Bring it on 2017!

Today is the Feast of the Three Kings, so we’ll be taking down the Christmas tree and decorations this weekend. (Or in the words of Curtis the elf from Santa Clause 2, “The desantaclausification process has begun!”) My snowmen collection will be rearranged and kept up until the end of February or until the snow’s gone (April? May?).

This is a good time to reflect on 2016 and look forward to 2017. Every year I write a traditional Christmas letter that gets tucked into each Christmas card we send. Some of the highlights noted in this year’s letter include

  • meeting our first granddaughter in Ohio this past January and celebrating her big brother’s 3rd birthday while we were there
  • watching the Super Bowl in Minnesota at our son and daughter-in-law’s house and getting lots of cuddle time with our newborn grandson son
  • celebrating seven years of sharing true health through Kangen water  (KangenWisconsin.com)
  • baptism day for our two youngest grandchildren on Mother’s Day
  • the end of my softball career (thanks to a collision on a softball field with another player that sent me to the ICU for 21 hours with a concussion)
  • getting 4th row seats to see Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons in Chicago and getting to meet Mr. Valli backstage after the show!
  • 4th of July visit in Wisconsin with our children and grandchildren
  • traveling to Las Vegas with our two younger daughters and our son for Enagic’s global convention in July where John, Nick and I were honored for rank advancements in the company
  • receiving the  CALA award (Catholic Arts and Letters Award) for my novel A World Such as Heaven Intended — it was the top Catholic young adult novel for 2015-2016
  • having our son, daughter-in-law and grandson move from Minnesota back to Wisconsin — they bought a house less than five miles away from our house!
  • watching the play Wicked in Ohio with our daughters, son-in-law and grandson — it was awesome!
  • celebrating 35 years of marriage to John with a trip to Colorado
  • taking a quick vacation to Galena, Illinois and Dubuque, Iowa
  • completing the NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month) challenge and writing the sequel to my book — look for A Life Such as Heaven Intended in book stores and online this spring

As it happens in any given year, there were sad moments too as we lost some people in our lives. But the good definitely outweighed the bad. Now it’s time to look forward to all the promises 2017 holds in store for us.

Unlike most years, I haven’t come up with any New Year’s Resolutions yet. Not sure if I’m going to set any this year, I’m thinking of just working on completing my Top 10 goal list from 2016. Actually, now that I think of it, there’s still some things on the 2015 list I can work on, no need to come up with any new ones! So if all goes well, by the end of 2017 I will weigh less, be able to do one pull up, have run a half marathon, have a new car, rank advance in Enagic to 6A2-2, have two books published, hit the best-seller list on Amazon again, get more involved in church and spend quality time with our family.

Guess I better get going on that! Happy New Year! May 2017 be your best year yet — a year filled with health, happiness and hope!

 

Yes, No or Not Yet

Last week was quite the week in our household. Well, maybe a lot of households with that whole presidential election thing going on. We, and apparently a whole bunch of other Americans, had no idea how it would turn out, but there was one thing I did know. Regardless of who won the presidential election, several hours after it was finally called, the sun was still going to rise and we’d get back to our regularly scheduled lives.

I called that one right. How nice was it to finally stop obsessing over the polls, YouTube videos, WikiLeaks, the nightly news, and the never-ending arguing on Facebook. Lucky for me, I have a huge project I’m working on to occupy those vacant hours now that I won’t be perusing the Internet day in and day out.

One thought before I go onto the next topic, there were undoubtedly a lot of prayers going up to the heavens the week before the presidential election. Now that it is done and over with, half the people in the United States are filled with gratitude for prayers answered and the other half are probably wondering why their prayers weren’t answered.

From my perspective — no matter what the outcome of the election was, all the prayers were answered. God either answered yes, no or not yet. He sees the big picture — we’re not privy to that. Through the years I’ve read a lot of books on spirituality and religion ranging from Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch to the works of Dynamic Catholic founder Matthew Kelly.

We’re here on the Earth at this place and this time for a reason. The words of Roy Smith sum up it up one way — “We come to earth school to have physical experiences, and from these experiences we learn valuable lessons that enable us to evolve spiritually.”

Matthew Kelly talks about the importance of having the goal while we’re alive to “become the best versions of ourselves.”

As hard as it can be to accept, we grow more from the challenges we face in life than from the times when life was smooth sailing. So no matter how things turned out, this could be the ideal opportunity for us to grow, put our differences aside, and to do what we can to make the best with the hand we’ve been dealt. Everything is happening for a reason, and as they say, it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you handle it that makes the difference.

I’m vowing to disengage somewhat from social media and to turn towards other things. One of those things happens to be NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month), the project I referenced earlier. This is a challenge to aspiring authors worldwide to write a 50,000-word novel in the month of November. That breaks down to writing at least 1,667 words every day for 30 days. This is the third year in a row that I’ve signed on. It’s an arduous task, I’ve been spending up to six hours each day writing so that I stay on pace and hit my personal goal of producing one chapter per day.

Since this book is a sequel to my novel A World Such as Heaven Intended, the plan is to have it published by our same publishing team and released in the first or second quarter of 2017. This writing challenge has been exactly what I needed to get moving forward on this project — otherwise it could have sat on the back burner for months.

To add to the busyness of this month we spent the first two weeks helping our son, daughter-in-law and 11-month-old grandson move from our house, where they’ve been living the last four months, to their new house. It’s been quite the process because there were a number of projects that needed to be done before the actual moving process could happen. We’re going to miss having that sweet little baby around but the good news is they have a beautiful home that’s only 4.9 miles from our house.

We’re looking forward to hosting our first Thanksgiving in several years. It will be a small crowd so it shouldn’t be too overwhelming. There’s nothing like smelling the turkey roasting while we watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade and look at all the ads for Black Friday. By then I will be all done Christmas shopping but it’s always fun to see what the specials are. We’ll be sleeping in when folks are lining up at 4:00 in the morning for the door busters.

The plan is to complete my novel before November 24 so I can really relax and enjoy the holiday. We have so much to be thankful for this year, it will be great to set aside a day to reflect on all of our blessings.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you! Have fun and safe travels!

 

Coral or Jade? After 35 years, it’s all good!

For a 35th wedding anniversary, the traditional gift is coral, and the modern gift is jade. Since John and I consider every day we’re together a gift, we decided to skip exchanging presents and instead took a trip to Colorado to celebrate our momentous occasion. Spending five days together in that beautiful state gave us a lot of time to reflect on how this whole journey began.

 

For two kids getting married on that hot early fall day, September 11, 1981, there would have been no way we could have guessed how the next 35 years would unfold. When I say kids, I’m not kidding. I was 19 and John was 20. We met when I was a 17-year-old senior in high school. We dated nine months, were engaged nine months, and had our first child… three-and-a-half years later.

 

It’s kind of crazy looking back now because we thought we knew everything at the time but 19 and 20 is pretty young. But things were different back then. There really wasn’t the hook-up culture that we see now — for most of us as teens, the idea of dating was to begin the sorting process to find the person you’d eventually want to spend the rest of your life with.

 

This was back before the days when the vast majority of kids headed to college right out of high school. I would guess that less than 10 percent of our friends made the decision to further their education at a four-year university. Most people went into a trade after high school graduation.

 

It wasn’t quite that cut and dried for us. For John, being the 10th youngest of 12 children in his family, he never gave serious consideration to going onto college. Instead, he followed his dad’s footsteps and went into the industry his dad worked in. For me, when I was a senior in high school, my two older brothers were in college and my dad was encouraging me to go onto school and get a degree in engineering (following his passion) because as a woman I could “write my ticket to the world by having a degree in a male-dominated field.”

 

I was accepted at Marquette University and UW-Madison and enrolled at Wisconsin. My path looked clear until that fateful night, March 8, 1980 (which by chance happened to be five years to the day before our first child was born). It was a Saturday night and I was at a nightclub with my girlfriends (who all were 18, the legal drinking age at the time, I’ll admit I was the one sneaking past the bouncer).

 

We were sitting in a corner booth at The Regency when in walked a couple of guys, one of whom immediately caught my eye. I’ll admit it — it was John’s good looks that got my attention! My job the rest of the night was to catch his eye when my friends and I hit the floor dancing to the disco tunes.

 

My plan worked. A slow song came on and John came over to our booth and asked me to dance. We introduced each other and started telling a little about ourselves as we danced. When John mentioned he had 11 brothers and sisters I said, “Awesome, you’re Catholic!”

 

Well, that slow dance led to many more slow dances over the course of the next few weeks and then on April 19 John asked if he could drive me home. That night, in my dad’s driveway, he asked if I would go on a date with him to see a movie the next night, April 20, 1980.

 

Of course I said yes. I couldn’t wait to see him the next day and as the time he was supposed to pick me up came and went, he wasn’t there. He did get there eventually. Apparently he had been playing football with his brothers and cousins and went home afterwards to take a shower and catch a quick nap and ended up oversleeping. Not sure how impressed my dad was with this guy when he came to the door but the date was on, we got to the theater before the movie started and halfway through “Die Laughing,” John grabbed my hand in his. From that moment on we were pretty much inseparable.

 

That was until I left for college in late August. That was a sad day. I threw my suitcase and a record player in my dad’s sedan (that was before the extreme packing that college kids go through in this day and age). I wondered when we’d see each other again.

 

It turned out, it wasn’t too long. I got Badger season tickets so John came down for one of the first home games. After that we knew we wanted to see each other as much as possible so I either arranged to get a ride home for the weekend or grab a bus home or John would drive down and pick me up or come down to Madison to spend his weekends there.

 

School was going well, probably because I did more studying than socializing. I was studying chemical engineering but I was beginning to wonder about my major. It didn’t seem like engineering had a lot of flexibility and if John and I were going to get married and have a family someday, I really didn’t see myself devoting 50 to 60 hours to that career every week and missing our kids growing up.

 

One of those weekends when John was in Madison we went to a mall and picked out an engagement ring. At the end of the semester, several days before Christmas, John picked me up from school and we packed everything I had brought down to Madison into the trunk of his Chevy Nova. It was at that point that we knew I wouldn’t be going back.

 

On Christmas Eve John picked me up at my dad’s and was driving over to his parent’s house for their celebration and on the way there pulled into the parking lot at a park and stopped the car. He pulled out a box from his pocket and opened it to reveal the ring we had picked out. He asked me if I would marry him. Of course I said yes!

 

After the holidays I gave notice at UW-Madison that I would not be returning for the next semester of school. I applied for jobs and got a job as a proofreader at Home Mutual Insurance. The next several months went by fast as we planned our wedding. It was fun because several of the girls I worked with were engaged as well so a number of us were in the middle of wedding plans.

 

September 11 dawned bright and beautiful. It was an unseasonably warm day — nearly 100 degrees. It was warm with my long-sleeved Victorian style wedding gown and for John and his groomsmen in their black tuxedos. The day turned out perfectly and was a beautiful start to our lives together. We were young, definitely didn’t have a lot of money, but with some frugal decisions were able to put on our entire wedding (including the meal for 125, beer, my wedding dress, our rings, hall rental, etc.) for less than $1,500. I still find that pretty amazing.

 

The future certainly was as bright at the clear blue sky that day. We would have never been able to predict the trials and tribulations we would be faced with over the next three decades but we also wouldn’t have been able to imagine the joy and fun our lives would bring (particularly because of our four children and our three grandchildren).

 

It’s been quite the adventure! I wouldn’t go back and change a thing! Like they say, what didn’t kill us made us stronger. I can happily say that meeting John 36 years ago was the best day of my life. I must have done something good to have a man like him choose to be my life partner. We are best friends, there is no one on this planet I’d rather spend time with than him. Every day it is such a joy to wake up next to him. I can’t wait to see what the next 35 years brings!

Things are going great and they’re only getting better

July 28, 2016 turned out to be quite the momentous day for me. There were two events going on that week where I potentially would be recognized for my work. One was in Las Vegas and the other in Chicago.

 

John and I ended up taking our three youngest children (all over the age of 21, thanks casino security by being so vigilant and checking in with us every single time we walked into a casino) with us to Las Vegas for the Global Convention celebrating Enagic Corp’s 42nd anniversary. We were privileged to have five other members of our Kangen Wisconsin team travel with us as well. We got there Monday night and the week at Mandalay Bay was jam-packed with meetings, training, recognition, and connecting with our friends from the Kangen Water community who were there from all over the world.

 

We’ve always had a strong conviction that Kangen Water is the healthiest water any human or animal can drink but after a week being with like-minded people and being educated on true health and wellness, we all came back more inspired by the mission of Kangen Water than ever before.

 

The highlight of the week for me was Thursday when John and our son Nick were each honored for achieving the rank of 6A in Enagic. John and I are so proud of Nick because he and his wife Emily were the very first people to embrace the message of True Health that Enagic espouses and invest in a water ionizer through us. When John joined the business in 2013 that promoted me to 6A and now that two people under me are 6A, I officially earned the rank of 6A2. According to someone I spoke with at Enagic Corp, there are only 287 people at that rank in the entire United States and only three others who’ve ever hit that rank in the state of Wisconsin, so it is quite the privilege to have achieved this.

Enagic Awards 2016

It’s been an interesting road I have to say. When we got our machine in April of 2009, it was solely to help our youngest daughter who was a Make-A-Wish child that year. Even though this represented an incredible business opportunity, I had no intention of doing this as a business because I had a career as a journalist and didn’t want to be in “sales.” But after what we experienced within weeks of investing in our machine, I felt an obligation to share the message and this water with anyone who would be open to it. We wanted to make everything that our daughter went through mean something and to pay it forward for the blessings we received from this water and this company.

 

When I think of this journey we’ve been on, many times the parable of the sower comes to mind: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

 

We’ve sown thousands of seeds in the last seven years. Some fell along the path and the birds came and ate it up (people heard about the water, read or heard one negative thing and were scared away — of course we all know that everything you read on the Internet is true, right?).

 

Some fell on rocky places where it did not have much soil, it sprang up quickly and withered because they had no root. Those were the people who were initially excited about this concept and for whatever reason, lost their enthusiasm for this amazing product. It could have been the spouse that didn’t attend a presentation but did five minutes of research on water ionizers and decided it wasn’t a valid product or did no research at all but was adamant against spending money on healthcare technology, regardless of how beneficial it would be for their family.

 

“Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.” This was like the people who were lured away from the one true medical-grade water ionizer by the knock-offs who offered empty promises of a lifetime guarantee, incredible sales and other offers that were too good to be true.

 

Then of course there were the seeds that fell on good soil. Those were the people who listened to our message, took it to heart, and then invested in the health of their families by getting an Enagic water ionizer. We have been so blessed to have welcomed these people into our Enagic/Kangen Wisconsin family. Kangen Water folks are some of the nicest, most compassionate, most motivated people we’ve ever met — many of them are our friends for life. We look forward to years of working together, traveling together and strengthening our friendships.

 

Meanwhile, back to that incredible week, on the other side of the country, the Catholic Marketing Network was hosting its annual trade show in Chicago. A couple of months ago I had received notification that my novel, A World Such as Heaven Intended, had been nominated for the CALA award and was actually one of the top three Catholic fiction young adult novels for 2016. Since I wasn’t able to attend the awards ceremony hosted by the Catholic Writers Guild, my publisher asked me to write an acceptance speech, “just in case.”

 

That morning, I got a text from Full Quiver Publishing and it said, “Check your e-mail!” Immediately I grabbed my phone and saw an e-mail from them with the subject line, You Won!!! When I opened up the e-mail there was a picture of the 2016 Catholic Arts and Letters Award for Young Adult Fiction with my name and the name of the book inscribed on it.

 

I feel so incredibly honored to have received top recognition for both my mission and my profession. There are no plans to rest on my laurels, however! I’m back to work now helping John and Nick advance to the rank of 6A2 so that I can advance to the rank of 6A2-2. My goal is get there by December 31, 2016. If anyone reading this wants to check into this amazing water and potentially join our team and our mission, go to my web site www.KangenWisconsin.com and you can learn about the water by ordering an e-book or signing up for the Health Awareness Newsletter.

 

A World Such as Heaven Intended is the first book in a trilogy. The second book is outlined and the first two chapters are written. Now it’s up to me to carve out the time to work on finishing book two. The goal date for that is December 31 as well.

 

I want to thank every person who has been instrumental in helping me achieve these honors. Whether you offered words of encouragement, accepted my friend request on Facebook, purchased the book, invested in an Enagic water ionizer, Anespa shower unit or Ukon turmeric supplement through our group,  kept me in your prayers, or even discouraged me to help strengthen my resolve, I appreciate each and every one of you.

 

I’m looking forward to seeing what lies ahead. “The future’s so bright I gotta wear shades!”

A Miracle in My Life

Miracles are all around us if we are open to seeing them. Here’s something that happened in my life this past May.

Two years ago when Lent was approaching, I wanted to do something that required more effort on my part than just giving something up. So I decided to go to Mass one extra day per week. I chose to go on Wednesday mornings at 8:00 at our parish, Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Mass is sparsely attended, at most maybe 20 people or so attend, and I noticed I was usually one of the youngest in the crowd.

After Mass is over each week, a handful of people stay and gather near each other to pray the rosary together. Three different older ladies are the leaders and if the primary leader isn’t available the next lady takes over and if she’s not there then the third in line takes charge.

Once Easter arrived in 2014, I continued to attend the weekly Mass. It felt comfortable, I was starting to get to know the other regulars, and it was a great way to disengage from my busy life and reconnect with my faith in a quiet atmosphere in the middle of the week. Since that time I was asked to be the lector (I read the first reading and the responsorial psalm) on Wednesdays, so now I have more of a commitment to be there as well.

This past spring we got the joyous news that both our daughter and our daughter-in-law were expecting and their babies were due two-and-a-half weeks apart, November 27 and December 15, respectively. My husband and I couldn’t have been any happier but we definitely had concerns because of some previous pregnancy issues.

One Wednesday last May, I was sitting in the pew behind the woman who was second in line to do the rosary, a lovely woman who was born in Europe and has a wonderful accent. Her part, as the leader, was to start the prayers represented by each bead in the rosary and we would join in. For the Hail Mary prayer, she would begin with, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee,” and then the rest of us would join in, “Blessed are thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

For some reason our leader that day was turned sideways in her seat and directly facing the statue of the Blessed Mother that is on the far right wall of the church. All the other ladies were following suit and I did as well so I was looking right at that statue as we prayed the rosary. Part way through one of the decades, as I was  following along, when we got to the part in the prayer, “blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus,” I thought of my daughter and daughter-in-law and our prayers for them.

At that very moment, Mary looked right at me and she said, “Everything will turn out fine.”

I was stunned. I stopped reciting the prayer and looked at the other four or five ladies to see what their reaction was. I clearly heard the Blessed Mother speak out loud yet none of the other women seemed to have heard it. I was shaking and could hardly believe what I had witnessed yet I was overjoyed and felt this sense of peace come over me.

After the rosary was done, I went over to the statue and looked at is closer and once again it seemed inanimate. I lit a candle and thought about all the issues in our lives that we had been praying for and asked Mary for her intercession on our behalf, that she would offer prayers up for us to her son, Jesus. I took one last look at her as I left church that day and thanked her for praying for us.

Ever since that time when concerns come up in my life and our family’s life, I repeat the words that the Blessed Mother said to me in church that day, “Everything will turn out fine.” Having that constant reminder and reassurance has been such a calming factor in my life.

So, any time a worry comes to mind, I repeat what has now become my mantra, “Everything will turn out fine.” And, truthfully, it has. Life has been a series of beautiful experiences since then. I’ve grown more devoted to the Blessed Mother as I look to her as my role model in how I interact with my family and friends, how I run my living water mission, and how I live my life day in and day out.

Our beautiful granddaughter Katherine and handsome grandson Declan arrived safe and sound on Dec. 1 and Dec. 4! Our blessings are overflowing!

IMG_5017

 

 

Maybe I’m Amazed

What came first, my fascination with Paul McCartney and Wings or The Beatles? I really can’t be sure. Since I was pretty young when the Beatles first took America by storm, my recollection of what got me turned onto their music was listening to my brother Rodney sing and play Paul McCartney songs on his guitar. All I know is I’ve been a fan for almost as long as I can remember and The Beatles have been and always will be my favorite band and Paul McCartney is my favorite singer of all time.

There’s something about Paul McCartney that has kept me infatuated with him all these years — he truly is the most talented musician ever. When John and I had the opportunity to see him in concert for the first time at the Rosemont Horizon Arena in Chicago in 1989, we scraped together every nickle we had and made the trip. Who knew how many more chances we’d have to see him and how much longer he would be performing? Trust me, it was worth every cent to see him. The show was outstanding! To say we were blown away would be an understatement.

We know the answers now to how long Paul would be touring and how many times we’d get to see him. It’s pretty incredible that 26 years later he’s still going strong and hasn’t skipped a beat. Earlier this month, on October 13, John and I had the pleasure to see Paul McCartney and his band perform for the sixth time! What made this even more special for us is we got to take our three daughters and our son-in-law (plus a friend of our daughter’s) to  Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio to see his latest tour, Out There. This was the fulfillment of a dream I’ve had ever since we introduced our children to The Beatles (i.e. at birth). We know we’ve raised them right because all four of them are avid Paul McCartney fans. Our son and his wife weren’t able to join us but had the chance to catch Paul’s tour in the summer of 2014 when he performed at Miller Park in Milwaukee.

Words really can’t describe what an awesome concert it was. The energy was electric, Paul sang for three hours straight and had two outstanding encores. It was so neat watching the looks on the kids’ (technically young adults’) faces when Paul rocked out on some of the greatest hits of all time. When he played Maybe I’m Amazed in tribute to his late wife Linda McCartney, one of my favorite songs, I had tears in my eyes. It was so moving, as was his tribute to the late George Harrison (playing Something on the ukulele) and John Lennon (If You Were Here Today).

Experiences like these are what life is all about and I’m so happy we got to be with most of our family for this concert. The only thing that would have made it better would have been to have Nick and Emily with us. Hopefully next time! Or if Paul keeps going as strong as he is now (could it be the Kangen Water?) maybe we’ll be attending his concerts with our grandkids someday!

Check out the set list below and you’ll see why this concert was so outstanding! John and I had a 12-hour drive home around Upper Michigan admiring the beautiful fall colors and we rocked it out listening to Paul McCartney, The Beatles, and Wings albums the whole way home. Life doesn’t get much better than this!

  1. Eight Days a Week
  2. Save Us
  3. Got to Get You Into My Life
  4. One After 909
  5. Temporary Secretary
  6. Let me Roll It
  7. Paperback Writer
  8. My Valentine
  9. Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five
  10. The Long and Winding Road
  11. Maybe I’m Amazed
  12. I’ve Just Seen a Face
  13. FourFiveSeconds
  14. We Can Work it Out
  15. Another Day
  16. Hope for the Future
  17. And I Love Her
  18. Blackbird
  19. Here Today
  20. New
  21. Queenie Eye
  22. Lady Madonna
  23. All Together Now
  24. Lovely Rita
  25. Eleanor Rigby
  26. Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite
  27. Something
  28. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
  29. Band on the Run
  30. Back in the U.S.S.R.
  31. Let it Be
  32. Live and Let Die
  33. Hey Jude
    • ENCORE
  34. Another Girl
  35. Hi, Hi, Hi
  36. Can’t Buy Me Love
    • SECOND ENCORE
  37. Yesterday
  38. Helter Skelter
  39. Golden Slumbers
  40. Carry That Weight
  41. The End

The Vacation that Almost Wasn’t…

As parents, my husband and I couldn’t be prouder of our four children. They were a joy to raise, they get along great, never caused us any major concerns, they all graduated from excellent Catholic colleges, they are self-sufficient and working in the fields they went to school for, the two that are married have wonderful, loving spouses, and as young adults they all continue to practice their faith.

Once they left the nest, none of them came back to live at our house for any extended time, so we truly are empty nesters. The only downside to having these independent and confident children is that none of them live in our state so we don’t get to see them nearly as much as we’d like to.

With our daughter and daughter-in-law expecting, we really wanted to carve out the time this summer to have a nice long weekend family vacation. Between our 2-year-old grandson and the new babies on the way, it may be quite awhile before we have the time or energy to do this again.

We chose to rent a large house that was about equal distance from all of our homes for our vacation weekend this month. After many phone calls, Google Hangouts and group texts, we settled on a place that was eight hours or less of a drive for each family.

Things got kind of dicey as the day of our trip drew near. We were told that the house had been double booked for the last night of our stay. The owner said he’d find us a comparable place in the area for the last night. To repay us for being willing to pack up and move for that last night, we were told that he’d give us five free nights at his house sometime in the future.

We were out of state visiting our daughters when things first started to unravel. The owner claimed he couldn’t find us another place within 60 miles for that last night so he just refunded a portion of our payment. We asked to go back to our original agreement and have the other party check in a day later because we really didn’t want to cut our vacation short. According to the owner, that was not possible.

So, three cars set out towards our destination on the first day of the vacation with the thought that we’d work out the Saturday night lodging once we got there. When the first car arrived, our son and daughter-in-law used the code to open the door to the property and walked into an absolute mess. Our son-in-law described it as looking like a frat house. It didn’t look anything like the pristine pictures we had seen on the internet. Not knowing what else to do, they waited a couple of hours for the next car to arrive. Meanwhile, I was in the second car and we heard about the condition of the house and called the rental company.

Here’s where it really got interesting. The owner, who was traveling in Europe, without calling, texting or e-mailing, had cancelled our reservation earlier that day. We were dumbfounded but with no other options at that point, headed to the rental house to meet up with the first group.

Once I saw the place, I knew we couldn’t stay there so we packed up the vehicles to head into town to get dinner and try to figure out some other options. As we were leaving, a vehicle pulled in behind us with two men who testily wondered why we were on the property. It turns out that they had been staying there and the owner told them that he had cancelled our reservation (apparently everyone knew but us) and they could continue to stay there for two more days. They were also going to be the ones cleaning the place. Judging from how they had left the house when they were gone that day, I could only imagine what condition it was going to be in after they were done “cleaning” it.

We left the property, found a restaurant and while eating dinner we got some tips of different places to try to rent. There was a resort less than an hour north by Starved Rock State Park in central Illinois. The web site said they were filled but when we called they were able to book us a villa that slept 10 for three nights at a reasonable price. We were so happy to have found a place that could accommodate us. By 9:30 that night all of us were together in a quaint, rustic-looking villa that was clean, comfortable and perfect for our group.

So the vacation that had a rocky start turned out to be one of the best ones we ever had! The villa was great and it was set in a wooded area that was relatively quiet. When you walked outside at night it was so dark you could see countless stars in the sky— it was breathtaking. It was fun walking outdoors with our grandson because he was looking at bugs and squirrels and finding sticks to play with. Plus they had a waterpark at the main lodge that was the ideal size for him and a play area next door with a huge slide that he loved riding down with his dad and uncle. There was a nice miniature golf course on the property where we enjoyed some friendly family competition. I was proud to say that I scored a hole-in-one after shooting through a water hazard and over a grate. Is there a PGA tour for miniature golf?

The villa had a kitchen so we were able to prepare some food there and other meals we ate out. We found this amazing bakery for pastries and doughnuts called Nonie’s. The food was delicious and very reasonably priced. Starved Rock State Park was just a few minutes down the road so we went hiking there for a morning. It was beautiful — we not only got a lot of pictures of the scenery but many family pictures as well. The last night we were there we ate at the Starved Rock lodge and had a really nice meal together.

How blessed are we to have a family where we all love each other, respect each other and enjoy spending time together. We had such an awesome time and as stressful as the beginning was, this was a vacation we’ll be talking about and laughing over for years to come.