Missing Grandma

On Thursday I lost the only Grandma I ever had.  She passed away at 12:15 on 12/15.  Moments before I was looking at the very same picture album I was looking at the night her husband, my Grandpa, died seven years before.  And just like Grandpa, Grandma breathed her last at home, surrounded by her family.  We should all be so fortunate.

Death is a funny thing.  Not “ha ha” funny–not usually anyway–but the sort of funny where you take note of things like 12:15 on 12/15 or the strange juxtaposition of new fun family memories made while waiting for a loved one to die.  In the past several weeks my parents house became Grand Central Station of family gatherings as relatives came from far and wide to see Grandma in her finals days.  The atmosphere was oddly festive at times and seemed more like a holiday gathering than what it actually was.  It’s not surprising I suppose.  My extended family has always been very close and it wasn’t as though we all didn’t have time to prepare ourselves for what was coming.  Sure, a month ago no one expected Grandma to be gone before Christmas, but her health had been failing for the past several months.

More importantly, we knew that Grandma was going to a place where she would no longer have to struggle to breath.  No more oxygen masks and tubes (or “nose pickers” as my three-year old called the cannula), walkers, or physical therapy sessions.  She was on her way to Paradise, to be united with her Savior and reunited with Grandpa.

When I’ve thought about Grandma these last few weeks, certain memories stick out.  Images of her in her long blue robe holding a cup of coffee, or calling me the nickname she had for me, fixing melba toast sandwiches for Grandpa after church, or eating Golden Grahams at the kitchen table at the house on Anson Drive.  I used to love talking to her about the history of our family; about her life as a little girl in a mining town in New Mexico and how her father came from France as a young boy.  Two new things I know I’ll always remember:  last Sunday watching the 49er game with Grandma and both of us falling asleep during the game and watching White Christmas with her and my uncle.  My uncle and I made a Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode out of it and she told us we were silly.

As difficult as it was losing Grandma, explaining it to an almost four-year old was nearly as difficult.  My daughter Lily and Grandma had a very special relationship.  Lily was the first, and until pretty recently, only great-grandchild.  Grandma lived in a granny unit connected to my parents house by a long hallway.  Very early on after she learned to walk, as soon as we got to my parents house Lily would run down the hallway to Grandma’s house.  She had a little routine she would go through, always going for the same knickknacks.  She would ask Grandma to wind up the music box on her dresser and get the piece of coral down off the shelf so she could feel it.

It’s hard to say exactly what she understands about what happened, but she does seem to get it that Grandma is in heaven now and we won’t be seeing her anymore.  She cried when we explained it to her, partly because she did understand and partly because we were crying I think.  When we went to my parents house yesterday afternoon she said, “Grandma’s gone” as we pulled in the driveway.  Today she told me she missed Grandma.  In a way it’s good it happened when she’s so young, but it also means she probably won’t remember much about Grandma.  She will always remember the music box and the coral.  They are on her shelf now.

Grandma was an amazing person.  She was quiet and unassuming, but had a strength that few people probably realized.  She was generous and thoughtful and made great potato salad.  She was godly, honest, and it was not at all surprising to find her watching the Giants or Cal football if you happened to stop by her house.  Christmas morning won’t be the same without her little pig souffle.  And the other 364 days of the year won’t be the same, period.

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Growing Pains

Lily & Jen as the coast
Lily & Jen at the windy coast

A week from today Lily will be seven months old.  It’s hard to believe that much time has gone by already.  That was one of the many things people would say to us before she was born.  “You won’t believe how much time flys when you have kids.”  Well, they were right.  And we haven’t even gotten to the real big stuff yet, like walking and talking.  She isn’t crawling yet, but she still manages to get around a little bit by rolling and scooting around on her back.  She jabbers up a storm and, fortunately, the novelty of screaming seems to have worn off.  Yesterday she was in her crib, supposedly napping, and I crept into her room and laid on the floor and just listened to her jabber and coo.  It almost sounds like she’s singing sometimes. 

This week starts a period of transition in the house of Ando.  Tomorrow Jen officially goes back to work as an elementary school teacher.  Before and after Lily was born we tried to come up with some way for Jen to be able to stay at home with the baby as much as possible, whether that would be working from home or working different hours.  We knew she would have to work doing something.  That’s part of the price for living in the most perfect weather anywhere.  It ain’t cheap.  Not without sadness, Jen signed on to teach this next year and tomorrow she has to officially report for duty.

It’s been hard for her, these last few weeks, as she prepares for school, takes care of the baby, and prepares to have to leave her in someone elses hands for most of every weekday for the next nine months.  There have been tears and anxiety, but also a realization that this is part of God’s plan.  We’ve been trying to focus on the positives of it, rather than the negatives.  Maybe the biggest positive is that we’ll be able to pay our bills.  But as the baby related stuff goes, it will be good for Lily to learn to interact with other kids and she’ll get to have some fun and make some friends besides mommy and daddy.

As hard as the transition is going to be for Jen, the blow will be softened by the fact that Lily will actually be right on campus with Jen.  The Lord has provided through Jen’s school childcare for most of the day, up until 1:30.  We’ve enlisted the grandmothers and great-grandmother to fill in those last couple hours of each day, a task they were only too eager to volunteer for.  I was able to change my work schedule around so that I’ll be able to get off work at noon on Fridays and pick Lily up on my way home and have some nice father-daughter afternoons.

On the whole, while it might not be the schedule that would be our first choice, God has been good and provided us with pretty much the next best thing.

Homecoming, Home Depot Signage, and Other Nonsense

Lily on the plane with her aunt Doreen, aka NanaI’m happy to report that Jen and baby have returned from Colorado safe and sound.  By all accounts a good time was had by all  They enjoyed their time with the family there and while they were away I only missed two baby milestones; Lily’s first foray into semi-solid foods and an honest-to-goodness laugh.  Oh well, I was bound to miss something anyway due to my jet-setting, rat race lifestyle.  Oh right, I’m home by five everyday and never work weekends.  But honestly, I’m not bitter.  Lily brings plenty of joy to be shared with the whole family, so it was nice that those who live far away got to experience some of it too.  Hopefully she’ll have an amazing first left for my sister and her husband when they come up to visit in a month of so.  Thankfully, Lily was a very cooperative addition to the friendly skies, as she slept on the plane pretty much the whole time they were in the air, both coming and going (Is it bad form to use the slogan of a different airline [ie. “the friendly skies”] than the one you flew when talking about it to others, especially if the experience was mostly pleasent?  Is that robbing them of the good word-of-mouth advertising they’re entitled to?  Just in case it is, let me rephrase that last bit.  Lily was an excellent airline passenger making it easy on Jen to be free to move about the country.  There, I feel better.)  I’m glad to have them home.

You may recall a post last week and my mention in that post of a project I was beginning while the girls were away.  Jen reads my blog somewhere in the neighborhood of only once a year, so I felt fairly confident that I could talk about the project here with little fear of her getting wind of it.  However, just to be safe I didn’t mention what the project actually was.  This was a wise decision on my part, because wouldn’t you know it, Jen happened to access Life of Ando the very next day.  Not to read it, mind you, but only to find a link to Ask a Ninja of all things.  When I talked to her on the phone later that evening, she questioned what my project was.  I was able to downplay it, I’m pretty sure without compromising my integrity, and not let on that I was actually installing the dishwasher that had been sitting in our garage for the past year.  Leave it to a woman to try to spoil the surprise.  Fortunately, she never figured it out, and doubly fortunate that I didn’t burn down or flood the house in my attempt at home improvement.  She was genuinly shocked when she walked through the kitchen after getting home Saturday night and saw an installed dishwasher and she was probably even more shocked that it actually worked, though she was good enough not to say so.  What a wife I have.  More on this at a later date.  I video documented the whole procedure so look for that soon on a YouTube Friday near you.

During the installation process I made a couple runs to Home Depot where I noticed two signs there I thought were interesting.  Thanks to the greatest invention of the past 50 years, the cell phone camera, I was able to capture these signs of the times and share them here with you.

Has political correctness gotten so out of hand in this country that it even effects our fowl.  We can’t just call chicken wire chicken wire anymore?  Were the turkeys getting their feelings hurt?  What’s next, poultry nuggets?  Mmmmm, doesn’t that sound good?

Now, I’m no marketing expert but I always thought advertising increased savings would be a better tool for attracting customers.  Or maybe they just need a comma.

And for the “other nonsense” I offer this bad, yet relevant joke:  what has four arms, four legs, and is all wet?  My old dishwasher.  Ba-dum-cheeeeee!

One last thing, if I was a celebrity I’d be sweating it right about now.  With Tim Russert and George Carlin kicking the bucket in the last week and the well known and documented fact of public figures always dying in threes, I’ve never been more relieved to be a nobody.

Let’s Play Two!

As weekends go this past one is hard to beat.  On Friday night I went to the Angels-A’s game in Oakland with my buddy Jon the Green Beret, who was home on leave, and a few other friends.  It was good to see Jon.  It had been probably close to two years the last time he was in Santa Rosa and in the meantime had been to Germany, Afghanistan, and other undisclosed exotic locations.  Even though I hadn’t seen him face to face in a long time, we had communicated fairly frequently via email.  I was thinking about how much different communication with military personel is now than how it used to be not all that long ago.  Can you imagine trying to communicate with someone stationed way out in the Afghan boondocs 15, maybe even 10 years ago?  It would’ve been exceedingly slow, if even possible at all.  But email has changed all that.  In fact its so much easier that not only were Jon and I able to have the kind of correspondense usually commonplace between those in the field and those at home in any era (“how are you”, “be safe”, “everyone back here is thinking about you guys”, “went on patrol today”, that kind of stuff), but I even got a few forwarded email jokes and chainletters.  When I really think about that it kind of blows my mind.  Here’s my buddy in a combat zone (which, I told him, still weirds me out a little) with the time and ability to forward a joke about giraffes.  What an interesting time we live in.

Anyway, back to the game.  It was good to spend time with Jon and the other guys that came along, and also Jon’s wife and parents, and retell the stories from the old days and get a little glimpse of what Afghanistan was like.  I would’ve loved to talk about that with him more, but there wasn’t time and I’m sure that wasn’t the first thing he would want to relive after just getting home.  We had awesome seats, field level 1st base side 23 rows back, and the Angels won so I was a happy camper all around.

The next night Jen, Lily, and I again returned to Oak-town for game two of the series.  This was my early Father’s Day present and I think Jen has set the future bar a little high for herself.  This one will be hard to top.  The seats were even better than the night before, same general area but a section closer to home plate and row 14.  The Angels were again victorious, though Frankie Rodriguez made things a little interesting in the bottom of the ninth.  Lily was a champ all night and I think she enjoyed her first ball game.

Both nights I was bold and was decked out in full Angels gear.  On Sunday my father-in-law pointed out that I went one night with a Green Beret and one night with a baby to protect myself from getting harassed.  Well, duh.  What am I, an idiot?  Speaking of the baby, she was the hit of our section even though even she was also in full Angels regalia.  Her cuteness overcame the cold, hardened hearts of even the most misguided A’s fans.  A fellow Angel fan told Jen as he passed by, “You’re raising her right.”  There was a postgame fireworks show on Saturday night and we tried to stay for it, but after about three big “BOOMS” Lily had had enough and we headed for home.

It doesn’t get much better than a night at the ballpark.  Unless its back-to-back nights at the ballpark.

Autobiographically Speaking

A little more than a year ago I declared that I was going to write my autobiography.  Not many years from now when I may have actually accomplished something, but right now, when my greatest accomplishments involve things like high scores and rescuing toadstool princesses (which, by the way, I once did without losing a man).  But, like so many outlandish declarations, this one has gone unheeded and nary has a page of autobiographical goodness been composed.  Or even autobiographical badness for that matter.  I’d like to blame it on the fact that I’ve been too busy accomplishing all of those things worthy of publication, but I cannot.  The only thing I’ve really accomplished between then and now is that I’ve become a father, but we’ll have to wait for another 18 to 20 years to see if I am indeed accomplishing that, or merely doing it.

 The idea of penning ones autobiography can certainly seem a narcissistic pursuit, even for the most accomplished of individuals.  For a virtual nobody-that would be me-it would seem to border on self-absorbed delusion.  But I’m no narcissist.  My intentions were pure from the beginning; not to proclaim my wonderfulness to others, but as a mere reflection on my some 30 years and maybe for me to learn something from my own past.  You know the old saying, “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”  But, alas, whatever my intentions, nothing has become of them thus far.

 However, I have a new reason for taking on this bizarre venture.  In doing all this family research, I’ve really come to realize how frail our own connections to the past really are.  We really don’t have a grasp on where it is we came from and how we got here.  At best, most people only have significant contact with the preceding two generations of their family, their parents and grandparents.  Many, only with their parents and some, tragically, not even that.  A fortunate few may have known a great-grandparent or two, but then that’s it.  For me, I knew (or at least remember) three of my four grandparents and three out of eight great-grandparents.

 Even for those of us lucky enough to have those relationships with our older forebears we don’t often take advantage of them like we could.  When you’re little, it’s not uncommon to have a special relationship with your grandparents.  They take you to ice cream, bring you presents for no reason, tell silly jokes, and generally make you feel great.  As you get older, and they get older, they suddenly become not as cool as you think they should be.  You still love them and maybe put up with the silly jokes when none of your friends are around, but you don’t appreciate them like you used to.  By the time you’ve finally grown out of that goofy stage, there are so many competing factions for your time that the days of being able to spend long hours just being with them are long gone.  And before you know it so are they. 

 I have one remaining grandparent, and I can’t tell you how much I regret not sitting down and talking more often with those who have passed on.  Just too really get to know them and to ask what life was like when they were growing up.  Or what their parents were like.  I’ve made an effort to do this with my grandma recently and it’s been so rewarding.  She’s been able to tell me all sorts of interesting stories about when she was a little girl growing up in coal mining towns in New Mexico, or what it was like for her father to immigrate from France to the United States when he was 10 years old, or what life was like for her and grandpa when they were first married.  I intend to sit her down in front of my video camera one of these days and have her retell me all these stories.  This gets me back to my original point.

 Family histories are usually oral.  The stories are passed down by telling them to the kids and grandkids.  But over time memories fade, details are forgotten, and the further removed a generation is from the original story teller, the less likely they are to remember the stories, if they heard them at all.  And when the story tellers die, too often the stories die with them.  That’s why I want to write my autobiography.  Maybe my grandchildren or great-grandchildren won’t care what life was like back in 1985 or how grandpa and grandma (me and Jen) met, or what it was like to grow up in the pastor’s (my dad’s) house.  But maybe they will.  I want to at least provide them with the opportunity to know what their not-so-distant ancestors were like and how they lived.  Maybe it won’t be as interesting as studying my ancestors is.  I didn’t fight in any wars, I didn’t come from a far away land, and I didn’t rub shoulders with anybody famous.  But maybe, unlikely as it may seem to us now, the time we’re living in now will be romanticized to our descendants like the time of our grandparents and great-grandparents is to us.  To us, it just seems like life, but that’s what they thought back in 1890 too.  It’s just life.

 It’s true that, theoretically, I’m not exactly running out of time yet, but age 12 will be a lot fresher in my mind now than it will in 25 more years, so it would be nice to get at least those formative years out of the way.  Whether I actually follow through on that is, of course, a matter of debate.  Only time will tell.

The Family Tree

When I was a kid my dad’s half-great aunt put together a book entitled Frederick John Bauer and His American Wives.  The book traced the geneology of the Bauer’s and the cover was graced with the picture of that dashing gentleman to the left.  Yes, that is the Frederick John Bauer, the first Bauer to arrive in America (at least from my branch of the family tree), my great-great grandfather.  When I found this book on the shelf one day I was fascinated by it.  Besides the fact that my name was in print–in an acutal book!–I found the old pictures of distant relatives to be very cool.  There was one of a nun, which I found funny for some reason, one of a sailor, and a few dressed like soldiers.  Even the ones in normal clothes fascinated me as I thought about how long ago these pictures were taken and that these people were really my relatives.  At that young age my interest and appreciation for history was already beginning to rouse.

Ever since then I’ve thought it would fun to do some family history research and put together a family tree.  The problem is family research is a whole lot of work, mostly digging through dusty archives and making good use of the microfische machine down at the library.  A lot of useful information is not always available in the town you happen to live in, seeing as how families tend to move around, so tracking down every little scrap of information can you have travelling all over the country, if not the world.  Given the time involved in these pursuits, geneological research has been the work of retired folks for the most part.  That is until recently.  Using the power of the Internet, you are now able to do major family research from the comfort of your own home.  About a year ago I started researching my family using Ancestry.com.  I think I saw a banner ad for a free 14-day trial so I thought I’d check it out.  Eight hours later it was three in the morning and I was neck deep in census records and immigrant ship passenger lists and loving it.

Here’s how Ancestry works:  You start with what you know.  I know myself the best so that’s where I started.  I put in my name, birthday, my parents’ names and birthdays and my grandparents names.  Ancestry automatically searches their massive databases (Databai? Databasum?  What is the plural of database?) of records for people that may be matches based on the information you’ve given.  They have scanned literally millions of documents such as census records, birth records, immigrant ship passenger lists, draft registration cards, military records, and oodels more.  So for instance, for my great grandpa Horin who came to America from France in 1911, I found census records from when he lived in New Mexico, I found a California marriage index that helped me figure out what year he was married, and I found the passenger list for the ship he came to America on and even a picture of the ship!  Most of the records you can view the scans of the original documents and actually see the names of your relatives as they were written down all those years ago.  Ancestry also searches through other family trees that people have created and made public and will allow to merge people from those trees into your own, letting you take advantage of research done by others.

By the time I finally got to bed that first night, or morning, I had traced certain branches of my tree back hundreds of years.  At some point you have to take your findings with a grain of salt as you are depending largely on reasearch done by strangers that you have no hope of verifying.  But by-and-large I think most of what I’ve found has been legit.  A great uncle on my mom’s side has been researching our family for years and in talking with him I was heartened to learn that we came up with many of the same conclusions, such as our relation to Thomas Dudley, a governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony back in the 1600’s and father of (apparently) reknowned American poetess Anne Bradstreet.

Researching your family’s origins is fun, but after a while continually looking at what amounts to a NCAA tournament bracket with peoples names in place of the teams can get a little boring.  Ancestry allows you to add pictures and stories (text, audio, or even video) to spice up your tree and they also have a tool to help you compile your informaiton into a book that you can either print yourself or they’ll do it for you.  They have a lot of other cool features and are constantly improving things.  Even in the ten months I’ve been using Ancestry they’ve made a number of improvements to things like the search function and the interface.

You can contact other Ancestry.com members who may have information that can help you in your research and I’ve found everyone that I’ve contacted to be more than willing to help if they can.  I even had someone send me a copy of a picture they had of a mutual relative, unsolicited and through the regular mail.  People involved in family research are very much a community and are always eager to help out.  You can invite people, such as other family members, to be contributors or just viewers of your tree.  Invitees can view the family tree and I think upload pictures and stories for free, but in order to have the abililty to add or delete people and records I think they have to have a paying account.

Geez, after all this you’d think I was getting paid to promote this thing, but I’m not.  I’ve just really enjoyed it and think that if you’re at all interested in learning more about your family its definitely worth checking out.  A word of warning though, if you do take the free 14-day trial be aware that it is very addicting and when the freebie runs out, you’ll find yourself giving over your credit card number without even thinking about it.  I did, but it’s been worth it.

Houston, We Have A Problem

lily1.jpgRemember that whole control thing I was talking about a while back?  I hope I didn’t give the impression that I actually think I can be in control of everything at all times, and I think I made that pretty clear with the poop story contained within that post.  But just in case you didn’t quite get me…

 Yesterday Jen and Lily made a visit to my work.  There are about 160 people in my office and about 145 of those are women, so I am constantly getting asked about the baby, and to show pictures of the baby, and when is the baby going to come for a visit.  Lily turned two months old on Tuesday and is out and about quite a bit, so we figured this was as good a time as any to expose her to the baby crazed masses.  The girls arrived in the middle of the afternoon and I sent an eMail out announcing Lily’s appearance in the lunch room for the next several minutes (no autograph requests, please).  It didn’t take long for the crowds to gather.  They oohed and ahhed over her beautiful face and several made comments admiring her perfectly round head.  Things were going well.

After the excitement had calmed down, Lily decided it was time for lunch.  The three of us went into my office so Jen could feed her a bottle.  Part way into the feeding, Jen lifted Lily up on her knee to burp her and the gas did indeed escape, only not from the intended end.  At least that’s what we thought.  While I had been the victim of the previous blowout, I was fortunate that Lily was wearing a footed sleeper at the time so the hazardous material was pretty well contained.  Jen had no such luck.  The olive drab milkshake had found an escape route down Lily’s pant legs and ended up on Jen’s jeans, not to mention all over Lily.  Dealing with these explosions at home is one thing, but when you’re away from base camp they take on a whole other dimension.  Fortunately Jen had packed the diaper bag with all the back up essentials:  extra diapers, extra clothes, extra blankets, extra plastic bags to put the extra nasty clothes in, extra everything.  Except for extra pants for herself.  We got Lily reasonably cleaned up and dressed in unnastified clothes, but the best Jen could do was use a few wet wipes to clean up the chunks and then drive home with some newly green striped dungarees.

So, as you can see, I’m totally in control.