the same Iowa town, a man who worked in administration for the school district. With Chuck’s recommendation to ease the way, Jim accepted a teaching position in the district. Jim had many talented co-workers at his school, people dedicated to their students. One of those was Jan, a gentle man who taught physical science.

Jim, Melanie, and Son were fortunate in other ways in their new home. Across the street in one direction lived Darrell and Judy, who treated the new family with kindness. In another direction lived Kathy’s family. Her son attended the same school and played on the same soccer team. The mom of another boy on that team was Beth, a relative of Kathy.

In 1996 Darrell and Judy moved across town. Melanie finished her degree in 1997 and applied for a job in trust investment management. The man who interviewed her and hired her was Bruce, her co-worker from Chicago, now living in Iowa.

Between Melanie’s new job and Jim’s teaching position, it made sense to move. In 1997 they moved to a new house, right next door to Darrell and Judy. Darrell and Judy’s neighbors on the other side were a woman named Hazel and her daughter Holly.

Holly was older than the son, but the two became friends. Their friendship deepened when Holly helped Son learn how to play clarinet and saxophone. She helped him learn the basics and Son came to love the saxophone. When he entered junior high he was fortunate to have an excellent band teacher. The band teacher encouraged the kids to play in the jazz band, which Son did.

In high school he continued to play. His jazz band excelled and often won area jazz band contests. One of those contests was hosted each year at Son’s high school. It was the annual qualifying contest for state competition. Many of the judges are professional jazz musicians and educators from the area. When Melanie helped run the qualifying contest in 2006, she met a jazz musician and professor named Steve.

Steve plays with a few different bands. One of those bands is called “The Beaker Brothers,” and they play a lot of rock from the late 1960s and ’70s. Ed is one of Steve’s bandmates in that group.

After Jim retired from teaching in 2007, his friend Jan recommended he work for an education resources company. Jan started there when he retired from teaching. Ed worked there, too, as did Darrell.

Backtracking in time… In 2002 Jim and Melanie and Son moved to a different house. Next-door neighbors on both sides worked for the same education company where Jim later worked. Two doors down lived Nancy, a retired teacher who quilted. In 2007 Nancy invited Melanie to a meeting of the local quilters guild. At the meeting, Melanie reconnected with Bethrelated to Kathy, who lived across the street from Melanie and Jim when they first moved to Iowa. Beth quilts, too. 

In summer of 2017, Nancy and her husband, the neighbors two doors down, sold their home to downsize. Heather and her husband, moving to town to work at the hospital, bought the house.

A different stream of time… For decades Jim has been a blood donor. Years ago, one of the phlebotomists at the blood bank, who frequently jabbed Jim when he donated, was Deborah. Yes, the same Deborah who recently met Melanie.

On a Friday night a couple of weeks ago, Melanie and Jim went out to hear The Beaker Brothers play. Steve and Ed were on stage with their bandmates, covering the Allman Brothers and other bands of the era. When they took a break, Steve visited with Jim and Melanie. As he did, Deborah approached to say “hello” to him. She already knew Steve through her friendship with Ed and his wife. As it turns out, Ed is Deborah’s ex-in-law.

Deborah recognized Jim and introduced herself to Melanie. She now works at the hospital in a different department. It is the same department in which Heather works.

Deborah and Heather might know each other despite all the other connections. But Jim and I only know that Deborah and Heather know each other because of all the other connections.

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”

Herman Melville


Don’t Ask

I’m not afraid of asking people about themselves. As an investment manager for many years, it was necessary to ask personal questions, to find out how people saw themselves and their families, their lives under different financial conditions. Often clients would apologize for talking about their worries for their grown children or for their health. They didn’t see those concerns as part of their financial picture, but I did.

At social gatherings Jim and I often find ourselves in conversation with those we don’t know, learning much about the others. People like to talk about themselves.

Except when they don’t.

Over time I’ve found that there are a few things you just shouldn’t ask someone. Things like
When is your baby due?
Aaaaah, fraught with peril. This is a question you should never ask a woman unless she has independently confirmed she is pregnant. A dear one of mine was asked this recently. She is not pregnant. She has put on weight because of an illness. The question left her feeling humiliated and humbled one more time by an illness that has robbed her of so much, including her physical self image.

One of the best, gentlest lessons in tact I ever had was when I was a couple of weeks from delivering my baby. A woman I hadn’t seen for a while saw me and smiled broadly. “What’s new?” she asked. I understood immediately that she didn’t want to assume that my distorted figure meant impending childbirth. Being a little overweight herself, she may have heard that question herself.

When are you going to start a family?
Another child-bearing question that is none of my business, nor yours, either. Sometimes this is asked by eager family members or friends, who want a woman to “join the club.” Sometimes it’s asked by complete strangers, as my niece related to me yesterday. People who want children but are struggling with fertility problems do not want to hear this. People who don’t want children do not want to hear this. People who might someday want children do not want to hear this. Leave it alone. I’m sure you’ll be the first to know when that precious bundle is expected.

What happened to (your marriage, your job, your plan to…)?
Depending on your relationship with the person asking, this might be a reasonable question. But when the neighbor down the street, with whom you have a nodding acquaintance, asks what caused your marriage to break up, the neighbor has stepped out of bounds. Don’t be the neighbor. It’s better to ask open-ended questions about the future rather than specific, painful questions about the past.

What church do you belong to?
Since at least the early 1800s, social discussion of religion and politics was considered rude. And for as long as religion has existed, religious differences have sometimes led to great tragedy. Leave religious discussions for very close family members, friends, or people within your faith community.

How could you let your (adult) child do that?
Um, “adult.” I don’t LET my adult child do anything. As an adult, that adult gets to make their own decisions.

How can you afford that?

Will you make me a quilt?
Probably not, but I am least likely to make quilts for people who ask for them.



We fight over how to achieve peace. We kill in the name of preserving life. We shove and kick each other to reach the last item on a shelf, an item we intend to give with love. We draw farther and farther apart, deeper into darkness. The greatest irony is that, generally, we share the same basic wants. We all want safety, nutrition, love, opportunity. But our perspective on how to achieve those seems to be separating.

Jim and I have a friend whose vision has deteriorated over the last few years. The images he saw fractured and multiplied, making it more difficult to tell what was real. It had gotten to the point that he couldn’t drive safely. Were the red cars ahead of him actually two red cars, or just double vision of one? Our friend needed new glasses to reintegrate the images, so he could see what was real.

We are used to the idea of “shalom” meaning “peace.” Another interpretation of “shalom” is “wholeness.” From wikipedia,

Shalom, in the liturgy and in the transcendent message of the Christian scriptures, means more than a state of mind, of being or of affairs. Derived from the Hebrew root shalam – meaning to be safe or complete, and by implication, to be friendly or to reciprocate. Shalom, as term and message, seems to encapsulate a reality and hope of wholeness for the individual, within societal relations, and for the whole world.

Shalom is peace, wholeness, integration. We need new glasses to see what is real, that we are one whole. When we give in to hate, whether to refugees from another country or to those who oppose them, we give in to darkness. There is no “other.” We are connected. We are one.

Shalom. Peace. Wholeness. Love.

About Us

Today is the anniversary of the day Jim and I got married. I’d love to tell you that it was a perfect fall day like today, sunny with crisp, cool air, but I don’t remember. In fact I think there were clouds for at least part of the day.

I do remember standing at the front of the small chapel with Jim, our family members in pews behind us. Jim’s sister played guitar as my brother-in-law sang “The Wedding Song.” The church organist indulged us with harpsichord music, including “Ode to Joy” for the recessional. I remember our wedding reception, surely the most boring one in history. Even I was bored! And the photos, almost all taken with the top of the tallest person’s head missing.

Like our wedding, in some ways our marriage is really ordinary, and in other ways it’s quite unusual. I’ve learned over time that no one has a very good view into someone else’s marriage. What on the outside looks very solid can be built on sand. Other marriages may look destined for failure, but in reality be full of strength we can’t see. So I am not the best judge of what parts of our life are unusual and what parts are typical.

What I do know is few women grow up planning to marry a man who already has two young children. When our older daughter was 19 and the younger 16, we had our son. If only in that, our life together has been unusual. But I think there is more. For more than three decades we’ve worked as partners, rarely at odds on any substantial issues. Long ago we understood the value of “giving in” to the person who cares more about something. Fortunately neither of us is a recreational fighter, and our values are so similar that giving in doesn’t need to happen much.

We find the same things funny, as well. Jim could always make me laugh, from when we first met. He told me jokes about the hippopotamus or the school bus… We made up limericks and word play as we drove from one place to another. Now we tell each other stories about the people and places we see, making up long narratives about what led to the current scene, or what the outcome will be. The stories almost inevitably end in laughter.

He taught in three different high schools from the time I met him, and finally retired from school teaching in 2007. Then he spent several years as an office worker before retiring again. I was a student, an office worker, a teacher, at varying times. His work was in physics, mine in finance.

Our professions were in different realms, but our outside interests overlap. We both love sharing and teaching on our blogs, and in person when opportunities arise. Politics and policy are important to us. Our similar values place us on the same side of most policy issues. We both love hiking, and try to stay physically fit through activity and what we eat.

Is this like most couples? I don’t know. What I do know is, whether or not our marriage stands apart, Jim does.

To put it simply, Jim is the best person I know. He treats other people with respect and kindness that seems to be exceptional in the world these days. The way he treats others is not for show. It’s how he is, and how he also treats me, his children, and his closest family members and friends.

More than that, Jim is a rock. He is MY rock. Some people think rocks are boring because they don’t change, but this is not how I see rocks or Jim. Rocks are solid and tangible, but not unchanging through time. They can have many layers, each with a little different character. They wear and weather, changing their shape and revealing new colors. Forces can change their location, leaving them to settle into new circumstances. Sometimes they sport colorful lichens or ferns that grow on rough surfaces or in crevices.

Jim is solid, a rock in my life. He changes but is not fickle or surprising. He reveals new layers to me through time. He makes himself at home in new locations, finding comfort even after upheaval. And he makes room in his life for color, enjoying adventures both at home and away.

Is our marriage unusual? Again, I don’t know. When Jim and I attended a wedding a few years ago, those at our reception table commented about how long they’ve been married. When I noted the length of our union, one of the guests asked, “And how much of that has been happy?” The question startled me and made me wonder. Is a happy marriage so atypical that a question like that is warranted? I answered, “Almost all of it!”

Indeed there have been unhappy days and times of great stress. We’ve negotiated our way through numerous transitions, with multiple homes and states and jobs over time, with distant family support, with our age difference.

Even so, the sun shines most days, as it does today. And when it does not, I have a rock to shelter me.

Jim here… I want to add a few things. You surprised me with this. That’s one of the things about you I like. Thank you for the kind and flattering words.

You are honest and generous. You let people know how you feel without playing games. You try to make the world a better place for those near you. You bring color and beauty to our home. Those are only a few of the reasons I love you. I am blessed.

Family Reunion 2015

Summer is a time for picnics and family reunions. On a recent mid-July Saturday, our family gathered at the home of our daughter in southeast Iowa for day 1 of our weekend reunion. It is a big family. Mom and Dad, no longer with us, raised nine children. They took us to reunions when we were kids. We felt their influence this time. Here is the family portrait, over 80 of us, except for one or two taking pictures who are not quite considered ‘family’ yet.


Preparations were monumental. There was plenty of delicious food brought by many. Two men worked furiously in heat and smoke to grill the burgers, hot dogs, and brats. Kids of all ages were running around having a great time playing. The weather was sunny and bright after an early threat of rain that did not materialize.

Some came from the midwest, while others traveled from Maine, South Carolina, Washington, Arizona, and Louisiana. A good time was had by all.

The location for day 2 of our reunion was about an hour farther southeast in western Illinois. My brother lives in a small town with a park across the street from his house. He reserved the pavilion for us. Early that morning a very slow moving rainstorm dumped over 3″ of rain on the town in about an hour and flooded the park and street. Fortunately, the firehouse next door was available. Two trucks were moved out and parked in the driveway. We set up our reunion party in the firehouse. Food was in the back room. Tables and seating were in the truck bays.

The weather cleared out. The rain stopped. Water drained away. Kids headed for the park to play. We posed for group pictures of families in front of the big red fire truck. There were almost as many in attendance as the day before.

Earlier Sunday morning, mass was said at the small country church where my folks attended all their lives. It was founded by great-grandparents on my mother’s side. After mass, a graveside blessing was offered for those who could attend. Mom and Dad would have loved this weekend party.

The Day We Met | 7-8-1980

It was hot that July. I was attending summer school to earn my master’s degree. I sat down to lunch in the dorm cafeteria next to Dan, my resident assistant. Almost immediately, Dan asked if I had met Melanie sitting at the other end of the table. Oh, I had seen her walk through the cafeteria several times. I had definitely noticed her. We exchanged greetings and ate lunch.

Melanie and I got better acquainted quickly. I won’t go into detail except to say it got even hotter that July. Then, the darnedest thing happened. The AC in my dorm broke. I had to find a cooler place to study. I wondered if Melanie would let me study with her. Lucky for me, she was okay with that. What a great summer that was.

Now it is 35 years later. To celebrate the day we met, we decided to do two things. In the morning we visited the National Czeck & Slovak Museum in Cedar Rapids, IA. It had suffered a devastating flood in 2008 sitting next to the Cedar River. By 2012, it was moved and raised and re-opened. Details are in a video in the link above. We had lunch nearby in the old Czeck Village at the Meat Market and Cafe. What great food it was.

After lunch we drove 15 miles through the rolling Iowa countryside to the town of Solon. We changed into hiking shoes and shorts for a brisk hike through the woods, prairie restorations, and along the shore of Lake MacBride. It was good to get out and walk off some of the food from our delicious lunch. Here are a few highlights of the scenes along the way.

Click to embiggen

Click to embiggen

Show me more…

Noxious Weeds Where Love Should Grow

Some people have weeds growing in their hearts, noxious weeds like hate, anger, resentment, disrespect, greed, and self-righteousness. They have let these invaders flourish too long, crowding out love, humility, respect, and kindness.

Yesterday was one more day that showed us the best and worst of people. The best and worst of family, even. Early yesterday a close family member called Jim and me, excitedly telling us of the Supreme Court ruling on legality of same-sex marriage. In a happy glow we enjoyed Facebook posts of our friends celebrating for much of the day. For me, it was expected that my friends would approve of the ruling or be silent. I have a very short friends list on purpose.

Not everyone was so fortunate to bask in that happiness on Facebook. Another family member was deeply hurt seeing some comments from a nephew. The nephew is one of those whose heart is weedy, full of poison. That nephew’s weeds, in fact, have acted as the catalyst for several major rifts in the family over the last few years. My relationship with him broke last fall after I privately told him he was treating someone badly, that I thought he was a better person than that. Turns out he isn’t.

There is no means to breed hate and disrespect out of people. It is resistant even to culturing. That nephew has siblings who are loving and accepting, who don’t see it as their role in the world to point out everyone else’s “sins.”

Siblings. Why are some loving while others grow up with hate? Why do some choose to be respectful of the person, even if they disagree with the opinion, while others feel that it’s their right and duty to disagree in the most tactless or deliberately hurtful ways?

Those who are habitually disrespectful seem to take one of two defenses. Either you misinterpreted what they said, or they have the right to say it and if you’re hurt, it’s your fault. Either way, they are blameless in their own eyes. Defending yourself doesn’t teach them, as I found out with the woman who used to be my sister. After I defended myself against years of her disrespect, she shut me out of her life. While that has been a blessing, the amazing thing is that she sent Jim an email urging him to take me to a psychiatrist for my “paranoia disorder.” I guess standing up for myself was seen as paranoia by her. Weeds…

You can’t teach people things they don’t want to know. It doesn’t matter how reasoned your arguments are, or how correct your facts, or how lovingly you present yourself. People who are filled with negativity cling to that, and they are unmoved. The only ones who can pull the weeds and cultivate more love are the same ones whose hearts are weedy.

I’m tired of hate. I am tired of family discord. I am tired of weeds growing where love should grow. I’m tired of the regular upsets created by the toxins of particular family members. To the extent I can, I avoid them, but that doesn’t prevent a spillover effect.

For me, I choose to tend my garden. Where I can, I will cultivate an attitude of love. I choose love.






Ireland | We Are Proud Of You

from Jim and Melanie

We are very pleased with the vote in Ireland for equality. It is meaningful in many ways. Those family and friends we love dearly have felt a breath of inspiration and fresh air as some closed gates open a little more, although still too slowly. We are hopeful that our children and grandchildren will look back and see this decade as a time important choices were made for good and inclusion.

Reporting from Ireland shows the strongest support for Yes was in the 68-74% range. Only one county in the country voted No and barely at 51%. Overall, the vote was about 2 to 1 for Yes. Voting required your presence in person. Nearly 60,000 people returned from other parts of the world to place a small mark onto a piece of paper saying Yes I am for equality.

The news cycles move quickly. Already, the coverage is dwindling as people move on to other things. The importance of this statement by the beautiful people of Ireland will not diminish. We are proud of them. It is time to open more gates symbolized by these near my Kelly and Huston homeland.

Peace to you… Jim

Gates of Rosemead Estate 2011

Gates of Rosemead Estate 2011

Love Anyway

[I posted this about a year and a half ago. It’s a helpful read when I’m feeling sorry for myself and less generous. This is a good time to post it again.]

There is a quotation often attributed, incorrectly, to Mother Teresa. One segment of it reads, “People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.” Certainly the generosity expressed here is reminiscent of the blessed sister. But they were not her words.

I quoted a portion of the same text about a year ago. At the time the attribution I saw, and used, was incorrect. Since then I’ve learned the truth, and want to share with you the whole, original version. It was written by Dr. Kent M. Keith.

The Paradoxical Commandments

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

© Copyright Kent M. Keith 1968, renewed 2001

Strong Bricks

From the mouths of babes…

accidental life

My daughter is, by design, a thinker. She is my daughter, after all. She experiences everything in life through an analytical filter, of sorts. She sees parallels, makes connections and understands underlying meaning at a level that is beyond her years. Even more surprising, however, is her ability to put her thoughts and analyses to words. She not only thinks deeply about her life experiences, but she then shares her thoughts in a way that moves me to tears sometimes. Last night was one of those nights.

Daughter had spent the day visiting an historic community (Nauvoo, IL) with her classmates on a field trip. She had learned how to make rope, visited a blacksmith’s shop, made and tasted homemade bread from a brick oven and heard about how the bricks themselves were made. It was this last experience that she described in greatest detail as we lay in her…

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