Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Minnesota Fats

What is it about family reunions that makes us eat so much? This past weekend we drove first to Charles City, Iowa (six hours away) to spend the night with my in-laws before heading up to Fairfax, Minnesota (another four hours away) for the Pfeffer family reunion. My mother-in-law, who's maiden name is Pfeffer, started us off on the food-fest. She makes unbelievable cinnamon rolls and brownies. She could seriously sell them in the mall. That's assuming there are any malls left after the bankruptcies, of course. We fortified ourselves with the rolls before heading up to Minnesota on Saturday. As Fairfax is somewhat limited in its sleeping facilities, we stayed in nearby Morton (twenty additional miles each way-woo,hoo!) at the Jackpot Junction Casino Hotel. As you might know, many casinos are reknowned for their buffets. I'm proud to say we ignored the all-you-can-eat piggery of the buffet and instead ate at the other restaurant at the casino. Not that we fared much better in the calorie department as the special was steak and shrimp, which included a baked potato, mixed veggies and a roll.

Before I continue with my failure to "Eat This, Not That", I must share the evening's entertainment. Because I'm such a big gambler, after the no-armed bandit ate my dollar and the Blackjack tables showed no signs of having vacancies, our group went into the the Classic Lounge to hear the Variety Show. The show consisted of a band called "Johnny Green and the Greenmen." The band's claim to fame is that they were featured on 27 episodes of the "Batman" television series, and they played the musical score on the "Batman" soundtrack. Yep, they attract the big ones in old Morton, Minnesota! The band played everything from Patsy Cline (they really shouldn't have), to Brooks and Dunn to Aerosmith. The lounge had a large dance floor, a huge bar and walls decorated with neon guitars advertising A-B products. But it was the people in the lounge who gave variety to the show. At the table next to us sat (rarely) a couple of elderly sisters. Dressed in matching dark suits and sensible flats, they took to the dance floor like Mark Sanford to Argentina. Whenever a song began that was to their liking (which was often) they rose from their chairs in unison, carefully placed the strap of their purses on their shoulders, and toddled out to dance. As if choreographed, they swayed gently, left foot to right. They were just darling! At the other end of the spectrum was a quartet of country line dancers. Complete with cowboy boots and hats (though one guy's look was ruined by his wife beater t-shirt), they boot scootin' boogied their way around the dance floor like the Saturday night line dancing specials they were. They could all dance to any kind of music, including the not-easily identifiable songs.

The bar area was packed, with numerous victims of the all you can eat buffet overflowing the bar stools. One particular girl was lookin' good in black spandex shorts and a black suntop. You could tell by her stance and her jestures that she thought she was hot. Unbelievable...do they not have mirrors in Morton? Where are the "What Not to Wear" clothes Nazis when you need them? I only have one thing to say - there is not enough spanx in the world! But I offer up a hardy thanks to her and the others for providing me with free entertainment and good blogging material.

The family reunion on Sunday was well attended, and accompanied by massive amounts of food. Everything tasted great, and since I did eat the vegetable salads I felt justified in having one of the Special K bars (hey, they contain peanut butter!) and one of my mother-in-law's brownies. After all, I would never want to hurt her feelings. We drove back to Charles City that afternoon, and were treated to a fried chicken dinner Monday before heading back to St. Louis. So glad I lost a couple of pounds recently so I could gain them back on this trip. It's back to the health club for me so I can lose this Minnesota fat.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Seoul Survivor

As a combined graduation/birthday present, we arranged for Katie to travel to Seoul, South Korea. That might seem an unlikely destination until you understand that she is staying with a friend. Ji attended Webster Groves High School for the 2007-2008 school year. We were not her host family for that year, but as she now goes to Mizzou she frequently stays with us when she comes back to St. Louis. As luck would have it, we had just received permission from Ji's parents for Katie to stay with them when North Korea launched a missile. Reading the news reports here, we were not certain South Korea would be safe for Katie. A review of the US Department of State's website did not reveal any travel warnings for South Korea. Ji's dad is in the military, so we solicited his input. Basically he said that the Western press sensationalizes everything, and that it is perfectly safe for Katie to come over there. So I proceeded to make her flight arrangements.

She left here Saturday at 9:15, heading to Chicago where she had a 2 hour layover to change terminals and check in with Korean Air. Once on Korean Air, she had a 13 1/2 hour flight direct to Seoul. She called us early Sunday morning, fortunately waiting until 7 AM to contact us. There is a 14 hour time difference, so I appreciated not being called at 2 AM. She told me that the lady in the seat next to her fell asleep immediately and slept the whole flight. Katie was afraid to disturb her, so she didn't leave her own seat for the entire trip. Wow - bladder of iron!

In the email she sent last night she told us that Ji's dad came home from the base so he could go out to supper with them. They took her to a traditional Korean restaurant, where they removed their shoes upon arrival and were seated on pillows. She was adventuresome and tried everything that was brought to the table, including the squid and the fish served whole. Monday they were going to see the Presidential Palace. I'm grateful that she is able to email us, but if I could ask for a little more, I hope she sends along some pictures as well.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Gone Too Soon

This morning my sister and I attended a memorial Mass for a woman we had met only once, some 25 years ago. Why, you ask, would we go to such a Mass? Robbie was married to our cousin, Jeff. We are originally from Cincinnati, but our family was the only one to move away. All of the aunts, uncles and cousins still reside in Cincinnati. Except for Jeff. He did a stint in St. Louis in the early 80's, which is where he met Robbie. She had grown up here, but Jeff's job took them many places over the years. Shortly before Robbie died, they had moved to Las Vegas, where they hoped to stay for quite some time. Cancer had other plans for Robbie, who battled breast cancer for the past couple of years. The cancer spread to her lungs, and at age 52 she passed away. Her wish was to be cremated, and Jeff complied with that wish. A memorial Mass was held in Cincinnati earlier this week so that Jeff's family could give their support to him, but he also wanted to have one here so that her childhood and early work friends could say good-bye. As the only family in attendance, he asked that we sit in the front pew with him. It was rough, and sitting next to Jeff I could feel him fighting his tears. The priest made a wonderful analogy during his sermon, as he was following up on the reading of how Jesus will be waiting for us to take us home. He asked us to imagine a child in the womb. If that child could talk and ask the question about what life was like on the outside, you might answer that there is a beautiful blue sky overhead. The child would have no way of understanding what a blue sky is. Or you might say that there are majestic mountains here, and again the child would have no concept of what a mountain looks like. So it is that Jesus cannot explain to you what life is like in heaven - we simply don't have the capacity to understand what it will look like. Very nicely put...

Because my sister and I didn't really know Robbie, we did okay during the service until the very end when a man went up to do a last reading. Jeff whispered to me that "now comes the hard part". What the man read was a tribute to Robbie written by Jeff. I put my arm around him as it the words expressed to all of us the depth of his love for his wife, and the tears streamed down his face and mine. The service ended with the song "On Eagle's Wings", which had also been sung at my beloved mother's funeral. Well, that was it for my sister and me. I clung tightly to her hand, and Jeff's arm embraced us both.

I'm saddened now that I did not have the opportunity to get to know this courageous, loving woman who brought such joy to those lucky enough to know her. My heart aches for my cousin who must try to rebuild his life without her. My brother also lost his wife to cancer at the age of 47, leaving him to raise three small children on his own. I understand to a certain extent what lies ahead for Jeff, though he and Robbie did not have any children. I hope the vision of Jesus walking Robbie to a better place helps him deal with a future of her no longer walking by his side.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Regarding Birthdays

Yesterday was Katie's 18th birthday. It's funny how as a mom you think back to the day of your child's birth, especially on significant birthdays. I was induced on my due date because Andy had been so large (9 pounds, 5 ounces), and second babies are typically larger. Lord help me! Thankfully she was a pretty typical 7 pounds, 2 ounces. When you first bring home a newborn you can hardly wait until the baby gets old enough to sleep through the night. It's hard to imagine that as they grow up you will be awake nights for reasons other than a newborn's cry. It seems that I no more watched my baby walk into the doors of the school for the first time than I was watching her walk across the stage at graduation.

Jim and I were reflecting back on when we turned 18. It was a big deal because not only could you register to vote, someone would take you out and buy you your first drink. Not so today, and I suspect that since we just completed an election, registering to vote won't be too big of a deal for her either, at least right now.

To celebrate this milestone birthday we took Katie and a friend to our favorite steak place, Citizen Kanes in Kirkwood. Neither of the girls had been there before, and I think it is now their favorite steak place as well.

As a combination graduation/birthday present, Katie will be traveling to Seoul, South Korea to stay with Ji, an exchange student who graduated from WGHS last year and now attends Mizzou. Katie leaves on the 20th for a two week stay. Now we just have to hope the North Koreans keep their missiles to themselves! I think a few more sleepless nights are in our future...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Graduation Quilt - Revealed

Sunday was the graduation party for Lauren, who's mom purchased the custom quilt I had offered at our class auction. As Lauren has been friends with my daughter since kindergarten, our whole family was invited to the party at Blackburn Park. As I gave Lauren a congratulatory hug, she told me how much she loves the quilt, adding that she can't wait to take it to college and how envious all of her roommates will be of her quilt. I can't tell you how relieved I was to hear that. While I have made many quilts in the past, none has stressed me like this one. All of the others were sewn either for myself or as a gift to family members, who would enjoy them simply because I thought to make something for them. This was the first time that someone had paid for a quilt, so I needed it to be perfect. And as everyone's tastes are different, what appeals to me or even my daughter might not appeal to another teenager. The pressure is off, and I can now focus on Katie's quilt. Assuming she ever gives me the pictures she wants on it. If not, I will start on a motorcycle themed quilt for my husband. I found some awesome Route 66 fabric...

Speaking of my own personal hell's angel, he arrived back safely from his annual motorcycle trip. This year he and three other guys had their bikes transported out to LA, and then traveled back to St. Louis via Route 66. It was intended for the ride to take two weeks. Jim said from the beginning that he didn't think it would take the full two weeks. But I was very surprised when he called me on Friday (the seventh day of the trip) and said he would be home by Sunday night. I figured this must have been the Chevy Chase "Bikers' Vacation". "Okay guys, there's the Grand Canyon, now back on your bikes!" I can only presume that Wally World was closed. It's a good thing I made Jim a Motorcycle Journal to take with him on the trip. At least he can look back at that to see where he was!

Friday, June 5, 2009

A Walk in the Park

My sister had a big birthday this week. I'm not going to mention how big because she is older than me and can still beat me up. Since her husband is in Iraq for a year and my husband is off on his annual motorcycle trip, Kathy is staying with Katie and me for a few days. We celebrated the Big One with family and friends at Outback Steakhouse Wednesday night. The food was good and the company was better. Kathy enjoyed the camera case I had made for her new digital camera, as well as the angel I got her for her garden. Katie presented her with a couple of books - the new JD Robb paperback Kathy and I have been waiting the release of, and a work search book to keep her brain active. Before you jump to the conclusion that I am anxious to get beat up by my quite a bit older sister, I'll put on the table that she loves word search puzzles. Her idea of outwitting dementia, not ours.

Yesterday the three of us went out for lunch and then headed to the Missouri Botanical Garden. As it was a slightly breezy day with temperatures in the 70's, the garden was buzzing with bees and tourists. There's nothing like a walk through the Garden to cleanse the mind, body and spirit. We came across a wedding reception in the center of the Garden, and I thought a Thursday wedding was a bit unusual until we encountered two other wedding parties. What a picture perfect day and location to begin a new life together! It made me think of our wedding day, nearly 31 years ago in Des Moines. August in Iowa is much like August in St. Louis, and our church was not air conditioned. On Friday evening we held the rehearsal at the church, and it was hot and humid. A thunderstorm swept through that night, and I fretted over what Saturday would bring. I like to think that God was blessing our special day with a beautiful blue sky complete with puffy white clouds, a small breeze and a temperature of 70 degrees. Here's to yesterday's newlyweds!

Today is sunny and pretty as well. Now, how can we top yesterday's walk in the park?