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When I was a kid, Easter was always a packed (yet wonderful) day. All of my grandparents lived in Kanawha, Iowa, about three hours from my hometown Williamsburg. We got there on Saturday because the sunrise service at my paternal grandmother’s Lutheran church started at 5:30 Easter morning.

My grandparents, Harold and Nettie Assink's house in Kanawha, Iowa.

My grandparents, Harold and Nettie Assink's house in Kanawha, Iowa.

There was a breakfast served by the church’s youth group who led the short service depicting the empty tomb from which Jesus had risen. After breakfast and visiting with my parents’ friends, we would go to my maternal grandparents’ house just a few blocks away and wait for the service at their Christian Reformed Church to begin at 9:30 a.m.

I do recall being rather sleepy many times during that service but the beautiful music and inspirational Easter message kept me awake. After that service and more visiting with friends and relatives, we went back to Grandma and Grandpa Assink’s house and prepared the Easter feast. And what a feast is was. Three or four courses. Salads. Desserts. Meat and potatoes.

Before the day was over, we headed to my Grandma Asbe’s on the farm and had another feast. It did not matter how much we ate earlier in the day, we all seemed up for more great home cooked food.  It truly was one of the most filling days of the year.

Things have obviously changed since I was a kid. Grandma Asbe died in 2000 and the farm was sold. Grandpa Assink died in 2004 but Grandma Assink stayed in the big yellow house on Main Street.

What my grandma's house looked like in the final stages of moving.

What my grandma's house looked like in the final stages of moving.

But the three-level house became just too big for her with the washer and dryer in the basement and the bedrooms and bathrooms on the third floor. So she made the decision to move into an apartment which could better suit her needs.

Last weekend was the monumental moving day. My parents and aunts and uncles from all over the country were there throughout most of the week, helping transfer 56 years of life in one house – 56 years. Three of my grandparents’ five daughters knew only that house as their parents’ and all of us grandkids knew no other.

My grandpa's hats, just as he left them, in an upstairs cabinet.

My grandpa's hats, just as he left them, in an upstairs cabinet.

I didn’t know how emotional I would be seeing it for the last time. In the past decade I didn’t go up there that often – once a year at most. I also knew it would be best for my grandmother to live in a single-level place close to some of her friends and family.

But when my brother and I walked in the house last Saturday, it was a jolt. Only the piano, dining room table and assorted boxes and piles of memories remained. Upstairs, I looked through the closets and built-in cabinets, snooping like I always did. In one cabinet sat my grandpa’s hats, untouched since before he died. In the basement grandpa’s woodworking bench remained as he left it. Grandma’s canning jars were lined up on the shelves, amazingly void of any dust.

Grandma Assink, always the character, enjoying pie in her new apartment.

Grandma Assink, always the character, enjoying pie in her new apartment.

As I walked through the house one last time, I thought of all those Easters and Christmases filled with love and laughter. My generation now has families and our kids are the same age we were while traipsing through grandma and grandpa’s house. I hope the people who end up buying the yellow house keep that family tradition alive. They have big shoes to fill. Just remember: the yellow house has been filled with children, music, food, love and laughter for more than 50 years. Please don’t let it be lonely for too long.

Richard Dedor led a workshop about focus at the 2009 Beyond Rubies Conference in March at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids. Here is what he says about focusing on yourself:

By Richard Dedor

Richard Dedor at Beyond Rubies

Richard Dedor at Beyond Rubies

My first session at the 2009 Beyond Rubies Conference is by far my most popular and the one I enjoy the most. It focuses around the general idea that you as an individual need to make sure you focus your energies in the right place: on the things you’re passionate about. Those can be anything from writing or reading to working out or to playing with your dog. With our busy lives, we often cut out the things that truly give you energy and that fuel your fire for life. It’s time to take that back. It’s time to re-focus your energy towards your passions. It starts now.

The first thing you have to do is find your passion. What is it? What do you love doing? What do you want to be doing more? For me, the answer is I want to be doing more painting. I haven’t been motivated the last few weeks, but the painting I am on right now is almost done. I just need to get up and do it. Finish it. Focus on the passion. Once you have that, immerse yourself in it. Make it yours. Make it a priority.

Once you have your passion in mind, you have to organize your life to make the passion a part of your life. “Not enough time,” is no longer an acceptable excuse. This is your life; you need to take control of it!

The most challenging aspect of taking control of your life is focused around the essence of compassion. This is a huge factor impacting success in your life and in the world at large. Not only do you need to be compassionate towards your own life, you have to be compassionate to those around you. It’s about offering a helping hand when you can. Spreading encouraging words and empowering others to find their passions or just to simply smile on a rainy day. It’s about learning from other people.

Anyone who attends a workshop of mine goes through an interactive activity built around the belief that  every person in the world has learned something that someone else can learn something from, a Life Lesson if you will. If you’re interested in learning more and sharing your lesson (http://www.richarddedor.com/contact/submitlifelesson/), or signing up (http://www.richarddedor.com/resources/focusyourlife/index.php) to learn from others, please do!

As you’re learning more about yourself, you have to continue to upgrade your skills. You need to grow. I’ve been doing that with Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/richarddedor) lately and I’m excited about the possibilities and how much I can learn! My next venture will be YouTube self-help videos that are currently in the development stages. I’m always learning.

Finally, you can’t do any of these things if you can’t manage your stress. There was a recent cover story in Newsweek about how stress can be healthy. I absolutely agree, but stress to the point where you can’t function productively or positively and when it starts to affect your health – well, that’s bad stress! You have to make sure the stress you do have is manageable and pushes you forward, not downward.

I know I said a lot and I have more to say. You can learn more about all these things on my blog at http://www.richarddedor.com/blog

Gazette Communication’s Information Content Conductor Steve Buttry (in short, my boss) posed a question at the end of his March 23 column regarding the Linn Area Reads program.  This year’s program features “Tallgrass” by Sandra Dallas and Harper Lee’s classic novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which delves into the delicate issue of racism in America. Steve asked readers what issues a modern-day Harper Lee should address today.

Longtime Cedar Rapids resident and Gazette reader Ray Buck e-mailed Steve of a possible Harper Lee in our midst today.

Rules by Cynthia Lord

Rules by Cynthia Lord

Ray wrote: “Cynthia Lord and she has written a lovely children’s book, Rules. It is a novel that looks at feeling different yet finding acceptance in today’s crazy, demanding world. You mentioned both of your books were told through the eyes of a young girl. Rules is a story told by a 12 year old girl with an autistic younger brother. About a snooty new neighbor and a young man, ‘handicapped’ with no voice.”

Steve forwarded me Ray’s e-mail because I often write about my son, Sage, who is on the autism spectrum and has ADHD as well. Ray is the grandfather of an autistic child, Jack.

What struck me most about Ray was his willingness to learn about the disorder that affects approximately 1 in 150 children. Autism is a difficult disorder to understand and, sometimes, to accept. It affects an individual’s ability to socialize, make transitions and in extreme cases, function. There are outbursts, tantrums, obsessions, inappropriate comments, incessant talking, and, sometimes, no talking at all.

It is instinctive to think these children are “bad” and their parents are not disciplining them enough. It can be especially difficult for grandparents and others  in Ray’s generation (he’s 68)  to understand these children. But Ray and his wife, Karren, are making every effort to understand their grandson.

When the Bucks’ grandson was diagnosed with autism, their son Brad and his wife Traci involved them with the process.

Ray wrote me in an e-mail: “I don’t recall we had a difficult time understanding or accepting his diagnosis because his parents included us in everything, right from the start. What they were feeling, what they were doing to help Jack.”

autism-ribbon2April is Autism Awareness Month and I hope more and more people take on Ray and Karren’s attitude of understanding and acceptance.

The Bucks were kind enough to drop off a copy of “Rules” for me at the office. I finished reading it last night and agree that it teaches a valuable lesson and should be read  by many, especially young students.

“Rules” focuses on a 12-year-old girl, Catherine, who is torn between taking care of her younger autistic brother and making friends with the new hip girl next door. To make things more complicated, she develops a friendship with a non-verbal boy in a wheelchair while going to her brother’s occupational therapy appointments.

At that age, there is a need to impress peers , and having your “different” brother tagging along and acknowledging your handicapped friend to the “cool kids” just doesn’t fit the mold.

I won’t tell you the ending, but I think you’ll be pleased with Catherine’s maturity.

I have set up an Autism Awareness Month page on the Frumpfighter blog. I invite anyone affected by autism to share their story. Please e-mail me at angie.holmes@gazcomm.com or ajh1109@mchsi.com

Jeff and Angie Holmes on their wedding day Nov. 9, 1996

Jeff and Angie Holmes on their wedding day Nov. 9, 1996

I didn’t participate in Facebook’s 25 Random Things About Me because I didn’t think I could come up with 25 things. But for Valentines Day, I had no problem coming up with 25 things about the whirlwind journey with my husband, Jeff. This is just snippet of the first year-and-a-half of our nearly 14 years together.

  1. The week before I met my future husband, Jeff Holmes, I wrote a column for a bridal section about how hard it was to find a mate in rural Iowa.
  2. On Aug. 1, 1995, my intern Mariah (who was also one of my best friends) and I traveled to Fort Dodge to take pictures at the Iowa High School State Softball Tournament. I had never been on a photographers’ podium before and thought I owned it and stood anywhere I pleased.  Somebody tapped me on my shoulder and asked me to move over. It was Jeff. Annoying and in his way from the very beginning.
  3. Neither Jeff nor I were supposed to be there; we were both covering for somebody else in our respective newspaper companies. I was covering my alma mater Williamsburg and he was covering Independence. Ahh, fate.   
  4. It turns out he was from Vinton and I was from Belle Plaine, both in Benton County about 30 miles apart. Ahh, fate, again.
  5. On our first date a couple of days later he was on “scanner” duty, listening to the police scanner for anything major to go cover. As a fellow small-town journalist, I understood and was fine with it. Nothing major happened.
  6. Although he was cute, charming and intelligent, I thought it was too bad it would never go anywhere because he divulged he was divorced and was working at a newspaper. Oh, and he was 38 and I was 24. Too bad, he was such a nice guy.
  7. We did casually date for several months, having a good time taking pictures together at the state volleyball tournament and the bridges of Madison County. That was enough to make him my boyfriend and he first met my parents at Thanksgiving dinner hosted by my mom. No pressure.
  8. By mid-December I “just wasn’t that into him” and decided to break it off. He already had Christmas presents for me and I spent Christmas Day with his family. I never have quite deserved them.
  9. On New Year’s Eve, I went to a party with a friend in Cedar Falls and met up with an old flame. When I finally made it home the next night, Jeff brought me dinner because I sounded so pathetic (read: hung over) on the phone. Then he went with me to the office 15 miles away so I could work on the year-end review for the paper. Did I mention I didn’t deserve him?  
  10. We continued to date as friends for the next month and eventually our romance blossomed. At a Valentines dinner and dance at Tara Hills in Van Horne, I declared my love for him while slow dancing to Art Garfunkel’s All I Know.”  I don’t think I really knew until that moment. It was very emotional for me with tears and everything. Still kinda chokes me up thinking about it.
  11. While on vacation in Phoenix to visit his grandparents, I randomly walked into a jewelry store in a mall with him and started looking at engagement rings. I hadn’t really thought about marriage before that point, but the moment just hit me. The look on his face was priceless when we walked out of the store.
  12. When we got back from Phoenix a week later, I looking at a calendar to see when a good fall wedding date would be. I called him and said, “What do you think of Oct. 19?” What about it? “Do you want to get married then?” So, the story goes, I actually asked him to marry me.
  13. On Easter Sunday, he asked my parents for my hand in marriage. They said no. The divorce and age thing bothered them too (I obviously was over it by then). They also were worried that we hadn’t known each other long enough.
  14. When we convinced my parents that it was the right thing and we were ready, they then turned the conversation on me. “You know she’s a fireball, don’t you?” they asked Jeff.  I’m not sure if he did at that point, but he quickly learned about my charming temper.
  15. He planned to give me an engagement ring on my birthday, April 22. But the week before that I had been horribly sick with the flu and he wanted to cheer me up. On April 19 he brought over his mom’s homemade chicken soup and took care of me. He gave me a teddy bear with a ring box and officially proposed. He then gave me a couple Benadryl. They worked quickly as I fell asleep with a noodle hanging out of my mouth. The noodle story still remains one of his favorites.
  16. Our wedding date, Nov. 9, 1996, was based on two things: High school football season had to be over because he was a coach and Seven Villages Restaurant at the Amana exit had to be available for the reception.
  17. During the ceremony, I looked over and saw my maid of honor, Chris, all teary-eyed. I had to give her a comforting look. It was my wedding after all (I did not get teary-eyed; all smiles).
  18. We showed up late to the reception because our best man, Brad, drove us around the Holden’s Seed corn plots in Jeff’s company vehicle with a couple bottles of champagne. Long story, but let’s just say it was some sort of a tradition between my maid of honor and me.
  19. The first songs we danced to as a married couple were “Don’t Know Much” by Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville and “Head Over Feet” by Alanis Morrisette. We were told that Alanis wasn’t the most romantic singer, but the song fit us perfectly.
  20. The first night of our honeymoon we stayed at the Claytonian Inn, a bed and breakfast in Clayton, Iowa. We came across the quaint place along the river in our “just friends” stage while taking pictures of fall leaves the year before.
  21. Other than going to a Bob Dylan concert in Dubuque, we didn’t have anything planned for our honeymoon.  The morning after the concert, we decided to go to Chicago for a few days.
  22. About four days into the honeymoon, I wanted to go home. Chicago was cold in November, everything was expensive, and most of all, I couldn’t wait to live the married life.
  23. In February 1997, three months after we got married, Jeff made a gasping noise while reading a help wanted ad in Editor and Publisher. It was for a job at the Daily Union in Junction City, Kan. He said he hadn’t thought of Junction City since his days in the Army at nearby Fort Riley. A month later we moved there.
  24. We lived in Junction City for three months before moving to Leavenworth, Kan., where Jeff got a job as sports editor of The Leavenworth Times. We were only going to stay six months and move back to Iowa. Seven years later, in 2005, we finally moved back to Vinton, one of the places this whole story started.
  25. Remembering all of this makes me realize how lucky I am to have found my soul mate. Our life together has been a journey full of ups and downs, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I love you always, hunny. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Husband: “Can you make it home by 6:30 so I can take pictures at the basketball game?” Me: “I’ll try.” Sure enough, when I pull in the driveway at 6:28 p.m., he is standing at the door ready for me to take over the duty of watching our son.

Such is the life of tag-team parenting which certainly isn’t confined to my house. With our professions (my husband is a recovering journalist and I’m still bitten by the sickness), our schedules have always been rather non-conventional.

Before we became parents, this schedule was at times inconvenient, but really not a big deal. My husband, Jeff, was a sports editor so it was nothing for him to be gone nearly early every night of the week covering games as well as the Saturday night shift and Kansas City Chiefs games on Sundays. Tie in that he was a high school wrestling coach…well, you get the picture. My schedule consisted of covering night meetings, working long hours on special projects and the weekend shift.

A rare moment with the three of us all together. Of course, Sage's first birhtday was celebrated at my office, because I couldn't get away that day.

A rare moment with the three of us all together in 2003. Of course, Sage's first birthday was celebrated at my office, because I couldn't get away that day.

When our son was born in 2002 after six years of marriage, our whole way of thinking changed. Gone were the days when we could be gone at the same time or could just up and leave at a moment’s notice.  The first year-and-a-half was especially challenging as we lived in Kansas and had no family around. Moving back to Iowa in 2004 to be closer to our families was a no-brainer.

Not that our schedules got any better. As swing editor of The Gazette, it is my job to, well, swing from job to job when needed. This includes night shifts, weekend shifts and everything in between. There have been times when I’ve showed up for the day shift only to be sent home because I was needed on the night shift. Swing indeed.

Jeff continued to be a wrestling coach, which requires practice, night meets and the beloved all-day Saturday tournaments. To top off our scheduling nightmare, he started a weekly newspaper in 2005 with my help. Despite what some may think, this was an incredible amount of work and we were very dedicated to it. Meetings, games, events. It all had to be covered. And it all had to be put together.  In the midst of all that craziness, somebody at work (the real, paying job) said I was too blasé, especially during mind-numbing meetings. Blasé? Try comatose.

Our schedules have changed quite a bit in the past year. We are no longer involved with the paper we started, which was tough to take when the decision was first made, but is so much better for us as a family in the long run. My “normal” schedule has gone from working every Friday and Saturday night to just working every Friday night. Jeff is now the girls’ and boys’ high school swimming coach and helps with high school softball, gigs that still require some night and Saturday events, but are much more relaxed and reasonable than the Iowa high school wrestling scene.

Oh, there is still quite a bit of tag-team parenting going on with us. I must say we could not function without the help of Jeff’s parents, Don and Barb Holmes, who live just across town. They are life-savers when it comes to watching Sage and picking him up from school when we can’t. They love spending time with their only grandson and he just loves them to death.

We are lucky to have such a support system. I know others have a much more difficult time balancing work and their personal life. Do you have a story to share? Please leave a comment or e-mail me at ajh1109@mchsi.com

When I was a kid, I loved to look at my parents’ high school yearbooks. My dad graduated in 1963 and my mom in 1964 from Kanawha High School in north central Iowa.

The Jinx, as the KHS yearbook was called in those days, was filled with school pictures of boys with slick crew cuts and suits and girls with beehive hairdos. The candid shots revealed a clean-cut bunch who enjoyed football games and dances.

AP/The dance floor Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake as it looks today.

AP/The dance floor of the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake as it looks today.

One of their favorite destinations was the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, which was about 35 minutes from Kanawha. A group of teens would routinely head up to the popular dance hall on the weekends. My dad recalls how he and my mom made up for good at the Surf after one of their many high school boyfriend-girlfriend spats. He clearly remembers she was wearing a short red skirt that night.

AP/The poster commemorating the Winter Dance Party featuring Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson.

AP/A poster commemorating the Winter Dance Party featuring Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson.

He also remembers seeing such legends as Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash there. In 1959, my parents were a little young to join the crowd at the Winter Dance Party featuring Ritchie Valens, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and Buddy Holly. But they do remember hearing about the plane crash near a corn field just outside Clear Lake that killed the three musicians as well as pilot Roger Peterson.

I always heard my parents talk about the dances at the Surf and didn’t quite understand why they were so special until my cousin’s wedding reception in February 2000. It wasn’t at the Surf, but at the ballroom in Duncan, a tiny town north of Kanawha. The hall was just beautiful with its hardwood dance floor. Outside it was a cold, desolate tundra on the vast Iowa plains. But inside it was alive with people of all ages dancing and having a great time.

I’ve been reading and watching with great interest about the activities in Clear Lake the past couple weeks, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the “day the music died.”  

Like I did while studying the pages of my parents’ yearbooks, I once again imagined what it was like to live in a simpler time. When I was a kid, I usually listened to my parents’ old albums – The Everly Brothers, The Mamas and the Papas and Peter, Paul and Mary.

Then albums were replaced by cassettes; cassettes by CDs; and CDs by downloads. In a time when technology makes it possible to socialize and keep entertained without ever stepping away from your computer, it’s comforting to know a ballroom in Iowa can still attract the attention and affection of people from all walks of life.

I’ve always been a little slow catching on to the latest technology.  When I was a child in the ’70s, my neighbor’s Atari system was a bit overwhelming so I settled for my manual pinball game. In high school learning computer programming was like pulling teeth. In college while everybody else was in the computer lab, I was plunking away at my typewriter. It was electric.

Lutheran Interparish School, Williamsburg, Iowa, third-grade class in 1979. Guess which one is me?

Lutheran Interparish School, Williamsburg, Iowa, third-grade class in 1979. Guess which one is me? (Hint: I am standing)

Now in my late 30s and extremely proud of my Pac-Man game which plugs into the TV, you can imagine how hard it was for me to accept social media. For the last couple of years I had heard the buzz about MySpace, Facebook and those other silly sites. They were for kids and fortunately I was past the age to care.

But after peer and career pressure, I finally created a Facebook account in August. At first I felt awkward filling in my status update. “Angie is sitting at her computer.”  But then friends who I hadn’t heard from in years starting popping up. My memory incited, I searched for people I hadn’t thought of in years. And found them. Bridesmaids who I hadn’t seen since my wedding 12 years ago; college roommates who are all grown up with families and real jobs; people I met during my newspaper journeys throughout Iowa and Kansas; classmates who date back to the parochial grade school on the hill. 

We’re all a little older, a little wiser and yes, even a little jaded. Over the years there’s been health problems, financial difficulties, insecurities and heartbreak. I thought those things only happened to me. It turns out nobody has had a perfect life since school. Who knew? But there’s also been marriages, births and personal triumphs. I love seeing pictures of my friends and their families; and I like to share them too.

During the tough times over the years, there has been a sense of loneliness and isolation. I was sure my friends were living the perfect life and I was just the black sheep who couldn’t adjust to the real world. Seeing former and new friends on Facebook is comforting and gives me a sense of community. Oh, I do intend to get together with many of the buddies I am now in contact with – a computer will never replace the joy of face-to-face interaction.  

Facebook and Twitter have been my modes of social media and connecting with friends and colleagues. If that’s not for you, go ahead and seek out an old friend. Give her a call. Write a letter. Just get back in touch. It really is good for the soul.


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