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.