In My Humble Opinion

hgrass by hgrass @

I’ve been going back and forth on this blog – and Carol even advised me not to post it.  I came home from yoga tonight having decided NOT to post this, and then watched the newsfeed from a DC restaurant with well dressed individuals offering up the “Sieg Heil Salute” – so post I must.  I’m 62, and feel I have earned the right to speak my mind so here goes…

IMHO and Grass Clippings started out as a way to communicate with my stores, and if it included a little self-promotion… well “guilty as charged”.  I think I’m past that now; I have so much on my mind – and I need a means to “get it out”.  There is something very cathartic for those of us who love to “put pen to paper” whether one writes for a living… or someone like me who just considers blogging one of his hobbies.  I used to be so careful to be PC, and make sure I didn’t ruffle anyone’s feathers with my posts, especially my clients.  Please know that is still my goal – hurting anyone in any way is not cool.  The main purpose of my writing is to get you to think.  I’m not sure why, but all of my life people have looked to me for advice.  That includes my bosses, my customers, and my family.  My idea of advice is not to tell you what to do, but rather to help you think things through for yourself; by asking questions or offering ideas you may not have considered – and thus allowing you come to the “right” conclusion on your own.

Politics and The Presidency
Let’s face it… if your customer base is The Northeast – you have a very diverse clientele.  As many of my neighbors were reminded of last week, the whole world is not Chester County – and that’s a good thing.  Some of my favorite customers are from upstate NY and Western Pennsylvania, and this helps me remember that the majority of the 135 million people who voted last Tuesday are good, solid citizens who care deeply about this country.  People who live in rural America are no more racist than the people on my street… in fact these are the same voters who elected our first black president 8 years ago – and then re-elected him again 4 years later.

That being said we are a very divided nation, and I fear we are in for some rocky times ahead.  And I blame social media and particularly Facebook for a lot of it.  I admit I do go on Facebook, and find some of it interesting, informative, and enlightening.  The internet is an endless sea of information, but one must navigate with caution.  Many of us are not really interested in “learning”, but rather read and watch TV in the hopes of validating our preconceived notions.  This is particularly dangerous in an open society, when the media and politics are so inundated with the almighty dollar.

I believe this is the greatest country in the world – warts and all.  Much of what makes us great is our democracy, but Winston Churchill was right…
Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.

Our constitution is the foundation of our government, but you can’t pick and choose which amendments you like.  While requiring some “updating”, I do believe in the second amendment.  But one can’t swear by the second amendment, and then say that people who are upset with something don’t have a right to peacefully protest.  The first amendment doesn’t say arbitrary citizens get to decide which gripes are OK to protest about and which ones make you a “whiner”.  That being said…
If you get violent in any way and/or damage property during your protest - you should be locked up.  There is no place for this in a civilized society.  And if you are one of the 96 million people who didn’t vote last week and are out in the streets protesting the results of the election – GO HOME!!!!

In case you can’t tell, I did not vote for Donald Trump last Tuesday.  But he won and he is going to be our next president.  I have some serious questions of how the next 4 years are going to play out, but rules are rules and he won.  This is still the same basic country today as it was at 8PM last Tuesday evening, so we all need to calm down a little.  If your candidate won, you have every right to be happy; the key however is whether the country “won” – and only time will tell that.  But gloating is never pretty, and all of us should learn how to be magnanimous in our victories.

Over the past 8 years, I watched with disgust the disrespectful way our last president was spoken about on Facebook, in the media, and even in the halls of congress.  I was taught that The President of the United States deserved respect above all else, and the veteran fathers of some of my FB “friends” would be rolling around in their graves if they read what I’ve read.  For me, respecting the 45th president is going to be very difficult to do based on the past 18 months, but I plan on taking a wait and see attitude and am hoping he earns the respect I am willing to give to him “on the come”.

And I hope there will be just as much outrage at the recent swastikas and racial slurs (see above) being reported as there is about some young, college students who happen to have voted in their first election and are feeling firsthand what it’s like when their candidate loses.  I can’t help it but I’m against ALL forms of racism and bigotry… and am particularly sensitive to swastikas.  

Facebook Rules
When I first joined Facebook about 5 years ago I had no idea what I was getting into, and before I knew it I had tons of “friends” – some whom I hardly knew.  I sent out very few friend requests, and accepted almost anyone who friended me.  That ended up not being the best of strategies.  I probably should have set up a few rules first, and maybe that would have helped a little.  But alas I just kept clicking “accept” and before I knew it I was up to over 500 friends between my 2 accounts.  If I could go back in time, I would have probably posted the following at the top of my Facebook page on day one – just as a public disclosure:

1. Religion is a very private thing to me.  If religion is important to you that’s great, but please understand... I am Jewish (mostly in theory) and have more questions than answers.  I really don’t care what religion you are and I certainly don’t want to be converted at 62.  Feel free to make a religious post if that’s your thing, but… I definitely don’t want to see anything on my wall professing that one religion is better than another.  As if it is a “negative” to be Muslim or an atheist… shame on some of you.

2. I am equally private about politics.  Someone recently asked me “what do you do when your customers want to talk politics with you”?  My answer… “Democrat or Republican – I just don’t go there.”  As I said to her – “It’s an art form and I’ve become very good at dancing”.  However you “lean”, Facebook just isn’t the best place to make yourself an educated citizen.  If you want to become President, it’s a GREAT way to reach the voters, but I didn’t accept either Clinton’s nor Trump’s friend request purposely.  If you’d like to have a serious political discussion with me, invite me to dinner and let’s share a bottle of wine – I’ll even pick up the check.  For most of the Facebook world, it’s virtually impossible to avoid politics, so this is not a total “ban”.  But keep it civil, and respect the fact that no matter what you post, there are going to be just about 50% of the people who read it who are going to believe the exact opposite!

3. Most of what I post is business or health and wellness related, as that is my “thing”.  If I do happen to break my own rule (see below) and post something bordering on politics designed to make you think, please don’t take it as an invitation to argue with me – or bully me.  Feel free to respectfully disagree however – the key word being “respectfully”.  

4. Understand that when you comment on someone else’s post – because you are my “friend” - that appears on my wall as well.  And that allows me to “view” that entire conversation – and to see how some people spend their entire day getting into contentious arguments with dozens of people they never met.  It really makes little difference to me if this is the way you choose to spend your day – but just realize that your children (assuming you are FB friends with your kids which most people are) are able to see this banter as well.   In short…THINK!

A Group Email
Last week I received an email from my boss with a “reminder” about paperwork procedures for new accounts.  It was actually addressed to the entire sales staff but I read it “defensively” and questioned her in the email reply “Does this reminder apply to me”?  As anal as I am about following instructions I doubted it, and she called me and assured me that it didn’t – but that she preferred to handle things like this in a group email, and that I could ignore it.

This post is kind of like that email.  I am choosing to “send” it to my entire circle of contacts – even though it is really directed at only a few of them.  Mostly because I want you ALL to hear what I have to say.  So if any of this applies to you, just keep it in mind the next time you post something.  I have no interest in being the “Facebook Police”, so I will not be calling you out on it – this is your only "warning".  If you happen to check your list of Facebook friends one day and realize that we are no longer friends – don’t be upset.  If I liked or admired you before… I probably still do.  If you have something “important” to say to me, you’ll just have to do it “the old-fashioned way” – and email or call me.  I promise I will still take your call!

And finally, it is Thanksgiving on Thursday, my favorite holiday.  Take a look around you.  My guess is that you are going to be sitting at a table with a roof over your head surrounded by a loving family and/or friends (and have shoes on your feet).  All of this should not be taken for granted as much of the world is far less fortunate.  
Warts and all… we have much to be thankful for.

Peace and Love (and THINK!)… H

Ps. Whatever your political persuasion, check this out…
hgrass by hgrass @

Chicago Market is over, and it was great working with the product first hand earlier than usual.  I've been on the road working with stores for a few weeks as well, and I love the collections this season.   I really feel like I have a very good sense of the important pieces already, and I am excited about New York Market being less than 2 weeks away.  In spite of my enthusiasm - for me it’s “just another season”, but how about for you?  Maybe it’s time for you to analyze the companies you work with… both from a “How many do you work with?” as well as a “Which ones?” standpoint.

After finishing up the order with a new store last season, the owner asked me “How many lines does a typical store carry”?  I responded, “While it varies based on the size of the business, in general my answer would be TOO MANY!”  This particular store could see that she had way too many collections that all fell into the same category” Under $2000 at retail, Imported from China, fairly heavily beaded with “lots of stuff” on them, average lead time for special orders about 16 weeks.  Now don’t get me wrong – there are some very good companies out there that fill this niche… but do you really need 5-6 (or more) of them?

So I offer you an option: “How about a company who makes their product solely in Canada, offers a clean, sophisticated look, and can deliver any style/any size/any color in 8 weeks with no rush fee (and 5-6 weeks with a small rush charge)?”  Add in “offers the best fit in the industry, is NEVER late with an order, and is right at the same “$2000 price point”!  I’m referring to MIKAELLA BRIDAL.  A division of Paloma Blanca that has been in business for over 70 years, most of my Paloma stores also carry Mikaella – and some of them do better with Mikaella!  Whether you’re currently carrying Paloma Blanca (and NOT Mikaella)… or another store with way too many collections that “duplicate” themselves, it is time for some serious introspection.  Do you have this look in your store?  Are you seeing a trend towards brides asking for a “cleaner” look?  Do you have a reliable source to work with when a bride comes in and is getting married in 8 weeks?  Are all of the companies you work with performing well, and are there some who’s poor service gives you angina?  Are minimums killing you… not because a line wants you to buy 6 dresses a season… but because you have way too many collections all with minimums?  If the answer to any of these questions is “Yes” – I encourage you to take a look at Mikaella Bridal AND Paloma Blanca.  Maybe it’s NOT just another season!  HG
hgrass by hgrass @

Its time for another blog, and I'm in "summer mode", so I'm choosing NOT to write about business; I'm feeling more reflective at the moment.  I've been walking about 5 miles a day now to stay active since I'm having a few health issues - nothing serious but enough to stop me from doing my Bikram Yoga.  It's strange what pops into your head from time to time, especially when you are by yourself for 90 minutes out in nature.

At almost 62 years old, I have no choice but to look at life differently than when I was in my 30s.  In the past 2 weeks,
I've had 2 tests/medical procedures looking for (or the lack thereof) 2 completely different forms of cancer.  To clear up any question about where this blog is heading, both tests came back with good news; one test result was "stable" (which is the best a kidney cancer survivor can hope for), and the other ended up being a "false alarm".

A friend asked me right before my second test "What is it like mentally, preparing for this type of test?  It must be very heavy".  Truth be told, it’s really not that way for me, as I've stopped worrying about dying a good while ago.  What I AM afraid of is becoming an invalid (and invalid), but those fears will be the subject of another blog post.  The unknown does make someone like me a little apprehensive, and I HATE the tests, and the preps, and the probing that goes along with them; but the lead-up to the "results" really don’t freak me out.  I will say that it is a relief when the good news "comes back", and I imagine it may be a little scary for Carol and the kids the night before the tests, but I've gone through this 4 or 5 times now and I guess I've become somewhat good at controlling my emotions during the process.  I don't know if I could have been able to "handle" this in quite the same way 5 years ago, but I believe strongly that doing yoga for those 5 years has had a profound effect on me in this regard.  One day I may have to deal with the "wrong" phone call from the Doctor with the test results - but for now, I'm actually pretty healthy.  For that I am very thankful.

I met a man about 20 years ago whose nickname was "Widge".  He was the father of one of my son's friends, and his soccer coach.  He was a very nice man and I have no idea how he got his nickname - but no matter as it has nothing to do with this story.  Whenever I see someone out and about, my natural greeting is "Hey... how are you doing?"  Most people respond with some variable of "fine, thanks for asking".  But not Widge.  His standard response was always "Haven't had a bad day in my life!"  I loved the attitude this response exudes, and it obviously had an effect on me because it's been popping into my head several times during my walks recently - so I decided to frame a blog post around this "tude".  I haven't seen him in a long time, but my guess is that he meant it - and he may still use the “line” if you met him tomorrow.  What a great goal for anyone - to never have a bad day!

About 12 years ago, I was having dinner with a good friend to celebrate my 50th birthday, and she toasted me with the following: "The 50s is going to be the best decade of your life".  And you know she was right.  It kind of became my mantra, but I adjusted it a little to approach my life with "TODAY is going to be the best day of my life!"

A friend called me last week for advice.  Actually he called me more to talk, and to tell me his story, but what he really wanted to know was "what I thought”.  After listening to his situation for a few minutes I responded as follows:  "Xxxxx - are you happy?"  When he said no, I said: "Whatever you choose to do about your situation, do what will make you happy."  And while not always easy, that is how I try to live my life every day, and how I make important life decisions, and to instill this attitude in my boys.  I can’t honestly say that I’ve never had a bad day, and I’m sure I could think of some if I tried… but I prefer not to look backwards – and always look “forward”.

Everyone has a different definition of "happy", but for me, my pleasures are pretty simple.  A good day for me would include any combo of the following:
• A phone call with my kids
• Sunshine
• Handling something for a customer (not necessarily selling them something)
• A good meal (with no red meat, a glass of white wine, and a chocolate chip cookie)
• Watching my wife water her plants and flowers
• Sweating (and then a dip in the pool)
• Spending time with my grandchildren
• Working on a Home Improvement project
• Etc., etc., etc.

Everyone's list would be different, but think about it... one has to conceptualize what makes them happy, before they can make a conscious effort to include what makes them happy in their everyday life.  I don't get to do the things on my list every day, but I strive to be happy all the time, and base all of my life decisions on the basic premise that "today" is going to be the best day of my life.  When you think about things this way, you avoid sweating the small stuff.  Bottom line is if you wake up healthy in the morning... yesterday was a pretty damn good day!

Peace and Love…(and happiness),


hgrass by hgrass @
I was going to write about "minimums" this month as a follow-up to my "provocative" blog last month about "2 seasons per year", but had a last minute change of heart.

I just finished a great NY Market, my new collections look awesome this season, and reorders are up over last year. So many options to choose for a bridal related topic, but I'm just not feeling "bridal" today.  I will say that it is nice to occasionally hear that someone reads my blogs and enjoys it, but truth be told... I write them for ME because I love to write.  Even more importantly - when I write about my life, it either makes me feel good to be thankful for all that life has given me - or it makes me feel better when something is bothering me to just "get it out".  Today is the latter.  With all of the above mentioned "positives" in the bridal world, plus I am feeling much better health-wise than I have over the past several months, you may ask "Why so glum?"

I just got back home from helping my youngest son Michael (and his fiancé Kelsey who has been living with us for the past 3 months) move into their first apartment - and out of our house.  As Carol said today, “it's the first time in over 37 years that there hasn't been any Grass Boys living with us”, and I'm having a little tougher time of it than I expected.  We're both used to being alone - anyone who knows a road rep knows that a prerequisite for the job (and for their spouse) is to be comfortable being by oneself, so it’s not that.  It's more that "1418 Cooper Circle" has always been a place where parents and sons lived under one roof, and that is no longer the case.  It is now a house which is way too big for only 2 people, but which we hope we can stay in for a long time mostly is where we built our lives.

Michael is the 4th son to move out, so it's not like I have no experience with this.  But the last 3 times a son moved out, Michael was still there; and so this time just didn't seem quite the same as it did today.  Plus he is our "baby"... if a 24 year old can be referred to as such, and it just seems like he has always been here.  I send my blog to about 300 stores, post it on my website and on Facebook, and email a link to it to about 100 "friends and family" (including my sons) so he IS going to read this.  So let me leave no doubt... it was absolutely time for him to "go".  He has turned into a fine young man, is engaged to be married, has a great job, and is on his way to a solid career - which is really the "place" where we tried to get all of our sons to.  I can proudly say that he makes "4 for 4".  If something happens to both of us tomorrow, we can comfortably say that all 4 of my sons "will be fine".  He found a great condo on his own, handled the whole transaction himself (with maybe a little advice from his Dad), but this was the right move at the right time for he and Kelsey.  I guess it just happened so quickly, and the last few days of packing did get a little emotional.  Thursday night we had one of our man-to-man talks (I hope its not the last one), and I shared with him the story of the day I moved out when I was about 19.  It was the turning point in my life, and something I HAD to do.  But I "admitted" that on the last night living with my parents, as I was finishing up my packing, I cried my eyes out.  I remember it vividly, and I'm not really sure why I was crying, but I shared this with him and it might have been the first time I have told ANYONE this story ever!  I told him that this was going to be the turning point is his life too, and we cried a little together, and then he finished packing.

I think Carol will be fine and I suppose I will be fine too at some point soon.  Realistically... as I mentioned in an earlier post – “we are VERY fortunate”!  Even with this move all 4 of our boys live less than 25 miles away from us, and Michael, Andrew, and Justin are probably 10 minutes apart from each other; and Dan lives less than 5 minutes from our house.  They all have their own lives now, and that is as it should be.  We still live close enough that we can all be together for holidays and birthdays and Sunday Barbecue Pool Parties - and for that we are truly blessed.  Its just going to be a little hard at the end of our next family get-together, which will probably be mid May for Justin's birthday.  Our "parties" always end with the same goodbye ritual, which includes PopPop and Nan carrying grandchildren out to the car seats and buckling them in, and everyone kissing and hugging everyone goodbye (with 13 of us it ends up being a lot of hugs and kisses).  For what seems like forever, at the end of this "ritual" - Carol and I always go back in the house to clean up (truth be told she does most of the cleaning up) - and settle in for the evening... and Mikey always came back into the house with us.  From now on, he and Kelsey are going to be saying goodbye and heading to their cars just like the rest of my boys… to go "home".  It will now be H and C heading back into the house from the driveway by ourselves.  Luckily Skipper and Chloe will still be there, wagging their tails and begging for treats, as if nothing has changed... but it has.  I will still have a great life and much to be thankful for after they all leave to head home... but it just won't be quite the same.

hgrass by hgrass @
One Collection Per Year… or Two???

This blog post is for my boss Marty Bernstein.  He’s one of a kind…and over the years I’ve worked for many different owners of bridal companies.  I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I hadn’t met Marty 25 years ago.  One night we were sitting on his dock having a drink discussing the problems of the world and we got into a philosophical conversation about whether Paloma Blanca’s business model is better suited for designing one line per year – or two lines per year.  We discussed this at great length, and after the last cast of the day, he suggested I write a future blog post about this subject.  So Marty… this one’s for you!

The story REALLY started over of a "heated conversation" over dinner at my favorite restaurant in Chicago - Japonais.  No one was throwing Edamame, but it was lively.  Sitting at the table were 5 people from 3 VERY different bridal companies: of different sizes, who sell to a different subset of bridal stores, and who have VERY different business models.  The “debate” centered around the basic question...

Would The Bridal Industry be better off if all companies came out with one collection per year rather than two?

Many people outside of the bridal industry read my blog, so here is a little background...

Bridal Stores buy samples from the companies they chose to do business with each season - the purpose of which is to generate re-orders from these samples (NOT just to sell the samples).  Companies set different minimums, but philosophically... stores who wish to remain Authorized Retailers with a particular designer (and take advantage of all of the benefits that entails) place an order for a certain number of samples from each “new” collection.  My job is to "help" them choose the best styles to maximize said reorders.  That is certainly an over-simplification of what I do, but it will suffice for the sake of this background.

For many years, almost all major companies came out with 2 collections per year - introduced in March and September.  Everyone "lived off of the same calendar" and knew what to expect each season.  Markets were at the same time, road trips all followed this calendar, and the 2 buying seasons “fell” within 2 very specific windows: “Labor Day through Thanksgiving” and “March 1st through Memorial Day”.  This really doesn’t coincide with the time that brides do their shopping, nor the date of their weddings… it had just always been this way.

While I try to avoid the word "minimum" in my sales presentations (I find it unnecessary and distracting to the buying process), lets assume for the sake of this “debate" that the industry wide standard is 6 pieces per season - or 12 pieces per year.  As a side note, the other 2 companies represented at the dinner table at Japonais have a MUCH higher minimum than 12 pieces per year...but the subject of "minimums in the bridal industry" warrants it's own future blog post.

Over the past few years, several companies have deviated from this basic "calendar model", and now only design one collection per year.  Paloma Blanca (and Mikaella) come out with about 15 new styles each season, and this “narrow and focused” approach has served us well over the years.  These "once a year companies" typically design much larger collections (sometimes over 100 pieces), and the minimum order these companies expect from their accounts for this “once a year buy” can be 18 pieces (or more).  Their "argument" for this new business model is that it makes it easier on the stores who now only have to select their samples once every 12 months.  It also makes it easier for the manufacturer who now only has to produce one photo shoot per year, print one catalog per year, and design one collection per year – all of which are VERY involved processes.  To the “many people outside of the bridal industry who read my blog”, these arguments may appear credible.  Despite the political travesty we have been watching on TV over the past few months being passed off as debates, the actual art of debating is quite a stimulating endeavor, and a good debater can choose either side of the concept - and "argue" it convincingly.  But Paloma Blanca designs 2 collections per year so my "side" on this debate was chosen for me long before dinner in Chicago, so here goes...

The most important variable in this equation has been overlooked in this discussion thus far… WE ARE IN THE FASHION BUSINESS!

Most ready-to-wear companies come out with 4-5 lines a year… why?  Because the world of fashion is in a never-ending state of flux, and changes constantly.  Last month’s hot look can be gone overnight, depending on "who wore what (and whom)" at the Academy Awards Gala.  Who could have possibly foreseen the trend towards low, sexy backs 3 years ago, but it started on the catwalks in Europe one season, and the next thing you knew 1 out of every 3 brides walked into your store wanting this look.  Who could have predicted the wave of talented Israeli designers like Galia Lahav and Berta who have left their imprint on this season's collections... with their plunging necklines, exotic beaded laces, and the focus on the "derrière"?

My point is that when a designer comes out with only one line per year, and a new trend becomes relevant shortly after their collection is "finished"… they are screwed.  More importantly, as a storeowner who just ordered 18 samples for the new season - none of which incorporate this brand new design trend... you the storeowner are screwed as well.  With some "one line per year companies", it could be as long as 18 months before you receive your next set of samples with this “missing look”!  What if the trend was short lived, and by the time those samples ordered with last year's hot trend come in - said hot trend is passé, only to be replaced by the "next" big thing?

What I am saying here is that we all have to be nimble and quick on our feet.  Bridal fashion pivots on a dime, and a resource that gives you the opportunity to look at new fashion every 6 months just offers you SO much more flexibility to help you capitalize on this ever changing world of fashion.  

Now Paloma Blanca is by no means the only company that still makes 2 lines per year, but being one of the few companies left that make their products ENTIRELY in their own factory in Canada (and not in China) - allows it to be significantly more nimble than almost all of our competitors.  I have been at a sales meeting in Toronto 5 days before the photo shoot (where for all intents and purposes - the line is “set”), and it was decided that a good dress needed a fabric change, or a neckline adjustment, and Marty's answer was "No problem... we'll make up a new sample in the next few days and it will be ready for the photo shoot”!  This kind of last second adjustment to fashion is virtually unheard of in the world of bridal, and is just one of the many reasons why we are such a "special" company (see my blog post of March 27, 2015 titled “Investing in Bridal” for more specifics).

Sales consultants can get "tired" of showing the same dresses week after week (and month after month), and having a fresh grouping of dresses coming in every 6 months can re-energize a sales floor, as well as staying current with what your brides are seeing in the magazines, on social media, and in other stores from other designers.  

So when I meet with you this season and you contemplate telling me “how much you like the fact that Xxxxxx and Yyyy Yyyyy only require you to order once a year”, I’d be happy to propose the following… "If you'd like to order 12 dresses today from this season’s collection and then skip next season I'd be more than willing to write your order.  I'll even spread out the delivery of those 12 samples over an extended period, and offer you some dating to help you pay for your samples”.  This is the way you HAVE to do it from these "one line per year companies".  But why you would prefer that buying pattern, as opposed to picking your absolute favorite 6 gowns from the new collection now (see the Paloma Blanca and Mikaella Bridal collages above); getting them on your racks in time for your Spring brides - and then look at another 15 brand new styles in 6 months and pick your other 6 samples from next season’s collection would be a mystery to me.  Some of these “one line per year companies” are great, and I am by no means suggesting that you not buy from them.  I am only suggesting that you take advantage of the fact that Paloma Blanca DOES design 2 collections per year for your benefit, and act accordingly.

During dinner, the debaters who “took the other side” of this concept made some strong points in defense of their companies, and I respect that.  In the end, only the reader can decide who won the "debate".

Howard Grass
hgrass by hgrass @
I sat down to write another blog today, and as usual...writer's block set in.  I went back to my old posts for some inspiration, and realized that I have written several "stories" about different Holidays - Thanksgiving, a Birthday, and Fathers Day popped out at me from a quick glance.

We just had a terrific Christmas so I decided to append the Holiday Theme, and go with a little Christmas "story".

The Back Story

I rarely discuss religion as for me - it is a very private matter; but for those of you who may not know it I am Jewish… and am VERY proud of it.  I was Bar Mitzvahed when I was 13, but I have never been very religious.  In fact, except for a few funerals and weddings - I never go to Synagogue, and am even known to work on the High Holidays.  You see my unusual career has me only working about 6 months a year, but my busiest time is in September, and I “need” to be traveling during this important time despite the fact that it conflicts with the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  My bosses seem to be OK with it - I certainly hope so.

A Wedding

All of this being said, Carol is NOT Jewish, and an important decision needed to be made 38 years ago as to how to “handle” our wedding, plus we did plan on starting a family soon (although she never told me we were going to have 4 sons!).  We settled on the first part of the “plan” - we would be married in her Church in a dual ceremony with her minister and a rabbi, and it really was a very nice service… Yes, I stomped on the glass at the end.  In those days most rabbis were not very "liberal" but we found Rabbi Selichman who was very friendly with Reverend Moore; they worked out all of the details and the rest is history.   But that was the easy part – what were we to do about the children (and our new "home")?

I am not an atheist (although I believe strongly in secularism - especially in regards to our government), and I certainly don't believe that any one religion is "better" than any other.  I'm all about being a decent human being and being compassionate and loving to my fellow human beings, and to me… the "details" are very un-important.  In this regard I believe that all of the "major" religions are equally qualified for my basic tenants.  I do however believe that some sort of organized religion is important in a family, particularly as it pertains to raising children.  In a very early moment of introspection, I decided that Carol was better "equipped" to instill her Christianity into our family than I would be in instilling my Judaism into it… and thus began the Grass household.  

A Home

I became the Jewish patriarch of a Christian home.  The boys were baptized (and circumcised), went to church occasionally on Sunday with their Mother, and I never felt like I was living in a Jewish “closet".  Carol and I have been to many a Passover Seder at my sister Karen's, and my sons and their families join us to this day.  If one of them has an epiphany tomorrow that they would like to explore their Jewish heritage - we would encourage it wholeheartedly.  The bottom line is that they ended up the way that we had hoped - they are 4 of the most morally decent and compassionate people you could ever meet, and I don't for one minute minimize the effect that religion had towards that end.

A Christmas Tradition

But what to do about Christmas?  I could have watched the family from afar, and gone out for Chinese food and a movie on Christmas like many Jews do - but I don't much like Chinese food and I haven’t been to a movie theatre in 30 years.  So instead I "helped" in the forging of our own special brand of Christmas tradition, which has remained pretty consistent for about 38 years now.  We've bought all 38 Christmas Trees from the same place in Chester County, and what was for many years a "battle" between 4 young boys as to which one was the perfect tree… has morphed into Carol and I (and sometimes Michael who is the only one left at home) still going to the same place and choosing our tree.  It gets trimmed each year with a variety of ornaments, some were on Carol's tree when she was a child, some were made by the kids at school, and many were just acquired over the years as happens in most families.  The highlight of the tree trimming is the hassling that goes on to this day between the boys about some of the “classic” ornaments.  Each one has a story, and the best ones usually have an old photo worthy of teasing attached, or the 4 "Ice Hockey Ornaments".  I even have an ornament with OBX sand and sea glass in it (see my 8-31-15 Blog post “My Happy Place”), which is one of my favorites.  We’ve also had an Advent Calendar hanging on our kitchen door for 38 years, which was handmade by Carol's Aunt Betty about 60 years ago.  Last year Carol made 4 "duplicate" Calendars - one for each son, and we hope that Devy Leigh, Maddie, and Sully will have years of excitement about putting "today’s" felt ornament on the tree - as our boys did for all of those years.  Over the past 5 or so years, we've even added the Grass Boys Christmas Dinner to the tradition, where the 4 boys and I go to a different restaurant each year a week or so before Christmas; just the 5 of us - no females.  Someone asked at this year's dinner when Sullivan was going to start being invited; it was a GREAT question for which I had no answer.  Carol and the girls do something similar as well.

I imagine Justin and Andrew have already started their own forms of the “Grass Christmas Tradition” – I know the “Elf on the Shelf” has been added which wasn’t around when they were growing up… but I selfishly hope that some of the “old stuff” remains.

Christmas Eve 2015

Fast forward to December 24th, 2015… tomorrow would be another "normal" Grass Christmas - or would it?  Just like most households there was WAY too much food being prepared for tomorrow's Christmas Dinner.  There were going to be 25 people here but still?!?!  The original 4 stockings (complete with fireplace burn marks) were stuffed as they'd been "forever" - only now they had things like shaving cartridges and Home Depot Gift Cards to go along with the clementine (that no-one eats), the bag of chocolate coins, and the candy canes.  My wife’s old habits are hard to break!  There wasn't a thread of carpet visible under the tree - what with all of the presents for Sons, Daughters-in-law, sisters and brothers, nieces and nephews - and of course the grandkids.  And my least favorite part of our tradition... Carol was still wrapping presents till 3AM while I was sound asleep - just as it always was.

Christmas Day 2015

By noon the house was full, and we all gathered in the family room to deal with the stockings.  My sister's family and Carol's brother weren't expected till around 2PM, but we were still 16 people, including The Potters - Lindsay's Mom, Dad, and Sister.  The Potters are an extension of The Grass Family (you "acquire" extensions of your family as your sons get married), and the Potters have become a part of the Grass Family Tradition, having spent Christmas Day with us every year since Andrew and Lindsay got married.  While we were all in the same room right before we "did" the stockings, Michael announced that he and Kelsey had just gotten engaged, and Kelsey proudly showed everyone her beautiful ring and there were hugs and kisses and congratulations everywhere.  We then proceeded to the living room (and the tree) where it turned into a "gift orgy" - mostly for the grandchildren as it should be.  My sister's family and Carol's brother arrived mid afternoon, which led to plenty of wine, some more gift exchanging, laughter and good conversation, and a great meal topped off with some quality time with my grandchildren.  There was even time for Sullivan's first lesson on the proper technique for eating ice cream cake from his PopPop.  It was a GREAT day!

Under any circumstances, this was an amazing Holiday, and a great Christmas topped off with a newly engaged son was more than enough to confirm how blessed the Grass Family is.  

The Day after Christmas (The rest of the story)

I mentioned the Potters earlier, but there is a little more to my story that I need to share.   Without going into too much detail out of respect for their privacy, I will say that as great of a year as it has been for the Grasses in 2015, it’s been a rough year for Lindsay's Family - specifically for her mother Linda.  She’s had some serious health issues this year, and it’s been a very tough 6 months for the Potter Family.

We really weren't sure whether they were going to even make the trip to Andrew's for Christmas Eve - never mind to our house for Christmas Day.  But much to our delight, they all walked in the door together.  Carol visited with Linda a lot, and we all did our best to make them feel comfortable.  I thought she was awfully brave for even coming, and it really did seem like she had a good time - I certainly hope so.  

On Saturday the Potters were planning on leaving Andrew's after lunch to head back to Huntington, and we had so much food left over that we decided to stop by to see them and drop off a care package for them to take home with them.  Carol visited with Linda for a while, and when it was time to say goodbye, Mike pulled us aside to thank us for everything.  He told us that “Christmas Day was the first time in many months that he’s felt normal”, and that he appreciated everything more than we could know.

And that was the greatest Christmas Gift of all!

Peace and Love,
hgrass by hgrass @
I've been feeling a little sorry for myself lately... what better time than to work on a blog post in the hopes of cheering me up.  I'm having some back issues, and it's been a tough road trip - because it's very difficult sitting.  This is the second time in my life that I've had trouble sitting, but compared to the last time... I really have no right to complain.  This time I have sciatica, which comes from back issues but manifests itself in leg pain and numbness in the butt, leg and foot.  And it mostly shows up after I sit for a while.  Life threatening... not hardly.  Annoying (and for me worrisome) - most definitely!

But enough about the negatives... this blog post (and all of mine) are about the positives, because that's the way I "roll".  I have 4 amazing sons, and I love to write about my family.  And my sons give me plenty of great material.  This month Andrew gets the nod.  It's even hard for me to keep track of them sometimes, so for you... Andrew is my second oldest, and the father of my 2 angel granddaughters Devyn and Madison.  Andrew was my strong willed child, and we had many a "meeting" in my office growing up.  My meetings had one main rule - they were not adjourned until I got my point across.  Andrew and I had some lengthy meetings!

That was so long ago and he has become such an amazing young man and I am so proud of him.  But something happened on my 61st birthday in September that "hit" me enough to frame a blog post around, and it comes from a special birthday present Andrew made for me.  The front of the frame has front and back shots of his high school and college diplomas, which in itself is a very cool present.  

But take a close look at the personalized note he wrote to me, which is attached to the back of the picture frame.  Hopefully you can read it.  

The note brings tears to my eyes as I read it again.  My favorite part is that he acknowledges that maybe the best part of his 4 years of college was not the diploma nor his budding career, but the fact that he met Lindsay and "created (sp) the family of my dream".

Parenting is not easy, and I had a great partner.  When parents are raising their kids, there are a ton of things they try to teach them.  Besides the obvious “lessons”, there are a few things that are better learned through example and osmosis, rather than through lecturing or disciplining. One that I really didn’t think about much when the boys were younger is “What kind of family would they want to have when they started their own, or what kind of spouse would they be “attracted” to?  They say sons tend to look for women who remind them of their mothers.  I’m not so sure that’s exactly what happened in our case, as Kate and Lindsay are both very much their “own women”.  But we couldn’t be happier with their choices, and it’s pretty cool watching our sons figure out how “easy” it is to be parents – NOT!

And just to be "fair and balanced", here’s another one of my birthday presents – this one from Justin and Kate is a framed picture of Me and Mister Man Sullivan Howard – at the beach this summer.  

Kate took this shot, and she is pretty damn good with a camera.  Carol and I are terrible with a camera, and Kate “volunteered” a few years ago to be "Team Photographer"… and just signed a lifetime contract.

Everyone complains that I’m so hard to buy presents for, and it IS hard to choose things for men as picky as me.  I got lots of great presents this birthday, but these 2 were special – and are both proudly displayed in my office.  Thanks boys for the thoughtful gifts.  (They are grown men, but will ALWAYS be “my boys”).  And especially to Andrew – it does feel good to feel appreciated.

Peace and Love…

hgrass by hgrass @
Neighbors (or lack thereof)

We just got back from our family vacation, so this month’s blog topic was an easy one - my favorite place in the world…the beach.

I've been spending my weekly summer vacations at the beach for as long as I can remember, probably since I've been about 6 years old.  My Massachusetts cousins had a beach house in Nantasket Beach (Hull for my New England friends), which is on the south side of Boston, and we usually loaded up the car on a Friday August night - and left my father’s furniture store in West Philadelphia around 6PM and drove straight to Nantasket.            

I have such fond memories of our beach week to this day.  I had older cousins, who left a lasting impression on me.  I got high for the first time on Nantasket Beach, and was exposed to rock and roll music for the first time as well.  Most people agree that music takes them back to a place and time, and for me it was The White Album, Derek and the Dominoes' Layla, and Sweet Baby James - I still think of those beach weeks every time I hear this music. I even fell in love for the first time in Natasket Beach with Emily Goldstein... although is it really love if only one of the 13-year-olds is in love?

I learned what a penny candy store was in Hull, and went to my first amusement park (Paragon Park again for my Boston friends), although I'm afraid of heights and never loved the scary rides like my sons do.  Still... a summer night at an amusement park by the beach was a thing to behold!  My cousins also taught me about sea glass and I still collect it to this day.  Sea glass is broken pieces of glass that end up being battered by the waves and the sand for so long that they loose the sharpness of their edges and get a little cloudy.  I have a ton of sea glass in my office in 3 big jars, but that's nothing compared to what my cousins had - living at the beach all summer for all of those years.  The beaches I go to as an adult have no sea glass to speak of, but I still find myself staring down at the sand during my daily beach walks - but it's now an exercise in futility.  

I stopped wanting to spend my summer vacations with my parents around my 16th birthday.  I was WAY too cool to hang out with them once I started to drive - boy was I a fool!  So I switched to the Jersey Shore for a short time.  It was close to my home and there were many trips in my friend's yellow Porsche to Wildwood for a few days at a time.  The music was a little different then, but the sun bathing was no less intense.  There was no such thing as sunscreen in those days (Coconut oil was the "skin cancer carcinogen of choice") and I learned early on how to "sun worship".  It IS an art form, but you do have to be blessed with the right kind of skin and I was; so I was always (and still am) the darkest member of my family by the end of the summer.

I spent a few months right after high school with a good friend in Key West in a VW Camper Van, and that was probably the "darkest" I've ever been.  All I ever needed was a towel, a beach chair, sunglasses, and a book.  These are my tools of the trade to this day, only now I put them in a beach bag rather than wrap them up in my towel.

Then I got married and started a family and we started our own tradition.  We took the kids to Long Beach Island originally, which we loved - although we really couldn't afford much of a house in those days.  But from day one all of my boys loved the beach, loved the water, and loved the sand, so there were never any complaints when we announced it was time to head to the beach for a week or two.  I taught them how to ride the waves, look for sea-glass, and take walks on the beach, and they certainly had their parents’ genes in this regard.  By the way, Carol loves the beach just as much as I do, so there was never any arguing about how we would spend our summer vacations.  We've probably rented a place at the beach every year for over 30 years now, and she was always good at picking the right house - not an easy task when it needs to meet the approval of her "picky” husband.  Sometimes we stayed at the same place 2 years in a row, but rarely.  As the family grew, finding the "right" house became more difficult, and it’s downright complicated these days when you have 4 sons with daughters in law and girlfriends and 3 grandchildren.  But she has always come through and we always “make things work".

We transitioned from LBI to Ocean City, Maryland to Virginia Beach and they were all great trips; these were the "golden years" when the boys were younger but there was NO reading going on during this period.  Watching 4 boys all under 15 on the beach requires 100% concentration (and jumping up and down 50 times) and yelling for them to come closer to the shore, and to be careful, and to stop eating sand.  Fun for all YES!  Relaxing for Carol and I, HARDLY!

About 20 years ago we found the Outer Banks of North Carolina and we have been going there every year since.  For us it is truly a "hidden jewel".  There are no boardwalks or amusement parks, but all the shopping and amenities necessary for a great vacation.  Our idea of a perfect day of vacation these days is spending the whole day on the beach, happy hour before dinner, and a barbecued meal of some sort.  The kids do all of the cooking and cleaning, so for us... it's as relaxing as can be (except that Nanny is never totally off duty - even on vacation).

For those of you who may look at a map and see how far of a drive it is from Chester County to Corolla (about 7 hours during the busy summer season), you might say "Howard... you pass 10 different beach areas that you could get to in half the time - why go all the way to OBX?  It’s a good question, but an easy one to answer for The Grass Family.  We started out renting small houses 2 or 3 blocks from the beach (because they were cheaper), but our family has grown significantly over the past 5 years; this year we "needed" a 7 bedroom house, and Carol found a beauty right on the beach with a pool and a private walkway right over the dunes to the beach.  The views in both directions were spectacular - the back decks and windows all faced the ocean with completely unobstructed views, and the front side had an unobstructed view all the way across Currituck Sound to the most magnificent sunsets I have ever seen.  But my main criterion in a beach house is about my neighbors - or the lack thereof. Take a look at the first picture above.  That was taken from my beach chair looking south towards Duck.  There is 100 yards to the next family, and 50 yards past them to the next one.  It is the same thing behind me facing north towards Whalehead - and there is NO ONE between my tent and the water, nor anyone between “my” house and me.  Now I am in sales and I love people, but I don't like sharing my beach blanket with strangers, nor being so close to them that I can smell their beer breath, nor having to do a serpentine dance through 8 families to find a path to the ocean - which I go into to cool off about 10 times every day.  I am affectionately known to my family as a beach snob, and I'm probably guilty as charged.  Truth be told, I'm willing to drive 7 hours (in both directions) one week a year for this type of privacy on the beach, and pay a premium for it as well.  To me it is worth every minute in the car and every penny, but that's just the way I am.

But the title of this post in "My Happy Place" and so it's time to tie up some loose ends.  For me, there is nowhere more peaceful on earth than the beach.  It's the one place I can truly "shut down" my work life and totally relax.  It's the sound of the waves churning 24/7.  It's the smell of the ocean that is like no other smell on earth.  Its the sand in your toes, and the daily walks on the beach where Carol and I can really talk about things that matter - our lives, our family, our future, and our incredible good fortune to be able to meet up with all of our boys and their families in such an incredible place for one week each year.   Where it seems like the good old days when all of the boys were living with us under one roof, and spend all day together for a week straight where everyone gets a reminder of the true meaning of what being a family is - and particularly what it means to be a "Grass".  I get to relax and read most of the day, and watch our boys instill a love for the beach in our grandchildren - and this might be the best part of all.

Yes we love the Outer Banks and all that it encompasses for us.  Justin proposed to Kate a few years ago on the beach after our traditional Sunday Night dinner (our first dinner of the week), and now we have Mister Sullivan - who in a few years will be able to learn how to ride the waves with his Dad, and make sand castles with his cousins Devyn and Madison - God willing.  And one day in the future my kids will make a pair of sad walks from the beach house to the water’s edge - and spread our ashes out over the shoreline of the Outer Banks - as it is written in both of our wills.  And hopefully they will continue our OBX tradition for many years after we're gone, by coming down here for a week each summer to keep the Grass Family close and strong.  And maybe even a quick toast to their parents who are no longer with them during the Friday Afternoon Happy Hour on the beach, which is just another part of our tradition.  Yes... the beach is truly my happy place, and I hope I get to spend many more weeks down here!  Peace and love, HG

hgrass by hgrass @
I love to write, and don't expect to ever write a book - so a blog is about as expressive of a vehicle as I plan on having.  While the original intent of my blog was primarily for business use, it has morphed into something else over the past few posts.  As it turns out, I prefer writing about "life", as things seem to “flow from the pen" more freely when I can pontificate on more personal topics such as family, health and wellness, mindfulness, etc.  But IMHO (In My Humble Opinion) is a good way of communicating to my stores about my business as well, so today… I will just have to work a little bit harder to "find the words".

I am assuming that you have already received an email from Lynn Rohrman, but if not - I am including 2 attachments in my email with 2 letters she sent out last night.  For clarity sake, if you have arrived at my website by means other than the link in my email, I am including the text from the main letter below.  To summarize, Lynn owns 4 companies (Andrew Adela, Ambiance, Aura Bridal, and Jessica Lynn), who I have represented for the past 5-6 years.  As I learned only last night directly from Lynn, she has been struggling with some serious health issues for a while now, which can no longer be "ignored".  Anyone who knows Lynn knows that she is a stone cold workaholic, and this is not a good trait for someone who has been sick AND runs 4 companies in the bridal business.  My perception is that her doctors told her that she must put her own health "above" her business.  As a Cancer Survivor and someone who has been seriously ill twice now in the past 5 years, I can relate to what she must be going through.

She has decided therefore that she has no choice but to close 3 of her 4 companies – those being Andrew Adela, Ambiance, and Aura Bridal.  She plans on continuing to run Jessica Lynn, which is her "baby", and which she has owned for over 25 years; and is confident that she has the staff and infrastructure in place to maintain the high level of quality and service she is known for.  I however will no longer be representing Jessica Lynn, so it is with great sadness that I am ending my business relationship with all 4 of these companies, effective immediately.  So how does this affect "us"?

I'll start with me, as the answer regarding me is fairly straightforward.  This is not the first time that a company I have worked for has abruptly decided to close; although I do hope it is the last.  I still work for 2 great companies (and owners), and can look for a new bridesmaid/MOB line to add to my package should I choose to - but have no plans to even think about this today.  I am almost 61 years old, and still love my job (although I probably loved it a little more yesterday when I worked for Lynn).  Hell... 10 years ago I lost 90% of my income in a 5 minute phone call when the owners of Bridal Originals called to tell me they were closing, and I saw a swimming pool that was 80% complete (a big hole in the ground) when I looked out my back window.  For anyone who ever built a pool, there is NO turning back when you are this far into the project.  If I survived that I will survive this, and I consider myself very fortunate with what I still have in my "package".  While in general "belt tightening" is not in my DNA, I imagine it will be good for the soul.

How does this affect my stores is a little more complicated, which is why I "went first".  Lynn expects to ship all special orders currently in the system in the time frame promised when the order was confirmed.  She also plans on allowing stores to finalize any "pending" orders you may have, and will continue to accept specials through the end of September - and "deliver them on our regular schedule".  Whether you choose to continue to show your samples for the next few months only you can decide, but you should feel confident in knowing that your brides will be handled.  If you were one of the few stores who placed a stock order this season, you of course will not be expected to take it in.

There was some mention in Lynn's letter about a possible "restructuring of the company" within the next 3 weeks.  What this means and how it affects my stores and me I don't know.  If and when I learn anything I will certainly let you know.

In closing, I am a little sad about this, as I loved working for Lynn and her companies.  While not the biggest company I ever worked for, no one in our industry cared more about her customers, nor strived harder to make things right by them.  My thoughts are with her and her family, especially as it relates to her health.  She is a very caring person, and I hope she has what it takes to slow down enough to take care of herself and get better.  As a veteran of this industry, I have seen a lot of companies go out of business in my day, and many of them do it "less than honorably".  I commend her for being honest with her accounts and me as soon as was feasibly possible; and expect nothing less than a smooth and professional winding down of her business.

While I don't "technically" rep these lines any more, I always have a vested interest in taking good care of my stores.  Should you need any assistance relating to your orders, or wish to discuss your store's specific needs, you may certainly contact me.



To our Andrew Adela, Ambiance and Aura Bridal Accounts:

It distresses me greatly to send this email, but it is what it is.  I can no longer continue with Andrew Adela, Ambiance and Aura Bridal because my health has deteriorated this past year to the point I am no longer able to function at full capacity.
I have three basic conditions:  Bronchiectasis, Pseudomonas and COPD in my lungs. None of these conditions can be cured; the Pseudomonas just lies there dormant until I get too stressed or too tired (ha ha - that never happens, right?) How  ironic the COPD is – I have never so much as even tried to smoke anything.  My future promises to be most challenging.  
My lung doctor now has me on oxygen 24/7 and if I can get a half work day accomplished, it’s like climbing Mt. Everest.  He wants me in a 6-week Pulmonary Rehab program in Huntsville as soon as possible.  This rehab is postponed until Mother can get better.  She broke her hip and has had two surgeries in two months.
The factory owner has begun the process of restructuring the company for US distribution.  I hope that he is successful because he is a wonderful person and I wish him the very best.
We will be delivering the specials that you have on order with us at this time.  We will also continue to take specials during July, August and September for delivery on our regular schedule.  We are aware that you have been working with brides and other customers who have not yet made their final decisions.  We do not expect you to take any stock order placed this season.  The factory owner should know by the first of August about the restructuring of the company and you will be contacted at that time to see if you wish to go forward.  I really hope it all works out for everyone.  I have put my heart and my soul into this business venture and I am so sorry that it is my health now creating a problem.
We will keep Jessica Lynn because Cindy will manage it with no difficulty.  She has always been my rock and amazes me with her capabilities.  I am truly blessed to have her for my sister.  I will continue to design the little girl dresses and be involved, mostly from home where I can rest easier.  
I know you came on board with Andrew Adela expecting a partnership that would help us both grow and secure our futures..  I expected the same.  I feel in my mind as if I have let you down and I hate that, but in my heart and soul you must know that I would never intentionally let any of you down.
This is not what I had planned – it is certainly not what I had envisioned – but it is what I have to accept.
It is with a heavy heart that I end this letter…

hgrass by hgrass @

Growing up, I never had this huge desire to have children - I'm not sure why.  I was raised by loving, middle class parents; and I had no deep dark psychological issues that made me feel this way... I just did.  Had I married a woman who felt the same way as I (or couldn’t have children) I’d probably be childless today, and would certainly be writing a much different blog post in Mid June.  But anyone who knows Carol knows that would not be possible.  If you looked up "Carol Grass" in the dictionary, the caption under her picture would read "Born to be a Mom", so childless was never really a serious option for our family.  Hell… I even call her “Mom” most of the time, and the “To/From Tags” on my Christmas gifts to her say “To: Mommy”!  At the same token I don't think everyone SHOULD be a parent, so anyone reading this who chooses not to have kids is OK in my book.  In fact, the problem in the world is not so much the families with kids nor without... it's the families who shouldn't have kids that do!   But that's a blog post for another day.  This one is about a couple that "decided" to have children, and give me a reason to be thankful the day before Fathers Day.

But how many children should we have?  In a recent study, the average # of kids per married couple is .9 (less than 1 child per family), and the average # of kids per family who do have children is 1.8 kids per family.  So how the hell did I end up with 4 sons?  As it turns out, we were just lucky I guess, and we’re certainly not sterile.  I could write a book on our life of raising 4 sons for over 35 years, and it would be a fascinating read.  But this is a blog post not a novel, so fast forward to June 20th, 2015.

What defines “blessed parents”?  You can start out with having healthy children.  Just having 4 sons who are healthy is a true gift from God.  My heart aches for the sick children of the world and their parents, and when I see what some families go through who are not as fortunate as we are, well it really puts things into perspective.  Now we've had our share of trips to the Emergency Room (all 4 of them played Ice Hockey and soccer), but that's just part of raising kids and today they’re no worse for wear.  I'd love to see them exercise a little more but they are in WAY better shape than I was in my 30s so who am I to lecture?  Hopefully they'll follow in their father's footsteps and find some form of workout they enjoy in their later years, but for now... golf and fantasy sports will have to do!

Maybe we define it by where they live?  I'm not talking about the kind of house one’s children live in, but rather it's location in relation to their parents.  All 4 of my sons live less than 30 minutes from us.  This doesn't always happen, and is in no way a reflection on how "close knit" a family is.  Shit just happens.  People get transferred in their jobs.  Kids go away to college and fall in love with someone, or with another part of this beautiful country.  It happens all the time and as parents... there is really nothing we can do about it.  So again we are blessed and we don't take it for granted for one minute because we are only one love affair or one promotion from all of this changing.  But for now we choose to appreciate, celebrate, and take advantage of the fact that we all live in Chester County.

How do we do that?  First of all we communicate.  Michael still lives at home just having graduated from college, so we see him every day.  I talk to my other 3 sons on the phone 4-5 times a week, and Carol talks to them more.  What do we talk about – it’s hard to say.  Its more of a “just calling to check in” than a "I have a question" or "I need something", but its been this way since the day each of them moved out.  I have no idea how it started and it was never discussed ("Son, now that you won't be living at home anymore it's important to keep in touch with your parents by phone"... it sounds so lame and contrived).  But talking to my kids on the phone is oftentimes the highlight of my day, and I hope this never changes!

We work on projects together as well.  Justin and Andrew both have beautiful homes, and I love it when they need help with something.  We've expanded kitchens, finished basements, and re-done a bathroom - and they're always available to help me when I need it.  Whether it’s opening or closing the pool, wiring a TV or sound system, or clearing land - they always make time for me.  "Clearing land”???  You wouldn’t understand unless you've seen my property, but we still laugh about all of the trees we cut down and disposed of. Amateur carpenters – maybe.  Lumberjacks we are not... trust me!

We also hang out together a lot.  What is a lot?  I'm not sure, but it seems like a lot to me.  They all have their busy lives, with their careers and their children, and their homes that need upkeep and their lawns that need mowing.  But we usually try to get together a few times a month in the winter, and almost every weekend in the summer.  Carol "insists" on a family get together for every birthday, and when your family is up to 11 “members” (plus 2 significant others), that’s a lot of birthday dinners.  Add in 6-8 holidays, and a pool party/barbecue almost every weekend in the summer.  And top it off with a week at the beach in North Carolina every August, where we get to "go back in time" for 7 days and all live under the same roof like in the old days.  That includes 21 meals together, spending all day on the beach together, drinking plenty of cold beer, and telling "Grass Stories" and laughing all week long.  If nothing else my kids are clever and sarcastic... I have no idea where that came from 😉

The week at the beach is the highlight of the year for us, and I still get tears in my eyes at the Sunday Night (first) dinner of the vacation, where we raise a toast to the Grass Family… and I give my speech on how blessed we ALL are, and how amazed and appreciative Carol and I are that they all want to spend their summer vacation with their parents.  I know I never wanted to!

So in closing, my Father Day's message for my sons is as follows...

Boys (they are all men but I will always refer to them as my boys)... Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be a Father.  It is my greatest joy and my biggest accomplishment, and there is nothing I am prouder of than my family.  I hope you all grow up one day and can experience the same joy from your families as you have given me, and that you will look back on our journey together with a smile on your face.  I love you all very much, and pray that you stay as close to each other as you are now, for all time.  D

To all of the Dads out there.... Happy Fathers Day!

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