Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Wake Up Call

Yesterday I attended the wake of a 56 year old mother of three. She had spent a wonderful Christmas Day with all her family, went to bed that night and never woke up. I didn't know Kathy, at least not on a personal level. I saw her around town and at the YMCA on occasion. But I do know her mother and one of her 11 siblings pretty well. We are in a writing group, which meets at her mother Lynn's house once a month. So it was for Lynn and Mary that I attended the wake. It was crowded as you might imagine with such a large family. Placed around the room were lots of photographs of Kathy with the people she loved. And the flowers! I don't believe I have ever seen so many before. As I was looking at the arrangements, the man from the funeral parlor brought in a new arrival. This was no ordinary floral arrangement, but was instead a beautiful red hat. Kathy was in a Red Hat group. Several of her fellow members were at the wake, resplendent in their purple and red outfits. Apparently Kathy's love of hats was not limited only to ones which were red. She had a penchant for decorating hats, and these were displayed all around the room. As I talked with her red hat companions and studied the pictures and hats, I was able to catch a glimpse of the woman Kathy must have been. I sense that she was full of life, ready with a smile, and probably did not take herself too seriously. We should all steal a page from Kathy's book of life.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Let it Snow - Somewhere Else!

We survived the road trip from hell. We left our house at 10:30 Tuesday morning to drive to my in-law's house, which is located in northern Iowa. Normally it is a 6 hour drive. There was absolutely nothing normal about this drive. A few miles from the Bowling Green exit on Highway 61, I noticed that all the vehicles heading south on the highway had their flashers on and were traveling at a snail's pace. That was my first clue that what was up ahead would not be pretty. Of course I would be the one driving. Prior to our departure I had checked the weather station and on-line weather resources, which revealed no problems with the weather or roads in St. Louis, Hannibal, or Iowa City. Why I believed any of them, I have no idea. Chalk it up to being in the Christmas spirit. (Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.) It began to rain before we got to Chesterfield Valley, but with the temperature in the low 30's, this was not a problem. What happened near Bowling Green was a drop in temperature to the 28 degree mark, leading to black ice. As one car after the other slipped and slided ahead of us on the road, we watched car after car head into the median or off the shoulder into a ditch. With my hands tightly clenched on the steering wheel, I crept along behind a propane gas truck, ultimately driving on the shoulder of the road as it had a grooved surface. Just as I suggested to my husband that we get off the highway so we discuss the wisdom of continuing, the traffic came to a total hault. A tractor trailer carrying fuel had jack-knifed, and was blocking both of the north bound traffic lanes. About 30 feet from the Bowling Green exit. Had he been a little further along we could have all taken the exit ramp to go around him. There was nothing to do but sit it out. People began to leave their cars and hike up the exit ramp, to use the restroom I presume. Some either extremely brave or extremely stupid drivers drove in the median or up an embankment to get around the accident. I looked at the Fed Ex truck on my left and commented that there was one delivery that wasn't going to be made on time. After a while the Fed Ex driver hopped out of the truck and took pictures of the accident and all the traffic stacked up behind us. My husband said he was probably trying to prove to his boss that he really was stuck in traffic and not out goofing off. A highway patrol car finally showed up, took a look, and took off. An ambulance arrived and sat on the southbound shoulder, adding to the trials of the southbound drivers. Then a fire truck appeared on the outer road to see what was going on. A couple of tow trucks drove by, apparently decided it was too big of a job and headed off to pull all the other poor drivers out of the ditches. After an hour, a small rusty tow truck stopped to take a look. As I looked at the condition of this new arrival, I thought to myself that there is no way he will be able to move that big rig. But sure enough, he was like the Little Engine That Could. After a few manuevers he got the tractor turned around and pulled the whole thing off on the shoulder of the road. We slowly crept around the accident site and saw that most travelers were taking the Bowling Green exit, which has quite a big incline to it. I decided to keep the momentum going with my car, and we traveled on to the next safe exit to get gas and regroup. By then I had a crushing headache and I felt like I was going to throw up. I can't remember the last time I drove on roads that bad, or was that scared. A call to my in-laws provided us with the news that it was sunny and dry (well, as dry as the town could be with 8 inches of snow on the ground) there. Jim took over the wheel and we decided to travel a little further to see if things improved. From there through Hannibal we had sleet, but the temperature climbed back to the freezing mark. Further north there was no precipitation. In the end, it took us 8 and a half stressful hours to get there. Charles City got a couple more inches of snow while we were there, and for Christmas Eve Mass the temperature was negative 3 degrees. It was 34 degrees when we left there this morning and 61 when we arrived in St. Louis. Go figure...Despite all of that we had a wonderful Christmas, and we can't wait for Andy and Megan to get here tomorrow.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Over the River and Through the Woods...

Tomorrow we pile everything in the car and head out to my in-laws to celebrate Christmas. There will be more room in the car this year, since Andy is now married and will be spending the holiday with his new family. The temperature in Charles City today is negative three degrees, but they are expecting a high of two degrees. Woohoo! As my daughter complained,"How come my grandparents didn't retire to a nice warm climate with all the other gray hairs?" Good question...especially as they are calling for freezing rain here tomorrow, and an inch of snow up in Iowa. I guess we'll have a white Christmas, but it will be too darned cold to be outside enjoying it! As we have traversed icy, treacherous roads many times during our marriage in order to celebrate Christmas with family, I have often shaken my fist at the "wise men" of the past who arbitrarily picked December 25 as the day to celebrate Christ's birth. Since the Bible never specifically states the day Jesus was born, couldn't they have made it June 25th? Then we wouldn't have to worry about so many people risking life and limb to make it home for the holidays. Just a thought...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Hog Heaven

One of the items on my husband's Christmas list is Pig Spit. Don't ask...I have no idea. Off I went to Doc's Harley Davidson today, the mecca of hogs in the St. Louis area. Take that anyway you want to. My husband doesn't own a Harley - gasp - but the Victory dealership is pretty far away. So I figured pig spit is pig spit. Right? I got to Doc's around 9 this morning, and a perky young woman behind the counter asked if she could help me. Yes, indeed..."I'll take some pig spit, please." "What?", she asked. "Pig spit", I repeated. "What is it?"she questioned. "I don't know, but it is on my husband's Christmas list", I replied. "Does it go on the motorcycle?", she persisted. "I have absolutely no idea", I responded, thinking to myself that it better be going on the bike and not on him. Gross! "You will have to go back and ask at the parts department, because I have never heard of it", she instructed. That makes two of us. Back in parts a clerk is with a customer who is busy examining every feature of each of the many GPS systems available, while a second clerk is busy shooting the breeze with two men - maybe customers, maybe not. As I try to look interested in all the whosits and whatsits on the shelves, what do I spy but a can of Pig Spit. Now in hog heaven, I snatch it off the shelf and march back up to Perky Clerky, hoping she can check me out before I'm old and gray (okay older and grayer) and need a GPS system to find my way back home. "Huh", she states as she sees the can. That about sums it up. I still have no idea what it is for, but I'm happy to say I didn't break the piggy bank getting it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Waiting Game - Round One

Round One of the College Waiting Game ended with today's mail. Katie had applied Early Decision to NYU. What makes Early Decision special (and definitely not to be confused with Early Acceptance) is that if you are accepted by the school, you have to withdraw all of your other college applications. It is a legally binding contract to go to that college. So basically you must be certain that the school you applied to is definitely THE ONE for you. As a highly selective school, Katie believed her chances of being accepted would be slightly better through Early Decision. Jim and I had mixed emotions about going this route because Katie would have no way of knowing by the Early Decision deadline of November 1 if she was being awarded any merit scholarships. But we allowed her to proceed as the business program she is interested in at NYU is ranked third best in the United States. In the meantime, she has been accepted by Loyola-Chicago and offered a scholarship to go there. While they don't have as strong of an International Business program as NYU, the thought of fewer student loans has a definite appeal. Plus they invited her to apply to the honors program, which then opens the door to further scholarship money. As I had pointed out to Katie, if she receives a nice scholarship, we could then supplement her study abroad program at a different school. As it ends up, today she received a letter from NYU stating that she had not been accepted. She is understandably upset, as she really feels NYU has the best program for her. But I am a firm believer that things happen for a reason. And as her mom, I can now admit that the thought of having my baby in a huge city a thousand miles away was somewhat terrifying. So we wait to see what Round Two brings...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Loss of Man's Best Friend

Our friend Jim came over this morning. He and my husband are going to the Ram's football game. And I use the word "game" loosely considering the Ram's record this year. But they may actually see a decent game because the losers are playing the losers - both teams have 2 wins and 11 losses. I expressed my sympathy to Jim on the recent death of one of his dogs. He was explaining what had happened - seems like Max had a good, fairly long life and his heart gave out. The other dog Cocoa watched as Jim and his son-in-law wrapped Max in a blanket and struggled to get him out the door and into the car to be taken to the vet for disposal. Max was a large, heavy dog so one person could not move the body. (I wondered to myself if any of Jim's neighbors were watching, as they might now be concerned about the whereabouts of Jim's wife. She has a job in California now, so she isn't around much. Jim might come home to yellow tape around his house if the neighbors think he disposed of his wife in a blanket.) Anyway, the next day Jim took out a treat for Cocoa, as he did every morning for the dogs after they had gone outside. Cocoa took her treat and placed it on Max's pillow, almost like a tribute. Isn't that something?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Tour de Webster

My friend Carol and I went on the Webster Holiday House Tour yesterday. This is an annual event which is the biggest fundraiser of Hixson Middle School. As co-chair of this intense event for two years when Katie was at the school, I understand how much work and effort goes in to making sure that the event is safe and enjoyable for the attendees, appreciative of the home-owners and hopefully a money record-breaker. We were asked to be on the tour this year, especially with our new addition to show off. Because the tour date was the weekend after Thanksgiving, I just didn't think I could get all the decorating done in time. At the time of the request, I didn't realize the SWT party was coming to our house that same weekend. So I had to have it all decorated by the 6th anyway. As it turns out, we have more decorations up than most of the houses on the tour this year. Most years you have someone on the tour that is over the top, decorations-wise. Not this year. I have always contended that people go on the tour more to see the houses than the decorations anyway. And did the committee chair Nancy have some great houses - wow! It kind of makes it hard to come home to your 1950's era bathroom after you have been in a master bathroom large enough to throw a party in. A unique thing about this tour each year is the fact that every house has some 7th and 8th graders playing music during the tour. There is also a hospitality area where you can stop in to a boutique for shopping, and enjoy free refreshments while listening to various musical groups. While yesterday was cold, the sun was out and if I'm right, a new record has been set with ticket sales. Way to go Nancy!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Clang, Clang, Clang Went the Trolley!

We had the Christmas party for SWT Design yesterday. It was decided by the office party planners to have a progressive party, meaning the party would move from one house to the next. Two employees volunteered their houses, and Jim and Ted as owners offered up theirs. Each house was told the general type of food to have, as well as being responsible for an activity. Everyone met at our house at 3:30 in the afternoon, as we were the last stop, and left their cars here. A trolley picked us all up here. We road the trolley to the first location, where we had drinks and hors d'oeuvres. A poker game was available for the activity. Upon leaving here the trolley driver took us downtown to see the store windows at Macy's and then to see the lights at the brewery. The second stop was at Ted's house for Bloody Marys and salads with bread. Due to our side trip to look at lights, there wasn't enough time for an activity. At the third house we were treated to sangria and heavy hors d'oeuvres. We played the game "20 Questions", where a name is placed on your back and you have to ask everyone yes or no questions so you can try to determine who you are. As I didn't even know who my person was (Dr. Evil), I obviously did not win. After climbing back on the trolley, we arrived at our house around 8:45. One of the employees who did not go to the other houses arrived at our house early and turned on the lights, lit the candles and set out the desserts. We had two kinds of homemade cheesecakes, a beautiful coconut cake creation, my brownies and chocolate covered pretzels. For drinks we had coffee (with and without alcohol), beer, hot cranberry tea, soda and mixed drinks. Our activity was to assemble 120 care packages for Missouri National Guard soldiers in Kosovo and Iraq. Everyone seemed to love the idea, and had the task accomplished rather quickly. We also signed Christmas cards to go with the packages. Some people then sat around and talked, and eight of us played the game "Apples to Apples". It is very easy to learn and accommodates group play. The last people left our house after midnight, which is the down side to being the last host. The whole night was a lot of fun, and will go down as a success, I think. Especially by the trolley driver, who scored a plate of food at each location!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Picture This

Out of the blue one day I had an email in my Yahoo account from a lady with Schmap Guides, which publishes online city guides. They said one of my photographs in Flickr had been selected for possible inclusion in the new Washington, D.C. guide. Naturally, I was suspicious. Who are these people and how in the world had they come across my pictures? Well, I checked them out and they are legit. I wrote and gave them permission to use my photo if it was selected as a finalist. Today I received notification that it has been included in the new guide, which I'm sure they were trying to get finished prior to the inauguration next month and all the visitors that will bring. I have to admit, it was quite a thrill to go to the link and see my name listed below the photo. There are a lot of cemetery photos included, but I do think mine is unique from the rest.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Operation Sunscreen

I went to Jefferson Barracks today to meet with Karen Irwin, wife of a Missouri National Guard officer and the woman who conceived Operation Sunscreen. Her goal is to get a care package in the hands of all Missouri National Guard members who are serving in Iraq or Kosovo. I had seen an article about her in the Kirkwood-Webster Journal, and I called her to see how we can help her this Christmas season. She needs 120 additional snack bags put together. As one of the host homes for the SWT Christmas party, we were to come up with an activity for the party-goers when they arrive at our house, which is the last of four stops. Instead of playing games, I suggested to Jim that we do a service project instead. Operation Sunscreen seemed perfect for the amount of time and attendees we will have. Karen provided me with 120 clear cellophane gift bags and granola bars, but she was out of the candy she normally puts in the bags. I had already committed to purchasing enough Propel or Gatorade single serving packs to place two in each bag. I told her we would take care of buying the necessary candy as well. Each of these goodie bags will later get placed in a larger zippered plastic bag containing face wipes and lip balm, and a hand-written note by a grade school child in this area. I plan to have all of our guests complete a note to at least one soldier as well. I still need to pick those up as we will need 120. I'll ask at the high school for classes to write a short note if we can't get them all done on Saturday. I feel really good about this project, and I think it is a perfect way to end our Christmas party - thinking about others instead of ourselves. As an aside, it was a thrill to visit Jefferson Barracks. My dad was stationed there during WWII, until he was shipped overseas, and I have heard a lot of stories about his time there. I'd like to go back to the visitors center there sometime as I am interested in writing up something about dad's service years and I think I could gather some great background material.

Monday, December 1, 2008

One Less Stocking

Jim and I began putting up the Christmas decorations last night in preparation of hosting his Christmas party here this weekend. As I placed the decorations on the fireplace mantle and hung up the stockings, I thought back to a request Andy had made on Saturday. He asked if he could have his Christmas stocking. I made all four of our stockings, and two for my mom and dad which have now returned to me, by hand. Each one is similar in that it is constructed of felt and sequins with a hand embroidered name across the top, yet each design is unique to the person for whom it was intended. First there were two stockings hung by the chimney with care, then a third and fourth as our family grew. Andy and Megan will spend Christmas with her family in Indiana this year, though they will visit with us after Christmas. Andy wants to hang his stocking up there next to Megan's. I guess his request really brought home to me that for the first time in his life, he will not be with us for Christmas. We must share him with another family now. I thought about the first Christmas after we got married. Jim's mom proclaimed that we would spend Christmas with them (we were in St. Louis, they were in Iowa and my folks were in Ohio), and that is what happened. My parents got us for the first Thanksgiving, his parents got us for the first Christmas, and we alternated each year until my folks passed away. Looking back on it now, I wonder how my mom felt that first year when the baby of the family wasn't with her? It is the way of life, I know, and I'm grateful we will see them at all. So I'll pack up his stocking and mail it off to Huntingburg. But the fireplace just won't look the same with only three stockings hanging there.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Here's to Giving Thanks

The Thanksgiving holiday is officially over at our house. Right now I'm giving thanks that our house is empty of guests! We just returned from the airport, dropping off Megan and Andy for their flight back to Washington, D.C., and they were the last ones to leave. I love having company, especially for the holidays, but it is a lot of work. Planning three meals a day for four days of company is a challenge, adapting to the eight guests particular tastes and allergies. Then there is all the meal preparation and clean-up. I feel like I spent most of my time in the kitchen. Thank God it is such a beautiful place to work! We had a wonderful time overall, filled with tours of the construction at our landscape architecture company and of the composting facility (which Megan had never seen), the holiday train exhibit at the Missouri Botanical Garden (which I highly recommend), shopping, talking and playing games. It was hard to fit all of that in around cooking, eating and cleaning up. Good thing we are good at multi-tasking, so we could combine several activities together - like talking and eating, for example. Overall, we have a lot to be thankful for in our lives. Now I'm off to take down all the Thanksgiving decorations and put up the Christmas items in preparation for the SWT Christmas party on Saturday. We are doing a progressive dinner (light on the "dinner" portion), traveling to three different houses. We are the third house, so I guess I am figuring out desserts and an activity to end the evening. If I can pull it off, instead of planning games to accomodate 30 people, I am going to have everyone prepare packages to be sent off to soldiers instead. We are all blessed to be able to spend the holidays with our families, so I think it is fitting to find a way to thank the men and women who make that possible.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Strange Shipmates

I was commenting to my husband that we didn't really see anything too strange on the ship during our vacation- well, other than people trying to set new records in the Olympic sport of calorie consumption. Then he reminded me about Sparkles. Each evening as we went down to eat supper in the dining room, we spied a REALLY tall woman outfitted in a sequined gown. While two of the evenings on board were formal dress (cocktail dress for the ladies, and suit or tux for the guys), the other evenings just required dress casual for the dining area. Sparkles had a different sparkly dress for each night. Her companion on the trip was a rather small man, who was obviously out-shown by Sparkles as I can't tell you how he was dressed. When we commented on Sparkles at our evening table, a rather lively discussion ensued concerning "her" gender. One of our Scottish lasses insisted the "she" was really a "he". "You can tell by looking at the Adam's Apple," she knowingly assured us. So the next evening found the four of us looking at Sparkle's neck. Hmmmm.... Just might be a she-male after all. At any rate, this mismatched couple loved to dance! We found them frequenting the bars with dance floors. From the Wheelhouse Lounge (nicknamed the Wheelchair Lounge by the rock band) dancing to the smooth music of the jazz quartet to the Skywalkers Nightclub with its DJ and top forty playlist, you could locate them cutting the rug. Although, come to think of it, I didn't see them during country night line dancing. Maybe Sparkles couldn't find a cowboy hat to compliment her dress.

Friday, November 21, 2008

It's a Winner!

Last night was the Webster Groves Awards of Excellence Ceremony. We (well, mostly I) had submitted our addition for the architecture award. There were four categories to choose from when submitting, including craftsmanship, architecture, landscape architecture and historic preservation. In addition to the completed application, I supplied before and after photos of the house, drawings, and a narrative describing the project. I wanted to emphasize that we tried to not only ensure that the addition was architecturally sensitive to the time period of the house, but also that we were as environmentally conscious as we could be in the construction. We re-used trim, windows, doors, sinks and cabinets when appropriate. The siding for the new addition was made from cement board instead of virgin wood, and the deck is constructed of recycled plastic. During the awards ceremony, they showed slides of each project which won an award. For each category, the Honorable Mentions received a certificate and the Award of Excellence received a beautiful plaque. The best part was hearing the comments of the judges, as you could tell they really "got" what we tried to accomplish with our project. When we went up to accept our award, I said "if the kitchen is truly the heart of the home, then our kitchen was like the Grinch's - it was two sizes too small. Following completion of the addition, it grew three sizes." It seemed an appropriate analogy as we near the holiday season. As an added bonus to the evening, our landscape architecture firm, SWT Design, won an Honorable Mention for landscape architecture for their design of "BackFlip." A satisfying evening all around.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Do You Know What Day It Is?

On our way home from Ft. Lauderdale, we had a layover in Atlanta. We arrived in the A concourse and our next flight was out of the B concourse, so we took the tram to get over to B. Several people entered the tram after us, and one man was speaking aloud, I presumed to the man next to him. He was mumbling something about people not being ready, that it is not time yet, and so on. It quickly became apparent that he was talking to himself. I made the mistake of making eye contact with him. "Do you know what day it is?", he exclaimed. Pointing up in the air, he answered, "It's His day!" He began again to bemoan the fact that people aren't ready, the time isn't right...and with relief on my part, the tram came to a halt. As he exited ahead of us, I noticed the lanyard hanging around his neck - Delta Crew. I sent up a quick prayer to Him that this man would not be the pilot of our next flight!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Cruise on Over to the Buffet

The worst thing about a cruise is the buffet. I don't mean the food was bad, I mean the food is bad for you. Despite the fact that we only ate the normal three meals a day, there was nothing normal about how much food I ate. I mean really, as the Cruise Director quipped, "The more you eat, the less the cruise cost you!" It's the mentality you get into - I paid for it, so I have to get my money's worth. It was mentioned that the kitchen prepared 20,000 meals per day on our cruise. Now, math is not my strong suit, but if there were 3,000 passengers on the ship, and let's say 2,000 employees, that should mean 15,000 meals would be required. Who was eating the other 5,000 meals each day? Well, I could pick out some of the people...they were the ones who hailed the elevator to take them up one floor to get to the buffet line. No stairs for them. I gained five pounds on the trip. I wonder what the average weight gain was? Just what I need, five extra pounds right before the holiday heifer-fest begins. I guess the line dance lessons and snorkeling were not enough to offset the extra calories taken in each day. All I have to say is that is was fun putting the pounds on, but it really sucks trying to get them back off.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Love Boat

There are many things to love about the newest boat in the Princess Cruise Line. We just returned from a week long western Caribbean cruise aboard the Ruby Princess on its maiden voyage. In celebration of our 30th wedding anniversary, we traveled with the couple who sang at our wedding. Paul is a fraternity brother of Jim's, Kathy graduated from high school with me, and we all attended Iowa State University. A hurricane struck Grand Cayman two days before we set sail, but the Captain simply changed the order of the islands we would see to avoid it. We set sail out of Ft. Lauderdale to Cozumel, where we enjoyed a snorkeling expedition. From there we traveled to Grand Cayman, and we really didn't see any signs of recent damage. Jim and I decided to do a submarine/snorkel excursions since our Snuba trip was canceled due to the route change. We boarded two vans which took us to the submarine. A group of Japanese tourists from our ship was also signed up for this excursion, along with their translator. We boarded the sub, which had a series of benches each seating two people running along both sides so that you had ample opportunity to look out the windows which ran from the floor to the ceiling. We headed out and our Jamaican guide was busy showing us a shipwreck, when all of a sudden he said, "We have a problem. Not a big problem...but a problem. We left the Japanese translator behind." So we had to head back to the dock to pick her up only to find that not only did they leave her behind, they forgot the whole second van! It was pretty funny. The next day found us in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. We had not scheduled an excursion here so we just went into town where we watched a native dance show, saw a woman rolling handmade cigars (and yes, it really was only tobacco), and then went to Jimmy Buffet's Mararitaville. Where I found out exactly how he came up with the lyrics "Wastin' Away Again in Margaritaville." One of their "Special Margaritas" will really knock you on your butt. Whew! Our final stop was Princess Cays, which is a private area owned by the Princess Cruise Line. There we found some great snorkeling and had barbecue.

Back to the Ruby...this ship is beautiful, and there is something special about having a cabin that no one else has inhabited, towels no one else has used, a balcony that only you have stood on. Very memorable. The food was pretty good, the decorations were gorgeous and the entertainment was exceptional. From music and dance groups, to comedians, magicians and a ventriloquist, there was something for everyone. We had selected the second seating for dining, which was at 8:15, and we were placed at a table for 8. Besides the four of us, there was an older couple from Wisconsin and two ladies from Scotland, who were just delightful.

Our trip back home from Ft. Lauderdale had a couple of interesting things occur, which I will write about later. In summary, this anniversary cruise was truly fit for a "Princess".

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Anchors Aweigh!

Tomorrow Jim and I leave for our anniversary cruise to the western Caribbean. We are traveling with two other couples who were also involved in our wedding 30 years ago. Steve and Ann are from Des Moines. Steve was a fraternity brother of Jim's, and also one of our groomsmen. Paul and Kathy are from Minneapolis, and Paul was also a fraternity brother. Kathy graduated from Hoover High School with me, and she and Paul sang at our wedding. We all graduated from Iowa State together. We have kept in touch over the years, but this will be our first time traveling together. We are all excited! We fly to Ft. Lauderdale tomorrow, and board the Ruby Princess on Saturday. This is a brand new Princess ship, and this will be the maiden voyage (fortunately there are no icebergs in the Caribbean). The itinerary takes us first to Jamaica, then on to Grand Cayman, Cozumel, and Princess Cays before heading back to Florida. There may be some glitches as this is the first trip for the crew, but who cares??? We will be in the Caribbean with some wonderful friends, and work can't touch us. It doesn't get much better than that! My sister is coming to stay at the house with Katie and Kirby. Of course, Katie believed we should leave her on her own, but since we will be out of the country I was afraid to do that in case of any emergency. Plus her schedule is so busy that we really need someone who can make sure the dog gets walked and fed. Today will be busy tidying up things for the business and picking up some last minute travel items that we need. But then tomorrow, we are out of here!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Funeral for a Friend

Kathy and I drove to Cincinnati on Thursday so that we could attend Uncle Jim's funeral. Our cousin Gene and his wife Rita are always gracious about us staying with them when we are in town. Unfortunately Rita had to go to Michigan to be with her mother, so we didn't get to see much of her. First on the agenda was supper at Skyline Chili. There is nothing like this unique local chili served over spaghetti and heaped with shredded cheddar cheese. Yum! Fortunately you can purchase dry mix or frozen chili to bring back to the uneducated St. Louis market. Friday afternoon we picked up Aunt Betty and Aunt Margie, mom's remaining two sisters, for a long lunch. We knew that Saturday would be very busy with the wake and funeral, so we wanted some time with them without the crowds. Two of our cousins were able to join us, so the six of us had a nice three hour lunch. Thank goodness for Golden Corral, as they do not care how long we occupy a table. Thank goodness for my waist line that I did not eat for the entire three hours! Cousin Gene opted for a game of golf as that was preferable to sitting with us for all that time. That worked for all as we like to have our girl talk without men's ears around. Saturday we left Gene's around 7:45 a.m. and grabbed a bite to eat on the way to the funeral parlor. The wake found the funeral home packed to capacity with Crusham relatives and friends. As Uncle Jim has an identical twin, it caused quite a stir as people would catch a glimpse of Uncle Mick and for a moment be fooled into thinking Jim was still alive. A practical joker, I think Jim would have gotten a kick out of that, though I think it was pretty emotional for the kids. Numerous photos were spread throughout the three rooms, indicative of a life filled with love of his family, friends and his country. My cousins and I lamented the fact that it seems to take a funeral to bring everyone together. Following the wake, the longest funeral procession I have ever been part of traveled to the church for the funeral. Many tears were shed as Jim's life was remembered by his children. The 12 grandchildren carried up the offertory, and each had a single carnation which was placed in a glass vase on the altar. Even the college boys in this procession cried, and their love of their grandfather was very evident. Following communion, Jim's son Jimmy spoke of his father, and ended with the declaration that he was proud to be Jim's son, which again brought everyone to tears. My poor sister had been asked to read a tribute written by Jim's twin, Mick, and it following Jimmy's talk. She mostly cried her way through it, but she did get the job done, relaying Mick's love and bond with his twin. Jim had always called Mick his "Womb Mate", which again indicated his wonderful sense of humor. Upon conclusion, there was not a dry eye in the church. We proceeded to the cemetery for a final prayer, and then to Tom Crusham's house for a buffet. Tom's daughters had put together a slide show of photos of Jim's life, which was very touching. Lots of stories were told, and being Irish, a toast was raised to the memory of a very special man. Though we are all happy he is finally released from his pain, he will be greatly missed.

On our way back to Gene's Kathy and I stopped at St. Joseph's Cemetery to visit mom and dad's graves. After that we went to see the Veteran's Memorial which was newly erected by Delhi Township. Any member of the community who served their country can have their name engraved on the memorial. I had submitted dad's honorable discharge papers to the township, and a relative had indicated that LeRoy Kubler's name is indeed on the wall. I know that if my dad were alive he would not have submitted his name for inclusion. He believed he was just doing his job in serving his country during WWII, and would not think he did anything out of the ordinary to deserve having his name on a memorial. But I know what he missed out on as he spent time first at Jefferson Barracks and then in India, not the least of which was the births of his first two children. My sister was 18 months old when he saw her for the first time. I believe dad did plenty to warrant having his name displayed in this memorial.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Shrinking Family Tree

My cousin from Cincinnati emailed me last night that my mom's brother Jim died on Sunday. Kathy and I will travel there for the funeral, lamenting again the fact that it seems to take a funeral to get the whole family together. Mom was one of nine children, including a brother who lived less than one day. Jim and his twin brother Mick were the babies in the family. At a recent family reunion this summer, I photographed the remaining siblings - Margie, Betty, Jim and Mick. How happy I am that Kathy and I made the extremely quick trip to Cincinnati for that reunion! And happier still that we took the photographs! While I have lost both of my parents, I have yet to experience the death of a sibling. I can't imagine the grief my aunts are going through, let alone how it must feel to lose a twin. Uncle Jim went through a lot in his life. He and his wife Ruth had six children, the youngest of whom was born with severe disabilities. Ruth died of cancer in 1993, and Jim was later able to reconnect with a woman he knew in school. They married, and she also died of cancer. Then he himself was diagnosed with cancer. Through it all he never seemed to lose his love of life or his sense of humor. This branch of the family tree will be sorely missed. Godspeed, Uncle Jim!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Just a Walk in the Park

It is a beautiful fall day here in St. Louis. After we finished some mundane weekend chores, Jim and I decided to take Kirby to Forest Park for a walk. Upon arrival I commented to Jim that I don't think we have ever just walked in that park. We have biked, roller bladed, golfed, attended picnics and the Muny Theater, paddled a boat on the lake and eaten at the boathouse, but we have never in our 30 years here just walked in the park. Strange... There were a lot of other people who also recognized the beautiful day, and kites were flying, boats were boating, dogs and babies were being walked, bikers and roller bladers abounded, kids played frisbee and other assorted games, and couples enjoyed each others' company on the sunny slopes of Art Hill, surrounded by the blaze of the red maples. This definitely was a day the Lord had made, and people were rejoicing. I'm going to tuck this memory away to pull out on a bleak, cold day this winter.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Taking My Boobs Out to be Pressed

This morning I took my boobs out to be pressed, which I think pretty well summarizes what having a mammogram feels like. I remember my dad saying that mom told him it was like having your boob in one room and the rest of you in another. Men should all have to get manograms (ball pressing) once just to see how it feels. Anyway, it is nice to have that annual event off my laundry list of things to do. On the way home, I stopped in at the genealogical department of the St. Louis County Public Library. With my book in hand, I explained to the librarian that I had referenced the library in my book, and I want to make sure that I was correct in my information. Specifically, I want to ensure that the materials I have said could be found there really are there, and that I didn't omit any other reference materials they might have available. The woman was very excited about my book as they get numerous requests from people researching house history. In the meantime, Ruth Ann came out of the back room of the department. She taught the first genealogy class that I took 10 or more years ago, and she now works at the library. She, too, felt there is a need for the book, and also let me know about a new web site she reviewed that will have area maps posted which cover time periods not currently available. She asked that I email her, and she will try and find out when this web site will go live so I can include it in the book. One of the pieces of advice in my book is to tell everyone what you are doing as you research. You never know what they might be able to add. This is a perfect example of why that is so important. Further, this trip to the library helped to confirm that my book is needed and will be helpful. I'm going to get this done, Virginia Publishing or no Virginia Publishing!

Monday, October 20, 2008

The City Museum, a Wedding and Converse Tennies

My husband and I attended a wedding at the City Museum last night, which was a Sunday night. The bride has worked for my husband for quite a few years, so we know her well. Mindy is Jewish, and her new husband is Chinese, so to say this wedding was a joining of two different cultures is an understatement. Mindy and Eric met while attending Washington University's school of graphic design, eight years ago. The choice of the City Museum to hold the wedding did not come as a surprise to anyone who knows Mindy, as she is definitely one of a kind. The wedding invitation stated that the attire for the wedding was to be black, white or gray, with a splash of color on the shirt, tie or accessories deemed appropriate. Further, Converse tennis shoes were encouraged as the footwear. Being in our 50's, neither my husband nor I own Cons. On my shopping expedition, I immediately dismissed the idea of buying white or black shoes for myself. If I was going to shell out $50 for a pair of tennis shoes, I was going to have some fun with mine. I ended up with a pair that were white, pink and black with some subtle hearts in the design. Perfect for a wedding - this one at least. (And can I just say that for $50, Cons are not the most comfortable shoes I have worn, especially for being tennis shoes.) Jim stuck with black high tops as he wants to be able to wear his again as well. When we first arrived, I was a little concerned that we were the only people who took Mindy serious about the shoes. Once in the room, however, it appeared that perhaps slightly less than half of the guests fired up for the occasion. It was fun seeing all the colors and varieties, and I have to say that dancing was a lot easier than if I had worn my black heels. Mindy did surprise me, however, by wearing a green dress with orange heels (which she changed to orange Cons once the pictures were taken.) And I thought about the request for black, white or gray attire - thus assuring her that no other woman would show up in a green dress. Brilliant! It was a wonderful wedding, and a perfect setting for a couple with the fun and imagination of Mindy and Eric.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Borders, Book Signings and Brain Pickings

Yesterday a friend, Cindy, and I went to a book signing at Borders. The author is a friend of Cindy's, so we went to support Edna and her new book. It was a great experience for me as Edna's first book was similar to the one that I am writing, and I have wanted to meet her. She self-published her first book, and had a publisher produce the next two. When I mentioned the book I am writing, she was very excited and immediately suggested that we get together for coffee at a later date. Great! I will be able to learn a lot from her! Cindy has also published a book, so we sat in the coffee shop at Borders after getting our books autographed and I discussed my book with her. As Cindy has done a lot of house research both here and in Mississippi, she has experience in what my book is about. She reviewed my book for content, making sure that I hadn't left any critical step out. She also made some suggestions for illustrations to enhance the subject matter as well. Cindy knows a local archivist that she thought I might want to meet with for input, too, from a different perspective. As my book's goal is to make the research process as helpful and complete as possible, I welcome the opportunity to receive additional information. I am finding in this whole book writing, book publishing process that the more people you get to know, the better off you will be. There is so much to learn about how it all works, and being exposed to those who have been through it helps me make sense of all the new lingo.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Sign Saga Continued

As mentioned in my last blog, the sign identifying our house and street disappeared from our front yard several years ago. We were pretty ticked about it as it was an expensive sign, and matched the numbers posted on the house. The MIA sign turned up on our front porch a couple of days ago. Yesterday the neighbor across the street was out watering his lawn. I remembered that he had been working on his shrubs the day before, so I though perhaps he had found the sign while doing his yard work. I crossed over to ask him about it. He replied that it had not been him but another neighbor down the block who had placed the sign on the steps. Curious... I happen to know the family because their son is in Katie's grade at the high school. So I plan to as them about it next time I see them. Where has the sign been for five years? I definitely want to thank them for returning it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Sign of the Times?

We live on a street where the houses sit pretty far back from the road. Add to that the fact that the numbering system is odd due to the size of the lots (for example we are number 213 but my next door neighbor is number 221), and it makes for a challenge for delivery people and whatnot. My bigger concern is that emergency vehicles could find us if need be. That is why my husband and I invested in some historic, cast iron house numbers. We placed the numbers on the house, and a matching sign with the full address on it nearer to the street. Originally it was placed in concrete so as not to be stolen. However, when a 100 plus year old oak tree came down in a storm, it took out the sign as well as the small flowering trees in its path. Salvaging the sign, we replaced it in a planting bed near the street. One night several years ago it disappeared. As the sign is only useful to us since it has the full address on it, I assume some kids thought it would be fun to swipe it. We kept hoping it would turn up in someone's yard in the area and get returned to us. As anyone who has purchased these knows, the signs are quite expensive and have to be special ordered. We never got around to replacing it. When I came back from the grocery store this morning, there was the sign, laying on the front steps. I am assuming that someone was cleaning out planting beds and found it, and then took the extra steps to return it to us. Whoever the sign angel is, I give a hearty and grateful thanks. This time, it is going back in concrete!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Pitch

Yesterday, along with 24 other hopeful authors, I pitched my book to a New York Literary agent at The Big Read. I was 22nd out of 25, so I had a lot of time to get nervous. There were a lot of heavy hitters in the lineup! It was a fascinating experience, and I am so glad that I did it. Some of the pitchers were funny, some melodramatic, and a couple were downright scary! But all carried a great passion for their book, which was inspiring in and of itself. The agent and her husband/co-author were encouraging and constructively critical when need be. Following my pitch, I was told that I had done a very good job - there was nothing that they would change. I had explained what my book was about, who my audience is and why I am the right person to write the book, all in less than the minute I was allowed. All good news. Then came the bad news. They were so glad that I had come to pitch my particular book (a how to book on researching the history of a St. Louis County home), because it was a perfect example of the type of book a national publisher would not be interested in. (There went my chance at the winning prize - an opportunity to meet with them to help get your book published.) Instead my book should be pitched to a local publisher. Good thing I am one step ahead of them and already have a query in to Virginia Publishing in St. Louis. And on that note, Virginia Publishing had a booth at The Big Read, and I was able to meet the President, Jeff, face to face. I had a copy of the book with me, so he was able to see what I have in mind. I think he is a little concerned about the lack of potential audience, but I explained that I think genealogists would appreciate the book as well. He seemed to like the fact that I have a background in marketing, so I can definitely help sell my book. I might have swayed him to a more favorable opinion of the book. Whatever happens, I think I will now at least get an answer out of him so I can move on to option B if they decide not to publish my book.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Big Read

Today is The Big Read, a nationwide celebration encouraging people to read. It also offers opportunities to learn about book writing and publishing and to listen to published authors. In St. Louis, one of the segments is called PITCH-A-PALOOZA, in which a would-be author has one minute to pitch his or her book idea to a literary agent. The winner gets a free consultation with the agent. I signed up to pitch my book "Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed(room)? Researching the History of Your St. Louis County Home." While I'm not convinced that a New York literary agent will be at all interested in a book of such local interest, I figured this would be a good learning experience for me. And you never know who might be in the audience. Maybe the elusive President of local Virginia Publishing Company, to whom I have submitted a query letter regarding my book.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Back from the Big Apple

Katie and I are back from our 4 day trip to New York. We had a fantastic time! While our hotel was on the upper west side, it was right next to Broadway, so we were only two blocks from a subway station, four blocks from Central Park and steps away from some great places to eat and shop. We had the tour of NYU on Friday, and I came away from that with a sense of awe (they will get 37,000 applications for 5000 openings!), and a sense of relief as the neighborhood the campus is located in felt very safe to me. It actually had more of a campus feel than I was expecting. Following the tour we went to Times Square so Katie could experience that, and I was interviewed by CNBC on my reaction to the $700 billion bailout that had just been passed. It was pretty exciting, though I have no idea if it aired or not. That night we saw "Wicked", which was absolutely amazing and definitely a trip highlight for me. Saturday we walked Central Park and then met up with some friends in the afternoon to tour Soho, Chinatown and Little Italy. It was an action packed trip, and one that I think made some great memories for Katie and me.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


Tomorrow is our epic trip to New York. I always stress out about what time we should leave the house to allow for parking, baggage check and security. Inevitably we have over an hour to spare, but I prefer that to the alternative. Now I am wondering what effect the Vice Presidential debate tomorrow night will have on security during the day tomorrow. Hopefully we are getting out of town before things start to pick up at the airport. Today I purchased tickets for us to see "Wicked" Friday night. My daughter doesn't know about them, and I want to surprise her. I already advised her to pack a nice pair of slacks in case we go out to eat someplace dressy, so we'll have that covered. The tickets are in the 2nd row of the center orchestra section, so hopefully they are not too close. I love to be able to see the actors faces up close, but without straining my neck. I want this trip to be memorable for the two of us, and seeing this production on Broadway should ensure that. I know in the near future there won't be too many opportunities for us to do things like this, so I'm really looking forward to this weekend. Hopefully she will feel the same. It's hard to tell how the mind of a 17 year old will react, though. Maybe I'll just sic one of the witches on her!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Home Alone

My husband is off on one of his biannual motorcycle trips for a few days, and my daughter left with a friend to go visit a classmate from last year at Mizzou. So I am home alone. Well, except for the dog and he isn't too demanding. It is rather strange yet liberating to be able to do whatever I want whenever I want. It is pretty quiet in the house, but I have enjoyed conversations with my neighbors when Kirby and I do the two requisite walks a day. A bit of today was taken up making a batch of goetta, which is a Cincinnati breakfast dish. My niece turns 40 tomorrow, and while I already gave her the gift of going to see "American Idol Live" with me, I wanted to give her a little something at her party tomorrow. She loves goetta, so I thought I would make some up for her. Because it has steel cut oats in it, the recipe needs to be cooked for five or more hours, so it is rather time consuming. But around the cooking I was able to work some more on my book reference section. I think I now have all I need there, so I will work on the bibliography next. Maybe even tonight, as there is no one here to care what time I go to bed. Yea!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Agony of Defeat

Katie is very involved in Deca, the student marketing and management organization. Last year, she and her partner won 1st place at Districts and 1st place at state, which entitled them to compete at Internationals in Atlanta. I have never seen anyone prepare the way these two did. From the beautiful posters they designed to the trial runs they did of their presentation in front of local business groups, they came across as knowledgeable and polished. Their judge in Atlanta was a 20 something guy from a shoe store. To say he was not interested in their presentation regarding the "greening" of a local cookie company is an understatement. They did not win or even place. I was afraid they would be discouraged and not want to do the big competition this year, but they came home from Atlanta with fire in their eyes and a determination to win this year. At any rate, Katie decided to run for the office of VP for her district so that she could represent this area at the state level. Her campaign slogan was "No pigs. No lipstick. Just business." Competing against her was the son of the district coordinator, who made it a point to introduce him to the judges as her son. It sounds like the whole thing was not handled well, including the fact that this kid obviously spent over the allotted amount of money on his campaign and the fact that Katie's teacher was the only one not allowed in the room for a review of the scores, which were based on delegate votes (our school has the most delegates), a written test, an interview with the judges and a speech in front of the delegates as well as the judges. Now if this kid had a bigger total score than Katie, then good for him. But if the judges were swayed by the butt kissing antics of his mother, then shame on them! Because the students and teachers at our school who are involved in this program are beginning to wonder if it is all worth it.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Take Me Out to the Ballgame!

Jim and I went to Founder's Day at Busch Stadium today. Season ticket holders were invited to tour the stadium, watch the Cards play the Cubs on the big screens (Cards were at Chicago) and enjoy free food. Taking our hot dogs, nachos, pretzels and ice cream along with our drinks into the stadium, we settled into some seats to watch the game. Before long, it was much more entertaining to watch the crowd rather than the game. What a great place to people-watch. Our next stop was to see the Cardinals locker room, which evidently occurred to everyone else at the same time. We found our place at the end of a very long line. At first it was entertaining to watch how much food was being consumed by the large (in more ways than one) family in front of us in line. Then we were distracted for a while by the teenage couple ahead of them who were discovering each other's tonsils. Thirty minutes later we were no longer amused. A woman from the Cardinal organization stopped to ask us what time we had gotten in line. We told her "3:00." She was looking at all the folks in line behind us, deciding where she should cut the line off for the last tour of the day. She informed us that we still had 30 minutes to go before we would reach the locker room. At this point we were about 20 feet from the entryway, so I thought she couldn't possibly be right. When we got to the doorway, I saw the stairway to hell. It was crammed full of people, and by now the baby in the stroller ahead of us decided he was through with all of this and began to wail. Since the parents had already spent 45 minutes of their life in line, no way were they leaving just because their baby was crying. The further along we went, the more stuffy it became. Suddenly all the free junk food people had been consuming for hours was a REALLY bad thing. Finally it was our turn to enter the locker room. It was very cool, and worth the wait. The man in line behind us joked, "No wonder the Cards lost to the Cubs. They left their uniforms here!" Upon leaving the locker room we were able to sit in the dugout. It was cool to be able to view the field as the players see it. It's a totally different perspective. Play ball!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Wedding Quilt

I finished the quilt for Andy and Megan last night. Taking the fabric squares that I had people sign at the wedding reception, I created a quilt of memories for them. With the design I came up with, I had extra spaces with no signatures. I decided to add copies of the wedding invitation, which was hand made by Megan, and some of their wedding photos to the quilt to fill in the open areas. I am pretty happy with the way that it turned out, and hope that it is something they will both treasure.

Friday, September 19, 2008

New York, New York

My daughter is really interested in attending Columbia College in Chicago. We went on a campus visit last year, and she loved it. They are one of the few schools in the United States where you can get a Music Business Management degree without also being a music major. My husband and I have stressed that she really needs to look at some other schools just so she can be certain Columbia is the way to go. She looked at Mizzou when we took Ji there to college, and she really disliked the feel of the campus. Let alone the fact that they don't offer her program. (Why should either of my children choose a school where we could pay instate tuition?) She has done some analysis lately on the starting salaries of Music Business majors, and apparently it is pretty poor. She is wondering if she could make enough to pay back student loans considering where she would have to live to get a job in her field. (Think LA or New York.) That made her look at the degree of International Business. Now she wants to look at New York University. Oh brother...Let alone a high tuition and room/board rate, the cost of getting her back and forth will be tremendous. I looked up the school and it is rated 3rd in the nation for International Business. She can't make an informed decision without a visit to the campus, and we were the ones who said she needed to see more schools. Trick bag...I'm taking her the first weekend of October for a tour. We'll see what happens, but I decided I will look at this trip as a nice mother-daughter weekend in addition to a school search. Goodness knows there won't be too many more of those in the future.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Close Encounters of the Worst Kind

My husband owns a Victory motorcycle. He absolutely loves to ride, and I have to say that since he got it a couple of years ago he has been a different person. With the stress of three businesses weighing on him. going out with his friends has been a great way of clearing his head. I have always joked that his bike is better than a mistress and less expensive than a sports car, but the latter is not accurate anymore. While I worry about his physical health whenever he goes out, I understand that the benefits for his psychological health outweigh my worries. Until today... Jim went out with two friends late this afternoon as we have picture perfect weather here today. Just as they were leaving, I heard them say they were taking I-44 to the Highway 100 exit as opposed to the original route down Highway 21. Off they went. I was finishing up the wedding quilt I am making for Andy and Megan, doing the last hand sewing on the binding while watching the 6:00 news. Breaking news came on announcing that there had been a fatal motorcycle accident on I-44 near Pacific, which would be where my guys were headed. Just as I was deciding whether or not to panic, the doorbell rang. My heart dropped to my feet, and I began praying there was not a policeman at my door. It was my neighbor, Erin, asking if I had talked to Jim. I said I had not, and asked what she had heard. She had seen video footage of a black motorcycle down on I-44 on a different chanel. Jim's bike is black. I hurriedly called his cell phone, knowing that if he was still riding he would not answer it. He picked up on the fourth ring. They had stopped to eat, which is why he was able to talk to me. I explained what had transpired, and indeed they had taken that route to the restaurant. While I said prayers of thanksgiving for that fact that our group was safe, I offered up some for the family that was getting quite different news tonight.

FAFSA and Other Things

So last night was college night for senior parents at the high school. Hoping to learn that there is a new shift towards awarding money for kids who merit it, I attended with my friend, Carol. We have both been down this road before - once for me and twice for Carol. We know the drill, but you never know when you might pick up a new tidbit. Whenever the discussion turns to the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form, I feel the need to bust out laughing. Big of them to make the application "free", don't you think? The last time we filled one of these forms out, we were told that we could afford to spend $99,999 a year to send our son to college. I'm quite certain that the only reason it wasn't more than that is because there were no more boxes! I'm sorry, I thought the rest of us were still supposed to have a house to live in and food to eat while we send a kid to college. Thinking we had completed the form wrong, we went to a seminar put on by St. Louis University cleverly called "How to Complete the FAFSA." Turns out we had done everything right. As we spoke later with the instructor about our situation, he said that people who own their own businesses are at a disadvantage with FAFSA. The form takes into account your assets, but not your liabilites. Just because we HAVE a lot of heavy equipment and trucks doesn't mean we OWN all of them. Our federal government at work...I have been trying to come up with a clever saying for what FAFSA really stands for, but it is eluding me. Something along the lines of Federal Employees Laughing Their Asses Off as they read the applications. I know, it doesn't work, but you catch my drift. Sadly the FAFSA is required for any scholarships or aid you request, so there is no getting around it. At least I know Katie will be offered a token loan at a lower interest rate, as all students get those. I did get my one tidbit from the night - there are once again more applicants than open slots, so apply early and apply often.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Open House, Close Door

Last night was the parent's open house at my daughter's high school. You know the drill: pick up your child's schedule, commit yourself to a year of volunteerism, buy some overpriced school merchandise to support scholarships, sit through a boring...errrr...I mean enlightening presentation in an overcrowded and overwarm auditorium, and then head to each of your child's classes to meet the teachers and get an overview of the year. I actually don't mind going to the open house, and this year I knew if would be my last one. Exchanging high fives with the other parents for whom this was also the last open house, we reminisced about how quickly the years had gone by (at least some of the years!), college searches and test scores. Because our son went to a private boys high school, I never really had the same bond with the parents of his classmates as I do with the parents I have known for 12 or more years. I found myself wondering how many of them I would see after the kids graduate next spring. Well, there are eight more months to enjoy, and like the Aerosmith song goes, "I don't want to miss a thing." So I will stay active and involved until the door closes on this experience in May.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


The ocular plastic surgeon's office left a message on my answering machine stating that the pathology report was back and "looked good." What does that mean, exactly? Looked good, as in the sample had clean margins? Or looked good, as in there was no cancer? I called the office back, and indeed what the doctor had removed was not a basal cell, or any other kind of cancer. So I did not have a ninth case of skin cancer. That is great news, and I am really happy about it. But there is a part of me protesting the fact that I now have a new hole in my face (which he did not even stitch up after removing what he was certain was a basal cell.) And I am left to wonder if the lump on my eye is really a chalazion, as this doctor insists it is, or a basal cell as my ophthalmologist predicted. I go back to the ocular plastic surgeon next month for a follow up. It will be interesting to see what he has to say about his misdiagnosis. In the meantime, I'll be keeping my "eye" on the so-called chalazion for any changes.

Monday, September 8, 2008

An Eye for An Eye

Today I saw the ocular plastic surgeon. My sister drove me there "just in case." The doctor's office said I would be able to drive myself even if he did a biopsy, but I know after the last thing I had done there was no way I could have driven. It felt like an ice pick had been jammed through my eye and up into my skull. The surgeon walked in, took one look at my eye and said that is not a basal cell, it's a chalazion. I explained that the ophthalmologist also thought that's what it was, until he tried to drain it and nothing came out. This doctor said that's what it is, but this other thing below your eye on your face is a basal cell. What??? I hadn't even seen anything there that I was worried about, and after 8 skin cancers I worry about a lot. So he injected the chalazion with a steroid to break it down, and excised the basal cell and sent it off to pathology. If he is right about all this, I dodged a bullet with the eye, becasue a basal cell on the eyelid usually involves reconstructive surgery. Here's praying the steroid does its thing!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Instant Gardens!

It was an event worthy of Olympic inclusion. Five guys arrived at our home at 6:45 yesterday morning, and planted over 700 perennials, shrubs and a tree. By 4:30 they had the job completely done. The synchronized swimmers have nothing on these men! In movements choreographed through years of working together, they moved from bed to bed, digging holes, pouring in fertilizer and installing each plant. It was a sight to behold. My husband and I carried the plants from the back parking area and placed them in each bed, following the plan which had been designed for us. (Well, I had to stop and organize the plants by species, being the anal-retentive person that I am.) Since we did not have to do the back breaking hole digging, it was fun to be involved in the activities all day. Plus I was able to become more familiar with the plant materials that had been specified for our gardens. The end result is beautiful, and I think even Adam and Eve would enjoy the new outdoor living space. Well - except for the lack of fig leaves!

Friday, September 5, 2008

My Daughter, the Tree Hugger

We had 83 shrubs and one tree delivered today, in preparation for the mass planting this weekend. A crew of 4 guys came this afternoon to do the preparation in the beds, and make sure that everything is ready for 6:30 tomorrow morning when they begin planting. Thank goodness they were here when the delivery truck arrived. They were able to load the plants from the truck into our pickup, which I then drove up and down the alley to the back of our yard for unloading. It was quite a site! After all the men left, I let Kirby, our cockapoo, out in the back yard. A suspicious creature by nature, he immediately decided the weeping cherry tree did not belong in his yard. (Though I suspect it will become his new best friend once he gets used to it.) He literally hopped sideways in shock when he saw the tree and then began frantically barking at it. My daughter is not one to miss an opportunity to tease the dog. She went out in the yard and hugged the tree. In addition to being suspicious, he is also jealous when any of us gives attention to anyone or anything besides him. Her hugging the tree was over the top for him, and he about had a heart attack at the site of her hugging the unknown object. It was pretty amusing, I must say. I can just imagine his reaction when he sees over 700 new items in his yard!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

It's Not Easy Getting a Lot of Green

Last year we put an addition off the back of our house. As remodeling often does, one thing leads to another and you end up doing more than you intended. That is how a new kitchen suddenly expanded to include a new bathroom, and of course we should have a main floor laundry room so I would no longer have to fight the jumping crickets for the washing machine. Then...wouldn't it be nice to have a screened porch off the kitchen? But then all that oak dust...ewwww. Which is how we got the conservatory instead of a screened porch. Off the conservatory went a new deck, which called for new deck furniture. And of course we wanted to access the deck from the dining room, so in went French doors there. So this year we sat looking at all the planting beds around the new deck (and the new sod to replace the damage the construction workers had done to the yard), and we decided it was time to plant the gardens. I should interject here that my husband is a landscape architect. Like the cobbler's children, our yard does not get the attention of my master designer. Instead we hired one of the landscape architects from his firm to do a design for us. In all fairness to Jim, he really is the business/marketing guru for his company, and works mostly on large commercial projects. Carrie does more of the planting plans, so this was right up her alley. She came up with a great design, and today some of the perennials were delivered. 700, to be exact. They arrived from Michigan in a large tractor trailer. We live in an old, historic neighborhood. I consider it lucky that the truck only took down one telephone line on my street. We don't have a driveway, but instead share a private alley in back with 8 other houses. No way was the truck coming up an alley originally design for horses and buggies. So the driver parked at the end of the alley, and we loaded the plants in the back of a small pickup, drove them up the alley, and unloaded them on our parking pad. Up and back. Up and back. All 700. I find myself being extremely grateful that I am not the one who will be doing the planting. We have hired some landscape contractors to do that. I'm not sure when the shrubs and trees arrive, but I would think that when they are all in the ground we should have a pretty instantaneous garden. Which will look great for Katie's graduation party next spring!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Fairy Tales

The writing group I belong to sends out COPs, which stands for Crap on Paper. A subject is thrown out and then we write whatever comes off the top of our heads about it. The purpose is to get our creative juices flowing, as well as keep us writing. As I normally write non-fiction, the COPs have been a bit of a challenge for me. The latest assignment was to write about the influence on us of fairy tales in general, a particular fairy tale or a character in a fairy tale. I really struggled with this. I'm not a big fan of fairy tales, so I don't really have a favorite. I was going to write about Little Red Riding Hood, noting the similarities between her experience and owning a business (lots of wolves disguised as something else in the business world.) But as I re-read the story, I remembered how much she annoys me. Why didn't she just listen to her mother? Look at all the angst she created! So I created the top ten things we can learn from Little Red Riding Hood as my COP. Which caused one of the other writers to respond that she had always been bothered by Goldilocks. After all, if she had come upon an empty chair and a bowl of porridge (which she didn't even have to prepare!), she would not be complaining. Who was Goldilocks to think it was all about her anyway? We decided there are a lot of top ten lists in fairy tales. And way too many Goldilocks in the world.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The End of Summer

I always feel like Labor Day weekend is the end of summer, although technically there are a few weeks left. A weekend that had no plans is suddenly filling up with get-togethers, which I suppose is what it is all about. Most notably, Katie's friend Ji came back from Mizzou for the weekend, and asked if she could stay with us. It was fun to hear all about her first week of college. "I love Mizzou!", she exclaimed when asked how things were going. How great to hear that it is all working out for her. I'm pretty sure that I did not come home from my first days at Iowa State saying that I loved college. And I was only an hour away from home, not 14 hours. Today's college students seem much more composed and mature than I remember being. Maybe it is because Ji has traveled so much in her 17 years that this move does not seem like a big deal to her. At any rate, Katie is getting an insider's view on freshman year, and that can only help her next fall.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Another First and Last

Today was the first day of Katie's last year of high school. I took her picture in the back yard, as I have every first day of school since kindergarten. This is the first year that she will drive herself to school as she is participating in the co-op program through the marketing department and will have the last period free each day to go to work. After 18 years of driving kids to and from school, I now will have extra time each morning and afternoon to work on my stuff. Another era ended... As I was making peach butter today I had the radio on. The theme song from my high school graduation came on; "We May Never Pass This Way Again." How appropriate, I thought.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Black Out

"...and the stylist who leaves 'Shear Genius' tonight is..." Poof - off went the power. My daughter and I stared at one another last night in disbelief. Are you kidding me? Down to the last four competitors, and now we don't know who was sent home! As I glanced out the windows to see which houses were affected by the storm, I noticed everyone on the alley was dark - again - and the houses behind us on Elm as well. But in looking out the front windows, all the houses across the street were lit up like Christmas. They NEVER lose power on that side of the street. It is amazing how many evil thoughts can be conjured up against your neighbors when they have electricity and you don't. My husband was at a meeting and blissfully unaware of our powerless state, and my daughter jumped ship to go to a powered up friend's house. Finding it uncomfortable to read by candle light, I went to bed at 9:30. The power was finally restored at 4:10 AM, which I know because the television came back on then which caused our cockapoo to erupt into a frenzied barking machine. But at least this outage only lasted hours and not days, as it has in the past. As the old saying goes, "You don't know what you've got till it's gone."

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Another Walk Down Memory Lane

Yesterday I took a college freshman to Mizzou - and she wasn't even mine! Ji is a student from South Korea who spent last year at Webster Groves High School. She came back to the United States last week to go to college here, and has been staying with us. As I filled up my car with her stuff and three teenagers, I thought back to 34 years ago when I loaded up my Green Mean Machine (translation - green piece of junk) with my stuff, along with my friend Kim's stuff, to head up to Iowa State. No parents helped us pack the car, or set things up when we arrived at our respective dorms. What a different experience yesterday. Parents and siblings hustled up and down the steps and dorm corridors, rearranging room furniture and hanging memories of home on the walls. It seemed a lot less scary than 34 years ago. But as I looked at Ji, who was not 200 miles from home but instead thousands of miles from everything she knows, I was in awe of a 17 year old who would willingly make the choice to experience a way of life so different from the one she grew up in. I was happy that we were there with her to stand in as her family, and I wish I had the opportunity to talk to her mom to let her know how great Ji did. She has a lot to be proud of in her oldest daughter. I learned a lot from Ji yesterday, and I think my daughter and her friend did as well. If nothing else, it gave me a dose of reality for what I will be facing again this time next year...when my baby heads off to college.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

30 Years of Wedded Bliss

Today is our 30th wedding anniversary. I made reservations for us at Citizen Kane's, St. Louis' best steakhouse, in our opinion. Jim's partner Ted had heard we were dining there, so the waitress brought us each a glass of champagne and then a bottle of wine, courtesy of Ted and Jill. That was wonderful and so were our meals. The couple at the next table was celebrating the man's 30th birthday. It was so strange to think that he was born the day we were married! They were a really nice couple who transferred here from Dallas a couple of years ago, so we enjoyed talking with them. We laughed about St. Louis' obsession with where you went to high school. I told them about the time we stayed in a B & B in Hoquiam, Washington, which is just a dot on the map that I picked out because I liked the review and pictures of the B & B. At breakfast one of the other couples mentioned that they were flying back to St. Louis that day. When we told the owner of the B & B about the coincidence, he asked, "So, did you go to the same high school?" We were amazed that he knew about the St. Louis high school deal. He told us that everyone knows about it. At any rate, following supper we came home for the Oreo Ice Cream Cake I had made earlier in the day. We are actually doing our big celebration in November on a Caribbean cruise with two other couples who were in our wedding. It should be a great time!

Eight Decades of Life

My father-in-law turned 80 last week, and to celebrate we all met at Lake Panorama outside of Des Moines for the weekend. We crammed a week's worth of activities (and a week's worth of food as well!) into the three nights and two days we were there. Attending the Iowa State Fair on Friday night brought back memories of working at the Fair during college, as well as meeting up with my boyfriend now husband of 30 years while he worked in a booth at the Fair with his dad. We reminisced about those days, and others, and what it feels like to be 80 years old. It was a wonderful weekend, and while some may say that you can't go home again, it certainly didn't feel that way to me.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Year of Lasts

My daughter registered for her classes today. She is a senior in high school. As I completed the myriad of forms and wrote out checks to send with her, it occurred to me that this is the last time I will be doing this. Starting in 1990 with my son, every August has found me doing the same tasks - contact information, buzz book data, school picture forms, and on and on. This will be our last buzz book, our last package of school pictures, our last yearbook. Just the first of many lasts.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Carpenter Dog

Kirby and I were taking our daily walk through the neighborhood this morning when we came upon an elderly man carting trash out to the curb. He stopped to admire Kirby and asked what kind of dog he was. I replied that he is part cocker spaniel and part poodle. The man said, "Not a carpenter?" Thinking he had misunderstood me I replied, "No, he's a cockapoo." The man asked, "Do you know what a carpenter dog is?" and I had to admit that I did not. "It's a dog who does repairs for you around the house!" I replied that a dog like that would be pretty handy to have around.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Eye of the Storm

Well, I didn't get the news I wanted at the ophthalmologist's office today. They are pretty certain that I have a basal cell carcinoma on my eyelid. How unusual is that? Well, I am nothing if not unusual! I am very familiar with those as I have had six (one on my neck and five on my face) as well as two squamous cell on my face. I know what it was like to have them removed from my face, and I can't even imagine how it will be to have it removed from the eye. Next step is a visit to an ocular plastic surgeon. Who even knew such a specialty existed? The earliest I can get in is September 8th, so I'll just have to sweat this out. As with most things in life, the unknown is scarier than what ultimately ends up to be the case. At least "eye" hope!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The American Dream

My husband and I own several small businesses. Most of the time we are proud of the fact that our companies have been successful and that we employ so many people. And then there are times like last night. We received a phone call around midnight from the St. Louis County police that alarms were going off in the building at our compost facility. After confirming with the alarm company that there were three sensors going off in the office, we knew that there were intruders. My husband quickly dressed and headed out, meeting up with the police and two of our employees who were also notified about the alarm . The thieves were able to break through the security door (the manufacturer may want to rename that one) to gain entry, and then they broke open the cash drawer. Upon finding only a few rolls of coins in the drawer, they proceeded to beat the crap out of the counter and desk. Sadly, they were not apprehended. The investigators were called to dust for prints, and they seem confident that this was an amateur job and they will catch the culprits. Jim did not get home until 3 AM. Sometimes the American Dream is a nightmare!

Monday, August 4, 2008

The "Eyes" Have It!

Having put up with the stye in my left eye for 3 months now (despite two visits to the ophthalmologist) today the doctor's office decided to open up the stye and scoop out the contents. It was every bit as painful as it sounds. The doctor described the instrument as a mini ice cream scoop. Yum.... It took four shots in the eyelid before I no longer felt the clamp they attached to my eyeball to hold the eye open. I always have a problem with the anesthesia not taking, even at the dentist's office. After he was done, the doctor dropped the bombshell on me that it might be a tumor. He said it didn't drain much, and that it was hard when it should have been soft. I need to go back in on Friday, when he hopes he will see a significant reduction in the size. This would indicate that it was indeed a stye. If there is not significant reduction, then he will send me to an ophthalmologist who specializes in plastic surgery to remove the whole thing and send it off to pathology. Wow - talk about being thrown a curve. I am going to continue to be optimistic because this thing did drain when I first got it, so hopefully it is just calcification of the stuff which didn't drain. The anesthesia wore off before we even got out of their parking lot. The pain in my eye shot right up my forehead, sort of like an ice cream headache that would not subside. Where are my pain meds, man?