Friday, December 27, 2013

December 27,2013: Who's in Charge of the Children?

Boo-Boo and Russell after they were corrupted
I have a confession. Well, technically WE have a confession. Robbie and I weren't being responsible. Once. Just once.

Hmmmm....let's further narrow it down to the holidays. There was this one time over the holidays that Robbie and I weren't exactly responsible. Not horrible, but not our shining moment either.

The Setting:
December of 1989. Apartment living off of 108th and Maple in Omaha, Nebraska.

The Cast of Characters:
Sandy: 22 years; Robbie: days shy of 22 years; Russell: 3 years; Brynnie: 18 months. Scott worked nights at the jail. Robbie went to surgery tech school and lived with Scott & Sandy during the week.

The Story:
It was a very cold early-December Friday night. Robbie and kids decided to stay the night in Omaha. Scott was at work until midnight. I thought writing Christmas cards was a good idea. Robbie agreed.

So we wrapped up the children in their warmest winter-wear and walked across the street to the closest grocer, Albertson's. With Russell and Brynn in mittened-hand, we carefully picked out boxed Christmas cards. And then we did what any mature 22 year-old adults would do; we bought a bottle of cheap wine. And a box of Chicken in the Biscuit crackers.

We then began our Christmas card writing adventure. Feeling every adult year of our twenty-two, writing Christmas cards seemed logical in our journey to adulthood.

With kids watching the Walton Christmas while nibbling boxed crackers, Robbie and I poured white wine into our glasses and began writing our cards. All was very adult sophistication-ish until we hit glass #2 of vino. Then we were officially giddy.

Robbie and I were clearly light-weights as we giggled while joyfully watching Grandpa Walton. Soon the card-writing got old as wine went empty. Little Russell and Brynn were little angels as they continued watching television. Their mother and aunt, unfortunately, did not follow their lead.

Like savages. we searched the kitchen for more alcohol. The frig contained beers left-over from a February Superbowl party. To anyone worried about an addiction problem, the fact that we had beers from ten months prior should subdue concerns.

As the toddlers listened to the Walton's wishing each other good-night, Robbie and I played quarters with the six remaining beer treasures found in my refrigerator.

In our giggling desperation, Robbie and I found the last remnant of alcohol in our little apartment; cooking wine. And we drank it. All while trying to write final Christmas cards in our attempt to be sophisticated.


We were tipsy and giggling. Time to sober up and get serious. I suggested aerobics.

Robbie and I changed into colorful leotards with belts and tights. The kids thought this was an awesome idea and wanted to join in. So Robbie and I did what any responsible adults would do; we got out the mousse and spiked up the kids hair and turned up the music. Together the four of us exercised to "Take me Down to Paradise City" and REM's "It's the End of the World as We Know It".

And then Scott walked in the door. Silence filled the apartment as he asked the obvious.

"Who is in charge of the children?"

Robbie and I, dressed as Jane Fonda want-to-be's, pointed at each other. Russell and Brynn grinned from ear-to-ear in their spiked tufts. Scott scowled.


Scott tucked both the mothers and the children into bed that night.

Do note that some Christmas cards did get sent out the next day.

Robbie, thank-you for being my favorite partner in crime. Russell and Brynn, I'm sorry for my decision-making that night, but am happy to see you both well adjusted and not corrupted from your mom and aunt's youthful expression.

Final comment: Brynn, you pointed out that I would no longer be a Lane in the near future. Nope. Once a Lane, always a Lane. And Garrett Brucker concurs.

Love ~ Aunt Sandy Lane :)

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

December 25, 2013: The Sounds and Smells of Christmas

Mom and her famous wreaths
As I read people's Christmas posts and their words of fond holiday stories from years past, I'm reminded of the little things that rest in our happy memories. It really is the sights, sounds and smells of the season that linger.

My own personal treasure chest of memories may seem incidental to most, but these little bits of Christmas fill my heart with emotion each time I reflect...
  • The warmth of the stove on my three-year old back as I sat next to it, playing with my magnetic alphabet set. I was allowed to open one gift early on Christmas Eve. An act of charity as I was home bound with the Chicken Pox. We did not go to our grandparents that year. Mom cooked a turkey and our little family stayed home.
  • The sight of a three-wick candle burning brightly in the formal living room. The lights were dimmed with Elvis singing Christmas carols from vinyls in the background. Our record player was a large piece of furniture used to display our favorite holiday knick-knacks.
  • The chime of my Grandma Gib's clock, serving as a happy reminder to the grandkids of the golden hours; time for opening presents and time to eat Christmas dinner.
  • The strong smells that combined in our home every Christmas Day in the 1970's; the paint from my Paint-by-Numbers conjoined mid-air with the potent smell from my brothers' model glue activities.
  • The sweet aroma of my mother's baked holiday wreaths. She baked them in bulk for our neighbors and friends. Once cooled, she would carefully frost and decorate with an artist's precision. My brothers and I would stick our fingers in the frosting bowl for a lick when she wasn't looking.

The wreaths are still going strong. The picture below was taken this year. The recipe and story behind my mom's wreaths is below. Although I was unable to enjoy a bite this year, I can close my eyes and still remember the savory smell. Christmas tradition bliss.

(Story by Mary Wagner) "It was my mom & excellent cook, Marvel Pick, whose influence led to my almost 40 year tradition of Gramma Mary’s Christmas Wreath.  Growing up, my brothers & sisters feasted on Swedish Tea Ring (page 101 in Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book, 1950 edition).  So beloved, the tea ring had a round & silver plate used only for its serving.  In 1975, stumbling across a Christmas wreath recipe, I remembered Mom’s Swedish Tea Ring & the color photo with white icing & red berries for decoration accompanying the recipe.  If I must say so myself, it tastes pretty darn good!"

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

December 24, 2013: First Christmas in Arizona

Family picture taken in 1984
My parents moved to Kingman, Arizona in 1986. This decision rocked my world. I had just chosen to go to college nine miles from my hometown. A year later they chose to move 1,517 miles away from my childhood home. I didn't see this coming and they certainly didn't ask for my pre-approval.

They moved in the fall, shortly after I started my sophomore year. I had just started dating Scott and my brother, Matt, had finished a two year stint in the army and was attending college in Fort Dodge.

As we faced our first Christmas outside of our comfortable existence in Remsen, Mom and Dad surprised us with plane tickets to Arizona. This was our first visit to their new home. Mark drove up to join us from Tempe.

I had mixed emotions about this holiday trip. Every family tradition I loved was now history. I had just started dating Scott and couldn't fathom the prospect of being separated from my boyfriend. Matt and I were both enjoying our college years. Christmas breaks in Remsen included socializing with our high school friends, back for the holidays.

Instead we found ourselves traveling to a place foreign to us; lacking of the traditions and relationships that were a big part of our young adult lives. Our plane ride was melancholy, to say the least.

Dad picked us up at the Las Vegas airport and brought us to the Strip. We were introduced to non-Iowa venues; gambling, magnificent buildings, endless buffets and winter warmth. Matt and I quickly became more enthusiastic on our holiday displacement.

Treating our trip like a new chapter for the Wagner family, Dad assured us that we would be enjoying ourselves, but no need for the youthful holiday stuff anymore. He and Mom hadn't put up a single Christmas decoration and no need to waste money on gifts. We would just enjoy each other's company, explore the states new to us and catch some good movies. Sounded good to us.

As Mom was busy with her new 8-5 job and Dad on a more flexible work schedule, we spent most of our time with Dad. The trip was full of mini-adventures and family fun with Dad leading the charge. Matt and I bantered endlessly. The joy in our sibling bickering was a stark reminder on the little time we spent together with our new separate adult lives. I really missed my brother.

Somehow in those few days of hanging out with Dad and Matt, we all realized that all was going to be just fine in our new Arizona chapter. The laughter and love felt the same in Iowa as it did in the Southwest. I could tell that our brother and sister interactions made dad happy. He couldn't help but smile.

Soon Mark joined us on noon on Christmas Eve after a three hour drive from Tempe. Matt and I were so excited to see our middle brother. We hadn't seen him for a year. The joy in siblings reunited must have been obvious and heart-warming to our dad. As we finished hugging, Dad made an announcement.

"Let's go shopping. We are putting up the tree and celebrating Christmas this year."

Mom worked until 5:00. We spent the afternoon shopping the bare aisles at Shopko for last-minute treasures. Cheap cologne, novelty stocking stuffers and logo'd t-shirts were secreting purchased as we all spread across the only department store still opened in Kingman. Then following a trip to the grocery store for traditional salami, Chicken in the Biscuit crackers and not-so-traditional beer, we headed home to surprise mom.

As Mom walked in the door to our jubilant faces, she quickly realized what transpired that Christmas Eve with Dad's proclamation.

"Mary, let's get out the Christmas boxes. We have a tree and decorations to put up."

So as Mom prepared the turkey that had been slowly cooking in the oven, the three Wagner kids decorated the little townhouse with the decorations we grew to love as children. We were giddy with the spirit of Christmas.

As Mom took a picture of the three of us by the tree, the boys wrestled for position as I whined for them to stop. Soon I was in a headlock with them. Our first Arizona Christmas.

I wish I could find that picture. I remember it like yesterday. You can't script happiness. We all felt happiness on that Christmas day. The lesson learned was that the love of a family continues regardless of age, home addresses or distance between us. Thank-you, Dad, for deciding to put up the tree. That will rank on the list of best Christmases.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

December 21, 2013: I Believe

I am pretty sure my brother, Matt, believed in Santa
as he tore open his gift and my parents looked on (circa ~ 1966)
I never believed in Santa. <sigh>

My non-belief in Santa is a dark secret of my childhood. I have no memory of ever believing. My mom tells me that on my second Christmas, I crawled out of my crib before anyone was awake and opened the presents under the tree. My vague recollection of this event isn't about the magic of Santa, but only of the pretty wrapping paper.

Our next door neighbor, Michael Wischnewski, told me there was no Santa Claus. I was three. He was thirteen. Mom was furious. The resulting impact to me: no memories of lying in bed on Christmas Eve, waiting in exhilaration for Santa as visions of sugar plums danced in my head. <another sigh>

That being said, I do remember trying really hard to believe. Growing up, I watched my friends experience the magic of Santa Claus as I tried to convince myself that this fanciful man existed. What I did believe in was the magic of Christmas. This was very real to me as a child. Christmas time was special. I was raised among a family full of warm hearts and lots of love.

One Saturday night before Christmas, we were greeted by Grandpa Gib as we walked home from church in the dark.

"I have a surprise for you," he told me and my brothers. "Jump in the car."

After glancing at Dad for approval, my brothers and I crammed into his car. Our guesses on his surprise were given no response other then the smile on his face. As Grandpa meandered through Remsen's downtown, he pulled up to the town co-op.

Grandpa worked at the co-op, so parking there did not come as a surprise. But the adventure that followed did.

Through a back door to the grain elevator, we followed our grandpa. He led us through the dark passageways with flashlight in hand. Stepping unto an elevator shaft, Grandpa told us to hold on as we were lifted to heights we had never been before.

As my brothers and I tried to figure out where Grandpa was taking us, Matt solved the mystery.

"The star! Grandpa is taking us to the star!!"

Atop the grain elevator shined a big, bright star. Each Christmas season we would gaze at this star in childhood wonder. It shone high in the sky over our town with a brilliant nightly reminder of the birth of Baby Jesus.

After stepping off the creaky elevator, Grandpa led us up a series of steps. As we reached the top and climbed out into the fresh air, we saw the most beautiful sight; the star shining just inches from us.

Once we caught our breath, we turned to see our little town from a height that soared high above the church steeple. I looked at my brothers and saw in their eyes the look of amazement and wonder that I was feeling.

Not a word was spoken as we silently gazed around us and took in the magic of our adventure. I looked at my grandpa and saw him watching us with pure joy.

We didn't find Santa Claus on top of the elevator that December night. But we did find the true meaning of Christmas in a shining star and a moment in time.

In my lifetime, I have experienced a magic of Christmas greater than any red suit or shiny nosed reindeer. The magic is in the blessing of the Nativity and in the love of a family. I believe.

Friday, December 20, 2013

December 20, 2013: The Year Matt Spilled the Beans

The year we were busted.
Cousin, Adam, is nestled in the middle.
I have always enjoyed the joy of a great surprise. Growing up, I would often asked to be surprised with gifts rather than having each present chosen to my specifications. Unwrapping a pink flowered robe on Christmas day, knowing my mom had picked out this retail treasure just for me, was bliss.

My brothers, on the other hand, did not buy into my naive wonderment. Their Christmastime goal was to uncover every hidden treasure and unwrap in advance of Christmas Day. And no matter how hard I tried to resist their Grinch antics, I would ultimately cave. I was a willing participant in a trio of holiday hi-jinx.

The year of note was during our pre-teen years. Old enough to babysit ourselves, our parents would leave us alone when they would go out. During the holiday season, they were gone most weekends socializing. The minute Mom and Dad would walk out the door to go out to dinner or to a holiday gala, we three kids would begin tearing the house apart; scavenging for our Christmas gifts.

The boys had talent. The knew the exact spots in the cellar and closets where Mom would hide our gifts. Not trusting us completely, Mom would wrap them as an added safeguard. She hadn't a clue that our skills were superior to what she gave us credit for.

The year was 1975 and the gifts for that year included matching motorized remote-controlled snow mobiles for my brothers, a desk organizer set for me, and a Detroit Lions helmet for Matt. We found them buried in a storage closet and tucked away further in stored luggage.

As Mark carefully maneuvered the butter knife to release the scotch tape on the wrapped packages, we were thrilled with our finds. The boys spent the night motoring the mini-snowmobiles around the house. I marveled at my flowered desk set as I carefully arranged it future placement on my desk.

The big surprise was Matt's helmet. He was a huge Lion's fan and had asked for everything Lion's. As he perused the JC Penny's Christmas edition catalog, he would earmark every item that displayed the coveted Lion logo. His expectation was an embellished sleeping bag or bean bag. The helmet with leather football was a complete score.

An hour before Mom & Dad's expected return, we carefully re-wrapped our gifts and returned them to inside the hidden luggage. And then we went to bed like sleeping angels. Just like Mom and Dad instructed.

When Christmas Eve arrived, my brothers and I were brimming with excitement. Our family tradition was to go to my grandparent's farm on Christmas Eve. As we sat eating our luncheon meal of hamburger steaks with baked french fries, we began quizzing Mom on when we were going to open our Christmas gifts. The timing of this event varied from year to year.

As Mom refused to commit to any time other than our least desired time of Christmas morning, Matt blurted out our well-kept secret.

"PLEASE can we open our gifts after church tonight!!! I want to take my new Lion's helmet to Grandpa and Grandma's."

Mark and I were speechless as Mom turned to face us with her hands firmly planted on her hips. After a moment of silence with her glaring stare, she spoke.

"Well, I guess you just spilled the beans."

This very accurate assessment of the situation was followed by a complete drilling by her in finding out exactly what other gifts we had found and opened. Mom was not pleased.

We were not allowed to open gifts that year until Christmas Day. By that time, Mom was happy again with our wayward ways forgiven. Until slip up #2 revealed itself. As Mark opened his remote controlled snowmobile, a butter knife fell out of the box. We had not properly destroyed the evidence.

This time Dad roared with laughter. Mom couldn't hold her death stare and joined him.

We still talk about the year of the butter knife and Matt spilling the beans. The following year, Mom locked all our gifts in her cedar chest. We never did find where she hid the key.

Matt with his new football on Christmas Day 1975

Sunday, December 15, 2013

December 15, 2013: Silent Night

Grant Lane at a grade school Christmas program
We attended a beautiful Christmas performance in Denver this weekend. It was full of acting, dancing and singing. The gifted soloists were backed by a mega choir. They collectively rocked all of the "favorites" of Christmas.

As a pretty blonde songstress sang a perfectly pitched Silent Night, I found myself misty-eyed. In fact, I fought the tears that were edging my eyelids; wanting to stream my cheeks. This song does this to me every time, without fail. And every time I think of a Christmas Eve, many moons ago, that will always delicately rest in my happy memory.

This Christmas season, I am busy. And not busy in a Christmas way. It's been busy in a work, long football season, get engaged kind of way. But I have found there are benefits to all of that. Namely, that I'm not trying to "fit it all in". Rather than me scrambling to pull it all together, I am taking a minimalist approach; no Christmas cards, few gifts, no hosted parties, no cookies or baked Chex mix. Not this year.

Taking off my list the creation of a Christmas "to-do" list has reaped unintended benefits. I am actually enjoying the holiday much more than in prior years. The monkeys in my head aren't thinking through when I will find time to carefully construct handmade goodies for friends. Instead I am occupying my brain with the enjoyment of memories from Christmas' past.

Without the havoc of working a never-ending Christmas list, my brain is instead busy picking up on other's enjoyment while reminiscing on my own. Enjoying yesterday's Christmas performance without the worry of a needed trip to a shopping center is just one example.

Silent Night took on a whole new meaning for me on Christmas Eve night in 2002 at St. Wenceslaus. My older two boys were students at the church's grade school at the time. Grant was still a toddler, nestled comfortably on my hip.

We chose to attend the 6:00 Christmas Eve mass that year. This is one of the less popular Christmas masses at the church with 4:00 mass designated for the children's choir and midnight mass; a typical family tradition.

It was a quiet mass filled with few young families and more empty-nest adults. Perfect for us as we were trying to avoid crowds and limited seating. There were several children scattered throughout the church. Most were school children of the church with parents having the same desire as us on that busy Christmas Eve night.

The choir consisted of a handful of older volunteers. One took the podium to close out the service with her beautiful rendition of Silent Night. As the congregation sang along, something very unscripted happened. A little girl, no older than eight, began signing the words from her middle pew as the song was sung. It was a completely spontaneous act as she signed with conviction; as though no one was watching.

Then from across the church, Zach joined the girl in signing. Soon little Ben and every child in the church were performing synchronized motions to the joyous words of the beautiful Christmas ballet. And the adults watched in awe.

The innocence of their movements as they mimicked the rocking of a child and the pointing to a star was unfiltered and heartwarming. It was apparent that they had learned how to sign Silent Night in school. Surely it was part of music class or a school-wide music program. One we adults didn't attend.

With tears rolling down my cheeks, I watched the most amazing unscripted Christmas performance I had ever experienced. Along with the rest of the congregation, we were reminded of the real meaning of Christmas as projected from the innocence of our children.

When the singing stopped, we all clapped. But found that the choir was clapping with us. The applause was directed to the children; the unintended performers. They knew exactly what the song meant. And the meaning was more than words. It was a lesson from the children on the true importance of Christmas; Baby Jesus.

I am once again misty-eyed just writing this Christmas Eve tale. Taking the time to remember sweet moments like these and the reason for the season is much better than knocking out my typically extensive to-do list. Christmas cards? Maybe next year.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

December 13, 2013: B & N

I stopped at Barnes and Noble today. With a gift exchange tonight centering around books, I needed to grab a couple of specific titles. As I meandered around the store, searching for my desired purchases; I was quickly reminded of how times have changed.

My immediate observation was that I hadn't been to B & N for ages. One year, to be exact. I was in the store last Christmas to buy a book on cars for a charity event. I haven't been back since. Although I wouldn't have believed this fate five years prior, it was reality.

A trip to Barnes and Noble was a weekly outing as my boys grew up. We would wander the aisles, checking out the glorious volumes of bound paper. As the boys carefully examined everything from action comics to their favorite reading series, I would eventually be drawn to the "employee recommendations" section. All-time best sellers would catch my eye as well. Although I am realist in knowing this goal is likely unattainable, I do have a desire to read all the classics in my lifetime.

An added routine when it was just Ben and Grant in grade school, was to study at B & N. This was a treat for their hard work. We would find a table to plant ourselves with backpacks shuffled on the floor and me with Starbucks in hand. I would peruse the newest picture cookbooks while the boys would go about their school work.

And now this is all a distant memory. Most of my books are now read on my iPad. Few hit my hands these days in the paper version. And I never thought it would come to this. In fact, I fought it for years. With the purchase of my iPad, I tried out what I thought I would hate. But I didn't. The convenience of having my book handy at all times with ease of reading at night outweighed my desire to touch and feel the paper.

Now I feel guilty for cheating on my long-time friend. My love for the paper book has slowly waned away.

I distinctly remember my dad questioning me as a teenager on my book purchasing preference. A shopping mall had just been built forty-five miles away. I had discovered a wonderful book store nestled in the middle. Although I did enjoy the many colorful clothing stores and the Orange Julius in the food court, I was ultimately drawn in to this book store.

On this particular day, I walked into the door at home with my mall purchases; a bag of books. Included was a large book containing the full collection of Sherlock Holmes novels. The size of the bag was larger than my usual book runs. Dad asked the obvious question.

"Why do you spend your hard earned money on books when there are books for free at the library down the street?"

I really didn't know how to answer, other than knowing this wasn't an attractive option to me. Yes, I enjoyed the library as well, but I also liked to buy books and keep them. I couldn't fathom giving up my prized treasure of Sherlock Holmes after completion of the read.

Book stores have remained a constant part of my life until recently. And I didn't see this day coming. Although resigned and comfortable without my paper companions, I do miss a good bookmark. The feeling of accomplishment with the visual of the bookmark moving deeper into the book will be forever missed. As will the feel of the pages on my fingers and the comfort of a good novel on my nightstand.

What hasn't changed is the satisfaction and enjoyment that comes from reading. I was reminded on this when the previews to Walter Mitty came out. Before they disclosed the title, I whispered to Garrett, "Walter Mitty!! I LOVED that book." Although it had been twenty years since I read about Walter's adventures, they remained fresh in my mind.

As an adult, I tell myself that my reading should now encompass academic literature on healthcare and business. But instead I sneakily switch to my current read, The Hunger Games. Deep in my heart, I am a fiction girl; tried and true. Give me Walter Mitty and Katniss Everdeen all day long. The words in a piece of fiction bring me to places where I can escape; anytime, anywhere.

At the end of the day, I don't need a bookmark or Barnes & Noble for that. Just a mind open to the next adventure awaiting me in the written word. A simple life pleasure...regardless of the medium.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

December 10, 2013: The Blonde Bomb

The Blonde Bomb (a.k.a. Ben Lane)
Although my hope is for Ben's blondish-orange mop to be short lived, I've grown used to this look. I would go as far as to say, I'm fond of his shock top. When he first arrived home with his newly dyed do, I didn't feel this same sentiment.

It was a bit of a shock to look at each day, but warm a reminder of the unity of the Skutt football team. Silly was the thought of the adults. Good karma was the thought of the boys. Obviously the boys won out. The hair followed them to the championship game.

The title win is now becoming a distant memory, but the hair remains. I have noticed other players with new buzz cuts or hair dyed back to their normal color. Not Ben. He is going to enjoy every inch of blonde until it grows out. He foresees no buzz in his future. The nickname sticks.

Ben's Muppet-like hair is fitting to his over-the-top personality. Although a football decision, I could easily see a changed hair color in Ben's future repertoire. The child has a expansive collection of colorful socks with a soft spot for shoes. Lots of them. And clothes galore; in every color and style. They line his closet and floor space.

I often tell Ben that he is my favorite blog subject. I will never run out of material. He loves this comment and asks that I repeat it in the company of his friends.

"Mom, tell them who your favorite is to write about in your blog."

And then he just beams. I do believe he will always be a kid at heart. And a disorganized mess, which is a language this organized mom struggles with. But then we find our common language in love and laughter.

The call to me before school this morning:

"Mom, you left me $20. That was really generous."

"No problem, Ben. But you do know that's for the whole week, right?"

"Yes, Ma'am. Love you!"

Note that the next call received from Ben was at the end of the day, coming from a random number. Ben was on the other line explaining how he got his phone taken away at school. This necessitated an urgent need for me to leave work early to pick it up. Ummm....No. The Blonde Bomb didn't like that answer. Three phone calls later, I opted to put my phone on silent.

Last weekend a large group of the blonde friends landed in my basement. I got a text asking me to come down and show my engagement ring. None of them picked up on the irony of their congratulating "Mrs. Lane". What is confusing to adults makes perfect sense to the seventeen year-old contingent. It is all good in their minds.

Ben brought up my writing and one boy commented that he heard I wrote good stories. Another asked who "Boy #2" was in a football blog I wrote. We had a nice discussion on character depictions. I thanked them for the kind words and for reading my blog. I will say it one more time; I love these boys. It will be awfully quiet next year when they're graduated.

And not only do they have good manners, they clean up after themselves. The Blonde Invasion can come to my house anytime.


Saturday, December 7, 2013

December 6, 2013: A Sweet Surprise

It's official. Garrett and I are engaged. And I never thought there would be an engagement. A marriage; yes. But an engagement? That was a complete surprise.

We have recently been discussing marriage. But I thought the next step would be an entry into our combined Outlook calendars for a wedding date. Ultimately Garrett surprised me with the unexpected.

As you can surmise, there is a story that I will share. In this case there are really two stories that link together. One four years ago and the main feature; last night.

Let's start with the story of last night. This story centers around a ring. A beautiful ring. As Garrett and I discussed getting married, we agreed that details like a fancy white dress and wedding hoopla were unnecessary at our age with round two into the marriage arena. I was happy with this laid back approach.

The only detail where we differed in thought was on the ring. Garrett thought simple wedding bands would be nice. I didn't want to appear high maintenance, but thought a diamond would be nicer.

So I did what any good woman would do. I tried on rings without him. With wine in hand and cousin, Angelina, by my side, we visited Gunderson's Jewelers. My aunt, Kathy Valentino, is a sales consultant there and showed me countless rings. There was one in particular that caught my eye. It was gorgeous.

With no regard to the price tag and with the intent of giving Garrett a hard time, I snapped a picture and sent it to him. The caption read "this is the one I want". I cracked myself up as I assumed he was shaking his head at my antics. I went about my night and the ring soon became an afterthought. This was two weeks ago.

Last night was date night. Garrett and I decided to go to Gunderson's to visit Kathy and look at rings together. It was their holiday open house and other friends were there as well. As I continued to banter with Garrett on our differing thoughts on ring choices, Kathy told us the ring I had previously chosen had been sold.

I accepted this as fact and we tabled our ring discussion for the next week. Our date night continued at Garrett's choice of Roja, a favorite spot. As we sat at our table after toasting our margaritas, Garrett asked for my hand.

With sweet words of love and a sparkle in his eyes, he produced a box in his other hand. It was the ring I had fallen in love with. I was completely surprised as he asked me to marry him. The ring he presented was the one I thought had a different owner. After getting past the confusion of how he acquired the ring, I happily said "Yes".

I then learned the story behind the scenes. After I sent the original picture of the ring to Garrett, he promptly sent a text to my Aunt Kathy telling her that I was to have it. He bought it on the spot and it was placed in the safe until last night. As Kathy was telling me it had been sold, the box was secretly slipped to Garrett.

There is a moral to this first story. Even though it will be round two in marriage for both of us and, yes, we are old; getting married is very special. Having Garrett plan this special night was a wonderful surprise.

The second story centers around his choice of Roja. Most would think going to a Mexican restaurant for margaritas and tacos is pretty non-extraordinary. In our case, this isn't so. You see, four years ago I asked Garrett to marry me at the same spot where he now asked me. True story.

Garrett and I had been dating for two months back in December 2009 and were completely smitten with each other. We had become confidants, best friends, and just plain adored being together. As in any new relationship, we were enjoying the fun and newness of "the dance". There was chemistry and much bantering between us.

On that particular night, Garrett had flown in to escort me to my company's holiday party. We danced the night away like a couple of young teenagers. We enjoyed every second of each other's company. As we drove home, I didn't want the night to end and asked if Garrett would like to have a margarita at my neighboring restaurant, Roja. He was all in.

It was a frigid night, just like last. Garrett was dressed up in a suit with a tan winter overcoat. I have to admit that he looked very handsome as we sat at the bar and sipped our margaritas. We talked nonstop. And then my random thoughts came out as words.

Me: "Can I ask you a hypothetical question?"

Garrett: "Sure."

Me: "If we could get married, would you marry me?"

With our differing home cities and newness of divorces, Garrett and I had treated our courtship like something of a fairy tale. Where could it realistically go?

Garrett was visibly taken aback by my question. In retrospect; rightfully so. He paused. Then looking me in the eye, he answered.

"Yes, I really think I would."

And I knew he was telling the truth.

We laughed and finished our margaritas. For the last four years, this has been our running joke. That I asked Garrett to marry me. I guess I hypothetically did. But I'm sure glad he popped the question back to me four years later. And in a very special way.

He bought me the ring of my dreams. He painstakingly tried to surprise me. And then chose a spot with a memory that is very special to us. The best part was the look in Garrett's eyes last night. It was just as loving and sweet as it was four years ago. You can't fake happiness and true love. That's the best gift of all. To love and to be loved.

Now it's time to turn the page to the next chapter of the fairy tale. Living happily ever after....

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

December 3, 2013: Bo who?

Our fans from up top :)
I am sick of hearing about Bo Pelini. No offense to those embroiled in the debate. I'm not being judgmental, just honest. As many throw around their coveted opinions of the University, I am going to take this time to thank UNL. Some well-deserved diversion from controversy for a simple act of kindness is due.

This gesture may seem small to others, but it meant a lot to us. And that's what the greatest acts of kindness are all about; small gestures that generate a lasting impact.

When our high school boys earned a trip to Memorial Stadium to play for the championship, we were thrilled. Traveling to this venue for their grand finale was a treat. As we planned for this event, it became apparent that the outdoors on a late November night was not an ideal option for many of the boys' grandparents.

Ben's grandpa is recovering from heart surgery. He can't sit out in the cold. With two grandsons on the team and a love for Memorial Stadium, the thought of his watching this game anywhere but Lincoln was sad. I was reminded of another grandpa on oxygen and a grandma in a wheelchair. Simply navigating the large stadium made the trip inconceivable for them.

Knowing that requests for a favor were likely frequent, I sent a random e-mail to the associate AD without expecting anything back. But you can never get a yes if you don't take the time to ask. The favor I asked for was indoor seating for our elder fans. I thought maybe there was a little pocket they could tuck away our weather-vulnerable fans.

Within thirty minutes of my request, I received a response. No problem. They gave us a suite. I was immediately hooked up with a suite coordinator who worked through all the details on access and gaining the suite tickets. She was incredibly helpful and gave our group the "suite treatment".

Without a bat of an eye, the folks at Husker Nation provided an incredible gift to a very happy group of grandparents. Not only were they able to watch the game from a warm, birds-eye view of the North Stadium; but they able to be an active part of their grandson's State Championship win.

I say it again...Bo who?

Thank-you UNL and the Athletic Department. Your small gesture will definitely have a lasting impact. Priceless.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

December 1, 2013: God Gave Me Boys

Lane boys enjoying the Broncos/Chiefs game
When Grant was eight, he missed a football practice because Nebraska Football Fan Day conflicted. I called the coach to tell him about Grant's pending absence. His response wasn't one of annoyance, but instead admiration.

"Wow, that's so cool that you're taking Grant to Lincoln to meet the football team. My mom would have never done that for me growing up. I hope Grant appreciates it."

His response actually took me aback. Didn't all moms take their kids to Lincoln for all things Husker football? I marked my calendar religiously for theses events; the spring game, fan day, and the regular season games. And we almost always hit an away game each year as well.

What I have learned, although not previously suspected, is that these are typically dad/son trips. Moms and sons spending time together at sporting events appear to be an anomaly. But not at my house. God gave me boys.

My life has been free of American Girl Dolls and dance recitals, but instead full of forts, Nerf guns and all things sports. I don't worry about long waits due to adolescent clothing choices, but instead beg my sons to wear clothing bearing no stains or offensive language. I continuously remind them of the merits of deodorant and fresh undergarments.

Food. They eat a lot. Now that they all weigh more than me, they eat at an even higher record pace. Today we spent a mom/sons day at Arrowhead Stadium. They ate foot-long subs on the way down, stadium food at the game, McDonald's on the way home. And I just heard someone in the kitchen, rummaging through the frig.

The three hour drive to Kansas City and back was filled with fantasy football conversation and planning for our Blackhawks trip in March. And they did fight over ear buds, chargers and music stations. Boys are physical. There is no crying, but wrestling in the car is worse than tears. In the end there were more laughs than fights and many thanks to their mom for taking them to a great game.

Someone once told me that life is much more fun being an active participant. I learned this lesson at a young age as I tried to keep up with my brothers. This great training in fort building and sports watching has seemed to pay off. Because God gave me boys. And I am very comfortable in this role.