New Wine in Old Blood Vessels


“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the wineskins, and the wine will pour out, and the wineskins will be lost. Instead, new wine must be put into new wineskins.” – Mark 2:22

Except when you get a VAD. Then you get new wine into old, brittle wineskins. Not sure if anybody thought about that…

Dad, Mom, and everybody Easter Sunday 2016 (03-27-16) _MG_8398

Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016 – Dad with his LVAD batteries holstered

I can’t hear (read) this Gospel any more without thinking of Dad, my dad, Norb Kwiecinski. He got a new lease on life in February 2014. An LVAD, a Left Ventricular Assist Device because his left ventricle was failing. It couldn’t sufficiently empty blood from his heart any longer. And he was dying.

450_300_mayolvad rendering of LVAD courtesy Mayo Clinic

Rendering of a Ventricular Assist Device, courtesy of Mayo Clinic

Lack of blood supply means lack of oxygen. Lack of oxygen means dying a slow death.

The LVAD gave him new life. It pumped blood through his body for him. But that lack of blood flow for so many years meant veins that had turned into old wineskins. And Dad’s new wine, in the form of a vibrant, fresh blood supply, was too much for the old wineskins to handle.

After being discharged from his four-month journey through intensive care, five staredowns with death, and an incredibly intense physical rehabilitation, Dad became a frequent visitor at the hospital.

Why? He constantly needed more blood. Where was it going?

Despite numerous tests, there was little evidence of a single source of a leak. It wasn’t showing up. So why did he need blood? Where was it going? Was his body like an old automobile engine, burning oil?

My humble, yet considered theory is that his arteries and veins — and especially the fine, delicate capillaries that deliver blood to the extremities and up to the skin — had become brittle from years of poor blood flow. When the LVAD powerfully and efficiently delivered blood, this force was more than these delicate tissues could handle. And the blood was absorbed into the body. It had seemingly disappeared. But it really hadn’t.

Is that really what happened? Is this really the explanation for why Dad consistently needed blood transfusions?

Nobody can convince me otherwise. No one else had a better, more plausible, more scientific explanation. And my theory seems to make sense.

Anyway… today’s Gospel triggered these memories today. Always happens. And the memories of those troubling, yet exhilarating and joyful months come flooding back into consciousness as if they happened yesterday.

I love you, Dad. Still miss you like crazy. Still blame you for my coffee addiction. Still ask you for help with the simplest home repair projects. And I still hear you say, chidingly, “atta boy” when I finally figure it out.

And we have the most serious man-to-man philosophical discussions… well, sure, they’re slightly one-sided. But they’re real. And really serious.



Reflections on My Dad’s Example


Norb Kwiecinski, my dad, knew how to make you feel completely comfortable.

Oh… he could make you squirm, too. Make no mistake! Don’t forget. He was also the toughest guy I ever knew.

And I may have provoked his “tough guy” side a time or two over the years…

But at his core, Dad’s enormously compassionate heart shone through.

Today, I took some time to reflect on Dad’s disarming, loving example. Please take some time to watch:

#dadupdate – Funeral Arrangements


Sometime during the first overtime.

Reality walloped me.

Right in the back of the skull. Like an accelerating two by four.

Like a battering ram. Reality came crashing through the walls of my defenses.

We got home around … hell, I don’t remember … 10:30? It was the third period of the hockey game. That’s all I know.

Sharks and Preds. Game four. Round two.

That’s how I tell time during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I’m not joking.  The world sorta stops for a few hours almost every single night for two months. A playoff game is on!

And it’s thanks to Dad that I watch with such fanatical fervor.

Like a kid. Still. Almost 58 years old.

That’s a topic for another time. More later.

But this week… and more particularly on this night… things are different.

I sat on the right edge of the bed. My side. TV on. Hockey game on. Kathy sawing logs behind me.

I’d taken my contacts out, so I was pretty much blind. Didn’t bother finding my glasses. I sat there and stared at my smartphone.

I looked at some Facebook notifications, posts and comments that Facebook decides are important to me. I saw Doug’s post about Dad’s funeral arrangements. Then Stephanie’s post.

I  shared Stephanie’s post on my Facebook page. Then I decided to share the actual obituary.

Earlier in the evening, before we left Mom and Dad’s house, I made the last-minute decision to cancel my appointments this morning.

It was too late to call anyone. I have a rule not to call a client after 9 PM. I sent texts and emails to cover all the bases.

One client acknowledged me immediately via text and asked for details about Dad’s services. I wanted to share a link to the obit.

The obit on the funeral home’s mobile website didn’t appear to be shareable. Before I shared it with my client, I tested it out to see what page opened when I typed the address into my browser.

It took me to a generic page for Simkins Funeral Home.

“Well, that’s no good. I want to give him information, not send him on a wild goose chase. He’s being very kind.”

I wanted whatever I sent to be complete information… didn’t want to make him work to answer his own question.

There was a link to the full website. That’s what I was looking for. Clicked on the obits. Clicked on Dad’s name.

There was his obit. With that great picture.

Was the link shareable? That was the most important part of this experiment.

I tested it.

Yes. That link took me directly to Dad’s complete obituary.

I sent the link to my client.

So there I was, sitting on the bed. After sharing Stephanie’s Facebook post, I decided to share this direct link to the full obituary.OI2047625967_Kwiecinski

Countless numbers of people have replied to Facebook posts and have sent me personal messages.

I haven’t seen most of them. We’ve been too busy with funeral arrangements, the cemetery, funeral Mass prep, fighting traffic…

As I sat on the edge of the bed, TV no more than four feet away (all I can see are shadows without glasses or contacts), I read some of the messages.

All of the emotions of the words written by friends and family welled up inside of me as I read and responded.

But none of the words hit me harder than gazing at that picture of Dad’s smiling face.

I’ll never see your smiling face again.

I’ll never hear another smart-ass wisecrack.

Doesn’t it look like he’s got one on his lips?

One look at that picture and tears flooded my eyes. I sobbed hysterically. And I pretty much haven’t stopped since.

I’ll never hear him tell me “Love you, Dave” again.

I’ll never hear his voice. I’ll never hear his laugh.

I’ll never kiss his puckered lips again.

Yes, we kissed each other on the lips.

Men, if you don’t kiss your Dad, start. Look directly into his eyes. Tell him you love him. While looking directly into his eyes.

And give him a kiss. Doesn’t have to be on the lips. But if you kiss your Mom on the lips, find a way to start kissing your Dad on the lips. Or on the cheek. Make it tender. Make it loving. Make it heartfelt.

I’ll never get to do it again.

Here’s Dad’s obituary:


Fifty Years Ago…


Fifty years ago today, May 1…

(Happy 12th anniversary, Aunt Bernie and Uncle Stan, by the way! 50 years ago, it was their 12th, that is.)

I made my First Holy Communion.

Ascension of Our Lord Church.

Evanston, Illinois.

Sunday, May 1, 1966.

Pastor: Rev. Edward Mika.

20160501_134045Could be among the oldest stuff that I own that’s actually my stuff.

20160501_134112Because it’s important to have my home address in the Mass book… and apparently, my name is simply too long.

20160501_134145Back side of the “Take and eat” holy card. From Aunt Bernie. With the names of my six cousins inscribed. Yes, only six ‘country cousins.’ In 1966, Mary was still only a twinkle in Uncle Stan’s eye.

20160501_134219I’m not sure who gave me this gift. Was it from the school/church? I don’t remember and didn’t see any marking on it.

20160501_134245But this one was from Babcia and Dziadzia Konieczka. Now, the question is, was it Mom’s Mom and Dad, my grandparents? Or was it Mom’s Babcia and Dziadzia, my great-grandparents? Hmm…

20160501_134324I love these books. The Mass book (Jesus Make Me Worthy) is dense! Much helpful information packed into almost 300 pages. Short, simple chapters. A wonderful explanation of the Mass, from the perspective of the pre-Vatican II liturgy, when the priest faced the altar and tabernacle at the back of the sanctuary, away from the congregation, in reverence to the Blessed Sacrament.

The confession book asks very simple questions of a child about behavior. Each Commandment has an illustration that makes right action and behavior even more understandable for a child.

20160501_134349Yeah, the tie actually fit.

20160501_134440A sample page from the book, preparation for First Communion. Among the densest of the pages. And Mom’s handwriting in the book given to me by Babcia i (“and”) Dziadzia Konieczka.

20160501_135444The end of the book. How’s this for a simple explanation for how a child should live?

Thanks, God, for the memories.

Dave’s Morning From Hell, 2016 Style – Take 2


Why, oh why I ask in earnest…

… and I mean in the earnestly utmost in earnestness…

… do these things seem to happen in pairs?

I’m praying it’s not in threes!

It all began last night…

(cue the flashback music and the weird fade)

“Bye, Stephen. Yeah, probably see you tomorrow. I’ll be asleep by 8:20.”

That’s Dad humor. It was 8:18. I was sprawled on the floor in the bedroom, laptop on the coffee table, legs splayed out, one under the coffee table, one out to the right side, face nearly planted on the keyboard. I couldn’t keep my dang eyes open.

Too many nights of four hours of sleep. Depression setting in with no Blackhawks hockey to watch for the next 147 days

— and then we’ve gotta endure that godawful World Cup of Hockey in Toronto before the real games commence (yeah… and hope and pray that nobody gets hurt while the boys “play for their country.” Before the season? Are you frickin’ kidding me???).

I was a tired, exhausted, sleepy little boy.

I’d already scraped the filthy, protein-rich (oh, and goozhy!) contacts off my eyeballs, so that chore was done. Cats were fed, although they were still protesting outside the castle gates, feigning starvation.

Crawled into bed sometime around 8:30. Kathy was already sitting on her side of the bed, hogging all the good pillows (“here, let me give you your pillows…” uh huh… sure).

And right on cue, as soon as the lights were out, Martha calls her.

Why is it, when someone is talking on the phone in the bedroom when the lights are out,

(and who else might be in the bedroom with the lights out? Again, I digress…)

… it seems like they are using a megaphone?

Pillows slammed against my ears, to no avail. As the seconds ticked by, I was feeling more and more wide awake.

Then, my poor tummy. No apparent reason, my stomach started aching something fierce. Not sure why. Body probably wasn’t used to me being in bed before midnight. The only plausible explanation.

At some point, I did manage to forget about the tum tum. Or perhaps the agony took its toll and made me pass out.

I woke up, wide flippin’ awake, at 3:05 AM. And it wasn’t even nature’s call.

Oh, I’m sorry. Too much information?

Wide awake. I must’ve fallen asleep sometime around 9, which meant that I got my six hours of sleep. On a good night, that’s usually all I get. I have a real hard time sleeping longer than six hours.


I had listened to a webinar earlier in the evening about the Divine Mercy.

You didn’t think there could possibly be a faith tie-in to all of this, did you?

During the webinar, Father Seraphim Michalenko of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception was speaking about forensics work that had been done to determine the approximate time that Jesus rose from the grave and said it was likely around 3 AM.

What else do you think about at 3 in the morning but that? So… of course I was wide awake recalling that he had said that, and knowing that my alarm was going off in less than an hour.

— at 4 AM… Read that? FOUR O’CLOCK A.M. —

I pondered my options.

“Well, I might as well start saying a Chaplet of Divine Mercy. That’ll put me back to sleep.”

I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that repetitive prayer is the best sedative in the world. Cures insomnia. Like that.


See? Just like that.

I started praying.

“Our Father, who art in heaven…”

And then, I must’ve dozed off. I was sure I made it through the first decade of the Chaplet. I started from where I thought I left off.

And it happened again.

And again.

“DING ding-ding DING DING….”

(I won’t bore you with the details of the tune.)

OH MY GOD! That’s Kathy’s phone alarm! OH, NO!!!!!!!

I leaped out of bed (that doesn’t happen often any more), grabbed my phone.

IT WAS 5:13!!!

I’m sure a few choice words passed through my lips.

I had 17 minutes to shave, brush my teeth, shower, do other necessary things…

Oh, I’m sorry. Too much information?

… make my oatmeal and feed the cats if I was going to get out of the house on time.

Oh! And reinstall the filthy contacts. See yesterday’s morning from hell.

17 minutes.

30 (ish) minute drive to Lake Forest.

6 AM appointment.

My morning was slammed. Back to back to back to back appointments. No room for wiggle.

(Wait… that’s not exactly how the saying goes, is it? Hey, gimme a break. I’m still groggy.)

I give myself 90 minutes in the morning. 60 if I am really, really, really, really tired. Like… after a four-hour night. Like most nights lately, actually.

Not this morning. SEVENTEEN MINUTES!

My poor little babies got the short end of it today. Not a lot of TLC from Daddy. But, hey, they got fed (and a little extra food, too, for their inconvenience) and got fresh water. Not a very tidy eating area, though.

And although it took me 27 minutes to get out of the house, the traffic gods were kind (notice: small ‘g;’ play along with me) and I got to my client’s house at just about the same time I arrive every morning.


Threw everything off the rest of the morning, though. Felt a little out of sorts as I went about my business.

And here’s the punch line. After I finished my appointments, sitting in my car, I scrolled through the notifications on my phone.

“You missed an alarm set for 4:00 AM this morning.”


I missed it? Me?

The bloody radio never turned on this morning! Alarm was set properly. The iHeart Radio app never turned itself on.

Fun with smartphones. You gotta love ’em. You gotta hate ’em.

Well, I guess you don’t gotta.

I gotta.

I also gotta set the alarm clock on the good ol’ fashioned clock radio tomorrow.

Me, sometime between 3:05 and 5:13 this morning.

Me, sometime between 3:05 and 5:13 this morning.

Dave’s Morning From Hell, 2016 Style


So… how’s your day going?

Here’s how mine started.

I awoke in a fog. No, not a hangover. I don’t drink. Well, not enough for that anyway. And no alcohol last night. The Blackhawks game was enough of a depressant. My eyes… my vision was blurry… was it pollen?

Uhhhhh, no.

Realized that I slept with my contact lenses in. My really old last pair of contact lenses that have to last until I get my @$$ in to see the eye doc.

Realized it after I rubbed my eyes furiously to get what I thought was the inordinate amount of goozh (yes, goozh… pronounce it as you see it) outta my eyes.

I rubbed and rubbed and rubbed. And how I didn’t rub the lenses right out of my eyes or tear them to shreds I’ll never know.

“It’s a miracle!”

There was some old commercial where an older lady said that line. Don’t even remember the product. And miracle was pronounced “MAR-a-cle.” As a matter of fact, the way I remember it, she said the sentence something like “Et’s a MARacle!”

That’s kinda like goozh, I guess.

(Should it be gooozh?? Hmm…)

(But I digress.)

So after unsuccessfully ripping the unsuspecting contact lenses from my eyes, I doused them with eye drops that specifically advise removing contact lenses before using.


Last pair.

Really old pair. And my glasses are worse. Truth.

Think it’s time for a trip to the optometrist? Yeah, I think so.

“Would be prudent,” to paraphrase Dana Carvey’s George Bush.

So after unsuccessfully ripping my eyes out, I proceeded to the kitchen to prepare breakfast for our little darlings.


Smoky. She’s really a lot more pleasant than this photo might otherwise suggest.

And of course, a trip downstairs for Smoky’s bowl. She’s the antisocial one. She keeps her distance from the other little darlings and eats alone.

Reaching for her bowl, I discovered Smoky had puked right next to her food dish.


While cleaning that up, I realized that she also puked in her bowl, on top of her leftover food.

Glad I noticed that before dumping it in with all the other leftover food.

Yes. Our cats eat leftovers.

So I took time to clean and disinfect her eating area.

Upstairs again to rinse out the bowls and toss some food in them. And race out the door. It was getting late.

Stepped over to the sink and dipped my toes in water.

That’s odd.

Was it pee?

Nope. Water.

Okay, I’ll wipe it up with a paper towel.

Put paper towel on floor. Paper towel is soaked through in milliseconds.

What the … ?!?

There’s a small lake on the floor.

Did the new dishwasher leak?? Don’t tell me…

Puddle only on the right side of the cabinet. Dry from the dishwasher. Hmm…

Open the cabinet, garbage disposal is leaking like a sieve. All over the already water-damaged floor of the cabinet. And draining onto the floor.

The kitchen floor....

The kitchen floor….

This day is starting well…

Old towel from the linen closet. Prop up a makeshift water basin under the sink.

I look at the clock. I should be walking out the door right now.


I usually listen to the daily readings and some other prayers while getting ready in the morning. It beats the trash on the radio. Yeah, I know… it’s more than that, but I don’t want you to think I’m some holy roller.

‘Cause I ain’t.

So I grab my phone (all that good stuff is on my phone) and notice that my low battery light is on.

Tornado narrowly missing Kirkland, Illinois last year.

Tornado narrowly missing Kirkland, Illinois last year.

What the … ?!?

I had the blasted thing plugged in all night! Or did I?

No. I swear I unplugged it when I got outta bed…

Well, anyway. The phone battery was pretty much dead.

All this before 4:30 this morning.

Oh. And today’s high temp? About 30 degrees colder than yesterday. Must be the start of another Cubs’ homestand.

But at least we dodged the severe weather.

And no tornadoes.

God never promised us it would be smooth sailing.

They stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead.   –   Acts 14:20


My day was not that bad.

Of course, I’ve yet to return to the homestead and don my Mr. Fix It cap…

Happy April Fool’s Eve, Darlin’!

I met my future wife right now, 10:30 PM — yes, that’s correct, on April Fool’s Eve — 32 years ago tonight, March 31, 1984.
I was waiting for the final decree of dissolution of marriage and not feeling very good about myself. A mid-life crisis at age 25. Hated my chosen profession. My opinion of myself wasn’t much better.
Then, I met Kathy, a divorced mom of two little ones. On April Fool’s Eve.
Little did she know, the joke was on her.
My life changed instantly. 15 months later, we were married. Instant fatherhood. Three more kids, seven grandchildren, and now another grandchild on the way, the first of our own progeny.
At Doug and Amy's wedding, 5/23/15.

At Doug and Amy’s wedding, 5/23/15.

The years have flown by. So many things have happened. Good. Bad. Sad. Happy. Awful. Miraculous.
We’ve hung onto the mast of the listing boat and sailed on very smooth seas. No doubt, more rocky waters are ahead. But that’s okay. That’s life.
I love ya, Kath. Thanks for putting up with me all these years.
As long as you’re in the boat with me, everything will be okay.
Stephen, Doug, Andy, Sarah, and Martha at Doug's and Amy's wedding, 5/23/15

Stephen, Doug, Andy, Sarah, and Martha at Doug and Amy’s wedding, 5/23/15.





What a day! Martha, the youngest of our five children, told us two weeks ago (or so) that she wanted to take us out to dinner for our (30th) anniversary, which is tomorrow.

“What are you guys doing on Sunday?” She wanted to know if we had plans the day before our anniversary. Maybe just to get away for a day. Maybe go for a long drive, which we like to do; drive to… wherever… then stop and do whatever. Depends where we end up.

Were we free? Why did she want to know?

Our traditional Independence Day celebration is at my mom and dad’s house in Morton Grove. We typically arrive before the parade and head to Harrer Park just before dusk for the best fireworks in the area.

So it was going to be a late night. We usually don’t get home until right around midnight.

Kathy and I told her that we didn’t have any plans. Since the Fourth was on a Saturday this year and Friday was the legal holiday, Kathy has to work Monday, our actual anniversary.

Despite her attempt to get the day off months ago.


We were just planning to relax and recoup after a hectic Saturday, so no… we had no plans.

Last week, she gave us the “bad news” that after our late night of fireworks and way too much food at Mom and Dad’s house, we would need to leave really early on Sunday. She made a reservation and the only time she could get was early.

And she wasn’t kidding that we needed to leave early. 9:30. That’s early for a dinner!

Where the heck were we going? St. Louis??

She wasn’t telling.

But it was her treat and she wanted to surprise us.

Sure enough, we didn’t get home last night until 12:02. It was going to be a short night. We figured we could go to church at St. Therese. They have an 8:30 Mass. And we could leave right from there.

The best laid plans…

Despite the cats’ best efforts, they couldn’t wake me up until 7:36.


We were going to be late for church…

We managed to get there just after Mass began, but we were going to have to stop at home before leaving for the restaurant.

Martha asked if she could drive. It was her surprise, so of course we agreed.

We drove south. I-294 to I-88 and off the highway near Oak Brook.

I guessed wrong. As we approached our destination, I thought we were going to The Melting Pot in Downers Grove, one of Martha’s favorite restaurants.


We ended up at Drury Lane.

We were going to see a show!


As we walked inside, Martha told us we were having brunch.

When we walked into the dining area, her secret was exposed.

Aidan and Andrew! I saw two of our grandsons walking into the buffet area.

At two tables in one of the large dining rooms sat our other four kids, spouses, their kids, Martha’s boyfriend, Chris, and Mom and Dad.

The tears began flowing immediately.

If you live or ever visit the Chicago area, you must visit Drury Lane for their Sunday brunch. There were more food choices than you can imagine. Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner. Dessert. Ice cream bar. Fruit bar. Salad bar. At least half a football field long.

I’m not doing it justice.

But that’s not the point of my story.

It was the surprise.

The masterful job done by Martha to orchestrate everything.

We thanked each of the kids profusely and every one of them told us that it was all Martha’s doing.

We stayed, ate, drank, talked, laughed (after Kathy and I finished crying), drank and ate and talked some more.

And ate some more.

And said we were full.

And ate some more.

We stayed for more than three hours. We “closed” the joint. Well… at least the buffet.

Stephen had to leave early because he had to work. He does some work at the fitness center in Waukegan on Sundays. Duty called. He left around noon.

Before we left, we asked one of the waiters to snap a photo, sans Stephen.

Thanks, Mom and Dad. Thanks, Chris. Thanks, Stephen. Thanks, Doug and Amy. Thanks, Andy and Cheryl, Andrew, Addison, Catelyn, and Charlie. Thanks, Sarah and Dan, Alexis, Aidan, and Ethan.

And thanks, Martha.

We love all of you so much we can’t stand it. Thanks for a weekend full of fun, full of love, and capped with one massive surprise.

Anniversary Surprise

Anniversary Surprise

Our Enlightened Society


“We are too much taken up with our own passions; and are too solicitous about transitory things.

“Seldom do we perfectly overcome so much as one vice, nor are we earnestly bent upon daily progress; therefore we remain cold and tepid.”

– Thomas a Kempis, “The Imitation of Christ,” Book I, Ch. 11, n. 2


“Is it possible that we ‘enlightened’ mortals of the 21st Century really don’t have any new ideas and brave new breakthroughs about what’s right, what’s best?

“Is it possible we overestimate our ‘progressive’ wisdom?

“Is it possible we don’t understand, comprehend, or express the true meaning of Love?”

– The Philosophy of Dave





Happy Birthday, Stephen


A birthday story. In semi-chronological order.

35 years ago today — May 28, 1980 — was my first day of full-time professional employment. Tribune Company, 435 N. Michigan Avenue,  23rd Floor, Tribune Tower.

I had graduated three days earlier. Yup. Three days.


Nothing like getting right down to it.

A month to the day later, June 28, I was getting married.

I had life all mapped out. College graduate. World by the tail. I knew what I wanted and we were moving forward with executing the master plan, starting today, May 28, 1980.

I had no idea what was going to happen in the years that followed. Years that look far different than the path I was headed down then. I could not have imagined how different my life was going to be. If not for a series of twists and turns and good fortune, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

This isn’t about me. It’s about you. But for sake of background, from May 28, 1980:

Wedding. Separation. Moved home (to Grandma and Grandpa’s). Divorce (no kids). Met Mom. And met Sarah and Andy. Gave Mom a ring. Married Mom; that same day, I became a dad. Moved to Arizona August 1985. Doug born. Moved to Gurnee December 1986.

Remember this? Apache Lake, Arizona, 2006.

Remember this? Apache Lake, Arizona, 2006. Stephen and Martha.


We settled in to our home in Gurnee, two blocks from Aunt Bernie and Uncle Stan, and Sarah and Andy settled in at St. Patrick School after jumping from school to school (Chicago, Rockford, Tempe) since fall of ’84. Mom stayed at home and I was as adventurous as ever when it came to jobs. Three different stops by 1988.

And then 27 years ago today — May 28, 1988 — you were born.

Stephen popsicles 904129_10201237710811808_2121718102_o

Healthy eater from way back!

You were always on the go. Never slowed down. In fact, we knew beyond a shadow of a doubt when you were really sick. That’s the only time you slowed down.

Stephen 6th birthday 1510930_10152124423427114_1194564090_n

Pretty sure this was your 6th birthday by a quick count of the candles.

Those years in the green house sure flew by. Martha was born 15 months after you. By your sixth birthday (1994), all you guys were already stuck with me as a full-time accessory. Mom started nursing school in 1990. In 1992, I got fired (“laid off”) for the second time in two tax seasons. I was through with attempting to be a good employee and I commandeered the living room for my office. Mom helped me start my own full-time tax business.

The years flew by. Your grade school years were a blur.

Stephen's birthday 483967_10152124428412114_405289852_n

I don’t think this was your birthday party. I think this was at Mr. and Mrs. Brokaw’s house. But it had to be around the time we moved to Winthrop Harbor.

Cub Scouts and basketball and Martha to Girl Scouts and of course everybody had to go almost everywhere we went. Then the move to Winthrop Harbor, first the blue house and then into our house on Fulton in November 1997. And soccer. And baseball.

All of the sudden, everybody was in high school.

A blur.

Stephen 11144946_10153373740037840_7812351075886637232_oSarah and Andy got married. You became a master rollerboarder (Grandpa’s term for skateboarding). You joined Zion-Benton’s cross country team in your senior year. Wow!

Stephen in car around 2007 55184_547157656455_6128157_o

Not sure which car this is. I think Will took this photo.

You have always — ALWAYS! — done things your way. I’m not sure you give yourself enough credit for that.

Your 24th birthday party.

Your 24th birthday party.

You are introspective, funny, bold, and super-creative. You don’t just “push buttons.” You walk up to the panel of buttons, lay your body across the entire panel, all at once, and ask “what does this one do?” You keep us on our toes and you keep us in stitches. And that’s not forced. You have a genuine gift of humor and lightheartedness. That’s a good thing.

Stephen Groundhog Day 2013 843843_10151413247567840_1188901950_o

Woodstock, Illinois. “Groundhog Days” 2013. Reliving the filming of Groundhog Day.

You also have a heart of gold.

You’re a good friend.

That’s why two men chose you to be their Best Man at their weddings.

Stephen toasting at Eilert's wedding 537634_10100389555001058_144978966_n

Toasting Eilert and Ari.

These are just a quick handful of memories of my baby boy (you will always be my baby boy, Stephen, no matter how old you get). You bring so much life into our days. You have so many talents to share with the world. You are good. You are honest. You are not afraid to discuss a difficult subject or tackle a difficult task. I love you and I am proud of you. Happy birthday, Stephen. May today be the first day of your best year ever.

Stephen, Andy, Sarah, and Martha looking on during the photo session after Doug and Amy's wedding.

Stephen, Andy, Sarah, and Martha looking on during the photo session after Doug and Amy’s wedding.

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