Category: family

Thanksgiving Recap

I’m back from Thanksgiving break, and I’m happy to report all went swimmingly (almost). Did I successfully complete every last thing on my To Do list before the break began? Not quite, but I got the big things out of the way. The kitchen was completely decluttered and ready for use. The sunroom was decluttered, though it still has some piles that need to be given away. The wood pile was completely stacked in the shed (thanks to some superhuman help from friends). And our living room was also successfully clean for the first time in . . . 14 months? A long time, regardless.

So the overarching overwhelmed feeling was done away with, and I was able to focus on other things. Like eating. We also played some volleyball, hung out with friends, had a movie night, baked, got a tree, and I got all my Christmas shopping done (for the most part). Daniela and I lugged up all the Christmas decorations we have from the basement to the living room, and so our living room is once again a disaster. But at least it’s a recent disaster, and one we’re going to work on right away.

Was the break as restful as I would have liked? Well, probably not, since I hadn’t really thought about Christmas at all before the break, and I spent a lot of time figuring out what to buy for everyone and (most importantly) what homemade gift I was going to make. That’s a tradition I’ve really enjoyed, and I’m glad we started it. Over the years, I’ve made a wallet, a wire tree, two maps, a hand-bound book, a collection of home movies, a kitchen, and more. This year’s is shaping up to be a doozy, if I can actually pull it off.

I do think that generally speaking, I’m a person who ends up being busy by default. If I have free time, I fill it with something, and while that’s normally just the way I like it, I’m learning that I need to do a better job at ensuring I don’t get too much on my plate. Saying no is a learned skill, and one I’m still getting better at.

Either which way, it was nice to have the days off and to get things ready for the big December. Last year we were in the middle of the kitchen renovation still, so I’m very happy to have one be more normal this time around.

I hope your break was good as well. Happy belated Thanksgiving!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this DON’T GO TO SLEEP Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Resident Party Planner

I like parties. I like planning them. I like holding them. (I don’t like cleaning the house to get ready for them, or cleaning the house once they’re done.) Ever since I was in high school, I was happy to call up my friends and organize some kind of activity, whether it was getting together to go to a movie, go out to dinner, or just go over to someone’s house and hang out, I liked making all the phone calls and getting it all organized. (Probably a sign of impending librarianship, I suppose.)

I still like doing it these days. (Don’t get me wrong: I hate calling strangers on the phone. I have no idea why I’m so comfortable calling friends but can’t stand calling people I don’t know well. That doesn’t really make sense to me, but I suppose I don’t always have to make sense.) I know that a lot of the time, if someone doesn’t step up and organize fun, fun just doesn’t happen. So I like having a house that can host the fun, and corralling my friends into coming over for the fun. Over the years, we’ve done a slew of different parties. Groundhog Day (of course), Halloween, Christmas, Bowl Games, Super Bowls, New Years Eve, movie nights, game nights, and more. My party-planning has taken a bit of a back seat to the house renovation, just because our house is such a constant mess, but now that we’re getting close to the other side of that, I’m hoping we can fully get back in the swing of things.

It really made me happy, then, to see Daniela step up to the plate and show that she’s really interested in the same sort of thing. She came to me saying that she missed the Halloween parties we used to do, and that she wanted to organize one for this year. I’m tight on time, so it was a great chance for me to hand the reins over to her. She sat down and came up with a list of people to invite, and I helped her work out some of the logistics. (Dinner or no dinner? Trick or treating? What time? What time to meet at the house? When should we finish?)

But that’s the easy part. She also handled calling and inviting people, which seems to be much more difficult for this generation. It wasn’t made any easier by the fact that she was calling actual adults, inviting whole families to the party. I sat next to her, coaching her through it, and she did a really good job. (Especially when it came to leaving messages. That proved to be particularly stressful, but I admired the way she barreled forward and didn’t let it bother her.)

We’ll see where she goes from here. If this becomes a thing she really gets into and enjoys, or if she just tries it out and moves on to other things. For now, I’m just happy I get to go to a party that I’m not completely planning. 🙂

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this DON’T GO TO SLEEP Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Saying Goodbye

I drove Tomas up to Bangor yesterday morning. I had originally planned on just dropping him off at the curb at the airport, but then I realized he was checking bags, and that wasn’t something we’ve really done when flying before, so I parked and went in with him to give him one last bit of support before he headed off on his own. I went up with him to security (it was his first time in Bangor’s small airport, though I’m sure he could have figured it out himself), gave him a hug, told him I was proud of him and that I’d miss him, and then told him there was no way I was going to stand there waiving to him the whole time while he went through security. We said goodbye, and that was that.

I’ve been through a lot the last two or three years. Global pandemics. Job insecurity. The loss of a parent. But somehow simply saying goodbye to my son at the airport proved to be the hardest of all of those on me, emotionally. There are many, many ways I’m chiding myself over that fact. Many other parents deal with much more difficult goodbyes. He hasn’t passed away. He hasn’t stormed off in a rage. He’s leaving to go do something I’m fully in support of, and he’s growing into an amazing man.

And yet I’m still upset about it, and I’m having a hard time keeping it together, to be honest.

I know dads are supposed to be the emotional bedrock of a family. The ones who stoically keep it together at all times, because crying is weak. But honestly, I have come to realize over the course of the past 2.5 years that all that suppressing of emotion over the years is taking a real toll on me. I’ve actually been trying to cry more recently, knowing that it’s an excellent way of getting stress out of the body. Strangely, it’s required real effort for me to do it. I have had to really focus on allowing myself to feel that much sadness.

But seeing Tomas say goodbye to MC and Denisa and Ferris? (He’d said goodbye to Daniela the night before, as she had to leave early yesterday morning.) That about pushed me over the edge. I had to leave the room for a bit, as crying is one thing, but crying in front of people is still a bridge too far for me. Going up to his empty room last night, seeing it all dismantled and put away in preparation for MC to move in there, I just sat on his bed and bawled for fifteen minutes.

Some of this might stem from experiences I went through growing up. I lived with my mom in Pennsylvania. My dad lived in Utah. My brother, sister, and I would go out to Utah for a month each summer, and for Christmas every other winter. That always involved a car ride to the airport when we left, knowing that I’d be away from one parent for a month, and knowing that parent was sad. Then it involved another car ride to the airport on the way back, with the situation reversed. I hated (hated) those car rides. The sick feeling that would settle into my stomach as those goodbyes approached.

Taking Tomas to the airport yesterday, I had that same feeling again, and it set off some deep-seated memories in me.

Again, everything that’s going on for him is a good thing. He’s on his own, learning to do his own thing, but he’s got a lot of structure and support around him to help him as he makes that transition. He’s going home to Slovakia, which will give him a chance to connect with that side of his heritage. From the day he was born, Denisa has worked on teaching him Slovak. This has been something we’ve tried to be preparing for for a long, long time. He was excited to be off, and I can relate to that. I remember being in his shoes, nervous about what might come, but still really wanting to finally see how I did on my own. To set up my life the way I wanted it to be. (Though when I watched him head off for security, I had a very hard time not seeing the little boy I’ve known for years, going off to do something that I can’t help him with.)

I know none of this is unique to just me. I know literally billions of people have dealt with this over the years. But for Denisa and me, this was a first. A significant first in the same way it was a significant first for him. There aren’t a whole lot of those in your life. Leaving home. Getting married. Having a baby. Sending your child off to school. Having your child leave home. And just like all those other firsts, I’ve found it isn’t really something you can understand until you do it yourself. I’ve been dreading yesterday for the last half year at least. It was worse than I thought it would be.

The good news is that we got to talk to him yesterday evening. My father picked him up from the airport and will take him to the MTC today. Tomas had a great trip. I was surprised to hear he talked to a stranger all the way from Bangor to JFK, then he went to dinner with another stranger in JFK, and he met several other people who he had good interactions with. Having a missionary name tag can sometimes be a liability. People judge you without even knowing who you are. But it can also be an asset. The man on the flight from Bangor knew many members of our church and knew all about missionaries. Some members saw him in JFK and took him to dinner, knowing what he’s going through. And to have Tomas not just talk with those strangers, but to sound like he even enjoyed it?

He’s making big strides already. 🙂

Anyway. That’s about all I’ve got to say about that for now. We’ll get to talk to him once a week, which is so much more than I got to do as a missionary. That helps with this transition, but I’m sure it will continue to be difficult as I learn to adjust. Our family at home is now down to 4, and that will require some retooling for everyone. Tomas and I did a lot together. Playing Magic. Playing video games. Watching sports. I’ll likely end up switching up what I do week to week as well, tweaking things to spend time with Daniela and MC more. We’ll see where things all settle in a few months.

Thanks for all your well wishes. They’re very much appreciated.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this DON’T GO TO SLEEP Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything

Dual Citizens

This past weekend, Denisa and I took the family down to New York City for a quick there and back again trip that’s been a long time coming. When we were first married, all our attention was on getting Denisa her US citizenship. It was a long process, filled with many hoops to jump through and fees to be paid, but we got through it all after . . . five years or so? I can’t honestly remember.

But once we had children, we always wanted them to get their Slovak citizenship to go along with their American passports. Naturally, that took quite a bit of hoop jumping and fee paying as well. Denisa’s been the driving force behind it all, and while she and the kids were over in Slovakia this past summer, she got a lot of the process completed. It helped to have a person in Trenčín office who was actually nice and willing to help shepherd her through the process. Fun things like getting birth certificates officially translated and filling out the right forms and paying the right fees.

To top it all off, you have to go in person to the Slovak Consulate that oversees where you live in America. There are two consulates in the US. One’s in New York City, and one’s in Washington DC. (I’m glad we don’t live in California . . .) Maine falls under NYC’s umbrella, so that’s where we had to go. They have very specific windows when you can come. (Monday – Wednesday 10am-12pm and Monday – Thursday 2pm-4pm.) You make an appointment weeks in advance, and you’d better be there.

Since Tomas is essentially gone as of next Monday, we had a very small window to get this all completed. (We couldn’t make an appointment until we had the paperwork in hand, and that didn’t arrive from Slovakia until mid-August, at which point all of the August openings were full.) If we wanted the girls to miss as little school as possible, it would have to be the 12th.

It helps that I’m familiar with NYC and how to get around it. We drove down on Saturday and came home right after the appointment yesterday. Traffic was, as expected, a nightmare, but the actual visit at the consulate was very straightforward. Denisa had all her paperwork completed correctly, the person she submitted it to was nice, and a few photos later, it’s all complete. The kids should get their passports in the mail in a few weeks.

Of course, this is just the first step. From what I know in movies, people are really supposed to have at least six or seven passports, ideally with different aliases and a stack of cash in different currencies, all tucked into the floorboards of their house. But the way I figure, Denisa and I are providing our kids with a good head start toward that goal.

In all seriousness, I see this as very advantageous for my kids. As Slovak citizens, they are also EU citizens. They can travel, live, work, and retire anywhere in the EU, without restrictions. They have the chance to go to universities in the EU for free or reduced tuition. They have access to universal healthcare across the EU. Will they use any of these advantages? I have no idea, but they *could* use them if they want to. (Tomas certainly might, when he’s over in Slovakia for the next two years.)

Now the only trick is to keep renewing those passports, as if they lapse, you have to begin the process all over again. (Denisa actually had to do it for herself at the same time she was doing it for the kids. It’s not fun.) But the passports are good for 10 years for those 18 years old and up, and 5 years for those younger than 18. I suppose there are worse things than having to go to New York City every so often. (Especially if you can actually plan the trip in advance . . . )

And for those of you wondering if I could become a Slovak citizen: yes, if we lived in Slovakia for 5 years, I could. It’s harder for a non-Slovak than for a Slovak, obviously . . .

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this DON’T GO TO SLEEP Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

In Memoriam: Stephen Coltrin

Hmm. This one’s going to be a hard one to write. I alluded to some tough times I was going through the last bit, and here’s the reason. My step-father, Steve Coltrin, passed away a few days ago. He’d been in and out of the hospital steadily for the past few months, and this past time (a few weeks ago) the decision was made to move him to hospice care. When that happened, I came down to Pennsylvania from Maine to see him and help take care of him as he passed. At the time, it seemed like it wouldn’t be long at all. In the end, I stayed for three weeks. Three very long weeks.

I’ve been in a house as a person lay dying before, but this time last much longer, and was very draining. A lot of that came from the uncertainty of just how the process would work and what sort of timetable we were on. There were many times I was just so frustrated that it couldn’t be over. But it wasn’t, and you have to deal with things as they are, not as you’d like them to be. And in any case, it’s over now.

My relationship to my step-father has always been a complicated one. My mom married him when I was . . . six? Seven? I can’t quite remember. In any case, I lived with him from then on, so he played a huge part of my upbringing. Losing him feels every bit like losing a “real” father, even though things weren’t always peachy keen for us growing up. As I’ve tended to do when loved ones pass, I wanted to jot down a few of the memories I had of him. Not sure how many I’m up to putting down right now, but here we go.

  • “Coltrins love to walk.” I heard that so so (so) many times growing up. To this day, Denisa is always frustrated with how fast I walk, but it’s something I have a very hard time changing. Dad was a fast walker, and he and Mom took us into New York many times, and we were expected to not just keep up, but to move out. My siblings and I walked out in front, and if we started walking slow, we’d hear “Move out.” And we had to walk faster. (NYC is already a city full of fast walkers. You have to go even faster when your legs are only so long.) If we ever complained about the walking, we’d be told “Coltrins love to walk.” It was just a fact of life. We’d go to Disneyworld and be at the park, walking the entire day. When it came time to go to our car, did we take the tram? No. Coltrins love to walk.
  • Connected to this, he took the slogan to heart so much that in his later years, he would pretty much always be walking. We would get to a restaurant, and he’d walk the perimeter of the parking lot while we were waiting to be seated. He’d walk up and down hallways in hotels. He would count steps religiously, though I don’t remember him every using a pedometer.
  • Up until the last year or so, the only time I could count on him reaching out to contact me was when he accidentally switched the menus on his television to Spanish. I was typically the resident tech help for the household, and so it fell to me to tackle the big problems of life. I have no idea how he managed to do it so often, and it would have made sense for me to make notes for how to switch it back to English, but I never did, so each time it usually ended up with me having to Facetime with him and then show me the screen and the remote. I’m proud to say I had a 100% track record of always getting it back to the right language.
  • He liked to sing, but he wasn’t always the best at knowing the words to the songs he’d sing. (Or perhaps he knew the words, but just didn’t choose to sing them?) In any case, he’d just sort of make them up as he went along, and he would do this often.
  • He liked war movies and westerns. The last few days as I was sitting next to him in hospice, we watched a number of both. No matter what movie he was watching, if there was a horse involved, he would always critique the horse for how good (or bad) it looked. Sometimes he would watch movies just to see the horses.
  • Going to a restaurant with him was always a nerve wracking experience. I’m the sort of customer that won’t even complain if they bring the literal wrong dish. (Well, as long as it tastes fine.) I really (really) don’t like confrontation over silly things like that. A big reason for that is because I had to sit at a table many many times while Dad chewed out a server for getting something wrong, whether it was not filling his drink enough, cooking the food wrong, not being polite enough, or anything else. That has never been my style, but it very much was his.
  • He was big on playing basketball. I was not. He and my brother would go outside and play basketball all the time, and they’d often try to rope me into playing with them. Every now and then I went along, but my typical approach to the situation was to pretend I was asleep until they gave up trying to wake me up and just went outside to play, at which point I could pick my book back up and resume reading. I assume they were on to me, looking back on it, but it seemed like a good life hack at the time.
  • I wore a baseball cap a lot of the time growing up. For a while there, I wasn’t to be seen without it. It had never been an issue at all, until one day it suddenly was. Dad got angry I was wearing it indoors, something I’d done all the time for probably the last few years. But from that point on, I would get in a lot of hot water if I wore a hat indoors. You didn’t want to get in hot water with Dad. He’d be away on business trips a lot of the time growing up, and I often breathed a little easier when he was gone, because I didn’t have to worry about stepping out of line as much. (Such as leaving my shoes in the entryway. That was another potential time bomb if he found them.)
  • He was a verified Diet Coke addict, if such a thing exists. He branched out a bit into Coke Zero toward the end, but he pretty much was never found without Diet Coke within arms reach. He preferred it in fountain drink form, with plenty of ice, and he would even drink it when it was completely flat. He also was known to mix in other things, like orange juice. This is not something that has transferred to me. Then again, he could go through an entire large bag of peanut M&Ms, and that’s something that I’d have to admit to having the same penchant for.
  • He was a fantastic source for advice. If I ever needed someone to think through a problem from all angles and give a solid read on what I should do, Dad’s input was always fantastic. I remember calling him when I was thinking about marrying Denisa. At the time, I’d always sworn to myself I would wait to know someone for at least a year before I even though about marrying them, but Denisa and I clicked so easily, I was seriously reevaluating that decision. I called him thinking he would do a great job of reminding me why rushing into marriage was a bad idea. (He had always harped on that when I was growing up.) To my surprise, he said if I felt like I should marry Denisa, I should do it right away. “When you know, you know.” I’m still shocked that he gave that advice, but as it was so often, it was the right decision.
  • We went to Disney World a lot when I was growing up. Sometimes multiple times a year. He loved going on the rides and buying the photos they would hawk to people at the end of the ride. We bought so many of those over the years that I imagine if you flip through the collection fast enough, you can see me age from 8 to 18 in stop motion.
  • He owned a PR firm, and it was his pride and joy. He was totally devoted to it, often gone for long stretches of time as he worked around the globe. He started it from nothing and grew it until it had offices in New York, Houston, Salt Lake, San Francisco, Singapore, and London. He represented Burger King, the Salt Lake Olympics, Popeye’s, eHarmony, and more. He did a ton of work for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as well, helping line up the Larry King interview with President Hinckley and the Mike Wallace interview as well. Before my mission, I worked for him for about a half year. We’d commute into the city a lot of the time together, which involved a half hour drive to Trenton, an hour plus train ride to Penn Station, and then a fifteen minute walk to the office. Growing up with a PR executive has really helped me throughout my life, as I feel like I’m much better at knowing how to handle a crisis and how to respond to difficulties. I also got a ton of IT tech support experience there, which later helped get me my first job as an IT Librarian in Maine.
  • Many of my views of how to live the Gospel stem from watching his pragmatic example. He always would emphasize the human nature of the whole endeavor, and I’ve never viewed church leadership through rose colored glasses. I know they’re human just like the rest of us, and it was interesting to talk to him and hear about some of the back room discussions that would sometimes go on at the top of the church. (President Faust was my grandfather’s mission companion, Elder Christofferson was a close friend of Dad’s, and Dad personally knew many of the Prophets and Apostles over the years.) Before I left on my mission, he gave me some of the best advice I got for the two years: “Remember that anything you can think of, a missionary has done, and he’s probably doing it right now.” It helps not to idolize anyone and to see things with a clear view.
  • He was almost always on the phone. He had a cell phone before there were many cell phones (back when they were the size of a football), and he would be talking nonstop. Business, usually. On vacation. In restaurants. In church parking lots. In his office. Always talking.
  • He was an ardent supporter of McDonald’s for the first long while I knew him. Not only did he use it as his primary Diet Coke source, but he loved their ice cream cones, as well. We’d go to McDonald’s pretty much anywhere, often multiple times in a day. (Probably a reason I ended up working at McD’s as my first job.) That said, when he added Burger King as a PR client, he made the switch to Burger King. (A switch he made multiple times thereafter. He did PR for Quizno’s for a while, and suddenly all the food we had for parties was catered by Quizno’s.)
  • We were driving across the country once, and we passed some animals on the road. “I think those were beefalo,” he said. All of us thought he was making that animal up. Beefalo sounded like the sort of name a kindergartner would give their imaginary pet. He doubled down on the claim, though, coming up with this elaborate back story about how they were cattle crossed with bison. The more he talked the more skeptical we all became, but he also grew up on a farm, and so he’d have a much greater chance of knowing the truth of this than we did. We still didn’t really believe him. Of course, back then you couldn’t just google the answer. Today, I’d have known right away that he was right.
  • “Plow the ground all the way to the fence.” Dad wasn’t always one to do the chores around the house. In fact, I can only remember a few times when he really worked with us to get something done. (He might have when I was younger; my memory doesn’t go that far. But by the time I was in prime Chore territory, he was a director, not a co-worker.) So when we had a job we’d been tasked doing, he would wait until we said we were done, and then he’d come give an inspection. Raking the yard? Every single leaf had to be off that yard. Shoveling the driveway? All snow had better be gone. Because if it wasn’t, we’d get the “plow the ground all the way to the fence” talk, referring to how good farmers wouldn’t cut corners, but get the most out of their field.

I could go on, but there’s only so much time, and everything has to come to a close eventually. I’m sure there are tons of things I’m forgetting, and it feels like I should just keep on adding memories, but I’m calling it quits for now. He definitely had a huge impact on me. As with most parent/child relationships, some of what I do is because he did it, and some of what I don’t do is because he did that too. I’ve had a lot of time to think over many things the past few weeks. They’ve been very hard in many ways, but I think I’m a better person because of them, just as I’m a better person because of the interactions I had with Dad over the years. He’ll definitely be very missed.

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