Mad for…Bill

Happiness springs from doing good and helping others. -Plato

Day 110 of 365: Bill Beck

Sitting atop the broad shoulders of her grandfather in this photo is my youngest niece, Ellie. Just below her stands her big sister, Maddie and her “Nana”, Irene. Admittedly, this photo is a few years old, but it is my absolute favorite picture of Bill Beck. The joy on his face as he holds little Ellie is palpable.

Bill is a terrific father and grandfather. He celebrated his birthday this week, and so I am a couple days late to honor him with a little love in my “Mad for 2019” series, but as we all should know by now, I believe in festival-style celebrating of birthdays, so I’ve decided to extend the celebration! After all, there are SO MANY reasons to cheer the life of Bill Beck!

My sister married into the Beck family a number of years ago. Her in-laws, Bill and Irene, are phenomenal humans in copious ways. For instance, they run a charitable trust that is committed to helping those in need. Depaul University, multiple community food pantries, schools serving low-income youth, and many other worthy charities have been recipients of their generosity. I could write a myriad of articles about the way they contribute positively and make a difference for others.

Today, however, as I look to honor Bill a touch with my words, I find myself grateful mostly for the witness of love and affection he has shown to the people I love. Bill’s son, Chris, married my sister, Robin a number of years ago. Like his Dad, Chris is an integrity-filled person and I am so pleased to call him family. Their two girls, Maddie (15) and Ellie (12) are treasures. Here’s the thing. Not every grandparent takes the time to engage in the lives of their grandchildren as Bill has these two lovely ladies. He’s been beyond supportive and kind. He is sunny and present for them ALWAYS. It’s been a great comfort to me all these years to know with certainty that my sis and her family have phenomenal people nearby who truly love and care about them.

It’s not been all about dance recitals, CYO games, or school plays either. When Robin needed to move out of her house in the suburbs due to health problems, there were “Bill and I”, graciously taking them into their home until the storm passed. Their physical nearness and compassionate natures have always been a huge aid to me when it comes to accepting the fact that my only sis, along with Chris and the girls, are a skosh too far away for my liking. When we know that those we love are happy and cared for where they live, it provides both solace and peace of heart.

So, this week, Bill, as your birthday is celebrated, I wanted you to know that I am ever so grateful for you! Your goodness has always been apparent in my every interaction with you. You even went out of your way to give some great professional advice to my own kiddo a few months back, and that was beyond the call of duty. The way you live your life makes me think of the words of Anne Frank who said, “No one has ever become poor by giving.” How true!

What I am trying to say is that you, Bill, make such a positive difference to all in your path I am WAY OVERDUE to say THANK YOU! You are an authentic and character-filled human being. Here’s hoping your BIRTHDAY FESTIVAL continues on through the end of the month…because your life is certainly worth celebrating! You change the world with your joy and your smile. Happy Birthday!

Mad for…Rosie

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes I him might not perish but might have eternal life. (John 3:16)

On this Good Friday 2019, I’d like to introduce you to my friend, Rosie Zatkulak. She’s the beautiful brunette on the right in this photo. She’s pictured here with her handsome husband and her five terrific children.

Rosie’s defining quality is her incredible faith. If I know any woman who understands what it means to love and serve the Lord, this is her. In all she does, she exudes warmth and gratitude. It’s clearly born of the understanding that Jesus laid down His life for her. The beauty of her authentic faith is STUNNING. I simply cannot do it justice here. I have never once had a chat with Rosie which did not start or end with a prayer. Her relationship with the Lord is one that inspires me to continue to work on my own. She is a fierce woman of God and a prayer warrior that I am incredibly blessed to call friend!

She’s fun-loving, humorous, and madly in love with her gorgeous family. She’ll be just the most terrific grandmother! She’s as generous and thoughtful as she is completely silly. We got to know each other better several years ago when I noticed her hobbling around. I can’t recall if she was on crutches or in a wheelchair, but her movement was seriously impaired. I approached her after daily mass and asked her if I could help her get groceries or run errands. She looked at me like I was her guardian angel and immediately said, “Yes!” We promptly went to Kroger together. If you know me, you realize this was truly a work of mercy on my part…because I really, truly LOATHE the Kroger experience.

God knows what He’s doing though, because I needed the wisdom of a faithful woman, and she apparently needed someone to reach the high shelf at Kroger and to help her dye her hair! HA!!

Over the years we have shared our joys and our sorrows over many cups of coffee. We’ve laughed and we’ve cried together, but this woman is my sister in Christ, a friend handed to me by the Lord. So, today, on Good Friday when I am overflowing with gratefulness for so much, I just wanted to take a moment and say THANK YOU, ROSIE for being a faith-filled treasure in my life! I love you!

“Don’t worry about anything. Instead, pray about everything, tell God your needs and don’t forget to thank him for his answers. If you do this you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will keep your thoughts and your hearts quiet and at rest as you trust in Christ Jesus.” (Phililppians 4:6)

Mad for…Marilyn

A bend in the road is not the end of the road…unless you fail to make the turn. -Helen Keller

Allow me to introduce you to the uber sparkly and faith-filled Marilyn Crisci. She’s a wife (of over 65 years), along with a mother of a huge brood (I think 10?) and I have no idea how many grandchildren. Above, she’s pictured with granddaughter, Kylie and grandson, Sam. She’s just flat out an inspirational woman, so today, on her 88th birthday, I want to take a moment to acknowledge her in all her colorful, indefatigable awesomeness!

As long as I’ve known her she’s been tenacious and untiring. She is and has always been a bundle of energy– often attending her grandchildren’s events and ever present for family and fun! For years, I would see her out and about taking her very brisk walk near my kid’s grade school, St. Louis de Montfort. I knew she was in her mid-80s when one day (October 6, 2016) I heard from her son, Stan, that his mom was in dire need of prayers. Marilyn had been hit by a car while walking along Hague Rd. in Fishers. Not only had she been hit, but she had sustained very serious and life threatening injuries.

Days and weeks came and went, and the prayer warriors were in overdrive for Marilyn. The doctors at St. Vincent at first were simply not sure if her life could be saved. Then, they decided she’s clearly a fighter so to try and spare her life, they indicated they simply must amputate one of her legs. I will be honest, this news took my breath away. I wondered could a woman of her advanced years recover from such a blow.

Apparently, I didn’t understand the stubborn, tenacious doggedness that is Marilyn Crisci. Now, at the young age of 88, Marilyn is doing just fine, thank you, and back to the business of family weddings and grandkids! I find her perseverance BEYOND INSPIRING. I know many other folks feel the same way, and one of those wonderful humans, my dear friend, Chris Helt, encouraged me to write today about Marilyn in honor of her birthday! I couldn’t be happier to comply with the special request! Thank you, Marilyn, for being a reminder to me that the Lord doesn’t promise easy, but He does promise to be with us ALWAYS.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MARILYN CRISCI!!

Mad for…Lauren

Joy is the serious business of heaven. –C.S. Lewis


On the right, above, is Lauren Crisci, pictured here with her mom, Michelle (on left).

My Mom usually marks the 18th birthday of those around her by saying inspiring things like, “Well, now you can officially go to the electric chair! Congrats!” HA!!? I think I’ll try going another way today for you if it’s okay, Lauren Crisci?

Lauren is a SENIOR at Guerin Catholic High School in Noblesville, Indiana and she is the middle child of Stan and Michelle Crisci. Her older brother, Sam, is a sophomore at the University of Cincinnati and her younger sister, Kylie, is also a Golden Eagle. As she was growing up, this absolutely beautiful young woman with the joyful heart has been such a pleasure to watch and be around. Since the Criscis were my backdoor neighbors and carpool partners for many years, I have known this outgoing, sassy young lady Lauren since she was very small. I have a few things I’m long overdue to say to this terrific young woman.

You, sweet girl, make the day better for everyone in your wake, and you always have! You are enthusiastic, inspired, friendly, responsible and creative. You are incredibly bright and you project positivity and fun. When you are around, the sun just seems to shine a little brighter. Character-filled, faithful people are always going to notice your sunshine and be drawn to you. I hope you will always be exactly who you are, because it will attract other happy, upbeat people and they will use that same tactic to help you chase away the shadows that may show up in your own life. You are one special and fantastic human.

Lauren, you are a young woman who goes out of her way to smile at and love others. Your genuine happiness for the successes of others is glorious and holy. You never fail to acknowledge people (even dorky former carpool moms) who cross your path. It’s impressive when a young woman is confident and warm enough to realize that saying hello and offering a smile to others is a beautiful gift worth giving! You may not know it, but that warmth and cheerfulness really is a special grace from the Lord.

I truly believe that joy and the ability to share it with others is a great gift from God reserved for special souls. Lauren, the world SO NEEDS people like you. Your smile and warmth always find me feeling grateful to know you and hopeful for the future. THANK YOU FOR BEING YOU! HAPPY 18TH BIRTHDAY, LAUREN!!

Mad for…Erik

Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy…The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. (Psalm 126:2-3)

Yesterday wasn’t my favorite day ever. It started out with my neighbor and carpool partner making an SOS call a few minutes after 7am. His car had broken down, he said, and he wanted me to come and scoop up the kids and get them to school. At that particular moment, I was in my bathrobe. My hair was looking not just a little like the online photos I have seen of Albert Einstein. Quickly, I threw on a Purdue hat and some yoga pants and off I went. Obviously, things happen and I was glad to help. I’ve been a stranded motorist, and it’s no fun. Still, it wasn’t an ideal start to the day. Later, when I was running errands, I ran into an acquaintance who confided about her need for prayers and the rough state of her marriage. It weighed on me. After that, I headed home for a bit. When I turned on the TV, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was burning– badly. For a gal who has never even been to France, it struck me as an enormous gut punch all the same. It’s one of the most historic Catholic Churches in all the world! It’s full to the brim of priceless art and relics, including the crown of thorns. Gosh. It just really hit me hard. I said a prayer for the firefighters and the people of France.

There were blessings, too, in my Monday to be sure (like Shoebox Club) so it’s not like I was focused on being a “Gloomy Gus”, but it simply wasn’t the day I would have chosen. This morning when I woke up, I found a sunny day, and lots of news coverage about Notre Dame greeted me.

I’ll be honest, I was at a bit of a loss today about who I wanted to write about. Then, I decided I needed to make a choice to be JOYFUL and to smile. This is the reason I am choosing today to write about the very entertaining Erik Ives. He’s pictured above with his family.

Under his moniker on his Facebook page, it reads, “I’ve always got a joke, but sometimes they’re not very good.” Allow me to demonstrate his point.

Are you laughing despite yourself? I know, me too! And so it goes with Erik. He’s always got something silly to say. He’s the father of two incredibly bright kids, Renee and David, and the husband of a pistol named Holly. Erik is from the east coast, maybe Connecticut? I’m not sure, to be honest. Also, I have not a single clue what he does for a living. There’s an office involved though, I bet? I know he plays tennis and is a big smarty pants from CORNELL. Those are the types of people who usually have offices…?

As far as I am concerned, Erik’s defining quality is his VERY QUICK WIT. He’s also insanely bright. I’ve learned over time that if there’s a single trait I really need in others around me it’s that they have a good sense of humor. It’s usually a fairly telling indicator of intelligence and temperament too.

Several years ago, Erik and I were sitting at a CYO basketball game. His son, David, was on Zach’s team that year. My husband, Tom was the coach. As we sat in the stands, Erik began telling me how he and David had been working on basketball in the driveway but said they weren’t very impressive. I was not expecting there to be a punchline in this harmless chat, but nevertheless, it came quickly. “Yeah, we decided to play each other in a little one on one.” I replied, “Well, that’s awesome, who won?” Erik glanced up and said, “We played for about 15 minutes, but neither one of us made a shot. My people are historically more MATHlete than athlete. I wish Tom luck with the kid, though.” HAHAHA! It was then that I knew I liked Erik Ives. He’s got sass and spunk.

Laughter is definitely of God, and life is too short to be serious all the time. I haven’t spent a lot of time around Erik, but I admit that I stalk his social media a skosh. I have been known to snort and chuckle at his wisecracking. The world needs a whole heck of a lot more folks who are willing to laugh at themselves (and life) like Erik does. He’s a “go-to” for me when I need to lighten the heck up! Humor diffuses stress, am I right? He’s relatable and effortlessly funny. Erik’s kids are two very blessed young people to have such a character and character-filled guy as their Dad.

Thanks, Erik, for the sparkle, quirkiness and laughter you add to the world. You make me grin and giggle and those are two of my very favorite things! I am grateful to know you! You make the world a better place with your genuine smile and charm!!

Mad for…Colleen

Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do. –Steve Jobs

Day 105 of 365: Colleen Stine

When I first met Colleen, she was still Colleen O’Malia. She hadn’t added the “Stine” yet. She was “Aunt Coco” actually. That’s how I knew her because that’s how her oldest sister, Janet, my dear friend, always referred to her in my company, and so did her sunny sister, Shannon. My oldest two sons, Nick and Drew, called her “Aunt Coco” for a long time too when they were little guys. She was the energetic, light-filled “fun” aunt to some of the best kiddos around. Her nephews, Nick and Jake Andriole adored her, as did their little sis, Alli. Ditto her nephew, Connor. Danny hadn’t arrived on the scene yet, nor obviously the three gorgeous Stine kiddos in the photo above. She’s now married to just a kind and fantastic man named Doug, and they live nearby here in Carmel. I remember their wedding as one of the most fun evenings EVER.

Colleen is as genuine as she is transparent. She leads with humor and silliness…and usually there is a trail of kid-approved snacks falling from her vehicle when the door opens. Her life is beautiful and inspiring, but it is not easy. She leans hard on her husband, her parents and her faith. She and Doug now have 5 children, including Connor and Danny Hall, the sons of her sister, Shannon, who left this world waaaaay too soon. All that leads me to this quirky birthday tribute today.

Colleen. I read this quote below, and I wish I could tell you where I saw it. It makes my heart swell and my eyes leak a tiny bit too. It made me think of you today and just how much I truly love the woman you are.

“Some of the kindest souls I know have lived in a world that was not so kind to them. Some of the best human beings I know have been through so much, and they still love deeply, they still care. Sometimes, it’s people who have been hurt the most who refuse to be hardened in this world, because they would never want to make another person feel the same way they have felt. If that isn’t something to be in awe of, I don’t know what is.”

Colleen, I don’t know if you can see it from your frazzled, over busy angle but the rest of us are blown away by how you let God lead. Those words of Jesus, “Come, follow me” make me think of you, too, and what you have done so beautifully with your life by the stunning witness you give each day to all in your wake. Instead of being a big tangled mess on the floor when the noise of life overwhelms, you’ve opened yourself up to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and let the Lord lead you in the most grace-filled dance. Whether you realize it or not, yours is a life full of grace that truly does inspire everyone around you– even when you don’t remember practice and you forgot to order hot lunch!

Inspiring goodness in others is completely how you roll. I happen to think it, and YOU are stunning in every way. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, COLLEEN! The Thieme family is crazy about you!

Mad for…Diane

Be an encourager. The world has plenty of critics already. -Dave Willis

A wise friend told me a number of years ago, on a day where I was holding a rather pathetic pity party, how important it was to notice and pay heed to the encouragers in our lives. Diane Vuotto has been such a person for me, though I doubt she knows it. She’s a mom to two stunningly beautiful young women, Gina and Elle, and the wife to Jim. I don’t know much about Diane’s background, if I am honest, except I think when our kids were young she told me she was from New Jersey. She’s pictured at right, above, with her terrific family!

Diane and I know each other just a bit, from several years with kids in school together at St. Louis de Montfort and then at Guerin Catholic High School. She’s outgoing and fun. Her gorgeous youngest even went to a high school dance with Drew if memory serves. As moms go, this gal is a phenomenal one, because her girls are full of sunshine and life just like their mom.

A number of years ago, I decided to start a blog– this one. I would write just now and then when something struck me as compelling and I felt I could add something positive to the world by engaging it a little. I wasn’t certain at all that the activity wasn’t just kind of narcissistic, and several times I considered discontinuing writing altogether- in all forms. Then, inevitably, I would post something and get a truly thoughtful response from Diane. She would tell me that I made her laugh and think, or that she appreciated my words. She did that by text and in person, more than once.

We don’t cross paths with people by accident. That’s what I believe. They are meant to show up in our lives. Something about her sassy and sarcastic sense of humor makes her authentic to me. Just by being herself, she encouraged me by her words to just go ahead and let folks see the flawed, quirky, silliness that is me. I thought, well, maybe it is a waste of time, but just maybe something good can come of it after all? Her lifting up helped me more than she might realize. I just wanted my life somehow to be an expression of God’s grace and goodness and my noodling at the keyboard helped me feel content, at peace. Diane’s a magnifier of strengths, a person who doles out valuable affirmations and she helped me decide maybe it wasn’t so narcissistic after all.

I read this cool quote yesterday and then I noticed that tomorrow was Diane’s birthday. It was clearly the Holy Spirit moving me to pay attention to the gift and the lovely witness of goodness that the Lord sent me several times through her. It said, “Encouragement is like oxygen to the human spirit. You’re carrying someone else’s air. Encourage them, help them breathe.”

So, Diane, you make me laugh and you have a beautiful heart. Thank you for cheering for others, for taking the time to let your light shine. I have taken your example of simple kindness and tried to run with it. THANK YOU, DIANE, FOR JUST BEING YOU! I think I’m a day early, but HAPPY BIRTHDAY!! YOU ARE A GEM!

Mad for…Susan

“To reveal someone’s beauty is to reveal their value by giving them time, attention and tenderness. To love is not just to do something for them but to reveal to them their own uniqueness, to tell them that they are special and worthy of attention.” Jean Vanier

Day 103 of 365: Susan Barrett

This selfless, sunny and sassy mother of five is celebrating a birthday today! Happy Birthday, Susan Barrett! A native of Ft. Wayne and grad of Bishop Luers High School, our birthday girl is pictured with her very accomplished and beautiful daughter, Ellie! She’s married to pretty fabulous guy named Joe, and together the two of them have raised just an incredibly faith-filled and lovely group of kiddos who are now (mostly) grown!

Susan works at the O’Connor House (www.theoconnorhouse.org) where she serves as House Director. This is a very special place whose mission is to provide a Christian home to help single, pregnant, homeless women improve life for themselves and their children. Susan is literally the face of Jesus to countless folks everyday in her role at the O’Connor House, which is why I chose the quote above to honor her on her special day! She has a gift for making others feel that they are unique, important, and beloved!

It’s been my pleasure getting to know the Barrett family over the last few years, and here’s what I want to tell you about Susan. She’s got an enormous heart and a quick wit. When I see Susan, I am certain of two things. I will be getting a big hug, and probably I will be laughing in about 45 seconds. She’s absolutely filled with contagious joy! Her efforts for her family at home and at the O’Connor House are constant, continual, and unceasing. She seems to me a person who journeys with the Lord in the hustle of everyday life. There just isn’t any way to give the kind of positive energy to the world that she does without an overflowing bucket of grace– the kind born of a life spent loving Jesus.

Susan, I want to THANK YOU for providing me a stunning witness of what it looks like to love your neighbor. Each time I see you, I feel blessed by grace. You live your life shining a very bright light. We should all strive to follow your lead, my friend. Today, my rosary is for you and your intentions.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SUSAN!!

Mad for…Emily

People are interested by talent. God is impressed by character. -Rick Warren

Day 102 of 365: Emily Kleck

It’s her beauty that might catch your attention, but it’s her character that has always captured my heart. Meet Emily Kleck. Emily is the “middle child” of Chris and Kit Kleck. She’s got a terrific older sister, Anna, and a handsome younger brother, Jack. Emily is a 19-year old freshman at New York University (NYU) where she is a standout on their volleyball team. This photo, above, I’ve stolen off her mom’s Facebook page is I assume from prom night at Cathedral last year. I just love it because you can really see her personality and sparkle in this shot!

This second photo is a picture Emily texted me on St. Patrick’s Day this year. I had sent t-shirts like this one to all the kiddos who are lucky recipients of our “Shoebox Club” college boxes. She is a sunny, grateful person who just wanted to say thank you and let me know she was rocking the new, festive shirt on the appropriate day. That is classic Emily behavior!

I first noticed Emily when she was in grade school. I’m fairly certain she’s the only person taller than my Drew in all the grade school photos of their class at St. Louis de Montfort! Ha! He’s got her by a few inches now, but Emily was always a stunner with very long legs. She’s strong, fierce, athletic and incredibly bright!

What first impressed me about Emily when I spent some time around her as a grade school girl was that she was incredibly articulate, friendly and grateful. She never, and I mean NEVER failed to spot me in the lunchroom, hallway, carpool line, or at mass…just anywhere our paths crossed…without taking the time to come and say hello. This is a rare and awesome quality that I have always appreciated when I see it in young people. She was and is now, always confident and friendly! Sometimes we underestimate the impact of a kind word or a smile. Emily has always seemed to grasp the importance of the small but lovely act of kindness.

Emily loves challenges, and she seem undeterred by any missteps, but rather enjoys the effort of learning something new. What a wonderful witness this makes her to others around her! What I am trying to say today is that while Emily is a stunningly beautiful young woman who is certainly graced with unusual and impressive athletic and academic acumen, what makes her truly great is the quality of her character.

I read this terrific quote by Teddy Roosevelt this week and it made me think of Emily, which is why I chose to write about her today.

“Character is far more important than intellect in making a man a good citizen or successful at his calling- meaning by character not only such qualities as honesty and truthfulness but courage, perseverance and self-reliance.

How true those words ring to me today when thinking of the girl from Fishers, Indiana who chose for her college path New York City with all its bright lights, big crowds, and subways to navigate. From what I hear, she’s killing it in the city. That’s no surprise to me at all! Keep doing you, Emily! God loves the way you SHINE! Count me among your large crowd of fans…and come see me for a hug when you come home for a visit, ok sweet girl! I think you are THE BOMB!

Mad for…Heather

“And this is the job of the catechist: constantly to go forth to others out of love to bear witness and to talk about Jesus, to proclaim Jesus. This is important because the Lord does it; it is the Lord that impels us to go forth.” –Pope Francis

Being a 2nd grade teacher is the job of a hero, no matter what school. To do this job in a Catholic School, however, is really a calling unto itself. It requires the typical classroom control (which is not easy with a couple dozen sets of 7 and 8 year-olds to manage), then there’s the Math, English, Social Studies, Science, etc. For teachers with students in Catholic School, this job also includes sacramental preparation for two of the Sacraments in the Church– First Reconciliation and First Holy Communion. For the uninitiated, let me tell you….it’s kind of a big deal.

Meet Heather Sears. She is a wife and the mother of two (mostly) grown and terrific sons, Chase and Conner. I also know her to be a treasured friend to many. That’s no surprise to me since I’ve seen her quiet acts of kindness many times over the years. She’s got a friendly face and an easy smile for everyone. As a teacher, she is firm but patient and very loving. I’ve noticed her graciously accept gifts from children that might be otherwise classified by yours truly, but the fact is they chose it for her and she understands the proper disposition necessary when a child gives you a gift– even if it’s a muddy rock.

I love the kind-heart, generosity, and genuine loveliness that is Heather. She’s funny and the owner of a silly sarcasm that makes me smile. I think the Lord loves living in Heather because of the beautiful way she treats others. She teaches His little ones to follow Jesus before the world tries to teach them the opposite. Imagine being tasked with teaching about how Christ is the bread of life and the cup of eternal salvation alongside math facts? I mean, that’s a darn big job, am I right?? So many families have been blessed because they have found Heather Sears leading the classroom of their child at St. Louis de Montfort Catholic School in Fishers, IN.

Life hasn’t always been easy for Heather, but I’ve watched her put one foot in front of the other and keep going during trying times. Her attitude has always been positive–no matter how large the challenge. She’s a woman who chooses to love, and ultimately, it’s all about making that choice day after day. Sometimes it’s easy and other times it just isn’t. Heather is the kind of person who chooses to return negativity with kindness– and I think the Lord smiles down on her and loves her for it!

Tomorrow as you celebrate your birthday, Heather, I hope you will know how much it matters what you have done with your life, your talents and your heart. You have made such a difference for so many children and their families. For some of us watching you from nearby, you’ve inspired a desire to love and serve the Lord in our own lives with the same joyful and willing heart. Thank you always for gracing me with your beautiful smile when I see you! HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HEATHER!