Friday, December 26, 2014

Our annual family Christmas Eve celebration...

... as we continue the tradition established by our parents and continuing uninterrupted for 7 decades-plus.  This brief video exemplifies our party...

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Village Singers of Lake Zurich Christmas Concert

The Village Singers of Lake Zurich 2014 Christmas Concert was another huge success!
(click to enlarge photos)


Behind the scenes:  Our accompanist, Tara, director Martin, and in the background, audio engineer, Jean, all contributed big time to our successful performances!


As is our custom, audience members were invited to join us for our final number from Handel's "Messiah" -- the Hallelujah Chorus.  It's wonderful when there are so many joining us that it gets crowded up there!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Videos of My Road Scholar/Elderhostel Adventure Programs

I've participated in 38 Road Scholar/Elderhostel programs and have uploaded 27 movies of these programs on YouTube. Here's the link to my Road Scholar playlist.  Click on the icon at the top left of the black box before the word "PLAYLIST" to see the titles of all the available videos...

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Yelp! Sucks

I've often relied on Orbitz hotel reviews and also Amazon product reviews to guide me (and I've written numerous reviews for Orbitz and Amazon), but Yelp never was on my personal radar, probably through ignorance on my part.  But a few months after we moved Mom into the Alexian Brothers Hospice Residence faculty, my sister happened upon a Yelp review for the facility, and the review was a complete hatchet job. Since at least one of us had been at the facility every day for months, we were appalled at the inaccuracies and lies contained in the negative review. Also, it was very poorly written, confusingly worded,  and extensively employed distortion, outright lies, and name-calling. 

We both felt bad, and eventually over the four months that Mom was at the facility, we both grew more and more angry and dismayed over the inaccurate portrayal of the facility.  I also talked with some of the staff (who were unaware of the bad review) and they were also dismayed and immediately able to determine that the author was someone whose loved one had only been there one night and had been told to leave several other facilities due to constant complaining and criticism.  So after Mom died, I signed up for a Yelp account and wrote a positive review based on our experiences

Much to my dismay, when I checked my review a few weeks later, it had been removed by Yelp! Actually, I found it later at the bottom of the page, when I followed a link to an "unapproved review." Unapproved? Huh! I researched a bit more. Some computer algorithm had decided my glowing review was fabricated - yet the fabricated and untruthful negative review had been approved? WTF! More investigation discovered a Forbes article as well as many others, and even websites dedicated to the unfairness of Yelp's process for inclusion/exclusion of reviews. And there's no way to contact a human referee to arbitrate the computer algorithm's decision!

So I filled out a form I finally located on Yelp's site and I said this:

Crap! My review is not recommended due to software? My mom was in this residence for 18 weeks and I spent quite a while on the review! It is truthful and I am not an employee! The only other review, which was from a disgruntled customer and based on 1 night in the hospice, was accepted? What's up with that? I am astonished and dismayed at Yelp. I thought it was a good service but now I have real doubts!

A few days later got this automatic reply:

Thanks for writing.
We use automated software designed to recommend the reviews that will be most helpful to the Yelp community. The software applies the same standards to every business and every review, and we can’t manually override the results for any single business or review. If we could, people might think that we favor some businesses over others.
Nevertheless, it’s always helpful to get feedback – we are continually working to improve the algorithm so that it can recommend the best reviews for our community.

-The Yelp Support Team

So Yelp! is again off my radar and relegated to the heap of other crap websites out to make money for someone rather than provide an accurate service for consumers.

Alexian Brothers Hospice Residence in Elk Grove Village, Illinois

The following is a review I submitted to Yelp after my mother had spent the final 18 weeks of her life in this facility.  I was dismayed to discover a few weeks later, that Yelp had moved my review to a section called "Not approved" based on some computer.


  My Mom was a resident for 18 weeks, so my sister and/or I were daily visitors to the Alexian Brothers Hospice Residence and became very conversant with the facility. The staff (doctors, nurses, aides, housekeeping, and volunteers) are all friendly and helpful and willingly interact with patients and visitors. All are willing to spend whatever time is necessary to answer your questions and fulfill your requests. The staff-patient ratio is far smaller than at a nursing home or on a hospital floor (there are only 16 rooms in the facility which is only a year old) and all personnel are specially trained for hospice care.

The rooms are very large, private, and well-appointed.  The beds are queen size with state-of-the art power beds, allowing for comfort for bedridden patients.  They even encourage you to get onto the bed to be close to the patient.  Each room is spacious, well-lit with six windows, and offers views outside at the lush landscaped campus.  Each room has three chairs, several tables and a large window seat and ledge for photo frames, books, flowers, etc., as well as wall shelves for photo albums and books.  The room also has a closet, a large washroom with handicap shower, and a small "kitchen" area with sink and mini-fridge.  A ceiling fan over the bed and thermostat on the wall allow for individual heat/cool preferences.  The rooms are pretty well soundproofed so little outside traffic noise can be heard, and since there is far less hustle and bustle compared to a hospital or nursing home, there is little commotion from the hall.  When the daily hall vacuuming occurs, closing the thick door shuts out that noise.  A huge wall-mounted LCD TV screen offers over a hundred satellite channels as well as dozens of music channels.

 Meals are ordered from the hospital menu that allows any choices you want for any meal.  Mom was paralyzed, so if we weren't there to assist with feeding, the staff assisted Mom with the meal. There is a fully equipped kitchen that families can use, either cooking meals from scratch or bringing food in to eat there.  Volunteers make delicious cookies daily for all who wish to partake.

There are two large sitting areas on either side of the main entrance, one with a fireplace and the other with a piano. Music therapy is provided, with piano music in the lobby area and a singer/guitarist who goes room to room.  Two family washrooms are available in the hallways in each wing of the building, and private consultation rooms allow for meetings with doctors and social workers, etc. Laundry service is available daily, and each resident's laundry is washed separately.

There is a large parking lot and the facility is located just seconds from the Biesterfield Road on/off ramps from Route 53/I-290.

A lovely chapel seats about 20 with windows on three sides, looking out over the lovely landscaping, and several chaplains visit regularly.

The cost of $350 a day is all-inclusive.  When compared with nursing homes (and adding in all the extras that nursing homes charge for seemingly every little thing) the cost is comparable, but you probably wouldn't have a private room in the nursing home and the patient/nurse ratio would be  much higher.  The peace of mind and level of extraordinary care provided to the residents cannot be given a price tag, and I highly recommend Hospice Residence for those who can afford it.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

In Memorium: Mom

Here's the eulogy I gave at Mom's memorial service:
(click to enlarge photos)

A Life Well-Lived and Well-Loved


August 4, 1924 - September 3, 2014

Good morning!
My sister, Linda, and I want to thank you all for being here today to celebrate the life of our Mom, Edith.   We also want to thank Immanuel Lutheran Church, which has been her home church since moving into the retirement home eight years ago, and to Pastor Phil who has been visiting her regularly.  She outlived all her family and friends except her brother, Otto, who is 95 and unable to make the trip from Louisville, but he sends his condolences through his daughter, Claudia and her husband, Bob, who are present.   Linda and I also thank all who sent Mom dozens and dozens of cards and well-wishes during her illness.

One of her greatest joys these last few months, as her body and mind were failing her, was to have family visits.  My godly sister, Linda, was at the hospice residence two or more times a day, and I got there four or five times a week.  But even more special to Mom were the visits from her three grandkids, Suzie, and Scott, and Steve and their wives, and the visits from many of our cousins who live in the area.  Thanks to all of you for remembering Mom and visiting her.  

But what Mom most enjoyed were the visits by her great-grandson, Elias.  Just saying his name always brought a huge smile to her face, and she’d always exclaim, “What a sweetheart he is!”   A lot of photos of her and Elias were prominent in her hospice room, and she was always anxious to see the latest photos of him on my iPad.  And it was a special day indeed when all the family and Elias celebrated her 90th birthday with a beautiful cake and a party with all the family in her hospice room.

Mom was a gracious, kind, generous, positive, humble woman and a fantastic mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, sister, cousin, aunt, and friend.  She was deeply and firmly rooted in Christ and known for her servant’s heart, a heart that was pure and kind and always joyful.  She lived her life in a way that announced to everyone that she was a Christian, and today as we commemorate her life, we also celebrate her homecoming to God.

Robert Gibson said “A Christian is a keyhole through which other folks see God.”  This was certainly true of Mom.  Her exuberant spirit was always upbeat, uplifting, and optimistic, always happy and hopeful and exalting in the good inside people and the good things around her.   When life presented her with a lemon, she always chose to make lemonade.  At her retirement home, at the hospital, in the nursing home, and finally at the hospice, nurses and aides regularly told us how Mom always made them smile and laugh and made everyone feel welcome and important.  As news of her passing went through the hospice, all the nurses, aides, and even the housekeeping staff, came to say “goodbye” to her, and all commented on the effect she’d had on them over her 17 week stay there.  And our cousin, David, when I emailed him a photo of Mom and informed him of her hospice placement, responded, “Even though she looks tired, she still has that beautiful light in her eyes and radiance to her face.” 

Recently, Linda and I were with Mom as her lunch was delivered by an aide, and Linda began to assist Mom, moving things around on the hospital tray table.  Mom told her to move the slice of lemon meringue pie (her favorite dessert) out of the way, so Linda took it and was about to place it over on the window ledge, when Mom laughingly scolded, “Not THAT far away!”  The aide was still in the room and said to us, laughing, “There she goes again! Always making us laugh!” 

Friends have talked about the difficulties they faced when their aging parents had to be told they couldn’t drive anymore.  When Mom realized she couldn’t pass her driver’s license exam about age 82, she voluntarily chose to give up driving, and then realizing she couldn’t continue to live in her condo without her car for transportation, she chose to move to the retirement home, where she quickly got involved with their activities, made new friends, and even raved about the food — and never looked back — again making lemonade from lemons.

As I watch my son Scott interact with his new son, Elias, I'm reminded just how much parents influence their children, for that surely is one of the prime responsibilities of parenting.  Parents are charged with serving as good examples for their children, for steering their children in the right directions — in short, for influencing their kids in a multitude of positive ways.   And that got me to realize just how much I had been influenced by Mom over the years, and I came to understand that Mom certainly fulfilled that parental role for Linda and me — from our earliest childhood years right up through Mom’s retirement years.  And as I thought about how much I have been influenced by Mom, I was astonished at how my life has indeed been shaped by her examples.

At a very young age she got us both involved in her church on Chicago’s north side, less than a mile from our house.  Sunday School every week. Vacation Bible School during two weeks of every summer.  Attendance at church services every week, even from a young age.  Luther League youth group.  And she encouraged me to join the church’s first youth choir in 1959.  Mom herself was active in numerous church activities, like choir and Women’s Guild and teaching classes and bell choir and Women’s Circle, thus providing a strong example for us to get involved in church life.  Thanks Mom, for raising us in the church and influencing us to become immersed in church activities.

For years, Mom volunteered at the local food pantry back in the old neighborhood.  After she retired, Mom volunteered both at her church and also at the Lutheran Church World Missions office in Chicago, and her example has led Linda and me to volunteer in various capacities in our retirements, activities that provide both of us with joy and a way to give back to society.  Thanks, again, for your Christian example and giving heart Mom!  

And how Mom loved music.  She loved playing her own piano and organ, and she also enjoyed being a bell ringer in the church bell choir.   And of course, she also loved singing -- while sitting in the church pew, or singing Christmas carols at our family’s annual Christmas Eve party, or in the church choir, or with her beloved Sweet Adelines barbershop chorus.  Singing in a choir is yet another example of what she taught me to love, something I’ve done for over 50 years.  Thanks, again, Mom!

Mom had been the valedictorian of her high school graduation class and president of the Honor Society, and the expectation from both her and Dad was always that we would study and do well in school.  She was active in the PTA at our elementary school where Linda and I attended, and she was involved in other activities at the school like bake sales and open house nights, which was how Mom got to know the principal, Mrs. Fitzgerald.  And though it’s probably hard for you to believe, on one occasion (well, maybe a couple), I was sent to the principal’s office — for talking — and that’s how I got to know Mrs. Fitzgerald, and she and I would sit at her desk and converse about Mom for a while until I had been “disciplined” appropriately, and then I’d go back to class, completely “reformed” — at least until the next time!

My parents rarely spanked me as a child, and the few times it happened I suppose it was deserved, but as a result I developed a severe psychological condition — a condition better known as “respect for others.”  And I thank Mom (and Dad) for that, too!  And I believe, I hope, I have passed that same psychological condition on to my sons, too!

Though Mom and Dad had never had the opportunity to attend college, that expectation was always clearly understood by me — that I would be the first in our family to go to college.  And since the family had no spare money to pay for tuition, it was also expected that while in high school, I would have a paper route or other job during the school year and a full-time job every summer vacation, and that I would save my earnings for college.  And I’m so grateful to Mom for the doors that were opened to me thanks to that college education, and also for teaching me the value of earning money for what you want to purchase.

A good friend of the family was the Cub Scoutmaster and so Mom got me involved in Scouting, first Cub Scouts and later Boy Scouts, which fostered my lifelong passion for the outdoors and for Nature and hiking and camping and backpacking, another thing I thank Mom for leading me to, since these activities have proven to be highlights of my life and have brought me great joy.

Dad wasn’t big on vacation trips, and the only one I can recall as a kid was a drive around Lake Michigan.  But I got sick the second or third day of that trip and we had to return home.  I always secretly feared that my illness was what put a damper on our traveling as a family.  But even though Dad wasn’t keen on traveling, it turned out that Mom loved it, and she took me on a wonderful train excursion to Niagara Falls when I was about 12.  And then in 1959, she introduced Linda and me to the West as we drove with Uncle Fritz and Aunt Alma and cousin Sandy to Devil’s Tower and Wall Drug and Badlands National Park and Mt. Rushmore and the Black Hills and Black Canyon of the Gunnison.  But the highlight of that trip was visiting Dad’s cousin, Uncle Jake and his wife Aunt Elma in Colorado, where Uncle Jake was the US Forest Service Ranger for the San Isabel National Forest.  He took us on a tour of “his” national forest, and seeing the magnificence of the Rockies made an everlasting impression on me, and ever since, the West in general and national parks and national forests in particular, have been entrenched deeply into my soul.  Thank you so much for that, too, Mom!

On that trip, I remember Uncle Jake driving us to the top of Tenderfoot Mountain in Salida, Colorado, driving up Spiral Drive which corkscrews around the mountain three times to reach the top. Now you may not be aware, but Mom was not comfortable with heights, and she was sitting in the front passenger seat as Jake drove that one-and-a-half lane dirt road to the top, so she was looking straight down hundreds of feet to the bottom.  Mom was obviously very nervous, and she reminded Uncle Jake that he had one glass eye and hence no depth perception.  And as Mom sat in the passenger seat with the steep drop off just a few feet from her, she feverishly let Jake and us know of her discomfort, and I recall Uncle Jake boasting to her that he felt safer driving that dirt road than driving on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue in Rush Hour.  And then he said, “Why, Edith, I bet you I can even make a U-turn right here on this narrow road.  Want to see me do it?” and he slowed and pretended to begin a U-turn.  Mom went apoplectic and Jake and the rest of us had a good laugh.

Mom also organized driving trips to Louisville to visit Uncle Otto and Aunt Mary and my cousins Cheryl and Claudia and Eric, and later, a trip down to Florida and then up the east Coast to New York City, and also a wonderful trip in 1968 to the World’s Fair (HemisFair) in San Antonio.  And she and I did a driving trip around Lake Superior through Canada.  Yes, she loved to travel!  After Dad died, Mom traveled a lot with her neighbor, Hazel, both in this country and Canada and also to Europe, and many times after she no longer could travel, she counseled me, “Chuck, go travel while you still can, so you never have regrets.”

And after no longer traveling, she enjoyed looking back at her numerous vacation albums so she could re-live her wonderful trips, and these last few months in hospice, we placed her dozen or so vacation albums prominently in her room, and she often reminisced about her travels and her good friends Hazel and Louise and all the joy that travel had brought to her life.  And as she’d been doing for decades, she still encouraged me to keep traveling and to always take photos to recall my trips.  And there’s no doubt in my mind that she imbedded deep within me, both the wanderlust travel bug and the photography bug.  Thank you very much for that sage advice, Mom!
During her months in the hospice, the brain tumor left her bedridden and paralyzed on her right side. So after a while of sitting up in bed, gravity would have her slide downwards and a bit sideways, necessitating the nurses and aides to pull her back up into position towards the top of the bed.  One time after doing so, an aide told Mom, "You are a traveler," and when I laughed, I had to explain to the aide that Mom had indeed, always been a traveler!

So I thank God for blessing us with Mom and her godly influence and Christian example!  And though she’s gone, she still lives within Linda and me and within many of you here today. 

When a loved one dies, people often say they "lost" that person.  Deep down inside, Linda and I know Mom’s not lost, for we know with certainty where she is. And she's not really gone.  We’ve just temporarily lost contact with her.

I love that brief story by noted author and educator Henry van Dyke, which I paraphrase now:   I’m at the seashore watching Mom depart on a ship.  I stand and watch as her ship skims the water’s surface towards the far horizon, growing smaller by the minute. And then she’s gone.

But gone where?  Gone merely from MY sight.

She and the ship are still just as large and real as when they departed this shore.  And just as I say the words, “She’s gone,” those who are already beyond the horizon on that farther shore are jubilantly shouting, “Here she comes!  Her she comes!”

For such is death.   A trip from here — to a far better there.

As Dr. Calvin Miller wrote: “Dying is but getting dressed for God.  Our graves are but doorways cut in the sod.”

Always remember:  Memory is one gift of God that death cannot destroy!  

So we will all cherish our personal memories of Mom.  We celebrate her exemplary life, a life well-lived, we cherish the lessons she imparted to us, we recall with loving smiles the good times and conversations we shared  — and though we mourn what we have just lost, we rejoice in what Mom has just now gained.

And as one of my favorite gospel songs says:  Now “I’ve got more to go to heaven for, than I had yesterday!”

God bless you Mom! And thank you for all the lessons you taught me and the example you set. We love you, Mom!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Video Tour of "The Footsteps of St. Paul" Excursion

In 2014, I went on a glorious tour of Turkey and Greece 
as we followed the footsteps of St. Paul's three 
Missionary Journeys.  Below are 14 videos of the 
18 ancient ruins we visited.






























Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Corn Palace of Mitchell, South Dakota

Built in 1892, the Corn Palace hosts over 500,000 visitors each year, celebrating the rich South Dakota soil and agriculture industry with "Crop Art" and "Ear-chitecture," both inside and outside its walls.

The building is used for sporting events, concerts, community events, and exhibits, with 43,500 square feet of floor space and a capacity of 3200 spectators. It is home to both local college and high school basketball teams, has an annual rodeo, and a polka festival.

The streets around the Palace are closed this year for a major upgrade/renovation to the facility, but it is still open to visitors, and as always, entrance is free.

Local artists design the exterior and interior corn (and other grain) murals, as seen in this photo, laying out the colors for the picture (click to enlarge.)

Here are a few of the exterior artworks this year...

...and here are some of the interior works...

It is only minutes off I-90 and signs guide you to the free parking lots.  Check it out if you are in the area!  I've been there half a dozen or more times and still enjoy the artwork!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Badlands National Park (South Dakota)

The Glories of Yellowstone National Park

(My tenth trip to Yellowstone)

Excelsior Geyser.

Lake Yellowstone from Grand Campground.

Prismatic Hot Springs Pool at Old Faithful Geyser Basin.

Famous Morning Glory Hot Spring Pool at Old Faithful Geyser Basin.

View from high mountain pass along Route 89 in northern section of Yellowstone.

Old Faithful and the crowds appreciating the eruption.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.

Norris Geyser Basin and its other-worldly appearance.

The Glories of Grand Teton National Park

My tenth trip to Grand Teton National Park

Clouds obscuring top and bottom of mountains (taken from Jackson Lodge.)

Marina at Colter Bay.

Flowers, lake, and mountains from trail at Colter Bay.

  • Reflections in Jackson Lake.

Hidden Falls near Inspiration Point.

Fawn at campground.

Marmot along Lakeshore Trail along Jenny Lake.

Chipmunk begging for food at Inspiration Point. (No, I didn't feed him!)

Mule deer grazing on side trail off Lakeshore Trail.