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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Back to School and Back to Normalcy...

It has been a wonderful summer for my family.

In June, we took an amazing road trip to North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee and stopped at a resort near Jacksonville on our way back. In July, we went to my wife’s family’s yearly vacation to Sanibel Island, and, in early August, I had a brief chance to see my cousins, whom I had not seen in several years.

However, as much as I enjoyed our summer break, there is nothing better then getting back to a normal school year routine.

I imagine summer time for many parents is like, what I’ve heard, boat ownership is like. They say that the best days in a boater's life are the day they buy the boat and the day they sell it. Although, I’m not suggesting parents can’t wait to cast off their kids into the abyss, after a long hot summer, it’s sure good to have them back in school!

There’s something to be said about the rush and craziness of school day mornings; the alarms going off, Fox News popping on the TV (which, in my house, is not limited to school days), the kids fighting over who sat on who’s bed, my wife yelling at the them to get out of bed, to make their beds, to stop dragging their feet and get dressed, already, and to brush their teeth and hair, as she tries to get herself ready and make breakfast for them.

Meanwhile, nobody seems to care that I'm trying to read in the bathroom and get constantly interrupted by kids knocking at the door, asking for tooth brushes, tooth paste, retainer boxes, hair brushes, hair bands, etc. As Charlie Brown would say, "Good grief!" (It doesn’t help that I use their bathroom because my wife is getting ready in ours!)

There seems to be a chaotic symmetry, which can only be experienced within a nuclear family during the stress of getting ready and out the door in time to beat the late bell.

Although, for us, that morning frenzy isn’t limited to weekdays. On Saturday mornings, we are rushing to get my younger daughter to soccer on time and on Sunday mornings, we are rushing to get to 9am Mass, where our older daughter sings in the Children’s Choir.

In any event, with the start of school, comes more regimented schedules and discipline, which leads to more harmony in our household.  The kids start going to sleep at a normal bedtime (giving me more free time to blog), the girls start ballet classes, my younger daughter starts soccer and soon my son will start t-ball.  I am also more likely to get up to go to the gym or run in the morning, since I too end up going to bed earlier, and despite all the hastiness and havoc in the mornings, my wife and kids (now, that my 4-year-old son starts going to the same school) are out of the house by 7:30am.

It gives me plenty of time to get ready in peace and make it to morning Mass again, which aside from the week in Sanibel, has been a rarity for me throughout the summer.   Although, I will miss the bonding time with my son!

Moreover, as of this week, my men's group starts weekly meetings in preparation for our upcoming retreat in October and my wife and I start hanging out with many of our school and parish friends, who we don’t see as often during the summer. (Have you noticed a pattern through all this?)

Yep, it’s good to have our kids back to school (or should I say, it’s good for me)...


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Despite Polls, Santorum Holds Firm on Abortion...

With the latest Public Policy Poll showing him garnering just 5% of votes, GOP Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum's bid for the White House appears to be a long shot at best.  However, the former two-term Pennsylvania Senator, showed during the Iowa GOP Debate, that he does not waver when it comes to abortion. 

During the debate, Santorum was asked whether he still believed, as he stated in June, that doctors that performed abortions should be criminally prosecuted, despite public opinion polls that indicate a majority of Americans thought abortion should be allowed in certain cases. 

Without hesitation, Santorum answered, "You know, the Supreme Court of the United States in a recent case said that a man who commited rape could not be killed; could not be subject to the death penalty.  Yet, the child concieved as a result of that rape could be.  That to me sounds like a country that does not have its morals correct.  That child did nothing wrong.  That child is an innocent victim.  To be victimized twice is a horrible thing."

He went on to say the unborn child is genetically human from the moment of conception and that we as a nation should be big enough to help women who have already suffered the trauma of rape, from being traumatize again by abortion.  He said, "One violence is enough."  Many in the audience broke into applause.     

It's amazing how, for some, public opinion polls seem to dictate what is truth...



Friday, August 19, 2011

Capturing the Moment...

Talk about unity in diversity.

This photo was taken yesterday at the Plaza de Cebiles in Madrid, where crowds of young Catholics gathered to get a glimpse of Pope Benedict XVI and listen to his words at a welcoming ceremony at World Youth Day.

Over a million Catholics from 193 nations are gathered for the six-day event.






[pic credit: WYD Facebook page]

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Catholic Youth Celebrate Faith and Universality of the Church...

On my way to drop off my children at my parents’ house one recent morning, I started telling them about World Youth Day, which started Tuesday and will last until Sunday in Madrid, Spain.

I told them that over one million Catholics from all over the globe are expected to attend, including Pope Benedict XVI.

Then, I turned to my older daughter and told her I would love to attend World Youth Day some day. Without skipping a beat, and from, what seemed to be, the depths of her heart, she answered, “But Dad, it’s for youth!”

There’s nothing like a good dose of reality first thing in the morning.

One of the four marks of the Catholic Church is its universality.

In fact, the word Catholic, first recorded in the writings of Ignatius of Antioch, who lived during apostolic times and was a follower of Ss. Peter, Paul and John (and was ordained by St. Peter), means universal.

Thus, from the beginning, the Catholic Church has been a universal church, following the mandate of Jesus Christ, whose last instruction to His disciples was to “make disciples of all nations and baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

This is never more evident then at World Youth Day, which this year brings together Catholics from 193 countries to share in faith, love, and serve as a visible light upon the hill and reason for hope. It is unity in diversity.

Aside from the faithful, who despite my daughter’s observation, because of its name, is open to Catholics (and non-Catholic Christians) of all ages, over 800 bishops, archbishops and cardinals and eight thousand priests will attend the six-day event.

Participants will celebrate the faith by praying together, worshiping together, breaking bread together, receiving the sacraments, including daily Mass and Confession, getting catechetical instructions from bishops, and having fun, including concerts, enjoying the rich Catholic history of Madrid, but, most importantly, encountering the Risen Christ, through the love of neighbor, the Word of God and the Eucharist.

Pope Benedict will arrive Thursday and is expected to attend nine events, including a welcoming celebration Thursday night at the Plaza de Cibeles, leading an Adoration Vigil, where participants will be invited to spend the night in tents, praying in the presence of the Most Blessed Sacrament, and the Sunday open-air closing Mass at Cuatro Vientos. Somewhere in between, the Holy Father is also expected to hear Confession in one of the 200 confessionals that were installed at the Jardines del Buen Retiro.

Like many nations in Europe, Spain is a country in desperate need of a faith revival, where the traditionally loyal Catholic nation’s government has become more and more secularized and liberalized, to the point, where there is an antagonistical relationship with the Church. Still, over 130 thousand Spanish youth are expected to attend.

World Youth Day gives the Church an opportunity to reenergize young faithful. Let’s face it, one of the greatest failures of Church authorities over the last fifty years has been the inability to keep young Catholics feeling passionate about their faith and making the moral teachings relevant to the times we live in.

I’m not suggesting the moral teachings be adjusted to the modern world. I understand that man needs to adjust to God, not God to man. God is Truth. And, Truth never changes. It was the same during the time of Christ. It is the same today and it will be the same tomorrow. Therefore, the Church, which was handed the deposit of faith by Christ, can never change her teachings according to societal pressures.

When I refer to keeping the teachings of the Church relevant, what I mean is to keep them in the forefront of culture; not shy away from controversy or fear opposing viewpoints. As more learned men then me have stated through the ages, the Church must always be ready to give a reason for our hope, as St. Peter wrote, but with gentleness and love. She must be vocal in explaining the faith with fervor, conviction and excitement, so as to motivate and inspire and allow the Truth to set us free!

As a father, I understand that this passion for the faith must start at home. And, it begins with me. The most important responsibility I have as a father is not buying my children the latest Play Station computer game, MP3 player, smart phone or Apple product. It’s not even sending them to the most reputable school.  I adhere to a line I heard Dr. Ray Guarendi, who is a father of eleven adopted children, a clinical psychologist and author, once say, “I am more interested in my children getting into Heaven than getting into Harvard.” The most important responsibility I have, as a father, is passing my faith to my children.

This is the concept behind World Youth Day, which was started by Bl. Pope John Paul II in 1985 and has been held every two or three years in different cities around the world ever since.

Aside from the Pope’s love for the youth of the world, he wanted to gather them, so that, together, they could feel God’s presence and love, realize they are members of the organic Living Body of Christ, past, present and future, and go out and transform the world.

Therefore, despite my daughter’s candid observation, I hope someday I can attend World Youth Day and partake in the Catholicity of the Universal Church…




[pic credit: Zenit.org]

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Pedaling Away Again and Getting Lost in My Imagination and Pride…

As far back as I can remember, I have had a vivid imagination. I remember spending hours upon hours playing with my soldiers, or cowboys and Indians, where, I would play out scenes from imaginary movies, complete with dialogue, plot, and ending. During the summer, sometimes the soldiers or cowboys play would last for days, much to the chagrin of my mom, who would get upset about the plastic figures left all over our Florida Room.

I also would play with my baseball cards, and would set a card at each position on an imaginary field on the floor and play a nine-innings game using a Reynolds Wrap ball that I would toss at a card in the batter’s box.

Occasionally, however, that vivid imagination has gotten the best of me, as it did last week when I rode my wife's Trek 800 15-speed mountain bike for the first time, after a two-year hiatus (I gave her the bike as a gift several years ago but probably use it more than her).

Now, the reason for not riding the bicycle wasn’t a promise I made to God or that I misplaced it. It was because the chain broke and it took me that long to finally getting around to having it fixed. Let’s just say I’m not a proponent of the motto that states, “Why wait until tomorrow when you can do it today.” As my wife freely tells friends, it takes me a while to get around to doing things on “my time.” Making it worse, “my time,” is sometimes when nobody else has done it and I have no choice!

Anyway, my break from riding started one cool (by Miami standards) fall morning in 2009.

I woke up at 5:45AM, as I normally do on days I work out. I remember, that particular morning, I didn’t feel like running and decided to give my knees a break and go biking instead. It was a decision I was making on a regular basis during the weeks leading up to that morning.

For several days, however, I was noticing that, as I approached a stop, and slowed down the bike, the chain would drop and, as I started pedaling again, the gear would not catch immediately and would spin about halfway into a rotation before finally catching and allowing me to thrust forward.

Putting that aside, I was going down my routine 8-mile ride, in which I go down a relatively busy boulevard (although not at that time of the morning) for about 4 miles to the outskirts of the University of Miami. I turn right in front of the school, past a coed jogger or two, the old man and woman waiting at the bus stop and continue to Alex Rodriguez Park. I turn right and start heading back towards my house, up to Miller Dr., the road I took when I attended UM, turn left past St. Augustine Catholic Church and at the corner, turn right and follow that road almost all the way back home.

As I turned on the corner past St. Augustine, about three miles from my house (I usually run 3.5 miles), I slowed down, and felt the chain drop. I started pedaling and the gear wouldn’t catch. I thought to myself, “It’s going to catch,” and kept spinning the pedals as I tried to keep my balance and the bicycle kept slowing down until it was practically at a standstill.

“It’s going to catch. It has to catch.” I kept pedaling.

I guess, I was like a hamster spinning on a wheel, only a lot bigger and fatter. After several minutes, of going nowhere fast, my thighs started burning, and I had to step down. “Now what?” I thought.

I pushed off again and started spinning again. Nothing. Obviously, it wasn’t going to happen.

I looked at my watch. It was about 6:25A and my wife and kids were going to be getting up at in about 20 minutes to start getting ready for school and work. I figured that if I wasn’t home, they would wonder where I was (and maybe even start worrying).

Therefore, despite my reluctance to run that morning, since I wanted to get home as soon as possible, I had no choice. I started running, while holding the bike by the handlebar and rolling it next to me.

By then, the sun started to come out and, as I reached a busy intersection, I realized that I must have been a sight for sore eyes; a chunky 40-something-year old man in an athletic fitted dry-fit shirt, sweating profusely and running next to an empty bike (fortunately I don’t own biking shorts!).

I never rode the bike again until last week.

Moreover, I must say, as eventful as that last ride was, my first time back on a bicycle seat was almost as interesting.

In fact, for last part of the ride, I thought God was sending me a divine message (which I was having trouble figuring out!).

As I said, my imagination sometimes gets the best of me and it did that morning. As I came around past the University of Miami and turned on the corner of Alex Rodriguez Park, I started to feel drops, which I first thought, were raindrops. However, as I kept being pelted by wet-less drops, I realized they were like white flakes.

At this point, it got a little surreal. As I pedaled under trees, I felt the flakes but in the open sky, I was also feeling the white flakes. “What are they?” I started being covered in the tiny droppings on my arms, chest, and hair.

That’s where my imagination started to get the best of me. What first crossed my mind is, this must have been what manna looked like to the Israelites during the forty years they wondered in the wilderness after Moses led them out of Egypt (not that I had any idea but only imagined what manna would look like).

"Manna? Did I just think manna?" Then my mind started racing faster then my legs. "Is God sending me a message?" I read of people smelling or finding roses that they believed were signs from St. Theresa of Little Flower or our Blessed Mother but manna? "Have I been chosen for some special mission?"

Let's face it, as most Christians know, public revelation ended with the last Apostle.  Still, while not tenets of our faith, millions of Catholics around the world believe that over the last two millenniums, the Lord has sent messages through certain individuals, not to improve or complete the teachings of the Apostles, but to guide them to live more fully during certain periods in history.  St. Faustina Kowalska and St. Bernadette are some examples.

"Was I getting a private revelation? What was the Lord trying to tell me? What does He want from me?" I started trying to meditate and open my mind to God’s voice.  I only heard silence (but for the noise of traffic in the distance).

By that time, the I stopped feeling the flakes land on me. "Maybe, this is all in my mind," I thought. "Probably, by the time I got home, these white things will have disappeared. Why would God choose me? But, then again, why not?" I was having a full fledged internal debate in my head.

I kept pedaling and, when I finally got home, my family was still asleep. I still had some flakes on my arms.

I went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror; my hair was full of the miniscule white pieces. As I looked closely, I saw one of the flakes started moving. "What? Oh my; they were little winged insects."

In an instance, I went from being a messenger of God (in my own mind of course) to being the butt of some Heavenly late night show skit. Talk about spiritual pride and ego! I guess there will not be a St. Carlos of Coral Gables any time soon.

Maybe, this is God's way of suggesting, I go back to running (or, more importantly, that I try to live with a little more humility).  Ouch...



Thursday, August 4, 2011

Daily Communion Gives Marlins Manager Peace of Mind...

Somehow I don’t feel as bad about my favorite team, the New York Mets, having lost five out of the last six games since the All-Star Game against the Florida Marlins, despite the jabs I've taken in recent days from "so-called" friends.

Let’s face it, the Mets are going nowhere and, to top it off, the Marlins are managed by Jack McKeon, an 80-year-old, good natured, cigar-smoking devout Roman Catholic, who attends daily Mass, in the mold of legendary NFL coaches Vince Lombardi and Don Shula, and is a devotee of the Virgin Mary and St. Therese of Lisieux, also known as The Little Flower (which is the patron saint of my children’s school).

A New York Times article, reports that faith sustains the elderly manager.
In each major league city, McKeon has a favorite, or at least a convenient, Roman Catholic Church. If he does not know their names, he can describe them or tell you how to get there. In Cincinnati, it’s SS. Peter and Paul. In Chicago, Mass is at Holy Name Cathedral. In Philadelphia, he goes to what he calls “the oldest church in the U.S.” When the Marlins stayed at a hotel on the East Side of Manhattan, he followed these directions: “Walk out the door, take a left, walk 30 yards, and take a right, where the homeless hang out.”

For each of the regular churches in his personal directory, he learns the Mass schedule.

“At St. Patrick’s it’s 7, 7:30, 8, noon and 12:30,” he said. “They’re very flexible.”

Mornings at church “give me energy,” he said. “You’re free. You feel good.” His daily ritual is part of a baseball routine that is now in its 62nd year, stretching back to D League ball in Greenville, Ala.

“When I go to the ballpark, I have no worries,” he said. “God’s looking after me.”
In fact, the 2003 World Series Champion manager of the Marlins, who retired for a second time in 2005, only to be recently rehired to manage the team, credits his faith and the intercession of the Blessed Mother for helping him sign his first pro contract when his dad was reluctant to let him sign out of high school until McKeon finished college.
“So off I went to Holy Cross, and every night, I’d pass the shrine of the Virgin Mary on my way to the dining hall,” McKeon said. “I asked her to intercede with the Good Lord to convince my father to let me sign. I got home for Christmas and the scouts were back, and one day, my father said, ‘You really want to play? If you promise to get a college education, I’ll let you sign.’ I attribute that to the power of prayer.”
The jovial octogenarian, who has over a thousand major league victories under his belt as a manager, and twice won the NL Manager of the Year Award, despite never making it to the big leagues as a player, has had almost as much success evangelizing.  Through his example, Trader Jack, as he is known, has helped several friends convert to the Catholic Church.
McKeon said that in 1950, he asked John B. Coakley, an older minor league teammate in Gloversville, N.Y., to join him for Mass one Sunday morning. “He said, ‘I’d love to, but I don’t understand all the signals you have,’ ” McKeon said, laughing at the memory. In a telephone interview, Coakley added: “I told him if he taught me the signals, I’d become a Catholic.” And he did.

Harry Dunlop, who coached for McKeon at Kansas City, Cincinnati and Florida, attended Mass often enough with McKeon to enjoy it.

“If you’re a Presbyterian, it’s tough to go to church on Sundays, because you have to get to the park early,” he said. “So I said: ‘What’s the difference? It’s a house of God.’ ”

He converted, too.
McKeon, who is a the two time book author, credits St. Theresa of Little Flower for helping the Marlins win the 2003 NL Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, before going on to beat the NY Yankees in the World Series, although he may have confused her with another saint.
On Oct. 15, 2003, before Game 7 of the National League Championship Series in Chicago, McKeon attended Mass. It was the morning after Steve Bartman interfered with a foul ball and the Cubs wilted.

“I’m in the pew and the pastor says that today is the feast day of St. Teresa of Avila and I say, ‘We’re in, we’re going to win today.’ ” Never mind that St. Teresa is not his St. Thérèse. But she was in the ballpark.

The Marlins won, and went on to beat the Yankees in the World Series. Msgr. Neal Dolan, the pastor of St. Michael Catholic Church in Poway, Calif., said McKeon’s faith “has always impressed me because he believes in being positive.”

“That’s why he’s still managing,” he added.
In the Times article, McKeon tells a funny anecdote of an exchange he had at church with good friend.
One of McKeon’s partners in faith is Tommy Lasorda, a former Los Angeles Dodgers manager.

At church one morning in Cincinnati, McKeon watched Lasorda light a candle.

“Later,” he said, “when I got to home plate, I said, ‘Tommy, I saw you light a candle, but it won’t work. After you lit it, I went up behind it and blew it out.’ ”
Therefore, while I'm not sure about Mets' manager Terry Collins faith background, if he were Catholic, maybe Trader Jack is blowing out his candles too.  At least the Marlins are playing the Mets as if that were so...

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Trying to Pick Up My Extended Family's Dropped Ball...

"I should've caught that!"
Whether it was the best Pan Con Bistec, as my cousin Bob claimed, or not, was irrelevant. What was important to me was that I was enjoying the Cuban steak sandwich with some of my closest cousins from Chicago, whom I had not seen in several years, our spouses, our children (nine in total) and my great aunt.

Last weekend, my cousins and their families came to town for a brief stop en route to other destinations; Key West and Bermuda.

On Saturday night, most of our extended family that lives in Miami (and an uncle from Orlando) got together with them at a relative’s house in West Miami-Dade.

Amidst, lechon asado, pork loin, camarones enchilados, congri, yuca, platanos maduro, tamales black beans, white rice, and beers, wine and single malt scotch, we reminisced, shared some laughs, and got caught up with our lives.

As night fell upon the gathering and my older cousin showed up after work, I couldn’t help but think how much I missed the days of past, when our family reunions were a yearly event.

It’s amazing how fast time passes us by.

One minute, I am in my mid-20’s and fighting with my younger brother over the bathroom in our hotel room, while getting ready for Bob’s wedding. Consequently, due to our bickering, we were late to my uncle’s house, where a caravan of cars, with parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins was waiting for us to leave for the church (even as grown men, we got chewed out by our mom!). I’m sure, you’ve heard of the bride arriving fashionably late. Have you ever heard of the groomsmen? Leave it to the self-centered Cubans from Miami to arrive late for an Irish-Catholic wedding in Chicago! (Bob’s wife’s family is of Irish descent)

The next minute, I am in my late-40’s, am married, and have three small kids, while Bob has a college-bound daughter, a son in high school and another daughter going into 6th Grade and our children hardly know each other.

Time and distance has pulled us apart over the past twenty years. How sad. Nevertheless, making it worse, is that we, like many families in this busy, fast-paced, career oriented, not-enough-time-to-smell-the-roses world we live in, have allowed time and distance to separate us. How do we get so wrapped up in our individual lives that we allow lifelong relationships to suffer?

My mother’s side was a very large and close-knit family. It was an old fashion extended loving family, where everyone was involved with everyone else’s lives, took care of one another and good advice and guidance were at a beck and call. In fact, when my great uncle suffered a work-related accident and couldn't run his business, it was my grandfather (his brother-in-law) who dropped what he was doing, traveled to Chicago and kept the business afloat and until my uncle could get back to work after an extended period.

It all began with my great grandparents, both Spaniards, who met in Cuba (he was 25 and she was 15), and had ten children together (although two died young; including one as a baby and another in his 20’s due to illness).

As the children got older, my grandmother among them, they got married and started their own families. Soon the children’s children outnumbered the adults and some of those offspring (my mom), started having their own kids (me!).

After Fidel Castro took power in Cuba, most of the individual families started to immigrate to the United States. Then, several years later, my great grandparents left the island and came to the U.S. via Spain.

Although, spread throughout, some setting roots in Chicago, while others in New York, Orlando and Miami, they remained very close and my cousins (2nd removed) and I grew up getting together every year, usually during Christmas, summer, or both.

In fact, some of my fondest memories growing up are times spent with my cousins. I remember playing ping pong or dancing during family reunions, playing in the snow in Chicago, or, one time, throwing ice balls at cars and getting in trouble when we hit a car and the driver got out and knocked on my uncle’s door. Fortunately, my great grandmother was the only adult in the house and didn’t speak English!

There were also many long hot summer days swimming, diving, and running down the halls while knocking on doors at the Jefferson Hotel, in Miami Beach (before the area became known as South Beach), where they would stay every year. We once caused the evacuation of another hotel, The Poinciana, when my cousin Bob decided to set off the fire alarm during one of our ding-dong ditch games.

As we got older, while living in different parts of the country, we grew up together and, at least I, anxiously awaited all year to see them.

Some summers, my cousins would come to stay at our house.

I remember trying to keep up with an older cousin, who was training for the upcoming high school football season. He was a star linebacker and was in amazing shape. As he ran from one end of the street to the other, in front of my house, I would try to run next to him. He would leave me in his dust and I would catch up to him as he came back around heading the other way. I wanted to grow up to be just like him.

That year, summer of ’76, he and his older sister spent part of their vacation with my parents, grandparents, brother, and me. I recall my female cousin introducing me to the Beatles, which remain one of my favorite bands. That year was also the Summer Olympics, and my cousins got me caught up in their enthusiasm for the games, where a 14-year-old Romanian gymnast, named Nadia Comaneci, stole the show, and all America rooted for a young, athletic, pre-plastic surgery (and before he was trying to keep up with the Kardashians) decathlete, named Bruce Jenner.

Another summer, when I was already in high school, my cousins Bob, who is my age, and his younger sister stayed at our house for several weeks. We must have gone to every movie out in theatres that year (The Blue Lagoon with Brooke Shields was the highlight for me!).

One night, I took Bob out with my high school friends and things got uggly.  Aside from Bob getting sick in the van, as we arrived at the roller skating rink, a couple of my friends ended up getting into some sort of fracas with some other guys, sometime during the night, and disappeared. We never found out what happened and Bob, a couple of other friends and I spent all night looking for the missing guys in our group.

It wasn’t until hours later, that one of those missing friends finally showed up to pick us up and take us home, that we found out the other guys were waiting to get bailed out of jail. Talk about a lasting impression!  God was definitely watching over us that night.

Several years later, when my older cousin, who had introduced me to the Beatles, was getting married (she was living in Miami by then), Bob’s sister was a bridesmaid and came to stay at our house.

She wanted to get some sun to get a little color for the wedding and I, in one of my brilliant moves, decided to take her to the beach in Ft. Lauderdale with some friends (not the jail inmates!), where we were in the sun from about 10:00 am until about 4:00 pm in the afternoon.

Mind you, she had been hibernating in the Chicago winter for months and was lily-white when she got here. To top it off, we were pouring the old Hawaiian Tropic tanning oil on ourselves, which was probably equivalent to pouring oil in a frying pan and simmering our skin, like sirloin steak. It wasn’t pretty! She swelled up like a puffer fish and was crying all night from the pain. Yeah, good times… It’s a wonder how they still talk to me.

Another crazy night with all my cousins, including my cousins from Orlando, we went to a bar in Coconut Grove, where we all had one too many Long Island Ice Teas. We were piled into my older cousin’s (former football star) boss’ station wagon, which was broken. The vehicle would not accelerate and so we had to all lean forward to help the car get up the ramp of the highway. We couldn’t stop laughing all the way home.

Somewhere on a side street, as we chugged along in the broken wagon, two of my cousins, decided to get onto the roof of the car as we drove (obviously, this is not a blog that I want my children to read until they have enough common sense not to want to do this with their friends or cousins!).

In between, I made several trips to Chicago and have many fond memories of our antics and good times with my cousins’ friends.

The point to all this, and forgive me for carrying on, is that as close as we once were (and I will not elaborate on my cousins on my father’s side of the family but the same can be said), after getting married and starting our own families, we all drifted apart.

Now, it seems that the only time we get together is for weddings and funerals, as our relatives get older and pass away, or once every several years, as we did last weekend.

As I reflect on what happened to that close-knit extended family of long ago, I can only conclude that we were held together by the love and commitment of our patriarch, my great grandfather. When he passed away, my great grandmother became the glue that kept us together for several years and then my grandmother stepped in, as the default matriarch, after my great grandmother passed away. In fact, most of our yearly reunions were held in my grandma’s house for many years.

However, when she died, shortly after I met my wife, our family slowly began to disintegrate. Nobody stepped into the leadership vacuum or was a galvanizing force in keeping our family together.

I will admit, it was my generation that dropped the ball. The first generation was getting too old and we never picked up the flag and carried it forward. Everyone went their own way, started their own family, and slowly lost touch.

On Sunday, before our Pan Con Bistec, my cousins and I discussed planning a reunion for the entire family with God's help; maybe renting a large house somewhere, where we can concentrate on getting reacquainted, sharing laughs and having our kids spend quality time and getting to know each other, as we use to in the old days.

Unfortunately, because of the gallop pace of juggling careers, jobs, children, the flood of information we are bombarded with daily and other responsibilities, we often get lost, distracted and overwhelmed, which is how twenty years can pass us by without we even realizing it.

We decided, it is time to stop and smell the roses before it is too late. If we don’t take the time to rekindle the torch of the family, passed to us by our parents and grandparents, we may soon find our past generation gone and our future generation never having known each other…