Saturday, August 31, 2013

August 30, 2013: Benny Lane and the Rodeo

Zach and Benny after the rodeo
Watching Ben playing football last night under the Friday night lights made me weepy. Skutt didn't get a win, but I was so proud to watch my son play with passion and love for the game. That's Ben Lane; loving life and playing the game of life with heart.

Since Ben was a toddler, that has always been his approach to life. He takes on the people and things he loves with a smile and with determination to please and achieve the goals he sets for himself. Ben confuses me at times with the focus of his determination. My parental confusion is subsided only by me reminding myself that I don't set Ben's goals. Ben sets Ben's goals.

With Zach behind me, cheering on his younger brother and watching a determined Ben on the field, I was reminded of a younger Benny with younger passions. Ben wanted to be a cowboy. At age three, Ben was a cowboy and you couldn't tell him anything different.

The goals I had for Ben consisted of counting to fifty, knowing his alphabet, and beating all of his three-year-old counterparts in advanced vocabulary. As is the case now, Ben did not buy into my goal setting. He wanted to be a cowboy.

He wore cowboy boots (many times with the only accompanying accessory being Woody from Toy Story underwear) and a cowboy hat.  A toy horse was a constant attachment in his hands. Every video, book, and made-up game that captured Ben's attention involved a horse or cowboy.

Although I didn't give up on the alphabet, I decided to surprise him with tickets to the rodeo. We went as a family to the River City Round-up, dressed in semi-western gear. Ben was enamored from the minute we walked in the door. There were horses and cowboys everywhere. Dirt covered the floor and the smell of an over-sized barn filled our senses.

When the bull riding began, we choose seats closest to the side tunnels where the cowboys on horses waited at bay. Their job was to guide the bulls back to their pit following a ride or help the clowns in redirecting an angry bull from a rider in an undesirable position.

They were real cowboys. And they were cool. Ben knew this from the minute he laid eyes on them. Although he didn't miss a minute of the action in the bull riding arena, his attention was glued to the gate by the cowboys.

With his chubby toddler fingers on the gate and eyes locked on their every move, I allowed Ben stand by the tunnel and take it all in. He was determined to be with the cowboys. In his mind, he was a cowboy too.

I am unsure what my tot said to those focused horseman, but he got their attention. As I sat and watched the show with one eye keeping watch of little Ben, I heard a voice speak to me from the tunnel.

"Ma'am, can I take your son out in the ring?"

Huh? I had to look around to see if the question was directed to me.

"I will put him on my horse, Ma'am, and give him a ride. He really wants to be out here with us."

"Sure," I muttered as Ben ran to me with arms extended upward. He knew what was asked and wanted a lift to his cowboy friends. Out of my arms and onto a horse he went. With eyes sparkling and with the biggest Benny Lane grin, his determination paid off.

The cowboy rode with Ben in tow around the arena, center stage, with the other cowboys. And then he rode to the fence where the bull was penned. Reaching through the fence, the cowboy guided Ben on petting the bull. And then I got my little cowboy back.

"I pet the bull, Mommy! I'm a cowboy!!"

The picture above was taken at the end of the rodeo. The expressions on boys faces says it all. Proud big brother and happy cowboy. I admire your determination, Ben Lane. But we do need to keep working on that alphabet. XOXOX

The cowboys

Thursday, August 29, 2013

August 29, 2013: Pre-Game

Me- attempting locker art
I got an e-mail yesterday with logistics on football moms decorating their son's school lockers. It came as a surprise to me. In all my years as a football mom, I hadn't a clue that it was my job to decorate their locker for game day. Reading the e-mail, I wondered if Ben and Zach were greeted by blank locker doors all those past game days. <fail>.

With my quest to be a fully engaged 8th grade and senior mom, I took in the e-mail details. An event was added to my Outlook calendar. Good to go. Or so I thought.

Not understanding the potential planning involved, I assumed a quick run through my art room five minutes prior would suffice. Grabbing scissors, colored paper, and markers; I was set. Most moms didn't even have an art room, I surmised. So I brought extras to share with the less fortunate.

Zach made the unfortunate decision to stop home an hour before my designated locker decoration time. With a little coaxing, he agreed to help. I would add that my purchase of his dinner at Chipotle probably had an impact. Certainly a graduate of Skutt and former football player would add value. I welcomed the help.

So with art supplies in hand, we met the moms at Skutt. They, too, were prepared. Really prepared. There were Nobbie's bags full of party favors, garbage bags full of balloons, and pre-printed computerized posters. The quality of the artwork was fitting of a graphic artist.

Hmmmm. When all else fails, bubble letters. Yep, I went with bubble letters. And fortunately I grabbed a couple of cute Ben baby pictures. Zach drew a football and I cut my handmade bubble letters. And then I free-handed more bubble letters. Ben's jersey number, #9....HUGE bubble letters.

As I boldly cut out my creations, Zach spoke what I observed. "Mom, are you sure you have enough stuff for his locker?" When all else fails, I employ the golden rule: Woo them with confidence.

"Zach, you will be amazed once I'm done." <Zach laughs>

Things were looking up as Zach and I taped my handmade treasures across Ben's locker. Not yet to the point of amazing, something awesome happened. The cool moms with the great locker accessories offered decor to me. We humbly took the gifts of green plastic grass skirting and inflated balloons. With a little special locker tape and some bubble letter rearranging, it came out...amazing. <success>.

Thank-you Skutt football moms for sharing and schooling me on proper locker decorating techniques. And thank-you, Marion, for making me feel better on my own personal locker sins of the past. I am glad after decorating only your senior's locker, you remembered you had another son on the team. Failure doesn't actually happen until you totally forget. <save>.

Zach moving a balloon once we realized
 the balloons were positioned like two boobs over a grass skirt
Awe and Amazement!!

August 28, 2013: Supper and Sliders

The boys. Added note: check out Ben's turf-burned leg
In Iowa we called it Supper. In Nebraska, it's dinner. Growing up, we had dinner at noon and supper as our last meal of the day. Nebraska sees things differently. Although it took a while to get used to this change in translation upon moving to the big red state, I got used to it; with only occasional relapses.

Last night what we had was definitely supper. Mostly because it sounded good with the meal choice, sliders. Supper and sliders was the theme for the night.

Along with a great routine, I love to cook for my family. It makes me happy to fill their plates with "growing boy" food and sit down to family conversation. This seems to be more of a rare occurrence these days with everyone's busy schedules. Last night the moon and the stars did align for us as we enjoyed a meal together.

Despite the hot weather, I endured outside grilling. And then was a bit shocked when the boys wanted to eat outside as well. It ended up being a good idea on a nice summer night. Just a little warm.

The hand-pattied sliders were a hit off the grill on to toasted buns. Carb-loading these football boys continued with a side (big side) of potato wedges. Smoothies chucked full of fruit and hidden healthy adds was the final menu item. All were full and happy. Which makes this mom smile. It really is the small things in life, isn't it?

A special shout out to Ben Lane for the accompanying background music he blue-toothed in from his I-Phone. Not a clue on who the artists were or what they were saying. If I could actually understand them, I would most likely find the lyrics offensive. The boys said I was listening to the "best" in music. Thanks...I guess. It provided some good dialogue between us and I now consider myself "cultured".

Yes, last night was definitely supper. Just like the good old days in Iowa. Nothing fancy, but just as special.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

August 27, 2013: Back to a Routine

Morning plant care
I love a routine. There, I said it. As much as I like to blog about my many adventures, meeting new people, and going to interesting places; home always feels good. Back in the saddle of a daily routine is a welcomed pleasure.

I have enjoyed three days of taking Grant to school. Without fail I have my ceramic cup filled with hot coffee in hand. The conversation varies, but the route stays the same. My mornings start with either my 5:30 run with friends or a later bike ride, dependent on the day. The perimeter of the house is perused upon my arrival home with plants watered as I tend to the blossoms on the foliage.

My Outlook calendar is my savior. On perfect "routine days", there are work meetings and lunches sprinkled in with plenty of time left in between for typing a daily blog, attending an occasional daily mass at Boys Town, and keeping up with e-mails and favorite reading.

Last night was Curriculum Night at St. Wenceslaus. Grant is an 8th Grader. This is my last hurrah. Many parts of me wanted to skip this event that was saved on my Outlook calendar. Our first year at Wenc was in 1998 with Zach as a kindergartner. This is my 15th year of grade school. I think I could put on most of the program at this point. I have the traffic pattern down and much of the curriculum nailed.

But Grant asked me to go. "Mom, you're going to Curriculum Night tonight, right?" he asked as I dropped him off at football. Of Course, Grant. Thanks for being my accountability partner. So much for the youngest child-8th grade itch. Grant is not giving me a Bye.

Grant was right. I was so glad I went. This annual school routine has now been extended to year fifteen. And I enjoyed it. I really didn't know everything about the curriculum this year. I learned a lot of new things. And more importantly, I loved seeing all the people; so many faces from years back and new friends were made.

I am appreciative for the great teachers who have taught and cared for my boys all of these years. Some hugs were definitely in order. Many of the parents who sat next to me in the little desks are on the same 10+ routine as me. Survivors. We sat in even smaller chairs eight years ago at Curriculum Night for our kindergartners. We are all now just a little older and I think a little smarter as parents as well.

Never wish time away. That is good advice. I think I'm going to enjoy this 8th Grade year. I'll savor my daily routines in raising this fine young 13 year-old and in my parental role at school too. No Bye for me. Tonight I have car pool. And I'm actually looking forward to it.

Monday, August 26, 2013

August 26, 2013: Uncool

Last week I was flying high and feeling cool. Like a superhero taking on the world, I soared to new heights while increasing the depth of my extraordinary to-do list. And then I went home. To my teenagers, I am so incredibly uncool. Like a cold bucket of reality, my uncoolness was dumped on my head.

If you have ever watched the movie, The Incrediables, my role is Elastigirl...the mom. Superhero (or so she thinks) by day and humble (or humbled) mom by night.

Me: "I closed on a big deal today!"

Teen: "Cool. What's for dinner? Did you really wear that all day? You're a little old for that."

Hmmm. Attempt to be cooler....

Me: "I met some really important people today. You'd find them interesting!"

Teen: "Oh. Like business people? Or people who are actually interesting?"

Done. On to dinner and talk about the cool people they hang with and the interesting things they did all day.

Grant is typically my wing-man. The youngest, he has been untainted to date; still up for my adventures and hanging on to my words of self-professed coolness. Tonight I think he too has crossed into the dark side.

A hot night for football, Grant realized that he left his water jug at his dads. Being my resourceful self, I found an older model tucked in a garage cupboard. After a little clean up and dusting off, this insulated Husker jug appeared perfect for the task at hand. And it had Grant's name carefully printed in my neat handwriting (ha!) on the side.

As I filled the red jug with ice and water, proud of my find, Grant asked if I would take the Husker red thermal off of the jug. Huh? I then explained to Grant that it's the outer portion that keeps the ice water cold. He asked again if it could be removed. "Not on this hot night" was my answer. Grant didn't look convinced.

Pulling up to practice, I was excited to have a turn to drop Grant off. With many drivers in his life, I wasn't given this opportunity yet this year. And then a shocking request. A block from the gate, Grant asked me to stop. Hmmm. He wanted to get out and walk the rest of the way. Then as he pulled his gear from the back, I noted that he took the Husker thermal off his water jug. My cool penmanship on the insulated cover was rejected.

The realization has set in; I am completely uncool to all of my kids now. No more monogrammed lunch bags or cute back packs. No Lane boy will again ask my opinion on cool gear, just shy away from my picks. No hugs at drop offs or waves of enthusiasm when I pick up. I am no superhero by night. Just a mom in the shadows.

<sigh>  That's okay, I guess. As long as they love my meatball subs and tell me about their daily coolness, I'll just have to keep my super-cool mysterious adventures to myself.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

August 25, 2013: Modern Day Joan of Arc

Joan of the 80' I look tough??
Joan of Arc is forever ingrained in our minds as the epitome of the martyr; defender of mankind. Don't we all want to be the Joan of today? Saving the meek and out for the underdog. We want to come to their rescue and defeat the bad guy. If only we came equipped with the sword and armor that goes hand in hand with the Joan of Arc role.

My first real feeling of wanting to save the world one-person-at-a-time was in the 5th grade. Lyle was a boy in my brother's grade; two years older than me. Lyle was tall and lanky. He had wire rim glasses and kept to himself. Two years his younger, I didn't interact with him. He seemed shy, but with a disposition that struck me as kind.

This was the late 70's in small town Iowa. Small towns didn't have middle schools. We had grade schools and we had high schools. As a 5th grader, I was pooled with the "older kids". We also didn't have back packs. I am not quite sure when this great invention was introduced. If it was at this time, but we sure didn't know this luxury in Remsen. Needless to say, I carried a stack of books home every day from school which was also the norm of my classmates.

One spring day the mass exodus of school began after the sound of the anticipated end-of-school bell. We all scurried like a bunch of mice to escape the hot school (no air conditioning...another injustice that my children can not quite grasp). There were two steps that extended past the back exit door of the school. After I ran out the door along with the other 43 fifth graders, I stepped aside next to the building to wait for my brothers. I watched the kids pouring out while searching for Matt and Mark. Through the hustle, shoving, and positioning of getting out ahead of the rest, someone tripped and fell in the middle of the chaos. What quickly followed was the sound of kids laughing at this unexpected casualty.

There lay Lyle with books and papers strewn everywhere with his glasses half cocked. Everyone had stopped and were staring as he laid on the ground. I had this incredible desire to help this older boy out. So I knelt down among the older kids watching and helped a very bewildered Lyle gather his books and papers.

Without a word being exchanged, Lyle quietly went about his business; getting in line for the bus with everyone else continuing perpetual movement. I am not quite sure why that is such a strong memory for me. Possibly because it was my first real life experience in believing that you sometimes have to have courage to help someone and make a difference.

Fast forward nine years to my junior year in college. I had now gained some maturity and real life experiences in helping others; nothing terribly heroic or noteworthy, but experiences none the less. The story I'm about to tell involved Scott and I volunteering to drive the college drunk bus; a Happy Cab of sorts. As volunteer drivers, we shuttled enthusiastic party-goers to the sand pit and then back to campus again.

As many can relate, being a designated driver is never a glamorous role. In fact, it can be taxing. Drunks wear on the best of us. My point (foreshadowing) is that I might have had a bit of an edge the night of my perceived heroics.

This particular night was a warm fall night, early in the school year with a keg at the LeMars sand pit, a common place for college parties. We had made several trips when we pulled up to see ring of students gathered at the pit.

"What's going on?"  I asked Scott.

"I don't know," he said as he hopped out, running to the crowd to assess the situation.

I followed in the darkness trying to make out what the mass of people were watching so intently. As I pushed through the crowd, I saw the focus of their entertainment. A fight. Yep, a testosterone-filled, two boy, fist fight. In horror, I recognized the fighters.

Fighter #1 - Kelly. College quarterback, funny guy, life of the party, and the biggest heart breaker on campus. I fell in the large group of women who had dated Kelly at some point in time. Kelly was fun. With his charm and athletic ability, he was everyone's buddy and the BMOC.

Fighter # 2 - Cletus. Overweight, sloven, football bench-warmer, and ill-natured. He seemed forever unhappy and certainly won no popularity contests. In our college terms, he was a "Mugwump"; basically the jargon for campus nerd.

So Kelly and Cletus were center ring; throwing punches with onlookers watching and cheering. From my vantage point, Cletus was the victim. People were cheering for the popular and confident Kelly. Poor Cletus was being PICKED ON <gasp>!!

Somewhere from deep inside, Joan took over my being. With the bravery of a heroine, I pushed everyone out of my way and ran into the center of the ring. Cletus was on his back with Kelly delivering a blow. With strength that I didn't even know I had, I shoved Kelly to the ground. At the top of my lungs I started screaming.

"STOP, Kelly! What are you doing???  Leave him alone. Leave poor Cletus alone! What did he do to you?  STOP it NOW!!!"

As I was screaming at Kelly, he seemed paralyzed; staring at me in pure horror. You could have heard a pin drop. The crowd went silent, in shock at what was transpiring in front of them. In what felt like slow motion, I looked around at the crowd. The look on their faces read "What the Hell is Sandy doing?".

Kelly came to his senses and asked the question everyone was thinking, "Sandy, what the Hell are you doing?" I turned to my victim, Cletus, looking for validation from the man whom I had so valiantly saved. What I saw on his face wasn't relief or gratitude, but rather mortification and humiliation.

"What are you doing?" Cletus yelled at me.

I suddenly went from a feeling of anger to the feeling of  being naked on a stage. Without saying another word, I quietly walked back into the shadows. Cletus got up and walked away. Kelly, in his typical nature, cut the quiet in the air by cracking a joke. The party went on and I crawled back to the Drunk Bus.

Scott immediately asked the obvious question, "What just happened?"

My honest answer "I have no idea."

Life on campus proceeded as usual. Kelly continued to be the life of the party and Cletus continued his role as campus Mugwump. There were many times that Cletus and I would run into each other around campus. He would look away and didn't acknowledge my existence. I believe in today's terms it would be called being "dead in someones eyes".

Note to self: Before playing heroine 1) ascertain that there is truly a victim involved and more importantly, 2) verify that the purported victim wants your help. That was the flaw in my actions. I assumed. When it comes to love, war, and saving the world; never assume. Lesson learned.

August 24, 2013: Life with Jack

We had an overnighter last night. And it wasn't an ordinary overnighter. Jack Halpenny spent the night. Jack is the brother of Brendon, Grant's best friend. Jack has autism.

The Halpenny family have been friends of our for years. Jack moments and stories are abundant. I love to hear them and even better; be a part of them. Last night I was treated first hand to a Jack Halpenny night. His first overnighter at a friend's house was at ours.

Jack is pure and sweet. The words that flow from his mouth may sound unfiltered to a new friend. But those who know this very special boy, know that his words are full of love and honesty. Jack shares his loving world to all those around him.

Knowing Jack, I cherish the posts Laurie shares with me and on FaceBook relating to her daily moments with her son. I have been encouraging her to start a blog to share these warm moments with others.

Understanding autism and the daily life of the family surrounding the autistic child would be a great benefit to our society. Laurie can attest that life can be very challenging, but the benefits and beauty of raising Jack Halpenny in a world that only he knows and understands are also immense. We can all learn from Jack.

I am going to offer my favorite Jack Halpenny moments from last night. And then I am going to encourage Laurie to keep sharing her wonderful stories with the rest of us. Maybe a guest blogger for me on occasion and then a spin-off? What say you, Laurie Halpenny? Jack has a lot to teach us all. Life with Jack.

  • Within an hour of arriving, Jack and I started talking food. Jack lit up and exclaimed, "I need to call my mom!". Soon I hear him leaving a message "Mom, can you please bring over my book, Favorite Brand Name Best-Loved Recipes? Mrs. Lane wants to write down some recipes." Jack proceeded to tell me about all of the meals he wanted to try (or better said, his mom to try) including roasted lamb in plum sauce. Thank-you, Brian and Laurie, for bringing the book. It was exceptional!
  • Jack played on the tramp by himself on many occasions and then wandered around the house with me asking about every flower and plant. When asking about the side ornamental grass, he asked "Is it native?". I told him I thought so. His answer "Native is always the best. Talk to my dad about getting rid of the crabgrass at our house."
  • When I asked where he wanted to sleep, Jack promptly pointed to my bed. I answered that I should probably sleep there as the cat may get upset. Jack then said he would then take Stefano's bed. Stefano could just sleep on the couch. For the record, Jack climbed in bed with me later for a while. Not a bad idea actually.
  • As I ironed clothes, Jack felt the soft warm shirt material and smiled. "Fresh out of the oven!"
  • Then Jack looked at my big tub in my master bathroom. "Can you please leave now so I can take a hot bubble bath?" (I talked him into going into the hot tub)
  • Just now (as I type this with Jack sitting by me on my bed watching his I-Pad) a classic random Jack comment came out of his mouth.
    • Jack: "So when did you and Scott break up?"
    • Me: "About five years ago."
    • Jack: "I hear he's married now."
    • <pause by Jack>
    • Jack: "Jealous?"
    • Me: "No. I think his wife is nice."
    • Jack: "Yeah."
    • And then Jack quietly went on to watching Hercules. Conversation over.
Jack Halpenny is invited over to my house anytime. He is the sweetest companion, forever at my side, and a breath of fresh air in our house. And, Brendon, no's okay for Jack to run around the house in his underwear. I'm glad he feels comfortable. XOXOX Jack Halpenny.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

August 23, 2013: ER Revisited

(me...holding a cowbell for the race)
Yesterday was a milestone of sorts and I didn't even know it. Garrett and I were enjoying Day 2 of the Pro Cycling Challenge. Friday's stage was in Vail.

Rather than biking up a mountain to a favored spectator spot, we choose to hang in Vail Village at the time trial start. The day was picture perfect and the atmosphere, fun. We took a casual bike ride to our destination and spent the day as cycling groupies.

We perused the many vendor tents and found some cool new gear. Lunch consisted of gyros from a tent and Sunshine Wheat beer sold from a bike with a cooler full of brew. We pulled a spot on a wall with our refreshments and rider list in hand. A perfect spot for watching the 100+ riders take off. A good day. A Garrett and Sandy kind of day.

As we took in all the fun facts of the pro cyclists flying by us, a realization set in.

Me: "Garrett, I don't think I've been in the mountains since I blew my ACL."

<pause and reflection>

GB: "I think you're right."

Me: "Yeah, I'm pretty sure my last trip home from the mountains was from the Vail ER with my blown knee in a brace."

<more reflection>

Me: "I think it was exactly 6 months ago. Wasn't February 23rd the date of my accident? That was the date. I sure had to write it down a lot in the pre-surgery paperwork."

<I-Phone verification>

Yep, I have been off the mountain for six months and unscripted, we ended up on the same mountain on my anniversary date. This is the date my surgeon told me I would be back to 100%. And he was right. Without thinking about this milestone, I climbed a mountain on my bike yesterday and then navigated around Vail without a hint of an ACL problem.

For fun, Garrett snapped a shot of me by the Vail ER. I even went inside and used their very clean facilities. I figured that I am now a paid customer and they wouldn't mind. They didn't. As I walked out, I couldn't help but smile. What a difference six months makes :)

Friday, August 23, 2013

August 22, 2013: A Little Push

I completed one heck of a climb yesterday. I knew it was going to be a challenge for a flat lander from Nebraska. And it was.

Garrett mentioned the previous night that we'd be climbing Bachelor's Gulch. Having skied this area, I had a good idea the vertical gain that was entailed; but this time without the benefit of a ski lift. The graph below depicts the climb starting with the bottom highlight on the left and ending with the highlighted "Bachelor's Gulch" on the top. I'm glad I didn't look at this visual before riding it. Some things are best left for the imagination.

Following a ride from Edwards to Beaver Creek, Garrett and I joined a couple of friends for lunch in the village and then hopped on our bikes to take on the climb. The first hint of the difficulty level was the first sign marking the route. With an arrow pointing up, the words on the sign read "KOM-King of the Mountain".

The enormous houses, landscaping, and views were stunning; especially the stage between the highlighted markers below. What started as a relatively mild climb quickly took a sharp turn straight up. Our goal was to reach the coveted spot at the top to watch the pro riders later race past at wild speeds.

I knew I was nearing the end when I heard music. Saturday Night Fever was blaring in the distance. The sign indicated 1K left. My heart was pounding out of my chest as I stared at what had to be the last steep climb to the top. As many of the bikes beside me did intermittently up the course, I decided to stop and catch my breath. Determined to finish, I knew this was a necessity in lieu of either toppling over or having a heart attack.

Garrett had turned back to cheer me on and encourage me to finish. He knew this feat was a huge challenge to me. After a brief rest and some encouragement, I was ready to tackle the difficult finish. I quickly surmised that starting back on a bike going up hill (a BIG hill) is not easy. Even with Garrett's coaching to follow his lead, I was struggling.

That's when a Good Samaritan couple came to my rescue. An older couple walking on the roadside with their pop-up chairs, spotted my dilemma. The woman assessed my upward challenge and turned to her husband. "You need to help her, John."

John immediately offered his assistance. "I don't mean to be oppressive, but I would be happy to help you on your way."

I welcomed John's offer with no hesitation. Like a girl learning to ride her bike without training wheels, John held on to my bike as I steadying myself and clipped in. And then he ran a few steps by my side and gave me a big push up the daunting hill.

This push was just what I needed. A great start to my last big climb and a boost to my spirit. My heart stopped pumping in overdrive. Instead I lit up, inspired to finish strong, as my new friends cheered me on. I could still hear their chants as I made the last turn and eyed the finish line.

It's amazing what a little push and encouragement can do for a human in need. A great day with the help of some friends, new and old.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

August 21, 2013:Toddler Time

We left for the mountains after work. After an hour and a half ascent with Starbucks in hand, we were greeted by our host, Robbie.

This handsome guy is two years old. He is graciously letting us stay at his mountain condo for the next couple of days. We were greeted at the door by this smiling guy and all his great toys. He showed us his musical cell phone and demonstrated the power of his plastic riding dump truck.

It's been a long time since I played with a little boy. A really long time. For a short period, I was left alone with sweet Robbie. His dad, Rob, helped Garrett bring our bags up. With the close of the door, Robbie realized his dad was gone and gave me a brief look of panic.

My maternal instinct innately kicked in. All my tricks on occupying young boys came back. Within minutes, our knocking balloons and crashing toy planes brought back smiles and boy giggles.

It's hard to believe it's been ten years since I've enjoyed these toddler shenanigans. Phone calls to puppies, made up words, and endless repeating tricks that bring constant laughs. Yes, it's been a long time.

Fast forward to current laughs from You Tube videos and crude boy jokes. The cell phones are now real and unfortunately, the big boy tricks are too. All good times though. Reminder to this mom...never wish time away.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

August 20, 2013: Royal Dresses

A favorite dress...with my royal baby, Zachary
I have never been one to follow celebrities, reality shows, or the royalty; but I do have a declaration contrary to this statement. I like Kate Middleton. I like this princess (technically duchess?) a lot.

I can't tell you much about her personal life, other than she has a similarly pretty sister and dated the prince for years. I can tell you that her genuine smile and warm and friendly way of interacting with commoners is commendable. But where Kate has really won me over is with her recent clothing choices.

Princess Kate first caught my attention as she exited the hospital showing her new baby to the world. Her dress of choice was clearly maternity wear and her post-baby-bump, both obvious and worn with pride.

The press responding by continuously commenting on Kate's protruding tummy instead of the glow of her new motherhood. There was no attempt by Kate in hiding her post-baby changed figure. The young princess appropriately could have cared less.

Today as I scanned, a picture of this cute royal family popped up. I gave the picture a glance, but it was the headline that caught my eye. "Kate's $72 Portrait Dress". Yep, I love this princess. She's my kind of girl.

Duchess Kate really did wear a $72 dress for the official royal photo. And not any ordinary inexpensive dress, a maternity dress purchased from an on-line retailer. Sure looks like she is making a point. To the insensitive criticism of the press on her figure, she gave them a message back.

I am guessing she didn't need to wear a maternity dress based on her small frame. Her choice. And obviously she can afford the most luxurious and expensive garments. She chose the $72 model. Again, my kind of girl.

I, too, have a weakness for dresses. True story. You may call it an obsession. Just last night I found an on-line site with the most adorable inexpensive dresses. I bought three. I remember past events by what I wore. I rarely forget these seemingly insignificant details. The picture above was my version of a royal baby photo.

I loved that wrap dress. I bought it for under $30 in 1993 from Casual Corner. It was edged with a dark brown slip stitch and had medium sized shoulder pads. These special details accentuated my big hair and post-baby round face.

I am sure if you looked close, you would also see a pooch under the wrap tie of this favored dress. But now I know something I didn't know then; what's good enough for royalty is good enough for a commoner like me.


Monday, August 19, 2013

August 19, 2013: Invasion of the Bachelor Pad

View on my morning run
Did I mention that Garrett is temporarily living in a apartment? I call it his bachelor pad. And I LOVE it! I have spent this awesome Monday working out of the pad. Not a care in the world for this girl. The life of simplicity rules.

Garrett sold his house a couple of months ago. He knows where he wants to move, but is waiting for his desired neighborhood to produce a house. So, for now, he and his crew are apartment dwellers. I am the occasional guest.

As I type this, I am sitting in a very bachelor-looking over-sized recliner with a tie blanket resting between me and my computer (I adjusted the temp after Garrett left...oops). My step-dog, Cookie, is snoring at my feet; taking in the warmth of the sun through the window. Pandora is blaring from my I-Pad mini. Channel choice: Third Eye Blind. Perfect.

I slept in past my usual this morning as Garrett dealt with the bustle of getting his kiddos to school. A dream boyfriend, he made me a pot of coffee. The aroma of this guilty pleasure pulled me out of bed. Off to the office for Garrett. Cookie and I choose to work from the bachelor pad.

A run following the Platte River with a view to the beauty of the Rocky Mountains was a perfect way to start the day. Then back to the pad. Cookie was waiting for me.

A sight I saw while running motivated me to have a little fun this afternoon in between work, e-mails, calls, and hanging with my dog pal. As I rounded mile four of my run on a remote road, a woman on skates met me. As she approached I first noticed a big smile on her face and a bit of rhythm in her skating.

She was clearly busting a move listening to her tunes through her ear buds. Her skates weren't the in-line model. The were the same white ones I rented when I skated in the 70's. Her age...probably 70. She was having a ball; not to mention rocking it in her spandex shorts and tank top.

My chance encounter with this happy skater caused me to both smile and think a bit. I want to be like her as I age; embracing life and having fun. She was enjoying the same peaceful river and mountain views as the rest of us. But I am guessing that no world problems or daily deadlines were weighing on her.

As I got back to join Cookie in our comfy digs, I decided to have some fun. Just like the carefree skater. So we had some fun with Garrett.

Cookie and I decided to break Garrett's house rules and send random pictures throughout the day. From wearing shoes in the house to messing up his perfect sock drawer, we cracked ourselves up. And then we sent Garrett a picture of each of our shenanigans.

After about the fifth picture, I received a response in all caps "YOU HAVE NOW CROSSED THE LINE". I didn't know a tidy sock drawer was such a big deal. I thought I would have gotten him with a toilet seat left up and kitchen flowers moved to the bathroom.

Anyway...that was fun. Cookie is done though. She's taking a nap. I think I'm going to relax and catch up on some reading. It's been a long day.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

August 18, 2013: A Little Hike

Hiking St. Mary's Glacier 
What to do on the last Sunday before school starts? If you are in Colorado, a hike in the beautiful Rockies is a great idea. Garrett chose St. Mary's Glacier by Idaho Springs for our morning climb. And it was stunning.

I have to confess that we didn't work very hard to reach the spectacular sights that awaited us. The hike was .75 miles up a rocky trail and then .75 miles back down. The great thing about hike trails are the surprises you find when you reach the top.

The St. Mary's Glacier is home to a serene lake and an icy embankment. Wild flowers in purple and yellow varieties are abundant. Even the rocks show signs of interest with hints of glacial impact.

Our day started with the kids dreading the prospect of being dragged away from the TV. Upon our ascent and once the end of the trail was reached, their tone changed. Realization set in that the climb was quick and the visual benefits; immense.

The kids skipped rocks, played in the water, and slid down the snow-filled mountainside. The adults had just as much fun. An adventure. And sure better than Sunday afternoon television.

The Brucker's

Saturday, August 17, 2013

August 17, 2013: Real War Games

1990 was a carefree time for us. In our early twenties, we were young and ready to conquer the world. I was fresh out of college and newly married. Robbie and Russ were married with children. But even with the added responsibility, we were still kids at heart; laughing and loving life as young adults.

Robbie was my best friend. It started the first day of college when I recognized handsome Russ from summer orientation. When I enthusiastically went over to say Hi, he introduced me to his girlfriend. What started with a glare turned into a life-long friendship. 

Russ and Robbie took a non-traditional road through their college years. They got married, had Russell, and then joined the Army. With a move to Germany, Brynn came next. All while I took the traditional route of graduating and then getting married. Post our college graduation, Scott and I moved to Omaha.

With Russ stationed overseas, Robbie and the kids moved back so Robbie could continue school. Grandma and Grandpa cared for the kids while Robbie stayed with us on weekday nights as we were close to her class location.

Although we were busy with jobs and school by day, we enjoyed being "roomies" and friends by night. It felt like college. We hadn't figured out yet that there were worries in the world. As though we were grown-ups and didn't know it. We counted down the days until Russ would be back, as Robbie and their adorable tots waited at bay.

Then our world changed. January 17, 1991. I was at work and Robbie at school. These were days before the modern communications we enjoy today. We didn't have cell phones or Internet access. We listened to the radio and watched television for world news. We called each other on land lines.

On that cold January day, war broke out. And Russ was in it. My heart sank as the news came over the radio. A crowd at my work piled out to go to a local bar with a big screen. We had hoped to find out more through the national cable news streams.

As I walked into Clancy's, I saw something that took my breath away. CNN was broadcasting live in the heart of the war zone. It took seconds to process that what I was seeing was not a movie or a video game. The sensational explosions were lighting up Kuwaiti skies. We were watching the front line of a war in a bar in Omaha. Operation Desert Storm had begun.

Panic ensued as it became apparent that Russ was there. I painstakingly tried to get a hold of Robbie using our conventional land line phones. My heart fell knowing she was watching the same live footage with her husband in the middle of this very real war. We connected and I picked her up at a Subway.

As I drove to Offut Airforce Base, we held hands without speaking a word. Robbie was scared. She had heard the news of war over the radio on her way home from school. We had hoped the nearby military base would provide answers and would be the best place for accurate news for family of soldiers.

We were greeted by a white haired man who talked to Robbie about specifics on Russ. He then requested Robbie's address in case she needed to be contacted. Time stopped in that moment as the possibility of Russ being killed became a reality. We stayed at the base chapel and held hands with other war wives as we were led in prayer.  

It was over 3 weeks until Robbie heard from Russ. Each day she watched the war live on CNN. Each day she waited for the day to end without a knock on the door from the white-haired main from the air force base. She found out later that Russ' job was to fly supplies to the front line and drop from a helicopter. He was right in the middle the real war game we watched on TV.

Years have passed for Robbie and I since those scary months in 1991. In the same apartment where I held Robbie's hand and prayed for her husband's safe arrival home, Robbie rubbed my back while I sobbed through the night following a miscarriage. No words were spoken. There was nothing to say. I just cried and it was Robbie's turn to be there for me. Over the next twenty years, we have endured many more pains and joys together; side by side.

People often ask about Robbie and my relationship. As we pal around together, we are mistaken for sisters and have the same last name. Our common answer is "it's complicated". Best friends, sisters, sister-in-laws, partners in crime...all of the above. Yes, it's complicated, but not really. I'm just really lucky. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

August 16, 2013: Next Stop: Denver

A whirlwind week: Check.

Mission accomplished? Yep.

It seems like it was just Monday and somehow with a blink and we're to Friday and in Denver. It's been awhile. Garrett has been gracing us with his presence in Omaha as of late. My turn. I'll be in Denver for a week.

At 10:20 Mountain Time, we are finally grounded in the comforts of home. My feet are up and I'm itching to blog. Reading is on the list this weekend as well. A little down time in Denver sounds fabulous.

The fog of the week is still a fog. With a little memory work I was able to reconstruct most of it. Late evening meetings at the start of the week. Kids full of football practices and visits from my eldest. Garrett in by Wednesday, work from the loft, out with friends...and that only got us to the middle of the week.

Now here I am. In Denver. I love you Omaha, but I think a little Denver is just what the doctor ordered.

August 15, 2013: Taking Mains

Gwen still liked me in this picture
My Aunt Gwen was born in 1960. She was the youngest of seven by a long shot. My dad, who was second in line, was sixteen when she was born. Being "the baby" Gwen held court as the spoiled one in the family until I came along. I was born when Gwen was seven and I no doubt upset her apple cart.

Although the eldest of the Wagner grand kids were born before me, they lived across the country in sunny Arizona. Following the birth of my brothers, my entry into the world gave me the advantage to the coveted spot as cutest tot dressed in pink. I was the apple of my grandma's eye and she wasn't afraid to say it. This eventually did not sit well with my older family counterpart, Aunt Gwen.

Based on past photos and distant memories, I believe Gwen enjoyed me up until the age of five. I am sure the mixture of her hitting the teen years along with my size grown too big to carry like a doll resulted in her moving on from playing with me to resenting me. There were expectations of her as a growing teen that were not reflective of my adoring grandmother's coddling towards me.

The honeymoon is over.  Gwen is squeezing my cheek
(and laughing about it!)
Here is where Gwen and I started our power struggle and female game playing. To my advantage was a younger age and the perception of my innocence by my grandma. When Gwen knit my younger cousins tie purses and not me, I only needed to give my grandma a forlorn look. A knit bag soon followed.

"Gwen, how could you not include Sandy? The next one you make should be for her in green. Sandy loves green."

I distinctly remember being presented with the cute green bag by it being launched in my face when Grandma's head was turned. As Grandma looked back to admire Gwen's handiwork, she smiled with pride on our purported sharing of this special moment together. I knew better than to tell on Gwen. She gave me a glare and the stink eye to reinforce my decision. I had learned young how not to push the envelope too far; knowing well the result of being pummeled. No doubt my experience with older brothers helped develop this skill.

The games between us continued. I remember purposely making annoying noises by swirling spit in my mouth. On this particular occasion I was holding grandma's hand on a shopping trip. Gwen, too old to hold hands, walked alone and was visibly annoyed with my childish antics. Since Grandma didn't seem to mind and Gwen did, I kept doing it and increased the volume of my swirling sounds as we went about our walk. In the end I won the battle of my baiting by pushing Gwen to the point of blowing her gasket.

"Mom, MAKE HER STOP!!!  She is soooo annoying!"  

Grandma stopped dead in her tracks; appalled at the outburst. As I tightly held on to Grandma's hand with a sheepish look on my face, she reprimanded Gwen for her bullying ways. "Sandy is only being a little girl. Do not talk to her like that!" After a look of death from Gwen and my responding smile back, we silently continued our walk down Main Street.

A favorite story that Gwen likes to tell involves another shopping day with Grandma. On this particular day, the three of us traveled nine miles to LeMars for a Saturday full of shopping. Following our many stops that afternoon with bags filling the back seat, Grandma needed to make a final stop at the Remsen grocery store. The additional grocery purchases were added to our car and left no sitting room in the back. As the three of us prepared to squeeze in the front, a masterful idea came upon me.

"Grandma, can I sit next to the window so I can look out?"  I asked.

"Yous <grandma beams>...always the one to enjoy the scenery. Yes, you sit next to the window and look out."

The look of shock on the delivery of my antics quickly penetrated Gwen's face. "NO!!!  Mom, I am not sitting in the middle!"

"Gwen, yes, you are sitting in the middle! It's just a short ride home and you have to stop being so selfish. Let Sandy sit there and look out the window." We both knew by the tone of her voice that the conversation was over.  I am sure there was a smirk on my face that entire short ride home. Pleased with my spot and enjoying the scenery, I asked grandma if we could go all the way around Main Street so I could see my dad's barber shop on the opposite end of downtown. Grandma willingly complied with a smile on her face as Gwen fumed in the middle.

To give you a little background on Gwen's visible discomfort, note that it was an early Saturday evening in broad daylight. The gathering spot for every teenager in Remsen was Main Street. Taking mains was a means of showing off your new Grand Prix or your latest boyfriend. The universal coming out party for girlfriend/boyfriend units was the girl snuggled in next to her man while taking mains together. Even bucket seats could be bypassed by a creative and determined female mate.

As the teens congregated to discuss the gathering spot of the evening and the whereabouts of the cool kids, Gwen took a Main perched in the middle seat next to her mother. At a mere seven years old, I sat next to the window with my small frame not visible to the onlooker as we drove down Main Street that sunny Saturday. My head barely hit the bottom of the window. Gwen spewed a mix of venom and embarrassment. I was pleased and smugly took in what I could see of the outside.

Don't feel too badly for Gwen, she got me back once I reached my pre-teen years. By this time  she had moved on from taking mains to having gatherings at Grandma's house. My brothers and I would often stay the night. Gwen was left in charge in Grandma and Grandpa's absence. Gwen adored my older brothers and found them funny and charming. As I would be banished to bed early, my brothers were always invited to join Gwen's posse downstairs.  You know what they say about pay backs...

Rest assured that with age and life experiences, Gwen and I are now great friends and have shared much joy together in our adult years. As was the case with Gwen's spot in the birth order, she also had "trail-ender" kids.  Gwen and I gave birth to sons who are thirteen days apart and her youngest is of similar age and great buds with my youngest.  Our family's have spent vacations, holidays and many, many laughs together.

As I have never had a sister, I have come to believe that my relationship with Aunt Gwen best mirrors the sister relationship that never came to be. Our age span is just enough to have the feel of a big sister/little sister rivalry.  With age, our playful jabbing continues with more fun and less rivalry.  In Grandma's final days, we happily shared her affections. I am sure Grandma is now looking down on us with a smile; watching her girls enjoy life and family the way she taught us.

My Grant with Gwen and her youngest, Gabbie enjoying Lake Okoboji together.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

August 12, 2013: Playing House

Holding my goddaughter, Jennifer, with my doll gift (1981)
The winter of 1980 was a fun year for me. I was thirteen with wide-eyed anticipation of being a grown woman. Although that particular winter was bitterly cold and long to most; to me it was a glorious opportunity to play house, with real babies.

My Aunt Barb and Uncle Tom lived in Sioux City. Their city was a forty-five minute drive from my hometown. The distance was enough that I was only able to play with their young daughters on an infrequent basis. As a thirteen year-old who loved babies and saw motherhood in my future, I enjoyed spending time with my tiny cousins.

1980 was a year that Barb and Tom were building a new house. My grandparents also choose well by choosing to winter in Arizona and not in Iowa that winter. With their house empty and my aunt and uncle's need to have temporary quarters, a plan was hatched.

They lived in my grandparents house for the winter with their baby, Jennifer, and two-year-old, Jana. I trudged through the snow for the five block walk up Harrison Street to play with my cute cousins whenever given the opportunity.

I babysat for them through my Christmas break and any other time I had available. It was playing house with real babies. And all in the comfort of my Grandma's house. I took my job even more seriously since it within the zone of Grandma's sacred space. She would have been proud of my skills.

Baby Jennifer was my godchild. I beamed with pride when asked at such a young age to have this honor. The picture above includes a cloth doll I made for her. I completely forgot about my handmade gift until seeing this resurrected picture.

Aunt Barb indicated that Jennifer still has it. The memory of that winter and the doll made my day. I now remember carefully choosing the pattern and material and then staying up to wee hours in my mom's sewing room to make the perfect gift for my godchild.

A picture really is worth a thousand words. Definitely worth a thousand thoughts to the one who shared the moment in time.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

August 11, 2013: Close of Summer

Grant, Ben and Linds
I ran into Miss Lindsey Fey late Saturday night. Really late. As opposed to summers from our past, this meeting was at a bar and not in my backyard. I was trying to act like a young adult again and she was just being one.

With impending back-to-school and seeing our little Linds all grown up, a flood of memories came back to me. Lindsey was nothing short of entertainment for my boys as they grew up. A babysitter, a friend, a ball of constant motion...that was little Lindsey.

The picture above was taken in my backyard. They had a baby pool filled and a hose spraying everywhere. Although I'm unsure of the need for the pool net (as big as the pool itself), I am sure it was fun nonetheless. The picture below is an action shot following the posed shot. It makes me laugh.

Note Lindsey's dramatic sprint from the errant net. The hose is spraying everywhere and the toppled little scooter...your guess is as good as mine. Previously taken down the mini pool slide?

Is it any wonder that Grant took an aluminum bat to the forehead one year later in the same back yard? No pool was involved in this accident. Just a whiffle ball game with aluminum bats and popsicles. Try to piece that story together. I will just give you the ending. A visit to the emergency room, six stitches to the head, and a Harry Potter lightning bolt scar left as later proof.

<sigh>. I miss the bustle and busyness of my back yard. Lindsey, you can come back and play anytime.

Monday, August 12, 2013

August 10, 2013: Adult Magical Mystery Bus Tour

It has been a marathon weekend of enjoying and entertaining out-of-town guests. Our Saturday was filled with a Magical Mystery Bus Tour of Omaha. I was the tour guide and this adventure was the adult version; as opposed to my typical tour of kids spots for the under-21 crowd.

Don't get me wrong. I definitely drove Rick and Cindy by our city's beautiful zoo and favorite vintage candy shop. But only drive-by's with no stops at these destinations. Our tour of the city was more like a pub crawl.

I drove them through the many wonderful neighborhoods, each with a history lesson. The twist was that with several neighborhood tours came with a stop at a local bar or restaurant. Ones that embraced the feel of that part of town.

We started at the Old Market with a drive west through Happy Hallow and Elmwood Park. Lunch was in Aksarben Park. Next stop was West Omaha with a drive through the village of Boys Town and then east on Dodge Street to the airport (bye-bye to a Denver-bound Garrett).

I treated my guests to a quick refreshment at the Blatt  by Ameritrade Stadium before heading to South O, Omaha's Hispanic neighborhood. A walk down 24th Street led to a choice of an authentic Mexican restaurant with non-authentic Mexican margaritas. After the first sip, I envisioned what happened behind the kitchen walls in preparing my guests' special drinks.

I am quite sure it involved a bottle of margarita mix purchased from nearby Bakers and then subsequently poured into our glasses. I am pretty confident I'm correct on this assumption. That's the fun part of a Magical Mystery Bus Tour. You never know what you're going to get and that's what future stories on previous memories are built on.

Next stop was the eclectic Benson area. As we got out of the car after describing the popular music scene there, I identified the sound of a live band. Insistent that we needed to locate this hidden jewel, Cindy brought to my attention the source of the booming tunes; a debilitated mini-van with a teen driver with the look of a local thug. I redeemed myself with choice of the Benson Brewery. Recovery made.

A scenic tour back to Downtown Omaha and some lively conversation brought us to great company of friends on the roof of the Ford Lofts. With a cool breeze, it personified the casual tone of a stunning summer night.

The night did go on very late and with me staying downtown for the night. Even tour guides eventually hit a wall. A great way to end a successful Tour de Omaha.

Cindy and Rick enjoying their authentic Omaha margs

Sunday, August 11, 2013

August 9, 2013: Friday: The Doobie's

Robbie enjoying the concert in her "leg-warmers"
It has been quite the weekend. It's felt a bit like a flashback to my college years. Concerts, packs of friends, late nights, dining after midnight....all rolled up in one weekend.

There is one conclusion I have come to: What we did night after night, weekend after weekend at age twenty is much more difficult to pull off in one solo weekend at age forty-five. But I'm giving it the good-old college try.

Let's start at the beginning; Friday night. After a day of work and great anticipation of our Ohio guests arriving, things didn't go quite as planned. Cindy and Rick notified us with a quick text that they would be delayed by four hours. Details would emerge later. Bummer.

Friday night's crown jewel activity was an outdoor concert put on by the Doobie Brothers. And it didn't disappoint. There is nothing better on a warm summer night than to pick up a space on a grassy knoll and listen to a 70's rock band. Based on the look of the over-40 crowd, they agreed with my assessment.

Sitting among friends, we grooved to China Grove and danced in a non-rhythmic manner as we "listened to the music". The attorney sitting in front of me played the air guitar through most of the concert. And the grandma to my left, never sat down as she shook her bootie through the entire performance. Yes, I am pretty sure all felt twenty years old that night too.

The Doobie's wrapped early and our congregation of friends moved on to the Old Market anticipating Rick and Cindy's late arrival. Post-concert drinks and dining among laughs of friends emerged. The story of the night centered around the Snide's travel debacle. We all learned the "rest of the story" on the outdoor patio of the Twisted Fork.

Although a blog story of itself, I will summarize by saying that Rick's pink hand gun in his brief case was frowned upon by TSA. I will leave it at that as a great takeaway for all travelers. That pink pistol cost him a spot on the grass at Stir Cove. A Doobie delay. Lesson learned.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

August 8, 2013: The Golden Pheasant

We deviated from the text on our drive to Okoboji last week. After our stop at the Wells Ice Cream Parlor, we detoured down Highway 3 to drive through my hometown, Remsen. No navigation system would have mapped out a drive to Okoboji that would have taken us through Remsen. But that's what we did. Mom's call.

Although it was nothing short of a drive-through, I had fun. As for the other occupants in our vehicle, not-so-much. They just watched their mom get excited about recognized houses from childhood, a big church, an old school, and a restaurant with a peculiar name.

I was a waitress at the Golden Pheasant in the 80's. It was a prime job and I made great money in tips. People came from miles away to enjoy the signature prime rib. You really couldn't miss if you ordered a steak. From the t-bone to the New York strip, customers left satisfied and happy. And my corresponding tips were proof of their pleasure.

Many friendships were made as it took a troop of teenagers to wait and clean the tables and fill the salad bar. Denny, the owner, fed us family-style before every night's work. We ate before the customers arrived. He prepared us the meals ranging from ham steaks to petite cut steaks. And we were allowed trips to the salad bar.

Bertha made all of the salad bar items. Her signature dish was liver pate. My memory is of a plump Bertha sitting on a stool next to the walk-in freezer as she peeled potatoes for her homemade salad. This was my first vision as I checked in to work each Saturday. She cooked through the day for the fresh salads served that night. There were no pre-bought Cosco items on the salad bar at the Pheasant.

Every Saturday night I waited on a kind man named Floyd. He was single and a farmer. Floyd was shy by nature and always sat in the same booth. If his booth wasn't available, he waited until it opened. He looked like Micky Rooney and kept a comb next to him in his favorite spot. His order was always the same; a t-bone, medium rare, with a baked potato. He ordered the exact same steak each Saturday night from the exact same seat.

One busy night I placed his order without asking him. Feeling pleased with myself on knowing my customer, I told him to enjoy the salad bar as I had him covered with my pre-order. To my shock, he was not happy. Quite the opposite. He was flustered. He liked the routine of placing his order and did not like my presuming otherwise. It was a lesson learned in customer satisfaction. Never presume.

I also learned how to deal with drunk people at an early age. People drink a lot at steak houses with adjoining bars. The alcohol seemed to flow freely and the enjoyment, even higher with a good cut of steak. I would clear tables as full of drink glasses as dishes. Another lesson learned. I have never since worked at an establishment serving alcohol. Drinking is only fun and funny when you are participating.

There was one particular memory involving liquid courage of a customer that was enjoyable to me. There was a local couple who frequented the restaurant. They came late and stayed long. The husband was loud, obnoxious, and overweight. And he wasn't nice to his wife. She, on the other hand, was quiet and kind. She always thanked me and when I would catch her eye, I felt pity for her.

On the particular night of note, they sat in my section. I learned a lesson that night as well; barbecued ribs are very slick on a platter. As the husband grunted his displeasure in the delay of my serving their order, I accidentally spilled the entire rack of ribs on his lap. Yes, the entire saucy meal slid from the plate onto his front section.

As he barked at me like a rabid dog, the unexpected happened. His wife burst out laughing. And then she laughed harder and louder; uncontrollably without words. For the first time ever, her husband was speechless. I quietly slid away and I summonsed a busboy to help me clean up. My female customer and I locked eyes again. This time I felt admiration.

For the record, the Golden Pheasant did serve pheasant back in the day. There was actually a pen of live pheasants in an outside display as people pulled in. I never tried this delicatessen, but I hear it was wonderful. I stuck with the liver pate. Good food. Good times. Good people.

August 7, 2013: Boys of Summer

The girls ready to cheer on the boys at State
(me, Rocky, Beth, Karen, Laura)
Remsen St. Mary's made the boys state baseball tournament this year. This great feat brought back fond memories of our wondrous baseball years in the eighties. Our wee little town produced great talent and got the attention of most of Iowa. We were a baseball powerhouse. The attention took everyone by surprise, including us.

My little town, known as the little Luxembourg of Iowa, is nestled in Northwest Iowa. Our population teetered around 1,500. My school was the Catholic high school, one of two in town, with a total student body of less than 180 students. Although small in size, we produced great results on the baseball field. The entire town followed our baseball boys in groves to cheer on our team.

And Remsen St. Mary's dominated. We ably competed at all levels; beating all classes and the big city teams. Our coach was exceptional and our town, ecstatic. The Class of 85 produced a great team as well. Our summers were filled with baseball games, near and far. A gang of friends, the girls supported our uniformed classmates.

We hopped in cars drinking Tab and chewing bubble gum, with windows down and feathered hair flying. We kept the stats books and sat through cold rain. But we never missed a game. Posters and signs were handmade to support our guys. And we would wait patiently for them on Main Street after the games were over. They were the boys of summer. We were their friends and loyal fans.

I will always love the game of baseball. I fill with pride as I see the winning teams huddle in joy or hold up a coveted trophy. I understand the love of a fan and the pride of a small town. Well done, Hawks!

The boys of summer (and Rocky!) reunited last weekend

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

August 6, 2013: Change

Pix from blog post a year ago
I am feeling a little sentimental. Maybe it's post-vacation thoughts. It could also be the new school year. Possibly the margarita I had with a former co-worker and current friend from Lutz played a part. Very possible.

Regardless, I have been thinking about what I was doing a year ago. My life has changed tremendously in 365 days. And I really haven't taken the time to sit back an reflect on this.

A year ago I just finished a week long trip to NYC. I was flying solo, blogging to the world, and trying to figure out how I was going to spend the next chapter of my life. A family vacation with friends to California followed and within a month, I made up my mind. Change.

This leap of faith took months to secure as a reality. But I have never looked back. As I near the one year mark, I am amazed by what I have learned and the great people I have met along the way. And it has only just begun.

Some things haven't changed, only gotten better....Garrett, my kids, my family. My personal life is more at peace and my work life; a great adventure. As I pondered this last year, I thought of two of my favorite inspirational authors, Berkley Breathed and Dr. Suess. My favorite Opus book so brilliantly stated "the best times are those when you deviate from the text".

Now my quick ode to the wisdom of Dr. Suess and then to bed:

  • You'll miss the best things if you keep your eyes shut.
  • Why fit in if you were born to stand out?
  • You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.
  • Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.
  • Oh the things you can find if you don't stay behind.
  • You are on your own and you know what you know. And you are the one who will decide where to go...

Now my forty-five year-old advice to all: 1) Don't be afraid to deviate from the text. The text is yours to write and 2) Dr. Suess was a smart man.

Good-night :)

August 5, 2013: Mama Bear Story II

Guest blogger for this story is the ever-so-funny Mama Bear, Cindy Ruma

Mama Bear with Papa and cubs
We had a bully in the neighborhood when my kids were growing up, circa 1990. In this case it wasn't a kid, but the mom. She was one of "those moms". Her kids were perfect and she was ever so quick to call and reprimand other children.

One day, she called to tell me that my seven year old daughter had called her son a f'ing asshole. Since bad language is my forte, I was not surprised. The mom demanded I discipline her.

And I did. I called my daughter in with multiple stern warnings. Then she was sent off to her room for the rest of the day.

Shortly afterwards, my son came in and told me I was not being fair to his sister. The recipient of the wronged words had first punched my daughter in the stomach.

WELLLL....after a short time in her room, the seven-year old inmate was released. Mama Bear then promptly called Mama Bully, explaining to her the full story. I demanded that she discipline her son. Am I proud of how I worded this conversation? Probably not. BUT, Mama Bully NEVER called my house again.