Insights at Starbucks

I am currently on business in the suburbs of Chicago, and so I went to Starbucks tonight to do some reading. The little fiber sleeve that they put on the cups to prevent you from burning the palm of your hand has now been converted to advertisement space. Well I guess it has always been advertisement space, but always just with the Starbucks logo on it. This sleeve however was advertising a new movie entitled akeelah and the bee. I think it is a movie about looking at English vocabulary, and below the movie title it states the movie is changing the world one word at a time. I thought this was a nifty little slogan, but it got me thinking about completing the phrase….changing the world one BLANK at a time. What would be my BLANK? Several thoughts crossed my mind – action, thought, person, step. My favorite right now is – Changing the world one insight at a time. I have been finding myself taking more time recognizing, reflecting, and jotting down insights that I have thought about during the normal course of the day. I feel that some of these insights I need to put into action, but for me it has been a big step to simply take the time to recognize and incorporate a truly active thought process in my life about things that I have often taken for granted or am usually too busy to appreciate. These insights, usually are pretty small or common place, but they have been helpful in this continual process of self discovery that we call life.

Wedding Bells - A time of refreshment

Yesterday was a great day. I took off a day of work to travel to Portland, Oregon for one of my good friend’s wedding, Dave Plep.

The trip started with me driving down to Milwaukee on Thursday night and arriving at the League’s at about 10:30 PM. I got a bit of a latter start then I had initially planned, but got to spend the evening with Marion and the girls, so it was worth it. I spent some time just catching up on some small things with Brian and Courtney and hit the sack around 11:00. My flight the next morning was a 6:15, so I set the alarm (actually three of them – one on the palm pilot, one on the cell phone, and one on the ipod) for 3:30. All three alarms went off to start a very long, but rewarding day.

The flight out to Portland went well. I caught a lay over in Denver which broke up the flight nicely. I was able to get some reading done, some writing that I have been meaning to catch up on, and started listening to a series of old podcasts from Fr. Roderick on his coverage in Rome during Pope John Paul II’s death. These podcasts were great, it was like I was really there in St. Peter’s square during the final hours of the Pope’s death and I felt really connected to the greater Catholic family worldwide. Thanks Fr. Roderick for the great coverage.

I tried to catch some sleep on the flight over to Portland, but was not very successful, and got into Portland about 10:00 Pacific time. Plep picked me up from the airport, and it was great to see him again. I have been very excited about this trip because Portland is very near and dear to Plep, it is where he lives and grew up, and was always a topic of conversations while we were in school. Four or five of us from college are coming out to the wedding, and it good to be here on Plep’s turf and to see the place that he is so fond of.

We went out for lunch and did a little catching up in downtown. He then showed me around the city, and it was a lot of fun. Everything here in the Pacific Northwest is so much more alive compared to back home in Wisconsin. The grass is green, the flowers are out, the air is so fresh – I really felt alive. We went up to the Rose Garden which over looks the city to enjoy that. We cruised around the greater Portland area, and eventually caught up with Brian and Courtney who had gotten in on a later flight.

The hotel that I am staying in here is very unique. It is called McMenamin’s Grand lodge and is an old Masonic lodge that has been converted into a hotel. My room is a bunk room, which consists of a bunk bed, closet, and sink. The bathrooms are community bathrooms. There is something about the simplicity and community of the place that I really like.

There are several little rooms throughout the hotel were you can go for drinks. In fact I am typing this entry while in one of these little rooms, kind of hiding out from the rest of the world sipping on my morning coffee. There is a small little movie theater in the hotel, where guests can eat dinner and watch a movie. I watched a bit of the Chronicles of Narnia, and really enjoyed took part and enjoyed the communal nature of the hotel layout. There is a series of these hotels throughout the Portland area, and they also own a local brewery, so the beer on tap is very good. All this for $40 a night – what a deal.

This trip has been very peaceful and refreshing. I can’t help but to think that the fresh air that is coming in through the old windows of the room I am in is symbolic of the fresh air that this trip has provided to me. It has been a small retreat from the everyday, one that has refreshed me, and for that I am grateful. It is always great to meet up with old friends, and to have some time to reflect and rejuvenate. Thanks be to God.


As I am getting older, I am realizing that I am a creature of habit. The routine of everyday life is becoming quite comfortable. However, the interruptions to this routine are not. As a father now of two little girls, interruptions to what I would like to do are very common place. There is never a time for simple silence and reflection and doing my “Gabe” things, and when there is such a time, I feel like I have to get so much done during that time, that the relaxation and fun of it is non-existent.

As an example, I am beginning to develop a new found love for reading, but there is not always a lot of time for that, and when there is time it seems to continuously being met by an interruption. Messing around on the computer and learning new technology is now really saved as something I do at the work place, because there simply is no time at home. At work, getting projects done and working on what I feel is important is always met with an interruption. Interruptions are so common place in the American workforce that I just got done listening to a podcast that provides techniques to limit the number of interruptions during the work day in order to get tasks accomplished.

It is safe to say that don’t really care for interruptions when they take me away from what I find to be important. It might be hard pressed to find anyone that does. But are interruptions always to be cast in a negative light? After getting to read a little book by Henri J. M. Nouwen entitled Life Beyond the Mirror a book about his near death experience, which was a major interruption in his life that caused a bit of a life transformation, I realized that interruptions are sometimes necessary for us human folk. We don’t always find them desirable at that moment they occur, but sometimes they cause us to take a step back and to really understand and appreciate what is valuable. Maybe they allow for us to have a time to not be so consumed with the subject matter at hand such that we forget all else that life can offer. Maybe they present opportunities in our life, maybe they help us to really appreciate and define those things that we enjoy, or maybe they simply just add a little spice to the old routine. This might be pie in the sky thinking, but I can relate. Rather then taking the time to read my own book, but rather reading a book to my daughter somehow becomes more fulfilling. Helping a coworker with a problem that interrupts me from finishing the appointed tasks for the day is usually more rewarding.

Don’t get me wrong – man, do interruptions often annoy me, and these outlooks that I am presenting are not the first things that go through my mind when an interruption takes place. I fact while I was writing this, the computer battery died and the phone rang so this little thought took me longer to write then I expected. Agh… interruptions, we are bound to have them, but sometimes they are exactly what we need.


Not a great day of faith for me today. Only one word really sums it up, skepticism. I tend to be a bit of a skeptic as it is, but today I was even more so then normal. I think it all started with reading a normal of emails from a group of church friends who have been spearheading getting a “Walk to Emmaus” community and retreat going in the Appleton area. The “Walk to Emmaus” is a three day retreat, although people who have attended one tend not to like to call it that, in which the participants typically have a very profound jolt to their faith. The “Walk” is based on the Catholic Cursillo which is very similar but the "Walk" is open to all Christians, not just members of the Catholic faith. Marion and I attended a “Walk to Emmaus” and a Cursillo, respectively last year. Both definitely lived up to the hype, and were very meaningful to the both of us. We are both involved, Marion more then I, in our respective communities and it has been a positive for the both of us. I really do enjoy getting back together with others who have also made similar retreats and hearing what each is doing in their daily lives to grow closer to Christ. It is also comforting to hear their struggles as well, because I can definitely relate - Today being one of those days.

Well, back to the email. The group has heard that they have been approved to lead a “Walk” here in the Fox Valley. Just a week ago there were only five men who signed up and they needed to have at least twenty couples by this weekend to make it happen. Well earlier this week they got some final commitments to meet the twenty person mark, so the good news is that the “Walk” is on. Many in the group think this to be nothing short of a miracle based on the timeline they had. I am not doubting that God had his hand in this, I most certainly think that he did, but to instantly chalk it up as a miracle – that is where my skepticism comes in. I guess I tend to think that people attribute too many things to miracles that we have really watered down the word.

So I have that going on in my mind, as well as just simply getting sick and tired of getting so many emails on the status of “Walk” over the last several months. Then in some down time at work, I decided to do a little online reading to help foster ideas for some material I have been thinking about putting together on the family website. This material includes, for lack of a better title, a series of “elevator speeches” to questions that I repeatedly hear about why to be a Christian, and often times more specifically questions regarding the Catholic faith. I liked the term elevator speech, because I don’t intend for them to be long and drawn out (like this blog entry), but rather an answer that you could give to somebody in the time it takes to ride an elevator. I know there is gobs of material already on the web that probably achieves this same purpose, but to be quite honest this is more an exercise and learning experience for me to deepen and question my belief system.

One of the first elevator speeches that I thought about creating was why one should even believe in God. Yes, this probably is way to deep a topic to discuss then the what an average elevator ride would allow for, but it is a start. I thought it might be a good idea to first gather some common objections to the idea of believing in God, and that led me to a prominent atheist web site at I got a kick out of the name. Now, I don’t know if this was good idea or not, but it was rather eye opening for me to see the number of arguments that the website delivered in defending their position of there being no God. It actually humbled me, because what I thought might be an easy task in creating this “elevator speech” is going to prove not to be so easy. I honestly don't know why I thought it would be easy, after all this topic has consumed the lives of many great theologians and philoshophers, that to condense it into three or four paragraphs probably is a bit of a stretch.

I actually walked away from the whole experience, after reading a number of entries in the infidels' forums, with a heighten level of skepticism about some of the ideas and beliefs that are taken for granted living in a society which was/is rooted in Christianity (although some would argue does not model the Christian belief system.) You might say that my faith was shaken up a bit, and it was really one of the first times in a while that I had experienced such a feeling. I still see some of the flaws in the arguments presented at the infidels’ website, but the eye opening part of the experience was in recognizing some of the flaws that Christians have in their arguments for God’s existence. I always knew there where some pretty weak arguments on both sides of the fence, but even what I thought to be some of the stronger Christian arguments did not seem to hold as much weight as I had thought they would.

I plan on continuing on in my pursuit of creating these elevator speeches, because I think they will be good for me to further continue to learn about my beliefs and to appreciate and respect other points of view. I might not agree with one or the other in the end, but going through the learning process I hope will be valuable. And for those times when the skepticism is at a high in my life, I will echo those words of another father, who lived during Biblical times and say “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24)


Highlight of the day…

I started out my day much the same as I have been starting many of my days throughout the last several weeks – getting ready for work, eating breakfast with Victoria and then driving her to Carol’s house, our daycare provider. Carol has truly been a blessing to us. Victoria has been going to her house for daycare for the past year and a half. She has been running an in home daycare for about eighteen years, and has definitely earned her stripes. She shares the same core values as Marion and I, and provides an environment for learning that is worlds better then the first daycare that Victoria attended. Many times have I just sat on Carol’s couch and chatted with her about many things, and I feel most comfortable there.

After dropping Victoria off this morning she went directly into the dining area of Carol’s house, which is her typical routine. Then she usually proceeds to the play area, but today she hugged up on Carol for a little bit and then proceeded to want to play with some of the puzzles that Carol had out on the table. She started with the shapes puzzle, in which she matched the shape and colored puzzle piece with the same shape and color drawn on the puzzle board. I was surprised at how quickly she completed that one, and Carol said that she has been trying to encourage Victoria and Eagen (a boy about Victoria’s age) to work on some of the more complicated puzzles. Carol then proceeded to explain, in the most Carol of ways, why she thought puzzles were so valuable in the development of children Victoria’s age. She says it helps work on their analytical skills and encourages them to logically think through completing the task of piecing together the complete puzzle picture. Cool I thought, I can buy that.

Then I got to see Victoria put into action. She worked on a puzzle in which Grover is riding a horse. Carol encouraged Victoria to look at all the puzzle pieces and determine which ones made sense to start with. She started with the horse’s legs which were put towards the bottom of the puzzle. Then she found the horse’s head and made it fit towards the top of the puzzle. Once the perimeter pieces where in place, Carol helped her logically see where it made sense for the next pieces to fit. For example Grover’s head is blue, so she said to look for a piece of the puzzle where there was blue to match up to the other puzzle pieces. It was so cool to see her little mind working. Struggling with certain pieces, but then figuring out where it needed to be put. Yes, she needed help to complete the puzzle, but she was getting it!!! A puzzle that I thought would be way too complicated for her at this age, she was putting together. It made me feel like a kid again, and I almost wanted to sit down and do a puzzle myself.

Once Victoria completed the puzzle, I gave her a high five, like any good Dad would do, and she then proceeded to take all the pieces off the puzzle board and start the process again. Carol said she would probably keep doing it until she mastered it. She was so content, her and her puzzle. It was a special moment for me to see that, some would say a “Dad moment.” She has grown up so much in the last two years, and I can only imagine what type of things she will awe me with over her lifetime. Life is great.

Just a few thoughts

For some reason, I have been thinking about some different of my favorite and no so favorite things. Thought I would jot them down.

People who Captivate Me
Dave Ramsey
Fr. John Corapi
Fr. Mark Vandersteeg

Authors I enjoy
C.S. Lewis
Frank Sheed

Learning about and playing with new technology (especially software)
Teaching others (espcecially about technology)
Music with good beats (usually prefer old school, drum beats)
People reading stories to me (especially good readers)

Working on mechanical (hands on) things
Clutter that is not mine (I don't mine my own - it is a bit "invisible" to me.)

Beautiful girl

I have had some time to finally post these.... They were written on the dates mentioned below....

Thursday, January 24 2006 3:00 PM

Elizabeth Grace has arrived. Marion gave birth to a beautiful baby girl at 11:37 AM CST at Theda-Clark hospital in Neenah, WI. Although she was nameless for the first three hours of her young life on this side of the womb, mom and dad decided on Elizabeth Grace. She is most precious, but pretty big - weighing in at eight pounds, twelve ounces and twenty and one quarter inches in length. All of those brownie and ice cream cravings over the last nine months did not go wasted.

Marion is doing great and only had to push for twenty-thirty minutes this time around. This is quite a difference from the three hour pushing marathon with Victoria. In hindsight getting the epidural this time was great. It allowed Marion to relax and get some much needed rest during those last several hours. She keeps commenting on how different the two labors were, but we are both so happy and blessed to have had two healthy babies.

One of the first observations of baby, was how distinctively unique she is. Mom and Dad were maybe expecting a “Victoria” look, but Elizabeth Grace is truly has her own full set of beautiful features: full cheeks, long fingers and toes, gorgeous hair - ever so cute. She is a very quiet baby up to this point - as I type this she is dozing away, curled up in her little bassinet.

Most of the family is now in the know about our most recent edition, and the word is spreading fast. Phone calls like this are always fun to make. Victoria will be here within the next couple of hours to see her new baby sister (we would have had some explaining to do if baby Elizabeth came out as a boy). I am most eager to see my three beautiful girls together for the first time.

Well back to my ham sandwich, and mildly warm tortilla soup as Mom and baby catch up on some sleep.

Recounting the first part of Marion's labor with Elizabeth

I have had some time to finally post these.... They were written on the dates mentioned below....

Tuesday, 1/25/2006 11:00 AM
I am constantly amazed by my wife. After a long night of active labor, she sits beside me catching up on some much deserved rest. What a fighter. The contractions were much more intense then those with Victoria. These were very painful for Marion, although she seemed to be dealing with them quite well. So well, that I thought she was doing fine, and neglected to walk around the hospital with her as much, which I don’t think she liked very much. She made the comment that I could be a bit more cooperative in the process.

She labored for about four hours in the hottub which offered some relief, and I got some rest on the lazy boy. We were both running on less then 2 hours of sleep. After the hot tub, I became very involved in coaching her through the breathing. Marion seemed to depend on me more to help focus her through the contractions, whereas with Victoria she wanted no coaching at all. It is amazing how different these two labors were.

After about nine hours of labor we decided to get an epidural to give Marion a much deserved rest. After all she did but in full day of work yesterday, watched a movie with a friend and then came straight to the hospital. Her contractions where about two minutes apart at that point. She was three cm dilated, on a scale of one to ten. The pushing phase should start within the next couple of hours. What a fighter.

I have only had two cups of coffee at this point. I think I had about six with Victoria at this stage in the game. I have called all of the family a repeated the story above countless times, always one of the fun “Dad” tasks. I even called into the work team meeting to give them an update. I am sure they got a kick out of that. Victoria is doing well with Andrea at the Willetts house. Andrea said she feed her chocolate chip pancakes, for which I am sure she is grateful.

Thank you Lord for such a beautiful family, great friends, a loving and caring hospital staff - they are great.

20005 Christmas Letter

This post is a little late (like two months), but I thought it would be need to continue to post our Christmas letters to this blog. Here is the 2005 letter.

Dear Family and Friends,
Merry Christmas! I cannot believe how quickly this year has gone by. It has been a difficult year especially for Marion and her family but we feel blessed to have lots of wonderful memories from 2005 as well.
We had a quiet winter. Marion and Victoria spent some extra time after the holidays in Pittsburgh just to be with her mom. It is time that Marion will treasure forever. We also got to go to Milwaukee for a Marquette basketball game. It is always great to be back in Milwaukee and see friends, especially Brian and Courtney, Victoria’s godparents. Victoria was very unsure about snow this year . Maybe she is like her mom and enjoys summer activities more.
The Maentz house was crowded for Easter. Gabe’s dad and stepmom came to visit us. They quickly realized that we, especially Marion, are not home much during Easter. Marion planned the youth led Sunrise Service at her church for the 4th year now. We also had members of the Estonian Gospel choir from Estonia stay at our house. It was wonderful to learn about their country and share our culture with them. All our visitors left Easter morning so we headed to friend’s house for Easter dinner. There were several families there who do not have family close by. We are very blessed to be able to share holidays with our “Appleton Family”. Unfortunately, we received sad news the day after Easter. Marion’s mom’s cancer took a turn for the worse. We immediately drove out to PA and were able to spend a day with her before she passed away. We have so many precious memories of her and are extremely thankful that Victoria got to meet her “mimi”.
More traveling for us in May. We flew out to Colorado for Gabe’s sister Sarah’s graduation. It was great to spend time with Gabe’s family. After we got home, Gabe left on a business trip. Marion ended up with pink eye in both eyes. She had not been feeling well since before Colorado so when she picked up her pink eye medication, she also picked up another little test. Surprise….a pink line. Yes, Marion was expecting our second child.
We had lots of excitement the rest of the summer. Marion’s grandma stayed with us the month of July. It was wonderful to have her here. She helped with Victoria, meals and cleaning while Marion struggled through the 1st trimester. Marion’s roommates from college came to visit 4th of July weekend. It is always great to get together with our MU friends. Gabe was in England for 2 weeks at the end of July for work. On the weekend, he was able to do some sightseeing. After dropping Grandma off at the airport August 2, we began our driving adventure out east. We stayed with Marion’s dad in PA then left for DC . It was Gabe and Victoria’s first trip to DC. They were both exhausted by the end of the day. Then we drove to Corolla, NC. We met up with Gabe’s mom’s family for a week on the beach. What an awesome time! Gabe’s brother, Jake returned from the Philippines. It was the first time Victoria had seen him. Victoria was quite a beach bum, playing all day in the water and sun. Jake made the long trip back to WI with us. He stayed with us a few days before we all left for Michigan to spend time at the Maentz family cottage. Victoria loved the additional beach and sun time!
Gabe stayed busy this fall coaching two soccer teams. In addition to the U17 girls team he had been coaching, he was hired on as the Appleton North HS boys JV soccer team coach. They had a successful season. Marion and Victoria went to a few of the home games. Victoria was more interested in running around instead of watching the game. It was a long 10 weeks for Victoria and Marion. Marion actually had to cook dinner every night. They survived, though. We made our third trip out to PA the beginning of October for Marion’s sister Jessica’s wedding. Marion was the matron of honor and Victoria was the cutest little flower girl. She loved being a part of Auntie Jessica’s wedding, especially getting to ride on the trolley with the wedding party.
At the end of October, Gabe started playing indoor soccer on Monday nights. Marion and Victoria go to the early games. He isn’t as out of shape as we thought! Gabe is also offering private goalie lessons. He just can’t seem to get enough soccer! Marion stayed busy this fall with the youth group and their trips. She also managed to fit in some much needed scrapbooking time. One of these days she will catch up! Gabe’s brother came to visit at the beginning of December. Victoria enjoyed having “her Jake” here.
Here we are to Christmas. We will be spending the holidays with friends here in Appleton, since Marion’s travel has been restricted. We will be busy preparing for the baby’s arrival. Victoria cannot wait to have a little sister and she loves to kiss Marion’s belly and talk to the baby. Victoria recently started telling the baby it was time to come out. Marion would not mind that at all. We are thinking about all of you and wish you happy holidays. Peace be with you.

Gabe and Marion

Focus on the Essentials

I was listening to some reflections by Pontifex (Fr. Burns) with phatmass and he was talking about the essentials in life.

I really took this to heart. I feel as if I need to list those things that are essential in my walk in this life and make sure that I am putting those on the top of my priority list. After all, when working on the family budget with my wife, it is essential to have food, shelter, and to pay the electricity bill. Going out to dinner and travel is all non-essential and really considered a luxary. In my daily life it is essential to spend time with God, family, and friends.

I must confess that my daily time with God has been very lacking lately, and I am convinced that I need to once again focus on the essentials. Soccer, computer work, leisure reading... while fun, are not essential. Daily time with God and family is of the utmost importance.

Time to get back to daily praying and reading the scripture, as well as spending quality time with my wife and beautiful daughters. PHP scripting and Soccer, while fun can wait.

Thanks Pontifex for the reminder.

Sitting in the Presence

I have been a "bachelor" this weekend. Marion and Victoria went out to Pittsburgh a couple of days ago, and I will be joining them tomorrow. My flight leaves in about nine hours. I have to say that it has been a bit lonely here, not having the two of them around. I find while they are around I sometimes wish for some quiet time to pray or read, or surf on the computer, but now that they are gone and I have the ability to do all of those things, I am finding myself missing them. I guess that is not to out of the ordinary, and I am sure that I will be soon longing for some quiet again.

I was able to do one thing this morning that I very rarely get to do, and that was to sleep in. I slept until 10:00 am, made breakfast, read my daily readings, and just took my time. Having missed the morning Mass this morning, I went at 6:00 tonight. I arrived at the church about fifteen minutes early, and that allowed me to sit in silence in the presence of the large crucifix that is hung above the altar. I have found myself getting in the habit of staring more and more at this crucifix, and I really like sitting in front of it. Christ's body is life size, and it gives me great peace to sit there and pray. I often find myself praying for the typical things - my family, friends, guidance, but I am able to do it so fervently in front of the cross. I am loving it.

The other thing I love about it is how it is positioned in the church, right over the altar. As a Catholic I believe that at the sacrifice of the Mass, on that altar, our Lord makes himself present before my very eyes. We as a congregation are there at the foot of the cross. This crucifix serves as a reminder for me, and it is truly awesome to know that Christ died for me and the sins that I present to him on that altar when I receive communion. He humbled himself to come down in the form of bread and wine so that I may receive him wholly. Blows me away, as I reflect on that. The Catholic church is so rich in symbolism, and we often have the tendency to look past things in church as we treat them as the regular and ordinary, but I am glad that this ordinary crucifix reminded me of the what Christ did for me and what I am being a part of while at Mass.

Praise God. Peace and Blessings.

December 2004

My brother is currently in th Philippines working as a Peace Corps volunteer. He has always been one who has inspired me to be a better person, through his example. He has some great pieces of writing that he has done while over there, but this is one of my favorites. I think it is because it reminds me of the important things in life.

I love you bro... good stuff.

Jakes's December 2004 writing

Year in review Christmas letter

We have started a new tradition in the Maentz household of including a letter with the distribution of our Christmas cards, reflecting on the previous year. I thought it would be appropriate to post....

December 8, 2004

Dear Family and Friends,

Hello All! It is hard to imagine that another year has passed. It has been a wonderful and trying year. Victoria went from just learning to crawl to running around the house wearing her parents out. She is turning into quite the little toddler.

After our Christmas vacation tour of the South East, we were happy to be home. January brought and we promptly took Victoria outside to enjoy it. She was at little uneasy at first; not quite sure what this was on the ground. She rode around on a little sled and even made her first little snow angel (with help of course).

We went to Milwaukee in February to visit Victoria’s Godparents, Brian and Courtney and attend Victoria’s 1st Marquette Basketball game. GO MU!!!! She slept most of the second half but woke up in time to see Marquette beat Tulane. She was clapping and cheering right along. We treasure the times that we can spend with Brian and Courtney and know that they are the best, most loving Godparents a child could have.

In March, Gabe had a training class in Philadelphia so Victoria and I flew out to Pittsburgh to meet up with him for the weekend. This gave us some valuable time with the family. We drove up to Ridgway to visit with Marion’s grandparents and great-Aunt Helen. It was the first time that Aunt Helen saw Victoria in person. BIG NEWS: VICTORIA STARTED WALKING!!!! Just in time for her 9 month “birthday”, Victoria walked. She had been holding on to furniture and pant legs for a while but finally did it on her own. Little did we know how much life would change.

Victoria celebrated her first Easter in April. Marion helped again this year with her church’s Sunrise Service led by the youth. We spent the afternoon with friends – it is such a blessing to have such great friends to share our holidays with since family is far away.

Victoria, with help from Gabe, got Marion a beautiful bouquet of flowers for Mother’s day. Great-grandma Whitlow and Auntie Jessica came to visit for a long weekend in May. What a blessing to have them both there. Jessica helped to get our garden planted as well as other flowers around the yard and took care of Victoria while we went to “Miss Jamie’s” wedding. We were so excited that Nick and Jamie were getting married but sad that they would be moving to Minnesota.

June was full of birthdays and another wedding. We all flew out to Delaware for the wedding of Gabe’s fraternity brother Greg. Grandma Maentz drove down from Connecticut to watch Victoria. We celebrated Gabe’s birthday then Marion’s birthday and Victoria’s 1st birthday. Victoria was excited to have a piece of chocolate cake all to her self. Unfortunately, Marion’s grandfather passed away after a bout with cancer the day after their birthdays. He was an amazing man and will be missed dearly.

Gabe is still coaching a U-17 girls soccer team so much of our summer and fall is consumed with soccer. We went to Blaine, MN for a tournament in July. The girls played well but lost in the semi-finals. We went to Milwaukee at the end of July for MU’s 5 year reunion. Victoria got to meet Marion’s college roommates, Deirdre and Mary Beth, for the first time.

In August, we took our yearly trip to Holland, MI. Gabe’s family has a cottage on Lake Michigan. We got to see great-grandma Maentz, Uncle Steve and Aunt Sue and their little baby, Benjamin. Poppy and Christine Maentz were there with their family of dogs which Victoria loved. Her first word besides Mama and Daddy was Doggie. Victoria was a little nervous of the water at first but by the end she was having fun playing in the water. When we got back from Michigan we went to our third wedding of the year. Victoria’s godparents, Brian and Courtney, got married in Milwaukee. Victoria had fun at the wedding and stayed at the reception running around with Brian’s niece until 10pm. She’s quite the partier!!!!

Unfortunately, September brought more sad news. Gabe’s grandmother, Frances, passed away from cancer. We flew out to Connecticut for the funeral and Marion’s parents drove to WI to stay with Victoria. Grandpa Whitlow had fun chasing Victoria around the backyard and going down the slide about 100 times. We also found out that Marion’s grandmother, Victoria had breast cancer. The rest of September was filled with soccer games and the baptism of our godson, Benjamin. We were honored to be his godparents.

October allowed us time to recuperate from the busy summer. We took Victoria to a pumpkin patch. She loved playing with all the gourds and pumpkins. We picked out three pumpkins to carve. Victoria was fascinated with the jack-o-lantern’s eyes. This was Victoria’s 2nd Halloween but her first to go out trick-or-treating. She dressed as a ladybug. She went right up to each house with her little bucket waiting for candy. She enjoyed the candy so much that we had to hide it from her. Halloween was an exciting sports day in the Maentz household…..STEELERS vs. PATRIOTS. The Steelers won….and yes Gabe and Marion are still together but there was definitely much gloating by Marion.

Marion went away for the first time, other than work, to a scrapbooking retreat in November. She was able to complete several pages in Victoria’s baby book. Poppy and Christine also came to visit. It was wonderful to see them. Victoria kept us all entertained with her antics. She loves to make people laugh and once you laugh at something she will continue doing that. We spent the rest of November in Connecticut for Thanksgiving. How wonderful to be with family for the Holidays!!! We got to see grandma Maentz’s new home and visit with Gabe’s Aunts and Uncles who were meeting Victoria for the first time. We also got the chance to visit with Mary Beth and Brad in Newport, RI.

Here we are to December and since Victoria’s birth 18 months ago she has been on 24 planes and traveled to 13 different states. She is a great traveler. We will be spending the Christmas Holiday with Marion’s family in Pittsburgh. It will be a joyous yet difficult time. We recently found out that Marion’s mom, Karen has cancer in her lungs, liver, and kidney. At the time of this letter Karen had yet to see the oncologist so please keep her and Marion’s grandmother, Victoria who will begin radiation in December in your prayers. These are two very strong, faithful women who give us all hope!! We love them dearly.

We hope that this letter finds you and your family well. You will be in our thoughts and prayers over the next year. May your holidays be blessed!!

Gabe, Marion, and Victoria Maentz

Keep Karen in your Prayers

I am not sure how many people actually read this journal, so perhaps this is not the best forum to place this prayer request, but it does not hurt.

This week Marion and I found out that her mom, Karen, had traces of cancer in her liver and lungs. As one can imagine, this has been very hard news to her, her family, and her friends.

I was just reading an excerpt from Matthew Kelly ( talking about how life takes courage. I ask you to keep Karen and her family in your prayers, that she may have courage in life's road ahead. May we all continue to put our trust in Jesus.

Thank you and God bless.

Letter of Recommendation to National Honor Society

This is letter I wrote for one of my soccer players, as a recommendation for National Honor Society. I have worked with Amber for a number of years on goalkeeping and she is one of my strongest players. I remember asking folks to write letters of recommendation for me while I was in high school for clubs like the NHS and now it it neat to be on the other side of the fence and write one on somebody's behalf.

So here it goes...

I was asked to write a brief essay about the character of one, Ms. Amber Zdanovec. I have known Amber for four years, being her soccer coach. Ever since meeting Amber, I have been impressed with her capacity for hard work and determination. Amber is a soccer goalkeeper, a position that requires a tremendous amount of patience and attention to detail. Having been a goalkeeper myself, I have learned that these qualities are as important off the field as on the field, and in my experience this has been the case with Amber. She has always impressed me with her ability to play multiple team sports, as well as keep an above average high school grade point. These examples in and of themselves show the exceptional character traits held by Amber.

The quality that I admire most about Amber is her ability to put others before her self. Selflessness is a rare character trait in today’s society, but such a valuable one. I am convinced that we truly will be happiest as a people, a nation, and a world when we find the ability to give rather then to receive. This is the building block for true peace. If there where more people that had this character trait exhibited by Amber, the world would be a better place. It is for this reason, which I highly recommend Amber for acceptance into the National Honor Society.

Great week with the Fam

Well the Thanksgiving week is over, and it proved to be a very good weekend. We went to Connecticut to see my mom and the rest of the family. This was the first time that Victoria got to meet my Aunt Sue and Uncle Jim. It was also the first time that she got to meet my Uncle Chris, Aunt Janet, and Leigh and Shawn.

Sarah and Amy came into town, and we had a very nice Thanksgiving. It was the usual family get together in very many ways - filled with catching up with one another, enjoying each other's company, and of course the unavoidable argument(s). My mom seems to be doing well in adjusting to her new living conditions in Connecticut, and Amy is moving back home to get back on her feet. What else is family for.

It has been a while since spending Thanksgiving day with this side of the family, and it was very fun. Reminded me of my childhood, a day filled with good times and family. As my uncle Jim later reflected while we were watching a film of the dinner (Uncle Jim and his gadgets) - there are not many families out there who are able to all sit down together and truly enjoy one another's company. That is a blessing.

Wish Jake and Dad where there - that would make it complete, but life has changed in that way and is something that takes a little getting used to. This was Victoria and Marion's first experience with the fam - and they did very well. My wife has the patience of a saint. I am growing to love her more and more for that characteristic.

I am not sure when we will all get together again like this, now that families are growing and distance continues to make it difficult to get together. Enjoy the time that you have together when you are able to get together, and that is what we were able to do.

Great Weekend with my Dad

This time of year tends to be one of my favorite. Being that Marion and I both live pretty far from the rest of our family, we have for the last several years traveled back home to spend the holidays. While most people use their vacation in the summer months, we have found that we use the majority of ours at the end of November and December.

This year we were blessed to have my Dad and step-mom, Christine, come and spend a long weekend with us. It was nice to have family come our way at this time of year, but more importantly it was just nice to see family.

This trip for me was a little different then the usual for me, but in a good way. I got to see my dad in a light that I have not seen in a while. After the divorce, almost 5 years ago now, the relationships with my dad and us kids have not at times been the best. Hurt feelings tended to, at many times, lead to awkward situations, and as a result these relationships never were able to grow. In fact in many ways they were stinted or unfortunately even worse, were degraded.

I can only speak for myself as my perspective is unique to my experiences before, during, and after the divorce. I am still hurt in many ways, but am healing, and learning more about my parents, myself, and my siblings in the process.

This weekend was one of those learning experiences for me. I got to learn a little more about my dad. He shared some stories about his past, some of his experiences when he was my age. All very interesting things for a son to hear his father talk about. But more then stories, advice, and the chance to catch up, this weekend I got to see some of the fruit of my father's personal growth. What an awsome gift a father could give to his son.

His demeanor was different then it had been in years past. I don't know how to explain it, besides using the word, gracious. My dad this trip didn't seem so up tight as he sometimes could be, and seemed so content in watching his granddaughter do the things that granddaughters do. Granddaughters probably have a way of doing that to most people. He was also eager to listen. He had questions about things going on in his life, and was truly interested in my opinion. I am sure we both got something out of those conversations. I know I for sure did. Open and healthy dialogue with my dad - great stuff.

I love my father. I have great memories of my childhood, and believe that I am the man I am today, much in part because of his influence and love. He is by no means perfect, but he is continuing to try to be the best version of himself, and thus be the best person he could ever hope to be to himself and to his family. That process requires searching and eventual growth as a man. I am just glad that I got to experience some of that growth with my dad this weekend.

Start of my Journal/Weblog

I have long wanted to start recording some of my thoughts, primarily for personal reasons, but if others are interested they are more then welcome to read them.

I am still undecided on the medium in which to do this, but since I am a computer guy, and do like technology, I have decided to post them in the form of a weblog. I, in many ways, need things to be easy to do, or I have a tendency to ignore them - and since I am on the computer a weblog seemed to be the best way to facilitate that.

I will just cut to the chase with my thoughts/reflections for today:

In listening to Fr. John Corapi on the local Catholic radio station, and had a few questions answered for me today. Lately I have been struggling with identifying what my role in this life is. This is a common struggle, from what I have been told, and seen first hand, but I guess this is one of my times in life to deal with this struggle. You see I hear about all this good that people are doing in spreading and living the message of the Gospel. Me, I am a computer network guy, and aspire to make a bigger impact on the world then by just sitting behind a desk and configuring network equipment all day.

Marion, my wife, assures me that there are all types of people in the world, and that we are all called in different ways. She is right, but it is just taking me a while to accept that. Today I had some further confirmation of that. First Fr. Corapi stated that we should not all try, right away to be like the great saints. St. Francis he said would fast all of lent, and only eat a half loaf of bread. But St. Francis had special graces in order to do that. We do not all have the same graces that St. Francis had.

Then as I was reading my daily bible reading, in the book of Romans, Paul states that we are all members of the Body of Christ. We are many different parts that make up the body. (I have a little song rattling off in my mind.)

Paul says that we have different qualities by reason of the grace given to us (Rom 12:6) - confirmation/re-iteration of the point Fr. Corapi was getting across.

Once again Marion was right, but being the person I am, I needed to continue to dig and in the process, continue to struggle, until I hear multiple reassurances of that confirmation.

I know I am called to be a loving father and husband. I will continue to do that, with the help of God's grace. At the same time I hope to be able to further reflect on the graces that God has given me, so that I might become all that he has called me to be.

I hope that this journal is indeed one way to help facilitate that reflection.