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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Our Colorado Adventure, Part 3

Have you ever noticed how some people take on a whole new persona when they go on vacation?Take Cole's buddy Michael, for example. He's always a very affable and polite kid. But we all know he isn't necessarily a morning person. So, we were all a bit surprised to see Michael up at the crack of dawn one day as peppy as peppy could be. Then he looked at the clock and said, "That's weird. The time says 7:00." He had been bamboozled by Cole who had told him it was 10:30. He needed to get up! Needless to say, Michael remained very pleasant even at the early hour.

So, Doug can't swim. He doesn't particularly love water sports. But it was vacation and people do silly things on vacation like get up at 6:30 in the morning. I thought maybe, just maybe, Doug would bend. So we continued our debate. Rafting or ziplining?

I have never cared for the idea of free falling from great heights. Roller coasters? Yuck. I did them because I'm a good and attentive wife/mother. And didn't want to witness my family falling to their deaths. But I can't say that I enjoyed those rides. My heart speeds up even as I recall these memories. Ziplining would be no different. So, I continued my plea.

Doug! What could go wrong? Floating down a creek? Safely wearing life jackets?

He wasn't buying the life jacket bit, as if I was exaggerating the reliability of a life vest. Eventually, Doug won. He claimed it would be much better to fall six stories to a hard ground through prickly pines versus being flipped from a raft into... water. How do you argue that? So, that was that. It would be another roller coaster event for me.

The day didn't start off so hot. On the way to Idaho Springs, an accident shut down I-70 rerouting us to take a highway up the mountain. Of course, this was going to make us super late for our appointment with death. You could taste the disappointment in the car. But Driver Doug wasn't giving up. He navigated the hairpin turns as our ears popped. But despite everything happening, the view was spectacular. I wish Doug could've seen what he was driving through. But I didn't dare point out the sights.

Eventually, we made it. The Colorado Adventures Company was entirely accommodating and got us into a different slot. Apparently, Stef Kramer would be ziplining that day.

Lots of quality car time.
Here are the highlights:
  • I panicked on the first line. Suffered slight whiplash. Everyone else landed beautifully. 
  • Guides love Doug. This happened at ski school. And it happened ziplining. I think they either find it fun to break through his stoic facade, or they appreciate his tough exterior. What fazes that guy? (If they only knew his aversion to that lovely creek we were gliding over.)
  • I broke up the only sibling fight of the trip. Only one! And it was a very mature argument. Alex took the side of a proud feminist. Cole took the side of a 16-year-old boy. The kids are growing up.
  • Despite my ten push-ups a day, I must look weak. I didn't quite make it to one of the towers – which isn't completely unusual. So, I was easily pulling myself home, hand over hand, when the guide zipped over to rescue me. I was slightly offended.
  • By the third line, I was loving it. It was swinging without having to pump forward. A lazy person swing. It was quite exhilarating, really.
  • Guess who won Tarzan screaming contest? Out of 11 contestants, Doug and Michael won! They didn't take home any prize. Just pride – sort of. The guide attributed their interesting screams to cracking voices.
  • There are no pictures of this event. We couldn't take our cameras, but luckily we could purchase a photo package for $50. After a glance of the proofs, we declined. I was really shocked how short I looked with our group. Apparently, I'm a shortie and a weanie.
It was a good day. I'd even do it again sans the fear. To celebrate our survival, we found a (wait for it) craft beer place in the quaint old mining town. The nachos were never-ending and delicious. But it wouldn't be the most delicious food we would eat. That was yet to come. Just a little more driving ...
Don't look now Doug! You won't look away.
P.S. We couldn't have gone rafting if we wanted to. The water was too low. I had no choice but to brave it up.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Our Colorado Adventure, Part 2

When Alex arrived in Colorado, she quickly noticed how much better her allergies felt. Thus, I was quite excited about the possibility of waking up in the morning without a sinus headache. However, there was just one problem with this theory. Craft beer. Did I mention Colorado is not only known for cannabis, but also for craft beer? Thank God for migraine meds.

Anyway,  our second day arrived. We had been debating between ziplining and rafting. Stef was pro-rafting. Doug was pro-ziplining. The kids wanted to do it all. And why not? It wasn't going to cost them a cent. So we delayed the decision and decided to venture to the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. I was told admission was free, which was good. But I was also slightly skeptical of the coolness factor. I mean, free is often... disappointing.

As is usual for me, I came out of our bedroom wearing a carefully planned outfit. I envisioned us taking a casual stroll, taking a few photos of us in the pretty rocks. Then Alex said, "Mom? You're wearing white shorts and sandals? You're gonna get filthy." Amazingly, the boys were already appropriately dressed. But not to worry! I brought plenty of activewear which would give me the opportunity to wear my new baseball cap. So after a quick change, we were off.

After learning how to drive the I-25 which involves breaking at 70 MPH every five minutes and uttering a few well-placed "how fucking dumb are these people," we made it.

We set off on a path amidst towering red rocks. Cole froze for a second when he caught sight of the "Beware of Rattlers" sign. (Note the foreshadowing here... ) But we convinced him that rattlers are very shy reptiles who do everything possible to avoid humans. I have no idea if that's true, and my maternal sense questioned my sensibilities right then. But we had Doug. He's the sworn protector of the family. I have no doubt he'd give a rattler a darn good fight while the rest of us fled.
Can you see them?

We walked and climbed, walked and climbed. We met other fellow Iowans. We witnessed scenery so beautiful that Cole and Michael could only describe it as being as good as CGI (computer-generated imagery), which I found ironic. We saw fathers videoing young tikes zipping up the side of tall rocks. Would I have allowed that? Not in a million. And while I might've had to hold a toddler Cole back on the idea, I wouldn't have had to worry about Alex. She was the little girl whom I had to coax down the park slide. She was the girl who practically had her father sign a contract to never let go as she learned to ride a bike.

Apparently, she accosted those fears. It wasn't long after we were near the top of a certain climb when she led Cole and Michael into a forbidden area as I yelled at them not to go. It was the weirdest thing. They acted like they didn't hear me and went right over the blocked off area without one ounce of hesitation. I'm extremely happy to report they all came back out unscathed of falling debris without getting a $500 fine.

We made it through the day without any snake bites, twisted ankles, nor rocks hitting our heads. We got fresh air, exercise, camaraderie, and great pics. We topped the day off at yet another craft beer joint, in which Michael in his adventurous spirit attempted an unfortunate PB&J burger and the legals tried a new and different ale. We quickly understood why Colorado is known as the fittest and drunkest state. It strangely reminds me of my marriage. And it works! Really, really well, in fact.

Better than CGI!
Anyway, the Garden of the Gods didn't disappoint. The only real challenge was helping Cole come up with a a caption for his Instagram post. We capped off a good and successful day without spending hordes of money. That would change soon enough.

Upcoming episodes: Whose fears were conquered? And which unlikely spot did we find a snake of all snakes?

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Our Colorado Adventure, Part 1

Last Sunday we took off for a family vacation. With our daughter in college and using her time off to do spring break-ish things and the rest of us doing the soccer tournament circuits for the past twenty years (it seems), the old family truckster was due for a trip – a real Clark Griswold and his gang type of trip.

We debated where to go. Then fate decided for us. Alex got an internship in Denver for the summer. The Rocky Mountains became our destination. I didn't quite know what to expect, but I was certain we'd discover majestic scenery while pacifying a mother's heart by spending more than just a few hours with our long-lost daughter.

So, we set off for the nine hour drive to Aurora where Alex dwells this summer. In the Traverse was me, Doug, Cole, and Michael (the honorary Kramer kid and soccer brother to Cole.) I decided to do a little video diary to capture our spirits. I love the anticipation of a trip! Who doesn't, right? The chance to experience a different world. The thrill of trying new things. And the simple delight of not having to respond to 100 emails in a day. I was certain our troop felt exactly the same way!

Okay. So there was just a tad bit of skepticism as we took off. (I had to cut off the end due to my son's vulgar nature.) But I wasn't deterred. As a matter of fact, within minutes of our departure, we came across the sight of two eagles! Two beautiful eagles! I couldn't help but think it was a sign of many more great things we'd see. We just had to get through Nebraska first.

We crossed through the all-too-familiar cornfields and cattle pastures. The boys continued their in-depth study of George Lucas with a Star Wars marathon. I toiled through some light summer reading – David McCulloch's 1776. And Doug took the bullet and drove. After several hours, we were never so excited to see the Colorado welcome sign! The scenery was certainly about to change.

Except that it didn't. As we drove through dry and barren plains, Doug kept repeating a line from Dumb and Dumber. "I think that John Denver was full of shit." In truth, it was a bit boring. I kind of missed Nebraska. Yet! I was still undeterred. The unremarkable nature of that scenery was offset by the anticipation of seeing the mountains and, of course, our daughter.

Eventually, we began to see the outline of the Rockies. At first, I wondered if it was my imagination. It was like seeing a pencil drawing with some light shading. Then, boom. They were there in all of their glory as if they had been waiting for our arrival – like someone else actually was: Alex!
Alas! Father and Daughter
After a full day of driving, Alex guided us to downtown Denver for some art and the first of many craft beer joints. The boys especially enjoyed the art after discovering a large painting of what appeared to be Star-Lord from Guardians of the Galaxy. Doug especially enjoyed the beer. We all loved the pizza. But my joy was more straight forward. I was happy we were all together. And I was still anticipating great things, as the first travel day seemed to indicate. And there were many great things.
In the background: Star-Lord?
There'd be adventure forcing us (mainly me) to face our fears, intense competitions, deep conversation (obviously with two 16-year-old boys), incredible scenery, a culinary splurge, and plenty of laughter. Too much for one blog post. So, I'll sign off for now. But be sure to stay tuned for the next post to read about what we found in the Garden of the Gods.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Love, Laughter & Ever After

One summer, when we were young, Doug was telling, complaining rather to his landlord how many weddings we had. His landlord quickly replied, "Enjoy it. When you get to be my age, all you do is go to funerals." Point taken.

There were several years we received nary a wedding invitation. Then, the nuptial cycle began for the kids of family and friends. Invitations picked up. I won't lie. We were a little excited, remembering all of those weddings of old. I'd like to say we reminisced about the beauty of the ceremony or the purity of young love. But it was really about the beer. Lots and lots of beer.

It's funny how quickly you go from being young and hip to old and clueless – as indicated by my use of the word "hip." When we attended one of those second round of weddings a few years ago, we discovered quite quickly we had transcended our youth. We got ourselves all dolled up, sat brightly at church, then went to the bar before the reception, following the wedding party just like we used to do.

Then we noticed something. Actually, the bartender pointed it out. "What are you guys doing here? With all these young people?" We finished our drinks and sheepishly plodded to the reception to join the other middle-agers.

Officially old.

Fast forward to 2018. Two nephews got married this year. One was married at a lovely country club in Las Vegas. The other was married in our hometown church. Both were spectacularly fun in their own ways. And here's the thing. It had nothing to do with the drinks consumed. Not that we didn't consume. We did. But this time the joy had everything to do with the beauty of the ceremony and the purity of young love. I guess it takes some aging to appreciate those things.

I'll end with a quick, sweet story from the weekend. We went to the church early to partake in family pictures. When I saw my brother-in-law (father of the groom), he didn't bring up how beautiful the kids looked or how smoothly everything was going. He smiled sweetly and asked, "Have you seen my wife?" She was smashing! And it didn't go unnoticed by her husband of over thirty years. Perhaps I should correct my earlier statement. Not only was I struck by the purity of young love, but of all love. That's the real magic of a wedding.

Love, ever after.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Stronghold Approach to Parenting

In 2005, when our kids were young, a Disney movie came out called Sky High starring Kurt Russell and Kelly Preston. It's a great flick which documents the challenges of being the child of a superhero. The pressure these poor kids face! Many of them have not grown into their powers yet, such is the story of our young protagonist, Will Stronghold. Will feels the pressure most acutely since his
parents, Commander Steve (Russell) and Jet Stream Josie (Preston) are the most respected superheros in the community. Just as it seems Will is destined to become a sidekick, his power comes in. With his new, extraordinary strength, Will gets himself into trouble by having a party to celebrate. His parents are torn between being proud of his newfound power and being upset over the party. Here's a snippet of the scene:

The Commander: Son, I'm only going to ask you this –

Will: Dad, I swear, I didn't plan this.

The Commander: All right. That's good enough for me. Hmm?

Jet Stream: Steve, I've got half a mind not to let him go to homecoming!

Will: That's fine; I'm not going anyway.

The Commander: Whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa. Your mom said she had "half a mind"!

I think about that scene all the time, often finding myself caught between proud and pissed. Like  Commander Steve, I can easily be convinced to let things go. Some of you might've picked that up from previous posts. I just might be the world's worst disciplinarian. Case in point:

Yesterday I'm checking on Cole's eBay account to see if anyone has bid on his indoor soccer cleats (size 11, hardly worn, great condition, call me if you're interested). As I'm scrolling through his account, I notice some purchases. Unauthorized purchases my son absolutely does not need and should not have. So we have a talk. I tell him I'm disappointed. He apologizes and recognizes the error of his ways.

I feel as if we've had this conversation before. But I believe my son has remorse. I'm glad to be done with our talk.

The same night, Cole texts me after soccer tryouts. He and his buddies are going to a town that I'm guessing is imbued with the scent of females. He also mentions he's gonna stay over at Michael's house. This is not a request for permission. It's a statement.

Now, wait a darn minute. He just got in trouble today! Who does he think he is, telling me what's going on? I would set him straight.

I called him. Texting is for the weak! I told him there was no way he could stay over at his pal's house. He wasn't out of the woods from that eBay stunt! He didn't argue one bit. I end the conversation by reminding him to be home by midnight. Have fun and be careful. Love ya.

Half a mind.

As I laid in bed on a worknight, wishing to be asleep, waiting for the sound of Cole's car to pull in, I wanted to slap myself. Be home by midnight? What about come home right now? He was in trouble!

Half a mind.

They got their powers at a young age.
Once I asked my kids why must I ask them seventeen times before they will even consider emptying the dishwasher. I got a quick response. "Sorry, Mom. You're just not that threatening." Not a bad point. I suppose my commands are undermined by the giggles I can't seem to hold back. I realize how my lack of discipline could've created a couple of monsters. Luckily, they have a father who has no problem pulling out the sternness card.

Our kids are now 16 and 21. They seem to be pretty decent human beings. Maybe not superheros or sidekicks. But good people. Maybe it was my tolerant approach, like Commander Stronghold's. Or maybe it was their father's less-than-tolerant approach, like Jetstream Stronghold's. The answer seems to lie somewhere in the middle.

Half a mind. Not a bad technique.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

A Quick Story of Hope

When I was a senior in high school, there was a particular piano contest I wanted to win. Desperately. I had competed in the contest every year since junior high, but couldn't seem to clinch the title no matter how hard I practiced. 

So that day, as I sat with my mother in the auditorium, listening to my competition, I felt my anxiety rising like a flash flood. It was my last chance. And the competition was good. Darn good. Sara Markussen was the main threat. She had won several times. I was feeling less and less optimistic about my chances.

Just before I went to perform, my mother, in all her maternal hyper-awareness, turned to me and said, "Take a deep breath. And envision yourself on Broadway entertaining the audience. Don't think about the contest. Just perform. Enjoy yourself."

Of course! I knew my pieces well. I loved-loved-loved playing Mozart. I don't know if it was the words she spoke, her calm demeanor, or her unwavering belief of my ability. But it did the trick. My anxiety was immediately replaced by a mega-dose of confidence. 

I won. The judge recruited me to attend Drake where he taught music. I played those same contest pieces for the University of Iowa and received a piano scholarship. All of this fortune befell me because someone believed in me. And didn't fail to tell me me. Thanks, Mom.

I mentor for the Teammates program and a recent newsletter emphasized the importance of hope. The founder of this organization, Coach Tom Osborn once said,

"We find that when a child is made aware of his strengths and thinks about how those strengths can be utilized, the future often appears brighter and possibilities open up which at one time appeared to be beyond reach. Hope is a powerful thing."

It's natural to be a cheerleader for kids. But sometimes, I think, we get caught up on the missteps of our children – especially as parents. How many of you have had conversations with your kid about the B in geometry without mentioning the A in science? How many of you immediately forget the hard work your kid showed on the field when you walk into his or her filthy bedroom smelling of ass, BO, and Burger King? Yeah. Me too.

As we venture into the summer season filled with camps, internships, the ACT, and mowing, I'm challenging myself. Forget the planning and logistics for a second. Show more patience. And most of all, pour hope onto the kids! Any kid! It might take a total of two minutes each day. But, hopefully, the impact will last a lifetime.

Dream big and fly high Kramer kids.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Once Upon a Fortnite

"I like to think having money wouldn't change who I am, but I won five bucks on a scratch-off the other day and immediately purchased some name-brand aluminum foil."  – Readers Digest

If you laughed at this quote, I'm guessing you might've struggled for money some time during your life. I didn't grow up exactly poor. But on the wealth spectrum, I'd say our family landed on the left side of the middle-class. We were never hungry. Mom kept her sewing machine well-oiled to ensure I always had something to wear. Fashionable even. And we always had a motorcycle in the garage. Some might've consider that an extravagance. Not to my father. A cycle was (and is) a bare necessity.

Needless to say, I felt the tension anytime money got tight. Those were times I really hated our financial status. But being poor is a great motivator. My mother (who grow up really, really poor) made sure I got things she never did. And I was going to make darn sure my kids got things I never did.

But there's something to be said about growing up without money.

That some serious gaming.
Since I work at a bank, I try to keep a close eye on my children's spending habits – especially the high schooler who only earns about $50 a month. Sometimes I get a little lax in my monitoring. But when his auntie overheard him talking about the money he spent on "outfits" for that time-squandering game called Fortnite, I thought I should check it out.

$208 since January. On avatar outfits. The kid only has two pairs of real jeans.

Needless to say, I wasn't happy. I'm not the type to blow a gasket. And Cole knows this all-too-well, so somehow he manages to get away with shit with hardly any repercussions. Case in point: I was lecturing him, via text about this recent spend. But he just kept owning up to it. No argument. No defensiveness. I kept pressing. Finally, he texted this:

"It was me. I'm sorry. I'm done I swear. We can now move on and learn from this."

We can now move on and learn from this? Isn't that what I'm supposed to say?

Okay, then. That's what I said.

I've thought about this a lot. Cole knows his little stunt won't break us. And it was from the money he earned. God forbid, he save for college, or use it for one of his daily visits to Burger King. I'll make those suggestions. But he knows darn-well I'll give him money for food. That's just an innate maternal thing. We feed kids, no matter what. Even when we want to teach them a lesson.

Anyway, I can only hope I laid on the mom-guilt thick enough to prevent further stupid Fornite activity. But somehow, I doubt it. I'll bet you $208 it'll happen again. But I do take comfort in the fact that our daughter once had a penchant for spending money on foolish things like a $40 Harry Potter wands and $10 smoothies. And now? She's as frugal as they come. But it took the move away from home and the giant-financial-suck of college for her to figure it out. And fortunately, she doesn't play Fortnite.