Sunday, January 31, 2016

Extraordinary Skill

by TLC Nielsen 
January 31, 2016 Extraordinary Ordinary Blog

I met a wonderful tech person awhile back, Mrunal Gokhale. Her natural skill with technology led her to teach children how to program Bee robots at schools and libraries. She also works with students on circuitry and Lego robotics. She’s been in the United States for about 15 years and her journey is fascinating.

Welcome Mrunal!

Q) When and where did you get your start with tinkering?
A) I guess from the early years of my school life. I was lucky that the school I went to was very much focused on Science and hands-on experiments, and also the credit goes to my supportive and encouraging parents. As a child, I remember opening up a broken wall clock and an old radio with my mother just to see how it looks from inside! Somehow while growing up, I always loved to open up things to see how they look from inside.

Q) So much has changed since I was a child and you’re a bit younger. How much technology did you have available to you as a child?
A) There was very little high tech, cool technology available to me while I was growing up, mainly because it was way too expensive.  I did read a lot. Books have always been integral part of my life.

Q) How did technology influence your education?
A) Since the middle school years the subjects of physics, chemistry and biology labs were my introduction to the technology. In these labs I learned to use different tools to conduct experiments and understand the subject. Then the high school years introduced me to the world of computers. In those days in India, computer programming was a new sensation.  

Q) Your journey to Illinois has always intrigued me. How did you end up here of all places?
A) Destiny is the reason I landed up here I guess. I have been here for the past 15 years yet I never ever dreamed of leaving India for such an extended period of time! A job with Motorola is the reason I came here in the first place.

Q) Did you and your family ever consider another country or state?
A) We all love to travel and explore different cultures and lifestyles so travel plans have always been made, but we never considered staying in those places forever. I think I would love to go back to India after we retire and live in the part of the country where I grew up.

Q) Is your spouse as technologically proficient as you?
A) Oh yes, he is lot more proficient compared to me. His profession keeps him up to date with the newest technology. He belongs to a family of engineers, everyone in the past three generations of his family have been engineers.

Q) How did the two of you meet?
A) Wow, this question is taking me down memory lane. I graduated with a degree in computer science and joined an IT firm in India. On one beautiful, sunny day, we happened to meet at a common friend’s house for the first time and then kept meeting frequently.  We both were working in the field of computer programming. As we became good friends, I felt that not only our profession but our interests, family background and values were so much similar. Soon I realized this feeling was mutual. After couple of years, we both thought that we were ready to hold hands and spend the rest of our lives together!

Q) Looking ahead, what do you predict for your children’s tech lives when they reach your age?
A) Our generation is so much into smartphones and other gadgets nowadays that the newborn gets to know his or her parents and technology at the same time. We parents are literally inseparable from our smartphones.

I predict that when my children reach my age, they will prefer to communicate with and through technology rather than making eye contact or having face-to-face interactions. The next generation’s learning experience will be very much technology driven from the early toddler years. Even today, the schools are taking “hybrid” approaches where more than half of the learning is done online and the rest using paper and pencil, which is so different from education even six years ago. I am very sure the Internet will be an integral part of life for that generation. Life will sure be different.


Thanks for visiting the Extraordinary Ordinary blog here at, where ordinary folks with extraordinary stories are highlighted. If you or someone you know has a story they’d like to share, please contact TLC at soulfixer (at) yahoo (dot) com and put” lookandbe” in the subject line.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Extraordinary Togetherness - 35 Years and Counting

2016 Edition
By TLC Nielsen

I’ve met a lot of married folks in my life, but none as unique as Dan and Elizabeth Chessman. They celebrated 35 years of marriage last year and are active in so many spheres: work, church, music, volunteering, horse training and more.  Both have faced health challenges and keep on keeping on. The energy and positive insight of these two is evident in Dan’s answers to my 7 questions (one for every 5 years of their marriage!)

Welcome, Chesman Duo!

Q) You two put so much time and energy into everything you do. I thought I’d start out by asking what holiday activities you chose to invest yourselves in, separately and as a couple?

A) This Christmas holiday season has flown by us so fast, we, unfortunately, didn't get everything done that we wanted to do in preparation for it.  Individually, Elizabeth did all the decorating of our home and did a great job doing so even though she has been in a lot of pain from rotator cuff surgery performed last June.  It is taking a longer period of time to heal due to the serious nature of her injury and the toll diabetes has taken on her body over the years.  It didn't help to have a visit from a flu bug that made its way to both of us during the time, either!

As a couple, we celebrated part of my vacation traveling down to St. Louis, Missouri, on Amtrak, to visit my 94 year old mother and my brother (before the floods came).  It was special to do this because this was the first year working for the railroad that I have had enough seniority to request Christmas week off.  It was also the first time Elizabeth and I had not only traveled somewhere for Christmas, but taken the Amtrak anywhere since I left them to join Metra ten years ago.  The trip was great!  We were joined by our youngest son, who flew in from Dallas. The three of us traveled by Amtrak back to Chicago on Christmas Eve to celebrate Christmas with our two other children.

We also had the delight during this season of hosting our oldest son and his girlfriend for a dinner and a concert by Sarah Groves, a well-known Christian songwriter and singer.

One of the highlights this season for Dan was hosting a Christmas party on his evening commuter train shortly before going on vacation for a small group of passengers and co-workers he has had the privilege to get to know over the last couple of years.  God has put them on his heart and grown in love for them. The party was a simple way of showing that.  His heart's desire is to live Christ among them and love them to bits in the hope that someday they will see and understand how precious they are to God and accept his priceless gift of the cross into their hearts.

Dan was blessed with an opportunity, also, to visit and minister with his cello to an individual from church, who is in hospice. It has been a great holiday season of blessings for which we are deeply grateful. 

Q) What parts of your life keep you bonded as a couple? How do the separate elements play into this?

A) Without question, the most powerful force that has helped us bond as a couple from the very beginning in our marriage has been our individual and corporate walks with the Lord!  With his strength and power we have stayed together through the years, even with a two-plus year separation.   It has been God who has enabled us to do this, for without him, we would not been able to come close to trying to keep the vows we made in the beginning. 

Our common, consistent faith in the strong anchor and the Grace to continue to hunger and thirst for God, to be desperate for him enough to maintain our spending one-on one time with God frequently and be involved with his people in a good church, has been the key.  And this is a gift from the Lord, not because of any steadfast personal strength! Without this gift of himself, we would not have had the strength or motivation to make it through the times of great difficulty, past and present.

It has also been helpful to find a hobby that we are both passionate about.  This, too, has been a gift. For us, it has been an enjoyment of horses.  We have been very fortunate to enjoy them together and to serve each other in making this a reality.  This has been a recreational intimacy.

Q) You’ve had some health concerns as you’ve reached the “over 40” status of life. I loved the newspaper article on Dan’s replacement surgery. But how have you two “danced” together in marriage through the pain and healing you’ve both experienced?

A) Our physical and emotional health has had a powerful impact on our marriage through the years. We both brought backgrounds that have presented hurdles to emotional intimacy. Elizabeth's diabetes and Dan's recent surgeries heavily affected life's routines. Every marriage experiences these challenges at some point, and in various degrees, yet facing them is part of the journey together.  In our marriage, these have been opportunities to learn to love and serve each other. They cannot be denied or fled from, and part of our "dance" together is striving to grow to help each other in sincere love in the many needs these challenges present.

Q) Elizabeth and Dan, you both give so much time as volunteers. How do you juggle everything else and volunteering?

A) It is true that Elizabeth and I are involved in volunteer activities.  We try to work around each other's passions to minister and serve in what we feel are things God has seemingly called us to.  There is a mutual respect for each other's feelings in going about this. To be sure, it is part of our "dance," and there has to be constant effort on both of our parts to allow more time together for our marriage, by communicating about our days and how they went and about things coming up that will affect schedules and allocation of time in shared priorities and needs - individually and as a couple.

Q) Music, I know, is important to both of you. Dan is learning cello after playing baritone all these years with the Lakeland Brass. What other hobbies keep you busy, especially those you pursue together?

A) It is good that Elizabeth enjoys me practicing both musical instruments because I have had to increase the amount of time devoted to learning a new instrument as well as maintain and prepare for performances on the baritone. She enjoys listening to the music in the home, even with all the squeaks, mistakes, and repetitions! Knowing this has been of great encouragement to me to continue with both, for there are times of discouragement.  I try to be sensitive to her activities such as time of day and her desire to watch certain television programs. 

Other activities, in addition to horses, that we enjoy doing together include eating out and watching movies.  Elizabeth enjoys board games a lot and it’s good for us to engage in these.  Time spent playing those games together allows us better opportunity to communicate with each other.

Q) You two often travel to the barn together on weekends. You both love horses so how has that played into your marriage?

A) Our shared love of horses involves helping each other in our favorite activities with them.  For Elizabeth, it is riding (Western-style) and driving a horse and buggy for me. Elizabeth has, unfortunately, had to cease with horse activities due to health for a long time.  We hope she can again pursue riding again.  She has been a huge help for me in the past when preparing the horse and buggy for an afternoon drive, with its myriad of necessary tasks.  I hope she can regain full use of her shoulder someday so she can help me once again.

The cool thing about having a strong interest in the same thing is that it isn't confined to, or dependent on, being able to participate in it especially in owning a live horse and all that is associated with it.  This is an interest that can be enjoyed by attending many related events taking place in a regional area, and even traveling to other regions and continents.  This, I believe, would be true for a lot of many other interests a couple might have together.

For us, this interest has provided a therapeutic outlet both individually and as a couple. It has provided a broadened opportunity to interact and bond together.

Final question, I promise! What would you say are the top two marriage building insights you’ve learned through three and a half decades?

A) I would say the number one of the two most important marriage building insights would be each spouse's personal walk and growth in their relationship with Jesus Christ. Our foundation on a daily basis has to be receiving the spiritual feeding we each need not only for ourselves, but for our spouse, our children, and the others God has and will bring into our lives in order to live out the tremendous love, mercy and grace God has poured out lavishly on us during our numbered days on this earth!! We desperately need a power beyond ourselves to help bring his kingdom, that is, his love, mercy, and grace to this world, and it starts with God's power in each of our lives first.  We all deeply need life giving motivation, strength and endurance spiritually, emotionally, and physically (to whatever degree he has chosen) to meet the commitment marriage requires.

The second most important marriage building insight would be communication between husband and wife. Our lives are " fearfully and wonderfully" designed by God, himself, with all the differences and complexities involved. Communication between two in a marriage requires trust and clarity in order to achieve oneness in spirit and the capacity and ability to show Christ to a world truly lost to eternity.

Thank you, Dan and Elizabeth, for being highlighted on the Extraordinary Ordinary blog! 

Here's the link to the article on Dan's ankle replacement surgery:

There are more extraordinary tales of ordinary folks featured here once a month at If someone you know would like to be featured, please contact TLC Nielsen at soulfixer 13 (at) yahoo (dot) com and put “lookandbe nominee” in the subject line. Merry New Year!