Mad for…Tony

Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing. -William James

An intelligent man with a great sense of humor is well…everything! Tony Bonacuse is such a guy. He’s got an infectious grin and he never fails to make me laugh when I see him. Tony is a good-hearted guy who I met through other St. Louis de Montfort families. He’s got a handsome son named Ian who played some baseball and basketball with my youngest son, Zach, over the years. He’s also the husband to a beautiful and generous wife named Polly.

If I’m being completely candid, Tony is kind of a smart aleck. I’d use another word, but I’m keeping the blog PG today. He’s got a confident Italian swagger, but at the same time he’s very kind to people in his path. I haven’t got the slightest clue what Tony does for a living but I am pretty sure he is from northern Ohio, as I recall him mentioning his high school years while feeding us all sorts of humorous lies between innings over at Billericay Park a few years back, ha?

Here’s how Tony won me over, though. Anyone who has spent much time around me or my sons over the years has inevitably met my parents. They are incredibly supportive and loving human beings who have made the 60-mile trek from Lafayette to Indianapolis more times than one could even begin to count over the years. Most of those trips were made to come watch one of their three grandsons play in some sporting contest. My Dad is full up to his eyeballs with personality and if there is anyone approaching his level of orneriness in the area, he will find them like a heat-seeking missile. Therefore, I’ve been known to warn certain folks in advance of the sneak attack that might be coming their way. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to Tony Bonacuse in time, ha? The good news is that with his quick wit and full grasp of the gift that is sarcasm, he had zero trouble with Grandpa Jim, who was heartily laughing and Tony was being utterly monopolized by my Dad by the time I noticed them together the first time at a ball game. I sure do love my Dad, and I have always been grateful for folks like Tony who make him smile and laugh! You, sir, are a good sport!

Tony is a phenomenal dad, and a class act himself. Yesterday was his birthday. I’ve been chasing birthdays all month, darn it! Tony, please excuse the belated good wishes, but I do often say that I believe strongly in the month long celebration. You’ll have to get on board with my line of thinking today because I’m giving you a BIG ITALIAN HAPPY BIRTHDAY SHOUT-OUT!! People like you who smile often, laugh frequently, and never hesitate to share their love for life with others around them are the folks who I think inspire me the most, because the world SO needs your joy! Thanks for giving me a little taste of the “Bonacuse secret sauce” every time I see you!

Mad for…Vanessa

There are no traffic jams along the extra mile. (Roger Staubach)

I’ve heard it said that the goal of a business is to create customers who create customers. Such was the result of our yummy dinner tonight. Great customer service like the kind we experienced at Ristorante DaVinci during our last night Marco Island is a rare and pretty special thing! After five glorious days of sun, sand, loads of laughter and a few too many drinks this week, the six of us headed out for “the last supper” and decided to indulge in some Italian food.

Celebrating 77 years of marriage between us, Ann and Gerry Hepp, Chris and Rhys Helt, as well as Tom and myself have truly enjoyed our time in Florida.

Tonight’s dinner was the grand finale, mostly because of a beautiful and thoughtful server named Vanessa! Articulate, attentive and professional, Vanessa did not even find Ann’s signature “Meg Ryan” custom menu-ordering style challenging at all. She just smiled and said “no problem!” More than once, this Sarasota native humored Rhys with the fist bump that blows up when things went his way. If you know him, you will understand the joy this brings him.

The food at DaVinci’s was spectacular and the drinks were never empty. As the meal ended, Vanessa brought out some desserts we didn’t order to congratulate us on those 77 years and she posed with us for a picture.

Building a good experience for customers doesn’t happen by accident. It happens because terrific employees like Vanessa go the extra mile! Thanks for being “next level” amazing, Vanessa!! As for the rest of you, if you like good Italian food, check out Ristorante DaVinci the next time you are on Marco Island! You won’t regret it!

Mad for…Chris

My father gave me the greatest gift anyone would give another person, he believed in me. (Jim Valvano)

Quick-witted, intelligent and kind are the words that first come to mind when I think about my brother-in-law, Chris Beck. He’s the husband to my only sibling, my younger sister, Robin, and he’s the dad to my two talented nieces, Maddie and Ellie. Robin and Chris are pictured above.

An Indiana University grad and middle school history teacher, Chris is a tall, lanky and sports-loving guy. A native of the Windy City, Chris is a big Chicago Bears and White Sox fan. He’s the one my dad blames for turning my son, Nick, against the Cubs! Grandpa Jim has definitely lost that young man forever to Uncle Chris’s beloved team from the south side. I’m pretty sure it was that trip to Comiskey when Nick was a little guy that sealed the deal.

He’s a musically gifted person too, and in fact he originally landed at IU to study music. He’s passed his fine arts talent to both of his girls, who excel in the creative and musical arts like their dad. As a father, he is incredibly loving and supportive. He’s funny, well-read guy and he owns a really genuine and contagious laugh. When he smiles, so does the whole room!

Chris is thoughtful and he’s loving, a man of both character and integrity. He genuinely enjoys helping others and it shows in the charitable and generous way he has helped to raise those two incredible girls of his. As a husband, I can’t imagine hoping for a more solid, authentic guy to be a life long partner to my sister, Robin.

His sense of humor and the genuineness that shows in his smile are his defining qualities to me. He’s a top shelf human. He’s also celebrating his birthday today, a date I always remember because it falls on “Scary month, scary day.” I hope your gaggle of gals is celebrating you in a big way today, Chris, because yours is definitely a life worth cheering! HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Chris!! We love you. ❤️

Mad for…Valeria

Be the kind of woman who knows her identity, walks on holy ground, and that’s also unafraid to be free and silly, because life’s too short to be uptight and figured out. (Unknown)

“She has a joyful countenance.” That is what I said when I was asked by a friend if I knew Valeria Pittsford. The truth is, I wish I knew her a little better. We met as a result of being on the Gospel of Life committee together at our parish, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Her eyes smile. To me, that’s the impression I was immediately struck with when I first encountered her.

Articulate, thoughtful and filled with the love of Christ— those things are also true of Valeria. She is a wife and mother of two very blessed young people about whom she’s completely crazy! To work for God and for others with Him is what her life seems to be about. I have known her a short time but I respect and admire her for many reasons, chief among them her authenticity and her faithfulness. She is always willing to go out of her way for the benefit of others.

This week, at our monthly GOL meeting, Valeria did something vulnerable and generous, for instance. She shared with some of us a personal struggle. The genuine and loving way she shared her beautiful story and the knowledge she gained that might help some other folks was moving, but her motivation was truly charitable. She was trying to share with others about helpful tools she felt might prove meaningful. When someone like Valeria unselfishly offers themselves like that, admitting to moments of challenge, I find that I am always moved. It’s clear the Holy Spirit works frequently through this beautiful soul!

Today, I just wanted to take a moment to give Valeria a little shout out. She is a woman who to me aims to follow the example of the saints by the way she lives her life, and I find her a joyful and inspiring example of living, breathing faith. THANK YOU VALERIA!

“Follow the saints, because those who follow them will become saints” (Pope St. Clement I)

Mad for…Crystal

There is nothing more beautiful than someone who goes out of their way to make life more beautiful for others. (M. Hale)

Oct. 11– I’m pretty sure she and her husband, Nick, got married at Wrigley Field. These people are a little bit crazy, I’m not going to lie! They are afflicted with a disease when it comes to their Chicago Cubs mania. It’s been a few years since I have seen any member of this family in person, but I seriously doubt this condition has improved. Also, despite the years, they have made a lasting impression and an imprint on my heart. Crystal Bazan is better known to me as “Coach Ball”. She is absolutely THE BEST TEAM MOM that I have ever encountered. That is saying something. I have come into contact with just A LOT of amazing and selfless team parents over these many years with my three boys.

Coach Ball made baseball fun for boys. Period. She sent video clips to parents of their kids performances on the field. She had a smile on her face at all times. Coach Ball loved up all the children and had way too much candy available. I think she spent several years as the Queen Mom of Skiles Test. I’ve never forgotten her because of her over the top selflessness.

Here’s the thing. I’ve watched from a distance. She’s a hard worker, a loan originator if memory serves. I’ve seen her angst as she has said goodbye to loved ones. Her heart? She wears it right on her sleeve. She cheers on her team a little louder and with more passion than regular people. Bella and Dawson? They’ve seen it too. Her children are high-achieving, respectful and first rate. That doesn’t happen by accident. They’ve been loved up and shown the way. We lead by example. As a parent, she’s phenomenal and her kiddos are blessed.

From the cheap seats over here, Crystal “Ball” Bazan is getting a lot of things right. She’s a beautiful woman, inside and out! Today is her birthday, so I thought it was the perfect time to say what I’ve been thinking for a long time. YOU ARE THE REAL DEAL, MRS. BAZAN!! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!

Mad for…Don

When all the dust is settled and all the crowds are gone, the things that matter are faith, family and friends. (Barbara Bush)

He was raised by a Dutchman who was partnered up with an Irish spit fire. This, I have concluded is the reason why my Uncle Don is an ornery human. Ralph and Pauline (Holladay) Dykhuizen had two children, my uncle Don and my dad, Jim. Don is the older of the two, and I am told he was quite an athlete. Grandma used to share newspaper clippings with me, and she was a story teller too. She was so incredibly proud of her sons. I have no doubt Uncle Don could throw a baseball, among other talents, because his sassy mom made sure her grandchildren knew all about it! His little brother is my Dad. These two guys are both smart-alecky, wise-cracking, and very ornery humans. It seems to be a genetic predisposition.

Don married a pretty fantastic human, Carolyn Surface, and the union endures. They are pictured above with their grandson, Connor. They had two children, Joe and Amy. My sister and I used to travel to New Castle with our parents to watch Joe play football and Amy cheer for the New Castle High School Trojans. I remember their house on Forest Drive, near the school, and the fact that they had a super cool pinball machine in the basement. Joe and his friends were friendly, but smelly, and Amy always had a drawer full of trinkets and trash and a lot of makeup that I thought was pretty much awesome! As for my aunt and uncle, I recall them smiling and laughing a lot. There were many joy-filled Christmas mornings opening presents in that tiny house of Grandma’s on Vinton St. too, where we all wondered what on earth could be inside that package Aunt Helen brought! She never failed to disappoint, am I right? Those are happy memories of times spent together and I cherish them.

When we lost Joe, way too young, to cancer…well…things changed. How could they not? I’m happy to report though that Don Dykhuizen still has his ornery little twinkle in tact. Just last week, in fact, he told me that he had called the Pope in an effort to get my husband Tom declared a saint for putting up with me these past 25 years. That was his “Dykhuizen” way of saying “Happy Anniversary”. It made me laugh. He apparently thinks I’m a stinker. I’ve got news for this guy. It takes one to know one, Uncle Don!

He’s a football, basketball, baseball sort of “old school” guy who even trudged over to Guerin Catholic a few times to watch Nick and Drew play a little football, and we always were thrilled to see him and Aunt Carolyn too. It’s true our family has grown and we have gone in different directions, but our roots are still our roots. He’s a supportive Dad and grandfather who is now having fun watching his own two youngest grandsons, Joe and Jake Strickland, do their thing, and I’d bet there’s not a lot better than that for this passionate lover of sports!

Life can be tough sometimes, but a supportive and fun-loving family is so incredibly important. That’s what I remember when I think of my growing up years around my uncle and all the Dykhuizen clan. Once when I was a kid, my sister and I were playing euchre against Grandpa and Uncle Don. We weren’t very old at the time but Robin and I were trouncing them. They kept looking at each other like, “What the heck is going on here? How are we losing to two little girls?” To teach them a little lesson in humility, Dad had taught us how to send each other signals by the way we held the cards. The signals were so hard to spot because they had been employed, quite illegally, in some professional card tournament which Dad apparently read about. Eventually, we confessed to the trickery, but we still laugh about this silliness years later!!

Here’s the thing I’m overdue to say. Uncle Don has endured through what to me seems unthinkable. I have three sons so I understand better than I did earlier what that loss means. However, he continued to do his day. He walked forward. Sometimes, he was strong and sure, and other times it was more halting and stumbling. But he never stopped putting one foot in front of the other. When I saw him, he still shared his teasing and his sarcasm and gave me a big hug. He may not know it, but as he’s run his race, others around him were watching…and it helped others be brave in their lives.

I still miss Joe too. He was special, and feisty, and a big teddy bear…kind of like his dad. Uncle Don? I’m proud to be your niece and I love you. You are smart and funny and your perseverance through difficulty is inspiring. I’ve made my call to the Vatican as well, though. The real saint is your bride, ha? I’m sure we’ll be hearing from Pope Francis about Aunt Carolyn’s canonization any time now.

Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Mad for…Jennifer

It is one thing to photograph people. It is another to make others care about them by revealing the core of their humanness. (Paul Strand)

Oct. 9– When her daughter, Mia, was in the 8th grade, I noticed Jennifer at the Indianapolis International Airport. She was crouched in the corner of the waiting area, looking a bit sullen. It didn’t take me long to pry from her that while she was trying hard to be present for her daughter’s big field trip to DC that had been long since paid for, her mind was elsewhere in the middle of another place– a place of crisis. Her beautiful heart was revealed to me during those few days, and I have never forgotten. We rarely forget the day we encounter a grace-filled soul.

Into all our lives, God allows some chaos. Maybe it’s all just the result of our free will, or perhaps the mayhem draws us near to Him who made us. I’m not sure I’ll ever figure it out. I do know this, when we trust our cares to the God of love, He reminds us that we are above all things, His children, and we are precious. Jennifer is a woman of faith, and she knows this well. We’ve talked about it over coffee, actually.

The mother of three and grandmother of one very blessed boy named Jack, Jennifer is also a wife to a truly nice man named John. She’s a gifted photographer. So talented is Jennifer that each time I see a photo of one of her subjects posted online, I think to myself…”what an unbelievable joy that must be to those people, that family.” Oh, to have even one picture of my own family that reveals the kind of beauty and relationships her pictures always expose! I’m not kidding, y’all…she’s that good.

I’m not exactly sure how old Jennifer Driscoll is, but I’d be willing to be $100 that she’s older than she looks. The woman is a stunner. Each of her three daughters is equally so. She is plugged into her faith life and often I see her at daily mass. Maybe that’s her secret? She might post about her computer crashing or the end of her patience after a busy week, or she perhaps will share about it’s just been one of those days. However, she seems to always settle at the end on positivity and rest in the fact that God loves us, even when we are frazzled.

Supportive, funny and intelligent, Jennifer is a woman with many interests and a giving heart. I noticed recently, for instance, that she was involved in mentoring some young women, and then another day the O’Connor House in Carmel shared a big thank you to her for coming in and taking photos of their new moms and beautiful babies. She’s a generous woman who shares her time and her talents with others. Its a lovely example to the rest of us. We’ve got to get out there and do our part, be like Jennifer!

Today, Jennifer is celebrating her birthday! There’s no better day then to give her a shout out and let her know that many of us have noticed that she is pretty special! HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JENNIFER!! Thanks for all you do to make the world a little more sparkly!