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Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Promise of a New Year


This year I will wrap up another decade of my life. Fifty certainly seems old on paper. But my middle-aged dreams and goals feel as fresh as the dreams of my twenty-year-old self. I traveled back to my junior year in college to compare my thoughts. The similarities are uncanny.

1990 Stef: Celebrate 21 with a bang. In Iowa City! A party! Bar crawl! College pals! 21 42 pitchers of beer. (Laura turning 21 too. Yay!).
2019 Stef: Celebrate 50. Maybe.

1990 Stef: Figure out a summer job.
2019 Stef: Figure out a summer job... for Cole.

1990 Stef: Find a cute bikini AND wear as much as possible at the beach.
2019 Stef: Find a swimsuit that doesn't look ridiculous. Wear only on vacation in a location far, far away from here.

1990: Find true love.
2019: Celebrate 25 years of true love.

1990 Stef: Get tan as quickly as possible. Begin in May no matter how chilly.
2019 Stef: Avoid skin cancer. Wear pants.

1990 Stef: Lose five pounds.
2019 Stef: Lose five pounds.

1990 Stef: Scrounge up some money for beer and cookies.
2019 Stef: Limit beer. Limit cookies. Scrounge up some money for Spanx.

1990 Stef: Keep the rock star dream alive.
2019 Stef: Sing loud in car.

1990 Stef: Figure out a prestigious career! Add a major? 
2019 Stef: Get out of my basement office once in a while.

1990 Stef: Be the best person you can be! Study! Exercise! Eat healthy!
2019 Stef: Be a good person. Make a difference in others' lives.

I have always loved the hope that comes with a New Year. While my observations are somewhat facetious and somewhat sincere, there's one thing that never has changed – my desire to become a better person.

My 2019 resolutions are simple, but great: to love with all of my heart and find joy every day. I'm sure I would not have professed anything like that as a twenty-year-old. My 1990 New Year's Resolution was probably something like "Get a new hairstyle! Bigger bangs!" And that's okay. My compass has changed. Thank God. But there's a big part of me that hasn't changed: my hopeful spirit, still burning bright as ever. 

Wishing you all have a wonderful and peaceful 2019!

1990: Fun and Friends.
2019: Fun and Family.

Monday, December 10, 2018

The Dining Room Table

About 1/3 of table. Plenty-o-room.
I bought a 1000 piece puzzle this year. Time with my youngest is slipping away ever-so-quickly. I thought this would be a good trick to slow it down. I did NOT think it would an easy sell. A puzzle. An old-fashioned puzzle. There'd be no shooting down enemies, performing the floss, or posing for Snapchat. But a funny thing happened. When I showed him the box, he was surprisingly enthusiastic. Of course, I was sneaky. It was a Star Wars design.

When I was a young mother, activities with my kids were items to be crossed off a to-do list – in the name of raising successful kids, of course. We read Honey Bunny Funny Bunny over and over and over again because it was critical in developing mental acumen. We took nature walks even with the threat of snakes because fresh air is important to health. We made utter messes carving pumpkins or decorating cookies because creativity needs unleashing. I wish I could go back and tell my younger self to quit thinking of raising kids as a prescribed regimen. Enjoy the messes and re-
Now that's use of a table.
hashings of a good bunny tale.

I used to get out of sorts to come home and find stuff everywhere. Shoe mountains. Seven backpacks for two children. (??) Nearly-full gatorade bottles. I was especially irritated by the dirty socks on the dining room table. Yes, gross. But in less than two years, that dining room table will be collecting nothing but dust. It's gonna be lonely as hell. The table, I mean.

I recently had the honor of writing a recommendation for someone who will be receiving an award that any mother would covet. As I wrote, I considered what a wonderful job this person has done balancing family life and career. About ten years ago, I also received an award. A banking award. My husband barely flinched when I told him. I should've considered his reaction more deeply. Did I shortchange family time by focusing so much on my career? It's a question that burdens so many of us – fathers and mothers alike.

If I could roll back time...
As Charles Dickens teaches us in The Christmas Carol, it's never too late to change. I can still eke out quality time with my kids, even if they're the ones who now need to pencil me in. As a matter of fact, Cole has already picked out a project that will sit nicely on the bare portion of the dining room table: a gingerbread house. It will probably turn out to be a real sticky mess.

 I'll love every minute of it.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Good Farm Wife

This might come as a surprise to some of you, but I didn't grow up on a farm. I was transplanted from Kirkman – the tiny little hamlet located on the other side of the county. My husband and I grew up ten miles apart not knowing each other. But our childhoods were more like ten thousand miles apart.

I'd like to point out that there were similarities. We both walked beans as kids. My experience wasn't as vast as Doug's. You see, I had this exercise routine which conflicted with the bean walking schedule my father had proposed. You get it. So, I wasn't as knowledgeable about crops as most Iowa kids are by the time Doug and I met in college. How was I supposed to know that those beans we walked were soybeans and not green beans? Or the corn in the fields wasn't the corn we eat? But stuff fed to animals or made into fuels?

So, I had a learning curve by the time we married.

I had always pictured myself as a career woman much like Claire Huxtable – easily navigating her roles as sassy wife, sage mother, and savvy lawyer. Once I fell in love with Doug, I realized these goals would need to be integrated into a farm setting. No big deal. So I thought.

Okay. It's taken 25 years for me to learn a few things. Here's advice I'd give to my younger farmwife self:
Ferocious Cows.
  • Baby pigs are not nearly as sweet as they appear. They don't care how cute you are dressed. They bite.
  • Following recipes is only important if you want food to taste good. And introduce exotic foods (like onions) slowly and in bits. Avoid tofu completely.
  • Farm cats might have nine lives, but those lives are typically very short. Naming kittens is a full-time and often futile job. Be prepared for one or two to die on your lap as you speed to the vet.
  • Farmers don't like to be found. Before cell phones... actually even after cell phones, I'd coordinate full-blown search parties as I imagined my husband pinned to the ground by a ferocious cow. I was eventually instructed not to call his brother or parents anymore. Thank God for FindMyiPhone.
  • If you want your farmer to be pleasant on vacation, never ever ever plan a trip in September, October, November, March, April, May, or June. You can hardly go wrong with February.
  • If you choose to defend cows who meandered to a greener pasture, be prepared not to talk with your spouse for a few hours.
Harvest deserves a paragraph on its own. It's a beautiful time of year. It's a stressful time of year. It's the climax when all the work of planting, growing, and caring for the crop comes to fruition. I used to think of it as a time when Doug was gone a lot and the kids and I planned Halloween costumes. But my perspective is different now. I'm older. Maybe even wiser. (The kids plan their own costumes.) And as I expected Doug to support my career, I need to support him. Really support him.

I'm no longer upset when he doesn't shut the combine down early to go out as he says he will. (It only took a couple of years to understand this – years of falling asleep on the couch after getting dressed up as I waited.) I'm no longer cranky when he calls me for a ride just after I crawl into bed. I'm just happy he hasn't been injured by a cow. And finally, I don't bitch about bringing him supper in the field. Admittedly, I used to be a little indignant about this food thing as I heard how good farm wives prepared feasts for their hubbies and crews. Let me clarify: Doug never expected me to do this. He knows I get home later and have stuff to do like laundry and write blogs. (He was also acutely aware of my cooking limitations.) But I'm different now. I'm no Rachel Ray, but I have Pinterest. If I can show him a little love by bringing out a roast beef sandwich with a splash of ranch dressing, why wouldn't I? It took me a long time to realize that.

The other morning, Doug looked at me with his tired, harvest eyes and gave me a hug. "Thanks for being so helpful this year." It made me a little sad. Not that I've been sitting on my ass eating bon bons for the past twenty-five years. But I definitely could've made a few more roast beef with ranch sandwiches. It might not be the most magnificent feast a farmwife ever made. But he doesn't care. It's not really the "what" I do to help, but the "why" I do it. Because I care.

That's the key to being a good farm wife.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

The Homecoming Hangover

It's been a week since homecoming. The preparation! The anticipation! The pageantry! Now it's just a dim, fond memory. Wait a minute! Am I the parent or the student?

Cole was excited about homecoming this year. He skipped his sophomore year, because, well, we all know that your sophomore year is usually the worst. (Alex skipped that year too.) But now he's a junior. And he had a date!

A few weeks before the big weekend, we had to figure out clothes. My first inclination was to revive his confirmation garb. Then he told me, politely, that he had worn that same gray shirt/black pants combo for his last several dress-up events. True, true, true. (I never would've considered having Alex wear something she had worn before. Shame on me.)

So, one afternoon we went shopping.

At first I wasn't convinced of Cole's wish to do black on black. (Black pants. Black shirt.) But after accessorizing with the royal blue bow tie, suspenders, and colorful checkered socks, he won me over. He looked cute. He didn't disagree. As he stood admiring himself in the mirror, I had a flashback. Homecoming dress shopping with Alex. If only she would've admired herself in the mirror! But as is typical with almost every female I know, she focused on parts she didn't like about herself. And there was nothing that wasn't beautiful about her. Every girl needs to adopt Cole's sense of self.

Moving on.

Spirit week had arrived. And since Cole is officially an upper classman, he decided he needed to participate this year with the theme days. He usually doesn't! So I was refreshed by his energy! I was excited about the week. Of course, I had some ideas to contribute to his outfits. But my attitude soured the first night after the vollerama. He claimed his keys had been "stolen." I had to pull myself out of bed to bring him an extra set. I hate, hate, hate getting out of bed. I thought it strange that the culprits stole the keys without stealing the car. And as it turned out, Cole discovered the next day that one of his best friends had them. How he had forgotten this, I do not know. But I don't like to hold a grudge, so I moved on. There was more fun to be had.

Then, the next morning I received a text that made my heart fall. My friend, Ann, (mother of another one of Cole's BFs) had sent this:

"OMG! Kate said the WORST thing ever last night!!!"

Context: Kate is the cute little sister of Cole's buddy. My heart raced. What now? It was morning, so I wasn't getting an immediate response. I waited. And waited. Then heard the ding.

"She said, "Mom, you should've seen Cole yesterday. He dressed like a nerd. But umph... he was like a hot nerd!!" Double angry emoji.

That made me laugh. And breathe a sigh of relief.

In truth, Cole has a decent amount of nerd in him. (He gets this honestly from me.) As a matter of fact, one of his soccer buds suggested he complete his nerd look by carrying around one of his many comic books.

Anyway! Back to homecoming. The day of the big dance came. We went to take pictures at the designated spot. After getting a few shots and maneuvering the crowd of kids and parents, I lost sight of Cole. Apparently, he had left. When I texted him to say that he was missing out on some pictures with his friends, he just said, "We had enough pictures." I didn't disagree. But again, I had a flashback to Alex's homecoming days. There were never enough pictures with friends.

It was all wrapping up. The kids were off to dance in their new duds. The parents were off to partake in a few adult beverages, taking any edge off the worrying. Would they have fun? Would they be safe? Of course they would, as my husband would aptly remind me.

That evening I got a text from my old college roommate. She sent me a picture of her pretty daughter going to homecoming for the first time. I'm sure she was feeling the same anxiety and pride as every parent. Homecoming has a way of filling us with nostalgia. It seems like yesterday when were pinning corsages on our dates. Then we get a glimpse of our kids transforming into young adults. We want them to have great memories to share with their children someday. Maybe their kids will lose their keys. Or find their inner nerd. But one thing we know with certainty. The kids will shine.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Toddler Sock Wisdom

Today as I was rummaging through one of my cupboards, I came across this:

A toddler sock. Never mind my poor housekeeping skills. I was instantly sad. Yesterday I had toddlers. Now those toddlers are 21 and 17. Not that I miss wiping poopy butts. I absolutely do not. And I find great joy in watching our kids turn into fine young adults. But here's what I do miss: my unmistakeable purpose. As in wiping poopy butts.

Right now I have a disgusting cold sore in my nose. (Sorry for the gross nature of this blog post so far.) It's something that happens when I'm stressed or overwhelmed. Of course, I can't admit this to my husband, because he will accurately point out that I do this to myself. (And who can stand a spousal "told ya so"?) But he's probably right. I don't need to teach a class, but I do. I don't need to help my mother at her shop, but I do. I don't need to write a book, but I do. I don't need to work at the bank, but... wait, yes, I do need to work at the bank. My point? I seem to fill in any little crack of time to the point of cold sore or migraine hell. Yesterday, I realized why I do this when I found that little toddler sock.

Every mother either remembers or looks forward to the day she can shop at a supermarket (do people say that anymore?) without having to mediate a meltdown or worry about a pile of apples tumbling on the floor. Going to the grocery store without a toddler seems to be one of the first benchmarks of parental freedom. Before that day, our world consists of ensuring the kids are fed, bathed, schooled, soccer'd, etc. So, when I wrote my first book about ten years ago, I'm guessing Cole had learned to cut his own meat. No, that's not right. I think that was last year. But he probably, most certainly, had learned to wipe his own butt, somewhat anyway.

Wrong colors, Kiddo!
Don't get me wrong. I'm still a mom, first and foremost. But I feel like I'm more on-call than 24/7. And in between signing up for ACTs or wielding a stressed out college girl, I dabble in these other roles in my life which I completely enjoy. But that's the key: dabble. Not immerse. Dabble. It might save me on Abreva. (That's cold sore medication for those of you who haven't had the joy of pustules in your nose or mouth.)

And perhaps, just perhaps, I should be stepping up my maternal helicoptering in spite of having nearly grown children. I discovered yesterday that kid #2 is considering the wrong state university! Excuse me, I have some talking to do before the next cold sore sets in and Cole forgets his Hawkeye pedigree.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

A Splash of Orange

For many years now, my most consistent form of exercise has been walking our gravel road. With its Mt. Everest hills and ever-changing scenery, I never get bored. The wildflowers in the ditches change each year. Once in a while, a goldfinch or cardinal will show off their colors. And sometimes, Percy gets to chase a deer.

Yellow. Yellow. Yellow.
The other day I was walking along, admiring waves and waves of yellow flowers (the technical name), and I noticed a small splash of orange. I stopped my trek to admire this small and almost obscure spray of flora. I even stepped into the ditch to inspect. I was enamored. I might still be there if I hadn't been a bit concerned about snakes hiding in the long weeds.

This experience took about two minutes of my day. And it preoccupied the rest of my walk. How often do I ever take a minute to enjoy something? How often do any of us do this?

When the kids were little I would walk with them on this same gravel road. And I'd become impatient with the all of the stopping to collect rocks and pick pull-apart grass. I had stuff to do! I can't remember what. But apparently it was something important. Probably laundry. I'd do anything to go back to that time and let them take as long as they wanted. Skip the laundry.

We do everything so fast in our lives. We eat fast. We have sex fast. (Did I say that?) We DVR so we can get through our shows more quickly. Sometimes, and I realize this is a sin, I skim books. Now that is a shame.

We're too busy to savor.

I attended the funeral of a best friend's grandmother today. My heart flipped when I had heard she died. She was a very young 96, living in her house up until a few weeks ago. Violet was the sweet lady who always, always had time for you. Like all good grandmas, she fed us well and created amazing concoctions like Tang with 7-Up. But the best part of visiting her was how she always listened and laughed – always having time for you. She had the loveliest of laughs that will be forever imprinted in my heart. There was a reason her funeral was packed full of people.

Between the recent loss of a childhood icon and my brush with pretty orange flowers, I've decided I need to make some changes. Instead of calling Alex only to remind her to take her allergy meds, I'm gonna let her educate me on something she's passionate about, like being the laxest vegan on the universe. And rather than focusing on how Cole still can't flush a toilet, I'm gonna share his enthusiasm over a story about that one NBA player that did something cool that one time. And maybe, just maybe, I'll make them some Tang and 7-Up. The perfect splash of orange.

Can you see the prettiness between the weeds?

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Our Colorado Adventure, The Final Entry

It was our last evening in Colorado. We had one more thing we needed to check off our list: Annette. Not a person, but a place. Not possessive, as in Annette's. Just Annette – one of the top restaurants in Denver where Alex's pal and roommate works as an up and coming chef: Jacob Taggs. (Yes, that Jacob Taggs. Local celebrity. You might've read about him in the paper! See the link on his name.)

Disclaimer: I'm no food blogger. The most sophisticated culinary description I can think of right now is "delicious." But I think even Bobby Flay would agree there's not a better word to describe the food we enjoyed at Annette.

On to the actual experience.

As soon as walked in, I fell in love with the atmosphere. It was swanky and intimate without being one bit pretentious. Think of McDonald's. Then imagine its polar opposite. We settled into our table wearing the fanciest clothes we brought to Colorado. The boys sported their best American Eagle T-shirts, because nothing says fancy like a graphic tee.
our last supper

We were given dinner menus by the chummy server who already felt like a good friend. (To be fair, she was a friend of Alex's).  And after the "I'll give you a few minutes," it got quiet in a hurry. Our heads were buried as we perused our food options. Pork Tonnato? Grilled Beef Tongue and Marrow Toast? What were these things? We might've been in over our heads.

A few years ago, Doug and I decided to start sharing meals. Yep. We hit that age. We're the little, old couple who splits their ham sandwiches. We don't always do it, but when we're on the tail end of our vacation and are scraping for pennies, it's pretty much the expectation.

As we studied the menu, Doug asked if I'd like to share something. I was a bit reluctant. Jacob had recommended the "roasted whole fish" which was served with kale, salsa verde and other ingredients I didn't understand. So, I responded, "Sure. Can we have the fish?" He kept looking at me, as if I hadn't responded. Finally, he said, "So you don't want to split anything?" The sharing program only works if I don't eat fish or salad. We agreed. We'd each order separately for this meal.

The server came back, ready to answer a round of questions. Our first task was to get drinks. Seemed easy enough. But it came with its share of complexities. Doug had a house brew, which doesn't sound terribly bold unless you know that Doug is as loyal to Bud Lite as he is to his wife and the KC Royals. I had something called the Palisade Pisco. (I have no idea what it was, but it was dangerously tasty with its tart cherry essence.) My sophisticated Alex stuck with a bourbon concoction. Cole had a lemon and rosemary soda. Michael ordered an Earl Grey and dill soda. When I asked Michael if he liked tea, he said, "Oh, yeah!" Then he quickly changed his order to a Sprite.

Once the drinks were done, we discussed the appetizer. We had all agreed to be adventurous. Thus, we ordered the popcorn. But it wasn't your run-of-the-movie-theater butter-laden popcorn! It was light, fluffy, and spicy. In other words, the popcorn had character. It was gone in sixty seconds. Along with our drinks.

Fred Flinstone Portion!
Finally, after a few refills of beverage, it was time to order. We were ready. Pasta called out to Alex, so she ordered the gnocci. The boys began to order separate dishes when our server cut in. "Just so you know, many of these portions are huge. Most people share." I looked at Doug. Doug looked at me. Fish was off the table. We'd need to regroup. The boys decided to split the Maschhoff family bone-in pork chop which reminded me of the dinosaurus burger from The Flinstone's. Doug and I settled on the wood-fired half chicken. I couldn't be disappointed as I sipped on my yummy cherry drink.

The food came. After one bite of the melt-in-your-mouth poultry with its tangy glaze, I didn't have one regret about passing on the fish. Neither did Doug. We tried each other's food and dined on the side dishes – things like dandelion greens, asparagus and lentils, and fries with garlic aioli. I wonder how many times we shook our heads and said, "mmmm." Amazingly, we had just enough room for pecan pie and vanilla ice cream that made me wonder if I'd ever be satisfied with Dairy Queen again. (I found out a few days later, I would be.) Nonetheless, everything tasted like heaven. As I sit here remembering the feast, I'm a little sickened by the tater tot casserole I made earlier tonight.

Fierce Competition.
After a few hours of a delightful evening, we left bellies full and awestruck by the delicious food. (Jacob had prepared everything we ate, so we extended our highest compliments to the chef.) To walk off our gluttony, we toured the historic Stanley building. Lo behold, what did we find? A foosball table. Game on. Alex and Dad challenged Cole and Michael. As usual, Mom played spectator. It was a vicious match. Early on, the youthful Kramer/Heithoff team dominated. Then memory muscle kicked in for Doug. He and Alex slowly made a comeback to defeat the youngsters who think they're so hot with their Fort Nite and soccer skills. They were good sports, sort of. It was all in good fun.

We were ending our Colorado journey on the perfect note, having shared divine food, comaraderie, and lots of laughter. It was like vacation zen.

Then next morning we bid adieu to Alex and set off on the nine hour trip home to Iowa. The boys would get to watch a little more Star Wars. I'd finally finish 1776 with a few well-timed catnaps. And Doug would drive without the stop and go's of Denver drivers. Vacation was wonderful. We had a spectacular time. And best of all, we got some great pics for Cole's Instagram. But as soon as we saw the familiar cornfields and pulled into our driveway to be greeted by our dog and cat, I felt happy to be back. Maybe that's the best part of vacation: remembering how much you love your home.

Thanks for taking this Colorado journey with me. I hope you enjoyed.