Saturday, August 31, 2013

I turned 70 years old today

To my 6 brothers and sisters:

 I was somewhat distracted today because of my wife Marya's surgery/ notes--from every one of you
--commemorating my 70-th birthday were so very welcome. I don't know whether all of you are amazed that I (Don) made it, or that you are looking ahead at this milestone for yourselves. Whatever the reason, thank you.

I know that I am very surprised that I am still alive and that I am still relatively active. This from a guy that when programming computers 50 years ago never thought that he would be alive when the calendar turned 2000. (Y2K was a problem I never thought I would see.)

Considering the age at which our father left us, I am really, really amazed that today came for me. (But then our mother is doing just fine at 90.) I am truly a blessed person; God has been good to me.

I thank you for noting today. It is an action by all of you that is on par with the effort you all put into being in attendance at my Deacon commissioning 2-1/2 years ago. I was very, very touched then, and I am very, very touched now.

Please know, that I love each and every one of you, and will until my final day.


PS This is true, even if I still carry the stigma of allowing Michael to be harmed by my friends Mike and Larry that day on Lion's Head, so many years ago.


Friday, March 5, 2010

My Sister Claire

We are on our way to snow at Echo Summit, and had dinner with family last night in Sacramento. My mother's birthday (#87) is today and several others joined us, including my sister Claire. Claire has often remarked that I am negligent in posting my thoughts on this blog. Yes, it has been a year since my last post...but she still checks daily for an update. So this morning's blog is mostly from a guilty conscience about wasting my sister's time. (I think that I will intentionally make some historical errors to force her to respond in comments to this blog!)

Claire is the middle child--in many ways: the 4-th of 7 siblings with 2 brothers and 1 sister older and 2 brothers and 1 sister younger. She is normally quiet...until something needs rectifying. Then she is a tiger. She is also Miss Dependable. I think that the whole family concedes that she has the highest IQ: she learned to read before kindergarten--but that was probably the result of the superior tutelage of attentive older brothers and sister.

I need to quickly close now...the snow awaits my grandson. But I will edit and build this over the next few days to elaborate on...

* The love of her life: John Lillie.
* Her status as the Greatest Grandmother in the World to her 5 grand kids.
* As newly-weds, their first brand new car--a Ford Maverick and turning over the odometer at 100,000 miles.
* John's rationale for selecting his musical instrument of choice.
* The 500 tubas playing Christmas Caroles at Disneyland this last year.
* The Ophir Prison Marching Kazoo Band and Temperance Society.
* Boston Fish House Punch
* Cowboy Boots
* Overcomming the fear of flying

So Claire you will have to check frequently, as this blog builds, to make sure that I have my facts correct.

Thank You God for these pleasant memories.
Don Kolafa

Friday, March 27, 2009

Teardrop Trailer Memories

On the bottom-front page of today's Press-Enterprise was this popular-culture article about a resurgence of teardrop trailer camping.

Our parents purchased a used teardrop trailer about 1960. It had been hand-built and first registered in 1942. I found these two pictures of our adventures; we also used a 1955 red (and black) Pontiac station wagon. I think that is my sister Lynne in the one picture. As I recall, our parents slept in the back of the station wagon, and three sisters slept in the teardrop. Originally, the four boys--Mike and I bracketing our younger brothers Tony and Frank--slept on a tarp.
Then, immediately after that pesky wild-boar incident at Big Sur, the boys had a 4-man tent to keep us from being bothered by night-time animal marauders. By immediately, I mean within 12 hours the tent had been purchased and set-up in camp. Actually, the only casualty the night before was one foam curler missing a bite and finding the shoes that brave older-brother threw at the wild pigs--against the advice of my brother Mike. But the incident magically produced a tent for any further camping. This incident causes extensive laughter from any family member whenever it is brought up.

We used that camping trailer for many years, then most of the family moved to Lake Tahoe where they did not need to go camping to enjoy the outdoors. I was out on my own by then, and my dad offered the unused teardrop trailer to me. I loved that trailer, but I was renting my aunt's beachfront duplex in Newport Beach, where parking--let alone trailer storage--was at a premium. I lovingly took care of that trailer for many years--but never found an opportunity to actually use it until after I married and Duane was born. Marya, Duane and I towed it to the Salton Sea one week-end--after nearly burning up the electrical system on my car while connecting the trailer lights. We tried to relax in the very hot sun but the baby got sun-burned and the foul smell of the Salton Sea got to us.

On the only other trip I recall with my young family, we drove up the coast route California 1. But I don't believe that we actually slept in the trailer. It was raining as we drove up the coast, with rocks falling from the cliffs down to the roadway. The weight of the teardrop trailer on the car meant that road-clearance at the trailer hitch was so minimal, that I was frequently driving around fallen rocks. A couple of times, I remember stopping the car, and removing rocks by hand before I could drive on. Then when we got to Big Sur--trying to relive the wild pig experience--all campsites were under water. We stayed in a motel in Monterrey that evening--under the flight path of the local airport. We day-camped on a local beach then drove to Lake Tahoe to visit my family. The trip back to Southern Cal had the trailer lights shorting-out. So rather than drive at night, we slept in a rest-area inside the car. The next morning our baby was vomiting, requiring a visit to an emergency room.

We were so upset with ourselves for putting him in peril. But Duane had the final laugh. In those days, anyone returning to the LA basin would always notice the foul air--you could see it and smell it. As we were dropping back into the LA basin, Marya and I had this same conversation. But I could not accept that the air smelled so bad; I suggested that she should check Duane's diaper. She insisted that the smell was smog. I persisted that she should check diapers. When she finally did turn-around to check the back-seat, the vision was one out of a new parent's (and new car owner's) nightmare: the white Naugahyde upholstery had been thoroughly painted with brown stuff.

We continued to care for the trailer for years, even moving it with us to Maryland when General Electric transferred us to Bethesda. We pulled it across the country, but since Marya was very pregnant with our second child (Gary), we stayed in motels the entire way. In Georgia, one of the tires blew on Interstate 85, but I almost didn't notice. Remember that this trailer was hand-made and the tongue weight was excessive at about 70% of the trailer weight. Therefore, I had no problem controlling the car. We left the trailer on the side of the road and took the wheel into the next town. This was in 1969, ... on a Sunday, ... in the Southern US, ... remember the Blue-laws? Nothing was open for business--except minimum service gas stations. But I ran into a farmer that had the identical sized tire in the back of his pick-up. He was going to have it re-treaded. We struck a deal (tire and rim, therefore avoiding tire mounting) and I had a tire with very little tread--but it held air.

We never used the camping trailer in Maryland. The family expanded to three kids under the age of 5. Those are not ideal conditions to take the family camping. The winters were taking a toll on the trailer. Moisture got inside and got the mattress wet. Seams started to leak. Then the apartment management decided that we could not keep it there anymore. We advertised it in the local Pennysaver-style publication for $75 figuring we could always reduce the price. (My dad had purchased it 10 years previously for $125; it was a 30 year-old hand-made trailer.) Were we ever surprised. Before the Pennysaver was delivered, we started getting calls to see it. We sold it very quickly for the full asking price. The purchaser paid us and made arrangements to pick-up the trailer later. We did not succumb to subsequent offers to pay us more than the asking price if we would renege on the first purchaser. We could not believe the excitement that this old trailer created.

The purchaser told us that the dear teardrop trailer would probably live out its days on a piece of undeveloped mountain property they owned.

One thing I learned early in our marriage, after the first camping trip with my wife, was that while she accommodated my desire to live with nature ... her idea of camping was a houseboat with the air-conditioner going. We did that many times while our kids were growing up, but never camped again.

Praise God for great experiences and memories.


Friday, March 13, 2009

Happy Birthday Mike

My brother's birthday is today. When Marya, Clayton and I visited Lake Tahoe last week-end, Mike joined us for dinner. He and his wife Kim live only a few miles away in Pollock Pines. We are both moving along in age, but he looked better than I have seen in many years. While I consider myself an active person, my 2-mile daily run pales in comparison to Mike's lifestyle.

Several years ago, Kim threw a surprise birthday party week-end for Mike. A large group of us found ourselves house boating on Lake Oroville in March. It was very cold. (Marya said that standing next to me outside was like standing in front of an open freezer.) But Mike has had a tradition of water-skiing on his birthday. So Mike donned a wet-suit and water-skis. He loves to water-ski and he loves his ski-boat--the same one he has had for about 40 years.

Mike and I are the oldest in a large family. He is a few years younger than me. Nonetheless, I look up to Mike; I am amazed at his resiliency. He has personally faced numerous difficult challenges, and conquered them with style. When our dad died from a heart attack at a relatively young age (46), Mike was there, giving him mouth-to-mouth resusitation until the doctors took over. I am not sure that I could have handled that.

Matching his inclination to play hard, is his work-ethic. I remember the time when we were both in college, that I arranged for Mike to do work where I was employed part-time--Wishing Well Nursery. It was simply a janitorial job at night. But, silly me, I was worried that he might not do a good job; he did an outstanding job. I realized then that we both had values requiring maximum effort--obviously obtained from our parents. To this day, all of my siblings have a top notch work-ethic.

Mike was a Sears Auto-center manager for most of his career. He modestly called himself a glorified grease-monkey. I don't think so. Neither did any of his friends, family or customers. He took an early retirement when offered, bought an RV and he and Kim (and their cat) toured the US, pulling that ski boat. The pictures were great.

Happy Birthday Mike. And thanks for being a role-model.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Annual Snow Park Trip

Last week-end Marya and I took our 5 year-old grandson Clayton on our annual trip to the snow. We can't be happy with local Southern-California snow, we trek 400 miles to a special snow park at Echo Summit on Hwy 50 near Lake Tahoe. But, once again, the extra effort was worth it.

We have gone each winter for 4 years now. It was almost comical with two adults, one child (and sufficient gear to clothe 20 people) in my wife's behemoth Excursion SUV. The third seat had extra clothing for--before, during and after--snow. When we could not decide what to take, I kept saying that "its not like we have to choose", so we took much more than necessary.

Our timing this year allowed us to detour through Sacramento to spend some time with my mother to mark her 86-th birthday. She was especially happy that she had one-on-one time (rather than a single party) with each/all of her 7 children this year. The next morning, Clayton insisted upon contributing to the prayer before travel. (We have his pre-school and kindergarten teachers to thank for the incredible quality of his public prayer. He prays with the innocence of a young child--truely an example for adults.) In addition to prayers of praise and thanksgiving, he included a request that God "watch over and protect great-grandmother as she is 86 now".

Without haste, we got to the snow park late morning on saturday and found it not too crowded. Surprising since substantial snow fell during the prior week and the fresh snow (maybe 4 feet) made for good sleding. This snow park has a dozen or so runs with an entire section for young children. Check out the pictures. After the first run, Clayton did not want Grampa to slow him down.

A great day of snow play was completed by an absolute great Lake-front hotel room. I expected that a last minute reservation would be problematic since this late season week-end had many ski parties booked. Not so.
Thank God for a safe and refreshing trip.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Old enough for Medicare

Well today I cross that threshold...Medicare becomes activated on the first day of the month a person turns 65 years old. I applied 3 months ago. I've already received my Medicare ID and paid the quarterly installment for Part B coverage. Social Security 'Full' retirement for me would be in one year at age 66.

I don't envision retirement anytime soon. I basically enjoy my work. My clients may have a say on this however. I have two younger siblings Mike and Claire who retired years ago--well before 'normal' retirement age. I guess that is a perk for working for big companies and government agencies.

Mike took an early retirement buy-out from Sears, bought a motor-home and, with his wife Kim, explored the back-roads of America for a year. Funny, but all I can remember seeing from that trip were pictures of their cat.

Claire retired from a state agency to dedicate her efforts to becoming the world's greatest grandparent. I hear that she is making progress toward that goal, but I'm here to tell you that she has serious competition.

But this is a milestone causing much more contemplation/reflection on my part. Previous milestones (30, 40, 50, 60) were noticed but not significant to my psyche. For the most part, I'm comfortable that I fulfilled my responsibilities supporting my family. Marya and I raised 3 great kids into responsible adults. I think we had fun doing it too.

While we struggled to guide our kids thru the minefields of youth, we made it unscathed. No DUI's. No drug problems. No tattoos. No piercings. No pregnancies. We became very active in church as a family. I'm convinced that His involvement was the primary reason we got thru it.

Even with God's help, I'm not sure that I could raise a child today. My hat is off to parents today. Our society is not conducive to healthy moral development of young people. The educational elite are convinced that parental guidance is a toxic influence to young people. Why else would instruction on condom use be more important than core curricula? Why else would we allow school administrators to supersede parents in secretly taking girls to abortion clinics? Then in contradiction, they ironically would encourage young Muslim girls to wear headscarfs to school while insisting--with vitriol--that Christian bibles must be hidden at all times.

I praise God and thank Him for my health, the health of my family, for getting me this far and for the wonderful people He put in my life to support that effort.


Thursday, July 31, 2008

Clayton starts soccer practice

My grandson began soccer practice yesterday evening. Clinic level soccer. He's 5 years old, big for his age and fairly well-coordinated. He also has a great attitude about competition: he can be focused, tries hard and follows instructions, but can loose with grace. He understands teamwork too.

I think I'm biased because he is my (only) grandchild.

Actually, when my kids were young, I coached youth soccer for about 11 years...including Clayton's mother Jennifer at the clinic level...when she was 5 years old.

Let me predict the season. Remember...this is clinic level. Practice will require great patience from the coaches. They will discover very quickly that the attention span of these young people is less than the length of any practice drill or game. Every parent will react to the shin-guards: they look soooo big on 5-year-old legs, and they occasionally will be twisted to the side. But they will be needed.

I remember at least two games when I sensed too few players on the field. Sure enough, a count came up one player short. Upon looking around, we found the youngest player (I think he was a few months younger than his fifth birthday) on the playground swings. (Can't you just see the smirks on the parents faces?)

The games are predictable too. For the first two games, you will see a mass of kids around the ball, kicking away. It is highly unlikely that even the goalies will not be in this group. Coaches pleading may get them to go stand by the goal for a few minutes, but they will not be able to resist the urge to get back into the action. By about the 3-rd game these goalies will better understand the need to stay by the goal.

Then about the 5-th game, the coach may be able to convince a full-back or two to keep back from the ball. At this point the kids will surprise the coach, their parents and themselves by playing very respectable soccer...for 5-year-olds.

The coach will need to be firm with the parents from the beginning. When I coached (always with Steve, another parent), we deferred the coaching of our own kid to the other coach. We also told the parents that we wanted positive cheering from the sidelines, but no negative comments directed toward the kids (their own child, or any member of either team)...or the referees. We asked the parents to approach us with any concerns and comments. This approach worked very well...except with my own wife, the mother of my kids. I think that Marya even got a yellow card or two over the years.

I will fight the urge to get involved with the coaching...parents need to do this.

I praise God and thank Him for opportunities for children to grow and for the adults committed to nurturing and developing young people.